The great thing about imagining and creating super-powers is that the possibilities are endless. The disappointing thing about most super-powered role-playing games is that they limit your creativity when describing your character’s super powers. When I set out to create City of Myst, I knew I had to create a system that is open-ended. Worlds in Peril took a nice crack at doing that with general descriptions of what is possible, impossible, simple, or borderline for your character. It looked awesome when I read it, but when I played it with my group we felt the system wasn’t quite allowing us to describe the powers in the level of detail we wanted. So how to create an open-ended super-powers game mechanics?
Luckily, another game has already done it for another genre: Lady Blackbird used a tag system that added dice to your roll per each relevant tag. I thought the system was awesome but as a die-hard Apocalypse Engine fan I wanted to combine it with the edge of the Moves. The result is roll+tags, (or roll+power as it’s called in City of Myst).
In roll+tags, your character has no mechanical attributes, characteristics, skills, powers, or even equipment or allies. All of these are described as tags: strong, gunslinger, sixth sense, whip. You can’t have the same tag twice, so if you want to have more tags relating to the same aspect, you’ll have to elaborate. This gives your character a lot more flavor, for example: strong, heavy-lifter, throws a mean punch is different from strong, powerful leap, immovable.
When you make a move (all actions that require resolution in the game are moves), you power it with your tags. Each tag that directly helps you take the action you are taking adds +1 to the roll (I’ll explain why directly is important shortly). If there are also tags that directly get in the way of your action, they apply -1 to the roll. Then you roll two six-sided dice and compare the result to the move, with the usual Apocalypse Engine +10 for success, 7-9 for a mild success or success with complication, and 6 or less puts the ball in the MC’s (GM’s) hands, usually with detrimental results.
The directly empowering rule is there to balance the system. It stipulates that only tags that help you do what you are doing now count. For example, if you are shooting a scary foe, the tag brave doesn’t help you shoot so it doesn’t count for the attack move (Hit with All You’ve Got). It can, however, help you resist the fear of your foe with a defensive move (Face Danger) and then avoid penalties, helping your shot indirectly.
The moves themselves are generic enough to be used with a wide range of tags and describe the main actions typical to the City of Myst genre of super-powered investigation, action, and drama. For this reason, all core moves start with the words “When you use your abilities to…” and only then introduce what the move is about, for example:
When you use your abilities to seek answers to burning questions, roll+power. On a hit, you uncover as many Clues as your power. Spend your Clues 1-to-1 to ask the MC a question about the subject of your investigation or ask the other players a relevant question about their character. They must give you either a straight answer or a solid clue. On a 7-9, they can also choose 1:
• Your investigation exposes you to danger.
• The clues you get are fuzzy, incomplete, or part-true part-false.
• Whoever or whatever you are asking the question can ask you one question as well. You answer on the same terms.
We have already play-tested roll+tags dozens of times and I’m happy to say it works awesomely. Some of its advantages are:
- Simple and easy to understand character pages
- Immersive character pages that have descriptive text and few numbers
- Players are driven to be creative in describing their characters’ actions and combining tags
- Characters of different power level have the same narrative power, just in different ways
Roll+tags does however require the right balance of tags in character creation, which is why City of Myst comes with seven ready characters. One of my main upcoming projects is developing the Themebooks which will allow players to easily create balanced characters. Another point to consider is that the MC needs to pay attention when interpreting the actions of players and sometimes break one action into several moves to avoid stacking loads of tags on one move (see more on that in the Master of Cities principles & moves sheet).
I’ve received little feedback on the roll+tags system so far. If you get a chance to read through it, or better yet, try out our first sample adventure (“Case”), V for going Viral, it would be great to hear your thoughts and impressions in the comments.
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