Sunday, April 21, 2013

Describing the White Whale further (another Example and a Summary)

Yesterday I tried to frame the boardgame aspect for Noircana. Here is a short example (and a summary of what is established so far) to illustrate how it should play out:

Say a region has a high STR and an encounter harvesting it. The encounter has a strength of 3 (-3 harvesting rate). It's dwarves mining the area. The region allows it and gives 3 of it's strength in the first round. Next round those dwarves have a 6 (-2 harvesting rate) and are level 2. Two rounds later the dwarves have harvested 6 points, are level 4 and with a 9 at a +/-0 harvesting rate, so they are dormant. They established in the region (this is where the end of world die comes in, catastrophes targeting ability scores, like a heavy earthquake for the dwarves, may effect the growth or even destroy the harvesting agent). A region may now decide to nurture the dwarves further. As soon as this produces bonuses, the dwarves create features like items and exceptional structures.

Decline should be more than likely (at least as soon as the cataclysm hits them, but even before that it's possible, because new encounters could threaten them), leaving weakened and thinking about their former glory or even annihilated. If the dwarves are out of the picture, what they build may become dormant again or it could start harvesting again (populating the dungeon, so to say).

Describing and locating encounters like that will not only produce a history, it also leaves room for roleplaying, because how the results are interpreted is, like in D&D, totally within the rules. What happens is random, how it manifests is up to those creating the setting.

Short summary of the setup

  • Regions are 4d6 per ability score.
  • Reroll sixes and doubles. Triples produce two rerolls, quadruples produce three.
  • Keep rerolling sixes.
  • Results of the rerolls fixate bonuses/penalties and are described by Porky's d6-table*. They formulate a first line of defence. Combining those results is possible.
  • Three fixated bonuses equals one level (so a region with 3 fixated bonuses is level 2, etc.) if they are activated (see below). Until then they are dormant.
  • A region with only dormant Source Effects has an AC of 9.
  • Add all for final ability score and apply bonuses and penalties***.
  • INT produces the Mana of the region**.
  • The highest ability score produces the Chi of a region (use same formula as for Mana).
  • Interpret result to form the region.

Gameplay and loose ends

  • Duration of a cycle is 10+1d10 rounds.
  • Game starts after a cataclysm (Source Effects* describe at the beginning the remains of the former cycle) and ends with a cataclysm (work in progress).
  • A round simulates 100 years (making a cycle 1000 to 2000 years).
  • 1d4 encounters per region and per round.
  • An encounter is 1d6 (bonuses and penalties see below***) and targets an ability score (random 1d6).
  • How much Chi is bound to protect against catastrophes is decided after the roll for the number of encounters and before they manifest. Mana may be added, but with a 2 to 1 rate. It results in a die**** that becomes relevant at the end of a round (low dice are bad, high dice good, should cover floods, droughts, earthquakes, immortals or leaders - the dangers are to loose dormant features, making active features dormant again or reduce an ability score).
  • Actions cost either Mana or Chi.

Actions are (so far, see example above):

  • Activate class**** . In the above example, dormant dwarves could be activated for a round to defend STR. The region would be a dwarf for a round...
  • Send encounter away.
  • Allow encounter to harvest ability score.
  • Nurture encounter (nurtured encounters that produce bonuses are attacked before the ability score they are connected to).
  • Combine Encounters (a CON harvesting encounter could be added to the dwarves and, if a player decides to, could manifest in the dwaves riding mammuths into battle, as soon as as the encounter produces bonuses...).
  • Fixate (or better yet, naming?) existing or new bonuses (roll for Source Effect, formulate result).

All this will have costs (Chi and/or Mana). Playtesting will show what is what and I'll edit this post with changes that arise from giving this a spin.

Fighting will be resolved as per usual. I might give classes a base damage (like I did here)******. Damage will be either on the regions ability scores or at the defending features. Playing this out could bring interesting results in the interpretation and evolution of regions.


Now we have history, features, structures and items connected to a fixed timeline and individual regions. With the individual Chi and Mana per region, we also have signatures. If this plays out the way I hope it plays out, it will not only produce a sandbox with a rich and deep recorded history, but also connects everything found in that sandbox. You'll know where a magic sword or a spell originates.

Making this a group effort will make the sandbox so much more accessible for those involved, without giving too much away. The players will know the land and the legends. They'll not only know all the gods, but also where they ascended and legends what marks they left on the land (and gods will have signatures, too.!). But to navigate the setting with characters will be a totally different experience, because of the new level of detail needed and the changes after the last cataclysm.

Next up is a region sheet and an effort to collect all those ideas in one place.

*Source Effect (1d6):
1 Decay 2 Reversion 3 Transformation 4 Enhancement 5 Enlightenment 6 Ascendance

Int 8 or lower - (INT times Level divided by 4) Mana
Int 9-12 - (INT times Level divided by 3) Mana
Int 13 or more - (INT times Level divided by 2) Mana

1-2 -4
3-4 -3
4-6 -2
7-8 -1
12-13 +1
14-15 +2
16-17 +3
18-19 +4
20-... etc.

****End of World Die:
d4 (5 Chi) d6 (10 Chi) d8 (15 Chi) d10 (20 Chi) d12 (25 Chi) d20 (50 Chi)

*****Lowers AC according to class, number of features associated with base ability scores of the chosen class is the number of defences, others need to be formulated. Porky's spell sextet here could fit, stealing features from other regions could be an example for what a thief could do, etc.

******Base Damage (one more die every 3 Levels):
Magic User = 1d4 per level of mastery
Thief = 1d6 per level of mastery
Cleric = 1d8 per level of mastery
Fighter = 1d10 per level of mastery
Halfling = 1d6 per level of mastery
Elf = 1d8 per level of mastery
Dwarf = 1d10 per level of mastery


  1. I went away to think about this and got distracted. It's actually very coherent even now, and I think all it would really need in the current form is just a brief introduction or general overview for people coming to the material for the first time, to clarify beyond doubt what the system is for. As it is though, it also works very well as a mass of semi-separate elements and approaches on various subjects which any GM could take away near-finished or be inspired by.

    The most interesting thing I think is how much of an independent game it is - not even just a mini-game - but at the same time how far it provides a framework for more traditional roleplaying sessions. More significantly, it's also a powerful tool for linking campaigns in a single world at different periods in history. A party could pick up where their ancestors left off, and find artifacts left by their predecessors in an earier campaign, deal with unfinished business and develop whole new levels of technology. I've never seen a finished set of rules for that kind of thing, nothing like this.

    Given how novel it is, have you thought about going the board game route seriously? As far as I know, there's nothing stopping anyone using the OGL to publish an adaptation of this kind, even in an apparently non-RPG form. Just because it's part of a wider project like noircana too doesn't mean it couldn't be published alone. I have no ownership of any of this of course - it's your hard work that's got it to this stage.

    Places like RPNow make that as easy as uploading the pdf, and various online shop fronts will also do things like print cards, and maybe even counters these days, but that could be as simple as having pages in the pdf for the buyer to print onto card at home.

    If you did want to go that route, for a return on the hard work, I'd be happy to help for free with things like proofreading and I could certainly spread the word when it came to finding more playetesters. The noircana project could also then develop into a homebrew supplement more for the board game than old school RPGs alone.

  2. Thanks, again, Porky! Your feedback is always very welcome! And you're right, this needs a more solid form to make it more accessible. It produces a lot of raw data and a few loose ends so far. Right now I'm working on a streamlined version to enable DMs to do this fast, using a few shortcuts and I'm thinking about using existing random tables for the fine print. It always comes back to the question how much information is needed. I guess as much as possible, because individual cultural developments are always dependending on their surroundings. Movement between regions is another problem and it leads right back to assumptions about how much impact races with a long life span (if not immortal) have on a setting. A dragon that is around for 2000 years or more will leave his traces. Elves and dwarves are a little different, but should have a solid presence nonetheless. At least they should dampen human development (and that's not considering weaker humanoid races, like orcs or lizardmen). All those should be keyed in random tables, maybe even as far as allowing for major fantasy races to go extinct in the process (having a substitute instead?), with a result maybe a bit like Morrowind (where the dwarves are gone, for instance). It could be scripted to aim for a result closer to common tropes, though.

    Noircana is still the goal for all this.

    As the next step I'll go and develop a few regions, testing the concepts and ideas, producing some (hopefully) usable results in the process. Mapping is another construction area, but going with ley lines (INT) and density (STR) could do the trick.

    And your right about this being a meditation. I really didn't think about making this a "product". And I won't start doing so until the results justify going in that direction. But I'm happy to hear that the potential is there. And I appreciate the offer to help (it might come to that at one point...)! It shouldn't be about rights, though. I am fine to give any results for free, as long as the copyright is protected (it is in the spirit of the OSR, right?) and I'm happy for everybody gathering enough interest to tag along for the ride. It's just far too early to predict anything else at this stage.

    One thing is for sure, though: this will result in a random but not arbitrary sandbox. And even if people are not that interested in how it came to be or how all that is interconnected, they might be in the result.