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URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 10:09 pm
by andrew
Welcome to the URGS Primer, a quick summary of the system in it's current Beta format. Copy paste it and try it at home. Then come back and help shape the system into the untra-light universal system it's destined to become!

Design Goals
First let's list the mission statement for this system in order to direct all energies in the same direction. First and foremost it's not RGS. RGS is RGS and we're not looking to clone a derivative of that system. This is a ground up approach with no sacred cows. Now that we know what it's not, let's list what it should be:
1) A system that uses the FOTN Futhark rune stones
2) Must work for all types of game worlds: cyberpunk, steampunk, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc...
3) Numbers light (stick to 0-5) or no numbers at all (better)
4) Character creation must be narrative and immagination based/driven. That means no need for huge table lookups or charts or power/spell lists
5) GM encounter setup must be lightning fast (grab some runes, jot down some strengths and let's go)
6) unified system that handles combat, skill checks and interactions with the world in a uniform manner
7) No need for play mat, hex mat or minis (rune bag ok to keep)
8) Should be able to handle concepts like "faults", "clues", "magic", "items/power armour", etc from different genres
9) FOTN:R Runes have symbols and colours, let's leverage both in URGS
10) Looks to minimize the amount of rune sets needed (nice to have)
11) World gen system? (nice to have)
12) No GM or rotating GM? (it's an option to explore maybe)
Prototype so Far
So the beta URGS looks something like this.

First step is to determine the setting and what the 1 to 3 Traits (and resulting cardinality) may be. For example, Fate of the Norns has a cardinality of 3, the physical world, mental spectrum and spiritual domain. These Traits are assigned to colours within the rune set and the Traits have a bearing on the world and game system. So how about a horror Cthulhu world? Let's see, there is the physical world (assign to red runes), there is a major academic/knowledge/magical side to the game (let's assign that to the blue runes) and then there is sanity (that'll be green)... cardinality 3. OK let's try one more, a mechwarrior type world. Well there is the driver/operator (let's assign red runes), then there's the mech (let's assign blue runes) and well nothing else, so we have a cardinality of 2. When we have a smaller set being used, we discard the other un-used colours. Heck maybe we can try to assign 2 colours to mechs, they are just so damn versatile (maybe ships vs. land based)... you get the point.

In a final version of the URGS, the Traits and cardinalities could be preset in the rules system so gaming groups wouldn't need to do this. However the steps taken to achieve this should be laid bare so if we don't cover a world's Traits in the pre-sets, play groups can extend the list.

Assuming we don't have a world generation system (from the nice to have point above), we'll continue with the character generation.

The GM will set the player level, and that determines their character's Essence (runes they will own). A player should then have the option to write a nice paragraph describing their upcoming character, or start with an incomplete bullet list and build it out as they play (a good approach for someone not familiar with the game world). The GM should point out that for the paragraph approach, the player needs to list a minimum X personal details that will be bound to the runes. In the point form build-as-you-play approach list as many as you'd like, and then move onto the next step. Personal details could be anything from a prior part time job of being a cook to growing up in an orc village to being an assassin for hire.

The players should also be asked to include some challenges and phobias in order to make a well rounded character. There should be at least one listed.

Once the character background is written it's time to pick some runes and bind them to the personal details. Let's work through a level 4 sample. Here is my viking background:

"My name is Kjarn and I was born in a northern fishing village in Islandia. At an early age my parents taught me to swim, fish and sail a longboat. I had a childhood friend named Gerda. She has become my lifelong bloodsister as we're adults now, and we're closer than ever. Every solstice festival, I would seek out the games of strength and physical prowess. I have become very adept at throwing axes with great strength and accuracy. However my victories have caused my ego and arrogance to grow unchecked... perhaps this is why I only have one friend. Since the onset of Ragnarok I have wandered the land and have seen many wondrous places.
OK we're going to use the FOTN Essence/cardinality setup. So I need to assign 4 personal details to 4 appropriate runes. Remembering that red are physical, blue are mental, green are spiritual, I assign as follows:
1, blue = Skills of a fisherman by trade
2, green = A close bond with Gerda
3, red = Axe throwing master
4, blue = knowledge of wondrous places

The symbols don't matter for this example and the social challnge of "ego and arrogance" will come into play later.

When a GM creates a NPC, the setup is also very similar, except it's done in point form. This system even extends to inanimate objects- read on!

Every player starts out with all of their runes out in front of them face up.
The GM sets the scene, player interact and any actions that are trivial just work, no checks needed. Actions that are more specialized, you just need a requisite number in your Trait. Picking a lock may require 3 Mental (blue runes). My character above has 2, so I just need to ask another player if they have at least some mental capacy to help out. The value is met, move on! I could also morph 2 runes of the same type to grant me a blue rune (example 2 un-used red runes) however I only have an unmatched pair (green and red) so no luck.

Now if I had personal detail that was appropriate I have an easier chance, I even get an opportunity to shine. So let's modify my background to state that Gerda was a master thief. Well now, I can call upon her in this challenge- she doesn't need to actually be there, but I can rationalize "travelling with her has exposed me to her lock picking techniques. There was this one time...". This gives me another virtual blue mental rune- voila! 3!
Designer Note: This mechanic is a grat way to coax out extra narrative from the players

But what if I want to shine you ask? Well I can "burn" (shine, get it? Gah maybe we need a better game term here) that green rune that is my bond to Gerda. Burning a rune means I flip it over. The "shine" effect can be anything playsible to the situation. You can create an area effect, teach someone a new skill that they can add to their narrative (and bind it when they get a new level/rune), you can uncover some extra clues that you may have missed, receive an omen from the gods, disarm your opponent, etc... Every genre may have their shine sandbox defined and it may be left up to the player group to define the bounds of a "shine moment". So now you have this upsidedown rune you cannot use. How do you get it back? Well when your personal phobia or challenge affects you greatly in the story, causing you to fail (you need to voulunteer the failure and it must be a meaningful failure) then you get to restore one of your burnt runes (flip in face up again).

Now on the flipside of the coin, the GM can also burn runes. The GM placed 3 blue runes out in front of them to indicate the difficulty. But the person who owns the chest also has a Trait that they are an alchemist that dabbles in poison, and another Trait that they are a locksmith themselves. So the fact that they are a locksmith adds a hidden +1 blue rune to the difficulty of the challenge, and the GM may burn the blue rune bound to the "poison" story to add an effect that the character opening the chest gets poisoned (success or failure).
DAMAGE (we can consider a better word here)
OK let's continue the example with some damage from the poison. So I can still counter the poison by possibly burning the blue rune associated with my fisherman by relating "the reflexes needed to pull back a hook at the slightest movement of the rod helps me move my hands out of the way of the splashing poison". But I don't want to lose that rune, so I take the damage. Because only 1 rune was used for the poison (more shines could have been added by the GM possibly) I take 1 damage. It's a corrosive poison that causes skin necrosis, so I choose a red rune that is face up and I place it in the empty rune bag beside me.

Damage can come in any form. The word "Damage" is used to cover any situation where you Essence (who you are) is being sapped away. You can be punched, cowed nito submission by intimidation or even have your morale sapped away by magic. The type of conflict determines the "damage" and the appropriate colour rune is put into the bag.

If in this scenario I only have face down runes left, then every point of damage takes 2 runes at random and places them in the bag.

Items add to the damage value. If you have an item that relates to the type of damage you are dealing, then the number of runes increases by +1. Exceptional magic items or large proton particle cannons may grant a +2. Some cases are situational... if you wear a descrated holy symbol around your neck and wish to intimidate a follower of that faith you may gain a +2 (GM discretion).

HEALING (maybe "recovery"?)
Recovering runes from you damage bag really depends on the world. If the game world is midieval Viking age with low to no magic, you may need a week of bed rest to recover 1 red rune, but blue runes and green runes restore 1 per day. If you play Cthulhu, then sanity damage *never* heals, and magic can restore physical damage or memory loss more quickly.

Sometimes situations come to a tie. One solution is to allow stalemate, and another is to have a system in place to break the tie. One idea is that the person with the more specialized story to the event wins. For example two warriors square off against one another. One has a rune bound to "war" and another has a rune bound to "killer of men". The "killer of men" is a much less broad application so perhaps that would grant that person voctory.

For a primer, this is a quick fly-by of the URGS system. Please post your opinions, suggestions and feedback in the thread below. The system seems to be generic enough to handle all types of conflict resolution, from interpersonal to person vs. environment. Once a solid rules-base is established, then other add-on features such as inter-player stories can be added. The final goal is to not only create a universal system, but also create a complementary rules set that uses the runes so that narrative improv games can use URGS and a long haul campaign can use RGS.

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 10:29 pm
by raleel
I'm in. reading over this now.

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 10:43 pm
by theRajjj
That's more like it! With a morning cup of arabica we're making progress.

So I've done your primers in the past and I know its a working example rather than a rules doc. I guess you have a rules doc hiding somewhere and that's cool bro. But your last primer had pictures so try and add those.

This system is definately low crunch so I probably won't use it for long campaigns, but I will help you test it. Anything RGS related insta-wins me over.

Let's see if I understand it...
You bind specific colors and symbols to elements of your backstory
Essence runes are always in your hand face up.
Most checks revolve around a simple color count.
Hidden +1's come from talking about your relevant background
You can burn a rune to flip it over and create a super effect (whether you win the challenge or not)
Burned runes come back if you play up your weaknesses in a meaningful way
Damage takes runes off the table and get put into your bag
Damage takes specific color runes
When you have no more face up runes you lose face down runes at a rate of 2:1 do I understand the fendamentals?
so far so cool! :) I'm loving the fact you kept the real time feel of getting weakened.

A few missing pieces in my brain...
How does initiative work?
How do you keep munchkins from choosing a phobia they can trigger after every challenge is done?
How do you handle positioning, movement and range?
Your beta rules doc probably has mechanics for those...

Comments so far are that some terms aren't fully defined (your backstory bound to essence is refered to in at least 3 different ways). The feedback loop will be a ton better with standard terms (even if they get renamed later).

The one thing I would look to change, and I don't have a solution for it right now (but i will think about it) is how can you get rid of just counting +1's. I think the runes must have a way to keep track of who's ahead without resolting to numbers. Bro thinking outloud here, but a way players can push runes forward, and then both sides knock runes out of the challenge and the result are the runes left. Problem are the story based extra +1's. Well you could use a playmat to keep track of who's "ahead" but i know your design principle wants to avoid it... bah, i don't know... YET!

Like the previous primer, it's a group discussion, not just all of us talking to you. So I invite comments on my feedback.

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 10:52 pm
by bethroth
Read it over and it makes a lot of sense if its destined to be universal. Honestly my usual group wouldn't like it because they like crunch, but i have another part time group over google hangouts that would absolutely love something like this. I copied the text and we'll try it out in 2 weeks. Thanks for posting and congrats on the 3rd stretch goal!

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2014 7:45 am
by lisaprez
Had to log in to reply!!^^
Luvvin luv in luvvin it!!11!!11

Please reconsider a playmat! We love the beau-tee-fulll eye candy on the table when we play FOTNR!! This game is soooo aesthetically pleezing. I'm not a game designer, but I think a super simpl playmat could make theraajj's idea work

And its a good idea!! ^^

No really i'm really luvvin this bec use our norn feels drained running big battles in rgs, so we'd so adopt URGS!! How would archetypes work with this??

Keep up the stupendous work Andrew!!^^!!

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2014 8:41 am
by raleel
On Damage: I suggest Harm. it's simple, one syllable. That or Stress. Stress is used in the Cortex+ system

On Randomness: I don't see it as a design goal to remove randomness. One could pretty easily determine whether something is going to succeed or fail every time as it is set up now, as there is no chance, no drawing of runes immediately clear, etc.

On Flaws: I might suggest that instead of "exercise to get the burned rune back" that if you exercise your phobia, you get an extra rune, but you give the GM a rune as well that he can use.

On Items: with your relic description, that sounds to me like "+1 damage when inflicting X Harm type". Swords are physical/red. Holy relics in that situation might be green/spirit or blue/mental. One might envision where you could use a rune (not burn) specifically for changing the damage type as appropriate to the background. For example, Jarl Borg has Gram, a +1 Red Relic. However, Gram is also famous, and he wants to use it to inspire his troops. He uses his Green "Inspirational Leader" rune to get the bonus from Gram in a Green conflict.

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2014 9:04 am
by mamama
It was a good read, I liked it as a very different alternative to the standard RGS, but something was missing and I couldn't put my finger on it until raleel mentioned it: randomizer! I'm going to take a wild guess that the way you chose to deal damage (fixed type of color needs to be jettisoned) affected the choice to keep all runes face up like scrabble.

Here is an alternative I suggest. Keep the RGS paradigm of Destiny and Essence:
- Draw runes and count colors (rune morph too)
- apply a relevant backstory to draw an extra rune (limit 1)
- You can sacrifice a rune of the required color in order to add a meta effect (range, area, etc) so you lose a success but make it more far reaching
- players can combine forces so norn needs to be able to draw enough runes to be in the same ballpark as all players combined
- compare to see which side wins. Losing side needs to take a loss of the given trait (go fish in your bag... ugh cumbersome... what else can we do here guys?) the loss is spread across everyone involved

Re-reading what I wrote, it sounds a lot like RGS, but dammit I love RGS!

To the other points: therajjj I agree about the +1 hunt, seems like an unnecessary evil left over from dice games. I agree with lisa that runes and a simple playmat can allow runes to be moved on some track and push the opposed runes down same track.

I think with some cajoling from the players this can turn into something really cool.

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2014 12:24 pm
by andrew
Wow you guys are awesome, I've got Dave's overdue reply to get to, then I'll be back to post the pics and reply to all this awesome feedback! :) :) :)

OK I'm back. Yeah I suspected that a lot of you that love the crunch of RGS may get turned off by this ultra-light system. But I do really appreciate and value your feedback. I'll be inviting some players that got overwhelmed by RGS to come check URGS out because I suspect it will be their cup of mead (so to speak). So their feedback will be invaluable. I'd also like to get people that have never played to try this out.

That said, this is an early beta, and I am willing to switch up some of the core mechanics if it creates a better end product- so no sacred cows in what I put out there. I may consider a basic playmat if it has 1 to 3 zones (no more) because I do see the validity of eradicating all numbers. You have my buy in for that effort. I think the forum allows non-admin image uploads so if you have a sketch, take a pic with your camera phone and upload it please.

Mamama, yeah your direction went very RGS. I tried that approach and it got out of the "light" realm rather quickly (slippery slope). But what you present to that point is "light". Add more and it can complexify quickly.

Some of your assumptions were right:
- Yes there is a beta doc with more peripheral rules, but those aren't needed for a primer
- Yes the damage system directed us towards the "scrabble" approach, but the bigger contributing factor was play speed

Now the random aspect is something that was considered, dropped, re-added, re-considered, dropped. It depends on how fluid the narrative must flow. Amber diceless is very fluid, add some props that need rolling, comparing values, things slow down. I did have another idea that could add the random back in. Each rune is created by a number of strokes. That is a numeric system that ranges from "1" (Isaice rune) to I believe "6" (Dagaz rune). The first picture has Hagalaz (3), Wunjo (3) and Tiwaz (3) all average. These can be factored into a system of rune comparisons for trumping the opposing side or other mechanic.

Food for thought. Keep up the great discussion, I'm off to write content for the next stretch goal! :)

Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2014 1:29 pm
by theRajjj
@#[email protected]#%$ unstable wifi! 3rd time writing this!!!

OK it'll be short in case I get cut again

Sacred cows should be:
1) Use the rune colors
2) Use the rune symbols
3) Use the steady power degradation mechanic of losing access to runes when wounded

We should brainstorm how to get rid of numbers, and the number of strokes in a rune is very ingenious, I think the majority will fall between 3 and 4, too small for variation unless you go the Fate Fudge route.

I like Mike's idea about draw from bag, but I also like the idea on trait specific damage. How do we reconcile?

Raeleel bro I don't understand your phobia rule. Can you give an example?


Re: URGS Beta Primer

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2014 1:50 pm
by mamama
I should be working, but I'm back ROFL

On sacred cows, you know where I stand for RGS, but I think the meta system should be ported to URGS. It's such an ingenious mechanism. So...

4) Meta tags

It may take a little longer for character generation, but in play it would add so much

I think the "burn to shine" is pretty original and nice, but not a must have. I think it could be added as an extended rule.

For META tags I'm thinking that they need to be predefined for each world. Mechs...

[off topic] the mech example is totally off. The 3 Traits should map to aspects of mechs: blue for detection systems (radar, etc), red for weapons systems, green for power and mobility. I so totally see it working this way. [/off topic]

...would need their own meta tags which would be vastly different than a 1920's horror genre. If enough are predefined for the major genres then the "plug-and-play" aspect can be fulfilled. Just jot down which meta each rune can accept on your sheet and away you go!

I'll drop an example using the original text:
1, blue = Skills of a fisherman by trade
2, green = A close bond with Gerda
3, red = Axe throwing master
4, blue = knowledge of wondrous places
So now take each one and add metas:
1, blue = any rune added to this power as a meta: allows me to double benefits from items
2, green = any rune added to this power as a meta: I can recall skills her family used
3, red = any rune added to this power as a meta: fancy throw, double range, impossible arcing throw, hit 2 guys, etc...
4, blue = any rune added to this power as a meta: I can recall info about the people in those places

I hope that's clear? It works a bit differently than RGS because I'm thinking simplicity, otherwise you'd get 3 meta effects per rune... oh now I see Andrew's slippery slope ROFL!!!

Call me a META fanboi but I think the system is frikkin' ingenious and should be ported to any system that uses the letters "RGS" in the name.