25 April 2013

The Flow of the Game: One More Soar Engine Post

I blogged yesterday about the core ideas of my new (and untested) RPG rule system. As I had a little time to kill, I figured I might as well try to tackle one more aspect of it. This one's a little harder to put into words, though, and the aspect of the system that is, for me, perhaps the largest question mark. The core roll mechanisms are simple enough that they should, in my mind, work reasonably, but whether the flow of the entire game, based on ideas below, works is another matter...

Mostly action in RPG's tends to go on these lines: The GM describes the enemies. You attack one of them. They attack you. You repeat this until someone runs out of hit points or retreats.

With Soar Engine I'd like to try something slightly different. As I've said earlier, the idea is to make it a little more situation/goal oriented, rather than focusing on HP and repetitive action. The GM describes a situation. The players react to it. Ideally, the GM doesn't have to do much more than that once the scene gets under way. Let the players be creative, and focus on the big picture. Since the majority of enemies can be defeated with a single action, and the player characters don't have hit points (at least in the traditional sense – failed rolls can still have adverse effects, though), you don't need to go into too much detail about what exactly the NPC's are doing. (Essentially, in a combat situation, you could say the NPC's are actually attacking constantly, but it's the players' own actions that determine their effectiveness.)

Except when it suits the narrative. You still have to keep the players on their toes, of course. Mix up the game, drop in some twists and surprises. So at any point the GM can declare what I'm calling a 'Reaction Event'. At this point any characters involved must make an appropriate action (usually defensive in nature, but creativity is to be encouraged). Maybe the characters walk into an ambush, or trigger a trap. Maybe the enemies suddenly regroup in a massive counter-attack. Maybe the boss monster has charged up its devastating main attack...

Enforcing a clear turn order during action sequences is, in my mind, a good idea. It gives the game a little structure, and, most importantly, ensures that everyone has a chance to play. You could roll for 'initiative', but I think it should be entirely random (i.e. not affected by characters' stats), its only function to make sure that different players have a chance to act first. A player's turn involves one cohesive action (and one dice roll, if needed). The time it takes to do this isn't really important, nor do I think it's necessary to keep track of 'rounds' in addition to individual players' turns. Once you've gone round the table simply move to the first player again. (Think of a movie scene. You have a shot of one character doing something. Then the camera cuts to another character. It's not an exact science, the passage of time is highly subjective. Every detail doesn't need to be shown, nor do events involving different characters necessarily take place simultaneously.)

Reaction Events are outside the regular flow of turns. All involved characters make their rolls immediately, and once the situation is resolved, turns resume where you left off. The GM can have a turn too, of course. It doesn't necessarily involve much, since much of the time NPC's don't attack in the traditional sense, but could be used for a bit of extra narration based on preceding players' actions, or it could be used to trigger timed Reaction Events.

I have mostly been talking in terms of combat, but the same mechanisms can, of course, be used for any kind of action. An 'enemy' could be a bomb that needs defusing, a computer that needs hacking, a runaway train that needs stopping, or whatever.

That more or less wraps up what I have to say about the rules, until I actually get around to writing them up (which I probably won't be doing until I've had a chance to test the system at least once)...

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