Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Core Mechanic

So, with a core "about" statement, let's move on to question 2. How is this game about that? First and foremost, if it's going to be about avoiding being a mindless drone, there needs to be some kind of identity score, an "individuality" stat, maybe we can call it "punk" in homage to the literary source. That stands for how far apart from being a mindless consumer you are, and how outside society you are. That, by extension means that being a part of society has to be bad, as in mechanically bad. Remember, it doesn't matter what the flavor text of your game is, if there's no rule for it, your players won't care. Thus if being acclimated into pop culture is a bad thing, there needs to be something in the rules themselves that make it bad. 

One of the terms you hear time and again in cyberpunk RPGs is "edge." It's something that you're always after, and even if you're on it one minute, you might slip and fall behind the next. It takes constant work to stay on the edge. I'm thinking the more you're into chasing down the latest Brittany or Justin Beiber video or voting for the newest round of American Idol or whatever, the less you're keeping your edge, so maybe your punk score has something to do with either setting your max skill rating or the threshold over which the cost for increasing a skill jumps dramatically. Or maybe, like tech, you need to work just to stay relevant (think computing speed, and what's considered average now vs, five years ago), so there's a maintenance cost for your skills just to keep them the same (as in relatively effective given a growing world), and your punk helps offset that maintenance cost by preventing you from sinking too much time into consumerism that doesn't promote personal growth.
Hmm... I'm going to flash forward briefly and look at question 3, which asks how that's fun. While the idea of maintaining your skills relative to a growing world is realistic, and there's a thematic resonance between that mechanic and the tech industry to which cyberpunk owes its existence, I don't think working to keep what you have makes for a fun game, so let's jettison that.
Okay, so we're back to punk vs pop culture. I'm a big believer in rewarding player choice rather than penalizing it, so I'd like to make this conflict one that gives the player a bonus of some kind, rather than takes something away. The loss can be the forfeiture of the potential bonus. It's easier to swallow. Since I'm on a dual die design kick these days, I'm going to make some assumptions for the moment just to put some ideas down and move on. Let's say this is a die pool system, and that 5s and better are successes. You roll a number of dice equal to your skill. Dice up to your punk rating are d10s, because that's your edge. Anything over that are d6s. This means that you won't lose your character if you fully acclimate into pop society, but you'll be soft by comparison to those living on the edge. There's a mechanical incentive to staying individualized.
Hmm... maybe we should split the edge and punk ratings. That is, make punk = edge in the beginning, but allow some method of growing edge beyond punk. Punk then creates some sort of insulation, but doesn't create a ceiling. Eh, it's a nebulous idea to let circulate in the idea cloud for now.

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