I Said Pow!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

So... here's the deal.

I want Danger Patrol to be a collaborative game. It's an RPG, so this goes without saying. But the specific genre I'm emulating has one clear message: "Teamwork counts." At every turn, Flash Gordon tells anyone who will listen how he couldn't do anything without his friends. Every pulp is like this, even the old Superman serials -- Lois and Jimmy do an awful lot.

Teamwork (creative collaboration) should be supported in the act of playing the game, not just as an element of the fictional world.

I also want Danger Patrol to be a game. In the "all the players compete" sense of the word. The feel of a Danger Patrol game should be similar to playing cards with your friends. You're all laughing and having a good time trying to beat the pants off each other.

Competitive game play should be supported in the act of playing the game.

So... where does that leave us? Not in a bad spot, really. Those two things aren't mutually exclusive. Until I came to the notion of ditching a single GM, however. Then things got all squirrelly on me.

See, if you distribute the GM duties among the players, you can really improve on the collaboration thing. But one of those GM duties is "provide adversity." If the players are providing adversity for each other (as they do in Universalis or Capes) that undermines the notion that the players are a team and they need to band together. "Sure, my hero and yours need to work together against the Death Bot... but you're the one that added the Death Bot to the scene! Thanks a lot, teammate!"

I've been waffling on this one forever. Trying to get my "everyone GMs" collaboration vibe and my "provide adversity" duty to get along. Nothing was coming to me, and I thought I had to ditch one or the other. But now I have a new idea.

Here's how it works

Characters
First, the players make the Danger Patrol. Each player makes two characters, which is no big deal. They're easy and quick to make.

Each player then creates two villains. A villain represents a single character (the capital v Villain) and an organization (henchmen and goons and the like).

All of this character creation is a group process, with plenty of table-talk and such.

Turn all the hero characters face down and throw them in a pile. Mix em up. Now throw the villains in a separate pile. We have two piles of cards: The hero pile and the villain pile. Characters are written on 3x5 cards, did I mention that? Well, they are.

The Dealer
Now, someone gets to be the Dealer for the first scene. If one person has played the game before, and no one else has, they have to deal. Otherwise pick a person in some fashion (draw cards, volunteer, birthdates, whatever). It's the Dealer's job to provide adversity for the heroes in the upcoming scene. To do that, first, the Dealer picks a villain. Grab the villain pile and pull out a villain you like. The other players can shout suggestions, but the buck stops with the Dealer.

The villain chosen is about to have a run-in with the Danger Patrol, either in person or through his or her organization.

The Heroes
Everyone else reaches into the hero pile (without looking) and draws a character. The characters drawn will be the stars of the current episode. The rest of the heroes will have to sit this one out.

Then, we play out the first scene. Here's the nifty bit:

After the scene is over, the star hero cards and villain card are put face down on the table and mixed up. All the players now draw to see which of the characters they will play in the next scene.

Play continues until each player has been the dealer at least once. Then the chapter is over and there is a short break before the next chapter begins.

As play proceeds, each player scores points -- either for heroic success while playing a hero, or for dastardly success while playing the villains as the Dealer.

After each scene, all the players essentially change teams. When you're the Dealer, the rest of the players gang up against you and your tyranny. Then, in the next scene, your're on the hero team battling the vile scoundrel that you helped establish last scene. I think "changing teams" and "playing for your team" are easy concepts for most people to grasp. Team loyalty can be very fierce, but it's also something that's easy to drop and re-establish (which you know if you've ever played any kind of pick-up sports).

Options
Of course, this system lends itself to all sorts of extra widgets. So far, this is the only one I'm really considering: A player gets to choose the character they will play by playing an ace from their hand before the scene begins. There are probably more where that came from.

So... whaddya think, sirs?

EDIT:
Another option: Customize the frequency of character shuffling. Every third scene, once per chapter/session, etc.

10 Comments:

Blogger Matt Wilson says:  

That is powerful radness.



Blogger Ben says:  

Interesting.



Blogger Phil says:  

Just to be clear, after the initial group of heroes and a villian are drawn, you continue working with the same pile, right? You're not choosing all-new heroes and villians after each scene, you're just changing who's playing which?

This does sound cool.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Yes, you have it right, Phil. The same heroes and villain are used in each scene, they're just shuffled among the players.

If a hero or villain is defeated, though, you bring in a new one from the pile. (Defeated characters can come back in future episodes, of course.)



Blogger Tony says:  

whoah, that's wild! This really challenges my idea of what an RPG is - in a good way!



Blogger John Harper says:  

Cool. I couldn't ask for anything more.



Blogger Joshua BishopRoby says:  

You can also mix things up by making multiple dealers (two villains team up! oh nose!) or adding in some rules for switching characters in mid-play (superdude bursts through a wall to save the day!).

What happens when a hero is killed/taken out of commission? The obvious answer is draw a new one, but that's not the only possibility.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Scan up a few comments to see the answer to the defeated hero question.

And funny you should mention multiple Dealers. I just re-wrote the system to allow for that very thing.

The game is meant for 3-6 players. If you have three players, then you break the teams up as one Villain and two Heroes. If you have four players, it's two Villain players vs. two Hero players. If you have five players, you have two Villains and three heroes. And six players is three vs. three.

I'm also thinking that team switching happens after each chapter, instead of each scene. You need some time for you team to get its act together before you have to switch again.



Blogger Alkelda the Gleeful says:  

As a non-gamer (mostly), now you've got me interested.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Cool. Hopefully every (mostly) non-gamer will feel that way, too. :-)



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