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Author Topic: [Nevercast] - Truth through Mastery  (Read 4330 times)
Ar Kayon
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« on: December 17, 2010, 08:35:30 PM »

“The world was destroyed without dropping a single bomb.

It's been centuries since the cataclysmic economic collapse, and the world still has not recovered.  It may never recover.  As strip malls, cubicles, and consumer culture were erased from the minds of men, so too was the mentality that perpetuated these standards of living.  Our daily struggles were no longer that of paying bills.  We no longer stressed about the holidays.  No longer do we fret about our weight, or our cars or lawns. 

Today, our struggles are against annihilation.

There is still water to drink.  Medicine still keeps up with disease.  But there are things our predecessors left underneath the sand that have the power to reshape everything around us.  In our lifetimes, we will create a new singularity: a point in time where all of our endeavors and discoveries will converge and remove the need to restore the old model; a holistic future where we embrace technology and have limitless resources, and yet a place where we will walk in our primordial skin.

Unfortunately, we will have to kill each other for it.

This is the era of the Nevercast.”

- Meh Kada, Discourses of the Final Age of Man


Aesthetic
Nevercast is intended to be a cyberpunk game without the “punk” element, i.e. style-over-substance or dystopian corporation-run setting.  Therefore, it would be more accurate to say it is a post-modern science fiction.  In order to steer play towards the direction of discovery and adventure without delving into the realm of fantasy, I’ve decided to remove elements of familiarity (e.g. “As strip malls, cubicles, and consumer culture were erased from the minds of men, so too was the mentality that perpetuated these standards of living.”).  Discovery and adventure are further enhanced by focusing in on a particular region of the setting, the Des Xiac nations, a dangerous cultural plexus where experimental pre-Nevercast technology is hidden (much of it is literally underneath the sand).


Major Setting Concepts
- The Nevercast: refers to the systematic collapse of world powers due to widespread interdependence and economic calamity.
- Racial, ethnic, ideological and political strife in Des Xi creates an extremely tense and unstable atmosphere.
- Way of life parallels the Wild West; anything-goes firefights.
- Pre-Nevercast technology: hyper-advanced schemata, materials, programs, and scientific theories that did not reach maturity by the time the Nevercast occurred.
- Technology cults and the bizarre “Outworlder” culture.
- Post-modern dungeon crawling; labyrinthine subterranean research complexes.


Player Roles
Both player-characters and non-player characters typically coalesce into bands of technology hunters, although this is not a forced aspect of play.  Player roles, however, are designed particularly to make that aspect extremely dynamic.
Of particular importance to players is the fact that your character is expected to die.  Thus, an emergent design concept will be utilized - the creation process will be swift and simple, and your character will gradually develop in complexity as you play.

- Role for the power-gamer archetype*: Master of Martial Arts - a native Des Xiac or Outworlder who has dedicated their life to attaining truth through mastery, a concept known as “Te Kayon Din”.  They are typically associated with technology cults. 

- Role for the tactician archetype: Soldier / Mercenary - a special operations veteran.  Since the Des Xiac nations are relatively lawless (especially in what is called the Vanaq Ir region), these characters have a great deal of freedom to engage their opposition or otherwise accomplish their tasks.

- Role for the dungeon-crawler archetype: Technology Hunter - a euphemism for a typically unscrupulous opportunist who steals technology.  Technology cults frequently use these freelancers to engage in proxy wars with other cults in order to disavow their own participation.

- Role #1 for the role-player archetype: Mastermind - specializes in systems and security.  They have the ability to compromise neural networks, hence their moniker.

- Role #2 for the role-player archetype: Emissary - a silver-tongued social engineer.  Granted with various legal powers and immunities, they are used as either antagonists or sympathizers (sometimes both) to the various power sects within the region.

*When I say “role for x archetype”, I mean that I’ve designed player roles to be compatible with arbitrary player types that I’ve observed in actual play and in discourse.  I’ve categorized these archetypes for the sole purpose of focusing my design efforts to appeal to a varied range of players.  No player role is compelled to act in accordance with these archetypical gaming patterns, whatever they may be.  Furthermore, subdivisions of each role will be available to expand the range of supported play styles.


Core Mechanic
Resolution utilizes the Graduated Dice Method.  The system is composed of dice ranks (notation for dice rank: DR 1, DR 2, etc.).  Each rank has a corresponding dice roll. 
Example 1:
DR 5 - 1d12
DR 4 - 1d10
DR 3 - 1d8
DR 2 - 1d6
DR 1 - 1d4
DR 0 - 1d4-1
To achieve a success, you must roll a 1 (critical), 2 (moderate) or 3 (minor).  Therefore, a lower dice rank is more desirable.  To determine your dice rank, start at a pre-defined base (most conflicts use DR 3 as a base).  Then, compare a relevant skill level vs. the opposing number or skill.  For every point of skill you have above your opposition’s, lower your dice rank by 1.  For every point you have lower than your opposition’s, raise your dice rank by 1.
Example 2:
The base is DR 3.  You have a skill of 4.  Your opponent has a skill of 2.  Since your skill is greater by 2 points, you subtract 2 from the base to get DR 1 (1d4) for the conflict.  Your opponent adds 2 to the base to get DR 5 (1d12) for the conflict.  Since you must roll within the range of 1-3, this translates to a 75% rate of success for you and 25% rate of success for your opponent.
An opposing roll is only made for an opposing action made against the initial action (e.g. you assault someone who fights back).  Against a non-opposing subject (e.g. you shoot at someone running for cover), you merely use the skill level (or difficulty) of the opposition as a means of determining your success roll.
Modifiers also affect your dice rank, but they are always applied after the skill comparison is made.


Links
1. Technology
2. General Setting Information
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2010, 11:10:54 AM »

Hiya,

Can you provide some leadership regarding the discussion? Right now, what I mainly see here and in the links is a big draft for a game text. What would you like to discuss? "General impressions," "any holes," isn't enough - at this point, since you have a clear vision for your setting and apparently a fair amount of the mechanics ... what do you want from posting about it in this forum?

Best, Ron
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Ar Kayon
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Posts: 438


« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2010, 12:00:31 PM »

I have a few things I am looking for specifically.  The responses to these questions will directly influence my mechanics work.

1. If you were to play this game, what player role would you most likely choose and why?
2. How do you feel about a game that expects your character to die, but gives you the opportunity to swiftly create a new one?

Naturally, any inquiries on actual mechanics would be welcome, as it would make no sense for me to dump all of that information into a thread all at once; all inquiries are welcome, including criticism.  I particularly would like a few ideas on how to model hacking in an rpg, as it pertains heavily to one of the player roles.  I did a wiki search on the subject, watched the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, heh heh...still don't get it.  Any help on the subject would be appreciated.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2010, 02:13:36 PM »

It kind of comes to my mind now that perhaps games which are not gamist should give up the terms 'success' & 'failure', and simply have two results to resolution, which aren't defined by success and failure, but by simply being very different from each other. I mean in real life, you don't 'suceed' or 'fail' with a bullet hitting someone. Physics simply happen. The universe is indifferent - simulationist worlds where you can 'succeed' at the very level of physics and yet are not for gamist play, are quite odd.

In terms of your question #1, I'd ask what would I be playing for? A gamist, play to win something or other type game? You might say "Well you could play it that way", but if it's not actually designed for it - well, for myself I've done enough trying to push gamist square shaped peg through a simulationist round shaped hole, so "could play it that way" isn't enough, it needs to be specialised toward G (or I dunno, maybe alot of gamist inclined people out there are still keen to push the square peg through the round hole).

In terms of #2, again, what would someone be playing the game for? Let's say character death is a negative to some degree. If the game delivers a certain fun, then that negative subtracts from the fun. But that can be okay - it can be like bitterness in beer. Gives it an adult edge, instead of being another sugery drink.

But right now your just talking the bitters/negative/character death. I don't know what fun it'd subtract from?
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Ar Kayon
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Posts: 438


« Reply #4 on: December 18, 2010, 04:10:20 PM »

Callan,

#1.  Nevercast is designed to suit a simulationist agenda; the point is to be immersed in the setting and explore it.  In my opinion, "play-to-win" as the concept for mortal combat is a reliable simulation. 

#2.  You are on the mark.  When I design systems to suit the simulationist agenda, I firmly believe that the overall level of fun attained through total suspension of disbelief is greater than the amount of fun that is lost when a player is temporarily taken out of the game.   
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2010, 01:37:51 AM »

In terms of #1, the "play-to-win" your thinking about would be a reliable simulation. Because your thinking about a simulation of play-to-win, not actually the transgressive, shortest path taking play to win.

If this games just for your group, cool. But if it's for others, I'd strongly suggest putting in some text to explain this...my preference would be to actually say it's simulating play to win on the characters part, not actually about playing to win on the players part. In saying that I'm mostly thinking of people trying to play it with clashing agendas, and along with that having interpersonal clashes which could be avoided. I'm simulating a bleeding heart... ;)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2010, 06:47:40 AM »

Callan, you're jacking the thread. The topics for discussion were listed. It's OK to bring up concerns like what "winning" may mean, but not to gnaw at them while ignoring the stated topics.

Best, Ron
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Chris_Chinn
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2010, 09:43:37 AM »

Hi Ar Kayon,

Quote
1. If you were to play this game, what player role would you most likely choose and why?
2. How do you feel about a game that expects your character to die, but gives you the opportunity to swiftly create a new one?

1.  I'd have to really see how the roles actually work within the game, and possibly try them out in play.  The general descriptions you've provided doesn't give me enough meaningful information to really make any choices on.

2.  I've played a lot of games that do just that, either expecting character death by odds (Basic D&D, Tunnels & Trolls, Paranoia) or by design in story arc mechanics (Bliss Stage, Agon, Hero's Banner etc.) - in the second case you mean "expect to die" as a part of play, not just in the short term expectation.

For me, death by odds is less fun if there's little/no choices I can make to affect those odds.  Death by design games have generally designed such things very well, and nearly all of them are entertaining, though in different ways.  Agon's serves to cap people from statically holding at top tiers of power, Bliss Stage's serves as a timer to resolve major campaign aspects, and Hero's Banner makes it an end point of a story before tying into your new character's story. 

Checking out reports of games that use either method might be more fruitful than polling folks on how they feel about it.

Chris
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Ar Kayon
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Posts: 438


« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2010, 12:57:12 PM »

Chris,

I'm nowhere near playtesting, so the best I can do is provide more detailed descriptions.  The general setting information link can provide more background context on the subject.  I’ll present two of the roles for right now, and churn out the rest in later posts.

Soldier
The soldier role is typically a foreign services agent from the Urs Prime Republic in the north (for the sake of constructing a baseline, this is the main function of the soldier role, although the GM also has the freedom to design other functions; the player may also transition their character into a mercenary role).  The majority of them operate in the Vanaq Ir region of Des Xi: a hostile desert that has been taken over by Outworlder technology cults.  Since Vanaq Ir is a hotbed of hidden weapons tech, it is extremely important to the Republic that the area be stabilized.  Unfortunately, Urs Prime could not afford to engage in direct conflict with the well-funded and well-armed cults, so all forces were withdrawn except for the specialized units.

As a foreign services agent, your job is to build a team, blend in, and help de-militarize the known weapons tech zones.  You may find yourself working alongside an Emissary: a diplomat whose job it is to forge possible relationships with cults, usually by offering legal freedoms and protections or by providing assistance in removing opposing factions.

Deadliness Factor:
This role wields the legal power to forcefully evict unauthorized occupation of tech zones as well as dismantle the facilities of non-compliant technology cults.  Since this course of action is nearly inevitable, the soldier role has a moderate rate of death.

Skills:
The soldier role has the greatest range of weapons knowledge, and is the best at tactically coordinating a team during direct conflict.  He almost invariably surpasses his enemies in these skills, and remains calm and confident while employing them.


Master of Martial Arts
This role is based on a very old Outworlder religious tradition.  According to this tradition, the aspiring exponent dedicates his life to attaining ultimate reality through mastery of his skills, body, and mind.  Upon developing mastery of a particular discipline, the exponent enters a drug-induced meditational trance where he converses with the Ancestors of Nature.  The ancestor he speaks with will gauge his spirit, and determine whether or not he is ready to wield the Sword of Beauty.  If the exponent is ready, the ancestor will send him on his medicine walk: a journey intended to pare away the dead weight of one’s mind and spirit.  On these journeys, it is not uncommon for an exponent to travel alongside mercenaries or technology hunters, as moral or ethical gray areas are rarely a concern for him (learning from one’s spiritual follies is part of the journey).

When the Master of Martial Arts is part of a group of technology hunters, he typically acts as the muscle of the operation (offense, division, and intimidation).  Since many operations can occur inside old research facilities with poor lighting, the Master can be particularly effective.  Although coordinated with the group as a whole, the Master tends to act as an individual unit rather than within a squad like mercenaries.

Deadliness Factor:
For the Master of Martial Arts in particular, it is essential that the exponent become intimate with the Nature of violence and death.  Therefore, if the player wants to complete the character’s medicine walk, the character will invariably engage in deadly encounters.  The Master of Martial Arts role is expected to have a high rate of death.

Skills:
In this case, “martial arts” refer to many methods of personal combat: pugilism, grappling, close-quarters weapons, and firearms.  The master may also be highly proficient in stealth and acrobatic abilities.  As the exponent’s practices profoundly affect his strength, timing, and reflexes, this role has no equal in close-quarters combat.  Like the soldier/mercenary role, he does not falter in the face of direct conflict.
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Chris_Chinn
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« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2010, 01:25:41 PM »

Hi Ar Kayon,

What is the -actual- information you're trying to get in asking people which role they would take?  And how will you use that info with what you're designing?

Right now, it's a poll question and any feedback you're going to get from folks is going to be guesses in the dark as opposed to specific or useful thoughts about play.  It sounds like you have some general design ideas about how those roles should work, but without the mechanics, no one can actually say if those roles fulfill that or not.

It sounds like it might be too early in your design to get useful feedback on this, until things are more developed.

Chris
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Ar Kayon
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Posts: 438


« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2010, 05:22:51 PM »

I'll provide the detailed descriptions of the roles, and all I want to know is what role, if any, appeals to you - that's it.  It would be counterproductive for me to completely flesh out a role, mechanics and all, only to find out that others don't find it interesting. 

Now, if what you are looking for is mechanics information, I need to know the specific context of your inquiry.  Please refrain from conjectures and remain objective; refine your questions down, and I'll do my best to give you a refined answer.  Nevercast is based on a system that has been through some heavy development already, so I probably have an answer for what you need to know.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2010, 05:47:11 PM »

Hey guys,

Let's take the stated questions at face value. Never mind the whys and whatnots.

1. If you check out the document and if one or another character type appeals to you, say so. This isn't any different from what you do when you read any RPG text anyway. I think it will turn into the foundation for a discussion and not merely be a poll.

2. The question about death is phrased in a troublesome way concerning how people "feel," but I think we can productively talk about times when character death did in fact play a fun role in particular games and did not constitute a "bang stop playing" point for the player. 3:16 and Tunnels & Trolls come instantly to my mind, for instance. If you've experienced such times, then weigh in.

3. If neither of the above applies to you, then let others post, please.

Best, Ron
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2010, 01:45:30 AM »

Favored role would hands down be the Emissary, but I would be warily of actually playing one, its a bad habit from being burned to often in the past by similar character types. In a game when so much combat is floating around, I find that social characters, though I'm drawn to them, tend to be overshadowed.

The Mastermind looks pretty sweet at first, and then I realized that I have no idea what they would do in play or how.

In reality, I would opt for the Soldier unless they were already over-represented in the party, because Martial Artist characters seem cheesy to me,(not the way your doing them, but my feelings about martial arts in RPG's in general) I don't know what one does with a Mastermind and the Emissary would probably be forced into the "supporting character" role, which can be cool sometimes, but I prefer to feel like a fellow protagonist than a sidekick.

Death sucks and would disappoint me unless:
1) I got to choose when I actually died so that it happened while doing something cool and heroic.
2) Something about what character did while alive would have an immediate impact on what was going on with each subsequent character.

That was written out of a lot of RPG pessimism/realism. I'm skeptical about character archetypes that are focused on such different fields of play and about "fun" character death because that's my RPG baggage. I would love to see the game make me feel safe enough to leave this baggage behind and to embrace the game as written.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2010, 07:51:34 AM »

Hello,

"Ask Ron a question and he'll point you to a thread." Here, two questions, hence, two threads ...

Part One
I'd like to play the Master of Martial Arts if my experience of play really would include some sort of attainment of truth, for that character. If that phrasing is merely a bit of rhetoric that the character gets to parrot, and the real point is simply to kick ass as much and as hard as possible, then I'm not interested. This is effectively the hard line between incompatible gamer-interpretations of Jedi or samura characters. I would be very interested in whether and how your game rewards and expresses seeking and attaining truth, for these characters. If it doesn't, then I suggest that all your Force or honor or truth rhetoric is merely a mask, perhaps to trick your kill'em-all friends into playing in a tolerable manner. In my experience, that doesn't work.

The Soldier / Mercenary, Technology Hunter, and Mastermind all appear to me to be uninteresting door-opener, orc-killing, utility devices.

The Emissary would be fun to play if and only if his or her activities generated genuine consequences in the local setting of play. I would have no interest in merely posturing about in scenes which have no function except to set up future fight scenes.

I think you might be interested in my breakdown of how characters are categorized in The class issue. This thread cleared a lot of air at the time. What you're calling "player role" appears to be my #3 and #4 in my little scheme, and it strikes me that you might be seeking #2 instead, which #3 and #4 cannot do. But I'll hold off on that until you check out the thread, if you want to.

I would also like to stress that my enjoyment of play is not limited to myself and my character. My enjoyment is strongly affected by how other people at the table play their characters. If I have to share the table with some snorting, torture-happy moron who gets to play his hard-bitten uber-cool Merc, who is indistinguishable from every other Merc and indeed every other character this person has played, then I'm not happy. So it's not merely a matter of finding a game which includes a particular character role or class for me - it's even more a matter of being able to stand any of the available classes/roles being played.

Part Two
I've played a hell of a lot of games whose rules make character death fun. It may be disadvantageous, or a "local loss," or it may not, but it doesn't preclude me continuing to play, nor does it devalue the character who met his or her end. I listed some of these games, and the relevant techniques and modes of fictional death, in Interview with Vincent and me; see specifically Marshall Burns' post concerning character death on page 3 and my response.

The short answer to your question is that I love and welcome character death as a feature of play insofar as it's fun. For it to be fun ...

1. I have to be able to keep playing. There are lots of ways to do this, but in the case of your game, I think I might like to have a couple of characters already made up, such that when one falls, another can be brought in. (And to do this well, not "stepping out from behind the corner" to join the same fight, but rather, entering the scenario from an entirely different angle.)

2. My character cannot simply have been a potato chip. Even if he only lasts half a session, he should get a monologue first. ("Gee, as soon as this mission's over, my retirement comes through. Boy, am I looking foward to that cabin by the lake ...")

3. The death should be the kind of death that works in this setting, in this situation, and in this kind of story. If bullets are dangerous and feared by PC and NPC alike, then a bullet can kill my guy. If bullets are dramatic Color serving mainly as mood music and a means to dispose of nameless mooks, then a bullet shouldn't kill my guy. Sudden death is OK as long as it plays some consequential role in what's going on.

Conclusion
What interests me most about your setting and game in general is the strong thematic critique of many aspects of our very own society. Effectively, you're saying, "What we are doing right here and now," and I do not mean the fictional characters, I'm talking about really right here and now, "is fucked up and will come to grief." What's more, instead of providing hope through allowing humanity to start all over again (as with many science fiction disaster stories), hope is only available through

There's a tension between motifs that strikes me as interesting material for play. It's probably familiar to most people reading this through films like Princess Mononuke, but can also be found throughout science fiction and fantasy ... it's love/hate for technology. No one exemplifies this more than the Jedi, who wear homespun, look and talk like hippies, meditate, and are endlessly preaching withdrawal from technology ... yet wield fucking bzzz-bzzz glowy techno-swords! Dude! (makes light-sabre noises, jumps around) When this tension is ignored, as in most of the Star Wars material, then the topic becomes asinine. When it's treated more seriously yet stumbles in its own contradictions, as in Princess Mononuke, it is at least exciting if not coherent. When it's genuinely raised as an issue, and thrown to a system of authorship allowing for protagonism and consequences, well, maybe there's a chance to make a story which is compelling, exciting, and thought-provoking.

I don't know if that's what you're after. The detail and care of your setting work suggests that you might be. It'd be a shame if you castrated that vision and interest by truckling to some vision of "real" or "average" role-players who cannot be trusted to enter into those topics the same way you do.

If that's not what you're after, and if everything I've written here seems weird or left-field to you, then your setting work is mere costumery for standard Shadowrun or D&D play. In that case, then all that matters about the roles you've presented is whether they are effective and have a chance for survival, and all that matters about character death is whether it sets the player "back" in terms of bragging rights or tactical enjoyment.

Best, Ron
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Chris_Chinn
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« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2010, 09:36:28 AM »

Hi Ar Kayon,

Sorry for derailing the thread!

As I mentioned, a lot of these are specific to how they actually interact, so I'll put forth this all provisionally:

The Martial Artist could be a lot of fun, if there's actual choices to be made in combat that have tactical significance.  This doesn't necessarily equate to crunchy rules, though- for example, GURPS Martial Arts rules are often crunchy, AND often result in characters who only use 1 or 2 moves all the time because those are the optimal ones- which isn't interesting.  The crunchiest rules which I've seen make for fun tactical play would be Burning Wheel, while simpler along the spectrum includes Riddle of Steel, the martial arts rules from Sex & Sorcery, or the rules in Usagi Yojimbo.    There has to be some element of actual choice and strategy.

That said, you mentioned highest rate of death for these guys.  Is that due to the number of combats or are they built weak, or do they do the D&D wizard thing where they start weak and become awesome later?   Those issues could also impact how fun they'd be to play.

Soldier/Merc could also be fun, but again, this depends on how the tactics rules work.  If it's widgy "hand out some bonuses" or worse yet, "Strategy skill" with no actual rules for it to interface with, it would be the kind of thing I'd avoid.  If it actually has tactical rules, like say, D&D4E or Burning Empires, then there's some interesting play to be had.

Tertiary, I'd be interested in the Mastermind or Emissary, again, depending if there's some actual interesting mechanics that work with them.  The Tech hunter doesn't appeal to me at all, but that's my personal taste of dungeon crawling and traps.

A major pitfall to avoid is what I call the Shadowrun Hacker problem- where players are left twiddling their thumbs while a single player or two players get deep into a subgame of mechanics only their characters can do, and then, during the rest of the game, those players are left twiddling their thumbs.

Which ties into the death question as well - as Ron notes above, you don't want to be left out of play for long if you do have death, and, characters need some meat to make death meaningful - otherwise it comes close to being like Paranoia's clones - merely meta-hitpoints to play. 

If your game rewards via character advancement, you may want to look at what that means in long term play, since, as you note, some characters have longer life expectancies than others- it means some characters will end up entrenched at higher ability than others... and also that players will invest differently depending on character type.

Chris
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