Design Notes for a one-page RPG: Fiction is What We Flee

I recently posted a submission for the 2021 On-Page Game Jam over on itch.io.

The theme of this jam was to make a one page RPG about the concept of borders.

I ended up making a game called Fiction is What We Flee. The basic concept is that players can travel into fictional worlds and rescue refugees. They would be doing things like entering Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, to save the Red Queen’s subjects, or getting Winston Smith out of Oceania.

These are just some notes and thoughts I has while designing the game.

Which System?

I decided I didn’t want or need to make a custom game system. Nothing about my concept required special, unique mechanics.

I considered a few open systems – D6, Black Hack, Cepheus Engine. These were all a bit too crunchy for what I had in mind.

I also considered going for some kind of light storytelling system, but I’m not entirely confident with my ability to design one of those yet. My experience with them is limited.

I finally went with Nate Treme’s Tunnel Goons. It’s a dead simple little 2d6 system. Your character has a number of classes that the player can assign points to. When making an action you roll 2d6, add the points from the appropriate class, and one point for any relevant items. If you beat the GM-assigned difficulty score (8,10, or 12) you succeed.

It’s light system, but still has a bit of crunch to differentiate characters. There are a bunch of various Tunnel Goons hacks available. My favorite being Lords of Mars.

System Design

Like most Tunnel Goons hacks, I added my own little custom rules to make the game unique. Each of the fictional worlds has tropes, a condition or rule that defines the world. Mechanically, tropes affect rolls when players work with or against them. It’s essentially just a version of the FATE system’s concept of Aspects.

For the custom classes I went with mostly conventional ones: Combat, Criminal, Social, Survival. I also added one directly related to the game’s concept: Tactical Literary Theory. This is used to navigate fictional worlds and discover tropes.

Honestly, the entire concept of the game came from the phrase “Tactical Literary Theory”. Once I had that, everything else flowed from there.

Physical Design

I’m doing most of my design in Affinity these days, and I found these great templates for creating the itch.io screenshots, display logo, and banners.

For the look of the game and associated itch graphics, I was inspired by something I found in The Dictionary Designer’s of Type, by Sean Adams – a typeface reference book for designers. It was the cover of the 1992 Penguin edition of The Pleasure of Hating, by William Hazlitt. It had a cool, simple, but serious look that appealed to me.

It uses a nice clean Bodoni font, which I used for everything in the game.

Future Plans

I’m certainly going to add a character sheet to the original itch entry.

I might also throw together a few one-page one-shot adventures, probably based on the adventure seeds I put in the game itself.

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