Star Wars: Destinies

edited December 2015 in Game Design Help
"I see you have constructed a new Star Wars story-game."

Playtesting tomorrow! (Technically, uh, today.) Interested in any feedback anyone has of just the text. Also, interested in ideas for how to file off the serial numbers in case I ever want to publish this.

Comments

  • edited December 2015
    OK, first playtest! Players were my girlfriend, designer KN Granger, and Ben Morrow, he of New World Magicschola fame.

    The Crawl:
    Star Wars: Episode XLII

    The traditions and values handed down by Jedi Grand Master Luke Skywalker have died out. The JEDI COUNCIL, now twisted and evil, holds the Republic in its grasp, with the official government as figurehads.

    An emerging group of Droids Rights Activists is looking for force-sensitive organics to draft into its budding REVOLUTION. Dashing Revolution agent XD-6 (PC#1) has been sent to the inhospitable world of Barnacles to retrieve the young Tizzot, the child of hardy mushroom farmers. But the Council has also detected the presence of a potential recruit, and its Devotiates, bonded servants of the Jedi, are on their way.

    What neither side realizes is that the outcome of this encounter will forever alter the course of Galactic history...

    The Report:
    Tizzot the human 'shroom farmer, or "shroomer," is at home with their (gender-neutral singular "they/their") ailing mother, when four Devotiates arrive and demand that Tizzot come with them. Tizzot tries to fight them off, but fails, and they begin dragging their prisoner towards their ship. XD-6 intercepts, and fools them with a faked recording of IG-90, Assassin Bot extraordinaire who sometimes works for the Jedi (and descendent of IG-88); the recording tells them they have the wrong person. Three of the four guards go to their ship to check on the situation; they are still suspicious, and leave one guard with Tizzot. XD-6 comes out of the shadows, and together they easily subdue the fourth guard.

    XD-6 somewhat confusingly explains about the mission, but Tizzot refuses to leave without their mother. So back to the dwelling they go, and then they set off to steal a ship. (I really like the subversion of the trope about leaving aging parents behind.) They end up stealing the Gorger (hard g) from Tizzot's neighbor Gorg, a rather crappy little vessel, but at least it has a hyperdrive.

    Unfortunately, before our heroes (and Tizzot's mom, Tizzane) can make the jump, IG-90 shows up in his all-black, disc-shaped ship, the Death Dealer, and manages to get a lock on the Gorger, reeling it in. The Assassin Bot has a personal stake in destroying XD-6, for reasons as yet unexplained, but has orders to deliver Tizzot to the Jedi Academy on Coruscant.

    The PCs manage to convince IG-90 to go to the archipelago planet of Yser first, because this is where the plant grows that can save Tizzane. Their argument is that if IG-90 allows Tizzane to die, then the Jedi may become displeased with IG-90 for rendering Tizzot uncooperative. (Mainly right now they are just bewildered, having never evinced any Force powers at all.)

    IG-90 wisely keeps the prisoners on board, under the watchful eye of his assistant Death-Bots, while he gets the medicine. Before leaving the Yser system, however, he boots XD-6 onto a moon, and plays "the most dangerous game" with his rival Droid. (I wanted to test out the Confrontation, i.e. extended conflict, system.) The result is that IG-90 is thoroughly unimpressed with XD-6's abilities, ripping off one of the revolutionary's six limbs and claiming it as a trophy, before leaving him stranded on the airless rock.

    We ended there, even though we'd only been playing for about an hour and three quarters.

    Conclusions:

    I need to make a few very minor revisions to the actual rules, but everything is basically working great. The math is right on, the game moves at a good clip, but with enough detail and color to be satisfyingly Star Wars-y.

    Ben had some good suggestions about how to teach the system more effectively.

    KN wanted character generation to be a little more structured.

    Relatedly, the graphic design of the sheets needs serious work, and I specifically need a "GM's-eyes-only" sheet

    KN was concerned that the fun of the session had more to do with my GMing skills than the actual game design. To be sure, the game was creatively exhausting! That said, our ending point felt like about a third of a SW movie, which is the intended amount of narrative for one session. I think having really short sessions with only two PCs is not shocking.

    Two PCs also made it feel a little thin. I do want to test the game with 3-5 players eventually. I also want to try out a two GMs structure, wherein one GM plays the big bad NPCs, and the other controls the world and non-antagonistic NPCs. I've tried that structure before, for example in Sorcerer, and really loved it.

    It could also just be that scene framing duties need to rotate in a more formal way.

    Still, there's no getting around the fact that a story game of this type is always going to rely on the players, and especially anyone in a GM-type role, to bring creativity and fun narration to the fore. I maintain that it will more reliably produce SW-feeling stories than any more traditional take on the franchise, however. A less experienced play group would need more time to understand the game's ins and outs, though, and I do wonder how I can address that. Perhaps via pre-made scenarios?
  • edited December 2015
    The goal sounds really cool and the rules sound really cool, but I'm fuzzy on where they meet. Which part here specifically supports problematized force-users, as opposed to any other sort of protagonist who sees their motives change as they pursue them over time?

    I also think "how to GM this" is notably absent from the main doc, specifically situation-creation, at least for GMs who aren't used to running Burning Wheel off character beliefs.

    Those are the first critiques that come to mind. I like a lot of stuff in here -- the scripted Confrontation system with required motives makes a ton of sense to me!
  • edited December 2015
    Agreed with Dave's questions, although I'm still reading through.

    Lots of great stuff in here, and I really like the presentation (powerful shorthand, clear language). I really dig the Destinies, as well.

    This confuses me:

    Apparently, you can win all three rounds in a Confrontation, but still lose the Confrontation. I feel really slow all of a sudden... how is this possible?

    Also, given how Confrontations work, is the choice of order (for the dice) actually meaningful?

    It says that a Destiny may never drop below 1. How can a Destiny's value get reduced?

    Is a there a process for fulfilling Destinies (and do you get a new one, or is it possible to now become Unfettered)?

    A final thought: some part of me is whispering into my ear. It's saying that Destinied characters should advance (i.e. character advancement) but non-Destinied characters should not...
  • The goal sounds really cool and the rules sound really cool, but I'm fuzzy on where they meet. Which part here specifically supports problematized force-users, as opposed to any other sort of protagonist who sees their motives change as they pursue them over time?
    The way Destiny works, combined with the homogenizing effect of needing to have a Force Trait if you want to use the Force.
    I also think "how to GM this" is notably absent from the main doc, specifically situation-creation, at least for GMs who aren't used to running Burning Wheel off character beliefs.
    There's a whole chapter on best play practices! BUT you're right that there needs to be more about how to target flags. A little more, anyway—it does seem to happen organically with how I've set up the incentives.
    Those are the first critiques that come to mind. I like a lot of stuff in here -- the scripted Confrontation system with required motives makes a ton of sense to me!
    Thanks! The Confrontation we tested worked really well. I've retroactively adjusted it to make Compromises more common. (Thanks, Luke! No, not that one—the BW one.)


  • Agreed with Dave's questions, although I'm still reading through.

    Lots of great stuff in here, and I really like the presentation (powerful shorthand, clear language). I really dig the Destinies, as well.

    This confuses me:

    You can win all three rounds in a Confrontation, but still lose the Confrontation. I feel really slow all of a sudden... how is this possible?
    Err, I may have misinterpreted my own rules. Let me... get back to you on that! :-)
    Also, given how Confrontations work, is the choice of order (for the dice) actually meaningful?
    Well, the dice order affects Compromises. But mainly splitting up the conflict is a way of pacing it to signify its climactic significance. I should probably tell people not to worry about strategy.
    A final thought: some part of me is whispering into my ear. It's saying that Destinied characters should advance (i.e. character advancement) but non-Destinied characters should not...
    I see what you're saying, but I really think that's... not a good idea. It goes back to punishing people who don't want to play Force-users. :-(
  • edited January 2016
    Any news on this, Deliverator?

    I just saw the movie, finally, so it's somewhat on my mind. Lots of good things here!

    Some thoughts:

    * Your three skills potentially have odd overlap. I'd probably simplify it down to Physicality, Tech (includes Piloting), and Will. (I can't think of any characters who are brilliant pilots but aren't amazingly good at fixing things!)

    * How does this "problematize" Force users/use?

    * What do people narrate in the three rounds of Confrontations? Seems like there's little to go on. Perhaps a nudge in that direction could be useful (perhaps via hinting at possible Compromises, for example - if any lost round results in some effect, it would make sense to narrate it here)...

    * I still feel that Destined characters should advance differently from Unfettered characters. Perhaps they start with less Skill but can learn new things more quickly. You do have a distinction with Drives and Relationships. Does this create enough of a difference in play?

    It seems to me that, in the movies, Undestinied characters tend to start out more competent than others, more experienced, but they don't learn much in the way of new skills. The Destinied characters can achieve great things, but they are far more fragile than the Unfettered ones: they are targeted by terrible things, often have awful luck, and they are the ones who suffer and lose limbs and/or loved ones. It would be fun to represent this in the game somehow!

    I feel that Destinied characters should be major forces, and flexible, but very susceptible to "damage", in a story sense (turning into a villain, being maimed, killed, etc, etc), and Unfettered get to just be themselves and kick ass, without changing too much. (Maybe they just deal with one major issue, like Han Solo's self-centered philosophy vs. doing what is right.)

    I'm sure these thoughts are not particularly relevant or maybe even welcome, but it's a fun excuse to bump this thread, and I'd like to hear how the game is progressing.
  • I had a second playtest, it went well and I got some good feedback and how to balance the math a little more. That's the news. Will respond to your questions separately.
  • >>* Your three skills potentially have odd overlap. I'd probably simplify it down to Physicality, Tech (includes Piloting), and Will. (I can't think of any characters who are brilliant pilots but aren't amazingly good at fixing things!)<<

    You mean my four skills? I disagree with your analysis: I don't think we have any evidence of Poe being particularly good at fixing things, for example, and Artoo is great at fixing things but can only fly an X-Wing at low altitudes and slowly. In play four has worked well. Changing it to 3 would wreak havoc with the math.

    >>* What do people narrate in the three rounds of Confrontations? Seems like there's little to go on. Perhaps a nudge in that direction could be useful (perhaps via hinting at possible Compromises, for example - if any lost round results in some effect, it would make sense to narrate it here)...<<

    Yeah, this is one of those things that would be pretty tough to *tell* people how to do but might be relatively easy to *show* with an example. Trying to give actual directions seems likely to be both stilted and abstract, or at least not something I have the skills as a writer to pull off.

    There's also that grand old issue of "Do you know how to play story games? then you'll be fine. If you don't, you're screwed." I saw this a little bit with one of my players in the second playtest, who was very enthusiastic but didn't quite "get" certain aspects of how the game actually worked. I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea of "advanced" RPGs existing—DRYH actually says this about itself up front! But it's a complicated issue.

    >>* I still feel that Destined characters should advance differently from Unfettered characters. Perhaps they start with less Skill but can learn new things more quickly. You do have a distinction with Drives and Relationships. Does this create enough of a difference in play?<<

    Really need to do a playtest campaign, which is not socially/logistically feasible ATM, to see if the Advancement feels okay.

    As to your other concerns: I think you're right, to an extent, but I also think I'm writing a game that I'd actually want to play in either of the two types of roles.
  • Oh, interesting. I agree with a lot of what you say.

    A couple of questions:

    * Why would reducing it to three skills mess with the math? I'm not asking in order to get you to change your mind, I'm just curious about this from a designer's perspective.

    (On a separate topic, I *knew* you'd bring up Artoo. However, he is the ONLY character in all the films, as far as I can recall, who can't do both. Every other great pilot - Luke, Anakin, Han, Rey - is a masterful mechanic. And it's even implied that Artoo can fly, since he asks Luke on a few occasions whether he would let him take over the controls. Anyway, I don't have any stake in this particular point, it just seems to me that Piloting and Technology are much less broad in scope than Physical and Will, and would balance better as a combined rating. It's fine as is, as well, of course, but it could have a side effect of making technology-oriented characters more expensive than Jedi-type characters, who would tend to focus on Physicality and Will. Perhaps you should keep track of which skills get rolled more often in your game, to see if my hunch is right?)

    * An example of how a Confrontation proceeds would be very helpful!

    * The other stuff (showing by example/playing an "advanced" story game) might tie into Dave's earlier questions about a little more guidance on how to actually play. I suppose the key might to be keep notes on successful moments in play and then try to retroactively work out principles or procedures from that.

    Please keep posting here if you make any updates or changes to the game; I'll be curious to follow along. I might even give it a spin sometime. Cheers!
  • I don't think Luke is an especially good mechanic...? Nor Lando, for that matter.

    I'll keep track of the question, anyway, about how often skills get rolled, if certain ones end up getting overemphasized, and so on. But so far the four categories have felt pretty nicely balanced. My big concern, mathematically, about reducing it to three is that then I'd have to charge more for skill improvement to avoid characters who are too well-rounded.

    I do like the idea of having the Destined character start with fewer skill points. So far, giving them fewer Relationship slots and points has made them feel a bit different, a bit isolated, but it would be interesting to see how it felt to have them start out with lower skills than Unfettered characters. I might not even need to change much else, since the way the system works, lower-skilled characters would naturally advance them faster. (Although another alternative would be to allow Destined characters to buy up their Skills at half cost, i.e., at the same rate as Drives and Relationships.)

    One other thing all this is making me think is that there really should be only one Destined character per group. And that you can play a Jedi or other Force-user (we had a Nightsister in the second playtest) without being Destined, though probably no more than half the group should have access to the Force. Although, that does weaken a little bit my goal of problematizing the Force. The idea is that you as a player have to give up a fair amount of narrative control in order to have that extra power. I was inspired by Vincent's discussion of the Gunlugger vs. the Battlebabe in AW. The former has more raw power to just straight-up kill stuff, but the Battlebabe inherently has slightly more power to draw interesting types of attention.

    Also, thanks for making me think more about how to pace the Confrontations. I think what I'm going to say for now is that in each round, each participant needs to narrate a change of either venue (different level of the building, or even space within a room—think of the bridge in the Emperor's Throne Room during the final confrontation in RotJ) or tactics (think Obi-Wan using a blaster to finish off Grievous).

    The big change that was proposed after the second playtest, which I will definitely implement next go-round, is to eliminate the distinction between Focused and Well-Rounded characters. The players felt, correctly I think, that being Focused was strictly better. Instead, all starting characters will have 9 skill points (considering 8 for Destined PCs after this conversation). You can opt to have a 0 in one skill, but that means never raising it.
  • edited January 2016
    That makes a lot of sense!

    As for Luke, I might be missing enough Star Wars-fu here, but isn't he always repairing stuff, repairing droids, fixing his car or X-Wing when necessary, and then builds his own lightsaber?
  • Another thought:

    I wondered to myself, how does the Dark Side figure into this game and its rules?

    The answer occurs to me as follows:

    A player makes a Force-using/Jedi character.

    The other players write up a "Dark" Destiny for that character.

    And there it is.

    Is this the only way? It's pretty interesting.
  • edited January 2016
    One other thing all this is making me think is that there really should be only one Destined character per group. And that you can play a Jedi or other Force-user (we had a Nightsister in the second playtest) without being Destined, though probably no more than half the group should have access to the Force. Although, that does weaken a little bit my goal of problematizing the Force. The idea is that you as a player have to give up a fair amount of narrative control in order to have that extra power. I was inspired by Vincent's discussion of the Gunlugger vs. the Battlebabe in AW. The former has more raw power to just straight-up kill stuff, but the Battlebabe inherently has slightly more power to draw interesting types of attention.
    "Problematized Force-users" was possibly the biggest thing that jumped out at me from the pitch. If it's a minor point, much as the Gunlugger/Battlebabe distinction is a minor point in the context of "why to play AW", then I suspect you're in acceptable shape regardless of the details you settle on. (Abstractly, multiple Destined Force-users sounds fine to me as long as there's at least one non-Destined non-Force-user in the group.) On the other hand, if "problematized Force-users" is a key hook and key feature, then I'd like to hear more about your vision there.

    What I imagined when I heard "problematized" was an in-fiction concern. How using the Force might be alienating, for example: everyone else inhabits shades of grey, while the Force users are either black or white -- that's gotta make you feel above regular people, or at least cut off from them, right? I think a lot of that stuff goes by in the prequels without comment, especially Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in Phantom Menace ("another pathetic life-form" etc.). The Force-user/other relationship looks really fertile to me. Resentment of elites, ethics of manipulation and coercion, class friction, the Force as a feared weapon, who watches the watchmen, how to be a hero when you scare the shit out of people, etc.

    Then there's the whole "leave your family and pursue selflessness" tradition of Jedi training. The monks of the real world show what a mixed bag that is.

    There's also the issue of direction -- dark or light? -- and whether that's chosen or accidentally stumbled into or actively guided or manipulated by others. Outside of strict organizations, this could easily be an ongoing process in play. For example, if a non-Force-user compromises some ethics for the sake of expediency, it has a small effect (maybe you feel like a dick, maybe others see you as a dick, maybe it's easier to be a dick in the future), but if a Force-user does likewise, the effect may be much larger (evil dreams, festering fear/anger/hate, inadvertently hurting others with the Force).

    I'm not really seeing how specialization vs well-roundedness contributes to this when the skills employed are ethically-neutral ways of getting stuff done. Perhaps the emergent inter-character dynamic of, "Gee, dude, you use the Force for everything," could create some interesting moments, but it seems minor to me.

    What seems much more important is the stuff about Destinies which I missed on my first read-through.

    Matt, for the sake of lazy readers everywhere, please please please change the formatting of the Drives section! It's two short sentences about all Drives at the beginning and two short sentences about non-Destiny Drives at the end and then the middle is all about Destiny and there's no "Destiny" header! Destiny deserves at least as big a header as Skills, Drives, Relationships, etc. Structurally, I know it's a subset of Drives and Drives are on the same level with Skills, but I think Destiny deserves to be called out anyway. If you want to reflect the structure in the doc flow, then maybe make the Drives section 5 sentences, with the big bolded one saying "See Page 8 for Destinies" and then on page 8 "Destinies" has the biggest header of all.

    I started writing this post before I'd read that section. Instead of editing the above, I'll just see how Destinies covers it. My initial thoughts:

    - If the Destiny is light side / dark side relevant, then it'd be neat to see the bonuses and penalties pressure the character in a given direction. Very cool. More cool if the pressure is in the direction they weren't otherwise inclined to go in, though. Not sure if there's anything "problematic" about "I want to do good, and doing good is good for my rolls!"

    - More generally, a Destiny that the player/character is totally on board with is completely different than one that'd be a nightmare for them. I wonder -- does the former pretty much preordain a tale of heroic achievement, while the latter preordains a tale of struggle?

    - If the Destiny is to achieve something that could use the dark side or the light, then the pressure at any given moment is probably akin to the other pressures of the fiction -- nothing specifically Force-user-y about it, beyond them being the ones with unknown factors giving bonuses and penalties. Which is neat, but doesn't line up at all with my own "problematized" thoughts. I'm not seeing any "unknown factors that aren't specifically light side or dark side" influences in the movies.

    - If one's Destiny is specifically relevant to the type of "Force-use or Force-user-dom is problematic in the gameworld" stuff, then sweet.

    - In the end, it seems to make a huge difference exactly what one's Destiny is. Perhaps my skimming skills are again at fault, but I don't see any guidance for "what makes a good Destiny" or "what types of Destinies work best for given types of groups/games/themes/stories/players".

    I'd bet that some of this post departs from your intended direction, but I don't know which parts, so hopefully some of it is at least useful food for thought!
  • Yep, I need to do more testing and then write some serious guidelines about how to write a fun Destiny for someone.

    Remember: you don't *ever* get to actually know what your own Destiny is. So writing one that will be fun and interesting for the player who has it is a task for the *rest* of the group.

    And you're definitely right about the formatting! Next revision. :-)

    Now, as for Dark Side / Light Side: I am deliberately hella not touching that with a 10' laserspear. I suppose the words could show up in someone's Destiny, or hell, even in regular Drives, like some villain who wants the Dark Side to rule all or something. But I think getting into actually defining the Dark Side would be a terrible direction to go in, and it's one I have no interest in.

    The nature of the Force, and of the Dark and Light sides, is absolutely intended to be a Fruitful Void in this design.
  • edited January 2016
    Fruitful void sounds good to me!

    Yeah, I got that a good Destiny is on everyone else. I like that a lot! "We know a thing that impacts you that you don't know" is RPG space I'd love to explore more. Some of the ways you go insane in Trail of Cthulhu incorporate it quite brilliantly. I also had a Game Chef idea with a bit of that. Never actually played either one, though.

    Still curious what your fictional vision of "problematized Force use" looks like! Perhaps all my musing about Force-user/non-Force-user tensions in the setting was way off base...?
  • I had the same thought about Destinies: writing them could make or break the game, and I have no idea what makes for a good one.

    About situation creation, I had some thoughts and have almost assembled a basic system - I think it's pretty easy with Star Wars, and I'll post it if I get a chance.

    As for the Force/Dark Side as a Fruitful Void, I like the idea in principle, but I'm not sure I see it here. The idea with the Fruitful Void (at least in Vincent's formulation) is that it's a space which isn't strictly defined by the mechanics, but left deliberately open... while mechanics and procedures push us to confront it and deal with it.

    I'm not sure I see that in this game. I think it will come out through Destinies, as I hinted above (e.g. a "good character with a "Dark" destiny, or vice-versa) and perhaps/maybe through the uses of certain types of Drives. Less sure about the second one.
  • Well, the situation creation is writing the opening crawl together, which does have some structure to it.
  • edited January 2016
    Oh, indeed! I forgot about that.

    I suppose that, once you have the crawl, and each character has written up a Goal, you're basically good to go. The Obligations also help a good deal. Perhaps that's plenty!

    However, I noticed that one of your players felt a bit adrift with this; there's not necessarily all that much to hang on to. Character creation bears most of the weight of story creation and puts on the shoulders of the players. Hmmm. I'll think on this further!

    Why are PC-PC conflicts not allowed? Is it a stylistic choice, or are you worried about the XP rules or some such?

    By the way: you may want to specify how the Trait rules act in a Confrontation. That's somewhat open to interpretation, and isn't clear!
  • Stylistic choice.

    As for using Traits in Confrontations: yes, good point. My current inclination is to say that you can use your Trait to auto-max your die for *one* round of the Confrontation.
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