Wednesday, August 6, 2008

b3 Delta Green

Last Thursday, I played in a Delta Green one-shot. Or rather, it was the Delta Green setting, but with a home-brewed system called the "b3 System".

I honestly couldn't tell you why it was called "b3", other than I think the GM/author's name was Brian. I'm not sure it optimal to learn a new system and make characters and play a mystery plotline in a 4-hour gaming time slot. Pregens and a familiar system would have suited the time crunch better. Of course, one goal was to playtest his system, but with that short a time frame, I'm not sure it was accomplished well.

The system was actually a modified version of White Wolf's Storyteller system - well, kinda. He trimmed the Attributes down from 9 to 6 (3 phys, 2 mental, 1 social). And he mildly truncated the physical and social skill lists, but then seriously expanded the mental skill list. There was a fairly complicated point-buy system for character gen.

He mostly used d6s, with a few d3s and a d4, and none of the usual d10s of White Wolf.

One thing I will say I really liked was that he made Skill dice and Attribute dice different. In standard WW, if you had Dex 4 and Melee 1 you'd roll the exact same 5 dice as if you had Dex 1 and Melee 4, making the more encompassing attributes a better investment than the more narrow skills. Instead, he had special skill dice, where the 6s were 7s. There was an actual benefit to having trained skill instead of just raw talent.

You also rolled dice based on your pool, and then kept the total of just your 3 highest dice (instead of having successes per die). Your total then could be from 1 to 21, depending on how many dice you had. If you were even mildly competent, you'd have at least a 3 on every roll, but even the apex of human endeavor could biff it and roll just that 3.

At first, I really loved both of those mechanics, but in the final scene, I was rudely awakened to the fact that I'd drawn conclusions from them that the GM had not intended.

By this point, it should be obvious that this was a pretty far diversion from White Wolf, and I wouldn't have even spotted it's roots if he hadn't commented on them. While the system was still pretty rough, there were diamonds amidst that roughage. The system had potential. I hope he uses the feedback we gave him (and I wish there'd been time to give him more) to hone it into something really remarkable.

As often happens with Cthulhu mysteries, the PCs wasted a lot of time trying to find clues that weren't there. Poor Brian had to suffer through endless questions, many of them about things he had no way of anticipating we'd pursue. (Add to that the GM being late, character generation and a new system, and as you can expect, we didn't get very far into the adventure.) Overall, I came away with the solid feeling that dark mysteries are not the proper table fare for a pick-up game in a café.

The prior week, we'd had a lot of fun playing Wushu with that gaming group, and the difference was that a light-hearted over-the-top game isn't particularly distressed by people getting up to place drink orders, or players missing a clue because someone else made an amusing hitchhikers' reference.

This time, however, I instead felt the poor GM was just getting frustrated with us. Perhaps I'm projecting - I know how frustrated I'd have been in his shoes. Certainly, the events of the evening conspired to make it a sub-optimal session, and probably failed to function as the useful playtest of his system that he'd hoped for.

You know that guy - the one who does "what my character would have done" even when the player knows it's a big damn mistake and just going to derail the plot? I ended up being that guy. I hate being part of that, I expect better of myself.

I was playing a secret service agent. We'd just burned down a house that had the corpse of some hideous spider-dog-thing, when a black sedan pulled up. 3 "men in black" types (NPCs) stepped out, and we were all packing guns and thus looking very suspicious. Rather than get arrested, I immediately identified us as police. The NPCs wouldn't verbally respond and one reached in his coat (getting out a photo, as it turns out), so I ordered them to the ground. They ignored me. One PC hid, because he knew these guys would mop the floor with us since he'd barely escaped from them in a previous session - but he didn't tell us that in-character. So I'm holding a badge and a pistol, and ordering these guys to lay down on the ground, and instead one of them goes for his gun. I plug him (and since I got a good roll) he dies. The ring leader, however, uses some sort of magic whammy on me, and without even rolling, he gets to interrupt me before my second shot, paralyze me, and boil my skin.

Now, normally, in Cthulhu, I'd just say that's par for the course. In Cthulhu, you can die very easily, and if you have to fire a second bullet, you've already lost the war. But this was the Delta Green setting, and I'd been lead to believe (by the GM, that night) that Delta Green encourages firefights-as-problem-solving in a way vanilla Cthulhu doesn't. What's more, it was a home-brewed system, one in which even the pinnacle of human achievement has a decent chance of scoring a lowly 3, while nearly anyone can hit an 18 with a lucky roll. I was not pleased with being incapacitated instantly without a roll, nor with him simultaneously immobilizing my colleagues get-away car also without a roll. This system allows anyone to botch, that didn't suggest to me that it would support "he's so good he never rolls". In hind sight it seems obvious that it allows for whatever the systems author says it does, but at the time I'd felt mislead.

I hope that I took it all as gracefully and graciously as I think I did. My goal was to take it in stride and leave without the GM knowing I was upset. In retrospect, I wish I'd known him well enough to express my disappointment - I think he could have used the feedback constructively if I'd been able to talk about it unemotionally. I grumbled in my wife's ear the whole walk home after the game, but didn't bitch to the GM.

My advice to him now will likely be as follows:
1) Pregens and Player Handouts are a really good idea for a one-shot with strangers, especially when using a new home-brewed system.
2) Over all, I like your system, but I think rather than replacing the "6" on skill dice with a "7", you might want to try replacing the "1" with a "2" or "3". Or better yet, replace the "1" with a symbol that means "equal to the characters skill level". With such a system, "so good he doesn't roll" wouldn't feel so out of place. Such a change would make skilled characters less likely to bottom-out while still allowing for "beginners luck" to sometimes reward the amateur.

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