Friday, March 25, 2011

Permanent Items

I hold in my hand Excalibur, the sword of kings, gifted from the Lady of the Lake unto my family, in two years I will have to get a new one...Seems a bit anti climactic doesn't it? The arguments against Permanency as a ritual are many, but I have to believe that there is a way that we can make it work. Rules should never constrain the story, lets see if we can find a way that this can be made to work.

As I said before there are some very good arguments against permanency, the first of which being that item proliferation will lead to hoarding and then eventual scaling issues. NERO currently has a rule in place that deals with this, the item slot limit. If you can only carry 5 items then the maximum number of effects that you can have on your person is still only 25. You may have more items than that but you will never become a scaling issue because the number of items that you can carry will always be limited. Another powerful argument against permanency is the lack of drive for players to run modules after they have all of their permanent items. This can be addressed several ways; one, permanent items should be very rare, in fact they should never be allowed to go out as treasure and two, new rituals can be made available to keep people interested in attaining new gear. Permanent items should never go out as treasure, instead a one permanent component should go out. The rarity of permanent components should be based on player days just like other items. Unlike other items however this rarity should be measured in 100s of player days. The exact math would take some calculating but suffice it to say that it should be a great accomplishment to attain one of these. New rituals being made available may seem like it will lead to power creep, but I disagree. We have a great number of effects in our system that are never able to go into items, making these effects available to players and rotating which scrolls go out would allow for new and interesting power combinations. This will keep people playing the game even more so than the currently stale formal system.

Continuity of story, the allowance for items that lasts longer than two years, is a powerful driver in a game that relies upon the suspension of disbelief. I have a hard time as a player reconciling all of the work that went into creating my +3 sword with the fact that I may only get to use it 20 times. I would like to be able to create an item that will exist in my characters house into posterity, to make a permanent mark upon the game without damaging it. Think about the spell names from Dungeons and Dragons, Bigby's spells are all named for a character in one of the first campaigns that was run by Gary Gygax. How amazing would it be to return to a game that you had left for some time to find that the County knight had your old blade strapped to his side, perhaps he would return it to you, it's loan at an end. However there are other arguments for permanency that go beyond the story.

Characters beyond a certain level have no innate game based goals in NERO. We don't have an escalating treasure system like MMORPGS, but we should. By allowing players to get newer and cooler things, games like World of Warcraft can continuously keep players interested in their content. NERO should follow suit if they wish to compete in the entertainment world. We are not a video game but drawing from their positives and discarding their negatives can only make our game better.

In the crafting system that NERO has today, very few players actually make items. To make a five effect two year item is ludicrously expensive and most players do not play frequently enough to get value out of it. This is particularly true because plot teams send out so many items. I like giving out treasure and I agree that it should go out on large modules and randomly but putting a ritual in that is only within the scope of PC crafters or even putting in a bunch of rituals that fit this description can only be good for player immersion and the in game economy.

An interesting idea that I would like to float but really had no direct place in this article. Permanent items could be nationally controlled. With the new structure of NERO national being more broad, national could sell modules that allowed permanent items to be put out as treasure. Local chapters could then entice more traveling players by advertising that this event has a "permanency allowed" module on it. Using this concept permanent items would be limited by national availability, they could even be auctioned off.

IN short I believe that there are ways that permanency can be implemented without destroying our game. IN fact I think it could add to the vibrancy and immersion.


  1. There are a lot of assumptions about how magic items are supposed to work which we inherit from other fantasy lit. And honestly, we have to ignore a lot of that because our MI system is dictated by gameplay, not story. And that's a good thing! You're right that from an immersion POV, it doesn't make sense that Excalibur would expire. But perhaps King Arthur has to quest to renew the enchantment every two years?

    No matter how strictly you limit the number of permanent items into the game, 20 years from now they will be commonplace. NERO made this mistake in the past, that's why there was a big item pop in 2000. Given, this was a time when there was no item cap, and items could have more effects.. A guy I know has a permanent 25 effect item which has been "grandfathered" by his plot team. When I teased him about it, he got really indignant about the trials he had to go through to "earn" it... (a mod arc) back in 1995.

    From a story point of view, the magical effect is not necessarily what's important about the item. I used to know a guy who fought with a "family heirloom".. I asked him (in-game) how he managed to maintain a blade for longer than two years. He said that every so often he has to take it to a smith and have him work on it [ie issue a new tag], and take it to some mages to renew the damage aura, but it's still the same sword [prop] his grandfather fought with. This is a permanent item, in a sense - it has a legacy, a recognizable appearance, and a role in his personal story. The tag is kind of irrelevant.

  2. I can dig your hesitancy, but seriously if one permanency catalyst goes out per 500 game days that is a max of probably 4 per year. You can make all castings in dark territory and have a possibility of destruction of the catalyst on the flaw table to get the probability down to 1 per year, 20 years will still not be enough to make them commonplace.

  3. 2 permanent items per year per chapter still is still something like 400 items in 5 years. If NERO does not grow between now and 2021, there may be a thousand permanent items in the game by then. And those items won't be equally distributed, they'll only be in the hands of level 30+ characters who were around when they were created.

    Plot teams constantly pour treasure into the game economy, but they don't take stuff back out - this, and our game's longevity makes item decay logistically necessary.

    If the story has need of a permanent item, plot can create a non-expiring LCO artifact. But this sort of thing is always anchored to a story and thereby serves narrative, not gamist goals.

  4. That is a fair number of items but the other part of the proposal is that the formal system needs to be constantly updated. I don't really care how many items you have, we can scale for items, I just want you to continue to want more items. Your power is still capped by the 5 limit cap.

  5. Even still, there's a lot of games going on.

    Let's assume there are 150 people playing NERO every weekend for 3/4 the year. That's 11700 game days a year. At 500 game days per, that's 23 permanent items. Even at 1000 game days per, that's 11 permanent items per game.

    If I were to add permanency, I would pair it with spirit locks or something so that it could only be used by a single person. That would prevent hoarding or item inflation.

  6. I think I have floated that as an idea in the past too, that makes sense. Removes the legacy component but adds a control.

  7. What if to achieve a Permanent MI you had to spend build on it, like in D&D where you have to spend XP. Would that help equalize the power game and add the coolness of legacy weapons?

  8. I don't even know if you need that from a balance perspective, its not a bad idea but it may overcomplificate the situation...

  9. I think that would actually be pretty cool. The Accelerant game Mirror Mirror (at which Mickey is a staff member) has a system called "signature items" to represent things like your family sword, a personal wand, artifacts from your character history, etc. You spend character points on your signature item, and you can't have more than one. And you should really have a cool prop for it too.

    We are essentially talking about a new type of *skill* - and this exists outside of the current treasure distribution system. Good food for thought.

  10. "Summoned, I come" - Delenn

    To translate into NERO terms, Mirror Mirror also has a three slot system and your signature item is spiritlocked (and I believe is always "active").

    One of the little known bits of NERO history/cosmology is that when they introduced expiration dates (in the mid-late 90s) as a requirement they also invented an IG reason as to why items expire now. So it's not that items legendarily didn't last a long time, it's that there is a modern "curse," basically, that makes them degrade now.

  11. Am I the only one that thinks the new mandatory item limit totally sucks balls? Not are my items so prohibitively expensive that it's absolutely unheard of to make anything other than weapons and shields, and not only do they evaporate after 6-20 uses, but now even if I somehow manage to work my ass off and collect a bunch of them, I have to use a clunky, obnoxious mechanic to switch them on and off? Seems really lame to me.

  12. At NERO Elkins, we have ten "permanent" items in play. They are ten artifacts directly linked to the in-game culture and are supposedly ancient inherited items. However, they are LCO, and every 2 years their magic must be "renewed". Yes, this renewal is done by NPC casters, but the items are important to the culture. Some are in PC hands, some NPC hands. They are limited to these 10 items.

    In another game I've played, there are permanent items, because the magic system is supposed to allow any effect or enchantment the caster can imagine and adequately explain. However, the more complicated the enchantment or effect, the more magical energy he must raise by destroying components, casting at the right phase of the moons, performing longer rituals, getting help from additional casters, etc. I don't think permanent items have ever been an issue, mainly because of the small player base, maybe 20 active players total.

  13. I love the stuff Dan and Mickey have shed light on with the "Mirror Mirror" game and its "Signature Items" concept - very cool.