Looney Labs Icehouse Mailing list Archive

Re: [Icehouse] Re: Icehouse RPG

  • FromBrian Campbell <lambda@xxxxxxx>
  • DateTue, 6 Mar 2007 16:28:43 -0500
This email has diverged somewhat from talking about your game in particular, to talking about my views on RPG design, so you shouldn't take every comment as referring specifically to your game. Some of this is just stuff I've been wanting to say about RPG design for a while. Some of it is about your game, but more just brainstorming ideas than actually trying to propose how it should be.

On Mar 6, 2007, at 1:33 PM, David Artman wrote:

So anyway, I am sticking with generic for now. Only if I somehow get
inspired to make a setting-specific game (maybe by pondering
"pyramidness") will I shift it away from the skeleton of conflict
resolution with a universal system. Plus, I am letting color inspire
and inform my ability choices--as such, I might not be able to have
color inform some other element, if I move to a highly setting- specific system; I will have already chosen what seems "appropriate" or "logical"
for a given color.

Fair enough. If what you want is to construct a generic system, go for it. I just thought I'd suggest a slightly different route.

For example, in what you have so far, you have a whole variety
of different movement abilities. This is great if you want a
heavily combat-driven miniatures style roleplaying game...

Well, yeah, if all you consider is the initial four or five abilities I
had time to type into the table, as "seeds" for brainstorming then,
yeah, you'd assume (wrongly) that its all about crunchy maneuvering and combat. But suppose I'd already included the 14 to 16 social and mental
abilities? You might think (wrongly) that it's all about diplomacy and
role playing, with very little crunchiness in combat or chases.

Hmm. My point is more that any relatively limited sets of traits like this doesn't really make for a truly generic system; it makes for something more like "yet another GURPS." I have since read more of your rules, and realize that your game is more distinctive than I had thought, but still, with only a three types of traits, and one of them based entirely on movement during combat (so I assume at least some of the others will be for other combat abilities), it means there will be a lot of stuff the game can't cover because so much is focused on combat.

For instance, say I want to do a highly political steampunk game, where people are trying to control or get funding from major research institutes and manufacturing companies, steal each other's ideas to come up with the most brilliant inventions, all while investigating some mysterious anomalies of nature. Now, I could fit this into a standard "universal" system, with "espionage" and "creative spark" type abilities, and using the generic system's "wealth" attribute to represent your resources, and so on. But I think it would be much more interesting to design the system much more in line with what are critical for the particular genre and type of interactions I want. Maybe have a finite supply (or a supply that can be replenished) of "ideas" that can be spent on inventions, and some sort of political capital system in the relevant organizations that people can trade or do interesting things with. Sure, I could add all of that to the universal system, but then I'm using the actual rules of the universal system for very little.

While I can appreciate your preferences, I am designing for my and my
play group's preferences.

And that's fine by me; I'm just offering my suggestions (and, in this email, ranting about some general issues in RPG design that don't have much to do with your game).

Perhaps you'd be better off contributing to
this narrativist RPG:

Nah, I'm not fond of pure narrativism either. At a certain point, you just start doing collaborative storytelling, perhaps with an element of Ouija board thrown in, rather than actually playing a game.

I am, clearly, developing a gamist system; likewise, I am letting the
pieces tell me what they should be--I do not feel I am doing the "it's
GURPS, but with pyramids" thing Joshua suggested in another post.

But you seem to like narrativist (or simulationist, from the In Nomina
references) games more than gamist games. But gamist or not, my "RPG"
is still a role-playing game.

I would say that I am both a narrativist and gamist, and find simulation can be useful for increasing immersion and suspension of disbelief.

I should qualify what I say about being both a narrativist and a gamist, since I feel that a lot of people equate gamism with min/ maxing, tactical combat, and so on. That's one type of gamism, but not the only type. I find that game elements that work well with the narrative and setting can be a lot more interesting, and can lead to much more interesting narratives than the simpler "we're all telling a cooperative story" type mechanics that people usually think of when someone says narrativist.

For a specific example, I'll use a one-shot LARP I was in. Every character had several goals they were trying to accomplish; some of the goals were in conflict with each other, some were in harmony, and they frequently focused activity on certain areas or items that became focal points of the game. The action resolution method was simple, fairly universal, and fairly abstract, without crunchy tactical combat, and min/maxing was obviously not an issue because characters were pre-generated by the GMs. I would argue, though that the game aspect had a huge, positive impact on the narrative, because the diplomacy, trading, scheming, backstabbing and so on drove the story. The game aspect was all "in character", but it was very gamey, in a Diplomacy sort of way.

This is only one way in which the Game and Narrative can be tightly tied together. There's no reason why they can't be in harmony in a tactical combat style game, either, or a political steampunk intrigue, or whatever. For another example of a game that I've read about that sounds like it has a fascinating game structure that helps drive the narrative, there's Alter Egos <http:// wiki.playagaingames.com/tiki-index.php?page=Alter+Egos>, the LARP that Jacob Davenport ran that involved each player actually playing one aspect of a single character's personality; so there would be a player each for each characters Id, Ego, and Superego, and they'd have to vote on what the character actually did in a given situation.

Anyhow, I hope I've convinced you that gamism is more than min/maxing and combat (and if you already knew that, sorry for spending so much time explaining it; it's one of my pet peeves, that some narrativists dismiss gamism without realizing how rich it can be, and how well it can work with, not against, narrativism, and how some gamists dismiss narrativism as all being a bunch of cooperative storytelling with no real game).

Maybe you could offer some suggestions as to how to make the game
"pyramidy" or otherwise embed it deeply into a setting? Should it be a
game about sentient pyramids on Mars, competing and negotiating for
world (galactic?) domination? Suppose I say that's what it is... and
STILL end up making the same system? Have I stopped being "generic"; or
have I shown with my first example, that a generic system can be used
for nearly any setting and situation (assuming you are playing
characters in situations, not doing a storytelling or mass combat
strategy game)?

I don't necessarily feel that you have to embed the game deeply into a particular setting, just that there should be something a little less generic about the game in some dimension. Keep it genre- independent, but make it really focus on the tactical combat, if that's what you want to emphasize. Or focus on a political structure. Or a magic system. Or an economic system. Or simulating cinematic drama. Or two or more of the above.

As I said, feel free to design whatever you want to play; I'm just trying to suggest more possibilities that you might like.

As for making it more pyramidy... well, when I think of pyramids, I think of mystical forces, alien technologies, ancient civilizations, and so on. If you wanted some sort of genre to focus on, I'd take one of those, or something similar. I think part of the reason why Gnostica works so well for me, thematically, is that it's a well done magical combat system, and the pyramids just feel like something magical or mystical to begin with.

Also, I am not going to reduce the game to something like a street
fighter/Jedi duels thing.

Most of the suggestions I made were just throwaway suggestions; just an example to show what I meant, not an actual suggestion.

Regarding use of pyramids in the system, maybe some kind of "pitch
pieces and see how they aim" resolution system is more germane to the
use of pyramids than my "roll a d4--a pyramidal die, by the way--and
add to your pip count for that ability"? I dunno--you got any ideas?

Hmm. Some ideas, off the cuff: use pointing (allow some pieces to be stacked and some to be pointing at the stack or other pointing pieces) to indicate something (maybe possessions? body stance? social or political possessions?). Use trading or gaining/losing of pyramids to represent actual transactions that might be able to take place in game (magical energy/mana, spell components, economic system, technological goods), rather than the current system you've sketched out which allows pyramids to be added/removed but for things that seem a little more fundamental like skills and abilities.

If you're going to use dice, d4s are clearly a good idea, and you're already using the color and stacking of the pyramids pretty well.

Thanks for taking a look, at least. My co-designer and I intend to flesh
it out fairly fully, in the next few days/weeks. Perhaps once you see
the whole system in place, it will seem more interesting to you as an
RPG. But if you simply don't play tactically crunchy RPGs, then I doubt
you'll find it to be up your alley.

No problem. I've taken a slightly more detailed look now (before, I had basically just read your characters section through the abilities table), and it does look more different than the other universal systems I mentioned than I thought at first glance. My initial reaction was mostly to the idea of generic systems in general, which I've found deliver less than they promise, and to the character abilities table, which didn't look like it fit well into most of the situations I would want a roleplaying system for.

It's true that tactical, crunchy RPGs are not quite my thing, so I may not be the right person to help out with this, but I'll try and offer what advice I can. Once your game is fleshed out a bit more I'll have a better idea of what you're intending the whole game to be like, and will be able to make more specific suggestions.

OK, I hope this post clarified more than it muddled (given how long it is and how many times I edited it, it might be a bit disjointed).

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