Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Avatar World: Oaths Rewrites (lead-up to v1.2)

I bought my brother Risk of Rain through the Humble Store for his birthday, and tucked away a non-Steam copy for myself at the same time. It's brilliant! It's also ridiculously hard. Because you need to move at such a breakneck pace, I think my bro will always be much better than me at it. I'm better when I can take my time and use my patience to my advantage, which he has none of. It certainly makes me a better Isaac player than him.
Oddly enough, all that patience just dries right up if you pop in a JRPG that is even remotely traditional in nature.
Anyway, the Risk of Rain soundtrack is great, as is the game. The graphics are beautiful and remind me of this little game called Biohazard, and also of Cave Story. The gameplay is fast and vicious. I might talk about it again some time.

Welp, I finally kicked myself into gear re-writing Oaths. I intend to have the complete v1.2 changes available by Sunday, but for now I want to get the Oaths changes in the open, mostly so I can get this post linked onto Story Games so people can catch my oversights.

Why am I changing Oaths and Honor? In my experience, they've worked out fine - they've been unobtrusive to play and are conceptually sound. I've also barely seen them used, which I account to two things: we're playing one-shots with new players, and the system is complex. The former part is a great point about why I might be jumping the gun, but in generally reviewing the system in my head it just feels large and clumsy.
Things I like about the old system: It felt like it did good emulating the genre, it allowed for personal goals and story arcs to be imbued with mechanical weight, and they made players accountable to each other and to themselves. It also created an interesting hierarchy that the most important thing was to be true to yourself, then true to your friends, then finally true to the rest of the world. I think that's kinda interesting. The system had some pretty interesting meaning to it, and was quite fine-grained.
The idea of starting oaths also provided a kickoff to relationships; the concept of starting oaths isn't going anywhere.

Things I dislike about the old system: It's large. Three separate categories to track, of which only some will see use at any given moment. It's hard to explain. It's mechanically clumsy, with three distinct sets of fulfillment/failure procedures.
For Honor, its only purpose was to provide a mechanical influence for player interactions, but it's a big numerical thing that doesn't do too much for that.

Let's see the new version already then!
When you make an oath, write it down under Oaths.
Not complicated.
When you fulfill an Oath, gain Honor with the person the Oath was to and gain 1 Chi.
Gain Honor isn't saying, like, add 1 or anything. Having Honor with someone is now a binary state. I'm wrapping my head around the wording if I'm going to continue using the word Honor, but it's much easier to say Trust. On your sheet, you mark who YOU Trust. When you fulfill an Oath with someone, they now Trust you, and mark that down on their sheet.
Of course, I much prefer the word "Honor" to "Trust", as it feels more accurate for what is being discussed and is also much more genre evocative. 

Oh, and recall (did I ever even mention it here?) that I am changing the spend-Chi-for-7-9 thing to spend-Chi-to-boost-up-by-one-result (ie 6- to 7-9 or 7-9 to 10+). This should get it flowing even faster, and be a pretty great incentive even with advancement as the alternate use. So even 1 Chi is a pretty great thing to get.

When you break an Oath, roll + nothing. If you have Honor with the person the Oath was with, add 2 to the roll, but you no longer have Honor with them. On a 10+, your loss of Honor is all that happens, though you'll need to deal with the personal consequences of going back on your word. On a 7-9, choose 1:
* they immediately and intuitively know you broke the Oath, regardless of where they are, and immediately act on that knowledge.
* you must make a new Oath to them to try and redeem your failure.
* you also lose Honor with someone else who knows you broke your promise.
That list is tentative! It will probably be what goes in v1.2, but I don't have any giant attachment to it. I want better options, though I think those aren't awful. Also, as should be obvious, don't pick an option that makes no sense in context!
A miss, of course, is a Hard Move. Suck, maybe you should've kept your word.
Oh, also, do folks prefer "When you break an Oath, roll." or "When you break an Oath, roll + nothing"? One sticks closer to the format, but is also longer and may be unnecessary.

Help is now streamlined! By default it's just a roll + nothing. When Helping, if you have Honor with them add 2. When Hindering, if you don't have Honor with them add 2. I don't think Avatar is really a show about real betrayal by the people you trust, at least not between party members.
When you help or hinder another PC's move, roll + nothing. If you're helping and have Honor with them, add 2 to the roll. If you're hindering and don't have Honor with them, add 2 to the roll. On a 10+, add +2 (if helping) or -1 (if hindering) to their roll. On a 7-9, same thing, but you get yourself in trouble in the process.
 I think it might slow the action a tad, but we'll see if that hunch is right.

Having two things I can set up with in the backstory part of Character Creation is nice: I can create current Oaths or bind people's pasts together by giving them Honor with each other for some reason.

I'm sure this isn't all that needs to be said about Oaths & Honor in the new version, but it's the key bits. The main thing is does is unify things into a more general approach that still catches the important parts of the genre. In going through and modifying the actual document I'll probably find a more comprehensive range of things to shift around.
Oh, that might interest people. Here's what's coming in v1.2 hopefully:
* a piece of art somewhere. I really want to start pushing forward on this, but I need a little more from myself to get there.
* Maybe remake some of the stuff in a nicer look. This is the lowest priority change.
* Include the Principles/Moves rewrites and explain Tags a bit better.
* Amend some goof-ups (like a repeated stat line and an obsolete move in the Warrior) and alter the Chi mechanic as described above.
* Sweep through and rewrite as many oath-and-honor related moves as I can think of.
After the Oaths rewrite, I feel mostly comfortable with all of the general systems. Nothing else in the playtests felt out-of-whack in my mind, so provided that the rewrite works properly, future elements and decisions will be about optimizing, rather than fixing. That's very exciting to me.

End Recording,


  1. On the Honor and Helping thing... add +2 if you have Honor/Trust with them, whether you are hindering or helping.

    If you don'd have their trust (you have no honor with them), why would it be simpler to hinder them? They don't trust you, they may be expecting some kind of treason. But, if they trust you, if they have Honor with you, and you hinder them, they won't expect: you add 2 but loose that trust, you loose that Honor, :).

    IMHO, of course.

    1. "But, if they trust you, if they have Honor with you, and you hinder them..." should be " But, if they trust you, if you have Honor with them, and you hinder them..."

    2. I agree with the idea of what you are saying conceptually. The idea that a sudden, unexpected betrayal would be easier than being stopped by a person you already don't trust. Mechanically, that would absolutely be a valid way to play it (and probably even easier language-wise since I can just call Honor a +2 to the roll).

      The reason I don't have it set like that right now is about the tone that setup has the potential to create. My understanding of the genre and the stories I'm interested in telling with Avatar World don't really include that sort of betrayal by those you trust - I don't want to encourage hindering a person who trusts you with a mechanical incentive.
      On the reverse side, I like that encourages using the Help / Hinder move even with people you don't have Honor with instead of it just dropping away once you don't have Honor.

      I totally see what you're seeing though. And if I still don't get much touch on Hinder, I might try out switching to Honor being a +2 regardless or Help or Hinder. Playtests will tell!
      Thanks for the input :)