Friday, August 03, 2007

Modern System 2.0 Design Diary #1: Defining the Gamespace

So, I've been working on my own personal redesign of modern for quite awhile now, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts that have gone into the design.

The first thing I wanted to do was define the gamespace. This is not a physical space, it's the place that allows the "magic" to happen. That place that allows the imaginations of several people to mingle and combine into the creation of a place that doesn't exist, but where the game will actually take place.

What does the gamespace need to do to facilitate the imaginations of everyone at the table?

Well, first, I'd argue, the game needs to stay the hell out of the way!

What do I mean by this?

A lot of games seem to love throwing obstacles in the way of the adventure. For example, let's say the game master has a mysterious criminal organization capture one of the PCs loved ones.

If the PCs do not break into the mysterious vault on the 50th floor of Moxy-corp towers and steal some plans, their loved ones will be toast.

This is the adventure. Moreover, this is the part of the game that relies completely on the game itself.

Many parts of the game don't actually NEED the game. Players role-playing, interacting with each other and with NPCs, for example. These things really don't need rules to function.

Sure, rules can help, like the Bluff skill. But (I know this might seem alien to some out there) PCs were successfully lying to NPCs *all the time* before the Bluff skill was invented.

But this adventure thing, that really needs the rules. There will be guards to bypass (through stealth or force), and a state of the art safe to defeat.

Before the PCs can decide how to tackle this obstacle, the GM has decided they need three key things: they need to know the location of the vault, the composition of the vault and then, once they've decided how to tackle opening that vault, they will need to acquire or make those items.

I'm sure experienced GMs can already see where I'm going with this. In d20 Modern, the game itself provides several hurdles that might make each of these steps take longer than it needs to.

Why do I assume these things are nuisances? Because they are between the players and the adventure. The adventure is getting to that vault and getting it open.

The game system should not only aid the GM in running the encounters, it should also get the players to them as fast as possible.

Each die that must be rolled during these preliminary stages of the game is a potential failure. Complications at this stage, are just delaying the actual adventure.

So what if you could eliminate all these die rolls? Well, as I started work on Modern 2.0, that was my first goal.

Every die roll that does not involve interaction, either verbally or through conflict, had to go.

They were giving a part of the game (the preliminary) attention it really didn't deserve.

How I did that, well, that's a story for another post.


David S. Gallant said...

You tease!

Seems like you're changing the very dynamic of how modern roleplaying games are currently played. And based on your proposed concepts, I like the foundation. Keep us up to date on this, will you?

Charles said...


And someone online mentioned something similar, that I mentioned a problem without really saying how I planned to address them.

That wasn't my intention.

Mostly I broke where I did because I knew the explanation would be somewhat long-ish, and I don't want people to slog through a huge blog post.

DNAphil said...

I forgot who originally said this quote and I doubt I have the wording correct, but basically, "that unless something cool happens by failing a skill check, just let them have it, within reason".

When I GM, rather than make up some DC for something like a Gather Info check, for a group of 10th level players, of which one is likely to Gather Info maxed out on their best stat... I think to myself, what would be cool to happen if the player was to fail at this task? If I cannot come up with an answer, then I just set a time it takes to learn the info, give it to them, and move to the next scene where some cooler die rolling can occur.

Skill checks are nice, but not often useful. The only time a Swim check is cool, is when the fighter with full plate falls into the river. Suddenly how many ranks you have in Swim determines how dramatic the next few turns are going to be.

I did the same thing to combat. In my Iron Heroes game, I instituted a Mook rule (one hit and you kill them), and started taking monsters that they fought when they were 5th level, and turning them into mooks when they were 10th level. Basically, they had reached a point where fighting this creature is no longer interesting, but it is unrealistic that there wont be these creatures around anymore, so now if you hit one they die.

Guess what? It worked great. Nothing like putting to major NPC's on the field with 50 mooks and the 4 players just hacking their way across the battlefield to the NPC's.

I like where you are going with this. Always keep it exciting. If its not exciting..then it is boring, and no one likes a boring game.

Chuck said...

Thanks for the kind words and the insights.

Daniel M. Perez said...

Hmm, seems like you're taking a page from some of the hippie narrative/story games here. Robin Laws's GUMSHOE System is all about investigators, so there's no roll to getting the clues - you just get them, because the game is more about what you do with those clues than the tedious affair of finding them. Also, Perfect, a game where the PCs are delinquents in a 1984-esque Victorian state, doesn't require rolls for the PCs to commit crimes - you wanna do a crime, you do it, because the game is more about what happens afterwards than about the tedious affair of commiting the crime. So there are precedents for what you're going for that you can look into. Definitely keeping an eye out on this from now on, dude.

J. said...

Well, I am over a year late to the discussion...but since I stumbled across this, others likely will. So, I will chime in with my 2cents.

First, I really don't get the issue. You are the GM. There are two ways to approach your scenario...
1. You have NOT defined "an" adventure. You have defined *at least* two adventures: the gathering of the info, and the break-in.

2. You are the GM, why do you need a "rule change"?

...hopefully, my players won't stumble across here, or recognize my username... :)
Almost any time I have a PC roll something like a gather information check, before they even roll, I have figured out in my head:
- What info can they gather.
- What info can they gather if they are "the man".
- What happens if they muck it up.

Then, they roll. Notice I didn't say anything about DC. I will have a rough ballpark (simple, hard, insane difficult) and then I just compare what they rolled against this rough guage.

Why do I *need* to do math? Because some book told me to?

...and if my PCs get off track and start wasting time on things I did not intend (spending WAY too much time trying to find out about the criminal organization, for example) I will either:
- Say, "Huh...dang those PCs!...I guess this is our new adventure for the evening..."
- Get them back on track (methodology for this is WAY out of scope for this post)

Even after "talking out" the points...I still don't get your point.

I would respectfully suggest that perhaps the problem is:
1. The way you write your adventures.
2. You lack the self-confidence that every GM absolutely must have.

Point 1:
So what if they players want to spend the entire evening at the bar hitting on the waitress trying to get the name of the best safe cracker in town? Go with it!!! Design your adventures to be dynamic and flexible. THERE IS NOTHING MORE IRRITATING FOR A PLAYER than to have the GM say, "Ok, fine! You bag the waitress, now can we get back to what I want to do?"

First, you don't need to ask that. The waitress is gay, cross-dresser, the bar is raided by the feds because of the drug dealing in the basement, the waitress works for the company - this is her part-time gig, the waitresses boyfriend comes around (but again, here you would need to be flexible), she is the girlfriend of the leader of the mysterious gang...when you start changing stuff and out-right lying, there is no way in the world the PCs can know.

Second, your absolute first priority above EVERYTHING else is to provide entertainment for these folks. If they are being entertained, you are doing your job. Why do you need to go messing with it? If they are not enjoying themselves, move on. Why do you need a written "rule" giving you permission on how to manage your adventure.

Point 2:
Just last week, as a player was frantically looking up a rule, I looked him dead in the eye and asked, " you want me to let you look it up, or should I just tell you right now that I don't care what that book says?" You are the god. The almighty. It is your world. If you don't want Gather Info checks, then don't have them (or have the players roll to their heart's content, ignoring them the whole time...about 1 in 10 dice I have my players roll are for actually a true, honest roll; everything else is just looking for a 1 or 20 and without them, doing what I intended to all along).

Why do you need a "rule" to tell you how to manage your adventure? I am not being combative, I still honestly and genuinely "don't get it". If my players are bogging down the evening being overly safe: I either live with it and alter the plans to make this "play" or I get them back on track (very, very rarely, usually just let them go).

This has nothing to do with "hippie narrative/story" play, it has to do with: What did you come here tonight to do? If you came here to roll a bunch of dice, why didn't you just go to the riverboat? If you came here pour over tomes, why didn't you go to the library? If you came here to work out equations that a pre-calc student would choke on, WTF?!?!
However, if you came here to use your imagination, be creative and ROLE play (as opposed to "roll play") then...well, we could throw the rule book out the window, couldn't we?

Quickly, before I post my post that is twice the length of the OP, I want to address the "If their are no rules, what is the point?" I have played enough PCs to know that for them, the rules are VERY important because they define what they can and can't do and put mechanics around things. Simply put: I am not a dick, I am a storyteller. If the PCs are playing smart and the dice say they die: they don't die. If the PCs are being morons and having lucky rolls, they are going to suffer. The dice and rules are a guide, it is still a dynamic, open, living world they are interacting with.

A hardcore twinkie player will assume that I am the worst GM in the world because I will just outright dismiss any rule that I don't want to bother with. Funny part? I am FAR more a desirable GM than *any* other person in my group. Other players know the rules better, and I am the one asked to run the game. Why? Because I will make it a compelling tale that is entertaing as hell, regardless of the rules.

I think at the end of the day, I have come to the conclusion: the issues you bring up in this post have nothing to do with the mechanics of the game. If you have a problem with a game mechanic, this we can debate and discuss. If, on the other hand, you are not comfortable with the way you run your adventures (whether to gather info first or not) that is not the mechanics of the game's fault. Please tell me on what page of what book it says, "Always have every player roll a Gather Info for each datum/clue prior to..." It ain't there. You put that limitation on yourself and there is no reason you can't throw it to the wind. The players want to gather info? Let 'em. You don't like the time it takes to run through the mechanics, don't.

Well, there are my 2 and a half cents.

Chuck said...

Heya J!

Well, you have to understand that, as a game master, I can and have dealt with these issues before, in many of the ways you recommend.

As someone writing a new variant OGL game however, addressing some of them mechanically, so the game master doesn't HAVE to, seemed like something I should do.

One more thing to keep in mind: anytime someone writing an RPG does something for the game master, it's generally not aimed at the above-average to great game master.

It's aimed at the average and below game master. They need the help. They are overwhelmed.

GMing a game is hard for some people, and hopefully, the changes I made can take one more distraction away.

Almost always when a game master says "ok you bag the waitress can we move on?!?" it's because he's overwhelmed adjudicating the normal operation of the game and is completely discombobulated by anything "extraneous".