Monday, November 10, 2014

Decentralized Power in Character Design part 4

Last post on this (probably) but I wanted to discuss how and why I dealt with this in Gaslamp Romance. The last problem with giving the PCs skilled NPC assets is the damage it can do to niche protection. Now of my players had picked Gaslamp Melodrama where all of them were potent sparks with resources angling to advance their agendas then I wouldn't worry about it since 90% of character differentiation in that is personality and the remaining 10% is edging out one another in skill rather than displaying clear niche dominance in them.

Instead we're in a game setting where niche dominance - this character is best known for X, this one for Y, and this one for Z  - which is the usual structure for an RPG. When you let PC A be best known for having a team of people who are experts in X, Y and Z it undercuts the other players - eve if they are individually better than player A's team it still deforms play at the table. I've seen this happen and it's not pretty.

Now, if those NPCs are experts in B, C, and D that's fine since it doesn't break into anyone else niche. But the solution I ended up with for Gaslamp Romance was that for the PCs the henchmen were skille in...whatever the PC is expert in. For example Nadia, who is a highly skilled spy and gunslinger, is able to quickly recruit other skilled spies and gunslingers. She can get allies to pitch in for a firefight or to help her gather information but she can't get a master chemist or airship engineer or something else and use is as a reliable part of her character's abilities. They help her be better at what she's already good at, which keeps her from overshadowing the other players.

(Note that she can have contacts with people with different skills, but they are totally GM controlled NPCs who can be inaccessible, distracted, unreliable and so on. That makes them so much less reliable that it's better to rely on the other PCs who have those skills.)

A second advantage to this design is it means I can combine it with the low granularity of the game mechanics to just use Nadia's stats for her recruited allies. There's a penalty applied based on the level of the quality being used to recruit so only the highest qualities will produce recruits on the PCs caliber, but there's an elegance to it. The player knows what the NPCs are capable of because they are both narratively and mechanically extensions of their PC.

Anton, the other PC with a decentralized quality, has a group of soldiers, none of whom are nearly as skilled as he is. But when all 6 of them act in concert they match him. In combat that this lets Antone attack one foe and have his men launch a volley against the other and effectively double his attacks. Or have his men in three groups of two to take 3 more actions at a larger penalty.This gives the player a lot of flexibility, especially outside combat where dice rolls don't matter - the men can scatter to collect their gear, buy supplies and contact transport and in very short order the PCs are ready to move without shilly shallying around on the little stuff. Yes, we likely would have elided over the little stuff in play with 'and then you do the little stuff, barely making your sailing time', but having Anton's PC, or an extension of it, do it for them makes him look more capable. And that's a good thing.