Sunday, October 29, 2006

Design Review

Last post I linked to an alpha version of an RPG guide to a game called "Side Effects". This post, I'm going to analyze the design decisions I made. It's more for my benefit than everyone else's, but if you feel up to it, feel free to hum along. I would suggest either reading the guide, or at least having it open for browsing while you read.

For the past year or so I've been looking into games that use something other than dice. I don't like dice. More specifically, I don't like multiple dice, adding things to dice, two players rolling dice... I don't mind a single die, but that doesn't have the same kind of PUNCH to it.

I did a lot of work with decks of cards. Cards are great, because there is a lot of long-term potential. Every card you use is a card you can't use later, at least not until the deck reshuffles. If you run out of cards, you run out of power. This is especially nifty if the decks can be customized.

The problem with cards is that everybody has to have four dozen of them, which leads to games having a remarkably high overhead in cost and time. So, instead, I settled on chits.

Chits are good - they allow people to quickly allocate their resources and even do it double-blind. The problem with chits is that they're short-term.

I really love cards. The way they make players stop and think, "do I really NEED to play a King here? I won't be able to play it later if I do..." Dice don't do that. You just roll the dice. I suppose you can claim that things like potions and magic blammies do that, but that's not elegant at all.

To work that long-term play into a chit-powered engine, I made it so that you don't get all your chits back every turn. You only regenerate a small number of chits every turn, so if you spend all your chits, you're boned for the next turns (or, at least, you have to retreat a bit). I added a little bit of randomness by using a single d6, to keep the game from simply being a "minimum effort" situation.

That was one of the bases of this game engine. After the first ten minutes of play, people get used to the unusual chit-and-slow-regen system, play moves very fast. Which is kind of something I'm focusing on this year. There's a fun interplay between the needs of this instant and the potential needs of the future.

The other basis of this game was time travel. Actually, time travel just happened to hit the right explationation for the mechanic I needed.

In most games, the characters are a universal. Send them up against a dragon, and they have N power. Send them up against a goblin, they still have N power. This really limits your narrative options. The closest you can really come to changing their power level is using brute-force methods like traps and antimagic.

My mechanic was that the terrain of the game was of critical importance to the game. The players could be gods in place A, but they'd suck in place B. Similarly, the end boss is only boss-class in place B, not place C.

The idea being that the players have to go to all these different locations, but they aren't always the same power level. This means you can expose them to a wide variety of adventure types against a huge variety of enemies and power levels.

It occurred to me that fighting weak enemies on even ground might be a little disheartening. Most of the missions while the players are weak would be things like scouting or diplomacy, but there would have to be fights, of course. How could I make those fights have some value besides sheer survival?

Time travel!

This fight changes how time comes out. It's a linchpin of some kind. Sure, you might be throwing rocks at each other, but the end result is still critical!

Hence the game was born.

The other thing I wanted to do was to use Amber's item system. The most fun part of Amber was the item-creation. So, I added in "anachronisms". This also allows the players to have a "ragged" decay from terrain to terrain, instead of a clean cut. While they are less effective in some ways, they can remain effective in their critical skills... for a price.

Of course, my item-creation system is way, way more evil than Amber's, because I needed the items to degrade depending on how far you were from their original time...


Patrick said...

I was meaning to comment earlier. I like the game's premise though the character creation is a bit involved, you'd probably have to mediate that a bit in practice. I think the idea of vacuumes would be a useful concept for your time/space manipulation mechanic, as a tool for the GM. For example, you convince Hitler to be an artist, but there's still a vacuum waiting to be filled by a demogogue, so you turn Hitler into a sophisto thinking you've saved the world when another guy comes along to play monster. Players would keep having to play with casuality to figure out the underlying deep reasons why demogogues can rise to power in a desolate post-war economy.

Tangentially, a "casual" version of the time idea could work as a grow type game, where the visual representation is of a slice of time, and you can drop different tokens in different "terrains" to effect casuasation. Not suggesting anything pressingly, just a thought.

Craig Perko said...

The actual idea is: why do they rise to power in the first place?

Time travellers and immortals and interacting with the time stone...

You can stop Hitler, but then who becomes the pawn?