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[The Heartbreaker War] A Tough Choice

Started by Simon C, September 28, 2009, 08:16:53 AM

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Simon C

After the last playtest, Steve came to me with a really excellent suggestion for The Hearbreaker War, my game supplement for making characters who have been through a terrible civil war in a fantasy setting.  Trouble is, implimenting it would mean murdering some of my darling rules that have been in the thing from the beginning.  I'm trying to weigh up the options.

Steve's idea was that players should make not one character at the start of the game, but three.  This way, as one character dies in the war, another is ready to take their place.  The players are psychologically prepared for character deaths, and it speeds up gameplay, solving two of my biggest problems.

The problem is, one of my favourite rules from the game is that as you go through the war, the rules for making characters change.  At the start of the war, you play soldiers, nobles, and volunteers, of good age and ready to fight.  By the end of the war you are playing concripted 12 year old camp followers.

I love that about the game, because I think it drives home some of the horror of the war, and it allows for characters that are not like characters from any other games.

So, what to do?


Keep your rules?

Make up a few back-up characters at the start, but make it clear that after a certain phase of the war you're going to have to make up characters using different rules.

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Gregor Hutton

I was playtesting Dragon versus the Gun recently with Joe Prince and we each created three characters at the start of play 9so we had an ensemble of 12). It's slightly different to your problem but related. One difference was that we could play all three characters (though only one at a time). I personally found it hard as a player, to be honest. I ended up struggling to create three different characters and then be invested in them sufficiently. It's tough.

Would a solution to be that if your character dies you create a replacement character linked to the one that died? So some of the old character lives on, and the shared narrative history of the character surely does. If it is later in the game then you can play a son or nephew. Earlier it could be a father, brother, sister, cousin, best friend, etc.

I would find this aesthetically pleasing and keep a continuous narrative for my play and contribution, while allowing my character to die.

Is this at all an idea that might float?

I found this linking enjoyable in Hero's Banner, and when testing Acts of Evil I found it more pleasing when there was a link to a character than one recut from whole cloth. I might even suggest allowing a satndout stat, feature or whatever to be allowed to be carried over to the new character. Perhaps it might even be a desirable tactical choice to have a character die? (Incentivize it? Like 3:16 does.) Especially if you wish later play to have different characters.



How can I trim setting creation but still keep a similar level of immersion in setting and character?
  I think it depends on what the "hold up" is. I mean 10 questions should not take too long to answer. My guess is that the players are hashing out the answers and people are getting tripped up on the details.
  If that is the case, then it seems like maybe certain questions are answered communally in order to set the tone and get everyone on the same page, then each player can be assigned one or more of the remaining questions and get however much or little input they need to answer their question. The idea being that if there is a final arbiter, then a lot of the back and forth conversations can be shortened or prevented.

How can I make trading narrative control free enough to be wild, but controlled enough to get used right away?
  Grant Narrative authority. What I mean is, some rules sort of say, "go wild" but then they don't back it up with any narrative authority. Like with Stunting in Exalted (and most White Wolf games as far as I can tell), if I describe a cool, over-the-top move, anything can happen:
1) My character could get penalized for the complexity or unbelievability of their actions
2) I could get a small bonus
3) Nothing happens, it has the same impact as if I said, I swing my sword at the npc.
  In other words, the designers are asking me, "hey, can you describe it cool for me?" But then they are not giving the ST any guidelines on how much of that coolness is taken at face value and how much is still under their strict control. That is where ditv stands up to this test, the only criteria for believability is that it matches the dice played.

  Does that help, does that make sense?
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
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Simon C


I'm not sure I can make that fly.  There's different rules for every stage of the war. 


Making characters that are linked to the dead characters is an interesting idea.  I think there's mileage in that, but I'll have to think about the best way to implement that.  Is it better to have some mechanic enforcing that, like "pick from this list of relationships", or just suggest it as a good option?  I'm mindful that this will add a little bit of time to character creation also.

Gregor Hutton

For me I think it would be quicker, less hassle and more elegant if it said: should your character die pick a [relationship] from this list and a [quality] from this other list. Now generate the character as you would for that phase of the war.

Instantly you are focused on how the new character relates to the last and what thematic/niche/game quality they carry over. The link to all the play you have had so far, do that it is not all wasted leaving you drained and back at square one. I think leaving it unguided will lead to humming and hawing and option paralysis. Pick one works great in my experience, and I find the creativity enhanced by the constraints provided.

My gut feeling is that it should be desirable to not play the same character all the way through your game. That's my reading of it.

Simon C

Thanks Gregor, that's good advice.  The more I think about it, the more I like it.  A list of relationships like "Sibling" "Parent" "Friend" "Lover" and so on would be easy to do.  What do you mean by "Quality"? Do you mean like "Hated", "Beloved", "Long-Lost" and so on?

You're dead on that it should be desirable not to play the same character the whole way through.  I'm not exactly sure how to pull that off.  Perhaps making options available for secondary characters that aren't available at the beginning would be an interesting idea.  I'll have to think about the repercussions of that.

Gregor Hutton

By quality I was thinking that... (and I'll use different games here)... in Pendragon, say, I would like to keep my Lance 18 for my next character since I built it up through many weeks of play. I don't want to lose that. Or maybe my Merciful 16.

For Cyberpunk it might be a new Solo, who had a relationship with my now dead Solo, but has Combat Sense 6 (protecting my niche in the group and allowing the group to still have the utility of a Solo with Combat Sense 6) or Handgun 7 or something.

In 3:16 you keep your Level, right, and you get a Strength back if you don't have any available. That is, dying is desirable if you're out of Strengths (butnot Weaknesses) and you could be doing with adjusting those stats. It's a potentially desirable path if things take a turn for the worse.

In your game it might be retaining Traits or Level or Cards or something. A list of things you can keep one of.

Furthermore, I think it would be worth playtesting to see if theist should be limited or unlimited. By that I mean if someone choosesa thing is that no longer available to anyone, or is the list just a list that doesn't exhaust. My gut says I would like a list that exhausts, so we all carry different/unique relationships and qualities forward.

The system sounds like it makes death highly probable. Fine. Then work with that and make iteasy to keep invested and playing when it happens. In my experience players get antsy when a character dies which is why I put a little sugar on replacement in 3:16. To help them let go, learn and move on.

Simon C

A list that exhausts is a very clever idea.

The difficulty in retaining a quality is that the qualities that the game gives you are all fairly ephemeral things.  The game doesn't give you any stats or traits or anything.  It gives you equipment sometimes, which can be passed on to new characters already.  I like the idea of retaining something of the old character though.

You're right that a little bonus to take the sting out of death is a good idea.  I don't know that it is a good idea to tie that to game effectiveness too closely though, because it creates a kind of peverse incentive.  That works ok in 3:16, but in this thing, it kind of buggers the underlying game, which is a year-by-year reappraisal of how much you value your character's life against the lives of the other characters.

Anders Gabrielsson

Could you prepare three characters for different stages of the game? The first is made using the rules in place at the start of the game, and the second and third using rules for later stages. Or is it too much of a change if one of the starting characters dies early and a "second-stage" character shows up before his time?

If you do make several characters before the game you could have ready-made relationships between them without having to come up with those on the fly later.