So aside from a little freelance work, the day job, and research for Americana down in DC I've been fiddling with with the system for GodWar. The system has undergone a number of permutations over time, starting a system that used the dice from the Dreamblade game WOTC came out with, to becoming a 4th edition setting, back to using the Dreamblade dice, then to using other dice, and now on to my latest idea: using tarot cards. Why tarot cards? Eh, not sure. It seems to fit the setting, opens up some interesting possibilities for number and symbol generation, and its a challenge I haven't dealt with before.
So for those who have not been the victim of a idea dump about GodWar, it's supposed to be a high-energy game of mostly occult empowered individuals fighting across an alternative version of 15th century Europe to save the world from a demonic invasion. It should feel like a kung-fu movie, only replace Shaolin monks with Templars and sorcerers with Kabbalist mages. It's a world where the supernatural is everywhere and obvious; the war against the demons is not carried out in the shadows but in plain sight as everyone knows it is going on.
So, for a system I want something high action but simple with a lot of room for customization for characters and what they can accomplish. If I were to choose an existing system to use I would probably choose some version of Fate with an extensive list of new stunts for the various occult power sets in the world. I think the aspects and relatively open mechanics of Fate would work well, but I am looking for something a bit meatier...plus I like designing games and using an existing game really wouldn't scratch that itch.
Also I would like to have some manner of random character generation as an option, but do it like in Reign where all randomly generated characters are mechanically equally in terms of stats. While I don't like requiring random character generation, having rules for it (especially if they can be module enough for some choice, some randomness in the creation process) can help get creativity flowing when people are stifled (as they often are the first time they come to a new game with a strange setting).
And I want the game to be very player empowering. I want players to feel like they have a lot of control in what is going on, both in terms of narration and mechanics. I want player choice to be able to override bad luck if the player is willing to pay the cost.
So, my design goals are:
1. Easy, open rules.
2. Fast action.
3. Player empowerment.
4. Random character generation.
5. Tarot cards.
As mentioned previously I want to have a group character mechanic, which I am currently leaning towards doing as the players setting up the region the game primarily takes place in, starting with something area like a few score square miles and as the campaign advances expand this area. In building this area players decide not only their own strengths but the enemies that oppose them (note taking more enemies does not get you more points, but instead gives the GM an idea of what you want to fight against in the campaign). So somewhere in between the Song of Ice and Fire system and the city creation system of Dresden Files. My idea is that over the course of the campaign the size of your area increases, rescaling some of your group stats (like political influence) since they now apply across a larger area. Of course characters can leave the campaign area and should for ripsnorting traveling adventures as needed.
Okay, back to the main system for the game. My original idea was that each character would have a Destiny stat that was effectively a measure of how awesome they are. Most PCs start at 5. Unnamed animals have a 0, faceless minions have 1 , trained minions have a 2, elite minions have a 3, henchmen have a 4, etc. In the setting da Vinci has an 8, while Seraphis (the angel who is leading the Vatican) has a 9. This mechanic means that while characters are better off than 99% of people in the world, they will not be the most powerful people in the setting right off. I am okay with this. Some people may not be.
Characters also have skills that are rated such that a character cannot have a skill higher than their Destiny. Skills are fairly broad, ala Fate. Characters get a skill pyramid with one at Destiny, two at Destiny -1, etc.
Each round characters draw a number of cards equal to their Destiny. They then allocate these cards to each action they wish to take in the round and if the total value of the card is higher than the target number (or opposed skill total) you win. For example, if you want to all out attack someone during a round you put all five of your cards into Melee, Ranged, Magic, or whatever you are using for your attack, but know that you won't have any cards to put into Dodge, etc.
The Major Arcana from the tarot deck each have a special ability associated with them that can be activated when it is drawn, or the card can just be used for a value of 5. For example the Death card may give you massive damage bonuses in combat. These may have different abilities based on if they are played for the player or in opposition, and could have both a bonus and a penalty to being used (like Death gives you a damage bonus but also gives anyone hitting you a damage bonus).
Now the problems I have currently with this system are as follows:
1. How to do initiative. (rough plan is highest Destiny, ties broken by going in order of actions with the most cards allocated).
2. Defenses will wear down over the course of the round as attacks hit you. (current plan is to let defense actions apply against multiple attacks, but that may be too powerful).
3. How long is a round? When does everyone draw a new hand? (I'm assuming when everyone is out of cards or has no intention to play more)
4. Without a Gm shortcut system this will require the GM to manage a huge number of hands of cards in fights. A grouped minion system is needed at the very least.
I've had some other options, like declaring how many cards go towards an action and then drawing that many from the deck, so there is more of an unknown quantity, but I don't like taking that choice away from the player. What I do like about the cards is it gives the player a lot of control over their actions in the round (they know how effective they are going to be at the beginning of the round and can plan accordingly), allows for interesting spikes from the major arcana, and is something different.
Characters would have a total of hit points or health that they can take before bad things happen, and a pool of mental strength for mental damage. When these pools run out cards must be allocated to the Toughness or Willpower skills, the face value of the card giving the character that many additional health/mental strength as long as the card is allocated there. This card comes out of the character's pool, so if the character has a card allocated to Toughness to avoid dropping unconscious they only draw 4 cards each round. Thus as characters get more wounded they get less effective.