HAGIS: No one cares what the hell it stands for

I’ve determined that too much time has been spent by me trying to fit a witty acronym to HAGIS, my game houserule/homebrew game effort. It has largely centered around the following: “what does the second vowel stand for…and do people ‘get it’?” Is it:

  • High Adventure Games Integrated System,
  • High Adventure Games Invocation System,
  • High Adventure Games Implemental System,
  • High Adventure Games Ingratiating System,
  • High Adventure Games Impertinent System,
  • High Adventure Games Illegitimate System, or
  • High Adventure Games Inexcusable System?…..a la, Ron Edward’s Fantasy Heart Breakers

Let's Go!OK, I know that using an acronym for a game system is SO 1980’s, but this is my game project and if I want to name it with an acronym steeped in not-so-subtle Scottish food connotations, I will. If I want Ninja-Space-Monkey Pirates in drag to serve a critical role in the design….well, then there’ll be that too.

Some of the above proposed acronym definitions were planted just to be silly (and just added to this post for fun), but the bottom line is this: It really doesn’t matter too much what it stands for. It is just HAGIS. What it means or stands for may change. For the time being, I’m going with “High Adventure Games Implemental System”. Implemental, as in implement or tool.

That’s what the whole HAGIS project is all about really, developing ideas and tools that will add more High Adventure to existing games (via the time honored use of house rules) and aid in the development of whole new games. In fact, one of the key motivators for the HAGIS project was to formalize the design of my Aega Mythea fantasy game. It had stalled and I felt the need to refocus and better define what I was trying to do. HAGIS is central to that refocusing effort. And hey, it might actually be useful to someone else.

At this point, I’m using three broad labels for “things” in the HAGIS development cycle: Principles, Ingredients, and Recipes.

Principles are broad ideas that I feel are important to game play, or rather CAN be important to game play. They do not necessarily define gaming Truths (note the capital T there). They are core ideas that may or may not fit in with what you as a game designer or tinkerer are trying to do. If a HAGIS Principle doesn’t fit a particular game, it can and probably should be ignored. An example of a HAGIS Principle might be: “Player social skills should not impact on the success or failure of character social actions”. It is important to note that two HAGIS Principles can be at complete odds with each other. If a second Principle were: “Character Attributes should only model physical attributes of the characters; mental/social capabilities should emanate solely from the player”, it would obviously be inappropriate to try to effect both Principles into the same game.

Ingredients are more specific or practical bits or pieces that are intended to help in achieving the Principles in a game. These might include skill sets, dice mechanics, bidding mechanisms, character motivation systems, player reward systems, etc. They tend to be mechanical in nature rather than based on setting or genre…..though setting/genre may impact on the core Principles that in turn guide the selection of the specific Ingredients. I had considered using the term Elements for this concept, but felt it was more interesting to stick with the culinary analogy. Mmmmm, HAGIS Ingredients.

Recipes are, more or less, collected implementations of HAGIS Principles and Ingredients. They may be games made from whole cloth using HAGIS or they may be existing games that have been tweaked to behave in a fashion desired by the tweaker (e.g., a d20 or FUDGE game with several HAGIS Ingredients added so as to better reflect some HAGIS Principles). Essentially, HAGIS Recipes are finished games that are ready to be played.

I will be expanding on these concepts and playing around with them to see where they lead, all the while documenting my progress on the blog. I welcome any comments or other feedback on this process. And I encourage all of you out there (and you know who you are) to whip yourself up a nice succulent bit o’HAGIS and share it with a friend.

Cheers for now,

~Adaen of Bridgewater

My Rock crushes your Sizzors – Unarmed Combat in RPGs

ROCK wins!There is a revered place in folk-lore, popular fiction, and RPGs for the unarmed martial arts and their superiority and uber-effectiveness vs. armed opponents. Typically, this relates to Eastern martial arts such as Kung Fu, Karate, or Geek Kwan Do. Often there is a mystical aspect to this, be it Ki powers or The Force. While I understand all this and from whence it came, I am still confronted with a few relevent fundamental principals, ideas, etc. that I feel come to bear when designing games that will be fun:

Sword? Fist?1) Swords are better than Fists – In the real world and all things being equal, a swordsman (or otherwise armed fighter) is going to carve an unarmed martial artist into dogmeat 9 times out of 10 (lets not get into the whole FDA, poison dog-food, dead-pet thing….that’s for another more politically-minded blog). That’s the point of using a weapon in the first place. See CrouchingTiger, CTHDHidden Dragon for cinematic example of this….Though there does seem to be a code of “Don’t bring out the bad-ass sword until needed”….i.e., don’t escalate the arms in use unduly in that movie. Let’s not pretend that the unarmed karate guy is going to take out the sword wielding scottsman anytime soon, unless he’s the uber-bomb-diggity, 69th-level Pornstar of Smiting and the sword guy is just a “smelly old scottsman-wannabe with an accent”.

2) Justification is Important to many Gamers – If you want it to be otherwise in your game (e.g., to emulate some particular fiction or whatever), it is necessary to develop a convincing rationale for this. Be it special Ki powers or The Force, there had better be a reason why the fists work as well or better than swords, knives, and axes in any RPG. Many players will demand it….and if I’m that player, it had better not be “Its Eastern, so it’s somehow inherently better than the shit we have over here”. Not that Asia is incapable of superiority in the martial arts arena, but it so so cliche these days. And Inaccurate; There was a flourishing Western Martial Arts until the Renaissance/Enlightenment/etc opened up the eyes of the West to the possibilities of FIREARMS, but then, I digress.

In fact, that’s all I’ve got right now. There’s more rattling around in my head, but I’m not ready to type it out. I’ve got some seriously important shit to do….like watch Crouching Tiger Again. I will likely revisit this topic soon as it is an important HAG item…..an item that has been coming up again and again in Shadows of Reality (SoR) playtests. We’ll get this bit on again.

Peaceout Saturdayers,



HAG System Name – still on the table

On, or rather IN, the TableI’m still wrestling with this as I write up a more explicit text for the core system. My thought is that the name ought to really say what the system does. It should provide a “High Adventure” feel in the games. Correction, it should increase the “High Adventure” feel. For example, the Grim and Gritty Combat System is very clear in what it does for d20.

The following are extracted from an email I sent my friend and fellow game designer, Dr. Pazzazzu. I’m going to have to sort them out a bit, but all things told, it’s not a bad brainstorm (in blue):

A = Action

High Adventure Game Action System = HAGAS


I = Integrated

High Adventure Game Integrated System = HAGIS

The main idea is that it is the variable mechanic 3 dice (take the mid resultexept for when a meta-game item is activated, invoked whateveriiiiin which case the high is used for an advantage and the low for a disadvantage).

The default will be 3d20 since this applies well to other systems d20/D&D, 3d6 (HERO, GURPS, etc.), etc. that have a 10.5 average (mid20 maintains this average result). But options for using other dice will be presented for other games (e.g. FUDGE, etc.). There will be an analysis of what using the weighted dice does as a mechanic (compared to other dice methods).

There will also be a section on differing meta-game schema’s such as (bear with me these are just examples):

1) I have a pool of HERO points that refreshes due slowly or based on GM fiat. I can use these points whenever I want, but when they’re gone, they’re gone.

2) I have a pool of HERO points that refreshes every session. I can use them whenever I want and am penalized if I have any left over at the end of the session (either mechanically or via ridicule from the other players)

3) I have a pool of points that must be used towards one of my predefined “character goals/passions/obligations/alignment” whatever. I decide when I want to use them. The GM can also activate metagame items at will…

etc. These are options for use in any game.

The idea is for this to be presented as a new mechanic or a tweek to a game’s existing mechanic for use in D&D/Rolemaster/GURPS RO for new game designs. Aega Mythea will be designed using this HAGIS/HAGAS mechanic. I’d like to keep the reference to haggis (the food item), because it just jives for me. My brother really likes it a lot too. “Aega Mythea…..made with HAGUS…its not just for breakfast anymore!”

Basically, I need to decide for HAGXS….what is the X….and what does it stand for?




HAGES —-nope

HAGOS —-nope

etc. and what it stands for. All will be “High Adventure Game _______ System” in which

A = action, activation, Adaptive, abstract, abstraction, add-on, anima (innerself, soul)

I = integrated, intelligent, Invocation, isometric

U = Unilateral, undulating, ultra-modern, ubiquitous, umbrella, unadulterated, unclean, unfettered, universal, utile, utopian, user-friendly

I’m leaning torward universal, action, activation, or invocation now…..Any thoughts?

RPG Design Patterns

Kirk's BookI highly recommend this book by John Kirk for those table-top RPG designers, Gamemasters, and even players who want to understand how the nuts and bolts of the varying design elements can make a game work (or not work) in supporting design goals.

Design Patterns of Successful Role-playing Games

Even if one disagrees with any of the specifics contained within, it definitely can serve as fodder for thought. It has greatly influenced some of the decisions I’ve been making in my own designs.


Review: Roleplaying Game Book: Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering

Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering Cover

This book is a worthwhile read for those looking for sound, fundamental principles of Gamemastery and practical advise for improving at the same. For some (especially advanced gamemasters), much of the information contained within may be very familiar. However,  there will likely be a few “that makes sense, I understood it on some level, but never would have thought of describing it that way…” moments. Even 30-year veterans of the gamemastery trenches should be able to appreciate the collected wisdom this book offers; this is likely the book you wished you had way back then, when you started.

 Overall, and taking into account my perception of the book’s goals and intents, I have rated this book a 9 out of 10: 4 points for style and 5 points for substance.

This 32-page (plus  printed cardstock covers), staple-bound pamphlet was written by Robin D. Laws (2002) and  retailed for US $9.95 when it was in print. It is now available as an electronic file (pdf) from Steve Jackson Games’ electronic warehouse e23 for US $7.95 (a preview is available). Print versions can likely be found via used sellers without too much trouble (i.e., it is not a hyper-collectible item). 

The only art in the book is the color, Indiana Jones-esque cover piece which is functional, though not spectacular. Since this is a short, system-agnostic book without any specific genre or feel in mind, the lack of art makes sense. The book does contain a number of tables, flowcharts, and other illustrative figures.

The editing of the book is above average; I did not note any problems with grammar, typos, etc. (Note: My copy is the second printing. Apparently, the first printing was missing one of the supporting figures which was covered in an errata on SJG’s website and made it into the second printing). The book contains a table of contents (always appreciated). The lack of an index is understandable considering the small size of the book.

The content of the book is divided into nine (9) major sections, each with as many as three (3) sub-sections. A short, paraphrased summary of each main follows.

Section 1: The Great, Immutable, Iron-clad Law (1.5 pages): This section describes the purpose of the book (To improve the readers GMing). It talks about the point of roleplaying games being to provide entertainment (fun), concedes that game designers are only responsible for maybe 30% of that fun (the other 70% emanating from the GM and other players), and provides typical disclaimers that this book assumes you already know rpg terms and that the reader should feel free to ignore the advice in the book if doing something different is working.

Section 2: Knowing Your Players (3.5 pages): This section proposes a general classification system for players, their preferences, and their “emotional kick” (the main reason they come to the table to game). The categories are very general, but cover most of the bases. In any case, the author takes the trouble to say that some players will defy categorization or display traits of more than one category. He also provides a nifty chart that a GM can use to remind him/herself of his players’ categories and preferences. This chapter is a strong tool primarily in that it is supportive of the idea that the game should revolve around player preferences (including the GM as a player).

Section 3: Picking Your Rules Set (5 pages): As a game designer/rules junky, I found this section to be of great interest. It  presents some ideas for consideration when selecting a rules set. These ideas include winning converts to your selected rules set, crunchy bits (items that empower characters/players), Theme/Tone, Accessibility of Ideas/Useful Cliches, GM-to-Player Power Balance,  and Homebrew Rules (vs. comercial). Note that it stresses the fact that the rules set should be selected for the specific people who will be playing (again including the GM). Player types are related via text, chart, and basic numerical scales/fomulas to these various game concepts. This is very useful fodder for any GM, more so for GM’s who like to use Houserules, and especially for those who have moved from Houserules to entirely Homebrewed systems (aka, Game Designers).

Section 4: Campaign Design (4 pages): There have been numerous treatments of this subject; many system-specific GM texts have done so much more elaborately. The author takes a step back here and provides (in 4 pages) the elements of a successful campaign.  He addresses both campaigns that are designed “On-the-fly” and ” from the bottom up” as are the decision making process for genre, setting, tone, etc. Established vs. Homebrew Settings considerations, and the importance of appropriate fluff, illustrations, emotionally involving the players, and balancing originality with accessability are covered to good effect. They all serve to stress and build towards a vital piece of advice that seems self-evident, but often isn’t:

“You must know, and clearly communicate, what it is that the PCs are expected to do.”

Knowing what one is expected to do, what one should avoid, and how much freedom there is inbetween can be critical to a campaign. The author reminds the readers that taking the  players (and GM’s) preferences into account, both in terms of their “type” and by talking with them, is of primary importance when designing a campaign. This section is a very good general primer for things to consider when one begins to design a campaign.

Section 5: Adventure Design (6.5 pages): There are many examples of well designed and poorly designed adventures. This secton takes up a large portion of the text in what the author clearly feels is a “Core Activity” for GMs. The method and degree of Structuring based upon genre is discussed, as are their relation to player tastes (both verbally and in terms of a formula-derived “Stucture Quotient”).  The “plot-free dungeon” is discussed as a great stepping stone/learning tool to more elaborately structured adventures, but care is taken not to overly disparage this style of play:

“If you and your players like the dungeon-crawling style of play, let no one convince you that there’s anything wrong with it.”

Then five more elaborate adventure structures (Episodic, Set Piece, Branching, Puzzle-Piece, and Enemy Timeline) are described, complete with flowcharts and fleshed-out examples of their use. These are particularly well done, as is the sidebar advice on transitions.

Its all capped off with the “Adventure Worksheet”. This is a planning/tracking tool intended to remind the GM to make sure that each of his or her players/player types is getting their fix (in terms of their “Emotional Kick” being satisfied by a specific “Adventure Element”).  This rounds out nicely this chapter on tailoring your adventures to your players.

Section 6: Preparing To Be Spontaneous (2.5 pages): This section presents some advice on having some tools ready for that time when the players do something unexpected; names, personalities, prepared dialogue, and the right frame of mind.

Section 7: Confidence, Mood, and Focus (5.5 pages): This section is full of lots of good advice that most GM’s will know (but may forget from time to time). “Reading the Room” is heavily stressed. Questions like: “Is everyone having fun (including the GM)?”, “Is the focus where it should be (based on game/taste/etc.)?”, ” and “How can the Focus be fixed in situation X?” are all covered.

Section 8: Improvising (2 pages): “Choices, and how to make them when you are Improvising” could be the title for this section. It described several options (all in one place) on how to go about making choices on the fly. Some discussion of pacing is also included. An example on Improvising helps to illustrate the major points of the section.

Section 9: A Final Word on the Ultimate Dilemma (1 page): A reiteration of the themes in Section 1. Essentially, “If you and your players are having fun, you’re doing it right”.

All in all, I think this book is pretty top-drawer. It is an outstanding tool for the begining-to-intermediate GM, while still being very useful to those who are advanced in the Grand Craft of Gamemastery. It is chuck-full of sound advice…..some, most, or all of which may be known to a seasoned GM on an intellectual level. However, in practice, I feel that many GM’s neglect one or more of the principles of Good Gamemastery. For them (including yours truly), this book will serve as a reminder of what they already “know” and help them to more fully “internalize” it.  I heartily recommend any GM or Game Designer to pick up a copy.

~Adaen of Bridgewater, High Adventure Games, Original Review Link on the HAG Blog, Also published on RPGnet.

Note: A while back, I took an online quiz that was designed to help determine what type of player you were based upon the “Player Types” in this book. Here is the post where I divulged my slant(s)….