Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pen and Paper Tuesdays

The first and possibly
only installment of a new series, Pen & Paper Tuesdays!

That's right, no console or PC required. Only some dice, some paper, some preparation and lots of imagination. It's hell, let me tell you.

I've only played two DnD sessions in my life and they were singularly awful. That's the sum of my experience with actual play.

Other than that I devour system books and supplements and scenarios. They're great ways to mine for ideas.

If you're interested in designing video games, read every RPG rulebook you can. Spend some time playing with the system, learning how the numbers are balanced and how different aspects interact. Board games and card games offer the same opportunities.


One of the books I purchased was Spirit of the Century from Evil Hat Productions.

This is a nice little game, one which I might actually try to play.

The theme of the game is Pulp, the whole broad swath of it from King Solomon's Mines to The Phantom. There is a specially-made backstory as well which is pretty sweet on its own and could easily support a licensed fiction series.

The system is a slightly-modified version of FUDGE (available free here).

Some people like crunchy, so if that works, cool. But I like the option to shove the system to the side when the story demands. FUDGE is really good at giving you that leeway. Rolls are for success versus either a difficulty or an opposed roll. Rolling above the target can provide bonuses based on how much higher you roll. Rolling under is a simple failure.

My favorite part of the system is the character Aspects. Each player gets 10 Aspects for their character. These can be anything. Really, anything. They just have to be descriptive enough to use them in a story. The more specific the better.

For example, you could use "Strong." But that's so general that there's no flavor. So you might change it to "Super Strength." This gives us a better idea of how strong as well as what kind of obstacles would be appropriate. I wouldn't trust a strong guy to stop a speeding train, but I'd put money on a super strong guy. But even that might not be enough. So how about "Strength of Hercules"? This provides both a clue as to magnitude as well as what you might throw at the hero. It also brings up interesting questions: How did the character get the strength of Hercules? Did they steal it? Will someone try to take it from them? Is it from an artifact or a spell?

That's the beauty of a well-chosen Aspect. It provides a means of acting heroically in scenes and at the same time suggests plot elements to the GM and players.

But that's not all. An Aspect functions as both a positive and a negative. A good GM should try to find a way of making an Aspect a hindrance or a challenge for the player.

How would something like Strength of Hercules be a weakness? Well, someone that strong might not know how to control it. Maybe the character is too rough with goons and knocks them out before the other players can extract information. Or, if you want to get more dramatic, maybe the character kills by accident like Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Or maybe the player has to perform certain tasks for the gods in order to keep the Aspect.

I like this kind of built in multi-functionality. If I recall correctly, GURPS handled the same system by introducing Advantages and Disadvantages. Twice the information to track.

There is a lot more to Spirit of the Century. The basic rules become complex through successive iterations of how the players can interact with Aspects and Skills. Players can invoke the Aspects of other players. Backstories can bring up new Aspects.

In short, there is a lot more to this system, but it's an effortless read. If you've tackled any other RPG then you should catch on fast.

I can imagine that modifying this system would be pretty easy. Buffy would fit well. So would 24. Heroes. Actually, probably anything on TV. Comics would work.

Now I have to try to carve out time to play. And find suck- . . . volunteers.

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