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Archive => Indie Game Design => Topic started by: Darcy Burgess on December 29, 2005, 07:48:51 PM

Title: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on December 29, 2005, 07:48:51 PM
Domus saw its first playtest last night, and I'm glad to say that it was a lot of fun (that's a fact for me, and a pretty solid conjecture for my two mates).

I'm going to be doing an AP thread re: some interesting theory stuff that cropped up, but I can't link to it until I create I'll do a follow-up post for the link.

Now, if you're interested in wading in on the discussion with the full rules in front of you, you can email me ( and I'll gladly send you the version we actually used.

But for the purposes of this thread, a summary of the pertinent rules will probably do -- more on that soon.

The background that I want to discuss the mechanics against are two specific trends I noticed during AP:
  • Players' tendency to "prattle on" making long, drawn-out bids (see below), in an attempt to fish for more bonuses.
  • Conflicts were resolved in one round, instead of 2 or more.

Now, the mechanical foundation -- the con res rules in point form:
  • Out of a situation, a conflict is proposed & accepted
  • Stakes are set
  • "battle lines" are drawn -- individual characters choose sides in the conflict
  • conflict is resolved when a given side is the only one left with characters "standing"
[li]each character involved gets a "hit point" total, assigned by the rules as a function of "how far along" the story is[/li]
  • this total is the same for each and every character
[li]Once this groundwork is laid, conflict settles into a Round-by-round structure[/li]
  • Just like Sorc. combat (revise until everyone's happy), each participant gets to make a declaration of what "little thing" they're doing to achieve the stakes.
  • In a blind bidding process, each participant gives their declaration weight with 2 things: a value in chips and a single die (d4-d12)
  • simultaneous revelation of bids
  • actions resolved by die priority (d4 goes first, up to d12)  System includes mechanic for breaking ties.
  • the die is rolled, and can be used to modify chip pile by its face value
  • target(s) of declaration are dealt "damage" equal to chip pile
  • if target hasn't dealt its damage yet, it's chip pile is reduced as a function of the damage it sustains (1 reduction per 2 dmg)
[li]player narrates how their action resolves, guided by their intial declarations and by what has happened in the round[/li]
[li]proceed to next player in die-order[/li]
[li]individual characters are taken out if the damage pile is >= HP.  This is only evaluated between rounds.[/li]

Regarding "prattling on", I believe that the game's reward mechanic is behind the behaviour:
  • Each character has traits (ie: shamanistic, wooden sword, fated, etc)
  • For each trait the player works into their declaration, they gain a significant mechanical edge in the CR process.

In other words, the game rewards you for "fishing" for bonuses by running your mouth.

Regarding "one round resolution", I was surprised.  The game includes a mechanic to make players wary of placing large amounts of chips down -- overshoot your HP mark by too much, and you hand the GM some metagame currency to smack you down.  I expected that this mechanic would result in two things:
  • tension over setting bids (which it did)
  • smaller bids, to avoid going over (which it did NOT)

So, I'm tackling two issues  --  one round resolution isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I'd like the game to do both.  Any ideas on that?  My initial thoughts include amping up the power of the GM currency to make going over the HP limit scarier, as well as including some sort of allowance for a defensive "abort" -- spend your own pile to defend yourself instead of applying it to your stated target.  Both have their downsides -- I'm not necessarily a fan of making the GM the big bad antagonist, as Domus should be about the players competing with each other.  On the other hand, giving the players the ability to shrink their stack (by aborting) undercuts the tension associated with "going over the limit".

The other issue is more of a problem.  The prattling on did tend to make the game drag at times.  Perhaps a less free-form structure?  Something like "say what you're doing in a single breath"... I would also like to tie in notions of escalation.  I'm just not sure where.

Help me Forgie-Wan-Kenobi...

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on December 29, 2005, 08:17:39 PM
as promised, here's the sister AP thread (

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: dindenver on December 29, 2005, 09:08:24 PM
  I am just riffing here, but it seems like if you want to keep the bids down, replinish their pool of chips less often.
  This will encourage the players to save their chips for future encounters. Further, you can tweak it by giving them some in-game reward for having excess chips left when it is time to replenish the supply. Nothing over the top, a small XP reward, free re-roll, something that is an incentive, but won't throw your game off...
  Good luck, sounds like a cool game!

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on December 29, 2005, 10:29:34 PM
That's something I failed to mention -- there isn't a "supply" of chips.  Bottomless.

Player will is the only limiting factor.

Or, rather, that's how it is right now.

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Emily Care on December 30, 2005, 07:16:25 AM
Heya Darcy,

Does the edition you used vary much from the one posted on 1km1kt? 'Course I don't have that version with me right now, so I'll just have to ask you annoying questions anyway. : ) Any chance you could post a link to that version? I'm pulling a blank trying to find it again.

What's the mechanical advantage the prattling gives you? You choose your own chips & dice from the central pool, so where do the trait benefits come in?  If you had a limit on how many traits could be used per round, that would cut down on the mouth running & also might encourage people to go multiple rounds.

I've got to look at my copy. I can't see how you would do anything but take a low die & a big pile of chips.  What does the die roll do to the chips pile?


Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on December 30, 2005, 08:37:29 AM
Hi Emily.  Thanks for dropping by.

To begin with... the one on 1km1kt?  zuh?  I didn't know it was I checked.  I can't find it.  But my web-fu is mighty weak. 

Maybe you're confusing it with my aborted entry for the full-fledged IGC 2005, Pachak Nunas (renamed 100 Ghosts).  Or, maybe I just can't find it.

Regardless, the problem of the missing document is solved -- there's a link in my sig now.

Essentially, prattling gives you an extra die for each and every trait your incorporate (up to 5 bonus dice possible).  The die allows you to tweak the value of the pile -- either raising it by exactly what you rolled, or lowering it by up to what you rolled.  Therefore, bigger dice are likely to give you more control over the pile, which is good for avoiding overshooting the mark.  The tradeoff is that you're going later in the round.

To cut to the full gory details, dl the pdf and start reading at page 12 (section 4 - of dice and doom).

Thanks again

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Emily Care on December 30, 2005, 09:20:46 AM
Hey Darcy,

I found it (, but your new versions are much prettier. Way cool.

'k.  It looks like the penalty for Going Too Far is kind of long-term and doesn't really seem that bad. It gives the GM power to whack you, but then that's their job after all.  If you made it something immediate like--extra chip values turn into fallout then & there, maybe people would be a lot more cautious.

Then the cranking/verbosity problem.  They essentially are limited on how much they can go on.  From 1 crank if they start with a d12 to 5 cranks if they began with a d4.  That d4 still sounds mighty tasty to me as an option everytime.  Especially given how powerful having a full set of crank dice is: you can determine your initiative and your effect independently, you have tie breaking mojo.  Is that what people did? Take d4s and go on & on?


Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 30, 2005, 09:25:19 AM
Quick & easy solution seems to be limiting trait use. Either have'em get used up (exhausted, "spent," whatever) per use, or specify that only one gets invoked per action, no matter how much babbling you do.

Both of these options work pretty well in my experience.


Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on December 30, 2005, 11:18:36 AM
Thanks for the link, Emily.  No, really, thanks -- because if you hadn't pointed it out to me, I would never have gotten to make fun of Andy K for telling the Yahoo community that I'm a girl.  Which I'm not... :grin:

I've been thinking that Going too Far is pretty weak too.  The GM powers probably need some amping up.

re: behaviours, no they weren't always taking d4x2, d6, d8, d10, d12.  But they bid like they were trying to...  Both Ty and Glenn would often make a small stack and use big dice, hoping to avoid giving payback.  But once they started fishing for cranks, they just wouldn't stop...

Ron, I agree whole-heartedly with your suggestion -- much like tapping land for mana in Magic.  But, the trick becomes figuring out what untaps the traits.

What about these changes:
  • Increase the power of Payback (TBA)
  • Decrease the number of Beliefs and Symbols, from 6 each to (say) 4 each.  They're still linked.
  • Beliefs, Symbols, Terms, Tenets, Scars now all "tap".
  • Remove "proposing a Conflict" and "adding colour to a conflict" from the list of things that earn you Cranks.
  • Proposing a conflict now allows you to untap two things
  • Enriching a conflict allows you to untap one thing

That will probably go a long way...

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on December 31, 2005, 09:13:01 PM
I got through about 2/3 of what I was planning on posting, most of it was "help!  I'm having a hard time" stuff...and then the answer hit I chucked all of the flotsam, and this is now more of a "hey, see any holes need plugging?" sort of post.  I'm hoping to playtest again this week, and then I'm likely going to have to relent for about a month as other commitments bear down on me, so I need to make this next foray count.

Here's a little story: back when I envisioned this thing for the Mace IGC (which I won...WOOT!), it was going to be this cute little adventure RPG with lots and lots of Roman colour.  The prophecy thing was kind of tacked on...but at least it's what led me to choose the fall of the Roman empire as my setting, so I kept it in my head.

I left the actual writing to the very last minute...maybe a day and a half before the deadline.  And so it was a case of me saying, "self, you get this done.  You said you will, so you DO IT."  And lo and behold, during that 1.5 days, prophecy kept coming back and being important.  I didn't realize it at the time, but it was really becoming the heart of the game.  I don't know whether it was my subconscious at work, but that's what happened.

Regardless, Domus has become about 2 things: Discovering & Fulfilling Prophecy (what characters do) and Competition (what players do).  Playtest (note the singular) has shown this to be the case, and so I've got to follow through and hone everything else to support this.

The Issue
The big -- check that -- e-flipping-nourmous hole in v3 of the game is "how the hell do I win"?  Here goes.  (btw, "Source" is gameterm for "big bad villain")

The scene against the Source (aka Act V or Climax) isn't with the Source in the sense that when the it is taken out the scene ends.  Rather, the scene ends when one character fulfills their prophecy.  In other words, players aren't necessarily attacking the Source directly (although the characters may be...).  Whatever the characters are doing, it's the act of fulfilling a prophecy that takes out the Source.   Simultaneously, what's really going on is that the players are feverishly competing to make the final scene about their character's prophecy.

Obviously, whoever fulfills their character's prophecy wins (duh!).

This victory condition requires some fixing of Prophetic Terms and Prophecy Rating.  As it stands, the two are more or less dissociated -- so it's possible to have a Prophecy with a massive rating (which grants the metagame power to settle all ties in the game) and very few terms ... which is a rediculously powerful edge during the climax (sweet!  I got away with only three suckers will never fulfill your prophecies in time...Raiden WINS!!)

Obviously, rating needs to become tied directly to # of terms to keep things in check.  This will have implications for the Growing & Spiking table, which is something that I'll need to think on some more.  (Although the obvious thing is that no matter what happens, a term is getting added to the Prophecy...)

Other Issues
In playtest, it became abundantly clear that the GM's role isn't to act as antagonist.  That may be the in-game role of the GM's characters, but what the actual person is doing is constantly levelling the playing field -- keeping the competition between PCs tense.  That requires a massive rewrite of the "payback" list -- so when Emily made mention of the fact that something was wrong with payback, she was right.  I just don't think the answer is what either of us meant (or understood) at the time.  I could be wrong about Emily's pov, but I know mine was way the hell out there.

The Payback list is a tool for the players who are lagging behind -- they need to be able to put currency into the GM's hands that helps them get back in the game.

So...all a "losing" player needs to do is overbid by gigantic amounts, and his problems are solved.  That's a huge hole.

Solution: Dominance also grants the power of setting a chip limit.  This will also have the nice side effect of generating more multi-round conflicts, especially in the later acts.

Closing thought
This game is, in some ways, spiralling rapidly towards not needing a GM a'tall.  A really collaborative group with a solid social contract (something that covered how Payback was spent) could likely do without.  That being said, I think that the GM's role in the game is a fun one -- but obviously AP will be the judge of that.

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on January 02, 2006, 12:30:02 PM
I've hit on another adjustment: backlash.

Under the new "compete, compete, compete!" banner, this cutesy-wootsey notion that backlash can be good is, well, crap.  No one should want it.  It sucks.  It gets in your way.

why the 360 from "Dogs-style-damage-is-your-friend"?

Because if the dominant player gets to limit chip stack, there needs to be some reason for that limit to be something other than zero.  And that reason is backlash.  That chip limit applies to the dominant player just as well as the if s/he hobbles them, s/he's going to feel the hurt too.

I've been having thoughts about other things that are absent from the game -- a player's primer and a GM's chapter.  Here are some nascent thoughts for both:

Player Advice
  • Your best route to victory is creative conflict generation.  Come up with stuff that the Dominant character just can't pass on -- force them to get involved.
  • Try and be in the same conflicts as the dominant character -- that way you are taking advantage of the hobbling factor as best you can.  It's even better if you're working at cross-purposes.

GM Stuff
  • Don't play favourites.  Keep the playing field almost level between the players, allowing dominance to keep everyone hungry.
  • Make your groundrules plain (ie: hey, I always target the Dominant character first (or second or whatever) with it!) so that the players can use those rules in their choices.

What say you, giant field of crickets?  Do these changes (when taken as a whole) really advance my agenda of a game of competitive prophecy?

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on January 02, 2006, 02:26:49 PM
I just received a PM asking what I was hoping to achieve here.

Well, if you dig deep enough in my posts, you'll find my goals, but articulating them clearly and concisely wouldn't hurt, would it?

I'm looking for others to evaluate my proposed changes with respect to my goals:
  • reduce prattling (as defined early-on in the thread)
  • focus the game more tightly on competition

in other words, any huge glaring holes or omissions?  essentially, I'm looking for extra eyes to help make my next playtest as useful as possible.

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Shreyas Sampat on January 02, 2006, 06:52:44 PM
So, let me see if I am clear about the pratling problem.

Your narration can include your Traits.
Each Trait gets you a bonus die, starting at the size you bid and then each successive die is a die step greater.
It's generally better to have more dice, because you choose which to use, and more choices are straightforwardly better, plus you get to go before other people who have the same smallest die as you.

Is this all correct? If so...

...then one possibility that alters the prattling problem is to make it into a tactical decision - suppose your place in the turn order is determined by your highest die type, rather than your lowest, so it's better (in timing terms) to have exactly one bonus die than it is to have several - you have to choose between flexibility/power and speed.

This won't stop run-on narration dead, but it'll make it significant and interesting when it happens... it provokes thoughts of, "What's he planning, activating all those traits?"

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on January 03, 2006, 03:35:23 AM
Shreyas --

Neat idea.  And it brings to light the main issue I've had with prattling -- how it seems unfocused.  I would assume that if the player had a real plan in mind, their narration (and its inclusion of traits) would be more targeted.  Does this make sense?

Now, there is a mechanical issue with what you've proposed -- as it stands, the base die that you build on top of is player's choice, so I can't see an instance where adding dice makes you choose, even if initiative goes to highest die.

Could you give me an example of what you mean, including how it interacts with your proposed mechanics?  Thanks.

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: talysman on January 03, 2006, 09:27:05 AM
hey Darcy,

I'm going to have to reread the new rules a couple times, but so far it looks very good. I'm glad to see Prophecy finally getting described in the rules; I'd like to see a detailed example of how Prophecy works from start to finish, though. I think the competive side is just fine. I'm not sure of the effects of the rules changes on prattling yet; that's one of the things I'll look for on a re-read.

good work!

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on January 03, 2006, 05:36:21 PM
Hi John!

I can understand the need to re-read the rules, especially since they're so spread between the online pdf (v3) and the stuff I've been doing here.  As part of my prep for tomorrow night's playtest, I'm going to work up a quick "changes" document for the players at the table.  I'll put it up on the web and link to it when I do.

Thanks for the pat on the back -- and I'm happy with where Prophecy is going too!  Regarding a detailed example of Prophecy, yeah, I'd like to see that too.  And It's going into the rules (one of the things I have planned is a continuous example of play, much like the EoP in Universalis).

However, the prophetic/competitive end of the game is where most of the changes are happening right now, so I don't think that I'll be properly armed to do some real EoPs until I get to the end of at least one game...

Truth be told, the few EoPs in the doc aren't that great, they're really little more than placeholders.  There's even a few subtle errors in them.

Thanks for the interest

Title: Re: [Domus] Post-playtest development
Post by: Darcy Burgess on January 03, 2006, 07:59:24 PM

Here are the changes to the v3 rules ( v3.1.pdf) (currently available on the dl site) that I'll be running with tomorrow evening.

Shreyas -- although the changes document don't reflect your suggested fix, I haven't discarded it.  I'm just planning on testing this particular fix this time 'round.