• Random Movie Quote

    Betty Schaefer: Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Gillis, but I just didn’t think it was any good. I found it flat and trite.
    Joe Gillis: Exactly what kind of material do you recommend? James Joyce? Dostoyevsky?
    Betty Schaefer: I just think that pictures should say a little something.
    Joe Gillis: Oh, one of the message kids. Just a story won’t do. You’d have turned down Gone With the Wind.
    Sheldrake: No, that was me. I said, “Who wants to see a Civil War picture?”

    — Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Game Design Diary: Finally Off the Merry-Go-Round?

Merry-Go-RoundI have decided to call the path I have been on the Merry-Go-Round. Originally, I had envisioned Dream System using a diceless mechanic that used a token auction to resolve conflicts. I hit a snag, and switched over to one that used six-sided dice. I decided to use cards when I wasn’t happy with the dice mechanics. Then I came up with yet another mechanic that used polyhedral dice. It didn’t meet my original goals for the game. By then I had worked out some of the original problems with the Token Auction. When that line of design collapsed, I worked out a better way for the card mechanic to work…

Round and Round she goes.

The Merry-Go-Round

Have I simply been indecisive? I have no doubt that anyone I have confided in during this process would see it as such. I’ve been ’round and ’round with these different game mechanics. However, with each go-round, I have learned something that has helped me get closer to my goals.

Why Diceless?

One of the original influences for Dream System is Ralph Mazza’s Universalis. I was blown away by it when I participated in a demonstration of it back in 2002. It is one of the few Building Games in the market. The primary thrust of the game is to build the world with currency as you play in it. One of my goals has been to allow the players to own the parts of their own story as they create it.

At the time, I thought it would be best to stick with tokens as the only active game part. I would use it both as currency and a way to resolve conflicts. Both Greg Stoltze’s In Spaaace! and Universalis provided inspiration for a token auction to resolve conflicts. I liked the idea of the players taking back and forth, adding extra details to the story and offering up more tokens with each bid.

Development of this mechanic failed quickly. The auctions could be predictable. The economy of the Tokens could also be difficult to keep balanced.

Why Dice?

Dice are a favorite randomizers with gamers. I came to the conclusion that this would help make the game more popular with them because of this. I came up with two different mechanics.


The Yahtzee dice mechanic is something I came up with long ago. Rolling and then re-rolling the dice to get a better hand would give me the same back and forth building flow that the auction would give me. However, all it produced was the same yes/no result that a conventional roleplaying system would give me. I also wanted to play Dream System through the internet. I couldn’t find an internet tool which would allow me to make use of it.


The next dice mechanic is an extreme hack of the Freeform Universal Story Engine. This was an exciting possibility since it provided different grades of sucess and failure. After tinkering with it for some time, I came up with a method for making it work with polyhedral dice. This allowed me to use their natural number progression as a ranking system that was easy to handle. It’s still a viable system and I may use it sometime in the future, but it didn’t have the feel that I wanted.

Stopping on Cards

I’ve finally decided to stick with cards. You can do more with them. They allow for the escalating auction liThey can give the players more control over whether they want to win or lose in an encounter. Also, Roll20 provides a virtual deck for use in online games.

One important decision made. Let’s see what kind of ride the rest of this process turns out to be.


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