Inspiration Strikes

hope-or-no-hopeI have written before, probably elsewhere, on the matter of inspiration and the spawning of new ideas. People have different ways of sparking their creativity, or find ideas coming to them in specific situations. It’s that principle that causes writers to keep a notepad by their bed, in case they wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant insight. You have the notepad to hand to ensure that nugget of creativity doesn’t escape you.

I have those moments of inspiration in the shower.

This past weekend, I attended Indiecon – at a holiday park near Christchurch in the south of England. I planned to run three games, two of which would continue my testing of the 214 system. Unfortunately, due to some administrative shenanigans, I found my first two sessions duplicated and ended up running an additional fourth session on Saturday evening.

One key achievement of that evening session – where I ran the PARANOIA adventure ‘Stealth Train‘ with 214 mechanics – came from one player’s efforts to stay out of the action and accumulate copious notes on the misdeeds of colleagues. It occurred to me, while in the shower, that my game system needed to have a means to get people to indulge in teamwork AND erase their sins in the process by making others look less capable.

The analogy occurred to me of the zombie horde and the two survivors running for their lives. The survivor with the best chance of survival doesn’t need to outrun the zombies – he just needs to keep ahead of his colleague. I needed that character hiding behind the vending machine scribbling notes to come out, help the team, and just come out looking better than them. He needs to visibly contribute to the success of his team more often than the least of them – that’s all. To do that, he needs to spend more points than them – and in the mechanics of 214, that’s why team get to spend pool points before the person taking the challenge.

The solution, therefore, comes by starting all characters with Incriminating Evidence tokens. I established in the background for the game that they have plenty to be guilty about. So, if I give them 5-points of Incriminating Evidence at the start of the game and a player character can only lose a point by aiding in a challenge spending their own points they have a reason to help. You make yourself look better at the expense of the person who initially failed their roll and come out smelling of roses.

In a one-off con game, success comes by ending the session with the least number of Incriminating Evidence tokens in your pool. I still have to ponder the significance of emptying your pool in a long term game.

The final morning of the con, I managed to miss the start of roll call for the early game – which meant my game dropped to the bottom of the pile. By the time I arrived I found my 5-player signups had dwindled to 3 players – but, that may well have been for the best. The gaming area had quite a background noise level the previous day and with a lot of people around the table, it required much shouting on my part to get any information across. Fewer players also meant I could concentrate on getting the challenges in and engage the mechanics in progressing the story.

With new Incriminating Evidence mechanic in place, my session of The Dee Sanction went very well indeed. It ran to exactly 3-hours in length and ended with the character coming out victorious and Queen Elizabeth saved. The players provided good feedback – and specifically picked out the Incriminating Evidence mechanic as a good way to foster the counter economy and general teamwork.

I could see they had an interesting time unravelling the investigative conundrum as well. The adventure ran a little differently to the previous occasion at my local gaming group, partially due to their valuable feedback and also due to a different tact from the Indiecon team. I will take the output from both of these sessions and feed them into both the adventure design and the mechanics of the game.

A weekend (and a shower) well spent.

No Guilt Is Forgotten

power-and-accessI have to make time to run sessions of the system without worrying too much about the finer details. However, preparation for All Rolled Up attendance at events has been a priority. Now, I hope to have the chance to pick up some slack.

I like Incriminating Evidence as a way to hold stuff against someone – and I’m good that the counters cut specific records or details. The players all know their characters have guilty secrets. Who discovered them and how they found out doesn’t need to have a specific answer. Ultimately, someone knows something that you wished they didn’t.

Under those circumstances, I suspect it would be a good idea to make amends. It’s occurred to me, for example, that someone with Incriminating Evidence might try to offset their guilt with selfless acts. For example, you might spend a point to take the hit when someone else gets hurt – whether they’re hit physically or struck by reputational dirt, grievous red tape or whatever. If a team mate will take damage to Access or Power, you spend a point of Incriminating Evidence BEFORE they turn over the effect tokens to find out the extent of the damage.

For example, George wishes to have an audience with Prince Reznik to communicate a matter of considerable import. Reznik’s personal advisor, Devit, suspects the information might undermine one of his plans and intercepts George, Maria and Peter. George rolls the dice and gets a twelve, without using any cards to adjust the success threshold. His team aren’t totally sold on the situation and see no advantage in helping, so they don’t spend pool points, and George himself doesn’t have enough to influence the roll.

The sigil on the dice rolled indicates that George has fallen foul of the System and the GM gestures to take an effect counter. Peter impresses his intent to step in and he discards an Incriminating Evidence counter, which George happened to have applied to him earlier. A gesture of good will to win George over, or a shaky hope that they will have a better relationship in future?

The GM turns over the counter and finds a result of 2 Power. Devit sends guards to retain and restrain George. When they appear, Peter steps in the way and attempts to distract them, while George gets away. The guards lose patience and beat Peter up, before giving chase. George won’t get that audience with Reznik today, but he might find another way to get the information to him if he can escape the guards – at least he isn’t locked in some dungeon cell. And Peter’s bruises will heal with time.

To be clear, the fact that the Counter that Peter burned to take the hit for George originally came from George is irrelevant. Once you have Incriminating Evidence Counters in play, it doesn’t matter where they came from. The blemish on your record exists – how you seek to better your reputation and, perhaps, clear your name as a result is entirely separate and non-specific.

On the other end of the spectrum, I see Incriminating Evidence as harmful to advancement. While you have any IE tokens, you can’t improve your character.

Current thinking is that if you complete an adventure with more points than you started, those represent a pool for possible improvement. If you have X Access above your starting threshold, you can spend them to improve a Pool by one point. For a little more, you can take a character card from the development pile – which will be a separate deck specifically intended to support improved expertise. However, if you have IE tokens, you need to exceed your base pool plus those tokens before you’re considered to have an excess. Maybe.

I’m still pondering this one.

Suspicion of Competency

consciously-incompetentThe setting for 214 games assume that all characters have sufficient common skills to survive, but nothing more. They’re not hyper competent superheroes or expert field operatives. They’re just consciously incompetent in most respects. Sometimes they’re more capable, but that expertise exists within the character cards and playing with them can lead to a whole pile of troubles, right?

In the course of play, doing something that isn’t challenging, stressed or time sensitive just happens. If you take a leaf out of reality, most of us will experience a certain measure of the jitters when placed under stress with no time and too much riding on our success. Only in these circumstances should the dice appear.

For example, your character stalks through heavy forest seeking out a suspected camp of bandits. She raises a hand to call a halt to the march of her colleagues and waits for a moment. You ask the GM whether you can hear any calls or sense the presence of the bandits. The GM checks his notes and tells you that after a few moments straining to hear or sense anything you detect a hint of wood smoke. No need for a roll – as you could be dropped into a forest right now and with your untrained senses smell the distinctive odour of burning wood.

On the other hand, when the characters do find the camp, they discover the area in disarray. The tents have been torn to strips, the ground churned up, and the fire extinguished and scattered. Your character wants to know what’s happened here, but that kind of knowledge is anything but common. Your character is a secret member of the Accademia dei Segreti, a ‘scientific’ society that studies the esoteric mysteries of nature. You draw the GM’s attention to this and make a roll – hoping to roll a 6, 7 or 8 for success, or risk the unwanted suspicions of your colleagues.

You always get some form of success when you make the roll – but most times that success doesn’t come about due to ability alone.

  • If you expend a card, you’re drawing on secret knowledge or associations.
  • If a colleague spends pool points, they’re tipping the balance through direct or indirect assistance.
  • If you end up spending pool points, you’re struggling and straining to succeed, putting your well being on the line or pulling in the most obscure favours you can muster.

They’re all examples of success, but the price of that success becomes increasingly drastic and potentially dangerous to your future well-being.