Friday, 1 March 2013

Who You Gonna Call? (Part One)

My online western shoot-em-up Blood Money should be winding down in the next session or two. It was a good, straightforward way to kick the tires on Roll20 and online gaming in general, but now I'm ready to move on up to bigger and better things. The new Allegiance game is still on the horizon, but the second game I'm going to be running for that group is Ghostbusters.

Considering what a huge level of affection there is for this property, it's surprising that no one has held the license since the West End game in the 1980s. Maybe the rights are too expensive.

My first instinct was to run Ghostbusters using Fate Core, a system that I am confident would be able to handle anything that the concept could throw at it. And I am eager to take the latest incarnation of Fate for a test drive, but I think I've settled on using Cortex Plus for my Ghostbusters hack. Let me explain why.

Firstly, although I love Fate -- possibly above all the other games on my shelf -- I think I'm feeling a bit of Fate fatigue over the last few months. When it comes to running games, I find myself looking for fresh harbours and new thrills. Sure, Cortex Plus feels in some respects like a distant cousin of Fate who never outgrew his teenage love for polyhedral dice, but it's just different enough and has enough unique mechanics to pique my interest. My games -- as player and GM -- of Cortex Plus to date have not been entirely satisfying, because I think (like the Fate Point economy) it requires a certain amount of finesse to run it. I have been craving the chance to run (and grapple with) C+ since I got my hands on a copy of Smallville.

Secondly, there are a lot of moving parts to Fate that I haven't quite figured out how to manage online, yet. The Roll20 interface isn't well suited to tracking Stress, and especially not well suited to keeping track of all the Aspects in play -- when you figure Maneuvers and Consequences into the mix, that's a lot for me to keep track of on a scratch pad. It's worth saying that I'm considering using Fate Core to run one of the three games I will pitch to my second Monday night online group, Nocturne. More on that another day.

Thirdly, as this whole effort is part of my continuing process of experimenting with the form and possibilities of online gaming, I would prefer to run this game exclusively using Google Hangouts -- minus the Roll20 interface. This has the advantage of placing the emphasis on more roleplaying and less tactical combat, although it will require the players to manage a character sheet on their end (and the use of a dice roller app - though I easily found a good one, Bones). I can easily use ScreenShare to show the players images if necessary, and there are virtual whiteboard apps that will let me produce thumbnail maps if I have to.

C+ is a system with a rock-solid base mechanic: roll a dice pool and pick your two highest rolls for your result. Where it gets interesting is that each iteration of the system has used a slightly different take on the character structure to produce that dice pool. Smallville concentrated on drama, so the character stats emphasized values and relationships. Leverage is all about competence porn, so it has stats that push the skill and awesomeness of your crooks. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is a superhero game, so it has stats that emphasize things like teamwork and the ability to use combinations of different powers (whereas Smallville cleverly reduced them to a very minor part of the character).

My version of C+ characters includes the standard Distinctions (which, in this iteration, represent the character's personality) and Assets. My take on Assets is that they will represent the character's expertise, special advantages (like a Sixth Sense or Tobin's Spirit Guide), and Contacts (which puts a bit of developing the supporting cast on the players).

The main dice in the pool come from what I'm calling Attitudes: Action, Brave, Cool, Science!, and Weird. These describe in broad strokes about the kinds of things Ghostbusters do, and they hopefully push the envelope away from everyone just piling all their build points into the Proton Pack skill.

The secondary dice are common to everyone in the team -- Franchise dice. These describe the whole Ghostbusters branch in broad strokes: Finances, Gear, Headquarters, PR, Wheels. Because this part of the die pool is common, the players will have to "build" their unique Ghostbusters franchise together, making decisions about what to emphasize and what to slight.

Tomorrow I'll talk about some different spins on the C+ mechanics I'm playing around with.

To be continued...

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