Monday, 18 August 2014

#RPGaDAY: Day 18 - Favourite Game System

I got the original core book and ran my
game within a few months of first
publication, I still had about six sides
of errata stuffed in the back. This revised
edition was badly needed.
I haven't yet found my perfect system, so instead I'm going to talk about some bits and pieces that I like.

I'm a big fan of dramatic system design. While I feel that there ought to be a random element, or at least a risk element in RPG design, I don't feel that the purpose of RPGs should be competitive, but rather collaborative, and that this is easier to achieve when the players and the GM/ST/Ref share a degree of control over the world, usually through some form of drama or fate point system.

I first came across this concept in two very different implementations: Eden Studios' Buffy the Vampire Slayer licensed RPG, and White Wolf's Adventure!.

BtVS used Eden's Unisystem lite - Attribute + Skill + roll + mods vs difficulty, IIRC - to model the world of the TV show. Perhaps its finest achievement was in its implementation of the stake through the heart: Roll a penalised attack and calculate damage, then triple it. If that's a kill, the vampire is dust; if not, untriple it and use the penalised damage. Why is this so awesome? Because it provides a mechanic that supports combat as it is seen in the show. Against a fully healthy vamp, a stake is a very long shot indeed, but it's an excellent finish after a few rounds of kickboxing.

That action is one-fisted; one-
and-a-half tops. I want my money
back!
Buffy's Drama Points were used for bonuses and rerolls, or to absorb damage, and in character creation a player could chose to play a Hero - lots of skills, not so many Drama Points - or a White Hat - not as skilled, but the story loves them. Drama Points did not refresh or recover automatically, but were gained by doing cool and awesome things without spending Drama Points, or by taking a throw for the story (a player could allow their character to be knocked out, captured or otherwise hurt or imperiled without resistance in exchange for Drama Points).

This being Buffy, emotional pain also netted one Drama Points.

BtVS was all right. Unisystem lite I loved and used to run a Star Wars game. The only problem is that there is a system of advantage and drawback packages, which requires a fairly substantial piece of front-loading on the part of the Director.

Adventure!'s aim was to model the pulp heroics of the early twentieth century. It featured almost-superhuman Stawarts, psychic Mesmerists and exceptionally skilled or lucky Daredevils, all of whom used their Inspiration pool to activate different abilities. Inspiration could also be used to improve rolls, to further the plot by gaining hints, or to make small alterations to the scene (such as adding a chandelier to swing from).

Fate is setting non-specific, rather than
trying to work in secret agent wizards,
swordswomen and cyborg gorillas. If
you want that, however, see Feng Shui.
Ultimately, the White Wolf system remained too clunky and mechanics heavy to really do the concepts of Adventure! justice, although it was better than the D20 system version, but the idea of altering the scene was one of the first I'd seen which brought the collaborative nature of gaming to the fore.

Collaborative is pretty much the watchword of Fate, a system which has been through many iterations, including Spirit of the Century, a pulp adventure game which by all accounts knocks Adventure!'s spirited effort into a cocked hat. The Fate system is one I touched on in Day 9's discussion of dice. Fate Core is the most recent variation.

In Fate Core, everything is collaborative, from world-building upwards. Character creation is part of play, and adding features to the world isn't even a function of Fate points; it's a standard action.
Horns on ma hat, and I don't care

The system is basic and generic, and any non-standard mechanics need to be devised as part of a front-load, but even this can be collaborative ('you want to play a wizard? How do you see that working?') I like the system a lot and it's currently one of my favourites. I use it for my campaign Operatives of CROSSBOW, which is about to get a darker, edgier, sexier reboot.

We're very serious people
Rune takes the collaborative play thing a step further. I've not played it (I have played the PC game, but this is a different beast), but the concept is interesting: All players have a character and take it in turns to be the Runner, who GMs for a session. I'd be interested if anyone has played it to know how - and if - it words.

Finally, a favourite mechanic that I came up with myself. I've mentioned before my habit of assigning a campaign a theme tune and getting people to narrate their characters' credits montage (c.f. more or less any credits sequence ever, but especially Buffy and Angel, cop shows and The Tudors).

In my Dark Heresy game, Lost, in Space, I added a mechanical hook: As part of the credits sequence, there would be a 'this week on...' section. I narrated a few likely scenes, and based on this - or on character traits - the players would narrate a brief scene including a line from their PC. If they managed to use this in the game, they got bonus XP. This was of course inspired by the catchphrase mechanic which James references in his description of the Dying Earth RPG, with my own twist.

Come back tomorrow for 'favourite published adventure', although having kind of covered that in 'funniest game', I may do something a little different.

In the meantime, check out the hashtag for more RPGaDAY stuff.