Saturday, July 4, 2009

24 Hour RPG: Out of the ashes of a failed attempt

Dear Reader

I tried my hand at the 24 Hour RPG competition, and failed. I had picked the phrase "semi-disposable," and was beginning to structure a game based on the experience of Soviet soldiers at Stalingrad. Each soldier had an individual dice pool and battles were played out in a series of scenes inspired by Grey Ranks (there were, in fact, a lot of similarities between this game and Grey Ranks or Carry). In each scene, every soldier rolled their dice pool to determine what contribution they made to a plan negotiated between the GM and one player who played the Sergeant. Successes (5 or 6) contributed to overcoming the Germans, failures (1) didn't detract from that but put the soldier at risk of death.

The interesting bit of the concept was to be a communal dice pool called the "Tactical Situation." These dice would be at the disposal of individual players, who could roll tactical dice to protect themselves from the dangers of failure. Any that weren't used in this way would be at the Sergeant's disposal to help beat back the Germans. So there was to be a tension between individual survival and group success.

The concept was flawed in a few ways:
1. I wasn't quite sure what the overall goal was, except perhaps to play until the squad was exterminated or the GM decided they'd had enough and the Germans would get defeated. It made it difficult to predict progress through the game, and how to set the stakes at each point.

2. I had a roll outlined for a political commissar, who could theoretically sack the Sergeant. But I had no idea how, or why, he would do so.

3. The game was lacking in motivation, not just for the group as a whole, but for individuals. Why would they sacrifice themselves for group success? Then again, there was little room for individual development, so why not?

I have thought of how to salvage some of the work, however. I might recast this as a medieval rpg. By that I mean emphatically NOT a fantasy rpg, but one depicting the struggle between lord and villein. Perhaps this is because I know a lot more about medieval society than the Red Army in WWII, but this causes the roles to come into sharper focus: the Sergeant becomes a Lord, the Commissar becomes a Priest, and the soldiers become peasants. The game is about the peasants trying to eke out a living, playing mostly as a team that rolls a dice pool called "the commons," or working small freeholdings of their own, while the Lord and Priest are trying to appropriate as much of the peasants' wealth as possible for their own enrichment and goals.

Possible "adventures" would include the black plague (creates a land surplus or labour shortage, depending on how you look at it), wars with France or Scotland (calls men away from their farms, threatening famine, but also offering riches), or simply start conditions off as gruelling (high taxes, incessant persecution of heresies) and see how the parties work things out (google 1381 if you want my prediction).

This game would probably be best played without a GM, with Lords or Priests initiating most of the action by naming their own goals (fight a war, build a cathedral) which would necessitate a high rate of taxation. It would need means of tracking construction projects, accumulated wealth of various sorts, and a rudimentary combat system.

It would be quite nice to design this so it could be played with up to 25 players, including several lords, priests, and even a few townsfolk, with a wide range of dice pools representing productive land all over the place, and let the rivalry of the lords (both spiritual and temporal) drive the game. Then I could use it for introducing students to medieval history.

Hmmmmmmmmm. Sorry for the rant, an idea is forming.


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