- March 12th, 2014
In my copious spare time – by which I mean, “when I neglect the children” – I’m working on Drone, a cyberpunk-ish game about disposable cyborg assassins. Elevator pitch – one player is the reactivated Drone. The others are the remote Operators, guiding the Drone through the collaboratively-designed mission and pulling the strings. They’ve got to balance the Drone’s growing sense of self against the needs of the mission.
The core of the game is the Action Pool. Each round, the Drone rolls a pile of d6s. The number of d6s depends on the Drone’s health – damage takes away from its ability to act. The colour of the d6s – Black or Red – depends on how dangerous the situation is, and how alert the bad guys are to the Drone’s presence.
Each turn, a player takes one of the dice from the pool and uses it to fuel an ability. The Drone’s abilities are pretty conventional – move, attack, interact with people, hide and the like – but the Operators each have their own specialised abilities (and everyone has their own Apocalypse-World style play sheet). So, the Director can order another player to act twice in a row, or override someone else’s action. The Tactician can give the Drone a firing solution to take down multiple targets, or scan the surrounding area for threats, or co-ordinate the actions of other assets. The Medic can pump the Drone full of painkillers, download skills, or activate cybernetic devices implanted in the drone.
If a player takes a Red dice, then the bad guys also get to act that turn. There are various ways to raise or lower the number of Red Dice in the pool like disrupting enemy communications, or hiding and waiting for the alarm to die down.
I designed the system to emphasise the idea that there’s only a single ‘conventional’ player character – there’s only one character actually present in the action – even though there are three other characters backing him up. The pool mechanic, though, has the unexpected but wholly welcome side effect of engaging all the players in every action. I was worried that Operators might feel left out as they’re less involved in the action, but as everything the other players do affects your own ability to act and plan, and as there’s a clear visual/tactile focus in the form of a diminishing pile of dice in the middle of the table, it actually fosters a lovely claustrophobic ‘we’re all in the same virtual foxhole’ feeling.