Monday, January 30, 2006

Answering Troy Costisick's Power 19 for Troll Slayer

Please see "What are the 'Power 19' ? pt 1" and What are the 'Power 19' ? pt 2 for the source and discussion of this exercise.

EDIT: Please see this thread on the Forge which has some newer comments, but please direct comments back here rather than resurrecting the old Forge thread (or open a new thread on the Forge).

I've highlighted some questions and comments in italics. I've asked a ton of questions, so what I may do is start new threads to continue discussion on questions people seem most interested in discussing with me.

1. What is your game about?**

Troll Slayer is a sword and sorcery fantasy game about a group of characters who seek fame and fortune by traipsing off into the wilds and slaying trolls, dragons, and other enemies of civilization and taking their treasure.

2. What do the characters do?**

The characters are warriors or spell casters who fight creatures and acquire treasure and experience.

3. What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?**

Each player creates one character, controls it during the game, and makes decisions on how to advance her and spend her treasure share. The player’s characters will act as a team in responding to the challenges the GM presents. The GM is responsible for presenting opposition to the characters and controlling their actions in the game. The GM will present challenges by drawing a tactical map on a battle board and indicating the characters starting position. The GM also determines the rewards of experience and treasure. In presenting the opposition, the GM will create a situation that the players will respond to. The GM is most responsible, but the players also have responsibility, for providing color and background that tie the combats into something that brings the game beyond a war-game.

Here's one area where I'm not clear how to communicate in a reasonable amount of words what players actually do. Or do these questions need much bigger answers?

4. How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

The game has an implied sword and sorcery setting with untamed wilds dominated by goblins, trolls, and fell creatures. The setting provides opportunities for the player’s characters to kill creatures and take their treasure. Brief trips to civilization give the players opportunity to convert their treasure into useful magic items.

Another area, I'm not sure how to really describe the implied setting, which is more or less a D&D style sword and sorcery fantasy setting

5. How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

The character creation focuses on the combat abilities of the characters (weapons or magic). Characters have attributes and skills. The attributes help distinguish the characters (one warrior might be strong and clumsy, while another is weaker but more dexterous, spell casters can chose a balance between fighting ability and casting ability). Race and some secondary abilities also provide distinction (for example, lizard men can move in swamps without problems, which might allow them to gain a tactical advantage, elves don’t need as much sleep and can see at night, dwarves can see at night or underground and resist magic).

I think this is an area where I've got a real clear idea how things fit together

6. What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

The game rewards tactical and strategic thinking about combat effectiveness. The game avoids leading players into favoring talk over action, at least as a primary method of addressing challenge.

I think I'm clear on this one, but articulating it may need help

7. How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

Winning a fight results in a reward of experience and treasure.

8. How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

Each player declares the actions for his character with the GM declaring the actions of the opposition (and any NPCs aiding the PCs). The GM is responsible for driving the negotiation to resolve conflicts of declaration. After the dice hit the table, the GM is responsible for confirming the results (though a player who rolls really well should be allowed to describe his attack – with the caveat that his narration should not conflict with the actual result – for example, it is perfectly reasonable after rolling really well to describe the opponent slipping in the mud, of course in the end, the blow might barely damage the opponent, so narrating severing the opponent’s neck is likely to end in disappointment).

Another one that could use some crisping up. Just thinking about it, perhaps some actual guidelines on when a player can narrate their really good (or really poor) roll. As a GM I often narrate something when an NPC rolls a 90 or better or an 09 or worse, the players should have that opportunity also, but since such a good (or poor) roll doesn't guarantee an effect (it depends on the actual abilities of the opposition), the narration needs to be made with care (I often narrate that the PC slipped when an NPC rolls a 90 or better - but just because the PC slipped doesn't actually mean the NPC is able to do much to the PC).

9. What does your game do to command the players’ attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

Combats are changing tactical situations that reward players for seizing opportunities.

This is the key thing that needs to be visible in the combat system, but the bit about what ties the combats together is also important

10. What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

The resolution mechanic uses a normal distribution chart to convert a die roll into a positive or negative modifier that is added to an attack rating and compared to a defense rating. The chart is open ended, and exceeding the defense rating by a large margin results in additional damage (also open ended). Characters have hit points that increase with advancement.

The resolution system, while really cool, of course is somewhat tricky to describe. I posted a description here. I would welcome more comments in that thread (perhaps indicate that you have done so here since that thread is long gone from the front page of the blog). I would entertain ideas about a different mechanic, but the mathematical beauty of the normal distribution is hard to pass up (and my experience with Cold Iron play suggests it actually works, and feels good - and once people get used to the system, really isn't that hard).

11. How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

The open ended bell curve makes the unexpected possible, but consistently rewards players who seize tactical advantage.

That answer seems weak...

12. Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

Characters advance with experience, increasing their hit points, attributes, and skills. Warriors gain some additional abilities, and spell casters gain access to better spells. The characters also gain more treasure.

One thing I certainly want to question is if the spell casters get cool new spells, what do the warriors get? In one way, I like D&D 3e's feats, but I also realized they are part of what made NPC prep so difficult. I think it's important that the advancement not be purely better numbers. Of course the magic items bought with treasure give even the warrior increased access to the cool spells.

13. How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

These advancements allow the characters to face more and tougher opposition, and increase the tactical choices. The treasure system especially provides a strategic element.

I find it hard to separate 12 and 13, which I guess may be good because a cool mechanic is meaningless if it doesn't reinforce the game. Improving my understanding of reward cycles is definitely the greatest thing I have learned in the past couple years of my Forge and blogging involvement.

14. What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

Players should revel in success, whether due to brilliant tactics, or just a run of good luck.

Another weak response.

15. What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

So this is one I'm stuck on. Hmm, interesting, 14 and 15 don't have any commentary in part 2.

16. Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

What excites me most about the game is the way the treasure economy and advancement work together to provide a real strategic element that drives the focus on the tactical situations. Additionally, the magic system, which focuses most on supporting the warriors, but is critical so players of either type of character continue to feel relevant. I’m also excited about the relative simplicity of creating NPCs and the resulting modest preparation time on the GM’s part.

17. Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

The treasure economics work in conjunction with the combat system to make the continual advancement of the characters more sustainable. The tight focus on combat also avoids the confusion many combat focused games suffer when they introduce non-combat focused character options.

I need to refine this and the previous answer, but I think I'm pretty clear on what I like about Cold Iron, and therefore what I intend to focus on and refine in Troll Slayer in the process of producing a complete game that actually represents what I want to play.

18. What are your publishing goals for your game?

My goal is to have a game that I can publish that embodies some of the cool things I discovered about Mark Christiansen’s Cold Iron game which has never been published.

19. Who is your target audience?

Players looking for a solid wargamey tactical and strategic RPG that celebrates a combat (or dare I say “hack and slash”) play style. And more directly, players who might be interested in gaming with me. My desire to publish Troll Slayer is to satisfy me, and in doing so, I hope it is a coherent design that will also be attractive to others.

I'm also struggling some with just how to break Troll Slayer off from Cold Iron. Do I really want to commit to starting completely from scratch? Some of the mechanical elements of Cold Iron work really well, but some of the glue between them is just flour and water paste.

Thanks for your attention and any feedback you can give me, especially if you can help me with any of the troublesome areas (but feedback on where I think my thoughts are clear is also valuable, either in the form of pats on the back, or constructive criticism because I'm not communicating or I'm screwed up).



Troy_Costisick said...

Heya Frank,

I'll be happy to critique your answers to the Power 19. If you like I can do that here or over at the Forge's Indie Design board. Tell me where you'd like me to do that, and I'll make a post after I've given your game some more thought.



Frank said...

I'm thinking it may be best to work here for a while, until I have a solid idea that I am making my game, and not just re-writing Cold Iron. There's a lot of good to be taken from Cold Iron, but I should be taking it as ideas, and not complete mechanics.

I'm slowly coming round to realizing that just continuing to tweak Cold Iron isn't getting me to a settled game, I need to go back to first principles, and decide what I want the game to do (which the Power 19 is an execllent start) and create mechanics to support that vision (and borrow from Cold Iron, not because it's Cold Iron, but because that specific mechanic, or a minor variation of it, is perfect for my needs).

Now, with your response to my quesiton on your blog about #14 and #15, I think my answer to #14 is a good start.

For #15:

I envision the color supporting tactical and strategic choices by providing a variety of viable choices at each stage of play. There shouldn't be a single best allotment of attribute points in character design. Several different combat styles/weapon choices should be viable. There should be a variety of spells that create tactical options. Character design choices and what magic items to buy are strategic choices that feed the tactical situations. The bestiary should concentrate on providing a variety of tactical challenges (rather than trying to make sure each ecological niche is represented).

Hm, where would one answer what is the expected play cycle (one session, a few sessions, until the characters reach "20th level", or indefinite play)? That could be part of #3, but perhaps it deserves it's own answer.

In any case, my answer is that Troll Slayer does not have a definite end goal, but it should not create a feeling that it must be played "forever." The game should have intermediate goals that allow players to feel satisfaction and end the game when it's right for them. The game should also support somewhat open ended play.

On the other hand, perhaps it's worthwhile to consider a real end goal. The reality is that almost no gamers play indefinitely. I'd guess most games started with some intention to be indefinite last between 6 months and two years.


Troy_Costisick said...


Hm, where would one answer what is the expected play cycle (one session, a few sessions, until the characters reach "20th level", or indefinite play)? That could be part of #3, but perhaps it deserves it's own answer.

Very astute. The Power 19 do no cover Reward Cycles, just Rewards. It is something you'll have to develop on your own.

On the other hand, perhaps it's worthwhile to consider a real end goal. The reality is that almost no gamers play indefinitely. I'd guess most games started with some intention to be indefinite last between 6 months and two years.

I'm becoming a real fan of Endgames. But having an end game doesn't mean play stops before everyone is done having fun. The endgame brings a close to the story to everyone's satisfaction. That's why, as a designer, it's good for you to set up the structure of the Endgame but let the players define exactly it is for themselves. This way if they want to play two years before ending it, they may.

I'm slowly coming round to realizing that just continuing to tweak Cold Iron isn't getting me to a settled game, I need to go back to first principles, and decide what I want the game to do (which the Power 19 is an execllent start)

Yes, exactly! I recomend writing up an Actual Play report either here at yoru blog or on the Forge and discuss exactly what parts of Cold Iron you like and what parts you don't Your design should come out of your play experience, so it's best to start with that.



Frank said...

Yea, there definitely are other systems with table lookups. Fudge even provides a table lookup option if you don't want to use Fudge dice.

One nice thing is that tables can be tweaked if desired. I wouldn't tweak a clean mathematical function like the normal distribution, but a table that isn't based on a function can easily be tweaked (perhaps you want to make it lopsided - actually, that's something that could be done with the normal distribution in a couple ways, one would be to use different standard deviations for the positive and negative halves, another would be to make the center not be +0).