Brinkwood Stretch Goals

Hello! So, we’ve run past Kickstarter’s word limit while adding Stretch Goals for Brinkwood. One might take this as a sign that it’s time to stop. Adding. Stretch goals. But not I! So, here’s a list of the stretch goals that have already funded for Brinkwood: The Blood of Tyrants. Now available on Kickstarter!

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Applying Circle Theory – A Brinkwood Case Study

I recently had the privilege to attend a presentation given by Orion Black (@dungeoncommander on twitter) on Circle Theory, while I was at Orcacon 2020. While I wasn’t able to stay for the practice portion of the presentation due to some noise sensitivity issues, I did learn quite a bit, and as soon as I was able, I sat down to “diagram out” my own upcoming game, Brinkwood: The Blood of Tyrants using Circle Theory.

It is my belief that one strength of Circle Theory is in illustrating to the designer where the most important intersections of their game lie, and which mechanics are essential, and which may be perhaps removed from a design in order to “focus” it better.

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The Wild Hunt – Other Worlds

When I sat down to read “The Wild Hunt” by Samantha Marie Ketcham Seguinte, I was thinking about doing a twitter read-through of it, as I typically do with shorter games or even longer ones I want to highlight. But something about it defied the type of writing I usually do for my read-throughs. Typically, I try to break a game into it’s component parts, circling certain segments and trying to create some narrative on how they build into each-other. But for “The Wild Hunt”, such an approach seemed inappropriate. It’s not as if there’s nothing to highlight, far from it. But each piece links together very intricately. It seemed like to focus on any tree would be to miss the proverbial forest.

That said, I am in murky waters here, as I’m really going to extrapolate my own meaning from the game, rather than trying to discover the mechanics that underpin it in order to create what I think was the designers’ goal. So be aware, in trying to understand the forest that is “The Wild Hunt”, I’m looking through my own set of eyes.

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Of Universal Systems

Every so often on twitter, as I scroll through the #ttrpg tag, I see a certain type of tweet. It’s always from an account with a game-studio-sounding name I’ve never heard of, something like Darkwood Games or Blathersplotch Studios. In the tweet, they announce an exciting new UNIVERSAL table-top roleplaying system! Finally! A system that puts YOU in control! You can do whatever you want with it! Be a pirate! Or a space captain! Or (insert third generic genre here)!

It always breaks my heart a little to see these posts, maybe straggling along with one or two likes. I add my own little heart icon, because hey, buck-up champ. We all deserve a shot, right?

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Of Strings and Trauma Simulators

There’s a trend in nerd culture or fandom to attribute moral failings to the things we don’t like. It’s not enough for something to be not our cup of tea, or bad, it must also be harmful, destructive, problematic, etc. And to be sure, there is a great deal of harmful, destructive, and problematic stuff in fan culture and media. I bring it up only because that is what I don’t, in this case, want to do for some of the games (or types of games) I talk about generally here. I don’t think these games are morally corrosive or even necessarily bad. I’ve enjoyed a few, in specific circumstances. They just, generally, lie firmly on the “not my cup of tea” end of the spectrum, and I’d like to talk about why.

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Re-roll Math in Blades in the Dark

As I continue to play-test my Blades in the Dark hack, I’ve done more and more fiddling with some of the “side” mechanics that are a bit off to the side of the core game-play loop. And, once again, I find myself looking at re-rolls.

My original intent in investigating this was to replace the “Devil’s Bargain” mechanic in Blades. In Blades, anyone at the table can suggest a twist or complication the active player can agree to in order to gain +1 die to the roll. It is a good, thematic mechanic for Blades, because it is inherently risky. A +1 can really help you out, especially if your dice pool is low, but it could also just as easily provide no benefit, as you could easily have rolled the result you needed without the extra die, or the extra die could not give you the result you want. It’s less a bargain, more a gamble, with fits with the roguish, things get you into trouble theming of Blades.

For my game, I want a mechanic where friendship, relationships, etc pull you out of trouble, where your friends are team-mates, there to help you when you need them. I think this is where re-rolls excel, because they are most effective as a ‘saving throw’ then an added gamble. The Devil’s Bargain asks you what your willing to risk to get a better shot at winning big, while Intimacy, like the FATE mechanics it’s roughly based on, asks you what you’re willing to spend or sacrifice to avoid failure.

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The Importance of the Re-roll

In design, re-roll mechanics sometimes get a bad rap. The thinking goes that if a game is designed well enough, they effectively become superfluous, and at worst, damaging. After all, if the players can re-roll the dice any time they like, why even bother rolling? There is a school of thought that says once the dice hit the table, there are no take-backs. The die is literally cast, come what may.

But here’s the thing. No game is perfect. Whenever you introduce variance, you will, inevitably, run up against edge cases. The master thief rolling a 1 and crashing through pots and pans. The famed warrior botching a roll and sending their weapon flying out of their hands. If these eventualities happen too often, the game becomes slapstick. But, argues the other side, if these things never happen, then the game becomes stale and boring.

What I think is missing from such a view is the prospect of player agency. When a player rolls the dice, they are, in effect, giving up some amount of agency. The GM, or the system, or some mixture of the two decides what happens next. If the result determined by the die is too incongruous with the vision the player had of their character, it can lead to disassociation and frustration with the game’s mechanics.

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On Feedback

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.

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A Left Critique of SIGMATA

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.

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Wonky Dice: Why WHFRP 3rd Edition is Better than Star Wars

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.

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