Thursday, January 05, 2006

Best Of: December 2005

As promised, the first month of Game A Day in review. Below are the three posts I find of most interest, slightly revamped to include further pondering and the inclusions of comments. See the original posts for the literal comments, etc.

Saturday, December 17, 2005: Limited Resource Adversity Systems

What ways are there to institute mechanically limited adversity in GMed games? What are effective ways to curb or eliminate GM fiat in generating adversity for characters?

  • Soft guidelines, where theres some kind of rating that is meant to inform the GMs choice of adversity. Very common, and easily blends into GM fiat in adjudicating adversity.

  • Hard limitations, 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). Needs to be well-designed and implemented in order to provide appropriate levels of adversity.

  • Interaction-dependent limitations, where theres a resource spent on adversity that is finite, and dependent on the good will of other players (dice exchange in Carry, kinda). The mechanic demands that players decide how much power of adversity they want to face, and then place the currency for that power into the GMs hands. SImilar to Player-generated intentional resource.

  • 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. The potential for sheer inapplicability seems pretty large.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Player-limited scope. GM has the authority to present any kind of adversity, but players have power to veto, change or otherwise ameliorate it's severity. Alternately, players have power to adjust it up, as well.

  • Random adversity. Roll on a table, get a monster or encounter. 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. I can also see this for No-Myth /Bricolage Sim play, where you generate a challenge randomly, and then work it into the overall narrative, etc, post facto.

  • Wednesday, December 21, 2005: Musical Creation(combined with Part Deux)

    Play a song at the beginning of the session. Everyone has a pen and blank sheet of paper. Draw lines to make three columns. In one column, write down every noun you hear in the song. In the next, write down every verb or action you hear. In the third, write down every descriptive word you hear. If you feel unsatisfied with your lists, listen to the song again. If you listen to it three times, that should be enough, or you should pick another song.

    The nouns are Setting and Character elements. The verbs are Skills/Powers/Cool Shit. The descriptive words are modifiers that can be attached to any of the above.

    Now, you see what nouns are everyones sheet. All that stuff has to go into the Setting. If someone wants something to go in and its on a majority of sheets, it goes in. If its not, its up to a vote. Or something. It would probably be valuable to devise some kind of bidding/sacrifice interaction for this step. Once all of the elements off the sheet are in place, the group fleshes out the setting/world through kibbitzing and conversation.

    Now, characters get all the stuff they have under the second column on their character sheet. They also write down all the descriptor stuff in a different place on the sheet.

    Resolution is along the lines of spending stuff on your sheet, and using the modifiers to re-spend them.

    Once all the Setting elements have been chosen, there's a number of dials that you set. Something along the lines of: Genre, Key, Tempo...maybe more? I know next to nothing about music as such.

    Anyway, Genre would be a musical genre, and also the genre of the game (sometimes this is contiguous, and sometimes it'll need interpretation. I mean "Country" is pretty easy, or "Punk Rock". But, like, "Egyptian Orchestral"? Or even "Classical" could lead to many different kinds of games. "Bollywood" - now that would be some crazy shit). Maybe this is the genre of the song you played, or maybe it's not. In either case, the dial setting is how strictly the setting adheres to the genre, with some kind of mechanical effect in there somewhere. Maybe penalties for going outside genre? I dunno.

    Key would be kinda funky. I'd need to talk to some music theory people and ask about what keys are standard for what "sounds" of music - like, calming, angry, progressive, whatever. Anyway, you set a number of keys (oh, a chord!) that corresponds to those themes/moods/whatever are in the setting. Maybe three, maybe five, depending on how extensive actual key corrolations are. Now, this is entirely in my head, and I don't know if it would make sense to people that actually know music.

    Tempo would be a certain number that would have a lot of mechanical weight - something like, your actions push your personal Tempo up and down, and when its within certain ranges of the main Tempo it does stuff - too under and you get penalties to active things and bonuses to passive thigns, too over and it's vice versa, or something like that.

    Other music stuff that would translate to fun mechanics?

    Overall, I'm starting to get an idea of an Everway/Multiverser kind of thing, where theres an infinity of worlds, or at least locations, that are each musically-linked in this manner. You could pre-gen a number of them, as examples for creating your own, and characters from those worlds are always built on songs of that genre.

    So I'm still missing grippy Situation creation, but I'm feeling better about the rest.

    Saturday, December 24, 2005: Branching Out A Little

    Ok, so Sim-supporting miniatures game. First, let's get rid of two big minature game staples:

  • Point-based unit purchasing

  • Single-race civilizations that field armies all of that race

  • First, I think that there should be a populated world, rife with conflict, and all that stuff. Political and ethnic divisions should be seperate - as in, some countries/kingdoms/whatever have majority-ethnic populations, others are totally mixed, most fall somewhere on the spectrum. Of course, there's a large contingent of mercenary forces and non-affiliated beasties that are ripe for recruitment.

    Building an army is kind of like using Lifepaths, as I understand them, from Burning Wheel. There's a number of options for why the army is in existence - raised by the nobility to prosecute a war, a rebellious mob, a megalomaniacal cult of personality, a democratically raised militia, whatever. Each of these base choices gives you a number of unit choices. Units are classified by metrics of race/ethnicity and social class, maybe others (magical ability?), as well as the basic organization of the army. You build your base army from this. Write down all the officers/important people, as well as any interesting thoughts about backgrounds, etc. Maybe each army gets a "signiture unit" of your choice.

    Each choice has a "army path" tree, which further adds/removes options, changes the organization, gives access to cool stuff, whatever. You probably make two choices past your base choice. Stuff like "co-opted by the forces of evil" or "independent means" or "naval force". You make your first choice, promote officers into new slots, fill from the bottom with recruits, etc. Keep track of these changes, you're building the history of your army. Your second choice, you do it again.

    Now, maybe each "strata" of unit gives you a certain number of bodies to divide amongst the units, or you have a total force that you divide among them all, something like that. For the most part, fighting effectiveness is based on history/background of the unit, with some options, which you set when you get the unit. Weapons are pretty much color, for the most part, except for really special stuff.

    So, when you're done with the army, you have something with a whole background, including (probably) bonuses in combat from using certain themed tactics, stuff like that. The text comes with sheets for recording what happens to each unit - casualties, successes, etc. At certain benchmarks they become eligable for promotion to new unit status, new options, etc. You can keep track of this on your own, or have it be part of a campaign. There will be good and bad changes, that, if you keep track of them, should cancel over time in terms of army effectiveness.

    Now, the actual mechanics would have to include some mechanisms for meta-control, I think, in order to simulate close, back-and-forth battles. Maybe each player gets two "reversals of fortune" that give an advantage to their side for a little bit, etc. Maybe some armies get certain meta-options (the patriotic rebellion army gets a phat bonus once it takes mad casualties, for example) that are theme-specific.

    Of course, a lot of work would have to go into either A) balancing all the options or B) making the mechanics such that badly matched forces still get close, exciting battles.

    What does actual gameplay look like? Well, armies will have a number of goals, some established when you create them, and some that you choose from depending on the battle in question. There will be rules for how to play armies of vastly different sizes against each other, as well - the victory conditions for the little guy are very different than those for the big guy, and equally possible to acheive. Sydneys suggestion about getting credit for saving your own guys lives as well as killing the other guys is a great one. The record-keeping would be such that you can track the status of each individual in each unit (unless you're playing unrealistically huge armies, I suppose) - but I envision an "average" force of being between 30 and 50 models. Forces are small, most battles are skirmishes, that kind of thing.

    Part of this, to reiterate, is that it would be totally possible to make an army, and play that same army in every game you ever play, keeping track of its fortunes and failures, until it meets an appropriate end, or you decide to disband it.

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