To pick up where I left off, I'm looking at three questions:
- What are my goals for my games?
- What are the basic components of a diceless system?
- How do I arrange my components to meet my goals?
I addressed the first in my previous post. On to the next one;
Elements of a Diceless RPG
I'm going to begin by talking out my my ass. Bear with me for a minute. It's my assertion that the basic character in an RPG has three basic elements; attributes, powers and accessories.
Attributes represent things about a character that everyone in the game possesses to some extent. Strength, Intelligence, etc. From a game design perspective, attributes should define the major axes of conflict between characters, especially in a diceless game. This means that the attributes that work best for Amber may not work well in another game. In some cases (superhero games , especially), the foci of conflict are less universal (e.g., super powers), but for most genres, attributes are going to be fairly central, and will end up driving the increasingly specific layers below.
In the Nano-Victorian Future, for example, I might make intelligence an attribute, because how smart and educated a character is should have significant impact on the charcters' role in the game. Science, history and the like are all valuable commodities in that setting. On the other hand, in Caecern, a high fantasy setting, that sort of thing isn't as exciting, so I likely won't use intelligence as an attribute there; characters can be as smart as they want to be, but it won't be central to the action.
Attributes can be done a couple of different ways. The traditional approach is "objective"; x points of strength let you lift y pounds, an agility of Q lets you dodge bullets, etc. Amber uses a "subjective" approach; the values of attributes are only important in that they tell you how you compare to other characters. The GM has to use discretion to determine how much the first ranked in Strength can lift, or just how long first ranked in Endurance can go. For the purpose of the game, the important thing is that they do those things better than characters with lower scores.
Both methods are attractive. I haven't quite worked out what advantages one has over the other in a game, just yet.
Powers represent various things that the character can do that aren't universal. If you don't have Pattern in Amber, you can't walk between worlds, regardless of your attributes. In a fantasy setting, "powers" might include sorcery, turning to stone, or secret fighting techniques. In the Nano-Victorian Future, exclusive access to certain kinds of nanotech, special education in obscure lore or actual cybernetic modifications might be more appropriate. In a modern world with no magic or superpowers, "powers" might be uncommon skills (gun training, chemistry, etc.)
For figuring out how powers work, there's again two approaches; Amber DRPG uses the cost of a power as a sort of cost of admission. Buying a power gives you the ability to do the stuff the description says you can. How well you can do that depends on your attributes.
I wonder if that's an overly blunt instrument for something like "wizardry" in a fantasy setting though; the genre calls for a wide variation in the power of wizards, and attributes might not be the best way to achieve that. As an alternative, one could just have a power as another place to pool points, making powers a sort of secondary attribute that not everyone ranks in.
A third path might be to have "milestones" where a certain amount of investment in a power gives a character certain abilities with it, while allowing fine tuning in between.
Accessories are things that are unique to the character. Zir magic sword Wellspring, zir steam-powered carriage, a beloved telepathic dog or an unbreakable lasso. These should be items that are important to the character's legend. No one cares what Elric's belt was called, but everyone who's read the stories knows what his sword was named. Accessories should be things that a character has investment in, and the GM should respect that - accessories shouldn't be destroyed or taken away without both the consent of the player (even if it's just "trust me, I'm going somewhere with this...") and a balancing shift to make up for the loss. It makes a lousy story if Arthur loses Excalibur while taking a bath, unless there's a story tied up in the how and why, and how he gets it back.
Accessories are important because they do a lot of help establish the flavour and uniqueness of the character. In an Amber game, all the PCs might have Pattern, but only one of you has a shape-shifting horse who can speak Spanish.
One more to go, where I attempt to pull it all together and end up with a lightweight game system. If you've read even this far, I'm impressed, and I owe you one1.
1 "One" is redeemable for one of the following; a beer, a cookie, chocolate, or mutually agreeable recreation.