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Navigator RPG -Playtest

New Release

Navigator RPG is a new fusion of two ideas. The first is OGL D&D in space. Or more accurately Swords & Wizardry OGL D&D in space. This of course has already been done and full credit to Barrel Rider Games and their wonderful White Star White Box game.

You cannot have a fusion with some other elements. I have been a long time fan of Rolemaster and particularly the original Space Master. This is a long neglected game and the whole Rolemaster thing has moved away in a very different direction from that original game.

Navigator RPG has taken the OGL White Star and done what the original Iron Crown Enterprises Inc. did to AD&D and turn it into a d100 game of skills and critical driven combat.

Over the decades, and the original Space Master is 40 years old, there have been a few good innovations in Rolemaster. These I have tried to apply to this fusion game.

I enjoy simple role playing systems and being able to adjudicate situations to move the story forward. Others like to have rules so they can plan effectively and not have a GM pull the rug from under them. To accommodate this spectrum Navigator RPG is as much about being a simple Science Fiction RPG as it is about providing a structure and framework from which anything can be developed.

The Open Gaming License actively encourages this fan based extension, variation and remixing of the content. Take the game and do what you want with it.

The current release is the playtest version.

Free Forever.

The PDF version of Navigator RPG will always be a free (Pay What You Want) download. Take it and play it, hack it, do what you want. There will also be print on demand books. These cannot be free because of the expense of printing and delivery.

Everybody who downloads the playtest will get the final full colour PDF game, for free.

You can check out the playtest documents on DriveThruRPG.

Below are a few screenshots of the current playtest document.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 31st – Reincorporation

Finally a topic that is close to the heart of the way I like to solo play.

So the basic creative process in both group play and solo play is this. An idea (NPC, Organisation, location etc) is created (Creation). Later on you need that an NPC/Organisation/location again and it is easier to reuse the existing one than go through the creation process yet again. This is Repetition. I encourage everyone I teach to solo play to scan over the list of unused story arcs, or adventure hooks and see if they can be connected to form a more coherent plot, but one running parallel to the PCs that they are just getting glimpses of.

The actual ruling from Solo Fate
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/282773/Solo-Fate

As soon as you start to link things that your character has touched upon before you are using Reincorporation. At the time of creation you had no idea that the strange phone call you heard was part of a major conspiracy or the horse you stole was Jesse James’s Stonewall.

Reincorporation happens when you link one creation to other ideas. It doesn’t only enrich the first creation by adding a new detail to its description but it adds new details and enriches the things you connect it to. A wonderful example comes from Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.

That is a perfect example of reincorporation. Not only does the scene go on to tell us about how Trillian become Zaphod’s travelling partner, we learn more about Arthur’s previous life, more about Zaphod and about Ford.

For the full scene and more about the party in Islington you will have to (re)read the book. The point is that reincorporation embeds new facts back into your world and adds details to everything it touches.

Reincorporation is, in my opinion, and essential part of building a solo sandbox campaign that will have longevity. It doesn’t take long to have three or four significant schemes, plots and villains each with their own agendas operating around your character and there is no reason at all for you to interact with them. The idea of -> Here is the plot <-, you will accept this quest! simply does not apply.

In a group game reincorporation can add details to new NPCs to help make it appear that they didn’t just spring fully formed out of thin air. A simple trick is to ask the players to make some kind of memory check for their characters. Those that succeed remember seeing this character in the past at a location, maybe you mentioned some unusual characters in a tavern or the characters were at a busy council meeting at a castle. This simple act of reincorporation casts the NPCs history back into the characters past and the characters can infer from it that they know the same tavern barkeep or they have the same political patron.

With NPCs that make friends, fall in love, fall out of love, split up and make up it is easy to explain how you can have a common contact but in all these years they never mentioned the aforementioned NPC. If you suddenly want to drop an entire dungeon into a country and no one had ever heard of it, it can be harder. One technique is to make it the place were known heroes died. It can then appear to be something the characters know about the world but the players didn’t know. Alternatively changing a few details and you can make connections to a secret organisation that has already had contact with the players. No one else knows about this place because it is a secret kept by this secret organisation, don’t tell anyone. Change an odd detail here or there an you can associate the place with a religion or cult in your world. Little details can embed a new location into an existing world.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 30th – Asymmetric Power

As I understand asymmetric power it is a reference to player character classes, professions and races where one may be more or less powerful than another or a game mechanic that can aid or hamper one player over another. A really basic example is rolling 3d6 for your Characteristics. If you roll middling or slightly below average you may not have any particular penalties but, especially in older version of D&D and its derivatives you could be excluded from particular races and character classes. A character that rolled a set of high rolls not only gets bonuses to many actions, they get access to all the professions and races and could get +10% experience for high primary characteristics. So not only is the character capable of achieving more because of bonuses to rolls, better to hit and more damage which could all mean more experience but when the experience is earned they get 10% extra. This will level them up faster and so the cycle repeats and gets worse at each cycle. The solution to this particular problem was to give an array of numbers and the player assigns them to the stats they want. No one is excluded from any race or profession and no one gets any particular advantage.

With character classes there has long been a fallacy that wizards are especially weak at low levels but are compensated for that by being incredibly powerful at high level. This is of course a fallacy. In games with simple char gen if your wizard dies in the first level or two you just make another one and eventually one will survive and as soon as you get to fifth level you get fireball and everything is fine.

In games that have detailed char gen that takes hours you tend to find things like fortune points or fate points that help keep characters alive when they should have died. You also frequently find the GM doesn’t want to ruin his game session by calling a halt while you spend three hours creating a new first level wizard so you may find a bit of plot armour creeping in.

Either way what tends to happen is that wizards survive to be high level 100% of the time if the player wants to play a wizard and the GM wants to run and extended campaign. I ran a game where I explained that magic was extremely rare and every single player immediately rolled up a magic user. If magic is rare then having magic would give you a huge advantage. I play in a game and the GM said that his home brew world is extremely magical, to the point where most families will have at least one person who could use cantrips and every village would have a genuine spell caster. Every player rolled up a magic user. If everyone has magic and you didn’t then you would be at a serious disadvantage.

In both cases the perception was that without magic you would be weak and it is the GM’s task to balance adventures so the challenge should be something that five magic users can cope with. Also that the first few levels were the training wheels levels and the GM isn’t out to kill you (yet). After 5th level you were more than capable of looking after yourself especially if they all worked together.

The only systems I have played where I can say there was not this asymmetry between magic and non-magic characters was Hero System and my own 3Deep. I will also confess to the fact that the magic system in 3Deep was inspired by playing Champions back in the 1980s. There may be others but it always remains that fighters can hit one person at once and a wizard can blast dozens of bring down castle walls or any number of other mass effects. Things that a warrior cannot do.

So many games look back to D&D for their tropes that they fall into this same asymmetric flaw.

Yesterday I think I wrote about my healer character. In Rolemaster you buy spells by the list. A list has group of spells organised by level. You could know the entire list but you can only cast the spells of your level or lower (there are optional rules for casting higher than your level spells with big penalties – called over casting). The problem with this system is that spell casters power snowballs. If at first level you know one or two lists, which is typical you will have one or two spells. At second level you may learn a new list so you know the 1st and 2nd level spells on that list and the first two you learned so you now have 6 spells (3x1st and 3x2nd). At 3rd level you gain another list and now you have four lists and know the first three spells on all the list so you have 12 spells.

By the time you are 5th level you would have stopped spending skill points on combat skills and you start learning two lists per level. It is easy to have eight lists giving you a range of 40 spells to cast from. You cannot cast them all as you have a limited amount of power points with which to charge your spells but it is the range and breadth of magic available.

Even a Lay Healer would have a three attacking spells available by 5th level and many more defensive spells. By that level there is no real fear of being caught up in a combat. Lay Healers also have no restrictions on armour barring helmets. So when I get to 5th level I can be wearing heavy-ish armour, protect myself further with magic, carry a shield and even attack at range using magic. As long as I keep enough power back to keep people alive after the battle I can create the impression of being the complete all rounder. The reality is of course that the fighters will be more fighty than me and the wizards will be more wizardy than me. But I still get to play a full and active role because of this built in profusion of magic. The wizards have the same volume of spells but their sphere of magic isn’t as broad ranging as the lay healer. They have a great number of attacking spells for example, they can fly faster and teleport further but they will never be able to heal and they have less defensive magic. The other realm of magic is your clericy/druidy magic and they don’t get to wear the heavy armour and they are even more lacking in attacking spells. The only thing they can do that I cannot is bring people back to life. I can stop you dying and put you back together but I cannot restore life if you actually died.

Depending on who you listen to some role master players think Clerics are the most powerful profession as they do have some offensive spells, they can wear some armour and they can heal and restore life.

Some thinking that your typical wizard type is the most powerful as lightning bolt is the most dangerous direct attack in the game and a death cloud the most powerful area of effect spell in the game.

I think lay healers are the most powerful profession in the game because they have strong defenses, incredibly wide ranging magic for attack, defence and just about everything utilitarian in between, they are healers and their core skills relate to social interaction and mental skills. There is nothing this profession cannot do once they get past the first few levels.

Absolutely no one thinks any of the arms or skills based characters our outstanding.

If that isn’t asymmetrical I don’t know what is!

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 29th – Elliptical Play

Elliptical play was something that I had never heard of until today.

So the principle is a bit like Elephant in the room. In role playing there is stuff going on, probably centre stage but the characters are not involved in it. They may know about it, be effected by it but they do not take part in it. In many ways Zweihander is entirely based on elliptical play. Zwei heroes are the people that make a difference to one persons life or maybe a household. You may take on a gang of thugs here or a lurking horror there but saving the world is not what the game is about.

There are plenty of heroes doing that sort of thing in many of the campaign seeds but it isn’t you. The great events are more likely to just provide a backdrop to a game.

Elliptical play is also used to skirt around topics that do not get played out. We do it all the time to skip boring “stuff”. We are going on a quest of a thousand miles but the actual travelling a thousand miles is not so exciting so we skirt around it. In some games the journey is actually the bit that gets role played but the big battles are skipped over. If not in a journey then in political campaigns. One of the most popular board games amongst my circle of role players used to be Diplomacy. It is almost entirely elliptical in that it is technically a wargame but the battles are almost entirely skipped over. All the ‘action’ happens away from the board and in inter-player diplomacy.

In all my solo rules I have a record sheet for ‘loose ends’ or ‘story arcs’. This is a place where you jot down potential adventures that you are not pursuing. I recommend that at the beginning or end of the a solo session you scan down the list and if any seem like they should naturally connect, maybe they have an NPC in common or a theme then you use a coloured highlighter and connect them. That still doesn’t mean you need to actively play them but it helps to know that there is another adventure/plot/scheme happening in your solo world even if you are not a part of it.

Once you have a connected thread of off camera events you can think what it could be. I now like to use PbtA clocks to measure the progression of these off camera events. As you improv plot complications and story twists if these hidden schemes fit the bill then you can connect them and advance the clock.

Image result for blades in the dark progress clocks

In this case the clock is not for an obstacle but other world events.

There is a lot of stuff that you quite simply do not want to play though that you can assumed happened and advance the clock. You then pick up after the event and progress from that point onwards.

I think it is debatable if there is a need for elliptical play in solo games. You are in control of the content. There is no need to skirt around difficult subjects if you don’t want the game to go there. I don’t actually see why RPGs need to go near difficult subjects in the first place, that seems contra to the entire idea of playing a GAME. If you want to use RPGs for therapy then you should know what you are doing before you get into it. This blog is not about therapy.

My favoured profession in group play is that of healer or medic. We play a lot of Rolemaster and the Lay Healer profession is a great all round profession. In a near future game I was in my medic was still special forces trained and I got to carry a .44 magnum (Do you feel luck?) but I was still the medic. As a healer do I want to skip the combat scenes? Hell, no! Amy I central figure in combat? Normally yes but I probably don’t rack up as many kills as the marines and knights.

Why medics?

It all started in a campaign long ago. We had a GM that was so clearly fudging the dice to keep up alive that we would throw ourselves into stupid combats just to prove the point, even just between ourselves as a private joke. The GM would always have an NPC healer and she would (his healers were always female for some reason) always keep us alive and patch us up just enough to complete the quest/whatever.

When I decided to play a healer it caused the GM a minor panic. The group didn’t want to two healers and no one wanted to go out of the way to find an NPC healer anyway if they already had one in the party. But he[the GM] no longer had control over healing and death. For once he had to honestly balance the threats and quests he sent us on. This of course didn’t work, he just fudged their to hit rolls and damage. He may as well of given all his villains over ripe bananas to fight with instead of weapons the way they never did more than minimal damage once people started falling over in big fights.

I will also confess to being a bit of a min/maxer, but I am also a damn good role player (even if I say so myself). Playing a supposedly weaker profession, but one that is min/maxed amongst a group of characters of middling to fair ability sort of balances out. If I was level for level equal then I would be overshadowed in every way except post combat healing. As I am gaining experience faster than my companions, being a level or two higher is actually putting me on a par of sorts. As my character is not an in your face leadership contender, I am peasant-born amongst nobles, it also means I am never going to steal the limelight from the players and characters that need it, and that has nothing to do with numbers on a page, min/maxing or character level.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 28th – Emergence

The concept of emerging game play has been central to RPGs right from the start. Emergent play was, to the best of my knowledge one of the main selling points of human run games over computer adventures.

So the principle of Emergence is when the style of play emerges during play. Each RPG group will develop its own style of play, house rules emerge and often things that work in your group would have another group looking on in horror because that is just not the way they do things.

In some ways Emergence is a funny thing to put on an RPG theory megathread, unless it was for the benefit of the computer designers.

The next wave of games that are going to have to deal with emergence are games being controlled by more sophisticated AI cores. If these have to adapt to the way the game is being played then emerging ways of playing will force the AI to create new ways of running the universe.

Today I saw a tweet from @solorpg that said “Work progresses on my solo player/NPC conversation system. But it is still so hot inside. Second playtest tonight. Will need ice. #ttrpg#solorpg#dnd

We will come back to that tweet shortly.

One of the first attempts at AI was made by the Victorians and was called an Automatic Governor. It was fitted to steam engines/locomotives and provided a basic form of cruise control. The way it worked was to suspend a couple of weights on the ends of levers. The other end of the governor was put in the flow of steam from the engine. As the engine ran faster the weights would spin around and centrifugal force would make them swing up and out operating the lever they were attached to. The lever would work to limit the flow of steam. That would slow the spin on the weights, operating the lever again, increasing the steam flow. The engine operator could limit the movement on the levers to control the cruise control. This isn’t real AI but it was quite miraculous for the time. The Automatic Governor could maintain the speed of a train more accurately than a human driver.

I think of some of the Chaos factor implementations as automatic governor. If there is not enough action the Chaos adds more action, if there is too much action the Chaos eases off.

PbtA clocks have the same feel for me. You decide some future event and the events that would bring that about and the simple act of ticking down the clock ensures that the right events happen at the right time for each events. You can have unlimited clocks each running down at their own pace.

Now we come to soloRPGs tweet. If we can build conversation emulators and they are simple things (I haven’t seen soloRPGs convo system but I could build one right now using 1d6) then we have another solo tool that adds a layer of information that the solo player has to bring their games to life.

I don’t know what soloRPG is designing but my instinctive reaction was something like this:

RollSpeaker 1Speaker 2Roll
1Strongly Disagrees with… Strongly agrees with …1
2Disagrees with… Agrees with…2
3Has newsIs shocked by…3
4Needs to know…Doesn’t care3
5Agrees with…Disagrees with…5
6Strongly agrees with…Strongly disagrees with6

That could be nothing at all like soloRPG had in mind but I could easily see it as a part of future solo tools.

So is this a new emergent movement in solo play? Building in more false AI to take a bit of the improv burden off of the GM/player?

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#RPGTheoryJuly-27th – Player Stance

Player stance is not really a design issue it is about how the player is playing the character. There are generally three player stances and one that is normally reserved for the GM.

The player stances are Actor, Author and Director. The forth stance is that of Pawn and is what happens when the GM is moving bit part NPCs around with no more thought than whether should run away or not.

Players can fluidly move between stances, talking in character is Actor stance, describing the characters movements is Author stance and making decisions about the environment is Director stance.

A game can encourage or discourage the use of Director stance by players. If you use a fate or fortune point change a dice roll so you don’t die that is pure mechanics, if you play the point and describe how at the last second blocked the blow using a sack of flour you are using Director stance, controlling the scene and creating props.

Some games, such as fate actively encourage player collaborations to create the world and scene descriptions. This is encouraging Director stance. Other games put all that power only in the hands of the GM.

More often the player will flip between Actor and Author stances. Describing actions and what was said and how it was said in Author stance and moving to Actor stance when addressed in character or when reacting based upon their backstory, motivations and alignment. Deeply personal reactions for the character are Actor stance moments.

The mix between Actor and Athor can be down to the player and how comfortable they are at play acting in front of the other players.

Solo Time

The solo player has access to all four stances all the time regardless of the game designers ideas on the subject. There is no barrier to playing in any style and certainly no social pressure to adopt one style over another.

This doesn’t mean that you can just manipulate the world to your own advantage, well you can but… in solo play the question and answer mechanics can create facts that you need to respect, exits are there or not there, there is or isn’t a life raft. They are facts and part of the game. On the other hand many game world choices will never go to the Oracle. If it seems obvious then you don’t ask, you just decide and make it so.

The line between Actor and Author stances in solo play is more blurred. I certainly see my character from outside, I am not seeing through his eyes. I know his motives, his words and feelings and play these out, which is all Actor stance but at the same time I am watching the scenes unfold very much in the third person in my minds eye.

Director/Pawn Stance

For solo play this has the most potential for doing more work. I have recently become enamoured with PbtA clocks. As soon as there is some event happening off camera you start a clock and it counts down. When you are sneaking around each failed stealth action could count down the clock one tick until the security guards are alerted.

You could have a clock that really was time based and every 30 seconds of game time it counted down. When it counts down the police arrive.

Clocks are the thing that has my attention now and they have the potential to direct the arrival on scene of pawns. There is a 1d6 mechanic in the One Page Solo rules for directing combatants actions on a random bases.

Here is the really cool bit of this post! Everyone knows there are supposedly five stages to guilt. I was reading today that there is an anger cycle that goes something like Rest Phase (not angry), Build Up Phase, Outburst phase, Guilt/Remorse Phase. So rather than rolling a 1d6 to see of this random NPC who the oracle doesn’t like you attacks, we could roll a d4 and place them on an anger cycle.If they are hostile and you get them in the Outburst phase you can imagine what happens. If they are in the build up phase then your actions and roleplaying could move them into outburst or maybe calm them.

We could rationalise the five stages of grief down to four stages and now we have two viable NPC mind state cycles. I did a quick search and found four stages of love: Phase 1: Falling In Love Phase 2: Becoming a Couple  Phase 3: Disillusionment  Phase 4: Real, Lasting Love.

I cannot help but think that with a bit of work even pawns and their behaviour could be resolved using a simplistic oracle tool.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 26th – Realism vs Playability

Is realism actually a thing in role playing games? I have played some of the crunchiest and rules heavy games available over the past 40 years and I have never seen anything approaching realism.

I have played games that have confused micro management for realism, or those that gave tried to model real world events, like getting hit by a war hammer, and these fail terribly. It is almost a sport to visit their forums and read the archers complain about how archery is modelled and the fencers and pugilists complain how swords are modelled. Then you get physicists trying to rationalise whether plate mail would act as a faraday cage or not.

There is a saying along the lines of ‘amateurs talk of tactics, professionals talk of logistics’.

In game design amateurs and marketeers talk of realism, real designers talk of consistency.

Consistency means that players can plan actions with some sort of world knowledge. If a human can long jump. 10 + 1d6 feet then a character could look at a chasm and say “I can make that.” If a human can long jump 2d8 feet you would have no idea if you can make the jump or not. The 2d8 is unrealistic and unplayable because it is inconsistent.

A jumping rule that says you could jump you Dex in feet plus 1d6 would also give consistency, you can look at a jump and estimate if you can make it or not. The rule is very simple and playable but is it realistic? Well in a typical medieval town there could be more that 100 people who could long jump Olympic distances, 24′ or 8m. Ellery Harding Clark was Olympic gold medalist in the first games of the modern era and had a personal best of just 6.6m.

One could of course take the characters limb length, take off distance and speed and how encumbered they are. But how how do you distinguish between 20lbs of dead weight and 20lbs of well distributed weight? If you solve the weight problem then there is a rabbit hole of ever greater granularity of the factors influencing a simple long jump.

Does it make the game more realistic, perhaps but probably not. Most groups I have known have abandoned rules that the found to be too cumbersome.

Then you find that the designer was using his detailed modeling of weapon and armour encumberance as a balancing factor to balance martial professions against stealth professions and you have just junked the game balance mechanism.

Detail is the lever that designers use to simulate realism but detail is the first thing that groups drop when it gets in the way of fun.

Going the other way, it could look at first glance that a complete lack of detail would be equally unplayable. If there is nothing to stop you karate chopping a dragon and killing it then how are you going to construct challenges that provide the backbone of roleplaying?

This is a red herring or false argument. The challenges and structural elements for role pkaying is a social contract. That is exactly how Fate works. Here is a dice roll but what it means is negotiated between GM and players.

In solo play what story cubes or random game icons mean are not determined from a rule or table but by what is best for the story.

The playability is not a written rule but part of the agreement between GM and players when they decide to play. Break that contract and you have GMs where their players drift away and players who don’t get invited to join games.

In solo play this social contract is not needed. You could play your favourite game using just broad strokes of the rules while playing on a train, using a dice roller app and a pdf rulebook. Get home and you have everything easily to hand and you can apply penalties for this that and the other rather than just eyeballing it and coming up with a number.

Is it the same game? Yes. Is it as realistic? Maybe not but not that far off. Is it more playable? Most definitely.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 25th – Fruitful Void

The Fruitful Void is the space in which your own imagination gets to do its stuff. There are lots of elements in an RPG that take away your possibilities, as soon as you choose one class or profession for example you have excluded many options, pick a race and that takes away options. You have a probability of success and of failure and they define what you can and cannot do. Put a genre and a setting into the game and that also limits your options.

The more things that are known the less space there is for your imagination to take over.

The amount of void you give, as game designer, will have a huge impact on your games style of play. Fate for example has few rules and even the setting and genre are undefined until play starts. The players and GM can start to fill the void (fruitfully) but creating a collaborative setting. That is the void being used by design in a constructive way.

The down side of the void is when there are unintended gaps in the rules and the GM is left having to try and fill the void in isolation to keep the game on track. That is far from ideal.

From a solo play perspective the Oracle harnesses the fruitful void with every roll. If you think of the story so far being one side of a square, the game rules is another. The Oracle result provides a third side, you have an answer, it is known and it is now a fact in the game but what does that answer mean. This has you filling a micro-void, the meaning of the answer, with every oracle question.

Fruitful voids are the natural home of both improvisation and of exploitation. Just because rules do not explicitly say that you cannot do something doesn’t mean you should do it. In group play there will always be players who want to ‘win’ or be the best and if that is how they get their kicks and it doesn’t upset the other players or GM then that is fine. Could you do this and should you do this are two very different questions!

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 24th – Alternative Topic Solo Roleplaying

The actual prompt today was Fantasy Heartbreaker and as a rule I don’t do fantasy games either as a designer or solo player. I run a couple of fantasy campaigns for long term friends but that is it.

I want to talk about solo play.

I was on the Cypher System discord and saw this quote.

As far as I’m concerned, solo RPGs are called “writing a novel “ smile

Stephen

I just found someone talking about using a “Cypher Emulator” to play solo. I found it on drivethrurpg. Weird

Welkin

I am pretty sure I could find the same, basically uninformed, attitudes on ever game system specific discords everywhere.

I even took Epidiah Ravachol to task over his definition. Point 1 and 5 are clearly wrong.

  • It’s a game you play with friends in a social setting. …
  • It’s an exploration of intriguing or fanciful scenarios. …
  • It’s a chance to be someone you’re not. …
  • It’s a celebration of sticky situations. …
  • It’s collaborative daydreaming. …
  • It’s exercise for your personal sense of drama. …
  • It’s a way to trick ourselves into creating interesting things. …
  • It’s something you’ve been doing all along. What Is a Role-Playing Game? Ravachol, E., Dig a Thousand Holes Publishing, USA, 2013.

Getting a regular game together is hard for a lot of people and in those cases you still have options.

Discord is used for distributed groups, but they still have scheduling problems.

Forums offer play by post but that is slower with a couple of rounds or turns a day being considered fast.

Computer games are rather shallow compared to human role play.

For some reason solo play sits at the bottom of the list.

Solo play does two things better than any other form of roleplaying.

The characterisation of the setting, characters and action is perfect. There is nothing lost in translation between the GM’s vision and the players visualisation.

Breadth of play. By this I mean I can play a hard bitten glaswegian private eye this morning on the train from St. Ives to Taunton and then beta test Ironsworn Starforged this afternoon when I get to Bristol. On the plane to Edinburgh I can play Stars Without Number.

I can experiment with different settings and situations and can set up situations where the PC is likely to die in the first two minutes, just to see if the character dies in the first two minutes. Do that with an entire party and people would get upset.

For many, solo play is not some poor relation to the knights of the dinner table. Solo play is distinct and the go to form of the hobby.

It is hard to put yourself into the shoes of a brand new player and the first time you have to speak in character in front of other and probably more experienced players. That awkwardness can appear in solo play as well. It isn’t easy to solo your first scene.

Juggling your character, the game rules and a solo engine can be a lot if you don’t know if you are working the Oracle correctly.

I have a mission to make sure there are simple to use solo rules for every major game system. Rules that help ease new players into solo roleplaying. If I manage that, and there are a lot of games to write for I will loop back and start to write solo adventures for these games. The more solo material there is, the higher the profile of solo play.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 23rd – Probability

There are times when probability is your friend and times when it is really awkward!

In almost every RPG the probabilities are just slightly skewed in the favour of the player characters. The point of that is so that stories get a chance to progress and move forward. If it was you or I dumped into a world saving situation I would be rather worried about the world’s future. That is because the world is not skewed in my favour.

The game theory implications of skewing the probabilities in the players favour is a tightrope. If starting characters are too competent then the game is likely to lack challenge. Too little bias and the characters fail too often and the game becomes frustrating.

Getting the balance right is a designers decision and reverberates right through the whole way the game plays.

Probability is a lever that a designer and pull and during play testing you can try different probabilities, varying biases between success and failure.

Solo Probabilities

As a solo rules designer for other people’s systems I have to deal with the design choices made by other designers. With an Oracle the player can skew the probabilities themselves by deciding the likelihood of a yes or no answer. The challenge for me is to build an Oracle that gives equal chances to the extremes of yes and… and no and… results.

Oracles are not the problem.

The hardest challenge yet has been the open question tool in Solo Fate. Fate Dice, most typically 4dF, have a range of -4 to +4 and and strong bias to -2 to +2. Even with just 9 possible results it is very hard to build a wide ranging open question tool. In this case there are not enough possible results to attach possible answers to. At the same time the bias to just five of of the nine options meant that using 4dF when you really want hundreds or thousands of possible answers was the big challenge.

So the lesson to take away is that while dice allow you to play with possibilities they also open and close doors. Make your game d100 and it may be perceived as more complex, make it 1d6 and it may appear simplistic. Start to sum the results of dice and you get probability curves and the more dice the more of a bell curve you get with the extremes becoming much less likely than the median values.

Once you have just 6 or 9 possible answers then a 10th or 11th option may need an entirely new mechanic. I am damn sure that was the birth of the d66 and d666. A designers desire to look nice and simple and stick with d6s but then needing random tables with plenty of variety.