Thursday, March 9, 2017

Downtime In Demon City

This is for the new game I'm building from scratch--Demon City.

The pitch is here, the Patreon is here

....and at the current rate of funding I'll be done writing and painting it in a year.

I've added a new reward level since launch--for 3 dollars a month you can be in on the playtest doc when it comes out.

Anyway, I wanted to start off by showing some of the ways Demon City is going to be mechanically different from games you've seen before, so here are the regaining chill/level-up rules...

There are horrors in the city and, if you're playing the game right, the player's characters will see them. They'll see mutilation and terrible hybrid things that should not have been and yet were there all the same. If the characters survive, they'll get to take a break.

Downtime happens when the party finishes a significant, major confrontation (for example, after getting through an hours-long assault on a hotel by a besieging army of eyeless ghouls or after almost dying on a suspension bridge during what video gamers call a boss fight) and then has at least 24 hours to rest afterward. Downtimes is the main way that characters improve, and the main way they regain lost Calm points*. No matter how much time passes in-game between adventures you only get one Downtime roll.

When the Host** announces Downtime...

-First: everybody gets the following option--turn one of the (non-hostile) people they met during the adventure into a Contact or gain one skill point to spend on any of the skills they used (success or failure) in the course of the adventure.
-Second: if the menace was defeated, they will all regain a point of Calm.
-Third: each players should announce what their main Downtime activity will be while they're recovering and then roll on the appropriate table to see how it went.

Each Downtime activity has its own potential risks and rewards, detailed below. "Other Hobbies" is currently the catch-all for anything not covered, but Hosts should feel free to make up tables for their own Downtime activities using these as a template and any of y'all reading this can feel free to recommend things that should be included or otherwise politely kick my tires. This game is, after all, not finished and it is being written in public.

No ability can drop below zero due to a Downtime roll, so risky activities become less risky once you have nothing left to lose. The Calm stat can never go above its original maximum due to Downtime activities.

Having a buddy is better: If multiple party members agree to do the same Downtime activity (read the same book, go to the same therapist***, drink together, etc), roll twice, take the better result, and apply it to everyone who participated. Note you only roll twice for that particular joint activity no matter how many party members are participating. There's one exception: If any of the participants in the activity are addicts (see below) they must roll a separate Drugs or Drinking roll as described below, and take the group result or the Drugs or Drinking roll result, whichever is lower.

Hosts should make a note of what happens to characters during Downtime, as these events can provide seeds for the next adventure.

Here's what I've got so far, in order of effectiveness for regaining Calm:

Drugs will almost certainly help you regain Calm, but they have a good chance of inflicting all-new trauma you'll then have to get over. If you become addicted, during each subsequent Downtime you must roll a Drugs roll along with any other Downtime roll (or two Drugs rolls) and take whichever result is worse. The only way to stop once addicted is to start taking Detox during Downtimes--in which case you only have to roll once on the Detox table.

1 Yeah, sorry, you're a mess, lose a point off a random ability, lose a point of Calm, and if you aren't addicted already, you are now.
2 It's never quite enough: regain a point of Calm but lose a point off Cash or lose a random Contact (50-50 chance), and if you aren't addicted already, you are now.
3 This is really good stuff. Regain a point of Calm, but if you aren't already an addict, you are now.
4-7 Well it does the trick, regain a point of Calm.
8-9 You woke up in a bathtub but it was ok. Regain a point of Calm and a criminal Contact
10 Drugs are great! There was this big house, and there were these guys... return Calm to maximum and gain a new random Contact.

Drinking works like drugs but less so: decent but slightly smaller chance of regaining Calm, decent but slightly smaller chance of ruining your life. If you become addicted, during each subsequent Downtime you must roll a Drinking roll along with any other Downtime roll (or two Drinking rolls) and take whichever result is worse. The only way to stop once addicted is to start taking Detox during Downtimes--in which case you only have to roll once on the Detox table.

1 You're sad and sloppy and rock-bottom, lose a point off a random ability, lose a random Contact, and if you aren't addicted already, you are now.
2 You should've quit while you were ahead--if you aren't addicted already, you are now. If you already are, lose a point of Calm or a Contact (50-50 chance).
3-4 Hey that was a crazy night.
5-9 That took the edge right off. Regain a point of Calm.
10 People like you better drunk--Regain a point of Calm and a new random Contact.

Therapy won't smother the horror quite as fast as liquor or heroin but leads to a lot less getting screamed at by people you don't know in bathrobes.

1 This brought up some...stuff. Lose a point of Calm and a point of Cash.
2 We need to meet more than once a week, lose a point of Cash.
3-5 Ok, well hold off on that, time's up for now.
6-9 Well, I'm just glad I could help, regain 1 Calm.
10 I think we've really isolated what's been holding you back--return Calm to maximum and get a Skill point.

You're on the couch watching more Netflix and cat videos than you probably should.

1 You haven't been out much and you're losing perspective. Lose a point of Knowledge or Perception  (50-50 chance) 
2-6 I liked the first season better.
7-9 Yeah, it's boring, but you could use a little boring right now. Regain 1 Calm.
10 Sucked down the BBC rabbit-hole. Regain 1 Calm and gain 1 Knowledge-based skill point.

Not just feeding yourself, this indicates immersing yourself thoroughly enough in cooking (or baking or wine-making or any other gustatory activity) involved enough to be a therapeutic activity. It's fairly low-risk/low-reward as Downtime activities go.

1 You're too good at this, you're getting out of shape--lose a point of Toughness.
2-6 Congratulations, it was delicious.
7-10 All that recipe-researching and dough-rolling took your mind off your problems. Regain 1 Calm.

Family or Friends
This can be hanging out with spouse and kids at home or visiting the extended family--including via vidchat or phone, or friends who have absolutely nothing to do with investigating occult atrocities (yet). It provides some chance of regaining Calm, and a slim chance of losing more.

1 Tyler did what?--lose a point of Calm.
2-6 Nobody forgot anybody's birthday, nobody lost any teeth.
7-10 Mild-mannered card games and domestic bliss, regain 1 point of Calm.

Exercise or Meditation
You throw yourself into disciplining your mind and/or body beyond what most people can handle. This includes lone exercise, basketball, yoga, whatever. Clean living can be calming, but it's not as much of an easy fix as indulgence.

1 You're starting to bore anyone who doesn't want to talk about squats or sprouts. Lose a point of Appeal.
2-7 Good job, time to get dressed.
8-9 You're a finely-tuned machine, regain a point of Calm, Agility or Toughness (if exercising) or Calm, Appeal or Perception (if meditating).
10 Hey it worked!
Gain a point of Agility or Toughness
Regain a point of Calm, Agility or Toughness plus gain a physical skill point (if exercising) or Calm, Appeal or Perception plus gain a Perception or Appeal-based skill point (if meditating).

Other Hobbies
This is any niche thing not covered by the other categories, like tabletop role-playing games, fixing cars, or building dollhouse miniatures. They can be calming but they also isolate you from people not into the hobby which, by definition, is most people.

1 You're getting weird. Lose a point of Appeal or Cash.
2-7 You did that? Cool.
8-9 It's good to get away from all this craziness and build a world of your own, regain a point of Calm.
10 You entered a contest or somebody bought one or something, regain a point of Calm and gain a point of Cash.

This doesn't including reading case files or obscure Gnostic texts, just recreational reading. Reading is one of the safest Downtime activities but also one of the least likely to completely distract you from the horrors you've experienced.

1-8 It was ok, the last chapter was a little weak.
9 Oh man, it's already 1 am? Regain a point of Calm. If you lost any points of Knowledge you regain one.
10 I didn't want it to end! Regain a point of Calm and gain 2 points in any Knowledge or Perception-based skills. If you lost any points of Knowledge you regain one.

This includes any kind of broad act of altruism toward strangers or community participation, from doing hospice care to booking a festival for a DIY venue to going to church. No risk, but only a slight chance of reward--that isn't the point, right?

1-8 Well you've got that warm inner glow
9 This is real right here, not that thing in the kitchen with the teeth like icepicks. Regain a point of Calm. If you lost any points of Appeal, you regain one.
10 You're genuinely connecting with people. Regain a point of Calm plus if you lost any points of Appeal you regain them all, or gain a random Contact.

Meeting people
Making an effort to hang out with new people can be nerve-wracking, so isn't too likely to result in regaining Calm, but you stand a good chance of learning something. In order to make a new friend, choose a Contact--you'll be hanging out with that Contact and their friends. The other player characters in the party don't count as Contacts.

1-6 Hey look, they accepted your friend request
7-8 Oh, I always wondered how you did that...gain a Skill point in any skill the Contact has that you don't, or one that they have at a higher level than you.
9 What was her name again? You gain a Skill point in any skill the Contact has that you don't, or one that they have at a higher level, plus meet another Contact in the same field.
10 You really hit it off, regain a point of Calm and gain a Skill point in any skill the Contact has that you don't, or one that they have at a higher level than you.

Only necessary for alcoholics and drug addicts, this is the arduous process of drying out. This roll covers any number of methods from 12-step to therapy to doing some other Downtime activity as a way of getting clean. At best, you get back where you started.

1-8 You're still craving, try again next time.
9 You kicked! Next Downtime you can go back to choosing from the usual list. However if you choose whatever you just kicked, you'll be immediately re-addicted.
10 You kicked and managed to network in the process. Gain a random Contact and next Downtime you can go back to choosing from the usual list. However if you choose whatever you just kicked, you'll be immediately re-addicted.

You refuse to take a break--there are things out there and you've seen them... Unlike exercise, this is using all your time between cases pushing toward learning a specific skill rather than doing anything that could be regarded as recreational. It is almost always a bad idea.

1-5 You need a vacation, -1 Calm.
6-9 You managed to tire yourself right out. Luckily you also managed to sleep some.
10 Obsession has its benefits, add two skill points.

*If your Calm goes below zero you're permanently, constantly, obviously and unplayably insane. Calm is a whole other chapter but for this blog entry I'll point out it functions a bit like Sanity, Wisdom or Willpower in other games, though conceptually it's more like chill--or the stat some games refer to as "Cool". It's not called Sanity because you might not say (for example) becoming an alcoholic makes you more sane, but you could well argue it blunts the pain of traumatic memories-and that's what we're talking about here.

**Calling the game-master the Host at the moment.

***You're not supposed to, but people do it.
If you like it--toss up some support for Demon City.


Sean McCoy said...

Just to make sure I understand correctly - this is the primary way to mechanically advance your character? I like that you have the choice to gain a chance at restoring what's lost, or to gain a chance to gain a future advantage (like with a skill improvement). So in some (maybe most if the host is doing their job) situations you'll be just trying to get back to normal as quick as possible, but good play (like you survive the ghost onslaught but also didn't read every dang old creepy book you found) means you can instead take a track where you have a higher chance of improvement, rather than worrying about getting calm again.

What's the scenario where it would be better to ignore calm and instead go for skill improvement (like work)? Maybe if you know something is coming up and you really need to shore up a weakness in an area to prepare for it?

Anyways - love it all so far, increasing my pledge!

Zak Sabbath said...

This is the main advancement track--remember you also get a free skill point or contact on top of anything that comes out of Downtime activities.

Working through downtime is almost always a bad idea (both for the developing campaign--it's less interesting-- and for the character's self interest--they should take a break), and it's mechanically weighted to be that way.

The choices where it's better to ignore calm might be chosen in 3 situations:

-The character has lost no Calm, so doesn't need to get any back

-The character has a lot of Calm and so is willing to risk possibly losing some or not getting any back in order to get some other advance

-The player is having fun playing someone one the edge--they can't drop below zero and become unplayable solely due to Downtime so they'll get at least one more session of play before being unplayable

Sean McCoy said...

Oh! That's right, I forgot that you get the free skill point or contact. That makes sense re: working.

I'm excited to hear more about the contacts system. This seems under utilized in a lot of games (like all cyberpunk type games), or at least underdeveloped.

Sean F. Smith said...

I'm hoping that Host has less of the welcome-to-my-house kind of vibe and more a parasitic-symbiosis sort of thing

Revenant said...

I like it. Simple and keeps players from focusing on the boring between-adventure bits.

Apologies if I missed it (I'm reading on a tiny phone), but would healing be a downtime activity too (hospital stay, etc)? Or is healing up from sewer cannibal bites separate from drinking away the memory of their existance?

Zak Sabbath said...

I was thinking like:

-RPG is a party, you are the host, this is the way to think

-Parasitized proxy for the Horror which uses the Host to express itself

-liek the Crypt Keeper or Elvira

Zak Sabbath said...

It's a good question and frankly the reason I haven't answered it yet is I haven't decided exactly. I want healing to be a thing (so you don't want to get banged up) but I don't want to take people out of a session if they're just injured. I also think it's possible to like read while convalescing, etc and then there's the issue of how, in US campaigns healing will take Cash but in like Montreal or London it doesn't, at least for now.

So I'm still thinking on it.

Sean McCoy said...

You could have damage reduce your conflict die a size down. Maybe spend calm to get it back up a size. This is you being calm enough to like think to take care of yourself (bandage, seek help, whatever) that may be too abstract or may hurt the percentages too much in conflict resolution.

Brandon said...

I don't know how much "realism" you want polluting your horror RPG, but with therapy, I'd suggest some kind of cumulative improvement in roll results or chances, since therapy tends to be an ongoing thing. I mean, you're not going to go every day, but I could see once a week or once a month. So maybe if the first roll has a neutral or negative effect, the next roll is 2d10, or something like that to represent how ongoing therapy can provide benefits. But there could also be a risk that one could become dependent upon therapy.

Truth told, I do already like therapy as you have posited it. But you are also welcome to take any of my thoughts here gratis. I love when you go in-depth about mechanics because that's my favorite part of RPGs - how mechanics interact with setting and the real world.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think that's realistic but -- in play --that encourages the idea of therapy as a kind of long-term investment that starts to define the character and I think more people should be encouraged to think of therapy the other way around: If you're traumatized, get professional help, it doesn't have to become a Whole Thing. Characters can get counselling without becoming a Counselled Character--unlike an alcoholic who, yeah, really becomes and alcoholic.

Lasgunpacker said...

Is there a set time span for a downtime? If yes, then healing could take a "downtime" per healing unit (hit point? wound?), x number of downtimes spent healing allow you to choose a downtime activity and roll.

Zak Sabbath said...

There is not a set time

Lasgunpacker said...

I like your downtime concept, and how it is a more thematic version of a carousing table. I wonder though how it interacts with healing as indicated in the comments above, because without magic healing even the smallest of injuries can take a really long time. A player with a chest wound or something might be out of the game for months.

Then again, if you have demons, maybe you have angels too, or some other source of "good" magic that can heal up the broken.

And this might count as a hobby, but conspicuous consumption is certainly how some people avoid thinking. Shopping (Ebay/malls/department stores/boutiques whatever), or attending art events. Spend a point of cash, have a chance to regain calm/make a contact.

Revenant said...

Maybe a penalty on the downtime roll based on how messed up you are. A lot of people wind up addicted to painkillers...