Saturday, March 27, 2010

Game-Fu 8: Oh, the Hardships of Game Design

Well! That additional week to work on this game has resulted in another 15 pages or so -- so far. I'm guessing about 40 pages by the time I'm done. I can't believe I ever thought this would fit on eight pages. Sheesh.

So here's a little interesting game-design moment: I'd decided to use the "Character sheet fits on an index card, front and back" ingredient, specifically because I thought it'd be cool to have one side be the character's mortal self, and the other be the character's fairy self. Besides, there are so few stats to worry about -- Gifts, Curse, Possessions -- that I knew I'd be able to fit everything on there with room to spare.

(I still consider this a huge strength, BTW -- making a character is literally picking four or five Gifts and one Curse from a few lists,)

The way I'd finally settled on tracking damage was with Hardships -- take some damage (in short, points of effect achieved by your opponent in combat) and it turns into a short phrase describing what just happened to you. Yes, they're pretty much just consequences from FATE.  You wanna make something of it?

The original plan was to put them in three rows on the index card, in two separate columns on each side: physical and mental on the mortal side, and magical and mental on the fairy side. The lower the row, the worse the Hardship. Every point of damage becomes a Hardship, so being shot for three points of damage means recording three physical Hardships, one on the top row, one in the middle, and one on the bottom.

But that soon became rather impractical. What's a magical Hardship, anyway? The magic rules are pretty all-or-nothing; you spend your effect to determine the bounds of your spell, so there'd never be any left over to deal "damage," really. Plus, none of the different types of magic are directly damaging in the first place. Fairy tales aren't exactly rife with fireballs and magic missiles.

So okay, new plan. I'll have one column to handle all Hardships, but with three spaces on the top row, two in the middle, and one on the bottom, and assign damage limits to each row. Y'know, 1, 2, and 3 damage corresponding to the top, middle, and bottom rows. By filling them all up at once, you could take as many as six points of damage at once without going down, but you'd be really, really messed up.

Then I went to draw that on the index card, and the three spaces on the top row took up, like, three-quarters of the width of the card. So that got nixed for being impractical, in favor of just one space in each of three rows: The top for hits dealing 1 or 2 damage, the middle for 3 or 4 damage, and the bottom for 5 or more damage. If one row is full, go on to the next one.

But... well, really, that's not much different than just saying "You can take three Hardships." Five-damage hits are going to be exceedingly rare, so odds are good that you'll end up taking three 1- or 2-damage hits and filling those spaces sequentially. I worked a couple variations on that, but they all ended up with pretty much the same problem.

Finally, I realized something. The concept is sound, but why lock these Hardships down with pre-defined damage ratings? It's needlessly restrictive both mechanically and narratively. It's also needlessly almost identical to how I treat consequences in FATE, and surely I could put a little distance between us, for once.

So here's where I ended up. You can take up to 5 points of damage in Hardships. When you take damage, write down the Hardship and the amount of damage you took to get it in parentheses next to it. When those numbers exceed five, you're out.

But! I'd been working from the idea that each Hardship your opponent had would mean +1d6 for you, not to exceed +1d6 per row (just to keep the dice pools manageable). Without rows, how does that work? I don't want to do +1d6/Hardship, because again, that'll make dice pools too big. So instead, you get a number of additional d6s in your pool equal to the damage rating of the highest-rated Hardship your opponent has. Yes, this could potentially mean getting +5d6, but the odds of that are low -- and that guy's dead meat anyway, if he's already taken that much damage at once. It's far more likely that you'll take only 2 or 3 damage at once. Plus, typical NPCs will only be able to take a max of 3 damage or so.

So anyway, that's where things are. All that additional material I've written? Fluff that wouldn't even occur to me. I realized I hadn't explained a bunch of central setting conceits, but had left most of them implied. I'm still waist deep in it, but making good progress.

Also, art! I leaned on Andy to draw a few pieces for me, and they're great.

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