A combination of reading Agon, re-reading Meikyuu Kingdom, and thinking about some of the little tricks we’ve come up with in my group’s D&D4e campaign have inspired me to get back to work on Slime Story at long last. The major stumbling block was getting the conflict rules to work how I wanted them to, and I think I’ve got that about figured out.
Before I had a “footing” system, where each character in a conflict is in Forward, Middle, or Rear footing (or in some special circumstances Off-Balance or Ambush footing), which was basically a trade-off of offense for defense or vice-versa. The thing is, once you’ve set your footing, there’s not much motivation to change it, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a map and character tokens and such. Meikyuu Kingdom and Agon both use abstract range maps. MK calls it the “battlefield,” while Agon has a “range strip“. (And apparently Traveller had something similar too, so it’s a much older idea than I’d originally believed.) This lets me do some neat stuff with range, movement, and positioning, and in particular, outnumbering the enemy within a given position on the map gives characters an advantage. I think this will help provide about the right level of tactical elements, enough to make encounters interesting in their own right, but not so much that they eat up too much time.
And, straight from Agon, the social conflict rules are basically the combat rules but with the map/positioning elements taken out completely. Much simpler and IMO altogether better, since having positioning in a social conflict is getting a little too abstract for my tastes.
The other important thing I’ve come up with is the “action stack.” This is my attempt at doing something more interesting with initiative, an area that has seen surprisingly little innovation over the years. In order to simplify combat in my group’s D&D campaign, we’ve taken to having a combat card for each character and monster with the relevant stats on it. Once the initiative rolls are in, the DM just arranges the cards in order and cycles through the stack of cards as needed. This in turn lets me do interesting things with the stack of cards that would be awkward otherwise, including meta-effects that change a character’s spot in the initiative order. It’s also made it easier to keep track of “reactions,” a class of actions that interrupt regular actions; your card gets turned face-down in the stack, and when it comes up again it’s righted, but you don’t get to go until it comes around face-up again.
On the whole, I’m feeling a lot better about how all of this stuff is coming together, though of course it’s continuing the pattern of tearing out some bits of the system and keeping others. (But, the bits getting discarded are becoming smaller and smaller.) On paper, it looks like it’s achieving the right balance of tactically interesting and intuitive to play, even if it does involve a lot of fiddly bits. But, if I can get the encounter and conflict rules straightened out, I can finally write up the talents and get the game ready to properly playtest.