Social System

These rules are meant to be a more fluid way to interpret the results of social interaction in Role-Playing games, however they needn’t be restricted to that.  Game concepts like Morality and Alignments can be tacked in with some simple add ons.  Codes of honor are not a problem either.  This system also provides an easy way to implement insanity templates in a way that can be extremely gritty and realistic, or fun and amusing depending on the needs of the game.

Overall this is simply a rough generic system, and the numbers and traits would need to be tailored to each specific system and setting, but the overall core is extremely versatile.  A few mechanical concepts that help this system work are an INTELLIGENCE or REASONING based Stat, a DISCIPLINE or WILLPOWER based Stat, and a WITS or other Quick Thinking based stat.  Stats for good (or bad) looks, and/or affability or friendliness can work within this system but are not required and can be simply based on role-playing.  Social skills can be as general or as specialized as the game requires.

The system introduces two mechanical concepts called Trust and Calm that are detailed in the rules.  Some games have similar concepts and this can be adapted to fit these rules.

Mental and Social Rules
There are all sorts of situations a character can encounter during play, many require more finesse then a bullet and even when a bullet or an energy blast can solve things they can be extremely stressful.  With this in mind I’ve created a set of new mechanics to represent this aspect of Role Playing.
Social rules often get a bad rap In RPGs, and often viewed as – at best – a crutch for inept role players and – at worst – a way to force a character to do something they have seemingly no reason to do.  The trouble is that Role Playing is a social hobby, which brings up the question; aren’t rules for social interaction redundant?
The answer, is that so much of what we do well is based on our personality.  A common saying goes “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” So in this, the social rules can effect everything.  A character will fight better when he feels confident he will will win, a character that is more determined and stubborn will go on longer than someone who is weak willed.
Rather than replace role playing, this social system is designed to work without a lot of “social rolls”.  What it is meant to do is give quick and easy mechanics to represent social conditions and make them relevant in gameplay.  If a character is in a stressful situation and getting angry the social rules represent that with a loss of Calm.  If the character becomes so enraged he can’t see straight; he gains penalties.  This makes it so that the incentive to do certain things comes from the need to regain that calm so that the penalties go away, in this way the player can choose their course of action rather than it being forced on them.
The flip-side of calm is where a character is comfortable with a person, situation or some other thing they can regain any lost calm through that trust.  The down-side is that trust makes a person vulnerable to attacks on calm – the way to get at a person is to hurt the things she loves after-all.
This system creates a fluid way to influence Role-Play and get in character without a lot of extra mechanics.  It covers things like morale in combat, insanity, fear and loathing, and happiness and love. It is not meant to replace role-playing, only to represent that the things that players know matter to their characters in a way that makes the system know that as well.

Losing calm:
Calm is lost due to stress.  It can be spent to augment a [Strength Stat], or [Endurance Stat] action by trading one Calm for -2 Accuracy and -1 Power.  Multiple calm may not be spent to gain cumulative bonuses.  This calm cannot be regained until the character succeeds at the task at hand, at which point it is regained at a rate of 1 point per hour of rest.  If the task cannot be succeeded then the calm is lost until the character forgets or by confronting/coming to terms with it through something the character trusts.

Calm is lost when something or someone that the character trusts is in danger, hurt, or lost permanently.
In Danger – loses ½ the Trust rating for as long as the condition persists.
Harmed – loses the Trust rating for as long as the condition persists.
Lost – loses 2x the trust rating until the character can forget the loss or overcomes the loss by confronting/coming to terms with it through something the character trusts.

Calm Threshold
The calm threshold is the point where the character starts freaking out.  It is the character’s [Mental Defense] + the situational trust modifier.  ([Int -10] – [Sum of all trust modifiers pertinent to the situation])
If calm goes below the Calm Threshold the character is -1 to the Accuracy of all actions for each point below threshold.

Regaining Calm
Calm can be regained a few ways depending on how the situations surrounding it’s loss are resolved.

If the situation is fixed or resolved without significant loss then the lost calm returns automatically at a rate of 1 per hour of rest.
If the situation cannot be fixed or concludes tragically or with significant hardship and loss, the lost calm can be regained at a rate of 2 per day as long as the character is not reminded of the event.  If the character is reminded the character’s calm rating drops at a rate of 1 per minute until the character reverts to the original rating the calm was at at the conclusion of the event.  Leaving the presence of the reminder can stop this, leaving the character free to forget again.  Any time a character forgets an event to regain calm, he must record it on his character sheet under Forgotten Psychological Trauma at a rating of the # of Calm lost.  A list of triggers associated with that trauma should be added as well.  Players who include interesting and insightful triggers and role-play them in a fun and consistent way should sometimes be rewarded with XP.
Lost Calm that cannot be regained through other means can only be regained by coming to terms with the event through the aid of someone or something the character trusts.  This should almost always be role-played or described in reasonable detail.  The GM is the final arbitrator of what works and what doesn’t but this is the system.
The character can use something (ability, item, situation, place) that they have trust levels in, to come to terms with the traumatic event. (An artist could design and get a tattoo, a swordsman could go out seeking revenge, a home owner could dedicate a room etc…)  the process should take some time investment.  If the GM deems it’s a good (interesting and fun should almost always be good) form of therapy then the character drops the Trauma rating representing the lost calm by the trust rating of the therapy focus x2, at a rate of 1 point per-day, though the final 2 points are not lost until the task is finished.
The same principle applies to people the character trusts.  This generally requires conversation, sympathy and relation.  For significant psychological trauma the GM should consider requiring a quest of some sort to fully resolve the issues.  At the GM’s discretion, finishing this therapy is likely to result in further trust gained between the two parties.

Trust can be invested in virtually anything, but the most common Associations are people (a friend, contact, boss, spouse or fellow adventurer – it is a good idea for a player to consider investing a bit of trust in his fellow PC’s because it will increase the character’s morale in combat), special equipment (a favorite pistol, a custom vehicle, a lucky charm), a place (grandmother’s house, the barracks, Chi-Town), or even a situation (drinking with friends, running with the ball, squeezing a trigger from a concealed location).  Sometimes the GM assigns this trust through the results of role-playing, other times the character may decide to pay XP to gain or upgrade an Association.
Trust can be gained by having one person invest time and effort doing something good for another person.  As a rule, one trustworthy event = +1 trust. This sort of trust is permanent until broken.  Permanent trust is a bonus to any persuasion rolls.
Betrayal, threats, antagonization, and harm to someone or anything they trust results in loss of trust.  Generally trust is lost faster than it is gained, any distrust-worthy action the character is conscious of removes 2 points of trust per event.  Distrust can be as low as -5.
Comfort Zones and Tie-Ins
Trust for objects, abilities, areas, and situations are comfort zones.  All characters trust their abilities at a rating equal to the ability rating it’s self.
A character can trust a location they’re familiar with and have made their own, a safe-house, a local neighborhood, a bar they’re a regular at.  Locations should have a specific trait associated with each level of trust associated with it.  (Weapons Stash, Discreet Staff, Secret Tunnels, Broken-in furniture…)
A character can trust an object that they have come to rely on or have customized to fit their needs, a car, a weapon, a lucky charm. Characters should exercise caution investing too much Trust in an object for fear it’s lost, though temper this advice with the rule of cool.  As with locations, an object should have a trait associated with each level of trust.
A situation that a character trusts should be a signature zone of awesome for that character and will likely involve elements of other things and people the character trusts.  Each element of trustworthiness incorporated into the situation (backup from an ally, + driving + in favourite car, + eating takeout from that Chinese Place) can count as a trait to associate with the bonus.

Rolling Social
There are two objectives to making social rolls. The first is to establish temporary trust, and the second is to temporarily lower calm. These are powerful effects but they are temporary, loss of calm or trust gained through a social manipulation roll resets at a rate of 1 per hour or instantly if a major event eclipses the situation in priority. (This is left to GM discretion, but generally a life-threatening combat, or any significant plot shift qualifies.)
Note: the forgetting process does not begin until the character is removed from the influence of the social roll.

Temporary Calm
Loss of temporary calm represents (transient) preoccupation with something. From a friend’s troubles, to the new car they want to buy, to simply how bored someone is. It is stress and imposes the same penalties as calm loss from other sources. Temporary calm loss is added to any additional calm reductions from other sources. To create a temporary loss of calm via a social roll, a character needs to focus on a negative aspect of the person they’re trying to influence (the bruises on the friend, what bad shape the old car is in, or the lack of anything to entertain) and rolls [Charisma Stat]. The subject may apply their [Mental Defense] as a passive defence if the character is not resisting with dialog and role- play. An active defence requires role play to conduct and the GM will be the arbitrator on what Stat is applicable to resist.
• The [Intelligence Stat] Generally pokes holes in an argument and sees the inconsistencies in the line of persuasion.
• The [Willpower Stat] Represents an innate stubbornness and a refusal to be drawn into the social manipulation.
• The [Wit’s Stat] Counters the influence with a new related point to turn the persuasion back on the one persuading.
The amount of temporary calm lost is equal to the threshold of success over the defence.
Temporary Trust
Temporary trust is created by persuading a character that she is particularly capable, suited or in a position to be benefitted by a particular situation, course of action, person or thing.    The reinforcement is positive with a focus on eliminating doubt and misgivings. The persuading party rolls [Appearance Stat]. when persuading verbally or [Wits Stat] if persuading through writing with a Skill 3 requirement in either Writing, Art, or Marketing.
Creating temporary trust instills a surge of confidence that a particular situation will work out for the character being influenced. Temporary trust has the capability to eliminate any temporary loss of calm instantly, and using it to mitigate the long term loss of calm is possible though the trust is unlikely to be in place long enough to fully eliminate any large loss of calm.

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To Clarify a Twitter Question…

I’m working on a mechanics idea that does away with Initiative rolls to a degree. One where attacks take time to hit and time to recover from and ready your weapon again. The jist will be that bigger attacks leave you “vulnerable” for a moment (meaning short-term penalties) that recharge. The idea is that it would always be possible to attack even when it’s not always a great idea to do so, just that you won’t be at your best form. The problem is I’m not sure how to implement such an idea without it being an unworkable book keeping nightmare… yet. Some stuff is starting to come together.

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Srys RPG’ing Sucks

Back in the day when I was playing Vampire the Masquerade, I had a good friend who explained to me why everyone played Malkavians like shit.

A bit of context: In Vampire the Masquerade there are character “classes” that are divided up into Vampire clans.  Each has their own strengths and weaknesses and some signature powers.  Clan Tremere was the Artsy/Beautiful clan, Clan Ventrue was the powerful corporate clan, Clan Gangrel was the angry/bestial clan etc… Malkavians were the insane clan.  They all had mental derangements, so most people would create somewhat cooky ways to integrate their derangements into the concept so there was a comical feel to the character.

My friend believed that Malkavians should conceal their “debility” and be nasty plotters and schemers rather than the clowns of vampire society.  The sad thing was, for many years I believed him.

Of course there’s no reason why a cooky insane vampire can’t be a manipulative power player too. But that wasn’t the point, the point was that Malkavian’s clan disadvantage wasn’t supposed to be funny according to my friend, and that people who were playing them as clowns were just ruining the feel of the game.

Which of-course is bullshit.

I now look on Malkavians as a necessary light-hearted contrast to an otherwise very dark game.  Sure in real-life mental illness is not funny at all, my sister has related some stories about people who struggle with schtzophrenia and it’s sometimes almost enough to bring tears to my eyes.  It’s always very hard to see someone willfully destroy his own life bit-by bit because the rules in his head can’t come to an accord with the necessities of his body.  But in VtM, Malkavians should be the funny ones.  The ones that paint the dark tones of evil monsterous vampires pink and yellow.  That’s important.  It’s like in Fallout, the bleak hostility of the wasteland is balanced by the light hearted tone of Pip Boy and showtunes.

I’ve always seen the new Vampire as a superior game to Masqurade, because it had more plausible structure.  Many people disagreed with me on that, and now I see why.  Masquerade might have had its structural flaws, but the game it’s self was better balanced to entertain, and that is more important by far.

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I Want A Smartphone as a Personal Computer

More and more lately I’ve been looking at the smartphone and seeing new and fantastical capabilities with it, though I may not be into the same things as most.  For example; I’m not sure I want an e-reader.  I still like going to the bookstore, I still have a hard time reading novels, and I’m not sure I want another gadget that gives me the ability to buy a dozen $5.00 novels that I probably won’t read while I’m out at work.  Don’t get me wrong, I buy plenty of RPG PDF’s, but some of them I don’t read either and any RPG I run, enevitably is purchased in the ol’fashioned Dead-Tree form for ease of reference and sharability at the game table.  Often enough I have both the PDF and the DT format on-hand while running for the benefit of having multiple copies available.  Thus I don’t think the ipad or another tablet is for me.  I have an awesome Macbook Pro for portable media viewing and composition.

However a larger smartphone exclusively as a computer-device, that has some appeal.  I have a Motorola Backflip right now which is an android smartphone with a flip-out keyboard and small touchscreen.  The size is appealing and it works as an air card to connect my laptop to the internet.  Text messaging is easy with it, and I can write short e-mails and check facebook.  Now that I’ve got a bit of bandwidth for my data, I’m also willing to use it to check youtube.

The downside to the backflip is that while it has most of the bells and whistles the higher end smartphones have (the iphone), those bells and whistles make weak-airy noises in comparison to the big boys.  Camera is hardly worth using, battery is miniscule, processing speed can’t handle the multitasking I’d want in a pocket computer either.

The thing is, I like it as a phone.  As a communication device to answer calls, check e-mails, do text messaging, and facebook it’s quite adequate and the form factor is almost ideal.  I like that it’s small for those things.

However, I keep my ipod touch seperate from my phone and I kind-of like it that way.  However the touch being elderly and decrepit doesn’t have a camera, or a microphone or a data connection. I want all of these things in my next pocket computer.  I want to be able to transfer data over bluetooth, scan objects with a camera, check the internet for information and record my voice with reasonable clarity without the battery commiting seppuku in a firey inferno after 10 minutes.

I perhaps am over-ambitious at this point, but I think that this mystical item may be appearing soon.

Also I think I’d be more interested in the ipad if the form factor wasn’t that of a flat board.  I get that it’s a tablet, but in a lot of ways I’d rather have the old-style tablets with the rotating screens and the actual keyboards.  Sure they’re not as pretty and sleek, and the ergonomics aren’t ideal either, but I think there is something to be said about an item that can be adjusted to fit a variety of uses.

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So for the past few months I’ve been searching for a setting that I could build on.  I wanted something that had a modern feel but where the protagonists could drive fast cars and shoot guns in the middle of a city and then sip champaign in a penthouse.  Yet the stories would not be ABOUT fast cars, guns and penthouse parties.

Existing settings that can do that sorta stuff would be (off the top of my head), any Zombie setting, the matrix and more recently Inception.  Bond movies do all those things too but they’re more about the character and his special clearances than the setting it’s self.  The trick is that all these settings have some sort of “magic” that makes their lives immune to the repercussions of inflicting mayhem on society.

The problem with trying for setting-driven urban mayhem is that it’s very hard to fabricate in a way that hasn’t often been done.  This is why Zombies are so popular – because when all the sheeple are dead it’s those few social outcasts that were “prepared” for it, that will be driving around monster trucks and sipping champagne in a newly acquired central-park penthouse.

So the goal was to create an urban playground setting (rather than an urban fantasy).   Last night I think I managed it.

50 years from now the human race will be handling our energy crisis by staying largely stationary.  Everyone works from home, everyone interacts online.  Computer interface has gotten to the point where a person can cybernetically link to have a total immersion.  People stay within that state for months at a time if they so choose.  Food is provided intravenously, and exercise is obtained by nerve stimulation at periodic intervals.  People are exist in a near-perpetual state of being plugged in.  This is not a forced state, but one borne of a ever widening class gap.  Bandwidth is nearly free, but actual travel is quite expensive, especially since – in an attempt to cut down emissions – the governments tax “unnecessary” fuel use an astronomical amount.  So the idea of interacting online has become entirely acceptable and even favorable to the environmentally conscious masses.

It’s not too much of a logical stretch – conceptually so then all I had to do was unplug our protagonists… and voila!  The city streets are clean with light traffic!  Houses pristine with the occupants present, but their minds almost literally elsewhere.

All such a setting needs is a little protagonistic impetus to become and stay unplugged.  A reason that would make it dangerous to go online.   Something that makes the protagonists undeniable evidence that something has gone wrong, and thus the keepers of the status quo would want to brush them under the rug.

In an RPG setting, the ideal reason to stay unplugged would be an evolutionary mutation or – superpower.  Nothing too potent, just enough to keep parity when the automated forces of the New World Order come hunting for the PC’s.  However in a movie or novel setting, mutations would undermine the potent plausibility of the setting.  The real kicker is the question: what is the cause of these superpowers?  It needs to be indicative of a greater stirring of the force – so to speak.  And I haven’t quite figured out what that is.

But as of right now I have a very nice hook for an urban playground.

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Qin – Warring States

My gaming life is in transition right now.  For work reasons it looks as if I’ll be changing gaming mediums from down at SQUIGS, back to online over skype.  I’m also hoping to change the game I want to run.  For the past 4 years it’s been Exalted Second Edition.  And believe me, it’s been a great run, but now White Wolf has dialed back on its production of Exalted books and I’m simultaneously getting a bit bored of the setting.  There are so many other great games out there and I want to sample a few more of them.

One of the options I’ve seriously considered is doing a contemporary game with one of the homebrew systems I’ve had a hand in.  This is appealing but requires a lot of work out the gate before a single die can be rolled.  I’m also rather bad at running the games I devise, I really prefer to take what other people have done and see how I can spin it.  So I’ve been searching for a new game to try.  In the past year I’ve sampled Alpha Omega and Cthulhutech, both of which have stunning books but Alpha Omega’s appealing setting got stomped-on by it’s huge, cumbersome system mechanics.  Cthulhutech’s setting seemed a little sparse on hooks and while the initial impressions of it’s game mechanics looked promising, once I got to combat I found that the clean modern lines that it presented were just a facade over an ancient and outdated form of combat resolution that sort-of made me feel betrayed.  I expected better from Cthulhutech than 4 rolls-per-action combat.

These are the trials of being experienced at gaming and knowing what one wants.  I tend to get a bit picky.  My wishes aren’t unreasonable, but they are quite specific; I want a game with a full and rich setting that functions with enough consistency to be plausible.  I also want that setting to be paired with a system that is simple in execution but functions with all the bells and whistles that a refined rpg created in this millenium should have(Unified mechanics, 1 or 2 rolls per action combat…).

Setting is also important for me.  A lot of game masters I know only want the skeleton of a setting.  The world, the meta-plot, the cultures, that’s it. Me, I want a bit more, the names (and sometimes even stats) of the major players, what they’re up to, lots of maps and plot hooks too.  I like to see the individual gears that run a setting, it’s when I have those gears that I can really get down and tinker.

Which leads me to a new gem I’ve found which satisfies all these desires.  Qin – Warring States adapted by Cubical 7 from a property written by a french company called 7eme Cercle.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people are not freaking out about this game… it’s brilliant in ways I’d not conceived.  The setting is historical, plausible, mythical, and has tons of interesting pop culture to borrow from in the form of Kung Fu movies.  What’s more, the game is easy, not easy as-in simple, but EASY to read, learn and from my earliest estimates, to play as well.  The setting (Warring States Period China) would seem daunting at first glance, but the writers do something wonderful in that they keep on going over the same events from different angles.  This helps me (kuz I’m slow) really get a clear understanding of what’s going on so that I can present it to the players in whatever way I desire.

The system is similarly elegant while encorporating the flavor of the setting by using alternate color d10’s (black and white) as Yin/Yang dice with emphasis on “Yin-Yang Balance” which has the benefit of translating into a very clever incentive to build balanced characters rather than min-maxing with the point-buy.   The only game system that has done integrated flavor like this is Deadlands (and perhaps Aces and Eights) with incorporating playing cards into the game.

I’m still digging through things but honestly I can’t find much not to like here.  There are a lot of books already out in french and it looks like Cubicle 7 is committed to getting them translated, so I’m going to have a lot of material to play with.

Honestly I don’t understand why there aren’t more rave reviews about this game?  I know RPGpundit had great things to say about it, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot else on the web about this little gem.  People should seriously take a look.  I don’t say that lightly.

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Google – IN SPACE!

I really need to find new feeds other than SAI to feed my imagination.  I think this is the 3rd SAI post that’s spawned something on my blog and I’m beginning to feel like a one trick pony.

The latest thing to send my mind into creative overdrive has been the post about what odd shit Google spends (wastes to some) it’s money on.

They’ve dropped lots of money in telecom, some in space travel, invested in a human powered monorail, and also windfarms.  All of which are a far cry from the core business model which is advertising.

Now the power generation stuff I imagine is actually to get some energy neutral tax credits in some countries, but added in with the space travel and energy stuff, a creative mind could spawn some very very interesting stuff.

Imagine google creating an array of space stations that allow for complete global communication from anywhere in the world.

Sounds far-fetched…

Well the thing is, Google needs to get more media out there to the consumer to get more advertizing revenue.  In some instances, the case for offering service to more remote locations becomes even stronger, because in remote locations the consumer is more likely to be making purchases off the web rather than going to the store.   For Google, the more media it can produce, the more advertizing it can send out, the more money it makes.  More media requires more bandwidth.  HD video isn’t particularly viable over the web yet because of the extreme bandwidth use, I can only assume that 3D video is even more intensive.  This means that these medias are gardens untended for Google and they’re just the most obvious examples.

The biggest issue here is that the demand for bandwidth is effectively infinite.  The more an internet service provider can offer, the more that is sure to be used because greater bandwidth means greater capability for the consumer to grab ever more intricate media.  The ISP’s don’t have the incentive to provide these these huge connections because they can’t charge a proportionate amount for a connection with 100x the bandwidth to the average consumer.  (The corporate supplier maybe which is a separate but related issue.)  However, Google can make more money by providing more bandwidth, so it makes sense with all their money that they’d pursue telecom venues.

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