Proto-concept from D&D play

The absolutely nascent stage of game design sometimes isn’t any different from how you found yourself spinning some feature of some other game you happened to be playing. One may even “know” that hey, wherever I go with this will be something different, even when still thinking so closely to the primary experience that it’s pretty much the same as tweaking it at the table.

In this case, proceeding from the interesting experience of playing a ton of the Mentzer D&D, 1985, and then a ton of D&D 5th edition. Tor and a lot of the players decided that a fairly raw risk-loss context of town-and-dungeon was something they wanted to do, and weren’t getting.

Typically people consider my consulting services when they’re significantly past this point. All else being equal, I like being involved at earlier stages in a project than later, but this early poses its own issues. Tor initally spoke in terms of fixing or hacking or otherwise, conceptually speaking, electing himself the editor of a presumed revision of it.

Therefore our initial discussion, by email, had a lot to do with clearing out the way-future marketing notions and stuff like that, and getting some perspective. As I saw it, this also concerned whether he was really committing to a game design process or was merely spotting unicorns when all he really wanted was to poke the existing rules a little for more fun at their particular table.

Anyway, he turned out to want to design a game for its own sake after all, and here’s our session about it. It’s a really good look at some of the principles and methodology of my consulting in action.

6 responses to “Proto-concept from D&D play”

  1. This was SO FUN to watch

    Are we getting any footage of Tor playing T&T soon? (I didn't get if you, Ron, were going to be playing with him or not.)

    About Toon: I feel it's important to mention that the specific rule was that the players whose characters Fall Down are out of play for 3 real time minutes.

    • I’m glad you liked it! I plan

      I'm glad you liked it! I plan to have lots of this sort of thing in Seminar – and I also decided, that instead of presenting the Nine Worlds and carry diagrams here, I'll present them as part of a Seminar activity instead where we do a bunch of them like a lab section. The D&D one is worth investigating in a careful topic of its own.

      We're tentatively setting up some T&T play soon, and when-and-if that happens, I'll post the recordings. More work on Tor's design, as it evolves, will appear here too as he permits.

      You're right about Toon … and that's significant, because it's a mini-version of a common if not universal way to play character death, that you're taken out of play for the rest of the session. I guess we could call that the Blackleaf technique, if casual and irreverent terms creation were on anyone's mind.

  2. You asked for this…

    Ehm…. OK, I am bringing up Bonus Dice in Sorcerer and Fanmail in Primetime Adventures in this comment. How many xp do I get for this?

    • Not enough for next level!

      Not enough for next level!

      Thanks for asking this. I put in the note because I snipped about 30 seconds out of the recording at that point, when I mentioned both games but realized that they were loaded enough, and about such different things from what Tor was interested in doing, to disrupt the conversation. And Tor's familiar with both so my mention was enough for a nod and we moved on.

      So, with Sorcerer – the design intent was not to elicit or provoke "more role-playing," but merely to have a fun way to acknowledge it when it happens. Not if, but when, because, by 1996, I'd noticed that Sorcerer playtesting was full of body language and emphatic, quick statements of intention. Inspired in part by some text in Over the Edge, I said, "hey, since this is happening so much in this game, let's celebrate it." The idea that bonus dice were supposed to be a breadcrumb reward for making more (or any) such moments hadn't occurred to me.

      Yet play reports started to crop up that this was exactly what was happening, and I found myself trying to clarify the point over and over. Clearly I was up against a certain surety, leading to a certain reading of the text, which seemed insurmountable. It didn't help that since I didn't know about the surety (and as a related point, surety about what "the story" would mean to most readers), very little in my text could help. I still run into this all the time.

      Primetime Adventures' fanmail was a direct child of the original intention in Sorcerer, as Matt had rightly noted that bonus dice in the latter game were often noted by any player rather than the GM alone, and also rightly, considered that democratizing the function was good for his game. My best experiences and understanding of PTA dates to its earliest versions (playtest and then the spiral-bound, when it used dice), so I'm speaking mainly of those in saying I think that fanmail worked remarkably well for celebrating and appreciating what we were doing in the moment, rather than being some kind of standing prize held just out of reach to make you strive to be "good" enough.

      [I'm not saying later PTA had this problem, only that it's the earlier versions that I know well enough to say it wasn't a problem for us, or anyone I knew about.]

      Now, my experiences and intentions, and Matt's design in PTA, are very small potatoes compared to the solid response such mechanics seem to provoke. I realized that complaining, or as I just tried to do, explaining (i.e. complaining in level tones), wasn't going to help the discussion. After all, as my comments in the video show, I'm often sympathetic to that response, especially for a game like what Tor's talking about. Vivid and often funny role-playing are very common in unapologetic dungeon-crawl play; you don't have to entice it, and in doing so, will often provoke exactly the opposite, deadly-boring response, which is whoring-for-dice when one is not inspired.

      Leaving aside the question of why such mechanics are present in 5th edition D&D, and also leaving aside when and how such mechanics are positive in play rather than annoying, the insight in this case is that Tor saw an undeniable contrast in which of the two "scoring" point mechanics was genuinely fun, for the kind of play he's interested in developing.

  3. Inspiration regarding Inspiration

    Hey Tor! Ram just posted his play session of 5E/Apocalypse, in Everwhichway: Valley of the Defiled. He's using a table-tweaked mechanic you should seriously try out.

    Delicious failures
    When a player rolled a partial success, the group got one coin. When a player rolled a full success, the group got two coins. When a player rolled a miss, they got nuthin'.

    With group consensus, though, any player could spend five coins from the group pool to upgrade a roll by one category- from fail to partial, or partial to success. Or spend ten coins to go from a fail to a success.

    Furthermore, I suggest one more tweak for you: eliminate the consensus. Anyone can "blow" the five coins when he or she wants, regardless of other players' cries of dismay. Sound evil, divisive, awful? It's not. Try it and see.

    • Delicious failure? Tell me more.

      Oooh, cool. A few thoughts.

      First, kudos for recording the session. I would love to do this, even if it were just to create 'game tapes' that I could review for later. I haven't watched through the session yet, but will.

      Second, your comments about using Dungeon World style rolls in DND reminded me that we used to do the exact same thing when we were playing Mentzer. We didn't use it for d20 attack rolls but we used it for everything else. The weird thing is that there's already a 2d6+ stat roll baked into Mentzer: reaction rolls.

      Third: Delicious failures. Okay, that's interesting.  I want to learn more. Are there examples in the video of people spending this currency? How did you represent the currency physically at the game table?

      Best regards,


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