Joined: 03 May 2011
|Posted: Sat Dec 02, 2017 2:26 am Post subject: Evil Overlord Realm Management
|So I have a game called Dark Lord that I've been toying with for some time now, and the major stumbling block so far is the realm management system, which I am consistently unable to sketch out in such a way that I actually like. Here's the basic idea:
Each player plays as a dark lord in a sinister villain council. The council meets up once each year or season or whatever frame of time is most convenient for the realm management system to occur on. During the council, the players all agree that each of them will take care of certain matters during the year/season/whatever, so for example the Troll King is going to sack the dwarves' strongholds and the Fairy Queen is going to keep Sir Stabsalot out of their hair. After the council, each Dark Lord plays out one adventure as their Dark Lord, while the other players play as expendable minions of that Dark Lord.
So, in the adventure where the Troll King is sacking dwarven strongholds, the Troll King's player plays as himself, and the other players play as assorted goblins and orcs and so on. The current Dark Lord gets a number of Favor points to hand out to minions equal to the current number of minions in the party less one, so he can't hand a point out to everyone. Favor points do nothing for a Dark Lord, but if a minion reaches the end of the adventure with Favor points, the player controlling the minion can bank those Favor points as some kind of Fate points or Karma points or something for their Dark Lord to use, either during the realm management phase, as character advancement, or maybe as some kind of Edge-style boost they can fall back on when running their own adventure, although (side problem) I don't know if that'll be enough motivation for players to want to accumulate them, and everyone who isn't playing their Dark Lord right now is pretty much engaged only to the extent that they want to get Favor points, so those need to translate into some real goodies when they get banked as Fate (or whatever) for that player's Dark Lord. In any case, Favor doesn't carry over if your minion dies and you have to roll a new one, so once a minion has Favor, survival suddenly becomes a much higher priority. On the other hand, if one minion is soaking up all the Favor, others may conspire to bump that minion off in order to spread the love around - and since minions are ultimately pretty expendable, this is not the end of the world.
This whole structure is basically there to make OSR style random character generation palatable, by leaning on (and cleaning up) Ars Magica style round robin gameplay. Minions roll their stats randomly and can qualify for different classes depending on their stat line and which Dark Lord they're working for. In order to qualify as a vampire blood mage, you must roll 14 INT, 12 CHA, and 11 WIS, and you also have to be playing as a minion of the Lich King right now. Minions level up at the end of each adventure, and upon reaching level 5, they can be retired for an immediate boost of Favor, which is very small for powerful units but enormous for weak units. If your statlines don't qualify you for any real classes and you end up playing as fodder with no class features, you can try to cower behind your party mates for five adventures until you retire and get a huge Karma payout, or you can immediately suicide-rush the very first enemy you find and die horribly so you can reroll your character. Those are both completely fine and in-theme things to do.
So that's what an adventure looks like. The question then is: What do Dark Lords do during the council phase, when they all get together and decide who is going to take care of what? I know I want it to have a couple of features:
-I want each Dark Lord to have their own demesne that can be invested with resources to unlock goodies, many of which are minion-relevant. Better default equipment for various classes, for example, stat boosts to certain stats (i.e. all minions have +2 CON at generation) to make it easier to qualify for better classes (and also for higher bonuses on relevant rolls), maybe a deeper treasury which allows them to hand out more Favor. I'd also like them to be able to invest resources in order to unlock more class features, mainly in the area of getting themselves new spells and/or artifact weapons/armor. I am also considering the idea of having sort of "Wonders" that a Dark Lord can build, which are basically just resource sinks, but I'm worried that there will be too few players who look at that and say "I want to get that just to prove I can," which means it's basically just going to be the "we've already bought everything anyway" improvement, and I'm not sure there needs to be one of those. I am always interested in more ideas for things a Dark Lord can buy for their own personal demesne.
-I need to figure out what resources Dark Lords use to buy these things. The simplest route is to just have "plunder" which is used to buy everything. A more complex route would involve having somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-7 different resources. The latter can open up some interesting interplay in the council phase where, for example, the dwarves have lots of Industry but the elves have lots of Agriculture, and the guys who need more Agriculture want to go conquer the elves and the guys who need more Industry want to go conquer the dwarves, and people are trying to figure out if maybe they can stretch themselves far enough to do both?
-I know that I want opposition to send retaliation forces that have to be intercepted, based on a random chart or a deck of cards or something, and someone's got to go on a low-plunder or no-plunder adventure to stop them or else everyone's going to get their demesne raided, which will damage improvements and/or inhibit passive resource flow. I have not figured out exactly how this will work, in large part pending on how many resources I'll even have.
And here's the big constraint hanging over it all:
It absolutely cannot take more than six council phases to have a satisfying campaign. If you have five players, six council phases is thirty adventures. That's something like a year of weekly gaming, and you can't go much lower than five players without each Dark Lord showing up with so few minions that it feels kind of pathetic. Four players (so, in an adventure, one Dark Lord + three minions) feels like bare minimum, and is a 24-adventure campaign for six council phases. Dark Lords cannot be reliably skipped on certain years/seasons, even if they're given a pile of resources to compensate, because it is expected that players will want their turn being the boss and telling the other players that whoever kills that paladin gets a Favor point. So there must be at least four or five Dark Lords, and they must get a turn every year/season, which means the system must be able to deliver on a satisfying campaign in no more than six council phases, and preferably less.
One approach I've been considering is the one taken by games like Terra Mystica. There are a number of things collectively for sale, and a number of resources collectively available for exploitation, and you go around the table in turns taking actions until everyone passes (presumably because they're out of resources). So, a Dark Lord has to weigh whether they want to put a token down to claim the Industry bonus now, or if they want to buy the Meteor Storm spell with the plunder they got from last turn's adventure, based on whether or not they think one of the other Dark Lords is going to take one of those things. If no one else is using a whole lot of Industry, maybe it's best to make a break for the spell and hope that bonus is still available when your next turn rolls around.
I think this is probably a fruitful avenue for exploration, but it also requires that I design a Eurogame. I don't want to shy away from the best execution of the idea just because it'll be a lot of work (that's pretty much setting out to achieve mediocrity at best), but I am very much interested if anyone has any suggestions on designing that Eurogame.
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