Thursday, 17 September 2015

Developmental Update [September 2015]

Hello World,

For starters I should apologize for my absence on both the blog and social media. This past month has had two major milestones that required all of my free time. The first is the completion of Trials of the Magi, which is now fully printed and in my hands. In addition to ensure that everything printed properly, I was also preparing to debut the game at Fan-Expo in Toronto Canada. While both of these items took up a massive amount of time, I am happy to say that all of the work paid off. The game printed wonderfully and we had a great convention launch.

The next steps for Sproutli Games is to establish distribution for Trials of the Magi. Starting with sending out Kickstarter backer rewards, then continuing onward to organizing PDF and printed store fronts.

In addition to this we are also looking to expand our current con attendance, with the aim to run as many demo games as possible. To this end we are looking to attend Forest-City Con in London Ontario, as well as expand our Anime North Booth to run more games than last year.

With things now more manageable, you can look forward to more regular updates on both Twitter and on the blog. For now though, thanks for reading.

- Patrick Lapienis

Friday, 14 August 2015

Gen Con 2015 Recap

Hello World,

This year I was lucky enough to go down to Indianapolis and attend my very first Gen-Con. For those who are unaware, Gen-Con is the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America. Boasting over 60,000 unique attendees over the span of 4 days. Over those 4 days I was able to meet professions in the industry, learn a lot about tabletop game design, and even try out a number of new games.

Along with attending the con, I was also working at the Third Eye Games booth, selling a number of RPGs. While at this booth, I was able to get to know the founder of Third Eye Games, Eloy Lasanta. Who I would like to say is a very nice and friendly guy. Who was willing to give me advice about game design, and even invited me to attend the Ennies, an award ceremony for tabletop games. At which I was introduced to a number of big names within the industry. The event was a blast, and it was the first time I have ever really felt like I was part of the industry.

During the rest of the con however, I was able to play games via the con’s Game on Demand service.  This allowed me to hop in and try games that I have been interested in, and wouldn’t be able to my normal gaming group. The first of which was a game called Ryuutama, a Japanese roleplaying game focused around light hearted travel. This has been on my radar for a long time and I had such a great time playing it. The unique mechanics, and overall feel of the game got me hooked. I enjoyed it so much in fact, I bought it during the con.

The other new game I got the chance to play was Inspectres, which is an interesting RPG which has group playing stars in a ghost busting reality show. The premise and mechanics were interesting, and it gave me some great ideas on how I can improve Consortia, but overall it wasn’t my cup of tea.
With the shear amount that I saw and learned at Gen-Con, I would be a fool not to go next year. But this post is only the beginning of my Gen-con retrospective. Over the next few weeks I will be releasing a series of blog post which go in depth with what I learned at the con.

Thanks for reading,

- Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Developer Update [July 2015]

Hello World,

With the end of July fast approaching I figured it was time to post another developer update, in order to keep everyone up to date on the progress of Trials of the Magi.

The first bit of news I have to share is that designs for the entropy deck are complete can be seen in the image below. For these cards we chose to go with a much simpler design when compared to the Arcana Cards. The reason for this is that within the game, Entropy Cards are flipped over off the top of the deck and left face up on the table. Because of this players need to clearly understand what the face of the card is [Order or Chaos] no matter the angle they are viewing the card, leading us to choose a strong color theme for each card. But color alone is not enough, so in order to accommodate colorblind players, we also assigned a symbol to each card type. Now that these are done, all of the card designs are complete for both decks. All that is left to do on the card side before printing is the design of the fold boxes that the cards will come in.

The interior text of the book is also complete and is currently going through a revision and editing period, with sights on having it finalized by early august. Also in regard to the interior of the book is the progress on both the interior art. Regular meet-ups with the books main artist, Kayleigh Allen has allowed us to get a majority of the books pieces complete. As a little sneak peak I have posted some below.

The only other Items remaining before print is the books cover art and interior layout, which are both currently being worked on and should be complete by mid-August. Everything seems to progressing forward successfully, and I am so excited to deliver a finished game to everyone who wants to play it!

- Patrick Lapienis

Friday, 17 July 2015

Opportunity Balance

Hello word,
Through the number of tabletop role-playing games I have played and designed over the years I have seen a trend emerge. Almost every game I have seen has had a strong focus on keeping all of the possible characters in the system, balanced. They always try to set it up with the mentality that a mage should be just as strong as a rouge or fighter of the same level, and in most other situations that would be the best way to go about it. But tabletop RPGs are a flexible and versatile medium, making pure mechanical balance not enough to make players feel equal.

I am getting ahead of myself a little bit, so lets take a step back and look at why balance is important in games. Traditionally, balance is implemented so that each player has equal opportunity to win, given that player skill is also equal. When applying this to TRPGs I have one major concern, victory isn’t the driving force of the medium. There are so many more facets to an RPG than just winning.  Some people play to get lost in a fictional world, others want to take part in a deep story or lore, there are even those who simply play for the joy of roleplaying itself. All of these aspects don’t have a clear victory statement and in most situations don’t require balance.

That being said, I still think a form of balance between players is required. But I believe that this required balance should be between each player’s ability to influence a session, opposed to purely mechanical balance. This "Opportunity Balance" as I like to call it, aims to ensure that all the players feel like they have impact on the events that transpire within the game, regardless of character strength or level. The ability to act makes each character feel as though they are important to the game allowing them to stay invested.

While character balance can help promote Opportunity Balance, by ensuring players have the same chance to succeed actions, it isn’t the only influencing factor. As pretty much anything from in character knowledge to encounter setting can impact Opportunity Balance. As a Game Master, it is important try and have each player take the spot light at least once per session. Getting that time to be the hero/center of attention is one of the many reasons it feels good to be on a team. In some cases it might be a good idea to modify your sessions on the fly to ensure Opportunity Balance occurs.

As an example of this lets look at a session where everyone but the rogue has had some important role this session. The bard swindled his way into trading some lesser jewels for a treasure map, the wizard was able deactivate the dungeons magic seal and gain entry, even the fighter tore through the creatures that litter the caves. Having not really done anything important the person playing the rogue is left bored and disinterred in the game. Noticing this the GM is able to add a grand chest to the dungeons treasure room. A chest made of engraved steel that is far too heavy to move. The problem is this chest is locked, and the rogue is by far the best lock picker in the group. To make it even more impactful, the GM can model the chest with multiple locks and make a big endeavor of opening it. This simple act puts the rogue player front and center. Everyone rooting him on as he helps reach this great treasure. This spotlight allows the rogue player to feel like an important and  valued member of the team.

This is by no means the only way you can improve Opportunity Balance, and I am interested to hear how Opportunity Balance has effected your games? Let me know by commenting on this post or shooting me a tweet @MTTJ_Patrick.

Thanks for reading,
-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 9 July 2015

No Group Delves the same Dungeon

Hello World,

I would like to start off this article by stating that there is no such thing as a perfect RPG system. So many people seek out and actively try to develop a system that will make everyone happy. The problem with this is that every gaming group is unique, they all of different levels of gaming experience, different Creative Agendas and even different preferences. What one gaming group loves, another will hate. In fact one piece of game design/business advice I was lucky enough to learn early one was to tailor your game/product to a niche.  The more you focus on pleasing one specific type of group, the better and more focused experience you can give them. Trying to please everyone ends up pleasing no one.

But with so many different creative agendas, and personal preferences, it is nearly impossible to find a game that is exactly what you are looking for. The only way to really get what you want, is to make it yourself, and with regard to tabletop RPGs that is a lot easier than you may think.

Unlike Videogames, TRPGs aren’t hard coded, they function through a social contract between a group of players. Because of this, the mechanics become modular, and able to bend to the group’s preferences. If you and your friend’s don’t like a rule or mechanic, toss it out and substitute one that you think is better. That can all be done with a few words exchanged around a table.

This flexible nature leads to most gaming tables changing the rules in one form or another. In fact this is such a common practice that it has been labeled “House Rules”. A term I haven’t seen widely used in any other industry other than tabletop gaming.  This is because other mediums are to rigid, and require a great deal of skill and technical know-how to modify, if modification is possible at all. For these cases, people have come to accept each product of what it is, critiquing it on how it was released.

Personally I see RPG modularity as a double edged sword. On one hand, pretty much every group of players has at some time taken on the guise of a team of developers, debating and improving game mechanics to better suit their needs. And truthfully I think that’s great, it adds to the medium by granting players freedom to experiment with the game’s mechanics. But at the same time I have seen this really awful mindset arise from this freedom. The idea that there is no point in learning and playing other systems when you can just modify the one you know to fit your needs. This argument has been tossed around on forums for ages, and truthfully I think the whole argument is pointless. It all comes down to “Yes you can, but why would you want to?”

Surprisingly, I have seen multiple Game Masters slave away, trying to modify the Pathfinder Rules to run a Pokemon themed game. With such a large leap between genres that the presence of the original system will do nothing but hold the game back. What boggles my mind even more is that there are two much better options for the Game Master. First off there are multiple free RPG system online that run pokemon, each with a different style of execution. The other option, and regrettably the more intimidating one, is to make your own system from scratch. It sounds scary and like a lot of work, but in the long run it will end up being a lot easier than trying to Frankenstein the Pathfinder rules into something that resembles pokemon.

Overall I see Tabletop RPGs like furniture, if you need a cabinet to finish off your room, buy one. If you are particular about color, or how many shelves the unit has, feel free to make some modifications. If you can’t find a cabinet the fits the room, you can try and make your own. But don’t go buying a table in hopes of McGyvering it into a cabinet.

Thanks for Reading! And If you enjoyed this article you may also like some of these:

- Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 18 June 2015

King of Slimes - What I learned

Hello World,

This past week I decided to give myself a quick reprise from working on Trials of the Magi, in hopes that a change of scenery would revitalize my work ethic towards the game. This break took the form of King of Slimes, a quick party game that has players contesting over a bowl of candy; trying to get as much of the hoard to themselves.

The motivation for this game first came from reading the rules for another game called “A Week in the Life of a Lv. 1 Slime”. This game had a unique sense of humor, and centered around pulling candy out of a bowl. At it’s core the concept was brilliant but reading through the game fully I found that it’s execution fell flat of my expectations, as the game was a solitaire RPG.

Intrigued by having a bowl of candy as the core component of a game, I wanted to explore other ways in which it could be used, and thus King of Slimes was born. This was a really fun project to work on as it allowed me to create a hectic party game as well as push my skills as a developer. But that’s enough backstory on the game, let’s get to the meat of today’s post, what did I learn while making the game.

Well for starters, I learned how large of an impact the ability to win has on a player’s mood on the game. One of the major facets of King of Slimes is that when a slime is defeated by an adventurer, it explodes, and reanimates as the largest remaining piece. This means that a player has the potential to be sent back to square one on each of their turns. And in early versions of the game we found that players who exploded late into the game were very miserable until the game ended. They felt as though they had absolutely no chance of winning anymore. Two major changes were made to overcome this, the first was to allow players to keep all of their Vibrancy Candies on defeat. The other was to shorten the length of the game by reducing the number of candies in the bowl. This shortening of game length kept each round fast paced and fun, while not ruining the night of the last place person. Losing isn’t as bad if you can hop right back in and try again.

Another thing I found very interesting was that any time the potential existed to help another player, it would lead to the formation of alliances. Alliances that were not enforced by in game mechanics, but by verbal contracts.

“If you help me out now, I will help you out next time you are in trouble”

Or even agreeing to team up and take down the first place person. These agreements added a lot the strategy and flow of each game.

This then leads to the final major lesson I learned developing this game. Having mechanics that allow players to sabotage or help each other, leads to a very competitive game. What started out as a simple lighthearted party game, quickly felt like a grand strategy game, when playing with the right players. This isn’t nearly the type of emotional response I thought I would get, but it lead to a fun gaming experience none the less.

Overall I am very happy with how King of Slimes turned out and It acted as the perfect break from Trials of the Magi.

If you are interested you can find the game at the following locations:

Thanks for reading!

-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Why Should an RPG Have an Encumbrance System?

Hello World,

One of the major joys unique to tabletop roleplaying games is the act of getting into character and losing oneself in an imagined world. This is such a major aspect of the hobby that simulation has become one of the 3 main pinnacles of RPG design. The innate purpose for an RPG system in terms of simulation is to add structure and consistency to the game that is being played. That being said, rules constructed innately for promoting simulation are often the most tedious and annoying.  In most games, the purely simulationist rules are dropped and ignored by players. Things like counting rations, encumbrances, and travel fatigue are all simulation rules that rarely add anything meaningful the Gamist or Narrativist aspects of a game. This got me thinking, if these rules are so commonly dropped and disliked by players, why are they even in the game to start with?

After doing a lot of research into simulation games like HarnMaster I think I have good idea of why these seemingly extraneous rules are so important. They firstly act to add a sense of grit and weight to the world being played in. Before reading through some gameplay scripts for HarnMaster, I had never seen players so scared of a wound getting infected, or running out of rations.  So immersed in feeling the weight of every choice and action they make. These are all down to earth feelings not normally seen in other games.

These simulation rules secondarily act as an anchor for new players and Game Masters, giving them a mechanical way to understand the world their characters are in them. If a player jumps down a 30 ft drop with the mentality that they are a game character and fall damage shouldn’t hurt them, they will be in for a rude awakening. Same goes for a player trying to loot everything in sight so they can sell them when they return to town. There are clear in game rules that state how many finally crafted chairs and statuettes the player can carry without being weighed down. And as players begin to understand that real world physics and laws of nature apply to the game world, they are more readily able to connect to the game world. It is much easier to imagine a world when we can use the knowledge of our own world to paint it in. When it comes to being a GM anchor, these rules apply a spelled out, mechanical way to translate commonly understood laws of nature into the game space. Removing the extra work of the game master determining consequences on their own.

Most veteran players drop these rules because they no longer need that sort of anchor to understand the world around them. They are able to get a good enough picture of how much their barbarian can lift and won’t try to lift more than that. The other major reason is that the game they are interested in playing isn’t as rooted in simulation, instead focusing more on Gamist or Narativist play. In this case, these extraneous simulationist rules just seem like pointless tedium.

However it all depends on what type of game you are playing and the people you are enjoying it with.

-Patrick Lapeinis

Thursday, 28 May 2015

What I Learned Running a Convention Table

Hello World,

This past weekend I got to try my hand at running a convention table for this year’s Anime North and while the preparation of the event was tiring, it was all worth it in the end. That being said, things for the Sproutli Games table didn’t start out the greatest and only through quick modifications and reworks was the table able to run as spectacularly as it did. Allowing us to meet so many great fans of our games!

Since the outlook of the table pulled such a dramatic improvement this year, I would like to share some of what I learned so that others can try to run the best con table possible.

1.  Make Your Table Worthwhile

I have this one up right in the first spot because I believe it is the most important and honestly the most under-utilized point on this list. Convention attendees are busy people, who have a lot to see and do over the span of a weekend. Why should they spend time at your table when there are literally tens if not hundreds more for them to check out.

This is why it is so crucially important to run a form of event, raffle or hook to get attendees interested. Once they have a reason to stop, they are much more interested in what you have to say. The more you are able to give to convention attendees the more traction you will be able to get in the long run.

2.  Investigate Prior to Organizing Your Table

This one is a little tricky to explain as it can vary widely from convention to convention. At the convention we attended there were 2 areas we looked into that ended up paying off substantially.

The first was inquiring about discounts or bonuses for running events or panels at the convention. This was a massive one for us, due to the fact that we were running playtests for Trials of the Magi for the majority of the weekend. With all the events we planned on running, we were given five additional free tables! In addition to that I was able to get my ticket for free, because I was going to be running a panel at the convention. Depending on the convention the amount of panels needed to get a free ticket can vary, but almost every con I have been to has offered some kind of similar deal.

The second thing to really look into is whether or not, the convention you are attending allows you to pay by trade. All this means is that the con allows you to pay for your table by giving away free stuff to the convention and it’s attendees. This can be a great way to merge the cost of table promotion and the base table cost into one much cheaper value. Some of the best ways to do this is to give out free samples, or give out some sort of prize via raffle or event. Another good go to is to give out free candy to anyone who passes by your table [generally a great way to draw in people].

3.  Convention Staff Are There to Help, Use Them!

When we arrived at the convention for setup on the Friday we found that our table was placed right behind a massive trailer truck located in the furthest corner of the hall, which was literally one of the worst possible locations in the convention. With our table so reliant on getting attendees to join playtests, this location would have ruined us. Luckily when we talked to the convention staff, they understood the predicament we were in and did their best to remedy the situation.

This resulted in a relocation to a much better location, and an awesome amount of support over the weekend. In short, the staff are great people and are just trying to run the best con possible for everyone. But it is important to keep in mind how you treat the staff, the nicer the better. It makes it much more likely that both parties get what they want, and you can makes some awesome friends and get insider tips about the convention.

4. Establish Contingency Plans

Running a convention table can be a very chaotic experience, and organizing events can only extenuate that. As such it is important to make plans for all manner of outcomes. What if no one wants to sign up for your event? What if your events are overflowing? What if you are so busy that you are unable to leave the table?

These are all questions you should be asking yourself prior to the convention. I hate to bust out a cheesy line like this but… Failure to plan, means you’re planning to fail.

5.  Get More Help Than You Think You Need

Conventions are hectic and crazy events that will have a constant stream of attendees passing by your tables. The quantity of people alone will often be too much for a single person to handle. Not to mention having to set aside time to eat and see the con for yourself. This means that in most cases you will need to have other friends or employees helping you out with your table.
Luckily enough conventions will almost always have a cost effective method for table owners to purchase more tickets for helpers.

6. Have Fun With it

Having a table is a great way to meet fans of your product and can be such a rewarding experience to run. It may be challenging, it may be exhausting, but ultimately it is a time for you to give back to your fans and encounter new ones. So enjoy it!

- Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Rebranding Narrative

Hello World,

I was talking with a fellow game master a while back and we got to talking about how we went about prepping for our games. During our conversation I mentioned a practice I like to utilize that he hadn’t yet heard of. This was the act of altering the previously created world around the characters, to create a more entertaining game that is easier to run.

The key to this mindset is to understand that anything yet unknown to your players, is volatile and liable to change. If you players missed a key clue in their investigation, or a fun encounter, feel free to shift things around. This allows the game not to get bogged down with uninteresting clutter.

However, where this methodology really shines is in how it can make Game master prep easier. By preparing a minimal amount of notes and repurposing it depending on the player actions. The game master is able to get the most gameplay out of their prep time. [Because there is nothing worse than coming up with something awesome and your players completely bypassing it]

One method I use when I am running a session I will have a few in depth NPC personalities drawn up, with goals and faults, but not containing any specifics. Then when planning a session, generate NPCs that are just given basic details like a name and occupation. If while playing the session the players go to have a full conversation with an NPC, I pair the basic information with a detailed personality, creating a fully fleshed out character. This is done to cut down on prep time. If I created an in depth personality for each and every NPC that the players could potentially talk to, then it would take me months to plan a session.

A game theory that this relates closely too is the illusion of choice. Which is where a person makes a choice that leads to the same outcome no matter what is chosen. While this can greatly reduce the amount of work on the Game Master side, it has one big flaw. If the players find out that their choice didn’t matter, they will feel cheated and upset. That is why it is so important to use this tool carefully.

There is an old saying that “All roads lead to Rome” and part of that relates to this theory. Only create one city, but allow you players to choose how and why they reach it.

Thanks for reading,
-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Developmental Update [April 2015]

Hello World,

It is with great excitement that I announce that on April 19th, Trials of the Magi was successfully Kickstarted with $4006, allowing us to even reach one of our stretch goals. Thank you to everone who backed and supported the project, it is with your help that this dream can be made a reality.

While the past few weeks have been slow on the development front due primarily to the overlap of the Kickstarter campaign and my engineering exams. We will be moving ahead at full speed over the following months. School is out, allowing us to dedicate a greater amount of our time to the project, ensuring that we can meet all of this summer’s deadlines.

The first of these deadlines will be hosting a table at Anime North in Toronto Canada on May 22nd – 25th. Within this convention we will be running a number open playtests for Trials of the Magi, as well as handing out sample versions of the game. In addition, I will also be hosting a panel about the basics of game design and getting started in the industry. Supporting me with this presentation will be a close friend of mine and video game developer, Jord Farrell. Between the two of us we should be able to provide a good view of the industry.

From here we will be supporting our good friends at Third Eye Games with their table at Gen Con in Indianapolis on the July 31st weekend. During the convention however I will also be looking to run a few more playtests for Trials of the Magi. This will most likely be down the conventions games on demand service, allowing new players to easily pick up and play the game.

With so much on the horizon, you can look forward to plenty of updates and progress over the upcoming months,

Thanks for reading,

-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Narrative Consistency

Hello World,

With the Trials of the Magi Kickstarter still running strong, I have decided to do something a bit different on the blog. Rather than doing a developmental update or discussing game design theory, I have decided to center this post on a bit of GM advice. More specifically, about keeping narrative consistency within your game.

Narrative consistency is how well the actions and events within the fiction of the game gel together. This consistency is damaged when outcomes contradict the norm of the fiction. An example of this could be when a very powerful character gets a string of bad rolls and has a lot of difficulty when facing an opponent that should be no hassle.

“I have sealed away the evil necromancer and saved the kingdom, but why can I not kill this one goblin!”

At the best of times this narrative variability is comedic and creates an enjoyable situation for the group. There are even games like All Outta Bubblegum or my own Planet Crashers which aims to use this ridiculousness to its full advantage. At the same time however, situations that aim to be somber or story driven can be completely destroyed by these inconsistencies. In order to maintain the fiction in these types of situations the Game Master my try to modify the fiction to fit the actions.

“As you fight the you notice a faint glow can be seen  coming from the goblin's eyes, as it appears to be possessed by someone or something..."

This fixes the problem, but there will always be situations where it is difficult to justify the outcomes, and characters can only get lucky so many times before it becomes silly. One method I found very helpful, especially with critical successes is to give the player what they want, but in a method they weren’t expecting. The player will be satisfied with achieving their desired outcome, but you can change its delivery so that narrative consistency can be maintained.

The best example of this I have ever seen was in an In-Nomine campaign I was playing in a number of years ago. In this game of angels and demon’s my character needed to get information out of a succubus. Not having the funds to play for it, my character tried to use the best tool in his arsenal, Charisma. To add a small layer of comedic effect to the scene, I worded it as he was trying to seduce the succubus, as seemingly impossible feet [As I wasn’t expecting victory either way]. I roll  the dice to reveal a critical success, meaning that I would automatically overcome the obstacle. The Game Master’s response to this was perfect. The succubus laughed, she thought that my attempt at romance was adorable, and because she hadn’t had a laugh like that in ages, she decided give me a little bit of info on the house and encouraged me to come back again.

This worked out so well because I got what I wanted, which was her information, but at the same time consistency was maintained by altering the method of delivery. If I were to succeed in wooing the succubus it would ruin her character. diminishing her from the powerful information broker she is meant to be to a weak and insignificant one-off character.

Hopefully this helps you run more immersive games in the future, and as always thanks for reading.

-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Trials of the Magi: Now on Kickstarter

Hello World,

After over half a year of work, Trials of the Magi has officially launched on Kickstarter! With all that has been accomplished so far, with the game, moving and starting up school, these past months have gone by so fast. It feel as though it was just last week I was frantically submitting Trials of the Magi as an entry for National Game Design Month. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out are Kickstarter at the following link and support it if you are able.

If this is the first time you are hearing about this game however, let me give you a brief rundown of the project. Trials of the Magi is a tabletop role-playing game created to make introducing the hobby of story games to newcomers as easy as possible. This is done in two major ways. The first is by having the characters in the game be direct representations of the players. Allowing players to ease into their first RPG session by being able to act like themselves. Allowing them to get antiquated with all of the subtleties of how an RPG plays. The second major method this game uses to ease in new players is the game’s mechanics, which are easy to learn and play while still creating a large depth of options for players to explore. Trials of the Magi achieves this by having a stat-less system that relies on suited cards which the players make for themselves. These cards create a visual and hands on experience that lets everything that’s going on be clearly displayed with minimal confusion.

Arcana Cards Used in the Game

Never will a player say something like “I rolled a 17, what does that mean?” Outcomes are clearly understood the moment they are played, and for the most part, players have complete control over whether they pass or fail an action.

If this Interests you at all you can read more about the game from the following two posts, HERE and HERE. You can also head to the Kickstarter page for even more info about the game.

Thanks for reading,

-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 12 March 2015

An In Depth Look at Trials of the Magi

Hello World,

As a continuation of my last week’s post, today I am going to be diving into some of the gameplay and mechanics of Trials of the Magi. If this is your first time hearing about the game and you want to learn more, I recommend that your read THIS before continuing.

With that established, let’s get this party started. From my previous post you may recall that players within Trials of the Magi are tasked with guiding a projection of themselves through a crucible of strange and abstract trials. The powers possessed by this Persona are derived from the player’s life experiences and are portrayed by a hand of suited Arcana Cards. These cards each display a single word that describes the player's memory, and a suit which ties the card to the type of memory used. Within the trials, players must play cards from their hand onto the table in order to overcome obstacles. The more difficult the obstacle, the more cards the players are required to be played.

When playing a card, the player must justify its relevance to the current action in order to use it. As an example of this let’s say that I have a card with the word “Insects” written on, as I use to catch and collect insects growing up. And let's say that my Persona in this situation needs to cross a small chasm, this is a minor challenge and would only require one card to overcome. This means I could play my insect card, and justify it by saying “I use my insect card to grow moth wings and fly over the chasm”. With that said my card is laid on the table and my Persona crosses the chasm.

With my insect card no longer in my hand, it can’t be used for future obstacles. That card is no longer available to me and in order to get it back I must spend an Entropy and pick up the card.

Entropy is form of currency within Trials of the Magi and is represented by a deck of pass or fail cards. When trying to overcome an obstacle, a player can choose to draw a card from the Entropy Deck instead of playing an Arcana card from their hand. If the player draws a positive entropy card, the Persona succeeds as though an Arcana Card was played. Draw negative entropy however, and the Persona’s situation is complicated and made worse. Each Entropy Card drawn is then held onto by the player and can be spent later in the game pick up their played arcana powers.

The last major mechanic in Trials of the Magi is fracturing. The connection between player and Persona is the most vital part of a Persona’s strength. As this connection weakens, a Persona can begin to fracture and crack. Even to the point of shattering entirely. In the mechanics of the game, this connection is represented by the number of Arcana Cards available to the player. In order to get through difficult parts of a trial the players will be required, discard some of their Arcana Cards a for temporary boost. These gains come in two forms:

1.    The player can discard a card, and treat a negative entropy card as though it were a positive entropy, and therefore succeeding the action.

2.  The player can discard an Arcana card to invoke the special ability contained in the card’s suit. These powers were explained in the previous article.

Each time a player does this their connection weakens and the Persona fractures. If a player is forced to discard all of their Arcana Cards, their Persona shatters and they are not able to participate in the trial. It is the goal of the player to get through each trials without discarding all of their cards.

Trials of the Magi will be launching on Kickstarter on March 20th and if the game sounds like something that interests you I encourage you to check it out.

Thank you for your time and support,

-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What is Trials of the Magi?

Hello World,

With the Trials of the Magi Kickstarter just around the corner [March 20th to be precise] I would like to take this time to talk about the game and share a bit about how it plays.

First up let's start with a general description of the game.

Trials of the Magi is a quick and simple role-playing game centered around a Harry Potter inspired world, where arcane scouts track down and gather those with the potential for magic. These gathered candidates are then required to overcome a crucible of mental simulations in order to prove that they are capable of becoming a fledgling magus.

These tests compose the core fiction of Trials of the Magi as players must guide mental projections of themselves through the strange and treacherous landscapes of the crucible.  The psychological nature of these landscapes allows the Game Master to create interesting and creative locations that bend the laws of reality.  Locations created where the direction of gravity changes on a whim, or a world where time only passes when the players are moving. [Like SuperHot]

While the Game Master's freedom with realm creation can be a lot of fun, it isn’t the main focus of the game. Where Trials of the Magi tries to shake the RPG formula is that in the game the  "real" players are the ones actually being tested by the arcane scout. As such the mental projections that navigate the trials are literal representations of the players. Meaning they look, act and talk just as the players would. Not surprisingly, it is really easy to role-play yourself, making Trials of the Magi a great game for first time players of the hobby. Allowing them to get comfortable with creating a shared fiction before trying their hand at more complex storytelling. This idea of the player being the character is expanded upon even further in the game’s mechanics. Where a character’s strengths and abilities come from a player's real life experiences. These memories are written on custom dry erase cards [or blank Index cards] and a hand of these cards act as a player’s character sheet. No complex calculations or overabundance of stats. Just simple tactile mechanics that allow players to get into the game easily and quickly.

These writable slips are called Arcana cards and come in 4 possible suits, Swords, Wands, Coins, Cups. When players are creating their character they have to pick and fill out 4 cards. These cards can be chosen in any combination of the suits. With each suit both influencing the type of memory associated with the card as well as granting a special power within the game.

Memory: Created from emotionally strong memories
Power: Discard to deal a substantial blow to an enemy or difficult task.

Memory: Derived from a players knowledge and education
Power: Discard to ask one objective question to the Game Master that must be answered truthfully

Memory:  Reliant on memories of possessions and achievements
Power: Discard to grant a power boost to themselves or another player

Memory: Comes from a player’s past relationships
Power: Discard to recover the injuries of any character.

Now while this is only a bare bones description of each of the suits, it should give everyone a general idea of how each suit works and feels. This is important because it is up to a player to choose the playstyle they are interested in. If a player wants to play a heavy hitter, they can pick the majority of their cards from Swords, or possibly focus on Coins and Cups cards if they are interested in a more supportive style of play.

This is all I am going to talk about in this week's post, but be sure to check back next week where I will discuss in greater detail how the game is played, and dive into some of the mechanics. However, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for Trials of the Magi’s Kickstarter campaign which will be launching on March 20th!

For now though, thanks for reading,

-Patrick Lapienis