Another Day, Another Crisis

Started by JeffR, April 07, 2012, 08:36:15 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


Initial Thoughts

So, after deciding to abandon my first idea as "something I wouldn't find particularly fun"  (A psychological game of madness and loss that would probably have been called "Diogenses in Bedlam"), I think that I'm going to go for the 'obvious' superhero interpretation of some (or all) of the fixed ingredients.  (I might go with all four right there, but if I can make my game funny I can get one of my threads in and at least two others have some ideas that might end up being applicable to the design.)

Anyow, I'm looking to play with the ideas of retcons, reboots, and revisions; the idea that the hero's core concept is going to stay the same, but almost anything may be subject to change.  And I've been wanting to trying something along the lines of Dominion-style deckbuilding as an RPG mechanic for a while [your deck is your 'character sheet'] for a while; this may be an opportunity to actually try it. Probably with the added dimension of being able to write on the cards at least some of the time when they come up.

Not sure yet about number of players and GMfulness.  (Could go for one-on-one, could go for multiple players and assigning most GM duties to another deck of cards.)  Pretty sure I want a multi-act structure centered around multiple end-of-the-world unverse-rebooting events...

May or may not go meta- enough to have 'readership' as a tracked statistic, will see.



Really excited about the retcons & reboots. I had a game where we manually joked about that a little, a game of super crew - to be clear, that system doesn't incorporate either of those at all, we just mixed a little in manually.

Also totally stoked about the Dominion-style. Yeah!
sure of ourselves, aren't we?


Second Thoughts

Okay, at his point I'm leaning very trongly towards one-on-one, at least as the default paradigm.  (With multiple players and no GM I'd be too tempted to go competitive, and the danger is too great of moving further away from rpgs and toward boardgame than I want to go.  Besdies, the source material fits better with single-hero as the default.)

But the GM role will be strongly constrained by the card mechanics.   (But also empowered by them. I've always thought that supers as a genre really requires some extraordinary levels of GM power to emulate lots of the stories, and this should let me do that sort of thing.)

So, your basic cards that the mechanics will be built on will be in four 'suits': Violence, Motion, Wits, and Gimmicks.   The character decks will be some permutation of these, plus a few special cards (Origin Flashback will be in every deck.  Earned adversity cards will be here too.)  I'll probably have a handful of starting dck archtypes in this version of the game, and leave balancing a points-build custom hero for a post-GC draft.

Card names bouncing around: Everything you Know is Wrong, Hated and Feared, Power Loss, Somebody Dies!, Power Surge, A World you Never Made, and, of course, The End of the World.


Thinking Out Loud
Okay, the next thing to do is to figure out how the mechanics work.  And particularly how to make them strong enough to drive a story while not making them so strong as to take over for the story.  [Part of the GM's role, I think, is going to be to actively stop the game from turning into a card game rather than an RPG.  Since the GM's role in a pure card game would be minimal and probably not too much fun, he should be adequately incentivized here.]

The ideas I'm working with right now: the player starts out with a 12-card deck, shuffles it, and draws 4 cards into his hand.  The GM is doing roughly the same thing with a different deck; the numbers may vary more here.  And we probably have a third type of cards to represent villains (or other challenges, like natural disasters or crime waves and such; let's call the whole type of card Threats), with three or four of them face up at any given time.

If the player has any Adversity cards (These get added during play, and each deck starts with at least one), he gives them to the GM and draws replacements.

The player then picks one of the Threats and tries to beat it.  The Threats will have a number of total strength, and probably weaknesses or resistances to some of the four elements [Violence, Gimmicks, Wits, and Motion], and the player will pick some of the cards from the hand and play them. I think, though, that I need a non-deterministic resolution to this, probably involving some rolling of dice.  The fight gets role-played, and this is where the GM will play cards, and if the player has cards left they might get played to counter them.

Afterwards, either the Threat is beaten (and replaced with a new one for the next round) or it isn't, in which case it stays there.  Also, the player will get to upgrade one of the cards used into a Signature Move, and might end up picking up a new piece of Adversity as well.  I'll need to try and figure out a way to either avoid out of control upward or downward power spirals here, or else use them to trigger reboot events before they reach a boring/unfun level.  (Player Adversity goes back into the player's discard here, too)

Other floating ideas: special combo cards matched to the starting deck's Adversity cards that go in the GM deck and make things happen if the GM has that and the matching one from the player's deck at the same time.  The two Cosmic-level villains of the setting, both too powerful to confront directly, are Coyote [a Mr. Myxtlplk-like trickster who does strange transformations and reality-bending tricks when he shows up] and Doctor Diogenes, [whose Lantern of Truth will probably retcon everything you ever were away]


So, mocked up some cards, wrote up the basic archetype starting deck contents, and started a glossary since this sort of game needs to be able to shorthand mechanics on cards effectively.  I'll have a go at writing a draft of the actual rules, and try to write up some of the GM-side cards (which I'm calling Drama cards right now, for lack of a better term) next.  (Come to think of it, I really would like to come up with a game-specifc term for 'GM' too, although nothing I've come up with so far seems any good.)

The rules are continuing to shape up in my head, too.  The Ability cards give you one die to roll (this is all d6s), and get upgraded to give two dice instead, and that total gets compared to the Threat card's Rating.  If it's more, you beat the threat and get to upgrade one of the cards you used.  If you didn't beat it, you put a token on it, and you get to add five to your next roll against that threat. so you eventually can beat the major threats.  (This may only apply to villains, since it makes less sense for some of the Disasters and Events).  Gaining additional adversity is something that will happen related to the GM cards, I think.

I'll have to see how tight I can make my rules text while keeping it sufficiently clear, since that will pretty much dictate how many unique cards will fit under the wordcount limit...

I also need an ending of some sort, although that can always be based on a deck running out or a card that gets shuffled into a deck the second time through, I guess.


Counting Cards[\b]

Came up with the reboot mechanic and how it's main trigger works, so I think that the rules are ready for a first draft.  Also thinking about card budget.  I figure that the actual cards should be the same model as my mockups at this stage; printouts pasted to standard playing cards.  So that means that the natural numbers of cards are multiples of 52.  104 turns out to not be enough, so that means 156.  That divides up as 52 Threat cards, 52 Hero Cards (32 abilities+the origin card+19 adversity cards), and 52 Drama cards.  Luckily for the wordcount, the abilities and Drama aren't going to be unique.

So, time to write that first draft, and see if I can clearly get down the rules in some fairly short, clear text.

As far as the ending, well, I've decided that I'll work the theme in again and not give one.  It is the Never-ending Battle we're talking about here.  (And provide the insufficently-committed to saving Edge City and it's citizens options of playing for a fixed amount of time or number of reboots...)


Okay, finished the initial rules draft, which I've gone ahead and posted up at Hopefully, if anyone looks at it, it will get the idea across, although without the cards it's less than completely useful.  1400 words.  Not horrible.  Now to write 109 more cards to wrap up the set and have a real first draft of the whole game.  (And I already know they're be more than a few duplicate cards in that set, so at least there's that.)

I'll probably end up vaguely apologetic about word count in my designer's notes, since even counting the final total is going to be difficult.  I certainly wouldn't expect reviewers to read ever line of every card in any case, any more than I'd expect someone setting out to play to read more than a few cards other than those that actually come up in a game...


Well, I finished the first draft of the cards, which can be found at  A lot of duplicates in the Adversity and Drama categories, so there's plenty of room if I come up with some late ideas that have to go in.  And more than a few uninspired Threats that could be replaced if I think of better ones.

Next step is to make a full set of mockups and run through the rules solo a few times to find out how far off my numbers are from a balanced experience


Finished my mockups and learned that I'm not so good at math: I've got 53 Hero cards and 54 Drama cards.  Well, there's always jokers...
(I may end up blanking out three of the duplicates in those decks, especially if any seem obviously too impactful in play to come up that often.


Okay, the first couple of solos were pretty rough on my heros.  I've made three major changes that should help them out, though.
First, I expanded the token mechanic to give two tokens if you beat 1/2 of the Threat's base rating.  This came from noticing that it wasn't too fun for rolls of almost enough to do the same thing as rolls that were practically nothing.
Second, I toned all the combat cards down significantly, to where they add 2, 5, and 7 to Threats instead of 5,10,and 15.
And Third, I changed the Director to only have one card rather than two each turn, which also reduced complexity in play a bit.

Right now I'm leaning toward the second Bad Luck, the third Coyote's Prank, and the second Origin Retcon as the cards that get cut to get to 52*3.  (Which will also end up letting me lose a full page of cards in the file.

I'll try some more soloing to make sure that I haven't gone too far in the other direction, and then do the designers notes and whatever rules layout is going to happen.  (I intend to submit Friday evening at this point.)


Went ahead and wrote the Designers Notes and cleaned up the rules a bit.  At this point I've got ~1550 words of rules that I'm fairly happy with; I think that any further balancing will be done on the card-side.

Posted at, in two files.  (Wrangling them into a single file, which really ought to be easier than it is, will be the last thing I do before submitting.)

I'd love any feedback anyone else has at this point


And submitted.

Only a few rules tweaks between the previous draft and the final one, the biggest one being to give the Hero one more run through the deck and having Reboot hit after Threat Level 5 rather than on reaching it.  My experience suggest that should make the first set of threats managable most of the time.  Other than that, a bit of word-shaving (changing "weak to X" to "weakness:x" and it's ilk made the biggest difference) and toning down of Drama and Adversity cards, and giving the three type of Drama cards unique colored banners.


Moving Forward

So, for the first time in one of these I'm strongly inclined to write a post-contest revision of the game.  This is because I felt the word-count limit hard, at multiple levels, and because I've gotten a lot of good feedback so far, some of which points me toward places I was already looking to go, and others sending me in entirely new directions.  So, here's what I think I want to do.

First, I need to get my cards into something easier to edit and otherwise manipulate than the OO Draw file they currently reside in.  I'm taking a close look at nanDECK right now.

Second, I agree with one of the reviewers that the 'write on the cards' business needs to go.  I really liked that as a way to have the player define the powers and moves of a hero during play, but it's a little awkward, especially as the standard way to make the cards moves from 'paste-onto-playing-cards' to 'stick them in sleeves with old CCG cards'.  So the next version will need a bunch of new cards, for upgraded abilities.  I'll probably add in some level three upgraded abilities, which will all be "2 dice + do something positive" in style.

This change in paradigm will also involve re-thinking how many of each type of card there should be; I'm not really sure what the ultimate counts are going to look like.

The rules themselves probably don't need any immediate changes, although the presentation can be clarified, expanded, and supplemented with examples, and with stronger support for the Roleplaying side [with some solid instructions on scene framing and narration rights] (again, now that I'm free of the wordcount restriction).  Most of the changes are going to be in the cards.  [I still don't think that I've gotten the combat cards right, to the point where 'hold a card back from the attack or not' is an interesting decision for the player.]

So at some point I will have a significantly upgraded version of the game coming out.   There is, though, a limit to how far I can take the game.  A 'final'/publishable version of this game would almost certainly involve lots and lots of original art, and I'm no artist nor could I easily imagine affording even a fraction of what it would take to purchase rights to that amount of art.  So, barring the divine provenance of an artist partner/co-creator, that next version (and possibly a round or so of playtest-based tweaks thereto) will be as far as I can see this going.