Monday, February 26, 2018

HP and XP are Lazy. Let's Make Them Work Harder

This is a stream of consciousness type of blog post. Hopefully you'll like it.

Yup, another Game Maker's Toolkit and this one is a doozy. Mark quotes Miyamoto about how a good mechanic doesn't solve one problem, but a bunch at the same time.

Oh, right, I'm designing a table-top RPG that's a multi-generational fantasy epic. Players will play at least two (hopefully more!) characters across the course of the campaign, with the previous generations having a huge impact on what's played in the next generations. It's based off of the d20 system, specifically Whitehack, with some re-thinking on the basic mechanics that DnD players take for granted. One of these is health, dying, and experience.

Like most DnD clones Whitehack operates on XP, with differing XP requirements for leveling for each class as a way of balancing out more powerful classes. I had already combined XP with roleplay by removing the XP system wholesale from my version of the game and instead tying progression to the number of Beliefs changed. While I'll write more on Beliefs later all you need to know for the moment is that they're ethical statements that are controversial to the setting. In order to level up you must change Beliefs. In order to change Beliefs you must challenge them in play. Each time you challenge a Belief you earn XP, which goes towards changing Beliefs.

I had already had a little bit worked out on HP, which I thought about letting players burn on getting re-rolls (1 HP per die re-rolled) at the possible cost of going down faster. This is a bit harder to get players to do in Whitehack because the hit points are lower, but in my mind it means you're not going to re-roll a die unless you really need to, relying upon the double positive rolls from your groups to do the job.

But what if we merged it once more, and made it to where HP and XP were the same thing?
What if damage by default went to a character's ability scores randomly (roll 1d6 each time, yes, we're using the DnD main six stats) and you had to elect to sacrifice XP  so your ability scores didn't suffer? In the old system I had it to where you needed to get 6 XP to change a Belief, but what if here you needed 6 XP at the end of a scene to do so? All of a sudden combat becomes a very different affair, doesn't it? Each time you have a chance at a fight the question shifts from whose butt you're going to kick to "How do I get through this the most economical way possible?"

But let's add a further twist, cause that's too straightforward. If there's only one way to handle your gameplay it's shallow, not helpful. What if we made it to where if your ability scores were damaged you had the option to re-assign them as you saw fit with an ability check, one point at a time? So let's say you're trying to convince your brother the duke that he should step down and let you rule for a "little bit". You've lost about 8 points all told from you ability scores due to combat and environment, and you decide you'd like to increase your Charisma, which is currently at an 8 (this game is a roll-under system, d20-based). You decide to invest a point in Charisma and you do and you get that regardless of whether you fail the check or not. If you want to take a brief hit to your stats (which otherwise regen at 1 point per stat per week) you can set up your character more to your liking (you better believe I'll do random stat rolls!). Now there's an interesting choice.

But that's still too limited, because not everyone will want to redistribute their scores due to injury. What if we make it to where every time you change a Belief you can move a point around? That way, if you get injured, you can still do rapid re-prioritization, but you can slowly re-make your character by challenging Beliefs, which then lets you not only become more powerful but to specialize in what you'd like to be over time.

And that's just one generation. Next time I'll talk about how this feeds into the only thing that actually matters in a multi-generational game: the setting itself.

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