Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs


Decommissioned (D-Com) is my first game design. It’s a one night sci-fi game with a small number of players and a GM. I submitted the original draft as an entry for Game Chef 2007. It was fun to design and I like some of the core, but the game is very incomplete.

The Player Characters (PCs) are robots called Battlebots. They were manufactured to wage endless war at the behest of planetary corporations against other planetary corporations’ Battlebots. What makes the PCs special is that they decide to leave The Compound and stake out on their own, knowing this spells their doom.

Once a Battlebot leaves The Compound, the administrators of the facility, known as the Tech Masters, pop the Killswitch on that unit. Once activated, the target Battlebot begins to degrade quickly, giving it scant hours until they lose all functions and cease to exist.

Most Tech Masters take an extra step to ensure that the Battlebot is Decommissioned. They gather the Battlebot’s former team, advise them that a former must be destroyed, and pop the Killswitches of that team, promising to reverse the process for them once their mission is complete.

The game is created to last an exact number of hours or less, based on play.  I did this for a couple reasons: to give it a pick-up feeling to be used when nobody wants to get into a campaign but wants to play something in a short amount of time and to avoid the trap of players not wanting to create a character just to play through several sessions and watch them die.

The current questions I have about the game are as follows:

1. Difficulties for actions will be from one to ten (except completely insane actions, which would be an eleven).  That means if a GM wants to imagine how tough something would be, they just assign a percentage value to it.  That just doesn’t feel like enough of an explanation to me.  How should I give GMs and players good descriptions on difficulties?

2. The game will move very fast (there’s a version where you play in an hour).  What can I do to help GMs think on their feet and push scenes to quick resolution (not mech resolution, that will be a later post)?

3. What should my Battlebots look like?  A completely human looking android? Something akin to the Battle Droids of the SW prequels?  Maybe the robots from I Robot the movie?


April 6, 2008 - Posted by | D-Com


  1. 1. I think most folks are pretty good at setting challenge. Perhaps just give some examples. Maybe look at Fate/SoTC/Fudge? They have 8 levels of success/challenge.

    2. How much story do you intend to occur in that time? A single battle? The sons of Liberity has several different modes for different types of play. for instance a versus mode. You can have some complication to the resolution system then. Think like an anime or wushu, where a villian is introduced, then a fight then it’s over.

    If not you need resolution to be simple and likely to wrap up scenes. For instance if everyone knows what they’re doing Universalis can kick through stories really rapidly.

    I think that getting characters generated in like 5 minutes would be important also if you intend this one hour play to be from scratch.

    3. How do you see them in your head? Your the person with the vision.

    -edit: Man, that’s horrible grammar and spelling.

    Comment by iamclyde | April 6, 2008 | Reply

  2. 1. I’ll look to FATE and FUDGE for some examples, thanks.

    2. The idea I have now is that during game prep the player(s) and GM collaborate together on the story and some up with a few scenes or set pieces and an idealized final conflict, jot them down, and then the GM strings it together on the fly.

    3. I’ve seen a few different versions of them in my head, but the most frequent one is robotic bipeds that are obviously inhuman, something that looks like it does war.
    I currently dig something akin to this:

    But, only for the head. I see the body being simple rods and plating, obviously inhuman.

    Comment by orklord | April 6, 2008 | Reply

  3. I love the idea of something faceless and expressionless… it underscores the point that the PCs have opinions about their work even though they’re literally built not to.

    Which brings me to: what about the world this is all taking place in? It’s hard to give a lot of advice without knowing that context.

    Comment by misuba | April 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. 1. Rich, I liked the percentile explanation. It works for me on a mathematical, robotic level. I think for many the conversion of “there’s a 50-50 chance this will work” to difficulty level 5 is a pretty smooth transition.

    2. The best way I can think to do this is to limit the scope of the story.

    3. I’m with Mike. Smooth, bipedal, expressionless.

    Comment by commondialog | April 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. NOTE: This post comes before reading other posts. I may post again to follow up to others’ points.

    1) A chart suggesting what different difficulties would be would be useful. You might also consider constructing a system where one person doesn’t have to come up with difficulties on his own. That is, a system entirely made up of opposed rolls, or one where there is no difficulty. Perhaps rolls generate values which can be spent to acheive a spectrum of effects. I do think the latter is stronger; why do we care about a roll if it’s not opposed?

    2) You can get a game to move fast with time limits. Even better: time clocks. Dictate that some decisions must be made in a certain amount of time. Or make it a contest. In Misspent Youth, the first person to grab the dice or say “I’m going to stop that” is the one who goes.

    3) Why not leave it open-ended? Either in-fiction, there are many kinds of robots, or as part of the world-creation section you as a group determine what the robots are like?

    Comment by robertbohl | April 7, 2008 | Reply

  6. 2. The game will move very fast (there’s a version where you play in an hour). What can I do to help GMs think on their feet and push scenes to quick resolution (not mech resolution, that will be a later post)?

    With the first part of your question: nothing. You can give advice, but only practice will generate quick wit. That said, I would suggest that D-Com has a specific target audience for the GM, especially the play-in-an-hour version. You’ll have to decide if you’re comfortable with that.

    With #3, I will combine the previous answers: talk about the various “models” of Battlebots — androgynous bi-pedals, hovertanks, whatever. Open-ended, but seeded with specific ideas (and maybe different mechanical fiddly-bits)

    With #1, to build on what Clyde & Chris said, consider that these robots are probably constantly evaluating odds thanks to their programming. You could use such clinical, “robotic” language in your ladder, from “Negligible Window of Error” for 1 to “Potential Error Anticipated” for (say) 5 to “Does Not Compute!” for 11.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | April 7, 2008 | Reply

  7. With regards to difficulty, if you want GMs to set them easily, make the die mechanics easy to analyze. Dice pools, while cool for other purpose, are terrible that this, especially the old White Wolf style of variable pool size, target number, and required successes.

    Comment by ptevis | April 7, 2008 | Reply

  8. Paul,

    I think the mechanics are pretty easy. In fact, I wonder if they’re too easy, you know. not enough mini-game aspect to them. I’ll post them up right after I post my Big Three.


    Dude, that is awesome. Using precise statements for the difficulty is a great color to the game. Consider it snagged.

    Comment by orklord | April 7, 2008 | Reply

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