Saturday, May 30, 2015

Game Design, Attributes, and Jumping Sharks

In developing Sentinels of Echo City, the process of character creation has revealed something of a bug in the ointment... which is actually good. I'm happy when I find these wrinkles that need to be ironed out while the iron is still plugged in and hot.

In this case, it's powers - or rather a set of powers that fall under the umbrella of POWERS. I mean things like magnetic control, or weather control, or energy solidification, or telekinesis. There's nothing built into B/X that nicely governs these.

To this point, I've been handling these as Feat rolls (or contested Feat rolls, as necessary). Let's go with magnetic control for the moment as an example... Magneto wants to use his magnetic powers, and rolls a Feat to make it happen. Fair enough. He's pretty high level, so his Feat is going to be pretty solid. However... he's Magneto. It shouldn't be 'pretty solid'. This guy picked up a stadium with his powers. He routinely picks up dozens of cars at once. That's not 'pretty solid'. In fact, the biggest problem is that anyone of his level with magnetic control is going to be 'pretty solid'.

That's nice for game balance, but not so hot for the source material I'm trying to emulate.

And this is where we may jump the shark.

Now, while I don't feel BEHOLDEN to the foundations of the game, I don't want to make changes willy-nilly. I especially don't want to make changes that harm cross-compatibility with other OSR games. This has to look and feel like B/X with significant but nearly invisible surface changes.

At this point, a few attributes aren't really getting much mileage - INT, WIS, CHA - and the game has some needs. I can find places to use INT and CHA, and in fact can lean on them even more if I end up making a few tweaks, but WIS just isn't fitting. I've got a draft of the entire book done, and I have not found one situation where a character has to make a WIS check, or uses WIS for anything. Basically, B/X just has it there for clerics. No one else needs or uses it. This game has no clerics.

So, if I simply swap out WIS for a PWR (power) rating... I open up a world of possibility. Now all of those contested Feats become WIS actions against the target's Feat resist. Now Magneto can have his PWR 24 or so and rock out the magnetic control like he should. And, now I can have other attributes share the load a little more. All of the social control powers (mind control, emotion control, fear) get tied to your CHA. Most of the mind controlling characters in comics have high CHA - either they are attractive, or have strong personalities, or both. That's CHA. And this makes sense with how STR works. You make a STR check to lift a car with your hands... why would you roll a Feat to lift a car with your mind? Another Attribute check makes more sense.

This may feel like a minor change, swapping out wisdom for power, but to me it starts to gnaw at the foundations of the game a little too closely. However, it doesn't hurt its compatibility with SSR at all - a cleric can show up and be just fine. He happens to have wisdom that works one way, and the superhero he's working with happens to have power that works in a slightly different way. No harm, no foul.

Okay. Back to designing...