Monday, August 16, 2010

Houses of the Blooded: the Beauty of Systems

I literally had a three-hour sit-down with one of my players because she was curious about the system (but didn't want to look stupid asking alot of questions: Trust me, asking someone about a system doesn't make you look stupid), and a sticky question came up:

"Say I want to just sneak past someone.  Why can't I, you know, just sneak past him?  Why do I have to roll it out."

It's actually the sort of question that routinely plagues RPGers.  Why use a system at all?  Some people get huffy: You use a system because you're supposed to.  But that's a cargo cult, people who do something because, well, that's just the way it's done.  I use systems because they are beautiful and, as one RPG.netter elegantly put it: "Rules shape play."

The player in question will be under the shadow of the Fox and as I've designed the game, she'll be loaded to the gills with Style (especially since she loves costumes) but her house lacks the resources and military power of other Houses. This will shape their ability to play the Great Game, shape who they ally with and why.  Her high cunning and beauty rewards her when she wants to play in an underhanded fashion or engage in romance, both of which are perfect for her, and her low prowess and strength punish her when she attempts to engage in combat and "adventuring."  Tricks like the Black Kiss, Chambers of the Heart and the Most Subtle Weapon highlight the Fox's dangerous mastery of romance, and their subtle ability to manipulate, in complete contrast to the Wolf's All War All The Time tricks of Tooth and Claw or the Invisible Cannot Be Touched, or the Bear's defensive, motherly tricks like Circle of Protection and No Fool.

Play must inform the rules.  As interesting ideas come up, they should receive representation within the abstract mechanics of the game.  Rules must inform play.  As you run headlong into rules, they should shape how your story flows, preferably in interesting ways.  Where rules do not do this, rules should get out of the way.

This is one of the reasons I selected Houses of the Blooded.  John Wick's philosophy agrees with mine.  Aspects, Virtues, Blessings, Resources, all shape how the game plays out (Ever notice how Serpents all have a bunch of swamps so they can harvest herbs for their rituals?  Ever notice how those same swamps produce poison?  Food for thought...).  But unlike how our local Changeling group LARPs (using the standard, tabletop rules), roleplaying doesn't grind to a halt whenever a mechanical challenge comes up.  They just played a session of "war" where everyone had to sit down for hours rolling dice.  Houses of the Blooded would tackle that faster, more interestingly, and in a way that suits the LARP environment (using the Hunting/Mass Combat rules, in fact.  Those with my version of Tooth and Claw would rejoice!)

She's learned to avoid rules.  I suspect she does this because she believes that "she doesn't get them."  I think, rather, that rules have harmed her play, so she's discarded them, a completely reasonable approach.  I hope and believe that Blood and Tears offers rules that will facilitate, rather than slow, play and I suspect she'll actually use them (bribing someone with a couple of style tokens is easy and casual and requires memorizing nothing).

The real reason I wanted to post this: Making the characters has been a joy. I'm almost finished, in fact (just have the Falcon left to go), and the process highlights why I love good systems.  Poring over the Blessings and the other concepts in the game has shown me the "shape" and the "feel" of each house and how the game works.  I delight in that exploration, and I hope the color and flavor shows when people actually play.  Houses of the Blooded is very elegant: With just a few simple rules, you can explore so much with such detail.  Yes, it's "rules-lite," but it doesn't lose richness as it shed complexity.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...