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Mastering Fear and Starting Over

If there is anything I’ve learned from my time spent with masters of this craft, it’s that sometimes you have to admit a design doesn’t work, and to start over. And that’s where I have been with Mythender for some time now. (And as such, this post might not make much sense of you don’t know what I’m talking about regarding Mythender’s mechanics.)

I’ve learned a lot making a 150-dice game with a complex, building currency. I’ve learned that I can make a fun game with that, a game people like to play…if I’m the one bringing the materials, teaching how the game works, and running the game. People will give a design some leeway when playing in a game with him or her that they wouldn’t otherwise, and so I ran a few dozen Really Fun Games of Mythender.

I’ll admit that I’ve been afraid of the flaws in the game, enough to where I didn’t really want to write it — I didn’t want to put effort into it. And these flaws aren’t necessarily with whether the design works (though there are a couple points I haven’t yet solved), but whether the design is accessible. Here’s what’s in my Mythender kit.

Picture taken by Albert Andersen

That’s a slightly old picture. At last count, I have around:

  • 50 white dice
  • 30 red dice (though, really, I only need 10 for Mythender. The rest are for Don’t Rest Your Head)
  • 100 or so black/blue dice
  • 50+ metal coins
  • 50+ little gems, 10 large gems
  • two massive stone dice

Because that’s how the economy works. And at a game that I’m running, it works pretty well. But not well enough. It’s rough to teach. And, frankly, it’s a hell of a burden to place on someone I’m asking to play the game. So, right now, I’m putting it aside and looking at other ways of doing what I want.

What I Want Out Of My Game

What Mythender currently does well, which I need to keep doing: (1) tactile reinforcement of play, whether you’re increasing in power or being hit; (2) constantly presenting the choice of risking your soul for desperately-needed power. The die game did this well, which is why I kept it. As you continued having actions, your die pool grew bigger and bigger, thus you holding a physical sense of power in your hand.

That power was also your hit points, so to speak, so when you were hit, you lost dice — creating the feeling of actually being hit. Over the last few years, people have loved the shit out of that. It’s tapped into the lizard brain and motivated like I haven’t seen in other fighty games.

And the deck is initially stacked against the Mythenders in a fight, since they aren’t on home turf, so the decision to risk your soul to get a little more power is a very real one, one that I see come up in every game. So whatever new mechanic I make will have to do all that that well.

It’ll also have to be easier to handle and easier to teach. Throwing away the old economy (which I might later blog about) for something more immediate is the first step. And there are different ways to handle a sense of growth other than massively large die pools.

Putting Aside Doesn’t Mean Throwing Away

Granted, a learned a lot from playing with this game for the past few years. Those lessons stay with me. And the ideas in the design are worth keeping around, to mine for other games. So while it might emotionally feel like I’ve wasted years, I have got something to show for that.

The Fear

Thing is, there’s no guarantee whatever I’ll make will do what I like out of the old “millions of dice forevar!” mechanic. Or will be worth my time. Or…well, a number of other little fears that gnaw at me enough to stick to the devil I know. It takes balls to say “okay, do over!” and stick to that, especially when you’ve been public for a number of years.

Fear keeps us in decisions we don’t like, because we are unsure of it being better. But in a creative pursuit, that’s bullshit — it’s not like we’re murdering our old idea babies. We can always go back to them. So why do we fear? Because we’re afraid to fail — even though it’s by failing and learning that we become better at our craft.

 

And yes, I’ll actually explain the old Mythender mechanic later, for those who are only able to follow along in the abstract. One topic at a time. :)

– Ryan

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20 Responses to Mastering Fear and Starting Over

  1. Alex D. says:

    Maybe you’ve already considered it, but have you considered decks of playing cards? Card decks are generally cheaper, easier to transport, and more accessible to a lot of people than dice, and allow for a lot of interesting tricks

    Most relevantly, they also allow for the sense of growing power / taking damage by adding/removing cards from the deck (you see your deck and hand swell as you gain power, but shrink as you take damage).

    Additionally, you could have special decks with custom images made up, perhaps for a deluxe kit, backing bonuses (if you did something Kickstarter-ish), pre-order bonuses, or other special events (see the game Yomi by Sirlin Games for a great example of this in a non-RPG game).

    I’m not saying it’ll fix your problems, but it’s an interesting avenue to consider.

    – Alex

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      For other games, yes.

      For Mythender, no. It does not have the same tactile feel. And deck mechanics work so dramatically different from die mechanics, in terms of handling time, continually reducing information, etc. It’s something I’m using in other game idea, but it’s Mythender is a die game.

      – Ryan

  2. Alex D. says:

    “Card decks are generally cheaper, easier to transport, and more accessible to a lot of people than dice, and allow for a lot of interesting tricks”; I should clarify that I mean compared to a large amount of dice, not, say, a handful.

    – AD

  3. Dave T. Game says:

    Most of my experience is in board game design, and I am a strong advocate of using The Teardown to advance game design. In fact, I find it’s a very under-utilized tool for making game mechanics more elegant by starting over with something cleaner and going from there. (I liken it to the Kill Your Darlings rule in writing.) In the case of Mythender, you can pull it into a double-win by both ending up with a cleaner design as well as eliminating a problematic production cost. So that is to say it sounds like the best thing for the game, even if I do also feel the pull of wanting to roll handfuls of dice at a time. But I sympathize, I still think about discarded mechanics that I had a lot of fun with that ended up not being right for the game they’re in.

  4. The parallels between Mythender and Tokyo Rain are absolutely uncanny. I am in exactly the same place right now. See you on the other side, brother.

  5. Kit says:

    I find this very interesting from the point of view of someone relatively just-getting-into game design. The thing about discarded mechanics is that they are areas of the design space that people explore, and find either (a) don’t work for that game, or (b) don’t work at all. The latter case is more dangerous, because the neophyte game designer doesn’t necessarily know what ideas have been tried and discarded before publication, and also may not know enough to see that and how they don’t work.

    So this kind of transparency is very useful, to help new people see how much ends up on the cutting room floor. Not that they shouldn’t try such things themselves, but that they should at least see what problems exist with them.

    (One of our goals in Becoming Heroes was to get to roll a lot of dice; it ended up that other considerations in the game scaled it back to the point where 10-15 per person was enough.)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Kit,

      Yeah. I remember seeing other people talk about “I’ll do X, it hasn’t been done before” and over the last few years thinking “heh, yeah, that’s because X doesn’t work.”

      I tend to keep my mouth shut because (a) that robs someone of hands-on discovery, and (b) maybe they know something I don’t about making it work. (And for the life of me I can’t think of any examples offhand, but I suppose “fuckton-o-dice!” works.)

      One of the hardest lessons a designer has to learn is how to distinguish between “this works because I’m here” and “this can work without my presence.”

      – Ryan

  6. E. Foley says:

    One of the things I really loved about Mythender was the dice mechanic. But I know that the amount of “stuff” involved in Mythender was also a pretty big burden for a GM. (Not to mention heavy for a convention backpack!)

    I look forward to seeing (& playing!) the new & improved Mythender. :-)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Yeah. I have fond memories of you rolling a boatload of dice to spit bees our of your mouth to kill a god. :D

      I’m tinkering with a mechanic where your dice step up rather than just increase. Like, you go from rolling d6s to d8s, etc. (And maybe d20s are the new Mythic Die)

      – Ryan

    • Chad Underkoffler says:

      I was gonna say drop Storm dice, and just have Thunder dice and Lightning tokens… but a Cortex-y/DitV dice up-steppery sounds like it’s got some legs to it!

      I guess the hard part is figuring out what the overall “brick” of dice needs would be.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Chad,

      I’ve already tried a number of small removals from the system, and they cause the system to break pretty bad. :)

      – Ryan

    • Chad Underkoffler says:

      Well, then, go forth and rock the dice-steppery. ;)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Or whatever it is I’ll rock. I’m not settled on anything yet.

      – Ryan

  7. Mike Olson says:

    “I’m tinkering with a mechanic where your dice step up rather than just increase. Like, you go from rolling d6s to d8s, etc. (And maybe d20s are the new Mythic Die)”

    Yep, this is a good avenue to explore. I don’t know if it’ll work out or anything, but it seems like the next logical step.

    Regardless, good on you for being willing to scrap so much in the name of making it better. I’m going through something similar on a game that got its first playtest at Gateway. It started as a hack of another game, and has now drifted so far that I’m seriously considering replacing the central dice mechanic, which I’ve realized I don’t really like. Now, I haven’t put nearly as much effort into it as you have into Mythender, but I’ve done enough that there some amount of teeth-gritting and plunge-taking involved.

    Anyway. Really interested to see where Mythender goes from here.

  8. Alex D. says:

    “I’m tinkering with a mechanic where your dice step up rather than just increase. Like, you go from rolling d6s to d8s, etc. (And maybe d20s are the new Mythic Die)”

    The big problem here is that each step is only a 0-2 improvement (1.5 on average), while each new die (for d6s) is a 1-6 improvement (3.5 on average), which is kind of a noticeable difference, plus you lose some tactile effects (although you gain another sort of effect by the different size/shape of the dice).

    Still, I’m sure it’s something you can solve.
    Rock on.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Alex,

      Thanks for your input! Unfortunately, in pen & paper design, math comments fall under either “unhelpful” or “harmful.” Which is something I should also post about.

      – Ryan

  9. It’s a small thing, but the thought of rolling even 10 d20s is very cool to me. I would prefer this over rolling tons of d6s.

    This is all said from someone who hasn’t played Mythender, but maybe it’s helpful.

    If not, too bad! It’s just a comment, after all.

  10. Johnstone says:

    I have a similar glass, but it’s square on the top as well.

  11. Timeroler says:

    I too enjoy your glass. I also prefer rolling more dice = more skill compared to a + modifier to a single die roll. I also enjoy your thoughts as they compare to my own game experiences. thank you.

  12. Matt M says:

    I like the die step idea… you can still do dice pools but the size would be stunted by die steps taking priority.

    Here’s to Mythender and new beginnings for old things!