Fallen City (1996)

Fallen City (1996)

Fallen City Rules (PDF)

Fallen City is a sci-fi roleplaying game set in 3018 in a “massive world city” that covers an entire small planet. The players take on the role of Advanced Task Assembly Units (ATAUs). This security force of the world police are the last line of defense against the worst of Fallen City. The world itself is divided into sectors, such as an entire sector being designated for prisons, some are slums, others are for wealthy citizens only. No offworld travel is allowed, so everyone is trapped on the planet. Genetics are a main source of interest, secrecy, and power.
The currency of the security forces is called “Mire”, while common citizens use Credits. Mire is technically a blood/soul currency that is extracted from dead bodies. The initial extraction is called U-Mire, or Unformatted Mire. But Mire doubles as a power and adaptation source for cyborgs and clones. Mire retains the characteristics of the body it was extracted from, so certain mixes can be made to tweak a cyborg or clone to a desired personality.

The ATAU are mostly cyborgs, called New Shift Flesh Compu-Live (or CLs). Cloning itself is illegal, as it stems from genetics, which the upper ruling class fear.

I wrote this game years ago, I don’t even know if I was in high school yet. I mixed a lot of different genres and ideas, such as Judge Dredd (megacities) and Ghost in the Shell (cyborgs).

My imagery for the game was a female cyborg agent approaching a lone trailer in a wooded glen. Rain pours down. She splashes cover to cover, eventually reaching the door. Upon throwing it open the contents varied, but mostly I imagined some kind of high tech illegal cloning lab.
I was still experimenting with “different for the sake of being different” when it came to a lot of facets of this game. For example Agility instead of Dexterity, which was a big departure for me at the time. Fun to see the evolution of my thinking, as I mentioned a similar conflict not long ago in a blog post called Futility of renaming Hitpoints.

The statistics used a variety of dice (D4, D6, D8) as well as random stat allocation, which was a terrible idea. Close combat and melee were split, as I tended to do, and had a “Close Combat Hit Chance” and similar for Ranged. Funny to see a similar style even in Dinosaur Cowboys now. The difference here is Fallen City has a rather archaic formula to figure it all out. I used a lot of clunky traditional D&D mechanics just out of habit (like carrying weight). I also had a focus on the Intelligence stat, with a bunch of sub-stats, and an extensive section on Mental Characteristics like how would your cyborg react when stressed, etc.

My favorite concept from the game is Mire. The inner Mire of a cyborg could influence or control their personality, and even speak directly to the cyborg half in a chaotic or lawful manner (like an alignment). I also really liked the idea of U-Mire being converted into either currency or direct character upgrades (like a level up) or experience. Upgrading stats was done somewhat in a tree manner, such as Ranged Hit Chance either routing to flat bonuses, or to a more critical hit focused approach. The inner Mire changes were closer to traits or feats or even spells. Examples are Minor Repair, Inner Mire Blast, Sap U-Mire, etc.

Combat was unfortunately split between ranged and melee, every so slightly. Close Combat was actually based somewhat on Warhammer 40,000 in the sense of hitting each other back and forth in a single turn. Ranged was just shooting at the target with no return fire. The base system was just awful as it involved adding up potentially multiple D20s, such as 4D20+40. And each individual dice needed to be modified by subtracting the target Armor Class. There were also a few modifiers on top of all that. Critical Hits were a total score of 50+, which would be almost impossible in an early character and fall apart later when almost every hit was a critical. There was a rough idea of time (in seconds) being a factor of attacking too.

The system had a vague idea of action points, although they weren’t named as such. An time to do something was limited by number of attacks, so if you had a pistol you could shoot for 4 actions, and had 25 actions total, but only 3 attacks, you could only use a max of 3*4=12 actions. Oh and of course Ranged Hit Chance was a percentage, as compared to melee. Just terrible. But it’s good to write systems as a kid and learn from them.

Then I had my usual (for the time) split of “map movement” vs “world movement”. There was a chance for random encounters. All decided with a complex, modifier based percent system. Then limitations on resting (“shutting down”).
However I did have an example mission in the rules, and I think the concept of mission based play would have fit the game and characters well. Would have also made the city seem less insurmountably big.

I never really played the game, never got around to a weapon or enemy list (a common slowdown and demotivator of the era for my games), and generally besides a few interesting background ideas and concepts the rules were not so great. But looking back they do highlight how easy it is to stick to concepts you’re used to, or grew up with. For example every game having carrying capacity, or travel time, or designated resting. Took me a long time to break free from that similar structure in my designs.

Lessons Learned
A good theme and interesting background can help make up for less solid rules. The combat system was not very good in this game, but I needed to learn how terrible splitting melee/ranged resolution to this extent was. Also I eventually realized not every RPG I make needs to have carry weight, sleep, travel times, and other mechanics I added out of habit.

And of course giant lists of weapons, enemies, and missions tend to bog me down and stop progress on a game. One of those three lists isn’t so bad, and is a surmountable goal, but being faced with all three (or more!) often stops me from continuing on a project.