Sunday, August 15, 2010

Witless Minion (Part Four)

Continuing from the last post (Witless Minion Part Three)-- essentially the game I came up with for the 24-RPG Contest at RPG Geek. I expect they'll have the full pdf up this week, in which case I'll post a link. It has nice layout and such.


Drama Points provide a mechanic for players to gain a little more control over the game or make up for bad rolls. Players begin each session with zero drama points.

Using Drama Points
A player may spend a drama point to do the following:

*Reroll their own roll-- standard action, attack, defense, damage
*Add +2 dice to a their own roll
*Heal three wounds
*Activate a Flashback (see below)
*Buy a clue if the player feels they're stuck and want some help or hint about what to do next.
*”Buy” an ability-- the player must still spend experience either then or at the end of the session to pay for the ability.

A player may only spend one drama point per roll or effect, but multiple points may be spent for different purposes on the same turn.

Drama points not used during a session are lost. If the group is using the Prisoner's Dilemma optional rule (see below), then at the end of a session players may turn in unused drama points for experience points at a rate of three drama points to one experience point.

Gaining Drama Points
When a player does something really cool-- in genre, highly descriptive and which makes the table cheer, the GM should give that player a drama point.

Alternately, at the beginning of a session, the GM will put out a stack of drama point chips. During the game, the players may take one of those chips by invoking one of their limits. There are two basic ways to do this: the player can take an automatic failure before even rolling. They have to explain how their limit caused them to screw up. The check failed must have some consequence, stakes or else provide an interesting dramatic moment. Just failing a drive down to the store check isn't enough.

Alternately, if the player fails a significant action test roll in play they can take a drama point. They must narrate how their limit plays into the failure and accept an additional consequence from the GM for failing. If they do so they can take a drama point chip.

During a session, players may invoke a flashback in order to change the situation and give them an advantage. A flashback represents some plot, plan, device or object they put into play before the operation which is now useful. Flashbacks cost an action and a drama point.

The other requirement is that the player spin a convincing narrative about how they knew to do this and how they went about it. This should be based around the flavor of the flashback as given in their archetype. For example, the group comes across a robot sentry in the course of a break in. A Technician character might use his flashback to have a specialized EMP device on hand to disrupt the robot. An Arm Candy character might have sweet-talked the robots designer into telling them about a secret weakness of the sentry. The Specialist Animal Handler might have brought along a trained mouse which could draw the attention of the sentry away from the group.

This mechanic allows the group to simulate advance planning without having to spend a great deal of time at the table planning out a caper. Instead the group can do a little planning and rely on improvisation. It simulates caper movies or TV shows where the audience ends up surprised by the twists and turns the characters had up their sleeve (i.e. The Sting, Firefly, The Brothers Bloom, etc). If GMs feel the mechanic is too powerful or want a less player control of the narrative, they may wish to limit players to one use of a flashback per session.

Once a player has used a particular Flashback in a campaign, they may not use the same one again. They must come up with a different story or technique. For example, if a player has used their Flashback to blackmail someone into turning over office blueprints revealing a hidden passage before, they can't do exactly the same thing again. They might gain blueprints to reveal something else or perhaps find a hidden passage by drugging someone and getting them to spill the beans. If a character has used a Flashback for a special gadget or technique to save their bacon, that gadget can't be used again unless they buy it as an Trick.

Prisoner's Dilemma (Optional)
Minions lead dangerous lives. They end up involved in capers that go horribly awry and then have to come back to the boss and explain themselves. Every minion is caught between two drives: having to rely on his buddies to survive and looking out for #1. And when p-ush comes to shove choosing between those options can have serious repercussions.

This variant creates a slightly more competitive game and has the potential to create tension between players. Therefore it works better with a short run campaign, one-shot or group that really loves playing Paranoia. Through the course of each session, the GM should build up a stack of chips representing additional drama points. The GM should begin with a stack of points equal to the number of players and then add another chip whenever the risk or dramatic stakes get raised at the table.

At some point, as they inevitably do, things will go horribly awry for the group-- perhaps they're captured and questioned, maybe they have a choice between fleeing and finishing the op, or possibly the boss wants to know where the slush fund went to. The GM can immediately call for a dilemma check. Each player should take a coin or token and place it secretly with heads or tails showing in front of them. All players reveal simultaneously.

If they place it heads up, then they are staying solid-- not fleeing, not squealing, not selling the others out.

If they place it tails up, they the cheese it-- running for the hills leaving everyone behind, spilling the beans, selling everyone else down the river (truthfully or not).

If everyone shows heads, then the stack of drama points is split out equally among the group with any extra remaining in the pot.

If one person shows tails and the rest show heads, then the person who showed tails gets the entire pot of drama points.

If more than one person shows tails, then the pot is completely lost.

Whatever their choices, the characters then have to play out those results and take the consequences.

Players should get 1-3 experience points per session, depending on how much was accomplished. Interim sessions should get less but climatic sessions should get more. Witless Minions assumes all players gain the same amount of experience, but some groups give bonuses to players.

Buying a new ability costs one point.

Buying a stat up costs three times the current value


Dealing with Tone
Early on as a GM, you should decide what kind of tone to strike with the game. With it be as wild and absurd as the Dr. Horrible or will it take the genre a little more seriously. It is worth considering the lethality of the campaign-- with death be cheap or will they be able to squeak out of situations. Gentler GMs who still want some grit to the game may want to consider an options which allows players to reduce or skip damage from a bit hit by having them acquire a scar or a temporary (or permanent) debilitating injury.

As with any game where the characters run “bad guys” it is easy to lose sympathy if the players decide to be really evil. Make clear how you picture the morality of the game-- is it cartoonish or more real? Consider the solution which The Venture Brothers presents-- minions and villains don't coldly kill heroes because of all of the flack they'll have to take for it. In this case villains and heroes abide by a set of rules. The possibility of consequences should make the players hesitate about being casual killers or sadists. The wrath of one's boss can also be a hook to keep the players from becoming gun-happy-- if they take matters into their own hands then they may end up punished later.

It has become hip to ironically comment of the foolishness of masterminds and supervillains (witness the “What I'd Do If I Became an Evil Overlord List”). However part of the fun here lies in playing within the genre-- too much breaking of the conventions destroys the dramatic reality and suspension of disbelief.

Creating the Opposition
In a normal game, there'd be a long section on how to go about creating enemies, equipment and opposition. Instead, I suggest you wing it. Sketch out some stats and keep track of wounds, of course. However for most things you can estimate what the effects will be.

For Ranked and Named Adversaries, I suggest you decide on some general stats (a character at Rank Two might have 16-18 points to throw around on stats for example). Figure out generally what kinds of powers or effects they might be able to create-- 3-5 cool things they can do and run with those. The easiest approach is to use analogues to existing heroes and villains the players are familiar with. So if you say, “Well, the Savage Shrew is this world's equivalent to Batman...” the group will be properly warned.

One things to keep in mind, especially with the character's boss or overlord-- these people are temperamental and crazy. Part of the fun should be the players desperately trying to stay on their good side or else just keep their lives under the radar.

Fun with Everyday Lives
While running capers and executing operations can make for a fun time-- part of the enjoyment of a game like this comes from exploring the lives of your ordinary minions. Think of The Office, but with a super-villain organization. Take the time to sketch out some co-workers and try to develop personal goals for the characters. Such organizations-- depending on size may be more Kafka-esque or like something out of Stanislaw Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub.

Outside consider the lives of the characters outside of work-- do they have families, private lives or other hobbies? If so, how does that square up with what they do. Introducing these kinds of elements deepen the game but also introduce a lot of complicated baggage-- see what kinds of themes your group seems more interested in.

Campaign Frames

New Hires for the Serpent Lords
The group has been hired by a large and venerable criminal network with branches across the globe. Now they have to deal with the bureaucracy, operations which perhaps weren't thought through enough and the rantings and insanity of the colorful named lieutenants of the organization.

Freelancing with the Rogues Gallery
The group has signed up with a supervillain employment agency, being assigned to various low-level super rogues on a freelance basis. Think of it as a Super Temp agency. This campaign frame allows a wide variety of episodic adventures while the characters try to keep up with their regular lives and expenses as well. A variant of this has the group signing on with Supervillains and then ripping them off-- in a highly risky Robin Hood style escapade.

Origin Story
The characters sign on with a Mad Scientist or Mastermind who is just starting out. He leans on the group for advice with the promise of promoting them to named positions. The group has to deal with finding a base, fine tuning the villain's theme, and acquiring uniforms.

Ideas for Scenarios

Infiltrated by a Hero
The alert has come down-- somehow an enemy agent or superhero has managed to infiltrate the compound. A master of disguise, they could be anyone. Can the PCs avoid getting killed in the paranoid crossfire and uncover the infiltrator before the boss decides to simply set off the self-destruct for the base.

Rival Organizations
Two groups of minions have cooperative on a particularly lucrative heist. However while waiting for in the hideout the two groups discover that someone has made off with the loot. Was it a member of one minion team? One of the two bosses pulling a double-cross? Or someone from the outside?

Fighter-King of the Iron Mortal Soul or Alive Tournament
The Boss has decided to host a major tournament to demonstrate...well, something. Now the players have to watch out for heroes sneaking in, guard sensitive areas of the complex and also cater to the whims of these egotistical entrants. Can they escape the inevitable showdown?

Delivery Mix Up
Someone's made an error and the equipment for the upcoming operation has either not been ordered or has been sent to the wrong place. Now the group has to avoid blame and manage to get the equipment...or a reasonable facsimile in time for the caper.

Off By A Couple of Zeroes
One of the members of the group receives an extraordinarily large paycheck. How do they decide to handle it-- was it an intentional mistake? Dare the question their overlord about the discrepancy and potentially question his judgment or omnipotence. Or do they take the money and risk have questions pop up later if it was a mistake.

The Island of Dr. More-or-Less
Their boss has recently heard of a lost island fortress now up for grabs. He's sending in the group to secure the location and uncover its secrets. Has someone already move in or is perhaps the base not as deactivated as they were led to believe?

Next Time: Things which didn't make the cut, ideas for other frames, and final thoughts on this as an rpg.

1 comment:

  1. 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.

    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.