18 March, 2018

Tweaking the fiddly bits

I've got a couple of hundred regular readers here, based on my daily viewer stats, even if I assume a percentage of them are just bots that trawl through pages and hit the pageview counter. The vast majority of you are silent, but a few of you provide 'likes' and '+1s', and some offer me interesting ideas or queries in comments and reshares. To those people, I'm grateful.

Today though, a bit more about my generic version of The Law (the project with the working title of SNAFU). There are quite a few ideas that didn't make it into the core rules for The Law, and a few design decisions under the surface which led to after effects and surface elements tbat might require a bit of unpacking.

Benj Davis has brought up the concept of converting the Rank die to a generic format. Because I've been working with the background concepts so deeply over recent years, I didn't realise how strongly it appeared intertwined with the heirarchical structure of the Department of Law. The essence of the Rank die was drawn from the Name die in John Harper's Agon RPG, where the original idea reflected a blend of fame, arete, and heroic closeness to divinity. I retained the idea that this was the core die used in pretty much every die roll, but it made sense in my game to link it across to a character's rank as an agent.

This will never function as a "generic" system. I admit that there are types of games where the mechanisms of play will be a bit too much of a stretch from the intended conventions of a specified genre. But renaming this specific die to something more appropriate to the intended genre would be hard. A steampunk criminal interpretation might see the 'ranks' increase through levels of 'urchin'/'light-finger'/'schemer'/'racketeer'/'mastermind'... a magical interpretation might see 'ranks' of 'novice'/'disciple'/'adept'/'master'/'oracle'... these are just spur of the moment ideas, and I'd probably give a lot more thought to logical progressions in a final product.

One of the rules that got cut from the base book for The Law, was the idea of different departments within the agency. There were either going to be four or six departments during iterations of the idea. Four would directly correspond to the attributes (physical = SWAT team, social = Undercover, mental = Investigation, paranormal = PSI division), six would have combined a pair of attributes to get it's divisions (phy+soc, phy+men, phy+para, soc+men, soc+para, men+para). When characters were doing something specifically relating to the purview of a given department, they'd roll their department die instead of their general rank die. The idea was ultimately abandoned, because choice of abilities helped define characters in this way, and it felt like it was overcomplicating an otherwise elegant system. It will probably come back in a players guide as an optional rule, where department rank counts as an advantage die that is only added under specific circumstances. These departments could easily be substituted for generic occupations in other settings (swap out 'SWAT team' for 'warrior', or 'PSI division' for 'wizard', etc.) Specific dice like this would be raised independently of the rank die, and while the rank die has the overall rule that it may never be the highest (or equal highest) die until a attribute reaches d12, these division advantage dice would be linked to a specific attribute, and never be able to exceed it's die level.

I've been toying with similar ideas for schools of magic and elemental affinities in the Familiar branch of the game.

Long story short... consider what the game is about, what kind of organisation or community the characters work within. The game isn't really designed for loners. The Rank die reflects the overall power, notoriety, and accomplishments of the individual within that community. But always remember that a Rank die is limited by the attribute dice, and a higher rank die brings bigger threats to the table. It was deliberately designed as a two-edged sword to prevent it becoming too overpowered in the game.

Another thing to consider when adapting the rule system would be the choice of abilities available to the characters. A 'drive' skill wouldn't be important to a medieval game, a 'wilderness survival' skill wouldn't see a lot of use in urban fantasy.

I like the idea of at least five skills or abilities per category, and preferably a number around ten. That's probably a throwback to Cyberpunk2020 and the Storyteller System, but it feels nice. I've also tried to make sure a couple of skills in each category are a bit more exclusive by limiting their choice to characters who meet certain attribute minimums (typically d8 in an attribute opens these up)... while also providing a couple of skills that have the potential to be upgraded to an advanced form. The whole point is to maintain a general consistency, while adding a bit of diversity where I felt the core concepts were lacking. Although it doesn't appear in The Law, a 'music' skill developed for a specific genre of game might break down into specialised forms for a variety of instruments, musical styles, or composition.
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