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[Flats] Players play a murder mystery blind, in the style of Twin Peaks
Topic: [Flats] Players play a murder mystery blind, in the style of Twin Peaks (Read 1008 times)
[Flats] Players play a murder mystery blind, in the style of Twin Peaks
December 19, 2011, 10:18:31 PM »
Flats it the tentative title of a rules light-ish mystery RPG that I'm relatively close to playtesting. The system is supposed to make Play-By-Post games easier, which is how I intend to run it (although it is primarily a tabletop game). The players begin as high-school age kids, and become suspects in the murder of one of their classmates. Think Breakfast Club meets Call of Cthulhu, but with no monsters. The mood of the game is in the vein of the 90's television serial Twin Peaks, subtly introducing elements of mysticism to actual detective work, and being surreal to the point of occasional insanity. If you're unfamiliar with the series, I would recommend a clip from the movie:
(this is not my mandatory link). There's not really a better way I can describe it.
When I say that the players play it blind, I mean that they have little-to-no information about the game before it begins. What do they know? Well, they know it's a tabletop RPG, that the setting is close to modern day, and that it is investigative in nature. That first part may actually be detrimental, as one of the big things I've tried to do with both the engine and the setting is exploit the assumptions that players bring from playing other games. Does the GM seem to let you metagame all the time?... He's probably just not paying attention. No rules for determining initiative?... You know those indie games, they always forget something. You get the idea.
What I'm looking for is feedback before I start playtesting. My end goal is to eventually publish digitally, maybe a little print on demand. I am now realizing, however, just how difficult it is to get feedback on a game whose whole goal is secrecy. I have begun to write up the basic rules similar to how they might be presented to the players. You can find these here:
. I had originally intended to begin a blog to document the creative process, but I intend to playtest using my childhood RPG friends, and I am paranoid that they would find their way to it. At this point you might be thinking "This sounds cool, I might consider running it", or perhaps even "This sounds cool, I might even consider PLAYING IT!" If it's the later, then of course I don't want to spoil the whole thing for you. The rest of this topic delves into the meat of the game, describing the setting in detail and explaining the general path that players will take to uncover many of the secrets. The PDF presents the system, and is void of information about the setting (the sections with asterisks contain information about the system itself that the players aren't supposed to know). I know that it's near impossible to critique a system without understanding the setting, but I want to leave the door open for people who might actually want to play the game someday. On the other hand, if you would enjoy being a GM, or if you're just not interested in playing the game at all, then go ahead and read on.
I don't believe that any of my friends peruse these boards, but on the off chance that someone reads this over and recognizes the name on the PDF, you're likely to be one of the people I would like to playtest this with, so please don't read any further.
The game is really about body-jumping amnesiacs who are trying to discover their own identities, and that of a killer who seems to reside in a small town in southern Arizona. The players begin as a group of high-school-senior-age kids, and live for periods of roughly one week at a time. At the end of the week (or if all of the characters die), they jump forward in time 6 years. If a player is killed by another character, then after the jump they wake up to find themselves in the body of their killer (this is how characters level up, as they acquire the skills of the person they become). There are a number of aspects about their situation that the players may or may not discover during their playthrough. As the killer continues to strike throughout the decades that the game spans, it begins to appear that he (or she, or it) are a similar entity, one which is going dormant for many years at a time, and who may be swapping bodies. There appear to be rules related to their conduct, like being prohibited from leaving the town, which change as they continue to jump. They may also be led to believe that their final jump will go backward in time, allowing them to create an alternate timeline where the killer is stopped.
The big thing I wanted to explore in the game was the ideas of otherworldy entities that don't consider death to be evil, either because they have escaped it (no form of death is permanent for them, as they can always come back), or simply because their sense of morality is somehow categorically different from ours. I was also intrigued by entities whose ties to our world were very thin, operating in dreams or by leaving small physical clues (a la Twin Peaks). The mythos of Flats include such beings, and the players are encouraged to believe that they are these creatures (or alternatively that they're just completely insane). These being communicate with high level concepts, reading into details that seem impossibly complex and subjective, yet somehow very convincing (see the Twin Peaks clip at the beginning, although that had nothing to do with otherworldy beings).
I chose Arizona because I wanted the players to have plenty of suspicion when it came to the supernatural elements, which I really intended to be subtle. Arizona has a very unique blend of UFO subculture and Native American influence, and I thought that having explanations ranging from paranoid to spiritual would keep things interesting.
The system that this is all built on is a roll under d%, and the only other dice used are d4's and d20's. The skill system is inspired by Palladium and Chaosium, where skills have a starting percentages, and grow in little bits. Unlike Palladium, you don't have to grow a level in order to up your skills (there are no levels, for one thing). Instead, multiple ranks can be put in skills during character creation, and as the characters jump forward they are awarded a few. The big "level up" occurs when a character dies and the player takes over a new one. All of their current abilities remain, but they acquire many of the skills of their new character.
I tried to keep the attributes rather light, with only HP, Cognition, Influence, Reaction, and Vitality. Characters spend points between the four, and HP gets a big boost at the end. Rather than having these attributes effect skills directly, they instead provide extra skill ranks that players can spend during character creation on skills related to the attribute (so vitality gives you skill ranks to spend on swimming and climbing etc). Having enough points in an attribute also provides some minor special abilities.
Combat is simultaneous, which is the big way I've tried to improve the game for PBP. Everybody decides what they're gonna do, even rolls to see if they hit, and then the GM determines the order that things happen. Yes, the narrative burden falls solely on the GM, but I personally like that (as the GM). Doing it this way also introduces an interesting tactical element, where characters can literally run away in order to make an attack against them miss, making prediction important.
Attacks are handled similar to Unknown Armies, with damage determined by the digits on the percentile roll. Ranged attacks are like UA's melee attacks, where you add the two digits, while melee attacks just use the digit in the tens place. This is then added to with d4's for more dangerous weapons. While I haven't written it up yet, I intend to do something similar to UA, where weapon descriptions add extra d4's (if it's sharp, add a d4, something like that). This damage acts as a sort of max, the most the hit can do. The defender then gets to roll cover dice, which are a bunch of d20's. They then take the lowest of the max damage and their rolls, meaning that they could potentially roll low and take very little damage. The flip side is that these cover dice are very hard to come by, with armor maybe giving you one (maybe), and dodging being completely ignored by firearms.
The big twist in terms of the system is the way that influence works. The influence attribute appears to be rather insignificant (it doesn't appear to have any effect other than getting extra social skills), but is actually similar to sanity in games like Call of Cthulhu. Various fear effects act like attacks against characters, which they defend against using their influence (for every five points of influence, a character gets a cover die). Damage is dealt to the character's influence score directly, representing their falling mental stability, and is another way to essentially kill off a character. The influence attribute itself is fairly well hidden, and is meant to look like just any other attribute.
Whew, well, this has become a beast of a post. Looking forward to hearing comments and criticisms. As I continue to update the base rules I'll post links to updates. Looking forward to getting this playtested as soon as possible.
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