So my last blogpost was about Garden. Specifically, guns in Garden. However, the more I think about it, the more I drift away from the concept.
Well, two reasons. First off, guns are kind of super lame. Like I think guns in real life are plenty cool, not a political statement, but in terms of combat potential? Kind of shit. You either use a gun or you die- there's no "balance" with firearms. Which is fine, not everything needs to be balanced.
Now this sounds like an paradox, but I also think guns are like super cool in terms of being able to customize them, have different parts, all that stuff. But more options isn't necessarily always better. If you make a game where half the rulebook is about modifying your character's hat, even if the rules behind it are important and very cool, it's still going to distract from everything else.
Thirdly- I'm a little ashamed to admit how much I unironically liked 'i kill puppies for satan', but that game has got it right. There are no good gun rules in tabletop games. Bullets fly out of guns and whiz around and hit people's bones and then spin and kill their neighbor but oh you're fine even though you got shot 6 times. It's all random arbitrary physics nonsense. You could argue that physical combat with swords and shit is plenty as random and not-dramatic/heroic/cool enough for you, but they've been so ingrained in the public consciousness that the "not fucking around deadly factor" isn't as strong.
The second reason is because of escalation of combat.
Hot take: Tabletop games escalate conflict to deadly instantaneously, which is bad. Also a hot take: That's not really a bad thin. See, I had to find a way to make that statement controversial somehow, because I'm pretty sure most people actually agree with the first point raised.
Here's the thing; in a lot of media, fighting with fists fulfills all the roles as a gun or sword battle might, but without the dying afterwards. It's highly based on strength and skill, shows a clear winner or loser, and allows for a vector of force. But people walk away from it. Now of course, this is talking about the fake fantasy version of street fights and fisticuffs. In real life you get in a fistfight with someone and their friend hits you in the head from behind and you hit the ground weird and you get brain damage. There's no honor in a fight. But in fantasy media land, it works.
I think that in any more urban, modernized setting, you need to have combat mechanics and escalation of force that isn't 1 to 100 instantly. This is a common sentiment, I feel. Probably because of the way people view the world as being more ordered, structured, less influenced by individual action. You have police officers, everyone is close together, things are more grounded in that sense.
For this reason; I think Garden would actually work better as a game/setting/concept where the majority of the combat was street fights. Hand to hand or kung fu brawling, moreso then guns. Of course, that's just the combat, the actual game is about working, surviving, or thriving in a big magical sci-fi city outside of space and time. But the combat plays a big role, as its the player's most actionable, intricate part of their "toolkit" to explore the fictional world.
Why guns in the first place?
I wrote about this in the Garden potpourri. When I first began to come up with the ideas for Garden, they were cemented around this idea of "immigration", not just of people but of objects. Everything was "imported". However, if you have people from many worlds with a massive, diverse range of firearms (look how many bullshit calibers we have, and that's just one world) there's no way that you'd ever be able to use a firearm besides what you brought with you at the time when you ended up there. So guns became like treasures, more then anything- even at some point being ultra-rare but magical. But at the time, I was getting super into scrap metal guns for some reason; probably a combination of different aesthetic images (Fallout 4?) and image-boards that collected cool pictures for stuff like that. So I switched the idea over to scrap metal guns.
Of course, the idea of guns being rare and special stuck; so they had to all be handmade. It fit well with this idea of the city being a sort of closed system, getting shittier and more run down the longer it goes on, endlessly recycling and reusing everything. I still like that idea a lot, and it's something that I want to keep going with.
However- while I don't have a problem with the realism aspect of guns being prolific or commonly used, I DO have a problem with the setting implications from that. Fights are more deadly, of course, and threats have to scale to it. At least partially, I wanted Garden to be a sort of borough-crawling game, with powerful monsters and psychic entities or rival criminal gangs you had to fight against as the primary antagonism of the setting. So to a degree, things had to scale up to be able to "match" the player's powerful gun game.
But that escalation and "high power level" if you will isn't something I'm after as much any more. I like to think of Garden as being more intimate. You have characters which you can see multiple times. It's got a much smaller "world" then most high fantasy settings. Even though I imagine Garden as being huge, it still ends eventually, there's a limit. It was very heavily inspired by Bastion as well when I was first thinking about it, reading and stealing everything from Into The Odd as I could, so you can imagine a massive urban sprawl- but still, it's not like a fantasy world with continents of space and world to explore.
Is this rambling? Probably. I hope you get what I mean.
What's the replacement?
Now one problem here is, if you create a system and even a setting with such a focus on a certain resolution mechanic, if that be combat (with guns), magic, or whatever else- and then you suddenly throw that out, you need something to replace it. Something to fill that hole.
I already spoiled it above; but why not fist fights? Cool brawling, martial arts, boxers. Instantly, character ideas and cinematic fight scene play out in your head. Using random objects lying around as improvised weapons, beating up (and getting beaten up by) thugs and mobsters and earning respect in the underground world.
Like I said, it's a trope and media-based concept. Not realism. Don't get it confused.
Do I have a good system for this yet? (No.) I'm working on it. Out of everything on this blog, I tended towards Garden being one of the largest and most "complete" things I've wanted to work on, putting forward a cohesive narrative with a cohesive game engine. Much more complete then my fantasy heartbreaker/untested shitbrew that goes through a revision every 6 months.
But I guess I'm breaking that promise with this post, huh? That's alright- I think this is a better change, ultimately.
How does the setting change?
When it comes to setting and world changes to push forward these changes; how do you change it up? How do you maintain an internal consistency with the newfound rules. It's a multifaceted thing in the case of Garden, since the setting has a lot of shit going on.
Let's get this out of the way- There ARE still guns. This isn't some kung fu world. It's all about the boxer and grapplers and kickboxers, but people still fight with knives and baseball bats and stuff. Guns are still rare. They're deep in the criminal underworld; it requires very specialized skills to make a gun out of scrap metal and old tuna cans and little chain links twisted up into springs. The bullets are even more of a fucking problem. You have to make them yourself, buy them from rare and exclusive gun-smiths, or steal them from somebody else who also has them.
Now what about the "immigrants"? I always imagine Garden as being a city full of people who end up "lost" in their home worlds, and end up in the city, never able to escape. It's a dimensional funnel. You can slip down, but you can't crawl back up. So people end up here with only whatever they were traveling in, or whatever they had on their back. So what about people who had guns? Lost police officers who fell asleep on highway patrol, hunters with a rifle over their shoulder, and so on. Where do their guns go once they get into the city?
Well, I'd like to say the government destroys them. I've always imagined Garden as a setting with either no government, a sort of totally anarchist pipedream world of anarcho-capitalist power struggles OR a city with a very limited, way understaffed and underfunded cardboard government. This fits better, I think. The only problem then comes with how people actually come into the city, physically, from their home dimension. I always went with the idea they arrived from out of the forest surrounding the city, or maybe woke up on a park bench, or turned a corner in a bad part of their home town and then all the sudden it's night time and why does that guy have four eyes and purple skin?
That definitely seems like the most cohesive method of people getting there. But what if everyone came in from a single location?
Maybe it's like a train station. The "immigration office" they call it. Subway train rolls in. Everyone on the train car doesn't know how they got there. They've got missing time. They are all dressed up in whatever they were wearing; you got an alien wearing a military uniform next to a businessman next to a hobo next to an idol pop singer. They get off the train, confused as hell, guided to the immigration desk. They get a passport, certain items are confiscated. The firearms are taken, the people given a handful of shitty city money, and later the weapons are destroyed. Because pretty much everyone comes in through here- it's pretty much impossible to smuggle stuff in. Hence; the crafted guns.
EDIT: After writing this, I am only now realizing how good this concept fits for Heap actually. Maybe it even works better. Less magic, more dystopian. It also makes sense why people would need to genetically modify themselves with disgusting biological weapons; they can't smuggle things in.
How about them fights?
Let me be honest here- this totally wasn't inspired by the many, many hours of Yakuza 0 I played over the Corona-virus lock downs last year. No way. But Garden has a few setting particulars that make this transition slightly more difficulty.
Firstly; the aliens. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different species in Garden. All of them will have a unique biology, size, weight, muscle, etc. At least how I envision Garden, I think of WEIRD aliens. Like not just rubber forehead aliens but like weird, sometimes even esoteric. But I usually stay away from the Barlowe aliens, for the most part. The people here are bounded to an extent. But even with that, fighting in real life is divided into weight classes for a reason. If a race of beings are built like 350+ pound brick shithouses with arms the size of tree trunks then yeah, you're dead. No human is going to be able to beat that up.
But what if they were more grounded? The humans, aliens, they all have a certain, pretty typical range of sizes, weights, and general physicalities they can draw from. Does that bore you? Well maybe. But in a way, I almost like it more. It almost makes the setting feel weirder, and, in a way, makes all the weird disparate species seem to fit together better. Think of it this way; every species in Garden all evolved independently, on all their different planets, all in planets that had a single primary star that was their "Sun". They all believe in Christmas. They can all end up as Psychics. And, they all evolved to maximize their intelligence, like humans. Evolving from the prehistory means that other traits like biological weapons, strength, senses and the like were all dulled a bit. I kind of like this, because it implies you aren't totally out of your league as a human against one of these beings; but there are still differences. They may be ancestral, but humans get their endurance, grasshopper aliens get strong kicks, a few aliens have claws, or poison spit- but their poison is like pepper spray tier- too biologically expensive to keep lethal venom for an intelligence species that cooks its food and relies on spears and shit for thousands of years.
Of course, this naturally leads to good explanations for things like weird or esoteric fighting styles, randomly generated characters, interesting combat encounters, all that fun stuff.
What are the new gun rules?
New rules? These ones work great!
Of course, using a d20ish combat system wouldn't work for this. I'd say it'd be something like the Unknown Armies system- melee attacks deal the result of your successful attack roll (so 54 = 5+4 = 9 damage) where as guns deal the roll result of your successful attack. (54 = 54 points of damage- with characters having between 30-80 HP most of the time). Or it could be like RIFTS where guns deal something like mega-damage which just blows the fuck out of anything that isn't a mega-durability creature or however that works. Maybe it just kills people on a roll of 6 or higher, everything less just puts you into the dying state, perhaps? Maybe it's the number of major limbs broken; so high rolls can "break" your head which means you die?
The jamming rules are still great though. Guns parts are not. Roll d20 + number of shots fired, get over 20 and it jams. ez pz. I'll proudly display that rule-addition I made like my life depended on it.