Less is more (work)?

As you know, I’m known for writing traditional Superhero RPGs.

For about a year, however, I’ve considered another approach. There have been several reasons for this:

1) I’ve gotten a bit tired of humping all the kit – you know, the figures and maps etc – to conventions.
2) Despite my best efforts, Superhero combat still forms a major part of any Roleplaying session – rightly some might say. Just watch any Superhero movie.
3) There is a trend towards smaller rulebooks – without a great reduction in price. (Fiasco sells for £16.99. Really?)
4) My ” big books” tend to swamp the UKRPDC trade stands.
5) There’s a trend in the source material – especially on TV – away from the costumes and action and towards characterisation (Smallville, Arrow etc.)
6) I reread my comics and realised that there wasn’t as much fighting in them as I recalled.
7) I nearly walked out of “Man of Steel” during that long interminable final fight – bored to tears.
8) At a games convention a player summed up Squadron UK as “That Superhero game with buckets of dice!”
9) At the same convention I did a “rules swap” with another designer. We aimed to run each others’ rules. Now there’s nothing wrong with his ruleset but it made me realise how hard it is to read and run big book rules. He struggled with my rules as much as I did with his.
10) Many conventions have games slots of less than 4 hours. Fitting Squadron UK into 3 hours is extremely difficult.

So I envisaged a smaller, lighter game where the combats didn’t dominate. Not to replace my extant games but as alternative. The analogy I use is that – if Squadron UK is my FIFA ’14 football game, I wanted to write my FIFA Manager ’14.

I also wanted to just use 2d6. This was problematical because you’d think just about every permutation of 2d6 has been used. (Wrong! Check out Tim Grey’s ROCKET AMOEBA for a really nifty mechanic.)

The muse struck when two things came together:

1) I decided to roll 2d6 and multiply the results. This gives a wildly uneven spread from 1 to 36 – perfect for my vision of the Superhero genre.
2) On the Storygames forum I came across a quote from “The Dark Knight” – “You either die a hero or live to see yourself become the villain”. So as well as physical hit points, you could have morality hit points. Too many moral missteps and you’re out of the game.

So I dashed off a set of rules and began playtesting.

Several things happened:

1) I found myself very nervous prior to refereeing games because the rules were so light. I was worried players might complain at the lack of specifics. There’s no actual difference between superpowers in the rules, for example. Power blast, super strength, illusions all the same – roll 2 dice to hit. I also missed the safety net of having loads of rules to back me up.
2) Light as the rules were, the playtest process actually ended up throwing out half of them. With big books you tend to write patches – extra rules which pad out the page count and give the illusion of value for money. What’s left of my new rules is so gossamer thin, to me, that I worry punters will expect more. And every single rule that’s left had to be an essential element – no woffle. Trimming something down to the absolute essentials is hard.
3) Players actually wanted more in their combats so now itv takes 10 minutes instead of 5.
4) A play tester kindly pointed out that I’ve accidentally created a generic rule system. What I’ve got would work in almost ANY genre.

So I’ve ended up with a set of rules which are lighter than I – as referee – am happy with. However, players seem to like them and they fulfil my original objectives. I’m just waiting for the reviews and feedback.

If the response to THE COMICS CODE is positive, I’m considering going for a cashl grab and churning out loads of genre books. The Code of the West. The Warrior’s Code. The Code of the Spaceways. Even, The Political Code. But somehow that’d feel like betraying my principles……..