Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Tallcard: a role-playing game for Joss Whedon's "Firefl

Started by ReverendBayn, April 25, 2004, 03:21:32 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


Lately, I've found myself with a hankerin' to run a Firefly game. As a compulsive system monkey, not to mention a rabid rules-lite man, I feel compelled to design a new system for it. My goals are as follows...

- Keep it simple. No math, no modifiers, no unnecessary rules.
- Power to the players. We're going for zero whiff factor; I want players to do cool shit & know it'll work.
- Focus on character. I want in-game reasons to play up your character's flaws, motivations, etc.

So, here's what I've come up with so far. I'd love any feedback and suggestions you folks care to offer.

Tallcard is a resolution-first system that uses standard playing cards as a randomizer. Characters have 4 stats rated from 3-10, one for each suit. I'm not positive, but I think the suits will break down like this...
- Spades: Hurtin' People
- Clubs: Not Hurtin' People
- Diamonds: Technical Stuff
- Hearts: People Stuff
* Does this work? or should Spades = speed/dexterity and Clubs = strength/endurance?

This combination of a number and a suit makes a card, your Tall Card (target number) for that kind of action. (ie. Someone with a rating of 8 in "Hurtin' People" would have the 8 of Spades as their Tall Card for offensive actions.) Players can also assign Skills for each of their Stats. These give you a Bonus Card on relevant actions; you draw two cards and keep the best one. However, players will also have to give their characters a certain number of Flaws. These inflict a Penalty Card on relevant actions; draw two and keep the worst. I don't want to do any point balancing during character creation, so role-playing your Flaws will probably earn you Karma points.

In addition, every character will need to have a Driving Goal, a Deepest Fear, and a Darkest Desire. These will activate Bonus and Penalty cards in some fashion, and/or earn you Karma points. I'm thinking Karma will let you worm your way out of a catastrophic failure or catch lucky breaks a la Dramatic Editing in "Adventure!" I was thinking about handing out Bonus Cards for Karma, but I hate it when people spend Karma and still fail.

When you want to perform an action, you must first determine what stat to use. The GM chooses a target number for any opposing forces or characters. Then, you both draw from the deck. If the card you drew is less than or equal to your Tall Card, it's a success.

This creates some permutations that translate into levels of success...
- If you both fail, nothing happens.
- If you fail and they succeed, you're boned. The security guard spots you, the engine blows a gasket, whatever.
- If your success is less than theirs, your failure is somewhat mitigated. The guard just glimpses you as you duck into the shadows, the engine dies but can still be repaired, etc.
- If your success is higher than your opponent's, you just barely get one past 'em. The security guards hears something but doesn't investigate, the engine sputters to life in the nick of time, and so forth.
- If you succeed and they fail, bully for you! The security guard doesn't even hear his own neck snap, you get the engine running ahead of schedule, you get the idea.

Those are the basics. Wadaya think?
Loath Your Fellow Man



Each time cards are drawn in combat, one character is the attacker and one is the defender. If they both fail, nothing happens. The players describe a nice whiff fest and move on with their lives. If they both succeed, but the defender's card is higher, the defender get away clean.

If both succeed, but the attacker's card is higher, the attacker can choose to Wound their opponent, disarm them, or put them in a Hold...

- A Wounded character must immediately draw against their Tall Card in Clubs. For each Wound they had already suffered, they must draw a Penalty Card. Failure means they're been taken out of the fight. (Whether this means captured, knocked out, or killed is left up to the attacker.)

- A Disarmed character loses their weapon. I'm not sure what this means for the game, since I generally like to avoid weapon modifiers.

- A Hold means the attacker gives their successful card to the defender. Now, any card the defender draws that's lower than that card is considered a failure, as well as any cards that are over their Tall Card.

If the attacker succeeds, but the defender fails, the attacker immediately draws another card, using the one they just drew as the new Tall Card. If it's a failure, they've still scored a hit as above. If it's a success, they've scored a Kill Shot and are free to describe some kind of horrible fate for their witless opponent. (Players may be able to spend Karma to get out of this. Maybe equal to the second card drawn?)

If the attacker fails, but the defender succeeds, the defender immediately draws another card, using the one they just drew as the new Tall Card. If it's a failure, nothing happens. If it's a success, the defender has scored a Riposte and can choose to Wound, Disarm, or put the attacker in a Hold as above.

The point of all this is that 1) you know what the outcome of a round will be _before_ you start describing it in-character, but 2) the specifics of the description still have in-game effects (Wound, Disarm, Hold, Kill Shot). I've used these card tricks in my Nameless RPG before, so I know people get the hang of them pretty quick. Are there are statistical issues I haven't considered? Any other comments?
Loath Your Fellow Man

Ben O'Neal

Is a "firefly" game a game about being a firefly that kills people? Where does the "firefly" part come in? It's probably just some terminology that I am unfamiliar with...

As for your Hurtin/Not-Hurtin - Speed/Strength question, it depends on what you do in this game (called Tallcard?). If it's about killing stuff, then they should be fine as you have them, but if players will be doing other stuff, then speed and strength may be more appropriate. "I want to climb on top of that tower", "Ok, use Clubs, your 'Not-Hurtin People' cards". Just seems kinda broad, and really screams "this game is about killing, and everything else is done with that clubs suit".

But I noticed you have a "People" suit and a "Technical" suit (hearts and diamonds). How do these work? When would they be used? Are they as comprehensive as combat? Or are they essentially like catch-all skills?

Finally, what the hell do I do in this game? Am I a firefly (be it the insect or name of an elite commando group)? Or am I just somebody who wanders around looking at stuff?

Interested in seeing your answers (especially to clarify what a firefly is for me :)



Firefly is a TV show, created by Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel, as well as writer of various comic books).  It's a sort of dirty, sci-fi western, in the same vein as Star Trek but with more fronteir exploration and "dirt in your boots" action going on.  It's fairly rock-'em-sock-'em but, as with most Whedon stuff, lots of character stuff as well.

and to Bayn, i do like the system idea, quite a bit actually, but i have to ask one thing: is the suit of the card important?  like do you have to draw the appropriate suit for the draw to be even considered succesful?  if so, then at least one out of every four draws will fail.  if not, then what happens when you draw a card of the appropriate suit?  you say that you're going for a system that leans toward player success, as such i would say eliminate the suit thing.

or, you say that you have the Desire, Goal, etc.?  maybe, if acting in the nature of these personality traits, it doesn't matter which suit you're drawing?  that way, if the action isn't as important to the characters personal goals and such, the desire to succeed won't be as powerful...  i dunno, it's an idea...
Michael P. O'Sullivan
Criminal Element
Desperate People, Desperate Deeds
available at Fullmotor Productions


Why don't you just adapt Dust Devils?  (and post it for all to see:-))


See Zathreyel's post or go to for more info on "Firefly." I probably should have specified that.

My thinking on the "Hurtin' People" stat was actually quite the opposite: I wanted to make the game less about killin' by making people who are good at it bad at everything else. You'd have "Skills" under each stat that would differentiate between people who are strong, fast, or agile. I just have the same reservations as you about having 1 trait for all non-combat, physical actions.

Right now, the suit of the card you draw is irrelevant. I'd like to work them in somewhere, but I can't seem to find a good spot. In another card-based game of mine (Blur), each character has a "Trump" suit they can play as wild cards, but they have to describe an action appropriate to the suit to do it, regardless of the context of the action. So, if your clever hacker (Diamonds) wants to play a diamond as a wild card in combat, he has to come up with a combat action that's based on his cleverness or intellect (like getting his enemy to stab into a power line and electrocute himself, or something).

I guess I could require that a player's description match up to the suit they drew, but that seems too confining. Maybe they'd just have to add a little embellishment that's appropriate to the suit? It might be a good way to earn spare Karma points. Any other ideas?

L8r, --Dan
Loath Your Fellow Man

Ron Edwards

Hi Dan,

It's great to have you posting the game system ideas here, but I have to point out a couple of things to you about this forum.

If you're posting, then you should be thinking in terms of eventually publishing your game. "Publish" can be a very informal thing, of course, but the real problem is that you're talking about licensed material. Firefly is a real show with a real IP attached to it; you can't just grab it for your game (or rather, the game that you are planning to publish yourself).

Check out the sticky threads at the top of the list in this forum for some rules and guidelines about this issue.

Positive shift-in-direction #1: change it to "influenced by Firefly" and you are all set to keep going with this thread.

Positive shift-in-direction #2: take the discussion to a new thread in the Actual Play forum, in which case you're talking about a game you're really playing (you'll have to play some first), and in there, using Firefly explicitly is totally OK.

No big deal! Thanks for joining us.



Damn. I knew I should've read those first! That's too bad, as I need the help _before_ I start playing ;)

Tell ya what, if anyone still has thoughts they'd like to share, feel free to email me:

Sorry for the oversight, --Dan
Loath Your Fellow Man