Saturday, September 24, 2011

FtA: Investment

I was sitting around shooting the breeze after the game today, and listened as my GM waxed poetic with regards to the first edition version of Oriental Adventures.  I have had several opportunities to purchase it in the past, but passed each time as it just seemed like a gimmicky expansion set in a culture I wasn't familiar with.  I'm still not entirely convinced I was wrong, but he's going to lend me the book, so I'll have the opportunity to find out for sure.

The main thing that caught my attention, though, was the concept of honor.  I'm still fuzzy on the details, but if I understand correctly your personal honor is tied to your family honor, and your actions affect your honor and the honor of your family, which has real in-game ramifications.  I'm very interested in looking at the mechanics for this, as it seems similar to what I'm going for here.

One of the things that I find as I play with different people is that some people will only be as invested in a game's story as they want to be.  You can spend a year writing an intricate, complex back-story for your game, but it won't mean anything if your players just want to power game, or if they're just looking for a combat simulator.  If you want to get any mileage out of having that beautiful back-story, if you want your players to care about it, you need to find a way to make it matter to the running of the game.

Myself, I play for the storytelling.  Whether I'm GMing and telling the story to the players, or playing and telling my character's story to the GM, it's the drama, the characterization, the interaction with an imaginary world that drives me.  I play with a guy, though, who is all about building the better mouse trap.  He min/maxes his characters, works the angles, tweaks the attributes, skills, equipment and abilities so that if the dice roll right, he can drop that 300 hit point green dragon with one shot.

So how do I invest him in my game?  How do I draw him out of that mindset and get him thinking about characterization and motivation rather than modifiers and bonuses?  I want to cast as wide a net as possible with this game, rather than create a game that he (and others who don't share my specific goal set for roleplaying) won't be able to relate to, but at the same time I don't want to design for the lowest common denominator.  Quite the opposite, in fact - if can do it right, I'd like to elevate the game, get people thinking and asking questions and discussing what is right and what is just and what is best, both personally, and for the society at large.

If the Oriental Adventures works the way I imagine it does, that may be the way - design a mechanic that ties the choices you make to those bonuses and modifiers.  Make them care about how they act, invest them in the imaginary world, make them roleplay because that's where they find the angles to work.

Playing through Dragon Age on the X-Box, I admired the way they did the friendship/rivalry scale - throughout the game you have the opportunity to make smalltalk with your party members, and depending on how you interact with them, they either grow to like or hate you.  If they hate you enough, they can even leave the party for good, but if you get them to like you enough, your inspiring nature (I guess) gives them cause to push themselves beyond their limits, giving them bonuses to their main attribute.  If you want to, you can still go through the entire game without speaking to any of them once, but the game rewards you for investing yourself in the world that they've built for you, and while you may come for the stat bumps, you end up staying for the conversation itself.

Similarly, by tying the actions of the PCs to the development of the society as it rebuilds, I hope to eventually invest the players in the world itself.  Even if they never move beyond the idea that they are being personally rewarded for contributing to the growth or downfall of civilization, they're at least putting thought into what goes on between the fights.


  1. Huzzah! Thanks for giving me a brainstorm!

    If I am remembering OA correctly, I'm afriad you might be disappointed with their honor system. Thinking about it all gave me this idea though.

    Instead of giving the sliding scale 1-10 as PC alignment, use it as a rating for each community. The number is a multiplier that determines the overall population of the settlement, and it is equal to the number of specialist NPCs who can offer useful services. The number could also be used to help determine the health (hp bonus) of the NPCs who live there, or even their morale when they are attacked by raiders/slavers.

    Rather than alignment, PCs get two scores. "Honor" ranges from -5 to +5. "Renown" ranges from 1 to 100. Whenever the PCs meet a new NPC roll percentage dice, if the result is lower than their renown then the NPC recognizes them from stories so then their "Honor" acts as a reaction roll modifier. Name dropping ("Haven't you heard of Hector the Mighty?") might justify a second percentage roll. Disguises might lower Renown temporarily. Distance should be a factor too, maybe -1 to Renown for every mile (hex?) from their home village?

    The whole concept here revolves around the PCs having a home village or community that they return to periodically. Ideally the PCs would return at the end of each session to rest, sell loot, and resupply. They could always choose to move to a new area and use a new village as homebase.

    Here is the super fun bit.

    Whenever a session ends in a village, ask each Player to choose how their PC will use their downtime by picking one of these words:

    Murder, Thieve, Intimidate, Carouse, Meditate, Chat, Advise, Work, Fortify, Altruism.

    Each of those is a different random table that the players roll on to determine the results of their actions. This might result in bonus (or loss of)loot, a new follower, or a free service based upon the specific outcome. The outcome will also likely change the PCs Honor and Renown, and perhaps the town's overall population rating.

    I'm imagining something in the spirit of Jeff's Carousing Chart, with specific and sometimes weird results.

  2. Xenoblade on the Wii takes that Bioware-type relationship mechanic and extends it to NPCs too. By interacting with various locals you can affect their relationships not only with your player-characters but also with each other. It's mostly a little extra with no game effect -- although it's very satisfying to build up a complex relationship map of NPCS -- but the more friendly they are to you the more experience points you get from completing their fetch quests.

  3. @Quibish: ... wow. I really like that. I may steal it, and give you no credit! Seriously, great idea - thanks!

    @kelvingreen: if there was a game that would get me to buy a Wii, it would be Xenoblade. Unfortunately for my brain, but fortunately for my wallet, there are no plans for a North American release.

  4. Yeah, I'm not sure what Nintendo of America are playing at with that one. It's already translated, why not release it?

  5. Another idea sort of inspired by Quibish's honor system, but more along the lines of some other things you've mentioned:

    "Honor" is kind of a generic concept, and lends a particular flavor. Instead you could break it down into two categories: Fear and Respect. These could be two different stats and you could have high scores in one or both.

    Fear (i.e. other's fear of you) is reputation for harshness and cruelty to others. It accumulates when you treat others accordingly, especially if you do so with powerful abilities or on a large scale. It can help you motivate folks effectively in the short term, but can increase the chances that they'll turn on you if they think they'll have the advantage.

    Respect works best on those who share your goals. It accumulates when you treat others in ways they find agreeable, especially if you make wise or clever use of your resources. It isn't as effective in motivating others, but it increases the chances that folks you work with will honor your agreements, stay by your side in combat, or not against you.

    I like Quibish's idea of how your reputation could precede you though. There's probably some way that reputation could interact with fear and respect. I imagine a reputation for fear would travel faster than one for respect though.

  6. Good ideas. I really want this to be a mechanic that is integral to the game, one that interacts with the characters on multiple levels as they make their way to Level 10.


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