Friday, 4 May 2012

Use the force!

No, not THAT Force, I mean brute force, trying to get a group dynamic game into a solo-ist's toolbox. I just had to post this on Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you, if you didn't know).

OK spuring on from my previous thread where I mentioned some plotting RPGs, here I thought I'd mention some significant ones in some more detail.

Primetime Adventures (PTA)
PTA is very much a group based system, but it does have some good ideas that I feel may be steal-able in some way.

Scene focus - the person "in charge" of the next scene creation gets to choose whether it is a character defining scene or a plot scene. This is eminently steal-able, and breaks up the often fast paced solo adventure, this is something I have often thought about but have not implemented, maybe because I have under developed my solo characters? Or because I have only one character generally? Personally I would implement this as a die roll. (Spacejacker has done something similar using 1d6 1-3 Action 4-5 Quiet 6 Meanwhile... scenes).

Episode focus - PTA almost mandates a campaign structure of at least 5 episodes, each player then has to choose how important their character is in each episode (on a scale of 1 low to 3 high) with only one "spotlight" character in each episode. This sounds like a good idea, but then when I solo I'm usually only one character with perhaps a couple of NPCs so the spotlight thing is much less important. I think if I was attempting an ensemble game then I may do this, and I may in the future so it's not totally discarded.

Personal set - this is a locale specific to that character, somewhere they go to retreat from the world I guess, even if it is in public, a bar for example. This is another very stealable idea, and easy to add to any character's character sheet.

Connections - these are people that the character has some connection with beyond a simple acquitance (and other characters), a very good idea and one I use all the time, in fact the FU rules for relationships I tweak in this direction.

Issue - this is the struggle that the character faces through the campaign, usually resolved in their spotlight episode. Again this is something I have used for a long time, just called it a character goal instead.

Nemesis - if you haven't used this one in the past, you've missed out!

Epsiode structure - this is mapped out in acts, the first detailing the problem, each subsequent adding complications or twists before the climax. Nothing really ground breaking here, although the spotlight player does get to narrate the denoument untouched, but probably of little value to  a solo-ist.

Fiasco is raved about in many circles, unfortunately none of these are solo players!

Character creation is the best thing about Fiasco for the solo player, the rest is far too dependent on a group but the initial creation does make interesting characters.

In Fiasco you create a character using the Fiasco playsets, each playset has a list of relationships, needs, locations, and items. In each category there are six items so it is simplicity itself to randomly create a genre appropriate character with some really interesting features. Be aware however that Fiasco attempts to create humourous, idiotic, and otherwise strange characters to support the style of adventure it was created for, hence the name, but they are interesting to role-play.

Go download yourself a copy of one of the free playsets from Bullypit website and see for yourself.

Cartoon Action Hour: Season Two (CAH)
CAH is designed to recreate the kid's 80's cartoons we all remember (if you were a kid in the 80's!) like He-Man, Transformers, Thundercats and G.I. Joe. It has way too  much information to paraphrase here if that is what you want (I suggest you get yourself a copy) but the highlights for solo-ists are in its series creation help.

Series name and tagline - this is surprisingly important to me, at least the tagline is, it gives me a handle on the style of game I have in mind, mostly it isn't written down but it is there in the subconcious somewhere.

Rogue's Gallery - this is made up of 1 Master Villain, 0 to 3 Leaders, 6 to 10 Henchmen, and countless Goons of 1 or often more types. Being a cartoon these are made up at the start of the series/campaign, while this removes some of the mystery for the solo player it is also genre appropriate in many instances, supers, Star Wars etc. In FU terms the Villain is a complete character (and possibly some more), the Leaders are complete characters, the Henchmen are minorly powerful to just a name, and the goons are there simply to take a punch in the face.

Narrow skills - OK this isn't plot orientated but, a very good concept in CAH is that narrow skills overcome broad skills. I think this is very important in games where you free choice of character abilities, like FU. So when a Wrestler meets a Strongman, the Wrestler gets the benefit in any hand to hand situation for instance.

The episode structure is almost identical to PTA, the setup, followed by the confrontation and finally the resolution.

Starblazer Adventures/Spirit of the Century (SbA)
SbA/SotC's best advice is the basic plotting setup.

Endanger the characters, Reveal the true danger, The pursuit encounters complications, Certain doom, The twist, Final showdown, Breakneck escape (Optional).

If you keep this plot setup in mind (or have it written down in front of you) then you can mold your storyline to fit (and/or the random events). As is appropriate to the genres these games are emulating they give a very pulp-y style game structure.

Another concept is Plot stress. In SbA this can be used to determine when particular events occur, as it seems appropriate the GM marks off the stress until it reaches one of these milestones. It can seen at work in the free Mindjammer adventure "Escape from Venu". Well OK you may say, that sounds kind of interesting, but for a solo-ist knowing what's coming up next?!

You see my thoughts on this is that it could be used in detective scenarios in particular. You can detemrine that a major event is going to happen, but not what that event is, then, when it arrives, determine it using whatever random event method you are using, and it is still a surprise! It also means that the plot is suitably paced, you cannot catch the killer in the second scene after a brief foot chase because your plot track has not dictated it yet. I may give this one a try sometime soon.

Another idea, taken from Dr Rotwang is the Adventure Funnel. While it is a good idea for normal groups with a GM for solo-ists it's not really got anyhting to help.

Larger Than Life (LTL)
This is a game available from Two Hour Wargames. THW specialise in games where one side is pitted against a wargaming "system" that controls reactions and movement. LTL is different from their other games in that it concentrates on a main character, allies, and a love interest against a Big Bad, femme fatale and enemies/extras.

LTL is a pulp ruleset utilising THW's reaction system for the combat scenes and a plot system powered by "clues". Each scene has the possibility of a clue, throwing obstacles in the character's path, until they have collected enough to face off against the Big Bad on the Showdown.

It is an intriguing idea, but, I would suggest, not story focused enough for those that use Mythic, and the tables provided although fairly good, adhere to the game system which is too bloated for me. By this I mean that there is not one core mechanic, some tests require rolling against one attribute, while others require rolling that attribute number of dice. Put basically, it has the possibility to be better in my opinion, and while I could set about doing that, it lacks random events and stronger narrative for role-players.

Danger Patrol
This is a great pick up and play game for a group, but you can also use it's game structure to aid your solo playing. It is best when detailing an action TV episode-like structure.

Opening scene - usually the GM narrates an opening action scene, including appropriate baddies, location and any other interesting characters, events or things present. This is entirely possible too for solo-ists, use whatever method of random enemy generation you usually employ and setup a frentic and fun "audience grabber".

Previously on... - the players then start by narrating a ficticious Previously on... scene. This is used in the group based game to inform the GM of things you would like to see in the upcoming episode. This can be used as is for solo-ists too, as I did a few weeks back. Simply jot down some initial thoughts and try and weave them in to ensuing story.

Action - after the title sequence, of course, you then return to the action and deal with the multiple threats.

Interlude - if you want to stick with the same structure, I didn't, next up is an interlude scene, where the players usually come up with appropriate questions to include the Opening scene events and the Previously on... information. There is no reason why a solo-ist couldn't follow the same procedures, and don't forget to chuck in some character details!

Suspense - now those questions you posed in the previous scene - here is where you follow them up. Of course the answers you receive clearly propel you into the next action sequence! And so the cycle continues.

For those of you not in the know, there is now a Pocket Danger Patrol release. Go and take a look as it is different enough to be very interesting to those that already dig the full DP.

Additionally I must say if you are into comics, go Google Danger League! An excellent comic book adaption of DP!

Cosmic Patrol
What this? Another pulp sci-fi game! Oh yes and it's also pretty damn good. So what can we learn from this one?

Well CP adventures are designed to run by rotating the GM each scene. OK, go on. Well because of this the GM element is aided by, what the game calls, Mission Briefs. So what makes up a Mission Brief?

An introductory text, pretty short with a clear goal and opposition. In other words a great initial adventure setup, easily stealable or creatable by the solo-ist. Like "It has been discovered that Space Pirates are hiding on an asteroid near Linvoy Primus, you must capture their leader Captain Long Bob".

A series of Objectives, again pretty easy to make these up yourself. Like "Destroy the asteroid", "Capture Long Bob" usually there are around 3 or 4 of these.

Then Cues, thse are used to aid the newly rotated/nominated GM, just keywords that can be picked from when they are suddenly "it". Like "Zero-g", "A hostile welcome", "You won't take me alive!". Again you can make these up as seems appropriate, the number of these can easily vary from around 7 to 20 if you're feeling creative.

Tags - these are really just for admin purposes so the group can keep an ongoing theme if they have a few briefs to choose from. An interesting idea, and possibly of use by some.

Setting - this describes the areas of the mission, possibly not that much value to this, but it wouldn't hurt to have to some pregenerated ideas.

Scenes - for the group this describes each scene and its obstacles, which is of little value for a solo-ist as that is what we want to find out through play.

Character & Enemy tags - I have to mention also that tags are applied to enemies and characters too. So if an enemy is in a scene the group can pick from that enemy's tags freely too. So a spider-like race might be "Poisonous, Web slinging, Wall crawling, Fast moving, and Eight legged." While a character might be "Thoughtful, Human, Muscular, Tough."

Character cues - these are (quite frankly too many) character quotes that can be used by the player for game benefit, it's a neat idea and fits the genre well, definitely usable.

If I was to use some of the elements I think the best way would be write out the required elements of say ten missions and then file them. After a couple of weeks pull one them out and play through it, before replacing it with another brief. Hopefully this would keep the play through fresh.

A cyberpunk game that I really know little about. There is a free adventure on the game's webpage which links various aspects of the available information. It's a little hard to describe but for instance one person, on the roll of a d6 will be connected to some other element of the adventure, and so on. While I've not had the chance to sit down and play through the ramifications of this it does seem a way to really connect a plot together with known elements seeming randomly. Definitely deserves another look although I would repeat the time gap as with Cosmic Patrol briefs.

There are of course hundreds of other options, take the Risus Companion for instance, or the famed Savage World Plot Point campaigns, or Heroquest 2 (the RPG not related at all to the boardgame <which is better!>).

Until next time Steve


  1. Interesting post. I had not heard of most of these systems. I think I know what you mean about LTL in terms of story. I have several THW titles and I feel like the rationale for the story needs something more from mythic or what have you.

  2. I'm intrigued by Cosmic Patrol. Have you tried it with a group, yet. If so, do players need to be experienced role-players or can any novice jump in?

  3. No, I never get the chance to try anything with a group!

    I'd say it'd be good for novices if they embrace pulp-sci, take a look it's worth it.