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This is a meta-discussion about game design concepts. I aim to avoid the competitive navel gazing of the Forge, and will be referencing one of my own designs. Where my prior thread Number Crunching Equivalences - Why My Dice Suck Compared To D6 Legend covered the numerical concepts of the different systems (and why I come down about halfway between D6 Classic and D6 Legend), this one is going to get into squishy areas. The core concept here is this one: A roleplaying game is not a simulation. It's a reward mechanism and incentive system for specific kinds of play. Not all games had their 'play style' reward chosen consciously - see D&D for an example. D&D is ostensibly about Robert E Howard-style Conan stories. What it rewards is like Munchkin without the sense of humor. (This isn't a slam on either D&D or Munchkin. I enjoy D&D and still play Munchkin when nothing else is available...) Mechanical Rewards For Roleplaying People who like 'old school' RPGs tend to say "We don't need no rewards for roleplayin', it just happens." I've heard this argument before, and I'm going to quash it here. You will get the roleplaying that exists in the Venn diagram overlap between what your system mechanically rewards and what your game master and fellow players reward. This does mean that for some groups, roleplaying just happens. These people could also probably run a campaign about Pride & Prejudice & Zombies using a rulebook that alternates every even numbered page from Amber Diceless and every odd numbered page from RIFTS. Not everyone is lucky enough to be in that skilled a play group. The reasons most old school gamers give for not incentivizing roleplaying is because it means the blabbermouth player gets more XPs than everyone else - it's a reward for scene hogging, and for slowing the game down when we could be killing more things to take their stuff. It also leads into charges of GM favoritism. We'll address all of those concerns in this post. The Basic Types of Incentive Boost Average Roll: The first type of incentive is to do something that increases the average result of a die roll - "Yeah, get +2 on the die roll for that cool description" is one example. One of the reasons for doing roll-and-count is that you can make incentives that improve the average die roll without increasing the maximum possible die rolls. (This can still be done with roll and add systems by turning them into roll X, keep Y systems, but it's a bit more cumbersome. Boost Maximum Outcome: This type of incentive almost always increases the average die roll, but also changes the maximum possible outcome. The "Yeah, get +2 on the die roll for that cool description" does this in a d20-style game. In D6 Classic, this is using a Character Point or a Fate Point. Having a system that can do both types of incentive - and knowing that they're different - means you can incentivize different kinds of behavior with specific bonuses. Rewarding Player Behavior One thing people sometimes ask me is "You have Upshifts. Where are the Downshifts?" There aren't any - Upshifts are entirely meant as a way to encourage players to be more descriptive about the cool things their characters are doing. Upshifts reduce the chance that you'll outright fail, but they won't increase the maximum possible number of successes you can get. The other thing that Upshifts let me do is avoid special rules. The classic example is the player who has lots of knowledge about guns trying to use it to argue for special case rules in combat. Here, we can let him use that knowledge to describe how he's setting up the shot, and let him show off the knowledge he has...in return for making an Upshift that's entertaining for everyone else at the table. Rewarding Character Action In D6 Dramatics, every character has to have three goals defined, and the party will likely have a Mission defined. Goals are rated in dice, and cap out at 4D. Whenever a character works towards a goal, it goes up by 1D. Whenever a character works against a goal, it goes down by 1D. A player may convert Goal Dice into skill points at 1:1 at any time using the normal D6 rules. Once this is done, the skill points must be spent immediately, and you can't convert them back. There are a few other things that players can choose to do that reduce Goal Dice. So far, they sound a little bit like Character Points, and they are - you just get them for doing things important to your character rather than just showing up and getting 2 for being a warm body eating chips. However, unlike Character Points in D6, when you're rolling dice on a task that pertains to your Goal, you roll those Goal Dice in addition to your Skill dice - make them a different color set of dice. Goals are never Upshifted (it proved to be too powerful in playtesting). The +1 or +2 on Skill dice only applies to the Skill dice - never to a Goal die. This applies to every single roll in that scene so long as you're working towards your Goal. It's not a case of "OK, I burn a character point for an extra die, once." It's "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." However, you only get this massive bonus when doing something matching one of your character's Goals. This also replaces Fate Points. This means that someone with 6D+2 and a full up Goal is rolling 6D+2 and 4D and counting successes. Which means that 'if it's important to your character, it's likelier to succeed'. And in the event that someone manages to get all three Goals bearing on a scene (it's likely the climactic thriller with the Fate of the WOOOOORLD at stake...) they're throwing an extra 12D at the scene... But wait, there's more! If you complete your Goal; it automatically converts to skill points at 1:2. One Goal Die becomes two skill points. Not only do you get more powerful for pursuing your goals as single mindedly as fictional heroes tend to, but completing them gives you more skill points. I mentioned Mission Dice. Your group can come up with a Mission. It can go to 6D. It works like a Goal Dice pool set - except it's going to be at the same value for everyone. If at least two people in a scene doing something that furthers the group mission, they both get the Mission Goal dice to roll. If anyone works against the Mission Goal, it goes down by one die for everyone as well...which tends to curtail the "Well, I'm the party thief. Why did you expect to still have underwear after going asleep near me?" types of ass-hattery. When a Mission is completed, it converts at 1:1 into Attribute Points that can be spent to raise Attributes, or converted at 2:1 into Skill Points (which nobody does because the conversion rate is awful). You can't use Skill Points to raise Attributes. This means that over the course of a campaign, Skills increase, but Attributes tend to not do so as quickly. Goal and Mission dice also make the game master's life easier. They give the game master a road map of the things that ostensibly interest the players in the game. (If you pick a Goal you're not interested in, convert any dice into Skill Points and re-set it to something you ARE interested in.) Words cannot describe how much easier this makes organizing a plot or an adventure, particularly when combined with another tool I use.
For those who don't know me, I'm the kind of game designer who plays with mechanics and numbers rather than settings. My published body of work ranges from a 4 page RPG (Minimus) to not just one, but three, playable board games of space ship combat (AV:T, SITS, Squadron Strike) with varying levels of 'the physics must be RIGHT!'. I'm going to discuss a design decision for D6 Dramatics. I'm going to present this in the context of why I did it, what I considered, and so on. It's likely to sound, at times, like I'm delivering the Sermon On The Dice Tower or some such. It's an occupational hazard. In The Beginning, There Was D6 Classic. D6 Classic is a deceptively simple and subtle set of mechanics; the average roll of a D6 is about 3.5, the scaling for task difficulty numbers is in multiples of 5, rather than multiples of 7. This disparity between average rolls and the task difficulty numbers maps to an uneven curve - and is really built around 3D+1 being 'normative', because it succeeds on a difficulty 10 task about 75% of the time. It also means that adding 1d+2 is JUST ABOUT the increment needed to reliably hit the next harder task level at the same percentage chance of success. It also has some benefits - within a given die range, of about 8D or less, variability in outcome remains reasonable. Provided your die rolls are less than 9D, you can reasonably expect that there's enough variability in the outcome to make the 'do I succeed or not' decision interesting. It's only when you break the 8D ceiling that the problems with the system start to manifest. First, at 8D+1, your average roll is right around 29-30. You will routinely hit difficulty 30 target numbers with about half of your rolls; get it to 9D or 9D+1, and you're hitting those 30s with about 75% of your rolls. This means the viable dice range in D6 Classic is about 3D+1 to 8D. At under 3D+1, you're going to have difficulty hitting routine tasks and above 8D, there's no real reason to roll the dice other than force of habit. That leaves a range of 17 'steps' between 'minimally competent' and 'deities who brush their teeth'. This isn't a bad spread. It's wider than the usable range of GURPS skills which runs from about 12 to about 18 before you're just packing on extra numbers to counter "Well, in case I need to do this particular skill while dangling upside down in the dark with two broken hands and someone choking me..." circumstantial penalties. However, it IS a threshold where "OK, the game stops being fun when primary skills break the 8D wall." Enter D6 Legend One of the possible benefits of roll-and-count is that the actual variability of outcomes remains harder to predict to larger numbers of dice. While the 'average roll' is predictable, the 'likelihood of distribution' outcome is somewhat different than roll-and-add. For one, it's possible for someone who's got 8D in a skill to come up with 0 successes and fail at something in the 'trivially easy' category. Some see this as a bug, I see it as a feature. Failure is more interesting than success, and we all roll the dice hoping not to botch it. However, in order for Legend to give the same number of 'character differentiation steps', between competence and 'no, really, don't bother to roll', you pretty much have to go from 4D (average) to about 22D. And that many dice gets cumbersome to handle. One of the reasons for this is that Legend decided that the die would succeed on a range of 3 through 6. This is functionally the same as assuming that a D6 rolls an average of 4, not 3.5, and nobody could figure out what to do with pips. They also ported their difficulty scale over from Classic, and did a bad job of it. A difficulty of Very Easy is the equivalent of a Classic difficulty of 4, not 5. A difficulty of Easy is equal to a Classic difficulty of 8, not 10. In theory, this would balance out if die codes remained roughly the same and there were no Pips. I In practice, die codes went up by about 2-3 dice, and the difficulty scale got easier to beat. Many of the problems in D6 Legend can be fixed by making the success range on the die 4-6. Design Goals - D6 Dramatics Roll-and-count systems have another advantage/flaw. It's possible to tell what the maximum number of success you can get on a single roll is (modulo the Wild Die). This means that if a difficulty 7 task is being met by someone with 5D in skill, they just aren't going to make it, short of doing something heroic. This can be seen as a flaw - it's kind of deterministic - it can also be seen as a platform; it makes it very clear to the players that they need to Hero Up as it were to do something that tough. Another tool that's available with roll-and-count systems that isn't available to roll-and-add systems is that you can circumstantially change the success range of the dice. This will change the AVERAGE number of successes (and allow someone to 'hedge their bets' by doing the behavior that widens the range), but won't increase the MAXIMUM number of successes. That insight is what started me on D6 Dramatics. You see, I was trying to choose between a 'heroic' success range of 4-6, and a 'gritty' success range of 5-6. Once I realized I could put that in the hands of the players, by saying "Describe something cool before you roll the dice, and the success range improves to 4-6", I was able to incentivize a kind of play I want to see at the table - without making the wanna be radio announcers trample the people who are a bit more shy. By describing a cool shtick, you reduced your chances of failure, but couldn't get more successes than your die code. Note that this is the exact opposite of most games, where trying to do 'something fancy' means that you're likelier to fail, not succeed. It seemed more appropriate for cinematic role-playing. Then there was the problem of getting the steps of skill differentiation without needing a dumpster full of dice. This is one of the hidden strengths of D6 Classic. One of the common mistakes made when assessing D6 Classic is assuming that a +1 or +2 is actually a third of a die and its effects are linear as you go along. Aside from hot spots (the aforementioned 1d+2 is roughly equal to another step in the difficulty chart), the +1 or +2 becomes less likely to impact your overall chances of success as the number of dice goes up. A lot of attempts at making "Legend Plus Pips" work kept trying to make the +1 or +2 a linear, proportionate increase. I hit upon the solution of adding the pips to the lowest Skill die you rolled. This makes them more powerful with lower numbers of dice (where it's likelier that you're going to nudge one up to a success) than with larger numbers of dice (where there's a greater likelihood that you're going to get a 1 as your lowest die roll.) Technically, it would be more accurate to add the +1 or +2 to the second lowest die roll; however that adds another sorting step, and penalizes low die codes somewhat. (If you roll a 4 and a 5 on 2D+2, you still only get one success). This leads to a known hot spot. 2D+2 is likelier to get 2 successes than 3D is. 3D can get 3 successes, and with an 'cool description bonus', the difference between the likelhood for 2D+2 versus 3D is in the realm of 'you'd need to make a few hundred rolls to make the difference come out'.) As a happy benefit of this outcome, I can make die codes that match the 2D-4D stat range. Even better, skill die code thresholds don't hit the 'don't bother to roll' mark until about 12-14D. However, competency starts at about 4D+1 rather than 3D+1. This is easy enough to fix - I just add a few more dice in skills. So - in summary: Normal success range: 5-6 Upshifted success range: 3-6 Maximum success range: 4-6 No Upshift: "I uh, shoot the mob goon on the left." With Upshift: "OK, I throw a rock forward to make it sound like I'm coming from a different direction, then pop out to take a snap shot at the mob goon on the left." D6 Classic: Competency (3D+1), Expert (5D), Amazing (6D+2), Stop Rolling (8D+1) D6 Legend: Competency (5D), Expert (7D), Amazing (8D), Stop Rolling (12D) D6 Dramatics: Competency (4D+1), Expert (6D+2), Amazing (8D+1), Stop Rolling (12D to 14D)
Both my company and Jerry Grayson's have D6 licenses that predate Eric Gibson buying WEG. We have BOTH gotten emails from Eric during his tenure saying our licenses are grandfathered in with no changes. What this means is that we both get to use the D6 trade mark, whether or not Eric releases the STL. I was also around in the industry during the beginning of the d20 OGL experiment, saw the bubble of 'fan produced' products, and saw how it collapsed the RPG market to lower sales volumes after the three tier model basically said 'fuck it; if it's not from a publisher I've heard of before, I'm not touching it.". I've been the developer of two OGL product lines with other publishers. I've run multiple OGL d20 games, I've played in more. I understand ENTIRELY why WoTC scrapped the OGL on D&D 4th. (Well, they couldn't invalidate it, but they could say, in essence, "If you want to do licensed products for D&D 4th, you must also renounce the OGL".) It's something I saw coming in 2004. So, I'm going to discuss the OGL, the GPL and Open Source Licenses. The Promise: The basic premise of the GPL license is that it's a license that ensures your right to tinker and modify the code of any project you download; that license also means any changes you release can be folded back into the project. In software development, where there doesn't have to be a physical distribution of CDs, this means that the cost to physically produce a product for sale is as close to zero as can be imagined. In software development, this means that 'with enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow' - you say "I am trying to solve a problem with parameters X, Y and Z" on your dev list, and good odds are, someone with a clever idea will send something to you that can be massaged in to fit; they may also send you a patch - you then integrate this into a distributed build, and there's an upstream improvement. There is a HELL of a lot of work on making SVN style version control repositories work for distributed software development. The Failure: Open Source software development is a great way to make bullet proof servers. To date, it has been a poor way to make customer-facing software geared to end users, in large part because the fun part of the project is writing the code. The part of the project that's like pulling your teeth with red hot pliers is quality assurance testing, usability testing and documentation - let alone chrome that makes things look pretty to the person who isn't a programmer. Those parts also cost money. The Perils of Publishing Writing a game engine, and even putting into beta testing, is the fun part. There's this buzz of shared creative energy, and it's a blast. Turning that game engine into a playable, salable product that doesn't require the designer to be there to explain stuff to you, that's where the *work* in RPG design comes in, and why publishing houses charge for games. Most projects have an 80/15/5 split. 85% of the work is fun, 15% of the work is tedious, 5% of the work is "Aaaaaairgh!" and gives you fantasies about killing people...and the time involved usually splits out to 30/30/40. That last 5% involves about as much time as the first 30%. Larger game publishers can spread the workload over multiple people, but in a 2-3 person company? It leads to burnout (as we saw with Eric.) Even worse, selling games USUALLY means selling a physical object; this means that upstream revisions don't automatically get folded back into the project. They get folded back in when the first print run has sold out, if there's time, and if the game developer wants to spend that last grotty 5% again. The Intersection of Open Development and Publishing Writing games is, fundamentally, writing procedures manuals that people read for fun. There are usually development cycles, open playtesting, closed playtesting and blind testing cycles to try and poke holes in all of the rules and get them fixed. More eyes in a development process are generally good. So that part of Open Development is beneficial to publishers. The problem is that the distribution costs of new versions for publishers are quite high. Shipping physical books costs more than shipping elegantly arranged electrons. Some publishers are basically abandoning the physical print book except as special case items - notice how SJ Games has basically turned GURPS into a two tier product line: Stuff you buy in stores, more stuff you buy from e23. Market Fragmentation and Trademark Dilution WoTC tried to have its cake and eat it with the OGL - they kept third party publishers from saying their products were D&D branded, but said they were d20 'compatible. This was meant to put their market in a pre-eminent position, and it was meant to hand off making a bunch of low-sales, high effort support products (like adventures) to third party publishers. Where it bit them in the ass was that there was no central gate keeper to ensure compatibility. There were specifications, and it would be stupid to make your 'd20' compatible game add 7 more stats and change the skill list - but that ultimately what happened was a lot of 3.5 splatbooks of Ever Increasing Power; it got to the point very quickly where the GMs of d20 games I was playing said "If it's not a WoTC product, I'm not considering it. Even if it IS a WoTC product, if it's not in the PHB or DMG, I reserve the right to say 'no' and make you rebuild your character." This also caused problems on the sales level; the first book on Gnomes could sell passably - the second (from a different publisher) would sell like crap - even if it was better designed. There was a huge incentive to push things to market as quickly as possible. Some companies thrived on that. Now that I've pointed out the perils of the swamp, my next post will cover my attempts to fix the problems with respect to D6.
Here are some ideas I'm considering. Most of these aren't quite into the 'inscribed in Jello' stage. Feel free to throw bricks. Doing the Tri-Stat Thing on Attributes. Instead of having 6 attributes, or 9, or however many you have, you have three or four. Body, Mind, Spirit (Tri-Stat) and Body, Mind, Spirit & Social. You also have a master skill list by genre. Some skills would be common across all genres, some would be quite genre specific. In between these two layers, you have Talents. A Talent is a die code that applies to multiple skills - no more than 4 or 5. The skills must be thematically linked, and no Talent can apply JUST to 'skills applicable across all genres'. (Otherwise, that tends to be what everyone builds.). Also, while Talents can overlap in a skill, the maximum bonus any single skill can get from talents is equal to the controlling attribute. My current thinking is this: 4 Attributes with 7D to divvy. 60 skills in each genre list. We'll assume 15 skills per Attribute. 1 racial Talent that's a 2D Talent for flexible humans, and package talents for other races that are 2D+2, but may spend points in skills you don't want. Talents cover 4-5 skills. 3 player defined talents: 1 at 3D+2, 1 at 2D+1, or, 1 at 1D, or at 3D, 2D, 2D 8D in skills, no more than 2D per skill. What this does is it avoids the "Why does my fantasy game have a Mechanical stat?" It also (hopefully) encourages a bit more flexibility. Getting Rid of Dodge as a Skill Something I'm about 3/4 of the way sold on is getting rid of Dodge as a skill. Rather, you have a Defensive Target number derived from your Agility. For D6 Classic, I'd make it 'Dice in Agility * 2.5, plus pips, rounded down". For Dramatics, I'd make it "Sum of the die codes in Agility & Awareness, divided by 6, rounded normally". Both of these will get you a low static target number. If you want to actively Dodge, you make an Agility roll and add it to your target number. You only do this once per turn; each attack you successfully dodge removes the highest numbered die you rolled. Eventually, people will be having to beat your static target number. Using Single Target Numbers for Resistance Related to the above, instead of rolling against Endurance (or Armor) to find out what kind of resistance you have against damage, just give them a single target number to beat. Opinions?