18 March, 2014

Killing your Sacred Cows!

There comes a time when a person has to bite the bullet. An idea that seemed really good when it first arrived needs to get tweaked when it hits the real world, perhaps it doesn't integrate with the other ideas it is linked to...perhaps a few extra tweaks make the idea no longer resemble its original incarnation.

I've come to this point with FUBAR (and by extension, Walkabout). A single concept in the rules seemed really elegant at the time; but when the game is actually played, the rule tends to be ignored because   it's too fiddly and breaks the flow of the game.

After dozens of play sessions at conventions and at home, I realised that there was a problem with this core aspect of FUBAR, and I generally tended to avoid it. Most players didn't notice the difference (or didn't say anything to me), probably because they didn't understand the idealised version of the game that was floating through my head...they only knew the experience I was providing at conventions. The game seemed to flow reasonably well without sticking to this part of the rules and it was just the nagging feeling that "I wasn't running my own game correctly" that kept gnawing away at my conscience.

I was actually aware of the problem when I developed Walkabout, so I tried to overcome it with a patch in some other parts of the rules. But having played a couple of Walkabout sessions at home with the same group of players, the issue is still there and certainly hasn't been fixed at all.

I guess that means I've reached that critical moment in a designer's life...the moment when I decide that an earlier idea I'd based the game around is simply flawed. Time to rip it out...kill the sacred cow.

The rule

The part of the rules that I'm thinking about is the trait system and how it links into the storytelling structure of actions, scenes and acts. 

In the basic FUBAR rules, when you succeed on an action, you get a situational trait that can be used to gain a bonus in a future action during that scene...or you can make the trait last longer (one success lasts the scene, the next one lasts the act, then the story, then permanent). Negative traits work the same way. It seemed clever and elegant. Traits gradually build up during the course of play, and characters become more powerful as they approach the final confrontation. At the end of a scene, non-relevant traits are discarded so they don't clutter up the characters, at the end of an act's confrontation, the characters rebuild. It's a series of snowballs.

The problem comes from the idea that any scene didn't build up enough inertia to get the game escalating...and constantly giving out or reclaiming traits just slowed down the flow of the story and interrupted the proceedings too much.

In most games I just stopped giving out and reclaiming traits as frequently as I should...players didn't know better, the story flowed more easily, and the game was enjoyed. 

In Walkabout, I tried to overcome this issue by giving all of the characters an additional series of traits to ramp up the speed from the start of play (these traits come in the form of character equipment). But this solution just didn't improve things very much...players just didn't get the idea. Perhaps I wasn't explaining it well to them, either way something continues to feel wrong and there needs to be less tweaks and twists...more of a complete paradigm shift is needed.

I'll get to that in the next post.
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