## Friday, July 07, 2006

### Tabletop System

I'm going to hammer out a tabletop system - I plan to run a game in it during the upcoming school year. It will be a redux of my Bastard Jedi game, based in a universe vaguely similar to Star Wars.

But I'm redesigning it to (A) have a decent combat system, (B) use multimaps and (C) not be quite so irritating.

One of the things I'm going to do is drop the idea of dice. Instead, I'm going to use cards. Here's my basic idea for how any given challenge would go:

A player is dealt five cards, face down. He can simply reveal his cards. A joker counts as two points, a face card as one point. Any given card has a 3/13 chance of being a face card and a 1/26 chance of being a joker, so the average card is worth 4/13 points, or a 30% chance. This means that a player will, using this system, generally have a point or two out of five cards.

However, your skill rating will allow you to count numbers equal or below it as points, as well. So if you have a skill of five (very high), you'll also count ace - 5 as points, raising your chances to 9/13, or an average of three or four points per set of five cards.

To add some depth, there are three other things you can do.

1) You can "concentrate". Each round you spend concentrating allows you to reveal a card and choose either to keep it or trade it in for another random card (which is face-down, allowing you to concentrate and reveal/exchange it). If you draw a joker while concentrating, it counts as a blip in the Force, and you instantly reveal and apply all your hidden cards and the joker. The joker still counts as two points, so this isn't really bad.

2) You can put oomph into it. Oomph can be put in at the beginning, or added later. This allows you to draw more cards based on the level of the emotion you're using and how attuned you are, whichever is least.

For example, if you try to do something while angry, you draw extra cards for being angry. If you're only a little peeved, you get one card. If you're trying to kill someone out of anger, you get four cards... if you are at level four anger. Otherwise, you technically max out at whatever your current level is.

These cards are instantly revealed and cannot be traded. Otherwise, they are exactly like the normal cards. A joker counts as two points and moves your emotion level up a notch, permanently. So, if you have level two anger and draw the joker, you now have level three anger.

This makes using emotions very powerful AND self-adjusting. Because of the way the universe works, you can use emotion for a big boost even in things totally unrelated to the Force.

3) Assists. With the help of a useful assistant, you get an extra card. For a great assistant, you gain two extra cards. (They cannot do anything besides assist you, of course.)

--

Anyhow, that's how you rack up points. But this game isn't simply about racking up successes, and many times a fight will be between two force users. In this case, everything is done as per normal, but each player chooses a side - light or dark. They may both choose light, or they can go one light, one dark, or whatever. If they use an emotion to gain extra cards, they have to choose that side, obviously.

When cards are revealed, all cards bearing the color you didn't choose (red is light side, black is dark side) are given to your opponent. You keep jokers.

What this means is that, unless you concentrate for several rounds and carefully weed out black or red cards, you're likely to give half your cards to your enemy. The end result in this kind of match is that skill is far more important than emotion in a jedi-jedi match, whereas emotion is very important in an uncontested match. There's some in-game reasons for this.

But a clever jedi can swing the balance in his favor using a few simple tricks.

--

Holdouts:

You can choose not to use all your base five cards to do something. Instead, you can choose to use any number and simply hold on to the others. These others include revealed cards.

Lets say Anne is trying to sense whether there's another Force user in the city. She concentrates and reveals a king of hearts - worth a point! Obviously a keeper. However, instead of using that card to help her find another Force user, she pulls it aside and stores it. Then she uses the remaining four cards to find a Force user.

From then on, she only gets dealt four cards, but she can play the king of hearts whenever she wants to. This is useful because she knows it is a light-side point, no matter what her skill and opposition. Of course, every time she withholds it, she is working less effectively than she could be.

--

Force Affinities:

Places where the Force is strong in a given emotion do not split cards evenly red-black. An opposed check instead splits the suits 3-1. Dark siders using the right emotion lose only hearts to enemies, while light siders and other dark emotions still split evenly. A light sider using the right emotion loses only spades.

The inverse is also true: if you use the exact opposite emotion (such as trying to be harmonious in a long-angry environment) you lose all but hearts, or all but spades. But your points count double. This isn't quite enough to even it out statistically, but it does give you a fighting chance. This is also the only way to break (temporarily or permanently) the emotional charge of the Force - by using the opposite emotion and a specific Force power.

By choosing where they fight carefully, or by charging an area with their preferred emotion, Force users can make almost impossible stands by forcing their enemy to fork over half their cards while keeping 75% of their own cards.

--

Anyhow, those are my thoughts on the randomizing system. I might talk more about other stuff later, but I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on this.

kestrel404 said...

Hmm...intersting.

A few things. Make that a lot of things.

Your math is off. If the jokers are in the deck, it has 54 cards. Not a big thing, but just a reminder.

Holdouts stack the deck. If you hold out with 4 red face cards that leaves only 2 more in the rest of the deck for the other players. Adds an interesting dynamic, I'm not sure it's a bad thing.

Everyone getting the same number of cards may not be the best option. Perhaps you should get, say, your level in cards? Some attribute in cards? Or perhaps only some of your cards are dealt facedown and can be treated as holdouts? (Willpower would be a good way to measure your ability to hold onto certain cards) Also, the ability to hold onto and pitch cards at will (not just during a test) could add an interesting element. Either way, make a determination whether this should be possible or forbidden before starting. It's important statistically.

If you're going to associate light & dark sides with the colors, choose four appropriate emotions (love/passion, faith/loyalty, hate, envy/greed/lust) and attach them to the various suits. This leads to various interesting effects like...

Using emotions to power cards - I'd change the way this mechanic works. Basically, as you've layed it out, you ALWAYS want to be as emotional as possible. The more emotional and the more often you're emotional, the more often your level of emotion goes up (you get a joker), and the more points you get. Period. I think this needs to be tweaked down, hard. It's something to be used in emergencies - something that can be used to very powerful effect in emergencies but is nearly useless (or outright harmful) when you're, doing something mundane.

As an idea, you should trade your holdout cards, and your ability to use holdouts, for emotion cards. Two for one. Anything that comes up in the appropriate suit (this is emotion, the suits are tied to emotion, so suit should be VERY important) is an automatic point. Anything in the right color is counted normal. Anything else is discarded - not handed over.

The kicker is - the next time you draw, you lose all the cards you used in the last hand again. You've tired yourself out from the strong emotions. This can be negated by, say a scene change or resting. That way, you can get double cards on one action for a sufficiently emotional action - but you'd be completely exhausted on your next act.

Concentration - good as is.
Assists - I'd suggest the rule that anyone that's not as good as you (lower skill) adds one holdout card, and anyone that's as good or better adds two. This also allows the less skilled but more emotional person to be more effective than the more skilled person, on occasion.

Emotional levels - People have different capacities for one emotion or another. I think this should change through experience, not luck. You should allow emotional capacities to increase through good RP and XP spending. As for when a joker shows up -

Force points - I always loved force points in the original Jedi game. If a joker shows up during an emotion draw, you get the two points - and a force point. Lightside force points and darkside force points let you do the same thing - re-draw a bad hand. But you can only use them when adding oomph of the right kind (light for light, dark for dark) - a small feedback cycle.

Static tests - one thing you didn't mention was how static tests (jedi versus environment) would work. I think that in this case, you'd want to declare (or not declare) a difficulty that would effectively be the environment's skill level. You probably already thought of that.

Wow, that's a lot of feedback. I think I like this system. Just needs a bit of tweaking.

Craig Perko said...

Of course it needs tweaking - I haven't even tested it yet!

Anyhow, as to my math: that's a damn small error, so it really doesn't change anything, but thanks for the correction.

Hrm, your suggestions are an interesting variant. I'm going to have to think about it, but I like some of them quite a lot.

The game is supposed to pull emotion: it likes emotion, and that's the whole point. The idea behind jokers increasing your emotion rather than RP is simple: I plan on using 2-3 assistant GMs, and I don't want GM vaguaries screwing up the dynamic.

A better method would be to have a small chance of punishment. The "draw a joker" was originally intended as a punishment, but the chances of it happening were simply too high to let it be an auto-botch. I'll have to think about it.

The "same number of base cards" was to force people to use emotions, as well as to force people to work together and use their environment. Personal skill is less important than allies, RP, and environment. I like that dynamic, and I don't see it changing.

But your idea about making suits even more critical is a good one. I'll have to think about changing the emotion dynamic a bit...

I really like the idea of giving each player a deck of cards, and reshuffling only happens between scenes. Discarded concentration cards go back into the deck, whereas used cards are put off to the side until the reshuffle.

This means that a careless player could find he's accidentally stacked the deck against himself - "used up all the Force in the area". I really like that!