Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Simultaneous Action Resolution

Many non-gamers assume players take turns in games, each one resolving their actions fully before moving on to the next player. Gamers obviously have a bit more experience with different player sequences and resolution, whether using an innovative initiative system in a roleplaying game, flipping playing cards to see which side’s units move and shoot in miniature wargames, participating in a shifting player order in a European-style board game, or, my favorite, resolving actions simultaneously so nobody’s knocked out of the game before they get a chance to take a parting shot.

Even in traditional turn-taking games I prefer every piece to have a chance to take action even if enemy fire that turn would normally destroy it; the Axis & Allies Miniatures Game and it’s War at Sea naval version do a good job of simultaneously resolving hits by noting how much damage units take and removing destroyed units at turn’s end after every piece has had a chance to move and shoot. In Panzer Kids, the beginner-friendly tank miniatures game I’m developing, I make sure to allow every tank within range and line of sight to a target a shot before accrued hits take effect and knock some tanks out of the skirmish.

While player sequencing helps maintain order at the game table, resolving actions simultaneously not only provides a better sense of fairness but forces players to remain involved and focused on the game throughout their and others’ turns. It’s a rules element I prefer, when available, in whatever games I’m playing; I try incorporating simultaneous action resolution into game designs when the mechanic seems suitable to the game’s style, overall mechanics, and theme. I’ve enjoyed some experience in other games with simultaneous action resolution:

Wings of War/Glory: One of the elements I like about Wings of War/Wings of Glory remains the simultaneous attack resolution. After all units have moved, everyone determines which enemy planes are in range and which ones they’re attacking, with target aircraft taking damage cards (or chits in the WWII version) with different damage values (including zero); aircraft with hits reaching their damage resistance value are destroyed. This procedure, however, allows the target plane to get off a shot even if, when taking hits itself, it would be eliminated at the end of the turn. In the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game -- a direct derivative of the Wings of War/Glory game with some original innovations -- ships move and shoot according to their pilot skill value (higher being better); less experienced pilots move first and shoot last in those respective phases, while veteran pilots naturally maneuver last and attack first. Although movement might seem like a simultaneous action -- with maneuvers revealed on a previously set dial, much as flyers in Wings of War/Glory reveal cards for maneuvers -- the addition of actions like barrel-rolling, targeting, evading, and focusing all reveal the intentions of players moving first. Since combat is fully resolved in turn beginning with the better pilots, they can knock less experienced pilots out of the game before everyone’s had a chance to shoot that turn. I enjoy Wings of War/Glory that much more because I know, even if my plane’s going down in flames this round, I have a chance to take a parting shot at an enemy aircraft.

D6 System Roleplaying Game: When I run roleplaying games with built-in initiative systems I generally resolve actions simultaneously in my head, with an eye toward fairness to player characters and unexpected plot developments from actions with results that often clash. I frequently discard built-in initiatives systems -- intended to impose structure on player and gamemaster actions -- in favor of an improvised yet simultaneous task resolution method. Typically I’ll announce the characters’ adversaries intentions then go around the table to each player (usually varying my start point each round) asking for their characters’ actions and letting them know what relevant skills to roll. I roll the gamemaster character skills, noting how well they did in terms of success/failure and degree of success (for opposed rolls). As players reveal their skill roll results I figure out what’s going on in relation to opponent actions, then narrate the outcome. This certainly makes a bit more work for the gamemaster to mentally keep track of what all the characters and their adversaries are doing, but makes for some interesting moments as simultaneous action resolution brings about some unexpected results. I also find the technique -- or the simple omission of an intrusive initiative game mechanic -- far more cinematic.

Oracle System: I’m building the Oracle System -- the basis for a retro-clone-style fantasy roleplaying system I’m developing -- on the concept of simultaneously resolving combat between two opposing parties, including chances to hit and defend in one roll. A hero rolls her dice while the gamemaster rolls dice for her opponent; each counts up defend results (2s and 3s), a number of which (equal to the character’s armor value) can cancel out the opponent’s hits (4s, 5s, and 6s), with any hits getting through armor lowering the defender’s overall dice (both an indication of ability and health). In this fashion two opponents can conceivably knock each other out of a skirmish; even someone about to be vanquished still has a chance to inflict damage with a parting shot. (You can read more about the Oracle System and its simultaneous combat resolution mechanic in an earlier blog entry.)

Simultaneous action resolution isn’t right for every game. They often becomes a choice over other game concerns. For instance, I’m sure the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game designers felt using a pilot skill value was far more important to the overall game strategy than simultaneous attack resolution; in fact, offering different pilot expertise levels helps players build diverse squadrons essential for both varied skirmish scenarios and organized play (a cornerstone of the game’s appeal and marketing approach to the gaming community). Mechanics remain the primary consideration; if simultaneous resolution doesn’t work with the core game system -- or needs additional fiddling to fit it in -- it doesn’t belong. It’s a convention I enjoy in many games, but not at the expense of fluid and engaging gameplay.

As always, I encourage construction feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The “Pay-What-You-Want” Experiment

Two months ago I decided to change all the free Griffon Publishing Studio material at my DriveThruRPG.com e-storefront to “free/pay-what-you-want” status (often abbreviated as PWYW). While these offerings were still technically free for the downloading, this option offered readers the opportunity to pay what they wanted for them either at the time of download or after perusing the material.

The One Bookshelf family of e-publishing websites initiated the PWYW option a few months ago. I’d read some initial feedback from participants, most of whom saw this as an opportunity to down-price small PDFs -- normally priced around $5 or less -- and make them available for free or whatever readers wanted to pay. I saw this option in a different light from the perspective of already free products; it served as a kind of “tip jar” enabling folks to make a donation to creators as a token of appreciation, even for something normally offered gratis.

This development occurred just as I was preparing two new, free PDF files for distribution to promote my Pulp Egypt and Heroes of Rura-Tonga system-neutral game supplements. Unfortunately I’d already released The Labyrinth of Set before learning of the pay-what-you-want option, so my data for that month remained skewed, with “tips” counting only about half the month; throughout June 235 people downloaded it and several generous donors dropped $3.50 in the “tip jar” through PWYW donations. I released The Paranoia Pit in July as a free/PWYW offering from the start and had decent results; 123 people downloaded it and generous donors dropped $12.51 in the “tip jar,” a little more than the equivalent of someone purchasing the actual Heroes of Rura-Tonga supplement at full price. I promoted both free PDFs on my usual social networking sites and the Griffon Publishing Studio website in conjunction with a 25% off coupon on the purchase of the related sourcebooks; several customers took advantage of discounts each month. During that time -- after I switched all my previously free PDFs to free/PWYW status -- other PDFs brought in $2.40 in “tips,” though that’s “found money” considering everything was previously offered for free without any option for monetary appreciation.
Considering these remain free PDFs supporting game supplements offered for a price, I’m thankful to get a little additional income to invest in future projects. I’m flattered by people’s generosity; had I small enough PDFs for sale that I’d set at free/PWYW, I fear I’d find disappointment in meager donations. At this point, as I release any free, promotional PDFs for existing or future paid supplements, I’ll set them as “free/PWYW” for whatever it’s worth.

I don’t release enough low-priced PDF publications to consider marking them down to free/PWYW status; I’m still old-school in that I release supplements with substantial page counts (i.e., more than 16, sadly remarkable in a marketplace with products of 1-6 pages often priced at less than $2); naturally these take more time and effort and I’m less likely to let them go for free, though I try pricing them fairly and offer occasional sales and coupons. Releasing free/PWYW support material for larger paid product has served as and remains a core marketing strategy for Griffon Publishing Studio.

Other publishers who’ve “marked down” already low-priced PDFs to free/PWYW have shared positive results. I’m encouraged that they report an overall generosity on the part of a few readers to make up for others downloading such files for free. It’s a balancing act publishers accept; sure, many people won’t pay anything, and a few people “tip” fairly, but the PDF makes it into the hands of far more readers than it would have if offered at a set -- even a low -- price. It ultimately serves to support related games and boost interest in a publisher’s offerings, free, PWYW, or paid.

I remain grateful to my many fans, followers, and friends who support me with their encouragement, positive reviews, and their purchases and tips.

As always, I encourage construction feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.