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Cities as player characters

If a city or state were a character how would you express it?

  • What would the attributes be?
  • Do they have character classes?
  • Would it have Advantages and Disadvantages?
  • How would you damage or kill it?
  • How would it attack or influence city/states around it?
  • How would it grow, and what would it get XPs for?

I’m not looking for game system unless it can illustrate how it's done. What I'm looking for is how would you make one and how you would play it. I know FATE Core and Mutant Year Zero could do it, but I want to dive deeper.

What would Night City, Greyhawk, Atlantis as a character look like?

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

LorenzoC's picture

Your request is clear but the more I think of it, the more questions arise. Are we all playing one different city? Are we playing different aspects of the same one? Do we need rules for "combat" or conflict and if so, we're looking at rules for literally running sieges, or we play long term competitions over the course of decades or even centuries (such as Athens and Spartha)? Are these city-states or they're meant to interact with and possibly obey with other forms of government, which would inform the agency of the player?

And I think all that means is ultimately: how does the desired play look like?

One thing I know for sure is that the first approach I would explore is having systems (stats?) that can grow and shrink over time, something like bands or tracks. Maybe we need to lower culture to increase stability, or we weaken our trade when we invest in military and so on.

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

LorenzoC,

Thank you for replaying with the additional questions. They will ultimately help me figure out what I want :)
My original goal is to create a system that the PCs can interact with and influence as normal player characters.
My original goal-
The PCs would not live in a static world and their actions would have a direct and tangle effect on their surroundings. The system would work on different and increasing levels. City -> State ->Country -> Continent -> World, and maybe possible system and galaxy (I get ambitious).
The PCs are the primary focus, and therefore the movers and shakers of the world.
So, let’s take a game of heroics where the PCs are superhuman. In most games the world is static, and the heroes play to maintain the status quo. I found this unsatisfying because beings with earth-shaking power should be able to proactively shape the world how they see fit (good or bad).

Now back to the city
A supergroup starts in the city and influences the societal and governmental outlook after a while. Imagine the Fantastic Four. I imagine them being more proactive and using their super-science to make a better play rather than hoarding technology and keeping a portal to the Negative Zone on the top floor for their personal use.
What if after a play session, the FF made a change to the city, or the GM made a change to the city determined by what the PCs did. 
Maybe the city is safer. Perhaps the safety of the city goes up. Maybe the city’s outlook on the PCs changes for the better. 

What I conceived originally was a set of sympathetic attributes that could be changed by the players after each game. The Attributes would be abstractions a society and could be raised or lowered as the game moved forward. Eventually, the environment could scale up. -The Fantastic Four changes something on a Regional level (maybe fusion energy for the eastern seaboard)- So now they are affecting the same attributes on a national scale. 

On another forum, someone suggested the following-
The characteristic scores were:
Military Strength (MIL)
Law (LAW)
Size (SIZ)
Communication (COM)
Religion (REL)
Wealth (WTH)

And then more things are figured out from there. The damage the kingdom can do in warfare is based on MIL. The population is based on SIZ. Then you have "Capabilities" which are like:

Basic Capabilities Table
Capability Characteristics
Commerce WTH+SIZ
Dogma REL+LAW
Espionage COM+WTH
Government LAW+COM
Warfare MIL+REL

Ideally, I want something the players will WANT to engage with, something fun with the potential to drive the game forward. 
In a more mercenary sense, the makeup of the city/area would give the PCs advantages and disadvantages. A city may change to fear the PCs or to add extra help when needed depending on the new make-up of the city/area.

Could the City do battle with another city?
Yes. On a macro level the city should be viable to take actions as a character does. 

What should you get out of play?
The PCs actions should directly affect their environment. Nothing is static, and the PCs should be proactive rather than reactive. If by extension the city is a part of their characters, they will do everything ijn the power to protect and promote it as a place, and idea.

LorenzoC's picture

I'm a fan of systems (expecially on this scale) that promote some sort of conflict, so I would probably decline the stats you listed in a way that forces some sort of choice.

So for example I wouldn't just have "wealth" but probably I would oppose internal demand to exports - are you going to sell your goods outside of the city walls for maximum profit (meaning a possible increase in poverty and social injustice), or you'll give priority to the citizenship, possibly slowing down economic growth? Does a strong military force impact the economy or the cultural growth somewhat, by forcing young people to serve instead of focusing on those topics? Does having a very secure town go hand in hand with having a liberal society? And so on and so forth, nothing too deep or realistical, but something that doesn't allow you to have Eden either.

You cite Atlantis - so you have great technology, and a very safe society, but you also have predominant racism and borderline xenophobia, stagnation in population and so on. Gotham City is very rich, but also very dangerous, etc etc.

Hope any of this can help.

LorenzoC's picture

I'll add as inspiration for such system Gangs and Lairs in Blades in the Dark, to cite something that's relative to the current zeitgeist. The old AD&D setting Birthright had some of this in terms of creating a very strong bond between characters and their country, and having subsystems to manage how the character's actions impacted the kingdom.

robowist's picture

 

I, too, am intrigued by the questions, but as with LorenzoC, I'd need more information before really wading into the answers. 

There is, in my mind, a difficulty of playing a city as a character in an RPG because I’m not sure how, as a player, I would get a handle on such a sprawling and diverse entity--how, in other words, I would be expected to embody the city in actual role playing. And I’m not sure exactly what the player investment in such a “character” would be.

For game models where “cities” or “nations” begin (however tentatively) to approach characters, you might go to interactive strategy games / war games like Diplomacy which have an open-ended, immersive component. I have been involved in many games of Diplomacy where the players get into their roles as the leaders of their nations, which adds a dramatic, roleplaying-esque element to the mix. 

There are also RPGs where players take on the role of characters, but they do so with the idea of a larger community backdrop in mind. Ben Robbins’ Kingdom is one such game: Players create characters who fit into one of three archetypes: Touchstone, Perspective or Power. The Touchstone articulates the will of the people, the Perspective is able to make predictions, Power is able to make crucial decisions. You play your individual character, but your character’s development and fate is enmeshed within the fate of the kingdom. And your character’s archetypal role changes in the course of events. The game explores the complex interaction between individual and society.

And there are games like No Country For Old Kobolds, where the idea is that you play a character whose life is brutally short, but you play out multiple generations of Kobolds, with the idea that you will be passing on lore and other inheritances to later generations. When your Kobold dies, you create a new character. All of the players play the so-called “Village Character” which is the only character who advances through XP. The Village Character is your community, and there are collective decisions made about the qualities and “personality” of this society that your individual Kobold characters inhabit.

LorenzoC's picture

Oh yes Kingdom! That goes very close to that type of conflict I was thinking of - and since we're touching on games with mechanics that are a bit zoomed out from the usual control of a singular character, I think it would be possible to borrow some elements from Kathryn Hymes's Dialect, particularly in how it creates needs and principles for the community and helps you focusing on those (even if probably the final outcome of the game is a bit more bleak than what we're looking for here).

 

Ron Edwards's picture

If we're talking about impact on the setting due to the characters' actions, then I recommend my discussion with Justin about his superhero game in design, at Superheroes values confrontations. The city or setting doesn't operate as a character but it does have features which take on distinct and permanent character due to the events of play.

Based on your answer here (this is to Jerry), I think Reign aimed at this sort of action. The idea was to have individual, "traditional" play, and then to jump up to "group" play when it came to the clashes and interactiions of communities. The latter were sized from small bands up to nations, and rated as with attributes like Territory, Influence, and similar things. You could clash and ally and negotiate with these communities as characters. The idea was for "people" play to establish crucial moments or turning points that would then set up the circumstances for the "community" play, e.g., the current travails of the city as a whole, and then you could turn around and see what the adventures of the people were like in these new circumstances. I confess I have never thought the design fully workable, but that is based on reading. The game has undergone some changes through editions too, so I can't say for sure. I know that it's probably the closest that anyone has explicitly come toward what you're talking about, and that it lacks the specific, possibly romantic associations that we (the real people) have toward actual cities (New York, Beirut, Paris) or popularly-conceived ones (Atlantis, Gotham City).

Ron Edwards's picture

In Matt Gwinn's The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, the environment - which is pretty much "the city" as you've described it - is depicted as a function of the two competing characters' states of mind. The causality is intentionally fictional and thematic; you can see it as the story "validating" the outlook of one or the other character for what the city or world is "really like." And the outlooks change during play, too, so the detective might triumph, and thus his or her world-view is validated, but that world-view has become much more grim since the hunt for the serial killer began. Which in fictional terms means the detective has received a dose of reality throughout this process, and the reality isn't so great.

In Simon Pettersson's Nerves of Steel, one of the characters is City of Shadows, which is played just like a character except that "someone" or "anyone" or some phenomenon like an elevated train or a sleazy bar serves for purposes of taking action. This is closer to what you're describing mechanically, in that the rules for those actions are the same as the rules for something that, for example, the person playing the detective might have him or her do.

The more I think about it, Vigil really needs an overhaul in its long-term play, in that the heroes and the adversary are warring to "rule" or "change" or perhaps "redeem" the city. It might be rather powerful for this to be treated as character conflict.

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

Something I did a few years ago that hopefully informs a bit better what I'm trying to do now

 

Great Works

The Hero’s ability to change the world.

The system below is used when a Hero is pursuing his great works as he moves towards his destiny.

The Heroes are the active hand of change in the world and many of their deeds will have lasting effects on the people and places they encounter. All Heroes want to leave their mark and be remembered in song and art for as long as the stars shine in the heavens. In ATLANTIS, a Hero can actively change his environment for better or worse through his deeds and actions, and the meta-system known as Great Works.

The Great Works system allows the player to actively pursue plots that will change one or more aspects of a region, a continent or even the world of ATLANTIS.

 

<<<SIDE BAR>>>

Treat the community as a character.

By looking at the community as a character, the Heroes can, through attrition or aggressive action, take down a tyrannical despot or change the religious outlook of a place while in play.

<<<END BAR>>>

Anatomy of a Community

Just like any other character in ATLANTIS, a community is an entity with attributes. These attributes define what the community is like and how it reacts in certain situations. Imagine a highly religious community, meeting a great Hero for the first time, who happens to be agnostic, or the situation that occurs when the Heroes try and smuggle a young prince out of a city with a high Earth trait.

Assigning Traits

The first six traits are rated from -, with +0 being the average.

The numbers are usually derived by the GM who determines what a society will look like. If the GM wants to roll randomly to decide the traits, use the chart below.

Roll 1D20

 

1

-5

2–3

-4

4–5

-3

6–7

-2

8–9

-1

10–12

+0

13–14

+1

15–16

+2

17–18

+3

19

+4

20

+5

 

Traits

Air

The trait that defines a people’s education, self-awareness, and civic role in society. A high level means a well-educated and reasonable people while a low level defines a lowly, cruel people devoid of any higher refinement or thought.

 

Earth

This represents the community’s ability to defend itself, security of its environs and the order of the society. Earth represents community and family. A high Earth represents the community’s ability to come together and withstand adversity.

 

Fire

This attribute represents the drive and vigor of the society. A high attribute level may mean a society that is passionate and constantly moving forward. A low level may mean a languid society with a high level of ennui.

 

Water

This trait represents the common person’s ability to get necessities such as food, medicine, and education. A high level could mean a society well taken care of with many social programs that help the average person. A low level could mean a society with homelessness, famine, and very few or no social programs.

 

Empyrean (EMP)

This attribute represents the cities high minded ideas and openness of the community. A high attribute may equate to lots of bright individuals striving for the greater good of the community.

 

Void

This represents the lowly attributes of the city like crime, violence, and depravity. A high Void may mean that the community is a wicked and corrupt place where the locals will shut the doors at the approach of the heroes and one which is full of closed-minded small thinkers.

 

 

 

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

Governmental Modifiers

A society’s government will modify the society’s traits. After a society’s traits are determined, modify them using the chart below. The modifier is added before the quality of life is calculated.

NOTE: These modifiers may take the trait under or over the -5/+5 limits.

Government

Modifier

 

Anarchy*

-5 Air, -2 Water -3 Fire, -7 Earth

No Ruling party. Each individual has absolute liberty.

Aristocracy

+1 Earth, +1 Water

Rule by an elite class who holds power by means of hereditary right.

Autocracy

+1 Air, +1 Earth

Rule by a single elected individual.

Democracy

+2 Air, +1 Water

Rule by the people, either directly or through elected officials.

Kleptocracy

-2 Water

Rule by the wealthy, at the expense of the populace, to gain more personal wealth.

Kritarchy

+2 Earth, +1 Air

Rule by judges based on ideas of equal justice and natural rights.

Kritocracy

+1 Earth, +1 Water

Rule by judges who make decisions based on personal interpretation and opinion.

Meritocracy

+1 Air, +1 Fire

Rule by those deemed most worthy of ruling (though not necessarily most capable).

Monarchy

+2 Earth

Rule by a single individual from one of several noble families.

Oligarchy

+1 Earth, -1 Water

Rule by a few individuals chosen by the masses.

Plutocracy

+2 Water

Rule by the wealthiest people in a society, for the benefit of the people.

Technocracy

+3 Air

Rule by those who are most technically skilled and qualified.

Theocracy

+2 Fire

Rule by a God or deity, generally through a selected representative of that deity.

Timocracy

+1 Earth

Rule by those who own property, with classes or castes based on property production.

Tyranny

+2 Earth, -1 Fire

Rule by an individual who has seized power, often with the blessing of the people.

* = Not a form of government but an added modifier when available

 

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

How to Affect Traits and Achieve a Great work

When Heroes set foot in a society, whether it be a small town, a sprawling metropolis, or a nation, it has traits. The system allows the Heroes to affect the society on a micro or macro level.

When a hero wants to affect a aspect of a society, she does so by completing certain tasks, or meeting certain guidelines set forth by the GM. For each completed task, the targeted trait is increased by a certain amount. Traits accumulated from one society are never carried over to another, and are lost if they cannot be used.

 

Raising Traits

To raise a trait, the Hero or group needs points equal to DOUBLE the next highest rank they want to achieve.

Example: A group wants to move Air from a +3 to a +4. They would need to accumulate 8 points. If the group wanted to raise the Air from a +3 to a +5 they would need 18 points.

To raise a negative trait “up” to a positive cost, double the existing trait.

Example: Raising a -3 to a -2 cost 6 points.

 

Lowering Traits

To reduce a trait, double the number of points for the current trait is needed to lower it one step.

Example: To reduce Earth +4 to +3 the Heroes would have to accumulate and spend 8 points.

A trait can be affected any number of times and is only limited by how far the Heroes want to go.

To lower a negative trait to a lower negative number cost double the new trait level.

Example: To lower a trait from a -3 to a -4 costs 8 points.

 

Example: The Mining Colony of Tarbadar: A level One Great Work

Dayn has a level one Great work about changing the crime ridden colony of Tarbadar that he grew up in. The GM takes the concept of the Great Work and works something up for the heroes. The small colony is plagued by a cult of Ba’al called the Night Diamos who extort payment from the miners and who are currently fighting a rival serpent cult called the Sons of Yig, for total control.

The colony has considerable wealth but must pay a tithe to one or both the rival cults to keep the peace. The local law is all dead and the supervisor of the colony is frightened into submission by his son, who is involved heavily with one of the cults.

The rating for the colony is illustrated below:

 

AIR

EARTH

WATER

FIRE

EMP

VOID

+2

+0

+4

+0

+0

+2

The Fire in this instance represents the station supervisor being relatively weak and ineffectual. The Void represents the strength of the roving cultists that harass and strong-arm the simple miners of the colony.

The Heroes want to get rid of the cults and generally improve the wellbeing of the people in the colony.

The GM makes out the guidelines for what must be done to change the traits. He sees that the Void of the colony needs to be targeted to lower the criminal and the dangerous aspects of the colony and raise Earth to strengthen the community element.

The Heroes may complete any of the tasks below to receive the points:

  • Talk the colony officials into taking firmer action against the ruffians = 2 pts
  • Talk the citizens into standing up for themselves = 2 pts
  • Convince young Tilmion to leave the Sons of Yig and go home to his father, the colony’s governor = 1 pt
  • Defeat the leader of the Night Diamos = 1 pt
  • Destroy the Night Diamos = 3 pts
  • Defeat the leader of the Sons of Yig = 1 pt
  • Destroy the Sons of Yig = 3 pts

During the course of the adventure, the Heroes accomplish everything on the list! They get a total of 13 points. Amazing!

The hero’s decided that they will reduce the Void attribute by two points, using six of their total points and raise the Earth attribute by two, using another six. The reaming one point is not used and lost.

AIR

EARTH

WATER

FIRE

EMP

VOID

+2

+2

+4

+0

+0

+0

 

Changing Governments

This can have a significant impact on the quality of life for the people living in an area. Changing the government types is listed on the chart below.

Government

Cost

From another government to Democracy

10 pts

From another government to Theocracy

10 pts

All others

5 pts

Anarchy to any Government

15 pts

Government to Anarchy

10 pts

 

Scale Modifier

As stated previously the Great Works system can be used to change things at different levels of magnitude. To affect change on a larger scale, it will cost more but gain the Heroes more Renown.

Scale: Represents the magnitude of what the Heroes are trying to change.

Multiplier: The amount of points needed to change a trait is multiplied by this amount.

Renown Award: The Heroes receive this standard award for EACH point changed.

Scale

 

Multiplier

Renown Award

Local

The change affects a community or a small group of people.

X1

2

Regional

The change affects a large group of people or a nation.

X2

5

Global

 The change is felt by the entire world.

X5

8

 

 

LorenzoC's picture

I'm still in the process of parsing and understanding all the subsystems you have listed, but this part spoke to me:

When Heroes set foot in a society, whether it be a small town, a sprawling metropolis, or a nation, it has traits. The system allows the Heroes to affect the society on a micro or macro level.

Now this is something I can easily buy-in thinking of my standard roleplaying experience. The idea that the group acts inside a community, either constantly or for a brief period of time, and how they affect them can determine gameplay effects through mechanics is extremely enticing, even if I would probably use it in a slightly different way (such as distributing authorities - we did this, so we get to say that there's this many combat-capable civilians in town, and our approval is at this rating is at 5, so we get this many people to provide us with all the silver they have, etc).

And if you bring this to superheroes, like alanb pointed out, the potential becomes enormous. It's in the comic books themselves - invading each other's turf is one of the  most common examples of strife among heroes, like Spiderman and Daredevil.

 

Ron Edwards's picture

You're going to laugh at me, but I have already diagrammed how the Great Works mechanic is integrated with the rest of the system for Atlantis. I pulled my copy off the shelf so I could study this section, and lo and behold, a sheet I'd scribbled was sitting in there, waiting for this moment. I'll scan it for you:

So the mechanics you've summarized above are all "inside" the Great Works category at the right. What I see is that they're treated as tasks, with the target numbers set by the features of the community. Given what you're writing about here, another option seems possible: that the community does things, like a character does, with these features. So you could be "attacked" by a city's Fire or Void or whatever. Or perhaps a city's feature could be used, via the characters if they were in a position to do so, to resist a siege, a monster assault, or even perhaps a cult-led rebellion from within. That's the kind of thing Reign aims at too, although in your case, the character activity (skills, et cetera) could be conducted at the same time, so two scales are operating simultaneously, whereas in Reign they are separated into formal phases of play.

To move into more "new game" design thinking, another lesson from this diagram is that the "person" side is very, very nuanced and the "community" side is pretty basic in comparison. It's true that the diagram doesn't break down the subsystem of resolution for the community side, like it does for the person side, but that's because the game itself still relies on the heroes' "person" rolls to operate in the Great Works activity. Anyway, my point is that a new design or system-experiment like you're posting about here might consider making the routines of the two scales operate exactly the same, or at least, at the same level of complexity even if the currencies differ.

So one thing that comes to mind is to reduce the whole "hero hits goblin, hero improves sword-skill; hero gets bag of coins, hero can buy a better sword" cycles of play, and have the heroes be pretty much fixed in place like the community is, and to change (in terms of their sheets) in the same way the community does.

One neat consequence of this thinking is that "beat the villain" is not really so much about the skirmishing victory, i.e., beating them up. It's more about the villain's impact on the city as a community, vs. your example to it. The notion here is to abandon the status quo idea entirely, but to accept that the community is going to change, and the question is how.

LorenzoC's picture

This is probably going to sound stupid but I want a video tutorial on how to diagram your games.

 

Ron Edwards's picture

If that’s stupid, then I've been stupider because here are some videos from the past year.

Conversation: system diagrams

Discuss: system diagrams part 2

Monday Lab: DIY diagram

LorenzoC's picture

I definitely meant to say that as "I'm going to sound stupid, because I can't diagram my games" .

alanb's picture

I can think of a few games that specifically address PCs' attempts at changing society.

Mayfair Games' Underground had it as a specific feature - perhaps the best thing about the game.

There are versions of Traveller that have mechanisms related to colony management. Traveller: The New Era and Traveller 4 (Marc Miller's Traveller) certainly do, and some of the later ones probably do.

The HERO System has The Ultimate Base, which includes sections on Kingdom Creation, Kingdom Combat, Political Combat Maneuvers and other stuff. All in a very Hero System style, of course. Advanced Players' Guide II has systems for Social Combat that could be relevant as well.

Of these, I would definitely have a look at Underground, if it is available to you.

Of course there are any number of boardgames with similar elements.

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

Hello  Alanb,

 

Underground is a great game with a great premise. Its what inspired me to want to do this. The players directly affect the world through their actions, and the world is defined by a series of attributes.

alanb's picture

I'm not surprised that Underground was a factor in popularizing this kind of thing. It was a nice, clean way of presenting it, in a way central to the system rather than a bolt-on.

If I may digress for a moment, yesterday I was trying to work out Batman's Situations in the context of Ron's Champions Now. One thing that occurred to me was that I could interpret one of Batman's successes as breaking the traditional organised crime groups in Gotham, but at the expense of enabling the rise of smaller gangs led by costumed supervillains. This is closer to the model of organized crime in Australia, (except for the bit about supervillains, obviously). This would be reflected in his Situations. End digression.

Anyway, the whole thing depends on context. As your (Jerry's) Atlantis example shows, different situations make different factors important. Ancient Rome and modern New York probably shouldn't be measured on the same scale.

It looks like we can discuss it in terms of the latter. OK, not so much New York, perhaps, but Hypothetical Abstract Modern City. I'll go one step further and suggest a North American, or more precisely US, city. That's good for me. I live in Australia, but have been soaked in US culture and news since birth, and visited the US three times in the 1970s. I can America, if I have to.

So fire away. What elements do you consider important?

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

 “Anyway, the whole thing depends on context. As your (Jerry's) Atlantis example shows, different situations make different factors important. Ancient Rome and modern New York probably shouldn't be measured on the same scale.”

But in the framework I’m thinking about, they do. A group of heroes, in the context of the game, should be able to change the area around them (city, country, nation) through their actions. If they’re proactive, they aren’t stopping bank robbers; they are making active demonstrative change in their society. The framework should work in a bygone era too.

“It looks like we can discuss it in terms of the latter. OK, not so much New York, perhaps, but Hypothetical Abstract Modern City. I'll go one step further and suggest a North American, or more precisely US, city. That's good for me. I live in Australia but have been soaked in US culture and news since birth, and visited the US three times in the 1970s. I can America, if I have to.”

(As an aside, I would love to see a game made by a non-American set in the U.S. What would the character classes be, what are the advantages/Disad lie?)

American culture is pretty easy for me, thank you, but that not what I’m looking for…or, maybe I am in the sense that I’m looking for a way to change people’s cultural paradigm through a group's proactive activities. It could be any culture Brazilian, Croatian, etc.

The same way when you make a character in a game, it nationally agnostic because you aren’t buying American Strength or Dexterity, just Strength and Dexterity.  Hopefully, I’m making sense and not muddying the waters.

Let’s say we have a system in place, and the heroes see that the city/country/nation is ruled by a despot. In most games, the PCs would find the person and take them out, problem solved. 

But it isn’t. The well is already poisoned, and people live in a society tainted by the villain. In-game terms he may have initiated a fascist regime, with a strong draconian police force, and the populace may be paranoid, backstabbing refugees from the book 1984.

How do the heroes change this? My train of thought is that the heroes must systematically make changes bit by bit to make the areas better. And through the abstraction of the game, the area’s attributes of features start to change. Maybe the people begin to stand up for themselves and band together for what’s right. Perhaps the police are scrutinized and held accountable for their heavy-handed actions, and maybe the government changes from totalitarian to a meritocracy.

What are the attribute difference between Latveria and Wakanda, how is Opal City different from Gotham? How do I express this, and how do I communicate this and not make it an expansive subgame?

The idea is to make a place much like a character, and then we can influence, attack, or heal it much in the same way we do PCs in a game. If the city of Mohenjo Daro is attacked and crippled by the raiders from the north, how do the PCs fix it? Can Shangri-La be manipulated into becoming a war-like blood sacrificing death cult?

robowist's picture

 

I hope this discussion will continue. If you get to a point where you’d like to try some of your ideas out in (online) play and need a guinea pig, I’d be happy to oblige

I wish I had more time for a more extended response, but here is what I can provide right now.

In terms of the city traits, I’d like a greater differentiation between some. For example high scores on Air and Empyrean seem to amount to very similar attributes and outcomes. 

I’m also intrigued by the fact that these traits get marked on a -5 to +5 scale, which has sparked me to consider attributes which could have both beneficial and adverse qualities at both extreme ends. For example maybe a +5 Earth could mean a high level of security but a concomitant lowering of individual freedoms. So a negative Earth score would amount to less surveillance and governmental limitations, but it would also come with security risks. With this type of set-up, players would have more complex decisions to make about whether they wanted to raise or lower the scores.

Another game that might be useful is Robert Bohl’s Demihumans which is a PbtA game well along in development. The characters are various types of fantasy “demihumans” (troll, gnome, elf, etc.) which are forced to live in an enclave within a world where humans are on the rise and magic is on the decline. At the start of the game, you establish key facts about both the enclave and the accompanying human city/settlement. Each session opens with a “commonweal move” which spotlights specific resources and banes that will be in force during the session. These resources and banes are directly tied to the nature of the city and the enclave, and these factors change in the course of the game.  When a character gains a level, they have the option of either benefiting themselves (gaining a new move, for example) or instead doing something which will help the enclave. Also, as the game progresses, the level of human antipathy gradually increases, which impacts the way that the human city acts on the inhabitants of the enclave. 

One intriguing aspect of the Demihuans set-up is that the enclave is not entirely unified, and players are supposed to take on the role of different “demihumans.” So you tend to have factions and uneasy alliances within the enclave, but then you also have a nasty human community which exerts increased pressure on the members of the enclave.

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

@robowist I would absolutely love to try my ideas out and perhaps record them to see what works and what doesn’t. The one issue with a lot of my design is that they are for long play and some things need time to marinate before the emerge in play. 

@Ron
‘You're going to laugh at me, but I have already diagrammed how the Great Works mechanic is integrated with the rest of the system for Atlantis. I pulled my copy off the shelf so I could study this section, and lo and behold, a sheet I'd scribbled was sitting in there, waiting for this moment. I'll scan it for you:”
Ok, that did make me laugh.  I like how you deconstructed the whole thing. When you put it back together, were there parts missing :P

The more I think about what I want, the more I need to streamline and edit what I have existing.  I do agree that the same mechanics should be used in both instances and it should be more intuitive and less of a mini-game. 
I want the idea of actively making changes on the minds of the player as they play the “normal” game.
The more I think about it, the more Pendragon comes to mind. Perhaps a “Winter Phase” for the game where bookkeeping and macro-level play is done.
Something like this could be of use in a World of Darkness game.

Ron Edwards's picture

As long as we're spitballing about what we would or wouldn't prefer (as opposed to critiquing something specific), I'd be most interested in something without a special phase for the scaled-up play. I'd like for ordinary play to include "attacks" or "attempts to influence" between the city and characters, just like it includes throwing punches or investigating clues or chatting up acquaintances.

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

So what you're saying is during the course of play, you could "Punch" the cities Police Force, or Social Services?

Sort of like PDQ?
Perhaps during play, you can make a roll to affect the Attribute of the city/nation.

"I want to use my influence skill to change how the city treats the homeless, what is my target number?"

I image a roll like this would be HUGE and require more than a simple or, or should it? what's to prevent me from making the roll every phase and what's there to oppose me?
 

Ron Edwards's picture

So what you're saying is during the course of play, you could "Punch" the cities Police Force, or Social Services?

Yes and no. "Yes" in that doing such a thing would be an action. "No" in that any action in play, like punching someone, requires the target to be actually accessible to the character. I can't punch someone when they're sitting in a restaurant across town. I can't punch the city's police force when it's similarly inaccessible to me. I have to be in a position to do so, whatever that might be. But answering that "whatever" should be as understandable as the guy in the restaurant - when I get to him and when such an action is permissible via the ordinary rules.

Perhaps during play, you can make a roll to affect the Attribute of the city/nation.

"I want to use my influence skill to change how the city treats the homeless, what is my target number?"

I image a roll like this would be HUGE and require more than a simple or, or should it? what's to prevent me from making the roll every phase and what's there to oppose me?

Same answer. What's to stop me from punching anyone I want, whenever I want, wherever they might be or whatever situation I might be in? Answer that using the ordinary logic of play, and then use the same logic for influencing the way the city treats the homeless.

I don't see that as very hard. It's like looking into the corner of a room that's been lighted the whole time, but we just have never bothered to look there.

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

The games I'm currently working on is GODSEND Agenda. My poor little magnum opus. The tagline of the game is "A game of Post-Modern Mythology"
I used the following questions to get me focused and much of what I have is focused on addressing the question in the game.

12 Questions for GODSEND Agenda

1.) What is the game about?
If gods walked the earth today, they would be considered superheroes.
GODSEND Agenda is a game of postmodern mythology. Where the players create members of a pantheon that shapes the world. Through their proactive actions, the heroes will change the world as they see fit. The world of GODSEND Agenda is not a static world dependent on an existing state of affairs, it is a world in a constant state of flux that can be influenced and altered through player agency. 

2.) What do the characters do?
The protagonist is meant to be proactive super humans that don’t wait for things to go wrong, but proactive shape the world to fit their world view. With godlike powers come godlike responsibilities. 

3.) What is the resolution mechanic?
The system uses two ten-sided dice for the resolution mechanics. The dice are rolled, attributes and skills are added, and the total is compared against an Action Chart. If the roll is eleven or greater, the action is a success. 

4.) How does character creation reinforce what the game is about?
Most games with superhuman abilities and powers attempt to restrain the character. GODSEND Agenda wants to give you every tool needed to make a person with godlike abilities and resources to change the world. The player characters are intended to be the active forces changing the world, and their abilities should reflect this. To this end, characters are heroic from the start, even heroes without superhuman abilities are a quantum leap above their mundane counterparts.

5.) How do players contribute to the story?
The protagonist in GODSEND Agenda actively attempts to change the world for the better or worst. Each hero is meant to be a proactive force in the game world and through their “Agendas” change the course of human history for the better (hopefully). 

6.) How does the setting reinforce what the game is about?
xxxxxx

7.) What should the players feel when playing?
The protagonist in GODSEND Agenda should feel a sense of change at every turn. The game, if played as intended, isn’t a static world constantly reset to the status quo. The heroes should constantly move forward making changes 

8.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does the game encourage?
The heroes paint the world in broad strokes. The game does not support zero to hero style play and is intended to make heroically powerful characters with the ability to change or at the very least, make a mark on the world.

9.) Where does the game take the players that other games don’t?
GODSEND Agenda is not a standard “Supers” game. It isn’t about maintaining the status quo, it’s about subverting or changing it to better suit their version of what an ideal world is. 

10.) What does the game do to engage the players’ attention; why should they care?
The heroes of GODSEND Agenda are the active movers and shakers in the world. Others may try to stop them, but the players have the agency and the game mechanics to make significant and lasting changes to the world.

11.) What are the publishing goals?
Beyond the Core book, other books will follow detailing the different eras in which the game can be played. Depending on the success, the game may expand out into future scenarios where the GODSEND Agenda reaches for the stars and other planets.

12.) Who is the target audience?
Players (Game Master included), that enjoy heroic and epic stories that take them beyond the confines of a normal “supers” games. GODSEND Agenda is not intended to restrain players with fantastic power, its meant to celebrate them. 
 

What we used in HELLAS and ATLANTIS was a respite Phase that happened between adventures. During the heroes’ downtime they would, as a group, makes changes to their world and as a GM I would push forward the machinations of the adversaries.

This worked fine in my game, but unfortunately, I was also the guy that wrote it. I knew in that instance what to do, how to go about it, and what the effects of the actions would be. You may have noticed that I’ve picked liberally from Pendragon (an underrated game IMHO).

My problem with working through this is I don’t have a concrete idea of how I want it to work. I haven’t had that “Road to Damascus” moment yet and I continue to swim in circles.

All the ideas I’ve heard so far are great and on any given day I can move in that direction. That’s not the way I want to create this.

I need a definitive start and end game for the goal.

Maybe I should start over and order my thought so that everyone here that’s so generous with their time won’t be frustrated with trying to figure out what I’m asking for.

What I’m trying to Emulate

  • I want to create a system that allows the PCs to change their environment on a social level. To shape the policies and outlook of the governments and change the way people think and see the PCs.
  • The system needs to have some tangible aspects that the players can sink their teeth into. Something that allows them to see a gradual change.
  • The system shouldn’t be overly complex or baroque and ideally should fit into the existing system. Since many of you have no idea what system I’m working with, you can find a link to ATLANTIS: The Second Age below. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?discount=9c79b8416f    
  • The system for changing the environment I’ve posted above is currently what I’m working with.
  • One new idea is the heroes are venerated mythic culture heroes, like Hercules, Gilgamesh, Heru, etc. Through people’s belief, veneration, and worship of these heroes, they become more powerful and can do more fantastic things. The more fantastic their feats, the more veneration. A feedback loops for the players to incentivize doing heroics. But these heroes all have Agendas that they want to enact upon their world. Some may think the world would be a better play without guns, others may want to give free energy to the world, and some may think the world would be better if everyone just listened to them as their king.
  • As a player, you would see the world (could be a city, nation, continent) as it stands as the beginning of a campaign. It would have attributes, some high, some low. To make a change, you must change the world’s stats. So, as a group, you try to promote your Agenda. While you’re doing this, there are others in the world doing the same thing. They have their own Agendas, and this is where the conflict comes in.
    • The conflicts can be anything from a head to head fight to changing the mind of a person in power.
  • The PCs shouldn’t need any special skills to do this. By default, they are heroes and the movers and shakers in the world. All they need is an Agenda and the impetus to do something.
Ron Edwards's picture

You're right that this conversation is sprawling. "Hey, what about cities as characters" isn't the same topic as "help me with Godsend Agenda" and neither of them can be "guess what I'm thinking so I can figure out what I'm thinking." Let's break it out into some goals.

First, cities as characters, or more broadly, societies and communities as active/actionable entities in play. I'm gonna go Forge with this and say, actual play actual play actual play. Anyone, please find examples like Alan and I did above, and post about them as comments here. But it won't have anything to do with guessing what Jerry wants or needs for his games; it's just comparison of play experiences. Talk about the system or whatever you did at the table.

Second, Godsend Agenda and related topics like the techniques in Atlantis. This is Jerry's project-based topic, and so Jerry, it should become a separate post - at the moment, it kind of sneaked into this one. I suggest that it should discuss how playing these games has gone, specifically how it's met or failed to meet the community-type vision for play as opposed to just being spandex hitting more spandex. I can give one bit of advice at this point for it, which is that numbered lists like the one above are terrible devices for game design. People came up with them at the Forge, which always made me groan, and I never saw one help one single person.

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