Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Modern Setting Thoughts: Resources

I've been thinking about how to handle resources in Eight Kingdoms, and in modern games in general. So while that pot of coffee brews, let's talk.

In general, I think individual dollar amounts are too difficult to track in a modern game. It is one of those cases where our collective suspension of disbelief cracks, I think, and hell if I want to assign a monetary value to everything worth anything in modern society. I think World of Darkness and d20 Modern has the right idea in treating your wealth as a statistic; the problem is applying that idea to the way Savage Worlds handles dice - it's a wonderful abstraction for cinematic combat, where a lucky punch can fell a giant, but as a grad student I can't possibly roll my d4 Wealth die buy myself a flak jacket and a nice car. It's just not going to happen.

So I am looking at treating Wealth like a derived statistic: If your wealth (which I am going to call Resources, because it can represent online bargain-hunting, credit, permits, and calling in favors) is higher than the object in question, you can afford it. If your wealth is equal to the object, you can, but it's going to cost you some Resources temporarily - buying that battle-ready greataxe is good for the hunt, but it sure set you back. If the object requires more Resources than you have, then you can't afford it.

Wealth is ranked, arbitrarily, 1 to 12, with 1 meaning no income or place to live (or it could mean you're in high school and everything you own belongs to your parents) and 12 being an independently wealthy millionaire who doesn't really have to do anything. Most office jobs probably merit a Resource of 5-6.

I like this so much that I also want to use it to create Contacts. I talked about contacts earlier - they're how you track your sanity. Contacts are rated on the same scale, with 1 being an unfriendly environment and 12 indicating that at least one person in the environment would die to protect you.

Each Contact is a single NPC that represents a group of people (usually). A Contact is a group that can assist you in some way. Example contacts include Coworkers (represented by your buddy Terry), the Regular Gaming Group (represented by your GM Arny), your Family (represented by your wife Jessica), and the Police (Uncle Dave, who just made Detective). The other PCs don't count as contacts, and each Contact is be tracked independently.

As stated, each Contact is rated 1-12, and using them is penalized the lower the number is. Say you get pulled over for speeding, which is fine, but you don't want the officer to see you have an arrow in your leg, and you REALLY don't want him to see what you've got tied up in the trunk. Good thing you're Uncle Dave's favorite nephew (Contacts 8), so all it takes is one name dropped and you're off with a warning. If you had Contacts 1 for the Police, it might take some quick thinking (Persuasion -4) in addition to the name dropping.

Resources and Contacts are interchangeable, to a point. I am playing with the idea that you can lower one to raise the other, temporarily, but doing that puts a strain on either your friendships or your finances.

Now, to make things more interesting: You have a finite number of points at character creation to allot to both Contacts and Resources. Now, it sure SEEMS like a great idea to put a lot of points in Resources and just be a trust funded orphan without any friends. Unfortunately, doing so penalizes all your interactions with other people because you don't have social skills. I think it will probably also have an effect on your character's Channeling abilities, because if you have the mental block that you don't need other people, well then, you sure don't need fictional people from another reality (and one wonders how this character would have gotten into gaming anyway).

I haven't worked out the details exactly, of course, but I'm happy with the idea of it, and I'm always accepting thoughts.


Sitting Duck said...

I seem to recall that the Savage licensee setting Dawn of Legends had a Wealth stat of some sort. I don't actually have a copy, so couldn't tell you how they compare.

Tyson J. Hayes said...

12 might be a bit high for your contacts, it would mean you may be able to name drop quite a bit before you start feeling the effects. I think World of Darkness uses 6 points? Maybe something a bit lower would represent the same amount of traction may just feel a bit better.

For a bit of a crunchy question how are these contacts "purchased" or acquired during character creation? Do you allow x amount of points to buy wealth and contacts?

Theron said...

@Sitting Duck: I don't have a copy either. I think I was supposed to alpha that at one point, but...never signed the contract, and now I'm afraid of looking like a copycat, so I'm kind of avoiding it. Good story.

@Tyson: 12 might be high for the whole system. However, having 12 points in one contact would be putting all your eggs into one basket, just like putting all your points into Resources. If you tick off your one Contact, or if they get killed, or if they really do take that bullet for you, they're gone forever.

And yeah, X amount of points would be used to buy both Resources and Contacts. Spending one point on Resources means one less to spend on Contacts. Everyone would get X amount of points, with Edges and Hindrances modifying appropriately - Rich and Filthy Rich characters get extra Resources, characters with the Poverty Hindrance get less, characters with Connections get more Contacts, Outsider characters get less. There'd be chances to up one or the other during play, and I am already thinking about some kind of "Prodigal Son" Edge that lets you gain 5 points in a new Contact once in your career.

Mostly, I think Contacts will be a slippery slope - once you start wearing on their patience, it's tough to bring them back up. Heck, maybe the first time you abuse a Contact ranked at 12 points, they slip down to 6 - that first betrayal hurts.

Jeff Carlsen | Apathy Games said...

In my experience, abstracting wealth entirely has been a disaster because it takes away any monetary incentive for players to act.

But I've found a system that is a nice hybrid, and does just about exactly what you're talking about with wealth and contact: Shadowrun.

In Shadowrun, you're a professional criminal, so money is your primary motivation. So you don't have to track every little purchase or manage finances beyond what new toys you wish to buy, all characters purchase a lifestyle. It's simply a monthly amount they have to pay based on the level of luxury they wish to live in. In general, your lifestyle payment covers all costs not related to the job.

Shadowrun also used contacts, based on points. Characters start the game with a number of points to spend on contacts. Contacts have a Loyalty and a Connection rating, ranked one through six. The higher the connection rating, the more people they know and the more influence they have. The higher their loyalty, the more they're willing to do for the character.

Both systems work very well.

An alternative to wealth that I've considered is actually isn't very abstract, buy may still solve the problems. Break a character's money into three parts, Assets, Lifestyle, and Liquid Funds. Money can be moved between the three perhaps once per month.

Assets are funds that appreciate. This represents stock purchases, real-estate, gold, bonds, etc. Every month, the value of this fund increases. If you want a little randomness, base it on a Smarts roll. It increases by ten percent for each success and raise on a Smarts roll, but decreases by ten percent on a critical failure.

Lifestyle represents monthly costs for food, maintenance, rent, and assets that depreciate, such as cars, computers, and clothing. Every month, you have to pay your lifestyle costs.

Liquid funds simply represent cash and other money that you can spend, but that doesn't either appreciate or depreciate. This is the money that does things related to the game itself. Mostly for buying gear or favors.

Give the players money for doing things, so that they get that tangible reward. Then, once per month (or game session, or whatever your timetable is), let them shift some money between assets, lifestyle, and funds.

This way, in a modern game, you can have players who want to live it up by charging them a high lifestyle and assuming all the trappings thereof. And if you have people are always thinking of ways to make more money outside of the context of the game, you can just have them roll it into assets.

Theron said...


I think your ideas provide good fodder for games where the PCs are private investigators, bounty hunters, criminals, or the only wizards in the Chicago phone book. It would work well for my Bullets and Brimstone setting, for instance.

However, for Eight Kingdoms, the modern characters are - for the most part - people with comfortable incomes. They won't be doing things for money, generally speaking; it's more the World of Darkness, where the stakes are personal rather than financial. It's more likely that an adventure will see you with another Contact than $1500.

I'm lumping the cost of living (your Lifestyle) and Assets into your Resources and just assuming those things - it's easier. "Cash on hand" will probably be represented by your Resources too, you could say that most characters can probably go to an ATM and produce $25 for each level of Resources they have without significantly damaging their income.

The big thing is, I want my PCs to go out and fight monsters, not worry about their finances. However, without Secret Agency X to provide them with gear, I need a system for them to go out and purchase shotgun shells and Kevlar vests. That's the balance I'm looking for. And yes, the difficulty of acquiring such items will be included in their cost. It will be slightly more granular than the Dawn of Legends system, which I've heard about on the forums.

Jeff Carlsen | Apathy Games said...

I played in a great game that worked a bit like that, but we never did formalize any rules, and in our small case it was probably for the best.

Essentially, the GM let us have what we wanted if it seemed reasonable, which prevented us from talking about money as a game mechanic.

Let us know how your work goes.

Theron said...


Now that is what I would rather do :D

I don't know if you've been reading my other blog posts about this setting, but the Resources/Contacts system actually grew out of how I track PC Sanity. Your commitment to the hunt drains your finances and strains your friendship - it's supposed to be a downhill slope. Therefore, what I really needed was a starting point. Does that help explain why I have the slightly awkward mechanic idea I've got right now?

Jeff Carlsen | Apathy Games said...

Interesting. In that case, have you considered using a variant of the wound mechanic?

Start by categorizing things a player might by as normal, rich, and filthy rich. These categories represent who can buy what without it affecting their lifestyle.

Thus, ammunition and food are classified as normal, and thus you never have to worry about buying them. Whereas a new shotgun might be classified rich, meaning that a normal person can afford it, but that it'll take some work. A new Jaguar, though, is classified as Filthy Rich, and a normal person couldn't dream of buying one. It's not very detailed, but you may not need more.

Then when a player tries to buy something above their grade, they roll for it (smarts or persuasion. I'm not sure at the moment). Success means they find it, but if they buy it they become financially shaken, and can't buy again for a while. Success with a raise means they're not shaken, and failure means they must take a wound if they want it (symbolizing debt). Debt penalties apply to all future purchase rolls.

You could probably come up with something similar for contacts. Reputation damage of some sort.

The advantages of this method include utilizing the Rich and Filthy Rich edges, and mean that you don't have to have a set number for every player, just track wounds as they take them. Plus, it conveys the sense that they are damaging themselves.

jalinde said...

Tracking resources is a pain, because in the real world we have time enough to look at all the factors. I could cash in bonds, or stocks, sell my wife's car, secure a loan, and hold up a bank all within a couple days, but no one at the gaming table wants to wait while I do all these and then calculate cash to a reasonable degree.

I'm long-term Shadowrun player, and it still flips me out that its a system where a player can buy the capabilities of a more powerful but less well-off character and in fact raise things like Initiative that no one else can ever touch. All while still raising his or her skills to outclass poorer party members!

I don't think it's my inner socialist that suggests games focus less on the amount of change in one's pocket unless it really matters. That said, an abstract wealth mechanic such as the one used in Spirit of the Century fits well, with Jeff's "Wealth as Wounds" suggestion the soundest, most Savage mechanic of the bunch.

Jeff Carlsen | Apathy Games said...

Shadowrun has to have a "Wealth equals power" mechanic. First, it's Cyberpunk, so it's a thematic requriement. Second, the entire point of the game is to acquire wealth through crime.