crisis point

A dear friend asked about games where you play first responders and I thought that the overall structure (episodic, escalating, characters leaving play, competency) suited Hollowpoint nicely. So I hammered this together. If you use it and have a good time let me know. You need to know some Hollowpoint to make sense of it but not much really.

A Hollowpoint hack where you play compassionate first responders. You are never violent. We’ll follow the existing pattern of escalation. Is it fantastic or realistic? I don’t know. It can do either but do we want either?

Safety

Since Hollowpoint deals with extreme and unrealistic situations in a comic book style, while there is a need for safety the game already describes itself in a fashion that contrives a kind of consent just by agreeing to play it. Crisis Point, however, is not like that — you are going to play characters with only compassionate responses in stressful contexts and that means people need to be set up to handle it. We recommend drawing lines and veils before we even start: let’s not design a mission that is certainly going to upset someone. It might even be easier to say what kinds of missions are acceptable rather than trying to enumerate everything that’s not.

Then also put a scene stopper like X Card or Script Change in place. Personally I find X Card more natural and less intrusive on the illusion that we are acting rather than authoring but this is a matter of taste: both are effective at halting a scene before it causes harm.

Mission

The mission for Crisis Point should be some escalating scenario though not necessarily (or even ideally) one that is guided deliberately by a villain. Resolution of the mission happens when players address the root cause of the distressing scenes they are dealing with (which means the root cause must be resolvable — note that this departs for a strictly realistic narrative in that our EMTs will eventually act non-locally in order to get at roots). Example: EMTs dealing with worsening floods that are a result of mismanagement of city funds for river management.

Missions are broken up into scenarios (sometimes scenes) which advance the plot.

To write a mission the ref needs to invent the following:

  • A rough idea of what kind of intervention the player characters are “about”. This should come out of character creation.
  • An opening scene that introduces the problem.
  • An idea of what the root cause is.
  • Seriously, …, the thing will develop on its own from there.

Characters

Characters need six stats which are the ways in which they can approach a situation tactically. It’s up to you as ref to find scenarios where some stats are harder than others to bring to bear so that different characters can be spotlit. Some thoughts:

First aid, Forensics, De-escalation, Counselling, Rescue, Bureaucracy

I picked these as follows:

First aid is the logical parallel to Hollowpoint’s KILL skill — it’s the most direct and immediate response to your expectations of a scene.

Forensics is in the mix so that there is an opportunity to analyze each scene to find information that advances following scenes so that they are not strictly reactive. Note that in play the actual crisis will interfere with forensics which is awesome.

De-escalation — I want a way to have violence as opposition (such as an active shooter scenario) but not a way to respond with violence (that would be a way to fail the scenario). Also stands in for negotiation I think.

Counselling is a psychological counterbalance to first aid — maybe an obvious choice.

Rescue is the physical act of getting people out of danger. This would include putting yourself between harm and an innocent, entering a dangerous structure to extract someone, and so on.

Bureaucracy is there because I kind of think that root causes are going to generally lead you there if we are saying there is never a personal arch villain. Who is the villain? Probably some accounting process or algorithm or similar. All of that gets handled under this heading.

As always, pick one of these as your NEVER — a method you never use. You don’t know how, you’re philosophically opposed, whatever. You never do this. Then rank the others from 1 to 5. Example:

Wilson Griggs, ex-ambulance driver

First aid: 5 De-escalation: 2

Rescue: 4 Bureaucracy: 3

Forensics: 1 Counselling: NEVER

Next you need five traits. A trait can be burned (cross it out) in order to either add 2 dice to your pool or to make a declaration that’s true. That declaration can be anything that suits the narrative even if it breaks a rule: you decide you’re not dead when the dice say you’re dead, then you’re not dead. Cross out the trait. If it’s a physical object, it’s destroyed. If it’s a fact about you, then now the story’s been told and no one wants to hear it a second time. Cross it out. Answer these questions to get your five traits:

  1. You wear the uniform or at least meet the dress code, just like everyone else. Except for this.
  2. You saved a lot of lives in Utah that one time. What do you still have from that mission?
  3. You’re a professional and you know it because you always do this.
  4. You’re ready for whatever has to be done: others might hesitate (maybe wisely) but you will dive right in and do this.
  5. Someone you love loves what you do. They gave you this.

Tell as much story as needed to make sense but trim the trait down to a word or a phrase. Example:

Wilson Griggs, ex-ambulance driver

First aid: 5 De-escalation: 2

Rescue: 4 Bureaucracy: 3

Forensics: 1 Counselling: NEVER

Charles Schultz’s Lucy Vans

Charred fire axe

Head straight into trouble

Get people OUT

Father’s dog tags

Finally characters need a reason to be together. They can just agree on what they are or maybe we can make a limited version of the SH oracle for organizations. That risks becoming fantastic rather than realistic but maybe that’s okay. You want to be wary of simply making the characters part of an official body like the fire department since that places them in a rigid authority structure with clear boundaries for action, making it very difficult to act on initiative to get at root causes. Maybe this must be a kind of fantasy and the organization the characters belong to is always a hypothetical one allowing this to happen.

Opposition

The opposition can’t throw things at you that are exactly symmetrical with your own skills since it is free to be violent. Wondering if they can be categorized and then broken down into six specific “attacks” that can be indexed by the dice (roll 10d6 get 3×4, what attack is a 4 in this context? That guides ref narration as we proceed).

(Never mind I think we can generalize)

For a scenario the ref should choose what exactly is the reason for the call and what the opposition is. It might be the environment, it might be people. Something else? What else is there?

1 – panic

2 – someone in personal distress

3 – harm to character from source of danger

4 – interference from well meaning bystanders

5 – interference from other agency (possibly one authorized for violence)

6 – delay from source of danger

So, for example, if opposition dice indicate 3×1 (a whole lot of panic), that is applied against a character as a hit and the ref narrates how the panic has inhibited their actions.

We track hits by category, so players should record a hit from harm (3) with that category, eg. (3) wrenched shoulder from falling beam. So an additional hit of (4) neighbours are all up in my face does not take you out, but another 4 and you are on your way.

This also guides a taken out result — what does it mean for a player character to be taken out by general panic? By a specific person in distress? By interference from bystanders? All of these are interesting and varied psychological tolls on someone that could end their career.

Panic: first distracted then overwhelmed

Distress: first re-focused then tunnel vision

Harm: first hurt then incapacitated

Innocent interference: first explaining then very fucking angry

Official interference: first frustration then helplessness

Delay: first too damned busy then not holding it together

Once a character takes that second hit they are out of play. Take their dice off the table for this scene. Once the scene is over they may choose to be Taken Out (see below) or stay on but keep 1 hit on the character sheet.

After a fight everyone not Taken Out can remove their hits.

I notice that this can get very fucking dark very fast. Make sure everyone is ready for that — when the dice indicate the police show up with rifles to control a situation you almost have in the bag, that’s going to be ugly in ways not everyone wants to deal with.

Teamwork

[TODO] no immediate ideas here but clearly has to be different from HP

Taken out/advancement

Obviously we don’t want the same rules for this as in Hollowpoint since it’s designed explicitly to let you be hilariously awful to your team.

So what happens to you when taken out? I think we keep the replacement concept but soften it: the character has left play to be replaced by someone who is either:

More experienced: some additional tools to bring to bear as a special ability. They are brought in to bring the situation under control. Their first scene is an explanation to the others of what the plan is now that the shit has hit the fan (similar to Hollowpoint but now berating — only constructive).

Less experienced: sorry all we have is a new person to fill the shoes. Give the replacement a special power for being new — maybe more up to date training has an effect? Maybe just a new perspective? But they get a power for being new so make them better than a baseline character somehow. They do not however arrive with a plan. Instead their intro scene should be the new mission lead introducing them.

Example mission

Fucking fires everwhere

Characters are first responders but volunteers — a local firefighting/rescue team with a reputation for success but not actually authorized to act (?)

Initial scene is a three storey walkup fire. It’s bad. Shit’s falling down all over. Cops might show up and try to control the scene. People are trying to help because they know the people in the building.

Root cause: someone’s taking money to pass fire inspections that could fail. Fire department is happy with the increased budgets they have. Some old buildings getting burned down, tenants out, rebuilt. Hmm.

When in doubt, start another fire.

game design by risk analysis

I don’t know if this is a real thing or just a stupid idea, but I was watching some folks talk about giant robot stories (in the context of giant robot games) while also working on a customer risk assessment and I suddenly wondered if we could use one in the context of another?

Currently I work making giant robots safe and secure, so I already know robots in the context of risk analysis works. But what about risk analysis as a tool for game design? So there are lots of methodologies for assessing the risk (and determining how to mitigate it) for systems but one I really like because of its collaborative and practical nature is the French government’s EBIOS 2010 system. We won’t dig into it in detail nor discuss my professional variations on it, but rather look at it from a very high altitude and see if it makes a game. More correctly, if it identifies the parts of a simulation that are fun to model in a game. Maybe we get some new giant robot direction!

So the first step is to identify the assets of the system. Now, this is often naïvely interpreted as the physical objects of value in the system but this is not how this works. The assets of the system are the elements of the system that are critical to its correct and safe operation. They might be things but they might also be functions.

assets

So what kind of assets to giant robots have?

  • integrity of their armour — if the armour is busted, that’s bad
  • safety of the pilot
  • ability to destroy an opponent
  • ability to navigate difficult terrain
  • security from extreme environmental threats (radiation, engineered, disease, poison)
  • ability to function in a wide range of temperatures
  • ability to function in extremes of shock and vibration
  • ability to detect threats (enemies in this context)

I’m sure there are more, but this is a pretty good list to start with. So the next step is to determine just how bad your day gets if these assets are compromised. Since this is subjective we don’t want really fine granularity — let’s just say it’s zero if nothing bad happens, 1 if it’s a pain in the ass, 2 if the system becomes useless, and 3 if the pilot dies.

So integrity of the armour. Let’s call that a 1 because we have pilot safety and basic functions somewhere else. We don’t really care much if the armour is damaged if nothing else happens.

Pilot safety, that’s a 3 obviously. Note that in a real assessment here is where we would argue about the dollar value of a life — is it really more important to keep the pilot alive than anything else? And we might change the severity definitions based on this discussion. Anyway, and so on. Let’s summarize:

  • 1 — integrity of their armour
  • 3 — safety of the pilot
  • 2 — ability to destroy an opponent
  • 1 — ability to navigate difficult terrain
  • 2 — security from extreme environmental threats (radiation, engineered, disease, poison)
  • 2 — ability to function in a wide range of temperatures
  • 2 — ability to function in extremes of shock and vibration
  • 2 — ability to detect threats (enemies in this context)

Next we need to talk about what threatens these assets. What are the threats?

threats

So normally we’d brainstorm these and get lots of ideas and then winnow them down to essential and unique threats. But let’s short circuit that since you can’t respond very quickly to this and I’ll just list a few.

  • enemy weapons damage our weapons
  • enemy weapons damage out mobility subsystems
  • enemy weapons damage our pilot cockpit
  • environmental temperature is very high or very low
  • weapons use creates too much heat
  • weapons malfunction
  • mobility system generates too much heat
  • subsystem breaks down from lack of maintenance
  • enemy weapons damage sensors

I think already we can see a game system come together though I’m not blind to the fact that I am thinking about game systems as I generate this list. It’s a bit of a cheat so I’m not sure it proves much. Maybe if I started with a topic I don’t know well?

Anyway the next step is to decide how likely each threat is. Let’s say 0 is amazingly unlikely. 1 is unlikely, 2 is common, and 3 will happen pretty much every time you get into a fight. Let’s quickly go through that:

  • 2 — enemy weapons damage our weapons
  • 2 — enemy weapons damage out mobility subsystems
  • 1 — enemy weapons damage our pilot cockpit (because it’s small compare to everything else!)
  • 1 — environmental temperature is very high or very low
  • 3 — weapons use creates too much heat
  • 1 — weapons malfunction
  • 2 — mobility system generates too much heat
  • 2 — subsystem breaks down from lack of maintenance
  • 2 — enemy weapons damage sensors

risk matrix

Now we just multiply these to find out how much we care about each scenario. If a threat doesn’t impact any asset we don’t care. So for example, let’s look at “enemy weapons damage our weapons”. That seems to affect only our ability to damage opponents, which has an asset value of 2. So the risk for this threat is 2 x 2 = 4. We’d normally make a risk appetite grid to say just how bad a 4 is. Something like:

Severity ->
Likelihood0123
0who careswho careswho caresmaybe bad
1who caresmaybe badworryingbad
2who caresworryingbadvery upsetting
3maybe badbadvery upsettingunacceptable

So a 2 x 2 is BAD.

Let’s look at something with multiple asset impact. Enemy weapons damage our pilot cockpit. Now clearly this affects our pilot safety, our mobility, frankly almost all of our assets. So we pick the most severe one: pilot safety. So that’s a 1 x 3 — BAD.

As we go through this we start thinking about mitigations. For each scenario that’s, let’s say, worrying or worse are there mitigations we can put in place that reduce either the severity or the likelihood of the event? So, for example, we could add armour to the cockpit and maybe reduce severity by one step. That’d be nice. But we need to also consider the ramification (cost) of the mitigations.

Because I want to talk about it in the next step let’s also look at weapons use creates too much heat (3). We will now have to invent the impact of heat on the robot and now we’re also designing a game — we’re imagining features of this robot and its world context. So let’s say we think that a hot robot is an unhappy robot. That most subsystems degrade. Certainly the weapon but also mobility and maybe pilot safety ultimately. So that happens with a likelihood of 3 and pilot safety is the biggest deal of all the impacts. 3 x 3 is unacceptable.

mitigations

So a mitigation is a recommended change to the system that reduces the risk level of a given threat scenario. And this is where we start getting a game I think because when assessing a mitigation we have to consider its cost and that’s where we start to get at least robot construction rules.

We have an unacceptable scenario up there — weapons overheating can kill the pilot. That would be bad. It can also do lots of other things, so even if we solve the pilot problem we still could wind up with a 3 x 2 that’s very upsetting. So we’d really like to bring down the likelihood of a weapon overheating. We could:

  • prefer weapons that do not generate much heat (like rockets, say)
  • add heat dissipation equipment to weapons (sinks, heat pipes)
  • add heat dissipation equipment to the whole system
  • … and so on

Now from a game design perspective what’s interesting here is not how we make a giant war robot safer, but the detail that we are adding to the system. Now we know we want to track heat, maybe by component. We know that some weapons generate more or less heat. We have a new subsystem (heat sinks) that could also be damaged and create cascading trouble.

discussion

What this seems to do is to give us a big pool of credible detail — elements of a fictional universe that have some justification for existing. Ultimately a good (or more often bad) risk analysis is what drives pretty much everything in the real world: nothing is perfect and so we need to decide how much imperfection we can tolerate. A lot if not all complexity comes out of this thought process, and trade-offs like that are also a Good Trick in game design: they create diversity in approaches to playing the game well.

afv

I had the urge to do several things.

  • Buy some tiny tanks and paint them.
  • Play a tabletop wargame with tiny tanks.
  • Use a new font.

So obviously I wrote a tiny game for myself. This hasn’t been tested yet but please feel free. It’s essentially a very pared down version of Striker. I intend to play some of this tonight so expect more revisions. When it’s golden brown and a skewer comes out clean I’ll post it on itch. In the meantime, help yourself and see if it goes boom.

Sequence

Player A

Movement

  • If you have a stopped marker, remove it and go to Fire.
  • If you have a ready marker, remove it.
  • If you have a suppression marker, you may move full speed directly away from the enemy and remove it. Otherwise move up to your maximum movement rate and change facing to your direction of travel.
  • If you move zero, place a ready marker.
  • If you move half or less, place your direction marker perpendicular to your new facing.
  • If you move half or more place your direction marker in the direction of your facing.

Fire

  • You can shoot at anything in line of sight. If a recon unit has spotted an enemy out of LoS but in direct fire (no hills between you, just trees or other concealment) you may shoot at it.
  • If you have a suppression marker, you may fire at the nearest enemy revealing yourself to all opponents and remove the suppression marker.
  • You may fire once for each weapon system on your unit.

Player B

Same thing, clearly.

Units

Infantry

Infantry and their jeep.

Standard infantry

  • Move: 10cm (5mph)
  • Special: Only affected by anti-personnel attacks
  • Special: When in line of sight only spotted 50% of the time (1-3 on d6)
  • 3 hit, 0 pen, 15cm short range

Heavy weapons team

  • Move: 8cm
  • Special: Only affected by anti-personnel attacks
  • Special: When in line of sight only spotted 50% of the time (1-3 on d6)
  • 3 hit, 1 pen, 20cm

AT team

  • Move: 8cm
  • Special: Only affected by anti-personnel attacks
  • Special: When in line of sight only spotted 50% of the time (1-3 on d6)
  • 0 hit, 6 pen, 20cm 

Degraded infantry

  • Move: 10cm
  • Special: Only affected by anti-personnel attacks
  • Special: When in line of sight only spotted 50% of the time (1-3 on d6)
  • 0 hit, 0 pen, 10cm

Recon

Utility vehicle

  • Move: 80cm, 20cm rough terrain or mud
  • Armour: 1
  • Special: anything they spot everyone spots
  • Special: can carry 1 infantry team
  • 3 hit, 1 pen, 20cm

Light armour

Fast Cannon carrier

A tank.
  • Move: 60cm
  • Armour: 3
  • 0 hit, 9 pen, 40cm

ATGM carrier

  • Move: 60cm
  • Special: can only fire on a turn that has AND starts with a stop marker
  • Armour: 3
  • 0 hit, 12 pen, 30cm

Fighting Infantry Vehicle

  • Move: 60cm
  • Special: can carry 2 teams of infantry
  • Armour: 3
  • 3 hit, 3 pen, 30cm

Medium armour

Standard AFV

  • Move: 40cm
  • Armour 6
  • 0 hit, 9 pen, 40cm
  • 3 hit, 1 pen, 20cm

Tank destroyer

  • Move: 40cm
  • Armour 3
  • 0 hit, 12 pen, 50cm

Heavy armour

  • Move: 20cm, 10cm on soft terrain
  • Armour: 9
  • 0 hit, 9 pen, 40cm
  • 3 hit, 1 pen, 20cm

Move

You may move your movement rate each turn. After moving, place a direction marker to indicate your direction of travel. If you did not move, place a READY marker instead. You may choose to move evasively — if so, move ½ your full rate but place you direction marker perpendicular to your actual path of movement (you zig-zagged).

Shoot

Roll 2d6 + hit for each weapon. Each weapon may engage a single target. Hit on 8+, 11+, 14+, 17+, &c.

Is there line of sight? No? Forget it then.

Did you move and you’re not infantry? -2

Did they move laterally (>45 degrees from straight towards you)? -3 if they are light or recon, -2 if they are medium, -1 if they are heavy or infantry.

Are they infantry in cover? -2

Are they in your short range? +0

Are they in your long range? -2 (5x short)

Are they in your distant range? -4 (10xshort)

For each hit, subtract pen from armour and roll 2d6

2d6 Result human Result vehicle

2: nothing nothing

3-5: stopped (no move next) superficial

6-8: suppressed external component destroyed (lights, antenna)

9-11: degraded, suppressed degraded move ½ or shoot -2

12-14: destroyed stopped or no weapon

15+ destroyed destroyed

Stopped infantry get a STOPPED marker.

Suppressed infantry get a SUPPRESSED marker

Degraded infantry get a SUPPRESSED marker and act as the DEGRADED INFANTRY unit type.