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Author Topic: [Dispatching the Dungeon Master] Power 19 and Structured Design Scenario  (Read 2520 times)
Brendan
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Posts: 144


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« on: March 08, 2006, 12:46:16 PM »

Dispatching the Dungeon Master is a game about killing monsters and taking their stuff.  At the end of the game, you fight a boss monster.  When you beat the boss monster, the player who took the biggest risks and won becomes the new Dungeon Master.

The game has no resolution for anything besides killing monsters and taking their stuff; anything that happens between taking stuff and killing the next batch of monsters is explicitly assigned narration.  This game is strongly inspired by Victor Gijsbers's posts about Monsters We Slay--in fact, I decided to write it because I was tired of waiting for Victor to do so.  I'm worried that it will also have strong similarities to Ben Lehman's Anima Hunters, which is why I didn't read anything beyond his P19 in hopes that our implementations will diverge naturally.

This game is played on a hex grid, around a table, with miniatures or tokens.

1.) What is your game about?**
Killing monsters and taking their stuff, as an means of getting better at killing monsters.

2.) What do the characters do?**
They fight a series of battles against monsters, during which they may lose stuff, represented by cards.  At the end of each battle, they can reclaim their stuff, or get newer and more interesting stuff to replace it.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?**
The GM selects monsters from a limited stack to deploy in a given battle, makes tactical decisions for those monsters, describes their attacks, and places the players' characters on the map at the start of a battle.  That's all.

The players choose the setup for a battle, including location, topography and notable features; constrain the types of monsters the GM can deploy; make tactical decisions for their own characters and describe their attacks; describe the stuff they take; and narrate the transitions between battles.

(In special cases--if the players actually manage to lose a battle completely--the GM gets transition-narration rights.)

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is a series of caverns or rooms, connected by tunnels.  There are monsters in the caverns; each cavern frames a battle.  The battles and caverns are made discrete by the tunnels.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Players begin with powerful characters who have limited options.  To wit, they choose one suit of a deck of cards, choose a theme for that suit, then write up an ability for each card in the suit that corresponds to the theme.  Characters evolve during play not by gaining more powerful attacks, but by gaining flexibility by losing and replacing abilities--that is, they lose cards from their hands, then replace them with cards from different suits.

Players also choose a certain number of sides of dice at character creation (eg 36 sides of dice could be 6d6, or 2d4 1d8 2d10).  Bigger dice increase the possibility of spectacular attacks, but fewer dice limit your options and make you more vulnerable.  Between battles, a player may combine any two small dice or split any one large die.

(The GM, instead of creating a player, gets a set of cards 1-13, of mixed suits.  Cards won from the players are added to this hand, and monsters beaten by the players are subtracted from it.)

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
The game rewards risk-taking and high engagement, and punishes players unwilling to take risks.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
The game rewards engagement with the combat by offering more opportunities to lose and replace cards.  Players who don't risk cards will arrive at the endgame with a largely unchanged hand; this will place them at a disadvantage in the endgame competition for the role of the next Dungeon Master.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
See (3) above.  One player constrains the DM's monster choices to red suits or black suits.  Another draws the room and its topographical layout, if any.  A third adds in significant features like barriers, cover, pits and traps--some features before the battle, others in the midst of it.  These responsibilities rotate clockwise each battle.

The player of an attacking character (or monster) always has the authority to describe its attack and the target's attempt at defense.  Each player has authority to describe the stuff that is his or her reward for battle.

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 hands them the opportunity to think up cool narration with a great deal of freedom, and rewards cool narration with the esteem of fellow players ("pull").  Players who don't engage in combat will miss out on stuff-narration rights and the endgame chance to take over as Dungeon Master ("push").

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
Players roll their dice in secret, divide them into attacks, defense and moves, and reveal simultaneously.  Attacks are resolved counterclockwise starting with the highest single attack roll.  When a character takes damage beyond her defense dice, her player loses cards to the GM.  When a monster takes damage beyond the DM's defense dice and its card number, the monster dies, and its card is turned over.  Moves are resolved after attacks, in the same order.  When a player runs out of cards, his character is KOed; when the DM runs out of cards, the monsters are dead, and characters can claim stuff.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
They handle combat quickly, forcing the players to take risks to win.  They handle nothing else.

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
They advance laterally by losing cards, then replacing them with different cards, which represent more complex or specific attacks.  The player can only use attacks represented by cards as big as her biggest die, so combining dice can open up more powerful attacks; however, there's nothing to stop the player from choosing large dice at character creation time.

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
Getting new or different cards is the same as getting stuff.  To get stuff, you must lose cards by engaging monsters.

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
Tactical calculation, anticipation, nerves and the thrill of a successful ploy--or the crestfall of a loss.  The skilled gambler's rush.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
Ability descriptions and monsters, because cool abilities are fun, and monsters should be well-described to engage the players.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
Assessing the battle setup, checking my spells, considering a tag-team attack, passing a note to my barbarian neighbor, and sliding a card forward to put my deadly staff on the line.

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
Monster-killing and stuff-taking in a fun, unpredictable arena that the players create.

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Online release via HTML and PDF, under a Creative Commons BY-SA license, plus a wiki containing ideas for ability or monster suits.

19.) Who is your target audience?
D&D players who don't care about a Perform skill.  CRPG players who like playing with friends.  Exalted players who are tired of Exalted.  Anyone interested in quickly resolved, depth-available tactical combat and getting cool stuff.

I ran through an alpha test of this idea with some friends last night and exposed massive flaws, as I expected.  Questions the game needs to answer:

Is simultaneous revelation of dice good and fun, or clunky?  Is there an option besides "take turns by initiative" and "everybody go at the same time?"
What and how many dice does the DM get?  Does each monster have a separate set of dice?  How do monsters buy special abilities?
How should the game integrate positioning, flanking and cover, if at all?
What add-ons will make new abilities more complex than old abilities?

Riffy ideas highly appreciated.  For the record, I've seen Rune, the Riddle of Steel and the one d20 game where you fight in an arena for money.  I don't want to play them; I want to play this.
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Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2006, 12:53:45 PM »

Well, you've seen Zak Arntson's dungeon game on his website, I assume.

I think actually the bigger question for these kinds of games is how you compete with boardgames (old like TSR's Dungeon!, or new like Runebound) and card games like Hack! and Dungeoneer. Those would be where I'd look for sources of mechanical inspiration, all the while asking myself "what does the specific medium of role-playing add to this?" - especially because it's extremely easy and natural to do light role playing along with the game action in all these games already.
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Brendan
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Posts: 144


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« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2006, 01:24:27 PM »

How character creation and a couple rounds in DtDM might go:

Player 1:  I'm thinking I'll go fire mage this game.  I claim Hearts as Fire, opposing Ice.
Player 2:  I want to do somebody kind of ninja-thiefy...  Spades, and Shadows, opposing Glowy Stuff.
Player 3:  Paladin with a big damn sword.  Clubs for Holiness, opposing Undead.
DM:  Okay, that leaves me to determine Diamonds...  I'm going to say Scales on my side, and Steel on yours.

(The players quickly come up with named attacks for Ace through Queen of their respective suits and write them down.  The DM writes four lists--one for each suit--and looks at his hand; he only puts monster names in the slots for the cards he's got.)

Player 1: Since I'm Player 1, I'll go ahead and draw the dungeon's entrance...  a wide slanting ramp, like so, tapering in.
Player 2: I'm interested to see what reptiles you've got.  Start us off with red suits.
Player 3:  I'll give them a portcullis at 8, here...  and take downhill topology here for us, at 4, and some rubble for cover, here and here, both at 2.
DM:  I'm plopping you guys right here between the two piles of rubble, in full view of the portcullis.  (places miniatures)  Manning the portcullis are a couple of icemen--Four and Five of Hearts.  You can taste the frost in the air.  And since Player 1 wanted reptiles, I'll play my Eight of Diamonds for a giant python, sneaking around the second pile here.
Player 2:  So that's...  17 to match?  Not pulling any punches, I see.

(The players set out cards from their hands adding up to 17.)

Player 1:  Roll!  (they roll dice, and move them around behind low screens)
Player 2:  Everybody ready?  Let's show.  (screens removed)
DM:  I've got high roll, so I'll have the python...  no, he's too far away.  Okay, the icemen have ranged capability.  One of them spots Paladin and fires an ice bolt.  What's the most cards anybody's got out there?  Three?  Okay, pushing three dice for a total of 13.
Player 3:  See, this is why I've got all these d4s.  Defense of 2, 2, 3, 4...  13 minus 11 leaves 2 damage, which isn't enough to take any of my bets.
DM:  Curses!  Okay, the iceman fires a frost bolt through the air, but it glances off your mirror-shine armor.
Player 1:  My turn, and I want that portcullis out of the way.  Pushing three dice for a total of 8.  Any opposition?  No?  I hose it down with fire!  Erase that, somebody.

(Combat continues until Ninja gets behind the python and takes it out.  The players have lost three cards--two from the Ninja, one from the Fire Mage and none from the Paladin.)

Player 2:  I lost the most, right?  Cool, for my stuff I want one of the python's fangs affixed to my dagger hilt.  Biggest card out was an Eight...  I lost my Seven, so I'll replace it with a Diamond.  I'm also buying Paralysis for that attack, so it's only worth five damage.
Player 1:  I'll pick up the diamond at the heart of one of the melting icemen and affix it to my wand.  My Five is Hearts again, but this time instead of a firebolt it's a laser.
Player 3:  My turn to draw.  I lead the way down the ramp into a cruciform room with obsidian walls...
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Brendan
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Posts: 144


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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2006, 01:33:02 PM »

Well, you've seen Zak Arntson's dungeon game on his website, I assume.

I think actually the bigger question for these kinds of games is how you compete with boardgames (old like TSR's Dungeon!, or new like Runebound) and card games like Hack! and Dungeoneer. Those would be where I'd look for sources of mechanical inspiration, all the while asking myself "what does the specific medium of role-playing add to this?" - especially because it's extremely easy and natural to do light role playing along with the game action in all these games already.

I haven't seen Zark Arnston's site before, but thanks for pointing me that way!

You're right, this is very close to a board game.  What role-playing as a medium adds is player-created Color:  character descriptions, monster descriptions, room descriptions, and (more mechanically) variable room features and customized abilities.  I'm very interested in exploring the liminal space between board games and RPGs--I think each can benefit from the other.

I don't intend to make money off of this game, so I'm not worried about competing with retail games as such; if I were, there's always the price difference on my side.
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Troy_Costisick
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Posts: 802


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« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2006, 04:38:58 AM »

Heya

Quote
They fight a series of battles against monsters, during which they may lose stuff, represented by cards.  At the end of each battle, they can reclaim their stuff, or get newer and more interesting stuff to replace it.

-Does losing stuff confer some kind of bonus for the characters?

Quote
The GM selects monsters from a limited stack to deploy in a given battle,

-Do the players have any kind of input or affect on what monsters are chosen?

Quote
The setting is a series of caverns or rooms, connected by tunnels.  There are monsters in the caverns; each cavern frames a battle.  The battles and caverns are made discrete by the tunnels.

-Are you giving the players any kind of back story or motivation beyond PHAT LEWT to go hacking through the dungeons?

Quote
To wit, they choose one suit of a deck of cards, choose a theme for that suit, then write up an ability for each card in the suit….Players also choose a certain number of sides of dice at character creation (eg 36 sides of dice could be 6d6, or 2d4 1d8 2d10).  Bigger dice increase the possibility of spectacular attacks,….

-It seems like you have a potential for tandem resolution systems here.  Is there a way to make the characters use only cards or only dice?  I’m not saying you have to, just wondering if you might be able to streamline things a bit.

-7,8, and 9 are all good.

Quote
Players roll their dice in secret, divide them into attacks, defense and moves, and reveal simultaneously.  Attacks are resolved counterclockwise starting with the highest single attack roll.

-Is there a reason why these dice are rolled in secret?

Quote
They advance laterally by losing cards, then replacing them with different cards, which represent more complex or specific attacks.


-What resources or tools are you giving the players to help them know what different cards mean?

Quote
Online release via HTML and PDF, under a Creative Commons BY-SA license, plus a wiki containing ideas for ability or monster suits.

-Sounds good :)

Quote
Is there an option besides "take turns by initiative" and "everybody go at the same time?"

-Yeah, reward risk.  The player who has lost and gained the most cards so far goes first.  Followed by the second and so one.  All monsters either go last or go first.  Designer’s call.

Quote
What and how many dice does the DM get?


-I can’t tell you exactly, but I will say it should be dependant in some way on the players.  Like if the players risk X cards, the GM gets Y dice.  Or if the players roll X dice, the GM gets Y dice.  Something like that.

Quote
How should the game integrate positioning, flanking and cover, if at all?

-This should be handled by the cards.  So there should be cover cards, flanking cards, etc.

Quote
What add-ons will make new abilities more complex than old abilities?

-Attacks that involve more than one character.

Peace,

-Troy
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Brendan
Member

Posts: 144


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« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2006, 06:46:06 AM »

  • Players start out with very simple abilities--a Jack is worth 11 damage, period.  Wagering and losing those cards opens up their slots, and beating monsters earns points with which the players can buy replacement abilities.  The replacements can be of different suits (thus more effective against opposed monster suits), and can be worth less damage in exchange for more complex effects (like a 6 of Spades worth only 4 damage, but that also has a paralysis effect).

  • Players do have limited control over what types of monsters will be deployed.  Players pick a theme for their suits at the beginning of the game, and pick an opposing theme for monsters of that suit--eg I pick Hearts as Fire, opposing Ice.  The GM comes up with opposition-themed monsters for any cards he plays from that suit.  Finally, one of the responsibilities for battle setup (which rotate between players) is choosing whether you want to see monsters from red suits or black suits.

  • I'm thinking about a limited backstory.  The characters are the spirits of dead dungeoneers, passed on to an afterlife where they eternally do the one thing they loved in life:  hacking dungeons.  They battle through each one, and the most successful character ascends to the role of Dungeon Master, until she is defeated in turn.

  • You're making me think hard about whether this can be a card-only game.  I came up with a lot of the ideas for the game based on the correspondence between 1-12 on dice and A-Q on cards, with K as the trump, but I suspect I got attached to that more than it's worth.  Maybe the players should draw cards from their whole deck, and only the cards on their sheet are special attacks?  Hmmm.

  • The dice were rolled in secret to keep people from reactionarily rearranging their dice ("oh, you're going high on defense?  I'm moving more dice to attack, then") in an endless loop.  You're right, though, there are better ways, especially if this goes to cards-only.

  • Players determine themes for suits of cards by picking one each at the beginning of the game.  The numbers on the cards correspond to an ability's power or complexity.  A character sheet is basically a list, A-Q, of the ability corresponding to each card in a suit.  Players can pick their attacks from themed lists on the wiki, or make up their own at game time.

  • Your answers to the last two questions--about cover/flanking cards and combo attacks--are great.  Thanks, Troy!
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Callan S.
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Posts: 3588


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« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2006, 10:20:02 PM »

Pull sounds like the contact point with the SIS. How does it work? It's important. If you have a D20+2 roll and after narration it's still a D20+2 roll, that narration of the SIS just has not had any traction with the system.

Does it rely on peer evaluation? Does that still work during competition play? What mechanics do you have in place in regard to that? Does it require players to stop thinking in terms of competition, mid game, and think in an even and fair minded way? What does that do to competition? Especially if pull has any real traction and truly effects end game.

Hard questions. But you may be rewarding something other than competition, by mistake. But please tell me how your handling it first, before I jump to any further conclusions. :)
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Brendan
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Posts: 144


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« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2006, 12:46:33 PM »

Well, Callan, I'd argue that the big "pull" is at battle setup--each player has specific narration rights that directly affect the SIS, in terms of area setup, notable features, monster type and (for the GM) token / mini placement.

During battle, each player narrates attacks and their effects.  Since I've pretty much decided to follow Troy's suggestion and make this a card-based game, that will mean playing cards from a hand to perform attacks, create cover and flanking situations, or build combos.  I guess strictly you're right--I might play a Four of Spades, narrate its effect, and still have a Four of Spades afterwards.  I'm not sure I see why that's a bad thing?  I guess I see it as player choice driving card play, and the card played driving narration.

The competition aspect of the game (competing for the role of the next Dungeon Master) has nothing to do with narration; it has to do with risk during the lead-up battles and solid tactical play during the boss fight.  Peer esteem won't help you, except in that other players may choose to fight without competing for the role if they feel you deserve it (bets on the boss fight are secret).
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Mikael
Member

Posts: 206


« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2006, 12:08:00 AM »

What if I do not want to be the GM?

+M
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Brendan
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« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2006, 04:56:39 AM »

Mikael, everybody places a secret bet on the boss fight.  If you want a chance at the role of GM, you wager the King of your starting suit--along with some other cards--and hope it doesn't get taken away in the battle.  If you aren't interested in being GM, you don't wager your King, and you can keep using your current character when the next game starts.  When the fight is over, players who didn't get KOed reveal their bets; if more than one player bet her King, the tie is broken by the player who risked and won back the most and most valuable cards in the lead-up battles.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2006, 07:27:46 AM »

Hello Brendan,

I was quick to bring up the design concerns that dog me. Too quick.
Quote
Well, Callan, I'd argue that the big "pull" is at battle setup--each player has specific narration rights that directly affect the SIS, in terms of area setup, notable features, monster type and (for the GM) token / mini placement.
On player focus. Imagine a player who gets excited about dragons. He plays a game where one half of it focuses on dragons, but the other half doesn't at all. You can imagine which side he really likes and during which part he will be less than interesting to watch. Now, instead of dragons, imagine a player who really enjoys interacting with the SIS. How would he react to the various parts of your game?

Quote
During battle, each player narrates attacks and their effects.
To double check, do they narrate their effects in mechanical terms, or in describing just what the damage would look like from an ace? (not sure if ace is the right card to note - a damaging card of some high calibre).

I have had fun with that in my group. We'd do stuff like declare what a natural twenty roll to dodge meant. One of my declarations was (and this was well before the matrix came out) it was as if time slowed down but the character strolled out of the way at normal speed and actually stood to the side of the bullet, leaning forward as if to admire it's trajectory as it went past, commenting to the shooter "Oh yeah, nice shot there". Yeah, such a cool dodge you could act like your a third party to the event! ;) Over the top, but certainly I felt moved to say it, cause it seemed so kewl to roll a nat 20 to dodge.

Ron's calls stuff like this 'palour narration' though, as it has no effect mechanically. On the other hand, if you treat it as a mechanism as to move the player to give his inspired narration, then that may not matter. But in that case, I see the mechanics not as mechanics, but as a sort of setting material generator (like when you read setting material and think "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if X happened", but in my example the 'setting' is a nat 20 dodge).
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Philosopher Gamer
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