GIWTR 02 – Part 01 – (Ninja) Hunters of the Shadows of Monster Colossi (Scrolls)?

If you have forgotten what the amazingly unwieldy acronym “GIWTR” stands for it is “Games I want to Run”. Spawned in the heady days of 2013, when the world seemed a much brighter place (I mean I had a job and a working chair which are two things I lack now), it (like this blog honestly) hasn’t seen as much use as I thought it would. But as running and playing RPG’s is now a vaguely regular thing I’ve started to have those hot movements in my brain pan that the village elder assures me are what the gentry call “thoughts”. Thoughts for campaigns of such magnificence that playing in them would alter lives, cure illnesses and doubtless increase sexual potency (no refunds). I suppose at this point I should stop amusing myself and get to the subject at hand, what is this campaign idea about?

Well the name gives away some of the major influences on the current version of the idea but the actual inspiration from the idea came from a player prop. Well more from the idea of a player prop. An in universe monster manual, one with no stats but instead one populated with the rumours and stories you had heard of each beast and where the drawings were less accurate for the rarer and more powerful monsters. This in turn spawned the idea of a campaign based around such a book where the PC’s were professional monster hunters. As I’ve been playing God Eater Resurrection over the last month it was inevitable that thinking about monster hunter’s would lead me to think about the genre the game of the same name spawned.

One important element of the genre is preparation and scouting, knowing about the monster you’re going to hunt makes a big difference in how tough and dangerous the final conflict with it will be. Another difference between Hunting games and your typical RPG is that in an RPG you may have lots, some or no mechanical character growth but regardless of whether you use an advancement system or not the vast majority of games represent a character’s competency by mechanically representing their physical abilities and skills and any increase in power is represented by an increase in these ratings. However in hunting games your characters physical abilities and skills are often set or see very little growth. The majority of your increased power lies in an increase in the players actual skill but in-game terms is represented by your gear. You hunt monsters to make better gear to let you hunt tougher monsters. I couldn’t think of any RPG of the top of my head that mirrored this kind of advancement system. You could fake it with something like FATE, but the lack of granularity doesn’t mesh well with Hunting games gear systems. You could fudge it by changing skills to gear points but that felt awkward (it strikes me now that adapting God Eater’s system of having skills attached to weapons would probably work better).

Thinking around the issue, after all sometimes an overly faithful adaptation can be harmful, I considered the idea of gaining powers by eating parts of monsters. There are similar systems in place in a few RPGs and it would be easy enough to model with a super-powers system or a cybernetics system and so on. Basically the monster hunters still had a reason to hunt monsters beyond gear. There were of course other issues to consider. One was how to make the fight with the monster in question mechanically interesting. Another was how to represent the importance of the preparatory and exploratory parts of the hunt. The latter problem brought me back to the unclear knowledge in the original prop.

What if there was a system in place where by scouting out the monster the players could confirm or deny rumours about it? In short they engaged in a sort of competition with the GM (well with the scenario) where at the end of it they ended up with their own unique version of the monster. Taking this idea in tandem with the idea of eating monster parts it became clear that what you wanted here were “boss monsters”. Apart from the ethical questions raised by eating things like Orcs and Goblins it was just a bit boring. While you often fight “minion” monsters in hunting games (to farm low-level materials) within the narrative for most of the games there are a handful of “bosses”, the guys who get on the posters, the kind of fucker who would make Roger Smith say It’s showtime! So the idea of hunting down a limited number of super-powerful monsters whose abilities were a mystery made me think of Shadow of the Colossus. Which in turn made me consider other reasons for the monster hunters to be hunting down these things and about the hunters themselves.

Obviously the hunters had to be borderline superhuman, certainly at least Batman or action hero level, if their regular job was hunting down terrible monsters. The idea of something akin to the kind of hidden supernatural ninja clans you see in stuff like Ninja Scroll, Naruto, etc. sprung to mind. Perhaps the monsters were released by a previous mistake of the clan and clan members were tasked with hunting them down? Perhaps hunting them down was a rite of passage, each “graduating” class was given a monster manual gained from divine revelation of their god/the clan elders/etc. and could only return to the village after completing it (this also allowed the idea of rival monster hunter groups and non-clan monster hunters). Also what did these monsters say about the world? As “monsters” should they by specifically unnatural? So the world had stuff like bears and lions but monsters were a separate tier? Does this world have demi-humans and if so what relation if any do they have to the monsters? What kind of cultures exist in this world?

So this was basically where I was when I started writing this post. I’ll now try to nail down a few details or mechanical systems. First an attempt at a list of what I want in terms of mechanics:

  1. A tracking and/or investigation system with mechanical weight which can also be used to confirm or deny facts about a particular creature.
  2. A combat system the provides interesting encounters with powerful solo enemies, possibly one which facilitates multi stage battles. Lethality for the PC’s is also desirable.
  3. A system that allows peak human characters with a variety of special powers
  4. A system where gear is the primary determinant of a character’s power and/or a system which allows for unique upgrades to the characters physical form

I think that covers the main areas my initial thinking brought up. I’m going to leave broader setting concerns to the next post (though they might inform mechanical decisions to some extent).

After getting this far I took a break, stayed up too late, had a revelation about how to handle this, passed out and forgot my glorious solution. Exciting stuff. However I do recall reading an interesting thread on GURPS, a system I have owned various incarnations off, made several characters for and played once. The promise of a universal system is one which has lured me in many a time with mixed results. But perhaps it’s the way to go for this. Of course, the question then becomes which universal system? Looking at the ones on my shelf there’s GURPS (3rd or 4th edition), FATE (Accelerated or otherwise), Unisystem (generally my go to system for random game ideas), Savage Worlds (though maybe I’ll save this for RIFTS), BESM (2nd or 3rd), Mutants & Masterminds and then the sort of generic stuff like Aberrant, Runequest 6th edition, etc. As I am a simple man easily influenced by what is foremost in my mind I was leaning towards GURPS.

FATE feels too abstract for this style of game, while I probably wont replicate the full mechanical fiddliness of Hunter style games (there’s a reason some things work better in a computer game) at the same time I don’t want to entirely abandon it. BESM would seem like the obvious choice given its nominal subject matter (shit just remembered I also own OVA 2nd edition – it has the same issues here as FATE), and I’ve certainly used it for “anime” style games in the past. But, while 3rd edition is by far the best version of the game and a solid “generic” system, by default it lacks the lethality and mechanical rigor I think this game should have. The mechanics feel “light” and are open to interpretation in a few places. I think it would work but it doesn’t have the right “feel”. I think Mutants & Masterminds is a great system and I ran one of my best one-offs in it, but I can’t shake the memories of the disastrous campaign I used it for. Which put both me and my potential players off it. Oh and then there was the handful of sessions I ran with Adam, Sean and Simon. Where Sean created one of the worst super hero names ever. Anyhow, its out. So that would leave Unisystem and GURPS. The real reason to choose GURPS is simply because I want to. Unisystem would probably work fine, but thats sort of what it does, it does the job and fades into the background. The allure of GURPS here is that its modular enough so the mechanics can be tailored in such a way as to enhance the experience.

Of the four criteria I listed the only one I know that GURPS can definitely manage is number three “A system that allows peak human characters with a variety of special powers”. I imagine it can probably also handle numbers two and four with a bit of tweaking. Which would just leave number one, which was always going to be a problem as it feels like its going to need its own mechanical system thrown together.

So let’s take a closer look at our first criteria: “A tracking and/or investigation system with mechanical weight which can also be used to confirm or deny facts about a particular creature.” In many ways this idea is the main impetus to put this campaign together. My initial thoughts for this were Gumshoe and Double Cross. Honestly these days when anyone mentions investigation in the context of RPG’s I inevitably think Gumshoe because it is by far the best system for such things. Unfortunately it doesnt really match any of the other criteria particularly well so at best I’d be transplanting the investigation parts of it. But then I realised the very thing that makes Gumshoe so good for investigative play makes it less than ideal for this idea. Briefly, in Gumshoe you spend limited character resources to find out additional useful facts but the core facts are always known as long as you have any rating in an applicable skill. As the key point of this monster hunting system is mystery this doesnt work for it. However the idea of spending a limited resource sounds like a solid core. I also thought of Double Cross because it has a very regimented scene system for each session of play. I think something like that could work well for a “Hunt”. It’s similar in some ways to Pendragons seasonal play. So at this point the idea is to create a set structure for the scenes that make up the hunt and to have the players generate and spend a resource to declare or deny facts about a monster.

So how can the players generate this resource? How much of it should they be able to get? How much should each fact cost to confirm or deny? Should there be a pre-set list of facts per monster or should they select from a big list and apply it to a specific monster? While thinking about this over the last day or two I’ve hashed out a few setting details which can inform this a bit. At this point the world will have “small m” monsters – these are a natural part of the world and “big M” monsters, these are the key thing the players hunt but are on the scale of singular dragons or local gods. While it was drifting towards being a basic wutai setting I am tempted to make it more specifically “Historical” Japan, more specifically still, the Sengoku Period, in fact the year 1562. But with supernatural elements added. Either way, the idea now is that the boss monsters are the children or possibly separated elements of Yamata no Orochi. Or maybe just demons. The point being, tracking them wont just be digging through their shit in the woods, they might have local cults that worship them or have infiltrated local groups/power structures. I’m also thinking they might have two forms, their basic form and then their “Apostle form” (to reference Berserk).

Anyway, back to generating this resource, which, if White Wolf has taught me anything, I need a name for. I could just leave it up to the DM i.e. me, to award it based on what the players do in the tracking and investigation phases of the session. But honestly I don’t trust myself. I also want something with at least the illusion of mechanical heft. I could make a checklist for each hunt and if the players do the stuff on the checklist they earn X amount of points. But this means if they come up with an idea I didn’t think of I’ll be back to ad-libbing. Maybe the players start with X amount of special resource and when they spend it they can declare a fact about the monster but the DM gets the resource to spend for the monster? I would like a player vs DM element, but that definitely requires a rules structure. Just leaving it to basic tracking or social interaction rolls feels a bit too boring.

Well this is getting a bit long and I think what I need here is a worked example of a monster to try to fit some systems around. I also need a snazzy name for the campaign, perhaps the Eight Devils of Kimon, or the Eight Demons of Orochi? Well next time I’ll have a worked example and a confirmed title.

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