Thursday, 30 July 2015

[Burning empires 2] Continuing my review

Right, now we've had a look at the conflict mechanics in burning empires and the basic dice mechanic. Now to look at some of it's other mechanics.

Major NPCs:

This is one of the more clever things in the building of the game in my opinion. For each player in the game, they should work with the GM to create a major NPC. These people are the major recurring opposition in the campaign. They are made up front, and here is the thing I love about it; each PC has to be entangled with one of these NPCs. In the first campaign I played of this system this meant that one of the major villans was one character's husband, and another was my character's political rival and best friend since childhood.

In play, this was great. It meant that we had a scene at dinner, where we talked to the major "bad guys" from the game. We all talked in a civilized manner, and discussed the matters of the day. Later, when something bad happened to my pc's childhood friends, my pc declared war on them. Despite him being the opposition for the campaign. It made things personal. It drove drama. It meant we cared about the other side to a certain degree. It was great.

Scene economy:

This is one of the big deals in the game. Play does not proceed in the normal way of the game. Instead there is a specific way you get to do scenes. Everyone in the game gets a set allocation of scenes. You get:

1) a conflict scene. You can use the mechanics from one of the types of a conflict in here. You spend time in these scenes fighting or debating, generally.
2) an building scene. Here you can make three rolls, which can't be a conflict set of rolls. You spend your time in these scenes building things, researching things or sneaking in somewhere.
3) an interstitial scene. You use this to roleplay with another character. No rolls are allowed.
4) a colour scene. Use this to show colour from the setting, or show something happening. You generally introduce the stuff you will work on later here.

Every major character gets these. So, one set for each of the PC's and each of the major NPCs. Once you have done these you have finished a phase (see below).

At first I though I would loath this. It seemed like it would constrain how I played and make everything seem artificial. But when I played it the first time it didn't. It gave us structure. It meant that play seemed to run well, and we were amazed. At the time I bored some of my friends about this new idea. Then we played a new campaign, and instead of helping thing it sucked. It got in the way, plot didn't make sense. So from two campaigns from this I am one time loving it and one time hating it. So, this is some ambivalence from me. Once again, it feels like a great idea in the system that then does not quite work how we would hope.

Meta points.

So, the burning whatever games have a system where you can earn points to spend on rolls. These come in three flavours. Little ones, medium ones and big ones. The little ones are common and don't do a great deal (make 6's explode on the dice). The medium ones you get about one or two a session and give you a bonus dice. The big ones DOUBLE YOUR DICE POOL. You get one for winning one of the phases (see below). You get them in play, you spend them and it is pretty good generally, but not terribly exciting. They are not anything stupid like being xp.

Belief, Instincts, Traits

Okay, the burning whatever games have got something called beliefs, instincts and traits. These are three things that differentiate characters and are varying degrees of clever. 

Beliefs are things your character believes in. They should generally be action orientated and achievable in the nearish term. Conquer the world is a bit much, perhaps you might want to make it forge an alliance or an army to do it with. When you either fulfill or dramatically break a belief, you get one of the meta game points, that let you do dice tricks in play.

Instincts are something I think is very smart. They are a thing that your character always does without you having to say it. "I am  always armed" or "I always check out where I am going before I get there" or something. These are a great way of solving problems about preparedness of pcs by allowing them to specify a certain number of small actions they have always done.

Traits Are small words about your character that are definitively true. The might be that you are "angry" or "hairy". You can get some meta game points for going along with your traits.

Experience system

This game has a weird but engaging experience system. Your skills have a value, and you look up how many checks you need to make at a certain value to go up a level. These have to be against a certain difficulty. And once you get to a highish level of skill, some of those levels will be so high you are desperately improbable to actually succeed. You get xp for a check, succeed or fail though. So you will sometimes set your own character a really difficult task with the certain knowledge he or she will fail, so you can get the sweet difficult check. Especially as you sort of call for your own rolls in this game, it gives a reason to drive players to do things that they might fail at. This has driven some good play in the games I have played, but it can also lead to people doing uninteresting things to get checks. So again,they do good things but have an unfortunate side effect at times.

Infection mechanics

So, the most unusual thing in this game replete with unusual thing is that it is legitimately competitive. The players are against the GM, and at the campaign there will be a winner and a loser. There is a whole conflict system related to this. This is... unusual, to say the least. It comes with a curtailing of gm authority, which some will like and some will hate. But each side can make a roll in the conflict at the end of a session to try and build or degrade disposition. If your character did something to help, then they can help. The side which runs out of dispo first loses the phase.

This is weird and poisoned some of our fun. It also has an odd effect of players end up spending all of their metagame points on these rolls. Since they let you WIN THE CAMPAIGN. This leads to players not spending them in play when they might be interesting. Since you get a big point for winning one of the three phases and it then lets you double your pool in a task what happens is:

1) side A wins the first phase. All characters get a big metagame point.
2) first character rolls in the next phase. Doubles his or her pool,. Since this game's mechanic means that you compare number of successes and the threshold is what matters, doubling your pool very much more than doubles your effective number of succeses.
3) player 2 does it next session. Side A continues to dominate the infection
4) players continue until out of deed points. Slaugheter the opposition in this phase and get a deed point each.
5) go to 1.

Basically it is a weird positive feedback loop which means that once you have one the first phase, then you have to fuck up hard to not just trounce everything later. Which is no fun for the person who can see they have lost, but there is a good 9 sessions until this is official. I really, really did not liek the infection mechanics. If I ran again, I would absolutely not use them. It is one of the major reasons why I will end up saying this game is nearly great.

.... this is getting long. I will finish up tomorrow.

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