October 20, 2013

Our Roleplaying Persona

Another thing I want to do as part of expanding the game is making it easier to adapt to other kinds of settings. Magical Mecha (Masoukishin, Rayearth) have lots of elemental-themed magical attacks, but not a lot in the way of traditional technology-based weapons. Likewise, PCs as sentient Mecha (Transformers, Braves) would require a rewrite of the Attribute system to integrate their Intermission and Operation abilities into a single coherent entity.

Where I'm going with this is that I want the game to be more versatile, and that needs adapting various subsystems on a case by case basis. With that said, the examples above are complex changes beyond the scope of today's post, instead I will be posting a variant of the Genre Theme rules. Themes should not be ignored when it is time to adapt the rules to a different setting, their function is to help convey a game's... well, themes.

Never had a Friend like Me

Because GGG is very much about anime-styled heroics, we have cooperation and teamwork as a running theme throughout the rules, representing the Power of Friendship and other similar genre conventions. We have Synchro Attacks, Combinations, Leadership, and all other sorts of character abilities that are very strong when the characters work together. But they're limited to combat effectiveness, and don't really say much about the characters themselves. They tell us that characters who work together are good fighters, but not if they get are back-to-back badass partners, or if they get along despite disagreeing often, or if one of them is manipulating the other. The rules don't say much about their relationship.

Good mechanics to represent character relationships are hard to write. With that I don't mean rules for romantic relationships, but relationships in a more general sense. Something like, for example, characters who trust each other do work better when cooperating but are also more susceptible to each other's lies. The rules we have are not relationship rules. I swear that's the last time I'll italicize that word for emphasis. At least for today.

Relationship rules are conceptually easy to write in a way that is usable, but it is easy to accidentally make a rule that ends up getting in the way of the game when you aren't careful with them. If your Players don't want their PCs getting close to NPCs because the main cast end up penalized when something bad happens to the supporting actors, then you're doing something wrong.

 But it is also a matter of conveying the proper mood and tone. If characters who worked well together also had an easier time betraying each other, you would probably see both lasting friendships and deep betrayals more often than if those rules did not exist. Because GGG is a game meant to be taken in whatever direction you need (as long as it is somewhat heroic) there are no such rules in it.

The closest GGG has to relationship rules are Genre Typecasts, which are fairly agnostic in the mood and tone you can use them for, but they can be easily modified to encourage more specific group dynamics. Today's rewrite is for a game more about personal growth, with characters expected to be hitting their highest and lowest moral points, and a character centric narrative with a very tight cast.

Okay, I can't really dance around the issue or pointlessly obscure what it is I'm ripping off homaging any further. Today is about Social Link-styled rules in the vein of Persona 3 and 4 of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise of videogames. If you know what that means, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

In Persona, you fight by summoning various mythological entities (the titular Personas or Personae) each aligned with a different Tarot card of the Major Arcana (Odin, for instance, is a Persona of the Emperor Arcana, as chief of the other Norse Gods) and each Arcana has a corresponding Social Link. Social Links are the relationships you have as the Main Character with various NPCs, whether it is just one or a whole group of them. Your best friend or your pals from your sports club are valid Social Links. All Social Links have a Rank going from 1 to 10, which represents how close the bond is, and it grows (increasing in number) as you help the NPCs grow as people. High Social Link Ranks make their corresponding Personas grow stronger, and the Social Links of your party members make them stronger as a bonus, to boot.

Social Links are pretty neat, they put a spin on traditional 'grindy' gameplay by making you 'grind' through roleplaying and dialogue options instead of fighting mobs. I am far from the first to posit houserules of choice for adapting this to Roleplaying ends, since they're very popular videogames among roleplayers. I do, however, have a very clear idea of what parts of them translate better as rules in a kitchen table medium, or at least to the kind of game you'd play with GGG.

A Personal Matter

Here are the guidelines I set for myself to follow when writing up this variant Theme system:

The rules should encourage genuine, lasting bonds. Whether it is friendship, romance, rivalry, or something else altogether. Those things don't just spring from the ground, they start out small and grow over time getting more emotionally intense and resilient to outside forces. In a videogame this is easy to achieve because you are following a linear paths with a clear start and end point... But they have a preset script to be followed through, and that is not going to work in a Roleplaying game. Or at least it goes against the point of playing a game that has always had creativity and improvised acting as fundamental features.

There should also be a downside to being too close to someone, it doesn't have to be anything big, heck it should probably be something easy to ignore. But let's not forget that this is a game, and one about making choices, so your choice of who to befriend and who not to befriend should matter. If there are no real downsides and everyone is always everyone's bestest friend forever, then these are not so much relationship rules as they are just plain powerups.

The Tarot motif should play an important role, since its symbolism is a big part of what makes each Social Link distinctive, and you have just enough of them (around 20, depending on which version of the Tarot deck you use) to have a wide variety to choose from without being drowned in options. Each of the Major Arcana represents anything ranging from types of people, worldly influences, and various trials of the soul. And since they usually correspond to one specific character, that character should have a power of some sort over the portfolio of the Arcana in question. Likewise, the benefits of being best friends with the Death Arcana Character should be clearly different than those of being best friends with the Justice Arcana Character. Even if you don't quite know what the cards mean the names alone should tell you that much.

Here's what I got, I'll post the blank template first then a few examples. You can find a list of the Major Arcana and the symbolism attached to each card all over the web I'll just grab a few to use as examples. Note that I'm not saying you should seriously use Tarot card spreads to read the future for someone, this is just an adaptation of its symbolic themes for the purpose of playing a game about pretending to be people with superpowers.

Arcana Themes

Choose one of the Major Arcana to represent. As the embodiment of that Arcana, you have a limited ability to manipulate fate and luck towards shaping the world in a way according to your Arcana. You are at your strongest when your acts align to your Arcana's correspondence, but you can also bless others with good luck when they act in the same way, or curse them with the negative traits of your Arcana when they are messing with your domain. Your Genre Reason becomes an Arcana Reason using the card's positive connotations and your Genre Bane becomes an Arcana Bane using the card's negative qualities. You no longer have a Genre Typecast, but instead you have Arcana Providence, a version of the Providence Miracle that can do Blessings and Curses related to your chosen Arcana's portfolio.

Arcana Providence:

Through a concentrated effort you may transform your very life essence into a blessing or curse aimed at someone else, this can manifest as inner strength they did not know they had within them, or a stroke of bad luck that causes their tools to break at the worst possible moment, or some other effect that could be explained as being just plain (un?)lucky. This will cause you to have a headache, bleed from the nose a little, or feel a tad dizzy, so you shouldn't have to worry about it much. But should you be defeated from hurting yourself this way you immediately pass out, and anyone with this ability will be able to tell you were up to something just now. Note that you may only use this version of Providence towards Help and Disrupt Tests, and that it does not have an innate Advantage when you are using it. You may not use Arcana Providence on yourself.

Let's have some examples, starting with a pretty straightforward card in The Chariot, following it up one that is about as good as you can make it in The Fool, and lastly one that is almost always better reserved for antagonists in the Devil.

The Chariot

Reason - The Chariot excels at standing ground against adversity and trampling past the obstacles and competition in its path. Chariot characters are strong of will, and usually of mind and body too, knowing what they want and how to get it. The character earns a Genre Point when they have to struggle to pursue their goals, demonstrating their steadfast resolution to everyone around them.
Bane - The Chariot aims for the finish line relentlessly until they win the race against all odds, often leaving a trail of destruction behind, and sometimes they won't stop until they crash and burn themselves. Chariot characters tend to be aggressive, violent and ambitious enough to not care about the people they will inevitably hurt. The character earns a Genre Point when their stubbornness gets them or people they care about in trouble.
Providence - You may bless or curse others when they are acting with iron determination amidst uncertainty. This may make it easier for to walk barefoot through a fire, but can also make someone who stubbornly refuses your help to ruin everything they've worked so hard for. 

The Fool

Reason - The Fool is a free spirit, with the world before them waiting to experience the joys and sorrows it has to offer. Fool characters are optimistic and all about trying new experiences, chasing down opportunities for adventure without sweating the details. The character earns a Genre Point when taking leaps of faith and doing things that others would deem illogical yet seem to work out.
Bane - The Fool often embarks on a journey without a map, and ends up stranded in the wilderness as a consequence. Fool characters don't quite grasp consequences that their actions may have, and their naivete makes them the first to fall prety to deals too good to be true. The character earns a Genre Point when they get in trouble pursuing the pretty butterflies.
Providence - You may bless or curse others when they are acting with spontaneity and recklessness. What otherwise could seem like an idea destined to fail can be much more likely to succeed with your help, and someone taking a risk without fully thinking things through first can be doomed with a worst case scenario. This does not work if they are aware you will have a participation in it beforehand, though, because then their act is a calculated risk.

The Devil

Reason - The Devil is the dark side of humanity, the selfish, materialistic and lustful side that always wants more even if it means taking away from others. Devil characters are cynicists with little respect for moral values, and are attracted by positions of authority from which they can reign over others. The character earns a Genre Point when they go through very questionable means to meet their ends, which may or may not be just as questionable themselves, making enemies in the process.
Bane - The Devil was banished to the underworld because the world fears it, but it does not escape because it too fears the world outside. Devil characters are horrible people because it is all they know, sustaining themselves through various types of addictions. The character earns a Genre Point when their lifestyle of dependency on substances, behaviors, people or even beliefs gets the better of them.
Providence - You may bless or curse others when they act out of the pure greed and lust in their hearts. Someone looking for a good time might get lucky that night, while a ruthless plutocrat might make a mistake that costs them their fortune. Promises of power and deals with the Devil are recommended,  but optional rather than mandatory.

And the Relationships?

You now have have separate Affinity levels for each PC or NPC you are close to. Affinity Levels are mutual and decided by the owners of the characters, so both characters will always be at the same Affinity Level with each other. Characters that were once very close will continue to know each other inside and out even if they had a major falling out, this means that Affinity Levels can only go up, and characters may not go back down to the previous one with each other.

Affinity Level 0 - The characters don't click together, they might keep themselves at arm's reach or actively distrust and even hate each other. There are no special rules for this Level.
Affinity Level 1 - The characters are companions of circumstance or casual acquaintances, they trust each other enough to share food or a roof to sleep under, but not much more than that. Characters at this Affinity Level gain an Advantage to Blessings and Curses cast on each other.
Affinity Level 2 - The characters are close friends, they trust each other with personal favors and secrets... Just not the really shady, dark stuff. Characters at this Affinity Level gain a second Advantage to Blessings and Curses cast on the other.
Affinity Level 3 - The characters have a very close bond like that of life partners, and it would take genuinely surprising turns of events for them to split. Characters at this Affinity Level may freely give each other their own Genre Points, sharing with each other as necessary.

Characters without an Arcana don't gain any benefit from a high Affinity Level other than maybe the occasional blessing and getting a Genre Point every now and then, which they can't use considering they most likely don't have any Powers either.

Example time: Let's say Alice (Chariot) wants to help out Bob (Fool) and they have an Affinity Level of 2. Bob is having a really hard time with planning an anniversary event for his significant other because he has the attention span of a gnat, but he feels a really intense love even if he is terrible at committing to other things, and Alice wants to help him out. She can use Providence to help him keep his focus through all this responsible man stuff without messing up, because it fits right within the purview of The Chariot. Alice has two Advantages to her Help Test so Bob will have a much easier time with whatever it is he ends up rolling the dice for. Meanwhile, Charlie (Devil) keeps trying to get suckers to sign a contract with her for power in exchange for their eternal servitude, but they all have Affinity Levels of 0 with her so they don't fall for it. Even if they did, she can't do much for them without any Advantages to the eventual Help Tests, she would need to get closer for Providence to start getting effective. 

In Conclusion: No I don't want to get to writing supplements like right now what gave you that idea? Next month, I'll stop beating around the bush and start talking about my future plans.