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.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Answering the "Power 19" (1-5)

Mythology isn't finished, not by a long shot. I shouldn't be surprised if it takes a year or more before it's getting close. But Mythology is well and truly started. I'm starting this blog as a part of the process of building it. In my wildest dreams, this might become a very popular system, but I will be completely happy if I just get it done.

I've been struggling to work out how best to start answering questions that readers might have. Who will my readers be? What will they want? I'm not quite sure! So I've decided to duck the issue, and answer a set of questions from the Socratic Design blog, called the "Power 19".

1.) What is your game about?

This is a bit of a troublesome question, because the best answer is always going to depend on what aspect of the game the reader is most interested in! I'll start out at a basic level and more experienced / curious readers can find more information in other posts, or to other more specific questions.

Mythology encourages its players to explore fantastical realities where the things which are only myths in the real world come to life. Players will get to play the role of an exciting hero, doing great things. The world setting is designed to allow the storyteller / games master to set up adventures of virtually any kind within the fantasy genre. These adventures might stretch from ancient myths, such as undead kings in great pyramids, blood-sucking vampires, vengeful and capricious gods and great barbarian warriors, to modern interpretations now a part of popular culture thanks to games like Dungeons and Dragons. It is an opportunity for players to take on the role of someone different and exciting: a hero, a thief in the night, a great wizard or a powerful ruler.

The game isn't rigidly about anything, because no two groups of players are alike. Mythology provides just enough rule and structure that it can be rightly called a game, but hanging from that has to be a rollicking fun storyline that captures the player's imagination.

"Mythology" is about heroic characters, each with a unique ability, doing great deeds. It is about emphasizing the awesome, whatever that means for you. The basic plot I'm currently using to help guide development is centered around four characters who leave their peasant lives to search for adventure, excitement and someplace they can fit in. Indeed, I'll be posting an element of this story now and then, to give a taste of how I see the Mythology world and how the character types might work together.

2.) What do the characters do?

Anyone who has done much roleplaying realises that different players want different things. Every person will play their character differently and get something different from the game. Some care about the characters fictional identites, others love the atmosphere of the game, some want to enjoy the glory of victory. Some don't care much about the fictional creativity, and really want to feel like they're 'winning' by creating tough, strong characters. So, the characters will do whatever the players want. Any intelligent game needs to recognise this and take a back seat.

The basic game books provide what most roleplaying games provide. That is, Mythology provides game rules for competitive and structured play. However, unlike many systems which are available, Mythology seeks to include enough natural differences between the character types that there will be other kinds of interaction which are important. The character group isn't necessarily like a team of top fighters, finely tuned to eachothers abilities. The different character options complement one another, but they all have their own identities also. Characters are not Swiss Army knives.

Kerala, the current 'working name' for the central world of "Mythology", is a fantasy world. It is full of warring tribes, fantastical creatures, dark gods and powerful magic. It has towns, hamlets, cities, oceans and great unexplored lands. What the characters do with this setting has more to do with how you like to play the game.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?

The players manage their characters choices and developments, against the backdrop of the Mythology world setting and according to the storyline laid out by the storyteller or the plot book. The storyteller / GM is pivotal to the game of Mythology. This role is variously called the Games Master, Dungeon Master or storyteller. It is their job to be most familiar with the rules and to bring forth developments in the game world. The other players take on the role of a single character instead. This manner of game playing makes a lot of sense one you have tried it a couple of times. The chances are if you're reading this, you already understand this division, and I will concentrate on what the character-players will do.

The players will be given a story, and then given some free choice in their interactions. The outcome is a mixture of the storytellers interpretation and a random element. In order to reflect the characters varying abilities, they have a set of numerical statistics which dictate their capacity for fighting, running, negotiation or casting spells.

The players make some choices, role a few dice, tell some stories and experience the thrills of being able to achieve superhuman feats. A lot of the motivation and flavour of the characters is reflected in the character types which are available, so I expect that people will come to enjoy this aspect of the game.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

The setting is dripping with atmosphere, and is totally in keeping with the character archetypes. It would be difficult to separate the two. However, the world setting is still under very active development and it's hard to pre-specify how that's going to eventuate. In order to build this up, I'm going to write a number of short stories set in the world of Kerala, from the point of view of a few groups of people and different character types, and let this guide the world development.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

The character creation strongly re-enforces the emphasis on 'awesome' and the shift away from 'work'. Character creation is basically a matter of picking your archetype, then maybe 5 minutes of work and you're good to go. Most of the effort goes into the early levelling up, so you can start your session with a fairly 'naked' character but still build it into something great. A few key talents, motivations and flaws are all you need to start fleshing out the details and the rest writes itself. Players definitely don't need to spend a lot of time writing themselves into the world or metagaming to get the most out of their statistics. Every option is balanced, every choice is valid, and all the characters will have their time in the spotlight.

Of course players will no doubt eventually want to start with higher-level characters, or bring in a more detailed character background. This is of course totally fine -- just build a starting-level character and level it up the appropriate number of times.

Something I'm considering at the moment is the use of a common 'level zero' where the characters are undergoing a kind of magical awakening, where they can take the abilities of each character class out for a spin in some way, learn about the setting and storyline, then pick their character type after the first session. This is probably going to be a website-only option because I'm worried it will blow out the streamlined approach I would like to take to the basic rules.

That's all folks, until next time...

Okay, well I hope that provides a little bit of information on what the game might be like. My plan is to intersperse generalist posts like this one with more specific posts on aspects of gameplay, analysis of combat and things that might be of more interest to experienced gamers. Please do leave comments and if there are a lot of questions on any one topic, I'll make sure to cover those aspects in more depth in future.

Until next time, may your gaming be excellent!

Monday, November 2, 2009

First Post: Mythology Roleplaying System

Welcome to all readers. This blog is here to record the building of a new roleplaying system, entitled "Mythology". Over the coming weeks I'll be posting answers to all the obvious questions, such as "Does the world really need another system?", "What makes you think this will be any good?" and "Don't you have anything better to do?".

These will be followed shortly by responses to the slightly more constructive queries, "Oh okay then so what's it all about", "Doesn't it all seem a bit farfetched" and "Isn't it just like Dungeons and Dragons but not as good?".

However, before getting to that kind of soul-searching, I wanted to give a brief, personal introduction. I'm a software developer, and I have a long-standing enthusiasm for roleplaying games. Imagination is a really important part of who I am. That's why I'm starting this blog: I've got this idea, scratching at the back of my mind, demanding attention. The idea is to build a new roleplaying system, which will deliver something that I've never quite managed to find -- my own holy grail of systems. Of course I realise that I'm not going to build "The Best Roleplaying System The Universe Has Ever Known". But you know what, I just can't help wanting to try.

So this blog is how I'm going to do it. Sure, it's part marketing. But unless I can focus my ideas, communicate them and find a community, this idea of mine is dead already. I'd really like to think that this is possible, so I'm approaching this project with all the naivete and optimism that it demands. If I'm going to fail, it's not going to be because of cynicism or a lack of self-belief. Nope, if it goes nowhere, it's going to be after giving it my best shot. That's all anyone can do.

From the next post, things are going to start getting specific. I'll be starting to talk about mechanics, the world setting, some of the characters that I've built up as part of the process. I'll answer the "Power 19", a collection of questions put together on The Forge forums as a way of testing out ideas for new systems. Then, after presenting some of what's already done, I'll get into playtesting with my gaming group, discussions of options for mechanics, talking about artwork. I'll be looking for feedback, criticism, support, motivation and companions on the journey.

So, until next time, may your gaming be excellent.