Sunday, December 31, 2023

Revisiting Balance in Game Design (in which I ramble a bit ... you have been warned)

Balance, that old chestnut. People with opinions talking gaming seem to think it ain't necessary, because "player agency" solves all that, or that encounter balance is a myth, something that cannot be achieved so it needn't be tried ... I get it. If all you do is DMing games, you'd have to realize at some point that a Gamemaster is one key element to achieving balance in a game. And yes, it is a multi-faceted problem. Just doesn't mean it can't be solved. Lets talk about it once more ...

This is following up a discussion I had with my good friend Eric (of Methods & Madmen fame) on X, where I'm also at now (find me! follow me! hehe). It was his idea to change medium and write posts about it, too. Read his take here. I have also talked plenty about this with my good friend Mark, and he pointed me towards this nice little nugget of his about balance in a game he wrote. You can read that here.

Over the years I've taken several stabs at the project, and as I got more and more serious about designing my own games, my perspective somewhat shifted. One of my early takes on this (2014!) can be read here. Spoiler: I'm a bit further down the road right now, so I might not even fully agree with what I wrote back then, but clever young me already took that into account and left open what he couldn't know. Ha!

Anyway. This one will be a bit all over the place. You'll find this examined through all kinds of lenses, as the discussion was all over the place as well.


Balance is everything, and everything is balance. Anything that goes against that simple truth will produce some disharmony, if you are lucky, disaster, if you are not so lucky. So purely on the face of it, it is ridiculous to assume that games don't need to be balanced one way or another.

Assuming so, then, needs to come from some skewed understanding what is happening in game design, or what it means to play a game. Something different to what the original games offered. A paradigm shift of sorts.

I think I have a grasp on what is happening and why. It took a while and some discussion, but in the end it was right there in front of me. As usual it is there to be seen, but you have to look. Now I have to find a way to actually explain this in a way that gives others the chance to gain that same understanding.

I'll say it up front: this is no joke. We have been way too lax with how we talk and write games, what game design really means. And in the end (not "the end" end, but where we are at nonetheless), it fucked up what little gaming culture we had. what we are seeing now is the corpse of our hobby looted.

You think this is hyperbole? Keep reading ...

Where we come from, where we are ...

I'll keep this one short. It will just be a reminder what was offered in the beginning and how that changed. It will be important to understand where I come from when I talk "balance".

Out of several different attempts to make role-playing games happen, D&D was the one that stuck, that actually produced a hype that not only carried itself quite well, but also inspired a wave of innovations in this new hobby that still needs proper reviewing.

What was the essence of that game? What was able to catch the inspiration of so many gamers all over the world? We know today that it wasn't just the rules, it also was the "zeitgeist" back in the early seventies. What the sixties sowed had been in full swing in the 70s, and it showed. The books people read, the movies that went along with it ... very fertile ground for something like role-playing games.

People had been ready to experience the stories themselves they had seen or heard and read about. I think it is hard to grasp what it actually meant to grow up in that time. For one, computer games hadn't been a thing. Board games hadn't been that big yet, either. If you really were into "gaming" and lived in the USA, it would have been in one of the war gaming clubs. A very fringe group of individuals, and ground zero for role-playing games.

Nerds! [source]
 So the hobby takes off and innovates up to the 90s like crazy. Hundreds and thousands of games come into existence. the hobby is broad enough at that point so that there is a general agreement on what it means to play the game, but yet no proper research. No one is looking, everyone is doing. Basically. Some forums here and there discussed aspects of the big picture, but it was all very much wild west.

The only way to find out if a game designer back then understood what they were doing, usually was publishing it and seeing if it worked or not (simplified, of course).

The end of TSR in a way marks the end of that momentum as well, even for the competition. Hasbro buying WotC (because of M:tG) then killed it for good and fully made it a corporate endeavor.

Then the revisioning started for good, and the strongest for that first game: D&D. 3e did what 3e did, but people wanted to keep playing that original game, so all the retro clones and blogs happened ... and ended up being successful.

4e failed, 5e tried to play catch up with a crowd that would rather play the old games. That worked a bit, but all the while another movement gained momentum out of the retroclone scene many associate with the moniker "OSR": minimalist games really started taking off.

Basically, we ended up with three distinct kinds of games. The "old" games that started it, including those designed in that tradition. The minimalist games, that basically take the core assumption of the old games, add a concept to that and assume that those playing know what they have to do. And finally, the corporate vision of role-playing games, that would rather have the game being a theme park, of sorts, where you pay and pay and pay to participate.

That's the way I cut it, and those three distinctions are crucial for the argument I make.

The Basic Tenets of  RPG Game Design

Role-playing games are, despite their war gaming roots, first and foremost about NEGOTIATION. You talk about what's happening until a disagreement makes it necessary to consult the tools the game offers until the problem is resolved.

Ongoing negotiations ... [source]
Those tools exist along a hierarchy, with the basically talking being the lowest, and the most complex tools being the highest spot in that hierarchy of negotiations. I go into detail about this in the GM section of be67 when talking encounters (following the paradigm established by the D&D RC). It goes like this:

Other than seeing Encounters as elements that form a cohesive narrative, they also need to be seen as interactive elements. As such, they will have several degrees of possible interaction. They are, ordered hierarchically (from easiest to most difficult):
  •         Superficial – Can be negotiated without the use of dice.
  • Passive – Can be overcome with a Save.
  • Resource based – Can be overcome, but it costs.
  • Active, Attribute based – Can be overcome with active use of Attributes.
  • Active, Skill based – Needs specific Skills to be overcome.
  • Combat – High resolution challenge triggering some or all the resources.
All elements can be combined, of course, and it should be possible to cleverly negotiate encounters towards a lower hierarchy solution in almost all cases. Instead of fighting, Characters could use Skills, instead of Skills, they could argue the use of Attributes or spend some resources they got available. Arguing Saves would be possible, if it is imaginable that a challenge could be overcome instinctively, and arguing down to “superficial” would render the challenge harmless because Players could talk their way around it. The Gamemaster needs to entertain the argument first, however, and has the last word in all things.

This holds true through all sorts of designs (hence "basic tenets"). You can add to this, or leave stuff out, but along these lines game design happens as soon as talking won't bring the narrative forward.

In a sense, and this is important to understand, the design starts where the negotiation ends. Or rather: the rules of a game EXPAND on language towards the narrative the game intents.

This is, then, where you decide how a game should play. The vision. But what makes a game?

Definition Time & Some Analogy

At this point we can start talking balance, then. We'll start with the analogy and go from there:

The relation between gaming system and GM is the same as between a car and a professional driver. Ideally, both compliment each other to completion, which means, if both work as they should, you get the best possible result. It also means that one balances the other. A good driver will easily tell what problems a car has and what changes need to be made, a good car is designed to accommodate a driver as good as possible.
So for one, a gamemaster needs to know systems like a professional driver needs to know cars. That may come with individual tastes and biases (and will produce new problems I'll address further down), but the more you know, the more you'll appreciate how a game is done before positioning yourself towards it (incidentally how you recognize a good reviewer as well).

By that same token, games need to be designed properly to elevate the performance of a good GM. If all a GM is doing is reduced to compensating for a lacking system, you might still have a game, just not as good as it could have been.

Proper design, therefore, needs to establish standards that new games can build on, just like cars developed standards and still evolve to this day.

In game design, that standard should be (as far as I'm concerned) that someone buying a game can expect to gain the same experience from it as the designer was able to conjure when testing it if playing it by the book. This is no small feat to begin with, to be fair, because it means that the designer must have done extensive testing to present the game in a way that takes all possible uses into account (as far as that's possible).

The only way to assure that is to have the engine of a game BALANCED to the extent that it actually takes some punishment before producing false results.

See it like this: a guy has a vision for a game. It is supposed to do xyz when playing it. That means, it needs to produce results to that effect on all levels of resolution. It is the "first principle" of the game. The base line. Now, when testing reveals a problem where, say, leveling breaks or classes aren't progressing properly or combat produces undesirable effects, or a plethora of other problems that could occur when designing a game, a designer would look at the problem and adjust the system towards the established first principle.

Doing so throughout will produce a BALANCED SYSTEM within the parameters established in the beginning. Which means, as a matter of fact, that there is a metric by which encounters are balanced within the system. It is the equivalent to having a sports car do the things a sports car does.

He's saying something about speed ... [source]

So what does "balance" mean, then? Well, chess, for instance, is balanced. Other than who starts, everyone has the same rules and moves. You play two games and switch who starts between the two of you, and it is the same for both.

The balance is in the symmetry of the game, as well as in how the single elements within the game move and interact. Making that happen is the act of designing a game. "Fairness" is not in the opponent you get, but in the fact that all have the same chance to reach the goals the game sets. finding an individual way to make that work is up to the player.

There you go, game design 101. You decide what your game wants to do, then you engineer it towards that goal anyway you can, balancing all elements towards the vision you have for the game. If you manage to make all that manifest, you have a balanced game on hand.

Balance is unnecessary?

Why aren't there proper distinctions and definitions? Or how come that balance is deemed unnecessary in role-playing games? The answer to both would be that gaming is part of our culture to an extent that general assumptions of what that entails interferes with a need to have a distinction to begin with.

We are expected to know games. At least the general principle of what "gaming" is. We are also expected to accept that while there are general distinctions between categories of games, our only purpose is to know what we like so that we can go and consume that. In other words, you don't need to know how a car is built to drive one. Or even enjoy driving one.

So on the customer side, we only learn to look for the signs of what we think we like, not how that is achieved or, necessarily, how something actually aligns with what we could, would or even need to enjoy. There is a huge wiggle room where selling and buying the illusion of what we want is absolutely fair game. That would be consuming for the IDEA of doing something, with no intention of actually doing so.

I have bought enough games to know exactly what that means. And I have bought games because I liked their presentation, not really thinking about actually ever playing them. Or pdfs, because of an appealing idea and some nice cover art. Guilty as charged, on all those points. Which is why there is a market for it, which also is why that market is over-saturated but, for lack of a better word, flat.

That said, make no mistake, producing artifacts that superficially manage to summon the air of being a role-playing game is not the same as actually writing a role-playing game. There might be overlap, for sure, but to satisfy the market of the former is far easier than doing so for the latter.

That same wiggle room also produces another problem: it results in a faulty understanding of what playing a role-playing game actually entails. It skews our meta-knowledge of this niche of gaming towards an idea of entertainment more akin to going to a theme park.

At this point we are back at the distinction made in the beginning, those three different approaches we call "role-playing games" without distinction. Following the original paradigm will lead to a different understanding of what the game needs than following that of a minimalist game. And corporate has its very own idea what it wants of a gamer (basically WotC wants for the game what Adobe does for its apps). 

With all three having very different approaches and need for their designs (again, with overlap), there will be confusion about what a game needs if the distinctions aren't clear.

Coming from a faulty premise like that will make it impossible to evaluate the requirements of a good game from a customer perspective, even if you end up playing a lot of games that spawned in that dreaded wiggle room. The idea of "balance" would not even occur to you, as it is not needed for the kind of games that don't need it. You agree at the table what you want to experience, and then you experience that. The rules are more about engaging socially and how to behave. More LARP or improv theater than D&D.

Still my favorite LARP pic ... [source]
 What's more, the "balance" those minimalist or corporate games need is not necessarily anchored in the system, but outsourced to the participants (although with a different focus for each). That hierarchy I've talked about above doesn't track with those games.

Minimalist games, arguably, reduce the game to mostly the negotiation part. That has to mean that those mean rely on a proper "social contract" between the participants to make it work. That can be through having an experienced GM bringing their "meta understanding" of what constitutes a game to the table, compensating for the lack. It can be some form of ideology, that will force the experience through the same lens for everyone.

The corporate approach would be to gear the experience towards being a theme park. In that, you'll have always fun and never struggle and own nothing of the game and be happy (to know is to know). The first thing to castrate for that is the GM as well as the authority of the game itself.

Also seems to work well with ideology, as politics try to determine who is allowed to play and who isn't. Social engineering replacing the system, fucking up that nice hierarchy I shared above simply by giving a "get out of jail card" for all levels of resolution.

But all of it is, in its own way, a form of balance. Otherwise you couldn't play.

But people play games how they want to play them!

The one thing a game designer should ignore is how people are NOT playing their game as published but go their own way with it. If a game is designed as described above and playing it really does what the designer intended, then those playing it differently do so at their own peril. If the game is not at fault (and it might be, but if ...), then the gamer is. Limits of control and all that.

I mean, there is value in learning that a huge variety of people ignore a rule or use it differently. Something like that should be considered for revision, naturally. But if someone, say, uses a horror game to play a superhero campaign, the designer is not at fault.

But that's not even what I'm hinting at.

There is a whole movement in the ttrpg community to see systems as a mere trappings for their individual expression of the story they had in mind. Systems doing their jobs will then be seen as intrusive, disruptive even. And since that's a market, it's easy enough to find content creators (not game designers, mind you) accommodating that need.

That is all fair game, of course, but all the same something different to playing a proper role-playing game. Not even denigrating here. If you find enjoyment in playing something akin to what heavily scripted you tube theater groups call "playing a role-playing game", feel free to do so. It's just very different to what role-playing games had been originally and should be regarded as such.

Same goes for lite rules/minimalist games. Of course there is a beauty to keeping it nice and succinct, and of course is there the possibility that they will offer a proper gaming experience. Just not without an experienced gamemaster, who'd have to invest a whole lot of work to make a game with few rules worth playing for a campaign, if it's possible at all. Or without external forces (as in "not part of the rules") that engineer cohesion into a group.

It's all just different. You wouldn't take a Trabi to a Formula One race, is all I'm saying.

Unless it's pimped? [source]

In all cases, first principles apply: if you write a game with improvised theater in mind, maybe even for Twitch streaming or what have you, it will bring different necessities than writing a proper role-playing game that group of friends can play for decades without getting bored of it, or even writing something that's just supposed to last for a couple of sessions.

That all of this has its place does not mean that one form of design replaces the other. It is, rather, to be treated differently. That's not always easy, it seems.

Why bother, then?

To keep with the analogy, if you shift gears in a car to the next tier, you expect that car to behave like a car that has been shifted one up (ideally, going faster then before). How you react to the car performing is directly related to the feedback it gives. The same goes for players in a game. They'll try and test, maybe even read the rules, to get an idea how a game behaves and act accordingly. System mastery is, to use another buzzword, giving them "agency" over their characters.

If a system, now, produces unreliable results, their performance will be geared towards balancing and compensating the problems the system is producing themselves. Same goes for the GM, of course. They might even work together to address the shortcomings and find compromises to solve them.

It is, naturally, something the designer should have done to begin with to present a "complete" game. And if all of that produces more hustle than playing the game is worth, people will move on and play something else.

So this is why designers should bother with offering games that work properly, which means, they are balanced in a way that reliable results allow for all involved to have an enjoyable experience when engaging with the game. And those things will get apparent over time, of course, so even if a game is successful for, say, the sheer marketing power of its publisher, it will fall short sooner or later when people find out what a game is lacking.

D&D 3e, for instance, broke when characters reached mid to high level. The work load for the GM just got too big too handle, plus, the system did not take into account how powerful characters impact a setting and so on and so forth (I hear 5e has some of the same problems, actually). 

50 years into the hobby, examples are legion. But so are examples of good design. It just seems that people have a hard time accepting standards and building on them. Ignoring them, however, doesn't mean you'll get away with something subpar, because gamers will notice sooner or later. They always do.

Another important point why game designers should bother is that leaving the task to make a game work to a gamemaster is unfair to begin with and also introduces so many additional variants to playing the game that the outcome of playing the game is random at best, futile for all involved in its worse manifestations. Because you can't know who is running the game, how experienced, which tastes and biases. It is why the first principles discussed above are so crucial. It is why balance is crucial.

 Which is, ultimately, why people find ways to argue that it wasn't needed to begin with. Or that it's okay as long as all follow the same ideology. Or that it can be known what a rpg is and therefor will sort itself out at the table. It is why those three distinct groups exist and fight for dominance.

My bias is towards writing games as complete as possible, following the design principles outlined above. I think it has value to do so and that it is important to see other games for what they are: different.  

To close with the analogy: give a good car to a mediocre driver, and you'll get a good performance out of it. Give that same driver a bad car and you open the result up to such a huge variance of failure, that everything between "passable" and "disaster" could be the outcome. A good car avoids that, as does a good game. Both car and game will follow or even develop standards and need to be engineered towards producing reliable output throughout.

And that's why you bother.


This will be a long one no reads or bothers thinking about. Yet, I stand by the above. We need proper definitions for what's happening around us, if only to recognize what has been done, what can be done and even how to do something else. It is also to save what is left of gaming culture, I assume.

All of this is already happening, but of course some people have a vested interest in keeping it foggy, unexplained and vague. Because then you can claim "this is how it's supposed to be played" or that something that isn't, is a natural evolution of a design (as, say, AD&D 2e to D&D 3e ... rather a neutering than an evolution, I'd say). People earn money or just street cred by keeping things just as they are.

Not an evolution ... [source]
That is a problem.

Not that I have anything against them doing so, but y being honest about what a game can do, maybe even MUST do to fulfill certain criteria, it might end up appealing to far less people. What happens to D&D now regarding rewrites and 6e is a very good example for what I'm talking about here.

What's worse, the fact that the gaming community is split across political and ideological lines is very much due to the fact that lots of rules don't care to create an experience SO COMPLETE that those things don't matter. Or the other way around, if all you argue is rules for that years long campaign you are in, then the game did you a service. Once a game leave too much room for interpretation, those spaces are filled with all kinds of nasty surprises instead, like what the publisher wants you to do, think or buy. Or that political/religious/ideological bullshit someone wants to push down your throat.

So we need definitions, we need to be clear about what game does what service for what audience. And we need to understand that balance is a very real aspect of games, but the kind of balance you chose has a HUGE impact on your gaming experience. And some of that has NOTHING to do with the original idea of what role-playing games are.

If you are like me, you'd want that hustle on the system side of the game, not anywhere else.


Almost all my shit on drivethrugh is on the cheap right now, this being the time of the year for it, so check it out. If you want to do me a huge service, think about getting Monkey Business, as that only needs two more sales to make copper!

Cheers and all the best for the next year!

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Would you play that, too? (Introducing Angry Little Aliens vs. King Arthur)

When my good friend Mark asked me for inspirations for a new setting, I went a bit crazy about it. The result had been four proper settings I'd really like to play (or make a game out of) myself. But won't for a long time, I guess. So I thought I'd share them here with some ideas about the design I'd go for. I had shared one of those already last month (see here). This is the second, very different take ...

Pitch: Aliens strand on medieval earth, King Arthur's times and try to get off planet asap. However, King Arthur has nicked the mothership and they have no immediate way to get it back. Instead they have to collect the resources and bide their time until they are ready.

 Players will play groups of angry little aliens that will try at every turn to spoil the Arthurian legends. Kill the knights or sabotage their quests, trick Merlin into giving bad advice while getting ready for REVENGE! But the aliens are really small, die easily and lack resources, so all of it is a challenge. Should be light-hearted fun of evil mischief with a lite-rules system. This is:

Angry Alien vs. King Arthur

Log Book Entry 12.5k9 (by R4k1 Z)

Imagine that: you travel through multidimensional space and some IDIOT manages to park your ride in a stone substance on a primitive linear planet. Then some other IDIOT, an ugly warty hairy inbred from that dirt ball of a planet, somehow claims ownership of the mothership by touching it and merging his dirty DNA with it, using it to club things ever since. Made it a whole enterprise, fooling everyone around him to think he's a bigshot. Won't give it back, too.

We should OBLITERATE THE FOOL. Problem is, the escape algorithm was somehow fucked as well, and we ended up being too big to reclaim the ship, but way too small to conquer this reality.

Argh! To be surrounded by idiots!

Then yet another fool appears, alien to this planet as well, running his own scheme with the crowd here. Says he's a diplomat and will help us if we do his bidding. Slaves we are now! The insolence! Yet we cannot deny him and must play along with his stupid "wizardry". But the name Merlin will be cursed for generations to come, be sure of that.

So we are stranded here, planning our revenge. No resources, with ridiculously short life spans and everything here tries to eat us or breed us. But we will NOT surrender to this fate! We will persevere and they will know our WRATH! Eventually ...


Design ideas

This should be a quick and silly game with light rules, I'd say. Beer 'n Bretzels all the way. The "enemy" (King Arthur's court) should be full of dubious and funny characters the group can interact with. Something like this:

KING ARTHUR - The bigwig. He's the worst, stealing the mothership and all, making dents into it, too! There is no easy way to get to him directly, as he merged with the mothership and its AI protects him. Until we have the resources needed to hack our way back into the ship, we'll have to sabotage everyone around him instead! Maybe we can get him when he's lonely and weak ...

MERLIN - Big alien bastard. Has his own racket running on the planet. Maybe he had sabotaged our landing! One can only speculate. He knows about us and acts as if he's a liaison between us and what they call the "court". Bullshit, we say. Calls us "fairies" for some reason. For now we do as he tells us, but if we can subvert and undermine his plans and machinations, we sure as Slob will do so!

SIR LANCELOT - Best buddy of this Arthur guy. He is gullible as a Glblygith AND lusts for the King's female bitch. Lots to work with and he gets the most favorable quests, too. Good opportunities to make ALL OF THEM look bad.

SIR GAWAIN -They call him "the perfect knight, but he is not the sharpest kltrad in the shtiff. Well hung, too, it seems. Unfortunately very loyal, however. And he is capable, we must admit. Very much a worthy target when engaged in moonless nights. Would be a good ploy to make him hate another knight.

SIR GALAHAD - Bastard son of Lancelot. Doesn't touch the females, it seems, and can be quite stubborn about not giving up. Set on the right path, he could unknowingly become a devastating force for the cause as he won't stop running in the wrong direction, too, as long as he believes in the purity of the quest. [Galahad appears later in a campaign and his conception should be a quest where the Aliens help Lady Elaine to bed the guy disguised as her Queen]

SIR GERAINT - Very much under the spell of his female, maybe becyause he'd killed the male that fathered or fornicated her (we are unclear). Either way, there is easy conflict to be made. Too rightous for his own good and easily lured into showing off bravery.

SIR BEDIVERE - Old brute and a cripple, eager to prove himself constantly. Worships that fraud of a king like a dog. Maybe Arthur has some dirt on him. Could be one of Merlin's puppets as well. This guy is a tool, better to be avoided.

SIR BORS THE YOUNGER - Pretty face but will not touch human females. If we could lure him into mating one, it would for sure make him all sad and stuff.

MINOR KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE - Idiots, all of them. Sometimes they gain important quests and we gain an easy win when we SPOIL THEIR PLANS AND MAKE THEM SUFFER. It is fun, too.

LADIES OF THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE - Menaces, all of them, happily helping our cause out of boredom alone. Also like glittering things and are easily impressed throughout. But beware Merlin in all cases, as he very much runs the same game around them.

MORGAN LE FAY - She has beef with the king just like us. A bit on the cruel side and greedy, but we can make this work for us. If we can make big promisses, she can bring some pain to the court. Something to work towards. [Should appear in second half of campaign arc]

THE GREEN KNIGHT - He is fun and definitely an opportunist willing to help the cause on a favor for favor basis. Might not be human, too.


Something like that, I guess. It is those NPCs that populate the missions the group has to engage in to make a dent into the Arthurian legends of old while Merlin schemes to barter the mothership away to some third party to get off the planet himself (or something like that).

The King is not amused ...
General idea is to have some very angry and frustrated, but rather powerless aliens trying to mess up the affairs of men and collect enough resources to get their ship back and TAKE REVENGE. But it happens against a clock, of sorts, as the Arthurian legend runs counter to that (at the end of which Merlin gets to make Sir Bedivere give the ship to the entity know as "Lady in the Lake", maybe an arms dealer of sorts).

As far as the missions go, I'd re-utilize a tool I'm using for years now (and which readers might be aware of): The Random Narrative Generator for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (can be used as is, but I'd rewrite it a bit f I were to publish it). The reason for that is simply that it provides exactly the quest notes Arthurian knights would go on and enough angles to make spoiling the quest something the aliens would attempt to do! So the GM would roll up a quest or two to see what the court is up to these days and throws the group some bones as incentives to intervene. 

Let's test this. Example (dice say 28,6,4,2,2):

28. Exposure A villain is about to be exposed and the Court is summoned to help enforcing it. The exposure is initiated by a Force of Tradition that is mean and aims for trouble.

Interpretation: Well, what do we have here? Someone addresses King Arthur's court to help enforcing some law. It is something the King would have to address "because of the law", but the "force" initiating it does have mean intentions and is out for trouble, so it won't be an easy task for the Knights dealing with it, and it implies all kinds of useful angles for Aliens to exploit, maybe even escalate.

Okay, "force of tradition" could be an abbot of a monastery asking for help. "Exposing a villain" would be about someone breaking the law, maybe not paying tribute to the king by claiming to be poor. Let us say we have a little baron here that acts poor but actually sits on lots of wealth, hiding it from all. The abbot gets wind of this, and since he has an eye for some of the baron's land (there are the mean intentions), he snitches to the king, forcing him to act against the baron.

Something like this. So we have the mean abbot snitch, the greedy baron eager to keep his wealth and some knights in the middle trying to enforce the king's law. The aliens get wind of the abbot's claim and have a chance to get to the location and look into it before the knights appear. If they don't interfere, it happens what the prompt says: the baron gets exposed with the knight's help and the abbot gets his way. But there are several ways to spoil that whole affair for ALL involved, from getting the (minor, for sure) knights killed by escalating the conflict, by stealing the treasure before the knights arrive, making the abbot and the knights look stupid ... Anything the group can do with that premise and sounds fun will do. 

So that's that. Characters next.

Character Generation

A bit of the nitty-gritty here. Basic idea (in my head) is that each player plays a GROUP of aliens, each of which is one aspect of a "alien collective". So one alien would be strength, one agility, one wisdom and so on. A bit like the smurfs (which is one obvious inspiration, of course), but they have to work together as units to be "whole". The combination of aliens and the available options are what makes this system, I think, so it needs lots of fun of those, and enough to make choices meaningful.

The group now, consisting of several of those "alien collectives", is what the players have to work with, so each player should decide for a group of aliens that make their individual alien collective as specialized as they want or the group needs. Maybe one AC (Alien Collective) focused on physical skill, one build focused on brainy stuff, one one sneaky stuff, one with a tech focus (they are aliens, after all), maybe a "management" build would be nice (helping the collectives work together), something for fighting, maybe ...

You get it.

What it comes down to is that a players dice will act like pets. They'll fight, too. Say, a big guy makes a mistake (roll of a 1). Damage would be that this die is downgraded one size (say, from d10 to d8) as a punishment. Now I imagine a rule that if a smaller die was used for the task as well, that die gets punished instead. Because that little asshole was laughing his ass off, and the big guy is not having it ...

Or a "bystander rule": instead of damaging a die used for a task and losing it (becvause downgrading a d4 would be a d0), another die of the same collective, not used for the task could take a harder hit instead (two downgrades ... you won't do that often). So that little asshole sees he made a mistake, but it is only a d4 and he'd be gone to the nursery and out of the game if downgraded. He won't take it, so he hides behind a d8 of the same Alien Collective who had nothing to do with it, and the d8 gets the punch but also falls pretty bad, and is now a d4 (two downgrades).

Using dice with equal value would have them bicker if one fails and they would be locked for the next task because of it (I imagine they get locked until the highest roll from a follow up task roll is used to unlock them and only the second highest is used towards the task difficulty ... something like that).

The game will have several synergy effects like this. Positive ones, too, obviously. Doubles and triples will automatically count towards the difficulty. Those dice just have fun working together. Big dice performing very well could allow for re-rolls of smaller dice to have them at least behave. Something along those lines.

Advancement would go the obvious routes of adding dice (recruiting), growing dice (genetics) and adding tools (extra little dice rules, basically) from the resources tree (won Mission Dice can be divided between spending them for advancement of collectives or for resources ... aliens want laser weapons, so make itr happen!).

The rest is ... ORWELL again?

Yeah. Doubles and triples do something, tasks are rolled against a difficulty, players take the highest result of the dice they used but can "buy" additional dice  by making the DM stronger, the works. But (just like in part 1), a light version of it, mixed with other little twists that would fit that specific kind of game.

So instead of having a elaborate little system for the DM to gain and spent dice, he will get a pool of dice that the players basically fight for to get xp and resources (I call them "Mission Dice"). So if a DM wants to set a difficulty for a task, they offer dice from the pool as award (the dice offered make the difficulty). Menial tasks might just be a roll of the whole collective to see if they behave. Which means: roll over a certain limit that differs from die to die ... dice could have "moods" or "humors", too, now that I think about it (so get a higher die, but with a disadvantage that it is moody and misbehaves more easily).

If all behave, great, shit just works. If they outperform, they might get a boon for it, too (like minor healing of a damaged die, for instance, if the damaged die rolls its maximum). If half or more misbehave, shit doesn't work and might even produce problems if they underperform badly!

Cute little fucker ... but moody!
 Antagonists (as outlined above) would represent additional rules that apply when they are involved in a mission, usually making things more difficult, but offering little loopholes as well (as per the legends of old, I imagine ... certain weaknesses make certain things easier with certain antagonists).

Mission is over when the dice pool that came up for the mission is gone (I'd go and take the d6 results from the RNG above ... 14 dice for the mission outlined above, for instance) or the Alien Collectives openly challenge the remaining pool for a showdown by claiming the mission is over (as in: the mission as outlined seems over and done with, but there are still dice left, so unforeseen circumstances make themselves felt ... I'd just add another roll of the RNG without adding the d6 as a follow-up of that story).

You could already play that, but would you?!

Alright, this is already at a level where I would feel comfortable to test run it. If I invest a little time into writing and layouting and throw some artwork at it (some of it you have seen here in the post), this could be done pretty soon, I imagine (and given how fast I managed to gobble Rebellion together!).

It would be a shame at this stage to not make it happen. Actually has potential for a series! ANGRY LITTLE ALIENS versus BILLY THE KID, anyone? [edited as I had some more ideas like: versus NERO or versus DRACULA! So much fun could be had] But the question remains: would you play that? Would you like to see any of that?

Thoughts and impressions are very welcome.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Would you play that? (Introducing: Legacy of Gyrthwolden)

While ORWELL is getting an errata and a pdf release, I'm playing around with a  couple of setting books based on the ORWELL rules I might start developing here on the blog (since I'm taking a close look at those rules again right now) and eventually publish, if they get any traction at all (or it just manifests, as the last game did!). There isn't enough concept work on the blog anymore, and that has always been loads of fun. Lets give it a shot!

Legacy of Gyrthwolden (Pitch)

Betrayal was what had the wardings fail. The whole school rotted from the insides like oil poisons water once the magical protection had been penetrated. They had no chance, but some still had fight left in them. It just made the destruction worse. Demons triumphantly stalked the halls, a whole menagerie of beasts had been unleashed and was spreading terror in the dormitories and the east wing. Students had turned into indescribable horrors, their screams driving others into murdering frenzies and ultimately into madness. The most powerful one ended up building a quivering flesh throne in the Lost Cellars where now the mad and mutilated mimic and pervert the old traditions Gyrthwolden held up until it fell.

And that is not all.

Within the faculty, impartial observers would have found bravery, defeat, cowardice and old grudges turning bloody fast as the end drew near. The arch chancellor had made the most impressive exit, devastatingly altering reality from the Hanging Gardens of your Holy Lady Reneviere to almost the entire Dyrkterwoods in the west. No one knew he still had it in him. Almost brought a turn of events, too, but then a doom engine materialized in his stomach and made itself a new home in his body. Some say his soul is still caught in there, tormented towards eternity. Maybe it's wishful thinking. He wasn't liked much.

Eventually, Gyrthwolden fell. Eventually, the smoldering ruins left behind cooled down and while the rest of the world fell into the darkness unleashed at the school, evil started creeping all over campus, struggling with nature for residency.

There was one area all of that could not penetrate. One last magical stronghold created through the most beautiful improvised ritual in the school's history. Build on a whim, tapping into a not yet corrupted flux of Aether, it bloomed like a flower and enclosed a whole schoolroom, layering the most severe, and costly, layers of protection around it. The teacher who did that had to forfeit her body and burn her soul to weave it strong enough to have a chance. It distorted space and time so elegantly, it stayed untouched by the apocalypse. It wove itself into a future where it persevered. It just cost all within its protective stasis dearly.

In a final effort, as her soul burned through its last milligrams some decades later, Etherina Dinklethorne forced out of stasis among the students she had saved those she thought had the most promise in a desperate and mad gambit to save of the world what may still be saved.

You are those students. You are the Legacy of Gyrthwolden.

This is her last message:

We failed you, my dear children. Our corruption and greed have brought doom to the world you knew. You are save here in this room, but outside these walls, darkness reigns. You have within you what it takes to push back ever so slightly. And if you persist diligently, if you prevail and trust that there still is light and good in the world, you have a chance to overcome this evil curse. I know that in my heart. Go now, my children. I will sacrifice my last energy to extent the wards surrounding you. I know not what will be trapped then with you inside my protective veil, so be careful. Start with freeing the school, building by building. Unlock its secrets and power, everything else will fall into place then. You will see. And never forget ...

But then her voice flattens to a whisper and as it disappears, the mummy of her corpse, trapped in an intricate summoning circle, explodes into a puff of glittering smoke.

IDEA: the students are still connected to the stasis field. When they die, they may feed their souls back into the classroom and awaken another student. No one knows how many and which students Miss Dinklethorne saved. Or what the magic did to them, for that matter, so this can be considered to be an infinite pool of replacement characters (or limited, if the GM feels like making this part of the challenge).

All said and done, it'll be your basic goth horror wizard school versus the apocalypse anime experience. Harry Potter goes Tim Burton and everything died but you ...

The Game (powered by ORWELL)

Basic premise of ORWELL is that character development happens as the character is played (each character can develop up to 10 slots per "Level"). Characters come with a potential, and players activate that potential as the story unfolds. They might create gadgets or skills or contacts, as far as the original game is concerned. Everything else is up to the players. If it fits the genre and the group can agree with it, it is fair play. Want to play a conscious spell that just wants to be human? You can do that. A little Lizard Wizard? Sure ... A sentient rock? If you can make it work. This is about having fun telling stories.

I'd shift those paradigms a bit to fit the story, so players may invent SKILLS, SPELLS or MAGIC ITEMS. While ORWELL would have players now roll to see how well established that power is, LoG might expand on that by making it something that might need to be obtained as well. Basically it'd need two additions:

1) Rules for Rituals that might need to reach a certain level, special items and specific roles for characters to assume. That'd block a slot or two. Rituals will open new areas and solve general problems with the curse.

2) Assuming the students have some idea where is what at that school, it'll need an extension where they manifest the school bit by bit as they talk about and explore it. Some stuff will be provided by the GM, but nothing says it couldn't work like character development does.

It had to be as procedural as ORWELL is, but shifting the focus a bit from having a proper cyberpunk district to where to find crucial quest items and knowledge and what difficulties await a group to their way there.

So they might know that the library would be great to have access to. And it is easy enough to assume that there is one. However, while they know where the library was before the fall, they sure as hell know nothing about what happened to it and how to get there now. So the GM will have tools to create a path of obstacles that fit the story to anything he or the group may come up with ...

There you go ...

I'd have to play around with that for a bit, but that's what a blog is for. Other than that, I'm pretty sure people could work with the premise alone easily. Doesn't even matter that much what system you are using. I guess.

ORWELL will be a great fit for the setting, on the system side of things, and given that the DM part is mostly system agnostic anyway, this should work for all kinds of games, if that's what you'd want to do.

So what do you guys think? Would you play that?

Monday, September 4, 2023

Rebellion - The Card Game is out now! (Publishing versus Blogging ... 1:0)

Yeah, I know, it's been a while. Other than having a new family member (which will have you quite busy, of course), I've also spent the free time I could get with ... writing another game: Rebellion - The Card Game! Crazy, right? It is a (fun!) card game, but still relates to one of the role-playing games I'm working on here at Disoriented Ranger Publishing: Brawlers! Lets talk about that, shall we?

Get it at a discount here!

Introducing: Rebellion - The Card Game

It is a card fishing game loosely inspired by games like Pasur or Scoba, but it comes with the additional layer of adding abilities to the cards that opens it all up to something more akin to games like Dominion, while staying with the classic, standard card decks (I might add customized decks later, but for now, the standards work perfectly well).

So, two sets of 52 standard card decks with two Jokers each (something every household should have, I assume) together with the rules will set you up nicely.

All else you'll need is at least one friend and a table to play on. Even digitally works very well: the card feature on roll20 works like a charm with this. Set up two standard card decks, one for the player of the King, the other for the Rebel Players, snatch the template from the pdf, the product page on drivethruRPG or here, put that as a map background, and you are good to go. Worked like a charm for us.

For the map layer in your roll20 game ...
Anyway, so how does it play? Well, as you can see on the mat above, it's about two sides fighting about cards in the middle, the so-called Realm. They do so by playing hand cards to reduce the Realm cards to zero and win them. Additional effects will alter that by adding fun little mechanics that give each side special boons and the Realm itself come with some interesting features that may offer opportunities for special moves and awards.

It's all well balanced and comes with a high re-playability, if I may say so. If you like card games with a quick set up that also carry a little depth once you dug into it, you should give Rebellion a chance. We have loads of fun playing it.

If you end up getting AND playing it, we'd be happy to hear about it. Naturally. And leaving some love on the product page is always appreciated.

Tie-in for a RPG that doesn't exist?

You remember Brawlers - A DungeonPunk RPG (formerly known as Bastards!, er, the Grind)? I'm still working on it. Rebellion is part of that process. The world of Brawlers was pretty dark: a sort of apocalypse took a dark spin on a vanilla fantasy setting. Now the monster menagerie is in charge and sitting on the ruins of the lost world. Characters go on "brawls" in that world to help petty gods back to power and kick some demon butt ... Rebellion is a card game from that long gone era. A reminder of better times, maybe, or just a card trick game played for coins. Illegal under the monster empire, of course That's the idea, anyway.

Maybe not the final cover ...
 I was looking for a nice way to connect what the players are doing with that card based mission generator I wrote for it years back. I was thinking poker variant, but that never really clicked somehow. Roughly two months ago I had an epiphany of sorts: what if players get a chance during mission to challenge the BrawlMeister (the DM, so to say) to a game of cards, and if they win, it'll alter the mission parameters by creating some better conditions ... but if they lose, shit gets worse. 

A no-brainer, since the cards already connect with the mission generator. All it needs is the specific ... And I already have some ideas for "wild" cards that could be played, as well as alternative decks and how it all connects to character levels. Lots of possibilities!

But for now, the game itself is done. I think it might make a good "setting game" for most fantasy settings. Something with its own lingo, something non-player characters might play or talk about. At least it will be that for Brawlers ... And it is fun to play by itself, so there is that.

What else is cooking?

I'll keep it short, but lots is happening. I decided to finally publish a pdf for ORWELL, that dystopian role-playing game I wrote and sold as dead tree copy only until now. Will make a little errata before that, make it all pretty and clean, with hyperlinks and bookmarks ... the whole ten yards. And then it'll go live. This month or next, I think.

I also got a bit of fiction published! A cyberpunk short story of mine appeared in a great anthology: Ipseities (by As If publishing). I liked all the stories, with three really exceptional favorites. Really a great anthology of weird and creative stories. Good company to be in! Really recommended, if nuweird is something you like.

I'm also working on all other fronts, and hope to get  couple of things done before years end. Looks good right now. I feel it's happening. Look forward to see some more about be67 in the near future ...

What I imagine a be67 GM looks like ...
And the blog ... well, I need to do some more there, too. It takes a bit of a back seat, but I have that review series with my friend Eric going, so something like that will happen next. If I can do it on the sly.

So that's it. A lot is happening behind the scenes, but you guys will see results soon. Some proper rpg material will hit digital shelves in the very near future! Stay tuned. And check out Rebellion. It really is tons of fun.

The King disapproves of your attempts to resist ...

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Revisions Part 2: The True Nature of Encounters (with another excerpt from be67)

Hello, friends and neighbors. How's life? Mine (thanks for asking) is good but busy. Still can't leave the blog hanging like that. I keep finishing be67 as of this writing, but I am making progress, if ever so slowly. We are now testing this with another GM having a go at it (the great Mark van Vlack is giving it a shot ...), and it has been a most illuminating experience so far (and a blast rolling dice with Jay and Eric ... first time I had the pleasure of playing with my good friend Eric from Methods & Madmen!). Turns out, you can write 140 pages of rules and still miss some of the more crucial aspects of the game unmentioned.

To give you an idea ...

Anyway. I'm on it. We are here to talk what works, which would be the Narrative Encounter Generator that game features. Lets have a look ... You could also check out part 1 first.

Lost Songs did something like it!

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is another game still happening that hasn't seen love in some time now. Things is, all the work I put into other games right now is (still) to make LSotN the best game I can make. One of the most crucial parts (no one seems to care about) is what encounters are and how they measure towards a gaming system. As most of you will be aware, it never translates fully. Not all non-player characters are fully statted or carry even a tenth of what your basic character sheet will hold.

Couldn't, to be honest, unless it'd be a game with very basic values and no real depth. A game needs to provide the necessary data as soon as it is needed, which can be tricky, of course, if it is a whole lot of information a GM needs fast. D&D is a bit more complex like that, but can take a huge amount of punishment before breaking down and (for instance) killing a party because a random encounter turned out to be too hard. That can be a boon (as gamemasters can wing it and get away with it), but it also comes with huge disadavantages when you actually try to emulate it properly in your gamedesigns.

Seems like lots of it had been guesswork ...

Now, what you can learn when designing it from the bottom up, is, that it needs a deep understanding of what encounters really are and how they need to connect the game with players and gamemaster in a meaningful way.

I think one of the bigger misconceptions early D&D let fester, was the reduction of encounters to only being entities to interact with. It codified the idea that the game is around encountering monsters and taking their treasure. That this is only partly true is easily obvious as soon as one takes a closer look at all the interactive elements those games offer: ability scores, skills, saves ... all tools to probe a fictive reality in several different ways. role-playing games are about interacting with everything imaginable in the narrated surrounded. Everything the players ENCOUNTER, that is.

First time I developed designs in that direction was when writing Lost Songs, where characters didn't encounter entities as much as "narrative concepts" associated with fairy tales that may manifest as some sort of entity, but could be something entirely different, like a storm or a landscape feature that offers ineraction of some sort.

You can take a close look at that Random Narrative Generator here (damn ... that was seven years ago!). It is thoroughly tested, and let me tell you: it writes fantastic D&D stories, even on the fly. A variant of this is used to generate cyberpunk stories to great effect in ORWELL, too.

Turns out, however, that be67 needed a somewhat different approach. What I ended up with is a tool where the same method is used (generating abstract and random narrative encounters), but with more individual encounters specifically designed for one scenario instead of a whole genre. It helps focusing on the movie part of the experience, while somewhat moving away from the sandbox approach (characters are still having freedom of choice, but not as much on a fictive map as what the action sequences and movie scenes are, in a sense).

I already shared this in Part 1, but here it is again in the new context presented here:

So instead of a barony in your fantasy setting that has specific problems and quests, the movie title is the "territory" the players are exploring, and everything is geared towards that specific experience. You have a Zombie movie, scenic encounters should be about humanity failing to push back against the undead: streets with abandoned cars, overrun military outposts, burning cities. An encounter like that should set the mood.

Landmark would additionally offer some form of orientation (you'll notice that the encounters are arranged hierarchically), and might offer left behind messages by other survivors, like "Newport is still free", or "We are meeting at the Hargrave military base", or something along those lines.

Benign NPCs, then, would be other survivors with no ill will towards the characters, most likely (given the genre) someone needing help one way or another. 

Challenges could be anything from avoiding zombie infested areas to getting some form of energy (gas for a car, electricity, wood even) or ressource (ammunition might be a bg on here). A threat would be to get discovered, for instance, or overrun, while the main plot would hint towards the source of the zombie uprise, while the Main Evil is the source itself, and "showdown" would offer some form of solution to the get rid of the main evil. In this case, it might be a face-off with the zombie master (the difference between "just" encountering him as "Main Evil" would be that in a showdown, it is personal for some reason ... "You know my secret, therefore you must DIE!").

Now think about how those parameters might shift if it where, say, an alien invasion of body snatchers, or the plot of some Bond villain for world domination ... All get different NEG, but they might interact, even, like different locations would in a fantasy setting but as movie sets instead.

Throw some sixties weirdos into that (classes in be67 are Journalist, Outlaw, Activist, Spy, Flower Child, Saboteur, Veteran), and you got a game going!

How is all of that explained in the book, then?

The thoughts tying all of this together in be67, are formulated in the beginning of the GM chapter of the book (right after establishing the genre, as you may read here). Consider this (unedited, as it were):


But how to tell those stories? How to prepare for them? There is more to a story than having some maps and the numbers and information for monsters or Non-Player Characters on hand. It all needs to come together, at best gearing towards a very specific experience: bloody grindhouse cinema in the Weird Sixties.

As we just established, we are already half way there. The system carries a lot just by setting up specific player goals and resolving all of it geared towards that experience. It does not tell a story, however.

All the sources of inspiration we offered so far will also go a long way, giving GMs ideas what elements they might want to see in their games. And while that might lead to some satisfying adventures, it’d be difficult to make that a campaign to last over the course of 30 levels. It needs more than that.

The following segment will give some basic information how to prepare and tell stories as well as connecting all of that within a be67 campaign.

The Rule of Cool!

The first bit of structure every game needs is an understanding between the participants what “fun” constitutes for their gaming. They need to be on the same page about what be67 can be at their table. The Weird Sixties can provide a wide array of possibilities beyond what the hard rules the game already provides are able to convey.

You can have dog fights with dragons over New York, hunt werewolf Nazis lurking in the deep snow of Antarctica, or head expeditions into the Hollow Earth to fight dinosaurs and King Kong. All with a good dose of splatter and psychedelics … A GM’s imagination is the limit and a group’s willingness to suspend their disbelief directly correlates with the fun that can be had in be67.

The Rule of Cool, then, is basically a sleight of hand allowing “Suspension of Disbelief” by explaining what can happen as “movie magic” as long as it does not contradict the rules presented here.

A Character loses an arm? Why not let them have a prostheses with a shotgun because they “know a guy”? It is easy enough to see the advantages and disadvantages of something like that (even how to express and expand on it within the rules!). The blunt weapon of choice a Character is using is a frying pan? Why not have them do just as much damage as a mace would? The damage would be the same since Weapon Mastery doesn’t make that distinction. They could use a spoon, for that matter.

In a sense it is the logical consequence of how weird the setting is combined with how flexible the rules are. There is a “wiggle room” in between, and exploring that is part of the fun. In that spirit, The Rule of Cool proposes to let the imagination go wild for the fun of it. Not as a hard rule, but as something to keep in mind and everybody has an understanding of.

The easiest way to build tension?

The smallest narrative unit relevant in a role-playing game is an ENCOUNTER with an interactive element of the game. Those elements are interactive as soon as they enter the narrative, which could be as benign as a passer-by on the street or even just the entrance into a cave. For there to be tension, however, it needs to signal that there is either something to gain or something to lose. In raw game terms, gaining could simply mean xp while losing might simply mean losing Hit Points. In more general terms it might mean information that somehow brings the narrative forward.

By asking lots of questions about their surroundings, players will actually fish for interactive elements that can be salvaged for in-game currency most of the time without further initiative necessary from the GM. The art of gamemastering, however, is in shaping the dynamics of that fishing. There’s a couple of simple rules to follow when working Encounters into the game:

  • No Encounters Without Purpose – Encounters should always at least manifest one element of the setting, the mission or the scene. Even if totally random, the benefit must be either for meaningfully enhancing the atmosphere, enriching the world or advancing the game.

  • Always A Tease – No Encounter should occur without being hinted towards first at least once. It does not matter if the players are looking for the Encounter or the other way around.

  • Always A CatchThe more the players want something, the more they are willing to do for it, so the effort needed to have something happen is an easy regulator for a GM to motivate players into spending resources or have them drop an attempt by making the attempt too expensive. Teasing helps finding out how big of a catch an Encounter allows and which challenges are acceptable to engage with it.

  • Play With the Unknown – Signs of an Encounter about to happen should be as obscure as the narrative allows and might even be misleading as long as the reveal is able to explain what had happened.

  • (Let Them) Run With It – Encounters should never be changed while manifesting in order to accommodate the players’ intuitions about what’s happening or going to happen.

  • Allow Tension, Allow ReleaseThe interplay of teasing, little challenges and The Unknown will produce tension during Encounters, but tension always needs to be released as well. It is crucial to resolve all Encounters if the end of the Encounter is not obvious, even those that fail to manifest completely (due to a failed challenge, for instance) need to be resolved by signaling the Players that whatever was happening has come to some sort of end.

  • Never Stop Moving – Ideally, players will always look for something or have questions, which means there are enough encounters to explore around them. That said, it is always good to pile on what is existing to have something to engage them with as soon as the game stalls for some reason. A good rule of thump is to have at least three encounters manifesting at all times in some form or another, while being on the lookout to add even to that.

  • [ADVANCED] Little Puzzles Everywhere – What applies for Encounters in detail (as described above), does also apply for the sum of all Encounters over the course of a Session (or even several Sessions). Encounters map the gaming world for the players, and GMs should aspire to allow for meaningful patterns to appear on those maps for the Players to discover and play around with.

  • [ADVANCED] Encounters Triggering Encounters – While the above suggests an organic flow of the action manifesting from the interaction between narration, gamemaster and players, it is important to stress that encounters might escalate situations based on wrong decisions the players went for, making life more dangerous because of it. A natural consequence of bad decisions is, therefore, that additional encounters manifest immediately into the encounter that is playing out, making a bad situation worse. Gamemasters are encouraged to let that happen, but also signal that things are forced to escalate and the dangers associated with the escalation.

  • [ADVANCED] Time is a Construct – Not all encounters follow – or should follow – in a timely fashion. Sometimes it is, instead, advisable to have time pass without incidence, and without the attempt to fill the passing time with meaning. It just passes. The narration bridging the time gap sets up the next encounter instead, manifesting after the designated time has passed. Since there is an arbitrary element to this process, doing so deliberately between encounters will help shaping the narrative favorably while allowing for drastically shifting a group’s surroundings in a natural way, if need be.

Following the advice formulated above should lead to satisfying gaming loops in all Sessions when the challenges offered cover the range of systems that make be67, no matter the specific adventure. The next important step is to set the frame for those Encounters to happen in.

What kind of Encounters does the game need?

As already established: for the purposes of this game, an Encounter is basically EVERY element in the game the Characters can interact with. It needs to be distinguished, however, between NARRATIVE and STATIONARY Encounters. The first category is occurring in a (usually randomized) sequential manner as the story unfolds, the second comprises a set of necessary locations the Characters can (or need to) find over the course of a scenario or adventure.

Those two categories will interact with each other as the game progresses. Not only will the Stationary Encounters summon the “back cloth” for the run time of a specific movie scenario and keep that present, some locations will also be more dangerous than others and that will alter Narrative Encounters as well.


And that's how it's done in the book. Build on that follow tools to create challenges and monsters, going more and more into what the rules actually need (from most abstract, like shown above, to most crunchy).

This is where I'm at ...

At the moment I'm hammering down the finer details of this. It all needs to click in the end so that all those different ideas and designs come together into something coherent. Not easy (as it turns out), but fun nonetheless. Takes time, however (who'd have thought ...).

So this is what I'm doing when I'm doing something right now.

Artwork for the Spy in be67!
Well, what do you guys think about it? You think encounters should be EVERYTHING, to one degree or another, anyway, or is it too confusing for those used to the very specific way D&D established so many moons ago? Would you use it like I propose here? As always, your thoughts are very welcome.

And now back to work ...