Thursday, December 28, 2023


Where to get it: page

Reading rules-light narrative rpgs can sometimes be difficult for me, because I can't entirely shake the feeling that I'm being trolled.

"Ooh, look at this nerd, he's going to start describing a guy doing some stuff and then he'll roll one of his little dice and if the number is big he'll describe the stuff as happening successfully and if the number is small he'll describe it as happening unsuccessfully and la de da, that somehow feels like a game to him."

And normally, I'd just toss out something like the Exalted 3rd edition core and defiantly proclaim, "ha, this book has a lot of different rules for when to roll dice and for what constitutes a 'high number' in various hypothetical contexts. Knowing those rules and evoking them in the correct contexts is almost like a game."

But if the only thing I had handy was Alique (Aaron Smith), then I'd be forced to hang my head in shame and mumble, "yeah, that's basically the gist of it."

Which isn't a sleight on Alique, or even on rules-light gaming in general. Call it a personal hang-up. Occasionally, I'll look in the mirror and ask myself, "hey, is this hobby that I've spent decades obsessed with, thousands of dollars pursuing, and written multiple novels-worth of blog posts about . . . kind of silly?!" And it takes me a moment to catch my breath and answer, "yeah, but that's okay."

That, incidentally, is how I would describe Alique: "it's kind of silly, but that's okay." You describe what your character is doing, roll a perfectly ordinary six-sided die, and then the number that shows on the die determines which of six outcomes will occur: (1)disastrous failure, (2)ordinary failure, (3)mitigated or partial failure, (4)success at a cost, (5)ordinary success, or (6)triumphant success. Sometimes, you'll role more than one die and the highest die you roll will determine the action's outcome.

There are barely any rules of that, either. You've got character traits that are rated from 1 to 6 and if the action you're describing is related to one of those traits, you can spend temporary trait points to add one or more extra dice. Traits return to their permanent value at the start of each game session (unless optional refresh rules are used).

I'm not sure how I feel about this particular resource-managing mechanic. My gut tells me it's probably backwards from a narrative point of view - characters are much less capable at the end of a session than the beginning - but a lot of that is going to depend on the pacing of rolls. If rolls are rare, then conserving your points at the beginning of the session is going to feel a lot less like operating at partial power and end-of-session characters are more likely to have enough resources to handle a story's climax. If rolls are common, your choices are going to be a lot harder. Maybe it's a good system to model classic D&D's attrition-based challenges, but that's not really my style.

The other notable thing about Alique is that it features significant excerpts from the Fate Core SRD, for much of its GM advice section. I approve of that decision. It's what SRDs are for, and I love to see that kind of cross-pollination. My only quibble is that Fate Core uses "compel" as a noun to refer to a particular rule, and Alique, while it has a similar rule, neglects to establish "compel" as a formal part of its jargon.

Overall, my opinion of Alique is "I can see how some people might find it useful," which admittedly seems like the sort of bland non-statement that is, in actuality, an extremely cutting insult, but here it just means that "rules-light, setting agnostic, narrative rpg" is an exceptionally crowded niche. It's very difficult to do something new in that space. Alique succeeds at bringing something new to the table. That's a genuine accomplishment.

Ukss Contribution: Almost no setting in this one, and so very slim pickings when it comes to potential setting elements. It's a stretch, but its description of Zombies as a character type had a strangely optimistic tone ("The character is dead, but things aren't as bad as they seem. Someone has been kind enough to restore your mobility. Once you learn to live with this condition, it can be quite useful.") It amused me.

To honor that, Ukss will have at least one zombie with a positive, can-do attitude.

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