Here’s a glance into my concepting process; I’m going to define my vision for the Champions of Ilea, reborn like a phoenix.
As I revealed, my first instinct was to create a game system to simulate the world. This is the wrong way to do it, as the best simulator is the Game Master. Designing a world simulation system is like designing a hefty, flat surface to hammer nails in that is attached to an actual hammer. The system was a conflict resolution mechanic that worked like Dominion. The concept failed, because it did not support my original vision. And the reason for that is that the vision was vague. I just wanted to attract the same lightning that struck last year in my Pathfinder campaign. I still want to do that, but let’s define it a little better.
What do I want from Champions of Ilea? I want the players to find unconventional methods to solve prejudice-based problems without bloodshed. I want the game to be slightly humorous, but still taken straight-faced. I want the characters to remain consistent. I want them to do their best to serve Ilea.
Based on this short description, we see that character consistency and sticking to the game theme are important, and thus supporting them with gameplay is imperative. Everything else can be handled by the GM.
In Star Wars Saga Edition, there is the Dark Side Point mechanic. Every time a player character does something that is morally unacceptable (killing a person who can’t fight back, for example), the character gets a Dark Side Point. Get enough of these and your character falls to the Dark Side, becoming an NPC. There is also a Destiny mechanic, which gives rewards to characters who strive to achive their Destiny and penalizes those who fail to do so. These mechanics drive the player towards a certain narrative and reins the players in. Rather than world simulation tools, they are narrative tools.
Let’s make something similar. Penalizing never raises motive to do anything, so let’s try to reward the player for doing something we want him or her to do. Staying in character is one thing. As we want to support all roleplaying techniques, let’s not focus towards the execution, but the intent. Every player has a certain amount of character Features. These are the character’s most common and visible personality traits. These can be positive or negative: Analytical, Hopeful, Hesitant, Pessimistic, Brash… The traits function a bit like Vice and Virtue in the Storyteller system: By exhibiting the chosen trait (and therefore playing your character), the player gets a mechanical bonus. This would incentivize the players to stick to their character concepts.
Then, the thematic driving force. Since we’re going for a very specific type of experience, let’s ”limit” it further. In every game, the players are champions who represent Ilea. They are chosen by it’s queen, Vanessa, because they share some of her ideals. As the players go around the world, they meet rulers of the lands and common people. Every one might have a different take on how to solve a problem. The Queen wants peace and unity, the rulers (generally) want prosperity and order, and the people (generally) want freedom and peace. The players can garner Goodwill, which is a mechanical bonus, from these factions. It can also represent how the communities respond to the characters: For example, getting the people to accept a werewolf in their midst might require some amount of Goodwill from the people before it is possible. Gaining a pass for a noble gala event might require Goodwill from the rulers, and getting funds for a powerful magical artifact might require some amount of Goodwill from the Queen. One can gain Goodwill by serving the faction in question, and depending on what they want the players to do, it might lower other Goodwills.
So now we have a strong mechanical narrative drive. The players will want more power, which is achieved by doing what they are supposed to do and roleplaying. The actual dynamic of the game would be “problem of the week”. Every session there is a new place and a new problem, which is first described to the players as they explore the area. As they become familiar with the problem, they will try to fix it somehow. They form a plan, execute it and see what happens. Some problems might be more extensive and require more than one session to solve.
The actual game mechanics aren’t clear yet. I have some card- and playing card-based ideas, but I don’t feel them yet. I’ll think about it for a couple of days and see if the solution presents itself. But for now, we have a vision of the game’s purpose and it’s dynamic. As long as the mechanics support them, the whole will feel consistent.