Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Scales and Simulationism

I like running games and telling stories. I usually pick up whatever edition of any game I am most familiar with and then run something in that rule set. I might or might not bother to write my own setting. Generally I take an existing setting and modify it to fit my needs. The last setting I bothered to write from the ground up had gnomes and halflings as the horrific enemies. Elves were the dominant race, treating humans and dwarves as slaves, which most of them were. Orcs were the bastions of freedom, and seen as the only ones able to fight the elven oppressors with any sort of success. The world was also on the cusp of evolution, all races were beginning to have children with genetic defects that allowed them to change their physical features, even appearing as different races. I didn't bother coming up with my own rules for it, I just picked and chose from available 3e DnD materials and went from there. I only ran a scant few games of the setting, but it was pretty fun. The system just never felt right. In this instance, I want to run games in a setting without any pre-existing game systems.

I am finding more and more that the ideas I have just don't translate to any one system, or even any two systems. There are a lot of strong options, and a lot of systems that seem like they would meet the goals, but they ultimately fall short. The problem is that I want to run a squad combat game. I don't mean like DnD where your adventuring party runs around and does things, but something akin to Dawn of War, Company of Heroes or even Myth: the Fallen Lords. It's a pretty simple concept, but one that doesn't lend itself to any easy resolution. Players would spend a session or two playing a normal, if gritty and harsh, adventuring style game, and then one session resolving the military campaign from that battle. Each player would take ownership of a company and guide their company through the battle. Survivors from previous battles would be better than fresh troops who hadn't seen battle, and military founds could be spent on boosting certain companies with better weapons, better food, or even creature comforts.

The Black Company D20 setting that came out years ago first spurred this, but I haven't had an inclination to stop being lazy and actually do something with it until recently. The situation is further complicated by wanting to run squad combat while adventuring combat is also occurring. Of course, getting across gritty realism coupled with flexible magic is not something that's easy either. I had been inspired to think of healing as a two part process, mainly from playing Arkham Horror. Physical wounds are one aspect, and the mental anguish caused by those physical wounds is the other aspect. That way, even healing wounds has a side effect, making combat not always the right answer, but not so incredibly perilous that a stray lance spells your death. There has to be the appropriate balance.

This had lead me to think of partially co-opting the Earthdawn (don't run away yet) system of Wounds in some way, or maybe the WW system of degrees of Wounds, but again, not so complicated. I don't like tracking hit points really, it's a great way to track your character's power and all, but I think there can be a more fun and less math heavy way to go about it. Which has led me to a dual wound system. There are only two types of injuries, superficial and serious. Superficial wounds would tick over into serious wounds if they either go untreated, or enough of them accumulate. This number might grow as a character increases in power. The number of serious injuries able to be sustained might be flexible as well, but again, probably a low number. Armor helps to determine the type of wound receive. Each attack is an either OR sort of thing, accepting SERIOUS WEAPONS, like magic or siege weapons or the like.

Magic poses a potential problem, but I think it's manageable. Magic again cribs from Earthdawn a little bit, and a little bit from a crafting system. Please don't run, I think it's ok. I will go into specifics about how it works later, but the gist of CASTING magic is as follows:
1) determine strength of access
2) determine effect
3) decide if you are keeping access for later use
Magic has advantages and disadvantages to keeping it ready to access.

Some spells, if the player wants to make it really complicated might go on for several turns, or have side effects to channel them. Most spells would be instant duration. Most people cannot access magic, and rarely do people choose to access one specific type of magic. Though accepting and being trained in the magic goes a long way to efficacy. Priests gain access to the same types of magic as magi, only though prayer and devotion and adherence to rituals and rites, magi do not need to do this. The other option is bargaining with souls. Only those born with the ability may do this, though they can sometimes allow other people to do it.

How would you advance? Well two ways:
1) Trained skills just take time. Learning weapons, riding a horse, farming, whatever. Different skills take time.
2) Sessions/Stories gives the players feats, aspects, or tricks they can learn and perform. The rough rate would be upon completion of a session for lesser rewards, or upon completion of a story for greater rewards. This is very rough still. I don't think experience and levels is really necessary in this type of game. Probably lesser rewards for most things, greater rewards for the military conflicts.

Death? Death is serious. You almost never get back up if you are dead. There are exceptions.

Tarot Cards. I would like to incorporate the use of Tarot Cards into the game somehow, I am still thinking about it.

Large scale combat. Each squad would have a superficial/serious rating. When they take a serious wound, someone bites it. If the squad has veterans, this might be prevented by expending one of the veteran points they receive. Commanders can do the same, if the squad has any ranking officers. I haven't given this section quite enough thought yet, but I want it to be simple and dirty.

Anyway, I haven't posted in a long time and this is just something I have been thinking of for a long time.


  1. It is really a shame that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition is so hard to modify, because I think it might offer a decent amount of what you want. I should pick up the hardcover Player's Guide - it's supposed to be a simplified, cardless version where all you really need is their wacky dice and the book.

    It still won't directly solve your squad-combat issue, but almost every system I can readily name has struggled with translating its individual-scale resolution up to a unit-scale resolution. I'd be interested in reading any further ideas you have on this topic, and unsurprisingly I'd like to play in such a game if you develop it to that point.

  2. I was thinking and reading a lot about Warhammer, but I think it would just be easier to custom build something easy and quick with room to expand.

    My basic idea is to make units something like characters, with templates to pick from and then you do things that you would have done in Earthdawn when forming a party. You get it a name, you get to pick some engagements they might have been in, or a green squad gets some luck bonuses and such, and then you build your squads legacy. That's how the squad gets better, and then you can use campaign funds to advance your units.

  3. Sounds like a good approach.

    One of the conceits of most (though hardly all) games that include hit points for individual combat is that the hero fights just as ably at 1 hit point as he does at 100, through some combination of adrenaline and heroic resolve. You could continue this tradition into unit-scale combat, but many people would regard this as a bothersome area of non-simulation, which forces them to track declining unit strength, and that proves to be more complicated. Do you know which way you'd want to go with that?

  4. I have thought about it a pretty good deal. I think there would be three (well four technically) states of units. Depending on how you build your unit, you would get bonuses or penalties to each state. It's kind of a combination of tracking hp and just worrying about unit efficacy.

    The assumption is that each Wound here is a death or a % loss, I haven't decided about that yet, of members of the unit. Again, the numbers probably aren't out of control here I just haven't settled on what yet.

    1) Combat Ready - you have over half your units remaining
    2) Heavy Losses - Half of the troops have been killed
    3) Devastating Losses - 25% of the troops are left.
    4) Casualties.

    Commanders would get a bolster or hinder action each turn.
    Veterans would either give flat adds or allow use of one of the feats/actions granted.
    Everyone else does flat kill you damage.

    An example of a bolstering action might be set lances, giving bonus attack and defense against mounted combat for a round.

    An example of a hindering action might be using some of the prepared munitions or suppressive fire or the like.

  5. Actually Reign seems really close to what you're looking for. It's built for players to run organizations and could military organizations, but it is somewhat generalized (you can do anything from street gangs to nations using the system). It's got a magic system but its very specific to the world. Combat is quick and deadly with hit locations. I can loan you a copy next time I am in town. It's well designed and worth mining for ideas if nothing else (though the default setting is so bizarre it borders on unplayable).

  6. Yeah, I'd play this, and I have the same problem with not being able to find a system that I like with the sort of game I want to run. (Oh Dawning Star... why are you tied to D20 Modern? Such a good setting...)

    Incidentally, the setting with the Elven oppressors and the freedom loving orcs appeals to me. W00t for subverting expectations.

    The squad combat idea reminds me a bit of Song of Ice and Fire, when we did armies combat. There were stats that some players had that allowed us to perform actions using army units under our control-- when I played, this was mostly G-Money and I-- and it was pretty awesome, but did not sacrifice our personal adventuring awesomeness.

  7. I'd like to see what I could get out of Reign. I have actually mined Earthdawn pretty well I feel.