Nov 26, 2018

Mini Six Notes

I've flirted with the idea of producing a Mini Six Revised for half a decade now. There have been personal issues and issues regarding my coauthor, Phil, which have hampered the project.

Here's the thing. Mini Six accomplished its primary goal.

At the time that Mini Six was published, Phil and I felt like we were racing the clock to preserve a legacy. The (former) owner of West End Games had grand ambitions to release the D6 system under the OGL, but the last vestiges of WEG seemed to be rapidly crumbling.

There was a plan by WEG to release the OpenD6 Trademark License, which was the last legal minutia which was required for third-party publishers to carry on. Early summer turned to Gen Con time, then fall came, and things seemed bleaker at WEG by the week. By December, we had a plan.

Mini Six was published because we feared that the Trademark License might not end up being released before the lights went out at WEG forever, leaving D6 / OpenD6 in limbo. So, we thought about what to do, and we published Mini Six without the need for the OpenD6 Trademark License.

The first goal of Mini Six was to get it released as a "proof of concept" that there was interest in D6 gaming still, and if needed, to serve as a legal anchor or model of how D6 could be carried on, even if the OpenD6 Trademark License didn't get released by the time WEG disappeared.

Historical note: After Mini Six was released, WEG made some changes to how they handled OpenD6, which did away with the need for a separate license for the OpenD6 trademark.

The second goal of Mini Six was to serve as a "D6 Lite," in a way. This is similar to the "quickstarts" that have evolved in modern online game publishing (but we never included an adventure.) Mini Six wasn't truly written to be played as much as it was created to serve as a gateway into the D6 system for existing gamers coming from elsewhere.

The third and final goal of Mini Six was to demonstrate that D6 was a flexible system which could be bent to serve more than just pulp science fiction. West End Games and it's official licensees had already proved that before, but Mini Six was intended as a reminder that it was for more than only the game it was most associated with.

I think we succeeded in those goals. It's arguable that we weren't wildly successful at any of them, especially the third, but we scored at least marginal victories in our intended goals.

Then we accidentally succeeded in a  something we didn't really set out to do. Some people liked it for what it was, which was surprising. There's nothing actually new or revolutionary in Mini Six. Mini Six is to D6 what some OSR games are to D&D, a remix of concepts applied to the simpler (older) version of the game. There might be a little streamlining here and there, but many of those simplifications arose from well-known house rules or iterations of concepts.

I also think that Mini Six has several failures.

Mini Six set out to be "universal." Any game can be considered universal in the sense that if the GM is willing to rethink the rules, and add on the necessary systems, and change the mode of play, etc., then sure, you can get there. Just like if you add wings to a car, pull out the engine, add in a powerful enough jet engine, and have a criminally negligent regard for safety, you might make a car fly.

Mini Six isn't universal. It's flexible. Being flexible isn't really that big of a deal, it's been done hundreds of times across the history of RPGs. The thing that's special about the flexibility of Mini Six / OpenD6, is that it's fairly forgiving of creative design mistakes. That doesn't mean it's immune from creating mashups that are unplayable, just that it's fairly resistant to getting too far away from playability if you have a sense of what kinds of games it can handle well. And that's where Mini Six snatches failure from the jaws of victory.

Because Mini Six was written with the hubris of being "universal," it didn't describe what kinds of games it could actually do well, out of the box, without going to extreme creative lengths by the GM.

We used buzzwords which were ill-defined to give a sense to the direction of the game, and the worst offender was the word cinematic.

When we used that word, we thought it had a clear meaning. We certainly knew what we meant by it, and foolishly thought that everyone else thought the same thing. I've since realized how inadequate that word is for describing what we meant.

Mini Six is geared toward unrealistic action-oriented gaming which isn't tightly tactically defined. At the best, this means that players describe what cool action-movie stunts they want their characters to attempt and the GM adjudicates the action on-the-fly, and at the worst, this means that every round of combat ends up as "I attack." It's the same double-edged sword seen in old-school D&D. For the groups that succeed in this style of play, it's golden. For the players that prefer a tactical menu of options listed within the rules, it's boring.

In other words, Mini Six was old-school in the way it handled tactical complexity. The complexity was intended to arise in the narrative, not the mechanics (with simple exceptions which were intended to help the GM assign difficulties and modifiers appropriately.)

The failure is that Mini Six doesn't spell that out clearly enough.

The last failure is a very common one. Mini Six assumed that the player really understood what an RPG was, and came from that classical domain of tabletop gaming. There was a dash of explanation of terms, but over the years it's become obvious that we guessed wrong about who would read the game. We actually thought that it would mostly be people familiar with older versions of D6, and the rest would be folks familiar with other mainstream pre-1999 tabletop RPGs.

At around the same time that Mini Six was released, the gaming world was rapidly moving away from the d20 glut, and in that "diaspora," innovations were made which were truly revolutionary. Even if I was rewriting Mini Six today, I wouldn't try to turn it into something it's not, so I'm not saying that I'd be trying to incorporate the lessons of narrative games, PBtA, FATE, etc., but I would not make the assumption that the reader would be fully versed in the concepts associated with what I think of as "classic" tabletop RPGs.

Mini Six doesn't recognize the full gamut of tabletop RPG innovations, and blindly carries the assumptions of classic RPGs. This isn't a complete failure, because at the time, how could we predict the rise of so many new ways of playing games, but at the same time, the online gaming world was certainly long past the ideas that D&D and its kin encapsulated all of the broad concepts.

To summarize:

Intended Successes

  1. Mini Six served as a proof of concept that D6 still had life and was intended to be a model for others to follow if necessary for how to apply the OGL without the trademark license. The second part was ultimately unnecessary.
  2. Mini Six was intended as a gateway to D6 gaming.
  3. Mini Six was a reminder that D6 could handle more than Star Wars.
Accidental Successes
  1. People liked it for what it was.
  1. Mini Six presented itself as universal. It isn't. It's very flexible and fairly forgiving, but not really universal.
  2. We described Mini Six as "cinematic," which isn't really an agreed-upon term. It models unrealistic action-oriented combat to resolve drama in a game.
  3. Mini Six doesn't emphasize that it pushes most tactical complexity through the narrative instead of through designed mechanical complexity. This can lead to a counterintuitive situation where the combat seems dull in a game which is naturally inclined toward resolving drama via action and violence.
  4. Mini Six fails as an RPG unless the player is already familiar with a narrow set of assumptions associated with classic RPGs.
There are a few sacred cows I've grown to dislike in Mini Six.

The first one is adding dice. Rolling 7D+3 can be tedious. It's too much math. I've played hundreds of hours of Mini Six over the last decade, and this step creates a hassle on a regular basis. 75% of the folks I've played with have had no issues with it, but the remainder has struggled - not to do the math, necessarily, but they've at least found this step to be too tedious for something done on a frequent basis.

If I could slay a sacred cow, this one would be the first one. I'd implement rolling dice to score successes and failures, the way it's done in OpenD6 Legend.

The second thing that bugs me about Mini Six / OpenD6 is the wounds system. It's just needlessly fiddly in my opinion. I'm not absolutely certain that I'd go to a straight body point system (in other words, something very much like D&D's hit points mechanic), because I'd have to explore the possibilities, but the system as-is adds complexity without necessarily improving the experience enough to justify itself.

What needs to be changed:

  1. The vehicle subsystems. What is needed is a vehicle creation system and a new system to handle chases and combat. Phil was working with an outside person who had created a vehicle construction subsystem for Mini Six which it was my understanding that we would incorporate into a future version of the game. I never saw the work but understood the broad concepts. When Phil departed, I didn't have any way to contact that designer, and even if I did, I didn't have the motivation at that time. Since then, I've been reluctant to do anything in this area because I don't know what promises Phil made to that person, and I wouldn't want them to think I've ripped off their ideas. I have written up some chase rules, but they only apply to aerial combat, not ground vehicles.
  2. The magic system. A long time ago, someone made a post on a forum which described a freeform version of magic use. I obtained their permission to use it in a future edition. I'd like to present it as the default magic system. If you're familiar with Barbarians of Lemuria, it's not far off from that.
  3. The mini-settings need to be changed. They're suggestive, but don't give the GM quite enough meat to do anything useful. I tentatively plan to keep and expand Rust Moon of Castia and Precinct '77, drop the others, and add a few more, at least one of which should be science fiction.
What I've done:

I rewrote Mini Six a while ago (minus the mini settings, and new vehicle rules.) It was a "sacred cow slayer" edition. I made major changes not listed above. As a matter of fact, I made so many changes, that in the end, it wasn't even properly an OpenD6 game anymore. The d6 appeared in the game as one of several dice. The wound system was changed to something like the body point system. Instead of rolling and adding dice, one counted successes. Skills and attributes were uncoupled.

It was so much of a departure from Mini Six, that it wasn't a true successor to Mini Six at all. To publish it as such would be a betrayal to anyone who was looking for "Mini Six Revised."

That was a dead end, because I don't think that the world needed another flexible mechaical game system divorced of any definite setting from me. 

So I started again. I went back to the source text (which I had to do by hand - all of the original files disappeared with Phil.) I cleaned it up. I added in a section for the newer magic system (which is still very barebones at the moment.) I removed the original magic system. I moved some things around. I clarified a few points which create confusion.

But it's still basically the same game except with a new magic system.

I looked at vehicles and was tempted to write my own version of the vehicle creation system, but it feels wrong because of the work that was started elsewhere. I'm sure that this would be a complex undertaking if I ever do it.

Then those two major sacred cows continue to nag at me. Adding fistfuls of dice and the inelegant wound system. If I change those things, am I betraying the expectations of folks looking for Mini Six Revised?

Then there's this.

Does the world need Mini Six Revised? Even if I made it, and it had every change I've considered, would that be anything new? Mini Six accomplished all of its original goals, and the main thing that's kept Mini Six Revised alive in my "to do" pile is a sense that people want it, but if they had it, would they still want it, or would it be one change too many?

Maybe I'd be better off working on something else for a while and coming back to it. I'm a prolific dabbler of projects unrelated to D6, but I never do anything because I feel like I'm betraying a promise I made to folks if I pursue interests outside of the D6 sphere.

The Future:

I don't have any concrete plans to publish Mini Six Revised at this time.

  • I feel like Mini Six accomplished what it set out to do.
  • I recognize the flaws it has.
  • I want to do away with some of the core Mini Six concepts. (Adding dice and the wound system.)
  • I feel conflicted about expanding the vehicle rules.
  • Even with the changes I suggest, is it needed?
  • I want to work on something else, but don't want to let folks down.
I might do it later. Then again, I might start releasing material piecemeal instead and let folks hack together their own version of Mini Six. Expand the game without deprecating the current version.

I might also do something unrelated to Mini Six for a while.

Aug 1, 2018

Thank you for staying tuned.

The most important thing to share right now is that I don't have any significant news to share about Mini Six Revised.

Last year, I made an attempt at finally doing it, and it turned into another project completely, so far removed from Mini Six that it's something else entirely. I don't think the world really needs another multi-purpose RPG engine right now, at least not by me, so I shelved that and started over.

And every time I get to work on Mini Six, I end up right back at that unintentional diversion again and again, like it's a magnet that keeps drawing me in.

I still have cognitive issues which means that I work slowly. For those who used to spot me elsewhere on the internet, you may have noticed my greatly reduced presence. It's not like I have nothing done for Mini Six, but it's far from being enough to justify a new edition right now.

The rest of this is personal, so feel free to skip it.

Most important is a family emergency which has me concerned. Last week my dad appeared to have a heart attack. A  week-long visit to the hospital uncovered a deeper problem - non small cell lung cancer. We're still waiting on the final staging diagnosis, but it's highly likely to already be stage IV. He's uninsured so we've got challenges ahead of us that I can't fathom yet.

If you smoke, stop now. I know you've heard it a million times in your life, and I know it's hard to quit. Please believe me, in what I've seen in just the last week and what I understand of what's coming, you don't want to go through it or put anyone else through watching you go through it and being unable to stop it.

I expect to be very busy elsewhere for some undetermined amount of time, then when I'm not "busy," it will be an even darker time. So I don't know what to expect. I don't know if I'll return to Mini Six Revised first or the other project.

I look forward to seeing you're doing with Mini Six and OpenD6 in general.