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New Game Design

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I can remember as a wee nipper taking D&D (then the only game I knew) and attempting to create my own game from it. Naturally this 'new game' was hopelessly derivative and probably not much fun to play.

I hope to do better this time around.

First a little background. I have a setting that I have been writing in and tinkering with for four years now. Science Fiction with what I'd like to think of as it's own feel.  I won't really dwell on it much, this is about rules.

You see, as of last year I was talking to GoO about their imprint contracts. Now, I hardly felt that the existant Tri-Stat system was perfect for my needs, but it freed me from having to worry overly much about the 'small things'. Sadly, before I had the rest of the product set up, GoO has since went away.  There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over that...

Now that I have to worry about the small things I find myself turning once more to consider them.  I won't bore you with the noisesome bits about 'publication', 'shipments', 'advertising'... these things can be addressed in due time.  Now, however, is the time to discuss Rules.

I only have a few basic ideas down.

Bother me not with your noxious 'Classes' or 'Levels'. I leave such filth to the wallowing hogs.

Having observed people for a few decades now I've come to the opinion that the differences between strengths are relatively minor and the same can be said of skills.  True extremes are rare, but do exist.  Likewise I have observed that overly detailed games tend to flounder under their own weight while more streamlined games tend to prosper.   Thus I propose to reduce attributes and skills to their bare essences, then convert those essences to numbers.

In other words you might have an 'intelligence' stat. One man is 'average' another man is 'smart'. Average has a modifier of zero, Smart provides a +1 when appropriate.  The overall range of abilities will be relatively small as well, with an exponential increase in costs between levels. So, for example, if we have a level of intelligence called 'Savant' above 'Genius' and 'really damn Smart', well you would have to pretty much dedicate your entire character to being a Savant as it would cost so damn much.

Since I've also observed that some players will refuse to touch a game where they cannot roll for their stats, an alternate character creation method, using Dice, can be included to increase potential customer pools.

Now, in practice, these stats are not typically rolled by themselves. No, when two people are facing off the more intelligent one will win out every time. Only when extreme contitions call for it (death is on the line) or when other factors are involved (comparative skill levels) would a roll be called for.  

The overall number of attributes would be kept to a minimum. In practice I hope to use every attribute in combat in some capacity.

Skills are to be handled in much the same way. You will have levels like 'Unskilled' 'Novice' 'Competent' 'expert' and 'master'. note that this is meant as a sampling, rather than actual catagories. Competent would represent our zero level, where the character is neither good nor bad.  Experts, being better than competent would roll (when necessary) at +1.

Where stats and skills collide: I have observed games where stats have no influence on skills and they seem marginalized as a result (older shadowrun), I have seen games where Stats are much more power full than skills, to which point a novice in a skill could regularly beat a master simply by being 'smarter' (Heavy Gear), and I have seen games where the Stat's are equal to the skills in potency but much more universal (New shadowrun, WoD games...).  None of these seem to be the right answer to me.

My solution is potentially two fold. First, higher stats reduce the cost of linked skills. A smart man grasps the principles of engineering faster than a stupid man. An athletic man can learn football easier than a couch potato.  The exact means of doing this is unclear as of yet, but reduced 'points cost' or 'training times' seems to be the obvious choice. Secondly, when two people of equal skill are competing then the smarter one has the advantage.  That is, being really fucking smart does not help you out engineer the Master Engineer UNLESS you also happen to be a Master Engineer.  

A third catagory of 'things' that will help define a character in game terms will be... call them 'facets' for the moment. I was toying with 'trainings' but that is somewhat limited. Consider these to be Advantages if you will. However, I expect these to be somewhat more universal than that.  Some will be innate abilities, others will be learned things.  I expect that as a character grows they will continuously add things.  I have not yet sat down to ponder exactly how many is appropriate or how to balance them yet.  I do know that attractiveness and social traits will fall here, rather than be Stats.

IF there are flaws or disadvantages they will be extremely limited. Say, ONE heroic flaw that defines you. I have yet to really think on these as I don't consider them important to the overall plan or play.

I expect there will be a list of 'universal modifiers' penalties and bonuses for play. Combat, for example will be a penalty modifier to all actions. This is a place where the 'Advantages' come into play, allowing one to offset penalties or gain bonuses for specific actions or conditions.   So a 'Combat Veteran' could ignore the 'In Combat' penalty for martial skills (shooting and melee, piloting, tactics)  While someone who was 'Fearless' could ignore it for any action, but might have penalties to certain defensive traits.

One univeral modifier would be 'rusty', that is a skill that hasn't been used for some time would be used at a penalty. Another would be 'superior equipment' to represent customized gear, really expensive tool sets and the like, and giving a bonus.  Both bonuses and penalties would be small, typically only a one except for extreme cases.

The basic mechanic is notionally a 2d6, with most rolls being opposed. Unopposed rolls would be against a 7 (with modifiers being applied to the target number in this case for ease of use).  

Combat: I am still putting together my ideas here. Obviously the idea is for players to try to stack the deck in their favor by gaining positive bonuses and forcing their opponents to suffer penalites. I am tempted to remove the 'take turns' style of play from the table. That is, in combat being faster than the other guy is an advantage, but all rolls for a given exchange happen at one time.

I expect to have two levels of defensive action. That is 'dodging' and 'evasive'. Dodging is something you apply to a known enemy, that is someone you see and are actively avoiding. This would be limited to a single person or a small group working in concert from a specific, narrow, area. It is more effective than Evasion, which is what would be applied to everyone else in combat with you, or an enemy you cannot see. Thus Dodging, following our guidelines about modifiers, could be a +2 (possibly better, but unlikely) while Evasion is a flat +1.  Evasion would be a movement action, thus applying a penalty to your own rolled actions.

Hmm... I see a potential conflict of intent here.  Okay: Defence is either an active or passive act.  If you are trying to shot the other guy, its passive, that is the enemy is rolling against a static target number based on your combat abilities and defensive modifiers (cover, evasion, darkness and so forth). Active Defense (dodging) is and opposed roll, with each side applying their modifiers to their own roll, but means you can't attack back. Note that if you are actively defending (dodging) and someone unexpected shoots at you, you'd still get to roll your evasion against them, but not your dodge.

Fleet battles and other abstracted combat:  My thought here is to run 'mass combat' much like character combat. The fleet of ships or the army of soldiers is stated out and modifiers are applied. For example a cadre of special forces, or a few ships of advanced design and construction apply modifiers to combat, being larger (more ships by tonnage, more troops) is a bonus while being superior (by training or technology) is a bonus. Intelligence would represent the strategic minds controlling the army/fleet.  Obviously I need to finish up the design of combat before I really focus on this.

Ship combat: as this is meant to be a Science fiction game, the possibility of player engaging in starship battles is very real. My concept here is very simple: to treat the ship and crew as a single character, with each player performing actions and rolling dice for their specific role in combat. I expect to include a teamwork aspect to this, though actually using it (or eveing realizing it is there) should be the work of the players alone. So, for example: the GM goes around the table asking each member of the crew for their action in that round. The Engineer decides, on his own, to repair a damaged coupling (attempting to fix a damage penalty), the pilot engages in a risky manuever, and the gunners shoot wildy.  Everyone rolls dice, the engineer fixes teh damage the pilot fails his roll and the gunners miss and hit alternatively. Combat continues. Alternatively the engineer could have boosted power to the engines, giving the pilot bonus to his roll instead. He could have also redirected computer time to the gunners (presuming a military ship without dedicated gunner comps) making them more accurate, but hurting the pilot, or he could have taken power from the engines to make the guns more powerful (notional, the actual weaponry preferred in the setting as written is FTL torpedos...)  If the crew coordinates their actions, they can earn bonuses to their various rolls, in other words.

Comments and insight, even general nitpicks are appreciated.  Playtesting will be pending further codification of the rules...

It occured to me that I have not yet begun to address issues like damage. Fair enough. I don't have an idea what I want to do, but I do have some ideas of what I don't want to do.

I don't want a pool of fluffy hit points, I don't want a 'death spiral'.  

I was considering an opposed check, damage vs. resiliance or some such thing, with armor being a factor (and a big one...). Pass the check and you are still 'injured' suffering a penalty for wounds, but not incapacitatingly so. And in theory you could suffer a nigh unto infinite number of these 'wounds' without ever dying or increasing your wounded penalty.

A minor failure, or one where the weapon is less lethal than yoru armor... the details are still vague, would result in a much more dangerous injury, one that nearly renders you combat incapable insome way (bigger penalty for mechanics, other penalites like 'incapable of walking' also levied by mechanism undetermined) while a horrible failure is one of those dead/dying situations.  Functionaly identical in Sci-fi as anything that doesn't destroy you outright is possibly undoable by miracle medicine if done fast enough.    

I've also toyed with a multipurpose resource idea.  Let us use the idea of poker chips for the moment, though I hate the idea of needing those to play.  You have as one of your combat traits a stack of chips. These represent, in a shout out to the Pundit, your protaganism. You can use these to avoid sniper shots you don't know about, deflect damage and the like, or you could use them to boost your attacks. You only have so many and you don't get more until, say the next game.  Burning them all is a powerful attack that leaves you defenceless, not using them offenisively leaves you being whittled down nothing eventually over more protracted fights.

This does solve an issue of needless player deaths, and it does add an interesting 'minigame' aspect to combat, but it does so by slowing things down a bit and making things more complex.  Further, I don't want a fixed pool of these things, so I have to then determine how characters get them.

Finally there is the issue of quickdraw situations.  I've pretty much decided that the basic 'opposed check' mechanism is sound enough to handle it. Quickdraw situations are not 'combat' as normally understood. You don't quickdraw on on someone in teh middle of a running battle, you don't have the focus, the pair up to handle that typically. If you do, you are likely getting shot by someone outside your little contest.  Other than a brief mention of the rules and applicability I don't feel a specific mechanism is needed to 'add' this element.

Feedback, as always, is appreciated.

Xavier Lang:
A few questions:

Is the "power" of a person internal or external in the game?
In many sci-fi games that I have seen, a person without gear, is helpless against many things.  To me, this is significant in the rules so you can determine where on the scale things should fall.  
Another way of phasing the question could be how much of a difference in equipment can the character hope to overcome via experience and or facets?  If the character is in say formal attire with maybe a concealed or scrounged melee weapon and the games equivalent of a swat team member assaults the character how bad is it?  Are they hopelessly outmatched and should surrender or die?  Do they have a chance if they make excellent use of tactics, better skills, i.e. there a chracter with lots of spent experience points?  Do they have a reasonable chance of being victorious if they built a combat character but are still at character creation or close to it?

Ok, on my first read it seems like the system you are going for is goin to have a narrow result spread.

on 2d6 results of 2-12, plus or minus modifiers.

How many levels for each attribute?

If you have skills, for example it could looke like this:

skill levels:

dabbler= +0
trained= +1
Skilled= +2

Then the possible outcomes are 0-16 still pretty tight range.  This works though if your game is not suposed to have a large spread in power levels between new characters and advanced ones.

How would your skill level be calculated? Are stats figured in @ all when considering skill level. I know that you are thinking that a High stat reduces costsf for buying skills.

@spike - are you cross posting this on your blog - or moving the discussion here permanently?


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