25 August, 2010

Encoding Otherkind

I’ve blogged about Otherkind dice a few times. Once describingthem as a game mechanism of the week, once describing how I’ve incorporated them into other projects (such as FUBAR), I’ve described them with respect to Vector Theory.

But there is really a lot more complexity in them than there first appears. Not so much the complexity of rolling three dice then allocating them to three categories, but the ideas of rolling extra dice to get a better chance of placing a single high die in a “success” category, while making extra sacrifices with extra dice placed in another category. There’s a lot of intuition happening here, and while it plays out simply and elegantly with a focus toward telling a good story, it’s a nightmare to program into a computer game.

My current interpretation of Otherkind Dice “FUBAR” can be translated into a 2 page document wityh details on character generation and some GMing notes thrown in for good measure.

But here is a link to a pdf flowchart I’ve generated for my browser based game.

It uses the same basic patterns as FUBAR, but with a minor difference due to the lack of a GM, and the open-ended nature of the stories.

Characters have traits, oppositions have traits (oppositions may be specific situations to overcome, or they may be other characters). A character chooses traits to bear on a situation, the opposition does likewise. If the character has more traits in the situation, then they gain extra dice that are automatically allocated to the success category (the character has a better chance of getting a more successful result because they are simply more proficient in this area). If the opposition has more traits in the situation, then the character gains extra dice that are automatically added to the sacrifice category (the character needs to spend more of their resources to get the same level of impact).

Sounds simple? Yes?

But how do we determine which traits are useful in a situation? On the tabletop, a quick sentence of justification might suffice. But this reminds me of the anecdote I heard on a forum a few months back…

A group are playing a dark gritty game set in a world like Games Workshop’s Necromunda, they are playing a group like Inquisitors usijng a set of rules like “Dogs in the Vineyard”. A girl new to roleplaying joins the group, the boys go easy on her and they think it’s cute when she buys the trait “My Daddy is Bobba Fett” with some ludicrously high value associated with it. If it gets her to fit in with the setting, they figure she might grow out of it and pick up some more mature traits as play establishes itself. But they’re wrong. At first she uses it every now and then as a “get-out-of-jail-free card”…the guys get into trouble and a masked bounty hunter saves them, they need extra firepower and he shows up again. She notices that the high dice associated with this trait give spectacular effects and rarely fail. So she starts using it more often…events that were once every couple of session now crop up in almost every scene. Bobba Fett dominates the game even though he is neither a player character nor a major antagonist. And he shouldn’t even be in the setting to begin with.

[Note: I’ve paraphrased this description quite a bit.]

So how do I make sure a single trait doesn’t destroy the game. I could program the game so that a trait may only be used once every 24 hours. But that really doesn’t mesh with the way “FUBAR” has been written. I’m trying to make this game match FUBAR as closely as possible so that it can be used as an advertisement for the pen-and-paper version of the game.

That leaves me with the situation/short-term/long-term/permanent split, linked with two levels of traits (one of which provides a single bonus die while the other provides a pair of bonus dice).

The next dilemma comes in the form of Scenes, Acts, Sessions and ongoing stories, especially when determining how certain traits expire.

That one’s pretty easy. The game will still use self contained scenes; where a character may perform an action to accomplish a specific deed, or may engage in a confrontation with a beast or another character. Situational traits will last as long as this scene is being engaged.

More long term traits are trickier. I could make an act equal to a complete period between log-on and log-off. Once a player logs out of the game, their short term traits are negated. But I think there needs to be something more to it than this…it’s easily capable of being abused with players racking up huge levels of short term traits then simply logging off then on again to start their campaign of activity again. I think I’ll have to add in a timing function here. A player will have to be logged out for at least an hour (maybe more) before their character’s short term traits reset.

Long tern traits are trickier still. Do I make them last a full day? A week? Month? This time period needs to be short enough that new players don’t get put off…but long enough that seasoned veterans still find them meaningful.

Then, to overcome the “Bobba Fett” syndrome, I need to make sure that players can’t always use the same trait non-stop. This is covered a bit by using situational/short-term/long-term, but there are always situations where carrying a big sword isn’t going to be an advantage even if you have such a trait available.

So I’m trying to pull in a bit of my Quincunx work here (but not the elements); there will be six stances the character can follow (just like Bunraku Nights). These are basically a combination of attribute and action methodology, the ways that a person gets things done: Advantages, Allies, Combat, Face, Knowledge, Talent.

Each trait thus becomes linked to a specific stance, but there are different ways that these stances can activate traits. Most commonly, a character’s stance will activate a range of traits (if your stance is combat, you gain access to a range of fighting traits…while if it’s face, you gain access to a range of courtier-subterfuge type traits). But to shake things up a bit, and to add some variety to scenes, some traits will become activated when an opponent is showing a particular stance (you only gain access to a counterattack trait if they are ready to fight, but you get access to this trait no matter what stance you might be in).

Similarly, there are some traits linked to specific environments (you gain access the to “dune-master” trait while you are on a beach or desert, but not while you are in the jungle or on an icy plateau).

This is stuff that’s common sense around a table, but in a computer game there is no GM, so the programming has to police the available traits.

And there are so many more issues that I haven’t even touched on yet.

Such as:

When do you apply negative traits?

What happens to characters who are taken out of action?

If a character is gaining a trait from a piece of equipment, what happens to the trait when they give away the equipment?

What about buffs from other players?

Can you gang up in a scene?

What about other common features in games like this (such as online chat functions, creating an avatar by buying equipment and clothes, factions)?

But enough blogging for the moment…back to the grindstone…

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