Archive for April, 2008

This is Between You and Me

April 24, 2008

New rule for Geiger Counter.

This is Between You and Me

Once the menace has all 8 of its dice, a character can stare fiercely into the menace’s eyes (assuming it has eyes) and say something like, “Alright, you 8-legged, tentacled son of a bitch! It’s you or me now!” This does two things. First, it prevents the menace from targeting any character besides the challenger for the remainder of this scene, whereas normally the menace can attack as many characters as it wants, all at the same time. Secondly, it creates a situation in which both the menace and the challenger keep rolling dice, over and over, without changing scenes, until one or the other is destroyed.

Consequences for losing are applied after each roll, but victory is only declared at the end of the entire conflict. Other characters can help the challenger or the menace during the conflict, even though they are not directly a part of it. Aiding characters, however, each gain a condition if they contribute to a roll and their side loses. They are joining the fight, effectively, even though they don’t have to, but they don’t necessarily have to join in on every roll.

This is either 1) a great way to attempt to finish the menace off, or, 2) a great way to make a suicidal attack to keep the menace from killing other characters and quickly pass on your survival die. Hopefully, this won’t make it too easy for the characters to team up and destroy the menace. We’ll see.

Back in the Firmament

April 23, 2008

After a long hiatus, I’m chipping away at Fingers on the Firmament again, this time with a new approach. Why is my game design inspiration never content to focus on one game at a time?

Game Title: Blacktop Slip

April 22, 2008

“Blacktop” is obvious. A “slip road” is the British term for what Yanks call an “exit ramp.” For example, you have “on-slips” and “off-slips.” Of course, the only exit ramp in Blacktop Slip is getting your car up to 88 mph and soaring off into the sky, and that’s what the title refers to.

Order of Operations / Accelerate!

April 21, 2008

On Blacktop, the order of operations goes like this:

1. Shooting: The Shotgun describes what any previously established pursuers are doing and declares their own violent intentions. Then, they roll for both themselves and the pursuers, to see what damage is inflicted on each side. Rolls for shooting are affected by the current speed and condition of your car and the cars of your pursuers.

2. Maneuvering: Next, the Backseat Driver describes the approaching terrain and any obstacles or problems it might contain. Then, they roll to try to overcome them, taking into account any damage the car sustained during the shooting phase. If there is a total failure to maneuver properly, i.e. a crash, that changes the nature of the next two operations — because the car is likely tumbling off the edge of the highway and about to land on some other part of Blacktop — but they still occur as normal, in order.

3. Shifting: Next, the Shifter can attempt to manipulate the Godstick in one of a number of ways: they can attempt to shift the car into a higher or lower gear, to make it easier to accelerate up or down; they can attempt a re-roll of either shooting or maneuvering, thanks to some crazy Godstick-assisted stunt; or they can attempt to ascend to the level immediately above them (Blacktop’s topside, if you are currently on Route 66, or up into the sky — winning the game — if you are currently on Blacktop).

4. Acceleration: Finally, the Driver can choose whether to press harder on the gas, slam on the brakes, or do nothing. Just like in a real car, maintaining the same speed involves giving it some gas; otherwise the car will gradually slow down (unless you’re on Route 66). Whatever the Driver ultimately decides to do, their roll is directly affected by the relative success and failure of all previous operations. It is very difficult for the Driver to accelerate effectively if the car is rolling over and catching fire from poor shooting and maneuvering rolls.


To determine the initial speed of your car, the Driver rolls two 4-sided dice of different colors. One die is the tens digit and the other die is the ones digit. So if a Driver rolled a 2 and a 1, the initial speed would be 21 mph.

On every subsequent acceleration roll, the Driver can choose to raise or lower the die representing the ones digit, from d4 to d6 to d8 to d10 to d12. Whatever the Driver chooses, they can re-roll one or both dice and your car accelerates up or down to the resulting speed. For example, if the Driver eventually rolls a 3 (d4) and an 11 (d12), the resulting speed is 41 mph. They might then choose to keep the 11 and re-roll the d4, hoping for a 4 that would give them 51 mph.

The only way the Driver can increase the tens digit die is if the Shifter manages to shift gears. When gears are shifted, the tens digit die goes up or down — from d4 to d6 to d8 — and the ones digit die returns to being a d4.

In order to break 88 mph and leave the surface of Blacktop, then, the car must be shifted into Third Gear (d8) and the Driver must succeed in at least three acceleration rolls to move from d8d4 to d8d6 to d8d8. Even then, the chance is not nearly as great as if the Driver can accelerate further to d8d10 or, best of all, d8d12.

If the Driver chooses to roll neither die in the acceleration phase, the tens digit die is manually lowered one step, and the car drops by 10 mph. Maintaining speed is best mimicked by re-rolling just the ones die.

Route 66

April 21, 2008

If your car ever hits the forbidden speed of 66 mph, the highway in front of you turns into a Möbius strip, causing your crew to go careening down onto the underside of Blacktop, the hell known as Route 66.

On Route 66, everything works backwards. The demon-cars surrounding you travel exceedingly fast, but you have to slow down in order to safely take the exit that allows you to return topside. Taking that exit too fast means significant penalties to your maneuvering, potentially leading to a crash that could strand you in hell indefinitely. And, once the demons know you have the Godstick, you’ll have much worse pursuers than the police to worry about, even if you do make it topside.

On the D&D OGL Debacle

April 21, 2008

Cross-posted from Story Games.

As I was telling John Harper earlier today, I think this is the kind of mess that inevitably happens when forward-thinking people convince a large company of the merits of a newfangled hippie idea (I say that with lots of love) like open source or Web 2.0; the company wants all the advantages of these newfangled hippie idea, but doesn’t really accept the values, consequences, or new ways of doing business that come with the newfangled hippie idea. Overall, the company still continues to do things in a more traditional fashion, doing “what’s best for the company” instead of being satisfied with doing “what’s best for the industry / community” and being a part of the general success that brings to the entire environment. I suspect Wizards, like many folks, is trying to make a play that is both “daring” and relatively “safe,” which lands them in this mess of being sorta open source, but not really, because they’re not really prepared, as a company, to operate and compete in a truly open source environment, because, like most folks, they’re still not entirely sure what that environment would look like. Still, the post-IP all-Open horizon is slowly approaching and roleplaying seems uniquely poised, in many ways, to take advantage of it.

Two-Lane Blacktop

April 21, 2008

Blacktop is a two lane road that extends forever because it is in fact a complicated loop. If you keep driving away from the crash site (the starting location), you’ll eventually end up back there. As such, it’s best to talk about Blacktop geography in the sense of stretches of road that the car goes through.

1. Speed Traps: where the speed limit drops suddenly and cops lurk.
2. Traffic Jams: where maneuvering and high speeds become difficult.
3. Roadwork: unending highway repair.
4. Rest Stops: the only time when you’re not on the highway.
5. Hills: good places to try to achieve escape velocity.
6. Crash Site: where this all began.

Each area has specific limitations and required rolls that must happen for your car to proceed safely through. Poor rolls may mean that the car loses speed, is damaged, is pursued by the police, etc. Over the course of play, then, there are a few conditions that should be kept track of:

1. Speed: How fast is the car going right now?
3. Gear: What gear is the car in? This provides a limit on the top speed.
2. Speed Limit: How fast can you go without the police getting involved?
4. Damage: Is the car smoking? Is it on fire? Have you lost one of the tires?
5. Pursuers: Are the police on your tail? How many? How close are they?

Now, leaving Blacktop for the heavens is a matter of putting together the right combination of elements. Think of it as crafting the world’s best cheeseburger.

1. Lettuce: achieving escape velocity.
2. Tomato: being on the right stretch of road.
3. Heinz 57: being in top gear.
4. French Fried Potato: being on fire.
5. Big Kosher Pickle: being chased by the cops.
6. Cold Draft Beer: pulling some crazy maneuver.
7. Good God Almighty: the Godstick being ready to leave.

You stand a fair chance of being able to soar into the heavens with more than half of these elements, but your best bet is to try to fulfill as many as possible, since, if you don’t rocket away into the sky, maintaining these conditions can be really dangerous and lead to monster crashes (which are also fun, but move you further away from victory).


April 21, 2008

This car only seats four. When playing the game, players should arrange their seating as if they were actually seated in a car, taking the following roles and responsibilities.

1. The Driver makes all the rolls for acceleration, which is key since the goal of the game is to launch into the heavens by achieving the mythical speed of 88 mph. The driver can sit on the left or the right, depending on whether you are doing more Jerry Bruckheimer or Guy Richie.

2. Whoever calls Shotgun sits next to the Driver, facing forward. During play they can acquire, surprise, a shotgun and are responsible for making all rolls for shooting. Before they acquire a weapon, they simply make all rolls related to being pursued or shot at.

3. One person sits directly behind the Driver and is the Backseat Driver or BSD, responsible for making all rolls related to maneuvering (“Look out! Watch over there!” etc.) and, in the event of a failed maneuvering roll, crashing.

4. Finally, the person who holds the Godstick is called the Shifter, and it is their responsibility to make all rolls related to shifting gears. Normally, all cars on Blacktop are automatics that are only capable of a top speed of 45 mph, but the Godstick enables your car to break all the rules.

One for the Road

April 20, 2008

I’m really not supposed to do Game Chef this year, but this art is calling to me…


Blacktop is a world of endless highway with no exits. Cars race endlessly, speeding to a destination that will never arrive. In the sky above, airplanes fly endlessly, tirelessly, never landing, never resting, never ceasing. At least, that was the case until…

A few hours ago, a plane made an emergency landing on Blacktop, crashing hard into the asphalt and clogging the endless highway with debris. Suddenly, everything slowed to a halt. For the first time, the people of Blacktop considered what they were doing. Suddenly, you and your friends knew what you had to do…

Within the wreckage of the airplane you discovered the device that enables planes to fly, the Godstick, a set of controls marked with a single eye. On Blacktop, when connected to a car, the Godstick enables vehicles to perform unnatural maneuvers, but it does not belong here. No, the Godstick must be returned to the sky. Which leaves only one choice…

You and your friends must do the impossible. Hot-wiring the Godstick to your dashboard, you have to drive faster than anyone has driven before, so fast that your car actually leaves the surface of Blacktop and hurtles out into the heavens. It’s up to you to take the Godstick home.

Seattlenator 2: Judgment Day

April 20, 2008

Following up on Lukas Myhan’s Geiger Counter playtest a couple weeks back, John Harper’s crew threw down some giant crystal ziggurat space marine death trap and posted pictures and comments on how the game went. Niiiiice.

Still got a few tweaks and notes to add to the current draft, but looks like it’s running pretty well. Exciting! Can’t wait to see more people play it and run it some more myself.

8-Bit Game Chef

April 18, 2008

The annual Game Chef contest is based on artwork this year and, for it, I created four 8-bit illustrations from a Game Boy game that doesn’t exist. It was a lot of fun, but might be too weird for anybody to actually make a game out of. We’ll see.

Mist-Robed Playtest: Fist & Claw

April 18, 2008

Cross-posted from Story Games.

Wednesday night at Story Games Boston was, as far as I know, the third face-to-face playtest of Shreyas’ wuxia heartbreak game, Mist-Robed Gate. M-RG is unique in that the central mechanic of the game involves using a knife (in our case, a tiny metal sword) to negotiate outcomes and threaten other players. To kill someone, you actually stab their character sheet. If you want to delay making a choice about what to do with the knife (the knife is about making hard choices), you have a kungfu fight instead. It’s pretty delicious and is clearly about 80% there, since it’s already quite playable.

Elizabeth posted about the first playtest over at the Forge, which Shreyas responded to at Summerbird. Then, Meg and I posted about the second, 11-person playtest in our respective blogs (Thou and One, Fair Game).

For this playtest, I used a new character sheet for M-RG that I whipped up earlier in the week.

We decided to play the game in a fairly generic, imperial era, fantastical China. The starting factions that we came up with were The Jade Fist, a criminal society hoping to restore the previous dynasty; The Jaguar Claw, the elite soldiers of the current emperor; and The Western Paradise Society, a crazy religious group that didn’t want an emperor at all.

The characters we came up with, in the order of scene framing, included:

The Hammer from Hunan
Whiskers Lu
Boss of the Jade Fist
– Silver Threads
– Trickling Water
– Blackpower Arts (explosives)

Thorny Path
Golden Moon Li
Local Constable Seeking a Killer
– Thorny Vines
– Rain and Thunder from a Clear Blue Sky
– Determination of 1,000 Cuts

Purity’s Blade
Far Cloud Wu
The Deady Killer of the Western Paradise Society
– a Closed Lotus
– All-Filling Pure Sunlight
– Discriminating Blade

Leading Follower
Ken Wu
Second in Command of the Jaguar Claw
– Golden Dog
– Chaotic Winds
– Gigantic Hammer

The Invincible Butcher
Bright Moon Lu
Commander of the Jaguar Claw
– Red Robes
– Worked Iron
– Buddha Palm

Dawn Petal
Seven Stars Wen
Mother to the Sole Surviving Heir of the Previous Dynasty
– Pink Flower Petals
– Rising Mist
– Scarves & Fan

Play was fast and furious. In the opening scene, Eric’s character cut off the hand of the sole heir (who’s just a boy) under a waterfall and then, for a time, carried the severed hand around in a bucket of water. He was very No Country for Old Men-style crazy.

Back at the lair of the Jade Fist, Adam’s exiled princess tried to get my boss’ thuggish compatriots to participate in a tea ceremony, but then the heir’s unconscious body was brought back. My character went out to hunt down whoever had done this to our future restored emperor, but stumbled upon Dan’s constable instead, who was hunting down the insane monk who killed his entire village. We mistook each other for Eric’s character, which was great, and had a throwdown fight in the mud. Dan’s character won and seized control of the band of robbers from me, hoping to enlist us in hunting down the monk, which we were already somewhat inclined to help with.

Meanwhile, the mad monk and the disposed imperial concubine meet at the Western Paradise Society’s temple headquarters. Eric’s character pours the hand-containing bucket of water over the alter to their gods, while Adam’s shocked princess stares. They pass the sheathed sword back and forth in negotiations for a while, finally agreeing that the monk will ensure the heir reaches the Pure Land… so they think. Negotiations with the sheathed blade are always merely implied, so things were very uncertain.

Then the Jaguar Claw discovered us and launched their assault. Dan’s constable, the new chieftan, bravely led the fight to repel Philippe’s hammer-wielding brute, and my character snuck off to join the Jaguar Claw for drinks at a local wine shop, telling them that I was a humble villager who knew of a secret entrance into the robber’s lair. After all, Golden Moon Li, leader of the Jade Fists, could not be allowed to live! (Basically, I was maneuvering to regain control of my lair.)

At the imperial palace, the mad monk delivers the heir’s body to the emperor, refusing all rewards, and the Jaguar Claw promise that nothing bad will happen to him, that they just want to capture him and allow the imperial alchemists to conduct ceremonies to see if this is really the sole heir of the disposed dynasty.

Back in the woods, the lair is attacked again, using the secret entrance! And yet, this time, Nick’s commander doesn’t recognize Dan’s constable, which he expects to, since the bandit chief is reputedly none other than his own brother! Turning to my character, he finally recognizes me beneath my long whiskers, but not before I have stabbed my traitorous brother in the back for now serving the usurper to the imperial throne. We fight and I kill him, but not before he uses his Buddha’s Palm Attack to ensure, with his dying breath, that I will not live out this day.

The mad monk informs Adam’s former concubine that the emperor has betrayed his promise to keep the heir safe. Together, they assault the imperial palace, leaving thousands of dead soldiers in their wake. In the throne room, they battle over who should be the one to kill the false emperor. Eric wins, slicing through the concubine’s swirling red scarves to stab the emperor. The red scarves, in turn, erupt out the other side of the emperor and, inexplicably, emerging out of the scarves is the now whole heir, complete with both hands.

All of the characters now converged on the imperial palace, where the heir is now being installed as emperor. My character arrives leaning heavily over his horse, since the sun is now beginning to set and his life is about to expire. Philippe’s second in command takes over control of the Jaguar Claw.

In a nearby wine shop, the people are celebrating the old dynasty’s restoration and Dan’s constable sits down at a table to drink next to the mad monk. They talk for a bit and eventually discover the identity of the other. The eventually determine to retire to the mountain temple to fight, so as not to kill everyone in the wine shop. We had some trouble actually getting the fight to start, because Dan wasn’t sure how to maneuver Eric into a place where the fight was inevitable. The rules make doing this somewhat interesting and indirect, which was a struggle, but a good one, I think. During the epic battle, the mad monk slices the mountain in half, but the constable’s dying curse is that the monk will be forced to wonder for eternity, never resting his head in the same place twice.

From the palace, the other characters watch the sun set behind the mountain, now cleft in twain. Though the last dynasty has been restored, Adam’s empress dowager (as she now is) orders my character to commit suicide for failing to play a part in the restoration, which I had sworn to accomplish. We fight and she wins, but, as I’m about to kill myself, the sun sets and I die from the Buddha’s Palm Attack. But my final demand is that the heir, who is not human but the product of demons, should not be allowed to reign as emperor. So Adam’s character takes up the sword half-bathed in my blood.

The last shot of the movie is the dowager opening up the twin doors to the throne room and unnaturally radiant light pouring out of them. She disappears inside, bloody sword in hand…


A few questions we had about the rules, Shreyas:

1. Can props and displays only be invoked for an extra vote once per scene? For example, there were a couple times where we had a fight, someone seized the sword and stabbed their opponent, and then we had another fight where the other character tried not to die. It didn’t seem to make sense to invoke the same props and images all over again in the follow-up fight, so we liked the “use once a scene” idea.

2. How do you resolve unresolved issues if one of the involved parties is dead? For example, at the wine shop Nick’s commander forced my character to swear loyalty to the current emperor, but I passed the sword to Adam and said I was the empress’ servant, for her to command. But then Nick’s commander died before we had a scene where he held the former empress accountable for my loyalty to the emperor.

3. Can you hand someone a drawn blade and demand a fight? People wanted to do this a few times, but I said I didn’t think that was possible.

4. Can you die without being stabbed by the sword? Often, the dying wish of a character was for someone else to die as well, which was natural, but seemed mechanically awkward.