Friday, April 18, 2014

Getting Gigs in High Strung

Gigs in High Strung are how the game is paced. Each gig is the center of the adventure, and performing well at a gig means a likelihood of more gigs in the future.

When you create the city your band plays in and around, before starting play, you roll randomly for the number of clubs that want live original music. The more clubs, the more gigs you can possibly get. Small Cities like Syracuse have 1-4 such clubs, while Large Cities like Boston or San Francisco have 2-7, and Megalopolises like New York or Toronto have 3-10. Each club also has a randomly rolled Importance rating - a measure of how important this gig is to the band's reputation. 5 of 11 clubs are of Local Importance, 3 of 11 are of Metropolitan Importance, 2 of 11 are of Regional Importance, and one of 11 are of National Importance.

Of course, the more important the club is, the harder it is to get a gig there! The band's reputation comes into play here, as does the band's Agent. The number of dice the band rolls varies by the band's rep - 3 dice for a Fledgeling band, 4 for Struggling, 5 for Aspiring, 6 for Up And Coming, and 7 for Sizzling. You need 3 successes - at or under your Target Number - to get a gig at that club. Of course, the TN varies by the importance of the club - Local needs 15, Metropolitan needs 13, Regional needs 9, and National needs 5. Agents have "ins" with various clubs, which can get you bonuses on the TNs.

All bands start out at Fledgeling, unless half the members are over 25, in which case some of the older members' reps with previous bands carry over and the band starts out at Struggling. The band can increase their rep by accumulating Notice in several ways: Successful Gigs - with more Notice from more important clubs, Important Songs, Schmoozing at parties with Important People, and Demo Tapes. There are also ways to lose Notice. Notice is an abstract representation of word of mouth, press pieces, gig attendance, and radio play for your Demo Tapes. GMs, let the band know how they are doing by giving feedback by this method. For example, hearing your band's Demo Tape played over the radio, or seeing a gig reviewed in the paper is a huge thing.

Next - Performing at a gig!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nasty Cards and Life Experiences in High Strung

Two mechanics going into High Strung:

Nasty Cards

At the beginning of each session, any player may choose a Nasty Card from the deck. Nasty Cards are a freshly shuffled pack of ordinary playing cards. Picking a Nasty Card is always optional, but if picked it must be done.

Nasty Cards are always a nasty act attempted by the player's character on another player's character. Sometimes, they are turned around so that they affect the original PC, but mostly they affect the second PC, to the first PC's benefit.

The Nasty Card drawn might say: "You attempt to seduce a band mate's S.O. - or steal a groupie right from under a band mate if the band mate has no S.O. - and succeed! You are hereby proven superior. You take two Hope from your band mate for stealing their S.O., or one Hope for a groupie."

This can be a viable method for older PCs to stay in the game.

Life Experiences

After each gig, each character rolls a single 20-sided die vs. a Target Number. This TN varies depending on what the character is looking for: Love/Sex uses the character's CUTE score, Booze uses ENRG, Drugs uses SMRT, and Partying uses DANS.

A roll under or equal to the TN is a success. Any success gains you one Hope.

Hooked: A roll of 20 means you are Hooked. Being Hooked means you cannot look for any other source of Hope, and the thing you are Hooked on must always be to your detriment in any other area. For example, if you are Hooked on Sex, you will begin cheating on your S.O. if you have one, and treat groupies like dirt. Your TN score goes down by one. Each subsequent roll of a 20 reduces your TN by one as well.

Escape: A roll of 1 means you found some way to get away from being Hooked - but you are more susceptible to getting Hooked again. Your Hooked Target increases by one - if it was 20, that number now changes to 19-20. Get Hooked and Escape yet again, and it will change from 19-20 to 18-20.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Star Wars-ish Fun and Games!

Last night we ran Star Wars-ish again. The group were on Isis, looking for force crystals, when G2S4 informed the captain there was a large ship approaching the planet. The Isis system is a crossroads of trade routes, and the planet is hidden in thick asteroid belts. The PCs had found it by going up above the ecliptic and noticing the path the planet had carved through the asteroids. The planet had been a rebel base before Yavin IV, but it had been long abandoned.

The ship turned out to be a Manelorean frigate, and while the captain argued with them over comm, she flew the ship - and the little scout they had captured - into a bombproof hangar left over from the rebel base. The captain of the Mandelorean ship sent down 12 troopers in six modified escape pods, in full Mandelorean armor. They handed in a circle around the hangar and worked their way inward.

The three Jedi and two Padawans - Daycon had made the ship's Engineer, Lyssia, a Padawan when she tested high in Force potential - set out to take down the Mandeloreans, along with the rest of the crew.  The Captain, Sheraska, and Delilah, her number two, sneak killed three; Duke, Padawan Torota, and Hosea took down five between them, Dindar and G2 downed two, and Daykon and Padawan Lyssia took down the last two. Seven were dead, and five badly wounded. Torota and Daykon were lightly wounded, and were able to heal themselves.

The Mandelorean armor was tough - the energy weapons had a -5 to their TN - but the Jedi and crew still kicked ass.

The Mandelorean captain contacted Sheraska again, and they made a deal on comm. The Manedeloreans would give her 50% of the take from the salvage of the abandoned fortifications in trade for their dead and wounded and their weapons and armor, and a cessation of hostilities. When she asked where they were going next, the Mandeloreans implied they were staying right there, on Isis.

The captain put down her comm and said "We can't let them stay here. this trade route will be closed down." "How can we stop them?" "Any ideas?" Hosea thought, and suggested the Jedi and Padawans dump the dead Mandeloreans naked into the tunnels, and put on the armor and play dead. "Nobody watches dead men."

So they brought the dead into the hangar, away from the wounded, and put on the armor. They kept their light sabers inside their armor, and played dead while the crew carried them out.

A shuttle from the frigate landed, and twenty four troopers left is along with their captain, second, and third officer. They had the deal all set up on a pad, and both Sheraska and the Captain signed it. Mandeloreans are big on honor, and keeping their word. Hosea realized that the third officer was a highly trained dark Force user, and managed to pass word to Sheraska through Daykon, who was a better telepath.

The dead and wounded were loaded aboard the shuttle, and the Captain and second left with it, back to the frigate, leaving the third officer, the dark force user, behind with the troopers. The "dead" Mandeloreans were brought down to the bowels of the frigate, to be taken out of their armors and put in a freezer for later disposal.

The two crew assigned to this duty - probably as a punishment detail - were very surprised when the 'dead" woke up and killed them. All except Torota kept their armor, just taking out the light sabers, but because Torota was not human - she is an otter like alien with a strong tail she couldn't actually wear the armor, though being small and roughly humanoid she could fit inside it.

Torota became "the prisoner", and they cast subtle Jedi Mind Tricks to bolster this assumption. Lyssia said "Take me to the drives, and I can rig them to blow. I spent years in the Imperial Navy as an engineer." so they headed out towards the rear of the ship.

They passed by a couple of guards with their Mind Tricks, but when they got to the Engineering section, they were caught on camera, which showed them for what they were, and an alarm went off. Lyssia shorted the lock, and they poured into Engineering, taking out the crew while Lyssia rigged the drives to blow in five minutes, after looking up a schematic of the ship.

Lyssia led them up a different passageway, which brought them to a side corridor. With the alarm going, there were troopers in pursuit, and the door was closed, but Lyssia opened the door with a masterwork of electronic engineering - she stabbed the controls with her light saber in exactly the right place. They went into three empty escape pods, and jetted out, just as the frigate's drives exploded.

Meanwhile, the third officer, a twisted, repellent creature, decided to question Sheraska - he noticed there were no Jedi unlike the reports from the troopers. He took her aside to do so privately - he intended to use force lightning on her. The Captain told G2 and the Wookie to get the Albireo and scout ship ready to lift, and went off with him to some trees off to the side. Being fore-warned, she was ready for him, and when he raised his hands to apply the Force Lightning, she triggered her jet boots and soared up into the sky. The troopers grew alert and tracked her trajectory, and Delilah - taking advantage of the distraction - disappeared. Delilah is deadly when she sneaks.

The third officer ran towards the entrance to the hangar, calling on his men to "Stop her before she gets away!" They fired, but did not hit Sheraska. Delilah stood aside, hiding in a shrub, and sneak killed the officer as he ran by. Sheraska used a Luck, and the top hatch was open on the Albireo, so she dropped into it, telling G2 to get the ship lifting. Delilah then Force Jumped into the hangar and ran up the ramp as it closed. The Albireo and the little scout ship blasted off out of the hangar, with the trooper's blaster bolts ringing off the hull.

They located the three escape pods coming out of the exploding frigate, and the Albireo lowered it's cargo ramp and scooped up Hosea and Torota, and the lone Duke. Daykon and Lyssia, still in Mandelorean armor, were able to force jump from their pod to the scout ship. The Captain sent an anonymous message that there were twenty four Mandelorean troopers stuck on the planet, and the session ended.

Woot! Lots of fun was had by all, and this game is sooo freaking Star Wars like we are just loving it!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Songs In High Strung

This is for my upcoming roleplaying game High Strung, where you play the part of musicians in a wannabe band in the Seventies. In High Strung, Hope is your Hit Points, and daily life slowly erodes your Hope. Songs cost Hope to write, but they are the only way out of the slow draining loss of Hope.

When a band writes an Important Song - filler songs can be written with no investment, and give no return - each band member has to secretly invest in with Hope. The Hope invested is then revealed all at once by the band members, and cannot be changed.
For example:

The band decides to write a song called "Some Girls Are Like That."

Joey Sinatra, the singer, puts in two Hope in for the vocals. He writes it down and turns the paper face down.

Carolann Cannon, the guitarist, writes down three Hope for Hot licks and riffs and turns the paper over. She iis young and can afford it.

Bison, the bassist, writes down 1 Hope for the Bottom, then covers his note.

Jonny Lumber, the drummer, writes down 0 Hope for the rhythm and quickly turns the paper over. Jonny is older, and on a losing skid, and decides not to risk it.

The band reveals the numbers, and notes the result - Some Girls Are Like That:  2 Vocal, 3 Riff, 1 Bottom, 0 Rhythm. The other three are pissed at Jonny Lumber for being a parasite, and talk about finding a new drummer.

The Song can be used twice.

The first time is when it is played for the first time at a gig. Each musician makes a performance check, and each success is added up to form a total. This total becomes the TN for the Song's roll. Each band member rolls one d20 + one d20 per Hope invested by that member - so for Some Girls Are Like That , Joey Sinatra rolls 3 dice, Carolann Cannon rolls 4 dice, Bison rolls 2 dice, and Jonny Lumber rolls 1 die. Each roll at or under the TN is a success, and the total successes is the amount of Hope each member gains, in addition to the Hope gained from the gig itself.

The second time is if the band decide to record and release the song as a Demo. The process is the same as the debut procedure, but this time, the total is compared to the chart, which may boost gig interest, gain a bonus for a future demo, or interest a local or national record company. In other words, the bands' Songs are the only way up and out.

If the membership of the band changes - say Jonny Lumber is dumped, and the new drummer is Lauren Styx - the new musician can change the hope invested in each song in the gig list ONCE. This can be done over time, as the new musician becomes used to the band's music.

Comments? Does this look workable?

Monday, March 31, 2014


A new sketch for Lowell Was Right! This one from my current IRC Campaign: Yahira

Monday, March 17, 2014

Re-Incentivising Play

So after de-Incentivising play in my games. I went on for a few years, quite happy. Play was focused on what the players and their characters were interested in doing. I wrote games based on the StarCluster engine, like a second edition of StarCluster, Sweet Chariot, Blood Games, Book of Jalan, Cold Space, and FTL Now. Then I decided to write the first game on my bucket list. My bucket list is a list of games I passionately want to write, whether or not they had any real commercial potential. StarCluster, Blood Games, and Cold Space all sold very well, and gave me resources to indulge my stupid side.

The first game on that list was something based on the long running Age of Sail naval series, like Hornblower, Aubrey and Maturin, Ramage, and Lewrie. I grew up with Hornblower, and the others I encountered and loved for their own sakes. I settled right away on a name - "In Harm's Way", after the quote from John Paul Jones: "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way." That quote epitomized everything I loved about this fiction! Utter badassdom! So I started to adapt the StarCluster system engine to this setting.

The thing is, I needed to model a specific kind of behavior to make this work. This was a military game - and had to produce characters not only wiling but thirsting to go "In Harm's Way!" Characters content to sail around, visiting ports, and only getting into trouble when they couldn't avoid it were out! That was civilian think! Characters in this game had to mold their characters around a military framework, and adapt their dreams to it. So, I had to incentivize this!

Being a bear of very little brain, I went the only way I knew, which was research. How were the characters in these books formed into badasses? How were they able to stand there, not taking cover, standing exposed on their quarterdecks, and calmly order their ships into battle? These were, I found, two separate questions. The characters in the books were promoted for two reasons. They almost never screwed up normal jobs, and they succeeded far more than normal at extraordinary jobs. This was enforced by a system of "Notice". Notice was, in short, the ability to make your superiors *notice* you. If you failed at routine tasks, you were blisteringly reprimanded, and held in scorn. If you succeeded at extraordinary tasks, you enhanced your superiors' reputations, and they were pleased and sought you out for more.

So, in the game, Notice equated to points awarded or taken away for success or failure. The harder the task, the more points were at hazard. If you avoided bad Notice, and accumulated good Notice, eventually you would get promoted. I set out guidelines for awarding notice, and insisted on superiors giving notice personally, or in writing if that was impossible, *in-character*. Now all that did was give the character more authority. It did not affect traditional targets like skills, attributes, or the like. The most fit to command is not usually the best fighter, but is instead the best *leader*.

That brings us to the second question - "How were they able to stand there, not taking cover, standing exposed on their quarterdecks, and calmly order their ships into battle?" The answer, of course, is that if they showed the fear they felt, their men would break and run.

There are two means of getting men to risk their lives in war: Discipline and Leadership. The first drives the men, the second leads and assumes they will follow. Both are equally valid. So, Discipline and Leadership are skills - and are the defining skills of any officer. It doesn't do any good to be the best tactician if you try to drive the men and they won't go.

To back this up, I instituted a new metric for characters - Honor and Practicality. Like Pendragon Traits, these are an opposed "seesaw" stat - they were fixed in total, so that if one went up, the other went down. Honor engendered trust, so it measured the character's reputation for honor, and added to Leadership. Practicality engendered fear, so it measured the character's reputation for doing whatever was necessary for success, and added to Discipline.

So, in order to advance in rank, you had to attract good Notice and not bad Notice, and accumulate it. In order to get that Notice, you had to control your men, using either Leadership or Discipline, backed in either case by your reputation. The more difficult the task, the more good Notice you got if you succeeded. This was the school that made officers long to go In Harm's Way!

Despite being a game I did not expect to do well, it did very well indeed, and there are now seven In Harm's Way RPGs in print, ranging from Age of Sail to dragons to fighter pilots to space.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

De-Incentivizing Play

De-incentivizing play was one of the central concepts I formed before writing my first game. Back in the late eighties, I wrote a version of what later became my first released game (StarCluster) back in 2002. I call it StarCluster Zero Edition, and it is now in its third edition. It was painfully typed out on a typewriter, and I still have it somewhere. I was already sick of experience points, and the way they pushed play - "I'm five XP from leveling up! Is there a rat in the alley? I want to kill something." - that was an actual quote from a game session. This didn't model anything I wanted to do in the game, so first I discarded them from my AD&D game, then still running, by switching to a model of per session increases. The group had no problem and continued on their merry way - with some beneficial changes explained further on.

When I wrote the StarCluster Zero a bit later on, I avoided all trace of XP, leveling, and the like. Instead, the character's age determined his skills. It didn't matter whether that age was gained in-play or out of play - you could create a character of any arbitrary age, then advance her during a game campaign, then gen them up a couple years in-between and be older, and there was no functional difference between that character and a character who had been in play the whole time. No "reward" for inching the bastard up through some bogus "Hero's Journey" from incompetent to functional to ultra-competent.

Balancing that, I dropped the concept of inflating Hit Points as well, creating a derived stat from combining your physical stats and using that as an ablative pool. Balancing things, I made physical stats deteriorate with the years from the end of that plateau after maturity. So increased skill was balanced with decreased natural ability. I also made the age-related increases small, so that younger characters could play with older characters, and they wouldn't be totally outclassed.

So, the final product looked like this: Slow but sure advancement in skill if the character survived, along with slow but sure physical deterioration, and a life-pool based on those deteriorating stats. This resulted in something that felt more natural. Younger characters were less skilled, but harder to injure or kill. They were unskilled compared to oldsters, but were better at picking up unfamiliar skills. Older characters were very good at doing things they knew how to do, but grew increasingly fragile. That looked pretty organic, self-balancing, and facilitated a somewhat more survival oriented feel.

So, without the incentives, why play? I had already proven to myself that such play was just as much fun when I dropped XP from D&D - that experiment worked like a charm. Besides, Classic Traveller had already shown you didn't need leveling - hell, it didn't really have any advancement at all at first! It seems play itself is a hell of a lot of fun, even without the "kick" of leveling, and very different to boot. Players didn't do things just for the sake of grinding out a few more XPs. They did them because they were interesting, or for in-game rewards, or for achieving personal goals. All the XPs had been doing was getting in the way of that.

With XP, characters had been doing things that gave rewards preferentially, whether or not those things in themselves were interesting to the player. Once doing things for rewards had been stripped out, players began doing things they wanted to do. It fostered a revolution in tactics - if you don't get XP for killing things and taking their stuff, it's just as good to scare them away or trick them. The mission is accomplished either way, and it makes characters built on things other than combat far more viable.