Thursday, August 30, 2012

Perfect System: Genre Matters

Yesterday's post stemmed from a friend asking me after I got done discussing the short coming in my current Dresden Files game, "So what IS your favorite gaming system?" My knee jerk response was "For what setting?"

Genre matters a great deal for me and the system. Even something as simple as the base dice mechanic, for me, changes how I perceive and internalize a game.

For example, a game that allows for "exploding" dice (such as Classic Deadlands, L5R/7th Sea, or World of Darkness) mean that every roll has a potential for extreme results. Other games, like the Cortex+ system, the results will be within a certain spectrum of results - one gets better results by adding more dice to the equation. And in D&D there's a 5% chance of rolling a 20 (the meaningfulness of which varies from rules set to rules set and table to table depending on in/formal house rules).

Similarly, a system should incorporate what it considers important into the rules. Unknown Armies has an entirely different feel to how it approaches madness than does Call of Cthulhu. Or for investigations, Gumshoe's system of spending currency to make declarations versus Wick's Houses of the Blooded where successes on a roll allow you to declare another fact to be true, even if you lost the conflict.

What does it boil down to - rules matter for creating the reality that the players create a narrative within. If the genre calls for over the top action, roof top chases, and "devil may care" antics, but the system penalizes any sort of risky maneuver with penalties, then there is a disconnect; or on the other side, if you are seeking to play grim, dark horror that leaves the players/characters feeling alone and in the dark; however, the dice allow for amazing swings of luck, or some other mechanic that allow them to pervert the threads of doom (chips from Deadlands) then you remove some of the horror because you provide a way out.

So why am I pondering all this? For the usual reasons - my life is slowing down enough so I'm playing with developing a game system. But I'll be honest - I'm more of a heavy adapter than a creator of new stuff. Take some stuff from this game, take some stuff from that game, take some of my own "What do I want" from my own attempts and piece it all together.

Right now there are two genre occupying my mental design space. The first is a more classical fantasy game that is designed around how I tend to run games - heavy on the every day, social activities, a fair bit of investigation, with violence not too common. Mostly, I want this game to be about using what drives a person for and against them. I want determining their motivations to be an important part, and figuring out how to use it against them to be even more critical in the success of plans. However, I want it to laid over a fairly traditional looking system of attributes and abilities. This game I'd want to support my more traditional longer running arcs and stories and allow for more growth and change in the characters. My current version is using Cortex+ as its inspiration. The core questions I'd want to ask here is "What drives you to succeed?"

The second one is far less developed, but it is all due to an actual play podcast of a Mass Effect game. The game itself uses the World of Darkness as a backbone, but I look at the idea of running short 2-3 session arcs that have clear mission format and want to play around with that concept. I'm still not sure what questions I want to ask here for the system, perhaps it is the home for my nascent idea of "What are you willing to risk to succeed?" I'd want something quick to generate pools of dice to roll to maintain the kinetic nature of the game, as well as something that allows for more differences in tools (i.e., weapons, armor, and other tools have more of an effect on the game play than I normally care about).

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