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Author Topic: Self-Serving Eunuchs Go Hiking  (Read 9062 times)
mearls
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Posts: 46


« on: May 29, 2002, 01:41:43 PM »

I've been bouncing around an idea for a game and I thought I'd post it here to see if y'all can poke some holes in it.

Here are the basics:

Playstyle: Paranoia meets D&D. I like the treachery and backstabbing in Paranoia, but have always been a little frustrated by the limits imposed by the setting. So, this game is basically a stab at taking the inter-player conflicts of Paranoia into a game that allows progressive gains in power a la D&D.

Game Session: The typical game session progresses a bit like Paranoia. The characters are called together by the powers that be and are given an assignment. Once they complete that assignment, they are rewarded for their efforts (or punished for their incompetence). The powers that be are capricious and can change their demands at any time. Many of them actively seek to undermine the characters out of sense of spite or boredom.

During a game session, the players have to deal with situations on two levels. On one level, there's the problems the characters face some in-game obstacle, such as an ogre guarding a castle gate. On the other level, the players try to outdo one another in order to make their characters look good. The characters all seek to progress up the ranks, yet gaining glory and renown on a mission or quest is a zero sum game. If someone gains renown, someone else has to lose it.

The System: d20. It's balanced between characters, rewards player ingenuity, and has a fire and forget magic system that forces players to either use their spells in a clever way to get the most out of them or risk burning through the resource too quickly. You'll see why that's important when I discuss the setting:

The Setting: The game takes place in a dwindling, decadent empire ruled by a powerful lich archmage. The day to day labor of the city is carried out by mindless undead creatures driven by living overseers. The characters are eunuch wizards bound to the ruling council and charged with completing quests, special missions, and other sensitive tasks by the lich or his overseers. At one point, these were all very important missions to advance the empire's rule. Now that the lich rules the world, he's bored.

Very bored.

So he sends his servants out on bizarre, nonsensical, and sometimes suicidal missions. His favorite ploy is to dispatch multiple teams to complete some task. The first team to finish wins. The member of the team that played the best game, in the lich's opinion, is the only one who wins the competition's prize.

The eunuchs are all bound to the the lich. When they die, he can simply reincarnate them in new bodies. The only way a eunuch can gain more magical power is if the lich transfers energy to him. Thus, only eunuchs who please the lich can ever increase in power.

Most of the time, the eunuchs have one day to complete their task. Thus, choosing and using spells is a big part of the game. Furthermore, players can choose any spells available at their character's level. On one hand, it pays to work together as a team to choose a good spread of spells. On the other, it pays to have a few aces up your sleeve to surprise the other players.

Thoughts?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2002, 01:52:01 PM »

Hi Mike,

Hilarious. I love it already.

I guess what I don't get, right off anyway, is where the present inquiry lies. I mean, it's just about ready to fluff & serve, right? What elements of design remain that aren't pretty much just color?

Different types of wizards, different spells to choose from, that's easy.

Perhaps the player-group gets to make up certain aspects of the lich master? Much as in Nobilis, when the players make up their Imperator (who, similar to the Computer in Paranoia and to the Lich Lord in this game, really oughta get punched in the nose but never does).

Oh, here's one thing. I'm seeing two levels of "looking good" to worry about: against one another within a single team, which seems like fun to me; and against other teams entirely, which seems like less fun to me. Personal call ... or maybe it's worth considering why both levels are there.

Hmmm ... I guess I like the idea of the mission being nonsensical to the characters but at least making some sort of sense (if perhaps a bit off) to the players. Much as a Recon mission to Outside works in Paranoia.

Anyway, that's all that comes to mind at the moment. But if you wanna try it out at GenCon, let me know. When I'm not being all Narrativist, I live for this sort of thing.

Best,
Ron
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2002, 01:55:05 PM »

If this were a commercial d20 supp, I'd buy it immediately. Ron's right, you're pretty much done already. At least, the 10% inspiration part. Now you just package it up.
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hardcoremoose
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2002, 02:02:08 PM »

Mike,

I have to echo Ron's sentiments, in that the idea of competing teams doesn't do much for me.  There's already enough tension present in that the PCs have to make themselves look good and successfully finish the objective...anything more would be a distraction.

I'd buy this game in a heartbeat, and I know a few folks who'd love to play it with me.

- Scott
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2002, 02:06:20 PM »

Mike,

The idea rocks.

One question: how did you plan on quantifying who is the most impressive during a trial? Would it be GM-fiat (unlikely, in IMO, boring) or some sort of d20-graft-on system?

In addition, I'm guessing that characters can lose power as well as gain it, everything being zero-sum. It might be funny to start all characters at, say, 5th level, and then stand back and laugh as one goes to 7th, and another drops to 3rd.

(Wow - a setting in which levels make real sense. Double rock.)
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
joshua neff
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« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2002, 02:37:00 PM »

One more for the echoes. Some of my favorite gaming sessions in college were Paranoia games. Love it. But the mechanics can be a bit iffy. Doing a bizarre & outre d20 D&D-meets-Paranoia is brillaint, & it sounds like wicked fun. (& I also am less enthused by competing with another party than competing with other Players. Unless the other party is also a group of PCs--say, 8 people play, broken into 2 parties of 4 PCs. That would be hilarious.)
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
mearls
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Posts: 46


« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2002, 02:38:30 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

I guess what I don't get, right off anyway, is where the present inquiry lies. I mean, it's just about ready to fluff & serve, right? What elements of design remain that aren't pretty much just color?


Actually, you answer that one yourself with your questions that follow. Basically, I feel the basic concept is sound but it needs a good thrashing from someone's POV aside from my own. I came up with the idea today while working on a d20 book, it stuck with me through lunch, I gave it a good think while doing laundry, and was curious to see if there were any design considerations I missed. I'm throwing it out here to get some reactions to the concept.

Quote from: Ron Edwards

Perhaps the player-group gets to make up certain aspects of the lich master? Much as in Nobilis, when the players make up their Imperator (who, similar to the Computer in Paranoia and to the Lich Lord in this game, really oughta get punched in the nose but never does).


Interesting idea. One of the issues in the design lies in determining who looks good in the lich's eyes. Perhaps each player can secretly assign one or two traits to the lich. The in-game explanation is that their characters heard rumors about what the lich is amused by at the moment. For instance, the lich might want to see a eunuch burn to death since that hasn't happened in a while. On one level, the player knows to load up on fire spells. On a second level, the players know to watch out how others act in order to pick up clues to seize the stage. Obviously, whoever figures out the most sort of things the lich wants to see has a huge advantage.

Quote from: Ron Edwards

Oh, here's one thing. I'm seeing two levels of "looking good" to worry about: against one another within a single team, which seems like fun to me; and against other teams entirely, which seems like less fun to me. Personal call ... or maybe it's worth considering why both levels are there.


This is something I thought about for a bit. On one hand, I want the action to be very inter-player, but I think the two levels of competition play into one another in two facets.

First, the presence of other teams gives the players a reason to work together. Otherwise, the game could degenerate into a brawl between the characters. The presence of the other teams keeps the focus on winning the event. Without that step, there's no point in trying to impress the lich. Fine, your clever plan slaughtered the rest of the team, but now you can't catch up to that other group of eunuchs.

Second, it builds right into the basic scenario a lot of complications the GM can throw at the characters. The presence of the other team (or teams) is a handy excuse to throw non-PC driven traps, ambushes, and other encounters at the characters.
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mearls
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Posts: 46


« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2002, 02:45:53 PM »

Quote from: Clinton R Nixon
One question: how did you plan on quantifying who is the most impressive during a trial? Would it be GM-fiat (unlikely, in IMO, boring) or some sort of d20-graft-on system?


Ron just helped me flesh that one out. Agreed that GM-fiat would be dull, so I'm thinking of a system where each player knows one or two events the lich really wants to see happen. If you make those come to pass, you gain points. There would also be things built into the scenario. For instance, as in RUNE the character who delivers the final blow to a monster gets the credit for defeating it.

Quote from: Clinton R Nixon
In addition, I'm guessing that characters can lose power as well as gain it, everything being zero-sum. It might be funny to start all characters at, say, 5th level, and then stand back and laugh as one goes to 7th, and another drops to 3rd.

(Wow - a setting in which levels make real sense. Double rock.)


I'd like to have that in the game, but the problem lies in keeping this balanced if people want to use the same characters again. Otherwise, there's no point in messing around with levels up or down if the game is used exclusively for one shots. I'm thinking of building in a system of banes and boons that essentially give characters free feats or penalties based on their performance. But yes, only the winning character gains a level. Everyone else gets stuck with banes and boons.
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mearls
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2002, 02:49:08 PM »

Quote from: joshua neff
One more for the echoes. Some of my favorite gaming sessions in college were Paranoia games. Love it. But the mechanics can be a bit iffy. Doing a bizarre & outre d20 D&D-meets-Paranoia is brillaint, & it sounds like wicked fun. (& I also am less enthused by competing with another party than competing with other Players. Unless the other party is also a group of PCs--say, 8 people play, broken into 2 parties of 4 PCs. That would be hilarious.)


That's a pretty good idea, though I'm not sure if it's going to be a safe bet to assume a group can round up 8 players and 2 GMs. This could work very well as a con scenario, though. I definitely want to keep the other teams more as a tool to keep the PCs focussed on the goal and give them reasons to sometimes cooperate.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2002, 02:51:18 PM »

Quote from: mearls
Quote from: Clinton R Nixon
In addition, I'm guessing that characters can lose power as well as gain it, everything being zero-sum. It might be funny to start all characters at, say, 5th level, and then stand back and laugh as one goes to 7th, and another drops to 3rd.


I'd like to have that in the game, but the problem lies in keeping this balanced if people want to use the same characters again. Otherwise, there's no point in messing around with levels up or down if the game is used exclusively for one shots. I'm thinking of building in a system of banes and boons that essentially give characters free feats or penalties based on their performance. But yes, only the winning character gains a level. Everyone else gets stuck with banes and boons.


I don't think the shifting levels thing would be a huge balance problem - it just means PC's have to be craftier - a 2nd level guy down on his luck could easily set the 12th level guy on fire (or push him down a hole) or whatever if he's sneaky. But, with your current plan, here's an idea:

- Banes and boons are given within the party.
- Levels are given (and taken away) within party vs. party conflicts.

That way, you have two different sort of rewards and punishments, one for player vs. player conflict, and another for players vs other party conflict. (This might make sense in the game world, too - each overseer gets more or less powerful as his team wins or fails.)
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Buddha Nature
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Posts: 94


« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2002, 06:03:08 PM »

Lich rumors...

Why don't you take a page from SOAP and Bedlam:  Have everyone write down two or three "rumors" they have heard about the Lich on slips of paper.  Then they put them in a hat, mix them around, and then choose one or two.  If they happen to pull it off (and survive I'd bet) they would get Lich kudos.

-Shane

Addendum: Maybe you should also (as GM) draw out one or two "public" rumors - so that they can have another way to get kudos from the lich, but its not secret so people will have to be en garde...
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mearls
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Posts: 46


« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2002, 08:26:32 PM »

Shane: Interesting idea for player generated rumors. I'd have to playtest it, but it could work well. Another twist to it would be to count the rumors that don't get dealt out as things that anger the lich or bore him.

Clinton: I've been thinking over idea of breaking up the rewards... it makes sense, and gives people a good reason to work together. It'll be important to balance that with the rewards for coming in first within the group to make sure the players are at each other's throats. The alternative is to give out a base XP reward for winning the event, then extra awards and boons/banes for the order of finishing within the group.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #12 on: May 29, 2002, 09:17:56 PM »

I had an idea sort of like Shane's. Each Player would write down one thing about the lich on a slip of paper--"He wants to see a priest burn" or "He wants a bronze cauldron filled with unicorn blood" or whatever. The slips of paper are all turned in to the GM. Now each Player knows one way to curry favor with the lich & has to figure out what the other ways are & scheme to curry more favor than the other PCs.

And I agree, the 2 teams competing would really only work at a convention (or similar large gathering of gamers).
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Buddha Nature
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« Reply #13 on: May 29, 2002, 09:34:43 PM »

Not to say any idea is better, but one of the built in bonuses of the suggestion that I made was that the player already knew a possible way to get kudos (because he wrote 2 or 3) in addition to the one he picked, so to get kudos he could:

A) Go for the one he picked

B) Go for one of the ones he wrote

C) Try and figure out some other way

D) Go with one of the "public" ones...

Just some thoughts...

-Shane
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Evan Waters
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Posts: 40


« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2002, 12:51:21 AM »

If I could make one change, perhaps I wouldn't have the PCs be eunuchs- sex and the potential of having it is a classic motivator for characters doing stupid things. This doesn't have to be a major element ("The lich says for you to steal the crown jewels from Castle Anthrax!") but just having that possibility for more... mature groups can add possibilities.
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