FreePlayer is in a bare bones state right now. My plan is to improve the rules from feedback and update the guide to show how a host can use the tools of the game to make consistent rulings. I’ll be posting as I go.
The games I plan on using FreePlayer for are very different from each other, especially in terms of how characters plug into the core loop. I expect to be posting more about that later.
I have play tested fragments of the rules but not in their current state so that is a priority too. If FreePlayer interests you I welcome your comment and feedback.
FreePlayer is a diceless, objective driven RPG that sets the Players as the disruptors of the game setting and the Host as a representative of the Status Quo. Let’s break that down.
FreePlayer- I came up with the name to represent a game that strips away dice and most of the structure associated with what makes a game. Like Freeclimbing or Freediving- it does away with the protection.
Diceless- I remember playing the James Bond 007 RPG back in the day. It had a bidding mechanic where opposing parties had a bidding war to set the difficulty for a chase scene. I ended up using that mechanic for all conflict in the game. And then using the rules to play Paranoia and pretty much everything else. This inspired the diceless bidding mechanic for Freeplayer. I was also inspired by my favourite diceless game (um until now…); STALKER. Its FLOW system presents objective benchmarks for the Host to provide consistent rulings, a valuable tool for balancing the abstract shared imagination space. This is useful for FreePlayer because it doesn’t use numbered statistics for relative comparison of character abilities.
Objective Driven- The ‘granularity’ of conflict resolution is scaled to the conflict or to the Player goal. When one or more Players want to achieve an objective, the game scales to fit and resolves it . I did this because it can be hard to emulate fiction or create a cinematic feel when conflict breaks it all down to rounds and dice. How do you design a game with the goal of immersing players in the fiction of a shared imaginary world when, if they come into conflict (as the game intends), the game immediately switches from an abstract space to an objective space? My answer to this design conundrum in FreePlayer is to have an Objective scaled resolution system.
Players are the Disruptors – One of the challenges Hosting a game is – how to inspire Players to engage with the game without railroading? This is hard because many games are designed around the assumption that the Host’s role is to provide Challenges for the Players. This is subjectively true, the Host is the gateway to a shared world that will have some kind of challenge requiring the interaction of the Players to solve or at least engage with (or be defeated by – Hello Cthulhu!). Objectively and structurally, this does not have to be true. FreePlayer approaches this by flipping it around. It is the Role of the Players to Challenge the Status Quo.
The Host represents the Status Quo – and that is all they do. Status Quo is one of those simple in concept, complicated in application things that most games use but not objectively, they have other objective tools. Status Quo is everything that has happened in the Game World. It is the unit of measurement that the Host uses to weigh Player interaction. What is feasible? What is the tipping point between a demand and a request? How risky is that? If the Player’s role is to disrupt, the Host’s role is to weigh. It is how the Host can provide consistent rulings without specific and lengthy rules.
FreePlayer is in a draft form. Download it here. I think that the Rules themselves are in a fairly developed form, the Guide has a way to go. My ultimate goal is to get it to a 2 page form that I can use in any game I want to produce, tailored to fit. I really want to get LEDNIK and Mesh Dream out there and FreePlayer is the vehicle for that. I am keen for feedback so if you have read this far, let me know what you think.
I am inspired by games like Perfected and Cthulhu Dark. These are tight, minimalist games that know what they are and leave the greater portion of boundary setting and expectation management to the Players and Host.
Freeplayer is a minimalist, diceless RPG that I have been working on for a while. Check it out:
This is version 210718 My next step is to do a round of Playtesting and then update the Draft. For a 1 page game (4 if you include Terms, Rules and Guide) I think it is fairly tight. These are the rules I will be using for my Projects going forward – Lednik and Mesh Dream. Enjoy and feel free to comment.
Before we dive into the dice mechanic, Characters in brief:
LEDNIK Characters have 3 Traits; Party, Ministry and Doctrine. A later post will go into more detail. Suffice that Party describes how the Character is connected to the Communist Party, their core values and which Committee they answer to. Ministry is who they work for and access to relevant Assets and Resources. Doctrine is a measure of their absolute loyalty to the Party versus their exposure to the spiritual powers of the Valley. All three Traits are scored from 6 to 1 but these scores are not directly relevant to deciding Risks and Outcomes.
1 Who adopts the responsibility for the Player’s Plan? The Leader may not receive the most benefit from the outcome or pay the heaviest price but everyone who was there will remember it was all because of them.
2 The Leader can allocate a d6 each if their Party and or Ministry Traits are relevant to the Plan. They can add another dice if they choose to risk Doctrine. They must have at least one dice and can have up to 3 dice. Use coloured dice, Red for Party, Green for Ministry and White for Doctrine.
3. The Leader Rolls the Dice. The lowest result is the number of Challenges that emerge while the Players are executing their Plan. If more than one die is equally low, choose which one is the Lead result. If Doctrine is one of the dice with the lowest result, it is the Lead Result.
4. Players discuss the Challenges. Choose from this list to describe each Challenge:
Consequence- An outcome that seems likely given the Change, Plan and Status Quo but may be at a heightened intensity than expected.
Complication- An unexpected additional outcome of the actions taken that has an impact that was not directly expected given the Change, Plan and Status Quo.
Compromise- The Challenging nature of events as they are unfolding means that the plan may need to be revised. This compromise will be for a less favourable Outcome than had originally been envisaged.
The Referee always describes the last Challenge, guided by the Scope process that was completed prior to Risk and Outcomes.
5. Players can use Assets and Resources to Offset up to 3 Challenges. Describe how each Challenge was overcome and the cost. Players note expended Resources and Assets.
6. If any Challenges were Offset, the Referee notes this for Loyalty Tracking (see future post).
7. Referee discusses the Outcome with the Players to then Narrate and Update the Status Quo. The Lead Result is a Filter that helps the Referee narrate the Outcome;
This is the LEDNIK Flow of Play. The key elements are Status Quo, Tone and Scope.
STATUS QUO: Everything that has gone before. The State of affairs. More specifically (to allow for those occasional retcons) , the most popular version or best remembered version of what has gone before. The core loop of LEDNIK is to establish the Status Quo, introduce change and update the outcome into the Status Quo, repeat.
TONE: The Referee has 3 questions. The first is `What do you want?’ This is in response to introducing a change and presenting it’s most likely outcome in terms of the Status Quo. Up to this point the conversation may be quite broad and sweeping, it is a narrowing of options. When the Players respond the Referee must decide if what they want is reasonable and compatible with this change. If so, the Referee asks; `What do you do?’ This conversation is then summarized by the Referee (Roll into Status Quo) and play returns to discussion. If what the players want presents some likelihood of conflict with the introduced change, the Referee asks `What is your Plan?’ and proceeds to Scope.
SCOPE: The players present their Plan, a skeleton summary of how they want to deal with the change to get what they want. Scope is the Referee’s opportunity to think about the Status Quo, what the players want, Filters, Triggers and Oracles (See future Blog Posts!). To consider the scale and implications of the interaction between the change and the Player’s Plan. The conversation at this point will either loop back to discussion or will proceed to Risks and Outcomes.
RISK: This is the dice mechanic built on the core of Cthulhu Dark. More on this in a future post. The output will be at least one Challenge that emerges as the players execute their Plan. Players can use Resources and Traits to offset some of the Challenges. [Beware the hidden Loyalty tracking mechanic!] The net result of the Challenges and Offsets are summarised by the Referee and incorporated into the Status Quo. Play continues.
Every night you hear the Volkskoja whispering out beyond the wire while the Lyud wail and hammer from the high ridgeline. They want your blood for the soil. You can feel the crack and staccato boom as Old Man Lednik fights the Red Army up at the head of the Valley. Victory will come soon. And then the Siren sounds, it is morning. The State Anthem crackles and spits from the guard towers. You shuffle to the breadline. People are stamping their feet and talking. Surely it will be honey oats this morning? It has been so long.
Overhead, the first rays of sunlight splash the banner, Stalin welcomes you to this new Soviet Socialist Republic. His arm is a wide rectangle and his hand is open as though casting seed. You have queued beneath it every day of your life. No new ships have breached the Curtain Storm since your parents arrived. Soon the overseers will be forming work gangs.
The Premise of LEDNIK is:
Stalinist Soviet GULAG meets a Palaeolithic Dream-time.
Lednik is a tabletop roleplaying game that emulates the themes and motifs of the great Russian authors from before the Revolution and from the Soviet era. Explore themes of personal salvation and sacrifice in a fickle world, what does it mean to do good or be good and does it matter? The tension between belief and ideology. Can there be trust if there is doctrine?
The Action takes place in a glacial valley that might be in the distant future or past or perhaps in another dimension. There are compelling arguments for each possibility. An expeditionary force arrived via the Curtain Storm that shrouds the bay at the foot of the valley, it was late 1949. The first Sharashka (Secret science camp staffed by GULAG prisoners) was established at the beach head. Was it part of an energy or weapons project linked to the freshly minted Soviet nuclear program? All attempts to communicate, and later to return, through the Curtain Storm were fruitless. Soon they discovered they were not the only occupants in the valley.
Lednik is built on the foundations of Graham Walmsley’s Cthulhu Dark. The character sheet is also their identity papers. The permission stamps, overseer notations and Party awards Players earn inform the pressure that they can exert and pathways they can take when faced with the trials and challenges that lay ahead.
I look forward to blogging more about Lednik. The core mechanics are in hand and that will be the focus of the next few posts. Then content and playtesting. My current plan is to publish on a zine model and maybe Patreon or some similar option is the way to do that. Time will tell.