In the spirit of #rpgtheoryJuly, I’m using this #Greenwoodnesday to talk about the role of visual aids in game development. That is to say, how I find visual aids help me to clarify my design in my own skull, even if they might not make it into the final game.
To that end, I present to you, the Game Warden’s Coat of Arms:
Dauntless of my lack of artistic talent, I have mustered all my skills to slap together this chart to help the Game Warden make the right call in #LincolnGreen. Or more specifically, to help me suss out what the Game Warden needs to make the right call. This chart may appear nonsensical to you, dear reader, but it contains a wealth of information for me. In true Robin Hood fashion, I’ll share that wealth with you.
How to Read the Coat of Arms Chart
Daniel of Rogershire, clad in green, runs along the Nottingham rooftops, following a procession of guards hoping to jump unseen onto the roof of the lavish carriage they are escorting. He is a capable outlaw, unencumbered and sure of foot. Daniel’s player tells his Warden (that’s you) that he wants to time the jump for when the entourage turns a corner, thus limiting the visibility of the trailing guards.
Does he make it?
You must answer this question. You cannot shrug your responsibilities off to a die roll or a coin toss. This is #LincolnGreen, damn it! Daniel’s fate is, almost, entirely in your hands. So you gather the points and see what your options are.
The points are simply facts about the current situation that impact Daniel’s chances of pulling this stunt off. He has the prowess, if not the experience, to undertake such derring-do. Are the guards expecting trouble here, in the heart of Nottingham, before their journey truly begins? And if so, would they even know or happen to look up? What of the folk inhabiting the houses Daniel is sprinting over? Can they hear his footsteps on their roofs, and if they could, would they alert those outside? What’s the weather like? Is it bright enough to cast Daniel’s shadow along the ground? Or has it rained recently making the roofs slick? Would anyone be looking down from atop Nottingham castle or the city walls?
Daniel’s player is certain to bring up points in his favor, including an Experience Point or two about moments in Daniel’s past when he’s be exceptionally agile or sneaky. He is also a Bold outlaw, and you can’t say this stunt isn’t bold. (Were you playing in the Wolves’-Heads Tradition, Daniel would obviously be an anthropomorphic tiger and that would obviously be very relevant.)
He may also, reluctantly, present you with a few points not in his favor: a wounded arm that has not yet fully healed and a throbbing hangover from last night revelries.
Armed with these points, you look to your Coat of Arms to determine his fate.
Top Row: Hitting the Mark…
Along the top of the escutcheon there are two images: one of a stag and one of a boar. Both beasts are reeling back, having been struck a mortal blow by arrows now rooted in their flesh. These represent the decision to let Daniel succeed, to hit his mark. If the points against his actions do not outweigh the points in his favor, then he makes the leap, unseen, unto the carriage as it rounds the corner.
Again, there is no rolling to see if it happens. You just say what happens and it happens. What has just occurred may now also serve as a point for a future situation.
Bottom Row: Falling Short…
Along the bottom of the escutcheon there is another image of a boar and another of a stag. This time, arrows sail past the beasts, leaving them unharmed. These represent the decision to deny Daniel his success. If the points against him are too weighty to ignore, then he has fallen short.
There are two arrows that miss in each of these images to remind you that you owe Daniel’s player an accounting of his failings. Where and how does he fall short of his mark?
Here again, you must be mindful of the relative points. “The rain-slick rooftops betray your footing, and you’re unable to get the purchase you need, so instead of leaping to the carriage, you tumble into the soldiers following it.” Or, “If you jump here, you’ll blot out the dazzling sun for the guards trailing the carriage and draw their attention.”
This account of shortcomings is vital. What you rule here can be used as points in future situations, but moreover some accounts allow for the player to decide just how far they are willing to go. The rainy day in our example leaves no room for this. Daniel has tumbled into the guards below. This is his new situation. There is no option to turn back to the moments before he slipped off the roof and make another, more healthy choice.
However, the sunny day in our example leaves room for Daniel’s player to go for it if he decides it is better to reach the carriage than it is to remain unseen. If he says he’ll do it, despite the account, then he does and he is noticed, just as it was foretold. Importantly, if the account is worded like this, giving Daniel a chance to decide, he suffers the stated consequences of his decision without the option of a saving throw.
As the Warden, you are under no obligation to present either type of account over the other. Just do as the points suggest and let the rest follow naturally.
If you forget to give an account of the character’s failings, fret not! The player will most certainly remind you.
Whether struck by the arrows or not, the stag turns to run from you. Whether you hit your mark or fell short, you are safe. As the Warden, choose the stag when the points indicate that nothing in the situation threatens the outlaw’s:
- Or ability to secure any of the above.
Daniel is capable and although he is Bold, he is not foolhardy. Whether he makes the leap or not, he will not find his life, freedom, or health immediately threatened by the result. See our sunny day example is a bottom row stag fleeing the hunter, leaving them both unharmed.
Whether struck by the arrows or not, the boar turns to gore you. Whether you hit your mark or fell short, you are threatened. As the Warden choose the boar when the points indicate that the situation threatens the outlaw’s:
- Or ability to secure any of the above.
If a boar is chosen, then a saving throw must follow! Those are the rules. Poor Daniel is in over his head. The rain has spoiled his footing and his plans. He rolls off the roof and into the guards where at least one saving throw awaits him for imperiling his health and his ability to secure his freedom.
Or maybe he made the leap, only to spring a horrid trap! The cunning sheriff has littered the carriage roof with caltrops as a present for such stowaways Daniel—oh but be so very careful with this! Do not go inventing traps and the like just so that you may choose the top boar! If the sheriff didn’t safeguard the carriage’s roof, then you cannot make it so just because you’re itching for the drama of a saving throw. This is not that sort of game.
…aliud potissium, facere iudicium sensibilium
I am, also, clearly not a classics scholar, but according to Google translate the Latin motto of the Warden means “Above all else, make a sensible decision.” This is the Game Warden’s directive. As the Warden, you must base your decisions in the reality of your world. What has happened and what makes the most sense based on what has happened.
In #LincolnGreen, it is the players’ duty to bring the drama. They do not jump onto heavily guarded carriages in the middle of busy Nottingham streets because it is the practical thing to do. They do it because they are the merry folk, outlaws of song and fucking legend!
Because they will not be practical, you must be. The Game Warden’s concerns need to be grounded in the sensible concerns of the world of the merry folk, and of the citizens of that world. The motto is there to remind you of this whenever you turn to your coat of arms to make a decision.
How the Coat of Arms Helps Me Design
Because of my meager drawing abilities, the very act of sketching this coat of arms has forced me to examine a part of the game I had internalized in a light I am not used to. I know how to be the Game Warden in #LincolnGreen and I know that being the Warden is very different than being, say, the Overplayer in Swords Without Master. What I needed to figure out is how to explain that. And before I did that, I needed to pick apart assumptions and decisions I was making on instinct. I needed to step out of my head and into a less comfortable one.
So I started doodling. The first metaphors were clear. Hunting the king’s deer is how Robin gets outlawed in the first place. You hit or your don’t hit. Simple enough, and not a lot of insight I didn’t already have. So I started Googling images of deer in heraldry and did my best. None of them showed deer butt, so I had to improvise there.
Then I needed to show that saving throws could result from this decision. I’m barely able to draw two vague deer conveying two very broadly different poses. I doubt I could handle the subtlety of four. So I turned to another animal. My first thought was a lion, because, you know, Richard the Lionhearted. But fuck that guy. Also, wild boars are badass. I was torn between these two, so I turned to Tweeter for some cryptic help:
Truth is, I think I had my heart set on boar the moment I posted the poll, but I’m happy with the results.
Settling on the second animal for this bit of heraldry and then situating it on the shield had me thinking fairly intensely about what is and isn’t permitting in the Game Warden’s decisions. It is an intrinsic part of the game’s design that saving throws are about very specific threats, and that you don’t just roll the dice to see if someone can successfully scale a castle wall. You can’t say, “Throw this coin. Heads, you climb the wall. Tails, you don’t.” You have to say, “You scale the wall,” or, “You scramble halfway up, but loose mortar crumbles beneath your grip, make a saving throw or plummet!” And if you look at the options on the coat of arms and find yourself struggling to make one fit, don’t! That’s clearly not the sensible answer!
Which brings use to the final part. Here I was, perusing all these gorgeous and intricate heraldic designs, with all these banners and mottos. And I’m like, “I want some Latin flapping in the wind around my shield!” So, what’s the one thing I would want Game Wardens to keep in their hearts? What will serve them best in times of need and confusion? And what will survive going back and forth through Google translate a few times before succumbing to gibberish? Because that’s the only way I personally have to judge the quality of a Latin translation.
aliud potissium, facere iudicium sensibilium
Above all else, make sensible decisions
I don’t know if the Game Warden’s coat of arms will survive to the final product. If it does, I’ll definitely hire someone with a steadier hand to produce it and someone with an understanding of Latin to translate our motto. Already, I’ve been messing with the design. I didn’t like that the boar and the deer were in clear columns, so I flipped the top ones and colored their backgrounds. It looks a bit more like an actual coat of arms this way, and it jumbles it up so it doesn’t read exactly like a chart. There will be more Doodling & Designing before this is done.