Thursday, March 25, 2021
Monday, January 18, 2021
Note: This blog is a preview of the forthcoming Night Companion sourcebook for Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars.
Light and Dark: an Alternate Alignment System
The core alignment system in Night Shift: VSW focuses on the law/chaos axis found in the earliest games of this type. An alternate alignment system is presented here that uses the good/evil axis instead, but also adds a new level of descriptiveness in the form of light and dark. The intent is to provide a better descriptor of a character's moral and personality types than the law/chaos axis does, and one that works a bit better in modern games.
Good vs. Evil
The idea of good vs. evil is easy enough to delineate and should be accessible to all of our players. If it's not, well, we worry about you a little. Essentially, "good" implies placing value on other human lives, on honesty, forthright living, and generally understanding the difference between right and wrong. Good characters generally keep their word when they give it, don't break promises, don't kill, avoid violence when possible and usually seek diplomatic solutions to problems. They recognize social problems and wish to see them corrected, and fair justice is important to them.
Evil characters are selfish, cruel, and value themselves over others in all things. While they certainly can develop relationships and care about others, such caring tends to manifest in a selfish way—where a good character wants to see someone they love happy, even if it hurts, the evil character wants to keep someone they love close, never let them go, and hold them under any circumstances. They'll ruthlessly remove obstacles in the way of what they want, and in the worst cases, they even take pleasure in lying, manipulation, and violence.
Neutral is the middle point of the Good-Evil axis. It can mean characters who lean one way or the other but aren't necessarily all the way "in." Most people in the world, for example, tend to be neutral but lean towards good. That is, they can be selfish and they're often tempted to put their own needs ahead of others, but they still have a conscience and they feel guilty when they don't do the right thing.
Other types of neutral characters may be those who function in society because they make a choice to act in a moral fashion, but don't have an innate imperative or drive to do so. That is, these characters don't commit murder, but that's not because they feel sick at the idea of killing, but because they rationally know murder is wrong and so they make a choice to fall on that side of the equation. These are the characters that have no compunction about killing in self-defense and may not even feel guilty about it.
Neutral characters who lean towards evil, on the other hand, do their best to remain within the law and the bounds of morality, but they don't sweat it if they have to step outside every now and again. Petty criminals who commit armed robbery but generally try to avoid killing might be those who are neutral leaning towards evil. Manipulators who lie and cheat, then justify to themselves why it's because they deserve it fall into this category as well.
Neutral characters have a range of possibilities, and for this reason, most characters will likely fall into the Neutral (Good) or Neutral (Evil) category. "True" neutral characters are rare beyond rare and very difficult to play, as they tend to have difficulty making decisions for themselves as they simply can't decide whether a given action should be taken.
These are characters who might be driven to do something despicable because they're selfish, but then will go over the top to do something good and selfless because they now feel the need to balance everything out.
Light vs. Dark
Light vs. Dark encompasses two distinct ideals each, and a character may be one, the other, or both. That is to say, a character may define themselves as light one way but not the other, and it's left to the character to determine which is the more important for them.
Light means both physical light, the daytime, and the sun; and it also means being outgoing, in the open, the center of attention. Light characters draw their strength from being in the spotlight, whether it's the noon day sun shining down upon them, or a literal spotlight as they stand on the stage soaking up the cheers of an adoring crowd.
Characters who are extroverted and outgoing tend to be light characters, as do the ones who thrive on being out and about during the daytime. These are the characters that enjoy going out to lunch, shopping, or hitting a café for their morning and even afternoon cuppa. They're the ones at parties who are in the thick of the conversation and are great at making new friends and acquaintances. They may be natural leaders or just outspoken team members.
Spellcasters who are of the Light variety will prepare their spells in the morning every day.
Dark, on the other hand, means both physical shadow and darkness, as well as characters who avoid the spotlight and prefer to remain behind the curtain. These are characters that draw power and strength from the night time, who are invigorated by midnight air and the silence of the late-night city streets. They enjoy late night TV, quiet and shadowy neighborhood bars, and they dislike social gatherings. They may even enjoy being among people, just so long as they can stay in the background. Dark characters might frequent Goth dance clubs, but prefer to sit in the corner with a beer or a cocktail rather than being out on the dance floor. Their energy comes from watching others, not from being in the thick of things.
Characters who are introverts, who don't like conversations unless they're deep one-on-one philosophical discourses, tend to fall into the Dark category. These are the characters who might be invaluable, powerful teammates, but who never call the shots, but rather whisper in the ear of those who do. They're the ones that people listen to when they speak up, because they speak up so rarely. They're observers.
Spellcasters who are Dark will prepare their spells at midnight or 3 am, sometime in the dead of night when everything is quiet, and they can be alone with their own personal demons.
Twilight characters are those who draw their power and strength from the period just before dark and just after dawn, when the sky is red and purple and the shadows long. They disdain the spotlight and don't like to be the center of attention, but at the same time they find cloudy days and the dead of night depressing.
These are characters who are comfortable in their own skin and are okay in crowds once a conversation starts—they may even feed on the conversation—but aren't likely to start the conversation themselves. They're good listeners and thoughtful leaders, but they might be people of few words, making those words they do speak matter. They can give a speech in public, but don't prefer it. Stage fright or performance anxiety might get the best of them every so often.
Many twilight characters have some level of impostor syndrome. They might be great at what they do, and even be able to put on airs of confidence, but deeply doubt their own capabilities and wonder when people are going to figure out that they're a fraud.
Spellcasters in the Twilight area will prepare their spells either at dusk every day or be up to do so just after dawn.
Putting It Together
This system is a two-axis system. Each player will choose one space on each axis for their character to occupy, and work to interpret their character's persona within that space. A character could, for example, be light-evil, a megalomaniac who is out for themselves and is a brutal leader who believes that might makes right. Another character could be good-twilight, a deeply moral person with a black sense of sarcastic humor that they use to hide their own insecurities.
Still a third might be neutral-dark, the character who knows right from wrong, who recognizes social injustices, but doesn't care enough and is too gun shy to stand up and speak out in person. They try to do what's right, but they also know that to survive you look out for yourself and don't draw attention to yourself.
By combining the Good-Evil-Neutral with the Light-Dark-Twilight descriptors, you can create many different personality types, and it's the author's feeling that these descriptors work much better than the law-chaos-good-evil boxes we've all become used to for so long. Still, like most of the rules in Night Shift: VSW, this subsystem is entirely optional. It could even be combined, if you wish, with law and chaos to create a three-axis system. It can also be ignored entirely.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
From Troll Lord Games and Elf Lair Games comes a combination of great gaming goodness from the mind of Jason Vey. Jason is a writer of many talents, having worked with Troll Lord Games on his Amazing Adventures RPG and Castles & Crusades as well as owning his own RPG company, Elf Lair Games.
This bundle offers TWO core rulebooks--Amazing Adventures from Troll Lord Games and Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars from Elf Lair Games, the latter co-written with noted designer Timothy S. Brannan. Also included are five adventures which can easily be used with either game, with only minor conversion work needed!
Whether you're in it for the high-flying multigenre adventure or the creepy and shadowy worlds of horror and urban fantasy, this bundle has it all, at a whopping 40% off cover price for a limited time!
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Let's be honest: It's more than likely that there's a supers supplement for Night Shift: VSW on the horizon some day in the future. Here's the trick, though: you don't really need it to do supers with the game as it stands. You could do a street level supers game with NS:VSW exactly as it sits, and you'd still be well within genre. Look at TV shows like Arrow or Batwoman on the CW or the Netflix Marvel shows for examples of how street-level supers can be dark urban fantasy at its finest.
Hell, consider Blade as an example of how the superhero genre can be mixed with horror. It's certainly not outside of the wheelhouse of Night Shift to experiment with superheroic games, particularly if you keep it at "street level" abilities.
Let's check out the easy ways you can do superheroes with Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars
Start with the Supernatural Race
Character Classes Mean Customization
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Welcome to the City...
The City is vast and sprawling, in many ways an archetype of every city in the world, from New York to Sydney to LA to Hong Kong, to Paris, London, Dubai, and beyond. It’s a city where the buildings tower so high into the sky and are so thick together that the sun doesn’t penetrate the streets and it’s always dark. Night is when the City comes to life, and few people here ever see the daylight anyway, because Night time is the right time in the City.
The City doesn’t seem to have a name. To those who live here, it’s simply “The City,” and it’s more than home. It’s heart. The City is a piece of those who live here, and those who live here are a piece of the City. It’s a City of contradictions—on one hand always dark and shadowy, with foreboding alleyways and oubliettes, on the other hand full of vibrant life where there’s always something going on. This is a City where shops don’t close at 9, but operate 24 hours a day, where people are sure they sleep, but can’t remember the last time they saw the sun.
Except in the Botanical Gardens. For some reason the sun is always up in the Botanical Gardens.
Friday, November 6, 2020
This is a question I get asked far too often, and far too often it's with an accusatory tone, along the lines of, "what kind of a game designer are you if you can't create an original system?" or "Aren't you creative enough to come up with something unique and original?"
The truth is, I have worked with just about every kind of system you can imagine over my decades of game design. I've done stat + skill systems, roll and keep systems, fistful 'o dice and count kills systems, graduated die type systems, and more. All were fun, all were quirky, all were unique in some way.
I did go through a phase where I spent a lot of time coming up with new and different systems. I even designed a couple from the ground up that used cards instead of dice. One, the Hoyle System, used a standard deck of playing cards with each suit and the jokers representing something different in play, and another used tarot cards as a means of resolution, where the major arcana had specific game functions. While they were fun intellectual exercises, for the lion's share of my professional game work, I have almost always come back to tried and true.
Do What Works and Keep It Simple
Here's the reason. Tried and true works. If your game is entirely focused on your rules system, you're doing something wrong as a game designer (unless it's a board game; then the rules are what matters more than anything). But trying to come up with something "innovative" in an RPG is at best an exercise in futility, and at worst, arrogant pretension. The more "unique" your dice mechanic is, the more it draws attention away from the role playing and the more it forces attention on the mechanics, which is counter to the point of this kind of gaming.
There's an old truism in gaming that states you shouldn't roll dice unless you have to, unless the situation really calls for it. Don't roll dice to climb a ladder unless that ladder is rickety and covered with grease. Don't roll dice to find a piece of information that the adventure requires the players to have for the story to move forward. If this is the case, why would you create a rules system that takes longer to adjudicate and/or forces you to put more attention on the dice than should be due?
It might be fun to play with at your table but here's the simple fact: your system, no matter what it is or how it works, revolves around generating random numbers to mimic a probability. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: "innovative" dice systems are smoke and mirrors which in the end, use increasingly complicated means to just generate a random result, and overcomplicate things to no good end.
It's really simple: if you're going to generate a random result, just roll a die. The more complex you make it than that, the further away from the simple idea of role playing and shared storytelling you get. If your dice system is required to drive the story forward, your game has failed and it may as well be a board game. Dice don't (and shouldn't) drive creativity.
When you try to push something completely different out there, a full 99% of the time all you're doing is re-inventing the wheel. That's just putting a lot of time, thought, and effort into something that could be much better spent looking at other more creative aspects of your game. I've done a number of articles over at my Wasted Lands blog about not re-inventing the wheel, about how it's better to re-skin something you've already got that works, than it is to invent unnecessary subsystems. As a game designer, I firmly believe you should always apply the K.I.S.S. principle.
Types of Systems
There's a few simple, straightforward ways to handle a dice system which again are tried and true, and to which I'll always come back. The first is the basic "roll a die and add modifiers against a target number" system. This can be seen in everything from the combat system in the earliest days of gaming to modern stat + skill vs. TN systems. Even basic roll under percentile systems fall under this category. It's easy, intuitive, straightforward, and quite simply, it just works and gets the Hell out of the way so you can concentrate on your story.
Next is the dice pool, count success levels system. In this version, you throw a handful of dice usually generated by a series of trait ratings, and count success levels. My own Cd8 system works off of this mechanic--throw a fistful of dice and every 7-8 you get counts as one "fist bump." Tasks are rated based on how many fist bumps they need to be successful.
Finally, and probably the least common, is the roll and keep system. In this system, you generate a dice pool, roll a number of dice, and keep a lesser number, often based on a skill. You might, for example, roll dice equal to your strength and climbing ability and skill, and keep a number of dice equal to your climbing skill, adding them together and applying the result to a target number. This system usually crosses over with one of the above: either you'll total the dice you keep against a TN or you'll count successes on the dice you keep.
The truth is, the vast majority of game systems on the market today fit into one of the above. It's just that too many try to mask themselves as something new when they're just a complicated coat of paint on the basic idea of generating a random result based on a simple probability.
You Have Nothing to Prove
My Design DNA
Monday, November 2, 2020
What Does Night Shift: VSW Bring to the Old School Table?
The Design Intent and Meta-Setting
The Toolkit Approach
Codifying the Game
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