View Full Version : PBP RPG: Rough Design Draft

Samurai Jill
2009-09-17, 02:34 PM

Firstly, just open a thread for general purposes of discussion and preliminary recruitment. This system is intended to be flexible, so you can afford to cater to players' tastes a bit: What kind of material would the posters like to play around in, as a setting? What stories would be their inspiration? Westerns? Superhero action? Sword and sorcery? Gothic horror? Do they want gritty, down-in-the-gutter, knees-and-elbows brawling, brutally eloquent swordsmanship, or spectacular slow-motion kung-fu bullet-ballet? Spend a few days just to reach an overall social concensus. As a GM, feel free to chip in your own suggestions, but don't narrow things down offhand prematurely.

You'll also want to ask how often posters log in, and how much free time they have when they do, so that you can set an overall rhythm for play. Once you have a premise that a reasonable number of other players can commit to (ideally between 2 to 4, but larger groups can work too,) pick your candidates and move on to the next phase: The Introduction.


Here, you open up an OOC thread with a (relatively) brief description of the overall setting: roughly a thousand words is typical, but you can vary that by half or more, as long as you convey the essentials- the idea here is to whet players' appetites for the underlying drama of different power blocs, relationships, or emotional themes. Don't worry about filling in the precise details, or furnishing an exhaustive description: any map would be mostly blank. For now, paint in very broad strokes- the idea would be to fill in the details later as your characters explore the world. By leaving things vague now, you allow yourselves freedom to adapt the setting to the demands of story, and also give your players a chance to share the joy of world-building.

You'll also want to establish a Cycle for play- the interval (1 day, 2 days, half a day, a week- whatever) during which players are expected to post, and what to do if they're absent (or need to drop out.) Be reasonable, but clear and up-front about this.


Each player should now begin to introduce their character(s). However, they don't need to establish everything in one post. On the contrary, the idea should be to establish a few Aspects of each PC at a time, thus allowing players to bounce off eachother's ideas, and help ensure the whole group functions cohesively, rather than being a collection of mismatched oddballs. Set aside a few days (or Cycles) to allow for this, starting with the most important qualities and then filling in a few details as you go.

Aspects may be either Major, Moderate, or Minor. They can include any of the following-

Beliefs are statements of moral or ethical conviction, not directly related to personal goals. The PC must have at least one Moderate or Major Belief.
Goals are overarching ambitions, desires, or pursuits of the character. Each PC must have at least one Goal.
Traits are physical qualities of the character. The PC must have at least one Trait.
Habits are ingrained, reflexive aspects of the character's personality. The PC must have at least one Habit.
Expertises are areas of intellectual knowledge or trained proficiency. The PC must have at least one Expertise.
Histories are personal loyalties- or aversions- to specific individuals or groups. The PC must have at least one Relationship with another starting PC or NPC.
Resources are physical possessions, reliable income sources or circles of connections associated with a given character. They can even represent minor characters- hired help or loyal crew are each modelled as Resources. A PC need not have any Resources, but it is recommended.

Each player should establish 4 Major, 4 Moderate, and 4 Minor Aspects for their character. Each should be described briefly (no more than a sentence or so,) and each should make sense for the setting. The GM has authority to veto Aspects that seem nonsensical or overly broad, and, if desired, may define a range of specific Traits, Expertises and Resources (or categories thereof), appropriate to the setting, for players to choose from in advance.

Tying Aspects of each PC into another player's character is encouraged, but does require that player's permission. Once granted, the Aspect proposed is established, and the consenting player may, (optionally,) establish a free Aspect relating to the first PC- it does NOT count toward the normal quota on Aspects. Players may also tie Aspects of their character into the setting at large without complications.

Every Aspect of a character that ties into an established fact about the setting- or other characters- grants their player 1 point of starting Luck, up to a maximum of 5. (Players may also remove Aspects from their character at this stage, but doing so will cost them 1 point of starting Luck for every PC affected by removal of a given Aspect, their PC included.) 3 or more Luck points also grants 1 point of Providence.

The player should also distribute 6 points, as desired, between the following Attributes:

-Stamina (used for feats of endurance, shrugging off injury, sickness or poison, etc.)
-Will (used for a firm resolve, concentrated study, steady nerves, inspiring speeches, etc.)
-Perception (used to spot what's hidden or obscure, react with lightning reflexes, etc.)

(Each must start greater than zero, and all are increased by 1 point at the end of character creation.)

(To give a few examples, combat is typically based off Stamina and Perception, but long-distance sniping might call for Perception + Will. Attempts at negotiation or standing watch are based off Perception and Will. Hard labour or wilderness survival is based off Stamina and Will. In a few cases, a given confrontation might call for a single Attribute- but counted twice, e.g, Stamina+Stamina to resist poison. In general, use whatever pairing of attributes makes the most sense for the situations where it comes up- and again, the GM can give explicit guidelines if desired.)

By the time the players are done, you should all have a pretty good idea of their characters' mutual relationships and what the problems at hand are likely to be, but feel free to suggest starting situations beforehand if they're stuck for ideas. Don't just dump them into adversity without their permission- work with them to arrive at an emotional 'hook' that can impel each PC into action before play starts. Once you've established a full quota of Aspects for each PC, actual play can begin. Open the Transcript thread with a short prologue, and start the various characters off in their respective scenes.

During each scene, every player states (perhaps secretly) what they want to accomplish during that Cycle, and the GM subsequently resolves any conflicts of interest that might arise in consequence. The details of the scene are then, for the most part, filled in retroactively by the players through Narration and Editing.

During a given Cycle, pick three things you want your character to accomplish, (generally in the current Scene for that character.) This is known as your Agenda for the Cycle, and each goal presented is an Interest. The order in which you list your Interests determines their order of resolution: First, Second, and Third. (This does not necessarily determine in-world timing of those actions, simply their sequence of evaluation by the GM.)

For each Interest listed, you may:
-list any relevant Attributes or Aspects of the character pertinent to achieving the goal. The GM may modify which are included during resolution, but must be consistent about it, and explain why.
-attach 20-50 words of 'suggested description' for either the Interest's instatement, denial, or simply details of the attempt. This grants you a +2 bonus to later resolution of an Interest (see below.)

Agendas may either be posted publically in the OOC thread, or sent privately to the GM via PM- player's choice. Once all players have submitted their Agenda, the GM then resolves all Agendas presented for each PC or NPC involved in a given Scene, and posts the results of resolution in the OOC thread. Depending on how the resolution(s) turned out, different players might have some, all, or none of their Interests instated as 'hard fact.' Resolution is described in more detail below.

All players' First Interests are resolved in one go, followed by all Second Interests, followed by all Third Interests.

Environmental obstacles for realising goals generally run as follows: 0- guaranteed, 2- pretty easy, very common or typical, 4- modest dificulty, common or not unlikely, 6- fair difficulty, not uncommon or a 50/50 bet, 8- steep difficulty, not common, quite unlikely, 10- exceptional difficulty, rare or very rare, 12- almost impossible. However, interests that are grossly unreasonably, needlessly obstructive, or genuinely impossible may either not be considered, or subject to much steeper penalties.
Minor Aspects are generally a +/-2 factor, Moderate Aspects are a +/-3 factor, and Major Aspects are a +/-4 factor during Interest resolution.

If an Interest undergoing resolution is incompatible with any other players' Interests in the Scene- either of the same or later listing- then any factors favouring those Interests automatically oppose those incompatible. In addition, any Interest that directly impinges on another character's material well-being, Beliefs, Goals or Habits is something that the character can reasonably be expected to defend themselves against where possible. If one player's Interest is to kill another's PC, the other PC is assumed to defend him or herself, regardless of whether any Interest to that effect was scripted.

Sum all factors favouring that Interest, and compare against the sum of all factors inhibiting that Interest. Perform a vs. test thrice- rolling a die with as many sides as the sum of factors on both sides. If the roll falls within the span of factors favouring the Interest, that counts as a success. The number of successes times the sum of favouring factors is the Weight of that Interest.

A ranking of Weights for vying Interests in that listing is established. In the event of ties, repeatedly roll dice with as many sides as the number of tied Interests until all ties are resolved. Once a ranking of Weights is established for the First, Second or Third listings on each Agenda, those Interests are instated in order of likelihood wherever feasible- as many compatible Interests as possible. Resolution then moves on to the next Interests listed on each Agenda- Second Interests, and finally Third Interests.

Environmental obstacles unrelated to NPC decisions are always considered GM Interests, and need not be declared in advance. However, the GM should publically declare all Interests pertaining to involved NPCs when the Cycle begins, BEFORE other players state theirs.

Whichever player wound up having the most overall influence on a given Scene- ie, instated Interests- must furnish a description of events incorporating ALL players' instated Interests for that Scene. This player is known as the Narrator for that Scene. Once the description is complete, it is then added to the current Transcript thread by the GM. (The GM never Narrates more than one Scene at a time- he or she should delegate Narration of subsequent Scenes to other involved players.)

Players may attach ONE non-trivial condition to specific Interests on their agenda. If the condition is another Interest, one extra success should be factored into the Weight of that Interest during resolution.

Players involved in a given Scene may call for 'edits' to their depicted role in events, as long as they-
(A) don't make substantial changes in terms of character motivation or other binding in-world cause-and-consequence- i.e, affect Interests,
(B) gain the express consent of all players whose characters could be affected by such alteration, and the GM. Consent or denial cannot be equivocal or conditional- if the player touches on the subject at all, they must say Yes or No.

Proposed Edits should be posted in the OOC thread for approval, shouldn't exceed twice the length of the original text, must include at least 20 words of original text, and shouldn't refer to Scenes outside the last 3 Cycles. If approved, the GM will modify the Transcript thread at the end of the Cycle. Players may not propose Edits more often than once per current Scene, per Cycle.

Player-characters cannot leave a Scene as long as other players sucessfully instate Interests that demand their presence. They may otherwise leave, join, and create Scenes freely. Depending on how the Scene turned out, players may adjust their Aspects in accordance with whether their Interests were instated or denied, and whether a given Aspect was tied directly into such Interests.

For every Interest of yours that was contested and denied, add 1 Fallout. Perform a vs. test thrice against the sum of all your Aspects (2 for Minor, 3 for Moderate, 4 for Major.) Each success allows you tweak an Aspect by one step- increase or decrease in importance, to remove or even add new Minor Aspects. A given Aspect can never be tweaked by more than one step. Expertises never decrease. Any alteration must be justified on the basis of the character's experience during that Scene, which may be vetoed by any player, but such adjustments may be made at any point while Edits are still possible.

All Scenes occuring in a single Cycle are considered to take place over similar timescales, so any Interests should be framed so as to be attainable under such constraints. Appropriate timescales may vary considerably in different Cycles, however, depending on what the prevalant Interests of the characters are- the longest timescale compatible with the first Interest instated in a given Scene should determine the timescale for a given Scene, which, in turn, determines when the Scenes for the next Cycle will open.


You earn Luck, Providence and Grace points:

* When you incur hardship or risk to role-play a Trait, Habit or Belief. This grants Luck in proportion to the significance of the forfeiture:
-Inconvenience or mild risk. (1 Luck)
-Significant concession, hardship, stress, or personal risk, AND either a Belief, Major or Moderate Habit or Major Trait. (1 Providence)
-Suicidal risk, crippling sacrifice or other major trauma, AND a Major Belief. (1 Grace)
* When you incorporate description attached to other players' Interests during Narration. You must incorporate such passages for at least half of the Interests proposed for that Scene, with minimal alteration. (1 Providence)
* When your description of an Interest's denial or instatement is incorporated by the Narrator, (or, during an Edit, by the GM.) (1 Luck) You may only earn this reward once per Cycle.
* When you accept another's Interest during Narration or Edits. (1 Luck) You may earn this reward multiple times per Scene.
* When you provide an appropriate level of description overall during Narration- between 200-500 words. (1 Luck)
* When your proposed Edit is incorporated into the Transcript. (1 Luck)
* When a conditional Interest of yours is instated. (2 Luck)

You may never have more than 10 points of Luck, Providence, or Grace points at any time. However, 10 points of Luck may convert to 1 point of Providence, and 10 points of Providence may convert to one point of Grace.

You may:

* Bid up to 5 points of Luck on a given Interest as a factor in it's favour. Luck bid is only lost if the Interest is later instated as fact.
* Bid 1 point of Providence to DOUBLE all factors favouring a particular Interest. Providence bid is only lost if the Interest is later instated as fact.
* Bid 1 point of Grace to automatically succeed in instating any Interest against opposition of up to TRIPLE difficulty. If an opposing Interest ALSO bids Grace, neither has an effect, but the Grace points are not lost.
* Spend 5 points of Luck, or 1 point of Providence, to introduce a new feature to the world of modest importance, or a Minor Aspect to your character. Introduced Aspects should be plausibly consistent with the prior behaviour of that character.
* Spend 5 points of Providence, or 1 point of Grace, to introduce a new feature to the world of great importance, or a Major Aspect to your character. Introduced Aspects should be plausibly consistent with the prior behaviour of that character.[/i]


It's important to keep things moving in PBP, because informal interplayer conference is so time-consuming. If you arrive at a critical juncture in the story where it's unclear what the group as a whole should do, don't let the OOC discussion drag on more than a Cycle or two- remember, you already have a perfectly good system for resolving uncertainties of this kind. If push comes to shove, have each character state their case as an Interest on their agenda, and try to persuade, cajole, bribe or bully the other PCs around to their way of thinking. You can never alter their core personality: Habits, Goals, Beliefs and Histories- but it does secure a binding temporary agreement, grudging or otherwise, to cooperate toward a given goal. Just remember this isn't mind control!

As a general rule, Major Resources should correspond to big or highly effective things, and Minor resources to flimsy, delicate, or ineffective things. You can establish Habits during play as a way to defend yourself against the unexpected- they can function similarly to conditional Interests. Histories represent your familiarity with, or general interest in, another character- for better or worse- and can be used during any social conflict with that person.

Don't neglect characterisation- it's the single most important thing about this game. Why? Because Resources, Traits and Expertises give you control over the means, but Goals, Beliefs, Habits and Histories give you control over the ends- over what conflicts are about in the first place.

Beliefs, Goals, Histories and Habits are there to help you formalise what's important to your character to the other players- including the GM. No, strike that- especially the GM! They are your way of signalling what you want the story to be about, what you want events to revolve around. Belief, Goals, History or Habits are all there to make your PC's life more interesting! In the event that you drop out of play, temporarily or permanently, they also help whoever takes up the slack to maintain the character's consistency. But don't complain if your character gets into trouble over them while you're gone- That's the whole point!

But a PC's drives and convictions are guidelines, not staitjackets. It is possible to break with them, and in the face of changing events and emotional adversity, you may come to feel that a given Belief, etc. just isn't that important to your character anymore, that it says too much, or too little, or the wrong thing. If so, change it or reword it or extend it to reflect that stress- it's all part of having your character evolve. (The flip side of this is that sticking to your emotional guns, your convictions, can carry a heavy price for the character- but, and here's the thing to remember- not neccesarily for you. The Luck, Providence and Grace mechanics are there to help offset this disadvantage, leaving you, the player, free to make choices based on what best complements the unfolding theme, and not just tactical advantage.)

So use those Beliefs, those Goals, those Habits, those Histories- get in trouble over them. Leap into the fray.


If you're used to GM-ing games with a predefined storyline in mind, I strongly suggest abandoning any notion of gradually herding players in the 'right' direction here. You have so much time between and during individual posts that heavy pre-game prep is not only unnecessary, but probably counterproductive to encouraging player authorship. Improvise the finer details of setting, character and situation as and when you need them, and use your PCs' crucial decisions to help determine the overall direction of the storyline. That should be the real draw, here.

How do you empower players to define the storyline? The first step is simple- look at the choices they make with respect to their Beliefs, Goals and Habits. Make events revolve around those statements of emotional importance- this is how the players express their foremost priorities- what they would like the story to be about. Put them in situations where those Beliefs, Histories, Goals and Habits are challenged, complicated, undermined or tested- maybe to the point of destruction. When a player chooses a Belief, History, or Goal, they are literally asking for trouble- but trouble of a specific kind!

The second step can be harder: you have to let go of the idea that there is a 'correct' way for their players' choices to turn out. There isn't. The choices you give them have to be as important as possible, which means they need be as ambivalent as they can be for a given PC, and with the most far-reaching consequences. No fixed storyline can survive this process without robbing the players of significance to their actions- of input to theme, the emotional core of a story- so don't have one. Let me state this again, for emphasis : DO NOT have a fixed storyline in mind. Do not present your players with pseudo-choices that obviously cast particular outcomes in a better light. That's a cop-out.

Does this mean you don't have input to the story? Of course you do. You have control over scene framing, pacing, timeframes, the NPCs' Interests, and much of the world. You still adjudicate over conflicts, and assign ad hoc modifiers for unfamiliar situations. But your first and foremost responsibility is to facilitate the players as authors of a dramatic story. What is drama, you ask? The lack of a clear-cut right and wrong when it matters most. And within those bounds, your power to shape events is very considerable.

Put the PCs into situations where they have to choose between two or more concepts of value to them. Not neccesarily every scene! You'd start off relatively gently, taking the PCs' initial Habits, Goals, Histories and Beliefs as a starting point- along with simple self-interest- and seeing which sides they take when placed in situations that force some kind of tradeoff between them. These decisions reveal something about the characters- they send a message about what's most important to them.

Then you escalate. Why? Because you have to- decisions on the same subject but at lower intensity involved don't establish anything new about the character- they don't furnish much thematic input. You have to take those initial judgements and, once they've been established, push them into more stressful situations. Again, this is something you'd work up to gradually, through fight scenes and dialogue and feats of endurance where called for, but the ultimate purpose of all the action is to promote drama. Through escalation, you call for the character to either make sacrifices to affirm the sincerity of their convictions, or break with those beliefs- those loyalties, those goals- and see the character evolve.

That said, don't feel obliged to focus on a single aspect of the PCs' Goals, Habits, Histories or Beliefs all the time- The PC will have a range of them, and new ones can be established during events in play, through their decisions during crucial conflicts. Depending on the format of story that you're interested in, a different degree of focus might be called for- TV, movies, and literature offer fair analogies that you might want to look at. (For example, recurring, 'bite-size', episodic play like a TV series or set of short stories can allow the current emotional focus to meander considerably, while a story structure similar to a novel or feature-film, and/or sequels, needs a much tighter emphasis on core themes. Particular in the latter case, you should be able to get a sense for when the story is wrapping up, because each PC's emotional agenda is nearing a resolution- that's the endgame, when it's time to set up each player for their crucial showdowns: The climax, in other words.)

Depending on how gritty the genre in question is, you may be able to get away with stretching probability here and there, as long as it furthers the story. Don't insist the players get hung up on the idea of acting on IC information only, and feel free to discuss things from a third-person perspective. Talk about the story so far. What themes has it expressed? What are the characters about? What would be cool, if it happened next?

Finally, depending on how far thematic escalation proceeds, characters could wind up dead or scarred for life. It's even possible that PCs could wind up at eachothers' throats before things are over. Don't let that happen unless both parties are sure this complements the story's theme. The key here is to make sure that when a PC's life is seriously threatened by the mechanics, it's for a cause that they are literally willing to die for. And not before. Not every story needs to end in gory death, but the protagonists do need to take a stand, make a commitment, cede something of value to them, in order to make a point, convey a theme, send a message. That's what stories are all about. What they sacrifice is up to the players.

This is probably going to have various problematic/incomplete features that I haven't quite spotted yet (particularly with respect to changing/advancing Aspects, or modelling things like injury,) but I think the overall design is complete enough that a group could reasonably try 'winging it'. I'm ripping off features chiefly from DitV and BW, so as you can guess, it's Narrativist in emphasis. It probably wouldn't be too hard to add a bit more Sim to the mix, but I wanted to keep things relatively brief. (I might also consider changing the dice mechanics, so that extra successes could be passed to conditional Interests.)

So, any thoughts?

Samurai Jill
2009-09-17, 02:36 PM
Oh, the earlier threads on the subject may be found here:
-and here:

Samurai Jill
2009-09-18, 05:02 AM
Well, I've tarted up the original draft a bit for better clarity. If anyone has any suggestions, queries or comments, let me know...

2009-09-18, 06:01 AM
This is... interesting. I will have to read it more carefully at a later point.

2009-09-18, 10:40 AM
This is something I could definitely use for a PbP game. I'll post a more in-depth review once I've had a chance to think about it.

Samurai Jill
2009-09-19, 03:25 PM
On reflection, it might be an idea to double the rough difficulty guidelines, since someone with, e.g, 3 in each attribute, Major Expertise: Gunslinger and Major Resource: Pistol could get a +14 bonus versus a 'nearly impossible' task of difficulty 6. I dunno, though. As I said, this is still a very rough prototype.

For a more precise mechanism to decide on whether a PC can advance traits, I've been thinking of adapting DitV's Fallout mechanics. E.g, +1 fallout for every Interest denied- if a vs. test against the sum of existing Aspects succeeds, you can modify or add an Aspect, but more fallout increases the likelihood of harmful side-effects for the character. Or, the Mouse Guard approach, where the GM can allow an attempted action to succeed where it should have failed, but impose a condition (e.g, injury, fatigue) as the price.

Samurai Jill
2009-09-20, 05:57 AM
I've made some general tweaks, particularly to ending scenes, and including extensive player/GM advice sections...

Samurai Jill
2009-09-20, 02:25 PM
Well, if nobody has any particular critiques or suggestions to make, would anybody be interested in some rough efforts at playtesting? I should be able to take a crack at GM-ing duties, given the rules are likely to be unfamiliar for now...

Samurai Jill
2009-09-21, 05:15 AM
I'll take it that's a 'no', then. Well, maybe I'll go fish on the PBP forums, see if I can recruit some guinea pigs...

Samurai Jill
2009-09-22, 07:51 AM
Well, if people find the idea of committing to explicit beliefs and goals 'out the gate' to be strange, I could try going with setting-based premise instead: define a setting in considerable detail, then make the characters flexible enough to adapt to it over time. Would that be any more interesting/palatable?

2009-09-22, 05:57 PM
*8d20+112 crushing damage from the falling wall of text*

This seems very interesting, I'll take a closer look later.

Samurai Jill
2009-09-24, 09:49 AM
Thanks! Bear in mind that creating your character, stating your agenda, narration, edits and ending a scene are the only bits the players would really have to read immediately.

Also, I'm trying to work out a more concrete setting example here (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=126076).