It is that time again. Time to explore a new SRD!
Today's will be A Bad Time Game SRD created by Kyle Tam (AKA @PercyPropa]) of Urania Games. This SRD is based on her own work on End of the Line. The SRD is currently the center of The BAD TIME Game Jam, which is currently running until Early March.
End of the Line was strongly inspired by the Final Destination horror series. As a result, the game and the SRD based on it is designed around the characters in our story frequently facing failure. These failures will stack on one another, and failing enough will eventually result in death or "game over."
Philosophy in Practice
The mechanics of the game reflect this in three ways. First, we have the dice mechanic itself known as BAD TIME DICE. Whenever a player needs to complete an action, they will roll a pool of four-sided dice (base 4d4) and then need to roll a 7 or under to succeed. For each point a character has in the statistic being used to complete an action, then the player rolls one less die. In the base version of the game, the players get 4 points to distribute between their character's 5 stats.
As you can see above in the two charts on the right, a character that has a 0 in a statistic has a pretty dismal chance of succeeding, only about 13.6⎺% chance. Meanwhile having one point in a stat increases that to about 50% and two points make the chance as high as 93.75%! This encourages players to spread out their character's stat points to cover as many weak spots as possible, but still leaves at least one vulnerable stat no matter their efforts.
The second mechanic is the Bad Time Mod. Basically, every time a character fails, then they add +1 to the mod. This mod could be individual to the character or apply to the whole group depending upon the decision of the game developer, but the system is designed to have this be a universal modifier for everyone. This means that the group is only as strong as its most vulnerable member and even well-balanced characters are still vulnerable to elimination as the Bad Time Mod grows.
The third mechanic is the titular BAD TIME. If a player gets a result of 16 or more on their roll, something really bad is supposed to happen. This is the moment in a Matrix movie where one of the Machine Agents shows up, in a horror movie where the BBEG pops up to take out the character, or in a heist movie when the PC gets caught by the mobsters or the cops. In any case, things have gotten ugly.
Designing for Character Death
Now, I am sure this sound like a very punishing system. However, it is important to note that this would act as the basis for a game where the whole point is that many characters will be dying or having whatever the BAD TIME thing happen to them. This could be a commentary on a particular situation. However, it is more likely the game is designed to be morbidly comedic or fall into some other genre where the chances of positive outcomes would be small like in the vein of Fiasco or Paranoia.
There is a suggestion for the players to have their characters stay in the action even if they are not physically present. In End of the Line, there is a mechanic where characters that died continue to exist as ghosts. They have the power once a play phase to make another player reroll. This keeps the players of characters that have been eliminated invested in the action, ready to interfere in the action for dramatic effect.
There are other ways that you could have this mechanic manifest without using the concept of Ghosts. Maybe it could be like a flashback mechanic, where the eliminated character had done something before hand to give the character rolling a second chance... or, in rare circumstances, foil their best efforts. Maybe your BAD TIME game is simulating a multiplayer video game and the eliminated characters are in the waiting room or in spectator mode, talking into the ears of their surviving compatriots over Chat. It might not keep the rolling character alive in the end, but it may give them that split second warning they need to survive just a bit long.
What Fits the BAD TIME System?
Now we come to the big question. What can I use this system to make?
I have already indicated several options. End of the Line connects to the horror genre, which could go a more serious direction or have a more campy feel. Situations that would suit a game like Fiasco would also fit a BAD TIME game. One that comes to mind for a slightly higher power level game would be is the Korean heist flick, The Thieves (도둑들). Many of the characters certainly end up having a BAD TIME, but not always due to death. Some are arrested and others find themselves thwarted at every turn instead by the BBEG.
You could also use this system to replicate the feeling of certian video games. Unlike the LUMEN SRD that encourages the feeling of Power Gaming, the low stats and mechanics that practically guarantee failure at some point simulate more of feeling one might get from a more unforgiving game. I mentioned shooter games like Battlefield or World War II Online, but other genres could include the medieval deathmatch games like Chivalry or Mordhau, survival games like State of Decay or Minecraft, a tactical game like XCom, arcade style games like Spectre/Battlezone, or a number of different MMOs.
In these video game-inspired BAD TIMES, you could go with the idea that players can respawn at the beginning of the next game phase. For a game more in the style of XCom or State of Decay, it might make more sense to have the players create new characters to introduce for the beginning of the next phase.
In any case, the BAD TIME SRD is more versatile than it may seem at first glance.
Where Can I Find It?
A Bad Time SRD can be found at this link on itch.io along with The BAD TIME Game Jam. If this post has inspired you, I strongly encourage you give making a game for the Jam a try! Please let me know if you do because I would love to see it and maybe even talk about it here!