30 March, 2018

SNAFU Cookbook (Part 1) Ingredients (b)

The remainder of the ingredients for the cookbook.

What kind of story is going to be told? You might say that you want a tale of social struggle, but that's where narrative crosses into demographics. Maybe you're thinking of a noir tale of intrigue, but that's crossing into mood. Instead, what is being discussed is the absolute basics. Is it an investigation or problem with a specific resolution or end goal? Is it a meandering and reactionary tale more like a soap opera that builds organically from the actions of the characters? Is it a journey with a specific beginning, a specific ending, and one or more paths between them? Is it one of the many stories that can be shoehorned into the structure of 'The Hero's Journey'?

Basically, this is asking what the characters do, not necessarily how they feel when they do it, or whether they do it with a certain style. Are there any specific actions that might determine success or failure in the narrative? The characters might have lost their memories, or their sanity, and it might only be when their reach a stable mental state that the story is resolved.

At the simplest level, work out the typical starting point(s), and work out the typical ending point(s) (or even if there are any).

The mood of the game is generally synonymous with the intended tone and feeling. Is the game intended to be high fantasy, low fantasy, or no fantasy? Is it gritty, where anything that goes wrong might have the potential to be lethal, or is it more lighthearted, where multiple things could go wrong but in the form of a survivable comedy of errors? The characters might be low ranked in the setting, perhaps in beyond their depth, and this will have a very different feeling to games where characters might be empowered heroes with advantages and edges that put them above the citizens around them.

A few key words can be used to provide an instant idea of where the mood for the game is focused. One word is probably too monotonous, but too many words just muddies the clarity of the intended mood. Two or three is probably good.


This listing is just a range of sample ideas. You could easily come up with dozens of other mood words, just try to keep those words understandable and palatable to everyone on the table... if we're continuing the cookbook analogy these might be akin to the spices being added to the recipe. Too many, and the flavours end up competing  with one another and leaving wierd aftertastes, too few and the output ends up a bit bland. 

Core Rules
You could use any set of core rules, which would be equivalent to looking at someone else's recipe and taking the most fundamental elements, then reverse engineer the basic die rolls to do what you need them to. It's a delicate artform, but it's the kind of thing that most gamers do instinctively. Every time a GM creates a random table, every time a player asks if they can make a die roll or apply a peripherally related skill to get a bonus on the main action underway, every time someone decides whether or not to open the rule book, or whether to make an ad-hoc ruling that will keep the action flowing while maintaining the feeling established so far in the game. Some games make it easy to manipulate the rules, with a simple coherent mechanism that is highly adaptable. Some have numerous systems and subsystems each handling a different element of narrative or game world simulation. Others have tightly wound systems that link so delicately and carefully into a specific ecosystem of play that trying to unravel them is such a feat that you might as well just create a new system from scratch.

But this guide is about adapting the SNAFU system, which is an evolution of FUBAR and the "System 4" project I've been developing over the last few years. For a while the system was a generic set of rules designed to handle stories where things have consequences and rarely go smoothly. The outcomes of die rolls are read on two independent axes, one determining how well the outcome was achieved, the other determining what was given up in the attempt. This dual-axis system is deliberately different to other games on the market which follow a linear "success/success-with-complications/failure" structure, it offers the chance of varying degrees of success or failure, and varying degrees of complications (or no complications at all).

There will be more in the series about how to connect the underlying SNAFU system into the other ingredients described.

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