That’s right, you can get the PDF for Becoming: A Game of Heroism and Sacrifice on DriveThruRPG on the Dangerous Games page! For those who don’t know, Becoming is a game about what it costs to be a hero, what you have to sacrifice. It’s a four-player game wherein one player takes on the role of Hero and the other three take on the roles of Fates, which are a bit like GMs. Go check it out!
So I’ve decided to set up a Patreon page to fund some of my game designs. I’m still going to do freelance stuff for other companies, but I’ve decided I want to do more of my own designs, put them out in the world. What Rough Cuts showed me was that people are willing to pony up money, even if it’s just a dollar, for my designs. Even the crazy, off-beat ones. So that’s where Patreon comes in.
On Patreon, you can pledge to support me. You specify an amount, and you pay me that amount every time I release a significant piece of content. A significant piece of content, in this case, is a full micro game or a piece of a larger game (at least four pages). You’ll also get to see work-in-progress stuff and, if you pledge at least $10, you’ll get a PDF of the final version of any game I fund through Patreon. Also, don’t worry about going over your spending limit; you can specify a maximum amount of money you’ll give me per month.
I hope you support me. I want to make more games, and I want to share them with you!
With all the excitement of signing up for GenCon and getting a room (and the unfortunate timing involved with my missing Dreamation), I’ve been thinking about cons a lot and what to bring with me. I have a standard con kit that I typically bring with me everywhere, and it evolves as I get new cool gaming gear. In no particular order:
1. My bag of holding. Got this thing from ThinkGeek, and I love it. It’s spacious, easy to tote around, and full of pockets to store the kit proper. I use the thing almost every day (it’s my work bag too), and it’s holding up really well.
2. Dice. In addition to the standard set of polyhedral dice, I also make sure to bring a big pile of fudge dice with me; I run a lot of Fate games after all. I also like to throw a handful of extra d6s in there, because you never know when you’ll need a handful of d6s.
3. Realm Coins. I backed these through Kickstarter a while back and I don’t regret it. I’ve got 90 of these little coins in three different types (gold, silver, copper), and they’re great for any time you need tokens or counters of some sort. Need fate points? Plot points for Marvel? Something to track hold in Apocalypse World or Dungeon World? These things are great.
4. Index cards. Always, always, always. Doesn’t matter what game I’m running, I almost always find a use for these.
5. Pens, pencils, sharpies, dry erase markers. All useful for different things. It pays to be prepared.
6. My folding dry-erase board. I just got this thing and I can envision all manner of uses for it. It folds up to the size of a stack of index cards, unfolds to a size that’s great for most tables, and comes with a cloth bag you can use as an eraser. Can’t wait to use it.
7. A notebook. I almost always need to write things down, so I always make sure I have a nice thick book full of blank pages.
8. Binders of stuff. For games I run, I tend to print out materials and keep them in binders — either separate binders or one binder with dividers. I do tend to switch these out a bit more than the other stuff because they can get heavy.
9. Books. I find I usually need a book for reference when I’m running a game, but I try to minimize the number of books I’m carrying because of the weight thing.
10. A bottle of water. I get thirsty, and I like to stay hydrated. Most cons have places I can refill throughout the day, and it’s better for me than Mountain Dew or coffee.
I read (and responded to) a tweet today that got under my skin a little. Because tweeting in that state often leads to escalation and misunderstandings, and because you shouldn’t argue a point with someone just because you can, I thought I’d let it simmer for a bit and turn it into a blog post.
I’m paraphrasing here, but the tweet boiled down to: a good GM can save a game when faced with bad players, but it’s rare for good players to do so when faced with a bad GM.
Now, leaving aside the idea of labeling people as “good” or “bad” players and GMs, I have a major problem with this statement, as well as with the statements that followed. If this statement is true, how does it help to state it as a truism? Wouldn’t it be more constructive to come up with solutions to the perceived problem and talk about those instead? So again, assuming that that statement is true, how can we as gamers address it?
Take responsibility. Every player at the table is responsible for every other player’s fun, in addition to his or her own. It’s not the GM’s responsibility to save a game; it’s the whole group’s responsibility. How do you do that? By starting a conversation. Your fellow participants in the game are people, and people can only correct things when they know something’s wrong. Don’t wait for the GM to guide the game back into the fun; start a conversation with the group and discuss what you find fun and what you’d like to do that you think will be fun. Don’t sit there and stew about how the guy next to you keeps on hogging all the treasure; tell that guy, as politely as possible, that you’d rather he not do that. You can get a lot just by asking nicely or discussing things with people in an open, honest way.
This is not an excuse to nitpick your fellow players’ faults and focus on every little perceived slight; that won’t make anyone happy, it won’t generate any fun, and it’ll likely bring the game to an abrupt and unpleasant halt. Instead, keep the lines of communication open. Be clear about what you want out of the game. Listen to your fellow players when they tell you what they want, and do what you can to give it to them.
Not all playtest feedback is valuable. This isn’t to say that you, as the designer, shouldn’t at least listen to any feedback addressed to you; you should, even if you’re ultimately not going to take the suggestion. But designers, this post isn’t for you.
Right now I’m talking to playtesters. I’m a playtester too, you know. I often playtest things for fellow game designers, and something that I struggle with is offering feedback that isn’t valuable to the designer. I don’t mean saying stuff like, “This sucks” or “This is great.” That kind of feedback is also not particularly valuable because it lacks specificity, but it’s not what I’m talking about.
Let’s do a for instance here. You agree to playtest a game because it sounds awesome. You sit down and play it and you have a decent time, but there are things about the game that bug you, things that don’t seem quite right, things that make it a game that you’re ultimately not interested in playing. Worse, it seems like those things are deliberate choices, choices that marginalize you as a player and make it clear that you’re not the target demographic. Your immediate response is to call the designer on these choices, to try and guide him or her into creating the game that you want to play.
That’s what I’m talking about. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to this kind of thing because it’s a human reaction. It’s human to feel jilted by something when you’re excited about it and it turns out to be something different. It’s natural. But that doesn’t mean your feedback, your attempts to guide the designer back to the correct path, are a good idea.
Here’s the thing: just because a game is not for you does not make it a bad game, or a flawed game, or a broken game. A game can be both well-constructed and something you’re not interested in; those things are not mutually exclusive.
The trick is that you have to recognize when your feedback is helping to make a game a better version of itself, and when your feedback’s intent is to make it into a different game. If the latter, your feedback isn’t going to be all that useful to the designer. Think about the intent of the design, and if you’re unclear on that, ask the designer what his or her intent is. Use that to guide your decision.
Another Dungeon! post, this one a simple hack to make the cleric a bit more interesting.
See, in Dungeon!, each class has a schtick. The rogue sticks to the easy levels and can detect secret doors easily. The fighter is a heavy combat monkey, and can go after the harder levels pretty effectively. The wizard is physically weak, but has spells that can take out tough baddies pretty easily. The poor cleric doesn’t really have a schtick, though. He’s a little tougher than the rogue and a bit weaker than the fighter. He doesn’t have any special abilities, and sticks to the middling levels. All in all, not that interesting to play.
So what if we gave the cleric some spells? Here’s how.
The cleric gets 1d6+2 spells, chosen from the same pool as the wizard. Unlike the wizard, the cleric can’t cast spells from outside of the room; they’re strictly-close combat. The cleric has to choose a spell before revealing a new monster after stepping into a room or chamber, though if there’s already a monster revealed he has the advantage of foresight. Like the wizard, the cleric can only cast one spell per turn. The cleric also regains spells the same way the wizard does. The cleric can still use magic swords, but a magic sword’s bonus does not apply to spell attacks. Spells are as follows.
Flame Strike and Searing Light: These behave identically to Fireball and Lightning Bolt, using the same target numbers. Fireball becomes Flame Strike, Lightning Bolt becomes Searing Light.
Sanctuary: Teleport becomes Sanctuary. After entering a chamber, the cleric can cast Sanctuary to place a stun token in that chamber. The cleric doesn’t have to fight a monster, but must end his turn. The next time he enters that chamber, he removes the token and ends his turn without fighting a monster.
Turn Undead (optional): When fighting an undead monster, the cleric can discard any spell and lose a turn to destroy it automatically. This counts as casting a spell.
This hack is going to make the cleric more interesting, but also more powerful. To compensate for the cleric’s new power, he now needs 15,000 gold pieces to win instead of 10,000.
You may notice some missing abilities (like the ability to heal). For that kind of thing, check out my other Dungeon! hack. You could easily replace Sanctuary with Heal if you wanted to.
[Edit: added verbiage about magic swords.]
[Second edit: added Turn Undead.]
Dungeon! is a fun, simple game by Wizards of the Coast, a remake of an older game. It’s easy to learn and play, pretty quick, and entertaining. Best of all, it’s hackable. As soon as I read the rules I started thinking of ways to hack them; the first thing I came up with was a way to play the game cooperatively rather than competitively. Some of these rules could also be ported into the competitive game if you really wanted to.
(Credit where it’s due: my wife Nicole helped me playtest this and also helped me come up with some of the rules. She rocks.)
Winning the Game
- You must get gold equal to the combined total gold required by all classes in play.
- You must defeat the Dungeon Lord.
The Dungeon Lord
Choose the Hero with the highest level range. Draw a random monster of a level equal to the highest level in that range and set it aside. This is the Dungeon Lord.
Heroes can occupy the same room or chamber space. When in the same space or an adjacent space, Heroes may trade treasures. If more than one hero is in the same room or chamber during a fight, the Hero whose turn it is gets a bonus as listed below. However, if the Hero misses, the monster attacks all Heroes in the room (roll once for each Hero).
2 Heroes: +1
3-4 Heroes: +2
5-8 Heroes: +3
When a Hero clears a chamber, that Hero gains a level. When you gain a level, you gain access to your class’s level 1 ability. If you gain a second level, you gain access to your class’s level 2 ability. The maximum level is 2. If you are Killed, you lose 1 level, drop all of your treasure, and reappear in the Great Hall (unless the Endgame has started; see below). The abilities you gain are as follows.
Hide (level 1): When you miss and roll evens, you may retreat one space and lose a turn. If you do, the monster doesn’t get to attack you.
Sneakthief (level 2): When you use Hide, if the monster has any treasure under its card, you may take one of them at random.
Heal (level 1): When you miss and roll evens, the monster takes a -2 on its roll to attack you.
Divine Favor (level 2): When Heal activates, you get a +1 bonus on your next attack against the same monster.
Battle-Hardened (level 1): When you roll evens, increase your result by 1.
Veteran (level 2): When you roll evens, increase your result by 2 instead of 1.
Loremaster (level 1): When you hit with a spell and roll evens, you don’t lose the spell.
Archmage (level 2): You do not lose spells when you hit with them.
When meet the gold piece threshold, the Endgame triggers. Put the Dungeon Lord in the Great Hall. You have to go back to the Great Hall and hit the Dungeon Lord three times (put 3 cleared tokens on it) in order to defeat it. When you defeat the Dungeon Lord, you win the game.
When the Dungeon Lord is in play, you are Seriously Wounded or Killed, you are eliminated from the game. If all players are eliminated from the game, everybody loses.
So yeah, Metatopia.
For those who aren’t familiar, Metatopia’s a convention geared toward game designers; you go, you get your game playtested, you talk about games, you attend panels. It’s one part game design assistance, one part kibitzing, one part professional development. It’s easily one of my favorite cons of the year.
Last Metatopia I attended as a player and knew only a few people. I hadn’t yet broken into game design in a big way and had nothing to show people at the con other than Bulldogs!, which had already been published. I had the beginnings of a name and was just starting to get on peoples’ radar.
This Metatopia was a different experience. For one thing, I’m writing all the things so a lot of people know me and know who I am. Designers came from all over the country (and from outside the country, in some cases) to attend the con, many of whom I knew. It was great to see them all and catch up.
I also had stuff to show people, stuff I’m working on that needed playtesting. I ran a session of Becoming that was very productive, and that resulted in a playtest doc that is, in all likelihood, very close to what the final text will look like. At this point I feel that the fundamentals are solid, and that the tweaks are going to revolve around specific numbers and such.
I also ran a focus group for Wetwork, a cyberpunk Apocalypse World hack I’m working on. I got feedback from my friend Russel Morrisey (he of Fortune Cookie Kung Fu fame), as well as gaming luminaries like Jason Morningstar, Brennan Taylor, and Darren Watts. They gave me a lot of good advice, pointed out the flaws (such as the fact that I haven’t actually read Apocalypse World yet), and confirmed that Wetwork is headed in the right direction and is a thing worth doing.
Oh, and I was also on a panel. I got to talk about How to Work with an Editor with John Adamus and Amanda Valentine, and it was a lot of fun. I got to spout off the same sort of stuff I spout on Twitter, except to a room full of people. There was even an audible groan of dismay when the panel ended, which was gratifying.
Aside from my own things, I sat in on a bunch of panels (all of which were excellent; seriously, the Metatopia panel track is first-rate) and got to play Tim Rodriguez’s Yellow Press (a Rummy-style game where you play reporters making the news about super-heroes and super-villains) and Quinn Murphy’s Dicefighter (a dice game that seeks to emulate fighting games like Street Fighter), both of which are shaping up to be excellent games.
This year, Metatopia continued to provide an invaluable service to the game design community that you just can’t get elsewhere. I can’t wait for next year.
Being that Metatopia starts tomorrow, I figured now might be a good time for me to post my schedule during the con.
9-10pm – Playtesting Yellow Press by Brooklyn Indie Games
10-11pm – Team-Building for Game Design
11-12am – Working with an Editor (I’m a panelist on this one, along with John Adamus and Amanda Valentine)
12-2am – Playtesting Kriegzeppelin Valkyrie, Clark Valentine’s setting for Fate Core
9-1pm – Running a playtest of Becoming
2-4pm – Kickstarter Roundtable
6-7pm – Champions of Midralon focus group with Irven Keppen
7-8pm – The Writing Workshop
8-10pm – 13th Age (looks like I finally get to see what all the hype is about)
10-12am – Playtesting Dicefighter by Quinn Murphy of Thoughtcrime Games
10-12pm – Running a focus group for a new game idea I’m working on, Wetwork
Back in high school, when I fancied myself a songwriter, somebody gave me a piece of advice that I still remember: write your lyrics to the tune of a song you like, then go back and change the music once you have the lyrics written.
Fast-forward hrm hrm years and I’ve lost all illusions of being good at writing words to music, but I still write and I still find that advice useful. Why? Because it applies to game design too.
Think of a game you like; that’s the music. When you’re designing a game, a good way to start is to start with that music and write your game using it. You’re writing a hack of a game you like. This is helpful because you start with familiar surroundings and fewer things you have to design yourself. The system’s already done, right? All you have to do is drift it a little bit to encompass the things you want to include in your hack and you’re done!
I find that that’s rarely the case, though. Often, after I’ve started writing a hack, I start re-writing the rules I started with, drifting them further, incorporating elements from other games, making up new stuff. I started with the music of a game I liked but, once I’d fit it around a theme or setting I was interested in, I began to make my own music.
This, incidentally, is what’s happening with Wild Blue. It’s a useful technique. You should try it.