Wednesday, 13 January 2016

City of Thieves- A Heistbox System- Part 1

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I'm going to be posting details about the setting and rules I'm creating for my Heistbox game.
(For details on what a Heistbox is, check aforementioned previous post)

To start off, I'm going to list the game systems I considered before settling on creating my own and a brief reason why I didn't go for those.
FATE (Strange or Core): Narrative, it placed equal emphasis on social, mental, and physical conflicts but didn't do anything special to support the Heist structure. I also didn't want as much emphasis on physical conflicts.
As I've mentioned before, my design philosophy includes the idea that the amount of rules in a game shapes the nature of play. If a game says it is about tense intrigue in an imperial court but only includes detailed rules for combat and leaves intrigue as a set of simple rolls, then the game is really about combat.

I also looked at the Powered by the Apocalypse engine which would have been fairly easy to adapt, just by writing some custom playbooks, and maybe some custom rules. However, I wanted to focus on the structure portrayed in some heist movies, with game rules simulating the cuts between the planning stage and the actual heist. I thought this would be too difficult to do in PBtA.

GUMSHOE has a pair of major issues. It solves one of the problems of the PBtA engine in that the preparedness mechanic could be modified to simulate the narrative structure mentioned above. The downside that GUMSHOE and, in fact, all of the systems listed so far, do not have a complicated set of social mechanics that replicate real-life social systems, which one of my players professed interest in. The second issue is the idea of spends. GUMSHOE is primarily based around the expenditure of points for bonuses or simply to gain certain information. While this plays in nicely to the tactical side of things, I feel as though my current system can do timing based tension better. Also I have concerns about balancing the economy when shifting from the investigation narrative structure to the heist structure.

The Leverage RPG which uses the Cortex Plus system was recommended as a system to look into for heists. While there are some interesting ideas to pull from the book, it's pretty inflexible in setting and roles. There are five roles which function something like character classes, and all of them seem pretty important for play. One of those roles is the Hacker. In a Heistbox with a rotating cast and pre-digital setting, this system just doesn't look like a good fit.

Now, for here on, I'll be describing the setting and rules, but everything here is subject to change as time goes on.

After talking to my players, I've decided on a 1920's Dieselpunk setting. World War I went on longer than in our universe, and I'm thinking that some actions during the war are responsible for less racism and sexism in the era compared to our own universe- as that's not really something I want to include in my game. In addition to the societal changes, it wouldn't be dieselpunk without some weird technology. I'm thinking of having robots programmed with punch-cards (German made-responsible for prolonging the war and keeping the Weimar Republic stable), hovercraft, and hand-held versions of Tesla's teleforce weapons (particle beam weaponry, in essence). I'm also including magic, although it won't be as big a factor in shaping the world as the new technology is.

The basic resolution mechanic is a Roll & Keep system similar to the one I detailed in an earlier post. The main difference is that this one uses pools of d6s. There are no 'exploding' dice, but players can re-roll against a diminishing difficulty- the main resource here is time.

Stats determine how many dice are kept and skills determine how many are rolls. I'm not sure if there is some kind of bonus for being proficient in a skill and characters base pool is determined by their kept dice, or if the rolled pool is determined by stats+skills. I'm leaning towards the latter right now.

I'm thinking of doing initiative similar to the 'slot' system seen in the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games. Players roll to mark places in the initiative order and then everyone fills them as they see fit. Normally everyone must take a turn every round, but I'm thinking of adding in the ability to take what I'm calling 'focus rounds' where a single character can take as many turns in a round as their teammates allow. This would be limited in some way, either by cost, or just a flat once per session/heist.

The stats are:
Muscles: Violence and unsubtle physical actions
Fingers: Daring and subtle physical actions, technical skills
Brains: Knowledge, Planning and Observation
It: Sex Appeal, Social Skills & Social Connections

And here's what I'm thinking for skills:

Hand to Hand

Cat Burglary


Size up
Con Schemes

As you can see, they're divided up by their governing stat. I wanted to keep the number of skills under each stat equal so no stat is immediately better than others.
In regards to the stats, I've gone for more of an abstract take on them, partially in order to keep them all relevant, but also to cut down on the number of stats. Taken with the small skill list, it should make character creation simple and fast. I wanted fast character creation, to not slow down play too much with the rotating cast. One of my players wanted simple character creation because she sometimes get bogged down with choices in a game like Eclipse Phase or D&D. I'm looking to throw together skill packages in order to streamline character creation even further. Some of these would act as classes, and some would be smaller amounts of skills to piece together in a character. As you might imagine, I'm looking to make character creation a points-buy affair.

So that's most of what I have so far. I have some other ideas, but nothing cohesive right now. Hopefully I'll be able to post more about this soon.  

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