Monday, July 28, 2014

Getting all "game theory" on your asses...

MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research
Authored by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek

I downloaded this doc (above) a while back, "re-discovered" it floating around my desktop this morning, and thought I'd share it with all of you. I think I may have originally found it on the internet while googling my name in relation to game design, as you'll notice one of the authors is a "Marc LeBlanc" (no relation to yours truly).

Here's the paper's abstract:
In this paper we present the MDA framework (standing for Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics), developed and taught as part of the Game Design and Turning Worshop at the Game Developers Conference, San Jose 2001-2004.

MDA is a formal approach to understanding games – one which attempts to bridget the gap between game design and development, game criticism, and technical game research. We believe this methodology will clarify and strengthen the iterative processes of developers, scholars and researchers alike, making it easier for all parties to decompose, study and design a broad class of game designs and game artifacts.

"MDA" (Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics) is a game design framework used a tool in game analyzation. It breaks a game into three components (mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics... duh), and provides "precise definitions" for each, as a way of understanding how they relate to one another, as well as how they relate to the player experience. From wikipedia:
Mechanics are the base components of the game -
its rules, every basic action the player can take in the game,
the algorithms and data structures in the game engine etc.

Dynamics are the run-time behavior of the mechanics
acting on player input and "cooperating" with other mechanics.

Aesthetics are the emotional responses evoked in the player -
joy, frustration, fantasy, fellowship.

I could go on here and list a bunch of other stuff from Marc's website (including his classification of "eight kinds of 'fun'"), but I'll just send you his to web page instead. Dig through the stuff there, and feel free to comment below on what strikes your interest and feels particularly relevant to you and why. (I, myself, am overwhelmed with client work right now, so I have not had too much of a chance to dig, and will likely have little chance to respond right away, but don't let that stop you.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Working on making my BX/LL Character Record Sheets as complete as possible...

As part of the included items and stretch goals for the BX DM Screen I'm developing, I'm versioning my BX/LL character record sheet to each specific class, and including all the relevant information for each class on the actual record sheet. This is something that a lot of other editions have, but I don't know that I've ever seen for BX/LL. It includes checkboxes for +5%/+10% in the XP area (as well as a space to record hp needed to reach next level), notes on special abilities (e.g., infravision and distances, bonuses to check traps/doors, spaces to put target rolls for Cleric's turning, etc.), the type of HD to be used under the hit point box, notations on prime requisites and experience point bonuses, and other goodies throughout. There's a generic version of course (already available at the link at the beginning of this paragraph). Originally, I was going to leave space for spells; instead, I'm working on separate spell sheets for clerics and MUs/Elves that give space to list each spell's range, duration, area of effect, etc., in addition to provided the spells by level information for those classes.

The idea is that, between these character record sheets and the DM screen itself, you will rarely (if ever) have to reference the rule books during the game (assuming the monster stats have been provided ahead of time, which I try to do in EVERY adventure I write and produce for publication).

Pictured below: top-left) group shot (), top-right) CU of Thief character record sheet showing Thieves' abilities spaces, bottom-left) CU of Thief character record sheet showing "to hit" boxes w/ backstab note & hit point box with indication of die-type, bottom-right) CU of Halfling character record sheet showing item use restrictions.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Historical Dig into the Planes of Existence Pt. II

Today's post is a continuation of my work into developing a planar model as an extension of the mystic class/psionics system I'm working on for BX/LL.

As an extension of yesterday's post digging into the history of planar concepts (as an extension of the mystic class/psionics system I'm working on for BX/LL), today's chart is from the 1925 book A Treatise on Cosmic Fire by Alice A. Bailey. Like Mr. Leadbeater, Ms. Bailey was a theosophist/esoteric philosopher. Also like Mr. Leadbeater, Ms. Bailey suggests the lowest three planes are physical: 1) solids, 2) liquids, 3) gases; and that the next four planes are etheric. From there, Ms. Bailey's planes seem to coincide with Mr. Leadbeater's, with some Western additions to the Eastern naming...


More importantly, I like how this diagram (of the "Kosmic Physical" planes) from Ms. Bailey suggests that gates/portals connect some of these planes directly.

So, at this point, I'm still thinking that...

1) Access to other physical planes from the prime material plane (that is, to the positive material, negative material, elemental planes, etc.) will be through the ethereal plane.

2) Access to the astral plane will be through the ethereal plane. (See this post at Delta's D&D Hotspot, and the comment thread, for discussion of early editions, and whether the astral plane was accessed through the ethereal plane, or accessed directly, from the prime material plane.)

3) Access to the higher planes will be "up" through the "upper" ethereal plane to the "upper" astral plane.

4) Access to the lower planes will be "down" through the "lower" ethereal plane to the "lower" astral plane.

5) Moving to the outer edges of the physical plane accesses the "dreamlands"; moving "up" from the dreamlands access deep dreams, and moving "down" from the dreamlands accesses nightmares. (This is a concept I'm adapting from Steve Marsh's current model of the planes... but that's a whole 'nother post.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Historical Dig into the Planes of Existence

For some additional context on today's post, see this post (and its comment thread) at Delta's D&D Hotspot regarding the spell Contact Other Plane.

I was doing some digging around to older resources on concepts of the planes of existence (as an extension of the mystic class/psionics system I'm working on for BX/LL) and came across a couple of things. First, the writings of the Theosopher Charles W. Leadbeater who really launched the whole theosophy/metaphysics field around 1900. He (along with Annie Besant) is credited with systemizing the planes in his writings. Most of what has come afterward (entire 20th century and beyond) seems to be based (at least in part) on his writings. While his concepts are based on some older Hermetic thoughts (older Egyptian and Greek philosophies), he's the one who (at least in a modern context) suggests concepts like astral travel. This page (at left) from his 1903 book "Man Visible and Invisible" seems to lay out the concept that the astral plane is accessed by means of etheric double.

The Kybalion (by "The Three Initiates," 1912) seems to be the other "go to" theosophic book on the planes. The second chapter, ("The Principle of Correspondence") embodies the idea that there is always a correspondence between the laws of phenomena of the various "planes" of being and life (p.28). This text lists the "Plane of Ethereal Substance" as the 4th sub-plane of the 7 minor physical planes (essentially the same place that Leadbeater puts it). But the Kybalion's ethereal plane itself consists of 7 sub-planes... "This Ethereal Substance forms a connecting link between Matter (so-called) and Energy, and partakes of the nature of each. The Hermetic Teachings, however, instruct that this plane has seven sub-divisions (as have all of the Minor Planes), and that in fact there are seven ethers, instead of but one."

So where am I going with this?

Well, as I stated at the beginning of this post, I'm trying to lay out some ground rules (but, honestly, little more than that, for the sake of fearing being too restrictive and cumbersome) for a "planar travel" appendix to the mystic class/psionics ruleset I'm developing for BX/LL (which is coming along swimmingly, BTW, thanks to some great insight I graciously received from Steve Marsh... the nearly-uncredited genius behind a lot of the planar concepts of D&D1). I've been trying to decide what rules are "givens," and which things are better left to DMs to develop themselves. Based on the above, I think I'm going to stick with the basic concept that one must access the ethereal plane before accessing the astral, even though both the 1e PHB version of the diagram of the planes (and it's predecessor from Dragon Magazine #8, pictured below) suggest that the Astral plane (area 9, in light blue) can be accessed directly from the Prime Material plane (area 1, in purple). This physical-to-ethereal-to-astral model seems to support the "higher consciousness" aspect of the mystic class I'm developing. The ethereal plane will still access all the other material planes (e.g., the elemental planes, and things like the positive and negative material planes, should I keep those "as is"). It's the astral plane and beyond that I'm still contemplating.

But, then again, I might decide to abandon this structure altogether.

There are some other ideas I'm toying with, so I'm sure there will be more posts to come.

1 "When ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was still in its earliest conceptual stage, Steve Marsh and I exchanged considerable correspondence pertaining to the planes." Gary Gygax, "The Sorcerer's Scroll," Dragon Magazine 38 (Vol. IV, No. 6), December 1979.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Today's new monster comes to us from the Celts by way of The Voyage of Máel Dúin.

Revolving Beast

The revolving beast is a doppleganger-like creature able to morph itself into many different creatures by adapting its loose skin, skeletal bones, and muscles into different shapes. Each transformation takes 1d4 rounds, with the beast revolving in place, accompanied by a massive clattering noise (as its bones crack and snap into place). Any creature standing within a 5' radius of revolving beast during this transformation is subject to 1d4 points of damage, if the revolving beast makes a successful “to hit” roll against that creature. The sound of the transformation is so loud and frightening, that any creature of animal intelligence must make a successful morale check or be frightened enough to run away at full speed.

The shape that may be taken on by a revolving beast is limited only by the revolving beast’s knowledge of existing creatures and its imagination, but the size taken on must remain in line with number of HD of the revolving beast as outlined below:

4HD approximately dwarf-sized
5HD approximately human-sized
6HD approximately ogre-sized

The revolving beast will gain the ability of altered forms of movement based on an assumed shape (e.g., flying, swimming, burrowing, or leaping), but does not gain additional abilities (e.g., water-breathing), and moves at its normal rate.

The number of attacks that a revolving beast may make during a single round (while in an assumed shape) is limited only its number of appendages (in that form), with each attack doing 1d4 points of damage (on a successful “to hit” roll). A revolving beast may not make any attacks during a transformation round, except as outlined above.

FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 12"
% IN LAIR: 75%
NO. OF ATTACKS: See below
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic neutral
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

MOVE: 120'
ATTACKS: See below
DAMAGE: 1-4 pts./attack
SAVE AS: Fighter:4-6

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Borrowing Champions' Damage Model for D&D?

NOTE: 3.5's Unearthed Arcana introduced a similar system to the one outlined below. I have never played 3.0/3.5/4.0, so was unfamiliar with UA's integration of this concept into D&D when conceptualizing and writing the post below, and only found it in retrospect as a result of research for this post. I also believe that the overall mechanics of later D&D editions are substantial enough that the system below would be more in line with OD&D than almost any other edition.

Sometime over the weekend, I had a thought about appropriating Champions' use of Stun/Body points for D&D. If you're not familiar with Champions', it uses a "stun" rating to track the kind of damage that might knock out a character (either through bashing, system overload, or just plain wearing them down), while a "body" rating tracks truly lethal damage. Stun is calculated by adding up all the pips on the damage/effect roll (Champions uses only d6s), and each result of a "6" does 1 body point of damage (in addition to any stun points.)

Here's where my D&D thinking is going right now...

A monster's (or character's) hit points are treated as their stun rating, and their hit dice are treated as their body rating; the stun rating would include hit points modifiers to their hit dice (e.g., the "+2" in "3+2" would be included), but the "body" rating would ignore it (e.g., a 3+2 creature would only have 3 body points). Character hp/HD would work the same.

– a small weapon (e.g., a dagger, an arrow, etc.) would do 1d6
– a medium weapon (mace, sword, axe, etc.) would do 2d6
– a 2-handed/pole weapon (halberd, 2-handed sword, etc.) would do 3d6

Reducing a monster/creature/character to 0 hp (or lower) is simply knocking them unconscious. But reducing their HD to 0 or below would kill them. The number of rounds a creature remains knocked out/unconscious is 1 round per hit point below 0 (e.g., -3 hit points would mean the creature remains unconscious for 3 rounds). Kill shots are automatic for anyone attacking a knocked out creature (basically the same as if they were put to sleep).

In this context, a 5th level MU and a 5th level fighter would take the same number of body points to kill them (after all, they are both rather experienced by this point), but the MU would be knocked out much sooner than the fighter (assuming, of course, an median number of hp rolled on variable HD).

Now, imagine an encounter where a party of first level characters is locked a battle with a bunch of 1HD creatures (e.g., skeletons). The MU is out of spells for the day, so he pulls out his dagger; he's got a decent chance of knocking the skeleton down/out for a bit, but only a 1-in-6 chance of killing it on any successful strike. By comparison, the fighter pulls out his halberd; each time that fighter lands a successful hit on one of those skeletons, he's got a 3x greater chance of killing it.

Healing would have to be re-figured overall. For example, a healing spell would now need to restore a limited number of body points (rather than stun/hit points). And since hit points restore more quickly, healing would be more directly related to body points.

I don't see reduced HD ("body") points affecting attacks. E.g., a 5HD creature would not attack/save as a 4HD creature if reduced from 5 to 4 body points. Experience/ability doesn't go away as these body points are lost.


Friday, July 11, 2014

d30 Feature of the Week:
d30 Berserker (Barbarian) Encounters

I'm trying to better about doing my promised d30 download every Friday. It keeps me creating new ones. The title says it all on this one... "d30 Berserker (Barbarian) Encounters." Hopefully it will add a little flavor to your berserker encounters. On a side note, right before I got ready to upload this, I noticed that the line which should have been "sacred runes" actually said "scared runes." I like the idea of that... "scared runes." It is, however, fixed on this chart to say "sacred."

Click here to download a free PDF of this
d30 Berserker (Barbarian) Encounters page from MediaFire.