Infinite Earths Overview: Teamwork, Teamwork, Teamwork!

By | June 9, 2012

Hey howdy all!

Our preparations for beginning full playtesting proceed apace, and today I’d like to talk about the subject of teamwork.  Often, in roleplaying situations, we have found players who are interested or eager in screwing over the rest of the party (or some specific member of it) in some way.  In fact, some games and adventures are specifically structured by their authors to encourage back-biting, secret-keeping, purse-stealing and even Player vs. Player combat.

We hate that.

Boom, there, right out in the open, some of you may have been expecting us to feel as much by reading our previous posts, some of you may already be reaching for the close button on your browser.

Our feeling on “competing” roleplay is that it is very brutal, very me me me-focused.  And for that sort of play, there are many of fantastic options on both the tabletop market and the video game market to allow players to scratch that itch.  And, ultimately, if people want to be nasty to each other. . .well, history shows we’ve found a nigh infinite number of ways to do it without encouragement, so why, as game designers, would we encourage it?

That’s why characters in the Infinite Earths system will be created in the open, with the GM and other players present.  The structure of character creation will be to bounce ideas across the table, to the other players and to the GM and back, in order to create a party that feels both custom-crafted for the adventure(s) they will be facing, and to ensure that there are character “hooks” between each character and into the setting.  The character creation chapter of Infinite Earths is the first chapter, and in a departure from traditional game design, there is no numeric or system-specific information within it.

The point is that you are creating people, people you would like to be for a time, not batches of statistical information.

Now, does this mean that you can openly create people who are competitive with each other and don’t like each other, and who will be constantly trying to get one over on the other members of the party?  Oh, yes.  So we’re introducing the Adventuring Party mechanic.

Some of you may be familiar with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which has a mechanic in which the adventuring party itself is a kind of character, and provides benefits/detriments based on how well the party is getting along.  The design of that strikes us as being innately competitive, in that the push is toward non-cooperation, and the subtraction of abilities and powers should the party be successful non-cooperative.

Our mechanic is a little different, in keeping with a philosophy of rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior.  There are several different adventuring styles the party can choose from during character creation.  These adventuring styles represent the theme of the party, what they are and what they hope to accomplish.  Here’s what we have so far:

  • Defenders of the Realm:  the party is tied to a specific town, city or nation, and are working to protect it and its people from the forces of evil
  • Wandering Heroes:  the party are all great heroes, defeating evil wherever they see it, and travel the world seeking adventure
  • Mercenaries:  the party doesn’t lift a finger unless it’s paid, half up-front
  • Fortune Hunters:  the party seeks the accumulation of wealth and power and accolades, and will be diligent in ensuring that their cost-benefit ratio remains high
  • Chance Companions:  some fortuitous (or not-so-fortuitous) event has drawn the party together, and they must try to deal with it
  • Seekers of Secrets:  knowledge, and nothing else, is more powerful to this party, and they will place themselves at risk to acquire it

That feels like very few, and it is–we can’t think of everything!  That’s why we’re actually going to be including how to design your own adventuring party structure and benefits within the core rules.

The Adventuring Party mechanic is designed to encourage the players to stick together and work cooperatively.  We’ve all seen that player that wants to go off to the bar and hang out while the rest of the party does all the hard work.  In that kind of situation, the party loses the benefits of being a party, because they’re not collaborating.  But if, for instance, the party is sending their Infiltrator ahead to scout a location so their Tactician can come up with a plan of assault. . .in that case, the party would still be gaining their Adventuring Party benefits, because they are working together even though they are apart.

And what kind of benefits are we talking about?  Here’s a couple of examples (now with flavor text!):

Shadow Training
You check over your companions. Their steel is blacked, their buckles cinched tight, and even the fat one is bouncing on the balls of his feet. Not lightly, but it will do. You gesture for them to move, and they begin to creep along through the darkness. In this old wooden manor, they could be easily mistaken for the creaking of ancient timbers.

Prerequisites: Mercenaries Adventuring Party, Stealth autoskill on 1+ party members
Mechanics: The character in the party with the highest ranks in Stealth may make a single check for the entire party, with a -2 to the roll for each additional member of the party present other than himself.

Finder of Lost Places
You study the map, looking across entire leagues at a glance. In your mind, you overlay the ancient trade routes, the patterns of old rivers on the landscape. The weapon you seek would have traveled on the road long-buried there, on its path to the lost capital, recently rediscovered in the forest here. Since it never finished its journey, but was seen in the village here, it would have to be. . . “Here,” you say with authority, your finger dimpling the parchment around an unassuming patch of sparse woodland. “It is here.”

Prerequisites: Fortune Hunters or Seekers of Secrets Adventuring Party, Knowledge (World) and Knowledge (History) on 1+ party members
Mechanics: When seeking specific artifacts, the character in the party with the highest ranks of Knowledge (World) may make a check against DC 25. If successful, the location of the item is successfully identified. If unsuccessful, the character knows that he cannot correctly identify its location but will identify a location where he can find out more information.

Both of these are what we call “plot-benefit” advantages:  the first allows the players to control their ability to Stealth much more prominently, thereby keeping the party together when approaching potential danger.  The second allows the players to control not only how quickly they can get to a certain point in the plot, but allows them to direct the plot to either “where they can get more information” or “what they’re looking for specifically.”

The Adventuring Party mechanic will also not force “lock-in” on the part of the players.  Let’s say they begin as “Defenders of the Realm” and, during the course of a campaign, realize that they hate their realm and don’t want to defend it (perhaps their king turns out to be evil).  One, that should be a big deal as far as the story of the campaign is concerned, and should be woven into the storyline.  Second–okay, you switch.  No mechanical penalties for that.  The switch, though, has to be unanimously decided by the party.  Fundamentally changing who you are and what you’ll be known for isn’t the sort of thing that passes lightly when truly roleplaying–and we do so want to encourage roleplay.

This Tuesday night,  June 12th at 7:00 pm Eastern our lead game designer, Bryan Shipp, will be hosting a discussion on Consequences in Gaming for Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers at Mimi’s Cafe in Cary, NC.  If you’re in the area and interested in checking it out, stop by!  And as always, if you have any comments for us please feel free to leave them in the comments section.