Thursday, October 29, 2009

Adapting L5R

Off-Topic Idea
So I just had an idea that I want to get down on the page before I forget. A good number of Euro Games (Puerto Rico, Caylus, Power Grid, and so on) are about building things up-- creating an engine that generates resources, creates opportunities, and acquiring victory points. I'm wondering about the possibility of a game which goes the other direction. That is, you begin with a bunch of resources and engines but as the game progresses, those get slowly stripped away from you. Your goal is to keep your structure more intact than your opponents at the end of the game.

The theme of the game could be corporate downsizing. You'd begin with resources of personnel, finances, and some other things-- probably represented by cubes of some kind. You'd have a set of projects or departments to start the game with in your display. Each turn you'd be forced to allocate personnel and resources in an attempt to protect, maintain and even possibly grow things. Then, at the end of each turn there'd be a cutting-- where each person has to lose some things, cut a department, eliminate people, and so on. What is lost at the end of the round would be random, but from a closed set of options, so you'd know what the general pool of cuts are, but not when they'd actually happen. The side game to the thing would be to also create value in certain project areas-- through your actions. At the end of the game points would be based on intact structures and also how well your department matches the new direction for the company (determined by measuring where value has been built). So your choices on any turn have to be balanced between preservation of your resources and shaping the company vision.

Adapting L5R: Another Path

Back to what I was talking about before.

A while after I finished running Legend of the Five Rings with Rolemaster, I decided I (sort of) wanted to run another samurai campaign. However I wasn't sure about whether or not I could sustain such a campaign-- I didn't have any really great ideas rolling around in my head for it. So decided to handle it as the start of an HCI style campaign. In retrospect, though I really enjoyed the whole campaign, I could have easily run the game solely with the samurai setting. We had what I've come to call the Shining Path (from Rob's game) syndrome-- where you have a campaign set up with multiple options and directions, but the players focus on one to the exclusion of others.

I opted to go with the Storyteller system for this new version. I had the advantage of already having some of the structures (lists of advantages, the schools) in text form. A number of additional supplements had also come out since then, including rules for Monks, so I would have to go through that material as well. Once again I bit off a little more than I could chew-- deciding to write up adaptation for everything rather than focusing on what players wanted and just writing up those systems. I had an idea that I needed to maintain consistency and also have all the options out and written up for the players. I think that ended up being false-- players made their choices thematically, rather than by comparing the mechanics of the classes. Consistency wouldn't have been a big issue, and later mechanics might have benefited from having seen how their earlier things functioned in play. And, of course, Sherri warned me that I was probably taking on too much at once.

Storyteller's an odd system to convert to, especially since both game sources I was working from the original L5R roll and keep system and the Rolemaster percentile and add skill, functioned completely differently. Both are open, roll up systems, but both have different scales and systems for resolving those things. Storyteller has you adding dice for a dice pool, but how exactly do bonus dice translate to the bonus dice in L5R or the +X% modifiers in Rolemaster. I really had to wing it pretty hard. Storyteller has a good deal of combat crunch and detail, but not nearly as much as something like d20-- so unfortunately some abilities seemed repetitive: how many extra dice for something can you get? In the other system those modifiers/bonuses would have been split among several systems.

That aside, I again had to consider the four areas: Classes & Schools, Advantages, and Magic. Since this would be a point based system, I didn't have to worry as much about restrictive class structures. Players could choose the skills they wished to buy and then choose training schools with bonus abilities which matched their character. Again the question arose about when a person could actually gain another rank in their school. I'd pegged that to levels in the RM version, but I decided to keep that question open and at a certain point allow players to advance. I wrote up just about every school and also had to come up with stuff for the different shugenja as the material for that ended up being lacking. We only ended up with a single spell-caster so the details for the shugenja of a number of clans got dropped to the side- one of the few places I really cut corners. Advantages (and Flaws) required a lot of rewriting. I went through and cut some and added others from other Storyteller materials (like Exalted). I tried to use that as a model and assigned guesstimate point costs-- which ended up mostly close to their value, but not entirely.

Probably the hardest time I had with magic. I kind of wrote up rough guidelines for how magic would operate. Casting a spell would require a number of success equal to half its rank and then additional effects could be applied to extra successes. I copied out the various spells from the sourcebooks and wrote up a couple of pages of quick guidelines. However I never really defined that well-- is a casting roll an attack roll? How is that defended against? Does using extra successes to raise an effect then leave fewer successes over such that the spell can be blocked more easily? How do you determine extra damage. Shari was a pretty good sport about running with it, and I tried to give her some flexibility as we went along.

I did have another magic system to work out as well-- the kiho magic for Monks. That system, as presented in the original rules is actually pretty complicated. It has five kinds of kihos with different durations, stacking limits, rules on activation and a host of other details. I ended up porting that structure over pretty straight. That was unfortunate-- I should have reduced the complexity of that when I had the chance. It resulted in a lot of look ups during the play of the game. I also added martial arts forms and weapons styles, the beginning of my more flexible approach to martial arts in the wushu system. However, while the styles did add flavor and ended up as a nice element for the couple of tournaments we had, they also-- again-- added an unnecessary level of complexity.

Storyteller handled some of the social elements better than Rolemaster, but they still ended up relegated to second chair. Some schools had social abilities, but often they were simply abilities which a courtier could use in combat. The focus of the game and the mechanics still rested firmly on fighting, damage and conflict. I had systems for honor and reputation in the game, but I never deployed them adequately. The problem came that no one really likes to have their character punished for action choices in a way which seems to impinge on the actual player. That's a problematic situation.

OK, tomorrow-- with all of that in mind, laying out the basic premises of HeroQuest 2e-- figuring out the toolbox I have to work with there.