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Author Topic: Epic Fighty Robots game in the embryonic stage  (Read 4141 times)
Joel P. Shempert
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« on: March 18, 2008, 09:13:12 PM »

Hi! I've had an idea buzzing about my brain for some time now, but unable to see how to proceed with it. I couldn't get my head above the fiddly level of "what stats and which dice and target number system, and how are skills/traits gonna work, and. . ."

This is me trying to come up for air and get a handle on overall design goals related to the theme of my game and the desired play experience. To wit:

I want to write a game of Epic Mecha Sagas, along the lines of the Gundam series, most notably 1995's Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. (For anyone who doesn't know, "Mecha" refers to the Japanese anime and manga genre of giant fighting robot stories.) Gundam Wing is about a future where wars are fought with giant Mobile Suits and numerous space colonies within the solar system are encroached upon by an Earth-based hegemony. Independent operators send five young pilots in godlike super-mobile suits to Earth to wage a guerrilla war against the Alliance. The series is characterized by vibrant, sweepingly defined protagonist personalities, a sweeping political backdrop, sympathetic and noble adversaries, and themes of the purpose and nature of war, the dichotomy of order vs. self-determination, and the justification of achieving peace through bloodshed.

What I'm proposing is not "Gundam Wing: the RPG" per se, but a game that can create the same kind of story. It's be an epic Space Opera kind of tale, most likely a war story, with a grand scale of action and protagonists who enact decisive and cataclysmic change on their universe.

The themes and tropes that I've singled out as essential are:

  • Grandly, decisively effective protagonists as I've said)--no grunts in the trenches here, these are virtual demigods who lesser warriors can't even approach, much less equal;
  • An epic scale to the conflict in the first place--no less than the nation, the planet, the Solar System, the Galaxy! is at stake;
  • Mecha as extensions of the pilot's will and force of personality--no mere tools these;
  • Fights aren't just fights, or military objectives--the stakes are personally,  thematically charged;
  • and most important, I think, is the concept of striving--pushing to the limit and beyond, overcoming weakness, pouring heart and soul into the battle!

Systemically, it seems to me that I need something like:

  • First and foremost a specialized resolution method for the Duel. Most conflict should be resolved swiftly and simply (say, a single roll), but the Duel is different. It needs a sub-system that's more zoomed-in to the tense back-and-forth, more crunchy and strategic with advantage jockeying and sudden reversals, and especially more decisive. It's how real change is enacted in the Mechaverse.
  • However, there will be significant non-Duelist characters who have a decisive impact as well, within the context of a Duel. They can't win a Duel themselves; they're noncombatants. But they need to be able to exert some kind of "conflict-tipping" (or even conflict-halting) by their purely social and personal interference.
  • I need to tie the Passions of Protagonists/Antagonists into the resolution system, or else make the Conflict Resolution revolve around Passions in a fruitful Void kinda way.
  • Duels need to capture that Striving element, as Duelists push themselves to their physical and spiritual limit to achieve victory. I need rules for gaining victory at a great cost or toll to oneself, and for using a suffered defeat to rebound back for a subsequent win.
  • I also need to work out how to handle (rigidly or loosely) the creation of an overall dramatic arc, the structure and pacing of progress toward a climax. These stories do tend to progress toward a final confrontation, conclusion of the war, whatever. Ideally the thematic issues of the main cast would resolve in synchronization with that.

I've a few ideas for some of these: Non-dueling conflicts could be simple vs. rolls or could even be pure Karma resolution, so that to win against a higher-rated opponent you'd have to Duel for it. A non-Duelist could add their influence to the rating/roll/whatever for one side or the other, or perhaps tweak with both to create a draw. Passions could add to ratings or rolls or be the Stats you roll on in the first place. For striving, the most obvious route seems to have spendable points to increase rolls, but you could also have a system of risking or sacrificing something to increase results. And some kind of "defeat points" that you could spend on future conflicts seems like a natural.

What I'm looking for:

Some way to make sense of all this. I know I want complex resolution for Duels, but what sort? I can think of a few existing examples: Dogs' Raise-and-See, TSoY's Bringing Down the Pain, and Heroquest's Extended Contest. The latter two have promising elements: BDtP, like the name says, lets you struggle tooth-and-nail for victory, but you take more and more punishment the longer it drags on (which Dogs does too, now I think of it). And the HQ method of bidding action points on each roll (with the chance to win more points, lose your points, double your money, etc) could create an exciting dynamic for an over-the-top Mecha duel. A stickier problem is making the Duel more decisive. Setting grander stakes? Making results more permanent? In the abstract the concept sounds good but I'm stuck on implementation. And I want to make the Mechs all cool and individual (personality extensions, remember!) without getting into weapon damages and MPH of flight and all that statty type stuff. I wanna keep everything broadly and dramatically descriptive.

I'm also looking for folks to tell me if I'm off base or looking at things from the wrong end or anything. If there are any carts before any horses, please point them out so I can approach this from a more fruitful angle. And feel free to tell me if it looks like I'm reinventing any wheels: for instance Riddle of Steel with its brutal combat + Spiritual Attributes, or Contenders with its designated scene types + furious Boxing system, both sound like they're covering similar territory, but I've sadly not managed to read or pay either so I can't tell how big the overlap is. If I'm designing something that could really be played with an existing game, by all means let me know.

There y'all go--I hope I've been specific and focussed enough to elicit some good feedback. Thanks in advance!

Peace,
-Joel
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dindenver
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« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2008, 05:50:17 AM »

Joel,
  I think the trick is to have each char be an "Avatar." in other words, when Char A is passionate about peace in the middle east, then the faction he represents becomes passionate about that too. When the players succeed, whatever faction that believes in them grows and when they are defeated, people abandon hope and leave that faction disillusioned, you know?
  To me, that is the only way to really capture the grand scale of the conflict and still have it kept to a personal level.
  Maybe the same thing with the Mech, the Mech doesn't have its own stats. The stats are just a reflection of the character's virtues or ideals. A righteous char has a mech that is rigid and heavily armored with a weapon that is all or nothing, a passionate char might have a mech whose power waxes and wanes with the moon, etc.
  I don't know, these are just ideas I came up with off the top of my head, if you like them, maybe we can explore them further, good luck man!
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Dave M
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2008, 01:22:25 PM »

Wow, David--I think you're on to something! In fact, I'll go one better and suggest that the Duelists should be Avatars of anything--a particular cause or ideal, an abstract virtue, mission, vendetta, ambition, what have you. Any victories that Duelist achieves would be reflected in the ascendancy of that ideal or goal. Victories for an Avatar of Peace would cause a reduction of hostilities, disarmament, etc; victories for Order would cause stability, hegemony, the crushing of rebellion, etc. . .and victories for a more personal goal like Revenge or an unrequited love would result in strides made toward that goal's completion.

Faction support could of course be a possible goal, but it needs to be broader than that-in Gundam Wing for example there aren't really a multiplicity of factions--though they clash on occasion, the Gundam pilots are more or less on the same side, with the same goal and common enemy. Only Quatre has a faction to lead, and they pretty much just play supporting role in the story--not much of a source of contention or anything. But all the Duelists (including Zechs as the Noble Adversary) definitely represent diverse ideals and goals, many of which change as the story progresses. (Hmm, perhaps this is the crux of the Non-Duellists' influence on the story: effecting change of heart in a Duellist, pushing them toward a different Ideal. Like: "Heero Yuy is all about The Mission--until he meets Releena, the strange and passionate girl who changes his life. . .")

This all reminds me of elements in a few different games. First of all Capes, the Thesis of which ("Power is fun. . .but do you deserve it?") plays out in conflicts, where heroes and villains strive to prove their ideals and way of life. If you win a conflict, your way of life is symbolically and experientially vindicated, but if you lose your doubts are redoubled (literally, in terms of the system's Currency) and you've got to stake everything on more and more desperate conflicts for your Ideals to win through. And second, The Shadow of Yesterday's Keys seem like a natural fit for the different ideals and goals I'm talking about. Hell, most of the Keys you'd want are already in there (Esp. the Mission, the Coward, or Revenge). And finally, I don't know much about it, but Josh BishopRoby's Full Light, Full Steam has Thematic Batteries that "charge up" from a character's failures related to the Theme in question, until they're full and can be discharged to make a comeback and achieve final victory. Seems like a good fit since we are talking about a genre where the protagonists generally are expected to finally win the day after suffering severe setbacks. Look at Gundam Wing; the fore all their godlike invincibility the Gundam pilots fail pretty miserably at their true goals for much of the series.

So, how to implement this Avatar-ship? I'm thinking something like a pool that points gained from Duelling victories would dump into, achieving the goal when filled, with incremental change all the way. Example: Zechs Marquise exploits his position in OZ to execute his vendetta against the conquerors of the Sanc Kingdom. Having achieved that (rather hollow) victory, he throws himself into his obsession of an honorable duel with Heero. Or you could abandon a goal (under possible influence/manipulation from a non-duelist? Not sure how that'd work) and take up a new one. Example: Heero single-mindedly pursues his dedication to his Mission and following orders, until in the face of the utter failure of that methodology he champions the cause of Releena and the Sanc Kingdom, becoming her protector.

I dunno, I'm seeing a lot of possibilities for playing this kind of game with any of the systems I just mentioned. Capes is a total natural; you've got Powered and Unpowered characters which map to Mech and Non-Mech characters perfectly; you've got the Debt economy and the very Striving-oriented conflict system. or you could play TSoY where you can only Bring Down the Pain in a Mecha fight, or something. And I haven't read FLFS, but the failure-to-triumph cycle of the Thematic Batteries seems to fit well enough.

So I'm back to: why even design a new game? Do I have anything unique to offer the play experience that can't be accomplished with existing rulesets?

Of course the answer could very well turn out to be "no." In which case I'll come away with some cool insight on how to run/play a Capes Mecha or Shadow of Gundam campaign. But if the answer is "yes". . .hmm, I suspect it lies somewhere in the question of how to make Mecha battle fundamentally different from other means of solving problems.

peace,
-Joel

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opsneakie
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« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2008, 03:55:02 PM »

Well, they're all flying super powered robotic death machines, right? These must be expensive. And assuming that they have the money to build these, people would build the biggest, baddest mechs possible, righty? I'm not sure anyone's mech has to be any stronger than anyone elses, it's all about how you use it. Maybe you could rate the character's connection with their machine instead, who familiar and intuitive it is. Someone who's just learning to control this huge machine won't have the ability to fight against someone for whom the machine is like an extension of their body.

Maybe the system should be based on the character's ability to bond with their machine?

just an idea.

opsneakie.
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Mike Sugarbaker
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« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2008, 08:11:42 PM »

Hey Joel - now I'm trying to remember the stuff you mentioned about this at the last Go Play SE.

For some reason, I want to direct you to a dice game I barely remember, namely Button Men - I think it had some good sauce for the back-and-forth of Dogs but with a very different feel. It might be worth stealing from.
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dindenver
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« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2008, 11:42:01 AM »

Joel,
  Well, I dunno about having all mechs being "balls out" That has always been a theme in gundam (especially Wing), the idea that some foes including foes with Mechs are just attrition units that, even if they concentrated their fire, it would have no effect. Think of a Sherman against a Panzer, where the shells would literally bounce off of the Panzer's armor.
  As to using existing systems, have you heard/seen Bliss Stage. This is an Indie RPG where the Mechs are powered by emotions. I don't know how good/bad it is, but the people I know who have played it, loved it.
  If you want a more crunchy game Mekton (and to a lesser extent Mekton Z) are good mech combat simulators with the least amount of crunch for that genre.
  As to TSoY, I dunno if it does EPIC well, and Wing is all about the Epic.
  Of course there is BESM, that is a game where the anime stylen is there and the mech rules are light, might have what you want, if you pair out the perks and bonuses that are not genre appropriate...
  Good luck man!
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Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2008, 03:03:08 PM »

Hi, Dave! Thanks for gettin' back to me.

Well, I dunno about having all mechs being "balls out" That has always been a theme in gundam (especially Wing), the idea that some foes including foes with Mechs are just attrition units that, even if they concentrated their fire, it would have no effect. Think of a Sherman against a Panzer, where the shells would literally bounce off of the Panzer's armor.
Oh, for sure, man. This is a core concept to my plans. That's why I've been talking about Duelists vs. Non-duelists, not just Pilot or non-pilot. In GW there are certainly plenty of "Mook" Mobile Suit troops, who get mowed down like grass, but if a "Special" Pilot like Zechs hops into even an ordinary Leo, he's a force to be reckoned with. One thing that I've been noting in my rewatching of Gundam Wing (about 1/3 through so far) is that the GndamPilots are given pause by two things: another "named " Pilot (Duelist), or being overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers and firepower. So a ton of Mooks could gang up on the heroes, but it takes a lot.

Hmm, perhaps a Mobile Suit is only as good as its pilot at the core. . .but suits of differing power would grant a different multiplier to base ability?

Regarding existing systems:

  • Bliss Stage: I have heard of it, haven't gotten to play it yet. My understanding was that it's got more of an Evangelion-inspired, fucked-up emotional psychodrama slant to it. But I'm definitely wanting to learn more.
  • Mekton: Honestly, I'm not interested in a "Mech Combat Simulator" at all. There are plenty of games that could give me that. I'm looking for a more narrative-driven approach without a lot of detail on the "hardware specs" or "roll attack and damage" side of things.
  • TSoY: I tend to think TSoY could handle "Epic" just fine. The TSoY system is an engine for characters pursuing passions, and includes a progression of characters from "Competent" to "Grand Master" in their chosen specialties, followed by "Transcendence" (the dramatic climax of a character's story arc) upon the character's achievement of their ultimate, epic feat. "Epic" is definitely a core concept of my design, hence my attention to TSoY.
  • Big Eyes Small Mouth: Actually, I've been playing BESM fr years. As I said regarding Mekton, my design goals lie in an entirely different area of focus.

Like I've been saying I want the mechanics directly driven by character passions, and I want Mecha Dueling to operate functionally differently than other ways of getting things done. Still have a lot of unknowns in my mind about those, but I'll keep pondering and checking out related designs.

Peace,
-joel
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2008, 03:07:44 PM »

Hey Joel - now I'm trying to remember the stuff you mentioned about this at the last Go Play SE.

For some reason, I want to direct you to a dice game I barely remember, namely Button Men - I think it had some good sauce for the back-and-forth of Dogs but with a very different feel. It might be worth stealing from.
Hmm, Mike, I'm not entirely sure what I said about it then myself--not much as I recall. I know I mentioned that I wanted it to be the RPG you could play Gundam Wing in, but that's about it.

Anyhoo, I just might check out Button Menthe Paizo store is having a clearance and I can pick up some for cheap. The Cheapass/James Earnest crop of games have a lot of innovative mechanics, and no reason some couldn't be applicable to RPGs. Thanks!

Peace,
-Joel
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2008, 03:13:02 PM »

Hi, Opsneakie!

Well, they're all flying super powered robotic death machines, right? These must be expensive. And assuming that they have the money to build these, people would build the biggest, baddest mechs possible, righty? I'm not sure anyone's mech has to be any stronger than anyone elses, it's all about how you use it. Maybe you could rate the character's connection with their machine instead, who familiar and intuitive it is. Someone who's just learning to control this huge machine won't have the ability to fight against someone for whom the machine is like an extension of their body.

Maybe the system should be based on the character's ability to bond with their machine?
Hmm, I already covered some of this in my reply to Dave, but I do think there's avery real difference in power between Mechs-it's just secondary to the ability of the Pilot. I'm liking the idea of ability magnification more and more.

But your idea of bonding/synchronization with a Mech has a lot going for it too. I'd like to incorporate that somehow. There are definitely strong themes in GW about struggling to harness/control a particularly powerful suit (which in my mind is really just more of the metaphor of mastering yourself--your passions and potential--that's at the base of much of the mecha genre. But I digress).

Thanks for the thoughts!

Peace,
-Joel
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dindenver
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« Reply #9 on: March 24, 2008, 03:35:42 PM »

Ha!
  Yeah that is pretty much how Bliss Stage was resented to me as well. But, the "core" of it is almost identical too where you are going. The mech and pilot represent a "concept" (in this case love, but in your case some sort of inspiration) and they are powered/feed on/are fed by a 3rd party to the battle (In Bliss their lover, in yours their faction),
  So, maybe it is fodder for stealing, or it might just take a mod to play your game, I dunno...
  Yeah, I don't get the feeling that large number can beat a wing Gundam. Those kinds of defeats (numbers vs quality) seem to come from superior strategy on the part of some general or a fundamental failure to live up to their ideals on the part of the pilot...
  Happy hunting man!
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Dave M
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2008, 03:44:20 PM »

Hey, Joel: Dave is kinda right about Bliss Stage. It's more of the Gunbuster RPG than it is the Evangelion RPG. For some reason, the "Evangelion RPG" meme has spread around a lot, I think it's because people aren't familiar with the other entries in the genre.

Is there a way that I can facilitate you coming into contact with Bliss Stage? I'd love to be able to talk with you about your game, but to some degree I can't do that without talking about mine (since they're so close in contact.)

yrs--
--Ben
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2008, 04:14:18 PM »

Go for the Top!! Smiley

Hi, Ben. The Gunbuster influence makes sense now you mention it. Hmm. My first thought when I heard about Bliss Stage was "Damn! someone designed my game already!" Then I heard the Evangelion buzz and my second thought was "Hrm, it's more of an Eva thing, maybe there's room for my game after all." And here we are.

I'd love lovitty love to play Bliss Stage. Almost got my shot at the last Go Play PDX gathering but Jake had to cancel. He's promised to run it at a monthly gathering soon, so I might get the chance then. Or if the scheduling works out (it'd have to be Sunday afternoon) maybe I'll get to play it directly with you at Gamestorm this weekend! Which would rock.

Peace,
-Joel
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #12 on: March 24, 2008, 04:17:53 PM »

Go for the Top!! Smiley

Hi, Ben. The Gunbuster influence makes sense now you mention it. Hmm. My first thought when I heard about Bliss Stage was "Damn! someone designed my game already!" Then I heard the Evangelion buzz and my second thought was "Hrm, it's more of an Eva thing, maybe there's room for my game after all." And here we are.

I'd love lovitty love to play Bliss Stage. Almost got my shot at the last Go Play PDX gathering but Jake had to cancel. He's promised to run it at a monthly gathering soon, so I might get the chance then. Or if the scheduling works out (it'd have to be Sunday afternoon) maybe I'll get to play it directly with you at Gamestorm this weekend! Which would rock.

Peace,
-Joel

Let's talk at Gamestorm. At the very least I can give you the 15 minute demo.
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #13 on: March 24, 2008, 04:23:05 PM »

Yeah, I don't get the feeling that large number can beat a wing Gundam. Those kinds of defeats (numbers vs quality) seem to come from superior strategy on the part of some general or a fundamental failure to live up to their ideals on the part of the pilot...
I think you're on to something there. It's definitely failure of ideals, loss of faith, faltering in purpose, etc. that puts the Gundams in the frying pan. And all the overwhelming hordes of Leos and Aries pelting them with gunfire never do more than pin them down and stagger them. But the pressure on the Gundams isn't just cosmetic; it even forced Quatre to detonate Sandrock so everyone could escape off-planet. . .

I wonder if there's some way to represent that strength of faith and idealism (and more importantly, it's failure) in a way that's not heavyhanded.

Hrm. Now I'm back to Capes again. Goddammit.

Peace,
-Joel
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #14 on: March 24, 2008, 04:23:37 PM »

Let's talk at Gamestorm. At the very least I can give you the 15 minute demo.

Sweet.
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