Mercenary Mondays: Trust!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

This is what my Google Drive is currently showing. Yes, that’s probably what you think it is…or what the title says in the picture below.

ImageIsn’t that just super exciting? I wanted to start off with a discussion of the underlying principles of my design theories behind the Schlock Mercenary RPG. Here is a link to Jeff Grubb’s theory of “high/low trust” roleplaying systems. To paraphrase for the tl;dr crowd,

“The idea of a “High Trust” game involves that the players are setting down with a general idea of what their purpose is – both from the idea of genre and the rules themselves. Yeah, the mechanics might be cheesed, but that’s not the point – you have a big ball of examples and different ways to resolve them. The GM has to think on his feet to resolve issues, as do the players, and often the GM and the players are teaming up to figure out the best way to resolve a situation. 
At the opposite end are “Low Trust” games, which try to map out all the possibilities and set down specific rules for handling different situations neatly and effectively. 4E is pretty solid on that, but we can also add Champions from back in the day and GURPs as well.”

The idea of high trust and low trust RPGs are simple in theory. High trust = generally less rules. Low trust = generally more rules. That’s a gross oversimplification, but one that is necessary. Here is why. When Howard came to me and brought up the idea of doing the Schlock Mercenary RPG, I leapt at the chance. Not only did I get to work with a good friend and man I respect, but I get to create my own system inside an established universe? What more could I want?

Well, let me tell you. Things are not always as they seem, and quickly, I could see the daunting task I had accepted. Howard had crafted an extensive universe with a very specific feel. Humor through violence, satire, and wordplay was the order of the day, all against a massive space opera backdrop. Not to mention, he had a very specific mechanic designed around roleplaying and complications that can arise. So suddenly, I’m working in someone else’s sandbox and I have to play inside these rules they’ve set me. Hm. When you say it that way, it sounds much less appealing.

However, salvation is near at hand, and in the first conversation with Howard regarding the ideas for the rules, I pitched some changes to his ideas to help it fit the game better, and suddenly, we’re playing in the sandbox as a team. How does this relate to “high trust/low trust”? In a collaborative effort, you have to have a high trust team. A team with less rules, and more conversation to help guide the flow.

So here we are, about five months later, and the Schlock Mercenary RPG is well under way. We’ve had a public alpha test for charity. We’ve done about three months of alpha play ourselves at this point, and we’ve made some pretty serious progress.

But there’s struggles, and it all comes down to the core concept of the game. The issue becomes one of science fiction. By nature, scifi is a genre that is bound by it’s rules. Science is a real thing, full of fabulous actions, reactions, consequences and explorations. And by nature, one would assume, that a science fiction roleplaying game, would be one bound by rules. How does FTL work? Armor? Weapons? Cybernetics? Hacking? AIs? These are all real questions and theories that impact the world of science. How does one approach this? By nature, my first inclination was to begin working on a mighty tome of theory and science, to lend itself to marauding mercenaries. Alas, who would buy such a thing? Surely fans of the Schlockiverse would, but what about gamers? What were we going to do that was different to make our RPG better then anything before us.

Science fiction is too broad. It’s too varied. Star Wars. Star Trek. Farscape. BSG. Stargate. Just in those alone, you approach hundreds of theories, and ideas, and some of them are very strongly based in reality (some, not so much. Looking at you Star Trek).

If any of you have ever played the seminal scifi rpg Traveller you might understand my approach to the theory of the game. Traveller is a hard science fiction game. Science fiction can be either hard or soft. Hard SciFi is low trust. Full of rules, and math, and calculations. Soft SciFi is low trust. Star Wars (before all that midichlorins bull crap). Jedi and the Force work, simply because. Traveller has finite rules. You can only travel so far. You can only fly so fast. You even have a mortgage on your spaceship. You can only carry so much cargo, and fuel, and you need living space, and there’s actual percentage profit tables.

That’s not how we wanted to do it. This game is for players to tell the stories they want. So how do we set them up for that? Modularity (new word, made it up). There are lots of rules, and moving parts, but by keeping the base mechanic simple (3d6 + one number), and creating the rest of the game around the concept of a modular game, you can keep it as high or low trust as you want. Think of a lego house. The base rules of the game form the base (the large green platform you build on). The rules for races are one block you attack. The rules for starships are another block. So on and so forth until you built a house. And suddenly, all these modular rules become the full complete game. But you can take some parts out, and the house doesn’t fall apart. Same with the game. You don’t wanna do the starship rules? Great. Pull ’em out. They stand on their own anyways. Same with cybernetics. Any part of the game can be removed if the players and GM decide they want to modify it. Schlock veers towards the high trust end of the spectrum (especially in the complication mechanic), but we’re using the ruleset to cover all the major parts you’d expect from a space opera.

I’ll be attempting to do a weekly update regarding the Schlock Design process as we go through. The game is still in early alpha, and things are changing frequently, but hey, it’s always fun to see.