Author Topic: Making a strategic roleplaying system - suggestions welcome  (Read 1892 times)

Offline brainpiercing

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Making a strategic roleplaying system - suggestions welcome
« on: January 16, 2012, 02:24:05 PM »
This one goes out as a sort of brainstorming request: I am currently in the process of thinking about a game system that seamlessly combines strategic play and classical roleplay. By strategy I don't mean a war game, I mean a game where the PCs can actually have self-motivation and change the game world in a significant way.

The sort of interactions I'm looking for are something like these:
- evident strategic considerations drive character actions in a decisive manner
- character actions, and specifically actions within a tactical or social mini-game, have defined influences and results on the strategic play, i.e. no GM fiat, of a mechanical type, i.e. numerical or game element wise. For instance, they gain a bonus for their side pertaining to resources, or whatever.

What I came up with so far:

Characters are "normal" characters with all the stuff to enable the tactical mini-game and the social mini-game.

Factions mimic character attributes but do not get the mini-games. They do get rolls based on their stats, and can take abstract actions.

Characters are members of/run their faction(s), and NPC factions can exist. Due to variances of scale and game balance, an inherent balance mechanism should be in place - for instance, if the big-bad-criminal-organisation tries to vanquish the good PCs with its overwhelming might (which might be realistic, but poor gameplay), then they should do so at a considerable risk - for instance to their reputation.

The game styles I want to fulfill with this game are:

Conquest/Criminal enterprises/Warring clans, both from equal footing and from a starting-small stage.
Exploration and Conquest
Classic good vs evil scenarios with varying goals
Self-motivated "artifact hunt"/"Zone" style games

As a lesser goal I would consider a clandestine strategy game, essentially self-motivated covert operations vs larger factions.
I also still want to be able to run classic story scenarios - special occurances, special events, etc., and their influence on characters and factions.
I also want rudimentary tools for a mystery adventure, because aspects like assassination and espionage should belong in a game of factions with leaders.
Likewise, rudimentary tools for a survival game might be included, because being down and out might play a role, and it may be interesting to be a bunch of PCs without factions in a world populated with powerplayers.

And all the while I want this to be character driven, which means eventually I might need more character aspects. Maybe affiliation quirks, familiy quirks, special ties, character traits, etc. Either aspect should influence the other. The idea is to get real self-motivated action from the players without any/much prewritten scenario, but still to enable plot points like in a more conventional roleplaying game.

As far as gaming philosophy is concerned I would like to incorporate both simulationist and gamist aspects: Tactical play should be as simulationist as possible while also being as simple as possible. Social play should be as fun and effective as possible - yes I know that says nothing much. Strategic play I currently have down as simple simulationist, with broad abstractions. There might be ways to turn this into a more gamey mechanic - for instance, instead of holding territories and resources you might simply gain (or lose) cards.

So this is what I have so far, which is part of a concoction dubbed the Improved, meaning basically evolved, Roleplaying System.  Do understand I do not want to reinvent the wheel with this, which is why I am liberally adapting mechanics from elsewhere - taking care only to use what serves my purpose best. I will attempt to give everything enough of a personal touch.

The game should generally use a variable TN stat+skill with success threshold rolling mechanic. I'm leaving those initial parts out.


The IRS is designed to produce real strategic gameplay, where Characters form a self-interest, can set goals, can plan campaigns, etc. This is achieved by directly linking gameplay of Characters and Factions. Factions are larger bodies of (mostly) nameless people who share a common goal – usually mutual protection and prosperity, but also conquest, proliferation, etc. Characters make up the outstanding figures of a Faction. Of course they may also start small, and take part in the lowest echelons before working their way up. Factions and Characters are tied using common mechanics, and their interactions are also formalized and made accessible without large amounts of fiat. It is possible to play one group of Characters within the same faction, but also for each Character to have his own Faction, and every variation thereof. In addition, there may be Non-player Characters and Non-player Factions. (NPCs and NPFs)
In spite of enabling transparent Faction and Character play, the actual roleplaying will focus on Characters. Hence, Character actions take precedence when determining the scale of how an action is played. In effect, always zoom in as soon as players want to do something specific.
Each Character and Faction possesses a number of attributes, skills, resources, etc.

General attributes:
Characters Factions
Brawn:  a characters raw strength Power
Dexterity: everything from quickness to fine motor control Mobility
Toughness: generally explains itself Base
Logic: the analytical mind of a character Elite
Gut: a mixture of experience, wisdom and intuition   Mob Mind
Tenacity: a character’s willpower and ability to plod on in the face of setbacks   Breath
Connection: a characters social abilities as a mix of looks and charismaInfluence

Condition Monitors
Individuals have a monitor for their  Physical Condition, their state of Readiness, and their Face, representing their social standing. Factions have a monitor for their Numbers, their Readiness, and their (Face?). [Need a different word, there...]
The physical condition monitor of an individual has a number of boxes equal to 6 +  the individual’s Toughness score. A faction’s numbers are abstractly measured in 6 + the faction’s Base score.
A character’s Readiness is equal to 6+ his Tenacity, while a Faction’s Readiness is equal to 6 + its Breath. A character’s Face is equal to 6 + his Connection, whereas a Faction’s is equal to 6 + its Influence.


Generally, hostile interactions of varying types deal damage:
Physical attacks by characters on characters damage their Physical Condition. Non-lethal attacks by characters on characters damage their Readiness. Special social interactions deal damage to a character’s Face.
War between factions generally damages a faction’s Number’s monitor. Damage to installations owned by a faction generally damages a faction’s Readiness, and social campaigns can damage a faction’s Face.
Attacks by characters against factions can damage a factions Number’s, Readiness and Face. However, this damage is limited to one point per individual action. Attacks by factions against characters should generally be played out as individual tactical encounters, and hence do not by default deal a certain type of damage, with the exception of diffamatory campaigns – propaganda. An attack by a faction against characters which fails can also damage a faction – in Numbers, Readiness and Face.
Damage does not come without consequence:
Every three points of damage to either Physical, Numbers or Readiness imposes a +1  modifier to TN to all rolls except damage resistance. Every three points of damage to Face imposes a +1 modifier to  TNs of social interactions, but a +1 dice block modifier to all combat rolls against the offender, should there be one.

Other statistics

In addition, characters possess Funds, while Factions possess Resources. Characters gain Experience, and Factions gain Growth.  Characters need not pay upkeep, but Factions must take care to defend or even increase their territory, or they may not be able to maintain their status.
These statistics will be discussed in detail below.

XP and Growth
In order to advance, protagonists must spend another resource: XP or Growth. Characters gain XP by undertaking actions on the game world. Factions gain Growth by success in battle, by expending resources or by increasing their influence.
Advancement costs depend on the level of the ability obtained: Generally attributes cost 5 points of XP or Growth multiplied by the level of ability obtained. Skills and abilities cost 3 points of XP multiplied by the level obtained.
Characters gain XP directly, but depending on the setting they may also spend funds to improve themselves.
Factions can buy Growth 1:1 with Resources. They also gain Growth for increasing affiliation, for instance by success in battle, or by successfully subverting a territory.
Characters can convert XP into Growth by spending one point of XP per Character for one point of Growth. An individual can’t do this, only a group of Characters can. Ideally, this is the group of Player Characters, but groups of NPCs can do so, too (if the GM feels the need for so much paperwork).

Funds and Resources
Funds are a linear abstraction of available fluid money a character may possess. The setting determines the scale, within limits. In a street-level game, one point of resources may be made up of 1$, but in a game of warring kingdoms one point may be 10 pieces of gold. Generally, a few guidelines should be applied when setting the factor: A character should be able to buy full basic equipment for 20 funds, and specialized  equipment for 100 funds.
Resources are a linear abstraction of the value of mobile goods a faction may control – including money. Generally, one point of resources represents from 1000 to 100000 points of funds, depending on the scale of the setting. Characters can convert Resources into Funds and vice versa at the current going rate, however, they must pay attention to the Upkeep the Faction has to pay each Phase.


The Game World – the strategic world
For a strategic game, create a hexagon map. Each hex represents a certain Terrain with certain resources, called Produce, necessary for Factions or individuals, as well as population.  Terrain creates modifiers for certain actions, while Produce presents strategic goals. The scale of the map is not fixed, and depends on the setting: For a game of warring city states, each hex might represent a few square kilometers of land, whereas for a game of organized crime syndicates contending over city districts, each hex might represent a city block.
Produce, too, is not fixed – for medieval fantasy there might be wheat, barley, ore and coal, and for organized crime they might be a brothel, a distillery, and a drug lab.
Produce is abstracted to certain numeric values identical to the Resources a faction uses.  The details are left to the imagination. Depending on the setting, some resources might be more or less valuable, which is again incorporated by assigning the value in Resources that a certain Produce has. Trade is neglected in this rule set to not detract too much from a PC centered game.  It is assumed to happen automatically. However, a more detailed setting might introduce a need for certain Produce necessary for advancement and development, or just for nourishing the population.
Factions use Resources to gain growth, pay upkeep, or undertake specific actions, such as wage war, rebuild damage, etc.
The world map is important to take note of control spheres of factions: Each hex has an affiliation rating to all the factions present on the map, and a control rating for the dominating faction. In a simple setting this might be simple all-or-nothing ratings, in a more detailed setting a town might have 40% affiliation with faction 1, 20% with factions 2 and 3, and 10% each with factions 5 and 6.  Affiliation measures how loyal the inhabitants of a hex are towards the Faction. When increasing affiliation by certain actions, that can be used to gain growth. Affiliation also gives modifiers to attacking or defending a territory.
Control determines the percentage of Resources a faction gets from a hex. For a simple setting, an all-or nothing approach is perfectly fine, but like Affiliation, it can be changed to percentages. In a setting where the populace doesn’t get much of a say, it is also possible to simply link both values entirely.

A Faction must pay a number of Resources in upkeep equal to the sum of its Attributes each phase. Phases are discussed below.  The surplus Resources it gains can be spent towards growth. If a faction loses territory it must pay the required Upkeep out of its savings. If it cannot pay the Upkeep it automatically gains negative Growth, and must sell one point of Attributes or Abilities for Resources. Selling Attributes grants 4x the current Value in Resources, selling Abilities grants 2x the current value in Resources.  This represents selling off assets in order to keep the Faction running.

The PC setting – the tactical world
Characters act as agents of a faction, or act independently.  Actions where characters are placed on the map zoom in to a specific hex of the world map. Here characters may move about on a detailed grid and perform actions, such as attacking enemies, talk to people, or explore.
As was stated earlier, the zoomed in tactical view takes precedence as soon as characters wish to undertake specific tasks on the map – whether they really need a tactical map or not. They may at any time do any actions in person rather than letting their Faction act.
Character may also form a Faction. The first step to do this is generally controlling a hex on the world map, and milking it for Resources. Details on creating Factions are discussed below.

Creating Characters
Characters are created in several steps using an XP-buy system.  The costs for each Attribute or Skill are identical with the advancement cost:
5x new value for Attributes
3x new value for Skills
After assigning both, the player may buy special abilities and funds. In a setting with Magic, the player may now also buy spells. In a setting without formalized magic he may not need to do so. By default, Funds cost 1 XP per 2 points, but this may vary with the setting. Once funds have been bought, the player may buy equipment for his character, depending on the setting.

Creating Factions
The first step to creating a faction as the GM or as a group of Characters is assigning territory. The territory and the available Resources determine the starting points to distribute among the Faction’s attributes – one for one. This makes sure that a faction can pay its own Upkeep upon creation. The Faction then gains the same number of points again in order to buy Abilities. It is up to the creator of the Faction to leave over some points as available Resources – after all, undertaking actions as a Faction also costs resources.
The other means to create a faction is by letting Characters start as independent actors and having them create a Faction during play. The first step to doing this is gaining control of a territory, a hex on the strategic map, by throwing out the previous controllers, or by taking control of it if no other Faction is present. Once they do so, they officially form a Faction with 0s in all Attributes and Abilities. They now gain a Faction’s condition monitors and can accumulate Resources. Once they have accumulated 5 points of Resources, they can convert these to growth,  and spend that on one point of Base. This provides the faction with people who can now independently act towards the Faction’s benefit, and also undertake menial tasks, such as guard duty in controlled territory.  Of course the Characters can also undertake actions for their new Faction, and immediately gain growth, too, by converting their Experience into Growth. 
After thus having started their faction, they can improve it as they see fit – taking into account that others might be closely watching, waiting eagerly for a moment of weakness.


Now I haven't formalized rules for the social and tactical mini-games, although I have a good bit of bastardized social mini-game down. This is also one of the hardest parts: Without it, it's just a hack&slash wargame, because if you can't do diplomacy, or if it's too simplistic, then everything non-combat will severely suffer.

The idea is also to formalize more interactions:

What happens when characters attack an enemy hex? If they conquer it? How do they control it? What happens if the characters persuade an influential member of another faction or even a powerful non-faction affiliated individual, or belonging to an over-faction which cannot be contended with directly? How do I really deal with Faction on PC attacks, while maintaining inherent balance? What could be a good inherent balance scheme?My idea right now is to always punish the more powerful side, or at least inconveniencing it.

The other question is how to make the game world more interesting, and not like a game of Settlers with character sheets.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2012, 02:53:49 AM by brainpiercing »

Offline brainpiercing

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Re: A strategic roleplaying system
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2012, 02:25:42 PM »
Duh, I just realized I could have already put this in the "my game here" forum, but... when I started, I actually wanted more help than present anything.
Let's keep it here to discuss, it's too far away from being a finished product.

Offline brainpiercing

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Re: Making a strategic roleplaying system - suggestions welcome
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2012, 02:54:34 AM »
No comments?

Come on, someone must have have any kind of opinion?

Or are you missing some critical info before being able to respond?
« Last Edit: January 23, 2012, 04:49:45 AM by brainpiercing »

Offline brainpiercing

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Re: Making a strategic roleplaying system - suggestions welcome
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2012, 10:12:40 AM »
Ok, since I'm not getting any feedback here, could any mod please move this to the "Your game here" forum?

Offline Amechra

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Re: Making a strategic roleplaying system - suggestions welcome
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2012, 09:40:55 PM »
I'll read and digest what you already have over the next day or so, then I'll give you some ideas.
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Offline brainpiercing

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Re: Making a strategic roleplaying system - suggestions welcome
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2012, 04:27:26 PM »
I'll read and digest what you already have over the next day or so, then I'll give you some ideas.

I'm looking forward to it!

By the way re-reading this now gave me another idea, to replace or enhance the tactical mini-game: Dramatic Combat. Rather than focusing on eeking out positions and modifiers, combat could be made more interesting by adding mechanics to increase dramatic tension:

- focus on stakes and risk and odds, rather than position, cover, etc.
- Raise stakes to increase offense, for instance: Lower defense, power actions with life, etc.
- dynamic teamwork benefits: heroic combat must first put the protagonists in a tight spot before they gradually break out. This is achieved, for instance, by scaling teamwork benefits on individually weaker opponents. These are dangerous, until a critical point is reached - once they start falling, they begin falling more quickly. On the other hand, the boss battle must be similar, but with the reversed numbers. Likely as not this can be achieved by scaling bonuses up and down from a desired number of team-mates on each side. For instance, in fight of 4 PCs vs 10 mooks, the weaker mooks get teamwork benefits, which decrease once their numbers dwindle. On the other hand, a single BBEG against 4 PCs gets a "single hero" benefit similar to teamwork, so that his stats don't need to be artificially inflated to make up for his action deficiencies.  Arguably, once mooks fall to numbers below 4, they could start getting bonuses again to keep the final stretch of the combat dramatic as well, however, danger of tedium must be avoided.