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Author Topic: [Maw of Hell] Developing the factions/background  (Read 1080 times)
joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« on: February 08, 2006, 10:03:40 PM »

So, for the card-based RPG I’m working on, Maw of Hell, I’m trying to get down the background and factions.

Questions at the end of the post, but first I’m going to give you some background on the game, then present you with the factions I am currently considering.


Maw of Hell – What I’m going for:

Maw of Hell is set in a grizzly and harsh jungle planet, during the eruption of a galactic civil war. This hellhole planet has been deemed a “strategically necessary point” by all 4 factions, and thus they start dumping troops in.

None of the factions really want to send their strong troops into this dangerous and volatile planet – so they dump their unwanted men, their surplus supplies, etc. The soldiers fight to earn their “release” from this planet.

The game focuses on the atrocities and horrors of war, pushes players to create a gritty and aggressive narrative style, and is a mixture of narrativist gameplay and a more hack-and-slash “format”.

The four standard stats are Soldier , Tactical, Endurance, Resolve.
Another factor involved is Viciousness, a bar for what kinds of behaviour soldiers can commence (hurting innocents, etc)


A Quick Background on how the factions were formed:

The Imperial Order governed all of mankind’s intergalactic empire until quite recently. It was a republic which was so huge that it had to have many different departments acting completely autonomously of each other.
For a long time, everyone was fairly content with their rule. Then uprisings started on some key planets, and grew. Within only 10 years, much of the galaxy had ignited in revolt.
This caused several Doctrines of the Imperial Order to demand action to be taken. The Military Doctrines demanded the right to obliterate these uprisings, and increase military presence. The Penal System demanded that convicts be enlisted into Peace Protection programs as part of their sentence.
The Imperial Order refused on both counts, even as the rebels organized into a new faction, the New Empire. These guys were aggressive, volatile, and often were willing to sacrifice their own to achieve their goals.
The Military Doctrines saw the need to act swiftly, and thus made a radical move: they declared themselves a governing force completely independent of the Imperial Order. They separated and became their own galactic empire.
At the same time that the Imperial Order declared war on the now opposing “Military Doctrines”, the penal doctrines separated too, believing that the Military Doctrines were too fascist a force to be taking control of the stars, and also believing that the New Empire was far too dangerous to let stand. The Order declared war on the Penal legions too, swearing that this betrayal wouldn’t stand.


So, the Four Factions:

Imperial Order – now stripped of their armies and supports, the Order relies on heavy conscription, tradition, and their industrial power to succeed. Puts strength in Endurance, Resolve, and equipment cards.

New Empire – Dangerous, sweeping through the star systems – these guys are often very fanatical, determined and exceptionally cunning. Puts strength in Tactical, Resolve, and self-sacrificing (kamikaze) cards/tactics.

Military Doctrines – Harsh and controlling, the Doctrines produce some of the most proficient soldiers in existence. Unfortunately, with the complete lack of command structures that exists in Maw of Hell, they are often glass cannons in practice. Puts strength in Soldier, Tactical, and tactics cards.

Penal Legions – The Order’s penal system became ridiculously overpopulated preluding the civil war, and thus the newly separated Penal Legions have no shortage of ruthless killers in their employ. These guys put strength in Soldier, Endurance, and Viciousness.


Now, the questions:

1.) Reading this, do all four factions seem thematically balanced in terms of where their strengths lie?
2.) Out of these four, which would you personally most like to play? (Obviously this is going to give biased opinions, and that’s what I want to know at this point.)
3.) Do these factions capture the aggressive, gritty focus I am trying to capture?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2006, 08:55:47 AM »

1) Thematical focus is defined the other way around, actually. If you have these factions, with these defined strengths, then these differences will become the thematical focus of these factions. You could have the bunny-collector faction in there, and as long as they're mechanically equal to the others, the themes take care of themselves.

In other words: yeah, I wouldn't worry. They're balanced enough.

2) Barring system considerations, I would least like to play the new empire - it's a doofus concept as far as fiction goes. Like, would you call yourself the "new empire" if you're a bunch of terrorist rebels fighting for independence from the empire? The imperials would be the second not-favourite; from your short history it seems they're stereotypically stupid and inefficient. The penal legions wins by a hair's breadth against the doctrines, as they have more color to them, and it'd be interesting to play the moral issues of using criminals to fight a war.

However - the above is predicated on me playing the faction. The situation would be completely different if I played a normal rpg character who comes from one of those political bodies. In that case I'd pick the empire and play a guy like Jimjoy Whaler in Modesitt's Ecolitan series, fully ready to defect if the empire proves as bad as it looks.

3) Actually, I kinda like them factions. At first I wondered why they're so blandly named and similar, but then I grogged the underemphasized aesthetic. I suggest changing the names to something even more descriptive and less foolish; The New Empire is simply a stupid name, and the rest are a bit cheesy, as well. Unless you're trying for a CCG feel, in which case the other three are appropriate.

I suggest post-haste outlining the central moral questions attached to each faction as well, to emphasize the focus of the game. As is, you have to kinda read between the lines and know your military sf to get the idea.

--

The game looks promising, assuming I understand where you're going with it. I don't know if I'm that interested in the character statistics you have, but the rest looks like something I'd like to play.
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2006, 09:58:20 AM »

Okay.

As far as roleplaying goes, you use a CCG deck to build your "squad", and then you roleplay through a member of your squad (with the chance to cycle to a different "narrator" between missions and scenes, etc).

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I suggest changing the names to something even more descriptive and less foolish; The New Empire is simply a stupid name, and the rest are a bit cheesy, as well.
I actually got the same comment with New Empire name from another person.
Any suggestions? Something that says "We are paving the way to a free galaxy".

I asked a friend for a few suggestions, and got things along the lines of:
Peace's Disciples
Arm of Freedom
again, these would be so perfect when coupled with the self-destructive and aggressive ways of the rebels. I like the idea that the things they stand for are lost in practice (doublethink, he he).

Quote
At first I wondered why they're so blandly named and similar, but then I grogged the underemphasized aesthetic.

Yes, that was intentional.

So, Eero... just as a theoretical question: What would you name these factions as?
I am very glad to change Military Doctrines, and New Empire...
and I will change the others too, I guess.

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The imperials would be the second not-favourite; from your short history it seems they're stereotypically stupid and inefficient.
To an extent, but I was trying to paint them as being more moderate, timid... A lot of the Order fears violence, and wants to just go about life.
Which is why the soldiers brought in are good at getting through (Endurance, Resolve) but are lacking in aggressive skill (Soldier, Viciousness... and Tactical for some.)

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I would least like to play the new empire - it's a doofus concept as far as fiction goes. Like, would you call yourself the "new empire" if you're a bunch of terrorist rebels fighting for independence from the empire?

Wow, I didn't expect these guys to take heat, actually.

Wanna elaborate on why its a Doofus concept?
I essentially wanted a misleading name for this group, but think i didn't pick a good one. If I had a title that gave the impression of "freedom fighters", would you be more keen?

And essentially... yes... if the New Empire came into power, they would just become another empire VERY similar to this one.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2006, 11:00:43 AM »

Are different players assumed to be playing different factions? Can you have a cross-faction squad? I'm trying to get a sense of how much the player is assumed to confront the faction culture, and how much accept it. Is it more a "this is what I stand for" or "this is where I come from" kind of thing. Makes a lot of difference.

Names: Apart from the New Empire I wouldn't worry too much, but that one really needs something better. You see, "empire" to most of us has connotations of hierarchical rule and dictatorship, even if the word properly just means a collection of political bodies with non-representational rulership (as opposed to confederation, where you'd have each state or whatever participating in the overall rule). Thus calling your rebellion an "empire" is a rather orwellian turn of phrase. If they're a collection of local rebellions based on an ideology of local rule (democratic or not), then a more freedom-emphasizing name is more appropriate, even if it's just an ideological front for the leaders of the rebellion. The point is, from your background it doesn't sound like the rebellion here is really a new, centrally controlled empire, but rather just a cooperation between different rebelling jurisdictions.

For new names: just out of my hat, something suitably grim and matter-of-fact...
Imperials: The Tellurian Republic, Republicans for short. (I'm assuming they're at least seemingly democratic and based around Earth, like usual in the genre.) Note that it's out-of-genre to have the official name of your political body be "Empire", unless you have an emperor as well. The democratic imperiums are called "Federations" or "Republics" or something like that, whether the democracy functions in practice or not. Their enemies and common people would, of course, speak of an empire. See Star Wars.
Rebels: The Democratic Concord, Concord for short. (I'm assuming that the ideological basis for their cooperation is democratic.) Concord (as well as "Union", "League" or "Confederacy" would) emphasizes that they're a collection of separate interests united in their opposition of the empire, rather than a structure of top-down authority. The empire will still call them "rebels", but they're clearly looking for respectability for themselves. Note: if you're thinking of a more of a fanatical shoestring operation rather than a respectable middle-class rebellion (Palestinians vs. the US independence war), a more over reference to the cult behind it could be appropriate, like the suggestions you mentioned.
Military: Military Doctrines is nice, I actually like it quite a bit. Especially if you include some solid backgrounds for why they'd call themselves such. It sounds like somebody took a part of the state's department and turned it into a political entity. Like, there were all these doctrinal military advisors for the senate parties or whatever, and they cooperated to set up their own thing on the side. However, if you really just intend it to be the army setting up it's own regime, I suggest calling it the Public Regime just to give it a bland and military-like designation. Like, the generals need to think up a name for their civilian government, and they need it to sound business as usual and respectable. Another route is to take an army function and call the political body by that name, to emphasize that the army is running things.
Prisons: this one is tough, because we don't know enough of their history yet. We know that
a) they're based around the penal system of the old empire
b) they were independent and powerful enough to split from the empire in practice
c) they oppose fascism, as represented by the militarists
d) the majority of their population base is formed out of criminals. Social crimes? Political crimes?
I'm imagining this idealist government in danger of splitting apart, as the old wardens are forced to share power with the prisoners, led by political malcontents of the old empire (who of course have the skill and the means to run a government, unlike the rough-and-ready guards). They could have a dual leadership with a Warden and Spokesmen, one speaking for the minority former-guards and their descendants, while the other represents the rough democracy of the prisoners proper. Anyway, if that's in the ballpark, I definitely wouldn't call them legions. (You could do that if it's a fascist government run by the guards, I suppose.) As a political body they could be called the People's Equity, for example, to emphasize the idea of pardon and a kind of confederation forming out of the wildly separate interests of the wardens and the prisoners.

Anyway, those are just quick ideas. It depends greatly on your goals, I guess. Especially I would concern myself with whether you're going for a semi-believable sociological background, or whether you want to emphasize the cheesy splat approach of CCGs. The above are kind of between the two, just a tad to the realistic side of your own names. Note that if you go too realistic, you again swing out of the military sf genre on the other side; military sf and space opera usually have colorful nicknames at least for their political bodies.

I should note that this name thing is properly just nitpicking, but you should get it right if you want to evoke genre with your audience. There's lots of other options than the ones I mention, as long as you don't unnecessarily confuse your audience about who's who on the political map. Especially if you want to have a geography and history in your game world it might be good to draw on that: "The Concord of Farun" is a pretty apt name if Farun is an important planet, perhaps a capital of the Concord. That kind of thing.

If this were a normal CCG I wouldn't blink twice at the names you now have (except perhaps for the New Empire), but as you state it as your goal to give the players the means for narrativistic approachs, I think you should concern yourself with the political backgrounds of the factions enough so that the players have something to build on. Like, if my squad is with the Empire, what does that mean apart from us getting lots of rations? Are we for democracy? Are we against women's rights? Why are we fighting? All this requires a degree of internal coherency and believability, if not much.

--

Imperials: that's a good angle on the soldiers, that they're conscripted. As I said, it's pretty much a question of whether I'm supposed to be defending the actions of the whole empire in the game, or just playing my own characters, who might or might not agree with their leaders. I'd find it dull to play the apparently inefficient and stupid folks leading the empire, but the little people who have to enact that policy seem like interesting.

New Empire: yeah, the doofus part is mostly the name. If you change that and clarify whether they're a wide-spread cult (as would seem from your emphasis of kamikaze tactics and fanaticism) or a federation of rebelling planets (as you'd expect when "much of the galaxy had ignited in revolt"), that fixes most of it. Don't worry about whether they'd become something or not if they won; there's no revolution in history where the rebels declared during the war that "yeah, we're pretty much like the other side, that's why we call us the new whatever". But I've already harped enough about that name, I think you get the idea.

After your clarifications on who we're playing (squads of soldiers, instead of the factions themselves) and what the empire's theme is, I think my list of interest is
1) Empire (I like the idea of conscripts forced to fight a war in hell)
2) Militants (The professional angle should be interesting on the squad level)
2) Prisons (Ties with the militants, really; criminals forced to fight are a good concept)
3) New Empire (I'm not so hot on the kamikaze cult thing myself, even if it floats some people's boats)
Make of it what you will. Basically I think that those all four are good for the squad-level drama; they're different from each other in dramatic ways, and should provide interesting contrasts. I don't know how you plan to make them interact, but this is looking pretty good. The higher-level political fictions are more vague and problematic; I suggest that you should perhaps tailor them to your squad-level concepts: if you want a faction of fanatics, then make them a religious dictatorship pure and simple, without all this confusing rebellion stuff. If the game will be focusing on the squad, then what's important and what's not is mightly different from a high-level game.

By the by: if you would, do tell us how you plan to put these different outlooks (conscripts, professional soldiers, prison dregs, fanatics) into interaction with each other. When I think of it, I would be most intrigued by putting them all into the same military units, fighting against a common enemy. Somehow it doesn't seem as interesting to have a squad of fanatics on one side and conscripts on the other, or some such thing. What kind of drama are you thinking of?
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2006, 01:28:21 PM »

Quote
Are different players assumed to be playing different factions? Can you have a cross-faction squad?

The players each represent a squad from a different faction. As far as the "resources" deck (the deck which provides your troopers and equipment, which represents offworld resources being shipped in), it has to be a single faction deck.

However, just because a player plays a Doctrines faction deck, doesn't mean that on the ground they can't make allegiances with "enemy" factions, and that they can't barter with other player squads, etc.

There are two ways that missions can be initiated. Players can start them ("It's in our best interest to clear this location", etc), or they can be sent down from "above". The only way to draw resource cards (soldiers, equipment, etc) is for players to complete missions sent from above.
Part of the intent is that squads will make alliances in order to complete the sometimes near-impossible missions that their superiors send down. So, my Military Doctrines squad might side with a Imperial squad, and develop a strong bond with them (even though that bond would be illegal.) They would depend on each other, until either one got the notice that the other had to be eradicated.

Quote
Imperials: The Tellurian Republic, Republicans for short. (I'm assuming they're at least seemingly democratic and based around Earth, like usual in the genre.)
First, earth isn't the centre. Earth became unhospitable and that's why the space colonization efforts really started booming. It is currently being processed and cleaned, because as is no human life could exist on it.

But... not so hot on the Republic. The fact that a lot of the departments (or Doctrines) function in complete isolation of each other, and without representative input, means that it is by no means democratic.
Its benevolance is what kept people happy with it for so long.

So, maybe Imperial Order still fits? I personally like the name.

Quote
Rebels: The Democratic Concord, Concord for short. (I'm assuming that the ideological basis for their cooperation is democratic.) Concord (as well as "Union", "League" or "Confederacy" would) emphasizes that they're a collection of separate interests united in their opposition of the empire, rather than a structure of top-down authority.
I like using either Union or Concord, definately. Would something like Freedom Concord work?

Quote
Thus calling your rebellion an "empire" is a rather orwellian turn of phrase.
Just to note, that was the original intent. It was meant to be very Orwellian in nature.
But, I think Freedom Concord would work. do you?

Quote
Prisons: this one is tough, because we don't know enough of their history yet. We know that
a) they're based around the penal system of the old empire
b) they were independent and powerful enough to split from the empire in practice
c) they oppose fascism, as represented by the militarists
d) the majority of their population base is formed out of criminals. Social crimes? Political crimes?
I'm imagining this idealist government in danger of splitting apart, as the old wardens are forced to share power with the prisoners, led by political malcontents of the old empire (who of course have the skill and the means to run a government, unlike the rough-and-ready guards).

I put some thought into this one, and I think that what I want is a habilitative society.
The universe is full of criminals, and most want them to put "locked away". These guys want them to lend the most they can to society.

They think that structured rehabilitation and work programs are the best solution.
And thus, the murderous brutes are being put through their pardon program, by being sent to this planet.

Quote
Anyway, if that's in the ballpark, I definitely wouldn't call them legions. (You could do that if it's a fascist government run by the guards, I suppose.) As a political body they could be called the People's Equity, for example, to emphasize the idea of pardon and a kind of confederation forming out of the wildly separate interests of the wardens and the prisoners.

True, very true. I don't like the name People's Equity, but you've got me thinking now.
I'm starting to really appreciate that the group founded on the prison system is the most lofty and idealistic. I love it.

Quote
Like, if my squad is with the Empire, what does that mean apart from us getting lots of rations? Are we for democracy? Are we against women's rights? Why are we fighting? All this requires a degree of internal coherency and believability, if not much.

I will have to think on this one, but while I'm at it I'll give a couple first thoughts:
Imperials - order, tradition, respect of the everyman. They ruled with benevolence, and they see themselves as the only group that can truly lead the galaxy.

Rebels - Democracy, destruction of the current system, social upheavel. These guys think the Imperials are running a smokescreen in front of everything they do, and they've first hand witnessed the slavery and cruelty.

Military - Tradition, Discipline, Aggression. These guys don't just think, but know, that strong, unified offenses solve problems a lot better than anything else.

Prison - Equality, Respect, moderate approach. These guys believe that everyone needs an equal say, that violence won't solve anything, and that all 3 other forces represent very fascist practices.



I just want to open the floor to any others who have comments too.
It'd be great for more varied input!
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