Warrior Bunnies of the Dark Borough

Before today, I never wrote down the rules for the simplest RPG I ever designed.

It was when my father was in rehab for a couple of months, his last effort at getting over his alcohol addiction. While it’s not germane to the story at hand, I’ll note he got sober, and stayed sober for a year or so before he began his long, final slide. I value that time with him very much.

As I recall, the place was called Valley Hope. Families would come in for a week of therapy and counseling toward the end of a patient’s stay. I was early in my freelance career, so I could manage that, as did my mother and (IIRC) my sister.

During a group session we talked about what we did, and I mentioned I was trying to start an RPG-writing career. One of the other people there, who had obviously had a much, much rougher life than I and was early in the rehab process, approached me after group to ask what a roleplaying game was. I explained, and they said they’d love to try that, but obviously we couldn’t because I didn’t have any games with me.

But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

So I said I could run a game, it’d just be *very* simple. The interested person got another patient and we spent most afternoons playing. They both said the only thing they could imagine being other than themselves were bunnies, and felt convinced there was no way that could be in an rpg.

I mentioned not only Watership Down and Rats of Nimh, but that I had personally seen enormous rabbits in a friend’s huge yard drive off cats and dogs. They loved that idea, but knew nothing about country life.

So, I created a super-quick setting, inspired in large part by Rock N Rule, where household pets survived the death of mankind, and involved into urban societies. They both played bad-ass bunnies in the worse urban section of Pet City, known as the Dark Borough (yes, another bunny reference), who were out to take no shit from anyone.

The rules were simple. I’d establish a situation with a short narrative. Then each player would describe one response in turn, then I’d describe a complication, then we’d repeat until the scene was ended.

We had no dice, so we flipped coins. Everything had a 50% chance of success — tails your action works (they WERE bunnies), heads it doesn’t. They each had a single specialization (for one, it was combat. for the other, it was jumping). For your specialization, you got to flip twice and you succeeded if either was tails.

It’s worth noting that after the first session, a member of the staff watched a game, then asked we only play in the public lounge, which had staff in it 24/7. Given how delicate my two players were, I think that only made sense.

The rules developed a little. The simplest task needed only one success, modest tasks three, complex ones 5. We tracked them with hashmarks. A complication would remove a success (but they outnumbered me two-to-one on actions, so failure was extremely rare if they worked together), or create a weakness (forcing you to flip twice and win both times in order to succeed… but only for one round). Some equipment got found — I remember the Thumper, a grenade launcher, because of the Disney reference, but I think a magic ring and a magic mirror in a makeup compact also showed up, though I don’t remember details. I think the Thumper let one coin flip count as two successes in combat, and the mirror allowed you to open a new scene where you learned something useful if you got three successes… but those details are at best vague and I may be filling in blanks with more recent ideas.

Over seven days we played 8 or 9 times, once during each lunch break and once on some evenings. They both seemed to love roleplaying. I honestly think they needed a way to talk through victories while their own lives were fraught. I meant to stay in touch, but we only exchanged a letter or two while they were in rehab, and nothing after that.

But it was a pretty good campaign. They uncovered a spider mobster conspiracy to convince pets to live near webs, and to eat homeless pets. they beat it, making their dark, grim home just slightly safer. I hope I did more good than harm.

And it showed me that if what a group *wants* is to all work together to have a good time, with no concerns about balance or genre emulation or a lot of more advanced design concerns, nearly anything will work for the rules.

(You can support my writing by joining my Patreon.)

About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on December 21, 2016, in Game Design, Musings, Retrospective and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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