A New Experience System

This post discusses the how’s what’s and why’s behind the new XP system I recently implemented in the game.  As always, scroll to the bottom for a TLDR.


The Thesis:

I am changing the XP system in the game to one that uses hard, guaranteed yields for any successful roll depending on difficulty. 1 Xp for easy, 5 for medium, 10 for hard. I’m going to call this Tally XP, because I kept track by marking tallies for each player. I believe Tally XP removes room for unfair favoritism, inconsistent XP yields, and tedious mathing.

Unfair Favoritism

I originally had a pretty traditional XP system. Beat enemies and get XP. Each enemy giving a predefined yield. Successful social interactions would get XP at the whim of the GM.  And what’s worse, I felt myself giving more to some characters than others. Usually, with perfectly acceptable reasons like “You didn’t actually participate in the action,” but sometimes with shakier ground caused by poor memory of who did what.

Even when I try to imagine the most ideal version of GM Me, I still find myself liking one character more than another. In one session I host, I continually root for a specific character even more so than the others. He just appeals to me on a personal level. I try not to let it cloud my judgement, but- can I stop it 100% of the time? I don’t know, so I want to remove the possibility.

The Tally XP system prevents a GM from favoring one character with extra XP because every roll has a specific yield. Your XP correlates absolutely to how many successful rolls you made. Each character might get different yields per encounter depending on effectiveness, but that’s by design!

Admittedly, a GM might still play favoritism by rewarding Hard XP yields more often to one character, but hopefully that is only coming from hard actions so that character is in constant fear of death anyway.

Inconsistent Yields

Deeply related to what’s discussed above, how do I know how much XP to give? Does one huge bear equal more or less xp than 5 green pirates? Does an unarmed enemy have less yield than an armed one? Is a series of social rolls that successfully avoids combat less value than the combat itself? I don’t think that would be fair.

This kind of moral and mathematical dilemma ultimately makes progression speed fairly unpredictable, which I think hurts the immersion of the system.

I struggled for a while with a way to rectify this, and I entertained a few different options. Ultimately, I like Tally XP for this because all players always know exactly what they should be getting. Before a roll, a GM might announce, “Roll Nature, and this is going to be easy.” Well, that’s 1 XP.

Tedious Mathing

When we fight 4 guys who each yield 19 xp and one of the characters also got a couple of successfully diplomacy checks in there and a perception check, what do I do? How should the xp be divided amongst the group? What if one character uses all his or her turns on support actions that do no damage. Does it yield an equal share? nekosi

On top of each of those having a probably not whole number answer, we also need to continually add that number to what you already had. In my system, which levels up every 100 XP, that’s not very hard, but it does feel annoying to me as the GM to have to stop after an encounter and start doing division, aka using a calculator.

Essentially, I don’t like it, so I dropped it.

Tally XP means I have three columns (easy, medium, hard) ready for each character on a piece of scrap paper, and on each roll, I just mark a tally in the correct column. Once those start to pile up, I stop to count to see if they’ve hit 100. I also encourage the players to tally for themselves. I’m only human and sometimes get too excited by the game to trust myself fully.

Conclusion

I’ve tested it out twice now and I’m really happy with how it’s working. Takes a little while to build the habit of marking each roll, but once I had it, things were really smooth. I think that some players and designers are going to really be against this, but I’m happy with it.

TLDR

Trying a new XP distribution system I’m calling Tally XP. Every successful roll yields XP; 1 XP for easy rolls, 2 for medium, and 3 for hard. Should make progression speed more predictable and consistent.

 

 

Unexpected Attention

This post is not about Game Design, but more about presentation and reflection. As always, scroll down for the TLDR.

I Posted on Reddit

For the few months I’ve been working on this (and the several years I’ve spent researching), I have been extremely hard pressed to find anyone with any measure of interest in what I was doing. Several posts requesting playtesters, across several platforms over several weeks, earned me a mere two willing participants. Gon, Reynolds, <3.

So when I posted on Reddit last week I expected a similar level of excitement for my game. Less than “meh”, I expected silence.

But, as you probably already know, it got quite a bit of attention. This site, with all of its two pages, has gotten almost a thousand unique views in the last week. Maybe it’s not a lot, but it’s a lot to me, and I’m super flattered and panicked by it.

Yes, “panicked.”charsheetpng

I never imagined I’d need to make a paper version of the game. So far, everything has been handled online- my character sheet, inventory system, map system, and so much more all relies on online applications. Suddenly I had people saying, “I want to run this” and “When can I play” and I have to quickly start rethinking. So I started on a paper character sheet, showed it to someone, and they quickly made a way better version for me. (Thanks Nordin! And make sure to check out his beautiful projects, over at Beaten Path Publishing.)

The image on the right shows an early draft that uses placeholder names for skills. The names have been updated but not formatted yet, and it’s sort of low priority for now.

I’m Going to Artscape

Every year here in Baltimore there is a giant outdoor art festival called artscape. This year, someone has organized an RPGFest to be showcased right there in the thick of this great big festival. Thanks to that post on reddit, I’m now going to be presenting this game, basically pitching it, for two hours.

So I needed some visual aids. Well I can’t afford beautiful cardboard prints or stickers or, well anything, but I do have access to a warehouse so… Map time. Wood map. I’ll be using a colonial era map as reference, cutting wood to match the border, inserting little houses and longhouses to show villages, and labeling them all. I have no idea how it’ll stack up to the probably very beautifully superior stuff at the show, but I’m pretty proud of the progress so far and me and my brother have really enjoyed making it.

So yeah. Been busy. I have two playtests scheduled for this weekend and I also have found someone brave enough to try GMing this thing based on the Guide Doc. It’s been a bumpy start but we’ll get there. He also had the wonderful suggestion of maybe making a version of this that’s more adaptable to any colonial setting, and that seems like a pretty great idea. Once I have this one perfected, I’ll probably roll onto that.

I’ve also started trying to move my Google Doc into something more Design oriented, but it’s kind of a disaster because I just don’t have the skillset for something like that (or the money!)

So you know, maybe I can build the reputation to make people want to help me fund something a little bit more professional level quality. Or maybe I’ll win the lottery and fund it myself.

TL;DR

The response to Reddit post was genuinely shocking to me. I can’t believe so many people are interested. I need to start making a more accessible version. It’s hard.

I’m presenting at a local festival in July. I have to make props for it.

My Bow is OP

Special Thanks:

Just want to start by giving a special thanks to Leland Andercheck, who playtested with us and spent the next day revising my game doc. He’s an excellent RPer and I am hugely thankful to have his help. Leland is working on his own game called Akroydiesel Age, a Dieselpunk game where players can control entire units or play as a single soldier carrying out orders. I am looking forward to playing soon!

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Playtesting last week was really gratifying for me, mostly because all the players seemed to really enjoy it. The problems that had given such sour feelings one week before have, apparently, been solved, leading to a fast-paced and roleplay heavy experience that rarely got sidetracked.

Also, only one bug on the character sheet this time. We’re getting closer.

Despite all that fun and joyousness, a couple of key issues were highlighted during gameplay:

  • Archery is OP. Like, way, way OP.
  • Speed skill being used for initiative is just not working.

Both of these problems, and their theoretical solutions, will be discussed below.

Archery is OP

Luckily, both of these are somewhat related. Archery is mainly OP because, as a player pointed out, it doesn’t restrict movement. Meaning a character can run around at full speed firing arrows. Might as well be skating down elephant trunks at that stage. Not only does that lack of restriction make an archer too good at offense, it also makes him or her too good at staying out of reach.

One player suggested a great fix to this: Have any player movement made during the turn prior to shooting cause a -3 to the shot’s roll. This will encourage players to take aim before firing and discourage overloading on the archery skill. I’m not sure that -3 is going to be enough, but that’s going to get tested and tinkered with on the next playtest.

The goal of this mechanic change is to make archer’s more vulnerable- this game prides itself on being very unforgiving to mistakes, and archer’s should be equally prone to consequences.

Speed for Initiative

In the game’s design, I wanted to use a speed skill to determine who goes first in battle- replacing the standard Initiative check. It didn’t work at all. Almost every player (four so far, but still) has ended up with the same or almost the same speed skill number. Meaning we ended up having to roll for initiative anyway.

Personally, I hate rolling for initiative because it doesn’t really reflect, in a meaningful way, what would determine movement order in a real situation. What about skill, reaction times, movement speed? Rolling a die seems… weird.

But oh well. It needs more thought.

Regardless of how Initiative is done, one thing is clear: Speed can be used better. Again taking a suggestion from a player, I’m going to try using the speed skill to determine combat mobility; your speed will determine how many spaces you may move per turn. For now, I am going to try a simple system that gives +1 to mobility for every 3 points in speed. We’ll see how it goes.

TL;DR

My speed skill was broken so I’m going to change its function, using it to let players move more during combat. Archery was also broken, so I’m going to try giving a big debuff when player’s move before shooting.

Thanks for reading! Comment with any questions, etc.

 

What is The Plundering Time?

Welcome to The Plundering Time, a TTRPG set in early colonial Maryland, a time of intense sectarian, political, and cultural conflict. You will join your party in fleeing the burning wreckage of your adopted hometown, out into the unmapped and untamed wilds of The New World.

Your characters are only humans- not heroes. You will roam the dangers of this land struggling every day with the forces of nature and the varying antagonistic factions that will harry your every move. Whether a gentleman of England’s aristocracy or a slave from the west shores of Africa, this conflict has the potential to change your fortunes forever. As the class structure of the Old World crumbles, what new life will your make for yourself?

Simplicity is the core philosophy behind every mechanic, and that will be evident as the game is played. You roll a d20 for every action, with a GM setting difficulty by choosing a number. Accompanying spreadsheets will assist with difficulty controls and character creation.

Combat features a high-damage, low-HP system that makes every encounter potentially fatal and will require players to work as a team to gain game-changing advantages on the battlefield.

For shorter campaigns or One-Shots, your goal might be to survive long enough to establish a new life for yourself. For longer campaigns, you may yet have a hand in the retaking of your old lands from the enemies.