Design Diary: Bulldogs!

Posted on : 08-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : Bulldogs!, Design Diaries, FATE, Freelance, Indie Games, Links

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I’ve been doing some freelance writing lately for Brennan Taylor of Galileo Games. I did some freelance work for him a while back, during the 3rd Edition/d20 era. He had published an RPG called Bulldogs! using the d20 system, and I wrote a psionics supplement for it. Bulldogs! is a sci-fi space opera game. The flavor of the setting is very cool, something a little different from Star Wars. I feel that the d20 system was at odds with the flavor of the setting, though, and Brennan did, too. To that end, he decided to make a 2nd Edition of the game, using FATE as the system for it. He put out a call to freelancers to help him out and, to make a long story short, I’m co-writing the core rulebook with him.

Overall, I feel that FATE is a much better fit for the setting than d20 ever was. While writing the chapter on alien species, it was much easier to capture the flavor of each species using aspects and stunts than it ever was using d20 mechanics, and it’s simpler to boot. Check out the entry for the Ryjyllians from the 1st Edition rules of the game:

Racial Traits
Ability Scores: +2 Strength, -2 Wisdom. Ryjyllians are physically powerful, but they tend to be hotheaded and rash, acting before they think things through.
Special Characteristics:

  • Rage: Ryjyllians are able to enter a combat rage. They gain great strength and durability, but lose control of themselves and are less able to defend against attacks. A Ryjyllian in a rage temporarily gains +4 to Strength, +4 to Constitution, and a +2 morale bonus on Will saves, but suffers a -2 penalty to Armor Class. The increase in Constitution raises the Ryjyllian’s hit points by 2 points per level, but these hit points go away at the end of the rage when the Ryjyllian’s Constitution drops back to normal. (These hit points are not lost the way temporary hit points are.) While raging, the Ryjyllian cannot use skills or abilities that require concentration, such as moving silently. He can use any feat he might have except for Expertise, item creation feats, and Skill Focus (if it’s tied to a skill that requires patience or concentration). A fit of rage lasts for a number of rounds equal to 3+ the character’s (newly improved) Constitution modifier. The Ryjyllian may prematurely end the rage voluntarily. At the end of the rage, the Ryjyllian is fatigued (-2 to Strength, -2 to Dexterity, can’t charge or run) for the duration of that encounter. The Ryjyllian can only fly into a rage once per encounter and only a certain number of times per day (his level divided by four). Entering a rage takes no time itself, but the Ryjyllian can only do it during his action, not in response to somebody else’s action. A Ryjyllian can’t, for example, fly into a rage when struck by a blaster in order to get the extra hit points from the increased Constitution, although the extra hit points would be a benefit if he had gone into a rage earlier in the round, before the blaster hit.
  • Low-light Vision: Ryjyllians can see twice as far as an Arsubaran in starlight, moonlight, dim light, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
  • Claws: All Ryjyllians have retractable claws at the tips of their fingers and toes. In combat, these can be used as weapons, and Ryjyllians are automatically considered to be proficient in their use. The claws deliver 1d4/x2/slashing damage.
  • +2 racial bonus to all Climb, Jump, and Move Silently checks. Ryjyllians are cat-like and able to perform athletic feats with little difficulty.
  • The Ryjyllian Code of Conduct: Ryjyllians adhere to a strict warrior’s code. They refuse to flee combat, although if ordered to withdraw, the code requires them to observe the command. They must never show fear in the face of danger, but instead challenge it boldly. If challenged to a fight, a Ryjyllian may never refuse. Ryjyllians never use what they consider dirty tricks or deception to win in combat; the fight must be fair to be honorable. The code also requires a Ryjyllian to follow the orders of a superior without question or hesitation, although if ordered to do something that violates the code, the Ryjyllian is likely to commit suicide after he has carried out the order. If a Ryjyllian is ever humiliated in combat, or violates the code by accident, suicide is generally the response. They must make a Will save vs. 20 to break the code.
    Size: Medium. As medium-sized creatures, Ryjyllians have no special bonuses or penalties due to size.
    Speed: Base speed for Ryjyllians is 30 feet.
  • Languages: Ryjyllians all begin with the ability to speak both Galactic and Ryjyllac.
  • Favored Class: Fighter. A multiclass Ryjyllian’s fighter class does not count when determining whether she suffers an XP penalty for multiclassing. Fighting is the Ryjyllian raison d’etre, and they naturally fall into this profession.

That’s a lot of mechanics to remember. It tells you something about the Ryjyllians as a people, but a lot of that real estate above is devoted to matters of physiology, and relatively little is devoted to things that provide character hooks. Now, compare this to the stats for Ryjyllians in 2nd Edition Bulldogs!. (DISCLAIMER: The following mechanics are not final, and are subject to change.)

Typical Ryjyllian Aspects:
The Ryjyllian Code of Honor
Warrior from a Warrior Race
Loyal to My Clan
Last to Retreat
Cat-Like Reflexes
Short Temper

Typical Ryjyllian Stunts:
Ryjyllian Combat Focus
Some Ryjyllians train in special combat techniques that allow them to enter into a sort of battle trance that inures them to pain and makes them more deadly combatants. Once per session, the Ryjyllian can spend a fate point to enter into this state. While in this state, the Ryjyllian automatically generates one extra shift on any attack roll made to deal stress. In addition, the Ryjyllian gains an additional physical stress box, which can be filled as normal. However, if the extra stress box is filled, when this state ends the Ryjyllian takes an immediate consequence that is one step more severe than it would otherwise be. The Ryjyllian can exit this state at any time; otherwise it lasts until the end of the scene.

There’s a lot less real estate devoted to mechanically explaining what a Ryjyllian is, and almost all of that real estate provides character hooks. Each aspect gives you an idea of what kind of species they are, and even the stunt provides more info than the Rage ability did in 1st Edition.

Furthermore, all of the above is optional when you’re playing a Ryjyllian. In 1st Edition, everything listed was mandatory for your character. This meant that, if you wanted to play a Ryjyllian, you had to deal with all of that complexity, and your Ryjyllian would look a lot like all the other Ryjyllians out there; there was little room for variance outside of class choice. In 2nd Edition, we provide recommended aspects and stunts, but you’re perfectly free to ignore them and come up with your own stuff. We provide a baseline that you can use to start from, but your Ryjyllian is, first and foremost, an individual, and you can build that individual however you want to.

Designing Again

Posted on : 22-02-2008 | By : Brian | In : Design Diaries, Gamecrafting, Links, Self-Promotion, Wild Blue

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I don’t believe I’ve shared this yet, but I’ve sort of been on an unofficial hiatus from game design. As in, I’ve just been too lazy to do it. At any rate, I’ve been bitten by the bug again, so I’m going back to designing Wild Blue. I’ve had some ideas regarding mechanics recently, ideas that have really excited me, and I’m starting to put pen to paper again, in a mostly digital, metaphorical sense. These ideas incorporate some elements of Saga, but many of the ideas are wholly new (though I’ll admit to some influence from other RPGs, most notably Dogs in the Vineyard. At any rate, I’ve decided that, as I design Wild Blue, I’m going to document the process, if only to give myself an outlet for some of the things going through my head. This will be the first of my design diaries.

This first diary will focus on what is effectively my mission statement for the mechanics that will provide the foundation for Wild Blue. I have a number of goals in mind, and I’m going to outline them here.

1. The mechanics will be easy to learn and use. A lesson I learned with Saga was not to overcomplicate things. In one particular playtest, one of my testers was a novice gamer; he had never played a role-playing game before, and had limited experience with board games, too. Throughout the entire four-hour playtest, I had to repeatedly explain what he should do, how many dice he should roll, and why. I don’t in any way consider this to be a failing on the part of the tester; far from it, it was clearly a failing on the part of myself and the system I designed. Despite my broad-strokes approach in Saga, I had made the basic mechanics a little too complicated, and while experienced role-players and board gamers seemed able to grasp them with relative ease, a novice gamer had considerable difficulty. This is a problem I aim to avoid in Wild Blue.

2. The mechanics will allow for narrative control for the players. This is a big one. Saga had leanings in this direction, but didn’t go quite far enough. In Wild Blue, successfully resolving an action means that you get to narrate its resolution. This means that you get to decide how you succeed, and describe it. On the flip side, it also means that you can choose to fail, and if you do so, there will be some form of compensation, and not just the fact that you can choose how you fail; I mean mechanical compensation, an incentive of some sort.

3. The mechanics will allow for a wide array of character options. Saga, I think, succeeded fairly well in this regard. The skills were broad enough that you could create specialties that described your character fairly well, and traits allowed you to do this even more so. But I want to go a little bit further with this idea. There will be certain aspects of your character that are chosen from pre-defined lists, that do pre-defined things. However, the most important aspects of your character will be wholly player-created, and will be descriptive of your character. I also want drives to be a more central, more important aspect of your character.

4. The setting will inform the mechanics. Saga was deliberately generic. While I want Wild Blue’s system to have some aspect of wide applicability (I’d still like the system to be open-source), I want to have mechanics that reinforce, and are reinforced by, the setting. I don’t want to create a generic system and try to shoe-horn my setting into it, I want to create a system and a setting that are intertwined and designed with each other in mind. If the system can be used for other settings regardless, that’s just a bonus.

5. The mechanics will make it easy to be the GM. I tried to do this with Saga, and to some extent I think I succeeded, but I didn’t define things well enough for the GM. During my playtests, it was easy for me to adapt on the fly to what the players did, and to improvise challenges for them quickly and seamlessly. However, I always felt that I was fudging things to some extent. There weren’t any well-defined difficulty scales, so it was never clear how hard a given challenge should be. I want to change that in Wild Blue, and define things better so that there’s less guess-work involved in being the GM.