PDF of the complete rules found here!
Fear & Loathing USR
A Role Playing Quest into the Savage Heart of the American Dream
“A generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy... the desperate assumption that somebody... or at least some force - is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The following is a rules hack of Scott Malthouse’s Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying system for running games in the bizarre world of 1970’s Gonzo politics, drugs, sports, sex and violence as envisioned by the late great Hunter S Thompson. The basic USR text has been changed and modified. For the USR rulesas written by the author you will need to download his free set.
What the heck is a Game Master?
A game master, or GM, acts as the game's referee as well as controlling the people and enemies the players come across. The GM also creates the adventure and the world the players inhabit. Essentially the GM is a god, but don't let it get to your head.
Creating your Player Character:
Each player needs a character to take part in the story. Since this setting is specific to the Gonzo literary genre, characters will play quixotic, brazen champions who act like a hammer to destroy the right people — who are almost always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled, because they are wrong.
Beginning characters will need to choose a character role, assign their attribute dice, and then create their specialisms.
The choice of character role restricts how you assign your three attribute dice, but more importantly, defines your PC’s approach to the main goal of affecting political situations that bear down on the game environment.
Gonzo: a6/8, w6/8/10, e8/10. h(+1).
“This whole situation makes me feel nervous and weird and thirsty.”
There are a lot of ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people
Attorney: a6/8/10, w8/10, e6/8/10.
“Sounds like big trouble. You're going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over. As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you'll need the cocaine. Tape recorder for special messages. Acapulco shirts. Get the hell out of L.A. for at least 48 hours.”
The attorney is a stead-fast companion who is quick of wit, and reliable in difficult situations.
Pig: a10, w6/8, e6/8.
“It was necessary, we felt, to thoroughly terrify our opponents, so that even in hollow victory, they would learn to fear every sunrise ...”
A member of law enforcement, undercover, former special forces, informant…?
Shootist: a6, w10, e8. S. Firearms +1a.
“The most efficient way for us to do this is for each one of us to try and attempt to imagine what it is like inside of the possessed mind.”
A liberal minded scholar, advanced in years, who enjoys firearms and narcotics.
Biker: a10, w6/8, e6/8. S. Motorcycles +1a or +1w.
“A man who has blown all his options can’t afford the luxury of changing his ways. He has to capitalize on whatever he has left, and he can’t afford to admit — no matter how often he’s reminded of it — that every day of his life takes him farther and farther down a blind alley…”
Fighting the future with a disdain for the present, and status quo.
Hippie: a6/8/10, w6/8/10, e6/8/10
“I live from meal to meal. I have no money, no possessions. Money is beautiful only when it’s flowing; when it piles up, it’s a hang-up. We take care of each other. There’s always something to buy beans and rice for the group, and someone always sees that I get ‘grass’ or ‘acid’. I was in a mental hospital once because I tried to conform and play the game. But now I’m free and happy.”
The leaders of the Establishment will be making the mistake of their lives if they discount and ignore the revolt of the hippies on the grounds that these are either disgraceful wastrels or traitors, or else just silly kids who are sowing their wild oats.
Fascist: a8, w6, e10.
“In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely.”
Any type of character who work for a living in the real world, successful or not. It is a wide ranging character class which basically covers any background a PC comes up with which doesn’t fit into one of the other classes listed above.
You have three attribute dice; a d6, d8, and d10. Each one of these dice needs to be assigned to one of the three following attributes;
Action – This attribute determines how well-versed in combat the character is as well as how quick and dexterous they are.
Wits – This attribute determines how intelligent and perceptive the character is.
Ego – This attribute determines how the character acts socially. A high Ego means the character is a good leader and able to charm the pants off most people.
Furthermore, how you assign your die is will be limited by your chosen character role. For example, a Gonzo character role won’t let you use your d10 as your Action attribute die while the Hippie role can arrange their three die freely.
Hits – This determines how much punishment a character can take before she dies or is knocked unconscious. Hits are reduced when a character is hurt and can return to its initial score when the character heals. Your PC’s Hits are determined by rolling your Action and Wits attribute die and totaling the result.
Specialisms show specific skills and knowledge the character has acquired and allows you to customize your fear and loathing. Each Specialism provides a +2 to the relevant attribute when making an attribute test. New characters get to chose three.
There is no set skill list to pick your Specialisms from which comes with your free USR rules set. To cover every genre would take a hell of a long time, and you should expect any rules-lite rpg game will put this type of world building squarely on your shoulders. So you will need to think of something yourself and run it by your GM to make sure it's appropriate.
Character Example; Glenn decides that his character ‘Paranus Arterios Steltman’ is going to be more balls than brains, so chooses the Gonzo role. He assigns his attributes thus:
Hits: 8 (Randomly rolled d8+d6, +1 from role.)
Now for his Specialisms he selects; Investigative Journalism +2w, Bombast +2e, and Forgery +2a.
All starting characters begin the game with three pieces of equipment appropriate for their role as well as $200.00 starting cash. Mundane items, housing, employment, etc. can be established during play but keep in mind your PC is in a world of Fear & Loathing and therefore should not be well-heeled or very secure financially. For are man Steltman we will outfit him with a tape recorder, convertible, and a bag of miscellaneous pills.
Playing the Game:
“I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don't bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I... And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there's a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.”
Contested Attribute Tests;
There will come a time in every game when a player is put in direct conflict with someone or something. This could be flimflamming a hotel manager, lying under oath, or trying to win a motorbike race, whatever it is there's a really simple way of working out who comes out on top.
When someone is actively competing against someone else the player makes an attribute test. Both the player and the GM (or another player if it involves another character) rolls a die corresponding to the relevant attribute. If the player was locked in an arm wrestling match with a sex crazed redneck, both would roll their Action attributes. The highest roll wins the contest. On a tie the test is re-rolled until there is a clear winner.
Non-Contested Attribute Tests;
Sometimes the player won't be in direct competition with anyone else. Perhaps they're trying to hot wire a car or find a shut off valve for a busted water main. Here they must roll their relevant attribute on a difficulty table to see whether they succeed.
For example, Steltman is trying to force open a hotel window to escape billowing smoke. The window refuses to budge so before Steltman succumbs he decides to use his tape recorder to smash open the stuck window. The GM asks for a medium Action roll to succeed, but gives the PC a +1 for the heavy tape recorder. The player rolls his Action attribute die, a d8, and rolls a 5+1=6 which is a success. Steltman breaks the glass and now can take stick his head out for air.
Successful Roll Difficulty
2+ Easy (e.g. Jumping a low wall, bartering for food)
4+ Medium (e.g. Riding a horse, rock climbing)
7+ Hard (e.g. Breaking into a safe, hot-wiring a car)
10+ Very Hard (e.g. Understanding a foreign language, building a robot)
14+ Impossible (e.g. Disproving relativity, downing a bottle of tequila without vomiting)
“When you get in an argument with a group of outlaw motorcyclists, you can generally count your chances of emerging unmaimed by the number of heavy-handed allies you can muster in the time it takes to smash a beer bottle. In this league, sportsmanship is for old liberals and young fools.”
Fighting is handled in the same way as contested attribute tests but with a little extra added on.
All contested rolls use the Action attribute during combat, but in this instance one participant is the attacker and the other is the defender.
If the attacker rolls higher than the defender then the attacker has scored a hit and the defender's Hits score is reduced by the difference between the winning and losing rolls.
When Hits reach 0 the character is dead.
Alternatively the GM may rule that the character is merely unconscious.
Hits may be regained through healing, but may never go above the initial score.
How combat flows;
It's up to you how you want combat to play out. You could play it fast and loose, going round the table clockwise to determine the order players act in, or you could assign each player an initiative score based on their Action roll, the acting order going from highest to lowest.
Weapons and Armor;
Weapons can give bonuses in combat, giving one side the edge over the other. Each weapon may give a bonus to the Action roll when attacking and/or defending.
Weapon types are as follows:
Light weapon +1 (e.g. knife, improvised, small caliber handgun)
Medium weapon +2 (e.g. advanced melee weapon, typical small arms)
Heavy weapon +3 (advanced small arms, explosives, autofire)
The character only gets a weapon bonus when they are able to bring their weapon to bear. It should be noted firearms give a bonus to attack only, they do not give any advantage towards defense. Defense capabilities of weapons are usually only applied to melee weapons.
Similarly, armor can be used to negate the effects of being hurt. Each armor type reduces the number of Hits taken in combat.
Light armor -1 (e.g. thick leather jacket, bike helmet, sturdy suitcase)
Medium armor -2 (e.g. flak vest, knee pads)
Heavy armor -3 (e.g. riot gear, car door)
For example, The security guard shoots at some junkies. His assault rifle is a medium attack weapon, but he is letting lose with full autofire so the guard receives a +3 on his Action roll. He rolls a 5 and adds the +3, resulting in a total of 8. The gang of street thugs each roll their Action die and apply the various results from the barrage of bullets.
These examples are by no means the only weapons and armor that you can have in a game. The GM could create a pistol that gives the character a +3 for armor piercing rounds or psychotic drugs providing a +4 Hits for a short period of time. Just use the above examples as guidelines and have fun making up your own bad-ass creations.
Using Specialisms in combat;
Specialisms allow the player to apply their bonus directly to the characters attack and defense rolls. Close Combat +2, Unarmed Combat +2, Zulu Hand to Hand +2, etc. All these types of combat specialisms give a bonus to the combat rolls. These specialisms can also be used to attempt difficulty maneuvers during combat or otherwise gain an edge in combat situations.
Any specialism may be used. With role play you can gain an edge in a combat situation.
For example; the ruthless drug dealer wants to find a volatile solution on his cook's stained shelves to throw. As his action he uses his Street Deal specialism to try and find a substance which might be useful in combat. The GM says it's a medium difficulty roll with a 5 or greater needed for success. The dealer rolls a 2 and adds +2 for his specialism, giving a result of 4 – a failed roll! The GM tells the desperate dealer the shelves are clear of the most combustible solutions. With nothing but an empty flask, he turns to the noise of the apartment door being kicked in by the cops.
Elements of Gonzo:
“He quit his job and fled in the night to Baltimore, where he appeared the next morning in U.S. District Court, which allowed him to stay out of prison for bribery and extortion in exchange for a guilty (no contest) plea on income-tax evasion. After that he became a major celebrity and played golf and tried to get a Coors distributorship.”
Keep the following in mind while driving your train wreck of an adventure;
-overlapping themes of sex, violence, drugs, sports and politics
-a tendency to move away from the topic started out with
PC’s should be rewarded for successful use of
- sarcasm and/or vulgarity as humor
- extremely creative use of the English language
“I hate to say this, but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting the Fear.”
At some point the PC’s will have pushed things too far. The heavy weight of consequence will tremble on the edge of the abyss and the possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real.
(to be continued…)