Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice

Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice! is a podcast by Roger Bell_West and Michael Cule, in which we pontificate on role-playing games.

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A Step Over into the Anything Can Happen 01 September 2015


This month, Mike and Roger compare generic systems, get romantic, and touch on more real-life weirdness.

When Roger said "gamist", of course, he meant "simulationist".

We mentioned BRP, RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, The Laundry Files RPG, GURPS, that mediƦval magical university setting, Hero System, Savage Worlds, FATE), the Dresden Files RPG, HeroQuest, Hillfolk/Dramasystem, Stormbringer), a recent comment on Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, Apocalypse World, Blue Rose), and a 13th-century sword with the letters "NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI" on it.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at

  1. Posted by Phil Masters at 03:10pm on 04 September 2015

    Regarding generic systems - if you're going to talk about modern contenders in the field, you probably ought to cover Gumshoe, which seems to be used as a generic engine by its creators.

    And yes, you probably did need to address Superhero 2044, not because it was generic (it wasn't, what there was of it), but because it had a points-build system of sorts. I think. This is significant because as I understand it, Champions grew out of someone's extensive house rules and extensions for turning S2044 into a viable game.

    On which subject in turn - you didn 't mention what I consider to be the Hero System's other key innovation, though one that has been criminally under-emulated; the dual hit points system. Characters get STUN points (easy come, easy go, and if you lose enough of them you lose consciousness, though not usually for too long), and BODY points (which function as more familiar RPG hit points, lose enough of them and you're dead). This is important because it's the main reason why I would still use Champs if I had to run a proper, four-colour superhero campaign with any kind of simulationist structure.

    It's a frequent feature of traditional-moder comics that characters get into huge fist fights until one of them goes unconscious, but the loser is then back with no signs of serious trouble within hours or minutes. That's doubtless terribly unrealistic, but I consider it to be a requirement for a proper superhero game to emulate the effect, whereas most RPG systems treat unconsciousness as a worrying sign that you've been badly hurt and are on the point of death.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 03:28pm on 04 September 2015

    We did consider Gumshoe, but the restriction to investigative play (you couldn't run a wargame in it) was just enough to push it under the threshold.

    Good point on Champions and STUN. In Savage Worlds you can be incapacitated by combat, but PCs are only dead by GM fiat. FATE seems to be much more about getting enough advantage over the other guy than about actually doing damage to him, so that might handle superheroes reasonably well; I think of the canonical FATE combat as something like Errol Flynn going up and down the staircase in Robin Hood, or indeed the duel at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity.

  3. Posted by Phil Masters at 03:58pm on 04 September 2015

    Yeah, I could see running four-colour supers in FATE very well, actually. (Though I couldn't think of a published FATE supers game, oddly enough; a little Googling determines that some people have tackled the idea, but nobody seems to have risked a large-scale publishing project.) That's why I specified that I'd use Champions if I wanted a simulationist system; FATE would handle the same problem in a much more narrativist way, with consequences and concessions - which actually correspond to the traditional narrative structure of four-colour fight scenes quite closely.

    Gumshoe does seem to allow combat; it's not the conceptual focus, obviously, but the rules are there. I suspect that running a fairly decent combat-heavy game under a lot of Gumshoe variants would be easier than running, say, an investigative game under FATE, which you did allow in...

  4. Posted by Phil Masters at 07:35am on 07 September 2015
    Which, by the way, reminds me of another thing about generic games. Some of them have a generic core system - so it's possible to run games in a very wide variety of settings and styles using just the GURPS or Hero basic rulebooks, with maybe a few optional rules set on or off and maybe some relatively minor add-ons from various supplements (like more details in martial arts, or variant magic systems). Others have a kernel of rules which may never be published on their own, with even that kernel not held sacrosanct - so there are a whole bunch of Gumshoe or FATE games, but each of them has a core book with its own variant implementation of the system, not quite like any other. You can certainly say that the former are more "truly generic" - it really is only necessary to learn the system once. However, that invariant system may enforce a bigger bunch of unstated assumptions, such as GURPS's basis in "realism", and are more open to accusations of being "flavourless".
  5. Posted by RogerBW at 07:58am on 07 September 2015
    I think that may have been the other reason we didn't cover Gumshoe: there's no "Gumshoe core book" with game-specific supplements, the way there is for BRP or GURPS or Hero or Savage Worlds or even FATE. (Even if FATE is generally restated in each FATE game book.) Certainly the various generic systems are good at different things, and I think we mentioned some of them - GURPS is happiest at slightly cinematic realism, Hero even now is still best with superpowers and doesn't handle "mundane" power levels as well, and so on.
  6. Posted by Owen Smith at 07:17pm on 13 September 2015
    Did you look at FUDGE? I've been told that is a generic system. I'm currently playing Space 1889 using BRP, GM'd by Bob Dowling. Low skill levels are a problem in this campaign. None of the PCs has Stealth for example, and learning it from scratch takes forever (since getting successes to get a tick for improvement is very hard at low skill levels). Your romance approach is almost the complete opposite to TORG in the Drama Deck. Those are disposable, give points for doing them, and are pretty unsatisfying as a player having selected two of them. I've ignored two more Romance cards since and discarded them as quickly as I could.
  7. Posted by RogerBW at 07:57pm on 13 September 2015
    FUDGE is less a system and more of a system construction kit. You can build a game out of it, but it won't necessarily have any commonality with other games built out of it, other than the very basic. FATE is derived from FUDGE and I thought that was a better example.
  8. Posted by Tim Soholt at 09:22pm on 25 September 2015
    It took me a while to get my thoughts together on this, but I've got some comments, mostly on the Fate system: Hero has been up to six editions for several years. The original 6th edition was so big it took up two bullet-stopper books. In the last couple of years they've released Champions Complete and Fantasy Hero Complete, both of which are supposed to be comprehensive versions of the system with tailored examples and GM advice; I only have Champions Complete myself. The thing I always thought was weird about the effects-based powers system of Hero was that you could have three characters: one with the ability to generate energy bolts, one with a magic bow, and one who throws small animals at his opponents, and they could all be exactly the same mechanically. Fate Core is a *much* clearer (and shorter) presentation of the system than anything else I've seen. If you don't mind digital versions, it's available as a Pay What You Want product from drivethrurpg/rpgnow. For a less narrative version of Fate, there's Strands of Fate. It seems to be an attempt to make Fate accessible to old-school number crunchers. I'm not sure that it really succeeds, but it is noticeably different from other versions of Fate. The Fate version of the transhuman game Nova Praxis is based off Strands, and there's a supplement called Strands of Power if you think the powers list in the original book isn't long enough. Supposedly (I haven't read it myself), the Paranet Papers supplement for Dresden Files goes a long way toward making magic comprehensible. I'm not sure why you say Diaspora doesn't have ship stats. They're fairly abstract, but they're definitely there. Stunts aren't really very much like aspects. They don't have a downside, and they're either free or cost Fate Points; they never give you any. Essentially they're the equivalent of GURPS advantages or d20 feats.
  9. Posted by Tim Soholt at 07:44am on 26 September 2015
    Dear God, that formatting is awful! Sorry about that!
  10. Posted by RogerBW at 12:40pm on 01 October 2015
    Yes, the effects thing is why I sometimes say Hero can get a bit flavourless - and a lesson I think GURPS 4th learned, where while you can still buy an "innate attack" power there are game-mechanical differences between burning, piercing and bludgeoning attacks that you have to select up front. What I meant about ship stats in Disapora was that you don't have accelerations and delta-Vs and things like that. You have a tech level, and most of the rest is Aspects. Bearing in mind that I'm a naval (and space-naval) wargamer, this feels very fast and loose.

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