RPG system for competitive narrative

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Joined: 21 Feb 2006
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Location: Seattle

PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 5:57 pm    Post subject: RPG system for competitive narrative Reply with quote

I'm working on a RP mush, and a general set of mechanics for the game. In the process I've been ripping off a lot of ideas from other RPG systems, game designers, blogs, forums, but some of this stuff is at least my own idea. I know it's pretty far from the code on a H&S or GoP mud but I'm wondering if any of you have some thoughts about balance, specific mechanics or just the system in general.


While this is a consent-based mush, the mechanics aim to promote RP within a competitive narrative.

1. Time line

The mush runs for 1 RL year. The game is divided into three acts, each about four months long. After each act players can recreate characters (up to the same ability level of their original character) if they want to. Depending on how the game progresses and what the players want, the acts may not be linear or strictly follow IC:RL time from one act to the next.

2. CG

Step One:

The game contains two 'decks', of Fates and Goals. CG randomly deals the character a:

Fate: Unavoidable and predetermined, though the player chooses how to play it in RP. Example: you will give your enemies your trust if they ask for it.

Goal: An achievement the character strives for. Example: assassinate the mayor of Seattle.

If you don't like what's dealt, you can look through the non-dealt fates and goals and choose another. All fates and goals in play (but not their owners) are listed. Developers seed the fate and goal decks on an ongoing basis. It's unlikely two characters will share the same fate or goal.

Step two:

The game gives the character ten story points to spend on Abilities. A story point is the currency you use throughout the game to raise abilities and affect the game world.

An ability can be an attribute such as strength, a skill such as martial arts, or a special resource of stuff, like a gun collection, that have a good, elite, or legendary rating.

The player should think about how an ability will help their character concept move the story forward, and has complete freedom to choose their abilities keeping in mind these base costs:

A good ability costs 1 story point.

An elite ability costs 3 story points.

A legendary ability costs 5 story points.

However the base cost is not the actual, net cost in story points you pay to buy the ability. Two rules determine the net cost.

The first rule is that abilities must stack. In other words, you cannot have a legendary ability without an elite and good ability as well. In order to have two legendary abilities, you must have at least two elite, and at least two good abilities.

The second rule is that to find the net cost of an ability, you add the total number of your abilities plus how many abilities are stacked below the ability you're improving to the base cost. The stack counts all abilities below the ability the character raises -- not just the abilities stacked directly below like a column. If you're raising an ability and not buying a new one, don't count the raised ability in the total number of abilities.

For example, to take one good ability costs 1 story point (sp).

To take two good abilities costs 1 sp for the first ability, and 2 sp for the second, for a total of 3 sp.

To take one elite ability cots 1 sp for the first good ability, and 5 sp (Base of 3 + 1 stacked + 1 abilities) for the elite ability, for a total of
6 sp.

To take one legendary ability would cost 1 sp for the first good ability, 5 sp for the next elite ability, and 9 sp (Base of 5 + 2 stacked + 2 abilities) for the legendary ability, for a total of 15 sp.

As another example, take a character who has been in the game for a little while. They have three good abilities, and two elite abilities. They want to raise one of their elite abilities to legendary. The cost would be (5 base + 4 stacked + (5 total - 1 being raised = 4 total), 13 story points.

Unused story points are held in the character's story book (more on this later) when they enter the game.

A word about buying abilities: in this system a character in the game with enough story points can buy a legendary ability without raising a previously held ability to that level. This is meant to incorporate surprise and unpredictability, and allow the player to add a somewhat unrealistic element to the game.

Step three:

Staff approves the character. You don't need to write a background, description, or set any information you don't want to. Obviously if you make more information available, you have a better chance of finding RP with people that don't know you. The staff approval is mostly to look at your abilities and formally check you in to the game.

3. Game play

Once a RL week upon login, the game gives each player 2 story points. If you don't login that week, your character doesn't get the points. You can use sps at any time; however, story points resets to 0 at the end of every RL month. Note that the ability and trust pools of the story book do not reset -- more about these below.

A major system in play handles props. A prop is a significant element of the narrative and game world, and can be a thing, place, person, and one-time or ongoing event. The developers seed the prop list on an ongoing basis.

Props are significant elements of the narrative and game world. For example, Mount Rainier is a prop, but a gun is not a prop. All props are listed with a brief description in the prop list -- if it isn't in the list, it isn't a current prop in the system. Some examples are:

a remote cabin hidden in the Cascades (an element of the game world)
a friend who works in Civil Services (a NPC, also an element of the game world)
activists march downtown (a piece of story, an element of the narrative)

Props are either special, rare, or unique. For example, Mount Rainier is a unique prop, but a friend who works in Civil Services is a special prop.

Players buy props in order to have narrative control of what they represent. The idea is that players should be able to affect, and be affected by, the game world without staff intervention, and with a clear mechanic that decides who ultimately gets to decide what. If a player owns a prop, the final decision is theirs.

Players buy props with story points at these costs:

special: 1 sp
rare: 4 sp
unique: 10 sp

To take an extreme case, if a player did own Mount Rainier, they could narrate events on the mountain like weather, avalanches, lost climbers, or an eruption. Keep in mind that props are meant to be used to advance the story, not blow it up. Another player could narrate events on the mountain as well, but if there is a conflict in the narrative, the final decision rests with the prop owner. A prop short-circuits the normal process where a player would get staff approval for something that affects the game world; in this regard, a prop is like a temporary staff bit that decides outcomes for a very specific piece of the game.

Players can sell props to other players at any price in sps that they agree to; they can also sell back to the prop list and receive half the original cost or 1 sp, whichever is greater.

When players want a prop, they look at what's available in the prop list. They then make a bid on the prop. If no other player bids on the prop within 24 RL hours, the player buys the prop; if another player does bid on the prop, each player rolls a d6, with the highest roll earning the player the right to buy the prop. Players may spend story points to raise their roll on a 1:1 basis in a contested bid.

At the end of every act, all props return to the prop list, and characters do not receive sps in return.

Inevitably two players will go toe to toe. Each will own a prop that can affect the outcome of the scene. Which prop takes precedence?

The golden rule of conflicted props is called point-of-view. Point-of-view means who has authorial control of a part of the narrative. The mush is consent-based, so by default the overall game narrative has a neutral point-of-view (nPOV). No one character has the right to dictate what other characters will do or be affected by. Instead the players mutually agree to the actions and consequences of a scene.

However the mush also is a competitive narrative, which means players have interests and goals, and the means (abilities) and resources (props) to carry out those interests and goals. If a player owns a prop, that prop is in their personal point-of-view (pPOV), much like an extension of their character. They have narrative control of that prop. So when two props are in conflict, what you essentially have is a dispute over POV.

For example, consider this question, courtesy of Thenomain @ WORA:

"Say I brought my CIA Buddy (rare prop) and wore my futuristic bulletproof clothing (special prop) onto your Mt. Ranier (unique prop) where you are hiding.

It's my CIA Buddy (hunting you down) vs. your Mt. Ranier (hiding you). Both are props, but have conflicting narratives. What happens next?"

The players have two choices.

1. Maintain nPOV. They come to a mutual agreement about the result of the scene.

Buffy: "OK, my CIA friend Jack got some intel on your hideout in the mountain via satellite. We know where you are and we're going to bust in on you guns blazing."

Biff: "OK, but it so happens that today the mountain is in white-out conditions...no helicopter is landing on the mountain."

Buffy: "Well, we have your location via GPS so the white-out won't stop us finding you. We'll just go in on foot."

Biff: "Fine."

2. Decide who has pPOV -- personal point of view. The player that takes pPOV awards a story point to the player who owns the prop that was superseded.

Buffy: "OK, Jack and I are going to cap your ass. We're coming in on a helicopter."

Biff: "Uh, how are you going to find me? The mountain is in a whiteout today."

Buffy: "Whiteout? That seems like an easy out to me."

Biff: "Well...OK, I'm willing to give you pPOV. There's a break in the weather."

Buffy: "Cool. Here's a sp. Hope your gun is big."

It is only when a player wishes to have pPOV that you award story points; if all players in the scene want to give up POV, they need to work it out using nPOV.

If there are three or more players in a scene, individual prop conflicts are worked out between the affected players. It is possible for one player who assumes pPOV to award a story point to each affected player who gives up pPOV.

Conflict resolution with dice:

The mush is consent-based, but in the event that players want to judge a conflict with dice, players do this:

1. roll a D6

2. add bonuses. Ability ratings give: good +1, elite +2, legendary +3. Prop give: special +2, rare +4, unique +6.

3. subtract an opposing roll or named difficulty. Difficulties are hard (4), unlikely (6), and incredible (8)

4. The number of successes is any positive result. Any negative result is the number of failures, according to this scale:

-3+: tragic -2: horrible -1: bad 0: re roll (tie) 1: good 2: great 3: extraordinary

The player who initiated the roll narrates the result. If there is a dispute over who narrate that can't be solved through consent, the player with the higher roll (not including bonuses) narrates.

Players are expected to judiciously apply prop bonuses to rolls. Dice are meant to add an element of chance and uncertainty to outcomes, and allow players to think of clever tactics and ways to utilize their abilities and resources in a situation. They are not just a substitute for consent.

Play of Fate and Goals:

A character plays their fate and goals by working them into their RP. For example, if my goal is to assassinate the mayor of Seattle, and I obtain a detailed schedule of his activities, I have expressed my goal. If my fate is to trust my enemies if they ask me to, and I do so, I similarly have expressed my fate. Either action is worth a fate point, if the other players in the scene agree the fate or goal is appropriately played.

A fate point is a form of story point, I'll explain the difference in a moment.

Obviously the player must reveal their fate and goal, sometimes to their character's enemies, to earn fate points.

At any time a player may convert fate points to story points, at the rate of 1:3. As long as a player doesn't convert fate points, they remain in the fate pool until the end of the act, at which point the fate pool resets to 0. When they are converted to story points, they flush at the end of the month as usual.

There are a few other uses for story points. The following explanation gets a little technical, but here is the main idea -- the game does not reward a player who hoards their points in one big glob, waiting for the big spend. .

A player's story points collect in the player's story book. Within the structure of the book players can divide their story points in a few ways:

1. They can hold the sps in one glob to play at any time, to buy props, etcetera. These are uninvested sps.

2. Players may also invest a portion of their story points, naming a target character. This is called a trust pool, and players may create as many trust pools as they like. That target character may use these story points as they choose to either, (a) boost the other player's rolls, at a rate of 1 sp:+2 roll, or (b) narrate an action for the other player as if that player was their prop, or (c) reduce a player's roll, at a rate of 1 sp:-2.

3. Players use sps to raise current abilities or buy new ones. Players must invest points in their ability pool and declare the ability they're working on. When the pool reaches the total needed, the player gets the ability, with any remainder remaining in the ability pool. Players can work on only one ability at a time. To flush the pool before the the ability is 'ready', the player will only receive 50% of the pool as a refund.

Every week when players receive their story points on login, the game ALSO increases a player's trust pools by 10%; each trust pool increases by 10%. The game increases the ability pool by 20%. Fractions of story points are unusable, but the game keeps track of the fractional amounts (always rounding up to tenths) and adds to the pool appropriately. However, interest does NOT compound without the pool being active -- that is, without a player declaring what ability they're working on. To activiate the ability pool, the player must invest at least 1 sp and name an ability.

For example, Buffy wants elite computer hacking, which will cost her 5 sps. Currently she has 3 sps. She puts 2 sps into an elite computer hacking ability pool -- these sps are unavailable for play. The following week when the game gives out story points, Buffy receives an extra 0.4 sps in her ability pool, increasing it to 2.4. That week she doesn't put any points in her ability pool. The following week the game puts .5 sps in her ability pool, increasing it to 2.9. That week she puts 1 sp in the pool, raising it to 3.9; she receives elite computer hacking, and 0.9 points remain in the ability pool for the next investment.


A hook is initially a seed for RP. Some players make a character, enter the game world, and then don't know where to start. Hooks give them something to riff off of to start their RP, or they provide ideas for characters mid-story who don't have something going on. Hooks also provide a mechanism for two players who don't normally RP together, because of login times or inclination or other RP reasons, to riff of of each other's RP.

Hooks usually take the form of subject verb props. For example:

The police are investigating a ring of organ thieves. :: ring of organ thieves PROP owned by Biff
A gang, the New Bloods, is making a play for more territory. :: the New Bloods gang PROP owned by Boffo
A foreign activist is seeking political asylum. :: foreign activist PROP owned by Buffy

Developers seed the game with hooks, which players can check out for play. Once they do something with it they check it back in with a concise summary of changes for other players to pick up on.

Hooks have a return date, like a library book, usually posted 1 week from the check out. Players renew hooks to get more time, but players may place a hold on hooks, and hooks on hold are automatically checked in by the return date. If a hook already is on hold players can put themselves in the hold queue, and remove themselves from it at any time. If the players have not provided a summary of changes by this date, they lose 1 sp. They of course can return the hook before the due date without changes if they wish, but it is assumed they did nothing with the hook.

Of course you need two or more players to check out a hook. One player in the group signs for the hooks; a player may only be signed out on one hook at a time.

Obviously the game does not parse the semantics of hook summaries. However this doesn't mean it won't be clear who did and didn't update the summary legibly. Don't be an idiot.

Players don't own hooks like they do props, but they do have the freedom to decide how a hook will progress, within the constraints of consent and any props that are involved.

Let's take the first hook example to study:

The police are investigating a ring of organ thieves.

Buffy and Biff check out this hook. Assuming they don't just TS the whole week, they play a few scenes. Biff owns the ring of organ thieves, so he has narrative control of this prop. The result of their RP is that a cop gets kidnapped and a kidney removed. They check the hook back in a week later, and it now looks like this:

The police are investigating a ring of organ thieves. Jack Hardnut, SPD, got kidnapped and lost a kidney. :: ring of organ thieves PROP owned by Biff

Players do not need to play a hook linearly; for example, our two players could have RPed and checked the hook back in to look like:

A young girl got kidnapped and lost a kidney. As a result, the police are investigating a ring of organ thieves. :: ring of organ thieves PROP owned by Biff

A note about narrating for NPCS. If an NPC is not explicitly listed as a prop, and narrating the NPC doesn't make a significant change to the game or its props, a player is free to narrate the NPC. If narrating the NPC affects someone else's prop or the game, get the consent of the other player or the game first. One important note is that you don't need to get consent for minor property damage, for example breaking a window or tagging a car. Just use common sense -- if you burned down someone's apartment, that is not minor property damage.

Hook rewards: At the beginning of each act the game looks at all the hooks in play. It ranks the most popular hooks (by active hooks returned with summaries updated by their due date). For each of the top 10% of hooks, ALL players that checked out that hook receive 50% of the number of checkouts in sps.
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