Monday, August 31, 2020

Gaming is a language

 


By Christopher Robin Negelein                                       Photo: Wikipedia Commons

This has always been a firm belief of mine that good games create a sort of language. A language of tools, perhaps, but then again we are tool inventing/using species. Until now, my go to example was both Magic and Seven Wonders. Seven Wonders because they use a variety of icons that can make basic sentences; Make one gold trades with left neighbor or Choose one free resource from list. Where as my example for Magic was how 68 year old bridge player could be mystified at the concept that the cards themselves could have rules on them and just how you set them on the table (tapping) meant something. 

But I was reminded of that yesterday because I came up with a new little dice system that I don't think has been used before. You use two different colored d6s and read the rolls with one color in the tens place and the other in ones place. So 1,1 isn't two but an 11 and 6,6 (as pictured above) is not 12 but a 66 .

I could have made that simpler by saying, "read the dice as percentile dice" or even d6% but I discovered there was a whole context missing from that. 

See, I don't regularly play/run regular d10% games so it never occurred to me how they play out, more specifically that they are roll under systems. If you have a skill that's 64% then you roll below your skill to be successful. This leads to a whole bunch of mechanics that are fairly intuitive, especially if you make them opposed rolls. In a fight or contest? Roll below your skill but higher than your opponent. Want graduated successes or failures, How much of a factor is your roll compared to your success. 

But with my "d6%" system, I had already assumed the set up would be to match or exceed a difficulty number.  So to say I was surprised by the hour a friend and I wasted trying to understand each other was a understatement.

For the math savvy, or just the very observant, you have probably already noticed a "flaw" in my system. The dice can't express certain numbers like 17,18, 19 or 20. But we pick everything   back up at the number 21.*

That's another bit of gaming expectations (or language?). Or dice systems aren't supposed to have obvious holes in them or they way they work. First edition Storyteller dice pools system was infamous for this since ones canceled out successes and further ones could doom you further, which meant that highly skilled characters with buckets of dice were as likely to drastically fail at something they were supposed be legendary good at.

But this is where the game designer part comes in. What if these sets of null numbers are turned into a feature? The player gets a bonus when their successful result ends in a 7,8,9, or 0.  (And right there, that sentence has a whole bunch of gaming language and expectations going on.) What sort of bonus. Another friend asked me, "Mechanical or Narrative?" And I knew he was asking if I planed to fill those bonuses with additional in-game benefits (such as critical success, extra damage, etc.) or narrative springboards (serendipity, advantage, edge, triumph.) So gamer language again. 

It also made me realize that to some extent, narrative and mechanical game could be more interchangeable than I previously thought. 

I've already be thinking not only of the selling point of the null states as mechanic but how it could fit into world building. Does reaching a null number mean your character has accessed energies from another dimension? Have they gone out of phase or slipped between the cracks of our natural world to someplace just out the peripheral view?

Overall, I now see that just trying to express this game is going to be threading a needle of gamer language and exceptions, but we will see. I'm jazzed to see what may come next.** How about you?

*In fact, the only way to reach those "null" numbers is by having a bonus or modifier, which is nice. Unskilled character may still get lucky, but they will never get that extra zing a skilled character has. I like it. 

**I'm not calling it now, but doing the same system for the d8 would lead to a more gritty system where the same bonus numbers would be mean less not only the number spread is bigger, the overall total of null numbers is smaller.


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