‘All My Lives’, what’s that then?
Well, for a while now I’ve been scrawling down ideas about a role-playing game, practically filling an exercise book of barely legible background information and mechanisms. It has the working title of, ‘All My Lives’.
I thought it was time to start putting my ideas into a usable format of some sort, and I decided to share that process right here.
I’ve played a number of differing RPG systems in the past, and every one has its pro’s and con’s. Some are combat heavy, whilst others rely on problem solving; some are very rule dependent, some are free flowing; and each game offers a relatively unique experience. But there are two issues I usually find with these games: they don’t play very well one-on-one (one player and one Games Master (GM)), and they require getting together at regular intervals to progress the scenario.
So, these were my constraints – I wanted a game that could be played with just one player, and it also had to be playable by e-mail.
When playing RPG’s within a group the players can bounce off one another, playing to each character’s strength, and sharing each other’s experiences – the game becomes a sociable enterprise. Take away all but one of the players, and you wave goodbye to this social interaction, the focus is all on that one player, so I had to ask myself how to make it an enjoyable experience?
I am an avid reader, and it is from the books I read that I gained my inspiration. Many novels focus on a single character, and it is the plot within which this character is placed that causes the tension and excitement. When reading a story, though you as the reader cannot interact with the author, the central character does interact with others in the narrative. I look at it as if the player is the main character, and the author is the GM, playing all the parts of the Non-player-Characters, as well as providing the plot.
Now this doesn’t sound much different to any RPG played with a single player, but it’s the rule structure and the predetermined characters, which are expected to act in a certain fashion, that makes it difficult for a GM to run a game in this manner. A book is much more controlled; Whilst drafting the story, the author can develop a character as it unfolds – for example: After laying out the plot, chapter by chapter, filling in all the attributes of each character, location, and such like, the author begins to write his story. In one chapter his character ends up in France, does he speak French? The author can at this point write in a little history of the character, either directly into that chapter, or drop it in to an earlier one – maybe he had spent time travelling around France having taken a year out from study?
It’s this flexibility with the character that I wanted to build in. To do this I decided I wanted a narrative game, one where the emphasis is on both the GM and the player, to really go to town on telling a story, and some way to be able to adjust the character as the story progresses.
Anyway, Here’s an overview of my initial ideas.
The world is made up of multiple dimensions, each one different from the last. The character would start in a dimension; maybe one that is not too dissimilar to our own, and over time would travel between these dimensions.
The dimensions can vary vastly, maybe high tech alien worlds, or 1930’s Earth, but no two are the same. Once a character has left a dimension they can never return, and upon their death they will ‘re-spawn’ in a different dimension. Otherwise, shifting dimensions is dependant upon a trigger, and in my initial scrawls this is a pendant containing alien technology.
This is very open to interpretation by the GM, though I will be writing up several alternative dimensions for a campaign setting I have in mind… again, bare in mind that this is very much a work in progress, one that is right at the start in the ‘ideas’ phase!
The same character will be kept throughout the game, however long that lasts, and whether the character dies or not (the character then regenerates in another dimension). So initial character generation is going to be a fairly in-depth procedure.
To generate their character, players will be given a number of points – think of these as experience points – and they can choose to allocate a number of points to their physical and mental abilities, as well as choose their initial skills.
I want it to be possible for the player to start their character at any age they wish, and have this reflected in the number of initial experience points. They will progress character generation as though living their life up until they reach their starting age. So this may include schooling skills, such as basic maths, science, languages; further education, university or college; Employment, and life skills.
Skills will be listed, but there is nothing wrong with selecting a skill that is not mentioned, and this is because of how the skill testing will work, more of that a little later.
The player should be encouraged to provide a really detailed description of their character, not just their physical description, but their life experiences too. I want it to all come together as this amazing story of someone who has lived a life, before being whisked away into a multi-dimensional world, where all those previous experiences may play a vital part in their survival.
Abilities, skills and skill tests
This, along with the story telling, is the heart of the game.
Abilities will be selected first, and the maximum amount of points a player can spend across abilities will be limited during character creation, though there will be ways to increase ability scores during play.
Points are spent to gain levels according to the triangular number series – 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, 55 – and each previous level must be purchased before increasing to the next one. So if a player wanted his character to have a maximum strength of 10, he would have to spend a total of 220 points, obviously this isn’t going to be possible during creation, and may never be an option for that particular character, it will depend upon how the game progresses.
A typical starting value for abilities would be level 3 or 4 (10 or 20 points spent), with a level 3 probably being an average human rating.
So you see, if a player is given 100 points to use for ability scores, of which I am yet to determine how many and what they will actually be, they have to spend some deliberation on how they want their character to develop. Also, points can be spent on an ability that won’t actually push it to the next level, but later in the game more points can then be spent to make up the difference.
For example: Toby decides to spend 15 points on strength, and this gains his character level 3 (10 points), with 5 in the bank. Later in the game his character spends some serious money on body enhancing electronic implants, giving him another 10 points to spend on physical abilities. He spends 5 on strength, giving him the 10 needed to reach level 4. There will be tables to speed up the maths.
To gain skills, points are spent in the same manner, and again, level 3 is roughly the equivalent to someone who is average at that skill.
Each skill will be tied to an ability or two that best suits that skill. For example: The Judo skill may be a combination of the strength and agility abilities.
Skill lists will be broken down into the stages of life progression mentioned earlier – schooling, further education, employment, etc. The player will get an initial amount of points to spend, and with each life progression more will be added to the pool, thus simulating a greater level of experience. I need to make sure there is an advantage to starting a character at a younger age.
Some skills will have specialisations, and whilst they may not see a lot of use through a scenario, they can prove vital, especially if gained retrospectively.
Retrospective skills can be gained at any point during play, and this is the equivalent of the previously mentioned author, adding to his story the characters ability to speak French. But retrospective skills will cost, I am yet to determine an amount, as it has to be balanced with the gain the player would receive by adding that skill.
Here’s an example of how skills will work.
During character creation Toby allocates 20 points to intelligence, thus gaining level 4, just above average. His character, called Rexius, then goes through school, and one of the skills he chooses is Maths. This is linked to Intelligence, and as it is a basic skill he will automatically gain level 3. Toby decides his character really liked maths at school, and spends another 10 points to gain level 4. Rexius then went on to further education, studying advanced mechanical maths – this is a specialisation of the maths skill, and gains an automatic level 2, again he spends further points to gain the next level. The specialisation skill would never be allowed to be higher than the basic skill.
During a scenario, Rexius finds himself on an abandoned spacecraft, heading for an asteroid belt. The navigation computer is down, so he decides to program the co-ordinates and speed himself. The GM has decided that this is an extremely difficult procedure, especially taking into account the timescales and induced pressures. He will need a level 12-skill check to pass. (This information is hidden from the player). Rexius needs to work out a course to plot, and can uses his maths to do this. He has a level 4 maths – not enough – but he also has a level 3 in advanced mechanical maths, and the GM considers this appropriate, so that gives level 7. Rexius doesn’t actually know what level he needs to achieve, but thinks this will be enough, so goes for it. The GM can then either play through the result as a failure to whatever degree he decides, or he can give hints that it may not be enough!
The player could have decided to add a retrospective skill – ‘Rexius calls upon his scientific knowledge of gravity, which he learnt whilst doing an evening course on the science of planets!’ Of course, he has to have some experience points to spend, and enough of them to gain at least level 2, but this may cost a lot more than the usual 3 points to gain! Also, as this would be a specialisation of the basic science skill, he may have to have that as well!
So, in the example above, Rexius just manages to get up to a level 9 skill check, and the GM describes the result, he may also award a number of experience points, either to be allocated to general, or specific skills.
My idea of using skill levels, and having to reach a certain level to pass a skill check, is to get around the use of dice, or some other random generator, and make the game playable over e-mail. I am thinking that a way to temporarily boost skill levels may be needed; say using experience points to boost to a level just for one skill check.
Also, a player isn’t automatically presumed to be using a skill, he has to actively describe the use, albeit in a basic manner. For example: Rexius has level 7 lock picking, and comes across a locked door. He can’t just say that he’s opening the door – the GM’s reply to that would be. ‘it doesn’t open!’ He should at least give a basic description; ‘I take out a lock pick and quickly attempt to unlock the door.’
The idea is to build a story, and at the end of an e-mail scenario or campaign, there will be all this text just waiting for a little light editing, and voila, you have the story of your character to look back on.
With the dimensions, when a player moves from one to another, his skills will change. Some will possibly go up, and others come down, and some may even become redundant. It will all depend upon the dimension, location, and time period.
For example: Rexius, after spending time in his home dimension on modern Earth, gets killed attempting to gain an artefact. He re-spawns in another dimension, and ends up on a world full of magic, dragons, and all manner of strange beasts. He may find that his skills have remained the same in this dimension, but many of them are going to be pretty redundant – Computer programming for example! Whilst in this dimension though, he finds he has new skills available to him – spell-casting for one, which over time he develops to level 5. After a major accident with a Dragon and a vat of oil, he finds himself re-spawned on an alien planet set in the far future. His magical skills are reduced, as this dimension is not a magical dimension, but it doesn’t mean he can’t use them, just that they may not be very powerful, or predictable! His technological skills however, may have been improved.
I’m thinking that the character exists in all dimensions, and when he is spawned in a dimension, he takes over his body that exists there, thus bringing with him the skills he has already developed, as well as adjusting them for what the inhabited persona already knows.
This also allows the player to be really creative when trying to introduce retrospective skill – he can use the life of his character, as it would have been in any of the dimensions he has thus far visited!
I’ve been thinking long and hard about combat, and have many differing ideas written in my notes. My over-riding feeling is that combat should be realistic, and deadly! If you are going to get involved in a shootout, make sure you’re fully prepared and trained. If you don’t know which end of the gun the trigger is, then maybe it’s best to run away!
As you can see, it’s all bait messy and complicated at the moment. This is just a collection of my main ideas, the thread on which to start hanging the beads!
A lot of it exists only in my mind, the crazy place it is, I haven’t even jotted everything down!
So, hopefully I’ll be able to share the experience of developing the game – it may end up a print and play RPG, or it may just fizzle out like a damp firework, but it should be fun trying.
If anyone has any ideas they think may help, or I could incorporate in to the game, please let me know.
My next step is, well, I’m not 100% sure what the next step will be! I have this great idea for a whole campaign, and am itching to put that down in writing, but that would be useless without the foundations of the game to play it, so, maybe my next step should be to start putting some rules down, character generation sounds like an interesting place to start… Best get cracking!