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In my spare moments over the past week or so, I’ve been contemplating what I’m going to try to create with Metaplace when it becomes available.  Yeah, eventually I imagine I’ll try to do an RPG/GMUD of some sort (I hesitate to use the term MMO, since truly “massive” participation in anything I’d be interested in building would seem to be unlikely, hardcore as I am).

However, to test and familiarize, I want to start by simply rebuilding (and/or re-imagining) some of the simpler types of games I’ve enjoyed in the past…

1) Food Fight: readers of Dragon magazine from the early 80s might know what I’m referring to… there was a minigame, in Issue #44 I believe, a turn based chits and dice game which basically simulated a high school cafeteria food fight.  Quick, relatively simple, and the gameplay was pretty entertaining.  Dibbs on the squirt bottle of mustard…

2) Another riff on Clue: I’ve been rather into mystery novels of late, so looking at ways of expanding a bit on the basic boardgame Clue has some interest to me.  I’m still working through how I would want to go about that, tho… I want some stronger elements of betrayal built in.

3) Speaking of betrayal, another style of game I’d want to look at emulating would be Diplomacy.  Start with a basic straight translation, of course, but then try different riffs on the theme, see if it was possible to, for example, introduce the possibility of multiple force levels per territory (an ability to have more than 1 unit per territory) and still retain the same basic style of play… seems unlikely, but it’d be fun to experiment again. 

(I really loved exploring variant rules back in the day…)

4) Trippples is a little 2-player game from my childhood I thought I might try to emulate as a small test project.  The board is a set of movable tiles, each with 3 arrows pointing along a random selection of the 8 cardinal directions.  During your turn, you can only move in a direction that the arrows under your opponent’s piece are pointing… meaning, of course, that your choice of moves impacts your opponent’s options.  It’s an interesting puzzle game with an element of competition… I rather liked it, but it was tough finding people willing to think all that hard to play it with.

5) Kings and Things by Tom Wham, another chits-and-dice game from Dragon Magazine (re-imagined somewhat as more of a wargame later under the tile of Kings and Things by West End).  It has some vague similarities to MtG, tho it’s not a CCG per se: I’ve always wanted to find out if MtG was in any way inspired by this game, tho.  Relatively straightforward accumulate-and-crush style of play… was always a quick, relaxing break from dungeon diving.

Just some of things I’ve been thinking about, between RL distractions…

Edit: I knew I’d missed a bulletpoint.  There are a few turn-based wargames I’d want to try to implement as well.  An American Civil War theatre-level game (the Civil War by Victory Games, perhaps), a strategic level WW2 game (World in Flames?), a strategic level WW3 game (probably Supremacy), and some rudimentary fantasy wargame, like Lords and Wizards or Dawning Empire.  (I was a wannabe grognard: never connected with anyone that shared an interest in wargaming to my level of insanity, however…)

2nd Edit: Just went and made sure the term “grognard” was still in use… didn’t know it had been co-opted yet again to refer to hardcore gamers of any genre (my first exposure was to the 2nd definition listed at the wiki entry.)  I guess I can claim to be a true grognard after all…

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(The moral of the story: When all else fails, rant about 30-year old game mechanics.  That’s usually good for a thousand words or so…)

Amongst the many D+D mechanics that were transferred over into CRPGs, MUDs, and MMOs that I would like to see retired (or at least given some career re-training), one of the big ones is the concept of the “saving throw”.  My reasoning, and a few potential re-imaginings, follow in the text hereafter…

Background

Dungeons and Dragons, since it was developed for the small group gaming situation, implemented a host of very abstract concepts to keep the basic mechanics relatively simple: after all, no one wants to have to do multiple derivatives or matrix multiplication each time they have their Barbarian take a swing at an orc.  There are a lot of little intricacies that just get folded up into the basic steps of the resolution processes in D+D: things like “to hit” rolls, damage rolls, and saving throws.

The saving throw concept itself was largely implemented to simply give the player some feeling of control over their character when attacked in ways that couldn’t be “realistically” modelled via the D+D hit point mechanic… mainly non-physical attacks like charms, confusion, fear, and so on.  The saving throw abstraction kept the flow of play relatively fast paced, while still offering the player some feeling/illusion of control.  It wasn’t the most precise mechanic in the world, and could lead to arguments and disappointment when players felt that circumstances should warrant a different result than the die roll indicated… but the GM was there to adjudicate such situations, and it mostly worked given the situation.

Like most of the mechanics of modern day computer RPGs, the saving throw abstraction was largely transferred wholesale from pen-and-paper gaming into the computer version of such games.  The range of possible values and intricacies of the modifiers to be applied might be adjusted somewhat, but the basic concept is largely the same: one random number check, pass or fail, often all or nothing, for nearly all non-physical stresses that a character might be exposed to.

However, two of the more important aspects of the original implementation of the mechanics have been lost in the translation from pen-and-paper to computer: 1) saving throws gave the player an illusion of control by having them roll the die/dice that would determine success or failure: no similar activity exists in most computerized implementations; and 2) there is no GM to overrule the random factor when it generates a result that just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Alternatives

There actually has been some development on the concepts and systems related to the saving throw over time, although often relatively limited.  Players are often granted a measure of control over specific stresses via abilities or equipment gained during play: a “ring of charm resistance”, or an ability that makes the character immune to fear effects for a period of time when triggered.

Some games also appear to vary the duration of effect based on the level of success achieved on the random roll, modified for character level and other factors, again, allowing the player some measure of control and making it a little easier to suspend disbelief in those relatively rare situations where the results might otherwise seem off-kilter.

I would suggest, however, that a great deal of additional variety in gameplay might be obtained if the generic saving throw was set aside, and more robust systems used instead to adjudicate the situations it is currently used to handle.

Inspirations

This is not exactly a new concept.  Systems to allow finer control over “non-physical” stresses have been implemented in various systems even in pen-and-paper RPGs.  Examples include the Sanity score from Call of Cthulhu and/or the Humanity scores (same name, different impacts) from Cyberpunk 2020 and/or Vampire: The Masquerade.

The most obvious tactic to pursue is to simply duplicate the “hit point” mechanism, creating a separate pool of points for use against non-physical stresses, used in much the same manner as typical hit points are used for physical stress.  I don’t happen to like this one all that much, since it still usually leads to an all-or-nothing implementation if not further developed, but it does usually lead to options that restore some measure of control to the player.

An alternative system might be to reverse the above concept: instead of a diminishing pool of points, have a cumulative value representing the current level of effect being suffered, with no absolute maximums, but instead somewhat flexible “threshholds” of effect.  The player’s goal is to keep such accumulations as small as possible, bleeding off pools in various ways. 

It’s only a subtle change from the first option above, but since it is more likely to lead development away from an all-or-nothing implementation, I’d be more interested in it personally.  Watching a “Fear” indicator grow as the character cautiously explores the dark dungeon corridor, or seeing a “Rage” indicator spike as the opponent makes obscene gestures before combat, seems to be a possible way of evoking an echo in the player of what the character would be experiencing, tho a bit contrived. 

My “dream system” currently would use a combination of the above… a vaguely hit-point like mechanism determines whether each initial stress is sufficiently powerful to have a significant effect, then separate scores track the cumulative present totals of various possible effects, moment by moment.

Follow up and conclusion

What other ideas have people had for handling the types of situations that usually get covered by the ubiquitous “saving throw” concept?  I didn’t go into poisons and diseases, for example, in part because several different implementations already exist, but that was a concept that was originally wrapped into the saving throw mechanic as well: are there additional lessons to be learned from how those concepts have been developed over time in existing titles?  What games have I overlooked that experimented with these alternatives or others, and how did they work?

As Yoda would say, I guess.

Actually, not true.  I have been playing around with a few things, programming-wise.  I added some basic functionality to my little XNA project that should allow seamless zoning (it’s relatively easy with a tile-based model, actually), been working on a volunteer java project, setting up an Ubuntu server, and so on… and that’s all outside of the usual work-a-day stuff.  I just don’t know what to write a post about. 

I have a half-finished thing on Ryzom that won’t get done today, because I want to log back in and check a few things again.  A brief linkage post might be in order… but I really haven’t made time to check my RSS feeds!  Ugh.

Brief reminder to Minneapolis area denizens, if you have a free afternoon and want to get together to chat, the monthly MMMOGIG meeting is this weekend, at the usual time and place.

Also, early bird registration for IMGDC 2008 is open.  If you don’t mind “less than first class” accomodations, I’ve got room for a couple fellow bloggers to crash for a few evenings.  Could make the trip less financially stressful… but be warned: no room service, and it’s nowhere near walking distance from the conference.  I can provide transportation, however… and I’ve got decent connectivity. 🙂  Perhaps an impromptu LAN party could be arranged…

Eh, enough for the moment, got to get moving…

Adele tagged me with this meme, and I’m a little short on time and inspiration for a post today, so here goes…

Rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. List eight (8) random facts about yourself.
3. Tag eight people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving them a comment on their blogs.

Hmm, 8 random facts about me, presumably of some possible interest…

1.  I have started or been a founding partner in 3 businesses over my 40+ years, and I feel justified in stating that I am currently batting .667 in terms of success (so far)… one was bought out (less than a year after I’d sold, worse luck), one closed due to lack of sales (it would have helped to have an actual salesperson), and my present endeavor which is still going relatively strong after 12 years.

2.  I’m a cat person… who is allergic to cats.  My life in a nutshell.

3.  I was a National Merit Scholar, scored 99th percentile in both sections of the SAT back in my high school days (one short of perfect on the math, dang it).  Got a decent scholarship from Gustavus Adolphus out of it, and proceeded to fail to take full advantage of it.  My options at that point were: start getting paid for a full-time job in my chosen field immediately, or pay someone for 2 more years to teach me so I can… get a full-time job in my chosen field.  It seemed a no-brainer at the time… sometimes I wonder, though.

4.  Between family trips as a child, and my business travel as an adult, I have visited and stayed at least overnight in 41 of the 50 states, as well as 4 Canadian provinces: I’m missing Alaska, Hawaii, Arkansas, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland from the U.S.  Places I’ve spent a least a month “visiting” over time include Chicago, IL; Missoula, MT; Spokane, WA; Houston, TX; and Worchester, MA.  My actual place of residence (“home”) has never yet been outside of Minnesota, tho, and no travel outside of North America (yet).

5.  I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was almost 21.  I didn’t really need it until then, didn’t have access to a car anyway (my money went to college and gaming)… and was morbidly afraid I’d lose control of the vehicle and hurt someone.  So, of course, now whenever I have a long trip to take, I love to drive it whenever possible, usually in a single straight shot.  I’ve done the Minneapolis-Houston drive (20-22 hours, depending mainly upon KC and Dallas traffic) multiple times… longest one was Minneapolis-Boston (28 hours straight due to traffic jams in Chicago and Cleveland… yes, I know it was stupid).

6.  I’m a teetotaler… I just practice, not preach.  I just get weird enough without chemical assistance, thank you very much.  (Actually, I suspect I would be a very morose drunk.)

7.  My grandmother on my mother’s side was born in a covered wagon headed to Minnesota: all 4 of my maternal great grandparents were born (and married) in Norway, and emigrated to the US shortly before 1900.

8.  My favorite music is a light breeze rustling the trees, waves rhythmically bouncing off the shore, birds and crickets adding notes randomly as the mood takes them.  Beethoven, Anya, Toto, and Sting aren’t too bad, either.  😛

Good grief.  8 people.  Can’t I just let people opt in themselves and link back?  I know, I know… hmm, how about recent or past commenters that either provided or I know their URL off-hand…  Talyn, Lars, AaronMythokia, Daocrucidor, Tuebit, Kanthalos, and Ethic (who never posts anymore, but hey, I tried).  I suspect many of them already did this at one point or another.  Anyone else that wants to join in, feel free….

I’ll get around to rule #4.  Really.  Soon…

A few days of being rather ill really takes the wind out of the sails…

Anyway, back to the pontificating and postulating.  A rhetorical question: how many people would like to see more quests tuned to their character’s specific abilities?

There could still be the ubiquitous fed-ex quests, and kill X foozles, and gather Y foozle snouts (by killing Y+2d10 foozles), and so on.  However, I’d like to see some tasks which exactly engaged the special abilities/strengths of each character “type” provided, as well… quests which test and depend upon their special abilities, and maybe even begin to train them for their typical roles in group.

A few examples…

“Healers”

  • a task to enter a quarantine ward and cure some disease sufferers.  “Cure 10 villagers” instead of “Kill 10 rats”.  (Assumes that curing diseases has been made something of process, a “combat against disease”, instead of just a one-step “fire and forget” ability.)  Find and purify the original source of the disease might be the follow-up or extra-credit quest.
  • tasks to accompany a small troop of soldiers on a raid against bandits or the like, and prevent as many deaths (perhaps on both sides) as possible.  Essentially rudimentary training for group play.
  • A subset of a group of people has fallen deathly ill from accidental food poisoning.  Cure as many as you can, determining which dish was the culprit and tracking down other sufferers based on what each patient can tell you about who else was there. (Or maybe it wasn’t accidental…)
  • Escort a critically wounded patient to a nearby temple/hospital, keeping him/her alive during the travel.

“Tanks”

  • Rescue people from a burning building, using defensive abilities to shield rescuees from hotspots, smother blocking burn areas while minimizing damage, etc.
  • Accompany a group of soldiers against a group of bandits or the like, using your abilities to minimize injuries and losses amongst the troops.  Again, essentially rudimentary training for group play.
  • Find and/or create a safe path through a recently collapsed tunnel/mountain path/flooded swamp.  Use defensive abilities and basic resistance to survive each challenge (assume that quick recuperation is possible between each, but not during)
  • Evacuate as many people as possible from a small village in advance of an attack or disaster of some kind.  Selective usage of taunting and intimidation tactics required.

Those are just some rudimentary ideas, but hopefully they make the point.  Some of them are tasks that perhaps could be offered to anyone, but really engage the strengths of specific classes/roles.  Others require those abilities almost exclusively, or have cross-over with a specific second class/role… for example, a healer might be able to do the burning building rescue using his healing abilities instead; a mezzer/crowd control specialist would probably have an easier time convincing people to evacuate an area than the “tank”, and so on. 

The point is, I’d like to see more utilization of sets of tasks that isn’t just yet another variation on “defeat X opponents”, that engage different skill sets and allow them to shine… DPS specialists don’t need to get _all_ the love, do they?

Feedback?

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Promos and Events

Live in or near Mpls/St. Paul? Interested in talking MMOs with other like-minded people? Join us on either June 30th or July 14th at MMMOGIGs #1.9 or #2.1 (or both!), details coming soon. You can also join us in Google Groups or meetup.com to discuss the when/where of the next meeting, provide feedback, etc.
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