Game Design

Resisting The Shiny

Gnome Stew - 25 May 2018 - 5:00am

We live in blessed times. There are almost endless games we can partake in, but we certainly are not gifted with endless time. When you factor in actually getting a group together by finding a host, coordinating schedules, arranging a GM, and, ultimately, settling on a game to play, it’s a daunting prospect to be able to sit down and enjoy an RPG. Once you throw in personal tastes for games, finding that “just right” game gets even more difficult.

 I’m pretty sure I’m at well over 300 books/PDFs that I’ve purchased over the years that I’ve never brought to the table. 

I know I suffer from the “Oooh, Shiny Syndrome” (OSS from here on out). Others out there do as well, including some folks in one of my RPG groups. Looking around the shelves in my office, I have at least half a dozen games sitting there (*cough* collecting dust *cough*) that I’ve never played. Scanning my collection of purchased PDFs, that number easily grows to thirty (probably more). That’s just core books. This isn’t counting adventures, modules, world books, books of new races/classes/equipment/etc., and other splat books. I’m pretty sure I’m at well over 300 books/PDFs that I’ve purchased over the years that I’ve never brought to the table.

Sure, I’ve read the material. Sometimes I give them a quick skim. Sometimes it’s a more industrious read through. Even though I may have not pulled the raw material into a game session, I’m certain that some nuggets of golden RPG goodness have lodged in my brain and influenced how I’ve run a game or played a character.

Despite having all of this material readily at my fingertips, I’d love to be able to engross myself (either as player or GM) into a wonderful, multi-year campaign with huge character arcs, story events, changes to the world, and fantastic adventures. This typically means one game, one system, (hopefully) one character, and a single world that is the core of the adventure. Because of this, I have to avoid OSS. I also have to get my fellow gamers to avoid OSS. With a new core book hitting the shelf (virtual or physical at the FLGS) pretty much every week, this is increasingly difficult.

OSS can be a great thing because of the never ending exposure to new ideas, new concepts, new themes, and mind-bending play styles. These are all wonderful, but given the scratch that I currently need to itch (a long-term game), I need to squash OSS in myself and others.

There are several causes of OSS, so let’s talk about those and how to reduce the chances of OSS ruining a perfectly good campaign or series of sessions. Usually, when a group (or GM) rapidly flops between systems, it’s because they’re searching for something that’ll make them happy. Unfortunately, these quick changes mean they haven’t found the “just right thing” yet, and this can lead to players becoming disgruntled at having to learn (or even run out and buy) a new system twice a month. Let’s talk about how to keep people happy, shall we?

Game Master Burnout  To help the GM avoid burnout, I recommend setting things up from the start with a co-GM. 

When a GM hits the brakes on a campaign, setting, or game system, this can lead to a new system being whipped out and OSS rears its ugly head. This isn’t usually because the game system runs poorly (though that’s a valid reason), but because the GM has burned out, run out of pertinent ideas, or just needs a mental break. That’s completely fair. To help the GM avoid burnout, I recommend setting things up from the start with a co-GM. I have a full article on how to approach this.

If running a campaign with a co-GM isn’t in the books, then let the GM know that it’s perfectly acceptable to “take a week off” from the usual RPG and someone else can run a one-shot (preferably using the same system to avoid triggering OSS). It’s also okay to whip out some of those rarely-played board games we all seem to collect and love, but hardly play. Because most board games don’t do “campaign style” gaming, this can be a great distraction and a break for the GM to allow them to refill their well of creative energies.

Player Burnout

Just like with GMs, the players can burnout on their character. Perhaps they’re tired of being the archer in the back, or are tired of being the “healing vending machine” or just want to do something different. When the players get disgruntled with the game and it’s not because of an adversarial GM or other issue, then they could just be bored with their characters. There are a few options to shaking things up.

 This piece of advice is a bit risky, but changing up the characters’ equipment can be done to shift the power levels around. 

Allowing some, if not all, of the players to roll up side-arc characters that are still related to the main story arc is a good change of pace. There can even be some prep work done here by the whole group where they have lower level (or even higher level) characters sitting in the wings, ready to be played, for when it’s time for their story to trigger. If you do this, I’d advise that the “main group” and “alt group” have strong ties to one another.

This piece of advice is a bit risky, but changing up the characters’ equipment can be done to shift the power levels around. This can be done via a carefully placed artifact or two, but I’ve also seen it expertly done where a major item within the group goes missing, is stolen, somehow falls into the hands of the arch enemy, etc.. This cranks up the motivation for the players as a group to fetch (or quest to replace) the item and return the status quo. I’ve also dropped the especially nasty Mordenkainen’s Disjunction (also called Mage’ Disjunction in non-WotC material) on higher level groups to effectively scramble their equipment and power level. This could have easily backfired with upset players, but instead, they went on a rage-fueled rampage against the sorry fellow that dropped the spell on them. Fresh motivations for the characters can lead to renewed interest by the players.

Co-Build the World  I actually call this “session negative one” because the act of creating the world should come before “session zero” where the players’ characters are created. 

If you get the players invested in the world from the get go, this can help keep their interest levels high. Same thing with the GM. Instead of whipping out Faerun, Krynn, Athas, Golarian, or any other number of existing worlds, create a world (or part of a world) in an interactive session between the GM and players. With ideas sprinkled in by everyone involved, they come to care about the world and NPCs and locations because they helped create them.

I actually call this “session negative one” because the act of creating the world should come before “session zero” where the players’ characters are created. In Session -1, the GM comes to the table with some ideas and guidelines for the creation and then it becomes like a typical Hollywood writers’ room where every idea is at least considered and discussed before addition or rejection. This is a powerful session, but it can take quite some time. I highly recommend setting aside 5-6 hours (with a few breaks in there) for creating the rough sketch of the world.

If you need some pointers on world building, I have this article, and Matt has a great collaborative world building article.

Identifying the Itch and Using the Right Scratch

As I mentioned above, sometimes OSS can come as a result of having an itch to scratch, but you don’t quite know what it is. This can lead to jumping between systems while looking for the one that tries to scratch that itch. Fortunately, a little introspection and drilling down into what you want can help prevent OSS. Here’s an example:

The GM in my weekly group wanted something “epic,” so he picked Traveller. He pictured epic space battles, running fights with blasters, and other fantastic space opera goodness. Unfortunately, our characters (through the randomness of character generation) didn’t quite land enough cash or ship-shares to get to do any of that. There were also a few missteps here and there that led to a “blah” type game which led to the campaign that lasted a single session.

Up next, he drilled down a little bit and found that what he really wanted was to tell some heroic stories, preferably in the high fantasy genre. I proposed my home brew fantasy RPG with some tweaks to up the magic content. Ultimately, that was turned down because, at its heart, my fantasy RPG is a bit more crunchy than the player was comfortable with. That’s a fair assessment.

He, in turn, proposed we play Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea because he felt that would give us the feel we wanted from the game. The result? I don’t know yet. Our session zero for the game is (in theory) happening tomorrow night as this article is being published. We’ll see how it goes.

Total Party Kill  Before a TPK runs headlong into another case of OSS, make sure it’s the system that caused the event, not something else. 

Need I say more? Sometimes a GM, situation, crazy dice, poor decisions, or a deadly system can lead to a total party kill. This is a bummer. Probably one of the biggest bummers unless the TPK was truly epic in scale. This can lead to the players (and sometimes the GM) becoming disgruntled with the system. Perhaps their dislike of the system is completely valid because the game system is too lethal. I’ve seen that. Most experienced gamers have.

Before a TPK runs headlong into another case of OSS, make sure it’s the system that caused the event, not something else. Perhaps some “mock battles” should be run to test the waters on if the game mechanics truly are that dangerous. If this is the case, and it doesn’t jive with the group’s style of gaming, then perhaps it’s time for a new system.

How Do You Avoid OSS?

Now that I’ve rambled on for about 1600 words, I’d love to know how you identify OSS and how you avoid it. Alternately, do you avoid it at all? Does your group embrace OSS to get a taste of different gaming from different systems? That’s perfectly fair. I’m interested to know what folks do with (or about) OSS out there. Let us Gnomes know!

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Designing Highly Replayable Stealth Levels for Payday 2 - by Jason Mojica Blogs - 25 May 2018 - 1:00am
This post is about how we built highly replayable stealth levels for Payday 2 and the ways we utilized randomization to keep things fresh each playthrough.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Vikingr RPG Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 3:00pm
Gamers can’t get enough of the vikings. Those Scandinavian raiders to the British isles and shores of continental Europe are just fascinating for us. Many wish to insert themselves into that time, put on their helms, and head into battle with axe in hand. Vikingr, a new d6 RPG up on Kickstarter now, lets you […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Runewild RPG Adventure Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 2:00pm
We all know of my love of extra resources for GMs when it comes to games. Even if an adventure, in total, doesn’t work for your group, you can probably find some stuff useful for it. Well, The Runewild adventure looks to make all of itself useful by being not so linear, but more sandbox, […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Steamforged Previews Ikaros and Rundaas For Falconer’s Guild

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 1:00pm
The Falconer’s Guild is the next of the Minor Guilds to hit the pitch in Guild Ball. As one would expect, they’re the Minor Guild for the Hunter’s Guild. We’ve seen just about everyone, but there had been two left. In this final preview, we get a look at them. Say hello to Ikaros and […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Mixer rolls out MixPlay, a tool for creating interactive stream overlays

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 24 May 2018 - 12:42pm

Microsoft has rolled out a series of updates for its streaming service Mixer as part of the platform's birthday celebrations, one of which allows developers to build interactive stream overlays. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Shadowrun: Sprawl Ops Boardgame Kickstarter Launched by Catalyst Game Labs

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 12:00pm
Man, been a while since we’ve heard from Randal and the others over at Catalyst Game Labs. What’ve they been up to? Well, they’ve been prepping for their Shadowrun: Sprawl Ops Boardgame Kickstarter. Head into the world of ogre hackers, dragons, and other cyber-fantasy creatures in this new competitive worker-placement game. From the campaign: In […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Get a job: ZeniMax Online Studios is hiring an ESO Monetization Designer

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 24 May 2018 - 12:00pm

The team at ZeniMax Online Studios is looking for someone to develop, analyze, and manage economy and monetization components for Elder Scrolls: Online and the company's other games. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Caffeine rolls out stream monetization program, complete with payouts for devs

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 24 May 2018 - 11:45am

The social streaming platform Caffeine has launched a pre-release version of a monetization program that will ultimately funnel cash to both live streamers and the developers of the games being played. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Thursday Terrain Corner

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 11:00am
Usually, Wednesday is the longest day of the week for me. It’s actually just as long as the others, in reality, but in feeling, it seems to take an eternity. Yesterday wasn’t so bad. It was Tuesday that felt never-ending. So we’ll see how today and tomorrow go. I’m certainly busy enough to make time […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

GDPR changes prompt Torn Banner Studios to shut down Mirage: Arcane Warfare

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 24 May 2018 - 10:33am

Mirage: Arcane Warfare, an online game released by Torn Banner Studios last year, has been removed from sale as its developer readies to shut the game's servers down for good. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

WizKids Announces Maiden’s Quest

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 10:00am
What’s a gal gotta do to get rescued around here? The “Damsel in Distress” is a trope as old as writing. But what about when those ladies don’t want Prince Charming to come and save them, because they’re perfectly capable of saving themselves? That’s what’s happening in Maiden’s Quest, a new game coming from WizKids. […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Pit: The Board Game Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 9:00am
Deep in the far reaches of space lies The Pit. It’s an alien laboratory of mythic proportions where scientific experiments are carried out (mostly the really nasty kind of stuff that you can only do when far out in space). It is, however, into this nightmare landscape that you and your party members are headed. […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

H1Z1 gains early F2P traction on PlayStation 4

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 24 May 2018 - 8:48am

Daybreak Games, the studio behind free-to-play battle royale game H1Z1, said the game hit 1.5 million players and 200,000 concurrent players just after its open beta launch on PlayStation 4. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Plaid Hat Posts New Starship Samurai Preview

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 8:00am
Plaid Hat Games recently announced that they were coming out with a new sci-fi board game called Starship Samurai. And, I mean, it’s giant robots fighting in outer space, so you know it’s got my attention. But the giant robots, alone, aren’t enough to make me want to get the game. I need to know […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Warlord Games Announces Summer Offensive Painting Competition

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 7:00am
It’s getting hot outside. What a great time to get out your paints, sit down at your painting table, and crank the AC (and maybe AC/DC while you work). And if you’re a master at slinging the colored goop around, you may want to check out the Summer Offensive Painting Competition that Warlord Games is […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Gaming Cultural Atonement - by Stephen Schafer Blogs - 24 May 2018 - 6:49am
The concept behind the development of a Psychecology game (PEG) prototype is that authentic game-play based on the most current cognitive research and the principles of dream analysis identified by Carl Jung can promote individual and collective psycholog
Categories: Game Theory & Design

b r 1: Notes on Translating from Unity to Bitsy - by Pippin Barr Blogs - 24 May 2018 - 6:48am
In this essay I write about the creation of b r 1 (Bitsy Reality 1), a Bitsy remake of v r 1, a Unity game. I write about the process of development and specific insights into translating a game between radically different game engines.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Developing a procedural dialogue system for Tech Support: Error Unknown - by Kevin Giguere Blogs - 24 May 2018 - 6:47am
Tech Support uses procedurally generated conversations to make dialogue flow naturally between the 200+ customers a player encounters over the course of the game, and adding variance to make every chat feel unique.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Better Together: Automated & Manual Testing - by Keegan Dillman Blogs - 24 May 2018 - 6:45am
A QA Tester makes a case for the unification of Automated & Manual testing.
Categories: Game Theory & Design


Subscribe to As If Productions aggregator - Game Theory & Design