Saturday, September 4, 2010

More systems

OK, try this:

Each character has five slots on the character sheet. Normally, four of them can only have one card at a time (Actions) while the fifth (Reserve) can have any number. The PCs share a deck, while the GM has a deck all to himself. Both decks have both jokers. For sake of argument right now, let's call the four actions Focus (diamonds), Stability (hearts), Stamina (clubs) and Humanity (spades).

Focus: If you've got a high Focus, you can apply your mental faculties to the task at hand. Covers remembering facts, finding your way through an unfamiliar (or formerly familiar) area, performing medical procedures (though this might be combined with Stability), and coming up with plans. If you've got a low Focus, it doesn't mean you're stupid, it means you're fried, hungry, tired, whatever, and your brain just isn't online right now.

Stability: If your Stability is high, it means you're coping well with the world. Yes, it sucks, but you're able to push the horror of the situation out for now and do what needs to be done. You'd make Stability actions when coping with loss, blood, death, grief, addiction and things that just scare the crap out of you. If your Stability is low, you just cannot cope anymore, and you might get too loud, cry, feel suicidal or just shut down.

Stamina: Physical tolerance. If it's high, you can run, carry, lift, engage in non-lethal combat (like restraining a low-Stability PC), defuse a bomb (again, probably also involving Stability). If it's high, your muscles are burning, your lungs are bursting for air, your heart is pounding, or maybe you're just so fucking exhausted that you can't even lift your arms.

Humanity: If this one's high, you can deal with people. Not the people in your group specifically (but them, too), but everyone. You see humanity as worth saving, and you've got some hope for the future. You'd use this Action to convince people you don't know to follow a plan, to counsel another person through a tough time, and probably some other stuff I'm not thinking of right now. If you've got a low Humanity, you're being really misanthropic and emo. It's not that it's not understandable, of course. You're making tasteless comments about the destruction of Jerusalem or any of the other massacres that have taken place, and you just don't give a shit that your friend lost his wife because she forgot and crossed herself on impulse.

OK, so, you've got a card in each of these. The higher the card, the better you're doing. When the game starts, you draw X cards and assign four to these Actions, and keep the rest in Reserve. You cannot refresh the cards in your Reserve until it's empty (normally). It makes sense to start off with higher cards across the board, if you're starting from a place of strength and respite. If you're coming into the game already on the run, maybe having one or two low cards isn't a bad idea. Also, say I wanted to play a character who is a dedicated misanthrope, or has a physical handicap of some kind, or who has ADD and can't focus, or whatever? I might never put a card higher than 5 in that Action, and consistently fail those types of things.

Now, why would I do that? Because it'll make my character easier to Remember. It might not be the nicest thing in the world if the other characters make use of my character's Memory by calling to mind how he almost got us killed because his gimpy leg made him slow, but it's a legitimate memory of the character and it'll work to allow refreshes and whatnot. Actually, I'm getting ahead of myself.

When a character takes a non-lethal action, the player plays a card from one of the Actions. It doesn't matter what suit, though the number can be higher or lower as a kind of "setting difficulty." If all four of your Actions are low numbers, you're tired, wasted, emotionally beaten down and you're seeing movement in the shadows even if there is none.

It's possible for Actions to require more than one type of suit. For instance, say my character is trying to defuse a bomb, for whatever reason. I need Stamina to cover the manual dexterity of it all, but also Stability because I'm freaking right the fuck out (this assumes my character knows how to disarm a bomb, but I'll get to that). The GM says I need a 5 or better in Stability (not so bad; that's 10 cards that are successes and only 3 that aren't, not counting jokers) and a 9 or better in Stamina.

(Now this is actually a bad example because if the bomb goes off, that'll kill me, which is pretty much the opposite of a "non-lethal" situation. But I think what would happen then is that the situation becomes Lethal, and we make everyone who's not at a safe distance take a Lethal action, which we'll get to).

If you can't or won't play a card at difficulty, you fail the action. Failing a non-lethal Action cannot lead to a character dying or otherwise leaving the game. It can result in injury, card-caps, and a situation immediately turning lethal.

Card-Caps: Say you go to jump across a gap in a bridge and the GM tells you "take a Stamina action." He doesn't tell you the difficulty because it's dark and you can't see how far it is to the other side. You take a leap of faith, and are immediately rewarded with an object lesson in how stupid an idea that is. Your character falls and lands badly. Your Stamina is capped at, say, six. You immediately check your Refresh for a heart of 6 or lower. If there aren't any, another player can (but does not have to) donate one. If that doesn't work, you just don't have a card in Stamina and you can't take Stamina actions until you can heal up (until there's some kind of Refresh happening). If They choose that moment to pop out of the shadows and come from your group, you stand a much better chance of dying.

Refreshes: When the PCs' deck runs out of cards and one player runs out of cards in his Reserve, all discarded cards are reshuffled.

Players can use Memories to force a Refresh.

A player can spend a red joker to force a Refresh.

Memory: You can Remember a dead or gone character at any time. It has to be stated in character, however (in soliloquy counts). Example: The unfortunate bridge-jumper (let's call him Bob) from above died shortly thereafter; he couldn't run fast enough to get away from Them. My character (who apparently survived his ill-advised bomb defuse attempt), is sitting on a pile of debris, other surviving characters nearby. My character reaches into his pocket and pulls out a photo. "Bob's kids," my character says. "He gave me this picture before he jumped. I guess I forgot to give it back in the confusion afterwards."

Now, at this point, my GM gives me a Memory, probably in the form of a chit or glass bead or something.

Another player picks up the cue. "Did he mention their names?"

A third player glances down at her sheet. She's currently got a 3 of Spades in Humanity. "Who gives a fuck? They're dead anyway."

That's a dick move. If it's a big enough dick move - like, it changes the topic of conversation and we drift away from Bob and his kids, the moment is lost and we can't follow the Memory more, that player gets to make a Swap on her sheet, changing out a bad card (including that Humanity) for a better card in her Refresh. She doesn't lose the bad card, she just tucks it back into her Refresh. If the other players ignore her and keep talking about Bob, that doesn't happen.

But let's say she doesn't take the dick move, and says, "I know the older one is Andy. I can't remember the little girl's name, but I remember he said she was named after her aunt."

Holy shit. That's two more Memory points, and the player that asked the question ("what were their names?") gets one, too, for setting it up (which wouldn't have happened if the third player had shut down the conversation).

So obviously it's possible to get lots of Memory points for free-form conversation. It's up to the GM when a Memory conversation has run its course, but there will be some guidelines. But here's the deal about Memory - you can't just make it up. You can misremember details (maybe it wasn't Andy, it was Adam), but you cannot make up another character's story. And, the player cannot write down these details. The player has to be memorable enough in her portrayal of a character for the other players to be able to use that Memory later.

Yes, that means characters are going to blur together in a long game where lots of people die. Yes, that means players have to pay attention, put their goddamn phones down and stop texting, and interact. Yes, that means you need to think about the specifics of your character's situation and how to bring that out. And, yes, that means this game rewards freeform, conversational RP. All of those things are things I want for curse the darkness.

The GMs' Deck: The GM has one deck, but reshuffles as needed. The GM does not normally play cards during non-lethal actions, though sometimes characters will take contested actions and it becomes "beat this card" rather than "beat this difficulty." During Lethal scenes is where the GM really gets to use cards.

The GM has a hand equal to the (number of players) x 1.5, rounding up, so 6 cards for a four-player game. The GM, like the players, does not draw to replace lost cards - he needs a Refresh for that. The GM gets a Refresh when:

He's out of cards.

Someone ends a Memory conversation in order to better their own situation (the "dick move", which will need a real name).

The GM uses a black joker for whatever reason (the Refresh is just a bonus).

A PC dies or leaves the game.

Jokers: Red jokers are good for players. Black jokers are good for the GM. When a red joker comes up in a players' hand, he can do one of two things with it: Keep it or put it on the table. If he keeps it, it becomes part of his Actions or Refresh as usual, and beats any other card except a black joker. If he puts it on the table, any player can use it to force a Refresh for the players, or any player can use it in an Action (non-lethal or lethal). Any player who puts a red joker on the table gets a Swap, but unlike a Swap gained for a "dick move," a joker-induced Swap you can use to discard a crappy card and draw a new one from the deck (so it might not get better, but then again, it might).

If a player draws a black joker, it immediately gets passed to the GM, and the player that drew it redraws. The GM should immediately do something unpleasant to the character that drew the black joker; a temporary card-cap is one possibility. Whatever is done, it should relate to Them or the Between in some way.

If the GM draws a red joker, it immediately goes on the table for use by the players. Any existing card-caps increase by one (that is, if you were capped at 3, you're now capped at 4) as the characters get a second wind.

If the GM draws a black joker, he keeps it out on the table for future use.

Lethal conflicts: Hokay. I said before that lethal conflicts have one of four outcomes: You die but fail, you die but succeed, you escape but fail, you escape but succeed. Here's the deal: In lethal conflicts, the usual suit breakdown doesn't apply. You are fighting for your life, and so you are using everything you have available to you. Running out of cards in the players' deck doesn't force a Refresh during a lethal conflict, but using a red joker or Memory points will work.

If They are the opponents, usually everyone's involved because you can't really hide from Them. If you're fighting, say, a bunch of loyalists with guns, then it's feasible that one character might hide and wait it out, and is therefore not involved. If you're not involved, you can jump in, but until you do, you can't assist.

More on lethal conflicts when I return from Teagan's first day of soccer. Meantime, anybody spots any obviously holes, punch through 'em.