November is a special month for all budding game designers. It’s the NaGaDeMon, the National (or rather interNational) Game Design Month. A couple of years ago, Nathan Russell had the awesome idea to riff on the concept of NaNoWriMo, but give it a gamer-centric spin.
The idea behind NaGaDeMon is to create, write about, and playtest a game during the month of November. It doesn’t have to be the one game to rule them all, but as long as it works and the whole process is fun, you’ve “won”. There are no special prices, no prestigious awards, but the warm and fuzzy feeling that you created your own game in that limited time.
I’ve worked on NaGaDeMon projects myself over the years, but alas most of them weren’t really finished. I already have some ideas about a game to work on this time, but it’s way too early to write about. But I might be reusing some old ideas. I hope that’s in line with the official NaGaDeMon rules. So what are your plans? Have you already started working on your project? Please share your comments below!
Today I stumbled upon a blog post by John Wick about game balance, social skills, weapon lists etc. If you haven’t read it yet, please check it out and come back afterwards.
You’ve read it? Good. Welcome back! In his post Mr. Wick has tackled several issues. I already had some discussions about this post on Google+, but I thought writing a blog post would be a good idea. So, here it is.
Let’s first talk a bit about balance in games. I agree with his conclusion that balance between players is totally overrated. If you ever played a successful RIFTS campaign, you probably know that already. It’s not important that the player characters are on the same “power level” but everyone needs to get into the limelight from time to time. If someone is in the spotlight all the time, the game suffers.
He then somehow comes to the issue of weapon lists and brings the example of the famous “tea cup scene” in Chronicles of Riddick. His conclusion is that one should throw out weapon lists completely. I agree that weapons lists and other detailed stats don’t necessarily help to tell an exciting story, but they can help to set the mood of a game. A game like Shadowrun just doesn’t feel the same if you remove the incredibly long equipment lists. Part of the charm of the game is to go shopping and find the perfect gun for your character. Of course you can run a cyberpunk fantasy game without all this, but it’s just not Shadowrun anymore. In my opinion it’s a matter of taste and not a question of whether or not it makes sense from a design standpoint.
Last but not least let’s talk about the most controversial topic of the post: social skills. John Wick tells us that he usually throws out social skills and prefers if players act out their characters. You want to convince a NPC to do something? Let the player act it out. If the GM is convinced, no roll is needed. I somewhat agree with him that it’s better if you can solve social situations in roleplaying games by just acting them out. I even let players succeed if they convincingly played their character. This can of course lead to problems. What is if a player can’t or won’t act out the character? I don’t need to be able to fight with a sword as a player to play a master swordsman in a game, so why make a difference when it comes to social interactions?
I try to always encourage playing out social interactions in roleplaying games. I try to use first person speech and avoid situations like “my character says to your character”. So if a player acts out his or her character convincingly I might not ask for a roll. In a way it’s meant as an encouragement. In non-social situations, an interesting description of how a character tries to break a lock, attack an enemy etc. might also lead to at least a hefty bonus. Generally I try to favor a cool story over dice rolls anytime. BUT I try to never make things harder for the players who are not able to come up with colorful descriptions.
I’ve had a rather lengthy discussion with Chaotic/GM on that matter on Google+ and I have to admit his reasoning is very sound. Treating social interactions differently than non-social ones will give a certain type of player unfair advantages. So perhaps I should rethink my GMing style or at least modify it, so that everyone has a fair chance at the table. So what are your thoughts on the matter?
Over the last few weeks I have posted several times about Numenera and praised the so-called Cypher system which powers the game. The same rules have also been used in The Strange, Monte Cook latest game he has written together with Bruce Cordell. What really amazes me about the system is that I am so happy with it.
Usually I tend to find things that annoy me pretty quickly. Some game systems have certain rules I want to change or throw out completely. In other cases the whole system just feels wrong somehow. But in the case of the Cypher system as presented in Numenera I am totally happy with the rules. They just work, don’t get in the way and feel elegant.
This has actually caused some issues when it comes to working on own designs. As I mentioned in another post before, everything I think about tends to mutate into a cousin of Monte Cook’s system. I love that the attributes in this system are some kind of meta currency you use to pay for special actions or to use effort. The fact that the GM never rolls and that NPCs are basically described by just their level takes some time to get used to. But if you got into the Cypher system mindset it’s extremely easy to run games even without zero prep time. Sometimes it feels as if the system has been created with me in mind. At the moment Numenera is definitely my favorite game.
But of course there are other things I’d like to run or play. Every time I think about other games I can’t help to think to myself: “Why can’t this game be as elegant and simple as Numenera?” Sometimes I am tempted to try if one could turn the Cypher system into something more generic. The Strange seems to be a better starting point than Numenera for such a project, but I still get the feeling that you’ll lose certain aspect if you use the system for games in a different setting. I can just hope Monte Cook Games will someday do the heavy hauling for me. In the meantime I’ll just run some more Numenera and perhaps The Strange.