Friday, February 1, 2013

DCC, the Minor Leagues, and Some Ideas for Domain Play

So, I mentioned (several times) in my last post that there were too many PCs in too small a space. The corridor in which they fought their largest (and longest) battle to date was too tight to allow any real maneuvering. This resulted in having too many characters with too little to do. This is a problem, but one of our own device. And it is fixable by another such device. This will result in fun. This will be good. So what is it, then?

We're going to institute a new rule for our game: No more than two characters for each player. No zeroes unless it's a funnel game. We may fudge this to some extent, depending on who's playing, but this is going to be the way of it going forward. When you have five players in the game, each with four characters, and you ram them into a narrow tunnel... well, let's just say this is a suboptimal gaming experience.

What I'd rather do is have fewer characters, but the DCC system really kind of relies on having a pipeline of characters to rely upon. When you get 1st level guys, you still worry about death, and about (to put it in baseball terms) the "minor leagues." This is where your up-and-coming talent is recruited, trained, honed into the weapons of your heart's desire. I'm thinking that I want to do something with +Adam Muszkiewicz' Winos and Wastrels rules for PC down time. I'm starting to think that could be turned into a Long Game sort of thing.

Here's the thing. I'm not certain, to what extent I want to leave "domain-level" stuff up to the whims of the dice. Sure, it's fucking DCC (Hells yeah!). I get that part. But I think having a mechanic be player-driven adds a level to it that helps people like me-- i.e., guys who fight ADD with OCD. I like to tweak on the details like this. This is about narrative. This is about My Story. The fact that I write a lot of stuff for my campaigns, pretty much a whole, playable module (beta version at least... okay, maybe gamma), means that I do get pretty invested in story, as such. So, I want the characters to be a part of it and, very importantly, to have my players make their own places in it. I don't say "to let them tell their own stories," because I mean to say something a bit different. I mean that I like to see them work within the context of the game I present. I like to see them use things in the game-as-presented to do shit they want to do. Yeah, that's the definition of "sandbox play" pretty much. It'll be nice to have a way to do it more systematically, with a "system" and dice and whatnot.

So, I was thinking about just plowing ahead with it in narrative. Fuck that, though. Let's do something that at least involves dice and strategy. I want something a bit more complex that Winos and Wastrels, and probably something that uses a common deck of cards as a randomizer. A lot of people have done stuff with those. So, both dice and cards. A gambler's wet dream. That sounds fun.

I also think that Stars Without Number (from Sine Nomine) has a neato faction system that could be examined for its possibilities. It's got some ways, mechanically, to do some things I want to do. It helps with creation of factions, a mechanic to have them "compete" for influence and resources and whatnot. It has a turn system to manage that sort of meta-play. Those are all good things. But notice that I'm keep this description in terms of how the system functions instead of what it is. I'd like to see it work more like DCC and less like SWN. Blood and Treasure might also be a place to look (Yeah, and ACKS, but I don't own it, and don't want to spend any more money.).

Some observations about DCC:

The emphasis that the rules put on things like guilds for fighters and thieves, particularly, suggests that they are aware of the impact of zero level entry on longterm play style. Essentially, these give the player the possibility of running a stable of PCs. He or she might have a whole bunch of characters to play, but uses the one(s) he/she wants to. That's pretty cool. You can find a way to keep your characters together, make a story about why they're together, etc. It helps to tell the PCs' story. That's the bottom line. It's the longterm answer to the "Why?" of PC motivation.

In the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign, they players have decided to form a mercenary company. I may have suggested it when Adam was running the game, but I could just have well have done it while GMing. In any case, I really love Glen Cook's series of books about the Black Company. I love them a lot. I've probably read them all at least 8 times. At least. (BTW, it's all just a romance in the end, and a good one at that.) Anyway, that's about a mercenary company over the course of about 30 or 40 years. It's such an incredible source of ideas about things like how a Company interacts with patrons. It talks about lore and people and legends from the Company's history. It gives them a symbol, and a wyrd. That results in some compelling fantasy. Well, I really like it at least.

We also will probably start doing zero level funnels separately from regular campaign stuff. It's the minor league game that gets those PCs ready to compete in the "big leagues." Also, having a stable of players allow us to make use of more modules, especially to mold a party to match the module in term  of level and number of players recommended. Now, mind you, I'm willing to run a higher level thing for lower level characters. Not so much the other way around.

So we need to make Winos and Wastrels work for domain play. We need to consider the notion of factions and faction interaction. We should make the players drive the formation of their faction. We should make that a Thing in the campaign, and use it to talk about what players on their "downtime" are doing. Hell, maybe we can even use their stats to make things happen. A high Personaility could be crucial back in Ur-Hadad, but may conflict with the players' need to have a cleric in the party. There's a lot of ways to leverage individual player powers against the adventuring party's needs.

So, following that, we need some way to incorporate the PCs' stats into something related to faction play. I don't think it need only be Personality. We could also think about how many are Warriors or what the total mods for Strength or Agility might be, and how we could incorporate them into Toughness and Espionage, or some other variables in a faction mechanic.

Finally, and this is important, I think, to managing the stables, domain play should be a feature of DCC from the point where a Zero levels the very first time. It shoud be on players minds for their PCs. It shoul drive the story of the campaign. Most importantly, it should be really, really, fucking fun.

Anyway, this is the preliminary sketch I have in my head.