A Solo RPG about Alien Revolution

Inspired by the conversations happening about making an X-COM hack of Band of Blades, I’m thinking of putting together a small, single-player RPG about aliens resisting a human occupation. A few of my guiding principles/inspirations:

  • Flip a familiar trope on its head. Lots of science fiction imagines that humanity are the oppressed rather than the oppressors, and I like the idea of examining and critiquing human behavior (especially imperialism, colonialism, and cultural appropriation) from the POV of an alien species.
  • A game jam about endings on itch. I’ve become a big fan of game jams to inspire and motivate me to create new games and think about design in different ways. I like the idea of focusing this game about endings, not only how revolutions end but how empires end and even how people may end their involvement in these situations.
  • Solo RPGs. As I’ve learned more about tabletop games I’ve become enamoured with games that you can play by yourself, especially RPGs. But a lot of games I see in this genre are too crunchy, relying on random tables and exhaustive sets of rules. I want to make a solo game that can communicate a rich narrative without too much accounting and I think a FitD game could do that.

A few design ideas I’ve been playing around with:

A Movement, Not a Character
Instead of playing a singular character, you play as a resistance group made of various alien species. Influenced by the excellent Antiquarian Adventures by Ash McAllan, each character is a combination of an alien species and a role. These different combinations add to the crew’s action ratings and provide s special abilty. When the characters leave the resistance, you can no longer use the special ability associated with that character, but the stat bonus remains. This represents the lasting influence that character had on the group.

I’m hoping to have several possible combinations of aliens and roles, because right now I imagine that when you run out of characters, you lose.

Clocks
To be able to track obstacles, both small and large, I’ll be making liberal use of the clock system. Large term goals like setting up a communication system or reclaiming territory will be advanced when you complete a mission. Clocks will also represent immediate threats and goals during missions. I imagine the goal of the game will be to fill a certain amount of long-term goal clocks to enact the change you wish to see. When you complete a large goal, the crew receives some sort of bonus, similar to a crew upgrade or special ability. Something that will make future missions easier.

Cards
Inspired by the system used in Crash Cart by Galen Pejeau I wanted to use a deck of playing cards rather than dice. When the player wishes to accomplish something risky, they will select one of the group’s actions and draw cards equal to the action rating. Face cards are successes, black cards are mixed successes, red cards are failures. Jokers introduce a large complication into the scene and perhaps do something else.

That’s what I’ve got for now. Has anyone else here messed around with making solo RPGs, or using the FitD system to make something similar?

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I love this concept and I’ll be following along!

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Alright. I’m close to having a prototype of the rules for this game. I have most of the moving pieces sketched out, now I just need to build a character sheet and figure out what the different special abilities do.

I’ve found it’s important to get a good handle on the basic rules of the game before you design character rules since, especially in a Powered by the Apocalypse or FitD type game, the characters get abilities that allow them to modify or break the rules. Can’t break those rules unless you know what they are.

One of the things I’m mostly confidant about are the actions and attributes of the resistance. Since in this game the character sheet represent the whole crew of resistance fighters and not just a single character, these actions need to describe what a group can do rather than what an individual can do. Also, they should fit the context of a game where you play as aliens resisting human occupation, so the actions should feel like you are pushing back against the status quo.

Action

  • Assault - Fighting, skirmishing, battles, physical conflict with humans, drones, or other aliens.
  • Attune - Psionics, psychic abilities, and wielding alien technology
  • Trespass - Sneaking around, infiltrating human factions, hacking systems, being where you shouldn’t be.
  • Vandalize - Wrecking things, graffiti, breaking or altering machines.

Communication

  • Bargain - Connecting with other aliens, negotiating with humans, making deals.
  • Command - Intimidate or threaten, order a group to do something on your behalf.
  • Deceive - Lying or bullshitting to get your way.
  • Proselytize - Spreading your message, convincing or converting others to follow the resistance.

Organization

  • Build - Create something new or modifying something to meet the needs of the resistance.
  • Conspire - Hatch a plan, hold a meeting (I’m not 100% on this one).
  • Demonstrate - Hold a protest or collective action.
  • Study - Analyze a situation, place, or thing. Research a topic.

I think most of these evoke the feeling of collective action and resistance, and I like how many of them sound criminal. Thoughts?

Alright, I’ve been doing a lot of work to get this game to a prototype stage where all the rules are there so I can start testing and adding fictional elements like factions and alien cultures.

Right now I’m calling it Riot in the Stars. I think it captures what the game is about- revolution in a science fiction setting. Also it’s a slight nod to the source material, Blades in the Dark.

To get to the prototype stage I struggled a lot with the core mechanics. When does the game end? What do you need to accomplish on each mission? How do you codify story telling mechanics so the game is still challenging and players don’t just spam the same action over and over?

I don’t think I’m all the way there yet. The game feels a bit too, well, gamey. Previous single-player games I’ve made and games I’ve played and loved felt like creative ways to give the player writing prompts. You are given everything you need to tell a compelling story, and its’ different every time. Riot in the Starts feels a little too much like an X-COM type game that happens to have some story in it.

Regardless, I have a prototype and I am play testing. Design and iterate, right?

The complete prototype documents are available exclusively to my $1+ patrons, but here’s a special preview of the resistance and mission/faction page.

Currently the game proceeds through faction turn, downtime, then missions. During the faction turn each active faction draws cards and advances their faction clock. When it fills the resistance gets a debility/complication and the humans are one step closer to winning.

To fight these factions the resistance undergoes missions where they use their action rating to draw cards and fill up mission challenges. Each filled challenge clears one tick from the faction clock. When the resistance clears a faction clock they are one step closer to winning. When 5 factions clocks fill the humans of the Sol Federation win. When 5 faction clocks are emptied the alien resistance wins.

During downtime the various resistance members can recover harm, stress, and the player can retire characters and recruit new ones. This is how you get more action ratings, by recruiting new members and seeing them retire to the sidelines.

So yeah, now I’m just going to play it and fix it and start generating fiction.