Monday, January 28, 2013

How the Psychic Combat Worked

A reader wanted to know how the image was used for psychic combat. It turns out my write-up is too long for comments so I'm answering here!

The Name Of The File Is Personal Astronomy (The Sound Cue was Blue Oyster Cult)
Ha--okay. So the way the JAGS Revised Drama rules work you have some roll you are making and you get a certain number of rolls to reach a target number of Success Points. So for example: If I am doing a Lock Picking Drama, each roll that I make gives me 1 SP for each point I make it by. Let's say to pick a specific lock, I need 15+ SPs.

During the rolling--for each roll the GM could for example: (a) make a roll to see if a guard comes by (and the chances improve--so each time I go for another try, I'm at greater risk of being discovered (b) I can take special moves if any are applicable to the drama (so I might use my 1x charge magical lock-picks if things aren't going my way, etc.).

In this case the situation was as follows:

Earlier on--literally months of real-time play ago--our characters had been sent to The Serenity Complex wherein we had our fortunes read by the World Clock. This involved us going down into a dungeon where we were scanned by this ancient thing that would tell us our place in the cosmos.

It appeared as a much, much simpler version of the above (not a piece of it--just a much simpler version) and we got to choose aspects of it. There were questions: What would you kill for? (Would you kill for money / power? For the team? For justice? For fun?) and there were chances to ally ourselves with other factions: Do you Fight For The Emperor? Do You Fight For the Great Houses, and so on.

These were described as "less a cognizant choice" and more of an inclination (I *hated* the emperor so that was out--but I didn't think much of the military or the great houses either--all I did was fight for the Team).

One of our PCs was a girl who had grown up idolizing the emperor (as we were taught to) so she chose him. Another of our group decided they'd kill for power--had very little care for anything else--so he kind of read as a psycho-path.

The decisions were NOT enforceable (the GM could not say "You're not playing as a psychopath: you're doing it wrong)--but we were at times reminded of them. Also: the powerful NPCs in the game were aware of our ratings. They used them to try to manipulate us (and decided my character would crash and burn out--fighting authority with a self-destructive streak--that was one of the areas I chose "Self Destruction.")

So then we graduate and we go to the city (leaving the ruins of the training school behind us because we had come into conflict with an atrocity engine--a literal machine that provided giant engines ... metal hearts ... in return for people above committing atrocities) and had left it a smoldering ruin along with the school that tried to feed us to it.

During the game we started meeting all these people. Our military commander, some of the princesses of the great houses, etc. Some were friends, some were enemies. But our network of things we knew and cared about grew.

In the "end game" we were down in a dungeon where "it all started." We were meeting the "four friends"--super-stars from the Time Before who had managed to find a way to set up our society--they and envisioned the four atrocity engines that shaped our (horrible) world. And they had created other forces to create a sadistic insane environment that would be their legacy (it's complex). We were down there, where their bodies were 'sleeping' -- to finally kill them.

We were with an NPC who was one of the princesses of the great house: she was an adventurer too (or had tried to be, anyway) but, we discovered was an "over-write" of the one of the friends. They had set up their system to find people in power and then overlay their personalities over the target's so the target became kind of an unknowing agent of theirs (except for one night a year: Walprugis Night where the personality woke up).

They were trying to wake up the girl--making her not just sort of an agent of theirs--but literally one of them--to fight against us. This was a drama using WIL rolls--but what you could do was ask for help from your connections.

So we saw HER original reading (which told us a lot about her now that we knew how to read it). She was pretty disconnected too, like we had been--and the far more powerful entity was dominating her--but she had a connection to US. However, if she called on US--for more SPs it brought US into the mind-game. WE could be over-written too. She didn't want to--until we demanded it.

At which point the GM provided the above graphic: the new playing field.

Each roll we made could be augmented by calling on connections that we would fight for, support, etc. Things we believed in. We could call in anyone from the above so long as we could make a convincing case that we had or would place ourselves in serious harm's way for that entity (the Emperor: No way--the great houses? No--but our commander? Yes.

For example, I had gone to the Walprugis Night costume ball dressed as Justice from the Major Acrana of the Tarot so I was able to call in the wheel of Justice (I had chosen that costume because I was sending a message to our enemies in the "Parallel Police" that I was going to bring them to justice).

And so on.

It was a mechanical way of letting the PCs explore how we had evolved as characters--a view of our "arc" over around 1 year + of play.

We crushed the ancient enemy.

I'm not sure if that's clear or not--but I can explain more if necessary (each set of choices was a move and you didn't want to choose one that on cross-examination would be dropped so you had to look at a name and go "Can I support this?"). The cross-examination could come from anyone at the (virtual) table. We all wanted to win but no one wanted bullshit.

While not called out, I would say this mechanic was an expression of how the RPG Dogs In The Vineyard does its combat (both somewhat literally and, I think, definitely figuratively).

Some Follow Up Notes
The Wheel of the Self (which was where we started more or less) was invalid for this combat as the things we were fighting were far more self-important than we could be. So that was "swept away." The four things in the the corners were the Anamoi--parts of the massive, nigh-eternal, nigh-omnipotent computer system that had existed 'before.' The World Clock was responsible for destiny and it was broken. It was what had told our fortunes before.

Central Fire and The Music of the Spheres had taken off to space, disgusted with humanity (they had their reasons). The World Storm stayed behind, unable / unwilling to interfere with the state of man--but watching. In the end we had a system-reset which would destroy these things (and their dark shadows--the atrocity engines--and we used it). When the World Storm, churning invisibly overhead above our hellish desert landscape shut down, it began to rain.

Also: The massive chapter Innate Power is completed / proof-read! I think next to my editor will be Cybernetics ... (if I give her the even bigger Domain Control powers section it might break her spirit).

Friday, January 25, 2013

Finished The Have-Not Game

Street Fight (Fast Company Chapter) by Jin Kim
Clocking in at over two years that game may be the longest we've every played a single game continuously (it is not the most hours played--that would have to go to some of the games in high school). It ended last week in a blaze of satisfaction.

What is going on now?

The Innate Powers book is almost completely proofed. That puts us about 40% of the book proofed (and slow going). As I spent my budget on art I'm having a family member proof it--and it isn't fast--but it is necessary.

I'd like to reflect a bit on the Have-Not game we played. Our characters went from level 1 to level 14 over the course of something like 100 play sessions. The game was designed to test the ability of JAGS to scale and it worked well. It also tested the treasure system and strained and broke the Java character workbench.

It was--let me note--a HUGE SUCCESS.

It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.

My question is: how do we replicate that? I'm not saying I would want 2 year games all the time--or leveling games all the time or anything like that--but assuming I did ... how would I do it?

Leveling As a Pacing System
Leveling creates a mechanical "Character Arc" where you go from nobodies to bad-asses to legendary if the game lasts long enough. I think that's what most people see in the system (certainly what I did). But it has another effect as well: it sets a pace for the game by having recognizable milestones along each set of playsessions that tell you that you have passed a tollgate.

This mechanics-based-goal system is, I think, beneficial in keeping the energy of the game up.

Dungeons As An Organizing Principal
Spy games have missions. Space-Trader games have deals or runs. Super hero games have "issues" (story-lines). Adventure games have dungeons. I think there may be something that Dungeons and Dragons hit dead on (possibly by accident--but what do I know) about the genius purity of the dungeon.

With a dungeon (and I am using the term in a fairly broad AD&D* sense) everyone knows what they're doing. Motivation is clear (treasure! exploration! experience points!) and plot is out the window: dungeons don't have to make a lot of sense.

I think there is something evergreen about dungeons that makes for longer-term games.

It's Less About Characters Than The Group
If you'd asked me out of the blue (especially, say, 10 years ago) what made for a long-running game I'd have considered saying "great characters!" By that, I mean: characters that the players are really into--that really have something cool or meaty about them. I'm not so sure that's true anymore. It's not that the PCs don't matter, exactly, but rather my experience is that:

  1. A lot of key character concept gets developed during play. My guy (Talon) for this 2 year game was nothing special when we started. I had a kind if idea of a young Roland Deshane (from the Gunslinger series) but little more. In the end he wasn't a lot like that. Every trait that he had that I could really point to was something that came out during the course of the game sort of organically.
  2. Big chunks of what was interesting about our group were the dynamic between the characters--my character deferring the actual heroism to another guy (the sword guy). Our battle-monk being a low-key support character who would sometimes make big plays. The mutant girl sometimes being earnest comic relief ... These were all things that worked between us rather than being internal to any one character or player.
  3. The GM is big on self-motivation but until approximately half way through the game none of us really had any motives outside of treasure! exploration! and experience points! By the time we got to the city we had more ideas on what to do but it was still grounded in the big three: we were adventurers. That isn't deep--but man, it worked.

I'm not sure we'll ever see a game like the Have-Not game again. There's no reason to think we will: we've been gaming like this for about 4-5 years and have only seen one. For the 30+ years prior games were face-to-face and had either larger or smaller groups (our play group is now remarkably stable). If we do see another 2+ year game, though, I suspect it'll have the hallmarks of the above.

* Every time I get to sign up for my company's Accidental Death & Dismemberment insurance I think "Yeah, both reads of the acronym pretty well fit ..."