I had a chance to run an RPG of my own design Saturday.
I’ve always loved tabletop roleplaying, I’m a D&D kid from way back before it split into Advanced and Basic (and I like what I’ve seen of 5th Edition, although I haven’t had the chance to play yet.). Since then, I’ve drifted in and out of the hobby over time, as many adults do. It’s still a fine way to tell collaborative stories, though, which is always a great chance to see
Over time, I realized that my play style prefers something light and fast, with limited mechanics. I found Robin Laws’ HeroQuest in the early 2000s, and really liked it, as it introduced me to the idea of freeform abilities, conflict resolution vs task resolution, not giving combat precedence by way of the dynamics, and working from a position of letting your players lead rather than positioning yourself as the enemy. In the back of my head, as I read the clever rule systems of so many indie games, was the idea to hack together one of my own.
And finally I have.
While HeroQuest and FATE were major influences, the big shift in emphasis came from to Nathan Russel’s FU: The Freeform/Universal RPG system, which frames results in terms of yes and no, with possible results for “And” or “But”. Thus rather than simply tracking success, or even quality of success, it encourages narrative motion by adding these conditionals.
I threw just about everything else from FU out. I don’t like its die system, I want characters described differently, I don’t like how it handles hits and damage. So I’ve been banging around, pulling elements from other games I like to encourage play in the style I want, and I tried a rough draft out with my sister and three friends.
It worked really, really well.
They were in the mood for some space opera, so I ran a one-shot based in the ‘Verse of Firefly/Serenity, which works out nice and easy for a one shot of “find a job, get it done, get paid”. I assigned them some pre-gen characters, and let them have at it. It was a blast.
There quite a bit of work to be done.
- I tweaked the dice system to allow for degree of success as well as the But/And dynamic. It mostly works, but there are a few too many fiddly bits and we never really used the degree of success/effect on the modifiers (But or And) themselves. I still like the idea in theory, but it may just be overkill.
- Exactly how many traits/abilities to put on the sheets. I riffed off of HeroQuest’s “use the character description itself” idea, but it might do to focus it a bit more.
- Clarifying how conflicts end needs some work.
Overall, however, I’m very happy with it. It plays fast and loose, and rolls with players’ tendencies to come up with wild tactics and ideas very well. It encourages the GM to just let their players be awesome whenever they can, and let the dice only come out to make the story more interesting by adding twists (“Say yes or roll”, as the concept was so elegantly put in the excellent Dogs in the Vineyard) . It is abundantly clear that it needs a group who wants to run games in this style, and who trust the GM and each other. The mechanics aren’t there to settle disputes with lots of strict rules judgments, nor do they produce the kind of all-encompassing dynamic of something like the excellent Apocalypse World.
The next step will be to take the adventure my sister and I wrote to come out with her novel Tin Star last year, and re-tool it to run with this instead of True20. It will give me a chance to hammer out some more of the rough edges, and we can re-relase the adventure for the release of the sequel, Stone in the Sky.
But I do think I have a workable system, and an excuse to try and rustle up some of my old gamer friends and tell some stories.