Xavid (kihou) wrote,
Xavid
kihou

Musings relative to tabletops

I've been thinking a fair amount about tabletop RPG (among other things) mechanics and setups, in part because of impulse Kickstarter systems. Here are some random loosely-organized thoughts.

Apocalypse World:

My overall take on this game: great feel, with lots of cool stuff to reinforce it. Lots of hair. It'd probably work better in play, because everyone's just got one class and they can keep track of their special moves, but the large variety of possible classes, each with custom actions and other rules, is a bit overwhelming, especially presented as they are as the primary setting description.

The sex mechanics were also weird. I understand, vaguely, that they fit with the feel, but I definitely wouldn't use them in a game I MC'd, for reasons. I also think it creating incentives for people to minmax re: sex is weird.

The use of Barter reminds me of the "dots of treasure" that I've house-ruled into some Fate games. I like a consumable resource that feels more like spending money than "rolling Resources" but without D&D-style gold-point tracking.

Apocalypse World, among other systems I've been reading, makes me feel like the way Fate handles skills by default has too much hair. There are too many skills total, and each character has too many skills. When you have 15 skills, the fiddly details of whether you have a skill at 1 or 2 aren't very interesting. This can lead to the annoying tensions around min/maxing vs character-focused. The pyramid can also annoying to figure out: your top skills are easy to figure out, so you spend too much time on low-level skills that don't matter that much, and figuring out how to get the pyramid to end up where you want is mechanics-focused, not roleplay-focused.

Apocalypse World (and some other systems, like FAE) take a "small number of stats" approach. Apocalypse World, in particular, chooses non-traditional stats (Cool, Hard, Hot, Sharp, Weird) that really contribute to the feel of the game. One option to do that would be to do this and have it standard to take specialties (effectively stunts, but maybe more broad) for the things your character's particularly awesome at, so you could express your rockstar skills without fiddling around with an egg carton of weak skills.

There's also the "small number of open-ended skills" of Nobilis and such. These can be flavorful and character-focused. They have some conceptual overlap with Aspect-flavored things. If you're worried about skill balance in any particular sense, open-ended skills are hard. Spark tries to address this by categorizing skills (I guess more like the specialties from the last paragraph) into a few categories by how broad they are, and giving you better bonuses for more narrow skills; that seems like it could work ok.

Dogs in the Vineyard:

I love this conflict mechanic! I haven't used it yet, so my opinion may change. I think the main reason I'm all over it include:

1. Finite length. You roll some dice at the beginning to put in your pool, and you only roll/add more dice in finite, interesting circumstances. This gives every conflict inherent boundedness, which hopefully avoids some of the "combat takes for ever" and "combat is the same thing over and over" from other systems.
2. Rolling the dice ahead of time and spending them to do stuff lets you do interesting things like change how you prioritize attacks and defense without a bunch of complicated rules, and lets you describe your action based on how effective it is, rather than be all "I try to hit him with my sword", roll dice, resume narration.
3. Escalating from argument to physical to a fight feels cool and dramatic.
4. This seems a much more compelling way to do a social conflict than Fate-style. I've done social conflicts in Fate (and similar systems), and I've never liked it that much. I guess reasons Fate social combat didn't work for me are: (a) minmaxing suggests you should keep doing what you're good at, whether that makes sense in-world, (b) things don't necessarily progress forward quickly, and (c) the feel of the mechanic, or the connection of the dice to the in-universe conflict, not working very well for me. (I feel like I should mention Burning Wheel, but I don't remember too much about it's system except it was complicated.)
5. Setting stakes is cool. Fate does this some places, but I feel like it gets lost in things like combat. Having player-driven stakes is also cool. This also helps things like social conflict have impact without feeling like mind-control.
6. I think this could work well for intra-party conflict, I guess just because it seems like it'll work better for social conflict in general.

Vineyard's setup, where the PCs are authority figures in the authoritarian status quo, is (as Sam points out) a lot different than the standard, iconoclast/rebel/independent PC party, or for that manner the standard sort of protagonist in recent American popular fiction. This seems like it could be very interesting, putting a lot of social power in the hands of the PCs in a way that is unusual and giving their decisions large in-universe impact.

The mechanics behind the Dogs theology are also interesting, putting the characters in a rather anti-21st-century morality universe and giving them good reason to not just impose out-of-setting morals on everything. (Reminds me a little of stories of... Cair Phaedria, maybe?, where there was an anti-half-breeds plot that actually had magical mechanical support.) Some of the theology mechanics, particularly the progression of "pride leads to injustice leads to sin" and so on, remind me a bit of Nobilis setting properties, where things just work a certain way that might seem arbitrary from the outside, though Nobilis characters are more likely to play iconoclast with such things.

One thing that's interesting re: this is that, at least if you're death-of-the-author me, it's unclear whether the setting as described in the book is objectively the world your characters are in or just the world your characters believe they are in. (If you remember from WTF, just because something has Mechanical Support and Valence doesn't necessarily mean it has the same level of Truth.) While I'm not sure that was intended to be a possible interpretation, the explicit rule that the GM is not god, but the PCs decide how god applies to them, sort of makes me think the book isn't god either. If you take that in the wrong direction that could make the game much less distinctive/interesting. But, if everyone's on board with it, a campaign that allowed for fallible elders and/or characters who wrestle with a god who can be unjust could be interesting.

(Also, this interpretation may be contributed to by the officially-unreliable-narrator mkbehr Continuum rules.)

Continuum:

Woo! Discussing time travel continuity: the tabletop. mkbehr's doing it based on Fate. I think it's definitely good to be using something more lightweight than the original rules, though based on how much ordinary mechanics get trumped by free-time-travel-and-teleportation, something even more lightweight might have worked just as well. It sorta makes me want to come up with a lucid dreaming-type mechanic that'd have a similar level of impact and use it in a tabletop (or maybe LARP, but that seems Hard).

Spark:

This is a Kickstarter thing. It had less of an impact on me than Apocalypse World. It tries to be more of a storytelling game. It has does the "few stats plus specialties" style of stats. It rates things by die size, which annoys me more than Vineyard mainly because it seems less well motivated, and because you have to translate between Level N and die sizes. It has explicit stakes for conflicts, like Vineyard.

It's based around various levels of beliefs and challenging them, which reminds me of city creation and development from Fate.

It has official rules for the "You're not in this scene? Play an NPC!" thing I do sometimes.

I guess it doesn't excite me that much because, while it combines some good things from other games and could be fun to play, it doesn't kick you in the face like Apocalypse World or Vineyard, and it doesn't have anything new that really grabs me. I guess it also feels focused on Fate-style city development and NPC faction stuff, which ended up getting sidelined pretty hard in my Dresden Files campaign (in part because I didn't set things up to motivate deals with the devil (for small values of devil)).

Wombats. Xavid out.

P.S.

I seem to be writing a Vineyard-confict-inspired LARP combat mechanic. Let's see if I actually write and use it in Persona: Too Late or something.
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