Author: horizoncarlo

Fickle RPG v0.5 and remaining playtest/brainstorm ideas

You think I’d be used to massive lapses in time since posts, but I still can’t believe it’s been almost 3 months since the start of my “alien campaign” for Fickle RPG, as well as the last release. That campaign has concluded now, and was a fun time, although a bit hard to organize with drop-in players. I think I’m going to try a few one-shots (or maybe two-shots) in a wider variety of genres for the next bit, once my friends have recovered from “planning burnout” trying to organize games.

Anyway even though the game is pretty light on mechanics (in a good way), I’ve been wracking my brain on a few key ideas, as my posts since then will show. I’ve been thinking primarily about player elimination via the Defeated mechanic, how the give and take of Stamina works in general, and a potential new decision point (“Luck Dice”) during resolution to really take the core mechanic to the next level.

A lot of that hasn’t been decided and needs further playtesting. Eagerly waiting for a time when I can wrangle enough players to do that. But in the mean time I do have a few minor “for sure” changes that I made to Fickle RPG, and therefore want to release v0.5 today:
Download the latest Fickle RPG (v0.5) PDF

Changes

Game Session Example section
  • Created a huge Game Session Example section showing two players working through a medieval fantasy encounter. Nice formatting with speaker icons too.
  • Now when creating a character you must choose a -1 Skill weakness. These are meant to be flavorful and interesting narrative elements as compared to crippling crutches. The example I give in the rules is “-1 Amputated Hand is interesting when desperately trying to hold a rope lifeline to an ally, but becomes tedious and regrettable if used every time the character opens a door.”
  • Added some Attribute allocation examples, basically preset “arrays” of numbers like 6/5/4/3/3/3.
  • Added a nice looking full page title page
  • Reworked the Creating a Character section to be a bit more verbose, and formatted similarly to Resolution.
  • A pile of new Storyteller tips and clean up of examples
  • Formatting consistency, reworked headers a bit, general polish

To Playtest

Honestly after the items below are hashed out and finalized I think I’ll move Fickle RPG to v1.0. Maybe get some art or pictures to break up the text a bit in the rulebook. Considering antique/old style black & white line art for that. Maybe a real world picture of a game in session too or something.

Because of how differently each individual player allocates pools I can’t just playtest these concepts myself. But the biggest concepts are “Flex” dice (really good single dice in the pool) and what to do when Defeated (staged effects with damage spillover).

So yeah, the list:

  • Add Flex Dice (or Fluke/Fortune/Fate/Luck…name undecideded). Basically a refined idea of “Karma dice” from before. Everyone gets a small/different colored 1D6 “Flex” dice that can be allocated to Fickle at -1 difficulty or Flat at +1 success (2 total) for just that dice.
    As part of this I’d reduce all attributes and pool sizes by 1 to better facilitate “pick up X dice, throw in Flex dice”.
  • Stamina should be Attr+Attr, which works out to the same due to smaller initial attribute (nice side benefit)
  • Post-fight Stamina restores to HALF (rounded up) instead of 1. For everyone, not just those reduced to <=0
  • If Category Stamina is 0 and new damage comes in it “spills over” to another Category (defenders choice, represents how their character deals with it)
  • Broken: 1st Category reduced to 0: Cannot React, lose Flex
  • Wounded: 2nd Category reduced to 0: temporary removes 1 positive Skill from related Category, or if no skills adds a new temporary -1 for rest of session
  • Defeated: 3rd Category reduced to 0: eliminates the player for the rest of the scene. Opponents use this always for first Category to 0

Late night Fickle RPG brainstorming

Deep in thought, eyes closed with my headphones on and Phantogram pounding tunes (check them out!), trying to figure out defeated alternatives, Karma/luck dice, and a few other Fickle RPG tweaks.

btw Judge Dredd one-off went wonderfully! Real hoot, system held up well, was fun to play powerful folks with plenty of equipment. Pacing was a bit off, but that was my bad on having little experience with one-offs.

Wing Commander Privateer quadrant map

Wing Commander Privateer quadrant map

Pretty random post today, completely unrelated to tabletop games at all.

Wing Commander Privateer was one of the first computer games I bought. I remember getting a pair of CDs in a combo set with Strike Commander. I feel like the game package was $90 at the time (early/mid 90s). I just LOVED Privateer, and still play it regularly (thanks to the Good Old Games version).

Anyway when I’m accepting missions in that game I often forget which system and planet are where. So I looked for a good quality printable quadrant map to have at my disposal when I play.

I stumbled across this site, installed their program, and wanted to make a copy of their high resolution map available for future internet searches.

So here it is! Click for the full size, and print as desired.

Judge Dredd theme for a Fickle RPG one-off

Can’t wait for this! Gonna try the Fickle RPG rules in the Judge Dredd universe. Not gonna go too far into the 45+ year history of the 2000 AD comics and instead just stick to the movies (less Stallone and more Karl Urban). So should be a bit gritty, and a nice small scale of a single Block. Since it’s a one-off I’m gonna have to keep a pretty concise plot and action packed scenes.

For the occasion I took a bit of time and rethemed the character sheet. Cool eh? You can download the PDF version and see a preview here:

I’ll report back and let you know how it all went.

My flaws as Gamemaster

I organized and ran my first game when I was 10 years old. Since then I’m tended to be the person in my group of friends who buys games. I inevitably learn the rules best, and end up shoehorned into being a Gamemaster (GM). The term varies: Dungeonmaster (DM) for Dungeons & Dragons, Storyteller for my own Fickle RPG, etc. But the concept is the same. The GM runs the game. They make the story and campaign, play NPCs, balance encounters, figure out plot twists and guide character development. Depending on the system being a GM can be exhausting. When I ran D&D 4th edition for 6 months I was basically putting in 4-8 hours a week in prep work, between drawing maps to choosing miniatures to calculating encounters. Thankfully with Fickle RPG my prep work is almost nil as I just show up with my binder of rules/dice/sheets/notes and play a story with the group.

(And no, that isn’t me in the picture above, that’s from an enjoyable episode of Freaks and Geeks)

Anyway for all my experience and breadth of games I’ve run, I still have plenty of flaws as GM. I thought I’d list a few here as a bit of an introspective look, and also to help other GMs who might struggle with the same.

1. Exposition Dump

I generally like to create a somewhat mysterious and somewhat interesting plot, but then instead of slowly leaking the info out to the players so they can start to see the big picture, I inevitably end up with a scene with a pivotal, know-it-all character, with plenty of time and no pressure, where they unfold the whole thing, and the players have ample opportunity to ask questions or get any clarification. Then after this they sort of know the whole story, so we more or less go through the rest of the story with no more mystery. This is called an Exposition Dump. I’ve done this for an embarrassing number of campaigns.

Literally happened last week with my alien Fickle RPG where the characters got to talk to one of the big cheese know-it-alls to the point of him literally saying “Anymore questions?” I didn’t like the situation as it was happening and I knew I had failed at slowly showing the plot.

The ideal would instead be revealing enough information through dialogue, scenes, atmospheric descriptions, etc. that the players could get the jist without needing an “exposition dump”.
Basically the opposite of William Gibson.

Some interesting articles on the idea:

NOTE: Just an aside on the last link. One of the people involved with Extra Credits is James Portnow. In my honest opinion the guys a bit of a fake who talks a lot, but hasn’t actually designed anything. Trying to find proof of any actual work results in a ghost town. Some funny forum posts on the topic (#1 #2)

2. Memorable/Unique Characters

Part of this weakness comes from my improvisational style and freeform campaigns where I don’t like to plan too much in advance or railroad the players. So we end up in unexpected situations every single session.

As a result when I make an NPC or character for the players to interact with I generally slap a name on a vaguely defined outline of a person. They’ll likely have a gender. Maybe a binary age of “old” or “normal”. And that’s about it.

I’ve improved a bit by always keeping a list of random names (pulled from census data) so at least I don’t have a legion of “Bob” and “Jill”.

What I need to do is figure out a rough GM system that I run/use behind the scenes to make better characters. Sort of like “choose name/race/gender/age, choose 1 defining physical feature, choose 1 motive/attitude”.

My other problem with characters is I have trouble roleplaying them. Part of this is because the character’s aren’t well defined in my mind or those of my players. So I don’t know what kind of voice they’d use, or speech pattern, or slang. Honestly a lot of the characters end up just talking pretty much like me.

I have a lot of motivation to improve here. Whenever I HAVE made a memorable character (normally by a simple change to my routine like HAVING a specific speech pattern) the players have brought that person up months later.

3. Environmental Descriptions

I think I’m alright at scene descriptions, especially depending on the genre. Depending on the game I might have a map to help me. Or if the scene is based in the real world I can fallback to common tropes or basic descriptors that paint the scene (like saying “a convenience store”).

What I am rather bad at is incorporating weather (lots of unspoken sunny days), time of day (normally I don’t get more granular than day/night), or environmental differences like fog, slick ground, etc.

Some of this flaw stems from improvising. And as with characters I think the solution is similar: a better GM system on my end of the table. Even just another step or reminder to myself when describing a scene. Physical features, time of day, but then remember to say the weather and anything different/unique to the area.

I think this would benefit a lot of encounters because weather can have such a cool impact on an otherwise run-of-the-mill scene. Chasing a thief through the streets is a lot more interesting if there’s a howling snow storm at the time, reducing vision and numbing fingers.

First pass of White Line Fever rules

Bit of a departure from my recent Fickle RPG work, but the recent “alien campaign” will likely come to an end before April. So I wanted to change gears a bit, and decided to revisit my White Line Fever car game. I had put together brainstorm notes, then playtested a couple of times, then touched up my notes. You might remember the game is meant to be heavier than my Flickin’ Cars With Guns, but lighter than the classic Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games. Mainly with simplifying the turning template, and having some varying severity to shooting instead of an ablative armor system.

Now I’ve sat down and done a first pass at a formatted, styled, cool looking rulebook. You can get the PDF right here: White Line Fever (first draft PDF)

And here’s an easy glance at the formatting:

I’m quite happy with how the rules look so far, from the subtle background picture to the car showdown. Just needs pictures throughout.

Soon enough I’ll print them out and try to get a few games, just to polish up and finalize the mechanics. Then I might do an “Advanced” section with driver traits, different weapons, light campaign system, etc. I’ve always wanted to have a game where you could simulate a road trip (kind of given it’d be post apocalyptic) using real-world roadmaps.

Fonts

I’m absolutely in love with the title font. Some of the other formatting and effects were achieved with other cool fonts.

First of all “Road Rage”, the title font: http://www.dafont.com/road-rage.font

Then the headers are “Highway Gothic”, which is used throughout the USA on official road signs, so fit very well: http://www.dafont.com/highway-gothic.font

Then I used two wingding fonts for the header car silhouettes (I’m such a silhouette fan in for my rulebooks), as well as the small yield/warning signs before each header: http://www.dafont.com/need-for-speed.font and http://www.dafont.com/traffic-signs-tfb.font

Very handy website, and fun to find that perfect font.

What designers wish they knew before starting

Found an interesting article a few days ago asking various professional game designers a simple question: What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting as a game designer?

You can see the full article here: http://makeboardgame.com/20-board-game-makers-chime-in-what-i-wish-id-known-before-starting-my-board-game/

And my two favorite quotes are duplicated below:

“Playing with the same group can become rote and leave you trying add more depth and flavor than you need to get them engaged. This leads to over-complicating things that should have been left simpler and more new player friendly.”
– Adam Rehberg

This strikes a chord with me from my Dinosaur Cowboys work, where I was tempted to add more mechanics, equipment, skills, etc. to satisfy the growing understanding and playtime of my friends. When realistically the game is fairly well tuned for new and experienced players. Just need to take a step back sometimes and really consider why you’re adding a rule/new system, and if it fits into your original vision.
Which leads nicely into the next quote…

“Always look for better ways to do each individual game mechanic but never lose track of the big picture or the scope of the game in general.”
– Larry Harris

Very, very true and important to keep a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve with your game. In fact even having a well defined big picture view in the first place helps a ton. Because then when you’re going to add a new mechanic you can ask yourself: does this fit my game concept? Basically test yourself each time you want to change or add something.
From my experience my Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy RPG had the problem of a lot of cool mechanics that led to a not very cool or fun game. Very easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees.