A Stupid Idea: Prose Reader RPG

Here is a stupid idea for an RPG.

Working name: Prose Reader.
Genre: Modern/Dimensional Travel
Tone: Colorful
Type: Chaotic Storytelling

Characters in PR all have a special ability. The can read to life spells and gadgets from works of fiction they carry. This lets them overcome a lot of obstacles against some crazy powerful opponents and situations.

Each character has a limit to what they can carry, possible limited by their Strength and Intelligence stats, if we use the main 6. There will be a helpful chart to inform players of what the limiting volume and page counts are.

The players bring a physical copy of the books their characters have to the table. When they players wish to have their characters cast a spell or use an ability, the player must find a section in the book where such an ability is used and read it aloud. The DM then notes the page used. Each page may only be used once. Trying to use the page again causes the spell to fizzle. Claiming a section has a different page number than it actually does will cause the book to explode in the characters face, so cheating is not recommended.

While the player is flipping through their book, trying to find the right page, their character is doing the same and they may be punished in game for not having the reference easily available. It should be noted that the character is determined to be reading any time the player has the book open. The game designers recommend doing a lot of reading outside of the game. Whether indexes or bookmarks are allowed is up to the DM.

The DM should arbitrate based on the passage read, being generous to the player. Remember, these are world based on fiction, so you can have literal endless waves heading to the players who have to deal with it with a dwindling page count. Having the players on the run until they have a plan of attack is solid trope.

A spell or gadget lasts for a variable amount of time, depending on how solid the passage is. If it is chock full of description about the spell, effect, item, etc, then it is rated a 5. If the passage mentions the object only as a slight passing, the use of the word once, for example, then it is rated a 1. (Feel free to argue with the players, bartering the item up or down! This is a chaos story, so selling the number, moral, difficulty, intelligence, etc of your minions is totally okay!) The rating should be somewhere between 1-5. After the first use, assuming no significant amount of time has passed in the meda-world, the player rolls a d6. If the result is higher than the passage’s rating, the item is no longer in effect and will have to have a new reading, and a new page, to be used. (Note: Some effect or items may only be a one time thing. A bomb or a fireball, for example, are depleted after their first use, although the effects of the item may still remain. If, however, a player merely *threatened* an opponent with said explosive, that counts as its first use and it may be around for a second attempt and therefore, the persistence roll.)

If it is a one use effect, occsionally the Reading may be enough to throw your story comepletley out of whack. In those cases, eating a page is not enough and the player will need to roll for the effect to take place. Again, the player reads the passage, a rating from 1-5 is given, and then the player rolls, attempting to be under or match the given number. If he does, then the effect happens, ruining the story. If he rolls higher, the effect doesn’t occur, but should build up some karma from the DM, making the next fating or roll more generous. No one likes their plans to fail. (You can’t accumulate karma when there is no way the passage is connected to the task at hand. Players who attempt to artifically build up karma should be punished.)

For items such as vehicles, the designers recommend persistence having a fairly long duration. The player may also use a page to skip a roll, making it less likely that the car they are riding in suffers a spontaneous existence failure. Also, for longer desired effects like vehicles and similar, you may wish to implement a rule that says you can only have one reading from that book at a time, or only one reading per player. We don’t know, this is just a quick article on a stupid idea and we haven’t done any play-testing whatsoever.

Now for some example. In this 100% fake, one player, one DM, not recorded in real time, sample session, the player is using Jhereg, by Steven Brust, which is my number one recommendation for something to read.

DM: You make your way through the forest. The woods are dense and its hard to see anything, with all the tress and stuff. You hear a noise behind you, as if something big is coming through the woods.
Player: I pick up my pace and make a sharp right turn. Hopefully, it’s not actually following me, but is jus coincidentally going along the same path as me.
DM: You’re running out of luck. You can tell from the sounds behind you that it made the turn is well. It’s going to be upon you soon.
Player: Is there enough light in here to Read by?
DM:  Yes, the light of day does filter dimly through the trees. The words are a bit hard to make out, so it’s not going to be as solid a reading. You’ll have a -1 on a persistence check, but you can do a Reading.
Player: Excellent. I open Jhereg and read from page… 13. “As I stumbled into my line of work, Loiosh was able to help me. First a little, then a great deal. After all, who notices another jhereg flying around the city? The jhereg, on the other hand, can notice a great deal.”
DM: Okay, I suspect I know where you’re going with this, but, just to make sure, what did you intend with the passage?
Player: I want to use it to summon a jhereg familiar, a flying reptile that’s linked to me psionically, so it can fly back and see what is pursuing me, then tell me about it or even show me a picture, mind to mind.
DM: That’s what I thought. Okay, I would rate the passage as a 4, as it describes the familiar as a being able to notice things, but it doesn’t mention what the jhereg is or that it communicates and such.
Player: Sounds fair.
DM: …Aaannnd because of the previously mentioned dim light, I have to knock that down to a 3.
Player: Ouch. I’ll take it, though. I don’t think I need him around long, just to get an idea of what’s back there. I keep moving forward, and send him up into the air and back through the trees towards the sound.
DM: Okay, your flying familiar wings its ways back through the trees. Following your trail, snout moving from footprint to footprint, is the largest boar you’ve ever heard about. I stands maybe 10 feet high at the shoulder is and big and muscly. Its tusks are razor sharp and you… I mean, your familiar is able to see they’re stained with blood. It’s covered with scars and it looks like its hide is able to turn away bladed weapons without issue.
Player: Does it look like there is a good way to get it to stop tracking me?
DM: Nothing you can see. It is intent or your tracks.
Player: Okay, how far behind me is it?
DM: You’ve bought yourself some time by picking up your pace. You can probably spare a few moments, but not many.
Player: Can I get to a better lit area? I want to do a Reading, but I’ll need all the help I can get.
DM: Sure. You pause for one of your moments at a well lit spot. WHat do you got.
Player: Its feeble, I know, but I want to try a teleport. My goal is either to get to Frezno, but, failing that, I’d like to put a gap in between the scent line, so the dire pig will lose the trail.
DM: Wow. This passage must be really sketch if you’re qualifying it before reading.
Player: Shut up. The other books have better teleportation passages. I just wanted to promote this title to the people reading along.
DM: Uh-huh. Read it.
Player: It’s on page 105. “He managed a nod as I felt the gut-wrenching twist of a teleport take effect.”
DM: Yeah, that’s a stretch. You’re going to have to make a roll.
Player: Yeah, I figured.
DM: The ‘gut-wrench’ line will bump it up for a 2 for you, and you did step into the light, so no negative modifiers. Roll it.
Player: *Rolls* A friggin 3. So close.
DM: You’re definitly not getting to Frezno on that. I’ll give you a choice. You can have the spell fail and get a karma, or have the spell almost fail, and teleport you just a bit and earn you a few moments.
Player: Ooh, tempting. I think I’ll take the karma and start running again.
DM: Okay.
Player: Is Loiosh still active?
DM: He can see the boar is still after you, if that’;s what you’re asking.
Player. I want him to swoop down into the boar’s face, to try and distract him. Jheregs are also a little poisonous, so that might help a little.
DM: Okay, give me a persistence roll. What did we say earlier, a 4?
Player: Yeah, I think so. *rolls* A 1! Man, where was that last roll? So Loiosh persists. Now to get him killed. I psionically ask him to swoop down and interfere with the beastie, keeping the creature from my tracks or even leading it astray, until he desists.
DM: Okay. And what are you doing while that is happening?
Player: Running.
DM: Got it. our summon is able to distract the beast, bumping your moments up to a while, but it doesn’t last forever. The creature is now enraged and is running pell-mell in your direction. If you can avoid ut again, you’re in the clear, but if not, well, it’s raring to kill.
Player: I have a few moments, right? Well, I’ll have to cast something, I guess.
DM: You have four moments.
DM: You have three moments.
Player: Okay, it’s not pretty, and its not a clean getaway, unfortunately, but I think I have something. Do animals have souls?
DM: Possibly. Why do you ask?
Player: I want to summon a soul eating weapon. If it works the way it should, any blow that lands eats the soul of the target, and, hopefully, will kill the pig dead with just a scratch.
DM: A bold choice. If it doesn’t work, the pig will be right on you.
Player: Yeah, I know, but this isn’t a great book for travel. He does a lot of movement via transition.
DM: It happens. Read your passage.
Player: “Aliera screamed. It may or may not have been genuine, but it was one of the most horrendous screams I have ever heard. I shuddered to hear it, and to see the look on her face as the soul-eating blade entered her body. Mellar moved forward and tried vainly to draw it out, but its own power held it in as Aliera slumped to the floor, her screams dying away. The blade came free in Mellar’s hand.”
DM: No, that’s perfect. You have a soul eating blade with a 5 persistence. What page was that?
Player: Oh, page 160. And I find a good place to attack the pig without being immediately trampled or skewered.
DM: Excellent. After two more moments, the pig appears, you skewer it, and with a horrendous squeal that echos through the woods, it collapses dead in front of you.
Player: That squeal is going to bring trouble, isn’t it.
DM: Maaaayyyyybeee :/

So while writing that, I had a few thoughts. First, I’m ditching any stats. Each player/character gets one book. Second, I’m not sure if I’m happy with having no action resolution. I might do a straight d20 interpretation roll, kind of like URealms. But I think this could be a lot of fun for such a stupid idea.

Would you play it? What books would you use? Do you have any questions on gameplay or rulings I should make up answers for?


2 thoughts on “A Stupid Idea: Prose Reader RPG”

    1. Very possible. I don’ think it’s doable in an online game, but in the flow of the game it should be too bad. It’d be a lot like the party being full of wizards and play having to stop to interpret a spell. But only true playtesting could tell for sure.

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