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Designing ttRPGs with Optimizers in Mind

There are people who like to explore the rules of ttRPGs to see if they can make a character that is optimized–that is, if there is a set of choices they can make which is as powerful as a character can possibly be.

Sometimes, they find ways to make characters so powerful they make the game less fun for any other player who is not similarly optimized, because they can do everything better and faster than other characters, and thus gain all the spotlight time.

(Sometimes this is done through questionable readings of the rules, or throwing logic out the door for a literal reading of rules. Sometimes it isn’t.)

Some games are more prone to optimizers than others, some groups are more prone to optimizers than others, and different designers have different levels of concern and attitudes about the impact optimizers have on the value of the game. There are a few different ways designers of ttRPGs try to foresee these problems and design games while keeping the existence of optimizers in mind. As with most game design choices, they each have their pros and cons, and work better in some game styles, and with some groups, than others.

Here are some different common tacks designers take when designing with optimizers kept firmly in mind.

Just Say No

One option is to tell gamers to not do this kind of optimization, and then state if people DO do this, the problem is with the player, not the game. This has the advantage of not removing or limiting options for players and GMs who don’t have optimizing problems, and being easy for the designer. It has the drawback of being useless to many gaming groups. It’s reasonable to feel such groups should just play with different people, or play a different game, but that’s still a limitation of this method.

Warning Signs

Another option is to highlight options the designer feels are particularly open to unbalanced optimization, so the GM can decide whether or not to allow them, or at least look at their use with a skeptical eye. One huge drawback of this is that GMs and players may consider everything else explicitly “balanced,” and if a designer misses an option (or combination of options) that cause imbalances they may feel blindsided by it. It otherwise has a lot of the pros and cons of Just Say No.

Hard Limits

Hard limits are an effort to circumvent optimizer efforts by stating that there are values or levels of efficiency a character cannot exceed, no matter what combination of options a character has. This is sometimes expressed as a a maximum numeric value for specific bonuses or game stats, and sometimes as an express limit on what percentage of spotlight time a character can receive. Hard limits can be a straightforward way for a game designer to communicate what power level the game expects characters to achieve. They can also feel stifling to many players, who feel there is a logic or realism disconnect that a character who has hit a hard limit can’t exceed it by taking an option that would make anyone else who took it more powerful. It’s also possible for a game designer to fail to place a hard limit on some aspect of game play optimizers can use to still create more effective characters than other players.

Soft Limits

Soft limits are in place when a game attempts to simply not make it possible to exceed the kinds of numerical values for powers and abilities the design expects characters to be at. There may be few or no options for raising the most important values of the game, or the game may not even have different values for different characters. in some cases soft limits games are extremely rules-light, and may depend on a GM to decide when abilities can be used and how effective they are. In other cases they are very much math- and option-driven games, but the designers have made an effort to ensure that no selection of choices can exceed the (often unstated) soft limit values.

Soft limit, rules-light games tend to be very dependent on a skilled GM, and may just end up giving players with the best ability to argue with the GM an edge in power. Some groups find they work extremely well for games with limited run times, from 1-shots to short campaigns, while others do well as long as they keep their heads in a more narrative frame of mind than game mechanical.

Soft limit, rules-heavy games take a lot of work on the part of designers to be flexible and interesting, and still not have combinations that exceed the soft limits. These kinds of games can also often frustrate players who find the soft limit keeps their characters less effective in areas that, narratively, they want to be able to improve, and may make players feel they never actually get better at anything. Also, if the soft limits are unstated and the game has extensive option supplements, later designers/developers/publishers may well introduce things that break the original design’s invisible guardrails.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 4

Fourth part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

You can find Part Three here.

Event

An Event kickoff begins with some big happening that has long-lasting consequences, and that the PCs are intentionally part of one way or another. If the PCs are all contestants in a bloodsport that determines the fate of the world (or just has prize money they all want), that’s an event set-up. If they are all arriving in the Big City for the World’s Fair, Queen’s Birthday, Anniversary of the End of the Z-Wars, Inauguration of the Jack of Graves, or Battle of the Planar Rock bands, and plan to partake of those happenings, that’s an Event setup.

An Event can often be tied to other setups, as a lead-in to a longer-lasting framework for the campaign. If the annual Demigod Trial Festival is a continent-wide celebration the PCs are all attending, with various chances to get up to mischief, and at the end of the first adventure the PCs are all going to be accepted in the Demigod Academy, then it’s an Event leading into an Organization.

An Event can be particularly useful for new players if you can have their participation in the events help showcase individual elements of the rules. If the PCs are all young adventurer-hopefuls attending the Adventure Academy Admittance Trials, those trials can highlight the game’s various systems (a mock combat, a lockpicking speed trial, tightrope walk, insult-duels, riddle contests, and so on) allowing the players to see how their PCs do in those situations and how the rules world while the stakes are fairly low.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time

The difference between an Event and Wrong Place/Wrong Time is largely intentionality of both attendance and what spawns the adventure. It can be on a large or small scale. If a dragon (or kaiju, alien starship, floating castle, demigod, zombie hordes, tank battalion–whatever is genre appropriate) attacks a city that is home to all the PCs, or is hosting a major festival the PCs are all attending, turning it into a ruin from which they must escape, that’s a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup. If the PCs are on a train headed west when it’s hijacked by teleporting snakemen, that’s also a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time is a great way to get quickly and directly into some action. All you need is to have all the PCs in one place, and then the adventure can come to them. This works best if the action that occurs naturally leads to more adventure, so the PCs don’t just go their separate ways when the first adventure ends. For example, if the PCs are all on a fantasy-themed roller coaster, and it warps them to an actual fantasy realm, not only do they have to deal with whatever is waiting for them when they arrive, they now have to figure out how to survive in this new realm, and make a living, or make it home.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time can be a good addition to a longer campaign setup. Even if you are doing Family, Organization, Patron, or Tavern as on ongoing setup, you can start with a Wrong Place/Wrong Time to get the PCs into the action, together, quickly.

Right Place/Right Time

The difference between Wrong Place/Wrong Time and Right Place/Right Time is that while the former is about misfortune arriving wherever the PCs are, the latter is about something good (in the broad scheme of things) occurring and leading to adventure. If the PCs are all hanging out at the Taco King parking lot when a Dark matter meteorite bathes them in cosmic radiation turning them into superheroes, they have been thrust into a world of adventure by being in the Right Place/Right Time.

Right Place/Right Time can later be revealed to be Destiny, if you want. While it may seem the servants of Sir Gerginald got lucky by being present when he was slain by a dragon, bathing them all in martyr’s blood and anointing them with eldritch magics, that may in fact have been the fulfillment of the Blood Guild Prophecy. Or perhaps Mr. Cellophane has been injecting hospital patients with experimental super-serum, and the PCs as survivors of a train wreck were just the first recipients to survive his efforts (which, obviously, they find out when they see right through him).

Right Place/Right Time doesn’t automatically assume the PCs are going to agree to participate in the adventure those events open up for them, so it may be useful to combine it with anther setup. It’s easy to have Right Place/Wrong Time blends by having the triggering event be random and a mixed blessing. Perhaps the PCs were in the same hospital as the Ghoul Outbreak, forcing them to fight for their lives against bloodthirsty undead, but as a result they also have immunity to the ghoul virus, and develop various necromantic powers. The outbreak forces them to deal with the Wrong Place/Wrong Time survival threat, getting the campaign started, but it also gives them powers which are going to make survivors in the ensuing Ghoul Apocalypse turn to them for help and leadership.

Obviously there are LOTS more kickoff setups you can use, but hopefully this short list will give you some options and help get you creative juices flowing.

Game On!

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 3

Third part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

Organization

Using an Organization for the setup of your campaign kickoff can make things extremely easy at first, but may come with hidden work for you later-on. The simplest form of Organization setup is that the PCs are all members of the same Organization, and it sends them on missions that create adventures. This can be a military organization, a knighthood, an NGO, Star Fleet, a mercenary company, adventuring guild, thieves guild, wizards guild, the Honorable and Holy Order of Sewer Guardians, SpecterBusters, a newspaper, the FBI, a Lady’s Sewing Circle, insurance claim investigators, doctors without dimensional barriers, CDC field team, the Imperial Diplomatic Corps, starship crew, space trucker union, Lamplighter’s Guild, Library Overdue Asset Network and Interdiction Team (LOAN IT)– whatever fits the genre and tone of the campaign, and that the players are all willing to be members of.

Of course just because you start a game with players as part of an Organization (or even just trying to get in — a first session that is the Admission trials of the troubleshooter’s Union could be a lot of fun) doesn’t mean they have to stay in it. Here in my experience the two most important issues are player expectation and current player satisfaction. If you have proposed that a game is the adventures of the Stellar Alliance Battlecarrier Valorous, and you plan to have the characters all cashiered out over something that isn’t there fault by session 3, you may have a lot of unhappy players who were excited to be part of a big starship crew. OTOH, if the players end up hating how Stellar Alliance regulations hamper their desire to help non-member citizens and want to go it on their own, forcing them to stick with the organization they dislike can also be a big problem.

One good way to subvert expectations in an Organizations campaign is to have sub-organizations, perhaps secret ones, that the players can find out about and choose to join (or not). If the Lamplighter’s Guild has a secret “Bump in the Night” department that handles horrific things their lights sometimes illuminate (an awesome idea I am stealing here from my friend Carl), the players can work with that group, or look to join them, or even work against them if they think the Bit-N are actually traitorous vampire spawn.

Patron

The idea of a Patron setup is that the PCs are working for, or at least aided by, a powerful Patron who can direct them to adventures, and help them gain access to resources and/or people when it might otherwise be beyond the PCs’ reach. A Patron setup can be a nice mid-point between Organization and Wanted Posters — the PCs need not be as wantonly mercenary as an entirely Wanted Post campaign might suggest, nor as beholden to a set of rules as is common in an organization-style campaign.

A Patron might be just a wealthy or well-connected individual, but there can be other interesting options to. A Patron could be someone unable to operate in society easily on their own — a sentient magic item, or a strong AI, or a member of a marginalized group the culture won’t take serious or treat with respect. Or they could have legal or societal limitations based on standing and position — Commissioner Gauthier can’t be seen operating outside the law, but instead makes a deal with a group of vigilantes that as long as they play by his much looser rules, he’ll feed them intel and not pursue them himself.

One common trope is for a Patron to actual be evil, and planning to betray the PCs, and/or destroy them. While this is pretty well expected in some genres (noir detective stories especially, and things inspired by those tropes), I am personally not a fan of that “twist” unless it’s actually a stated part of the game’s assumptions. I find it much more interesting to do things like have the Patron trust the PCs more and more, in time setting them up to be independent or even take over the patrons wealth and power, because betrayal is no fun in real life, and when it comes in my entertainment, I like it to not be a huge surprise or have a big impact. YMMV.

Mysterious Patron

The big difference between a Patron and a Mysterious Patron is that there’s some big element of the Mysterious patron the PCs aren’t aware of. Perhaps they only communicate through a speaker in an office, send coded messages through the bottlecaps of daily milk deliveries, or meet the PCs in the back of an abandoned opera house while wearing a all-concealing cloak that suggests they have a massive hump… or maybe wings and horns. In my experience it’s much harder to get players to trust a Mysterious patron (which can be fun), and they almost always want to Solve the Mystery, which means only use this setup of dealing with those issues seems likely to be fun for you and your players.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 2

Part two of the series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

Family Ties

This setup is a lot like the Organization, but you may not have any choice about being part of it. The campaign is driven by PCs’ ties to a family, which they may all be members of, or may have some different connection to (such as all working for the same noble clan, or all having been infected as hosts to related strains of the same sentient fungus). At their simplest Family Ties can drive forward a campaign through familial connections, ranging from helping out other family members to working to expand and protect all family holdings.

Family ties can be little more than an excuse to be in the Wrong Place/Wrong Time, such as if the reading of a family scion’s will brings all the characters together into a haunted house (or onto a secret seabase, into an exclusive club, at the lost keep, in the big boardroom, or around the meadhall fire, depending on genre). They can also come with duties that are hard to refuse (such as being the nobles who oversee a territory, or being the only bloodline that can activate the planetary defense grid… or the bloodstone altar, or whatever). Family ties can also come with enemies who don’t care if the PCs want to be involved in family business or not, from demons sworn to end all descendants of a great champion (or great champions sworn to end all descendants of a given demon), to rivals for a familial claim to a throne–whether the PCs have any interest in claiming it, or not.

One great way to subvert this is to make it family of choice, rather than blood or marriage. In a session 0, players can all be asked to create one NPC that is close friend and beloved companion to them all, even if the PCs do not themselves know each other (or do, but don’t like each other much). This gives players power to help define their driving force, and no player will be a bit surprised if that group-generated NPC is kidnapped, or needs help dealing with blackmail from the wererat mafia.

Wanted Posters

At their simplest Wanted Posters are literal posters offering a reward for some deed to be accomplished, from bringing in known criminals to coming along on time travel expeditions. Players can all be told they are answering the same Wanted Poster, or get caught up on some NPC’s attempt to make good on on. The format can vary as needed, from the town crier to personals columns in newspapers, late-night public access shows, spraypainted messages on underpasses, online forums and electronic bulletin-boards, or Dark Curve InfoSphere Sites.

Many fantasy and scifi settings have formalized versions of Wanted Posters, and assume a self-employed persona can make a living answering one call after another. There may be a big Notice Board just outside the city’s biggest auction house where offers of rewards for quests are posted, or a Bounty Hunter’s Guild that passes out tracking fobs for specific freelance reacquisition jobs. If there are enough such tasks, an Organization may evolve to bond and insure the best adventurers to answer such offers, but it’s perfectly possible for individual middlemen, fixers, and “Agent Johansson” underworld figures to connect employers and for-pay-troubleshooters on an ad-hoc, if frequent basis.

The less common way to use Wanted Posters to drive a plot is for the faces of the PCs to appear on them, turning the mercenary community against the characters. This can be a subplot at any time, but if the PCs are all selected by some nefarious force to be blamed for a crime, it can kickoff a campaign to have the unknowning character all wonder into the new town on the same day, and discover they have a collective price on their heads, even though they’ve never met. This can become a variant of Wrong Place/Wrong Time.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 1

Kicking-off a ttRPG campaign can be tough. You need a setup that gets all the player characters in the same place, working toward the same goal, and in most cases you want that setup to both not take a lot of time to explain, and have long-term impacts on the ongoing campaign so what time you take explaining the setup remains useful as the campaign moves along. Setup is connected to, but separate from, the plot, theme, and tone of a campaign. Some setups remain the backbone of the campaign for its duration, while others are mere starting points that are discarded once the PCs are comfortable working together and have their teeth in the meat of the game’s adventures.

Basically, anytime you think “That’d be a cool way to start a campaign!,” you’re considering a campaign setup.

Over the course of this week, we’re going to look at some common (and less-common) kickoff setups, including Tavern, School, Family Ties, Wanted Posters, Organization, Patron, Mysterious Patron, Event, Wrong Place/Wrong Time, Right Place/Right Time, and maybe a couple more.

The Tavern

It’s a well-known trope, and overused, but that doesn’t mean there’s no utility to it. The idea is that there’s a gathering place where you can go to get into an adventure. It may be the home of your Patron, a favored hangout of members of your Organization or the School, or the place where Wanted Posters get put up.

I actually think the most interesting idea for the Tavern as a campaign kickoff is to look at Lloyd’s Coffee House, which lead to the creation of Lloyd’s of London. What began as an effort to have reliable news for maritime patrons turned into a global insurance market. It’s not hard to see how a popular tavern (or meadhall, cafe, diner, or intergalactic truck stop, depending on genre) near areas that need adventurers might work to have news of potential adventures and people hiring same.

You can subvert this setup in a few ways. One is to lean hard on the Lloyd’s example, and have “taverns” have simply evolved over decades from primarily places to get drink and lodgings to primarily places to do adventuring-related business (or maybe the evolution of function means those places aren’t called taverns anymore, but Hire Houses or some other term you introduce to the campaign). Another is to make a tavern itself the primary site for early adventures–perhaps a famous and massive tavern was abandoned after some horrific tragedy, and now new owners need the stables cleared of dire rate, the stockroom cleaned of psychic fungus, and the zombies in the basement dealt with.

The School

Whether it’s Backrazor’s School of Berserking and Skulldudgery, the Starknight Academy, Eerie Indiana’s Stranger High School, or Miskatonic University, the idea behind the School setup is that all the PCs are students of the school, and that is what’s going to get them into the adventure.

If the school is training people to BE adventurers, or something similar (military academy, space knight squire class, witches and wizards community college, whatever), it’s easy to see how both minor adventures may be part of the standard class and exam methodology and lead to bigger adventures. For schools with less esoteric curriculum, adventure may come in the form of a locational threat (your school just happens to be at the center of the zombie apocalypse, or the hellmouth, or where the aliens land, or where the Queen of Love and Thorns sets up her fallback command post), or the secret headquarters of an Organization, or again as the home of a Patron.

School can also be easily blended with other setups. If the PCs are all AbHumans with superpowers, learning how to control those abilities at the Kenson Academy while participating as members of the Young Crystal Knights hero team, the academy is obviously also part of an Organization, and may even have a Patron in the form of Professor Kenson. If the school is ground zero for the Dragon Invasion, then being there put the PCs in the Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

One way to subvert this setup is to make the “school” something very different from a big building on a formal campus. Perhaps all young nobles of the realm must spend one full year with a touring knight-magistrate, learning about their lands and its problems. Maybe there is a specific starship for training cadets, and easing them into their final roles and duties. You could have a French Foreign Legion-like group that operated airships with sign-on-mercenaries (no experience needed) to patrol the Diesel Mountains, facing off against Sky Pirates, Wand-Runners, and Panzerdemons.

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Putting the Use of Critical Hit/Fumble Decks in Player’s Hands

Lots of game systems have Critical Hit and Critical Fumble decks. Pathfinder 1e and Starfinder are two well-known examples (and, full disclosure, I wrote the ones for Starfinder).

Many groups find them hysterical, chaotic fun, Others find them hateful, swingy, and absolutely no fun at all.

But what if the PLAYERS got to decide when they came into play? That introduces the rules and their funny, unexpected effects into a game, but doesn’t force them on anyone who doesn’t want to deal with them.

Here’s a simple set of example rules for doing that.

When an attack against a PC is a success, the player can earn one Crit Point by deciding the attack draws from the Critical Hit Deck.

When an attack by a PC is a failure , the player can earn one Crit Point by deciding the attack draws from the Critical Failure Deck.

When an attack by PC is a success, the player can spend two Crit Points to cause the attack to draw from the Critical Hit Deck. If the player has 3 or more Crit Points, they can spend additional Crit Points before any cards are drawn to increase the number of cards they draw on a 1-1 basis (spending 4 extra Crit Points means you draw 4 extra Critical Hit cards). You select one Critical hit effect from one drawn card to apply to the attack.

(As an alternate rule, you can also allow a player to earn Crit Points when they use these rules, by having GM draw 3 critical hit cards for an attack against the PC, or by drawing 3 Critical Failure cards for an attack made by the PC).

All Crit Points are reset to 0 at the end of each game session.

The reason a PC has to suffer more card effects than they get to inflict is that players can be quite cunning about timing and resources, accepting critical hits and critical failures that go against them when they can afford the hit and saving up the Crit Points to turn the tides when they need it. However, by making it a 2-1 ratio, and not letting players save points between games, this tactical use of the rules is balanced out.

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Do ttRPGs Need to Define Death? Fire? … Steam?

More than one ttRPG has made its players giggle when they realize there are no rules about what a character being dead means. Sure, there are rules that tell you when you die and (sometimes) how to come back, but nothing that says, for example, “A dead character can not take any actions.”

So, the argument goes, the Rules-As-Written game lets your dead character keep running around and doing things, right?

Okay, so that’s a silly example (though it DOES come up in some game groups). And a common counter-argument is, that’s only a problem if a game actually defines TOO much, so the GM and players expect everything to be defined. We all know what dead means, right?

Well… maybe. Like, if a spell can only affect and object, and not a creature, which is a corpse? Surely I can’t use Charm Creature on a corpse, so it must be an object? So can I use Fix Object to make a mangled corpse pristine?

Similarly, some games go into fair detail about different kinds of damage, for example tagging things that do fire damage with a [Fire] keyword. But we all know what fire is, right?

So if a Squirming Rat Mound takes double damage from fire, the players and GM all know that burning oil, a lit torch, and a firecube spell all do that double damage. But what about a cone of embers? Steambolt? Superheated frying pan? Jalapenos?

Now, yes, as long as the GM and players can all agree on how things ought to work, it doesn’t matter – But there are three good counter-arguments to that position.

First, if a GM and their players feel things should work differently, but it’s not obvious they have different opinions, that can cause during-the-game unpleasant surprises and debate. If a fire elemental is immune to fire damage (and maybe they shouldn’t be), and the players focus a blast of superheated steam at it, what happens? The GM may declare that since fire resistance is heat resistance and thus prevents damage from steam, and the elemental is immune to fire, it is immune to steam. The players might argue that steam is water, and water puts out fire, so the elemental should not just take damage, but take double damage like it does from a water elemental’s wet fish slap power, or Biggly’s Aquatic Hand spell.

Second, even fit the GM perfectly well can make all these rulings, many GMs don’t want to have to do any more mental work than absolutely necessary. If everything that does fire damage has a little [Fire] tag, that makes things easier for those GMs. Of course, there’s a limit to that. Like, do [Acid] and [Base] attacks have different tags? Can you counter an [Acid] attack with a [Base] attack? Are there strong [Acids] and weak [Acids]? Is the level of complexity being kept where it belongs?

Third, scenario assumptions can be built off these rules. Even ignoring the complex question of special cases such as Organized Play efforts for different groups to have the same experience when running the same encounter with different GMs, a scenario may have been built assuming a specific set of rule interactions. If an encounter with fire elementals in a sewer assumes that the steam pipes running alongside the pipe can be used to easily defeat the elementals, so there are twice as many present as normal, a GM that rules those don’t hurt the elementals is altering the adventure design plans without even knowing it.

I’m not claiming their is an objectively correct answer here. I tend to lean toward defining things that are going to come up a lot, trying to give some broad general rules and guidance, and then leave it t the GM to adjudicate rarer interactions… but that’s based on my gaming preferences.

What are yours?

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Modes for Wayward, a Potential Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

Some more thoughts about the Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

So, one of the core conceits of Wayward is that there are “modes,” which represent adjacent realities to the (mostly) normal world, or Ecumene, where PCs call home. Things from other modes can influence, or even partially leak into the Ecumene, causing trouble and pain, but cannot be permanently destroyed except in their native mode.

Luckily, there are the Wayward, people native to the Ecumene who can travel to other modes to deal with things found there. Most modes are twisted parallels of the Ecumene, familiar in some respects and terribly (sometimes horrifically) different on others. Modes are all dangerous, even deadly, but just as things from other Modes (I’ll need a name for “things from other modes” at some point) can’t be permanently destroyed while in the Ecumene, PCs native to the Ecumene cannot be permanently destroyed while corporeally in another mode. However, that doesn’t mean being Put Down in another mode does hurt… and leave scars that stick with you whatever Mode you are in.

I’m using the term “Mode” so far, because I want to treat these alternate realities in roughly the same way Modern Age treats its different Modes of Play (gritty, pulpy, cinematic). So while the Ecumene itself is gritty, the laws of reality on others may be pulpy or cinematic, AND have other local rules changes to represent their altered rules of reality. That might not be a good enough reason to stick with “Mode” in the final term (‘demesne” comes to mind as having the right feel, for example), but it’s definitely good enough as a placeholder name for a in-progress game concept for a campaign using a working title.

Since there are likely going to be options that work differently in different modes [like having a Fiery heart talent might just give you a bonus to Willpower (Confidence) checks in the Ecumene, but allow you to actually summon fire magic within the Otherworld Mode), the rules are going to assume there are a finite number of “core” modes. A GM building a new mode should either make it an offshoot of one of the core modes (perhaps in addition to Otherworld, there is a very Nordic Helvangr which has different creatures and powers and appearance, but follows the same game mechanical rules as Otherworld.

That of course means the core modes I include in the campaign setting are important to the overall success of the setting, and need to be diverse, iconic, compelling, and fun.

So, no pressure.

I already foresee having at least two, which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

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Quick Notes for the potential “Wayward” Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

So I am planning, as a private individual (rather than as a developer for Green Ronin or the publisher of Rogue Genius Games) to release an AGE Creator’s Alliance product… eventually. Not at that program’s launch, but hopefully within a year or so.

For what seem like obvious reasons I originally thought that would be a Fantasy AGE product… but now my opinion is shifting. I have had an idea for a Modern AGE setting I might prefer to release though the Creator’s Alliance, and that might not only be a great way to divide what I am doing as a GR dev and a private citizen but also help me have a more baseline feel for the Creator’s Alliance experience.

Now, this is far from a done deal. I could discover there are good reasons not to do this setting, or change my mind about the best rules set for it or venue to offer it in. I could find something I like better as a first offering, I could just lose interest. Who knows?

But since part of what I wanted to do was showcase my own journey through the Creator’s Alliance, I wanted to offer up the short notes I jotted down at 5am for this setting idea.

Product/Product Line Title: Wayward
This idea began as I was driving on errands, listening to a song used as a theme for one of my favorite TV series. So, yes, I’m wearing one of the inspirations on the sleeve of this concept. Like anything that might change as the product moves forward, but working titles are useful.

Product Type: Campaign Setting and Adventure Line
As I currently envision it, Wayward is a campaign setting for Modern AGE which comes with built-in adventure support. each Wayward product would have a chunk of setting material, a smattering of new rule options, and an adventure designed to highlight both.
For example, the first product would be Wayward, which would also serve as the name for the whole setting, and be the in-world title of a certain kind of person most PCs are expected to be – the “Wayward,” people who operate outside the expectations and even the reality of common society. The Wayward operate in a shadowy world with creatures and abilities that are literally set apart from most of existence. This Wayward World normally isn’t “real” enough to impact most people, but there are rare exceptions, which Wayward Heroes need to deal with.
So in this first product there would be rules for what makes people Wayward, and an adventure for 1st level characters just discovering the existence of the Wayward World around them and dealing with something leaking out of it.

Inspirations
Wayward is clearly in big part inspired by specific modern media, but I don’t plan for it to be a pure pastiche of one thing. Instead my inspirations include Diana Tregarde Investigates (novels by Mercedes lackey), MAGE (the comic, especially The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined), the Maxx (animated series especially, but also the comics), Sin City (just the first movie), Supernatural (TV show and it’s literally tie-ins)… and especially the trailer for the Max Payne movie (Yes, really just the trailer. not the movie itself, not the games–just that one trailer) and the trailer for Dark City (yep, again, JUST the trailer).
And I really mean “inspiration.” Wayward is an idea that grows out of thoughts I had when exposed to those sources (and many, many more), rather than an effort to duplicate them. It’s very much a thing I wish existed and had movies and comics and games, but doesn’t quite. Not a wholly original idea of course–just my take on a slice of the zeitgeek.

Kernel: Modes of Reality
The core kernel of an idea for wayward is that there are modes of reality that overlap slightly. Most people live only in the Ecumene, the “normal” world we all know and that (roughly) follows the real world rules of physics and history. But there are other modes, where twisted, dark, and blindingly bright things dwell. Sometimes you can glimpse those things when you sleep, or are in an altered chemical or emotional state. And, sometimes, those things can glimpse you. The most powerful things from other modes can sometimes visit or influence the Ecumene. But no Ecumene dweller can go into other modes to deal with the root of those problems.
Well, none but the Wayward…

And that’s as far as the idea has gone so far. 🙂

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Big Bones, a Betting Die Game

Big Bones is a WEIRD betting dice game I mused over for a long time, and never felt was ready for playtest or something I had a real use for. Essentially my current concern is that it works, but there’s no sense to me that it would be fun or easy to play.

But it’s a game you can use a d13 in, or not, so

Big Bones

Each player picks a die, which can be anything from a d6 to a d20. If you have weird dice, like d13s, they are fair game.

This die is placed in a die cup and covered in front of each player, so no one knows what die size you picked.

Everyone antes 5. (5 gp, 5 poker chips, 5 dollars, 5 betting units each of which are worth $4,16, it doesn’t matter.)

Everyone reveals what die they are rolling.

Starting with the lowest die size (or the youngest player among the lowest die size if there are multiple), each player must stand, raise, meet, or drop.

If you are at the current bet, you can stand or raise.

>If you stand, play passes to the player to your right.

>If you raise, you put in another 5, increasing the current bet by 5. Play then passes to the player on your right.

If you are not at the current bet, you can match, or drop.

>If you match, you put in the different between how much you have invested and the current bet. Once you have done this you meet the current bet, and can stand or raise.

>If you drop, you remove yourself from further play. However, your bet money stays in, and you may owe even more than that (see tallying the winning pot, below).

Once every player has gone at least once, and all remaining players stood or dropped on their last turn, the your resolve the game.

Everyone rolls their revealed die.

The lowest die result wins. In case of ties, the highest die size among the lowest rolls wins.

The winning pot is tallied for its full value. That value is then divided by the number of players, and multiplied by the number of sides of the winning die. If this total is less than the pot, the winner gets the full pot. If the total is more than the pot, all players who anted must pay the winner funds calculated as (difference in winning pot)/number of players who anted. If this takes all their remaining funds, they are out (but do not owe money past what they had on the table).

The round is over, and every decides whether of not to ante for a new round.

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