A speaker at GDC (unfortunately I can't remember the specific speech) made the argument that we shouldn't aim to please everyone with our games; that tactic often leads to more bland, middle of the road game design. Instead, we should design in a way that sparks conversation and controversy. If a game mechanic is polarized between "loved it vs. hated it", your design is more interesting than "everyone said it was fine."
This speech crystallized some of my dissatisfaction with certain aspects of team advancement. In v3.1 of Karma, team upgrades often follow a similar pattern: get the ability that increases our action skill, get an ability to make training xp more efficient, etc. Even the upgrades that were less optimization focused felt...dull?
So I decided to rework almost all of team advancement around a few principles:
Safe house upgrades should:
Now, every safe house upgrade is effectively a special ability that attempts to embody those principles. These abiliities focus on the team's neighborhood, relationships with contacts, and downtime/free play time.
As it turns out, trying to write the equivalent of 32 new special abilities--with a flavor that clearly differs from team or playbook special abilities, are somewhat balanced, and seem compelling--took a lot of time.
These safe house upgrades lean into the idea of abilities that offer advantages, but come at a cost. The hope is when players choose to pay the cost, it adds interesting twists or threats to the narrative. It also helps balance the overall game that safe house upgrades aren't 100% positive; I don't want players or teams to get OP to the point there is no challenge left in the game.
This upgrade allows the group to generate sell out points in advance, but also pushes them to act in a morally gray way, which could potentially contribute to the team's overall corruption. (Sell out points allow you to take +1d on any roll).
This also introduces part of the new safe house system: each safe house trait (community, resources, security, space) has a rating from 0-4 which can act as a dice pool; this rating is increased as you invest in more upgrades of that type. If the team has invested more in the community of their safe house, "Bitter" becomes more powerful, as you'll have a larger dice pool for that sell out generation roll.
This trait system is part of overhaul change to make your team's home neighborhood more relevant to gameplay. Some upgrades benefit from the team investing into a specific trait, such as this resources upgrade:
Other upgrades always have a benefit, but offer more advantages if the team accepts some risk:
4-5: 2 favors
6: 3 favors
crit: 5 favors
This is another community upgrade. Taking it always has some benefit (extra favors), but it can also nudge players towards letting wanted levels accumulate to increase their extra favors.
This is an example from the security upgrades:
This security upgrade helps incentivize keeping at least one relationship with a powerful person negative. Surviving that agent's wrath makes you a badass in the eyes of others...and gives the GM extra tools to cause complications for the team.
I am excited by the way safe house upgrades will define the neighborhood's traits...because the neighborhood is now a faction of its own. Your team will have an agent NPC from the neighborhood that reflects the team's relationship with their community. Based on how the team treats people--especially during entanglements--this relationship will grow...or sour.
Of course, if you really annoy your neighborhood you can always get the Arena upgrade and win some goodwill back:
This new direction for safe house upgrades will require additional playtesting and balancing, but overall I am happy with the direction. While not there completely, I think this shift does move away from "this is clearly optimal or standard" to options that require more conversation.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.