RPG Design - Back to the Core

Keep it simple stupid

Sometimes one has to remind oneself about the simple things in life. The playtest has shown that there is too much overhead for the player. I think some of the mechanics in the system where too "controlling". I constricted the player too much by proposing a specific playstyle that should be used. I think I need to rewrite some stuff to be more vague, in order for the player to fill in some blanks. The system should give out prompts that the player is interpreting.

Not to say, that being more crunchy (where every die-roll result has a specific resolution, like dealing X amount of damage etc). It is just not want I think this game needs to be. It is more story focused, so I think I can get away be pushing some of that crunch into the back. Nevertheless the rules should be simple enough to follow, so that it flows.

Download Rules

So I went ahead and thought over the existing rules and applied KISS to them to streamline them more. The result you can download by clicking the button above. Note, that I mostly concentrated on the Core Rules for now and the Case Assignment rules will need to be reworked later.

A Jump into the Pool

So the first thing I figured in my playtest, that the mechanics for compelling and invoking don't seem to work as intended. There was not a big incentive to compel (or invoke respectively) as the benefits of doing so weren't that great. In addition they were a bit complicated and could lead to ambiguous situations.

To remind everybody: When using a Luck Point (or FATE point, whatever you want to name it), you got to reroll the dice or to manipulate the result by adding or substracting from the highest die in the roll (which then changes, which leas to the ambiguity). As stated, the issue is that rerolling is probably way riskier than in FATE: the probabilty curve is completly different and doesn't favor a beneficial result. Second, the manipulation of dice brings the game to a halt. One has to figure out how to apply the bonus and maluses and such. It is not clear by just looking at the result you have to do some "math" to get the endresult.

At the core of the mechanic is a simple dice pool. So instead of introducing a mechanic to manipulate the result (something that is alien to the concept of a dice pool) manipulate the dice pool instead. This is far easier: just adding and removing dice. Simple, right?

This change has some implications on the rest of the system though. What does the Luck Point exactly mean, then? It could be just as simple as adding some preset amount of dice (lets say 2). Compelling could then remove the same amount of dice. Instead of instantly failing (in the old system) when compelling you still get a fighting chance - even though it might be hard.

But I felt it is still a bit too complicated, or rather still enacted a bit of bookkeeping in the game (thinking about compels all the time, keeping track of the Luck Points). I even had the feeling they looked a bit added on (just because it came from FATE). So I got rid of it. Entirely.

Instead I added the notion of Boons and Bane. In the end it is just a fancy name for "free compells" and "free invokes". You can spend a boon to get a die into the pool. A bane removes one. The system is now generating these so no worry to think about when to compel oneself at any time.

One big change in this new system is that you need to decide using Boons and Banes before the roll. FATE does it after the roll. This should reflect how certain aspects are "activated" to be used in the situation, maybe helping to form the story easier?

The dice pool also opened a bit of design space. I could now give out additional bonuses, like helping each other or going for a risky strategy and gaining more dice in exchange for "health" - when there are desperate times.

Fail Forward

Failure in a test should feel like one. This was another point I found out in the playtest. Some actions have no disadvantage on performing them. So this needed to change. Every action should now have a distinct downside, most notably the generation of banes. This might also generate some form of downward spiral. Further playtesting shall show if this needs to be adjusted.

In the same category falls the Consequences table. They felt not really great (okay I didn't use them too many times). It felt a bit disconnected to the current situation. I really like the Pay the Price Oracle from Ironsworn. So why invent the wheel again. The table isn't completed but my idea would to fill in with some prompts to then be interpreted. These prompts should probably in some form very general so that they fit better into the situation.

It is just a fleshwound

I always had FATE's Conditions in the back of my mind. Coming up with aspects on the spot is sometimes difficult. Vaesen RPG goes one step further in this. I like that approach and it fits nicely into the dice pool mechanics. I linked the conditions to the character's traits and they work as somewhat permanent bane.

The conditions have way more direct impact into the play. Whereas before you had to compel them before something bad happens, they now inflict disadvantages constantly and you want at some point do something against it. So there had to be a more elaborate healing system to be in place. Again something that Vaesen does well. I'm not fully convinced yet, though. They seem a bit too crunchy, and that is something that I wanted to get rid of in the first place.


Absent are dedicated combat rules. But I think that they are not really needed. In the end it is just an Overcome action. My idea is, that when you go into combat the statblock of an enemy gives you a static penalty (bane), so you need to first do some create advantages to gain banes so you can use them in one big swing in order to defeat your opponent. Failing in these actions could signify how the enemy gains the upper hand in combat, dodging and landing counterpunches.

Unfortunately I'm unable to find the resource anymore, but I read somewhere an interesting approach to combat, which would fit. Combat in general is something neither side wants. You always have to do some investments (resources, "health") when going into a fight. So in a conflict there are like 3 phases. First is avoidance: What can be done to avoid that conflict. Maybe some intimidation is enough? Could also be some bartering or similar. Second would then be something like creating advantage. Checking the surrounding and the enemy to find weak spots and ensure minimal losses. Note here, that at this stage you could still get out of the fight (because after mustering the enemy you thought - no, that is too hard of a fight). The last phase is then the actual conflict or strike. Both sides enact their strategy and strike, from this the result is drawn and winner and looser determined.

Conflict should be something that should be avoided (makes also sense in the theme, being a clandestine agency after all, conflict draw too much attention). Even fighting simple mooks should have the potential to backfire and cost something.

What is interesting in this is, that this works for physical combats as well as mental ones.

I have some ideas and the dice pool mechanic opened some further design space that I need to explore.

Bits and pieces

Some other things I changed are minor. I added a license, moved some stuff around - there is now a dedicated character chapter for example. There is also some additional clarifications and I changed a bit the layout of the tables.

Download Rules