Saturday, January 31, 2015

Di-mini-shing Returns

I came to RPGs from miniature wargames. I bought some of the early Minifigs D&D and Middle Earth miniatures by mail from the UK before I had ever played D&D, and I used them in fantasy battles with Chainmail and various homebrew rules. The people I started playing D&D with were into painting, collecting, and fielding miniatures, so of course our D&D games featured them too, although it was tough to find minis to represent the PCs. When the first Ral Partha minis came out, they represented a huge leap in quality and appeal. We were all over them, although now, as I'm handling a few and peering at them through my reading glasses, they seem spartan and understated, smaller and less robust than I remember them. My collection grew to include Minifigs, Ral Partha, Heritage, Grenadier, Citadel, Rafm, Thunderbolt, and Reaper. The older ones have paint jobs that make me cringe -- I think I'm still getting better at the craft as my eyesight gets worse. No question that I love them as craft and as collectibles. But as to their function in play, well...

These days I'm less in love with using minis at the table, except to show the party's line of march/order of battle. The more you have, the longer it takes to find them and put them on the table, and the concreteness of them actually works against the game's power to immerse and evoke. The other day I was doing a Dungeonteller game for a mixed group of kids and parents and the idea that I actually had were-rat minis evoked laughter from the grownups -- "Do you have a box of were-rat ballerinas? What about were-rat accountants?" And so on. It is a bit off the deep end. My rate of mini acquisition has slowed of late. I think that aiming to have a mini for every monster in the game becomes ploddingly literal-minded and dreary after a time. I'm thinking of putting the minis away and just using colored pawns or meeple, but part of me is still that 13-year-old wargamer who wants to lay down the heavy metal and make the other players quake with fear.

What role do miniatures play in your games?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Miniatures You're Not Using: Tokens and Tiny Props

Add a level of fun and tangibility to your game with tokens and props that are cheap to get or make and look great. Having manipulatives/tokens to represent common commodities is so helpful for young or casual gamers. In my Dungeonteller games, players love having coins, gems, potion vials, and rations to hoard in their "inventory box" (a cheap metal box with a see-through lid), along with index cards for less common items. Nothing so satisfying as being able to hold a glittering gem or a handful of gold doubloons in your hand or casually toss them across the table to the GM as your PC buys a round for the whole room.
Potion Bottles: I bought a bag of 50 teeny glass vials with round cork stoppers online. Filled them with colored play sand, printed out tiny labels that I worked up in Illustrator, and glued on the labels and the corks with Tacky Glue.
Food Packs: Again, designed the wrappers in Illustrator to look like grocery paper with grease stains and wrinkles. Wrapped them around a stack of 1-inch squares of chipboard/illustration board. Tied them up with string. No glue needed.
Coins, gems, and Treasure Chests: You can buy very cheap plastic coins, gems, and treasure chests online from various toy or novelty suppliers. We have the gems color coded (especially important since Dungeonteller gems can be consumed like scrolls to grant a minor buff or bonus). The treasure chests are tokens representing 50 gold coins each. On the way: water bottles, lantern oil, torches, arrows, and rope!
Potion bottles and food packs
Closeup -- the food pack has grease stains

"The Bank" filled with coins, gems, and chests

Monday, January 19, 2015

Are you a True Dickhead or a Reasonable Actor? Find your Gamer Alignment (and GM Alignment Too!)

A while back, I came up with the 8 Gamer Alignments to articulate 8 common approaches to playing Our Favorite Pastime. Like the classic D&D alignment chart, It has two opposing axes, but in this case: dickhead-reasonable and actor-gamer. You can be, for example, a Reasonable Actor, or a True Dickhead, or a Dickhead Gamer. But you can't be an Actor-Gamer or a Reasonable-Dickhead. You get the idea.

My current game group includes two True Actors, two Reasonable Gamers, and one True Gamer. I simply can't play with anyone on the Dickhead side of the wheel, although I understand that for some gamers, that is gaming. How about you?

Bonus: the 8 GM Alignments, where the axes are judge-fudge and rat bastard-enabler.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

HeroForge 3D Printed Minis Arrive

At last, six HeroForge 3D printed custom 28mm miniatures arrived at my door. I chose the "less durable/ultra-fine detail" option.

First impressions:

1. They are in true 28mm scale, and wouldn't look out of place with other minis.
2. They are faithful to the digital mockups you see in the character creator.
3. They are indeed fragile. The haft of the paladin's hammer snapped right off when I picked him up. If I ordered more, I would be wary of having any thin elements like spears, wands, or bows.
4. They take spray primer fairly well. Doing so really allows you to see the surface details.
5. The level of detail is excellent.

Oh, and either HeroForge or Shapeways messed up the order, sending me a mini I did not order in place of one that I did order. 

Photos below:
Paladin, before his hammer broke.

Really quite nice looking.

Paladin with busted hammer and white spray primer.

Use This Chart to Analyze Nearly Any RPG's Core Mechanic

Posted this chart a few years' back but I don't think many people saw it. You can use it to analyze the task resolution mechanic for virtually any RPG. And if you're designing a new RPG, it's a useful tool to get your head straight about the relative importance of ability, effort, luck, and task difficulty in your game. The original text from my 2012 post appears in quotes below.

"Here's a tool you can use to tease out the mechanics of any RPG's task resolution/action system. It's based on attribution theory, which in layman's terms is the study of the factors that contribute to achievement. Google it if you're interested. Anyway, this is a simple matrix that defines each factor in a task resolution system as internal or external, constant or variable. Ability is constant. It's represented in most games as your skill level or ability score or ability modifier. Task difficulty is almost always set by the DM as the standard you need to reach in order to succeed. Effort usually appears only in systems that use dice pools or spell points or any other rule that allows the PC to buy advantage at the cost of some other finite resource. Luck is whatever the die roll adds to the PC's attempt. The first matrix is blank, for you to copy and print for your personal use. The second matrix I have filled in to give you an example. It's a way of standardizing how you look at game mechanics, whether you're designing your own or making a comparative study of other RPGs. Enjoy!"

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Look Behind Dungeonteller's Dice Mechanics

When I was developing Dungeonteller, my goal was to have a task resolution system that gamers as young as 4 or 5 could resolve on their own.

First, no addends would have to be held in working memory to resolve a task in-game — no juggling numbers in your head while you're rolling dice.

Second, no player would ever have to count higher than 10.

Third, the dice themselves would serve as manipulatives to help players track whatever bonuses and penalties that did apply. When the GM said 'take away 2", you would literally take away two dice from your hand.

If you've played Dungeonteller, you know the dice mechanic is all of those things. 
You pick two "lucky numbers" from 1–6, roll a number of dice equal to your skill rating, and count every lucky number showing on the dice as "a success" towards your action. You seldom have to count higher than 5 or 6, and most results give values of 0–3, very manageable.

One sticking point I encountered early on in play testing is that many young children can't subitize (recognize at a glance) the pip patterns on dice, or they would get hung up on counting the pips instead of just recognizing which dice came up "lucky". These are the workarounds I came up with:

1. Use dice that have written numerals instead of pips (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
2. Use dice with colors or symbols instead of pips or numerals. Our "official" Dungeonteller dice at home are printed with colored circles: red, pink, green, black, yellow, blue. The players choose two lucky colors instead of lucky numbers. Mine are black and blue, heh, heh, evil GM laugh.They look like this:

3. Use dice with symbols instead of pips or numerals. Come on fish and rabbit!

Well, that's how you do dice games for really young gamers.
Do a search for "dice with colors instead of numbers" if you want to order some for your own Dungeonteller game. Til next time.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Dungeonteller Hero -- The Pixie. Free!

This little hero packs a bag of tricks. Pixie dust? Check. Cobwebs? Check. Unleash a swarm of wasps on your foes? Check. Can she fly? You bet. Available on for free. Click here to grab the hero sheet.