Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mass Effect RPG: Modular Campaign Options

Looks like them Shephard fellas done got themselves in whole heap of trouble this time.
One of my priorities for this system is that it can support anything from a party of random gangbangers on Omega to an alternate-universe version of Captain Kirk and his crew. Here's some excerpts from a couple of recent discussions I've had as I worked out how I was going to achieve this. . .

[dagda] I'm thinking that there'd be a number of modular campaign aspects (optional things you can add or remove)
[dagda] Basically, take the things Commander Shepherd does, minus the parts that would also be done by a random mercenary team who just takes the cash, spends it on better gear and then finds a new job.
[kirov] Such as?
[dagda] Modular options would probably include spaceships, vehicle 'missions' and leadership.
[kirov] Ah. Like supplemental books.
[dagda] The idea's that. . .well, look at it this way.
[dagda] I decide my players are gonna have a ship, like in Serenity. So I take that 'spaceship' modular option.
[kirov] Same here. Private starcraft are sort of essential for exploring in ME.
[dagda] One of the things this means is that everyone effectively gets "ship crew" points (perhaps literally, I dunno).
[kirov] Economizing everything seems like a bad step, I believe.
[dagda] They can spend these to determine most of their capabilities when it comes to the parts of the gameplay which involve the ship.
[dagda] (The rules for said gameplay are in the same section)
[kirov] The GM would be way better off with just letting the players construct their own craft, and decide on what they can and cannot have.
[kirov] Say, you can have a compliment of Marines, but you can't have a Thanix Cannon too.
[dagda] The GM would probably say "Okay, I want this Spaceship gameplay to be a big focus of this game, so everyone gets Ship Crew points as though they were 5 levels higher than the default option"
[kirov] Keep in mind that space combat is extremely lethal in Mass Effect.
[dagda] GM says ship is class X, that determines whether it's this tiny thing that can barely fit everyone up to a capital ship.
* Kirov imagines a group of gung-ho players in a dreadnaught.
[kirov] Don't ever give the players a dreadnaught.
[dagda] Players then work together to determine the ship's quality- do they have the ship be in mint condition, or give it extra maneuverability in exchange for being an error-prone piece of junk? (We know what Han Solo would choose. . .)
[dagda] 'Ship crew' points would be spent on abilities used during ship-centric gameplay-piloting the ship, operating weapons, conducting emergency repairs and so on.
[dagda] But they'd also be spent on stuff that's between the ends of the spectrum labeled "Ship Quality" and "Crew Ability"
[kirov] For now, I'm not touching ship mechanics with a ten foot telescopic pole. I will eventually start developing it, but not before I have a working prototype of the base gameplay.
(Note: Kirov is working on his own Mass Effect RPG, his being a conversion for Dark Heresy rather than an original system. He can be reached on the suptg IRC chat.)

[dagda] The shared Ship points would be spent on the broader stuff, but player points would buy the smaller, mechanically detailed bits that fall under their area of expertise.
[dagda] Sorry, I'm getting a little too detailed- this is supposed to be an explanation of how all Modular options go.
[dagda] You have the spaceship, which the whole party takes care of together. And then everyone's also got their individual points, which they spend on a given area of expertise (think "role" or "archetype"). Anything ship-based involves soemthign for you to do, no matter the role.
[kirov] Quite, like the team works in ME2.
[dagda] Pretty much. ME2's not gonna convert perfectly to a theoretical game unless you assume the GM was having to deal with a group of like 10 people who could never be counted on to show up, but isolated elements work.
[dagda] So let's use Garrus as an example. For the ME2 campaign, his player initially tells the GM he doesn't have time but quickly changes his mind, so the GM works him in.
[dagda] Since this campaign uses the Modular Ship option, Garrus' player finds himself with a bunch of Ship Crew points to spend. So he focuses on the Gunner options.
[dagda] That means he'll get to make attack rolls each combat round, and provides the ship's weapons with various performance bonuses.
[dagda] Which are basically feats, you know? The equivalent of Quick Draw, Running Shot, etc.
[dagda] Sometimes these feats are due to the PC knowing how to use the tech, sometimes they're the tweaks and minor/specific upgrades which fall under that PC's oversight.
[kirov] Yeah, I understand. But I told you that I haven't put any actual thought into how I will handle ships dealing with others outside the narrative yet. I can't really give you any real feedback here.
[dagda] No worries- again, this is mostly me working towards a general concept for Modular options. I just keep getting drawn into the details because they're interesting to come up with.
[dagda] Anyway, getting the Thanix Cannon, that's the party levelling up and deciding to spend the new ship points on an upgrade from Weaponry III to Weaponry IV.
[dagda] The broad characteristics of the weapon- a sustained "beam" (which has some mechanical ramification) and a narrow fire arc- are also determined at that point.
[dagda] The more specific quirks? Say, extra armor penetration and it "shocks" the ship's internal systems if it scores more than a glancing hit? Those are things Garrus buys with crew points.
[dagda] If no-one in the group spends ship crew points in a given area, then the ship can still be strong in that area but not do anything fancy. Blunt power, basically.
[kirov] Seeing as the Thanix Cannon is firing a constant stream of liquid tungsten at 3.6% of light speed, I'm pretty sure it does more than "shocking" the ship.
[dagda] Shocking as in even if it's not destroyed, it effectively loses a turn.
[dagda] Or something. Sorry, I'm still getting caught up in a tangent.
[kirov] I'm still bloody adamant that a sub-dreadnaught ship getting hit by a weapon like the Thanix will be crippled at best, sheared in two at worst.
[dagda] Metagame, that means the group decided to spend a TON of ship points on the most badass, collector ship-killing weapon they could invent/find in the manual.
[kirov] It also ought to be rather outlawed, as it is a closely guarded secret by the turian military.
[kirov] The Normandy only had access to it due to Garrus and Illusive Man waiving all the laws away with a giant McGuffin.
[dagda] Actually, that aspect of things won't be a focus of the mechanics.
[dagda] More likely, the process would be: Group wants max-power-for-this-ship-class weapon -> Garrus is the weaponry guy -> players and/or GM invents "Thanix Cannon" backstory for weapon

me: Modular options are intended to be in effect for most or all of a campaign, so a gameplay element that's a part of the game for a period ranging from a session to a single adventure (or "mission") could typically be covered by Grand Challenges.
me: (Another mechanic of mine. Kinda like a skill challenge, if you replaced each skill check with a different strategy the players come up with for progressing towards an overarching goal like "take down a crime syndicate". Details at

me: Only other modular options I can think of at the moment are "Screwing around in a kickass vehicle" and "Managing and leading a bunch of npcs that make up your ship crew/unit/gang/growing merc army" The second one's par for the course if you've got a bigger ship, unless the GM opts to just gloss it over.
me: I was going to do a separate category for Interplanetary Fighting Vehicles (Mako, Hammerhead, Gunships), but then I realized that the difference between crewing an IFV and a Frigate are on par with the differences between crewing a Cruiser and a Dreadnought; that I can just call the Modular category Vehicles, and have some of the mechanics be based on your class of ship.
me: Followers are similar. I'd say that the two ends of that spectrum would be Garrus and Aria's setups on Omega; he had a party plus a small number of secondary characters, she's getting to the point where she's the head of a government. This is not to say you work your way up that spectrum as you level up; in my mind the GM declares the class of ship/organization you're managing and it likely stays that way for the whole game.
goldenneckbeard: A small matter, but I'll mention it anyway: I personally would name the modular elements after the type of role a person in the scene-type they represent.
me: Hmm.
goldenneckbeard: EG, instead of having a "Vehicles" class or skill-group, it would be "Crew" or "Crewman."
me: And Followers would be Leadership. Though to be honest, I really want to use the word "crew", since if you allow for both the literal definition and the informal "street" one then it's really the ideal phrase to describe the concept.
me: Anyway, I'm not sure, just because Vehicles would be totally focused on having this kickass vehicle that the party conceived and spent a shared set of points on- a vehicle they work together to maintain and upgrade.
goldenneckbeard: I would go broader and work followers into the social system at large. Perhaps call the mechanical module characters use to interact with said system "Advocate" to keep it as general as possible.
me: Ah, but the question is, what social system? You can have an entire campaign of explorers who deal with ruins and small colonies, so a big set of mechanics for dealing with society would be modular.

me: Basically, I'm now thinking that everything beyond you and your personal gear, all the other resources that some mass effect PCs would have and the "random gangbangers on Omega" campaign probably wouldn't get, could be covered by this same modular system. Not every high-level character has their own spaceship, not every one leads a group/organization. . .
me: I think the reason I feel that way is that the fiction Mass Effect's drawing on all is always 'personal'. Even when the story is about a massive ship or organization, it'll still also be about a handful of people and what they can do.

So that's about where I'm at right now. I'm considering a third modular element to go with Vehicles and Leadership, probably entitled Status. This would be the benefits that come from leveraging a high-ranking position in society- military rank is one option, but the influence Liara wields on Illium is another valid example.


vazor said...

Hmm nice. I dig this modular/shared stat distribution concept. Would definitely help form a bond among your players.

AC-Guy said...

I'm curious as to a more detailed version of how your ships work.

That said: Shadowrun. I know I already said it in my own blog, but it seems to cover everything you want, save the whole vehicles/ships rules.

I'm actually planning on running a game of ME with it, as soon as I get the new vehicle rules and racials figured out.

Dagda (Brooks Harrel) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dagda (Brooks Harrel) said...

I'll let you know if I come up with more detailed rules. Odds are they'll be four sets of rules, depending on your vessel's category- Interplanetary Vehicles on one end, Capital Ships on the other.

Dagda (Brooks Harrel) said...

Oh, and here's a section of the chat I omitted which covers your other point:

[Kirov] I don't remember, which system were you originally going to deal with anyway? D20?
[Dagda] Actually, these days I make RPG systems from scratch as a random mental exercise.
[Kirov] That seems to be a waste of effort. Why on Earth would you dedicate yourself to coming up with an arbitrary system when you can just translate something your would-be players are already familiar with?
[Dagda] Several reasons. The 2 big ones are pretty simple...
[Dagda] First, an RPG can do alot more to support a certain kind of story/campaign when it's custom-built for the job.
[Dagda] Second, I literally mean it when I say this is an exercise- a way to build up those mental game design muscles.
[Dagda] This isn't some grand ambitious project for me, I worked out the basics while listening to a lecture in psych class and I've continued to run with it because it's an interesting challenge.

AC-Guy said...

Fair enough.

I tend to approach game design from an entirely different angle, so I can see how that would lead to a difference of opinion.

I tend to look at an idea for a game as a problem to be solved, and work from there.

In the games I'm talking about in my blog, it was to solve problems that I saw as apparent in WotC D20 game systems.

For Mass Effect, I thought: how could I cover the danger aspect, the 'magic' system, the modular missions, and convey combat well?

Shadowrun seems to fit the spirit of design like a glove, so I decided to mod it and work from there.

You do it to practice and learn, wheras I feel comfortable with my abilities already and try not to re-invent the wheel.

At least, that's how I see it.