Well, since I put off writing some kind of Dev Diary for as long as Sera would let me, I guess I should try to explain my part in this grand project. I am Lorin Grieve, sometimes called Xavier Fox. I hail from Pittsburgh, PA and I have played games my entire life. I’m actually one of those twisted freaks who read rulebooks for fun.
Somewhere along the way of my college career, I met Seraphina. One day, after we had been friends for some time, she invited me over to help playtest a little game she was in the process of creating. (“You may have heard of this game. Avarice Somethingorother.” — Seraphina) Two other friends were there and we had a great time breaking all the rules she had painstakingly created.
I remember my character, Lawrence, (the Industrialized Industrial brute who had a fondness for bowlers, pipes, and fisticuffs) punched a car with enough successes to hurl it at least 40 feet away, all to get a parking space. It wasn’t necessary for the story, and it was such a throwaway moment, but it still showed how fun the game could be and how easy you could make the rules break.
It was after that game that I offered to take over writing the rules so she could focus more on what she loved: the story. Shortly thereafter, I ended up writing some 80 pages of rules over the course of several on call shifts at the hospital where I worked. Here’s a quick overview of what I had to start with and where I went with it.
Virtues of the Sinner
Sera’s original intention was to create a ruleset that focused less on strictly defined attributes (like strength, dexterity, etc) and more on a character’s base emotions and internal drive. She had a full set of five attributes named after some of the deadly sins (Wrath, Greed, Envy, Pride, and Lust) and planned to have ‘hidden attributes’ that only the GM had access to. To make tests using these attributes, you combined them with one of three other aspects: physical, mental, and something else (I totally don’t remember at this time.) (“It was the ‘social’ attribute, Fox.” — Seraphina)
Upon taking over this part of the project, I wanted to make as streamlined a system as I could but still keep Sera’s core intentions in mind. I liked the idea that the method used to take an action and the intent behind said action dictated what attributes to use. But this whole having two sets of attributes thing was really daunting and tedious.
I liked the idea of the seven deadly sins being used as the Seven Virtues of Industry and, as such, added the last two sins to the repertoire of attributes (now called just called “Virtues.”) I also removed the other three attributes and split the Virtues along the lines that they now exist, feeling that one set of seven was better than a set of five and a set of three. I also defined the Virtues to be more closely tied to more traditional roles, in order to make it easier for a new player to understand what they related to. The whole system became very different from where it started, but it has proven to be much more flexible and streamlined, allowing for basically any situation.
Driven to Motivate
One of the biggest changes centered on the traits and abilities that the characters used to define what they can do. Sera’s original system had similar groupings to the trait systems that we have today, and many of the traits existed in some similar way, but all of them had limited uses per day. The only way you could use a trait more often was if you purchased a higher level of it.
While this all might work for a video game, that was not going to stay. During that fateful playtest session I mentioned before, one of Sera’s traits was called “Driven.” Driven was a trait which allowed you to walk dice up or down one side several times an encounter. I recognized that it was clearly one of the best possible ways to manipulate the dice, and it was a fun mechanic.
Eventually, I also proposed the Motivation system as a replacement for the original “uses per day” system. Once I got my hands on the rules, I built the Driven mechanic into the Motivation idea and that created the system we have used ever since. It made sense to just allow everyone access to that ability for free, since all three of us took that trait during the original playtest. Fueling all of your traits from one energy pool allowed for a much more versatile and elegant system. It also fit in really well with the theme of the game, since the Virtues derived from the character’s deepest aspects and the Traits derive from that character’s inner motivation to succeed.
For a long time we tried to develop a simple system to help a GM reward players with motivation chips, but ultimately we scrapped those plans in favor of leaving it to the GM with just a few suggestions on how much Motivation to offer a player at any given moment. In the end, I chose to rely on a Game Master’s judgment rather than making convoluted rules. The notion of making a simple rule system that could handle any situation became the most important focus point for all the rules I developed, as it was part of the main vision statement for the project.
Money for Nothing
One casualty of the “simpler is better” mantra was the original use for Money in the game. The original rules allowed you to spend money during a mission to bribe people or to allow a complete reroll of any test, be it yours or someone else’s. However, I was quick to recognize the problem here: Namely that Money was still basically the game’s experience point system. Executives received very little money in the long run and there was never a situation where burning that money to reroll a test was better than suffering the failure. It was always better to save the cash and upgrade yourself in the future. As for the bribery, it made little sense to bribe anyone since each Money chip represented something like a year’s salary. That’s WAY too much money to flip a guard to look the other way while you pummeled on his charge. As such it was never used for this purpose.
I still liked the idea of using Money as a potential resource, but I figured that it should do amazing things with very little chance of backfiring rather than possibly making a system worse. This concept ended up becoming our Accounting trait tree, as all of those traits are very cheap to purchase, and incredibly powerful game changers, but all of them require a single cash chip to activate instead of Motivation.
DREAM a little DREAM
One of the most challenging things for me to tackle was to create a ruleset for item creation. The original rules were sparse and impossible for anyone who was not Sera to follow. I had to create a system that was simple, flexible, and somehow capable of assigning in-game rules to literally anything that a player could think of AND relate those items to each other by means of cost to obtain.
No other part of these rules caused such hair-rending frustration as this part.
I originally created a series of tables, trying to include every basic aspect of an item that I could think of: size, action, and any damage for weapons, armor for protective items, and some kind of guide for really off the wall stuff. At the very next playtest, I gave the lists to the players to help them create items.
Frankly, it was a disaster. They, in true player style, grabbed every penalty they figured wouldn’t be too hard to overcome and maximized other specific aspects of their items. One player made a massive double naginata that could swing twice a round and hit for 5 damage dice. (“5 Damage being a normal Executive’s full HP.” — Seraphina)
While, thankfully, it did force him to be just a combat wombat, that kind of min/maxing was what I wanted to avoid most. It was back to the drawing board to tweak the lists and to provide base stats for common items that a player could build off of (such as a pistol, rifle, melee weapon, that kind of thing).
Still, I have no real good system to provide guidance for putting a price on oddball items like G4 capable monocles. Every playtest added more item creation problems and more and more charts were created. We added in new things like poisons, elemental attacks, and different elemental defenses. All of these received their own lists for ability and price. It became incredibly problematic.
Finally, I decided that the best way to proceed was to rely on a collaboration between the player and the GM. By having the players dictate to the GM what they would like and only letting the GMs see the various costs, the min/max capacity of an item was limited while the system promoted the player’s creativity. A player could no longer only “game the system” to get an item they wanted.
As for the oddball items, I eventually decided to just include a large list of the various miscellaneous items that were created during the playtests with their corresponding prices and a justification for said prices. That way the GM could just try to find something relatively comparable and build a price based on that and their own judgment. This might mean that some GMs will be more lenient on pricing some items, but ultimately it’s their game. At least there is some kind of guideline to minimize that as much as I possibly can.
Even so, more lists were created after this revision. Limited use items, like grenades, were added into the system along with small beasties of one variety or another that you could have as a familiar. I’m sure in the time to come I will be approached with a question on how to build some item or another, but that’s what downloadable supplements are for. Given the incredibly open nature of this kind of item creation, I think what I’ve done is the best solution.
Eventually I adapted these rules, in no small way, to create the way in which GMs create adversaries for the PCs. Given the nature of this setting, you can literally throw anything at the players and the rules needed to reflect that AND provide a means to measure the difficulty of running afoul of these NPCs.
Like everything else, I used Money as the form of measurement and provided a series of lists and guidelines to create the enemies from. The main difference, however, is that this part is done solely by the GM. It really works very similarly to item creation in that the GM has to have some kind of idea as to what he wants to throw at the PCs before sitting down to create them. It requires a bit more preparation from the GM before a session, but ultimately it offers more versatility.
So far, enemies made with this system include an assassin who was basically a character from a John Woo film; a displacer beast sent to a D&D-obsessed nerd complete with super reflexes and stunning poison; a horde of low-level employee who had been turned into zombies (and only smelled slightly worse); and a cool-as-ice Executive with a briefcase that created and dropped small spider-like robots that rushed forward to explode with enough force to punch through steel-reinforced concrete.
Like many other things, the GM’s judgment plays a role in interpreting how best to use the rules we’ve provided. The bottom line is that I decided to create a system that allows both GM and PC creativity while still providing a means by which that creativity can be compared and tested. A tabletop RPG has always been a collaborative effort between GM and PCs; our game just embraces that effort rather than trying to hinder it or force it.
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