Monday, 23 December 2013

Feckless Wastrels

I was supposed to be doing all kinds of other things, but a random particle of inspiration has hit some part of my brain, and I must write.

The thought process for this started with listening to The Walking Eye reviewing/discussing They Became Flesh. Apparently it's a very rules-light game, and they were saying something about how the PCs failing a Miracle roll was the spur for the GM to implement one of their actions, or something. I don't really remember because at that point my brain went off on a train of thought something like:

  • Failing rolls
  • Failure is interesting
  • What would happen if you had a game where you were trying to fail at things?
  • What sort of game could possibly support that?
  • Various flashes of idea that all seem more like a board game rather than an RPG - getting parents to leave you in a life of idleness, undermining plans as a disgruntled civil servant, avoiding housework as a feckless husband... but very one-dimensional sorts of games really. You'd just be totting up points or something.
  • Sudden brain linkage to PG Wodehouse.

It struck me you could potentially have a game where you play affluent, idle rich characters in a slightly larger-than-life setting who are trying to combine several goals: having a jolly good time, achieving whatever goals have crossed your whimsical mind recently, and (most importantly) avoiding anything resembling hard work. This might be involved enough to actually be interesting as an RPG.

What is Feckless Wastrels?

In Feckless Wastrels, you play the scions of various wealthy and/or influential families in a pseudo-Edwardian British setting (although it could probably be transferred to equivalent settings elsewhere). You may be rich or poor, of ancient noble stock or a rising industrial lineage, but you mix in the Right Circles nowadays, going to races and drinking cocktails, throwing bread rolls and putting on amateur dramatics. Once in a while you hop across the Atlantic, or nip over to the south of France for a repairing lease. And this leisurely and enjoyable state of affairs must continue!

The life of a wastrel is not as simple as it might appear. Danger lurks on all corners. Aunts plot unwelcome marriages to strait-laced bores or the kind of girls who talk about Spinoza. Friends of the family declare it's high time you were settling down. Siblings, themselves resigned to domestic bliss, are determined to lug you into it as well, or at the very least to offload some of their own work on you. Uncles insist that hard work would make a new man of you; cousins that any respectable woman should be able to earn a living. Parents look aghast at bar tabs and mutter alarmingly about allowances. Wherever you turn, there are attempts to drag you into employment, demands to entertain nephews, Bonny Baby prizes to present, policemen accusing you of pinching umbrellas when it was merely an honest misunderstanding, blackmail attempts, unfortunate runs of luck followed by bailiffs, and all manner of difficulties. On the other side of the equation, one finds a constant stream of old pals experiencing romantic difficulties, sneering acquaintances needing a put-down, really good tips on dark horses, family mansions in danger of purchase by ghastly American plutocrats, beloved relatives menaced by overbearing Dukes, jewel thieves and enough other obligations to make a fellow quite faint - another one, please, and make it a double.

The successful wastrel must delicately balance their activities. Relatives must be convinced, regularly, that one is simply no use whatsoever; that it is hopeless to think of employment, dangerous to demand favours, and undesirable to seek out potential spouses. On the other hand, there are allowances to think of, reputations to keep sully-free, and a certain minimum level of family affection to maintain. One has one's pride. Moreover, while some obligations are deeply unwelcome, others are matters of honour and pride. It is one thing to wriggle free of a School Treat and evade the clutches of a fish-featured suitor; quite another to leave a pal in the lurch or allow a belligerent uncle to learn of mater's gambling debts. Thus, there is a balance to strike between ineptitude and brilliance.

Basically, the idea is that you're trying to either succeed or fail at things, with failure being prominent. The player, of course, may want rather more failures than the PC would, because it's more entertaining. Various factors influence your successs; for example, your Pride may sabotage your plans to crash out of a competition in the early stages, while conflicting demands from NPCs may interfere indirectly. You try to keep public success and failure within certain bounds, otherwise you're in danger: appear too competent and you'll risk being forced into a job or given additional onerous family duties, but complete ineptitude may leave you sent off to a stern relative for emergency coaching, cut off from the funds, socially stranded or otherwise in trouble. What happens in private, of course, is another matter - providing it stays private.

As your reputation rises and falls, you'd get different kinds of opportunities and challenges to deal with. You'd be trying to manage a small number of trackers to keep yourself comfortable and avoid work (though of course the player doesn't necessarily want to do that).


This would be basically a trait-based system, I think. You'd want background because the difference between a poor aristocrat and a wealthy industrialist are pretty substantial in the demands placed on you and your options. You'd want a few personality-type traits, probably at different levels, because I think things like managing your Pride should be relevant. And you'd have a handful of specific traits that highlight anything else important about your character.

Importantly, you'd also have a Reputation tracker that shifts according to what people know about you. Possibly, public failures/successes would influence your Reputation while private ones would influence Pride? Although I'm thinking you might want a stat to track your social/peer reputation and honour, a stat for personal pride, and a stat for how feckless you appear - being feckless but trustworthy is a perfectly reasonable option. So we'll think about that.

Traits and your current trackers would influence your success and failure, not always in the way you want. Pride might push you to do better at things regardless of whether you want to. A reputation for fecklessness might help out, or make it hard to get things done. Being trusted will place demands on you, but being untrusted will make it hard to learn secrets or get favours. I might do this with a GM intervention thing, where the GM can call in your trackers, or just with a modifier on rolls.

I'll probably play with this a bit and come back to it, but I wanted to get the idea down while I had it.

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