Monday, January 09, 2012

A game designed for web based play?

When RPGs were created there were some assumptions that were made. They'd be played around a table. Players would have paper and writing implements. You'd be playing with people you know.These weren't outlandish assumptions. They probably weren't even conscious.

These assumptions led to some very basic game design decisions. Players could roll dice as a randomizer - everyone around the table could see the results. If you needed to, you could record die rolls (or other things) on paper. You could include rules that depend on things like having a clockwise order around the table or knowing who the youngest player is.

Today, some of us play RPGs remotely over the internet, whether that is via Skype, G+ Hangout, or some other system. We've adapted around assumptions like the ones mentioned above. For our dice rolls, we might depend on trust and self-reporting - or we might use an online program that shows everyone's results. Instead of setting up miniatures on a table, we might use a shared online document or a virtual game table. Instead of proceeding in a clockwise order, we might establish an arbitrary order when needed.

We're playing games designed for a tabletop in another medium. We're adapting.

...but what if there were RPGs designed specifically for such a medium? RPGs designed to be played by people online who aren't all in the same location? I'm not talking about MMORPGs. I'm talking about something analogous to a tabletop RPG. Something flexible. What would such an RPG look like?

I think we could fairly safely assume that it wouldn't have dice. If it has a randomizer at all, there'd be no reason to limit it to the number of choices governed by the size of physical dice.

That's a fairly trivial difference, though, all things considered. I think an online-play rpg could be a very different sort of game.

What do you think such a game would look like?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Dwarves of Kor

In the new game I'm running, Dwarves are weird.
Before the refugees settled in Kor, they had no idea how weird.
First off, the dwarves who headed to the surface were all young. Dwarves in Kor will live nearly a thousand years. Typically, dwarves spend their young adulthood either in the military, in an apprenticeship, or as an entrepreneur. Adventurers fall into this last category.
Second, at about 300 years (give or take a century), dwarves begin growing two fleshy appendages on their cheeks to either side of their nose. These limply hang down into a dwarf's beard. Covered with hair, they could easily be missed from a distance. Dwarves say these organs allow them to "taste" metal and minerals from a distance. When already-skilled smiths grow their whiskers, they can become nearly legendary in their abilities. (As a side note, these "whiskers" are erogenous zones. Some scandalous dwarves shave them. Calling someone a "metal-taster" is a comment on their sexual promiscuity.)
Third, despite the famous dwarven work ethic, many older dwarves don't seem to actually do anything. Rumour has it that the pillars are filled with chambers in which 800 year old dwarves sit, staring at walls. This might be an exaggeration, but older dwarves often move and react slowly, and it is not unknown for one to sit down at a table in a tavern and stay there, unmoving, for days. Other dwarves don't seem to bat an eye at this (and the tavern keeper will happily close up the tavern around his immobile guest) - indeed, they seem to show deference to such dwarves. Either not all older dwarves have this tendency, or it might come and go. Possibly both.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Kor, Dwarfhome

As mentioned previously, I recently started running a new Pathfinder game. It is set in Kor, an enormous, ancient Dwarven city-state.

Kor means "home" in Dwarven.
Kor is more than a city. It is nearly a nation into itself. The Open Market - where dwarves trade with outsiders - is itself larger than most human cities were... and it only occupies a corner of the floor of the enormous cavern that is Kor.
Depending upon how you look at it, Kor has either three or twelve main sections. The cavern is dominated by twelve enormous pillars - formed where giant stalagmites and stalactites merged. Each of these is owned by one of the twelve Great Clans. Within the high city, each of the pillars is capped by a huge keep. The pillars themselves are filled with passages and chambers and have structures built upon them. They serve as the homes for many of those in one of the twelve clans. The outside of a pillar might be covered with shops, artisans' studios, cafes, and taverns run by those in the clans.
Those outside of the clans live in the Low and Middle cities.
  • The Low City: This comprises the floor of the cavern. It is home to most of Kor's large industry and the aforementioned Open Market. The Low City is loud and busy. Successful merchants and crafters may have private estates in the east, closer to the polyp farms. The western and northern parts of the Low City tend to be less desirable real estate.
  • The Middle City: This is a series of walkways and platforms that cover much of the height of the cavern. They have accumulated haphazardly over time (probably expanding out from the pillars). Now, the roads of the Middle City connect pillars, stalagmites, stalactites, and dwarf-made towers. Some areas of the cavern are much more built up than others. The Middle City has, historically, been where younger dwarvenfolk proved themselves. It has also been a center of criminal activity. Currently, many refugees live there in makeshift structures (often made of canvas).
  • The High City: This is carved into the roof of the cavern itself. There are few large buildings in the high city other than the great keeps, the Forum, and the Throne Hall (though these are all monumental in scope - the smallest of them being the size of a respectable surface
    town). The few outsiders who have been to it have found it stark and somber, but dwarves tend to find it peaceful and beautiful.
The PCs in the game I'm running aren't dwarves. They are members of the aforementioned refugee class - most of whom are humans.

Seventeen years ago, the sky went dark. The surface became uninhabitable and nearly devoid of life. Horrors came out from the dark corners of the world to which they had been banished.

Some few surface dwellers took shelter where they could. Kor was one of the places they were welcomed. Still, the dwarven society changes slowly... and it was not built to accomodate a sizeable minority of non-dwarves.

The game is going to focus on political intrigue, mystery, prejudice, and destiny... with a healthy dose of high weirdness.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year, New (for me) Game: Discovering Pathfinder

I'm late to the party, but I recently discovered that Pathfinder is pretty cool.

Back in November, I picked up a few of the core Pathfinder books. I hadn't really looked at the game since the early days of the open playtesting/beta/whatever.

I was impressed.

Pathfinder isn't D&D 3.5. I think I assumed it would be D&D with the numbers filed off, a few rules tweaks, and some rebalancing. It could be described like that, but I feel like it is really its own game insofar as it has a different design philosophy than 3.5 did.

D&D 3.5 was all about the expansion of options. Obscure new feats, prestige classes, and other rule subsystems created a tone that encouraged players to scout out strangeness. The rules encouraged players to multiclass, play unusual races, and otherwise seek out "cool stuff" from fringe supplements.

Pathfinder is all about making the core PC options cool. Base classes are not only filled out so that there aren't any "dead levels" at which the class doesn't give you any benefits, but they also gain powerful capstone abilities at 20th level. The new favored class rules (choose any class as a favored class at level one... gain +1 hp or skill level - or another bonus based on your race/class combo - each time you take a level in that class) encourage you to stay single-classed. The class archetypes in the Advanced Player's Guide allow you to tweak base class abilities to fit your character concept.

I think the class archetypes are one of my favorite features. For instance, there are Bard archetypes that swap out the Bard's performance abilities for themed abilities. Some of these are subtle: the Court Bard gains abilities that are little more than tweaks of standard Bard abilities. Others are complete class rewrites: the Arcane Duelist swaps out performance for abilities that magically enhance her combat abilities. Some archetypes essentially replicate base classes in 3.5: the Sandman removes Bard performance abilities and replaces them with spell-stealing and a bit of sneak attack (basically recreating the Spellthief).

A big part of what I like about Pathfinder's approach is that it uses carrots rather than sticks. Players aren't punished for making choices that the game designers don't want them to make. Instead they are rewarded for making choices that are deemed desirable. The favored class rules are an obvious example of this. Class skills are another. You can learn cross-class skills to your heart's content in Pathfinder. They don't cost any more than class skills. They don't have a lower max rank. Instead, if you take a single rank in a class skill, you get a +3 in it. As a result, PCs tend to have at least one rank in each class skill. Another stick-removal: nothing has XP costs. If you buy an item creation feat, you aren't penalized for using it. Why would you be?

Pathfinder doesn't really address my biggest gripe about D&D 3.5 - that it is all about the next level and the eventual build - except by trying to make PCs a bit more interesting at lower levels (primarily via more feats and more little, colorful abilities). Is that enough? Maybe. Is it better than 3.5 - a game that I enjoy despite its flaws? Yeah.

I think that's the appeal here. I like D&D 3.5, and Pathfinder incorporates all those things I like about it and improves on them.

I've started running a Pathfinder campaign. Follow-up post on that is coming soon.