Tactical, Crunchy, NON-COMBAT Game Ideas

edited January 2012 in Story Games
So,

If you like RPGs that have tactical gameplay (read: D&D, Burning Wheel, Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Exalted, etc, maybe Fate in some iterations), then you kind of have two options. You can play a game about fighting (typically, squad-based skirmish fighting) or piloting stuff (typically, small spaceships or mechs, also involving fighting). There's edge cases, sure, but I think it's safe to say the majority of tactical gameplay is really zeroed in on these two activities.

So, this is a brainstorming and workshopping thread. What ideas do you have for RPGs that reward tactical gameplay and crunch, but that aren't about fighting or piloting? How would you support those ideas? What would the product/product line include? Just saying "a game about horse racing" is an uninteresting response for these purposes - I want to know how you'd turn that idea into a tactics-focused RPG.

Bonus points if your ideas play off these ideas in other games, because that's where my head is at: distinct character classes, character powers/stunts/moves, distinct missions/instances/events/encounters.

I've got an idea that I'm going to post here in the next post. I'm super delighted if you challenge it, riff off it, ask about it, etc. I'm also super delighted if you introduce your own game ideas. I'll try to challenge them, riff off them, ask about them, etc.

Comments

  • We had an architect-fight in that Mist-Robed Gate game, remember that?

    Mouse Guard can already handle a lot of tactical situations other than fighting: journeys, chases, arguments, etc. Likewise, AW is pretty crunchy for my tastes and can do all sorts of non-violent things.

    (Also: Game Chef 2012. I'm working on a plan.)
  • A Tactical Animal Rescue RPG

    The Pitch: You're in a small rural town. The PCs are the few individuals in this community skilled and passionate enough to help rescue and support endangered animals. The game involves navigating a mixture of domestic animal concerns, rescuing (or relocating) wild animals, and dealing with pervasive community issues (unlicensed hunting, habitat destruction, animal cruelty, etc).

    The Characters: I'm imagining that there are a number of classes for characters. The Veterinarian has surgical abilities and connections to medical supplies. The Shelter Worker has animal empathy abilities and connections to pet owners. The Activist has awareness-raising abilities and connections to community organizations. The Warden has protection abilities and connections to the legal system. Each class contains a number of Skills to pick from. These are structured like Powers in D&D4e, but are a bit more loosely defined. Like, The Activist might have "Show of Solidarity: When you manage to bring disparate community groups together in a visible sign of protest or solidarity, roll 2d6 + the number of community groups present. Subtract this score from the Community Crisis." I don't know. Something like that?

    The Situations: I think there would be a couple different categories of Crisis that play would alternate between: Medical Crisis, Behavioral Crisis, Rescue Crisis, Community Crisis, etc. The GM would have to construct those types of Crises slightly differently, choosing from different option lists. The players' moves would target specific Crisis types.

    Achievements: The GM would toss out lots of hooks, some more pressing than others. When the players do something new, they unlock an Achievement (which grants some cool thing). When the players repeat an Achievement, they mark experience. There'd be a different mechanical benefit for branching out (say, helping relocate a wounded cougar for the first time) versus continuing to demonstrate excellence (say, helping give birth to calves, again).
  • Posted By: J. Walton
    Mouse Guard can already handle a lot of tactical situations other than fighting: journeys, chases, arguments, etc. Likewise, AW is pretty crunchy for my tastes and can do all sorts of non-violent things.
    Mouse Guard! That's totally got good handling of non-combat tactical situations. Good call.

    Apocalypse World is not really what I'm talking about. The tactical elements are (by design) sloppy. They aren't gamist, they aren't concretely delineated, they aren't balanced for tactical gameplay. And much of it is really geared towards combat and violence. I'm looking for a game that gives the experience promised in D&D4e (cool powers and roles! tactical gameplay! fun situation manipulation games to play with your friends!) but doesn't ever ask the players to participate in violence or imperialistic campaigning.
  • I always wanted to create a competitive game of courtly intrigue where your actions increase/decrease your honor toward becoming the "lord of the realm" or something. I've been toying around with all sorts of ideas, particularly using my love of grammar (adverbs in this case!) toward mechanical aims. My current idea is that each player/class/what-have-you has a set of adverbs relevant to their play style. For example, a cloak-and-dagger courtier might have the adverb "stealthily" or "invisibly" as an outcome for a successful role.

    Regardless of what I come up with, I've been heavily influenced by a book my father has wanted me to read for years: James Clavell's Shogun. Guided by intertwining plots that are teeming with betrayal and intrigue, I feel that several elements of this period of Japanese history could be very integral to the game. So far I've come up with ideas like iaijutsu (which, I will say from experience, is wonderfully complex), aizuchi, etc. I think these could be successfully driven with crunchy mechanical aims. So far, it's been slow going, but I'm really glad this thread exists now, cause now I can see what others might include.

    On a side note, a lot of "intrigue" based mechanics remind me of trick-taking card games. You want to win a circumstance to gain priority in a situation, but you also want to save your best cards for when you need them most (and often when you least expect to need them!!!). Maybe that could be a source of inspiration.

    Best,
    ~Klaus
  • Sort of off topic, but part of what inspired this idea (of tactical non-combat RPGs) a while ago was thinking about how my brother used to play with Rescue Heroes. These guys were the first action figures that I'd seen that did cool action stuff that wasn't about violence. It immediately got me challenging how weird it is that we glorify violence in the toys we sell to children - not because that's what they want, but because they aren't aware that there are other ways to have cool action-oriented play.
  • Spycraft had a chase subgame that was pretty awesome. They expanded it to all kinds of other situations in 2ed.
  • Diaspora's "Social Conflict" system had a neat level of tactical maneuvering and crunch. It was also pretty adaptable to different situations. I'm also thinking of The Great Game from Weapons of the Gods. Admittedly it was a little focused on violence, but at it's core was about using some rather abstract "unit types" (Force was one of them, but wasn't actually any more "powerful" than any other) to change the qualities of areas on a map.

    I think the ideas in both those systems could be used in various ways to turn many different situations into a game of resource management and tactical positioning.
  • edited January 2012
    (Hey Joe: Sorry, these are just references for inspiration, not riffs; but will keep an eye on the thread and post a rif off others if something comes to me)

    The Shadow of Yesterday, the first game I ever played of it (running for Ben Lehman and a local friend Alan).

    Fantasy Conan-esque setting of a great, decadent city-state. Ben's character was a loafing artist, Alan's character was a proselytizing cleric. Thanks to the system - which demands that conflicts be of any type, not just combat - the conflicts were as edge-of-seat gripping, deep and interesting as any tactical combat. One conflict was trying to convert a royal family during an imperial wedding party, the other big conflict was a three-day art contest to the death.

    Give that system another read, it's worth it.

    Now, have a PC or Mac? Check out this game: WINTER VOICES:
    http://www.wintervoices.com/
    The Prologue/Episode One is $5, and I think there's a free demo version too.

    Years ago, I thought it would be cool to make a game where combat was handwavey, and social conflicts were meticulously tracked with dice and numbers. Winter Voices basically one-ups that. In it you have to make emotional connections to people. You do that by engaging them in combat: You fight off your own and their self doubt, ennui, unresolved issues and other psychological traumas and hangups manifest as blobs and mosntrous shapes. You fight them (with damage, "hp" equivalent etc) with attack abilities like Persistance, Altruism, Utilitarianism, Super-Ego, Inspiration, Creativity, Maturity, and so on.

    A review: http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/software/1281709/beyond-the-pillars-winter-voices

    It's... really pretty cool an idea. I found the game a little too slow/languid for my tastes ultimately, but I couldn't deny the genius of the concept. I often recommend it as a new way of thinking about conflict and combat in RPGs.

    -Andy
  • It seems to me that board games have a lot to offer here. There are lots and lots of very tactical board games whose colour -- which often though not always informs the mechanics -- is almost entirely non-violent, or includes only a few violent options. City-building, civilization expansion, farming, architecture, exploration/pillaging, fighting disease -- all things that have been transformed into fully tactical/strategic board games.

    And I guess my abstract-theory question is also: would this shift in fictional focus necessitate different mechanics -- like, fundamentally different, in some important way -- than the mechanics we already use to model violent conflict? If Mouse Guard and TSoY qualify, then maybe it's just a matter of reskinning things into non-violent situations? Because I do feel like maybe MG and TSoY's conflict mechanics do assume a certain sort of violence to the conflict, even if that violence is social or emotional -- but maybe that's not really true, it's just an impression I have because I am so used to thinking of conflict as a violent confrontation?
  • Andy H and I were working on a tactical roller derby game for a while until we realized we were really creating a boardgame, and we weren't interested in pursuing it further.

    So, that is to say, sports competitions are rife with opportunities for non-combat tactical crunch.
  • Posted By: amnesiackAndy H and I were working on a tactical roller derby game for a while until we realized we were really creating a boardgame, and we weren't interested in pursuing it further.
    If it's any consolation, Vulpinoid is working on a roller derby board game.
  • Politics?

    "I roll a 19 to hit, and do 9 points of damage. Boo-ya! You lose the support of the Protestant Ladies Social League!"

    "Since I have a +6 to hit the Teamsters, I will use my daily power The Promise of Jobs, in an attempt to sway them to vote for me."

    Speaking of Rescue Heroes:

    The GM sets up a disaster, the PCs try and rescue people. Could be done with ruined-city map tiles for an urban disaster, or it could be rescuing people from a sinking cruise ship, etc. Maybe one type of character could have good combat skills, in case you want to play the zombie apocalypse of war zone supplements, but mostly those skills would only be good for breaking down doors and clearing rubble.

    And the supplement, Medical Crisis: Oh, wait, you aid no imperialistic campaigning.
  • The Dance and the Dawn uses a tactical grid and minis for dancing and social conflict.

    If only there was a mcdaldno out there who'd take this premise and make it more amazing!
  • Heists and similar non-combat-focused operations performed by highly skilled groups of characters could be used as tactical encounters.
  • Mouse guard is good, but not totally satisfying in this context. Yes, you can have tactical schemes for any sort of conflict, but the abstraction down to just three actions makes the choices you make in character irrelevant to the context. It doesn't matter what you have your character DO. You're just playing rock paper scisors with die rolls. The system itself is fun and robust, but it is not incredibly immersive or good at simulating real events. Your movements and specific tactics don't matter, only whether you attack, defend, maneuver, or feint.

    A game where you engage in some specific contest with more specific goals and end up achieving them through specific tactics would be more in line with what OP is saying - say, a game where the object is to bring products to market or win a sports championship, with detailed strategic and tactical choices.
  • Posted By: Slibertysay, a game where the object is to bring products to market...with detailed strategic and tactical choices.

    Well, there was a game like that - Rollout, by the folks who made Supremacy. Global business 'conflict', trying to increase stock value and market share in three general market types, worldwide. Had a neat, abstract-ish hex-gridded world map, too. It wasn't great, but it had a distinctly different feel than Supremacy, or Risk, to name a few other world-conquest games.

    But then again, it really was a world-conquest game...hm.

    I'd suggest looking at Diaspora's social combat chapter. Their ideas on FATE-tactical maps for social conflicts is pretty neat.

    How about this: Doctors Without Borders/MSF, the NGORPG. PCs are doctors or aid workers of some variety, with D&Dish stats, skills & other attributes. The map is areas, not squares - like Fate's zones. Your quests? Go and do doctory/relief stuff in some very dangerous places. You could include equivalents of several RPG tropes:

    Getting all the stuff you need to go into the wilderness/dungeon? Getting the stuff you need to go to the un(der)developed countries, war zones, disaster areas.

    Quests? Same thing! Help these refugees, treat these disaster victims, stop that disease outbreak.

    Environmental hazards? Remain the same, plus if it's a disaster, whatever caused it might still be going on. Floods, monsoons, aftershocks, etc.

    Opposition? Plenty. Bureaucratic red tape from outside or in the targeted country. Can you get pass the local officials? Are they upstanding or corrupt? Are there any at all? What about local criminals, bandits or worse? You don't have weapons, at all. Every combat is a social combat. 'Maneuver' is how you plan to deal with the immediate, local problems. 'Attacks' are how you execute those plans. Can you talk the bandit types out of stealing your supplies? Do they just want help, or are they more predatory? Will the local security forces be present, arrive in time, or even intervene? Let alone the opposition of the conditions you're trying to solve in the first place.

    Grander personal conflict? How do you maintain MSFs neutrality in the face of challenges? What can you do to effect changes in the situation that brought you to this place?

    The more I go on about this, the more I think Mouse Guard's 'big pond, little fish' dynamic might work out. Maybe.
  • Posted By: JohnstonePolitics?

    "I roll a 19 to hit, and do 9 points of damage. Boo-ya! You lose the support of the Protestant Ladies Social League!"

    "Since I have a +6 to hit the Teamsters, I will use my daily power The Promise of Jobs, in an attempt to sway them to vote for me."
    Heh. Am I just old that I recognize this as the Illuminati card game?
  • edited January 2012
    There was a thread a few months ago where we were talking about designing a 'first responders' game, where you played cops, firefighters, paramedics, etc, responding to disasters. A number of posters had some good ideas, so that may be worth digging up. The one that really intrigued me was reskinning 3:16, making the Threat tokens into elements of the emergency, and going from there. 3:16 is pretty light mechanically, but the Flashback mechanic would work really well and certainly be in keeping with shows like Rescue Me while still allowing for really tense 'tactical' play.
  • Posted By: Jim Crocker3:16 is pretty light mechanically, but the Flashback mechanic would work really well and certainly be in keeping with shows like Rescue Me while still allowing for really tense 'tactical' play.
    In my play experience, 3:16 appears tactical but actually isn't in play. Though maybe I missed some emergent behaviors that just weren't happening at my table?
  • edited January 2012
    I think Agon is an excellent starting point if you're looking for gripping ways to do abstract yet very crunchy tactical mechanics. You can file the names off the dice and make the range bands represent just about anything.

    Political candidates slugging it out in the election year, supported and/or attacked by special interest groups, secondary candidates, and the press? My spear is policy, my sword is speechifying, etc.

    EDIT: come to think of it, that makes calling in Oaths take on whole new and sadly appropriate meaning…
  • I've been trying to put together an investigative/"horror" game where the investigation is kinda tactical (but not really very crunchy) instead of CoC's pass/fail or ToC's auto-clue. It requires a little resource management and clever use of the fictional positioning if you don't want your investigator to keep fainting at the crime scene* and actually get the most clues possible.

    It works but I haven't had the chance to play it enough to see how layered or effective the tactical aspect really is.

    *the game is inspired by Sleepy Hollow, mostly.
  • Posted By: SlibertyYour movements and specific tactics don't matter, only whether you attack, defend, maneuver, or feint.
    This is not actually true, because characters are variably good at the different skills required to perform those four actions in any given conflict, so there's a lot of strategy that revolves around who does which action when. If you have a Scout skill of 1 and we need you to Attack in a Journey conflict, or whatever, that sucks for us. The tactics of Mouse Guard are patrol-based, not individual, though. You have to work with your fellow players (some of whom may just decide to do their own thing) to be successful, and that makes it interesting.

    Joe, I could also write several pages about the tactics of AW and its hacks, all of which are based on fictional positioning and don't necessarily have any reason to involve violence. But if you're not considering that to be tactical... I'm not sure what to tell you. Personally, I find purely mechanical tactics that aren't strongly connected to the fiction (like most of the tactics in 4E) to not be very interesting (they're just like an abstract board game, essentially, and could represent anything), while the tactics of fictional positioning in AW hacks are fascinating. But to each their own.
  • Posted By: J. WaltonJoe, I could also write several pages about the tactics of AW and its hacks, all of which are based on fictional positioning and don't necessarily have any reason to involve violence. But if you're not considering that to be tactical... I'm not sure what to tell you. Personally, I find purely mechanical tactics that aren't strongly connected to the fiction (like most of the tactics in 4E) to not be very interesting (they're just like an abstract board game, essentially, and could represent anything), while the tactics of fictional positioning in AW hacks are fascinating. But to each their own.
    Hey JWalt,

    Cool. I think that the Apocalypse World engine is sort-of in this space, and sort-if outside this space. The stuff that's super in-line with the tactical-crunchy-gameplay is picking a playbook and special moves, and also combat (using the full battle rules & harm rules). But I think that most of the non-combat-oriented moves fail to touch on what excites me about this thread idea - moves overlap and are unbalanced, fictional positioning matters more than mechanical positioning, etc.

    Maybe I'm just drawing an arbitrary line in the sand, here. I kind of consider FATE to be "just barely what I'm talking about" and Apocalypse World to be "not really what I'm talking about." But something falling outside of my definitions doesn't mean it can't be discussed here by everyone else, obviously, because I have no despotic or hypnotic powers.
  • edited January 2012
    Great thread. I watch this with great interest in my heart and, in my head, the echoing statements of players past protesting systems for non-combat conflicts when they should be able to just roleplay that stuff out. ("So it doesn't matter what I say or describe as long as I have the right feats and skill bonus in Reassurance or Intimidation? Boring!") See also: "My character's ability to be good at this shouldn't be dependent on my ability to win at a mini-game."

    Edit: (Yeah, let me clarify—I think there's a lot of juice in tactical options and gameplay in non-combat areas. My experiences exploring such avenues have been stymied in the past both by players who are rightfully wary and players who are sadly slow to change. My point is just that there's a hurdle these systems have to jump. Except, even that's not right. The hurdle exists, I've seen it, but who am I to say that new methods have to jump it when, instead, they could circumvent it, knock it down, or blast it to smithereens. I genuinely meant it when I wrote what I wrote below.)

    Anyway, yes, cheers to this thread.
  • What is "tactics" to you guys?

    Clever fictional positioning or mini-games?
    I would say the former, enabling the possibility (and advantages) for the later.

    This definition doesn't capture the crunchiness though.
  • Posted By: ivanWhat is "tactics" to you guys?
    This may be an unfruitful avenue of discussion. I think I stunted the conversation by saying "No, Jonathan, I don't think Apocalypse World counts." What does and doesn't count is going to be different for everyone, and avoiding terminology wars is probably a good idea.

    Maybe instead, we can answer "What kinds of tactics are you (each of you) interested in exploring, in this context?"

    My answer is: exception-based powers (ref: Magic cards, D&D4e powers); Flexible-but-Concrete Character Archetypes (ref: Apocalypse World, classes in some games); subsystems that require strategic thinking and that reward gamist play.
  • Posted By: McdaldnoWhat ideas do you have for RPGs that reward tactical gameplay and crunch, but that aren't about fighting or piloting?
    Take a deep look at Mecha. It's based around character scenes that feed into a tactical mech combat scene; however, the tactics are done mostly abstractly, with Mechs maneuvering on a "bullseye"-like map, where the important things are spatial relations to other Mechs. It is possible to take this system, changing only the labels you give things, to make this "tactical crunch" about something totally other than combat. Political maneuvering comes to mind, but other things are also possible.
  • Local 615: Call for Solidarity

    This one might be a board game.

    You're the movers and shakers of Union Local 615. You have specific roles in the union - shop steward, firestarter, local president. Some kind of labour crisis is afoot! The employer might have just fired several hispanic employees without due cause, or they're demanding rollbacks during a bargaining session, or they're threatening to relocate operations to China before the end of your collective bargain, or they just called in a favor at the local sheriff's department to have a strike unlawfully broken up.

    You've got an angry workforce and a hostile employer. If you take this lying down, you'll lose the faith of your constituency. If you push the wrong tactics, or fail to mobilize at all levels, you could lose your union members their jobs or fail to resolve the crisis. Local 615 is a game about making choices about what kind of union you are, and how you're going to mobilize into action.
  • Joe, that sounds super fun to roleplay.

    I'd like to see a strategy game about civil unrest for change. What kinds of demonstration, statement, and violence get noticed in the right way by the right people to become a factor in elections and policy? Each time I start working on this, though, I get frustrated by how muddy this is in reality, and how unsatisfying it feels to abstract it into simplicity.
  • Hey, it just occurred to me that FreeMarket is crunchy non-combat and can be tactical if you want it to be.
  • Posted By: David BergJoe, that sounds super fun to roleplay.

    I'd like to see a strategy game about civil unrest for change. What kinds of demonstration, statement, and violence get noticed in the right way by the right people to become a factor in elections and policy? Each time I start working on this, though, I get frustrated by how muddy this is in reality, and how unsatisfying it feels to abstract it into simplicity.
    Yeah, I've been trying to wrap my head around a "harnessing social unrest" kind of game for a while, especially one about harnessing the social unrest of the proletariat and progressing toward meaningful change. But, like, it's too broad for me to approach in a meaningful way. Local 615 was an idea that would be specific enough to be tangible. There are concrete roles in that situation, there are distinct approaches possible (rank-and-file mobilization, accommodationist business unionism, enlisting the union central, community-based activism, etc). It's specific enough to be easy to codify and design around.
  • Posted By: David BergHey, it just occurred to me that FreeMarket is crunchy non-combat and can be tactical if you want it to be.
    Totally good call.
  • That book that I never tire of pimping, The World Tamer's Handbook from Traveller: New Era, has good support for tactical crunchy non-combat games.

    A random example of what I mean: At Tech Level 3, windmills cost 0.01 MegaCredits per kilowatt of output and run at an efficiency of 30 percent. And you already know the amount of total extractable wind power for each planetary hex as that was determined during planet generation.

    Anyway, it seems like economic simulations of various sorts are a good potential fit for this sort of design criterion.
  • I love this thread. FreeMarket seconded. I've run conflicts that had to do with art performance and building tools. And all the mechanics mattered. I feel that board games are doing this type of thing better than RPGs right now.
  • Burning Wheel! The Duel of Wits mechanics are almost as crunchy and tactical as the Fight! mechanics.
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