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