Friday, June 19, 2020

Misfortune: Dramatic Roleplaying

Where to Get It: Drivethrurpg

Ah, now this was exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to see when I invited random strangers to send me their shit. Misfortune: Dramatic Roleplaying is a highly inventive, highly chaotic game that took about an hour to read and, I'm guessing, about five minutes to learn. Since it's free, I won't bother to summarize the rules, but I will share with you the sentence that instantly sold me on the game:

"The characters have traits, but they are revealed and added to the character during the game . . . adding traits to your character is a big part of the game."

OMG, this is such a fun idea. You do not start the game knowing what your traits are going to be! I consider myself something of a jaded rpg nerd, but this is an area of game design that had not occurred to me before.

The way it works is that you gain story points (xp) for performing a variety of narrative chores, the most relevant being "foreshadowing" - hinting about traits you'd like to see in the future. Gain enough story points and you can add a trait to your character. But traits you buy drop when you use them, eventually becoming flaws. Luckily, your flaws work the same way and will eventually become positive traits. So a trait is never just a trait, it's an arc. Characters are always in flux.

The thing that will probably give new players the most pause is the Difficulty math. The target number you need to roll on 2d6 is based on an action's stakes. In the words of the book: "If you need to kiss a princess to stop the world from ending, you bet actually kissing the princess is a roll of extreme difficulty."

That's a wild idea that made me extremely nervous when I saw that life-and-death stakes need you to hit a 10 or higher, but after a bit more thought, I realized that this was mainly to force you to engage with the Misfortune system. It's simple enough - take a point of Misfortune, reroll the action. Do it as many times as you like. Total Misfortune caps at 7, but even when you hit the cap, you can keep going. You can use story points to buy down Misfortune, but not during the middle of a roll.

The immediate upshot is that you can succeed at anything you want to do, if you just keep rolling, but there's a catch - roll snake eyes and your Misfortune pops. What happens next depends on how many points of Misfortune you have. Only a few and you'll be removed from the scene or gain a negative trait. If you're at the cap, you die. How much risk is killing that villain really worth to you? It's really quite an elegant way to make rolling the dice feel like an active choice, fraught with tension.

The biggest obstacle to enjoying Misfortune is, unfortunately, the writing. I got the feeling that English might not have been a first language here. Some of the constructions were a bit wooden (though you won't see me throwing stones) and a few of the idioms, especially prepositions, were . . .off. It's not insurmountable, especially with a system as simple as this one, but there were a few sentences I had to read multiple times.

Aside from the system, which the more I think about it, the more I love, the best part of the book is its visual style. It's laid out in comic-book style, and, provided you're not a typography nerd who hates comic sans, it's very appealing to look at.

Overall, this is a product that was well worth my time.

Ukss Contribution: Not a lot of setting here, and in fact it suggests that players vote on the setting each time they start a new game, but there were a few example characters. My favorite was Nakajima Mao, also known as Aneki - street brawler, gang flunky, and schoolgirl. "Mortal enemy to the student council."

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