Game Design

Imperfect GM: Stereotypical Accents

RPGNet - 12 March 2019 - 12:00am
Fun or insensitive?
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield is no longer working on Valve's Artifact

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 11 March 2019 - 11:46am

The creator of the prolific card game Magic: The Gathering has revealed that his contract with Valve has ended and he's no longer working on the company's digital card game Artifact. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Beasties 2

New RPG Product Reviews - 11 March 2019 - 11:36am
Publisher: Night Owl Workshop
Rating: 5
Now I have gone on the record, many, many times, talking about how much I love monster books. My first glimpse into D and D was way back in 1978-79 when I first saw and read the Monster Manual. Very few books have come close to that feeling of unlimited potential. So when a new monster book comes out, I have to take a look and usually grab it.

Beasties II from Night Owl Workshop has something of a pedigree in my mind. The art and text are from none other than Thomas Denmark. He is responsible for some of my favorite art during the d20 boom, in particular, Citizen Games' "Way of the Witch". Plus I LOVED Beasties I so grabbing this was a no brainer for me.

Beasties II is a digest-sized book. 90 pages with black and white art. According to the sales text on DriveThru the book contains:
27 Monsters
8 NPC's
40 Drawings
1 Map
Article on Goblinology

The book follows the same format as Beasties I. Like the first Beasties it certainly punches above its weight class in terms of monsters and content. All the text and art is by Denmark himself.

The book is designed for "Original Fantasy Rules" but plenty of conversion notes are given for OSRIC and Basic Fantasy. There are also some conversion notes for Nite Owl Workshop's other games Colonial Troopers, Guardians, Warriors of the Red Planet, Raiders of the Lost Artifacts and Freebooters.

The definition of "monster" is certainly very old-school too, with some traps, "minor monsters", and NPCs included for good measure.

But the REAL reason to get this book is goblins. There are several goblin hybrids; Blorc, Bugbearzerker, Gnomblin, Hoblin, Hoblin (Cruel), Koblin, Zoblin and a whole article on Goblinology or the Ecology of the Goblin. Frankly, the book is worth it for all of this alone.

Seriously. If you like goblins then grab this now.

There are also some undead and some really fun fiends. The Drumph gets a full publication so that is now. A new aquatic humanoid race is introduced, the Shahatha. I rather like them to be honest and will be porting them over to my 5e game.

The NPCs are also a lot of fun. One, Isaina Lyd’ar, reminds me of the work he did for Way of the Witch. So much so I might convert to a White Box Witch. She looks like she would be fun to play. Maybe she is a Sinderan Witch tradition.

So a lot of great content for $4. Plus the entire work is released as "Open" under the OGL so that is a nice touch.

Bookmarks in the PDF would have been nice as well as a PDF clickable table of contents, but that is a minor thing really.

If you love monsters get this book.
If you love goblins you REALLY need to get this book.

This reveiw also appears here: [](
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Division 2 won't be sold on digital third-party stores following its launch

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 11 March 2019 - 10:08am

Ubisoft's upcoming sequel isn†™t just skipping Steam. According to a UK-based digital game retailer, The Division 2's Epic Games Store semi-exclusivity means it won†™t be sold on other digital stores either. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Come to GDC and see how For Honor's multiplayer is built on time travel

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 11 March 2019 - 9:01am

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the non-authoritative architecture behind the game at GDC 2019 next week in San Francisco! ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Global Game Market Trends and Forecasts From 2018 to 2019 [Report] - by Mantin Lu Blogs - 11 March 2019 - 8:09am
As we continue into 2019, the global gaming market continues to rapidly grow and evolve in ways that demand our attention. Let’s review some of the findings in the most recent global game industry report.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Humanity vs. Human Resources - by Gregory Campbell Blogs - 11 March 2019 - 8:09am
For game players and game makers, what should people understand of the sometimes overlapping and sometimes contradictory terms of 'humanity' and 'human resources?'
Categories: Game Theory & Design

I'm Going to Disney World!; On Rules, and How They Drive Emergent Gameplay - by Riley Halligan Blogs - 11 March 2019 - 8:09am
Our games are evolving and players are finding new ways to play. Emergent gameplay is wonderful, but sometimes it mucks up what we're trying to do as designers. So, how do we build games that foster emergence?
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Game Composers: How Music Enhances Virtual Presence (GDC 2019) - by Winifred Phillips Blogs - 11 March 2019 - 8:08am
Game composer Winifred Phillips shares preparatory research from two of her upcoming lectures: her GDC 2019 talk entitled "How Music Enables Virtual Presence" and her Library of Congress lecture, "The Interface Between Music Composition and Game Design."
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Switch & Phone – The Glass Age of Gaming - by Daryl Hornsby Blogs - 11 March 2019 - 8:01am
For several years, every game developer and their grandmother believed that tablets were the future of portable gaming. But tablets had a fundamental gaming flaw: they’re portable devices that require a bag to carry them. Enter the modern smartphone
Categories: Game Theory & Design

An Alternative to AnimationEvent - by Felipe Nascimento Blogs - 11 March 2019 - 7:11am
Have ever worked with PlayMaker plugin on Unity? If the answer is yes, then you probably already have had problems with Animator actions and the time for an animation to finish. Here is one way how a humble intern managed to solve this problem.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Thirteen tips for your next localization - by Benjamin Glover Blogs - 11 March 2019 - 7:11am
Want to localize your next game but not sure how, or don't think you should even bother? Pull up a chair and read these production tips.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

D&D Adventurer’s League and a More Narrative Style of Play

Gnome Stew - 11 March 2019 - 5:00am

The D&D Adventurer’s League is in the midst of some important changes. While I have no inside information about what drove those changes, why they happened, or what changes might yet happen, I have some thoughts about what might have precipitated them, and why they’re REALLY important for the larger table top RPG community. Here’s what I think. Read it and let me know why you agree, where you think I’m seeing it wrong, and how you think things will play out.

What is the D&D Adventurer’s League?

It’s an organized play system. Everyone builds characters according to common sense rules, and then plays specific adventures. People track experience, gold, and loot. A lot of conventions run organized play games, but you can run them at game stores, and at home too. Most game play sessions are 2-4 hour serialized one-shots that fall into a larger narrative. (Like TV shows in a season.) You don’t have to sign up or register or anything. Just get the build guidelines (for free HERE), read those rules, and start playing. You can find more information HERE and HERE. I like organized play (or “OP”). It’s like “speed dating” for gamers. You can play with a bunch of different people and you will most likely make some new friends and find new people you like. Some people don’t like it. That’s cool. It’s not for everyone. For me, it doesn’t replace a great home game, but it’s a nice addition to some good home games.

The “Old Guard” of Dungeons and Dragons

Some sort of organized play system has been a part of D&D since 2nd edition. Sometimes the company that makes D&D (currently Wizards of the Coast, or “WotC”) is extremely unconcerned with the OP system, other times they’re extremely hands on. OP has adapted and survived through the ages. Currently, it seems (and I’m operating with no special information here) that WotC is extremely interested in active oversight of the D&D Adventurer’s League (or AL). It’s a great way to evangelize the game, find more players, get game stores and conventions involved, and allow new people to get involved.

Given all that history, imagine a spectrum of game styles.

On one hand you have very tactical game play.

  • Miniatures are on a gridded map.
  • Combat is the most important way to solve challenges.
  • Combat utility is the most important part of your character.
  • Role Play (RP) can be limited or absent.
On the other hand, you have very narrative game play.

  • Theater of the mind (mapless) combat is preferred.
  • Most challenges are solved with RP, exploration, trickery, or stealth.
  • Backstory, personality, and skills are the most important part of your character.
  • Combat can be limited or absent.

Only a very few people play purely tactical or purely narrative games. In reality – BOTH playstyles are valid and normal ways to enjoy D&D. Most people enjoy a mix of both tactical AND narrative game play.

If we were to graph this out with the types of play on the bottom (horizontal) axis, and the number of people who enjoy that type of play on the left (vertical) axis, we’d get a bell curve that looks like this.

The old guard of D&D and the organized play community enjoys a mix of narrative and tactical play.


There are a few more-tactical “power gamers” on the left. There are a few more narrative “story tellers” on the right. The majority of the community is somewhere in the middle and likes both types of play depending on the group, day, game, or encounter.

There are a few more-tactical “power gamers” on the left. There are a few more narrative “story tellers” on the right. The majority of the community is somewhere in the middle and likes both types of play depending on the group, day, game, or encounter.


In organized play systems from 2nd edition to the present, the majority of the players learned to play D&D through friends or family. Many of them learned how to play from previous editions, and were familiar with moving miniatures on a grid. In 3rd edition and 4th edition, tactical play was EXTREMELY important, and this whole bell curve shifted to the left somewhat. When 5th edition came around, many of these folks treated this edition similarly to 3rd and 4th. Even though 5th edition has been vastly simplified compared to 3rd and 4th editions, it’s a fine game for very crunchy, simulationist, tactical play. Organized play worked well for it.

Because organized play adventures are often played at stores and conventions, and because of the nature of organized play, the games had some important basic characteristics that strongly shaped how they were played.

  • They were not custom built for your character. The NPC who gave you the quest wasn’t your mentor, the opponent hadn’t killed your grandparent, and the commoners don’t know your character personally. You could do that in a home game, but that wouldn’t work in OP where a bunch of different tables had to play the same adventure.
  • Quite often, these adventures had time limits. They were mostly designed for 2, 4, or 8 hours of play so that you would sit down with a group of people and play them in one sitting. Then next time you would sit down with a different group of people and play a different adventure in one sitting.
  • Different tables of an adventure had largely similar outcomes. The characters saved the dragon, slew the princess, and saved the city.
  • These games were focused on entertaining the group of players at the table. You had no responsibility or constituency outside of the table.
The Internet Revolution

The internet has become a big disrupter in our hobby (like it has everywhere else!) It’s hard to believe that Acquisitions Inc. started as long ago as 2008. In 2009 you had the Critical Hit podcast playing D&D. 2012 saw the advent of Nerd Poker. The two shows that really exploded into the mainstream with D&D pod/videocasting were The Adventure Zone in 2014 and Critical Role in 2015. By now (Q1 2019) there are thousands of people playing D&D for your enjoyment on hundreds of podcasts.

These shows, undeniably, have brought a very significant popular interest to the hobby.

And with this interest came new people. Maybe they had never played D&D, but they knew a lot about it from watching/listening to other people play.

I don’t know what to call these new people. I’m going with “live play enthusiasts” but that doesn’t cover it because some of these shows aren’t live, and are pre-recorded, edited, and then released. We’re a decade into this movement, and we still don’t have good language to describe it. Let me know if you’ve got a better collective noun.

And these people are different than the folks I’ve been talking about thus far in some important ways.

  • Where the old guard and much of the OP/AL community was taught D&D by playing with friends and family, or taught themselves by reading books, the live-play enthusiasts learned D&D by watching/listening to audio or video shows of people playing D&D.
  • The audio/video streaming D&D shows used a fair few professional or semi-professional actors or voice actors (as opposed to just us regular folks!)
  • The live play adventures were custom-built for the characters. Everything was essentially a home game.
  • There were no time limits. Whatever was going on in the narrative determined the pace. When the show ran out of time, they paused action til the next show.
  • Every adventure is unique and no one will ever play that game again, like a home game.
  • The focus of the activity was creating a fun ensemble and plot that would entertain other people in the audience (as opposed to just entertaining the players.)

Just like above, you could rate these games, and the preferred playstyles of these players, on a scale of more tactical to more narrative, with some preferring one playstyle to the other, but with most people enjoying a mix – just like before.

Live play enthusiasts enjoy a mix of narrative and tactical play.


The live play enthusiasts had their whole set of expectations shifted to something that was more narrative because of the nature of live play for an audience. There was overlap between the groups, sure, but there was definitely a gap in their expectations about what D&D should be like.

While both the old guard and the live play enthusiasts enjoy a spectrum of play styles, the old guard is more tactical and the live play enthusiasts are more narrative.


The challenge is, how different are these expectations? There’s no easy way to understand that. The two groups could be pretty close, or pretty far apart.

Are the two cultures pretty close, or pretty far apart?


We Need Each Other

Here you have two cultures with different backgrounds, assumptions, expectations and needs. We need each other. BOTH groups want to have a fun time playing D&D with friends. The Adventurer’s League needs new players. D&D needs new players. Those new players are the lifeblood of a healthy hobby. The live play enthusiasts want to play D&D. We’re a perfect match!


This leads to a period where the hobby undergoes some changes as the two cultures merge. Work is needed on both sides. If the Adventurer’s League (and by extension Wizards of the Coast) wants to welcome these players, then the Adventurer’s League will have to shift to meet their expectations and have more narrative options. They need to move that bell curve to the right and explore more storytelling options to be good, welcoming hosts to the new players.

Additionally, the live play enthusiasts are likely to figure out that not every DM is Matt Mercer, one of the McElroy family, or Chris Perkins. The live play enthusiasts will want to be good guests. They will shift their bell curve to the left and experiment with more tactical options than they’re used to in order to adapt to the community.



The adventurer’s league becomes more narrative? The live play enthusiasts become more tactical?


What I expect to happen is BOTH of these things. I genuinely believe both cultures will shift to meet in the middle somewhere.


Both cultures are likely to adjust to meet in the middle.

Adventurer’s League is Shifting to Become More Narrative

I think we are seeing the AL try to become more narrative. The changes to treasure points and advancement checkpoints aside, the adventures for Season 8 are far more narrative.

  • Waterdeep: Dragon Heist – Dragon Heist set the tone for Season 8. While there are PLENTY of good fights in there, some of the most critical plot points hinge on interesting NPCs that you have to nudge into action. The villains would rather embarrass than kill the PCs. The ultimate goal of the adventure isn’t even for the PCs to kill the enemy. This is a huge shift from other hardback adventures from Wizards of the Coast that revolve around the PCs greasing the bad guy.
  • Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage – Yep, it’s a dungeon crawl, but even then the exploration of the areas is absolutely critical.
  • Season 8 Adventures – The AL adventure format has been redesigned from the ground up. The adventures are far more narrative and require significant DM improv to really sing. Most encounters have options to use social RP or trickery/stealth to overcome encounters instead of killing all the bad guys. This is all a drastic departure from Season 7 and prior adventures where most XP was awarded for monsters killed.
  • 2018 Open “Gangs of Waterdeep” – This event is strongly based around roleplaying, trickery, stealth, and problem solving. Combat is largely the result of a plan gone bad. Again, this is a previously-unthinkable change from prior Opens which were extremely tactical (though with wickedly clever puzzle-solving!)
  • Epic 8-01 “Chaos in the City of Splendors” – While this follows strongly in the tone of the Season 7 Epics, it represents a strong shift to a more broad reliance on the “three pillars” (combat, RP, and exploration) and allows for narrative play if you want it, and more tactical play if you prefer that.

As you might expect, the changes are not universally loved. Chatter on Twitter and Facebook seemed to indicate that parts of the AL community felt like no one was listening to them. Change is hard. Change without an explicitly-stated REASON for that change is extremely hard. As I’ve said, I have no inside information, and this is all speculation on my part that the changes have been made to enact a cultural shift to welcome new players from the live-play fandom; no one official has confirmed this. To my knowledge, no one official ever said “hey, we want to welcome new players who are a little different than our old players – what’s the best way to do that?”

What’s next? What SHOULD be next?

Here are some things that I think might help optimize the cultural integration. The business literature is full of advice on how to integrate corporate culture after a merger, and some of those suggestions aren’t too far afield from what we’re seeing here. Do you have some suggestions for what might be, or should be next for the Adventurer’s League?

  • Educate the AL community. Make people mindful of the cultural exchange and get their buy-in on integration. Paradigm shift is hard. Paradigm shift is even harder when you don’t know you’re supposed to be shifting paradigms! Sell the old guard on the goals behind the change and they will be the strongest proponents for it.
  • Listen to the AL community. Efforts should be made to tell the AL community what the goal is, and then to get their suggestions on ways to get there.
  • Lead from the top. Have the AL admins and respected voices in the community discuss need for additional narrative support. They have to convince people that change is needed.
  • Learn and teach narrative play. Invite some of the better practitioners of narrative play to participate in showing the more tactical community that more narrative play is fun and valid way to enjoy playing D&D. This could be a new experience for some players, so make it easy for them to get experience with it and get comfortable with it.
  • Respect your roots. For all that narrative play is a new initiative in the AL community, that doesn’t somehow invalidate tactical play as a valid and enjoyable playstyle! Not everyone is going to like narrative play and not everyone has to. Tactical play options need to remain part of the DNA of Adventurer’s League.
  • Educate the live play enthusiasts. Find a way to have some of the more popular streamers talk about AL and how and why it’s different. Let audiences know that the D&D people play at home/in game stores/at conventions is different than in streaming shows. Include AL admins so that the streaming audience knows WHY AL has to be somewhat different than live play/home games. WotC has plenty of live streams and other shows they support – those shows should be running AL content so that people can see what it looks like.

I think the Adventurer’s League is going through some entirely normal and expected growing pains and cultural shifts, but I’m confident that it will come through them soon and smoothly, and continue to be a vital part of the D&D community.

What do YOU think?

How does the community you come from shape YOUR expectations for the tactical/narrative balance in D&D? When and how did you learn to play D&D? What playstyle do you enjoy best?

Do you play in the Adventurer’s League? How long have you been playing? Do you feel it is becoming more narrative? Do you like that? What’s a better way to make those changes?

What changes are ahead for the hobby and for Adventurer’s League?

This is a continuing discussion and I’d love to hear your viewpoints!


Categories: Game Theory & Design

PC Backgrounds, Part 3

Gnome Stew - 11 March 2019 - 5:00am

What’s a PC background? What is its purpose? How long should it be? For answers to these great questions, head on over to part 1 of this series. You can also find the second part where I do a deep dive into what goes into a backstory.


Everyone fears something. It’s part of being an intelligent being. Pick a fear or two for your character. They can be something as minor as, “Snakes creep me out because they move without legs.” Or it can be a full-blown, catatonic-inducing phobia of the color purple. (Imagine meeting a king in his full ermine and royal purple cloak with this one and having to ask for funds to support a quest.)

 Everyone fears something. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email

Fears and phobias do round out a character, but (again) the most important detail here is why does the character have the fear/phobia. Most of these mentally anguishing conditions spur from an event in life. This is not always the case with phobias, but if you can pinpoint a root cause, this will give the GM some fodder for creating more interesting encounters.

(GMs: Don’t abuse fears/phobias. Touching them on occasion is cool. Doing all the time is being a jerk.)


 Marcus won’t escalate means of violence. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email

What limits your character? Do they have a code of conduct? Religious vows? Pacts with some other higher power? An overwhelming drive to protect nature? What will they do for love, but they won’t do that?

As an example from my Modern Mythology urban fantasy series of novels: My protagonist, Marcus, won’t escalate means of violence. It’s in his internal code of honor to never draw his gun on someone with a knife. If someone throws a punch at him, he won’t draw his knife. And so on… Yeah, this leads to some pain on his part, but he doesn’t consider downing an opponent a “win” unless the fight is fair.


What physical or emotional wounds does the character have to deal with? What makes them hurt, even when at max hit points? In what way is their internal machinery (again, physical or emotional) holding them back?

 In what way is their internal machinery holding them back? Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email

There are plenty of games out there that quantify these wounds in a mechanical manner, but if you can throw in one or two of these in your backstory, it’ll create a richer character with ample opportunity for role playing it out.

Imagine this: A fighter with a limp. Not a bad one, but enough for it to be noticeable. It’s not going to reduce his movement (in game stats), but others view him as inferior or weak because of the hindrance. The fighter can play this up to put his opponents off guard until steel is drawn. That’s when his fancy footwork comes out and he dazzles his opponents with moves they never thought a limping man could pull off. On the flip side, the GM could set some assassins on the character’s trail with a description of “Kill the man with the limp in the village of Urloon.” Hrmm… What if others with a limp turn up dead, and the party has to figure out what’s going on before the assassins strike at the correct target… or kill another innocent?


 At the end of the day, be flexible with your backstory. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email

The last thing I’m going to leave you with in this series is the concept of collaboration. Don’t write your backstory alone in a cave and walk out with a “final” version that’s carved in stone. Be flexible. The GM may already have some ideas in mind for campaign or adventure hooks. See if she’s willing to let you drop one of those into your backstory.

When another player shares their few paragraphs of backstory with you, you might find a cool enemy that they created. Maybe you can alter your backstory to include a common enemy or replace another enemy you created with theirs.

I know it sounds like I’m endorsing a second “session zero” just to smooth out backstories. I’m not. I’m actually going to encourage everyone out there to collaborate and share via email, Slack, Discord, or whatever means you find easiest for your group.

At the end of the day, be flexible with your backstory and remain open to new ideas or concepts. Role playing, at its heart, is collaborative storytelling. There’s no reason your backstory shouldn’t be a collaborative effort as well.

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Game Deep Cuts: Sekiro's Rising Trials In Urban Planning

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 10 March 2019 - 8:01pm

This week's highlights include some early looks at From Software's anticipated Sekiro, the goofiness of GaaS bike sequel Trials Rising, and how SimCity inspired a lot of urban planners, & more. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Game Deep Cuts: Sekiro's Rising Trials In Urban Planning - by Simon Carless Blogs - 10 March 2019 - 7:44am
This week's highlights include some early looks at From Software's anticipated Sekiro, the goofiness of GaaS bike sequel Trials Rising, and how Sim City inspired a lot of urban planners, among other varied and notable topics.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Evolution Of Game Developers - by Kyle Kling Blogs - 8 March 2019 - 6:54am
This article will solely focus on how game developers innovate by function, feature or use case. This category dominates the gaming industry. They make up almost 60% of the entire gaming ecosystems funding ($7.1B) and number of startups built (447).
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Developing Indie JRPG Edge of Eternity in Early Access - by Guillaume Veer Blogs - 8 March 2019 - 6:54am
"Open-world JRPG", "Indie" and "Early Access". Marrying those three terms might sounds impossible but by using the magic of [Public Roadmap], our daunting assignment seems more accessible.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

SpatialOS dev Improbable is setting up its own game development studios

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 March 2019 - 5:40am

Tools-maker Improbable is setting up two studios, one in Edmonton and one in London, to develop online games powered by its SpatialOS tech. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Becky Annison Interview – Bite Me!

Gnome Stew - 8 March 2019 - 12:00am

I have a confession. I really, really like werewolves. Way back in time, I thought Vampire: the Masquerade was neat, but vampires weren’t really my thing. Then someone handed me a copy of the first edition of Werewolf: the Apocalypse (with the paper cover that had the claw marks cut out of it… so cool, but such a poor design decision) and suddenly I wanted into this whole World of Darkness thing. During the 90’s, I spent a couple of years as a Werewolf admin on a World of Darkness MUSH, and when I got to play both Monsterhearts and Urban Shadows, I played werewolves. So yeah, I like werewolves.

Earlier this year, I woke up to a message from fellow Gnome, Senda, asking if I was available to be play in a game for She’s a Supergeek that afternoon. Bleary eyed and not quite awake yet, I said sure. About an hour later, when I was finally awake, I messaged her back and went, “Uh, what’s the game?” “Oh yeah, it’s a game about werewolves and pack dynamics.” OMG. I was so in.

That game was Bite Me!, run by one of the game’s creators, Becky Annison. The game is currently funded on Kickstarter, but there’s still time to get in on it if you’re interested. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Becky about the game and discuss various aspects of the game and it’s creations. And of course, all the werewolfy goodness. AWOOOOOO!

Why Werewolves? What elevates them above other modern monsters?

Werewolves are a personal favourite of mine and have been for a very long time. I’m really taken by the idea of feeling so much closer to your emotions and instincts and having that be your default state.  Extending that idea into ‘what if you couldn’t/wouldn’t hide how you feel’ it is a large part of what led to Bite Me!

The other thing I love most about Werewolves is the Pack. Unlike other monsters, Werewolves have a concept of a close social group, people who understand you.  When you struggle with the monster inside, you aren’t doing it alone and this is really powerful to me.

What were the gaming influences on designing Bite Me! ?

My gaming influences on Bite Me! come from two distinct areas:

The first is all those games I’ve played over the years where people shared some intense emotional experiences with each other at the table.  Those times when we bared a little of our souls to each other and became a little closer as a result.  This aspect of gaming is something I’ve been keen to try and put into a game and a system for a long time and it owes a lot to the earliest games I played where we left the system in the dust and just free-formed our characters late into the night.  I wanted to design a game where you didn’t have to leave the system behind in order to do that role-playing and get that connection.  A game where the system supported it, made it easier, gave it a name and had it as a core element of the experience.

Secondly there are all the games about monsters I’ve played and enjoyed over the years from Monsterhearts to World of Darkness.  I like it best where you can experience characters struggling to reconcile their human and monstrous sides and, for me, Werewolves are the ultimate expression of that.

What were your fiction influences when creating Bite Me! ?

Without a doubt it was the work of writers such as Kelley Armstrong (who made my year by agreeing to be a stretch goal writer for this project), Patricia Briggs, The Silvered by Tania Huff and Teen Wolf the TV show.

All of these have a strong sense of the dramatic potential in the relationships of the Pack and the humans who live adjacent to them. They touch on the issues of control and domination – but it is how those issues intersect and interfere in the relationships of the main characters which is so compelling.  An Alpha is nothing without a Pack – and that symbiotic relationship in werewolf fiction is incredibly fun to explore.

Tell us about the pack dynamics the game is built around?

The game starts with a set of relationship questions.  Each skin gets a question to ask another player – something juicy and messy which sets up a difficult relationship from the start.  For example, the Greypelt (the oldest wolf in the Pack) is asked which Packmate player character they betrayed who hasn’t forgiven them yet.  The Cub (youngest wolf) is asked which Packmate they hero worship and what that Packmate could do to break their trust.

After all the characters and relationships have been created and the culture and Traditions are all agreed, the MC asks one final question.

“Which of you has broken a Tradition and who is keeping their secret?”

Traditions are the laws of the Pack.  Breaking them will involve a punishment like banishment or worse.  This final question sets the stakes really high and is inviting someone to really put themselves in a difficult spot.

These questions do two things.  Firstly, they set up tense relationships from the beginning, giving people great material to use for making the Spill moves (which I talk about further down).  But secondly, they give people Ties on each other.  If you get 4 Ties on someone then you mark experience, but you can also spend Ties to boost your roll when you make a Move against another player.  There are a lot of player v. player Moves in Bite Me! like Dominate, Mauling and Challenge the Alpha.  However, this is not a game where you can steal the party’s treasure at the last minute, backstab the paladin and run off into the sunset.  You are a Pack and whatever you do to a fellow Packmate you need to face the consequences of that in the morning.  The system is built to tempt and encourage people to take actions which will trigger tension and interesting consequences, and then the players can use the Spill Moves to process what happened.

The Pack dynamics are all about creating really interesting fictional starting points and then giving you a set of mechanics which gets you using all that lovely fiction you created.

I find GMing games a stressful business – so I’ve tried to design a game with a lot of self-sustaining action.  If, as GM, you find yourself sitting back and saying nothing for an hour while the players are Spilling all their secrets and feelings then that means the system is working at optimum capacity!

Why PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse)? What about that specific system spoke to you for creating this game?

PbtA is a very broad framework to work in as a game designer. But some of the most common elements in the system have some really attractive qualities for a Werewolf game.

One of the first things I noticed when I first played Apocalypse World was how the system of Moves gets you into situations where the action cascades out of control hard and fast.  That pacing and sense of control slipping away from you is exactly what I wanted Bite Me! to feel like – that instantly made PbtA attractive to me.

The other thing the Moves and Playbooks do in PbtA is allow you to laser focus your design at a really specific experience.  I wanted my game to recreate the feeling of being in a werewolf Pack and PbtA gives me a toolbox to really hone in on that.

I would say that Principles are a key element of PbtA for me, as they give a clear direction from the designer to the MC on how to run the game to get the best out of it.  So much of our games actually hinge on tacit play culture, trying to transmit that play culture through a text (rather than through playing a game with someone) is hard work.  But the Principles form these giant signposts for play culture to give us a head start.  Bite Me! also has Player Principles to do the same thing for the players and point them at the play styles to give them the best experience.

Lastly (as if that wasn’t enough!) there is the dice mechanic and the strong hit, weak hit and miss breakdown. On a strong hit the players get a massive success and get to feel like the badass Werewolves they are.  On a weak hit they get what they want but with consequences, and those consequences allow the MC to press on the existing tense relationships and untenable situations (key elements of running Bite Me!) or even create new ones.  Lastly, on a miss the MC can bring out the array of threats that the players have created, press the Pack really hard to get them to unify against a common foe, or in rare circumstances have a Werewolf completely lose control.  Living on the knife edge of control in a violent and threatening world is a staple of the Werewolf genre.  The ever-present possibility you could Miss a roll means those threats are always in the back of a player’s mind! You live with the risk that things will get out of control. The MC’s job is to tempt the players into taking that risk.

Tell us about the character options available to the players?

Bite Me! Has 7 skins and I’ll give you a little detail on each below:

  • The Alpha – this is the skin for people who want the sense of responsibility for the Pack and drama and hard choices that come with that. This skin is all about trying to keep a fragmenting Pack together and protect them from outside threats. The skin Moves of the Alpha often augment and support the other skins.  The Pack is stronger when there is a player as Alpha.
  • The Howl – The Howl looks after the spirit of the Pack as the Alpha takes care of their bodies.  This skin has Moves concerning prophecy and rituals of flesh and blood. They can be a loyal adviser to the Alpha or a rival (hopefully both!) but the knowledge they have gained through their rites has created a rift in the Pack, a wound which needs healing.
  • The Prodigal – this is the skin for people who love drama. You are freshly returned to the Pack after leaving, perhaps through your own choice, perhaps not. The Prodigal has a healing Move (which comes at the price of a second messy relationship!) and is harder to dominate due to their time away from the pack dynamic.
  • The Enforcer – This is a skin for people who want to explore the conflict between protecting those they love with violence and feeling that as a guilty burden. You have Moves which allow you to put yourself in the place of an endangered Packmate, but you can also dominate others more easily through doing something unacceptable and crossing a line.
  • The Cub – not everyone is an experienced werewolf, someone has to be the pup of the Pack and that is the Cub. This character has been a Werewolf for not more than a year (although they will likely be a fully grown adult) and their skin is all about being indulged, given a free pass when they break the rules and ensuring that the other Packmates will always get them out of whatever mess they end up in.
  • The Fixer – This character is for someone who wants to be torn between the human and wolf worlds and loves to live in both.  The war inside them will affect their relationships and yet it is often necessary for the Pack’s survival that the Fixer walks this line.  The Fixer’s Moves involve getting information out of the human world, making problems disappear and using resources that the rest of the pack don’t have access to.
  • The Greypelt – The Greypelt is the oldest member of the Pack and probably is a parent or grandparent to many of them.  They are for people who like to play the kingmakers, the manipulators and the power behind the throne.  They have Moves which leverage their longevity in the Pack, whether that is keeping the history of the Pack, giving advice or being the only person who can dominate the Alpha.
Which moves in the game help create the play you intended with this game?

The play I’m looking for is a cycle.  The players want to have difficult relationships which sometimes explode and sometimes fade into the background as the Pack unifies.

In character generation you set up the tension and wedges between the Packmates using those relationship questions.  The MC will alternatively press on those relationships or provide threats to make the pack unify.  This cycle is fed by several of the Moves – the mechanics for domination and violence will deepen the wedges in the Pack giving people reasons to have emotional outbursts.  They also function as way they Pack can ‘get things done’ which makes them deliberately tempting.  When the tension is high the pack can Spill and Provoke Spill –  sharing emotional conversations about vulnerable things.  The subject for those conversations is often provided by the Domination and Mauling (and other Moves).  When you have those conversations you accumulate Pack Points which can be spent on assisting Packmates and on super powerful Pack Moves.

The Pack Pool is not just a pool of points for the players to use, it is an important signal for the MC. When the Pack Pool is low you should ease off the action and make space for emotional conversations.  When the Pack Pool is high you should press the threats and harry the player characters.

I love games with that emotional conversational element – but you can’t keep on spilling your heart without introducing fresh problems and issues for the characters to engage with.  The system cycles between giving people the Moves to have those conversations and the Moves which provide the content of those conversations.

What made you start working on Bite Me! and how long has it been in development?

Bite Me! is a game which has been living in my head in some form or another since I first read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong well over 10 years ago. I remember reading that book and knowing immediately that I wanted to play in a game like that one day. Which is often my reaction to media I love. But the design work started in earnest about two and a half years ago.

Previously I’d experimented with various ideas for Bite Me! including making it a freeform larp centered around pack food rituals. But I gradually came to realise that the PbtA system was such a good fit for all the reasons I mentioned earlier and so when the first Revelation Con was announced (that is the PbtA con that runs in Sheffield, UK) I pulled together a set of basic moves and 4 playbooks and took it along for a test drive.  That game went better than I could have hoped for a first playtest. The third Revelation con happened the weekend after I launched the Kickstarter and so far Bite Me! has been run there every year and I hope that is a tradition that continues.

If you’re interested in learning more about Bite Me! or backing it, head on over to Kickstarter and give it a look!

Categories: Game Theory & Design


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