Saturday, December 12, 2009

Power 19 (11-15)

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

Resolving combat is exceptionally fast-paced, without sacrificing a feeling of involvement or struggle. It's very easy to learn and integrates neatly with the 'golden die' reward system. The 'golden die' system of character rewards mean than the GM has something they can actually do to reward good roleplaying which doesn't advance one player's effectiveness permanently beyond the others. The number of dice rolls is kept low, the reason for rolling dice is always clear. The game is balanced so that you don't need to roll for something trivial, and you can never use high results to do crazy / incomprehensible things. (well, I should never say never, I'm sure someone will find a way)

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

Yep, advancement is key. They advance by growing in ability. Over time, awakened characters either direct their magical talents inwards (increasing strength, fighting ability, negotiating skills etc) or towards gaining magical spells and abilities. Most games have an aspect of "but a person just couldn't do that!" about them. In Mythology, I've chosen to make this a part of the game setting.

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

I hesitate to call statistical improvements 'advancements' since I don't want to put down other aspects of advancement in people. Characters definitely become more capable over time. It's great fun to have a character which is great at some task. However, unless that capability is earned, it's not as real. If someone is told, "okay, your starting character is so powerful they can crush almost any opponent", then the entertainment value from being that powerful is pretty low. The novelty wears off when it becomes apparent that the game offers no challenges, no structure and no restrictions. The opportunity for growth through experience is really important. Ideally, character advancement should be fast enough to give players a sense of achievement, but slow enough that managing their level-ups is not a full time job! Each new ability should be gained, practised and enjoyed before the next new thing comes along.

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

Above all, a sense of having great fun by being caught up in the action.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

The character archetypes have received a lot of attention, as have the conflict mechanics. But this initial design work should be invisible. In playing the game, the extra attention and colour should be in the interesting things the characters can do, and the fascination that the game world holds for the players.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Combat mechanic

Two equally-level-matched opponents enter the fray. They each have some initiative value determining who 'goes first'. If you have the initiative on someone else, you get a +1 bonus.

When you attack someone, you could both get hurt. You both roll a dice pool according to your abilities. For example, a fighter character with a sword and light armour who is pretty good might roll 3d6 + 2, plus another one if they have the initiative.

Whoever loses takes the difference in damage.

Lower-level NPC opponents take the average in order to speed up the combat, but every NPC party always has one 'leader' who rolls every test opposed.

Character ability determines the number of dice
Weapon type determines the number of sides per die
Weapon reach, initiative and armor provide simple +1 modifiers to the total

Better armor isn't just a health buffer. Armor allows you to fight more confidently, be more aggressive and less defensive, and so contributes to your ability to inflict damage through increased general combat effectiveness.

This approach will mean that instead of taking turns at throwing 'free punches' at eachother, a combatant will need to consider seriously the chance of suffering damage against a superior opponent.

You act in initiative order, but defending an attack (well being engaged in one) takes your action, so people with the highest initiative get to pick their enemy and so could choose to take out weaker opponents first, etc. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Idea for a roleplaying campaign

Take a photocopy of everyone's character sheers every 10 sessions or so. After a long time in the campaign, run a 'flashback' session and get everyone to play with their old character sheets for a session or two!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dice Pools vs Single Dice: Just Fiddle the Target Numbers

Initially, I was attracted to the idea of a dice pool because it provides a bell-curve distribution of results. With a pool of dice, the average number is far more likely to be rolled than the extreme lows or highs of the range. See for more information on this concept.

This web page ( will help you prove all things to yourself as we go along. It will give you a graph of the distribution and the probability of exceeding various rolls.

By contrast to a dice pool, a single dice (say a D20 as a good example) has a linear distribution. Rolling a 10 is exactly as likely as rolling a 20. Try it out on anydice: the probability of each number is identical, no matter how many sides the die has.

However, from the game design perspective, there is no reason to draw the conclusion that a dice pool is an inherently more balanced means of randomising combat. Here's why: target numbers don't have to be linear any more than dice results have to be linear.

Let's use AnyDice to roll 3D6.

So what's my point? The point is that you can use any combination of dice you like in your combat mechanism, and still have the odds of success be exactly the same! There are some qualifications. Firstly, not every combination of dice can hit every percentage chance of success. There's a bit less resolution in the 3D6 pool than in a D100. This is more of a problem for smaller dice pools such as 1D6 or 2D6. D20 is nearly okay, but still not nearly as precise as a D100.

 The other qualification is if the degree of success is relevant. It's not really a problem, but again the degree of success is not linear for a dice pool. You are much more likely to exceed your threshold by just a little, rather than a whole lot. This is just something else that needs to be considered when designing a mechanic.

So the fact that a dice pool has a normal distribution rather than a linear distribution does not in fact make it 'better' to work with as a designer, at face value. It is possible to design-in the same success ratios by tailoring the target numbers, rather having linear target numbers and a normal outcome distribution.

So far however we have only considered rolls against a specified target number. How do dice pools affect the chances of success in an opposed roll? More soon on this point...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The story of Kerala

Jared and Karl walked through the forest outside their small village, Kerala. They lived in a small community of a dozen farmsteads, about half a days walk from the nearest trading village. Life was quiet, driven by the need to tend to the crops and small herds of livestock, the changing of the seasons and little else. Farms tended to be handed down through families, so the community was extremely close-knit. Sometimes, a few people would move in to the town to follow a life of trading, to become a guard or join the small council which enforced order. They moved quietly. To an outsider, there was something very strange about their passage: none of the animals around were bothered by their presence, as though they were simply part of the natural order of things.

Both of these young men were going through the awakening. Not all Keralans experienced it, and those which did were usually meant for greater things. Bosun the local blacksmith had gone through it, and in addition to farming implements was able to channel his talent into creating some of the finest metalwork for many leagues. He was able to fashion works of high art, or weaponry of stunning precision with no aid other than the basic tools of his trade. It was the gift of magic, running through his veins, sharpening his senses and deepening his understanding of the metal.

Jared was finding that his changes were more physical. He was strong -- stronger than anyone in the village, and just as quick. He could carry a greater load than his father who had worked the land his entire life, and could outrun the dogs which helped to herd the animals. Karl had a subtler gift -- that of influence. Whereas other boys might throw tantrums and scream, Karl was quiet and self-assured. If he spoke, then people listened; and if he chose to be intimidating, he could make anyone feel unsettled and ill-at-ease. Without being a bully or manipulative, Karl could choose to be terrifying or charming. Right now though, he was reaching out to the woodland creatures around him, making them oblivious to their passing.

To be awakened was to be both blessed and cursed. It brought gifts beyond those given to normal men, but branded you an outsider as well. Peasant folk could often be cruel to the awakened, preferring to put their faith into the gods who protected them. The awakened were abandoned by the gods for their nature, and did not usually have an easy existence.

The pair would sometimes come here to the forest to speak of their fate, far away from the ears of the villagers. Jared was excited -- he seemed the younger of the two even though they were equal in years. He delighted in his physical power. Talking quickly, he explained how he dreamed of escaping the town and taking up a role in the army of the country. Glory through battle was his for the taking, and the army was always happy to recruit people like him. Physical awakening was the most common, and its advantages were more welcomed by society. Often towns would hire one or two of this sort to function as guardsmen against invaders. A single awakened fighter could easily hold their own against three men and would stand a good chance against an ogre or small giant.

Karl's gift, as mentioned, was more subtle but more dangerous. Had he known it, the magicians of the great city of Chanduhar would call him a charismat. In the peasant towns however, he was called a masked man. A masked man could wear any face they wanted, and were feared as being duplicitous and controlling. Indeed, in the wrong hands the power to influence others could inflict a great deal of damage on a community. There were many stories of bands of brigands who would come together to serve such an individual, or worse yet dark cultists who would fall under the sway of such a powerful personality then be trapped into the service of devils and dark magic. It did not matter to them that Karl faced the same choices as any other man, it mattered only that he could apparently control their very thoughts, and it made him unwelcome.

Jared did not really understand, although he was Karl's friend. The insults that Karl could just read on the surface of people's minds but did not say were invisible to Jared. Karl shook himself free of such thoughts, choosing instead to wash himself clean with Jared's enthusiastic and hopeful thoughts. It was not difficult to read their vibe, and to let himself get caught up in his joy. Perhaps they really could leave together. Karl might be able to find work for them in the governor's service, or maybe even earn enough to take them to a big city where there could be a real home for them both.


They talked deep into the evening, caught up in their dreams and ambitions, but both also with misgivings about leaving their homes for good. In many ways, the township life was idyllic. The gods protected them from disease and helped their crops grow, and the people were one with the land. The threat of war or pestilence was a distant threat, since the wide lands of Kerala were under the domain of a kind and benevolent spirit. The people nourished Kerala, and Kerala nourished them back. To travel far enough from their homes to reach the city of Chanduhar meant leaving the protection of Kerala and travelling through the lands of other spirits, perhaps even crossing dangerous territories. Neither were really sure how far away it was, or what lay between. Messages came and went, but they had never paid them heed before. As boys, there was no need. Now, as young men, the rest of the world was becoming real and the tales of the journeying traders was enticing and new.

It was of course Karl who noticed the marching of the hours. Jared had come to rely on him in such matters. This late at night, the spirit of Kerala would give its favours to the beasts and animals who populated the area, and whose minds were not like that of humans. It was risky to be out this late, and the two friends were old enough to know better, but young enough to make mistakes. They turned to head for home.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Answering the "Power 19" (6 to 10)

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

Mythology does not seek to dictate how people should play the game. I think that's a personal choice of the gaming group, and it's totally valid to be a 'fast and fun' group or an elite fighting group with a great grasp of the mechanics, or use roleplaying to explore serious scenarios. I'd like to think that my providing an elegant system, it's ideally suited to all of these.

By focusing on balance, the system plays fair with players who want to maximise the combat effectiveness of their players. The best games aren't those you can cheat at or win with cheesy tactics. They are the ones which demand the most in terms of skill and pure strategy. Chess. Poker. Bridge.

This also means you can let the system fade almost completely into the background if you want. It means that your character isn't going to be nobbled by early choices, and you can trust the system to make everything work, concentrating on characterisation or plot. A lot of thought has also gone into the character archetypes, so that some elements of flair are present in every option. Each character archetype (solider, ranger, magician, psyker, charismat, priest or sorcerer in the basic rules) has some basic motivations, talents and flaws. Players are encouraged to care about their characters identities, but it's okay to pick a character which suits your playing style. If the player wants to be an effective combatant, then they can pick a character which also wants that.

The game rewards roleplaying choices which are consistent with the character outline by giving in-game advantages whenever the player makes a difficult choice. For example, an impulsive character may rush into a challenging situation, earning them a golden die. A greedy character may not share their loot, while a compassionate character may sacrifice for another.

The one thing which is discourages is stealing someone else's limelight. This is a sin-bin offense and the storyteller will need to clamp down on 'greedy roleplaying'. There are enough in-built hints that each player should be fair and equitable, and focus on group cohesion. Unless of course you happen to want to run a highly competitive game, in which case the gloves can come off!

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

Unlike many systems, "Mythology" encourages a fairly loose tracking of experience points which does not reward one player over another, lest the game become unbalanced, or unrewarding for some players. Instead, the system includes a few reward concepts, being the 'golden die' (extra dice which the players can use at any time), 'fate points' (which the players can use to get out of an impossible situation or pass an impossible test) and magic points, which limit the amount of amazing things they can do each day.

The players can only really function effectively if they work together. Ultimately, group cohesion is a social problem, not a mechanical one. This is why there is only one storyteller -- one arbiter who the players can turn to in order to sort out any petty disputes. If everyone respects their decisions, then any conflict between the players can be sorted out quickly before anyone gets upset.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

Well, the storyteller is mostly responsible for the narration. Unless you have a pretty experienced gaming group, the storyteller really does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, it's this balance which divides the responsibilities, rather than anything which is in the game itself.

The players are capable of dictating their characters actions totally freely, but the storyteller can always say "whoa... I dunno. That guy looks pretty mean" to suggest another course of action. Or, they can accept the direction and just let the cards fall as they may!

So, I guess I'm ducking this question.

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

I've played dozens of roleplaying games, and probably about 6 or 8 different systems. What I've noticed about player engagement and effective characterisation is that motivations and flaws are GREAT! Extensive character backgrounds typically just bog things down. No one remembers them! It's much better, if you can, to build up the characters through gameplay, rather than invent a complex history. That way, the players are invested in the character background because they've lived it. Everything salient to characterisation in the game can typically be captured in five or so key facts which the player should really know and understand.

Each character type has some really fantastic abilities which make them completely unique. It's really exciting when you find that your character has got what it takes to save everyone's bacon. In a lot of systems, many of the character options are pretty similar (basically everyone is a combat guy, magic guy or healing person) and sometimes dull. Often the party healer isn't very good at bold, direct action. Not so here! Everyone is vital and everyone gets to be the hero sometimes.

Super-detailed characters can just slow the game down. In Mythology, characters are more like comic-book heroes or caricatures, even the ones which have strong social abilities. Their motivations, talents and flaws are simple, but help to guide the response in many situations. The storyteller's job is to reward players for playing their characters well, not for following the plot that has been laid down. Players not getting your story? Your problem! The character with a motivation for problem solving being a bit dense? Let 'em make an idea role.

Beyond that, you don't need rules to cover every possibility. The game needs to be simple enough for everyone to play in their heads, and keep track of using a pencil and paper. Anything more sophisticated is reliant on the players to keep track of and invest their effort in.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

Exquisitely balanced, fast to use and effective. The mechanic for the game is still being worked on (perfection here in non-negotiable), but basically this is how it works:
-- You have free-of-cost actions and costed actions
-- Doing something requires spending some action points, rolling a small number of dice, and adding them up. Bigger is better.
-- Advancing a skill or ability will either let you roll bigger dice or more of them
-- More dice = more reliable, closer to average
-- Bigger dice = unpredictable, wide range of possibilities
-- More AND bigger dice = awesome! :)

The goal is that the players should barely be aware of all the mathematics which goes into designing encounters, challenge levels, skill ratings and suchlike. It should be so easy anyone can learn it in two minutes. Step one: Look up your skill rating. Step two: Pick up that many dice. Step three: Roll and add. Resolution: Is the number big enough?

Working with dice pools like this makes it easy for a designer to really tune the game balance, since the statistics of rolling multiple dice are well-known and provide a good level of control. Want to have a group of enemies which will take an average of four rounds to defeat four characters with average health for level 2? No problem! Want the group to have the potential to wipe out everyone by turn two, but be no more dangerous on average? Easy! Of course, this is not something the players or storyteller needs to worry about. The core rulebook will include a bunch of standard encounters which the storyteller can use and tweak in games up to about level 6. That's enough for about 15 sessions of play, by which time you might need to buy some more books, or do some balancing work yourself.

I'm hoping to make a bunch of online calculators available eventually so this can be done online, and of course publishing new and more wonderful monster groups and adventures is part of what this is all about for me.


So that's it for my next answers to the "Power 19". Until next time, may your gaming be excellent!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Character Class: Charismat

As mentioned, one of the unique aspects of the Mythology game is its character classes. Many of the classic classes are included: Soldier, Magician, Martial Artist and others. One of the more unusual types is the Charismat. This class has abilities which give the character personal influence and social power. In limited ways they can read the minds of others and also influence them. They are also the only class capable of performing the soul binding, a permanent telepathic and psychic connection with one other person.

Most of the skills, abilities, and level progressions for the classes have not yet been put into place. But I thought I would share an early sketch of this character class as a hint of how Mythology is going to go about giving each player something powerful and exciting which only they can do...

Class Option: Charismat

Charismats make use of the power of magic in order to enhance their political and persuasive power. They find that they can influence the minds of others directly by using the power of magic to form a temporary bridge between them. Charismats are also the only character class which is capable of mental bonding with other lifeforms. By literally sharing part of their mind, they can effect a permanent magical connection between their brain and another.

Some powerful and malicious charismats have even been known to do this against the will of other parties, possibly even without their knowledge. Many a powerful ruler has been truly terrified of the capacity of a charismat to infiltrate their inner chambers through mental powers alone.

Charismats may use their powers to calm their opponents, present a persuasive oratory to a crowd, or gain character insights into people. Charismats rapidly achieve positions of power due to their powers of influence and negotiation. Indeed, they make the most accomplished advisors and can be a powerful means of uniting a village, guild or party in working for the common good. Great things can be accomplished with one of these characters around to stir the spirit.

Not all charismats seek a life of politics and power. In combat, the charismat may use their powers to befuddle an enemy or read their intentions. Even beasts can be calmed or avoided through the use of mental powers. A charismat can also distract, confuse or befuddle an enemy, leaving them open to a more physical form of attack. Many charismats are reasonably accomplished duelists, and sometimes can be found leading warbands or outlaw groups. It has been rumoured that some even function as assassins, using their mental powers to avoid attention when stealth alone is not sufficient.


and that's the idea! I'm working on the specific skills and abilities for the character type, so send me any suggestions or requests and maybe it'll make it into the final game!

Until next time, may your gaming be excellent.