Synanthropes: Killing my babies.

Synanthropes, is now on the receiving end of several thoughtful reviews and a couple of playtests. I’m watching reactions and making changes and enjoying the process but saying to myself, well, it’s about time to start killing some of my babies.

(It’s the Cane Toads, to be honest. Can’t write about cane toads without wanting to kill some babies, amirite?)

Right, not actual infanticide, but some massive design alteration. Specifically, it’s the hoard dice, and how it fits into the central die mechanic as a whole. It’s… it’s not working so great, to be honest.

Why isn’t it working so great? Well, let’s start with what it’s INTENDED to be: It’s intended to be a mechanical way of making the different characters DIFFERENT, rewarding them for acting in a manner which is… for want of a better way to put it, stereotypical. It says some things about how the different creatures act, and gives two points of intersection with the narrative: gaining hoard dice and losing hoard dice.

And there… there is part of the problem. On the one hand, there’s a balance issue here: characters must be reasonable able to gain and spend these dice at a similar rate, they must be equally interesting, equally useful, and not only is that incredibly difficult (oh my, yes) but it’s also… well, redundant. That’s what Traits are for, and those are tied specifically into the synanthrope’s physical form (and can easily be adapted to include their social upbringing as well).

Additionally, the hoard is intended to be a pool of dice that can be freely added to rolls when victory is paramount, or in order to increase the odds of finding a clue. And that’s all well and good… if they can be put into rolls easily. It’s silly to think, however, that roaches will only find clues when they’re getting squished in doing so, and rats only find clues by exposing secrets and so on and so forth. Since I dropped “Roll to find a clue” (which is for the best, I think) in favor of semi-random stumbling across clues, it makes since that they can come up at any time for any reason, although you should still be able to put in a little extra effort in order to push the outcome.

That said, I like the idea of a hoard in the abstract… it’s the things that you are keeping away from the others, and that allow you to be unique. The hoards as they are now hit on “keeping something from the others” sometimes, and “unique” occasionally, but never really hit both, and… well. They just aren’t doing it for me.

So I’m going to kill them.

Or, if I won’t be a toad eating my own tadpoles about this, I’m going to burn down the Hoard Dice mechanic as it currently stands, and allow something to grow in the ashes. Something different, something new, something… dare I say brilliant?

Are you ready?

Hoard POINTS.

No, no, don’t run away just yet! Hoard points instead of hoard dice, represented by, oh I don’t know, pennies or whatever, physical tokens you pick up and put down (which is way better than jotted-down numerals or physical dice which you might want to share or use for other things).

What gets saved: unique methods of regaining hoard points. In deference to the fact that, seriously, some shit was totes esoteric, these will be greatly simplified and now refer to coherent events within the narrative–something that might happen as often as once per floor. The Crow is able to studiously examine an artifact is a good example… specific, coherent, relatively common. I’ll be shooting for one hoard point per player per floor as a reasonable clip, though they’ll still be events that need to occur.

What gets changed: they will be much, much more powerful. At a baseline, any player can spend a point to add a die to any roll, or to re-roll any die. So, that’s pretty boss. Use as many as you want per roll. Yes. Secondly, the unique instances of being able to spend hoard dice will remain in spirit, but they will be opportunities to spend a hoard point and gain TWO dice. Ooh, double trouble. Roaches may stumble across clues at any time, but the odds are even higher when they’re swarming mindlessly over something. That, that I’m fine with.

Additionally, and here is where things get potentially wiggly: each species will have a unique Power. That’s a thing that they can just DO, no roll, nothing, which is activated by a hoard point. A Raccoon can get a door open, no need to roll, if he spends a point. A Toad can cause an injury, no roll. A Gecko, when they come to exist, can disappear from sight, no roll needed, if he spends a point.

What does this do for me? Well:

  1. It gives the animals animal-based superpowers. Maybe one, maybe two, maybe two or more. Perhaps an innate, biological ability and an acquired, cultural ability. I like the sound of that, and at this stage, throwing in things I like the sound of and seeing how it goes is pretty much my task as a designer.
  2. It helps re-enforce the notion that these creatures are truly different from one another, if one has an ability that the others simply lack, especially one which seems almost magical.
  3. It provides a measure of resource-management… if you can spend a hoard point at any time, is THIS the best time to spend one?
  4. It is much easier to expand on and adjust, as need be.
  5. It can be more thematically consistent, if I’m able to keep hoard generation linked to somehow HOARDING things.
  6. It should be more intuitive. Even down to the language of points versus dice. Intuitive is good.
  7. When in doubt, I can add other abilities to a hoard point. Friggin’… spend it to redraw the danger, to seize narration, to reroll a clue, to etc. etc. etc.; I don’t think those abilities NEED to exist, but if it seems that they are lacking I have a convenient place to shove them. I can also allow hoard points to be spent as narrative currency asymmetrically… that is to say, the Toad can always spend a point to spawn a creature looking to fight, while the Rat can spend a point to spawn some surviving texts worthy of investigation. That is a weird but compelling idea.

Okay, I’m a bad cane toad. I’m trying to kill my baby, but I just ended up with a different baby who looks similar and now I want to raise it like some sort of goddamn mammal. Shame on me.

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