Saturday, December 17, 2005

Limited Resource Adversity Systems

This meme is still kicking around in my brain. What ways are there to institute mechanically limited adversity in games? I basically want to look at ways to curb or eliminate GM fiat in generating adversity for characters.

In D&D 3.5, the Challenge Rating is a soft guide towards scaling adversity, but as thousands if not millions of forum topics show, it's by no means a perfect system, if it's adhered to at all.

In DitV, the GM gets a certain number of dice on his side of a conflict, and when they're gone they're gone.

In Carry, the GM has a pool of dice that he spends for adversity, and can be refreshed by being given dice from the players.

In PtA, the Producer has a certain amount of Budget depending on the characters and their Scene Presence.

So, from these few examples, we have a couple of different design patterns (check this if you don't know what I'm talking about. I haven't gotten through the whole document yet, so if I'm retreading old ground - oh well).

We have soft guidelines, where theres some kind of rating that is meant to inform the GMs choice of adversity.

We have hard limitation, where theres a resource spent on adversity that is finite and dependent on some other mechanical system (your proto-NPC rolls in DitV, the characters Scene Presence in PtA).

We have another kind of limitation (soft? negotiable?), where theres a resource spent on adversity that is finite, and dependent on the good will of other players.

What about:

Hard guidelines. You can only present a party of 4 7th level characters with a CR 7 monster, etc. There seems to be no intrinsic advantage of this over a soft guideline, unless the system is fine-tuned enough to make those kinds of blanket guidelines applicable.

Player-generated intentional resource. The players only assign the GM (or another player, or whatever) currency or resources to generate adversity when they want to face it. While having this be very strict could lead to easy violation of the Czege Principle, I think, having some kind of system where the player decides when the GM get resources, and the GM (or another player, or the system, or something) decides how much resource could be interesting. This idea dovetails with my previous idea, I think.

Player-generated required resource. Whenever the player does X, the GM gets Y resource with which to present challenge. Creates choices for the players between doing things that may be easy or smart and giving the GM more resources for adversity, or doing dumb or hard things and not facing that challenge. Can be tweaked to encourage/punish whatever kinds of behavior is appropriate.

Hard mechanical adversity. If your character has X stats, he will face opposition with Y stats, calculated in some way via the system. GM still presents and plays the opposition, but its composition and resources are completely contingent on the players choices. Alternately, the GM has some kind of resource with which to modify the hard stats given by the system.

Soft mechanical adversity. Like above, but with guidelines instead of hard rules, which are then interpreted by the GM.

For the sake of completion, random adversity. Roll on a table, get a monster or encounter, with no thought towards how it intersects with the characters. To make this more interesting, perhaps the players can narrow down a range of possible challenges, one of which is then selected randomly, as a form of Challenge.

That's it for now. More thoughts on limited-resource adversity design patterns, as well as examples of games that do use some of those presented above, are welcome.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Upgrade Fetish

One thing that really appeals to me on some level is the notion of upgrading character abilities and equipment. Some thoughts:

What I like about upgrading, as a concept: It gives concrete goals to strive for, and a sense of acheivement when you gain those goals. It adds tremendous amount of color to a character. It's fun to geek out about weapons and powerz.

What I don't like about upgrading, as I've seen in games: Cookie-cutter effects with different dressings. Goal of upgrading becomes only goal for character development. Upgrades handed out by GM fiat, or random tables.

Thoughts on upgrade systems: Characters start with some kind of signiture weapon, power or ability with a sympathetic link to that character (Arthur & Excalibur, etc). The overall system is fairly crunchy with a number of interactions between die types, rolls, sizes, etc. There's a certain set of base mechanical effects that can be associated with these signiture things, maybe you pick three. All of these mechanical effects have a unique "thing" that they do, with "medium" effects - allow the player to re-roll and have the GM pick a number, for example, or re-roll and drop the highest, stuff like that.

Now, the GM has a limited resource pool to provide adversity to the characters. Through the reward system, players get some kind of resource that they can save towards upgrading their signiture thing (or maybe buying a new one, as well). When they hit the upgrade threshold, they can either gain new signiture effects, or bump their existing effects to "good" (straight re-roll, roll and drop the lowest, add +1 automatically, stuff like that). This also refreshes the GMs adversity resource, allowing him to present the characters with stronger opposition now that they have stronger weapons at their disposal.

These new effects then have to be reflected in the character - maybe they add or change traits on the character sheet, or put new limits on resource pools - but its the players choice of upgrade that then impacts the characters being, not the other way around. More powerful upgrades have heavier fallout for the character.

The keys here are that striving for the upgrade, and then choosing to receive it, are both entirely the players choice and involve some kind of fallout that drives the characters progression as a character, as well. Also, I like the scalability - the characters get things that are just strong enough to overcome the opposition they are about to receive, not after the fact or randomly from a treasure table.

Of course, if there are games out there that already have something like this, I would love to check 'em out.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Political Issues

A brainstorm on the required elements for a setting that supports true political struggle.

Core Thoughts:

There have to be a variety of interests (personal, social, ethical, whatever) that are opposed to each other.

These interests not only need to be important enough to strive for, but acheiving these interests also needs to be within the realm of possibility. Part of this should be that the fallout for not acheiving these interests needs to be sufficiently negative to drive characters towards acheiving them.

No one party can be powerful enough to get their interest without a struggle.

All parties can't be close enough in power that they deadlock.

There needs to be more than two umbrellas of interests, so as to avoid all parties clumping into two opposed groups.

Acheiving an interest cannot set that party up as an untouchable power (unless thats the end of the game, or something). Ideally, once an interest is acheive, it re-distributes power rather than focuses it.

Supplementary Thoughts:

Outside events should have impact on the distribution of power.

For more personal tension, each party should have opposed interests that fulfill the requirements above (essentially extended bangs).

Perceptions of power and its realitys must be two different things.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Adversity & The Loner

I've been thinking a lot about adversity lately, as well as about 2-person gaming. The concept for this game would be that it focuses on loner archtypes - the superspy, the rogue cop, the samurai with a shadowed past, the berserker who goes into voluntary exile to avoid hurting those he loves. There's a couple of ways to structure the roles of the two players vis-a-vis each other:

One player has a character, the other provides the adversity.

Both players have characters, and they switch off providing adversity for each other.

Both players have characters, and they provide adveristy for each other while simultaneously playing those characters.

The first is easy and kinda boring at first glance. The last is really interesting, and would require some work to pull off. The middle one seems to strike a good balance (and I submit Scarlet Wake as an excellent example of revolving GM authority).

[Quick review: I agree with the Czege Principle. "When one person is the author of both the character's adversity and its resolution, play isn't fun."]

In any case, the idea would be that the characters player would
create the adversity for his character, and authority for that adversity would then pass to the other player. Keep everything focused on the character, nothing extraneous. Nothing happens that that player hasn't set in motion, though it can (and should) mutate and grow past the original conception.

What does adversity mean in this context? Well, characters could have a Dust Devils-esque Issue or Problem, with associated problems cascading from that. I think it would be appropriate for the reason that they're a loner to be a BFD. It would be valuable for part, if not all, of character creation to be playing through their "origin story," with various characters and situations spiraling out of that. Assiging post-fact mechanical-ness to things that come up in a more free-narration kind of setup.

[Another note: I only know Dust Devils through AP posts, so if the comparison isn't accurate, my bad.]

Also, I think it would be valuable to explore the characters player proposing situations, which the adversity player then files away and brings out later. Like "at some point, I'm going to have to choose between my honor and my pride" or "I will fight a wolf for her cub," very concrete situations that the adversity is then to take and spin back out farther down the line. The system should mediate self-generated adversity into other-enforced adversity - or to put it another way, a player can propose adversity for their character, but that adversity is provided by the other player.

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