18 February 2013

Ambiguous RPG Setting

Would you ever pick up a book without any cover art or even title and just start reading from page 1?  Or would you ever begin watching a movie without having looked at the DVD case, front or back, and without even knowing the film's name?  I suspect you wouldn't, and neither would I.  The risk of time wasted on a bad story is just too great.

Still, one thing I've always wanted to try was a role-playing campaign that starts with an ambiguous setting.  I imagine a game where the players know nothing of the setting, where the PCs are simply normal everyday people.  All the players know is that their characters will experience something fantastic (after all, RPGs are about fantasy and escapism right?) and the "normal" world will be turned upside down.  Exactly how the game-world gets changed depends on the GM's whim.  Perhaps the PCs will all be bathed in cosmic rays and develop super-powers, segueing into a super-hero game.  Or maybe the PCs will inadvertently uncover some unspeakable cosmic horror and be thrust into the Cthulhu Mythos.  Maybe the PCs get abducted by aliens or time travelers and find adventures among the stars, or perhaps instead become embroiled in a cloak-and-dagger espionage conspiracy here on "regular" old earth.  Or our PCs can simply drift off to sleep, and in their dreams find a portal to a magical land of beasts and kings, wizards and elves.  The point is I think it would be a blast starting out a campaign and having no clue exactly what kind of game I would end up playing.

Attempting such a radical role-playing experiment would require a solid role-playing group, with a lot of trust.  Constant moving due to my job has left me without any group for decades, let alone one with the implicit trust to go for such schemes.  Luckily however I discovered the Mythic Game Master Emulator (GME) which allows one to role-play without a group (or GM).  Sometimes solo-gaming has its advantages and this freedom to experiment is one.

Using the Mythic GME I've decided to start build a game setting.  I have no clue where it will end up, whether it will be traditional fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime, spy, pulp or any other genre.  Since the initial start of the setting is the real-world modern day, I've chosen FU, the Free Universal Role-Playing Game as my system for task resolution.  Basically my idea is to simply start with scene one of an adventure.  Obviously there will have to be a notional "PC" or group of PCs to focus the action around, but these may not last more than a few scenes.  Therefore, the PC(s) will not have any game statistics at the beginning; such characteristics will be generated on the fly by asking the Fate Chart and rolling dice.  For example, muggers confront a character, who so far appears to be a graduate student type.  I would ask "does the character have any hand-to-hand combat skills" and assign the odds as Very Unlikely.  If I got a "yes" then I would have to change my idea of exactly who this character is.  Perhaps the character is a veteran, or an ex-collegiate wrestler.  An extreme answer may actually indicate an Edge (using the FU system).  

As stated above however, the characters serve only to focus the scenes, and may not last.  Think of them as characters in the opening scenes of a movie.  Perhaps these are the main protagonists of the film, but maybe their actions just introduce the conflict, and as the story develops they fade into the background.  R2D2 and C-3PO in the first (1977) Star Wars movie are a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

OK, so this task would be impossible without some basis to start.  In order to prompt my imagination and define both the starting place/time (geography, season) and starting characters, I generated five random dictionary words:


I was amazed at how quick a little story popped into my head.  What I went with for the opening scene was Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, February 2013.  The characters are a group of zoology researchers from Boise State University, traveling to the central Asian country to investigate a genetic anomaly: a cluster of consistently fecund horse-donkey hybrids.  I wasn't sure how to work in "sneer" or "measles", but I rolled to set up the scene, as per Mythic, and got an action/subject of "dominate/technology".  I used the "sneer" and "measles" dictionary words to interpret the event further.  Scene 1's location starts at the International Airport, where one of the research group gets singled out by Customs officials for improper immunization records (measles).  This turns out to be a ruse by the officials to pilfer the unfortunate American's expensive electronics equipment (dominate/technology).  I then rolled, per Mythic rules, to see if the scene was altered or interrupted.  I got an interrupt, with a focus of "close thread" and action/subject of "gratify/illness".  I decided since the only thread was arriving and getting to the research site, closing the thread meant a total detour.  So instead the scene starts with the single character, on a jet-liner leaving Bishkek for Hong-Kong (thus closing the thread of researching)!  How did he get there?  When he (I rolled the character is male) confronted the corrupt officials, they laugh and tell him he's powerless (sneer).  The resulting altercation (I rolled that he loses his temper) left the American in a cell, where he was bailed out by the US State Department, and promptly put on an outbound plane to avoid an international incident.  So the scene starts with a single male character with a scientific background but fiery temper, sulking in an airline seat.  But what about the "gratify/illness"?  Well, what the character doesn't know is that the senior pilot of the Russian airliner suffers from the illness of alcoholism, and as the co-pilot sleeps the plane's captain indulges.  It's going to be a bumpy ride...              

Three Painted Scratchbuild Spaceships

It's a holiday weekend so I made a brief return from my self-imposed exile from gaming-related hobbies and painted up some starships I scratchbuilt two months ago.

I still need to add decals, but here they are, finished otherwise.  The arcs and numbers on the bases support the game mechanics of my homebrew solo game Able Spaceman.  I've finished the game but still need to transfer it from hand-written notes to a proper document.  

My favorite design, the Ulim
The Jalos

The Lorrus

03 February 2013

Solo FU using Chartless Mythic

It's been a while since I've done any solo roleplaying using the Mythic GME.  Most of my attempts resulted in a lot of great fun and I've really liked the GME and its results.  The one thing I've always found lacking however was my chosen "core" RPG rules set used for task resolution.  Instead of using the full Mythic RPG mechanics, or a commercial set appropriate to the specific genre (AD&D, West End Game's Star Wars, etc.) I utilized homebrew rules.  My system proved too incomplete and thus hampered the fun and flow of the solo adventure.

With these experiences in mind I've been very keen to try the Free Universal Role Playing System, or FU.  Although I wonder about the ability of this system to handle diverse power levels such as advanced technology and magic, FU seems incredibly well-suited for solo gaming.  I see FU interacting with the Mythic GME smoothly because the six possible FU results provide a more specific direction to the line of questioning than just the standard "Yes/No" offered by Mythic.   FU can therefore be used both as the GME in place of the Mythic Fate Table, and as the task resolution mechanism.  These observations have already been made over on The Convenient Skill's blog; it was actually through his posts that I first discovered FU.  

Over on the FU Yahoo Group there has been a lot of discussion over alternate methods of dice rolling to generate the six FU results.  As a review those six results are: "Yes, And...", "Yes", "Yes, But...", "No, But...", "No", "No, And...".  Group member Light Castle decoupled these six results from the six-sided die by making the brilliant observation that each result could be considered one of six discrete states.  If one rolls or flips any kind of binary indicator (a die with equal numbers of odd and even sides, a coin, etc), one will get one of two states.  Rolling (or flipping) five of these indicators and totaling the number of one of the two states on each results in six possible states.  To make it a lot more clear, consider flipping five pennies and asking how many heads results come up?  If all five pennies land tails side up that is one state.  There can obviously be five more states, one where a single coin shows heads and the rest show tails, another where two coins show heads and three tails etc.  If we substitute the even and odd numbers on a polyhedral die for the heads and tails of a coin we can generate these six states using any type of dice we want, as long as we roll five of them.

My addition to the all the fine work by these other gentlemen is to eliminate the Fate Chart in Mythic by integrating the Chaos Rank into the dice roll mentioned above.  Let's first take an example of a FU roll using the five dice method and d10s as our dice type.  I decide to count evens for all rolls and when it's time for my first question I roll five dice, getting a 2, 3, 3, 8, 8.  If the result was all odd numbers it would be a "No, And..." and a result of all five even would be a "Yes, And...".  Our example however lies in-between and with three even dice scores the result is a "Yes, But...".  Simple.  Now, let's say instead of using even/odd as our discriminator on whether we count one of the five dice, we use a target number.  If we count all numbers which exceed this target, then it's obvious that the larger this number becomes the more "no" results we have.  This becomes the opposite of the Chaos Rank of the Mythic GME Fate Chart, but serves the same purpose: to skew a known (assumed) set of odds based on the phase of the story.  In fact, this is more in line with the modification some Mythic users employ, which is to change the Chaos Rank in the opposite direction at the end of each scene, to prevent the "absurdity-spiral" that seems to develop in the Mythic GME rules-as-written.

So my proposal would be to use a handful of d10, all of the same color except one.  Set up the first scene using the standard Mythic GME rules and 2d10 out of the pile.  Utilize Chaos Rank, which starts at 5, as normal for determining altered/interrupted scenes.  The Order Rank is 10 minus the Chaos Rank.  Alternatively, in order to keep track of only one number simply record the Order Rank and roll greater than to determine altered and interrupted scenes.

When asking questions, as per Mythic ask questions which result in more chaotic results upon "yes" results.  Roll 5d10 if the odds are determined as "50/50".  If the odds are "slightly likely", "likely", "very likely", "near certain", or "certain" then roll 6d10, 7d10, 8d10, 9d10, or 10d10 respectively.  If the odds are "slightly unlikely", "unlikely", "very unlikely", "near impossible", or "impossible" then also roll 6d10, 7d10, 8d10, 9d10, or 10d10 respectively.  If the odds were "slightly likely" or better, resulting in more than five dice rolled, discard the die with the lowest score and continue this process until only five remain.  If the odds were "slightly unlikely" or worse, resulting in more than five dice rolled, discard the die with the highest score and continue this process until only five remain.  In all cases if none of the remaining five dice scores exceed the Order Rank, the result of the question is "No,  And…".   If only one of the five dice scores exceeds the Order Rank, the result of the question is "No".  If two of the five dice scores exceed the Order Rank, the result of the question is "No,  But…".  If three of the five dice scores exceed the Order Rank, the result of the question is "Yes,  But…".  If four of the five dice scores exceed the Order Rank, the result of the question is "Yes".  Finally, if all of the dice scores exceed the Order Rank, the result of the question is "Yes, And…".

Always include the off-colored die in any GM emulation rolls in order to determine unpredictable events.  If a "1" is rolled on the other-colored die, a random even takes place, even if the die ends up being discarded.

When a character needs to resolve an action, roll the 5d10 plus any net bonus or penalty dice assigned due to conditions as per normal FU.  The six results are derived the same way, but the target number is always 5 (no different than even/odd).

I'm swamped at work so I don't know when I'll get to give this a try.  The big consideration here is that "Yes" isn't necessarily good in all cases.  When a question is asked to define the setting or the adventure (a GM emulation roll), "yes" actually results in more chaos for the PCs, as per Mythic.  During task resolution however "Yes" is definitely positive.