War…. War never changes. So says the Fallout opening. I have been playing This War Of Mine and it shows a way to change war, at least from a gaming standpoint. This game is where you play as a group of scavengers trying to survive the war, by dealing with getting supplies and food, stopping raiders and even dealing with random events such as do they help their neighbours. You have to made hard choices in this game like who gets to eat the limited food you have, who gets medical supplies and even sleep, not to mention do you steal from or kill others.
At least you do not have to face it alone. You do have neighbours who will come and trade or ask for help. Also, there are areas that you can trade with people squatting in their own buildings or even military in their outposts but if you do something to anger them they may attack. As you only have one scavenger with usually limited weapons, you can get outnumbered quickly in a hostile area and thus killed. Also, occasionally new refugees will join your group.
The idea of how the do the resource management here will be obvious to people of various survival games like Gods Will Be Watching, Unreal World, Don’t Starve and such. You have trackers for sickness, wounds, hunger, tiredness and even moods. These will change how your character interacts such as bad wounds making you move slowly and various other stat effects.
As you don’t have unlimited storage space when out scavenging, it becomes a matter of wants and needs and your general strategies. For instance, you start with no food, little resources, no weapons, not even beds. You are in a house with holes in the walls from the various battles. You can build beds, work on weaponry, patch the walls, build a garden, and so forth. So, what do you focus on at the moment, worried about starvation, freezing, raiders, even depression and sickness and wounds can be problematic.
This approach makes it clear the game will not be easy. You are in a position of weakness almost constantly and there are always those more powerful than you. You want to find ways to survive and prosper without pissing off the wrong people. Sounds like a roleplaying game to me, as these are the general attitudes a PC should have. Pride at overcoming their challenges, daring to take on new ones but a healthy respect of the unknown because anything could be out there waiting to kill them.
Many GMs will waive a lot of bookkeeping to keep the game running faster, giving the PCs food when they need it and having access to medical supplies if they need it. However, there’s fun in the challenge of chomping at the bit wondering if you’re going to bag some food and thus survive. Look at games like Long Dark or similar where you’re having to gather supplies to survive or Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead where you begin as a simple Evacuee in a zombie apocalypse, a weak squishy scavenger and you can grow into a really powerful survivor.
The problem with the above as an idea for tabletop RPG design is most games don’t prepare their players that way. Sure there can be talk of rules to track animals and get water and such, but most people usually play to be the hero, the person with great skills and equipment, and dumping someone like that into a scavenging setting may not work well. This is even worse when you factor in games with magic or technology that can solve most problems you throw at them, if they know to prepare them. For example, make a Shadowrun character that could essentially eat a rock for nutrition due to various cyber- or bio-ware and you destroy the food issue.
The idea these games show is that we as players like to be challenged and we don’t always want to be the white knight on the stallion all of the time. Make an interesting story and give the players ups and downs, places they can use their superpowers and places where they may be limited in power. Just look at superheroes as they have this happen from time to time too.