Monday, June 30, 2008

Layer Cake: Shadowrun, Introduction

In any game, there is a kind of primary play loop. For example, in an RPG, the primary play loop is probably the combat. 99% of the parts of the game you can actually influence (equipment, treasure hunting, level-up specifics) is geared towards fighting. The other 1% is generally split between very simple story branching and making the girls wear bikinis.

These "high level" play loops nest the main play loop inside them. They make a level worth gaining because it has an effect on how well you fight. They make one sword better than another. They give the main play loop a kind of "bumpiness" that makes it more interesting in the long run.

Similarly, there are some loops that aren't player-related. The designers force you to, by fiat, stomp from plains to forest to beach to volcano in a specific order. Each place has new kinds of enemies - a new topology for the main play loop. This "designer fiat" method of changing things up is generally more severe than the ones that the player controls. The player's progress in his play loops can usually be easily controlled and predicted. He'll probably be level 8-12 here, he'll have someone that can do 100-150 damage, and he'll have the "AH! BIG SNAKE!" spell by then.

What I'm saying here is this...

1. There is a main play loop, usually combat. This is the "anchor" for the rest of the game: almost everything related to gameplay is eventually expressed on the main play loop.

2. To keep the main play loop interesting, it is important to vary the specifics - new enemies, new player abilities, new arrangements, new numbers.

3. There are three normal methods of varying the specifics. Carryover/attrition: making how much you win by important. Customization: giving you various options as to how to win (and making you stick to them at least a bit). And, lastly, variation: flat out changing things up however you see fit.

As you can see, the last option is the most extreme. In a game with no random encounters, that variation is basically The Game. Coming around a corner and finding four troopers standing near an exploding barrel... the next room has a giant demon dog chained to a big rock... a good designer will not only make the conflicts unique, but also control the pacing to keep the player interested.

And, of course, have it make sense. Sometimes.


I think that's shit.


In Shadowrun, at least in the way we used to play it, a big part of the game was that last loop. When your team planned a run, it wasn't like we see in computer games. There's no "Snake, now you need to run down to the reactor and flip it off." Instead, there's a group of 3-5 geeks analyzing everything they know and putting together a plan (and contingencies) on their own. We even scrapped a few runs because we couldn't get floor plans.

Obviously, we didn't just execute the plan. Nothing ever went quite as intended: the GM would frequently throw interesting monkey wrenches into our schemes, and we never had perfect data anyhow. Everything was at the allowance of the GM, since there is no rule saying he can't just dump and elder dragon on your head whenever he feels like it. But the point was that the GM, although he was allowed to do those things, didn't. Instead, he would use the plans, abuse the plans, make things really interesting while still giving the players a lot of agency.

In the course of a run, there would be combat, magic, hacking... all of the main play loops for the various characters. But instead of leaving the variability entirely up to the GM, it was iterative. The GM would give us a schema, we would produce a plan, the GM would resist with just the right amount of force, and then we would enter the main play loop with a topology that we built.

If we launched a diversion, there would be fewer guards. If we got someone on the inside helping us out, we'd have a big hacking advantage. If we dropped motion-sensing mines behind us, the GM would have to take that into account, make it do something interesting.


"That's not really possible in a computer game!"

Well, let's back up a minute.

It's possible in a tabletop game. Even in something as mass-market as D&D, this is common. It includes both tactical jockeying ("we jump in the river!") to social engineering ("I'm gonna seduce the 4000-year old witch queen!")

It's not usually quite as... detailed as Shadowrun's plans. But it's a lot of fun: I find that any game is better if you reward the players for thinking outside the dice.

Now, in computer games, tactical jockeying is already a fairly common thing. In an FPS, you'll frequently grenade choke points or leap off the roof to evade an incoming hovercraft. These are scripted in one-player games, but in competitive games, it's usually emergent. That is, there's nobody putting a missile launcher in front of you as a premonition that you'll be facing a tank around the corner.

Still, this low-level tactical jockeying is... well, I guess it's a good first step? It's not enough for me.

I really want to play a game where you play a badass... and you don't control him in combat. You play a Jedi, but you don't click to swing his light saber left, click to swing his light saber right. Ha, like you could ever do him justice! Let him get on with the saber-swinging!

You control the rest.

You control where he goes - on the battlefield, in the city, with the spaceship. You control who he meets, who he shares secrets with, who he trusts, who he doesn't...

You don't control "the plot". Any way you run it, there's the most recent Darth Vader clone at the end, staring across a glowing red spike and breathing menacingly.

You would control - partially - the progression.

Now, the difficulty here is pretty clear. Either you've got a hell of a lot of scripting to do, or you have to invent some kind of drama engine or something!

Well, actually, both, but let's take it slowly.

We're not looking for a drama engine. We're looking for a way to give the player more control over variations in the main play loop. In the case of the Jedi, there are several main play loops - sabering, politicking, mystical crap, adventure, and spacecraft stuff. This is similar to the way that many FPS games these days give you a sneak option, a hack option, and a kill-everything option.

Except, remember, we're not controlling our Jedi! Our main play loops are virtual. They don't actually exist. Our Jedi sabers without us, politicks without us, drives his space bus around without us. The computer doesn't even need to actually, physically simulate these things, since there's no player to enter moment-to-moment commands: it just has to show them.

Our actual main play loop is controlling his play loops. Our main play loop is trying to finesse him toward or away from sabering, politicking, adventuring... and, of course, changing his odds within whichever loop he finally has to use now. It never "gets out of our control", exactly: even when he's sabering, we're still adding our commentary as to the sorts of things he might, tactically, want to do. Like jumping off a cliff and into a passing speeder. Or surrendering.

If we approach this from a scripting perspective, it's a ridiculous idea! We'd have to script thousands of junctures for every combat, make them all interesting and balanced... aarrrrgh!

Nay, I say! Do not march down that path!

Instead, let's use tension pool mechanics!

I'll post on the specifics... soonish?

Friday, June 27, 2008

And Venn There Vas Vone

If you've been reading for a while, you may remember my analysis of Pandora and other internet radio things. The idea here is they allow you to like or dislike certain songs, and they'll feed you more of what you like. There are many applications for this kind of system: Amazon, MySpace, DeviantART - anything where there are a lot of people and a lot of content.

Pandora - and many others - handle this by clumping things into genres. Then they try to decide what genres you like or dislike, and whether a given song is good or bad within a genre.

That's a rotten way to do it. A) it's got a lot of overhead, B) it assumes all things fall into specific, pre-existing genres.

I spent a lot of time struggling to figure out a way to do it better. To do it using the power of other people's favorites. Today, here is an idea for a solution.


Let's say you're playing a MMOG like SecondLife. There's a lot of player content. You have two friends. One is a hardcore combat hog, player-killer extreme. The other is an RP sexaholic. You don't have much interest in either of those things.

They both use a lot of player generated content, but as you might suspect, there's not a ton of overlap. However, you notice that they both have really cool houses full of really cool knick-knacks. A lot of them by the same creators!

In SecondLife, you'd probably make note of the creators, then go and track down their shops or some such. In our game, the game already knows what the players like/have bought. It says, "Oh, you like that lamp? Both of your friends like that lamp. It's a genuine DeathKnight Bloodwine Lamp - here's his catalog. Other things both your friends like are..."

That example is taking something trivial and making it even more trivial, and it is also probably a bit... exposing. Let's take it to another level entirely.

You're playing in a game where players can create content. Not just hats and houses and dildos, but stories and adventures and NPCs and histories.

If you were to wander this universe, you would find a lot of really terrible content. It's the way the world works.

Lets say that, due to some staggeringly bad luck, the first thing you encounter is Harry Potter slash fic. You hurredly vote it down, and it vanishes.

The computer doesn't know that it's slash fic. It's not in a category as fanfiction or even porn (although it may be marked "adult").

Instead, the computer queries for everyone who liked it. Everyone who voted it up. And then, it looks at their shared favorites and bans the top most common from your sight. If 30 people liked what you're seeing now, and 16 of them also liked something over the next hill... you probably don't want to see it.

On the other hand, if you voted the slash fic up, it would have done the opposite, and that piece of content would now be flagged for your attention.

That's the basic idea.

So far, it's basically an inverted version of Amazon's method. But let's go a bit further.


What if you like fantasy adventures, but there's one you can't stand? You want the game to keep giving you fantasy adventures, just fewer shitty ones. Or fewer ones involving talking mascot characters. You hate mascot characters.

If you just follow the above algorithm, it will actually prefer to ban the GOOD ones, because they have more shared favorites.

If the system tries to ban something you've already favorited, it nullifies the whole thing and moves on to a quality-level analysis, which is something I don't think Amazon does:

Instead of pulling "people who like this thing I hate", you have to pull "people who hate this thing I hate and LIKE my favorites that the first level of analysis tried to ban."

From here you can't just ban shared dislikes, because they'll probably end up being that slash fic, which is no help. Instead, you have to limit your ban-stick specifically to things that were on the list for banning on the first level. Basically, you're still using that original list from the first analysis, you're just keeping the good stuff off the cutting board.



That's some tasty tasty algorithm, there!

Do you understand it? Obviously, it can be further optimized, but do you get the idea?

This is theoretically better than the current system used by Amazon, because although they use favorites, they sometimes get my awesome sub-genre preferences mixed up with some major genre preferences, and send me ads for crap I wouldn't buy for free. Banning it doesn't do much good...

With this method, it would quickly isolate the people who like my sub-genre but hate the major genre, just like me. It would be able to identify these emergent little sub-genres. For free. Instantly. Automatically.

We can also include an automated weighting schema. If your likes and dislikes tend to be very similar to another person's, and there are no clashes, then he'll be weighted as a more valuable measure of your favorites. If you two are precisely reversed, you'll automatically avoid his likes preferentially.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tension Pool Mechanics

A few posts ago, I mentioned tension pool mechanics. The idea is to strip away any rules even vaguely related to the task at hand so you can use rules for dramatic situations instead. This encourages players to use tactics that aren't directly combat related - for example, a valid "move" for a player could be that a random blind passerby stumbles into the fight and the warriors have to fight around him as he ambles randomly through the street. It has nothing to do with what the player's character can actually do during the fight: it's just cool.

Tension pool mechanics are a simple system I've used in several games, now. I find they work best in duel situations: while they could theoretically rebalance to allow for three or more players in the situation, I have not had to do so. Instead, I find that duels proceed so quickly (and entertainingly) that the sideline players are not bored, and the headlining player is encouraged by their attention to be ever more hilarious and interesting. Plus, if it's PvP, the players can fight each other without needing a big team or a GM.

The idea of a tension pool is that you can't really win a fight right off the bat. In a normal game of, say, D&D, you're doing damage right from the first round. To keep the combats long enough to be entertaining, this requires that everything have eight billion HP. It doesn't make any sense - and isn't very dramatic - that you have to hit a wolf four times with a sword in order to kill it, and it never really reacts to the damage in any kind of meaningful way.

Instead, an encounter with a wolf using tension pool mechanics would probably start with the wolf leaping for your throat. There would be some back-and-forth: the wolf springs around, you land glancing blows, but he gets inside your arc and is biting at your neck...

But all of this isn't done by rolling a d20, checking his AC, then looking to see how much damage your sword does. Instead, these moves are played and narrated, and tension is added (or, rarely, removed) from the pool. As more tension is added to the pool, moves have more effect.

If the wolf comes inside your reach right at the beginning, the turn would end with you battering him away, maybe with a few claw scratches. However, if you've been fighting for a while and the tension pool is high when the wolf comes in, that wolf might bite your wrist, disarming and wounding you. Such an action would reduce the tension pool.

To look at it from another example: two Jedi fight. The tension pool gets high. One Jedi uses a disarm card. Early in the fight, it would be a spinny, splashy piece of swordfighting. However, there's enough tension in there to spend it and actually disarm him: his saber goes spinning away. (Cutting off his hand is usually considered ending the duel, which is a bit more expensive.)

Now, however, the tension pool is much reduced! This means that the attacker cannot simply stab you and kill you, because there isn't enough tension. Instead, there will be desperate, flashy dodging and hand to hand as our disarmed hero tries to get enough breathing room to pull the saber back to his grip.

Obviously, bringing fingernails to a light saber fight is a losing proposition, and it is a rather desperate situation. But the point is that he is not simply slain. He has time to react, time to be interesting, maybe even time to get rescued or turn dark-side.

Even if he is outmaneuvered in terms of combat, he may still play cards that give him noncombat effects. He can, as mentioned, try to turn to the dark side. If he's clever, he'll play that blind guy walking through at this point. There are other options and resources he might think about using... it can be as deep or shallow as you please.


Tension pool can be used either with multi-purpose cards (does THIS and, at high tension, THIS, and THAT, if you can afford it) or it can be used with stepped cards (this can only be done at five or more tension).

It's possible to use multiple tension pools (one for each player, say), but I find this to be a bit pointless unless you're really looking to extend individual duels to more than twenty minutes of real time. For the vast majority of games, duels shouldn't take more than five minutes each.

Of course, tension pools are all about creating a level of drama rather than any kind of realism. Therefore, tension pools don't have to be about combat at all.

Imagine that we use the same rules, but apply them to a narrative. Instead of the GM coming up with all the narrative, the players and the GM "duel" over bits of the narrative using cards.

Here's a thought example:


The players are all from Assward Village, population 412. An evil wizard named Jim-Bob has set up shop near by. Jim-Bob the Thaumaturge has begun to poison the land and capture some of the villagers, so the players set out to take him down.

They play an "approach" card - they walk on over to Jim-Bob's Wizard's Tower Vertical Mobile Home and knock on the door. A token is added to the tension pool. If there had been a lot of tokens in the pool, they could have spent some to actually get inside the tower (entering a new phase of the story).

The GM plays a "monsters!" card. Because there's not much tension here, the monsters aren't really all that cool. A bunch of zombie ferns attack the players. If the game has combat details, there can be combat. Otherwise, you narrate the player's victory. Two tokens are added to the tension pool.

The players agree to play a "scale the walls!" card, which lets them get over various obstacles. There are no obstacles for them to get over. They played it just because it allows them to move forward a story phase by spending three tension.

So they scale the wall, climbing into Jim-Bob's Vertical Mobile Home. Phase two begins, the GM switches decks...


How complex this could get is arbitrary. While Jim-Bob is a rather simple threat, it is also quite possible to make the end boss ridiculously overpowered, and allow players to deal with lesser threats first, each of which reduces the end boss' power a bit. There are a lot of other, more story-fiat options.

Also, a good option would be to have a series of tiers: the gross tier ("approach the boss", "monsters attack") and one or more finer tiers (the actual fight, the journey through a now-dangerous forest). Every large-scale action involves dueling on smaller scales in order to actually get it done... and maybe build up some resources for later use.

The available options are limited only by cards and rules. How interesting it will be to play is largely a matter of how good you are at creating interesting card games.

A big factor here is longevity.

In most games, longevity is achieved through gaining levels, equipment, and so forth. In tension pool rules on combat, the same method can be used. However, with tension pool rules on story, you have to be a bit more clever.

The same basic mechanics will serve: the player needs to be able to change his deck, get new cards, and occasionally even gain a fundamental new power. This will give him enough to focus on so that he can have fun with the real fun part of the game: interacting with other players and the GM from various angles.

The iffy part is how to link that up emotionally, in the player's mind.

One way to do it is to make the player only partly his player character, and also partly something else. A concept. A god. A family. An ancestral spirit. A government. The sky is the limit, but you need to be careful to make sure it is emotionally involving.


Do you see what I'm talking about?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Conan! Review

Okay, here's the Conan review. Short version: I hate it. Less short version: totally typical MMORPG.

There are a few flaws in Conan. Let's work our way up to the killer ones, ignoring the standard fatal flaws of treadmills and high population density.


The smallest flaw is that everyone has more or less the same body type. While they were kind enough to let everyone set their physical parameters, the parameters are barely noticeable. For example, the women can be anything from a busty, skinny girl to a busty, slender girl.

They have a slider specifically for boobs... why does it only vary the boobs between C and F cups? They have a slider for arms... why does it vary the arms from geek to slightly fit? Whatever happened to muscular? The weird part is that the girls all have very strong shoulders, even though at their most powerful their arms barely fit the frame. Skinny magician girls look silly, with ten foot wide shoulders and boobs like cannons.

Giving players the ability to make unique characters is good, I agree. However, it's important to remember that people are going to be identified by their gross characteristics: we don't get many close-ups of other people in these games. Gross characteristics: that's body shape, color, and what they are wearing. Keeping to "preferred" levels of variation isn't going to help a whole lot. Everyone might as well just choose a haircut and a face, like in most other MMORPGs.


I have to say that Conan has the MOST balls-to-the-wall introduction stage of any game I've ever seen. Every single hero was kidnapped, memory wiped, stamped with a parasitic seal, and washed up on shore to be entangled in a plot involving armies and gods both.

EVERY SINGLE HERO? Tens of thousands of them?

Wow! That's kinda fucking daring, ain't it? It's instancing taken to the extreme, I guess.

I suppose it's Standard Operating Procedure, but... on such a scale. It's breathtaking. And dehumanizing. And RP-breaking. It's like they took one of my major hates - an unchanging world that you can't affect at all - and injected it directly into the pores of all I hold dear.

It's made worse by the fact that, as a MMORPG, this game is full of the other people at all times. Which makes no logical sense at all, since in "real life" it would take me about fifteen minutes to round up enough of us, say, "Hey, we've all been screwed over by this lady!" and then we'd all go off and kill her. It'd be about half an enemy for each of us.

There's definitely no sense of being at all special or interesting.


To me, aside from the endless treadmilling, the biggest flaw in the Conan game is this:

Where's the low fantasy?

A low fantasy setting is more than just torchlight and big-chinned men who are evidently completely immune to chafing. I mean, sure, that's a part of it.

But a low fantasy setting is more about being isolated with no resources. It's about bashing through challenges with low cunning, physical power, and a good deal of awesomely choreographed brutality.

At no point does Conan go up to Ye Old Armor Vendor and buy himself a better suit of armor. If he changes clothes, it's because the old ones were ripped off him by his last encounter, whether horrible monsters or adoring women (or adoring monsters and horrible women). As a matter of course, nobody wears heavy armor anyway, since metalcraft is primitive and the jungle is too fucking hot for that crap.

At no point does Conan walk over to Joe's Vendatorium and swap out his broadsword for a slightly shinier broadsword, handing over some coin. Conan spends coin on ale, women, and getting his ass robbed. He uses the same sword until it breaks. Then he uses his goddamn HANDS.

Conan does not collect discarded armor, and if he picks up his enemy's weapon, he'll drop it again once he's rammed it down someone's throat. He will happily collect tiger teeth and small gems... but he doesn't carry around five bowls of rat stew, eighteen jugs of mead, twelve stolen kilts, and a handful of dessicated hands.

Conan does not fight by swinging his sword left, then waiting a moment and swinging it right. He fights by cutting someone in half in one swing. If they survive, or block, or evade, he punches them, picks them up into the air, and crushes them like a tin can that won't be invented for three thousand years. If a fight lasts longer than three seconds, it had better be against something the size of a house or involve weird magic.

Instead of being true to the IP, Conan is a bog-standard MMORPG. Their feeble attempt to create "deep and interesting combat" by letting you swing in any of three directions is... well, um, a feeble attempt to create "deep and interesting combat". It doesn't work, even when you have to play Conan Says for combos. It's only vaguely more interesting than other games', and certainly not in true Conan style.

The continuous buying, selling, and upgrading of equipment is retarded. It's the antithesis of low fantasy.

This is the most severe flaw I could find that was not treadmilling. It was one that probably would have made me hate the game even if they removed the treadmilling.

Of course, if they got rid of the treadmill, this flaw would naturally vanish.

But what would you fill your player's time with, then?

Conan! Pre-Review

There's a new Conan MMORPG out, and I bought it. Tried it. Why I bought it and tried it requires some explanation before I even tell you the review...

I hate MMORPGs. The only ones I ever liked even a little are SecondLife (a long time ago) and Grenado Espada (what's it called here? Sword of the West or something...)

Despite my distaste for MMORPGs, I occasionally buy one and try it out, just so I can reassure myself that there has been no progress and I can still feel superior. Conan was this year's choice...

But... Conan's story has some uniqueness to it that maybe you'd like to know about.

First off, I'm just a big Conan fan. I like "low fantasy" settings, and there are very few, certainly almost none as good as Conan. It's interesting, a very unique feel.

Second, the weird reason: yes, I bought it because it has breasts in it.

I didn't buy it because I really wanted to see nipples. There are, after all, a few more efficient ways to do that. I bought it because of what nipples stand for.

In this industry, we have a million games featuring sexy, underdressed women. However, they are not usually there for any real, in-game reason... they are usually not terribly interested in the social dynamics of being terribly sexy, and if they were real people, they would assumedly be wearing something more comfortable and likely to keep them alive.

So, it can safely be said even by a non-woman like me that this practice is a poor one. It objectifies women for the sake of appealing to teenage male geeks.

SO, why do I buy games with nipples?

Not pornographic games, exactly. Just games that have nudity. Like Conan.

I feel that there are two reasons to support nudity in games. Two and a half reasons.

The first reason is that, so far, in every game with nipples that I've bought, it's actually added to immersion. There are nipples when it makes sense that there would be nipples. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Conan mythos, where lack of clothing is pretty much the standard for both sexes. It would be untrue to the IP to have everyone fully dressed all the time.

The second reason is that putting nipples in games is more than just a way to draw in teenagers. To tell you the truth, I bet it hurts sales a bit in the teenage audience, since mothers who read the label will clearly see "WARNING: NUDITY" in addition to all the other, less horrifying evils such as "BLOOD AND GORE" and "INTENSE VIOLENCE".

No, the point is that we're unable to put many things into games. Right now, we're stuck with pretty much four attributes to mix in: violence, cute, puzzle, and "adult themes". That last one means "sexy people that you can never date or kiss or otherwise be interested in".

I like the idea of moving in a direction where we can get past that. I don't like how we venerate violence and fear nudity, not simply because nudity is less likely to screw us up, but because nudity opens a gateway for games that are more about deep, personal interactions.

Right now, you cannot really get close to a character in a game. Classically, this is because computation couldn't support it, but now it's just inertia. These days, it's possible to do it well: see Mass Effect for examples. But so long as nipples and so forth are a big deal, you're very limited in the kinds of statements and situations you can use. A flash of nipple in cut scene is one step towards a game that includes real simulated romance instead of crippled, scripted romance. And by romance, I mean romance, not porn: the point is to get to a point where NOT having nudity is weird.

Anyway, I guess that reason really just boils down to "I hate censors and I want more nudity (more everything) in games!"

So I buy nippled games.

... Or maybe that's just justification...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Action in Games

I just got back, and I've got a lot of essays stored up. This one's on action in games.

If you're like me, you think that action in games is pathetic, even in action-oriented games. The eighteenth time I pull the head off a gorgon by doing extended fireball motions inherited from a game nearly two decades older... it gets dull.

Contrast it to this (which I stumbled across via this).

Now, there are games which can be quite cinematic in the fight sequences. Someone pointed out that Soul Calibre tends to be very slick. But I'm thinking about action sequences from the opposite direction. The feeling of the fight, the choreographic color, is what I'm looking for in this case. It really has nothing to do with the player's actual reflexes. It's more of an RPG kind of setup, I would think.

The idea here is to make a fight as much about being interesting as it is about killing people. This same basic dynamic could also be used for chases, dialog, computer hacking, dancing, extreme fly fishing... to make them less about the mechanics of the thing and more about the drama and choreography.


A fight is implemented as dozens of rules about timing and placement and so forth. Your skill as a fighter is determined by how well you can navigate those rules and defeat your enemy.

Any other system that was implemented would be, from the large view, the same basic idea: a bunch of rules that you navigate. The idea is that instead of trying to capture the rules of physical combat, we can try to capture the rules of interesting choreography and drama.

However, this change is not as skin deep as that makes it seem to be. The point is that in the old rules, you were navigating a closed space of action and reaction, trying to improve your situation while degrading your enemy's. In the drama method, the point is to do the same thing, but it's done by creatively interacting with the environment rather than by simple statistical wanking.

We obviously can't make the rules quite as "sword does 10 damage" as they were before. There needs to be some kind of... story abstraction. Some kind of procedure that lets you do creative things and get an advantage.

These rules are probably largely divorced from the fight itself. There is no reason that carving glowing holes in the wall with your light sabers gives you a physical advantage... but whoever comes up with the idea and plays it should be given an advantage. Because it's very cool.


Here is an example of play that might illustrate what I'm talking about. This is based on an imaginary card-based prototype. It's just a thought experiment. Let's use Jedi.

We control Ulruok, a just-knighted Jedi with a tendency for acrobatics.

The GM is currently controlling Veda, a powerful dark Jedi known for his ability to twist dark force into living things, but also known for his solid sabering skills.

Our characters do not have stats, per say. Ulruok doesn't have 10 strength or 15 sabering skill. He does, however, have notes - "trained in saber fighting", "blue light saber", "acrobatic", etc.

We have a slew of cards, as does the GM. They all have various actions on them, accessible if we have the right notes. The GM also negotiates an overall power difference: it's decided that we, as Ulruok, are at a distinct disadvantage against an older, more experienced swordfighter like Veda.

EDIT: If you're in a feed, you may miss a lot of text due to an aggressive HTML interpreter... better to read local, in this case.

The GM plays his initial card, "furious assault", which means that Veda is battering at our defenses already. The furious assault card reads:

Tension < 10: Add a tension token to the pool if player has any advantage over target. If player is even or at disadvantage, add two tokens to the pool and worsen player disadvantage one step.

Tension >= 10: Duel resolution in favor of advantaged character, player wins ties.

Well, we're getting pushed around, so we decide to play the "sidewall boundary" card, which is when we get into close, tight swordfighting that's mostly pushing against each other's sword. And we carve up the wall. The card reads:

Tension < 6: Add a tension token to the pool, the advantage between fighters shrinks one level. Optional: play a terrain collapse card.

Tension >= 6: Add two tension tokens to the pool, increase the advantage between fighters. Optional: play a terrain collapse card.

This means we've gone from a "significant disadvantage" to a "disadvantage". A bit more work, we might even make it up to "even"! We've got to move pretty quickly, though, because those tension tokens will start to add up and things will start getting serious. There's a "batter" card we know Veda can draw, and he can "spend" six tension tokens from the pot to destroy our lightsaber with it if he still has an advantage at that point...

As an added advantage to this style of play, we can have cards for actions that aren't feasible for a "real" combat played by players with reflexes. For example, seeing into the future, or having the power cut out, or so forth. These are not really things that can be easily put into a game where the rules for the fight actually have anything to do with the physical fight.

But with these other kinds of rules... very interesting things can happen...

Friday, June 06, 2008

I hate Epson

So, I stopped off at home to switch out my luggage. Kind of different climates, Ireland and Hawaii.

I print out an MBTA (bus) itinerary. For some reason, the web designers decided that their printable version should have color in it. Fools! It uses up the last of my blue!

So now I've got 3/4 full black cartridge, out of blue, warnings on the other colors.

I go to print out a text page full of my various hotels' contact info. No! You're out of ink! You can't print out something in black and white when you don't have blue!

No, you can't SCAN something when you're out of blue ink! Scanning takes blue ink, too!

This isn't a printer settings issue. The printer simply refuses to do ANYTHING when it's out of any kind of ink, regardless of the settings.

What the fuck is up with that? And at the worst possible time, too.

Oh, Hawaii was nice, by the way.

A lot nicer than Epson! Fuckers.