Sunday, March 12, 2017

Concepts in sandbox play

So, in continuance of some of my earlier thoughts about sandbox play and how it relates to character progression, I've been slowly coming up with ideas for a very simple tabletop FRPG that is based on the idea of little-to-no appreciable improvement from "experience."  Let me discuss some of my initial thoughts.

Strategic advantages

One advantage of having a game like that with very human-scale characters is that you can take advantage of certain assumptions to simplify the game mechanics.  For instance, I don't have to worry about things being highly scalable.  Everything can be muted down to a similar level of power, where special abilities allow you to specialize, but don't end up abusing verisimilitude and game balance in the long term.

This means I don't have to provide really big ranges for power levels.  Things don't have to be super-granular.  This immediately calls a certain mechanic to my mind, one which I have enjoyed greatly in practice: the skill system for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  What occurs to me is that, lacking character progression, character abilities and character skills can be much the same thing.

Wait, that's not how reflections work...

Skills in Lamentations

Let me explain that a bit better.  I'll start with the LotFP skill system.  In that game, there's a limited set of (adventuring) skills, and all characters are assumed to have a default skill level of one.  Only the Specialist class (sort of a rogue) can increase these skill levels.  This is in fact the primary value of the class: each experience level, they gain two skill levels.

To resolve a situation where a character is using one of these fairly technical skills, the player rolls 1D6.  On a roll equal or lower than the skill level, the character succeeds.  Otherwise, it's a failure.  If the skill level is six (the maximum), then a roll of six requires another die roll, which results in failure only if it also comes up with a six.  That's pretty much it.

I'll just borrow some of these game mechanics...

So how can I adapt this concept?

First off, we'll give characters abilities that range from one to five.  For a lot of standard tasks, these are resolved just like skills in LotFP; e.g. a character jumping over a treacherous gorge might have to roll 1D6 equal or under Agility.

Of course, we need to get a teensy bit more complicated.  First of all, if a character is performing a task that requires a skill, then he rolls at -2 if he lacks the skill, or the normal ability level if he has it.  Second, we'll simulate difficulty by rolling multiple dice, keeping the lowest roll for easier tasks and the highest for harder ones.  Anything more difficult than -2 (i.e. roll three dice and take the lowest) is impossible, and anything easier than +2 (i.e. roll three dice and take the highest) is automatically successful.

If the final roll (after accounting for difficulty) is six, then roll again.  If that roll is also a six, then the endeavor is a critical failure, meaning that the result is especially bad, and it fails even if the character's ability is greater than five.  Likewise with roll of one, a subsequent roll of one signifies a critical success, which is really great, and succeeds despite ability levels of zero or less.

In addition, for ability values outside the one-to-five range, additional levels can translate into reduced or increased difficulty (i.e. dice).  Also, characters will have vocations, which gives them a difficulty reduction for related skills, which they can also learn faster.  And a character can master one skill at a time, raising it past his ability level by one.

That pretty much covers all human activity

What does this cover?

A lot!  These core mechanics are very simple, and can be used for saving throws, feats of strength/agility/etc., normal use of skills, or whatever.  With an FRPG, though, there are a few subsystems that need to build on top of this core mechanic.  I'm thinking three in particular: combat, magic and damage/fatigue.

Also, I'm still not sure if/how to handle opposed endeavors.  Part of me likes the idea of having the players make all rolls, which means that opposition is rated more in terms of difficulty dice than an ability.  This leads to questions about how to handle player-vs.-player conflict, which always happens at some point (if only due to ensorcellment and the occasional picked pocket between friends).  So those are up in the air.

Another way to go about is to resolve opposed tests by having each party roll a die and add the ability level, high roll winning.  This is more scalable for scores that are greater and less than zero, fortunately.  The downside of this is that it begs the question of why we would have a different system for opposed and unopposed tests.

Save vs. head flowers

Ideas about damage

I'm thinking of expanding the idea of hit points into something broader like risk points or excellence points...something that can be spent as a buffer against damage, and maybe even more broadly.  It could even be a stand-in for experience points, as something that increases over time.

Once any sort of defensive buffer points are worn down, I'm thinking that damage directly reduces ability levels.  I haven't worked out the details of this, but I want to differentiate between ability reduction due to damage and reduction due to fatigue.

"It's easier for them to see my hand than this torch!"

Ideas about combat

My default approach would be to go with something similar to what I do in Empress.  Initiative can be counted downwards in order, and the difficulty of the attack roll is based on the difficulty in hurting the defender; thus, both evasiveness and armor come into play.

The things I'm unsure about here mainly have to do with my open questions for how to handle opposed task resolution.  After all, combat is one of those situations where most activities are going to be opposed by someone else. Also, as noted above, I'm not sure exactly how to handle hit points, and that's going to be pretty important for the combat system.


Ideas about magic

I've been thinking about an approach to spells that drops spell levels.  Instead, the spell power scales with the caster's ability to cast that spell, which, in the case of this game, is going to depend on the governing ability.

In terms of different types of spellcasters and the practice of PC mages, I like what I've been doing in Empress.  That means Sorcerers are the more academic types of magicians and mystics cover pretty much everything else.  The cost of sorcery is generally just tremendous amounts of time, although a Sorcerer is able to use prepared staves and amulets to store spells for later release. 

Mystics spend their physical stamina and life force to make things happen.  They also develop marks from their practice, that can range from codes of behavior to demonic mutations, depending on the type of mysticism.

-1,000,000 XP

Character progression

The main form of character progression in this system would be the ability to learn new skills.  In general, it simply takes a certain amount of game time to raise these up, and once they reach professional level, they pretty much plateau.  A character can also choose to master a certain skill or take on a vocation, but he can only have one of each of these at a time.

That's all, folks

That's all I have, for now.  I suspect that hashing out how to handle opposed checks and resolving that with the intended unopposed mechanic will be crucial to getting something more concrete.

Open question: what should I call this?

Thoughts?  Feelings?  Sensations?

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