Let me start from the beginning. I'm trying to find a system that will support the mood, the theme and all the aspects of the setting that I've been designing for a couple of years together with my friends and gaming groups.

In a few words, this setting depicts a really harsh and unpleasant dark-fantasy or even post-apocalyptic fantasy (there is no correct answer on this in game terms) that is heavily based on eastern-European mythology, folklore and traditions, and decorated with ruins and remnants of some fallen ancient civilization. Those remnants are treated as relics and artifacts. For most of us those remnants and ruins will be a reminder of common soviet era things...

The mood of the game is absurd dark humor and satire, which really contrast with the harsh dark fantasy setting. PCs are the reluctant heroes - folks who are in the wrong place and wrong time, or maybe losers and wannabe heroes who are running into trouble. Everything is the opposite of the heroic adventures and epic tales from the classic fantasy.

There are some key themes in this setting: absurd humour, survival, things going from bad to worse, even high-level PC's are losers, again humour, you are not a hero.

What I'm trying to achieve with the desirable core mechanics:

  • PC's should fail often.
  • Fails should be treated interesting and moving things forward
  • Avoiding frequent fails is possible if using advantages, tactics, surroundings and clever tricks.
  • A wide range of results: crit fail, fail, partial success, success, crit success (just an example).
  • Even one success matters (one hit could change the course of a fight)

I was trying a lot of things, but nothing that I was trying fits this requirement well. So... What system could handle my requirements?

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting question but I'm afraid it might be a little broad as phrased: there are a large number of theoretical base mechanics that could conceivably be used for this purpose, and it's not entirely obvious how to narrow that down to one or a few good answers. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 May 19 '15 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. I suggest you recast this question as a game recommendation question rather than asking others to design your core mechanic. A system probably already exists that meets your specific needs; it's just a matter of finding it then tweaking it to make it do what you want. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 19 '15 at 22:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi, thanks for your suggestions. The question was specified. I hope it's more clear now. \$\endgroup\$ – Oleksandr Trifan May 20 '15 at 8:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ What specific question can we help you with here? What would the single best answer look like? Asking for opinion isn't a good fit here. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 20 '15 at 8:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a system-for-setting tag that totally works for this question. You really do want a system for your setting! There are a lot of systems, and the site can help you find those that work for your setting. If you're planning to publish, that the recommended rules be free to use could even be one of your criteria. Seriously, that question works here if properly phrased, and you can visit a forum to discuss building a new and unique system for your setting. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 20 '15 at 10:48

Fate Core is a definite candidate

If you're looking more at telling the story of people trapped in this world, rather than a combat simulator, Fate Core is worth looking at. Let's look at your criteria.

PC's should fail often.

This is clearly a matter of how you set up your opposition - if you give easy opposition, your PCs will succeed most of the time.

However, Fate Core goes out of its way to emphasize that failure should be a continuation of the story, not the end of it. Concessions in Conflicts exist to let one side back down, losing the "point" of the Conflict, but avoiding the worst parts of their fate (pun intended).

Additionally, the mechanic of Fate Points works best when players fail on a regular basis - in this situation, players know that spending Fate Points to succeed in one scene makes it likely that they'll "lose" in another. These tough choices drive really good Fate games.

Fails should be treated interesting and moving things forward

Absolutely. Fate Core is very explicit that you should only roll when you have an interesting idea for both failure and success. Failure can explicitly be interpreted as "success at a cost" to keep things moving where there's no really interesting failure state. This can require a certain amount of imagination on the part of the GM, however.

Again, we can look at Concessions as an example of this. A Concession mechanically gives the players a "get out of dodge" card that can be used, allowing them to avoid the worst of what happens while still "losing" the encounter. "The messenger got away, but at least we lived!"

In a recent game I ran, players ran into some enemies outside of their ability to take on (at least in that quantity). They Conceded the fight - resulting in their escape, but the enemies now knew who they were (and could use that info against them).

Even if not Conceding, it's probably worth noting that there is no situation where Fate says "your character is dead." The worst it says is "your character is Taken Out, and whoever did that decides what that means." It could mean "dead", but that's up to the GM.

The default assumption in Fate Core is that failure means that the game continues in an interesting way, and doesn't just end.

Avoiding frequent fails is possible if using advantages, tactics, surroundings and clever tricks.

Absolutely. Fate allows not only the usage of Fate Points to help out when you really, really don't want to fail, but through the Create Advantage action allows for almost any kind of maneuvering the PCs can think of. I've had PCs do everything from disarm enemies, to tripping them, to throwing doors on top of them, to holding them down with blankets, to finding weak spots, to....

The only thing Fate doesn't do as well is the type of "tactical wargame" stuff you might find in something like GURPS or Savage Worlds. It can still do "tactical", but that's going to feel more like how tactics would work in a book, or a movie, than a tactical minis wargame.

A wide range of results: crit fail, fail, partial success, success, crit success (just an example).

A standard roll comes with the following possibilities:

Success With Style Success Minor Success/Success at a Minor Cost Failure/Success at a Cost

If it's an opposed roll, the opponent can also Succeed with Style, effectively adding a fifth case.

Even one success matters (one hit could change the course of a fight)

This one is a bit more iffy. Fate Conflicts (which could be mental or social or anything, not just 'combat') are based on stress. It's kind of hard to one-hit a PC (or major NPC) in Fate. However, a single hit can do a ton of 'stress' (which isn't damage), as well as inflicting one or more Consequences (which can be any kind of injury, etc.). Additionally, Consequences get a free "invocation", which allows them to be used for a bonus, creating a mini-death spiral.

So a single hit (especially if it's built up with maneuvering beforehand, or usage of Fate Points) can have devastating results. But it's not likely to Take Out an opponent in a single shot.

On the other hand, it's rare for an opponent to survive more than 3 or maybe 4 successful attacks, even if they're just "plinks". There's not really a lot of cases where you'll be whittling away hit points round after round.

Supporting the Themes

This one wasn't listed as a requirement, but it's something where Fate Core could help out.

One thing you can do in a Fate game is set up a campaign or setting-level "Aspect". For instance, you could set up an aspect of Absurdist Satire. This will do two things for you, mechanically.

First, it gives the option to "Compel". This is the ability to offer players a Fate Point in exchange for something going wrong - and if they reject it, they have to pay you a Fate Point. "Because this is an Absurdist Satire, it would make sense that the guy with the part you need will only give it to you if you can provide a form XKR-132-B. This goes wrong when you realize that you haven't seen a scrap of paper in a hundred miles."

Players can also propose their own Compels, either against themselves (gaining a Fate Point if you think it's a good Compel), or even against NPCs (costing them a Fate Point).

The other thing that a setting-level aspect gives players is the ability to "invoke" it (using a Fate Point) by describing what happens and paying a Fate Point in exchange for a bonus. This is done during the process of resolving the action, and so it adds to what's happening.

"Yeah, it looks like the guy's going to hit me, but it's an Absurdist Comedy, and so his bat falls apart because it was made by the lowest bidder."

Why You Shouldn't Use Fate

I think any good recommendation should include reasons why the recommendation would be inappropriate.

  1. Fate's not a traditional game. Figuring out how it works can take a while for some people that are heavily into more traditional games.
  2. Fate's a "fiction first" game - it expects you to have a good idea of what's going on, and then to consult in when you need to figure something out. If you're looking for a game to model every bit of the world, it won't really do that. It gives you tools.
  3. Forget zero to hero. Fate has a very flat advancement curve.
  4. Requires everyone to be on the same page. Fate is a very, very bad game for dealing with disruptive players. It assumes everyone will act like adults. Someone wanting to be a jerk will definitely find it easy to do so.
  5. No one-hits. This is either a positive or a negative, however it kind of maybe goes against the "single hits matter" requirement, so I'm listing it here.
  6. Fate kind of requires a GM to put the screws to the players, especially if you want to drive it to having any kind of grit. I think it's kind of intended to do that, but if you run it "neutrally", it's very easy for it to become a series of successes. The trick is remembering that the PCs have plenty of power to get out of the worst of the situations.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Downvote: FATE Core is an excellent game, but it's (as the rulebook says) a game about competent, proactive, dramatic characters. It's a game that wants the protagonists to be empowered and capable of impacting and directly steering the plot. I think even if the mechanics are capable of fitting the /setting/, they're absolutely not going to fit the themes of the setting (specifically: survival, things going from bad to worse, "you are not a hero") \$\endgroup\$ – a computing pun May 22 '15 at 4:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, I disagree, obviously. Survival can be as much of a theme in a Fate game as anything else, and I've certainly run many a Fate game where things have gone from bad to worse. As far as "you are not a hero", or the PCs being "proactive and competent" goes, or "folks who are in the wrong place and wrong time, or maybe losers and wannabe heroes who are running into trouble" I think that would also well describe the movie Guardians of the Galaxy - and I think Fate would do an excellent job of a GotG game. \$\endgroup\$ – kyoryu May 22 '15 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ However, edited to emphasize the importance of setting appropriate (non-trivial) difficulties. \$\endgroup\$ – kyoryu May 22 '15 at 17:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that Fate would do an excellent job of a GotG game. But GotG, for all its everyman-heroes being random people thrown together by circumstance, is, well, a heroic story in the same way that Star Wars is. It's fun, character-driven high-flying pulp adventure with explosions and crazy plans and escapes from the nick of death and touching emotional moments. In terms of tone, it's fairly close to the other Marvel superhero movies. It is definitely not a bleak, darkly satirical take on a harsh and unpleasant setting. It might be an invalid reading, but my reading of the question... \$\endgroup\$ – a computing pun May 25 '15 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...tells me that the asker is looking for something closer in tone to Dr. Strangelove, or to the RPG Paranoia, or possibly some of the more down-to-earth dark-comedy bits of Warhammer 40k. Which I think falls fairly squarely into the bucket of "FATE is bad at this". \$\endgroup\$ – a computing pun May 25 '15 at 14:34

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