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27 April 2006 @ 04:31 pm
Verge: Sacred Hamburger  
The latest redesign of Verge requires me to take some of its sacred cows out back and shoot them. Here's a discussion of what I am keeping and what I am tossing.

Status: Hamburger

Verge was designed around a freeform trait system. The traits themselves are gone as are the trait categories (Strengths, Weaknesses, Enemies, Allies, Gear). Each trait was owned by the player who wrote it on his or her character sheet. Traits have metamorphosed into nodes and edges on the network diagram and each is owned by the entire group; in fact, they require buy-in from other players to have any strength in the game.

Status: Sacred

The idea of burning is that a player can choose to diminish some part of the character to get a short-term advantage. In the old rules, you could check off a box of any of your traits to get a reroll. There won't be traits in the new game, but characters will have connections to things in the game world via edges and those edges can be burned for rerolls.

I think my previous post talked about burning edges to get extra tokens. Now I'm talking about burning edges to get rerolls. There's a big difference, as each reroll has a chance of increasing the margin of success but doesn't guarantee it. Further, a reroll of a large noise pool could net a number of successes, not just one. I also could have burning give extra dice. I have to sort all this out.

Burning was more than just using something. It was abusing it for personal advantage. If you burned your gear, you had to fix or replace it after. If you burned your friends, the relationship might be permanently harmed and they might even turn into an enemy. Sadly, this aspect of burning will likely be lost.

Signal and Noise
Status: Sacred

This is my dice system. You roll a stat-driven pool of 6-sided dice, pick the most commonly occurring result, and that becomes your signal. All the other dice are noise. The more dice in your signal, the higher your margin of success. You can buy rerolls that let you reroll your noise and convert matching dice to your signal.

For example, you have an edge of I designed cyberspace!!!!! (power 5) and your character is rated power 3. You get 8 dice in your pool. You roll them and get 12235556. The fives look promising, so you make them your signal (555) and the rest your noise (12236). You burn a point of some relationship to get a reroll ("feedback"). Say, you use your best friend!! edge to Mickey "Keys" Robson, Megasoft programmer and reduce that to just best friend! You reroll the noise, which was 12236, and get 24456. You add the solitary 5 to your signal (now 5555) and the rest is noise (2446).

Risk Control
Status: Hamburger

In the old game, each player chose how much risk he wanted to take (the "volume") by giving the GM a certain number of dice to roll against him in a scene. Players were encouraged to take on additional risk by the reward mechanism. When a player won a conflict, he got to swap dice with the GM and both rolled again and experience points were awarded if he rolled higher than the GM. So if Bob won a conflict with 5d6 versus the GM's 10d6, Bob would roll 10d6 versus the GM's 5d6 for experience awards. Obviously, reward opportunities were directly proportional to the size of the risk taken. Rules for rerolls and bringing more dice into the player's pool tipped the balance in favor of the player and encouraged him to take on more risk, too.

That's gone. Now a player chooses how much risk he wants to take on by choosing options from the network. The number of dice is determined directly from the power of elements of the network.

This death of particular sacred cow saddens me enormously.

Pump up the Volume
Status: Sacred

was the term used for the amount of dice the GM was rolling against the player in a scene. There were rules that let other players heap additional risk dice on the player to make his life more interesting. There were not, however, good limits on how many dice other players could heap. The pump up the volume ideas are still there, but now players spend their tokens to complicate the lives of other players.

The twist, I think, will be that if an agitator spends tokens to add dice against another player, but the player still wins the challenge, the agitator doubles up on what he spent. That is, he gets the tokens back two-fold. For example, Bob's character is in a scene where he hacks a computer network to get a file. Bob is rolling 10d6 against the GM's 5d6 so it looks like a pretty sure win. Carrie decides to make life more interesting for Bob and gives the GM 2d6 more. This costs her 2 tokens. Now, if Bob loses, Carrie's tokens are gone, but if Bob wins, Carrie gets her 2 tokens back plus 2 more from the bank. Certainly there are many strategy implications and I haven't thought them all through, but I suspect some of them make gameplay more awesome.

The GM
Status: Hamburger

There were points during development where I defended the need for a game master in Verge. Sure, any player could have filled the role during a scene since the player herself determined how many dice the GM rolled. The catch, I insisted, was that someone needed to provide story structure to the game. A GM was needed to weave character stories together, frame scenes, take the flags off the character sheets and turn them into something players could role-play around.

The network version of Verge doesn't need a single GM. Rather, every player shares the responsibilities the old Verge GM had. Every player must weave their stories together by necessity (they all share a world represented by the network). Every player must frame scenes (and the rules for network modification offer some structure). Every player must pay attention to flags (the network that defines play is, after all, a giant collection of them). All that's left is playing the opposition and a player can appoint any other player to do that bit of mechanical dice management and role-playing.

I suppose that if players want a GM, they can have one. A network-Verge GM would be a glorified game choreographer, telling people whose turn it is to have a scene, suggesting ideas, reminding people of the rules, being the sole opposition dice roller, and playing the bit parts of the unclaimed characters. But those roles are easily distributed among the players.

Status: Who knows?

is the thing a character wants most. The first incarnation of Verge had a player choose from a list of Drives like "Loyalty," "Self-Control," "Family," "Knowledge," or "Sex." The second incarnation had the player choose one of those then describe in a sentence what it meant to them. The third incarnation just suggested some ideas and let the player write a sentence or two about what was most important to them. I eventually toyed with adding Issues, which were Drive-related bangs. All these things seem like I'm doing too much now.

I don't know that drive can be captured on the network. Am I stomping my big feet into the Fruitful Void by making players write down what it is that their characters want? Is not the purpose of play to discover that drive? Is not the entire act of role-play the expression of character drive?

What about the mechanical aspects of drive? Drive was rated with a small integer like all the other traits but it was special. Drive could be used for extra dice. Certain things could threaten your drive and if it ever got reduced to 0, your character lost all will to continue and retired or died or gave up. Time to make a new character. Do I need that?

As it stands, it looks like the equivalent of drive is the power of the character node. If you play Knight Carson, hacker extraordinaire!!!?! (power 3), that's like having drive 3. I think players always get to roll their character dice plus the edge they're manipulating. So that's half the mechanical effect. The other half is the "hit points" feel. If a character's power is ever reduced to 0, they fade away.

There's more to it than that, though. Drive had this aspect of character behavior constraints, like an alignment system. If the GM thought you were acting in such a way as to ignore a threat to your drive, she could take a point of drive away from you. No GM, no written description of your drive -- that means there's no behavior constraint. Maybe that's for the best.

Status: Unclear

This is a major problem, I think. In a traditional game like D&D, the GM creates adversity for the players. As Verge is set up now, the player will be creating his own adversity by choosing obstacles to overcome. This might be dissatisfying for some people. Yes, there will be times when a player attacks another player's node or edge and that will create player-vs-player adversity but that's not the same. What if a player wants someone to create threats and throw them at his character? Verge isn't going to do that, as written.

One possible solution is to have the spotlight player choose another player to play the opposition. Still, the spotlight player needs to declare what his goal for the scene is ("I want to hack into Megasoft's brainframe and get their annual sales report to incriminate them as colluding with Prophet Maximum -- uh, I'll use my mastery edge to the cyberspace node, which is connected to Megasoft, so I can get a new hacked it edge to Megasoft") and then the spotlight GM will set the scene and throw problems at the player and do the narration and role-playing stuff.  Maybe it's not that big of a problem.

Whacky Terms
Status: Mixed

The Signal and Noise dice system is full of terms borrowed from audio electronics: signal, noise, feedback, amplitude, frequency, volume... On one hand, I like the thematic treatment of the terms. On the other hand, I can never remember if frequency is the number showing on the dice and the amplitude is the number of dice in the signal, or the other way 'round. (It's the other way around.) I probably should just come up with intuitive names for those things like "number of successes" and "face value" or something. But I'm keeping "signal and noise" and maybe "feedback" cuz they're cool and unambiguous.

I also wanted to wrap a number of terms around the idea of edges. "Verge" is, of course, the main contender. You'll find references to "convergence" and the whole "signal and noise" thing is another play on edges, and now of course "edges" appear in the network, but that's all the further I got with it. With edges being so core to the game now, I need to avoid using close synonyms that confuse players ("lines" would be right out). However, I might use more distant edge concepts, like boundaries, contrast, barriers, tipping points, and so on.

Status: Hamburger

These never had any place in the game. Archetypes started out as a weak class system, then became a weak templating system, then turned into advice for creating cyberpunk stereotypes, and got ignored in almost every playtest. They were never really that sacred anyway. Gone.

Status: Hamburger

Old-Verge had a separate experience system that was more or less grafted on. There was an Experience stat and a Boosts stat and the difference was a bit unclear. The currency never really flowed from character creation to conflict resolution to character growth. Tokens now rule the game. They create the fictional world, they create the characters, they win conflicts, they buy dice, they change the fictional world, they change the characters. It's all one and the same. One system to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

So experience as a concept is gone but the reward mechanism is still there. Characters change and grow and weaken, and now players can use those rewards to change the world, too. Really, the characters are so interconnected to the setting that it's hard to draw a line between them.

I put this in the hamburger category though because tied up with the idea of experience was the idea of character advancement and character parity (at least at start). Each player made his character using the same (well-disguised?) point-buy system as everyone else. Now players battle it out during setup to establish their characters in the world. Forget parity: characters may start with widely different strengths (defined by position in the network and the power of their edges). Forget advancement: characters might get stronger during play, but they might get weaker, too (characters will change, and that is what is important).

So chime in and tell me what you think works and what doesn't. If you have neat ideas, please share. If you think something is dumb, tell me. If you know how to solve a particular problem, speak up. In any case, it totally jazzes me when you read all this and comment, so let me know you're there. It's fuel for the soul.
Feline Divinitygodcat on April 27th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
I don't have a lot of input at the moment but I'm reading, and I'm interested. Admittedly moreso than in prior incarnations of Verge, which is not to say I was disinterested before. : ) I'm pretty new to Indie RPG kinda stuff so far but I'm learning. Historically a D&D/White Wolf gamer though I've done a modicum of eccentric player-driven stuff and own but have not yet played Burning Wheel and Nobilis which I think are nifty.

So that's probably more than I've ever posted here, so I'm "jazzed" as you say.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 27th, 2006 10:13 pm (UTC)
It's totally cool to tell me that old-Verge didn't jazz you. It's even cooler to tell me that new-Verge does! Thanks for the perk.

Check out The Shadow of Yesterday, a cool indie FRPG. Scroll down and you can read the whole goddamn thing for free and if you like it enough, pay the nice man for a softcover book. If you like fantasy gaming, you should like TSoY, even if you replace its World of Never setting with something of your own design.
Feline Divinitygodcat on April 28th, 2006 12:22 am (UTC)
Great, like I'm going to get anything done /now/ with that to read, and links to his blog where he mentions Dogs in the Vineyard (which I've read posts by you about I think) used for Star Wars, leading me to google "Jedi with dogs in the vineyard" and read four threads on Banthas in the Vineyard and one on Firefly...

::brain asplode:: Here all I was working on today was retooling SWRPG Force rules for a D&D setting in lieu of the 3.5E Psionics... ironically I'd never run SWRPG as SW, but that's another issue.

Anyway! Looking forward to more on Verge. ; ) And thanks!
Cate Therraintigana on April 28th, 2006 11:55 am (UTC)
This can't help but remind me of a book title now attached to my work desk: "Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers". That just might end up being the case of Verge. :)
Devlocke61dv on April 28th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
The Drive / character elimination thing. How about just letting a player "cash out" a character when she no longer finds it interesting?
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 29th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)
Sure, but I was more aiming towards what happens to force a character out. Verge has a big theme around risk, and if character's can't be killed or forcibly retired (i.e., lose their drive) then the risk has no teeth.