06 September 2011

Power Creep

One of the greatest concerns for any game designer is the evolution of the game inside one edition from a more "balanced" set of abilities, to a series of combinations that create "unbalanced" characters.  It creates a gigantic disparity between a low-level character and a high-level character, and disparities between the normal character and the 'optimized' character.  This leads to creating a more powerful system with the next edition, and it has been occurring as Dungeons and Dragons has aged.  In this way, power creep is shares several characteristics with adaptation and evolution, happening both within editions and across editions.

When systems are released, there is a relative sense of balance across each of the presented character archetypes.  As more and more material is released for the system, the player is able to create a more and more specialized character, allowing the player to create 'optimized' characters.  This disrupts the "balance" of the system that was present during its conception (some exclusions may apply).  As time goes by, there are fewer and fewer ways to build a character that can contribute to the group as much as an 'optimized' character can.  This, of course, leads to creating more content that just ends up disrupting the original balance more, and thus the cycle continues, and the 'power' of the system creeps higher and higher.

Originally, Dungeons and Dragons was very gritty and realistic, as real as sword and sorcery can get, creating situations where a commoner with common materials would do heroic deeds, such as saving the princess, slaying the ogre, or defeating the crypt of the zombie lord.  As the game progressed through its various editions, the stories told have become more grandiose and epic.  It is not just about saving the damsel in distress, it is about saving the multiverse!  (While how this came to be is not the point of this blog, it may be one we discuss down the road.)  The current edition of Dungeons and Dragons (4th edition) is a continuation of this trend.  The largest problem with this style is that as characters become overwhelming powerful, the bad guys have to become overwhelming powerful, and so the scales begin to tip.  While this makes for wonderful stories, it takes its toll on the game system, causing it to appear very lopsided.  The relative power of the high level characters compared to the low level characters make the assault on a castle of one hundred level 4 soldiers by one level 20 warrior a foregone conclusion, the warrior will win with maybe a scratch or two.  This removes much of the realism that was present in the original concept of the genre.

When I began the construction of the game, I knew I would have to create a system that was versatile enough to be used for both 'realistic' games and for 'legendary' games, and then allow for modifications to be used for superheroic games (more on this after the fantasy system is released).  Power Creep was another of the issues I was trying to keep in mind when I was designing this system, and I have been extremely happy with the way it has been mitigated.  I hope you will all think so also, when I get this system posted up.

30 August 2011

Mechanic: Exploding Doubles

One of the most exciting things about rolling dice is that exceptional result.  Whether it is a 'critical hit' on a 20-sider, or maximum damage on an attack, seeing that outcome gets any player's blood moving, not to mention bringing a smile to their face.  So, that is another bit of excitement I wanted to capture by using the exploding doubles dice mechanic for this system. 

This style of rolling was first used by Mayfair games and made popular by the DC Heroes RPG.  I have taken this mechanic and applied it in a different way.  So, let's go over how to roll!  Roll 2 10-sided dice (2d10) and add up the results.  So, if you roll a 4 and a 5, the result is a '9'.  Now, for the fun part: if you roll the same thing on both dice, add the result and then you can roll the dice AGAIN and add that result to your total as well.  So, if you roll a 4 and a 4, the result is an 8 AND you roll the dice again obtaining an 8 and a 3 for an end result of '19'.  The fun part of this, is every time you roll doubles, you get to roll the dice again and add the result to your total.  Unless you roll snake-eyes or a pair of 1s.  Anytime snake-eyes is rolled, you automatically fail at whatever you were attempting, even if it is in the middle of a string of doubles.

There are a couple other reasons I favor this method of rolling.  Although the excitement factor is a major reason I prefer exploding doubles, there are some mathematical reasons that I like this mechanic over the standard d20 method.  Before I go further, I am just going to mention that I am not a mathematician, so I may not describe this well, in fact I doubt I can, however, there are two wonderful website that have really described the 'math stuffs' exquisitely well, and I have place their web addresses underneath the graphs they produced.  Please visit their sites and read at least these entries, you will not be disappointed at all.  In fact, you may find yourself spending a few hours reading other entries, I know I did!

First, using 2d10 creates a peaked curve, allowing more "average" results and less "extraordinary" results.  For example: with a d20 you always have a 5% chance, be it to fail, or to perform unbelievably well.  With  2d10 that chance is reduced to under 2% for the extremes and 10% for the common results, meaning you are more likely to perform a task with an average result.  This graph does not show the effect of exploding doubles on results, but the exploding doubles serve to decrease the chances of a low extreme result (snake-eyes), while increasing the chances of obtaining a 20 or higher!  This means less chance for failure, more chance for average result, and greater chance of above average result.  This is of great benefit to the player!

On top of the previous reason, performing an extraordinary task is defined as "needing a 20" with a d20, and that could be something as ridiculous as moving the planet out of the path of the meteor by doing a push-up (Chuck Norris automatically succeeds).   If left up to the dice, the character automatically succeeds on a 20, which means you have a 5% chance of doing something that exquisitely few people should be able to do, and even they probably have less than a 5% chance to do it!  This leads to characters taking unbelievably ridiculous actions, since "if I need a '20' anyway, why not go for as much as I can?"!  With exploding doubles, you maintain varying levels of difficulty over and above the '20' result, allowing the character to perform something ridiculously epic, you just have to roll exceedingly well, and be very lucky by rolling doubles and then doubles and then possibly rolling doubles again.  This allows the wizard apprentice to slay a dragon with a spear in one epic, albeit lucky, shot and have it feel like an epic result, as opposed to "Well I win, I rolled a 20."


The next reason I selected this mechanic, is that it tilts the favor of combat to the more experienced, higher level opponent, as it should be.  An opponent with more experience, more ability, or both should have an easier time bettering his adversary.  Rolling 2d10 simulates this much more fluidly than 1d20 does, and the graphs show this fact.  As you can see, when you roll a d20, you have a flat chance of success, and unless you use the rule that a '20' indicates automatic success, then anything above the 20 result is an impossible task.  With 2d10 you can see the graph favors the lower difficulty tasks, while making the more difficult task tougher to accomplish.  The graph does not show the exploding critical aspect of this rolling system, but if we were to add in the exploding doubles, it would increase the amount of successes for all difficulties.  While this mechanic of 2d10 with exploding doubles eliminates the prospect of an impossible task (or removes the prospect of the blanket 5%), it makes that task more of a risk and allows the player to potentially aim for something that is more obtainable, such as a difficulty of 21 instead of a difficulty of 35. 

I hope you enjoyed this insight into the primary rolling mechanic for the Viking Baby Games, and I look forward to blogging for you next week.

23 August 2011

Concept Shoehorning

As we discussed last week, versatility is a very important aspect of a gaming system.  The ability to build a character to perform in the way the player envisions is vital to maintaining the player's interest and enjoyment of the game.  Rather than embrace a fluid, versatile character creation system, other games are built with a rigid progression chart, forcing the player to "make their idea fit" a pre-constructed mold.  This is because of a current "opinion" that in order to create a versatile system requires increasing levels of complexity.  This is reflected in the way many game systems go about constructing the different types of classes/professions.  So let's start talking about how this philosophy came to be so wide spread.

When RPGs were originally created, the classes (which have now become "archetypes") were built to fill a specific role and so there was no need for the versatility that differentiates Bob the fighter from John the fighter.  This was not a major issue, since the game was a new idea and with any fresh idea, it tends to be rough.  Dungeon & Dragons 2nd edition introduced the concept of weapon and non-weapon proficiencies in order to provide a way for the player to create "individualized" characters, even though this aspect of the game was optional, and the system really didn't allow one rogue to be 'much' different from another rogue.  The next evolution came with the advent of Dungeons & Dragons 3.x edition, however rather than formulate a new way to build a character, they continued the process of creating classes to represent character concepts, they just added skills and feats, which...in order to be useful, you had to fill nearly all of them with pre-determined choices, effectively making you feel like Bob and John were different, but ultimately, they were nearly identical.  Of course, 4th edition continues this same mistake, they just disguised it better.

This mechanic of creating classes that represent character concepts, rather than just creating mechanics with which to build, is still present today in Pathfinder RPG.  Although this game system is a giant leap forward from the previous edition, it still forces the player to create a character according to the concept presented, effectively shoehorning the player's imagination.  This is readily apparent in the "archetypes" where they attempt to create "spins" on the traditional class in order to better fit a player's concept, but unfortunately fall flat in attempting to mimic their purpose.  A majority of those archetypes are not nearly as well constructed as the base class, and have the appearance of being slapped together at the last minute in order to try and interest the player in a variant that is closer to what they had 'originally imagined but could not create before'. 

So, over the past 20 years, most game creators have said that the more versatility there is, the tougher it is to balance each of the classes/professions primarily due to the fact that they keep creating concepts rather than creating mechanics.  Regardless of how well designed it is, if you create a class/profession to mimic a concept, it will forever be the AUTHOR'S concept and not the PLAYER'S concept.  This is fantastic if you create a class to emulate Conan, and there is a player that wants to play Conan.  But what about the player who wants to play a different type of barbarian?  One of the shining examples of how simplicity and versatility can merge together is Mutants and Masterminds.  This is a wonderful system that allows the player to create the exact image they have in mind for their character.  But this system has other drawbacks that will be the discussion of later blog entries.

I have found that in many instances, complexity is a self-creating.  The author of a system will start off with one concept, and then continue to add to it as the author progresses, all the while creating a more and more complex system that is built like a Jenga puzzle.  Pull out one piece and the whole tower can crumble.  I have strived to break away from this design flaw and stick to a simple set of mechanics, that a player can manipulate to create, from the start, a character they are excited to play, and not have to wait until they are level 12 or level 20 in order to get an ability that "defines" their character.  This simple set of mechanics allows a player to create that Half-Demon Unicorn Cleric/Rogue Anthromorph that can make a GM's head hurt just trying to figure out how to construct in other systems.

16 August 2011

Versatility and Simplicity

            When I first began creating classes, races, spells, etc for other systems, one of the things I noticed was the underlying complexity of the other systems.  It always seemed that as the character gained more and more levels, they became more and more difficult to manage in terms of abilities, equipment, and other items.  This is most likely one reason why so many gaming groups I have been in have many low level campaigns, and so few high level campaigns....each person needing 3 or 4 minutes to figure out what they can do, and will do, is just too slow!  So, one of the things I continually keep in mind while I am designing this system is to keep it simple.  If the system is simple, actions are resolved faster, and players don't get bogged down in decision-making between which ability is best to use.

            The problem with simplicity is the current "philosophy" that you have to sacrifice versatility for that simplicity.  This is untrue, and to understand why this is untrue we have to understand how the philosophy came to be, which is the topic of next week's blog "concept shoehorning."  Versatility represents the ability of a system to create the exact image of the character the player envisioned.  Being able to create a character that can perform the actions that the player wants is a major reason I started this undertaking.  Other systems have fallen short of this goal.  Unfortunately, those other systems soon discover this, and try to patch the "holes" of their system, which in turn creates power creep and an even greater amount of "concept shoehorning."

            Versatility and simplicity are the two goals I kept in mind while building this system from the ground up.  Trying to keep the game energetic, fun, and thrilling comes from these two fundamental principles.  They are what have made certain games so enjoyable, and other games (that didn't stay true to these principles) not so enjoyable.  One of my friends that I gamed with for over a decade had a rule "If it requires more than one sheet of paper to keep track of my character, I don't want to play it."  Versatility and simplicity are the two main strengths of the system I am creating, and I hope you will all enjoy these aspects of the game.

The dagger is one of the simpliest weapons, yet is exquisitely versatile in the ways to use it, and the number of uses it has.  The one pictured above is from Mark Banfield's website.  Stop on by and view his selection, they are beautiful!  http://www.banfieldblades.com/index.html

09 August 2011

"Why am I doing this?"

A good question to start off the blog with.  I have played role-playing games (like Dungeons and Dragons®, Star Wars®, Mutants and Masterminds®) for over 20 years.  For the first ten years, I had a blast playing with what the rules allowed, but I began to grow frustrated with the games around the 10 year mark.  I wasn't sure what was beginning to "suck" the enjoyment out of the game, so both my group and I started moving around from game system to game system, trying to find a game that we liked playing.  Enjoying was the easy part, we had a great group of players who were really close and did more activities together than just gaming. 

During this period, I started to say to myself "I don't want to play another fighter", we were playing 2nd edition AD&D® at the time.  There was no real difference between Bob the Fighter and Frank the fighter.  So, I set to making my own classes, using the base classes as a guideline.  This was really my first attempt to create something for a game that I had only participated in previously.  Not only did I enjoy creating the classes, I was re-invigorated to play the games.  I continued to create more and more content for the games until I finally came to the realization in 2000, that I should create my own.  And so, the process began.

While working on this for the past 10 years, I have come to some realizations about what I didn't like about those other games (and it has caused many revisions).  Topics I will be diving into, in future blog topics to highlight what makes Viking Baby Games so special compared to all the other games out there.   Among them, are the idea of impossible probabilities, concept shoehorning, overpowering progression, and time-consuming complexity.  My hope is that you will look at the game, play the game, and notice how we successfully navigate these issues to continue giving your character's the feel of adventure, danger and ultimately heroic success.

I entreat you to join us on our voyage!

08 August 2011

Future Home of My Ramblings!

As I begin to get the game up and ready, I will start posting about what my focus and reasons for developing this system are.  I hope it will entertain you, answer potential questions you may have, as well as get across some of the items I have always wanted/looked for out of other systems.