Continuing my discussion on how RPGs represent success, and how to achieve that success, lets dig into some other, stranger games.
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Ah Numenera…you are wonderful. A very new game, built on very old ideas. Numenera takes a lot of the tropes of fantasy, but sets them 1 billion years in the future, where technology is so advanced as to seem like magic.
In this new world, the entire game is built around the idea of exploring a strange and incomprehensible landscape. An entire field of glass flowers, floating spheres of metal, cities built upon gigantic gears, or a huge machine that generates crystal clear water from no where.
Discovering and exploring all of these things is the main way to gain XP; rather than combat or accomplishment. And even XP is not solely for advancement. XP can be spent to adjust rolls, add skills, or gain temporary bonuses; for example, when you get to a new area, you can say “I’ve been here before, and I know a guy who can help us find information” and spend 3 XP. This flexibility and alternate use of XP encourages players to adjust circumstances and “barter” with the GM to have a better game.
There are only 6 levels of advancement, and they aren’t that far apart. Not on the same strata as DnD, Numenera levels are more of a way to expand your character’s capabilities, than their inherent level of power. So, in Numenera, “the good life” is exploration and discovery, and the mechanics use XP as way to entice players and make that the focus.
Everyone is John
Everyone is John is going to be a little weird, because the mechanics are really simple…I mean, they only fit on one page! The idea of the game is that you all play different voices in John’s head. The result is a really wacky, ultimately short term game.
The mechanics re-enforce the madness by limiting how long a player can maintain control of John, and encouraging a diverse range goals and activities. The “good life” sold by this game is a series of crazy stories and hijinx; which the mechanics encourage by alternating narrative control and limiting John from doing the same thing for too long.
What started as a challenge soon became an enjoyable game that I’m pretty proud of. I love how Survival World streamlines player choice, where every action either has a consequence, a success, or something in between. There is no simple failure to accomplish a task; on a bad roll, something horrible ALWAYS happens.
I wanted to see if I could adapt that mechanic to something a little more dangerous; creating a survival, horror game that did not need very many enemies to be deadly. The end result was a game where every action has the risk of making a player more injured, and that much closer to death, constantly fluctuating between death and life.
Success in this game is rather grim. I designed to be a short, single-adventure game, with death being the most likely result for most games. Thus, success isn’t about surviving, but about surviving as long as possible, and fighting against entropy. The way to accomplish this is to be careful, take things slowly, and pay close attention to your body and its parts. Normally, caution kills adventure; but in the scope of this game, the mechanics are your enemy, and fighting them is how you achieve success.
Welcome Minions is a pretty short, focused party game designed to create a night of friendly bickering and insane competition.
The result is a game that frames success as a night of strange plans, and lots of scheming and vying for control. The mechanics re-enforce this idea in a similar way as Everyone is John, but with the ability to control and manipulate who is leader. Not everyone will get a turn, and in fact, there is a lot of freedom for players to support whoever they like; potentially creating a very real bias and group conflict.
The lighthearted tone should keep things from becoming too serious or spiteful. Success is having a fun night of crazy plans and silly backstabbing.
Hey, this is written to you: The reader. Thanks for reading this little series, I’ve got enough material here for about 2-3 more posts about different games and their drives. BUT! I need some feedback from you. I will continue writing this series if you comment below, and tell me what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want to see more of. If I don’t hear anything back, then this series will be shelved in order to explore something else. Your feedback drives my writing; I’d love to hear from you!