Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The pay-as-you-go laser rifle

Have a read of this. Now there's a business plan, and a real piece of the action. But not necessarily for the taxpayers whose money is being spent, or the lives put on the line.

It makes me wonder why in games, books and films the protagonists so often team up with one power against another, whether it be a kingdom, a tribe of orcs, a cult leader with a private army or a rogue planetary governor and local forces. Surely if they were serious they'd supply both sides with arms, or set up a chain of armed interventions?

If the characters do have to use their fighting skills. they could always use the proceeds to support an expedition of their own. A one-two like that is nothing new in our world.

But then why wouldn't they go the extra mile - shift the suspicion and blame. How?

First, the 'heroes' could overthrow a corrupt power and set up a democracy. Next they could whittle the parties down to two and support both financially, then whichever guy gets democratically elected they have arm another power in the world - with weapons they supply - and make that power feel it has friends, comfortable enough to overreach.

Elections are held; eventually the first leader gets replaced with another. The suppliers then have that guy turn on the newly-armed power and remove the 'regime'. They top up the lost munitions on both sides and maybe diversify to pick up more of the spoils.

Sound familiar? Does a bit. Let's be honest, it is pretty old school, rather 20th century.

Here's where the laser rifle in the title comes in. Imagine a pay-as-you go weapon, sold with a rechargeable power pack and topped up via satellite wireless transmission. To get a force ready for conflict a country just orders a bulk charge. No more stockpiling or supply chains; no more old weapons in circulation. Well maybe some - if rifles are lost or stolen, the supplier could just keep on charging, maybe through a subsidiary for PR reasons, or a firm with shared board members. The kingmakers would need to scare journalists before trying that, or keep them overworked, or hamstrung by advertising.

Remember, we're talking fiction here. Would anyone ever stoop this low in reality?

But it could get more lucrative. When two sides supplied by the same firm meet there could be a bidding war on the spot. What wouldn't the forces or individual soldiers pay? Here local anti-trust laws would need to be weakened first, so there were no options.

Of course, the rifle could get hacked, but then it's just time to market the next model.

I can imagine a skirmish game or setting being built around this single idea. A suitable ruleset might be Gotthammer's hard-edged FireZone - which has more to come - but the idea lends itself to a gonzo style too, and maybe a very rules-light game like Risus.

Concepts like this could even become normal. First edition 40K back in 1987 had plenty to say to gamers looking for it, and with a Byzantine setting; neither seem to have done it any harm. The world is a more clued-up place in 2011. We know what's going down.

Or is it escapism we want, to block out the big bad world and ignore bigger players?


S. P. said...

As with the oft-noted adventurers are now flooding the market with ancient gold and you didn't expect runaway inflation? plot, an arms-dealer game would be another neat campaign idea. Hell, throw the two ideas together and watch the world burn.

"Or is it escapism we want, to block out the big bad world and ignore bigger players?"

It depends — but the very purpose of play is to explore adult themes in a safe setting. Sure, kids don't play house to practice filling out taxes, but they are trying to get a grip on adulthood.

Obviously, it wouldn't be a game for everyone, but I think there's a player base for it.

Trey said...

Interesting idea. Of course, PCs could always be virtuous heroes fighting the nefarious armsdealer and the whole sorted scenario could be the can of worms they open.

Swede said...

Found your blog after reading your comments on the "Passive Aggressive Assault" thing. Good stuff, have another link feed.

One of the big problems with 40K rules right now is that often it's not to your advantage to want to kill an opposing unit quickly. Perhaps increase consolidation moves with a D6?

Porky said...

@ S. P. - I agree with that thinking on exploration. We can look at roleplaying as a set of instruments in a philosophical toolbox, a form of fiction that moves us closer to the holodeck; it's a means of experimenting, working through options, and encourages problem-solving and awareness of the potential in the real world. It's no wonder D&D rocked boats. To be fair it did make some initially limiting assumptions, but a large amount of the creative control was there at the table. Of course, it does now look a little like video games have snatched that freedom back - or let us give it up - with more central control of worlds and often plots, despite the long history and years of development. We are arguably less masters of our own destinies than in the first burst of popularity of tabletop RPGs.

@ Trey - Very true. All kinds of things could be running in the game world, with the players stumbling over outlying elements or not even seeing the wood for the trees. Just like in real life of course. Then it's a measure of how tuned in the GM is to the possibilities, and how aware, expectant and insistent the players are.

@ Swede - Thanks very much. That was a great discussion, one of quite a few in a series back then. I think those few weeks of articles helped crystallise some critical thinking about the state of the game - and us as players - and changed perceptions on various sides. Your suggestion seems to me a good way to go, looking for small alterations that bring big effects. Given the chance though, I'd go for a near-complete rewrite, but with a very big tent approach, almost from the ground up; it could be something like the writing of Epic: Armageddon, as mentioned here, and maybe even done openly online like The M42 Project. I'd argue for following up that two tier idea I suggested too, with a rigorous core ruleset and balanced primary army lists in the first tier, and all kinds of optional rules modules and a wide range of army lists or army list expansions in the second tier. Players would just agree in advance which combination they use, maybe generally 'tier one', which could be for tournaments and quick games with new acquaintances, or 'tier two', which would allow more tailored games, more involved and less tightly regulated, but still with the official stamp. That's not so different in principle from the situation at the moment with Apocalypse and Forge World, but the tiers could both cover any points level.