Tuesday 23 February 2016

When is my RPG finished?

In this post I offer a practical way to find out if your RPG is ready to be played by others. I am going to assume that you've read my guide How to Write a Free RPG and that you have a strong concept in your mind. You must have this concept tied down if you are ever going to know if you're finished.

Is a game finished when you can play it?

A worthy sentiment but not useful. Most people can play their own game relatively early in the development. You skim over the gaps that will bring others to a halt. I shared the early version 2 of Icar online but I doubt anyone other than me would be able to run it. So, the ultimate test is to get someone else to run it. Experienced designers "just know" when a game is finished, an intuition built over years of play and design. Experienced designers are busy designing, so it can be difficult to get feedback from them.

Are you finished questions

I wanted to attack this subject with a list of practical tasks. Follow the questions below and if you answer positively for each then your game is ready for others.

Do your mechanics cover the cool things in your concept?

This is the most important question. If you can't justify this one easily, you're nowhere near finished. Go back and make sure you mechanics allow the players to do the cool actions in your concept and remove any mechanics that do not help that concept forward.

Have you got examples for each of your rules?

If you can't explain it with simple examples, either you've not thought of a good way of explaining it or the system is too complex.

Can you build a character for it?

For many players, character creation is the first contact they will have with your game. Don't expect them to read the rules, chances are only the GM has.

What will the GM do for and during the first session?

Write a paragraph about the literal steps the GM has to do before and during the first session. Are there handouts to print? How do you imagine the GM will describe the rules? Will the GM need to create a setting?

Have you been through my Testing guide?

Go through the steps of my testing guide as this will help point out things you might have missed.

Things to avoid

Do not model the mundane unless it is a focus of the game. Every sentence in the background should invoke something in the mind of a GM: a plot line, an NPC idea or a place to visit. Those invocations should be in line with your core concept, if not then cut it out and paste into an "other ideas" document.

The "My Game is Never Finished" Procrastination Fallacy

I, like the rest of the internet, is thrilled that you will continue to work on your game after its release. PDF games have the magical power of being easily updated (unlike their steadfast print cousins) and as such are living, breathing documents. If you find yourself arguing that a game is never finished then the ugly scent of procrastination tends to fill the air. Just finish the game, get it out there and stop procrastinating. As sports shoes are known to proclaim: Just Do It. I'm always keen to hear your feedback. Is there a practical measure you use to tell when you're finished? Please do let me know in the comments or discuss over on 1KM1KT.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

The Dark, Romantic, Adventures of Mary Sue by Michael Morrison

DREAMS is perhaps the best shoe-horning of an acronym into an RPG that I've ever seen and it isn't wasted with this delightful, light, narrative driven RPG by Michael Morrison. Setting agnostic but best fitting the modern fantasy such as your might find in Twilight or Neverwhere. It's about Mary Sues.

Wait a minute: a Mary What?

A Mary Sue is a perfect fictional character that can perform incredible feats, usually because they are a vehicle of wish fulfillment for the author.

Rainbow defecating joy engine

Players will need to be perfect themselves to craft a flawless character of unutterable brilliance. If, like me, you have a slobbering wreck of a group who have forgotten how to walk upright, then you might (as a perfect GM) need to given them the assistance they so desperately need. Your magnum opus begins by writing a little fan fiction describing your Mary Sue and their unenviable niche in the world. They might have many extraordinary powers, or just one utterly useful one.

A Mary Sue is defined by descriptive words called traits and organised into three layers. The first layer is what we always see and has three traits, the second what we don't always see and has two. So you could have a character who has the first layer attributes of happy, hard working and very clever and the second layer of beautiful and fascinated by the occult. Ideal for the moment where glasses are removed, hair unfurled and the booky nerd is transformed into a raging beauty that leaves the audience agog or launching thousands of ships.

The third layer is your secret, a powerful catalyst for your character in the game. Hidden, personal and powerful in your hands or the hands of the enemy! If you reveal your secret in a scene, you get a new one or expand your character with a Wish fulfilment, which can be done only once and adds extra traits to your character. Name, description and other tiny details to bring your Mary Sue into focus and you're done. Lite games rely heavily on the characters being in relief and Lite story games all the more so.

Dramatic Actions

Your super-real character performs most mundane actions without question but on occasion, the GM (the jealous sort, they all are) will put some fiendish roadblock in your way. This calls for a Dramatic Action. Player characters begin with 4 Drama Resolution Points each (such as pennies). When a player describes an action, the GM gives a cost in points and if the player wishes to pass, they must pay by putting the pennies into a pot that the GM can then use. When the GM uses the pennies, they are given back to the players.

The Enemy of Printers

The DREAMS is attractively created in landscape but sadly has a toner eating grey background and a printer killing black background. The examples are well designed but I would like a list of one-sentence setting seeds. For example, the system would fit the stoner comedy movie format, Bro movies just as well as lampooning Twilight.

I like that there is no random element but I would prefer a little more system so that the tactical choices between the players are more interesting. Stealing coins, donating coins, dealing coins, offering options on the future of coins, short selling coins, producing coins from behind an ear; the options are endless.

Beyond Satire

Most groups (including the barely humanoid scamps I fend off with a stick weekly) will use the system for satire but I can see real promise in using it for intense play. There is drama to be had in tossing coins into a hat and every player delights in their own character secrets. Even if the idea isn't your cup of chai, it is a neat mechanic and a novel idea that's worth a coffee break read.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Mellow Cyberblues City by Polar Blues Press

Cyberblues City is a cyberpunk roleplaying game based on the Fudge system. Laid back Cyberpunk is a phrase I didn't think I'd write today. Squeeze out the gritty, harsh realities of social disparity, lighten the mood with bad guys who really are just very bad people and frame with a system that is Lite, tried and tested and you have a neat, mellow, dryly humorous Cyberpunk RPG.

You, punk

Your neo-punked dead tree avatar rises from the brain soup with traits of Thinking, Fighting, Shooting, Strength, Reflexes and Cool. In the Fudge tradition, they are ranked GREAT (+3), GOOD (+2) and FAIR (+1).

Your job in the team is defined by your role (Enforcer, Grifter, Ghost, etc), which jacks you up with bonuses and a career that gives you expert knowledge. The combinations produce some wonderful concepts: Radical Blogger Enforcers, Dentist Gunfighter or Lawyer Ghost.

Gifts are abilities, skills or possessions that give you specific bonuses and there are a load to choose from such as Cyber Adrenal Gland, Martial Arts and Signature Weapon.

Fate points are earned during play for doing cool things and are spent to give you bonuses when you need it most. Toughness is how much damage you can take before you fall over and default equipment tools you for the rain soaked neon streets.

Do you feel lucky, PUNK?

The GM (definitely a suit, don't trust them) sets a difficulty on the scale of TERRIBLE (-1) to LEGENDARY (6). You roll two D6 of different colours (one being negative) one being positive and add them together along with Traits, Gifts, Bonuses and any Fate Points.

Cyberblues uses Margin of Success (how much over your target you are) to determine damage. Damage is subtracted from toughness until you fall over. Once you're down, another dice roll shows if you're going to pull through. Initiative deals with the team as a whole and gives the opportunity for team-wide bonuses.

Complex tests are multiple rolls to achieve a result and characters gain reputation in place of XP. There are Goon creation rules along with cinematic vehicle rules too.

Mellow Cyber

It is no easy task to create a Cyberpunk game that gives the genre a new take. The 80s/90s tropes are well embedded in culture now and the cliches flow like nanite through veins. The Mellow smooths out the rough edges of punk by the tone of the Gifts, Equipment, Traits, Roles and the sketched imagery throughout. A soft pencil is in stark contrast to the sharpness of the chrome it represents. There is little grit here and that helps give it the feel of a Cyberpunk that The Dude might approve of.

Mild Cheddar

Cyberblues City could do with some more depth of flavour. The City itself is thinly described and although the language is clear, it could sound a little more Cyberpunk, either by callout quotes or adjusting the names of things. A map and sample adventure would do wonders. I wonder if the gentle tone is a side effect of being the product of a design collective rather than a single vision.

I'd like to see more examples of play to demonstrate the rules. Especially for vehicle combat. I can see it playing out really well in my head but I had to stop and think about it. It does a good job of describing Fudge, but those examples would help the game immensely.

Cyberblues City achieves what it sets out to do. It's a Fudge system game that adds enough punk sauce to make it feel Cyberpunk. I'd like more depth in setting but I did find myself smiling during my read through. If you have that dream spinning around your cortex and need a Lite system to run it then Cyberblues is for you!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Free RPG authors should aspire to Krendel by William J. Altman

Krendel by William J. Altman is a charming generic roleplaying game system with extraordinarily high production values. Aimed at experienced and new players alike, it leaves nothing to chance, taking painstaking effort to explain everything with exceptional examples.

At 206 pages, there is too much joy to detail in a review but I hope to give you a skim that might urge you to download and plunge in.


Krendel provides you with an array of sculptors chisels to carve out your character. Concept first, motivations and temptations (with a list to boot) and relationships (with NPCs and PCs). Before you place your statues amongst your ornate fountains and topiary, Krendel provides a reason for your characters to be together.

Strength, carrying capacity, health, XP and karma all act as you expect. Skills (learnt profession), Traits (natural abilities) and Powers (see below) describe your character. This is a great way to cater for different settings.

Skills are broken down into expertises and each have actions associated with them. This makes for explicit uses of a skill. If you've got Academics then rather than narratively convincing the GM that you're good at puzzle solving, there is an action Puzzle.

Regardless of your setting, your player character is special in some way (as are you, dear reader). Krendel uses power mechanics to give extra actions, or improve the success, or do specific things at certain times. Your character has a power pool to govern their use. A big list of Core powers (common to most settings) is given and if that's not enough for you there is a whole book full of these powers, also free to download.

Generic mechanics, beautifully explained

The core mechanic is a simple target number. You take your skill, add 4 and any GM difficulty bonuses. You then roll a 1D10, equal or under the target number is a success. The neat bit here is that your level of success depends on how big the number is on the die. The bigger it is, the more successful you are and being really successful will give you extra actions or improve your combat.

Failures are dealt with in a modern, narrative way; rather than "you swing and miss the troll", you have "you hit but you've made the troll really cross, it's dropped its knitting and sharpening its bone crunching teeth on some granite".

There are modifiers for help from other player characters and karma to spend to improve the outcome. Damage is served on a platter of types including bludgeoning, corrosive, sonic, badger and mental. It can be lethal, subduing or permenant (can't heal from it). Extensive rules for grids and miniatures allude to its old school, war game heritage and there are attractive pcitures to drive home the details.

Effects and conditions describe limitations (temporary or permenant) that befall your character and are grouped by type. For example, Mutations include effects of cancer, evolutionary and splicing - all with their own rules.

Equipment can be damaged and has a level of quality. You might also be holding an artifact, with magical abilities too. There is an enormous amount of equipment to gorge on! There are crafting rules for players to boost their tooling with setting appropriate effects on play.

Take my hand

Krendel doesn't hang the GM out to dry, but instead guides them through the steps needed to make a setting. A lot of the items in this section would be appropriate for any game system. Scenarios, game balance and encounters are all explained with environment effects thrown in too. There are species (making up a monstrous manual of sorts).

As your approach the end, you'll find a quick start and primer, example characters, species creation, an index and back cover.

New to roleplaying?

The writing of Krendel really does lay itself bare for people new to roleplaying, although the language is more appropriate for older readers. I imagine a GM picking up Krendel but I can't imagine them reading through it all. Do new to roleplaying gamers have the staying power for big rulebooks now?

The core mechanic is simple but the complexity lies in the combinations of modifiers and actions that build up with skills, powers, traits, species, effects, weapon artifact. For a new player to remember all the actions modifiers they have isn't easy. The examples could do with being tied together with an example of play.

Add it to your collection

Krendel is clearly a labour of love, illustrated throughout and rammed with lists. You are probably an experienced roleplayer, begin at the quickstart at the back. It is a huge piece of work that clearly took an enormous effort to complete. The diligence to complete a game of magnitude with such clarity is exceptional. If you're tired of lite systems that force you to invent everything yourself, give Krendel a try. If you just love to read RPGs then the writing of Krendel is a delight.