Vir's Archive

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Deciding What the PCs Do. (Mechanics)

What do the PCs do in TDE? 

This is a pretty common quesrion when I end up talking about the setting with some of my friends who have designed games.  Its one of those core questions that good designers build their game around.   Jared Sorensen, who is a bit like the mafia don of the indie rpg movement, has done a lot of thinking on what makes a good rpg.  Some of his conclusions can be found here:

Each test, a challenge.  
Of note are his “3 Questions?”  These questions, once answered, help hone a game’s concept to a razor (and playable) edge.  What does the game do?  Why does it do this?  Is it doing what it is supposed to? 

When designing and exploring other games, I have struggled with Sorensen’s three questions – which is reflective of the quality of my ideas rather than the utility of the questions.  To be frank, I haven’t done a lot of thinking about the three questions in regards to TDE.  Instead, I focused on the depth and plot points of the setting.  Now that the setting is taking on a life of its own, its high time to runt to Sorensen’s three questions.  It’s time to really think about the PCs, their role in the game, and how to build the game to support my goals.

The thing about the three questions is that it really focuses on the “game” part of roleplaying games.  RPGs are composed of a number of elements, but the mechanics and setting are the two foundations.  

I am favor setting over mechanics.  Ever since  I got into rpgs back in the late 80s, I defined games not by their mechanics, but by how much I liked the setting.  Good setting could trump crappy mechanics in my book.  My focus on setting makes the three questions a bit of a hurdle for me – the answers they prompt do not come as easily to me as for others.  That said, the best rpgs are the ones where mechanics and setting support one another.  So, just because its hard, or I don’t get the essence of the questions in my first answers, doesn’t mean I can shy away from the questions.

One important caveat (and CYA) before I get into it – answering the three questions is an ongoing process.  It’s a thought exercise that can, and should, continually evolve as the game takes more shape.  So, my expectation is that I will need to revisit the three questions from time to time. 

Jared Says:  If you write a D&D clone, your game is not about "adventuring in a medieval fantasy world." Your game is about characters advancing in efficacy in order to meet greater and greater challenges.”  Do not confuse the genre, setting or color details with what's most important: the premise and structure of the game.

A: What TDE Is About:
The game is about characters (Jammer Pilots) using ever more advanced technology – black ops and experimental stuff – while being given tougher and tougher missions in order to affect positive and significant change in the setting. 

Jared Says:  If you're designing that D&D clone and you put in a lifepath system as part of character creation, what does that accomplish? In order to fufill the requirements set by the first question, you must "put your money where your mouth is" with the discrete game elements. If that lifepath is purely cosmetic and doesn't affect the character's abilities or the game mechanics, then why is it in there?

A: How TDE Gets There:  
TDE will use the One Roll Engine as the baseline.  Its is mechanically sound, easy to learn, quick to execute, and offers interesting modification options.  Building from the ORE, TDE will create mechanics that allow the players to “requisition” advanced technologies to tailor their equipment loadout to the mission at hand.  TDE will offer the GM and players opportunities to mechanically change setting elements. 

Jared Says:  The obvious game element to focus on as a "reward" is some kind of character advancement system. But this can go the other way as well; what behaviors does the game punish and/or discourage? If the ultimate goal of Call of Cthulhu is to die or go insane, does the game encourage this? Do insane characters get special abilities? Or is running/fighting rewarded and encouraged (as it is in Dungeons & Dragons)?

A: What Behaviors TDE Will Reward:
I want TDE to encourage cinematic moments. I want the system to encourage players to have their PCs take chances – and go for the big win – the type of win that shakes the foundation of the Solar System.  


I need to do some thinking about the mechanics, me thinks.