I think my approach to building games is too focused. That focus makes sense because I am playing to my strengths, but I suspect that I would be a much better designer if I were working on a small part of a large project.
The thing I do is numbers. When someone tries to tell me that I ought to rewrite the metaphysics of my world I nod and think seriously about it. When people ask for big changes to the descriptions of a race, class, card, or flavour text I am generally happy to do whatever they ask.
But ask to change a 3 to a 4? Bite my shiny metal ass.
That 3 is a 3 for a *reason*.
Yesterday I was driving and chatting with In The Hat and he made a couple of great suggestions about theme in Heroes By Trade, my roleplaying game. Theme is a thing I think about once I have all the numbers built. It is the pretty frame around the combat system, the necessary fluff required to make my beautiful numbers have some reason for existing.
Right now Heroes By Trade has a system where most people are just normal people. They can be good at stuff, learn magical Rituals, and be important to the world, but they don't have the raw power that a Shard has. A Shard is a person that has a shard of one of the ancient gods in them. They are magical by nature and this means they tend to be stronger, faster, and smarter than the average person. They learn Rituals more easily, wield fearsome magic in combat, and bend the world around them just by showing up.
But up to this point the fact that a person had a shard in them was just a convenient reason to give them big numbers. It didn't really have much in the way of theme or depth. In The Hat suggested that shards within people should have their own agendas or goals, some kind of thing that they were doing that might not jibe at all with the character's goals. That is a pretty neat idea! The idea of a power source within you that you have to negotiate with to some extent seems like it could generate all kinds of adventures and drama.
Adventures and drama are the thing we want!
I am not sure how it would play out, but it could be like the Nature/Demeanour dichotomy in the World of Darkness game. It isn't exactly the same, but roleplaying a dual nature or conflicts in how a person usually is vs. some internal drive leads to great scenes.
If I wanted to build a system around this I don't think I would let the player control it. If you did let the player control it the obvious thing would be that players could get some sort of bonuses when doing what their shard wanted. I suspect that would lead to players hoarding shard bonuses if they were limited, or just being super overpowered if the benefits were always available. It also would mean that characters with shards that align with their own goals would be flat out better, and I want to reward entertaining conflict, not punish it.
Probably a lot better would be to put the shard under the GM's control. My first idea would be that either the player or the shard would currently be dominant, and when the player is dominant they can add a 1d8 bonus to a roll that the shard is in favour of. However, this makes the shard dominant. When that happens the shard gains the ability to penalize the player 1d8 on a roll of the shard's choice when the player is working against its desires. Once it does this the player becomes dominant.
What this would mean is that players that always do what their shard wants get one bonus, then nothing much. Players that are always fighting their shard take one penalty, then nothing much. Players who are sometimes in agreement with their shard and sometimes not have exciting lives. Things that the shard wants go really well, and things it hates go badly.
Instead of boring 1d8 bonuses though I could do something similar with a lot more pizzazz. Basically I would say that players can tap into their shard's power to have it do something amazing to help them when they need it. However, doing this means that the shard is now dominant, and it will do something horrible to stop the player when they are working against it. Maybe it will mind control them temporarily, or cause a terrible moment of weakness at a critical juncture... who knows?
Now that system sounds like a bundle of joy for me as a GM and as a player. I would be pumping that shard ability all the time. Whatever wild shenanigans the GM comes up with to stymie my plans has to be fun, even if it wrecks the character's day.
This is the kind of stuff I need help to get going. Maybe at some point in my life I can find myself on a team with people who pour out all the ideas and I can happily there simulating combats to figure out how much damage a longsword will do.
Until then I have to be the jack of all trades, it would seem.