Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mechanics in the Abstract

One of the game mechanics changes I made for this round of Gaslamp Romance was making some of the rules even more abstract. Not Life Points and the like, but resources, connections and allies.

For a long time there was a strong tendency in game mechanics to make concrete anything that had a real world analog, and this usually included money and connections. D&D doesn't have this problem because cash is so key a part of the game system but in other games where your character can start with greater than normal resources you need some mechanism for adjudicating that and all too often the system gets really granular - the PC has an income of X dollars a month that you have to track expenditures and monthly income. it's too much of a pain, and the sort of pain that really never appears in the source fiction. Even in Buffy (the origin of my spine rules set) the characters reversals in fortunes are plot drivers (what does Cordelia do when she's poor? what does Buffy do when she has to support the household) rather than exercises in math. The BtVS rulebook however has the usual 10 incomes levels and monthly appx income.

The first system I saw get away from this was the way ahead of its time Marvel Super Heroes. The first edition had rules where you got your Rank # in income per week and had to trakc that for purchases. The second edition abstracted it completely - if Tony Stark has an Incredible wealth then it's a die roll against the cost of the object to see if he can buy it, just as if he were pitting his Incredible strength against a great weight. It's completely of a piece with the rest of the system, and does away with all that irritating bookkeeping.

For this game we abstracted even more - with her Resources and Connections quality Nadia is able to access caches of equipment when she goes to new places that lets her refill her wallet, get new clothes and identity papers and pick up more generic define as needed spytech. With his even higher Resources quality Jahn is able to just buy/have stuff that you would expect a really rich person to be able to buy/have. it's really simple.

Allies and henchmen have a slightly different mechanic, but work as part of their qualities as well. Nadia's contact network give her a +2 on any information gather roll if she has the time and ability to make contact with people. She can also quickly recruit someone to act for her, using her stats for any rolls but at a penalty. Neither Rachel nor I have to have stats set up for NPCs and figure out who she gets and who rolls for them - she is able to recruit a henchman and make all the rolls with her stats at -5. Her henchmen aren't great, but another set of hands (and vehicle for her inserting herself and her drama points into the scene) is nothing to sneeze at. Jahn can likewise purchase henchmen, and add his Wealth quality to any interaction where he can throw cash at the problem.

Finally Lt. Adler's men also work with his stats, but at a -3 penality (he has a higher quality) and that penalty drops the more men he has doing the same thing - Adler as a heroic sort is equal to all 6 of he men combined, but having them launch a volley at a foe functionally gives him a second attack.

So far it's working.