Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What's your game about?


So Howard Tayler was, as of GenCon, writing a roleplaying game set in the world of Schlock Mercenary (I think the Kickstarter is over, so if you didn't know about it, you have to wait until it's really available). The podcast Writing Excuses this week was about worldbuilding for RPGs, and the very first piece of advice from the guests was knowing the purpose of your game. Not the higher moral purpose, but rather, when someone is playing your game, what are they doing? What's the usual activity?

And for superhero games, part one of that answer is almost always going to be, "Beating up supervillains." Another part is going to be, "Encouraging fun at the table" (however you describe fun) which I prefer to "good roleplaying" because I have discovered that "good roleplaying" varies with the group and the player or GM. So can "encouraging fun" but you run into fewer conflicts about whether a particular action was angst or wangst.

But as it happens, I'm also drafting the part of one manuscript where I talk about potential rewards.

One of the things I happen to believe is that, when you get points for killing things, everything looks like it's got hit points. (I ran into the equivalent when running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.) So what do I want to encourage in the context of the game? What's the point of this little adventure?

Back in the Herozoic era, when I began, there was a table for XP, and it had things like:

  • Just being there (1)
  • Long involved adventure (2)
  • More than one session (+1)
  • Outnumbered (+1)
  • Clever, inventive, roleplayed well (+1)
  • Characters totally failed at purpose of adventure (-1)

Now, that's not "Kill things and take their stuff" territory, but it is kind of vague, and you notice that only the lines "clever, inventive, roleplayed well" and "totally failed" have anything to do with what you as a player did after you got there. More than half was just showing up. Frankly, my first draft of experience looked pretty much like that. (I've been influenced, what can I say?)

Both Supers! and ICONS have abandoned that XP approach for an "achievements" approach. Minor achievements might be just showing up (and as I get older and life seems to get more complicated, I do appreciate it), but they can also be things like resolving the storyline. There's a little less of the "you showed up, you get a point" kind of thinking.

Still, they don't give you an actual guideline. In one way, that's awful, but in another way, that's great. You get to define what your game is about. You get to say what a minor achievement is, and what a major achievement is. In fact, Base Raiders formalizes this as goals for your character. (Some other time we'll talk about goals-you-can-achieve and goals-that-are-your-pole-star, and whether they're the same for everybody.)

Because you know that players are going to do whatever gets them character advancement. If it's "solve a mystery" then they're going to find a mystery and solve it. And, out of fairness, the GM better put the thing in there that gets them character advancement. It's not nice to say they advance by solving a mystery and then not providing one, or worse, by killing kobolds and then giving them a whole village of kobolds they have to save.

Frankly, I still think just showing up is worth a point, but why not give it out at the beginning of the session instead of the end? Every Supers! player gets a competency die, just because they're there. ICONS players get Determination points.

But beyond that... Depends on the type of campaign you're running.

You are the city's premier group.
Minor achievements:  Rebuild the section of town destroyed by natural disaster. Resolve the plot of the session. Protect your secret identity. Make it to your son's graduation. Have a date.
Major achievements: Rescue the mayor. Save the city from the doomsday device. Help the new team. Expose the imposters.

You are shadowy vigilantes.
Minor achievements:  Don't get caught. Take down bad guys without help.
Major achievements: Escape jail. Keep your secret identity.

You are students at a super school.
Minor achievements:  Get that cute MOTAS to notice you. Survive hazing. Reach out to the new kid. Survive the betrayal of the cute MOTAS. Fight off the bad guys from the rival school but be open to the good guys from the rival school.
Major achievements: Get picked for a super team. Pass the test. Discover and defeat the invading clones. Get the school to change its policies.

You are a supervillain's enforcement group.
Minor achievements: Succeed in the mission, which he will outline to you; keep your family in the dark; escape jail; don't lose any members in a fight with the heroes; avoid getting killed or fired by the boss.
Major achievements: Get a promotion; get your superior arrested or slaughtered; get your daughter into a good school; manage to hide your true identity all through Parent-Teacher Night even though rival villain or hero group shows up.