I know that the idea is long dead and gone, and some people will hate me for bringing it up, but I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the concept of Fourthcore. It was an idea by some people trying to use a different design philosophy for the adventures and thus bring about a shift in the resulting playstyle of the game, and I think it is something that I agree with because of what I’ve seen in a lot of adventures in different games, though maybe worked in a slightly different way.
Their key principles are broken down as basically:
- Adventures should be DIFFICULT
- Adventures should be DEADLY
- Magic and treasures should be GREAT
- Everything should be OVER THE TOP
- The world should be BLEAK
- DEATH TRAP DUNGEONS!
The first few make sense, in that, to quote the designers: “The challenges in a fourthcore adventure are designed to be especially difficult, requiring players to multitask, balance risk, adapt their strategies to complex and unpredictable scenarios, and decide on courses of action with incomplete information while under a pressing time limit.” which causes a setting where players “will die quickly and often…. sometimes as a result of instant death and save-or-die effects. Monsters and traps deal significantly higher amounts of damage than normal, and the consequences for failure are severe. Permanent afflictions, such as curses and disease, are not uncommon.”
Just those two bits for the first two show that adventuring is not something for just anyone. You have to be able to deal with the challenges, you have to come up with things on the fly and you may die due to doing the ‘right thing in the situation’. I’m a firm believer in challenging my players, I’m a firm believer in not handing them anything they didn’t earn. I do not believe it is players versus GM, instead I believe it is players versus enemies. Play the enemies smart, not there to just be cardboard cutouts for the players to hack and shoot at. You’re not there to dig players out of holes they dug for themselves.
Sure, RPGs got their roots in Wargames, with the GM as an opposing player and saying ‘Hey, come take me on’. Now, there’s just an epic story of a few heros (or villains or anti-heroes) going through these odds to try and come out victorious. Tell the story as the opposition would do what they were good at, but also don’t stack all encounters against the players for sake of doing that. For example, I think a great example would be in a modern setting, if you’re trying to attack some gangers at their base, they’re not all going to be on alert running military precision shifts and covering all the lines of sight. They’ll be drinking, smoking, partying and the like, relying on their massive number of weapons and lack of caring to take out most people who come close. So, maybe one guy is supposed to watch the back door. He takes a break and goes to have a smoke, figuring he’ll notice anyone trying to get in. And as these gangers are ‘only human’, what if they need to relieve themselves?
For Bleak, I think the creators said it best too: The world in which fourthcore adventures take place is an unhappy one. Tyrants stoke the flames of civilization with the ashes of criminals, rebels, and the many who have succumbed to the ravages of plague and war. Priests offer the blood of heretics and infidels to violent, jealous gods. All that lurks in the darkness between empires loathes humanity, and the ‘heroes’ that venture out to face such threats are little more than murderers, zealots, and privateers. Alignment is a meaningless concept and thus is not used in fourthcore.
So, in other words, pretty much the sort of traditional cyberpunk or post-apoc sort of mindset, where everyone is doing what they can to survive and sometimes, it could be a kid running a crime empire (see Robocop 2 as example). The D&D cartoon world saw a lot of rough times, as did Eberron, as did the world of Shadowrun, as did Dark Sun. They weren’t the pretty worlds where conflicts could be solved in a half hour to an hour and everyone goes to the next episode. They were complex, gritty and sometimes, making you wonder why you’re still going beyond that maybe you’re just holding out for something better (or worried that what comes next is worse). These give your characters a reason for adventuring, and a reason not to stop.
In the end, as long as your group is all having fun, then that’s all that matters. And sometimes, as Dwarf Fortress said in this pic
Losing is fun.