As I’ve been working on a new game, I’ve arrived at probably my least favorite part of the process. The major mechanical work is done, everything’s written up, and I’ve even started playtesting. Which means, alas, that it’s time to ask for feedback.
As I’m going through this process, I thought it might be helpful to share some observations that might make the process less miserable for those who come after me.
Sigmata: This Signal Kills Fascists is a tabletop RPG by Chad Walker that is up for backing on Kickstarter. At the time of writing, it’s almost hit its funding goal of $9,000, and I’m pretty certain it will hit that goal soon. I have some critiques about the game, as it’s currently presented.
First off, a couple caveats. This critique isn’t coming from a place of trying to tear down what someone else is building. It’s always a bit weird critiquing a Kickstarter, because you’re not critiquing a finished product. Essentially, I’m critiquing the idea of a product as presented by its creator. But, again, this is a thing that you are asking people to pay money for so I consider it to be fair game. Also, as a sometimes-creator myself, I can imagine times when I’d wished someone had critiqued my work a little earlier in the process before things were set in stone, so I at least had a chance to address the criticisms before the work was finalized.
Second, I think my politics probably line up with Chad Walker’s. This isn’t gonna be some right-wing screed denouncing Sigmata as “ANTIFA THE GAME HOW DARE YOU, SIR.” I can appreciate what he’s trying to do (or at least what I think he’s trying to do), even if I do think there are some flaws in the approach.
Okay. Let’s buckle in then.
If you read my previous article on Advantage in 5e, you can probably guess that I have “opinions” on Fantasy Flight’s cute little dice systems. Opinions one might describe as “unpopular” or “hateful.”
Look, I’m not going to lecture you on why these dice are badwrongfun / not much of an improvement over binary dice systems (That’s the Angry GM’s job, and he already did a better job than I could), but I will point out how the disconnect between dice mechanics and game design made the new Star Wars FFG games take a major step backwards from where the system was at with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd Edition.
Yes. Of course it is. That’s a stupid question. Sorry for the inflammatory title. But, the Angry GM recently raised the question of what kind of RPG it is. A question that’s been asked a dozen times and answered in about as many ways, but I’m going to take another stab at it. Because damn-it-all, I’m entitled to my very own, super-special opinion on the topic.
Feature image taken from here.
I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the d20. That icosahedronal sonavabitch has been my ruin many a time. Hell, from the name of this blog you can probably tell that I prefer d6’s.
Part of this is an accessibility thing. Any game that prides itself on “special” dice is actively throwing up barriers to it’s entry. Everyone has d6’s. To get a d20, you need to go to a game store, pick out a set, maybe buy a couple extra d20’s in case one betrays you, roll it a few times to make sure it isn’t cursed, have a maiden true blow gently upon it, etc etc. It’s a bigger hassle than cannibalizing a game of Yahtzee is what I’m saying.
Every time I go back to reading The Angry GM, that sonavabitch makes me want to try running a game again. Not just any game, but good ol’ DnD. What can I say? Either he’s a persuasive writer or I’m just a gullible sod.
In either case, reading the latest batch of rants and articles got me thinking about player agency. After looking up some old stuff of bankuei’s on fictional positioning, and I’m thinking the two go hand-in-hand with 5e’s Advantage and Disadvantage system.
A brief overview: In 5e, players can sometimes either get “advantage” or “disadvantage” when performing an action. If they have an advantage, they roll two d20’s and take the higher number, if they have a disadvantage they roll two and take the lower result. As part of 5e’s unifying superstructure, there’s a lot of conditions, statuses, and spells that grant advantage and disadvantage in specific situations, but there is also a surprising amount of leeway given to the GM.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about goals and motivations as they apply to tabletop RPG’s, specifically how and why they motivate the story of a game.
From reading bankuei, I’ve reached the (somewhat tentative) conclusion that an essential component of Narratavism is that the player character’s goals drive the story. If one PC wants to find their long-lost sister, well, then, that’s what their story is going to be about. If another PC wants to start their own religion, then their portion of the game is going to be about that.
You can probably already see the problem. What happens when players goals aren’t compatible? Or if they don’t want to work together? Well, narrativism doesn’t particularly care, I think. A narrativist game is perfectly happy to let each player pursue their own independent agenda, maybe sometimes working together, sometimes working against. You can see this in the design of narrativist games like “Burning Wheel” or “Dogs in the Vineyard” whose mechanics emphasize one-on-one conflicts and confrontations, rather than group v. group encounters.