Sunday, April 4, 2021

Platesting: Negotiation System -- 1st Test

 I haven’t been posting here much! I’ve been busy with a RPG-related project that isn’t quite relevant to the topic of this blog, but I do still do occasional pen and paper work. Updates here will probably be infrequent (but not never) for a while.


Covid has been tough for playtesting, but I did finally get a chance to try out my negotiation system in a live game. I’ve actually also been using the other systems posted here in the same game, but given the slightly unusual nature of the game (it’s a single player Deep Carbon Observatory run with a player not especially interested in combat) I don’t have too many thoughts on those yet.


What’s Working

  • Overall, it feels pretty good! Every time I’ve used it, we’ve consistently created outcomes that are way more complex and interesting than either what I would have gotten out of a single roll or a simple ruling

  • The math works out way better than I was expecting. Players can usually get one concession safely out of a receptive audience, but have to play clever to get additional advantages


What’s Iffy

  • The scene-setting and starting rolls (Patience and Stubbornness) have bad pacing. The fact that the GM rolls both means there’s a lot of behind-the-screen bookkeeping while the players don’t have much to do.

    • Making one of the two belong to/be handled by the player seems like a good idea

    • Maybe even merging the two into one concept somehow. Both the players and the NPC have “NP”--”Negotation Points” and the side whose NP runs out first ‘loses’ the negotiation?

    • Also, maybe these shouldn’t be rolled--it creates a fair bit of busywork at the negotiation’s start. Maybe it’d be better to just have both be a number between 1-20 and just provide guidance on how to set the number intelligently?

  • While the concepts all make sense in my head, I don’t have a good spiel to explain the system to players yet. Patience and Stubbornness don’t have the self-explanatory nature that something like “HP” does to the average player.

  • Patience is a little abstract to judge, as well. Right now it’s this abstract mix of, like--how much does the NPC like you/how much leverage do you have/how tense is the current situation. I need a better way of framing it that makes it easier to make judgement calls on.

    • AP Example: The player is trying to convince a newt-man to put off massacring a settlement of humans they’re at war with for a few days while the player tries to broker a peace or something. They’ve been travelling with the newt for a while, but also the newt has been somewhat cynically manipulating them into acting as free mercenaries. I opted to give them 3 dice of Patience, but it felt ambiguous

  • The back and forth is a little floppy, I’m noticing. Right now the player makes an argument, then the NPC makes a demand, then the player answers the demand. It’s a weird ABA,ABA,ABA pattern that feels a little stilted (the player makes their answer than their next argument back to back). Figuring out a little ritual to put between the two beats feels like it’d make things run more smoothly.

  • Things can get a little hazy when the player makes un-asked-for concessions when answering a NPC demand. Does that count as a gift, and if so am I both rolling to reduce Patience and also add to it? Or should I just treat that as a response so strong to the request that I don’t even reduce Patience that round?

  • Semi-related, it seems fairly common for the player’s goal to evolve fluidly throughout the negotiation, as the discussion leads them to think through new aspects of the situation. I wonder if the players shouldn’t be reducing Stubbornness through their arguments, but should rather just be gaining Leverage or some other currency that they can spend on concessions mid-play.

  • The moment of reducing the NPC’s Stubbornness to 0 is a little awkward. Reducing them to 0 feels like it should be an instant ‘defeat’ moment, instead of letting them make one more Request before giving in. If I do that, though, then does that mean that the player gets to take two turns in a row if they make additional demands? It all just feels a little awkward

  • I’m also finding that it’s fairly common to find a deal that’s appealing to all parties involved before the negotiation is fully over. Like, the players will offer a gift/concession so appealing that it feels unrealistic to keep haggling--I’m finding that it feels pretty okay to just go “oh yeah, if you give them that they’ll just concede” and smoothly end the negotiation.

    • AP Example: In the above negotiation, the player offered to take the newt into the dungeon to find weapons to more fully obliterate their enemies. This felt like a good enough deal that I just ended the negotiation early


Overall, I’m really happy with how the mechanic is working so far. There are some definite rough spots, but I’ll just keep iterating on it until it works the way I want.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Rough Drafts: Character Sheet for an Organization

Alexandre Cabanel - Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Those Condemned to Death 

This system for managing an organization came out of a discussion of people trying to brainstorm up a simple but interesting kingdom-management system on a RPG discord. The main approach people were taking was the seemingly standard approach in sim-ish RPGs--all about juggling various currencies (wood, stone, iron, gold). It made me realize what has bugged me about this approach for a while, but that I couldn’t put my finger on--material conditions and the ways that wealth get created matter a lot for an organization, but they’re only interesting in how they create conflict and incentives with the people in and around an organization; how much wood you have isn’t interesting, but the question of who gets to profit off of it really is. This is my take on a simple and abstract organization management system that’s all about who gets what shares of an organization’s wealth.


In order to keep this system and setting agnostic, a lot about it is left intentionally vague--it should work just as well for tracking the turf controlled by a street gang as it does for tracking the territory controlled by a fantasy kingdom. It is also very much not meant to be self-contained--it’s built to basically be a plot-hook generator, interfacing with the fiction as often as possible.


Organization Sheet & System 


First off, here’s the sheet used to track this all. It’s pretty lacking in the quality-of-life department, but it gets the idea across:


Name: Some Fantasy Kingdom

Wealth: 100

Income: 5w/season


Resource

Amt

Value

Notes

Lumber

2

40

Worked by peasants

Farmland

4

80

Worked by peasants

Total

6

120w




Faction

Amt

Cost

Happiness

Peasants

4

40

3

Nobles

3

30

4

Soldiers

3

30

6

Total

12

100w




Infrastructure

Cost

Health

Castle

10

6/6

City Walls

5

3/4

Total

15w




Problems

Rating

Monsters roam the wilderness

3

Mutual enmity with Kingdom of the Elves

1


Explanation


Basic Info

  • An organization has five main types of things it cares about:

  • Wealth, an abstract representation of valuable goods and currency

  • Resources, which can be worked to generate wealth

  • Factions, representing the various members of the organization and want a share of the wealth

  • Infrastructure, representing the various non-person non-wealth holdings of the organization, which cost wealth to maintain

  • Problems, which occasionally rear their head and have to be dealt with

  • Each season (which is flexible in how long a time period it represents) an organization’s resources generate wealth, which then gets divided up between the various factions and infrastructures making up the organization. Anything left over goes to the organization itself (in this case, the King’s treasury).

  • Additionally, each season there’s a chance that things go wrong and must be addressed. This can come from unhappy factions, underfunded infrastructures, or long-term problems facing the organization. These are generally expected to be handled within the fiction.


Wealth

  • Wealth is liquid and abstract--it represents a sum of all the money, trade goods, resources, food, luxury, etc moving within the organization.

  • Wealth replaces the need to track individual types of resources. It’s assumed that if a kingdom has a large amount of lumber and not enough stone, they are able to trade with neighbors/etc in order to meet their needs.

  • Exactly what one ‘unit’ of wealth’s exchange rate represents is going to vary depending on setting. Maybe it’s something like 1000gp in a D&D-like setting? I don’t know, I’d have to run more math to be sure.


Resources

  • Resources are the things held by the organization that generate its wealth.

  • Each unit of a resource generates 10 Wealth when worked.

  • These might represent land held by a feudal kingdom (farmland to create food, woodland to create lumber, mines, etc), but could also be more abstract (a trade deal, a mob-run casino, a smuggling operation, etc).

  • Importantly, these resources must be extracted with labor coming from one of the factions. Don’t sweat the exact numbers, but you should have appropriate factions available in order to work each resource. 

    • In a fantasy setting, peasants are probably going to do most of this labour for Resources like Farmland or Lumber.

    • But you could also imagine needing a Merchants faction in order to extract wealth from a Trade Deal resource.

  • What a ‘unit’ of a resource represents is fairly fluid.

    • In a hex-crawl game, maybe one hex of plains can support one unit of Farmland?

    • But then a single diamond mine might be represented as 3+ units of Mining, since it’s much more valuable.

  • Instead of generating Wealth, a resource can be worked to directly pay for a relevant cost at double value.

    • If you are building a Castle and have a Quarry, you can use one Quarry Resource to pay for two Wealth worth of the castle’s construction.

    • Basically, by using the resource within the organization instead of needing to trade it around to generate wealth, you get more value out of it.

    • This will usually be used to pay for infrastructure costs, but some Factions might be bought off with especially apt resources as well.

      • Luxury goods like Fine Wines or Silks could be used to keep your Nobles happy in this method, for example.

  • You can also loan resources to allies, in order to give them this double-value bonus.


Factions

  • Factions are the people your organization has to keep happy.

  • Each one has an Amount rating. Keeping one unit of a faction happy for one turn costs ten Wealth.

  • How many people make up a unit differs based on the type of faction and how expensive they are to keep happy. 1 unit might be 1000 peasants, 100 soldiers, or 5 nobles.

  • Each turn their happiness moves one unit towards 7 if paid or two units towards 10 if paid double. If 50%-99% paid their happiness moves one unit towards 0, 1%-49% it moves two towards 0, and if not paid at all moves three towards 0.

  • Roll 1d6 each Turn per faction. If the result is over their happiness rating they cause some sort of trouble this turn. For each turn in a row they’ve been making trouble, the trouble gets worse.

    • Trouble might be a one-off thing or might be adding a new Problem to your org

  • Paying a faction represents a mix of maintaining the infrastructure they need to live (maintaining roads and paying tax collectors for peasants, building fancy summer houses for nobles, etc) and the amount of wealth that they are allowed access to (the amount of money and food that don’t get taxed out of the peasants).


Infrastructure

  • These are things your organization owns or has built. They probably let you do cool things or give you bonuses at stuff in other parts of the game, but here they mostly just cost wealth to maintain.

    • Like, castle walls might give you a bonus if you start having wargame play, while Alchemy Labs might give you potions to bring with you into the dungeon, and Exquisitely Tended Gardens might give you bonuses in international diplomacy

  • Each one has a cost rating--you need to spend that much wealth to maintain it for a Turn.

    • If you pay it in part it loses one health, pay nothing and it loses two health.

    • Health can also be lost via narrative events--Orc catapults are as capable of damaging walls as lack of funding

    • You can have zero-cost infrastructure--it just represents an asset the organization has that doesn’t need funding to stay useful

  • Repairing lost health costs a Wealth.

  • If you ever engage with the thing in-game you can roll a die the size of its Max Health. If you roll over its health then something goes wrong or dysfunctional and causes you problems.

  • It costs one Wealth per Max Health to build a thing. If you use an appropriate Resource to pay for it each one used can replace two wealth. 

    • You can also use Resources to pay for upkeep and repairs at a discount, too.

    • Max Health should be the size of a die, if possible.

  • Sometimes Infrastructure can be gained through play, instead of built using this system

    • “A big stockpile of guns” can be bought, or the PCs can acquire it via a heist.

  • These can potentially be somewhat abstract.

    • An alliance to a nearby kingdom could be counted as Infrastructure--especially if the relations are being kept good with paid diplomats and gifts

  • You can use the building system here to create Resources and Factions, potentially.

    • You could potentially fund the founding of an Engineer’s Guild, which could then become a resource

    • You could potentially fund the founding of a Wizard’s School, which would then produce a “Student Wizards” Faction.

    • These sorts of constructions probably require some roleplaying in order to kick off--you can’t really found a wizard’s school unless you have some wizard teachers lined up, after all.

Problems

  • Organizations have ongoing slow-burn problems. There’s a place to track them here

  • Problems have a Rating--this is how likely the problem is to come up in a given season

  • Roll 1d10--if you get under or equal to the problem’s rating then an issue relating to the problem flares up. It needs to be dealt with in some manner or something bad will happen

    • Monsters Roam the Wilderness might cause problems like “giant spiders have driven the lumberjacks out of one of the forests--gain no Lumber from it until they’re dealt with” or “people are getting scared of goblins--calm them down or they’ll lose happiness”

    • Mutual Enmity with the Elves might cause problems like “a border skirmish breaks out--increase the rating of this problem by one” or “the elves straight up declare war”

  • The nature of the problem should just be something that makes sense narratively

    • The Elf King isn’t going to declare war out of the blue, but if two problems ago a bunch of elves got killed in a border skirmish and the PCs didn’t do anything to de-escalate and then last time the Elf King demanded reparations and you didn’t give it, then maybe this time when the Problem gets rolled war is totally on the table

  • This is a system for handling unexpected problems bubbling up. If last turn something bad happened and wasn’t addressed, it’s reasonable that it might come up again this turn even if the Problem wasn’t rolled. If it was rolled, then maybe some unexpected event pours extra gas on the fire

    • If the Elf King declared war, the elves will probably attack next turn no matter what. Rolling a new problem would represent them trying some sort of scheme (sending assassins?) or some side-problem cropping up (food shortages?)


Thoughts

  • As always, this is a concept-dump and hasn’t been tested yet

  • Remember that these are a sort of ‘if business is running normally’ rules. They should be modified and ignored as appropriate as things happen in the fiction

    • Like if you’re under siege maybe all those Silk Farms don’t give you anything, since you’re not trading them to anyone

  • I’m somewhat allergic to tracking all this stuff for its own sake, so the goal is just to create a simple engine that creates narrative events that need to be solved in the other modes of the game

    • Resources are McGuffins to come into conflict with other organizations over

    • Factions that become unhappy cause trouble that needs to be resolved

    • Infrastructure gives you tools to do cool things in other modes of gameplay

  • The lines blur between the three types pretty easily

    • The difference between Resources and Infrastructure is that Infrastructure has a net negative or neutral impact on your Wealth while Resources are positive

    • Conceivably a Resource could become an Infrastructure, or vice versa. A restaurant that’s losing money is Infrastructure, but that same restaurant turning a profit is a Resource.

  • Maybe you can damage a resource to get extra wealth out of it short-term?

  • For really big organizations, maybe you can have smaller vassal organizations as resources.

    • And maybe you should get penalties if you have too many holdings, which you can abate by creating vassals to manage them for you.

  • How often are turns rolling around? Rolling for each and every faction every turn sounds painful if they hit every 15 minutes, but totally fine if it’s more of a “once every few sessions” thing.

    • Honestly, the whole ergonomics of this needs a lot of work. I think I can get it there, though.

    • The tracking who’s working each resource and resources being able to pay extra for relevant expenditures are both pretty awkward to track. I’m leaning away from tracking the first, but I would be sad to see the second one go. I’ll try to think of methods

  • This was initially meant to be pretty PC-facing, but it might be useful for NPC organizations in a faction-play game as well

    • In that case I wouldn’t track wealth or roll for problems/happiness, and would just use it as a way to visualize what the factions and desires of the NPC org are for quick rulings.



Friday, October 9, 2020

Rough Drafts: d10 Core Resolution System



I probably run more games for people who have never played a RPG before in their lives than I do for any other type of group, these days, and I’ve found that one of the big stumbling blocks people can have is a sort of overloading-from-the-unknown. Roleplaying is an unnatural enough activity that people’s brains easily overheat with the uncertainty of how everything is supposed to work, and even extremely simple rulesets can be extremely hard to remember.

In an attempt to mitigate this somewhat, I usually start off sessions for new players with this extremely simple rules explanation: “The only mechanic is that you try to imagine what your character would do in this situation, and then you say what they do. If what would happen is obvious, it happens. If it’s uncertain, then I’ll tell you to roll a die and get a certain number or higher in order to succeed. Depending on what the die roll represents, there might be game mechanics that tell the GM what die size/target number to pick, but otherwise you just ask yourself ‘on a scale from 1-10, how likely is this to go wrong?’ and then try to roll over that number on a d10.”

I really like that “on a scale from 1-10” rule. It’s easy to visualize, pretty easy to be fair with, and really gets to the heart of what RPGs are to me--simulating an interesting situation and seeing what kinds of trouble you can get into inside of it. It’s flexible--it works just as well for player-driven actions (“I try to hack the computer”) as it does for stuff beyond player control (“What are the odds it’s raining today?). You can use it as a binary answer (“below is a failure, above is a success”) or as a sort of gradient of results (“on a 1, the worst thing I can think of happens, on a 10 the best thing I can think of happens”). It just lets the dice jump into the game, insert some chaos, and duck out again as elegantly as possible. 

I figure most GMs already do this, to some extent or another. I think it’s useful to label it as a formal mechanic, though.

Here’s my take on a core resolution system that tries to hew as close to that core “on a scale from 1-10” system as possible.


Core Resolution System


Setting Difficulty: Whenever a character tries to do something, decide how likely it is that something would go wrong if an ‘ordinary’ person tried to do that thing on a scale from 1-10. 1 means automatic success, 10 means near-certain failure. They then roll a d10--if they get that number or higher they succeed, otherwise they fail.


Skills: Every character has a list of things they’re good at. These could be anything from “Athletics” to “Smelling out Lies” to “Nursing Small Animals Back To Health”. If they have an even loosely relevant skill they roll the d10 twice and choose the result to use. If they have an extremely relevant skill they roll the d10 three times and pick the result. Freshly made characters should probably have 4-6 skills.


System Commentary


Appropriate Skills: The one-reroll bonus should be given if the character has any skills that are relevant and helpful to what they’re doing, even if the skill is very specific. 


“Athletics” would give 1 reroll to any checks involving running, climbing, swimming, etc. This is a pretty common RPG skill and works more or less as you’ve probably seen before.


“Nursing Small Animals Back To Health” would give 1 reroll in situations where the character is using skills related to nursing small animals--treating simple wounds (even of humans) or illnesses, earning the trust of animals, calming animals & people down with tone & body language, cooking simple but nutritious meals. It would give 2 rerolls when nursing a small animal back to health.


Extra-specific skills, like the nursing animals one, often live in between multiple other more generic skills (in this case, medicine, animal handling, diplomacy, cooking). When deciding if one of these is relevant to a situation, try to imagine when it wouldn’t be useful. “Nursing Small Animals Back To Health” would give no bonus to--advanced medical procedures like surgery, giving orders to or intimidating animals or people, cooking tasty or impressive meals.


Encourage Specific Skills: Note that, even with these restrictions, the hyper-specific skill covers as many 1-die situations (if not more) as the general skill, and also gives a 2-die bonus in some limited situations. This is good and intended--players are encouraged to go specific and creative. It adds more flavor to the character and is just generally all-around more interesting.

“Pole Vaulting” should give a 1-die bonus to basically the same situations “Athletics” does, but also can occasionally grant a 2-die bonus and also says way more about the character.


Ultra-Broad Skills: Skills that are too broad can be rejected by the GM. “Good At Everything” is not a valid skill. If it’s hard to imagine situations where a skill couldn’t be used (“Lucky”, “Doing Things While Angry” when the player gets to decide if the character is angry or not), or if it’s too easy to call on the skill (“Being In A Dungeon” in a dungeon crawling game), it should be limited. If you’ve played other RPGs, you should have a good sense of what a good level of specificity is for a skill. A game that uses this system should include lots of examples.


Skills Don’t Stack: If you have two skills that are both relevant to a roll, you only benefit from one of them.


Analogue Rolls: Die checks don’t strictly need a difficulty rating, based on the situation. The GM should feel free to come up with a range of possible outcomes to a player’s action, loosely assign each to a number, and then use the player’s roll to determine which happens. The player should be able to gain and use rerolls as usual.

I.e.-A reaction roll on running into an orc in a dungeon. On a 1-2 the orc attacks outright, 3-4 the orc demands gold and attacks if not paid, 5-6 the orc demands to know why the players are here, 7-8 the orc doesn’t care about the players, 9-10 the orc has a problem and thinks the players might be able to help.


Relevant And Helpful: Players should only get extra dice to roll when using a skill that is both relevant and helpful. If a player recites a poem while attempting to lift a heavy object, they don’t get an extra roll just from having the “Poetry” skill. Additionally, remember that difficulty levels are set based on how player’s description of their actions--a player who attempts to do a backflip in order to convince the king to spare the life of a prisoner may or may not get their die bonus for their “Doing Backflips” skill, but in either case they are likely to have a much higher difficulty number to hit than a player who appealed to the king’s sense of mercy instead.


Possible Mods


Stats: Each character starts with one or two ‘stats’--extremely broad skills that are going to be relevant to huge swathes of rolls. These might be the types of physical or mental traits that are normally stats in a RPG--“Strong”, “Quick”, “Charming”, “Smart”, or could be more like personality traits--“Methodical”, “Death-Defying”, “Cowardly”. When rolling, a PC can get one extra die to roll if they have a relevant stat (beyond what they get from their normal skills). This makes PCs a good deal stronger (a player doing something they’re good at is likely to be rolling 3-4 dice instead of 2-3), and may be appropriate for more heroic games.


Legendary Skills: Some skills can be marked as ‘legendary’, and grant +1 die when invoked. This allows for a bit more growth in PC ability as they gain levels--getting even better at what they’re already good at--, instead of purely growing ‘sideways’ by gaining new skills.


Thoughts

  • As always with things tagged “Rough Drafts”, these are cocktail napkin notes I’m putting together for future playtesting. At this point, it feels like I have a whole system coming together with these ideas.

  • My hope is that “how likely is this to go wrong on a scale from 1-10” is straightforward and intuitive enough that it erases some of the pervasive feeling of “am I doing it wrong?” that I see from some novice GMs. Trying to figure out what the “actual” DC is of kicking down a wooden door can feel simultaneously very abstract and also like there’s a formal “correct” answer that the GM needs to find. I want to avoid that.

  • I love weird custom write-in skills, but I’m a little worried that they might slow down or derail games with too many arguments over whether a skill “counts” or not. I’ll keep my eyes out for that, and ways to help people agree on rulings.

  • This feels more appropriate for games with relatively slow power creep. There isn’t any big mechanical difference between a brand new character and a ‘high level’ one other than that the ‘high level’ one would probably have more skills. Using the Legendary Skills optional rule might let you have a bit more power creep, but the system isn’t really built to accommodate characters who have radically different abilities at a campaign’s start and end.

  • I’m a little worried that judging difficulty based on how likely it would be for an ‘ordinary’ person to succeed at an action might feel weird--I feel like I might be tempted to subconsciously lower difficulties for characters who are in-narrative skilled at what they’re attempting, even though that’s already accounted for in the extra rolls. I’ll see what kind of framing tools I can add to help with this.