[Nuts and Bolts] Make my game more complex

edited May 2007 in Story Games
Knowledge of Over the Edge (or Risus), Fate and a Game of Thrones (The books, not the RPG) is handy beyond this point.

Ok, so Over the Edge. It's the Granddaddy of a lot of games, and it has characters that can be expressed in four words and a few dice. As an example
+-----------------------------------+
Ninja 4d
Accounting 3d
Fast 3d
Dyslexic
+-----------------------------------+

Is the bulk of the mechanical component of an OTE character. There are some derivative elements (Hit points, and key words in your character description) but mechanically, that's about the size of it. Fans of Risus will note that this looks kind of familiar, especially as the central trait (Ninja) is very similar to a Cliche in Risus (and in fact the same character in Risus might be "Ninja (4d) Accountant(3d)").

This particular gimmick - using something central and descriptive to represent a cloud of skills that fall under its auspices - has a lot of advantages. It's fast and easy, and it allows for a lot of flexibility because it requires that the GM only answer the question "Would this type of character be good a this sort of thing?" A whole lot of issues of genre, theme and the general shape of the underlying fiction end up getting shorthanded in the simple question of whether or not ninjas can , for example, forge signatures.

Now, I've used this approach more times than I can count. It's my go-to mode for pickup games because I simply do not have another method that produces similar return in so speedy a fashion and the secondary benefits (it's so nice for NPCs) . But I always tinker with it, and my thinking on why is a little but muddy. The easy explanation is that there's not enough crunch, and that I address that with Stupid Dice Tricks (pools, exploding pools, bonus and penalty dice, die size, dice substitution and so on - short form, there are a lot of mechanical hooks if I want them) but that's not really an answer to what gap I'm trying to fill. I could be adding crunch for crunch's sake.

So, I'm considering a very lightweight version of Fate for my next tabletop game. Like, 5 aspects and some tiny number of skills, and I'm looking at this model for handling the skills. Now, this presumes that aspects are going to take up the bulk of character differentiation, especially since this is going to be a little Game of Thrones influenced, so a whole lot of characters are going to be "Knight: 3d"* and they need a bit more to separate them. My current model is pretty much Core descriptor plus a modifier of some sort, so a sheet might be:

+-----------------------------------+
"First to Stand, Last to Fall" (The words of his house)
Warden of Hoss Hold
Stubborn
Religious Scholar
Squired to Ser Devlin Anaman

Knight: 3d
Lance: +1d
+-----------------------------------+

Now, here's the rub - How far short of complete would you find this? How much more would you be looking for to differentiate the character from the one to your left?

-Rob D.


* Yes, I'm thinking d6's rather than fudge based, but that's a whole other discussion.

Comments

  • Rob, for me, character generation has to include a reason why I care about the character. Not "why I-the-player care about my character" but why I, an audience member, would be engaged in watching a movie about that character, say. I find that the shorter and more compact that character sheets get, the less and less I find my engagement there. So the important thing for me is the grabby hook. "Ninja 3d" doesn't grab me, but "Ninja 3d, Single Mom 2d" would. You know what I'm saying?

    The other thing that I find really really useful in character generation are explicit links to what's happening in the game and to the other characters. So in your example above, if Hoss Hold was going to feature prominently in the game and Ser Devlin was another PC, I would feel a lot more connection to the character, because I know that that stuff is important and that stuff will get used (side note: if Ser Devlin is another PC, and I know the player, then I probably already know a great deal of how we'll interact, and that's useful for grounding).
  • I could survive on this. The crunch is missing in the "what can I do with these things" department. That is, where are my verbs?

    The dice values seem to be my entry point into system to Get Things Done. So I can Knight things pretty effectively (3d) and I can Knight things with my Lance a little more effectively (3d+1d).

    What else can I do? Well, it looks like I can Be Things. I can Be "First to Stand, Last to Fall." I can Be Stubborn. I can Be a Religious Scholar. That probably helps me when I'm Getting Things Done.

    It just feels a bit claustrophobic to me. I want more verbs. I want to put more resolution on Knight for my character.
  • Ah, I should clarify that actual generation process will be full bore phases and such. There's going to be something concrete behind each aspect, so I'm comfortable about the _idea_ of the character being well fleshed out. The elements you're talking about regarding tying into the game are explicit in their being aspects - if Hoss Hold is one of the characters aspects, then Hoss Hold is important to play, simple as that. The same is true for any other aspect.

    The rub is that I agree with you on what is important, and the reason I'm asking this is that in a pure story sort of sense, the list of aspects would cover all of those things which are truly important to the character, so on some level I am saying "If you have that covered, how much more mechanical weight do you want?" My current answer is "Not a lot", but I worry about it being too little.

    Any clearer?

    -Rob D.
  • Posted By: Rob Donoghue...so a whole lot of characters are going to be "Knight: 3d"* and they need a bit more to separate them.
    How about instituting a simple "No one-word aspects" policy? If I take "idealistic knight" and you take "disillusioned knight", that goes a long way towards distinguishing our characters without complicating the system any.
  • Posted By: Adam DrayI could survive on this. The crunch is missing in the "what can I do with these things" department. That is, where are my verbs?

    The dice values seem to be my entry point into system to Get Things Done. So I can Knight things pretty effectively (3d) and I can Knight things with my Lance a little more effectively (3d+1d).

    What else can I do? Well, it looks like I can Be Things. I can Be "First to Stand, Last to Fall." I can Be Stubborn. I can Be a Religious Scholar. That probably helps me when I'm Getting Things Done.

    It just feels a bit claustrophobic to me. I want more verbs. I want to put more resolution on Knight for my character.
    Oh, excellent point.

    Ok, for the underlying model, the thinking is 2d for things that fit your type of character (say, Noble, Peasant or Priest) and 1d for anything else you might conceivably do. As such, there's an implicit Noble 2d in the character above.

    That said, while that mechanically answers the question of what dice to roll (4d for lancing, 3d for knighting, 2d for noble-ing, 1d for fringey stuff) that doesn't actually give much heart to the prospect of verbs. Hnh. I'll have to chew on this.

    -Rob D.
  • Posted By: Ron HammackPosted By: Rob Donoghue...so a whole lot of characters are going to be "Knight: 3d"* and they need a bit more to separate them.
    How about instituting a simple "No one-word aspects" policy? If I take "idealistic knight" and you take "disillusioned knight", that goes a long way towards distinguishing our characters without complicating the system any.

    Well, I plan on shoving that off on Aspects, so Ser Liam might be shorthanded as

    Knight: 3d
    Disillusioned

    Which is less fleshed out than a normal PC, but it gives me a point of differentiation as GM. of course, If I'm really on my game, I also know which noble house he's sworn to, and I have that as an aspect as well.

    -Rob D.
  • edited May 2007
    Honestly, that is a pretty reasonable breakdown for a quick character although I might bump it up to 6 aspects (one explicitly for connection to the other PCs) just for fun.

    The aspects serve in most of the areas that the broader categories of Risus would normally fill in with the added advantage that they keep all the neat cruch inherent in the Fate Point system (compels and such). I do wonder how the broader Fate Point economy is going to work though... since it seems that without many skills, you will be invoking aspects a great deal more frequently to demonstrate a character's expertise.

    Also, combat may be a little wonky since (by default, prior to invoking aspects) pretty much everyone will be rolling the same number of dice. This might equal stalemates *shrug*

    This could easily be fixed by just allowing a few more generalized 'skills' (maybe as few as 2-3) to allow that extra bit of differentiation.
    Edit: Whoops... based on your other posts you are already doing that anyway! Stupid slow typing :)
  • Hard to say if I'd find it complete without knowing how the rest of the mechanics work, and what the game is about. Can we assume that those Aspecty looking parts are going to work like Aspects? That is, have a lot of ways in which you can apply them to the system? If so, then I think you're fine. Number of abilities is not nearly so important as having lots you can do with them systemwise.

    Mike
  • The other thing you can do is _require_ a certain number of skills/aspects of a certain number of more "exotic" flavors. E.g., 1 belief, 1 fear, 1 embarrasing skill, etc. This mandates more well-rounded characters and, by extension, more interesting ones. So, recasting your sample character (and not knowing anything about the specific setting of course), might add the following qualities: I would rather be right than well-liked, Fear of Bats, and Knitting 1d. Seems like a more complete and more interesting character to me, without adding much power. Bonus: How stoked will the player be when his character examines a quilt in the archvillain's quarters and gleans something relevant from his extensive knowledge of knitting.
  • Ok, this is simple enough that i can grow it as we go. :)

    System is effectively Risus (Roll a die pool, take the total, compare it to a Target number or a competing roll), at least at its heart.*

    The aspects are, mechanically, Fate aspects as presented in SOTC - invoke them for a bonus, have them compelled against you and gain a FP. For those not familiar witht he system, consider each aspect to be something akin to a merit/flaw.

    The only question I'd explicitly considered is "What are your words?" (For those who haven't read the book, each noble house in A Game of Thrones has words, which is an explicit ethos statement like "Winter is coming" or "We do not sow") but the prospect of more structure in that area is not one I would object to.

    -Rob D.

    * I'm also wondering what happens if die pool contests look more like Risk, making sort of a DitV for Dummies, but right this minute, that's just an idea, not something I've had a chance to test.
  • Posted By: Adam DrayThat is, where are my verbs?
    Huh, interesting thought inspired by Adam, here. As it is, Rob's character sheet displays who the character is, and assumes that the players can extend that to what the character does. What happens when we turn everything into verbs that the player knows he can do?

    +-----------------------------------+
    "First to Stand, Last to Fall" (The words of his house)
    Ward Hoss Hold
    Resist Persuasion
    Know Religion
    Serve Ser Devlin Anaman as squire

    Fight: 3d
    Lance Things: +1d

    Court: 2d (was the invisible Noble)
    +-----------------------------------+

    (Yeah, I know 'Knight' is more than fighting, but if Noble is a separate die pool, most of the non-fighty knight things would properly fall under Noble.)

    Rob, does verbifying the Aspects may make them unusable as Aspects?
  • Huh. I'm not sure _what_ it does. In some of the cases though, it absolutely makes the subject more dynamic, which is hawt. The weird thing is, though, that in adding verbs, I don't feel more verby-ey, I feel like there are now more goals (a good thing), which is sufficiently counterintuitive that I'm going to have to chew on it. There's something awesome here.

    -Rob D.
  • edited May 2007
    Posted By: Adam DrayI could survive on this. The crunch is missing in the "what can I do with these things" department. That is, where are my verbs?

    The dice values seem to be my entry point into system to Get Things Done. So I can Knight things pretty effectively (3d) and I can Knight things with my Lance a little more effectively (3d+1d).

    What else can I do? Well, it looks like I can Be Things. I can Be "First to Stand, Last to Fall." I can Be Stubborn. I can Be a Religious Scholar. That probably helps me when I'm Getting Things Done.
    There is no difference here. You're Being a Knight in the same way as Being Stubborn. You can Do things Knights can do in the same way as you can Do things Stubborn people do. They are labels; signposts.

    Don't know if it helps, but one might say these are not things you Be or things you Do, they are things you Have.
  • While I am all about lite games perhaps Game of Thrones wants something a little less lite. Perhaps each character gets some automatic aspects for their House, Profession and Religion seperate from the ones they choose for the making of their character.

    Also I would look for something kind of like Dogs fall-out where as a result of conflict in a chapter something fundamental changes about the character. Maybe at the start of a chapter ( and by chapter, I am thinking an arc of scenes or maybe play sessions) the character picks an aspect that will be the focus of the chapter and that aspect will be modified as a result of the actions in the chapter.
  • So, tellingly it's clear that the aspects are successfully calling attention to themselves as the place for the mojo, which is good since that's more or less the case. Perhaps I should take that as a sign.

    -Rob D.
  • You're missing a key element of what makes OtE the system it is for chargen.

    OtE characters are required to have, in addition to the central trait and two side traits:

    A flaw
    A motivation
    A secret
    An Important Person in their life

    on their sheet.

    That's where Joshua's why do I care comes from in that game.

    So, from memory, an old character of mine went (broadly) as follows:

    Harvey Winkelbaum III

    Retired Consultant Cosmetic Surgeon 4
    Well travelled 3
    Keen golfer 3

    Flaw: Harvey has had a priviliged life and is a little naive as a result
    Motivation: Harvey has come to Al Amarja because he heard it has good golf
    A secret: Harvey secretly despises his patients and wishes he had practiced medicine that really helped people
    Important person: His daughter, to whom he has limited access following his recent divorce.

    The interest in Harvey was not really his traits, it was in the other bits, a man used to privilege with a failed marriage and a successful career he was secretly ashamed of. That was what drove him in play, when he discovered that on Al Amarja he could do things that really made a difference to people's lives.

    The traits are only a small part of OtE chargen, the real meat is in those other bits.

    Similarly, in Risus you have Hooks.

    I think that's the bit yours is still missing, the traits work great, but it would be good too to have two or three questions about the PC that have to be answered on the character sheet. Stuff like what does the character most value, why are they not living a quiet life at home, what would they most want people not to know about them.

    With short form descriptive systems like these, I think that extra element is really useful in bringing characters powerfully to life. Harvey was a blast to play, from his bewilderment at having his luggage stolen to his despair when he failed to save a new friend from a gang of thugs to his joy at making friends with the spawn of an outer god (it was Al Amarja). The traits were only part of him, his secret and his important person told you far more about what really made him him.
  • The other thing I'd add, is that with OtE once you add in the flaw, secret, motivation and important person you get a far more rounded picture of a human being than most games come close to. Certainly far more credible than say Gurps or similarly detailed games get to.

    The questions are where it rocks.
  • I think, without more differentiation in what I can do to give me dice, the simplicity of the character as presented is going to give me a larger than baseline (baseline being SOTC) incentive to use my aspects on all my rolls. If, as someone pointed out earlier, folks are mostly going to be rolling the same dice pools, aspects as offered right now on your sample sheets are the ONLY way to really get much of an edge.

    This may be related to Adam's "gimme some verbs!"
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