Pillars of Strength

15 12 2007

I just watched Gladiator again, which is one of my favorite movies– if not my VERY favorite movie– of all time. Soooo good. That, mixed into an awesome conversation with Shreyas, and some brainstorming with Charlotte, has my head swimming with Audeamus.

There are three bases of power in this game– Personal, Political, and Populus. Personal power is your own honor and integrity; it is drawing strength from within yourself. Political power is your reach and influence; it is drawing strength from your connections. Populus power is your connection to the masses; it is drawing strength from the mob. When you build towers, you build from one of these three bases; when the dice fall, some of them may fall into a different base of influence– but the more you put into one base, the less you’ll have in the other three.

Talking to Shreyas yesterday, he had a massively clever idea about deconstructing the notion of setting— instead of spending pages going over local flavor of the area and other minutae, why not break setting down into sets? Name and describe small, specific places that the game takes place in, with lots of color and points of interest. Maybe mention how many people a set can comfortably hold. He’s really going to town on this for Mist Robed Gate, and I was thinking of riffing off of it for Audeamus.

There are TYPES of sets– nothing specific. Every location in a game falls into this category, and must incorporate parts of the feeling and hooks. Each type of set has a primary base of power and a secondary base of power; the third type is absent. IE, if you’re on a set which is primarily Personal and secondarily Populus, you can’t be challenged on a Political level.

Each set must incorporate three of the descriptors of its type; these sets do not have to SPECIFICALLY be an Arena, or a Market, or what have you. Example: a scene set in a barracks– with the clank of chains and swords, mistrust, and no clear victories– would be an Arena scene.

So here’s the set types I have so far:

  • The Frontier always has inhospitable weather, too hot or too cold or too generally inclimate for Roman sensibilities. It smells of burning pitch and spilled blood. It is always far from home; every comfort feels hard-won. Brutal, cruel, and dark. The Frontier is primarily Personal, and mildly Political.
  • Home is a personal set defined for each character during character generation. It does not have to be the character’s current place of residence; it is the place they hold in their heart as their personal sanctuary. Be sure to define sights, smells, and sounds, as well as a type of weather associated with it. Home is primarily Personal, and mildly Populus.
  • The Market is filled with the sounds of tinkling bells and haggling, choked by the smell of exotic spices. There is nothing here which cannot be purchased for the right price, with the right currency. It is a press of humanity. The Market is primarily Populus, and mildly Political.
  • The Arena smells of death and sweat; there are thousands of people shouting and cheering, warring with the clank of chains and swords. Here, “winning” just means that you lose less than someone else. Nothing here can be trusted. The Arena is primarily Populus, and mildly Personal.
  • The Senate smells of incense; every word and footstep echoes on the marble. It is pure, white, and clean, but behind nobility lurks treachery. As a result, it is just as dangerous as The Arena, and compromise is a necessary evil. The Senate is primarily Political, and mildly Populus.

Hmmm. Still need one which is primarily Political and mildly Personal. Maybe the Temple?

Playing to win

12 12 2007

Over on the Knife Fight, there’s been a ton of talk today about the idea of “playing to win” as it pertains to RPGs, as opposed to game games, like chess or poker or parcheesi. Vincent in particular seems really compelled by this idea, and it sounds like there are a lot of people with different ideas of “winning,” and people who think “winning” is impossible in an RPG anyway.

This is really interesting to me in the context of Audeamus, because it’s very much a game which can be won or lost. As I mentioned before, the conflict resolution mechanic is to stack dice towers; there’s going to be a map, with various points where you can start your tower. When the tower falls, where the dice fall on the map determine the type of effect you get, and the number of dice in each section determines the intensity of the effect. If your tower falls before you’re done stacking your dice, the other dice go unused, and this weakens the possible outcome– so even if you succeed, it won’t be quite the success you were hoping for.

One of the things you can do is take dice from other players and replace them– so if you’re trying to sabotage another senator’s agenda, you can exploit their weakness, take one of their d6s, and replace it with a d20. (Or d4, if you’re being a butt.) The less stable their dice are, the more quickly the tower will fall, the less dice they get to use.

But here’s the thing. The other really important part of this concept is the creed– sticking to your personal code of honor. If that’s what’s most important to your character, you can win by never compromising your creed, even if it means losing your agenda in the senate. Or, you can win by getting your agenda in the senate, even if it means sacrificing everything else that’s important to you.

Hm. Looking at that, it sounds like it’s less a win-loss mechanic, and more just points to the idea of hard choices. I don’t know. What’s it look like to you?

Chat with Charlotte: randomizing, and storytelling vs. minigames

11 12 2007

meSo we should talk more about Audeamus

Like do we want to die types of dice into types of support, or types of traits

 Charlottewell let’s see, we have how many die types?  20, 12, 8, 6, 4



And we have four types of traits– Things You’ve Experienced, Things You Can Do, Things You Know, and Things You Believe

 Charlotteoh i was thinking about being able to start with a division between number of dice and number of bases, btw, that would be different for each ‘class’

 meWhat do you mean

I’m kind of out of it but it sounds interesting

 Charlotteok say there’s a total of 5 starting slots for things.  the things that can be in it are dice and bases.  bases meaning number of towers you’re allowed to start

so one class has 1 base, but starts with 4 dice.  another can make up to 4 bases but only has 1 die to start with

so one class starts with power but is fragile, the other one starts slow and has a broader base of options later

because you can’t knock down 4 towers of 1 each

 meThat’s an elegant way to balance

I think Gladiators and commoners would probably have the one base, and patricians have the 4 bases

 CharlotteI think so too [smile]

and maybe another class has a 2/3 split

 meWell, like

 Charlotte(maybe 5 is too wide?)

 meTo be more specific, non-senate citizens could have the 2/3 split, since they are essentially the “middle class” if I’m remembering my roman history right

We’re going to have to start on the research soon

 Charlotteooh good

booo research!

 meSo maybe the dice you earn through your own actions– by being true to your creed, for example– are the stable ones


 meAnd the less stable dice are the ones you earn by playing to other people’s creeds

 Charlotteman it would suck to be most gladiators with a code of honor

 meAnd if you betray yourself by going against your creed, that’s when someone else can take one of your d6s and replace it with a d12 or something

 Charlotted4! d4!

meIt depends on the code though

I mean, being a gladiator with the code “Death before Dishonor” would be okay


unless you consider it dishonorable to fight someone whose skill is so far below yours it’s more like murder


So here’s my question

When does the dice-stacking happen

Or do the stacks just hang out the whole time

 Charlottewhen you get or lose dice

and they have to stay up for x time

(and you can leave them up the rest of the time, but falling only counts during the countdown)

 meWhen you get or lose dice, do you have to rebuild from scratch

 Charlottebecause otherwise the aforementioned cold could break the game

 meYou know, Jonathan had a pretty interesting idea for a randomizer


 meInstead of rolling dice, it’s how the dice land when the towers fall


so like a target map

 meMaking the most of the pieces of your shattered self-power

No, still with numbers

 Charlottewith bases, and then falling areas

ooh i see

 meAlthough falling areas is a really compelling idea too

But then we’d need maps

 Charlottemaps = penis


 meThis is going to be the most Gamist game about difficult decisions and personal integrity ever




10 12 2007

So I woke up this morning with a new game in my head. This is irksome, because I really need to rewrite Complicated, and this game in my head is dense and intense and even requires research, but I think it will be awesome, and Char is going to work on it with me, and.. Yeah. I’m really excited. It’s tentatively titled Audeamus, which means “Let us dare.”

It is a historical non-fantasy game about ancient Rome– this big, grand, bloody, decadent thing teetering on collapse and senators vying for what little power they can grab before it all comes apart. There will be senators and gladiators and Christians and lions and citizens and rebels and prisoners. The theme is basically about discovering just how much of yourself and your principles you are willing to sacrifice in order to get what you want.

Alea iacta est

The main mechanic we’ve got is dice-stacking. No, not what you’re thinking. You earn dice in various ways– all different types, from d4 to d20. You collect them, and you stack them. You can sabotage other players by stealing their dice, or replacing more stable dice with less stable ones. When dice fall, Something Happens.

Nosce te ipsum

Character creation works something kind of like this. The first thing you decide is What You Are. You are a senator, or a gladiator, or a citizen, or a rebel, or a Christian, or who knows. What You Are determines what categories you can choose your attributes from.

(This part is, I believe, kind of a riff from the way Jonathan handles charms in his Exalted hack. Thanks Jonathan!)

There are four types of attributes: What You’ve Experienced, What You Can Do, What You Know, and What You Believe. This isn’t fleshed out, but just an example:

I am a senator. I’ve helped send men to their deaths just to make a point. I can bend the ear of Caesar’s most trusted advisor. I have studied astronomy, and I believe in death before dishonor.

Eventually, the examples will be more flowery and compelling, but you get the idea. What You Believe ties into your creed– something like “Virtue is the only nobility” or “Let them hate, so long as they fear” or “The world is not enough”– which is the cornerstone of your tower and the foundation your character has built itself upon. If you act in a way which is contrary to your creed, you can lose dice or be otherwise affected; by betraying yourself, you give other characters the opportunity to hit you where it hurts, because you have shown weakness of character.