Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Alternate Take on Getting Bloody

The other thing that my playtesters for this new game hated was the wounding mechanics. One of them struggled mightily to understand how bloodying Hope points worked, especially the half bloodied points. He eventually got angry over the matter and began suggesting a return to hit points because they were simple and easy to grasp. Everyone eventually got it, but few liked it.

So, in the interest of simplicity, I'm chucking chips as a tracking tool. They're gone. The introduction of ideals into the game gets rid of the need to track dice and points separately, so we can just put a pool of dice in front of each player and they'll grab additional d10s for rolling with their ideals as needed.

But a return to an all dice tracking method brings us back to that issue of half-bloodied hope dice, doesn't it? It would, except I'm getting rid of that too. Now, a die is either clean, bloody, or bruised. None of this half stuff. Now it takes 2 points of damage to bloody a hope die and 1 point to bloody a destiny die. If you've got an odd point and no destiny dice available to take the damage, you ignore the hit. This removes the confusion of having chips AND dice and puts the tracking all in one place.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A New-ish XP Idea

I'm putting together a playtesting group to give Heroes of Destiny (which, given the last post, may require a new name now...) a thorough trial. The first session wasn't any actual play, but just involved a tour of the system and an agreement as to what we'd play. They chose western.

But more than that, they hated some of the things about this game. I mean hated. The biggest thing? No experience points. Oh, the gnashing of teeth over this. Every argument in the world was levied against GM fiat awards. That single idea was so overwhelmingly despised, it was the one thing no one wanted to even try. Can it. Replace it. Give us points we can spend and plan to spend. Already I could conjure hours of endless point distribution discussions.

I compromised. I wrote an experience system into the game and assigned point costs to everything. You can now plan out how you'll spend your points for years to come. However, I deviated from the standard practice of the GM awarding points at the end of every session or adventure. That's gone. The GM now has no role in handing out experience unless he chooses to make one for himself.

Instead, you gain experience points by taking actions that are important to your character .Whenever you make a roll that ties into one of your dreams, you get 2xp. If you make the roll, you get 3xp instead. Likewise, whenever you make a roll that ties into one of your ideals, you get 1xp. If you succeed, you get 2xp instead.

Under this method, you still obviously accumulate points and spend them on increasing your various character traits, but in order to get that experience you need to continually play up what's important to your character. I think, in the final analysis, this is a better system than what I had before. Much as I resisted it at first, my guys were right in a lot of the arguments they raised. Putting advancement to points relieves the GM of a lot of responsibility and makes it feel like a fair and even system. However, tying this into how the character is played, instead of putting it on the GM to assess individual player performance, or ignore it in the interest of equality, keeps the attention on the character as a character, at least at the table. We'll see how it works out.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Introducing Ideals

In an ongoing refinement of Heroes of Destiny, I took a hard look at the conversion from Destiny points to dice. The 1.5x conversion rate didn't seem hard to me, but every playtester I showed it to was left utterly baffled, and even those who got it didn't like it. I thought maybe it was a learning curve issue, but it remained a distinctly unpopular mechanic.

I still wanted some kind of way to get more Destiny dice though. So I started thinking about that idea I'd looked at way back at the beginning of this project, some way to give a player different flavors of destiny for his character. What I came up with are ideals.

Ideals are to Destiny what dreams.are to Hope. Each Destiny point you have gets assigned to an ideal. It's something you believe in strongly, and when you spend Destiny toward accomplishing or upholding one of your ideas, you get 2 dice instead of 1, up to the ideal's rating. This cuts out the weird math while maintaining an ability to coax more dice from your pool.

More than that, though, it transforms the game in a fundamental way. Instead of playing heroes who are continually compelled by some nebulous force of fate, the characters in this game now continually face the question of choosing between what they love and what they believe in.

What do you believe in strongly enough to choose over that which you love?

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Use for Dreams

I wanted to make players dice hungry in this system, and I've certainly done that, but it looks like they're a little too hungry. There needs to be something else that can snag them dice. So I decided to leverage a character's dreams (which is what I'm now calling hopes, since having hopes and hope points was getting confusing) in order to give them an additional bonus.

You can still endanger your dreams to get dice, but now whenever you act to directly protect any of your dreams from danger, you automatically get that dream's rating in Hope with no risk of becoming estranged from it like normal. It's that adrenaline rush you hear about that lets a mother lift a car off her kid.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heroes of Destiny: The First Playtest

After much revision an messing around with the game on my own, I finally had an opportunity to give Heroes of Destiny a try in a full fledged game session. My normal 7th Sea game had to skip a week due to the host being called out of town on work (in the middle of his scheduled vacation no less). While he offered us use of his place despite his absence, we decided it would be better to hold off until he got back.

That left us with a week with a slot of empty time normally dedicated to gaming. So I floated the idea of giving this game system a whirl. It's been background noise in conversations to date, and I've discussed it in various stages of development with nearly everyone, but none knew much about it in anything but the vaguest terms. They agreed to have at it. One offered to destroy it for me, since he views that as his role as the playtester (and it's one I appreciate).

While I call the game Heroes of Destiny, it's got another, in house development name: Fantasy, Bitches! For this inaugural playtest, I rolled out Swashbuckling, Bitches!, and set it in the same world and city as the 7th Sea game I'm currently running. I made characters that were identified as much by their nationality as anything else, just as 7th Sea does, and in short represented the setting of 7th Sea through the Heroes mechanics. This so that there'd be absolutely no ramp up in terms of getting a feel for the world. I wanted the only new thing to be the mechanics. In that, it worked absolutely perfectly. No one once complained that things didn't feel right or that there were aspects of the setting that were being forced into the game but didn't fit. Mind you, we played for 2 hours and no one was playing a sorcerer, so it was an extremely limited sampling, but as far as the pedestrian stuff, it worked.

I made the characters, and while that gives me both a bias and an advantage in that I understood how the mechanics of chargen are supposed to work, I found the process both quick and thought provoking. I concentrated on giving people talents and trainings that were both descriptive and broad, not only because that's how I think they should work, but to highlight how the system can work. One character had a training called "Work the Sword Cane," and another had a talent of "I know what kills people." Both were assumed to be combat skills, which they certainly could be used as, but I had opportunity to demonstrate how they could be expanded beyond that when the sword cane man decided to charm someone and I pointed out that he could add a little flare with the cane to added effect. After the session I pointed out a few examples of non-combat applications of kill knowledge, such as investigating a murder scene or performing an autopsy. That aspect of the game went over big. As soon as the potential breadth was pointed out, people ran wild with potential applications for what was on their sheet.

The target of 5 seems like a good one. It requires people to dedicate serious effort to anything they want to accomplish, especially in the beginning. Even with a large pile of Hope dice, people were routinely coming up with small numbers of successes. The need to throw in Destiny established itself early.

Something I didn't expect was how tightly people clung to their hopes. As soon as I explained destiny creep and how it eroded hope, I got hit with questions about reversing that, and once in play, there was a real reluctance to throw any destiny, even when people were loaded up with 9 Hope. I did expect the choice to be hard, but this was more than I anticipated. Someone did point out the possibility of a player potentially deciding to forever be mediocre and never use Destiny, but when I explained that bloodying Destiny counts as use, he figured it would be an ultimately self correcting problem. Another player figured that while the choice is hard, the desire to have a cool character (defined by higher levels of competence) would balance out the price of Hope.

There was, however, a fair bit of confusion about the conversion rates of points to dice. It wasn't a rules problem so much as it was a problem with explaining the concept. In the discussion that followed the game we came up with an alternate tracking method. It doesn't change the rules, but does change what you see on the table. In short, you start with all point in your pool. You then convert them to dice when you want to act at the top of an exchange, but track your damage in points still. Previously I was tracking Hope with dice (since they're always 1:1) and Destiny with poker chips (since they give more dice the more you spend). I'll be writing that up and we'll try this method when we have another game.

Finally, we didn't get much of a chance to try it out in a 2 hour session, but at the very end of the game someone endangered Hope, and while the extra dice didn't help our errant hero, the explanation of what happened to his hopes on account of his actions made a bell go off for the mechanic. I'd explained it before, but when people saw how it worked, both in terms of dice and in terms of the game narrative, they found they liked it quite a bit. There was a lot of reluctance to use the option because of that aforementioned tight personal cling to hopes, but it seemed well received when the effects came into view.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Heroes from All Sorts of Places

It occurred to me during the development process that Heroes of Destiny could serve as an engine for a number of genres, not just fantasy. That's not to say it's a universal system, because it's not, and my forays into RPG design have lead me to believe that universal systems are by necessity bland.

This game is about something specific: the rise of a character from rich but somewhat humble origins to greatness at the cost of those things most dear to him. Its focus has nothing to do with genre, so as long as the genre supports characters with deep, personal connections to things they stand to lose and a rise in greatness, it works.

In messing around with the rule set, I've seen the following potential alternate takes:

  • Swashbuckling - I'm running 7th Sea right now, so of course I'd drift here first, but it does follow. Swashbuckling is a genre of high action and romance. There can be plenty of epic struggle here, and heroes rising up against a corrupt political power is very much in line with this genre. The romantic aspect of the genre sits well with the hope mechanics in this game, though stories told with this system may have a greater tragic element than in other games. 
  • Westerns - As a genre, at least in the movies, Westerns often involve rough characters who have some pretty ambiguous morals. Certainly that's the realm of the spaghetti western and The Man with No Name Eastwood portrayed so many times. However, more modern takes on the genre sprinkle in a hefty dose of heroism too. Look at Tombstone or 7:10 to Yuma. If everyone at the table establishes that this is the sort of western they're going to play, Heroes of Destiny is a good fit.
  • Supers - The base mechanics would need some adjustment in order to deal with the increased level of power present in a supers game, but it's certainly possible to handle such stories in this game, with one big caveat. Superhero stories, at least as shown to us in the comics, tend to be static. Yeah, things do change over time, but how long did it take Lois to finally discover Superman's identity? When's the last time a major hero died and stayed dead? Things have a way of returning to the status quo pretty regularly in the comic book world, and that's not the kind of story that this game is designed to tell. However, within comic history there are a number of isolated arcs that, if taken out of the larger flow before later issues reversed them, serve as great examples of the kind of superhero tale perfect for this game. Look at Spider-man and the Green Goblin when he accidentally killed Gwen Stacey. Look at the Doomsday rampage, or No Man's Land. Stories which really push the hero to the limits and put at risk everything he holds dear are perfect for this, as long as the campaign doesn't later undo any big changes. The big difference here is that Heroes of Destiny is designed to ultimately come to an end. comic book stories aren't. 
  • Space Opera - Given that space opera is really just fantasy in different clothes, there's absolutely no reason to think that this game would have difficulty in dealing with the genre. You'd need some rules for ranged weapons, assuming you're not comfortable reskinning bows as blasters, and there should probably be some vehicle rules too, but outside of that, it's almost good to go out of the box.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tweaking Gifts

Small edit here: Instead of adding successes, gifts now guarantee successes. They can transform a certain number of dice from failures to successes, but can't add more successes to a roll than the number of dice dedicated to the effort. This makes the character more dice dependent, thus more likely to endanger his hopes and spend more destiny. It also prevents gifts from overpowering other options by effectively granting free actions.

Also, gifts are now pools of automatic success conversions available once per exchange, not unlimited bonuses added to all actions. This brings them in line with talents and trainings.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Damage Revision

I've done some playtesting on my own with the new system. Overall, the die system seems to be working okay. I can stat up two people have have them slug it out without any major difficulties.

With one exception: damage.

Damage as it currently works is like hitting people in full plate with papercuts. Someone will eventually drop, but every single fight will be interminable. That's because your damage is based on the margin of success of the attack roll and nothing else, and the margin of victory on an attack roll tends to be a point or two, almost never higher.

To resolve this, I'm setting the damage of an attack at the margin plus the total effort of the attack. That means that even dice that don't come up successes still factor into the hit (assuming you connect). This has the happy side effect of making people more dice hungry, thus encouraging endangering hopes and spending more destiny.

This does make multiple attacks, such as those granted by some potencies, less effective though. You split your effort pool to make multiple attacks, which now have a lower chance to hit and do less damage to boot. Not a good deal. To make up for that, multiple attacks do cumulative damage in terms of effort. For example, if you make two attacks, one with 3 effort and one with 4, the first attack will do 3 + margin damage. The second, however, will do 7 + margin damage. 4 for its own effort and 3 for the effort of the first attack. If, somehow, the character had a third attack too, it would add the effort of that attack to the 7 total effort of the prior two attacks when figuring base damage.