Category Archives: Roleplaying

First LORE Playtest

I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on a tabletop roleplaying system. LORE, or the Lightweight Omnipotent Roleplaying Engine, is designed to be versatile, quick-playing, and easy to pick up. Last Saturday, I ran my first-ever playtest of the system.

As with digital games, playtesting is the only way to really get a feel for a tabletop roleplaying system. Some systems look great on paper, but don’t do so well at the gaming table. Conspiracy X‘s revised edition (I haven’t played 2.0) is one of these. It’s a great setting, with some unique mechanics, but the basic rolling is a nightmare when you actually try it out. So even though I’d done brute-force statistical analysis of LORE‘s dice-rolling, it was only in play that I could get a real test. So how’d it turn out?

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Fumbling Critical Rolls and the LORE Approach

natural 20

Many tabletop roleplaying games and many digital games have a game mechanic called the “critical roll.” With this mechanic, a particularly good skill roll, say a 20 on a 20-sided die, can be a “critical hit,” which is better than a normal success. Likewise, a roll of 1 on a 20-sided die could be a “critical failure,” a “critical miss,” a “fumble,” or a “botch.” Critical failures result in an especially bad outcome.

Critical rolls typically represent the fickle hand of luck. Even in a game where randomness determines every important outcome, it is possible for characters to get especially lucky or unlucky. Sometimes, that arrow flies just right and hits the dragon right in the eye. Critical hits are often a cause for celebration among tabletop roleplayers, and critical misses are moments of frustration and (usually good-natured) anger at the game and the game master. Many digital games that use tabletop RPG-like mechanics also use critical roll systems. Notably, the action-focused game Team Fortress 2 also incorporates this mechanic in the form of random critical shots, which do more damage than normal shots and are more likely the more damage a player does.

Like many tabletop roleplayers, I’m working on a roleplaying system of my own, called LORE. During the development process, I’ve done a lot of thinking about a lot of the common elements of tabletop RPGs, and critical rolls has been one that I’ve focused on. I’ve decided that critical rolls have a part to play in game mechanics, but that there are many pitfalls that should be avoided. Here are my thoughts.

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The Space Beyond the Rules

I just had an annoying conversation with a friend about the relative merits of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition versus the previous version of the game. I’ll spare you the details, as it’s been discussed ad absurdum elsewhere. It did get me thinking, though, about the role rules play in tabletop roleplaying games.

Tabletop roleplaying games, as I’ve mentioned before, can adapt to players’ actions much more easily and completely than digital games. This is due mostly to the GM‘s ability to roll with the punches and make up stuff in response to an unexpected path taken by the party. Since the origin of tabletop roleplaying games, the roleplaying proper, that is, the social interaction, character quirks, and people-focused play, has been largely separate from the rules. Tabletop RPG rules focus on things like combat, non-social conflict resolution, and supernatural powers. All the fluffy social and character-building stuff is allowed to just occur, with the rules keeping out of its way. Sure, there might be a Diplomacy skill or a Charisma statistic, but those are usually reserved for small parts of the roleplaying: deciding if a character’s argument was convincing enough, or just how pretty the elf princess is. Few systems dedicate more than a page or two to rules governing seemingly important things like falling in love or becoming homesick.

And that’s just fine. Combat, magic, disabling booby traps: these are things that most of us will never experience, things which are nice to have codified and defined for easy processing. Social behavior, however, is something that’s familiar to every tabletop gamer. Even the most reclusive, introverted dice-roller has the experience of getting together with people around a table to play. Human beings understand social situations better than just about anything else, so our creativity is broader and deeper in that area. And I think that’s the interesting part of roleplaying.

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The Most Important Games

“The 99th” over at Play This Thing! posted a list of the top ten most important games in history. It includes such things as family, fiat money, and Passage. I’ve got issue with a lot of things about this list.

First, as with most top ten lists, there is an issue of definition. What is a game? The much-lauded Chris Crawford has claimed that a game must be made for money, must have a goal, and must allow you to attack your opponent, among other things. By this definition, The Sims, Tetris, and the original release of Cave Story are not games. Many other definitions of games include “fun,” “play,” or “artificial,” although mathematical game theorists would vehemently argue otherwise. Let’s see if we can come up with a definition in the spirit of The 99th’s list.

For the purposes of this post, a “game” is a goal-oriented activity with artificially-established rules that are shared among multiple participants, called “players.” Players need not play simultaneously or adversarially. By “historically important,” I choose to mean “most significantly contributed to and/or were most necessary for the existence of the sort of games I discuss on this site.” As an initial disclaimer: I am not a historian. Now, for my version of The 99th’s list.

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Morbus 3 – The Dizzying Tower

The third episode of my D&D 4th Edition game is done. In this adventure, the party is waylaid by illusions emanating from a mysterious tower occupied by a deceitful gnomish wizard.

This adventure is designed for four 3rd-level characters, and should provide them with half of a level’s experience, or take them to fourth level if you double experience as I do. Note that because I double experience, this adventure contains a full level’s worth of treasure. GMs using this adventure will want to adjust accordingly. The full adventure is after the break.

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Some Free Indie RPGs

I recently looked around on the internet for interesting tabletop roleplaying systems that I could read and try out for free. I’ve yet to play any of the ones that caught my eye for the first time, but I thought that I should share the highlights of my search.

In the descriptions, you might see the terms “simulationist” and “narrativist.” I’m using those words to describe how the game approaches the details of its rules. A simulationist game, in my way of seeing it, is one which offers a realistic and internally consistent world model which provides specific rules for a wide range of things. A narrativist game, on the other hand, is vague on details; generally, the players and game master can go along with the story, with the rules providing much broader strokes.

Here are the games that jumped out at me, in no particular order:

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Why Should Digital Game Designers Care About Tabletop Roleplaying?

I’ve made a few posts lately about tabletop roleplaying games. Many digital-games-focused folks may not be very interested in such things, since they seem so different from digital games. As I’ve said before, tabletop roleplaying games are a synchronous form of digital games. Why does that matter?

Simple. Imagine the perfect video game engine.

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Morbus 2 – Rescuing the Orc Princess

It’s time for the second adventure episode of my D&D 4th Edition game, Morbus. In this episode, the party’s travels through the forest are interrupted by a plea from an orc chieftain to rescue his daughter from a group of bandits!

This adventure is designed for four 2nd-level characters, and should provide them with half of a level’s experience, or take them to third level if you double experience as I do. Note that because I double experience, this adventure contains a full level’s worth of treasure. GMs using this adventure will want to adjust accordingly. The full adventure is after the break.

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Alternatives to Failure

Scott Martin over at Gnome Stew posted yesterday about failure in tabletop roleplaying games. Or rather, the alternatives to simple failure. There’s any number of reasons why players of an RPG might fail: bad die rolls, bad choices, or simple failure to turn the right direction at an intersection. But often, failure is a bad thing for everyone.

Character failure isn’t always a bad thing– if you step back from your character’s eyes and think of the game as a story, you might even root for your character’s failure at times. Failure can show adversity…, create sympathy…, feel right…, provide material for character introspection, and more. But when you get to the climax of the story, it sucks when the dice come up ones and you’re just a sidekick and someone else laps up the glory.

This is a problem in tabletop RPGs and in digital games. Does the game master or developer/game engine just allow the Total Party Kill, even if the fate of the world is at stake? If the player misses her chance to find a vital clue, is she out of luck? Martin lists an array of possibilities, and they’re equally applicable to digital games as to tabletop RPGs. I’ll discuss how digital games can deal with failure after the break.

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Morbus 1 – The Attack on Furrowcross

I’m currently running a campaign of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition that I have dubbed Morbus, for reasons not yet disclosed to the players. I’ve decided to share my campaign planning with the readers of this blog, for those who are curious to see how Fourth Edition encounters work, or for GMs who are interested in an adventure to run.

I intend to make each adventure “episode” wrap up a little story as well as being part of the larger campaign plot. For the players in my campaign, each adventure will take their characters up a single experience level, but I’m doubling experience point rewards in my game. Normally, it takes ten encounters of the party’s level to level up, but I’m aiming for just five. Because of that, if any GMs are following along with my campaign, they will need to add more encounters to keep the PCs at an appropriate level for these adventures. On this blog, I will report the normal, non-doubled experience rewards for encounters. The adventures will, however, dispense all of the appropriate treasure parcels for a four-person party, so you may want to change that.

I’ll try to present each adventure independently of the larger plot. I’ll tie them together periodically with summary posts explaining their larger context. This particular adventure, The Attack on Furrowcross, is appropriate for four first-level characters who have not yet formed a party with each other. It features a goblin raid on a market town. The details, with full spoilers, are after the break.

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