Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting a Re-Alignment

My last post on alignments got some interesting comments that got me thinking. Which is good. I want a well-thought out system.

So what does a good alignment system need?

1) It should be descriptive, not proscriptive. That is, it should represent what a character actually is or does rather than what they should or shouldn't be. And there's nothing to D&D's alignment system that really forces it to be one way or the other. It's just that all of the horror stories of gaming paint alignment as a tiny inflexible box that your character has to live in.

2) It should include a carrot more than a stick. Rather than punishing players for breaking alignments, reward them for sticking to them. FATE's Aspects and Burning Wheel's Beliefs, Instincts and Traits do this by awarding the player with a metagame cookie when they stick by their statements.

3) The carrot should not be exclusive to the metagame. One of the hallmarks of an old school game is that there is very little separation between the meta-level (where the players and GM are playing a game) and the narrative level (where the characters live). Some games have even gone so far as to incorporate ideas like classes and levels in ways that lets players talk about them in-character.

4) It should be open to change. One of the things with my media examples from my last alignment post was that they demonstrated a character growing and stretching outside their particular alignment "box" without shattering it completely. So an ideal alignment system should allow us to see characters grow and change in outlook as they're also growing in power.

In the comments on that post, Tedankhamen mentioned the Stormbringer RPG, which I happen to have on my shelf. It fits all the criteria listed above. Rather than telling the player what they can or cannot do, the Stormbringer rules instead provide something of a journal of their accomplishments. By courting one Power over another, characters gain cool abilities from that Power. And these Powers exist in the universe presented in the setting, so the mechanic is not meta at all.

The only downside to the mechanic is that it is functionally overseen by the gods of the setting (as played by the GM). I'm not planning for there to be major divine influences in the BTR setting (though the possibility does intrigue me), so I'm probably looking for something a little more mundane.

I'm thinking of a reputation mechanic. But not just a simple measure of fame or infamy. When you advance your reputation, you create one or more narratives about yourself. I might go with specific categories of reputation, or I might allow players to choose epithets for themselves (i.e. Choose between being Sir Robin the Brave, Sir Robin the Coward, or Sir Robin the Terrible). I kind of like the epithet thing because it would encourage player to make their reputations simple, clear and punchy.

Just like everything else in the system, make it percentile based. So if you have 1 reputation point, you have a 1% chance of being recognized, and it will be for whatever you got your reputation point for. If you have, say, 10 points being "Sir Robin the Brave" and 10 points of being "Sir Robin the Terrible", you have a 10% chance of being known for bravery and a 10% chance of being known for atrocities. To make it a little smoother and quicker, let's build a little reputation "mini-table": 1-10 "Brave" 11-20 "Terrible" 21-00 No recognition.

But what happens if you get 100 point of reputation? In that case, it seems that everyone has heard about something you've done. What happens if you're at 100 and you do something else awesome? In that case, whatever reputation you earn "squeezes out" a point of some other reputation. So if you picked up some "Coward" reputation early in your career, you can apply a newly earned point of "Brave" to increase your "Brave" total and reduce your "Coward" total so everything stays at 100 points total.

What do you think?