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Author Topic: [MADcorp/Misadventures in Nowhere] Time machine time  (Read 648 times)
Marshall Burns
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Posts: 573

American Wizard


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« on: December 23, 2010, 03:48:01 PM »

So, A) Ron and Paul are totally awesome for making early designs available, and B) my only early design  Misadventures from Nowhere is directly relevant to my current primary design project, MADcorp (as well as being the spore from which The Rustbelt eventually grew, which I can talk about also if you give me questions to answer). Therefore I'm takin' a trip in the time machine and asking you to come with me in an effort to get some stuff done with MADcorp.

TEXTUAL NOTE
Misadventures in Nowhere (or MaNw, as I idiosyncratically took to abbreviating it) never existed as any sort of proper book-like single document. What I had was a folder on my computer full of files, each containing rules about certain things and referencing each other like crazy, and then I had all of that printed out and placed in a paperboard folder for reference when I couldn't remember a rule. I plan on making all of this available as a (non-editable) wiki, so that the cross-referencing can be made palatable, but for now all I have is a collection of .files in a .zip that you can check out here.

In those files, you'll find stuff in red text: those are current-day annotations and comments, and were not originally part of the files. You'll also see text that has been struck-through: that's stuff that, despite being part of the text, didn't actually get used. There's also places where there's text missing. These aren't errors; they're the actual states of the files. I guess I never got around to typing it up (I mostly played from memory). Where I can still remember what was supposed to go there, I have amended the text in red.

As for MADcorp's text, you can get a slightly out-dated alpha version here: core rules, the employee handbooks, reference sheets. A newer version is forthcoming, pending some fixes.

HISTORICAL NOTE
I designed the first version of MaNw in 9th grade and played it with my brother, then completely overhauled it over the next year, then played the hell out of that version with various classmates until I graduated high school. In college, I further overhauled the game and renamed it The Rustbelt: an Adventure Simulation (we'll abreviate that R:AS to distinguish it from today's Rustbelt), and it went through an even more drastic change a few years ago, becoming (after alpha and ashcan stages) the Rustbelt of today.

All documentation for that earliest version has been lost, and the stuff that happened after high school isn't relevant to MADcorp excepting only that PCs were expected to be a team, albeit with potential (sometimes frequent) conflicts of interest or even the occasional turning-on-each-other. MaNw didn't usually work that way; it was usually every man for himself. So, despite the fact that R:AS made a lot of improvements on MaNw's design (particularly in terms of fixing broken math and eventually -- after first dramatically increasing it -- reducing handling time), I'm not here to talk about it (today) because it didn't feature the things that are relevant to MADcorp. MADcorp is pretty much grown from the stuff that sloughed off as MaNw mutated into the Rustbelt. You could say that it's the evil Gamist twin.

ANOTHER HISTORICAL NOTE
Here's where I was in terms of gaming context at the time:

The only published game I had played (aside from one session of Boot Hill at age 8) was Vampire. I only remember playing once, and I'm pretty sure we didn't actually use any rules from the book. I had read but not yet played Toon!. Other than that, all I played was stuff that my friends made, and also (once or twice apiece) a few games that I made.

The game I had played the most was by my friend Rowdy Small in junior high, and it was called "Q": the Great Gathering. It was ostensibly about a mystical race that had a diaspora centuries ago, but now they're regathering under the banner of a reincarnated "Q" Overlord, except they've grown so different from each other that now there's problems. In play, it was about our characters beating each other up. As I saw it at the time, the primary problem with this game was that, if you were going to play it that way (which was a fun prospect), it was totally broken. With MaNw, I wanted to make a game that could play that way and not be broken (which wasn't entirely successful, but enough for us to have consistent fun with it).

I (and the rest of my friends) had a vague idea of what RPGs were and how they worked, but we didn't have access to any aside from Vampire, so we pretty much winged it. I was sorta exposed to D&D by playing the "gold box" computer games from SSI that adapted D&D modules (I distinctly remember "Death Knights of Krynn" and "Pools of Radiance"). These were actually nigh-unplayable, but I can talk about that some other time; just let me say that the hopelessness of combat almost certainly influenced my drive and attempts to make non-hopeless (and more exciting) combat in MaNw, so MaNw could be considered an attempt to "fix" D&D insofar as that goes. We also were saturated with console games, including JRPGs such as Final Fantasy (not one of my favorites, then or now, though my players were into it) and SaGa Frontier (which was one of my favorites at the time), and I was a big fan of computer games like Zork, Wasteland, Fallout, and The Bard's Tale. I also played EverQuest, albeit not too terribly much because I could only play it when my dad wasn't. That stuff all probably had a bearing on stuff.

INTRODUCTION TO MANW
You'll probably notice that there's no introduction in the MaNw stuff. 'Cause it wasn't ever a book. So let me explain what you're looking at.

It's fantasy. The setting is called Nowhere, which was a universe shared between this game, Rowdy's "Q" game, and our friend Steven Morris' game nothing, as well as various stories, poems, and drawings we had all made. Our games all concerned different regions, and they all took on a character of their own: while Rowdy tended toward the more whimsical (my "Q" character could channel ice and lightning with deadly proficiency, yet was also a master of using folding chairs and cinder blocks in combat), Steven tended toward the dark and brooding, and I tended toward rust, steam, gunpowder, and rustic stuff.

Our touchstones for fantasy didn't line up with mainstream gaming that much. We all loved Tolkien, but we also loved Poe, Bradbury (especially Something Wicked This Way Comes), Tim Burton, spaghetti westerns, superhero comics, professional wrestling, and early 90s alternative rock, so all of that kindof found its way in there. We hadn't been exposed to Shadowrun or RIFTS, but I'm pretty sure we would've ate 'em up.

So, anyway. MaNw centers on "the Frontier," which is wild, lawless, broke-down, and weird in some ways that are familiar if you've read the Rustbelt (including but not limited to the Expanse). In the Frontier, you'll find castles alongside highways, and sword 'n sorcery alongside guns 'n cars, for no good reason other than I thought all of that was cool, so I wanted it all together. The understanding between players is that the PCs are ruthless mercenary/outlaw/adventurer types trying to get rich and (in)famous, and that there's a lot of overlap between those three categories (you might well be all three).

What we usually did in play was directly vie against each other for treasure and cash, including but not limited to racing to the treasure and/or murder-looting each other. Sometimes we teamed up -- for instance, none of us could take down a giant on our own (not even the character who was almost as strong as one), so we teamed up several times to hunt them for bounty. Most of us usually got killed on these sorts of jaunts, and of course the fewer survivors there were, the larger the shares, so there tended to be a certain amount of, "Oops, I guess I misjudged the radius on that Blaze spell there!" and such. (Although that particular trick backfired on me one time, causing me to to catch one of my own characters' corpses on fire, which nearly put him into a non-resurrectable state. Good times.) (Oh yeah, I should note -- we often ran multiple characters per player, and I also GMed and played at the same time.)

SO, ANYWAY
Ok, all that crap's there where you can peruse (read: hopelessly try to navigate) it. I'ma try to get us up to speed here.

What happened is, MaNw "matured" into R:AS, which was a much less adversarial, more mechanically sophisticated,  more "serious," and actually kinda less fun game. R:AS got overhauled into the Rustbelt, which is custom-adversarial, really mechanically sophisticated, actually serious, and super double fun. But I got to missing the ultra-violence, mercenary attitude, and grim humor of MaNw. Then I started getting into the OSR thing, and thinking, "Man, this format of play is really awesome, but I hate these settings, and I hate this math." Then I thought, "wait, I already have a setting that I love, and I can make math I like now, because designing the Rustbelt gave me super designer powers."

So, first order of business was, jettison all the D&D-fantasy crap. Goodbye races, clerics, druids, etc. In MaNw, I used to play a wizard that wore a fedora and carried a shotgun. That's what I liked. Fuck all this crap that I put in because "roleplaying games have this stuff."

Next fix was the classes. Most of MADcorp's classes were already in MaNw -- some even by the same name, like the Bruiser. But MaNw pretended to be class-based while actually being only skill-based. How to correct this? Easy: skills are just special things you can do that are associated with a class, not scores of their own. You make all rolls on your attributes. Which we don't need ten of here; HIT, SEE, THINK, MOVE, and ENDURE will do the job.

And fuck this magic system. I can do better than that now, so I did. And so on.

BUT THERE'S PROBLEMS

Problem #1: Getting Killed Isn't Fun
Getting killed in MaNw was a blast. The MADcorp testers haven't been enjoying dying. So, why is that?

Combat in the two games is equally deadly and brutal, with the same amount (and roughly the same probabilities) of death and dismemberment. Furthermore, it's a helluva lot faster and math-light in MADcorp. Chargen in MADcorp takes like a hundredth of the time that chargen took for MaNw. Multiple-PCs is recommended for MADcorp, just like we used to do it back in the day. So, what's the deal?

Here's something that occurs to me: in MADcorp, dead folks stay dead. There's no resurrection rules. In MaNw, there were. Specifically, when you bit it you could be resurrected at the morgue for a nominal (read: exorbitant) fee with this crazy mad-doctor serum. So you don't have to slog through that mess of files to try to find this specific thing, here's how it worked:

You had a Vitality score that was based on your Constitution. The average score was 15. When you got cacked, you lost an amount of Vitality, from 1 to 3 depending on how gruesome your death was. If your corpse suffered any further abuse (as with me accidentally setting one of my guys' corpses on fire), you lost 1 Vitality each time. And if you got left to rot for a while, your Vitality dropped by 1 per day. As long as you still had Vitality, you could be resurrected. If you hit zero, you were a hopeless case.

Now, in all the time we played, nobody ever hit zero Vitality. The closest was my guy that I set on fire, who got down to 3. Which produced a lot of tension. Sure, he was a totally bad-ass quickdraw, but he could still be killed. Hell, he once shot like ten bullets into Matt's character (the one that was almost as strong as a giant), who proceeded to survive and crush my guy with a bathtub. (It was ok, though, 'cause then Gary's guy collapsed the house and killed everyone -- although Matt's guy almost survived that too.)

So, I'm wondering: uhhh, maybe this should go back in? I ain't gonna call it Vitality, that's for damn sure. Either something grungy like Rotclock or something corporatey like Organic Integrity.

It also adds another potential tough choice: do we carry this dead dude who's, like, heavy, or do we carry more treasure?

Problem #2: Getting Maimed Isn't Fun
Again: getting maimed was a blast in MaNw, but people aren't enjoying it in MADcorp. I suspect this is probably linked to #1, because getting maimed is often the first step toward getting killed.

But part of the problem is probably also that maiming is a separate rail on the damage track. I can fix that.

Here's the underlying principle of damage in MaNw: you get hit, and you either suffer a minor wound that just edges you toward dropping from blood loss and shock, or you suffer a medium-serious wound that really edges you toward dropping and might also come with some moderate maiming, or you suffer a serious wound that might drop you right now and might also come with some serious maiming, or you get insta-killed.

So, if you look, MADcorp's already like that, with the exception of maiming, which is a separate deal rather than being a "sometimes, if you're unlucky" add-on to other wounds. It takes a lot less math to get there (which I'm proud of), but it's the same thing. So I should just make it more of the same thing, and make maiming a "sometimes, if you're unlucky" add-on to other wounds. Duh.

Problem #3: Tracking Equipment Condition Isn't Fun
Actually, this was a bitch in MaNw also, especially when running multiple characters, and we mostly ended up bagging it. I thought that MADcorp's system of Wear & Tear checkboxes would make it more palatable, but people still hate it.

But it has to go in. Equipment needs to break down so that folks occasionally have to resort to hitting each other with skillets and bricks. I just fucking like it when that happens, okay?

I may have hit on a solution for this one. Doing away with tracking durability points was a good step, but we can do away with the Wear & Tear boxes too, and just implement the whole thing of CRAP-breaks-down through the (quite fun, largely because it's stolen from Poison'd) Distant Threat mechanic. Actually, while we're at it, running out of gas/batteries/food/cigarettes could just be Distant Threats too. This idea sounds good, but it's gonna have to be tested.

Not a Problem, but the Time Machine's Got Me Thinkin' About It
Man oh man, I can't believe I forgot about the luck rules. We had so much damn fun with them.

Again, so you don't have to dig through the files for this one thing, here's how it worked:
Everyone has a Luck attribute, ranging from 1 to 100. When you fail any manner of roll, you have the option of trying to "luck out." If you choose to do so, you make a d100 roll against your Luck attribute. If this succeeds, you get to re-attempt your failed roll. The catch is, in doing this you get a "luck count" chalked up, which means that, at some point in the future, this is gonna happen: you make a successful roll when it really counts, but then the GM (or, more often as we did it, another player) says, "I'm calling in that luck count." The luck count gets scratched off, and you must now check your Luck again. If you succeed the Luck check, your successful roll stands, but if you fail, you have to re-roll it.

I'd like to do something like this in MADcorp. Now, I don't want to add any more attributes, so luck isn't going to be a property of the character. I haven't got the specifics worked out yet, but I'm thinking of a Luck Die where each face corresponds to certain luck outcomes, like "Good luck now, bad luck later" or "bad luck rightfuckin'now" or "Good luck without consequences" and so on. Basically, I'm thinking about the Skull Die from Steal Away Jordan, but with more than two possible outcomes.
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