An essay on a specific element or ttRPG game design.
When I first got into playing RPGs, a round of combat was generally viewed as being a minute. As a result, no one worried about how long it took to draw a sword, reload a gyrojet pistol, or get a potion out of your pack.
I’m not saying none of the games had different action economies. Just that no one I played with ever worried about those things. You could do one thing a round, maybe two, and it was assumed in-play that you could get the gear you needed for that.
That changed, over time. Some of that change grew from better-written rules in more games to handle the action economy for such issues. Some from games moving to shorter durations for player turns (though I don’t remember ever having to declare I was drawing a pistol in Car Wars games, where a phase was 1/10th of a second).
Now most popular RPG rulesets have explicit rules for determining how long it takes to draw a weapon, change a battery, sheath a wand, dig a potion out of your bag, and so on. It makes sense. It helps with verisimilitude.
I’m not convinced it adds much fun.
I’m leaning toward trying some games where it is just assumed you can have any one set of held equipment at the beginning of your turn. Things you have to strap into or carefully adjust still take time, but if you want to be using a greatsword one round, twin nickel-plated Colt .45s the next, and a zippo lighter and healing potion the third, fine.
Changing gear in the middle or a round still takes time. Otherwise we hand-wave it, and focus on the interesting things characters are doing with their equipment, rather than making them waste a turn getting what they need to have fun ready.
This could be adapted to nearly any game system, though games with Quick Draw options, or limited charges as a power balancing factor, or characters who focus on equipmentless options in order to have reduced effect for increased readiness might nee tweaking.
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It’s been more than 18 months since I updated the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words (which can be found here)!
So if you want to have a vavasor gallivant across his demesne, or have the sigil in a grimoire be the campaign’s telos, these are the words for you!
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A lot of projects from a lot of game companies are late. I don’t find this at all shocking, at least in part because I have projects of my own that are not just horrifically behind, but (at least to public eyes) look like they’ve had no progress for weeks or months.
But for those who want answers and don’t have access to the creators of whatever project they feel is unreasonably late, here’s a table of reasons whatever thing you wish you already had is late. Tongue in cheek… but also a lot of grains of truth.
- Roll twice. The first roll is the main reason the game product is late. The second roll is something that happened while the first roll was being dealt with, making it later.
- Nothing went wrong with the project. However, because game industry professionals always have multiple projects in the pipeline, an even older, even later project had an issue that delayed it, and that must be addressed before the project you are concerned about gets finished.
- While the publisher wasn’t dealing with major issues, a printer, distributor, freelancer, or shipper was, and that delayed things. By an unknown amount of time. We don’t have an eta yet. We’ll update you as soon as we know anything.
- Dog ate it.
- While only three days of work time was lost when a historic icestorm took the power out and killed cell phone access, it turns out that throwing out spoiled food, getting new groceries, getting emergency prescriptions to replace ruined insulin, clearing debris, calling insurance companies, checking in on elderly family members, and dealing with a three day backlog of emails, direct messages, and voicemails can take much longer than the time the power was out. Some issues take hours to deal with weeks and months later.
- Mental health issues. In this case, normal mental health issues that could have delayed the project in any year.
- Mental health issues… brought on by 2020. That might be a response to the pandemic, political turmoil, issues that call for protest, attacks from someone else flipping out over something linked to this year, or any of a dozen other things hammering this year.
- Aliens took it. … They may have been dog aliens.
- One or more of the creators is so overwhelmed that while they can dedicate time to trying to get the project out, when they do no useable creative work happens.
- A delay from someone else, linked to 5, 6, or 7, is serious enough other creatives need to take time to make sure the most impacted person is safe and okay.
- It was always going to be late. Let’s get real. It’s just worse because, you know, 2020.
- Time lost to having to have meetings virtually (rather than in person), and make plans to try to deal with the ever-shifting landscape of the industry, and answer questions publicly why projects are late, and try to find alternatives to plans made earlier in the pandemic which are already not viable, not only eats into time to actually make products, they tend to interrupt numerous times per day so what time can be applied to making progress on the delayed project is broken up and inefficient compared to conditions back when the project schedule was written out.
- All the time that should have gone to working on the project was wasted screaming into a pillow. And collecting bigger, more sound-absorbent pillows from other locations in the home.
- It’s hard to get much done when you are woozy from selling plasma, which you can do twice a week if you want the big donation bonuses… I mean the money has to come from somewhere.
- The pandemic, and the shutdowns and economic challenges it brings, have caused cash flow to drop so seriously that the project doesn’t have the money budgeted for some part of it. That work now has to be done in-house or by the lead creator, who has to squeeze it in around all the rest of the demands on their time.
- [This space left intentionally blank. Otherwise filling it would have taken so long, this blog post would have been late. The irony is not lost on us.]
- As the game industry takes hit after massive hit, time was taken to see if any Federal aid was available to make up for lost income, or to pay freelancers, to to act as a bolster for the downturn. Whether aid was found or not, the labyrinthine process of finding what options exist, reading the rules to understand if they apply, getting documents together, applying for the program, answering questions that come up, and letting others know what did and did not work, took enough time that an entire hardback book could have been written with the same effort–if anyone had a reason to think it would sell well right now.
- Time-travelers came from the future to delay the publication, claiming that if it was released on time, somehow things would get unimaginably worse.
They looked… haunted.
- With all the joy and inspiration sucked out of them by nonstop horrorshows in their life, the creators just gave up. They aren’t happy about it, and hope to get to it later. When the world seems less terrible. If they haven’t moved on with their lives and let the industry behind forever.
- The creative team loved the game, the project, the fanbase, and the industry, and is working on the “Better late than bad” principle. Stated simply, this principle says “If a project is late, it’s only late until it’s delivered. If it’s not given the time and resources it needs and is bad, it’s bad forever.”
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more snarky game industry commentary disguised as comedy (or Pathfinder 1st edition options, more rules for other game systems, fiction, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
Okay, yes, “Appendix O” is a cheesy and derivate name for a column title. But I really did love the inspirational appendices of some of my early RPG purchases in the 1980s, and genuinely learned a lot from them. Not as academic sources themselves, but as starting points for me to hunt down ideas and historical or philosophic context of ideas I first encountered in ttRPGs.
So when I realized I wanted a column title for just starting points of ideas I could pitch and explore a bit for gaming, I settled on this… in about 5 minutes without much serious though. I may or may not do more Appendix O articles. If you have an opinion on the idea, let me know!
Given it’s Election Day here in the U.S.A., I thought I’d tackle a government-related idea I’ve been playing with for some time as a potential plot device — sortition.
What is Sortition?
As a broad definition, sortition is the act of selecting, sorting, or deciding something by drawing lots. In governance, sortition is the selection of governing agents through random selection from a bigger pool of qualified candidates.
In 6th century Athens, sortition was considered a crucial part of democracy. The idea was that if positions of power were allowed to be filled through election, competition for those positions would inevitably lead to oligarchy as people made promises, cut deals, and build power bases to ensure they would get elected and re-elected. By assigning governing officers at random (from the male citizens who self-selected to be potential candidates).
However, sortition CAN use anything as qualifying for candidates, or nothing at all. Looking at some of the interesting governments proposed on early ttRPG sourcebooks, a Mageocracy might use sortition to assign important governmental positions to randomly selected spellcasters within the kingdom. A Theocracy that worshipped a god of chance (or has a strong tradition of using random fortune-telling methods to determine the will of the gods, or perhaps the collective will of a whole pantheon of gods) might use sortition to assign those positions not held by the church, or to decide who within the church holds government positions through sortition.
Sortition has been used in many forms over the centuries. In the US, juries for trials are essentially selected by sortition (and it’s easy to see why electing jurors would be seen as rife with corruption.) Sortition has been used to replace just a legislatural body, or to form policy boards, and even to select community leaders.
So, how can a government determined by chance be used in a ttRPG as a plot point?
Congratulations, High Minister
If you present a sortition government to PCs, and explain that anyone who meets certain qualifications can be selected to serve, the PCs may still be surprised when one of them is selected to fill an important role. Depending on the government, the selection may not be something a character is allowed to decline.
This allows a GM to introduce political elements to a campaign without worrying about political parties, campaigning, votes, or even re-election. A PC is handed a position for one term, which could be as short as a few weeks (especially if they are filling in for the end of a term of someone who died in office), and no actions on the PCs’ part is going to get them another term.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, King
You could also have an ally, patron, or even adversary of the PCs have vast political power dropped in their lap–or have them need to rush to complete some project or pass a law before their term ends, since they know they have little chance of keeping the power to do so after the next random assignment of power.
Luck as Political Power
Many ttRPGs have chance-manipulating abilities in the hands of PCs. If a government is strongly influences by sortition, those abilities can be seen as political power. A player might be woo’d by a candidate to skew luck in their favor… or accused of doing so when the PC did no such thing.
Rather than force a plot on PCs, a GM could also just establish a major sortition government as an invitation for PCs who are interested. If candidates must express interest in running for office, but are then chosen by lots, it allows PCs to decide to get involved in politics very spur-of-the moment.
One of the common criticisms of sortition is that it does not select for skill or morality. A GM could use that as a plot point, having a stable, rational, well-liked set of government officials replaced by idiots and crooks with a particularly bad set of randomly assigned positions. This could cause nearly overnight change, and potentially riots and cries for revolution. It can also place the PCs in a position where they must choose between the well-established law of the land, and wishing to replace an objectively terrible ruler, judge, legislator, or all of them above.
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more Appendix O ideas, (or game theories, Pathfinder 1st edition thoughts, or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
It looks like there is enough interest in session notes from my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign for those to become a regular feature. So here’s a write-up adapted from notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report for Session Six!
If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.
I decided to playtest my idea for Spotlight Tokens in this session. I got some useful feedback, I may or may not keep using them in this campaign.
These notes are from the point of view of the PCs (specifically my wife Lj, and I adapted them from her notes for her character, the fenrin operative bounty hunter Sawyer).
The Svirfneblin host us and feed us. Dinner includes large roasted pill bugs that taste like lobster. Mushrooms, snails (escargot-style), slugs, beer.
· The svirfneblin give us papers and a copy of The Pact to give to Dwargus Hardfist, with whom they hope to open formal trade.
· The svirfneblin give us “the Door,” a complex set of nested crystal spheres. It will seek a spot within the serpent people Hollow World near its center, and then can be activated (with a combination of three successful Engineering and/or Mysciticm checks in a row) to close the serpent people Hollow World for a century or so. Once activated, it must be guarded for 1-2 minutes (1d10+10 rounds), after which it will open a portal. It then cannot be stopped, but anyone who doesn’t go through the portal will be trapped in the Serpent People dark Hollow World for a century.
· The Svirfneblin can have their Hollow World (the Vault) overlap the serpent people’s Hollow World (Aakath), and deposit us near where we will need to set up “the Door.” As soon as we open the door, the powerful Venom Champion known to the serpent people only as “Her” will know, and is sure to arrive.
· Once Aakath is cut off, the serpentfolk who are currently out in our world, will be stuck. They will still be able to teleport, but will have weaker arcane powers and less eldritch strength.
· The Svirfneblin the PCs found and buried have returned their essences and minds to the Svirfneblin communities. Their “soul sparks” have become soul gems, which those who have fallen offer to the PCs (one each) as thanks for putting them to rest.
o “Who they are” has gone back to the community
o These are the fuel that drove their essence, minds, and bodies.
· all are +1 Resolve Point (only to stabilize)
· Then there are cuts, each with a different power set.
o Trillions +1 to all saves
o Navette +2 against all afflictions
o Cabochon +4 to all saves against poisons
Into the breach — The Svirfneblin perform the ceremony to place us in Aakath.
· We all take anti toxins
· Things dwell there that are worse than serpent folks
· Be prepared for darkness that defies simple concepts such as evil
Aakath — the Endless Cavern
· Darkness so gray, it might as well be black, but we know it isn’t
· Settlement with inhuman architecture in distance, outbuildings nearby
· Thin glowing green sickly line in the far distance
· Vapor clings to the ground
· Crunching noise beneath our feet
· An alien howl of alarm goes off
· The Door draws us toward a nearby fountain, but there are things between us and it.
· “The unclean thing” – (GM describes it ‘the bezor that the otyugh spit up’). It is a shapeshifting mass of waste, raw, pulsing organs, and foul ichors.
o It spews digestive juices and waste as an attack out of a sphincter it forms for the purpose
· The alarm turns into chanting
· The green glow flashes and two figures teleport in
o One is a Four-armed Huge snake-legged serpentfolk, with glowing venomous pistols, a green gem in her head, and wicked dagger – this is clearly “Her”
o Also with HER is a Size-large serpent with ridges on its back
o Damage to HER appears on the serpent, until the serpent is slain.
· The serpent charges for the bounty hunter operative fenrin.
· A Size-large four-headed serpent appears
· The centaur mercenary paladin protects the human robotocist mechanic and half-orc cartographer tecnomancer as they get the mechanism activated.
· Another unclean thing shows up – a minor version
· We finally get everyone down
· The portal opens as we see siege weapons and giant coils rolling this way
· We flee
· We all make it through. End up in the same cavern as the Martian embanking machine, beneath Neblin Ridge.
· Heal up
LOOT from Her: Pocket hollow world (clear gem) – teleport (self only, 440-foot range) CL10 as a move or swift action once per day – (goes the the centaur paladin); warmaster’s gloves (swap out weapon you are wielding with those stored on your person without taking an action) – goes to human soldier; Martian capacitor (1ce/day supercharge a weapon as part of the attack) – goes to human mechanic.
The Tess drives the Martian Embanking Machine out of the mine. We all take a turn driving it. Go back to the Circle Axe Ranch.
· They give us burgers
· Bring Dwargus up to speed. Learn Felspark has been “Recalled East,” by the east Hudson Fur Trading Company.
· He makes us Trustees of the Circle Axe Ranch
· We can take out the tunneling stuff from the Embanking machine and turn the engine into a mobile Base of Operations. Decide to do so before hunting down the infamous Professor Barkane Adrameliche, who we believe has beocme the Venom King, and we think is in Montana.
Divide up the $4000 worth of bounties between us. $800 each.
18,970 (23,000 to 7th)
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