Ore wa katsu!

December 15, 2008

Revisiting the topic of hero advancement, this time for game of shounen genre.

The biggest distinction is that in shounen you just don’t level up until you really need to. Yes, that’s right, you don’t level up until you need to. You can go through a lot, withstand horrible training conditions, overcome hordes of (smaller) enemies, punch the sandbag a million of times, but you don’t automatically gain new abilities or at least you’re not confident enough to show them in public, until you meet an opponent far above your current level, and then you decide: Ok, now I do need to grow. I won’t even give examples here: basically every main hero in every goddamn show has this knack, he grows inconsistently, intuitively, reactively, on-the-fly, on-demand.

Apparently, you should be careful about two limits: the minimum should be possible to boost when you really need to get your friends to go all ‘wow, he’s on a different level now!’; the maximum should be limited to avoid unnecessary godmoding and keep power level elevation on a leash. Let’s just pretend we’re designing a game with this element, so we use the classic pattern of awarding the hero with some growth points for training, for new inventory and for anything else suitable. When the decisive fight starts, the player can decide when to use those growth points to actually grow.

The most important outcome is that the choice of opponents has now story impact. The path that you take, counted in defeated enemies, fully determines the set of abilities you wind up with. In fantasy you grow within an archetype (i.e., an archer or a wizard) and whether you were shooting orcs of giant bees, doesn’t matter. Here it doesn’t matter what your ideal is: the events you participate in and the decisions you take during them — that’s what makes you what you are.

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Level advancement

November 3, 2008

This idea actually will be used by me in the (still) untitled fantasy heartbreaker that I mention from time to time. Thus, if you want to use it for your game, please credit me appropriately.

The idea is straightforward. Let’s talk first about game systems with levels. How do you advance? Usually you get awarded with “experience points” (there are multiple names for them, let me just use XP for brevity) for some actions the character undertakes in the SIS. You can also be punished for something by getting your XP reduced or lose it randomly to a level-draining monster (the latter being not a part of advancement system, but rather another way to scare the player). When your XP reaches a known value, you gain a level – a lot of your abilities take a boost, you learn new spells, have widened memorise facility, acquire feats, etc.

So, I was thinking… why would you go through all such trouble of earning abstract XP to exchange it for something you really need instead of just earning that directly?

I’ve tried this in my ongoing games, and it works nearly perfectly. For instance, if a character will get a new feat on the next level, we introduce a story arc for doing something that corresponds to that feat in the game reality, and the character is slowly working from “I can’t” towards “I can”. When all such things are completed, it’s usually time to get a level anyway – which means just raising some of the numbers here and there.

In the current project, I’m trying to make a system that goes all the way here. That is, you have a list of things a hero must accomplish to gain a level. When you’re done, the level is yours. Here’s a spoiler copy-pasted from the PDF draft about what :

  • Boost an ability
  • Learn a new skill
  • Improve one of the old skills
  • Overcome one major obstacle
  • Meet one new key NPC
  • Research or be taught all new spells
  • Invent a signature move
  • Remove a flaw of an existing signature move
  • Build up authority
  • Experience something completely new

Turning undead

October 13, 2008

I’ve always been thinking about “turning undead” ability as invoking divine presence in the broader sense. You know, the mightier and cooler version of a priestly aura. So, it doesn’t have to be about undead, and it’s not necessarily about turning either. In one of my unfinished games that I might or might not end up finishing someday, I even tried to make a special progression universal for all priests: divine aura, divine presence, divine gift, divine wrath, divine intervention. With these elements defined it’s easy to design gods. For instance, a War Deity can have an aura that inspires people to fight, its presence will increase attack roll successes, the gift can be some awesome warrior-like feats, the wrath will do something bad with the enemy and the intervention will send down an angelic fighter. On the same terms, a Health Deity’s aura will be detecting diseases, the presence will grant regeneration, the gift will cure hp, the wrath will bestow a painful illness, the intervention will fully recover a whole group of people. I can even incorporate this idea into the current project if I finally give up on the idea of all the classes following the same progression and power mechanics.

Also, Noisms had the coolest idea in his Monsters and Manuals blog about sumo priests doing the stomp for turning instead of just thrusting you hand forward with a holy symbol clenched in the fingers. I should totally go back to Salveblues (the fantasy setting I use for my games) and re-think some of the priests that do have turning powers.


About choices

October 9, 2008

Character advancement is all about choices the players make about their characters. At first glance this seems fairly obvious or at least half trivial in any paradigm: immersionists want to progress, narrativists want to increase the impact they can make, power players want to see their numbers going up, etc. And since any real player is a combination of these (and many more) concepts, this should be also trivial to everyone. So why bother writing about it?

The thing is, this is still a commonly forgotten issue. There are two kinds of errors here: either there is no choice, or the choice doesn’t matter. If in your system Strength is by far more important for fighters than other abilities, the answer to “which ability do you like to boost?” is far too obvious; if a skill, a spell or a manoeuvre is a must-have, just include it in the default package already without wasting the player’s time for figuring it out (one of the reasons I don’t play Exalted).

A system without choices in character advancement is as good as a system without character advancement rules at all. At least for me – otherwise I know even people who are weird enough to be proud of their ProgressQuest characters.