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Author Topic: (unnamed SF rpg) mechanics question  (Read 3462 times)
MPOSullivan
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Posts: 149


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« on: December 02, 2004, 05:46:09 AM »

man, it has been a long time since i've posted here.  hope everyone has been doing well.  i should stop trolling once in a while, eh?

anyway, on to the set-up.  for the past couple of months i've been working on my debut into the published RPG world, Criminal Element, with the invaluable help of Ron Edwards.  but, for the past two days i have been horrifically ill and decided that, rather than work on CE some more i wanted to just play around with a system idea i had bouncing in the back of my head.  now, as always, i do try and publish everything i post on here, even if it's just a .pdf on my website, so by posting this here i'm going to wind up throwing all of my notes onto the good ol' website for perusal.

now, on to the system itself.  the game is supposed to be a dusty sci-fi rpg in the vein of Firefly.  the system is a fairly basic stat+skill=dice pool setup.  now, here's the twist.  

i want the system to emulate TVs and novels in the way it describes the characters.  rather than characters having minutiae-style skills like firearms, brawling, pilot (spacecraft) and what have you, i want to describe the characters in broader terms, like the descriptors in Pace or the Cliches of Risus.  so, rather than having a big list of ten or twelve skills, a character could have three or four traits, like Pilot, Fronteir-born, Strong-willed and Soldier.

so, when you get into a situation where one of these Traits might come into play, you get to roll the dice associated with it as part of your dice pool.  so, basically, like your standard RPG skill, only more versatile.

here's the thing.  i've been thinking it through in my head and it seems all well and good, but what if a player wants to be good at a certain aspect of a Trait but not as good at another?  Say a player takes "Smuggler" and wants to have a bunch of great underworld connections but not to actually be good at outting together the plan for actually ripping people off.

my immediate reflex is to build in a specialty system where players get to choose a couple of parts of their Trait that they are good at and they get full points when doing those things.  when doing stuff that isn't a part of the character's specialties but is covered by the Trait, the player gets to roll half of the dice that would normally be provided by the Trait.  

does this sound like a good fix?  or am i barking up the wrong tree entirely?

as always, any help would be greatly appreciated.  also, if this isn't enough info to go on, feel free to tell me and i'll expound where i can.
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Michael P. O'Sullivan
--------------------------------------------
Criminal Element
Desperate People, Desperate Deeds
available at Fullmotor Productions
ethan_greer
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2004, 06:22:38 AM »

In order to keep things to a minimum, I'd use bonuses instead of penalties. Instead of naming the things their characters can do without penalty, the players could write down a few things their characters are extra good at. When the character does something they're extra good at, they get bonus dice, and for everything else, they just roll the trait as normal.

That way, instead of players having to choose all of the elements of a trait that they are good at in order to avoid getting penalties, they can just choose a few elements of a trait that they want to be especially good at.

Make sense?
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greedo1379
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2004, 05:01:32 PM »

Maybe I'm missing something but you seem to be describing the basic attribute - skill system that a lot of RPGs use.  I mean, you started out with the idea to use only 4 basic descriptors to keep it simple but then you decided that those 4 basic descriptors wouldn't really be enough to get a full character.  How does this differ from Str, Dex, Con, Wis, Chr, Int with skills under each one?  Instead of having a high Dex with a lot of points in Balance you have a high Smuggler with a lot of points in Connections.  I dunno what the difference is.
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2004, 05:20:08 PM »

The difference is that instead of there being a set list from which to choose, the player can define their traits however they want. So if you want to play a belly-dancing manicurist squirrel hunter, you can.

Assuming I'm reading Michael right, that is.
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greedo1379
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« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2004, 05:41:58 PM »

Quote from: ethan_greer
The difference is that instead of there being a set list from which to choose, the player can define their traits however they want. So if you want to play a belly-dancing manicurist squirrel hunter, you can.

Assuming I'm reading Michael right, that is.


So the difference is that in typical gamey games the player is supplied with a list of suggested skills and such while in Michael's game the player makes up the list himself?

Quote
i want to describe the characters in broader terms


Which is fine.  I think your current plan to just choose 3-4 descirptors is good.

Quote
my immediate reflex is to build in a specialty system where players get to choose a couple of parts of their Trait that they are good at and they get full points when doing those things


But describing a character in broad terms and then further specifying what they are / aren't good at is basically:

Quote
characters having minutiae-style skills like firearms, brawling, pilot (spacecraft)


To me anyway.  You know what I mean?

Perhaps your character with "Smuggler" should have just taken "Underworld Connections" instead in the first place.  But then what happens when you have a character that wants to be a Smuggler with underworld connections?  Does he have to take two descirptors?
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Jason E Leigh
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« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2004, 06:26:51 PM »

I agree with greedo - at least about the way the broad descriptors ought to be used.  If a player wants great underworld connections, but not have the brains or guts to pull off a choice smuggling job, maybe the descriptor ought to be 'Made Guy' instead of smuggler?

I think what can really help nail these general descriptor systems down is lots and lots and lots of examples.  Take a page from FATE (created in part by the guy who created Pace) for an example of this.  The Aspect system is about what your descriptors sound like.  It can be a very flexible design choice.

It's also duanting because a lot of old skool gamers may look at a game with no skill list and go into convulsions about what their descriptors should be.  This is where the examples are invaluable.

So, my suggestion would be to think up as many challenges as you can like this one ("I want a smuggler whose got great connections, but isn't a great con artist") and build examples around how that would be done with the general system.

Finally, if you really think a general descriptor system like this will work to bring out the actual play you envision - don't be scared off the desgin goal by old habits and expectations - not that you're doing that now.  It's just that in designing my never-to-be-complete game, I get locked into these death spirals of "This is how I want it to be." followed by "But if it's like that it doesn't match my long standing gaming habits, so I should change it."

Good luck.
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"Oh, it's you...
deadpanbob"
MPOSullivan
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« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2004, 07:14:17 PM »

yeah, ethan got it right.  my intent is to basically allow a character to have a deep and interresting past for their character without having to plot out all of the tiny, funny skills that would normally come from uysing a skill-based system.  

think of it like this, for those of you that have read burning wheel.  what if, insted of having specific skills that a player learned from all of his lifepath selections, a character just has a rating in the selection itself.  So, instead of having to take Sailing, seamanship, navigation, etc.  the character can just take Sailor.  

so, characters have some number of attributes (like strength, dex, etc.), a couple of Traits, like Pilot, Smuggler, Soldier, what have you.

now, the reason i posted is because i didn't like the descriptor thing i came up with.  it was too obviously a patch that just didn't feel right.  i like what ethan suggests, and in conjunction with something i thought up to tag onto it, i think it could work well.

this is what i'm thinking, and tell me if it sounds stupid or not.

players choose their traits as normal.  let's say a player picks soldier at 3.  now, the player sees his character as being a solid combat medic.  so, the player takes the aspect of combat medic for his Soldier trait at +1.  then, to offset this, the character jsut has to choose a part of the trait that the character isn't good at.  Perhaps the character wasn't a good leader, so he would jsut write in Leadership -1.  

Thus, in most cases regarding things that could involve Soldier-ly type skills, the player gets three dice from Soldier.  But, if the character is trying to stitch up her friend's gunshot wound, she gets four dice.  And, if the character is trying to boss around her crewmates she only gets two dice.  

sound good?
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Michael P. O'Sullivan
--------------------------------------------
Criminal Element
Desperate People, Desperate Deeds
available at Fullmotor Productions
ethan_greer
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2004, 06:46:25 AM »

Sounds good to me.
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Kedamono
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« Reply #8 on: December 03, 2004, 10:03:07 PM »

Quote from: Zathreyel
think of it like this, for those of you that have read burning wheel.  what if, insted of having specific skills that a player learned from all of his lifepath selections, a character just has a rating in the selection itself.  So, instead of having to take Sailing, seamanship, navigation, etc.  the character can just take Sailor.  

so, characters have some number of attributes (like strength, dex, etc.), a couple of Traits, like Pilot, Smuggler, Soldier, what have you.

<snippage>

this is what i'm thinking, and tell me if it sounds stupid or not.

players choose their traits as normal.  let's say a player picks soldier at 3.  now, the player sees his character as being a solid combat medic.  so, the player takes the aspect of combat medic for his Soldier trait at +1.  then, to offset this, the character jsut has to choose a part of the trait that the character isn't good at.  Perhaps the character wasn't a good leader, so he would jsut write in Leadership -1.  

Thus, in most cases regarding things that could involve Soldier-ly type skills, the player gets three dice from Soldier.  But, if the character is trying to stitch up her friend's gunshot wound, she gets four dice.  And, if the character is trying to boss around her crewmates she only gets two dice.  

sound good?


Sounds more like you're talking about "meta skills" not traits. To me a trait is more along of "shifty", "honest", "brave".

Soldier, Sailor, Leader... they sound and behave as though they are a bunch of skills rolled up into one. Soldier contains several skills from the sounds of it, with a little bit of medical tossed in for fun from your description.

I can see the potential for abuse by the wily player, who comes up with his own "trait" that covers a wide array of skills. But then again, this "Dusty SFRPG" sounds more story driven. Um, what's the right word, "narrativistic"? (I'm still trying to get the hand of terminology, sorry.)

Sure, you're rolling dice, but the story and character interaction is the main thrust. So removing the ability to micromanage skills is a boon.

Hmm, let me toss out an example of how I see this working:

Clive Maxey, ex-Alliance soldier, ex-soldier of fortune, now runs a small time security escort firm. His firm provides security for people in high risk areas, by providing armored vehicles, troops, and firepower. Unfortunately Clive is not a good administrator or accountant, those he leaves to others in Maxey Maximum Security, Inc.

Traits: Soldier: 6, Leader: 3, Businessman: -2, Procurer (AKA Scrounger): 3
Bonuses: Small unit Tactics: +2, Guerilla Tactics: +3, Armor Vehicles: +1

At this point I almost don't see a need for statistics like Strength or Intelligence. Since you're using skill based dice pools, I really don't see a need for them. Maybe a bonus like: Muscular: +2 or Quick Wits: +1

Interesting idea Mike, I'd like to see how it comes out.
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The Kedamono Dragon
AKA John Reiher
MPOSullivan
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« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2004, 07:20:35 AM »

kedamono points out a couple of other things that i've been toying with in the game.  one of the problems i've been having is with the interplay between attributes and traits.  yes, traits do play like "metaskills" as you called them, but their orginal intent was to also allow players to pick personality traits like "Courageous" or characteristics like "Devilishly Handsome" as part of their selections.  But, as you could tell right away, it didn't map properly with the attributes.

now, one of the obvious answers is to eliminate attributes entirely.  this is an option i would normally be all for, as every single other RPG i've ever developed has been without attributes.  though, i must admit the game would feel a little weird to me without them.  the intent is to create a pretty much largely narrativistic game and i kind of like the way attributes impact upon that framework.  it allows for a common ground for players to judge their ingame effectiveness concerning certain common in game actions.  also, there is a certain simplicity and grace to the attribute that i think has been overlooked lately in Narr games, or at least the ones that i've seen, and i would like to see it brought back around.

so, the option i've come up with is, instead of having personality Traits, why not allow players to create Aspects for their Attributes too?  that way you get little personal touches like a character that is brave or handsome and not have it clash with the feel of the "metaskill" traits.  

lets take a look at this in a character, shall we?

Capt. Devlin Worthy
Stern Captain of the Rebellion (a kind of junky, old transport craft)

Acumen 3 (Cunning +1)
Perception 3 (Great Character Study +1)
Resolve 3 (Uncomprimising +1, Gullible -1)
Presence 5 (Distant -1)
Physique 2
Agility 4 (Big Guy -1)

Starship Captain 3 (Combat Tactics +1, Mechanics -1)
Soldier 3 (Firearms +1, Medic -1)
Born of Privilege 2 (Well Educated +1, "Black Sheep -1")
Criminal 2

wow, a lot of aspects, eh?  you'll notice that i also threw in a social Aspect for the Born of Privelege Trait.  I figure that ratings in traits can also loosely translate into a certain amount of renown or reputation that a character may have.  So, this character may come from a rich and priveleged background, but he some how lost that and, while he may have the ettiguette and social graces of someone coming from an upper-class background, that same social circle doesn't view him well at all.

and then, the attribute aspects.  The cbaracter is cunning, so the GM may allow +1 to rolls invovling a quick wit and coming up with good plans.  the character is also Distant, so while he may be commanding or stoic, people just don't feel very close to him.  He may get negative modifiers when trying to make new friends, but he won't have to worry so much when intimidating or bossing people around.  The character is Uncompromising, so the player can expect that +1 bonus whenever he's trying to stand up for his beliefs.  At the same time though, Devlin at heart really thinks that people are good natured, so he's a bit of a dupe when people are trying to con or seduce him.  

i think that this adds a whole new level of cool to the attributes system that fits in really well with the traits.  sound cool?
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Michael P. O'Sullivan
--------------------------------------------
Criminal Element
Desperate People, Desperate Deeds
available at Fullmotor Productions
greedo1379
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Posts: 123


« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2004, 08:53:15 PM »

Well to me it just looks like 4 of one, 1/2 dozen of another.  You do save some space saying "Soldier" and then just modifying First Aid and Combat Tactics. But at the end of the day it still looks basically like a list of skills to me.

I suppose since its a N type game then you don't have to worry about G type players as much.
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