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Steampunk rules noodlings

Working on some thoughts, recording them. Nothing is written. (In stone.)

Stats will be: head, heart, hands, spirit and steam. Head represents knowledge, perception, memory, and all that stuff. Heart represents charisma, sociability, amiability, and other social abilities. Spirit represents willpower, faith and gumption. Steam is a meta-trait, that gives a player points of "steam" that allow him to affect task resolution, or power other abilities.

Skill trees will be: Professional, trade, combat, criminal, wealth and influence. Characters of every social class will have access to all trees, but the cost will depend on the character's social class. In addition, there will be skill trees called "Industry" and "Inspiration" which will be available to Utilitarian and Romantic characters respectively.
The Victorian era was a collision of the utilitarian philosophy like that of John Stuart Mills and Jeremy Benthem, and the more Romantic and dualistic philosophies of Coleridge, and the conservatism of Burke. Conservative at that time not meaning what it does now. Characters should make a choice between the mysterious old world, and the mechanical brave new world. Therefore, at character generation, everyone will choose whether they are Utilitarian or Romantic.

For non-combat task resolutions, the two philosophies will have a different mechanic. Utilitarian followers believe in the supremacy of reason, of the miracle of consistency, and of the triumph of system over individual excess. Therefore Utilitarian task resolution involved adding up the relevant trait, the relevant skill, and checking to be sure that necessary components are present - and no element of chance. For example - Professor MacGillicuddy wants to build one of his meta-steam powered aerio-perambulators. He has the "head" trait of five, the "engineering" skill at three, and the requisite materials; a workshop, brass, wood, leather, canvas, and a Conyers-process meta-steam catalyzing engine. His total of "8" is sufficient to build the device which has a difficulty of 7, and he is a Utilitarian. He succeeds. His extra point can be used for performance, speed-of-assembly, or fanciness.

Across town, his arch-nemesis, the Romantic tinkerer Doktor Totenkopf is building a meta-steam powered Mechanical Turk Automaton. His "head" trait is four, his engineering is only a two, and he has the requisite materials; steel, brass, a Conyers-process meta-steam catalyzing engine, and a Babbage Difference Engine. Doktor Totenkopf's total is 6, and the difficulty of the Automaton is 7. Were he one of these pathetic Utilitarians with such limited vision, he couldn't construct the Turk. But! Doktor Totenkopf may be considered mad at the Academy, but his personal insight is unlimited. He draws a card. It comes up diamonds, which is a "+" suit for him. This increases his total to 7, and he succeeds.

I need to balance this, however - should Romantics have higher difficulties, representing the challenge of overcoming their own angst? How much? (That will depend on the random mechanic - is it a straight plus, minus, or no-effect...or is it a variable integer?

Next - Social Class is incredibly important in Victorian Society. Each character will be a member of one of three classes - Upper, Middle and lower.

Upper Class Characters: Have easy access to wealth, education, and influence. They must, however, abide by the rules of gentle society, which require that no gentleperson initiate an attack against anyone else. They may, of course, defend themselves if attacked, and likewise, may settle differences in a formal duel. If they break t his rule, they will surrender their place in society - losing all access to "upper class" skills, all their influence in society, and generally being considered dishonored. The majority of that penalty is roleplaying, but it should be important enough to warrant scrupulous attention paid to it.

Middle Class Characters - Have easy access to professional skills and education. They have difficult access to wealth, criminal, combat and trade skills, and very difficult access to influence. Middle Class characters must choose their social path - to be nabobs, and try and climb the social ladder (thus abiding by the rules of gentle society, even though they may never be accepted) or wallowing with the lower and criminal classes. If the latter, they may initiate and engage in combat without shaming themselves, but may never  gain influences.

Lower Class Characters - Have easy access to trade, criminal and combat skills, have difficult access to education and professional skills, and very difficult access to influence and wealth. Lower class characters can do anything they can get away with - though society is carefully constructed to prevent that from being a detriment to anyone other than other lower-classmen. They may prey upon each other with relative impunity, but if they dare to assault or rob an aristocrat, and they will find the law out to get them.

The idea here is to have a mechanical effect  that gives advantages and disadvantages based on each class, with each being distinctly playable. What's more, if someone wants to play the political game, and check out of the combat game entirely, they may do so and remain viable as a character.

Any suggestions, folks?


( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 16th, 2008 11:08 pm (UTC)
For the Utilitarian vs Romantic, try this: Figure out a way to randomly generate a 1, 2 or 3. Rolling a d6 and halving the result can work. On a 1, the number they draw subtracts from their total. On a 2, no effect. On a 3, their draw adds to the total.

Alternatively, you can give everyone the same sort of draw mechanic, but give Utilitarian characters two extra points of Head, while Romantics get two extra points of Heart. Or cheaper merits/flaws that are worth more points. Personally, I like this more than having two separate task resolution systems. It allows one to have a little more control over the character, and design someone a little more romantic, a little more utilitarian.
May. 16th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
I actually really like the world working a little differently depending on how you look at it. Unless I just can't get the opposed task resolutions to balance, I want it to work that way - not just be a bonus to a trait.

I am resolved that there will be no dice, however.
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 16th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 16th, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 16th, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 17th, 2008 12:08 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)
What about some kind of class for "new money" kinda thing? Where you have access to wealth and education, but can only gain what influence you can buy, and the upper class hates you more than they hate the little people?
May. 16th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
That's exactly what the middle class is, if they opt to abide by the rules of society.

Middle Class characters must choose their social path - to be nabobs, and try and climb the social ladder (thus abiding by the rules of gentle society, even though they may never be accepted)
(no subject) - arya - May. 16th, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 16th, 2008 11:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
a) You forgot to cover what Hands represents in the introductory paragraph

b) I don't know about the difference between Utilitarian and Romantic as far as challenge resolution goes. The example you gave is slanted to show Dr. Totenkopf has a lower Engineering skill and is compensated by the favorable luck-based card pull. But what of a Romantic tinkerer who has the same Engineering skill level as Prof. MacGillicuddy? Assuming the same roll and draw, Totenkopf would have a resolution of 9, with the only difference between their requirements being the randomizer.

Regardless of philosophy, it would seem to me both would need the requisite materials to build whatever they're attempting to build, so using that as the difference between the two doesn't seem proper. I think you need to include a different mechanic for Utilitarians which exemplifies their tie to the Laws of Physics, something which offers other bonuses which Romantics can't get. Say, perhaps, sturdiness, consistency, that kind of thing.

Just giving the knee-jerk reaction to the first read and what you've presented, but these are what stood out.
May. 16th, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm still noodling with how to balance Utilitarian vs. Romantic. The idea is that the Utilitarians will just know if they can make something or succeed or not. If they've got the numbers and the materials, it works.

The Romantics on the other hand...maybe they would, maybe not. If their totals were equal, they still have to draw and risk the chance of a negative outcome, and possibly fail. Or possibly succeed even more.

And yes, both have to have the requisite materials, or they can't enter the task resolution at all.
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 16th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 16th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 16th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 16th, 2008 11:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelastmehina - May. 17th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 17th, 2008 06:32 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2008 12:30 am (UTC)
What I'm proposing is a flavor balancer for Utilitarians to compensate for the luck factor Romantics get. Here's a breakdown of how things stand now:

Trait: Mind for both U and R
Skill: Engr for both U and R
Luck: Card for R

Actually, I'd rather be a Romantic because (a) I see no discernable penalty purchasing Traits or Skills vs the same for Utilitarians, and (b) the Luck can push me over the top. That's the cheese monkey opinion there. :)

Possible fixes:

- Make Science-based Skills more expensive to purchase for Romantics, and compensated by purchasing Luck-based traits/skills/goodies (whatever you want to call it). That way, the Utilitarians can purchase their way to tried and true science while the Romantics have a tougher go and must rely on luck more to succeed. Conversely, social-based Skills like art, discourse, etiquette, etc are easier for Romantics to purchase than they are for Utilitarians, and they have to get some other trait purchase (e.g. "Eccentricity") to make their quirkiness work in just such a setting.

- Add a Utilitarian-based trait/skill/goodie (whatever you want to call it) which compensates for the Luck factor Romantics get.

I prefer the first suggestion (which is why that paragraph's bigger). Having Eccentricity go horribly awry for a Utilitarian stick-in-the-mud sounds like fun!
May. 17th, 2008 06:34 am (UTC)
I actually want the system to be different, rather than just a different cost. I want the system for Utilitarians to be "I do X to accomplish Y" and they know they can do it. Whereas with Romantics it's "I throw X and Y into the mix, and hope I get Z, but I might get A instead."
(no subject) - cacofunny - May. 18th, 2008 12:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 18th, 2008 12:36 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2008 01:08 am (UTC)
Das Steampunk
I know that Christian said he was in until you said you were planning on having it be boffer. I think you'll inherantly loose people if they have to actual shoot one another with nerf blasters or whack each other with foam swords as opposed to using cards to represent how badass they are. But who knows, maybe you'll pick up more boffers than you loose LARPers
May. 17th, 2008 06:30 am (UTC)
Re: Das Steampunk
I'm sorry that you feel that way. That's a bummer. I'm planning on it being hybrid, so if you don't want to play the boffer game, you don't have to - but the idea of single-shot steampunk nerf blasters? Too beautiful to pass up.
May. 17th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
I have a science fiction game on the backburner called "Darkspace." One of the races in the game, tentatively called "the math guys," uses something similar to what you're suggesting.

The system uses d10s, rolling to beat a target number--much like L5R and 7th Sea. Beat a 15, you succeed. You get the idea.

The Math Guys, however, never roll dice. They always count each die rolling a 5. If they have six dice for a risk, they "roll" a 30. If they have five dice, they "roll" a 25. Looking at a situation, the math guy can instantly figure the chances of his success or failure and will either engage in the risk or try to find a different way of overcoming the difficulty.

(I remember someone telling me, "that's how Vulcans should work.")

The reason it works in my system is that everyone is rolling dice, so the possibility of rolling less than average exists. The Math Guys always roll average. They never roll above or below, so they can figure the chances of success.

In your system, the Utilitarians actually lose the ability to roll dice. They lose an advantage. In exchange for losing the card pull, they need something else to compensate. Otherwise, there is no advantage to being a utilitarian.

The reason I point this out is because you are explicitly building a conflict between the Romantics and Utilitarians. If the Utilitarians get just their bonus and the Romantics get their bonus plus a card pull, why would I ever pick the Utilitarian side?
May. 17th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
If the Utilitarians get just their bonus and the Romantics get their bonus plus a card pull, why would I ever pick the Utilitarian side?

Because the Romantic card pull isn't always an advantage - it's a disadvantage as often as it is an advantage? That's my reasoning, does that not make sense? Maybe I didn't make clear, the Romantics get a NEGATIVE on their card pull as often as they get a bonus.
(no subject) - wickedthought - May. 17th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 17th, 2008 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
If you really want to mix things up with the Romantics, you could have it so they bid their traits in order to draw cards. So, in the example of Herr Doktor Totenkopf, he could spend, say, his two points in engineering and one of his head to draw 3 cards. Hearts and diamonds represent success, clubs and spades failure. Drawing one heart gets him a 'success' at his competence level, 6, and drawing another gives him an extra point, so he hits the difficulty of 7. Drawing another diamond or heart gets him up to 8, for an extra fancy auto-Turk. But! The effort has left him spent and drained, so for the rest of the session his head is at 3 and his engineering is at zero.
May. 17th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)
Actually this is terribly unbalanced, but my main thrust is that Romantics might risk losing traits temporarily due to the burning passion within them, and the risks of hubris and failure.
(no subject) - aghrivaine - May. 17th, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 18th, 2008 11:56 pm (UTC)
Rather Extreme Suggestion
I think you have too many stats with too much overlap. Here's a suggested shorter list. Yes, it is heavily inspired by GLASS.
Strength - Hit points, combat prowess, physicality, brawn
Steel - Mental sharpness, focus, a steady hand, determination
Station - Social skills, poise, persuasion, influence
Steam - Energy, umph

I suggest having these stats as the only ranks. Most skills are then just checkboxes that enable you to initiate certain actions. You have 12 points to build the stats on a 1-5 scale. So it's pretty easy to be specialized. The only cost is that you are bad at certain things.

Note: Station does not equal class. A butler is low class but may have high Station, because he has a lot of influence over his area. A brash nobleman with no subtlty is high class with low Station.

Many abilities are powered by a point or two of Steam, to keep you from doing them over and over again in a short period. Steam refreshes relatively quickly, though. Perhaps every 30 min or so. That way people don't spend a long time not being able to do special stuff.

For skill checks, pull a card and add it to the appropriate stat (the current stat value. Stats can be "damaged"). 9 = 1 success, 12 = 2, 15 = 3. Face cards count as 10. Utilitarians have the option to "Take 6" instead of pulling, so they can easily get 1 success on any stat they have 3 or more in, but can't get multiple successes. Romantics always pull, but their face cards and aces all count as 11, so they can get a triple success more often.

Don't make Influence be a skill category. Make it be a type of skill that shows up under each category. Instead, make that one "Society". Each influence you take gives you the ability to affect a certain group. Spend a point of Steam to power it and make a Station check. 1-3 successes gives you a small, medium, or large favor you can call on with that group.

For inventions, require at least 2 successes on a Steel check. 3 for anything big. 1 for repairs.

Thieving skills also require Steel checks.

Wealth isn't a single thing. It's a short list of different types of things that you can possess or do with money. Including a Bribe skill, which requires a Station check.

The Embarass skill lets you attack Station. Spend a point of Steam and make a Station check. The target loses 1 Station per success.

Breaking your class rules also costs you Station points. That gives you a nice mechanic for enforcing social rules.

The Intimidate skill lets you attack Steel. Spend a point of steam and make a Steel check. The target loses 1 Steel per success.

Perhaps if someone runs out of Steam and really needs more right away, they can burn a point of Steel to refresh their Steam pool.

I'm not sure at this point how Station, Steel, and Strength will be healed back up. Perhaps there is a healing skill for each, that heals 1 point per success. Or maybe 2 points per success. The usual rule for design is that defense should cost half as much as offense. Perhaps there is just one healing skill that works for all 3 instead. A well rounded doctor is part psychologist anyway.
May. 19th, 2008 12:28 am (UTC)
General Card Pull Suggestions
I've played in several larps with card pull mechanics. Here's some general rule-of-thumb suggestions to avoid some common issues.

Give everyone 5 minutes at the beginning of the game to shuffle their decks. Then, once play starts, ask them to please NOT shuffle their deck before each draw. If an opponent is afraid that the person is cheating, they may cut the deck before a pull. But that's it. Otherwise, people sit and fiddle with their decks for 30 seconds before drawing and suddenly an effect takes 10 times as long to resolve.

Don't do rules with comparative draws. Again, that slows things down and makes it less likely that an effect will be resolved without a GM.

Encourage everyone to have their own deck. Plus, bring several of your own and have them around, shuffled and ready to go.

Try to make the pull mechanics and effect mechanics as specific and easy to remember as possible. Every larp I've played in so far with card pull mechanics has required a GM to resolve just about everything, and they've all used systems that were very hard to learn in 10 minutes. Unless you have a 5:1 GM ratio, that's going to mean a lot of people who can't do anything special until a GM is ready to help them.
May. 19th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
Re: General Card Pull Suggestions
I'm not sure I want to use card pull anyway... part of my likes the idea of no special equipment being necessary to resolve a test.

I'm on the edge of an idea involving a combination of colors and finger-counting... a long time ago a guy told me about it, and it sounded brilliant, but curse me, I didn't write it down and I've lost touch with the guy.
( 41 comments — Leave a comment )