I made a video this morning to show off the new procedural narrative system I’m developing for GearHead Caramel. The Challenge system is a further refinement of the Mechanical Tarot, which was based on Smart Terrain Causality Chains. Its big difference from those systems is the fact that instead of linking interactions to lead to a desired outcome, the challenge system can be used to construct scenarios with interactive parts and multiple or even no preset endpoints.
Here’s how it works. A Challenge can be defined in the scenario generator. This Challenge describes some aspect of the world that the player character can interact with- this is usually going to be a need or want that the PC’s actions can fulfill. The Challenge is described in sufficient detail that other parts of the adventure and the scenario generator can add opportunities and resources which the PC can use to complete the Challenge. Challenges can be linked, such that completing one Challenge is necessary before another Challenge is unlocked.
The completion (or defeat) of a Challenge will typically alter the game world directly. Political alliances may shift. The player character may gain friends or enemies. The state of a city may be altered, such that a previously wealthy town in thrown into ruin or a tyrannical ruler may be dethroned (or defenestrated). There may be unintended consequences depending upon which Challenges are completed and which are not.
In the video, and example is shown of two deadzone communities at war with one another. The war itself consists of two challenges- C1War and C2War, which control city 1’s military actions against city 2 and vice versa. The scenario creator adds a random factor into the war- a casus belli, the reason why the two towns are fighting. This reason may load its own challenges- maybe a diplomacy challenge to argue for peace, but that might not be possible unless other factors are addressed first. Maybe City2 can’t grow enough food and has attacked City1 to capture some arable land. Maybe the leader of City1 has their sights set on building a small wasteland empire and City2 is just the first city in their sights.
This brings me to another big difference between the Challenge system and the Mechanical Tarot- while the Mechanical Tarot attempted to build story components that could be used universally, Challenges divide the labor between the Challenge class (describing a very specific scenario) and the Opportunity/Resource events (which handle the mechanics of Challenge interaction, are mostly universal, and draw their specific details from the data contained in the Challenge object). The Challenge object itself is primarily a description of what’s going on. It’s the other parts of the system which bring that to life.
Anyhow, this is still a fairly new system, but I think it shows great promise. I plan to make a new release featuring the Challenge system soon after a bit more testing and polishing.