Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Let the Playtesting Begin!

Hello again!  We have some happy news to share with you this evening: Raleigh's biggest local game store, Game Theory, has welcomed us and given us a table for playtesting!

Beginning August 14th, 2012, you'll be able to find us at Game Theory starting at 7pm on most Tuesday nights.  We'll be the people in the blue t-shirts with the d209 logo and "Room 209 Gaming" emblazoned upon them!

We would very much like you to sign up ahead of time, though, so we know how many to expect--that way, we can provide print-outs and a round of snacks and drinks for everyone!  To sign up, please contact us at contact@room209gaming.com or sign up via Game Theory's meetup webpage or Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers' meetup webpage.

Thank you and we look forward to seeing you!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Infinite Earths Excerpt: Humans

Hello and welcome, and thanks again for reading!

We have some exciting news about our playtesting that I'd like to lead off with today:  we'll be starting our public playtesting the week of August 12th with sessions at local game stores in Raleigh and Cary, with a kickoff session at the Room 209 Gaming offices (who am I kidding, it's my house) the evening of Saturday, August 11th.  Invitations for the kickoff session will be going out later today via our Playtesters mailing list, and the gamestore-located playtest sessions will be listed on the appropriate Meetup groups.  More on those once we've nailed down and confirmed the exact dates and times with the store owners and operators.  Thank you for all your help!

This week has been spent writing the Race and Culture chapter, and it's been a lot of fun.  We're aiming to go a little more in-depth with the races, providing a kind of "Monster Ecology" article for them (if you remember those) to help players and GMs get the feel for what a race is, how it works, etc.  There are no stat bonuses for being a certain race.  Instead, races have certain Talents that they can pick up (up to 4 total right now, for Race and Culture combined) at the player's discretion that are race-specific.  Some races that have a biological necessity for certain traits (Darkvision for Dwarves, Small for Gnomes) have one of those talent slots already taken up by the physical trait.  And, because the race and culture you hail from profoundly impacts your character, the talents that open up to a character because of race and culture can always be taken in any talent slot.

The following entry, for humans, is indicative of the kind of detail we're putting into all of the races.  We're showing off this one first because, well, everyone who's reading this knows pretty well what humans are like!  And so, without further ado:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

On GM Fiat and the Do-Anything Rule

Hello once again!

To begin, an update on the public playtest: we will begin public playtesting between August 8th and August 15th.  Next week we're hoping to announce the venues for the first rounds of playtesting.

This week we were discussing modern movements in gaming, and our focus naturally fell on the various independent retro-clones and D&D Next.  Specifically, we were analyzing the sudden expansion of rules designed to be incomplete, thereby allowing (and forcing the presence of) increased GM fiat.

GM Fiat is, essentially, when the GM has to make up something because (1) there are no rules for it or (2) because a player or players have gone into territory the GM was not expecting and did not plan for or (3) just because the GM said so, dagnabbit.

And we love GM fiat!  GM fiat is great. . .when it comes to story development.

When it comes to the rules, though, we are much less highly enamored of GMs making up the rules as the game goes along.  My thought on the matter paraphrased Drew Carey's opening line to Whose Line Is It Anyway?:  "Welcome to [fiat-heavy game system], where we didn't bother to finish the rules and you're just going to have to make it all up anyway."

The point of game design is to develop a set of rules that are easy to use and fun to play, and which can be used to arbitrate conflict.  Making rulesets that are simple, or that specifically leave out aspects, may succeed at the first two, but they will fail completely at the arbitration of conflict, which is absolutely the most important reason you have a ruleset to begin with.

If you didn't need to arbitrate conflict, you could just play a game of pretend.  Like we did as kids.  You remember what that was like?  Here was our experience:
"BAM I shot you!"  

"No you didn't I dodged!"  

"Nuh-uh, you can't dodge a bullet!"  

"Yes I can I'm a ninja!"  

"You're not a ninja you. . ."
That kind of argument doesn't sound like a lot of fun to us.  And yet, that's the path that the current "fiat-centric" trend seems to inevitably lead, to our minds.

The problem with that kind of play is that the GM-Player relationship is ultimately all about trust.  Do the players trust the GM to have their best interests at heart, to collaborate with them to form a great story?  There are a lot of competitive GMs out there--GMs who think that it's a great kick to kill off player characters, GMs who think that if the players are winning, they're losing, and vice versa.

Some people approach this with the tack of "well, that's a bad GM, you should know not to play with that GM."  And, once a game is published, and in the hands of the players, that would be right.  But game designers have a different concern--should have a different concern--than to release a game with instructions to their community that "you should just shun that portion of the community, because they suck."

Trust is a very hard thing to establish.  Even if a GM is not having to make up rules to fill in the blanks of a ruleset, he is still crafting a collaborative story and trying to ensure fairness all around in a situation where players may have a very, very difficult time relaxing the distrust inherent in self-interest.  So the question we asked isn't "do we want to follow this trend?"

Instead, we asked, "do GMs really want a ruleset that increases the amount of fiat they must use?"

And our answer is no, we don't think that's what GMs want.  Not only are two of us highly-experienced GMs (Bryan Shipp and Ray Watters; Sarah Perry-Shipp is our Player's Advocate and "rule-breaker") who don't feel compelled to need more fiat, but the GMs we've spoken to have not indicated that they're particularly desperate for more fiat.

What GMs want is "increased simplicity."  They want to be able to easily make a ruling when a player does something that's not explicitly written into the book.  And they also want to be able to give ruling that don't amount to "you don't have that feat, so you can't do that."  Feat-based gaming, for a lot of people, has turned into a chain of negatives, which is exactly the opposite of its original design intent.

So our approach is this:  we're developing a complete set of rules.  Nothing left out.  We're going to try to minimize the amount of fiat the GM exercises, because increasing the amount of fiat a GM can use also increases the amount of fiat a GM must use, and GMs already have enough on their plate.

Included in that complete set of rules is one we call the "Do-Anything Rule."  Most of the feats (or talents, as we call them) in Infinite Earths will come with a rule that indicates that "players who have not taken this talent can still use it, but with a -5 penalty to the roll."  Bam, done.  That rewards players who have taken a talent, and that allows players who haven't taken the talent to still attempt it, though with guaranteed less skill than someone who has taken it.  The -5 itself is the equivalent of the difference between the three tiered role slots:  for instance, at level 20 a primary-role warrior has a +20 to Strike, and a secondary-role warrior has a +15 to Strike.

The Do-Anything Rule is inherent in our Skill system:  all characters can make rolls on all skills, but unless a character has focused on a skill, that character is going to have a difficult time in succeeding at anything other than a relatively simple skill check.  Skill checks in Infinite Earths are set by the difficulty of the task, not the skill level of the player, so most tasks actually fall into the "relatively doable" category.

We're very pleased with our Do-Anything Rule.  It provides flexibility and simplicity without needing to pile even more onto the GM.  Because every bit of power is another bit of work, and because the really great GMs, the ones we would want to play with, want to spend their time creating stories and telling stories and being interesting.  They don't want to spend their time trying to think of how to handle this special case and that special case.

And we look forward to testing the Do-Anything Rule come August.  See you next week!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Available Roles

Hello again and welcome!

Playtesting is still scheduled to begin in 2 more weeks, we'll hopefully have more information next week about exact times and places.  Today we're going to provide a list of the roles available in the Infinite Earths roleplaying game, and what each of them is focused on doing. 

You might recall that there are three roles in Infinite Earths:  Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.  Each of these represent the amount of effort you've put into that particular role.  There are three different types of roles:  Combat, Social and Vocation.  Where you slot the role indicates how important it is to you.  Tertiary is "a little better than the average person is capable of"; Secondary is "about half again better than the average person is capable of"; and Primary is "twice as good as the average person is capable of."  That's an easy rule-of-thumb to keep in mind their relative power.

So, without further ado, the role types currently available in Infinite Earths:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: On Treasure

One of the things that has bugged us as we developed Infinite Earths is, "why would a monster of any kind ever have any kind of treasure?"  If you think about it, it makes no sense from a sociological perspective:  if "x sentient monster" has no need for treasure, because he cannot spend it, why would he consider it treasure and keep it around?  The age-old argument, of course, is "it's shiny and pretty, which is the same reason why people value it, and besides other adventurers have been there before you and been slaughtered."  And from a certain point of view, that makes sense.

But we didn't care overmuch for that.

So as we started working on the advancement and treasure rules--and there have to be something like this, even though our goal is to make treasure and magic items feel like treasure and magic items, not just "the thing you have to get so that you are optimized for combat"--we hit upon an idea that we're quite fond of.

Now, this has to be (heavily) playtested to make sure that it's balanced properly, so I won't really share too many numbers here.  But the gist doesn't need numbers.

Ambition generally comes in the form of three different types:  wealth, influence and power.  So we took those concepts and folded them into our system.  When your character advances (generally through the achievement of some plot objective), you can choose the form of your reward. 
  • If you crave wealth, then wealth you can get--in the form of gold and silver pieces, or gems, or some other form of monetary compensation.  Wealth is often provided by the entity or entities that set you upon your quest--or, if appropriate, stolen from the corpses of your slain enemies.
  • If you crave influence, then you can get it--word of your deeds spread throughout the land, providing you fame and reputation.  When you return to civilization, you will find that people recognize you more readily, and are more eager to please you.
  • If you crave power, personal power, then you can elect magic or items to boost your ability to accomplish your goals and succeed where otherwise you might fail.
Now, you might at first say to yourself, "Oh, I always need to choose power or wealth--power so I can have the requisite items I need to be the badass I need to be, or wealth so I can buy the requisite items I need to be the badass I need to be."

But then we'd remind you that we're not balancing the numbers around magic items, wealth, or anything of the sort that contributes to the Christmas Tree Effect.  Any wealth, influence or items that you get will be to enhance your character and make your character more likely to be successful, rather than just letting you "keep up with the DCs."  For that reason, the balancing I mentioned earlier is not "balancing it against the rest of the system," it's "balancing the three different types of rewards against each other, to ensure that none are superior or inferior to the others."

We like this idea because it allows for more variety for both players and GMs, which we hope will lead to more satisfactory gaming for everyone.

Thanks for reading, and please remember:  if you have not gotten an email from us about playtesting yet, please check and make sure we have not wound up in your Spam folder!

A Slight Delay in Posting

Friends, Room 209ers, Countrymen (and women), lend me your ears!

We will have a slight delay in posting today due to family issues, but today's article, "On Treasure," should be up before midnight tonight.

Thank you!

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Call to Playtest!

Howdy all!  For those of you who have signed up for the playtest, we're still on schedule to start playtesting at the beginning of August.  Please make sure to check your email and your spam filters.  We're still young yet, so you may have to add us to your email account's spam whitelist in order to get the emails we're sending out to our Playtest group.

For those of you who haven't signed up for the playtest but are interested, please email us at contact@, leave a note for us in the comments or post on our Facebook wall.  We check them all and the more playtesters we have, the merrier.

Thanks and have a great week!