Hey, January's almost over! It's already the 25th, which means I have but a few days to get this Discovery game together if I want to submit it for that contest. I'm not especially worried about it, because there's so little to the game to begin with, and most of the big pieces are in place. Sure, combat needs some way to track damage, but that's a detail that can surely be worked out in the next few days. Right?
(Disregard for the moment the total lack of playtesting. I know I am.)
I've spent some time lately re-reading Agon and Beast Hunters, two games which have definitely had an influence on my thinking for this one, particularly with regards to putting the GM on a budget. In Agon, it's Strife; in Beast Hunters, Adversity. Regardless, the idea is the same: Limit the GM's resources, and, in the process, make him a sort of player too, in active opposition of the others.
Each of these games goes about this in its own way, and with varying levels of detail. Agon budgets Strife based on the number of players and how many objectives they'll need to overcome (usually three). Spending Strife is pretty cut-and-dry, starting from a baseline of 2d6 for zero Strife, and bumping up each die a step for each point spent (i.e., 2d6, 1d6 1d8, 2d8, etc.). And that's the only thing you're really tracking -- the strength of the opposition, handled in one abstract roll. Keep in mind, though, that in Agon, beating the opposition isn't enough. You also want to beat everyone else at the table. That's the real point of the game. The GM's mostly there to give them reasons to fight for the spotlight.
Beast Hunters is designed as a two-player game -- player and GM -- so concerns about number of players and all that stuff from Agon just aren't an issue. Instead, the player tells the GM how many Adversity points he has to work with, based solely on how challenging he wants the game to be. Moreover, spending Adversity is a much more involved process for the GM, involving minutiae like initiative and rather specific combat abilities (at least, "specific" in comparison with Agon). It's interesting to me how these two games execute the same basic idea in such contrasting ways.
I find it unlikely that I'm going to implement some radically different method for this as-yet untitled Discovery game (although in my head I call it A Wizard Did It). Indeed, something akin to Agon looks like the way to go, for two reasons. One, the simplicity of spending points on a single "stat" meshes well with the way PCs are fleshed out. The more detailed I make the opposition, the more detailed I probably have to make the PCs, and I want to avoid that at all costs. Two, it just makes sense to budget points based on the number of players involved.
However, I also want a slider to control the length or difficulty of the game (e.g., 10 Mystery/player for a short game, 15 Mystery/player for a standard game, and 20 Mystery/player for a longer or more-challenging game). If each player starts with 10 potential split between Physical and Mental, the GM generally needs to start with a bit more Mystery than that, because he'll potentially (ha!) be spending it not just on antagonists, but on establishing, altering, or deleting player-generated details as well. Of course, not everything the PCs encounter will be their equal, but you get the idea.
As for the rest of the setting, well, I really want to leave that up to the GM and players, although it'd probably be a good idea to have a random-generation method of some kind to get things going in a hurry (hey, something else Agon does!). That's good, because I loves me some tables and randomly generated nonsense, so I should enjoy putting that together.