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Inactive File => Endeavor: Game Chef 2010 => Topic started by: Dan Maruschak on September 11, 2010, 10:13:10 AM

Title: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 11, 2010, 10:13:10 AM
I don't have a strong idea yet, but last year I found the process of articulating my thoughts in words helped me develop them further, so I'm going to post what I'm thinking about and hope they coalesce into a game eventually.

One Edge-related idea I had was to use it in the sense of nodes and edges in graph theory. I was thinking that having to randomly connect edges between nodes on a 2D plane would eventually cause you to have to have intersecting edges, which could be some sort of mechanical trigger. I tried some experiments with NxN grids and d66 / d44 / and d33 dice, but I had to get pretty deep into the rolls before I needed to do any intersections. I could steal from my current game-in-progress, Final Hour of a Storied Age (, and arrange all of the nodes around the edge of a circle and require straight lines to connect them, which will guarantee more intersections.

Building on that around-the-circle thing, the obvious places to go are a clock face (with d12s to pick the random nodes to connect) or a compass rose (maybe d8 for N, NE, E, etc.). I'm thinking that maybe this could incorporate the City -- the circle is a map of the city, two numbers get randomly picked, you use a straightedge to connect them, you focus on the part of the map to one side of that line, and then use some oracle-mechanic to pick an important location or create a new one.

Edges also reminded me of clock edges, and my experience in digital electronics. Maybe some kind of finite-state-machine mechanic? I've been wanting a game where a creepy potionmaker like Severus Snape could be a good character, and there might be some potential for that with this. I'm thinking something along the lines of a particular random die roll triggering a transition, at which point you would evaluate certain key-like phrases to determine your next state -- so if you take a strength potion you stay in the strengthened state as long as you are playing your character as active and aggressive, otherwise you transition to a lethargic state, or something. Maybe this would play out something like having moods or emotions that are somewhat beyond conscious control.

Also, some notes to myself: The most obvious way to use desert is with a dry sandy environment. However, as a verb it means to leave, as in "desert your post". Also, it's apparently the correct spelling for the phrase "just deserts", since it's related to what people deserve.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Darla Shockley on September 11, 2010, 01:07:28 PM
I don't really have any useful comments, but I am intrigued by this finite state machine idea.  It seems like it could be neat.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Jason Pitre on September 11, 2010, 08:28:08 PM
Love the concepts floating around.  Have you considered dealing with time-travel with such a mechanism?  A journey through time in an ancient city, where intersections of time streams although rare would lead to lasting consequences? 

Look forward to hearing more!

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 12, 2010, 10:32:40 AM
Here's where my head is at right now:

Welcome to a London that never was but always is, where the sun never sets on the British Empire but can never quite burn through the fog that shrouds the streets. It is the Age of Enlightenment, the time when man finally has the tools to perfect the haphazard work of the Creator. But what is perfection? That is a question for the foremost empiricists of the day: those men that study the curious alchemy that occurs beneath the skin, those who find out what makes us who we are, and endeavor to change it.

I was contemplating my FSM mechanic and thinking that I ought to keep it simple. So: Each state has the equivalent of a tag (a bonus or penalty that applies whenever the conditions apply -- something like "immense physical strength" or "easily distracted") and a key (a roleplaying guide, like "aggressive, belligerent, or violent" or "critical, finds faults with others"). The keys will "go off" based on some random event (like, you get doubles on a die roll or something), at which point you evaluate each of the keys for whether the player has been demonstrating them in the roleplaying, putting them into one of three categories: "Clearly demonstrated", "Eh", or "Actually, the opposite of that". Those three options will map to next-state edges, which take you either back to the same state or to a different state (possibly with some other mechanical hook, too, like gaining or losing certain kinds of points). The basic machine will only have a few states: base effect, after effect, (maybe virulent reaction?). So it would work something like this:

Base Effect: Great physical strength (side effect: aggressive, belligerent, or violent)
---- Demonstrate the side effect: next state is Base Effect
---- Unclear side effect: next state is Base Effect (reduce the power of the trait?)
---- Opposite of side effect: next state is After Effect
After Effect: Fatigue (side effect: hungry)
---- Demonstrate the side effect: next state is Done
---- Unclear side effect: next state is After Effect
---- Opposite of side effect: next state is After Effect (increase the power of the trait?)

I was thinking that this might be odd if this was all related to potions, since such a large part of the character's personality would end up being variable, but now I'm thinking of turning that into a feature rather than a bug: they're not just potions anymore, they're "essence" extracted from people (this came from thinking about how to work the "skin" element into it -- whatever it is that makes this stuff work is inside the body and under the skin, so you need to inject and extract it, etc.). This made me think of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, so a Victorian London setting seemed appropriate (City). I'm thinking that this "potion" stuff isn't a subsystem, all character traits work like this, it's just that some traits are more fundamental to a character and some are more ephemeral (like extra ones you extract from other people and inject into yourself), but it's possible to strengthen some traits and weaken others, make the transitory traits permanent and vice versa, etc. This makes the game pretty dark, as you have things like researching how to inject Obedience into your factory drudges, or what you need to extract from your wife to make her more compliant (I'm not usually a fan of creepy sex stuff in games, but the Victorian setting sort of demands it...).

I think there also needs to be some sort of mini-game focused around extracting, distilling, and mixing essences. However, I know I have a tendency to overcomplicate things and this feels like it's pushing in that direction. I'm thinking a subsystem like this can introduce an element of surprise or uncertainty into the game, since it could result in picking up some undesirable personality traits. I'll have to think on all of this some more, and I may end up radically changing direction, but this is where I am right now.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 13, 2010, 12:00:24 PM
I'm still trying to work out the mechanics. In addition to the stuff I already talked about, I'm thinking that the FSMs could be a good way to model conditions, like going unconscious or dying. Like if someone stabs you, you can stay in the "bleeding out" state as long as you roleplay that, but if you don't convincingly roleplay that (both in terms of in-character acting and the choices you make in terms of what conflicts to pursue, etc.) then you switch to the "unconscious" state. It's still a bit nebulous, but I think it has potential.

For the resolution mechanics, I'm leaning toward something between Apocalypse World moves and Mouse Guard twists. I'm not particularly invested in the AW "hide the mechanics from the players" thing, I want the mechanical skeleton to be pretty raw and close to the surface. Right now I'm toying with the idea of having four contexts: Physical, Mental, Perceptual, and Social, and a set of "stakes templates" that would use factors to determine the Ob for various abstracted activities, like "position yourself for advantage". So the player would describe what they're doing in a way that communicates stakes and context (and also justifies which tags they use):

Player: I'm going to hire a coach to take me down to the docks, so I can find an especially burly dockworker to extract strength from.
GM: So it sounds like you want a Perceptual context test to Identify Person with Specific Capability, but the "going down to the docks" part sounds like a Position for Advantage test before that to give yourself a bonus. And you're hiring a guy, so I guess it's a social context?
Player: Yeah, that's good. Two tests, first social then perceptual.
GM: OK, Position for Advantage is a low Ob so it should be easy, but you never know what the dice are going to do.

Then, if they fail the roll, the margin of failure can force changes in context or introduce active or passive obstacles between the player and achieving that stake, in either the same or different context. So maybe if they fail the roll by a tiny amount they can't get any coaches to take them there (no additional obstacle, but you can't get those stakes in this context), by a medium amount there's a dockworkers' strike that wants to keep them out of the area (passive social obstacle), or if they fail by a bigger amount, a nosy cop takes an interest in their activities (active social obstacle). I'm hoping this gives a somewhat organic feel to single-roll vs. multi-roll conflicts, rather than having explicit GM/player negotiations.

I think I want the dice rolling a lot, both because it can act as a random trigger for FSM transitions and also so that people aren't wasting mental energy on the "does that warrant a die roll?" judgement call. I'm hoping that all of the decisions required in the game are easy pattern-matching style decisions, like applying the factors to determine the Ob in a Mouse Guard skill test, rather than difficult judgement calls, like the "should we go to the conflict sytem now?" decision in DITV.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 13, 2010, 06:26:26 PM
I've been working through the mechanics. I decided to script out some hypothetical play to see where I wanted things to go (here ( are the results if anyone is interested). I think I'm making good progress, although I'm concerned that I may have too many Qualities / Expressions going on for people to reasonably be cognizant of all of them, and I noticed that I was being kind of repetitive in the way I used them in my hypothetical play, which is probably somewhat lame.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 14, 2010, 07:26:00 AM
I think my working title is Quintessence. I'm not sure if I like it yet, and I haven't done any extensive uniqueness searching.

I spent a little time looking for some public domain art I could use. I'm thinking old-timey medical equipment and such. Things like this ( would be good, but I don't want to spend any money. There might be some good stuff here (, but I'm having a hard time navigating their archive and/or search feature. If anyone has any links or suggestions I'll be happy for the help. I should probably look for exemplars of interesting qualities as well, like strongmen, etc.

I'm going to try to put some attention on the FSM mechanics today, and maybe start writing up a draft of the rules.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 16, 2010, 03:27:42 PM
I've made some progress on the design. Here's a link to a character sheet prototype ( and the beginnings of a first draft of the rules (

I'm assuming that it's pretty impenetrable at this point, but I'm open to feedback if anyone wants to give it. I know I need to add a bunch of example essences, fill out the rest of the "stakes templates", explain how NPCs are supposed to work, how to do "conditions" like getting injured, and explain how to GM.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: masqueradeball on September 16, 2010, 09:45:16 PM
Mental and Perceptive seem like difficult qualities to differentiate in play. In the context of a game when would a player use the Mental context, precisely?

Other than that the system is very neat, it really scratches my fiddly bits itch (which sounds way more pervy (in the non-Forge Glossary sense) than it is) but it is rather obtuse, too much so for me to comment on whether or not it would be very effective. I do think that I could learn it easily enough, if someone was teaching it too me.

Fair warning: "my reading" was more of a perusing... been thinking way too much about game stuff lately but I wanted to contribute.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 17, 2010, 09:20:43 AM
Mental and Perceptive seem like difficult qualities to differentiate in play. In the context of a game when would a player use the Mental context, precisely?
It's not fully baked, so I'm not 100% sure. Probably something like inventing new techniques, formulating theories that they could write scholarly articles about, tricking or confusing people, maybe solving mysteries. I was looking at it more from the GM's perspective for what kind of twists would be introduced, like if you were trying to kill someone, you could get a mental obstacle "you realize you haven't arranged an alibi". Like I said, not fully baked yet.

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: masqueradeball on September 17, 2010, 12:44:40 PM
Is there a reason not to roll Mental and Perceptive together? Is it just a potential usefulness thing?

Title: Re: Dan's Game Thread
Post by: Dan Maruschak on September 17, 2010, 12:55:25 PM
Is there a reason not to roll Mental and Perceptive together? Is it just a potential usefulness thing?
Yes. It's a signal to the players about what kinds of tasks and obstacles are appropriate in the game. I get that you don't see it, and maybe I'll change it later, but for right now I'm happy with that part of the design.