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[La Familia] A game of tyranny and family values (long-ish)

Started by Abkajud, November 17, 2009, 12:40:10 AM

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Hey, everyone!

I've been tinkering with a game design whose mechanics centered around my adaptation of the Otherkind dice system. Play is focused on a) important members of powerful families/organizations in a society (the default organization is the extended family) and b) the powerful Tyrant, whose word is law.

For want of the appropriate links, I'll explain how play works here: in a conflict, the protagonist rolls 3 d6's- one for his Goal, and two for Complications. The Goal can cover anything the protagonist wishes to accomplish, be it a straightforward task, or a more conceptual/abstract goal, like winning someone's respect. The Complications can be anything that might happen as a result of the Goal, such as fallout or escalation, or they can be things that *also* happen in the situation, like new characters joining the scene or an environmental change. Anyone at the table can suggest Complications, or even a Goal, if the protagonist's player is having trouble coming up with them by himself.

Write down the Goal and the Complications, and then roll the dice; each 1-3 result is a "No", and each 4-6 result is a "Yes". The player rolling the dice can assign these however he likes; generally, Complications are going to be things that the player will also want or want to prevent. Either way, every option is meaningful, and choosing between them must be meaningful. If the dice don't go the way you want, then "Pips" are the answer - for each Pip a protagonist has in an activity or ability related to the conflict, the player can modify one die result by one point. Protagonists start the game with 3 Pips to divvy up into things they're particularly good at, be they skills, personal qualities... your standard free-form trait, basically. At this time, there are no rules on changing traits, adjusting Pip placement, or gaining new Pips.

One more thing about the dice mechanics, which segues into the other stuff: Grudges. Protagonists start the game with at least one Grudge in play, which is exactly what it sounds like - a big, can't-be-ignored rivalry, dislike, hatred, or vendetta involving someone else in the game. Grudges can come between anyone, including between protagonists, but they can also apply to organizations (and thus to all members within them) against another organization or a particularly reviled individual. Grudges are rated 1-3, and a Grudge adds its rating in dice to the number of Complications you must devise for a relevant conflict. This means a) you have to deal with more things getting out of hand, and b) you have a much better chance of accomplishing your goal. Grudges MUST be applied to any conflict roll that involves the interests of both parties attached to the Grudge, even if one party is not directly present, and only its "interests" are at stake. Chaos and mayhem (on paper, anyway) tag along behind Grudges; there are rules for getting rid of, or strengthening, Grudges, as well.

One more dice-related thingy: Clan Treasures (CT's). This may be a thing that conflicts with/replaces Pips; we'll see as playtesting progresses. Anyway, Clan Treasures are objects, relationships, or property that *can be taken away*. In the case of relationships, this means any such Clan Treasure must have some element of primacy to it, like "Only the Marino family has the Bishop's ear!" CT's grant 1-5 Pips to any thematically or logically appropriate conflict roll; 2 or 3 words or phrases should accompany a CT when it's created to avoid confusion. Importantly, since CT's can be taken away, it's possible that their new owner can't do anything with them if they're more abstract, but the theft of such a thing is still important.

For example: if the Marino family had the CT "the exquisite country villa of the Marinos", then it might be possible to, say, destroy the place and make it useless for everyone. On the other hand, if you had a sort of Bonfire of the Vanities scenario, and merely kicked the bluebloods out but didn't burn it down, it's unlikely that the anti-materialist monks running the city would be impressed or charmed by its lavish appointments, intact or no. CT's haven't been used much in playtesting yet; as yet, only one's shown up in a scene at all, and it served as a McGuffin rather than altering any dice rolls.

And now, for something that's mechanical, but not dice-mechanical: Laws. While most of the players get protagonists, one player gets to play the Tyrant, the central authority in the setting, someone who is empowered, fairly unilaterally, to make decrees and edicts that must be followed. When a Law is created, NPCs may never violate it, but protagonists may do so with impunity. There is one exception to the former: Grudges. If an NPC has a relevant Grudge in a situation that relates to a particular Law, then the NPC may act freely *provided* he does so to pursue a vendetta, oath, or rivalry of some kind. This loophole isn't something I've playtested yet, and I'll see how it goes. One thing that's for sure is this: the Tyrant can be introduced into any scene involving a protagonist, but he can't be THE protagonist in the scene unless it's a Tyrant scene; Tyrant scenes only occur every Xth scene, where X is the total number of players (yes, including the Tyrant), and such scenes are the only time when a new Law can be announced (to the players; introduce it in play however you like!).

Laws are to be used sparingly, to demand connections and relationships of the protagonists, and to keep players from doing the same non-tagonist-heavy strategies repeatedly to get things done. For example, in the playtest, the Tyrant passed a law saying that anyone seen carrying a dead body must produce a license from the Bureau of Mortuary Service; this seemed like a natural response to the high body count and the use of university students, a la Leonardo Da Vinci, to get rid of unwanted corpses. It wasn't to "trap" the other players so much as it was a way to make the setting "react" tangibly to their choices.

Scenes: a huge part of the game is keeping track of scenes, characters, relationships, and such. The scene "economy" works like this: when you begin the game, you have a batch of protagonists, the Tyrant, and a few NPCs (we call 'em non-tagonists, in homage to Joshua AC Newman) that are explicitly or implicitly existent because of protagonists' back-story or concept. These all count as "old characters". You *don't* start the game with any "old locations", but as soon as a location is the setting for a scene, it's "old"; the same goes for characters.
Whenever you begin a scene, including the very first one of the game, you must have one old character, one old location, or both. This is a simple tack I included to help keep things moving in a more contiguous way, and definitely helped to bring more minor characters into the (temporary) limelight in play-testing.

Let's see... I think that's everything. The setting for your game can be any time or place, but my intent is to have people use a real-world basis for the setting, so as to keep the game focused on the interaction of powerful clans with one another and with their terrible Tyrant. It does help to have a baby name book or a computer handy, so you can choose ethnically-and-temporally-appropriate names for everybody; a map of the region, especially a period map, is great too. In playtesting, I had my laptop handy, with my browser open to wikipedia and, and I can't recommend web access enough as a play resource.

So - - I'm going to post some actual play reporting in the Playtesting forum, and this post is partly a bit of background for folks who read the AP; however, any errant thoughts, suggestions, or questions are encouraged and welcomed!
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -