24 April 2013

A Little More on the Soar Engine

This post is pretty much about procrastination (and racking up an impressive amount of blog posts for this month), but whatever...

Recently I wrote about Soar Engine, the concept for a new RPG rule system I was developing, mostly just for kicks at this point. I thought I'd take a moment to try to put into words some of the core concepts (not that anyone really cares, but on the off chance that a small handful of my friends might be interested).

As I indicated in the previous post, Soar Engine is a rules light system with a focus on dramatic action. It is, first and foremost, a storytelling game. Ideally, the rules would encourage creativity, not hinder it. But I also still want it to be a storytelling game. Making tactical decisions based on well defined rule mechanisms is, in my mind, part of the fun. Balancing these two elements can be a challenge.

Characters in the Soar Engine are very simple. They have a simple list of ten 'stats', defined by numerical value (0-5). These combine elements that many systems divide into 'attributes' and 'skills'. (They probably correspond more to the former, but include a few things like 'fighting', which most systems would treat as skills, distinct from generic physical/mental traits). In addition to these 'stats', they have a few 'powers', specific to that character. These could include special training, special gear, supernatural abilities etc. Powers don't have levels, you simply have them or don't.

And that's it. A number of stats and a handful of powers. In a nutshell, you roll dice, add the appropriate stat, and if you have an appropriate power you get an additional bonus. However, like I said, 'tactical decisions' are also part of the fun, so there are some advanced things you can do with powers ('all-out' attacks, 'combos' etc.) that grant you additional bonuses – but for a cost, of course. (For example, doing an 'all-out' action will give you an additional bonus, but will lock that power for the remainder of the scene.)

There are no rule mechanisms that describe the character's personality (in form of advantages/disadvantages, or whatever). The purpose of the rules is to create dramatic action, nothing more, nothing less. Anything else is entirely up to the players, and the narrative. You're free to write as much as you wish about a character's background and personality, of course, but building rules around it would only limit the narrative rather than add to it.

I said in the previous blog post that there are no hit points. This is... mostly true. Most enemies you'll take out with just one successful action (often a physical/supernatural attack, though it could be almost anything, limited only by your creativity – and available powers). Tough 'bosses' might require multiple actions (perhaps entirely different actions, to keep the players on their toes and coming up with creative ideas), but this is a fluid thing determined by narrative, not numbers. As for player characters... despite being a game about powerful, heroic characters, I feel there should still be an element of danger that contributes to the decision making process. Characters won't die, but they can become temporarily 'crippled' if they fail rolls too often (or roll a fumble, or, as I'm calling it, an 'epic fail').

While I was contemplating this system, I was also busy playing Mass Effect. This, undoubtedly, had a great impact on my ideas. Particularly I think it influenced the way I envisioned the 'powers'. I'm thinking the system would work well for a game based on the Mass Effect franchise (or other epic sci-fi with flashy supernatural/technological powers), though of course it should work just as well for other genres, too, the main difference simply being the powers available. ('Would work' or 'should work' – but keep in mind the system is still entirely untested.)

Speaking of Mass Effect and pen & paper gaming, I find it strange that no official Mass Effect RPG has been released yet, while a Dragon Age (the other major BioWare franchise) RPG exists. The latter is, after all, a fairly generic fantasy setting, which any GM with a modicum of time and experience could easily adapt to, say, D&D/Pathfinder. (Though, personally, I think there are much more interesting generic high fantasy settings already available for various systems, so why bother...) Mass Effect's original space opera setting, on the other hand, with its fascinating species and whatnot, would seem like something there could be a call for in the pen & paper world...

Anyway, I'm sure I'll return with more about the Soar Engine some day, hopefully with actual experiences. Till then, keep gaming!

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