Vitality Game Mechanics II
Third iteration of the Vitality mechanics was based on my reading of demographics. I also read a bit of book ”Demographic behavior in the past” by John E. Knodel about demographics of 18th and 19th Centry German villages. Second source was ”Longevity Among Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination” by Michael Gurven and Hillard Kaplan which I used to look at death chances amongst adult population.
This time I made Annual Death Roll which came in following varieties:
A) Infancy Death Roll (when character is 0-years old). This value is roughly 20%.
B) Childhood Death Roll (when character is 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4 and 4 to 5 years old). This is roughly 5% per annum.
C) Annual Death Roll (when character is 5+ years old with marked increase from 40+ years old onwards). I used 1% for 5 to 40 years old, then 2% for 40 to 60, 4% for 60 to 70 and finally 8% for 70+ years old.
These decisions allowed me to simply look at character’s age and roll if she survived or not that year.
Furthermore, I decided to add some variation for this simple mechanics by going from 1D100 to 1D1000 and then adding modifiers based on character’s bad habits and health issues. Furthermore I changed the death propability at older age from flat percentage to multiplier.
For instance, normal person has 10/1000 chance of dying as 25 year old and 10×2 = 20 (out of 1000) chance of dying as 45 years old. Now I add a modifier from bad habits (like character being totally drunkard) as +2 and the chances become 12 and 24 out of 1000 respectively. Same thing works vice versa for people who live more healthily.
Lesson learned: Mechanics should always be based on research and mechanics themselves may allow for additional ideas.
Vitality Game mechanics
I have become obsessed with a concept of running a dynasty. Every year dynasty would select hero(es) to fight for greater cause and they’d gather fame and fortune. Characters will eventually grow old and die or succumb to consequences of perilous life or perhaps die during dangerous adventure. Then the leadership goes to next generation and so on. There would be excitement as one cannot know when characters die leading to problems of dealing with always unexpected death.
I originally modeled this concept by giving each character secondary attribute called Vitality which starts from 20 and goes lower due failure in annual survival roll. During the year vitality falls to 0 character dies. Accidents, serious wounds and rough life would all either decrease success of death roll and/or lose vitality points altogether.
System worked just fine and I was very proud of myself until I noticed that the system led to situation where child characters would be near invulnerable to accidents and diseases unlike in real world. Fixing this would mean giving some kind of extra rule about lethal consequences with every single childhood peril which seemed mechanically overwhelming and thus not possible.
This lead to second iteration. This time I gave every character 1 point of Vitality at birth and then give one additional point every year until character was 20 year old. Meanwhile the survival roll mechanism would continue as before. Now every disease would be a considerable danger to any young character.
I thought that these two mechanics would have following consequences:
-Youth would be very safe.
-Old people with little to show off as results would be forced to take increasing risks to ensure dynasty’s succession.
-Number of children dying would be high and subsequently pregnancy and motherhood rules would be important.
-Youth can may start with very little vitality left. This could lead to situation of avoiding danger until survival of dynasty would be ensured.
I also discussed these mechanics with my students who pointed out interesting consequence if vitality was made a primary attribute like others. It could offer a choice of playing long-term game of high vitality and low attributes or perhaps very high attributes and very low vitality (and lifespan). It would be interesting to think of a fantasy game where player would choose as a birth right how her character would live: a choice between short and bright life or perhaps long and weak…
I was kind of satisfied with this system until I started to read demographics as a background. Then my eyes opened up…
Attribute generation systems based on fixed values, point buy and random generation are fairly simple to implement. Less used mechanism is to use pre-generated character.
Pre-generated character is common in computer games where you typically choose character to fit your playing style. This method is available in most table top RPGs in following forms:
A) Pre-generated characters are created to describe characters of licensed property. For instance, James Bond RPG (Victory Games) has readily made characters for James Bond and most important allies and enemies he has. More modern example is Serenity/Firefly RPG (Margaret Weis Productions) which has crew of titular vessel Serenity of space western television series. This has become something to be expected since most buyers of these kinds of commercial games are expected to be fans of licensed property.
Advantage of this kind of system is that you have a strong sense of character to be played. Selection of favorite character is also very fast.
B) Pre-generated characters are created to describe most important cliched characters of the setting game has. For instance, in a game set in cyberpunk genre you could have a hacker who penetrates information systems. These kinds of characters are typically specialized to do something (skills and abilities) that players are supposed to do in RPG game session.
Again the advantage is the strong sense of character to be played and it is very fast method. However, since everyone has different sense what some cliche actually is, the actual values are often subject to argument.
Ultimately the real advantage of the pre-generated characters is that they allow players to start playing the game immediately. Main problem with both examples is that these systems limit character choices available to player. This is perfectly acceptable in many computer games where pre-generated story can be focused around particular character(s). In table top RPGs these stereotypes are usually combined with other character creation systems.
Well, the weekend in Tampere is over and Tracon X was quite fun. Stuff that happened?
In Saturday I cheered geek girls for their good work: http://geekgirls.fi/wp/
I also listened jim pinto (http://www.postworldgames.com/) (yes, he actually writes his name like that) about gaming and did some questions about good game design sources. They were the usual suspects: Jesse Schell (Art of Game Design – Book of Lences), Raph Koster (A Theory of Fun for Game Design) and Greg Costikyan (I Have No Words & I Must Design). My impression about the man was that he was indie game designer as it should be: someone who cares about what he does and actually does it.
My own lecture was about Time travelling in reality (Stephen Hawking’s books have great ideas how to do it) and in fiction (endless source of fresh ideas on society as time travel itself is rather boring) and finally for gaming (very hard to pull it off).
I spent Saturday night with my friend studying night life of Tampere. What happens in Tampere stays in Tampere.
Sunday had few lectures good and bad. Discussion about RPG initiative systems was a bit shallow and Japanese Heian-era history had interesting pointers. I also played a 15 minute long game of being a Knight in King Arthur’s court.
My own lecture was about imaginary time travel trip to Pericles’ Athens and how similar yet different life was back then as well as ideas to put into your own games.
Sunday evening we had Dead Dog Sauna where I took pinto to sauna. What happens in Finland stays in Finland so I cannot comment anything more except the night was fun…
Yes! I’ll be in Tracon all weekend enjoying Anime ad Roleplaying games…
You should go there too:
Good news from RightSpot Ltd!
Biathlon x1 has been published in Google Play Store and they were quite satisfied with the help my students did to their project.
Google Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.Rightspot.Biathlonx1&hl=en
If game mechanics require use of attributes then game must somehow generate them.
Typical possibilities are:
1) All initial attributes are fixed for all characters. This is occasionally seen in games where balance between characters in same life style is seen as extremely important. Example would be computer MMO’s (like Star Wars: The Old Republic). Typically the stats are then based on few initial selections but there is no random element.
This mechanism has advantage that it is very simple to implement and all players have a level playing field. Disadvantage is that all characters are the same (which is a kind of boring). It makes the effect of specialized abilities and skill systems and gear extremely important. It can also make game a matter of gear which limits characters.
2) All character attributes are determined randomly. This means essentially rolling them. This has been used in table top RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons) a lot. Typically these systems use sum of multiple die to generate distribution that favors set average. There are also methods of rolling several die and then dropping lowest away to change distribution higher than average. Typically character made in this method have most attributes set around average but few attributes as particularly higher or lower.
Main feature of the system is its randomness. Players are at mercy of chance. Some players simply do not like what they will be given. Character may have lower attributes than others or be a super character compared to others.
3) All character attributes are built using some kind of point-buy system. Typically characters have some low value which is increased with bought attribute levels or there could be a system where average is zero and lower levels give points which can then be put to other attributes. Players have a complete freedom to customize their character as they see fit. This makes it a good choice in a sandbox style of tabletop RPGs.
Main advantage of this system is that it is extremely flexible. On the other hand mathematics involved might be boring to some players.
Point-buy systems are tied to concept of min-maxing of attributes (increase of some attribute at the expense of other(s)). This is a double-edged sword. This can lead to interesting different character but may also lead to weaknesses that might be negligible or crippling depending on what are most important attributes in game mechanics and expected game scenarios. In essence, they can break the game-balance. This game-balance breaking is perfectly acceptable in a single-player game but it is a problem in table-top RPGs where unbalancing character by one player can ruin fun from other players.
Vast majority of table-top RPGs have either random attribute generation or point-buy system. Many modern table-top RPGs have both to cater all tastes.
However, there is a major difference in player skill. Random generation stresses player’s skill to play with the hand given during play itself while point-buy stresses players ability to calculate mathematics during the determining character and it’s future at creation phase.