Sunday, February 13, 2011

My new campaign

I've begun an experimental game. It consists of a game of factional diplomacy and treachery by a group online (old gaming buddies and friends), and a tabletop game in "the meatspace" as one has called it. Both are using rather improvisational Fudge-based rules (I can't stand the capitals to write it properly: FUDGE). The players on the internet are part player and part-GM: they have to fight and faction, but they get points for writing game material and

This is the first time I've ever GMd in Fudge, and I finally get what the other GMs are raging about. No, I'm not claiming a wealth of comparative experience. For me, this is literally "So this is life outside of Dungeons and Dragons..." Obviously I've read other sessions. I got interested in Burning Wheel for how it linked story to game mechanic; I liked a lot of the minimalist systems I'd seen (just a few main attributes, a couple of distinguishing marks).

But Fudge is quite nice. I literally make the game up as I go along. The character sheets were composed of a mental list
  • What am I going to roll when bad stuff happens to them?
  • What am I going to roll when they want to do things?
  • What plot hooks can I use to make them dance?
That's about it. The players are doing the same thing I did when reading the rules, and using numbers instead of adjectives. Fudge attributes are rated on a scale of Terrible to Superb. I find it easy to generate enemies appropriate for a situation. If they're getting in a barfight, I figure everyone there is basically a mediocre fighter. Not poor or terrible, to be sure, but with no real skill. Or it could be a rougher bar, and a few fair combatants step out of the pack. But from a word I have an instant combat skill.

Then I just adjudicate the players' tactics. The first fight was pretty simple, not much to it. I think I have to put the players in "chunkier" terrain. The docks aren't flat wharves. Piers extend into the water, pyramid of wine casks, merchants stalls, and of course rigged ships. I haven't got any such thing as hit points, weapons, or armour yet, and I think even there I'll just distinguish between armed and unarmed, and allow for light or heavy armours (and heavy armour will have severe drawbacks: maintainance costs and the turtle-on-its-back effect).

This absurdity has gone to the point where the faction players and the tabletop players are working on two different kinds of character sheet. Why did I do that to myself? I've stopped asking for character sheets and I ask for paragraphs instead. One by myself:
A scarred veteran of the crusade against the Naratoi heresy, Sir Hector of the Redbanner Guard is a fearsome man. He served with distinction during the entire war, and after the fall of Narat he was knighted by his master the Count. A hard-headed, devout individual, he represents a pillar of stability as he leads the Redbanners through the streets of Umwart.
I had a discussion with my uncle the other night about the use of adjectives; we agreed that an adjective needs to justify itself in a text: if it doesn't tell you something pertinent, it doesn't belong. Here, the use of adjectives is strategic. I sit down at the table with a list of extras generated by the faction players (who score points to be used for deviousness whenever I use their characters). One good paragraph tells me what I know to put a character in any situation.

It's a similar experience to coding text adventures in Inform. Every word matters. You come up with a list of elements that can be manipulated, and you decide on their properties ad-hoc. So I find myself noting the prowess of the fighting challenge in the adventure, or the difficulty of a task. But really, apart from a list of characters (and after my first experience, plot hooks!) there isn't any real plan. I'm going to try to keep the system light and easy (complexity online is another manner... this thing will be a rulebook when it's done), and keep improvising. But I wouldn't mind enough rules to run one session as a tactical wargame (even a loose one), or to run a decent duel. I guess I just need a sentence, and figure out where the adjectives are justified.

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