50 Games in 50 Weeks: The Hangout RPG

'Sexy Jen Lounging in the Hammock Hangout' by SanFranAnnie on Flickr

‘Sexy Jen Lounging in the Hammock Hangout’ by SanFranAnnie on Flickr

New online video tools provide new opportunities for tabletop role-playing. Games that used to require face-to-face meetings can be played by people from around the world.

However, these games are still being played with systems built for heavily scheduled, face-to-face gaming. What would a system built for this new world look like? That’s what I asked myself when building Hangout.

I began with a few assumptions about online video gaming:

  • Expect new players frequently. It’s much easier for someone who’s merely interested in a game to fire up their webcam on a whim than to drive 20 minutes to a stranger’s house.
  • The players may not have the dice you expect, and players may not have access to useful online dice-rollers or other randomizers.
  • The rules should be easy to grasp and use, at least initially for basic gameplay, even for those who’ve never played tabletop RPGs.
  • There should be a free version of the rules.

Those assumptions generated the following core system concepts:

  • Dice and other randomizers are optional, and can be introduced later in play.
  • Players don’t need to stat out their characters prior to play.
  • Character stats are defined during play.

This implies a pretty high-level system. If you need to crunch a lot of numbers to accomplish basic tasks, you’ll spend most of your first few sessions stopping to define stats and bonuses.

The Hangout system takes some ideas from Risus and some ideas from FATE and applies them as follows.

The Basic Rules

Your character will have a few Dimensions, which are catchphrases that define his or her personality. Example Dimensions include “Never tell me the odds” and “It belongs in a museum!” Each Dimension has a couple of points associated with it, and each player character has a total of 10 Dimension points. Most player-characters will have about 4 Dimensions.

You can start play with no character concept, and define Dimensions as you approach conflicts.

A conflict is a simple contest between two characters. Each chooses the most appropriate Dimension; the one with the highest points wins. The winner gets what he or she wants, while the loser takes a negative ongoing Condition (like limpingdazed, or drunk).

A player can also invoke a Dimension to win a conflict, and loses 1 point in that Dimension. (All Dimensions get reset to their full point values at the beginning of each session.)

How This Worked

This worked poorly in my diceless playtest, where the characters were investigating a strange hacker in the Grid of TRON.

Player-characters’ Dimensions were usually close to an enemy’s Dimension, so they’d just win. If they were clearly outmatched, they’d invoke a DImension, and there weren’t enough conflicts to nearly exhaust anyone’s Dimensions.

Several possible solutions spring to mind:

  1. Reduce the number of points available in each Dimension.
  2. Increase the number of conflicts.
  3. Increase enemy’s Dimensions.
  4. Increase the expense of invokes. Perhaps an invoke reduces a Dimension by 50%, then to 0.

Each has its pitfalls. I’ll have to playtest them to find out.

What would you do?

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