Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Evaluating RPGs

EDIT: Tyson J. Hayes, not Jeff Carlsen, wrote the article in question. Sorry, guys.

Jeff Carlsen over at Apathy Games posted this article, which I found insightful. The point I was most excited by is that there's no agreed upon metric for RPG analysis; I also understand that everyone is out there trying to create their own experience, but once you have two thousand pretty intelligent pudgy white guys talking about the relative merits of their opinions you tend to get into trouble.

So how do we evaluate gaming in a way that we can objectively score?

Obviously, there are some things that are NOT shared by all groups:
  • Fun: I always have fun with my games, but the kind of fun I have is different from what other groups are doing. We can safely count out "how much fun did you have" as a quantitative measurement of a game's worth.
  • Roleplaying: Again, different groups get into this in different ways. We shouldn't slam a system for our own inability to roleplay - grognards, I am looking at you.
Then there are things we can evaluate based on a shared experience. As a control group, I suggested using some of the Pinnacle pregens with Pinnacle one-sheet adventures. Now we can start to look at things like:
  • Do the pregens have the ability to get through the adventure? I know for one I'm always alarmed when there's not a single character with more than a d6 in combat skills. Call me crazy, but I like the tactical element myself; even if you aren't so into combat, you have to concede it's more fun to win a fight on the tabletop than to lose.
  • Is the system an impediment to the story? This is a tricky one but I think it's worth mentioning. If you spend so much time looking up the rules that you forget what you're doing, then either the adventure needs work (calling up a bunch of esoteric seldom-used rules as it does) or it's not meant for the system.
  • Is the story any good? Does it have a beginning, middle, and end; does it have a clear villain; does it have a clear reason for the PCs to be involved; does it change the world of the game in some way? As a player, I want to feel like my character matters. Some of these ideas go into my own bias about how world and adventures should be constructed, so I'm open to feedback.
  • Is there a reason to drive forward? What's keeping the PCs from throwing up their hands and saying "nope, this can't be done?" What is at stake?
I think these are some of the ways we can evaluate a story, if not a game. This may lead, ultimately, to better stories, which should lead to better gaming experiences.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I just finished watching "Survival of the Dead," George Romero's latest effort. And I invented a drinking game to go along with it:

Every time there's an unresolved plot hook, take a drink!

Like most drinking games, it's designed to get you fucked up as expeditiously as possible.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What a Twist!

I've been working on a project for a while now, and I have had a thought that might make it more interesting and cinematic.

Here's where the thought came from: I hate the Adventure Deck. Hate it, hate it, hate it. It's ridiculous, game-breaking, and often runs my story off the rails. However, I do like the idea behind it, of mixing the game up and giving the players some more control.

So I thought, why not give it to the GM?

And then I thought, why not let the players choose when it gets used?

So I'm toying with the idea of a Twist Deck. The Twist Deck is a deck of cards the GM has which can be used by the players for risks and rewards. Currently, the idea is if a player spends a benny and the reroll succeeds with a raise, the player can keep the benny if she draws from the Twist Deck. The Deck would be different based on the game you're playing, but here's an example for Swarm on the Somme, a World War One-meets-Aliens campaign I've been working on with my brother.

Achtung!: A squad of German soldiers equal in force to the player characters plus allies shows up on the battlefield. Roll to determine their reaction.
How Could This Get Worse: An NPC ally is infected with alien larvae, which will later burst out of the poor sod at the worst possible time.
Fire!: A fire breaks out on the battlefield! It starts as 1d6 Small Burst Templates placed randomly. Check to see if they spread each round.
Gas! Gas!: Chlorine or mustard gas drifts onto the battlefield. It's a Medium Burst template that moves 1d8" randomly at the top of the round.
They Just Keep Coming!: A band of eight Drones, led by a Soldier, pour onto the field.
Heavy Rain: A rainstorm starts, reducing visibility to 6" for humans and 3" for most Bugs. Flying drones are grounded and gas is useless.
Stash: What luck! A cache of 1d10 potato mashers (German trenches), Mills bombs (British trenches), or rifle grenades (French trenches) is somewhere on the field.
Take It To The Maxim: A single Maxim gun is somewhere on the field. It is fully loaded and ready to fire.
Bad Luck: The GM gains a benny!
Tougher Than It Looks: One of the Swarm is promoted to a Wild Card instantly.
Out of Ammo: Damn this rationing! All allied Extras have their Ammunition reduced by one level.

There would be probably 3 of each of the "bad" cards and 2 of each "good" card, but you get the idea - plenty of options for making the battle more interesting and upping the stakes.