Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tech Trees and Research

I have been playing a lot of Civilization, Alpha Centauri, UFO: AI, and other assorted turn based strategy games lately. I've also been thinking of the old game Syndicate.

I was wondering if anyone has ideas on how to incorporate weapons research into their games. And I know the obvious answer is "just give them the stuff you want them to have!" but that's not going to cut it this time.

Here's a system off the top of my head:

Use the Showdown! point values to determine the cost of weapons/ammunition. Say the PCs want to research some fancy powered armor. A Battle Suit is 12 points, +2 for the Pace, +2 for the Strength bonus, +3 for the +1 Shooting bonus, +3 for the jumping stuff, so 22 points. That's the amount of research points they need to accrue in order to start building Battle Suits. We can assume that at least one prototype is built when research is finished, and to simplify things, the prototypes are reasonably functional (no crippling design flaws).

Research points are acquired via a research team. Each researcher has a d6 in Knowledge (R&D). At a basic level, you're rolling a single d6 for a single researcher; the second researcher adds a Wild Die. A third researcher adds a +1 bonus, and so on up to +4 for 6 researchers. Two more researchers up the R&D die by one type, while another two up the die type by another step. A research team may not exceed 10 members. If two teams of 10 members work on the same project, their Wild Die is upped to a d10.

A project gains consistent research points every session equal to the average number of XP handed out to the group. This is merely an attempt on the designer's part to speed up this process. At the beginning of every session, the research team(s) roll their R&D die; the amount of raises and successes are allocated towards the project each team is assigned to. A failure indicates no progress; a Critical failure subtracts d6 points from the project. A single researcher is assumed to have rolled a Critical Failure if he rolls a 1 on his Skill Die.

Every time a team successfully completes a project, roll a die; on a 5 or 6, the team has advanced their die type by one step, up to a d12. For clarity, this means a team that has advanced to a d12 in R&D with a full complement of 10 members has an effective die type of d12+2, with a +4 bonus and Wild Die.

I know there's a lot of flaws in here but I'm eager to hear what all y'all got. I'd also like the players to have some kind of input on the success of the project, whether that means field tests of prototype equipment, bringing in items to reverse engineer, or rolling the bones in between sessions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some houserules

Here are some Savage Worlds houserules I commonly employ:

Guns in Melee: I always rule that someone with a gun counts as an Unarmed Defender.
Using Guns as Weapons: Guns deal Str+d4 damage when used as clubs. If the attacker rolls a 1 on his Skill die (regardless of Wild Die), while using a gun as a melee weapon it breaks.
Bennies: Players may spend a Benny to suddenly produce a piece of common, mundane gear.
And They Fight: If a player character inflicts 4 or more Wounds on an Extra, his nearby companions have to make a Guts roll against Fear as he is utterly obliterated by a wound that would kill a god, let alone some mook.
P-p-p-p-p-poker Chips: I like the Deadlands Reloaded poker chip system so much that I use it in all of my games.
Guts: I don't use Guts unless horror is a significant factor in the game.
The Burden of Proof: After about three sessions, I no longer remind people of their Edges and Skills and such; the burden is on the players after that. By that same token, if I mess up and someone calls me out, they get a Benny and I try harder.

I consider this an obsolete houserule, but y'all may find use for it:

Fate is a Harsh Mistress: A Critical Failure cannot be rerolled with a Benny. However, spending a Benny does change it into a regular Failure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Inspirations

So I'm moving 400 miles on Sunday, which means I'm packing all my things up. As I've been putting my books and DVDs into boxes, I'm constantly reminded of the things that inspired me. But why does this matter?

They say "write what you know," and I couldn't disagree more. I know some scenic carpentry tricks, I can use MS Excel okay, I know about roleplaying games, I like dissecting comedy and story structure. I don't actually know very much. I think we should write based on what inspires us.

Below is a list of some of the highlights. I'll do about five (+/- 1) from a few different mediums. In no particular order:

  1. Ghostbusters
  2. Kill Bill Volume 1
  3. Night of the Living Dead
  4. The Third Man
  5. Pontypool
  1. Marble Hornets
  2. Doctor Horrible's Singalong Blog
  3. 30 Rock
  4. Slings and Arrows
  5. The Venture Brothers
  1. Fahrenheit 451
  2. The Grand Admiral Thrawn Trilogy
  3. Tomorrow When The War Began
  4. Watchmen
  5. World War Z
  6. The Zombie Survival Guide
Video Games:
  1. Planescape: Torment
  2. Deus Ex
  3. Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim
  4. The Fallout series
  5. X-Com and the derivative UFO: Alien Invasion
  6. Doom
  1. They Might Be Giants
  2. Neutral Milk Hotel
  3. Ratatat
  4. Beirut
  5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  1. Orson Welles
  2. Bruce Campbell
  3. John August
  4. Gabe and Tycho of Penny-Arcade
  5. My friends and siblings
  1. Macbeth
  2. Book of Days
  3. The Mound Builders
  4. Lysistrata
  5. Three and five act story structure
Roleplaying Games:
  1. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
  2. Deadlands: Hell on Earth
  3. 50 Fathoms
  4. Necropolis 2350
  5. All Flesh Must Be Eaten
  6. Alternity
  1. Seeing The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 2006
  2. Red Theater
  3. Doing improv
  4. All those times I stayed up until six in the morning
  5. Summer camp
Food and Drink:
  1. Harp lager
  2. Sushi (Philadelphia rolls especially)
  3. Burritos
  4. Barbeque
  5. Egg in a Basket
  6. Potatoes
Why is any of this important? I think it's good to know things, as a writer, that elicit an emotional response in oneself. How are you supposed to make an audience care about something if you don't, whether that audience is the four buddies you game with every week or 200 people in a dark theater or four million people in cinemas nationwide?

Take a moment, sometime this week, and think about what drives you to create. I'm not saying use all these things in your games, I'm saying take a minute and think about the reasons you do what you do. My games tend to feature some kind of mystery element, overwhelming odds, and an awful lot of violence; it's easy to see why once you look at what attracts me.

The wonderful thing about examining your influences is, you can get back in touch with them. And you can find things similar to those, and so learn more about the aesthetic that inspires you.

Let me know your results.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Of NPCs and Likableness, and also Star Wars

So while searching for something to blog about, my brother recommended "How do I get my PCs to feel things for the NPCs?"

I've put some thought into that and I have a pretty simple answer: You can't!

We will never know what the player characters feel about anyone. What we can do, however, is manipulate the players and how they think.

I've reviewed my past campaigns, and players tended to like NPCs who displayed one or more of these qualities:
  • Were funny
  • Had skills that complemented the party
  • Gave them stuff
  • Were fun to interact with
  • Did them favors
  • Fight alongside them
  • Easy to remember
Looking at that list now, it sounds pretty selfish, but I could say the same things about my close friends - we pay for each other's drinks, owe each other favors, talk about things, and come from a wide variety of complementary backgrounds.

Players tend to dislike NPCs who display these qualities:
  • Have killed a PC in the past
  • Want favors for no reward
  • Are trying to kill the PCs
  • Are in any way connected to the PC's backstory
Interestingly, I was also able to gather enough information to compile a short list of traits they merely distrust:
  • Have ever tried in the past to kill the PCs
  • Act utterly altruistic
  • Have lengthy, complex backstories
  • Have goals which are not immediately discernable
  • Adventure with the party for some time without proving themselves to be an enemy or ally
Interesting! I think we can safely define these archetypes based on a few handy Star Wars characters:
  • Players tend to like the "Han Solo," a loveable rogue with a reliable skillbase
  • Players tend to dislike the "Jabba," who wants something for nothing and is an unpleasant reminder of who they once were
  • Players tend to distrust the "Lando, but the Lando from Empire, not General Lando," which is interesting because traditional writing dictates this is the most realistic type of character
I'm thinking about other characters from Nerd Mythos and how they might be treated by a typical roleplaying party...

  • C3PO: Dislike; annoying and worrisome, but occasionally useful. Best used as a mostly-invisible NPC
  • Obi-Wan: Distrust; his motives are hard to determine and I don't like that he always volunteers for solo missions
  • Princess Leia: Like; it was really funny when she made fun of Luke and she's a pretty good shot, let's not dump her at the next town
  • Gandalf: Distrust; so he says he wants to save the world but I don't get his stake in it
  • Mal Reynolds: Dislike; I hate that he tries to negotiate with us every time he fucks up a job.
  • Jayne Cobb: Like; he's funny and dumb and I'd rather fight with him than against him.
  • River Tam: Distrust; she's nuts and kind of creepy.
So, to recap, you shouldn't worry about what kind of people the PCs like; worry about making the players like them.* A trick on this subject is, the players only have the information you give them - if you really, really need the players to trust someone, then it's easy to tell them "your character trusts them."

*If you play in a group that's really super deep into roleplaying, this really isn't the blog for you, but I hope you stick around.