Game Designer Workshop Episode 10: Game Changers

red-markets-posterEven though Fallout 4 is out, Caleb is still hard at work on Red Markets. Playtest feedback is trickling in, so the next step is deciding how to change the game based on this feedback. Some changes will be easier than others, but not every bit of feedback will be used to make these changes. After all, not all feedback is equal. Giving and receiving feedback is a crucial skill for a game designer, yet it is often an undeveloped skill. Fred Hicks about his experiences at Metatopia about feedback skills and is mentioned during out discussion.

Even after receiving valuable feedback, changing the game will not be easy. Caleb discusses some of the changes he is considering and I provide some analysis of Red Markets in its current state.

Music: Footbeats by Admiral of the Red.

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  1. Thanks for the laugh.

    I was playing Fallout 4 when I started listening.

  2. I was actually really in favor of the “no default” rule, even when one of the members of my group was VEHEMENTLY against it, at least at first. I’m going to comment this here rather than in my feedback because it’s kind of committing the sin of trying to backseat design, but what if you were to just change character creation so people started with one in each essential basic skill, with a note that they could subtract that point and add it somewhere else if they want to be unable to roll those skills? They’ll see it as being completely dysfunctional in that aspect perhaps, which psychologically affects the concept of “if anyone could do it, you shouldn’t be rolling”, which is something I like and use in this system, but the psychological effect it’s having now is making people feel like their characters are “broken” when they failed to put points in something they wanted to be able to roll. In other words, if they’re going to have a “broken” character who can’t roll to punch, make them make the conscious decision to opt out of being able to punch rather than having to opt into being able to punch.

    We have a recording with a lot of me convincing this player that the no default rule makes sense and meshes with the genre… my argument was this is a game of economic inevitability, so if you see a fight as having some back and forth, if you’re totally outclassed, you could get in a few lucky hits, but in the long run, you’re almost certainly going to lose, and your chances of not losing are so small as to be insignificant, and you shouldn’t even bother rolling. I liked not making players roll to do easy shit, and I liked not having players rolling for things they simply shouldn’t be able to do, so I was really happy with that mechanic.

  3. This episode was a little… eeehhhhhhhhmmeeeeehhhh (J/K)

  4. Great episode! I like Ross’s point about the benefits of giving GMs guidance about how many resources a typical encounter is likely to drain from a party. So far in our campaign, I’ve only felt worried about running out of stuff a couple of times, which I think is far less often than Caleb intends. We’re using High Stakes Haul, and I know that our intrepid Market isn’t trying to make it easy on us! We tend to skip a lot of legs by driving, or else use very conservative tactics to save resources. The reduction of Haul capacity could fix our particular situation.

    But I’ve also been thinking about jobs that are beyond the normal one-session legs/jobsite structure (for example, multiple chained-together jobsites, survival situations after a snafu, extremely long journeys, etc.), and guidance for what to expect from a typical encounter could make designing these scenarios a little easier.

    Speaking of Haul, I think I’m on record already as thinking that vehicles need very different capacity rules from personal carrying capacity. In our game we’ve managed to acquire a big-ass delivery truck, which means we’ve got Haul capacity on a totally different scale from a vehicle-less taker crew. The playtest rules don’t yet help us manage this issue very well, in my opinion.

  5. Defensiveness? Vulnerability? Pride mixed in with a little neurotic guilt? Either way I totally know what you are talking about Caleb.

    To put it in an imperfect metaphor. It’s like getting caught with you hand in the cookie jar when the label on the jar says “free cookies”.

  6. I love me that art

    signing off with “fuck you, Caleb?” seriously? what the fuck is wrong with those people

    the ability to parse criticism productively does seem like the kind of really valuable skill you’d get out of endless writers’ workshops. I’ve never done one with anyone who actually wanted to be there, personally.

    I haven’t read the rules at all, but this haul/foresight/you don’t have what you hoped you had mechanic sounds glorious. but I’m of the Dwarf Fortress losing/disaster is fun camp, which doesn’t seem to be where a lot of tabletop gamers live.

  7. I know, as Caleb agreed it isn’t a priority, but the mission difficulties would be nice. As The Reformers consists of one weapons character, one thief with minor weapons skills, and a social monkey, it’s been a struggle at times to come up with contracts. I want to give them a wide range of experiences, but I don’t want to put them in scenarios where they’re at high risk for failure and death. Not that I’m not trying to kill them! But I can’t really do a raid scenario or anything involving many armed opponents. Regardless, part of that is overcoming my fears as a GM and letting the dice roll where they may.

    But the point we made (that I think got cut off of the recording) is that as it stands, Red Markets has been a blast. We’re nine sessions / four scenarios in and the game has stood up as being enjoyable to play; the rules have held up to initial scrutiny and even though I’ve failed (repeatedly!) to enforce the rules, they don’t hold us back from getting too bogged down in combat or dice rolls. Red Markets has been successful, and the edits brought forth by the reports will only make it stronger.

    Well, now to Fallout 4… if I had a copy! Fuck you, Ross & Caleb!!!

    (…seriously? They ended an AP like that? My best guess is sarcasm, but I think that’s giving them too much credit…)

  8. First, I’m really loving this series – the nuts and bolts or RPG design is facinating 🙂

    Just to beat the zombie horse a bit; I find the the lack of defaulting… confusing.
    Red markets is all about economic horror, and the game mechanics reflect that – an action is attempted at a given price and the more resources you risk the better your chances of success and the greater the possible reward: If you want to attempt X you must pay Y.
    When that’s the game’s central mechanic, suddenly running into a task which you “can’t” pay for is going to be jarring – the player expects a cost to the action, rather than outright refusal.
    That isn’t to say that the cost need work along the same rules as normal skill use, but being “unable” to perform an action because the player isn’t willing to pay the cost is a lot more palatable than the alternative.

    I think it’d really fit the game if the cost for defaulting is burning your Humanity – the attempt involves going a little nuts.
    Instead of punching the guy in the face, you grab him and slam his head into the ground again and again and again….
    You get to discourage Defaulting without denying it completely, justify why it works, and play up the concept of the character’s humanity as a commodity to be bought and sold, all in one step.

  9. Having defaulting at a cost is an interesting idea… although mechanically I’m not sure how you would justify a humanity cost for a research or persuasion roll (staying up all night? Taking stress from the social awkwardness?) But you could actually spend health points for some physical rolls perhaps… you can go all-out to try and punch someone, but you break your hand, you can dive to get out of the way of gunfire, but you break your wrists or eat dirt and break your teeth and cut up your face, you get carried by adrenaline to run from a vector, but you stretch ligaments and tear muscles. That could work.

  10. @Capitalocracy. Your idea for the humanity cost for a research roll makes perfect sense. The researcher pulls an all nighter or hyper-cramming session for long enough that they forget/decide to forgo social niceties or even how to put a sentence together they are so brain fried. I’ve done that. Your brain is simply forgetting how to engage with a situation other than studying.

    A humanity cost for a persuasion roll could be over promising rewards to your target of persuasion. As a result the “loss of humanity” is the anxiety that the overpromise causes during the search for bounty. Thoughts like “no amount of bounty is ever enough” or constantly being negative to your fellow takers.

    Alternately, perhaps the humanity cost for a persuasion roll is the character agreeing to do something that is a transgression of their moral code or simply distasteful. Imagine what Tess in the Last of Us has had to do as a woman to survive.

    –That’s a great piece of art for Red Markets. Although I like it, I think the abstract elements (headless man) would not be attractive to everyone if the image was used as a cover. I don’t know. The piece is certainly more accurate to Red Market’s theme of economic horror than zombies. And the graph is bottoming out! :D. I really do like the red/bloodstained hands of the central figure. In art I always prefer suggestive (like the red hands are) to explicit depictions when it comes to horror.

    –@Caleb, you mentioned the group Triage as quasi-medically based fanatical group with the objective to wipe out all Latents. Degenesis is another post apoc game. They have a group (arguably one of the central factions to the backstory) called the Spitaliers. The Spitaliers are a screwed up fusion of medical doctors, biotech researchers and former UN peacekeepers with militaristic and fascistic leanings. The Spitalier’s objective in Degenesis is to curb the spread of the alien taint through any means necessary.

    Sound familiar? Everyone draws from the same well of common archetypes, in particular when the main setting changing element is biological in nature. I’m throwing out the information to let you guys know what has been published before.

    –Re: Ross’s idea for a D&D-like guide for the DM to make encounters. I think a section like this is very useful and almost essential in all game books. Obviously not all game books have them :p. Since Red Markets is essentially a one man book, Caleb might consider delaying a statistically intensive section like that for a say “Red Markets Dungeon Master’s Guide” or something like that. Worked for D&D.

    Caleb brought up the question “but in recommended encounters section for the DM, how does one account for an ‘Aaron’ player?”. It should be possible to statistically model encounters for a five man team where four men lose an average number of resources per encounter and the fifth man (the proverbial Aaron) totally loses all his resources in encounter 1. In addition, it should be possible to extend the model over multiple encounters with those initial conditions.

    That being said, I don’t know how to do it so I’m absolutely no use 🙂

    Still though, if you had two “encounter ratings”; one for a five man team that is predicted to lose an average fraction of resources per encounter and another rating for the Aaron inclusive team; both resources would be extremely useful to a to a Red Market’s DM.

    –@Ross, I like your idea of a “Red” and “Black” 1d10 table to randomly generate character advantages and disadvantages and the fact that it is optional.

    We are all gamers. I’m pretty sure we have the genetic predisposition to be attracted to random tables and charts.

    –@Caleb the MBA ideas you introduced and the “work/life” token are fantastic. My initial reaction is “very cool” and I think having the option of running a small business in the world of Red Markets is another very solid way of hammering home the concept of economic horror over the zombie plague.

    Having said that, if you are deciding to include the “MBA” ideas into your main book…well that’s a lot of material.

    I almost want to suggest your unique MBA ideas as a separate supplement or perhaps a kickstarter stretch goal as they seem ancillary to the main book. Just my first impression.

    –Another kickstarter stretch goal that might be worth it could be a glossary of economic terms or a page or however long of the designer’s thoughts on how he worked economic theory into the game. Things like “I changed the terminology value for xxx” “rule xxx refers to economic theory yyy”. I find a designer’s thoughts interesting and useful for game design but not necessary to playing the game.

    Might be a nice treat for hardcore fans?

  11. On the subject of asking artists to work in exchange of exposure instead of payment
    “… you are a terrible person if you try to do that…”

    You are a hero for saying that! Thank you for broadcasting the importance of ethical negotiations!

  12. Whoops! My above comment on the exchange of exposure is referring to episode 11 of course.

  13. Man I feel like a jerk for this because I couldnt get the playtest in at the time, but Ive been re-listening to old episodes and some stuff just struck me co-designer wise. Im gonna throw it here because otherwise its gonna keep rattling around in my head.
    Buy-a-roll; each charge gives +1, minimum 1 to make the roll. It adjust game difficulty slightly, but makes a 1 in something more worth it and tracks more simply.
    High stakes haul: boost failed foresight rolls by spending bounty. Once a roll is failed note the difference next to the item and if they have haul left spend that much bounty for the refresh.
    Default: Either set black to 1 and roll red, or set red to 10 and roll black. All successes are critical, all failures are critical. If you want to be nice let them spend resources ahead of time.

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