We’re creeping up on Four Colors al Fresco being 20 years old. I released the beta (what I’d now call an ashcan) in 2001, and it was already a largely complete game, mostly lacking in examples and setting details. But the game’s design dates back to the winter of ’99-’00, so I’m thinking it’s about time I produce the “finished” version of the game. So this blog post is the first in a series, serving two purposes: to show you snippets of the finished game, and to publicly announce a deadline in order to help me get it done.
The latter purpose needs a little explanation. I’m a one-person shop, here, and gaming time hasn’t been as abundant as I’d like of late. And without gaming, for me, game design and game writing tend not to happen, either. I was frustrated with Four Colors al Fresco’s not-done-ness. Plus, I was in grad school for several years there, earning my MLIS, while still working full-time, which pretty much ate up my free time. Those are reasons, but they’re also maybe excuses. I work well with deadlines, but find it easy to leave things 80%-finished if there isn’t pressure to finish. I’m hoping there’s still some interest in Four Colors al Fresco, and I want to get it done, so by making a public announcement, I’m putting myself on notice so that my friends and the game’s fans (if it has any) will help me get this done. Is this going to be the first RPG whose 1st edition is also it’s 20th-anniversary edition?
The former purpose, you’ve seen before. I’m excited about this game, but it’s a little unusual in setting and mechanics, so I want to share it with you. There’ve been lots of little (and one big) changes to the rules since the 2001 ashcan. I’ve refined how I explain some of the mechanics. At some point, I’ll probably get over my fear of the camera and put up some short (<5 minute) videos showing some of the mechanics in action. I’ve clarified how the various genres interact in Four Colors al Fresco and how you can lean into them in your play. I’m hoping I can make you as excited about Renaissance superheroes as I am, and make you want to play Four Colors al Fresco to satiate that excitement.
So, bookmark this blog or set notifications, and you can look forward to lots of talk about the writing of Four Colors al Fresco. Plus, there may be ideas for characters and adventures and snippets of setting that won’t make it into the final game, but I feel are worth sharing.
Not sure I could pick just one “favorite” revolutionary mechanic, since I’m constantly discovering them. I won’t talk about fan mail, since I just did. I’m gonna skip character questionnaires because that’s tooting my own horn, and they’re most useful in a particular playstyle.
But a mechanic that was revolutionary, broadly applicable, and continues to be explored, is the multi-axis die roll.
It’s probably no surprise that the supers RPG I wrote is, most days, my favorite. “Why” is hopefully the more interesting question.
When we wrote Four Colors al Fresco back in 1999/2000, the supers RPG scene, even moreso than RPGs in general, was very different from today. With two minor† exceptions, all supers RPGs up to that point had the same fundamental structure, focusing on modeling superpowers with varying degrees of detail and complexity. Marvel Superheroes (and others) had extensive lists to try to cover every power imaginable. Champions (and others) instead provided a system to build your power, detail by detail*.
Well, there’s “still play”, and then there’s “still play”. The oldest published RPG I have played recently is probably The Shadow of Yesterday (we’re playing it now). I also regularly return to Primetime Adventures, though it’s been a couple years since we last played it. And Primetime Adventures is pretty much my go-to game when I don’t have some other game specifically in mind, so I’m sure I’ll play it again some time soon.
And then there are several older games that I would play at the drop of a hat, but it’s been many years since I last have: Ars Magica, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Underground, The Babylon Project, Everway, Fading Suns, Deadlands (the original), or Over the Edge. I still buy all the Ars Magica supplements as they come out, and try to find time to read them.
The oldest published game I actually have played semi-recently is Rolemaster: I played for a bit about 4 years ago with a group that is still playing the original edition, 30 years later. But I don’t really think it’s fair to say that I “still” play or read it—I haven’t touched it since then, didn’t read any of the books at the time, and before that group I had last looked at a Rolemaster book in about ’85.
The only games older than The Shadow of Yesterday that I’ve both recently played and intend to play again in the future would be my own Four Colors al Fresco, created in 1999, released as a free beta PDF around 2004, but not yet properly published. It will be this fall/winter, if I can make the time between school and work.
Just a quick thought here. I’ve been working on writing up guidelines for character creation in Four Colors al Fresco. Unlike most RPGs, balance and point costs aren’t really a concern–but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Because unlike most modern supers games, not just anything goes–if your character doesn’t fit into the pseudo-period setting, it can be jarring. However, in my experience, both creating characters and watching others create them, the hard part is not fitting into the setting, it’s worrying too much about “logic”.
Probably the central conceit of the dice part of the rules in Four Colors al Fresco is that it’s the step size between the dice, not the actual sizes of the dice, that matters. But is this true?
Four Colors al Fresco isn’t a number-cruncher’s dream system, but I still want the rules to actually do what they supposedly do and thus stay out of the way. I’ve played some “story-oriented” RPGs (and even some that were actually concerned with the math) which didn’t stand up to scrutiny, so I don’t expect you to just take my word for it. So here is where I show my work.
I was listening to a recent episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, and they got to talking about flaws for characters in RPGs. They give a good summary of the evolution of character flaws in RPGs, which reminded me of the way that Four Colors al Fresco handles character flaws, and I thought I would explain the reason it does it that way.