Nautilus News Network: Working on Relationships

Or, at least, relationship mechanics.

I had a really good discussion with Patrick that helped me refocus on exactly what I wanted to get out of Nautilus.  One of the ideas that came up was the idea of characters finding their place out in the universe.  Which could involve treasure or glory, but that’s not always part of the path to someone finding their own little spot in the world.  Oftentimes, though, the people in your life are.  So I’ve been doing some work this past week on trying to mechanize relationships, in order to reward roleplay and give players an incentive to really connect with the world, instead of simply wandering around killing everyone who doesn’t immediately roll over and give them what they want.

Pathfinder actually just added a system for this in Ultimate Campaign, the details of which are here.  It’s not a bad jumping-off point (especially since there are seemingly very few other (possibly no other) d20 games with relationship mechanics), but it does have issues.  I like that it lets you switch a relationship from being friends to enemies and vice versa, but the methods of advancing a relationship (mostly oriented around leveling  your own character) don’t feel very organic and most of them seem like they would be extremely slow as well, taking months of regular sessions to advance even a single relationship to the top level.  I’d like Nautilus’ relationships to evolve more quickly when using play sessions as a reference, and to not be tied in with leveling, which has been greatly de-emphasized due to the use of GM-adjudicated Advancements taking the place of XP.

As far as my own work, there’s been some good and some bad so far.  The good news is that I figured out how to give relationships unique properties that will feel powerful enough to make them well worthwhile, as well as a method to incentivize having roleplay-heavy sections of play.  The issue I’m currently running into is how to track increases in a relationship, and what exactly the number(s) should represent.

I want increases to occur more organically than the Pathfinder system, but I’m afraid of leaving it all to GM adjudication.  At the same time, I would rather not make it social skill check-dependent, as plenty of people who haven’t studied diplomacy or the arts of intimidation all their lives have fast friends and bitter enemies.  So do I do a bit of both? Do I tie it into minor advancements?  Major advancements?  Simply hope the GM can handle it on their own without a hand to guide them?  I’m just not sure yet.

There’s also the issue of what the numbers represent.  In Pathfinder’s system, the relationship is either a positive or a competitive/negative one, with no real middle.  The use of an absolute relationship value is an interesting choice, though, in that it can be seen to represent the history, both good and bad, a character has built with another character.  I would like more shades of grey in my system, so you can have friendly rivals and comrades who are looking to stab you in the back.  I’ve been looking at a two-axis system of friendly/hostile and comrade/rival, but am stuck on how to determine what kind of interactions go into each column.  (Which has the same issue as above about whether to leave it all up to the GM, find some strict way to mechanically define it, or take another route entirely.)

I’m hoping with a few more days of thinking I can get that shaken out into a workable beta system and move onwards to the other subsystems that need finishing and/or rewriting.  I am going to keep pursuing this though.  It’s (I think) a unique contribution to the way d20 games can be run, and I can’t pass up an opportunity to connect players and their characters more deeply with world while encouraging meaningful roleplay.

I just need to figure out how exactly to make it all work, first. 😛

P.S.  Apologies if this went on a little long. Don’t write when you’re tired, kids!  Feel free to ask any clarifying questions or make suggestions both mechanical and for research (are there other d20 games that do relationship mechanics?  Let me know!) in the comments.

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