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Speculative Physics

Homeworld Project 2: Modes, Grains, and Journeys

by Mendel Schmiedekamp
May 28,2003


Homeworld Project 2: Modes, Grains, and Journeys

After last month's column, I noted there was some discrepancy in how the central mechanic was described. The mechanic should have been the following:

Each action, look at the previous roll:

I hope that clears up any confusion on the matter.

Panache and the Growing of Worlds

Last month, I discussed the idea of placing contingent archetypes, called Panache. The intent is to link the way a given situation can be handled, with a general style. A character's most prevalent style will be their Panache. Further, the fortune values, which help determine the drama of their actions are determined by the dominant Panache.

The five Panache are as follows:

Hot Shot - the character that relies more on innate ability than experience. Indicated by raw talent.

Veteran - the character who relies on experience over anything else. Calm, assured, indicated by aptitudes that are typically hard to master.

Rake - the social character who relies on luck and people skills. Manipulative, cunning, indicated by flashy skills.

Rogue - the sneaky character who relies on misdirection and trickery. Smart, fast, indicated by underhanded knacks.

Mystic - the aware character who relies on wisdom and knowledge. Perceptive, empathic, indicated by knowledge, rather than practical application.

Any given arena would likely contain a grain that fits many, if not all of these archetypes. For example, the list of combat grains is: dueling, warfare, assassination, and tactics. The dueling is a Hot Shot grain, warfare a Veteran grain, assassination a Rogue grain, and tactics a Mystic grain. Each of these grains could be useful in a combat situation, bu each in different ways. Likewise, the way to increase each of these grains is distinct. Fighting a major duel would likely increase dueling. Playing a major part in a battle would likely add a layer to warfare. A significant assassination, although not necessarily a difficult one, would improve assassination. And bringing about a change in generally accepted tactics would add a layer to tactics.

In each case, the grain are developed by those changes to the setting which most reflect the particular Panache they stem from. This keeps the development of a given Panache organic within the development of the setting and characters.

Back to the Ur-Game

In a previous article I discussed the idea of an ur-game, which acts as rules for playing players of another game. This system permits several forms of analysis to be attempted, not the least of which is to incorporate models of player decisions and interests in the general analysis of a system.

In that article I developed a simple ur-game, based on the idea that players enjoy a chain of victories, as long as it does not get too long, and do not enjoy a chain of defeat. The model used was that in a given chain of consecutive wins, the first three add to the enjoyment, after the fifth, the enjoyment is reduced by the sense that the game is too easy. Likewise a chain of more than two losses produces displeasure at the apparent difficulty of the game.

Applying this model to the core mechanic above, suggests that we can find fortune values for the optimal enjoyment. In order to do this, consider the average length of a chain of success or failure between normal rolls (assuming a value 7 or higher is a success). The following table demonstrates those values.

High Fortune Value
Average Success Chain
Low Fortune Value
Average Failure Chain

However, to adjust these values to the average value for an entire chain of successes or failures, it is necessary to double the values. This is because for each standard roll, there is a 1/2 chance of continuing the chain, and 2 = 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 ....

Considering the analysis directly, it seems the best choice for fortune values will be to hold the average loss chain at 2, and the average success chain at 4. This implies values of 1 and 9 respectively.

However, there is one additional concern, the use of Grains can cause a change in the length of chains. By applying a layer every chain, this effectively reduces both fortune values by one. Hence, by adding one to both fortune values we can ensure that the eventual results are as desired. Hence the modified values will be 2 and 10.

As a solution this seems reasonable. However, there is one significant reason to change our model. A player has the capacity to recognize these chains as they occur. This means that a player is less likely to find fault in a long chain, since they will view each chain more as a single roll. To accommodate this effect, we extend the model, increasing the allowable chains by one, each. Under this revised model, the fortune values will be 3 and 8, uncorrected from grains, and 4 and 9, corrected as above. Hence the final analysis shows that we should center the different fortune values around 4 and 9.

One way to do this is the following:

Hot Shot - 4 and 8
Veteran - 3 and 10
Rake - 5 and 8
Rogue - 4 and 9
Mystic - 3 and 9

While this makes Hot Shot and Mystic slightly more potent, this is some what counter balanced by the fact that their grains will tend to have a somewhat narrower application.

Modes to Live By

In astral space, numerous things can coexist. Some are comparatively normal. Some are truly strange and alien. But one element connects them all, the ability to possess and create ideas. Any one of them could, in essence, change the world.

Mode is a category of being, it determines where a character is from and how the character has arrived in astral space. Akin to a species, or more accurately a group of species, mode determines the baseline of the character. It is the Panache which helps build from that baseline. Game mechanically, a mode consists of a preferred method affecting the setting and a handful of special grains.

For example, the Native mode centers on the idea of stability. The Native gains a bonus level when they prevent change of some sort, in the midst of building any grain. The Native has access to five grains:

Memory - the ancestral recollection of earlier ages of idea space. (Mystic)

Dogma - the laws and rules which govern pure ideas. (Mystic)

Atavism - projecting emotion using the connection between ideas and emotion. (Veteran)

World Ken - instinctive relation to the world you're on. (Veteran)

Unremarkable - exploiting the tendency that most people have to ignore natives. (Rogue)

Ships and Journeys

No space opera is complete, without technology. However, most technology is actually irrelevant to events, adding merely as color to a characters actions. Most technology and tools won't appear as anything other than notes under grains, changing as new levels are gained. In one case, however, this is not enough.

Ships cannot be simply treated as color, they are too intrinsic to the setting, and far too much revolves around their use. Ships in many ways resemble partial characters themselves. The most effective and interesting ships have long careers, with many notable accomplishments. These events can likewise form the beginning of grains for the ship. So, ships and characters share this strong similarity, each are made more potent by their effects on the setting.

One other feature of ships and characters, is that both go on journeys. And by our design specifications, those journeys should be eventful. One easy way to manage this is a player can deplete, for a session, a layer of one of their character's grains (or one of the grains on the ship they are employing) to generate an event related to that grain. Necessarily this will depend on GM fiat, but still permits players to make the decision of what encounters would be preferred. Of course if the GM contravenes the event, the grain is returned to normal. This helps to improve the chance that events will occur in a connected manner, consistent with character ability and player interests.

In Search of a Homeworld

The Homeworld Project is a potentially complex game that attempts to take an alternative view on a variety of common RPG elements. Using an inverted bell curve dice system, rather than a normal bell curve or linear system, to accentuate the drama of character actions. Linking archetypes to the way the character is evolving, not using them to limit a character's evolution. Using player generated "random" events, rather than GM generated or truly random events, in order to build a more unified setting in to the game. Lastly, basing character effectiveness on the changing of the world, rather than basing it on challenges or the like.

While it is a strange game, Homeworld Project can be designed much like any game. It requires an understanding of play dynamics, statistical analysis, and creativity. While it still requires playtesting, Homeworld Project has managed to avoid many of the imprecisions of game design. Desk checking methods have great utility in avoiding many mistakes that commonly evidence in RPGs, and as a method should see much greater use and approval. While it doesn't replace playtesting, it is certainly a partner with that more accepted method in the development of quality games.

Next Month: Math Any RPG Designer Should Know

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