Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Game's the Thing: Strategic RPG

Technically, I’m in a committed ‘projects’ with Terry/Richard right now, but we all know how crap I am at commitment.

Most of the people I game with know that I’ve long wanted to run a Strategic Game where each player runs their own nation. Something like Risk, but with more granularity. The guys who ran Battletech released one a few years ago that (surprise) wasn’t well play tested, was missing some rules, contradicted itself in parts, and (of course) required a 5th dimensional spreadsheet to play. None the less, my appetite was thoroughly whetted by this disaster of a game.

Why? Masochism.

Ultimately, I want context to the games I play. Sure, you can play Magic and reduce someone’s “life” to 0 and say you’ve “won,” but what have you won? What’s been accomplished? I want to fight for graduated levels of victory in different conditions, taking games outside of their inherently narrow context.

XKCD strip courtesy of XKCD.

It’s made more difficult because most games are number and resource management with a thin metaphor of non-game objects draped over it. In Monopoly, you pay money to put a house on a piece of property. You aren’t doing that of course; you’re exchanging in-game, money-like resources for an in-game resource that changes how players interact with a space on the board. The items represented are often finite, while most games can mathematically produce infinite quantities, stretching an already thin metaphor.

10,000 Exarch’s please, oh and one Diet Exarch. I’m trying to watch my Cleric intake.

The story should come before rules; this strategic game is also a roleplaying game.

I’ve tried running an internet-based nation-running roleplaying game set in the Battletech universe before. It was a while back, before I was old and jaded. I was young and optimistic. 2008 was a better time.

Too much?

Roleplaying games are great because they have a certain level of flexibility that forestalls the occasional transmutation into a retarded numbers game (Exalted’s Great Cleave[1]).

But roleplaying games do have numbers. They have stats and probabilities and runs of both good and bad luck. I don’t necessarily believe in numbers in roleplaying games, besides giving players ideas for what kind of character they’re playing and how they want to play it. Lucio Pavlec’s low Wisdom score and area attacks are what helped make him less of a generic mage, and more of a selfish, shortsighted jerk who wasn’t all that concerned about the safety of his teammates. “I can play my wizard like a jackass?!” was a great thought, and one that followed directly from his game stats.

Making this game seems to drift somewhere between quixotic (to think that one could satisfactorily simulate running a nation with few to no game stats) and egotistical (to think that I, of all people, could handle running the non-systemic requirements to my players’ satisfaction). Is it a bridge too far?

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