Wednesday, December 30, 2009

To all aspiring rpg designers:

What I'm about to say, I say not as someone who's some kind of industry veteran (I could technically call myself a professional game designer, but even that's stretching it). But there's a pitfall I stumbled into a few years back, and since then I've seen a hundred other amateur game designers do the same thing. At this point I have to start shouting it from the rooftops:

STOP OBSESSING OVER RESOLUTION MECHANICS. You're missing the forest for the trees.

Over and over, there'll be a fellow excited designer who's got this project he's eager to discuss with others. Great! I love hearing about/brainstorming on these things! They'll start with a few sentences laying out some original premise, usually one that sounds pretty darn promising.

And then they'll follow this up with a page of text detailing exactly how you roll the dice.

Yes, you do at least need a rough idea of the process the players use (i.e. participate in) to determine what happens when they try to do something. It'll be a prominent part of the gameplay, and in early discussions they'll at least warrant an explanation of the basics. But don't say "It's a game where you're wannabe dragonslayers in a realm where they're venerated as gods", follow that up with four paragraphs about how you roll a dice whose size is determined by the relevant stat and then roll that many d6es (plus an additional number equal to the relevant skill, etc. etc.), then after that say "What do you think?" The only way I can provide substantive input is to gloss over everything you said about game mechanics, focusing solely on the premise. Otherwise I'm stuck making vague generalizations like "This sort of mechanic can potentially be [negative/positive quality], assuming [condition A] and [condition B]. You know, if that's going to be the case."

The point I'm trying to get across here is that core mechanics are kinda like the main ingredients in a recipe. Choosing them means you've gone a long way towards determining what your creation will be like, and any unconventional decisions at this stage will set you far apart from the pack. But that doesn't mean you can evaluate the *quality* of your creation, or even have a substantive discussion on the matter. You've got to know the other ingredients, and how they'll come together. And the more original your ideas are, the less useful discussion becomes; some things can only be discovered once you actually try the recipe out.

Also, no one cares if your scores can be arranged in aesthetically pleasing fashion. If you have X sets of Y stats and each has Z relevant skills, making it so that all 3 variables are the same number will not improve the game experience in any significant way. It doesn't matter.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Court d'Capitate: Mechanics Brainstorm

"Patience, my pet. Soon you will have a chance to sate your bloodlust."
I've been working on coming up with potential mechanics for this game. As a part of this effort, I've been rereading my copy of Hobby Games: The 100 Best, which consists of 100 articles by various industry veterans. Since most of these articles dedicate at least a page to the game's mechanics and the interesting/unique effects those mechanics create, it's a great source of inspiration.

At this point, the ideas are crystallizing into something that could be really elegant. The items on this list in bold are ones I've currently decided to use.

-Scheme cards in your hand can never be used directly. They always have to be played face-down during your turn, attached to a pawn or plot. (I actually came up with this back when I was writing the earlier post on this game, and revised some of the description accordingly)

-During your turn you invest some form of "currency" (points you gain and/or spend during the game) in your pawns, and regain those points at the start of your next turn- if the pawn is still alive.

-At the start of each round, a number of pawns are laid out equal to the number of players. Players bid for the pawns they want, and no one can receive more than one.

-At the end of each round, players secretly bid a currency in an attempt to gain the king's favor, which probably means you receive victory points.

-The turn order varies randomly each round.

-Combining elements of the above three: Lay out 1 pawn per player, then secretly bid Turn Points to determine turn order. At the start of your turn, pick a pawn for free.

-Scheme cards can be discarded from your hand during your turn to gain extra turn points.

-Paranoia scores come in pairs; the second, presumably lower number being used when the pawn is occupied.

-Event cards are revealed at the start of the *previous* round, giving everyone a turn to prepare.

-Assassination attempts against unoccupied pawns cause you to lose victory points equal to the amount by which their Paranoia exceeds your plot's cunning (assuming it does so).

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trigger Discipline: The Dice Game

I had to run into town for an errand today, and swung by a local game store. I wound up recruiting a couple of the other patrons for impromptu playtests of TD's new core mechanics as a standalone dice game, sketching out the "board" on the back of a notebook page. As I'd hoped, the system proved fairly playable on its own merits, and the players in both tests commented on how simple it turned out to be once you'd played a turn or two. (In other words, it's alot easier to *show* people how this game works rather than telling them. I might try to put together a demonstration video using my webcam, if I can work around the hurdle of said webcam being builty into my laptop)

To play the Trigger Discipline dice game, both players take 3 d10s and place them how they like on the three spaces on their side of the board (the ones separated by the two dividing lines). They use one hand to cover up theirdie placements until both sides are ready to reveal them. Next, players roll the dice they allocated to Row A (i.e. Traits). Every die that comes up with a result of 8 or less is a success; if one player gets more successes, they have won that row, and place a die in the center to mark this victory (in longer-lasting matches it becomes important to place two dice when your margin of victory was greater than 1). The process is repeated for row B and row C, except that the dice have to lower to be considered a success; 5 for row B and 2 for row C. (To play the game with six-sided dice, change the values from 8-5-2 to 5-3-1).

Once all dice have been rolled, the round goes to the player who won row C. If there was a tie, it goes to the one who got row B, and then to the victor for row A. At the end of the round, both players make a side roll using a single d10; a result of 5 or less means yourdie pool's size increases by 1, up to a maximum of 7. If one of you won the round, that player instead gets an extra die if their side roll comes up as 8 or less. If a player wins a round and already has a fulldie pool, they get a bonus die on the next round that's allocated and rolled after all other die rolls have been made (giving them a chance to break a tie, or create one in a row that the enemy only won by a margin of 1).

If a player wins two rows (and neither are trumped by a row the opponent won) they've scored a Double. This earns them a Victory Point, 3 of which are needed to win the match. If they win all three rows, they score a Triple and earn both a Victory Point and a bonus match win! First player to get 3 match wins has won the game.

Several fixes were made mid-playtest; I changed the scores from 3/5/7 to 2/5/8, changed side roll win bonus from 7 to 8, added the mechanic for the post-roll bonus die to avoid prolonged stalemates. At this point, I think the numbers involved have been tweaked enough to approximately produce the results I'm after in Trigger Discipline. When the second playtest was coming to an end, I was still concerned about the length- though I didn't keep track of time, the game was certainly feeling long, and I fully expect the length of each round to double when the winner is also getting to narrate his hot-blooded mech pilot's attack. But then I weighed in a couple other factors- that this was the most involved form of the conflict rules (with two full-fledged main characters doing battle, rather than one main character fighting a weaker challenge represented by prearranged die assignments), and that I'd expanded the scope of the dice game to something that approached an entire RPG session in order for triple successes to count for something. Taken by itself, a single match now seems to allow for a full range of possibilities- from battles over in moments (He puts all 3 dice into GAR and gets nothing, I put 1 die into each row and all 3 succeed) to long, drawn-out slugfests, with both those extremes being possible but not *too* likely.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Court d'Capitate

Lady Andrea d'Capitate, seen here shortly before her death under mysterious circumstances involving an unlocked window, a blowgun dart laced with Kroazian Happy Juice, and a greased pig that had somehow gotten loose inside the royal ballroom.

Picture a game taking place in a royal court that's practically overflowing with backstabbing and intrigue. Players start by each selecting a Mastermind character- many of these characters are members of the host family (the wealthy and influential d'Capitates), but just as many are guests (members of other noble families, a foreign ambassador, a long-lost heir to the throne). The Masterminds (each of whom has their own mechanical quirks that influence how they play) then spend the game vying for influence, until one of them finally becomes amasses enough that they can order that all their rivals be beheaded for treason. They do this in two ways: acquiring Pawns to manipulate, and carrying out increasingly convoluted murder schemes.

The game would be played via several sets of cards- first would be those Mastermind cards listing your stats and special abilities. Second would be a deck of Pawns; I imagine that players would flip over the top card of the deck once per turn, and then take turns bidding on that Pawn to determine who acquires him. Third would be the hand full of Scheme cards that each mastermind has; each will either be an Assassination cards that represents an individual element of a murder plot, or a Plan cards you play face down besides one of your Pawns, to be activated when the prerequisites are triggered and the time is right. Fourth would be event cards, with a new one each round that changes the conditions based on what's going on in the court, such as a musical performance or a toast to the king's health.

Every Pawn has a Luck score (which determines the total Lethality an assassination attempt needs to kill them), a Paranoia score (Which makes it more difficult to get away with assassination attempts), and an Influence score (which gives you points towards your eventual victory so long as the character is unoccupied, i.e. untapped, at the start of your turn).

Masterminds create new assassination plots by writing down the name of that plot's target on a slip of paper, folding it up, and then placing an Assassination card face-down on top of it. Each turn they can add more Assassination cards to the plot. Each card has a Lethality score (for successfully killing the target), a Cunning score (for not getting caught, lest you have to pin the blame on a pawn that will promptly be executed), and a Style score (the number of Victory Points you'll receive if the attempt succeeds); an attempt uses the total of each card's score in each area. And naturally, killing an opponent's pawn means they must discard any Plans attached to that pawn.

That's the gist of the idea. What do you think?

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Maelstrom Trader: Skills

You could say I've been working on this game for a week now. You could also say I've spent that time *getting ready* to work on it. I'm simultaneously learning to use Unity 3D and outlining the mechanics for the game; we'll see whether I manage to reach a point where the two aspects of the game aren't separated.

Every man on your ship, yourself included, has skills that level up over time. You have access to Captain Skills and Special Skills. Your appointed mates (which actually means anyone with a special position, such as a doctor) have Special Skills and Crew Skills. The rest of your crew has only Crew Skills.

Captain Skills can best be described as various answers to "A good captain ________", as you'll see if you read the skill descriptions below. Special Skills usually only use the highest score among your crew, though having two people who know how to do some vital job becomes very handy when one catches space dysentery. Crew Skills, by contrast, generally use the sum of every participating hand's score. A skilled hand can achieve the same results as 4 novices.

The actual scores one can have represent the following levels of proficiency:

Discipline: Ensures that his crew functions as a well-organized unit.
Evaluate: Quickly picks out the best men for each task.
Negotiate: Does a good job of representing his vessel and managing its affairs.
Perception: Can easily gauge the mood and thoughts of those around him.
Presence: Commands respect from his crew.
Rally: Keeps his men motivated and in high spirits.
Training: Knows how to turn a novice crew into seasoned deckhands.

Aether Sight: Sighting objects that would normally be obscured by aetheric mists.
Cooking: Preparing healthy meals from the available supplies.
Commerce: Gauging the best time and place to buy/sell various goods.
Cultures: Understanding the beliefs and customs of the various peoples you encounter.
Engineering: Working with the ship's technologically advanced aspects.
Entertain: Helping to improve morale.
Interspace: Knowing how to survive Maelstrom's unique space ecosystem.
Medicine: Treating all manner of ailments.
Navigate: Charting a course and staying on track.
Tactics: Leading men in battle.

Hand-to-Hand: Close combat against sentient beings.
Harvest: Gathering and processing supplies.
Hunting: Tracking and killing the various creatures in Maelstrom's interspace.
Maintenance: Keeping the ship and cargo in good condition.
Operate Vessel: Using your ship's systems to their full potential.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

So I'm considering making a video game.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but my interest in game design applies just as much to video games as it does to tabletop fare. The main reason I focus on non-electronic projects is that I can focus most of my efforts on the tasks that most interest me- creativity and the actual mechanics of the game, rather than matters like animating an orc's attacks or trying to hunt down bugs.

Still, I've been paying alot of attention to the freeware release of the Unity3D engine- it's gotten plenty of buzz in the local game development interest group I'm a part of. And when Rock Paper Shotgun community member James Carey announced he was going to try an experimental game-building project, my first thought was "Wait a second, I could do that!"

The question is:
what sort of game could I do well? Something that had relatively few demands in terms of programming and creating assets, while drawing on my existing strengths (world-building, writing, complex systems of game mechanics). Something set in a small, well-realized game space.

And the answer is: The Oregon Trail IN SPAAAAAAACE.

The game's setting would be Maelstrom, a world (or rather, a solar system) that I've already talked about a little. You would play as the captain of a ship that's sailing along the main Aetheric Current, the setting's foremost trading route; a formidable journey that takes you by each of the 4 gas giants (the setting's equivalent of continents, since their moons are the the setting's inhabited worlds). The entire game would take place on your ship, the goal being to effectively integrate various aspects of the game into the actual first gameplay of moving around and interacting with things. To look at the map, you walk into your quarters, look at your map, and press "e" (rather than just hitting the "m" key wherever your character happens to be on the ship).

There's much more to the game's design than that, of course. I intend to take a page from the obscure gem King of Dragon's Pass, and confront players with a constant series of unique dilemmas where the crew members they've recruited will weigh in as to the best course of action.

The plan is have this be my main project for the month of December, to post development notes and weekly progress reports, and to have some kind of working prototype ready before 2010 comes along. We'll see what actually happens.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

M&M + FF7: Jenova Powers

Grisly Scene in action.

As mentioned before, I'm really proud of how these turned out. They're essentially a concrete mechanical way of adding in the elements discussed in my post on drawing on the slasher genre, while also creating some engaging gameplay. Both the powers and the associated drawbacks are designed to give a character something of a sinister bent, whether they're a well-intentioned hero or BBEG.

Jenova Powers are only available to characters tainted with Jenova cells. They can provide a notable edge, but generally come with drawbacks and require special GM permission to customize beyond the options listed in their descriptions. If a character's current corruption score is less than a power's prerequisite, that power is nullified (any drawbacks remain in effect). Characters may opt to nullify extras that increase a Jenova Power's corruption prerequisite so that they can retain the use of the power in a weakened form.

(1 pt per rank, Corruption 3)
You gain a materia slot as though you were a Device with the same power rank. An absorbed materia can be knocked out of your body by a strong impact, so others can still attempt to disarm them if you're helpless.
-Additional Slot (+1, +1 Corruption): Each time you take this extra, you gain another materia slot or form a link between two unlinked slots.

BACKSTAB (1 pt per rank, Corruption 2)
You add your power rank to your damage bonus for lethal attacks against surprised opponents, as well as bluff, disguise, and stealth checks made to prevent someone from recognizing you as a threat. (The limited application of this bonus might lead the GM to declare that you partially succeed at a check. For example, he might say that a target's bodyguard rolled well enough to notice you lurking in the shadows, but not well enough to defeat your stealth check for the purpose of recognizing that you pose a threat; the guard orders you to come out in the open, but he doesn't draw his weapon or sound an alarm.)
Drawback: Temper
Choose a trigger that aggravates your character towards a person, such as being treated in a disrespectful manner. This trigger should have a frequency of Very Common (meaning there's a 25% chance that you'll get through an adventure without it coming up at least once). When someone sets off the trigger, your character must make a will save (DC 10+power rank) to avoid lashing out at the person in question. If your character is in position to "lash out" by making a lethal surprise attack, the save DC increases by 5, and if they fail the save by a margin of 5 or more they must make the attack rather than lashing out in another fashion (i.e. verbally).

BOOST (1 pt per rank, Corruption 0)
Each use of this power boosts one of your physical ability scores, as normal. The modifiers from these boosts are applied after the normal limits on ability scores, skill check bonuses, damage bonuses, and so on.
-Mental (+1, Corruption +3): You can also boost your mental ability scores.

(2 pts, Corruption 6)
The power's duration is continuous, but a duplicate's Power Level decreases at the rank of 1 rate per hour until it reaches 0 and dissipates. Your clones have no will of their own; you must issue them commands, which can be done as a move action.
Power Feats
-Mind-Link: As normal.
-Progression: As normal.
-Long-Lasting: Each time you take this feat, the interval of the rate at which your duplicates fade increases by 1 step along the Time and Value table.
Drawback: Degradation
You suffer a penalty on to skill checks, attack rolls and Defense equal to half your power rank, rounded up. This penalty fades at the rate of 1 point per 20 minutes. This drawback occurs with a frequency of Common; with GM approval, a player may also voluntarily choose to have the degradation's effects occur as a Complication.

FRENZIED ASSAULT (1 pt per rank, Corruption 4)
As a full action, you can make a melee attack against all opponents you can physically reach within a radius of (power rank × 5 feet). This attack can be a normal strike or a special action like Disarm or Trip. Make one attack roll and compare it against all targets in the area.
Power Feats
-Agile: After making your attack, you may move adjacent to one of the opponents you targeted.
Drawback: Bloodlust
Whenever you attempt to inflict nonlethal damage, you must make a will save (DC 10+your power rank) or attempt inflicting lethal damage instead.

(4 pts per rank, Corruption 7)
You gain linked Mental Blast and Emotion Control [Fear] equal to your power rank. You may not use these abilities directly; instead, you use the "materials" on hand (usually fresh victims) to create grisly scenes which function like traps. Each time someone comes across one of your scenes for the first time, they must make a will save (DC 15+power rank) to resist your power's effects; if they succeed, they become immune to any other scenes you've created for the rest of the day. It takes five minutes to create a scene; you can invest additional time to increase the save DC by 1 for each rank the construction time moves up on the Time and Value Progression Table (So for example, a scene that took an hour to create will have a save DC of 18+your power rank).

MASTER OF THE ELEMENTS (1+ pts per rank, Corruption 5)
While outdoors, you can influence the atmosphere around you. This power functions identically to Environmental Control, except that instead of the ability to create light you can instead gain the Obscure [Auditory, Visual] effects.
-Improved Control (+1, Corruption 9) Your abilities also function indoors.
-Gradual Influence
(-1, Corruption -3): Any changes to the environment take an hour rather than a standard action.
Drawback: Negative Lifestream Link
You add your power rank to the DC of any attempts made to stabilize you, as well as subtracting it from your bonus on any recovery checks granted by healing effects.

(5 pts per rank, Corruption 7)
You have an alternate form, which you can change into or out of as a full action. While in this form, you may not use Device powers, but the limits on your Save DCs and Toughness save bonus both increase by half your power rank (rounded down). Your alternate form grants traits whose total value is equal to 5 power points per rank; these traits may include the Additional Limb, Growth, and Speed powers.
Drawback: Brute
Whenever you wish to communicate something to another person in a way that goes beyond simple gestures and body language, you must first make an intelligence check (DC 10+power rank). This DC increases by 5 if you want to use complete sentences and another 5 if the communication involves a measure of subtlety and/or detail. You may retry this check once per minute.

(1 pt per rank, Corruption 8)
As a full action, you can grow (or retract) a single angelic wing that grants Flying at your power rank.
Power Feats
-Wingless: You can fly without growing your wing first, though this decreases your effective ranks in Flying by two.

PROFILER (2 pts per rank, Corruption 4)
You gain Emotion Control and Mind Reading equal to your power rank. You must may only use these abilities on targets you have observed for at least 5 minutes, and must speak with them in order to go beyond merely reading their surface thoughts.
Your mind-reading abilities are based more on your ability to extrapolate from behavioral cues than true psychic ability; at the GM's discretion targets may get an additional bonus of up to +10 on saves to avoid revealing information that should not be obtainable this way. For example, you could use your mind-reading power to accurately guess a security password consisting of a phrase the target selected themselves, but would have a much harder time if the password consisted of a string of random numbers the target had memorized.
Drawback: Obsessive
When given a choice between pursuing your current target and taking some other course of action, you must make a will save (DC 15+power rank) or be unable to put aside the current pursuit. You may reroll this save once per hour.

PUPPETEER (2 pts per rank, Corruption 5)
You can sense the minds of those with Jenova cells and/or Geostigma Syndrome, so long as they're within a radius equal to half your power rank on the Extended Range table, rounding down. You make a power check as a free action (DC 20-target's corruption score) and apply the result to each mind in range. You may then select one mind and continue to track it so long as you maintain concentration.
You also gain Mind Control at your power rank, usable only on targets you're tracking (meaning you can never target those who don't have Jenova cells or Geostigma Syndrome. You can purchase any of Mind Control's listed power feats, extras and flaws. Sustaining mind control also lets you continue tracking target's minds as a linked effect.
If someone else is using this power to continually track you, you automatically become aware of their mind as well and may attempt to mind control them yourself. If they're within the normal range of your own powers and have a lower corruption score, the amount by which your corruption score exceeds theirs is added to the save DC of your mind control.
Power Feats
-Accurate: You can recognize minds you've detected before, in the same way you can recognize faces.
-Corruption Sense: You know the current corruption score (if any) of each mind you can sense.
-Distance Sense: You know the rough proximity of each mind you can sense.
-Horde: Each time you take this feat, the number of of total minds you can simultaneously track and maintain control of (but not simultaneously *gain* control of) increases by one step along the time and value progression table.
-Vigilance: You may maintain concentration when a target you're tracking moves out of range, regaining your awareness of their presence if they come in range once more.
-Duration (+1): Your mind control's effects have a duration of Sustained (Lasting). You can't concentrate on subjects that are out of range or maintain any kind of mental link, but they continue to obey the commands they've been given.
Drawback: Disturbing
Your power rank applies as a penalty on all social interaction skill checks.

(1 pt. per rank, Corruption 6)
You gain Regeneration [Resurrection] at your power rank. You can use some of these ranks to increase the bonus on the recovery checks made to resurrect yourself (these checks do not benefit from any power that boosts normal recovery checks).
Drawback: Dark Rebirth
Whenever you successfully resurrect, you permanently gain a point of corruption.

UNSTOPPABLE (3 pts per rank, Corruption 1)
You gain Impervious Protection and Regeneration at your power rank. You may only use your Regeneration ranks to improve your Recovery Bonus and Recovery Rate. Subtract your power rank from the damage bonus of enemy attacks when determining knockback distance.
Drawback: Numb to the World
Your power rank applies as a penalty to all Notice checks you make. This penalty doubles when making checks against someone who's deliberately trying to avoid being noticed by you.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

M&M + FF7: Jenova Corruption

During character creation, you may choose to have your character be tainted by Jenova cells. This neither costs nor grants power points. They could have been injected with cell samples deliberately as a test subject or member of the SOLDIER program, exposed to them by accident, or had grown them naturally because their body surrendered to Jenova's influence through the lifestream (rather than killing itself in the process of suppressing that influence, meaning they recovered from a seemingly terminal case of Geostigma Syndrome).

Characters who are tainted by Jenova can spend power points to purchase Jenova Powers. They also have a Corruption score, which starts at 1. Whenever you use Extra Effort and have a Jenova Power active at some point on the same turn, you must make a will save (DC 20+your current corruption score) or gain another point of corruption. You may ignore the fatigue Extra Effort would normally impose by giving up this saving throw. You can lose a point of corruption by refraining from using any Jenova powers for period of time equal to a rank of (10-(1/2 your Corruption score, rounding down)) on the Time and Value Progression Table. If your corruption score ever reaches 10, you permanently lose your free will and become an npc puppet under Jenova's control.

In addition, your corruption score provides drawbacks of equal total value, selected from the following list; for example, at Corruption 2 you could choose to have the basic versions of the Tainted and Puppet powers, or just the Tained power with either a moderate frequency or moderate intensity. Reducing your corruption score causes the drawbacks to diminish as well, with the most recently selected developments fading away first.

If you fail your d20 roll against this drawback's Intensity, you fall under the effects of Mind Control with the Conscious flaw, at a power rank equal to your corruption score plus half your level. While controlled, you are compelled to take actions that will advance Jenova's agenda- this could mean damaging/corrupting the lifestream, aiding one of her more willing puppets, or just trying to kill people. You make will saves to break this control, as per the normal power rules.

If you fail your d20 roll against this drawback's Intensity, you gain an additional point of Corruption.

Weakness (Lifestream): You suffer the standard penalties when exposed to an object (such as holy water) or location (such as sacred ground or a cave with natural materia deposits) that carries high amounts of healing lifestream energy. At higher frequencies, the penalties could also begin cropping up due to normal healing magic. Note that you still gain any normal benefits, such as holy water's improvement to your corruption score's reduction interval; you're just simultaneously weakened.

So why in the world would you want to have a corruption score? Because Jenova Powers let you do things no one else can. But that's a matter for the next post.

Image by Zetari.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

M&M + FF7: Materia

Adapting Materia from their original role in the videogame proved rather tricky. From a fluff perspective, they're raw crystallized magic. From a mechanical perspective, they provide the world of FF7 with spells you cast mid-combat, and yet they also serve as interchangeable equipment upgrades. I tried to reach a compromise that was balanced, made sense within the setting (omitting the materia that increases the amount of coinage you find, for example) and still stuck to the same underlying mechanics of materia slots. Oh, and it also had to still be fun.

The Materia power is identical to the 4-point version of the Device power, with the following restriction: The power points must be used to create a single ability that takes a full action to use and has a duration of Instant or Instant (Lasting). Additionally, Materia must be mounted onto a device's materia slot (see below).

Device Extra: Materia Slot
The device in question can hold one Materia, letting you use that materia's ability as an Alternate Power. The Materia's effective PL is limited to your device's PL. This Extra can be taken multiple times.
Device Extra: Linked Slots
A pair of unlinked materia slots on the device become connected. Materia stored in these slots may be used together as though they were combined via the Linked extra, assuming their powers are compatible.

Feat: Materia Attunement

You may attune yourself to a Materia, allowing you to use it whenever it's on your person rather than having to equip it in an appropriate slot. You must first concentrate on the materia for a total amount of time equal to half it's power rank on the Time and Value progression table. You may only be attuned to one Materia at a time.

Players can also use Support Materia. This type of materia always costs 1 point per rank, and grants one of the following Power Modifiers to any materia in a linked slot whose power is of equal or lesser rank:
-Added Effect (Links paired materia to Device's power)
-Selective Attack
-Turbo (Paired Materia gets +2 to effective rank, gains the Fades flaw, recharges by not being used for 8 hours)

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mutants & Masterminds: Final Fantasy 7 Rules

Using Mutants & Masterminds to run a game set in the world of FF7 is fairly simple; you just limit the powers people can select, making them available in several different ways.

All characters can buy ranks in the following powers:
-Leaping (max ranks=1/5 PL, rounding up)
-Luck Control
-Protection [Cannot include the Impervious extra]
-Super Movement [Sure-Footed, Wall Crawling, Wall Run] (Wall Run is from Super Speed and must be taken before Wall Crawling)
-Super Strength (max ranks=1/5 PL, rounding up)

Personal Devices can have the following powers:

Non-personal devices should generally be adapted from the Equipment section rather than being custom-made.

Materia (see next post for full details) can be created using one of the following powers:
-Element Control
-Emotion Control
-Enhanced Ability
-Healing [Cannot include the Resurrection extra]

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Influence-Based Experience

This is just a brainstorm from a while back that I keep meaning to revisit and write up; whenever I've had the time and energy to do a large stint of game design/writing, there's always been a higher priority like Trigger Discipline. So in this case I'll cave, and try posting the original chat transcript instead.

(11:02:46 PM) Dagda: Evening
(11:03:23 PM) Isaac: hi
(11:03:28 PM) Isaac: How are you?
(11:04:23 PM) Dagda: Not bad. Just thought I'd check in- *if* memory serves, our past communication's been about some game projects of yours.
(11:05:21 PM) Isaac: That's correct. I originally posted on /tg/ because I was concerned I had too much fluff for the game world, and I wanted to guage opions if anyone would read it.
(11:05:48 PM) Isaac: Then some /tg/ers asked me about the combat system, and when i explained it we had a bit of a chat about dice pools etc.
(11:06:42 PM) Dagda: So how're things now?
(11:07:50 PM) Isaac: Looking up. SOme recent exoperineces with dark heresy have given me justification to move away from the range/delivery/cone/aoe type magic system. I prefer less number crunching that 3.5th ed.
(11:08:10 PM) Isaac: Magic has been one of the major things holding me up
(11:08:27 PM) Dagda: Huh. I actually don't know anything about dark heresy's 'magic' system.
(11:09:24 PM) Isaac: Its strength is that it expects the GM to be able to narrate the effects, and beyond chance to succeed and general area of effect its very narrative
(11:09:42 PM) Isaac: somthing I had wanted to move towards but was afraid of alienation the rules lawyers
(11:09:51 PM) Isaac: DH has made me brave :)
(11:10:10 PM) Dagda: Always good to have more to draw on
(11:10:16 PM) Dagda: What sort of setting was this, again?
(11:10:17 PM) Isaac: Sorry for my crappy typing, its bloody cold here and I keep hitting extra keys
(11:10:29 PM) Dagda: Hadn't even noticed the typos.
(11:10:32 PM) Isaac: grumble grumble NOT steampunk
(11:10:56 PM) Isaac: it has steampunk elements and did before SP got big
(11:11:10 PM) Dagda: People initially grasp a concept based on existing references. Accept it.
(11:11:24 PM) Dagda: Before SP got big? Just how long have you had this setting in mind?
(11:11:49 PM) Isaac: I hate to admit how long it has been worked on, it gets left behind for Rl, as everyone's work does
(11:12:06 PM) Isaac: I'd say since 2000, at least, i started working on it in 2000
(11:12:17 PM) Dagda: So what's the tech of the setting running on, if not steam?
(11:12:40 PM) Isaac: Oh it is steampunk, I was just being bitter
(11:12:44 PM) Isaac: but you have to take out the lighter side of steampunk...ever read China Mieville?
(11:13:22 PM) Isaac: Its victorian era with elements of political unrest (church vs. state vs. the prolitariat)
(11:13:40 PM) Dagda: Doesn't look like I have, no. Victorian era, eh?
(11:13:57 PM) Isaac: explicit magic users who ar esecond class citizens and deep conspiracy tieing it all together
(11:14:12 PM) Dagda: What's the focus of the action?
(11:14:32 PM) Isaac: most often PCs take on the role of these second class citizen magic users
(11:14:39 PM) Dagda: Are secrets and politics a part of the gameplay or more just the driving force behind the adventure plotlines?
(11:14:54 PM) Isaac: Definitely part of the gameplay
(11:15:29 PM) Isaac: And as these magic users and inhumans you skulk about aiding one faction or another, or building your own fortune and empire
(11:15:53 PM) Isaac: While trying to uncover the few big secrets that hold the city together
(11:16:26 PM) Dagda: Can you give me an example of how the system would fit into a conspiracy-oriented encounter?
(11:16:59 PM) Dagda: Assuming it's not on a larger scale than just an encounter
(11:18:42 PM) Isaac: There is a heavy emphasis on non combat skills, and combat is fairly deadly, so a lot of the gameplay is intended to be the dealings, information gathering, subtle use of magic while staying under the radar of the Crown and the Church while trying to meet the expectations of your Guild and set up your own goals/contacts/infastructure.
(11:19:10 PM) Dagda: What role does combat play in an adventure, then?
(11:19:18 PM) Isaac: Then consider that while you may be allied with your group, each of them has their own goals from their Guilds which mayconflict with yours, but the presiding body has told you all to play nice.
(11:20:41 PM) Isaac: When negotiations fail, naturally, when you are backed into a corner by a powerful faction you owe alliegience to.
(11:21:40 PM) Isaac: While you are trying to master your own fate you keep ghetting drawn into the business of other factions. When you get caught by the Crown or the Church, when you have to pick one faction over another, thats when combat comes into play
(11:22:56 PM) Dagda: So combat's what happens when things get bad. It's something you avoid if you've been playing your cards right in general.
(11:24:32 PM) Isaac: definitely. Door kickers beware, its a good way to die. While the players have magic, the best magic, its slow and subtle and they are outnumbered. They are often ostricised from aspects of society, barred from parts of the city altogether and if caught practicing magic without the right sorts of permuission, coudl be attacked/killed on sight
(11:25:09 PM) Isaac: I have actually found the 'flavour' of the magic a bit similar to unknown armies, in as much as its underhanded, personal and less flashy than say, DnD
(11:25:49 PM) Dagda: Though it varies- if you invest in political skills, you can get away with being mediocre at combat. If you invest in combat, you can afford to get into more trouble.
(11:25:54 PM) Dagda: I presume.
(11:26:26 PM) Isaac: True, I guess my playstyle is influenced by teh types of players I make
(11:26:39 PM) Dagda: Without compromising the "combat is dangerous and it's best to avoid it where possible"
(11:27:03 PM) Isaac: less capable physically, with a mystic focus, but there are stealthy superhuman assassins, demon possessed tanks etc. for the action oriented
(11:27:16 PM) Dagda: So what's the "price" of magic in this setting, if anything?
(11:27:24 PM) Dagda: How does it work?
(11:28:06 PM) Isaac: A mana based name change. I don't call it mana, but thats what it is. Many spells need physical components or foci, it varies from class to class.
(11:28:30 PM) Isaac: There is an undercurrent of power that these second class citizens can tap, its what sets them, apart from humans
(11:29:03 PM) Dagda: So will casters have a reserve of mana points? Do these automatically recharge on a daily basis, or. . .
(11:29:12 PM) Isaac: they start human, but develop or discover their aptitude early on, and most magic is hereditary, so if your dad was a spellcaster, you woudl already be hanging out at the guildhall until the day your power manifested
(11:30:04 PM) Isaac: they do recharge on a daily basis but this process can be hurried by immersing yourself in areas thick with the power, or draining it from other spellcasters, both of which have their own risks
(11:30:56 PM) Isaac: Stealing other spellcasters power runs the risk of uncontrolled mutation, and spending too much time in the waypoints of power can affect the mind and loosen ones grip on reality
(11:32:05 PM) Isaac: I have made strong effort to keep the game very streetlevel, where your informants, allies, enemies and past are as important if not moreso, than your strength score or gold pieces.
(11:32:53 PM) Dagda: Then do you intend to work those factors into the system?
(11:33:42 PM) Dagda: After all, it's entirely possible to have mechanics for both moment-to-moment factors like throwing a punch and larger-scale elements like cultivating pull with different factions.
(11:33:53 PM) Isaac: yes, part of your character creation is the purchase of contacts, past events, histories, bonuses from your hometown etc.
(11:35:12 PM) Dagda: And are the resources alotted for this ones that can also be spent on personal abilities instead? How much can you focus on one or the other?
(11:36:33 PM) Isaac: at this point, completely freeform. If you wanted to max out physical stats at the expense of even choosing a past, so be it. It cill ead to broken characters, but the world is too dangerous for a walking warmachine PC to survive too long. No amount of physical prowess will keep you alive when the ruling classes bring out their big guns
(11:37:15 PM) Isaac: But the idea is for PCs to choose a class, a faction, a past, a hometown, allies/enemies and a debt system
(11:37:40 PM) Dagda: So the system's fully freeform? I buy a past with the same resources that buy attributes and skills?
(11:37:46 PM) Isaac: sorry phrased that wrong. there is a debt system that allows for debts you owe and others owe tht can be called in at any time
(11:37:49 PM) Isaac: yes
(11:38:24 PM) Isaac: the class abilities, which are essentially schools of magic, are locked into the class you choose, but all your stats and past are up to you
(11:38:31 PM) Dagda: What about character advancement once the game proper begins?
(11:39:22 PM) Isaac: Continues to be freeforem. While I LOVE the DH career system (which is a lot like MMO advancement) I feel that limiting people into a career is not what I'm aiming for
(11:39:38 PM) Isaac: you get your XP and decide to spend that on more stats, more magic, skills, traits etc.
(11:39:49 PM) Dagda: Yes, but are people earning xp and then spending it on whatever?
(11:39:56 PM) Isaac: yes
(11:40:41 PM) Dagda: Rather than having some manner of causal link? Like, if you want contacts and support from this faction, you don't spend xp, you do in-game actions that net influence points with that faction.
(11:40:53 PM) Isaac: I alway sliked the idea of a system where XP was marked for the manner in which it was earned, and must be spent similarly. Makes little sense to become a better swordfighter when you got some XP for good bluffing
(11:41:06 PM) Dagda: (Or both- an ability might cost X xp plus Y influence points)
(11:41:58 PM) Dagda: It just seems to me that if you want a focus on acquiring influence, you'd do well to treat it as a form of overarching character advancement.
(11:43:05 PM) Dagda: You want to get more standing with this faction, so you try to do them favors. Pull it off and you'll get the cryptography support you were wanting to have available, or the muscle, etc.
(11:44:07 PM) Isaac: I like it. It doesn't really make sense for faction favour to be purley XP based
(11:45:42 PM) Isaac: The idea was to RP actions to curry favour with each faction, but I could certainly work in a more concrete mechanic
(11:45:54 PM) Dagda: I can actually suggest a way to tie political pull into character advancement even further:
(11:46:02 PM) Isaac: please do
(11:46:02 PM) Dagda: Training.
(11:47:24 PM) Dagda: You want to learn how to fight? Well, this mafia-type organization can show you plenty of dirty moves, or this contact's a drill sergeant who can teach you the proper way to handle a rifle, or this organization prides itself on their ability as duelists. . .
(11:47:51 PM) Isaac: hey, thats got potential
(11:48:04 PM) Dagda: You'll be hindered if you try to learn an ability on your own.
(11:48:19 PM) Isaac: So if you want to increase your magic you need to keep your Guild happy, if you want to have more contacts/better social you work for the local crims
(11:49:04 PM) Dagda: It'd be kinda like classes in the d20 system.
(11:49:08 PM) Isaac: that actually opens up a whole boatload of potential fringe benefits, includinginformation, allies, weapons, better tech and resources gained at each level of 'favour'
(11:49:26 PM) Isaac: I really like this :)
(11:50:43 PM) Dagda: In the sense that if you just want to learn particular thing- say, to get decent at picking locks- you can expend a "use" of a contact to serve as a trainer.
(11:50:48 PM) Isaac: One aspect was the PCs advencement up the ranks of their own organistaion, but that can be expanded to all factions to accomodate this mechanic
(11:51:26 PM) Dagda: But if you want a package of skills- like the whole host of abilities needed to become an expert burglar- you'll want to curry favor with the appropriate organization.
(11:51:32 PM) Isaac: thats great, and it adds for a more realistic and RP friendly way to level up rather than the oots joke of literally dinging after an encounter
(11:52:22 PM) Isaac: and it works with the idea that there are often long periods of downtime between missions where the PCs muct get by on their own. That gives them a lot of tiem to seek out the necessary contacts
(11:52:34 PM) Dagda: So in addition to things like contacts, gear, and favors influence can be spent to gain training.
(11:53:40 PM) Dagda: If you *really* wanted to pursue your concept you could have influence be XP in its entirety. It'd certainly convey a strong sense of flavor.
(11:54:08 PM) Isaac: oh yes, thats ambitious. that really could work, though
(11:55:10 PM) Dagda: Personal experience learned from overcoming challenges would thus be relegated to a matter covered by the Training rules
(11:55:53 PM) Isaac: yes, you have lived through the event, now you wish to learn the skills behind it and how to apply it when you want
(11:56:32 PM) Isaac: This is a great idea for a game so heavily involved in the day to day life of the PCs. It fits right in with what I already have.
(11:57:41 PM) Dagda: I suggest having two types of influence- that which is awarded specifically and that which is yours to assign.
(11:58:00 PM) Isaac: I think I see where you are going with this...
(11:59:14 PM) Dagda: The second type would be relatively small in supply and could represent general pull. In fact, I'd recommend that you only be able to use it to *augment* influence you earn with a specific fashion.
(5/19/2009 12:01:14 AM) Dagda: Today my actions earned me the gratitude of Faction A (to the tune of 3 Influence Points), Faction B (4 IP), and Faction C (1 IP). I also earned another 3 bonus IP to assign how I wish, though I can't go beyond doubling the IP recieved with a given faction.
(12:01:28 AM) Dagda: So I can only assign 1 bonus IP to group C.
(12:02:19 AM) Dagda: The question is what exactly would earn bonus IP. The answer should tie heavily into your idea of how the game world works.
(12:03:20 AM) Isaac: Each faction has a very specific set of goals. If the PCs advance those goals in any tangible way, that could be considered a successful mission and gain them gratitude (and therefore influence)
(12:03:53 AM) Dagda: With regards to bonus IP I'm specifically talking about overarching themes.
(12:04:53 AM) Dagda: It should be a reward for something players are expected to do over the course of their adventures- perhaps just accomplishing impressive things.
(12:05:18 AM) Dagda: The idea being that doing so improves people's regard for you.
(12:05:47 AM) Isaac: It could tie into their own personal goals...without getting too anime, they might gain this extra IP for following/forging their own destiny in a city where everything is orhcestrated and run by bigger thanlife forces
(12:06:19 AM) Dagda: Oh ho!
(12:06:33 AM) Dagda: THAT opens up a whole new window of opportunity
(12:06:57 AM) Isaac: Each player must decide a goal at character creation, and this can change during the course of the game, based on who they interact with
(12:07:15 AM) Dagda: And you can give that goal *stats*
(12:07:35 AM) Isaac: as in its importance to you, or how complete it is?
(12:08:09 AM) Dagda: Both, neither, depends on your conception of the setting and who characters are.
(12:08:33 AM) Dagda: Preferably, it shouldn't be too out there.
(12:08:40 AM) Isaac: I agree
(12:09:29 AM) Dagda: The idea behind Bonus IPs is to give people a little leeway- their character advancement isn't 99% determined by whose in-game agenda they're pushing
(12:09:41 AM) Dagda: They can steer a little, from a metagame perspective.
(12:10:18 AM) Isaac: Yep, and thats a good thing, with such an open ended character creation, it'd be stifling if they couldn't have some leeway while advanceing
(12:11:43 AM) Dagda: *Something* is earning them a little more regard from people in general. It's their choice how they leverage it.
(12:12:33 AM) Dagda: Now, here's something else I'm wondering.
(12:12:57 AM) Dagda: To just go on a relevant tangent
(12:13:06 AM) Isaac: Thats great, it gives them the opportunity to build their own empire/destiny/allies in the shadows while they pay lip service supporting other factions agendas
(12:13:23 AM) Isaac: Its so triple agent, its just the feel I've been trying to capture
(12:14:13 AM) Dagda: It seems to me that faction influence has to ways it can be potentially be spent: one-time favors, and various "level up" abilities.
(12:14:34 AM) Dagda: Be it personal training or other permanent benefits.
(12:15:48 AM) Dagda: I think you'd want to have Influence Points "level up" both your flexible, personal pull and your faction pull
(12:16:42 AM) Dagda: And you can either permanently expend a level-up bonus to get a permanent bonus, or keep it on reserve for a per-adventure bonus.
(12:19:02 AM) Isaac: ala fate points?
(12:19:24 AM) Isaac: or an on the fly gaming purpose (calling in an orphans network to run a message?)
(12:19:32 AM) Isaac: street urchins*
(12:21:19 AM) Dagda: The idea is that if I've got X influence points with the Street Urchins, I could spend some permanently to gain a permanent contact OR leave them in that faction's per-adventure pool and spend a similar amount to get that contact's aid for that single adventure.
(12:22:14 AM) Dagda: Another example would be acquiring a weapon from a faction's armory as a permanent possession versus borrowing it for a week.
(12:22:51 AM) Isaac: and the necessary IP to buy either the perm or temp benefit scales according to its worth
(12:23:12 AM) Dagda: Permanently purchased resources are always on hand and reliable- you don't have to jump through any hoops to prevent the faction from turning you down.
(12:23:19 AM) Dagda: Yeah
(12:24:04 AM) Dagda: You want the organization's best cryptographer? It'll cost you a good deal of influence, and require several difficult skill checks.
(12:24:52 AM) Dagda: Acquiring something permanently takes longer and is even more difficult, and you aren't getting that influence back at the start of the next session. But you've now got a permanent resource.
(12:25:00 AM) Dagda: Unless, of course, things go south.
(12:25:26 AM) Isaac: And the skill checks might be influenced by the PC having too much IP with a faction that is a rival to the one they are currently working with
(12:25:48 AM) Dagda: And of course, favors can be owed both ways. You can "go into debt" with a given organization, influence-wise, in which case you owe *them* a favor.
(12:25:55 AM) Isaac: Ah the inf are like fate points in DH, regenerating between sesions
(12:26:09 AM) Dagda: More power, but more obligations when it comes to how you use it.
(12:26:14 AM) Isaac: That is perfect, owing a debt, I already have the ground work for that set up in the rules
(12:27:50 AM) Dagda: What I'm saying is that temporary benefits would draw on a reserve of influence that replenishes- but you can permanently deduct from that reserve to permanently gain something.
(12:28:05 AM) Isaac: I get it
(12:28:54 AM) Isaac: It compliments the feel of the game perfectly, shady deals and danderous debts
(12:29:00 AM) Dagda: This even allows for temporary training- you get a "crash course" in something. It's only one session of training, so it won't temporarily make a beginner a master, but it could be relevant for the task at hand.
(12:29:18 AM) Isaac: Hey thats neat
(12:30:35 AM) Dagda: Someone challenges you to a duel? Better learn how to handle a flintlock pistol real fast.
(12:31:18 AM) Isaac: That precise situation lends itself to fantastic RP opportunities
(12:31:56 AM) Dagda: (Or call in a favor with an assisn contact to get them to poison your opponent's breakfast)
(12:32:03 AM) Dagda: *assassin contact
(12:32:26 AM) Isaac: brilliant
(12:32:29 AM) Dagda: That remind me, you'd also want rules covering your relationship with contacts.
(12:32:50 AM) Dagda: Some favors are done for an organization, but many more are personal.
(12:35:46 AM) Isaac: There is fluff regarding the movers and shakers in each organisation, and sometimes these people have goals that are not synonymous with that of their organisation. It'd be interesting if the PCs develop more IP with a particular person within the faction than the faction itself...
(12:37:41 AM) Dagda: A contact can help you out of personal obligation or via a faction
(12:38:25 AM) Isaac: This whole mechanic could lead to very complicated webs of deals, favours and obligations, but thats exactly the world I'm trying to foster
(12:40:06 AM) Dagda: I think getting help from a contact should either be replenishing (when they're a friend, or you've got heavy blackmail on them, or you've built up a professional relationship with them) or one-time.
(12:41:14 AM) Dagda: If a contact is a part of a faction, you can "buy" some or all of their services with faction IP. Otherwise, you'll need bonus IP and/or personal favors.
(12:41:46 AM) Isaac: Sounds good
(12:41:49 AM) Dagda: I think you'll definitely want players to be able to make their own contacts.
(12:42:58 AM) Isaac: In as much as they seek them out (I want to find a swordsmaster) and the gM fleshes it out, or they make up the entire NPC?
(12:43:27 AM) Isaac: In the character creation, when they choose their initial contacts they were allowed to select from alist or make their own, with GMS blesing
(12:43:33 AM) Isaac: blessing*
(12:46:02 AM) Dagda: I'd say let the player specify the Services they want the contact to have (i.e. what the contact can do for them and how well they can do it), then let the player and the GM work together to come up with the fluff.
(12:46:31 AM) Isaac: Cool. I don't think people that can't work with the GM would be the crowd that this is aimed at anyhow
(12:47:27 AM) Dagda: Factions, meanwhile, have a set list and hierarchy of services. They're large, predetermined packages, while unafilliated contacts provide small amounts of custom-picked abilities.
(12:48:35 AM) Dagda: A magic-user who wants to learn how to swordfight doesn't have to spend alot of time building influence with, say, the City Guard; he can take an old swordmaster as a contact instead.
(12:48:40 AM) Isaac: Definitely. I was just thinking how the factions themselves, and their set benefits at each level of favour almost mimic the DH career system, a system i'm very fond of, but uses it in a different way
(12:49:10 AM) Isaac: Great thinking, that lets people focus on their long term goals while picking up bits and pieces wher ethey need them.
(12:49:45 AM) Dagda: Of course, there's also the matter of *losing* influence.
(12:50:15 AM) Dagda: Are players going to have to take sides in this setting?
(12:52:54 AM) Isaac: Eventually they will, if they invest any amount of time in any one faction, have to pick one side over another, as so many are directly opposed to one another.
(12:53:20 AM) Isaac: you can't be a part of faction A AND faction B. One wants to save the forest, one wants to destroy it completely.
(12:54:16 AM) Isaac: If you start to curry too much favour with a faction that opposes one you are 'in' with, there woudl have to be consequences
(12:54:32 AM) Dagda: I imagine that first you lose any accumulated influence with a given faction, and then they actively become your enemy as your influence drops into the negatives.
(12:54:41 AM) Isaac: And if you are in too deep, they might consider you cannot be allowe dto leave, as you know too much
(12:54:54 AM) Isaac: Thats how I pictured it as well.
(12:55:36 AM) Isaac: They start to hear about you working for a rival, and your favour with them starts to drop. Eventually, without replenishing it by working for them, it goes into negatives and they consider you an enemy
(12:56:19 AM) Dagda: The idea of permanently spending influence works here- metagame, the points spent on the training stay spent, so your influence goes negative more quickly. In-game, they're more of an enemy because you didn't just betray them, you betrayed them after they taught you what you know.
(12:57:32 AM) Isaac: I'm running out of ways to compliment you here, thats an excellent idea.
(12:57:47 AM) Dagda: Heh
(12:59:56 AM) Isaac: You are an incredible help, this will completely revolutionise the way I'm working. You'll get a thanks on the dedication page for sure :P
(1:00:21 AM) Dagda: Neat
(1:00:45 AM) Isaac: I presume you're cool with me running with these mechanics?
(1:01:10 AM) Dagda: No prob
(1:03:37 AM) Isaac: The vbest thing about it all is that I have all the fluff and groundwork already done. Now I have the fun job (no sarcasm, really) of making up faction packages :)
(1:06:21 AM) Dagda: First step is to define the different Services.
(1:08:21 AM) Dagda: Way I see it, you've got: NPC assistance, single skill checks, training, equipment, and Secrets (i.e. plot-advancing hints).
(1:08:27 AM) Dagda: For starters, anyway.
(1:09:21 AM) Dagda: Plus faction-specific favors, like having the city guard overlook a crime.
(1:09:32 AM) Isaac: Well i've got the actual skills and traits as a starting point for them, if you want the lockpicking skill, who could you learn it from? So I shoudl categorise skills according to the different factions that exist
(1:10:02 AM) Dagda: And of course, the GM can always let the players request a favor of their own imagining and then put a price tag on it. There can even be in-game negotiations.
(1:10:03 AM) Isaac: This is a new level of work, but its a huge step forward for the game itself
(1:10:17 AM) Isaac: Oh brilliant that woudl work so well
(1:11:12 AM) Isaac: What about using actually money to bribe or add weight to what you want, ie, the guard wont overlook the crime, but you can pay them off to affcet the negotiations/diff roll
(1:11:50 AM) Dagda: I'd say that someone's capability to train should depend on their level of ability with the relevant skill, with the potential for outside modifiers if they invest character ability into becoming a better trainer.
(1:12:35 AM) Dagda: And of course, a player can do this too. Acquire influence with the street urchins by showing them some new dirty fighting moves, and so on.
(1:13:33 AM) Isaac: Wow, and in that way they can gain inf with the faction they ar etraining/helping
(1:13:39 AM) Isaac: wow this has some real potential
(1:14:30 AM) Dagda: Know what else would be interesting?
(1:15:03 AM) Isaac: please do tell me :)
(1:15:56 AM) Dagda: If you gave faction some different stats- social standing, popular support, wealth, ratings in several different areas of capability as derived from their member's numbers and average level of ability. . .
(1:17:51 AM) Dagda: Not only would you ahve a quick general reference regarding the degree to which they can provide services (no gold-plated carriages from those street urchins), it would let players mechanically influence a given faction's standing. Or even. . .found a faction of their own.
(1:18:23 AM) Isaac: Fuck yes, thats exactly what i wanted them to be able to do, build heir own empire/crime family
(1:18:55 AM) Isaac: and I don't swear often, but thats perfect
(1:18:55 AM) Dagda: Kill a faction's head swordmaster, and their military prowess goes down a bit. Better yet, convince him to side with another faction to give them a corresponding increase.
(1:19:28 AM) Isaac: And if you allow other people in a faction get ito debt with you you can gain their loyalty and take over an existing faction...
(1:19:46 AM) Dagda: Could be.
(1:27:29 AM) Isaac: I can imagine a complex matrix that shows which factions sit well with which other ones and with various castes and classes within the city. I already have a V:tM like breakdown of how each school of magic views one another, now I'll expand it to include all factions.
(1:28:37 AM) Dagda: And entries mentioning which factions can provide different types of training/equipment.
(1:30:52 AM) Isaac: definitely. have you seen the career paths in DH? I imagine it would be similar to how they are set up. As you gain levels in favour a wider range of services become available that you can purchase
(1:38:09 AM) Dagda: That and the services are more potent, so to speak
(1:39:03 AM) Isaac: Yeah, they won't kill someone of good standing to save you from a trial if you are but a mook to them, but if you are invaluable to them they would go to greater lengths to protect you
(1:39:10 AM) Dagda: You could have a more "elite" faction that provides more potent services, but costs more to "level up" in
(1:40:01 AM) Isaac: That would definitely be in, there are a few factions that are elite, in that regard, with a lot more pull and greater resources.
(1:40:02 AM) Dagda: The variable being less the overall IP cost for a given service, and more how "valuable" you are to that faction.
(1:41:01 AM) Dagda: Something that's a minor favor for a noble is a life-changer for a street urchin.
(1:42:04 AM) Isaac: True
(1:43:54 AM) Dagda: And a gang of street urchins rallying to your defense is worth about as much as the noble lending you a handful of trained guards.
(1:45:16 AM) Isaac: I've saved all this, I gotta go grab some dinner, its pm here in Australia, if you're not around when I get back, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this brainstorm, you've reinvigorated my interest in this project. You've been an invaluable help to a stranger for little thanks or reward. You're a hell of a guy, Dagda. :) I'll be back in 30 or so. Thanks again.

And he's single, ladies! In all seriousness, I love having these sorts of discussions; if you've got some rpg project that you'd like feedback or suggestions on, you can feel free to hit me up via IM.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Final Fantasy 7 + Slashers

Back in that post reviewing what I'd been up to this last month or two, I mentioned that "World Of Darkness' amazing Slasher supplement inspired me to go back and revisit. . .my old idea for setting a campaign in the world of the FF7 series. I know it sounds deranged, but these two concepts are peanut butter and chocolate, seriously."

See, it's like this. In the wake of the original video game's events, you've got a setting with a military force of supersoldiers that's now been disbanded- plus untold numbers more that have been exposed to Jenova Cells in one fashion or another, even just by having blood from a SOLDIER spill on an open wound. And all of these people are being influenced by an alien subconsciousness; this influence largely consists of making them want to kill everyone.

Literally, everyone.

As in they want to personally murder every last human being on the planet.

Granted, Slashers in FF7 don't beat your skull in with a cement block; they slice through steel doors with swords and have duels on the backs of motorcycles. But the "those who fight monsters" theme seen in White Wolf's book very much applies here, since the ones best suited to fighting the slashers are other ex-SOLDIERs who have managed (so far) to resist the mental corruption.

I'm not suggesting your FF7-based campaign be a horror game; the idea is to enhance the adventuring setup described in the earlier post, in two different ways.

First, npc slashers provide a temporary shift towards thriller movie territory; a scary iconic enemy (similar to Dragons in D&D) that alters the nature of the encounter/adventure by being a far more serious threat than any normal enemy. Yes, the players are going to be far more powerful than any average joe slasher movie victim, but that boost in power applies to both sides, meaning they'll still be facing a very real threat.

Second, the Slasher villians and the chance to play as a character with Jenova Cells both help provide an overarching conflict to the setting (and thus the player's adventures). Western fantasy has holy knights fighting the corrupting influence of the devil and his foul servants; in the world of FF7, you have hardy survivors engaged in a similar struggle against Jenova and her psychopathic pawns. And in both cases, the future of humanity is at stake.

Now in case it's not clear, I'm not saying to gloss over all the fun, inventive aspects of the setting in favor of black leather bodysuits and ominous latin chanting. My goal here's just to facilitate a game where you can have it all- to capture both the madcap fun of parts like FF7's early Midgar sections, and the chilling tension that came from moments like escaping confinement in the Shinra headquarters only to see the hallways outside are covered in fresh blood.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Hey, I should write that down!"

I finally found a reason to use twitter! As its name might imply, dagdasnotepad is a sort of bite-size companion to this blog/portfolio, a collection of the ideas that pop into my head and seem worth holding onto. They're also potential blog posts, if people show interest in hearing more about them.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

8 steps to running a game based on Berserk

As anyone who's sunk their teeth into this dark fantasy manga knows, it's got quite a well-crafted setting. A war-torn setting where white-knuckle action is mixed with grim hardships borne simply out of human nature. The supernatural presence is subdued, but also hideously powerful- a monstrous evil that's simultaneously all too human. It's a great setting-but how do you adapt the awesome elements to a roleplaying game?

Step 1: Use Fantasy Craft. It's built so that magic is optional and not integral to the game's content, and has the crunch to really get into a detailed representation of the subject matter. I know no better system for the job.
Step 2: Don't tell them it's Berserk. To steal some advice from one of the people I brainstormed with on /tg/: Tell them it's 'Badass Mercenary Quest' or something. A little bit of foreshadowing with dark lore, one or two demons, more mercenary adventures, then OH GOD WHAT THE HELL WHY?! Which happens to be an excellent summary of step 3. . .
Step 3: Gradual, ceaseless evolution of the story. Escalation is already a natural part of most rpgs; what Berserk can teach us is technique. Characters get more powerful, yes; but it's not just their skills that develop. Their personalities change, new personality traits appearing and old ones fading away as they become a little more mature, a little wiser and more cunning. Their long-term priorities change, sometimes due to introspections, sometimes because the change is thrust upon them.
Step 4: Player-driven overarching plots. It's the changes in the protagonists that lead Berserk's story to evolve, rather than just having static characters who are coincidentally caught up in increasingly grand events. The adventures occur as characters pursue their own goals- to form a mercenary band, to hunt down monsters, to rescue someone they love.
Step 5: Unfair odds. Characters in Berserk are constantly faced with encounters that are in no sense of the word "balanced". A wolf pack. A hundred men (many with crossbows). A demon that smashes through foot-thick stone walls and tree trunks. In metagame terms. . .I once played in a game (the "Elysium Nebula" one I've mentioned a few times in the past) where the GM was increasingly open about the fact that he was putting us in bad situations without bothering to come up with a way we could survive them. That was our department. And because he was willing to sit down and go over the particulars of the situation with us, and rewarded innovative ideas (Say, hacking into an enemy's comm channel and impersonating their commander), the result was one of the best games I've ever been in. It also helps to let the PCs have a variety of interesting tools on hand- ropes and throwing knives and small explosives. . .
Step 6: Inventive action. Berserk is full of innovative and interesting fight scenes, where characters do far more than cross blades. Spycraft's myriad combat feats help with this, but what I like to do is have my NPCs start the snowball rolling; come up with interesting tactics based around the situation and any unique abilities they have, then give the players chances to mount unorthodox responses of their own. . .
Step 7: Life sucks. The world of Berserk is a terrible, terrible place to live- full of desperate people who, as in real life, are motivated by their desperation to do all sorts of horrible things to others. Make it clear to the players from the get-go what kind of setting this game will have; if don't understand that the game is *supposed* to feel harsh and merciless, they'll find the experience much more frustrating from metagame standpoint. Rude awakenings are fine, just spring them sooner rather than later.
Step 8: Any means necessary. The PCs are by no means an exception to the above statement about desperate people. In Berserk, Guts would have died ages ago were he not capable of taking extreme measures without missing a beat- measures that have, on more than one occasion, lead to a mutated monstrosity the sized of a house referring to him as a monster. I talk in steps 5 and 6 about encouraging/rewarding innovation, but in Berserk it's not always enough to just be clever. You have to be ruthless as well, doing whatever it takes to come out ahead.

These are the pieces of advice I've got to offer. Any further suggestions are welcome.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kjallak Havengard

Kjallak's my character for a Fantasy Craft game I'm playing in via Skype. The players are all denizens of a group of islands in the middle of this sea that's separating two nations with an ancient rivalry; the premise is that we're going to take a stab at the courier business, running messages and precious cargo back and forth between the two sides by whatever means necessary. We needed a reason for everyone to have gotten together, so I volunteered to make someone who'd be recruiting everyone else at the start of the game.

The island's population is a diverse collection of refugees that sailed from the other side of the world, so all kinds of concepts are possible; Kjallak's background/motivation is that he's emerged as a leader among the 20-odd people that make up the new generation of his clan. Said clan once occupied one of the highest places in a nordic version of imperial china, and his elder's tales of glory have left him confident that his people can attain a similar level of status in this new world. He's forcefully charismatic, and driven by ambition- though he doesn't yet have a long-term goal, beyond the recognition of the Havengard name as a noble title. That's something to figure out as the game goes on.

Kjallak's first level is in Assassin, but from here out I expect to take an even mix of Captain and Courtier levels. His two biggest specialties at this point are Intimidate and Tactics. Hit the link for his full statistics.

Kjallak Havengard (Kee-YAWL-awk HAW-ven-guard)
Ruthless Human Corsair
Assassin 1

Str 8 (1 pt, -1 talent)
Dex 10 (2 pts)
Con 10 (2 pts)
Int 18 (18 pts, +1 talent)
Wis 8 (0 pts)
Cha 15 (11 pts)

3/3 d4 Action Dice, 9/9 Vitality, 10/10 Wounds
Defense 16 (1 base+4 Int+1 Spec), DR 0
Ref +1, Fort +1, Will +0, Init +6 (2 base+4 Int)

+5 Unarmed (+6 vs. Special), 1d6+4, 19-20

+3 Athletics (4) [Origin]
+6 Blend (4)
+6 Bluff (4)
+8 Crafting (Carpentry, Writing) (4)
+6 Disguise (4)
+10 Intimidate, 19-20 (4+2 BSM+2 Orc Armor)
+4 Prestidigitation (4)
+0 Ride (Water Vehicles) (0)
+3 Sense Motive (4)
+4 Sneak (4) [Origin]
+10 Tactics, 19-20 (4+2 BSM)

-Basic Skill Mastery (Officer)
-Martial Arts (Intelligence)

-Always Ready
-Menacing Threat
-Terrifying Look
-Hand of Death (21)

Interests: Languages (Native, Keehorn, Zetra), Studies (Seamanship)
Proficiencies: Unarmed Forte, Cheap Shot [Talent], Mix-Up (Pummel, Threaten)
Panache 5, Prudence 0, Appearance 4 (2 Panache+1 Grooming Case+1 Orc Armor)
10 Reputation, 100 sp stake, 30 coin in hand

Vented Ceremonial Orc Padded Armor (5 cold resist, 4 heat resist, 5.4 lbs) [44s]

Grooming Case (D, 2 lbs) [8s]

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trigger Discipline: New Conflict Mechanics

The big thing I wanted to add to Trigger Discipline's conflict rules was the idea of escalation- one classic element of most anime battles is that the characters take a while to "get serious", only using their strongest techniques, etc. once the conflict has had some time to ramp up. The recent brainstorms (about having stats for a character's inner virtues) have inspired some additional mechanics that round things out nicely. Here's the new core rules:

-A conflict is still divided into 1 or more individual faceoffs each round, with the each of a faceoff's two sides making a contested roll between the participants once per round (in whatever order the Director wants, makes no difference ).

At least one side of each faceoff has to consist of a single participant (even if the in-game nature of that 'participant' is a group of NPCs ). If that participant's up against multiple enemies, they make one set of rolls as usual and then compare the results against each opponent seperately. All of this is unchanged from the previous version of the rules, aside from some new terminology. However, what follows are some pretty major alterations. . .
-Each participant has a pool of dice, which they freely assign to their Trait, Power, and GAR rolls (both sides assign their dice in secret and then simultaneously reveal how they've divvied them up before rolling).
I can assign all my dice to my GAR roll, which means I have very good odds of getting more successful GAR dice than my opponent, which means I can get a GAR success (which will trump the Power and Trait successes my enemy will probably get). Two things keep this strategy from being broken: One, GAR scores are lower than Trait and Power scores, so the die results have a larger random element to them. Two, a Single success does relatively little to help you win a given Conflict. More on this in a minute.
-After a faceoff's rolls have been made, an Interact phase occurs.
During each interact phase, characters engage in a contest of wills- they talk smack ("What kind of wussy punch was that?"), debate philosophies ("A true warrior fights with his heart!"), etc. Mechanically, each side chooses one of their 5 Inner Virtues (each of which has a score that's usually between 1 and 5), and rolls a d6. If the result is equal to or less than the score, their character succesfully utilizes that inner virtue and their die pool's size increases by one. "But Dagda," you ask, "Won't people always pick their best score?" By default, yes! But the default scenario is a rare one, because the rewards for a Single, Double, and Triple success have changed. . .
-A Single Success lets you declare an Inner Virtue that *both* sides will use during the next interact phase.
Meaning you'll want to pick whichever virtue you have the most of compared to your opponent. If I have 5 Cunning and 3 Kindness, and my opponent has 5 Cunning and 1 Kindness, I'm better off choosing Kindness- so I narrate the start of a speech on my character's part about how he's fighting for the sake of others, and lecturing my enemy because he's just fighting for money.
-A Double Success also earns you a Victory Point
Get X victory points and you win the conflict, inflicting a point of plot damage to everyone on the losing side. Someone who takes plot damage either loses a point of plot armor or, if they have no plot armor, loses the use of one of their scores (Gar, Power, or Trait). Losing the use of all 3 scores takes you down for good. Many NPCs have no plot armor and will be instantly taken out by even a single point of plot damage. SPEAKING OF WHICH. . .
-A Triple Success also inflicts a point of Plot Damage on your enemy and nets you a point of Fanbase.
In other words, getting a Triple Success is often an instant takedown.

That's the core of it! There's some more rules I'm considering on top of this, including some different mechanics to represent underdogs making a comeback when the opponent seems to have them outmatched (both to represent anime tropes and address playester's complaints about being unable to recover in battles that start out with a string of unlucky rolls).

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Field Report

Just a quick sci-fi piece I did a few weeks back, for a discussion on alien perspectives of humanity.

Most worthy and honorable [saints] of the council, it is my solemn wish that this annual report shall prove to be free from arrogance. For the duration of the past [16.52 years], I have endeavored to perform suitably as a replacement for my former master. It is with fearful humility that I find myself forced to challenge his conclusions with regards to the sentience-supporting planet [Earth]'s primary species of interest.

As the superior members of the council are surely aware, [humans] are classified as an inferior non-[murderous] gatherer species. My predecessor initially declared that humanity was composed of numerous sub-species, which dwell together in groups; he believed this was why they had been able to form a [false] civilization which allows them to advance without the aid of [blessed extraterrestrial enslavers] in a similar fashion to [untranslatable name 1] and the [untranslatable name 2]. However, our fact-auditor invalidated this conclusion after translating the human's records regarding their own genetic information. Upon his retirement, my former master's final report thus theorized that humans are instead obeying the will of hive minds which communicate to them via a medium our outpost's sensors were incapable of monitoring.
He believed that human brains themselves had the secondary function of receiving and generating these signals, which explains the abnormal levels of energy they require to operate- [20 watts] for adults, a full 20% of their daily energy consumption. I hereby pronounce this theory to be without merit. My dutiful observations, aided by the continued maturation of our translation programs, have forced me to adopt a new hypothesis using data we previously assumed to be erroneous.

It is with reluctant confidence that I declare humans to be individually capable of adopting multiple [identities]. For example, it is considered normal for a single individual to be capable of simultaneously fulfilling all [parental] roles while also serving as a resource-gatherer and a resource manager. They have no need for [mental purging] rituals, and can even spontaneously develop new [selves] when placed in new situations. This results in an incredible resistance to [paradox breakdowns], as reflected by the strength of a typical human's [sense of humor]; the range of stimuli types their minds can derive [amusement] from is extraordinarily broad. Nor is this the limit of this species' adaptibility.

Recent translations of humanity's records regarding their own species conclusively indicate that they are capable of naturally developing [unnatural] selves in a conscious response to paradigm shifts created by their own advances in technology. Despite their nature as inferior gatherers, upon developing primitive [weapons] humanity immediately began to utilize them to simulate the nature of a [murderous] species, becoming predators of superior organisms. This artificial role developed despite a complete absence of [divine intervention], and we have identified hundreds more that have appeared since. Our [role enforcer] has already declared that this includes multiple [warrior] roles, and that the majority of them do not conform to any known classifications; [he] expects similar results in other areas. It may hypothetically be possible to declare that every human's identities are in fact unique, similar to that of other humans but lacking anything inherently identical.

Because of this capability, human [society] appears to be several orders of magnitude more complex than anything previously encountered. They seem to be capable of communicating [viewpoints] in an incredibly efficient manner through the use of complex linguistic techniques and the simultaneous conscious use of multiple mediums; I theorize that a human who achieved comprehension of the contents of this report could relate the entirety of it to another member of his species in under [5.28 hours]. While their [false] technology is primitive, human society appears to be advancing it at an exponential rate.

This report shall be accompanied by all acquired data, as is my duty. I await renewed enlightenment through the all-comprehending council's forthcoming conclusions.


Inferior observer,

"The council of saints declares that humans may potentially be capable of independently achieving interstellar travel and influencing the development of other species, which means they may be [infant gods] whose society possesses [perfect purity of truth]. All preparations for humanity's enlightening enslavement are [heretical] and must cease immediately. [Religious authorities] are committing suicide to [serve penance] in your place, so that you might study human society to the absolute fullness of your potential.

You may well be recording our new [gospel]. Do not falter, and do not interfere with the development of humanity at any cost. A delegation of [high priests] shall arrive to assume leadership of your project and augment its capabilities in [168.7 years]."

This is the council's word.

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