Greetings!

And welcome to the website of Jimmy Chattin, senior software engineer, science fiction writer, orator, and just about a little of everything else.

Interested in a C# programmer who’s worked for the likes of Microsoft and Aristocrat (#1 video slot maker)? Checkout LinkedIn.

Want to read some original stories and fan fiction (for practice, of course!)? Those posts are coming to this website.

Need something written or a voice that’s been described as “butter”? Reach out on the Contact page or my podcasts (start with #1).

Old posts can also be found at Make Better Games, where there’s mainly talk about goals and a few games.

Explore.  Take a look around.  We’ll talk in a bit.

November December Goals Review

And we’re back!

Things are getting cold where I am in the American North East. Guess it’s about time to head back to warmer climates 😁 Let’s talk about that:

November Goal Review

    1. Truths Collection
      1. Won. A dozen journals, the magnificent tome that is Tribe of Mentors, and a few decades of experience has given me a collection of statements of seeming fact that provide a sketch of reality. Future plans include organizing these ideas into a book, a guide, for life. 
    2. EOY Setup
      1. Won. It has been weird with the longest, most pesky background check I’ve ever gone through. That hasn’t stopped me from gearing up to start mobile development work in December!
    3. Vacation #1
      1. Won. Went to the Adirondacks! It was terrible! But the trip was taken, so I’m marking this up.
    4. Vacation #2
      1. Failed. During “vacation #1,” a kidney kinda stopped functioning 😶 Totally bonked any other vacation plans. After two weeks of bedrest and a few healthcare visits, I seem to be on the up-and-up 😉

December Goal Proposal

I must be honest here: It’s been a heck-of-a-year and it isn’t over yet.

My time is going to be spent on tasks that either happen… or they catastrophically don’t 🤷‍♂️ To me, that is a copout for setting goals in December. So, instead, time will be given 100% towards these items in our final month:

    1. First, I’m traveling across the country back to Vegas! This will take about a week, more or less, as I’ll be casually meandering while staying away from people (sans safely getting fuel).
    2. Next, I’m settling back down in Vegas! This will generally involve your generic “moving in” issues. 
    3. After moving in, I’m starting work as a senior mobile game tools maker. Since I want to make a fine impression, this will have my attention for the last week-and-half of the year.
    4. Lastly, I’ll be reviewing the year as I’ve done for the last few. Picture gathering, letter writing, and outreach to some of the most important people in my life is a very important requirement for me.

75% accomplishment in November is disappointing, though I ripped through many a book and I rewrote a story outline I was having great trouble with.

As we look forward to December, I think it is about time for a bit of a rest without adding more pressure. As a recovering workaholic, I also encourage you to see about chilling in this holiday season 😊

Be well! We will converse again next week. Cheers in the meanwhile ~

Avatar RPG Inspiration

I’ve gotten around to watching the shows Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) and Avatar: The Legend of Korra (great shows, btw). Along the way, I’ve taken notes on recurring themes and opportunities to bring ATLA to the tabletop.

This post is less than a full game – for those, try out Avatar-inspired titles like Legend of the Elements (Powered by the Apocalypse narrative game) and The Last of the Lacers (D&D game). The following are the elements (see what I did there? 😁) I’m concerned with for making ATLA into a streamlined RPG.

Themes

ATLA is consistent with a set of ‘rules for the world’ which make it ‘kid friendly’, though these can begin to be stripped away for a harsher feel depending on game genre.

  1. No one kills another. (It’s only an option for the biggest, baddest evil villain.)
  2. People live for over a hundred years.
  3. Gravity is really low, so falls, jumps, and throws are very impressive.
  4. Injuries reduce capability until a person is unconscious, not dead.
  5. There is the Spirit World and the Material World.
  6. There are four Elements (Air☁, Water🌊, Earth🌎, Fire🔥) with a subset and super-power each.
  7. A person is either born able to Bend (magically control) one of the four Elements or not. (Cataclysmic events or powers can give or remove Bending ability.)
  8. Animals are intelligent and a companion is common.

Got it? Cool! Onto mechanics…

Mechanics

Very similar to BITS, two six-sided dice (2d6) roll at or above a target number, that number representing the threat of an individual or otherwise the difficulty of enacting a character’s will on the world.

To aid rolls, the applicable stat number gets added to the value.

Stats

A simple set of stats represent the collective ability of any action a character may take.

  1. Martial
    1. For fighting and physical exertion, getting your way manually. This includes the name of a preferred weapon that, when used, gives a bonus to the action or outcome.
  2. Influence
    1. For leading and convincing others, getting your way without violence. This includes the name(s) of a companion, human or animal, that gives a bonus when they are also interacting in a social situation.
  3. Training
    1. For when doing a life’s work. This uses a specific name of a specialty which in turn has lists of actions that could be taken for a bonus.

Training may be Bending, Soldiering, Crafting, Performing, Wandering, Administrating, or other professions a character could spend their time at. However, if not choosing Bending, other boons are given to the character, eg another weapon they are practiced with.

Other stats keep a character in the game and add color to their life:

  1. Nation
    1. Where the character comes from. This is also the default Element the character may Bend, though for role-play another Element may be Bent if it’s specified that a parent is from another Nation.
  2. Endurance
    1. How much more the character can take. Any detriment to Stress adds conditions that impede the character’s actions before they are ultimately rendered unconscious or otherwise lost.
  3. Confidences
    1. The things the character is proud of. Some advantage may apply when doing such things.
  4. Failings
    1. The things a character should be ashamed of. Some disadvantage may apply when doing such things.

Goals

Stat advancements are the first goal since they improve the odds of accomplishing other things in the game.

The goals in fiction are ultimately up to the type of game being played. The primary goal must be shared by all players, but each player may have additional goals for themselves that give reward such as stat advancement or other mechanical boon.

Some group goal ideas:

  1. Stop the Fire Lord from conquering the world.
  2. Resurrect the Avatar.
  3. Unite the Material and Spirit worlds.
  4. Find an item of power to bring balance to the Nations.

Bending

The “magic” of the game offers great robustness in how diverse a character may become as they Train. Whether used as a utility, brought to bear in offense, or as a matter of healing, Bending can do about all. Each Element also has a magical Elemental animal.

AirEarthFireWater
ExamplesSoftening falls,
pushing objects away,
flying.
Raising the ground,
throwing rocks,
carving stone.
Creating fire,
throwing fireballs,
immolating.
Freezing,
spraying,
using water to manipulate objects.
Subgroup BendingCloud BendingSand BendingLight BendingSwamp Bending
Advanced BendingGravity BendingMetal or Lava BendingLightning BendingBlood Bending
Healing PowerSicknessBonesBleedingFlesh
AnimalSky BisonBadger MolesDragons(none)

No matter the Bending Element, a true master-level character may Bend with only their minds. Hands-free magic!

The god-tier forms of Bending usually lie with the Avatar, the incarnation and agent of the cosmos to keep balance in all things. Walking the Spirit world, telepresence, removing Bending ability, using all Elements at once, achieving a temporary state of extreme ability, and transforming into a hulking colossus of energy are a few examples.

Non-Bending

Not to be outdone by Benders, normal folks have their own gifts too. In advanced Trainings, a non-Bender has access to a lot:

  1. Acrobatics to dodge attacks, run on water and walls, and scale heights.
  2. Chi blocking or assassination to immediately disable the limbs or whole body of an opponent.
  3. Medicine to care for any ill or injury.
  4. Weapon skills to duel with and defend against any foe.
  5. Engineering to create machines and tools matching or exceeding a Bender’s ability.
  6. Brilliance to outthink any situation and foretell things to come.

Bending gives a natural edge that some non-Benders have overcome with study and dedication.

Closing

As a world, ATLA is rich with potential. Keeping things simple, the above outline establishes a solid way to create a purely ATLA game experience. Surprised this wasn’t a post about BITS?

I may come back here someday to create a game from this, though if you beat me to it, let me know 😉 Cheers for now!

Devaluing Your Worth

As I approach a new year with a new company, let’s look at common nasty bits of the flip-side of how to value your worth: devaluing it 💩

First Off: Not Knowing Your Value

You would do yourself a better favor ignoring any new paid work if you haven’t done the bare minimum of any interview process.

That bare minimum? Doing the research, ie:

Know where the money is 💲

Figure out how much a title pays nationally. Know what that role pays in the region and industry (though industry is less and less relevant). Glassdoor the salaries paid at the company. Normalize everything to the cost-of-living (CoL) of the town you live in and where the company is headquartered.

Of those numbers, get the median. Get the average. Pick the highest value. At least multiply that number by 110%, if not 110% to 125%.

Then what do you have? Value. Or, more precisely, an appropriate range (high average or 110% to 110% or 125%) of value you must ask for with the role with the company in the city. Anything less is at best worthless, if not going to be a sticking point for you later.

Second: Anchoring Low

A common negotiation tactic is to anchor the talks on a low value.

You are not low value.

When the company goes low, you go high. Heck, if the company goes OK, you go high. If they go high, you go higher 🔥

They mention a range lower than yours or doesn’t intersect the top of your range? You sigh, you flinch, you gasp, and you quote them your researched range. (Apply emphasis that your skills warrant the top of the range no-doubt.)

You are cornered or feel compelled to mention a range? That 110% to 125% is looking awfully fine right now 😉

If you feel uncomfortable asking for this kind of cash, just know other companies across the nation are paying at or above your quoted. So why do you deserve any less? (If you have an answer to this rhetorical question, there are some confidence and self-esteem issues you need to figure out ASAP.)

No, seriously, if you don’t think you doing a role is worth the nationally determined compensation for the title, stop reading this article. I wish I had something of mine to link here, but I don’t – go get help!

Side note: If you ever find yourself being in the very rare and unusual position of the company offering more than the top of your not-yet-quoted range, tell the company the both of you are close, but you were looking for approximately-10%-over-the-company’s-value. That way you leave nothing on the table that the company was not already planning on giving you!

Third Up: Not Shutting Up

After you have spoken, cease speaking 😶

Simple, ya? No. Human nature wants to justify ourselves and our expectations of others to others. To do that, we’ll lace our speech with weak words and bury our hopes in our own babble.

When you’ve stated your range, when you’ve told the company they need to have a better offer, when you’ve asked for that bonus, shush.

As many professional negotiators put it (see this post’s Further Learning section):

They who breaks silence first loses.

This in part applies to:

Fourth, Your Greatest Enemy: Yourself

What I mean is you will negotiate against your own self interests.

There are many ways to hamstring your efforts:

      • Quoting a dollar range first.
      • Agreeing to additional responsibility without additional compensation.
      • Settling for splitting the difference.
      • Generally being too agreeable 😇

The root of your self-harm is fearing the discomfort of disagreeableness.

Be conscientious of your value, be kind to those you negotiate with, but be brave enough to be disagreeable when a benefit to you and your future selves is on the line.

What have you done in negotiating down your value? I’ve done all of the above and more – which have you? Share your experiences for others and myself to watch out for.

COVID is still very bad – While you Zoom safely from home, may you earn your worth and more 😁 Cheers~

October November Goals

What. A. Week. What a month! What a year!

To business:

October Goal Review

      1. BITS Alpha Edits
        1. Won. The AASB guides are looking pretty good! Equipment is more concise while spellcasting cut the 120-spell balance-hell list, instead giving a “make your own spells” table and example spells from that previous uber-list.
      2. BITS Format and Principles
        1. Failed. I’ve started on the Design Guide for BITS that is home to the plethora of design decisions I’ve encountered and the choices I’ve had to make. However, that requires more attention, and thus the formatting with images of the other guides has been missed.
      3. BITS Beta Edits Tools Interviews!
        1. Won. Scrapped sending BITS out into the wild this month to instead spend quality time with C# and reacquaint with the interview process. The interviews went splendidly and have a direct impact on November’s work.
      4. Outline
        1. Won. Two outlines are complete! A third is underway! Now can I actually discipline myself to write these out? That’s… a question 😅

November Goal Proposal

      1. Truths Collection
        1. First up in November is going through all of my journals, skimming the items that seem to be steps towards capital-T Truth. This is a holdover from the outlines goal in October, yet should shed valuable light towards another book proposal of mine.
      2. EOY Setup
        1. Surprise! I’m ending my sabbatical and going back to tools in a position I’m sincerely excited about! To facilitate that, I’m still in Vegas WFH, but I need to plan how to get back to Vegas! So here’s to housing, travel scheduling, and all the necessary bits of going “back to the grind” 😎
      3. Vacation #1
        1. While I’m still out and about, I need to leverage the freedom of no work and no people. Will that find me in the Adirondacks? On the Appalachian Trail?
      4. Vacation #2
        1. Same as above as I have some three or so weeks between this post and when I’ll be prepping to settle back in Vegas. Yes, it’s not a here’s-a-product kind of “productive”, but I’ve talked before that breaks are really hard for me to take, so here’s my incentive to ~chill~.

Because of the drastic change in the next few weeks, I’m shelving goal requirements on my writing and game design projects. Yes, I’ll be working on game drafts, the BITS guides, and stories – you’ll get those as they arrive!

October stumbled from my streaks of 100% success – understandable, yet I will be getting back on the wagon.

Winter has come. So has another month that allows me a step towards accomplishment. I hope you and yours are safe and have your own endeavors in tow. Here’s to them and you! Cheers ~

BITS – The Spells 🧙🏻‍♂️

Spells, magics, powers, tech abilities – whatever you want to call it, powerful, spooky actions by players in BITS need rules. Healing, harming … that and more BITS takes care of 😁 Just in time for Halloween! 🦇

What Spells Are

As the title has it, spells are unseen phenomena that allow a player to do marvelous and dangerous things. Electricity and technology are as much a kind of magic as what is practiced by fantastical druids and warlocks. BITS being a generalized game design ruleset, the same principles apply to any form of ability a player could have!

Spell Effects

The specific effects of spells or how the effects get conveyed rely on the setting or genre of the game. There are nonetheless traits that reoccur in any spell system, each with intuitive exchange of cost-to-do and effect-of-doing:

    • Switch a location for another.
      • eg teleportation, telepathy
    • Morph what’s in a location.
      • eg alter colors and sizes
    • Bring into or remove from a location.
      • eg conjuration, removing some or all of what’s in a location
    • Act in a location.
      • eg mind control, telekinesis

Some spells do little more than move objects around, but what happens when the effect itself needs to be taken into account?

BITS gives spells the effect of being “magical.” However, for many games, increased granularity is required for a more tactical game feel.

To bring tactics to a BITS game, there are only two other kinds of spell effect:

    • 2Ps
      • “Power” and “Pyro” are the first branches out from basic “magical” kinds of spells. Power is for anything purely magical or electrical, Pyro for (what else) fire or heat-addition and heat-removal 🔥❄

        Sure, one or two additional kinds of effect may be added here or the Ps themselves may be renamed, but they must conform to the theme of the game. (Cellular, Laser, and Software for a game in modern times, anyone?)
    • Dungeons and Dragons-Like
      • D&D kinds of games are the bucket added to the end of the BITS spell toolbox, but this doesn’t mean a game can go off the rails with the kinds of spells they bring to the fore.

        After severe study, even D&D seems to overdo the eight schools of magic it uses, leading to balance issues where schools like Evocation objectively better perform some other schools.

        A better look is a maximum number of different things a player can track (hint: it’s seven). To improve the D&D issue, a modest proposal of six kinds (and never more) of spells for any kind of fantasy game:
        • Divinity – Blessing and cursing targets.
        • Temperature – Heating and cooling targets.
        • Form – Making something from nothing and morphing targets.
        • Life – Decaying and rejuvenating targets. 
        • Mind – Knowing what targets know and bestowing ideas.
        • Sensorium – Altering the senses and using illusions.

      • Those previous six are themed for D&D high fantasy, but what about other genres? BITS handles those to, focusing on the “4” theme that repeats throughout BITS.

        On offering are example sets including: Space, Time, Gravity, Power; Solids, Liquids, Gases, Plasmas; Animalism, Potions, Meteoromancy, Shamanism; Create, Cease, Control, Change; etc.

Spell Systems

There are more ways to convey the awesome power of spells as there are writers of magic systems. Thus, to pick a system of spells for your game, BITS offers some guidance:

    • Take the D&D Approach
      • Dungeons and Dragons is the best known roleplaying game ever. How the game does magic is it restricts a player’s use of a spell to the kind of “magic school” the spell is, and both the difficulty of the spell and number of spells based on player character experience. Further, there are a finite number of spells premade to choose from that a player has to decide on before an adventure, a daunting task as there are hundreds of spells 😱

        BITS mitigates this option paralysis by doing two things: removing the excessive limits, and paring down spells from systems like D&D (BITS has a 120-spell collection taking the best from D&D and balancing out what were previously “must have” spells in D&D).

        There are still limits with this approach any game designer must choose to include or forego: Only magical players or game equipment may cast spells, and, players may only use spells from the kinds of magic they understand. Other than that, a player can use any level of spell difficulty! Though, nothing terribly bad is guaranteed to happen if a player foils up casting a spell… 
    • Slim Approach
      • Which brings us to a slimmer, more deadly approach!

        Following the influence of old-school revival (OSR) games, there is at most a page or two of succinct spells that speak to the theme of the game.

        Further, when players critically fail to cast these otherwise resource-free, ranged, and power spells, BITS requires the spell to target the casting player and any effect turned negative towards the player. That heal spell now hurts, that fireball explodes around the player, the airstrike you called in is on your location. BITS achieves balance here by keeping the game succinct and spell use deadly.
    • Freeform
      • What if players are especially imaginative? There are no walls barring magical ability? Is the game Harry Potter themed?

        BITS solves that too. In a freeform system, a table guide for spell effect and the difficulty of the spell exists to aid not just impromptu game systems, but also for GMs and players who want to introduce their own material to the game.

        Spells range in difficulty from 0 to 4 (from a required roll of 5 to a roll of 13). That 0 to 4 corresponds tightly with the effect of the spell, its range, and its radius of effect.

Default for BITS Spells

As mentioned before, what spells end up in the game depends on the kind of game being gone for. A bucket of spells? A tight selection? A creative ocean of spell possibilities? Regardless, BITS focuses on a set of realities to keep spells both balanced and powerful in any game.

First, the difficulty of a spell roll is the difficulty of the spell, not the threat of what the spell targets. Melee fighters and arrow-shooting rangers have to meet or beat the difficulty of harming a target, but a spell thrower merely needs to account for the spell they cast, leaving them free to focus on their role as magical support.

Second, spells will target and harm the caster if the caster critically fails their roll. If this is too harsh, BITS has the optional rule to allow casters to choose between accepting the negative themselves, or destroying what equipment they carry to completely negate the spell. (Just be careful of naked adventures running around with sacrificed clothing!) 

Third and lastly, spells are what I call “runaway”. Like a train without a conductor, when a spell is cast, it keeps going until it’s finished. Plenty of spells are instantaneous (zap ⚡), but some last the lifetime of a target or until some special rule of the spell is met. Runaway spells lessens the bookkeeping of tracking multiple spells in the game world while freeing up magical players to otherwise continue acting instead of babysitting some effect.

And that’s spell use in BITS! Thank you for getting this far, reader 😁 If you haven’t yet or need a reminder, checkout BITS’s core mechanic, the equipment, and the role of the GM.

Tomorrow is Halloween 🎃 Next week is the US national election 🙃 After all that, look forward to when I review October’s goals and we look ahead to November. Stay safe! Vote! Cheers ~

BITS – The Equipment

There’s been the intro, the core mechanic, and the GM guide to BITS. Let’s talk now about how players use tools to interact with the game!

Defining Terms

Equipment is anything the player’s character uses to aid their adventures. These things are just that: things (objects, items, stuff, etc.), each with a common set of properties that describe how the equipment helps with possibly additional explanation as to special, specific rules for the item.

The most common properties include a base damage or an armor value, a physical range of use, a weight or other abstract carrying value, a money value (which may be derived from other properties), and name that implies common use (we all know what a “shovel” is, right? 😶).

Lastly, after diligent study of what makes-up the tools in games, equipment falls into four categories:

    1. Wielded Equipment
    2. Worn Equipment
    3. Whatever
    4. Trinkets

About Equipment

Wielded equipment is anything held in one, two, or more hands depending on how the game means to accommodate weight or carry capacity. This type of equipment is what typically has the “base damage” (BD) property, which is the bare minimum of hurt the equipment will do to a target if successfully used. In the case of shields, though, the “armor value” property exists instead.

Armor value (AV) mostly stays on worn equipment which by its namesake stays on a character’s body. AV reduces any damage from damage passively should an action to hurt the wearer  get through successfully.

Both BD and AV may be reduced over time depending on the game experience intended. This then introduces repair (at a cost) and exchanging BD and AV values to negate or ensure actions. Thus, an economy of equipment is born!

But I digress…

“Whatever” is any equipment that is the miscellaneous, well, whatever that a character would be expected to bring with them on adventures. Fantasy examples include torches, bedrolls, rations, rope, and things specific to a character’s role or background, such as lockpicks for a thief or a war horn for a soldier.

Whatever is abstracted into a value of how much is brought along by a character. When the situation needs a tool, a character can take from that resource pool to get one of the item. Needless to say, this saves a lot when it comes to bookkeeping and tedious minutia when playing.

Trinkets are special things from a character’s past. These are equipment that take none of a character’s carrying capacity and are merely conversation starters that allow players to pursue different aspects of role-play with their characters. Mysterious rings, stained handkerchiefs, and even a ruddy deck of playing cards give the imagination a running head start. (And who knows? Players will always come up with more than the game designer, so a clever player may find a context to put their trinket to work!)

Ranges

Range is a finicky thing that changes based on how tactical or how abstract a game is meant to be. BITS gives tools to go either way.

A middle-ground example of the abstract and concrete is the approximation of distances like so (directly taken from the 201021 version of BITS):

Self – ~1 meter. Reach without a step.
Wagon – ~5 meters. Reach with one or two strides.
Room – ~10 meters. A road with two lanes and shoulders.
Half-line – ~50 meters. The height of a normal tower.
Field – ~100 meters. The length an arrow travels from a normal bow.
Peak – ~500 meters. When a hill becomes a mountain and a normal skyscraper height.
Horizon – ~1000 meters. Maximum visible length when on a road in wilderness.
League – ~5000 meters. Distance walked in an hour and maximum visibility on completely flat water.
Mountaintop – ~10000 meters. Mountains are not higher.

This is probably too specific – that’s why BITS is still a WIP 😂

Anywho, hand-to-hand encounters default to a wagon, or ~5 meters, away which is also the distance traveled in a single unit of movement. Therefore, positioning is preserved and other actions may roll directly into combat ⚔

There is a strict segregation between hand-to-hand and at-a-distance equipment (ie bows, crossbows, and slings). Equipment that may attack from afar first uses ammunition which is drawn from the character’s whatever, but only on critical failures. Balancing whether to keep shooting or to retreat comes because ranged equipment has disadvantage when there are opponents in hand-to-hand range while also being improvised equipment when dueling mono-a-mono.

Improvisation and Degrees of Success

Sometimes what you have is all you have to solve the problem in front of you. Thus, improvised equipment must be accommodated for.

Be it a suit made of rope acting as armor or a broken bottle in a bar, the reassigned devices work far less effectively than their purpose-built cousins. Armor value sits at 1 and is heavy while base damage is 0 (at most, 1) if using degrees of success.

Speaking of, degrees of success (DoS) offer a varying level of effectiveness with any action, and when it comes to equipment, that’s the damage caused.

DoS is how much higher a roll is than the roll needed to be. A pass of 7 but a roll of 10 has 3 DoS. This value gets added to the damage applied to the target, ensuring that an unarmored character with a shiv can still find a chink in a fully suited and shielded knight!

Other Stuff

There’s a lot to consider and accommodate for as it comes to equipment:

How do I throw my axe? Do I have a bonus or advantage if it’s a throwing axe?

So how does weight, or as you call it, “carry”, work?

Do spears also default to the same range as other HTH gear?

What about all this junk I want to bring along?

Ad infinitum…

These are important considerations which have been incorporated into the BITS designer’s guide. To really get into the meat of it all would require a whole new post for edge cases that rely primarily on the game experience sought by the designer.

However, if you have a specific question on your mind, of course it may be answered! 😃 Reach out (not with your longsword, please) to help shore up BITS, saving other designers the same wonder!

Next week will be how spells and magics apply to BITS! Stay tuned and stay healthy. Cheers ~ 

The 6-Point Story Structure of Halo

Greetings again!

Before we continue with BITS, I’ve been touching on the outlines of October’s goals, one of which is inspired by Microsoft’s Halo franchise. Taking notes on the games, I began to see an intense correlation between each in what they want the player (you and I) to do.

Out of that study, I’ve honed a few points that seem to be quintessential for any main-installment Halo game featuring the Master Chief (our hero!).

Master Chief Collection from Halocdn.com

The Points

Halo games have points that, if adhered to, seem to make them better received than other games. (I’ll show this off in the next section.) Metacritic scores are used for reference to how well a game is accepted by the audience.

    1. Hero Raised
      1. The first scene in the game is of the main character(s) being raised up. Be it Master Chief standing up from his coffin-like pod or the soon-to-be Arbiter being lifted to the rack, the first scenes put the hero in the limelight 🌟
    2. Fight Off (and Crash)
      1. The first encounter, say 10% of the story, is about surviving an enemy attack and crashing ⚔
    3. Fight Back (with Friends)
      1. To wrap up the first half of the story is about turning the defense of point #2 into an attack with allies against the enemy 😎
    4. Stop the Very Bad (a Trap)
      1. The midpoint of the story kicks off when the hero is charged with stopping something very bad from happening (the hero is likely directly involved with its cause 😱). However, the “Very Bad” or the means of stopping it is a trap, leading to:
    5. Stop the Very Worst (all or nothing)
      1. The storied climax, the last 25%, the end of all free-willed life in the galaxy (a recurring theme). The hero succeeds here or everything is done for 💀
    6. Explosions and Goodbye/Hello
      1. Something has to explode in the closing scenes 💥 And someone must say goodbye and hello to something else.

The Points of Each Game

Master Chief CE from Cloudfront.net

Halo: Combat Evolved

With a Metacritic score of 97, the first in the franchise by developer Bungie sets the pace for all stories to come.

    1. Raised – Master Chief is called out of his cryo-pod to save everyone when all other efforts have failed.
    2. Fight Off – MC beats back alien boarders to the spaceship Pillar of Autumn, but both the Chief and Autumn crash-land on the titular Halo ring.
    3. Fight Back – Gathering survivors of the crash, MC explores, raids, and brings the fight to the enemy.
    4. The Bad – The galactic plague known as the Flood escape, but the Chief can use Halo to stop it (not with friends, since most everyone died when the Flood got out). Problem: Stopping the Flood means killing all sentient life in the galaxy.
    5. The Worst – MC has to stop the Halo ring from firing while armies flee in the face of the rampant Flood.
    6. Explosions – Chief uses explosions to cause the Autumn to explode into a mini-sun, ripping the Halo ring apart. There is a suggestion MC can say goodbye to all of his enemies, yet he thinks he’s only greeted their arrival. (A final scene shows the robot caretaker of the ring flying away, a robot that literally says “hello” to all it meets.)
Master Chief Halo 2 from BGR.com

Halo 2

 

This sequel (95 score) plays on the point themes a second time, especially with the introduction of the Arbiter co-lead.

    1. Raised – The Master Chief is given a very publicized medal high on a space station above Earth, humanity’s home. The Arbiter is given a very publicized  torture high on a tower above High Charity, the alien enemy’s home.
    2. Fight Off – The MC fights off boarders aboard the space station, eventually crashing into not one, but two spaceships as he gives “the Covenant back their bomb”.  The Arbiter seems to be bringing the fight to some alien traitors on a space station, but instead he needs to fight off the Flood as his allies die or depart before the Arbiter crashes the  space station into a gas giant.
    3. Fight Back – Chief (and a small army) brings the fight to the enemy in a besieged human city and chases them when they depart onto a new Halo ring (cue exploration, raiding, and upsetting all the plans of the enemy). The Arbiter gathers allies as he fights through ancient robots and Flood that keep him from his goal: getting the key to activate the Halo ring.
    4. The Bad – Captured by the Flood, MC aims to stop the enemy leader from firing the Halo ring. It’s a trap, of course, as the chaos the Chief is causing allows the Flood to break out on High Charity.
    5. The Worst – Also captured by the Flood, the Arbiter moves to stop an enemy subordinate from firing the Halo ring which, again, will end life.
    6. Explosions – MC arrives in the middle of all out war above Earth while the Arbiter stops the Halo firing just in time with the effect of it being a wet firecracker (a play on the explosion point). MC says hello to the human defenders as the Arbiter greets new human, alien, and robotic allies. (The final scene shows the Flood greeting Chief’s left-behind AI companion aboard High Charity.)
Master Chief from pcgamesn.com

Halo 3

A whopping 94 score means Halo 3 is a taste of the same for the franchise.

    1. Raised – The Chief crashes into a jungle from orbit (this isn’t the “crash” yet) and seemingly from the dead is raised up out of his crater.
    2. Fight Off – Chased through the jungle, the Chief has no rest as the base he shelters in is besieged. This section ends when he literally crashes down a mountain-tall elevator.
    3. Fight Back – With base survivors and soldiers he picks up along the way, the Chief gathers an army as he battles his way to fire the humanity’s biggest cannons at the enemy leader’s ship. Wounded but undeterred, the enemy flees and MC gives chase over the Ark, a remote control for all Halo rings. (There’s an iffy bit here where the Flood arrive and must be fought off, but it’s not long and sets up a later point.)
    4. The Bad – The enemy is about to activate the Halo rings and only the Master Chief (and the united army behind him) can stop it. This is just what the Flood want…
    5. The Worst – Thus, the Flood arrive on the Ark, an area free of the Halo influence… Except for a single Halo, the replacement for the ring destroyed in Halo: Combat Evolved. (Another section of having to go rescue the AI aboard a Flood-infested High Charity.)
    6. Explosions – The Halo explodes! The AI companion of the Chief says goodbye to him as he freezes in stasis indefinitely. Humanity and the Arbiter say goodbye as they think him dead. (After the credits, we see a dark planet light up as the Chief floats towards it, a “hello” if I’ve ever seen one!)
Master Chief H4 from Steam

Halo 4

The first title from 343 Industries, it runs into a bit of trouble falling below 90 in its 87 score for a game featuring Master Chief. It’s my concern that it’s the switch of “The Bad” and the “Fight Back” in their places along with a number of other trend-breaking changes (multiple failures to stop the enemy in a row, humans not on MC’s side, a faceless protagonist, etc.).

    1. Raised – Chief comes out of the freeze because he’s needed again.
    2. Fight Off – Aliens board the MC spaceship and in a classic Master Chief move, he shoots them with a missile to the face. The ship proceeds to crash onto planet hidden under a metal shell.
    3. The Bad – Rescue has arrived, but they’ll get trapped (or destroyed!) if they approach the planet. MC races to let them know it’s a trap, but in turn, is tricked into releasing a genocidal prisoner of the Halo builders.
    4. Fight Back – Gathering weapons and new super soldiers, MC fights back against aliens and robots. Nothing much new here except for rescuing the people meant to rescue the Chief.
    5. The Worst – The prisoner escapes and captures a genocide weapon (it makes people into tortured warbots?). The MC fails, people die, but the Chief is now power level over 9000, so chases the prisoner before he can kill Earth.
    6. Explosions – A grenade and a nuke go off. The AI companion saves the MC, but seemingly sacrifices herself to do it, so must say goodbye. (As the credits roll, we are introduced to the new human soldiers and weapons they’ll take up to secure their place in the galaxy. Plus, we see part of the Chief’s face for the first time!)
Locke and Master Chief from halocdn.com

Halo 5: Guardians

We drop even lower with an 84 score in what I can only conclude is not a Master Chief Halo game. The MC makes an appearance but is clearly the co-star to Locke, the first character we play as. (To also mention all the trend breaks is a post unto itself.)

    1. Raised – Both Locke and Chief fly down onto hapless enemies and are just doing their job versus acting as the last means to prevent doomsday.
    2. Fight Off – Locke brings the fight to some aliens here, but at least MC fights off alien boarders to a space station? There is no crashing.
    3. Fight Back – Locke chases Chief and leads civilian resistance against awoken killer robots. The Master Chief goes exploring on a new planet, abducted by a giant robot.
    4. The Bad – Locke wants to stop both Chief getting his AI companion back and giant robots waking up and destroying human colonies. Chief fights back against a protector robot keeping MC from the AI.
    5. The Worst – Turns out the giant robots are under the control of the AI. Guess she’s going to take over the galaxy, removing free will to bring eternal peace. MC is captured by her so it’s up to Locke to stop her and free the Chief. (Spoiler: he only does the later.)
    6. Explosions – For the first time in Halo history, the main character fails at stopping the worst thing. Without an epic explosion, only a single human ship and the super soldiers flee from the AI’s virtually complete victory.
Halo Reach Team from Steam

Halo: Reach

A solid and final Halo game from Bungie (91 score). It doesn’t have the Master Chief, but that’s OK as it also strays a bit from the point-formula.

    1. Raised – Noble Six (the hero) rises over mountains and forests on a helicopter as the newest member of a super soldier team.
    2. Fight Off – In a slow start (this section takes awhile), Six has to survive an alien ambush and defend a base, ending with an orbital strike on a hovering alien ship, it crashing down.
    3. Fight Back – With an army, Six attacks enemy entrenchments. They destroy just about everything. This is a bit of a trap, as The Bad arrives, blasting away part of the human fleet.
    4. The Bad – A super ship of the aliens arrives. Six takes the fight up to the enemy in space and detonates a bomb to kill off an alien super ship. It’s a trap because a teammate dies to set the explosion just as dozens of similar super ships arrive.
    5. The Worst – Full-scale invasion of the planet. The battle is lost. A key resource to ending the war with the aliens must be delivered and evacuated off-planet.
    6. Explosions – Defending the vessel now holding the resource, Six shoots into the weapon-hole of a super ship, causing it to go nova and clears a path for the vessel to flee (goodbye). (In a final scene, a cracked helmet of death grows flowers and new life, a salutation to the rebirth of the world from sacrifice.)
Rookie from NME.com

Halo 3: ODST

Not a game about super soldiers and not a linear game per say, I’m only including Halo: ODST as reference despite the 83 score. (I’ll do my best to align the chronological narrative to the points found in other Halo games.) 

    1. Raised – Hero “Rookie” is literally raised from sleep before being dropped from orbit into a besieged city. Here comes the crash from Fight Off as an explosion sends Rookie through a couple of buildings.
    2. Fight Off – Rookie battles invaders through the streets as Rookie’s squad mates do  the same.
    3. Fight Back – Squad mates team up with local forces to mess up the alien advance. Rookie gains an ally of the city’s AI.
    4. The Bad – The enemy is making moves to compromise the city AI and the AI has important data to combat the aliens.
    5. The Worst – The AI has transferred to an alien bio computer. While the computer is friendly, it is squishy, so Rookie and the team must fight their way out of the city.
    6. Explosions – As Rookie flies away in a stolen dropship, alien warships devastate the city in nuclear fire (goodbye and good riddance). (In a final shot, the bio computer is greeted by an interrogator who asks to be told everything it knows.)

Halo Wars, Halo Wars 2, and Other Games

For the sake of brevity since we’re already >2000 words in, I’m skipping the games that aren’t first-person shooters or stories about the Master Chief (it may already be guessed that these games are less well received).

The Point of a Game

Does the 6-Point structure of Halo conform not just in each game, but for each game as a franchise? Take a look:

    1. Raised (H:CE) Master Chief, the hero, is introduced and raised as a legend for stopping alien armies, a life-consuming plague, and the death of all life by the Halo ring.
    2. Fight Off (H2) Master Chief fights the enemies who’ve invaded his world (Earth) and even his mind (the Flood capture him and communicate telepathically). The crashes here are those of the Halo system (it fails so resorts to remote control we see in point #3) and ideologies as the alien command and belief structure breaks down. (OK, fine, a bit of a stretch.)
    3. Fight Back (H3) – Leading united armies in a scale unseen in previous points, Master Chief brings the fight to aliens, robots, and a plague without a cure. Over-powered super soldier stardom at its finest.
    4. The Bad (H4) – Master Chief releases a killer on the galaxy who has a grudge against humanity, whose trap of rescue lured MC in and leads to an AI companion’s seeming death. (The question lingers if this point, “The Bad”, refers to the lowest Metacritic score so far.)
    5. The Worst (H5) – The killer released by Master Chief in point #4 starts a rising up of murder robots across the galaxy in the control of the “dead” AI. Master Chief is supposed to stop this, but fails and instead is saved by a character we haven’t seen until this point. (Of note, this has the lowest Metacritic score of any Master Chief game.)
    6. Explosions (H6, unreleased) So what may we suppose of the sixth game? Supposedly Halo Infinite is supposed to be the next main entry, but I decline that notion in favor of a true Halo 6 being released.
      In any case, we should expect lots of explosions. (LOTS.) A greeting and meeting of enemies and allies, a final farewell to the Master Chief and the Halo franchise. We may only wait to see if the next game finishes the fight, and if how it is done is better received than its immediate predecessors.
Master Chief in Halo Infinite from Steam

And that’s the 6-point story structure of Halo! We see that if a game conforms closely to the formula of the first installment, it will be well regarded. If not, the game will be overshadowed by its peers.

Do you agree that this is the story structure of successful Halo games? Why do you disagree? How did this change how you perceive Halo? Drop a comment – I want to know if I’ve missed something!

Thanks in advance and for getting this far. Cheers!

BITS – The GM

For the last two months, I’ve been working on BITS, giving first the mechanics. That work continues this month today as we delve into the role of the Game Moderator (GM) that aids other players in using BITS! 😃

The Role

The GM is meant to be an educated player of any BITS game, possibly the most educated, as they are charged with reading at least the player guide and the GM guide.

With that knowledge, if any decision about rules, questions on play, or disputes arise from other players, the GM ultimately makes the final decision. Whatever the outcome, the GM is required to communicate their reasoning to the players. Decisions though ought to come from the place of responsibility of the GM.

Designer’s note: GMs control all fictional creatures the players do not. A GM only roll dice (2d6) when the only creatures involved in the roll are in the GM’s control. Otherwise, the player whose being is involved handles the rolling to prevent an action from happening to their being.

Responsibilities

Out of all the things the GM does, there are four “pure” things the GM is relied on to do:

  1. Ensure the quality of the game.
  2. Describe the fictional environment, actions, and outcomes of the game in detail.
  3. Determine when players need to roll and by how much they must roll.
  4. Ask other players, “What are you doing now?”

The first point, quality, is the most important part of the game. If the game isn’t of quality, changes must happen between the GM, the game, and the other players – life is too short to be volunteering to have a bad time!

There are various methods to help ensure quality described in the WIP GM guide. The same goes for the other points above, such as including as many of the senses as possible to expand the level of detail being described.

GMs are also required to dole out reward for the game’s accomplishments, whether that be XP, treasure, or some other means of tracking progress.

Finally, GMs are given the option to include “incentive” before an adventure gets under way.  Incentive is a token given to every player. Any player with a token may give that token to the GM to help another player to succeed on a roll, save themselves from danger, or other boon to encourage cooperation between players.

Rules

With the help of many reviewers, GMs also have ten rules to game by. In a quick summary:

  1. Rule of Ask
  2. Rule of Boundaries
  3. Rule of Consistency
  4. Rule of Cool
  5. Rule of Fun
  6. Rule of Know
  7. Rule of Now
  8. Rule of Reveal
  9. Rule of Trust
  10. Rule of Yes

Yes, that’s pretty vague – just know that be it respecting boundaries, deferring to the cooler option, or being fair and consistent, BITS aims to support all players as much as possible in play, including the GM.

Thus, the GM is also encouraged to check out other tips, tricks, and games that could improve how the GM plays their role. Over a dozen tips are included in the guide (#1 is “Add EXPLOSIONS!” 💥) to get a GM started on thinking about how to ensure the quality of the game.

Beings

I’m still not sure if the GM guide is the correct place to put “beings”, any fictional actor in a game. The plan right now is to keep any being in the adventures they show up in…

Potato potato 🥔 you didn’t come here for formatting details 😁

The GM must keep track of the beings involved in the game, the position of beings around the players, any communication the beings have with each other or the players, and the fighting ability of a being.

All that note taking and roleplay is a lot of work – thus, back to the designer’s note above, the GM rolls very little if at all! 🎲🎲

Everything else the GM might do the GM is only encouraged to do – read ahead in adventures, prepare content before play, create their own content, etc. Thus, BITS remains flexible no matter the game for a GM 😊

And that’s the Game Moderator! BITS is continuing to come along, changing and growing as it receives feedback and limited playtesting continues. That said, BITS is “alive” and changes happen all the time.

To capture those thoughts, I’ve started on a design guide for BITS games, each alternate mechanic getting in-depth commentary of what it is meant to do and why. This includes GM-less play (a beast of a task unto itself, though Ironsworn may provide a way ⚔).

Anyway, stay safe, y’all. Best to you and yours and your own goals. See you next week! Cheers ~

September October Goals

Detached from the storm that is the nation at large, I have been doing my part staying away, staying in, staying informed, and staying busy.

That’s helped a lot with September’s goals 😁

September Goal Review

      1. BITS GM and Spell Guides
        1. Won. Have both! Protocol/Rules for the GM and 120 spells with mechanics. They’re edited, too! Though, I must readdress part of the spell system that’ll likely scrap the 120 spell. #GameDesign 🙃
      2. BITS Monster / Equipment / Character Creation Guides
        1. Won. The Monster Guide happened to be rolled into the GM guide and some of the adventure. Everything else is looking fine 😎
      3. BITS Adventure
        1. Won. Lost Mines of Phandelver is the Dungeon and Dragons starting adventure and its format was the example for BITS. However, it’s a campaign and possibly too detailed. After studying Mork Borg (content warning), I will remake the guide into single page adventures that can make up a whole campaign. (Setting up the campaign also required me to give the “game” using BITS a name: As Above, So Below.)
      4. 100/5 Pushups/Pullups
        1. Won. Wrecked this one like a boss 💪🏻😎🤳🏻 I hit >60 push-ups in a set, >400 a day, >12 pull-ups a set, >40 a day. With some consultation, I scaled back from “every day” to five days, though three to four seem like the optimal number. The intention was to regain ten pounds, which I have!

October Goal Proposal

Before we begin, a caveat: I’m aiming to take a vacation for a week either hiking the Appalachian Trail (some 90 miles one-way) or climbing a few mountains. However, me being fair-weather, I hold out for a fine seven-to-ten day forecast. If it comes, I’ll be scrapping the third goal for the month!

      1. BITS Alpha Edits
        1. Have to address a few more issues with the AASB guides, along with a tightening of the equipment and spellcasting. Will keep edits local / with folks whose skills in game design are proven. (If you’d like to be included, see below!)
      2. BITS Format and Principles
        1. Add some placeholder images for theme to the guides and set aside a document that’ll serve as BITS‘s system bible (what it is attempting and how to go about it).
      3. BITS Beta Edits
        1. Here, the guides will be sent out into the wild for review. Reddit, Twitter, here, and elsewhere. I trust I’m ready for the burn 🔥
      4. Outline
        1. I’ve lived a life and have come across, what I feel, are some Truths. I’ve also immense imaginative stories bouncing around in my head. With this goal, I’m going to outline at least one of them, if not more.

100% winning in September! Work and workout every day leads to results 😃

Here’s to hoping October

If you’d be so kind as to review the BITS ruleset, fill out the form below. (Your email shall only be used to send links – no spam!) I’m indebted to your help in advance! Cheers ~

BITS – The Core Mechanic

This month (and last month) have fleshed out the BITS role-playing system. Today, I give you insight into how BITS resolves conflicts with its core dice mechanic.

The Dice

2d6 (or 2 6-sided dice) are all you need, easy enough to suffice the goal of BITS to be simple without being too simple.

6-sided dice are the most common dice a player’s likely to have in a sock drawer or at least any other game, so sticking with that fixes the issue many games have of having a museum of different many-sided dice.

As for having buckets of dice at any time, 2 is a great number. 2 breaks the linear drudgery of a single die, giving a lovely curving range which has double digits and makes even a minor change in a roll’s value possibly momentous. (The next section explains the latter part.)

No, BITS is not for the folks who bring a satchel of colorful dice to every gaming table. Yes, BITS is for the player who likes time spent on gaming vs. digging for dice. 🎲🎲

Use the Dice When…

There’s a chance that a game-character’s or -creature’s actions could hurt itself, hurt something else, draw unwanted attention, change how others act, cause the future actions not to be taken, or otherwise impact how the game will progress (or not) from the point of action forward.

You have to test for these, tests being times you roll the dice. The value of the dice (and any other values added to it) must meet or exceed a threat value for a given course of action. Threat may be the meanness of a monster, the narrowness of a cliff edge, or the reluctance of a princess to grant your wish.

When 1 or more tests are required to resolve conflict, those are trials, which come in 3 flavors: Combative (physical violence between creatures), Environmental (surviving dangerous conditions), and Social (convincing others to act). Each uses the BITS values for whatever action a player would like to take, which has made play faster and players more confident in their decisions.

The order of a trial (who rolls dice first, second, etc.) comes from an initiative order roll at the start of a trial. The highest value (with their highest BITS value added) goes first. If the value is odd, the order is clockwise (to the left), counterclockwise if even, each player (and the GM) taking tests for all the things they control at once. (Thus, BITS removes the need to keep track of a bouncing arrangement of who rolls dice when!)

Designer note: Categorizing and defining when to roll is an aim to remove ambiguity from the dice. In popular games, the numbers from a roll only matter concretely when a player is in combat, using subjective measures or a boat-load of skills or talents to resolve anything else (e.g. D&D). With BITS, dice roll for anything, removing subjectivity and increasing both the utility of the BITS values and player attention (people like to roll dice 🤷‍♂️).

The Math

A quick note that BITS relies on addition and only addition virtually always. This isn’t the case some times. However, when this principle breaks, it is for small-number subtraction (i.e. 4), which the next section covers. 

‘Vantage and Criticals

Advantage and disadvantage are not unique principles in games. Your actions have some boon or bane to them that does something to the conflict resolution, either rerolling dice, adding values to the roll, subverting other effects, or similar.

BITS, since the system has only 2 dice and we don’t want players “remembering” a roll either mentally or needing extra paper to jot a roll value down, relies on simply increasing or decreasing a roll by 4 for advantage or disadvantage, respectively.

(Here’s that point of the need for subtraction, a rare accommodation for the game experience over the addition-only principle.)

Critical successes or failures (criticals) require a wee bit more attention. A critical happens when the dice show double digits, the same value on both dice. What happens next depends on whether the value is above or below the threat the value needed to be.

Over the value (never on, as difficulty is only ever odd), the roll automatically succeeds. Under automatically fails. No other values necessary. (As BITS does not involve rerolling dice, there’s no concern as to getting doubles on a reroll.)

That’s the core mechanic of BITS!  Roll 2d6 to see if your fiction happened the way you wanted it to, adding (and very rarely subtracting) values along the way.

Going to write up more on BITS in the coming weeks, going slowly to as BITS is actively undergoing edits and revisions 🙃 Stay safe! Have fun! Cheers ~