Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Faction/Domain System Test, pt. 1

Well, last night +Adam Muszkiewicz and +Wayne Snyder joined me for a test of the Faction/Domain rules I cobbled together for our DCC characters.

We began by deciding which of the stable of characters were going on adventure and which would remain i garrison. I said something about "adventure on the high seas," and we selected accordingly. Thieves, lots of thieves as they aren't quite as sinkable as warriors. We ended up selecting the characters on the voyage based on what we thought made the most sense at the time, taking no more than two PCs per players. The rest became the garrison contingent, and would represent us in the faction game.

At first I think we had a difficult time figuring out just what this mini-game was "about" for our party, and discussion quickly devolved into repetition of the same things over and over. The substance of the disagreement wasn't so much about how the the game was played, but rather about how the game meant something more than, "First you do A, and then you do B, and then you roll dice, and then you play cards." Adam was growing frustrated because I was repeating myself ad infinitum at that point, and I was growing frustrated because I, frankly, didn't quite understand what the point of contention was. We were lucky that Wayne was there, frankly, because it provided an opportunity to show rather than tell. He and I played a round, explaining in narrative terms what the dice and cards signified. After that, I think we were all pretty much on the same page. Then it started to get interesting.

Several problems emerged.

First, as designed, the card game could be too one-sided. If the players always go first, they will always play their strongest suits in the Card Game. If the GM represents the opposition, the opposition would always simply be responding to the players strongest plays.

We decided that there were two problems, really. One was that the GM needed to have some agency in the deal. This led to the second one: There was no one to exercise that agency. The GM really needs to have factions to represent. We used some part of our time noodling on that, and the result, frankly, is that we need more work there. I think part of the problem is that we still don't know who's who and what's what in Ur-Hadad and, more importantly, the Mustertown locale which we've adopted from the Purple Sorcerer modules. We know it's there, but not who is there. So, one thing that needs to happen is that I need a quick way to generate faction stats and NPCs to populate them.

The next Big Problem was translating what each class of characters brings to the card games. There are seven classes in DCC (Warriors, Clerics, Thieves, Wizards, Halflings, Elves, and Dwarves). There are only four suits in the deck of cards. While it's pretty easy to match Warriors to Swords (Spades), Clerics to Hearts (Cups), and Thieves to Clubs (Wands), the suit of Diamonds (Coins) was less easy to fit. Though we all agreed that it represented riches and wealth in some way, it was hard to determine exactly how. As for the demi-human classes, my original ideas were pretty much an ad hoc attempt to "make it work" as Tim Gunn would put it. I needed to get the draft of the system in place before I could tinker with it, so I did.

We resolved the problem to some extent by deciding that we wouldn't worry about the the classes not tied explicitly to the suits, at least for a bit. Instead we would focus on the suits themselves, and what they represent as narrative modes. As-written here they are:

·         Spades (Swords): These represent war-making ability. If you physically attack or defend, this is what you use. This is not combat in the sense that the PCs will die, but it will affect your faction's abilities in the art of war, and their skill at using it in ways that can intimidate or dominate foes. Common Actions: Attack Forces of enemy, defend against attacks.
·         Hearts (Cups): These represent diplomatic influence. This may take the form of making friends, soothing enmity, advancing one's own political position or undermining that of an enemy faction. Common Actions: Bolster own reputation, forge alliances, undermine reputation of enemy faction.
·         Diamonds (Coins): These represent material resources. This represents the ability to do a variety of things including monetary investments, ability to engage in mercantilism or trade, ability to secure specific material goods and ensure their quality. Anything you'd do with money is represented by this suit. Common Actions: Buy an asset, enhance an asset.
·         Clubs (Wands): These represent the ability to engage in subterfuge. You use this to accomplish or resist spycraft, thievery, assassination, and so forth (and to get away clean afterward, or to detect what was done to you and whodunit to you in the first place). Common Actions: Hide an asset, steal an asset, infiltrate a faction, assassinate a leader, etc.

I think this needs to be tweaked a bit to capture all of the nuances. For example, we discovered (as Adam insisted and I eventually came to see) that Influence, as such, is not just about the above-board talking and diplomacy. It's also about the underhanded shit, the bribes, the threat of war, etc. What emerged from this discussion (which mostly took place as we messed around with the Card Game) was the idea that multiple suits could be played toward the same objective, provided that there was an acceptable narrative to accompany it. This will ensure that our faction game will lend itself to the development of our in-character worlds.

We tested the establishment of particular types of assets. In this case, we built a military encampment (Level 1 War Asset)  began to fortify it (working toward Level 2 War Asset) and began to secure a source of income (Level 1 Material Asset) in the form of Crag Beerbeard's brewery/tavern.

In each case, the players used a couple of different suits of cards to describe what was happening. They used Influence (Hearts), supplemented it with some bribery (Clubs/Subterfuge), and so forth. The players paid an ante to be able to use particular suits of cards, played them. The GM responded in turn. The differences in the outcomes are the "Faction Point buy" toward the desired assets. So, for a 1st Level asset, we used a cost of 10 points, 25 for 2nd level. We're not certain if the level are where they need to be, but they seem to work okay so far.

We also worked out a way for the GM to push back against the players. At the end of the player turn, the GM plays for an opposing faction. This was more difficult, as we don't really have any factions made up at this point. That could emerge through faction play. The players accumulate assets and drawn attention, gain enemies/allies, etc. As this happens, the GM is responsible for filling in the gaps with specific factions and information about them (NPCs, strengths, weaknesses, etc.). I think I'd like to brainstorm with my players a little bit before designing these from scratch. I may have to push a little bit to get everybody to tell me how they imagine Mustertown and Ur-Hadad. Right now, it's all very hazy except for The Soily Dove and Tenkar's Tavern (of course it's the bars they know). I'd like to establish some merchants, priesthoods, etc., and basically make a map of the town. Maybe I can use the Vornheim stuff for ideas about what to do.

One potential obstacle to having that sort of clarity is that, while I'm an OCD control freak and need to nail things down concretely, Adam is reluctant to do so. He prefers to have a bit more openness in the setting. We'll have to arrive at an accommodation about this at some point. I'm thinking that maybe a very, very sketchy map of various districts of Mustertown and the surrounding environs would be a good place to start. Maybe Wayne and/or Adam could provide some map art for this. (hint, hint) Yeah, it's real easy to ask that of other people, isn't it?

Anyway, the system is just barely playable at this point. There's a lot of kinks to work out, but I think the brief play session suggested that it has great potential. I'm looking forward to seeing what kinds of things Wayne and Adam recommend after they've had a chance to think about it a bit.