Monthly Archives: December 2009

Dragon Age RPG: The Box

I had sworn to myself that today would not be another Dragon Age post. Seriously. I needed a break, and I even had a whole thing on Relationship maps written up. But I’m apparently a big liar and I’ve bumped that off to Friday, and I’m back on Dragon Age. The good news is that this is a much smaller point and one that, I think, is less contentious.

It’s about the box.

Folks might have noticed that every time I mention the box I get very worked up. There’s a bit of a story to that. See, back when WOTC announced they would be releasing a boxed starter set for 4e I got really excited. It sounded great: a box set with rules, battlemap, tokens and dice all done up with the great production values WOTC had brought to 4e so far, all at a reasonable price point. This was a great idea. A boxed set that was an all-in-one product that you could just give someone and they could start playing was a great gift. And if they were interested in what was in the box, then heck, maybe they’d buy some more 4e stuff.

The problem is that the reality was terrible. The problem wasn’t the rules (which were fine) or the components (which were actually fantastic) – it was the box. More specifically, it was the lack of a box. See, they had gone the cheap route of just wrapping it in a cardboard sleeve and wrapping it in a slipcase. Once you opened it, it stopped being a discrete thing and became a pile of parts.
This may sound like a trivial concern, and on paper it probably is, but in terms of actual experience this is huge. The box keeps the game together, and serves the dual purposes of providing practical organization (since it also holds your dice, pencils, character sheets, loose papers and so on) and providing a conceptual anchor of what the game is. Yes, once you’ve played a few games it’s not too hard to start thinking about games as abstractions, but when you’re getting your had around our weird little hobby, it helps a lot for it to be something concrete and specific – something you can point to.

So this is why the 4e set was such a let down for me, and why I am so obsessed about DARPG having an actual box.

Interestingly, there are also a few more boxed sets hitting the market, notably the new Warhammer RPG 3rd edition and the new Doctor Who RPG. Maybe it’s something in the water, but maybe there’s a bit more to it than that. Even over and above the creation of a self-contained product (because that’s another big advantage of the box set: it has, or should have, everything you need to play) this is one of the few ways a company can distinguish its product any more.

Even a few years ago, there was a gap between the big and small publishers that could be seen in the quality of their books. If you wanted really gorgeous production values, you needed to go big. Today, that line is thin enough that if you depend on it, then Luke Crane or John Harper are going to come up and kick you in the junk. The little guy knows how to make really gorgeous books now, so that’s not much of a differentiator.

The little guy doesn’t really know how to do boxed sets yet. This won’t last for too long, but the window currently exists, and I’ll be curious to see how many people shoot for it.

Dragon Age: Leaving Out the Egg

Back in the day, Betty Crocker rolled onto the market with mixes for making cakes and such. More women were working and there was less time available. The idea was to make it easier to make real home baked food with less time and effort. It was a good idea, and Betty Crocker did a number of really clever things with chemistry – all you needed to do was combine the mix and water then bake.

It failed miserably.

So Betty Crocker sat down and did some serious market research, and they discovered something. Women weren’t using the mixes because it was too easy – it felt like cheating. So Betty Crocker went back to the lab and changed the formula to remove the egg component so the cook needed to add an egg of her own. That was enough to make it feel “home made” and it was a tremendous success.

I mention this because this speaks to a lesson that’s useful for a lot of products: if you “leave out the egg”, which is to say create an opportunity for the user to invest a little bit of effort to make a product their own, they’ll be more invested in it, and more enthusiastic.

In turn, I bring this up because it seems to me that one of the most contentious elements of the Dragon Age RPG is something of an egg left out.

The issue at hand is random character creation. The DARPG creates stats in a decidedly old-school fashion – you roll 3d6 for each of 8 stats, and the sole concession to customization is that you get to swap two stats. The immediate reaction to this is usually a pretty straightforward “What the hell? Is it 1985?” and that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Random stat generation is an idea that’s been pretty much set aside in favor of more player choice for a very long time.

The reasons for this are obvious – if stats are important and impactful, you can create a situation where a player with bad luck ends up with a character that’s not much fun to play when compared to his friend who rolled much better. AD&D was a really bad experience for a lot of us who got exposed to the difference between a fighter with a 12 strength and one with an 18/00, and it really soured people on the whole idea. After all, a lot of game design is fixing the problems you had with the last game you played.

There are some real problems with randomly generating stats or other character elements, but it has some real advantages that have been set aside along with the limitations. A random spread of stats has some of the advantages of an oracle – it can suggest ideas and patterns that would not otherwise be obvious. This idea of “what do you do with what you have?” is a tonal one in addition to a mechanical one – less badass but perhaps more heroic depending on perspective. That idea is a potent enough one that a lot of work has been put in over the years to try to capture this part of randomization without risking the flaws.

Random creation is also very quick – spending points requires a number of decisions that depend upon further knowledge of the system to do right. That can be something of a drag, and can end up putting the cart before the horse. It’s often the first decision of the game, so you don’t want to make it a painful one. The randomization also tends to produce more organic spreads – point buys tend to result in all-or-nothing spikes.

Now, this is not an assertion that randomization is the only way to go. There are a lot of other ways to approach it[1]. But I did want to lay out that it’s not as crazy an idea as it might first appear. Most specifically, these benefits sync up with the goals of a game for newbies, notably simplified choices and speed of play.

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing that struck me during yesterday’s discussion. There are a lot of ways to address the issues of randomness – 4d6 and drop one, roll 12 and keep the best 8, roll then sort; the list is endless and has been kicked around for decades. It would take maybe a sentence or two to mention these options, so the choice not to do so is an interesting one.[2]

And this is where I come back to eggs. To leave out the egg from an RPG, it needs to be something that is obvious and trivial to address. Certainly, every RPG has a certain amount of egglessness – house rules are our bread and butter – but it is a little bit trickier to put in something that is (for lack of a better term) blatantly trivial. If you can do so, especially for someone with very little experience with games, then it can be a real win because it makes the first step much less scary, Once they’ve made the obvious house rule, they’ve crossed an invisible threshold into a sense of ownership of the game.[3]

The rules for generating stats feel like an egg left out. There are so many possible ways to address it if you feel it’s a problem that it seems like a gimmee. It’s easy to see and easy to make he change without disrupting the rest of the game in any way.

The thing I’m left wondering is whether or not it was intentional. If it was accidental, then it’s a lucky thing, but if it was intentional, then it’s freaking brilliant. And if it was intentional, then man, I am going to find a way to buy Chris Pramas a drink, because that is some badass ninja stuff.[4]

I am, by the way, entirely aware that I’m taking a very positive (and somewhat quirky) perspective on the Dragon Age RPG, and some of it absolutely hinges on a certain amount of hope regarding what’s still coming. My predictions and expectations could be totally wrong, and even if they’re right, the whole game could crash and burn for unrelated reasons. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that others aren’t going to share that perspective, so objections and counterpoints are welcome, but I’m likely to stick with my optimism for the time being.

1 – One alternate example is equitable randomness, where the randomness determines which good thing you get, rather than whether or not you get a good thing. REIGN chargen is based entirely on this model, and the DARPG uses it for the bonuses you get from your backgrounds.

2 – Now, here I make a brief aside. This is an obvious omission, and it’s one of many obvious omissions in the game. You can tell they’re obvious omissions because the reader’s first instinct is to think “Why didn’t they include THIS?”. With that in mind, take a look at the credits page for the game – this is a pretty good list of folks with some serious stuff under their belt, and it’s safe to say that they thought of most of these things, but they made the conscious (and ballsy) decision not to do so. Paring things down to 64 pages required resisting the completist urge of game design, and that’s not an easy thing. It would have been easy to do this all in a standard 256 page full color hardcover, and that probably would have been a very good game with moderate commercial success, but it would have been just like any other game out there. The risks involved in the design are the risks necessary for this game to maybe make the jump to broader adoption.

3 – This flies in the face of the school of thought that says rules should be complete and that if they require house ruling, then they’re bad rules. That’s all well and good for pure design, but house ruling is engaging, and the power of that should not be underestimated.

4 – And, hey, on the off chance that I do get an answer from Chris, I have one more question: is it a real box? Please please please tell me it’s a real box.

EDIT – One last bit of credit where it’s due. The Betty Crocker story is from a fantastic book called “Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America” by Laura Shapiro. It’s one of those books like Pollan’s Botany of Desire which is about one thing, but is really about a number of other very interesting things. Well worth a read.

Dragon Age RPG

The Dragon Age RPG is one I’ve been excited about for a while, not because it’s based on a video game I’m nuts for, but because of its avowed goal of being a game to bring people into the hobby. Games make that claim all the time, but there were three things going on with DARPG that raised my interest: It’s a boxed set (hopefully a real one, not a faux one like the 4e starter set), it’s got a hook into a good franchise that is neither too weird nor too overwhelming but can still bring in eyeballs, and it’s by Green Ronin, a company that I would describe as pretty darn sharp.

As if to demonstrate that sharpness, Green Ronin put DARPG up for preorder recently, and offered up a free PDF along with the preorder. It boggles my mind that this is not standard practice, but it’s not, so GR gets props for a smart move. They get an initial wave of buzz and interest based off people reading and talking about the PDF, and they hopefully can build on that when the actual game releases.

It’s also a move that benefits me a lot because, hey, I get to read it. I’m always happy to cheer on my own enlightened self interest.

Here’s the short form: The Dragon Age RPG looks to have the shortest distance from opening the box to playing at the table of any game I’ve seen in over a decade, possibly since red box D&D.[1] It is not a revolutionary game by any stretch of the imagination, and for most gamers with a few games under it’s belt, it’s going to seem absolutely tired. Old ideas like random chargen and hit points are all over the place. With the exception of the Dragon Die and the stunt system, experienced gamers aren’t goignt fo find much new here.

But that makes it exactly what it should be. As a game for existing gamers, Dragon Age is ok, but not as impressive as other Green Ronin offerings. As a game for a new gamer, it’s exactly right.

First, by sticking to very strongly established mechanics (many of which will be at least conversationally familiar to people who’ve played video games) with a minimum of complexity, they’ve made a game that is easy to learn to play. The simplicity, brevity (main rulebook is 64 pages) and the clarity[2] combine to make a game that can be learned from the text, without depending on arcane oral tradition. I think back to my youth and this seems a very big deal.

Second, the setting is equally familiar. Not just because some players will know it from the video game, but because the video game’s setting is designed to be quickly recognizable. Elves live in the woods and have bows. Dwarves live underground and have axes. Humans run the show. Magic is mysterious and risk-filled. Sure, each of these points has more depth as you drill into them, but the basic are immediately recognizable to anyone with a little pop culture knowledge.

Last, the game minimizes the barriers to play by avoiding the temptation of weird dice. By making it playable with nothing but the dice you can salvage from a Risk box, you get a couple of advantages. There’s no awkwardness as you finish reading the rules but find yourself needing to wait until you’ve taken a trip to that creepy store [3] to get supplies. There’s more of a sense of the familiar. And perhaps best of all, you can scale up with your group size – adding a few more d6s is a lot easier than, say, having to share one set of polyhedrals.

Put it all in a box set and you’ve got a product that I’m really excited about. I could see giving this game as a gift to a non-player, and that’s almost unprecedented.

Now, it’s not all sunshine and puppies. As noted the game is pretty simple (though I admit it’s at a level of simplicity I dig, since I think my wife would not be bothered by it) and a few corners got cut to support the size and the release schedule. You can’t play a Grey Warden, which is kind of a kick in the head, since that’s so central to the computer game. The logic’s clear: this set covers levels 1-5, next one will be 6-10 (then 11-15 and 16-20 or so I understand) and subsequent sets will be adding rules for things like specialty careers including things like Grey Warden. I suspect we’ll also get magic items and runes in later sets too.

There are a few layout decisions that raise my eyebrow – magic precedes combat, which is weird in terms of the order rules are explained for example – but they’re all quickly set aside by the presence of indexes, glossary and comprehensive reference pages. It should not be so exciting to me to see a game do what should be the basics, but it is.

The sample adventure is in the GM’s book rather than in its own booklet. This makes sense in terms of cost, and it’s not a bad thing, but I admit I flash back to my well worn copy of Keep on the Borderlands, and I regret that as long as they were trying to recapture the magic of redbox, they didn’t revive that tradition.

And that’s really what’s going on here. Unlike the old school, this is not an attempt to recreate old D&D, rather, it’s an attempt to answer the same questions, only with decades of experience with how it went the first time. This makes the choices of what rules are included (and which ones aren’t included) really fascinating to me. The Green Ronin guys know their stuff, and you can assume every choice in the design is a deliberate one.

Choices like a very traditional hit point and damage system are not made because they couldn’t think of another way, but rather because that choice maximized the accessibility of the game. On reading, it really feels like they pulled it off, and I’m genuinely excited to give it a play sometime and find out. One way or another I wish them luck: success with a game designed to bring new players into the hobby benefits us all.

1 – The only other real contender in the intervening time is Feng Shui. There are simpler games, sure, but they lack the structure to answer the question of “OK, what do I do now?”.

2 – Randomization has one huge benefit for new players – it removes optimization choices. There’s more to it than that, but by putting the harder decision of chargen in the hands of the dice, game-stopping questions are removed from play.

3- Yes, that’s an unfair characterization, but not everyone is lucky enough to be near one of the many friendly, clean, well lit gamestores with helpful staff. And even for those who are, the store is an unknown, and unknowns are scary and off-putting, especially for teenagers.

Cool Monday: TV Tropes

I was listening to a theater review on the radio this weekend, and it made my brain feel squishy. It was kind of a reminder of everything I hate about review culture: for every enthusiastic or experienced voice out there willing to talk about the subject, there are two who want to use the subject as a launching point to tell the reader how awesome they are and how they would have done things. The ratio varies a bit from subject to subject, and a lot of what allows this is that the standards for how to talk about things like shows and books are fuzzy at best. There’s a certain amount of academic practice related to analysis and deconstruction, but even that’s hit or miss. It’s a mix of useful insights and self-referential hoo-haw, and good luck telling which is which.

And it is with all that in mind that I realize I am all the more amazed by today’s cool thing in the internet,

If you’re familiar with the site, then you know it’s horrible power. It may be one of the most interesting things to read on the entire Internet, and once you start on it, you often find yourself 2 hours later with 20 tabs open as you go through the stuff. But if you’re not familiar with it, then you may both thank and hate me for opening this particular door.

See, TVtropes is the best analysis of television in the world, at least through a certain lens. It’s a wiki of, well, television tropes – elements and ideas that come up often enough to be recognizable. In addition to entries on these ideas like “The Eigen Plot”, “Applied Phlebotinum” or “Authority Equals Asskicking” they include extensive cross-references to where the idea appears (or is subverted) in TV, movies, anime, manga, comics, roleplaying games and very nearly anywhere else anyone can think of. I know it sounds dry when described, but the proof is in the reading. Just go poke around a bit. You’ll see.

I love this site on a few levels. First, it’s just tremendously fun to flip through, and that should not be underestimated. Second, it’s an example of crowdsourcing that actually works – a lot of wikis on other topics end up much less interesting for an array of issues, but while TVTropes has its warts, the whole is magnificent. Lastly, I love it in an academic sense – the site represents a level of thought and analysis of the topic that I have yet to see an equal of, and I have bugger all idea how that fits in the standard hierarchy of knowledge.

Awesomely disruptive change is, well, awesome.

WH3: In Review

Ok, so that was a lot of text, but it laid down the groundwork for my impressions of Warhammer 3, and that means it’s time for bullet points!

  • The GM’s guide has a fantastic section dedicated to the resources the GM has at his disposal, in a mechanical sense, and how those can be used to various effects. Rather than simply giving the GM the authority to make things happen, the book focuses on how to do so, rather than just relying on the big stick of unlimited GM authority. It’s not that this usurps anything about the traditional GM role. It simply helps the GM to get the outcomes he wants, without breaking out the big guns. This is brilliant, and I hope we start seeing it in more games.
  • I admit I’ve gotten spoiled by the monster stat blocks in 4e, because when I started a fight, I just assumed that they would have armor and damage right there on the critter writeups. Not so much – I needed to go look up weapons and armor, which was a bit clunky.
  • On the other hand, monsters are nicely simplified just by using expendable pools of points. This adds a bit of bookkeeping – I’d be inclined to just pool them all together for the encounter – but it also makes for a nice pacing mechanism (monsters start out tougher, but weaken quietly).
  • The game leans heavily on the small triangular tokens as all-purpose trackers, perhaps too heavily. Some of them come in different colors, but that’s painful to track on the fly, and they’re easily muddled. I expect that anyone who plays the game seriously is going to swap them out for colored beads where they’re actually used, and substitute in something else for places where they’re a bad match, like initiative tracking.
  • The setting seems less dark. I mean, it’s still dark, and the art is still…highly stylized…but I don’t get quite so much of the “The victory of Chaos is inevitable, all you can do it kick around pebbles waiting for the end of everything” vibe out of things. I like this a lot. It’s a bit less over the top, which makes me much more comfortable engaging the setting. It’s still got all the trappings, and the lightening of tone is slight enough that I might even be imagining it, so while I think it’ll please people who like Warhammer, I’m not sure how it will appeal to the hardcore.
  • That is a big freaking box. Some part of me suspects it might be bigger than it needs to be, just for show, and if that’s true then well done. The sheer size of it is a strange kind of point in its favor. However, it’s just a big box, with a lot of space for stuff to rattle around in, and that’s a bit rough when there’s so much stuff. The box comes with no component storage, like the plastic tray you see in many boardgames, so you’re going to need to figure out how to store ans sort all the many cards and tokens yourself. FFG is a bit notorious for this, as their position is that they’d rather put in more components for the cost of the plastic tray, and I can’t fault that in theory, but I’m not sure I feel like I got a plastic tray worth of extra components, if you know what I mean.
  • That touches upon the elephant in the room: the price tag. This is a $100 game, and that’s a high price tag even for quality boardgames, so is it worth it? There’s no hard and fast right answer. Other $100 RPGs and supplements (World Largest Dungeon, Ptolus, various deluxe editions) tend to be big honking thick books, so there’s a bit of apples an oranges there, but my instinct is that it seems like a better deal than that, if only because you get so many shiny bits. Similar math comes up when you compare it to, say, the 3 core 4e books, which come in around that price tag. But compared to boardgames, which might have similar components, it seems high, and that’s hard to wrestle with[1]. In the end, I don’t feel ripped off, but I also don’t feel inclined to go “Wow”, which suggests that they probably priced it about right for business, but a bit high for marketing. That said, if you can get it for $60 or $70 through Amazon or whatnot, that’s enough to make it feel like a real deal, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad price point after all.
  • FFG has managed to surprise me with their support, which is better now than it was even a few days ago. They now have a proper errata /faq (pdf) up (thanks to Ifryt for the heads up) and seem to be providing things like an index among the online resources. While this doesn’t quite make up for the absence of one in the text, this is promising and I hope it’s a hint of things to come.
  • I hope this because, while I dig how the component model makes piracy hard and allows for commercial expansion, it also makes it really, really hard for players to add or modify things for their own games. While I’m sure FFG will eventually address this commercially (with things like blank card packs), I would really like to see them get behind the idea of helping players customize the game. PDFs of card blanks, for example, would probably be a big hit, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As big a proponent as I am of OGL, a game doesn’t need to be open to robustly support a culture of homebrewing, and if WH3 is going to succeed, I really feel it needs to help players find a way to make it their own. If I spent $100 for a box of components which i can use just to play your game, then your success depends on my interest in that game. If I spent $100 on a toolbox of components that I can use for MY game, then you’ve got me hooked, because then each subsequent purchase is one I make for MY sake, not yours.
  • One last corollary to that: by going components based, FFG has created a game where the actual rules text is pretty secondary to the product. I hope that means they’ll be pretty liberal with it (creating reference pages and such). To my mind, they could give away the core rulebook as a free PDF and get nothing but benefit, and once a few more products are on the market, I wouldn’t be too shocked if they consider that.
  • Another big plus to the GM advice: there’s a large section on roll interpretation that talks about looking at the dice, thinking about where they came from, and coloring the outcome with that. That is to say, the rich rolling is baked right in.
  • Additionally, the GM’s book has some great “Say yes” advice, which is to be willing to just say yes but lay a bunch of misfortune dice on the roll. It’s good advice, and it works very well with the system since misfortune dice are transparent, so the player feels they got a fair shake. Compare that with trying to hit an arbitrary difficulty: you might roll well and the GM says you fail anyway, and there’s a sneaking suspicion that things aren’t quite kosher. Laying it out there works well for everyone, and players are startlingly receptive to it. They often know when they’re proposing a crazy or foolish idea, and will totally be good sports when you finish building the pool and add “and here are four misfortune dice as a stupidity tax.” Does that sound mean? It’s not, because the contract is clear: I’m making this hard, but if you pull it off, it will actually work.

When I picked up WH3, 4e was not far from my mind. My ideal hope was that it would provide me with a game that hit the notes I liked about 4e (of which there are many) without requiring that I carry all the books (or software) that 4e requires. It is not quite that, but I can see the shape of that game within it, and I feel like I could take a chisel and some time and find that game inside it. But that will definitely be no small amount of work, and I have only so much time in the day, so I hesitate to start down that path just yet. A lot of this hinges on what FFG does next – I know there will be more supplements and expansions, but I don’t yet know if they’re going to excite me, or if they’re going to be cut from the same cloth as past Warhammer RPG supplements – technically excellent, but not of any real interest to me.

And I think that’s the rub. The one thing WH3 failed to provide was any really strong inspiration for something I wanted to play. The blame for this falls squarely on the setting: the world of Warhammer is one I already know well, and this did not change or expand my understanding in any way to make me want to run something. But I’ll concede it laid the groundwork – if they put out a city book/box with the kind of quality GM advice in the core and without falling back into the old Darkety-dark-darkness of classic Warhammer, then that could be a genuinely magnificent product, and I suspect I’d eat it up with a spoon.[2]

So the ball is in FFG’s court. I’m already stealing the parts I like (the freeform combat model offers some useful tools for making better combat in other games) , but only so many of them can be pulled free of the chassis, so the big question is really how much use I will be able to make of the core of it.

I am hopeful. FFG knows what they’re doing, and my faith in them was represented by a willingness to plunk down $100 on an unknown quantity. But I also know that this is a fickle business, and that lots of things can go wrong between here and whatever future FFG has in mind. So I’ll wait and watch, and consider.

That said, if you do want to adventure in the World of Warhammer(craft), then this seems like a decent investment. The only reason I can’t totally endorse it is that, well, it’s not like WHFRP2e sucked. If you’re still playing that, it’s not like this will address some gap in the product. This is a different sort of beast entirely, and comparisons between the two games are very nearly apples and oranges. Both are delicious and good for you.

1 – The rub, apparently, is in the custom dice, which add substantially to cost, but I am not sure how much that compels me, when I look at boardgames that have them. Even a reasonably apples-to-apples comparison – FFG’s Descent – has custom dice, plus minis, plus components and it costs less. Of course, there may have been a greater expectation that a boardgame would move units (no idea – I know zilch about boardgame sales) or it might have been that because WH3 is sold as a book, it was going to have to be priced to handle Amazon-style deep discounting. As a businessman, I am intensely interested in and sympathetic to all these issues, but as a player, I admit they just muddy the water.

2 – And if there’s support for a city watch game? They already have my money, simple as that.

WH3: Combat

Ok, so combat. This is the real meat of things where WH3 is concerned.

First, I should note that it does a perfectly fine job for out-of-combat stuff. The skill list is long enough to give some sense of variety, and the stat-emphasis more or less mandates a certain amount of competence. There are good guidelines for reading the dice in useful ways out of combat, excellent advice on how to say yes with qualifiers (in the form of misfortune dice). For non-combat resolution, the game is not going to make me stand up and shout, but I have no complaints. To break out the inevitable 4e comparison, I feel like WH3 managed to provide a much more robust non-combat engine for play.

So that said, onto the fighty bits.

In a fight, you determine initiative in a classic sort of way and keep that order for the duration of the fight. Straightforward enough.[1] Each turn you also set your stance, which will either be reckless or conservative.[2] There’s a physical track to represent it, and each step on the track is also a numeric one, so if you’re three steps down the conservative track, that has a specific mechanical impact when the dice roll.[3]

When you go, you get to take and action and a maneuver, which D&D players will roughly equate with a Standard/Full action and a Move/Minor action. There’s no idea of a free action as its own thing, but things feel fast and loose enough that it doesn’t seem entirely necessary.

To take an action, you play a card. Every character gets a set of core cards by default with things that everyone can do, like make an attack or go full defense, as well a some that have stat dependencies (you need to have a decent agility to get the “dodge” action).[4] You also have a few more cards that you purchased during character creation that are hopefully full of cool and interesting things you can’t wait to do.

The action cards are double sided, and which side you use depends upon your stance: use the green side if you’re conservative, use the read side if you’re reckless. The mechanical difference between the sides can be non-existent or profound, and it quickly becomes clear that you want to pick action cards that complement your preferred stance. The card tells you what dice to roll, against what, and you scoop up those dice.

This step is a little convoluted, but I suspect it gets faster with time. Constructing your die pool basically follows this process:

1. Pick up a number of blue stat dice for the stat you’re using, and a number of purple difficulty dice based on how hard the action is (usually 1, plus 1 or two more if there are modifiers – you only get 4 purple dice, so they are far form numerous).

2. Based on your stance, swap out some blue dice for red (reckless) or green (conservative) dice. The number of dice swapped out is based on the number of steps you are into the stance, so Reckless 3 replaces 3 blue dice.

3. If you’re using a skill you’re trained in, add a yellow expertise die. If you have any talents or other bonuses going into them, add some number of white fortune dice to represent them

4. If there are any things working against you, like enemy skill or situational penalties, the GM adds them as black misfortune dice.

So, that all sounds a little complicated, and it is. The player should be able to build most of his pool of stat, stance and expertise dice on his own, and some fortune dice may come from known sources, like talents or training. The GM contributes the number of difficulty dice, and fortune and misfortune dice as appropriate.[5] I think it takes time and familiarity for the cadence of this to get as comfortable as calling out (or knowing) difficulty numbers. Initially it feels a bit like a game of its own, and that’s distracting, but it gets much easier. I wonder if it would be easier still if there was enough transparency for the player to build a pool on their own, but the ability to sprinkle fortune and misfortune dice is one of the GM’s big tools, so probably not.

The actual dice are simple: all the good dice can generate successes and boons, and some can generate critical successes, and the bad dice (purple difficulty and black misfortune) generate failures, banes and critical failures. This is only slightly muddled by stance dice, which are statistically better than the stat dice they replace, but also carry risks: red reckless dice have big rewards, but can also cause failure or penalties on a bad roll. Green conservative dice produce reliably good results, but can slow you down, which can suck[6].

Reading them is a bit more complicated. At it’s core, there are six outcomes a die can throw up: a success, a failure, a boon, a bane, a critical success or a critical failure. There are certain other special outcomes, like multiples (double success, double failure), modified successes (a success but you’re delayed, a success but you gain stress) or the symbol that indicates a critical wound, and while they’re interesting, they’re unimportant.

Success/Failures and Banes/Boons cancel out, so at the end of the roll you will only have the net value represented. In the abstract, success/failure speaks to what you’re actually doing, and bane/boon speaks to the stuff around it, so you might end a roll with some successes and some banes, and narratively that might mean “You hit, but end up in a disadvantageous position”, while a failure with boons might be “You miss, but you get a chance to catch your breath”.

The critical success and failure (Sigmar’s Comet and The Star of Chaos) are like super banes and super boons, though they don’t cancel out.

Mechanically, this is handled with result lines on the action cards. They basically list the various outcomes based on the number of results (in many cases, for example, a single bane or boon triggers nothing). The effects of the comet or star are usually listed here as well, often as something more potent than a simple bane or boon outcome.

At the table, this all resolved pretty easily. There were some issues of dice visibility, especially with the stance dice. They’re d10s, and some of the faces have 2 symbols on them, which lead to a few cases of “is that an axe (success) or an eagle (boon)?” The difference is pretty clear on the 6-sided fortune, misfortune and expertise dice, but it’s not as obvious writ small. Thankfully, this was not a huge problem, but it was a bit of a speedbump.

Anyway, once you take your action, you resolve it based on the outcome of the dice and the effects listed on the card. No problem. This probably results in some damage to the target. While the system is incredibly familiar (weapon establishes base damage, armor reduces it), the damage itself is handled quite cleverly. “Wounds” are cards handed to the person hit. In the case of a critical (or in certain situations where your wounds can be exacerbated), you simply flip over a random wound card, and the rules for whatever critical it is are on the card. For example, our Wizard took a “Blow to the Head”, so he had to roll an extra misfortune die when rolling intelligence.

The other thing you can do, your maneuver, is where some of the interesting stuff lives. Most of the uses of a maneuver are predictable – draw a weapon, pick something up and so on – but it also covers movement, and that is very curious indeed.

Combat in WH3 is gridless, but it does use miniatures. Specifically it uses cardboard standups, but you could just as easily use D&D minis to the same effect. A lot of the ideas are going to be familiar, but they’re tied together nicely. The basics are pretty simple.

If Bob is fighting a skaven, then we establish how far apart they are. They might be at extreme range (just within sight), Long range (close enough to shout), medium range (a couple dozen paces), Close (just a few steps away) or Engaged (Close enough to fight or otherwise interact. Once we establish that, they can use maneuvers to change that distance, though it takes more maneuvers to traverse longer distance.[7] You place a token between the two people or groups for each increment of distance.

If you add more people, then entire knots of people can be engaged. If Sarah and a Goblin join the fight, then Bob, Sarah and the Skaven might all be engaged, while the Goblin is at Medium distance from the engagement[8], peppering things with his bow. The distance is represented by 2 tokens between the goblin and the engagement – if he was further out, it’d be 3 or 4 token.

Now, there’s an obvious problem with this, which will probably jump out at anyone whose done engagement-based design (it’s not an uncommon idea). If Sarah disengages (takes one maneuver, puts her close to the engagement) and then moves further away to medium distance, how far is she from the goblin? The game doesn’t really address this.

This is not a dealbreaker, but it would be nice to have more guidance form the text. Still, one joy of approximating things with minis is that its not hard to adjudicate. If Sarah’s mini was slid away from the goblin, then she moved away from him, putting him at relative long range to her. If she moves towards him, then maybe she’s close. It’s just something to keep track of, and it’s likely to be problematic in more complicated melees.[9]

Whew. Ok, lots more tidbits and impressions, but they can wait until tomorrow, where this hopefully wraps up.

1 – You are expected to track this with one of the jigsaw puzzle tracks and some tokens. This works poorly, and is one of the areas where the philosophy of “components for everything!” shows some holes.

2 – It could technically be neutral, but that seems to be a terrible, terrible idea. I’m not even use you can use actions in a neutral stance.

3 – The stance system is pretty cool, and it’s an interesting class differentiator, since certain classes are more reckless or conservative than others, represented by how many steps they’re allowed. A balanced class has 2 of each, but some are 3 and 1 or 1 and 3. This is also greatly helped by the fact that advancement allows you to purchase more “steps” over the course of your career.

4 – One of the brilliant things of the game is hidden in here, and it’s something 4E badly needs to mimic (and I’ll testify that I do something similar, and it works). One of the cards is “Perform a Stunt”, which is to say, to do something not covered by the cards. Obviously, characters should always be able to do such things, but by explicitly calling it out as an option, it makes it much more likely that its an option players will take. All 4E needs is a power block for “Do Something Awesome” on the character sheet or among the cards, and it could gain the same benefit.

5 – In a bit of genius, fortune and misfortune dice don’t cancel out. So if you’ve got superior position (and gain a fortune die) but bad visibility (gain a misfortune die) the GM gives you both dice. This is wonderful, at leas to me, because more dice == more fun. It would be far more dull if the dice canceled out and it was a wash.

6 – Powers take a certain number of turns to recharge, and you track this by keeping tokens on the cards. Conservative dice sometimes cause you a delay, which means the GM can put two more recharge token on one of your powers. I suspect the intent may be that the powers have to be ones with recharge tokens already on them, but since it doesn’t say so, then the GM can put them on anything, including things like basic attack. This is moderately rough, but it’s hugely bad for wizards, because the GM can put it on the action that allows them to generate power for spells, and pretty much jam the wizard up entirely. Yes, they can still do basic actions, but it’s kind of anti-fun

7 – You get one free maneuver per turn, but you can take more maneuvers by accruing fatigue. The fatigue and stress (mental fatigue) rules are in the game, and they’re fine, but they’re not really interesting enough to bear much mention.

8 – And everyone in that engagement would get hit by an AoE attack. As a “dark” game, they can get away with this, since dangerous explosions are more in theme than the pinpoint blast radius of 4e.

9 – This is an area where the limit on the number of players in the core set (3) helps the rules. 3 players means the fights can only be so complicated.

WH3: General Text & Chargen

The actual rules for WH3e are pretty short. There are only 4 slim books in the box, and only one of them is primarily rules. That’s always a nice thing, especially when there are so many fun bits waiting to be rummaged through. The books aren’t flawless. A lot of the examples lack enough detail to be useful, and certain parts (most notably the sections on advancement and on the three-act-structure) are written in such a way that they end up obscuring the fairly straightforward underpinnings. I appreciate that the intent was to be more novice friendly, but sometimes it ends up just missing the mark. Thankfully, these problems are exceptions to the norm – most of the text hangs together just fine.

The one exception to this that jumped out is in the GM’s book. There are no guidelines for how tough to expect monsters to be compared to characters. Just to provide a slap in the face, monsters have a challenge rating, but it is only meaningful relative to OTHER MONSTERS. I have no kind or diplomatic ways to describe my opinion of this, so I will just leave it to say that when it came time to run my own game, I more or less took a stab in the dark at how tough the opposition should be, and very nearly bollixed it. The closest thing I had to a reference was the encounters in the sample adventure, but that’s a thin thread to cling to.

For good or ill, there are only a handful of rules that you don’t reference off the cards, but it is somewhat frustrating that they aren’t gathered for ease of reference. I was constantly looking through the book for simple, stupid things like “What do I roll for initiative?” They were rough to find, and the absence of an index did not help matters.

As is typical with such things, I immediately took a swing at making a character of my own, and used the lessons form that to help with chargen for my game the next day.

The process seemed straightforward enough: choose a race, shuffle and draw 3 careers, then spend a few points on stats and things like skills and talents. There were a few surprises along the way, though no dealbreakers.

Chargen seemed simple enough that I initially figured I could jut do it on the character sheet. It turns out the is a pretty bad idea – scrap paper is a necessity. Picking a race was easy enough, since there are only 4: Humans, High Elves, Wood Elves and Dwarves (some of them have cooler names, but that’s what the are). The benefits of each race are simple enough to track, though curiously they’re not represented on cards. I worry that some of the abilities might be easy to lose track of, but that’s a bit of an aside.

I was psyched to try the career selection – I’m a big fan of drawing a set of careers randomly and picking from that set. The set I pulled was interesting and colorful, but none of them had any real fighting capability. This seemed odd, but I flipped through the other careers and discovered that Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill (the two fighting skills) are pretty uncommon. In retrospect, it makes sense: being trained in a skill is only a small bump. The stat being used is much more important. The thing to remember is that everyone fights. The presence of fighting skills just means you fight a little bit more.

So far, so good. Now came the time to spend the points, and this is where the first real bump emerged. Basically, you get 20 points (25 for humans, who start with lower stats). You can increase your stats by spending a number of points equal to the new value, and you can also spend points on Money, Talents, Actions and Skills. You can spend between 0 and 3 points in each category, to varying payout.

For my experiment (and for the players in my game) there seemed to be no reason not to max these out, excepting wealth. You can spend less, but the payoff (especially for actions) is just too big to ignore. But this leads to an annoying mathematical glitch: if you end up with an extra point or two, you can’t spend it to improve your stats, and if you’ve already maxed out the various categories, you will either waste it, or find some place to dump it. This happened to all three of my players, and as a result, all three started with maximum wealth because they had no other choice. The advancement rules give many more options for things that might be done with a single point, and it’s a shame that a few of those are not borrowed for chargen.

Next came choosing the things I’d bought. Skills were reasonably simple, though I stumbled a bit over my first advanced skill. You have a list of skills you might be trained in: pick some of them. It’s not rocket science.

Talents and Actions required going through the decks, and this was a little more clunky. Cards have certain strengths – they’re easy to reference in small numbers and great for randomization, but man they’re a pain in the ass for reference.

So, Talents are minor abilities represented by small cards, roughly akin to feats. Every career has two “slots” for talents which have a keyword (like “Tactics” or “Focus”) and you need to pick a talent of that type for that slot. While you can only have two talents slotted, there’s good reason to have more than two talents. First, you can swap talents in and out as a maneuver and second, you can contribute them to the party sheet (more on that in a bit).

Actions are more akin to powers, and are also represented by cards. They are pretty straightforward, though their double-sided nature adds an interesting twist (one side is conservative, one is reckless, the character uses the side that matches his stance, which I’ll talk about in a bit).

Buying gear was about as old school as could be possible. There are weapons and armor and stuff, with fairly precise prices and very detailed haggling rules. Total time warp. When we did group chargen, we discovered that the encumbrance rules are really harsh (and also a bit of a pain to find), especially if you left your strength at 2. Our archer could carry his longbow, some arrows and not a lot more (certainly not any kind of armor). We rolled with it because we were playing by the book, but man, that was pretty lame.[1]

The book has a nice bit at the end of chargen about fleshing out your character, with 10 useful questions. It’s nice enough, but putting it at the end, after you’re done, seems a bit like putting the horse behind the cart. However, I concede that this may just be the dirty hippy in me talking.

Anyway, once we finished chargen, we had our Human Messenger, Human Wizard and Dwarf Soldier, ready to go. Tomorrow, we’ll get to the lessons of the fight that followed.

1 – Also, this revealed the first real rule problem. Weapons with the “Quick” keyword have an ability that makes no sense. They reduce the recharge times of actions by 1 when you miss. The problem is that you don’t need to recharge a power that misses. So, um, what? I checked the FFG FAQ, but it’s a marketing document, not a rules ref.

WH3: Product vs. Game

I have a hard time talking about Magic: the Gathering. It is a fantastic game, and I can say that without reservation. It is one of the best thought out, best designed games out there. I have said on numerous occasions that if you want to understand how to create game mechanics, especially RPG mechanics, M:tG is like a masters class in exception based design. It’s fun to play, fast, colorful and fun. I bought into it when it first came out, when it was so novel that we tried to play with the decks we’d bought, and the Craw Wurm was terrifying. I’ve gotten rid of other CCGs over the years, but my Magic cards hang around [1].


I don’t play it these days. Every now and again I am struck by a strong desire to bust it out, but it always withers on the vine as I stop and try to catch up on the state of the art. I’m uncomfortable with the pay-to-play model, and it gets you coming and going. If you follow the rules and limit yourself to current sets, you need to pay to stay current as they come out. If you go with one of the broader rulesets, then you can use more cards, but so can the guy who has spent thousands of dollars on his rares and cheesy combos.

This used to bug me a lot, especially when I was younger and much more broke. I’m less broke these days, and I’m less troubled by the idea of being able to use money to make up for a lack of time[2], but I still can’t quite buy into the model. So I end up very torn on the topic[3]. I love the game, but I’m uncomfortable with the product.

Historically, M:tG was the only game that really presented me with this problem. 4e had some elements of it, but once you realize that you really don’t need anything but a DDI subscription[4], it becomes entirely manageable.

I should not have been surprised when the problem raised its head again in the shape of WFRP 3e. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3e is a monstrously large box, full of components with the kind of production values that only a company like FFG can bring to the table.

It’s a fun game, full of good ideas, lightly using a well loved setting. I enjoyed it a lot as a game, but I’m not yet sure how I feel about it as a product.

The most striking thing about the game is that you need almost nothing except what’s in the box. You’ll want a pencil and maybe some scratch paper for character creation, but you won’t need them once the game starts. Everything in the game, and I mean EVERYTHING is represented by the components. Abilities, wounds and statuses are all cards. Duration, exertion and range are tracked with tokens. There are little cardboard standups for characters representing position. Even the equivalent of skill challenges/skill ladders use tracks you build out of cardboard puzzle pieces. Almost[5] everything else is offloaded to the dice. This is brilliant to behold in action.

But it’s also a double-edged sword. Since everything can be done with the components, the components also represent the limit of what you can do. Adding new classes or abilities requires adding new components – even supporting more than 3 characters requires more components than come in the box – at least so long as you play by the rules.[6]

There is absolutely a lock-in element to the game, but there are some benefits to this as well. When new rules or items or whatever get added to the game by an adventure or the like, as long as you include the cards, those get folded into the core rules with a quick shuffle. Compared to needing to reference multiple books, that’s pretty sweet.

It’s also a pretty decent check against piracy. If the components are necessary to play, it doesn’t really matter if illicit PDFs get out on the Internet. Making cards and tokens at home is enough of a pain in the ass to make enthusiasts likely to just decide to suck up the price.[7]

I dig that, and as a business decision I understand where it came from, but it comes with a cost. There are a lot of decisions made in the design of the game that make it very hard to actually reference things. Most notably, if there is information on a card, it is not mirrored anywhere in the text. That’s a great protection against piracy, but it also means that there are no lists of talents or class abilities to consult – you need to flip through the cards.

Cards are incredibly useful for certain things, but this is not one of their strengths. It’s awkward and clunky, and it’s very clearly a decision to trade off ease of use for expandability (generously) and protection against piracy (cynically). That’s not a dealbreaker, but it colors perception of the game when you get to fuzzier decisions.

As an example, most everything I needed to reference for play as a GM could easily fit on a single page, maybe two. I’d hope for a summary page, but when I don’t get one, I normally wave it off as one of those terrible decision that people make in the name of page count, like excluding an index. Which is to say, I’d be unhappy, but I’ve got callouses over that spot. But when faced with a game where the business decisions are so apparent, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it was left out to help pimp the eventual GM’s screen.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Having had time to think, I’m quite sure that the lack of a summary really is in the same bucket as a lack of index, but it took a lot of thought and time to reach that conclusion. At the table, as we were sorting through things and I was getting frustrated, it was very easy to reach the uncharitable interpretation. That’s no good.

So thus I am back where I started. I really dig the game, but I’m uncertain whether I like the product. I’ll be chewing on it for a bit, but I hope to delve a bit more into both sides of that tomorrow, now that I’ve laid bare my biases.

1 – So do my Shadowfist ones, but that’s neither here nor there.

2 – I’m pretty easy-going about it with MMOs, for example. But they’re also a different sort of game.

3 – Yes, this could probably be several posts on its own.

4 – And that that subscription is pretty much entirely mandatory. Yes, that’s another type of “pay to play”, but it’s better for two reasons. First, there’s no real problem with getting on and off the train – if I stop playing D&D and then come back to it, I have the same resources as anyone else. Second, it’s not priced too badly, especially compared to buying a $30-$40 book every month (and in fact, the online subscription model means I don’t need to worry that I missed a book during my time away).

5 – And this is definitely an “almost”, and one I tripped over once or twice.

6 – It is entirely possible to play the game in a more traditional fashion, but it does require copying a lot of information from cards. I am genuinely uncertain how well the game would hold up under such a change. On one hand, it would lose the elegance of all-components, but on the other hand it might actually improve the experience. The all-component approach works better in some areas than others, so it might be interesting to be selective in its application.

7 – That is, until someone copies the information from the cards and comes up with the aforementioned rules for playing without components. I expect this to happen quickly, so I hope there’s not too much weight put on this particular pillar.

Cool Monday: Angie’s List

This has been the kind of week that reminds me why I insist on writing about something good on the Internet every Monday. I’ve got a backlog of ideas – I played the new Warhammer this weekend, and I’ve been kicking around more dice ideas, but the simple ritual of stopping and thinking about the good things out there is too important to my sanity to stop.

Today I want to talk about Angie’s List. This has been on my mind as people on various vectors have been talking about buying or repairing their houses, and my thoughts go back to our own very mixed experiences. I only heard of Angie’s list because they’re an NPR sponsor, but that worked out better for them then buying a radio ad would have. It made me curious enough to check out their website, and I’m glad I did.

Angie’s List is one of those ideas that reflects the practical application of the things that technology promises us. It’s a review site, but what makes it noteworthy is that it’s a review site that focuses on local workers (contractors, repairmen and so on, though they’ve recently been branching out to things like doctors). The ‘local’ part means they don’t cover every area, but their definitions of metropolitan areas seem suitably flexible.

The model is very simple. You hire a plumber and, after he’s done, you can write up a review of your experience on Angie’s List. When someone else in your area needs a plumber, they can hit the web site and see all the reviews of local plumbers. Simple as that. It’s even a little crude, since user generated data can create weird redundancies or crossovers, but it works, and it works well.

It’s been going for a couple of years now, and the amount of information on the site has gained a nice level of depth. Yes, that also means its accrued some false reviews and otherwise been gamed, but it’s nothing that a little critical reading can’t get you past.

Now, the rub is that it’s a paid site. They were smart and had a long free period so they could accrue a lot f data before going paid, but eventually they needed to make money. On it’s own, the price is a little high ($60 for a year, $7.50 for a month, with a $15 signup fee to deal with the sane and reasonable folks who would just pay for a month when they need it) but given the cost of most home repairs, it’s very small as a percentage of total cost, and especially small compared to the cost of having a bad job done.

In many ways I consider an Angie’s List membership as something comparable to a subscription to Consumer Reports online. I don’t bother to remember it when I’m not using it, but when the time comes that I do need it, it’s a very cost-effective investment.

So, if you’re in a position where it will matter that the people who install your windows or fix your plumbing know what they’re doing, it’s definitely worth your while to check out Angie’s List.

Playing at Starbucks

I’ll come back to the dice next week, but it’s Friday, so I’ll swap it up a little.

Malcolm Sheppard had a good post about next generation RPGs and the role of technology. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s an interesting read, and it came up when I was thinking about something that is almost the polar opposite, but which (as often happens with opposites) reflects on some of the same issues.

I was wondering to myself what the ideal game would be to play at Starbucks. It’s a very specific criteria, so let me elaborate on it. Obviously, you could play any game you like at Starbucks, there are tables and everything, but all of the books and papers and other material that accompanies most games would seem powerfully out of place. The aesthetic of the place (to say nothing of noise and space concerns) calls for a certain sparseness rather than the scatter of papers and the clatter of dice.

Certainly, you could just use a minimalistic game, like Risus or PDQ. Since you wouldn’t need a rulebook, and character sheets can be as small as an index card, you can get by with very little in the way of supplies. That works, sure, but I found myself wondering if it could go a little deeper. Pencil, paper and dice are well and good, but what can we do without them? What can we do with something purely tactile?[1]

The answer is “A lot”, but it depends on the group. I’ve got many years of the Amber DRPG under my belt, enough so that I’m very comfortable with going diceless with a heavy dose of GM fiat. Within that sort of framework, you could build a powerful and dynamic game with little more than a deck of cards.

This lead to a bunch of design thoughts, some of which might see the light of day eventually, but it also called into question how I was thinking about games. I was focusing on the social element, and also on certain ideas of play that are intensely portable. That portability provides an interesting point of comparison for me between games as we think of them and more established games, like chess. Not in terms of how they’re played, but in terms of our production model.

Consider chess’s entry point. The rules are a little complex, but can be learned well enough that no rulebook is kept on hand. You can get all the supplies you need for a buck, but you can just as easily get those same supplies for hundreds, even thousands of dollars. The game exists as an idea, and the industry and play surrounds and supports that idea.

In contrast, RPGs have something of a vicious ecosystem, where there is an idea, but lots of people are looking to carve off their own piece and lay claim to it. There are precious few products that exist to support the idea as a whole (mostly a handful of GMing advice books).

This is not a criticism – Chess is a single game, albeit one with a rich history, and there’s no reason to expect any RPG to occupy a similar niche at this point in time. But I think this gets very interesting when you think about some of Malcolm’s points, and look at the progress of technology. Technology is going to change RPGS, possibly quite drastically, but that leaves bare the question of what technology can’t or won’t change.

This really seems to cast bare the division in games about the role of the GM. A lot of games move to minimize the role, usually in response to abuses at the hands of bad GMs in the past. Others do it to take work off the GM’s hands. One way or another, these rules are the ones that I suspect will take most strongly to automation, and at that point it will be impossible not to start talking and thinking about the actual art of GMing.

This is an uncomfortable topic. Bring up the point that a good GM can make a crappy game fun, and watch how quickly the howling begins. Talk about GMs taking ownership of the rules and bending them to suit their table, and prepare for offended looks. Gamers, as a sub-tribe of geeks, have a strong egalitarian streak, and we’re not always comfortable with the idea that some GMs are better than others[2] and that keeps us from talking about why that is so, and what influences it besides natural talent.

It’s a conversation that I think people have always had personally, but it dies on the Internet. But as technology marches on, there may be no way to escape it.[3]

I’m pretty psyched for that.

1- On some primal, emotional level I would love to play an RPG someday where i can get the same pure joy out of handling well crafted components that you can get from a well made chess set or dominoes.

2 – In the abstract at least. Our GMs are obviously excellent, and we all have stories of crappy GMs we’ve dealt with.

3 – Before we get there, we’ll probably have a movement where setting design is as exalted as system design currently is. It will focus on how setting design can organically drive play, and it will take many lessons from MMOs.