Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rules to Play By: Tapestries

The mechanics of this game are intentionally designed to remain robust while attempting a level of simplicity that new players can pick up. Most importantly, the game is focused on storytelling so the mechanics support, rather then provide a distraction from the story.

This post will discuss the three key controlling factors of the game's dice rules. Each named for the concept of creating a fabric, or tapestry of a story or plot. They help to decide the luck factor in fate, instead of leaving the judgement entirely up to the Dreamweaver.

Weaving -

The first number describes the process or skill in weaving threads. The number represents knowledge, experience, innate ability and influence from other parties on a character's capability. This number is determined by a character's stat, and the skill rank associated with the task they are trying to complete, plus a possible bonus from a Dreamcatcher, or Contract. Weaving is generally static for each skill, only rarely featuring temporary modifiers. The player may determine this number on their player sheet while not in play, giving them opportunity to not need to do math on the fly.

What weaving does is determine how many D10s are thrown when attempting the task, and the skill associated controls that weaving. Skills are designed to be flexible and accommodate the creativity of players, and at the same time it is highly discouraged for players to just use a skill mechanically. The actions should be decided based on the story, and the appropriate skill chosen. However, the skill list is descriptive, covering exact mechanics for many different ways of using the skill to give guidelines to both players and Dreamweavers on how to interpret the actions for each skill.

Weaving is the most static of each of the three base mechanics, and is the one character creation and the player has the most control of. The numbers may range from as low as 1 to as high as 15, meaning quite a few dice may be thrown during skill use.

Fraying -

The fraying number represents the number at which consequences may become part of an action. Any dice that rolls that matches the Fraying number or is lower than it counts as a fray in a roll.  Frays can be problematic to any weave, but a skilled weaver can fix them without leaving permanent damage, though the few that do stick become a permanent part of the fabric.  

All actions baseline start off with a Fraying of 2, though some traits may lower Fraying, and many flaws raise it. Umbral Effects, nasty environments of the penumbra often raise fraying or react directly frays that occur within them. Fraying is significantly more reactive than Weaving, altering throughout the course of an adventure for even the same skill.

Frays themselves don't determine success or failure of a weave, rather they are nasty side effects that carry on if not properly dealt with. Any dice that is not a fray, may be used to cancel a fray, so a character has control over eliminating them. The risk of a fray being part of a completed action is much lower under normal conditions, and far higher in nightmarish places and places of high stress.

When an action completes with a fray, a frayed condition may be placed on the character, or other unintended consequences of the action may happen. This is to say, someone may still strike with a weapon, but break their bone in the process of doing so. An unintended consequence while still succeeding at the primary action, as the two concepts are independent. Sometimes it might be better to fail an action outright than suffer a more lasting condition.

Below is an example of a more complex Frayed Condition, as currently described in the book. Not all frayed conditions are progressive or increasing, but many are problematic and hard to ignore, and they are not simple to remove.

Corruption -It might be slow, or it might be fast, but something is corrupting deep into the character’s psyche, affecting their moral decisions and perhaps even their physical shape.  Long term exposure is more progressively effective and becomes more difficult to remove as the character begins to desire its effect.  For each long rest with this effect in place, it requires an increasing number of successes to remove the effect.  Story-wise it should suppress the character’s conscience if they have one, and push them away from the party’s intent.  Mechanically, it adds a Stitch to checks to complete tasks that the party is trying to succeed at.  For each long rest it adds +1 to the Stitch, up to +5, after which the corruption has fully taken effect and cannot be removed, and the character no longer wishes to work with the party, and may even become an antagonist.

Stitch - 

The stitch represents the difficulty in completing a stitch on the fabric, and determines success and failure. The number is determined by the Dreamweaver, with guidance from the rulebook for suggestions on determining it. The number ranges from 6 to 10, though it may even go higher in the form of 10x2, 10x3 and so on. What the number means is each dice that hits that number or above counts as a success. 10x2 means the first success requires 2 10s in order to count, while 10x3 requires three 10s.  

Weaving increases the likelihood of rolling a number that counts. Unlike some similar systems, frays do not negate successes on their own, though successes may be spend in order to eliminate frays just like any other, so there may be times where a player voluntarily chooses to fail rather than suffer nasty consequences. This is one core element to player decision making, a simple strategy that they may decide when they roll.

In the end, the stitch number is the Dreamweaver's primary input to the outcome of a roll. Their end of the bargain in determining the fate of a character. Each completed stitch adds up to tell the story of an encounter, and guide the storytelling and descriptions of what happens. Both players and the Dreamweaver are highly encouraged to use these numbers to reinforce how they describe each challenge and the conclusion to the action.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Compendium: Kami

The first post on this blog introduces names without a background. The compendium series will discuss and highlight particular concepts in detail and introduce the world of the new setting.

Kami -

The word Kami comes from Japanese Shinto religion, specifically meaning spirit, a creature that may range from a tree, to the mighty god Susano-O. Not all people use the word to describe them, many cultures use different terms, though the term Kami has propagated many places around the world since the Day of Slumber, the day when the Veil broke. Kami have no physical presence, and are tied directly into Dreamtime, not able to sustain themselves within Reality on their own.

Kami take on many names, shapes and forms, and their power varies greatly. Some are little more than a stiff breeze, or the gentle warmth of a stove, while others bear the names of Gods and walked among the ancients. Their strength is tied directly into the Dreamtime, which is shaped by belief. While Kami may become very powerful, they are only as powerful as humanity believes them to be, driving a symbiotic relationship with mortals.

Kami may be bound to objects, called Dreamcatchers, created by humans forcing them into service. Their powers may be called upon by mortals, though it is rare to see anything powerful enough to bind a God. Many Dreamcatchers are little more than trinkets, baubles used to command tiny fractions of the power of the Dreamtime. And yet, some Dreamcatchers are more powerful, evoking powerful magics and affecting the destiny of those that hold them.

Kami may also possess living bodies, though all but the weakest willed should be able to resist a lesser Kami under normal circumstances. However, Kami are crafty, and inside nightmarish places called Penumbra, they may break down a mortal's defenses and crush their soul, taking the power and shaping the flesh into things now called Husks. Husks may contain tiny fractions of the person they once where, but even if the Kami where banished, their mind and soul may be far too damaged to ever return.

The lesser Kami act on instinct, little more than elemental sprites, connected to nature or an emotion that they where born from. Greater Kami, those born intelligent are crafty creatures, and may attempt to approach godhood should they be given the opportunity to collect followers, birthing new Gods. Old gods hold onto followers, clinging to stories still told of them or finding interesting ways to maintain belief despite man's fading faith in the modern age. Other, nameless Kami, latched onto the void left by the named ones, rising in the modern era without a face and yet tapping into the collective worship of modern man. All of them fighting for followers, even willing to give up a piece of themselves in exchange for followers who will act in their favor.

These gods will form Contracts with mortals. Each party agrees to the terms, and in exchange for the devout belief and following the Kami's will, the mortal gains great power. However, many Kami are crafty, and the contracts are warped in their favor, giving them a path to enact their will with little option on the mortal's end. Each contract has unique conditions for the terms ending, if either party breaks the contract they must pay the other based on the terms described, though many Kami have escape clauses that allow them to end the contract should they feel the mortal did not keep up their end.

This covers the basics of Kami, but below highlights a sample of one of the contracts, a well known Native American spirit Raven.

The following is an excerpt from the first draft of the book and both the mechanics and theme are subject to change.  It is not edited currently, so do not judge the quality of its final form based on this excerpt.

Raven - 
To many he is the wise one, and to others he is the trickster. Never as great as his brother Coyote, nonetheless he found followers in his name. He is known to bargain, taking knowledge in exchange for gifts, but his gifts are always double edged and his words are riddles. He may appear in dreams to lead, to help or just to steal, preferring to do as little work as necessary. He also likes eyeballs.
Contracts with this elusive trickster are difficult, for he rarely wishes to share his precious knowledge, preferring to award more directly, but those who manage to convince him to take them on may find it equally troublesome, for Raven appears to be a magnet for everything that goes wrong, and maybe he had a reason for taking the contract.
Signing the Contract Grants:
Trouble seems to find the character no matter what they do, increasing the likelihood of generally bad things happening to them. Most notably inside Dreamtime, Umbra tends to be more prevalent around, while outside antagonistic Kami often show up in Wilds. Worst of all, inside settlements, the character tend to draw husks of the smarter kind that find ways through the cities defenses.
At the same time Raven’s tendency to draw trouble also means he’s prepared, adding the player’s luck stat as a bonus to Initiative, and the character’s spirit is added to their maximum Avoidance.
+2 Weaving to Balance, as its hard to throw off Raven even when presented with daunting tasks and the player may choose three skills to reduce the Fraying of those skills by 1 to a minimum of 1, these skills may be adjusted by visiting Raven in the Dreamtime during a Long Rest and delivering him a tale of his own accomplishments, where he excels in the skills to be selected. This action consumes the entire downtime.
The greater bond grants:
Grants an increase equal to half the character’s Spirit to maximum Mental Fortitude, for Raven is both crafty and wise, and increases the Mental Fortitude Recharge by 1, and the player’s connection to Raven’s craftiness will help escape the most troubling situation.
Raven’s pride means that he is quick to boast, and when using deceit or storytelling to talk about the character’s deeds or raven’s the Force and Weaving of all rolls are increased by the character’s Luck. The character also gains the trait Skilled (Deceit).
Raven's black feather's tend to appear in many locations around the character's various body parts in any shape they take, and hair, scales or feathers will always be black as night.
The greatest bond grants:
May call upon Raven for a favor once per Long Rest as a Major Action, and he shall appear if it suits him and grant varying requests. His favors may include removing frayed conditions from the contract holder or their allies, accomplishing a skill requested of him. He’s quite powerful in some, but if he’s no good at the skill requested he’ll try anyway and never admit a fault. He may also answer other requests at his whim. His fickleness however means nothing may happen at all.
Raven’s obsession with shiny things means he rewards the character for collecting them. When using Sleight of Hand they get +2 Weaving and gain Focused (Sleight of Hand). May also trade stolen items of value to the original owner with Raven for more favors on summoning him. When summoned the character may trade non catcher stolen items for additional favor.
Raven's wings adorn the default shape of the character, fully feathered, or replace the arms, but they are not necessarily functional. Raven's pride means the character is equally proud of their feathers.
Joining a contract:
It starts with a dream, whether a variety of black birds, or a lone raven finding their way into the player’s subconscious. Then the tendency to see them in Reality and Wilds. A plague of black birds, or a hellish raven keep them company in Penumbra.

The character’s reaction to Raven’s presence determines whether he decides to offer a contract or a gift, a gift being his primary offer in trade for wisdom or knowledge he does not have. He plays a game of challenge with the character, which they may approach as a solo encounter and if they succeed he will offer them the choice, and if they fail his flock will abandon them. Accepting the gift grants temporary boons, but the contract may be far more valuable. Definitely, far more dangerous.
Breaking a contract:
Raven no longer wishes to help those who no longer honor his bargain, and does nothing to assist them as Raven’s tendency to draw trouble continues to plague the former contract holder. Maybe that will teach them a lesson.
Raven has also been known to flake out on his end of the bargain, simply one day not showing up when he is called. At which time the contract is broken. The character’s plumage grows in more fully, adjusting their default shape towards Raven’s, especially that stunning beak, and that plumage never seems to go away. His ego seems to transfer over, small parts of his personality infecting the former contract holder turned Raven. They now have a strong desire to collect shiny things, and if they gain one, they may grant their own boons now to their allies. When presented a shiny thing they may remove a frayed condition from an ally once per short rest, or if they acquire one through sleight of hand they may remove their own.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Terror In The Night Concepts

Two concepts for Terror In The Night, a husk that lies in wait for sometimes wary children in the safety of their bedrooms and often hiding in closets or under the bed until one comes within reach hence the elongated claws and fingers. The idea is that they can swallow a person whole, though a full grown adult is often too big for them. Both concepts come with the idea of being able to shove and then compress whatever it is going into their mouths into a much more compact mush. The one on the bottom has a muscular sac that contracts and then forces everything into the protruding gut until digested. His jaw is actually not even connected to the skull part of his head, but to the sac itself so that it can easily unhinge to take a bigger bite. The one on top, however, eats more slowly, grinding the flesh on the way in and storing it around the body, his sagging skin becoming more taunt and full. I'll probably go with the first one only I'll push the skin-sagging-on-skeletal-frame a bit more, methinks. Definitely shades of concept art from the first Silent Hill game and the Gatherers from Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Done with letraset markers, prismacolor pencils, and an ink pen on toned tan sketchbook paper.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Meet the Art Staff

Biography - 
Title: Lead Art Designer
Pen name: Teknicolor Tiger
Name: Cassandra Aponte

The artist is on board for a significant portion of the work for the book, and will help to make sure commissioned art from other artists follows a consistent thematic and fits the setting. Here is a sample of her drawing one of the Husks from the book called Momentary Glance. Other concept artwork will be posted when she begins work on it.

Introductions Ahead

Draft: 1st
Current Word Count:  134,000

This is first and foremost a tabletop role playing game with dice. Four months now have gone by with near constant progress on the first draft. Lets tally where the book currently stands by breaking down the contents that have been created thus far, and look at where progress will bring it in the future

The Setting - 

The game is set in the near future, ten years after the Veil between Dreamtime and Reality broke, the world has significantly changed. Beyond over 90% population loss, many new things have been discovered, changing the direction of humanity. Old magics were found to be true, new technology has been made even as others have been lost, and yet it is a struggle to survive. Traveling risks encountering dreamtouched Wilds and nightmarish Penumbra, or falling through the Veil into Dreamtime itself.

This setting allows for plenty of flexibility for storytelling, allowing for nearly any theme imaginable, while having consistent mechanics that keep it grounded in reality. And while it is connected to the real world giving it a basis for Dreamweavers (GM in most rulebooks) to work with. Familiar places, the real world, myth, all can be easy starting points to work with, without needing to create and define setting or use pre-generated locations. However, the rulebook contains numerous areas of the world detailed to give clear direction of its shape and even offering plot-hooks and danger for the Dreamweaver.

However, this game is focused heavily on collaborative storytelling, player input is as important to the story as the Dreamweaver's, and the book provides short stories about characters experiencing the setting first hand, as well as clearly defined but extremely flexible skills to provide them with guidelines of how they might progress through the story.

One of the key storytelling and mechanical elements in the game are Contracts, which are signed with Kami, powerful beings of the Dreamtime that we have named as Gods, or Monsters, or even just Ideas over the centuries. They've received perhaps the most polish and attention in the book thus far and provide plenty to work with from a Dreamweaver and player perspective including conflicting motivations and direction. 

The characters may be as diverse as the setting, and the rules allow for customizing characters in both a physical and mental sense to a great degree. There are no races, rather the character builds their character's shape using the traits and flaws, and stats as guidelines. There is also a Shapeshifting mechanic built into the game instead of races, and allowing for coping with the sudden physical changes that can happen when dealing with Dream. The game is skill based and classless, allowing for flexible backgrounds and design and furthermore skills themselves are designed to encourage creativity rather than provide restrictions on what players may do.  

The Mechanics - 

The game's mechanics are designed to supplement storytelling instead of restricting it. They are there to reduce conflict, and support cooperation instead of competition between the Dreamweaver and players. This is critical for creating a fun game and one of the big problems with existing rules. Only a few RPGs out there have done well in integrating the mechanics with the story, and a problem with many other systems out there is the tendency to create a game, instead of a story. The problem is, most games devolve into dungeon crawls with a majority of players, and differing skill levels of players tend to really stand out and create problems. They also often devolve into a competition between the GM and the players, which can lead to occasional hostility, arguments and encourages Rulemongers and Munckins.

This game is a little softer on the mechanics, attempting less rolling, less math than the popular rules on the market, but by no means is it simple. The game is designed around simple yet deep philosophy of modern gaming, the idea of boiling the system down to root strategies and offering a lot of them without trying to overwhelm players with optimization, numbers and math. While this book hasn't been able to avoid it entirely, and does fall into the occasional bit of it with some of the more advanced mechanics, new players and Dreamweaver's shouldn't be bogged down in them and allow them to focus on the art of storytelling and role playing instead of learning systems. This does mean the system and setting focus heavily on that aspect and it may force shy and inexperienced players to have to interact and think in ways they haven't had to in other systems.

It is the hope of the designer that the book provide a focus on the strongest aspects of tabletop games and might bring tabletop gaming to a wider and different audience than Pathfinder. While the marketplace is full of RPG settings, and even systems, this should and will stand out among them for its design focus.  Its about to start alpha playtesting on finishing the first draft, and will receive balancing, revision and initial artwork before it hits Kickstarter. Eventually, the book should be available in both hardcover and digital format.

Completed -

8 Vignettes
31 Contracts
2 Godstones, and 25 Dreamcatchers, 10 Oracle Coins
150 Traits and Flaws
30 Husks
10 Runewords
6 Penumbra
18 Metropolises
4 Pathways
6 Crossroads
Character creation
Character growth
Setting history
Skills thoroughly created, expanded, detailed

To do list
A few more vignettes
Revise & Redesign one Contract
Three dozen more Dreamcatchers
Guidelines for Husk creation.
Two dozen more Husks.
Wild and Dreamtime examples
More Pathway examples.
Mock Play Sessions
Pregenerated characters with stories