Friday, September 30, 2011

The City of Lives new rules continued

As I addressed last time, my new campaign with my playtesters is changing some rules, in an attempt to find the magic point where the rules just work. Last time, we examined some rules designed to make combat quicker and more challenging. Today, we'll look at what I'm doing to make the money and equipment rules more interesting.

By default, FATE has very little in the way of equipment rules. Characters are not meant to have large lists of every little thing they're carrying around, or have to deal with poring through charts of hundreds of items and detailing every fraction of a gold piece they spend. PCs are assumed to have whatever items they need to use their skills effectively—a character with high Burglary should have some lockpicks, a character with the Surgeon stunt probably has a trauma kit. Beyond that, special items are bought with stunts, mostly "Batman's wonderful toys"-type stuff.

During play, a character simply rolls their Resources skill to see if they can afford whatever it is they need to buy. Succeed, they get it, fail, they don't. In Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files RPG, there are no provisions for getting paid or looting corpses—you have the money from your Resources skill, or you don't.

These are all well and good for the pulp and urban fantasy genres. However, there is a fundamental assumption in high fantasy that characters will be focused more on what kind of stuff they're carrying, and what they can carry away from the battlefield. Now, I don't want this game to turn into Dungeons & Dragons, with magical items a fundamental piece of any character and the default assumption that characters become richer as they become more experienced—but there are questions of both balance and theme to address.

The assumption that "PCs have the stuff to support their skills" works just fine with things like thieves' tools and trauma kits... but it falls apart with weapons. In Spirit of the Century, weapons had no rule properties, being purely a matter of style. In City of Lives, on the other hand, larger and more expensive weapons are more powerful. If allowed to have whatever they want, every PC will just choose to equip themselves with plate armor and a two-handed sword, and radically unbalance the game. So the question is, what should they be allowed to have?

First, I assigned my weapons Cost scores: how difficult the Resources check to obtain them would be. They range from Terrible (-2) for a makeshift club (a table leg or what have you), to Mediocre (+0) for a basic dagger, to Great (+4) for a two-handed sword.

Now there are two possible ways to obtain those weapons during character creation: I assume that anyone who's well-experienced with weapons has spent time and resources to get themselves a decent sword. Hence, any character can start with weapons whose Cost equals their rank in the Melee skill. A dabbler might be able to start with a dagger or light sword, while a serious soldier would be able to get a heavy axe. The other option is for those characters who are unskilled with weapons but rich, with low Melee and Ranged skills but high Resources. And for the rules for that, we have to bring in the Wealth stress track.

As you may recall, PCs in City of Lives have two stress tracks: Health (physical) and Composure (mental/social). Now, to emulate the realities of spending money, so that poor characters aren't completely helpless and so that rich characters can't buy themselves out of everything without any consequences, we add a third stress track, Wealth. Wealth stress is a concept that appears in Diaspora and Strands of Fate, and works just like an ordinary stress track, except that it takes damage when making purchases, and the stress doesn't just go away, it must be "healed" by making money or selling objects.

This allows for PCs to go on buying sprees, either during character creation or during the game, but with consequences... and without introducing the nitty-gritty crunch of counting coinage. The Wealth stress track also allows me to give characters money or treasure to sell during the game and have it actually mean something. And since this new campaign is based around the concept of treasure hunting, I think it will definitely help.

Oh, I didn't mention the treasure hunting, did I? Next time, we'll examine the new narrative possibilities I'm introducing with the new campaign model "Treasure Hunters For Hire."