An Ocean of Babel

The next time you find yourself sitting down with your friends to play a game of Ocean, consider employing this little twist: None of your characters can verbally communicate.

For whatever reasons, your characters cannot effectively communicate with written or spoken words. Everything they try to say or write comes out as unintelligible, indecipherable gibberish. Nor can players directly tell other players the ideas that their characters are trying to impart upon one another. Instead, players must communicate in the game only through actual descriptions of what is happening. They can explain what their character is doing and the actions their character is taking to communicate, but never can they directly relate why they are doing what they are doing.

I want to give this a try at a Convention some time.

Failure Padding: Stealing Success from the Clutches of Failure

As a gamer, I’ve never been a fan of “casual failure” in any test mechanics. It just isn’t fun. Failure in an exciting story should have purpose and effect, and should be just as interesting and – dare I say it – rewarding as success. I am certainly not the first gamer to tread upon this ground. So here’s a system I’ve scribbled up which can allow you to keep playing your otherwise “pass/fail” RPG systems while inserting a new degree of excitement and consequence into their failure mechanics.

Failure Padding is based upon the concept of “degree of failure” – not a new concept to many of you, but folks whose only RPG exposures come in the forms of D&D, Pathfinder, and other similar games might not have this term in their current notebooks o’ gaming lexicon. “Degree of Failure” is a way of measuring the distance between your failed dice roll and the difficulty target number you actually wanted to roll. This is usually handled simply by subtracting the number you rolled (dice result, successes, hits, what-have-you) from the number you needed in order to succeed. Thus if you needed eight successes to get the result you wanted, but you only got five when your dice hit the table, then your Degree of Failure would be three (8 – 5 = 3). Or if you needed a roll of sixteen but only scored a nine after all modifiers, then your Degree of Failure would be seven (16 – 9 = 7).

Using this degree of failure, you can very easily eyeball “how bad” your failure actually was. Some RPG systems already have rules in place for determining grades of failure, but that’s okay, because Failure Padding isn’t as concerned about grading that failure as it is about transforming that failure into hard-earned success. In other words, Failure Padding is about re-imagining your failed dice rolls as very price-heavy victories, “padded up” with collateral damage.

Let’s say you roll eight successes, but you needed eleven in order to shoot the terrorist who is currently using your girlfriend as a hostage human shield. That’s three degrees of failure, which would likely have resulted in the terrorist getting away, with your girlfriend in tow. Instead, the GM lets you “spend” those three degrees of failure to buy other consequences related to the situation, each raising your original roll up to the required level to succeed. So in this case, you buy off those three needed successes, and you and the GM work out that you shot him but the bullet went through your girlfriend’s shoulder, he got a shot off at you which went straight through your thigh, and as your girlfriend is running away another terrorist grabs you and throws a bag over your head. Your initial goal was accomplished, but now the situation remains interesting and the story evolves.

Using this mechanic, the GM offers to “sell” you extra successes in exchange for you agreeing to additional consequences of your success. Each degree of failure is one such consequence acquired. In games with greater number scales, the degree of failure should probably be based on a range of numbers. Say, every two points missed in a D20 test is one degree of failure, or every ten points missed is one degree of failure on a D100 test.

Here are some various ideas of things that can go wrong for you – consequences you can take in order to pad up the failure:

  • You take additional damage in the strained effort to succeed.
  • Some piece of important equipment takes damage, or is rendered temporarily useless or inaccessible – armor degrades, greaves seize up, electronics malfunction, zippers get jammed, etc.
  • Your situation is made narratively worse somehow – enemy reinforcements arrive, the bridge collapses, your vehicle’s airbag unexpectedly deploys, etc
  • Some threat level is increased, if your game system keeps track of that kind of thing.

Hope it works out for you!

…and yes, I have a Gamestorm 2012 post coming very soon.

Game Kickstarter Idea: “Cold Open”

In this game setup, one player has been previously tasked with bringing a picture to the session. We all sit around the table, and the player kicks off the game by laying down the picture face-up. The guy sitting to that player’s left then looks to the guy sitting to his left and asks a question about an action that is happening now, such as “What is that girl running from right this very moment?” That guy answers, then looks to his left and asks another question, and so on.

End-of-Week Notes 5-14-2010: The Baseball Bat of Justice

Just a small handful of things spring to mind in review of this week. Two nights ago I started up a new Fallout 3 game, this time with the intention of playing it like a true Wastelander. That means: not hoarding every single thing I find back in my locker at Megaton, foraging as I go, using only the weapons I can scavenge and maintain as I go, dropping what I can’t carry, and leaving small caches of equipment stashed here and there. This time my name is Shrike, a no-nonsense tough bitch from Vault 101, self-proclaimed protector of Megaton and its environs following the unfortunate violent death of its previous sheriff, the late Lucas Simms1.

So far, my quest has been well-fought but hard-won. I’ve lost a few circumstantial allies on occasion, including a poor scavenger who got caught in the crossfire when those no-good Talon Merc goons jumped me, but thankfully, word is getting out: Shrike’s gunning for the bad guys, and the bad guys be scared. Just last night I donned my favorite leather jacket2, pumped myself up on Buffout and MedX, and took out an entire clutch of nasty Raiders using only a Louisville Slugger I had affectionately named Pablo. I barely had time to catch my breath as I led my assault, needing to take them out with as much celerity as possible so as to maximize the effectiveness of my chemically-skyrocketed battle prowess. I charged through their compound – one insultingly forged out of the ruins of an old elementary school – and wiped their filthy souls from the planet with minimal injury. Then I slept off my wounds in their own beds, dragged their bodies into a central heap, peed on their dead leader’s corpse, and set them all ablaze with their own flamethrower before leaving the next morning.

I fucking hate Raiders.

What’s next for Shrike? Word is there’s some “family” of villains terrorizing the poor nearby settlement of Arefu. An easy-on-the-eyes dame named Lucy ain’t seen or heard from her folks up there in quite some time. As the new sheriff of these parts, I reckon it’s ’bout time I let these cheeky bastards know who’s now in charge ’round here. Time to go give this family a taste of the Baseball Bat o’ Justice. Pablo’s a close talker, a real social type.

This past Monday night saw another session of my weekly Savage Worlds game. I’ve become a bit slack with this game, owing in no small part to the increasing difficulty of me running games on Monday nights. This campaign’s days are acknowledgedly numbered, but thankfully this most recent session really got my blood pumping again. I eagerly await the ending few sessions of the series, in part because gaming on Mondays is takings its toll on me, but mostly because I really want to know what happens next. The beauty of running this game largely from the seat of my pants is that when it gets me, it really gets me, and I’m as eager to know the future as the players are. I’ll wait a few more sessions before I post things in detail, though.

I’ll end this post with a little idea: Iron Kingdoms, done with Warhammer FRP 3rd Edition. I think it would rock.

Footnotes

1 PS: thanks for the bitchin’ coat and hat, Luke. RIP
2 Tunnel Snakes rule! *shove*

“One Cool Thing” as an In-Game Reward Mechanic

I’m pretty sure this isn’t an original idea of mine by far, but I’ve never seen it written down as such, so I figured I would go ahead and do just that. I’d like to share with you a really simple procedural House Rule I’ve started using in the games I run, regardless of their core rules system. Really there are two house rules here that work hand in hand: “One Cool Thing” and “Bonus Points.”

At the beginning of every session I run, as a form of recap-and-reward, I go around the gaming table and ask each player to tell everyone about One Cool Thing they remember from the last session. Each time a player recounts a moment of the game that centered around one of the player characters,that character’s player gets a Bonus Point of some sort. I picture it kinda like the “Previously on…” montage at the beginning of most serial TV shows. It’s a way to reward awesome moments of game play while recharging the memories of the players, reconnecting them to the events of the previous session, and allowing that player-driven recount to kick-start the current session.

Bonus Points are nothing new: in-game mechanical rewards for being Awesome. Some games have similar points already in place, but many surprisingly don’t. What I do is set up a universal Bonus Point system, which can be applied to just about any game. Below are some examples of how I apply these Bonus Points in the games I’m currently running.

Shadowrun: Bonus Points in Shadowrun work as additional points of Edge, giving the character a few more uses of that oh-so-valuable attribute.

Savage Worlds: In Savage Worlds games, I implement Bonus Points as “super Bennies.” When used, a Bonus Point allows the player to re-roll the test dice, but instead of keeping the better of the two, the new results are added to the old results. Yes, all dice Ace as normal.

Burning Wheel: With Burning Wheel, the Bonus Points are obviously tied into Artha. If a player is called out only once during the One Cool Thing recounts, then they earn a Fate point. If they are called out twice or more, they earn a Persona. If there are four or more players and all of them unanimously agree on a single awesome memory of that player from the last game, then they earn a Deeds point.

D&D 4th Edition: A Bonus Point can be spent at any time to do any one of the following:

  1. Gain another Healing Surge
  2. Function as another Action Point
  3. Re-use an already-used Per-Encounter power

Regardless of system, there’s a catch to Bonus Points: they must be used before the end of the session! Don’t try to horder them up, as they vanish if left unspent.