Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Something new! Designing new items and gear for your games.

What do I do with this?

So, today is all request Tuesday here at the Gamewerks, Gentle Readers. My good, good friend from the Great White North, Dr. Braden Campbell GM;Phd, dropped me a line last night to let me know that he'd finally gotten around to reading Motor City Gamewerks. Apparently they get the internets delivered by mule up there in Canada, or all their tubes are clogged with maple syrup or something, 'cause it sure took him long enough. Anyway, he wanted to let me know that he was enjoying what he read. So I asked him if he'd like to see anything in particular here, and he suggested that I do an article about making item and gear for your game. Specifically, items and gear that fit, make sense and don't break the setting when they ultimately fall into the grasping hands of your players. So, come on down to the lab with me, and see what's on the slab.

Every piece of custom equipment made for a game, from medkits to magic rings to load-bearing gear, is an answer to a question asked by either the players or the game master himself. It's a way to add distinct flavor to a setting or plug holes in equipment tables. These holes, which are typically, but not always, left there by the game designer on purpose, are there to allow for expansion by either players and game masters or in future game supplements. Honestly, as much as most gamers, me included, love stuff, no one wants half of their main book taken up with the minutiae of everything a player can stuff in his load-bearing vest. That's what sourcebooks are for. Anyway, if you're going to open this huge can of worms, and trust me, it's a huge can of worms, let me give you some advice on how to go about it.

Believe it or not, there are a ton of little details you have to keep in mind when designing something for your game. Is it unique or mass produced? Who will use it? How will it be used? How will it be abused? Does it make sense in the setting? Does it have, for lack of a better term, balance? Something as simple as a new kind of sidearm or a cursed item can completely turn a game inside out if it's out of proportion with the rest of the setting. Honestly though, if you can explain why the item exists and justify it within the context of the setting, balance tends to follow.

For example, let me tell you about my experience writing guns and gear for my as yet unpublished UEEF Marine Corps book. First I sat down and asked myself some questions about the UEEF Marines and their order of battle.  

Where do they fight? Aboard ships obviously, but also on hundreds of planets across the Masters' hegemony. So they're going to need both spaceborne and land based weapon systems and personal equipment that can withstand the rigors of constant changes in climate and atmosphere.

How do they fight? My vision for the UEEF Marines was a fast, light, combined arms force with aerospace and ground elements that could quickly adapt to the kind of constantly changing battlefields that they'd find throughout the Masters' vassal worlds. So I needed armored cav, air cav, mechanized infantry, fast, transatmospheric transports and modular weapon systems. I looked at what the modern Marine Corps uses, proposed future systems like the MRAP and the EFV, and extrapolated from there.

What do they fight with? Everything from Marine specific capital ships down to the medkits that individual marines wear on their load-bearing gear needed to have a reason, needed to fit somewhere in the order of battle, and, above all, had to make sense. One question I felt I had to answer was why do the UEEF Marines carry a slug thrower in an age of personal focused energy weapons, a fact that I'd established in Shadow Chronicles? Tradition and bloody mindedness mostly, which honestly is as good a reason as any. I had other questions though. How do they communicate and keep their enemy from communicating? How do they carry their personal equipment? All important, or at least important to me, to flesh out their reality and really give them that verisimilitude that I'm always going on about.

Once I'd answered these questions, the rest was easy. I made a list, filled in some gaps and ended up with what I thought would be a pretty strong representation of a future combined force's order of battle, with plenty of room for expansion in further supplements. Now, I know that this kind of weapon/gear design is of a greater scale than what most of you need, but it's easily adapted. Just take a look at what you need and what you need it to accomplish. Keep in mind how you want your invention to be used, and try to imagine how it will be misused by your players. Trust me, they'll misuse it. Finally, always be aware of how your shiny new bauble relates to the guns and gear that already exist in the game. There's nothing worse than an overpowered item, unless it's an underpowered one. Next post, I'll talk about statting out your new inventions, and when and how to give them modifying effects.


Anonymous said...

Our internets are currently clogged with Olympic Gold Medals, just so you know.

In relation to the article, immagining how the Players will abuse it is definately the first thing one should consider. If nothing else, it will tell you what the item cannot do, and that too is a place to start.

A. Ringia said...

Just catching up on the last few blogs, pesky work...
As a marine in space, I think that i would worry about breaching my spacecraft, and a slugthrower might not have the penetration that a focused energy beam does. Also, the wound trauma from a slug might incapacitate better than the self cauterizing wound of a beam.
Die young...Call of Cthulhu didn't seem to have this problem, if you lasted more than one or two sessions it was cause for celebration!