Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More Notes On My Ideal Roleplaying Game

Photo of Hardenstein LARP adventurers, 2014
Found on Wikipedia in the
"Live action role-playing game" article
After I wrote up the general outline of my ideal Fantasy Heartbreaker, I noticed that I forgot a few things. This post is intended to add on to that by describing some specific rules and systems from other games that I would like to adapt to the game I am currently calling "MOHb".

First, and I am not sure why I forgot this in the initial outline, I would definitely include a system of character personality based on the Personality Traits and Passions from Pendragon. To date, that is the best system I have seen for simulating and quantifying the particular attitudes and emotions of characters. It also allows for developing local attitudes by providing initial trait modifiers, while not constraining characters to being provincial stereotypes. That said, I think that I'd like to try to simplify down the central list of personality traits. Among other things, I'd probably just include a list of Virtues and let low levels of the Virtue be the same as having the associated Vice. I would allow for very high or very low (even negative) values for those Virtues.

Some variations of the mental health systems of Call of Cthulhu or Unknown Armies would seem to also be helpful. In fact, the latter version allows for a wide range of mental balance matters that would be an excellent complement to the Personality Traits and Passions system mentioned above.

The concept of Religious Inspiration from Fantasy Wargaming. One of the most difficult things to simulate in gaming is the effect of religious feeling. Inspiration seems to me like an excellent mechanism for that, covering what some Christians call "Feeling the Spirit", but which is present in pretty much any religious ceremony to one degree or another. This might also be the basis of allowing spirit possession in those religious rites that include that result among people who aren't otherwise spirit channelers/trance mediums (Vodoun, Pentecostal sects, and so on). This would be the goal of most religious ritual, though other sorts such as exorcisms, forms of therapy, and so on would also exist.

Related to Domain level rules, I have always liked the social climbing model in Flashing Blades. In that, exact positions and titles are integrated into a unified social status, with equivalent titles adding together to increase social status to the next level (two titles "worth" status 12 each would boost the character's overall status to 13, for example; note specifically that those two status 12 titles, worth 13 together, would also add together with a third title worth status 13 to boost up to 14).

Another element that I would like to include, when the game is expanded to cover modern and future settings, is something based on the corporate warfare system of the TORG supplement Nippon Tech. I always wanted to play a Megacorp CEO in that game (the template was in the supplement!), but none of my Referees were ever very receptive to the idea. The trade and commerce systems in GURPS Traveller: Far Trader include similar concepts that would also influence the specific design. This would probably integrate with the ideas on organizations which I discuss below.

Speaking of which, the Trade and Commerce systems from GURPS Traveller: Far Trader would definitely complement the more social systems related to trade found in GURPS Social Engineering, not to mention the price fluctuations found in the Rolemaster rulebook Campaign Law (at least in the 1st edition Character Law & Campaign Law that I have; I haven't seen the 2nd edition in years, so I don't remember if they kept that).

Also on the subject of economies, the supplement Grain Into Gold provides an excellent framework for developing an economy for a specific setting. I would want to make use of a similar framework in any campaign design notes. By the way, if you are like me and into the idea of developing rational economies for your setting, that supplement is easily worth the cost. It allows you to manipulate the various assumptions underlying your setting's economy and come up with useful baseline numbers for purchased items of all types. With only a little more work, it can be expanded to cover interacting economies, economies based on different fundamentals (the basic economy in the supplement is based on food production, but economies based on other things could probably be developed, with a little effort, from the basic outline).

In addition to several editions of RuneQuest, GURPS Spirits, and Dogs in the Vineyard, I am looking at the spirit rules from Horror HERO (for 4th edition, which are also found in the HERO System Almanac I).

Horror HERO also has some interesting mechanisms involving short- and long-term mental stress that I might incorporate. I am remembering a PBM game called Power, The Star Throne Beckons from ECI (later released independently as Star Throne, sadly on a defunct website only viewable through In that game, individual personality characters (as opposed to factions, starships, and groups) would generate stress as the result of performing or being the target of various actions and require stress-relieving actions to reduce it, such as going on vacation or the like. That would make a good mental complement to a short- and long-term fatigue system, which I had already decided on using. It could also provide a concrete game benefit to actions like carousing, drug use, or carnal relations, all of which could also have potential negative side effects. Tradeoffs are good.

In Lands of Adventure, weapons are divided up by their relative weight categories (relative to the character's strength). These affect how often that the weapons can be used in a turn, but players can choose to swing them more frequently by paying EP ("Energy Points"). I think that this is a good idea to incorporate. I might also allow spending short-term fatigue for "extra effort", such as a stronger hit, more focused attack, or the like - basically, most of the things that GURPS includes under "All-Out" actions and "Extra Effort" modifiers.

I'm currently going back and forth on the idea of explicitly including stats for a character's inherent "soul" or "spirit". This would be things like POW from RuneQuest, the LP ("Life Points") and to some extent the EP of Lands of Adventure, the "Soul Departure" rules from Rolemaster, and so on. I dunno, though. I may just want to keep those things implicit rather than explicit. The more that I can allow people to interpret rules as representing whichever metaphysical assumptions they prefer, the better. Which is, by the way, another reason to look especially at Dogs in the Vineyard for ideas on how to define spirits in game terms (though, of course, I will want to avoid the moral judgements on spirits implicit in that game). I want to leave it open for people who prefer materialistic explanations to interpret "spirits" as the subtle factors in a situation that are difficult to reduce to simple ad hoc modifiers, such as the imposition of meaning by the parties involved or the spread of memes or psychological archetypes or whatever, while also leaving it open for people (such as myself) who find the experience of independent nonphysical entities to be a convincing explanation or model for some aspects of human existence.

It occurs to me now that HeroQuest (or the first edition, Hero Wars), the more narrative rules designed for Glorantha, also includes some good ways of looking at spirits. I'll have to see if there's anything I can adopt from that, too.

One of the best things about the sixth book of the Thieves' Guild series was the set of rules covering "saltbox" adventuring. That is, it had a set of encounter tables for both normal encounters (ships and monsters) and land encounters (uncharted islands, island chains, all the way up to new continents!) while sailing as pirates or merchants. I'd definitely want saltbox and more traditional sandbox assistants like those. There are a lot of sandbox assistants in AD&D and also in the various Judges Guild products from which I can draw inspiration. The various games from Sine Nomine also include some excellent sandbox rules.

There are several games that include rules for "factions" and "organizations" and the like. GURPS has several types, such as GURPS City Stats, GURPS Boardroom & Curia, and so on. Various Sine Nomine games like Stars Without Number, Silent Legions, and so on have similar systems. I think that the first game I saw do that meaningfully was Reign, actually (though the first edition of CORPS also outlined a similar system, but dropped the ball on making very much use of it; there's more discussion of using the abstract stats in the second edition, so perhaps it was first after all). These are simplified and abstracted ways of describing organizations and groups, rather than the method more common previously (in games like Chivalry & Sorcery or Realms of the Unknown, not to mention D&D itself) of simply describing the actual assets. The older method is somewhat unwieldy, but still has its virtues. I'd probably want to develop ways to make rough conversions between the abstract characteristics and the concrete assets so that a Referee could choose which is more easily used in their game.

Because it would be important for a "dynastic" type game, which I specifically want the rules to be able to support, I would want some fairly detailed rules for pregnancy and childbirth. There are a couple of models out there, a couple in GURPS but also in Pendragon and some other games and supplements, but I'd also want to do my own research into specific numbers.

So, going over all of these things in this and the previous post, what I am seeing that I want is a game with some detail allowing for meaningful player-character decisions, especially in terms of interfacing the players' choices into the detailed game setting without necessarily defaulting to modern Western cultures, a range of action from hoboes (murder- and otherwise) to nobility with the implicit "zero-to-hero" game being a solid - but not the only - option, no inherently particular focus on any aspect of play (combat/adventure, social, domain, crafting/invention, etc), sandbox-friendly, with some unusual detail on the particulars of individual characters (personality, exact injuries in combat, mental and physical fitness, etc). Of existing games, GURPS comes closest to what I would want, but falls down heavily in the "sandbox-friendly" aspect (lacking a viable random character creation system is a big culprit here, but there's more; admittedly, some of the issues are being resolved - slowly - as more supplements such as GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables are released, but my experience is that there is a deep resistance to and even resentment toward random character creation in the GURPS community so I don't expect that issue to ever be resolved to my satisfaction). Aesthetically, I also prefer consistently "roll high" systems to the GURPS "roll high for some things, low for others". Still, if someone were to come up with viable random character creation system and other sandbox support, plus probably a descriptive injury system to replace the hit point system, I'd probably just go with that game as it would be close enough. Lacking those, though, I see strong reasons to design a more ideal game for my purposes, which is probably a good thing in the end.

Five Games I'd Like To Run

I guess that it's going around, but I saw Joseph Bloch do it, and now I am. A list of five games that I'd like to run, at least as I am sitting here right now tonight.

1. Spirits of the Trail: This is a sixguns & sorcery game, in which the players are traveling by land from the settled Eastern States to the great port of the west coast, Angel City. It would be a picaresque of adventures through the towns of the sparsely settled western territories where their only protections are the guns at their belts and their spirit allies. At this point, it would be run using GURPS rules, since not only does that game have excellent methods of handling gunfights and hand-to-hand melees, but also the sort of magic I want in the poorly-named "Path/Book Magic" system found in GURPS Thaumatology, which keeps me from having to write a new one to fit into something like Boot Hill or whatever.

2. Dark Space: Back in the '80s, a guy named Monte Cook wrote a setting book which was specifically intended to merge Rolemaster and Space Master in a cluster of worlds that included faeries and Lovecraftian horrors, adding biotechnology on top. I have always been interested in that setting, but never had a chance to play in it. I wouldn't mind running it.

3. Flanaess Sector: I talked about using AD&D to make a science-fiction setting, using the outlandish monsters of the D&D underworld as the basis of aliens. Illithid, Gulguthra, Flumphs, and Grell, among many others, seem like they would make for a fascinating setting in the stars. This would be the hardest to do right now, as I haven't done the work of designing the new character classes and technology I'd want to use. At least 1st edition AD&D already has a psionics system, though.

4. Under the Moons of Mars: I really, really want to run a game set on a Leigh Brackett/C.L. Moore-inspired Mars. I'd probably leave open the possibilities of traveling to Venus as well, but that wouldn't be the focus. I don't have a good opening situation for this yet, but it wouldn't be hard to come up with one. GURPS Mars had a good version of such a world in its "Dying Mars" chapter, which I'd probably use as the basis, though redesigning the canal system to match Lowell's canal maps more - though the canal through the Valles Marineris is so awesome that I'd probably include it nearly unchanged.

5. Hârn: Using Hârnmaster. There's so much to love about that setting, but I've never gotten a chance to play in it. I think that I might prefer to have someone else run it, but I'd do it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Expanding On My Fantasy Heartbreaker Ideas

Image originally from Big Fish Games
A little while ago, I posted on the various gaming projects I have going. I haven't really gotten anywhere on any of them for various reasons, mostly having to do with work and other obligations. I did make a comment elsewhere which caused me to think about expanding my thoughts on one of them, though.

Whoops. Wrong "Heartbreaker".
One of the projects I mentioned was "MOHb", my very own roleplaying Fantasy Heartbreaker (loosely interpreted). That is a game that would incorporate the things that I like from various other games into one, hopefully cohesive, whole. It's that qualifier to be "cohesive" that is the important element. It wouldn't be hard to just slap together the various systems in which I'm interested and jury-rig the game at the table, but to make them work together smoothly would be a work of design. It's that design work, in fact, that keeps me from just slapping together something, putting a cover on it, and selling it at I have (perhaps too much, considering how difficult it's been for me to publish any gaming materials other than this blog) some pride of craftsmanship that keeps me from doing it half-assed like that.

So, I figure that, for now, I can just discuss where I see that project going. I'll describe the systems that interest me and why, give an overview of some of my initial thoughts, and throw it all out so that you readers can see something of how I think about gaming. It's not really a work of staggering genius - I am, after all, just thinking of ways to tie together the disparate designs of others in pursuit of an experience that I think I'd like.

The comment that got me thinking about that today, was in a YouTube comment thread (now incorporated into Google+) on a video that rehashes the old "D&D combat isn't realistic because armor shouldn't make you harder to hit" chestnut. I started out by giving the normal rebuttal "D&D combat is abstracted in these particular ways", and a couple comments later noted what I'd like to see in a roleplaying game's combat system: "I'd like a combat system that incorporates the detail and tactical choices of GURPS (including some of the high-detail options like 'The Last Gasp', which regulate the pacing of combat in an emergent way), the naturalistic scales of Swordbearer, and the descriptive wound system of Hârnmaster."

This is your last warning.
What I'll do is go through a notional outline of my ideal game and describe what I'd like to do. WARNING: LOTS OF VERY GEEKY, NECKBEARD, GROGNARD, WHATEVER-YOU-WANT-TO-CALL-IT DISCUSSION FOLLOWS. Also, since it runs long, you get a cut-tag.