Request for Comments -
PlotPoint revision August 6th, 2005 (version 0.2)
This and previous versions of the system can be found at:
I've been working on a system that is proving to be kid friendly. The basic impetus was to try to create a system that was only slightly removed from make believe.
I believe the roots of roleplaying are in the world of free form make-believe. Its one of my personal/research interests.
Goal (System): kid-friendly rpg system that is one step removed from free form make-believe. It would be a simple introduction to roleplaying. The mechanics would be rules lite and emphasis would be on flow and story over realism. The system would reward players for shared storytelling.
Goal (Genre): As most systems are better at particular types of stories, my emphasis is on creating a fairy tale / story world. Combat is not neccessarily the best way to solve a problem and there are numerous stories about young characters overcoming adversity.
The challenge I was having is that I have a heavy background/bias towards traditional rpgs (AD&D style) that comes from a basis in miniatures gaming. This was also helped along by the fact that I have a sizable collection of Playmobil miniatures (Knights, Pirates and Fantasy) and I use these in my games. Adding to this bias is that I simultaneously created a system for simplified miniatures combat using said Playmobil 8)
It describes the basic mechanics (working title Dx), which is just a simplified skill/dice system (6 skill levels: No Skill, Novice, Journeyman, Master, Grand Master, Hero) which correspond to D2, D4, D6, D8, D10 and D12. All roles are dice roll-offs. IOW: its a chartless system. You basically roll off against a difficulty die (odds of success have been calculated off the PlotPoint page) if its a skill role (e.g.. no contested challenge with another person). You roll against some else's die level when its a contested challenge.
And thats half the mechanics of the game.
At first I was trying to tie in Health and Damage and all that RPG "stuff". I hit a wall and was just not satisfied with how the design goal (slightly structured make believe, with a focus on story and flow) was conflicting with all the traditional RPG elements, which slowed things up to do bookkeeping. The real problem with rules in most rpgs is that there are successive levels of "realism" that are trying to be achieved. This causes more and more layers of rules to be applied.
I already had a mechanic called PlotPoint that affected play. The original (and current as of 8/6/05) written sketch uses them sparingly. In real world play I found that it was better to modify them to substitute for all other mechanics.
PlotPoints as I use them now.
PlotPoints are currency for shared storytelling. They are the most basic reward system in the game. Each player get a number of PlotPoints at the start of the game (during creation). As play proceeds, players can spend PlotPoints to influence rolls and suggest game/plot elements. The exchange is an arbitrary system set by the GM. It creates an economy that is continually renegotiated according to the dictates of plot and circumstance.
Example (from real world play). The players need to get ahold of a fair quantity of Mint to give to the cyclops (He really likes Mint Tea). They can't go back to where they know there is some, so they have to forge ahead into the unknown. They come down from a mountain and see below them a swamp. One of the players takes his accumulated PlotPoints (4) and "borrows" a few from other players (totaling 6) and while handing them to me says "We look out into the swamp and try to find some Swamp Mint!". Its a fair number of the PlotPoints out on the table and.. influencing the setting change is the fact that I have an encounter available to meet the swamp witch and had no hard/set way this would happen. Thus: "You spy in the mist shrouded distance an island in the swamp covered in what looks like swamp mint".
Skill success is obvious (better the difference in die roll, the better the success), but what about damage?
This is the fun part. The players get to describe their own damage. Player rolls a 2, the ogre rolls a 6. The player then describes what happens to them. The more vivid/descriptive, the more PlotPoints they earn (In my current economy about 1-3, normally 1). Its easy to earn no PlotPoints with a lackluster or little description.
Other ways to earn PlotPoints:
Moving the plot along (finding/talking to a significant person), Being Descriptive in action, Generally good roleplaying.
Limits to PlotPoints.
As a GM I put a high price on certain changes to the world, most especially if it conflicts with a solid/good plot thread. I'm open to new plot hooks/suggestions especially if it develops or extends something existing. The real limit is things that break genre. Ex: Can we have the Aliens rescue us? No - there are not enough PlotPoints in the game to do that.
What do you use to represent PlotPoints?
Since tangibility gives a better feel than marking down ephemeral points, I use glass beads, the kind you find in quantity at a flower shop (to hold flowers in vases). They are usually flat on one side. You can also find them at RPG/Hobby shops as tokens for MtG, but its a much more expensive way to buy them.
So - about those kids?
I'm currently play-testing the game with a couple and their 9 year old son. The most significant thing I've noticed is that the players got into the groove really quickly and are producing wonderful roleplaying. They aren't afraid of character "losing" as it generally will earn them a few Points if they play it right. What was really nice is that while the kid had not role played before, the immediate reward system worked well in getting him to get the roleplaying side of it, rather than the "game" (kill and get stuff) of it.
I guess one could say that it makes more of a game of roleplaying rather than a game of mechanics.
Ok, how about character development?
Well, this system works well for a fairy tale setting. In my world, characters have a certain amount of hidden potential/aptitude (often times unknown to both the player and GM until circumstance reveals it). As play progresses they may become better in a certain skill or develop new abilities. Most often this happens as players use a skill repeatedly. While its not "realistic" that a character would go from D4 to D6 (Novice to Journeyman) in a relatively short period of time, in a Fairy Tale setting a character may find they discover an aptitude that is better than the norm.
What I found works well is that these rewards can be given during play and not just at the end of a session.
But what about XYZ system that seems so close?
I am aware of a number of other systems that use similar mechanics (Universalis comes to mind). While I'm peripherally aware of these systems (me use google good), I've yet to explore them.
Yes, but what's next? How would this system be more fleshed out in order to "publish" it for other people to play?
I'm not really sure what's next. I'll continue to play test the game to get a feel for what may or may not be needed. I like the idea of it being a rules lite/easy play system. I recognize that the PlotPoint economy is fairly idiosyncratic and could probably use more guidelines.
I also like the idea of exploring more free form plot/world structures where the players may give more input to settings/characters/plots and so on. The current structure is still fairly traditional GM and Player oriented. The players in this case may negotiate with the GM to give input, but the GM is very much in control of the economy. This seems the right way to do it when there is a fairly defined world and a reasonable web of plot hooks available.
Also - given my Genre goal, I can see a new mine of information I've overlooked in all the Fairy Tale research I've done over the past 10 years (sometimes the brick and brain have to meet at higher speeds to get the clue). I think there's a great deal of system to be discovered in Fairy Tales.
Glen Gyldersleve - email@example.com - www.tulgey.org
Es brillig war. Die schlichte Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mumsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Rath' ausgraben.