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Game Design: Step by Step

Forces of Occupation

by Gareth-Michael Skarka

October 30, 1999


This weeks column is devoted to the second factor contributing to the definition of characters in UnderWorld. As I discussed last week, characters will be defined within the "who/what" paradigm-who they are, and what they do. The "who", which we covered last week, is covered by the Breeds. The "what" is covered by the Guilds.

A recent criticism of this column appeared in the Forums, in which it was said that I gloss over the process somewhat, tending to say that I've been thinking about things and "kinda-bang! There's some stuff." I do make a point to read the forums, and take the criticism contained therein to heart, especially, as in this case, where the criticism is well-founded. I will, in future, endeavor to show a little bit more of the process behind the "stuff."

So-on to the topic of Guilds. The Guilds serve two roles: one, they give the character his or her occupational abilities, thereby further defining the character, and two, they serve also to tell us more about the game universe, as well as the society of the UnderWorld. With that in mind, I set my mind to the question of what types of character occupations are needed in a game like this?

Every game needs fighters. They are almost the default class of characters in almost every game, able to be as complex as the deepest "in-character" role-player wants, while at the same time offering something for the combat-monster gun-bunny that lurks within all of us. An environment where survival is paramount, like UnderWorld, definitely needs fighters. So we'll have a fighter-type Guild, who will serve as hired muscle, bodyguards, assassins, gladiators, or anything else where the ability to deliver physical injury to another living being is a marketable skill. The term "fighter" is too generic, though, and definitely lacks flavor. I remember a bit from Gaiman's Neverwhere, wherein a hired fighter was referred to as a "Bravo." Checking the dictionary, I see that one of the definitions of the word is "hired murderer or assassin." Perhaps it doesn't apply as well to the more noble aspects of the profession, but damn if it doesn't sound cool. Bravo it is. Obviously, this Guild will bestow upon the character all sorts of nifty specialized combat abilities, not available to mere amateur fighters.

Obviously, I have to have Guilds that specifically deal with the a couple of the concepts that I've already introduced, namely Salvage Tech and Magic. After all, what's the point of having those concepts, unless there are characters who can use them?

In the case of Salvage Tech, obviously I will want to have a character type devoted to the invention (and repair) of the technology. These characters will be of the mad-scientist archetype. In fact, a development that I had been considering for another game (a true Steampunk game that I had dabbled in earlier this year) might go well here-the idea of a mad scientist's skill being directly connected to his mental stability. The crazier he (or she) is, the better an inventor they are-non-linear thought actually aids them in their work. The whole idea really clicks in a game like UnderWorld, where it ties in to people's ideas of "crazy" homeless men, as well as scoring very high on the weird-shit-o-meter (the element of the bizarre that I'm going for whenever possible). This character's ability to invent will be tied into their insanity-as they grow more insane, the better an inventor they become. Starting characters will begin with a level of ability that equalizes them with other starting characters, and a corresponding level of insanity (I'll have to make sure that this is a playable level-a concept like this could quickly degenerate into power-gamers coming up with gibbering, non-functional madmen who have the invention abilities of the gods themselves). In keeping with the steampunk-y feel of the Salvage Tech, I will give them an archaic-sounding name. A quick trip to the thesaurus (amazing how useful those things are) results in this Guild being dubbed The Artificers.

The magic-using Guild is a little more difficult to plan for, since, honestly, I haven't ironed out exactly what I want to do with the magic system yet. I know that I want it to be as far away from standard RPG "mobile artillery and insta-tech" magic as I can make it. So, until I detail the magic system, there is precious little I can decide regarding the Guild governing magic-apart from the obvious fact that they will be the ones able to work with magic. So, I will leave it at that for now, and red-flag it for work once the magic system is in process.

On to other Guilds-any gaming world where there is combat is going to need a class of healers, whether it be the spell-casting combat medic that is the D&D cleric, something resembling our own world's doctors. In UnderWorld, this Guild would be responsible not only for patching wounds inflicted by the many dangerous elements found in the tunnels, but also to generally care for the well-being of the denizens therein. After all, in far too many cases in the real world, getting sick while homeless can equal a death sentence-exposure leads to a worsening of the condition, and the weakness brought about by the sickness itself can easily lead to falling prey to various predators (human, more often than not).

So, this Guild would teach its members the appropriate medical skills, as well as imparting to them a sense of custodianship for the well-being of their fellow denizens. This combination reminds me of the role that monks played during the Middle Ages (I recently caught one of the "Cadfael" mysteries on PBS, so the thought has been kicking around my head for a bit). It's kind of ironic, really-since this makes the idea very close to the ideal of what a cleric in D&D should be. Hokey, yes-but also sort of noble. I like the idea of a quasi-religious Guild (gives me a chance to go into their beliefs, as well), its members wandering through the tunnels, giving aid and comfort to any they encounter. Ah, what the hell-I'll do it. We'll call them Monks.

Other Guild ideas come from thinking about the society of the UnderWorld itself. For example, with Salvage Tech being as important as it is, there would be quite a commodity for "artifacts" from the UpWorld. Since the Homeless Breed (discussed last week) can move back and forth between Up and Under as they wish, they'd be the perfect Breed to form a Guild of merchants, who bring treasures from the surface (old blenders, scraps of mattress springs, cans, and maybe the occasional firearm) down Below (hence the ubiquitous shopping cart). Some other Breeds could also be members of this Guild, but really, this one is almost Homeless-specific. That's fine-I like it enough to include it, even though it might be exclusionary. After all, I do say that the Homeless are the most common Breed. So, like the caravan merchants of the Renaissance, members of this Guild would be gifted with languages (all the better to speak to their varied customers), have lots of connections, not to mention probably a cache of UpWorld goodies that they keep for themselves. This will be the Traders Guild.

An environment such as the UnderWorld is also going to need Scouts. It is a labyrinth of tunnels down there, after all, and someone must go ahead to explore and find the secret ways. This makes me think of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and specifically of the carved initials of Arne Saknussemm that Professor Hardwigg and the others discover along their route, marking where the earlier explorer had been before. Combining this with the fact that our "Center of the Earth" lies beneath New York City, and I think about the thousands of graffiti scrawls I have seen down there, many of them indecipherable to the uninitiated. What if those scrawls (tags, in graffiti artist slang) were actually markers, giving directions and imparting knowledge of the UnderWorld? I like it-a Guild devoted to seeking out the hidden places, and leaving directions for others. Scouts...Explorers...Taggers. That's it-I'll use the slang term. The Taggers Guild.

This exploration of the Guilds is taking a bit more space than I thought it would-so I think that I will stop here for the week, and continue this subject next week. Otherwise, this installment could easily go on for pages more. As always, I welcome your feedback. Feel free to use the forums, or to email me privately.

Until next week;
Gareth-Michael Skarka

Underworld, and all related terms and concepts contained herein are copyright 1999 by Gareth-Michael Skarka. All rights reserved.

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What do you think?

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All "Step by Step" design columns

  1. Inspiration to Perspiration October 26, 1999
  2. Comin' wit da Nifties October 27, 1999
  3. Concepts Continued October 28, 1999
  4. Character is what you are in the Dark October 29, 1999
  5. Forces of Occupation October 30, 1999
  6. Forces of Occupation, Part II October 31, 1999
  7. Head Count November 2, 1999
  8. Subterranean Ass-Kicking, 101 November 9, 1999
  9. Next Stop, Rune Station November 17, 1999
  10. It's All 'Bout Da Merlins November 23, 1999
  11. Miscellany December 1, 1999
  12. Lords of the UnderWorld December 8, 1999
  13. Lucky 13 December 15, 1999
  14. Miracle Under 34th Street December 22 1999
  15. Gareth's December 27th 'edition' is a survey, on what you want for future Underworld columns.
  16. Statistics and Junk January 5, 2000
  17. Reality Slap January 12, 2000
  18. Once More Into the Breach... January 20, 2000
  19. The Mechanics of Mechanics January 26, 2000
  20. Junkmen and Soundtracks February 2, 2000
  21. The Iron Forestries of Hell February 16, 2000
  22. And Now, For Something Completely Different... February 24, 2000
  23. Confessions of a Language Geek March 1, 2000
  24. Flood of Ideas March 15, 2000
  25. A New Direction? March 24, 2000
  26. The Envelope, Please... March 29, 2000
  27. Generic Systems, My Ass! April 5, 2000
  28. Big News, and Magic April 12, 2000
  29. Big Guns, Razor-sharp Swords, and a Bit with a Dog... April 19, 2000
  30. What's the Story, Morning Glory? April 26, 2000
  31. And now for something completely different, Survey time! May 3, 2000
  32. The Fever for the Flavor May 10, 2000
  33. Random Acts May 17, 2000
  34. A Run Through Dark Places May 25, 2000
  35. Service Interruption June 1, 2000
  36. Endings and Beginnings June 29, 2000
  37. A Brief Return to the Underworld July 13, 2000

Discussion of UnderWorld

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Earlier Comments (Issues 1-7)

(Editor's note: I'll consolidate these when I get a chance)

Other columns at RPGnet

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