Category: Finalized

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


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.

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.

And this is why you check your probabilities…

A bit more testing for the Fickle RPG idea of rolling Triples being a critical success, and all the other allocated Fickle dice counting as successes. I looked up some odds online, but sat down today and wrote a quick program to do 30 million rolls and check for sure.

Unfortunately the idea falls apart at around 7 dice, and is way too likely to happen. Which means play would devolve into everyone rolling their entire dice pool as Fickle, hoping for triples, and most likely tying and having the acting player winning.

Which is too bad because I had just thought up the cool nickname of “going for the Trinity”.

Chance of Triples
 3D6 = 2.8%
 4D6 = 9.7%
 5D6 = 21.3%
 6D6 = 36.7%
 7D6 = 54.1%
 8D6 = 70.7%
 9D6 = 84.2%
10D6 = 93.2%

“Quads” of 4 matches suffers the same fate, just at a later point with bigger dice pool sizes.

So back to the drawing board.

More Fickle: “Lucky 17” and defeated players

So far the alien campaign for Fickle RPG is going well. The plot is advancing, perhaps not as quickly as I’d like, but it’s been tough to maintain enough steady players from the pool of drop-ins. I’m not sure when I’ll end the campaign – originally the plan was early March, but that’s coming up fast. Maybe I’ll just play it out until people want a change. I’ve actually been considering trying Fickle RPG for a non-real-world based campaign, likely Star Wars.

Lucky 17 – Testing

critical-hitAnyway last week I tested the “Lucky 17” mechanism. Let me describe how it works. If the total amount on the dice you allocated as Fickle is exactly 17 you get a “Lucky 17” (basically a critical hit / critical success). When that happens every Fickle dice you rolled counts as a success. The odds of this are around 8% on 4D6, and 10% on 5D6.

The intent was to provide an alternative to going for the Underdog Bonus (where the lowest allocated Fickle dice means they can Explode). So another player choice.

But after testing, I’m not going to use the Lucky 17 mechanic. Maybe I’ll add it as a Variant (a bit more discussion about that below). There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Additional Math – Adding up dice is tedious and reduces the speed of resolution, and also is harder as players get tired and the night draws on. It’s also one of the only times you need to do addition in Fickle RPG.
  2. Bait and Switch – You can easily see your successes before you can calculate if you totalled 17. Which means a player might end with 5 successes and feel pretty comfortable because they see the Storyteller only has 3, except then everyone finishes adding up/doing math and sees the Storyteller got a Lucky 17 and won after all. Kind of a disappointing feeling.
  3. No Immediate Gratification – I think the best part of a Critical Hit in other games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, is how immediate the feedback is. You roll a 20 on a D20, see that, and get excited. It’s even bled into mainstream culture. But the Lucky 17 mechanic wasn’t immediately obvious when you rolled 17, so the excitement wasn’t there.
  4. Gimmicky – Lucky 17 felt a bit gimmicky in the sense that it didn’t fit very well into the current resolution “flow”. Just seemed like a corner case that wouldn’t be used much, and didn’t add much. Whereas Underdog Bonus comes up almost every resolution, and is something players actively choose to try for or not.

So Lucky 17 is put to rest for now.
I still like the idea of an “anti-Underdog Bonus” to provide more reasons to allocate more dice to roll. Something like “if you roll triples” is easier to see at a glance and stands out. Works out to around 3% on 3D6, 10% on 4D6, and 15% on 5D6, so even slightly better than Lucky 17.
In the end there are only so many ways to manipulate a pool of D6s though.

Defeated Players

downed-warriorKnow what isn’t that much fun as a player? Getting Defeated. From the rules:

If Stamina for any Category reaches 0 or less
that entity is Defeated and loses the scene. They
cannot participate anymore, unless Stamina is
restored by an ally or situation.

The bolded part is the problem. We had an intense scene where a player was Defeated in the opening attack, and basically had to twiddle their thumbs for a good 30-45 minutes (and that’s a gentle estimate). Was it fun for them? Not in the least.
The hope is other players would help the dude out and restore some Stamina. But normally if a scene is challenging enough for players to get Defeated, it’s challenging enough that every action is precious and they can’t take a moment to heal instead of go on the offensive. And as much as I enjoy playing a support/healer/medic in games, very few other people do, so the incoming Stamina loss (say from 7 successes) is normally more than the Stamina restored by an untrained character (say from 4 successes).

D&D gets around this by having a “Death Saving Throw” so that you’re at least doing something on your turn.

I think it’s time I revisit the entire concept in Fickle RPG and look for alternatives.

  • My first instinct is simple and copycat-ish: add a “Recovery Roll” of an attribute chosen by the player against a flat pool of 4D6, with successes being Stamina recovered. So they’re still allocating and doing something. Downside is failing doesn’t really have a penalty, I mean you can’t get much worse off than Defeated.
  • Along the same line, I could see the Recovery Roll being a mirrored roll, wherein the player is “rolling against themselves”. Basically like they’re internally overcoming whatever Defeated them. So if they choose 6 Might to try to take a breather, they roll against 6 Might. You’d have to choose the attribute in the category you lost all Stamina in, of course.
  • To take the idea even further, instead of recovering Stamina the player could transfer Stamina from another category. This means their overall total is still low, and means they could get whittled down over time. Downside is that’s a drastically different resolution than the standard “success = Stamina”. I think to remedy this successes could be a cap of how much Stamina you could transfer. However in a way this just delays the player elimination, but doesn’t remove it.

I want to brainstorm a bit more on the above ideas and see if I can come up with something streamlined. The best approach so far is the “mirrored Recovery Roll” concept.

But I also want to take a step back and ask myself if I’m just re-using the oldest RPG trope of all: player elimination as a consequence.

What about if instead being Defeated doesn’t stop you from acting. Instead it’s just a “state” you’re in. You could even be “triple Defeated” by having 0 or less Stamina in every Category. Then if the entire group is Defeated, they lose the scene. Perhaps being marked as Defeated gives a penalty (like -1 dice per Defeated), but I want to avoid a death spiral (where a Defeated player becomes more likely to stay/keep being Defeated).
Perhaps I’d change the wording, so that Stamina becomes Morale, and Defeated becomes Broken.

A more drastic approach would even be a binary state of “Okay” vs “Defeated”, with no middle ground. Upon further consideration I tossed that idea out though, as I like the idea of someone being able to specialize into a “tough guy”, which wouldn’t work if everyone was either Okay or Defeated. So pass on that.

Anyway to adjust for the “Defeated but Active” concept described above I think I’d lower overall Stamina. I’ve never hugely liked the math for it (of [Attribute + Attribute – 2]). I’ve considered just adjusting the minus number to -3 or -4. But I innately like the idea of [Stamina = Highest Attribute of Category +2] instead. Or even just your highest Attribute in each Category being the Stamina, without any additional math.

Now for upside/downside time.
Upside is players are always active and engaged. Another upside is I could see the tension building as players do an ad-hoc check of who’s Defeated, and the number of players grows as the situation becomes more dire.
Downside is consequences feel less “real” (thus the likely need for some kind of penalty – just not sold on a flat dice reduction). Another downside is opponents probably wouldn’t work the same, and would still be “out” of the scene when 0 Stamina as they are now.

Regardless I think I’m going to try the “Defeated but Active” approach with some playtesting very soon. I could also try the simpler/copycat approaches, but they don’t wow me as much, and seem like a bit of a bandaid.

Include Variant Rules or Not?

My final talking point today is Variant Rules. Now in my previous game Dinosaur Cowboys I included a section of them. But I’ve always been on the fence, mainly because any major variants can make a game feel a bit fragmented or…indecisive? Like the designer couldn’t decide what was best so they just put everything in and said “choose what you think”.
In Dinosaur Cowboys I didn’t put any developer comments or reasoning, but for Fickle RPG I think I would, so that players know what to expect, and the thought process behind why the rule isn’t “core”, so that they don’t have to come to the same conclusions through slow trial and error.

In terms of Fickle RPG I could see “hot potato” turns being a variant (where there is just a “player turn” and the group can choose amidst themselves who goes). I could see Lucky 17 being a variant as well. And “bonus dice” (either from a shared pool or per-player).

Not much else to say on the topic. Definitely on the fence either way.

Fickle v0.4, and a new campaign


Well now that the Christmas season has quieted down I’m back to weekly games. Specifically playtesting a few Fickle changes in a brand new campaign.

Instead of the previous post apocalyptic zombie campaign we’ve moved onto alien invasion. Pretty fun so far! This time everyone is playing themselves, in the sense of that is their character (compared to some random person they make up). We started on a normal work day, then had an alien ship land over a central city landmark, put down a shield covering the city, and start attacking/stealing people. So a bit less grounded, but I’m trying to keep the alien technology consistent (and mysterious, as the players fight an unknown foe). My hope is they’ll eventually wage a guerrilla style war against the aliens to drive them out.

Otherwise most of the playtesting worked well, and I’m down to only one last mechanic to refine. So in the mean time here are the v0.4 Fickle RPG rules.

Rule Changes

What has changed? Well…

  • Reactions have been added, codified, and balanced. They use the same base difficulty of Normal, and allow entities to perform meaningful (ie: Stamina damage) actions in response
  • Moved to round-robin 1-turn-per-player structure instead of a global “player turn”
  • Switched from D12 “Fate Dice” to a 50/50 “Fate Coin”, which either wins or loses
  • Split resolution into Check (player vs environment) and Competing (player vs player)
  • Added a “Notes” page to the back of character sheets
  • Cleaned up formatting in the rulebook, including adding “Storyteller tips” for the game master

The two biggest changes are Reactions (described at length in previous posts) and the change to round-robin style turns. Previously the idea was 1 Storyteller turn, then 1 generic player turn. The players decided amongst themselves who acted in that window. I’ve learned this is sometimes called “Hot Potato Initiative” as the players pass the initiative freely among themselves. The problem was this sometimes (…more often than I’d like!) kept the spotlight on one player, and left the others kind of twiddling their thumbs. Reactions helped a bit with this (since enemies could focus on the uninvolved players) but that was a bit of an artificial band aid fix.

So instead the game has moved to a traditional round-robin style turn structure. The “first turn” still belongs to whoever makes sense, then play rotates left from there, with the Storyteller getting a turn after each player turn.

Fate Coin Ideas

Now for the Fate Coin. Like I mentioned the idea is a 50/50 chance of some crazy, impossible, likely overpowered idea working. On failure everyone in the group loses 1 Stamina from all Categories.

Currently the players get 1 Fate Coin per 2 players (rounded up). Which feels a bit awkward to calculate and track.

So what I’m seriously considering, and will be playtesting this week, is changing to a more “push your luck” mechanic with the Fate Coin. With this new approach the players would get only 1 Fate Coin. BUT that coin isn’t “used” or discarded on success/fail. Instead they can keep using the coin, but the Stamina loss on failure goes up by 1 each time. So the second use has a potential 2 Stamina loss, third is 3 Stamina, and so on.

Really makes for a thematic feel to Tempt Fate, and I do like the push your luck approach (and felt the game needed a tiny bit of it).

Critical Success – Tiny Other Idea

A tiny other idea I had, but likely won’t end up doing, is Critical Success. The idea is if the total of your rolled Fickle dice is X, you win! X could be a set number, like “lucky number 7”, or chosen on a per-character basis. This rule would apply for the players only (not the Storyteller).
Upside is the excitement and surprise of winning when you think you are gonna lose, or when you’re drastically outmatched, as well as yet another decision point in resolution (in terms of balancing underdog vs lucky 7). Downside is you can’t just quickly figure out your total successes, and also need to do math to total the roll.

Topics of interest: world cities, cyborgs, genetics, cloning

cyborgDigging through my old Fallen City rules from 20+ years ago makes me want to revisit the genre and theme described in that game. The concept of a massive world city that is churning with overpopulation and crime. Judge Dredd is similar with their “megacities”, especially the recent Karl Urban movie Dredd (2012) which opens with:

America is an irradiated wasteland. Within it lies a city. Outside the boundary walls, a desert. A cursed earth. Inside the walls, a cursed city, stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. An unbroken concrete landscape. 800 million people living in the ruin of the old world and the mega structures of the new one. Mega blocks. Mega highways. Mega City One. Convulsing. Choking. Breaking under its own weight. Citizens in fear of the street. The gun. The gang. Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos: the men and women of the Hall of Justice. Juries. Executioners. Judges.

In addition to that element I really want to explore the trio of transhumanism paths: cyborgs, genetics, and cloning. I remember finding a rulebook about 3 or 4 years ago called Transhuman Space that dealt with some of those topics, and I found it fascinating. So maybe throw in a bit of Bladerunner and the recent Westworld TV show.

Now I have a few options for this. I’d like to try Fickle RPG to see how truly flexible the rules are. So instead of my current/default theme of parasitic zombies, I’d go to a sci-fi theme.

The other option of course is to make a completely new RPG game. Or maybe not even an RPG. Because what I think my focus and main interest would be asymmetrical rules, specifically having cyborgs, genetics, and clones play and function differently. All three are a path for human improvement, and have a lot of depth and brain bending concepts associated.

I could see Clones as being cannon fodder, with a numbers advantage but less skill and personality. Cyborgs would be the opposite: powerful, expensive, and outnumbered. Genetics would likely fall in the middle, and be more about modifying existing humans.

I have no idea how I’d make each type (faction?) feel different, or if a skirmish game, RPG, boardgame, or other rules approach would work best. I honestly just like the idea overall, and thought I’d write it down here to collect my thoughts.