Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Class Warfare

I thought Class Warfare was going to be a rules-lite approach to creating classes for DungeonWorld, rather along the lines of the variant rules for races in Dark Heart of the Dreamer. This was my preconception of the book and I'm not going to hold it against it that Class Warfare is something subtly different. It is a toolkit for deconstructing the existing classes into components that can be used together to create new playbooks and also a rich source of new moves.

The technical analysis of how DungeonWorld's class playbooks work is excellent and worth a read for anyone interested in game design (particularly of DungeonWorld playbooks) and the relative merits and flaws of DungeonWorld in particular.

With that done the book then moves onto an example new playset and illustrates how the book is to be used to construct new character classes.

The bulk of the book is made of various classes that are tighter in scope that the ones in the main rulebook. Most of the main book classes are decomposed into smaller parts that can then be reassembled.

It certainly gives players who are tired of the class tropes of the core game a chance to create something more distinctive and from a design point of view actually moves the Apocalypse System away from tight playset designs aiming to shape the actors in the game world to a more simulation-based ability to reflect the desires of the player to create and explore a certain character and set of powers.

Basically Class Warfare is sitting on the opposite end of the spectrum to Sagas of the Icelanders. It gives the player agency to bring their favoured brand of fantasy into the game rather than that defined by RedBox D&D.

I feel equivocal about DungeonWorld and I keep looking for the design that is going to unlock all the good parts of the game and ditch the boring aspects. Class Warfare isn't that key but at a forensic decomposition of how player interaction works in the game its a valuable piece of game design in Apocalypse World family.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Carcass

Carcass is Jim Pinto's game of leadership and danger. The design goals are to take complete narrative control away from players and create situations where their characters are trying to deal with situations beyond their control. The philosophical aim is to examine the nature of leadership in groups and perhaps as a consequence look at the impact of authority.

So how does it do those things?

The core mechanic is one of scene-framing and looking for conflict in situations that are then resolved via a dice mechanic.

The difference here is that control of the outcomes lies with the player to the left, the Foil of the player controlling the character. The dice determine the nature of the outcome but interpretation is left to the Foil. The nature of the interpretation colours the darkness of the game.

To balance out the PvP aspect the characters are all elements of the same tribe, struggling to survive. Making things worse for the character makes things worse for the group.

The leadership aspect functions as a reward, as the acknowledged leader of the community you get to frame two scenes per turn and for high dice rolls get to narrate your own outcomes.

This is balanced by a mechanism called Trepidations that represents the tribe's concerns with the leader and their plans. These can cause actions to fail automatically before a dice check.

The theme is post-apocalyptic, the darling of American game design, like zombies this will work for some people and not for others. Carcass uses the scarcity of the apocalypse to force the characters to act. They are not safe, they do not have food, shelter or security. They must change and move and therefore they are compelled to act despite the dangers.

One concern I have in the initially reading is that there are a lot of character types and, while the basic mechanic is rather like 3:16 in that you resolve everything with fighting, not fighting and special abilities, each type has a separate set of resolution tables and a domain for their special abilities. I'm wondering if the game is going to benefit from that level of granularity given that it is not in the high-level vision of the game.

I'm interested in Pinto's critique of freeform, narrative authority and improvisation as game mechanic. If nothing else Carcass is a valuable sally in game design. Whether it creates a game that reflects his themes is something that will require a play.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Showdown

Showdown is a game for two players that uses a split set of scenes that are played out simultaneously. The main frame for the game is a duel between two characters. The duel is somewhat abstract, in that it might be two aviators clashing above the trenches or simply a literal duel with swords, the key point is that only one of them is going to survive the duel.

The secondary frame are flashbacks into the characters' history to discover what brought them to this mortal conflict. The flashbacks also feature conflict but in the sense of the characters testing and trying to manipulate one another.

Showdown continues to use the two-track theme in the round resolution, where players dice off via the selection of limited hand of cards representing a range of sizes of dice. The highest roll wins but there are two rolls to resolve, the one for the fight and the other for the flashback. The person winning the duel gets to eliminate the other players attack card, forcing them out of options.

The person winning the flashback gains an insight that allows them to understand more about the character and in particular to throw new light on their true character. So if a character had a self-perception of Loyal to my friends the player with insight might narrate the outcome of the flashback to reveal that they are in fact Too scared to leave the gang.

This secondary mechanic is how the game decides who will be seen as the villain in the conflict. Both characters arrive thinking of themselves as righteous but both have their darkness exposed by the violence.

The game mechanisms do not seem to be fair or balanced. Should a player for example win both duel and flashback rolls then the other player will be on the backfoot for the rest of the game. This seems to be intentional as the narrative beats reflect the fact that the duel can only have one winner and there is a need to avoid a long period of losing where agency is being ground away. Sudden reverses from round to round would also presumably be problematic to the narrative.

There are quite a few two-player games that are short and are meant to have a couple of rounds played in a single session. I get the feeling this is one of them.

I bought the book and then the accompanying card set. The cards are small in number but the game uses them in a very specific way that makes it a bit tedious to try and do your own set. The shipping was a little high so I would recommend getting both at the same time if you are purchasing it physically.