Mercenary Mondays: The Primacy of Defense

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

Additional Note: Sympathies and sadness to the affected at CCP and White Wolf (one of the oldest and one of my personal favorite RPG companies). Their RPGs live on at http://www.theonyxpath.net. You should all check it out. 

One of the hardest struggles in designing and balancing an RPG will always be combat. It gets harder when you approach the science fiction genres due to the rather varied and excessive power levels of weapons and armor. For example: In World of Darkness (see note above. A modern setting) RPGs, when you shoot a gun, the only defense is reduction against the damage. You can’t dodge or leap out of the way.

In Pathfinder, you can use your dexterity to apply defense against ranged attacks, which stacks with armor.

In science fiction, you have to strike a balance between deadly combat, powerful weapons, and powerful defenses.

But then you run into other problems. Games that utilize  reduction mechanic for damage and a defense mechanic struggle with balancing both. Generally one is better then the other.

For example, in the Scion game, damage tends to always outweigh reduction, so in combat, it’s preferable to have high defense to avoid getting hit at all, as your reduction will not balance up with that.

However, in Mutants and Masterminds, it’s very easy to get hit, and requires much more investment to avoid an attack. Therefore, combat tends to skewer towards high resilience characters.

To throw additional wrenches into our intricate machinery here, what about different types of damage? Should all armor block bullets, lasers, explosives, and gravity weapons equally? Should we separate out damage types? And then how do we handle that? What blocks lasers? How does that impact bullets? What about weapon calibers, scale, melee combat, and more.

Geez, right? Welcome to the mess inside my head. Honestly, designing a intuitive, dynamic, effective, and tactical combat system, whilst trying to adhere to the prime rule I had established at the start of the design (keeping it simple), was the hardest task of the initial game. So, whew. What do I do to resolve such a dilemma?

 


 

Now seems like a good place to discuss my overarching design philosophy towards Schlock. During the first few weeks and my reread of Schlock, I established a few rules regarding how I should approach the game.

 

1.) Keep it simple. Complicated and convoluted RPGs tend to find difficulty grabbing long term players, and one of the primary goals of the Schlock RPG was allowing easy entry for all sorts of gamers, not just fans of Schlock.

2.) Keep it in the realm of common sense. All the rules should be easy to follow and be extremely logical in how they work. No THAC0 to overwhelm your brain. No calculus or algebra during creation.

3.) Keep it fun. Part of the appeal of Schlock is the humor and fun you get when you read it. Every day brings a smile to your face, and that’s something ever session should have.

4.) Keep it something people want. There’s a lot of SciFi RPGs on the market, and Schlock needs to stand out. We really need to deliver a top notch experience that shows that cooperative storytelling has a place in the Schlockiverse.

 

So, when approaching combat how did I handle each of these points? I feel like each rule requires it’s own post to really show the details and thoughts of how we got there.

Next week, I’ll talk about how Rule 1 affected combat design, and what we did.

 

 

Mercenary Mondays: Characters!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

A good story, in any form, can live or die on it’s characters. Strong characters can often drive a story past any of it’s faults, flaws or shortcomings. Weak characters, expose those same issues to the reader.

As the imitable Joss Whedon said: “You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.” And really, that is the core of any good story, and as we all know (or I assume you do since you are reading this blog), roleplaying games are all about the stories. And that’s really something we wanted to convey with the Schlock Mercenary RPG. Space Opera can live or die on it’s grand scale, and it’s driven by the choices and decisions of their characters. A good character in an RPG can be a joy to play. You really attach, tell stories years later, and really empathize with that character you created.

I know for myself, if I really like a character, you know, because I’ll buy new dice, stick the sheet in a sheet protector, and ensure that particular character never gets lost.

With a roleplaying game, the first choices you make as a player are about your character, and we wanted to drive the Schlock RPG to show that. There are really a few ways we can set about it.

The first set of choices are class driven. Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) really sets up your class to define your characters, and any extra bits you want to add it are the rules. They’ve tried to modify this over the years, with the introduction of background feats, traits, etc. Pathfinder has done similar.

The second set is really how The Dresden RPG does it. A series of questions that define your character, and by answering them, you generate your stats and abilities.

Lots of systems meld the two ideas. Legend of the Five Rings has a 20 questions you answer, and then your family, clan and school of training all generate your stats and abilities for you. World of Darkness uses a vice/virtue system to help define how your character reacts, but your background is mostly left to you. Traveller takes the other extreme and has your background generated for you as you make the character, ending with the possibility that you could die during character generation.

So how does the Schlock RPG plan on sending you on your journey across the stars!? We got a couple ideas and I’ll let you in on the current way we’re handling it. Obviously this is all in beta, and subject to change.

You select a Sophont template. This gives you some stat modifiers/skill adjustments. These changes reflect the inherent abilities of your “race”. You then use our character creation method to generate your stats.

After that, you answer 10 questions about your characters past. These questions have answers that send to a ranked list of possible background selections. The background you select gives you some flat skill bonuses. These skills represent what you’ve learned throughout your life.

Second you’d pick your “command package.” This defines your role within the ships hierarchy and gives you yet more skill bonuses to represent your training in the mercenary charter.

After all that, you get free skill points to modify your skills with. These final points reflect your characters chosen areas of study and expertise.

All in all, this should really give you a feel for how your character came to be.

Looking at the spread there, it seems pretty complicated, but in practice it’s actually really quick and simple. Our goal was to have your character be generated in under 20 minutes and provide a list of options.

After all that, we have a list of questions that pose situations to your character. You answer them, and in doing so, attempt to determine how your character would react to specifics, and to breathe a little bit of life into your character.

Equipment and all that falls later into the process, and we’ll get into that latet with the next topic! After that, next step is your mercenary charter creation. That’s a topic for another post!

Thoughts? Suggestions? As usual, sound off below!


 

As a teaser, here is the current list of Sophonts, background and command packages:

Sophont Templates:

Humans

Uniocs

Uplifted Gorllias

Kreely

Frellenti

Neophant

Vhorwed

Fobottr

Amorphs


Background Packages:

Military (Grunt)

Military (Officer)

Espionage

Criminal

Pilot

Scientist

Medical Professional

Civvie


Command Packages:

Commander

Quartermaster/Munitions Officer

Engineer

Doctor

Legal Counsel

Captain

Chaplain