Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Outsiders - 200 Word RPG Contest

I decided to give the 200 Word RPG Contest a whirl. It turns out that’s too short for my design aesthetic. I can either create a robust resolution mechanic or deliver tone and atmosphere information, but I can’t do both. I think 300 words might do the trick (my first draft came in at 279 words) but I’m guessing that wouldn’t be much of a contest.
The choice itself is interesting. It shows what each designer feels needs to be locked down. Anything we leave out is given to the people at the table to handle. We trust they will make the right choices for their table or don’t feel those choices will significantly change the experience we are going for. I’d love to have a conversation with the many designers about each of the games to find out why they chose to cut and what was left out.
For me, I found the editing process made my little game better, but there was no room for examples which I find help with clarity. At 200 words, tight rules is an understatement.
I've had horror on the brain lately. My inspiration for Outsiders came from Lovecraftian horror and urban fantasy such as Forever Knight, Dresden Files, Blood Ties etc. I love the the idea that once you see the things hiding in the shadows you are drawn into a whole new dangerous world. After that first contact you keep coming into contact with the supernatural until it kills you.
I tried to convey as much of the genre idea as possible with the space I had, but it boiled down mostly to word choice since I gave space to the shortest mechanic I could develop that would handle the game I wanted to play. The mechanic itself gives some information on how things should go since it is weighted toward failure and failure comes with a snowball effect.

"Hello Mother"  
The Outsiders RPG:
The world is threatened by a reality few ever understand is even real. The history of the fight is passed down from generation to generation in stories. As people controlled more of the world and pushed light and order into the darkness and chaos those histories became mere stories, twisted and perverted in the name of entertainment. There is little value in them now as anything other than a warning. Those who know what is hidden protect the world. These characters run by the players are known as Outsiders. Everything else in the world is run by the player that creates the scenarios and judges the results of die rolls. This player is known as the Other.
Character Generation is open and simple. Characters are a brief, written description outlining look, attitudes, background, skills and experience with the supernatural. To keep things reasonable it makes sense to restrict the character sheet to the size of a half sheet of notebook paper or an index card. During the process, the players share these descriptions and makes changes to their histories to link them to each other. They can be regular humans or be supernatural themselves depending on what kind of game everyone wants to play. The other can use them as inspiration for the scenarios and threats presented to the players.
Gameplay depends on a handful of dice.
When a character tries something where failure would be interesting the player makes an Action Roll. The player rolls one, two, or three D6s if their character is Unprepared, Ready, or Prepared (respectively) based on their character description and previous actions. Being prepared could be a matter of experience, such as an ex-soldier always being ready to fight or a matter of planning such as a librarian stepping into a blind spot in the stacks and readying a weapon in ambush.
The Other rolls one, two, or three D6s for Stressful, Hard, or Longshot actions (respectively). What each of these levels of difficulty represents will be different with each group and how they want their game to play. For myself, something like picking a lock under a time constraint is Stressful, throwing a baseball across a room to push a small idol off an altar is Hard, and throwing a heavy candlestick across a room to knock the dagger out of a priest’s hand is a Longshot.
The player succeeds with one die higher than the Other’s highest. Two higher is a success with a bonus and three higher is a critical success. A bonus can be a better than expected result, such as the idol in example above rolling away into the darkness and being lost. A critical success is basically the best outcome you can imagine, such as the the priest in the example above getting knocked unconscious after taking the candlestick to the head intead of the hand.
A tie means success with a deadlock or a Difficulty. The player can chose to hold the action in a deadlock or take on a penalty to succeed in whatever they are doing. Maybe the person picking a lock could succeed, but sprain their wrist in the process to distracted by the pain until they deal with it or break their pick leaving them unable to open any more locks.
Two dice under the Other’s top die is failure and Difficulty. Three under takes a character out of the action until they can sort themselves out or be cared for (KOed, flees in terror, mark makes public scene, etc).
Difficulty can be something that affects the game such as losing something important, but is commonly a die added to Other rolls against that character. Difficulty is mental, emotional or physical stress that reduces character performance shown with coins or tokens placed on the character sheet and removed through meaningful character action. How they are removed depends on how they are received. First aid will do little to patch up a bad scare or a loss of face in a social situation, but it perfect for a physical injury. Therapy will do nothing for a broken arm but is perfect for psychological stress. An evening of rest in a bar with the rest of the group might be applied as a cure for many ills.
The Other will present the scenarios in the form of rumours, cries for help or whatever else will attack the attention of the players. The players will decide their priorities and have their characters deal with whatever threats or mysteries seem the most credible or important.

"The Pit"

That’s the complete game at approximately 750 words. There’s no need for character advancement since you play the character that you want to play. I like it as a pickup game for those times when a player fails to show to a regular game session.
I like the resolution system for an open system. I may use it for more short game designs.

If you are interested in the 200 Word RPG Contest they are accepting submissions until the end of day Eastern Time on April 23rd. If you’d like to see the 200 word version of The Outsiders RPG, I'm positing it here as a JPEG, but you'll also find it with the rest of the submitted games here.

200 Word Draft of The Outsiders RPG, click on the image to make it big enough to read. =)