Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Diegetic Character Options in Car Wars

One of my favorite Car Wars house rules is to only give out skill points if you actually do something. You normally get a point each for driver and gunner skill just for rolling into the arena. Earlburt and I only give out the gunner skill point if you hit something and the driver skill point only goes to the folks that make a control roll. This adds in insult to injury for those characters that roll too low on their first couple of to-hit rolls and then get killed. It also makes encourages people to drive recklessly– always a good thing in Car Wars! One more refinement to that is in the skill points awarded for kills rams: you normally get one in each of driver and gunner for that a kill, but we’re so stingy we only give out one for driver if it’s a ram and one for gunner if it’s by weapons fire. (That’s just one more slight encouragement to keep the game about driving and shooting.)

Its interesting then to look at a group of characters that are playing a set of duels at about the same time. The skill advancement rates diverge more than in the standard system and you can start to really care about making that next control roll…. The opening seconds of the duel can be a little dull as the players accelerate and set up their first passes, but interest in those turns increases when you’re watching to see if anyone lags behind in making that first hit and locking down the “free” gunner skill point. In light of Brendan’s recent post, I thought I’d go back over the skills list and see if there was anything else in the game that could benefit from that sort of tweaking:

Running— Okay, this is a little chintzy. Still, if you get out of your car and run around in a situation where people are liable to chuck a grenade at you, you might as well take a free skill point in running! In an AADA duel where no one is allowed to shoot at you, you can forget about it, though.

Luck— Earlburt has said in the past that he doesn’t like handing out prestige, say, just for rolling box cars or whatever. But there is one case where getting lucky is maybe notable: when you need a perfect six on a control roll and you miraculously pull it off. You should also get a point in Luck each time you succeed in a situation that required you to “roll two dice and pray,” but it had better be awesome.

Fast Talk— Even after playing thirty or forty games together, Earlburt and I can still get into rules disagreements. We usually sort it out and move on, but this can still stick in my craw sometimes. When things don’t go my way, I usually feel like I got fast talked… so why not give a skill point for using that ability? And characters that are on the winning team should have their Fast Talk skill points from the session tripled! Maybe then these would turn into shame points so that we’d fight over who gets stuck with the points. Or maybe… I’d start building characters that start the game with Fast Talk at base level and (in the spirit of Uncle Schmalbert’s rule benders) start demanding we roll a contest of skill in those situations…!

Ah well. I can’t imagine Earlburt getting super excited about adopting any of these, but it was worth a try to see if the concept could be developed in some other areas. (And no… I don’t know what “diegetic” means in this context and even Google fails to enlighten me in this case!)


9 responses to “Diegetic Character Options in Car Wars

  1. Earlburt July 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    We actually do give (have given) both Dr and Gn skill points for weapon kills. The logic being that while driving matters (at least a little) in lining up a shot, gunnery doesn’t matter at all in a ram. It also serves the meta-goal of discouraging rams. That still leaves us very stingy compared to the unaltered rules.

    And you’re right, I’m not turned on by those skill notions. However, I am drawn to diagetic skill development in general. That is, skill points being alocated for the use of those specific skills in game.

    I’m ok with general skill point awards, but not so much for then using them on the base skills of Gunner, Driver, Hand-Gunner.

    • jeffro July 5, 2012 at 8:03 am

      Thanks for the correction.

      Note that… for our characters… if they (a) had some general skill points and (b) could not spend them on the usual combat skills, then… [according to the rules] they are stuck having to either improve their “free” Running/Climbing/Area Knowledge skills or else spend $1,000 and take three months off in game time to pick up a new skill. After that, they could sink all of their general skill points into that one new skill as much as they wanted.

      By the “official” rules… a character entering Amateur Night, winning it, and scoring 3 kills would get 4 skill points in each of Driver and Gunner… and then at least 4 more general skill points on top of that. If two of those three kills were salvageable, then he’d be Gunner-1 after a single session.

  2. Earlburt July 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    The first game I remember playing that dispensed with a D&D style XP and level system was Stormbringer. Skills advanced by using them in game, and passing some kind of advancement roll.

    Warhammer Fantasy RP and Burning Wheel have the most elegant advancement systems I’ve encountered. But that’s all way beyond CW.

    I’m just not sure that skill proloferation makes a lot of sense in the nasty, brutish and especially short career of a duelist. I remain drawn to the notion of using NPCs as skill surrogates.

  3. Alex J. July 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Diagetic means “within the story” (I think). It is most frequently applied to conversations. Conversations that NPCs can hear are diagetic. “Pass the Fritos” is non-diagetic. Players would like “Should we screw this guy?” to be non-diagetic, but cruel GMs can allow the guy to overhear.

    Gaining a skill point in luck because you rolled a 6 is clearly non-diagetic. Gaining a skill point in gunnery because your character took a class at Uncle Al’s is diagetic. Gaining a skill point in gunnery because you shot someone rather than because you showed up in combat is more a difference in abstraction or granularity.

    • jeffro July 5, 2012 at 8:07 am

      Thank you for clarifying this. I see your point, but in defense of my post… I will say that Car Wars is so focused on the sport of Autodueling, that the dueling events do produce a particular sort of narrative. But yeah, I do have some thinking to do here….

  4. Alex J. July 4, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Diagesis is the name of the wikipedia article. And there the distinction is more between character conversations and narration or soliloquy.

  5. Brendan July 8, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Yes, the distinction is in-story versus out-of-story; or perhaps more usefully: for the characters versus for the audience. In film theory, this is most commonly discussed regarding sound, because musical soundtracks (usually) are there for the audience, not the characters (one assumes that Luke Skywalker can’t hear the John Williams music, for example). Here is a quick decent summary:

    When you think about it, non-diegetic sound is really a pretty bizarre convention, and rather transparently manipulative of the audience’s emotions. It is really no less artificial that characters breaking into song during a musical.

    (Spelling might have caused some confusion, as the term is diEgesis not diAgesis. Sorry to be the “spelling guy” here.)

    • jeffro July 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      Spelling fixed. Is my face red…!

      • Runeslinger July 23, 2014 at 9:20 am

        I came up referring to this process (as found in CoC/BRP) as stochastic development, but haven’t seen it referred to be a name anywhere other than here.

        Since you wrote this, have you found a term you preferred?

        [Jeffro: It actually hasn’t come up.]

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