Game design and player agency

Player agency, the ability to execute will, is key to game experiences. When a game forces something upon you, particularly something you can reasonably expect to be easily rid of, then it lessens the experience.

Some examples:
If you are forced to keep a bag of bait that you never want to use then it constantly gets in the way via your user-interface (UI). So a good game would allow the player to drop all pieces of the inventory. Removing gear ought not be done via standard play mode, eg. first-person shooting view. It is better done through an inventory screen so it’s not accidentally done in combat.

Control is agency

Automatic use of cover. I understand that this is a console gaming issue mostly but considering how console-ports retain this feature on PC it seems pertinent. Just put in the lean keys and let the player use cover.

Backpacks that you cannot drop. This is an old one. Sure you might lose your entire inventory yet it’s what soldiers do if they’re ambushed. Backpack can get you killed if it slows you down.

Unavailable items that show up all over fallen foes yet are not lootable. You’d just take it off the fallen and fix it, or cobble it together from the other fallen that have the same gear.

Over riding animations, uninterruptable effects, can sometimes be in games specifically to prevent player agency. A stun effect doesn’t need to lock out control when it could make your vision monochromatic and randomly skew your control sensitivity for a time.

There are methods to put in effects without removing player agency. Designers take heed.

Game design and player agency

RPGs Require Art

Inspiring art is a benchmark for a quality product in the RPG industry. Without a captivating cover the book relies on marketing and reputation to reach players. For the private publisher this requires budget. Cover-quality art is about $1000 per piece from pro-artists. It will be a gamble if the cover-art alone can net you sales to recoup those costs.

What does this say about the people we sell RPG product to?

They are visually driven. The branding of RPGs is around the imagination of the artist who illustrate the product. It also says, to me, that we gamers are far less imaginative than we believe.

Peace and giggles.

RPGs Require Art

Back to Shadowrun

Making a new character to join an existing Shadowrun 3rd Edition campaign. The concept is loosely based on first edition’s Burned Out Mage. This one is not so burned out, though. However, he is on the edge of really getting low in magic.

Here’s a draft sheet:

—[ Alain Langoire De Bussey ]—

Born in Montreal. PhD mother, Post Grad father at University.
Crash + awakenening. Magic at 11 y.o.
Part of formal study of magic. Left CAS for UCAS for economic and political reasons.
Moved into security work (forging wards) including surveillance & investigation.
Mother was killed in metahuman riots.
Father couldn’t live in the house any more and moved out to the nice rural properties.
Was baited into a ‘run via security work since he was depressed.
Kind of liked the thrill and the pay.
Still did contract Warding.
Forged a bit of a name for himself as a good support mage.
Went on a hellish run and tried to sacrifice himself with an overcasting.
Resulted in searing his stomach muscle tissue and burning his right eye.
Unctious Pilot dragged Alain out of that run and helped pay for his medical care.
Still owes Pilot money (she’s a bit merc).
Now trying to find the money to get a power focus & then initiation.
Cautious of being wounded because any further essence loss means magic rating loss.

Clothing style: High fashion
Hair style: Buzzcut, natural hair colour – sandy brown

Likes: Personal electronics
Parents: middle-class academics
One parent dead (mother) – died in metahuman riots
no siblings
College (MIT)
Age; happenings
17; Wins, eq val 1100
18; –
19; losses, enemies (male, gov official, killed/injured his wife, Local Councillor Bob Graham)
20; wins, eq val 500
21; friends (female, like a teacher/student, "Unctious Pilot")
22; friends (female, college, "Gelly" Giselle de Winter)
23; losses, accident/fragged up run 2000 med-costs, lose pt of strength

——–[Character Sheet]———
Full Mage: A
Skills: B (40)
Resources: C (90K)
Attributes: D (21)
Human: E

Attributes (21)
Body, 2 [4]
Quickness, 4
Strength, 1 (0) [2] {Max: 5}
Charisma, 3
Intelligence, 6
Willpower, 5
_Essence; 6
_Magic; 6
_Reaction; 5

Skills (Active: 40)
Conjuring, Int, 5
Sorcery, Int, 5
Aura Reading, Int, 4
Computer, Int, 4
Electronics, Int, 1
Pistols, Qu, 4
Stealth, Qu, 4
Etiquette, Cha, 3
Negotiation, Cha, 3
Interrogation, Cha, 3
Car, Rea, 2
Athletics, 2

Skills (Language: 9)

Skills (Knowledge: 30)
Matrix, magic knowledge, 2
Crime Org’s, 3
Safe houses, 3
Hermetic orders, 4
Paranormal animals, 5
Magic, 5
Corp’s, 3
Security procedures, 3
70’s music & gear, 2

Resources (78,570/90K):
  Lifestyle (10,500):
    Squatter (safehouse), 5 months
    Low, 5 months
  Contacts (20K):
    ‘Mr. Fox’ (Fixer), free
    ‘Gelly’ (Street shaman), 1  {Giselle De Winter, Dutch, Bay area shaman}
    ‘Michelangelo’ (Decker), 1 {Likely a mage}
    ‘Unctious Pilot’ (Hermetic order leader), 1
    ‘Sir Blackheart’, (Smuggler/talismonger), 1
  Spells (25 spell pts):
  {Limited: Fetish, -1, req’ fetish to cast; Exclusive, -2, req’ exclusive action to cast}
    Name, force (spell point cost)
    Combat sense, 1 (adds 1 combat pool per 2 SM)
    Physical mask, 5
    Mind Probe, 3 ex (1)
    Stealth, 3 ex (1)
    Control Actions, 6 f. {pocket watch, jewellery charm} (5)
    Increase Attribute (Intelligence), 3 ex (1)
    Phys barrier, 3 f. {tower qv. chess piece, jewellery charm} (2)
    Armor, 3 f. {flattened bullet, necklace piece} (2)
    Levitate, 1
    Magic fingers, 1
    Stunball, 3 ex (1)
    Lightning-bolt, 6 ex (4)
  Magical gear:
    Fetishes: 900
    Summoning materials: 10 force points worth (10,000)
    Binoculars (100)
    Goggles (lowlight + thermal) (2,700)
    Jammer, rtg. 6 (6,000)
    WNG, rtg. 4 (6,000)
    PocSec (1000)
    DocWagon contract, basic (5,000)
    Pocket torch (10)
    Ares Viper (600) fl. ammo, 180rds (1800), Regular 60rds (120) in mag’s.
    Armor Jacket (long coat) 5/3 conc. 6 (900)
    Grenades (30ea)
    Offensive AP, 6
    Concussion, 6

After injury from overcasting on a fragged run
    Muscle Augmentation, rtg. 2 (BI 0.8) 40,000
    Dermal sheath, rtg 1 (Ess -0.7) 24,000 [Body +2, Impact +1] {M&M pg. 28}
    Datajack (Ess -0.1) 1000
    Cyber-eye, Sony Hazelwood (replacement w/Flare Comp + Image (Ess -0.2) 7000
    Eye-covers (both): metallic neon blue, 100
    Total debt: 72,100
    Paid: 22,400
    Plus: 11,000 (out of starting resources)
    Owed: 38,700

Back to Shadowrun

Lighting the Fire in the Belly

Writing Fiction, “Origins: Krovosos”

It’s been a while since I posted here but NaNoWriMo has helped ignite some motivation in me, again. Working on a Roadside Picnic/S.T.A.L.K.E.R themed store called “Origins: Krovosos” that I’m desperately trying to finish in time for the Christmas season of purchasing. It’s pushing a little over halfway done and looks to be aiming at a 260pg length novel. Lots of action and a spattering of tech as Luka and Sasha, veteran Stalkers, return to the Zone and its perils.

Black Dawn

Black Dawn: the RPG. A good friend is playing Fragged Empire, itself also in development (albeit with a very nice budget and artwork) and that’s made me realise that I should resurrect Black Dawn and update it for the modern markets. That is, simplify it. This is done to about 2/3rds and probably needs only another 100hours work to layout and get ready for sale.


Cloaks Alleys Daggers (maybe Cloak And Dagger?) is a working title for a game of medieval fantasy mundane criminals who rely on skill and gear to achieve their goals. It will use a new system called METAL (just a working title). Characters have four Metals, Iron, Brass, Steel and Mercury to represent their traits. Iron, physical toughness, Brass; courage and persistence, Quicksilver; balance, speed, co-ordination, Steel; smarts, fast-thinking, knowledge. To these metals you add polishes (skills) that are more broad than most games.

The core-mechanic is 3d6 + Metal + Polish. It can be either a passive test, vs a TN, or an opposed test; vs another roll. Results are based on success margins or failure margins – much in common with Simple 2d6. What I like about it so far is the language. It sets up a good vibe and flavor that this is about being thieves, thugs and cads. Not arcane jongleur half-demon sorceror rogues. I like cheese but mostly with my wine…


Well not any more (the cheese with wine that is). I’ve started eating vegan for health reasons. Check this video out to have your mind blown.

Lighting the Fire in the Belly