Friday, November 20, 2009

Golden Century: Badass

Swinging back to Golden Century, the first question I ask myself is how to handle the various flavors of badass within one system. For the moment, I'm assuming a flavor of Fate because, hey, it's a pretty robust platform.

Cecil is easy. He's unstoppable, so whatever wound system I use, he'll double it. I could fiddle around with alternatives like armor-equivalence, but that seems to complicate things unnecessarily. The idea is not that he doesn't get hurt, it's that he doesn't stop coming, so a longer wound track totally does the job.

The Butcher is similarly easy - his fighting and intimidation will come out of the same pool, easy peasy. The guy is terrifying, and much of his badass will be expressed through people's unwillingness to fight him, so it's just a matter of remembering to respect that. As a GM it specifically means that I need to remember that "The other guy chickening out" is a reasonable (or even likely) outcome for scenes.

Sandon and Eira are a bit more interesting. Sandon has the fantastic situational awareness, and Eira has the classic Old Master schtick, both of which are potent but are also too colorful (and nuanced) to wave off with a simple bonus. Sandon suggests to me that his ability might interact well with the idea of scopes - he should have some bonus that relates to bringing in aspects in the environment scope.

Possible approaches include making the bonus for environmental aspects bigger for him, reducing the difficulty of creating new environmental aspects, or giving him more free tags of environmental aspects. The end result I'm looking for is that I expect him to be using the environment virtually every time he acts, so I want to reward that.

The main answer, I think, is that I will let him freely create and use environmental aspects without needing to roll to set them up and find them - so long as he describes using the environment in a colorful and reasonable fashion, he can spend a fate point on that aspect. This is pretty potent - free and open use of another scope means his bonus can get pretty high - but that also means i can afford to be a little bit strict about it. The environment has to be used in a way that directly impacts what's being done - actions that just happen to use the environment are less likely to be usable.

The downside of this approach is that it does not quite make things full on wild-and-woolly Jackie Chan style environment use (which would really require more free tags). Instead it allows for spiking efforts by bringing in the environment without any preparation or planning, and I think that captures the idea.

Thinking about Sandon also gives some insight into Eira. I can apply similar logic to suggest that her real area of strength is also a scope, specifically, the scope of the other person. As with Sandon, opening up another scope to casual use allows for badass spiking, but the mechanic needs to be a little bit different, simply because people are not quite as willy-nilly as the environment.

I think what I'd like is for her to be able to discover other people's aspects by fighting them. That has a mechanical benefit, but it also plays nicely into that old master vibe of figuring out that you carry a lot of regret around by how you hold your sword. It shouldn't be instant or transparent, but it should be fairly easy. My thought is this: If Eira wins an exchange (that is to say, would cause damage), she can forgo the damage and instead reveal one of her opponent's aspects. This will be treated like a successful maneuver, so she'll get a free tag on it (which should make up for forgoing the damage). If I, as GM, don't have an aspect to reveal, she can make one up.

My one fear with this is that, depending on how I handle injuries, then she's potentially forgoing a different exploitable aspect (the injury) to do this, which may not mechanically balance out. If that proves to the case, ti will probably make discovery easier, maybe only requiring a single step.

I think I'll also broaden this a bit so that she can do something similar out of combat with almost any thoughtful activity (pouring tea and whatnot). That is to say, her particular badass will be usable outside of fights to discern the aspects of others, though there may be some color limitations on that.

Ok, that's all 4. Feeling good about this.

Oh, as a total aside, here is the reason Dragon Age totally won for me.

One of the starting paths is an urban elf. Elves were slaves until a few hundred years ago, and they're still second class citizens, living in ghettos called alienages. You start in the alienage in Denerim, the capital city, waking up to discover that today is your wedding day. It all goes horribly, horribly wrong, but that's arguably less important than the context it goes wrong in. They do a wonderful job of giving you the clear sense that you are connected to the community, through ties of friendship and family. Later on in the game, when you get to come back to the alienage, those ties are reinforced, with nods back to the events at the beginning.

All this is prelude to some events in the endgame. I won't spoil the details, but something bad happens in Denerim, and you have to deal with it. It's presented as a strategic problem and you have a number of ways you could approach it. and I was thinking about it in those terms until the map of the city popped up, and one of the hotspots of trouble was the alienage.

I did not stop to think before clicking on it. There was no analysis or consideration, simply an utterly primal gut reaction of "MY FAMILY IS IN TROUBLE" and the need to do something about it. I don't know if that sounds as awesome as it was, but for me that kind and quality of visceral emotional reaction to a game is hard to come by, and I can't praise Bioware enough for their handling of it.


  1. I continue to wonder that, in Dragon Age, if I didn't pick the wrong choice in playing a Circle-bound elf mage. Not the most interesting opener, to my mind.

    Other origins sound much hotter. More sizzle in that steak! Ssss!

    -- c.

  2. The mage intro was interesting to me after I'd played the game enough to have some context for it, but without that, it all hinges on how invested you are in Jowan, which is _way_ less compelling than the city elf or human noble intro, both of which got me really emotionally invested. Still haven't tried dalish elf or either dwarf, though I intend to.

    -Rob D.

  3. Right. The Jowan thing didn't really hook me -- it had a nice ending that played with moral issues, but not in a satisfying way for me.

    How deeply do the different origins resonate throughout the game? I've heard mixed opinions on that.

    -- c.

  4. There are long stretches where it's irrelevant or just color, but every now and again it will pop up again, often with great gnashing teeth.

    Some of it is also a bit self-fulfilling. There are a lot of places where things come up which will have more or less resonance based on how much the story has hooked you in. A lot of the elements from the backgrounds show up again no matter what origin you choose, so it's probably a matter of taste whether or not that improves or cheapens the experience. For example, I don't think it's too spoilerey to say that Jowan shows up again in the game, but the circumstances are...interesting. When I came across him, I had just finished doing the Mage intro on the side, so I was all "HOLY FUCK, JOWAN" and it was made more awesome for how it all fit together, despite it being a separate character.

    (And by extension, I do not care who I am playing, good bad or indifferent. Someone tries to do something bad to Shianni - your cousin in the male city elf starter - I will cut them. )

  5. Notably, the biggest impact of the backgrounds is on my choices. I played the mage forward to the point of meeting Jowan to see how things played out, and the dialogue was definitely richer and took the past events into account, but there was not a lot of difference in substance. But it _did_ change the choices I made, and thinking about it, that's actually a pretty profound difference. Changing the tech to make for deeper conversation trees is all well and good, but impacting my behavior as a player is the real illustration of where the rubber meets the road.

    -Rob D.


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