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Speculative Physics

Need for Speed

by Mendel Schmiedekamp
Oct 21,2005


Need for Speed

In seeking to explore beyond the limits of humanity, it quickly becomes apparent that speed is king. Short of throwing around cars, hitting harder means moving faster. And throwing a car isn't going to do you any good if you can't hit anyone. Likewise, new senses are only worth adding if you have the mental speed to pay attention to them and to do something with the information. Accuracy means precision and timing, and often both are needed in short time frames. To survive such a world like this, you need to react even faster. Welcome to Fevered Pace, a RPG where you think faster, move faster, fight faster, and die faster.

Blink of an Eye

The underlying theme of Fevered Pace is speed. One of the underlying goals of its design was to make the quickness of the characters pervasive. In order to do this I decided to make speed the central aspect of each character. As a result a character is rated in five categories of speed:

  • Cognition - speed of conscious thought
  • Dexterity - speed of precise movement
  • Mobility - speed of bulk movement
  • Perception - speed of sensing and awareness
  • Reaction - speed of instinct and response

Each of these categories is rated in Blinks, which are the number of basic actions per second. This means that a character with Dexterity 3 and Mobility 2 can attack three times as often as an average person and move twice as quickly, all at the same time.

One Second to the Next

Because blinks are actions per second, the management of time becomes a vital part of Fevered Pace. Extremely time critical actions must occur in seconds, such as combat and computer intrusion. More long term actions, such as conversation and repair can occur in segments of minutes or hours, but most of the interesting actions occur in bursts of second-by-second activity.

A second is a small amount of time, and in a fraction of a second it becomes impossible to tell the after-effect of your actions. Did you actually hit the thug? Did the intrusion countermeasures lock you down or not? At these speeds, you simply can't take stock of the whole picture. But in a roleplaying game it is difficult to keep the suspense, as players will discover the results of their actions sooner than the characters. To accentuate the feeling of doubt, I decided to cluster all the determination at the end of the second. Thus, you may know when the system you are disrupting crashed, but you'll never be sure what exactly it was you did to cause it. After all you were too busy trying everything you could, so that the automated guns would stop firing at your friends.

The way this works in Fevered Pace is two percentile accumulations: hit percent and kill percent. Hit percent is the likelihood that a character's action will contribute to some effect during a bout. Each bout, characters accumulate one or more hit percents, with an associated modifier to kill percent which will be used if the hit percent succeeds (by rolling under it with percentile dice). If the kill percent for an outcome (such as crashing a computer system, gaining someone's trust, or killing a person) exceeds a threshold it is also rolled, and if successful the outcome occurs.

Running From Debt

As a cyberpunk game, Fevered Pace is obligated to provide interesting equipment. But rather than massive lists of cybernetic implants and special gear, I decided that the most common type of gear is a character's blinks. After adding blinks other gear can be selected, from enhanced senses to personally crafted weaponry. Likewise education is available in both practical and esoteric arts. All together these purchases described a character, from social connections to the speed of thought.

But the important question is how characters pay for their enhancements. The central currency of Fevered Pace is monetary, Most characters are given an abysmally low starting cash, and initially the only way to gain more is through loans. As a result nearly every character in Fevered Pace will start owing someone money, whether it is the government, a corporation, a friend, or even the mob.

This is the second theme of the game. In a world where the moment is always more important than the future, being in debt is pervasive. Debt payments are frequently the reasons why characters work together, and do dangerous things. Often players must decide whether to upgrade their capabilities, or downgrade their debt.

But financial loans are not the only appearance of this theme. During a series of bouts characters always have the option of going into blink debt. This is a simple mechanic which permits the sacrifice of one category of blinks to enhance another. A good source material example of this is Neo dodging an Agent's bullets in The Matrix. As he is spending Reflex blinks to dodge, he is also incurring Mobility debt. This continues building up Mobility debt until, when he needs to move, his Mobility blinks cannot pay the full debt. This causes him to go bust and fall down.

Building from Themes

Using a theme or two as the seed for a holistic design can blend into a more traditional approach to game design. Just like other typical game design goals, themes drive a large enough portion of a game to touch upon nearly all of the design. As a designer iterates through the design, he or she returns to the theme periodically, rather than building new elements upon it. In a sense, thematic design is the ultimate top-down design technique, taking the overall feel of the game as the driving goal.

Next Month: Testing the Boundaries

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