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Friday, February 27, 2015

Play Testing Nova74.

The other night we successfully tested a game I had been kicking around called Nova 74.

Those of you who have been reading this blog or a while may remember I mentioned it once or twice in 2014 and specifically in a post about a game with a similar setting that popped up on kick starter.

This will not be an actual Play post. (no-one reads those any way, do they?) This will be more of a look at what we did with the game as it was for this first trial run.
For the record this game is very much a "Mark Game." Meaning it's  nothing like AAIE. While I love AAIE and can have a cracker jack night of gaming with it, it's a black sheep among my designs.


The  B rated, and over the top side of 70's of Television and Movie crime Fiction.
Influences include serial crime dramas, Blacksplotation films, Grindhouse films.
Barretta, kojack, Shaft, Super Fly, Coffee, Switchblade Sisters, Dirty Harry, ect. I wonder about  Blade runner ... Hrmmmm

So basically crime drama set in a mythological America where the saturation and contrast are turned all the way up.

Dirty Harry, 1971

The first thing I bump up against in this game not so much as a designer but a person is stereotyping. I can't look at this time period, and these genres of film through the lens of 2015 and not say, "Well damn.. EVERY character is some stereotype that in this day and age is either insulting or downright  racist / sexist / what ever."
Does that make it wrong to portray those characters in a game being run in 2015? I'm not 100% sure. This is a bigger topic than I want this post to cover but I had to at least mention it and promise to get back to it when I have a more thought out view and we have played a couple more times. If anything I have to remind my self that in making a game genre specific, a designer has to be ready to not dodge all the baggage that comes along with the genre.


A big bruising bounty hunter
Jonny Lee wong
A overweight kung fu fighter modeled after Samo hung.

First off both guys made characters separately  and brought them together in the beginning of the game. Like mos t of the games I  work on, this is the  least optimal way to  do it, in truth  I have an ideal about every one sitting around and making characters as a group. I rarely ever get to see this ideal in action.
For Nova the group part of creating characters consists of  the 10 character background questions. The answers to these questions often involve the other players. Particularly questions like  "which other player character do you know and how do you know them." It would be better to have everyone together in the room for the process.

The back  ground questions are:
  1. What does the character do for cash?
  2. Name one person the character trusts.
  3. Name one person who might help the character.
  4. Name one person the charter is friends with.
  5. Name one person the  character hates, and why
  6. Who does the character want vengeance against, and why? (yes everyone  wants revenge in Nova 74)
  7. Name one thing the character treasures.
  8. Name one thing the character absolutely believes in.
  9. Pick another player character this character knows, say how they know each other.
  10. Name one person this character and another player character (can be a different character than picked for question 9) both know, and how do they both know that person.
Numbers 5 and  6 need a re-write to make them more distinct.
Number 10 needs to be reworded.
All of them need honing so that they are more evocative, and genre specific.

The hard ride 1971

As the Gm I looked over the  answers to the questions and made a nice list of  NPC's that the characters already know.
the  players answers hit all those notes from old 70's cop movies. Among the cast of  characters, an old hobo named Lip Balm Bill, A pimp with  "A heart of gold,"  a Go Go  Dancer by night mechanic by day, and a naturally a nefarious drug dealer.

There's also Harley's motorcycle which might as well be  an NPC.

So we played a short game (very short) based on the  back drop of a hot summer night in the  city.
I got right into doing things so that we would have to roll some dice. I feel in my minds eye this would be a heavy talk kind of game that gets punctuated by moments of sudden violence, not unlike the movies the game is based on.

Because I like employing a light hand, I started with a brothel getting firebombed.

In the spirit of boring every one with  details, the dice work like this.
GM sets a difficulty.
Player rolls if the  player rolls under the difficulty it's a fail,  player rolls over the difficulty it's a partial success, player hits the  difficulty number on the nose , its a perfect success. The players descriptor values (1 to 3) can be used to modify the roll up or down in an effort to create a perfect success. When modifying the die roll the player must say what he or she is doing  to move towards a success.

In play it came out like this.
Harley was sneaking up on the  house where he thought the firebombing drug dealer was holed up. Two brawny guards are siting on the  porch.
Harley uses his streetwise descriptor (2 ) to sneak up.
He fails the roll by 1 so he uses a point of streetwise to raise the roll up one to a perfect success.
The player says how Harley  uses a stone to knock out a street lamp at the corner to both provide more darkness to sneak in distraction the thugs.

GM-ing, the  system I realized quickly it's not easy to fail if the  player has a score of three in a  descriptor. I also realized quickly that having the player talking that long about turning failure into success, is really helpful as a way to gather information about how the players wants that character to bee seen, how they want to portray that character and what's important to them. It's a win, win.

"Shaft in Africa 1973"
Combat was a bit rougher around the edges.
I wrote the game so that there are no "hit points" But rather damage levels for deadly and  non deadly combat. It is possible to get knocked out by one punch or killed by one bullet. That is genre expropriate and I thought worked very well.
Players have a way to avoid insta death, but we never had to use it in this game.
Still this genre demands that combat be deadly enough that players think twice before engaging, and  colorful enough that it's fun when they do.

However on the other side of things, I totally forgot to include what happens when an enemy scores a partial success against a player. That has been fixed, but it was a huge oversight that I just felt stupid about.

The combat involve rolling 2 dice and deciding which one will be the characters offense and which one will be their defense. The choice of defensive die becomes the enemies target number for their attacks.

Don't Bind Your Legs!
One good example is Johnny Lee Wong, side kicked a guy in the chest. The roll was extreme, one high die, one low die. The player choose the  high die as his  hit roll and the low die as his defense. The player  even said, "I hope I get this guy cause I KNOW he is going to hit me back." Luckily yes, he knocked him out cold.

Another good example is Harley scored a partial success while attacking another thug, who as a result of Harley  splitting his nose with a head butt dropped his lit joint and set the curtains afire.

All in all the combat clipped along nicely, and looked like it could be both cinematic and deadly.

A pretty successful play test over all. The guys enjoyed the game, and we even had a nice moment where the die mechanic clicked for one player and he was like, "yeah I love that." I don't care who you are that's the moment that feels good when you write a game.

So moving forward.

I am adding the danger system next, which  is whenever a player rolls a 1 on an action the group danger level goes up by 1, when that danger level hits 10, the next person who rolls a one will have something about their character change drastically, and unpleasantly. This should be a sword over every ones head.
Truck Turner 1974
Mechanically the answer to one of their 10 character creation questions will be dramatically changed. Is the only person you trust (No.2) your sister? guess what she was just found shot dead in the trunk of a car, or worse she double crossed you. The Gm will shatter what ever it is you believe in (no.8) What do you do for cash (No1.) guess what! Your job is the  front for the  drug dealer you want to take vengeance on.. and so on.
It's the twist in the movie, the knife in the back, it's what makes Truck Turner go on a shooting spree.
Danger will be in for the next play test.

Combat needs to be  re-written and cleaned up so that it makes better sense and so I can  remember to tie up all the loose ends.

Everything needs to be more genre specific and written to convey theme.

Thank you for reading.
Please leave any questions or comments in the trunk of the 1974 Nova fast back below.

This is an 8 track boom box.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Players want a simple game that gets out of the way ! Or do They ?

Here you go a complete Role playing game for a fantasy setting that gets out of the way and never holds your hand at all.
This is what we all want right!

If so why do designers continue to make games? Why not just say, "Here's some pretty pictures of Barbarians and caves. Roll D20 if the GM says you succeed, you do, if not you don't, now go play."
Should we all be playing S.L.U.G
Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Is the  following game any good?
Is it complete thing, like a thing for which you would give your money to a guy in a booth at MassiveCon ?
Could the vast majority of  people reading this blog go and  run a fun game for their friends with it?
Yes I bet they could, because you folks are awesome.

So why are RPG systems not just this....
because this would require allot of work to get up and running..

Oldest School RPG: A game that does not hold your hand at all, ever.

Die mechanic:  
Action Checks: Roll 1d20 target number rolling under an attribute.

Pick a class:
Roll attributes:
All Attribute rolls are based on your choice of class.
Attributes are rolled once in the order they are listed. No swapping no re-rolling.

Cast spell

Hit points:
At level 1 the  character’s hit points equal their Health score.
Base Armor score:
At level 1 is  equal to the  characters agility.  
Starting gold: 1d20 x 15 gp
Priests start with a 50 page prayer book. with  5 pages used up with the basic blessings.
Wizards start with a 50 page spell-book with 5 pages taken up by the starting spells.
Warriors start with  50 foot of rope 12 torches and an attitude.

Wearing armor  does not make it  harder for your character to be hit, it subtracts damage from the blows that do land.
Physical attacks come in three styles. Slicing , Piercing, and  Bludgeoning. Each type of armor absorbs each type of attack differently.

Armor score mod
Cast spell /
None or
Chain types
Scale types
Plate types
All weapons do 1d10 damage.

Weapon type
Damage type
stabbing blades
long blades
slash or pierce
choose at time of attack
Curved blades
Ax weapons
Great weapons
Slash or Bludgeon
Choose at time of attack
two handed
two handed
Comes with 5
points of ammo
Ignores armor
Attack every
other turn.
two handed,
Comes with 5
points of ammo
Pole arms  / long spears
can hold
opponents away
rather than
do damage
Maces, morning stars
clubs staves chuggles
Gm discretion based on situation
up to GM

Leveling up:
Characters level up  by gaining experience.
Experience is gained differently for each  class and must be tracked by the  players. the  Gm can give in game exp rewards any time he or she wishes.

Gain 1 experience for each point of damage they deal, and 1 point for every 10 gold pieces of treasure they find.
Gain 1 point of experience for each point of damage they heal, and 1 point of experience for every 10 pieces of gold they donate to their church. (track this gold amount separately)
Gain 1 point of experience for each level spell they successfully cast, 1 point of  experience for every  10 gold they put into building their tower and research facility. (track this gold amount separately)

(yes the speed of progression will go  Fighter >Priest>Wizard.)
EXP level
F= fighter
P= priest
W= Wizard
F +1d8 hp
P +1d6 hp
W +1d4 hp
F +1d8 hp
P +1d6 hp
W +1d4 hp
F +1d8 hp
P +1d6 hp
W +1d4 hp
F +1d8 hp, 2 attacks per round
P +1d6 hp, + 1 ability (18 max)
W +1d4 hp
F +1d10 hp
P +1d8 hp
W +1d6 hp + 1 ability (18 max)
F +1d10 hp + 1 ability (18 max)
P +1d8 hp
W +1d6 hp
F +1d10 hp
P +1d8 hp + 1 ability (18 max)
W +1d6 hp
F +1d10 hp
P +1d8 hp
W +1d6 hp + 1 ability (18 max)
F +1d10 hp x2 damage on nat 1
P +1d8 hp x2 damage on nat 1
W +1d6 hp x2 damage on nat 1

Playing the game, Combat:
First rule: Unless otherwise specified all rolls are equal to or less than. Meaning if the attribute is a 12 any  roll of 12 or less will succeed.
Second rule: The Gm has the right (in fact the responsibility) to modify any target number for the better or worse in all situations.
Round: the time in which every  character and enemy  gets to take an action.
Turn: Each individual character or NPC’s chance to declare and resolve an action within a round.

Initiative is rolled once at the start of a combat
Every player rolls 10 + agility
The gm does the same for all monsters adding a flat +3 for monsters where their agility is unknown.
Characters and monsters act in initiative order from lowest to highest, ties are decided by the GM.
Actions cannot be held, any player that asks for a skip or a hold action loses their turn, the  character stands there dumbfounded.

physical melee:
The  attacker rolls 1d20 trying to roll under their own strength attribute.
The defender rolls 1d20 trying to roll under their own armor score.
Attacker succeeds Defender fails: Defender takes 1d10 damage
Attacker fails Defender Succeeds: Attacker takes 1d6 damage
Both succeed Both take 1d6 damage
Both fail No effect

The  attacker rolls 1d20 trying to roll under their own agility attribute.
The defender rolls 1d20 trying to roll under their own armor score.
Attacker succeeds Defender fails: Defender takes 1d10 damage
Attacker fails Defender Succeeds: Attacker loses 1 point of ammo
Both succeed no effect (shot held, not fired, what ever)
Both fail No effect

by spell description Roll VS spell casting

Priest blessings
By blessing description. Roll VS commune

Damage is done to the targets Hit points
Damage is equal to the  rolled damage - the appropriate armor value.
When the hit points fall to zero  the  target is dead.
level 1 characters will not last long, as it should be.

Skill checks:
Every other kind of action follows this process
The  player declares what the character would like to do.
The GM decides if any roll is necessary if one is the Gm decides which attribute the character will roll against.  Decide as many  things without rolling as possible.
The  Player rolls 1d20 if the result is equal to or lower than the attribute the action succeeds if not the  action fails.

Spells and Blessings:
A wizards and  Priests may  cast a number of spell per day equal to their intelligence + level.
When casting the player must roll equal to or  under their cast spell attribute on 1d20 for the  spell to take effect.
The following spells can be considered common in any new wizards spell book.

Magic Bolt:
damages one target in line of sight per level of caster for  1d6 damage. Range is 100 feet
read magic:
This spell allows the cast to read any sort of magical script. lasts 10 minutes per level.
Detect magic:
Mages magical items in the same room as the  caster glow. If the caster is in a huge room or in the open the  spell fails.
can create a torch like light that follows behind the caster 1 hour per caster level.
The caster can  shock anyone they can touch for  1d8 damage. Any human sized or smaller target must roll under their strength on d20 or be knocked down. This effect is conducted through mettle.

These are the five basic blessings any young Priest would know.
This blessing  heals any touched ally of 1d10 damage.
Holy weapon:
This blessing  causes the  blessed weapon to do an extra 1d6 damage to  evil or undead targets for 1 round per  level of the priest.
This blessing allows the priest to purify water or food of a volume equal one person's worth of food for one day  per level of the caster.
Harm evil:
This blessing causes 1d6 damage to any evil or undead creature within 10 feet of the caster.
Bless: Costs 2 casting slots
this grants the target a re-roll usable only in the same round as the blessing was cast.

Research a new spell or gaining a new blessing:
discuss the effect you would like to produce with the spell.
The Gm will decide the following
  1. How many of your  daily spell or blessing slots this  spell will require.
  2. Any modifiers to the roll for researching the spell.
  3. roll 1d6 to determine how many pages of the caster's spell or prayer book the spell will take up.
  4. how much damage/ healing or other effect the spell will create.
  5. how much gold the spell will cost to research.
  6. Anything the character  might have to  get to conduct the research. In other words things to quest for.
Once all of this is in place the player may make  1 research roll per character level.
The Character must be successful on a number or rolls  equal to the number of daily spell or blessing slots this  spell will require. If the player succeeds the character  now has a new spell.
If unsuccessful the character must wait until the next level to try again.

Further Spell and blessing effects must be negotiated with the GM. No spell should do more than 1d10 damage or healing  to a single target in a single action without some other limiting factor.

That’s the game. It’s an RPG. Go play.
Why not?

I have a theory, as much as I read about folks wanting games that are simple and get out of the way, that's not the kind of game that makes it to peoples tables. From what I have seen what I think gets accepted largely comes down to systems that invoke a certain style of play, or embrace an accepted aesthetic. These factors vary widely form community to community and from table to table within those communities, but simplicity isn't something I see very highly valued, even if it is mentioned quite a bit.
Players choose systems for a wide variety of reasons, hell I would play  DCC simply as an excuse to look at that amazing book. 
Designers design games in a constant quest to marry the experience at the table with the vision in their heads. Just like good Gm's can bend pretty much any system to what ever insanity gets whipped up; good designers can marry an original system with content and context so it looks like they were all born to be together.
That's why the  simple system with  lack of context rarely wins out. Why would it when you can stare at the image from  Lamentations of The Flame Princess and see 1000 stories in that one face? Knowing that within the book there is a solid system that supports all of the things that face suggests, seals the deal.
My final point is this,  when playing a game remember the games system rarely gets out of the way, it only feels that way. The art of it is creating a system that becomes so married to what the character's are doing that every one at the table can't imagine one without the other. Being simple, is simply not enough.

Thanks for reading.
Questions and comments below as per normal question and comment protocol, 
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Friday, February 20, 2015

Add Flavor to your D&D 5thed combat.

I was thinking last night about combat in D&D 5th edition and had a bit of  brain storm concerning adding  details to Fighter / warrior combat without involving more dice throwing.

Here is what I came up with more or less on the fly.
I'm spit-balling here, I have not tested any of this yet.

This will involve 2 steps.
Step 1:
Take each character and monster and divide their hit points by 5.
The resulting number should be jotted down as what I am going to call the Character's  "break" number.

If any single attack does equal to or more than the targets "break number" the attacker can cause a "break effect." on that target.

So if for example the  level 10 fighter has 100 hit points any singe attack that does 20 (hp / 5) or more damage will cause a break effect.

  • My thought was players could choose a break effect rather than a feat or attribute bonus when they achieve a level where they could take an attribute bonus. The player would choose weather o not to invoke the break effect when  enough damage is scored.
  • Monsters could have them randomly assigned or added to the monster combat description.
  • Some magic items might be triggered by scoring a break effect.
  • Some spells could have these effects tacked on by a caster, perhaps by spending a higher spell slot. Ala D&D 2nd editions meta magical effects.
  • This could be a nice way to  dress up monk physical attacks?
  • I had some of the  fancier types of pole-arms in my  head when I wrote these. I think this system is a good way to simulate some of the tripping and guard break techniques of pole arm fighting, without getting too crunchy.
    Note 2:
I will list some possible break effects below (avoiding die rolls where I can.)
Some of these effects will have mechanical values such as granting advantage or disadvantage, others will have only descriptive value. (These description only effects are marked with a D.)
In the course of a combat, a descriptive value can become  a mechanical boon  if creatively used by the group. "Sent reeling" is a nice chance for the DM to describe a victim flailing backwards from the  force of a blow. The same result  becomes even more interesting if the target is standing next to a flaming building, a pit, or some magical webs.

Crowd sourcing even more of "Break effects" would be fantastic, so if you are reading this and have ideas leave them in the comments section.

(For these descriptions "Attacker" is always the  person doing the  damage, "Target" is always the  person taking the effect.)

  1. Guard break: The attack forces the target's guard away, putting them at disadvantage on any attack rolls next round.
    Note 1:
  2. Trip: The attack is telling, the  target is now off balance, if the target fails their next combat roll they will topple over.
  3. Rend (D.): The attack causes a nasty wound, let the attacker describe it.
  4. Deep wound: The attack goes deep and the target will bleed severely for 3 rounds loosing 1d4 Hp per round
  5. Bash: This is a resounding blow any other friendly  who attacks this  target this round will have advantage.
  6. Disarm: If applicable, the  target drops or fumbles their weapon.
  7. Stagger (D.): The target is sent reeling away form the  attacker.
  8. Alarming  blow: The  target is forced to make a morale check.
  9. Crippling attack: The  target will not gain any strength bonuses on next round, if they don't have strength bonuses they  will be at a disadvantage for the next round.
  10. Feint: The  attacker off balances the  target in such a way that it sets up the next attack. The target looses it's dexterity bonus to armor for the next round versus attacks from the same opponent.
  11. Sunder: The attacker knocks aside the targets guard then strikes true, doing additional damage equal to the attackers proficiency bonus.
  12. Daze: The target looses any  any  non-magical wisdom bonuses for passive perception or saves for the next round. 
  13. Flurry (D.): This  chunk of damage was not done by one blow but a rain of fast strikes meant to overwhelm the  opponent.
  14. Stick and move: The attack lands in such away that the attacker has time to change position before the target gets to act.
  15. Crumple (D.): The attack hits the target in the  chest and  crumples them to their knees (if appropriate.) This only applies to  humanoid creatures of the  same size category as the attacker.
  16. Cracked (D.): If the target has a shield it is torn from their grip.

  17. Stumble:  The target is so overwhelmed by the ferocity of this attack that they can't stumble and have to  gather themselves. The target is  dropped to  the  end of the  initiative order next turn.
  18. Advantageous Position: The attacker uses this  powerful blow to position them selves for the next attack they  jump to the front of the initiative order next round.
  19. Flair (D.): The attacker strikes with a flourish and great flair (attacker describes.)
  20. Weakening:  This attack stuns the target to it's core, for the next round the  target may not use any non magical bonuses from strength or constitution.
Those are the first 20 I thought of. If you think of any please leave them in the comments section below.
My only guidelines would be:
Try not to add another die roll to the combat.
Try to make the effects last a maximum of  1 (the current or the next) combat round, so the players and  Gm's don't have rounds upon rounds of new effects to track.

As always thank you for  reading.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

If you had had a chance to blow up your campaign, could you?

This is a post about the long standing campaigns out there. Little pieces of the multi-verse that we have been  nibbling away  at intellectually  since high school or even before that.

For me, I started my campaign mostly ran it as a proper game in high school, but the basic map goes back to the very first game I ever ran and  a fighter named Buck looking for a ruby sword. That is a span of something like 26 years give or take. The last time I ran it was Friday, the game included a reference to something that happened in game back in 1994.I know there are folks out there who have been running games in the same world of their own creation for even longer. I know for a fact there are people out there who have kept better maps and  notes over the years than I have.

My question to you is what would it take to for you to blow it up?

Not start something new, but  rend the  old world to pieces.

How would it happen?

The introduction of new powerful magic can change a world for ever. Dropping a city  like Sigil form Planescape into a campaign would take that setting from being the center of everything to just one location in a vast multiverse.

The sun turns Red and ho, ala Athas.

The oceans away boil into vast steam clouds.

Never ending rain

A huge cosmic monolith  crashes into the world destroying a major city and everything around it.

A large object crashes down from the heavens causing  a cataclysmic impact.

Four great cracks open in the worlds crust spreading wider and wider, rending  cities apart and dividing the lands.

Aliens, time travelers, conquistadors, returning  gods, plague?

Any one of those ideas could be the start or at least the basis of a great campaign, but could you do it to you long existing setting?

When I first started writing  "Shards of Thimbral"  my  original concept was that the sharded world was the remains of my old campaign world. In the end I couldn't do it. Wanting to start fresh and slough off all those D& D soaked tropes was part of it.  Another strong part of it was I emotionally didn't want to blow up my game world.

So could you?
If you could how would you do it?

Thank you for reading.
Please leave any question , comments or  answers in the  smoldering  remains of civilization below.