What isn’t UX design?

To summarize Christina Wodtke:

User Experience Design is the design of:

  • The concept or model for the system (or product) and its organization and use.
  • System behavior, including feedback.
  • How data is ordered and expressed to users.
  • How the user interacts with all of the above, whether it’s a digital, physical, or voice UI, or something else entirely.

Also, this is a terribly boring discussion. But, if a designer is going to post this in public Slack:  

Well, my brain won’t let it go and I am going to spend my afternoon obsessing over it.

The UI is part of the UX that users actually experience. The UI is literally how a buyer will experience all of the other work you’ve done, and if it’s not accessible, readable, and usable – it doesn’t matter. The UX perspective takes the constituent parts of the interface, ensures the support the concept or mental model of the product, the information architecture, and the communication loops between user and product, and make sure they work. This applies whether your UI is a smartphone screen, the smartphone itself, a musical instrument, a book, a microphone, or a table at a restaurant.

Stop acting like UI is a dirty word and build it into your UX practice. If you don’t want to do UI, go be an accessibility advocate, a product manager, a developer or any one of the dozens of other incredibly valuable roles in the creation and release of a product.

In short: Get the fuck over it. Design your experiences end-to-end, or don’t be a designer.

RPG Character Creation, Part 1

D&D is probably the best known modern RPG system, and it’s character creation system is fairly well known. Select a race and class, apply your randomly generated stats, and add the appropriate bonuses. This approach tends to lead to gaming the system for stat boosts, considering the nature of the game lies in modifying an otherwise entirely random dice roll. That’s not necessarily bad – that’s just what the game is. It’s a legacy of it’s origin as a wargame and dungeon crawler. The biggest weakness is characterization – the 2 axes of alignment (good/neutral/evil, lawful/neutral/chaotic) have existed for several versions. And, while later editions have made ‘backgrounds’ a thing, they’re still minor, barely counting as flavor text. Compare that to selecting your spells – in both the amount of time involved or in the space on the character sheet. It doesn’t stopped a determined player from writing a backstory that defines their roleplaying, but it does nothing to encourage it, either.

Shadowrun (5th edition) takes a slightly different tactic towards generation your character. It replaces random generation with the ability you select from 5 predetermined starting blocks that give you different amounts of character-building currency (money, skill points, etc) to spend. Shadowrun encourages more actions outside of combat (I think – 5E is in severe need of a V2 edit for common terms and organization) but the fact is you will spend far more time considering what your character can do than who they are and why they do those things.

The Sprawl (based on Apocalypse world)… each character has a playbook that helps your build your character – specifically, what your choices as, say, a driver say about you as a player and how they impact both your playstyle and your other choices. The basics of the system are a few attributes that every character has, and that every action (called a Move, in-game) is checked against. It encourages you at every step to not just say what move you make, but to ensure that you describe your actions, since that will allow your GM to determine not just your roll, but the potential consequences of your failure (or success).

In Tales from the Loop’s manual – the first 48 pages are devoted to world setup. Then you set up your character. You have 14 steps from selecting your type (class), setting basic attributes for gameplay, but the last 9 are literally about the details and make your character unique and their relationships to the world and other players – down to their favorite song. Each character ’type’ gives the player 3 key attributes, then asks the player to select 8 things about their character. The easiest is their name. The rest define their problems, their drives, and their key relationships with the other players and the worlds around them. Skills and attributes take a page and a half.

For a game where combat and conflict can come in many forms, both from internal and external sources, it is important that a player knows how their character would act and react to the people and situations around them. Both building your statistics (or skills) AND your character should have equal weight. The system sets limitations and provides guidelines – but players may expand beyond the framework we provide for their character. Now, the specifics of skills and attributes really is determined in large parts by the world of the game – but the basic setup should be the same.

The first action should be selecting what type of character you want to play, whether you call this a class, an archetype, or something else. This will determine quite a bit of your base stats and how you interact with the game systems. Then define who your character is – why they are that type, and what makes them unique – age, race, culture, and other details that influence both numerical modifiers and roleplaying style. You select and refine your actions (a limited selection of ways you impact the world around you) and the other strongly-defined details such as a character’s compulsion – an action that must either take place (putting the character or group at risk) or be resisted with an increased difficulty over time. Last, as a player you will determine the goal(s) you must achieve in order to level up. If our interaction system is card based, perhaps the the entire game – including character creation – could be as well. You’d have to simplify the details enough to fit comfortably on standard-sized, double sided, playing cards without requiring too much lookup in a manual (otherwise, just reference the manual for everything), but it also creates a nice way to randomize the details for a group looking for a quick setup (and prevents duplication).

I’m also considering the idea of a “change of plans” style event where, when certain conditions are met, a player may unilaterally change certain conditions of the game. This is a holdover from an idea I was considering for a heist-themed board game where players had personal goals to achieve in addition to the overarching goals, and a change-of-plans would offer one way to prevent another player from walking away with the story. In the context of an RPG, you’d need to take care to enable the right variability, and how that would impact the GM’s plans for the story. Perhaps it’s a once-per-session/story “get out of jail free” card that turns a failure into a success, but will introduce some sort of additional cost down the line.

Before I go too far, I need to design the basic world for the game so it can shape the system.

Conflict Resolution: Wrap Up

I’m not sure, right now, which conflict resolution system is better. Likely, I’ll want to do some beta testing to see what actually works best. On the surface, both options should work for their intended purposes of allowing informed, strategic decision making without being totally predictable. One unintended side effect is that individual rounds of conflict will take longer to resolve. I think that’s a good thing – if something is meaningless, don’t perform a skill check. Just let it go. And if conflict must happen, it should be impactful. Rather than 10 rounds of combat, scratching away at a monster’s hit points, increase the stakes in each round and resolve it in 3 or 4.

Up next, I want to sketch out some ideas for character creation and leveling. Character creation is something that takes forever in many RPGs, yet rarely manages any ‘characterization.’ Consider a Dungeons and Dragon’s character – the vast majority of time is spent looking up stat bonuses, spells, and weapons, and other than some very general prompts for alignment and background, you’re left on your own. Also, leveling is a problem. With the structure of the playing system, that’s been sketched thus far, this isn’t something where we can simply add numbers to modifiers. In D&D, that doesn’t matter because the modifiers for your adversaries go up. Here, the threshold is fairly static (if somewhat random). Perhaps it’s too early to determine without knowing the world of the game, but I believe it’s worth looking at other methods of rewarding continuous play.

Conflict Resolution, Part 4: Poker-ish

The other system I sketched out to use cards as the resolution mechanism is based off ‘Stud’ poker. It’s definitely not poker, but it borrows some elements of the risk/reward system. Otherwise, I still like the basic success/mixed/failure model of the last iteration, though there are tweaks that could be made.

Stealing from Poker

The part I want to steal is the ability mitigate your own risk by choosing to fold or continue as information is disclosed. Each player will have a hand of 5 cards, playing 1 face up, then 2 face down. The GM will play all cards from the top of the deck – there’s no GM ‘hand.’ Face cards are worth 10 and aces are worth eleven.


When multiple players want to act simultaneously, each will simultaneously play one card face-up. Like with my blackjack-based proposal, the highest-valued card goes first. If the values are tied, a new card is drawn and the cycle repeats until on player has a higher value card. The player draws enough cards to bring their hand back up to 5 cards.


The player plays 1 card face up, and 2 face down from their hand. The GM does the same from the deck. At this point the player may choose to fold, earning a minor failure. Assuming the player wishes to continue, another player may opt to intervene at this point. The description of that is below. The player and DM flip the first face-down card. The player may again choose to fold, earning a minor failure. If the player wishes to continue, the second face-down card is flipped. The total value of the cards is calculated for both the player and the GM, unless a 3-of-a-kind exists. A pair adds 5 to the value of your hand. A modifier can add a small value (+1 or 2) to your hand value, but does nothing for pairs or three of a kind.

An intervention

A player intervenes when they want to help or hinder another player’s action. Each player can intervene once per round, and action may only see one player intervene. To intervene, this player (the intervener) will announce their intention after the original player and the GM play their cards, but before any face-down cards are revealed. The intervener will discard 1 card from their hand, then replace anyone ONE card in play, face up or face down, with a card from their hand at some point before the resolution end of the hand. The intervener MUST replace one card.


So, while the actual impact to the characters would change based on the final word and game systems, we can break it down into 3 sections.

Full success

  • Player gets what they want, and then some
  • Player has three of a kind (GM does not have 3 of a kind)
  • Player wins by 5 or more/li>

Partial success

  • Player what they want, with some drawback
  • Player and GM both have 3 of a kind (actual cards irrelevant)
  • The total value of the player’s hand is greater by less than 5, or equal to that of the GM

Minor failure

  • Player MAY get what they want (GM discretion – for the easiest of tasks), but must give up something in return
  • The player folds after playing their face up card
  • The player folds after revealing they first face-down card


  • Player MAY get what they want (GM discretion – for the easiest of tasks), but will suffer serious consequences.
  • The GM has 3 of a kind, and the player does not
  • The total value of the GM’s hand is greater than the value of the player’s hand

Assuming a group is playing with a single deck of cards, all cards would be collected after a round, shuffled, and dealt.

Conflict Resolution, Part 3: Blackjack

Let’s revisit the parts of our system.

  1. First, we set the initiative – the order of play (if it can’t be determined purely by storytelling).
  2. Next, we resolve the action – determining the outcome and judging if there’s any modifier at play from character based skill or another player helping (or hindering). Ideally the player can mitigate luck with strategy, while the DM’s play is fairly straightforward.
  3. Last, we determine the impact. The player may be successful, fail, or be somewhere in between. A player may have a limited ability to improve their results after the fact. I won’t define the effects here – they come from the part of the actions and world, and should vary widely enough to provide sufficient options for most situations.

Modified Blackjack

We’ll borrow the core mechanics and rules from Blackjack (face cards are worth 10, aces are worth 1 or 11, dealer stands on soft 17), and remove some of the higher risk features such as double-down, splits, and insurance. In a casino, you’re generally playing with multiple decks – at least 4, from what I’ve seen. While that’s an option here, these rules should work with one standard 52 card deck.


Normally, one player is acting against the GM (representing the environment or the recipient of the action) at a time. However, if multiple players are attempting to act simultaneously (but independently) against the same ‘target,’ each player will be dealt 2 cards face-down. Each player will select one card, and flip it simultaneously. The highest card will go first. If the players tie, a new card will be dealt to each player. This will repeat until one player has a higher value card. If the order of actions does not matter (such as every player examines their surrounds, play can proceed clockwise, counterclockwise, or whatever consistent, uniform direction the GM prefers.

When the order of action is resolved, each player will flip their remaining card face up. The dealer will receive 1 card, face up. All players will receive another card, face up, and the GM will receive a card face down.

Instead of taking an action, one player may assist (or hinder) another player by stating their intention to do so before any cards are dealt. This player will go after the player they’re assisting, without bidding for initiative. They will also receive 2 cards face up. Only 1 player may assist at a time.


At this point, each player should have 2 cards, face-up.

Any player with a natural 21 from their first two cards (blackjack) will have an automatic full success, regardless and assistance or hindrance from other players.

If the GM has a natural 21, any players without a blackjack automatically fail.

If both the player(s) and the GM have a natural 21, the outcome is a mixed success.

In the case where neither the player nor the GM have a natural 21, play continues similar to blackjack. The player may hit (take additional cards, one at a time) until they choose to stop. If they exceed a total of 21, they bust, and will fail. Each player follows in initiative order.

Players may have skill modifiers as a part of their character that allow them to add or subtract 1 or 2 from their card total. This will not give them a blackjack, but will allow them to reach a higher total, or prevent a bust and lowering their total hand (or, if one player is attempting to hinder another, lower their total, or make them bust.

A player who is assisting or hindering another player adds or subtracts a modifier in the case of success (1 if a partial success, 2 if a full success) from the acting player’s total.

Once ALL players are done, the DM will reveal their cards, drawing until they meet or exceed a 17 (the GM should stand on a soft 17, or ace + 6). If the dealer busts, it is an automatic full success for all players who did not bust.


So, while the actual impact to the characters would change based on the final word and game systems, we can break it down into 3 sections.

Full success

  • Player gets what they want, and then some
  • The player gets a blackjack, and the GM does not
  • The player wins with 20 or 21
  • The dealer busts

Partial success

  • Player what they want, with some drawback
  • Both the player and GM get a blackjack
  • The player wins with less than 20


  • The player MAY CHOOSE to get what they want, but must give up something in return.
  • The player and GM tie (other than both receive a blackjack)


  • Player MAY get what they want (GM discretion – for the easiest of tasks) but will suffer an unexpected consequence.
  • Player loses to the GM
  • Player busts

After a full cycle of play is complete, all cards are discarded and reshuffled (for a single deck). Multiple decks can go until the cards run out.

Conflict resolution, Part 2: Randomness

First, go watch White, Brown, and Pink: The Flavors of Tabletop Game Randomness from GDC 2018. I’ll summarize a few points below, but in far less detail than that video.

In designing games, a degree of uncertainty is essential. – Greg Costikyan, “Uncertainty in Games” (2013)

According to the video, there are 4 main types of uncertainty you encounter in games:

  1. Hidden info: Obscuring a hand of cards
  2. Performance & skill: Most sports
  3. Opponent uncertainty: You don’t know exactly what your opponent will do
  4. Randomization: Dice, spinners, and the like

For RPGs, you tend to see a bit of all 4, though “performance and skill” is often minimized by game systems. It doesn’t matter how good your skill is – the dice roll is all that matters. And this might be a fair representation of the fact that the massively interconnected and, practically speaking, random world we live in tends to wreck the best laid plans. For the system I envision, I’d rather see skill (as both roll-playing skill and strategy) have a stronger effect on the outcome than just flavor, and actually reduce opponent uncertainty. The costs of failure will be clear, and you’ll be able to see the impact coming from a mile away if you fail badly enough.

Let’s talk about randomization. Every time you need to resolve a conflict, you will parse the game state, decide what action to take, and see the results of your actions. In a game, you can explicitly support randomizing the game state by randomizing the starting map or the available items to select (cards in Dominion, tiles in Azul, among many others). Randomizing the input of a player’s actions allows for a high level of strategy and self-determination. Contrast that with result/output randomization: If everything is based on a pure dice roll, it’s down to luck – not strategy or skill – leading to frustration.

Randomness also matters for correlation: As events happen over time, do they say anything about the other? True randomness, aka white noise, is totally unpredictable. This is rolling a 20-sided die to see if you succeed. Each roll has a 1 in 20 chance of hitting a number, and that has no impact on the next roll. This leads to players powergaming and exploiting loophole in, I believe, an attempt to mitigate a system that is completely random.

Interestingly, “white noise” is often a bad UX outside of games. Consider a music player set to shuffle. A true random selection could play the same some 10 times in a row. Instead, a good music player avoids the same song. A great music player gives the option of not even playing the same artist next. Another implementation is red (Brownian) noise: the individual variation from one to the next is small, but random. The range of outcomes in the short term is very predictable, but over time you can have a very high variation.

Most interesting, and according to the video often pleasing to people is pink noise: a high chance of small change with a small chance of big change. It allows players to plan actions with reasonable confidence, but never guarantees success. Rolling multiple dice (taking either the total or the difference), or card distribution.

To catch up, I wanted to design a conflict resolution system that allows for uncertainty without white noise randmization. What games include all four pillars of uncertainty, and pink-noise randomization? Casino games. Poker and blackjack, specifically.

Game Design – The Story of a Session, Part 1

While this doesn’t directly effect the conflict resolution system itself, one thing I’d like to come out of this game design is a game that can tell a story in a single session, with minimal prep – or carry itself over a multiple sessions. Yes, you can run a pre-generated one-shot adventure in Dungeons and Dragons, and most other RPGs, but that’s really an open-the-box-and-go experience. Even a premade adventure takes a significant amount of time for the GM, and new or lapsed players will spend half the session trying to figure out what, exactly, they can do.

With this in mind, I’m setting up a few scenarios to evaluate ideas against.

First, we have the Randoms. This is a group of friends who play games regularly but do not generally engage with RPGs, as they’re seen to take too much time and prep work. This group does, however, play Legacy games as a semi-stable group. They’re able to complete a game (or two) in a given session, with occurs once every month or two. There may not be a permanent GM with this group. This is a younger group, a relatively diverse as far as race, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Second, we have the Dungeoneers. In one form or another, they’ve played RPGs, possibly going back decades, in various groups. Now older, this group has coalesced from their current social circumstances. They’re a regular group, generally playing one game at a time, with one GM, until the story completes. They’re past ‘power leveling’ as a way to mark achievements, but appreciate progression as a marking of progress at some lecvel. This group is probably far more homogenous than the Randoms.

Third, we have the Streamers. This is a group that plays every week on a fixed schedule, with fixed roles, and is invested in the creation of a story and a world as a long-form piece. I call this group the streamers after groups like RollPlay, Critical Role, Dice Camera Action, or Acquisitions Incorporated: C Team. These players are into the characters and story above all else.

One group I’m not considering are the hard-core dice rollers – the power levelers, min-maxers, and spreadsheet gamers for whom combat is the primary activity, and stories are an excuse for violence. Without meaning much judgement, whether you’re a wargamer or an old-school RPG player, you’re well covered.

Why conflict resolution first?

The simple fact is, once the setting has been laid and the characters created, 90% of an RPG session is spent resolving conflict in one form or another.

Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, and its various hacks/remixes have an interesting take on this. Yes, it’s a dice-based game (you roll 2 6-sided die), but the resolution explicitly allows for a mixed success. If you roll 10 or higher, you have a “full success” and have only positive outcomes. A total of 7-9 indicates a mixed success – you have a positive outcome, balanced by a negative. Rolling less than 7 means you fail. That does not mean your action actually fails – if you’re performing a skill check on something that is so easily accomplished as to make a roll nearly meaningless (such as opening a door), you may complete your action – but will face significant repurcussions (such as: you break the door so that it cannot be closed, you are spotted or are so loud you attract attention, you open the door to reveal a waiting guard, etc.) You don’t forget how to turn a doorknob.

It’s this range of success to failure, with the ability to decide your outcomes that makes this system so interesting to me.

So, to modify yesterday’s list a bit:

Users/players: One Game Master + multiple players (target will be 3-4 non-GM players). Some players may not be at the same physical table.

Actions: Actions that bring conflict may be Combat, Skilled Action, or Role-play

Conflict: Player vs GM, Player vs Player, and Player vs Environment. The basic steps of any conflict are:

  1. Initiation
  2. Resolution
  3. Impact

Possible impacts:

  1. Full success
  2. Mixed success
  3. Failure
  4. The repercussions of success and failure follow logic, and roughly outlined (to allow for flexibility for the sake of gameplay and drama).

The difficult of an action will be impacted by a character’s skill level, whether a player-character or NPC. There will also be generic levels of difficulty for non-character-conflict tasks.

Some actions may be near-simultaneously, so we must have the equivalent of an “initiative system”, which allows for clear decisions on what action/player gets priority.


  • Resolution should allow for some degree of strategy for both the current action and future actions.
  • Players should have significant freedom in strategy. The GM system should be predictable, but all for unexpected outcomes
  • Random chance is not eliminated, but the risk should be estimable.
  • A truly simple action should be easily achievable. A risky one should be “high stakes.”

Conflict Resolution in RPGs, Part 1

Imagine, for a moment, you’re an adventurer, creeping down a hallway towards a treasure just out of reach. Or, imagine you’re defending the last remnants of humanity from an alien onslaught. The only thing in the way is you and your BFG-401K. Perhaps you’re a hacker, preparing to reveal the misdeeds of a corporation who has been slowly poisoning its customers.

In a video game, your skill comes into play. Whatever the situation, you choose your action in the split second – should you attempt a headshot, or aim for the body? You inch as far away as possible from the sleeping dragon and slow your movement. What transpires is, generally, a measurement of your skill and ability to navigate risk. Statistical variables may come into play, but the modern theory of ‘good gameplay’ puts large pieces of the success or failure on the player. Randomness exists, but for flavor and variety.

Contrast this to Dungeons and dragons and other dice-based tabletop RPGs. You roll a certain type and number of dice. You add or subtract a modifier. Your success or failure rests on picking a skill with a high modifier, and hoping you meet the target number. There’s no skill or strategy to this. There’s less ‘game’ here than in a game of craps.

Further impacting the game, a success or failure in one roll has nothing to do with the success or failure of the next. Perhaps a skilled game master will change the difficulty of the next roll (by raising or lowering the target) based on your roll, but the roll for the next action is not materially impacted by the first action – a 20-sided die has a 5% chance of landing on any particular number, no matter what. It’s the bad sort of random. Any tweaks to this system happen because a person wills it so, not because the system accounts for it.

Now, let’s be honest that no one will actually be aiming a plasma rifle during a tabletop RPG, and that these games scratch a far different itch for gamers. But within a setting that is mostly, if not entirely, theatre-of-the-mind, what if we developed a system for interacting with the world in a way that better enabled player strategy and choice, while still allowing for randomness and the excitement of the unknown.

Consider poker, blackjack, and other card games. You can build a strategy, and choose what, when, and how to play your cards. You may have terrible luck, or great luck, with your draws. But you can work within those cards to best your opponent, whether it’s the house or another player. Once those cards are played, they’re done, at least until the deck is recycled.

So, I’m going to attempt something entirely mad: Creating an RPG, using card game mechanics. I’ll definitely explore blackjack as a base, but I will also look at creating a system which borrows elements from various poker elements and other games. I’m going to start with the basic system for player interaction, and then build a world, character generation, and game systems from there – publishing as I go.

Here’s what I have so far:

Users/players: One Game Master + multiple players (target will be 3-4 non-GM players). Some players may not be at the same physical table.

Conflict: Player vs GM, Player vs Player, and Player vs Environment. The basic steps of any conflict are:

  1. Initiation
  2. Resolution
  3. Impact

Actions that bring conflict may be Combat, Skilled Action, or Role-play

The difficult of an action will be impacted by a character’s skill level, whether a player-character or NPC. There will also be generic levels of difficulty for non-character-conflict tasks.

Some actions may be near-simultaneously, so we must have the equivalent of an “initiative system”, which allows for clear decisions on what action/player gets priority.


  • Resolution should allow for some degree of strategy for both the current action and future actions.
  • Players should have significant freedom in strategy. The GM system should be predictable, but all for unexpected outcomes
  • Random chance is not eliminated, but the risk should be estimable.
  • A truly simple action should be easily achievable. A risky one should be “high stakes.”

My goal is, over the next few weeks, to settle on details of this and find a way to move this from an abstract system to a game.

Redesign + 2

Almost exactly 2 months after launching the new and improved danielboyle.net, I wanted to talk about how I feel about what I’ve done.

First, I still feel good about the structure and design direction. My primary goal of better representing my eBay work has been mostly met. I need to continue iterating on my content, though. I feel like I should either push my work presentation in a more visual direction, or improve the written content further. Of course, I have to watch what I actually write in a public arena, given that I have to watch my confidentiality with regards to product impact at eBay.

Second, I want to further automate content updates, if not for more ‘custom’ pages – my eBay work, for example, then at least for the side projects and some other things.

Third, I need to optimize my images. I am sure I’m wasting significant bandwidth.