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Amping it up

October 9, 2009

I’ve recently been playing little solo games with myself – it’s rather fun, and allows me to test whatever harebrained schemes that pop into my head. Two plays in a row had my original concepts go in really, really ugly directions – irregardless of the success of the early game, the groups have to use Chaos dice for an extra usable traits boost, which means that groups degenerate in-fiction as they gain these mechanical bonii. It’s pretty awesome when it happens once, but I certainly wouldn’t like every game of Change to end with crazy uglies barely managing to eke out an existance in a ravaged world. Clearly, the groups are not getting enough juice by normal means to be able to stay in the game.

Originally, Arenas were supposed to take care of this issue by knocking down the difficulty of certain tasks really low – after a 5-strength Arena is applied, a Medium Challenge of 7 is effectivelly at a rating of 2 – which likely means that you don’t have to spend a single perishable trait on it. Also, everyone would likely be doing the Challenges that have Arena-bonuses, meaning that every new trait created would be of a similar theme, giving some common theme between the different groups.  However, Arenas simply don’t work, and with that mechanic out the window, the groups face an uphill slope – you have to spend more traits on Challenges than you get from the Aftermath of the Challenges.

The answer here is simple – if the groups don’t have enough juice, give ‘em more juice!

A few straigthforward adjustments:

  • whenever a winning aftermath die hits a trait, it is automatically upgraded to the level of good(+).
  • whenever a losing aftermath die hits a poor(-) trait, the old trait goes into the peripheral traits column as per the old rules, and the replacement trait starts at a level of good(+).
  • when a losing aftermath die hits a trait, it immediatelly goes the level of poor(-). This is mostly for a sense of symmetry, and doesn’t change things as much as it may seem – most regular traits in play are immediatelly used, which means they are at neutral(0) level anyway.

There’s also a defining trait rule change I made for different reasons (specifically, for taking pressure off of having to use all defining traits every other turn, thus allowing to make then less generic) that also makes life easier for groups:

  • Instead of having to use each and every defining trait by itself, you now only need to use one of them to achieve a full bonus. Say, if you had the defining traits Omnivore++, Poisonous++, Forest lore++, Pushovers–, Bickering–, you only need to use, say, “Poisonous”, to receive the full bonus of +3 (one for each good defining trait). Conversely, your rival only needs to use either Pushovers or Bickering to give you the full malus of -2 (one for each bad defining trait). There is no longer any cooldown period for any trait.

Not only does the above rule take the edge of having to narrate all those traits every time, it also gives a slight overall bonus to roll difficulty. 2 good d-traits you start out with – 1 bad d-trait you’re stuck with from the start / 2, the cooldown period = an average +0.5 bonus to roll every turn. With the system in place, it’s a fairly straightforward +1 bonus. The change may not seem like much, but it gets higher with every new good defining trait you get (which are now easier to get anyway), so it definitelly works.

Try and give these rule adjustments a whirl (even if for a quick solo game) and tell me how it went!

Oh, and I’ve done some work on Threats and Resources, and what I have so far seems to work well enough that I’ll be able to share it in a few days. Stay tuned!

Early playtesting results

October 1, 2009

Rounded in a couple of playtests by interested folk. Two issues have shown up.

One, Arenas are not as fun as they should be. Provided the players actually understand the rules at all (which is a 50/50 shot with the rules as written!), the Arenas take very long to build up and change around, and when they’re finally of solid length, they’re so specific so as to become unusable. To a large extent, these things were a conscious design choice – the stronger an Arena is, the more subtle issues of its application become. However, there’s one ugly tactic – sabotaging an Arena with a single Segment that makes little to no sense.

I’ll wait for a couple more playtests before I make a final decision, but chances are I’m going to scrap the Arena rules for something more straightforward and more integrated into the upcoming World rules. Maybe you’ll have the ability to create new Threats, Resources or Limitations through conscious application of your traits, or even random chance? Maybe you, an orcish emperor, attack an enemy with your vast armies – there’s a chance those armies declare themselves independent and become a self-sufficient Threat, which you can use, abuse, and face the music later, or counter early on. Or maybe you’re a clan of dwarves that digs to the center of the earth and harnesses the awesome power of magma, thereby opening up a new Resource? Or maybe you are some sort of chutllian summoning cult that fills the seas with horrible monsters, making sailing nigh impossible, thereby creating a new Limitation?

Obviously, Threats, Resources and Limitations are not going to cut it alone – I want something extra to simulate such international political thingies as the 19th century European Concert – but I feel like I’ve uncovered a rich vein of thought. So it needs to be dug out and cleared of impurities – that’s what a game designer’s for, right?

Two, the game gets more dull as time goes on. This is because your traits column gradually fills up as you’re playing, and changing the value of a pre-existing trait is much less exciting than creating a new one. There are also long recharging periods when everyone at the table is strapped for good traits. The negative feedback loop that allows you to gain more usable traits the greater losses you face either does not work as well as planned, or is too counter-intuitive, with people attempting to scale down their efforts and go for small victories instead of great defeats.

I was worried this would happen, but wanted to see how it plays out just in case it doesn’t. There are a number of things I could do here: make changing trait quality levels more interesting somehow, lower the overall difficulty of Challenges to allow more positive returns per traits invested, and make the use of the “lose more-get more” principle more apparent in the text. I’ll toy around with all of these and see how they fit, but there’s something much more awesome that I think I can do here.

When creating Change, there was always one little thought at the back of my head: how to create the game in such a way that would allow a different game, where you play people and not groups, to take what’s been built and slot it in so to speak – exploring the cultures and relationships between different traits in more detail, making them feel more “lived in”. As of yet, I don’t know of any existing game that would do that, so I’m going to build it in right into the current one! This won’t be full-fledged roleplaying with persistent characters, but rather a tool to create short stories of the “A day in the life of…” type, or ones that would explore crises that a group faces.

I don’t know the full details of how it would work out, but I’m currently thinking that there would be some sort of pool of tokens that players would have and which would allow them Challenge rerolls or bonuses to rolls or bonuses to traits, or something. You’d get more tokens if, when an individual mini-story is initiated, you succesfully bring into play a trait of that group, a trait of an opposing group, a resource or a threat the group recently faced, and other such stuff, and later on, you’d get to use those tokens to boost your groups.  So the game cycle would be something like this: inter group challenges -> lull in group activity -> small stories -> groups refreshed -> inter group challenges. There are issues of putting in either too much (detracts from the culture-building aspect of the game) or too little (affects so little that it is insignificant) into this mechanic, but the idea definitelly has enough promise for me to try and tackle these issues.

What’s planned for Change?

September 25, 2009

There are a number of things that I want to add to Change but am waiting until I receive feedback related to the core mechanics of the game. While the basic mechanic of traits and fluctuations in their usefulness portrays the kind of change I want to see – going in cycles within cycles, and yet still moving forwards, I find that the game does not yet show the full reasons of why a group changes that well. In the real world, change is not (only) something that runs on whatever the internal drive of a society is – there are factors outside of a one’s control, that you have to either adapt to or bend towards your own devices.

There are two broad categories of these kinds of outside factors:

1) the common space, the World the groups inhabit;

2) other groups.

The World already exists, but in a rather fluffy and fictive way – there is either a common agreement between players on what’s possible and what’s not – I trust it works to keep the players immersed, but I don’t trust it to seamlessly lead in new changes into the game -, or as traits that a group has. Traits are cool, but there are ways in which plagues, or forests of wild magic, or century-old dragons, ley-lines of magic and many other similar things are not best represented as something under the exclusive ownership of any particular society.

I have some ideas that would help breathe more life into the World, but I’m painting with broad strokes here, so if you have any suggestions, don’t hestitate to tell me! Anyway, I currently have three things in mind, and they are Threats, Resources, and Limitations. Threats are something that is dangerous – extremelly large predators, unfavourable weather, diseases or militant “uncivilised” groups. You could either fight Threats, or somehow use them against other groups… But whatever you do, Threats would have a natural tendency to expand and eventually explode in everyone’s faces, unless succesfully countered early. Resources are special items or features in the world that allow some tasks to be accomplished easier – rich lands, special places, powerful artifacts. Using resources would be a difficult job at start, with low or even negative returns, but it would get easier for every group the more work is done on making use of that resource by any one group. The main issue with resources will be whether the one who has taken the burden of making a resource accessible will be the one reaping the benefits of its accessibility… Depleting resources may also cause new threats and limitations to appear. Limitations are things that you can not do or are extremelly difficult to do. Travelling through oceans, communing with the dead, spacefaring – someone, somewhere, will eventually be able to do this, but before that happens, a lot of work has to be done. Limits will work by constraining the field of possible fiction, and giving hefty advantages to those who break them first, at the same time making them easier to use. Limitations are a bit difficult in game process terms – you have to decide what things are interesting to you, and then not do them until you manage to crack them… But still, I like the idea, for some vague, yet unindentified reason.

As for inter-group interactions… I’ve already got that covered somewhat by inter-group Challenges and Arenas, which work well enough. What my game does not yet do is have is an ability for groups on friendly terms to influence each other’s social structures, which definitelly happens in the real world. Currently, I am thinking of some sort friend/foe system – having points in “friend” allows you to help your friend and get him new good traits, having points in “foe” allows you to harm your foe and get him new poor traits. You would also be able to affect another group’s stance towards you directly, by performing acts of good will or aggression.

None of these ideas are anywhere near rules you could cut out and use. But as inchoate and messy as they are, I’m sure I can squeeze something good out of them.

So that’s it for my plans. What do you think? Can you think of any features that my little cultural change simulation game lacking?

Change released!

September 20, 2009

Well, it took three years of contemplating, a week and then some of furious scribbling, but finally I have a working playtest version of my own little dream – Change, the worldbuilding game. This is a project I have been thinking about a lot, and I am very excited about having the actual finished game out, doubly so because it is my first ever. Yay!

Get the Change game here.

Now, it’s a version that still lacks some of the features I would like it to have – specifically, a larger role for the immediate surroundings of a group, as well as a way to factor in sworn enemies and such, but even without those things, I am quite certain that my game is very much playable already… And even more importantly, it’s fun!

If you have any questions, comments and such, please don’t hestitate to ask.

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