Sunday, September 5, 2010

System 1.1

Some really good suggestions from the last post. To wit:

One thing that I was concerned about, and from the comments rightly so, is that there just aren't enough cards in one deck to use suit the way I was. In a 5-player game, if everyone gets dealt 8 cards (one for each suit, plus 4 in the Reserve) you've lost 40 of the 54 cards. There's a fair to middling chance that someone's not going to have a card of each suit, etc, etc.

Someone on my LJ points out that while my desires for the Memory system were pretty well defined, I didn't spend a lot of time talking about the way I envisioned other systems running. So let's think about that:

Where non-lethal conflicts are involved, I want players to be able to succeed if they want to. I hate the "chuckle behind the screen" model of GMing. I like torturing players with twists in plot and the eventual realization of the consequences of their own actions, when it's thematic (which it may not be here), but the point is, I like it when the players make the story happen. One of the reason I like GUMSHOE so much is that this is built into the system - you get the facts, but you have to figure out the truth.

So for curse the darkness, I want non-lethal conflicts' success to be mostly determined by the player. Failure is useful because it can be memorable, which can help the group later (after you die). Success is useful on its own merits. And I know that players might deliberately fail at a non-lethal action just to get a bad card out of their Action slot, especially if it's the kind of the thing that another player can pop in and say, "Hang on, I'm good at this" and throw down a king. And that's fine - I'm good with people using the system like that. That's what it's there for.

Ooh, I got it. I want non-lethal conflicts to help define characters. Tell you what I mean.

I'm playing a character who (currently) has a king in Focus. We find a survivor (maybe a new PC) who just popped through the Between and fell onto some debris, breaking his leg. Setting the bone is a Focus action, the GM sets that at 10 because it requires specialized knowledge and we don't have the right tools to hand, but again, I've got a king there. My character steps forward, says, "OK, calm down. I'm going to help you."

Now - why does my character know how to do this? I need to figure that out, because someone in the group is going to ask.

"How the hell do you know how to set a bone, Jack?" one of the other PCs asks.

"Well," says Jack, "Dad took us off the grid right after Jerusalem. We lived up in the mountains in Tennessee, and Dad taught my sister and I all kinds of stuff like this. Setting bones, what plants are edible, building fires, trapping."

"Cool," says the other character. "How'd your Dad know all that stuff? He in the Army?"

Jack shrugs. "Actually, I don't know how he knew. Dad wasn't the kind of guy who talked about himself."

We have now defined a great deal about Jack's life, and, you guessed it, this will be of great help later when he dies and folks need to remember him.

Now, right off the bat, I can see an issue forming: If I have a high card in a stat, I'm god. If I have a low card, I'm for shit. The fact that this can happen quickly is actually OK with me - you can get second winds, you can push yourself or run out of gas, and that's fine. But what I do worry about is that a guy with a King in Focus, for instance, is a surgeon as well as a genius and mapmaker and everything else.

So, with that in mind, here's a revised system:

You still have the same four stats: Focus, Stability, Stamina and Humanity. They still mean the same things. But each of those stats has a numerical value, 1 to 5. That's the number of cards you can have in that Action's slot. When you create a character, you get 10 points to spread out. For each point in an Action slot, you can put down one...defining point (I need a better name. "Scope" comes to mind, as in "scope of practice"). You can do these during chargen, but it's perhaps better to do them in play.

So let's take Jack, up there. He's got, let's say, Focus 3. When he tells his little history, I jot down "survivalist training" under Focus (that could also work under Stamina, if I wanted to double up, which is acceptable - maybe even advisable). This defines the scope of my training. It means that while Jack might be good to set a broken bone, he's not going to be performing appendectomies anytime soon, no matter what my active card in Focus is.

Also, having multiple cards in a given Action allows for better use of Refreshes. Offhand, let's say I can spend a Memory point to Refresh any given Action slot. I'd need to burn more Memory to Refresh all of my Action slots (that might also happen, as Jon suggests, when something important happens in-game - after someone dies might be a good idea).

And, obviously, one deck isn't going to be enough. One possibility is one deck stays broken down into suits, and one deck remains shuffled all together. I don't know what I'd use that breakdown for, but it's there.

Lethal Actions: OK, when you're taking a lethal action, it means you stand a good chance of dying or otherwise being removed from the game. As I may have said, mostly that'll involve dealing with Them, but getting into firefights with loyalists and the like works, too. So how's this gonna work?

Lethal actions have two phases, Exchange and Resolution. In the Exchange phase, you either win or lose quickly. If you win, you get to assign a suit to one of the four outcomes (which are, remember, escape but fail, escape and succeed, die and fail, die and succeed). If you lose, the GM makes that assignment. After an Exchange, the winner can attempt to force a Resolution.

When Resolution happens, the player takes a card at random from his Reserve. This determines the outcome. The odds are already stacked in favor of death, which I want, but this gives the player a little bit of edge - the GM doesn't necessarily know what's in the player's Reserve.

OK, so two issues right off the bat: 1) What if I have no cards in my Reserve? and 2) What if the Resolution pulls up a card that hasn't been defined in an Exchange?

Well, 1 is easy enough. If you run out of cards in you Reserve, maybe you automatically draw X cards. Maybe you draw the top card of the player's deck - or choose randomly from the GM's hand or deck. Either way, if you don't have a Reserve you have no idea how to play the Exchange.

But what if you Resolve but draw a suit that isn't defined? One option: The player defines it with one of the options left open. That might be good or it might utterly fuck you.

OK, we need to figure out how Exchanges work. They need to be quick, so let's make it a straight-up high card wins kind of thing. The GM puts down a card and says what's happening. The player puts down a card from one of his Action slots and says his response (this allows the player to either win or lose right away). The winner then defines an outcome, and can force an outcome by immediately playing a second card that beats the winning card (any suit).

Concrete example, for the love of God. OK, so let's say Jack slipped into the Between and now They are coming for him. This is a lethal conflict - Jack basically needs to get away before They catch him (once They catch you, you're done). The GM plays a 6 of hearts (suit is actually not relevant for GM purposes), and says, very simply, that They are slithering out of the Between and coming toward Jack.

I respond by playing a 7 of hearts from my Stamina slot. I say that Jack runs back toward the opening, hoping that it's still there and that I can make it somewhere safe. Maybe They won't chase me. I won the Exchange, so I get to define a suit.

In my Reserve, I have four card, three diamonds and a spade. I've obviously got the best chance of drawing a diamond, so I define diamonds as "escape and succeed." If I have an 8 or better handy, I can force Resolution. It's actually in my best interest to do that if I can, because I've got such a good chance of getting away. I play an 8 of something out of one of my Action slots, force Resolution, and the GM picks a card at random from my hand. If he draws a diamond, I'm home free - Jack gets out of the Opening, They don't chase him, and we're golden.

But that's too easy. Let's say the GM draws the spade. Spades aren't defined, so I now have to define them as one of the other three options. Assuming I like Jack and I don't want to make a new character (and you never know, sometimes it might feel like a dramatically appropriate thing to let a character die), I should choose "escape but fail."

This is a weird situation, in that "succeed" here means "escape", but I suspect that's really not going to be all that uncommon. OK, so moving on, I say that spades means "escape but fail." So I get to the opening, but They do follow me through. The circumstances have changed significantly (we're out of the Between, there might be more characters about, etc.). So what's happened, here?

Obviously if there's not an easy definition to the "succeed/fail" portion of the scene, then "fail" should fuck you in some non-lethal way. I'm OK with it leading to another lethal action scene, though maybe any cards already defined should stay defined? Like, Jack's outside, the circumstances are different, but we immediately enter a new scene but keep diamonds and spades the way they are? Yes, that favors Jack just at present, but that won't always be the case. Or maybe we enter a new scene and ditch the original definitions.

I think, at this point, I'm drifting beyond the level that pure discussion is helpful. Need to playtest.

Before that, I need to consider the important question: What do characters do? But that's another post.