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Survival RPG devlog 1: Intro

...and now for something completely a bit different.


Survival games are all the rage on the video games front. From pure survival in games like Minecraft, through survival horror like Evil Within, to a personal survival stories in games like This war of Mine. There is something very appealing in being thrown into a hostile environment and surviving against all odds.

While you can run a survival scenarios in many existing RPGs, there isn't a system that focuses solely on the that situation. After playing some This War of Mine, and reading about The End of The World from Fantasy Flight Games (that concentrates on living trough different flavors of the apocalypse, but not survival per se), I have decided to write a game that focuses on the hardships of survival.

It usually takes me a bit of time to finish a game. Heck, the only one that I have finished and somehow published was Heist Aces (that is still asking for an updated version). To keep myself motivated, I am starting this devlog, where I will post my progress in writing this game and respond to comments and criticisms.

First, I am laying down the design principles for this game. Whatever additions or changes I will want to make, they will need to follow the below guidelines:

Wrong Place, Wrong Time - the game's focus will be surviving in harsh and hostile environments. The game should be able to handle variety of survival scenarios. No matter the setting or the genre, the player characters will always start in a wrong place, at a wrong time.

No Heroes - player characters are not specialists trained to deal with the threats they are about to face. There are just unlucky people who have to find a way to survive against all odds. They are not equipped for the task, nor are they prepared. They will struggle, make morally questionable choices and rely on ever depleting resources... and so will the NPCs. Other survivors can be suspicious or even hostile towards PCs, not because they are evil, but because, just like the players, want to survive.

Nothing is forever - characters get tired and depressed, resources dwindle, people die. All of this should have impact in-game and on the game mechanics. On the other hand, nothing will stay bad forever, characters will rest, find hope and overcome their obstacles, but those victories won't last forever.

Those three guidelines summarize the game pretty well. You play as people who need to endure things they are not prepared for. They will struggle, but they will have their victories. I want to create a system that will support those feelings, but without overwhelming bookkeeping, and unnecessary math. I have also decided on some system guidelines, they can be changed, but I would like to stay within the restrictions:

  • Player facing mechanics - only PCs roll dice. This not only let's the GM focus on the story, but also puts the players in a more active role - if you won't do anything, this mutated dog will rip your throat out.
  • No bookkeeping -  I want to keep the game as simple as possible. It is very easy to add a ton of  negative modifiers to the character for being tired, depressed, etc. A game like that can become nothing more than a spreadsheet, instead of story. I don't want that. I want to focus on the story. If possible, I want to avoid negative modifiers and keeping track of each unit of food, water, ammo, what-have-you. 
  • Rewards, not requirements - Instead of telling players what their characters need, I want to reinforce that. Having a good night's rest, a hearty meal or finding loved ones should be rewarding.
  • Important Equipment - In survival scenarios, having a pocket knife can be difference between life and death. I want equipment to be important, making tasks possible without rolls, or at least much easier to achieve.
  • Generic - Most of all, I want the mechanics to be generic enough, to play in different settings, from desert island, through urban disaster scenarios, through sci-fi. 
I have an idea for a mechanic that would fit those requirements. I am still testing it. It uses only six sided dice and a pool of points you can spend. You try to beat an unknown target number. I will go into more detail of the mechanics in my next post, in the meantime, I am curious what do you think about a dedicated survival RPG idea? What would you like to see in a game like that?