Nathan Russell

Write. Play. Live.

The O.Z.

I somehow ended up deep in the archives of my email today and stumbled on an exchange I’d had with an artist friend about a project we were going to collaborate on. It was a story game inspired by The Wizard of Oz and a variety of favourite pop-culture imagery, such as post-apocalypse adventure and westerns. It was tentatively titled The O.Z. and presented a post-apocalypse mid-west circa 1901. The idea was that when Dorothy returned home from Oz the act not only returned her, but ripped open some terrible magical rift that smashed both realities together. Both worlds were ruined and everything changed for the worse. The Scarecrow became a power-mad tyrant desperate to repair the damage. Dorothy and the Tinman tried to stop his evil machinations, falling in love along the way, only to have the Scarecrow defeat them and kill the Tinman. There’s more; Munchkin prospectors with shotguns; the Lion channeling Che Guevara as he liberates the animals of Kansas; Pumpkinhead reimagined as a cowboy riding a rocking horse. That sort of thing. 

I have a bunch of stories I would love to tell in this setting. Until then, I thought it would be fun to share some of the email exchange and offer a little insight into what I was thinking back in July 2010.

Sweet. I am totally excited about this project. The Straw King should be totally bat-shit crazy and a total psychopath; he hacked up one of his best friends to learn how he worked and imprisoned Dorothy. He is “the Joker” of the setting. He has crows for minions ’cause their all terrified of him (because he’s a scarecrow, right!) and an army of clockwork men. I don’t mind how nuts you go with him, one part of my thinks he should have brains totally bulging out of his hat/crown, but then I am not sure…

I want to share some of my inspiration / ideas to give you an idea of where I am coming from.

The time period is about 1901, but with lots of cowboy / old west influence. Drawing on the Oz movie is totally fine too. When Oz crashed into our world everything mashed together and people from both worlds are trying to work out their place. The Emerald City was seriously fucked over, with much of it shattering into tiny shards and flung across the country side like shrapnel – people hit by the shrapnel tend to get twisted, which is probably why the Straw King is so messed up.

Some types of characters might include;

  • Patchwork people (like Raggedy Anne)
  • Pumpkin head
  • Wooden horses
  • Clockwork people (the character TikTok from the Return to Oz movie)
  • Talking and humanoid animals of all kinds
  • Militant suffragettes
  • The US army
  • The Spanish army
  • Munchkins
  • Witches
  • Winged monkeys
  • Prospectors, cowboys and Chinamen
  • Dwight Eisenhower (as a boy) on a mission from God
  • Buffalo Bill
  • Annie Oakley
  • Balloon city – yes everything held aloft by balloons

Think the Wizard of Oz meets Clint Eastwood movies meets Tim Burton meets steampunk. Go whimsical over horribly dark, when you need to – this is a game of action, not horror. Drawing on other literature of the time is cool, as long as it doesn’t distract from the obvious Oz stuff – Alice in Wonderland, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are possibilities.

Now I am going to need to get on with some rules. I am thinking of a d20 mod (stripped down to just the important parts). What do you and Marty think?


Here’s my main idea for Dorothy I’m guessing you’ll want at least  3 different Dorothy pics. I’ve fixed her legs so they’re the same length and will probably put in the garter belt (i like it). I was thinking maybe Pumpkin head should be a cowboy or like a western outlaw… thoughts?


Yeah, but his pumpkin should be cracked or broken, just a little bit! And he needs to ride a wooden horse!


By wooden horse are we talking rocking horse? or like on a platform with wheels?


I’ve been playing a fair bit of Dungeon World recently and really quite enjoying it. The thought hit me that the DW resolution system would pair very nicely with FU descriptors. Roll as per DW, modify the roll with +1 for each bonus descriptor and -1 for each penalty descriptor. It all kind of works since DW resolution is basically “Yes…”, “Yes, but…” or “No…”

Expendables TV

Last week I saw an article about the possibility of a television series based on The Expendables film franchise. You know the one – Sly Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Schwarzenegger and co. shooting and blowing up villains with gay abandon. I’m a bit of a fan of the films as I grew up on the action films of the 80’s and early 90’s and I enjoyed seeing these old war horses doing what they have always done, tongue firmly in cheek.

tom selleckThe prospect of a TV series based on the same concept of The Expendables, bringing together iconic heroes of the small screen, got me a little excited. I started to list the actors from favourite TV shows of my youth. Tom Selleck and his vigorous moustache sprang straight to mind, quickly followed by Richard Dean Anderson (who didn’t love MacGyver?), David Hasselhoff and Mr T. These guys would fill my long room, exploding with mad plots, crazy inventions and over-the-top action. To their ranks I should add the famous Duke family – John Schneider, Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach. Scott Bakula and Don Johnson had better step up, too! And how cool would it be if the series villain was played by Angela Lansbury?!

As I put together this list I got to thinking about how different the TV shows of the 80’s were from the films. No excess blood and gore here. Instead of madmen causing terror from far off and exotic paces, Magnum PI, Michael Knight and Sonny Crockett dealt with more domestic threats. The Dukes and the A-Team were always there to help out the underdog, and ensure justice was served without ever leaving anyone seriously injured. All of these shows had a strong undertow of humour, an energy and verve that made them infectious to watch week after week. Bringing back these great actors to portray iconic characters like those I watched as a kid would be enormous fun. They don’t need to be gory, and they don’t need to be outright comedy either. The goal of The Expendables franchise isn’t to make fun of the 1980’s action genre, but to honour it, update it a little, and remind us of how great it was. The same would be true for a TV-based Expendables series – to remind us how much fun we had watching these iconic characters week in and week out. I think that would be great.

Tips for Storium Narrators

I only found out about Storium 36 hours before the Kickstarter closed (yes, I have been living under a rock!), but since then I have dived right into this awesome storytelling / roleplaying platform. If you have no idea what I am talking about, go here and watch the video. I’m currently playing in two stories and narrating (GMing) two others and while I haven’t been involved with Storium for very long, I thought I would share some observations. I will likely go into more detail about what exactly Storium is and can do in a later post. Today I wanted to offer some tips for Storium narrators.

tips for storium narrators

If you are familiar with roleplaying games then being a Storium narrator is much like being a games master. You set up a scene, present some challenges for the players to overcome, and wrap up the scene when it is done. Along the way you might describe the actions of some of the non-player characters but it is just as likely that the players will also do this as they describe their “moves”. Here are my initial thoughts on things you should keep in mind when narrating a story in Storium.

Before Play

Write an evocative story description that gives the players a good understanding of the kind of story you want to play, and offers some “hooks” for character generation. It will help put everyone on the same page before you begin.

Decide how many players and how frequent your game play will be. Storium suggests up to 5 players, though you can play with many more. It’s a double edged sword, though. The more players you have the more responses / moves you will see, the bigger you can make challenges and the more scenes you might get through. The downside is that the less-frequent participants in your story will miss a lot of the action and spend a lot of time reading what has happened since they last logged on. That may not be fun for some players.

Give some advice when you send player invites. I’ve talked about tone or general theme in these invites. I have also given newer invitees a quick rundown on the kinds of roles already filled or facts already established in play. This will help to reduce revision requests. When asking for revisions make sure you are clear about why you are asking for changes but also be tactful – they might really like their character! It doesn’t hurt to also say which bits of the character you like or you feel is working.

Use the commentary bar to define play parameters. I have seen it used to decide if swearing was okay in a game; if there are topics players want to “draw a veil” on; whether you should wait for everyone to make a move before posting your next one; and even what tense everyone will write in. Have a conversation in the comment bar to see where everyone stands and come to an agreement about some of these topics. This may be more necessary when playing with strangers (or, as I like to call them, new friends!), but is just good practice to get into.

During Play

Don’t plan too far ahead. Set up a scene, present some challenges and see where the players take the story. Everyone is establishing the fiction in a Storium story, so if a player makes an unexpected move or establishes a fact that contradicts something you were planning to do (but hadn’t already established), consider just going along with it. That doesn’t mean you should let players run roughshod over everything, but if their move is creative and makes sense in the context of your game, go with it!

Use revision requests if needed. Related to the above, if a player does narrate something that doesn’t fit, or outright contradicts an established fact, send them a revision request. This will keep the flow of the story neat for everyone. Also, the revision requests are private, so if a player makes a mistake they can adjust it without drawing too much attention to it. Do be careful not to send too many revision requests though – players need to feel comfortable to contribute to the story you are working together to create.

Set challenges that prompt the players to fill in the blanks. Don’t write the entire story – pour on the heat and then ask the players what they are going to do about it. As a game master this is one of my favourite parts of the Storium system (and all collaborative storytelling games). I can present a cool problem but don’t necessarily have to come up with the solution.

Set challenges based on the player’s moves. If a player move suggests a new challenge, chuck it in! In a recent cyberpunk story I presented the characters with the need to escape the scene of a crime. The very first player move, however, raised a question about the motivations of the Corp Executive they were protecting so I added their desire to get some answers as a challenge. Sometimes you won’t want to add a new challenge to a scene, and sometimes you can’t because you’ve used all your points for the scene. For these cases I keep a blank note open on my computer and jot these ideas down so I can use them later.

Use the challenge card to help direct moves into interesting places. Every challenge card has a spot to describe what a strong and weak outcome will look like for that challenge. I love these! In that tiny bit of description you provide suggestions to the players about where their moves might lead the story. My favourite outcomes ask the players a question (“What does he tell you?”, “Where do you go?”) which encourages players to take more ownership of the story.

Choose how to spend your points. You have a certain number of points to “build” challenges each scene and players can only play a maximum of three of their remaining cards per scene. You don’t need to use all of your points in a scene to make it interesting. In fact, some of my most entertaining scenes have had very small challenges, but were filled with character interaction and moves that expanded on the plot. Using all the available points also means that every player has to play three cards and I have already had one game that was chugging along at a good pace grind to a halt because one player was not able to participate for a few days. Also, you might not use all of your available points at the start of scene so you have a few in “reserve” later if a move suggests a new challenge.

Check the player’s cards. Players cannot refresh their strength and weakness cards until they have played them all, so its worth checking what cards the group has left from time to time. You might find that they went out all gung-ho at the start of the story, resolving challenges with strong results and now mostly have weakness cards left. In such a situation you can set up scenes that play to these cards – what would be a cool scene or challenge if it’s resolved as “weak”? Likewise, if they have a lot of strength cards left, consider really upping the stakes if they choose to resolve a scene as “weak”! Another reason to regularly remind yourself of what cards players have left is to make sure you are establishing scenes that connect with the stuff the player is interested in. Check what their subplots are and introduce these ideas into scenes.

Between Play

I love the commentary bar and use it a lot between player and narrator moves and between scenes. Here are some things I have used it for:

Tell players when they do something cool! In fact, I would love a “star” or “like” button on player (and narrator) moves so you can tell others when they write something awesome – a bit like “fan mail” in Primetime Adventures.

Ask the players what they think is the next logical step for their characters. While you might be establishing and ending scenes, everyone is contributing to the story so why not ask them what kinds of scenes they want to play out?

Problem solve with the other players. Sometimes things happen in a story that just through the plot on it’s head – use the commentary bar to figure out “What next?”.

Remind the players of their options. Particularly while we’re all still learning. For instance, I have reminded players that they can play more than one card in a move, and to consider how they word their wild cards as they can be used later in the story, too.

Engage in table talk. Just like a game session where we are all seated around the same table, we can use the commentary bar to discuss anything and everything that a group of people might talk about as they enjoy each others company!

Give additional information about a scene. I have written a scene description or narrator move and then used the commentary bar to indicate the purpose of the scene (“nice easy one so everybody can introduce themselves”); explain why something is happening (“this relates to Bill’s subplot”); or make something clearer (“I just put an asset on the table, but you don’t need to go for it”).

So, these you have it: my tips for Storium narrators. I am sure I will come up with more as I get in more games. What advice do you have for narrators?


Rough Seas

Hi everyone. I’ve been a bit quiet lately and I just wanted to give you a quick update on what’s happening around these parts.

At the start of March my wife had a serious health turn and the doctors suspected she suffered a stroke. Face drooped, limbs heavy, couldn’t speak, the whole nine yards. This was, not surprisingly, a shock since we are both still pretty young (under 40 is young, right?). My wife is healthier now, with no lasting physical side effects of the “turn”, but as you might imagine it threw our life into chaos for quite a period of time. Things are only now settling down. The doctors cannot rule out a minor stroke but are currently calling it a “stress induced event”. We are making adjustments to the way we live so that we reduce the amount of pressure on ourselves. I haven’t talked much about my personal life on this blog before, but the elevator summary is: we both work, have a big mortgage, three kids two of whom have special needs and consequently have weekly medical / specialist appointments and the like. We are, like many of you, busy people. We are trying to reduce the pressures of our daily lives. I blogged about the shock of my wife’s illness and what we are doing to change our lives at a new blog, here.

glad thats over

I want to assure you all that I am still working on a new edition of FU, but progress has slowed. I am still getting many comments and emails and facebook messages from people telling me how excited they are and offering assistance. I really appreciate it, and it is this enthusiasm and support that is driving me to continue working on it. I have registered a domain name for FU and will launch it with an option to sign-up for updates in the near future (when I have some more content to share). The goal is to help build an audience and create a contact list of fans so that I can build excitement and enthusiasm for FU as I create it.

I am also thinking about National Game Design Month – specifically how to make it more useful to people. It is an entertaining diversion for one month a year, but I think it could be more useful to gamers. I am thinking of interviewing game designers and manufacturers, small press creators and that kind of thing. These would be blog interviews, though if I had time I would love to do a new podcast, or even a Youtube channel. I would love to hear other suggestions for how to make NaGa DeMon better.

I will continue to post to this blog as I have things to share. I really appreciate everyone’s support and, in the case of FU, patience.



FU – Before You Begin Draft

This evening I completed another section of the new and improved FU. After I wrote the first couple of posts on the second edition I expanded the outline further. I realised that the current rules begin by simply throwing the reader in the deep end. I want to make FU far more user friendly, and newbie friendly, so I decided that I would need a brief section right at the start on how the game is played and another section just after that covering some topics that players should discuss before beginning play or even creating characters. It is that section that I am sharing tonight!

Once again, let me know what you think. Tell me if you agree or disagree with any advice I give, or if there is anything I should add. The purpose of this particular section of the rules is to encourage and help players talk about and create their game before they actually get pen to paper – do you think it works?

Before You Begin

Before you begin your exciting adventures it is important that everyone at your table takes some time to talk and decide on the important details of the game you are about to embark upon.

Player Expectations

It is important that everyone at your table is clear about the group’s expectations of play. Of course you have all come together to have fun and tell cool stories but people can have very different interpretations of what is “fun” or “cool”. If you have been playing with the same group of great people for a while you might have already worked out each other’s boundaries, what everyone anticipates will happen during play, and their general concept of fun. Other groups, however, might need to talk through this before actually beginning their first game together.

This discussion does not have to be particularly formal, but it is important that everyone has an opportunity to speak their mind about what they are comfortable with and where they would like to “draw the line”. Unless you have been playing with the same people for a long time you just don’t know what is going to make people uncomfortable – so talk about it! Try asking some questions or share your own thoughts on what might be in good taste. At the very least try and get a good sense of the other player’s opinion on how violence, romance, death and children will be portrayed in your stories. These are often hot-button issues that, if dealt with insensitively could upset somebody at your table. Of course, make sure you are always respectful of other people’s opinions and feelings, too. Remember the goal is to find some common ground so that you can all work together to tell some awesome stories and make some amazing memories!

What Kind of Game Are You Going to Play?

With expectations clear and excitement high, you must come to a decision on what kind of game you all wish to play. Sometimes this is easy because you always play fantasy dungeon adventures, or you have gathered to play out an exciting series of tales based on your favourite book or TV show. Other times, however, you will begin with little more than the admirable intent to spend some quality time telling exciting stories with your friends. At these times talk with each other and share your thoughts on the type of game you want to play.  As you discuss the possibilities, share your ideas and build on each other’s suggestions try answering the following questions:

What genre are you playing? If your game was a TV show, film or novel what genre would it be classified? Is it a thriller, mystery, adventure, action blockbuster, romantic comedy, horror or some combination of genres? Perhaps you want to play out adventures inspired by anime shows, super hero comics or your favourite disaster movies. Perhaps someone at the table wants to explore Regency romance, or an American Civil War adventure, or a fondly remembered cartoon from their childhood.

As you talk about the genre of your game also talk about the tropes of that genre – what are the key features of the genre that stick out in each player’s mind? What are the three or four really obvious things that you always seem to encounter in that genre of fiction? Don’t spend too much time deliberating or making lists, but what immediately springs to mind when you start talking about that genre? In a game inspired by teen horror flicks your group’s trope list might include isolated locations, dysfunctional relationships, parties and creepy adults. A group planning to tell thrilling spy stories might have double agents, exotic locations, wacky gadgets, femme fatales and moon lasers. Take the time to discuss the pros and cons of each trope and decide which must be included and those that you are all happy to leave out.

What is the tone of your game? Talking about the tropes of the genre will lead you to a discussion of the tone or mood of the stories you intend to tell. Are your spy stories going to be over the top romps with miniaturised poison-dart watches and double entendres? Or are they gritty tales of betrayal and bloody murder at the height of the cold war? Is your teen horror tale going to be a campy romp, gory splatter-fest or spine-chilling horror story? Deciding on the tone of your game will help all of the players imagine the world their characters will inhabit and assist in the creation of authentic characters, settings and relationships.

What kinds of stories do you want to tell? You would have gone a long way to discussing the kinds of stories you all want to tell when you talked about genre and tone, but lay it all out on the table so everyone is clear. In a moody spy thriller one person might want to play stories where the fate of the world is constantly at stake, while another player wants lots of smaller missions where pieces slowly fall into place and a grander – and more sinister – plan is revealed. In a teen horror game you might find players that want to be constantly on the back foot and fighting for their lives, while other players wish to be proactive and taking the fight to whatever lives in the darkness.

While talking about the kinds of stories you want to tell, also consider the way in which the stories will be told. Some players might want an episodic structure to their adventures where each game session is only linked to the last by the main characters. In such games the events of the last adventure have little impact on the events of the next. Other players might want a game where every session of play develops a continuing plot. In these games there may not be distinct “adventures”, just the continually unfolding plot that slowly builds to a grand “finale” or climactic moment.

Who are the characters? What types of people are commonly encountered in these kinds of stories and what sort of characters is everyone going to play? What are the common archetypes that populate the genre you are playing in, and which ones are the most interesting or coolest? In a spy story you might have spies (obviously!), assassins and seductresses, masterminds (evil or otherwise), shady contacts, gadgeteers, soldiers, hackers, scientists and hired muscle. In a teen horror story the characters might be the jock and popular girl, the nerd, the drama queen, the weird new girl and the janitor.

Also consider why the characters are involved in the story together. Do they all belong to a particular organisation or have a common agenda? Are they friends, or members of a social group, or the crew of a space ship? Perhaps the characters are only just coming together for the first time at the beginning of your story – they might have been lucky enough to win a holiday to the most haunted resort in the country; they all met in an inn; or had tickets on Oceanic Flight 815. Knowing why the characters are together is not essential but discussing it now may spark more ideas when it comes time to create your characters and develop their relationships with each other and the other people in the setting.

Broad Strokes, Not Fine Detail

If you have talked about the type of game you want to play, the genre and tone, the types of characters that might appear in your stories and perhaps even the way you will structure your stories, you are well on the way to establishing your setting. Don’t do too much more “world building” at this point. You want to paint with broad strokes this early so that you don’t confine players in their character creation choices or the narrator in the development of their astounding plots. As each player creates their character more of the world will be filled in and as you tell stories and have adventures you will also discover details.

One of the great things about FU is that you never quite know how things are going to turn out, so not defining everything is an advantage. Painting in broad strokes leaves you room to make up cool stuff as needed and to create interesting places, people or events that enhance the story being told.

So, there you have it. What do you think?

More Pay What You Want

Today I made Here Be Gamers Xtra, Fantasy Character Hotseat and Space Rat: The Jack Cosmos Adventure Game! “pay what you want” over at RPGnow. I would love for you to go and check them out, if you haven’t already.



FU Concepts Drafted

This morning I finished off the re-write of the first part of FU character generation – Concepts. It took me somewhat longer than I had expected it to, but it also turned out better than I had thought it would.

The original Concept section was one paragraph of information and another paragraph of example. The newly re-written section goes into far more detail on exactly what a Concept is, its purpose, how both players and Narrators might use Concepts, and how to write a great Concept. There is information on using Concepts as descriptors, as a lot of hacks already do this, and also some details on how and why you might change your Concept over time. Overall, I am very happy.

I am going to share the entire new Concept section with you below. I probably won’t do this with every new piece of information but I am doing so today because I wanted to give you an idea of where I am going with the re-write. Some of the below writing will become “optional rules”, though i am not sure how I am going to indicate this in the final text (I am thinking sidebars or boxes).

I would love some feedback on whether you think this level of detail is useful, or if it is too much.


Concept clearly defines who or what your character is. It is the 7-second elevator pitch that you might use when someone asks, “What character are you playing?” Concept is the kernel of who or what the character is, and is best summed up in a few words or a short phrase.

Your character’s concept can define their background or occupation, such as ‘Paranormal Detective’ or ‘Child Prodigy’. It might give insight into their personality, such as ‘Noble Savage’ or ‘Nutty Professor’. Of course, the character’s concept should fit into the setting, background or types of adventures that you will be playing. A ‘Streetwise Cop’ may be out of place in medieval England, though a ‘Worldly Sheriff ’ might be just right. Use the setting to inspire your character.

Your concept forms the “baseline” that indicates the things the character probably has experience with and the things they might not. You will use the character’s concept to guide your roleplaying and make choices about how they approach situations and overcome problems. The narrator will refer to your character’s concept when making decisions about setting scenes, introducing contacts or relationships, and when deciding how much your character knows about a particular situation, location, item or event.

For example, if your character’s concept is “Famous Rock Star” you can safely assume they know something about rock and roll and the entertainment industry; they can sing and/or play an instrument; they have “stage presence”; they are well known to a large portion of the general public; and probably know a host of legitimate and shady characters related to the rock and roll industry. It does not explicitly tell us anything about the character’s education, home life or personality. On the other hand, a character described as “Well-travelled Archaeologist” can be assumed to be university educated; have a knowledge of the ancient world; knows a variety of academics; probably knows enough words in a variety of languages to get by; and has a broad general knowledge of geography.

Your character will encounter less resistance when they take action closely related to their concept. It is plausible the Famous Rock Star has little trouble talking to a huge crowd of people, while the Well-travelled Archaeologist might find that role more challenging. The archaeologist, however, is probably going to be more efficient at research than his rock star friend.  You might claim the rock star is also well-travelled due to the jet-setting rock-n-roll lifestyle they lead, but the archaeologist is just going to have an easier time getting around places, navigating customs paperwork and recalling random facts about the places he has visited, by simple virtue of his concept.

In game terms this influences when and why the narrator might call for DICE ROLLS. As a general guideline, a character can complete activities closely related to their concept with little effort. The Famous Rock Star can perform a great show, and the Well-travelled Archaeologist can coordinate a dig in Egypt without really taxing their resources or putting themselves in danger. Most of the time this will mean they can do it without dice rolls – it just happens.

If the action is opposed, or taken under difficult circumstances, without the appropriate tools, with a time constrain or under some other less-than-ideal situation, all bets are off. In these cases the narrator may very well call for DICE ROLLS.

Writing a Great Concept

A good concept will describe a character’s occupation, or a detail of their background, or a personality trait, or an extraordinary feature, but a great Concept will describe more than one of these. If you can sum up your character concept in two or three evocative words then you are on the right track. Here are some ways to write a great Concept:

Combine an interesting adjective with a specific noun: Skilled Swordsman is okay, but Master Duellist is better; Mean Gunfighter is cool, but what about Grizzled Gunslinger? You could be a Hardboiled Detective, or a Singing Detective, Pet Detective, Defective Detective or Accident-Prone Detective.

Describe a personality trait and an occupation: Weary Lawman, Bloodthirsty Pirate, Naïve Nurse, Inquisitive Student, Adventurous Explorer and Lecherous Politician are all possibilities.

Use a physical trait or extraordinary power as the basis of the concept: One-Eyed Gunman, Psychic Detective, Horribly Scarred Bodyguard, Olympic Gymnast, Elastic Kid or Immortal Highlander are all examples of this kind of Concept.

Use a descriptive phrase to define the character’s place in the world: Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Last Man on Earth, Assassin for the Guild of Haberdashers, Bearer of the Black Blade and World’s Most Famous Astronaut are all phrases that define character Concept.

When you have come up with a cool idea for your Concept discuss it with the Narrator and other players. Make sure that everyone is on the same page and understands what your Concept really means. What exactly do you mean by “Grizzled” Gunfighter? Is your Politician well known or a minor member of cabinet? What exactly is an “Elastic Kid”? Why do the Haberdashers need assassins? Asking questions like these will help make the game run smoother once play begins, and also helps to flesh out the world that you are playing in.

Concepts As Descriptors [+]

As the rules currently stand, concepts are not descriptors – they are a broad categorisation that indicates the things a character can do with relative ease. They do not normally offer a bonus to DICE ROLLS.

If all players agree, however, you can make Concept a descriptor. You should decide if this is in addition to the normal number of descriptors, or takes up one descriptor “slot”. Concept descriptors are likely going to be much broader than standard descriptors, encompassing a wide variety of skills and experiences. It is a good idea to discuss Concept to ensure everyone understands exactly what kinds of actions and activities they are most likely to assist with.

Normally, Concept defines the things a character can do, but don’t overtly penalise characters for attempting things not in their wheelhouse. Designating Concepts as descriptors means they will provide a bonus for related actions, but also means they might generate penalties in other circumstances – the Famous Rock Star is going to have a hard time staying inconspicuous when her face is on a giant billboard across the street!

Concepts and Amazing Powers [+]

If the game setting incorporates magic, psychic talents, superhuman abilities or other amazing powers, character Concept can be used to determine who has access to these abilities. In a setting that includes an order of psychic space knights, a character might need a Concept that indicates a relationship to such an organisation in order to use their psychic powers – “Noble Space Knight”, or “Fallen Space Knight”, for instance. Likewise, in a game of superheroes, Concept might indicate the kinds of powers each character has: Cocky Flame-Generator, Amazonian Warrior Princess, Surly Regenerating Warrior, Fastest Man Alive, Patriotic Super-Soldier, Billionaire Vigilante or Jovial Thunder God might be examples of such Concepts.

Like other Concepts, these define details about who the character is and who or what they know and can do. A Noble Space Knight is going to have a very different role in the setting to the Fallen Space Knight; a Flame-Generating hero can probably do all kinds of amazing fire-based tricks; and a Billionaire Vigilante will have immense wealth and other resources to call upon. It will be up to all players to come to an agreement on whether someone can have access to amazing powers if their Concept does not include a reference to them.

Changing Concept in Play [to go in advancement section]

Most of the time, when a character changes and develops due to their experiences and adventures, their descriptors will change or they will gain new descriptors. Sometimes, though, the change will be significant enough to alter the character’s actual Concept. This should be an important moment in the character’s development, as it represents not just a change in occupation or role, but also a change in the way others see them and the way they perceive themselves.

Players should discuss this change with the Narrator and decide whether a change should be reflected through descriptors or through the alteration of the character’s Concept. If an “Arrogant High Mage of the Winds” turns against their former order then the change might best be served with a descriptor such as “Hunted by the Order of Wind Mages”. Unless losing their position will also result in the loss of their magic powers, there is probably little reason to change the Concept. Perhaps they might lose the “High” part of the Concept. If, however, over the course of time the character learns humility and becomes more compassionate towards others, then it might be appropriate to remove or change the “Arrogant” part of their Concept.

So, what do you think? On the right track? Useful?


Core FU

Last time I posted about FU I presented a list of stuff I would like to cover in a new edition of the game. I think it was a pretty good list of ideas – new options, clarifications and the like. As I looked over that list, however, I got to thinking about what was optional and, more specifically, how much of the game could be labelled “optional” and what bits were essential.

When I say “essential”, I am not talking about a section on character generation and another on action resolution, etc. What I mean is, what parts make FU the game it is. This is important because it will ultimately influence what parts of the game will be optional and what parts will remain at the core of the game. I don’t want to provide an optional rule that, if engaged, completely changes what FU is. Part of me is acutely aware that FU is so “light”, “generic” and “flexible” (What DO those words really mean? Perhaps a topic for another post!) that any option is going to change the feel of the game, and indeed that is the intent of many options, but I think you are getting where I am coming from – right?

So, I had a bit of a ponder. All games have an action resolution, and many use pools of D6; Fate, The Shadow of Yesterday, PDQ and Lady Blackbird (among others) use descriptive words or phrases to describe character ability; Hot War, Dungeon World and many other games use their equivalent of Drives and Relationships to influence roleplaying and player interaction. What I wanted to know was “what are the quintessential elements of FU?”

It wasn’t really that hard. I came up with the following things that I think are at the core of FU:

  • Yes / No / And / But
  • Descriptors / Gear / Conditions
  • No numbers
  • FU points

Yes / No / And / But

This was a no brainer. The success statements are at the very core of FU. They make results instantly understandable while the “and” and “but” component pushes the action into new places. If anything is at the heart of FU, it is this.

As I was writing this I was looking for a succinct and accurate way to sum-up this mechanism and realised I haven’t called it anything. In the rules as they currently stand it is just descriptions under the heading “Success and Failure”. It is not the “Beat the Odds” roll – that’s the actual dice rolling bit. I would like to come up with a term or phrase that sums up this resolution mechanism, in the same way Fate has the “success ladder”. Suggestions?

Descriptors / Gear / Conditions

I have grouped these things all together as they pretty much do the same thing, but come from different “places”. To be honest, I wan’t sure if these should be included in a list of “quintessential FU” as lots of games use elements similar to descriptors (etc). In the end I decided they are an important feature of FU as many of the options I have been contemplating, or that fans have created, play around with the way descriptors / gear / conditions work or are used. While these options and hacks may vary widely, they all utilise the same basic mechanism – if you have something good you get a bonus, and if you have something bad you suffer a penalty.

No Numbers

FU is not completely devoid of numbers, but all the important parts of a character are described with words, not numbers. There are no attributes or skill ranks or saving throws or health points or experience points to track. I think this is a fairly significant feature of FU. I will be giving this further thought, as one of the options I was considering was the use of Hit Points and Stats and now I am not sure if that slides things too far away from the “core”.

FU Points

Okay, I know I just talked about “no numbers”, but stick with me! :) FU points are quite similar to “drama points” and “Fate points” and devices used in lots and lots of other games, but that does not mean they are not important to the feel of FU. I don’t think I adequately explained in the original rules how much they can be used by the narrator to guide play, let alone all the cool hacks and options that play around with what FU points let players and characters do. FU points let characters be awesome, and they are used to reward playing in a way appropriate to the setting or genre of the game. For that reason I think they are very important to what FU is.

So, those are the four things that I think are at the heart of FU. I will be looking at each of the suggestions, options and examples that I include in the new edition to see how they impact on these elements. I will be watching out for stuff that drags the game too far away from what I think FU “is”.

What do you think? Do you agree with what I have said? Is there some other part of the game you think is quintessential FU? Let me know!

Technical Difficulties

I just wanted to leave a brief message to let you know I have been having trouble with my website. I was inundated with spam and genuine comments wouldn’t get through. I am trying to remedy this, and I think I have it sorted now. If you are still having trouble leaving comments, please shoot me an email or get in contact via twitter. (Check out the sidebar).



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