Sunday, 18 August 2013

Inspirations: the Sands of Time, part six

Anyone remember this thing?

Months ago, I started looking at whether you could take anything interesting from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time for use in RPGs. Posts have included general ideas and issues, possible systems, combat in the game, how to model it in tabletop, and a homebrew possibility for handling the combat.

I've been a teensy bit distracted with about a million other things since then, but I rediscovered the series recently and had an idea, so I thought I'd return to it.

Action Gaming

There were a couple of problematic points that I touched on briefly, which posed real problems for making a tabletop game inspired by POPSOT. The first was the way the game models actions, with a very high action rate driven by the player rather than the character. The second was the tactical aspect of the combat, which depends on careful use of manoeuvres, and which I was struggling to think how to implement.

See, the problem with manoeuvre-based combat is that I think it would get repetitive, which is a major problem in the source material. If all you have to do is pick a suitable manoeuvre to (probably) win the combat, the game boils down to pair-matching. Another suggestion was to roll a skill to succeed at a manoeuvre to gain a bonus on attacks, which has the problem that all combat can turn into "roll skill, then roll attack; if you fail skill then attack is unlikely to work" with very little variety, and possibly each player using the same skill repeatedly.

A possible solution that came to me was to use a per-turn depleting dicepool. There's probably a common name for this thing that Dan could tell me, but it's not important right now. Rather than having a strict limit on actions, there's (effectively) a given amount of energy available to the player, which can be focused or dispersed across multiple actions in the space of their turn. Succeeding at some actions will make others easier, but splitting attention risks failing at all of them.

For example, let's say you have five dice per round. You could spend all of them attacking a single monster, with a high chance of victory. You could split them across two targets, potentially hampering both but with less chance of destroying either. Perhaps you could choose to devote some to parrying, increasing your survivability when you're wounded. Alternatively, you could use some of the dice to attempt a combat manoeuvre such as tripping, disarming, wall-jumping or backstabbing, which would reduce the energy available for attacking, but increase your chance of success in attacking if you chose a suitable manoeuvre for the circumstances. Perhaps the success lets you add +2 successes to your combat result as long as you roll at least one, for example. Perhaps there are varying degrees of difficulty for such manoeuvres, but the rewards are greater for more challenging manoeuvres; flipping off a wall to land behind your foe leaves them much more vulnerable than simply feinting.

However, that still leaves things open to repetitive play. And there is another issue I was thinking about, which is the problem that in a wall-running ledge-jumping game of constant action, failures are likely to kill the atmosphere. The other idea that came to me, then, is Momentum.


Basically, Momentum would simply allow you to build up a rhythm by succeeding at tasks. Unnecessary successes could be stored as Momentum, and form a buffer to overcome minor failures later on by spending them. For example, you might begin trotting along a low wall, and roll four successes when only two are needed. Next, you leap to a platform nearby, and get the necessary three successes exactly. However, the climax of the obstacle calls for rebounding off a high wall to reach a window, a much more difficult task. You only roll two successes, but need four; however, you have two Momentum spare to fulfil the task, allow you to bare making the window.

Momentum would persist throughout continuous action, but be lost if there's a non-trivial break. This means players have to weigh up the benefits of hurrying on when on a roll, versus taking time to analyse a situation carefully or rest after a tough challenge. Also, I would probably distinguish verbal from spatial Momentum, so that a character immersed in conversation takes a while to get back into their parkour stride, and vice versa. This helps prevent spiralling effectiveness.

Incidentally, this is somewhat similar to Dan's Stunt Pool idea for Parkour Murder Simulator (which I am still hanging on for a playtest of) but wasn't consciously nicked.

Combining the two may alleviate the combat issue. The idea is that rather than taking combat turn-by-turn, players would think about building up a strong rhythm that will let them tear through opponents, and so would weigh up different manoeuvres and approaches to each combination of environment and enemies. This would be enhanced if there are situational bonuses, so that surprise attack or high ground or provide a bonus, while bottlenecks let you limit your number of opponents.

I think this principle could be generalised into other activities too. In conversation, for example, a character who succeeds well early on can gain control of the conversation, making it easier to sway or override the other person, and making it less likely they'll suddenly argue. Over-succeeding at rolls to be sneak around or spy out an area places the character in a good position - perhaps they've found a bit of shelter where they won't be spotted when a guard swings around, or noticed features of the layout that will inform their further activities.

Fundamentally, in a game as simplistic as this one is going to be, the interesting stuff is going to be primarily about trying to do cool things rather than the mechanics, so I just want to make sure combat doesn't get too repetitive.

What I don't know is how (or if) I could implement this dicepool system alongside the combat system I was considering last time, which I was quite pleased with.

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