Thursday, 14 April 2011

Breakfast RPG

We might be getting a guest player in the near future, one who has never played a roleplaying game. I think we roleplayers, in general, can be pretty hard on newcomers as far as hobbies/subcultures/communities go. Someone comes over to play, and then you dump 500 pages of rules in front of them, make them spend an hour on making a character, calculating all these numbers they have no idea about and then you spend the rest of the evening talking in lingo while they look at you like "what's going on here". I exaggerate of course, but you get my drift.

We were talking about what game to play with him, when Jabberwock suggested Spirit of the Century. And I though yeah, that could work! But then I remembered how fucking hard it is for someone to come up with ten good Aspects (even when you have the phases to help), the (imo) overcomplicated Stunts and the weird dice. Hey, I like Fudge dice, but they're weird.

So, ok, cut down the list of Aspects to three or four, throw out Stunts, change the dice to something else. How about skills? I don't even know if we'll be playing Pulp or if this guy likes it, so the skill list (implied setting) is iffy. Since the fudge dice are gone, the Ladder becomes questionable, too...

So while I was eating breakfast, I drafted this. I also stole a big page from the Doctor Who: Adventures in time and space RPG.

1. Determine a setting with the players, try doing it before the evening in question.
2. Group brainstorm. Come up with characters for the players and create a situation from and for the characters OR create an unstable situation and create characters into it. Don't overthink it. Be obvious. Don't make a static situation. Use TVshows, books and movies for ideas and examples. Mashups are fun. "It's like Saving Private Ryan but in Star Wars."
3. Characters need some details, like a name and a description. Don't sweat it, use random generators. Most of this needs only be established during play, if at all.

4. Characters have three abilities: Physical, Mental & Social. If you want more variety, break each of these down into two or three abilities, based on the setting. You want to play cowboys? Instead of Physical you get Shootin', Ridin' and Rustlin'. Those are the answer to "what do the characters do (in this setting)?", it's what's interesting about it.
[Don't make boring abilities or abilities that won't come up in play. Do come up with abilities that are broad enough to cover all the interesting action you expect. I'm making it sound easier than it is, so I recommend you stick with the core three for the first session.]
5. Each group or ability gets a rating +2, +4 and +6. If you have the broader list, individual abilities can be fine-tuned by raising or lowering.

6. Characters get three or four Aspects. They should be picked from/inspired by these cues:
-where were you born/where do you come from/what are you...
-what's your job/profession/skill/class...
-how do you feel about/something/someone...
-a trait/quirk/flaw/disadvantage/weakness/foible
-a thing you have
-something your character is know to do/always does/makes him tick/strives for/believes in

[6. GM draws maps, asks questions like crazy, gives opportunities, provides choices, escalates situations. He drives play towards conflict, to drive it to resolution. He plays to be a fan of the characters and to see what will happen. Always ask questions and provide descriptions to strengthen the fiction. Where is everybody standing? How are you holding that? How are you feeling about this?
7. He says yes or rolls the dice. When the character is doing something, say yes. If you can't or shouldn't, mostly because a (meaningful) conflict presents itself, ask them to roll the dice. "I shoot George." "Well, you're certainly shooting at him, but George is diving behind those barrels, roll and let's see!"]

8. When a roll is made, the player rolls 2d6, and adds the relevant Ability rating.
9. The player can, before making the roll, call on one of his own Aspects, an Area Aspect, an Enemy Aspect, Gear Aspect and Setting Aspect (one of each max) to get a +2 bonus to the roll for each. This is just a fancy way of saying he gets a bonus for describing how that thing helps him. "I shoot him with my gun." isn't worth a bonus. "I shoot him with by Big Fucking Revolver." is. Yes, invoking is free.

New aspects can be created as the result of a roll, such as "injured" or "tied up" or "confused".

[10. The character has his own and his gear aspects on his sheet, the GM should present the enemy and area aspects (write them on index cards and put them on the table or note them on the map) if any. Setting aspects should be devised during the initial brainstorm ("So what's this world we're going to play in like?").]

11. The player should give an intent behind a roll. Once a roll is made, here's the result table:
14+ yes, and...
12+ yes
10+ yes, but...
8+ no, but...
6+ no
4+ no, and...

12. When an Aspect could conceivably hinder, harm, inconvenience, get into trouble or cause problems for a character, the GM should offer it as a possibility and also offer a token or chip alongside it.
13. Spend chips to buy new aspects, change/improve skills, and generally transform/advance/change/improve your character. I know I'm fuxxoring up FATE's point economy here, but I'm trying to do something else with it.

14. Optionally, put in a Luck ability/stat, for strange rolls, like "I look in the shed, is there a shovel in there?" "Um, I dunno, maybe, roll if you're lucky...yes, there is one, but it's rusty and brittle."

15. To sum up: Setting, Situation, Character concept. Player needs only name, three stats and a handful of aspects. Rules wise he only needs to know a) describe what your character does b) when it's not certain roll these two dice and say how you're doing it c) how you're doing it tells you which ability to add and how many bonuses you get d) sum up and compare with this result scale on your sheet.

16. Optionally optionally, if you feel that's still too much, just throw out the abilities. Roll the dice and incorporate Aspects, that's it. How you describe your character/who/what he is/what's he carrying/where is he/what he cares about makes him good, the rest we don't really care about. Just give Aspects bigger bonuses in this case. Maybe +4 for the first invoked, +3 for the second, +2 for the third and +1 for the fourth (so +4, +7, +9, +10). I'm actually the most fond of this one.

17. Just to clarify, Aspects are tags for narration that allow you to say something, or give you a bonus on a roll or let the GM invite trouble. Like "I'm injured, right? I drip some of my blood into the sea to attract the sharks." or "You're tied up, you can't do that without a roll." or "I reflect the midday sun into his eyes with my sword." or "You're feeling quite hungry, shouldn't you stop and eat?" etc.

So that's it. I know this is just lazy, relatively poor design that doesn't really speak to anything except having some action-y fun with friends, but it's something that's really fast and easy to run with. It's actually kinda like Lady Blackbird except everything is boiled down into Aspects/Tags (including keys and conditions) and there is no baked-in setting or situation or characters.


  1. Rockin'! A little too complicated for my tastes but it doesn't seem overwhelming. Have you looked at Cthulhu Dark or Archipelago II? Those are my current feather-light exemplars.

  2. They are both totally sweet. Cthulhu Dark is a wee bit too specific for what I want in this case since I don't even know what genre we'll be going for. Archipelago could work though, I'll think about it.

    Is that Lobster Johnson in your avatar?