What makes a role-playing game Bad Ass? The Most Bad Ass RPG?

What makes a role-playing game Bad Ass?

We need a way of measuring the bad-assness of a role-playing game.  It just so happens I’ve got one.  To my mind, a role-playing game is truly Bad Ass when a knife fight is a scary, bloody thing.

There was a while in American history when dueling with a knife in either hand while wearing only a cotton shirt was in vogue but it passed out of fashion quickly, as in many cases, both participants eventually died of their wounds.

I can think of few things more harrowing than facing off against an opponent with a sharp bit of metal, trying to end them as they try to end you.  Burning Wheel has given us some really rocking knife fights, no doubt about it but the knife fight champ is The Riddle of Steel.

I’m not even sure if this sucker is in print anymore but its dice mechanics and damage tables made a piece of sharp metal a frightening prospect.  I’ve seen PC’s charge into battle, ready to die and come out the other end unscathed.  I’ve seen what we thought was going to be a routine guard at the gate turn lethal.

How did I make it more Bad Ass, you ask?

I hacked together a setting hack called The Riddle of Blood, making it a game about heavy metal vampires.  Here’s the ole pdf (well, that didn’t work; if you are interested in the pdf, drop me a comment and I’ll e-mail it to you).

Excerpt from Vampire Duels:

Any limbs the victor cleaves from his opponent before he gives up or passes into a coma are the victor’s to keep. Duels with heavy swords and axes are extremely popular in hopes that the victor will gain a limb to aid in the control of their antagonist through Blood Sorcery.

We besieged holy cities and killed angels.  Good times.

How about you?  When do you classify a role-playing game as Bad Ass?

The DelRosso Principle

I was instant messaging with Jim, trying to figure out where this term originated.

Was it the Unknown Armies game. It could have been refering to when Ben switched the Unknown Armies game from a mission-based game set in the metropolitan New York/New Jersey area to more of a sandbox-style (yeah, we used that term before the OSR championed it, thinking more of Grand Theft Auto) where we were founding a new branch of The New Inquisition in Miami.

It might’ve been one of the Dictionary of Mu playtest games at the ole Get Your Geek On-a-thon’s, back when Ithaca had a game store. Those games tended to kick the setting in the teeth pretty hard, as happens when you have four Sorcerers playing in 4th or 5th gear, leaving nothing at the table because it is a one-shot.

Was it the Riddle of Steel game that began at the Dueling Bridges?

Doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the DelRosso Principle states:

Kick this setting in the teeth.”

Nice and simple. It demands the players and the GM declare ownership over the setting and make it their own.

Jeff was kicking the Forgotten Realms in the teeth when he started his first session with the players finding Elminster crucified to a tower in Waterdeep. “Jeff, you need to let these players know that they are not gaming in the Forgotten Realms that are safe on their shelves. This is a different animal and those books will get them in the mood but will not save them.”

Kicking a setting in the teeth need not be that extreme. Pete subtly kicked the setting in the teeth when he circled up a Great Spider fence in our MoBu City game. “Oooh, the Weavers are involved in the crime world too? Neat.”

Invoking the DelRosso Principle is taking a published setting and making it your own. It is taking a collaboratively created setting and adding a nice flourish. It is changing the face of a fictional world through the act of pretending and the rolling of dice. It is taking a boxed set and making it a home, even if it is Dark Sun, a home that wants to see your characters dead. It is the act of making a fictional place a fun lens through which we can create and react.

This design and many others are in Judd’s Shop…