Thrash 2.0

With a project like Thrash 2.0, I can’t help but get nostalgic and whatnot. On the one hand, I can’t help but kick myself for taking so long to get this far — it’s literally been about three years, mostly taken up by distractions and procrastination — but then I’ve learned a lot about RPGs and game design in that time. I’m barely even looking at Thrash 1.8 as I work on the new version because every time I do I see stuff that makes we wince. Plus I’ve changed enough core concepts that the utility of looking at the old version is kind of limited at this point. Still, even though the rules were really wonky at that point, my Karyuu Densetsu (“Legend of the Fire Dragon”) campaign was the first really long, memorable campaign my group had post-high school. It was big and melodramatic and cheesy and the player characters were kicking ass all the time, when they weren’t too busy bickering. There was a really fantastic mishmash of mythical stuff, from Thuggee assassins (one of whom had a Grab/Life Drain/Choke Slam combo move) to a village of hybrids of humans and the Four Sacred Animals, to bring sucked into a realm in the astral plane where dragons roam free, to redeeming one of the genetically engineered bunny-girl clones, not to mention the elemental ninja clans.

Every time I start thinking I’ve left Thrash behind for good, I find myself wanting to go back, both because of those memories and because the game had its fair share of fans. At its height I was getting emails from gamers all over the world, and there were a couple different translated versions in the works. After reading and playing dozens of new RPGs, I feel much better equipped to make Thrash into the kind of game I feel it deserves to be. To do that I wound up pretty much tossing out the old edition and starting from scratch; clinging to old (bad) ideas and having no real focus for new ones is a lot of what was bogging down previous attempts at putting together 2.0.

Styles as a character trait are completely gone. That approach was full of flaws to begin with, and none of the alternative approaches I came up with were making things better. Instead, I wound up using the “Techniques” from Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game, minus having styles determine a character’s available maneuvers. The end result is that I don’t have to worry nearly as much about styles being accurate or inaccurate, and you don’t have to create new character traits to have a character whose style isn’t in the book. While in SFII they went to the trouble of listing a style for every character (even if some of them were odd or just plain made up, a situation that wasn’t improved when the game was localized for our neck of the woods), many fighting games don’t bother. Most of the cast of Soul Calibur just fights with some European weapon, and there aren’t many cool style names for that kind of stuff. It’s much easier to say that if you want to make a video game Tae Kwon Do guy you need to give him lots of big kick moves.

The new AP system is probably the most important and radically altered aspect of the system, and it seems to fix several of the combat system’s biggest problems in one fell swoop. All characters get 3 AP per turn, and unspent ones are actually saved up, to a maximum of 6 (taking a cue from Xenosaga). Combos, counters, and so on are all so much simpler this way. Improvised combos are just doing multiple moves in a turn, and combo maneuvers let you commit a certain amount of AP to do a set number of moves that would ordinarily use slightly more AP. Very few tabletop RPGs actually use any kind of Action Point system — the closest I know of is Shadowrun, and they may have changed that in the new edition — so I’m doubly curious to see how it works out in play. I’m definitely going to put those glass beads to use for tracking AP.

Maneuvers got a lot simpler too, just because I decided they should mostly be a character’s special moves (the ones that, in fighting games, take a controller motion). There was a lot of confusing and unnecessary variety in maneuvers, especially throws, and paring down that selection looks like it’ll benefit the game substantially. It’ll probably be a little harder to make a realistic martial artist, but then this is Thrash and that’s not a bad thing.

I also dropped the idea of doing a unified point-buy system. It was Mutants & Masterminds that convinced me to do this. I’ve heard good things about M&M and when I picked up the book and read it I was inclined to agree, but when creating a character it’s hard to get a good sense of point scale, and it’s just time-consuming. (Which is part of why we’re probably using T&J for our upcoming superhero campaign). For a superhero game it makes sense that you’d need to be able to divert points towards attributes if you feel inclined to make a super-strong guy, but starting Thrash characters have a narrower range anyway. Right now I have Thrash set up with three pools of points at character creation — Attributes, Techniques, and Everything Else (Edges, Flaws, Abilities/Skills, and Maneuvers).

Tokyo Heroes definitely has a bit more of an “indie” vibe to it than Thrash (insofar as you can when your game is based on a massively popular formulaic institution of Japanese television), but Thrash is where it needs to be. The thing that did the most to help me work on the basic mechanics was finally reading Unisystem (in the form of the Angel RPG). It actually uses a d10+Attribute+Skill mechanic just like Thrash’s Interlock system roots, and it even has maneuvers (though they’re a little different, more a quick-reference than a character trait). To the limited extent that I understand GNS theory, Thrash is basically Gamist. I’ve been trying to give the game a little more tactical depth (to the extent I can). I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I did wind up dropping a “Fighter Nature” mechanic (where you pick an archetype of why your character fights and you get a minor special ability and a way to earn more Karma points) because it doesn’t fit with the general direction the rest of the mechanics are going. While I wonder what a more Narrativist anime martial arts game would be like, I think if I do another system I’d like it to not be about characters who fight constantly.

Just as I’ve been watching sentai and magical girl shows for Tokyo Heroes, for Thrash I need to get back into playing fighting games. Most of the time when I get inspired to work on Thrash it’s because I was playing some fighting game that I really enjoyed. Party’s Breaker and Eternal Fighter Zero helped with that in a big way at one point, and I really need to get around to playing Melty Blood at some point. Doujin games seem to be the last bastion of good 2-D fighting games these days; even SNK is trying to go 3-D. For whatever reason there aren’t a whole lot of fighting anime around though. King of Fighters: Another Day looks *really* cool, but it’s only sporadically released shorts, Fighting Beauty Wulong isn’t being subbed (I should watch the raws anyway, really), and people online act like I’m crazy for liking Air Master (and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha for that matter). I think my Dreamcast died though (and I never got very far in DiGi Charat Fantasy either…), so I’d have to borrow a friend’s or something.

It’s good but weird that now when I watch sentai and magical girl shows I find myself mapping things out in terms of the Tokyo Heroes game mechanics (though I’m still not sure how exactly the Dekarangers’ SWAT Mode is going to translate into game terms). Hopefully it’ll work that way for Thrash as well. ^_^

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