Thursday 24 September 2020

Active Armour

As is in Errant, armour works like so.

  • Armour gives you AP, essentially an extra pool of damage you can take before it gets to your HP. There are no to-hit rolls, so armour doesn't make you "harder to hit", except in the sense that HP is an abstraction that represents your ability to mitigate taking serious damage.
  • Armour is piecemeal, so you can wear a helmet that gives you 2 AP and some gauntlets that give you 2 AP and end up with 4 AP total.
  • When you're down to 0 AP, you can use an armour repair kit and repair your AP back to full.
  • If you ever take max damage from a hit, a piece of armour you're wearing loses a point of Quality; at 0 Quality something is broken for good.
  • Shields work a little differently, so as to create a mechanical distinction between a regular shield and a helmet. A shield instead Impairs incoming damage (Impair means to reduce the damage taken by a die step, so d8 -> d6). A regular shield Impairs 1 while a large shield impairs 2 (e.g. d8 > d4). While this makes shields more powerful for reducing damage, it also makes them more likely to break, because smaller dice size = higher chance of rolling max damage.
  • You add a quarter of your max AP to target numbers for sneaking, climbing, swimming, squeezing, or balancing. Swimming while wearing chain or plate torso armour is going to cause exhaustion from hypothermia. Add half of your max AP to the target number for spell retention rolls.

I have a couple of problems with the armour rules as is.

  • Once you have all your armour on, the piecemeal aspect is kind of lost as it all gets aggregated into a big blob of AP. It still comes up diegetically enough whether or not a character is wearing a helmet or gloves when interacting with environment, but still.
  • Quality/AP disjunction: you track Quality for armour parts individually, but AP in aggregate. It can also be difficult to remember to take Quality damage, because unlike weapons which can take Quality damage when they're used, taking Quality damage to armour is passive.
  • Which is the crux of the issue, is that armour is passive, and in general, it is harder and more fiddly to keep track of passive resources which deplete rather than active resources which are used (and less exciting).
So, here is my attempt to fix those problems. 
  • Every piece of armour has a number of Blocks. Each Block can Impair damage by 1, but the player has to describe how they use that armour to reduce the incoming damage (e.g. a helmet is helpful if rocks are falling on your head).
  • You can use more than one Block at a time; this follows the normal rules for Impairment, where two instances of Impair 1 = Impair 2. Of course, taking a bigger hit with your armour means its more likely to lose Quality (if damage is reduced to 0, that still counts as taking max damage).
  • You can only use one piece of armour to Block per attack or instance of damage.
  • You can also use Blocks to negate non-damaging harmful effects that make sense (e.g. if a save or die poison needle trap is on a door handle, you can use a Block from your gauntlets).
  • Total # of Blocks function the same as AP for physical checks and spell retention checks.

Thursday 9 July 2020


Inspired by Nick's POSER Manifesto and also this dumb tweet. Thanks Nick, for teaching me the importance of being shit.


1. Playing is like pooping: everyone knows how to do it, everyone does it different. Don't make it harder than it needs to be. Do what you gotta do.
2. This is a different space and time from the rest of your life. Drop all pretense and aspiration and conformity. Let yourself be gross, smelly, ignorant, cranky, bloated, uncomfortable, and relieved.
3. Don't play with people you wouldn't shit in front of.
4. Let yourself shit in front of more people.
5. Redefine shit. You are shit. Your work is shit. There will always be a gap between the ideal in your head and what you actually end up doing. There will always be something you forget or mess up or misinterpret completely. This is good. This is not failure. This is you. This is your work. What emerges in actuality is the honest creation of your own body. The gap between what you wanted to do and what you actually did is the space where transformation occurs; it is the difference between mere imitation (yes, even fulfilling what's in your own head would be mere plagiarism of yourself) and honest to god creation. Shit is transformative. Shit is creative. Shit is growth (literally, fertilizer; faeces are fecund).
6. FUCK ELVES. Elves are anti-shit. Graceful, hyper-competent, perfect, stagnant. An elf never has B.O., or farts, or gets gassy after a meal, or muffin tops in their favourite pants, or has body hair or even any bodily fluids. Elves eat kale salad without dressing every day. Elves eat that kale salad in juice form. Elves are what everyone tells you is sexy and good. FUCK THAT. Rejoice in scatological excess. The best parts of everything, eating, sleeping, shitting, fucking, are the grossest parts. Scratch your ass and eat a sandwich and lick your partner's armpit hair and admire the back rolls where the sweat collects and the acne because you guys drank too much last night! Let yourself be attracted to the grossness! The grossness is what makes us human. Fuck anyone who says otherwise, and fuck anyone who pretends they're not gross.
7. You know what a bad shit feels like. Do not let what you think, or what other people say you should think, trick you into disregarding what your body knows does not feel good for you.
8. Be shit at things. Play games you don't know the rules to. Write games you don't playtest or edit. Play games that you wrote but forget the rules that you wrote or ignore the rules that you wrote and play anyway.
9. Shit regularly.
10. Good manifestos might have ten points but this is a DUNG manifesto, it is shit, it is a heaping pile of stinking manure.

Monday 4 May 2020

Rules and Diegesis

This is a series of loose meditations around the purpose and nature of "rules" in D&D-like RPGs. What I say here could probably be extrapolated out to things like PbTA but that's not my focus here. These tweets by Ben Milton were the catalyst for these thoughts.

I found this to be kind of a surprising statement considering that it leaves out "players use rules to overcome in-world problems", especially given that one of Ben's pet RPG mechanics, item slots (I don't think I've ever seen him miss an opportunity to suggest switching to a slot-based inventory system if the opportunity presents itself) to me typifies exactly that problem solving mode.

Let's unpack these statements though. What Ben is pointing out essentially is the difference between non-diegetic and diegetic design; however, in any medium, no work is wholly diegetic, as every text must include the extradiegetic level of presenting the work to the reader*. In RPG terms, this is simply because the "in-world" space does not actually exist**, and therefore requires a manner of ingress into the fictive world, some extradiegetic device that allows us to access the intradiegetic world: in literature, this is printed text, in film, cinematography, and in RPGs, it is discussion.

This is the first "rule", as in extradiegetic device, of RPGs, then: that by talking about a fictional world, we are allowed to enter it. A rule is a point of ingress into the fictional world.

The problem with RPGs, however, is that they are collaborative, and as such authority over the creation of the intadiegetic world must be distributed and maintained. Thus, we usually come to a second necessary rule to ingress into a fictional world, one that distributes authorial power in some way, such as: one person is the final arbiter of what happens in the intradiegetic space***. Without this, what you're liable to end up with is something like that of children's playtime gone wrong: "I attack you with my laser", "I use my shield", "you don't have a shield", "do too!", "it doesn't work against my laser though, it's an anti-shield laser!", "well my shield is a special anti-laser shield!", etc. The above exchange, as we can see, can not ingress into the intradiegetic space and takes place wholly on an extradiegetic level.

Our hypothetical RPG with only these two rules would occupy the lattermost position on Ben's axis, having only minimal extradiegetic elements. The problem with this type of game, obviously, is that as a game increases in complexity of things that can not be reasonably simulated through simple conversation (say, carrying items, engaging in combat, travelling through several miles of terrain), it becomes increasingly burdensome to resolve conversationally, and the difficulty of ingress into the intradiegetic world increases****. We create specific rules for these scenarios, then, to allow us to ingress into the intradiegetic world for that specific activity or task.

Item slots are a prime example of this. Pure weight-based encumbrance lies closer to the intradiegetic than extradiegetic side, and even farther in would be simply describing what and where your character is carrying everything at every given moment. An item slot system reduces this complexity by introducing a rule that keeps such things abstracted until it becomes salient intradiegetically. 

The Supply system in Five Torches Deep is also a great example; instead of buying exacting quantities of every item before an adventure, one simply says what they are taking (torches, food, etc.) as well as specifying the amount of Supply they are bringing, which can be used to replenish depleted consumable items that they have brought.

All of the items in Ben's list representing the "in-world" side of his axis, monsters, spells, items, still represent extradiegetic devices that allow us to more easily ingress into the intradiegetic world for the purposes of imagining that specific object or activity. They are still "rules" as such.

I think what Ben is noting in the first case of "rules interacting with rules", then, is the degree of what Brendan Strejcek terms proceduralism, that is the degree to which a specific rule directs a certain outcome. Brendan's own Hazard Die system we can say is moderately procedural: it directs a certain outcome, yet also makes allowances for Referee's to interpret the results of the outcome as they see fit, up to and including ignoring it (but only so many times). Combat in D&D, however, is rather strictly procedural: you roll to hit, a hit either connects or misses, and then a certain amount of damage is dealt to hit points. We can think of proceduralism then as the degree to which an extradiegetic element ingresses towards another extradiegetic element.

The other factor at play, I think, is the speed at which an extradiegetic element ingresses towards another extradiegetic element. As I think may have become element, extradiegesis and intradiegesis are intertwined, you can not have one without the other. Combat in D&D, for example, still requires the existence of an intradiegetic space for the extradiegetic devices to make sense, but that intradiegetic space need only be touched on in the briefest of manners. This is how we end up with "I roll to hit, 8 damage to the orc." "The orc rolls to hit, 12 damage to you" and so on.

I think rather than Ben's admonition to stick to either an extra or intra-diegetic style doesn't totally make sense in light of this: rather, I think what's important for designers to consider is where do you want your extradiegetic points of ingress to the intradiegetic space to be, how do they achieve that ingress, how procedural are they, and what do you want the breakdown of extra vs intradiegetic time do you want to look like?

These are all very loose thoughts and there's likely to be gaps in my reasoning. Please feel free to point them out and start a conversation!

*I use text and reader to refer to any cultural work and audience member
**It would be interesting to see how LARPs figure in this paradigm
***Obviously there are other rules that could take the place of this one, such as group consensus, but I'm using the Referee model
****I think the main reason this comes up in RPGs so much is, compared to other media, even videogames, the burden of creating and enacting the extradiegetic devices is largely on the reader, whereas in books, films etc the extradiegetic labour of telling/creating has been already done by the author.