Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Nagademon 2012 - Plot points and a name change

I'd like to start this post by saying that I am aware that this is a day late. Real life has this unpleasant habit of getting in the way of what's really important in life: roleplaying games.

Anyway, on to the post. First of all after talking to some people (you know who you are) I have made the decision the name of the game has now been changed from Primetime to In Medias Res. The reason for this is mostly because there is already an RPG called Primetime Adventures, and though I have not played it myself (though I can only assume it's quite different from the game I'm making) I can't have my game be called the same thing as one that already exists. But beyond that I actually think In Medias Res is a better name. It's a Latin rhetoric term that means to start a speech or a story in the middle of the action so to speak (literally it translates as "Into the middle of things"). So not only is it gratuitious Latin (which is always cool) but it's also thematically appropriate.

Now on to the actual game design talk. In Medias Res makes use of an action point system, similar to Fate or Fudge or indeed many a current RPG. You have a pool of points that only exists in a metagame context that allows you to break the rules in subtle ways. In games like Burning Wheel in which they figure quite heavily they are a sort of representation of a given character's fate or destiny and how the world shapes itself around that. The same game also uses them as a reward and an incentive to force good roleplaying and characterisation in quite an ingenious way.

The action points of In Medias Res are called Plot Points. The name is of course not necessarily representative of their actual narrative impact, but a lot of the time they do actually live up to their name.

Like in other games Plot Points allow you to "cheat" the system and do things that would otherwise not be possible. In this case that specifically means you can use a Plot Point to ignore a Trait's Refresh rate. Say you made a big deal out of your family sword earlier and now you'd really like to do it again but you have to wait another scene to do it. Well, spend a Plot Point and you can use the Trait anyway, despite it being on "cooldown" (to burrow from computer gaming terminology). Using a Plot Point in this fashion does not reset the Refresh either, which is a good thing since it means you won't have to wait out the full Refresh again.

Secondly by spending a Plot Point you may treat any die in your pool as though it had rolled the result of your choice for one Conflict turn. Don't have any pluses in your pool? Use a Plot Point and spend a blank die like one!

And that's about it as far as using the things go, but there's more to it, because the more Plot Points you spend on any one Trait the more you'll be advancing its Refresh. If you spend enough the Trait immediately goes up a Refresh and thus becomes more accesible to you more often. This represents in a way the manner in which previously unimportant character traits in fiction can gradually become more and more important and focused upon by the narrative as their use in the story becomes more regular. By spending Plot Points to use a Trait in its Refresh period you are indicating that you want to (or the story demands of you to) put more focus on the Trait and make it a more important part of the character.

So the Plot Points also double as a kind of experience system for In Medias Res, and manages to tie in the idea of advancement of a character that we are used to from RPGs into a game that otherwise would have no business having one. This is heavily inspired by the way Burning Wheel, mentioned above, uses its (quite a lot more complex and advanced) three tiered action point system to fill a similar function.

As for gaining Plot Points that's quite simple. You gain them by being entertaining, a good roleplayer, or just coming up with awesome stuff. Basically the consensus decides whether you deserve one for your actions, and it is encouraged that groups be pretty liberal in handing them out in game. In this regard the system is similar to Fudge, only the GM does not have final authority in handing them out.

The next post will probably be about the difference between what In Medias Res terms Characters (with a capital C) and Extras.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Nagademon 2012 - Characters

Characters in Primetime are relatively simple things in comparison to what we are used to from traditional RPG's. From a mechanical standpoint all that they consist of are a list of Traits, leaving the player to figure out all the details. There's no math involved, nor are there any sorts of skills or abilities to figure out. All that stuff is up to you, and Primetime makes no mechanical difference between an extraordinary character like a superhero and an ordinary guy who likes to smoke weed and play video games (there is however a mechanic that sets apart plot-important Characters from non-important Extras, which I will detail in a later post).

A Trait in Primetime is roughly equivalent to a Fate aspect in scope and concept (though its mechanical purpose is of course not the same). A Trait could be anything that's descriptive of a character, reaching from simple sentiments like Superstrong and Dead to more creative and evocative things like Once Again Onto The Breach My Friends and Jeeves, My Main Man. The latter is encouraged in favour of the former, but players should not feel restrained with having the express simple ideas in a creative manner unless they want to.

Primetime allows for Traits to be as specific and narrow or as wide and loose as necessary or wanted. This is by no means balanced (in as much as that concept applies to a game as narrative as Primetime to begin with). This is also intentional.

A large theme of this game that I had not originally anticipated would become such an integral part of the system but has throughout the writing process come up a lot is the consensus of the gaming group. For Primetime to work there has to be a spirit of cooperation around the table (which will not fit all groups and players, obviously, but then I always envisioned Primetime as having a quite narrow appeal). This idea of the consensus being above everything else ties into everything in this game, from how you frame your actions when spending dice to what kind of character to chose to create and everything else in this game, really.

What this means for Traits is that you are free to chose any you like, but ultimately the gaming group as a whole will have to judge your choices and agree with them. If it was agreed that you would be playing a serious western game and you make a character with a trait like I'm A Cyborg! then it's up to the other players to stop you and say: "I don't think this will fit very well into our game." Or maybe it will. It's up to you and your fellow players to decide.

The intent is that when starting a Primetime game you will first get together and discuss setting and theme for your game. Since the consensus is so important it's appropriate that all players are involved in the decision making from the start. Having decided upon the basis for your game you would then create characters together as well, tying them into each other and making sure they work well with the plot and story.¨

In any case, the Traits have the mechanical purpose of allowing you to reroll dice that you just spent in an Exchange. The way this works is that you spend a die and describe your action as normally, making sure that your action ties into your Trait in some manner. You may then chose to activate your Trait, and provided the consensus approves, you get to reroll your die and add it back to your pool.

But you can't use your Traits all the time. Each Trait you have come with a Refresh period, that you decide during character creation (you'll have a sort of point buy system where better Refresh costs more points). This Refresh period goes from the shortest one use per scene to the longest once use per story arc (which is the Primetime equivalent of an adventure). Once you've used your Trait you have to wait until the Refresh period is up to use it again (there is a way around this and it is the topic of a later post). What this is supposed to illustrate is different Traits being of different importance to the plot and the narrative. If you think of it in terms of an action television series the combatant marine's extraordinary firearm skills are going to come up several times an episode, but his close relationship to his alcoholic father only comes up once in a while in special episodes.

Some of you may have been struck by the fact that this means that all Conflicts will basically have the same length and the only thing that gives a participant extra staying power is having applicable Traits. This is also intentional, because I want the game to have flow and not stay on scene longer than necessary. I have not yet gotten into what happens when a Conflict ends, but rest assured that failure (aka running out of dice to spend and traits to activate) does not always literally mean failure (yup, future post).

This is the basics of how characters work in Primetime. As usual there's more to it, and in my next post (with the usual caveat that I may change my mind) I will talk about Plot Points, a part of the mechanic that ties heavily into Traits and characters.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Nagademon 2012 - System basics

I have two corrections to make after my first post. Firstly I said I would return "tomorrow". Well, that was a bit ambitious of me considering I put the post up on a Thursday and my weekends are too sacred to spend doing such nonsense as game designing and stuff. For future reference don't expect any updates on Fridays and Saturdays at least (I may do a Sunday sometime, but don't count on it). Also I will probably keep to a schedule of one of these posts every second weekday or so, rather than one a day.

Secondly I said I would write a post about the guiding principles I set up for myself in creating this game. Well, having had time to think it over I have come to the conclusion that those principles are only of interest to myself and that really no one is interested in reading about them.

Instead I thought I should just get right into it and explain the system basics for Primetime. That should hopefully be a much more interesting subject to read about, so without further ado:

Primetime makes use of Fudge dice exclusively. As a reminder for those who might need it Fudge or Fate dice are ordinary cubical six-sided dice that labelled with two of each of a "+", a "-" and a blank side. In the games that use them the idea is to tally up all the +'s and subtract all the -'s to get a result (and any die that comes up blank has no effect). Primetime uses them in a quite different way.

Mechanically speaking the main focus of Primetime is the Conflict (capitalised to indicate its role as a mechanical term within the game system). A Conflict can by anything from a heated discussion to a car chase or a gunfight or anything between. The game suggests that only plot or story-important altercations or events should be considered a Conflict, and that otherwise the dice should be kept away from the table.

Once a Conflict starts each side rolls four dice. Instead of using these to tally up a result you keep the dice you just rolled in front of you, keeping the sides up as you rolled them. Primetime only cares about the result of each individual die rather than the whole, but the dice you rolled are the ones you will have to live with and use for the Conflict (generally speaking, but there are ways to effectively get more dice to use, which will be the subject of a later post).

A Conflict then consists of a series of Exchanges. The initiator of the Conflict gets to go first, basically setting the rest of the scene for all other involved parties. For this first action of the Conflict no dice need to be spent, and the initiator is free to do what he wants with the narrative for this Exchange.

Other parties in the Conflict then gets to respond, and it's here the dice come in. To perform an action in an Exchange you first pick one of your dice to use. The result of the die indicates what you may do with the scene for your action. If you spend a + die you may add an element or a complication to the scene. Spending a - die allows to you remove or subtract a previously established element or complication. Spending a blank allows you to keep the scene's status quo intact for your action.

This is quite hard to adequately explain without using concrete examples, but basically the idea is that for the duration of your action within an Exchange you have full control over the scene. You are acting as a storyteller, explaining to the table what's going on, free of any constraints other than the complaining of your fellow players and the consensus of the group of what is and is not appropriate within your mutual story, and of course your dice. By spending a + you can have your character pull his own gun to even the odds, or you can forgo having your actual character do anything and just use the + to have it start raining instead. Likewise a - can be you physically overpowering your enemy to bring him out of the fight, or it can be the lights going out in a timely manner. The blank die meanwhile could be something like you ducking behind cover as the enemies close in, bringing you out of their direct line of fire but not removing the threat of said fire from the scene, thus preserving the narrative status quo (in a manner of speaking, anyway). What it means to add or remove and element or keeping the status quo is need rigidly defined and deliberately left up to all sorts of interpretation. Like everything else in Primetime ultimately the consensus of the gaming group decides what is an appropriate use and what isn't.

With this system basis Primetime breaks away from traditional roleplaying and goes its own way. Really there are no limitations on what you can and can't do, and the dice's only function is to force you to put some variety within your storytelling. Your character and its skills and abilities are furthermore entirely irrelevant to the system since it only cares about narrative impact. This is obviously a far cry away from traditional roleplaying and its reliance on the GM controlled narrative with PC-centric input from the players. It also has the rather nice side effect of making Primetime completely GM-optional, as I will go into some detail about in the future.

Anyway, the parties will go back and forth trading dice until one side runs out, after which the Conflict ends and appropriate consequences are sorted out (a topic for a later post). This sounds very simplistic, and it is, but there's also more to it than this absolute mechanical basis for the system, and in future posts these will be mapped out. For now though this is what the game system of Primetime is built around. For my next post, unless I once again change my mind, I will talk about how characters work.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Nagademon 2012 - What the...?

So it's finally November, and it's time to get to work on my NaGaDeMon project (which I will henceforth not bother with capitalising in that manner since it's a pain and looks awful). I would assume anyone who's actually reading this post already knows what Nagademon is, but in case you don't there's a link in the sidebar.

This is my first time doing Nagademon, and I have no idea what to expect. I am not the most... organised person on the planet, so I will be doing this day by day and see what happens. No fancy schedules or calenders for this game designer!

So what is my project? Well, it's a roleplaying game of course! I opted for this course because it's the subject in which I am most familiar, and to be frank because it seems the easiest. Maybe in the future I may build up the courage to try a boardgame or something but this year it's definitely going to be an RPG.

What kind of RPG? Well, here's where I need to get my talking hat on and do a lengthy explanation of what it is I am trying to achieve:

In the modern RPG hobby there's a trend in the indie/small publisher scene towards more and more games with a definite heavy narrative focus. These games are games in which the rules are designed to facilitate storytelling above concerns like balancing the rules to make the game fair and tactical or making them in such a manner where they simulate the way reality or at least the game world in which they are set works. I am talking about games and publishers like Dogs in the Vineyard and Evil Hat with their variety of Fate-based RPGs as well as many others.

I wholeheartedly support this trend. I much prefer my RPGs to be narrative, and when I GM I will shamelessly and blatantly ignore the rules for the sake of the story. But, I was asking myself, should I have to? If I just want to tell a story, then why do I need all these rules about various mundane things and whatnot when I will just throw them aside when they don't fit the situation for the story? Do I need to know in exact numbers the relative skills and abilities of different characters when I as a GM will in the end have those skills and abilities be whatever is necessary for the story to proceed in a pleasing direction rather than what it says on the character sheet?

Of course I don't. I don't need any of that, if my goal is just to tell a nice cooperative story. Sure, in certain situations it's nice and even the gamiest of crunch has its place. I'm not trying to say that RPGs are shit because they have rules, not at all. Different games provide different experiences, and that's fine. I'll gladly play a retroclone or a traditional big-name publisher game that's out there even if they are everything but narrative in focus (you all know which game I am really talking about here, so I won't tempt any lawyers by naming any names, but sufficient to say it involves winged reptiles and spelunking), but I'll play them on their own terms and those terms do not necessarily appeal to me most of the time.

So what I want to make is a narrative RPG, but not just any narrative RPG: I want to make the most narrative of narrative RPGs that is possible without reaching the point where it ceases to be an RPG and instead becomes a pure cooperative storytelling exercise. I want to take the trend that's been going on of games (within a certain subset of the hobby) becoming successively more and more focused on the narrative and take it to its logical conclusion.

This is ultimately my goal for Nagademon this year. It may sound lofty and ambitious, and most certainly there's a heavy dose of pretention in there, but it's what I want to do and by various sorts of divine entities (or not) I have a pretty good idea how to do it!

Tomorrow I will talk about the guiding principles I have set up for myself when designing this game (which I have already named Primetime, but more on that later.)