Can I Borrow a Feeling?

July 23, 2010    

There are some amazing generic RPG systems, like Savage Worlds, that can be easily adapted to almost any setting. If you’re hanging out with some friends and decide you want to play a zombie survival horror game, a generic game will have you up and running in a few minutes. With that in mind, why are there hundreds of different little games?

One thing that creating a non-generic game is good at is achieving a specific feel. Mechanics can be put in to place that are specifically tailored to the feeling of the game. An example of this can be seen in Dogs in the Vineyard where escalating to gun violence is one of the trademark moves in spaghetti westerns. It doesn’t get more serious than when two cowboys meet at high noon in the town square. Are there guns in generic systems? Sure but those systems don’t force you to decide if you want to escalate to shooting the difficult farm hand in the head just to win an argument.

For my game, the feeling I want to achieve is that of every TV show and movie that has paired a brainy geek with an action hero. The idea came to me while watching Chuck and Numb3rs but I’ve since noticed the same patterns in other shows. Elite soldier meets geek. Geek perturbs elite. Elite and geek eventually realize they make a good team.

With that in mind, here are a few things I hope to capture in the rules of my game that I don’t think could be achieved in a generic system right out of the box:

  • Geeks and elites start out with a mutually exclusive set of skills.
  • Advancement comes in the form of learning a skill from the other archetype.
  • Each session should be a self contained episode with the exception of cliff hangers.
  • A meta plot is best achieved through repeated encounters with a recurring bad guy.
  • No one dies unless their player chooses to give their character a dramatic exit.
  • Challenges should be harder in the beginning of each episode so that player characters can really shine in the end.
  • Mechanically, the game will punish one character per episode requiring them to lean on their team more than normal.