Hammercalled Design Objectives (Or “Why You Should Play Hammercalled”)

I’ve become a bigger fan of planning recently as a way to prevent mission creep, and it was very effective for velotha’s flock, which released (mostly) on-schedule without any sacrifices to its core content.

So, as we move into Hammercalled entering regular testing by April and potentially being available to the public in its first wave release around that time, I want to share what my design objectives are for the game.

The five things I most want to provide in Hammercalled are as follows:

1. Robust character distinctions and options.
2. Mechanics that foster storytelling in a broad number of settings.
3. Novice-friendly ruleset that still allows for growth to mastery.
4. Ease of play that allows people to run the game with almost no need for calculations or math.
5. Easy extensibility for third-party content and setting materials.

With that said, let’s look at what the objectives I’ve written for Hammercalled play out and what they’re in.

Wave 1: The Ashen King

Wave 1 covers a post-apocalyptic combat-heavy setting that focuses on some minor transhuman science fiction elements as well as raw and brutal gameplay.

There are a handful of measurable objectives here:

Design Objective 1: Character Distinction

Characters will have at least ten distinctive numerical statistics that allow for meaningful comparisons of power level and preferred activities.

To fulfill this objective, the mechanics that make up characters need to be able to be seen as unique entities. A character who has one background needs to feel different from another character with a different background.

Design Objective 2: Combat

Hammercalled will feature a combat system with a simple initiative queue and no more than ten “core actions”, and a typical character will usually have only three favorite actions that they use more than three times per combat and five that they use every combat or so.

To fulfill this objective, I want to be able to design crunchy and meaningful, but limited combat. I want to prevent situations that end with unnecessary actions being declared each round, enable characters to act in response to events, and also tie in characters’ gear as a ways of making them stand out in combat.

Design Objective 3: Risk

There are consequences for taking actions that would logically result in damage to the character or group. These most obviously take the form of a health system, but also include a fraction of XP gain being based on roleplaying and good decision making.

This objective is actually fulfilled in a mixture of “carrot and stick” approaches. The obvious chance of combat injuring characters plays with health, but the secondary side of rewarding players for making roleplay, not rollplay or absurd, decisions keeps characters from doing things they shouldn’t logically do.

Design Objective 4: Talents

Characters will be able to choose from at least 15 distinct flaws and talents that contribute to their abilities either in relation to statistics (DO 1) or in narrative or mechanic altering ways (e.g. able to call on allies, able to take an extra reaction).

Talents give a second layer of distinction for characters. They allow me to fudge numbers in special cases, but they also give a way for interesting distinctions to happen in non-quantitative fashions, which is important because equal numbers all look the same. This is one of my big gripes with Eclipse Phase, which I love but also has a few different roads to the exact same success.

Design Objective 5: Exotic Units and Threats

Hammercalled will support interactions between individual characters and exotic units and threats, like buildings, vehicles, or giant monsters/robots.

Design Objective 5a: Vehicles

Characters will be able to interact with vehicles, with rules for different characters taking on different crew roles as well as combat between vehicles and dismounted characters.

This is mostly to tie in with the setting, but also to allow for vehicles to serve as a basis of group interactions (think the war rig from Mad Max: Fury Road) and as a plot device. They should be customizable, perhaps even as much so as characters, but not to the point of adding such complexity that they no longer make sense.

Design Objective 5b: Megathreats

Characters will be able to interact with threats, such as monsters and machines, that are not necessarily functioning as characters but share many of the same qualities. These “megathreats” are balanced to pose a threat to a whole party of characters.

Basically, Hammercalled needs rules for bosses and monsters that are worthy of epic stories. I don’t know how to say much more for this, because it will require further examination.

Design Objective 5c: Minions

Characters will be able to engage with minions in combat and non-combat interactions, with minions being minor NPCs who are used to pose minor threats (especially in numbers) and advance the flow of the story.

I’m leaning toward the one-shot and gone minions of traditional games here, with the caveat that minions are given defensive thresholds for all their possible interactions. I’m leaning toward the Symbaroum approach of discouraging GMs from rolling dice, with characters’ defensive thresholds making for their response to most actions.

Design Objective 6: Advancement

Characters will develop from a starting state of average competence (50% success at risky tasks associated with their preferred vocation) to high competence (80%-90% success of those same tasks), as they go through the game, increasing both quantitative values (DO 1) and Talents (DO 4)

Stage 2: Othenar

I had originally talked about making my cyberpunk setting Street Rats part of this, but I decided to push it to Stage 3, because it’s retreading a lot of Stage 1 content that should probably be in play for a while.

So the follow-up setting for The Ashen King will be Othenar. It’s a fantasy setting I’ve been working on for a while, so it’s already drop-in ready.

Design Objective 7: Heroic Storytelling

Introduce mechanics for risk mitigation and overflow to the game. Focus on allowing characters who are larger-than-life to exist partially outside the game space, manipulating its fundamental elements.

Basically, in The Ashen King, the PCs don’t get special tools to help them. By the time Othenar rolls around, they get Fate/Edge/Moxie/Reroll points to give them a chacnce to undo their mistakes. This will probably be piloted earlier, but not finalized until now.

Design Objective 8: Supernatural Elements

Allow interaction with supernatural elements, including methods for creating rituals and spells that are available to characters via talents (DO 4) or narrative circumstances. Narratively, this also includes the influence of deities.

I’m going to worry about magic here. How this will be done is still unclear. I’m leaning for school-based magic with talents available to allow characters to unlock many abilities, but also gate off supreme mastery behind expensive advancements.

Design Objective 9: Reputation

Hammercalled will feature systems for tracking NPC bonds (one-on-one realationships) and reputations (membership in a group) that will tie in with advancement and economy systems.

One thing that often stands out to me is that characters in games don’t develop attachments to their societies, so I want to add that layer of intrigue to the Hammercalled Roleplaying Game. This will also factor into the particular world of the core Hammercalled setting, since the Hammercalled have to bandy influence with various external and internal factions.

Design Objective 10: Planes/Otherworlds

Characters will be able to interact with other modes of being to gain advantages and give a second layer for narrative storytelling. These will have their own associated talents and prerequisites for access.

The reason why this is a separate objective is that it’s hard to do right. The goal is to not shunt players entirely into a separate world, but push them far enough out so that characters can have unique roles without resulting in a “pause for the vision-quest/cyberspace cowboy sequence” moment.

Design Objective 5d: Otherworldly Characters

Characters in Hammercalled will be able to reflect almost any archetype or familiar story in fiction, including beings such as elementals and spirits. While this may not be feasible for player characters, rules will exist to handle this (and when possible, interactions with DO 4 will be added to give some of these unique qualities to players in a consistent and fair manner).

Hammercalled is not aiming to be an ultimate “You can do anything” game, but it needs to support pretty much every genre to truly accomplish my goals. Characters with strong links to the environments with DO 10 allow for additional narrative possibilities.

Stage 3: Street Rats/The Dust

I’m torn on how exactly to handle this third stage. I’m contemplating kicking Street Rats three-hundred years into the future, making the setting more like The Expanse or Altered Carbon, but I’m also considering tying it into my collection of sci-fi stories, The Dust.

Design Objective 10a: Cyberspace and Augmented Reality

Characters will be able to connect with cyberspace and augmented reality. Not only will this provide logical bonuses, but allow for a second layer of planes/otherworlds for the protagonists to interface with.

One thing that is important in Hammercalled is to allow multiple means of solving problems. Cyborgs aren’t likely to run too much on wireless, but more advanced technology comes with advantages and weaknesses, one of which is that it functions on this level. This also interfaces with (DO 5d and DO 4).

Design Objective 11: Economy

The goal of the economy in the Hammercalled ecosystem is to give players another way to exploit their environment. Unlike reputations and relationships, money speaks everywhere, but it also poses threats to the game balance, so it comes fairly late in the process where we’re essentially approaching a “victory lap” of sorts.

Hammercalled includes gear as part of characterization (DO 1, DO 3, and DO 4), so the Economy in DO 11 needs to be carefully considered as part of the careful balance between DO 3 and DO 1/4. It should not remove risk, but rather add opportunities.

Design Objective 12: Supertech

This objective covers the addition of additional factors and elements to the previous DO’s as needed to facilitate supertech settings. It is more of a content addition than mechanics addition (which is good, because by this point the mechanics should be mature).

No new major changes to the system should be required for this, but the Supertech element is a major part of the focus. It is essentially an alternative to, supplement to, or symbiote of, magic. It will be hard to balance against non-magical and non-technological people in the setting.

Stage 4: Hammercalled

At this point, the official Hammercalled game releases. All the parts are assembled and tested together, then stamped with a seal of approval and shipped off, possibly to Kickstarter (the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 will actually probably take as much time as the entire development process to that point).

At all points along the way, harmony between mechanics is a core goal. At this final point, however, the emphasis becomes on going from a series of games with particular focuses to doubling down on both the science-fantasy setting of Hammercalled and going fully to the multi-genre system back-end.

There are no new design objectives for Stage 4, just polish and upgrades. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be, but I don’t have any plans to add any yet.

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