[harbor] a very small amount of conflict resolution

What’s interesting about Harbor so far is the idea of a “conflict resolution / fallout” system that is present but should only be usable once – at most – during the game. Gameplay is balanced about the threat of incurring fallout and the desire to avoid it. It should be a core component of the game. Here’s just the relevant bit of that, with the specifics filtered out.

Your father came here from the old country and used his old connections to create a prosperous shipping company. You return after a long absense to find that your people’s way of life is beset at all sides by dangers. The harbor is in peril.

The game is for two players. One player (“player”) portrays the character returing to the harbor after an absence; the other represents everyone else (“GM”).


Once every Threat has left the game board, proceed to endgame. It is possible that all threats will be voluntarily removed from the board, and both parties should consider this outcome.

However, it is possible that the player or GM will call of a Resolution of Conflicts. This will drive the game definitely towards the end.


This stage is more limited. Each round proceeds as follows:

1. The GM selects a Threat and sets a scene with those NPCs who would be working towards achieving this threat, as well as other NPCs who would be present otherwise. The player is probably present, or may be acting through other NPCs and proxies.
2. The GM will either choose to (a) abandon on the Threat or (b) attempt to achieve it.
3. In response to (b), the player may either choose to step aside and let it come to pass, or she may reveal the cards she has bid against it and inflict fallout. This will block the Threat from occurring. See the “Fallout” section below to see how that is narrated
4. If the Threat was blocked or abandoned, the player narrates what comes to pass. If it is achieved, the GM narrates the outcome. In either case, the Threat is removed from the board.
5. Repeat these steps until all Threats are gone from the board.


The suits determine how success can occur. If the suit appears, then this method must have been involved in your success.

* Hearts: an appeal to guilt, love, shame or loyalty.
* Diamonds: an appeal to self-interest or greed.
* Spades: the threat of violence or legal action.
* Clubs: the use of actual violence; actual physical harm occcurs.

The player narrates how the action took place.

The highest card of each suit determines the kind of fallout that occurs as a result

* [low] 2-4: They give in, your actions work against you in other ways. The GM will select a different Threat and remove a card that you bid against it.
* [medium] 5-10: They buckle to your show of force and suffer personally.
* [high] JQKA: They leave the game, either through exile, death, imprisonment or some other fate.
* If there are any paired cards, an additional character receives the highest level of fallout.
* If the highest level of fallout occurred, the GM may introduce an immediate followup threat if appropriate.

The GM narrates the above.

[spacerpunk] Opening Soundtrack from the Animated Series

I just uncovered this from my old archives! Back when I ran the first version of Spacerpunk in 2004, I tried to re-cut the Chumbawamba track “Pass It Along” into “the opening theme song” (if this game were a TV show). Check it out: SpacerPunk2259_TitleTheme

So: Does it hold up? Any suggestions for new soundtrack?

(Listening to it brings back fond memories. I don’t care about the haters: spacerpunk for life.)

(Also, jeez, 2004? Yeah.)

[gamechef 2011] reviews

I’m going to record some of my reviews here, as they were getting a bit long for the original thread.

Shakespeare’s Daughters

I like the game’s clear focus: a three player game that’s a coming of age story. The ingredients are clearly available at the core of the game. (Exile is somewhat awkward in its context, and may be worth changing post-Game-Chef, but this is to be expected.) The Shakespeare content is at the fore, though there isn’t much Shakesepare-specific here. With more time, you could either delve deeper in the kinds of Shakespearean details you want to the girls to be exiled into, or go deeper into the lives of Shakespeare’s daughters, or perhaps consider detaching from a Shakespearean focus and emphasize the exploration of “coming-of-age” with diving into fiction. This combination is compelling to many readers.

The dice system (with dice representing the Girl and the World) generates some conflict outcomes and thematic fuel in a single roll, so I think there’s something there. Can the Girl die trigger multiple lessons at once, or are lessons only triggered if they make sense, fictionally? You want to make sure it always makes sense to fight some Lesson in the context of the game.

Take another look at the overall pacing of gaining Growth, reducing Lessons, and getting to endgame. Completely conquering a Lesson of strength N requires (((N+1) x N) / 2) total Growth to be earned, and each Lesson must be solved in order to get to endgame; however, a Lesson can only be fought against if the dice rolls under the level of the Lesson (meaning that one Lessons are lower enough, it becomes less likely you’ll get a chance to finish them off). I wanted to highlight this so that you could hack on these to make the mechanics work out like how you want. (So, what do you want the pacing to be like for gaining Growth, learning Lessons and leaving the game?)

Aside from the mechanics/endgame, I’d suggest becoming more specific and prescriptive about what you’d like the game to be about: when you imagine the game being done “right”, what kinds of players and setting seem best to you? Which Shakesepareean encounters should the players be exiled into? What are some examples of Lessons and Bad Habits, and what kinds of events will the Girls be rolling dice for? You have a vision of how gameplay should look ideally, and should elaborate more on this.

A Midsummer Night’s Scheme

Everyone enjoys some fae shenenagans, and this game is about conflict on the border between faerie mischief and connections to the mortal world. It seems that there’s a potentially flexible tone in terms of content: you mention gameplay suggestions for family play, but this could also be good for setting up some serious drama alongside the pranks. The scenes have a clear focus: pranking the mortals, and thus racking up enough points to avoid exile (or, possibly, to determine the nature of your exile). It’s a solidly formed game.

The resolution system is at its heart a die pool relating to the only stats that matter, being the faerie abilities; most die rolls are made against the Oberon & Titania, rather than against a difficulty per se. Does the dice roll necessarily map to the outcome of the glamour or effectiveness of the prank? It’s unclear, and it may be up to the SG (as you say that a prank may be unresolved over several scenes due to narrative logic), but that can be fine: it’s interesting if in fact task success is guaranteed, and the important thing is how it relates towards progress to the end outcome (being: impressing the sovereigns). (Minor quibble: I think the elemental stats aren’t very clear here; as it turns out, Cruel, Satirical, Witty & Deceitful are perfectly clear descriptors for the sovereigns, so these may be more appropriate.)

I would worry that which abilities to use would become a matter of using your strongest ability (relative to that of the Sovereigns). The Forsworn mechanic is interesting in this context; aside from narrative logic of creating your own challenges, it gives one a reason make some of their rolls slightly less effective in order to gamble for greater points. (I think it makes sense to be Forsworn, in some fashion, in most every scene.)

Still, it would be good to make sure faeries have some reason to use their less powerful abilities. It would be better still to make the pranks, narration and fictional elements have implications in other ways. For example: how does the prank I narrated affect my die roll? (i.e. avoid a “parlor narration” situation) Can we recognize certain pranks as being more truly Cruel, Satirical, Witty or Deceitful? (Perhaps some reward dice mechanic from the SG could work here.) How will the consequences of one prank affect others? A challenge in revisions of your game would be to make sure the fiction of the game impacts the mechanics (so that the dice rolls and points do not become to abstracted from what’s happening).

Finally: in an expanded text, it woudl be nice to see more examples of scene constraints would help (one-prank rule, when to roll, when a SG should cut a scene, etc). Leaving them out in the GC version makes much sense, but I’m all for giving clear player instructions about how to create the vision of play you have.

I like this game, and I think the gameplay will encourage a competitive display of pranks, both cruel and witty.

You and Me

I appreciate that the game is taking on a gripping subject: an obligatory relationship where both parties have a dysfunctional relationship with each other. It has a vivid and iconic zodiac-based “map” of character traits. The gameplay happens over this map, as players spend resources to “flip” key traits to be more to their own liking.

I will challenge you to open up the gamespace a bit. You make clear that “participation is failure”, and I have some problem with this. In games with a strong editorial bent, it’s important that the message of a game be uncovered – or better yet, questioned – in gameplay. If the game is set up to be an exercise in demonstrating how terrible it is to change on another, what will be revealed through gameplay, other than our ability to imagine some terrible dysfunctional exchanges? (As entertaining or cathartic as this may be.) If the game can provide the misguided *promise* of a mutually agreeable ending, while providing problematic options such that a bad ending is possible, then this opens up the possibilities for the palyers.

I like the use of a bidding system as each tries to lay claim upon the other, and tying the size of a bid to periods of time (day/week/month/year) is clever. It’s possible that large spans of time will suddenly pass as the players take their turns bidding, which has interesting implications. Playtesting should help find out if the bidding system is good and remaining unstable. (Previous open-bid systems I’ve seen can sway towards determinism, so that’s a thing to look out for.)

The players’ turns are built around making formal statements, and I would challenge the designer to let that grow into a more full-fledged scene. If the players’ reduce their turns to an exchange of formal statements and chips, they’re not playing to their full potential. If you can back these rules with more in-game details – and tie that extra fiction to the players’ options – then things become more complicated.


This game is focused on a single pivotal decision of a youthful protagonist, and the possible far-reaching consequences of that choice. It could be described as being a kind of structured freeform experience: there’s a clear progression of scenes to initially present the core conflict of the drama, and portray alternate paths to go forward in this drama. The game text, on its own, seems to have a lighter emphasis on Shakespearean content, but the settings-specific material brings this content back into the spotlight.

I like the focus of this drama, the way in which different narrative responsibilities are delegated, and the way the non-linear flow of time is used to provide multiple perspectives on a given event. (It’s fair to say that when a Companion character is portraying a possible future, they’re something of an unrealiable narrator.) It’s interesting to draw from one’s childhood memories explicitly to create the part of the companion character, especially because that player will have to incorporate a Nature from the other player into this character.

One challenge in this game is that it is vague in parts, and expects much to be filled in by the players: not just techniques (aggressive scene framing/cutting, negotating scenes without negotiating outcomes) but also the content: coming up with whole scenes and backdrops, a taut personal decision, vivid companion characters, and the like. The players have to generate a lot of content for the game, and have to consciously make sure it’s all relevant and worth of serving the conflict at hand. I think this is challenging in practice. For one thing, I think coming up with the right kind of pivotal choice – one that really is represented by two different friends and has instant, permanent, life-changing consequences – will be hard to do delicately. Then again, games such as “Hero’s Banner” do just this.

For me, the Settings Sheets (trappings, natures, and certainly scene starter cards) provide a great deal here. From reading purely the procedures, I was a bit lost at how to proceed, but drawing from either of the settings instantly grounds the activity and gives a clear sense of what kind of genre we’re playing in. That was quite interesting to me. On one hand, because different settings could result in quite divergent games, and because you could build upon these settings to create more structure if you choose to do so. I wonder if some suggested “choices”, fitting with the themes of a setting, would be appropriate. For this especially I wouldn’t want to rely on a strict list, but it may help.

It’s an interesting game, and it’s nice to games produced by a team effort (as in this case).

are you ready to get shakesplattered?

This year’s Game Chef had the theme of Shakespeare – a fabulous and enticing theme, to be sure. And so I present to you my absurdist game chef entry:


Elevator Pitch: “SHAKESPLATTER & SPEAREMAGEDDON: The Director portrays scenes from Shakespeare. The players pick classes and cool powers. Explosions. Death.”


LFG: Spacerpunk ONLINE sometimes

I’d like to have a rotating group of people to shepherd into some short games/demos of SpacerPunk in order to hammer out kinks and try new ideas. Sessions should be:

* infrequent, ad-hoc, participatory
* short (~1hr)
* virtual (probably via Google Hangouts)

These are ideally some short iterations to try out new ideas of mine quickly. Let me know if you’re interested.

Am I applying agile processes to this game design? Perhaps.

[D&D 4e/hack] Class: Intuitive Psion

The Intuitive Psion posesses inherent psionic abilities for which they received no training and no warning. They were forced to hide their abilities from a fearful world, while honing them in secret. Their approach to psionic combat is more intuitive and flexible: shifting their psionic resources and opportunities to match a changing battlefield.

This build of a psion ventures into different mechanical territory, which the use of at-will minor actions (“Insight powers”) to trigger off the character’s basic attack. I also kept the use of power points (since I consider it to be a definite psionic class feature in 4e). The tactics for playing an intuitive psion are, I hope, still simple: hit with your basic attack (augmenting as the need arises), and use as many of your Insight Powers as possible.

This build also has the potential to create a melee-based psionic controller with mild support or buffing abilities. (See “Insight: Euphoria” and “Insight: Challenge”.)

Intuitive Psion (Psionic Controller)
Primary/Secondary: INT/WIS

1. Basics

Build a standard psion. Ignore At-Will and Daily attack powers.

2. Gain Class Features: Improvisational Psion, Unrestrained Will

Improvisational Psion: Increase your maximum Power Points by 2. (This will start a 1st-level character at 4 power points.) When you would gain a daily attack power: you may instead increase your maximum Power Points by 2.

Unrestrained Will: The first time in an encounter that you end your turn with zero power points, you must make a saving throw or be dazed (save ends).

3. Gain Psionic Assault

Psionic Assault * At-Will * Standard Action * Attack, Implement, Psionic
Range: Close burst 5
Target: One creature
Attack: INT vs Will
Damage: 1d6 + Intelligence modifier psychic damage
Special: You can use this as a ranged basic attack.

Augment 1
Range: Close burst 20.
Special: If you see the target, you may ignore cover and concealment.
Special: You may choose to deal force damage instead of psychic damage.

Augment 2
Target: One, two or three creatures.
Damage: 1d12 + Intelligence modifier psychic damage
Special: You may use one Insight Power as a free action. You may still use other Insight Powers as minor actions.

4. Insight Powers

Gain two insight powers.

Insight powers require a minor action to use and have effects based on if you’ve hit targets with a basic attack (probably your Psionic Assault). You will primarily be hitting targets with Psionic Assault and using your Minor Action to inflict effects upon the targets. (You might even choose to use your Move Action to select a second effect.) You may use an Insight power multiple times.

Note that when your Psionic Assault is augmented with two power points, you may additionally use an Insight power as a free action.

Insight: Manipulation * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Slide target 1 square.

Insight: Vertigo * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target must make a saving throw or fall prone.

Insight: Confusion * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target takes grants combat advantage until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Panic * Minor Augment, Psionic
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Deal 2 psychic damage to all creatures adjacent to the target.

Insight: Euporia * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: One ally adjacent to the target gains temporary hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Insight: Challenge * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target is marked until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Vulnerability * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: All creatures you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target gains vulnerability 2 psychic until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Doubt * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: All creatures you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target is slowed until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Delusion * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: All creatures you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Targets take -1 to attacks until the end of your next turn.

4. Advancement

When you would gain an at-will attack power: you may instead gain a new Insight power.

When you would gain a daily attack power: you may instead increase your maximum Power Points by 2.

You may mix and match Intuitive and traditional psionic features.

Note: you could take melee training and use Insight powers accordingly. The “Insight: Euphoria” and “Insight: Challenge” powers are meant to very lightly emulate some aspects of the Ardent and Battlemind.

[D&D 4e/hack] Class: Vanguard Warlord

The Vanguard Warlord is a savvy solider who leads her squad by example. Her true strentgh is not merely in the weapon she wields, but in subtle way she drivers her allies to victory.

Warlords are my favorite class, and a great new iteration of a “leader” role that’s different than the traditional cleric. One of my favorite builds is the “lazylord” (i.e. a warlord focuses on granting its allies superior attacks), but that kind of build might be intimidating or problematic for a newer player (who may still be mastering gameplay).

With the stances (“tactics”), most gameplay should be straightforward in terms of picking a benefit and charging into the fray. The “Vanguard Command” power gives a little taste of what it’s like to command your allies, and hopefully the flexibility makes up for the complexity. (It’s also once-per-encounter complexity, so probably not a big deal.) This might be the (mechanically) lightest build for the leader role.

Vanguard Warlord (Martial Leader)
Primary/Secondary: STR/CHR

1. Basics

Build as standard warlord (including Inspiring Word). Ignore standard At-Will, Encounter and Daily attack powers.

2. Gain: Vanguard Command

Vanguard Command * Encounter * Free Action
Effect: Choose an ally than can see or hear you. They may do one of the following:

  • Take a standard action.
  • Shift as many squares as your Charmisma modifier.
  • Make a saving throw with a bonus equal to your Charmisma modifier.
  • Gain hit points equal to your Charmisma modifier.

Special: If you fall to 0 or fewer hit points, you may use this as an Immediate Reaction.

3. Pick two at-will stances

Tactic: Careful Maneuver * At-Will * Minor Action * Stance, Martial
Effect: When you hit with a basic attack, an ally adjacent to you or the target may shift 1 square.

Tactic: Swift Maneuver * At-Will * Minor Action * Stance, Martial
Effect: When you hit with a basic attack, an ally you can see may move as many squares as your Charmisma modifier.

Tactic: Coordinated Advance * At-Will * Minor Action * Stance, Martial
Effect: When you hit with a basic attack, your allies have a +2 bonus to attacks against this enemy until the start of your next turn.

Tactic: Merciless Advance * At-Will * Minor Action * Stance, Martial
Effect: When you hit with a basic attack, your allies have a +2 bonus to damage rolls against this enemy until the start of your next turn.

Tactic: Distracting Feint * At-Will * Minor Action * Stance, Martial
Effect: When you hit with a basic attack, you may choose to deal half damage; the target is instead dazed (save ends).

Tactic: Clever Feint * At-Will * Minor Action * Stance, Martial
Effect: When you miss with a basic attack, an ally you can see may make a basic attack against the target.

4. Advancement

Level 2: Utility power
Level 3: additional use of Vanguard Command
Level 6: Utility power
Level 7: additional stance
Level 10: Utility power

5. Optional feats

Warlord Training (Slayer): In addition to Vanguard stances, the character may also choose from those stances available to Slayers, but only if the stance does not refer to any Slayer-specific ability.

Warord Training (Knight): In addition to Vanguard stances, the character may also choose from those stances available to Knights, but only if the stance does not refer to any Knight-specific ability.