Friday, 8 May 2020

Thoughts on Street-Fighter - The Storytelling Game

Being a bizarre frankengame combination of;

> STORYGAMING (whatever the fuck that is),

You would think I would hate this but I actually found this tantalising.


This is from 1994, which, for anyone of my age is weird as shit. The 90's are as far away from me now as the 60's were in the 90's. I was about 13 when this book came out, the 60's seemed like truly ancient history to me then.

The cover art is magnificently bad. I think everything about it is wrong. Is there some kind of inverse square law about the quality of a cover vs the contents in RPG's?

As a young teen, the cooler kids would sneak off to a local arcade on lunch break and play Street Fighter. I attempted this and was bad at it. I did love to play Blanka though I JUST LIKE MONSTER DUDES.


Ok this is Blankas insane backstory from the book;

1. Child in plane crash, lands in jungle safely.
2. raised by a jaguar and becomes super athletic.
3. Catches virus from spider monkeys - makes him green and strong and fills him with electricity.
4. Can't control the electrical powers, until swimming with electrical eels teaches them how to do it.
5. Encounters escaped slave from a drug plantation.
5b. (Who happens to be a Capoeira master.)
6. Capoeira Master teaches Blanka Capoeira in the jungle.
7. Blanka becomes the protector of a local fishing village.


I'm not joking but he is a great hero for Brazil.

Ryu and Ken are extremely boring.

Blanka and Dhalsim are clearly the best characters.


Anyway, Time, perhaps the ultimate Street Fighter, has passed by since this book was created and punched a lot of blood out of the meat of culture. This was very clearly spewed out from the minds of a Japanese development team in the early 90's, the Street Fighter cast is made up from a mixture of almost but not quite national/cultural archetypes mixed in a blender with whatever seemed to work. A Yogic warrior man of peace wearing skulls and shooting flames? Mad psychic Thai dictator? Mutant green dude? 19 Year old amnesiac special forces badass who paints her legs camo? Bruce Lee knockoff? Sumo warrior? Russian wrestler who learnt to wrestle from fighting bears in Siberia? Seven-foot tall Native American in blue jeans with a feather in his hair? Spanish bullfighting ninja?

Fuck it! Throw them all in!


(Presumably anyone who knows about White Wolf games will already be familiar with this so feel free to ignore.

Oh the glory of counting large numbers of D10s...

Let me see if I can remember;

> Add a base stat to a more contextual stat.
> Roll that many D10's.

> Roll against a number for simple tests. Tasks have a 'difficulty rating from 3 to 9.
> Roll against each other for opposed tests.
> Keep rolling in subsequent turns for extended tests.

AND  - You have degrees of success, with the number of successes showing how well you did.

Flattening the Curve.

Any 1's reduce your total number of points (so large dice pools have an essential limiting factor, I think this would 'flatten the curve' at which characters grow more powerful.

If you roll more 1's than successes then you get a fumble/botch.

So as the difficulty goes up the likelihood of a disastrous fumble also does, even for characters rolling a lot of dice.


If the combined total of dice in the pool exceeds the difficulty of the task (which is usually measured as a number on the die) then you can get an auto mild success.

This is to speed up storytelling.

So that is the strange engine under the hood of the game - but it connects to two totally different cranks.

ONE - the storytelling engine, in which, its massively overcomplex for what its meant to be modelling. This is classic almost-linear path design where the pleasure comes from being in a story like those of genre fiction, where scenes and confrontations are expected, battles are encounter-balanced and the players are essentially playing through the story set by the DM.

Since this is all highly linear and since you are nearly on rails anyway rolling shitloads of d10s seems like overkill, since you are rolling for things that if you fail, will just quantum ogre their way back into your oncoming timeline.

HOWEVER - there could be an 'Inquisitor' style argument that simply modelling your character with this degree of fidelity and giving them all these options makes players think about and embody the imagined world in there own minds in a way that is pleasurable and which builds assumptions and intuitions which shape play.

(Inquisitor is very fiddly and labyrinthine but rolling for the micro specifics of combat is engrossing and interesting).

The SECOND thing the dice pool engine does is power a HIGHLY DETAILED FIGHTING GAME

And its the existence of this game and the way it interacts that makes the storytelling stuff bearable to me.

Like a good action movie almost everything about street fighter leads into and out of fights. The plot is just a series of morphic time tentacles to move characters into and out of combat where their actions will be modelled with enormous fidelity, and to lend a sense of meaning to those fights. So its ok for me if its vague and storytelly and if you don't really have a great deal of control over where the 'plot' is going because in the fighting arena, you have a HUGE amount of control.


Honourable Wizards

There is a DUAL-TRACK fame system.

GLORY - is almost purely about how many dudes you beat up and how many fights you win
this is something like your fame and status amongst other fighters as judged by your fighting.

HONOUR - is almost like your superhero morality powers. ou gain honour for doing the right thing and lose it for being a heel.

Interesting thing is that while Glory only effects your social access honour has a mechanical benefit, having a high honour helps you recharge your willpower and CHI between fights. Chi is used to power most of the magical super-stuff, like fireballs and invisibility etc so that leads to the situation of wizard-style fighters having to be honourable good guys if they want to keep waxing those powers across adventures.

A pleasing curiosity.

It also lets you simulate interesting relationships with the imagined world which fit well the archetypes of the fighting genre;

The honourable, magical but not famous lone warrior.

The glam heel or physically powerful worlding hotshot, famous and strong but with low chi.

Do you truly understand the secret of Kung Fu or whatever, or are you just a massive dude? Are you Mr Myagi or Cobra Kai? Well here they are mechanically different

Other Stuff about Building Characters

Its... complex.

Might not be hugely complex compared to 5E but its unfamiliar to me. Very quickly;

STYLE - a big deal as you only get one and it raises and lowers the price of powers etc throughout character development.

Attributes- base stats, further broken down into Physical, Social and Mental and those further broken down.

Abilities - Standard RPG stuff, further broken down into 'Talents', 'Skills' and 'Knowledges' and yes that is a vague term.

Thats the top end of the character sheet, the mainly RPG stuff. Then we get into;

Advantages - which include 'Backgrounds' which is some classic RPG resources and social embedding stuff, and, hidden away in this section for some reason, 'Techniques' which aren't really important in a Street Fighter game, just some stuff about how good you are at Punching, Kicking, Blocking etc, you know, fighting.

The information dominance on the sheet is perhaps not what it could be.

THEN - next to that box - a list of 'Special Manoeuvres’ which are fighting special powers, which are in fact utterly vital and central to the game. (Also combos).

Finally down below, your Renown tracks, and next to that, Chi, Willpower and HEALTH.

So basically the fighting sections of the sheet are partially mixed in with everything else but, its not too bad as everything 'fighty' is in the lower right quadrant.

There are instructions on in what order to build a character but like most complex RPGS any idea of a linear sequence is largely an utter farrago as you will be going back and forth raising and lowering things and working out how to get a 'good' character until the process become intuitive.

There is a lot of good Street Fighter art but, just to be clear


Ok the combat system

you play this on a hex map, with cardboard standees (provided in the back of the book) and little graphic maps printed on the hexes

A THIRD dimension of play - something added to the street fighter world, now you can not only be behind, before above or below someone, but also off to one side and there can even be a whole bunch of people there!

The wonderful pixel designs of the original game, again
definitely NOT IN THIS BOOK


The Initiative System

So, you have your hex map with your little dudes on it.

You have your CARDS - all that messing about with stats has been boiled down to a stack of cards, which you have with you, describing all the moves you can do.

1 - Everyone selects a card. This is secret and you can't change it.

So that narrows down the insane complexity of the characters and possible moves to a simple (or conceptually simple but actually quite deep) betting game - you think about what any other player is likely to do, and make a selection based on that. So everyone is considering each others abilities, intentions, tactics etc.

From then on the only deal is *how* you make that move.

2 - Everyone declares the Speed of that particular manoeuvre.

3 - Starting with the SLOWEST speed - characters first declare movement, then once movement is done, they declare their attack.

4 - INTERRUPTS. At *any point* during a characters movement - a player with a higher speed manoeuvre can shout "Interrupt!" and play their own manoeuvre, first moving, then declaring an attack.

And that person in turn can be interrupted, leading to a stacking of manoeuvre.

The attacks are resolved *downward* with the highest speed manoeuvre being accounted for first.

So, in this betting game having a slower speed means you move first, but have to declare yourself first, and can be interrupted many many times before you get to hit someone.

5 - Once the slowest character has completed their turn, go to the next slowest (assuming they didn't interrupt) etc.

What a bizarre and elegant system. It’s easy to imagine a complex multipolar fight going on with everyone wailing on each other - producing unpredictable shifts in movement which echo back 'down' the time-stream.

An Embodied Game

I have no idea how you would play this online without a shitload of the digital faffing about I usually hate.

First the Hex grid - a manageable problem.

Then selecting and holding cards - also digitally manageable, but irritating.

But then, shouting "Interrupt!" and the intense real world physicality and moment to moment timing of that - how could that be done over a call?

Combining all these things together I think you would need to almost re-jig the game to produce something easily playable online. It is such a pleasing *physical* process. Relying on eye-catch responsiveness and immediate momentary choices.

I like how the immediacy and time pressure plays upon the psychology of the *player* as well as he character - do you use your interrupt now or wait to interrupt an even faster character? Where are you in the sequence? Do you want to interrupt the only person below you, or wait in the hopes that other faster payers will burn their interrupts before you come up? Its very elegant.

Depth of Modding

Because you have Characters, 'Styles' which partially define them, and 'moves' which are chunky individual pieces of rules info - I can also see why this game is very open to modding and to just adding more and more stuff - because it has a Rules Commons. Once you create a new style, you can go back and apply it to any character, your own, or those of the imagined world.

And of course you can keep coming up with 'moves' and fighting styles with more and more granularity and invention if you wish.

You could do a 'hyper-real' Street Fighter game by just taking out the Chi powers and maybe making damage more consequential. You could also make it a WuShu fantasy by cranking that stuff up.

Depth of Play

I can see why this game still has fans because the way moves are selected, with everyone modelling each others assumed abilities and actions, on both the character and the player level, and then selecting a manoeuvre, and then considering when and how to interrupt, in an IRL environment with the complications of time pressure from the imaginary world AND from the time pressure of the card game from IRL, and add to that the fact that as you are playing both with and against different characters you are learning about their powers AND about the nature of the *Player*... All of this suggests to me a great possible depth of play.

The combination of 'teaming-up' and fighting each other, which is supported by the context of the game and its world, ("you are my comrade, but this round is *mine*") makes this a twin-axis game of co-operation AND managed competition without it necessarily breaking the game. PvP is not a fail state.

And since you are all learning systems mastery AND about each others characters and desires, and about the deisres OF the characters and their imgined nature, that could create a very fruitful space for gameplay and consideration.

Rules can run out of interest. Perhaps human interaction can run out of interest. But in Street Fighter you have rules, human interaction and changing character interaction all the time.

Another rather wonderful image which, I must say again


  1. Interesting. I've often seen this held up as a good and underrated game but I've never had a close look at it. The idea of the White Wolf system powering a martial arts rpg seems absurd, but then again there's Exalted.

    (But then again, as the joke goes, there's Exalted.)

    The way you describe it makes me think there is something to it though. There's something quite interesting here, and I'd like to give it a go.

    1. Apparently people are still doing zines of this somewhere.

  2. One of the core strengths of the system imo is the fast pace. Most of the math is done beforehand and recorded on the cards. Each round you only have to do one math (damage minus soak) and 1 roll (a number of dice equal to that math).

    This keeps combat very fast paced compared to D&D where I've seen people arguing for an hour about a single round of combat, (but still very deep, you just do most of the math ahead of time).

  3. Blanka was my favourite Street Fighter, too! I was about ten years old when the local kebab shop installed a Street Fighter II machine, instantly transforming it into a place of pilgrimage for every preteen boy for miles. I was so excited by my first exposure to the game that I drew a crude but heartfelt picture in felt-tip pen of Blanka beating the crap out of Vega and pinned it on my bedroom wall.

    Of course he was taught how to use his electric powers by electric eels. Of course he was. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. Before the colors deepened and grew small.

    1. Pour a Lilt on the sidewalk for our lost homie..

    2. My local kebabby also had a SFII machine, except one of the positions had a broken joystick so you could only ever play it solo.

  4. I loved this game when it came out, and probably spent a good chunk of time creating my own rules for doing "Ranma 1/2" characters with alternate stats, ec.

    I think the weirdest thing about it was that there wasn't a mechanic in which a defending person could really affect the outcome of an attack. You could move away, but otherwise if you were adjacent you'd likely get hit. Which actually emulated the game quite a bit.

    1. There is a block move I think, but you have to be faster than your attacker in the same turn to make it really count.

  5. combat is remarkably fast. One thing I've found with new games and players is you need a do over. New players typically mess up their character or make them unworkable initially. Refining that after your first session is almost a must.

  6. I had the RPG when it first came out. Later I picked up Magic and although one is cards and the other is dice, they have similar feel to them.

    Was this the first white wolf engine game? It might have been.

  7. Yes, this is the first WW Engine game leading to AEON, ABERRANT et al.

    I liked the expansion stuff found in the SFRPG companion book that encouraged players to move a bit beyond the "network of international street fighting leagues" trope and into the 60s & 70s pulp paperback "men's adventure" genre found in series like The Executioner and The Destroyer, TV shows like Man From UNCLE and I SPY, and movies like ENTER THE DRAGON and every Roger Moore and Sean Connery Bond movie. Very much a predecessor to FENG SHUI RPG.

    There is a small but fervid online community for the game, focused in South America, producing new fan material, on Facebook - usually in Portuguese.

  8. Much much potential fun to be plumbed here:

  9. I wonder, how does this combat system compare to a game like The Riddle of Steel and derivative games? This is the first time I've heard about this game, but the combat system sounds comparable.

    1. I actually have Blade of the Iron throne but have never run it.

  10. The inspiration for streetfighter 2 might have be the legendary movie The One Armed Boxer vs The Master of The Flying Guillotine. It has a martial arts tournament with various representatives of martial arts, one of which is a Indian yogi with stretching limbs. It doesn't really do the warriors from all over the world that much though but does have representatives from Thailand, India, Mongolia , and Japan , in addition to the Chinese martial artists.

    It also features a soundtrack by Krautrockers Neu, who managed to get 2 songs out of the one by just playing them at different speeds.

    1. Fuck I just watched bits of that on Youtube. The Indian guy is SE Asian in brownface and he has an OWL. Life is wild.

  11. As someone that grew up playing loads of Streetfighter in the arcades and on the SNES, and then got into ropey White Wolf games in the 90s, this totally spoke to me when it came out and I bought it as soon as I saw it. Then of course I went on to never actually run it or play it, which was the fate of about 90% of the games I bought

  12. Blanka was my favourite SF2 fighter, partly because I thought an electric mutant Tarzan was cooler than some martial arts guy, but also because he was a good character for someone like me who was a total button-masher when I played. I could never be bothered learning strings of controls to do stuff (let alone combos) which is why I drifted away from the whole fighting game genre after the SF2 era