Refocusing and Trashing Mechanics

Main Topic

One of the most important parts of designing anything – whether its an RPG, a program, an essay, a machine, etc – is knowing what you need and what you don’t. Really focusing down on what your project is actually about.

For those of you who don’t know, my RPG is a game designed for West Marches type games – expansive games, often times for large, rotating groups. They are typically based around exploring the wilderness, discovering secrets of the world, etc. So, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking re: where my mechanics are going.

I thought it would be really cool to have subthemes about fate/destiny running through the game, but I think my focus on that was too large, so I decided to scrap it. While I think that karma type resolution mechanics are cool and are seriously underutilized, I’m not that they’re great for this game. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to fit every cool mechanic into your game –  you can always make more games later!

So, I’ve decided to scrap the idea of the karma mechanics system  and just go with a typical fortune resolution mechanic – roll d10’s, see if they are over a certain threshold, and compare the number of successes to some score. Getting rid of the fate/destiny subthemes will help me refocus my mechanics on the exploration/place themes of the game.

Right now, the character creation mechanics are about half and half generic/thematic – attributes, the threat hex, and the health mechanics are fairly generic – but the skills and mythoses are both created as part of the character’s Journeys – a semi-lifepath system based on where the character has visited – the Thieves’ Guild Headquarters, the Wizard’s Academy, the Lair of the Dragon Vizzerdarizill, etc. These Journeys build the characters skills – essentially free bonus dice – as well as their Mythos – the collection of special abilities every character has.

Character Creation

At this point, I mostly have the character creation system down.

  • Characters first set their Impulses: their Desire for coming to the place they are in – revenge, greed, family, whatever; their Fear of what the Wilderness holds; and their Nobility – what drives them to be good people. (I’m considering adding in a 4th – Rage, what drives them to anger, but I’m not sure yet.)
  • Characters then set their 6 Journeys. Journeys do one of two things – grant Skills of some variety – probably something like +3/-1/-1; +2/-1; +1/+1/-1; etc; or they grant a Mythos. Mythos are abilities that are beyond the pale of a ‘normal’ human. Mythos can range from being a Weretiger to knowing magic spells to receiving visions of the future. They can also be things like being an Elf or Dwarf, being a Prince of the Realm, or any other such possibility the character could want. Mythos of this variety grant some number of Boons and Curses, which are minor yet important things like seeing in the dark, eternal life, royal connections, or so on and so forth.
  • One note about boons and curses – things like the above may SEEM like huge deals, but they really aren’t, not for where the characters are typically going to be  – in the forest, fighting bears. Sure, never aging is great, but it doesn’t stop that bear from crushing your skull.
  • Characters receive 36 attribute points to put into their attributes, with the ‘average’ being 6 per attribute. Characters have a maximum of 12 and a minimum of 3.
  • Characters place each of the six Threats in the Threat Hex, and then cross-Threats must equal 14, with a max of 10 and a minimum of 4.
  • Characters then divide 60 points between their Stamina, Health and Will, with Stamina being 1 for 1, Will 2 for 1, and Health 3 for 1.

That’s all I have for now. Join me next time, when I’ll be discussing my next steps in the road towards finalizing character stats, and I’ll also be talking about encounter and test mechanics!


Pinning Down Mechanics

The hardest part of making anything is pinning down exactly what you are trying to do. It’s really easy to come up with broad, brush-stroke themes, but translating those themes into mechanics that are both easy to grok and mesh together in a simplistic and flowing manner is hard. That said, I’ve been doing a lot of work on my mechanics, and I think I’ve got the basics down.

So, here goes:

Characters have six attributes: WitsCharmInstinctResolveSmarts, and Soul. 

  • Wits is the character’s ability to think quickly on their feet. Wits are rolled when a character has a little less time than they need.
  • Charm is the character’s ability to interact with people in a manner conducive to the character’s wants. Roll Charm when the character is interacting with friendlies.
  • Instinct is the character’s ability to interact on a second-by-second level. Roll Instinct when the character has barely any time to react.
  • Resolve is the character’s ability to march on despite the hardships they endure. Roll Resolve when a character has to persevere.
  • Smarts  is the ability for characters to think when they have all the time in the world. Roll Smarts can think with all the time they need.
  • Soul is the character’s ability to interact with worlds that are not our own. Roll Wits when the character is casting or afflicted by magic.

The next level of character stats is the Threat Hex. There are six threats: Combat, Social, Wilderness, Magic, Knowledge, and Traps. Threats are arrayed in the Threat Hex across from each other, so that each threat is paired with another threat. Those two threats are then assigned levels, which must add up to equal 14. So, a threat pair may be assigned as 6 and 8, or 4 and 10, or whatever the player wants, as long as they equal 14.

Specialties are the next part of stats. Specialties are simple: they are added to stat values or pools whenever the specialty would be relevant. Specialties can be anything: ‘cow herding’ or ‘knife fighting’ or ‘halfing sex practices’, as long as they are narrow enough. ‘Fights with weapons’ is NOT a good specialty.

Lastly, every character has a Background. Backgrounds may be anything: ‘farmer’ or ‘soldier’ or ‘king’. Backgrounds reduce the level of a threat by 1 whenever they would be relevant.

As stated in the post before this one, attributes+relevant specialties are typically simply compared to a value, the Obstacle Level. If the character’s attribute is greater than the OL, then the character succeeds. If the character’s attribute is less than the OL, then the character fails. However, if the character fails, they may choose to ‘defy fate’ and roll dice.

To roll, the character gains a number of dice in their dice pool equal to their relevant stat + any relevant specialties, and then they roll. Any dice that come up greater than the relevant Threat is a success! All dice that come up as a 10 explode – i.e. you take that success and roll another die!

There are a few other parts of characters that I’ve been planning out, but I haven’t fully thought out those mechanics, so I’ll come back to that later!

Thank you for reading!

Themes and Mechanics

So, I’ve been super busy what with school and all, and so I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit more than I’ve been meaning. However, I’ve recently been doing a lot of driving, so I’ve had some time to think about the game.

I have the believe that mechanics that resonate deeply with the themes of the game and reflect those themes. I’ve had the pleasure of playing the Red Markets beta by Hebanon Games and the dice mechanics are so incredibly thematic in that system that it makes me drool.

For those of you who don’t know, Red Markets is a game about the crushing, grinding destruction of the self by the capitalistic processes by which our society functions. Also zombies. The mechanics are sa-weeeeet! The power of material possessions over the strength of the person who owns them. The grinding cycle of poverty inherent to the upkeep mechanics. Needing to literally buy love in order to stay sane. All of these reinforce the game’s themes about the destructive cycle of poverty, the ills of uncontrolled capitalism, and the pain one has to put oneself through in order to escape the ‘toxicity’ of the lower class.

I think that having thematic mechanics really adds a lot to the game. It tells what the game is about, and really, why you should be playing it. I’ve gotten a little bored with D&D’s d20 mechanic. I think there are a lot of statistical/mechanical problems with it, but I think that there’s a bigger thematic problem with it.

D&D seems to be a Heroic Fantasy game – beating up bad guys, saving the world, etc, etc. Maybe getting a little treasure on the way. Or maybe its just generic fantasy with a little bit of a heroic bent to it. Characters aren’t explicitly encouraged to be Lawful Good, but there’s lots of little implicit encouragement that the players should be the ‘good guys’ so to speak.

And the d20 mechanic really conflicts with this, I think. The huge swingyness of the d20 means that people who are almost incapable of lifting their own arms have something like a 25% chance to arm wrestle literally the strongest person alive. Not on Earth, anywhere. Even a 20th level Barbarian, who can have a strength that is higher than most humans can comprehend, still has like a 15%-ish chance to be out arm-wrestled by the crippled peasant. And even if we include the Athletics skill of the 20th level barbarian, the peasant will still beat the Barbarian 1 out of every 400 matches.

So, the d20 mechanics make the game about a world where randomness reigns supreme and all of your skills, training, and perseverance don’t matter. And while I love nihilism and dark comedy as much as the next psuedo-intellectual college gamer, the mechanics just don’t seem to match the themes that the base game promotes.

Back on track to my own game. I think I want to make the game having a lot to do with ‘battling fate’. Basically, I want mechanics that represent determinism, and the unyielding nature of reality, and then I want to give players ways to overcome those mechanics and triumph despite the odds.

Additionally, I think my game is going to have a big focus on the ‘adventuring cycle’ – getting a haul back in the dungeon, going to town with all of that money and blowing it on fat drops and sick magic items, and then realizing that you can’t feed your kids or buy a house without money, so you have to go out again, blah blah blah ad infinitum. And of course, breaking that cycle and ultimate self-determination and so on and so forth.

For the deterministic aspects of the mechanics, all aspects of the character themselves – skills, attributes, special abilities – would have ratings from 1-10, or something like that. Then, when the character has to overcome an obstacle, they compare relevant characteristics and if the character’s ratings are higher than the obstacle’s, the character wins, and vice versa.

Sort of like the following:

DM Johnny: Okay, Laura, your character is walking down the hallway. What’s your character’s Perception plus Danger Sense?

Laura: Uh, that’ll be a 3.

DMJ: Alright, well, your character doesn’t notice the pressure plate installed on the ground, and hear a ‘twang‘ sound only when it is too late. Sorry, the trap had a Conceal rating of 4.

Laura: Damn, that’s fine. I know what I was getting into when I made an orc anyway.

So, basically, you’d simply compare numbers. No dice rolling, no nothing, nada. I think that this would also help cut down on encounter time a little bit, if only marginally, so that would be an added benefit.

And of course there would be some way to defy the fates and capture back some sense of agency, because the PCs are special. Some sort of ‘Hero Points’ or ‘Perseverance’ or whatever bullshit I wanna use to represent the specialness of the PCs.

Side note: The PCs are special, whether you say they are or not. I hear a lot of grognards talk about ‘Oh, well, my players go through 27 characters every combat round, blah blah blah!’ I’m not saying that deadly games can’t be fun, nor that any individual character is particularly special. But as a whole, the PCs are special, because they’re the ones having the fun, exciting things happen to them. They are already, by the nature of them being characters played by people in the game, different and dare I say better than the rest of the characters in the world.

Alright, that’s all for now. Come join me next time, when I probably talk about how characters defy fate and maybe some dungeoneering rules!