Review: DeScriptors – WayneCon 2015 Edition

Allow me this opportunity to do a selfish review: my cousin, Matthew Bannock, was tapped by WayneCon to produce a quick-play, narrative RPG designed to be just a couple pages long. The result of this design is DeScriptors, a diceless game built on adjectives that are bid in order to achieve success, or unlock new adjectives from specific locations.

Check out the free Google Doc here, and if you like what you see, feel free to support the author (info is in the doc).

Note that star ratings for Form and Content are on a 1 (bad) to 5 (amazeballs) scale.

blank metal dice

If you absolutely need dice for your RPG, roll these when playing DeScriptors

Content ****

The game’s rules are just a couple of paragraphs long, but do a great job of covering the permutations of such a narrative, diceless RPG.

Characters have a descriptor (the name of the game, after all!) that more or less defines who they are in terms of role or species: Bartender, Catgirl Pirate, Robot.

They also have a list of adjectives that makeup what they are best at or specialized in: Tough, Clever, Fast, Clever, Watchful, Charming, Sexy, Magical. The included pregenerated characters all have 4 such adjectives, but it seems like there’s room to have a range depending on the level of detail your groups wants.

The system is dead simple, and is covered in enough depth that anyone mildly experienced in tabletop roleplaying games will have everything they need. New roleplayers may be a little unsure of where and how to begin play, but even then it shouldn’t be hard to figure out.

Essentially, players bid an adjective (or multiple adjectives) to succeed at tasks, or they can choose failure and work with the GM to describe this failure in order to pick up other adjectives. Descriptors aren’t bid (only adjectives can be bid), but characters narrate successful bids using either (1) the adjective bid, (2) a different adjective they have, or (3) their Descriptor. This means that Descriptors are really just a cool and unique way that a particular player can describe how they do awesome stuff (kind of like the One Unique Thing of 13th Age).

Locations have a certain number of adjectives as well, but require the Player Characters to “fish” for them. Obviously, this system could work great for investigation-heavy games, as well as games where establishing and challenging relationships is key to moving forward.

Combat is noted as a special instance, and essentially ensures that — even when a character is successful at it — people walk away with injuries (in the form of lost adjectives). The only thing missing is a clear method of regenerating lost adjectives due to failed bids or combat damage. It seems this is left up to the GM to decide, whether it’s a specific rate of refresh, or whether “fishing” for location adjectives is the only means to regaining lost ones.

Homebrew

Considering the only setting material you get is in the opening email/story, and the game is highly narrative, this thing is all about the homebrew. That said, if you play games like Fate Core or Gumshoe, you could probably find a way to pull the trait-bidding aspects of DeScriptors into those games for a more codified system of “Automatic Successes.”

Form ***

Perhaps the most interesting piece of this game is that it kicks off with an in-universe email message titled “While you were gone,” and I’d be doing a grave injustice in the world of spoilers if I were to sum it up (you don’t need to know it to understand the game). Simply put, it gives you a surprising look at how whacky you can make the game, though its universal nature could easily be applied to more serious games. It’s an interesting way to open such a narrative system, and should not be skipped!

As this is 2-page Google Doc, there’s not much else to rate in terms of form: the game is presented cleanly and succinctly. My only gripe here would be that a little formatting could make better use of the medium, such as highlighting or bolding the text of certain rules mechanics.

What’s Next?

Considering the simple nature of this game, it’d be interesting to see some scenarios, settings, and pregenerated characters developed for it, making it incredibly useful as a sort of “go-to-game” for conventions and other one-shot arenas of play. Developing some scenarios around the short story’s implied setting would also be a fun way for the system to really expand its immediate usefulness. Showing how such a bizarre and interesting world would work, what kind of NPCs there are to interact with, and some locations and scenarios that beg for adjective “fishing” would all go a long way toward showing how powerful such a compact system can be.

Conclusion

Maybe I’m biased because I’m related to the author, but I feel strongly that this is a solid entry into the field of quick-play, 1- or 2-page games. It’s succinct, short, and clear, and it sounds like it’d play just fine in a group that enjoys narrative games. It’s missing a little visual pizzazz, and could maybe clarify the language of adjectives vs. descriptors a little more, but it works great as-is.

Resources


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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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