Sunday, 6 October 2013

Ongoing Development

Here's a review of the development work I've been doing lately on my games Neon Burn and PowerFrame.

Neon Burn

For the last couple of weeks, since the Neon Burn playtests, I haven't been doing much actual writing. Instead, I've been letting some ideas about Neon Burn percolate through my brain. They are just about at the point where I can consider putting together a revised framework for the game.

So to recap, the main issues I found during the playtests were:

  • Awarding Sparks to players when they portrayed their characters' Passions felt like a cheap bribe, and led to some undesirable "button-mashing." Since Passions don't change much, I also get the feeling that this would lead to repetitive sessions since you can always be rewarded for the same things.
  • Talents weren't enough to keep people engaged during the Event. They simply didn't take much mental effort, and from the amount of Sparks we had, there was no incentive not to spam them whenever they made sense - so, no tactical decision-making.

Taking out the Passions > Sparks > Talents pretty much guts the core of the Build-Up, and also leaves the character creation process a little bereft. Therefore, something else needs to take its place. Here's what I have so far:

  • Characters
    • Roles still exist.
    • Talents may change into a single Special Ability for each Role, or maybe a choice from a limited list.
    • Sparks have currently been removed; instead, Talents may have some other restriction on their use. They may be reintroduced somehow.
  • Scenes
    • The Lead can flexibly define their own mechanical goal for a scene by declaring what they hope to increase, and what they are willing to risk losing. The Gain and Loss elements will combine to determine the Difficulty and Width for the roll.
    • The Lead will also need to frame the situation to explain how it makes sense. For example, trying to increase Performance at the risk of losing Sponsorship may be because the vehicle modification might require the team to remove parts supplied by a particular sponsor, or add parts supplied by a competitor.
    • Gains on task rolls add to the Tension Pool, which replaces the old Challenge Pool.
  • Tension
    • If left unchecked, Tension will add to the Field, making the Event harder. Tension can be reduced in a number of ways:
      • By introducing Complications that make rolls harder;
      • By introducing Stakes that are resolved depending on the outcome of the Event;
      • Possibly by introducing or resolving Drama between the player-characters. I've yet to figure out exactly how that would work, mechanically speaking.
    • Perhaps Sparks will come out of resolved Tensions somehow.
  • Motivations
    • Instead of multiple Passions with their own Burn ratings, each character will start a session with 1 Burn, giving them 1 die to roll.
    • When a potential Motivation comes up during a scene, players can claim it by writing it down.
    • Each Motivation that's relevant to a situation grants 1 Burn, adding an extra die to their pool.
      • Perhaps limit this to three Motivations of any kind, and up to an additional 3 that have Stakes attached?
      • Perhaps the prize on offer will tend to count as a Motivation attached to a Stake?

That's most of the structure so far. It's a little looser than the previous version, but I like the freedom that gives player in defining what a scene's about, and what gets their characters fired up. I've realised that there's an advantage to leaving a "fruitful void" for the players to fill in.

At the moment, the role of Sparks is uncertain. Perhaps if they're only generated in small quantities through dealing with Tensions, they might still make a good power-source for talents. +Nathaniel also suggested using them to assert authorship over certain elements or to define outcomes; given the fairly loose control the Lead has over the narrative, and that anyone else can already suggest stuff, I'm not sure if it's necessary. Perhaps if Sparks were still flowing in large quantities, they could be used to "pay" for new fictional elements or narrative control or something.

As far as keeping people engaged during the Event, it looks like the best way to do that is to give everyone a dice pool to manage. The basic ones are of course the Team's Vehicle and the Field. In addition, any Rivals were introduced during the Build-Up make for obvious candidates. There are a couple of options for any "left-over" players:
  • Introduce additional Rivals; perhaps not major ones like the story-defined Rivals, but a sort of baseline competitor, maybe with a custom Vehicle.
  • The Field could be split into more than one pool. I'm not that fond of this approach, since the Field runs pretty much "blind" and sets the basic competitor difficulty.

The main issue with having players run Rivals is that controlling them while still wanting your own Team to win is a conflict of interest. Players could make poor tactical choices for the Rivals and leave them at a disadvantage. Because of that, I need to come up with some basic "programming" for them to ensure they behave like they are trying to actually win. The basics of NPC racer programming are:
  • Start with their highest Gain, and assign it to the Width slot that has the highest other result in it that it will beat.
  • Repeat this process until you run out of Gains or Width, or until none of your remaining Gains can win any slots.
  • If you can place dice to create matches and eliminate someone else's Gain, do so by favouring matches to Vehicles with the best Position, or that will result in a Gain for a Vehicle in a worse Position than the one you're cancelling.
  • If you still have Gains to assign but they can't win or cancel any slots, just put them wherever you want.


Also this weekend, I realised that I don't have an awful lot left to do on my PowerFrame generic RPG. I've been filling in some of the details and scratching things off my to-do list. The main areas remaining are:
  • I need to write the "How to run PowerFrame" chapter.
  • I need to finalise the Magic chapter and decide whether I want to include as many Spells as I can, or strip back the list to the basics and put the more esoteric Spells in a PDF supplement.
  • I need to create a whole lot of illustrations and diagrams.

Altogether it looks like it's coming along nicely, even though I've spent a lot of time questioning the way the game works on the most fundamental levels. But my friends and I have played and run it for over fifteen years in one form or another, and even though I've tired of it lately, it's still the closest it's ever been to a finished product.

I'll probably release a pretty comprehensive bestiary as a separate PDF, because the creature statblocks will take up a fair amount of space and I don't want the core-book to bloat too much. I'll be including several pages of example creatures to use as examples, but it's largely meant to be a toolbox game where you can develop your own content. 

I guess the Spells are an exception to the toolkit mentality, though, since the core of a Spell is an atomic exception-based mechanism that causes a specific effect. Each of these "Major Arcana" need to be spelled out, and the process of creating your own is not rigidly definable.

Rather, the Spells themselves are versatile because you can combine the Major Arcana (the "what" of a Spell) with various Parameters (the "where and when") and Minor Arcana (the "who") - as described in a previous post on the subject.

So, things are going reasonably smoothly at the moment. I'm going to be moving house at the end of the year, and I hope to have a few employment-free months of domestic bliss that I might be able to use to get these games into publishable shape.

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