Friday, March 8, 2013

Why I Read Koster

Following in the footsteps of Raph Koster's proposal, tailored obviously for D&D.  Please note quote from Koster's site:

"Basically, these are the difficulty levels for game designers. Easy mode is the cop-out game adaptation, the easy answer. A more adventurous team might go for normal mode. But Hard and Nightmare are the regions we rarely venture to in games… some would argue because they aren’t commercial enough. But the movies mentioned all get these points across — in commercially successful content even… so why couldn’t the games?"

Easy mode
  • A game in which player characters roll dice, kill monsters, collect treasure and advance in power.
Normal mode
  • A game in which players pretend to be avatars, interacting with each other and in-game beings in order to pursue goals which require overcoming obstacles in order to achieve victory.
Hard mode
  • A game in which players investigate the limits of their own abilities by attempting to establish social or economic frameworks of their own design, as a means to organize or develop concepts they've created upon the backdrop of a quasi-real world that seeks to promote positive and negative feedback for their efforts.
Nightmare mode
  • A game that forces players to question who they are, challenging their belief systems while psychologically re-engineering their habits and expectations in a world that fails repeatedly to correspond with their wishes while simultaneously tempting them to further flights of fancy.


joe said...

That almost exactly charts the history of my original gaming group from about the sixth grade until our first few years of college.

Blaine H. said...

I would love to see a game that even did hard mode while nightmare mode would be that dream game. Most seem to just barely touch normal mode and fail.

I have only seen about five games in 20 years hit nightmare mode, all were multi-year long games that always start easy and then quickly ramped up.

Sadly, they are so rare and they require a special mix of players and a great GM. Sometimes, you have all the potential to run a wonderful hard or nightmare game and the players choose normal or easy. Other times you are trying to push for hard or nightmare and the GM pulls it back down to normal.

Desire and effort only get you so far in a communal game.

JB said...

@ Blaine: unless you have a game designed to do just that.

Part of the problem with looking at D&D groups and shaking your head when they can't seem to find that 'next layer' is in thinking it the group that's at fault. I've run (And run in) campaigns that were 'hard' and occasionally 'nightmare' but they evolved out of severely drifted play after many years. But that's not how the game is designed to function. The rules were originally written for 'easy' and later expanded to 'normal,' but they really need to be rebuilt from the ground up if you want to have 'hard' mode right from the start.

As it stands, it only otherwise develops very slowly due to survival having paramount importance in the early stages of the game.

Blaine H. said...

What I originally meant by the players being a major component in if a game moves up a tier or not really comes from attitude and the characters they bring to the table.

I have seen some really stellar players who I know can bring some grade A or S class characters and political intrigue, planning, and manipulation to the table, complete with excellent accounting bring what would pass only as a mediocre example of creation to a new game. If 4 out of the 5 players all pretty much bring characters like that, you know the players are only wanting something low grade and no matter how much you want to drag them kicking and screaming up, they won't.

It might be my fault, over the years and some really fantastic campaigns, I got my hopes and expectation high. I aim to run Hard or Nightmare games... or at least used to. The players who bring Hard or better capabilities to the table are a rare mix of both capability and desire.

And availability. Now, do not misconstrue my statement above as putting all the blame on them... no, it is my fault as well. The tools and tricks and toys I pick up in one campaign if the players choose to not want to run in a previous world might not be the best or even work in the next campaign. I know I have binders of maps of old worlds that are not appropriate anymore, including a poster I made of a risk style map to help the players plan in one game.

But your comment of having survival having paramount in the early game really does ring true. The need to scramble for XP, equipment, and power when you start with none. It sets a tone that lingers LONG into the future of a game and a misplaced stone can really send a game flying way off the rails after a year or two from the original intentions.

Keeping the motivation to get to and keep at a hard or better game is more than just simple planning... planning only gets you half the way there. The best charts of shipping lines and price exchanges mean nothing if your players won't engage or you as a storyteller have the barrier for entry to understand it all placed too high.

I have been guilty of that sin and experienced the apathy. It is why each new campaign has to be approached with open eyes and feeling out just what kind of player/character interactions exist and what motivates them before launching into some really detailed hard/nightmare mode game that might just make them lose interest and leave all your hard work in a folder or binder on a shelf, waiting for the next group to come along.

Alexis Smolensk said...


You need to get out of the small world of Roleplaying and read other things - and I don't mean Sun Tzu. Your limitation is the limitation of having a D&D perspective ... if you want to have a better idea of how to tackle the end game and how to wreak havoc on your players, forcing survival in the so-called 'end game,' I would recommend getting a lot deeper into how power works and how it destroys individualism.

You have more powers as a Supreme Being than you know. Time to go read up on what those powers are.