Murdering & Acquiring #15: M&M&M&A
Playtesting continues. Some feedback has come in, but I’m going to hold off on discussing it in depth here until after I’ve gotten it all.
So…magic and monsters.
I’ve always intended Murders & Acquisitions to be a modular game. The core system covers the basic game, which is set in an alternate Earth where murder and mayhem are the norm in corporate culture. But I’ve always had plans to include modular rules add-ons that cover a variety of other things. Players can craft a world where one or more of these things exist to create a game world and campaign that is unique to their particular interests in gaming in the world of M&A.
The first two big chunks of this “additional material” come in the form of magic and monsters. Some might call it “Dungeons & Dragons in an office building.”
First, a little background on that phrase – Dungeons & Dragons in an office building.
Last year, I ran a few playtests with magic and monsters in them and had a few of the playtesters comment that it felt too much like D&D in an office. And that really bothered me. At least, it bothered me that this was how they described the game…and that they made it sound like a bad idea. After all, if you want to play D&D, why not just play D&D?
In the time since then, I’ve thought more about that. I pondered, why is D&D in an office such a bad thing? This stewed in my brain for quite a while. Ultimately, I’ve found myself thinking, why NOT? There’s nothing wrong with D&D in an office. D&D is the baseline RPG for many gamers. It’s familiar. It’s well loved. And certainly there will be many gamers who embrace the idea of D&D in an office.
Side Note: I’ve received some feedback from a playtest group that tried out magic and monsters last time they playtested. One of the things they said almost immediately was, “Where are the monsters and magic?” So, clearly, there are going to be players who WANT that in their M&A game experience.
Combine all of this with the idea that the magic and monsters stuff is NOT part of the core game, but rather an add-on, and I find myself once again embracing D&D in an office.
So a few weeks ago, I (again) started toying with the rules for magic and monsters in my game. Here are some examples of what I’m developing.
Murdering & MAGIC & Acquisitions
My initial design for magic in M&A hasn’t really changed. I’ve just taken some time away from it to nail down the core system in more detail and get more playtest feedback.
Spellcasting in M&A works a lot like normal skill use.
Just as your normal skills have different die types associated with them (the higher the die type, the better you are at that skill), if you’re a spellcaster, you have a special skill called Spellcasting that also has a die type associated with it. Raising the die type in Spellcasting reduces the character points you have available to spend on other skills. You lessen some of your other capabilities to be able to cast spells.
Additionally, you have to spend character points to have access to the spells themselves. If you stick with just knowing one spell, your other skills will still be pretty solid. If you want to know a lot of spells, your regular skills will suffer more. I want spellcasting to be cool, but not necessarily inherently cooler than being really good at a bunch of other regular skills.
But fear not. Every spellcaster gets two spells for free when they start advancing their Spellcasting skill. One spell is chosen from a list of spells. The second is “Office Magic,” which allows you to do some very simple office tasks with magic.
The spells themselves also bear similarities to skills. Just as each skill covers an array of related capabilities, each spell also covers a range of effects that are related to each other. Spells include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Affect Forces (which allows you to shape forces like electricity, fire, gravity, etc. in a variety of ways)
• Affect Skills (which allows you to increase you and your allies’ skill dice or reduce your foes’ skill dice)
• Bend Mind (which allows you to affect the mind of a target by commanding them, charming them, etc.)
• Create Illusion (which allows you to create auditory, olfactory, touch, and visual illusions of various sizes)
• Magic Bolt (which allows you to create a variety of damaging effects of different types)
When you cast a spell, you roll your Spellcasting skill like you would any other skill. The base target number is 7. If you hit 7, you cast the most rudimentary version of the spell, as defined in the spell’s description. If you roll higher, you cast a more complex version of the spell which has greater effect. If you roll high, you can choose to manifest your spell at the target number rolled or use any of the lesser effects in the spell’s list of effects.
Spells, by their nature, do things above and beyond what most skills can do. So I’m looking into ways to limit this a bit and make Spellcasting rare and special. I’m leaning toward the spellcaster needing to spend a Synergy Point each time they cast a spell. Or maybe they just have to spend the Synergy Point of they at least hit the base target number of 7. I’ll probably try out both options.
Originally, spellcasting had its own “point resource” called “Power Points.” You had to spend Power Points to cast spells. My feeling now is that adds an additional, unnecessary “point pool” to track, hence my leaning toward using Synergy Points, which are already part of the core game mechanic.
Murdering & MONSTERS & Acquisitions
When I started designing monsters for M&A this time around, I took some time to think a bit about what I wanted my monsters to be like. How much should they feel like D&D monsters (or monsters from other RPGs that feature monsters, even in different setting/styles)? How can I make them feel like they belong in M&A? How do monsters differ from regular characters?
As for the D&D thing, I settled on the idea that there will certainly be some M&A monsters that feel a fair bit like D&D monsters. After all, many D&D monsters are based on folklore and mythology. M&A, being set on an alternate Earth, shares mythologies and folklore with our real world. So yeah, some of the monsters are going to feel very D&D-like, and that’s okay. But some will be twisted to fit M&A. How about a monster that looks like a metal dumpster that sits dormant for weeks on end, only to awaken and hunt for a time before it hibernates again? How can that idea be twisted and fitted into the M&A world?
How can I make monsters fit the M&A mold? That’s not terribly difficult, as it turns out. I have to give them their own niche within the M&A world. Just as monsters in D&D have roles they play in a medieval world of swords and sorcery, so too should monsters in M&A relate to the basic conceits of the M&A game. Where do they live in a city? What do they do? Do they hunt? Does the general populace know anything about them? Are they feared? Do the corporations of the M&A world have any special uses for them? How might they fit into M&A adventures?
Finally, I took a look at how monsters differ from normal characters. The biggest difference is that they have abilities that fall outside the capabilities of normal characters. They can do things that the PCs would need special gear to do…or might not ever be able to do. They surprise the characters (and the players). They provide a type of challenge that a normal NPC can’t.
While I used the same stat block for monsters that I have been using for NPCs, I tweaked it a bit. Instead of a quote at the beginning, there’s a basic description. Instead of a gear list at the end, there’s a list of special rules/capabilities for the monster.
I made an effort to cover each monster in just a half page, including a few paragraphs of descriptive info at the front that describes the monster physically, defines its place in the world, and talks a bit about how it functions. There are many games that devote multiple pages to describing a single monster. M&A is not a game that fills out that information in ponderous detail. It’s intended to be a game that players can play with a relative minimum of effort and that extends to the time that the Supervisor spends prepping a game. My hope is that a Supervisor can read the monster section once and have a basic idea of what each monster is like. When he’s ready to prep an adventure, he can review a few monsters very quickly and know which ones he wants to include in his next adventure.
The monsters’ names are also noteworthy, I think. My thought is that a given monster probably has a scientific name that scholars refer to it as. Similarly, spellcasters might have their own nomenclature for naming monsters. But, in the world of M&A, the internet is everywhere. The names used in the monster entries are those which someone on the internet might give to the monster while trying to be clever or funny in a viral video or on a website. Hence the (sort of) ridiculous names I’m providing. These are the names that most of the populace know these monsters by.
Murdering & MAGIC & MONSTERS & Acquisitions
So that’s what magic and monsters in M&A look like. Or at least what they look like now. Playtesting will certainly shape these rules add-ons similarly to how the core rules have been shaped by my trusty playtesters.
I’ll continue to expand these rules add-ons and develop others.
I expect my next round of playtesting to include magic and monsters. If all does well, this will include playtest demos I’ll be doing at some local conventions in the coming months.