Archive for ‘ March, 2014

Drone Mechanics

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.


13 Princes

This just jumped into my head, so I’m frantically writing it down in gaps between feeding twins. Excuse unseemly brevity and enthusiasm.

A setting where the PCs are the Icons. Each PC is the ruler/champion/symbol/figurehead/chosen one of a particular race/culture/faction. Instead of Icons, you take TWO qualities of your faction that might or might not show up in a given session. So, if you’re the Werewolf Prince, you might take Savage Nature  (positive) and the Moon (conflicted). Each game session, you roll for Icon benefits as normal; on a 5, you OR your faction can do something awesome with that “quality”, but at a cost. 6 means it comes without strings.

The twist – you then take a third quality from one of the other players, but you have to have a different relationship with it (or stay conflicted). So, if you’re the Shepherd of Worlds, you might take my Savage Nature quality as a negative – you want to tame nature, I want it to remain red in tooth and claw. (Maybe each player should only define one icon, and take two more from other players, to bind everything together.)

This concept would probably work best starting at 5th level, where the PCs have some real power under their belts, and I’m not quite sure what sort of adventures the PCs actually go on. Presumably, battling against shared external threats to their cultures would be a big part of it.

Now that I write it down, I realise that I’m channelling bits of the primordial setup of D&D (back when it was closer to Fantasy Diplomacy in Blackmoor) and Callisto. Good antecedents to have.

Fellowship Phases & The One Ring

Paul Baldowski asked

Is there any guidance or room for a blog post or two from you on the matter of Fellowship Phases in TOR? It’s a common grey area. I’m not sure I (or many other players) grok the concept of just how much roleplaying is involved in the Fellowship phase

Unsurprisingly, the answer is ‘it depends’.

For those unfamiliar with the mechanic, the One Ring RPG has two ‘phases’ of play. During the Adventuring Phase, the player characters go adventuring – they journey across Middle-Earth, encounter strange people and explore strange places, fight off the corrupting touch of the Shadow, get lost in Mirkwood, fight Orcs/Spiders/Wolves/Trolls/More Orcs and do all the things that adventurers do. Then there’s a Fellowship Phase, where each player character gets to perform a Fellowship Action. On the face of it, these look like downtime activities – actions include stuff like Raise Standard of Living, Heal Corruption, Gain a New Distinctive Feature and so on. Other supplements have introduces new actions, like Gather Herbs or Visit the Market, as well as one-off or special Actions like Receive Title, Visit the Kingstone, Consult with Saruman and the like.

Fellowship Actions give the players a chance to drive the story. TOR adventures tend to be reactive – the Enemy does something, and the PCs respond by thwarting it. The Fellowship Phase, though, is almost entirely Active – the players almost always have a choice of actions, and should be made aware of their options by the Loremaster. As you can only carry out Fellowship Actions as a Sanctuary, the phase also lets the game explore the peaceful, settled parts of Middle-Earth; without them, the game would take place almost entirely in empty wilderness and orc-caves.

Each Fellowship Action has a mechanical effect, and it’s perfectly fine to have that be the entirety of the phase. “You arrive in Rivendell – erase your fatigue, roll to get rid of Corruption, and off we go on the next adventure”. Similarly, when Journeying, you don’t need to play through every single Hazard.

However, The One Ring benefits immensely from taking a slower pace than other games. Describing even comparatively uneventful journeys may seem like a recipe for dullness, but TOR is much more grounded in its setting than other games (compare a long journey in Dungeons and Dragons). There’s no need to describe every tree, but giving a brief bit of description and scope for roleplaying between Travel checks lets the game breathe; it lets miles be miles, so to speak, and lets the players show off traits and features of their characters.

The same applies to Fellowship Actions. There’s no need to role-play through them, and certainly they shouldn’t be turned into mini-adventures or challenges where, say, the PCs need to deal with some snooty Elves before they can Open Rivendell as a Sanctuary. Instead, let each player give as much or as little narration as they wish.

When considering how much time, detail and roleplaying to put into Fellowship Phases, ask yourself if you want your game to feel more like the Fellowship of the Ring (lengthy travel interspersed with short bursts of peril, and lengthy interludes at Sanctuaries) or The Two Towers (mostly hazardous travel and combat, with only brief breaks to rest and refresh that mostly have only mechanical consequences.) The right answer may depend on the appetite for your players for consequence-free colour roleplaying and Hobbitry.