Thursday, February 17, 2011

RTC Variant for Reincarnation Time Travel

I'm reposting from a Facebook note to here because I don't know how long the Facebook note will remain visible, but the blog posts last for a longer time. Plus I might get some response to posting it here.  Also,  posting here lets me include this delightfully goofy diagram that appears to have been posted in complete earnest by someone who is probably a good friend of the timecube guy.

This is a fleshing out of the ideas I wrote in a recent blog post about a way of making a "richer" version of RTC, still rules-ultralight but maybe just a little less so, for use in Siobhan's time travel via reincarnation campaign. The amended rules should probably have another name, but I don't know what it should be yet.

1) Change to Specializations

In RTC, each skill has a value from 1-6 and a single specialization, fairly broad (for instance, "Brawling" for Fight), which is two points higher. It is assumed that everything in the base skill is known at the skill's level, except the specialization, which is two higher.

In the new system, the base skill level applies only to things that the average person would know or be able to do, though perhaps at different proficiencies. For instance, in a modern world setting:
  • Drive: drive a car; ride a bike; navigate a public transit system
  • Fight: handle yourself in a barroom brawl; kick people; fire a pistol
  • Heal: staunch bleeding; treat a cold; identify a stomach upset; splint a broken bone
  • Know: your native language; use a library; be aware of current events; understand social conventions
  • Move: run; climb a tree; play softball
  • Persuade: ask someone on a date; complain to a customer service representative
  • Resist: deal with an angry person; get a better price from a car salesman
  • Use: make a phone call; put a shelf up; hook up a stereo system
However, anything that is not something that anyone would know, you don't know unless you have a specialization saying so. Some examples of specializations:
  • Drive: airplanes; motorcycles; jet-skis
  • Fight: gun repair; demolitions; judo; archery
  • Heal: emergency medicine; diagnostics; acupuncture. veterinary medicine
  • Know: German; poetry; astrophysics and cosmology
  • Move: acrobatics; track and field; mountain-climbing
  • Persuade: seduction; politics; multi-level marketing techniques
  • Resist: resist interrogation; sleep through anything
  • Use: car repair; software programming; lockpicking
You can also specialize in things that are also within the general base of knowledge, to reflect having a better mastery of it, if desired.

In each skill, you can have as many specializations as you have points in the skill.

You only have to decide, during initial character creation, some of those specializations. You must choose at least one per skill, but you can leave others blank. Whatever you choose reflects the knowledge of your present-day self. Any you leave blank will be filled in each time you travel into a past life, and reflect the knowledge of your past self.

2) Backstory Tokens

In addition to plot twists, there will be another token, called a backstory token and represented by a different color of chip or bead. These are handed out at the time when each character goes into his past life, and for a typical adventure, ten will given to each character. Like plot twists, these can be spent during the adventure, and when you run out, you run out; but unlike plot twists, they cannot be shared or traded between characters, and when spent, they are taken out of play.

Each backstory token can be spent at any time to add to your character something which can be discovered by revealing something of the character's backstory. They specifically refer to the backstory of the past life, and will generally provide you with a new resource. Generally, you will need to narrate something to explain it, possibly in the form of a flashback, or simply your character suddenly remembering something of their past life that could help. (You cannot contradict anything already known, but you can reveal things that it's feasible your present life didn't know about, and hasn't yet recollected.)

Some examples of the sort of thing backstory tokens can be spent for, and the corresponding costs:
  • 1 token: add one more specialization to a single skill, lasting only the rest of this past life insertion
  • 2 tokens: add one point to a single skill, only for the duration of this past life insertion
  • 1 token: some single item of minimal value that it makes sense for your past life to have is somewhere you can get to it (e.g., a wig of just the same color as the Duchess's hair, if your past life worked in the theater)
  • 2 tokens: as above, but an item of more value (e.g., an emerald earring), or an item that doesn't make as much sense (e.g., that wig, if you were a butcher -- and you still need to make up an explanation), or an item with a very specific application (e.g., the key to the butler's private passage)
  • 3 tokens: as above, but it can be extremely valuable, or both valuable and unexpected
  • 1 token: someone in the area owes you a minor favor, or is a casual acquaintance
  • 2 tokens: an important or powerful person owes you a favor
  • 3 tokens: you have serious leverage on a powerful person
The GM of course always has veto power. Generally speaking, you can't ever use these to simply solve the challenge of the adventure directly. (You can't spend three tokens to make the villain of the piece beholden to you, or one token to add the specialization "knowing just where the sword is buried because I stumbled upon it when I was a child once".)


litlfrog said...

"You only have to decide, during initial character creation, some of those specializations."

Did you plan to define this further--e.g., if someone has a 4 in Drive, do they have to choose only 1 specialization? 2? 3? or would this be negotiated between GM and player on a case-by-case basis?

I like the idea of backstory tokens--that makes sense given the premise of the game. 10 might be too many, though; I'm not saying you should change it now, but keep an eye on how the game goes and see if having that many backstory tokens spread among the players does damage to the story.

I'd even consider doing something different with the plot twists, given the kind of benefits the backstory tokens can bring. You may want to consider something like Cinematic Unisystem's Drama points or Savage Worlds' bennie chips system. Don't get me wrong, I like the way plot twists work in RealTimeCore--like it quite a lot, actually. It's GREAT for simulating TV style play in RealTime, and almost as good at keeping things moving with the action style of RTC. I don't know that they'll map quite as well to the reincarnation game, though. Just something to think about--maybe try playing with different kinds to see what works best for GM and players.

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

My intent for the number of specializations chosen is that that's up to the player. With that 4 in Drive, if you choose to define only one, then you're deciding that each time you go on a new adventure you'd have more work to do, and your various past-life characters would be more different from one another. If you choose to define 3, you're deciding your past lives will be very similar (and that you'll have very little work to do each time you change character). About the only limit I'd place is that you have to define at least one in each, and you have to leave at least a few undefined.

I am also pretty hazy on the number of backstory tokens. It feels like I needed to set a number so we could start from that, and then figure out in play if the number should be changed, or the costs adjusted. But, particularly given that Siobhan would be the likely GM, I think I have to set something to start us off.

I'd like to hear more about how those other systems might better suit than plot twists, as I'm not too familiar with them. I was imagining plot twists as being fewer in number in this game since half of what you might do with them would be covered by backstory tokens, but beyond that, I hadn't really thought through how they might work or not work for this game.

litlfrog said...

Drama points (Cinematic Unisystem): PCs start with 10 to 20 drama points depending on character type (less powerful characters start with more drama points). A point can be spent to add +10 to a single die roll, virtually guaranteeing at least basic success on even difficult tasks; to heal half the damage taken so far; catch a lucky break with a plot twist (once per game); with serious provocation (much more than the usual "we're fighting bad guys") and 2 plot points, add +5 to ALL die rolls for the duration of a fight.

Bennies (Savage Worlds): PCs begin each session with 3 bennies (tokens); the GM begins each session with 2 bennies for each important, named villain. Spending one bennnie lets you re-roll any Trait roll, spending and re-rolling as many times as you want. It also lets you reduce damage taken.

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

So they have a much more structured and defined scope. Why would that be better suited?

litlfrog said...

I don't know that such systems might be better suited; I think I'm arguing that the plot twist system in RTC is particularly well suited for a certain kind of play that emphasizes episodic, serial adventure. If that's the feel that you and Siobhan are going for in the reincarnation game, then absolutely use it!

We're getting into narrative theory and structuralist interpretations of story here--far outside my area of expertise, but I'll give a quick layman's impression of what plot twists would mean for this game. Plot twist tokens emphasize shifts in fortune between protagonists and antagonists, but with the important caveat that events gravitate toward a central status quo by the end. This is generally true of most TV action and comedy. The continuity of the status quo is important in TV drama as well, but more difficult to maintain (c.f. House, M.D.). Think about shows as diverse as Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory, and Burn Notice. If you want that kind of give and take, that continuity among the characters and stories outside of the past adventures, then the plot twists will be a good mechanic.

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

Whenever we talk about this I have to keep firmly in mind the distinction between what we're likely to end up playing with Siobhan GMing and the game adapted to the tastes of this group, and what I originally imagined. (Tomorrow's blog post is about that, amongst other things.)

So I have to defer both to Siobhan, and to the discussion the group still has to have (if we can pry some more opinions out of the quieter half of our group) about what they want. My sense based on what we have seen so far is that people may want less status-quo than I originally imagined simply because they want to be able to change history. But my original vision of this was very episodic, and at the end of each adventure, the only big difference would be that the characters had one more historical doodad in a museum somewhere. It is, like Quantum Leap, a good excuse for an anthology series: a chance to play a bunch of period adventures in any period we like, but with enough common thread that it doesn't feel like a string of one-shots.

I admit I haven't really dug into the idea of what we'll do with these tokens because I don't have a solid idea of what adventures would be like -- this is because I'm leaving it up to Siobhan to figure that out, and it also depends on what she and the group decide is wanted. What little I've thought about it, I felt like the effect of spending both plot twists and backstory tokens would be limited to effects within each past life. A backstory token would let you posit something in your past life's past, and a plot twist would let you posit something in your past life's present. But the effect of either one would be nil outside of that past life (except that it might help with succeeding or failing in the mission, of course).

That might still be true even if we end up deciding we want our past lives to kill Hitler and rescue Amelia Earhart. For that, I think plot twists might work just as well as or better than those more structured versions: they're mostly meant to get the players contributing some narrative more than anything else.

There was a great example of how I'd like to see plot twists used on an episode of Off The Map (of all things!) Siobhan recently watched. These doctors in a "Doctors Without Borders" clinic on the edge of the jungle in South America have had all their meds stolen, and someone's got an appendix burst but they can't operate due to lack of anaesthesia. One of them finds a nearby hidden camp where they traffic in illegal narcotics and asks to buy some to use as anaesthetics, but they won't deal with her because she's an authority figure and thus likely to get them in trouble. They don't even want to admit what everyone knows they're doing.

So the player spends some plot twists to arrange that someone in the camp is injured. Then she makes a deal. Sell me the drugs, and I'll save your comrade. They are forced to agree.

This is a great use of a plot twist because it's not short-circuiting story, it's actually creating more story. It's creating a new, soluble problem, and using it to deal with another, insoluble, problem.

And yet, when the episode is done, the show need never go back to this camp. (Of course, they also could, which would be interesting, but they don't have to for this plot twist to have been cool.)

Siobhan said...

Ok, now we've discussed this some, and I'm less inclined to allow the past to be changed. The idea here being that anything we do is what would have happened anyway.

There's so much in history that we have NO idea about the exact WAY something turned out, that the story of how something got where it was is still fascinating, even if the PCs can't actually change where it ended up.

I do not want to spend all of my time rewriting how the world turns out every time the PCs change history on me.

I think that others in the group are hanging up on that one point because of a focus on the time travel aspect of the campaign, and fantasizing about how great things would be if they could change this or that about the past. I don't want this to become about changing the history and dealing with the fall out from that. If that's what I wanted, we'd just play one of the fifty or so games that are already like that. We've -done- that game. Hell, that's what "Uncreated" is ABOUT. Changing things to make worlds better places.

I want the time travel aspect of this game to be cool, and it's the thing that gets the PCs into adventures, and exploring stuff, but the point of the stories is what happens when they're there, how things get where they are, or what information they manage to uncover about HOW something actually happened, and how they'll be able to successfully record that and "discover" that record once they're back in their own time, and present it to the world in a way that will make it believable to everyone.

I think I'm rambling now...