Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mechanics: Monster Catching

Pokemon is far and away from being
the only or oldest game to implement
catch 'em all mechanics.
I'm going to riff off of a topic that came up on a forum I participate in. The question, specifically was for a deterministic translation/formula to convert pokemon stats into GURPS, which, I suggest is unfeasible for a number of reasons, and probably will give you neither a fun GURPS or pokemon experience. Instead, the better idea is to try to rework the mechanics of that or similar games in a way that makes sense in the GURPS framework.
That said, being a trainer of powerful creatures, monsters, demons, etc. isn't a completely unique mechanic to pokemon, and in a very light way, it is touched upon in GURPS here and there, so we aren't starting from nothing. Let's see what we can scrounge together to implement a system for corralling powerful allies.

Interesting Source Materials

The following sources already exist in GURPS and can give some framework for various elements of a monster capturing campaign.
  • Basic Set - Campaigns
    • Chapter 16, p.455, Animals and Monsters has some rudimentary, long, and closer to realistic rules for training animals. Usually the types of things we capture and train and battle are stronger than this, but it gives some ideas.
  • Social Engineering
    • Typical mons have near or above human intelligence so developing a relationship with them is a bit different than building a relationship with an alley cat or abandoned dog thrown over the fence. From this book, the ideas in Face to Face, on page 21 are probably the most relevant. The difficult part of the process is getting a random creature to decide to help you, and then building a permanent bond of trust. Look at the section on Approachability on p.25 to find methods of determining if a monster even wants to commiserate, Motives on p.25 to see if there is any chance that you can appeal to the needs of your prospective buddy, Competitive Influence if trying to convince a being to go with you versus another prospect, and especially Continuing Relationships for developing trust.
  • Social Engineering - Back To School
    • This entire book has, among other things, detailed rules on teaching. This might be more appropriate for a world like Pokemon where monsters are near human intelligence, or Shin Megami Tensei where we are rallying deities, angels, and things that rule over hell that might be arguably even more intelligent than humans. Specifically, chapter 1 covers how to be a good student in GURPS, and chapter 2, how to be a good teacher.
  • Dungeon Fantasy 5 - Allies
    • This book goes into details on how to deal with three different types of "pets," as allies, each with minute mechanical and large flavor differences. Druidic Allies covers handling mundane but powerful animals, Holy Allies covers supernatural folk (especially relevant for something like Shin Megami Tensei) and Familiars covers a lot of interesting concepts that could be helpful in simulating a lot of game worlds: a mix of mundane and fantastic creatures with especial intelligence and powers, like pokemon, and that have the ability to bestow powers to their masters, a la Persona.
  • Dungeon Fantasy 9 - Summoners
    • A book similar in vein to Allies that focuses on different flavor and mechanical trappings to produce even more variants of the puppet master type who manages a stable of powerful allies: the Demonologist, who deals with extraordinarily powerful and dangerous beings, The Elementalist who focuses on a particular niche, The Necromancer that handles huge swathes of minions, and Shamans that have a kinda whisperer flavor to them and the ability to quell angry spirits.

Finding Things

This is probably one of the most simple elements in terms of complexity. Many GURPS guide books have thoughts on how to use the Research skill to look up areas (to find monsters?) or Carousing to scour rumors (of migration patterns?) So this probably doesn't require any work beyond what GURPS provides.

Approaching Things

You somehow encounter a being that you would like to scout. First, having an advantage like Animal Empathy (or Demon Empathy, or Spirit Empathy, or Pokemon Empathy) can help you get in its head, along with skills like Psychology (Monsters) and Body Language (Computer Programs).
  • Is it afraid? Is it afraid of me? If it is not afraid of me, what is it afraid of?
  • Is it dangerous? Is it dangerous to me? Does it posture as if to attack me?
  • Is it intelligent or bestial? Can I negotiate with it?
  • Is it in dire need of a certain necessity? Shelter, water, or food? Is it hurting for companionship?
These are completely different thoughts than what you might have if playing pokemon, (can I reasonably reduce the enemy's HP to x% without causing it to faint) because these are the types of interactions that GURPS (as well as many other table top RPGs) enable, You could simulate pokemon as having the ability to throw an item that afflicts a target with mind control, slave mentality, and doesn't eat, drink, or breathe, but then why play a tabletop RPG when you can just play Pokemon? The thing I'm trying to drive home is use the tools the system provides to make the game you want to play, and if you want to play pokemon... play pokemon.

Handling Resources

In GURPS terms, having a lot of allies can be really expensive in terms of points, and a lot of settings simply let one loose with "catch whatever insanely powerful monster you can get your hands on via random number generation and use it," without worrying, "can I handle it?"
So, let's look at some ways we can manage the concept of the Allies advantage so it isn't terribly expensive.

Dependent and Ally

Perhaps the cost of allies are mitigated somewhat in the expensive, exotic caretaking they require. Maybe they require being buried in the soil of their native homeland when they sleep, or medical costs are routine and exorbitant? Maybe they are the constant target of silly thieves who always get in your way when you are on the verge of doing something? In this case, taking an ally with a dependent in tandem might be a way to cut character point budgets.

Setting Switch: Allies don't cost points

Perhaps, anyone can acquire as many allies as they want, and the Ally advantage itself doesn't cost points. Some people would say this could lead to power levels going amok because John Smith can just acquire tens of super powerful monsters... but, on the other hand, before he can do that, John Smith needs to:
  • Find and locate these powerful quantities that everyone else in this competitive universe would also be looking for
  • Develop a strong personal relationship with each and every one of these olympus mons so that they are willing to put their lives on the line for his sake
  • Feed, shelter, and otherwise nourish things that probably have tremendously expensive upkeep.
So, maybe if John Smith is wielding a team that in turn wields phenomenal cosmic power, it's because John Smith bent over backwards and went to h*ck and back to earn their trust.

Alternate Abilities

Alternate Abilities can give a very inexpensive method of accumulating several allies if only some allies are in effect at the same time. For example, in Pokemon, you can have the outstanding quantity of 240 pokemon at once, but only have access to any 6 at a time. So, maybe you have an ally group of 6 pokemon at 100% of your total points, and appears constantly for 120 points.... but then you have an ally group with 100% of your points, that appears super rarely, for only 45 points... or 9 points if it's an alternate ability. So for a measly 129 points, you can have up to 246 pokemon that also have about 130 points each, if you can find them, and assuming you can only access your alternate ability in certain places with a setting switch to set which group of 6 you have access to at any time, then this might work well. The fact that these monsters are bound to 100% of your point value means that you can unlock more of their potential as you yourself grow as a trainer.

Modular Abilities

Finally, another option, and also pretty expensive, but very flexible would be to have Modular Ally Groups. If it is a setting switch that everyone has the ally group though, then it doesn't matter that it costs so much. Using Powers, and the pokemon example again, this would be a Modular Ability with Social Only, and probably a broad class of related advantages (Allies and Ally Groups only) The per slot cost is 4 points because the list of allies to choose from is short, and must be developed by one's own ability and resources, and 3 points per point because changing allies is slow, and subject to external influence (it can only be done in certain locations using official equipment.) So that makes a cost of 
(4[Slot cost] + (3[cost per point] * 5[Cost of basic ally at 100% points] * 6[Group Size] * 4[Always available]) * 0.7[30 percent discount for allies and ally groups only] = 255 points, or in GURPS notation.

Cosmic Ally(-30%) Modular Ability(120)(4 Point Slot, 3 Points per point; Social Only, +0%, Allies and Ally Groups only, must be 6 or less Allies with 100% or less points, -30%)[255]

Which immediately gives even a 25 point kid a total of 280 points, leading to having some pretty strong allies. This potentially also can be customized a bit more, if we change the discount to -20%, then we can have a situation where we have unreliable allies that don't respect their master exactly, and rebel, similar to mechanics in other games. Or we could have the option of having a character that has 12 weaker allies in place of 6, or 3 stronger ones... why does it have to be six?

Other Thoughts

I think the hangup on the argument was bound to the way something was phrased. The word "conversion" was used, and converting is a weird thing that leaves us with the worst of both worlds. We have a game that contorts GURPS into something that it isn't meant to do, and we have something that tries to act like a second best substitute for something that already exists.
I put these thoughts forward as a kind of proof of concept that a "catch-em-all" type of game is possible, and probably has a distinct, interesting GURPS feel while preserving the parts of the genre that make it fun.... well, I dunno about trading. How do you make sense of just treating mons like a used video game that you trade up? Probably some form of negotiation between you, the mon, and the prospective new master to make sure that the arrangement is suitable... so Social Engineering again.

1 comment:

  1. The Source Material part was a bit lengthy so I wanted to show a summarized version...

    Campaigns->Animals and Monsters: Basics of 'mons!

    Social Engineering (Main Book): Influencing and communicating with 'mons!

    Social Engineering (Back to School): Teaching the 'mons!

    Dungeon Fantasy 5 (Allies): Gaining powers from 'mons!

    Dungeon Fantasy 9 (Summoners): Dealing with mysterious and powerful 'mons!


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