Archive for the ‘Game Theory Discussion’ Category

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The Story Behind Black Clover

January 11, 2010

Concept art for the Black Clover character, "The Organist." Yes, that's a mechanized arm.

So, for many of you, I’ve talked about this random game — Black Clover — and you’re confused as to what it is.  You may have seen it on my Twitter background, you may have heard me talk about it in tweets, and you may have read some of my random descriptions in my blog.  You’ve been introduced to one of my characters — Xavier Guldstein — but you don’t really know much about this world or what this game really is.

Well, now that Black Clover is coming closer and closer to being a reality instead of one of my ludicrous fantasies, I feel that I can talk a bit more freely about this project, this pen and paper roleplaying game.

Black Clover is my first professional attempt at a pen and paper roleplaying system.  For a while, the game was going to be nothing more than a modification of Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, running off of Wizard’s new open gaming license.  However, when that brand new OGL never came through with the release of 4th Edition, I turned away from using the new D&D as a base and began experimenting with my own, deciding to take advantage of the moment and really craft a game that suits my world.

Black Clover is set in what I like to call Gothic fantasy steampunk, where it’s really a dark mishmash of steampunk values with punk/rock/emo/Victorian fashion.  It’s a bloody world full of the wonder of invention, the intrigue of a fledgling nation recovering after the destruction caused by a great plague, and a society where heroes barely exist.  It’s luscious, it’s twisted, it’s dark, it’s gory, and it flirts with the inappropriate constantly.  While it’s one of my newer fantasy worlds, it’s quickly risen to be one of my favorites.

The world took off centered around two thoughts in my head one day when I was eating lunch:  One question was, “What would a world that was obsessed with death be like?” while the other one was, “What would be the most powerful weapon in existence?”  The answers came quickly — the world would be dark, corrupted, and the center stage for a few heroes taking on all of the wrongs in the world in a bitter, weak struggle to make things right while the most powerful weapon would be the human soul.

So created was the Black Clover Rifle, a mythical wonder of technology that had the power to distill the essence of the human spirit by siphoning it out of the person through six sharp, wicked hooks attached to the back of the gun.  The energy would be routed through a central chamber containing an odd, onyx gem shaped like a four-leaved clover, where the energy was then dispersed into the barrel of the gun.  Black Clover had two firing options:  pulse the trigger quickly to only fire a part of your soul, or hold the trigger down to siphon your soul until you let go… letting the whole thing fire in one gigantic burst.

This was the weapon that finished a war by creating a two-mile wide canyon down the center of the continent for four hundred miles.  This was the gun that destroyed an entire army for the cost of one human life.  This was my world’s atomic bomb.  Of course, after firing the gun, the weapon and it’s holder disappeared.  Some say that he and the gun were consumed by the force of the blast, while others still believe the gun survived… hidden out there in Clover Canyon.  If a full burst could obliterate an army, then how powerful could a person be if they only pulled the trigger for a fraction of a second?

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So, with this world had to come a brand new way to play roleplaying games.  Carbon copying rules wouldn’t cut it for this universe (in addition to being illegal.)   However, I did not want to innovate for the sake of innovation (and legal reasons.)  Innovating to be innovative gets you nowhere fast — this system had to solve a problem in roleplaying.  Lo and behold, after just one brainstorming session and a suggestion from a few friends, I stumbled over the idea of dynamic statistics instead of the usual static physical characteristics, like strength, dexterity, etc.  With that, the Personality Drive system was born.

Personality Drive is how Black Clover solves a fundamental flaw of pen and paper roleplaying games: rewarding roleplay in a truly meaningful way.  While many games support roleplaying, and we all know how great D&D can be when the people sitting at the table are dedicated to not dicking over the game… some people like to dick over the game.  It’s hard to roleplay when power gamers are being jerks at the table, rules lawyers are shoving errata down the GM’s throat, and some people refuse to roleplay — preferring to play the whole game as one giant statistics fest.

How does Black Clover fix this?  Quite simply — it ties your statistics to your roleplay.  Each stat represents one of the aspects of the personality of your character.  Utilize these aspects in positive ways that your GM believes to be true to your character, and your stats rise.  Act like a dick… and well… you get statistics worthy of being a dick.  The only person you can blame is yourself.  Black Clover rewards you greatly for playing your character by offering you new abilities, new weapon upgrades (yes, you heard me, you build your weapon from the ground up), and better dice rolls.  Character improvement isn’t measured by scores of experience or level — character improvement is measured by character improvement.  As you explore who you are as a character, your abilities increase as you become more sure of what and who you are.  Act in contradicting manners, you’ll have memories that will haunt you.

This system, while it sounds limiting, really offers a more unique experience by making the player understand that some choices ARE hard decisions.  Heroes don’t make cavalier decisions when lives are on the line.  Or, will you break your morals to do the right thing, even if it means doing the wrong thing initially?  Will this power in personality lift you up or smack you down?

That’s just one aspect of how this game is very different from your standard roleplaying experience.  Hopefully I’ve made some of you excited or curious to see more.  Some of you… well you might be a little miffed right now, or baffled as to why I’d do such a thing with my core statistics.  Trust me when I say that it works out. 🙂  But, I won’t be completely sure of that until I enter playtesting… which isn’t for a bit yet.  But, in my initial runs… things look dandy. 😀

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Doing business, badly. Yey or nay?

October 1, 2009

So I need to poll the audience here, hence why I’m writing this post tonight.    I had one of those brain explosions that I rarely get, and I decided to act on this one.  It was the concept for a RPG/game-ish systems where players would effectively play a roleplaying game while simultaneously screwing one another over at the table, but in order to benefit the whole table.  It sounds fun (in concept, of course, as I haven’t exactly tried to test this yet) and it also sounds like a perfect system to plug into a game world that I’ve been working on for a long time now — Wildfire Industries.

WI was always built around the concept of pulling the stick out of the ass of business before shoving it violently into the head of business.  In short — it’s horrible corporate satire.  It’s the office politics you dread taken to a level of insanity and murder.  It was always a fun world for me to write/picture, and it even did quite well as a alternate reality game.

But just because it works well in one setting doesn’t mean it can translate to other settings, so here’s my question.  Would you play a pen-and-paper roleplaying game that centered on something like business?  Now, granted, it’s insane business, but it’s still business.  It’s still making contracts, securing funding, solving problems in the workplace, and things like that.  Sure the answer to all of these things might be having sex with the person you want to make the contract with, robbing a bank to secure funding, and killing everyone in a department to make sure there’s no more problems in the workplace, but it doesn’t work unless players want it to work.

So, would you want it to work?  Would you play a pen and paper roleplaying game centered around something as mundane as modern business?  Or would you believe that this system should be put to use in another type of game?

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I need some help from mah peeps

May 22, 2009

Okies readers, question for you:  Would you like to see the concept of hit points totally revisited to include injuries, or would you like hit points to remain just hit points — the number that goes down to show exactly how injured you are.

I ask this because I’m currently working on designing HP for my own pen and paper roleplaying game, and have two different concepts lying on the table.  One is the HP & Injury idea, where HP exists, but the focus is instead on injuries that can plague the character for long amounts of time.  This system makes the game much more complex, including different penalities for different types of injuries.

On the other side, my vision statement preaches simplicity and ease of access.  System 1 does not provide that, but instead provides an innovative mechanic that is innovative for the sake of being innovative.  Not the best reason to include something.  So, System 2 is just HP.  No other fancy additions, just some straight HP.  Perhaps injury can still be counted in this sytem, but it’s nowhere near as complex as the first system.
Comment away guys… I’m really interested in hearing your personal opinions on this one.

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Keen says what I said a month ago, Syncaine takes offense, I simply theorize and find a way to “aid” Darkfall

April 18, 2009

I hate to be the person who goes, “I told you so,” in arguments, but I believe that I need to do it in this situation.

I motherf$&%ing told you so a month ago.  But all y’all thought I was a giant jerk who couldn’t see the light of Darkfall‘s sandbox.  People were so busy bashing me for being a “Darkfall hater” that they were too blind to see that I really did play the game, enjoyed parts of it, but critiqued portions of the fundamental game that didn’t hold up to the main objective.

What was that line that I printed when Darkfall was launched?  Where was it?  Oh, was it this one?

While combat is pretty nifty and lag free, the monster AI is pretty awesome, and the exploration factor is phenominal, this game has huge incentive problems.

Once again, I don’t want to be the jerk of the blog, but I’m just kinda pissed that I got trounced on for saying the same thing Keen did just because I said it a month earlier, and because I represent the “big, bad, corporate MMO site.”  Keen has now said, and I quote:

For a game that is built around being a faster pace action oriented game, everything leads players to play at a slower pace.  I can travel from one side of the map to the other, but why would I?  There is no destination, purpose, or incentive.

Sound familiar?  (Btw, before you comment, please get Keen’s entire perspective by reading his post.  I think I got a good cut here, but I don’t want to take his thoughts out of context.)  Ok, on a less acidic note, I’m agreeing with Keen’s perspective on the game.  I don’t hate Darkfall and I’ve always said it has potential, but Aventurine needs to step it up.  Sadly, their track record doesn’t provide much indication that they will.

On the other side of the Internetz, Syncaine, the author of Hardcore Casual, freaked out a bit more than I thought he would on the subject.  Usually I find myself loving Syncaine’s posts, but I finally found one that I didn’t really agree with.

In short, he blames Keen’s problems on the fact that he’s in a giant alliance.  He thinks Keen should take the bull by the horns and go out and do things, rather than “relying on the game’s rules.”  It’s a heated post, in my opinion, and I don’t think Syncaine wished for it to come out like that, but who am I to say what Syncaine’s real opinion is.

When push comes to shove, however, I think Keen and Syncaine are both right in their own ways.  The difference is that I think Keen is getting to the heart of the matter while Syn is beating around the bush.  Players need reasons to beat the hell out of one another.

Syn brings up ad-hoc skirmishes — one of my favorite things about the sandbox design.  If you do it right, you actually lure players into exhibiting types of behavior.  They don’t realize it, but the best sandboxes are those structured to provide “toys” to attract people.  Dungeons, declared territory, points of interest — these are the things that should lure players there and then spark conflict.  How that conflict ends and proceeds is up to the player, hence the concept of sandbox.  The developer provides the tools, however subtle, and the player finishes the story.

The sandbox is not “make up shit so you have fun.”  Players should not actively have to consider “what can I do that’s fun?”  They should be able to see their own goals and forge on ahead.  For example, “There’s a mine with rare loot in it over the next hill.  I should get some of that.”  There’s the goal.  The developer never wrote the goal down for the player, or told the player that that is the goal.  The player found a point of interest (the mine) and has chosen to get a reward from it (the rare ore.)  How the player conducts themselves is now in the player’s hands.  Other people may interfere or may cooperate or may simply not engage, and that’s the nature of the sandbox.

Keen has gotten to the heart of that by saying, “there should be incentive, like rare ore in a neutral town.”  Because Darkfall provides everything everywhere, there’s no drive to go out and put your stuff at risk.  No rare items to fight over, unlike Darkfall’s sister game, EVE Online.  EVE provides areas with really awesome resources.  What happens in those areas?  Everybody wants them.  Conflict sparks, the sandbox is filled, and players have a good time without having to go out and actively seek “a good time.”  Players who don’t have the resources want it so they can use it, and players with the resource fortify their resource with weapons made from other resources.  It’s a giant wonderful circle of spending.

Syncaine wants people to go out and be more active.  That’s what Keen and I want; we want people to get out and be active.  Activity sparks opportunity.  But if you already have everything, as Keen’s alliance may have, then what do you need to be active for?  You have it all.  You have your resources, your building your weapons, your defending what you have because you don’t want to lose it.  Too many people are in that state in Darkfall, which now leads to sit, stare, and bitch.

If you have a city, have people mining, foresting, and herbing, have a crafter and have guards… what more do you need?  You have the ability to make what you need with all of that.  EVE made sure that wasn’t possible.  Whoops, Aventurine.

So, lastly, I’ll leave you with my idea.  One that would most likely spark some conflict, because Keen brought this up on Syncaine’s post.  Keen said that he has 12+ people in his clan on all the time, and it’s no fun going out and having 12 vs. 1 battles.  I agree.  The situation is not fun and the rewards are probably not worth it.   You go out, kill the guy, and you probably have better stuff than he does.  You take it, it goes into your bank, it does nothing.

But what if you could de-craft an item.  Disassemble it into component parts.  Now, that chainmail that no one’s going to use could be disassembled into a few things of metal.  Metal that you could put towards your bigger objectives, like a siege engine.  What would a little change like that cause?

My bet would be that there would be a rise in conflict.  I, basically, just turned all players into mobile crafting nodes.  Groups would go out looking for blood because they could add to their war coffer in a productive way.  This means larger groups would clash in ad-hoc combat.  I would go so far to bet that even commerce would go up, as a crafter could sell his items to a guild and the guild could disassemble them for their own needs.  Crafter gets his rank ups, guild gets some resources.

Would you get 5 metal from a piece of armor that used 5 metal to make?  Of course not, you need dimishing returns, but you all get my drift on this.  It’s not rocket science to provide incentive.