Play games. Tell stories. Have fun.

Friday, March 13, 2015

System Ideas: The Challenge System

There's a saying in the RPG community that "all GMs are amateur game designers." That's not a slight at either GMs or game designers (amateur or professional); it's just a comment on the prevalence of house rules and the duties of GMing.

And in my case, it's 100% accurate. I am an amateur game designer, and I thought it might genuinely be of interest to folks if I posted some of that content here. You might even find it useful (let me know if you do).

Note: Almost all of my game designs are unrefined and untested, so please use at your own peril.

The Challenge System

This game is ludicrously simple, and my main goal was to see how little I could use in terms of mechanics and still have a game that was distinct from a freeform collaborative storytelling experience. I'm not sure whether I succeeded in distinguishing this as a game or not.

The game begins with the GM and the players choosing a genre and a setting, and maybe even agreeing on some scenes that they want to see played out. Then, the players create characters. In addition to any other narrative descriptions, each PC has four abilities—usually just a noun phrase. If the GM ever challenges a player on her character's action in the game, the player simply uses an ability to overcome the challenge. The player should then cross out or otherwise indicate that the ability has been used.

The GM's responsibility is to set up the scenes and issue challenges to the players during each scene. I would advise the GM to give each scene a Challenge Number, which represents the number of challenges that she should issue to her players during the scene.

Once all of the characters' abilities have been used at least once, the GM initiates the End Game. In the End Game, the GM sets one last scene to be the dramatic conclusion of the story. In this scene, each player may only use one of her character's abilities, and the GM should issue one challenge to each player during the course of the scene. Once the End Game scene is resolved, the game is over, and the group and GM describe the aftermath of the conclusion and leave any potential threads ready to be picked up in future games.

Example of Play: A challenge

This scene has involved Alice dealing with Carver, the class bully, over the course of the morning.

Gina-Marie (the GM): Carver slams the locker in Alice's face, nearly hitting her with the door. The hall goes deathly silent and the other students back away, forming a circle around Alice and Carver.

Beth (Alice's player): Alice looks to her friends in the crowd and catches Delly's eye. Delly quickly rushes off to fetch Mr. Hanson, who is just down the hall.

Gina-Marie: Challenge. Mr. Hanson is usually down the hall in his room at this time of day, but today he isn't. He's all the way across the building in the gymnasium talking to Coach Ash.

Beth: One of Alice's abilities is Talented Actress, since she's in all of the school plays. She glances over Carver's shoulder as though she sees someone and says, "Oh, hello, Mr. Hanson." As Carver turns to look, Alice spins around and walks through the crowd, disappearing among the other students.


The Challenge System is now available to download!

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