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.

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