Contagious Excitement

I have to admit that I am easily excitable. When someone comes up with a roleplaying game which tries to tread new ground, makes things a little different, or just has inspiring artwork, I am immediately excited and make plans to try it out. I focus on the things I find interesting and tend to ignore the problems. Often I don’t realize my error before actually playing or running the game.

This was the case with Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. I was very excited as it came out, applauded some of the changes, but when I eventually played it, I quickly realized it was not the right game for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game, just not a game I particularly enjoyed playing.

Back in the day, a lot of people – me included – were excited about 4E, and it was – in a way – contagious. Sometimes it’s hard not to get excited in something when everyone else is telling you how awesome that thing is.

The same happened to me just recently with the Index Card RPG. It has a couple of cool ideas, and the author’s videos on YouTube and Hankrin Ferinale’s (that has to be a pseudonym, right?) artwork made me extremely excited about the game. I thought the effort mechanic was a stroke of genius and I particularly enjoyed the wild creativity within the core rule book.

Unfortunately this was another case of contagious excitement. The game sounded awesome and in the end it turned out to be perfectly suited for what it was designed for … which was unfortunately not my style of running games. In the ICRPG the player characters have to be on their toes all the time. The game works best if they never stop, there’s always something going on, there’s always a timer ticking down, and enemies breathing down their necks. Phew, even thinking about it, makes me get out of breath.

Personally I don’t mind some action from time to time, but in between the action scenes, I prefer to run things a bit slower. A lot of the adventures I’ve designed have a heavy focus on investigation. There’s time for the player characters to do their research, interact with NPCs, discuss options, and prepare for what’s to come. Unfortunately this doesn’t really work well with the ICRPG. Its strengths are wasted if the game is not moving at a high speed.

The effect of contagious excitement is something we have to keep in mind when planning campaigns or even when reviewing something. From now on I will avoid making huge plans for a game which I haven’t played before. I was actually planning to run a fantasy campaign with ICRPG before I realized that it might not be what I was looking for. I also tend to be very excited about a lot of games I write reviews about and a lot of these reviews are based on me reading the book, since I don’t have the time to actually play everything.

Will I try to be less excited about games in the future? Definitely not. I think being able to have sometimes childlike excitement for a new game is something wonderful. The important part is not to let the excitement turn into anger when things don’t turn out as we hoped. I think I’ll still use the ICRPG for one-shots (like con games) in the future. It will just not remain standing on the pedestal I put it on awhile ago. This position is reserved for the next exciting new game that comes along. Zwinkerndes Smiley

P.S.: The image I use above is from that video meme with the young boy excited about getting a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I am usually not that excited about new games, but sometimes it’s close…

More Thoughts On The Index Card RPG

Last Saturday I finally had the chance to give the Index Card RPG by Runehammer Games a try. My players were interested in a space opera/space fantasy game, so I thought Warp Shell – which is one of the included settings – would be a perfect fit. So I sat down and wrote an introductory adventure including an ambushed bonding ceremony on Xevos 1, a damaged warp shell, the search for a piece of  “Plotonium”, weird NPCs, strange locations, a labyrinthine mine, and a fight against the player characters’ evil doppelgangers from a different timeline.

Character creation was extremely quick but also showed a problem with the games’ classes. The Alfheim classes are pretty much modeled after common fantasy tropes. Unfortunately the Warp Shell classes are not that easily recognizable. What exactly is the difference between a Blip and a Shadow? How’s a Zubrin like? We eventually just made stuff up as we went along, but some more hints would have been nice.

The effort mechanic worked fine, especially when the characters were pressed for time or in a combat. If they had all the time they want, it was pretty pointless to roll for effort, since it was basically unavoidable that they eventually succeeded. At its best, the effort system (especially in combination with timers) can be very effective – but often it falls flat and feels like pointless dice rolling. The trick is to keep the player characters on edge all the time.

Combats were fast and always felt dangerous, but I should have put more preparation into both the opponents and the combat areas, since combat ended up being not that mechanically interesting. But that’s basically my fault and not the game’s. Overall I got the impression that the game works best if you keep a high pace at all times. There has to be action and excitement at any moment, because when the action comes to a halt, some mechanics just don’t work their magic anymore.

Personally I am a bit torn after my first session. On the one hand I appreciate a lot of what the Index Card RPG does. It’s fast, furious, simple, fun. On the other hand, I feel as if I have to drive the players from scene to scene at a break-neck speed to get most out of the mechanics. Sometimes I prefer a more relaxed pace which other systems might support better. I’ll definitely run the Index Card RPG another time, or at least reuse some of its ideas in other games BUT it probably won’t become my go-to game.

Good night to the Devil

This will be my last post on Devil’s Staircase for a while. It is not going away, quite the opposite, but I will tell you abut that later. This post is in two halves and the more exciting bit is the second part. I shouldn’t really have said that so just ignore it for now.

Part 1

In testing there were two things that came up. Now these are both combat tweaks but I never really wanted the game to be all about combat. The objective of creating a standalone game engine was that it could be applied to any genre. Anyway, my play test group cannot wait to whip out the colt .45s and after that things only go one way.

The first thing that became apparent was that an initiative system was needed. It was not in the first draft because if you have ever read Michael’s post on Combat it was pointed out that a combat that lasted 2 minutes or so could take hours to play. I wanted a system where every card drawn was a bullet flying or a punch being thrown. What I didn’t want was so many stages to go through that fights bog down. So here is a single card draw initiative system…

Initiative

The GM deals everyone a single card including one of each major NPC or group of NPCs. These get turned face up. If a joker is dealt it can be played to win the initiative or added to the players character record and a new card dealt. If there is a draw then the characters speed stat can be used to divide the characters. If they have the same card and speed then their actions are considered simultaneous.

The system now works on a system of interrupts. The person with the lowest card describes that they want to do. The person with the next lowest can then interrupt the first action with their own or just describe their own choice. And so it goes with each person has declared their own actions.

Once each action has been declared then they are resolved in order of fastest first, the reverse of the order they were declared.

So in this example we have three protagonists, A Sheriff, Deputy and Rustler.  They are currently in a bit of a stand off gun fight on the main street. Their initiative cards are

Sheriff: 4
Deputy: Jack
Rustler: 5

The Sheriff says ‘I am going to try and dash across the street to get more cover.

The Rustler says ‘As soon as I get a clear shot I am going to shoot the Sheriff.

The Deputy says ‘I will give covering fire to protect the Sheriff.

The actions are resolved with the Deputy shooting at the Rustler as the Deputy is the fastest. If he survives then the Rustler can fire upon the Sheriff as he crosses the street. If the Sheriff survives he can run for cover across the street.

So, despite the introduction of initiative we still don’t need rounds or turns. If the Rustler had said that he wanted to try and crawl away without being seen then all the declared actions could have taken place without any interruptions. The Sheriff and Deputy could have eventually got to where the Rustler had been hiding to find him long gone.

Weapons!

The next bit is more setting specific and this will effect all future DS games.

So far the damage done in combat comes in the form of ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘many’ with the many being inflicted by a Joker. When all the test fights had been carried out with gun slingers striding out into the dusty streets this was fine. We had more damage being done by sticks of dynamite but that was still ones and twos being done by individual sticks. The sorts of weapons we have in the wild west range from deringer single shot pistols to Gatling guns and hunting knives to cavalry sabres. Some of the feedback I have had says that players like cool equipment. Ranged weapons have already been differentiated somewhat with different range modifiers making it easier to hit at range with a rifle than a revolver. The solution that was most popular was pluses to damage. So a single pistol round would do the standard damage. A Winchester Rifle could then be a +1 weapon so the damage would be ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘many’ and a Gatling gun could be +2 when used to spray several targets (3/4/many) or +3 when used against a single target (4/5/many). Seeing as there are not going to be many magical weapons this means that particularly high quality weapons or large calibre guns become the sought after loot items. It takes no real effort to record a weapon as being a +1 or +2 on the character record.

For melee combat the standard hunting knife or a dagger would be the norm then a war axe would be +1 and a cavalry sabre +2.

These changes were well liked by the play test group. In future projects such as a fantasy version this means that we can have shortswords and daggers as the base weapon and then +1 for broadswords and battle axes and +2 for halberds, lances and greatswords. I can even see a bastard sword being +1 when single handed and +2 when used two handed.

Finally, it is interesting now that the rules changes we are getting are now becoming more tweaks than major changes. Continue reading Good night to the Devil

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