Saturday, February 11, 2017

Exciting Crossover Event: Part II

With all of these related posts, it's starting to feel a bit like Marvel up in here!



In my previous post, I talked about my design philosophy for Boldly Go, (though, at the time, it was called Velour and Go-Go Boots), and the simple and straightforward stat/skill system I created for the alpha version of the game.

As is often the case with game design, the system described in Part I got tossed out of the window with both hands. The short reason is that I found a way to make the game do what I wanted it to do in a much better way. The significantly longer reason is...this post.

I made up a bunch of sample characters for the game, so that I could quickly run it for my friends, or for random strangers at conventions. These characters have become the "iconics," to use a D&D term, of the game and feature prominently in the rulebook.

The first versions of these characters were...well...they were okay. One of the problems that I noticed was this: With only a handful of stats and skills, there was going to be a lot of overlap between characters. In some ways, this is fine. Remember my example from last time: everyone on the Enterprise knows some Science, but Spock knows the Most Science, and it all works out.

The real trouble came when I started adding advancement rules. The iconic characters don't have to worry about advancement--they'll remain perfectly adequate starting characters from now until we have a soft continuity reboot 43 years from now, featuring more attractive art and better special effects.

Player characters, on the other hand, are going to advance. No matter how few advancement points one gives them, and no matter how rarely they are allowed to advance, players will buy skills. In a game whose skill pool is a very, very tiny pond, that means that all of the characters are going to look pretty samey pretty rapidly.

I want to park that train of thought in the station and get up a full head of steam on a second train of thought. This particular train started because I noticed something else about the TV show that I tried to emulate in the rules--interpersonal ethical conflict.

This is a thing that happens all the time on the show, but which doesn't really feature at all in any of the other Star Trek games. For instance, Spock will say something coldly logical about how people dying is inevitable, but...and then, before he finishes, McCoy jumps in and says terrible things about Spock's ears and/or blood and then demands that the crew SAVE those people, goddamn it, because he's a doctor and that's what you do.

This is one of those things that happens once an episode in The Original Series, and many, many times per episode once we get to The Next Generation, and I desperately wanted to get it into the game.

The rule behind it was easy: Any time something happens that triggers your personal code of ethics, positively or negatively, you get a Drama Point for it (Drama Points are those thingamajiggers in other games that allow you to spend them to alter reality, or improve your rolls, or whatever). If you get into an argument with another player and both of your personal codes fire (such as Your Needs of the Many versus their Still a Doctor, Goddamnit), you both get a Drama Point.

The implementation was much clunkier. Okay, so now we have this new mechanic, so there's this new spot on your character sheet where you list your characters basic ethics. Oh, but I need to have examples, so here's twenty ethical codes that a player can pick from, such as Honest, Compassionate, and all that, plus a brief description of what that means. Then there's the problem of whether or not players can take multiple ethical codes at once, because people are complex, and blaaaaahaaaahahaaa...

It was then that Bob Dunham, secret savior of all games, came swinging in on a vine and said (and this is paraphrased), "I think it would make more sense if you made all of character creation work like the personal code of ethics system works." Then he threw a smoke bomb and vanished. It was hella dramatic.

And thus (he said, in his best Cartoon Network announcer voice), the Traits System was born!

This required a couple of months of rewriting, in which I pulled out the old stats/skills system, along with the personal code of ethics system, and installed a brand spanking new thing that works a bit like this. Your character has X number of traits to start with. Some of those traits are determined by your character's species and occupation, but the others are ones that you get to pick. There's a short list in the book of example traits, but you can come up with pretty much any trait you can think of and add it to your sheet.

Since that all sounds terribly, terribly abstract, let me show you what it looks like in practice. Here's the first of the iconics: Janine Tarian, human security officer.

Species and Occupation Traits
Other Traits
Indomitable, Outside the Box, Warrior Species, Academy Training, Security
Alert to Danger, Cocky, Intimidating, Physically Fit, Weapons Training

One thing to note is that any trait listed in italics is a negative trait (usually), while any trait that's listed normally is a positive trait (usually). Positive traits usually help you, while negative traits usually hinder you, but, depending on the situation, they can flip. You never know what's going to happen.

The way the new version of the rules work is as follows: Any time you try to do something, you may list off any appropriate traits. You get one die for free (as described by one of my players as the, "I am a person doing a thing die"), plus one die for each trait you use. If Janine wanted to shoot someone with her rayser, she might pick Warrior Species, Academy Training, Security, and Weapons Training, giving her a total of 5 dice to roll.

In addition, any time Janine is in a situation where one of her traits forces her to do something or prevents her from doing something she wants to do, she gains a Drama Point. For instance, say she and a fellow officer are sneakily sneaking around a base somewhere when they spot a lone guard. The other officer might insist that they continue sneaking, but Janine is Cocky and knows that she can take this guy. So she steps out from around the corner and tries to hit him with a stun beam. Since that changed her plans, Janine gets a Drama Point.

Let's further say that the fellow officer has the Quite Discreet trait and wants to get through this base without attracting any attention at all. The officer and Janine might have a quick, whispered discussion right before Janine stands up and rayser blasts the guard. Since the fellow officer was trying really hard to be discreet and was trying to prevent Janine from doing anything cocky, they also get a Drama Point.

The nice thing about this system is that players don't just buy more points in a set number of skills. Instead, they get to increase the depth and breadth of their character's personality and knowledge through play. For instance, if your character got taken over by some kind of technological hive mind for a game or two, you might want to give him the Lover of Autonomy trait, or similar. Because traits are mostly picked by the player, and because every player and character is different, that means that no two Boldly Go characters will ever look exactly the same.

But that's more than enough of talking about why my game is awesome and great. Next post, I'll be going back to rolling up characters for other people's games.

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