Thursday, August 19, 2010

More on Witless Minion

So I'm banging my head against a couple of things I'm working on. I hate when I have it fairly fully formed in my head, but getting the pieces together down on the page isn't working. Usually I can come at it by attacking different parts, but I'm having a hard time. Also the voting and posting on the RPG Geek 24 Hour RPG Contest has been pushed back a little bit. The person running that ended up being sent to Poland for work and his internet connection has been intermittent at best. But I have it on good authority that those will be up soon. I think they ended up with about 31 submissions. I'm looking forward to seeing the ideas everyone has put together in such a short period of time. Once all of that is up, I'll post a link and a note here.

I thought I'd hit a couple of topical game mechanics notes regarding both Witless Minion and Action Cards. I'm you're not into game mechanics, feel free to move along.

As I've said before. I think there are some good ideas and techniques in Witless Minion which make it worth revisiting and revising perhaps with an eye towards publication. I like the Hierarchy of Villainy-- reworking an eye presented by the Mouse Guard rpg. I also like the Flashbacks concept, which heavily modifies and makes easier something I'd thought about for a spy-based Gumshoe campaign-- and which comes from a throw off comment by Robin Laws. Before I get too far into my discussion I'll answer Gene's comment:

Two quick thoughts. I'd love to use the Flashback rules in the Wu Shu campaign. I'm assuming that if the player is involving other characters (PC or NPC) then he has to roleplay the scene with other players or the GM.

I think flashbacks can be handled either as a narrative declaration “beforehand I tracked down this guys father and arranged for him to be on the phone at this exact moment,” or as an actual play-out moment. My only worry about doing something like that as a acted out scene at the table is that it runs the risk of interrupting the flow of the game and breaking the momentum of the scene. In some ways “flashback” isn't exactly the right word. What the mechanic represents is that moment in the movie or the TV show where the main character pulls out something we the audience haven't seen-- the secret witness, the carefully arranged device. Sometimes we see an actual flashback to them setting it up, but usually with a voice-over by the character in present time explaining what made them take such steps and how they did it. It might be better called a “Not So Fast!” or “Aha!” moment. It is a kind of retcon prep, but not exactly prep.

Also, the Infiltrated by a Hero scenario is exactly what I've wanted to do with a supervillain minion campaign for years. The Boss is away, and annoying teen heroes have invaded the base. The mechanics make a campaign like that far deeper. So many more ways to explain why the PCs aren't smashed into windshield splats, which means a GM could make the PCs far weaker and the heroes much more powerful.

And I think the tone is right in that case-- the teen heroes would be more like the Teen Titans of the cartoon or even their 60's-70's incarnation (I'm imaging the Mike Allred version). The good guys inexperience leading them to make mistakes and vice versa. Obviously this would be done tongue in cheek with less in the way of real repercussions.

Some Other Thoughts for Witless Minions
And this actually applies to other games as well- the question of how to do chases well, such that you maintain tension, have some colorful choices and at the same time keep from being bogged down in minutiae. I'd like to think about a good and abstract system which rewards imaginative thinking, but at the same time provides some structure for thinking about the chase as a scene. For example, Spycraft 2e has incredibly detailed mechanics for the abstraction of chases. What you have there is a table of many, many kinds of maneuvers both for the chaser and the chased. I'd like something like that, but easy to grasp and easy to resolve. My ultimate goal would be to be able to simulate the chase from the opening sequence of Casino Royale or District 13.

Does it need to be another mechanic or isolated system? Like a playing card based mechanic for opportunity and position? Or can it be done within the context of the dice pool-- perhaps breaking a pool into components for different purposes. I'm not sure yet, but that's something I think I need to come up with.

Besides Spycraft, what other game systems have special or isolated mechanics for chases and pursuit?

Gene mentioned before and I think I discussed a little, I think the concept of Witless Minion can be applied to many other situations. In some ways it echoes the "All-Flesh Space" scenarios I've run. I can think of a number of variants:

Obviously by genre. Witless Minion could be easily done as a fantasy version, with the characters playing the servants of a Dark Overlord. In some ways that echoes My Life with Master but without the moral complexity. Instead there's a rich fantasy life, the kind we sometimes see in Order of the Stick. There's the Dungeon Keeper and Overlord games as examples of this genre in action. But you could also do a more military style campaign with the characters as a unit of the Evil Overlord's army. I imagine that as something like F-Troop meets Lord of the Rings. Another approach could be the characters as city or castle guards-- not necessarily serving an evil force but instead having to deal with powerful and reckless adventurers running through their town.

Science-fiction wise, a Star Wars game with the characters running Imperial Troops makes perfect sense. Or one could go a more pulp route and borrow from Flash Gordon and have the characters serving an intergalatic tyrant. But I think even more interesting would be to use this framework to do the "Redshirts" campaign I mentioned some time back. The characters would be subject to the whims of officers, in a darker take on Star Trek or perhaps even echoing Zap Branigan from Futurama.

But one could also do a more domestic version of the game, with with a significant focus on social combat. Players could be servants in an enormous country estate or a hotel or on a cruise liner. You could easily combine disaster games or locked room mysteries with this. You'd have to work out some significant social combat/damage mechanics to make this work. If you want a more historical game, imagine playing the peasant characters from The Hidden Fortress.

I'm trying to think of other slightly comedic genres/settings where the characters are subject to the whims of "higher-ups" in one form or another.

Next Time: Broadness of Skills and Social Hit Points