Friday, August 21, 2015

Velour Thursdays (+1): Initial Design Notes

Okay, I got a little side-tracked yesterday.  Sorry about that.  I'm just gonna hop back up into the saddle and pretend that today is also Thursday.  Yee haw!

When it comes to game rules, there are a lot of avenues for the budding young game designer with a song in his heart and an idea in his head.  He could take an existing system and tweak it to suit his purposes.  In the mid-twenty-teens, such systems as Fate and Apocalypse World come readily to both mind and hand, though there are numerous other systems out there that would also fit the bill. Or, because he must do every damn thing in the hardest, most ass-backward way possible, the aforementioned game designer can just go ahead and build his own system from the ground up.

Yeah, I opted for the second one.

This is despite the fact that I'm kind of not very good when it comes to crafting the mechanical underpinnings of game systems.  Oh, sure, I can make a tweak here or suggest an interesting rule idea to an established system there, but give me a whole sandbox to play in and some numbers to crunch and I will either design a game that looks an awful lot like something else (as evidenced by my early attempts at a fantasy role-playing game), or I will design a nightmarish amalgamation of overcomplex rules and creaky supports that collapses the first time someone tries to roll dice.

I think it's because I'm not very good at math?

My first pass at the rules system was kind of a disaster, so much so that it's not even worth discussing it.  If you wish, feel free to imagine me alternating between scrawling figures on an old-timey desktop blotter and playing around with a slide rule before chucking everything, including my green accountant's eye shade, into the nearest wastebasket.

For my second pass, I decided to let the show do a lot of the heavy lifting for me.  I began watching each episode with a notebook and a pen close to hand, taking notes any time one of the following two things happened:

  • The show revealed something about how the Star Trek universe works.
  • The characters revealed how they reacted to and dealt with problems in that universe.

The plan was to make a system that, both consciously and unconsciously, encouraged the players to behave as if they were in a Star Trek episode and be rewarded for doing so.  That's a tall order, and the second rules set I made...wound up not doing this very well at all.  This necessitated a complete redesign which so far hasn't, according to another nerdy classic, "burned down, fallen over, and sunk into the swamp!"

By the end of the second season, I had accumulated quite a laundry list of notes, as well as briefly entertained the idea of doing a spin-off version of the rules based on the adventures of Gary Seven. (And I still might; who knows?)  I have transcribed a few of the notes here, as well as some implementation ideas, for your edification and amusement.

EQUIPMENT:  Not very much in the way of gear.  Most away teams have basic gear common to all (communicator, phaser, etc.).  Science officers get their tricorders, so we'll need an analogue for that. Medical kit for doctors.  Tool kit to round things out.  What else? Translator, disguises for the away team (with convenient hats or headbands for alien crew), found/scavenged gear on missions, space suits.  Oh!  Maybe make a deck of item cards, since there's not that many items.  Emulate losing or destroying items on missions by forcing player to discard appropriate cards.

FIGHTING:  Fights in ST seem to be lethally quick, aside from protracted/ dramatic battles between Kirk and whoever. Usually one or two hit KOs.  Few hit points (if we're going to have hit points), unless the opponent is really tough.  Most of the faceless mooks probably can take one hit before dropping unconscious. Addendum:  Kirk's shirt gets torn up a lot.  Maybe it's his very own version of the umbrella from Kung Fu Fighting--he can sacrifice it to avoid taking damage. Okay. That's definitely going in the game somehow.

SKILLS:  It doesn't seem like there's too many skills (I mean, we could have Astrogation, etc. etc., but it almost seems better and more fitting with the show to have "Fly Ships.")  It also seems like there's a lot of overlap.  Maybe because of basic training?  Kirk, for instance, knows a lot about science (MacGyvered cannon to fight the Gorn, geology stuff in Horta ep.).  Spock knows more, of course.  Maybe your assignment aboard ship gives you a bonus?  Hmm...

RAYGUN:  It's an all-purpose weapon.  Number of shots is extremely hand-wavey, but they do have battery packs, so they run out of juice at some point.  Stun, kill settings, obviously.  Turn them into bombs!  Oh, and you can heat up rocks, melt doors (maybe heavier rifle does that), and make coffee (thanks,Yeoman Rand)!

SAMPLE CHARACTER IDEA:  Would like to re-imagine Yeoman Rand as a bad-ass.  Found out that Rand is Middle English for "shield."  Maybe have another "shield" name.  Janice Shields? Janine Shields?  Oh, and she could be a tough security officer who wears pants!  

SHIP:  Oh man.  The ship is going to kind of be a big deal.  How are we going to do this?

How indeed?  The mysteries of how I got ships to work in Velour and Go-Go Boots (and the first instance of Bob Dunham Doing a Cool Thing) will be revealed in next week's episode.


  1. Next week sounds like the best week yet!

  2. I'm loving seeing your notes from watching the shows to make it into a great viable game. Also, the idea that Kirk's shirt can be sacrificed for the sake of survival is giving me awesome levels of giggles.

    1. Haha, thank you!

      I will say that describing how that rule works is one of my favorite parts of teaching the game to other people. Everyone always gets a really big kick out of it!