<+Smrvl> Hi, I’m David Somerville! I’m the creator of Vast: The Crystal Caverns, and I’m currently running a Kickstarter campaign for my new game—Never Tell Me the Odds: A space-scoundrel RPG about risking it all.
<~Dan> Thanks, Smrvl! The floor is open to questions!
<~Dan> What can you tell us about the setting of Never Tell Me the Odds?
<~Dan> (Howdy, Woo77!)
<+Smrvl> Never Tell Me the Odds is a sci-fi RPG centered around heroic interstellar low-lifes like Han, Chewie, and Lando, the Guardians of the Galaxy, or the crew of the Serenity. It’s built to be played in a single night, and the setting can be whatever space adventure you want!
<~Dan> So there’s no set tech level, for example?
<+Smrvl> It’s full of ideas about how to bring factions and locations inspired by beloved sci-fi adventures into your game… for example, the book has advice on running a game with Hypervikings (think Klingons) or the Slime Mob (think Hutt crime lords) or the Iron Imperium (think the Galactic Empire).
<+Smrvl> No set tech level, no! One of our very early test groups ran it as a cyberpunk setting.
<+Smrvl> It’s most inspired by Star Wars and similar space operas, so that’s the level I’d personally run it at.
* ~Dan nods
<+Smrvl> But there’s no one fixed way to run it at all.
<~Dan> What makes it so appropriate for playing scoundrels?
<+Smrvl> The way you build your character is to list out what matters most to you. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll be risking the things you care most about, and often losing them. If you build an incredibly noble character, those losses are tragic. If, on the other hand, you play as someone who only cares about superficial things…
<+Smrvl> …well, nobody is really all that sad when Quark loses money on Deep Space Nine.
<+Smrvl> The game is more fun when you’re running it as a scoundrel—it makes it tragicomic when you fail, and an awesome exercise in rooting for the underdog when you succeed.
<~Dan> So the characters don’t have stats?
<+Smrvl> Right! Your whole character sheet consists of a list of the six things you care about most. You play not by measuring what you’re good at, but by hazarding what you care about.
<~Dan> Hmm… So it’s not possible to be better at anything?
<~Dan> (Howdy, Le_Squide!)
<+Smrvl> Well, it’s set up differently than other RPGs. Instead of asking what your character is good at, the question is what your character cares about… and what’s risky for them. So you can choose a species and a specialty (such as a cyborg gunslinger or alien swindler). Each will make certain situations less risky for you…
<+Smrvl> …for example, cyborgs have an easier time with mechanical challenges and gunslingers face less risk when trying to shoot things. So your species and specialty can lower the risk rating for a check that you might encounter.
<+Smrvl> But then, once you’re up against a check (and have already adjusted the risk), you can choose whether you want to “match” the risk level, “go over it”, or “go under it.”
<+Smrvl> If you “go over” the risk level, you hazard something you care about very deeply—possibly even your life or the life of one of your crewmates. If you go over a risk, you’ll succeed no matter what… but you might endanger or even lose what you hazarded.
<+Smrvl> So you can definitely take control of a situation, mostly by risking what you really care about.
<~Dan> So let’s take a simple example that we often use here: Jumping over a gap. How would you resolve that?
<+Smrvl> Perfect! So, I’d say, “Hey, Dan. You’re facing a gap. Time to jump it… it’s a pretty wide gap, but you’re already running fast, so it’s a moderate risk to try and clear it. What do you want to hazard to get across?”
<~Dan> And what does “moderate” mean in this context?
<+Smrvl> So you have six things you can risk on your sheet. #1–2 are matches for high risks. #3–4 are for moderate risks, and #5–6 are for low risks. Let’s say your items are these: #1. Your reputation as a cool dude. #2. Your belief that you’re awesome. #3. Your prized blaster. #4. Your friendship with your copilot. #5. Your secret bank account. #6. Your fancy cape.
<~Dan> (Welcome to #randomworlds, Craig!)
<+Smrvl> When I say, “It’s a moderate risk,” that means that you could risk your blaster or your friendship with your copilot, and get exactly even odds of success or failure.
<~Dan> (Craig: Here for the Q&A, or just a general visit? 🙂 )
<+Craig> QA just late kids and all
<+Smrvl> If you hazard your reputation or your belief (the items in the #1–2 slots), you’ll definitely succeed on the check… but if you roll an odd number, your reputation or belief will be endangered. If you hazard an endangered item and come up with odds again, that item is lost forever.
<~Dan> (No problem! Glad to have you here. 🙂 )
<+Smrvl> (Hi Craig!)
<+Craig> I was really curious when I saw this game and was hoping to get a better view of what it was like.
<+Smrvl> So let’s say you said, “Okay, I’m gonna hazard my reputation as a cool dude,” and rolled a die, and it came up with an odd number. You’d succeed, because you “went over” the risk level (moderate) by hazarding something you really care about (an item in the #1-2 slot)… but because it came up odd (which is always bad) your reputation would be endangered.
<+Smrvl> Meaning that you’d make it across, but you might look dorky doing it.
<+Smrvl> And then the next time you hazarded your reputation, if it came up odds, you’d lose that altogether, and people would think of you as dorky forever.
<+Smrvl> So it’s less about whether you’ll succeed or fail—you have lots of control over that—and more about what you might lose in pursuit of your goal.
<+Dan_> (Sorry — my connection is flaky tonight.)
<+Smrvl> (All good!)
<~Dan> (btw, fire away with any questions you have, Craig! 🙂 )
<~Dan> Okay, give me a minute to re-read that… I feel like I’m missing something…
<+Smrvl> (Sorry if it’s unclear… it’s one of those “really easy to just pick up and play, kinda weird to explain” situations.)
<~Dan> Sure, I know what you mean.
<+Smrvl> You’ve got six slots, which you arrange as you choose: Your most-valued belief, physique, possession, relationship, reputation, and resource.
<+Smrvl> When you make a character, you start by arranging those categories.
<+Smrvl> Then you choose a specific item for each.
<+Craig> In the few minutes I have been here what I am seeing is a game with no stats per se, but traits and items a person values that are prioritized and that can be risked to complete actions.
<+Smrvl> Exactly, Craig.
<+Craig> How often do you have to risk something, is it only for really difficult tasks?
<+Smrvl> And if you risk something of great value to you, you’re usually assured of success… but you might very well lose what you care about most.
<+Craig> It is almost like a psychological experiment, what would you be willing to risk to succeed.
<+Smrvl> So risking something is the only way to resolve checks. Which means you’re risking something as often as you’re making skill or attack checks in other RPGs.
<~Dan> Okay, I think I see now…
<~Dan> So odds are always failures?
<+Craig> Are there ways to increase your odds more than 50%
<~Dan> (By the way, have you been here before, Craig? Your nick seems familiar.)
<+Craig> Yeah, I created CULT an elder beings RPG, you had me on a month ago
<+Smrvl> So odds are always bad, but they’re not always failures. Here’s how that works: Risks can be high, medium, or low. And the items you have on your sheet are broken into high (items #1–2), medium (#3–4), and low (#5–6). If you match the risk level to how much you value an item (hazarding a #3–4 item for a moderate risk), evens are successes & odds are failures.
<~Dan> (Oh, right! Welcome back, then. 🙂 )
<+Smrvl> In addition, when you roll that odd, if you’re matching the level of the risk, the item you hazarded is “endangered.” It’s a two-strikes-you’re-out policy… hazard an endangered item again and roll odds, and you’ve lost that item permanently.
<~Dan> Yeah, this is making more sense to me now. 🙂
<+Craig> It is a very unique system, I like that.
<+Smrvl> However, if you “go over” the risk, by hazarding something you value more highly than the risk level (say hazarding a #1–2 vs. a moderate risk), you will DEFINITELY succeed. BUT if you roll odds, the item you hazarded still gets endangered, despite your success.
<~Dan> And if you risk something that’s more valuable to you than the risk is hazardous, you auto-succeed but risk losing the wagered thing?
<+Smrvl> You got it, Dan.
<+Craig> When you lose everything are you just a broken down person swilling cheap liquor in a backwater bar?
<+Smrvl> And if you “go under” (risking a #5–6 item for a moderate risk, for example), evens are a success, but the thing is still endangered… and odds mean you fail and instantly lose whatever you hazarded.
<+Smrvl> Yes, Craig. Yes, you are.
<+Craig> Ahh. The risk factor is great in this, it makes it seem like everybdie roll really matters.
<+Smrvl> That’s exactly the idea!
<+Craig> I love this. How long does it take to make an adventure and create characters?
<+Smrvl> We could create a character literally right now in two minutes.
<+Smrvl> There are no numbers to roll or stats to add.
<+Smrvl> It’s ranking categories and picking a specific example.
<+Smrvl> In fact, Craig, let’s build you a scoundrel.
<+Smrvl> Pick whatever order you choose for these: belief, physique, possession, relationship, reputation, and resource.
<~Dan> (Howdy, BPIJonathan!)
<+Smrvl> Do you want to be a belief-driven scoundrel? Someone who only cares about possessions? A loyal scoundrel who cares most about relationships? This is all about picking the kind of person you are.
<+Craig> Reputation, relationship, possession, belief, resource
<+Smrvl> Perfect! Now, we’re just gonna pick a specific example for each of those categories.
<+Smrvl> What reputation does your scoundrel hold most dear?
<+Smrvl> What relationship matters most to you?
<+Craig> Estranged child
<+Smrvl> Oooh nice.
<+Smrvl> What about possession? What would you never let go of?
<+Craig> The knife my father gave me
<+Smrvl> I’m already super into this scoundrel. How about a core belief?
<+Craig> Eye for an eye
<+Smrvl> Dig it. A resource is something you can draw on—like information or a bank account or a contact. What resource does your scoundrel value?
<+Craig> Underworld contact
<~Dan> (Howdy, RayM!)
<+Smrvl> (Hi RayM!)
<~Dan> (RayM and BPIJonathan are both your fellow game authors, btw. 🙂 )
<+Craig> Lots of us tonight
<+RayM> (Awesome. Sent him a message. 🙂 )
<+Smrvl> Last step to building your scoundrel, Craig… what physical aspect do you value most?
<+Craig> My thin physique it helps me get through tight spaces
<+Smrvl> There it is!
<+Craig> Simple and fun. How many players do you recommend and what is the minimum?
<+Smrvl> I’ve played it with one.
<+Smrvl> And with five.
<+Craig> Perfect. What age level do you recommend?
<+Smrvl> Since there’s no math involved, you can basically play as soon as you can read… and handle the emotional challenges of losing something that matters to your scoundrel.
<+Smrvl> So, probably 8 and up, but it’d probably be more fun 13 and up.
<+Craig> You have raised a substantial amount, to what do you attribute this success?
<~Dan> To clarify: Is there actually a way to fail at an action, or does “failure” just mean losing something of value?
<+Smrvl> Dan, if you match or go under the risk, you fail by rolling odds.
<~Dan> Hmm…. And do you lose the item as well as failing in the action?
<+Smrvl> It depends on the risk level. If you’re matching the risk and roll odds, you’ll endanger the item the first time, and lose it the second time.
<+Smrvl> If you’re going under the risk, you’ll lose the item the first time you roll odds.
<~Dan> Whereas if you exceed the risk, you can’t fail at the action but still risk the valued thing?
<+Smrvl> Exactly, Dan!
<~Dan> Okay, now I’ve got it. 🙂
<~Dan> How does combat work?
<+Smrvl> Craig, I think that people are into the idea of something that tries to reimagine something as basic as how checks work… and also the idea that every single check matters to your character, because you’re always risking something you care about.
<+Smrvl> It’s a lot like combat in a game like Lasers and Feelings—you use the same mechanics. I like the idea that combat is as cinematic as Star Wars: the Sarlaac and the Asteroid Worm are similarly scary, but one is a major encounter and one is a single escape move.
<+Smrvl> So if the story and the group want to make a combat a big deal, you can hazard something for every single punch and kick.
<+Smrvl> Or you can move through a whole dogfight in a single risk, if it’s what the story demands.
<+Smrvl> I like to think of it as cinematic combat… as big or small as how much your scoundrel cares.
<+Craig> Wonderful. Well I need to get to bed so I can work in the morning, but at $10 I am sold. I recommend checking out my games which are also quick to set up and play. Zombie Dog Games is the company (it is me and an artist). We are on Driverhrurpg and Amazon. If it is cool I will post a KS link on our page!
<+Smrvl> Amazing. Thanks so much, Craig!
<~Dan> Take care, Craig!
<+Craig> Keep making awesome and unique games.
<~Dan> So what happens to your opponent if you succeed at an attack?
<&Silverlion> Goodnight all. Bedtime for me.
<~Dan> Bye, Silverlion!
<+Smrvl> It really depends on the moment in the story, and how the GM (called a Risk Moderator in this game) sets it up. It’s not a combat-focused game, so your opponent might just take a punch to the jaw or be utterly disintegrated, depending on where the story was taking you.
<+Smrvl> I know that answer is vague, but it really does depend on the story beat.
<~Dan> So would the punch to the jaw actually do anything in mechanical terms?
<~Dan> I mean, assuming the Risk Moderator didn’t rule it a KO.
<+Smrvl> Well, RMs are encouraged to set up enemies as taking a certain number of “hits” to be beaten, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. The idea is that if an RM wants to plan an adventure in more detail, they can assign lower-level enemies just a hit or two (requiring only one or two successes from the players to beat them), or much higher hit numbers.
<+Smrvl> But those aren’t like hit points or AC or anything like that.
<~Dan> So I take it that weapons don’t matter?
<+Smrvl> Not mechanically. There aren’t any specific mechanics for combat at all. It’s co-equal with social encounters, stealth, heists, piloting out of the heart of a dying sun, and all the rest of it.
<+Smrvl> Now, as an RM, I’d say that a gun might lower your risk level in a fight. But it’d depend on the situation.
* ~Dan nods
<~Dan> Mind if we wrap up at the top of the hour?
<+Smrvl> Nope! Happy to jump whenever you’re ready.
<~Dan> Okay! In that case, in the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
<~Dan> (And as usual, gratuities are welcome at (Link: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/)https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/ 🙂 )
<+Smrvl> Nope, nothing major! I’m excited for folks to get a chance to hear about the game—thanks so much for letting me be part of this!
<~Dan> You’re very welcome! I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit and that you’ll hang out with us in the future. You’re always welcome!
<+Smrvl> Thanks so much!
<+Smrvl> Have a great night!
<~Dan> Oh, just a sec!
<+Smrvl> Whoops, and we’re back. 🙂
<~Dan> If you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll get the log posted and link you. 🙂
<~Dan> Howdy, Logomachist!
<~Dan> One moment…