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.

The Counter Economy

tools-of-the-tradeWhen I ran my playtest session of The Dee Sanction this week, I handed out a bunch of counters – but, by the end of play, not many had moved from their starting position.

I can see why – I do need to more firmly state the existence of challenges and, therefore, the need to roll dice… and in turn, the need to adjust and spend counters to ensure success.

Challenge + Dice = Counter Economy

Achieving success means spent counters. Driving success or suffering failure can mean all sorts of movement in pool sizes.

Essentially, the mechanic around the counters currently breaks down that you can:

1. Spend them to help yourself
2. Spend them to help others
3. Lose them when you fail in a challenge against an opponent
4. Lose them if you choose to ‘take the hit’ for someone else
5. Gain them if you choose to selfishly help someone
6. Gain them if you do something spectacular, funny, etc.

We saw only a little of the first two, because we didn’t roll many dice. When we did, they got spent – but I didn’t reinforce the fact that those pools have another purpose… they’re the difference, in some measure, between life and death. That neatly leads on to…

Losing a challenge (3.) could mean combat or it could mean getting hurt, being imprisoned, falling foul of bureaucracy, or whatever. It represents the physical and notional damage suffered by someone at the sharp end of a failed roll – and when you have zero pool points left you’re out of action. That might mean dead if someone then chooses to deliver a coup de grace or you’re out of touch with anyone who might help you recover. It could mean imprisonment or getting snared in red tape.

If you have acquired Incriminating Evidence – which we didn’t touch on in this session either – you can buy it off by taking damage (4.) instead of another team member. I touched on that in more detail in my recent post on cancelling out your guilty secrets.

If you help someone by spending points to get them a success, you might choose to withhold the reward of that success for yourself (5.) to increase your own personal power or access. It’s a bit like taking the credit for the success of others. I also covered that in a post, on selfish success.

Right at the end of the list (6.), you have the chance to earn points as a reward. For example, one player in this session did an excellent turn with the creepiest tone of voice since Doctor Hannibal Lecter chatted amiably with Clarice Starling.

Between these options, I would expect to see the player pools expand and contract throughout the game, forcing tough decisions in the mid or late game, and more consideration of the value in teamwork spending. One of the players commented on his expectation about this – and it comes as a fair point. The character sheet held on to a largely unused collection of counters that just sort of cluttered the play surface without serving much purpose.

As I mentioned yesterday, I need some tight pre-game patter to highlight how the mechanics work. Not knowing that the counters represent some measure of your livelihood devalues them. I have an inclination to make better use of the white space on the current character sheets to included a few more pointers and brief guides. A note on the Power and Access pools about ratios of expenditure to influence success, for example, would be a good addition – and some mention that if Power + Access = zero or less, you’re in a lot of trouble!