6e: the game where everything is an (OSR) problem
Hey all, I made another game! Like Pyrrhic Weaselry, which was born out of me trying to take the "fiction first" element of OSR design to its logical conclusion, this one started with me thinking a lot about good OSR Challenges and Traps. I don't have much to add to that discussion, but I do want to point out how this style of "skill challenge" design does a couple things right that I think the more systems and mechanics focused philosophies can miss.
- At least one part of it is immediately visible.
- It allows interaction and investigation.
- It has impactful consequences for the victim.
- No obvious solution. (Straight combat is always obvious.)
- Many possible solutions.
- Solvable via common sense (as opposed to system mastery).
- No special tools required (no unique spells, no plot McGuffins at the bottom of a dungeon).
- Not solvable by a specific class or ability.
However, if you'd like a rundown before you download it, I'll provide one here.
Challenges are at the heart of the game. Whenever a situation is both potentially dangerous and has at least more than one important factor, that's a Challenge. Ultimately, it's up to the table what does and does not count as a Challenge, but that's a good rule of thumb.
When a situation is declared a Challenge, the players decide their goal: what they're trying to accomplish over the course of the Challenge. "Kill the king" "Steal the coin" "Charm the ogre" are all good goals.
Then, the GM jots down a numbered list of all the Threats that the Challenge entails. A Threat is simply a danger that the Challenge could inflict on the players. For example, if the players are fighting a goblin, threats could look like: 1): Bites your fingers off. 2): Strangles you. 3) Laughter drives you mad.
Finally, the GM decides how many "Hits" or successes the players must get in order to succeed the Challenge.
The players then get 30 seconds per player to come up with ways to use their characters abilities and items in concert with the fictional situation and their surroundings to overcome or negate those Threats. At the end of 30 seconds, the GM rolls a die on the list (rounding up if necessary, ie; d4 for 3 Threats), and checks to see who has a plan to deal with the Threat that was rolled. The player makes their argument, the GM makes a ruling. If they succeed, they mark a Triumph, rewriting one of the Threats to describe themselves making progress on the Challenge. If they fail, they suffer the rolled Threat. Anybody who doesn't have a response suffers a compromised version of the Threat.
If a Triumph is rolled instead of a Threat, or if no Threat is rolled, the players mark a Hit. The Challenge ends when the players overcome it, decide to retreat (done by describing your exit plan: succeed and you leave, fail and you suffer the rolled Threat and stay in the Challenge), or the fictional situation changes to the point where the Challenge should be rewritten or discarded.
It's all a little abstract on paper, so I'll provide a play example.
Next round, GM rolls a 2 again; it’s your lucky day! Because you already marked a Triumph on 2, this time you mark a hit and describe filling your sack with a good portion of treasure as the dragon slumbers quietly.
If the GM had instead rolled a 3 (Dragon’s eye opens), you might have been in more trouble. Deciding you’d rather compromise than wing a plan and risk failure, you talk it over with the GM and agree that the dragon spots you and awakens, but you slip behind a crag in the cave before anything worse happens
The doc has a bunch more examples of what can be done with the system (things like Hidden Threats, which allow you to just write hints instead of directly spelling out the danger and tend to rachet the tension way, way up (imagine entering a dark room, triggering a challenge, and seeing only "1) Metal scrapes on stone. 2) Soft laughter. 3)Acrid odor" as the Threats), but my favorite thing about it is probably that it can zoom in and out so well.
You can use it as a travel mechanic (start a Challenge with the goal to cross the great desert, and Threats like "running out of food/water" "go mad with boredom" "form a grudge against a comrade" "heatstroke" etc), or you can run a duel with Threats being different strikes and techniques described with meaningful detail.
The game is pay-what-you-want over on Itch.io, but if you'd like to skip going to a whole new website, I'll link a google doc here as well.