Yesterday, I finally introduced some of my non-gamer friends to roleplaying. It was a long time coming. They’d known I played for a while and they were excited to try it out, but I felt a fair amount of pressure to make their first roleplaying experience fun enough so that they’d want to play again.
I think I can say that my mission was a success, and that we’ll definitely be playing again. In fact, I’d recommend the game we played as a great introduction to new roleplayers.
This is Monster Mash Meets the Martians, a TinyFate adventure.
When working out what I was going to run for my friends, I had the following criteria:
- The game needed to be something with a very simple ruleset, so that it could be explained and understood in just a few minutes and wouldn’t bog down the actual gameplay.
- I needed to be able to easily pre-generate characters ahead of time, because I didn’t want to introduce the group to character creation at the same time as roleplaying.
- The characters needed to be instantly recognised and easily played. This was particularly important because the non-gamers in question have very different pop cultural interests. None of them are familiar with standard D&D tropes, for example, and only a couple of them know much about superheroes.
- Then, once the players have got a handle on their characters, they needed to be able to put their own spin on how they wanted to play them.
TinyFate is an aspects-only version of Fate with one rule: Each time you roll the dice, the first aspect you invoke is invoked without cost.
Beautiful! I love it.
There are two main problems with TinyFate, however. First, it requires an understanding of Fate Core. Second, it isn’t a complete hack on its own. For example, TinyFate character creation mentions nothing about stress or consequences. Either it’s not supposed to include them, in which case there needs to be an explanation about how attack shifts work, or it needs to say what stress and consequence slots characters have.
My solution was to hack TinyFate. That is, hack the tiniest Fate hack.
I’ll post my full ruleset in another post, but the following were the major changes I made:
- The only action in the game is Create an advantage. You can create new aspects, change aspects already in play, or put extra free invokes on existing aspects. Aspects can be on the player characters, other characters, the setting, etc. Aspects on other characters can even replace consequences or take them out of the game (e.g. ‘Broken robots’). The only aspects that can’t be changed are ones on the players’ character sheets.
- Fate Points spent on a roll are given to the opposing player at the end of the contest. (This is an idea borrowed from Smallville.)
- There are no Challenges, Contests or Conflicts, just single Create-an-advantage rolls. These can be opposed by the GM or another player. There is no negotation after rolling: one player (or the GM) sets the difficulty by invoking every aspect they want to, then the other player tries to equal or exceed this difficulty.
- There are no boosts. Ties on a roll count as a success for the active participant. The GM is never considered the active participant for this rule.
This is a much simpler game than Fate Core. The rules fit on two sides of A4, including examples. It might not be as tiny as the original TinyFate, but it does work as a game in its own right.
Having decided what system I was going to use, I had to write up some characters. I decided to go with classic movie monsters from the Universal Studios stable, edging more towards “Monster Mash” than gothic horror. Something goofy and light-hearted and fun.
I trawled deviantArt for some pictures and generated nine characters. I scrapped Rob Donoghue’s recommendations for what aspects should be used on. I figured that player characters would need more than five aspects, as there are now fewer other traits to rely on. I used six aspects per player character.
Here are the character sheets that I created:
I don’t like to prepare a story ahead of time. I lean more towards the Apocalypse World mantra of “Play to find out what happens”. However, since I was going to be running the game for people completely unfamiliar with roleplaying, I thought it would be a good idea to have a plot outline that I could introduce to keep things moving.
That’s where the Martians come in.
The basic story is that the monsters are all living together in a gothic castle near some isolated village. (Gothic castle is a good aspect to start out on the table, as is Dark and stormy night.) I asked leading questions to determine what the day-to-day life of the monsters was like, and to ease the players into contributing. Somehow, e.g. in a newspaper, the characters learn that there is a Masquerade ball in the village where there are Fabulous prizes to be won for the best costume. (If the Gill-creature is present, the ball should be on or near a local body of water.)
At the ball, there are various weird and wonderful people. It’s full of Oblivious villagers, but there’s also the Lost in Space-style robots in trenchcoats and fedoras and Groucho glasses (that is, Robots in disguise) and the small fish-like alien (the Little Green Man, who looks very similar to the Gill-creature).
After a while, it will become apparent that the Little Green Man really is an alien (I recommend a voice like Marvin the Martian) who has come to Earth searching for real monsters to be exhibits in his haunted house on Mars. The Robots in disguise are working for the Little Green Man.
After that, I tend to run with whatever the players give me. I’ve run the game three times now. The first game featured the monsters leading an Angry mob with Torches and pitchforks to a Flying saucer in the woods, and eventually destroying the local brewery that was the only competition for Igor’s wine-making. The second game featured a dance off between Damned Van Helsing and Dracula, an Egyptian Pyramid spaceship, and a sparkly alien vampire Queen of Mars who eventually moved into the castle. The game yesterday, with players completely new to roleplaying, had the player characters as contestants in Monster Big Brother, two disembodied hands, a War of the Worlds-style Tripod machine that was always Falling with style, and an E.T. alien resurrected by Imhotep.
I confess that the game tends towards the wacky. But it’s also a lot of fun and a great introduction to new players. If you ever give it a try, let me know how it goes!
Images were taken, without permission, from: