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Author Topic: [Steel Shadows] The Power 19  (Read 12875 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« on: February 28, 2006, 08:57:30 AM »

Intro

So, hey, I'm posting about a game I'm designing on the Forge. I was talking with a friend recently, who pointed out I hadn't posted in Indie Game Design in two years, and I looked back and saw that no one responded to my last post, and I was really ticked about it. It's a new Forge these days, though, and I'm giving it a second chance.

This game's been on my mind for some time, and I'm really excited to have done some design work on it. I started writing the initial rules last night, and took a break to pound out some Power 19.

Troy mentioned on his weblog that one of the problems with P19 stuff on the Forge was that designers weren't asking specific questions. Here's mine, which won't make sense until you read the below.

  • How could I playtest this game without it turning into an endless slogfest of design -> test -> fix -> start over? All games are designed this way, but this particular design really needs finely-tuned balance. Is there a good way to do this?
  • This and my last game have really taken focus away from the characters and put it on the setting. Is this something - in this particular case of Steel Shadows - that is interesting? If not, how do I either focus the attention on the mission more (preferable) or engage the players with more character focus?
  • Seriously, did I write something below that makes this more than just a really good idea for an Iron Heroes campaign?



1. What is your game about?

   Ninjas hired to perform secretive missions without getting caught.

2. What do the characters do?

   Stealthily make their way past traps, enemies, and obstacles to confront the center of their mission.

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

   The GM designs interesting and challenging scenarios to play in, and then presents this to the players. The players quickly build ninjas and then play these ninjas doing their stealthy thing. They try to think of ways past obstacles that the GM hasn't thought of.
   
   They do this in a quick amount of time. Scenario prep should be one hour, character creation 15 minutes, and game play 2 hours.

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

   There is absolutely no setting outside the mission. There might be rumors of setting ("The Edo clan has made a great strategem at court, and so the Hirochi clan has hired you to eliminate their master speech-writer"), but you never play in anything outside the mission. This reinforces the tactical elements of the game.

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

   While one can create a character that will continue play in Iron Shadows, generally one will create a new character every time they play, engineered for that mission. This emphasizes the facelessness and mission-oriented-ness of the ninja.

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

   It rewards solid tactical thought, deftness of ideas (that is, thinking up the unexpected), and luck. It's not a very serious game, in that luck is a major factor.

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

   The game rewards the above with an increased chance of mission success. There is no built-in punishment mechanism besides mission failure.

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

   The GM is responsible for credibility. Narration is controlled generally by the GM. Players will get a chance to narrate their success within a limited structure - the GM has final say, and they are not allowed to expand past their intent.

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?)


   It puts the mission in danger at all times. While characters are faceless, and therefore we don't care if they die, it is planned that missions will tie together, making the players care about each one, as their ninja clan has a goal.

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

   Very basically, you will have a skill and stat for every action you take. These are ranked with dice - 1d3/4/6/8/10/12. So, for every conflict, you have two dice to roll. The GM will also have two dice, determined by the conflict. You roll and compare individual dice. The player only needs one die to win to win the conflict. However, if one die fails, the difference is damage against either the character's health or stealth pools. If health reaches zero, you die. If stealth reaches zero, everyone's alerted, and your mission is in dire danger.

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

   It's about ninjas! They're stealthy!
   
   Seriously, note that stealth is a resource, not an ability. It is assumed that as a ninja, you are always stealthy. You must hoard this resource, though, keeping your enemies in the dark at all times. If you fail to do this, then you are a failure as a ninja.

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

   Yes and no. Characters don't advance, but missions will. The GM builds a mission with a certain number of points, which determines what level characters will be built. So, if you play three times, against 50, 75, and 100 point scenarios, then the characters will be built at higher effectiveness levels each time. You could play the same characters at each effectiveness level, but it is not required in the least.

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

   The lack of character advancement against reinforces the point that the mission is much more important than the character.

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

   I want them to sit on the edge of their seats, tensely worrying whether they will make it through the mission and save young girls from evil merchants.

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

   The characters are built with "trainings," which are like class levels. Each training has five levels, and they are going to get a lot of neat attention. Basic ninja training, poison training, animal training, zen training - all of these are going to get neat color.
   
   These are going to get extra attention because they are the players' first important choices, and therefore will be their first point of engagement with the system.

16. Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

   The scenario creation is totally fun and great. You make a flowchart instead of a normal map. You can even randomly create the flowchart and then go back and add the challenges. This should allow the GM to make neat adventures with a minimum of prep time.
   
   All in all, I'm trying real hard to bridge what I do enjoy about traditional "find the challenge and defeat it" games with a modern-sensibilities approach to it. The scenario creation above, for example, is built on points, ensuring that the GM makes a scenario the characters can make it through, although with great challenge. But, because characters are fluid, the GM's not constrained in what he can make.

17. Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

   Exactly what I said above - very competitive scenario creation that is fair and balanced, not by contract, but by rules.

18. What are your publishing goals for your game?

   A smallish (60-100 pages) book with cool Japanese-looking art that I can publish on Lulu.com.

19. Who is your target audience?

   People who enjoy D&D and other games that are mechanically focused on competition, but want it to take less time, and also really like ninjas.
   
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2006, 09:18:56 AM »

Troy mentioned on his weblog that one of the problems with P19 stuff on the Forge was that designers weren't asking specific questions.
Yeah, that's been bugging me as well.


How could I playtest this game without it turning into an endless slogfest of design -> test -> fix -> start over? All games are designed this way, but this particular design really needs finely-tuned balance. Is there a good way to do this?
I can't see any course other than the cycle you mention. With balance being so important, I think you need practical feedback and unexpected responses.


This and my last game have really taken focus away from the characters and put it on the setting. Is this something - in this particular case of Steel Shadows - that is interesting? If not, how do I either focus the attention on the mission more (preferable) or engage the players with more character focus?
Er....I'm sure it's interesting to some people and not to others. It certainly sounds cool to me.


Seriously, did I write something below that makes this more than just a really good idea for an Iron Heroes campaign?
It seems that way to me. The lack of focus on the character especially takes it out of the realm of most roleplaying games.


It rewards solid tactical thought, deftness of ideas (that is, thinking up the unexpected), and luck. It's not a very serious game, in that luck is a major factor.
I don't see how a high luck factor takes away from the seriousness of a game. Poker has a high luck factor, but that doesn't make it any less serious. It just means that the bulk of strategy is mitigating the negative outcomes of luck. Which, honestly, can be a lot of fun.
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2006, 09:31:37 AM »

Dude, I'm totally in the mood to play already.  Gotta couple questions for you.

Quote from: Clinton
2. What do the characters do?

   Stealthily make their way past traps, enemies, and obstacles to confront the center of their mission.
You didn't say so, but is it safe to assume that this would include conflicts that don't always resolve with "Whew!  Nothing happened!"?  You know, like fooling your target into thinking you're someone else?  Or stealthfully killing things and taking their stuff?  Cuz I hope so.

Quote from: Clinton
How could I playtest this game without it turning into an endless slogfest of design -> test -> fix -> start over? All games are designed this way, but this particular design really needs finely-tuned balance. Is there a good way to do this?
There's another way to playtest?  Or are you talking about figuring out some kind of super-math formula in an attempt to make sure that characters are balanced vs. missions, a la d20's Challenge Ratings?

Quote from: Clinton
This and my last game have really taken focus away from the characters and put it on the setting. Is this something - in this particular case of Steel Shadows - that is interesting? If not, how do I either focus the attention on the mission more (preferable) or engage the players with more character focus?
I'm not entirely sure I understand how this would focus on the setting more than the characters.  The players are going to be responsible for building characters and using the resources of those characters to overcome the missions' challenges, right?  That seems like lots of focus on characters for the players to me.  Is the other game you're talking about FoA?  Because that seemed pretty well centered on the characters to me too.  So maybe I'm not understanding what you're meaning by "...taking focus away from the characters and putting it on the setting."

But, since I'm already here, I'll just say that I think one could take considerable focus away from the characters by not putting any character creation or ownership in the game.  Give the players ownership and authority over more nebulous things like um... Life, Blood, Shadows, The Moon, Echos, etc.  I'm imagining a scenario where there's a conflict about wether a Ninja or a Guard dies.  If the GM wins and the Ninja is supposed to die, then the Player could do something like... spend a Life point to keep their ninja alive.  Run out of life points?  Well that probably means your ninjas are about to fall like dominoes.

But that's really just a shot in the dark.

I've gotta take off for a few hours, but I'll be back with more thoughts later.

-Eric
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Bryan Hansel
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2006, 09:40:33 AM »

I like the idea of this game.  I just have a bunch of questions to add.

Quote
This and my last game have really taken focus away from the characters and put it on the setting. Is this something - in this particular case of Steel Shadows - that is interesting? If not, how do I either focus the attention on the mission more (preferable) or engage the players with more character focus?

I like the idea that the focus is taken off of the individual characters and more on the mission.  Can a character die during the mission, and if so, does the player just roll up a new character?  Have you thought about the players creating their clan, and using that clan as a pool of resources to create characters? That way it becomes more of a shared clan against the set of missions instead of characters against the mission? Do the characters work together or are the competing? It seems to me that in order to take the focus and investment off the characters, the players will have to have their investment placed somewhere else, and I wonder if mission is enough?

I really like the idea of the short playing time and low amount of upfront work.  I'd like to see even less upfront work.

Bryan
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2006, 10:17:24 AM »

Hey, Clinton.  Good to see you in here.

I'm gonna look at your questions first, and then I'm going to post a couple of my own in response to your power 19.

Quote
How could I playtest this game without it turning into an endless slogfest of design -> test -> fix -> start over? All games are designed this way, but this particular design really needs finely-tuned balance. Is there a good way to do this?

In all honestly, it really depends what caliber of mathematician you have access to (we have three excellent probability guys on the Forge -- Eero, Mike, and Walt) and the complexity of your mechanics.  A simple game can get a lot of mileage out of simple, old fashioned estimation and computation.  A more complex game, particularly if the mechanical decisions that the players are making are complex (i.e. some of d20) is much harder to deal with.

In fact, if your game is as highly luck-based as you say, I'd be reluctant to rely on playtesting, simply because you would need to play the game several thousand times to get a good sense of what the results are.  Playtesting really can't substitute for good mathwork.

Quote
This and my last game have really taken focus away from the characters and put it on the setting. Is this something - in this particular case of Steel Shadows - that is interesting? If not, how do I either focus the attention on the mission more (preferable) or engage the players with more character focus?

I think that this is a matter of taste, and maybe playtesting.  Personally, I would really want to take, like, my one ninja guy through all the missions.  Another trick would be to have a really strong storyline structure to the missions (you hint at this below) where the main characters aren't necessarily the ninja.  (You're following around and doing missions regarding a princess and her lover.  Or whatever.)  So we have characters to bond with.  Just not ninja.

Quote
Seriously, did I write something below that makes this more than just a really good idea for an Iron Heroes campaign?

Iron Heroes, while an excellent game, is much better at combat than stealth, and requires way more prep and play time than you're hoping to.

Quote
They try to think of ways past obstacles that the GM hasn't thought of.

This line really intrigues me.  Can you elaborate more on how player creativity fits into resource management?

Quote
If stealth reaches zero, everyone's alerted, and your mission is in dire danger.

I really like the idea of stealth as a resource.  Is there a way for one or a handful of guys to be alerted, and not everyone?  Like "oh my god this guard saw you, and if you don't off him right now, he's going to ring the alarm bell?"  'cause that'd be cool.  Like, information about you spreads, but you can actually stop it.

I assume this game is at least partially inspired by the Tenchu and Thief videogames.  If you haven't played them, go ask Andy to play some Tenchu right now.  It's the bomb.

yrs--
--Ben
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2006, 10:18:23 AM »

Oh, and also what Eric says is very wise.

yrs--
--Ben
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2006, 10:19:32 AM »

BUT WHY IS THERE A GM?

Just kidding.  Breathe!  OK, ten flavors of awesome as you know, and I'm ready to throw down some Kabuki-jutsu all over this right now.  Sorry you had a bad experience at the Forge last time, those Forge people are jerks. 

  • How could I playtest this game without it turning into an endless slogfest of design -> test -> fix -> start over? All games are designed this way, but this particular design really needs finely-tuned balance. Is there a good way to do this?
  • This and my last game have really taken focus away from the characters and put it on the setting. Is this something - in this particular case of Steel Shadows - that is interesting? If not, how do I either focus the attention on the mission more (preferable) or engage the players with more character focus?
  • Seriously, did I write something below that makes this more than just a really good idea for an Iron Heroes campaign?

1.  Since it is all about the math, one playtesting wrinkle that might be fruitful would be to design a reference mission and then farm it out to different playtest groups, with the expectation that each would run it at three different resource levels on the player side.  You'd get data about balance in a measurable and useful way. Adjust and repeat.  Then do the same thing with reference PCs and allow custom missions.  Still test --> repeat --> refine, but you're dividing up the labor and (maybe more importantly) just taking an administrative and analytical role. 

2.  I love the idea of rigidly focusing on the mission.  You are a fucking NINJA, your oath in blood is to your CLAN, who you are is unimportant, now go climb upside-down and kill!  It's a breath of fresh air. 

3.  No. 

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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2006, 10:26:04 AM »

3.  No. 

No, like I didn't write something that makes this more appealing than just running Iron Heroes Ninja?

Or no, like, yeah, this is way better than just runnig Iron Heroes Ninja?
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2006, 10:32:54 AM »

Sorry, I forgot you can't see my face.  The latter - this is more interesting than porting ninjas to Iron Heroes/etc. 

Another point - the two-hour play range really lowers the barrier to entry for iterative playtests.  Part of me wants to see the two hour thing be law - as in, if you have not completed your mission within two hours of starting play, you have failed.  Not sure how fun that would be in practice, but it would add some sweaty moments late in the game. 
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2006, 10:35:20 AM »

Quote from: Clinton
2. What do the characters do?

   Stealthily make their way past traps, enemies, and obstacles to confront the center of their mission.
You didn't say so, but is it safe to assume that this would include conflicts that don't always resolve with "Whew!  Nothing happened!"?  You know, like fooling your target into thinking you're someone else?  Or stealthfully killing things and taking their stuff?  Cuz I hope so.

Definitely. In fact, many conflicts are an A/B choice of outcomes, like "if you win, you get to be on the rooftop and have an advantage and if you lose, you have to crawl through these ducts." A typical conflict looks like:

Quote
This room contains two guards and an alarm bell. Each guard has 2 hit points. You cannot cross this room without dealing with the guards.

If you attack, the GM rolls 1d6 Damage and 1d10 Alert (the Alert is high because of the bell, which the guards will attempt to set off.)

If you want to sneak through, the GM rolls 1d3 Damage and 1d12 Alert. (Two guards make it hard to sneak.)

If you have a better option, the guards are at 1d4/1d4.

Or, even simpler:

Quote
This room has hammers that fall across it if the floor is touched. The hammers will knock you into a sewer trench if you fail, which means you'll have to get in the castle that way (see room 14).

If you attempt to run across and dodge the hammers, the GM rolls 1d6/1d6.

If you attempt to climb a wall or the ceiling, the GM rolls 1d10/1d4.

If you attempt to disable the trap, the GM rolls 1d4/1d8.

Quote
Quote from: Clinton
This and my last game have really taken focus away from the characters and put it on the setting. Is this something - in this particular case of Steel Shadows - that is interesting? If not, how do I either focus the attention on the mission more (preferable) or engage the players with more character focus?
I'm not entirely sure I understand how this would focus on the setting more than the characters.  The players are going to be responsible for building characters and using the resources of those characters to overcome the missions' challenges, right?  That seems like lots of focus on characters for the players to me.  Is the other game you're talking about FoA?  Because that seemed pretty well centered on the characters to me too.  So maybe I'm not understanding what you're meaning by "...taking focus away from the characters and putting it on the setting."

This and FoA approach the problem differently. In FoA, characters have no real mechanical quantifiers. In here, characters have no identity.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Clinton R. Nixon
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Posts: 2624


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« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2006, 10:36:38 AM »

I like the idea that the focus is taken off of the individual characters and more on the mission.  Can a character die during the mission, and if so, does the player just roll up a new character?  Have you thought about the players creating their clan, and using that clan as a pool of resources to create characters? That way it becomes more of a shared clan against the set of missions instead of characters against the mission? Do the characters work together or are the competing? It seems to me that in order to take the focus and investment off the characters, the players will have to have their investment placed somewhere else, and I wonder if mission is enough?

The characters work together. A shared clan is a cool idea to have a continuing character - that is, the clan.

If a character dies during the mission, right now, that character's out. Rolling up a new character is not a terrible idea, although I'd have to balance how that works.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2006, 10:41:52 AM »

Quote
They try to think of ways past obstacles that the GM hasn't thought of.

This line really intrigues me.  Can you elaborate more on how player creativity fits into resource management?

This is what really appeals to me about, say, D&D. A large part of the game is about figuring out inventive ways to attack a problem. There's a big iron golem guarding the cave door? Well, how about I use my magic pick-axe and dig a pit under the floor in front of him, so when he charges, his weight will collapse the floor and he'll fall in!

That's what I want to see. In this case, there will be a default roll against creative ideas that will be less than the roll against standard ideas.

Quote
Quote
If stealth reaches zero, everyone's alerted, and your mission is in dire danger.

I really like the idea of stealth as a resource.  Is there a way for one or a handful of guys to be alerted, and not everyone?  Like "oh my god this guard saw you, and if you don't off him right now, he's going to ring the alarm bell?"  'cause that'd be cool.  Like, information about you spreads, but you can actually stop it.

That's just a normal room challenge.

When stealth hits zero, your Bat and Rat attributes (yeah, I know! awesome!) are lowered by -2 die steps, and every room now contains an additional challenge of guards. Your stealth cannot increase back over zero unless you find a stealth-increasing area (which the GM should put throughout the adventure.) So, run, kill your way to a dark corner, and hide.

And of course it's inspired by Tenchu. The stealth pool is straight from there.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2006, 11:22:54 AM »

That's what I want to see. In this case, there will be a default roll against creative ideas that will be less than the roll against standard ideas.

Who decides what's creative?  Is it consensus, or the GM, or the guy who thinks it up?  Or will that be mechanically reinforced somehow, like "if you articulate another option, roll D4 instead of D6."
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2006, 11:25:45 AM »

Who decides what's creative?  Is it consensus, or the GM, or the guy who thinks it up?  Or will that be mechanically reinforced somehow, like "if you articulate another option, roll D4 instead of D6."

It's the last option. See the examples above. A quick example: "There's tigers in the room. If you fight them, the GM rolls 1d10. If you try to sneak past them, the GM rolls 1d8. If you think of something else, roll 1d6." The GM will write down what he can think of, and then anything else is always a lesser roll.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2006, 11:32:33 AM »

Ok, that's cool.  The only way that breaks is ... through dickery, so no problem.  So it is in the GM's interest to be pretty methodical about designing his spaces - just like a Japanese castle-master ninja-proofing his lair!
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