Car Commercials and Game Design

My first car was a 1972 Dodge Dart. It was a shade of green that I’m not sure how to even describe. It was a monster. My high school girlfriend called it, “the Monster.” It’s also safe to say that I really miss that car. I had the 2 door Swinger. It was beautiful. (Note: mine did not look this good… it was old by the time I got it.)

Even though the new Dodge Dart and the old Dart don’t look anything alike I’ve been a really big fan of the new Dart commercials. Particularly this one:

And really, it’s just the first few lines that I’m a big fan of:

Wanna make a great car interior? Stop looking at car interiors. Get inspired by other stuff.

And it’s surprisingly hard. Sometimes in gaming there is this painful feeling that, “it’s all been done.” I mean, whenever I look at a game I find myself making the same old comparisons… “oh that’s just a D&D clone” or “well, it’s just FATE the way FATE wishes it was.” You know, that kind of thing. And with Edition wars all the rage in so many games it’s hard sometimes to remember what we’re even annoyed about. I mean, I already hate Shadowrun 5th edition and I know next to nothing about it. And I will give it a read when it comes out, to be fair. But I’m off-topic.

I’ve been working on a diceless game for about a while now. I took a break from it because of job-stuff but I’ve been diving back in. I’m thrilled that there are some other folks out there other than me who still love diceless gaming… The Lords of Gossamer and Shadow kickstarter just ended and I’ll say that I ended up as a backer. It’s a good feeling to support diceless games hitting the market.

But even as I’ve been pondering my game that I’m trying to create I was blown away to see this (from another kickstarter as it happens…) and the short version is, Exalted 3 combat is going to involve combat momentum and the gaining of advantage to allow for the combat to move forward in novel ways. I sat there and shook my head in wonderment. This is exactly what I was writing (from a diceless perspective) and far from feeling cheated or any sense of outrage I was in awe of how ideas come into focus over time and people who read a lot of games and play a lot of games start to have this feeling that something is… missing, weird, could be done a different way? I think this happens in our hobby quite often. I mean, just look at the whole “story game” revolution. Look at the GM-less games that have cropped up and call themselves RPGs. [Aside: I am biased against this notion, but they are entitled to call themselves whatever they want.]

Here’s the first part of my notes about momentum as I worked to think my way through it’s usefulness as a game mechanic… these are incredibly raw but clearly going in the same direction as the Ex3 idea.

Focus: Combat

Idea of Momentum

Combat Momentum works such that players build up MP (momentum points) that can be spent to accomplish tasks.

• MP can be spent against any enemy. One pool per character used as they see fit.
• Opponents have different MT (momentum thresholds) representing what break points allow Knockout.
• Soft Opponents can be auto-knocked and generate no momentum
• MP gained from Hard Opponents can be spent to eliminate soft opponents.
• Damage is all equal.
• Armor is still in question(?)
• PCs must spend MP to disengage from an opponent or the opponent can take a free attack.
• MP can be spent to do more than be banked for knockout – they can be used to disarm, to psych out an opponent, to disengage, to protect a friend, to knockout out soft targets, perform heroic movements… and other stuff (what these maneuvers do is still up in the air).
• Total momentum can be pooled between PCs to hit a total on a tough monster but PCs must all act in the turn of the slowest initiative to do it.
• MP are earned by doing “damage.” Basically, weapon damage + margin of success.
• Instead of momentum adding up to eventually KO an opponent – each opponent has a certain number of “thresholds (?)” and these must each be met to defeat that opponent. Tougher opponents have higher thresholds for KO.
• Shields?

It might be useful to have players track pools of Momentum with tokens of some sort. This would be one of those ideas about making players feel like they’re participating in the combat – passing tokens back and forth – but of course, tokens are not required. Scrap paper will do just as well.

A couple of other things to keep in mind. How does poison work? How does this fit with ranged attacks? And I have this idea that momentum can be spent on defense – but you can’t generate new momentum with defense.

My primary worry is how to set thresholds for defeating an opponent that don’t simply encourage taking an opponent out as quick as possible.

It’s possible that gear/fighting styles/fatigue/stuff… could change the thresholds – which encourages a PC to spend energy (momentum) disarming opponents or messing up their gear or fatiguing them to make it possible to KO them.

This has merit.

Soooooo…. Here’s an idea. Or, a pair of ideas (ish).

First, what if Momentum doesn’t build up into a pool? What if you have to use whatever momentum you build up each turn as you gather it (or you lose it)? This would make it a much more “use it now” resource.
The maneuvers they spend the lesser momentum on each turn though could be the “building blocks” I want – they can be used to improve your ability to generate momentum in following turns… so, for example, feigning, or bluffing, or acrobatics, or small wounds, could improve the ability to generate further momentum – along with having other special effects. This would be building toward a maneuver called “Overwhelm” which would be the equivalent of the final killing blow or knocking the opponent out… or some sort of “Decisive Moment.”

Also, maybe (maybe) allow PCs to carry momentum from one turn over to another (but only once) and they might (?) lose a point for delaying? Or some other penalty for not using momentum as it is earned.

Finally – my other thought was to potentially allow a maneuver that reduces a fighter’s ability to generate momentum in following turns. Or specifically – a maneuver that allows a fighter to remove momentum from a fighter who carries it over from a previous turn?

This has actually spawned another thought… since Momentum isn’t about “hit points” or “life force” then it’s entirely functional to have maneuvers based on social or mental rolls… so you could have “tactical” maneuvers or “insults, goads, taunts” and other stuff that can build momentum while at the same time having specific effects in turns… This is good, need to keep ruminating. Thinking this way would also make the “roguish fighter” or the “smart fighter” have a bigger range of options in combat while still generating momentum. I like it.

Ultimately, I worked back through this idea and scrapped most of it because it seemed that “momentum” based combat actually exacerbated the worst aspects of gaming combat rather than improving them. It will be interesting to see what the Exalted 3 combat system ends up looking like. I’m excited at the possibilities. I’ve been ruminating on how to use “Momentum” for about two years now and it always comes back to the question, for me, of the hit point problem. The reason hit points work is because hit points are simple, can represent in a narrative, abstract fashion what this will do in a systematic and mechanical fashion, and ultimately – in games where stats turn every encounter into a math problem – it always seems that the best course of action is the one that ends with the enemies dead the fastest.

Nonetheless – I’m fascinated by the way we often see new ideas trickle into gaming. I’m fascinated by the way ideas come to life and we end up with new ways of doing the same things over and over again. It’s not a bad thing, it’s one of the most amazing aspects of our little hobby.

Thanks for reading.

PS… Oh, alright, I’ll admit it, I was a little bitter when I read that post… but just a little.


4 responses

  1. My first car, old when I got it, was a 1972 Plymouth Duster. And we both play Arcanum on 2013. Clearly you are my lost brother.

  2. I’ll read the rest and perhaps post another comment. I wanted to get this in immediately:

    My first car was a 1968 Dodge Dart.
    Mine was a blue (paint code UU1) 4 door sedan.
    I still have it actually. Plans to rebuild/restore are perpetually in the works.

  3. Sometimes I think the best game ideas come from non-gamers. They’re unburdened by the past and have no concept that something “can’t be done.”

    This is akin to why I actually envy new players to our hobby. Too often I see a game and immediately recognize its limitations. They see a game and (as I did once) immediately see the infinite possibilities.

  4. I can’t argue with that. I think sometimes that I’m a terrible gamer because I feel look at systems and immediately start breaking them down in my mind into their bits instead of just enjoying them.

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