Monday, January 26, 2009

Hypothetical LOST RPG

Talking with my wife the other day, the topic came up the other day of what mechanics I would use if I were to adapt the TV show LOST into an RPG. There was no existing system that I felt would work especially well for it, so I'd probably start from the ground up making something new. The brainstorm of a hypothetical system has gone pretty far...

Attributes :
I'd start with an attribute auction, kinda like in Amber. The auction system in that game does a great job of establishing rivalries right out of the gates, and that sort of "uneasy truce" feeling, that tension where the characters alternately cooperate and backstab, is something you really want for LOST.

However, LOST should not be diceless. Characters on the show can and do fail on a regular basis, and the mechanics need to simulate that. There's no guaranteed competence - Jack can lose a patient, and John can get tusked by a boar. So, you'd start with a 100 points to bid in the auction, and after the auction was finished, there'd be a chart/scale that the GM would use to convert bids into dice pools. Exactly how the conversion chart works... I'm still workin' on that. Thinking out loud, I'd aim for ranking determines average/maximum roll, but number of points invested determines whether it's one big unreliable die or multiple small dice.

As to the nature of the Attributes & Skills... I'm leaning towards things that feel more Skill-based than Attribute-based, as far as theme. Watching the show, it's hard to rate the Strength and Endurance of the various characters, but you know who's got the most survival training, who's the best liar, who can administer first aid better, etc. Off the top of my head, I'd be tempted to use 6 Attributes - probably named Hunter, Caregiver, Charmer, Interrogator, Scientist, and Shaman.

Hunter is used for tracking, hunting, fishing, setting booby traps, and attempts to injure another character via ranged combat or ambush.
Caregiver is used for surgery, herbalism, foraging, and providing care or comfort.
Charmer is used for persuasion, leadership, lying, confidence games, and efforts to be social or friendly.
Interrogator is used as a lie-detector, and to coerce or force behavior against someone's better judgment. It is also valuable during point-blank stand-offs, and attempts to injure a character via close combat.
Scientist is used to diagnose illness, handle sweaty dynamite, jury-rig a radio transmitter, or determine where the Others camp is based on an electrical diagram or the crazy map painted on the blast doors of a hatch.
Shaman is used for interpreting visions, building sweat lodges, and fending off the smoke monster. On this island, anyone might see a ghost, but it takes a good Shaman roll to compell the ghost into revealing something meaningful.

There's a certain amount of flexibility and overlap between those 6 attributes. This is intentional. Often there will be more than 1 trait applicable to a task, but the trait the GM deems most appropriate will get a bonus. See also "flashbacks", below.

Sidekicks, Wards, and Obligations:
Michael has Walt, Sun has Jin, and Boone has Shannon (or the other way around). In each case, there's a minor character attached to the major, primarily for the purpose of generating conflict. I'd like to incorporate this into game in some way without needing a ton of players, or swamping the GM with a ton of extra minor NPCs.

Having one of these attached characters doesn't seem to be a boon - the interactions mostly hose you, though they provide for fun secondary conflicts and subplots. It's not a flaw in the standard RPG sense, either, as you definitely don't get bonus points for having a sidekick. If anything, the characters who are saddled with sidekicks seem even weaker for it - Jack and Locke certainly have more character points than Michael, Sun, Boone, Nikki or Rose.

From your initial 100 points, you may reserve from 0 to 30 for a secondary character. Points reserved in this way are doubled when making the second character. If you set aside 30 points, you'd have a 70-point main character and a 60-point secondary. If you set aside only 5, you'd have a 95-point main character, and a 10-point sidekick. You get more points this way, but there's a couple drawbacks. First off, since each individual character has fewer points, you'll probably be better off making specialists instead of generalists - you just can't spread the points around as far per character. In addition, secondary characters are made after the first auction is done, and they must bid lower than 1st rank. So Jin may be focused on Hunter, but he's not going to eclipse Locke. And actually, there's a third wrinkle.

The third trick is, your secondary character isn't your sidekick. Instead, you pick another player, and your secondary character is the ward, significant other, sibling or obligation of the other player's (primary) character. You're all PCs, so some amount of working together is to be expected, but it's also understood that the person playing your sidekick is going to occassionally make life "interesting" for you. Probably by dissapearing into the woods with that bald guy who has all the knives. It's considered very bad form to just decide your character doesn't care what happens to the sidekick they were assigned. Doing so will result in penalties of some sort (details still to be worked out).

Example of character generation with sidekicks:
  • Michael is created from 80 points in the auction, leaving 20 points unused. Those are doubled to 40 points, from which Michael's player creates a new character named "Shannon" - 40 points makes a well-rounded, but not powerful, character with just a little of everything. He thinks Shannon is just perfect to be someone else's spoiled kid sister.
  • Sun is created from 95 points in the auction, leaving 5 points unused. Those are doubled to 10 points, from which Sun's player makes a new character named "Walt" - since he's only 10 points, Sun's player decides that Walt will be someone's estranged child, too young and weak to defend himself, and sinks the 10 points all into Shaman to give the kid just a touch of the mysterious.
  • Boone is created from 75 points in the auction, leaving 25 points unused. Those are doubled to 50. For his new secondary character, named "Jin", he puts nearly all those points into Hunter. He wanted to put them all into Hunter, but was handicapped by not being able to surpass the highest bidder (Locke) in the primary character auction. He put the remaining couple of points into Charmer, but really didn't use them in the first season.
  • One person is playing Michael and Shannon. One person is playing Sun and Walt. One person is playing Boone and Jin. They'll get involved in each others plots and scenes, and create a very lively social dynamic.
  • Meanwhile, Locke's player and Jack's player did not set any points aside, and thus did not make Secondary Characters. This allowed their primary characters to be real bad-asses, but also deprived their players of an opportunity to influence the flashbacks and subplots pertaining to the other players. As a result, Locke became a bit of a loner, and Jack overcompensated by sticking his nose in everyone's business.
  • Note, however, that not creating a sidekick in no way innoculates you from being saddled with one. If the players had so chosen, they could have made Walt be Locke's kid, or Shannon be Jack's half-sister. However, if two or more people try to attach their secondary characters to you, you may choose to deny all but one of them, and pick which one is connected to you, or you can choose to just have a big family. If you do so pick just one, the creators of the extra sidekicks must then choose someone else to attach their secondary character too.

Combat System:
Seems like anyone can lick anyone in LOST. It's mostly about initiative and weaponry. Such unlikely warriors as Charlie and Shannon manage to get the drop on people. Even Hurley manages to be useful in a fight in a few episodes. To get the right feel, fight scenes should be short and bloody, and reward sneakiness and treachery. Gun fire needs to be deadly, and pointing a gun at someone needs to be a significant deterent.

However, wounds heal quickly on the island, and what does not kill you will only make you stronger. Provided they don't die, all PCs begin every session at full health.

Obviously the game needs these to capture the feel of the show, but we don't want to spend too much time in the past, especially since flashbacks almost always focus on just one character at a time. We aim for short and sweet, but frequent.

I'm thinking flashbacks are linked to the experience system. You spend experience to initiate a flashback, and gain narrative control of some backstory element that relates to what you were about to do. You then gain bonus dice based on two factors: amount of experience spent, and how badly the flashback screws your character with secrets/shame/enemies. How we rate that second factor, I'm not sure yet, but making it work is vital. You shouldn't get bonus dice for just having been a surgeon - you get bonus dice for being a formerly-wheelchair-bound fugitive surgeon-turned-drug-smuggler with a price on your head.

The bonus dice do not alter your initial attributes - they're locked in at the end of the auction during character creation. Instead, the bonus dice become skills or modifiers which could concievably be used with several attributes. For example, if your flashback revealed you to be a surgeon for the mob, and it got you +d6 (just throwin' out a number) in a skill called "Surgery", there'd be times you'd roll that along with Caregiver (to ease someone's pain), with Scientist (to figure out what's wrong with them), or maybe even with Interrogator (to strike a pressure point and make someone beg for mercy).

Island Economics: Luggage, Debris, Hatches, etc
I can see two ways of dealing with the economic system of The Island.

  • One way would be via charts. You make a big chart for randomly determining the contents of a piece of luggage. A different chart tells you what you find amongst the fuselage and debris from a plane crash, and another for a ship wreck, and either of those charts can turn up luggage (which would then be rolled on the first chart when you open it. You make a bunch of rolls as people search and recover in the first couple sessions, and a fairly organic barter system should develop. Later, you make a "What's In The Hatch?" chart, and a "Dharma Supply Drop" chart. There's two downsides to this system. Prepping the charts will take a long time, and it'd be very easy for random charts to put all the real wealth in one player's hands. At the cost of those two flaws, however, you'd get a very detail-oriented system with a great deal of verisimilitude. People who enjoy the accumulation of treasures would get a good kick out of that, and it'd give the game an oldschool RPG flavor.
  • Another way (and this is the way I think I'd end up doing it) would be to make resources behave more like Schroedinger's Cat. Instead of worrying about the specific inventory of your 3 suitcases, instead we just assume that 3 suitcases equals 30 clothing points, 12 entertainment points, and 6 medical points. Need a bandage? That's 2 clothing points or 1 medical point. Good running shoes? 15 clothing points, and they give you +1 to all movement rolls. A book to read is 1 entertainment point. An iPod costs 10 entertainment points - but you can break it apart into 5 Tech points. Need fuel for the signal fire? 10 points of entertainment or clothing will burn for a night, or you can forage for Nature points to burn. The hatch you just blew open has 600 tech points, 100 entertainment points, 2000 food points, and 500 points of guns. Improvise whatever you need out of those totals, and we'll just adjust them downward till the hatch has no more secrets.
    We'd need charts for this system too, but rather than being detailed charts, we mostly just need categories of resource points, and guidelines for how much various items cost.
    This version would also need some mechanical way to get a monopoly on things - since every couple episodes someone gets their hands on all the medicine or all the guns.

Plot, Setting, NPCs, Etc:
Obviously, we're setting the game on The Island, and there's some familiar aspects to the backstory. That said, the GM is under no obligation to include any specific NPCs, and parts of the Dharma saga might be different. The players are under no obligation to play characters from the show, either. Personally, I'd probably have the PCs be Danielle's group, and set the game 16 years before the story depicted in the show. Thanks to Desmond and Faraday, you could work in time-shifted cameos if you like, or just make entirely new stories and characters. Heck, it might not even be the same Island - maybe there's more than one of them floating around out there.


SiderisAnon said...

I really like the second equipment system. It provides the kind of flexibility that Lost stories will require. It also means that plots won't necessarily be derailed just because no one has the right item.

You might want to make guns a separate category. Instead of points, you just give out specific guns and ammo. Controlling those is a big part of controlling power on the island.

As for the dependent NPC system, if I'm reading it right, I spend some of my starting points to give another player an NPC to use. That strikes me as a waste of my points. Most of the gamers I know either wouldn't do it, or would allocate 2 points to it to create a 4 point load stone to drag another PC down. (Assuming the kind of competition that exists on Lost.)

You might want to consider a sanity rating. People who stay on the island for long periods of time all seem to go nuts. (Not that I blame them.)

r_b_bergstrom said...

You're reading it wrong. I spend some of my points to get a second character that I run.

For that second character, I get to create a relationship/link to someone else's character, and they can't veto it. They could be adversarial, as Boone and Shannon are (and as Sun and Jin are sometimes) but they're kin and they can't deny that.

There's another reason for that sidekick system that I should have explained:

In Amber, it's extremely rare that you get to spend exactly 100 points (or exactly 50) on the attribute auction. People get over-bid or otherwise pressured out of a particular auction, people do math wrong, people get carried away and bid more than they should have, etc. When the auction is done, most people have a handful of points left over. Amber deals with that via powers, artifacts, and "stuff".

This LOST game wouldn't have powers or artifacts, obviously. Having "stuff" as the karma/alignment system doesn't work either - Hurley's the only non-evil person on the island, but he's got the worst luck. Bad things happen to good people and vice-versa, so stuff is right out.

Left over points can go into a secondary character.

Alternately, if you don't want a secondary character, leftover points can become resource points, but it would need a pretty crummy exchange rate to make sure the secondary character remains an attractive option.

r_b_bergstrom said...

As for guns, I think I'd still do them with points, but make there be specific gun points. You have to spend them to get a gun, and you define what type of gun it is when you spend them.

So, when Kate pulled up the Marshall's halliburton case, it had (for example) 100 points of guns in it. She chose to spend those on 4x 20-point pistols and a few boxes of ammo. She could have spent it on one 75-point assault weapon and slightly more ammo. Or a single pistol and tons of ammo. Or a large-caliber sniper rifle with laser sights, night vision telescopic lens and silencer, but only a couple bullets.

Or, if she'd kept anyone else from seeing inside the case, she could have just pulled out a single 20-point pistol and kept 80 points in undefined reserve.

Once some other PC gets to rummage through your points, you must define them. Everyone's stash remains more potent if they can resist the urge to get nosy in each other's tents.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Thank you very much for your feedback, by the way, it's giving me insight into portions of the rules that need work and clarification.

Not to mention, it makes me realize I'd forgotten you watch(ed) LOST. You following the new season? If so, what do you think of the latest developments?