Monday Update: Countdown to Beta

Hey everyone, I know the last Gearcast had a plethora of stuff planned our for you this week, but the site’ll be taking a short break to make sure the full beta rules of Mu: Age of Adventure are gonna be waiting for you right here next Monday. Things are pretty nuts, so it’s time to hunker down. Take a breather y’all, we’ll be back next week with an absolute ton of stuff for ya. All that content that was gonna be up this week will be there, as well as a very special Beta Launch episode of the Gearcast! See you all then!

Under the Hood 2 – Mu: Age of Adventure Systems Chat: Rumors, Renown, and Reputation

Welcome back to Under the Hood. This time I’ll be going over three non-combat systems in Mu: Age of Adventure that are designed to give the players more ways to interact with the story and world than whether or not they can hit something.

First it is important to go over Renown and how it interacts with the game, as the Rumors and Reputation systems play directly with and offer rewards for Renown. As the name implies, a character’s Renown is what above all else they are known for. Renown represents more than just fame in Mu, it represents the beliefs that everyone, even the world itself, have in what the characters can do. Characters with Renown are important and interesting, and the world itself wants to see what will happen.

Mechanically, Renown is the true form of a character’s growth in the story. It exists alongside a character’s level, but represents the great things you are known for, rather than simply what level of monster you should be fighting. At character creation you pick a thing you are renowned for, as well as the deed you did in order for everyone to recognize you and grant you your starting Renown. Over the course of the game your character performs additional Deeds of Renown – powerful, dramatic accomplishments outside the bounds of the normal rules – totally at least eleven before finally performing a Legendary Deed. This is to be the capstone of that character’s story. However, unlike a character’s level which increases at the end of an adventure in a very regular interval, Renown and Deeds of Renown are left up to the player to perform over the course of a campaign. To keep players from simply trying over and over, attempting Deeds costs Renown Points. A small amount are rewarded upon leveling up, but the vast majority of these points are earned through the Rumors and Reputation systems.

Rumors, as the name implies, are things that are heard on the wind by the characters about themselves. They might be possible theories on secret identities, rude gossip, dangerous hearsay, or any myriad of things. They are also given to the players by the other players in the group (assuming everyone is agreeable on what the rumors are). This accomplishes two main things: for one it gives the players an immediate connection to the other characters. You get to see where someone takes an idea you gave them, and you can even help them deal with the strange occurrences that are sure to come from the Rumor. And two, it gives the GM plenty of ready-and-waiting ideas for characters, plot beats, and story twists. The Rumors system is part “create-a-side-quest” and “part ideas from a hat”. It lets players fill in the small gaps in the running plot with things they want to see, while also giving the GM enough time to roll the various disparate parts together in a way that won’t feel forced.

Mechanically, the system is very simple: once a rumor is agreed upon the players can then work to either disprove or play up the rumor about them. For each session where a player spends some time working on their rumor – either seeking out individuals related to it, working on personal aspects of it in their spare time, or otherwise interacting with the world in a suitable fashion – they gain 1 Renown Point and move their Rumor track closer to it either being played up or down. The track itself starts at 0 and goes either to -3 or 3. This gives the GM and the player three sessions of work to craft a suitable interesting side story with an introduction, a build up, and a climax. Once complete, a Rumor then also turns into a new Renown, as a way to show the character’s continued involvement with the world.

How one completes these Rumors is also important. Which brings me to the final system, and while the least involved it is also important. Depending on how a character goes about completing their Rumors, or if they end a session having been acting especially characterful, they can earn Face or Rudos points to represent how they carry themselves and how they are viewed by the world at large. Face points are accrued at the end of a session where the character overcame a significant story beat or worked on their Rumor using their own personal strengths and skills, or humbly accepting help, or if they selflessly help their friends. Face points do not represent “good” acts, although good characters would almost certainly have them. They represent the character being loyal, humble, and competent – all aspects a villain could easily possess. In the other direction, Rudos points are awarded when a character accomplishes their goals while being self aggrandizing, underhanded, and opportunistic. Rudos points also come with a great deal of bonus Renown to represent the personal power the character is generating for themselves. In this sense, Rudos represents hubris and unchecked ambition more than “evil”. Once a character has accrued enough of Face or Rudos points they can choose to align themselves with the side of their choosing.

In game terms this is a choice between a quick influx of personal power with a looming downfall on the horizon (Rudos), or a rough and slow build up to an eventual shining moment of clarity (Face). Players can even make dramatic Turnabouts, shifting from Face to Rudos or vice-verse, if they find themselves stuck in a place they don’t want their character to be. While the Reputation system can affect interactions between the players and some NPCs, the biggest part is how Reputation affects Renown.

Face and Rudos are at their peak when characters begin performing greater and greater Deeds of Renown. With Face characters striving towards their big breakthrough, and Rudos characters attempting to keep their house of cards from crumbling. This cycle of systems is designed to reward players for investing time and effort into the setting and world, but also the game itself. The systems also help the GM by having the players constantly feed them information on what they want to see without having to break immersion. They help form a skeletal outline for the campaign’s story that the GM can then mold into a sensible story that everyone is happy with.

The Rumors, Renown, and Reputation systems are in a step into a more narrative focused style of game. They tie the world together not with numbers but with plot hooks and character arcs. But they don’t quite fully push Mu: Age of Adventure away from its crunchier roots. Phew! This was a long one this week, but I wanted to really get into some of the more story and narrative focused systems in Mu, and how they can help players and GMs alike have a better game experience. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

Under the Hood 1 — Character Growth: Levels, Class, Stats, and Skills

Hey everyone! Welcome to the first installment of “Under the Hood”. For this first outing I want to talk about character growth systems in RPGs. Systems designed with long campaigns in mind have some way for the players to grow and become more powerful as they progress. But how you set up this progression is exceptionally important. Character progression tells a lot about a game and the setting, both from a mechanical standpoint and a flavor standpoint. How do the characters progress? What do they earn that makes them better and more capable from their previous selves?

Traditionally, a level based system has been the corner stone of character progression. This provides set points where the players improve in very noticeable ways. It also gives GMs an amount of power scaling with what to expect from the players at a given level. This approach shines when having to design or balance combat encounters or otherwise purely mechanical interactions between the players and the game. With levels the players are locked into set power bands – be it newbies just coming into their own, or powerful demi-god like individuals – that can be planned around and balanced accordingly. Most importantly though, levels indicate a strong reliance on combat. If combat is to be simply another puzzle or encounter to roleplay through, using levels becomes unnecessary. But if each adventure the players go through during their grand campaigns involves a significant amount of aggressive problems to be solved, levels are a great way to keep encounters feeling appropriately challenging without accidentally squashing the players or the monsters. The drawback to level based progression is having to also take into account the pacing of improvements to avoid large stretches of time when no one is getting better. Boredom can be a killer even with significant jumps in power or proficiency once new levels are reached.

Almost always attached to levels are character classes. These offer a set of abilities and stats that direct how the character grows and what kinds of things they will be capable of as the campaign goes on. Classes, much like levels, have the most bearing on a character’s combat prowess. What class a character is determines the most useful direction they should take in order to maximum their effectiveness once diplomacy has failed. But equally important to having classes as a form of character progression is what each class says about the setting they are employed in. A setting that uses staples such as warrior, rogue, and wizard sends the signal that the game will have a more classic medieval fantasy setting, most likely containing dungeons and even possible dragons. But conventional or not, classes and what they are capable of can tell a lot about your setting. They communicate the relative technology level of the setting, whether or not it is magical, any classes tied to religion or government can gives clues to culture, and so on. Classes also push characters towards certain archetypes by providing them a framework of abilities and requirements that can restrict them to set paths. Giving up some fluidity between archetypes when using classes isn’t a bad thing if the game is designed around having a party of largely disparate archetypes.

Most systems, even those that use levels and classes, rely on stats and skills to provide the backbone of what a character can or can’t do. A list of attributes that measure a character’s overall potential that are then further expanded upon with a variety of skills they possess is a very easily understandable system that provides as much or as little granularity as necessary. Even in a fairly rigid system with little ability to cross-over between classes, a stat/skill system in addition to the leveling system is easy for players to understand and gives them additional freedom to customize their characters in whatever ways they want. A purely stat/skill system can function on its own just fine, but can run into issues with combat if players have to spend too many points or allocations on the same things just to avoid a messy death. It can also blunt feelings of growth if new skills show up at a slow pace while encounters and challenges rise at an equal level.

When designing a system then, the more you can get out of the different ways to go about having characters improve without falling into the pitfalls of any of them the better. A hybridization between the more regular trickle of improvement with skills and the large jumps in power from levels is what I choose for Mu: Age of Adventure. I like the familiarity levels and classes bring, and the focus on combat fits a setting that is full of heroism and adventure. To avoid the pitfall of a slow progression, the system also uses a variety of skills, traits, and other personal descriptors that let players reach smaller goals in between levels to avoid long stretches of homogeneity. Next week I’ll go over the systems I put in place to give players other goals to achieve and rewards to earn in between levels, but for this week my time is up. Until next time!

It Begins

Hey there! Welcome to Gearheart Games! Today marks the start of a long journey, and hopefully one you decide to join me on. I’m Nick, and I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember, and making my own for myself and my friends for just about as long. From video games to table top, I’ve enjoyed the hobby in its myriad of forms for years and it was high time I gave something back to everyone else out there. I want Geartheart Games to create products that entertain and give people stories to tell. Games that recreate that feeling of excitement from the climactic moments of your favorite stories.

While that is my hope for my games, I will try and keep on track with the help of this site. To that end, the site will update Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with content to help keep everything on track.

Mondays will be project and site updates. Get a first look at new art, writing, or announcements concerning current or future games being worked on. Site upgrades and overhauls may happen on Mondays, so while things are still somewhat in the garage band state, stay tuned for bigger and better things!

Wednesdays are blog days, with a focus on game design and mechanical musings. I’ll share my musings and thoughts on the mechanical side of design. How I use mechanics, what I like and dislike about certain mechanics, thoughts on the various ways to balance games, and any other “under the hood” talk.

And last but not least, Fridays will be podcast days, with a focus on the less crunchy and more social side of games. Everything from other games I’ve been playing, other people making cool things, and hopefully even some special guests.

I hope you’ll join me on this long and crazy journey, and hopefully at the end of it we’ll have some fun new games to play. Until next time!