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Author Topic: Gifted: A contemporary Sci-Fi role playing game  (Read 981 times)
sprightx
Member

Posts: 5


« on: October 14, 2011, 08:34:28 AM »

Hello everyone, this is my first post on the Forge forums. I've been reading threads on game design for a bit but I've never posted myself until now. I'm writing because I'd like your feedback on a project I'm working on.

As the title of the post suggests the name of this project is 'Gifted'. Most of you probably have at least a vague idea of what the game is about just going on that. I'll elaborate:

Gifted is a sci-fi/mystery/horror game that has players immerse themselves in what I like to call 'The Backstage', the underside of our reality where conspiracies and all the other things we usually don't believe take place. The Backstage is not a physical location, rather it is a series of social settings and situations that permeate The Frontstage, our every day reality where everything "normal" and "real" exists. These two terms are inspired from the sociological concept of symbolic interactionism.

The idea is that characters will try to solve mysteries and fight evil and all that stuff while navigating the two levels of reality and trying to avoid them spilling over into each other. There is nothing metaphysical about this, it merely means that a character who has a wife and children has to avoid exposing them to the dangers of whatever he has stirred up in The Backstage, and vice-versa, not carry over his inhibitions into a world where things are much more than they seem.

Game outline:
  • Science-fiction, mystery, horror.
    Focused on investigation and interaction with some combat and action scenes.
    Takes place in contemporary world.
    Revolves around “evolved” humans which have developed a series of Gifts, essentially psychic powers.
    Highly socially interpretive and immersive.
    Meant to be played long term, in campaigns divided into multiple “chapters”, mimicking the development of a novel or a TV show.

What I wanted feedback on was not on the concept itself but on the 'system'. I still haven't completed it and I'm having some doubts on the main idea I've been working on.

I had thought of tying the concepts of Frontstage, Backstage and Breaching/Deviance into the rewards system. Skill and combat checks in the game would be made using a DX Keep system where bonus dice could be spent from the character's dice reserve. Characters could use any amount of bonus dice they chose on any given roll but they would have two separate reserves, one for their gifts and one for their skills. This means that characters would be able to have a high success ratio on very difficult tasks which would add dramatism and make the game more spectacular while at the same time introducing the factor of bonus dice management. The idea would be to reward players with extra bonus dice for them correctly 'interpreting' their roles in the 'Frontstage' and the 'Backstage'. Players who 'keep in character' would receive bonus dice, replenishing their stock at the end of the scene they did correctly. Likewise, deviant behavior would be punished by reducing or eliminating their potential rewards.

I've never played a system like this before but I find it very appealing and full of promise, however there are some very obvious limitations to it also. The main issues I can foresee are that if players are rewarded for keeping in character the game could end up being too intense, meaning too demanding of players who sometimes just want to relax and do some investigation or some fighting. Second, for the reward mechanic to work there has to be a compelling penalty, if this penalty is deviance it means that players that want to be successful must essentially be 'good', there would be no room for people to be 'bad', or comitt morally ambiguous actions, which I'm not really comfortable with myself because I tend to question moral orthodoxy in my own life.

I look forward to your feedback on this dilemma and any ideas or advice you're willing to share with me, thanks!

As required here's a link to an external document, there isn't much to read yet, just an outline of the Gifts so people can get a better idea of what the game is about: http://www.mediafire.com/?8yg7s0p9ynnlo6f
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sprightx
Member

Posts: 5


« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2011, 08:39:17 AM »

EDIT: Where it says Symbolic interactionism it should also say 'and dramaturgical theory'.

Sorry for doubleposting, I hadn't noticed that editing is turned off and I'm used to going over my posts and making little corrections once I've finished them. Not very smart, I know, but habits die hard.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2011, 03:30:35 PM »

Ok, the specific concerns you've expressed look a bit confused to me.  On the one hand you want to let players kick back and just gun down some mooks, and on the other hand you're building in penalties for bad behaviours, like say casually  gunning down some mooks.Yes?

So, don't do either.  There is no point designing for some sort of imaginary audience.  You aren't Hollywood, you don't have millions of $ worth of investors money riding on the kind of success which requires appealing to the lowest common denominator.  You can afford to write a game that some people will play wrong, but which the people who play it right will really get.  Don't fear intensity, and if intensity takes them into "bad" places then so be it. Maybe that means that people, say, only play the game in chunks rather than continuously... so what?  Almost all gaming groups will switch games in and out from time to time. Nor do you have any need to be "morally uplifting" or didactic in the manner of a children's cartoon that sees its duty as teaching right and wrong.  These are rods you are making for your own back.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
sprightx
Member

Posts: 5


« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2011, 04:02:56 AM »

Hi. Thanks for your feedback.

I probably didn't phrase my concerns with sufficient clarity. The problem is that I have a system concept which I find very appealing but I don't know how to implement it without the whole 'forcing people to be good' thing. I think the system won't be effective unless there is some sort of penalty but I don't want to put a cap on my players' behaviour. I want to use the mechanic somehow because it has a good feel to it, but I need to find a way to re-orient it so that players aren't forced to follow certain behavioral patterns. The Frontstage/Backstage/Deviance model I exposed was meant kind of as an example, it is the general idea I'm toying with now but I'm very aware of its limitations and that is why I posted here originally, to see if anyone could suggest potential tweaks or modifications which to me aren't apparent.

Essentially, would you be interested in playing a game that used a similar mechanic? Do you think it would make the gaming experience enjoyable? Again, it wouldn't have to be exactly as I described because of the limitations, but do you find the concept appealing in general and if so, how do you think it could be implemented more effectively?

Again, thanks for your input.

-Sam
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Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2011, 04:38:03 PM »

Hi sprightx,

Often an 'investigation' framework really revolves around something that is more like a book, ie, classic prerendered fiction, and as much as when one reads a book one travels through the fiction in reading/experiencing it, the investigation is the process of traveling through that fiction.

You don't want to limit character behaviour, but I think it's important to look at what you do want the players to do first. Is it something like that?
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happysmellyfish
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2011, 05:04:32 PM »

Yeah, I'm interested in the investigation part as well. How do you see that playing out? Have you got any ideas for that system?
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sprightx
Member

Posts: 5


« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2011, 03:26:56 AM »

Hi guys, thanks for your interest.

To be honest I hadn't thought of introducing a specific mechanic. I was thinking more in terms of having the GM develop adequate stories and simply role playing them but like you said, an investigative framework often develops like a book and is very linear. This can be fun if the story is really good but it can also be very limiting on the players' choices of action.

I've never played a game that included an investigation mechanic (does that even exist?) and it may be a possibility worth looking into. I remember reading a post that discussed a randomized content generation system, where certain concepts were assigned to numerical values and the story was generated by making a series of rolls and using the randomly selected concepts to generate parts of the universe. Could the same mechanism be applied to story generation?

We assign values from 1 to 6 in two columns to different terms that we could use to design a story, we roll dice, select the concepts and build the story around them.

FACTION // FOCUS
1 Government // Experimentation
2 Military // Corruption
3 Police // Murder/Assassination
4 Corporation // Espionage
5 Religious sect //Secret technology
6 Secret services // Armed intervention

Example: Gaming group X rolls story dice obtaining a 5 and a 3, Religious Sect and Murder/Assassination. They then roll for the subcategories and get a 1 and 6, Christian and High Profile (other options could be Muslim, Jewish, low profile, serial, etc.). The GM takes these 4 key concepts and weaves them together into 'A Christian fundamentalist religious sect kills a high profile target'. The GM then calls on a little memory and decides to incorporate elements from The Pelican Brief, making the story "A Christian religious sects kills a supreme court justice with the complicity of certain government elements who want to replace him for someone they deem more suitable". The GM then decides that the players' connection to this event could be that they happened to witness the killing by coincidence because it happened in broad daylight in a park where they were running, having a picnic, chatting with some friends, going on a date, etc.

Of course this is only an example. The real thing, if I were to to go with it, would have to have many more options and would include subcharts so that once a main concept was selected the gaming group could roll again to generate some of the details and the specifics of the story. This approach could make the story generation process more unpredictable and more dynamic for the players. There is one problem though, and it is that if the players know beforehand what they're going to be playing, even if they don't know any of the specifics, it would remove some of the suspense and the interest of making discoveries and uncovering things. Alternately, a similar system could be used throughout the game at critical 'junction points', moments when something dramatic that affects the storyline happens. Whenever one of these moments comes along the GM could ask the players to make a roll without telling them what the result means and use the numerical values to determine how the scene unfolds and what happens.

-Sam
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2011, 11:40:44 AM »

Quote
Essentially, would you be interested in playing a game that used a similar mechanic?

I'm afraid I don't really understand sufficiently to have an opinion.  As far as I can tell your mechanic is "the GM applies their judgement and awards bonuses or penalties".  There are lots of problems with that sort of approach, notably the fact that the players have little means of determining what will actually be rewarded or penalised, penalties removing control of the character ala Vampire's Humanity, etc.

Come to think of it, are you familiar with Pendragon?  This has paired traits that both influence the characters behaviour and represent that behaviour.  In this case, "violating" the character has causes it to decline and its mirror to rise, so this isn't really a bonus or penalty as such.
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http://www.arrestblair.org/

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2011, 02:19:13 PM »

sprightx

Just a couple of short ideas. It might be worth looking at universalis, simply to break out of the 'players play PC's and that's how they input into the game'. In universalis, everyone in the group uses the system to build the world and it's events. In your game, perhaps everyone could build the story? Do you need players playing PC's?

Second with your faction/focus chart, I'd suggest rolling twice on faction, then someone (or by some mechanism, the group) chooses which one to go with. Then the same, rolling twice, on the focus chart. It blends both randomness and choice together, instead of just having one or the other. Good luck with it all :)
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happysmellyfish
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2011, 02:37:38 PM »

Quote
To be honest I hadn't thought of introducing a specific mechanic. I was thinking more in terms of having the GM develop adequate stories and simply role playing them but like you said, an investigative framework often develops like a book and is very linear. This can be fun if the story is really good but it can also be very limiting on the players' choices of action.

Assuming you're talking about investigation/mystery, there are a bunch of interesting threads here on the Forge about that. Somebody else can probably direct you to the best ones, because I haven't delved too much into the vast backlog of closed forums. But, from my point of view, a good mystery game is a bit of a holy grail.

There's a game called Trail of Cthulhu which deals with one of the problems with investigative RPGs - what if PCs fail their skill check, and miss a clue? In ToC, the players can never fail to receive core clues. If they need it to solve the mystery, they automatically get it. If you're interested in that sort of thing, I'd recommend that game as a starting place.

Other issues are:
How can we prevent investigative games from being railroady?
Does it matter if they're railroady?
Does there need to be a predetermined mystery, or can it be generated in response to player choice?
Can the players be involved in forming the mystery?

In actual play, I have a feeling that mystery games end up chugging along just fine, and I think you could probably just leave it in the hands of individual GMs to sort out. But, as an exercise in game design, investigative RPGs seem tricky to really handle.
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sprightx
Member

Posts: 5


« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2011, 05:27:59 AM »

Thank you all for your excellent feedback and sorry for taking so long to answer.

Contracycle:

Again, I think I may have not explained myself well. My question should have been:

Do you think the general idea of a social rewards/penalties system is appealing from a potential player's perspective (as in do you find immersive social roleplaying gratifying enough to make it such a fundamental part of the game)? If the concept (not the system, as I haven't really decided how to implement it yet) does appeal to you, how do you think it could be implemented more effectively than the ideas I outlined which present many obvious flaws? I'm not looking for an opinion on the system itself as I still haven't really built it, what I'm looking for is how to do so in a way that would justify its use in the game and not exhibit all the flaws we discussed. I hope I've made myself understood more clearly this time.

Callan S:

I'm not familiar with universalis, I'll look into it as it sounds interesting.

Players could play PC's yet still feedback into the creation of their environment and the stories. It feels very unoriginal (which isn't necessarily a problem) but A Song of Ice and Fire's destiny points mechanism is a good example of a system that allows players to influence the story and events they participate in. While in ASoIaF destiny points can be spent in two ways and they can be used both to change the narrative and to modify rolls and their outcomes in Gifted maybe they could be restricted to influencing the story line. This, coupled with an extensive content generation system, would grant the players a high level of participation in the development of the story.

The previous point actually feeds into what happysmellyfish mentioned about Cthullu's clue system. Were the game to incorporate a resource that allowed players to influence the story it could possibly be used to purchase clues at critical moments. Players would have a low, fixed amount of said resource to spend on influencing the narrative or buying hints and this would allow them to obtain the information they needed to move the story forward. The issues I can see with such a system are that it might make the game 'easy', ie. players could not influence the story at all and just spend all their points buying clues, and that in the hands of a smart group of players such a resource could detract from the GM's control over the game, giving the players too much control. It is debatable whether this is good or bad although in a investigative game I'm inclined to think it is the latter.

The other point worth examining is whether a linear story is a problem. In theory a 'railroady' story can be just as enjoyable as one that grants players more freedom, but for it to be truly successful the GM has to be a VERY GOOD storyteller. For an experienced GM this isn't a problem, all of us who have run many campaigns have developed techniques and styles to make them enjoyable for our players, but for someone who isn't a charismatic storyteller it may be very difficult to make the game truly gripping, in which case the lack of freedom becomes a penalty and detracts from the overall quality of the experience. With greater player control part of the burden of making the story interesting is shifted off the GM but in a game that focuses on resolving mysteries giving control to the players kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing. Even if a player doesn't know the details of the story or who killed whom, just knowing the general topic makes it much easier to predict.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2011, 04:09:51 PM »

Well, that's the thing about an investigative structure - it's basically a railroad. If the story is that the butler did it, then the butler did it. The players don't get to influence that at all and if they are expected, in moment to moment play to keep attempting to find it out (rather than their characters go do something else with their lives), then play of course heads towards that predetermined end.

Personally I envision a kind of wide tube instead of a tight track. The players can richochet from side to side in the tube, encountering very different events as they move latterally in the tube, even go backwards sometimes (though an overall progression to the end is the idea) and the tube doesn't pinch into one outcome, but has a few outcomes (including failing the investigation - despite the fact that 99% of books and movies can't stand to have failure as an ending). Further, the outcomes might undergo de-emphasis and some act of the players might become 'the real story'. Like say they are trying to find the murderer, but at some point the players encounter an orphan and something about it makes them intense and they try and find a family or some better situation for the orphan. Now maybe at the end they find the butler did it, but that's ceased to be the big deal - instead an epilogue abou the orphan having a better postion in the world is the big deal ending. That becomes the climax of the story. As a GM you just learn to let go of the butlet thing as you feel the players build up some passion about something else (and then you try and work out some way of stiching it into the climax (that, or if you conclude it now, play ends now, never mind the butler)).

That structure seems to give some freedom, but like smacking a horse on the rump, gets the players bolting and out there. I think full on narrativism gives a much wider range of freedom, but it depends on whether you want to.
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