Sunday, 26 July 2009

Downtime Thoughts Part 2: Nailing the Basics

Here are my basic thoughts for a downtime conflict system.
  • Each player who has the Asset Benefice gets their asset transformed into the capital of their own province (note that if you buy a small asset, your Province may not be very impressive).

  • The capital Asset has three basic stats: Piety, Trade, Court. The first three represent the influence of each faction (Church, Guilds and Nobles, in that order).

  • All Assets (including the Province's capital) also have Attack and Defence scores. These can be upgraded by buying add-ons to each asset - for example, a guard wall would provide a defence bonus to the Asset.

  • The Piety, Trade and Court stats represent each faction's influence in the area generally. They also have a direct value in that each has a special rule. For example, Trade generates additional income, while Piety can be used when losing battles to keep up morale and Court can provide law enforcement against illegal contracts signed in their area. (These special rules may change when I think of something better). Other characters can attack these stats, allowing them to move them up or down if they win.

  • The asset's controller is in charge for as long as they keep their faction's stat higher than the others; if the other faction stats are risen higher than the controller's stat, the other faction has more influence, they may barter it in game or simply attempt a coup.

  • Players can also use actions to attack others' non-capital Assets. If they win, they bring the Asset into their Province and gain its effects.

  • As well as buying troops, technology and structures to add to their Assets, there are a number of NPC Muster merc and unaligned pirate groups hanging round. Merc contracts are open for bidding every downtime, with the highest bidder gaining the mercs for that period (or one action, I haven't decided yet).
Next I need to look at crafting and trade, to fit them in.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Downtime Thoughts, Part 1

Downtime is a part of the game where players continue to act. It is the 'off screen' section of the game, something that happens but isn't shown. It is not used in all games, but is common in political games, most notably the Minds' Eye Theatre games Vampire: the Masquerade and Requiem, both of which have dedicated subsystems.

Passion Play also contains a brief downtime system, which runs as follows:
"Due to time constraints, players might not be able to finish everything within a game that they need to do. In that case, players can turn in a list of actions they would like their character to perform between game sessions."
To be honest, that's not as in depth or thought out as I'd have liked - hence this essay.

The first thing is to ask "what are downtimes supposed to do?"

Let's try a few answers:
  • Downtime provides interaction between players while the game is off. Given that LARPS tend to be monthly, this is important for maintaining interest.

  • Downtime allows for a type of gaming that doesn't fit the actual LARP session, namely empire-building.

  • Downtime also gives players something to aim for, by giving them the time to set up long-term plots. These plots can be set up out-of-game, with the coup de grace played out in-game, for dramatic effect.

  • Downtime should be simple. I'm a GM who believes that all system calculations should be simple enough for mental arithmetic and that the use of charts is ungesund
So, given all this, what do we do? Well, the first thing to do is see what systems are already out there and what elements are steal...uh...researchable.

The obvious place to look is Vampire: the Masquerade/Requiem (I haven't played Requiem, so my understanding of it is sketchy, but bear with me).

In this system, characters can buy the Influence Background in certain areas (government bureaucracy, crime, etc.) and then spend their influence for certain actions such as furthering their plans, attacking their enemies, or to grow their influence further. They can also use servants for various functions, such as espionage.

In the Requiem system I believe the number of actions available per downtime are rationed through use of the Humanity stat, with bonuses for various skills and vampiric powers.

Either way, this system does not really translate well into Passion Play - as nobles, priests and guilders tend to claim influence in a discrete unit (a fief, company or diocese), rather than the more amorphic 'fingers in pies' form of influence used there.

That said, the actions system makes sense, although obviously the limit would have to be linked to an appropriate stat/skill, which would be Bureaucracy, with a new Metier of something like Seneschal, or some other skill defining the ability to run a fief (technically that's what the Seneschal did, but work with me here). In addition the Assets benefice suits our purposes by defining the size of the character's land and with it, income.

There is also a fief management system in the Lords & Aliens sourcebook. While it is more aimed towards roleplaying and therefore too handwavey here, the basics push in the right direction so we'll ignore the mechanics but try fit in the idea.

OK, let's make a start.

  • Characters gain a number of downtime actions equal to their Bureaucracy skill plus the Marshal metier (it sounds better than Seneschal and means roughly the same thing).

  • An alternative to this system would be to base character's actions upon their rank, representing the ranking person's power. At this point Rank only really serves for contract mechanics, so it gives it something else to do and emphasises the power of the feudal system.

  • An action can be anything from interacting with a third party (no internet or mobile phones here, so it takes time) or recruiting mercenaries, to invading an opponent's fief, hosting balls and other large-scale events.

  • The resources with which a character has to play with comes either from their territory, contracts or other RP sources. Territorial funds come from the Asset Benefice, which determines the fief's income, defence and offensive ratings (Income will have to be tweaked here, to divide by 12 months instead of by 10, as per the rulebook).

  • This Benefice will also be expanded to suit the system - each fief gains a defensive and offensive rating based on the size, representing the forces available to defend it. Other elements will be introduced, such as the ability to bid for mercenary contracts, with Mercs having their own stats. Other Benefices will also be thought up, such as the ability to build defences and recruit other assets, such as spies and assassins (think of Shogun: Total War)

  • The Ally Benefice allows the player to gift one of their actions to their ally, allowing the player to use their ally's social rank for that action.

Anyhow, those are my initial thoughts. What do others think?