RPPR Episode 152: Picaresque Perfect

Sponsor: BPB Games is running a Kickstarter for their latest project, Savage Tokusatsu, a supplement for Savage Worlds that lets you use transforming heroes, kaiju, giant robots, and more! RPPR’s Aaron is working on this project, so be sure to check it out!

News: We have a new show for the RPPR Patreon! Don’t Cross the Stream looks at a title on a streaming site and analyzes it for its gameable material. We have 3 episodes online as of this episode. Check it out!

Synopsis: I have mentioned the Picaresque genre/style several times over the years on RPPR but I recently realized we haven’t done a full episode on it. In short, it’s about sympathetic outsiders who dabble in criminality, with no real overarching plot. Sounds like more than a few RPG campaigns I’ve been in. Bill and I talk about the genre, how it can be used as inspiration for RPG players and GMs, and more. We also have shout outs and an anecdote!

Shout Outs

Song: Evening Tide by Kulpa

Liked it? Take a second to support RPPR on Patreon!


  1. You know, I’m thinking that just about the only thing that it would take to transform Red Markets from a great horror game into a great picaresque game would be to cut the Humanity damage system.

  2. The way you describe picaresque stories makes me think you’re basically creating murderhobos intentionally. Both are about social outsiders who wander from one conflict to another without ever developing into a grander narrative with substantive character development, except it doesn’t happen due to player-GM adversary.

  3. Thanks a million for this great episode. You see, I am just on the verge of publishing Quickstart rules for a RPG in which the players play as outcasts in a fantasy world that is ruled over by a set of exclusively spiteful and bored deities that play with humans for their sport. I trust it’s not hard to see why your episode has given me LOTS of food for thought. The Picaresque genre is now definitely on my radar!

    Some random responses:
    1) I’d like to reiterate the idea that one does not have to slavishly stick to all of the genre’s conventions. In particular, episodic story-telling and set personalities do not seem to be required to me. Aren’t these just conventions born out of publishing concerns – to allow a reader (or TV show viewer) to miss a book (episode) and get right back into the franchise without problems?

    2) The main problem I see with it in RPGs is keeping the PCs poor, for the most part. How do you do that when they have combat and stealth capabilities to go on classic fantasy adventures? It’s not hard for them to kill people and take their stuff or steal it outright. Even worse: PCs tend to not spend all of their ill-begotten gain on wine and wenches but rather to invest in gear that will make them even more powerful. This requires some clever game design to come up with for a commercial RPG that facilitates such poverty without frustrating the players (who, mind you, are accustomed to very different fantasy heroes in games and are likely to scoff at it). And, to avoid more player frustration, there needs to be a path out of poverty based on their skill (player skill, not PC skill!) in gameplay. If it becomes apparent that the PCs can never ever escape their station, no matter what, players will stop to care.

    3) As for Shadowrun, I have a recommendation: in the Cyberpunk 2020 scenario anthology “Tales from the Forlorn Hope”, there is a scenario called “Girls’ Night Out” which I trust would form the right core for the type of Shadowrun adventure you’d like to experience, Ross. I recommend it, I have run it in a homebrew system for the Shadowrun world a couple of years ago, it was lots of fun. If you want to GM such a game, I recommend you check it out yourself or, otherwise, pass the recommendation on to your Shadowrun GM.

    @trekie140: As I understand it, Picaresque is exactly not about murder, except in extreme cases. It’s about roguishness instead and having fun being a bum. I suppose it’s another major game design challenge to incentivize the player to not cross that line.


  4. One day I want to pull a Baby Driver and subvert the Mr. Johnson thing.

    Withnail & I is one of my favourite films and it gets super Picaresque in places.

  5. Hey Ross if you realy like Gray seer Thanquol in skaven slayer book you should check out the book Gray seer where you get to follow him and get a deeper insight into the skaven way of Life.

Leave a Reply