04 August, 2012

A Revised Core Mechanism

A roleplaying game without dice or numbers.

The notion has existed on the edges of the hobby for quite some time. But I haven't seen many games pull it off successfully.

Lots of games try to simplify things, by reducing the complexity of life into numbers. But is is possible to reduce those numbers into something even simpler, or perhaps resolve the complexity of life into something simple that isn't numbers. 

FUBAR does this to a degree, and if you use fudge dice for FUBAR, you don't need to worry about numbers much at all. Under this style of play, a [+] is successful, a [0] is neutral and a [-] is unsuccessful. Even though dice are rolled, the rest of the game is trait based.

The AMBER RPG is diceless, but it still plays with a comparison of numbers between the characters when they come into conflict. Types of conflict are defined by different types of comparison, the aim the game is to manoeuvre a scene into the type of conflict where you have the advantage.

For Walkabout I've been struggling with the notion of a game mechanisms very different to anything else I've seen before. The ideas behind the game have to reflect the genre of post apocalyptic survival, the rebuilding of society (into something reminiscent of the past, or something entirely new), and they have to reflect a deeper spirituality.

I've got a lot of ideas to plug into the core mechanism, but there has been something that just hasn't felt right about the inner workings of the game. The equipment ideas remain, the connections with culture and belief systems, and I like the idea of the token drawing mechaphor...but they need to link together in a coherent way. 

The game isn't meant to be overly gritty or realistic, it's meant to reflect the mysterious and heroic journeys of individuals. There will be grit in that the characters have to get dirty to get things done, they need to see the seedy underside of the world if they are going to restore the balance properly. But even if the rest of the world sees them as outsiders and unwelcome arrivals, they ARE heroes.

Heroic means that a character will not die under random circumstances, it also means that they will excel in their chosen areas of speciality. Heroes will not excel in all areas, and they will have to rely on the help of their friends to get them through the toughest situations.

Heroic could mean larger than life, but if could also be interpreted as more dramatic. Not necessarily more violent or more dangerous, but more important. The regular people of the world eke out a meagre existence surviving against the odds in a world that has been trough an apocalypse, the heroes will make or break things. Perhaps allowing the world to move forward, perhaps plunging it back into the anarchy of the apocalypse.

A hero's decisions affect the world, a hero is affected by the world.

I'm starting to monologue, or perhaps start a manifesto. But I'm trying to get to the truth of the concepts at the heart of this game.

My problem is that roleplayers know dice. I've seen comments in forums where roleplayers have been scared of the notion of cards in an RPG, so trying to develop something even more outlandish or exotic has to be really clever in its application.

So...a slightly amended idea. It's still related to the way FUBAR does things, but is a bit more heroic rather than random. I’m also trying to keep the mechanism as straight-forward and intuitive as possible, while keeping it relative to the evolving story.

Basic steps:
1. Work out the traits relevant to the task.
2. Draw tokens, and allocate them.
3. Narrate the outcome based on the allocation of tokens.
4. Does the scene end, or do more actions occur?

Step 1 – Assessing the trait pool
Step 1a – Describe the specific action(s) you are taken to resolve a situation, and the colour of this action (Green = Creative, Blue = Transformative, Red = Destructive).
Step 1b – Determine which core trait keywords apply to a situation (up to 3; one each from culture, dance and edge)
Step 1c – Determine which non-core traits apply to a situation
Step 1d – Determine whether to keep all the positive and negative non-core traits, or play it safe and cancel out positives and negatives on a one-to-one basis.
Step 1e – Determine which relationships apply to a situation

Step 2 – Drawing and allocating the tokens
Step 2a – Draw a number of tokens. The total number of tokens drawn is equal to three, plus the number of relevant core trait keywords.
Step 2b – Allocate three of the tokens between the categories of success, sacrifice and story (where black = positive, coloured matching the action type = positive, other coloured = neutral, white = negative). If core trait keywords were used, a single token to each of these (these are throwaway tokens with no effect on the action's outcome).
Step 2c – Draw a number of tokens equal to the non-core traits involved (both positive and negative), don’t allocate tokens to these yet, hold them in reserve to be revealed as the effects of the action are applied back into the story.
Step 2d – If you have a loose relationship that could be beneficial to the situation, claim an extra black token to be allocated during step 3 (a tight relationship adds two more black tokens in this way). If you have a loose relationship that could be detrimental to the situation any player may call this out; if this occurs, you must take an extra white token to be allocated during step 3 (a tight relationship adds two more white tokens in this way). The player calling out the detrimental relationship gains a Refresh token.

Step 3 – Applying the results back into the story
Single Character Resolution
Step 3a – If the player allocated a positive to “story”, they may allocate the remaining tokens amongst the non-core traits used in the resolution. If the player allocated a negative token to “story”, the GM allocates the remaining tokens amongst the non-core traits. If the player allocated a neutral token to “story”, the GM and player take turns allocating tokens to the non-core traits (the GM allocates the first token in this manner).
Step 3b – Determine total successes and total sacrifices.
Success Category
Sacrifice Category
Positive Trait
Negative Trait
Black (+)
Take any step toward resolving the task (regardless of the normal associated colour), or remove an obstacle token from the situation.
No Effect
Explain how the positive trait has made the situation a step closer to resolution.
Exhaust the Trait
Coloured (+)
Perform a successful action related to the colour.
GREEN –Apply a benefit to target, or remove one of their penalties.
BLUE – Transform one of the target’s benefits or penalties to another of the same type.
RED – Apply a penalty to target, or remove one of their benefits.
No Effect
No Effect
No Effect
Coloured (0)
No Effect
Sacrifice determined by the colour.
GREEN – Opposition gains a benefit.
BLUE – A benefit or penalty changes in a way that provides the opposition with an advantage.
RED – Active agent gains a penalty.
No Effect
No Effect
White (-)
No Effect
Sacrifice of a type determined by the GM and the situation, or the objective becomes a step harder to achieve.
Exhaust the Trait.
Explain how the penalty has caused the objective to become a step harder to achieve.

Step 3c – Once the player has determined the specific outcome(s) of their resolution, they may describe the specifics of this with a single sentence for each allocated token. During these descriptions, a player may call on their relationships.  If a player wants to speed up the narration of their resolution, they can simply add the total positive results into a single sentence and the total negative results into a single sentence.

Multiple Character Resolution
While most aspect of event resolution remain unchanged, it often becomes necessary to determine who is acting first when multiple characters are acting (regardless of whether they are opposing or co-operating with one another). To accommodate this, the player with the highest number of white tokens may act first or choose to hold their action (ties are resolved by XXX).

Steps 3a and 3b remain unchanged.

During step 3c, each player takes turns describing the specific actions of their character. Each action consists of a single sentence describing a single token as it relates to either the allocated success, sacrifice or non-core trait tokens. A player may choose to include the token from a single relationship during their narration to emphasis the benefit this provides. These sentences also reveal the benefits and penalties applied throughout the scene as a result of these actions, future sentences within the same scene need to take these benefits and penalties into account. This may change the intended course of action for a character.

Once a player has narrated their character’s action, the next player takes their turn. Once all players have described their action, the cycle begins anew.

If a player runs out of tokens to narrate, their character is left to the mercy of the descriptions provided by other players with tokens remaining.     

Step 4 – End or Continuation?
If no players with characters active in the current scene want to press matters, the scene ends. As long as a single player with an active character wants to perform additional tasks, the scene continues with the action sequence beginning anew.
So the basic mechanism of the game works with active characters interacting with their environment to gain advantages and disadvantages; then using those advantages to aid their allies or hinder/injure their enemies, and trying to avoid the disadvantages from causing too many complications.

The idea of scenes, acts and stories still works in basically the same way that it always did. Different traits have different degrees of permanence within the narrative.

A few in-play examples should help to clarify how the whole thing works.
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