29 December 2013

Making a Roguelike: Magic Systems

As our roguelike nears its grand reveal, let me talk about magic in the game.

Magic needs to be mysterious. Magic needs to be weird. Magic needs to be hard to grasp. Otherwise it's not magic. In our game, as with many traditional roguelikes, magic comes in the form of things with randomized effects. As the main character is an illiterate, mundane person, there are no scrolls or spells to be learned. The three categories of magical artifact are: Potions, shrines, and amulets. Each of these three has a different way of activating them (and none of them can be activated by accident), each may have positive, negative, or mixed effects, and each has a distinctive way of being identified beforehand.

As I wrote before, the main characters illiteracy means that there are no scrolls and thus no typical "scroll of identify" to find out what the item you have found does. As the game is somewhat short and it is unlikely to encounter the same magical artifact multiple times, trial-and-error is a bad idea with potions. Well, it would seem like it is a bad idea to drink unknown fluids you find in a cave anyways but here that is somewhat enforced. Amulets may be a very helpful thing, but they also might be cursed, putting a negative effect on you, preventing you from using another amulet, and being generally nasty (and the way to get rid of them is very rare to be found). Shrines may be the domain of demonic entities, which will make your life harder if you attempt to contact them as praying to them might constitute agreeing to contracts that are not beneficial to you and your survival.

17 December 2013

Pen & Paper: Sandbox or Railroad Campaign?

So, I've been GMing an RPG set in space recently. The group took the first part of the campaign to escape from an interstellar prison-planet (yes, it's Butcher Bay. I know). Some characters died during a prison-riot that the group had started in order to form a distraction, but most of the group succeeded in escaping, forming bonds in the process, being cool and all.

Playing a campaign in prison had some advantages for me as a game master. The environment was limited, so were the NPCs to interact with - I made an exhaustive list of them and how they were grouped and what they were like. I had no plan how the group would escape the prison. They would have to figure one out themselves. It was a small-scale sandbox for my group to play in. Now, for what we call our second season, we have some new characters, some old ones, and the whole thing is set on a small ship escaping from the law. We basically went from Butcher Bay to Firefly. Which is nice. But entirely different in structure.