Friday, May 29, 2009

A Dwarf Fortress RPG (long)

[cross-posted at the Forge in the First Thoughts section]

So, a couple of months ago I became obsessed with the Dwarf Fortress strategy/world-building game for a few weeks, and part of my obsession involved the very basics of an RPG based around it.
I've been messing around with these ideas again this week, and I wanted to post my thoughts here for consideration. For the unfamiliar, the point of this RPG idea is to explore the Dream of dwarves building a fortress, interacting with elves, humans, and goblins, going to war, scouring for resources, and so on.

DF is a bit of a tall order, in that it's incredibly detailed, single-player only, possessed of an almost inscrutable interface... did I mention how detailed it was? My initial concept centers around a few simple stats that get a lot of mileage and multiple, layered uses:

Beard - social standing among dwarves, a measure of how much clout you have; this extends to interactions with non-dwarves as needed (may be able to declare discovery of other settlements/civilizations, be they elves, goblins, humans, or other dwarves)
Metal - skill at crafts in general, and the creation of finished products, including complex mechanisms for traps and bridges and the like
Wood - exploration of the surface world, speed of movement in the wilderness, harvesting plant life in general (can declare discovery of natural features on the surface world, such as rivers, copses of trees, and so on)
Meat - hunting, fishing, and butchery
Stone - mining/digging, architecture, alcohol tolerance, movement speed underground, and exploration of the underground world (can declare discovery of natural features underground, such as rivers, veins of gems or metals, magma flows, etc.)

Those are the civilian uses of stats. There is also a "battle mode" into which any dwarf can enter, at which point all stats take on different meanings:

Beard - combat leadership, and how intimidating you are to your foes (since goblin invaders often run away when outmatched, I think Beard should be useful to scare away enemies, if you desire; also useful to rally and command dwarves)
Metal - a measure of how well-armed you are (probably relates to damage-dealing and damage-prevention; a dwarf going into Battle Mode must stop by the fortress armory to gather weaponry, or his Metal will be at 0 in combat; this is not always a bad thing)
Wood - ranged combat capability, dodging, and speed (out of Battle Mode, speed is mainly at issue to see how quickly unarmed dwarves can make it back to base, either to arm themselves or just to get to safety. In Battle Mode, Wood is your overall speed, both above and below ground)
Meat - your ability to get through/around an opponent's defenses; also a general measure of the fury of your attacks. Also, measures your capacity for the infamous Wrestling skill, which allows you to pin, disarm, and then torture enemies
Stone - your resistance to wounds, and possibly a measure of your defenses

In combat, you generally select two stats to roll together for each action (probably going to to a dice pool thing, since I like that, but it's up in the air for right now), and that reflects what you're up to: Metal+Meat is a standard attack, Stone+Metal is a standard defensive maneuver, etc. I am all about determining different combinations and figuring out what they would mean for the fight.

Greatness - in the original computer game, the sum total of all your material wealth, furnishings, etc., is collected into a rating of how awesome your fortress is. I want to have something like that here, but with a lot less granularity than a computer could support. This will hinge on two things: resources and fortress-building. Whenever a dwarf uses Wood or Stone to exploit a source of lumber, minerals, etc., it's assumed that those materials are added to the coffers of the fortress for a "base level" amount of Greatness points.
You'll need to break out a sheet of graph paper at this point - the players put their heads together and work on their fortress. I want to encourage actually drawing what it looks like, probably from a pure-vertical perspective; on another sheet of paper entirely, record the distance to various "discovered" resources and natural features. As the fortress grows and gets filled up with details (decoration, finished goods, a well-stocked armory, etc.), the dwarves essentially turn the base-level Greatness points of your acquired resources into high-Greatness weapons, trinkets, goods, and so on.
At this point, I have some vague ideas about a turn-based, "seasonal" time system, which would make the distance between resources and the fortress meaningful even during times of peace (in terms of how much you could collect, I suppose), and that, in turn, would give some structure to how quickly a fortress could accumulate Greatness.
Greatness isn't just-because; it's actually going to be used to determine how much attention your fortress gets from immigrant dwarfs, merchants of other races, and screaming hordes of goblin invaders. For now, I think a d100 system would make some sense, as far as establishing when these events happen (migration, trade, invasion) - you roll d100+Greatness and consult a chart to see whether you're hosting merchants, being attacked, or home to new immigrants. As in the original game, merchant visits occur in specific seasons, based on the race of the merchant (elves in spring, humans in summer, dwarves in autumn). Invasions can happen in any season, as can immigration; each season, then, you'd roll three times on the chart, to see if you get trade, migrants, or invaders. The exception is winter - no one comes to trade with you in winter!
I have absolutely no idea how trade should work, or even if some level of granularity even makes sense, here. It's probably sufficient just to have general resource pools with a rating attached to them; in that case, you could trade 1-for-1 of a useless or excess resource for something you do need.

Specific Resources - presumably, the exploration ability covered by Wood and Stone would be two-fold: successes would determine whether or not you find the thing at all, and some other way of reading the dice would determine how far away it is/how hard it is to get to. That second part is something I haven't quite figured out yet; maybe the number of dice that come up as failures could dictate how accessible the resource is, and yes, this means that the more skilled you are, the more likely you are to locate a resource that's far away. That makes sense to me - I want to limit the number of "nodes" for a particular resource you can find at a single time, giving more skilled dwarves greater access, but also limiting resources to one "node" per distance-rating. Common resources require a single success to find; more rarefied goods require more, while omnipresent goods require no successes at all (the distance is the only relevant factor, in that case). That being said...
Choice of "Map" - since selecting where to plant your fortress is so important to the original game, I figure a quick discussion of what's rare, what's common, and what's omnipresent is important before the game begins. A list of resources (wood, gems, ore, farmland, hunting grounds, etc.) and natural features (rivers, magma flows, hills, etc.) will be hashed out, in terms of modifiers to things - gems and ore are less common than stone and wood in general, but in drier or more mountainous climates, wood might be harder to find, and in flatter or sandier climes, stone and ore and gems will be harder to find. I imagine trade will become more relevant when certain resources are more precious, or even non-existent.
Of course, what DF adaptation would be complete without ... Strange Moods?
Haven't worked this out at all yet, but the basic idea is that a dwarf PC stands a chance of becoming an utter master at either Stone, Metal, or Wood, but could very well go insane/die/go on a killing spree if the requirements aren't met. The other upshot is that a treasure of great worth is created as a result of the Strange Mood, which would add a tidy sum of Greatness points to things. Those requirements could be easily met (materially) if the right kind of merchant were visiting that season, but if not, the Stone and Wood specialists would need to hurry up and find what the moody dwarf needs to ensure success. I think striking a balance between Greatness points consumed on the project vs. the difficulty of the dice challenge is important; if you can buy what you need from a merchant, it should really cost you, but the alternative is a roll of the dice. Something like that.
I realize that there's a certain board-game quality to all this, a certain lack of RP-style Exploration; at least it feels that way to me. I figure that the other half of the game, the part not directly covered by the rules, is the interaction of all the dwarves in the fortress a) with each other b) with the Royal Court that commissioned the expedition, and c) with other races.
Romance, jockeying for position, squabbling over the priorities of the fortress, not to mention good old fashioned grudges and bar-fights, are all important things to actually "do" as a dwarf - as much as I've outlined a bunch of mechanical thingies, but those are intended to be co-central or background elements, sharing or giving spotlight with/to the actual interactions between dwarves. Dwarf NPCs should be needy little bastards who take credit for others' discoveries, pick fights over imagined insults, cower and flee at the approach of invaders, and so on. I think the GM's role is to introduce complications whenever possible/enjoyable, holding the power to cause cave-ins, floods, breakups, etc. There should be space for stories or plots within the game - stuff that goes deeper and more detailed than the rules themselves would do alone - stuff like weird discoveries in the mines, agents of the Crown showing up with hidden agendas, things like that.

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