Monthly Archives: May 2012

Game Mechanic of the Day

… okay, I know, this is stepping on Jesse Coombs‘s toes, but whatever. He’s a nice guy, he’ll forgive me.

Anyway, this comes from the DnD Next playtest packet, and I’m forbidden to post excerpts, so I’ll paraphrase:

“If you have advantage in a situation, roll 2d20 and pick the higher. If you have a disadvantage, roll 2d20 and pick the lower.”

Yes. Yes to this. Yes to this a thousand times… there’s been some moaning and interest in equal measure to this, and who knows if it’ll live to see the final product, but at this moment, it’s the most exciting thing about 5E for me. Some things about Dungeons and Dragons cannot and will not change: you’ve got stats that want to run between 3 and 18, even though the bonuses want to run between -4 and 4; you’ll have a class named Fighter, and a Wizard, and a Rogue and they’ll want to work together; there will be dungeons, and there will be dragons, in some measure. These are inherent… they’re needed for the system to, well, look like itself. You can change a lot, but once you drop these basics, some wag in the audience will ask why this is D&D at all.

And of course you have the rule of the d20: roll the d20, add your bonuses, compare it to a target. It’s a fine system. It works. Getting bonuses is great. But boy, is it ever mathy. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but it does mean that adding numbers is pretty normalized. Statistically, there’s a difference between rolling 1d20 + 2 strength + 2 weapon proficiency and rolling 1d20 +2 strength +2 weapon proficiency +2 combat advantage, but they don’t FEEL different. One is advantageous, but not emotionally compelling unless you are just super into numbers that get bigger.

On the other hand, this presents an utterly new paradigm*. Instead of abstract math, you have a visceral and entirely present advantage (or disadvantage) that you hold in your hand. Oooh, its there. Oooh, it’s shiny. Ooooh, it makes having an advantage feel powerful in a way mathing doesn’t. And oooh, it makes having a disadvantage have wieght, like a dang-old neck-albatross. Ooooh, in short. And the fact that it makes the relevant critical twice as likely and the opposing critical twenty-times less likely, well, that’s just gravy.

Closing suggestion: I’d like to playtest this, and make the declaration that the players do not get to roll their own d20 for advantage or disadvantage. Rather, I’ll pick up two of my own, one bright (white or gold with silver numbers) and one dark (red and black, or perhaps a sickly green and brown). When advantage or disadvantage come up, I hand it to the player. It’s a nice little ritualized element, and the color-coding will add to the already visceral feeling of having a die in hand. Plus, I kind of dig the notion that, while a player’s actions are in his own dice, his advantages and disadvantages are out of his hands, in the dice of fate (or the dice of the DM, as the case may be). Of course my dice will be just as fair as their own, but man… they’ll still get the power of confirmation bias and the subtle gamer’s superstition that dice can be Good or Evil to give them a real emotional heft. Which, honestly, is something that I don’t see associated with Dungeons and Dragons, or math, very often.

*Not utterly, I suppose. In 4E, the Avenger class operated like this… mark a target, then roll twice to attack, choosing the higher. Also, the Avenger was awesome. Coincidence?


Talkin’ ’bout Epistolary

Hey there! So, Epistolary managed to be a finalist in this year’s Game Chef. I’ve mentioned this before, but the final voting came in, and I figured, hey, why not discuss this at some greater length. First of all, this is incredibly exciting. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before, but it is pretty much nuts; my first attempt at a Game Chef, and I make it to the finals.

It’s a ridiculously unlikely sort of thing, and I feel incredibly honored to have been recognized. Oh, and congratulations to the other nominees and of course to the winner and a hearty well-played to everyone who entered (especially to those games which I’ve read… I haven’t had the impetus to read all the games or even all the nominees, but I have been a dilettante and looked at everything with an interesting title, and hope to someday get an opportunity to put a flashlight in a box of macaroni and other craziness of that vein. But this is my blog so I’m going to be self-centered.

Why is Epistolary so awesome?

Short answer: because it’s got such a keen shape to it. The world might not have asked for a means to role-play a Dracula pastiche, but there was a hole in the world that I was able to fit into. A niche, one could say. And yeah, the game really, truly is built from the ground up to accommodate that sort of pastiche… rather than look for a way to tell a certain kind of story, I started with a very specific story and worked my way backwards from there.

I didn’t get there, I don’t think. For one thing, I have no rules for creating vampires yet (though that would be on the table in the future),  and the whole affair was, by necessity, made a bit more small-town, but still, it’s a very direct line from A to B. Go me.

I’m also proud of the presentation… I’ll agree with everyone who said it needs a rules summary that’s not in epistolary fashion, because it DOES and I really shouldn’t have submitted it without one (though, in my defense, I was really, really up against the wall with respect to the word count). I like epistolaries, and I like rules documents with obvious attitudes and biases, and the whole thing just made me happy on the inside.

Everything else… well, I think the mechanics are good in a theoretical sort of way. They feel like they’d work well. I’m saying they’re utterly untested and who knows if and when they will be, but to me, they look good… they promote interaction even when a player isn’t in the scene, because he or she can still contribute to another character’s success or failure, and that’s a nifty power to have! Will it be too slow or too disconnected? I think not, but time will have to tell on that one. It’s also something I haven’t personally seen done before, so even if it’s not brand-new it’s not yet overdone.

What needs doing? More than anything else, a rules summary, and beyond that two major things: a more codified system of doing damage to one another (some sort of combat or duelling mechanism) and a more regulated method for doling out clues and letting the monster progress… at the moment, it’s just sort of vague advice to make up clues and reveal them every two scenes or so. A bit broad. Offhand thought… have all the players write up a terrible secret they are hiding and a few clues which might lead other players to it, with the monster’s player of course having the secret that he is a monster. Thus, not only is the GM flush with clues to drop, EVERYONE has a secret, the revealing of which will drop them out of the game.

(Well, if a non-monster secret is revealed, the Hunter is considered to leave in shame or be arrested or something… or perhaps the monster has the option of using the secret which would get the Hunter arrested or some such… HMMM).

So, am I going to keep working on this? I think so. It’s going to take a little time and a lot of testing, eventually, but I do feel that, given the reception that I’ve gotten so far, I have something pretty cool here. I’d like to have it in finished, playable form by June.

Can I do it? I don’t know, but I managed to write a heck of a lot of it in nine days, so I think the odds are in my favor.