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.

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 ~

Game Health

Greetings, pandemic-quarantined people!

To give you a glimpse of what my brain thinks about at 3 AM when sleep alludes me, let’s talk about the different kinds of game health. You may add another tool to your belt as I have done to lend a lens towards your own game making 😁

Define Terms

Health in games is one thing: A resource that, when low or without, prevents the player from doing what they want with their character.

(For the purposes of this post, I’m including mechanics that “give you bad things” as health as well, where the absence of the “bad thing” is a measure of health.)

Usually, health is the most important resource to a player. Though it might come back or prevent it’s own loss, any less health is not what the player wants. If health is absent, some common “costs” for allowing the resource to be used up include:

  • Losing progress/time (restarting from a previous point in the game as if the player had done nothing, or requiring time away from accomplishing a goal)
  • Losing abilities (prevention of a few or all actions the player can take, or reducing the efficacy of actions)
  • Losing another resource (something valuable for other things or because it is rare is used up)

Since game designers have been creative over the years, that’s a short list. Whatever the case, something valuable is taken from the player and their efforts to play the game.

Here’s a longer list abbreviated of what “kinds” of health a game has:

  • Number of actors (units, currency, pieces, bits of a required resource, etc.)
  • Cardiovascular and muscular endurance
  • Flesh and blood
  • Metal or chitin armor plates
  • Energy or “shields”
  • Mental strength
  • Time to complete actions

Health is always abstract in its representation, yet always concrete in “if you cross line X, you will receive consequence Y that makes it harder to accomplish your goal”.

Health might be regained in a few ways or not at all. Allow me to skip the latter case to show a few ways health comes back:

  • Automatically with time
  • Using a game item or action
  • Not losing more health for a time

It is important to note that a game may have multiple kinds of health for the player, which may also be different between players.

OK! With those out of the way, I have a proposal:

Shields Armor Personal

The proposal is this: There are only 3 kinds of health in a game. I name these after games of conflict that have the most complexity as it comes to health implementation:

  • Shields
  • Armor
  •  Personal

Shields are a kind of health that automatically recovers over time. In the game, these can be depicted as recurring money income, generated energy, or other temporary-yet-perpetual health. This is the first health to be used. This health may be lost if not used, the game capping the amount being held at a time. The loss of shields isn’t a game-ender as shields will come back, but their loss may prevent other actions or allow more valuable health to be removed.

Armor (I was tempted to call this “plate”, but SAP is a nicer acronym 🙃) includes health that is impervious to a certain amount of reduction. If an action would remove 3 health but armor is at a 4, nothing happens, while a removal of 6 would be reduced to 2. Armor itself can be lessened, or be exchanged as the cost of preventing even more important health from being reduced.

Personal is the most important health. It does not come back on its own and is the direct measure of how poorly positioned a player is to keep playing the game as they have been. Without it, the player may not take actions towards their goal. It’s the last health to be taken from if Shields and Armor are present.

These kinds of health can be combined together or doubled-up with the same kind of health. Take Sanity from Call of Cthulhu as an example: Sanity pairs with Hit Points to balance mental and physical ability to act.

(If it will help your memory, replace SAP with the 3R’s of health: Regenerative, Reductive, Required.)

Why SAP Works

It comes back to the investigation of the definition of health: There is health that comes back or is temporary, there is health that reduces or resists reduction, and there is health that determines the actions available to the player. Plus, SAP is in order of application!

Further yet, be it the shield-armor-health of a Protoss warrior in the game Starcraft, properties and money in Monopoly, or the real-world APS-hull-crew of a tank or carapace-clothes-skin of people, SAP is repeated over and over again in systems dealing with a thing trying to do things.

Lastly, SAP balances player attention. Shields grow on their own so long as the player continues to play. Armor might be permanent and minor or major and replaceable. Personal gets better over time if left alone, but is the most critical to not let run out.

Therefore, SAP is a highly useful tool when considering health in a game and the order by which different kinds of health reduce. Further, it breaks out of abstract games into the real world, providing insight into the levels that protect the functioning of a thing.

What do you think? Share your insights and tools so better games and a more efficient way to look at the world can be unlocked! 👍🏻 Cheers~

Remember

Thought today was going to have a pithy post about … it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that on September 11th, 2001, 2,977 American people died from an extremist attack of foreign origin.

That morning in mid September has been undeniably the definitive event for at least the United States this millennium, if not the world.

In the last several months, more than 188 thousand Americans have died of a preventable pandemic. In the last 7 days, more than 4998 Americans have died.

Yet, extremists continue to act, even today, to undermine united efforts to save the lives of Americans, if not outright act against those efforts. Thus, when the majority of the developed world has begun to open up, to travel, to enjoy the company of each other, the United States remains off the world stage, other countries closing their borders to a sick, unwell country.

In as much as the United States did in response to September 11th, America has had an inversely proportionate response to the current tragedy. This may be because the extremists happen to be Americans themselves.

We will never get back the lives of September 11th, or those of COVID-19. However, we may still prevent more loss to the latter. Address falsehoods as they rear, share information from WHO, expect others to follow guidelines, be patient, and wear your mask.

On this anniversary of a horrific tragedy caused by extremists, I ask you to do your part in refuting the cause of extremists in perpetuating the senseless deaths of our ongoing tragedy. 

BITS – An Introduction

You’ve seen me talk a lot about BITS, an original rule set for tabletop role-playing games (RPGs). It’s about time you got some more insight to it!

BITS, or Body-Interaction-Thought System, came about first when a colleague and knowledgeable friend mentioned how cumbersome the classic Dungeons and Dragons type of old-school RPG systems were.

I sat on this problem for awhile, pondering ways to automate and streamline the work of the world building, dice juggling, and stat monitoring. Nothing really “worked”…

Until I noticed that the universe of Warhammer 40K was made purely of the elements of Muscle, Machine, and Mind 🤯

Looking at other RPG systems, I saw the 3Ms everywhere. All game systems divide into physical ability and performance, manual dexterity and know-how, and mental strength and intelligence.

For reasons I care to let you read or listen about, the 3Ms became the 4Ms, “Maybe” joining the ranks and becoming a dump section for anything narrative in a game.

I tried 4Ms for a few more things, but I couldn’t get Maybe to always feel “correct”, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to give up Muscle, Machine, and Mind!

What resulted was BITS. Body relates better to physical performance, Interaction better for manual work and social charisma, and Mind handling magic and intelligence. And in these things, any attributes or stats in any game can be put 😎

Further, I discovered a common theme of ‘4’ showing up in games, where every number could be normalized on a 0 to 4 scale. Thus, any single BITS value is rated 0 to 4 on a linear growth curve (0 to 1 is short, 3 to 4 is long), meaning any fictional creature in a game has at maximum a total of 12 for their values, while any single value is at most 4. (Great for balancing and restricting the dreaded Power Creep!)

BITS uses 2 6-sided dice (2d6) for every roll to see if a fictional creature succeeds at what it wants to do. The expectation is to keep things simple – 2d6 are easy to add together, they are the most common dice type, and having everyone roll only 2 dice for everything is elegantly simple (checkout the probability curve that games such as the famous Powered by the Apocalypse system uses).

When rolling, the “additions” to the roll are kept in a very exclusive list:

  • Add a single (or no) BITS value, 0 to 4.
  • Add 1 for any other creature that spends valuable time helping your creature act.

“Maybe” hasn’t gone away completely, either. The current test-case conversion of D&D into BITS has “Luck”, a fallback for whenever a roll needs to happen that doesn’t seem to fit into the Body-Interaction-Thought set, or is an event that a player would have no chance to react to. It means no values are added to the roll.

But what does a person need to roll to succeed?

“Threat” is the WIP term for the success threshold. Every creature and environmental obstacle has a threat which corresponds with their total BITS value (if a creature) or difficulty (hazards). Any action against this creature or hazard must roll (with additions) at or over the threat. (Easy, ya?)

Scaling threat has been a major undertaking with BITS and may not be done yet, so it goes for now as follows:

  • Roll a 5 for easy actions.
  • 7 for moderate.
  • 9 for hard.
  • etc.

Players max out at 13 threat. Simple!

The rolls may be altered (rerolling for dis-/advantage) or may lead to automatic successes/failures (doubles over/under threat).

Regardless, how effective the action is deals with how much over threat a roll is. Using damage from a weapon as an example, weapons only have a low base damage X from 1 to 4. However, for every degree of success over threat, that’s extra damage to add! No extra rolling for damage, no variable dice for damage, and a counterbalance of using tools and picking fights!

If you take damage, you must have health! Or, as it is in BITS, “wounds”, which you add any damage to (reduced by an armor value). Once you reach your maximum number of wounds, well, 💀💀💀

I aim to have wounds traceable with 6-sided dice for easy counting, so maximum wounds have been necessarily low… I will need more playtesting later-/post-pandemic to understand the implications of that, but you get the drift – everything is to be easier, simpler, and more accessible 😉

When your creature acts is also streamlined. Everyone rolls, adding their highest BITS value. The highest final number goes first, but then if the result is even or odd, that changes the direction of the turn order (to the player’s left or right). If it’s the Game Moderator’s (GM) turn, they take a turn for every creature not controlled by a player.

The GM does more than moderate – they arbitrate, describe, listen, and help ensure the quality of the game. They’re also the player I aim to develop the most automation tools for 😁

Together, the GM and other players take on adventures meant to be self-contained missions that offer opportunities to pursue other adventures. The players gain XP for trying more difficult adventures, which increases their BITS values, which leads to getting more treasure in the adventure, which allows better equipment to be bought, which allows more difficult (and epic!) adventures to be undertaken, which gives more XP. #Cycles 😎

And that’s a quick and dirty introduction to BITS! I have grand expectations for this theme-agnostic system, but am taking humble steps to make sure the foundations are solid before releasing the full set.

After reading all that, what are your thoughts? Any glaring holes in this design? How would you improve it?

Share your impressions and let me know if you’d like to be an alpha-reader. (Don’t worry – the system is split into short, topical guides.)

Take care of your own goals in September! Look forward to more design talk of BITS in the following weeks 😃 Cheers ~

August September Goals

Another month, another post.

How have your goals been going? 🤔

Mine have been somewhat splendid! But don’t take my word for it 😉 Read ahead for the work, followed by the work ahead in September!

August Goal Review

  1. BITS of DnD Draft 1
    1. Won. And what drafts there are! Started with a 40-pager of a ruleset… then threw it out. Now writing a tiered set of guides for players, which brings me to:
  2. BITS of DnD Final Draft (For Beta Playtesting)
    1. Failed -ish. I wrote a “core” draft. Trashed it. Now I’m rewriting a simpler, concise set of instructions to guide play. I have a game, but it’s in need of a little more tweaking before blind playtests 😁
  3. GD ST Outlines
    1. Failed. In essence, I forgot about it 🤷‍♂️ Instead, I rewatched Avatar: The Last Airbender while tweaking and playtesting BITS at home!
      However, I have an outline of the major events I want to write about. I have a GD ST world of factions and people and technology that will be an anthology… just not yet.
  4. Housekeeping
    1. Won. Sis moved, COVID risk mitigated.

September Goal Proposal

  1. BITS GM and Spell Guides
    1. Squeeze out information for the Game Moderator (a special player in BITS) and magic (really, a system unto its own) from the +40-pager written in August.
  2. BITS Monster / Equipment / Character Creation Guides
    1. Stuff to fight, stuff to fight with, and someone to fight as. Easier reference for anyone who needs it.
  3. BITS Adventure
    1. Gotta write an adventure for playtesters to play, right? It will involve a human mob, goblins, some orcs, treasure, caves, castles, and either a dragon, an evil wizard, or both! 🐲
  4. 100/5 Pushups/Pullups
    1. I’m 10 pounds down in muscle since before the pandemic. Starting with 100 pushups and 20 pullups in no more than 4 sets every day in the first week, I’ll increase the numbers by 100/5 each week to 400/35 a day.
      What does this have to do with my Financial Independence goals? Well, I need to be healthy in my retirement when I get there, so strength training it is 💪🏻

August missed some achievements, yet I feel very good about where my projects are right now. Great strides have been made, the way forward clear!

FYI – if you’re interested in giving feedback over the BITS system, send me a message. Extra eyes on are always appreciated!

Also, I’ve learned some things this August about “achievement addiction” and “hedonic adaptation”. Both are problems I’m actively addressing. Steps include actively restricting the things I attempt to do every day, limit the number of projects I have going on at once, being satisfied over unoptimized results, and taking time to, well, enjoy life 😶

I’ve scheduled in some “fun for fun’s sake” activities in September and am actively forgoing seeking out attempting to earn more money. Sounds strange, since FI needs cash to stay afloat – I need to update my mental attitude before then so I know how to stop after I’ve earned that achievement!

Anyway, take care of yourself. Act against the wrongs in the world and let no injustice go unchallenged. Cheers through next week ~

Making a Risk Map

Salutations ~

Part of last month’s goals were to make a Risk board game of the American Civil War.

The goal fell short due to the game not giving the right feel, but I sure-as-heck did the math to make the map 😁

For your reference, the game Risk has a map made of connected continents with various territories in each. If you control a continent, ie have a game piece in every territory, you get the continent bonus, which you usually spend for more game pieces.

The Data Set

It’s the continent bonus I calculated. To do so, I analyzed top-rated Risk games for the number of territories in each continent and how many connections every continent had with other continents. Here’s the list of games (pardon the formatting; yet to look into adding tables to WordPress):

  • Classic
  • Classic w/ a common community modification to connect the Australian continent and rebalance bonuses (ie “Connected”)
  • Star Wars Clone Wars
  • Starcraft
  • Halo (Ring, Forge, Hammer, and Anvil maps treated separately)
  • 2210
  • Mass Effect
  • Star Wars Original Trilogy

Online forums talking about Risk usually base the bonus on a continent’s connections (one territory in one continent connects to one territory in another continent). I feel we need to add territories to this calculation, however, as to control a larger continent requires the spending of more game pieces, thus larger continents are more expensive to get the bonus, regardless of connections (connections being a means for other players to disrupt your control of a continent).

The Equation

Because territories (required to get bonus) and connections (required to keep bonus) are so different in what they mean for a continent, I started my work with a linear equation for each continent for each game:

Nt * Ct + Nc * Cc = B
Nt = Number of territories
Ct = Territory constant for a bonus
Nc = Number of connections
Cc = Connection constant for a bonus
B = Continent bonus

We have Nt, Nc, and B for every continent. We need to solve for Ct and Cc, which we can do by combining the equations to eliminate those variables one at a time.

The Calculations

I assumed this would be straight forward for at least one of the Risk games. Spoiler: It was not 😑

Saving you some of the nitty-gritty calculations (you can do this yourself), let’s look at Risk Classic:

  • Continent – Territories – Connections
  • N. Amer.     9                       3
  • S. Amer.      4                       2
  • Europe        7                       8
  • Africa          6                       6
  • Asia             12                     8
  • Aust.            4                       1

This leads to getting multiple values for Ct and Cc, meaning how bonuses were calculated was a seemingly arbitrary affair 🤷‍♂️

OK! No problem! I’ll try the same thing on the other games…

The Problem

OK. We have a problem. They also churn out obviously tiered continents (some being better than others). For instance, the Connected modification to Classic Risk, while better, leaves us with 3 distinct groups:

  • Cc = 1.167 * Ct
  • Cc = Ct
  • Cc = 0.571 * Ct

To get around this, I tried averaging, normalizing, and a few other pen-and-paper solutions to make this work out.

Nothing worked out 🤦‍♂️

UNTIL I REMEMBERED:

~simplify~

The Solution

How does one simplify this sticky situation across multiple games? Some grossly off in in their bonuses? (*ahem* Halo Risk 😐)

The solution is to combine territories and connections 🎉 Doing that, we get:

(Nt + Nc) * C = B
Nt = Number of territories
Nc = Number of connections
C = Constant for a bonus
B = Continent bonus

That equation allows for each game to get to C = B / (Nt + Nc), so a constant can appear. Here’s what I pulled out, also weighting each with BoardGameGeek  ratings:

        • Game – Constant – Weight
  • Classic                  .400             5.58
  • Connected           .411             6.00 (Classic rounded up)
  • SW CW                 .419             6.01
  • Starcraft               .389             6.37
  • Halo* (Ring)        .398             6.44
  • Halo (Forge)        .396             6.44
  • Halo (Hammer)  .407             6.44
  • Halo (Anvil)        .383             6.44
  • 2210                      .411             6.69
  • Mass Effect          .391             6.81
  • SW OT                   .391             6.84
  • * Halo needed extensive recalculation of its bonuses – they were incredibly low compared to any other Risk game. I may update BBG someday with a rules correction for improved and more consistent gameplay.

The Answer

We are left with two numbers: The weighted average (.399) and the median (.398). For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it .4 for:

(Nt + Nc) * .4 = B
Nt = Number of territories
Nc = Number of connections
B = Continent bonus

I adore when numbers come together ❤

TLDR; To get a fair continent bonus, add each territory and territory connection to another continent together, then multiply that by .4 to get the bonus for control of the continent. 

The Other Observations

Looking at a fair number of Risk games, I noticed some trends between the versions. (We will skip looking at copy-paste Risk games that only do a reskinning of the theme.)

  1. The bonus constant 40% (.4) can be ‘flexed’ down to 33% (.33) or up to 42% (.42) without skewing the fairness of the continent. Whatever percent is used, keep in mind that higher percentages are preferred (more reward for the ‘risk’ of controlling a continent).
  2. 6 continents is expected on a Risk map.
  3. Each continent has a minimum of 2 connections and 5 territories (4 territories is doable but extreme).
  4. Good design means connections are greater than 25% of the territories in a continent. (Bad design examples: Australia in Classic, North Atlantic in 2210.)
  5. Good design means there are more territories than connections in a continent. (Bad design examples: Africa, Europe, and Asia in Classic.)
  6. More game pieces means better player experience and faster play (long games is a common critique of Risk).
  7. Capping either the number of game rounds, putting in a score tracker, limiting the number of game pieces per territory, or all of these things also assist the slow play problem.

This was fun 😁 I may share later how I would “fix” each Risk game. Let me know if I should get on that sooner 😉 Cheers for now~