Friday, December 9, 2011

[Greyhawk] NaGa DeMon Post-Mortem

Working on getting Spirit of Greyhawk ready in a state to complete the NaGa DeMon contest in the month of November more or less precluded any real posting in November.  In the final analysis, I would have to say it was a great learning experience.  While I’m not a professional writer like Mike, if you’re an amateur like me and you have hopes of someday getting a Fate implementation to a playable state, you owe it to yourself to find something like this contest to motivate you to make that extra push.

So, lessons learned: 

You’re Doing it Wrong

I’ve said it in previous posts, but I discovered roadblocks will come up if a design wasn’t “right”.  Of course the definition of “right” is subjective, but I believe you’re on the right track with a piece of design when roadblocks vanish and at the same time you get a burst of creative energy to push through other parts of design.   

So when I got stuck, almost every time it was because what I was trying to do wasn’t “right”.

Example:  Weapon and Armor damage modifiers.  Quite a few variations were attempted within SoG...

  • No weapon damage modifiers (a la SotC RAW)
  • No weapon damage modifiers but weapon-specific maneuvers (the previous frontrunner)
  • “Standard Issue” positive or negative shifts associated with weapon/armor selections.
  • Different colored dice (see this post for white/blue/red dice having different potential for +1 shifts)

...and while there’s nothing wrong with any of those options in and of themselves, nothing was hitting the sweet-spot between crunchy enough for a Fantasy game in the world of Greyhawk, and still be streamlined enough for a Fate implementation. 

Every time I looked at Weapons and Armor I would just sigh and wonder if it was “close enough”.  Plus whenever I considered related design issues I kept running into the same-old question marks in addition to finding new ones:  handling enchanted items with straight adds, other combat-related effects from enchantments (ye olde Vorpal sword effect) and so forth.  In other words, it wasn’t “right”.

Necessity is the Mother of Translation

Before the contest, I would hit roadblocks and set them aside to fix at the generic designation of “later”.  My thinking was that I could work around the roadblock and by the time I circled back to it, I would be able to have enough work done in other areas that the solution to the roadblock would become obvious (like playing “Minesweeper”).  Prior to NaGa DeMon, I hadn’t come back to address my “later” list too often...

However once I had a serious deadline, I didn’t have time to set anything aside, especially an important part of the game.  So I had to circle back around to any roadblocks I had pretty quickly.

This was when I realized the real danger of the “circling back around” method...  Typically the design pieces you try to work on first are pretty important to the game.  So if you wait too long to solve the roadblock in an important section of the game, you may find yourself painted into a corner by the time you get back around to the it.  I still had to solve the original problem, and at the same time ended up having to rip out a lot of work that I had done while working around the roadblock.

Example:  Continuing on from the above example, I was certain I needed damage variations for Spirit of Greyhawk, I couldn’t figure out how to do it within the constraints of the scale in which Greyhawk considered weapons. 

Specifically the source material’s weapon listing showed something like 9 different variations in weapon damage, but the very high end of the damage scale (halberd, two-handed sword) would only result in what translated to a SINGLE box on the physical stress track (at best).  Now of course skill and luck (and Aspects/Fate Points) are the main currencies of stress in Fate, so how do you add gradients of (perceived?) crunch into weapons and armor without blowing them out of proportion with how they work in the gameworld?

Additionally, everything I was trying didn’t seem to fit so well with the dice mechanic I was using for Wizardry (2dF+2).  So far, playtesting has shown that people kept having to remind themselves which dice mechanic to use for which type of thing was being tried.

When In Doubt, Go Back to the Gameworld

Perhaps even more frustrating than the “I have no idea how to design this” type of roadblock, were those situations where I had too many choices.  Specifically when I had made the decision to design a piece of the game in one way, only to discover that a very similar piece of the world had previously been designed in a different way.  Leaving those differences in place wouldn’t work and would feel pretty arbitrary and patchwork.

Specificially, I hit plenty of design disconnects that had to be reconciled when I tried to stitch together portions of the game from which I only had “initial notes” that had been worked on at different times.

During the course of the month, I learned that the answer was almost always to be found by looking at how those different designs work within the gameworld.  Specifically the design that feels most “right” is the one that supported player expectations of the gameworld and at the same time supports the Fate “fractal design theory”--which for me meant that if the design also got me excited for designing other areas of the game, it’s probably the “right” answer.

Example, cont.:  Despite the fact that all my initial tests on different colored dice mechanics during NaGa DeMon appeared to be okay, but it didn’t really feel “right” and didn’t provide the excitement I hoped it would.  Specifically my playtesting showed that it slowed down skill contests “just enough” that it didn’t feel Fate-like anymore.  (Not a criticism on the concept of the mechanic, just reporting my results)

Additionally, while I felt I could statistically justify the entire removal of weapon damage (instead having the only weapon distinctions be focused on manuevers), that didn’t feel “right” either for a high fantasy campaign, what with all the tropes that center on weapons. To say nothing of what that decision might mean for magic weapon bonuses, etc...

So I went back to the gameworld and came away with the rather obvious assumption that if you had two fighters of the same skill and armor, the one with the better weapon had the upper hand.

This confirmed my feeling that weapons needed some degree of variation, but how to accomplish this without breaking the existing dice mechanics, and doesn’t slow down play pacing past counting up the dice you throw?

...To Be Continued?

Well, I did come up with the current “right” answer.  I feel it’s “right” because this new (latest?) method for handling weapon damage also addresses (or plays nicely with)...

  • Enchanted weapon bonuses
  • Pointing to opportunities for different types of weapon damage other than “just” +1, +2, along with potential to deal with high-powered artifacts
  • Doesn’t appear to slow down combat resolution
  • Effects of armor and enchanted armor
  • Provides different grades of weapon damage (not 9 different ones, but still)
  • Doesn’t appear to blow up the current 1 stress = 10hp conversion scale
  • Gives players a sense of “ohhh, this is gonna be GOOOD” or “ohhhh, this is gonna be BAAAD” when the dice are picked up

So, anyone interested in hearing specifics?

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