Sunday, 21 July 2013

Neon Burn: racing game development

Okay, so it's been about four months since I posted about my idea for an RPG based around an antigrav racing league, which now has the working title Neon Burn. I hadn't thought about it much or made any progress since I made the first post about it, but last week I started fiddling about with dice and managed to come up with what is hopefully an interesting core mechanic. As far as I can tell at this stage, it meets all of my requirements.

Please note, most of the terminology hasn't been finalised. I'll brainstorm some more concise, punchy, evocative terms.
  • Tracks may have an environment modifier - a special rule or effect that applies to the whole race.
  • The Track is made up of Segments.
    • A whole Race will probably encompass 6 to 12 Segments, although the Track itself may only be 3 to 6 Segments long if a number of laps are required.
  • Each Segment has a Difficulty (0 to 5) and a Width (1 to 6). Some may also have special rules or restrictions.
  • Racers roll a pool of d6'es.
    • I haven't yet figured out how the size of the pool will be determined.
    • Racers have the option to roll fewer dice; it reduces the chance of getting Successes, but also reduces the chance of Failures. In this sense, the size of the pool represents how much the Racer is willing to put on the line.
  • There's a general Field pool, representing generic unnamed Racers. This will usually be larger than the PC Racer's pool.

For every Segment, each named Racer and the Field roll their pools.
  • Any dice that roll under the Segment Difficulty are Failures.
    • Failures reduce your resources (Fuel, Integrity, Position, Focus, Vehice stats). Depending on the resource, this may penalise your ongoing performance, or bring you closer to being knocked out of the race.
  • Any dice that roll equal to the Segment Difficulty are Basic Successes.
    • These Successes only go towards negotiating the Track successfully, and don't usually provide any other benefit. This is the minimum required for safe driving.
  •  Any dice that roll greater than the Segment Difficulty are Bonus Successes (Bonuses).
    • Bonuses are used to compete with other Racers for Position or other advantages.
    • Each Segment has a number of slots for Bonuses equal to its Width. 
    • Starting with the best-Positioned Racer, each Racer takes turns to assign all of their Bonus dice into the available Width slots.
    • When all Bonus dice have been assigned, go through each slot and:
      • Eliminate any matching numbers (pairs, triples etc.).
      • Keep only the highest die in each slot; eliminate the rest.
    • After the elimination, Racers who still have Bonuses may spend them to benefit themselves or penalise their opponents.
      • Typically these are used to increase Position.
      • Depending on the race type, they might be used to reduce opponent Integrity or other resources with weaponry/ramming/special manoeuvres.

That's the basic resolution system. It looks a bit long, but in practice it's pretty quick and simple. I've been sorting three or four pools and assigning results by myself in a reasonable period of time. It's abstract enough that it could easily apply to various types of racing (boats, cars, bikes, even horses). It's complex enough to allow for some strategies, and has plenty of opportunities for special rules to modify or expand on the basics. I also really like the way it's possible to succeed while failing spectacularly and building up consequences. I hope to make this pool-comparison system the resolution mechanic for off-track rolls as well.

On top of the basic system, characters will get to choose dice tricks they can apply during the race, such as rerolling, modifying, or reassigning dice results, trading one resource for another (Fuel, Integrity, Focus, Position), or generating off-track effects (strengthened relationships, increased sponsorship).

So, the above works as-written for a basic multi-vehicle race. Whoever ends the race with the highest Position is the winner, with ties decided by a roll-off. Let's take a quick look at how it can be modified for different types of races.

  • Rally - When there's only one vehicle on the track at any given moment, you're not jostling for position. Instead, the focus is on technical driving and overcoming the track itself. The rules work as for a regular race, except:
    • You don't eliminate Bonuses against other Racers; any Bonuses you can assign to the Segment's Width, you can keep.
    • You can only spend Bonuses on your own vehicle; you can't use them to penalise other Racers.
  • Combat - In a regular race, you can spend your Bonuses to reduce an opponent's Integrity if they are on the same Position, which represents ramming or muscling them into the barrier
    • In a Combat League, various weapons may allow racers to spend Successes against opponents in front of or behind them, or increase the amount of Integrity loss, or cause some other penalty.
    • I've yet to work out how dedicated Gunners will fit into the resolution system.
    • I've yet to determine how to weaponise the Field of generic Racers.
  • Street Racing - I haven't thought about this too much yet, but there are a couple of possibilities:
    • Increase the Segment Difficulties (or modify them randomly?) to represent interference from civilian traffic.
    • Roll a separate Traffic pool that doesn't gain Position but which interferes with Racers. Perhaps it can ebb and flow? Perhaps Traffic Failures result in penalties against the Racers? Perhaps too much fallout may result in the authorities giving chase?
  • Drag or Circuit Racing - In these sorts of events, the focus isn't so much on the track as it is on the skills of the drivers and the tuning of their vehicles. It's a fairly simple matter to:
    • Drop the Segment Difficulty to 0 or 1, and take off the Width restriction.
    • This will turn the race into a batle between two (or more) Racers. More Bonuses means more focus on the direct competition between the Racers.

I'm cautiously optimistic that this approach will net me the results I want. I also have some ideas about the off-track scenes that make up the pre-race game, but I've yet to figure out how I want to approach this end of the game mechanically. Since the race itself has been my major sticking point, I'm just glad to finally have something with potential.

I intend to tie in some aspects of the off-track scenes into race performance, so I'm deliberately leaving some areas vague so I have somewhere to plug things into.

Hopefully I'll have more progress soon! I'm already compiling tables for random Track construction, and brainstorming ideas for character dice tricks and such. I also hope to demo the basic mechanics with another person soonish, to see if they can pick it up easily or if there are any rough spots that need revision.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Blood Hunter Character Art

I finally got around to finishing off an illustration of Annette's character from our Blood Hunter solo campaign.

Savage Devonport 4

The continued adventures of our heroes, who have struck out North through the Last Pass into the ruined domain of Caernfallen to see if they can stem the advancing tides of an orcish army.

  • +Annette plays Snowfall, a Human Paladin whose family owns an apothecary in Stormhaven.
  • David plays Ret Inas, a Human Thief from the village of Dryfield.
  • James (absent) plays Angus Arrowbeard, a Dwarven Archer/Rogue from a hold to the North.
  • Michael plays Novim, an Elf Ranger who has sworn fealty to the local Lord.
  • Sasha plays Kae Swiftfoot, a Monk/Rogue who owns a corn farm North of Stormhaven.
  • Shane plays Typhus, a Wizard who seeks to make his fortune.

The party returns to Dryfield and speaks to Timpany about the orcs. The bard tells them that the warband split up into many smaller groups, and she suspects they have headed in various directions to search nearby ruins for ancient treasures. She tells them the tale of Sir Marden, an ancient knight who was cursed after defeating a necromancer, and who was laid to rest in a magically-sealed tomb in the hills, to prevent the necromancer's power from rising again. She also tells them of the Lost Library, an ancient repository of knowledge said to lie beyond the Shattered Mountain; and of Lorden Rill, a great rift in the land plagued by monsters and leading down to a wide marsh, beyond which stood the castle of the Knights of Estiban who have been protecting Caernfallen from orcish invasion for years.

Despite Typhus' obvious interest in Marden's tomb, the group decides to seek out the Lost Library instead. They travel to the Southeast and begin navigating their way through the Shattered Mountain's precipitous terrain. The group all works together, with those more skilled at climbing aiding those who start to lag behind.

Deep in the mountains, they find signs of many orcs having travelled this way. From their tracks, it appears as though they were searching, with many tracks doubling back as they reach dead-ends. The group makes haste, following the orcs' main trail in hopes of catching up with them before they reach the Library.

The party reached a great chasm, with a trail leading along one side, and an ancient suspension bridge connecting the near side to a great, cylindrical stone building carved outof the very mountainside. A group of orcs is making their way along the trail towards the bridge, so our heroes engage them in combat. The Wand of Vines helps, immobilising one orc and bottlenecking the rest, preventing them from attacking the party in melee. The orcish archer and shaman attack the group at a distance, but they are no match for Novim and Typhus' ranged attacks. As the last of the orcish grunts fall, the shaman, an archer, and his bodyguard make it across the bridge into the ruin.

Pursuing the orcs across the bridge, the party finds them in a large circular chamber, facing off against two large moving statues that seem to want to touch them and put them to sleep. The heroes finish off the orcs, and follow through on the statues once they begin attacking party members too.

They explore the ruined library; due to time and exposure to the elements, they can't find any books in good condition in the main tower, so they press on into the chambers carved into the mountain itself. In a dark corridor, they fail to notice the giant spiders on the walls and ceiling until it's too late! The party is surrounded, and take an early loss as Ret succumbs to the creatures' paralysing venom! A much larger spider emerges from a side-room, entangling Novim in a spray of web. Ret recovers, and they eventually manage to defeat the eight-legged fiends.

After a little searching, they manage to dig up a Scroll of Burrowing and a Tome of Bolt, so Holy Bolt is added to Snowfall's repertoire.

I was a little underprepared for the Lost Library, but figured I'd wing it a bit and test out Savage Worlds' much-vaunted low-prep requirement. It went pretty well, since I had a fair idea of what the Library was like, but it did suffer a little. With some additional planning I'm sure I could have made the journey there more meaningfully interesting. I also fumbled a bit with the final encounter, and had to reach a bit to come up with a thematically suitable challenge.

Normally Ret would have been paralysed for ages, but we discovered we'd done something wrong with his check, so I allowed him to recover after only a few turns rather than cutting him out of the rest of the session.

>>> Session 5

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Savage Devonport 3

So last session I had a request from James for more puzzles and problem-solving elements. I picked up the Fantasy Companion, which has awesome random magical treasure tables (a part of fantasy games I usually neglect) and a fantastic bestiary, and also a couple of 10 Fantasy Traps guides to mine for ideas. Since the group were in an Elven ruin, with an Elf in the party (played by Michael), I planned a sort of "dungeon" in a slightly alternate-reality "elf world."

Naturally, neither James nor Michael could make it to this session! We were joined by David, though, playing a Human Thief.

  • +Annette plays Snowfall, a Human Paladin whose family owns an apothecary in Stormhaven.
  • David plays Ret Inas, a Human Thief from the village of Dryfield.
  • James (absent) plays Angus Arrowbeard, a Dwarven Archer/Rogue from a hold to the North.
  • Michael (absent) plays Novim, an Elf Ranger who has sworn fealty to the local Lord.
  • Sasha plays Kae Swiftfoot, a Monk/Rogue who owns a corn farm North of Stormhaven.
  • Shane plays Typhus, a Wizard who seeks to make his fortune.

Unbeknownst to the party, when they left the small farming village of Dryfield they were being followed by Ret Inas, a local lad with skills not usually fostered by farmers, and with an itch for adventure - or profit, perhaps, from these well-equipped travellers from the South.

After defeating the orcs who were guarding it, the party camps in the old Elven shrine. Novim keeps watch but drifts off to sleep. Ret sneaks in to check out their stuff, but as he does so reality shimmers; the forest swells and grows, sprouting hedge-walls and thorny brambles, and the sky changes to an eerie aurora twilight. A cool breeze wafts through the open structure, and everyone awakes apart from Novim and Angus.

Ret remains hidden while the party checks out their new surroundings. Typhus believes they have been shifted into some sort of alternate reality, such as a pocket dimension or faerie world. Although the shrine itself appears to be the same, everything outside it has changed. The shrine is obviously the key to coming and going, but Typhus is fairly certain that they won't get stuck if reality shifts back without them being in the shrine.

Kae does a quick lap of the clearing to get a first impression of their new environment. The thick hedgerows have created four passages. From the North and the South, he hears the sound of flowing water. They decide to go North first, and notice Ret sneaking after them. Since they're all in the same boat he joins the group, although they keep an eye on each other.

The Northern path leads to a dead tree with a face carved in it, spewing black water out of its mouth into a basin formed by twisted roots. Kae takes some in his wineskin. When he pours a little on the ground, the grass shrivels and dies.

They next head South, and find a fountain of pure crystal-clear water. After some experimentation, they discover that it causes plants to rapidly sprout and grow, and that mixing it with the black water creates regular water. It doesn't seem to have any special effect on people, although they are not currently injured or fatigued.

West of the shrine they find a clearing with a large statue of an Elven archer in the centre, twice the height of a man, his bow drawn and pointing North along a forest pathway. Half-dead shrivelled vines cover the pedestal. They investigate the statue, discovering that the bow and arrow are a mechanism, implying that the arrow will be loosed under certain circumstances. They also discover holes or channels around the Elf's flowing stone robes, leading up into the stonework. Kae pours pure shrine water on the vines, and they spring back to life, growing and entering the holes in the statue. As they do so, the statue relaxes its bow-arm and lowers the bow.

The party heads North along the trail. After a short distance, they come upon another clearing, although this one is darker and surrounded by more dead plants. The remains of a fragmented skeleton lie at the end of the path, its head pinned to a tree on the far side of the clearing by a three-foot-long arrow obviously fired by the statue behind them. Half a dozen skeletons are milling around armed with longswords, so the group engages them. Typhus makes sure Ret gets out there and fights, so he can keep an eye on him. Kae tries pouring some of the pure fountain water over one of the skeletons; it has no effect on the undead directly, although as the water hits the ground the grass grows up and entwines the skeleton, restricting its movements. The skeletons are quickly destroyed, and the group moves on to the North.

They discover a large clearing surrounded by dead trees, the forest wall choked with enormous thorny vines. At the North end lies a paved square pond, from where the black water appears to be bubbling forth. It runs out of a channel and forms a vile stream flowing South. Next to the pool stands a massive gnarled tree; despite having its roots in the stream, it appears to have some semblance of life.

Kae approaches the tree, and one of its branches - long, jagged, and spiked at the tip - lunges from the foliage to stab at him. He evades it, and as the others follow he dashes over to the stream and pours pure spring-water from his flask onto one of its roots. The tree shudders, and the root turns crystal-white. More branches reach down and attack as Snowfall joins in. The paladin pours holy water onto the remaining roots, with similar effect! Typhus lightning-blasts the trunk and catches a couple of the branches, but has little effect. In return, he is stabbed by one of the mobile limbs and passes out, the tree also draining some of his life-force.

They use the last of the water on the roots to cut the tree off from the dark stream, and some of its spiked limbs start drooping. They fight the two remaining branches until Ret manages to split both of them with his dagger! Now disarmed, the evil tree slumps and dies. Disappointingly for Kae, his giant axe had little effect.

South-East of the dark spring, they find an area of foul-smelling bog. Run-off from the dark stream has created a poisoned swamp. They decide that it's not worth the trouble, and head back around the other way. Kae suggests they try using the pure fountain water to revive Typhus, but it has no apparent effect on people (other than making him very clean). Snowfall uses medical and magical skills to return him to health.

East of the shrine, they find a clearing with a strange tree in the centre. It appears to be living, but the branches have grown into a tangled sphere, as though woven around something. The branches are woven too tightly for them to see all the way in, although there does appear to be a mysterious glow inside the tree. Typhus advocates using the black water to make the tree wither and die, thus revealing the item within. Kae protests, saying he would rather respect this Elven place and not kill the tree unnecessarily. Ret volunteers to worm his way through the brances into the heart of the tree, and does so without getting stuck. There he finds a beautifully carved Elven bow of golden wood, and climbs safely back out of the tree with it.

To the South lies a hedge maze. Kae tries to mark a trail by dragging his axe along the ground, but Typhus realises that the maze's walls are shifting around them. The wizard takes the lead and guides the group through.

On the other side of the maze lies a clearing with a square pool, the mirror opposite of the one to the North. The plants are all in fine health, and the tree overlooking the pool is massive and green. As the party approach, however, a wall of brambles springs up across the clearing, denying them access to the pool. A booming voice tells them they should not be here. It turns out the tree is home to a dryad, who is the guardian of the Tomb of Eladrin, buried under the pure spring. They coax her out so they can talk face to face
, and convince her they only want to leave. Once they tell her they've slain the dark tree, she agrees to help them leave if they can purify the black spring - the Tomb of Laguna, Eladrin's lover, who was cursed by a necromancer. They do so. In the newly purified pool, they find a Wand of Vines. They return to the dryad, who rewards them with Eladrin's Cloak of the Marksman. She gives them herbs that will awaken their sleeping comrades.

They return to the shrine and awaken Novim and Angus. Everyone returns to the normal world, where it is dawn, and discovers the shrine is being approached by an orc warband who must have been using the shrine as a staging post!

The orcs are suspicious because the sentries they left at the shrine haven't answered their calls. They fan out and approach as the group hides to varying degrees, but some are soon spotted and the orcs rush in. Four archers take pot-shots from a distance, but most of the fighting takes place inside the ruin. Typhus blasts lightning as the orcs rush him. Kae engages the orc leader, and fights him toe-to-toe for the whole battle in an epic struggle! Snowfall provides melee support, and uses the Wand of Vines to entangle a few orcs who are then fried by Typhus. Ret sneaks through the forest and assassinates one of the archers, then engages his partner in close combat and strikes him down as he attempts to flee. Typhus uses the Staff of Skulls to raise one of the fallen orcs. The two remaining archers turn to flee when one of them accidentally hits their leader with an ill-aimed shot! With the rest of the orcs gone, everyone gangs up on the war-chief and he finally falls.

The party is now thinking of returning to Dryfield, to see if they can get any more useful information out of the bard. 

>>> Session 4