24 November, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #45: Character Peaks

I've had a few ideas over the past couple of weeks, but I keep forgetting to write them down. When I forget to take a note of the fleeting ephemera, I have a hard time trying to capture it in words when I sit down to start writing my blog...it's frustrating and it means that I haven't written a lot of game mechanisms lately.

Working on other projects hasn't really helped in that regard either...but anyway, time for number 45.

In many roleplaying games, a character gradually accumulates experience and becomes more powerful over the course of a story. They learn new things, they discover new tools that make them more effective and they face ever more dangerous foes.

This typically applies within the context of a single story, but often also applies over the course of a series of narratives. Characters simply escalate until they ascend to rival the gods themselves.

Fun (in some situations), but certainly not realistic.

There are a few games over the years that have offered an alternative type of story.

Instead of chronicling a rise into power, they reveal a character's responses to a fading glory. There are plenty of mechanisms that have tried to encapsulate this notion, but they all have a similar pattern to them. Character growth is inverse exponential...it starts fast, then gradually gets slower as a character becomes more set in their ways, or simply finds it harder to learn new things.

On the flipside, character degradation is constant.

As a result a character starts gaining strength at a far faster rate than they lose it. Gradually they reach a peak point where their gaining of new abilities retreats to a level comparable to their losses. Eventually, they find that they are unable to learn things as quickly as their injuries and frailties accumulate.

Such characters have passed their prime and the game now becomes a very different beast.

I've yet to find a game that really focuses on this type of story...not that I've really gone out of my way to look for one.

The closest I've probably seen is the miniatures game Mordheim from Games Workshop, which replicated this arc for the characters within a team even if it didn't really focus on the psychology involved. Many times I had characters who reached a point where thir injuries were just accumulating faster than their new skills and advancements...this became a good time to retire the figures and recruit new members into the team.

It's another of those ideas I'd like to play with, when I get the time.
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