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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Pulp in a Cup!" A pick-up RPG engine.

"Pulp in a Cup" (a.k.a. PnC, and formerly known as "LAME-O") is an RPG kind of an ultimate universal game mechanic that can be used to jump start a game most anywhere you happen to be. It for players who have a hard time find ways to get people together but still want to play if an occasion presents itself. Players pick a setting based on a well known movie, animation, or comic franchise that everyone in the group is familiar with (e.g. Superman, X-Men, Star Trek, Ghost in the Shell, Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy, etc.). One person acts as the Game Master and prepares a story or at least a scenario that is set in the franchise world while the other players pick favorite characters to role play in that setting. Play proceeds by acting in character in ways consistent with the story familiar to everybody. When the situation comes to a point where there needs to be a resolution to some action or encounter use the simple mechanic below.

  • Rule 1: All players creatively conceive and communicate their characters and their specific actions in the game narrative and the Game Master conceives and communicates the world setting and specific situations in enough detail such that the resolution of player actions is clearly indicated by the logic of the story.
  • Rule 2: If there is no clear outcome even after detailed exposition, this means that the opposing forces in the story are fairly evenly matched. If so, use the following die mechanic. Every time it comes down to a dice role, then the player rolls 1d20 and 3d6 (This is called a standard role). The 3d6 represents the difficulty of the task and the d20 represents the degree of success. Then the GM adapts the narrative of the action (with the players' input) to justify the results of the roll. If the d20 is greater than the 3d6 roll, the task is a basic success for the player. A 20 on the d20 is an automatic critical success for the player and a 1 on the d20 is an automatic failure. The GM then determines what additional benefits beyond success occur on 20 and what additional liabilities occur on 1.


And that's all the rules. What follows are simply optional suggestions on how to implement the rules of PnC.
  • Degree of Success (DoS): Degree of success (or failure) is the difference between the d20 result and the 3d6 result. This is often worth noticing in order determine exactly how extensive the impact of success is, especially in assessing damage from combat. It is important to realize that the degree of success actually increases geometrically as the difference increases incrementally. See the example below.
  • Resolving Critical d20 results: Make the d20 roll open ended to determine critical results. If the d20 results in "20", roll the d20 again, treating another result of "20" as zero, and add it to 20 as a total result. If the d20 results in "1", roll the d20 again, treating another result of "20" as zero, and subtract it from 1 as a total result. By this means results are possible from -18 to +39. Compare the d20 result with the 3d6 result.
  • Example: Deactivating a Time Bomb: The difference (d20 - 3d6) determines the degree of success based on the following scale;
  1. (+11 or more)----"Divine intervention", "Terrorists give up and turn themselves in."
  2. (+8 - +10)------- Spectacular success (substantial collateral benefits), "Bomb deactivated and source for terrorist technology discovered."
  3. (+5 - +7) --------Great success (marginal collateral benefits), "Bomb deactivated and components salvaged."
  4. (+2 - +4) --------Sufficient success (no collateral benefits), "Bomb deactivated."
  5. (-1 - +1) ---------Partial, insufficient success (may roll again), "Bomb still active but timer pauses."
  6. (-4 - -2) ---------Sufficient failure (no collateral costs), "Bomb still active. Run away."
  7. (-7 - -5) ---------Great failure (marginal collateral costs), "Bomb active and timer speeds up."
  8. (-10 - -8) --------Spectacular failure (substantial collateral costs), "Ka-boom! The player's character is dead."
  9. (-11 or less) ------"Divine retribution", "Player's character dead, family loses NSA pension, and her favorite candidate loses re-election."
  • Dice rolls in combat and other competitions: In combat situations, an attack roll works just like a standard roll except that the attacking character rolls the d20 and the defending character rolls the 3d6. The roll is made by whoever controls the attacker or defender (the GM rolls for non-player characters). If the roll is a success for the attacker, the degree of success determines the amount of damage which is handled narratively. If the role is a great failure or more there may be self-inflicted damage. (Other possible penalties could include losing place in the initiative order (the original initiative order in a combat situation can be established by having each character roll 1d6, rolling off tie results, and having everyone go from highest result to lowest), losing the next attack, or the defender getting a free attack on the attacker.) It is up to the GM whether an attack roll or a standard roll is used. Attack rolls are expected for combat situations but some contests of skill can be resolved by by attack rolls also (like trying to sneak up on a very perceptive guard). Other competitions between characters can be resolved by comparing the degree of success of the results of two standard rolls (like a footrace).
  • Conducting combat scenes: If characters find themselves in a combat situation, the GM should first determine who can attack at that moment and who cannot. Maybe some characters were caught off guard or cannot immediately react because of their stance. Of those who can attack, have each make a standard roll to determine the order of initiative. Greatest degree of success attacks first, next greatest second, and so on. You may want to give players the option of holding on to their attacks even until the next time through, so that they can attack after their turn comes up but not before. On their turn, make an attack roll with the attacker rolling the d20 and the defender rolling the 3d6. The damage is determined by the degree of success along with the player's presentation of what sort of way their character is attacking. A degree of success of 1 with a sword may just graze the opponent's armor, while a degree of success of 6 with a sword may mean an open wound that needs immediate attention. Combat continues until one of the opposing characters surrender, fall unconscious or die, or escape.
  • Levels of Difficulty (LoD): There are times when the rules still seem too inflexible to accommodate the story in a credible way, times when you want to make a roll but one adjusted to fit the circumstances. These differences of degree of challenge are called higher or lower levels of difficulty and can be resolved with bonus or penalty d6's. If you think that some things ought to be more challenging than other things and that everything should not just be averaged together, you can use the following system. Suppose you think a task should be especially hard for a character. In that case, the player makes a standard roll except that she adds 1-3 additional penalty d6's to her roll depending on how much difficult it is thought to be, and the d20 is compared to the total result of the three highest d6's. Similarly, for situations where the player has a distinct advantage, add 1-3 more bonus d6's and compare the d20 to the total result of the three lowest d6's. Players and GMs should be free to negotiate on their own behalf which factors may provide distinct advantages or disadvantages for the character in any situation, appealing to the features already given in the story, but the GM has final say. The dice should reflect the final net advantage, whether positive, negative, or inconsequential, of all the relevant factors. Players and GMs can anticipate such judgements by using a ladder of descriptive terms (very easy, easy, average, hard, very hard) when describing the characters features or the circumstances. For example, if the character is a "good jumper" but the ravine is "not just wide but very wide", the bonus of the character's good skill is offset by the especially difficult jump and the GM may decide he still gets one but only one difficulty d6. However, if levels of difficulty are introduced, the GM, is going to have to be careful that they are not abused and that the characters and situation are both fairly balanced in terms of levels of difficulty.
  • Levels of Difficulty in Combat: You can also use bonus/penalty dice in combat by adding them to the defenders 3d6, but remember that what is to the defender's advantage is to the attacker's disadvantage. So adding a bonus d6 for the defender having plate armor is to add a penalty d6 to the attacker -- the attacker must roll a d20 result that is greater than the three highest d6 rolls to succeed in significantly hitting the defender. Bonus/penalty dice can also be used in cases where the enemy is surprised or attacked from above. They can also be used in the standard roll that determines the initiative order.
  • Mulligan Points: A GM may want to assign three mulligan points to each player before the beginning of the session. A player may spend a mulligan in order to re-roll any particularly unfavorable standard roll or her part (the d20 or the 3d6) of a combat roll. The point must be spent before the re-roll. This gives the player more input over the way the story goes. The GM may also give a player a mulligan point every time he rolls a 20 and take a mulligan point away every time he rolls a 1 on the d20. However, one cannot have negative mulligan points and only loses a mulligan point when he has one to lose.


Mark said...

Verily, I say thee 'yay'! Have at thee!

The Gnu said...

Thanks. I have to be the first to say though that adding the levels of difficulty feature is probably a deal breaker for the spirit of the original concept. The value of the original pair of rules is that the 3d6 gives a lovely plausible probability curve that scopes over all cases, so you don't have to invest a lot of time studying the situation with a large set of conventions. Rather you make the situation fit the results which is something you accept before you play in order to be able to play with a minimum of fuss. If you introduce levels of difficulty qualifications you might as well add a character sheet with attributes and skills specified and assigned values and preassigned set of difficulty values for each type of situation. in short, write a player and Gamemaster guide, which I wanted to avoid. So if you use levels of difficulty, it only has to be in cases where the normal curve strains plausibility too much. But I think you should just tough it and go ahead normally.

Anonymous said...

Hail, almighty Gnu!