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[H3] Initial ideas [Long!]

Started by Bill O'Dea, July 18, 2005, 04:26:11 PM

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Bill O'Dea

Hi all,

This is my first attempt at creating my own RPG. I'm really jazzed about the setting and some in-game concepts (like how skills and equipment are gotten), but I'm not happy with the resolution mechanic. It doesn't seem to support the Premise well enough and, to me, feels like, 'I need a simple mechanic, so here's one, there I'm done.'  Also, I'm unsure whether to keep Faith as a character 'class' or just open it up to the influences from Unbidden Thoughts. Any comments on those questions, or any comments at all, are greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Build the game's setting and answer the question, 'When can I trust others and myself?'

Setting Concepts
Space opera (without aliens) where Humanity tries to stay out of a huge war between Heaven and Hell. Technology allows communication and travel with Heaven and Hell, who both want Humanity on their side to tip the balance of power in their war. Humanity tries to stay out of it, and Heaven and Hell began a cold war to push Humanity to their side. Humanity is now paranoid about angels and devils walking among us, pulling strings and pushing their own agendas to end Humanity's neutrality.

Character Concepts
PCs are Enforcers, special police/military units used to investigate cases of Heavenly or Hellish intervention.  Each character has a secret Faith (a religion) which gives them agendas that usually conflict with their Enforcer agendas, especially since Enforcers are out to stop Faiths from influencing Humanity's neutrality. PCs must work together on Enforcer jobs while quietly working on Faith jobs.

The conflict between Enforcer job and Faith job will lead to conflict between players, mirroring the setting's cold war. Players will be pulled in opposite directions: trust and help other PCs to do their Enforcer job verses distrust and hurt other PCs to do their Faith job.

Basic character creation concept
Players fill nine attribute slots with predetermined stats: +3, +2, +1, +1, 0, 0, 0, -2, -3. Zero is human average, and attributes have range of +6/-6. Players then pick nine skills which they create themselves; skills must have a verb, specific direct object and adjective but some leeway is allowed. For example, 'Shoot handguns quickly' or 'Convince police of my innocence' are both good skills. GM would oversee skill creation to prevent abuse or misuse.

PCs also have Resources (Stability, Energy and Wounds), Rights (patterns for making equipment from a matter complier), and Certifications (legal rights to own certain equipment or behave in certain ways), and the group is assigned a ship to get around in.

Lastly, the player selects a secret Faith (Catholicism, Islam, Satanism, etc.). This is illegal and must be kept from the other players. In the game, a Faith provides occasional 'magic' powers and a secret agenda that often conflicts with the team's Enforcer agenda.

Basic resolution system
1d20 +/- Attribute +/- Difficulty >= TN. TN based on person of average ability doing an average task would have a 50% chance of failure or success. Difficulty ranges from +3/-3 and is decided by the GM based on difficulty of the task balanced against how creative and entertaining is the player's stated action. Skills are linked to attributes and use that attribute's score in the above equation, but skills use a different TN that's skewed towards success.

Success and failure are graded (Success, Major Success, Critical Success), but the highest levels (Critical) are only available if a skill is used. There are no metagame mechanics, and there are no penalties for being wounded to avoid a death spiral.

PCs who die are resurrected soon afterwards but with a small attribute penalty (see below). This allows players to kill each other for their Faith's jobs, and it allows players to continue playing even if their character is killed.

Special: Unbidden Thoughts
During the game, the GM consistently (not constantly) sends private notes to players with a single thought that just popped into the PC's mind. This can be from the PC's Faith (an angelic message), that Faith's enemy (a devilish message) or just the PC's subconscious. The player will not know which it is, making them distrust their own character.

Giving in to the Unbidden Thought is tracked by the GM to identify PCs who lean towards one of the three sides (Heaven, Hell or Humanity). This can be opposite to a PC's Faith but it can provide 'magic' powers just like a Faith can, tempting a player into following whatever is giving their character some power without really knowing who they're following.

Special: The Weave
The Weave is a form of internet tied to the quantum foam that makes up space in the universe. It allows PCs to download skills anytime and anywhere (yes, like the Matrix), up to a limit of nine skills. It takes one game-time minute to download, followed by another minute of disorientation. So a player can get any skill he wants if he's willing to make his PC vulnerable for a bit.

Equipment can also be made from the Weave like a matter compiler. Players do not need to outfit PCs beforehand, since they can literally pull equipment out of thin air. However, PCs first need the Rights to an item—the design specs created by a company that tell the Weave how to make the item. PCs also need to be Certified—the legal right to make and own the item. Black market Weaving is possible through Faith contacts, but it's risky and a PC's teammates will probably know if an item was gotten from the black market Weave.

Reward mechanic
Successfully completing an Enforcer job gives each PC one point to spend on increasing Attributes. If a character dies during a job, they are instantly resurrected (so the player can continue to play) but the character loses 1 from a random Attribute.

The first time players try this game, they are the very first Enforcer unit created. As the game progresses, PC actions create the setting's rules and reactions to Enforcers. For example, if the PCs kill a lot of innocent civilians then Enforcers will be hated and feared and the profession will no longer allow Enforcers to be armed.

Successful Enforcer missions will also increase PC ranks, granting more Rights (more equipment), more Certifications (legal rights to own stuff and do stuff), larger ships, and more authority in general. Failed missions will do the opposite: demotions, less Rights, etc. Eventually, the setting will create more Enforcer teams that will be under the PC's authority. If players retire their first characters and move on to new ones, the first characters become NPCs.

Also, success in a Faith's secret job provides similar rewards. Each successful job gives one point to spend on Attributes, increases 'magic' powers and rank within their Faith.

END -- by Bill O'Dea
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Selene Tan

Hi, Bill! Welcome to the Forge.

I really like the setting you have here, with humanity caught between Heaven and Hell, and angels viewed with the same suspicion as devils. Neato! I also love the way that all of the (PC) Enforcers are, essentially, hypocrites -- they're meant to be champions of neutrality, but they're not even neutral themselves.

I also don't think it supports the premise very well. This is because the reward and resolutions systems are not very related to the premise. I do think you're heading in the right direction with the Enforcerer and Faith agenda conflicts. I think the two main problems are that you have no mechanics describing or governing relationships between characters, and rewards don't help players address the premise in more effective or interesting ways.

In a game about trust, you need a good way to track and manipulate the relationships between the characters. You might want to look at the Trust mechanic in The Mountain Witch for a really good way of handling that.
On a related note, I'm not entirely sure how well the Unbidden Thoughts mechanic works out. I'm a little wary of the GM getting to decide what comes out of your subconscious. It also seems likely to me that players will listen to the thoughts that go with their character concepts and ignore everything else, rather  than that they will start doubting their characters like you want them to.

Right now, your reward system goes: do well at job -> get better at doing job. It also seems like doing well at either kind of job (Enforcerer/Faith) will make you better at either kind of job. Also, it seems like you can safely ignore the Faith jobs entirely, if that's what you want to do. I would like to see more mechanical support for the way Enforcerer and Faith agendas conflict with each other, with a stronger tension between Enforcerer and Faith effectiveness. BARBAREN! is a game being developed which I think has a really neat way of intertwining its two main stats, Aggression and Horny. Each can be used to boost certain types of rolls (fighting and wooing), but the rolls you spend Aggression on are the type that will boost Horny and vice versa. This means that players will have to spend their time in both types of activities, and ignoring either will result in a drastic loss of effectiveness.
I'm not sure how well death works out. What kinds of situations might lead to death? I think it might neat if failing a job (either kind) meant you would get temporarily executed and then resurrected with a little warning flag on your record. Then, when you'd accumulated enough flags, you'd be asked to do something to really prove your loyalty to the cause...

In any case, I think you've got a neat concept here with a pretty good start. You'd probably benefit from reading and/or playing more RPGs, especially Narrativist ones. Dogs in the Vineyard comes to mind, probably because of the Faith issue and the PCs-as-lawkeepers kind of vibe. It's also a really cool game, regardless.

RPG Theory Wiki
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Bill O'Dea

Selene--Thanks for your reply! You're right that if I want to explore issues of trust, then I need to have more of that in the mechanics.

While the Trust mechanic from The Mountain Witch is pretty cool, I'd prefer keeping trust more fluid and etheral as it is in reality, and a numeric score would do the opposite. (Again, I'm not knocking this excellent mechanic!) Instead, how's this ....

Special: Interventions
Each PC receives x amount of Intervention Points as a metagame resource. 1 IP will cause instant success or failure for a given resolution. Whenever a player wants, they can call for 'Luck' on an task they are attempting. Then a hat, box or something similar is passed around the group. Each player drops in a small slip of paper with either A) +1 IP so as to help the PC, B) -1 IP so as to hurt the PC, or C) nothing on the paper.

The GM then secretly counts out the IPs for and against the resolution to determine the resolution's result. Large results for/against the resolution will be seen in-game as obvious interventions from Heaven or Hell, so a huge success might hurt the PC in the long run as people believe he's made a pact with angels or devils.

Calls for Luck can only be made by the player attempting the task, but once he opens it up to spend IP on himself, others can join in to help or sabotage. This player will also never know who helped or hurt; the GM only shares the effect on the resolution, not the final IP balance.

IPs are regenerated by reaching goals set by a PC's Faith or at the start of a game session (related to the specific Enforcer job) and by roleplaying within the Faith. For example, a Catholic would gain IPs for not executing a criminal and for trying to get NPCs to confess their sins.
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Welcome to the Forge, Bill.

Quote from: BillI'm not happy with the resolution mechanic. It doesn't seem to support the Premise well enough

I have to agree. Now, I know that as roleplayers who grow up with the traditional games, our reflex is to handle in-game events with attributes and skills. Have you thought about tossing that out completely?

It sounds radical, and it actually is. But it might fit your premise much better.

Think about this: How would your game go if instead of attributes and skills, players roll their characters' Faith OR Neutrality, depending on how they address the conflict. Following the Faith's commandments, whatever they may be, can be more effective than trying to be neutral, but it also gives clues to other players (and characters) about the fact that your character is following an actual Faith.

Now, there's thousands of other ways you can handle this. You could still have attributes, but they could be "Conviction" or "Resolve" or "Rationality" or "Loyalty"... you could augment them with (gain bonuses from) your Faith or your ranking as an Enforcer.

Now, if you're dead set on attributes and skills, that's perfectly fine, and I am sure there are ways to do that and still address your premise. I just mean to point out that there's so many other ways to create mechanics that, when I first tried to design RPGs, seemed unthinkable to me.