State of the Game

Well, August and September have been hectic – moving for the first time in fifteen years really changes things.  Now that we’re in the process of settling down, I can return to writing.

So what’s going on?  Well, the Advanced Story Point System is in the process of being written.  Originally, this was going to be part of the Fox Magic Companion and Cloak and Dagger, but seriously, do you want to have to pay for the same mechanics book after book?  Rather than do that, we will be releasing the ASP system as a stand-alone book, which will cover all the rules needed to play any game which uses it.  There will also be a section on creating your own setting, adjusting the ASP mechanics to suit your style of play and your game world.

The Fox Magic Companion is going to become Advanced Fox Magic, and will use the ASP engine.  It will provide more detail on the foxes seen in Fox Magic, but will also deal with foxes and other tricksters found in other regions of the world.

Cloak and Dagger is still coming out, nothing’s changed there.  Those who provided us with a donation for our IndieGoGo will get a look inside it once we’ve got more written on it.  The game is close to completion, but I’ve paused to work on ASP.

And that’s where we are!

The Advanced Story Point System

Hitting a convention is a good way to test out your game engine “in the wild”, and this circuit of the conventions was no different.  I have been working on the Advanced Story Point System for a little while now, and the last year helped me to refine what I had been working on, with May providing me the chance to really push hard on the system and find where it needed improvement.  What I learned at the last two conventions was this:

1)  Changing Conditions from dice modifiers to Difficulty modifiers was exactly what was needed to alter the chance of success and to add more tension to each die roll.  The tempo changed hands more fluidly, and there was a lot more back and forth in the game – which means everyone gets more involved.

2)  Making the Difficulty “slide” was also an improvement.  Allowing the game master to shift the base Difficulty from 7 to a range between 5 and 9, before adding modifiers, was a good touch.

3)  The Aspect System in the game is not needed.  While it was intended to help players get into the feel of the game, the players seem to understand what to do without it, and it is more of a distraction than a tool.  It will be removed.

4)  ”Invoking” Edges is really not a good thing.  People forget they can call on it if it is a limited resource, and providing the bonus for ‘playing to character’ should be always available.  So the rules there are going to be changed, so it is an “always on” bonus.

I think this game system is a success, I had a full table at both conventions, and players were asking for additional sessions afterwards – that tells me that the game engine is one that engages players, and that the game lines are also something that interests those taking part – both very good things.

Once I’m a bit further into the writing, I’ll be looking for game masters willing to help run these games with their local groups, and to come back with feedback for me.  Right now, I need to focus on getting the core engine written out and refined, and make the game a lot clearer – a problem with the original Fox Magic was that the system was there, but how to play and run the game was a little murky.  Sure, once you’re in a game, and have someone who knows what they’re doing run it it becomes clear as day, but the rules should be easy to read and make everything clear – something else I learned from the convention tour.

Convention Report

May was a busy month for me.  I visited two conventions – CanGames, here in Ottawa, and What the Fur, over on Montreal.  The conventions are very different from one another – each convention has its own personality – but being small, independent conventions, they both had a very personal feel.

I ran Fox Magic at both conventions, and as usual, the players seemed to enjoy themselves very much.  I ran Cloak and Dagger at CanGames, and it also seemed to have done quite well for itself.  The Advanced Story Point System appeared to make the game smoother and easier to play, and playtesting it helped me to decide what mechanics to keep, and which mechanics to throw out.  I’ll be editing the mechanics over the next little while.

A friend of mine has published the game PonyFinder, and we sold copies of the game at What the Fur.  It drew a lot of interest – which makes sense considering the convention itself, and I think perhaps it would do better if we bring someone to game master next time.

We also sold buttons this year for the first time – a few general gaming buttons, buttons for Fox Magic specifically, and some alignment-themed buttons.  Chaotic Neutral seemed to be quite popular, and while at the conventions, some concepts for new buttons have come up.  We’ve also talked to the artist Ookami Kemono, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the future.

Now that I’m done my convention tour for May, I’m going to spend the remaining time until the next conventions to get a lot more writing done.  Hope to see you in the future!

New Locations, New Legends

I’m currently working on the Fox Magic Companion, and with the help of a new writer I’ve been expanding the concept of the foxes to new lands.  I’ve worked on the huxian, which are the Chinese foxes, and the huli jian, which are the same thing, only bad.  I’ll be adding the Korean foxes under ‘threats’, since there are apparently very little that could be said to be redeeming about them, and then I’ll work on the European foxes.

And that’s the point to this entry.  The foxes of Europe are a bit different, and working with a new writer has made for some interesting concepts.  The ideas I originally had for these foxes has pretty much gone to the wayside – I was going to use them mostly as tricksters, and perhaps sinister ones at that, but as I look at them, and the writing that’s been done, I don’t see them as tricksters.  Sure, they do play tricks at times, but there’s a lot more to them than that.

So, currently, I’m looking at the Scandinavian foxes – and they’ve gone from ‘trollish’ creatures to guardians of ancient ruins and lost cairns.  You still don’t mess with them – they’re very capable warriors, and as I work on them, I’m starting to envision the environment they’re in.

I may wind up having to write a lot more about the supernatural in Europe than I had intended – I’ve a feeling this book’s going to be thicker than I anticipated.

A Shift in Directions

When I first designed the Story Point System, I made the dice system as simple as I could.  You rolled a 12-sided die, and on a 7 or more, you succeeded.  If you wanted more dice, you had to pay for it, and it gave you better odds of success.

It was a simple mechanic, and it served me well, up to a point.  What I soon discovered is that a 50% chance of success on a die, when people started using 3 or more dice, soon became an almost sure thing.  The chance of players (or the game master) failing at anything sort of flew out the window, and this became a serious problem.

Recently, I came up with a modified mechanic to use with the ‘Advanced Story Point System‘.  This new system is what is going to be used in the Fox Magic Companion and in the Cloak and Dagger games.  It is a simple adjustment, and I think it will keep the game simple, while allowing for the flexibility I need in the game engine.

1)  Conditions no longer give (or remove) dice.  Instead, a Condition adjusts the Difficulty.  This means that instead of needing to roll a 7 or more to succeed, you might be required to roll an 8 or higher, or may get lucky and need a 6 or 5 to succeed.  This adjusts the stakes.

2)  Rather than simply having the actual value rolled determine your success, how well you do is determined by how much over or under the new Difficulty you roll.  So, if you need to succeed on a 5 or more, and you roll a 4, that’s a narrow failure, but if you roll 11-12, that’s a true success, as if you rolled a 12 in the old system.  If you need an 8 or more, you aren’t going to get that ‘perfect success’, because the best you can do is roll 4 higher than your Difficulty.

I think these two adjustments will make the game better – it makes Conditions more important, and it also means that spending attribute points for more dice will be much more of a thing in the advanced system.  Since Opportunities adjust Difficulty, rather than give more dice, players are going to want to spend attribute points to get the dice they need.  It also means Complications are going to be seen as a bigger threat, since they will reduce the chance of getting those ‘perfect’ successes.

This new system will be playtested at CanGames this year.

Things to Come

Cloak and Dagger is coming along nicely.  I’m not certain it will be done by CanGames, but it will be enough to be usable.  The Fox Magic Companion has an assistant writer, and after his work with the 8 Foxes, I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table.

There are other projects in the pipe, but we’ll see what happens concerning those after I’ve discussed specifics with other people.  I’ll let you know when I get the go-ahead.  :)  I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day – see you soon!

Rewriting the Story Point System

I have run Fox Magic a number of times, and having done so, I have found a few house rules I’ve used that makes the game … while not betterdifferent.  The game as it stands is a fun game, and very light on the players.  The game presumes the players are going to ‘win’, and that the characters, while they may meet hardships, are never really at risk of losing.

This works for some campaigns, but not others, and so with the Fox Magic Companion, I’m going to be introducing some new concepts to the Story Point System.  These concepts will find their way into Cloak and Dagger, first, which needs a higher degree of seriousness as part of the game engine.

First and foremost, I’ll be adjusting how the game master uses his Story Point pool.  Under the normal rules, he gets a pool based on the group and their strength, and draws from that pool for everything he does.  This drains the pool very quickly, and doesn’t allow for real ‘epic’ confrontations.  What I plan to do now is say that the game master sets a strength for any given encounter, from 1 to 4.  This is the minimum the game master rolls for the opposition in every confrontation.  The Story Point pool is freed up to augment these rolls, or to adjust the scene as normal.

A Challenge 1 opponent is a pushover, able to be defeated quickly.  A Challenge 4 opponent is a monster, and almost impossible to take down.  I figure that the wound system I will introduce will be used for taking down an opponent – you need to also inflict wounds equal to the opponent’s Challenge rating.

By wounds, I don’t mean ‘damage’ however.  In the advanced system, you can inflict injuries (reduce attributes).  Normally, to reduce an attribute in the Story Point System, the character has to act, and spend points from her attribute.  If she doesn’t act, or doesn’t spend points, she can in theory go forever.  What I’ve decided is that a character can ‘inflict injury’.  If the target has two Complications, you can burn them to reduce the attribute by one.  I figure, I’ll allow the same thing for NPC opponents as well.  Hit them where it hurts, and their Challenge rating drops by one.  This ‘damage’ can be anything – depends on what attribute you’re reducing:  A loss of confidence, a physical wound, confusion and disorientation, or a crisis of faith.

I think this will allow for more risky play, which in some games is a good thing.

8 Foxes

In an upcoming issue of The Grimoire, we will be having a guest writer.  He’s going to be involved with the Fox Magic Companion, but his first writing effort for us will be an article, showing us eight NPCs for Fox Magic, and how you can put a twist on the concepts that are available from the core rulebook.  The first draft has been presented, and I’m quite happy with the result.  Looking forward to seeing more from him!

I’ll let you know when it’s available!

CanGames 2014 and Updates

CanGames 2014 is right around the corner, and will be running May 16th to 18th.  As usual, I will be running Fox Magic there, but I am also going to be running Cloak and Dagger, trying out some of the new rules, while getting it ready to go into further development.  This year, the theme at CanGames is Crossroads, and with that in mind, I’ve got something special planned.

The two games, Cloak and Dagger, and Fox Magic, both use the Story Point System.  I will be running the two games as interconnected – the same setting, the same adventure, but from a different perspective.  Hopefully, we’ll see you there!

Cloak and Dagger, as mentioned, has some new rules added to it, I’m hoping to have it ready to go before the end of the year.  The Fox Magic Companion is also under development, with a second writer giving a hand to add material to it.  The goal is to have this funded as well this year.

Cloak and Dagger

Not too long ago, I had wondered how to do a spy-genre roleplaying game.  There’s been a few out there, such as Top Secret by TSR (and the sequel, Top Secret S.I.), as well as SpyCraft, first released by Alderac Entertainment Group, which used a variation of the d20 Modern rules released by Wizards of the Coast.  There’s been a James Bond RPG as well, though I never had the chance to see it.

So, it’s been done, right?  Well, yes and no.  While these games have most of what you need for a spy-based game – it also limits the characters in a significant way.  You have your skill lists, and you have your gear lists, and the players are expected to pick the right skills for their job, and pick the right gear, and hope for the best.

Making Cloak and Dagger, I felt that this wasn’t going to work for the spy genre.  The number of skills needed to be a spy can be pretty significant, and if you include the life skills that a person picks up over time, the skill list gets even bigger.  Then of course, with gear, nobody knows what they’re going to need at any given point during a mission, so having a fixed gear list is a hindrance, not a benefit.

What I wound up doing was removing the skill list entirely.  Characters don’t have skills, they have their attributes.  They have an archetype – a template which the player decides on, which explains who the character is.  Skills?  Well, the game presumes that the character has whatever skills would make sense for the background and archetype.  The player knows who the character is, and has an idea of what the character can do, so if something comes up, the player can say ‘yeah, I can do this’.  If the game master doesn’t agree, he has every right to veto.  If the game master thinks that everything’s fine, then he can decide whether or not to grant a test to see if the character fails.  Otherwise, the player states what he’s doing, everyone lets it slide, and the story moves on.

Equipment works the same way.  A character has a few signature pieces, which help define who he is, and that’s all that’s needed.  Anything else can either be picked up at the start of the mission, or it can be presumed the character has what he needs to do his job.  No real equipment lists necessary.  Your character’s a mechanic?  Sure, you might have a small screwdriver on you.  Your want a gun in your jacket?  Sure, why not?  A spy watch?  That’s fine too.  If the player can justify it to the game master, the character has it.  No ‘oh crap, I forget to buy this!’ sort of things.

One thing I’d often wondered about Top Secret – why did your gear have a price tag attached to it?  Wouldn’t the agency cover that kind of thing for you?

The thing that slowed me down the most was building the agency.  I wanted a system in place where the game master could build spy organizations of any size, and I got tripped up on the rules.  That’s why I put the game down for a bit – I wanted a chance to reflect on this and come back fresh.  Well, it worked.  Agencies are now designed by the players and the game master (though the game master can prebuild if he wants), and the players get to choose what assets the agency provides, while the game master plugs in secrets for the players to discover and eventually eliminate.  It’s simple, elegant, and fits the spy genre perfectly.

I’m looking forward to getting this finished, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.