Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Warfare Notes

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

So I've been listening to Tyrant Series, I just finished funeral games and I'm now in King of the Bosphoros. I started reading all the Wikipedia about the Diadochi and all related articles. Christian Cameron and the Wikipedia has helped make these successor wars very interesting. Particularly the evolution of the Cavalry and Specialized unit roles. 

I find myself revising a lot of my understandings on man-power regarding some of the units. Basically the economics and psycho-mechanics of these units. Here are some key take aways: 
  • Edit: From feedback from Ian Borchardt
    • Pikemen, Halberders, Spearmen, swordsmen, etc... are all heavy infantry. the circumstancial modifiers will be detailed in my Warfare notes. 
    • Professional/regular vs Conscript Forces/iregular are 2 : 1 better. Trade-offs and circumstantial bonus based on their equipment and training.  Veteran and Elite are 2:3 meaning Elite is only marginally better but can 
    • With Open terrain where Regular vs Irregular have 2 vs 1 odds.  
      • In GURPS mass combat there is Troop Strength. It doesnt really have any mechanic to represent Flexibility and Adaptability that comes with a well drilled machine and the cumbersomeness of some tactics. The closest work around is to give it conditional penalties when it comes to being flexible or adaptable or giving conditional advantages to other units who exploit their inflexibility/in-adaptability. 
      • Wedge formation. Will be modeled as an Risky and Aggressive maneuver. Well armored units (and those with shields) are better at it than other units. Whats great about it is destroying cohession of the opposing unit and getting to more vulnerable units past it. 
    • Regular would be 5x in cost and time to train and equip than Irregular (especially because of half of the cost and time will be Overhead to reach Regular status. 
  • Heavy Infantry is not a unit but more of a role. A role that requires a lot of discipline and training.  
    • The Hoplite or the Roman Legionaire are heavy infantry. Special Unit Qualities:
      • Heavy to Light Shield
      • Heavy to Light Armored
      • Sword (defaults to Short sword)
      • Spear
      • Pike
      • Pole or Great weapon
      • Great, Strong, and Skirmishing Ranged
      • Shock or Skirmishing
      • Heavy (Closed formation), Medium (small group formations), to Light (Open Formation). 
    • Shock Action as well as taking the brunt of shock action are parts of the Role. The byzantines called heavy infantry Defensores. Many armies depended on the role as an a morale anchor. 
      • Taking the brunt of a Shock action is harder and takes more discipline.
      • Charging to become the "shock action" is easier which is why more expendable Auxilia can be made to do it. (the Kurasores)
    • So there will be Heavy "Armored" Infantry or Heavy Infantry Role to be more clear. 
    • In GURPS Mass Combat Troop Strength can be further simplified with the following tool (which I'm using with Open Warfare system). 
      • Ignore the previous TS method. 
      • Start counting the (Professional) Warriors. You can set that as your TS of 1 per warrior. So 1,000 trained warriors is a TS 1000. 
        • The most important table is the Relative TS Table. Relative TS table 
          • next is the class superiority modifier. 
          • limit to 2-3 key modifying circumstance modifiers. do not get too bogdown with
        • Equipment. This is a conditional multiplier the way Special Classes superiority gives modifiers to the roll. If the Force has the Equipment superiority for the situation then they get the Special Class superiority.  
        • Experience Level. consider the warrior the benchmark of quality of troop. non warriors count as 0.3TS, TS1.5 for veteran, to Elite of TS2, to a max of TS3 for heroes. 
      •  this simplifies the situation to:
        • what are the forces engaging? 
          • no. and quality (which is the TS)
        • what is the circumstances (who has superiority)?
          • terrain, position, 
          • their respective maneuvers, 
          • equipment
          • condition, initiative
        • roll and check combat results table. 
  • Remounts have a very very tangible effect in the Cavalry. The biomechanics of horses are very similar to humans, you can't expect them to carry a rider for more 4-6 hours (depending on horse's quality) without risking injury or getting injured if they go all-out. 
    • There are some serious problems of making it reflect in GURPS mass combat mechanics. In fact mounted combat has been very hard to model, and only recently with games like Mount and blade, simulations in Total War, and books like those of Flavius Arrianus being recently getting the rounds  reworking a lot of the notions of how Mounted combat works. Allowing GMs to stress it as an advantage. 
  • Any economic entity mechanics have to be pretty abstract as to leave the details of land usage, and focuses on the final products of a particular area. 
    • Further readings and the limitations of Historical knowledge would be a great and helpful set of directions to get people to see for themselves. 
    • The KPIs of the region can be a long list, but can have an order of details. Some details are more important and others are just dressing that help in immersion. A handy guide would be helpful because the details can be overwhelming (and powerfully immersive).
    • So far I've figured out much of Roman and Greek systems. Trying to figure out  Persian and Near East traditions, as well as Chinese traditions. 
  • Warfare system needs a checklist. The first checklist being: what are the Assets/Resources, and how they are employed/deployed. 
    • then comes the overhead, logistics, and support of these resources. 
    • step by step: from simplest combat in a narrative formula to levels of details.
  • Much of Chinese warfare is conscripts as r/k strategies. It became much clearer when the profile of heavy infantry became more apparent and universal in many of my studies. They did have shields but The Art of War by Thomas Cleary the commentaries by the other generals stressed on conscripts infantry. 
    • Its possible to have no heavy infantry units, especially given the population and man power in chinese history.  Its kind of telling how sun tzu resorts to tricking his own men and putting them in desperate situations vs western tradition of heroic combat.  Just my pet theory, googling around for contrary opinions (because that would mean I could find a heavy infantry). Their halberdiers arent exactly heavy infantry, still open to ideas. 
    • There is a possibility there were Heavy Infantry in the Warring States. But the Qiin must have killed them off. 
Currently Reading
  • People Land and Politics Demographic developments and transformation of roman itally 300 BCE to 14 CE Luuk de Ligt and SJ Nortwood 
  • The Beginnings of Rome Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars 1000 to 264 BCE by TJ Cornell
  • A History of the Roman World HH Scullard and TJ Cornell
  • Hanson The Other Greeks The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization
  • Women in the Ancient World The Arethusa Papers SUNY series in Classical Studies by John Perdaotto and JP Sullivan
  • Ancient Chinese Warfare Ralph D. Sawyer
  • The Roman Empire Economy Society and Culture by Peter Garnesy and Richard Saller 
  • The Roman market Economy by Peter Temin
  • Ancient Mesopotamia New Perspectives by Peter Knight
  • Millet Cultivation in China by Francesca Bray
  • Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece by Victor Davis Hanson
  • Rome at War Farm Family and Death in the Middle Republic by Nathan Rosenstein 
  • History of the ROman Legion (a self published book in google play that is very poorly sourced but aggregates a lot of secondary sources)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

what I miss about gaming

what free time I have is being on call with the new baby. Otherwise its trying to corral my son to do his homework or pull him from the vice grip of youtube. if not that it would be so many other things like studies, errands, chores, and obligations. I dont think there would be more freetime until my son is old enough to have the self control to do his own "character building" exercises (if he has my attention problems then that would be all through his teens lolz).

What i miss first off is the World Building. Particularly fleshing out people and places based on recently learned psycho-mechanics Economics, Logistics, Risk, Behavior, and Operations. As a Player being part of a GM's world building = creating the tables (or automated spreadsheets) that would help flesh out the Setting and Populate it with characters that meet the variability and predictability of various demographic studies that explains so much of the world to me. 

Then there is the Character Building. While I consider groups or communities as part of world building, parties or cadres or (what has been popularized currently) squads of personalities and their dynamics, conflicts, and failures of coordination (in wants, motives, needs they are not aware of etc..).

So alot of my reading has been World Building Inspirational.
Recently I've had the Tyrant Series and the Long War by Christian Cameron as inspiration. I learned to appreciate intrigue and political from GRRM, I learned to appreciate Classical Antiquity as a setting with Christian Cameron. I went through his bibliography, and found the Other Greeks, particularly Hanson Victor Davis as a source of other material. I discovered Shelly Waschmann's Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age levant (not yet read but looking for a copy) at the end of Salamis (Book 5 of the long war).
These got me thinking of Bronze Age era, particularly past lectures Ancient Empires Before Alexander, and Origin of Civilization. Thanks to wikipedia I was able to reread and find more books on the matter: Basically read all the stuff on Bronze Age, Mesopotamia, Sargon of Akkad, Medes, and all the entries related that dealt with Civilizations. Then I went farther back with the Neolitihic Wikipedia Article where I discovered Aşıklı Höyük in Central AnatoliaGöbekli Tepe in Turkey (check out Kurzegsagt in youtube) the date for the Holocene calendar that marks human civilization at 12,016.

Christian Camerons difference of opinion with Victor Davis Hanson got me thinking about Agriculture and carrying capacity. leading me to study the literature on Agricuture again, from the wikipedia to source books. A world building exercise that got me thinking about the fraglity of their economy and the need for trade (and empire to cement it).
Christian Cameron got me to start thinking about Hema again. but More of HMA (not centrally focused on ) Manchuarchery.org's article on the Last Manchu Archer got me thinking about incorporating archery to my Hiit Routine and of course thinking more about Archer characters. So did Nikolas Tomihama and his Backyard Bowyer give some ideas in practicing archery with such a small space.

Current events was depressing and in the philippines we have terrible unimplementable laws. the discovery and understanding that we exist in this fragile state that confidence in the law leads to order, but if we look closely at how easily it is to game and how hard it is to fix, and how difficult it is for even to perform actions that move things (not just protests). Drug addicts or even drug criminality related people are considered subhuman, and can be killed without repercussion has gotten me to read up on a lot of laws, the terribly written constitution of the philippines, and more about the analysis of various groups that really go down to investigate the problems. The Philippine center of investigative journalism do their due dilligence more than most, Rappler comes second and the mainstream media here is just click bait (no sources or actionable items).The logic of political survival has come into my reading list.

On some lighter reading all the fitness related articles in Wikipedia. I highly recommend strength training and overtraining, and taking note of all the Psychomechanical interplay of those exercise articles with Taylorism/Scientific management. Reading it along with all the Management Sciences like Arthur V. Hills Encylopdia of Operations, Books on Lean Management, and as I'm delving deep into more Production Manufacturing books is coloring and detailing another part of the world for me. When I think about a filipino laborer and "productivity" i realize what little rest they have comes from a light hand and a well experienced technician who plans very well (which makes their rest comes from the incompetence of their leaders). an interesting picture since I apply it to Corve labor and that in my low tech studies.

I've started watching and studying the biomechanics of the HMA and archery. Particularly with the other notes of work sciences in mind. Of course this gets the gears of imagination working about what kind of character I would like and what kind of life he would have had or can have. Its brought me to thinking of the training more and more, and the painfully slow improvement and how mindset plays in the improvement (it doesnt feel slow to me, it happens when various things fall right and to expect that with certain lifepaths - like a family man on call will have serious limitaitons to meet this). Another key thing I think about its "Making Time" for me and my character. I realize elaborating our priorities doesnt get to the bottom of what we really prioritize unless time, pressure, and others make us realize what our real priorities is. and when I think of characters having a misleading idea of what their priorities are I wonder how to model it in the game and how players may not like that level of complexity.

It will be a while when I realistically have the time to game and even get into world building again. I would really love to flesh out a world with my new knowledge because thats how I memorize it and make it part of me: get new knowledge and reframe and rewrite it again and again till i have a portable model I can carry with me or a model I can tuck away in my notes and decompress when I need it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Core Mechanics can get complicated.

I almost take for-granted how complicated the basic mechanics can be:

Determine relevant Scores or Stats for the roll. This has a lot of implied knowledge. They can be intuitive but when you go down to nitty-gritty there are counter intuitive exceptions to everything and there are ways to frame and approach a problem or challenge.

It gets complicated since there are so many ways to frame the scene, narrative, problem, challenge, and situation and the practice that comes in rearranging Facts to frame something in a manipulative way. It may lead down the rabbit hole of Non-Fiction Writing techniques, Cognitive Biases, Arguments, and even (legal) Objections.

Determine the Situational Modifiers or Scope of Objective of the roll. Determine if the Character has any relevant modifiers from his capabilities, the environmental's or timing's or circumstantial modifiers, and then the Scope of the objective - relative to the resources and time that an action or roll.

One thing that is not usually comes up unless the GM plays Hard Mode is going into the details of the Cost or Opportunity Cost of the Action. Does it consume time, patience of another person or relationship credit, and consumable materials and how each attempt alters the circumstances.

Determine the Consequences of the Roll. If failure, success, or set backs happen. There is the Game's System way to resolve it and there is the best way to resolve it based on the story, the player, the party, and the long game of enjoying the hobby.

Then there is elements of Risk and Chance. if you've heard of a GM who killed a PC on rolling a 1 lighting a torch on a D20, after a basic review on Risk (reading wikiarticles on Probablity, OSHA, and system processes) this becomes something someone more informed would not do. And by Informed this can mean 3000-30k worth of words bits of data of Informed.

Something as Basic as Core or Basic Mechanics can get pretty complicated. so my Gming gdoc keeps getting longer

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

World Building is a Skill

It was only recently I realized World building as a Skill. As a skill it has many components with the goal making an immersive setting. Immersive settings have many traits that make it so: ideals, mechanics (it has laws that can be acceptable or makes sense), and engages us in many levels.

To some gamers, like myself, Science and the understanding the world we live in all contributes to my World building. When I read about current events, cultures, people, economics, psychology, history, politics, etc... all contribute to my World Building because I work these all in the narrative and details of the worlds I make.

Other gamers find Literature, Stories, Characters, ironies, tragedies, sufferings, Ideologies, human virtues, etc... are more the focus of their World building. We all have very different values and focus or clarity in an aspect of the world we live in that make it engaging to us and we reflect that back into our World Building.

Understanding the Fantasy

below are a couple of key information I try to look for that is absent in most RPGs. While most RPGs deal with Characters and Peoples, i like looking at demography and economics. With these two very broad elements the world becomes more real for me.

Currently my studies are about the Axial Age in 5-4C BCE China and Hellio Centric World (from the Balkans to India) and their economies and demography. I'm butchering Middle Ages data to create my made up data for this era. A mixed blessing that I'm too busy to play but I can do some research into some worthwhile answers to these questions. 


Demography helps in painting a picture of the population and the kind of life the people lived. It gets the world builder quickly into what matters and the mortality of the population. 
  1. Child mortality, ex. ~33% before reaching the age of 5 in pre modern times and in poor undeveloped states and regions. 
  2. Maternal Death ex. 20%. It makes one think of the role and value of women and mothers in society. their challenges and risks. 
  3. Median average life expectancy. Ex. mid-40s. this limits the ages of the characters and gets the players thinking of what maturity means. 
  4. Median Population Age, Family starting age, 
  5. Family Size 
Useful sources
  1. Dorsey Armstrong The Medieval World (i forgot her sources)
  2. Life Expectancy in the Middle Ages (quick search on the web)

Basic Economics

At the most basic level, economics deals with the reality of having to prioritize where the next meals is going to come from and what it is going to taste like. Tackling the most basic elements of the economy: food production and the patterns and exchanges make deviations to the norm all the more special. It also allows the world builders to frame the risk, rewards, transactions, value, and
  1. What is the most common crop and why?
  2. What is the output of land to weight of crop produced, in its basic usable form?
  3. What is the amount of man days it takes to Prepare and Harvest the land?
  4. What is the supplementary diet of the people?
  5. What is the sizes of the household?
  6. What is the cost of living? What are their buying and spending habits, what do people spend on which they shouldn't, and what are their key economic virtues and practices?
  7. What are the Patrons, the Elite, Indentured Servants, Servants, Slaves, and Clients like?
  8. What is their technology like?

Useful Sources

Friday, November 25, 2016

Table-top Role Playing Game Knowledge Bits or Skills

I was supposed to write about making Mass Combat or Warfare easier but I realized I needed to tackle elements of TRPGs. I can’t make warfare easier if we cannot define and limit the scope of what such a game can be about. Identifying what makes games different in how we play is one thing, the next is breaking down the little skills that make up playing TRPGs.


  1. We can categorize and enumerate the skills, techniques, mechanics, and means in playing and running TRPGs. I'll be using the term mechanics since it seems adequately broad to describe both the rules, opportunities, conditions, and options players and the GM tend to learn.  
  2. We have a scarce capacity in the things we can do in preparing and learning to play TRPGs.


  1. That we can plan how better to spend our time, in what TRPG elements we are pursuing..


So to make this less overwhelming and easier to do, here is an example of a breakdown and tools to measure. Another example of a knowledge, technique, or skill breakdown is this GMing skill list I've been working on for a year.  I didn't do everything in one go, all of it (if you can check the document history) is a little at a time. What makes it look like a lot of work is that I have one bucket and I just dump and dump everything I learned: from stupid, basic, incomplete, and esoteric into it.

In case you dont check out the links and the details I worked on, you can still build you won list of stuff relating to TRPGs and plan out what is the best use of your time. I didnt put it in this post because it would be too much of a deep dive and the post serves better to just make you consider all the things you'd want to learn, understand, identify and master when running games. If you have a problem of having too much game in the brain then this more organized approach will help optimize your time and effort. So you can more easily pick up and put down the hobby when real life gets in the way, like the family gamers who have a little too much to juggle.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How we game

Finding out how we game as objectively and precisely as possible would mean a lot of self reflection, note-taking, and feedback from your players or Gms.

This is my notes on how I have observed others, myself (recording through hanouts on air, video, and exporting it to audio and listening to it), and experimentation on determining how we game.

I can say that there are two primary activities in running a TRPG and that is: Role-playing and Gaming. Roleplaying is the activities that are made up of Immersion, storytelling, visualization, drama, etc... Gaming is the simpler and faster paced feedback cycle that happens between players and GM.

These two elements blend together to make a game, and are rarely are they so extreme as to be divorced from the other. There is interplay with the most extreme of Role-playing and Storytelling, and there is a story and immersion in the most gaming focused activities in a session.

How are they measured:

We measure Roleplaying by measuring the amount of time we take getting into character, playing off each other’s character, “role-playing”, storytelling, and pursuing scenes to push one of the many story streams in the game forward (either the game’s over-arcing narrative, each player’s personal narrative, the narrative of the world, their adversary etc...).

We measure the Gaming by the amount of Feedback and Adaptation we do in the game and its circumstances. We normally measure it in the amount of combat we have in the session, but it can also mix with the other high action events where the Players feedback quickly between the circumstance or adversary or each other.

How the two are used:

Usinig these two conventions, we can use them to do the following:
  1. How we spend our time playing. to look at the amount of time we, the players, or the gm, spend their time in each one.
  2. Preferences. It helps track preferences and tailor the game more for all those participating.
  3. Focus. It helps focus on geting the most enjoyment when we transition or vasilate between the two.
  4. Description. It helps describe and work on a variety of blends of the two.


  1. Immersion. Lettiing the Players (and even the GM) get into character and the setting.
  2. Storytelling. When one of the many story streams in the game gets focus, relevance, moved forward, influences other stories, and becomes the one of the causes of the circumstance, happenings and events.
  3. Spotlight. Giving the Player or part of the story some focus. Particularly pushing the story forward. It clarifies and expresses the story, giving it the chance to get deeper in the immersion, and make events and action have more impact.
  4. Emotion and Empathy. Role-playing is an opportunity to display, express, and to feel a particular emotional tone for the scene and story. It takes time for certain emotions to be felt and expressed, and Role-playing builds to that opportunity.


  1. Interaction. Gaming is notable when the Players, Setting or World, NPCs, etc... adapt to each other. Their actions feed back and change the situation.
  2. Tension and Conflict. When events get complicated, setting up risks and threats, and incentives and penalties.
  3. Uncertainty. Uncertainty is one of the sources of conflict which muddies the situation and makes threats, penalties, pain, and peril disproportionately worse. Ambiguity also does this, leaving the quantity and quality of any threat or danger unknown and left to the sensitivities of bias and emotion.
  4. Small Wins. When the feedback gives small wins or gains. Small wins can also be some mental closure on other matters.
  5. Clarity and Simplification. Like the benefit of mental closure, there is the simplification of some issues, information that removes ambiguity, sharpening of focus on priorities or action. New information or events may give clarity, simplification, or focus.

What this post does not answer or help with:

  1. Defining how one really plays and how flexible their prefences are. These are arbitrary tools and conventions, and it does not apply to all or many not apply to most. Its hypothetical. Tools by which to self examine and improve are found in other books – particularly in self improvement books that work with practical activity instead of motivation and emotion.
  2. Defining the various mixes of the two. The mixed versions of them would be:
  3. Mass Combat or Warfare Focused Games. The story and roleplaying with large groups, the scale that goes with such groups (conquering more and more people, places, treasures, and affecting more of the world).
  4. Intrigue and Social Games. Games that have a very particular blend of Gaming and Role-playing when Emotion, Expression, and Relationships are to tools of conflict and conquest.
  5. Logistics and how it can be given the elements of both Game and Role-playing (Story).


Feedback is the limit by which we can know ourselves and surroundings. If I dont express and know how it tests against reality then I would never know what would be better or best. Feel free to give some feed back, ask, or comment.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Conditional Success, Significant Actions

Conditional Success is basically replacing failure with an Extreme cost for Success. The Margin of Failure determined how much it would have cost to succeed and if the Player or Party are willing to pay that cost.
System Agnostic. You can apply this to any game system (better with bell curve dice systems). I recommend Squaring the margin of Failure as the Cost of Success on bell curve dice system or square then half when using a d20.
How this is resolved is basically the Player rolls to attempt to perform the Task, Action or Activity but on a failure realizes there is more work and cost to making it work given his circumstances. It can be multiple attempts built in, much more work and resources needed because of the variables of the circumstance, timing, particularities of the scope of work, etc...

Usefulness. The main reason behind the mechanic are the following:
1) Pacing - the feedback loop of the Roll does not end with the player knowing if they Failed, it now becomes a much harder and ambiguous question:
          i) can I pay the cost of success.
          ii) is it worth it? is success at this point worth it?
          iii) what are my opportunity costs?
          iv) the player has more agency since they can make more of a call instead of having to ask the GM what can he do about it.
2) Heightened Tension. Because of how it leaves an ambiguous answer that requires more thought on the Player it affects the tension. Uncertainty and Ambiguity ramps up tensions (and frustration of players) used skillfully it adjusts level of tension for the players.

This mechanic requires the GM to recallibrate how the System deterines what is a Significant Action.

Significant Actions

the 2 min rule  of David Allen's getting shit done, Kal Newports Deepwork on 4-6 hours concentration blocks, the definition of Shallow Work (Kal Newport) and my own experience in Operation man hour metrics got me thinking about Significant Action. In a Day one of the most productive things we can make maybe progress in a difficult task OR juggling many small "shallow" tasks. So I proceeded to define A ROLL or a Significant Action to be at default 1 Workload or 4-6 manhour task. From this anchor I proceeded to make the following Definition:

The GM doesnt bother with insignificant tasks. He looks at the Gross Cost or Final Cost of the Action in Time and Resources.

You'll notice that the Definition give you a better anchor when researching what can be done with a Roll or a Skill use, because in real life no matter how capable or skilled, and what industry one works in, people still have to break down tasks in these small do-able chunks.

Few people can block of Months or Weeks for a tasks without Personal Life getting in the way, few businesses allow people to concentrate uninterrupted in their work without throwing a LOT of distracted firefighting and shallow work. Even the best people in their fields have to make time for distractions from personal, the world, or their superiors to get their core tasks done

  • Task or Activity. 
  • Insignificant: 1-5 mins. The GM doesnt bother with such tasks and they serve purely for immersion, visualization, and RP.  
  • Minor Task. 45mins to 15mins (maybe margin of success lessens the number of mins)
  • Partial. 3 to 1 man-hours (defaults at 3 unless specfied)
  • Workload: 4-6 man-hours, we use 5 to simplify
  • Standard: 1 workload (standard difficulty). 
  • Man-Day is 2 Workloads
  • Complex Task: 4-6 Man Days, we use 5 to simplify. 
  • Concentrated Work Rule. Basically doing things broken up when it can be done in one block of time results to excesss time. Breaking up an Activity multiplies the activity by x1.5 more time. This can get worse as failure adds more and more sub activities.  
  • other rules not discussed: Equipment (Capital and Infra requirement) and Consumables (materials spent in the activity). 

* the System may make can make the tasks that take less time have a bonus to success or fall under the easier task difficulties.
Beyond Complex Task level is a level of uncertainty thats best RPed and played out. If its being used to measure Downtime tasks and activities half the level of efficiency and assume there are a ton of distractions. Reserve the level of focus and clarity to period of "Adventure" or the Campaign.
Beyond this level the GM and the Player works on a Bill of Resources and various Operations Technical Estimates and Planning metrics.


  • Now the occasion to roll tends to be something that eats up a work load and a failure may cost the character up to 4x to 9x or WAY more work, resources, or time.
    • The GM or Player can better identify critical tasks and duties.
    • The player delegates and plans how to tackle the problem.  
  • The Player has to sort Significant Rolls from less important tasks. a level of frustration and tension from the disfluency of having to arrange tasks by priority and consequence. The players really have to prioritize and adapt. When a Petty Tasks 
  • The GM can calibrate tasks appropriately since he looks at the Workload vs Distracting Busy work of the Job or Role. It becomes a world building tool. 
  • Skills being benchmarked against a Partial or Standard Task. Some skills tend to be mostly shallow tasks (see Deepwork) while others require Deepwork or requires the full standard task and more. In a scifi setting AI aided deepwork will be the kind of work humans will have left. 

Quick Take Away.
  • Magin of Failure is now the Inflated cost of Conditional Success
  • Recallibrate what is a Significant Action

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hiatus and Projects

I have several great Ideas (well they sound great until I realize how much work they take) for articles and this blog is just talking about them because they tend to require more drafts and research to complete. So right now I’m doing projects where work and studies happen to give me material to finish the articles.

FYI we have a baby due this November and I'm sure you know all the time it takes to get the nest ready for the new baby and the mother. So RESEARCH and writing is opportunistic and irregular. 

Most recent:
Mass Combat Made Easy.
Mass Combat is a very interesting topic because after careful study its presents a lot of challenges that are new and a radical paradigm shift.
Mass Combat has Logistics: Manpower losses, supplies, shifts, recruitment, training, and managment of morale. It presents a world where you need Forces to win certain battles, or a paradigmn where characters (Pcs and NPCs) cannot win on their own.
If we go more realistic we exploit the Stereotyping bias to muddy the decision making and test what coping mechanism the Pcs have to overcome such biases.
The article was designed to look at how you game and work on trading off or changing what we normally do to suit more Mass Combat. It seeks to basically break down a certain kind of game and trade off the basic party centric game with that focuses on Groups. Of course that means I’d have to clearly tackle How We Game.

How we Game.
This is an interesting topic because I can only draw from observation and personal experience. I do have the advantage of having recorded sessions and listening to recorded sessions from Podcast games out there.
Basically I’ve gone to create my own definitions of basic categories:
Roleplaying. The immersion, visualization, and getting into character and interacting with the game setting. The definition goes to define a broad range of Player and GM Activities that seeks to Get Into the Character and Setting as well as creating a Personal or World Narrative.
Action. Well its not just Combat I’d like to say anything with a faster paced feedback loop. The characters perform an action and immediately they see feedback and consequences. They are also under threat, undertake risks, and continously feedback rewards, losses, costs, uncertainty, and clarifying focus on scope. It goes long to basically explain and define the two basic things that we do in a game and how much time do we spend doing it OR how much time we make for each activity.
Preparation. Game related preparation is also something I wanted to define and tackle. Particularly breaking it up to chunks that is directly useful in the game, contingencies we may need, or reflections and process improvements we do: like writing, reflecting, and planning how we will do things differently.
Camaraderie. I wanted to bundle up Aftercare and getting to know and getting along with one’s players or other players. Knowing the GM and what he has planned and how we can match expectations with all the risks, uncertainties, and missteps of socialization. We may be to forward in our suggestions, listening vs taking on a suggestion, negotiating expectations, etc...
These all require their own posts if I were to keep a budget of time and wordcount to write and the ton of time to prep, rewrite, outline, and self-edit.

How we play is a great context to dealing with more complex topics and other topics. Particularly since I’m approaching the Game with how we spend time and each category has a broad and detailed set of activities that may be applicable.
In hindsight I should have a Published Google docs of the How we game and maybe a way guide of self analysis. More tools means more time and forethought to make them, so I’m vasilating between getting things done and meeting expanding scope of work that maximizes User Experience.

Open Projects. Ideally, but unlikely, some of my writing will spur discussion and forking. If thats the case I can make them into a Gdoc and open it up for permission to edit and fork.

Other Projects.
Open Character Action and Resources. While I did tackle it briefly in a previous post what I want to do is make an Open List of Action and Limits. Allow for continuous improvement process of how best to model resources, limits, and actions.
This has a lot of work related inspiration since I need to time and motion a lot of activities and improve the U-Ex or user experience doing various tasks in work. Like boiling down basic activities with documentation and note taking, and reports that are pretty much auto-generated from the dashboard the department maintains.

Base Rate of Failure. Previously it was Traveller: Case Study or Traveller Hard Adventures. It was a writing project about high difficulty and how to cultivate a strong sense of agency in players desite challenging odds. It goes into a lot of details and may hit close to home as it challenges the Mindset of the players

Session Scene and Acts Checklist. Basically a few checklists on Roleplaying, Action, and Camaraderie. It includes a template of what information should be noted when tracking player session experience (not the experience reward but how the player really experiences the session). It also gives a template on how to make a checklist for an Act. It tries to help the GM pick up if the emotion and circumstance meets a certain criteria to move into the next act.
We are multi-tasking creating a checklist helps in disfluency aka slowing down to process the observable information the players are exhibiting.

Occasion to Roll. A very basic element and I have a simple and new technique to make this interesting: make the Margin of Failure the Cost of Conditional Success. This means if Johnny fails by 5 this is the additional cost he needs to make the success.
This means the Feedback loop of the roll does not end with the information of Success or Failure but t leaves it up to the player if they choose to spend more time and resources for it to succeed and at what cost they are willing to pay.
But if thats not a clear enough picture and you want alternate strategies in managing expectations, thresholds , tension etc... then you will have to wait for the article because it has to tackle all the natural questions that will arise when we can succeed at extrodinary cost and how scarcity affects the adventure.

Clarity and Filtering. I wanted to talk about how strongly we communicate key ideas to players as we run the game. How clearly we can emphasize on some clues or elements of the story, AND how the GM pick up on some. Both the GM and Player can both benefit in a prearranged signalling system of what they feel is important for their character or narrative.

Character Development. Expanding on how we play I look at time and motion of various Role Playing Activities and how I examine them by mysel with a mirror and recorder as feedback.
How we talk to Players and ask them how they want to develop their characters and how we can watch for Agency Affirming time spend in the game. (and how they learn to share that and listen to create Psychological Safety).

Relationship Checks. This was an article with scarcity of Promises, Time spend with people, and Credibility in mind. It boils down relationships, credibility, and behavioral reputation as a scarce resource that requires upkeep.

Cost of Living. An introduction to small Gdoc I maintain as I study cost of living here in the Philippines (its partially done with). I will make a chapter on Low Tech Cost of Living in the document. I plan to make it open (with permission) for others to fork or contribute.

Zones Part 2. I have a second part for zones getting into the details of assembling a portable gaming bag that weighs about 4lbs at the most. Design for a table of 0.5sqm and cramped space but still able to record.
It goes into plans of how to manage space effectively and in a budget.

Life Period Events Mechanics. Based on the Traveller Events Life Path mechanics I made a life event mechanics but it leverages not just the Sum of the Dice but two ways of interpreting the same roll (by asking the player to predetermine which of the two dice as a seperate variable). It has a lot of math and template and category creation so it has a lot of back end work for me to finish it.

Problem Solving Style Games. Aka Case Study game style. Basically how to have an action Feel with non-combat elements and how to make these feel more exciting and agency enhancing.

My review of the “The Grand Stragegy of the Byzantine Empire by Eward Luttwak”. A Gamers Guide to the Book and what are the useful chunks and how they are useful for your game and your learning of other history. Having useful stuff to Take Away is a key theme of reading all these books lolz.

Making Logistics Fun. A guide to making logistics fun and how much work or certain characteristics are needed to empower the player, make it easy, and make it feel real and make sense. I may have to write this before Problem Solving Style Games because its a key part in such games. I'll go into the Encyclopedia of Operations for this, use the RPG Design Pattern terminology, and give an example a simple dice mechanic.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Character Actions, becoming Character Limits.

I read Atul Gawande's Checklist Manifesto and it dawned on me how Dungeon World really helped with the Character Options List called Basic Moves.  I didnt realize how important it was till I had some work related problems where people don't know what they're options are.

In real life we get frustrated when we don't know our options. In work people will feel disempowered if they dont know their options and while some game options are common sense its carry-over from a life of gaming. 

So I proceeded to Make a list of Character Options. It a appeared to be a Problem Solving Procedure. 

It begins with Gathering Information. It started out with Observe and Inquire, but then proceeded to get detailed like Examine, Measure, Document/Take Note, Research, and on the Player's part planning what to decide on and how best to use their Time. 

There are a lot of other actions after that that I can draw from my work and productivity studies, and not just Gaming. Its just that ALL of this, all actions exists in a world of scarcity and limits. I was afraid options would create Analysis Paralysis And Modeling these limits are mostly ad hoc in game systems. Not many game systems go into Time and Motion, or specifically the linked entries to Efficiency in the Operations Encyclopedia. 

But the thing is We can have a Good Mental Model of the Limitations of the Characters. We have a powerful Intuition engine for guessing scarcity and limits of our resources. People in work need to monitor scarcity everyday and this judgement needs to be done faster and faster till it becomes an afterthought.  So why can't we make an interesting, empowering, and helpful mental model of Character Limits. 

Character Resources
Limits characters have to work with along with their Options. 

Social Resources. A lot of Games model social resources poorly. It appears people dont seem to have the consequences of being Total Assholes to other people. 

Credibility. Our reputation, credibility, and trustworthiness is a valuable resource we can't  normally assign value but is definitely valuable.  This pretty much tracks our ability to keep promises and give our word. 

Network and Relationships. Relationships are seperate from Credibility and is basically modeled like a very narrow version of Credibility, specifically to groups and individuals. 

Wealth. Material Resources needs to be aspected because it can be very very difficult to track and detailed. Some people are manpower rich, commodity rich, capital rich, future income rich, etc... 

Physical Effort. The effort we can give in a day is always finite. Our attitudes and behaviors even change depending on our physical conditions. Its usually poorly tracked and modeled and there has been a lot of progress in making a better mental model of this for game and in life.  

Mental Reserve. As with physical limit the amount of stress and distractions we can take are only so much. Many of us live in states of constant distraction and stress, and have felt the power and agency we miss out in these states in games and in flow states. GTD and Deepwork are various strategies in approaching it and there are many more that can be drawn from to create a mental model of reserve in our growing Behavior Science understanding. 

Health. Other than effort our bodies do have its limits. While effort tracks the Physical Weather, health tracks the Climate. You can have Effort day to day and Health week to week. 

Experimental Mechanics
There are a lot of Check Based Resource Systems out there. One I'm experimenting with is with a 2d6 resolution. 

Roll On or Below the TN. The TN is the Score and Modifier. Roll 2d6 on or Below to succeed. 
Conditional Success. Rolling over the TN is a conditional success. The difference squared is the Time and Cost multiplier to succeed (typically applied to Time and Materials). If the Resource is kept as a Score below is the Cost Mechanic.  

A Cost Mechanic (to model scarcity and limits). 
Conditional success...
... < 1/2 Score (not TN) is a scene lasting -1. 
... < Score is a -1 5 days to recovery (if recoverable, this can be accelerated by treatment). 
... < Score x2 is a -2 25 days to diminish it by a -1 (for a total of 50 days). 
... < Score x3 is a -3 125 days to diminish it by -1 (for a total of 375 days). 
... every Score greater than x3 Score is a permanent score reduction of -1

there are other implications of this system I've not yet fully tested out. But it can be adopted to other systems. 

Take Away.
  • Have a list of Character Options. 
  • Have a list of Limits and how to track them.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Feedback Loops in TRPGs

Asking for constructive critique, taking notes, watching or listening to your game played back, talking to others with other styles, perspectives, systems, and experiences, trying out other systems and techniques.

Back when I began in the late 90s my most clear feedbackloop was my younger brother . Then there were the guys in AEGIS, the SJgames forums (all forums can be a bit difficult), and for a while there was the blog (but it was a very poor feedback loop since it started at around 2003 and 2008 with this blog). Hangouts was the most effective, especially when I could hangout with other gamers with a 12-14 hour time difference and all over the place. Making friends and talking to people who have much to share opened a lot of gates. Then there was the small community of gamers here with Gamers and GMs events and Tagsessions which had connected me to more accessible gamers in my area.

Feedback loops are important, basic, but something thats constantly challenging. We never have enough, have it timely enough, and there is so much to digest, document, think about, and experiment. The blogging community I'm part off is a kinda feedback loop, people shouting ideas into the void and hoping the readers would give feedback. Feedback in blogs focus on readership instead of more inspiration. When I think about the quality of Feedback loop I think in Kal Newports Deepwork and how parts of the Hobby should encourage some opportunities for deliberate practice.

I guess thats why it move to a Forum type or a G+ community. In social media the feedback is more convenient but can be distracting. Distraction and Low Quality Feedback can an obstacle for gaming improvement. Also finding the right audience or conversation becomes the challenge, other time the challenge or real life getting in the way.

What I'm getting with this post I guess is collecting our Feedback loops, Filtering for optimal feedback, and being able to discuss more challenging or relevant topics that get us growing and learning. Also that I grew fastest when I had good feedback, and an opportunity to exercise, experiment, and practice.

After feedback, there is that 5S, Lean work philosophy, or Zen  type element in skills and abilities where we try to achieve more with less. That we boil down to more essential skills: framing, pacing, storytelling, etc... and we refine the feedback loops for us to better monitor and improve on the core skills. That with the least amount of tools we can achieve a lot of what we need to make for a great TRPG experience.

I realized this was discussed in Deepwork, it was on the chapter on Tools. The Pareto principle behind the tools that returns most of the rewards. In this case: the skills that gives the greatest returns and what deliberate practice we can setup to have a virtuous feedback loop to improve this.

Here is my TRPG Skills List  updated with some new entries based on my business studies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Finished The Long War: Killer of men, Marathon, and, Poseidon's Spear

These books makes me want to run a GURPS game set in that era (early 5C BCE). Although I would recommend getting the Authors Bibliography, GURPS Low Tech, Greece, etc to run such a game. It would be a terribly small audience for such game sadly.

Its a great series, and similar to the The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. I was not much of a fan of the era, but these series made me a fan. I've always been curious about the Ancient Eras after finishing the lectures on Origin of Civilization, Ancient Empires before Alexander, and my own Chinese History studies that deal in the eras of the Shang and Zhou Dynasty.

I love how the author gets into the detail about training, conditioning, and discipline. It reinforces my own training and my own aspirations. When he does so it brings up is the amount of work it takes to be as good as the characters. Stuff I wish was an element in a game that people would enjoy like I do: enjoy choosing the best habits, routines, and training habits of my PC and managing his psyche. If I could afford a 40lb kit (which I cant) the stories in the book reinvigorate me enough to pursue crossfit weighted vest training as well as getting back into kali.  

I love it when characters love training and making themselves better. They dont kill stuff to make themselves better, they train and the world turns. I like stories like that and which biases me to this book.

What I love about historical fiction is how it uses techniques in Non-fiction writing to amp up the emotional score of an event and action. It gives a lot of perspective and comparisons. Its fiction but the writer has some limitations with the material he has to draw from. Working with those limitations show techniques I can take up for my own storytelling.

The books are great and I bought them in Google Play store, because Amazon won't let me convert them to epub so I can use my Text To Speech app (@Voice Read Aloud) to listen to them as I have 2 hour commutes. The books are so well written It can convey its emotions even through the App.

Check out the Hippeis bibliography for setting research if you are going to try to get into it. Like in my basic understanding of Medieval Agriculture and Demographics it puts a TON of things in perspective and it enriches the immerision in the setting. The way the agricultural studies was important in the book, as the Author notes, Its my key challenge in my Chinese history studies.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Deliberate Practice in TRPGs

Finding and setting up Deliberate Practice in anything one does is a mindset I've recently adopted. So far I've identified opportunities for deliberate practice in the GM's domain. These are:

Player Scenes.
When I break down games, I break them down to scenes. As scenes its easier to limit the variables to create opportunities for deliberate practice.
1) Time to communicate,
2) effectiveness of communication (the player's feedback or watching recordings of such sessions),
3) How quickly one plans all the Scenes needed to achieve an X effect or push the story in a particular direction. this is a time metric along with a results or output metric.
4) breaking down and Identifying key elements a scene should have based on the circumstance. Being able to quickly identify the key element that moves the player and pushes the story. Metric is rating the Scene by how well it pushes the story forward. A simple QA rating of X/5 and trying to get better and better.
1) In player feedback,
2) watching rehersals, mirrors,
3) Discipline or Will or Dedication to go back to notes or recorded sessions to look and critique.

Ideating Player Options.
This exercise is basically thinking up the hardest options a player may give to the GM. This is a slow and deliberate skill which takes a lot of documentation, rehersal,  a solid set of problem solving abilities and process or logistical skills.
1) How many and quickly can the GM think up about his key Story thesis.
2) How quickly he can identify and track all the times players have stumped him. The measurable element is how quickly the GM will capture and document hard choices he has to make for review.
3) How many can he correctly predict player choices. Simple measure of how often the GM gets it right. But it can also measure in bounds (how many steps ahead can the GM predict based on how strongly he knows his players)
1) How the game progresses, this is a prediction and how often it is correct becomes a form of feedback.

Preparation is Deepwork.
Writing out the Game, the plan, the characters, and the NPCs is one of the first elements we can always track and is the most basic.
1) Elements Created. How many locations, NPCs, scenarios, scenes, plot hooks, and motivations can be made in a sessions of concentration in 4 hours straight.
2) Algorithms Created. More sophisticated than Elements are formulas to make improvised elements that can serve to push the story and the players forward.
3) How we budget our time in each elements. Measuring how we use our time to make fluff, elements, contingencies, study the players and their characters etc... How systematic one approaches this is measured in datapoints,  and the checklists and guides one creates, as well as the revisions one makes (and documentations). As well as the experimentation we make.
1) How much of the stuff is used vs how much is unused.
2) Rating how useful what was prepared.
3) Post Prep Feedback, our own estimation, vs How the player feedback. Always get player feedback or someone else's feedback. The more we delay it or avoid it, the more we undermine our commitment to be better and learn. I know we can take only so much humbling criticism, but growing ability to take feedback is always a useful trait.

If you know of any I've missed or some suggestions I'm open.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Deepwork in Games

From deepwork https://g.co/kgs/muQ3Bi I realized adventure making would be more than a 15min activity. I had previous goals of keeping it at 15 but after deepwork if the adventure creation doesn't go deep its value as personal improvement, a way to be in the zone or have flow, etc is vastly diminished. I would have just eliminated the opportunity of personal growth.

Deep work has also given me an idea of using the first 15 mins letting the players immersed and set the rhythm of the turns and how to push for flow. It also points out diminishing returns for the hard mental activity as well as how changing gears helps the pacing and the brain from burnout.

If you use GTD for gaming and life , thinking fast and slow for mental stretching and problem solving challenges, Grit for character development guide, then deepwork would be a good book that applies to life and games. Game prep and the session fall under deep work (one is collaborative deep work).

If you happen to take general productivity tips, techniques, and inspiration and apply it to life and games I'm always up for finding more.

Monday, August 8, 2016


Obviously I'm in hiatus from the lack of posts. So that you have a better idea of how long I'm down to set expectations there is a chance I'll be back up on Feb 2017.

  • Physical Rehabilitation. My back rehabilitation is taking a lot of toll. it means having about 20-30mins more time per exercise in order to do the Sciatica lower back pain management stretching, and it means doing more stretching per day. Time I would use to bang at the keyboard for a bit. 
  • Baby due in November, from the months leading to Nov and the months after November a new baby means a large chunk of my time gone. Every child is a chunk of time per day (and per week gone) Typically drawn from personal time like writing, surfing, gaming, and research. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What Augmented Reality means to TRPG players: LARP Tools

With Pokemon GO all the rage its become clear that Augmented Reality Games will be the trend to look forward to. For Us TRPGers that means the possibility of more play opportunities with Virtual LARPS.

  • LARP Tools: 
    • All the Props are Virtual
    • Coordination and Communicating will be easier: 
      • Simple Coordination between large groups to set up a LARP type event
      • Send Scripts to NPCs through their Device
      • Discover Volunteers and their Availability through the Device
      • APIs that organize all the information, participants, and activities. 
      • Execute Template Events and Activities through the APPs. 
      • Using QR code or GPS for locations or ITEM based discoveries. 
        • Hidden Items with QR codes for special treasures

    • Facilitation of Character Abilities through the APPs.
      • Skill Checks through the APPS
      • Inventory through the Apps.
      • Information Access through the APPs
        • Characters with certain skills have information about something or someone based on their Observation or Special Skills. 
      • Combat through the Apps: 
      • Kinesthetic Activation of Attacks (no Touching) and Defenses. 
    • Props for the Devices - 
      • to add functionalities (like the TAP wearable keyboard)
        • Looking forward for Devices that allow for Martial Arts capture
        • Glasses HUD as the phone will not be accessible in play.
      • Packages that customize user interface and GUI for certain kind of play.
      • to add capabilities or range (Like batteries)
      • to make them in theme or discrete,
      • Make Traps, or Location or QR code Triggers. 
    • Virtual Locations, Creatures, and Avatars. 
      • No budget for all the props, just get props to make a place look good virtually. Make a Dungeon, Castle, Cave, Market, Town, etc. 
      • Monster Encounters or PVP 
      • Retrieve Item X with a QR code adventures. Or collect these Items and receive a reward when turning them in. 
      • Avatar Markets. As you flip through IP Lenses you see different worlds and different Avatars and Virtual Props based on the IP you are looking at. You may see Star Wars Props, D&D, Final Fantasy etc... Make a location something in the Virtual World (like in Ingress). 
  • Larger Scale LARPS, coordination with larger amount of people. 
  • More Opportunistic LARPS. Like Pokemon GO, LARP or adventures that can be squeezed in 5-15 minutes. 

Lolz. In 5 Years my brother's organizational ability of Running LARPS would be a highly valued skill for BIG IPs like DnD, Final Fantasy, Star Wars who will want him to run their Augmented Reality LARPS for him. They should get LARPS to get their best practices early and incorporate and enhance them via the tech. Serious Larp organizers have the background and skill in facilitating these events. 

In 5 years 4GB ram would be the low end and 8GB would be the mid end for most Devices. 

Mental Organization as part of the Game

what one carries with them is a bit of a fascination. I'm pretty cluttered and want to declutter but there are things that I carry with me which have a pay off that reinforces carrying around extra baggage. But then there are those who manage to figure and do so much with less.

I like tracking inventory and encumbrance and i like looking and finding out other people's load outs. Their load out for combat, real life, work, going out on some adventure, their trekking load out, etc... Its fascinating and encouraging.

In TRPGs encumbrance rules and keeping inventory  are on of many lists we keep. Then there is the character which has lists of abilities, weaknesses, motivations, priorities, relationships, open loops,  etc... an inventory of so many things.

I like bringing some of those mental disciplines and habits in the games I play. I like seeing it in others so I can look. When no one else exhibits such traits it can be dull and small problems get bigger. Mastery petty details and challenges are such a small thing but I've realized when we see Attention as such a precious scarce resource how we approach details determines how effectively we use our attention.

I guess that's why I like trying to master the little things: so I can tackle the harder things easier. That's kinda the key lesson in Checklist manifesto I took away - I want to free up mental ram with the small things and focus on the big things. That tracking these petty feats and tricks may elevate us to deal with more interesting and important challenges.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hard Mode 60-80 Part 2

Hard Mode 60-80 rule was meant to stress direct agency in a situation. It highlights that some situations we cannot control if we have no direct influence in the matter.  These situations that have been mechanically given a lot of control over would need this cap. Examples of these rules is Mass Combat, Professional Rolls, and any roll dealing with organizations and complex entities (i havent read board room and cura which has rules regarding this).

But what I want to stress through this rule are the following:

Working with Direct Influence.
If some key things needs to be done then the PCs take the matters in their hands. They move to be in direct influence of the events. There will be things beyond their control or influence, but there are some ways around that and ways to move themselves directly into the situation and influence its outcome to the effect of the bigger picture.

There are mechanics in some games, not just GURPS, which grants the PC a surprising amount of influence despite there being no influence in it. Like choosing Stocks vs beating the Market, there is an illusion of control.

Examples of where at default there is a lot of Control but there should be a limit:
  • Leadership. it assumes the control is in the leader. 
  • Influence Checks at first glance. its inconsistently adjudicated as the contest or a roll by the influencer. 
  • Mass Combat. When actually there should be more of a TDM representing the group instead of the the Strategist or Tactician's skill level allowing for an uncapped success rate. 
  • Profession Rolls. a professional has his skill level as his success  over a month of work, as is the rules is an oversimplification sets problematic conclusions and extrapolations.  
  • Rolls against complex systems: Marketing, Physician, Politics, Economics, Sociology, Finance, etc... any system with many "actors". The solution is to Capp success (as this post is about) and emphasis on TDM of the situation.  
TDM and not The Agent.
A lot of rolls and circumstances are really more about the Situation (Task Difficulty Modifier) and there is a limit to the control and influence of the Agent or Character.  The examples above all would be shifting the "control" or "influence" away from a Single Agent and the GM should just call the Circumstance.

Choosing your battles. 
Those situations we can directly influence and identify those we cannot. This is my favorite bias and bad habit which GTD has been helping me work out: doing too much vs doing what matters. The GM can present so many problems and little distractions that would make the game as overwhelming as it really is in the real world but the ability or the wisdom to know what problem to tackle or how to break down a big problem into smaller chunks is a key challenge that may be worth "skinner boxing"  in a game.

But note this is Hard Mode. That challenges and complexities such as this and other such mechanics are only for those who feel like they want do something different and challenge themselves. Going into these challenges without more basic problem solving has been tackled can lead to frustration and distraction from what makes the game enjoyable.

What this is NOT
That there is no way to influence events. There are limits to influence events.

Hard Games
Hard games are going to be tackled in a long post I'm still rewriting about the research of myself and others about Traveller (including GURPS Traveller) that over time the failure rates of any business in traveller is greater than half (meeting the base rates in the real world for small businesses of 70-90% over 3-5 years). That running procedurally the game is unforgiving, and can be really fun.

Related Issues:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Hard Mode: Rule 60-80

The mind doesnt like Uncertainty and playing with this bias can be unique role-playing and system mechanic opportunity I call hard mode 60-80.  Basically

Hard Mode Rule 60-80. Based on the Overconfidence Effect which has the surprising statistic that Experts who are 99% Certain can be wrong 40% of the time. This hard mode overlay on the rules is something that players may not all like except for stimulative, hard, or horror games.

This means capping the chance of success to 60% or 80% depending on the level of complexity and agency in a scene or scenario. When the level of control of the character is far removed from him like running an organization against another organization or the economy/market then it can fall to 60% cap. A good rule would be an Organization where the character is 1-2 levels removed he has only up to 80% control and at >3 levels remove at most the character has >60%.

Capping Success Consequences.
Capped success does not need to mean immediate failure It can be:

  1. Extended Cost/Conflict. The result is not a failure but an extended cost to the ongoing conflict. This results to a high attrition result. Repeating the Roll again while exacting the same cost (attrition or casualties), on both sides. 
  2. Complications. Not a failure and a more nuance version of Extended Cost and Conflict. There are more Opportunity Costs or Trade Offs that occur in the failure. Instead of adding costs like above, the GM creates opportunities that would be significant enough to alter course or enough to distract the key PC in the scene. 
  3. Unexpected Consequences. more confusing and counter intuitive than Complication. This is when the GM messes with the Pay-offs or Costs of the ongoing conflict. He reverses it in some way. Example would be something in the conflict would negatively affect the perception of the Character. the character would take a Social or Political consequence hit IF he would pursue for a success. 
  4. Confusion. this is when the non-success results to new information, doubt, dissonance, or confusing and contradicting information. The PC is unable to follow through to success and role-plays the changing off gears. Confusion can also be the GM makes the shifts the payoffs like unexpected consequences. 

GURPS 60-80% Rule
In GURPS this would mean caping success to 11-13. This would very relevant in Boardroom and Curia and Mass Combat. Implementing above would simply make the Margin of Failure result in the Capped Success Consequences for every 2 levels of failure.  So 1-2 for Extended Conflict, 3-4 Complications, 5-6 Unexpected Consequences, and 7+ for Confusion.

Traveller 80-60 Rule
In Traveller that would mean capping success to 7-9 in a 2d6 for 60-80%. Simply use the margin of failure to trigger Capped Success Consequences. So 1-2 for Extended Conflict, 3 Complications, 4 Unexpected Consequences, and 5+ for Confusion.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Adventuring Skills Part 2: Physical Skills

A lot of the adventuring skills mentioned here can be pursued out of fitness sake. As a Gamer the pursuit of these skills also means being informed, inspired, appreciating, and having a deeper understanding that helps in the role-playing and storytelling.

There is also a transformational aspect to these skills, it leaves its mark on the bodies and psyche of the character. Their habits change and the opportunities open to them and how they view the world changes - particularly in physical constraints.

Physical Skills 
Part 2
  1. Trekking.
  2. Running
  3. Climbing
  4. Swimming
  5. Strength
  6. Combat skills 
This is the ability to walk sustainably for hours in a day, and for days straight. What is usually misunderstood about trekking are:
  • is the amount of load one can sustainably carry, 
  • the pacing in an hour, in a day, and in weeks 
  • the equipment
  • a bit of navigation and place finding
  • a bit of outdoorsmanship when it comes to the weather, terrain, safety and care. 
  • the injuries and risk related to it
  • and how to train to be able to trek at 
    • greater sustainable speeds, 
    • sustain it in longer periods of time
    • in all manner of weather, terrain, and conditions. 

The biggest problem with Trekking is how its so misunderstood and poorly modeled in games. Typically the first thing I look at is the movement rules in a new game and check how they model travel. Going to a deeper level is if they can gamify or frame travel and trekking well. There is a lot of life philosophy and strategies to be drawing from trekking - how much baggage we carry, how fast we want to move, do we watch our surroundings, do we enjoy the trip, etc... Yet it can be nothing and an afterthought. A character may spend 90% of his time travelling and the player and the charachter get nothing out of it as we skip past it.

Leadership/Teamwork and Trekking Notes
I found that trekking (or travelling) is a good example of leadership and teamwork in a very simple scale. When a team is trekking we see the roles, weaknesses, strengths, and abilities of each member. How a group deals with the slower and weaker members, and how the more able members act.
We can "fudge" trekking and just ignore these elements or spend the 1/3 to a lot of time not getting along or trying to get along, or working out something.

The other modes of travel: running, climbing, and swimming doesnt have as much baggage as Trekking.

GURPS trekking is Hiking. Its  leadership test to increase a group's speed by 20%.
The thing is that: what is a groups speed? should it be average or the slowest pace? In many things regarding a group: we move by the slowest unit and not the average. But what is the slowest unit if we have "average" stats? Then its probably within the lower deviation of the stats, typically  10%.
I would suggest that it not be a leadership roll but a Hiking roll as a technical guidance towards a squad sized group (if you want to give penalties for larger groups to the roll feel free or you are free to only allow only a small sized group to handle technical instruction and guidance).

Running is similar to trekking in the scope of the skill and the level of misunderstanding around it. The skill itself is more for greater management of bodily and mental functions in a more intense physical task.

The differences are:
  • Lighter loads
  • there are two shorter increments of time but greater distances.
  • There are two specializations in Running that change the body's morphology:
    • Sprinting - more powerful legs an
    • Long Distance Running. - leander build 
Running is an aspect of travel and a skill when evading from or advancing to a challenge.  Its a complex skill that deals with conditioning the body and mind to deal with greater levels of stress and internal distractions over a long period of time. Simple feats like breathing and footwork become something effortful in running.

GURPS Running
I would prevent the "Move" characteristic to be bought up independently and instead work something out with the Running Attribute Modifier.

Climbing is a key skill in overcoming physical obstacles. Its not quite flight but it can get the character over some heights and depths. A key take away with climbing and adventuring is that as much as it can overcome obstacles in evasion it can put obstacles in the way of pursuit. A fitness take away is that its good practical conditioning for upper body strength - its not just to lift a weight to build muscle but to have the flexibility, strength, and skill to lift one's body up and out of harm.
  • Its a skill if every member of the group does not have, will mean someone being left behind or the whole group's fate hinges on that prerequisite.
  • its also a skill that, like swimming, could mean a fear of the medium. 
  • Its also a great way of training for strength and keeping fit. 

*Vally Uprising

Gurps Climbing is pretty much as is. If a character takes up the skill its like a personal gym allowing him to use his own bodyweight for strength training (i realize this does not matter to a lot of characters but does in real life lolz).

GURPS climbing. I'm currently still learning more about free climbing since its the most applicable to the game but I'm going by Valley Uprising stats of speed climbing of El-Capitan of 2.3 hours of its 2km elevation. more crunchiness to follow (working back the TDM of El Capitan, what would be the skill of the fastest climbers and how it works out to 2.3 hours factoring they did a well known route).

Swimming is much like climbing as it moves the character through a medium that few may pursue and allows him to survive in that condition. Like running, swimming makes the simple action of breathing effortful and a range of conditioning happens to the body when it pursues greater levels of swimming performance.

Strength is a particular skill that is misunderstood, filled with superstition, and underappreciated. Its one of the skills that has a certain stigma of being associated with a certain group and negatively, while having as much depth and science as the other physical skills. Feats of strength can be as sophisticated as a Martial form despite the simpler form and motions - because like martial techniques subtle improvements matter, and getting good at it is a lot of subtle improvements.

In RPGs this is lumped into atheltics, in GURPS its lifting and doesnt seem to really matter so much or come into play so much (which I want to correct). When I injured my back I didnt realize how much the form mattered in so many aspects of how I move until I got a pain signal when I moved the wrong way.

I went overboard and went to make a "strength" advantage that mimicked the cost of maintaining strength: dietary restriction high protein calorie that tends to multiply the cost of eating by x2 to x3 (thus making cooking a necessary skill - see mealprep) and exercise of 2-4 hours a day for those who have ST13+. Strength is one of those lifestyles that take up a bunch of time, money, and mindset of a character.

Like all the Physical skills - its a lot of Pain, tearing, sacrifice, for so little gains and a real test of grit and perseverance.

Strength got me thinking of Physical therapy became much appreciated and I dont know yet how to model in GURPS.

Carrying Forms
These are forms that one may be familiar with when one tries to go into Practical Strength Feats (and want to avoid injury). In any game system having a way to resolve these would add a lot of visceral detail to the scene and appreciation of the skill.
  • Load Bearing Gear
  • Fireman's Carry
  • Farmer's Carry
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
GURPS skill Lifting. Giving lifting the same bonus to certain standard feats of strength, like the carrying forms, would be the simplest. A character with Lifting +2 and 10 strength can perform a firemans carry or deadlift at ST12.

Combat Skills
Combat skills are the most over emphasized in the hobby and tends to lack the emphasis the other physical feats. Combat skills are like sports and are sports in themselves. One take away is that all these skills depend on each other and compliment each other. As an airsofter and from reading up on SCA Fitness is strangely not a priority when learning Combat Skills - there is no other conditioning done to improve on combat ability. Most systems do not Cap combat skills to a certain limit if the Character does not round off their physical abilities with complimentary pursuits. Most systems do not give Diminishing Returns to the pursuit of martial ability - despite the masters (the 5 rings, the art of war, Arma, and european fighting texts) kinda point it out.

Related Notes:
GURPS combat skill.
I like the strong "bow" perk as a default ability with gaining a attribute modifier to a skill. I didn't need to go out of my way to learn to hit harder when I learned to use a weapon or fight a particular way - it was part of the skill. It would be "out of the way" if I could hit much harder than that.

So recommending: Attribute Modifier up to 2 for combat skills to strength for damage and the perk allows up to 4. Unless you find gurps damage too high already. But in my games i don't mind the lethality.

Social Skills in Adventuring
Part 3
  1. Social Awareness 
  2. Negotiation/Bargaining 
  3. Conversation/Communication
  4. Courtesy 
  5. Threats 
  6. Deception
  7. Argument