15 March, 2015

Simplicity vs Complexity

Every time I come up for air after a few days of working on a specific train of thought for this "System 4" project, I wonder where to go with it next....and then wonder if the last few days of work have actually been beneficial to my overall goals.

Initially, I was looking for a game that might replicate the action sequences in RWBY...fast paced, high action, magnificent strings of successes that might correspond to awesome combo moves. Then I figured that the whole thing might slot seamlessly into my "Other Strangeness" mutant animal project.

I looked at the game WR&M as a simple basis for the game (pulling this idea across from some of the other fledgling thoughts I had), then decided it didn't have the depth I wanted, so I created a few more classes of character (Warrior, Rogue, Mage, Cleric, Diplomat, Scholar), then converted the essence of these character types into specific action types that they might be expert in (Fighting, Sneaking, Casting, Praying, Talking, Knowing). This still didn't fit the modern day gritty urban mutant animal genre, so I tweaked a few of those (casting became Utilising [using technology], Praying became Channeling [using psychic powers]). WR&M uses skills that give advantages, and I figured that this game could use the grammatical ideas I'd previously worked on with "Other Strangeness".

I threw in special quirks that would modify the game in some way, then pulled them out because they seemed to complicate stuff more than anything else.

I looked more specifically to Cadwallon, which was informing many of my design decisions, then realised why I'd never gotten around to playing that particular game. It;s stylistically excellent...dark, gritty but still high fantasy, but it takes some effort to wrap your head around. Trying to wrap multiple player's heads around it just never worked. A lot of mechanisms in that game, and lots to keep track of. That means everything slows down, and that's not what I'm after.

I've been playing with the idea of "stances", when you're in the right frame of mind, you find certain things easier to do, then linking different verb types to stances (these are the things you find easier to do while you're in that stance). But I keep encountering verbs that don't really fit one particular stance or another...

When you "run" is it a combat action or a sneaking action? Should we throw in a "Moving" stance? Should we split the verb "run" into two forms, "Charge" for when a character is in the "Fighting" stance, "Infiltrate" or "Flee" for when a character is in the "Sneaking" stance?  

What about the verb "dance", or the verb used for forging documents (which requires a degree of knowledge, the use of appropriate tools, and some inherent sneakiness)?

I know that I'm over analysing this, but certain bits just aren't sitting right.

Time to take a step back and have some serious thought about the intended direction of the project, both the original intended direction and the current direction it seems to be moving. Since I want this to be a fairly simple game, where descriptive narration forms a streamlined feedback loop with an elegant system, I've started looking back at some of the basics.

What do I want the game to be about?

It's a dark, but vaguely comedic and absurdist look at our world through the eyes of mutant animals who live in the shadows and fight darker, stranger monstrosities that humanity must never become aware of.

This vague premise has led me back to Cthulhu Dark, simple elegant rules for investigating mindbending horrors.

What do the character's do?

They use whatever resources are at their disposal to confront the darkness and strangeness of the world, sometimes converting the other mutants to their cause, sometimes working to neutralise them if they become too dangerous, and sometimes running away to survive the night.

The tasks are pretty straightforward from a system perspective, it's only the narrative that should complicate things. When I designed Walkabout, I started with the premise that there were 3 types of actions "Constructive", "Destructive" and "Transformative", the whole game relies on three colours of token that define a characters attitude to the world through those action types (eg. overly destructive characters find it hard to construct things). WR&M divides actions into three basic forms as well, but following a very different breakdown premise.

Maybe it's time to strip this game back down to a trinity of actions, Big Eyes Small Mouth did the same thing. So, what are the three types of action or stance that might make the most sense in a game like this?

Warrior-Rogue-Mage
Here's where the basic troubles lie, is "running" just something you can do, if you exert yourself further is it a warrior effect or a rogue effect. It depends what you're trying to say, and the intentions behind the action.

Physical-Social-Mental
A typical breakdown, common to the statistics of World of Darkness and plenty of other systems. Most skills and actions can be broken down into one of these three categories, some fields of skills might cross two of the categories, but specific actions typically match one of these. 

Human-Mutant-Animal
Where "Human" describes the things that people are naturally good at, "Mutant" describes bizarre powers and psychic abilities, and "Animal" describes more primal actions.

I like this last option, but it might take a bit of work to get it working smoothly.

What do the players do?

Here I'm thinking of a collaborative worldbuilding game. Starting with a small section of an urban environment, then gradually building the city and detailing specific areas as they become important in the narrative. Some areas might be designated "too dangerous" during the early stages of the story, only to be dealt with later, other areas might see changes due to the actions of the characters, possibly moving from hostile to friendly, or maybe going from one type of hostility to anther as new villains move into a power void.

Specifically, I want the players to be concise in their action descriptions using words from their character sheets, then offering potential pitfalls and benefits to their actions. The player rolls a die, and add a bunch of successes by exhausting adverbs from their sheet. (if the die result is even, they might gain some kind of bonus on their action, keep one of their exhausted adverbs, or save up the point for a more powerful benefit later...if the die roll is odd, they might not only exhaust their adverb for the round but for the rest of the conflict, or they might suffer some other penalty or pitfall as indicated in the action description).  

More to think about...
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