Saturday, August 29, 2015

What's a DM to do?! (about the DIY-ethos and game design)

I'm doing a lot right now (with intent to do even more the next few weeks) and it's arguably all DIY. The more I do stuff like that, the more I love it, actually. Tinkering with games, taking them apart to see how they work, talking about it, writing my own games, it's all part of the same fun package. One thing I encounter every so often is that I always seem to find a new construction site once I'm done with what I originally was doing. It goes on and on, but I'm starting to think there is a pattern. So this is a (incomplete, I'm sure) list of things I tinker with and my thoughts on their value for my own games. Maybe you guys find something of interest ...

What am I talking about?

As much as everybody and their grandmother might try to make you believe otherwise, to provide a group with the world they are to explore is entirely the DM's duty. Sure, you might use something made by someone else, a setting, an adventure, an idea, there is some great stuff floating around worth using. The thing is, while it's totally okay to use stuff like that, it's equally important to give a DM at least the possibility to build his own thing from a very basic level of a game.

So this is a collection of some of the things a DM could (should?) do to improve his game the DIY way.

1. Relabeling

I'm not (yet) talking about customizing classes or skills and giving equipment a cultural touch and whatnot. What I'm talking about for now is easier, but going deeper than that. Like, rewriting the game terminology:

same/difference [thoughts]
In an ideal case an exercise like that won't only make a DM very familiar with the terminology he's using, but also helps customizing the very feel of the game solely by talking about it. It doesn't change the rules and it's done easy enough.

As you see, DMing a game is not only about knowing the rules and being able to interpret how they should be used in certain situation occurring in the game. It's also about language. So by keeping the division I presented above and using the terminology I deem best for the game of my choosing, I'll be able to control and contrast the elements I think important for the game. It produces tension.

2. Translating/In die eigene Sprache Ć¼bersetzen - oder not?

In Germany Dungeons & Dragons is called ... Dungeons & Dragons. The brand is too strong to use a translation. Maybe they'd even been forced to use it that way. I don't know and it's not important. What they did for sure is translating the terms of the game. Random Character Sheet:

Original German D&D Rules Cyclopedia Character Sheet ...
My English speaking readers can consider themselves pretty lucky about this, as most mainstream rpgs (and many in the fringes of the hobby) are already available in English. For all others it's either going for the native rpg scene (not my favorite thing in Germany and, in my opinion, pretty commercial and elitist about it ...), hoping for a translation, reading and using the original - or translating your own version.

Sure, making your own translation needs skill and dedication, not every DM will has the abilities and/or inclination to do so. But it's worth considering, at least for the key terms (doesn't need to be whole thing) and even if there's already a translation available. Just like in the first point above, it gives a DM the chance to alter and change the game he offers on a very basic level, individualizing the whole thing as he thinks appropriate.

Alternatively you could take a game written in your native tongue and translate it into another language. It doesn't even matter if you are familiar with that language or just like the sound of it. I mean, why not take the D&D terminology, for instance, and translate it into Latin. If it helps your game, why not go there?

3. Setting means restricting some system availability ...

There you go, defining a setting means cutting down the options of a rpg. Even if you start with the setting and write the rules afterwards, you'll still have to make decisions what you want to happen in your game because of the setting. Either way, setting will have this effect, so why not use it to your advantage? Just google "obscure D20", for example (since D20 was notoriously exuberant with third party publications of that sort ...), and get some ideas:

Weird, right? But actually got some good reviews ... [source]
So could you imagine a beholder in a setting like that? Or a fireball slinging wizard? Me neither. And that's a good thing. Actually, the more obvious a change like this is, the more likely it is that it'll have an impact in your game. Just say "There is no Magic in Just-Imagined-Landia anymore" and you'll have a totally different (D&D) game.

Where ever you start, system or setting, building it from scratch or looting your way through your library, it's a great chance to have the nuance you want in your game. You don't like a rule in a book you bought? Test it anyway, make yourself familiar with it and if it still doesn't do anything for you, toss it. The idea behind DIY is not to do it all yourself (you still might, but that's not the point), but to do, learn from it, then do more.

4. Just don't see it as restriction, it's more of a focus, really

Instead of only focusing on what a DM doesn't want in his game and how it restricts a system, we should take a very close look at what's left and how to improve and expand on that. You want lots of car chases in your game? Write/steal/get detailed rules for it and make sure the system provides enough connections for the characters. Maybe a Driver class, letting characters have cars as starting equipment (with a huge list to choose from) or even whole skill sets about handling cars, from tuning to stunt driving.

So yes, a setting can't have all of it, but what it has should count. Emphasize and detail it where ever possible. In it's extreme form that's what most Indie RPGs are doing (as I understand it): they build an extremely detailed focus on one or two themes and ditch the rest to emphasize what's left even more.

You'll get exactly what it says on the cover. Nothing more,
nothing less. [source]
The lesson here is that all the little parts you want to work in your game, should ideally work as a mini game of their own. Again, lots of room here to get creative, steal, buy or borrow from other systems.

That's it, folks

Or is it? As I stated in the beginning, I always find new construction sites, but right there is the pattern I see when tinkering with games since I constantly:

  • change/play with the terminology,
  • translate it, use my native tongue or another language entirely alien to me,
  • define a setting by restricting the system I use to only what I'll need and
  • emphasize what is left even further by adding subsystems and more detail 

You can't go wrong with any of that. Just try it. In a worst case scenario you get the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and will therefore get better results the next time around. Over time you'll collect enough house rules and alternatives to make writing your own personal rpg heartbreaker just a formality because that's what you did the whole time.

But this is not about writing your own games, it's about making what you've decided to work with your own. Not every one is a game designer and doesn't have to be, either. But as a DM you start where the designers left. Devising a campaign is, after all, nothing else but individualizing the available content. It's just a matter of taste how far a DM is willing to go. The sky is the limit and all that ...

So how far do you all go with this at your tables? "Rules as Written" or "Write new Game for new Campaign"? Are you somewhere in between and if so what's the first thing you do when tackling a new campaign? Comments and observations are, as always, very welcome.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Look at that BASTARD! - Interlude with Character Sheet

I basically spent this weekend making a character sheet for BASTARD!, since it's crucial for that series I'm writing right now (more information on the whole DungeonPunk Initiative in Part 1 and Part 2). My goal was to put all the necessary pieces on one piece of paper. Here is what I got:

Open in new window to feast your eyes on details!
(inkscape was my tool of choice)
This is still a very early test version. I might play a bit with the fonts. But as it is, I'm quite happy with it. It got the right feel and all the important pieces are there, even some of the rules. I know it's heavy on the black right now, but the primary idea was to use this on Roll20 with my group, so it's not an issue right now.

Not much else to say about it, but I hope you guys like it and it should be interesting for those out there following the development of BASTARD! (I know they are out there ...).

As always, comments and suggestions are very welcome. Part 3 will hit the web next weekend.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Kill that BASTARD! RPG concept, perspectives and ideas ... Part 2

Here we are again, talking about the rpg I'm currently writing on (little side project to get some rules out of my system before I take a fresh look at Lost Songs). While Part 1 described the logic behind the setting and gave a first impression of the core rules of BASTARD!, I'll talk a bit about Health, Affinity, Body Modifications, Magic and, indeed, Combat in this one. That's a lot to write and read, so I'll get right to it and keep it as short as possible (for once).

Health, Affinity and Corruption (what kills you and why)

There is physical harm, mental harm and the funny stuff in between (the stuff that changes you). 

Physical is easy. Health works in many ways like hit points do: you got none left, you get really hurt. But a character doesn't die immediately. Instead he may suffer damage up to minus 10. But every time a character uses that buffer, he gets scarred for life (d8 determines where, severity determines how hard) and needs to make a save to see if he stays conscious (at level 1 close to a fifty/fifty chance). Once he suffers damage beyond that point (-10), he needs to make a save to see if he's still alive (every round from then on until he either fails the save and is dead or someone helps him). 

Mental damage and corruption are easy, too. Affinity is your go-to pool for anything related to body modifications and magic. Characters have slots for body mods that increase with level (level + 1 is the number of slots) and a character's Affinity is corrupted every time he adds another modification (roll d4 per slot used). Every time a character adds a modification to his body, he needs roll a d100 over his accumulated corruption score to see if the corruption shows. If the corruption somehow exceeds his available Affinity, corruption will show immediately (there will be table for how a character is affected). Some races are more prone to modifications (with lesser effects) than others*.

Magic will be easily available for characters in Bastard! (although illegal, of course). To cast a spell, they'd roll their Brain pool to see if it works and pay the Affinity costs (level times 4, but may be higher or lower because of specialization and/or the result of their Brain roll). In other regards Affinity is treated like Health: going beyond zero will challenge a character's sanity (depending on severity) after a failed save and going beyond minus 10 will render him insane if he fails his save (just like Health, every round from then on until he either fails the save and goes completely over the edge or someone helps him).

Characters get 2d6 every level to distribute between Health and Affinity. Both are rolled at the same time and it's the player's choice where to put the higher result and where the lower (so they decide where a character's focus is in these things).

Magic and Body Modifications

The rest of the magic system will (mostly) follow the principles of regular D&D. If a character finds a scroll and makes his roll, he'll be able to cast the spell, but character specialization (much like classes, actually), he'll be able to memorize some spells and cast them without scrolls or books. I'll provide spell lists, but a DM should be able to use the spells he wants to see in his campaign (like, for instance, Hereticwerks' excellent (and free!) Space Age Sorcery).

Body modifications will follow many of the principles of magic, as they are magically fueled mechanical interpretations of the available spells. They may need maintenance and tinkering with them will be entirely possible. Most of them will have a limited number of charges per day (with recharging times according to power levels) or give specific static dice for specializations or saves**.

Heavily inspired by the Gnome Artificer from 3e [source]
Design notes: The goal here is to allow for highly flexible character advancement. A player who wants to be a great fighter might steadily increase Brawn and Health and specialize in Combat and related saves, but will still have room for body modifications (Affinity) or even casting magic (Brain and Affinity). The teamwork aspect will also be very important, as a characters actions will be more effective if others help him with their dice (static or actively sharing them). It should encourage a group to optimize their abilities among each other, as the "right" combination of specializations and stacking will make them way more effective than they'd be as individuals and make for a fast game. "Owing dice" and Luck will be the grease of this system and produce the tension where it should be (that is, the challenges that matter).

COMBAT!

Combat will be, at it's core, your basic D&D combat: descending AC, roll d20 to hit, weapon damage as listed (more HackMaster than AD&D, but more on that below ...). The changes come from some basic assumptions that worked very well in Lost Songs and the core system of Bastard. It mostly concerns initiative.

Initiative

There always discussions about initiative in role playing games. Is it everyone on his own, all together or something more abstract (and often complex). All of those solutions work in games, I'd never dispute that fact. But most of them left me unsatisfied most of the time. This went as far as always reading the initiative section of rpgs first to see if there was something new and daring and better in store. Anyway, at some point writing my own initiative system became an option and my first attempt worked very well for me so far.

What is it?, you might ask. Well, instead letting the players make a (rather disconnected) simple roll to determine who's faster, the first thing I changed was to let that roll also determine their number of options: you roll high, you're able to do more. The second change was to give those fast enough the power of knowledge: the lowest initiative had to decide first how they used their options, the faster ones could work now with that knowledge and use it for their decisions. this worked wonders at my gaming table. People actually used their options (doing stuff and moving around a lot instead of just rolling to-hit to see if they got lucky).

The discussions at the table let the combat come to life in the minds theater. You might say now that it somehow always does, but the difference here was that it happened before the actual attack rolls, not after the fact. So what?, you might think right now. Well, several reasons, actually.

The first is that it increases the tension. If you just roll to-hit and see if you hit something and how hard, it's sure good for some tension. But it's short, then it's done and if you're lucky you get to roll damage, too. Then it's the next player and you wait your turn. With the above described change of perspective, the tension is produced with your options. The slowest has to work with what he gets. It's a gamble, since he knows he's at a disadvantage and he has to be careful about what he lets his character do. The fastest sees the combat unfold with interest and has to make several important decisions because of that. The result is that you'll have everyone's attention in a round. I consider this a very good thing.

The second aspect is related to the first, but worth mentioning nonetheless. It enforces teamwork. A player with a low initiative might seek help from other players or decide to just support another, faster character with his already good attack. Or a faster character might decide to help one out of a situation that developed after the slower character had chosen his actions and it starts to go down poorly. Either way, people start paying attention and cooperate. Instead of each player waiting their turn, combat becomes a very intensive (and complex) part of the game.

The third aspect would be (now that I think about it) that in a game featuring an initiative system like this, it wouldn't need the bloat combat options other systems seem to collect. It effectively counters the (false) assumption that a plethora of individual choices make a combat more interesting. A assumption solely derived from the fact that most initiative systems isolate the players from each other (and "false" in my opinion since it slows combat down for obvious reasons).

It's done in Lost Songs and I want it in BASTARD!, too, just not as complex ("complex" might be the wrong word, detailed might be better ...). So I decided to go with a hybrid, of sorts, incorporating some of those ideas into D&D combat.

The combat round in BASTARD!

All characters roll Brawn to determine initiative. The result gives them the options for that round (see below).

Phase 2 would be to declare Movement and Actions, again from slowest to fastest (all combatants may move). This is where the combat unfolds in it's entirety. Who attacks whom, who cooperates, that sort of thing.

Phase 3 is resolving attacks, this time the fastest initiative starts. In this phase people will see if  the round goes down as planned or not.

Here is a summary with all the phases and options (with D&D conversion rules):

This is how it's going down ...
This seems like a lot is happening and it's actually several "normal" D&D rounds wrapped in one round. So what looks like it would slow down combat, will in fact make it way more faster and involved (as described above). Do and counter are your normal options and the redundancy (since "countering" is "doing") is on purpose, because it's one of the things I want the players to remember. Sharing is just that, giving a die to another player to use the options available with the result.

It's also on purpose that the players also roll what options the DM has. But it only concerns enemies bound in combat, so if the DM has more combatants available, they are free to act (number of attacks is the number of options of a creature and their Brawn) and if he has less, the binding rules give clear guidelines what they are able to do (still with the number of attacks as a maximum, so a surrounded creature doesn't get 10 attacks because the characters dice indicate it). There'll furthermore be an environmental pool (+/- 3d6) for the DM to see if the NPCs get a benefit using their surroundings.

Initiative basically regulates how much room characters give a bound enemy to act!

There'll be static dice for "do"-actions and sneak attacks, but those will get a spotlight with the character creation and advancement in a later post.

How combat escalates (an obituary to exhaustion)

If the previous rules will make combat somewhat faster and more involved, the following rules will speed it up even further. I always try to enforce some sort of Endurance rules in combat and it's always something I forget in the fog of war (so to speak). It's frustrating and I nevertheless want something like that in BASTARD!, so I decided to go another way with it this time.

Most Endurance systems work under the assumption that combatants get weaker over time. And this is true, but enforcing rules that result in penalties over the course of a combat is, in my experience, counter-productive and therefor gets forgotten every so often. I'll go the other way around for BASTARD! and assume that over time combat gets more and more dangerous for everyone involved, so everyone gets bonuses to attack and damage instead (which people most likely will remember). The effect is the same, people are more likely to be harmed the longer a combat goes on.

The rule is as simple: the number of rounds a combat goes on (minus 1, so not the first round) is the bonus to attack and damage. A die could indicate the bonus for everyone to see.

Action, bloody action (echoing dice and critical hits)

To make things even bloodier than they already are (and since even level 0 characters will be able to take a punch or two because of their buffer), I'll reactivate another of my old house rules for BASTARD!: dice used in combat may echo. It basically means that if a player roll the highest possible number on a die, he's allowed to roll the next lower die (in order: d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4) and add it to the result. If you keep rolling the maximum, you keep rolling dice. For BASTARD! it's basically for attack rolls and damage.

Critical hits and fumble rules will also be in effect. For critical hits the echo dice will be additional damage with an additional d8 to determine the hit location (8 hits the head, 2-4 the torso, 5-6 the limbs). Limbs may be severed (details see below).

I'll provide a fumble table as soon as it's finished.

Combat is going to be off the hook ... [source]
Aimed Hits and Guns

Both also derived from some of my house rules and follow a simple ratio. Players decide the negative modifier for the hit. If they indeed hit the target, they get that modifier as a bonus to damage. The hit location, now, has less Health than the whole body (a bit of HackMaster and Runequest in there), which amounts to:

3 x hd (or level) + current ac-value =
damage needed to dismember or cripple

Guns are a natural extension of this rule, as they automatically hit a body location and the to-hit result minus the target's AC counts as additional damage. Aiming with a gun is still the same: player decides the penalty and additionally gets the surplus to the damage from the chosen penalty. Yes, guns will be very dangerous.  

So this all is basically scaled by level. Higher levels will allow better to-hit, which will result in higher damage. This way it's entirely possible for high level heroes to deliver deadly aimed hits to monsters with very high Health ...

Surprise

This is just an aside note. If characters manage to surprise the enemy (or get surprised), the party surprising the others gets one attack for free before initiative is rolled. Surprised parties get -4 to AC. With the rules for aimed hits, that's sometimes all it needs ...

Armor

Well, this is the last part of this post and it also uses some of my house rules. So the finishing line is in sight ... Basically I treat armor as the sum of the protection a character wears on his body, not as a predetermined set you can buy at the store. The categories are still light, medium and heavy armor, but three pieces of either category will give a character the AC associated with what would be a full set in D&D.

So 3 pieces of light armor give you an AC of 6. For all I care this could be a heavy cloak and some leather trousers, the effect is the same. BUT it has the (in my opinion) beautiful side effect that characters could loot and steal their armor from enemies, for instance, and that far more interesting combinations of armor are possible.

Armor also stacks, so wearing, to give another example, 6 pieces of light armor (as there are 6 hit locations like described above, this could mean a complete set ...) would stack up to wearing 3 pieces of medium armor instead. Here is an example from the original post (and here is Part 2):
"So any combination of armour can get you to the AC your class is entitled to. Let's say a fighter has a fur cloak, some good leather trousers and a horned helmet (a little metal and hardened leather for the helmet). Further assume the trousers and the cloak are light armor, the helmet is medium. Even without a shirt (going for the look and all) he'd be at an AC of 5 (unmodified). Add two metal arm protectors and he is at 3 (still all style over substance...). Give this guy a breastplate, a metal helmet and some chainmail trousers and he's in full plate (AC 0)."
It really doesn't change much from the initial concept in D&D, but is way more flexible without to be too fiddly (I think). The links above provide more details about the whole thing and a proper write up will be in the rules. But this should be enough to get the picture ...

Closing words and loose ends

So this is it. With the rules presented here and in Part 1 you'll now have an almost complete overview of what BASTARD! will be about. It's compatible with older editions and versions of D&D where it counts, but has enough twists and house rules to justify a rule book on it's own. And it's the D&D I'd like to play, so there is that. So in the end this is the set of rules I'll use to play anything related to the OSR and D&D (which is a lot).

I've most certainly forgotten some minor rules and tweaks here, but as it is all of it could be used in other games (as I've used the bulk of it with the Rules Cyclopedia for a long time now). So maybe some of you see a house rules they like. It would make me happy to hear about it. Next up will be character creation (with classes, races and what not), more details on character abilities and advancement, static dice vs. environment and a first look at what I call for now the Dungeonheist-Interface

Questions and comments are, as always, very welcome.


* More on that in another post, but there's one feature I'd like to share as an example. Players can opt to sell their body and get a (in the beginning somewhat weak) clockwerk body instead. They'll have no Brain pool at level 0, as their soul is to weak for that (which means they'd have to "owe dice" if they want to get something done in that area), but they'll have no problems with modifications (or even upgrading to a "better" body, for that matter ...).


** Since I haven't talked about character generation yet, I'll provide another example of what I'm going for here. Level 0 characters will have three d6 distributed between Brain and Brawn and three d6 distributed between special abilities and saves. Those dice are static and reduce difficulties of the actions the characters do up to a point where they front enough static dice to manage their actions without rolling for them (3 by default). The idea here is to streamline exploration and make for a faster game. Teamwork, for example, would allow stacking several static dice in a group. So a group might be be to open most doors or find most traps without difficulty if they tune their characters towards it ... Body mods are one way to provide static dice that way.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Be a BASTARD! RPG concept, perspectives and ideas (Part 1 of 4)

Here we are again with the DungeonPunk Initiative or, in other words, my attempt to put all the stuff I started in the last 4 years and couldn't use in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs* into one system. This is all over the place and I need to find out if I am indeed able to bridge all of it into one system. My alcohol induced fever dreams instincts tell me it can be done. Indeed I'd go as far as saying that it only needs to be written. Please imagine me smiling enthusiastically at this point ...


I hope you brought some time, btw., because this is going to be a big one (and then another one after that) as I go really into detail here. Enjoy!

Let's start slow

Formula: Cyberpunk + D&D = DungeonPunk

As easy as that. Cyberpunk gives the attitude, the body modifications, a setting where an evil system managed to swallow the little people and characters who try to make a living by fucking the system in this dystopian future. It's also about big guns and body armor.

D&D gives all the pseudo-European fantasy trappings you might want and adds it's own personal flavor of weird: Dungeons all over the place, technology disguised as magic and an absurdly effective health care system (just ask your God, he'll feed and heal you, no problem, thanks for the lip service ...).

Mix those two and you'll get (among other things) a dystopian fantasy setting with lots of dungeons, big guns and body modifications, where characters go against the system by looting monster infested catacombs (ehm, I mean law abiding citizens** of good standing in their country homes, of course ...) for forbidden technologies to make a living (and kick some ass).

The cover again, now with better quality. Done with inkscape, btw.
The characters standing on the wrong side of what passes as "law" in this setting, must fear dire consequences for breaking and entering into dungeons and slaughtering the inhabitants. Seeing it like this adds an, in my opinion, interesting twist to the whole affair:
characters need to be careful when entering dungeons - the crawl becomes a heist
Spice the whole thing with some omnipresent industrial pollution produced by foul magic and highly bureaucratic (and effective) evil demonocracy, kick the easy health care system (at least the easy part ...), make magical technology illegal and you got a setting stewing that evokes lots of cyberpunk by staying D&D (of sorts) with dungenheists instead of crawls.

Oh Dungeon, why art thou? (A bit of history 1)

At some point in the past, evil won the day. The gods went silent all of a sudden (see "A bit of history 2" below) and all the temples became demon-spawning gates. It was a full blown invasions, but humanity fought back hard at first and changed tactics to defense as soon as they realized it was a loosing battle. Some opened the gates, hoping that the new rulers wouldn't be much worse than the old ones (which was at least in the long run true enough), some buried deep and tried to preserve what they believed to be their legacy.

Just resting or are they dead?
This went on for a couple of decades. Hell settled on the known world and made itself comfortable. People arranged themselves, as they always would. Those opposing the new order vanished into obscurity one after another, leaving behind countless trap-filled catacombs, which, in turn, became popular real estate among hell spawns or the stuff of legend for those desperate enough for hope.

Either way, all those places are very dangerous. Characters will go there anyway.
Design Notes: I always wanted to have a good reason for a setting to have abandoned, trapped and fortified dungeons en masse and this is one of them: humanity had been forced underground by a massive demon invasion and ultimately lost to leave only ruins behind. The treasures and forbidden technologies characters might loot from those is also the perfect reason for lots of dungeonheists.

"There is no such number." (A bit of history 2)

To dial down divine healing in a setting, you have to make it scarce. So let's get rid of the gods and see what happens. Well, the first thing would be that they leave a giant power vacuum where less powerful entities (say, Petty Gods) might fight for a better place in the food chain.

It's all in ruins, really ....
But that doesn't just happen, does it. One would need followers to actually get any benefit of such potential. And you only get followers by having someone do the legwork for you. So you grant some suckers a bit of your power and make them spread the word by showing off. Well, as long as they are close to a shrine of yours, that is.

So characters who dig this sort of calling, will need to find a shrine first (usually tainted by some sort of evil) and try to get a connection to anyone who would listen (which would mean getting rid of that evil, first). But it only starts there. Such a character would have to gain followers, a clergy and new shrines (or temples, even) next to gain any benefits from it (like higher level spells and powers). Which means preaching, cleaning out more shrines and fighting off other faith trying the very same.

Another incentive for growth would be that the powers granted by such a lesser god would only work within his influence (near his holy places, naturally). Characters will do it anyway.
Design Notes: I've already broke lots of ground here already. A system agnostic idea for rituals, another little system for holy sites and their growth, also about random church hierarchies and all kinds of other ideas to make The Cleric a bit more interesting in the game. There are some loose ends, but nothing serious. It just needs a bit cleaning up and streamlining to fit into BASTARD! and it should work. I also really love the Expanded Petty Gods and would love to get a reason to use this book on a regular basis. 
Also, for those caring about such things, the "temple as spawning points"-idea is analogue to the Players vs. Environment concept of  some video games (I had my reasons to use a pixel fonts on the cover ...). Getting rid of those will follow some of the same ideas. A character will have to spend at least one action per round (explained further below) channeling Affinity (also below, for now it's just a resource somewhat similar to hp available to characters) into the "hot spot" until the holy site is cleansed. This may even be a team effort.

The System (Part 1 of what I got so far, anyway)

Think AD&D combat system (tweaked for speed and mind theater tactics) and magic (tweaked with mana costs instead of Vancian madness) with the rest thrown over board and renewed from scratch with way less bulk.

Core System - Ability Scores

To keep this as simple as possible, I'll go with a mental ability score ("Brainz"), a physical ability score ("Brawnz") and a "flow score" that changes from session to session ("Luck"). Both ability scores have dice pools between 1 and 7 (on higher levels, anyway) and it's the number of six sided dice a character might use for challenges and contests and as "statics" (activates a characters abilities and lowers the difficulties for specific tasks, details follow below).

Contests and Challenges

1. For every challenge the DM determines the maximum number of dice allowed (between 1 and 5, with 1 being very difficult, 5 being quite easy, factors here are wounds and exhaustion, for instance), a number of successes needed for challenges (usually the number of dice used or less, but a DM could make it even more difficult and demand more successes than dice ... with contests it's always the number of successes the DM/opposing player comes up with) and the ability score that is used for it.

2. The player decides now how many dice he'll use and rolls them and resolves the result as follows:
A 1 means the die is discarded from the game. If the player is not able to compensate that loss by any means, he looses the die until he is able to do so (detailed information below under "The DM and Owing Dice").
  • A 2 means the die can be kept, but doesn't count as a success.
  • A 3 is a normal success when a character is specialized in an area. If a character is not specialized, it doesn't count as a success.
  • A 4 is always a success.
  • A 5 is always a success.
  • A 6 is always a success. It also produces a new die for that challenge/contest and raises Luck by 1 (if after the initial 6 another 6 comes up, it has no effect other than being a success).
  • A double gives a plus 1 to the rolled number, a triple adds plus 2 and so on (so a double 3 would count as two 4s, a triple 2 would count as three 4s and so on). But 1s are always discarded.
  • Spending a point Luck will make a die count as a success and even compensate a 1 (the die isn't lost after that, too)

After resolving he counts his successes and compares them with what was needed or opposing him.

3. If the player has made it, the challenge/contests ends right there. If not, they have three options before the contest counts as failed: (A) you could get some support from your party, but they'd have to roll and risk loosing a die and a rolled 6 helps the one getting the assistance, so it raises his luck, too (this option only works one time, but more than one group member may participate with any number of dice they think best) or (B) a character could "Owe a Die", which means the DM gives him a success (or as many as the player'd like to have, actually), but gets the dice also for himself to use later against the group (see below for detailed information) and finally (C) could use even more Luck (if he has it) to gain the number of successes he needs.

Only if the player is not able to generate the needed successes with (A), (B) and (C) or decides against either of the three, he looses the contest/challenge. The difference between the number of successes he could gather and the number needed defines how bad he failed (missed by 1 success means he just missed the mark, missed by 4 or more means fatal failure).

The DM and Owing Dice

The DM has two ways of making it difficult for players: he might provide a challenge or he initiates a contest. When providing a challenge, he tells a player how many dice he is allowed and how many successes are needed to make it (1 success with two dice is normal, with 3 dice would be easy and so on). Often enough the use of challenges will allow fast play when static dice are in effect. 
Example: If the doors in a dungeon normally have a difficulty of, say, 2 and the group has two static dice running for opening doors, they'll only get a description of their success. If they encounter a door with a difficulty of 4, now, one player would have to come up with 2 successes to open that one with the number of dice the DM deems appropriate (which, as a matter of fact, is a question of circumstances). 
Contests are either used if a DM wants to randomize a difficulty or if the player is somehow opposed by another party (fleeing from somebody, arm wrestling, stuff like that). For this the DM always gets 3 dice, rolls them and resolves them the same way as described above, with the only difference that instead of a Luck "flow score" he has a Bank "flow score".

Rolled sixes and owed dice raise the Bank, rolled 1 and using the bank against players depletes the Bank. A DM may add as much dice to his 3 contest dice as he thinks appropriate and the bank allows.
Design Notes: Players start with 3 dice that are either distributed randomly or assigned by the players (haven't decided yet). They gain a new die every 2 level. Since they start with level 0 (I love the funnel idea), this means a new die at the levels 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. Hence the possible distribution of 1/7 (8 dice, since an ability score needs to have at least one die). 
The players will have to decide how many static dice they can afford and where. The rest is a gamble. Low level characters should stick to their specialties (since a 3 already counts as a success) and teamwork will become essential early on (two characters each give a static die to "Disarming Traps", for instance, and reduce the number of successes needed for those traps more difficult. The owing a die mechanic will make the game increasingly difficult for the players (or reduce the experience they gain***, but more details on that in part 2). 
Over the course of a game players will be forced to decide how they use their dice and how much debt they are able to compensate and stand. I believe there is some great potential for tension and variety at the table and I believe that system to be quite fast and simple ...
Enough for today, I'd say

That's the core of the game: luck, betting and bluffing with the dice, static dice that streamline aspects of the game and lots of system based teamwork. Next up are Health and Affinity, body modifications, magic and combat (this won't stray as far from D&D and friends). After that (in a third post, I believe) it's character creation, the environment versus static dice and the dungeonheist interface. A fourth post should then finish the write up of BASTARD! with DM tools like morale checks, Threat Levels, Reaction Tables and all those nice tools a DM might need.


I hope this helped shedding a bit of light to what's going on in my head right now. Character creation and body modifications are the most vague right now (but might be as easy as "Distribute 3 dice, roll 2d6 and decide for a Calling" for character creation and a few random tables for the other to get started) and combat will need some testing (as always). But other than that those four posts will describe the whole game and after that it's manufacturing the pdf.

Ideas, impressions and comments about this are, as always, very welcome.


* For those interested in Lost Songs: this is still growing steadily and tested every other Friday. But after 7 months writing and researching about it, I need to take a rest and get another perspective. Writing another game, as silly as that may sound and even if it's a small game as BASTARD! is going supposed to be, is my attempt to get that perspective. My goal is to make BASTARD! everything Lost Songs never will be (and get away with it, too). So please, bear with me, it's all part of the big picture ...

** Imagine some concerned citizens from the neighborly ghoul community dialing 911 for the authorities because some strange looking humanoids are in the area.

*** The short of it is that at the end of a session are reckoned up. If a groups Luck has the upper hand they get a xp bonus and if the Bank has the upper hand, there'll be a xp penalty.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The DungeonPunk Initiative

I was talking with +Mark Van Vlack the other day about how I couldn't get all the rules I like into Lost Songs and he was all like "You can always put them in another set of rules ...". Got me thinking, too. I have so many little ideas and house rules and setting pieces all over the blog that won't make it into Lost Songs, it should by now (I thought) be enough for a game on it's own. A bastard, if you will. What I came up with (and that Game is all but written) is the complete antithesis of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs and I like the idea that the two games, even if they are not really compatible, still compliment each other. I also need a game with light rules that goes well with Roll20.

So please, let me introduce you to a little side project of mine:

The cover says it all ...

"Feel lucky, punk?" - The game in a nutshell

Some of you might know this already, but it bears repeating. Here is the blurb for BASTARD!
"Live is cheap in the world of DungeonPunk. Corrupting humanity was easy enough, now the Monsters are in charge. Not that they changed that much, but they take what they want. And so should you, punk. The world lies in ruins and is yours to take. A club is cheap enough, take one and go for the dungeons. Killing is easy enough, you see that every day on the streets of the slums you call your home. Take your friends. Who else is going to cover your back? If the authorities are coming for you, let them feel your anger. If you're lucky, they'll fear you someday in the future. If you live that long. Now go and loot. Gold can buy you a new arm, a magical sword even or a shiny new armor, but finally it will buy you freedom. And always remember: a Cleric will stitch you together every time, but a Mage will make you better."
Yeah, that's right, evil has it's own police forces. And work camps and poor living conditions. People are farmed for blood, souls, ammunition even, you name it.

The food they give to all humanoids without privilege, for instance, is a slightly alcoholic pulp, simply called "The Grey" for it's color. It's slightly alcoholic for two reasons. The first is that it keeps the population in an easy to handle state of intoxication, the second is that alcohol tends to kill all the bacteria that could emerge due to the shitty production (no one knows what it's made of ... it's not "people" - they are not that lucky). Sure, some will eat the occasional rat or neighbor, but some even go as far as signing up for a regular vampire sucking, since those guys won't touch a grey-eater if they don't have to. So hooking up to a vampire will not only give you nightmares, but also better food and lodging. It's worth thinking about.

Well, it goes only downhill from there on ... But you could do something against it. Those forefathers of yore might have been big losers, fucking up your future and all, but the toys they left in those dungeons they left all over the place sure are sweet. You just have to make sure the coppers don't get you first or that you are able to push back hard if they do.

Since it's the opposite ...

BASTARD! will be a rules light exploration-based steampunk-dungeonheist role playing game. It's gonzo (lots and lots of body modifications), it's brutal (like D&D, but dice explode and rounds escalate), it has guns (like here) and is in general more fucked up. The system is about betting, bluffing, luck and teamwork. You will owe the DM some dice at the end of the day and he will use it against you. Every time. It's Star Wars teaming up with Gangs of New York to beat up a gnome until he vomits rainbows ... 
Sometimes I enjoy Gravity Falls too much ... [source]
This game won't be understood as political commentary. I just won't stand for it ... Who's laughing?! Oh, shut up!

I'll talk more about this tomorrow.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Example Random Territory 01 (method and first results)

I was very curious to find out how that Basic Random Terrain Generator (Part 0, Part 1, Part 2) I've been talking about turned out, so here is a complete test run with all the funny ideas I had about it in one place. Well, at least it's a start and something to expand on. Please try this at home ...

A number of rolls ...

All right, let's do this properly and start from the very beginning. You'll need a paper with hex-fields on it (for now just google "blank hex maps", if need be ... I'll provide something like this soon, though). Start somewhere in the center with your first roll of 2d10. This is your center piece. It gives the basic directions to all your future rolls.

The next roll is with 3d10 (A, B and C) with the new die (A, from now on) giving the direction of the development.

1 to 6 are directions, 4 to 10 are layers (see below)
You won't need to write down the numbers for directions, but keep the numbers for layers. Every result has a specific meaning in regard of the terrain and what might already live there:

But for now just note the relevant numbers as described above ...
Layers are always added to the last developed terrain piece and make this field a natural border. There will be no new field generated in that direction. Instead go clockwise to the next free hex field from there. Same goes for Natural Borders coming up on (B). The third option to end development is a normal field framed by natural borders (see next example below).

This way you'll generate a somewhat organic map with all sorts of borders and some free space:

Started at yellow, red are layers, blue is a natural border ...

Up until now it was just collecting numbers. What happens next is giving those numbers meaning. Just collect the results first:

  • 1d (59): Labyrinthine hills (lots of trees)
  • 1f (66/029): Hills, Cliffsides and Streams (lots of trees)/Border Territory: a community living under the old faith, is hostile towards tribe and attacks on sight
  • 1h (51): Cliffsides and Plains (no trees)
  • 2c (37/061): Hills and Rivers (lots of trees)/Border Territory: a community under patriarchal rule, campaigning for an alliance
  • 2e (89): Labyrinthine Mountainscape
  • 2g (60): Dormant Vulcano (special)
  • 2i (61/998/850): Plateau (no trees)/Land Beyond The Mist: Place of Training for the court of Giants/The Darkness: Tainted by Weird Dark Rites
  • 3b (56/037): Hills and Streams (lots of trees)/hostile community under new faith, trade possible
  • 3d (43): Big River through rolling Plain (trees by river and some trees)
  • 3f (51): Cliffsides and Plains (no trees)
  • 3h (22/768/863): Giant Lakes/Roman Relics: actively Roman city/The Darkness: Sinister magic corrupting combat (some legionnaires tainted by evil, maybe)/the tribe settles here, because this is where the map started ...
  • 3j (29/001): Swamp (lots of trees)/Border Territory: Strange Community campaigning for alliance
  • 4a (01): Impassable Mountainface
  • 4c (23): A few Big Lakes (lots of trees)
  • 4e (89): Labyrinthine Mountainscape
  • 4g (74/968/944): Hills and Streams (some crippled trees)/Land Beyond the Mist: Place of Training for the court of Pixies/Land Beyond the Mist: Place of Magic for the court of Nymphs and Trolls
  • 4i (22): Giant Lakes
  • 4k (49): Labyrinthine hilly Riverscape (lots of trees)
  • 5b (25/035/853): Lakescape (lots of trees)/Border Territory: an unfriendly and cautious community living under the new faith/The Darkness: Dark Rites corrupting Combat (unholy warriors of God?)
  • 5d (39/898): Labyrinthine Riverscape (lots of trees)/The Darkness: Powers from Beyond out for Revenge
  • 5h (40/004): Underground River (special)/Border Territory: neutral but very strange community
  • 5i (96/843): Snow and stone/The Darkness: a curse thriving by combat

Giving it all some meaning

This is shaping up good, I think. We have some strange swamp people, a Roman city with some sinister war magic, hostile neighbors following an old faith, others campaigning for an alliance, training grounds of Giants (including weird evil rituals) and Pixies, plus a magic place of the nymphs and trolls.

There is also a broad spectrum of landscapes. We have a silent Volcano, hills, rivers and mountains, some underground rivers and a swamp, all of it sprinkled with with big lakes ... There's already a lot going on, what we need now is a map and the flavor text to make it all fit ...

But since I spend most of my day bashing my head against google to find a descend mapping software and produce a map for you all to look at and came up with nothing, I'll leave it at that for today. It should be enough to give you all an impression how this is shaping up and even only with what's written here and a raw sketch of the map a DM should be able to go a long way. Add some Random encounter tables to that and you got a game going.

More on this as soon as I'm able to produce a descent map ...