20 January, 2015

The Maxx as inspiration for Rentpunk

The series follows the adventures of the titular hero in the real world and in an alternate reality, referred to as the Outback. In the real world the Maxx is a vagrant, a "homeless man living in a box", while in the Outback he is the powerful protector of the Jungle Queen. The Jungle Queen exists in the real world as Julie Winters, a freelance social worker who often bails the Maxx out of jail. While the Maxx is aware of the Outback, Julie is not, though it is integral to both of their stories.
   - Wikipedia

Now imagine this as a game where the apocalypse is just around the corner. Is the "Outback" a flash forward to the apocalypse? Is it a spiritual world about to collide with our own and cause the apocalypse? When a character emerges from the "Outback", are they returning to our world, are they returning to the another realm? Can they really be sure of anything? If we assume that characters are viewing the "Outback" simply as some kind of psychotic break overlaying our own, we can also assume that any actions occurring in the "Outback" have real world counterparts. A person believing that they are killing someone in the Outback may find that they have killed someone in the real world once they take drugs to control their delusions. It's all a bit William S. Burroughs.

If I'm going to do Rentpunk, I'm not going to do it as a dreary everyday existence. I'm thinking of a set of rules that exist in the background, and if I'm writing an interactive visual novel, these rules can easily be applied as a background program that opens up certain choices in the story.

Here's the basic idea.

The day is divided into 4 time periods: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night.
Characters have 6 general scores: Hungry, Tired, Sick, Esoteric, Dirt, Wealth, and Reputation.
They also have a range of specific values, these indicate the favours and items they have accumulated.   
Each time period, a character gains +1 Hungry and +1 Tired. If they have a sick score, they have a 50/50 chance of going up or down in this (unless they spend the period resting, or spending money on medicines). Once a day they earn +1 Dirty.
If a character gains more than 10 Hungry, they automatically gain +1 sick every morning and evening.
If a character's total of Hungry, Sick, Tired and Esoteric is more than 15, they start hallucinating and reality becomes more surreal. If the total reaches 20, their hallucinations over-run their perception of reality. If the total exceeds 30, they do not perceive reality at all...everything is hallucination.
If a character gains more than 15 Hungry, they become weak and unable to heal (they cannot lose sick points). If they exceed 20 Hungry, they pass out from weakness. 25 kills them.
If a character gains more than 10 Sick, they show visible manifestations of illness, maybe shakes, fevers, coughing or spontaneous bleeding. If a character gains more than 20 Sick, they pass out (if they are weak from hunger, they die). A character with more than 25 Sick dies regardless of their other points.
If a character gains more than 15 Tired, they pass out.

Drugs often have a temporary side effect of imparting Esoteric points while a character is under their effects. Antibiotics might impart a low number of Esoteric points while they remove Sickness points. Uppers might reduce the side effects of Tired points (they don't actually remove them), while increasing Esoteric points. Hallucinogenics might be specifically ingested because they produce high numbers of Esoteric point for the short term. Each drug is an item that may be used up, gaining a drug item costs Wealth points or uses up favour(s), selling a drug may earn Wealth points or favour(s).

Characters may reduce their Tired score by sleeping (and using up a time period), any time they do this, they might oversleep through the next time period (if their tired score is 5 or more). If they sleep on the street or in the open they might reduce their tired score by a low amount (no accumulation of tired points while sleeping and -2 pts from the total upon waking). If they crash on a friend's sofa, they might reduce their score by a more significant amount (no accumulation of Tired points while sleeping, -4 pts from the total upon waking, and the option to remove 2 Dirty points), but it costs a favour or a wealth point to do this. If they hire a shabby hotel room it might be equivalent to a friend's sofa, but costs a 3 Wealth points. If they hire a decent hotel room it might be better. If a character does well enough, they might even get their own room in a share house (let's say 15 wealth to secure the room, then 15 wealth per week to keep it), if you have a room you can crash in it at any time (no accumulation of Tired points while sleeping and -2 pts from the total upon waking, unless you buy a dirty second-hand mattress for 5 Wealth in which case you'll awaken with -4 Tired), you can also remove as much Dirty as you want if you've got a room of your own. Some characters might choose to crash in empty houses (derelict, or just using the houses of people who happen to be away), they gain better reduction of their Tired and Dirty scores, but risk incidents with police/security/home-owners.

Characters may reduce their Hungry score by eating. This typically costs a Wealth point to buy a small amount of food (and thus buy off 2 Hungry), two Wealth points might buy a large meal (and thus buy off 5 Hungry). Other characters might spend a time period dumpster diving, possibly cancelling out 1 to 4 Hungry points (and possibly gaining (an equal number of Sick points in the process). Characters with rooms in share houses, or crashing of friend's sofas might trade favours for food (in either direction). Similarly, it might be possible to purchase foodstuffs to eat at a later date (but such things risk being stolen, or going off).

Characters accumulate money by spending time periods doing work. It often costs favours to get the work, but if you maintain the job for long enough, you earn those favours back. At first, these jobs might only earn a few wealth, they might come up irregularly, and you might not keep the job if you aren't able to show up for shifts when your called upon. If you have two or more sources for jobs, to try and make ends meet more easily, you can almost guarantee that both of these jobs will call you in at the same time (and thus force you to choose between them). But such demeaning jobs aren't the interesting part of this game, they're just a way to make ends meet and keep surviving. Some characters may choose to be in such a hallucinatory state that the job seems interesting and exciting, others will sell out their reputation and morals to climb the corporate ladder (maybe getting stuck in middle management because they weren't born in the "right" family), they might make their money through more illicit activities in the sex trade, street drugs, or gang activities. Getting out of this cycle has the odds stacked against the characters. Different forms of job might have a chance of earning characters specific skills that become valuable to gaining new (and more regular, and better paying) jobs, but it's just as likely that these jobs will provide benefits for dealing with the surreal dreamscape of the Esoteric, or the skills necessary for surviving the apocalypse when it hits.

I'm tossing up whether to see Esoterica work as a magic score for the character, the more a character's mind is detached from reality the more they are in tune with the spiritual planes of existence. But this might all just be a hallucination...they key thing about this game is that reality unhinges at some stage, society collapses. Favours count for nothing when the people owing those favours are killed, Wealth counts for nothing when there are no more shops to take the money, Reputation counts for nothing when there is no-one left to respect you. These things might have been vital to a comfortable ongoing existence before the apocalypse, but they count for nothing now...and if you choose the path of the "doomsday prepper" in this scenario, people will consider you weird (perhaps reflecting in a raised Esoterica score), you'll find it hard to accumulate reputation or earn new favours, and you might have more incidents with people who think you're odd.  

I really want the characters to be unaware of the truth in this game, when weirdness happens, characters should have no idea whether the weirdness is real or just in their heads. The players should have no idea either.

Since all this can be encoded into the programming of an interactive visual novel, offering different choices based on varying point scores, we can basically be as complicated as needed, without bothering about players at a table being forced to add modifiers and cross-reference tables.

Hmmm....there could be more potential in this form of game design than I first gave it credit for.
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