Ye Olde Zeppo
The Zeppo is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy. (It doesn’t seem to feature in many top tens, but competition is stiff out of the 144 eps in all 7 seasons.)
The Zeppo pushes many underdog wish-fulfilment buttons. It’s a tightly written story that both pastiches the mainstream Buffy and remains true to its weekly saving-the-world format. The fact that it’s not the first choice amongst its stable mates–it is the Xander Harris of Buffy eps–makes it even more resonant.
My next one-off will be about a fantasy village of heroes called off to a war in a foreign land. Except, the players won’t be playing those heroes. They’ll be playing the people left behind. Children, the elderly or infirm, the village idiot, the coward who hid from the army recruiter… all of them strongly disadvantaged in some way that precludes a heroic role or any recognition for it.
This is probably the easiest part to make happen. Children are short and weak, and the elderly are slow and often in pain. Simply shave off the hit points, strength and dexterity. More drastically shave off entire body parts from that farm machinery accident.
I’m not sure I want to play this one. Mainly it’s because characters with severe mental impairments–to the point they can’t articulate ideas–will never be fun to play and worse, risk degenerating into caricature.
There are milder mental problems, of course. Making a character unable to communicate verbally is something I’ve done in the past, with success–all I needed was to give them an ally in the form of another PC.
Unisystem does have a whole list of “mental problems” which are designed to be playable and yet provide variety. Cowardice and Cruelty will probably work well, as will Paranoia.
p>This is probably the most important side. The characters have started up as socially excluded already, albeit mostly patronised rather than disadvantaged.
I’ve played games where children and adults mixed, and whilst the game was fantastic (based on Garth Nix‘ Sabriel) the issues came when the plucky children, who should have been going off on adventures despite the long-suffering captain’s orders to stay together and wait for the army, were sidelined in their activities by that authority figure (who was much more interested in building camp defences than investigating the weird-fu nearby).
The experience here is that if I’m going to mix and match all ages then somehow I have to avoid division within the party on the basis of age. Some of the advice in Frax’s Group Generation article applies. However I expect to go through this exercise as GM rather than facilitating the player discussion (since this game is a one-off, there probably won’t be time).
The system I’m leaning to is Unisystem, mainly because it works in one-off games–but also because it clearly identifies strengths and weaknesses of this type while retaining a strongly gamist orientation. Furthermore it deliberately provides tiers of competence (Buffy’s White hats and Champions, AFMBE’s Norms and Survivors).