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Author Topic: [Netland] Power 19  (Read 1776 times)
Bill O'Dea
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« on: April 04, 2006, 04:27:18 PM »

Hi everyone! Since I wanted to have something to talk about at the Midwest convention, here's an idea I've been kicking around for a while. Any comments or criticisms are welcome. Thanks!

Netland – The Power 19

1.   What is the game about?
   
It’s about getting out of trouble even if it means backstabbing others. It’s about being in way over your head, using software you don’t really understand, deciding how to trust people when you’ve only met them online … all to solve Trouble of yours that, if left unsolved, will destroy you.

2.   What do the characters do?


The PCs are hired by an employer for low-level hacking jobs: steal someone’s identity, break into a bank’s server and delete account records, etc. But the PCs have no real hacking skills themselves, and they’re totally dependent on software for their mad hax0r skillz. Even then, hacking programs can only take them so far—they’ll still need to use logic, creativity, and their personality to succeed.

Meanwhile, each character will secretly be hired by a second employer—the one who holds the Trouble over their head—and given a side job. This will conflict with the main job, causing characters to choose between helping each other at their own expense and helping themselves at the other’s expense. Successfully completing either job will help solve their Trouble, if not eliminate it completely.

One thing the characters cannot do is die. They are only interacting through online avatars, so at worst their avatars are blocked or they lose their internet connection. So PCs can kill each other all game long.

3.   What do the players (and the GM) do?

It is possible that the players will work together so everyone can eliminate their Troubles. But since players can sabotage the others and still get rid of their Trouble, players will spend a lot of time scheming against each other. (Or at least preparing for when another turns against him.)

Since characters cannot die, such backstabbing does not any drastic, permanent effects as it would in other RPGs. Also, the GM has a lot of control over the game and can regulate this player-vs.-player conflict to ensure no one dominates at the expense of other, less-experienced players.

4.   How does the setting reinforce what the game is about?

Characters interact completely through avatars in a near-future online world—not VR but a 3D, MMORPG-style internet. Because of this, characters can easily communicate covertly with each other or with NPCs. This allows for backstabbing, secret messages, and other skullduggery if the players try to get out of Trouble by sacrificing their fellow pseudo-hackers.

5.   How does the character creation reinforce what the game is about?

Character generation starts with selecting Trouble, the huge problem hanging over the PC’s head. Trouble is similar to class in that it gives bonuses and penalties to character stats. It also determines what software a character starts the game with. For example, if you got caught stealing someone’s ID, then your software will reflect that ability.

There are no physical stats or skills since everything takes place online. Other stats are chosen by the player from a pool of points. And no, there is no Programming or Hacking skills since the players are script kiddies.

6.   What types of behavior does the game reward and/or punish?

The game rewards plotting against the other players, planning on others plotting against you, and bluffing your way past people. The game punishes relying too much on equipment and gear (or software in this case), and naïve trust and not planning on people turning against you.

7.   How is behavior rewarded and/or punished in the game?

The plotting is rewarded by the conflict between real job and secret job, both of which can solve their Trouble. Bluffing will be rewarded by success at the main or side jobs; without bluffing their way past NPC avatars, they’ll get nowhere. Relying too much on software is punished by making the programs prone to lag, bugs, and crashes. Lastly, because the online world encourages covert communication, too much trust is punished by being backstabbed by fellow players.

8.   How are responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in the game?

GMs have a lot of power and responsibility. Narration and credibility are almost solely given to the GM; they even make some of the rolls. This is to reinforce the ‘in way over my head’ feeling as well as strengthen the paranoia and fear players will feel towards each other. 

9.   What does your game do to command a player’s attention, engagement, and participation?

Since this is an online world, players can always be in communication—no more worrying about a party splitting in two. Also, the game encourages secret messages between players and between player and GM, likewise encouraging participation even when a player is not immediately engaged in the scene’s action. Websites each have a Metaphor which governs the site’s graphics--Wild West, Anime, Office Standard, etc—which also change the appearance of a player’s avatar and equipment. This ‘graphically-rich content’ should also command attention.

10.   What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

1d20 vs. target skill, equal or lower to succeed. The GM decides which stat is most appropriate, something which is very flexible. For example, a PC trying to find an IP address for a specific website could roll against his Cognition (thinking where to find it), his Imagination (creatively coming up with the right address), or even his Contacts (friends that might know the address).

In contested rolls, the action that succeeds with a bigger margin happens first--but the other successful action happens next. (Unless it doesn’t make sense, and the GM decides what makes sense.) Using software is slightly different. Whenever a program is opened and run, the GM rolls to see if it malfunctions like locking up or even crashing the user’s system. But if it works, then no resolution is required—the program does whatever it’s supposed to do.

11.   How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what the game is about?

The GM, not the player, selects which stat will be used for a resolution. While there are guidelines for how a GM makes this decision, it is ultimately up to them. This keeps the players off-balance since they play hackers who are in way over their heads. Also, since two successes in a contested roll can occur, it pays to be the first to try something—especially while the other person isn’t looking, encouraging backstabbing to get rid of that pesky Trouble.

12.   Do characters in the game advance? If so, how?

There are three styles of play to Netland. In Deathmatch style, there is no advancement--or plot for that matter. In Shareware style, there is no advancement as the game is designed to solve the Trouble by the adventure’s end—in other words, it’s a one-shot adventure. In MMO style, characters advance by getting closer to solving their Trouble at the end of each adventure. If they met their real job—or secret job—they receive money (or whatnot) to chip away at their Trouble. They also receive a single point to increase an attribute.

13.   How does the character advancement reinforce what the game is about?

By getting rewards related to their Trouble, or by getting a little bit better at being online and doing those jobs, characters come closer to solving their Trouble.

14.   What sort of effect do you want the game to produce in (or for) the players?

To bring the player-verses-player fun of video games into RPGs: attack each other, face a small penalty, and then get back in there and keep fighting.

15.   What areas of the game receive extra attention and color? Why?

The Trouble that PCs get in receive a lot of attention because this is what drives the characters. Extra color is given to the future websites and to the software characters use in-game because these help define the game as unique and encourage creativity in the players.

16.   What parts of the game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

Using real hacking techniques like script injections to guide the software/equipment creation and encouraging players to be all sneaky, sly, and untrustworthy while projecting the exact opposite to each other.

17.   Where does the game take players that other games can’t/don’t/won’t?

It encourages player-verses-player conflict like many of today’s video games but without causing a significant penalty for dying. It provides a tangible motivation to compete against the other players and to ‘go adventuring’ that players can easily relate to.

18.   What are your publishing goals for this game?

To publish online in PDF format, create a website to promote the game, and to continue offering supplements—some free, some for a price.

19.   Who is your target audience?

Players of PvP video games who want more communication, substance, and plot in their games, and roleplayers who enjoy fighting each other but don’t want to kill someone’s character for fear of being that annoying guy who ruins games.

-- Bill O'Dea
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2006, 06:27:18 PM »

Why will players play in the "PvP Mode"? Unless their Troubles are mutually exclusive, which they don't appear to be, I find it more likely they will cooperate.

Sure, while you go at someone else's Trouble yours is left unresolved, but if several people go at each person's Trouble in turn, all Troubles will probably get resolved much quicker. That's why you have "Clans".
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Bill O'Dea
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« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2006, 04:14:57 AM »

While each character's Trouble may not conflict, the way to solve Trouble can. Solving boils down to two methods:

1. By succeeding at the main job. This requires everyone to work together (or at least not work against).
2. By succeeding at the secret side job. This side job will conflict with the main job--mutually exclusive comes into play here.

So we have characters that have never met outside of online life, can easily IM or email anyone secretly, and they know all it takes is one of them to get selfish and screw it all up. We also have players who know everyone has a side job that conflicts and that players can send secret messages to the GM and each other. Once those messages start flying, I believe it mirrors the paranoia internet users sometimes feel in chat rooms, MMORPGs, etc. "Who am I really talking to? Should I trust them? Are they just trying a phishing scam?" While it's true that everyone could work together in peace and harmony, I think said paranoia will cause most groups to enter PvP some time during the session. (And that will be very interesting to see happen.)

Any more clear and/or better?

-- Bill O'Dea
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2006, 04:17:31 AM »

I encourage you to have people playtest or run the playtest without you pushing this on them. Present the material at them without a "Suggested play-mode of backstabbing" and watch how far it takes for things to go pear shaped, if at all. I'm curious about the results.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
DevP
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« Reply #4 on: April 09, 2006, 08:08:44 AM »

Are you trying to tap into any sort of "Prisoner's Dillema" rewards here? Where our cooperation is kinda beneficial for me, me betraying you is most beneficial for me, but us both betraying each other is really bad for both of us?
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Bill O'Dea
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« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2006, 06:48:31 AM »

Sort of--and thank you for reminding me what it was called!

What I'm really trying to do is generate some competition, mistrust, and paranoia (the fun kinds) between players while still making cooperation a possibility--that way, any naughtiness on the part of the players is their own doing. (They could have worked together in peace and harmony so everyone succeeds, but nooooooo!) That way, it's their decision and not the GM's or the game's.

Still, I recognize the game is skewed towards inter-player conflict. PCs in Netland are in way over their heads, swept up by powers greater than themselves, forcing them to swim as hard as possible to stay out of trouble. (Nothing like stretching a metaphor!) I believe that I can represent this idea by presenting a cooperative element that's technically possible and a competative element that's more likely to occur by the player's own actions. I arranged the main job/side job conflict (a.k.a. 'work together/screw the other saps') to generate that. The Prisoner's Dillema is exactly why I think cooperation will not happen and the game will become pvp. Thanks for your comment, DevP!

All of this will be presented to player and GM, so like Thunder_God suggested, I won't push pvp on the players. Still, they will be made aware of it's potential. Also thanks for your comments, Thunder!
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DevP
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« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2006, 08:08:37 PM »

They could have worked together in peace and harmony so everyone succeeds, but nooooooo!
Well, you need to be careful because if this is a competitive game on offset (where you're trying to "win" and be victorious), I find players are very good at figuring out an optimal cooperative strategy, if their is one. Conversely, you need to make sure that all the players know that the PvP "stab" is on the table and has to be acceptable to everyone playing; it must be clear that everyone can safely do that stab without bothing other players, as people (even if they'll bang their shoe on the table and swear revenge in a good-hearted way).

Quote
The GM, not the player, selects which stat will be used for a resolution. While there are guidelines for how a GM makes this decision, it is ultimately up to them. This keeps the players off-balance since they play hackers who are in way over their heads.
So does the GM have the right to choose the lowest available stat at all times, if she wanted, and would doing so be fair? Or does the GM have to have some discretion about how hard to make challenges? The best approach (IMHO) if the GM would *always* try to get use the lowest stat available, but the players could use the mechanics to limit which stats were applicable to a given task.

Quote
plotting against the other players, planning on others plotting against you
My question about this goal: how will you resolve that the characters will be unaware of possible plotting against each other, but that the players might be aware of such things? Will people talk privately to the GM to start plots? Do you have any mechanical ideas?
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Bill O'Dea
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« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2006, 06:24:01 AM »

... I find players are very good at figuring out an optimal cooperative strategy, if their is one. Conversely, you need to make sure that all the players know that the PvP "stab" is on the table and has to be acceptable to everyone playing ....
I've also found players to be very good at figuring out how to mess with each other. :) This pvp side will be made clear, both in text and in the main job/side job dynamic--especially in how this is unusual for rpgs but perfectly acceptable here, if not encouraged. I'm sure players will initially balk at the pvp side ... then one person will do something wrong (real or perceived), and the floodgates will open.

The best approach (IMHO) if the GM would *always* try to get use the lowest stat available, but the players could use the mechanics to limit which stats were applicable to a given task.
That's what seems to be developing as I write things. Skills have names (Conviction) but have related attributes (Personality) and qualities (Power); therefore, Conviction is the power of your personality. This helps define stats, which would limit what the GM can feasibly use. The big question now is, should I build in a system where GMs and players can barter over which skill to use in a given roll, or would that open the game up for real, unfun conflict? I'm leaning towards letting GMs state which skill governs a given roll and letting the players vote if this works or not.

GM: I think your Trickery skill would cover this, since you're trying to con the man into giving up his password.
Player 1: That's crazy! I should use my Conviction skill because ... I truly believe in what I'm doing.
GM: I say Trickery, which happens to be his lowest skill. All those in favor?
All players except Player 1: Aye!
GM: Opposed?
Player 1: You bastards.
GM: Right, one abstention. Trickery it is--roll, kiddie.

How will you resolve that the characters will be unaware of possible plotting against each other, but that the players might be aware of such things? Will people talk privately to the GM to start plots?
Players can send secret messages (PMs) to the GM or each other whenever they want. This will build up the fear and distrust in those who cannot read the messages. As for the player being aware yet his character being unaware ... to be honest, I'm not concerned. I'm looking for characters to be thin shells for the players, not true alternate personae, so as long as the player doesn't do anything against the rules then it's fine.
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