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#RPGTheoryJuly – 13th – Emotional Beats

Roleplaying games are like a double helix.We have two very distinct threads but each has a myriad of connections to the other.

The first thread is the game mechanics. These are completely neutral, or almost neutral. I have been reading and listening to a lot of FATE this week and there the rules and mechanics are, to use the authors own words, there to make you look awesome. Most of the time the rules are neutral. Conflicts or all sorts are resolved by dice and random numbers with a built in presumption of success being more frequent than failure. The same rules apply to everyone and the rules have no favourites.

The second thread is the emotional side. As a situation in the game starts to develop our excitement levels go up, as your plans or intentions come to you you get a feelings of anticipation. When you get to roll will you succeed or fail? What is riding on this? Once the roll is made and the result known it could be feelings of elation or heightened tension.

Incidentally for any game designers out there. It is the post roll elation moment that releases the little dopamine hit that will make your game addictive. If you put all your manipulation before the roll and keep the post roll/resolution short and sweet your game will be more addictive.

So although we are telling a story, the structured game loops where descriptions of our actions are turned into game mechanic actions and then back into descriptive narrative provide the emotional beat or rhythm to your game, the tension, anticipation and elation.

I think this is part of the success of D&D. The relatively simple character design means that there is very little to look up and check on your character sheet. Most actions are one or at most two rolls to resolve and the post resolution is fast. You roll, you hit, you roll damage, the villain dies or not. Repeating rounds which some people negatively point to as hit point attrition or grind is actually, on the emotional level a rapid beating rhythm and the eventual victory gives a bigger sense of elation when it comes.

I never played D&D 3.5e or 4e but I get the impression that they split the community and they were regarded as too complex with too many feats. I cannot really comment but if that is true the underlying biology could be that the moment of resolution was being drawn out to the point where the sense of elation was reduced and the resulting dopamine release was smaller and weaker. Unless you were really into feats and things in which case you probably hated 5e and are still playing 3.5 or 4e.

An RPG with a genre/subject with mass appeal and a well thought out emotional rhythm could be as popular and as addictive as Facebook. It is the same basic reward system, rolling to hit and clicking “Like”. The RPG is would be owned by us to tell our own stories but I suspect FB may want us to play in their story, like it or not.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 11th – Fateplay

The prompt word for today is fateplay. I have no idea what this is. I googled it and it appears to the be the name of someones youtube channel, one that I have no interest in. If it relates to the fate game then I also have no interest.

There are a set of fate solo rules but I guess if you were interested then you probably already have them.

Today I am going to just talk about characters that are fated. Some seer has told you that you are fated to confront the ancient dragon Sárkány. Traditionally this gives the DM/GM a bit of a problem. If they are fated to confront Sárkány are they ‘plot armoured’ against every other threat on the planet because fate will not be denied? I have played with a GM many years ago that literally did that. He would fix dice rolls and change foes stats to guarantee that the outcome he wanted came about. If you did die, you had one hit point left and rather than retreat you threw yourself on another seventy five orcs to save the party, then he would find a way to bring you back. We were basically invulnerable right up to the climatic battle.

It is possible that the Seer got it wrong or you are the third person that week he has been giving the same prophesy to. Rather like a newspaper horoscope where one in 12 of the entire world’s population is going to find a new love today or put off making financial decisions just because they were born in July.

Solo play can get around plot armour. You create the prophecy, create the character, play out the final battle. It doesn’t need to even be a battle. The seer only said confront, not fight or defeat, so you could start with a verbal confrontation and then take your story from there. If you do want to fight an ancient dragon but it isn’t going well, it rarely does, you can break out and play flashbacks. We can easily start a fight, hop about in the timeline, have amazing adventures and finish the fight some hours later of continuous play.

While we are thinking about fates, let us talk about story cubes and game icons. The mysterious seer casts his runes and reads the results.

What he came up with was…

icon diceicon dice

So what does that mean to you?

I am extremely tempted to create a character with a two icon ‘fate’ and then play him until I find out what the fate meant. Now that I could see as an interesting solo game. What do the icons mean? Will I recognise the characters fate when I see it. Will knowing the icons make me interpret oracle questions differently to bring this fate about? This one idea here is that I now think of a Fateplay,

That other FATE

There are a great many FATE players and GMs. There is also an existing FATE Solo engine by Cabbage Games. The problem is that the author seems to have walked away in January 2017 and the product was never finished. The reviews are typically 1*. It was really written for experienced solo players and just translated the Mythic oracle to FATE with little or no support.

When I write my system specific solo booklets I work on the principle that I an trying to entice players who have never played before to try solo gaming. The solo rules take up two or three pages and the supporting material and examples take up the other 15 pages typically.

I have worried about this on and off for six months or more. The rules that are out there are creating a negative impression and are not helping spread solo play as a viable hobby branch. On the other hand if I devote some time to learning how to play FATE and create some solo rules that target new players is that not stomping all over Cabbage Games’s territory?

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 9th – Fictional Positioning

Fictional Positioning is the relationship between the characters, their environment and everything in it. For the most part you don’t notice it until something goes wrong, when the GM says “You cannot do that, their is a boulder in the way.” Your character would certainly have seen a huge boulder between them and their escape or the arch villain but the Player either missed the description or sufficient time and excitement between the now and when the description was given has passed or simply the significance of the boulder was lost.

One solution is a battle map but they are far from perfect. Often situations turn on the head of a pin. Is there a bottle in reach? Is there a fire extinguisher beside the door? These are the little details that are impossible for a GM to describe all of them but could make or break a situation.

I play with two GMs. One of them would roll a dice to see if the thing I am after is there. The other is more confrontational and the answer is almost certainly a No. He is the sort of GM that is against the players as opposed to working all together to tell the best possible story.

I have different take and it the item would logically exist then it does exist. The only time I say No is when the item doesn’t exist for a reason I am aware of. For example if I know my villain has taken away the fire extinguishers because he wants to set the place on fire, I know there is no fire extinguisher. If the barkeep saw trouble brewing and sent the servers around to collect all the empty flagons and bottles there there is no bottle.

All of that is fine for face to face games and even PBP. I explicitly tell my PBP players that everything they expect to be in a scene *is in the scene* and they don’t have to ask me. That speeds up PBP play by cutting out some of the back and forth questions.

In solo play you can go one of two ways. Most of the time I would say the character has a perfect understanding of their environment. If your vision of the office layout has fire extinguishers by the door then they are there. If you imagine a table cluttered with empty bottles and knocked over flagons then they are there. The other option is to resort to the Oracle. This has implications. Firstly, it breaks you out of your story to roll dice, secondly, for good or for ill you may well get a plot twist or interrupted scene. It seems overkill to me to ask the Oracle if there is a bottle on the table or about office fixtures and fittings.

I personally prefer the perfect understanding, less rolls and less interruptions. Neither approach is wrong.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 8th – Adaption

I once wrote a blog post along the lines of Role Playing Games do not exist. The premise was that the rulebooks we buy are not complete games, they are just toolkits. It is using these tools that we construct our own unique games. I think the interest in actual plays is to see how other people play the same game. There are no right or wrong ways of playing, there is just acceptable behaviour at my gaming table, everything else is up for negotiation.

So all games are adapted almost daily by their respective DMs/GMs.

Somethings are adapted more than others. The two examples I am going to hold up are 0D&D (including all the B/X variants) and Mythic.

The oldest open game content I could find on DRTPG this morning was dated 2004 and the oldest OSR rulebook was Labyrinth Lord. Just searching for core rulebooks under the OSR category turned up nearly 500 titles and that is just core rules. OSR and open content has become an entire industry in its own right based around adaptation of a single source.

Mythic GME has a similar status. I know about 250 people who have used the GME rules. They either own the rules or have used one of the online emulators. Yet I don’t know anyone who plays the Mythic RPG.

Every set of solo rules I have ever played, bar one The Trouble with Rose, has some Mythic DNA in its background. My influences are most certainly Mythic, Tiny Solitary Soldiers, the One Page Solo Engine by Karl Hendricks and No GM’s Sky by Todd Zircher. If you are familiar with them you will notice a trend towards ever simpler systems. Mythic is huge, dice heavy and excessively wordy. TSS is extremely compact and but at the cost of certain functionality. One Page Solo is pretty well rounded but requires a d6 for virtually everything except one roll and that is a d12 and/or playing cards. I don’t like the ‘it nearly works but this bit I couldn’t fit in’ impression.

No GM’s Sky added two new elements to my solo play. The first was building a “Complication” result right into the oracle. This instantly strips out all the requirements to have to make subsequent rolls for plot twists and interrupted scenes. For experienced solo gamers I think that is sufficient, for new solo gamers I think it requires a bit too much mental heavy lifting. The second element was Game Icons and by extension Story Cubes. I knew these existed but I had not used them or really knew how to interpret them. NGS provided me with a extended example of their use in play. I am a real convert now.

I take parts of mythic, parts of TSS, bits of One Page and now bits of NGS and mix them all into my projects. Mythic, TSS and One Page are all generic. NGS may also be, I have just never seen it used anywhere else. What I bring to the party is adaptation. I don’t make generic rules. I learn how to play a game and then adapt these generic tools to the games core mechanics. That is adaptation.

I suspect that if you read all my solo rule booklets back to back in order of release you could probably highlight exactly where I discovered my influences. The first emergence of a complex question tool, the first occurrence of No because… in place of No but… and most recently Game Icons.

Today these threads converge as I finished the first draft of my Osr Solo Rules last night. They need some proofing and testing but they will be released sometime this week I imagine. This is the convergence of two great sequences of constant adaptation and evolution.

The final oddity here is that I have already released solo rules specifically for 5e and they are wildly different to my OSR rules and yet the games are, underneath all the fluff, intrinsically the same thing.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 7th – Core Loops

Solo games don’t have loops. They have humps. As there is no need to pass information back and forth between GM and player, the understanding in solo play is perfect, as are the descriptions of the setting and the creation of the atmosphere. The basic core loop in RPGs is

  1. GM describes situation
  2. Players describe actions
  3. Go to 1

The closest solo play comes to a looping structure is when you need to consult the oracle/GME and most likely for a complex question or situation. Here the process normally follows along something like this.

  1. Ask the question
  2. Roll on the oracle/GME
  3. Roll on follow up tables
  4. Interpret answer
  5. Continue play

The biggest hump is at stage 3 & 4. The longer these steps take the greater disruption the player experiences to the continuity of the story and to the suspension of disbelief. I do my absolute best to reduce and remove the burden of stage 3 and the big hump. If you have to roll multiple times on different tables then your focus is not on your game but on the solo rules.

My current project is a solo engine designed for 0D&D/OSR/D&D B/X. It all started with Blades in the Dark and my blades solo rules. Blades has a mechanic called the Fortune Roll that is within a gnat’s whisker of being an oracle. The core mechanic is a pool of up to 3d6 and it can be applied to anything the GM doesn’t know the answer to. I was then thinking about D&D and it’s closest equivalent is just a single d6 . When do wandering monsters appear? Roll 1d6. Is the party surprised? Roll 1d6. Spotting secret doors? 1d6. Want to kick in a door? 1d6. The d20 may get all the glamour but the D&D world turns on a humber d6.

In designing a solo engine for OSR D&D I want to use 1d6 to drive the whole thing. My first ever solo engine was Tiny Solitary Soldiers by Spacejacker and that runs off of 1d6 (well it is 2d6 but one works just as well). So I am going to use that as the core except that I have evolved it a bit over the years. That is fine for an oracle but how do you handle complex questions with just a single d6? I don’t want to go down the route of multiple rolls but just 6 options is clearly not enough to handle complex questions. This is where the greatest disruption happens and the part where I put most of my effort.

Right now, I have only vague and untested answers to how to build a 1d6 complex question answer generator but that is something I will solve this afternoon.

So what does all this have to do with Core Loops? I think it shows that core loops are a way of trying to cope with the failure for any of us to imagine anything in the same way as another person. That is why we need to constantly question and loop back to expand on our descriptions. The way I see the market square will be very different to the way that you see it and the same goes for the traders and the customers.

I do have an ‘ask the audience’ question for you.

I am writing solo rules for OSR games. It just cries out to have a three word name <blank> Solo Rules. Where the blank starts with an O. The rules would then be abbreviated to OSR itself. I am oscillating between 0D&D Solo Rules that gives 0SR, or releasing the rules under a CC 3.0 BY license and then they would be Open Solo Rules which gives OSR. Can anyone else come up with a way of getting an OSR name?

P.S. It was Tiny Solitary Soldiers that I use for Solo Role Play while cycling to work using car number plates for random numbers.