Skills: tool for setting scenes

17 June, 2009 at 6:07 pm (game design) (, , )

Bruce posted about situation generation and the difficulties inherent in it, as well as a possible solution for those difficulties. It is a post well worth reading, so I won’t explain the contents of it here.

It reminded me of an idea I had once mentioned to a local friend: Some skills are used in conflicts (mainly to solve them), while others are used to gather information or find something; generally to set a scene. This divide is of course informal and not all skills fit in one category or the other.

What would happen if the divide was made explicit? Some skills are clearly in one category or other, but let us arbitrary divide the borderline cases to the two categories also (dice can be used in the process). Now players whose characters have lots of conflict-level skills will tend to do well once things get nasty, while those with more scene-setting skills can decide which conflicts, and which sorts of conflicts, to get involved in. Utter specialisation is for insects, in this case, and for only marginally functional characters.

There are other effects. Some skills simply can’t be used to set up scenes. If, say, sneaking is such a skill, then it must be used in conflicts. Hide and seek is only the last resort, used when the plan proper goes awry. In similar way, maybe riding can only be used to set scenes. You ride to get around, not to skewer people with a lance.

It does not need to be quite that straightforward. How about a game where fighting can only be used to set scenes, not resolve them? You assault an invading army not to defeat them by fighting but rather to reach their leader; succeed and you do so in a swathe of blood, fail and you are forced to kneel, bound and beaten, when the actual conflict starts. It might take the shape of rousing speech, insults, a touching performance, something arcane, or maybe a contest of riddles. Maybe a contest to have the black-clad evil one see how wrong his deeds are and to turn against his even more evil master.

Conclusion being that drawing an absolute and explicit line between skills that can be only used in conflicts or only used to set up scenes one can alter the gameplay significantly.

Certainly there is more to do. Maybe making this divide is a group process, much like group character creation. “Everyone select two skills that you want to be used in dramatic situations.” Maybe the line is drawn in different places for different characters, hence creating clear niche protection and probably other interesting effects. Might be especially interesting in a PvP environment: Everyone maneuvers to encounter the other in a situation most advantageous to oneself.

There is more still. How are scene-setting skills used? Maybe in the process of free play when someone notices there is an opportunity for their use. Maybe go around the table clockwise, everyone having a scene in order and setting it up with some skill along the way. (Being involved in scenes started by others is smart.)

There’s a game to be designed lurking in these ideas, I think.

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Dungeoncrawl: The anatomy of a player character

6 January, 2008 at 11:43 am (game design) (, , , )

Given my concept of a game, characters need to be able to perform certain tasks. For more-or-less arbitrary reasons, I decided to go with skills as the defining factor of characters. “Skill” suggests a value associated with character that can be fairly rabidly increased in play and it further suggests that all characters won’t have all skills (that is, they are not mandatory). All of that won’t be true of all skills.

Attributes (a fixed set of values that chances only slowly if at all) are one way of setting a default for skills, but they should also have mechanical effects in play to be worth it. One common use is to use attributes as hit points (or other measure of resiliency), but I have another solution for that. So, in essence, I don’t see a compelling need for attributes.

The lack of attributes implies another way of resolving simple rolls, which I don’t have, as of yet. It may end up being unnecessary due to the exact nature of all tasks in the game. Further design will tell. A default for skills must also be defined in some way. My current idea is to have a fixed default. If I end up adding rules for nonhumans, they will have different defaults or some special abilities.

Skill: actual rules

Every (human) player character starts with all skills at the value three. There will be a number of skills the player can select at different values. I’m thinking about three skills at 10, three at 7, and the remaining at three. Or something like that. Different combinations allow for more or less powerful and focused chars, so some options are in order.

Getting hurt

Character has an undefined number of tracks, but at least three: Wound track, strain track and rest track. When the number of wounds (the track) equals some skill like toughness, the character is unable to do anything and can be killed with a single action. Essentially: Hit points, but in the reverse direction. Wounds are earned by being hit with sharp, pointy, hot, or otherwise inconvenient objects.

Straing track is a measure of exhaustion, both physical and mental. It accumulates when being attacked, being hurt, being scared, or failing rolls related to straining oneself. When strain equals the sum of two skills, something like toughess and will, something bad happens. I’m thinking a number of possible effects the player can choose between.

Rest track starts at zero and goes up by one when the character rests. The two other tracks can’t be reduced below rest track’s current value. The track is reset when the characters relax and use their loot between adventures. The function of the track is to make resting always a choice: If you do it too often, it simply is not useful any more and you have to get back. It is a soft time limit, in essence. The diegetic explanation is that no matter how skilled a healer you are, the dungeon environment is far from ideal: There are limited supplies, the place is dirty and cold, and it is very tiring to be constantly on guard. Short breaks help for a while, but total recovery demands a good rest at far better conditions.

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