Nathanael Cole / Alliterated Games

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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.

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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.

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“Sufficiently Advanced” – an Apocalypse World Hack

An old, old idea of mine came back to me all of a sudden today, and now that I revisit it, I think it’s perfect for an Apocalypse World hack:

In countless numbers, the husks hang in the silent darkness of the space left behind after all the stars died. They slowly crumble into the void, keeping one another company as all that is left of the universe decays around them. A seemingly endless mass of these once-great arks and flagships house a seemingly endless number of isolated tribes, descendants of the crews and occupants that once piloted them, generations ago.

Yours is one such tribe. Your people have grown up knowing nothing but the ship and its stories. Maybe old Creakbones knows the stories that came before, or even that there was a before. Maybe you’re in contact with the tribe on that husk that you can just barely see from your remaining portholes, illuminated by the farthest reaches of your home’s fading lights. Maybe you’re one of the lucky tribes that has kept its hoppers in some semblance of function, and you can even get to that other husk. Maybe, just maybe, your own husk can still move, too.

But water is running low, and the graskevyns are pounding at the airlock. The ancestral leader has just died without an heir. Puddles of something oily and orange are bubbling from Below, and touching it makes your pee burn. The air got thinner and slimy in the old houses so you had to seal them up forever. Another husk is on a slow but certain collision course with yours, and you have no way to escape. And from the Place Beyond the Dark, It is calling your name and it’s getting louder and your skin is starting to flake on your thighs and you feel like you’re going to throw up but you haven’t eaten in days and ohmigodit’scomingrun…

Sufficiently Advanced is an Apocalypse World hack which takes place after the end of the universe. Empires have risen, warred, and destroyed each other, leaving behind nothing but a seemingly-infinite graveyard of spaceships, all floating near each other in the void. Generations of people have grown and died in these ships, the last remnants of the people who once occupied them.

Very heavily inspired by the movies Pandorum, Event Horizon, Screamers, and Serenity, this game uses most of the Apocalypse World rules as they are written. A few of the playbooks will be tweaked, and I think the Chopper won’t work at all. New ones would fit in well, one based on scavenging, one based on space-walking (and void madness), maybe more. Maybe some new Moves involving using and/or deciphering old tech.

I think I’m gonna take a break from the usual course of things and work on this one some more tonight.

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Man, Gaming is Pretty Darn Good Right Now

I’m in something of a High Nirvana era of personal gaming enjoyment. I feel that there are more awesome gaming opportunities around me than ever before in my life. Tabletop, Video, Design, it’s a veritable cornucopia of exciting play. Let’s review!

As far as my table-topping goes, I’m in the middle of at least two games, with two more on the horizon. First is my Old School Palladium Fantasy sandbox game, which has had four gatherings so far and seems to be maintaining everyone’s excitement pretty nicely. This game is really doing a good job of reinvigorating me, both as an arbiter of events and as a creator of spontaneous content. I haven’t run this seat-of-the-pants in a long, long time, and it is quite simply titillating my gamer imagination. I go into each session with a mental picture of all the events happening in the world within a 20-mile radius of where the characters are, and as they move around, those events progress of their own accord. So far, the players have managed to hit up most of them quite nicely, and get themselves directly involved of their own volition. It’s wonderful. Read More »

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Palladium Fantasy Character Sheets, 1st Edition

I have no effing clue why these sheets are so damn impossible to find online. I looked pretty much everywhere I could think of looking, but could only ever find the 2nd Edition sheets. So I took the time to scan the ones out of my own actual print copy of Adventures on the High Seas, and after compiling them I have uploaded them here for you to use.

Download away!

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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.

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