Saturday, October 10, 2015

Velour Whenevers: El Capitan, Part Two

Frequent readers may recall that my last Velour and Go-Go Boots post described the difficulties of giving the players Command and how that might lead to infighting and unpleasantness. In the next revision of the rules, I decided to try and skirt around the issue by making the ship captain an NPC and going with the assumption that the players are all bridge crew of roughly equivalent rank.

One of the rules for NPC captains turned out the be the tiny spark that would result in the game's transformation from a stat + skill system to the Traits System (pat. pend. do not steal).  The captain was a nebulous entity, comprised of various personality traits picked out by the GM.  These traits determined the captain's leadership style and how they reacted to various situations.  For instance, Kirk is a Cowboy, while Picard is a Diplomat.

Having the captain be an NPC worked out okay and certainly made the game easier to explain and run at conventions, except for a couple of rather obvious problems:

Problem #1
If you have a person in authority, especially if that person is controlled by the GM, some players will surrender their agency to that person rather than strike out on their own.  This was only made worse by the fact that the players all belong to a quasi-military organization and this is something that they would realistically do.

There's some ways around this, of course.  I found that players relied on the captain less if I made the captain more obviously flawed and less all-knowing.  I also tried to turn things back around on them and say, "all right, so we're being attacked by an unknown force and our shields are crippled.  Suggestions?"  Even still, I much preferred games where the players had to solve their own problems instead of looking to a magical NPC to fix things for them.

Problem #2
Being the captain is fun, and I took that fun away from the players.  Argh!  I also wound up ditching most of the mechanics associated with the Command Occupation in the switch over from PC to NPC captains.  Those mechanics not only made the players chances of success more likely in certain circumstances, but also sort of helped to unify them as a team.  Consider:  If your leadership skills inspire another player to do better, odds are you and the other players will work together more closely.

Considering the ramifications of these problems lead me to Option Three, a Frankensteinian hybrid of the first two options.  I'm not sure it works, either, but here it is.

You can have an NPC captain, who gets some of the powers of a PC captain, but not all of them.  Having an NPC captain sitting in the big chair limits the power struggle issues between the players and allows everyone to skip the rest of the captain's rules and explore the wide open galaxy.

You can have a PC captain.  The PC captain is a role separate from the Occupations.  Everyone picks their Occupations as normal, and then the players have a secret vote on who should be the captain.  Players cannot vote for themselves.  The player with the most votes becomes captain, with other players getting a rank aboard ship based on how well they did on the voting (second place are Commanders, third place are Lieutenant Commanders, and so on).  Captains still get the benefits of their Occupation (just because you're now the captain doesn't mean you forgot how to be a doctor, after all).

Which means that congratulations are in order for Mr. Bailey, as it's apparently a democracy now.

Ties for the captaincy can be handled in a variety of ways, from handshakes and acquiescence to one of the tied players relinquishing the captaincy to become Number One.  The GM could also rule that due to a Terrible Accident that occurred just prior to the start of the game, no one is captain, or they could say that since there was no clear winner, there's an NPC captain anyway.  Players can also choose to vote for an NPC captain if they want to.

Player captains gain a lot of the abilities that were once reserved to the Command Occupation.  They can give bonus dice to people they give orders to, and they can also spread their Drama Points around to make the crew's rolls easier.  In addition, they can call people in to Conference, during which time everyone can role-play and have arguments and gain additional Drama Points to use later.

Option Three has the benefit of having facets of all of the previous designs with the drawback of it being extremely messy and difficult to explain.  The part of my brain that desires order craves a simpler and more elegant solution, but my design chops aren't yet choppy enough to chew one out of the gristle that is this game.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Writing Tuesdays: 143rd in Iraq (Formerly In Spite of It All): NOW AVAILABLE!

My uncle, Marc Youngquist, served in the Connecticut National Guard's 143rd MP Company and did a tour of duty in Iraq from 2003-2004.  In the ten or so years since his return home, he has been hard at work writing a book describing his experiences there.  Most of these experiences range from the mildly frustrating to the downright harrowing and include:

  • Waking up in the middle of a sandstorm, being unable to see, and overwhelmed with the surreal terror that he was the last person of his company to remain alive and unburied.
  • Being trained for desert conditions at Fort Drum.  In the winter.  Which was as helpful as it sounds.
  • Having his National Guard unit treated like red-headed baby seals by many members of the active duty army.
  • The constant bureaucratic struggle to get enough ammunition, functioning vehicles, and other equipment. Like radios.  Radios are important!
  • A creatively-wired Humvee, whose heat went on only when the parking break was applied.  Somehow.

And much, much more!

My uncle is a storyteller, not a writer, so he enlisted my aid as an editor and proofreader to wrangle his 100k+ word book into submission.  Most of my efforts involved polishing up the wording and moving sections around to create a more narrative flow (Lookit that!  Geoff gets to use his creative writing degree for something other than writing LARP plots.  Go Geoff!).

We had expected that the book would be released sometime earlier this year, however the publishing industry and other, outside interests conspired to create delays.  Sometime within the last few days, the last of the delays (during which the publisher had to ensure that the text conversion from print to e-reader was formatted in such a way that was pleasant to the eyes) was finally overcome and the book was officially published.

Even though I'm just an editor on this project, it's still very exciting to see a book that I have worked on reach the final stage of production, and it's nice to see my name up in lights.  I will also say that it a little weird that I am listed as an editor under my full birth name, and I'm concerned that I now no longer have any defense against practitioners of the dark arts who have an internet connection and more than a passing interest in military memoirs.

But anyway, enough rambling.  If true stories of military hardship, bureaucratic nonsense, broken-down equipment, crabby janitors, dislocated shoulders, and obnoxious senior officers are something that interest you (or if you'd just like to read through the book and mock me for all the errors I made in grammar and punctuation) feel free to pick it up here.