Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Process

In order to develop the background for my solo game, I have decided to reach back to my roots. One of the games that I love the most is the second one I ever owned: Traveller. In that game, character creation was procedural. That is, it used charts and tables and a series of dice rolls to generate the history (in sketchy form) of the character. Since then, procedural generation in RPGs has advanced considerably, and people have found ways to apply the same principle to all aspects of a game. There are procedural charts for developing an area, for generating the history of a group of people, and so on.

For my purposes, that sort of procedural generation is going to be especially helpful. It will allow me to generate situations that I might not have thought of on my own, allowing me the added pleasure of discovery (even if most of that discovery will occur during this phase of generating and developing the background).

Another set of elements that I intend to use are those that build background from character decisions. Specifically, there are articles related to GURPS (but not tied to that system) which describe how many farmers are necessary to maintain a particular income level. Since I will be deciding income levels for the noble families based on setting considerations, that will simplify designing the nations by simply stipulating the numbers of peasant farmers and such.

The author of those articles on farming income also wrote a random table for events related to a group, so that histories could be generated by dice roll. Of course I will be using that. In addition, after some internet research to get rough estimates and probabilities, I have revised this article (free article with GURPS stats, though for 3rd edition) about pregnancy and childbirth to reflect more reasonable probabilities (in the article, a pregnancy will result an average of one time in four, where in reality it is almost a tenth of that chance) and reduce the number of dice rolls. Where the original article required a roll for each act of congress, I have taken results from the Kinsey website to limit it to one check per month. That said, adultery can also result in pregnancy, so I've worked out the appropriate modifiers to also check in each instance, if necessary. Further, I've cleared away some of the extraneous bits to simplify things a bit more as well. Finally, I've incorporated ideas from the Reproductive Medicine section of the first GURPS Low-Tech Companion, though I decided that their method as written wasn't interesting enough for a game focused on dynasties.

The reason for doing all of that work is that it then becomes a part of the procedural generation. I can work out, for any given couple, when in their lives they became pregnant and what the consequences of that are, with just a few dice rolls. From there, the children of the nobility are a snap.

Well, sort of. One of the biggest weaknesses of GURPS is the requirement for point-building characters, with no random creation option available. As a result, I've come up with some ideas for generating basic stats (using averaging dice that explode upward by 1 point with each additional roll of 6 on 1d6 after a total result of 15, and halving the difference of results below 10 - that is to say, a roll of 6 or 7 becomes a stat of 8, and a roll of 8 or 9 becomes a stat of 9). Then, I spent a day writing a computer program that randomly determines advantages and disadvantages (other than social or wealth-related ones, which are determined by the setting). It's not perfect, and sometimes results in far more advantages and disadvantages than I want to see, so I reserve the right to simply re-run the program to get new results if I don't like the ones I get.

After all of that, then I will do my first roleplaying of the game, and decide for each character, based on their personality and such, what route in life they will take. That gives me a template to use to base their skills and such on (though I won't be constrained by the templates). So, not entirely random generation, but semi-random. I've been considering the idea of also incorporating the Pendragon personality traits and passions system, which would allow me to more completely generate the characters' personalities randomly. Another option would be to work with the tables in the Gygax Dungeon Master's Guide for NPC personalities. If I do either of those (and I very well might), then my computer program will be nearly useless, too, but I can live with that.

So, the plan is to start with two couples, the earliest rivals in the kingdom that matter. I will work through four generations, year by year (and checking for pregnancy month by month for those couples who are in proximity, plus including the possibilities of adulterous bastards based on each character's personality), including random events in the kingdom. This will require some light roleplaying, as I figure out what each character is doing, and whether or not they are in a situation that might result in pregnancy. (Yes, this means that, in the nerdiest manner possible, I will be rolling to see if they get some. If it weren't just me playing, I could revert that to roleplaying, but since I am all of the characters, I'll leave it mainly up to the dice.) In the process, I'll also be rolling as the characters age, figuring out how many character points they get each year, and so on. Some of that requires me to figure out some other systems, but I have guidance in the GURPS rules that will help.

For those who know GURPS, here are some of the rules that I am going to use (my thinking is evolving on this, so this may change more as time goes on): Path/Book Magic using the Effect Shaping system, Limited Non-Mage Ceremonies, Magery Adds to Rituals, Instant Karma Backlash, Sensing Ritual Attacks, Conditional Rituals, and Cancelling and Dispelling, along with expanded Spirits inspired by GURPS Voodoo, explicitly including Spirit Allies, Spirit Manifestation ranks (Minor, Moderate, and Major), and Spirit Warriors; some rare characters (around one in a thousand or less) will have Precognition, Psychometry, or basic Racial Memory, and I'll be using the duelling Precogs and related rules from GURPS Supers, should that come up; some rare characters with Empathy will also have Vague Telesend; it is possible, but difficult, for a character to gain Trained by a Master, Heroic Archer, or Weapon Master, but no one will be born with those advantages; most of the "Harsh Realism" rules will be in effect; the general TL will be 2, but farming will be at 3; Physician skill is unavailable, so Surgeons need to use the special rules in GURPS Low-Tech; doctors in the setting will have Esoteric Medicine to represent magical methods of healing (Magery will add) and/or Pharmacy (Herbal), but I am undecided as yet on Herb Lore (I do like the idea of magic potions, but I do also want to downplay the power of magic in the setting - Alchemy is right out).

The reason that I've chosen four generations is that, in the old Irish legal system, a family (fine) was defined as all descendants of a man to four generations. This was especially important for determining who was eligible to be elected (!) king of the tuath, or tribe (which incorporated all of the people who lived in a particular area). The Anglo-Saxons had a different method of determining kingship, but this one opens the setting out to more social politicking, as opposed to pure power politicking, which I like and which lets me make more use of GURPS Social Engineering.

I don't know if any of this will be of any use to you, but it helps me to organize my thoughts.


  1. Sounds very interesting. I'm looking forward to further posts on this game. I've had a hankering for a "generations" game which Mongoose Traveller: Dynasty doesn't quite deliver.

    1. Thanks! I'm hoping that it will work out alright.

      My favorite SF dynastic-style game was T4's Pocket Empires, but only in theory. I never did get a chance to play it.