I’m doing things differently in designing “Good, Fast, Cheap” as opposed to other games I’ve tried to write before (none of which have ever actually seen the light of day). Usually, I’ve had some kind of hard and fast agenda or goal for the game. (“It needs to do X, Y, and Z in setting A with other parameters F, G, and H”). With “Good, Fast, Cheap” that’s not the case. I have an interesting play mechanic with a general “sacrifice and morality” theme but is has no definite destination. Instead, I’m trying to let the game write itself - exercising the rules in various genres and styles to see where it naturally fits.
“Temptation’s Gate” is a fairly generic scenario with very little structure around it and it holds up well enough for a first release. Is that really where Good, Fast, Cheap belongs? Maybe, maybe not. I am much better at identifying what I don’t want rather than what I do want. It can be difficult for me to access my own desires directly. When faced with many options, I always rule out the ones I really dislike first and then think about why I don’t like them. Thus the logical course of action for game design is to start wildly experimenting with things and eliminate paths as I go.
I’ve been on something of a Pokemon kick lately, courtesy of my friend Nateal (@HotPinkJoystick), so it seemed fitting to start the journey there.
Everything in Pokemon is simple. The characters have clear, uncomplicated motivations and don’t really change all that much. They don’t need much mechanical definition and Good, Fast, Cheap doesn’t really provide a ton either. Character generation took maybe 15 minutes and we were on our way.
Though there is a heavy dose of battling, not all the conflicts in the Pokemon world are combative. Many are explorative or social. Since “Good, Fast, Cheap” uses a single resolution system applicable to many types of situations and cares about cost over skill, we had no problems addressing all kinds of scenes. It handled beauty pageants, trainer battles and chase scenes fairly effectively (but not Super Effectively). Anything from the anime or game I wanted to throw at the players, we could do.
In media res character advancement crystallized during one of our sessions. Casey (@thednddaddy) had a Rival named Larry who always punched him in the face. When Casey met Larry on the road and beat his Pokemon, Larry charged Casey but this time, Casey punched Larry in the face. We all immediately knew THAT is how characters should advance in this system; it was really a matter of defining how it works. In the newest revision, XP has been eliminated. Instead, when you make a roll you can bet one of your Hooks, erasing it from your character sheet. If you get a Major Success on Cheap, you may advance an Asset die (or Sphere die under certain circumstances) related to the Hook that was fulfilled. If you fail Cheap at all, one Asset is demoted a die step instead. Minor Successes of Cheap have no effect on advancement. This weights character advancement slightly toward instances of compromise or frustration (failures of Good) but not overwhelmingly so. It’s possible to learn just as much by being awesome as by being thwarted.
My vote for best scene of the game was the encounter with Team Rocket. James distracted Casey while Jessie picked his pocket (relieving him of his partner MissingBit*). Kait (@thedndmom) then called for her Wolpy (a Fakemon from DeviantArt) but Meowth got a hold of Wolpy’s Pokeball, retreated him and promptly tossed the ball to James who was hiding on a roof. Casey smacked Jessie with a rock, causing her to fall and get pinned by Casey’s Daramaku. Kait blinded James with her trademark flashlight who then fell off the roof and tried to escape but ended up getting turned around and running into Casey who remembered how awesome it was to punch a guy and so flattened James. James spilled Rare Candies into the street as he fell and Team Rocket got away while Casey and Kait retrieved their Pokeballs and phat lewt.
*MissingBit is the pre-evolved form of MissingNo which itself later evolves into MissingHex. You find them in buggy copies of Red Dead Redemption.
One thing that became abundantly clear over the last two sessions is that “Good, Fast, Cheap” doesn’t do well in ‘friendly’ environments. Gym battles are an excellent example of this. Generally nothing gets destroyed, there’s no outside interference and nothing huge is at stake for the challenger. It’s all about the tension of “will she or won’t she?” Though PC Pokemon were knocked out, the Gym battle scenarios were clumsy and not very interesting. The same goes for the beauty pageant. The narrow focus of the event made adjudicating the system awkward. Had the pageant been important to the relationship between Kait and her Rival, crucial to her Poke-hat business and maybe, I don’t know.. interrupted by Kyurem at some point I think it would have worked a lot better. Also, there was nothing chasing the PCs, no ominous presence with vile machinations in the background and no countdown to doom. The number of times I was given an Opportunity was vastly greater than the number of unique Opportunities I had sitting around. In short, the world surrounding the characters must be more hostile (or at least busier) for the mechanics to really work the way they’re supposed to.
“Good, Fast, Cheap” is very much a Black Box. Input parameters, stuff happens, results come out. It doesn’t really tell you the story of how you moved from input to output, however. For me, this is a feature. I get a big kick out of having to somehow puzzle together what happened and apply back-justifications. As a GM I know a lot of what is going to happen so these moments of murkiness are my gateway to surprise. That being said, it gives the game an odd pacing. It moves two or three steps forward, then reverses for a moment while you work out the resolution justification and then proceeds forward again. It’s a fun mental exercise but admittedly screws with narrative flow. The resolution mechanic requires too much input to be efficiently granular (like a hit-by-hit combat), but lacks story unless you string three or four resolutions together in short sequence. I think this is mostly a factor of scope and can be fixed with good scenario design but it’s at least something I’m thinking about. Ample Posturing (telegraphing or outright stating an impending Opportunity) may also play into this. I tend to ask my players to make decisions in terms of mechanics (Good, Fast or Cheap) rather than color. With good Posturing, the possible Opportunity is already shown in advance, and cuts down on ‘calculation’ time.
Time is also something of a problem. I’ve been aware for a while that some events need to occur outside of and without being triggered by what the characters do. The Time counter has done an adequate job of this. However, in the really interesting sequences Time moves abnormally fast and either I forget to track it or I don’t want to interrupt what’s going on with some other event. Because the game ‘camera’ is always focused on the PCs, I think pretty much everything is going to have to be mechanically triggered from PC decisions. Still, I want to create the illusion that it’s not.
Overall, “Good, Fast, Cheap” is a mediocre system for a Pokemon game. It works better when you can explain why everyone is acting all at once, but Pokemon’s general feeling of always utilizing one-on-one conflicts in conceptually small spaces just doesn’t fuel the system properly. Also, permanent loss is not a trope of the setting. The status quo is neatly preserved which runs antithetical to “Good, Fast, Cheap’s” aim of tough decisions and noble sacrifice.
Where should I go from here? I have some ideas of my own but would also like to hear your input. What kind of setting do you think this game should be played in? What kinds of settings do YOU want to play it in? (because, you know, I need playtesters and stuff) Email me at [email protected], hit me up on Twitter (@ryvencedrylle) or find me on Google+. I eagerly await your thoughts!
(editor’s note: Ryven is running a playtest of this game on Jun 14th at 7:30 as part of the GAMEPLAY playtesting network on G+. Check out the page and contact him or us to get in on it)