Game Designer Workshop Episode 3: Game Mechanics

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Synopsis: The nuts and bolts of any game are, well, the nuts and bolts. Creating and balancing game mechanics is a tricky business, especially with a brand new system. Caleb and I discuss our thoughts on designing new game mechanics in connection with Caleb’s game-in-progress, Red Markets. Enjoy!

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  1. Finally a new episode in this excellent topic. Have been waiting for it. And can continue my own design along with this discussion. It has really helped me out. Can’t wait to hear it.

  2. god daaamn. I’m sure there’ve been tabletop RPGs that work to say something about being a person before, but. damn. working the struggle of poverty into every corner of the game you can is just…masterful. I usually roll my eyes all the way at zombie shit, but this feels like a World War Z–About the People, Not About the Walking Dead. I need this to exist! need it!

    what’s the best way to throw money into Hebanon’s coffers right now? I mean, if I hypothetically wanted to kick a hundred bucks you guys’ way, should I just pay-what-you-want it for a drivethrurpg pdf? should I buy X copies of No Security’s hard copy (this seems like it would send the wrong signal, I’m not actually interested in hard copies, just in supporting youz guys)? should I just paypal it direct somewhere? yr brain makes magic things happen, Caleb, and I wanna support its ability to do things like “pay rent” and “eat food” and “continue making awesome shit.”

    also, I’m sure you’re being too hard on yourself re: the western mishaps! it’s kind of touching that someone who’s so good at telling interactive stories is -still- so concerned with keeping the dicerolling part of games inspired.

  3. Thanks Craw! I really appreciate the support (god knows we’ll need it), but save it for the eventual Kickstarter. The PWYW games on DTRPG are always available, but at least we’re giving you something back for that. Same goes for the hardcopy book. Otherwise, I’d feel bad taking money without any reward for your faith in me, so save it and go big when the Red Markets KS rolls down the pipe.

  4. Loved the episode. I am eagerly awaiting when I can donate to a Kickstarter, or buy a copy. I had a question about the game’s design. Would it be possible to build a camp/base/settlement? I could imagine that being a retirement goal, but also an advantage to the company as they run their jobs in the lost zone.

    In the episode Caleb gave the example of spending reputation to get a financial manager on your side to give you jobs and certain bonuses. Could a ongoing retirement goal be something along the lines of “Establish a permanent settlement and move your families there from the refugee camps.” The company’s missions then could be constructed around the idea of both a) providing the funding to support the settlement and b) doing the work to get it off the ground. Mission 1 could be getting seed capital, mission 2 could be clearing the area, and securing it. Perhaps the company could turn it into an armed camp that helps generate supplies so they have less overhead cost? The camp is turning out enough food that they don’t have to buy anymore, or if some of their connections are closer at hand then all the way back in the safe zone it could increase their humanity. On the other hand, if their camp gets overrun because the company decided to take a job that paid the bills instead of reinforcing the walls it could push all of them to go nuts. As a bonus, the camp is a reservoir for potential player characters and offer a team of professionals to help maintain gear.

    I think it might add something to the experience because players are then building towards something concrete as opposed to the abstract bank account.

  5. From gaming with the arithmetically impaired, it’s been my experience that subtracting one number from another is generally faster for them than adding two numbers together. So, black die minus red die.

    The problem I see is, the way you’re setting it up, it gives a 55% baseline chance of success, plus Willpower that can help you succeed at crucial points.

    Willpower mechanics generally belong in heroic fantasy, where they can smooth out those inconvenient little bumps on the hero’s path, and not in grim, fatalistic games.

    If success compounds about as much as failure, then given those odds, the majority of people can make it as red marketeers. At least a few of them make it back to civilization each year, many more will given sufficient time, and some company might have already set itself up as Zombie Murder WalMart.

    I could see that being compensated for really easily with some mechanics for competition or limited resource and market availability. So, you WOULD have better than even odds at making it, if it weren’t for those other survivors who want what you have.

    All in all though, it sounds like a good idea for a game. The setting is a take on zombies that I haven’t seen in any game before, and the basic dice mechanic is solid, straightforward, has just enough of a bell curve and is just perfect for the job.

    You’re one red 20 away from disaster, and that little piece of plastic doesn’t care about you at all.

  6. These sound like some cool mechanics for running a business in poverty — and I’m starting to really see how you’re using the zombie scenario as a way to comment on global capitalism and third world poverty. With every episode, this sounds more and more like a game I’d like to help fund and play.

  7. I really like how this game is progressing. I do think the red/black dice mechanic is an inspired way to construct the unified mechanic and keep it visually in-line with the game’s theme.

    My only a matter advice is to focus on the core mechanic and build everything off that. In this episode I heard quite a few comments in this episode questioning how the mechanics would handle a given scenario/task. Trust your design!

    Or cry after the first round of play testing and start again. πŸ˜‰

  8. @Steven

    I hadn’t thought about setting up an Enclave as a retirement goal, but that’s a good idea. The plan is to have options for running a self-contained operation and being Takers in the employ of a specific community out in The Loss (my name for the abandoned sections). I’m going to try and get the self-contained Base stuff working first before I draw it up to a macro community- sized scale.

    Character advancement is also a little too far ahead to think about in concrete terms, but the plan for retirement plans was always that they be financial goals and actual plans i.e. you have to go one “one last job” for them.


    I agree with it being a little too easy. I’ve cut the stat + skill + Charges additions to just Skill + Charges, and some items (such as clubs) can’t spend charges to add to rolls. Furthermore, I’m making washes or ties go to the Market (no such thing as breaking even), which brings the base chance down to 45%. Rolls also have to be bought, so run out of Endurance charges and there’s a 0% to dodge, run out of bullets and its 0% to hit. I’m also trying the requirement that spends be made BEFORE the roll (increasing resource drain). Lastly, the meta-game point (I’m currently calling Will) is VERY powerful still, but I’m really limiting the amount a player can have and there will be no way to refresh it other than finishing a job. Thus, it’s something people are going to want to horde rather than spend to win, and spending to win on the items is the entire point, as the idea is that things are going to suck/get scary when the party starts running out.

    As far as competition, limited playtests at home have made combat with other humans really deadly and unplesent, so all that will hopefully balance out the difficulty curve a little from what I proposed here.

    @Ethan C.

    Cool! Thanks!


    It’s probably going to be more the latter than the former, if experience is any judge πŸ™

  9. Caleb

    It seems like you easily turn (not) Land of the Dead into a playtest scenario for Ref Markets. You’ve seen Romero’s LotD, correct?

    If not, you must!

    Love this series, too!

  10. Yes, I’m sadly aware that, of all zombie fiction and film, Land of the Dead adheres most closely to the setting of Red Markets.

    Please don’t hold it against me or use it to judge the quality of the game

  11. Lol, Red Markets already makes far more sense than Land of the Dead, so no worries there.

    Re: Lifepath systems and their many flawed implementations. Traveller seems to have done a pretty good job of it to be honest. Stays away from family life but does a good job of making a character’s career path(s) make sense. I would definitely recommend it as a source of inspiration for ways to handle that sort of character creation.

  12. I’ve been listening to this series as I’m interested in game design, but after having just listened to this episode I’m now also interested in Red Markets! This gave a much better indication of what the game was about. Before it was just zombies to me, but now it seems to be about finance with a zombie setting. I particularly like the ideas for retirement goals and reputation/negotiation systems.

    This is a long way of saying – please include me on any mailing list you run for your kickstarter. I tend to be a bit behind on listening to podcasts and would hate to miss the chance for a closer look at the system.

  13. I think fhe file got busted in the server transfer.

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