Browsing articles in "Game Design"

I want to be a Netrunner

Jun 30, 2010
Comments Off on I want to be a Netrunner

CyberPunk 2020 had some pretty interesting net-runner rules. I like them but as part of a group, a single netrunner, just didn’t mesh well in the setting within the group I played. The system overall was decent but tedious. Character construction was lengthy and the combat system seemed overly involved. The lack of instantaneous death made it feel like people could play walking tanks. My players did.

Back to Net Runners. Times have changed quite a bit. The ‘Net isn’t quite as evolved as the game stated but the prediction of attacks, hacking and internetwork connectivity is growing. War is evolving from a front line, metal on flesh situation to network based attacks on infrastructure. If you can win a war by disabling critical infrastructure, why bother with the meat and metal?

Most current penetrations are nothing more than taking over your parent’s computer and adding it to a bot net. Multiply that by thousands and you have massive computational horsepower at your disposal. Not just for sending and receiving messages for a DoS attack but for anything you have in mind. Breaking crypto. Hiding your network identity. What if they get sophisticated and use massively parallel, non centralized algorithms? It may be already happening.

No computer on the ‘Net is safe. I don’t care what operating system, browser, or protection scheme you choose. Everything is exploitable given sufficient effort. Vile sounding isn’t it?

To me, it screams game but not a traditional RPG. The MMOG model fits much better than table based. If the mechanics were codified and published, could you provide a completely defensible node on the Internet? How about a team of experts attempting to do the same? Toss in Zero-Day exploits you cannot overcome is the rest of your network up to the challenge? Would you try? Or hire the service out?

Comments Off on I want to be a Netrunner

Super Heroes? Boring, stale and not for me.

Jan 28, 2010

The genre is enjoyable in various forms including film, print, etc. I even enjoy an occasional RPG session. Yet my interest is always fleeting. I cannot continually suspend my disbelief.

Super Hero movies are cool but not for the characters. I watch them with the attitude of seeing an action flick. The special effects, the crazy plots and the magic of computer generated imagery are what I’m there to see. I’m one of the poor extras in the movie — the normal folk who are just watching in awe.

I see super hero characters as reprints of the same tired origins. Sure there are twists on the origins of the power — innate mutant power, alien power in an Earth setting, or advanced technology of unbelievable power. Call it a mental block. All the powers have seemingly been used and reused. I have never come up with any concept that isn’t some variation of something already completely overused. When I do, they are always things which would be of little use in a game.

Super Hero games also always seem to use the good versus evil plot. A super villain plots some madness and the characters must go forth and defeat them to keep the world safe. I can taste the bile at the back of my throat. Even the guy who says “Screw this, I’m staying at home, powering down a bag of Cheetos and watching I Love Lucy.” ends up being forced into being a hero. All of them lack self motivation, goals, and desires. I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with any portrayal of anything other than a superficial personality. Even the internal conflicts some characters have are hard to believe because they are the singular element identified of a personality.

As I stated previously, the characters always seem stuck in time at the point of creation. What precisely do I mean? Often characters have a great history or back story. The problem is the history has no application to the future. They are stuck waiting for the next evil genius plot to take over the world until they are compelled to act yet again. Or they go seek revenge on someone due to a factoid in the background. Once that is over, what’s next? Managing a Burger King? Running a Fortune 500 company? Working as security for someone kicking the spleens out of mere mortals? I prefer games where I’m capable of building my character’s future not being held hostage by who he is.

Mortality is also an issue. Traditionally super heroes and villains rarely die. So even if you are outmatched, outclassed and outwitted, and get your ass kicked what happens? You go home, heal up (while flipping burgers) and come up with a new plan or a better group. If there is no risk of dying, the game is just dull to me. Self preservation is a fundamental element in all other RPGs. If it is missing, I get bored quickly and lose interest in the game. I’m guessing most game systems in the genre have mechanics for death so I am not bashing systems. I’m bashing the way the games I’ve played in have been run.

On the topic of game system mechanics, I will come back to the “stuck in time” comment. Character improvement seems impossible after a point. If a power comes because an alien ability like Superman, its capped at conception. Innate powers based on mutation also have an immediate cap. A mutation can only provide so much benefit before it is fully realized. Certainly discovery and learning can allow you to utilize a power better but at some point you hit the capacity of that ability based on the origin. Technology based powers are the one area I can fathom continued improvement. Sadly, my own background makes me nitpick the technology. I impose self-limitations on the capabilities because I find them absurd at the extremities. And if it isn’t human technology? Well, that’ll take years to understand to begin with yet alone improve. I don’t know how any system handles improvement because I’ve never been engaged enough to actually purchase or read the systems fully.

I’ll be the first to admit that my comments on the Super Hero genre could be applied to nearly any other genre. The genre just doesn’t spark my imagination. It has yet to immerse me so I’m standing in the shoes of my character and looking through his eyes. Instead, I always seem like a puppeteer pulling the strings to move my character around. Many others love the concept and enjoy it immensely. Good for you, go play and have a great time. I’ll wait for the movie.

Deadly Systems are Doomed

Sep 15, 2009

As my brain meandered the other day, as it is apt to do, I had a thought about game systems.   A common trait between many unpopular systems is that they possessed combat systems which are very deadly.   A mere chance encounter leads to character death far more often than other systems.

All systems can be deadly but the systems that have not achieved popularity do not possess the ability to mitigate risk.   Other than a GM blatantly fudging rolls, a characters in those combat systems are likely to end up dead. Is a deadly combat system a death knell for a system?  Not necessarily.   However, the odds do not to be in the system’s favor.   Popularity, failure, and deadly are all very subjective.    Definitions are required and because it was my thought, I must define each of them.


If a game system is no longer available at a game store in some resemblance of its current state, especially by name, consider it non-popular.   If the original name is intact and still available, no matter the divergence from its roots, consider it popular if and only if it has been commercially available for a decade or more.


Utter failure would be a rule system that reached publication but failed to garner any support by the publisher in the form of a second edition or by having affiliated materials published.  Many systems fall in the middle between failure and popular.     In the end, those systems that showed up but only lasted fewer than 5 years, should be judged as failures.  Harsh but they failed the test of time.


Deadly is far easier to define.  Should a character step into combat, he has about equal odds of dying or surviving.    Mano a Mano will result in someone dying.   It might be the PC, it might be the other guy.  Equally paired, players with even stats, are evenly matched.  Being outmatched is not deadly, it is being stupid or being forced to engage in combat when you should not.

In the End:

No game system I could recall hit all those factors and still remains.  Kevin offered an exception.  D&D.  In the basic edition,  D&D hit all the deadly requirements but is still popular.  It was very deadly but the system has elements which mitigate death:  Armor and encounter strength.   Killing kobolds at level 3 is not deadly.

Is there any game system, set in relatively modern times, that defies my supposition?   By relatively modern, assume from the time the crossbow made plate armor moot through when kevlar was introduced as a staple of modern warfighting? Are all systems such as Boot Hill, Gang Busters, James Bond, Top Secret, etc.  doomed to failure before they start?

Purity or Density

Mar 31, 2009

There is a famous quote in software engineering or perhaps engineering in general, the gist of it being “the design is complete when nothing can be removed”.    The point is elegance from simplicity and purity.  No diversions from the focus of the effort.  I cannot find the original source tonight but it matters little.

For the record, apparently it is Antoine de Saint Exupéry who is credited as saying, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. ” -KO

Deviation from the core of a system exposes the writer’s passion.  I feel the wanton need to deviate into topics that are not centric to a rule system.  Yet they are interesting to me and relevant to the genre. Looking through many rule systems, I see that many others have wandered down the same path.

When is it appropriate to sanction these departures?   How far do you allow them to progress?   If the deviation leads to an entry that hooks a novice, is it is truly bad?  Puirty provides elegance and the capability of those capable to expand it into many frontiers.

But… Recall that first system you held in your hands.   Likely, it was rules heavy and relayed something about nearly everything on how to play the game.   Just as likely, you tossed aside nearly everything ephemeral to the core of the system because it was impssible to remember or manage.  Still, fun was had by everyone in that first session.

I love light rule systems these days but I’ve had years to progress to that point.   I can tweak it to fit my needs in a matter of minutes and the experienced group I get a rare chance to play with can do the same.   The running of the system might hook someone but if they pick up the “book” is it enough to hook them?

— Ramblings of Mark –