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Picking up an old project - Feedback Appreciated

SladeWeston

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Good morning everyone,
After a bit of time away, I've finally decided to pick back up an old project but running into some of the same walls I hit before and I'd love to get some feedback.

Hollow - A TTRPG where players play small fantasy creatures in a post-apocalyptic world where magic is fading and monsters roam the land. The basic idea was to capture the feel of a Monster Hunter game without having to justify a world of giant monsters. By shifting the scale of the hunters down to the size of fairies and brownies, even mundane sized wildlife can be an epic monster battle. Plus, you get the added bonus of justifying oversized weapons and epic over-the-top attacks.

Resolution Mechanic
The basic idea of the system is a basic d6 dice pool system with players rolling attributes+skills and hitting on 5&6. There are two major twists to this formula, however.
The first is that some of the dice being rolled are of different colors. When a player rolls a success on a colored dice, they get a "spark" of that color of mana. These sparks can be spent on extra effects similar to Advantage in Star Wars (FFG) or Stunts. 1's rolled on those d6's generate "void" which cancels out sparks and if a roll is net negative, can be spent to hamper the players like Disadvantage in SWRPG.
The reason this first system works is because of the second novel element and that's the dice bag mechanic. Each player has a dice bag that contains some amount of colorless dice and a similar amount of colored dice. The makeup of those colored dice corresponds with the attributes of the player. I have simplified character attributes a bit, similar to L5R does, an aligned them with the elements, so that the number of colors of dice is kept to a reasonable size.
The mana sparks that players harvest can be spent to trigger generic advantages, get skill-specific advantages (when the mana aligns with the skill color) or trigger special abilities. This means that character with a lot of Fire dice in their bag is going to generate more fire mana and will, therefore, be better at skills associated with the fire trait (like intimidate).
Narratively, these two mechanics represent the characters fading magical legacy. Though magic is wanning in the world, the players can occasionally capture a bit of that past glory to perform fantastic feats.

The Problem
So the problem I'm running into is how best to utilize the design space that the bag based system has to offer. One of the original reasons I got excited about this mechanic was the possibilities it presented. For example, critical injuries can add "wound dice" to the player's bag that, when rolled, trigger negative effects.
The problem I'm having has to do with one such design space. My plan was to tie the rest system into the refreshing of the dice. Over the course of a fight, colored dice used for sparks would get used up, "depleted", and only colorless dice (and wounds) would get shuffled back into the bag. Players would need to take a "short rest" to get these back. This works fine with the current system. However, I also wanted to give players the ability to exhaust dice, effectively removing them from being cycled back into the bag. This would represent the player digging deep and using their own personal mana to power bigger effects. By doing this, my hope was to design what amounted to "Daily" powers. A player could burn their dice for these big effects but would become progressively less good for the remainder of the day. It's worth noting that exhausting these dice wouldn't effect pass/fail rates, they'd just be more prone to negative side effects.

Anyway, the problem I'm having is how to implement this idea. I've thought of a couple of different ideas but I'm not 100% happy with any of them. They are:
1) When dice are rolled, a player can sequester a colored dice from the roll and store it to later use with a power. One of the Pros of this system and it opens up some design space for effects that could be active while a player is storing a mana of a particular color. The Con is that I want powers that work in lots of different situations and I don't want players rolling dummy checks just do they can find the mana they need to trigger a power.

2) When a player wants to trigger a power they can take a "gather mana" action. They'd draw dice out of their bag, one at a time, until they got the dice they wanted, depleting those they don't use and exhausting those they do. This gathering could be tied back to stats so that characters with better magic skills would be better at this. I think there might be something to this idea but I haven't found a way to implement it that felt right.

3) Powers would have a check involved and would have some sort of redraw mechanic associated with them. If players were unable to draw the colored dice they needed for the check the power would fail and the action would be lost. I don't hate this version narratively, but I suspect it will make for an unreliable and unfun system.

So those are some of my ideas. How would you implement exhausting dice? Are there any other mechanics you'd think would be fun with this system that I haven't mentioned? Any feedback or suggestions, related to my question or just the system in general, would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance,
Cody
 

John Out West

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Hey Cody. Solid read, I look forward to a full basic. The concept sounds like it could be fun, and i like the idea of colored dice having different meaning. Lots of companies sell "Sticker Dice," that have big empty spaces designed for stickers. Making each dice unique to a character would be super cool, like a different way of making a character sheet. Although I would suggest the number of dice increase with each level, so you don't have to create a bag's worth at level 1.

I had a similar problem in my game. I made something similar, where we used cards instead of dice. After cards are used they are put into a discard pile. After a fight you can take a "Breather" (A 5 minute rest) which returns half of the discard pile to your deck, and the other half to the Exhaust Pile. After a full 8 hours long rest you can reshuffle all cards into your deck. This means that if you take too many actions, even mundane ones, you can end up with no cards and completely exhausted. (This prevented the "Why don't i just reroll climbing this gate until I succeed?" problem)
Now, very similarly, you can cast spells and spells require specific cards: Spells must be cast with a heart suited card. However, this rule only applies in tense situations like battles and chases. While not in battle, you can cast magic at will by discarding any card from your deck.
That's how i solved the problem in my game, and i might suggest something similar. When there are no stakes, you can use any dice to cast a spell, but when there's danger and tension you can only cast when you draw the right dice.

Alternatively.
I think a "Diminishing Returns" system could help shore up your Solution 1. If players only have 20 dice all day, and only get back half of any dice they use when they take a short rest, then they will not do dummy checks. If they DO still make dummy checks, then it is at the cost of their total daily combat effectiveness. Solution 1 seems like the best of your options, especially if rolling dice had a cost.

You could also lean into players making dummy rolls. I imagine pixies and fairies are far more playful and curious, and would do a lot of actions just dancing, singing and playing with giant bugs. During playtime, players may be encouraged to make dummy rolls with no consequence, but then the GM might declare that "Things became Serious," and now superfluous rolls come at a cost. In this case, the GM would have to put some kind of stakes down, like "You spot a giant tabby cat who looks hungry, Things just became Serious" and now any failure (Natural 1) on a check could bring the wrath of the cat. I enjoy the idea that players making Dummy Rolls is a Mechanic that represents the fairy's boredom, since once they get the magic back they will no longer care to play around.

Hope that helps.
 

SladeWeston

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Awesome feedback. Thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful response.
Concern custom dice. While I love the idea of custom dice I came up with this system, in part, to avoid the custom dice of games like Star Wars & Genesys. While companies like Amazon and Wish take a lot of the sting out of asking players to buy 20+ d6's spread over a half dozen colors, I'd be hesitant to add more of a barrier than that.

As for your suggestions related to my issue, wow, those are some goods ones. While I had considered non-specific mana before, I worried that it might be too strange for a player to cast a fire spell using water mana dice. Although, I suppose that could be explained away narratively by adding something like a "mana conversion" action. The real idea I'm excited about is that of diminishing returns on the recovery. A partial recovery could significantly change some of the balance issues I've been worried about. I'll have to give it some more thought. Thanks again for the inspiration and ideas.

On a side note, out of curiosity and if you don't mind me asking. What is your plan for overcoming the cost increase card-based games suffer from? I've had a few ideas for card-based games in the past but I've always shelved them after looking into the cost they add to systems. My hope was that in the next few years, as apps at the gaming table become more acceptable, I'd try and pick the ideas back up. With the hopes that an app might be able to help lower the entry cost of such a game.
 

Knaight

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For non-specific mana - that could be where the long rest comes in. Fire mana can make a fireball just fine, no problem. You're not as magically powerful as the old world so there are some limits, but a quick rest and you're back - so if you spend fire mana on a fireball it goes in the short rest pile. Water mana? You can make that into a fireball, sure. Magic is malleable. It doesn't want to do that though, so any water mana spent on a fireball is going right in the long rest pile.

This also works well with your depletion. Say you have a spell that needs fire 2. You draw wind 1 earth 1. Now, you could keep drawing, and end up discarding 2 fire, 1 wind, 1 earth, and whatever else you draw before you finally get those 2 fire. Or you can decide that you're not blowing your whole magic pool right now, and burn the wind 1 earth 1 to the long rest bag.
 

John Out West

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On a side note, out of curiosity and if you don't mind me asking. What is your plan for overcoming the cost increase card-based games suffer from? I've had a few ideas for card-based games in the past but I've always shelved them after looking into the cost they add to systems. My hope was that in the next few years, as apps at the gaming table become more acceptable, I'd try and pick the ideas back up. With the hopes that an app might be able to help lower the entry cost of such a game.
I guess my question is, what is your problem with the increased cost in systems?

If the answer is: "Increased startup cost for me," then:
We live in an amazing age of self-publication. Print-on-demand takes away a lot of the risks for card-games. The worst case scenario is that you print a small amount of decks but you don't make much money (Each deck is gonna put you about 6-7 USD in the hole). Best case scenario you are able to ship in a couple thousand for 2 bucks a deck. Just don't do what I did, and make sure to study up on shipping, because I don't think i made a cent on the decks I sold due to my shipping miscalculations. This all assumes that you do pre-orders or Kickstarter, both of which are a good idea.
Another nice thing about print-on-demand is Rapid Prototyping. I was able to make beautiful cards for an upcoming game and have them arrive within the week, ready for playtesting.
Also, apps may be cheap, but programmers are expensive.

If the answer is: "I wan't to provide as much value as possible for my TTRPG" then:
More stuff adds value when its well thought out and meaningful to the product. If cards enhance the experience then they are worth adding. Same goes for Dice and Miniatures and Art and Writing. As long as you're not padding the game with unnecessary purchases, I think you'll be fine.
Base rules could be sold reasonably for $5 as a pdf, with good art and creative writing the value skyrockets to about $60, and with decks, dice and miniatures the value can easily go to $120-$240. This is ignoring production costs.
 

SladeWeston

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I guess my question is, what is your problem with the increased cost in systems?
So, a couple of years back, I looked into some print-on-demand services and assuming a volume of cards similar to D&D 4th edition, I was looking at doubling the cost of my printed product. I think it's fair to say that the success of an RPG comes down to it reaching a critical mass of people. For indy designers, without huge IPs or past systems to lean on, it has been my experience that reaching that critical mass is often achieved by having a very low barrier of entry cost. As you say, we see a lot of indy designers releasing pdfs at $5, likely for this exact reason. If cards take what could be a $5 entry point and raise it to $20+, that can't help but limit a product's audience.

Now I was in no way trying to insult your game and let me offer an apology if I offended. I was only asking out of genuine curiosity. I have seen a LOT of people design card-base ttrpg that struggled with this issue. Heck, even Penny Arcade ended up converting their card based ttrpg into a boardgame. I was just curious if you had cracked the code or if you had an angle I hadn't heard of. As I've said, its something I've put a good amount of thought into over the years, as I would love to see one do well. The "deck of cards" design space is just so unexplored that I find it very exciting. I mentioned an app, because I have the advantage of being my own programmer, making it considerably less expensive. However, if print-on-demand has dropped so significantly in the last couple of years, perhaps I should give it another look. Thanks again for the information.
 

John Out West

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It was in no way an insult, i was just trying to be as helpful as possible, haha! :ROFLMAO:

I think price really doesn't matter if it comes with good value. One of the most successful kickstarters ever is a boardgame that had a starting price of $250, but it came with an unbelievable amount of stuff so it was worth it. I"m currently working on several that will have 250+ cards each. (Base game without expansions) I think if you make the best game possible and that justifies its extra stuff, it'll sell fine.

Man, being a programmer opens up so many opportunities. You can add a musical timer like Escape: Curse of the Temple, or radio stations that give clues in a Sherlock Holmes mystery game, or hide secrets behind QR codes, or set up a Virtual Reality board where only the player with the phone can see where the Ghosts are. (Like the glasses in 13 Ghosts) I wish I had those skills.
 

SladeWeston

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as helpful as possible
Boy, I've really got to thank you for your response to this thread. I've been struggling with a couple of core mechanics that I couldn't quite get right with the self imposed limitation I had placed on myself. When I opened up to the possibility that some number of cards might be an option, I had an idea that quickly solved one of the bigger issues I was having. It still a big early to be going into too much detail, but I think I've cracked the code on how to make monster tells into a functional mechanic. Thanks a ton.
 
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