Posted on Thu Jun 18 2015 -- pbta
Writing the long-delayed, much-changed Vessels game has led me back, again and again, to the model used by Apocalypse World and Dungeon World: "moves".
In short, a move is a piece of mechanics that
embeds itself into the ongoing stream of fiction. "When
X happens during the storytelling part, rule Y asserts itself."
Usually this is a simple
I like success-fail-complicate. I'm not a big fan of success-fail, and also not a fan of success-complicate. Some tasks should be too big and too hard to realistically tackle. There's an endless number of ways to implement SFC using dice, cards, or computers, but they are all roughly equivalent in creative cost. You can spend the same several hours muddling out one dice system as you can a different one.
I like moves, but I have a hard time writing a game that demands that I author a lot of moves. It's simply a log, painful slog through creative writing, and at the end I don't have any confidence that everything is tested and balanced and fun. For that, I'd need to go play-test it all, and that's time I could be spending writing more moves, or the next game, or whatever.
I bit off a big chunk when writing the PC traits rules for Vessels. Characters don't have a "class", they have traits: identity, ideals, experiences, and sacrifices. Each of these traits comes with one or more moves, called "Gambits", unlocked when the PC brings that trait into play. For example, an honorable knight has an honor-related move that he can start using once honor is put on the table. There is no "level" or "XP" — you have access to everything you can do, depending how much you open your heart to the crisis at hand.
In theory this is good for creating wildly variable characters.
I believe in practice it'll be a huge amount
of work, because every type of trait needs
You can have the Honorable Knight from the Last War who Lost His True Love, or the Honorable Merchant from the City who Lost His Love, and those characters will have as many similarities as differences. But those two guys alone have 6 unique Gambits between them, and there's only so much in the game that needs a rule for it.
How does this stack against a typical DW playbook? The Gambits
of the Vessels rules are complex compared to one-liner
DW moves, but a typical DW playbook might have 25 total
moves on it, maybe
This might be an argument in favor of simplifying Gambits, doing away with the baroque dice system, and just using 2d6 like DW does. But my system does something that 2d6 doesn't, and maybe I need to be convinced that that thing isn't valuable before I can accept giving it up. Gambits are — or can be — complex because the baroque system gives me options that 2d6 doesn't have, and I exploit that complexity.
I tried to solve the problem of writing a lot of Gambits by packaging them into stories, like the fairy tales and fables of the fictional world — there's heroic characters and dastardly villains, and there's a moral, and reading those stories should suggest ideals, identity, experience, and sacrifice. Each of the stories should suggest Gambits, which is how in general the protagonists managed to make it through.
This has the dual advantage of validating my proposed game rules against an acceptable metric: heroic fiction. Rather than writing rules in a vacuum, I'm extracting them directly from a story that I already know has some interesting qualities. This is extra creative work, but it neatly compartmentalizes a very large task.