Cry of the Opopanax – Version 1.0

Being developed (in part) for the Tin Ear Game Design contest found here:– though if I’m being completely honest, I anticipate the basic mechanic becoming the core to a more elaborate game I’m thinking about. More on that later. First, I present the…
Basic Mechanics:
Roll a set of letter beads. Any that come up as blanks (ie., showing the holes through the bead) are stops and get set aside. Use the remaining letters to attempt to spell your target words.

Tin Ear

Solitaire Version:
Materials Required: One 4 by 3 inch tin, one set of letter beads, one list of words (see examples below), and a way to record your score
Goal: Score as many points as possible before you run out of letter blocks.
How to Play:
(1) Roll all of your letter blocks.
(2) Put any blanks you roll in the lid of your tin..
(3) Attempt to complete words from your list. Put any letters that you wish to save for a word in the base of your tin. Once letters have been placed in the base of the tin, they may not be removed until they are scored. You must place at least one additional letter into the base of the tin.
(4) Set the remaining letter blocks next to the tin.
(5) Score the round: If you have (in the base of your tin) all the letters you need for a word on your list, record the score on your pad and set the letters you used next to the tin for the next round. You may also retrieve one blank from the lid of the tin and place it next to the tin for the next round. Individual words may be scored more than once, as long as you have enough letters to create each one separately.
(6) Repeat steps (1) – (5) with the letter beads you have set next to the tin. Leave the blanks in the lid and the letters in the base of the tin. Do NOT re-roll them. If you have no letters left next to the tin, your game is over. Total your score.

I have thoughts on an alternate solitaire version called Pyramid Solitaire which may get filled in here at some point. In short, the Pyramid variant would require you to create the words in order: smallest to largest, but would allow you to retrieve more stops/blanks with each completed word. Scoring would be based on how many words you successfully complete.

Duel Version:
Materials Required: Each player needs one 4 by 3 inch tin, one set of letter beads, one list of words (see examples below), and a way to record their score.
Goal: Outscore your opponent.
How to Play:
(1) Players play the solitaire game simultaneously with the exception of the scoring step.
(2) For each word you complete, in addition to scoring as in the solitaire game, you also may remove any beads from the base of your opponent’s tin that show a single letter of your choice from the word you completed. Those letter beads are set beside their tin for their re-roll.
For example, you complete the word “raven”. In addition to scoring 6 points and retrieving one of your blanks, you also choose the letter “e”. Your opponent must pull any beads currently showing an “e” face-up from the base of their tin and place it next to their tin for inclusion in their next roll.
Strategy Note: By playing as quickly as you can, you can out-pace your opponent, but you may miss critical letters necessary for the completion of your words. In addition, you may run out of beads to roll before your opponent, potentially giving them a tactical advantage.

Word Lists:

(Length) Word – Value
(3)  Roc         – 1 pt
(4)  Aves        – 3 pts
(5)  Raven       – 6 pts
(6)  Raicho      – 10 pts
(7)  Phoenix     – 15 pts
(8)  Opopanax    – 21 pts
(9)  Tytonidae   – 28 pts
(10) Cockatrice  – 36 pts
(11) Jabberwocky – 45 pts

(Length) Word – Value
(3)  Elf         – 1 pt
(4)  Nick        – 3 pts
(5)  Santa       – 6 pts
(6)  Belief      – 10 pts
(7)  Kringle     – 15 pts
(8)  Yuletide    – 21 pts
(9)  Christmas   – 28 pts
(10) Poinsettia  – 36 pts
(11) Silent Night – 45 pts


As a tease, the more… elaborate… game I am pondering is a story-telling game where player characters are a team of editors operating in the narrativerse, hunting down typos and rogue text, working to repair holes in stories, and in extreme cases, trim entire casts of characters – with prejudice.


A Christmas Scenario Set-Up

From time to time I get the urge to buy a game book just to write up one scenario. In this case, it’s Leverage.

The Yuletide Job

Santa has gone missing and it’s up to his kids to save Christmas. They are:

* Basil/Basilie – The Thief – known in the biz as “Dasher” or “Dancer” because he/she is so hard to catch. Spends most of their time ‘recovering’ treasures transported by war criminals to South America.

* Peter/Petra – The Grifter – maintains a number of false identities including Jonnie Vixen and P. R. Ancer.  Normally operates in Europe and the former Soviet Republic.

* KRIS – The Hacker – actively operates under two distinct avatars that sometime compete with each other: K0M3T and Q-PID. KRIS will often swap among their ‘normal’ and the K0M3T and Q-PID personalities in RL conversations.  Maintains a series of secure communications centers throughout Australia and the island nations of the Pacific.

* Nik – The Hitter – rides a flying motorcycle and has tattoos on his/her forearms: “Donner” on the left and “Blitzen” on the right. Normally operates in the United States and Canada. The specialist the military calls in to train special forces.

* Carol – The Mastermind – Most years, Carol runs operations for the big day. As such she/he spends most of their time at the North Pole. De facto leader of the E.L.F.

K.R.I.N.G.L.E. has a global transportation network, so getting the team together is not a problem. However, once they have debriefed, they need to not only find a way to make Christmas happen on schedule, but also find Father and bring him home safely.

Mechanical Considerations

Over at my Posterous account, my son and I have been sporadically discussing a game we’ve been designing in collaboration.

One of the factors that I have been considering is mechanics. The boy wants to use the full suite of dice: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20. For a while, I was considering adapting the Cortex idea of dice pools and incorporating an initiative mechanic inspired by Seven Seas. In one of the later podcasts, we discuss how things worked. The consensus was that it was okay, but I think we both agree that it wasn’t quite right.

Recently, Daniel Solis suggested applying the Kingsburg dice mechanic to RPGs and that got me thinking. What if we apply dice pools in a different way? If you are not familiar with Kingsburg (as I wasn’t), you basically roll 3D6 and distribute one, two, or three dice to slots numbered 1 to 18. There is a number of natural extensions to this idea – change the number of dice, the size of the dice, and/or the number of slots. You could even mix dice.

Now if you start playing with dice pools, the probabilities get pretty wonky pretty quick, but there are some basics you can assume. (1) You can assume with confidence that you can get lower numbers (any numbers smaller than the size of your dice) pretty easily. (2) The likelihood of results within each multiple of your average dice size will become exponentially lower. (For the 3d6 example, 1 to 6 will be most common, 7 to 12 will be less common, 13 to 18 will be least common.) (3) Results near the middle of your range will be more likely than those toward the edges (within each of the bands noted in point 2). (For the 3d6 example, 10 and 11 will be more likely than 7 and 12; 6 will be more likely than 1.)

Those assumptions will help you position potential rewards. Common rewards should be in the lower range of numbers. Rare rewards should be saved for the very biggest numbers.

So what? Well that depends on the rewards you want to offer. In my case, I’m thinking about conflict advantages. (Originally, I would have said combat, but I want this to be generalizable.) In my mind, conflict can be influenced on four axes: Initiative, Offensive Advantage, Defensive Advantage, Increased Stress. So, mechanically, before a conflict, you roll a die pool and distribute your dice on your track based on the advantages you want.

I am imagining that things like profession, gear, and experiences drive your die pool and that species and gear can influence your track. I will talk about how to apply the advantages in a later post. Ultimately, my goal is that one die roll can resolve a conflict (or at least a major segment of a conflict).

Dare to be yourself

On my desk at work, I have a fortune from a cookie – you know the kind, they come with take out Chinese food. Normally, I throw these out – the fortunes, not the cookies. But this one struck me and hung around long enough to be taped to a framed picture of my kids.

It says, “One must dare to be himself, however frightening or strange that self may be.”

For someone who grew up in a generation that was discouraged from standing out when they were young, this complex yet simple quote really resonates. It resonated so much, in fact, that I couldn’t believe it was made up by someone trapped in a cookie factory. So I looked it up.

It turns out that it is a fairly common fortune – or at least that it resonated with others – as I found may references to it as coming from a cookie. But I also found a very similar quote from the poer May Sarton, a quote that I can only assume inspired the fortune (or perhaps the other way around, but somehow I doubt it):

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may be.”

Daring to be your own strange self isn’t sufficient. We must all dare to be who we are.

In recent years, I’ve learned the value of transparency and of working toward self-set goals. Be honest about who you are and work toward what you want – not what you think others want you to want. Now to be clear, being yourself isn’t a license to be a jerk. I also believe that being kind and considerate is critical. But somehow, when I sincerely focus on either one of those, the other comes more easily.

So that’s what has inspired me to start this potentially frightening and strange blog. I’m going to try to write what I want, not what I think others are looking for. I’m not going to look for comments or validation, but I will welcome discussion.

I’ll be honest. I’ve started blogs before. But in the back of my head, those were about the stage face me. This, to the best of my ability to put into words, will just be me. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. It may just be me capturing ideas or putting concepts on a page. It may be fictions or snippets of fiction. It’s likely to be strange and possibly sometime frightening.

It will be whatever I dare to be.