Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #2: Escalation in a Limited Field

[Blogger's Note: the topic has henceforth been changed to Game Mechani(sm) of the week for matters of linguistic correctness. This doesn't mean the posts will all be gramatically and lingustically perfect though...]

This weeks topic is something I've been working on for a 1-page RPG that I'm devising.

It's a very stripped down version of the Quincunx game I'm developing, with the intention to simply get the core mechanisms in place for some streamlined testing.

There have been a number of contributing idea paths that have lead to this.

One is a topic thread about telling stories in a closed environment such as a large independent space ship.

Another topic thread relates back to sandbox adventures and how to tell a story within such a setting.

A third is my own series of posts about Quincunx on the Imber Corvus forum.

The basic idea is a fixed number of resources that may be used to perform tasks. This could be a fixed amount of space on a hard drive, it could be a limited number of trees that could be left for oxygen creation or cut down for timber, it could be a limited number of useful people who are each required to perform a job.

No matter how you look at it, the resource comes down to a fixed number that will never expand, but it could easily diminish if the situation takes a turn for the worse.

I'm using this mechanism in my current example as a number of dice that an be rolled, but it could just as easily be applied as a modifier to rolls.

1. Dice to roll: There are twenty useful people in a village, and there are six tasks that need to be done for the village to survive each month. For each villager who attends to a specific task roll a die. If there are two or more villagers attending to the same task, roll a separate die for each person involved. You could then: (a) take the highest result, (b) add the dice rolls together, or (c) simply compare each die to a threshold to determine successes.

2. Modifiers: There are twenty useful people in a village, and there are six tasks that need to be done for the village to survive each month. Roll a die for each task, for every villager assisting with that task add +1 to the die result. You could then: (a) compare the results for each task to a single level threshold or (b) compare it to a scale.

Each of the options brings something different to the game and can flavour outcomes in dramatically different ways.

1(a): More people involved give a better chance of reaching an optimal outcome, but it's quite easily possible for one person to reach this point on their own. No matter how many people are involved in this type of set-up, the task will never be completed any better or with higher degrees of success.

1(b): More people have a better chance of reaching much higher numbers. If six sided dice are used to represent villagers, then all it takes is for 7 people to be involved in a task, and they will automatically perform better than one person will on their own. If a threshold needs to be met for success, then a task that one person can complete will automatically be completed if there are a number of villagers equal to the threshold score. You may want this, you may not.

1(c): More people have a better chance of succeeding, but there is still a chance to no-one will succeed. It's a bit like a midpoint between the two examples above. If three villagers are assigned to a task, there is a chance they might all fail, or a chance that their successes will accumulate into something truly spectacular.

2(a): If the maximum die roll is high enough to pass the threshold, then there is a chance that a task will be accomplished with no-one necessary. This could be reflected by the notion that there are "useless" villagers would might stumble through occasionally and get things working. Or maybe there is simply no problem in that task for the month. But it's probably better to assume that the threshold is higher than the die type being used. Even so this will run into the same issue as 1(b), if there are enough people involved, then a situation will automatically be overcome. This might be good, or not. If you want the strategic angle to come into play, then you'll need to make sure the number of useful villagers can't make all of the tasks into automatic successes. There always needs to be a level of risk.

2(b): Sliding degrees of success might make things more realistic, but can complicate matters.

The method I'm using for this mechanism example is 1(c). My descriptions above have probably indicated that I favour this system, I'll look at variations of the others in specific contexts further down the track.

A limited supply of dice, that need to be assigned among various tasks.

But this doesn't escalate does it?

So I bring in a new twist.

A number of players are claiming dice from this pool in order to get their tasks completed, gradually claiming more and more dice from the pool as their tasks get harder, only to find thatthe pool runs out and eventually they have to confront one another to gain the dice they need.

A bit like a free market economy, and in the end it will come down to the players most able to take advantage of the situations that have developed over the course of play. This may be a matter of treachery, double-crossing, wiping out opponents through combat or simply good old fashioned co-operation. Though co-operation doesn't tend to last long in an escalating crisis.

The second aspect is the pool size. As the crisis increases, the available pool size shrinks. This is being done by a background story that functions like a shadow player. The background story gradually eats the dice in the communal pool, while gaining power for itself.

If we go back to the village analogy.

Each player could be a guild master in a small town. Let's say there are twenty families in the town and the "useful" villagers are the heads of those families. Each player is trying to get the political sway of the twenty families in order to make their guild the most powerful in town. But there is a disease killing off the families, and the more people get infected by the disease, the stronger it gets (conversely, there could be a necromancer killing the families and raising them as zombies). Whatever the backstory is, it gradually grows in strength if left unchecked.

Players can use the families they've aligned with to confront other players, or they can use these families to unravel the source of the town's problems. Either method will show the remaining townsfolk how good they are, and each method is likely to draw new recruits to their side. On the down side, any families they've sent after their rivals won't be able to unravel the mystery, and vice versa. Each family only gets one action per month.

Do you send all of you families to unravel the mystery hoping that when you do reveal the truth, everyone will revere you? This is probably a bit too much of a risk, because you'll be left with no defenders if you don't manage to unravel the mystery.

Do you strike someone when their families are all elsewhere? You'd better be able to make it a swift and deadly strike, or they will rally their troops in the next month and come back after you. Other repercussions will also be felt across the group.

Do you ignore the story entirely and focus on other players in the hope that when the story gets too nasty, you'll have accumulated the wealth of the other players and should be powerful enough to take it on then?

The game mechanism stays fairly open at the start of the story, much like a session of Chess or Go. But as moves are made and allegiances are formed, the intrigue gradually gets more deadly and leads to a confrontation between two players, or between a player and the story.

This mechanism isn't designed to engender friendly play.

I've thrown more into the mix, but those are mechanisms to be discussed at a later date.


Andrew Smith said…
How does this function in campaign play? Do you reset the pool when the first crisis is over?
Vulpinoid said…
If there were a single crisis, I'd say yes.

If there were two or more crises drawing from the communal pool, then only the crisis resolved returns it's gathered resources to the pool.

I guess this all depends on whether you wanted the play to be more episodic or more story arc driven.

In the typical games I run, I'd be inclined to take a germ of an idea from one session and use this as the starting point for a new crisis in a follow-up session. But then again, my games usually have two or three event sequences occurring simultaneously to confuse and confront players with decisions that really make them think about their character's place in the world.
Andrew Smith said…
So it's related to the pace and beats of the story. When the group (represented by the pool) has pause to recouperate, the pool can reset.
Vulpinoid said…
Yes, that's how I'd envision it.

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