Posts Tagged ‘beginnings’

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned a game idea I had, provisionally titled “CIC”. It’s inspired by Battlestar Galactica and Mass Effect, among other things – military sci-fi in flavour, but primarily about very real and very flawed people in positions of power and under a lot of pressure.

Back then I said that I might use Apocalypse World as a model, primarily because (a) its mechanics enforce a “nothing’s ever straightforward” narrative pattern that fits perfectly with the source material, and (b) I really like it.

And indeed, as I’ve started actually thinking about the design, I’ve decided that at least for the prototype, it will essentially be an Apocalypse World hack. That’ll give me enough framework to get started, and once I have something to test, I can adjust and move a bit away from AW if I want to.

(As it happens, there’s already an AW hack for BSG, by Sean Nittner. Sean was kind enough to let me see an early draft he was working on, and it looked excellent – but a little too BSG-specific for what I’m wanting to do here. He’s updated it a lot since that draft, though, and I really need to go and catch up with the developments.)

Anyway, after a whole bunch of writing, editing, re-thinking and procrastinating, here are the high-level basics so far. It’s not yet a full prototype, but it’s a start.

Basic Moves & Stats

These essentially go hand-in-hand. Once you know what moves people are going to make, you can group them into associated blocks and have a stat powering each one. So I started by listing all the things I’d want characters to be able to do – not literally everything, you understand, but all the things that should be dramatically important, i.e. the things the system should focus on. I came up with a whole bunch of moves, far more than would be usable, but I combined some and removed some and have whittled it down to:

  • Command
    • Tell someone “or else…”
    • Drive a hard bargain
  • Charm
    • Promise someone something
    • Bluff, lie or misdirect
  • Fight
    • Make a daring attack (physical or social!)
  • Grit
    • Remain calm under pressure
  • Tactics
    • Control a situation
    • Read a situation
  • Mystic
    • See visions
    • Get a bad feeling about this
  • Hx (as per the AW stat)
    • Read a person

That’s still a few more than I’d like, but I’ll run some playtests and see how I might be able to cut the list down. There are also some obvious things missing – e.g. the first move I came up with, “Give someone an order they don’t like” – but they’ll come later as part of the character-specific moves.

I’ll go into more detail on these in future posts, or maybe just by releasing the damn game :-) There’ll also be a separate set of moves for battles – along the lines of the battle moves in AW, but very slightly more detailed, and in this game they won’t be optional. (Those rules are right for AW, but I think for a military game the battles need to have more support for driving the story. I may be wrong! We’ll see.)

Character Creation

To me, the unique playbooks of Apocalypse World didn’t fit with the source material. I decided to go with a more modular approach, building stuff in from a few different lists to construct a full character. So, characters will have:

  • Area of Operations: Senior Military, Junior Military, Tech, Political, Religious, Scientific, etc.
  • Position: this is the official position in the fictional social structure – President, Aide, Chief Scientist, Admiral, XO, CAG, Priest, etc. Available Positions obviously depend on the chosen Area of Operations.
  • Role: this is the persona of your character – something that’s only identifiable outside of the fiction, unlike Position which is an in-fiction concept. Things like Hotshot, Prophet, Troublemaker, Agitator, Paragon, etc. Needs a better name, I think.
  • Virtues & Flaws – just to add a little definition to your character. How does your President/Prophet behave? How does your Admiral/Paragon come across?

These choices will give the character their stat adjustments, character-specific moves and Hx setup details. The top three at least will be changeable via the character development mechanics – e.g. becoming a Prophet when previously you were a Troublemaker.

Cast

For this game to work well, I think it needs quite a big cast of characters. One of the key things to focus on is the inter-relationship between the different types of power – essentially the different Areas of Operations above – and there need to be enough characters than we can examine interactions both within and between those groups. As a result, I think the game will ask players to play more than one character (*gasp*).

Each player will have a handful of characters, and indeed the GM’s (or MC’s, in Apocalypse World terms) characters will be limited only to supporting cast – pretty much anyone who’s going to be significant in the story should be played by a non-MC player. (There may be exceptions for characters on other “sides”, but they won’t be the focus of play anyway.) The MC’s job will be to put pressure on if needed, but largely the story will come out of the interactions among these many protagonists. Note this also means everyone will have Hx (which is a PC-only stat) with all other significant characters, which is why Hx for Read Person (way above) is hopefully not as unusable as it initially appears.

Action Stations!

So those are the first steps. More in subsequent posts, but probably not until I’ve put up some stuff about the other games I’m working on… :-) As ever, if anything catches your interest and you want to hear more, let me know!

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I’ve looked at a bunch of roleplay game systems, played a few, read many articles about them, ranted a lot and thought a lot more, and I’m increasingly drawn to the conclusion that the only way I’ll find the perfect system is if I write it myself.

Alright, that’s not actually true. I’m sure that there are plenty of systems out there that I’d really enjoy. There may even be some that I wouldn’t want to tweak, even a little bit, even just to be contrary. But I do think that designing a system will be a good way to analyse what I want from the game, and what part the system plays in delivering that. And if I end up with a usable product as part of that process, so much the better.

So where do I start…? Well, it’s all too easy to jump on tweaks I have made or would like to make to existing systems – but that misses the point. Just because something improves one particular system doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do in a scratch-built system. I think to truly start from the beginning, I need to establish what I want the system to deliver. What are my objectives?

It’s at this point that I start bandying around terms like “realistic”, “story-focussed” and so forth – but I still don’t feel this is core of the matter. Do I really care if it’s realistic, provided that it gives me the kind of experience I’m after? Should it really be story-focussed, or is there something more central to the experience I want from the game? I need to be thinking in very, very broad terms.

Ultimately, I suppose I want it to be engaging, both for the players and the GM. I also want it to be satisfying for the same people. Yeah, those sound suitably vague. Let me examine exactly what I mean.

  • Engaging: I want it to produce a game that’s interesting, stimulating and challenging for both the players and the GM.
  • Satisfying: I also want it to feel “complete”, i.e. not to feel like something is lacking or unfinished or half-baked.

The two are closely related, of course, but I think there is some separation, perhaps best clarified with an example. I can envisage a system which provides extremely engaging gameplay but which contains some glaringly unrealistic mechanics. Sure, this might not prevent the actual in-game experience from being thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable, but somewhere in the back of my brain it’d be bugging me. And that’s what I mean by “satisfying” – I want it to not bug me. I want it to feel right.

I should clarify who the players and the GM are – obviously that directly affects what they find engaging and satisfying. At the risk of sounding egomaniacal, I think they are both me – not because I have a habit of running games in which I am all the players, but because I want to write the sort of system I would enjoy playing in, and would also enjoy GMing. As I mentioned above, it’s at least as much a learning exercise as it is about producing a finished system – and I’m only going to learn about my own relationship with gaming if I consider myself to be the audience I’m aiming to please. So that’s what I’ll do.

Ok. So we have two properties to aim for; two criteria on which the final system will be judged. Sure, they’re very nebulous, but they provide some direction for considering the more specific features of the system, to ensure that they really are going to produce the result I want. That’ll be the next step. For now, this foundation is an excellent start.