Thursday, April 18, 2024

🜍 The Darkest Outcome πŸœ•

Any sucker can not post for months. But where most come bearing apologies and promises, I'm here with a new game to show off. Beat that!

Fantasy Tactics, Skullduggery, and Weird Horror

I've just released a game called The Darkest Outcome, a very lightweight horror fantasy hybrid that's about 25% wargame and 75% TTRPG. It's a game for two, three or maybe four people, in which each player commands their own small team of blade-and-flintlock agents, facing overwhelming odds and the horrors of Weird in a low-magic world that's in the process of being turned into a terrible high-magic one. The game has very fast and very lethal combat, a humble but meaningful selection of options to make and equip your own band, and an OSR/FKR-adjacent, GM-oriented system that relies on fictional situations to determine outcomes as much as it does any mechanics. If you want to run a tense, deadly game about a team of monster-hunting misfits biting off more than they can chew during a routine extermination, a group of dark-clad soldiers kicking open rune-sealed door to interrupt a cult's horrible summoning ritual, or a squad of assassins creeping across rooftops to take out a Wizard who can turn them inside out with a single glance - The Darkest Outcome might just have something for you.   

It's free, the player-facing document is a lean 5 pages of mostly equipment and character options, and rigorous playtesting has found it to be objectively fun. The fancy new embed is over there on the sidebar, or you can click HERE instead, if you prefer inline hyperlinks. Just click somewhere, for odd's sake. 

The game is unambiguously inspired by and built upon Best Case Scenario, made by good thing-maker and buddy TAGATM, except BCS one is modern-day and aims to be Delta Green-adjacent, while TDO is trying to be Warhammer Fantasy/Darkest Dungeon. I've had a lot of fun making it and playing it, my friends and playtesters have had a blast with it, and I hope you'll like it too. 

If you're still here instead of reading the book and then immediately running the game, here's a bit more.

Why I made it

I wanted a game that has all the things I like:
- Simple rules that produce fun moment-to-moment gameplay while staying out of the way to let the GM and the fiction do the heavy lifting,
- Interesting decision-making where tricky situations are fought by player ingenuity, with an emphasis on resource usage and risk management, and
- The ability to run a wide variety of thematically coherent scenarios, where I can play up the horror and lethality.

So, when I encountered Best Case Scenario, it instantly inspired me by being all of that. While superficially pretty similar, the difference in setting alone makes the two games very different beasts: BCS provides a tactical urban horror experience, with plain-clothes agents dealing with supernatural horror using guns, guts and guile. The initial premise of TDO aimed for a middle ground between that and the old school fantasy experience: I wanted to take classic FRP archetypes like adventurers, cults, monsters, dungeons, Wizards, magic items and the like, and present it all through the slightly ridiculous lens of a group of fantasy-tacticool operatives attempting to take out the fantastical stuff and probably getting horribly killed along the way. 

The end result is less overtly farcical and a bit more "serious" on its face, but the basic premise proved to be a huge success. Players still get the fun of exploring and exploiting a fantasy world, and the problem solving and interesting interactions of a classic dungeon game, while also experiencing the "joys" of control loss, imminent death and it-all-comes-down-to-this-one-roll moments provided by both the wargame and horror game influences. I've run all sorts of scenarios already, from gala infiltrations, to cult-on-gang sting operations, to full-on castle sieges, all with excellent results. It hits all the marks, and I couldn't be happier with it. 

Why I like it

Lethality is a big tripping point for a lot of people. The tension of death and failure being a real possibility is an important part of having weight behind player choices; but at the same time, players don't like losing their character, even when it's easy to make a new one in 5 minutes. TDO engages with this by equipping each player not with a single PC, but a handful of pawns: simple characters, defined entirely by their equipment, a two-sentence role, and a name. And while some people have initially been apprehensive about having to manage a handful of PCs at once, it has worked perfectly in play thanks to their mechanical simplicity and the game's tendency towards a more "zoomed out" perspective. Players still enjoy the benefits of personalizing their play pieces, grow attached to their Little Guys, and are able to fully embrace the melodrama of their tragic, gory demise without feeling too torn up about it; they've (hopefully) still got more pawns on the field, and they were aware of the premise from the start so that they can still play into the horror.

And death is a very real possibility: the basic Attack resolution is a d6 roll, with a 4 resulting in a light wound, a 5 (or two light wounds) resulting in a serious wound, and a 6 (or two serious wounds) resulting in death. This means that human characters without armor, and sometimes even those with armor, are never more than one bad hit away from the grave. The same rules apply to most enemies, of course, keeping combat fast and tense. But establishing this early also means that players are very aware of just how fragile their pawns are, which in turn establishes just how good of an idea avoiding honorable melee is. And thus, we get to the skullduggery.

My favorite part of TTRPGs is players scheming. Discussing options, asking the DM for clarifications and how feasible a certain idea is, laughing about absurd scenarios while also giving them real thought. They form a plan, watch how it goes wrong upon contact with the enemy, then try to salvage the situation with a new plan. These things are the meat of the hobby for me. 

They are a normal part of play in many games, I think, but the games I love most are those where that planning happens within that space where the game's fiction and rules meet seamlessly; where players can picture the flow of events in the game's world, and intuitively understand what the logical and mechanical implications of actions are. I made to be as open to that as possible, and if you like that kind of stuff too, I hope that you'll give it a shot. 

I could go into many more details - how I like the different roles and their interplay, what interesting things I noticed during playtesting, and the like. And I might do all of that in a future post. For now, though, I'm just happy to finally have something finished that I can proudly look upon. I might write some more stuff about it in the near future, depending on how much energy I've got. Here's another link, just in case you missed the others. 


Yeah that's right, it literally just came out, maybe a dozen people laid hands on it, and I'm already making a Frequently Asked Questions about it. What, you gonna fight me about it? 

Q: Is this OSR / NuSR / FKR / Other Thing?
A: I haven't intentionally made the game to be any of those things, but I've definitely been strongly influenced by all of them. What I can definitely say is that TDO is not at all compatible with That One Game, You Know The One; so if you were looking for that, I'm very sorry.

Q: Is the game actually finished? 
A: As much a game can be. I will never stop fiddling with it as long as it's in my editor rather than an exported PDF, so I'm publishing it so I may finally be at peace. I am considering putting together an "advanced" booklet or zine at some point, containing stuff like more campaign stuff, additional pawn roles, some concrete information rival factions, and so on... but that's only if people like it enough to justify me not just keeping those things in my own personal head. 

Q: Is the game made for one-shots or campaign play? 
A: While the game is very much ideal for pick-up one-shots that you can start and finish within a few hours, a good chunk of the DM book consists of advice and materials on running a campaign game: that includes a few simple systems for pawns (very slightly) improving over time, rules for long-lasting afflictions and their treatment, and for the more ambitious campaigns, a set of rules for creating Rooks, non-combatant leader characters who hold the fort back at HQ, unlock new equipment and tricks for your pawns, and attend shadowy meetings and engage in the larger politicking diplomacy to add that extra layer of variety and player setting involvement for long-form games.   

Q: What's the setting like? Are there elves? 
A: I exerted great willpower to keep the setting at "vague implication" levels. There's a few hints, and I talk a little about how my personal setting is in the GM section. I like the role of the Fifth Order as a group working out from under a burdensome and disinterested imperial bureaucracy, relying on the fearfully remembered cruelty of a long-gone secret police to flash their badges and convince guards and officials to let them do their work unimpeded. Yes, this idea also first came up in a conversation with TAGATM. Yes, I'm a huge hack.   

But there is no official or correct setting for TDO, only a preferred set of themes and vibes. As long as your game is about scrappy, disposable weirdos trying to deal with horrors beyond their comprehension, using limited tools and wits to get around foes with superior numbers and terrible powers, and fearing every moment that you're in active combat, you're using the game right. And while I don't specifically mention sahuagin, achaierai, tentamorts or any other beloved and iconic fantasy adventuring staples, there's very little stopping you from saying your version of The Empire chews up and spits out pointy-eared folk just as much as the rest of us.  

Q: Where's the companion soundtrack? 
A: The album is dropping in March, but just in case it turns out that answer was a joke, here's some actual music I've been putting on to go along with the game, in a couple of different styles for different tastes and moods. Fair warning: it's gonna be a bunch of Dungeon Synth.
Kingdom of Ages Past, has been classic eerie low-key ambient, good for general use. I'm unfamiliar with most of the artist's work, but they seem solid. 
Tales of the Mad Moon, and much of Old Tower work, is menacing and distant in just the right way. 
- Wanderings of Cursed Halls is a bit more intense and rhythmic, perhaps to use when the action breaks out, Pairs up great with the above. 
Realmsong has a lot of variety in style and mood between tracks, while being a bit more exciting and a bit less "ambient" than the last two, it feels like the game's theme music in my mind. Perhaps because I listened to it almost daily over the months I worked on the game. It might not be a perfect fit, but I can't divorce the two in my mind. 
- I - VII, and Darken Wood in general, are the trademark playlist for my Stained Fortress campaign. I have pulled them out in a pinch for TDO too, and they worked just as well. They really hit the "spooky whimsy" notes right. 
Strange and Eternal and other Old Sorcery albums are more fantastical than the rest, sad while still carrying that weight of mystery and classic fantasy adventure. Great to pair up with some of the above if you're preparing for a conclusion to a campaign and need something triumphant and tense. 
If you use any of the music in your own games, do support the artists. 

Q: Now that this is done, are you going to go back to regularly posting on this blog again? 
A: Thank you for checking the game out. 

Q: You didn't answer the questio--
A: I worked really hard on it, I hope you enjoy it. See you soon!   

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