Six years ago, I had my view on gaming flipped on its head. I was at the end of a two-year 4e D&D campaign; one that saw decks of power cards, miniatures, three different desktop applications, and combat encounters that lasted entire evenings. It was clear that, while we had a blast, that the days of such bloated systems were in need of ending. We needed something lighter, more elegant, and easier to run in the fewer hours we had.
That’s when Tim Kirk sent me a review copy of High Valor. And it blew my mind.
First off, if you haven’t seen it yet: CarPGis a new diceless rules-lite RPG framework written by my buddy Matt Bryant (the guy behind Main Sequence.)
While he designed it as a game to play on road trips with your buds, I’ve found it incredibly useful as a mechanic for playing Play By Post rpgs. In my past experience, play-by-posts worked either one of three ways: 1) The dice rolls were either handled completely by the moderator, leaving a sense of control out for the players. 2) The entire game was purely narrative focused, which while fun often felt more like a writing exercise than a game. And then lastly, 3) The die rolls were handled like normal (either on the honor system or with online dice rollers), and as a result the game system itself really bogged down the pace of the game.
CarPG: A Universal Framework. Appropriate for Road Trips & at The Table
by Matt Bryant
Looking for a nice role-playing game to pass the time on a long road trip with friends? Or maybe something fast and simple to play during your lunch hour at the office? CarPG is a lite, fast playing, and diceless framework for quick one-shots and minimal prep. It features a resolution mechanic that offers similar results as dice rolling, and is flexible enough to be expanded on or kitbashed into any genre or setting you need it for.
Fate’s Wheel Mechanic
Both the GM and the Player choose a number between one and ten. The players then add bonuses (attributes or skills) to produce a Success Range. If the GM’s number falls within that success range, the player character succeeds at their task! There’s a bit more to it, but that’s the meat of the system. Alternatively, those who enjoy die rolls can get the same effect by simply rolling a d10+bonus against a difficulty of 10.
Free to download, play, and abuse.
CarPG is an 8 page PDF, perfect for mobile devices or printed out in booklet format.
It’s January, 1985.
Two brothers are cruising the winding rounds near the Rocky Mountains.
One of them is Jason Devilian, a professional daredevil. The other: Craig, a deadbeat drifter who just happens to actually be dead. He now possesses his brother’s DeLorean DMC-12. Together, they travel the back roads of America, seeking out weird shit and making sure they’re not a problem for anybody.
Okay, not the strongest narrative, but it was an ad-hoc session where I had no idea what to expect from the players. The suggestion from one of them was Supernatural meets Christine meets Knight Rider. The idea to put it in the 80’s came at the last minute. I had to run with it — because the 1980’s means a significant lack of mobile devices, internet, or any quick reference and “know it all” mentality. It was perfect.
Jason Devilian is an Illuminated Keeper, which is a calling to make sure that everyday people don’t stumble upon the terrible secrets of the occult and supernatural. It’s a role suitable for your typical Men in Black or guardians of forbidden knowledge — for Jason, it mostly stemmed that he didn’t want anyone to find out his dead brother was still hanging around as a ghost.
Craig, meanwhile, is Afflicted — a character tainted by the shadow of Scorn. He has no damn idea why he’s hanging around, or even why he’s bound to his brother’s DeLorean. Even though he’s bound to the car, he’s free to leave it and pursue his own agenda. The problem is: being a ghost, he exists primarily in The Echo, the part of the netherworld that immediately reflects the physical world. This side of the world is filled with spirits and other beings in limbo. Though he can manifest briefly in our world, his only real anchor is the car itself.
Strange cars on the side of the road are never a good thing.
While dealing with treacherous weather on a slick, twisting road, the brothers pass by a car that appeared to skid off the highway and almost over a ledge. They stopped to check things out, finding the passenger missing although the belt was still buckled. Craig manifested for a moment to talk with his brother — until a mangled corpse fell from a tree, at which point he said “Oh shit” and vanished. While Jason tried to find some identification on the corpse, Craig immediately scoped the tree-tops out from the Echo. What he found was a horrific “owl-man-beast-thing” about to descend on his brother. He fled back to the car, where he revved up the engine, flashed the lights, popped open the doors and yelled “GET IN THE DAMN CAR!” through the radio speakers.
As Jason slammed the door shut, Craig put the metal to the metal and immediately blasted off down the slick and sleeted highway. Behind them, the “Owl-Man-Beast-Thing” rapidly flapped its wings in pursuit of the two. Jason leaned out a window, and unloaded his shotgun on the monster. It screeched, and immediately pulled up to fly away in the night.
You know it’s a small town when an old man works the graveyard shift at a gas station.
After the encounter with the “Owl-Man-Beast-Thing”, they veered off up the road into a small secluded town that I was too lazy to name. Jason filled up the car, and went in for nachos and an Icee. He hounded the old man working behind the counter for information related to massive owl creatures, and picked up the usual cliche’d yarns of a local monster told around campfires.
Craig, meanwhile, took a stroll away from the car. He found an empty storefront filled with shadow people, who nervously ducked away from him and seemed to cower from everything. He picked up quickly that these spirits were more manifestations of fearful feelings and dreadful emotions. Though simple in their discussion, he found out two interesting facts about the Owl-Man-Beast-Thing: one, it manifests physically at night, and returned to the Echo during the day. Two: it was summoned and kept by town leadership who wanted to scare outsiders away. After returning to the car and sharing this information with Jason, the two bros figured it was time to mess some stuff up in this town.
Things Escalated Quickly.
Craig: So who do you think summoned this thing? Jason: I bet the mayor knows. Think the old man can tell us where he is? Craig: I got an idea. Give me the shotgun, and stay behind me.
Craig manifested long enough to march back into the gas station and raise the shotgun up at the old man, who immediately panicked and threw his hands up. This was a tactic to see if he was armed — as Craig disappeared, Jason stepped immediately behind him to grab the shotgun and continue holding the station attendant at gunpoint. The old man, scared for his life (especially after being confused by the sight of a man disappearing before his eyes) hit the panic button to call the only two on-duty cops in the town.
Jason grabbed the old man, and took him to the car, ordering him to show him where the mayor of the town lived. Meanwhile, Craig greeted the cops by phasing before the police car, causing them to slam the breaks (and spill coffee everywhere.) He then proceeded to lurk in the backseat of the cop car (being a ghost has its perks.) As the police drove up at the sight of a DeLorean blazing off into town, Craig then proceeded to manifest and paralyze the driver, causing him to stiffen up and continue to accelerate into the gas station. His partner tried to wrestle the hands from the steering wheel, only for me to roll a fumble and thus declare they drove into the gas pumps instead.
Spoiler Alert: The Mayor Didn’t Know.
But his wife sure did. Jason marched up to the front door of the mayor’s two-story house (the old man fled for his life), kicked in the door and proceeded to march in. Craig barely caught up in time to momentarily manifest and tell him to hold back while he scouted the upstairs. The wife could be heard hysterically calling the cops (who were occupied trying to get out of their car while gasoline was spewing all over.) Craig went upstairs to see that the mayor had pulled out a .357 magnum, and was waiting to ambush the perpetrator breaking into his house.
Craig proceeded to paralyze him as Jason walked in, grabbed his gun, and marched over to the mayor’s wife yelling at her to calm down. When the mayor regained control, Jason demanded to know who (or what) was responsible for the Owl-Man-Beast-Thing. The mayor had no damn clue what he was talking about, but Craig was willing to wager that the wife did — since she pulled out a candle, lit it, and began motioning her hands to conduct pyromancy.
Craig phased back into the real world, paralyzing the wife momentarily (allowing Jason to knock the candle out of her hand and out the window.) The mayor in that moment was horrified by seeing a ghost manifest out of nowhere, and crumbled into a catatonic state fearing for his life. That was about the time the wife snapped back, and grabbed the locket around her neck, muttering something in Latin and then being yanked out the window by Owl-Man-Beast-Thing.
The Fight was not pretty.
Craig manifested physically, leaped out the window, and attempted paralyze the Owl-Man-Beast-Thing. It was dramatic because Freebird came on the station we were listening to — and he failed miserably, plummeting to the ground and taking damage. Jason was barraged by the Owl-Man crashing through the window, and they both exchanged slashes and gun fire. Back outside, the Mayor’s Wife pulled out her lighter and began channeling her spells again. Craig ran back to the car, possessing it and revving it up. The witch attempted to fling fireballs at the DeLorean, but my dice sucked and nothing worked. Craig proceeded to send the car crashing through the white picket fence, and slamming into the witch at full speed.
Meanwhile, Jason unload a shotgun blast at close range (finally) into the Owl-Man-Beast-Thing, killing it and causing it to dissolve back into the Nether. Jason then dragged the bewildered mayor out of the house, then dragged his wife back in to the house. Craig set the place on fire, and they both fled back to the car to get the hell out of dodge.
Jason: So that was a thing. Craig: Yeah… hey, I heard they’re making some movie about a time-traveling DeLorean. Jason: Yeah, I saw that! That dude from Taxi is pretty damn funny. Craig: We should go see it! I mean, we’re pretty much two tickets for the price of one anyway. Jason: LET’S GO TO DENVER!
Revisiting my old fantasy setting ideas in a new way — using the Cypher System Rulebook.
Last month, for my 33rd birthday, I decided to take a break from The Strange and run a more “traditional” fantasy game using the Cypher System Rulebook. The tricky part was I knew a couple of my players were burned out on the fantasy stuff, which made the weird aspects of our previous game so appealing. Having a conversation with one of them, I decided to scale back and lean towards a more ancient world/bronze-age setting to remedy the bad accents and tropes of high-fantasy feudalism.
What I ended up doing was recycling the setting notes I had for my Scorn of the God-Eaterssetting (as well as a couple of other settings I ran using ACKS/LoTFP). The original concept was sort of a colonial/baroque era setting where exiled prisoners and heretics of an empire were forced to survive on a savage continent. Now, it’s been revised to: Descendants of a conquered empire have fled across the Shattered Seas to regroup and rebuild away from the wrath of an evil Pharaoh who usurped the throne.
It worked surprisingly well. The player characters felt unique and diverse, each one bringing a cool spin on old concepts. We were able to build off the flavor of the setting without having to adjust mechanics or house-rule everything crazy (the house rules I have are really just setting guidelines.) Even though we had a long play session, the pacing was pretty spot on — even with me going to the extremes of using miniatures (because I wanted to, not because they were needed) combat felt engaging and constant and wasn’t bogged down in rule-lookups or complex mechanics at all.
After a great session like that, everyone was on board for a campaign to emerge from this. Previously with The Strange, I was running episodic endeavors that were sort of a “Recursion of the Week” affair. Focusing on a specific setting and genre I felt would alleviate the sort of disconnect we were experiencing every time the characters hopped realities.
I’ll be blogging about this endeavor more throughout the rest of the year.
In the meantime, feel free to peruse my OneNote workbook for the campaign that I’ve set up for my players.