Friday, 5 April 2019

Game Sketch: Earth Superleader Macrofortress

Characters play various world leaders who know each other and have both domestic and international concerns.

One: Scenes

  1. Conference calls. These are calls between the world leaders petitioning each other for help, admonishing behaviour, demanding love, and so on. Game model is Dramasystem with a relationship map, dramatic poles and emotional concessions etc.
  2. National issues. Each world leader has a political concern which they have to address, and to do this they need to take certain political actions; they can do this by using Drama Tokens earned in Conference Calls. Their handling of their situation will determine their ranking amongst their peers.

Two: Interdimensional Threat

As the game progresses the threat of a malign alien intelligence looms over the world. This is signified by a Threat Counter which increases over time (similar to the Doom Track in Arkham Horror). Furthermore all National Issues stem from this alien threat, and the characters will balance solving their National Issues with the greater good; fixing national problems to remain in power has an adverse affect on the Threat Counter.

Three: End Game

At some point, all of the world leaders will have to band together to fight the alien menace. Here they will literally merge into one entity, the Earth Superleader Macrofortress (ESM) and do battle with the entity in time-honoured fashion.

  • Their national standing will determine which part of the ESM they occupy. The most prestigious is the head which makes all the strategic decisions in the fight. After that the limbs make many of the tactical decisions under the direction of the head. The least prestigious is probably the gut, which exists only to power head and limbs and generate waste with no decision-making in itself.
  • Each PC therefore has a decision to make: increase their national standing to ensure the highest prestige in the endgame, but at the cost of making the final threat stronger.

Four: Fluff

The actual fictional basis for the ESM can be decided by the group. Examples:

(a) consider world governments constructing their ESM platforms in space; at the end of the game the world leaders are brought up to their respective platforms via space elevator, and will pilot their individual craft and merge them into the ESM to do battle. At the end of the battle they may or may not have enough power to return to Earth.

(b) the world leaders will at the point of crisis be biologically shaped, enhanced and fused together into one monstrous giant which can do battle with the alien threat in a remote desert area. Assuming the fused leaders prevail, they are then fused together for the rest of their days (and may or may not be functionally immortal); and given their gross collective body, they can no longer exist on land for long periods of time. Instead they must wander into the ocean so their massive form is supported (consider the undines in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun) and become a new Leviathan. They may in time encounter other Leviathans, fused world leaders of previous ages, now doomed to haunt the depths, becoming legend to a population with all too short a memory.


This idea inspired System Mastery 144: Cyborg Commando and the concept of five world leaders assembling to form Voltron. I used to own Cyborg Commando; I bought it in a sale in the late 80s for £4.10. It is utterly horrible.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

OSR alt combat

In a week or so I’ll be running StormHack (Black Hack, Whitehack, Chaosium’s Stormbringer) at Concrete Cow. This is a modified combat system for OSR systems.

Monsters

Monsters have

  • Armour Class, a success threshold
  • Hit Dice, to be thrown down on the table to indicate the monster’s damage
  • Damage, which they cause on weak hits and misses

Making attacks

When a character makes an attack, roll d20 vs an appropriate Ability (e.g. STR).

  • If the roll is below the PC’s STR but above the monster’s AC, it’s a hit and damage is done to the monster
  • If the roll is above the PC’s STR it’s a miss and the PC takes damage
  • If the roll is below the monster’s AC it’s a weak hit (assuming it’s also below the character’s STR) and the PC takes minor damage

Damage to Monsters

The base damage is the actual number on the d20, minus the monster’s AC. On top of that if the character has any weapons (including Demons of Violence) they get to roll dice and add that to the total.

When they do damage to monsters it’s applied directly to the hit dice on the table. By default only one die can be taken off at a time and the whole number on the die must be beaten (e.g. a d6 reading 5 needs 5 or more points to defeat it). Abilities allow PCs to split damage between dice, hold and stack damage from previous rolls, etc.

Damage to PCs

During combat if the PC takes damage, the GM gives them a token. These can be black tokens (Fatigue) or red tokens (Harm). These add up over the course of the combat.
(Tokens can also be gained outside combat).

At the end of the combat, the PC rolls a Body saving throw. These are handled like Resource Dice in the Black Hack. The number of red tokens modifies the die roll. Actual wounds are counted as the number of red tokens minus the die roll.

Spot rules:

  • Occasionally damage is checked during combat, if the amount of harm exceeds a certain threshold.
  • Wounds are applied to one or more Ability Scores (Traveller style).
  • Armour and shields provide their own Resource Dice which can be used in place of the Body roll, both during combat and after.
  • Wounds can also have other effects; these will be dependent on the kind of damage the Monster does. For example, disease, corruption, poison, paralysis, bad odour.

Survivability

This system will make characters (a) more likely to take damage but (b) also more likely to survive it. There are reasons for this:

  1. The in-combat accumulation of points on the table should tell the players how tired and beaten up their characters are, so at any point they can choose to quit or continue. However they’re not obliged to do so unless the situation forces a roll from them.
  2. This means they can continue to have heroic fights against impossible odds, and otherwise survive. Furthermore the presence of demon armour (demons of durance) makes it easier for them to shrug off hits.
  3. Unlike other OSR games this game is less likely to make a character drop dead suddenly. Instead, they get debilitating injuries which need to be healed.
  4. If the characters use their demons to survive, their demons in turn gain Malice and the power to transgress. This transgression is a basic levelling-up of the demon, and it’s accompanied with new complications for the character — erosion of their friendships, gaining notoriety, etc. Thus you want the characters to survive, so they can transform and become more demonic.

TTFN

Sunday, 24 February 2019

The City Accelerated

Years ago I wrote a series of blog posts around the “City Accelerator”, a tool for creating and growing TTRPG cities (using partial inspiration from CRPGs).

I updated and collected the ideas in this document. It’s about 15 pages long and under 4000 words, too long for a single blog post, so this is a summary.

Goals

The aims were:

  1. Focus on the details that matter
  2. Player-facing; everything on the table
  3. Involve the PCs in the city
  4. Involve the players in the world-building

Method

This is how the tool is supposed to work. It has three sub-systems.

The first system considers a topological approach of Districts connected with Entry Points and populated by Spaces. Spaces are where scenes actually happen. Districts and Spaces can be tagged with descriptions such as “open”, “close”, “high”, “dirty”, “noble”, “crime” &c. Spaces inherit the tags from their District but also have their own individual tags.

The second system considers the people in the city, in three tiers. Pawns and Knights occupy the lowest tier as Free Agents, Bishops and Rooks hold the middle tier as the feudal lords of the city, and the King and Queen occupy the highest tier. Each kind of character has a certain property, e.g. Knights have Ambition, Bishops have Territory, the King has Divinity. Crucially moving between tiers strips a character of the property of their old role when then enter the new one (e.g. a Knight becoming a Bishop loses Ambition and gains Territory).

The third system is just a brainstorm around a set of questions around the sights that a visitor to the city might see, from seeing the city in the distance all the way to walking through the city to its Heart.

I’m going to develop three examples based on current and old RPGs I’ve run. One is a sort of traditional fantasy pre-apocalyptic game called Glory that I ran in the early 2000s (inspired by Viriconium as well as Grant Morrison), one is a modern OSR-ish game called Black Mantle that I’ve blogged about, and the third is Lag which is definitely at the Indie/Storygame end of the scale, and which I’m just getting into with the first few playtest games.

Comments welcome.

Addendum: later finds

These are resources I discovered after writing the original blog posts, but which complement the tool really well:

  • In Corpathium is a brilliant dice-on-the-table method for randomising city districts (I like dice on the table). The author is a Viriconium fan, too. The method proposed is totally compatible with mapping out Districts.
  • Sine Nomine games use location tags for fantasy, sf and modern horror RPGs; potential inspiration for all kinds of city tags.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Lag: the End

Begin with the end in mind, right? Here is a section on how to wrap up a campaign of Lag.

Finishing a game

As the game progresses through scenes, each character’s Arc will be explored through their Mission and Calls Home. Throughout this process the characters’ time zones will move from Home to local time, with an accompanying shift in Lag.

Character Arcs conclude in one of two ways:

  1. Going Home. The character returns to their point of origin, either willingly or not.
  2. Stay behind. The character could become naturalised, they could move on instead of going home, they could die, or they could abscond.

Which conclusion happens may be well signposted during play, or it may be a surprise. But one character will always Go Home, and one always Stays Behind.

(simple version)

The game enters its final stage when at least one character’s personal Time Zone equalises with Local Time (i.e. minimum local Lag, and maximum Lag for Calls Home). At that point the character may have two further scenes of their choice. One scene must resolve their Mission, and the other can either resolve their connection Home, or bid farewell to one or more PCs in a Hotel Encounter. After the second scene, they will take their Avatar off the time zone track and place it on the Going Home tile, and narrate their exit.

Following the first character’s exit, all other players must then resolve their Arcs within two scenes of the first character’s scene as before. The last character to conclude must Stay, and the other characters get a free choice.

(alternative version)

There are two Exit Cards on the table: one for Going Home and another for Staying. The first character to end their Arc picks whichever card they want and narrates what happens after they leave the Hotel.

The second character must take the other remaining card on the table; so if the first character Stays, they Go Home.
We now have two players holding Exit Cards. They may intrude on the remaining player’s final scenes as themselves, as NPCs, even as characters from Home by spending Drama Tokens as usual; and just like the other Dramatic Scenes this character wants some concession from the leaving character. If the leaving character grants the concession they accept the card and narrate their exit accordingly. If they refuse they must take the other card from the other player, who narrates that character’s exit and hands their card over.

Once the leaving character’s player has accepted a card they may use it in play in the same way.

(remarks)

I think I prefer the second option because it’s in keeping with the token economy of Dramasystem; but it’s reliant on leaving characters holding excess drama tokens on their exit for it to work. Playtesting needed.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Lag

This is a role-playing game about displacement, jet lag and home sickness. The characters are strangers staying in a luxury hotel in a foreign country.

During play the characters will discover the world outside their hotel life, have meaningful discussions in the hotel bar, and difficult conversations with whoever it is on the other end of the call home.

Lag

All of the characters suffer from Lag, the difference between their personal time zone, the time zone they left and local time. As the game progresses the characters will move away from their home time zone as they adjust to local time.

Scenes

During the game the players explore each character’s arc in three kinds of scenes:

Mission scenes explore the character’s reason for being here, and will involve their local contacts (to be played by other players). These will be connected with their Archetype (see below).

Calls home scenes explore the character’s ties back home. These connections may be personal (e.g. family, lovers) or professional (e.g. Head Office).

Hotel encounter scenes with other characters in the hotel. Chance encounters in the elevator, the bar, waiting outside the hotel for the morning taxi.

Archetypes

The Celebrity

This Archetype is all about connecting with fans and the public. Their Mission is to entertain, promote something or otherwise use their face and media presence for commercial gain.

The Corporate

This character is here to work with other members of their organisation. They may be discussing strategy, dividing spoils, or electing a leader. The character may well have to defend their territory from rivals.

The Entourage

They’re here simply as a hanger-on to someone else. They may be a child, a lover, or a freeloader. Their mission will be to make the best of their situation and not become bored.

The Entrepreneur

This person is here to buy or sell. Their wares could be rare, illegal or highly valuable; whatever the reason they need to be here to make the deal in person.

The Exile

This character is running from something. Maybe they’re a fugitive from justice, perhaps they’re a disgraced VIP, or they could be a refugee from a war zone.

The Hatchet

This character is a troubleshooter is here to fix a problem that relies on their expertise. This may involve a technical problem, political situation, or silencing someone. Expect hard decisions and not making any friends.

The Pilgrim

The Pilgrim is here to find something. It could be a reconciliation with a lost child or lover. It could be treasure, knowledge, or spiritual enlightenment. It could be inspiration for their next masterpiece.

The Player

This character is a criminal intent on theft of something from an individual or organisation. It could be a heist, a confidence trick, or state or industrial espionage.

Back Home

Examples of people you have left back home:

Domestic

The Domestic connection indicates a family member, dependent or lover. This relationship hinges on personal obligation and conversations will hinge on emotional connections such as family obligations, the status of a relationship, or guilt at being here and not at home to take care of the other person.

Head Office

This is someone with a position of power over the character. Obviously this could be a company boss, but equally it could be a crime boss, a family patriarch or matriarch, or even a client. In each case the conversation will hinge around business obligations, and the cost of the character’s inaction (both threats on the person and what failure means for the character’s organisation).

Nemesis

The last category is someone who poses a real threat to the character. They could be a rival who is eyeing up your territory, a cop who is convinced of your guilt, or a blackmailer who is trying to force you to do something.

The city state

The city-state is a peculiar mixture of ostentatious new wealth and conservative attitudes. It’s eager to court foreign business, and the city centre is a luxurious tourist hotspot and temple to capitalism with outstanding hotels for business guests and a dazzling array of restaurants and retail outlets to tempt passing travellers on an overnight layover. But outside this centre the state rules the population with draconian laws, overcrowding is severe and the gap between rich and poor is vast.

Systems

My first go-to system is Dramasystem and specifically Malandros for the dramatic vs. procedural scenes. In this example the Procedural scenes will probably fit with the character’s personal Mission, and the Dramatic ones will work with Hotel encounters and Calls Home.

PbtA is the alternative, which could work with the usual setup (follow the characters around for the first session) but might require careful consideration of the various Fronts.

Also, playbooks.

Inspiration

Mostly inspired by working for weeks on end in Singapore with an 8 hour time difference from home.

Film examples

RPG examples: Over The Edge (obviously).