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Bar RPGs

Started by Emily_Dresner, September 29, 2003, 06:06:39 PM

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So, this weekend, as a joke, a friend challenged me to write a one-page Coupling RPG.  Which I did, and it's">here and not terribly good.   Hey, it was a joke written at 9am on a Sunday, but I'll probably write up a better version of the little system -- one that actually works, and is a little more generic.

But what really got my juice going was thinking about "Bar RPGs."  These are games you can play literally in a bar.  The trick is simple: you can only use objects found in the bar to play the game.  You have bottles and bottle caps and coasters and napkins and little bowls of salty munchies and someone's lighter.  Assuming someone carries a pen, you can write down notes on the back of cocktail napkins (have to order the cocktail first), but no dice, no sheets, no normal trappings of games.  Also, the rules have to be simple enough players can play the game drunk.

This branched out into thoughts of "car RPGs" or "roadtrip RPGs."  It's nigh impossible to roll dice in a moving vehicle, but theoretically you have things to write on and write with, so you can have extremely basic sheets and some kind of tally.  

The two game systems I can think of that work this way are Amber Diceless and Baron Munchausen.  Amber, I think, carries too much baggage but can be, and successfully has been, played in a car.  Baron Munchausen can be played anywhere, especially if there's booze involved.    And I like them both, but I'm considering variations on a theme.

So here's the challenge: how to build a set of games (don't have to be elaborate stand-alone systems) that do not require dice although may use some other very common method of random generation, can be easily memorized and taught, with very lightweight character generation and a way to get people playing.

When I think about this problem, I can do character generation fairly simply.  I go with an Adjectives system instead of a point-based system (frex "Why we keep you around" and "Why we want to ditch you" ) simply because it's more descriptive of a character and easier to remember.  The other fiddly bit is some kind of determined-in-play task resolution system.  I want to do it conversation-based: as the conversation moves between characters, so does the resolution.  So you end up having wars of Wit instead of rolling the dice -- very Munchausen style.  (Perhaps combat is by collective description.)

I think you can actually do conversation-based point systems as well (he just scored a point in the debate!) since you can write them down or keep track with empty bottles or whathaveyou.  It's just a little fiddly how to make something like that fly.

I'm fiddling around with this now.  While I sit here at work, I come up with these little diceless systems, and for once, I'm starting to write them down.  Has anyone else tried to do something like this?  Anyone have any neat ideas?  Anyone ever tried to design a bar game while in a bar?  

Any game of this nature would have to be able to fit on about a page of text.  Anything more complicated is too hard to just play on the fly.
- Em -- personal blog -- writing blog
lj name: multiplexer


It's not a bar game, at all, but my Nighttime Animals game has a slick and portable little coin mechanic.


Paul Czege

Greg Porter's diceless game Epiphany has fantastic finger-flinging mechanics for task resolution, and stone-drawing mechanics for magic use (that would translate quite nicely to bottlecaps, if you were so inclined).

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans


Cool.  I'll look at both games after work.  

Anyone have any comments on actual pocket-sized game designs?  How to compact it, how to strip it of everything except the essentials, how to get it down to the size of an index card?  Any experience with this?  Words of wisdom?

I'm very keen on the subject and digging for just generic design ideas. :)
- Em -- personal blog -- writing blog
lj name: multiplexer


As far as roadtrip/car RPGs go, it would be cool to use license plates as randomizers. I think a "you pick a car, I pick a car" and we compare the numbers modularly, or do an add/subtract thing.

Frex, is I pick a car with license GFY678, and you choose 1094Y4 (different states, obviously), then we could:
 - compare the 1st digit, then the second on a different pick of cars, and so on. Say we're on 5th (with rollover of the track number at 7, say). So, I'd have 7 (1st thru 3rd, then back to the beginning, 6 as 4th, and 7 as 5th), and you'd have 4. Add in an appropriate attribute rating or somesuch, and voila.
 - same as above, but subtract one from the other, giving me 3 successes, or somesuch.
 - drop numbers altogether, and use the letters. To succeed, I have to describe my action using the letters from a car you pick. If you chose the GFY car, and I'm trying to intimidate someone, perhaps I describe it as "Get F***ed, You!". If the other players find it appropriate, I succeed.
 - everyone gets a letter and a number. Everytime you see a car with one or the other, you get a point. You cannot get more than a single point from any plate. Months and years (registration stuff) don't count. You then have bidding (perhaps like in Universalis) to accomplish goals. Or some other resource management system.
 - of course, freeform works REALLY well too.

Aidan Grey

Crux Live the Abnatural


Another game to look for (if you can find it) is Stefan O'Sullivan's Sherpa, which is a game designed to be played while hiking.  The randomizer needed is a digital watch with a timer, and you use the milliseconds counter to generate 1-10 or percentile numbers (it's been awhile since I read it).

Characters are quick and reminded me of Over the Edge, and easily fit on an index card you can carry and refer to while walking...

Yay, it's online!  (my copy is hardcopy) Sherpa.
Dana Johnson
Note that I'm heavily medicated and something of a flake.  Please take anything I say with a grain of salt.


There's a game out there on the 'net somewhere that's designed to be able to be played while hiking - it uses a stopwatch as a randomizer.  Since a lot of people have these things on their wrists, in the form of digital watches...

It's called SHERPA.

(Edited to say "damn you for crossposting with me, Dana!")  *grins*
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming


If two people randomly throw down some fingers (0-5), and you add them up and wrap them around (if its greater than 6, subtract 6), and now you have a d6. You could maybe use a simplified version of the octaNe mechanics this way, maybe.



=)  Just barely, though.

On actual topic.

In the car you could maybe use the radio scanner to generate sort of random numbers, kind of like the digital watch in Sherpa.  Then again, maybe not.  I'm not convinced that passing traffic license plates would be enough on many long car trips -- people tend to move in packs, so you end up with a smaller pool of license plates.

Another way to randomize would be for two people to pick random numbers, and use the difference between them.  This could be 'gamed' pretty easily, though.  Rock-Paper-Scissors is probably more optimal, since it's really portable.

Part of what you can use realistically depends on how long you are willing to wait to generate a number.  You could actually count number of cars that pass you, or number of green cars, or something.  But you might need to wait 15 minutes for a single 'roll' of such a method, which might not work all that well...
Dana Johnson
Note that I'm heavily medicated and something of a flake.  Please take anything I say with a grain of salt.



My question is this: do you actually, honestly need to have any kind of randomizer mechanic at all?  Is it possible to have a index-card game that is essentially diceless?
- Em -- personal blog -- writing blog
lj name: multiplexer

Ben Lehman

Ladies and gentles, I present you with:

Over the Bar

A small Over-the-Edge inspired Universal Bar RPG.

May also be played in any location where alchoholic drinks are easily availible.

Character Generation:

Pick a Major Ability for your character:  This is generally something broad, like a profession, or something that grants a particularly strange or versatile ability.

Pick a Minor Ability for your character: This is something more focused.

Pick a Hobby for your character:  This is quite closely defined.

Pick a Deficiency for your character:  This is something that your character is bad at.

Anything that your character is skilled in she can perform without difficulty.  If she is unskilled, you must take a drink to accomplish it.  If she is deficient, you must take two drinks.

Opposed challenges:
If two players are competing for something and are both at the same skill level (skilled, unskilled or deficient...) they both drink.  Whoever finishes the drink faster wins.

Drinking at other times:  If your character is not actively attempting something, you can still drink.  You just don't gain any in-game benefit from it.

Advancement is mainly handled the increased alchohol tolerance of the players.

Ending the game:  When two or more participants have become too drunk to continue, the game ends, and everyone calls a cab and goes home.



Simon W

Myself and a few friends did come up with a system, whilst on a long car trip, to role play with Opal Fruits (now Starburst) sweets. Whenever you carried out an action requiring some sort of random result, you picked a sweet from the bag. The colour of the sweet pulled denoted the level of success, with red being failure. There was more to it, but it was a long time ago and I forget the rest.

Incidentally the game was a cthulhu-style horror thing set in the 20's and character names were culled from village names spotted en route (Millicent Lydiard being one of the female players' character) - may not work so well in the USA though?

It's a dog's life here


Quote from: Ben LehmanLadies and gentles, I present you with:

Over the Bar

A small Over-the-Edge inspired Universal Bar RPG.




Fantastic.  A game that can only get better as the night goes on.
- Em -- personal blog -- writing blog
lj name: multiplexer


I was going to mention SHERPA, but as someone else has already done it (twice), I'll instead plug myself and mention Success.

Though skating awful close to freeform, it can certainly be played in a bar -- it requires no character sheet, and uses only tokens, which can be bottlecaps, pretzels, or what-have-you. You could probably play it in a car as well, though less easily, perhaps. Nowhere does it say the character desciption can't be verbal, so you don't need a character sheet.

Hmm, I imagine the resolution mechanic gets more interesting the more drunk your GM is... Of course, it can't compete with Over the Bar, above.
love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT


Quote from: Indie BenLadies and gentles, I present you with:

Over the Bar


The only problem is that I don't drink.  Is there a Teetotaler's Supplement?
Perhaps you just need to use a Drinking Proxy (kind of like a pinch hitter)...
Dana Johnson
Note that I'm heavily medicated and something of a flake.  Please take anything I say with a grain of salt.