Saturday, September 18, 2010

Game Chef 2010: Action City!

I still question whether I'll be able to finish something in time for submission to Game Chef 2010: Sojourner -- I'm pretty busy with, of all things, writing a musical tribute to an old Top Secret module -- but... I'm gonna give it a shot.

So here's what I'm going with: Action City! With an exclamation point!

The goal is to recreate the most Hollywood action movies Hollywood could possibly come up with. Think Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys II -- even stuff like Escape From New York or Beverly Hills Cop. We're talking about movies that embrace (or invented) the most cliched of action-movie cliches. The heroes are one-dimensional badasses with a humanizing flaw, accompanied by some friends and/or hangers-on, up against crafty villains and seemingly insurmountable odds. Y'know. That kinda thing. I'm taking my inspiration as much from the movies themselves as I am from convention screenwriting wisdom.

As for how all of that relates to the parameters of the contest:
  • Journey: I'm interpreting this metaphorically as the character's narrative journey, or story arc, which provides a sub-plot to parallel the main conflict of the story. Every character begins with a pre-existing problem in his or her life to be resolved. The starting point of this arc is determined randomly (I hope), but the resolution -- the endpoint of the sub-plot -- is determined by another player. So if your sub-plot is "Trouble with the Ex," when the story starts you and your ex have something contentious going on, but your resolution could be anything from winning your ex back to just getting on with your life. Progress in your sub-plot is measured on a stress track; the fewer checks in your stress track, the harder the opposition will be.
  • City: Everything takes place in an urban environment. That's it. Plus... Action City! It's right there in the title!
  • Edge: An advantageous personal trait, like "Crazy Like A Fox" or "Die Hard" or "I Know Kung Fu." I realize this is going to be the most common interpretation of this ingredient, but it's too perfect to pass up.
  • Skin: When a character is in a conflict, the player chooses how difficult of a challenge it is. There are three degrees of difficulty: Cakewalk, Close One, or Skin of Your Teeth. (See? Skin.) These difficulty levels are always relative to the character's own odds of success. There's a mechanical incentive to make things harder on yourself: Winning a roll by the Skin of Your Teeth gives you another Edge relevant to the scene.
Some important non-ingredient components:
  • In addition to a sub-plot, each character also has a Hang-Up -- some personal quirk or challenge that can potentially interfere with his or her life. Though distinct from the sub-plot, the Hang-Up should interface with the sub-plot in some significant way. For example, if your sub-plot were "The Ex" and your Hang-Up were "The Bottle," well... that might give you an indication of why The Ex is The Ex. I'd like to determine these randomly, too, but that might not be practical.
  • Each session consists of a number of discrete scenes: Talking and Setpieces. Talking scenes deal with either your sub-plot or your Hang-Up. You might use a Talking scene to have a conversation with your ex, or explore your self-destructive fascination with alcohol. Either one would have different mechanical ramifications going forward. Setpieces are for directly tackling the central conflict. Regardless, all scenes involve at least one die roll.
  • Ah, the dice. Action City! uses d6 pools; you're looking for matches, or sets. Biggest set (i.e., the highest number of matching dice) wins. Ties go to whoever rolled the fewest dice.
  • There is something like attributes, although I'm not sure what I'll collectively call them (hopefully not "attributes"). These are Action (any sort of physical activity), Brains (planning, foiling security systems), Mouth (talking, lying), and Guts (courage, mettle). Each of these is rated from 2 to 4, and any given roll involves two of them. The rating is how many dice that attribute adds to your pool, so if you have Action 3 and Guts 2, you're rolling 5d6.
  • Every applicable Edge adds another die to your pool. This is why it's especially good to rack up additional edges by the Skin of Your Teeth.
  • About those difficulty levels: If it's a Cakewalk, the opposition rolls two fewer dice than you. If it's a Close One, you roll an equal number of dice. If it's by the Skin of Your Teeth, the opposition rolls two more dice than you do. Still trying to figure out a mechanical disincentive for a Cakewalk.
  • Every player has a role. At the start of the game, everyone rolls 2d6. The high roller is the Hero. If there's a tie for Hero, there are two Heroes -- it's a buddy movie. Everyone else is a Friend of the Hero's. A Friend who rolled doubles for this roll, though, will betray the Hero at some point during the story. The low roller is the Antagonist: half GM, half competitive player. The Antagonist doesn't have to play all the NPCs, but... odds are he'll play more than the other players, since he's the guy actively working against them. Plus, the Antagonist does have a character -- specifically, he's the villain of the story. He also gets to determine when a traitorous Friend will turn on the Hero, though he's mechanically incented to do it later rather than sooner.
  • In addition to scenes, the game also has a three-act structure (I think; I'm still waffling on this). Each act has at least one Talking scene and one Setpiece.
  • If your Talking scene relates to your sub-plot and your roll succeeds, you get to check off a box on your sub-plot track. If you fail, you don't -- and in every Setpiece, the Antagonist gets a number of bonus dice ("consumable" dice that can be added to a single roll, one or more at a time, then discarded) per scene equal to the number of unchecked sub-plot boxes at the table. So it's a good idea to deal with those sub-plots.
  • If your Talking scene is about your Hang-Up and your roll succeeds, you get to use that Hang-Up as an Edge in the next scene. You've overcome it temporarily, or learned something from it, that helps or inspires you later on. If you fail, one of your Edges is unavailable in the next scene. Your Hang-Up has bested you for the time being and is preventing you from operating at peak efficiency.
  • The more beat-up you are, the harder things are for you. Something like "Health" will measure a character's general physical condition. Every failed defensive roll (for lack of a better term) in a Setpiece means checking one of those three boxes. If one box is checked, your lowest difficulty is Cakewalk. If two boxes are checked, your lowest difficulty is Close One, and if all three are checked, the only way you can overcome a challenge is by the Skin of Your Teeth.
  • Each game has, say, five Cliches. Preferably, these too would be determined at random at the start of the game. (I'm big on the random thing for this game -- I see it as a pick-up one-shot kinda thing.) Examples include Outrun the Explosion, Crashing Through the Window, and One-Hand Helicopter Hang. Incorporating a Cliche into the action means... uh... something good. For every unused Cliche, the Antagonist gets a bonus die in the last Setpiece. So maybe the good thing they do is denying the Antagonist another advantage.
That's about it, for now. It obviously needs a lot more work -- it's about 80% conjecture at this point -- but it feels like a pretty solid base to me.

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