The failing I find in many TTRPGs is that they have several gameplay loops, pillars, or whatever – and end up only truly being a combat game with other bits added on. I’m trying to avoid that with Fractured Lands, and here’s how I plan on doing that.
I’ve mentioned previously that I want a few “pillars” of gameplay, and I’ve spent the past week or so thinking about what I actually want. I’ve narrowed it down to four key components:
- Combat. This goes mostly as you would expect it.
- Exploration. This is two bits – both Main Map exploration of finding new ruins, new locations and the like, and also in exploring locations as well.
- Interaction. Social interaction, primarily, but dealings with people generally fall under interaction
- Downtime. This has some social interaction, but it primarily deals with the shenanigans and things characters get up to between their big adventures.
Each component will have it’s own gameplay and mechanics, and additionally, each character will have a different level in each of the four components. That is, they’ll have a Combat level, an Exploration level, an Interaction level, and a Downtime level. These will unlock abilities relevant to each component. There may be some overlap but you won’t end up with the diplomat somehow ending up being a murder machine in combat simply because they’re 10th level.
I don’t think I need to go too deep into combat – You all know how it works. I’ve mentioned a few times before – and will mention again – that this game is inspired by XCOM and XCOM2. These two games have an action system – Essentially, you have two actions points. You can use both of them to move, or you can move and do something else. In most cases, that “Something else” ends the turn, but not always.
I’ve taken this system and expanded it a little. Instead of two action points, you have three. And, being a TTRPG that doesn’t have to worry about things such as programming limitations, I can include more obscure and weird things. There’s actions, such as attacks, that end your turn when you take them, but other actions won’t. Additionally, being three actions allows for a bit more flexibility. Two items that are easy examples are movement and attacks. By default, an attack is two actions and ends your turn. Moving can be one action, two actions, or three actions – And the two action move isn’t quite the same as two single-action moves, so you have that choice as well.
A character can stay where they are and make an attack. Or they can move a little and make an attack. They can, potentially, move, inspect the area, move, inspect the new area, and move again. Or try to catch up to their friends and make a multi-action move. There’s a lot of options here with a limited selection of tools – And the options get a lot more varied when you add in the potential of making an attack without ending the turn, or making an attack as a single action.
I originally had this worked as a five action system, but it didn’t really benefit from the extra actions. It ended up being closer to a two-action system with a small amount of things that some characters could do – Very similar to how D&D’s system has worked. I found that three actions works really well. I’m a bit curious if the Pathfinder team making Pathfinder 2nd Edition ended up going the same way. As it turns out, I didn’t know P2E had an extremely similar system until after I had settled on it, but that definitely makes me more interested in trying out P2E at some point.
Exploration will have two big things. First, you’ll be able to find things out in the wild. You’re on the road and a storm shows up. You look for shelter and spot a trail leading into the woods, leading to a cottage next to a pond at the other end. Or, you might be trailblazing trying to find the mythical Great Lake, only to run across an ancient, abandoned fortress. These interactions will, of course, lead to combat and interaction encounters, but they can also lead to further exploration and also stewarding things.
In addition to the wild things, there’s exploring a specific location. An abandoned fortress? Well, that sounds like it has a bunch of fun things in it! This will include a lot of traditional non-combat bits – Finding secret doors, searching rooms, unlocking doors, traps, and the like. A lot of the location exploration stuff will follow the same rules as combat – Initiative order, actions, and the like. And, in some instances, players might need to unlock a door during combat, or find that secret door as their only way out.
In many games, social interaction boils down to the Game Master’s improv skills and rolls of persuasion and intimidation. With Fractured Lands, I’m trying to give it significantly more depth. Characters can gain hooks and favors from people they know, and use them to gain things from them.
A hook is something a character can use to compel another person to do something. These can be something like knowledge of criminal activity, ilicit dealings, and the like, or they can be positional – A character who is part of the town guard can threaten to throw someone in jail if they don’t comply. Hooks are generally disliked and if a player continues to use them on a person, that person will figure out how to get rid of that character, perhaps by accepting the consequences of not complying (Or figuring out how to remove that threat over their head), or by becoming an enemy of the character.
A favor is something a person owes a character. Mechanically, they’re used in the same way as a hook, but there’s generally no consequences for using them unless the character’s being a jerk about things and making the person do something they might not normally. People don’t mind returning a favor, so the easiest way to get a favor is to do someone a favor. Favors are generally one-time things and a player usually can’t continue to use the same favor.
In addition to hooks and favors, which are on an individual basis, characters have reputation with factions. They work with individuals to further the goals of factions – or to hinder a faction. Locations can have one or more factions, and these factions are aligned, generally speaking, along one of five groups:
- Elites, such as aristocrats and rich people. These factions are the ones “in charge” of the regions.
- Clergy, of the various religions.
- Merchants, which can be the people that make products, powerful guids, or even traders.
- Townsfolk, your everyday local people that don’t have a stake in many other things
- Criminals, who live outside or on the fringes of the law.
Groups are wide categories a faction may fall into, but don’t determine a faction’s alliances. For example, in one city Elite factions and Criminal factions might be enemies – One sets the law and the other breaks it. But in another town, the Elites might be using some Criminals to do their dirty work. You might expect a Merchant guild to be enemies of the local thieve’s guild, but they might have an agreement in place to help smuggle in some of the more profitable but banned goods.
A location can have no factions of a given group – A small town might not have enough people for a merchant presence, for example. A location can also have multiple factions among a single group – Multiple clergy factions for different religions. Factions within a group can be allies or enemies of each other just like with other groups.
Typically speaking, doing something for one faction will raise your reputation with them. If that faction has allies, it will increase your reputation with those allies, and if that faction has enemies, it’ll decrease your reputation with them. Of course, this depends on if your acts are known – A secret operation likely won’t earn you any new enemies since they never know you were involved. Hopefully, at least.
Factions are excellent sources of quests, resources, items, and other typical adventuring staples. I plan on doing crafting at some point (It’s well after getting the other pieces in working order), and factions will help with getting resources, supplying tools, and gaining access to the appropriate workshops.
Downtime is the shenanigans that a character gets into between their major adventures. This can involve things from carousing to building up their Manor.
Downtime events are usually measured in weeks, although some shorter ones are measured in days. Downtime is often things that a character can do by themselves – looking for more information in a library, going to the gym, learning a new skill, crafting an item, and so on. Some things involve other people, such as overseeing construction on their Manor or carousing. Downtime activities give something at the end, such as a potential stat improvement, the knowledge being researched, and so on. In many instances, they can be paused, with the character doing something else for a time before coming back to the downtime activity. A few things can be delegated to others to do. There are activities that are similar to downtime activities, directly involved in the factions, that are part of Interaction. As with Exploration and Combat, Downtime shares a lot of mechanics with Interaction.
A character’s Manor is their home base, and they can build various wings and locations in it to make it best suit their needs. Building a library, for example, might improve their research. They can build a forge for crafting metal objects, and so on. Additionally, they can hire people to help them with various tasks. A faction representative can help them with dealings with that faction, while a forge master can craft some things for them, and a steward can handle a lot of things the character might otherwsie have to take care of themselves. Other characters can benefit from a manor, and multiple characters can even share a manor.
So, I mentioned that each of these four sections gets a different level. So, how does experience work? Well, it doesn’t.
Experience, often XP or Experience Points, has a lot of expectations and baggage with it. For one example, the lowest amount of XP you can get from a monster in 5e is 25. You need a few hundred XP to level, and often up to many thousands. One XP is basically useless, even at 1st level. And, in most games, the only examples of awarding XP is… by killing monsters. So to deal with these expectations, I’m going to be ditching XP.
But not experience, per se.
I’m going with a system tenatively called Plot Points. Plot points are going to be rewarded for doing… thing. And, as the plot part of the name implies, those things are story driven. Find an ancient castle? That’s a plot point. Convince a really unwilling person to help you? Plot point. Defeat a group of enemies? Plot point. Find a neat bit of lore from your research? Plot point.
Essentially, I want a plot point to be the point in the story that things change. Maybe not a lot, but even a little change can be significant. I also want to allow Game Masters to be able to award plot points for things that feel nice, even if they’re not listed in the rules. It’s also not limited to one plot point at a time – Maybe a particularly challenging encounter is three plot points. Or you found that lost tome that nobody thought existed, and it contained reams of info that changes how you view the bad guys, so that’s two plot points. There’s a lot of flexibility there.
I’m not sure of the scale, but I do want it to be relatively flat. That is, level 10 shouldn’t require 50,000 plot points while Level 2 requires 5. The idea is that low-level characters can coexist with high-level ones, without being powerleveld up to be really close. And with combat enemies, I’m hoping to have them be largely threatening the entire time. In XCOM, a sectoid can kill you really easy in the first mission. Running into a lone sectoid in the last mission isn’t much of a threat, but one lone, lucky sectoid can still take out a soldier. And if they’re with others, they’re still definitely a threat. I want the same thing for these enemies – always a threat, even though they’re less of a threat than they may have been previously.
While it would be simple enough, and make sense, to have each individual thing have it’s own individual pool of plot points, I’m not going to do that. There’s an amount of bookkeeping that’s just not fun, and I want to reduce that. So each character will have a pool of Plot Points that they get to choose how to spend. A research-type character might spend it in Downtime. A combat character will probably spend it in Combat. But, with a combined pool, a character doesn’t have to worry about skipping out on party things to keep their own plot points up.
Next Article: ???
I think I’ve laid enough of the groundwork for you to understand my design decisions with the game. The framework is built, and now it’s time to start fleshing things out.
I’m not sure what my next article will be on, but it’ll likely be a bit more detailed than these articles, but narrower in scope. On my plate are:
- The level structure – Characters gaining abilities, how many plot points go into each level, and so on.
- Enemy design – How I want to make the enemies work, briefly touched above.
- Character origins – How I want to discard the typical race/class/background structure common to many TTRPGS, and replace it with something that’s a lot more flexible.
- Mind your Manors – Some of my thoughts on how Manors work. I’ve done a pretty thorough ruleset on manors (This version of Fractured Lands is going to be the second full pass on the rules), and explaining what I’ve done there could be neat.
- Faction Missions (And reputation) – How missions for factions work, and what will be involved there.
As you can see, there’s a lot to choose from. We’ll see what strikes my fancy.