Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gold, and a Game About Gaming

So I can't claim I'm a fan of Gold, but I wish I was. It's a cute concept: a group of professional RPG gamers deal with the trials and tribulations of their sports-star lifestyles. They deal with sponsorship issues and injuries, their romantic relationships infringing on their professional lives, rival teams, and whatever else they deal with after the fifth or sixth episode (when I stopped watching). There are some sad attempts at humor, but the series mostly takes itself pretty seriously, which I think is a rather big mistake with this sort of series.

Regardless, this isn't a post about a web-series. If you like it, don't think that my views on it constitute anything even close to a valid opinion on the topic. It is, however, an interesting idea.

As with the World Carved from the Bones of a Dead God, the show sparked an idea when mixed with another idea. Ian was in, talking about the Most Meta Game Ever, something Zak ran over the weekend that he called Final Strike or some such. The premise was basically this: build half of a character sheet, using whatever dice systems, attributes and concepts you like; do this in complete isolation, without input from any of the other players; then, assume that you've been playing a role-playing game with these characters for the past thirteen years, and this is the final session; fight the final boss, save the kingdom, win the world. Now, that's pretty bad-ass as meta-gaming goes, but when someone's like "This was the Most X Thing Ever," in regards to role-playing games, I take it as something of a personal challenge. So I got to thinking: A role-playing game that's actually ABOUT role-playing games would be the best way to make a Supermeta RPG. So how would one go about doing that?

First off, I'm thinking you need to find a way to separate the Real Life elements of the game from the Competition parts of the game. To steal from games that don't suck, I think the two-turn structure of Mouse Guard and Burning Wheel could do some double-duty here. I'm thinking have a Real Life Turn, and a Competition Turn, each that lasts the span of a few challenges. So Real Life challenges would be stuff like "Dealing with Clark's developing heroin addiction, Alec's girlfriend cheating on him and Suzie's love affair with... Well... Sarah..." Competition Turn stuff would be "Defeat the GM, kick the other team's ass, and steal the madest lootz." The turns can be done in whichever order the players like, but things that happen in one turn will effect the other turn; so if your real-life challenges suck a bunch, and your mom dies and you're depressed and your girlfriend is being a douche and everything about your life sucks right now, you're not going to be playing your A-game. If your game is going terribly, your rolls have been pure suck, your teammates aren't getting along, the Fighter's been stealing all the spotlight and the GM hates you, it's going to bleed over into your real life. This is, after all, your livelihood.

Stats would look, to begin with anyway, very game-related. Your Character is a stat, for instance. Your knowledge of the rules, also a stat. How you manage to make those things work in your real life is entirely up to you. The stats look as such:

Character (type) ____
Rules ____
Problem Solving ____
Rolls ____
Method (type) ____
Spotlight ____

Your stats are measured in the size of the die you attribute to them. So a stat that sucks gets to be a d4. A stat that you rock at in ways no one else rocks is a d20. There are six different types of dice (not counting the percentile d10, which we will disregard), and six stats. For those who have only ever played games that use ten-sided dice, the types are thus: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20. Assign them as you please.

Character is a measure of how kick-ass your characters are, how well you min-max, and how much familiarity you have with playing a character of that class. The (type) line of a character is the character's class. Choose between Fighter, Mage, Thief and Cleric. When there is more than one character of a specific class in a party, the players of those characters get a +2 bonus to Character Rolls. If a class is missing from a party, all characters get a -4 penalty to Character Rolls.

Rules is how well you know the rules of the game, errata, minutia, and how much rules-lawyering you can get away with.

Problem Solving shows how quickly your character works through challenges.

is an indicator of how lucky your character is. Does he roll twenties, and roll them all the time? Or does he roll crit fail after crit fail?

is a descriptor of the type of role-playing you're most proficient and interested in. The types of methods are Gamist, Narrativist and Simulationist. Gamist play is all about "winning the game," dealing with rules and manipulating them for a fun gaming experience. Narrativist gaming is all about the story, compelling characters and awesome experiences. Simulationist play tries to emulate reality to the closest point possible. I understand that this is a terrible bastardization of GNS theory, and I'm totally alright with that. ^_^

The Dice Mechanic

The GM sets a stat to challenge, and a number that you have to meet or beat to succeed in the check. You roll the die associated with that stat on your character sheet. If you meet or beat the difficulty number, you succeed on the check. If you don't, you fail the check.

After that, there are Traits, that are rather like the traits from Mouse Guard, because Mouse Guard uses some damned fine traits. Traits are both good things and bad things. If you happen to be an obese son'bitch, that serves in your favor in some situations, and not so well in others. How you decide to use your traits (as a bonus or a flaw) is up to you, with the following restriction: you can only use a trait as a positive as often as you've used it as a negative this session. So if it isn't getting in the way, it isn't helping you out either. If you take a Trait like Angry, and you want to get some righteous anger on in your Competition Turn, you'd best have gotten mad at your teammates for something stupid during the Real Life turn. You can bank negative uses, if you like. A positive use of a trait gives you a +3 bonus to any roll. A negative use of a trait gives you a -5 penalty to any roll. For now, just pick a descriptive word (any descriptive word) and make that a trait. Choose three of those.

There are three "derived stats." At the beginning of your first session, roll your Character die and your Spotlight die. The total rolled will be your Hit Points. Roll your Rules die and your Problem Solving die. The total rolled will be your Stress. Roll your Method die and your Rolls die. The total rolled will be your Drama. Each of these numbers is the total amount of "damage" you can take before you "break." Each stat starts at 0/total. So if you roll a total of 7 in Hit Points, you start with 0/7 hit point damage. When you reach 7 hit point damage, you break.

Damage is dealt when you fail a check. If you fail a check in Character or Spotlight, you will take 1 Hit Point damage. If you fail a check in Rules or Problem Solving, you will take one Stress damage. If you fail a roll in Method or Rolls, you will take one Drama damage. Each type of damage will break your character in different ways. Hit Point breaks will cause your character to hesitate at key moments. Each time you break in hit points, the GM can force you to _not_ take an action that you wish to take. Stress breaks will make your character take brash actions that you would normally not take. Any time you break in wish to take an action (or not take an action), the GM can force you to take that action in the angriest way possible. Drama breaks cause your character to act in one of two ways: he or she can become a whiny bitch at the worst possible times, or he or she can become a back-stabbing asshole at the worst possible times. You can choose which you prefer, and the GM can force you to act in that way, targeting the person or situation most recently responsible for your Drama.

When a character breaks, remove all of that type of damage from him or her. A character can have more than one break of each type.

The Turns

During the Real Life turn, the GM will present the party with a series of "real life" challenges. The nature of those challenges is largely up to the GM, the players, the character's back-stories and the like. Each challenge is addressed by a single character, with the other characters taking an secondary role for the duration. During a single session, a character cannot be the main character in a challenge twice. Each challenge should require an amount of role-playing, and the rolling of one or more stat. Secondary players in a challenge may also roll to help the main character in a challenge, so long as they describe how they are helping. If a secondary player succeeds on his or her check, the main player gets a +1 bonus on his or her roll. If a secondary player fails, he or she takes one damage of the appropriate type, and the main player takes a -1 penalty to the roll.

During the Competition Turn, players may attempt to rid themselves of damage. Competition is something the players enjoy, it's a way to blow off steam and have some fun. Each success during the Competition Turn eliminates one point of the appropriate type of damage. If a character has no damage, but has broken, they have a chance to get rid of the break by rolling a "critical" on a check (the highest number that can be rolled on that type of die, so 4 for a d4, or a 10 for a d10, or a 20 for a d20). The higher the die, the less likely the character will be able to eliminate a break; they're better at that type of challenge, but getting over the defeat is a lot harder when it's something you're particularly good at.

During the Real Life turn, the GM sets out a challenge to which the players react. During the Competition turn, the players set out a goal, to which the GM sets a challenge.


There really isn't much in the way of progression, here. The point is that you're already playing world-class gamers, sports stars. This is a potential flaw in the design. It may be better as a one-shot game or as a few sessions to cover a story arc.

Anyhow, that's my take on The Most Meta Game Ever. ^_^

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