Saturday, May 5, 2018

Building be67, a LL/MF supplement for the weird 60s, Part 3 (classes, ability scores, skills and weapon mastery)

Here we are again, talking a bit more about how to transport your Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future game into the Weird Sixties (which totally should be a thing, btw, but isn't). More Grindhouse aesthetic, more gory violence, more funky stuff. All optional, of course. Today we'll explore a bit the classes for be67, ability scores, skills, weapon mastery and some random character generation. Here we go ...

You want to catch up? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 a bit further below.

[source]
  (Random) Character generation

I had it all a bit backwards, since I wanted to show you guys the "extraordinary splatter" part of the game (and because those parts adapt well to all basic editions). However, this (probably) last part of the series will give you the complete character creation process in the order I'd do it at the table. If you know D&D/LL/MF or any other game like it, you'll know your way around and spot the differences easily enough.
Most of the changes here are cosmetic to some degree or another, because we are playing the Weird Sixties, baby ...

1. ABILITY SCORES

Roll 3d6 per ability score, in order. Re-roll one ability score (keep better result). The ability scores are (names will defer from the editions you know):
  • POWER! – a character’s strength (bonus to attack)
  • Dex (was here) – a character’s finesse (bonus to AC)
  • Con is for Constitution (bonus to hp per level)
  • Wits – a character’s intelligence (skill points)
  • Zen – a character’s wisdom (bonus to social interaction & Initiative)
  • Funk – a character’s groove (luck pool)
A player may take any amount from his Funk score as a bonus to Saves or rolls or to reduce damage he received. The only ways to regain those points are (1) whenever a character gains a new level (restore up to the original maximum), (2) a wish and (3) a heavy psychedelic experience.
I may offer an alternative way in the rules to roll up ability scores (the rule originates here):
Players may roll 18d6, and note every single result. For every rolled 6, players may re-roll a lower result and take the new roll instead.  Three digits make an ability score, players can combine as they see fit (and can do so after they (or the dice!) decided on their class, see below).
[source]
2. CLASSES (roll 3d6: 1. is the class, 2. is some flavor (see class entry and 3. is the character’s level … follow class descriptions for individual results) 
-------------------

1. Convict – A tough criminal (+3 to physical saves) that has “reasons” to join the party (2nd d6):
  1. he’s fighting for his freedom
  2. his sister, a prostitute, is in trouble
  3. he gets paid a giant sum to do one specific task here (and keeps it secret, needs to talk to DM)
  4. someone has his wife and child as a hostage to exploit him for his skills
  5. he’s in debt and this solves it
  6. Revenge!
  • HD: 1d10 per level
Tough Shiv – if it’s pointy and stabby you automatically get an extra die for damage.
Weapon Mastery: All weapons damages for ranged are d4, Brawl and Close Combat are d6. Everything else needs to get learned separately. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10). Exotic is zero.
-------------------

2. Spy – She’s a spy, that’s what she is (get +2 on all Saves when the cause relevant for the mission). The mission is (2nd d6 - the DM will tell you what exactly … or at least what you are allowed to know):
  1. steal some documents
  2. save the world, of course
  3. kill a target that knows too much
  4. destroy evidence
  5. contact a source
  6. extract a double agent
  • HD: 1d6 per level
Agency Support – [level times] you get support during a mission from the agency you are working for. Needs to be plausible and the DM decides how it manifests. It always solves a scene, not a mission.

Weapon Mastery: Small Ranged and Heavy Ranged are d6, the rest is d4. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10.
Spies double their Dex bonus to AC.

-------------------

3. Military – You are a grunt (double hp-result when rolled, always) and you are here to follow orders from (2nd d6):
  1. no one, this shit should be in your past … in Vietnam
  2. one of the other players is your superior (true for all military, even if they might have someone else, too … choose player randomly and give it a reason)
  3. your rank makes you the superior
  4. the president gave you those orders
  5. this is a personal matter
  6. black ops, bitches
If there’s more than one soldier in the group, chose the d6 with the higher number for the motivation and the lower number as the level of one additional NPC soldier in this task force. Add a soldier like that each time (so with 3 player soldiers, you'd have a troupe of 5 soldiers: 3 players and 2 non player characters).
  • HD: 1d8 per level 
Nuke ‘em from orbit (one time, all Soldiers in the team) – collect all the hp the troupe loses during the mission. One time, as a last resort, you can roll a d100 with the lost xp as an upper limit. If the roll is below, you can give the order to nuke the place from orbit. Radio contact needs to be established, the strike will be 3d6 minutes later.

Weapon Mastery: If it is a weapon, you can use it with d6. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. Exotic is zero.

-------------------

4. Activist – You are fighting The Man and your cause is (2nd d6):
  1. fighting fascism
  2. fighting gene experiments
  3. fighting pollution
  4. fighting big corp
  5. world piece
  6. no, this is a family matter 
  • HD: 1d8
For The Cause! – Refresh all your hp [level times]. You keep coming back, man.

Weapon Mastery: Activists get Brawl and Small Ranged as a d6 and no other weapons. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. Exotic is zero. 

-------------------

5. Journalist – The story is the thing, man. You want it all and pictures (2nd d6 times 200 is the currency you have left to work the story where it happens … getting there, equipment and all that are all already payed for).
  • HD: 1d8 per level
Journalistic Immunity – You get [level times] combats ignored as long as you do nothing but non-combative actions (taking photos, giving First Aid and so on).

Weapon Mastery: Your camera is your weapon, but roll 1d6 (your 3rd) and buy weapon skills for 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. You always start buying the d4, every stage needs to be bought.

-------------------

6. Flower Child – Religious nut, inspired being or just a drug addict that’s on the wrong party … you are the hippie of the group. The result of the d6 is the number of drug doses you have at your disposal right now (LSD, most likely). You could share, if you want to … you are highly immune anyway (+5 to Saves against poison when perusing drugs).
  • HD 1d12 per level
Smother them with kindness - [level times] you can resolve a conflict without everyone resorting to violence. Need to win initiative for it, though, and all involved have a difficult (vs. 25+1 for everyone failing the Save) Save to avoid the peaceful solution (if one doesn’t make it, he gets one free round to do damage, after that everyone is entitled to join).

Seeing it as it is
– They have no filter and see the monsters that hide amongst humanity for what they are. This is active all the time, but nobody believes them. They take lots of drugs, after all.

Weapon Mastery: No weapon skills to begin with (love, not war, baby). But roll 1d6 (your 3rd) and buy weapon skills for 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. You always start buying the d4, every stage needs to be bought.
Flower children also double their skill points.

[source]
At this point players have their ability scores (or a pool of numbers to distribute), a (random) class, guidelines for weapon mastery and an idea what the group will look like. Each player can also roll hit points at this point. Before we get to skills and what weapon mastery is, though, I'd like to introduce another feature here: 

3. THE RANDOM TRAIT GENERATOR (1D20)

1-2    Thin (-1 to Strength)
3-4    Choleric (-1 to Wisdom, +1 to Constitution)
5-6    Melancholic (+1 to Intelligence)
7-8    Nimble (+1 to Dexterity)
9-12   Normal
13-14  Serene (+1 to Wisdom)
15-16  Vivid (+1 to Luck/Charisma)
17-18  Brawny (+1 to Strength)
19-20  Fat (+1 Constitution, -1 Dexterity)

I've introduced this here. Usually I'll allow players to chose if they want to try their hands on this, since negative consequences are possible. But if they decide to test this table, they roll after they decided on a class and the ability scores are settled.

4. SKILLS

Characters get at character generation 1 skill point for every point Wits above 10. Each point buys a character a "+1" on a chosen skill. A list of skills might follow, for now I just go with what players think appropriate for their character. Other than that it is assumed that character have the skills necessary to play their class. Basic education or driving skills, for instance, are assumed and tested via the ability scores.

[Source]
A skilled character just has an edge on the other characters. So having a "+1" on any skill means that characters will automatically have a partial success if their roll to test the skill (basically 1D20 + ability score vs. difficulty) comes up with a 10 or higher.
Characters get another skill point (+Wits bonus) to distribute like this every 3 levels.
I might go all in here and add the rules I wrote for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs here, as they easily add some depth. Might keep it optional, though.

5. WEAPON MASTERY

Weapon Mastery needs to match the rules discussed in Parts 1 & 2 in that not the weapon itself determines the damage, but the ability of a user to deal damage is what makes the difference. A man that knows how to use a knife might be just as dangerous as one knowing how to use a pistol (at least in the genre we are playing here, ha!). The Weapon Mastery for a modern times game might be a bit different than you'd need for a fantasy game, so here is how I split it:
  • Brawl (Boxing, Judo, Kung Fu)
  • Close Combat (knives and shit)
  • Small Ranged (pistols, semi-automatics)
  • Medium Ranged (shotguns, rifles)
  • Heavy Ranged (sniper rifles, mounted guns)
  • Explosives (c4, dynamite)
  • Exotic (swords or ninjutsu and shit)
Damage dice as per class description. Characters can get 1 damage die raised by one stage every 3 levels.

[source]
The last thing you'll need is a mission

I'll offer a couple of scenarios and mini-adventures for be67 and the Weird Sixties here on the blog. I'm also currently writing a module for this system called "The Rise of Robo-Hitler" and it will hit shelves in December. That said, you could quite easily come up with your own scenario by checking out a vast library of Grindhouse inspired movies and comics and (computer) games from the sixties to today (check the posters alone, here for instance).

Or just take your favorite D&D adventure and twist a bit to work in the Weird Sixties (man, a rewrite of something like B2 to fit the era would be tons of fun ...).

The rules described here will offer wild shot-outs, motivated and colorful characters and bloody action. The rest is what the rules you use provide.

The game of your choice and be67

And that's that. Anything else you might need to make this work is the basic edition compatible game of your choosing: xp, level advancement, saves, everything that is missing so far. I might do some character sheets for LL, MF when I do the one for be67 (or maybe just a mini-sheet for the additional rules?).

I'll twist be67 into form in the next couple of months and it'll be available for free (probably PWYW). A fourth part of this series will probably address loose ends like armor and maybe a table for random splatter events. You don't have to change much with the original rules you are using to make this work for you. For combats, just take a monsters already existing damage dice for the weapons they carry, handle the tokens for them as the players do and you are good to go.


Everything else should apply naturally. Mortality shouldn't be much higher, but people will get crippled more and the game will be way more gritty. As I like it, actually. If you use any of this in your games, I'd be happy to hear how it worked for you, of course. Happy gaming!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

RPG Design: Rules to Project or Rules to Experience?

This is sort of an intermission between development posts for be67. It's something that occurred to me a couple of weeks ago and I see it resonated in my blog-roll every so often (like, three times today alone!). I'm going to lean myself a bit out of the window here and say that there are two major and distinct game design schools in RPG Land. RPGs are either one or the other. Let me explain ...

CAVEAT (just in case someone is looking for a fight): Although I believe myself to be clearly on the one side of this (for reasons I will illustrate below), I don't think that any one side is better than the other. As a matter of fact, the one thing that unites (or divides, for that matter) all DIY designers out there is getting it done or not and I'd argue that it is just as hard to build and write a streamlined minimalist game as it is to write rules that reflect how a world should react to a character out of luck. I also might not be the first to formulate those thoughts. If that's so, I'm happy to just repeat them.

Surrealist game, he said

Patient Zero for this was a post over at Realms of Chirak about surrealism in gaming (I'd tag Nicholas, but I somehow seem to have lost that power here in blogger). That post is interesting for a couple of reasons, but what triggered this particular train of thought was him talking about a game I never had been exposed to: Over The Edge (thank you! now I want that and it doesn't exist anymore).

What he said was, that it is (one of?) the first role playing games out there to embrace surrealist elements. Then he goes a bit into the setting and I went off to read a bit more about that setting (which is cool shit, don't get me wrong) and then I read that it is a very rules light game ...

... wait a minute, I thought, so the surrealist elements come from the setting, not from the system? Well, if you check out the character sheet, you'll see quite fast that there isn't happening a lot from the system side of things (from what I could gather, it's a nice system, though).

It certainly isn't the first time I encountered a game like that (and I'm not talking about games featuring surrealist elements, although one could make an argument for OD&D in that regard). Tékumel is a strong contender for a setting-driven, rules-light game and among the first to be published. Talislanta is another one (No elves!), but that just might be the hand of Jonathan Tweet again, so it only counts half way, I guess.

D&D can be surreal, and you know it ... [source]
I wrote in a post not that long ago (still lost ... can't find it right now, but it's the thought that counts) that strong settings are narrative expansion of the rules and just as strict. All you'll need with a strong setting is a minimalist or light game to make it work (which is one way to see it). I'll leave it at that for now and come back to it later. The distinction we need to make here, is that the game is not heavy on the mechanics, but heavy on the context (or subtext?).

It's Setting vs. Rules, then?

So what are we talking about here? There seems to be a shifting scale between, say, the established story of a game and the rules that determine the outcome of interactions with said world. Both feed the narrative that emerges at the table and the degree with which they dominate is close to the distinction I'm trying to make, just not quite right.

As far as I can tell, this more is about how much is projected into a game and how much is created procedurally. You'll obviously have both aspects in every game. However, I think we can make a clear distinction by looking at the rules of a game for attempts to generate an experience rather than leaving room for projection.

I'll elaborate. Let's take Dungeon World as an example (because I read and reviewed that one). It is very rules light, only has a couple of rules to play with. Everything else is just labeled differently, so the impact on the narrative is shifted with different words describing (mostly) the same mechanic.

DW is interesting as an example for another reason: it shows how OD&D as a set of rules is canonized to a degree that you can actually project it on a lighter system and produce the same feel for the lighter game (if all involved know what D&D is, I'd argue). In the reviews back when I described that as "scripted D&D" and that is just another way of describing the phenomenon.

The "XYZ Hack" is another great example for games like that. Take a light system, change the words and use some strong idea or another as platform to project. Everyone has an idea what pirates are, so pirate games are easy like that. Same goes for Cthulhu games or Pulp games or Kung Fu ... just look at the list.

To a degree you'll have that with every role playing game, as I already pointed out. People will bring their ideas of stories to the table. Always. The difference is, if you need to bring that knowledge to the table, or if the game also delivers and challenges some of that itself.

An easy example for this are the insanity rules in Call of Cthulhu games. The game will tell you how your character goes insane, what that means and how to do something about that while playing the game. Port those rules in any other game and see how it completely changes the flow of that other game.

SWAT guys playing Ballerinas ...

Here's another example for projection versus experience. You bring to the table what you know. If that's all you need, you'll be good to go. The rest is negotiation of the validity of that knowledge with all others involved.

Say, a SWAT team plays some rpg in their off hours (or as training?) about being a SWAT team. They could just go and use something Powered by the Apocalypse or a Hack variant or some other set of minimalist rules and everything else would just fall into place.

But have them play a couple of ballerinas in a Black Swan scenario, and I imagine they'd be as lost as most people. If they were still up to it (because, lets face it, people don't really want to invest that much into the games they are playing ...), there'd be two ways to make this work:
  • (1) would be offering them the setting heavy variant (see above, could just be an extension of a rules light system and still work)
  • OR
  • (2) you introduce them to a system that already took care of the heavy lifting and allows the players to explore that theme themselves.
And that's how you make ballerinas out of a SWAT team. A system like that would seek the essence of what it means to be a competitive ballerina (to stay with the example here) and allows players to explore the game's theme by producing results that form the emerging narrative in a meaningful way towards said theme, not towards the players expectations.

Too unexpected? [source]
They are not negotiating and projecting as much as they are experiencing and interpreting. As they get better at playing the game, they come to an understanding of the underlying themes on a more visceral level ... (you are still looking at that Kirk picture, aren't you?)

You could say it is the long held distinction between so-called "storyteller games" and games that "simulate", but I always questioned that distinction and the above explains why to some extent. However, I might add that all role playing games actually tell a story or simulate in the true sense of the word (which explains why people fight so hard about those definitions, btw, they are not apt to begin with).

Different approaches, I'd say

I'm not saying writing a game to allow exploring a theme is more difficult than writing one that offers projection of known and agreed upon themes, but the difficulties are distributed very differently for each. And the distinction is very real (although overlap, see above).

The complexity for offering a platform for players to project themes upon can go from minimal D6 to GURPS (or other universal role playing games) and all of them are in their way equally hard to design, I imagine.

As far as strengths and weaknesses go, I'd say those games allow easy access for players and low investment on the plus side. Both aspects will get people together easily and get you playing fast. Very nice for short games and one shots.

The downside, however, is that games will most likely lack depth, while only rarely challenging the players and the DM or only in the most superficial way (you have no hit points, you are dead ... but even that's not always the case). The lack of depth and exploration (other than on the narrative side, I suppose) will not allow for huge campaigns and lend itself to entertaining mini campaigns. At least it'll be difficult to keep a story alive for long.

The other side of the spectrum would be games that offer the exploration of their themes through the rules. While campaigns can be longer and more satisfying, because all involved will continually be challenged by the game to learn and extrapolate, instead of just telling/negotiating what's going to happen, it's also a serious commitment. Not everyone is willing to do that.

Also, even if all the rules can be learned during the game, you still have to remember them as the game progresses. You have to want to get better at the game (and, arguably, be able to do so) to really benefit from the game instead of getting, say, frustrated. Ideally, a game will lead you into it's depths, though.

With those games it's also very easy to make mistakes in the design. If a game like that is not well designed, it'll fail.

D&D as prototype

D&D is the best example for the latter variant. Especially in it's early "final" stages, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and AD&D. Highly abstract, high complexity, lots and lots of exploration and little sub-systems to boot (down to having little rules for different monsters!).

It'll keep you engaged for years and then some. Classes are not only different, they are distinct and offer a wide range of different play-styles. The rules are easy on the players in the beginning and grow with the characters.

It's also a true game of exploration, in every sense (which ultimately is why young children find it so appealing!). Fantasy as a genre also played a crucial role in that its generic nature allowed the game to manifest through the rules instead of, say, setting distinctions (a mistake AD&D 2e did, arguably) or strong themes. Just the most basic understanding of what fantasy means was enough to play the game.

D&D, still surreal ... [source]
What's more, the game allowed an easy exit along the way. You just want to play the first 9 or 6 or 3 levels? It's all fun and easy enough to do. However, if you go in deep, you'll find it's very deep indeed, as there are rules for warfare and domain games and becoming gods, for instance. There's also room to develop your own game out of it or add new rules. Or just take aspects of it and run with that for a while.

D&D can do all that and did it so good, in fact, that those rules and it's vocabulary became iconic enough to be used as a theme as well, just as explained above. It helped creating a very successful video game industry and all role playing games developed after D&D did so in distinction to it. Think about that for a minute.

Two schools

Anyway. That's D&D for you. The problem with all that is to decide whether you'd rather explore or project in your games (and you could project exploring, for that matter), or which to what degree. It might come down to taste, and that isn't even a constant. However, knowing is half the battle, right?

As far as developing games goes, I think we are talking two different schools here. Or two different disciplines, if you will. And they are distinct in that they each try to create a very different style of role playing. Each are equally difficult to design, make no mistake about it. However, distinct they are and that comes with huge ramifications as far as definitions go.

Here's something useful to take away from this: if you want to find out if a game is for you (or why a game doesn't work for you), look back at the games you liked so far in the most abstract way you can muster and with the distinctions made in this here post. Then check if that new game does that or not.

So if you are into projecting games that are low on setting, something like Dungeon or Apocalypse World might be totally for you. High complexity experiences, but low time investment? Check out indie rpgs like My Life With Master or 44 (or a bazillion other indie games in that direction). Highly modular, lots of projection, descent mini-campaigns? GURPS or BRPG or universal rpgs in general might work. And so on and so forth.

It'll also give you some indications what players you'll want. I had a game of WitchCraft once go south because the players totally where projecting and ignored the rules to an extent where people with super hero characters played as if they were normal and weak. The game offered no challenges for them on that level, and they weren't happy when the things started happening the game demands to challenge the characters ...

It's an extreme case, but I wouldn't have had that problem using a system accommodating this sort of play, like FATE, for instance. Being able to communicate to potential players what kind of game you want to play is a very good thing, imo (although in the example above it meant that two players had to go and one went with them ... which was for the better, I might add).

A hard distinction to make?

If you read up to this point, you'll probably be thinking up examples where the distinction fails. Good. Please challenge this, as I don't think enough people are. I can imagine people going "But we played GURPS for decades now!" or "Dungeon World is not projecting D&D themes on a rules-light system!" or "D&D has no depth!", and that's all fine and dandy from an individual point of view.

However, please consider that it's distinctions like the above that, on a purely pragmatic level, allow us not only to find ways to talk about the games we play, they also offer a way to reflect and position your own preferences in gaming in relation to them. In an ideal case we talk about it and come to a better definition. Nothing set in stone here.

That said, and adding that there indeed is some overlap, I think it is important to understand that there might be play styles that are not compatible at all and what the reasons for that are. Describing this as the distinction between projection and exploration at least has the benefit that it isn't as nebulous as the "storyteller"/"simulationist" approach.

And that's that: i'd love to hear if you guys see the same distinction or something else. Maybe it's really not that much of a distinction but more like a scale of involvement (although I don't think so ... I strongly believe it's a temperament thing, or at least connected)? Let me hear what you think. Opinions and thoughts are, as always, very welcome.

I just liked that one [source]

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Writing a Labyrinth Lord Supplement (Part 2): More rules and an update after first play-test

I actually aimed to go directly to the next topics (damage and armor), but we got to test the stuff from Part 1 yesterday to see if it holds up. It did, but it needed a little clarification and a couple of additions. I thought I might add a little preview of how damage works while I'm at it. And Pain, let's talk about PAIN while we are at it (pain rules are fun).

Collection of (house) rules used

First of all, the initiative works as advertised. It gets the group talking about the fight and who should do what. We used it in our D&D RC game, so no gun fights yet. It changed the vibe a bit from Grindhouse to something more akin to Anime, which is what I'm going for anyway ... Anime does D&D better than anything else and it's true the other way around (check out the Japanese D&D RC and you'll see).
Love me some French Anime as well ... [Source]
Anyway, we had a test fight and it'd been as gory as I'd hoped. Very satisfying for the players as well (going by their feedback), but they really stressed the system to see if it holds or breaks. Helpful, in a sadistic way (I suppose). Here's a couple of other rules we brought to good use (it's all intertwined and it all will be part of be67):
  • Charisma is Luck (and you can burn Luck): We have a Luck stat (substitute for Charisma) and players roll at the beginning of each session how their Luck bonus influences their rolls (1d4: 1 - Attacks // 2 - Damage // 3 - Initiative // 4 - Saves). Players can use points from Luck to add them to rolls or reduce damage they receive (applies for all in-game rolls). It allows for extremely lucky punches that'd missed otherwise and it saves lives. The catch is (obviously) that a low Luck stat will let you have a negative modifier and that will affect the game (as the character gets, well, unlucky). Luck regenerates with each level advancement.
  • Echo: If a die comes up with its highest possible number, you get to roll the next lower die and add it to the result. If the echo die comes up that high again, you get to add the next lower die and so on (going d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4 ... it stops after d4). Goes for all rolls (I'd even allow it for hp at level advancement, but that's just me).
  • *NEW* Damage dice (remember 10-15-20-30): Considering that hitting a target is not necessarily bound to how high you roll on the d20 (especially on higher levels, but clever players will manage early on to tweak the system in their favor), I utilized that roll further by determining that the numbers themselves potentially generate additional damage dice. With a result of 1 to 9 a player will have the first damage die, 10 to 14 gives a second damage die, 15 to 19 gives the third, 20 to 29 the fourth and so on in steps of ten (echo applies). So this is where it gets bloody (and where random hit locations come in handy ... as does Luck!).
  • *NEW* Pain: If the number of damage dice a combatant is exposed to during a combat round exceeds his level/HD, the combatant needs to make a Save vs Paralyzation to avoid getting the number of dice as a negative modifier for attacks in the next round (the pain will paralyze the combatant to some degree). This is cumulative, so if a couple of combatants successfully hit a tough opponent (say, 10+HD), the cumulative number of dice will eventually get to him. Start each round from zero for each combatant. Dice are not carried into the next round. Undead (and everything that doesn't feel pain, arguably) are obviously not affected.
Again, the system stays mostly intact. It's just a couple of twists and additions. You could even keep Charisma and just use the mechanism described above (burning Charisma instead of Luck). If anything, it'll show you that the terms themselves are connected (just a matter of perspective, in my opinion).

People might get hit a bit more often and lose a limb or two, but Luck and Protect will cover most of that and mortality will be lower instead of higher (although, when a character dies, it'll most likely be as gory as it gets). It's all shifting th scales a bit, adding flavor (like pain and Luck) and tactical decisions (the initiative with its Tokens and tools for cooperation). You will roll a couple more dice, but only when a situation escalates and that is always fun, right?

Now about those adjustments ...

There's really just 4 of them and they change nothing of what was already established, just explore some of the implications for the game as they came up while we were at it. Here we go.

1. Reach

If combatants have reach due to size or the weapons they use, opponent need to spend 1 Token for Move to get "into reach" for smaller close combat weapons. Spears and giants for the win!

[source]
2. Dead Men's Ten

I couldn't find a solid source to see this verified*, but it is straight forward enough: even after a deadly blow is delivered, a combatant might still fight back to a degree, at least carrying out the last attack he intended to do. So, going by the rules established yesterday that actions are declared lowest to fastest Initiative, while resolution will be fastest to slowest, you can see easily how that might not happen when someone who's faster strikes you dead before your turn. One player addressed that and pointed out the "Dead Man's Ten" (bless him) and I offered as a compromise that in such a situation a combatant is allowed a Save vs Deathrays to get this last attack before he collapses dead.

3. Protect others

You can spend Tokens on Protect and give the AC adjustment to other combatants instead of giving it to yourself. Nothing else changes, it's just that another combatant benefits from it.

4. Free Actions

We had to clarify actions that don't cost Tokens. The first is attack routines, as written in the original post, but doing stuff should also be free to some degree, so drawing or changing or picking up a weapon or doing an action similar to that is free (and possible) once per round. You can do 2 things if you chose not to attack (which wouldn't qualify you to get a +1 to the next Initiative, since you did something instead). Casting a spell should also be free and a substitute for an attack routine. So you will either attack and do something or cast and do something or do two things, but never attack and cast in the same round.

What's left?

That about covers it for now. I obviously have to put some thought into how different weapons work, since weapons with reach got a huge boost, but I'll figure that out in a future post. For now, using what was established in Part 1 with the above will give you a new and different combat experience with the D&D rules.

All those had been fun to play around with and while we also used some house ruled classes (a fearless barbarian, for one), it still all mapped quite well. I'll experiment a little with different tactics and critters from the D&D RC to see what I'll need for handling huge groups of NPCs with tokens, but since some of the principals at work here have worked with a higher complexity in Lost Songs, I'm confident enough to say that we can make it work. 

As far as combat goes, we'll talk about my latest take on the good old Weapon Mastery, about weapons and about armor. Maybe guns, too, while we are at it. After that it'll be classes, the skill system and a completely randomized character generation. And that'd be the supplement, then. Well, I'd have to write it up somewhat nice for a pdf, but it'll be out there and ready to be used.

Again, if you like this stuff and get to use any of it, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on it. Especially people that (as slim as the chances are) used the whole thing in their game! Observations and thoughts are, as always, very welcome. You can also read on in Part 3.

Samurai Champloo GIF! [source]
* If you google it, you'll find some entries. However, if you need an inspiration what that could be, check out the legend of Klaus Störtebeker's beheading to get a glimpse of the idea (here).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Let's write a Labyrinth Lord gaming supplement (Part 1): be67 - a game of extraordinary splatter

I started writing a new adventure and things got complicated. Fast. The main problem being, that no rules (I like) exist for the thing I'm writing (classic grindhouse themes with a good dose of splatter). However, just pulling another light-rules game out of the hat sounds just as stupid, so after mulling this over a bit, I came to the conclusion that I should make it a supplement for another game, adding to one game's diversity instead. Here, have a look at my workbench ... 

What game?!

Games, actually. And part of a rather popular brand of games: I'm talking Labyrinth Lord (because it is the D&D Rules Cyclopedia at heart) and Mutant Future (because it adds things you'd want in a modern setting). Both are easy to tinker with and I know my way around the D&D RC. They also come with a fan base and I wouldn't mind that.

Going at this as a supplement would allow all kinds of crossover shenanigans and you could always take any part of this and put it in your games. I'll allow that for the adventure I'm writing, so if you want to go at it with your fantasy adventure group, you'll be able to do that (the fairy court will have some beef there and is looking for able bodies to kick some heads in ...) and if Mutant future is your thing, there'll be a hook for that as well (wanna stop the apocalypse from happening? time travel!).

There'll be new classes and all that as well and they could go explore Stonehell or what have you (wouldn't it be cool to play a couple of Marines infiltrating Stonehell? Definitely!), but that was to be expected, right? I also have a couple of (somewhat) radical changes in mind to make it work with modern world idiosyncrasies like, you know, fire arms and all that. I'm not opposed to doing fire arms like other weapons, but I want to offer a change of the game towards a more .... splattery combat resolution (grindhouse).

Ash knows what I'm talking about! [source]

I'll also port a couple of rules into it that came in very handy in that other game I'm writing, Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (a light version, if you will).

Here's the pitch and a first part of the rules:

be67

"be" stands for "basic edition" and we all know what that stands for. 1967 is the year we are playing. The war in Vietnam was in full swing, as was the Cold War and the hippie movement. The Dirty Dozen had been a hit in theaters in '67 and the president of the United States was traveling Europe. It's also the decade where spy and grindhouse movies had been wildly popular. Things had been "funky" and "gonzo" and "groovy", heroes and heroines had been cool and supervillains had their own brand of evil. Add horror and splatter, psychedelic experiences and all kinds of pulp elements to this and you are in the world we are playing in.

Not sure if the movie is any good, but that poster sure has it all [source]


Let's talk Hit Locations and Initiative first!

This post will outline the necessary stuff I'll need to test in our little D&D RC campaign right now, but expect more about it pretty soon. The basic idea for the changes I want to make for the combat in be67 has nothing to do with the already existing assumptions or values the game already offers. AC stays, HD stays, there'll be no changes to the stats as the game offers them, but a couple of small additions instead and a key to implement them.

Let's start with those additions. I wrote two little posts a while back about about aimed shots and a "wizard with a shotgun". Those will formulate the base line and a couple of directions I want to take this:
  • we keep level/hd and AC, but we add hit locations and give the six body zones a separate hp value (I'd alter the original idea a bit to make some limbs tougher than others)
  • the scheme for weapon damage needn't be affected by this, because the system produces an extra of damage itself (if you check out the posts linked above, you'll see that we used class based damage instead of weapon damage ... but you can use whatever you want)
  • the "more" of damage is produced by (1) allowing players to take disadvantages for their rolls into account to add them to damage instead and (2) by adding the overlap over the target's AC to the damage when using firearms (doesn't even alter the rolls themselves, we just use the numbers that are already there ... okay, you'd have to roll for hit locations, but that's that)
  • that said, I want combat to include a couple of elements D&D combat usually doesn't have implemented in the rules, like cooperation and a somewhat fluid AC system (because, if you have a shoot-out, you'd want people moving from cover to cover and all that)
  • Armor for different hit locations will also become somewhat important, of course, so it'd need an easy key for that as well
  • Damage will also have different effects depending on the source dealing the damage, of course (cutting, stabbing, clubbing, area damage ...) and it would be nice to have rules for pain (a saving throw when ... occurs - we'll get to that)
  • to see which body part is hit, roll 1d8:  1 left leg 2 right leg 3 left arm 4 right arm 5,6,7 torso 8 head (for now, might change to d12 ...)
And that'd be the bare bones. To find out how tough a limb of any given monster is, you just have to look at the following formula:

3 x HD (or level) + limb value (+1 for heads and arms, +2 for legs, +3 for the torso) + AC-value (take it all, magic, dex, protection, whatever)
= damage needed to dismember or cripple

Hitting a 4HD ogre on the head would need 12 hp damage to behead him, for instance (more if he has protection like a helmet, of course). A good aimed hit to the head will drop an ogre like that and it'll make sneak attacks way more brutal because of it.

However, add initiative, combat movement and level-based probability to hit a target to it, and you'll not only keep some of the basic assumption of D&D combat intact, you'll also add a necessity for tactical fighting beyond what D&D usually offers. If your character can loose an arm easy as that, you'd want to avoid it from happening.

Initiative in be67

All involved roll 1d6 + Zen-Modifier (ZEN is the be67-equivalent to WIS). A result of 1 (or less) will give you 1 Token to act that round, results 2-5 give you 2 Tokens, 6-10 will give you 3 Tokens and 11+ will give you 4 Tokens to act that round. A roll of a 6 with the d6 lets you add another d4 to your initiative. A combatant that doesn't get to (or decides to) attack although he could have, gets another +1 (per attack) to the next initiative roll (doesn't apply if initiative value had been 0 or lower, because than no attack could have occurred).

[source]
Tokens are the currency you use to get anything done but attacking itself (number of attacks per round as per the game you use, with initiative 0 or lower you don't get to attack). Unused Tokens will be added to the initiative roll in the next round.

Actions Tokens can be used for:
  • Protect - reduce your initiative and raise you AC the same amount (doing so might also reduce the number of available tokens and will make you slower) // can be declared earlier in initiative as soon as an attack is declared on the character, even if the character is faster (but never lower as the initiative last declared)
  • Helping - raise a die another character is using to the next higher die (order d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 ... if a d20 is used, add another d4 and raise that with more tokens) // goes for skill checks, attacks or even damage (wizards might use Helping to raise another wizards spell effects!) // # of Tokens a character could use in a round is 1/3 of level/HD (rounded up)
  • Move - combatants can be "in reach" or "moved away [number of] Tokens" and if they are "moved away", other combatants have to use the same amount of tokens to get "in reach", for instance to make a melee attack // a combatants size and speed determine how many Tokens can be used for Move Actions (small = 1 Token per round, medium = 2 Tokens, huge = 3 Tokens and so on // slow = reduce # of Tokens by 1 (if that reduces the # of Tokens to 0, it'll cost 2 Tokens to "move away"), fast = raise # of Tokens by 1 // if a combatant gets 3 Tokens distance the opposition at the end of a round, the fight can be exited without penalty the next round after that (distance is kept until Move actions change it, of course) // the # of Tokens a target is moved away may affect ranged attacks
  • Counter -  1 Token per round may be used to counter any other already declared Token used in a round by another combatant (so you'd have to be faster) // countering Protection will leave the target at its original Initiative but have it lose the Token (which means the higher initiative is kept as well and a character might even get Tokens back he had forfeited to protect himself!)
Actions and attacks are declared from lowest to highest. You can react lower in initiative to declare Protect actions, either as you are attacked or at the new initiative you end with after reducing it to the bonus you want for AC.
Example: Say you have Initiative 7, that's 3 Tokens. However, the Goblin at Ini 3 decides to attack and he gets help from his fellows, so you decide to go down 4 point in your initiative and add that to your AC instead to dodge those attacks (couldn't go below that, as the Goblins declared at 3!). Down at Ini 3, you'd be left with 2 Tokens and one of them had to be used for Protect to begin with, leaving you with 1 Token, which also has to be declared now (if you raise your AC by just 2 instead, you would still be left with 1 Token to act at Ini 5, following that logic).
Oder of resolution is fastest to slowest after all Actions have been declared (Initiative values might have changed due to people protecting themselves). That means that combatants can move away from a combatant to avoid getting hit ... however, that can be countered!
Burning tokens, I'd say ... [source]
So combat is a negotiation with the Tokens allowing for a high amount of flexibility. People will talk and describe how they interact with each other and the environment and  as they do, the fight will manifest. It's also quite fluid, as people try to help or move or protect themselves and get moved towards or are countered.

Luck is a high factor here, but player decisions matter just as much. And remember: you can always keep tokens or forfeit your attack to get a higher initiative the next round ... so it's not just luck.

And that'd be Part 1 ...

This'll make your basic LL/OD&D/MF game way more bloody, limbs flying around all the time. Which means it doesn't hurt to have some cleric spells, for instance, available to regrow some limbs back. Or you go all medieval with it, using prostheses and whatnot (check it out). Way more gritty with just minor changes, I think.

Part 2 will clarify some of the above and add some house rules. Part 3 will explore a different approach on dealing basic damage (neither per weapon, nor per class or with one die to hurt them all ... you'll see) and how to protect against it with armor. The final supplement will collect all those rules in a nice pdf with character sheets mirroring those changes (maybe even with variants for LL/MF?) as soon as I get there.

If you like this enough to try this on your players, please tell me about it. If you think I'm missing something or reasons why this wouldn't work (beyond taste, of course), please feel free to share your thoughts. Questions are, as always, welcome, of course.

Nice hacking and slashing, folks! And keep reading with Part 2 and Part 3 ...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

How about a Style Guide to write adventures?

I have a couple of things in the air right now and the good news is, it's more and more gaming related work than work related work. Some of it hinted, some of it still to be announced, and then there is that one gig where I get to be editor of a rpg release! Good times, good times. We are taking our time with the thing and want to get it as right as right gets, hence the need for a style and construction guide ...

Notes

A few words before we get into the thing proper. This is about how you structure content and what to keep in mind when writing something like a module or adventure with a publication as the end game. Content is still what the author has to provide (and what might be problematic in its own way) and grammar or syntax are the least of my concerns.

The lines are blurry, though, and I believe that taking the guide seriously will also take care of most of the rest. In a way, if you work hard on getting on a page what you have in your brain, you'll consciously and carefully make an effort to get it done. So a style guide will give you a structure for your text that allows you to test your material on every level of resolution. In theory.
[source]
Anyway, this is what I came up with. Jay and I thought it might be useful for the community at large, so here we go:
Style and Construction Guide (Modules)

This is by necessity pretty rough, just presenting the outlines of how a rpg module or adventure can be structured. There’s of course a high degree of variation and abstraction possible, but it’s a good, simple base to fall back on if need be.

Style will be first, since it’s the shortest. However, it needs to be applied on every stage of writing. While structure helps a reader memorizing and sorting the different elements of a text, it’s style that keeps them engaged. In that style and construction fulfill two purposes that’ll help navigating the material when read and when used in the game. The third crucial element, content, is what the author brings to the table and won’t be featured here.

Things to consider when writing (Style Guide)

1. Always consider that the reader has never heard of any aspect you are describing. In other words, take nothing for granted and instead find ways to either explain an aspect properly or give pointers, where a reader could find additional information. If you talk rules, either quote them in full (if short) or give a reference where to find more information. Same goes for every aspect of a story or skill … well, everything. Always answer the questions How? and Why? while keeping it short and concise.

2. Show don‘t tell. That also a basic, but nonetheless often disregarded: details are what makes a setting tick. I don’t need to know that there is a market, I need to know what’s special about this one. If someone is important for the story, name him, give him traits (and stats, USR is simple enough to allow for that). Every detail you give can somehow be used in a game, generalization doesn’t do that for you. What smells the arena like? What poison is used? What does the princess look like? Little things, but all the time.

3. Keep it short and open room for the imagination. In other words, don’t get too specific about the moving parts of an adventure. Rather tell people how something works and let them figure out what potential a situation has. However, doing so at different levels of resolution (what happens now vs., for instance, what are the possible outcomes) means offering a collection of flexible frames to support the CK* in a way that using them manifests the story you imagined. In that sense, a collection of short and specific random encounters and locations will trump lengthy descriptions every time, especially if they also bring something interesting or special to the table. Avoid unnecessary and redundant text.

4. Adventures are specific manifestations of rules. You don’t just want to tell a story, you want to tell it through a very specific lens, and that would be the rules of the game you decided to use. If there is action, then there’s also always to consider how the game gets involved. Are there chances for different outcomes? Name them. Little sets of sub-rules for a specific scenario? Tell the reader how you’d do it with the rules you use.

The big picture (Construction Guide)

Introduction

This is where you connect the reader with the material. You tell them in broad strokes what this is and what’s it about. It‘s the part of the module where you introduce some general ideas of how this can be played or what you imagine how it should be played. It’s where you tell the people how the material is structured. It’s also where you give people points of reference, like books, comics, games or movies they might want to check out to get an idea. It‘s where people decide if they explore a text further or not. The exposition, if you will.

Done right, it‘s where you hook the reader to invest more time and maybe use any of it in his games.

Main Part

How this is arranged strongly depends on the focus you imagine for the module and how big the whole thing is supposed to be. Look at the following elements A to D and decide a hierarchy for them, then go from most important to most detailed (mix, match and repeat, if necessary):

A. Setting: Where does the adventure take place? What characters are in it and what things are commonly known about it? What’s interesting, what’s strange, what’s useful? How does a CK bring it to live? Rumor and Random Encounter Tables are in that section.

B. Timeline: Is there a course of events important for the characters? Can the influence those events? How? What happens if they don’t and how would that manifest in the game? When describing events, go from a general description down to the necessary details. Offer rules and tools for the CK, if applicable. Weather would be here, too.

C. Factions: Who is or could be involved in the adventure/module and why? How can the players influence or interact with them? Also: consequences, dangers and benefits need to be assigned. Factions are best described going from groups to more detailed and important non player characters. Arrange all that in a hierarchy of importance (take single entities into consideration where applicable).

D. Aspects, Scenes & Locations: Usually a collection of short vignettes that aren’t covered anywhere else and might make the game more interesting. What interesting places are there that deserve more description than offered in A? What scenes are most likely to happen? It can also feature specific cultural elements that deserve further exploration. This is specific where A is general (a higher level of resolution, if you will) while being short enough to have a place in the main part instead of being put in the appendices.

Appendices

You will always end up with a set of specific events and locations that need even more detail (highest level of resolution): dungeons, CK tools, tables to big or complex to feature in the main part, extensive sub systems (that also have value beyond what’s happening in the module, like for races or riots, for instance) or locations that either have a high possibility to get explored in depth or give a general impression of common feature characters might encounter (taverns, apartments, boats, and so on). This is where they are collected.

They always should be referenced to in the main part and they, also, should be sorted hierarchical (as applicable).
I think I covered all my bases here. Following the rules outlined above should have you end up with a good start, if not a finished product (it's mostly what I did for Monkey Business, if you need my take on it). Most of it will apply to writing in general to some degree or another (the fourth style advice could apply to genre instead of rules and so on). I hope it helps.
Content hierarchies, always the same [source]
That said, I'd be more than happy to get some opinions on this as well. Did I miss something crucial? Is there advice in there you think doesn't apply? Please share your thoughts, observations and opinions where I can find them, if you were so inclined.

* That's the Crypt Keeper, which is just another term for Dungeon Master (thought I'd clarify).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Misconceptions about Gatekeeping (Opinion Piece, not a rant)

You wouldn't think that having an opinion is how "gatekeeping" gets defined nowadays, but that's sure how it's done (happened to me just the other day). You would also think people see right through those things, but that doesn't seem to be the way it goes. Let me propose some ideas and thoughts about that. You are, of course, always encouraged to make up your own opinion, just make it an informed one.

Definitions & Implications

I'd point you to the English Wikipedia article, but the lack of content makes it useless, so we go to the German version instead and translate away (first paragraph, using DeepL):
"In sociology, gatekeepers are people who have the ability or position to influence the rise of people, also known as mobility in sociology."
It's so simple, there's almost no need to explain what this means. People at the top of a hierarchy decide who makes it and who is ... ignored. This is common knowledge. Sociology found this true in schools, in economies, actually, it's true in all the places where hierarchies are established.

The idea of gatekeeping originates from communication science and it is important to mention that the practice itself can be useful or even necessary in certain contexts, while of course bringing lots of responsibility to the one "keeping the gate". Take, for instance, the pre-selection of news before they are published: the criteria with which the available news are filtered and used can have all kinds of good or bad results.

Easy examples for this are found in the thousands. Take newspapers that decided to report unwelcome "truths" but filter politically, to those that filter for commercial reasons. Fake news is a thing for a reason: it shows how those deciding or influencing what is published (the gatekeepers) can and will abuse their power to reach goals that are not within the common interest, but in the interest of the few (whoever benefits from it, generally speaking).

Applying this to a scene or subculture has clear implications, I think, chief among them the realization that there is a distinction between a "scene" and a "hobby" (roughly the distinction between a belief (think "hobby") and a church (think "scene")). I believe it explains rather well how a hobby will have different co-existing (and shifting) scenes and why scenes themselves might end up with some form of hierarchical orders (like churches would). It also explains the dynamics that will be at work.

So scenes move and shift in the greater context of the hobby, hierarchies form and change the same way. The OSR is to be understood in this way: it's one scene among countless others in our hobby. As a matter of fact (and to be perfectly clear about this) some form of distinction is crucial to have such a thing as a scene (think catholics and protestants, to keep it with religious analogy), so you will have to state characteristics of distinction if you want to belong. Always.

Having established borders like this ("3e sucks" or "Traveller is the only true SF RPG!", insert your own), a scene will form hierarchies, mainly based on popularity and to some degree on competence, depending on how possible it is to assess or achieve any of that. I'd say the OSR is mostly popularity-driven (adding some competence from the successful publishers and some artists). 

Example of malevolent hierarchy ... [source]
Those at the top of the established hierarchy now naturally form cliques of supporters around them, and the next thing you will get are camps within a scene where each camp struggles for a better position in the hierarchy (pick the last flame war and you know what I mean). Given that this is mostly about opinions and artificial borders and with no objective measurement other than commercial success (which is to some extent arbitrary and/or manipulated by the same mechanisms), this all must come down to politics of taste.

And that's where gatekeeping comes in. Every scene has people that decide what gets popular and what doesn't. So if you are part of a clique, support will be voiced and a infrastructure of more or less sufficient sales-manufacturing instances is triggered, ensuring commercial availability and with that, success (which loops back to keeping yourself popular).

If you aren't part of a clique, the question arises how to gain access to one. This is the crucial choke point, the proverbial gate. I would argue it is also crucial in that it is the very point where it reveals if a scene is fair or corrupt.

The Corruption of the OSR?

In a perfect world, those at the top of a hierarchy would have the best in mind for the group. Publishers filter for true genius or art instead of going with what works, is popular or transports hidden agendas. Newspapers inform the public about what is relevant and offer information with the means for the individuals to form their own opinions instead of creating fake news or working for big corp or politicians.

However, we aren't living in a "perfect world", if such a thing could even exist. Instead we live in a world where those things coexist in a duality. That doesn't mean it has to be both all the time, one scene can be more or less completely corrupt and another one more or less fair. This opens a new line of inquiry: how to measure corruption in a scene. Let's look into that.

A most basic definition of corruption is (according to transparency.org):
"Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain."
Again, simple enough. How to measure (or proof) this in a community is a completely different animal. We have indicators for this, although indirectly (or concluding from established general research towards how it could manifest in communities).
[source]
There is proof that marginalization of people leads to criminal/aggressive behavior (here, have one paper on the subject, if you search for it, there is way more) and you can say that one of the main forces behind criminal (aggressive) behavior is the perception that a rise in the social hierarchy is prohibited if not impossible. This connects nicely to what is already established about gatekeepers further above.

It's important to understand that we have to take into account that we are applying those ideas to a social media environment, which means that "crime" and "aggression" will manifest somewhat differently while the social mechanisms are still very much in effect.

We also have to take into account that the only fair measurement of corruption in a society is based on its perception (at least that's what's used, see transparency.org linked above). Which isn't conclusive at all, but can give implications. So you'll have a higher mortality rate of critical journalism in corrupt countries, for instance. Corruption has measurable consequences.

I'd like to add that "social capital" is another important aspect to consider, not necessarily "just" monetary gain. There is also a strong trend to mix personal politics in all of this, which doesn't help.

With all those restrictions in place, we can go and make fair and conclusive assumptions how the perception of corruption in a scene like the OSR might manifest in what outside the social media environment could be perceived as criminal or aggressive behavior, or the appropriate equivalent thereof.

If I had more time on my hands and if I where more than an enthusiast for social science and psychology, I'd try to formulate some indicators for a healthy community and collect data to index all that. I'm not, so we'll have to work with some rough concepts here (would be willing to do so, if someone with an academic background would be willing to help). Here's a couple of good indicators:
  • TRANSPARENCY: We already established that the scene is not the hobby, but the same is true for commercial interests. The clearer a distinction can be made between the commercial interests of an individual acting in the community and its contribution to said community, the better (the more transparent, the less corrupt).
  • FAIR MODERATION: A hierarchy comes with responsibility for those higher up. How easy it is to address the hierarchy and how those in the higher positions interact with the rest (benevolent, malevolent, indifferent), gives indications how healthy or corrupt a community is.
  • QUALITY OF ARGUMENT: What discussion culture is apparent in a community. Are extreme politics tolerated? How common are personal attacks? How are opinions categorized in general? The way a community discusses (or allows discussions) gives indications about corruption in as much as people tend to get more aggressive and polarizing, if they believe they are not heard or taken serious.
  • QUALITY OF CONTENT: The quality and the amount of the content a community produces as well as the restrictions that are put on that output (pay walls, for instance) gives an idea about the decision processes behind the content. If bad stuff is hyped or if publications are ignored, it's a sign that the processes are corrupt.
  • MOBILITY: How likely is it to become popular (or known) in a community? Can everyone do it, if necessary from scratch? Or are always the same people in the spotlight? How open is the community to new people? Stay those at the top of the hierarchy at the top? How? By what measures? Are those successful parading their success (which would, again produce aggression)?
  • GRATUITOUSNESS: One final, but very important indicator is how many people are willing to contribute to a community for free. Whose taking the time to do all the little administrative things that make a community work and are they (in some way or another) charging for it? Gratuitousness is a sign of good will in a community. If there is none, it's most likely because people perceive the community as unfair in some way or another and that would be another sign for corruption.
Those six should suffice, I think. They interconnect and overlap a bit, but should differ enough to count. This also isn't a black or white type of thing, it should have nuance (like a grading system and an average result). If tested and any or all of them show signs of corruption, the more intense should be the reactions to it in relation to the grade of corruption.

In other words, if a community has a tendency to very polarizing and heated debates where no one changes his opinion, where personal attacks and marginalization are common occurrences, if that community also allows no development and doesn't divide between commercial and non-commercial interests, if material is hyped for reasons of  privilege instead of quality and if everyone believes his or her efforts should be remunerated, then you most likely have a corrupt community. 

And that's just by applying reason, nothing else.

Where does that leave us?

This is not about if there is gatekeeping in the OSR or not. There is without a doubt. The question is if it is beneficial or malevolent towards the community at large. There's also the question how to address and oppose corruption, if it is detected.

But before any of that can take place, people should come to a common understanding how the community they are part of works and why. I hope I helped a bit forming that understanding. I also hope I was able to make a clear case that voicing opinions is NOT gatekeeping. At best it is challenging a hierarchy, but most likely it's just a border conflict between different scenes or cliques.

That said, attacking people for their opinions is a bad sign for a community in general, for the reasons I summon above. So, is the OSR corrupt? Well, you should be able to form your own opinion about that. I believe the OSR took a turn for the worse in recent years. Maybe that's the natural course of things, as scenes have the same fluctuation among each other. However, that doesn't mean you can't have a positive impact in a community.

Every bit helps, right?


This post was inspired by an article over at Tenkar's Tavern and the riposte to it  (at least in spirit) over at Monsters and Manuals.