I’ll be moving further discussion to this URL. Thanks for all the input so far.
I want to start the specific design of this game with a core mechanic. If you’ve read my design document, you’ll know that I intend on using a four-sided die as the core of the system. There are some challenges in such a thing, so I’m going to explore these publicly and solicit thoughts.
1) Consistency. A single die makes for a simpler system.
2) Aesthetic. The four-sided die fits in with the basic design scheme.
3) Identity. I can’t name a game system that really owns the four-sided die.
I like the idea of using the four-sided die. It’s simple, it uses numbers that are easy to visualize. It also keeps the four motif in the front of your mind, even when you’re moderating combats.
1) Limitations. Everything would [probably] be based around 25/50/75% chances.
2) Inaccessibility. The game would require a die that not everyone would necessarily own.
I’m not thrilled with the limitation issue. I think I want to go for something beyond just simple, traditional die-rolling systems. 1d4+5 doesn’t really engage me. It might have its place, but I think I want to try something different.
A struggle is core to the system. It’s about the fucking apocalypse. So struggle is part of the rules. So less tit-for-tat than most systems, we’re going to focus on the progression of the struggle.
There are four major traits to the game. I’m not sure what these will be yet, but run with me. Those four traits get expendable points. Expendable points will be per “scene” or “encounter.” Your character’s focus determines how many of said points the player has available. Hypothetically, we’ll say there’s a “PHYSICAL” trait.
Two characters get into a physical struggle. Their swords clash, they each are trying to overpower the other to score the hit. Markus has a lot of power behind his blows, he has a three in PHYSICAL. Dina is accomplished, but could be better. She has a two in PHYSICAL.
We’ll say the PHYSICAL trait is 2 of 4. So the magic number for these challenges is 2. This is a contest, so we’ll say that hypothetically, the challenge takes three wins to be dominate the challenge.
So here’s the flow. I’ll interject permutations as the challenge continues. Those will be in bold.
The narrative gets heated. Diplomatic solutions are thrown to the winds. Their swords meet. Markus and Dina face off. Each player rolls a die. Markus gets a 3, Dina gets a 1. Neither hit the target number, the magic 2 for physical challenges.
That’s not the end of the world though. Markus has points to spare. He calls on his personal power. He antes up. By anteing up, he throws in a point of PHYSICAL. This allows for a reroll. He gets a 2. No good for Dina. But she’s confident. Since he hit his target, he doesn’t lose his PHYSICAL point.
Markus and Dina’s swords meet. They clash loudly against one another. The two are face to face, both accomplished warriors. They stand briefly in a lock, and Markus makes his move. He pushes forward with all his might, gaining headway and pressing Dina towards the ground.
Both players roll. Markus gets a 4, Dina gets a 2. Good for Dina. Markus can’t lose his advantage though, so he decides to ante up again. He risks a point of PHYSICAL. He rerolls, and gets a 1. He could risk another point and ante up again, but he chooses to let it slide for now. He’s down one point of PHYSICAL, and both he and Dina have one win. They both have two PHYSICAL points.
Dina won’t have it. She won’t die on her knees. She turns to the side, letting Markus’s sword fall as she stands defensively again.
Both roll. Markus gets a 2, Dina gets a 2. Both have two points of PHYSICAL, so they choose to not ante up; it’s not worth the risk. Since they tied, neither is considered to win this challenge. If one chose to ante up, if he/she won, he/she would win that challenge. Either could choose to seize the edge. Seizing the edge only happens during a tie. A player spends a point of the trait. If the other player doesn’t do the same, he wins the challenge. If she does, then they remain tied for the turn. This gives an edge to the player with more of a trait. Since both are tied right now, it’s not strategically sound. Both still have two PHYSICAL traits.
The two stand off. Both feint forward, but are conservative in their tactics. They return to their original position, sword against sword.
Markus rolls 1, Dina 3. Both decide to ante up. Markus gets another 1, Dina gets a 4. They both fail this turn. They both choose to not ante up again this turn.
The two take swings at one another, sidestepping at the same time. Both miss, both face off again.
Markus rolls 2, Dina rolls 4. Dina can’t afford to risk it, so she lets him have this turn. Markus has two wins. Dina has one. One more win, Dina’s lost.
Markus swipes at Dina. She sidesteps and tries to leverage her own sword. But Markus tricked her, lining her up to kick her to the ground. He raises his sword high.
Markus gets a 1, Dina gets a 1 as well. Markus antes up, so does Dina. Markus gets a 3, Dina gets a 2. Things are back to tied, 2 wins each. But Markus has 1 PHYSICAL trait, Dina still has 2.
He swings downward, Dina rolls to the side. While Markus’s sword is planted into the ground, Dine comes up with the pommel of her weapon to his face. He pulls the sword from the ground, grunting.
Markus gets a 2, Dina gets a 2. Dina is well-served by seizing the edge. She spends a PHYSICAL. Markus has to spend one as well, lest he lose the fight. So now, he has no PHYSICAL left, Dina has one. Both have two wins.
Dina moves in for the kill. While he’s reeling from the face smash, she swings wide to behead. He steps back, jabbing forward. Both graze one another. Both reel from the wounds.
Markus gets a 2, Dina gets a 1. Dina can’t let him win now. She antes up, and rolls a 2. The two are even. Neither have PHYSICAL traits left.
The two force forward, smashing blades together again. The both fall back from the shock, both are fatigued and on their last limbs. They move into offensive stances.
Markus gets another 1, Dina gets a 2. Neither have options available for rerolls. The challenge concludes here.
Markus charges headfirst into the attack. Dina lowers her center of balance, and thrusts her sword upwards. She plants it square in Markus’s abdomen, lifting him from the ground. She takes a deep breath, plants her foot on him, and pushes him off her blade. She’s emerged victorious.
How’s that for a core mechanic in rough form?
First, did you do the survey? If not, you should go do that.
Greek is such an evocative language, at least visually. Here are the four horsemen, in Greek. It’ll give me something to refer back to while I’m writing.
Conquest. The White Horse. Carrier of the Bow and Crown.
War. The Red Horse. Carrier of the Sword.
Famine. The Black Horse. Carrier of the Balance.
Death. The Pale Horse. Carrier of the Scythe.
Tomorrow (or later tonight, depending on my mood,) more on the design process. I’m creating and digesting a core mechanic. We’ll discuss how that’s evolving.
When I design a game, or even write for a game, I typically write a brief design document that details what I’m trying to accomplish. Then, if I’m struggling between choices later on, I refer back to it. I try to make the choice that best compliments the original design thoughts. This adds a bit of purity in the design, and helps me make tough decisions.
So here’s the design document.
One year ago, it happened.
What happened? That depends on your troupe of players, and your personal choice. This game has four sample settings, but is open enough to play in any number of settings. What happened was, most of the world’s population died rather quickly. Depending on the specific setting, this could happen in any number of ways. We’ll get to that shortly.
Most importantly though, that wasn’t the end. It was the end of the world as we knew it, but humanity lived on. They lived, but things exist that wish to change that. These things might be demons. They might be aliens. We don’t really know. What’s important is, they don’t belong.
These monsters are beyond human power and reasoning. Your average person is nothing more than food for these beasts. But humanity has hope. Some of those killed didn’t stay dead. Some saw the fires of damnation, some saw the frigid absence of shelob. But now, they’re back. They’re back, and they’re tainted with the same power that fuels the scourges.
This game tells their stories. It tells the stories of those tainted by hell, but who take that power and use it to fight the forces of darkness.
This is a game of turning the darkness against itself.
There’s your basics.
I’m going to set the game in a generic “one year from now.” Now is defined as, “when and where you prefer.” The whole book will be written under the assumption that this apocalypse could have happened in any one of four times; The 1340s, 1918, 2010, and 2254. It also assumes that the GM can run the game whenever necessary, the four ‘default’ settings will be very barebones examples.
Four examples, you say? Why, yes.
Four is an important number. Four is the magic number. If I have to ask myself, “What’s going to be the number of X in the game?” I will assume that X = 4. There are four horsemen of the apocalypse. There are four sides on the die I’m using to run the game. There will probably be four main traits on a character. There will be four major PC types, and four major monster types. Why? It keeps things simple. It keeps important concepts in the front of players’ and GMs’ minds.
There’s the basic design document. I think it’ll help keep me on task for the rather small product I’m writing.
If you want to be surprised by what the game will ultimately be about, you should skip this post entirely.
This is the document I received from the four benefactors. It’s going to be the foundation on which I build the RPG that comes out of this. My next post will be about how I interpret this and clean it up.
Here’s what we’ve come up with for the game concept. We’ve tried to
leave the description as open as possible, so that you have a lot of
room to riff. But feel free to come back to us if you need additional
input, feedback or clarification.
Name : Black Hearts
There was a series of planet-wide cataclysmic events. Millions, if
not billions of people died. Whole cities were leveled in minutes.
This happened just a few days ago.
Horrific creatures have been sighted in the ruins. No one knows what
they are. They have been called demons, aliens, mutations, magical
beings and mass hallucinations. Whatever they are, they are not nice.
They have black hearts that must be destroyed in order to send them
You were not a very nice person when you were alive. You remember
dying. And you remember what came after, and how your soul screamed
into the nothing for an eternity. You woke up from that and the world
was on fire. You don’t know how you got a second chance, but you know
why : to Ensure The Survival Of The Human Race, and to Send The
Horrors Back. If you do that, you won’t have to be Sent Back.
When you came back from hell (there’s no other way to describe that
place), a piece of it came with you. It gives you an edge when you’re
fighting the Horrors.
You might raise the question ‘Do the player characters have Black
Hearts?’ without answering it. This could be a great avenue of
exploration for the GM and players.
The game should focus on setting and mechanics, rather than a guiding
plot. It would be great if the mechanics were such that the events
could be happening in any time period (modern, historical, future,
That may be a lot to cram into 10,000 words. Let us know what you think.
My name is David Hill.
Monday, I ran into some money troubles, so I came up with an idea. I’d offer my services as a writer at below my normal rates, on a tight deadline and with open terms. The only condition was that I needed immediate payment. You can find more details about this here at my personal blog.
What happened surprised me.
A near stranger but loose associate from my Twitter account said that he couldn’t provide the full 200$ I was asking for, but would instead contribute 50$ to the project, if three other patrons would. You can find out more about his idea here. Thing is, he wanted the four contributors to come up with the game idea, then he wanted to see it released as a Creative Commons licensed product. You see, Creative Commons is a big deal right now in the gaming industry, thanks to a few specific titles, the biggest of which is Catalyst Game Labs‘ Eclipse Phase.
Within a few hours, we had four patrons. We had the money gathered to make sure I was cool with things.
Collectively, they came up with a concept. This blog is the real-time log of my progress and development.
This is easily the most fascinating work I’ve done in the RPG industry. It’s ambitious, fun and exciting. Let’s collectively hope it takes off.
Oh yeah: There will be spoilers.