Genre Conventions as Game Rules

Years ago when I ran an RPG campaign called “the Masked Alliance,” (an alternate-history pulp masked-men campaign set in the 1930s on the cusp of the arrival of true powered superheroes), I borrowed from a lot of different game systems to create Detective! as a feat. (The core system was a no-Jedi Star Wars Saga kludge).

With Detective!, if you made an investigation check the worst result you could be stuck with was to figure out a location of another encounter that would give you more clues. No matter how badly you rolled, you got that at minimum.

So, if you rolled well, you might figure the whole thing out, and know where the main encounter was that would end that part of the plot. “This isn’t a typical stain. This is a splatter of Falernian wine, also known as “Cult Wine.” No one makes this anymore, except members of the Pantheon crime family. The pottery shards are new, made from clay available to the north of the city. A movie producer with suspected mob ties built a huge Greek temple out there he claimed was for an upcoming movie, but clearly it’s a Pantheon front. That’s where we’ll find the hostages.”

If you rolled badly, you at least figured out enough to get to another encounter (possibly just with thugs – masked pulp heroes do well with thugs).

“This is ‘Old Meadow” tobacco, which isn’t sold here. There’s only one importer in 200 miles that handles it, and they went out of business last month. They DO have a warehouse in receivership down on the docks… “

Only one player took that feat, for the Great Detective Vigilante character, but all the players loved it. The plot always moved forward, and no one complained if I had to come up with another colorful pulp-era encounter on the fly.

Last last bit it the rub, of course. Since I was kitbashing a game and I am comfortable with extemporaneous creation of new ttRPG scenes for my players, I was okay creating a system that depended on me being able to do that at the drop of a hat. But it does put a lot more work on the GM, and in a polished, professional release of the same idea I would feel the need to have a lot more guidance on how to do that (likely with tons of examples).

But it worked well in the game I used it, and it continues to be a thing I keep in the back of my mind.

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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 March 30, 2021, in Adventure Design, Anachronistic Adventurers, Appendix O, Game Design and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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