Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Group Knacks

The Shadowitz group knacks represent particular edges that a shadowruner team's orientation grants them. For example, one team template is Corporate Backed. These runners are in the employ of one of the megacorporations, housed in corporate housing, trained by corporate experts, equipped from corporate supplies, etc. They are effectively owned by the corporation, as they exist off the record, thus allowing the corp to claim plausible denaibility should they ever be captured. However, as compensation, the team gets the knack Requisition, which functions as a team Resources knack with a much bigger bank account.

The Street Trash team is more like what you actually wind up with in a Shadowrun game, at least in my experience. It's a bunch of independent criminals, all relatively low scale, some with records or with a history of trouble with some organization (law enforcement or otherwise), all with skeletons in their closets. The group tends to be violent and crude, but gets the job done. This team template gets the knack Bolt Hole. With each team member used to being in trouble, it's assumed everyone maintains some kind of crash house somewhere, and when the drek hits the fan, the team can roll this knack to find one of those places. Hits are divvied up between the lifestyle and security of said hole (and it probably will be a hole, at least to start).

Each team has its own knack and method rating for its special knack. Increasing these is just like increasing a knack or method on your individual character sheet. It uses the same formula to figure the experience cost. However, that cost must be paid in full by every single member of the team. If one person doesn't pay, you can't buy up the score. It's a team. Everyone's in or it doesn't go.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Group Mechanics for Shadowitz

A while ago I mentioned group mechanics as something I'd take a look at for Shadowitz sometime in the future. That time came recently. For a little bit, anyway.

The goal of group mechanics wasn't to heap additional abilities on the players; experience has shown me that too much of anything, even good things, can quickly overwhelm a player to the point where he sticks to a small core of abilities and ignores everything else. Besides, my party's plenty tough all on its own already.

Instead, I wanted something that gave the group reason to work together. Much like how some games give bonuses (such as drama dice) to players for helping the game with particular kinds of play, I wanted something that encouraged the players to think as a team instead of as a group of individuals each out doing his own thing.

I also wanted something designed in such a way that you could bolt it onto an existing game without any alterations to the characters, and remove it just as easily. The rules would interact with the game, but wouldn't fundamentally change how anything worked. My players have been through enough rule shifts already.

What I wound up with was something I'm calling the team template. These are group classes of a sort, and each grants a special team knack, a plot rewrite power, and a method by which the team can generate team edge.

That last part's the really important one in this initial discussion. See, team templates are a shared resource. Thus everything about it needs to be shared between all members of that team. You can increase the team knack, but everyone needs to pay the cost to do so. The special knacks grant bonuses to everyone on the team. Everything about a team template is a collective experience. Thus it doesn't punish individuals for not acting as a team, but to truly leverage this resource, you do it together.

I've come up with 10 different team types, though to be honest I doubt some will see much use in any game, let alone my campaign. The initiate group, for example, is a bit too specialized to see broad use. But hey, it's in there.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hope vs Destiny

Heroes of Destiny is, at its core, a game that's about a certain type of hero. Think Braveheart's portrayal of William Wallace, or Gladiator's Maximus. These are badass heroes who cleave through opposition in the style befitting an action hero, or a player character in an RPG. However, there's something about them that's very much not like a typical PC: they'd rather be home. These aren't adventurers, professional or otherwise. Neither are they big damn heroes who are living up the high life of glory and grandeur. They're gifted individuals who are doing what needs to be done because no one else can, but at the end of the day they'd rather be somewhere else doing something as mundane as harvesting their crops.

That's what Heroes of Destiny is all about. You could theoretically do this in any other game, fantasy or otherwise, to be sure, but I've tried to make this conflict of interest (between the player's wants and the character's wants) the core mechanic.

Each PC in the game has a pool of resources he allocates to actions. That pool is made up of two scores: Hope and Destiny. Hope represents the power of the character's mundane dreams, the love of the simple life, his dedication to those he loves, etc. Destiny is that spark of greatness that resides in him. It's what sets him apart from the rest and dooms him to a great life, for he is better than the rest, and thus is the one others look to in turbulent times.

Hope and Destiny can be used interchangeably, but they're each better for some things than others. Hope is good for keeping you going, overcoming harm, and getting you back on your feet when you drop. After all, Hope is what you live for, and a man who has more to live for clings to life more tenaciously. Destiny, on the other hand, is much better at action and achievement. It's much easier to accomplish something using Destiny than Hope, and in fact using Destiny you can quickly outstrip people without it.

There's a catch, however. That pool is limited to 10, and its composition is controlled by gameplay, not by experience. Destiny grows the more you use it. The more great things you do, the greater your story becomes, and by extension the greater you become. However, because your pool is limited to 10, and it's made up of Hope and Destiny, as Destiny grows, Hope must shrink. Thus, as your Destiny expands, your Hope dwindles. The more swept up you are in the events that have called to you, the more remote that graceful retirement with those you love becomes. Because this happens as a result of how you use your character's resources, it means that the fate of your character, as well as the important NPCs of his life, are in your hands as a player. Every time you choose to play that big damn hero and do great things, you put others at risk. More than that though, you risk giving up certain mechanical abilities by losing Hope.

That choice is what I hope this game will be about. In order to be great, you must give something up, just as your character does. It's a tricky process, but I'm hopeful that this can be the core of something truly interesting.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Design by Request

With two version of Shadowrun done and a whack at Star Wars complete, I was at something of a loss as to what to do next. This entire exercise began as something I did to fill my own needs and expanded because I had a few spare ideas that I had the time to expand. Once that was done, however, I wasn't really sure where to go next.

A friend of mine did: "Write your own game. All your own. Then sell it."

Okay, sure, but the thing was, I didn't really feel a pull toward anything. If I learned nothing else, I've learned that the best games you can write are the ones you want to play. At the time I finished up Jedi Duels, I was full up, running Shadowrun under my own system semi-regularly (looks like we're settling into once a month, which is half as often as originally planned, but twice as good as we managed most the summer), as well as a pseudo- weekly 7th Sea game (that, too, doesn't meet as often as planned, but it's more regular than SR, probably because it's a weeknight instead of Saturdays). Between the two of those, I felt like I was meeting my gaming needs. I felt like keeping up with the two of them was absorbing plenty of creative energy and keeping me happy.

But my friend was insistent, so eventually I hit on an idea and made him an offer. I couldn't possibly run another game, which I'd need to in order to playtest anything I wrote, but I could write him something that he could run. He was thinking of pulling together something in the near future anyway. So, a short discussion later I had my first game design by request project. The goal of this one is to create a fantasy game in the classic pseudo-medieval Europe world that's "like D&D, but easy to run."

Well, sort of. There were a few other considerations, but there was one big one I grabbed onto: "I love stories about reluctant heroes."

Skip everything else that came out of our initial discussions. That statement right there is something to write a game about. It's something that can set yet another fantasy game set in a world with knights and wizards and all that other stuff that was old and overdone 20 years ago apart. It's not the setting that's new, it's the story structure supported by the mechanics.

And so was born Heroes of Destiny. I'll tell you a little more about it next post.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jedi Duels on the Shelf

I've added a copy of Jedi Duels to the Bookshelf. If you have an opportunity to try it out, I'd love to hear how it worked for you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Fodder

If you're not a jedi, you don't really matter. Let's face it, the prequels were stuffed to the gills with hordes designed to be ripped apart by ascetics with glowing swords. Thus, non-jedi need some mook rules.

What I'm thinking is that mooks have a target 1 - 5, just like any standard task .That's the target for jedi to affect them, whether it's to tell them to look for other droids or to shove them with the force. This target also determines how easy it is for jedi to reflect their blaster fire, because they always use blasters, and jedi will always try to deflect them.

So if the mooks have a target lower than the jedi's rank (some number associated with their title, let's call it 2/4/6 for padawan, knight, and master), the jedi automatically deflects the bolt and does 1 point of damage per point of difference between his rank and the mook's target.

If they're equal, the jedi needs to make a technique check with a target of 3 (roughly even odds). Any success deflects the blaster bolts, but if he rolls a number of 6s equal to the mooks' target, he does a point of damage too.

If the mooks have a greater target than the jedi's rank things get harder. Now it's like a duel. The jedi needs to roll technique and track his speed. Mooks don't roll dice. Instead they gain a number of technique successes equal to their target, and they do damage equal to their target with every attack. They don't track speed either; they can just keep blazing away, but jedi can still mount momentum and eventually pull a reversal, thus attacking the mooks.

In all cases, 1 point of damage drops a mook, but since they appear in swarms, a squad should last a little while. Not too long though. They are mooks, after all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Speed, Momentum, and Damage

I promised last time that I'd address defenders in this post. However, to make sense of that, I need to talk about techniques in general, so let's break down the technique elements.

Jedi have a speed pool. This is a pool of points that they get every exchange to perform techniques. Each technique has a speed cost. You call out the technique name, pay the speed cost, and perform it, no roll necessary.

Remember that technique roll I talked about last time? There's a slight wrinkle in it. Your technique roll determines what techniques you can perform in an exchange, and also sets your status as the aggressor or defender. However, before you roll you can kick any number of technique dice you want over to your speed pool, giving you more fuel for your techniques.

Technique rolls only grant access to attack techniques. Defense techniques work the same as attacks in that you call out the technique, pay the speed, and perform it automatically. Again, success is assumed. You will block the incoming attack. You just will. Jedi do it too often to leave the outcome to dice.

However, at the top of the defense ladder is a technique called Reverse, which turns you into the aggressor and lets you now lay the smack down on the guy who was beating on you. To get there, you need to accumulate momentum. Each defensive technique earns you a certain amount of momentum. As you gain momentum, more defensive techniques open up to you, culminating in the reverse.

All attack techniques have a damage rating. Much like momentum, you accumulate damage points for performing attack maneuvers. However, this isn't damage done to your opponent for each individual strike. Rather, you keep a running total of all the damage for every technique thrown over the course of the fight. If the defender reverses and becomes the aggressor, his attacks add to that same damage tally.

This total continues over multiple exchanges until someone lands a blow, which means the defender runs out of speed while the aggressor still has enough to make an attack. At that point, you apply all the damage accumulated over the course of the fight to the losing jedi. Results depend on the damage total, and can range from being knocked down and dazed to being maimed or killed.

This models the fact that longer battles in the prequels tended to have higher stakes. Short fights often ended with everyone alive, but the longer the fight went the more serious the consequences for those involved.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On the Attack

I watched all the fight scenes from the prequels in order to make a catalog of maneuvers jedi used with their lightsabers. I was surprised to find there weren't that many. Most of them just used a small collection of moves over and over again, at high speed. So I made a list of these and made them available to all jedi.

You don't get to use all of them all the time though. Instead, at the top of the round (which I'm calling an exchange), you roll your skill with a lightsaber. The number of successes you get determines how many techniques are available to you this exchange. Roll well, and you've got yourself a wide variety of options. Even if you fail utterly though, you'll have your basic slashing attack. Jedi love that one so much that you can always do that. 

Sounds like I'm adding rolls to combat instead of taking them away, doesn't it? Who makes someone roll just to see what kind of attacks they can make? There's an important detail I haven't mentioned yet though: that's the only roll of the exchange. Once you figure out what techniques you can use, you're done with dice. There's no to hit roll. All attacks hit, unless your opponent defends. How often do you see jedi whiff in the movies? You don't They'd always hit, except they're blocked. That's how this works too. 

So when you square off against another jedi, both of you roll your technique. The one who rolls higher gets to be the aggressor, which means the other guy needs to defend himself. The aggressor beats on the defender until he penetrates his defenses and lands a blow, or until the defender turns the tables on him, and all of this happens without dice. I'll get to the defender next though.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bookshelf Fixed!

To any who got an error trying to get documents off the bookshelf, I apologize. There was a little behind the scenes adjustment at one point which messed up the download links without my knowledge. That's been fixed and tested, however, so you should be able to nab anything posted there now. Sorry about that.


Now we get to the core of this game. Lightsabers are the big draw of the jedi. They look cool; they sound cool; and they get a ton of use in the prequels. If this is a game about jedi of the Old Republic, lightsabers have got to have a staring role in the game.

Here's the thing though: traditional RPG combat design just doesn't work for lightsaber combat. First of all, the roll to hit, roll to defend, roll for damage system makes things go far too slowly, especially when you look at the duels in the prequels. In those especially, the lightsabers move from attack to attack with blurred speed. Plus, as I noted in the design elements, no one takes an incidental hit in these films. Again, traditional RPG combat design has you wear down a pool of health or slowly stack up wound levels with a series of hits. That's not what happens in the films.

I've seen hit points abstracted into something else as a way of trying to explain this. For example, in an early d20 version of Star Wars, characters got vitality points and hit points, and combat examples between jedi cited that near hits that the defender blocked were the hits that came off vitality. It's an interesting concept, but to me it felt disingenuous. After all, the defending jedi still had a defense score. You beat that, you land a hit and wear away at his health. Narratively, however, you didn't. There was a conceptual disconnect there that I couldn't bridge.

So in my game, hits will be hits. Real hits. Bad, damaging hits. Anything else doesn't hit.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Quick Resolution

I've learned a surprising amount of stuff from my years of gaming. Among them is that math is slow, even when it uses small numbers. I have played many a game with many different people, most of them intelligent and well educated. For whatever reason, as soon as math came into the game, things slowed to a crawl. I remember playing a D&D game once with an old college buddy. Every time it game to his turn, we'd have to wait while he compiled his bonuses, then added the dice together, a process that took minutes. "12 + 7 is..." Mind you, this man is a software engineer, and a good one, but small number arithmetic totally killed his momentum.

That sort of thing is absolutely unacceptable in this game. This game needs to be fast fast fast. So, no math in the die mechanics. Maybe you'll have to do some adding when pulling dice together to form a pool, but outside of that, no math. That means that successes need to be on a per die basis, not something you reach for by adding multiple dice together.

In the name of simplicity, I'm going to say that targets run from 1 - 5, and you need to beat that number on a d6 for it to be a success. In short, the target tells you what dice fail. Roll your pool, look for the target number and lower, strip them out, and count what's left. The more dice you've got after that, the better you did.

Now there's a mechanic with about as little math as I can imagine.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Using the Force

In the Old Republic, the jedi used the force for everything. Really, everything. It's all over the place. They use it when talking with people, when piloting, when freaking eating. Thus, I've decided to do away with any stats outside of force stats. Anything a jedi does will use the force.

Instead of creating a spell list type index of all the ways a jedi might manifest his power, I'm taking a page from more open magic systems like Mage and Ars Magica and creating an open framework that can be used to create force effects on the fly. I'll be broad here, since simplicity and speed are the orders of the day. Creating something with a lot of detail that takes time to figure out would slow down the action, and that goes counter to one of the design goals.

Taking a quick sampling of the force powers shown in the prequels gives me a pretty good idea of the things the jedi do with the force, and they tend to be just a few tricks. Bonus: going light on the detail won't make anything shown in the films impossible.

I'm thinking of three pairs of scores: Sense/Action, Self/Other, Mind/Body. To perform an action with the force, the jedi defines it with one score from each pair, adds up the scores to get his pool and rolls his dice. Using this mechanic, you can recreate anything shown on the big screen in no time.

Oh yeah, dice. I should probably work out how those work....

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jedi Duels: Essential Elements

Star Wars is a pretty big canvas, and it expands dramatically when you look past the big screen into all the novels and comic books. I'm not doing any of that. In fact, I'm sticking to the second set of movies, and only a narrow section of those. Hey, I don't have the SW RPG license, so I only want to attempt so much with this.

If this game is all about being jedi, specifically jedi in the Old Republic as established by the prequels, by my estimation I need the following things in this game:

  1. Speed - Jedi action is fast, extremely, unrelentingly fast. The resolution mechanic needs to be simple to an extreme degree in all aspects so that action can be resolved as close to instantly as possible.
  2. No Incidental Injuries - People get hurt in these films, but there's no slow wearing down of someone's vitality, no death by papercuts. Thus standard damage tracking like hit points or cumulative wound levels are inappropriate here. You're either hurt really badly or you can ignore it. 
And that's it. Sure, there's talk of succumbing to the dark side, but in the prequels, despite them supposedly being about someone falling, there's very little teetering on the precipice. I didn't see Anakan as someone who was all that centered and serene to begin with. He was moody and violent and in general dark side material from the get go. Meanwhile, everyone else never once felt tempted to go dark. These films aren't the originals, where we see a good Luke pushed to the edge by circumstance and only through introspection and discipline pull himself back.

Now, I think a Star Wars game focusing on jedi could result in tremendously deep character play if you make a good mechanic that tempts you to the dark side. Actually, that sounds awesome, but it wouldn't be one modeling the prequels. That game would, by its nature, be more suited for campaign play because it would require character investment and development. That's more than I've got time for. So instead, as a light throw away game, I'm concentrating on the action and skipping the character.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A New Project

With two alternate versions of Shadowrun done, I decided to grab a random thought and try a quick RPG as a mental doodle. That random idea was Star Wars.

Ooh, how original Cliff! It's not like there hasn't been a Star Wars RPG since the mid-80s, and 2 versions released later by Wizards of the Coast. You're right. This isn't exactly virgin territory. In fact, I played both the WEG d6 version of Star Wars and gave the d20 (pre-Saga) game a few briefly lived tries.

For this game though, I was dead set on modeling an RPG based on the action and visuals of the prequels. Why? I have no idea. I didn't even like the prequels. I do like jedi though, and the prequels had a whole lot more of them than the original film (though not a one of them were interesting at all).

You know what the prequels had a lot of though? Lightsabers. Lightsabers and lightsaber duels. And that's pretty cool.

So that's what this new project's about: a game that manages lightning fast lightsaber combat based on the style presented in the prequel Star Wars films. You know what I just realized? In order to do this right, I'm going to have to watch the prequels again. At least the fight scenes.

Wish me luck.