Jul 30, 2017

Monsterpunk: The Summoners RPG.

It has been over two months since the last update about the Summoners RPG - long enough to get a better name: Monsterpunk. Let's do a quick recap of the last post before we continue:

In Monsterpunk it is not uncommon to have PCs control two units -and possibly more - at the same time. The first puzzle to solve here was how to do summon and summoner stats. The biggest problem was that none of the stat systems I came up with were simple yet intuitive enough to satisfy me. The solution I came to was to make a class-based system instead of my typical point-buy and stat-based approach. The second puzzle to solve was action economy. It is very hard to make characters balanced with each other when one of them needs two or three times as many actions to do what other characters can do in one. The solution was to limit the number of units controlled by a single PC to two at a time (at least for the base rules) and to give the classes with multiple units ways to 'cheat' at action economy by spending actions as if they were of a higher tier for their summon.

As for the classes themselves, there are four categories: Cavaliers (ride the summon to battle), Tamers (buff and support the summon), Fusions (fuse permanently with the summon to gain its powers) and Solos (no summon, but have increased physical abilities, psychic powers, better tech, etc.). That was what they were called back then. Now they're called Riders, Partners, Gestalts and Ubermensch - in the same order.

Now that we've got that covered, let's get to the part that ties all these things together: The Core Mechanic.

Puzzle #3: What's the Core Mechanic?

I had a class and action system in mind but I still didn't have thought up the way players would roll dice to solve problems yet. I couldn't do the good old "dice + stat to beat a target difficulty number" approach, because I didn't have stats. In fact, without stats there's little room for any of the things that make interacting with game mechanics fun and interesting. This was a big roadblock and I'd love to say that I came up with the answer entirely on my own.

But the solution didn't come to me until I was shown a different RPG's core mechanic. The game in question is Strike! In Strike! You roll 1d6 and consult a table with 4-5 results. The results for rolls outside of combat go from catastrophic failure to critical success with other interesting results (success with a cost, unexpected twists that throw the situation off the rails, etc.) in between. Combat results include missing and hurting yourself, doing damage and having a special effect, doing damage or having a special effect (player's choice) and doing double damage plus the effect. The PCs' affect this result by changing, say, 3's to 4's (giving you damage and effect when you would usually only get one) or giving the player the ability to roll 2d6 and choose which roll to keep. Thus, everybody rolls the same 3-4 tables which they'll probably memorize after a few rolls. As a bonus there's no need to do math with bonuses and penalties, which keeps the pace of the game flowing smoothly.

This, dear readers, is one of the most novel and elegant core mechanics I have ever seen. There are as many things that I adore about it as there are things that bother me, but since this isn't a review of Strike! I'll keep to the part that is relevant to our story.

I knew from that moment that I wanted to have a table of fixed results as an universal mechanic. Of course, I would do it differently. Here is Monsterpunk's Table:

This game really needs a more fitting name than "Intermissions" for its out of combat scenes.

Here is what those terms mean:

You did the thing! Go you!

Something went wrong. Not only do you fail but you also have a new problem to deal with. Maybe you got wounded, maybe you set the place on fire, maybe you succeeded but in a way you didn't want, as if an evil genie granted you a wish.

Success with Twist
You succeed BUT you also have a new problem to deal with. Basically it is both of the above as one result.

Success with Bonus
Also known as a 'critical success'. If a success is usually a step forward in advancing the story, this is a step and a half forward. Maybe you finish the task much faster than intended, maybe you gain a clue for what to do next, maybe you impressed an important NPC who now looks at you favorably.

Base Effect.
What your ability always does. The weakest abilities don't have a base effect - a result of 1-4 means they miss. The strongest abilities always do something, like inflicting status conditions or high automatic damage, even without getting any bonus effects.

Bonus Effect.
All combat abilities have three bonus effects. Some effects can be applied two or three times while others can be only applied once. Hence, you can get up to three bonus effects on top of the base effect - if your ability has one.

What I really like about the d10 is that it has just enough randomness to cover a wide range of results while still being fairly predictable and intuitive. You can tell at a glance that there is only a 40% chance of total failure at any given time, but the highest possible result is very rare at 10%.

Here's some more probability calculations:

Credit for this one goes to Gzar who kindly set up anydice code for my Monsterpunk needs.

In this system Advantages and Disadvantages matter a lot more than they did in BCG. Having a single Advantage to your roll makes it more likely to get a success with bonus than a twist, but a Disadvantage gives you a 64% chance of total failure and a mere 1% of amazing success. This makes managing your Advantages and Disadvantages a tactical priority. It is a much bigger factor than an extra +2 damage on top of your 13 damage attack and I really like that.

With all the important rules well on their way to being solved, it was time to lay the groundwork on the nonmechanical aspects of the game: Setting, tone, mood and all those things.

Why "Monsterpunk"?

I figure I should start with the title.

Monsterpunk is a hybrid of Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction. Like most -Punk genres, Monsterpunk has its roots in science fiction, exploring worlds and societies where amazing technology has led to a dystopic way of life... Except in this case there's no artificial intelligences or genetic engineering or other scientific advancements as part of the setup. The foundation of the setting, the thing that changes everything and makes the world a different place, is the sudden arrival of fantastical and mythological creatures that proceed to take charge.

The game takes place several generations after this change, a long enough time for Humans to be no longer at the top of the food chain on a worldwide scale. People are now servants, nourishment and, quite often, playthings of their new masters. The Monsters need humans as a food source, with the "civilized" Monsters feeding on the psychic energy of living humans bred specifically for this purpose, while others just plain eat people's brains. Most people chose to side with the former against the latter, and the resulting conflict is how the world ended.

Yes, it is a post-apocalyptic world. Satellite networks and power plants are dangerous infraestructure to leave in the hands of potential human resistance factions, after all. Life in the controlled territory of the larger Monster factions means following their rules and paying them tribute (which means feeding them) in exchange for their protection from other Monsters and maybe a nice mid-1900's lifestyle if they're nice and care about electric grids. Outside the territory controlled by any given Monster faction, you're struggling to survive in a hellish wasteland where everything is trying to kill you.

The PCs take the role of a mercenary company - they're tough, relatively independent survivors. Like in most RPGs, combat is expected (in case the table didn't tip you off) to happen often. As mercenaries, PCs are in the middle of a brewing storm between warring factions, having the option to side with any of them or stay as independent as possible. The former means taking on missions to secure uncontrolled territory, sabotage other factions and suppress internal attempts at rebellion. The latter means making a living in a ravaged world where brain-eating monsters roam the wilderness, everything is poisonous and the weather is always extreme.

Regardless of the path they choose, horrible things will happen to them along the way, testing the limits of their sanity and their own humanity.

There's a bit more to it... But, to be honest, I spent most of my Monsterpunk time during the past two months tweaking game mechanics instead of writing lore stuff so the ideas are not fully developed yet. Mechanically speaking, the game is more or less ready for playtesting so there'll be more news soon.

Until next time, Gimmick Out.