Monday, August 9, 2010

Witless Minion (Part One)

So I knew I wanted to participate in the RPG Geek 24-RPG Contest.

Short Version:

What's it all about?

The challenge is to design and produce a complete role-playing game in a single continuous 24 hour block of time. This is a strict time limit. As soon as you start, you have exactly 24 hours to do your work, and at the end of that time it's done and you should submit it.

There must be no advance preparation work. All of the work (designing a system, a setting, creating fiction, artwork, typesetting) must be done within the 24 hour block of time.

It must be original work. Don't use anything you've worked on previously. And definitely don't use anyone else's work (which means you'll have to think up of your own system).

It must be all your own work. You must not get any help (whether that be design, editing, production, or artwork) from someone else. The sole exceptions to this are that you can use public domain art for your document, and that you may include this logo if you so desire

I'd read about these before--but I hadn't tried anything like it. We'd put together and done the Iron GM thing on The Village board, but nothing with a heavy and solid set of time restrictions. This seemed like a good weekend to give it a try with everyone out at GenCon. Plus my foot's still having problem, so I wasn't going anywhere. Of course I procrastinated on Saturday and didn't do anything, but then had an idea before I went to bed, which meant I got up early and started working on it. I finished up-- writing, design, layout and even drawing an image for the cover at about 1:15AM. I found some decent public domain images from old pulp magazines (and elsewhere). It clocked in at about 7800+ words and 24 pages when laid out in a 6x9 format-- though why I chose that format I'm not sure. I didn't get to everything I wanted to-- for example I wish I had budgeted myself more time for proofing and editing- as it was I did the initial write and some minor fixes in layout-- it really needs a serious revision draft. I also didn't get in some other rules/mechanics ideas I wanted, like talking about how to handle chases. I really wanted a section with example NPCs, organizations and adversaries but I didn't have the time.

In any case, I thought I'd take advantage of having churned through this and put up what I wrote in pieces. The contest ends on the 17th at which point they'll have the pdf I did posted and I can link to that. Maybe I'll have some time this week to do an edit of this.

Witless Minion 24-Hour RPG

Part One: Introduction

Witless Minion is the role-playing game covering the daily lives and travails of the low-level mooks, agents, numberless horde, administrative staff and minions of Mad Scientists, Criminal Masterminds, and Supervillains. Characters desperately try to pull off capers, avoid the bad graces of their superiors, stock away cash, escape capture and negotiate for a better dental plan.

Witless Minion is a low-detail, high-trust game system. The rules are fairly abstract and assume a group familiar with other role-playing games. It is a more narrative-driven game but GMs with a desire for more crunch can easily expand on the rules presented here. Each player assumes the role of a minion, selects an archetype and works together as a group. Depending on the campaign frame, the players may be trying to climb the hierarchy in one organization or moving between a number of masters.

While the game uses a standard dice pool mechanic for resolution, it does provide a number of new systems tailored to the genre:

Flashbacks: This mechanic allows players to 'retcon' preparation for a caper or operation. This encourages creativity and allows the GM to move forward into heists and the like without having the players spend hours debating the details.

Limits: A system of drama point rewards for play based on a character's disadvantages.

The Hierarchy of Villainy: Minions operate at the bottom of the food chain-- with a number of ranks above them. This mechanic simulates the difficulty faced by minions when fighting named characters.

The Prisoner's Dilemma: An optional system which offers a tangible incentive for sticking together and at the same time for bugging out on your teammates.

The tone of Witless Minion is intended to be darkly humorous. It isn't gritty or realistic but as the same time bad things happen to bad and good people. Depending on the group, a GM may want to have a more serious or over-the-top ludicrous game.

Witless Minion draws thematically from the following sources:

Comic Books: Empowered (from which the name is taken), 52, Astro City, Gotham Central, Simone's run on Birds of Prey, and Manhunter (the more recent version).
TV Shows: The Venture Brothers, Frisky Dingo, Batman, Batman the Animated Series, The Xtacles, G.I. Joe,and MASK
Movies/Films: Expendable ( a must watch short feature you can find online), Troopers, The Dark Knight (for the opening sequence), Austin Powers, The Italian Job, Dr, Horrible, James Bond, The Incredibles, and Mystery Men.
On the Web: Evil, Inc; Girl Genius;'s “Henchmen Status Updates”.


1.Choose an archetype. Ten are presented below.
2.Come up with a little backstory and reason for signing on as a minion-- is this the character's first job or have they fallen through the ranks of other similar criminal organizations.
3.Assign points to the character's stats
4.Choose the character's abilities.
5.Pick the character's limit(s).
6.Final Details.

Archetypes help a define a character's role within an organization. Especially at the bottom of the food chain, organizations of villainy tend to have a lose approach to formal job duties. That means that minions with particular training may find themselves doing things they're completely unqualified for.

Archetypes are loose descriptions rather than character classes. Each archetype includes some suggested abilities and typical limits-- players should feel free to come up with different ones. Each also has a slightly different flavor to their “flashback”-- the technique by which players may retroactively do preparation for a caper or operation (see Drama Points).

The muscle pushes people around: victims and co-workers. They're the ones sent to rough someone up and the sound of their own knuckles cracking is music to their ears. What they lack in finesse they claim to make up for in brute force.

Typical Limits: Oblivious, Gullible, Hard of Hearing, Glass Jaw, Excessive, Slow to Learn

Flashback: Friends: Well maybe not exactly friends, but the muscle know someone who owe him a favor. Maybe it is someone from the old neighborhood or a distant relative. They been given the high sign ahead of time and have provide info, laid something in place or are lying in wait.

Arm Candy
Some Villains like to have beautiful things around them-- including people. The arm candy is part of the nameless harem such masterminds keep on hand. Arm Candy hopes to graduate up to the ranks of Boy Toy, Floozy, Stud or Moll. Perhaps some day they might even be asked to be Mr. Or Mrs. Number Two.

Typical Limits: Vain, Self-Absorbed, Low Pain Threshold, Spendthrift, Compulsive Lair

Flashback: Dupe: The Arm Candy has managed to 'persuade' someone to help them out-- usually against their own best interests. They might leave a door unlocked, slip something into someone's drink or provide the blueprints needed.

Someone has to stand at the control panel and push those buttons. Mad Scientists especially have to have a legion of Technicians dressed in the appropriate lab coats. Technicians usually have a field of specialty, but have managed to either keep quiet about that or have pissed off a lead scientist somewhere. They usually have a knowledge of villain gadgetry but perhaps not the skill to actually apply that knowledge.

Typical Limits: Gunshy, Nervous Tic, Poor Eyesight, Weak Physique, Jealous Collegues

Flashback: Special Equipment: The Tehcnician technically wasn't supposed to have this device but he managed to sneak it out...which will come in handy right now...

IT Guy
Perhaps in his mind, the IT guy might actually be a L337 hacker-- but right now he's the guy who keeps the mainframe running, build the internal website and spends most of his hours trying to clear viruses off of the Leader's personal computer.

Typical Limits: Superiority Complex, Compulsive Critic, Asthma, Obsessive-Compulsive, Poor Hygiene

Flashback: Reprogramming: It was child's play to get into their system and plant that Trojan Horse to temporarily blank out their security cameras. Planting false information is just as easy.

He's played lots of Grand Theft Auto and Need for Speed, practicing running the streets and alleys with controller based precision. Someday he hopes to graduate from driving the surveillance and cargo vans around to being an actual Wheelman on a heist.

Typical Limits: Twitchy, Adrenaline Junkie, Loud, Braggart, Overly Protective of Possession

Flashback: Shortcut: Useful for chases and pursuits of all kinds, the driver knows the quickest or quietest way around something. He's memorized the directions, layout or patterns. Perhaps he's even managed to set a special surprise up ahead of time.

Martial Artist
The martial artist may have washed out from a legitimate dojo, perhaps they went overboard in a title bout. On the other hand they may have served under a real villainous cult and didn't quite make the cut. Or they may have an overly grand idea of their own skills after watching one too many movies.

Typical Limits: Delusional, Fanatical, Obsessive Exerciser, Teetotaler, Show Off

Flashback: Ancient Technique: The Martial Artist has learned special trick which may be used in just this instant-- a unique weapon or powder, the means to briefly cloud men's (but not women's) minds or some other obscure and extremely rare

The guard's been given simple instructions-- stand here and make sure no one comes through. The job seems easy, but the fact that the uniform came pre-bloodied makes him nervous. And now those alarms are going off-- where's he supposed to go-- why isn't anyone answering on the walkie-talkie?

Typical Limits: Lazy, Bullet Magnet, Unimaginative, Clueless, Badly Trained

Flashback: Boobytrap: The guard has prepared some kind of tripped defense (or offense) and put it into play. It could be as simple as a smoke bomb or as sophisticated as an advanced Rube Goldberg contraption to give them time to escape.

Soldiers make up the mainline offensive troops for villains-- thrown away casually in assaults and cunning stratagems. Soldiers run the gauntlet from the wide-eyed greenie lured in by the promise of high pay to the grizzled veteran of a thousand Pyrrhic wars.

Typical Limits: Hard of Hearing, Jaded, Naïve, Trigger Happy, Shell Shocked, Paranoid

Flashback: Secret Weapon: The solider always keeps one extra weapon up his sleeve or hidden in place on any mission. It might be a little extra firepower at the right moment or maybe just a last-ditch hurrah.

Some Masterminds understand that villainy is a business-- for that they need accountants to handle and track things, from payroll to hiring to purchasing. Somone has to figure out how to amortize those equipment losses. The Accounts department of any villainous organization keeps the operation running-- if not smoothly then at least running.

Typical Limits: Overly Precise, Combat Adverse, Greedy, Low Self Esteem, Career Path Remorse

Flashback: Advance Research: The Accountant tries to keep everything in order and one can only do that by doing the legwork. They've figured out something ahead of time that they can now bring into play-- a special fact or detail overlooked by everyone else.

Sometimes a villain needs personnel with talents outside the norm-- perhaps not entirely necessary for villainy, but important to day to day operations: the Vet who tends to the Man-Eating Lions, the Master Chef who prepares the exquisite last meals for prisoners, or the Tailor who preapres those fabulous uniforms.

Typical Limits: Obsessed with Profession, any others above.

Flashback: Trade Secret: The specialists skills may not seem useful at first glance, but they've managed to put together a few unexpected tricks based on their profession-- or they've managed to exchange secrets with the other behind-the-scenes staff.

Each character has six stats with a number that represents the number of dice used when rolling for an action related to that stat.

Physique: Relates to strength, endurance, stamina and health.
Agility: Deals with anything about coordination, speed, and dexterity.
Combat: Used for attacks, shooting, parries, spotting things in the heat of battle, and the like.
Social: Covers any kind of social interaction of awareness.
Willpower: Handles questions of remaining cool, resisting fear, withstanding torture, handling pain.
Smarts: Applies to any test of intelligence, wisdom or technical expertise.

Stats run from 1 (weak, basic) to 5 (peak of human skill)...and beyond for some NPCs. A rank of 2 means decent potential and ability, 3 means your character's quite good at that, 4 means you stand out and are noted for your talent in that area. Players begin with 13 points to divide among those stats. At least one point must be put in each stat, and a maximum of one stat at the start may have four points.

Anything the character knows how to do well is represented by an ability. Abilities can be broad, standard or narrow. The narrower the ability, the more dice it gives when attempting the applicable action. In play, the GM determines if an ability applies and how many dice it gives.

Broad abilities cover a wide range situations but give fewer dice. Examples include Hand to Hand Combat, Ranged Combat, Athletics, Strong, Driving, Charming, Fast, Resilient and so on.

Standard Abilities cover a group of situations, but still have some general use. Examples include Pistols, Sense Motive, Electronics, Computer Programming, Wrestling, Drive Car, Lift Heavy Things, Mechanical Repair, Labwork, Security Systems, Diplomacy, Seduction, Electronic Surveillance.

Narrow Abilities cover very specific situations or maneuvers. These give the most dice in play. Players ought to come up with colorful and interesting names. Examples include Moving Vehicle, Conversing with Redheads, Honky-Tonk Stage Performance, Assessing Convenience Store Security, Bellycrawling, and Tournament Arm Wrestling.

The Perception Question
Perception, Spot Hidden, Search, Notice...however you call these they're always a problem in games. The GM should decide how they want to handle these checks. In general if a failed perception (or investigation) check would bring the action to a halt and keep the story from moving forward, then no roll should be necessary. Instead reserve these kinds of check for spotting ambushes, gaining insight or picking up additional details about the situation.

That being said players can't buy a broad perception skill. They may buy things like keen sense of smell, sharp hears, hawkeyes (for seeing things far away)-- but these will always be considered broad or standard abilities. Instead the GM should fall back to skills relevant to the situation for such checks-- if in the middle of a party the GM wants to see if the player notices some tension between a couple of guests, abilities like Diplomacy, Savior Faire, Sense Motive and the like should be applied rather than perception-type skill.

Tricks: An Ability Variant
Players may choose abilities which don't grant bonus dice to action resolution, but instead have other effects. These are called “Tricks”. Usually these represent equipment which the character has constant access to. For example Nightvision Goggles, Grappling Gun, Flash Powder, Mini-Oxygen Tank, and so on. Alternately, these could be souped-up weapons like a special pistol that does an extra die of damage. The GM should evaluate Tricks on a case-by-case basis. In some cases they can simply act as a standard ability, like a GPS Navigation system which grants bonus dice for actions involving chases or evasion. Generally a Trick should be used to represent a power or ability which a normal person doesn't have access to usually. Note that players don't have to buy Tricks for every piece of equipment-- instead they represent something something unique for that character.

Players begin the game with eight abilities of their choice.

Limits represent a character's weak points. In other games these might be called flaws, disadvantages, or drawbacks. Each archetype has a list of example limits-- these serve a dramatic rather than game mechanic purpose, so no specific description is given for them. Instead the player will decide when one of his limits comes into play.

At the beginning of a session, the GM will put out a stack of drama point chips. During the game, the players may take one of those chips by invoking one of their limits. There are two basic ways to do this: the player can take an automatic failure before even rolling. They have to explain how their limit caused them to screw up. The check failed must have some consequence, stakes or else provide an interesting dramatic moment. Just failing a drive down to the store check isn't enough.

Alternately, if the player fails a significant action test roll in play they can take a drama point. They must narrate how their limit plays into the failure and accept an additional consequence from the GM for failing. If they do so they can take a drama point chip.

Players begin the game with two limits.

A word on choosing limits: limits should be flaws which affect the player themselves and not cause immediate consequences for the rest of the party. Limits like Loner, Sullen and Flies Off the Handle are bad for group play. The GM should be alert for players who use their limits as a weapon to disrupt the game or spoil other player's fun (and afterwards say “I was just playing my character...”). The GM should feel free to withhold points from these players.

Pick a name. Each character starts with ten wounds. That's it.

Witless Minion Part Two
Witless Minion Part Three
Witless Minion Part Four
Complete PDF for Download


  1. Looks like fun!

    I laughed out loud at "the Vet who tends to the Man-Eating Lions". That's perfect!

    "You mean I have to clean their teeth _again_?!"

  2. You could easily run Jeeves and Wooster as a Witless Minion campaign. Scooby Doo could fit too. Or The Office. This is a very flexible concept.

  3. Considering all the spam your comments have been bombed with, here's an short post about the offshore CATPCHA solving industry. For about $6 you can get 1000 distorted words solved for you. This is how some Third World high school grad is wasting his education.

  4. At least for me it hasn't yet gotten to the point where I want to turn on comment moderation-- I can usually catch and delete the comments relatively fast since I have an rss feed for comments. It is just a little irritating that this tiny niche of internet space has clearly ended up in some spam engine somewhere.