Rob Donoghue Profile picture
Agile Nerd, Bag Nerd, Pen Nerd, Productivity Nerd and RPG Nerd (sense a theme?) Game Designer. Co-Founder of Evil Hat. Intermittently verbose.
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22 Aug
Thinking out loud through somewhat crunchier Blades in the Dark Style combat. Stepping away from narrative for the moment and thinking about fights and effects.
At the heart of the system we have a 4 tiered resolution system. The 4 tiers map to harm (Minor, Medium, Serious and fatal) in approximately the same way they map to filling clocks. The dual track of health complicated it, but the structure is pretty workable.
So when w treat harm as mechanical, it begins at some level and is modified up and down by circumstance - abilities, stance, stuff like that.
Read 22 tweets
17 Jul
So, here's a counterintuitive pitch - The excess of games is a reason for you to *raise* the price of your game, not lower it. Especially online.

Why this is counterintuitive: Simple scarcity, right? More games should be pushing prices down!

RPGs have decades of fear based pricing behind them. We're underpriced by every metric imaginable because of this (and we also underpay as a result). Compare an RPG book to any comparable product in another field and the price delta is HUGE.
But the FEAR has always been that introducing a barrier to adoption would (like fair pricing) might scare people off, and our sense/fear has always been that people are EASILY scared off.

Read whatever psychology you want into that. It's a rich vein, but I'm not gonna touch it.
Read 58 tweets
15 Jul
Thinking a little bit about mechanics for taking out characters and the logic of hit point lead to a thought experiment: What if every D&D character had the "the first time you got to zero HP, you go to 1HP" ability?
Seems kind of random, I know, but it would actually be a pretty substantial change because what it would mean is that so long as you have HP, you can take ONE MORE HIT.

And, critically, it makes that state of "out of HP" more discrete.
That state intrigues me. A few games get into the idea of negative health to reflect this "danger zone", and I'm very fond of Quests "Zero HP does not cause consequences, but makes you VULNERABLE" to consequences.
Read 15 tweets
13 Jul
Random clever thing Quest does:

In the Mad Lib situation generator, LOCATION is always defined as being between two other places of note.

Sounds super simple, and it is, but it's also a very clever trick to insure geographic context is considered.
By default, the idea is the dangers place between two not-dangerous places (probably cities) but the technique can be quickly applied to ANY location to make it better.

It's a super quick mental exercise to try out - just think of a place, ANY place, then put it between things
There are no right answers for scale. One of the places CAN be where you are right now, but doesn't HAVE to be.

And more interestingly, I *suspect* it's not particularly mentally taxing based on how we build memories - this just hangs off the existing place.
Read 7 tweets
11 Jul
As expected, Quest was a quick read. I mean no sleight when I say I think the game falls short of the product. The game is not bad, but the product is truly next-level.

I can definitely see it as a first game for many a player. Less certain about a first game for a GM.
The character classes are nicely vivid. In a touch I greatly appreciate, each class (sorry, Role) has a number of ability lists. These are short, non-branching and progressive (so you need Stomcaller #1 to get #2 and so on). They are *Available*
That is, you start with 6 of these things, and the deepest lists only go 4 or 5 deep. There is no arbitrary capping to the bottom - if you want to start out with one of these maxed out? GO FOR IT.

That's delightful.
Read 21 tweets
28 Jun
Here is a weird, old man thing that haunts my thinking.

Prior to D&D, to my mind, there was a high, hard wall between D&D and all other RPGs. Or, I suppose more technically, between TSR and all other RPGs.
It is weird to think about in retrospect. I mean, there were absolutely plenty of not-D&D games, some of which got pretty big. And there were some real oddballs that popped up from time to time on the D&D side of the TSR wall.
But it was totally look but don't touch. Go nuts in your home game maybe - no one resents your three inch binder of house rules, because that's pretty normal - but you're not going to enter this space.
Read 10 tweets
27 Jun
Great talk with the Little Dude about where Tarrasques come from, and once I explained that half the fun is that you get to decide for your game, he had TONS of ideas.

Was a great illustration of how what you leave out *is* a genuinely powerful and important design element.
In giving me a lot of useful information, but leaving the origin as intentionally vague, the design created a fruitful opportunity.

Good design!
If, in contrast, the design had omitted some of it's stats, or had not given it abilities to make it's play effectiveness match its story, that would have been a clear miss. It would have been crappy design.
Read 22 tweets
25 Jun
I totally busted threading, so I'll reset a bit and note that I am reading Swords of the Serpentine by @multiplexer and @KevinKulp - it is not actually out yet, but if you pre-order through Pelgrane, there's a pre-layout version.
If by chance you are unfamiliar with this game (which has also been called "gumthews", despite that name not surviving the actual market) it's Sword and Sandal (think Conan) using the Gumshoe system.
Kevin was the brain behind the delightful Timewatch RPG (also Gumshoe) and if you don't know @multiplexer....well, ok, so you know how I sometimes do long threads on things like Food in Duskvol and what it means?

That is what Emily sounds like ALL THE TIME, and it's AWESOME.
Read 204 tweets
25 Jun
Practical upshot of stopping doing terrible things:

Evil is incredibly useful in D&D. Having the setting slap the label of evil on things simplifies things for players and GMs in concrete, practical gameplay ways.
For players, it removes the complexity around the fact that their jobs are largely of the violence and murder delivery sort.

For GMs, it allows the shortest possible path to a plot, because "Stop Evil" is a fantastic all-purpose motivation.
"Stop Evil" is rarely a position that players will argue with or surprise you about, and it drives action in a simple, predictable way.

Intrinsically evil orcs allows the GM to literally say "There are orcs here" and now it's a plot to resolve with violence!
Read 29 tweets
18 Jun
From tonight's Miro board for the Blade's game.
So, last session, a smaller gang crossed the Hive (or, rather, definitely APPEARED to cross the Hive) and were themselves crossed out. This created an opportunity, as their headquarters was some quality real estate, and was abruptly unclaimed, so the race was on.
The crew descended on it in force, and got a 6 on the engagement roll, so they were the first ones there in any kind of force so they managed to set themselves up to hold the place, made a fake deed and so on.
Read 21 tweets
24 May
Ok, different topic: Building Height in Blades in the Dark.

So, the first skyscrapers (or "tall buildings") went up in the mid-to-late 1800s, enabled by improvements in steel, elevators and concrete. They were ~10-12 stories tall at the outset. 100 stories wasn't till the 30s
As I understand it, the big difference was the switch from self-supporting masonry to an iron framework providing support for the building. This is particularly interesting to me in Duskvol for a couple reasons.
The first of these went up in Chicago, in part because the great fire had made space for it. This point is of particular note to me because Duskvol certainly has the TECH for skyscrapers, but *space* is at a premium.
Read 24 tweets
9 May
I am reminded that there is nothing you can say is good on Twitter that someone does not take as an attack on everything else.

I don't say this with any anger, it's something I should remember, but let's take it and run with it a bit in terms of theft and RPG design.
I am of the opinion that if you want to do a thing, especially if you want to make a thing, it is good to be exposed to the thing. It's not necessary - lots of things are not strictly necessary - but it has a lot of upsides. So I encourage it.
And, to reveal my own emotional stance, if you are adamantly opposed to doing so, I am going to give you the side-eye, because I am very skeptical of anyone who has nothing to learn.

This may be unfair, and I'm sorry if so, but I don't have a working alternative.
Read 33 tweets
21 Feb
Read the thread. Stras is right.

Which is why I'm just gonna be a total jerk and also disagree.

Evidence suggests we absolutely *can* expect people to wade through hundreds of pages to get to "the good parts", despite that making no sense at all.

To me, that's fascinating.
It invokes the question of *why* people are willing to do that.

There are a few not-compelling reasons. There were times when that was the only option, sure, and even today it can be a habit in some circles. But those are the dull answers.
Another more interesting answer is that friction invests us. When things are harder to get into, we feel greater attachment because we have been through the gauntlet and *earned* knowledge.

That absolutely has a place in games. No question.
Read 11 tweets
5 Feb
So, this gets mentioned sometimes, but it probably merits re-mention. There are some wonderful Kathy Sierra article which were super important to the thinking that went into Evil Hat from the outset. Can still be found… and…
The premise can be summed up as this: If you make something for everyone, then no one is going to be excited about it. Making a product which genuinely excites 20% of your potential market and pisses off another 20% is a better position to be in than to be ok to everyone.
This can be counterintuitive, because there is a strong impulse to try to sell to *everybody*, but the math actually supports this. Unless you are a monopoly, you are never going to capture the WHOLE market, so you want to find a slice where you're going to get traction.
Read 19 tweets
31 Jul 19
I was thinking about the small movement that thinks there was a conspiracy to keep the Battle Angel Alita movie from being recognized as a True Masterpiece: I’d been thinking about it as just kind of funny, but it struck me - I wonder if that is actually someone training a model.
I am not a machine learning guy, but a Wikipedia level understanding includes the idea of throwing a crapload of data at a model in a way that lets it improve. This usually means better analysis, but it can have other ends.
But if one looks at the iterative nature of modern propaganda machines (such as viewing GG as the trial run for the MAGA push) then if you were someone who built these systems, you’d WANT learning models, but how would you get them? Dumb, micro movement s like this seem ideal.
Read 19 tweets
23 Jul 19
Further into Mistborn, I am really boggled that I have not seen it’s style of magic in more games. It’s cadence is remarkably playable.
Specifically, the :actions: of the magic are very explicable. Describing these actions (mostly) requires only very specific, simple verbs to translate into easily described actions. That is :gold: at the table.
So, linguistically, to use magic in Mistborn, you “burn” the power source and something happens. Why does this matter? Because it is cause and effect without an intermediate step. There is no
1) draw on magic
2) do something magical

It’s just one action. That’s super robust.
Read 9 tweets
23 Jul 19
By the end of the #technoir session it looked like this - probably going to finale next session,
Some of the age is visible in #technoir’s rules but the good parts shine. @fredhicks noted that parts of it sync with my GMing style because the mechanics can be highly conversational (which is my instinctive approach).
@fredhicks It’s ultimately a dice pool system (Though, thankfully, a quickly resolved one), which means it supports many possible inputs. I kind of abused the red dice (which complicate things but don’t increase difficulty directly) but doing so made them sing.
Read 4 tweets
26 Jun 19
Reminded that the Microsoft ebook store closes next week. The DRM'd books will stop working.

I cannot believe that sentence.

"The books will stop working."

I keep saying it and it sounds worse each time.
There will be refunds, and reasonable voice says to me it's just business, but the book voice wants to burn it all down.

I'm kind of with the book voice on this one.
Read 11 tweets
26 Jun 19
This is true, but I want to give a challenge:

The *easy* solution is to think of b plots as "hooks for one character".

Those are C plots.

Your B plots should engage *at least* two characters. Don't force it to engage them all - rather, just rely on the ragged edges.
Magged edge means using multiple overlapping subgroups to cover the whole.

So if I have characters A, B and C, my A plot should engage all of them, but if I have 3 B Plots that engage AB, BC and AC, then with 4 plots I have just brought a HUGE level of very organic engagement.
"Plots" being used very loosely here to cover a multitude of gaming elements.

Also, the ABC example is both tidy and comprehensive, but add one more character and it will be messy by necessity, and that's good.
Read 17 tweets
17 Jun 19
I admit, I was really surprised to hear the CP2077 game is leaning so hard into the humanity concept. It’s always been a clunky idea and a crude balancing mechanic, and while there are ways to make it work, “the unaltered body is sacred” is not a great one.
Honestly, I had expected the publisher to just breeze past this one on the strength of their Witcher 3 writing chops.

I mean, that’s double edged. I love W3, but I will not pretend it’s flawless. But I’m kind of hoping for about the same level of flawed.
It’s an interesting illustration of the power of words.

So, if you’re unfamiliar, the idea from the RPG is that every piece of cyberware costs you a certain amount of “humanity” and if you take too much, you get “Cyber-psychosis” or things otherwise go very bad.
Read 20 tweets
1 Jun 19
One little point on Safety & Communication tools in games.

These are not weird SJW ideas, these are things that get serious investment from business and government in the interest of high functioning teams and badass warriors.

It’s serious stuff and worth catching up with.
You’re not obliged to take games seriously.

But if you do (and I do) then safety & communication are simply practical concerns, like logistics, scheduling and snacks. They’re not a source for drama, they’re just good practices.
This is not because it helps anyone else (though it does). It’s because it’s how we help ourselves. These things lead to better interactions and better play, and their payoff is substantial.

I don’t need to exaggerate this. It’s genuinely very basic stuff.
Read 16 tweets