Archive for the ‘System Hacking’ Category

Two months since I last posted, and this one’s off-topic. Unforgivable! But I’ve been playing a bunch of Commander format Magic: The Gathering recently, and my play group has made some rule tweaks (some by my own fair hand) to improve our play experience, and I’ve found it interesting to see how our play goals are informing our design choices (i.e. house rules).

Play Goals / Design Principles

Our core principle really is that we want the game to be fun and interesting for everyone. That’s where our rules tweaks have come from, but it’s kindof ill-defined. Working backwards from the changes we’ve made, I’ve extracted these more specific principles:

  1. The group’s desire for all players to have an interesting and enjoyable game trumps any individual’s desire to win.
    • This means any play that totally shuts down an opponent’s deck is not welcome. Obviously answers to individual cards or plays are totally fine, but stopping an entire deck from working is boring and we don’t allow it.
    • This also means that, because of the obvious tension in the above, the game doesn’t work at all for people who can’t stand losing. Ah well.
  2. Variety is the core of an interesting game; consistency is boring.
    • I mean card consistency, really. Consistently getting the same kinds of effects from different cards is fine, but if a deck plays exactly the same every time it comes out, that’s boring.
  3. Interesting commanders make for interesting decks.
    • Commanders with unique mechanics lead to unique decks, which means more unusual and interesting games.
The Rules Changes

The Commander format rules already help with this – the singleton format means plenty of variety and that card consistency is difficult to guarantee, and the commander being returned to a playable state (the command zone) when killed or exiled means that they are easily available and therefore easy to build decks around. (Also, having them there makes them a cool visible centrepiece for the deck, which encourages players to seek out interesting ones.) Principle 1 is well served, too, by a general culture of “play for fun, not for glory” that has grown up around the Commander format in general.

However, it’s not perfect. So here are some of the house rules we use to improve things for our group. Like I say, these evolved organically and I extracted the above principles from them – but I’ve tried to lay out the reasoning as if we’d planned it from day one :-)

  • Re-draw after mulligans.
    • As normal, each mulligan (except the first, as normal for Commander) means you draw one fewer card before making the decision about whether to keep the hand or mulligan again. However, once you’ve made the decision to stick, you draw up to seven cards.
    • Having a dreadful opening hand can dramatically hold a player back, and that’s no fun for them nor for their opponents – and the variance of the singleton format means that this happens more often than we’d like, even in well-balanced decks. With this change, players may have to accept a risky hand, but hopefully never a totally disastrous one.
  • No card-search.
    • Card consistency is boring, so searching (or “tutoring”, in Magic parlance) for specific cards is out.
    • The exception is basic lands. Not having enough mana means a deck gets stuck and is no fun to play – so searching to bring out basic lands is fine.
  • The commander can be returned to the command zone when they’re put into the library (draw deck) or player’s hand.
    • Normally this can only be done when the commander is killed or exiled, but we want to make sure that the commander is always available, even after these other means of removal. In general card consistency is undesirable (principle 2), but the commander is the exception to that because of principle 3 – if people can’t rely on their commander being available, then they won’t build decks around their commander, and that’s a shame because it limits the variety of deck themes.
    • This is particularly important when you remove card-search; that effectively means that if the commander is shuffled into the library, you’re very unlikely to get them out again (and it’s almost impossible if they specifically get placed on the bottom of the library, as some effects will do). Therefore we need a way to ensure that these effects don’t permanently shut down the commander.

I hope those rules are of use to Commander players, and that the principles-to-mechanics design discussion is interesting even for those who don’t know or play Magic. Anyway, I’m off to carry on reworking my Oloro deck; I’ll admit that building a deck that will be fun to play is itself half the fun!

For a while I’ve been pondering how to run an effective Apocalypse World introduction one-shot – in particular, how to give it a bit of a kick-start to get the story burning nice and fast. In a full-length campaign, it works better (I think) to use the rules as written and let things burn up slowly to begin with – but I wanted to give a feel of what a campaign might be like a couple of sessions in, when relationships have really started pulling at the characters and driving the story forward. Something a little like the “Hatchet City” playset was supposed to achieve, though I gather Vincent Baker no longer recommends using that.

In the most recent one-shot I ran (today!), I tried to kick-start this by using the following set of custom moves, to be read and followed by the players during the character creation process. For now I’m just going to post them here without (further) comment – but I’ll come back and talk about how they worked in a later post, when I’ve thought about the results a little more.

 To my Angel,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+sharp and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone whose life you saved and now they owe you, big time. On a 7-9, name someone whose life you saved, but they resent feeling indebted to you. On a miss, name someone who has it in for you because of someone’s life you *didn’t* save. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Battlebabe,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+cool and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who relies on you when they need Shit Sorted Out. On a 7-9, name the last person you slept with (or, if no-one, the last person you turned down). On a miss, name someone who’s fished you out of trouble when you got in deeper than you could handle. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Brainer,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+weird and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who genuinely likes you, even though you’re fucking weird. On a 7-9, name someone you’ve fucked with in the past (maybe with one of your Brainer moves) and now they’re kinda scared of you. On a miss, name someone whose brain you’d like to fuck with, but you’ve never been able to. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Chopper,

When the characters are introducing themselves, ask whether any of them are in your gang.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hard and name an NPC. On a 10+, name your second-in-command. On a 7-9, name the least reliable member of your gang. On a miss, name someone who was in your gang but quit in less-than-amicable circumstances. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Driver,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+sharp and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who depends on you and your wheels, and why. On a 7-9, name someone else who’s good with cars (but not as good as you, of course). On a miss, name someone you wish you could get a read on, and why. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Gunlugger,

When you’re choosing moves, don’t choose NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH. Sorry, I’m an asshole, what can I say.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hard and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone you took something from by force, and what. On a 7-9, name someone you argued with recently and you haven’t really settled it yet. On a miss, name the person you care about most. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Hardholder,

Before you do anything else, read the next paragraph to yourself. If, during character creation, people ask questions about the holding and its surrounding environment, answer them using the information in that paragraph and the decisions you’ve made about it during your own character creation. At some point the holding will need a name: come up with one between you, or be boring and use the one I came up with: “Maxwell’s Fault”.

Your holding is situated on the edge of a once-massive multi-storey city which is now by and large just a crater full of rubble. There’s still treasure in the centre for those who go looking, but there’s danger, too – you never know what you’ll find there, and you don’t need a brainer to tell you that the psychic maelstrom gets more dark and violent the closer you get to the middle. Further out is ok, though, and most of the structures there are more or less intact, so there are multiple holdings like yours on the edges or just a little way inside the boundary. Outside there’s the Ash Waste, which is a mess of dust storms and scrubby vegetation. It’s cold, too, especially in winter when the snows are deep and the blizzards are bitter.

Now go ahead and create your character and your holding, according to the rules in your playbook.

When it’s your turn to introduce yourself to the group, tell them about the holding too, if you haven’t already.

When the characters are introducing themselves, ask whether any of them are in your gang.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hard and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone you need to protect. On a 7-9, name someone useful who’s playing ball for now, but you wish you had more leverage on them. On a miss, name the biggest troublemaker in the holding (maybe excepting the PCs). The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Hocus,

When the characters are introducing themselves, ask whether any of them are in your cult.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+weird and name an NPC. On a 10+, name your most devoted follower. On a 7-9, name someone you’d like to convert to your cause. On a miss, name someone whose devotion is wavering. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Operator,

When you’re creating your character and you come to choose your gigs, discuss the choice with the group. Tell them the options, and ask if anyone wants to be part of your crew and what gigs they could help out with. (Ultimately, though, it’s your call which gigs you pick; you don’t have to pick one just because another character offers to help with it.)

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+cool and name a member of your crew. On a 10+, name the most reliable. On a 7-9, name the most skilful. On a miss, name one who hasn’t yet realised you’re taking advantage of them somehow. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Savvyhead,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+sharp and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who owes you a favour because you fixed their stuff. On a 7-9, name someone who has something you want – a piece of tech, maybe, or a tool, or maybe they just get access to the best loot from scavenger hunts. On a miss, name someone you depend on – for work, for help, for friendship, whatever. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Skinner,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hot and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who’s madly in love (or lust) with you. On a 7-9, name someone who’s told you their deepest secret. On a miss, name someone you’re (secretly?) in love with. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC