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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nitty-Gritty, Open Hood, Game Mechanics Post...


Nitty-Gritty time: Hoods will be opened and tinkering will commence.

AKA: The Dread Theory in motion post:

I have to start with what this game project is not. It is not a world beating, paradigm shifting, new thinking, game changing, never before conceptualized pile of awesome.
I kinda wish it was, but I'm not that guy, I don't have those kind of chops.

What the game is going to be, is a game I would enjoy running or playing. It will also hopefully facilitate the kind of R.P.G. and world building experience I enjoy.
Those are my basic design goals.

As for general game theory, this game is an application of stuff that has been around a while, utilized, explained, and fought over by people a lot smarter and more well spoken than I am. This game is just my take on it.

On to the gears and grease:
What I like to start with is an economy of reward. The reward in my view is narrative control, the right to move the story in a direction you as a player want, through character and party growth and the development of general fiction during play. As I stated it in this blog entry: http://dustpangames.blogspot.com/2013/10/rewards-there-can-be-only-one.html

I feel that this is the way to go. In my view players really want to put their creative stamp on places, scenes, and situations in the game, and will take risks to do so.

So we know the reward, now what's the risk?

The basic TEST:
Each character has four approaches and a pool of dice related to each approach. When a moment of impasse comes around (the narration stalls or the characters are attempting something where there is a good chance they might fail) the player decides what approach they would like to use and how many dice he or she is going to play.
The players place those dice in front of themselves with the highest possible value facing up (IE 6 on a D6)
The GM places a difficulty number and a success number written on a tab of paper face down in front of him or herself. The players should not know what numbers are written on the tab of paper, that is secret sauce.
The GM then calls on the players to narrate what they are doing. Each action they narrate earns the party one experience. Also each time a player narrates an action they must roll a die back by one in value. When the players are satisfied they have narrated enough and want to stop lowering their dice to earn narrative control they can ask for the TEST.

At this point the GM flips the tab of paper to revel the difficulty and success numbers.
To be successful the Players must have a number of dice in front of them equal or greater than the success number written by the gm, which each show a value equal to or higher than the difficulty number written by the GM.
(whew..what? ..huh? Example time: If the difficulty and success numbers were 4 and 2 respectively the group must have at least two dice still showing a value of four or higher to be successful.)
If successfull the Players can narrate the resolution of the impasse, if they're not successful the GM takes any dice which show a value lower than the difficulty number and the GM narrates the result of the Impasse. (nasty Gm steals our dices)

Whew....you read all that? Holy crap...

There are a few more fiddly bits, but that is the basic die mechanic.

So what does it do?
Here is the gist. If the players fail they loose dice, which lowers their opportunity to talk and steer the narrative during the next impasse. To get dice back they have to spend experience points. That sounds cut and dry, until you remember the experience points are all in a pool that goes to the party at the end of the game. So in effect the player is spending everyone's rewards to get their own dice back.
Players get experience by dialing their dice back, betting that they will stay above the difficulty number set by the GM with enough dice that they will succeed. So why should they ever dial dice back? If a player doesn't they don't get to have any input on how the narrative resolves during an impasse. The player becomes a spectator to the fiction, by choice. While some players may dig that, most will realize pretty quickly that everyone else is doing the awesome while they are playing it safe.

So why value experience so much? Just dial back dice like mad and burn it up, FTW!
Good point.
Experience is used post game to improve characters approaches, buy new skills, improve or buy new connections, progress goals, buy new character descriptors and, add assets or connections to the party. This experience stuff is amazing, the party will want more of it.

In play this seems to work out pretty well.
The key is really the GM setting appropriate success and difficulty numbers for impasses. If the GM sets them too low there is really very little chance of failure so there is no risk. On the other side the Gm could set every difficulty to high and the players will have a hard time holding any experience. The players would still get to narrate if they dial dice back, but they would fail a lot and end up constantly having to spend experience to get dice back. The Gm needs a bit of finesse, but I don't think any more finesse than say setting a target number in any one of a hundred d20 based games.

In our two play-tests the Players have not been shy about dialing back dice and letting loose with crazy fiction, lightning bolts, bashing lizard-men, saving lizard-men, plans involving hookers, and other general madness. This is good, this is the broth I want to make narrative stew out of... Ummm stew....
I was really happy to see players comfortable with rolling back dice and narrating the characters getting up to all sorts of no good. I also recognize that they should at some point think, “I better watch my step, I have no idea what the at difficulty number is.” That's the GM's job to keep the numbers to where there is always risk along with reward.

As the GM. I found my self wanting (mostly based on old habits) to ask for “checks,” spot checks for example. There's no support for that kind of quick check in this game. I need to remember that a test is used for a moment where there is an impasse, and the story can't go forward without some extra input from the players and some kind of resolution. A TEST isn't a quick yes or no kind of check.
Spotting the guard on the tower is not an impasse, the guard is there, the characters are the heroes, they can see him. Shooting the guard out of the tower with a slingshot, that's a bit more of an impasse. Even that example is thin, because the player could dial back a die and say he shoots the guard through the eye in an amazing display of sling shot virtuosity. The Gm would simply have to roll with it and expand the fiction to go with this new reality until the TEST is resolved. Nothing is really cut and dry once the dice come out, not for the players and not for the GM (Because the Gm is also a player, he or she is a times also along for the ride.)

As of now that is the mechanics and the theory behind the game. There are more embellishments and details than what's represented by this overview, however you pretty much have it all right here.

If you are still reading at this point, thank you. If you skipped to here I totally understand, reading about the hows and whys of a game is rarely (if ever) as much fun as playing the game.

Friday I am going to post the setting framework I am playing with, and finally put a name to this game.
After that it will be all about organizing another live play session.
An rewriting... constant rewriting......and more rewriting..............

Thank you for reading
Comments, questions, and shenanigans welcome.