Don’t Overlook This Game

I got an opportunity to play Don’t Rest Your Head (hereafter DRYH) from Evil Hat last night (I’ve  talked about it before here).  It was a blast! This post isn’t really a full-on review, nor is it really a playtest report, either. Consider it my thoughts and impressions, loosely organized. My first goal is to to write about something I enjoyed immensely. My second is to give helpful feedback to Fred and his compatriots. Tertiary goals include feedback for other game designers with a good example, and information for potential players (although I won’t spend a lot of time giving context).

The Good

I grasped the rules pretty intuitively (which is not something that usually happens to me), although a second read-through would have made things run a bit smoother at the table. I referenced the rules summary page quite a bit, so I can’t recommend that enough if it is possible (due to complexity of rules, space limitations, etc.).

It’s not that there are a lot of rules either. The mechanics are lightweight (something that’s appealing to me more and more recently), and they’re focused on  the narrative. Rolls happen when they need to happen, not for every conflict. This also reinforces the rule of awesomeness, letting the players succeed with no rolls as long as it’s awesome!

Another amazing thing that I think Quinn captured best with this tweet:

DRYH plays even better than it reads.

I’m not sure how to expand on that, other than to say that you know when a system doesn’t work well at the table.

Also, Quinn was my only player. The rules positively sang with one player. A lot of systems seem to break down at that granularity and require hacking of the system or encounters, but DRYH seems like it would work better with fewer players.

The Bad

Quinn and I both thought it would benefit from some additional threats or complications. I found myself throwing resorting to using different types of Nightmares. Honestly, that criticism may arise because this was my first time running the system. With familiarity, I might find a way to use the conflict mechanics without it being a conflict between the Nightmares and the players.

Another brief difficulty was the different color of dice. We played using a Google+ hangout, so the question of how to make sure we kept track of which dice were which was very important.

The Ugly

Honestly, there wasn’t any that I could find. I know Fred hedges his bets a little because it was one of Evil Hat’s first games, and it didn’t have much of a production budget, but this thing is a diamond in the rough.

Feedback

What about you? Have you played it? Read about it? What were your impressions? If you haven’t played, does what I say here make you want to at least give it a glance?

Don’t Neglect Your Update

Thought I’d give a small update on what’s happening around here recently. I haven’t lost steam on the Planescape 4E stuff, I’m just taking a slight break and exercising other parts of my designer brain (also, editor brain is coming online, in case you missed it).

The thing I’m currently hip-deep in is Don’t Rest Your Head, an awesome RPG put out by Evil Hat (I’ve talked about them before). I’m thinking on whether to take a run at this.

The other thing is that one of my submissions to Wizards of the Coast is in a tentative state. I’ve got to put together an outline to show them something more, as my initial pitch intrigued them (Aside: I love the word intrigued).

That’s what I’m currently working on. I know some of you are clamoring for how in the world I would approach the factions in Planescape, but I’m still early on in my thought process there.

Editor’s Voice: Lego Heroica

Today, I’m going to do something a little bit different. I’m going to practice my editor’s voice.

I had the opportunity this weekend to play the new Lego Heroica with my nephew, Cutler. My parents had bought him two of the sets, and as the resident RPGer in my family, I was asked to teach him the rules. If you want some background, Randall Walker (deadorcs on Twitter) has an excellent post up here that will give some background.

I was surprised at the quality, honestly. The booklets included were very nice, and the rules were presented pretty well overall. However, there were a couple of issues that I thought I’d take a minute to point out. I’ll wrap up with some positive remarks at the end, as it was a good deal of fun.

On Rules and Design

If you’re going to go to the trouble to write rules for an RPG, then you need to keep one of two approaches in mind. The first we’ll call comprehensive, and the second we’ll call arbitration. I’m just using these terms so we’ll have something to call them. Don’t get too hung up on them.

With comprehensive rules, the designer makes an effort to handle every conceivable thing that could occur during the game. This approach helps give a consistent play experience from one group to the next.

With arbitration rules, some of the things that might come up in game are left to the discretion of one or more of the players. I’m including systems that have rough guidelines that cover all types of situations without being exhaustive in this category of design. This approach gives freedom and flexibility for the players to shape the game somewhat.

The designers of Lego: Heroica appear to desire a path down the middle of these two approaches. The rules are written as if they cover everything comprehensively, but within 15 minutes of playing the first time, Cutler and I discovered that the rules for movement left some noticeable gaps when two players happen to be next to each other with either a monster or a barrier (rocks in the case of the Caverns of Nathuz set). It’s easy to make up some rules on the fly, but that pushes us into the realm of arbitration rules. That’s fine too, but some blurb in the rules that this is intended / expected should be there.

The plot thickens when you get to the end of the rulebook and realize that they encourage the building of your own missions. Of course, Cutler and I did this (also combining his two sets into a larger map for added fun). This also created more interesting things not covered by the rules. What if a monster is right behind the rocks? What if I lock a player between two magic walls? The number of things not covered in the rules started to spiral.

Ok, back up a bit here. This is a game for young children (ages 8+). Why the vitriol? This is a good way to introduce younger players to the concepts of RPGs. As a dad whose daughter is showing geeky tendencies already at 3, I want something well polished. This might be her first exposure to RPGs. If so, I want that bar set high.

Also, why should the quality suffer just because it’s marketed to a younger audience? It can be simpler without sacrificing quality. You won’t convince me otherwise.

Side note: Lego should definitely be marketing this to geeky parents in addition to the kids. I think we should see advertising targeting the adults specifically. It’s a missed opportunity for the Lego Group, who should know better by now.

Ding Ding!

Now that I’ve beat up on the game, let me hand out some praise for it. Cutler had a blast, as did I. By the end of it, he was asking if we could swap the monsters and the heroes and play that way (reskinning anyone?). I’ve already said the books looked very nicely done. The rules were concise, and graphics were used along with words to convey information. The pieces were the high quality we’ve come to expect from Lego. The die was beautifully done and served triple duty as a movement die, attack die, and healing die.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the product. I’m seriously considering picking a few up and putting them away for when Gracie gets older (who am I kidding, I’d play it now without her). If I’d had the time and inclination, I might have started adding rules the night I played with Cutler. I might still do that and post my thoughts here.

Anyone else played it? What was your impressions of it?

The Planes, Fate, and Cortex+, Or, The One Where I Apologize and We Move On

Lady of Pain CrestIt finally happened. I screwed up. I mistakenly talked about Aspects in Cortex+. The problem with that is Aspects are a thing in FATE, not Cortex+. Color me embarassed.

The concept stands though. I got a good bit of feedback from some amazing people that I’ll list at the end. Credit where credit is due. First, let me give you some insight into my thought process. There were two blog posts that led me to this recent series of blog posts.

The Planes are Characters

The first was one from Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions found here, in which he talks about Gumshoe (which I almost nothing about). The part that struck was actually in relation to Fate, and I’ve replicated it below.

Designer’s note: Folks familiar with my blather about how — in Fate — “everything is a character” might notice a similar principle at work in both of these long term themes. Each takes the notion that Gumshoe is a mystery game and decides to locate some of that mystery in the characters themselves, directly or indirectly.

Everything is a character? Light bulb! The planes are a character! They have “motivations” (really there is a dominant philosophy at work while there). Let’s run with that.

The Planes Impose Stresses

Next was a post from Ryan Macklin (from the Internet) about hacking stress in Cortex+. I took that general concept and added to my the planes are characters. Light bulb! The planes have motivations / philosophies that they impose on visitors (our brave adventurers).

Characters Have the Power

Both Adam Minnie (Twitter, Google+) , Cam Banks (Twitter, Google+), et. al. weighed in on Google+ to ask questions and help me clarify my thoughts on it. Big thanks to them and Fred and Ryan for the inspirations.

Cam in particular led me to the following mechanic which I will steal shamelessly for use. The quote is below:

In general, I prefer situations where the player gets to choose whether or not they do something bad for their character without the GM pushing that button mechanically. Distinctions for example earn you a d8 for your roll OR you get a d4 (still technically a bonus, but more likely to roll a 1) AND a Plot Point. Because the game revolves around the PP economy, this is an interesting choice to make and not only affects the narrative, it puts it all in the player’s hands.

For now, I’ll put the power in the character’s hands by allowing them to add a d4 + Action Point or d8 for any roll in which they let me “push the stress button.” That may not give me the incentive I want, but we’ll use it for now.

This presupposes that I’ve made the characters use motivations instead of alignments, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I think the motivations (which I might call a worldview) have a better feel than the old alignment system. It will also help take care of Lawful stupid and Chaotic stupid hopefully.

Conclusion

So I’ve think we’ve made some progress and given you insight into my thought process. I’ve been accused of making weird connections before, but I think this is all pretty reasonable. Leave a comment or ask me a question below. Think I’m on to something here? Something you might use in your own game? You can fire off a tweet to me on Twitter or a post on G+.

Also, be sure to check out the Planescape 4E page for links to all the pages.

Hacking the Planes with Cortex+ Distinctions

Lady of Pain CrestSo last time I talked about belief and the planes. I wanted to lay some groundwork before diving into these posts. Let me be clear that I am not entirely sure what will come of this. This might peter out in one more post. This might turn into a wonderful, long run of posts on the topic. We’ll have to see.

Before I get to concept of stress, I had a thought about using Distinctions from Cortex+ for the planes. It will be easier to use an example plane than to talk in generalities, so let’s pick one that lends itself well to this sort of thing. How about Carceri?

Welcome to Prison

Carceri is the prison plane (you might recognize it better as its alias, Tarterus). Six layers are arranged in concentric shells (like matryoshka dolls). The alignment of choice here ranges from neutral evil to chaotic evil, and exiles and other outcasts call this plane home. The Red Prison is the native home of the gehreleths, strange treacherous creatures raised from those who die here.

Carceri’s Aspects

So this plane is fairly simple. We could word things several ways, but for point of discussion, let’s assume there are the following:

  • Treachery is the path to power.
  • Power is the only goal worth pursuing.
  • Lies are truth.

How’s that for conflict instigation?

Stress

I know I said I was going to cover this in another post, but let’s go ahead and take a crack at it, shall we? Let’s take an example party.

  • Thief (of the Honor Among Thieves variety)
  • Paladin
  • Mage (primarily concerned with arcane knowledge)
  • Cleric (of some flavor of good deity)

Now, let’s see what stresses we can cause in Carceri. The paladin and the cleric are going to be uncomfortable here. The thief will likely be okay some of the time and none too happy other times. The mage may be indifferent to all of it.

So, the paladin and the cleric will gain the suspicious or angry stress, for example. If they’re normally calm and reasonable, suspicious makes the most sense. If they’re emotional, go for anger. The thief could gain the suspicious or overconfident  stress, depending on whether he thought he could “game the system” or just wanted to be careful. The mage might gain distracted stress, because they’re not paying enough attention.

Conclusion

So I’ve think we’ve made an interesting start here. We still need to translate those stresses into mechanics, but I think we’ve got an interesting system working here. Leave a comment or ask me a question below. You can fire off to a tweet to me on Twitter, too.

Also, be sure to check out the Planescape 4E page for links to all the pages.