Saturday, January 31, 2015

Plotting a Meta-System for some Core-Rules (LSotN design post)

I wanted to be somewhere else right now. Like talking about how combat will work in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, for instance. Alas, I looked at my reference sheet after I had been occupied by other things for a few days and was like: "WTF ... ?!". Not that there is much wrong with it, but (I guess) it just didn't help me getting right back into it. Or I just, as the proverb goes, didn't see the forest because of all the trees overtime can do that to a brain ...).

Anyhow I needed something a good friend of mine described as "a meta-system for the core rules". Here you'll see me (finally!) getting somewhere solid with this. As in: the core mechanisms seem to work!

This post sums up my efforts so far. I'm serious, LSotN is happening ...

And it really is like building a car

The more I weasel my way into this, the more I believe that analogy fits describing the process: I feel like someone building his own car from scratch. It's not even about getting it done, it's also about getting there.

Funny story right there about my grandfather, who really went and build a boat from scratch. Took him months. I saw pictures of it and it was a thing of beauty. In my eyes, anyway. He was proud of it, too. So much, in fact, that he even invited friends and the press to the launch in the harbor. Everyone had been very excited, I've been told. They even had a little ceremony.

Well, that boat sunk right then and there.

True story. Sure, it must have been an embarrassing situation (and entertaining, really) but my grandfather took it with the right attitude and humor. Didn't stop him getting back on doing the next project, too. Because, as I stated above, getting there is as important as the thing itself. Maybe even more so.

Anyway, that's what I'm doing here and I must say, I'm having a good time fiddling with the rules, finding out what is where and why.

Where to start with writing a complete system?

This is, of course, a really subjective matter and depends hugely on what floats your boat [ha!] as it mostly is about what one wants to achieve. For me it's as much about understanding D&D as it is about finding out if I'm able to transfer this understanding into my very own D&D Frankenclone. One proves the other, so to say.

It's not so much about taking what's already there and re-labeling it, but about making informed decisions to get to a concise variant of the game. A game (but that should go without saying) I'd really like to play myself.

Over the course of the last few weeks I kept looking for a perfect point of entry and collected ideas. Some of it I wrote, some of it is still on scattered notes all over my place. To bundle all of this (or as much as possible) in a way that allows me to build upon, I need to outline what I got on a meta-level to make sure I didn't miss something crucial. Here is another attempt (and the one I will expand on in the future):

Start with "Quality". Circles define the function,
squares elaborate on that.
How it works

There are, just like the attributes in D&D, 6 qualities (Muscle, Finesse, Grit, Wits, Nerve and Wyrd). Those qualities are divided in two categories (terms might change): Physical (Muscle, Finesse, Grit) and Mystical (Wits, Nerve, Wyrd). For each of them 3d6 are rolled to define them (again, just like D&D).

The results of these rolls have several functions true for all qualities:

(1) The sum of the 3d6 constitutes the main value of a quality (check value). Instead of being a fixed number, it is considered a pool or potential of a quality and might either be actively drained by the player or suffer from damage from external sources (could be anything from straining a muscle to the character being victim of some intrigues).

(2) To see how a quality reacts to damage, the 3d6 need to be separated even further. So the three results (A, B, C) are grouped as A (Lowest Die) and B + C. B + C constitute the drain a quality can get without any other effect than resulting in a low check value. Below that it's either a save to avoid permanent scars (A) or permanent damage to the main value (below zero).

(3) To compensate the changing nature of the qualities, a second interpretation of A, B and C helps formulating some fixed values that correspond with the original value but also allow for constants that are needed for several sub-systems called "defences" (yeah, British English here, might change that ...). (B + C) provide those constants. This has two benefits. For one, the target numbers are lower and in fact work in a way that allows the use of a d20 for task resolution. the second benefit is that the average result of "roll 3d6, drop lowest" is 8 or 9 (8,5) instead of the 7 for just rolling 2d6, which, again, is far more suitable for the use of a d20 in the game.


A roll for Muscle comes up with 3, 4 and 6. The main value (pool relates to a character's endurance) is 13 (3/10). The "defence" value (10) is a character's ability to use excessive force without harming oneself (like bashing doors in D&D and I'm aware that "defence" is not quite the right word for that, for now it's for the lack of a better term ...).

All the qualities and their defences:

  • Muscle (pool: Endurance - defence: save vs. harm when using excessive force)
  • Finesse (pool: Speed - defence: base armor class)
  • Grit (pool: hp-buffer - defence: save vs. paralyzing pain)
  • Wits (pool: Sanity/mana-buffer - defence: save vs. magic)
  • Nerve (pool: Patience/Concentration - defence: save vs. provocation)
  • Wyrd (pool: Fate - defence: base reputation)

Permanent damage on qualities as result of the narrative

Every permanent damage a quality receives is always somehow connected to the narrative. If, for instance, a characters Wits is damaged below zero, it not only reduces the main value, but also produces a drawback directly connected to the event that caused it. The defence for Wits being Sanity, it most likely will be, depending on the severity of the damage, a quirk or mental illness related to similar situations happening in the future (nervous ticks, etc.). Damage on Wyrd could result in ill repute, to give another example.

This way a character will, with time, collect an assortment of scars and disadvantages that tell a story and give a character more depth. System and narrative have a strong connection.

Check difficulty with Endurance, Skills and Echo

To do the changing character of quality values some justice, the difficulties of tasks will be oriented on a range of a  3d6 average (10) plus d20 for easy tasks (higher difficulties for more difficult tasks, etc.). Skills will be fixed bonuses on specific tasks and are added to the result, allowing a higher possibility of success. The active use of Endurance will allow a player to bridge the result of an unsuccessful check to the difficulty.

This way it's for the player to decide if his character is "not making it" or if he's willing to deplete a resource (Endurance) to make something happen. Bad luck with the dice does not necessarily mean failure, but is a threat to the resources a character has.

Furthermore there is the use of an "echo" rule, allowing for an additional roll with the next lower die if the initial die shows his maximum result (hierarchy: d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4). The beauty of it is that it allows a slighter higher base difficulty, while leaving room for exceptional successes every now and then.

Character advancement and qualities

The last two aspects connected with the qualities are related to character advancement. One is the player's decision for core qualities, the other are Fractional Quality Points. With the core qualities LSotN becomes a hybrid between class-based games and classless games. Since all class-related abilities in D&D are connected to abilities one way or another, it's easy enough to associate them with qualities to begin with (those will be called "traits") and let the player decide which development his character should make level by level with the points he gets to buy those traits.

So with every new level a player gets 1 core point to distribute among his qualities (those core points are basically the bonuses a character gets in D&D for high ability scores, they also work pretty much the same way) and trait points equal to the new level to buy traits in the qualities he focused on (Grit might give more hit points, Wits might buy a character the ability to cast magic, stuff like that). For humans there will be one leading core quality (primary core), other core qualities he chose and those he decided not to choose ...

Specifics will follow (and are partially already established in older posts ...). For now it's just important to point out that a steady development of qualities is not connected to how high a main value is, but with how the player chose his focus. Sure, a higher pool is a benefit, but it's not that a character with a set of low qualities is doomed to be stupid or weak or whatever. It's just a low pool, how this pool is to be managed is for the player to decide.

Fractional Quality Points are just a little system that allows a steady (if partial) growth of all qualities. Primary core qualities will grow the fastest, core qualities after that and normal qualities will be pretty slow, all things considered. But echo applies here, so a few lucky rolls can go a long way in this.

There is more, but not today

What I described above is the core system of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs as I have it right now. All following sub-systems will be somehow connected to how the qualities work. There are lots of fiddly bits and especially combat will be quite the challenge, but I'm up to it. I won't promise when to do what (a mistake I make far to often ...), but instead say all this will happen in the next few weeks. I hope this managed to give a good impression what happened this month in developing LSotN.

Ideas and questions are very welcome, of course. Feel free to share your thoughts!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Part 2 of the Epées & Sorcellerie Play Report (in which a DM is confronted with handling a divided party)

In the past I managed to finish things I started every now and then, but got lost in something else every so often (hence the name of the blog ...) and left loose threats hanging left and right (they still haunt me, be sure of it). One of the things I try to be more thorough about in 2015 is to finish the projects I started (and update the blog more often in the process...). So from now on when I start something with a "Part 1" in the title, I'll do my best and try to follow through.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the second of three posts about me DMing a retro-clone for newbies, fighting comparisons with computer games and improvising a lot while listening to what the dice say. More of the same, but older (I mean Part 1, of course) can be found here.

The strange dynamics of a party split thrice

Hunted by a horde of goblins on wolves, the group happened to split up in three groups: two stayed behind (the wizard and an elf) and hid on a tree, one (the dwarf, for obvious reasons) decided to enter the ruins of what looked like an abandoned chapel, while the rest (3 elves) originally intended to follow the dwarf, but decided to hide in the nearby trees instead (a popular move, obviously, as elves in Epèes & Sorcellerie have the ability to effectively be invisible when hiding in a forest and they didn't trust the graveyard surrounding that chapel ...).

It's a situation most DMs dread and I'm no different. In a worst case scenario you just loose some players to boredom while you concentrate on others, which leads to cross-chatter and a loss of focus on the game in general. It's down hill from there. But I had proclaimed at the beginning of the session that they could do what they want (being all sandbox-ey and stuff), so if splitting up was what they wanted, it's what I had to deal with, too.

The trick to make this work, I was about to find out, was to connect the narrative between the groups, while keeping the individual episodes short and ending every one of them (if possible) with a cliffhanger before going to the next group. Keep it fresh and keep moving, so to say.

Here are my recollections of what went down.

Goblin Reaction Rolls, Odd Odors and Weird Rituals

To put this up front: when I had to decide anything, I'd let the dice do the talking, either with reaction rolls, fifty-fifty chances or I'd just ask the players "High or low?", going with a favorable result if they had it right and so on. So the game was the back and forth between the players deciding what to do and me reacting to that by rolling some appropriate dice and interpreting the results. I try to stay true to that as often as possible.

Now back to what happened. The players had yet to find out how big the band of goblins was that had been hunting them down. The two characters left behind were the first to see, but I made sure that the others realized how this concerned them, too. It turned out to be a huge group of (3d20) 36 goblins with (2d6) 8 wolves.
Fantastic art by Adrian Smith and the mental image I had been
aiming for when describing the encounter [source]

One of the wolves took the scent of the wizard hiding in the tree and stayed behind with 8 goblins tagging along. The rest went on towards the chapel. This was going to be a fight.

Cut to the dwarf entering the chapel. The (random) result of what god had been worshiped here (using Gorgonmilk's* Original Petty Gods pdf) had been (1d100 = 72) [wait for it!] ... Odxit, the Petty God of Unexplained Smells (OPG, p. 93). Of all the things that could have come up, I end up with the petty god of smells!

Couldn't help it, so I did some laughing (something that irritates players no end) and then some fast thinking how to make this happen. The chapel had to be smelly, of course. The air was pretty sticky, there was a strange pool with a doughy bubbling liquid in it and some weird (and mostly broken) benches covered in fur lining up in front of it (not happy with the furred benches, but I had to improvise ...). The dwarf had to decide where to go from there ...

Cut to the three elves in the trees near the chapel. They see the goblins arrive and hesitate. It's obvious that they don't like it here. The wolves get restless fast. A reaction roll decides that the goblins don't enter, but stay and discuss what the should do next.

They also see how the chapel's defenses kick in, as several zombies dug their way out of their graves. To avoid reducing the hiding elves to mere spectators, I tried to provoke them into action from there on ...

Cut back to the wizard and the elf left behind. The goblins take some time but finally find them hanging up that tree and start throwing spears at them. The players find out that the wizard is quite powerful at fighting back. After casting sleep and taking out half of the goblins right then and there, he also happened to put out more damage in ranged combat than the elf with his bow (as per E&S a unlimited supply of magic missiles, doing 1d6+ Int-modifier as damage).

But the goblins at least got a chance to fight back, do some damage and kill a character or two. So after two rounds I ...

... cut back to the dwarf in the smelly chapel. He was loosely aware of the horde in front of the chapel and the zombies coming closer. His first idea was to climb the ruined tower connected to the chapel's nave, but decides it's to risky to climb it since it looks pretty rotten. So it's back into the main room for the dwarf, which gave me an opportunity to ...

... tell the hiding elves what's what. The goblins are restless, but still do nothing else but argue. There are (2d6) 10 zombies heading for the chapel and the cleric is starting to think he might have a chance to turn them ...

... while the fight around that one tree goes on. I keep missing, though, and the goblins fall one after another. Two more rounds off action and I switch ...

... back to the dwarf, who's now aware of the zombies approaching and starts a hasty and thorough search of the main room, starting with that weird pool in the middle of it. He finds a small compartment containing a really  smelly and furry shirt and a small button gong. He also notices the zombies are wearing the same sort of shirt ...

... while the elven cleric is still unsure what to do and the other two really like trees they are hiding in more than the odds down on the ground (one reason being one of them having only 1 hp and the other one not much more with 3 hp, them being level 1 and all that) and I give them time to think about it by ...

... cutting back to the fight. The two adventurers are a far superior force compared to my luck with the dice and those weak goblins. Even the wolf had to die pretty fast in the end. One goblin decided to make a run for it, but was cut down immediately by an elven arrow. Now they could come down from the tree and take care of the sleeping goblins while I ...

... cut back to the dwarf who decided to put on the shirt and survived the horrid smell of the thing (save vs. poison, but he got a +2) without puking his guts out. The zombies enter the chapel, but don't attack the dwarf. Instead they align around the pool and start moving their lips to produce disgusting gurgling noises. As the dwarf realizes that they are singing, he decides to try that gong after they stopped and looked at him (he really liked banging that gong ...) and I ...

... cut back to the hiding elves, where cleric decided it was time for him to get a piece of the action and starts moving to the chapel, all the while avoiding to be seen by the goblins. But before he gets there, I ...

... cut back to the goblin slayers, who decide to leave one of the goblins alive for questioning and kill the rest. They didn't forget about their mission, which I thought was pretty cool. So they question the little bugger a bit and come to the conclusion it'd be best to talk to the goblin shaman about what happens in the area right now. Since it was time to wrap things up on this end, I ...

... cut back the the dwarf, who (according to Odxit's reaction table) managed to get the petty gods friendly attention, as the smell got a questioning aroma [drum roll] and the fumes over the pool somewhat thickened wavered friendly. Now the dwarf had to decide what to do with that and I could go and ...

.. cut back to the cleric moving towards the chapel. He was slow, he was cautious, but he came to that point where he needed to gather the courage to make a run for the entry, because the goblins would have a pretty good chance of seeing him doing so. He hesitated and I ...

... asked the wizard and the elf how they wanted to make this happen. They described how they used rope to tie the creature up and made him lead them to the shaman. I really didn't need the group further away from each other, so ...

... from then on the dwarf got all the attention he needed. He started his own inquiry about their mission and got some vague answers about a close-by dungeon and the story of the wizard that had lived there [meanwhile the cleric opted for running through the door and the other two elves thought it was at least save enough to be a bit closer to the chapel and started to move in that direction].

Wrapping things up

Now, as the cleric comes running through the door, he starts a chain reaction: the goblins see him and get really agitated about it, throwing some spears, etc., the zombies turn in his direction and start moving while the dwarf decides that he had heard enough, gives his thanks to the entity and starts moving towards the door as Odxit literally vanishes in a puff of strong and smelly gas that called for another save vs. poison, but this time from everyone close to the chapel (I called it Odxit's blessing ...).

It knocked out half of the goblins and the two elves and managed to send the rest of the goblins running from that evil place (as per the reaction roll). It didn't affect the dwarf (who considered himself now a missionary of smell sorts), but the cleric botched his save and ended up being pretty stoned and paralyzed.

With the zombies being around and moving towards them, they thought leaving the place to be the best option. So as soon as the other two elves had stopped emptying their bowels, they headed for the forest to find their lost friends (carrying the cleric, since he was really out of it) ...

After that it not only got late, but also weird ...

Long text again. I really need to come to an end for now. Especially since the hard part for me was yet to come, as it had been already late at the time but the game would went on for another two hours (at least) and I was about to maneuver myself in a position where I had to improvise a complex riddle and a strange natural cave.

But that's for another day.

*That's not entirely correct and a bit more complicated than that, but I doubt that OPG would have happened without Gorgonmilk reviving the the thing to begin with and the others get enough credit on page 4 of the pdf ... A link down this particular rabbit hole is here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Progress on Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (introducing Fractional Quality Points)

Still working on LSotN like a maniac here. It's lots of different construction sites right now, but I believe I'm beginning to see the light. It's just a lot behind the scenes (or mostly fermenting in my brain ...). I'll produce an updated version of the Reference Sheet and some typographical ideas this weekend and hope to give those interested a better scheme how all the parts interact and what it'll look like. I'm still aiming to have a playable beta-version till Easter.

Fractional Quality Points

One idea of this whole project is to streamline some of my house rules and give them a new home. One of my favorites is a rule I ported some time ago from the HackMaster 4E* to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia: the Fractional Ability Score (follow the link for more details ...).

The basic idea here is to allow characters a partial increase of their ability scores per level. Every ability score would have a die associated to it, the scale was determined by class. Once those fractional points reach 100, the ability goes up one point and the counting starts anew.

It's a neat little twist in that it gives players just a little something but to a great effect. My players loved that rule and there was always some tension when a player rolled to see if he'd make a big jump or even rolls enough to crack a threshold or two.**

I want something like this in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs. For one, permanent damage to qualities will be something that might happen every once in a while (if a quality drops below zero, the amount of negative damage can't be regenerated) and an opportunity to get a point or two back this way seems like a nice mechanic to make that happen with time (questing will be another way to regenerate those, but it sure won't come easy).

How it works

With character creation a player may roll 1d100 for every quality and note the result. Coming up with 100 doesn't mean an automatic upgrade, as only anything beyond the threshold triggers that. The increase per level is focused on the choices a player makes when advancing:
  • Primary Core Quality: add 2d10 to the fractional quality score of the chosen quality.
  • Core Qualities: add 2d8 to the fractional quality score of the chosen qualities.
  • Quality: add 1d8 to the fractional quality score of those qualities not chosen as core.
Echo applies, so rolling the highest possible result with a die allows to roll the next lower die and add the result (chain of command: d20 - d12 - d10 - d8 - d6 - d4).

Expect more of this next weekend ...

That's it so far for the qualities. Next up is making it (this part at least) as complete and concise as possible. Combat will be next after that, but it's obviously a big one. Anyway, that's next week. For now I'll close shop and share with you another beautiful illustration of some Nibelungs up to no good:

Hagen von Tronje proposing to kill Siegfried ...
(art by Arthur Rackham, 1911) [source]
"O wife betrayed / I will avenge / Thy trust deceived"

*Arguably nothing on HackMaster is really new, but instead an interpretation of the rules that already existed in AD&D. I know HackMaster, so this is my point of reference. As far as I know the idea (or something very similar) originated in the AD&D Unearthed Arcana ...
**Just as a side note for the D&D version: it also allows for some some permanent ability damage that is felt, but not too harsh on the players.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Actual Epées & Sorcellerie Play-Report Pt. 1 (Random Shenanigans! Goblins! Odd Petty Gods!)

E&S is a french retro-clone that works solely by using a solid (and beautiful) 2d6 mechanic. If you've never heard of it, you certainly missed out. It's free and short and brim full of ideas, so just do yourself a favor and check it out already! I also wrote a review about the game back in February, if you need some more convincing ...

The first opportunity to play E&S was this year in April when we went to the girlfriend's family during the Easter holidays. I believe I was a bit shaky with my DMing back then (I hadn't DMed on a regular basis for about a year at that time*), but everyone seemed to have a good time (didn't write a play report, though).

Anyway, when we decided to spend the Christmas holidays there, too, I was asked to DM once more. Now with more players (the people who'd had a good time the first time, had convinced others to join the party), so we ended up being 7 people. Two of them complete newbies and two more that might as well be called newbies, since the only game they'd ever attended was the one we had back in April.

I was better prepared this time (at least I believed to be better prepared, which is just as well) and really felt the urge to DM some fantasy role playing. My game of choice was, again, Epées & Sorcellerie, since most of the people attending already had at least some experience with it.

This is a collection of my memories of what occurred that day. Mostly for future reference, but also to talk a bit about how I DM a game (random and improvisation). Part one will be mostly the set-up and the first encounter. Part two will conclude the session and I'll write a bit about what worked and what not

The chances for everyone from the first session still having their character sheets had been thin to begin with, but still, I wanted to build on the setting and the story that had already been established and hoped that at least one player still had something for me to work with. One was all I needed ...

Recent Events in Barony Schwarzaarlen

The map I used for barony Schwarzaarlen was the one I talked a bit about in November 2014:

The post is here.
Character creation took about 90 minutes. That's not the games fault, though, but due to the fact that 5 new characters needed to get done and I had a lot of explaining to do. When starting a setting new to the players, I usually assume that they had some reason to be in the area. Them all being level 1 made things quite easy, as they all just had finished their training and thus needed to be locals (as travelling would have most likely ended in earning xp ...).

I also take the time to tell the players a lot about local politics and rumors (list contains rumors from both sessions):

  • The local baron, Welbur ven Stretten, was away on military expedition to get rid of the giant spiders that recently had caused some trouble at farms in the south.
  • Rumor has it that the problem with the spiders was because of another military expedition a few months before that, where the baron got rid of some lizard tribes who lived in the southern swamps.
  • With the lizards gone, Zaraziell the Weird (mighty wizard and resident of the infamous Flickering Tower (yellow circle with the "C" on the map) decided to travel into the swamps to the Ruins of Takor (an ancient city. hexagon-8 on the map) for some research, something he'd thought to be too much work up until now because the tribes had been somewhat protective about it.
  • There were rumors of Ogres living in the east and some goblins living in the north.
  • There were stories about The Road Under the Mountain, a series of ancient tunnels with the legend that there might be a shortcut through the mountains. A dangerous endeavor, but sure worth some gold for those who find such a passage.
  • With all the Big Players being busy, the town Deverrin (red circle with the "A" on the map) was in desperate need for some local trouble shooters to get things done. One such group (characters of that first session) had been sent to check out why the big cider delivery for some upcoming festivities was late (the town had been preparing for a fair to celebrate the apple harvest at the time).
  • As it turned out, that delivery had been late because of a (very) drunken Ogre being on a rampage on Widow Oldinges farm (producer of the famous Cider Goldspritz, biggest farm in the area, people call her godmother, but only behind her back ...). The young heroes had helped killing that beast and ventured on to find out where it had come from and why, as ogres normally don't come that close to the town (end of that first session).
  • The second session starts two weeks later with the new characters finding out that the fate of that first group is uncertain, as only one of them had returned (the only surviving character sheet back at the table ...), but injured and with no recollection of what had happened after that first group had left widow Oldinges farm (she'd only remembered some ruins, an entrance leading under the earth, the screams of her dying comrades and the general area where it went down ...).
  • Some fairy creatures had been implicated with the ogre rampage, so the elves in the north took an interest in finding out what had went down and sent a young priest of Kalantos, the God of Axe Executions (random result of the Original Petty Gods roster, p. 60) and his bodyguard (two new characters) to find out.
  • The survivor of that first group had made a public request for volunteers to join her for a second expedition.

With this knowledge the new group formed (adding another elf, a wizard and a dwarf) and started their journey up north.

Preparing the Randomness

I had the map shown above, the E&S rules, some random encounter tables for the different areas, the names of important personalities living in the valley, the local landmarks (they traveled basically following known landmarks, like the mountains surrounding the valley, etc.), also the fantastic Original Petty Gods pdf (finished and hosted by Gorgonmilk, not to be confused with the connected, but still developing and eagerly awaited Expanded Petty Gods project over at Save vs. Dragon) and a list with random names for every occasion.

I also had with me (but didn't need) the "Dungeon Dressing" Tables from the Ruins of Undermountain and the OSR dungeon crawl Under Xylarthen's Tower by +Jeff Rients of Jeff's Gameblog fame.

That is all. The rest needed to be improvised ...

Tribal goblins and some strange ruins ...

So the group traveled north and the first day of travel didn't bring any random encounters and they managed to venture deep into the forest before they needed a place to spend the night. The night turned out to be a bit more exciting, though, as during the second watch 4 Goblins infiltrated the camp undetected and almost managed to get away with kidnapping one of the characters (set up of their camp allowed for the attempt and the character didn't wake up ...).

A short fight dispatches three goblins, but the fourth got away and weaseled his way back into the forest (being on his home-turf and all). The group decided to break camp in the middle of the night as their position was obviously compromised. And sure enough, 20 minutes later drums started echoing through the forest and wolves answered their call.

A wild chase ensued with the group fleeing through the forest and the howls of their hunters drawing closer and closer (random results: it was a clear night with the moon half full in early spring, so even the only human in group had a good chance of seeing where he ran; the goblins had reacted quite pissed, as per the reaction table, size of the tribe as per E&S, which amounts to around 100 ...).

One character gets the idea that climbing a tree to get some orientation could help them finding somewhere to hide and is lucky enough to discover the tip of what looks like a ruined tower somewhat (3d6 x 10 in m =) 150 Meters away from the groups current position. The enemy is pretty close at that point and 4 characters decide to make a run for that tower, two remain where they are and hide in the trees.

The four who had made a run for the tower, saw it belonged to the ruins of what once must have been a church (a graveyard surrounded it) and three of them (the elves) decided to go for the nearest trees instead (elves are almost invisible when hiding in forest). The dwarf decided to enter the chapel.

With the party effectively split into 3 groups I had to improvise big time to get some tension. I began with describing a group of three dozen goblins, eight of them on mean looking wolves, passing the tree the two left behind characters had hidden in. One of those dire wolves passed a perception check and stayed back and 8 goblins decided to tag along. The rest headed for the ruins ...

Into the weird territory of improvising and using random results

What followed was the utterly strange result of trusting the dice, a smelly but friendly petty god, some strange rituals, a random trap dungeon with a giant frog and the need to improvise a complex puzzle at 1 o'clock in the morning (after 5 hours of play, no less).

So stay tuned for part 2!

* Blogging is a nice exercise to keep it theoretical and explore the hobby and the game further, but it doesn't help when 3 strangers need convincing that role playing games are a worthwhile past time ...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Magic of 3D6 in a Row (Dissecting D&D further ... it's also about LSotN))

The following problem occurred when I started thinking about armor class and attacks in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs: I disconnected ability scores from the bonuses. A player wants to have a bonus in an ability score, he needs to choose so during advancement (forming an individual class, of sorts, in the process). That's mainly due to the idea that I want my ability scores to be flexible as pools, so they will change somewhat during play (they are a resource).

Now, initially I wanted Finesse (think Dex) to be the Basic Armor Class for characters, but that would have been difficult with a static ability score to begin with (basically because of the range) and it's way too fiddly for a changing stat. Plus, the D&D combat system is not that much connected with the ability scores. I had to think around a few corners to get there, but here it is.

Basic assumptions

It's a classic trope of old school D&D: 3D6 for every ability score, from top to bottom, builds the foundation of a character. Sure, there are rules like the famous "use 4D6, drop lowest" and even a point-buy system or two, but in the end you'll have either distributed 3 dice per ability score or  a number that's an equivalent to that. Most of the time this is where it ends.

Because this isn't supposed to be a discussion about our favorite method of rolling stats*, but about how it all connects to everything else in the rules (like combat or armor class) and if it's possible to connect it even further, the question at hand needs to be: what else could be gathered from those 3D6? But first, a small digression.

About a dubious rule of "10 + armor bonus + ..."

That's how the armor class is determined in D&D 3E and, if you think about it, it's a strange beast. I am aware of the necessity to structure combat this way if you want to leave the attack tables from older editions behind you, but it also shows a (major? I'd say major ...) flaw in the design, as it needs an arbitrary number (the 10) to make it work.

They might have thought "We need that D20 for the attack, but how does that translate to an increasing AC?!", because that's most likely the problem they had. And I'm sure that 10 corresponds to some extent to the good old Attack Rolls Table (even so, why not take a 9 or a 12 ...). But those tables, too, are rather disconnected from the ability scores. I think the first mistake is to assume it's all about the bonuses.

I mean, you get a perfect number between 3 and 18 and it's reduced to + 1/+ 2/etc.. Whole skill systems have been based on the idea that all it needs are smaller numbers and more of them. 

I don't want this in LSotN. But what else is there to do?

3D6 can do a lot ...

So ability scores are a pool, that much I wrote in the introduction. They can be reduced to zero and even below that, but that comes with a price. Again, initially I thought it would be enough to assign a threshold (half the ability score reduced), but that's also somewhat arbitrary and a rule more that needs to be remembered. If it's something that directly corresponds to the creation of the ability score, it's more likely to get used in play. At least that's the theory here.

The solution so far is to take what's been rolled for the specific ability score and split the result in a meaningful way. So a player gets to roll 3D6. He adds the result and has (as usual) his ability score. To determine now the individual threshold of an ability score, he takes the lowest as one number and adds the other two. With a result of 2, 3 and 6 he'd get:


The 9 is the damage the ability score can take without dire consequences, the 2 is the threshold before it's reduced to zero (here a save is allowed to avoid further consequences). It's part of the character creation, it's easy to remember and it got some variety to it. Taking the highest two as the buffer (so to say) has also a nice distribution to it, so that's worth something. And I get more "connected" numbers to play with ...

Here's the connection:

That buffer will function on several other levels (at least for the physical attributes, the others will be a bit more difficult). A character's basic armor class is one of them. Here I got the fixed number I was looking for, it directly connects to Finesse (think Dex) and is not too high (but on average higher than just using 2D6, because it's 3D6, take highest two**). So a character will have a base armor class somewhat between 2 (very, very unlikely) and 12. Armor worn just stacks on that (this will be a separate post, though). It's also very well in the range of a D20 for attacks.

With this I can work.

And here's some eye candy, too (only loosely related, but anyway ...):

Poster for the world's first fantasy movie:
Die Nibelungen by Fritz Lang [source]

* Our house rule for the Rules Cyclopedia was to allow a player to roll 18D6 and assign three dice per ability score. Every six allows for a re-roll of a lower number. This way the players are somewhat flexible in what they got, the average is a bit higher and at it's core it's still 3D6 per stat.

**I'm going here loosely with an idea from the fantastic retro-clone Epées & Sorcellerie. If you've never heard of it (or not enough), a review I wrote some time back can be found here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Calling Dibs on Names: LSotN Bits and Pieces I (introducing LKotN and LLotN)

Yes, the posts keep coming. As the development of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is meandering in all kinds of directions, some stuff just needs to be out there so I can move on. Here is one of those ...

I try to be as complete as possible in putting LSotN together. The broader scope is not one of the big issues yet, but when putting the rules together I gotta have in mind how it ends and why. I had decided early on that level 10 would be the maximum of the game, mainly because it's traditionally around that point when play changes perspective in D&D (name-level and all that jazz).

That's all fine and dandy, but what might lurk beyond that? Probably something with rules for domains and mass combat (sure sounds like something D&D would do ...). I really don't know about that right now (okay, I might have some ideas ...).

What I got, though, is a name for the next installment of rules (covering levels 11 to 20) [drum roll]:

Lost Kings of the Nibelungs

And, to go totally batshit crazy on this one, I even got the name for a supplement after that, handling epic level games (progressing the main game from level 21 to 30) [extensive drum solo]:

Lost Legends of the Nibelungs

See what I did there? I'll be busy for years to come ...  Anyway, I'm calling dibs on those two.

Calling dibs, Nibelung-style: Kriemhild shows Hagen Gunther's head
(by Johann Heinrich Füssli, ca. 1805) [source]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Core Mechanics Reference Sheet LSotN 0.1 (work in progress)

Alright, back to Lost Songs of the Nibelungs. I've started collecting all rules I have in mind on a one page reference sheet (it's DIN A3 right now, but printing it in A4 should work and still be readable). What I'm trying to do here, is finding out if it's possible to get a compact overview of the rules on one page. I'm not yet done, but I thought I'd share my results so far.

Beware, this is a test (please open in another window for more details):

Not finished, but almost all rules should fit on this paper
and connect with each other ... (I used inkscape for this)
I expect this to change a lot, as far as the composition of some of the elements are concerned. Printed it on A4 and could read it all just fine, so if I'm not able to put all the rules on there as it is, I'll reduce the fond-size even more.

It's not all I got, but those following the development of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs somewhat closer should be able to get a pretty good idea what I am aiming at here. If you compare what's on this sheet with what I wrote about how Wits will work in the game, it'll be easier to connect all the dots (I suppose).

Combat is still a big construction area. The rest gets more and more concrete every day ...

Questions, ideas and comments in general are welcome, of course.

P.S.: While doing this I started asking myself why not all rpgs have a page like this somewhere to see the system all at once.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Friday, January 9, 2015

And now for something more pleasant ... or may I say Red & Pleasant?

Long story short: A Red & Pleasant Land arrived yesterday at my doorstep!

It's gorgeous! (Proof of Ownership)
You might have guessed it (or already know), but it's the most beautiful thing. 

Now let me tell you a bit about me and role playing books

It's been years since I felt the need to buy something. But at some point I had to check out some of the product people kept talking about in our little neck of the woods. If I were to put my finger on when I decided to fold and pay money (again ...) for a hobby where you mostly need just one set of rules to be set for the rest of your life (*cough* D&D Rules Cyclopedia *cough*), it would be the day I realized I couldn't get Vornheim anymore, because everyone else had been faster than me. I still regret that.

So I started buying books again: I got The Dungeon Alphabet quite cheap on a Con, also bought BRP (I love Runequest and Cthulhu, so I had no choice), Dungeon World (loved the cover, liked the premise), Terra Primate (anyone seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Yeah, that), Conspiracy X (Unisystem and X-Files ...), The Magnificent Joop van Ooms, Isle of the Unknown and The Monolith from Beyond ... (you see a pattern?)

That was one and a half years ago and the collector in me still tells me I need way more shiny stuff (well, I do!). The girlfriend disagrees ... mostly. But when we agree, it's almost always about some Lamentations of the Flame Princess books. Because they are awesome.

And that's not just the opinion of two fans, but somewhat supported by the fact that I am a bookseller by trade (just not working as one right now, but anyway, I learned it ...) and my girlfriend is right now writing on her bachelor thesis in (I kid you not) book science. So yes: we are book nerds. And we have elaborated opinions on that, too.

I'm writing all this because I am about to repeat my statement above and I want it to have some punch:

The Red & Pleasant Land is a beautiful book. And not just compared to other role playing game books, but compared to other books in general. Those Finns sure know how to print them, +James Raggi knows how to work them and +Zak Smith knows how to write and illustrate them (for the slim chance that you, dear reader, never had the pleasure to read Zak's awesome blog, here is a link).

It shouldn't be possible for a small publisher like LotFP to produce something that good and for the price they did. This is no small feat and whatever you think of Raggi, to make this possible deserves a lot of respect. Add great writing (what I've seen so far, but Zak is good for it) and fantastic art to that and you get a book that'd do very well in every gamer's collection. It's what you show people who are new to the hobby to inspire awe (but not before giving them gloves ...).

Finally I'd like to give my thanks to James and Zak.

This is a real treat and I will treasure this book.

And if I'm lucky I'll even get to use it in the game. I'll sure try ...

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Damn, this shooting in Paris ... This is what we invented weapons for, right? To shoot at people when we are too stupid to argue. I mean, honestly, how dumb ... Those stupid extremist ... Where to begin ... ?

12 people died because someone couldn't take a joke. To say this is sad doesn't even begin to describe it. I'll quote The Independent on this one:

I like to believe those cartoonists did the right thing in calling out the madness (all madness, really) and I admired them for doing so ...

Sorry, I have no words ...

My deep condolences to the families of the victims.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Character creation in (wait for it ...) Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (concept)

What makes a good character creation? Fast and simple or vast and complex, opinions vary a lot on this. As it is a decision I have to make at some point, I might as well share it here: I want a fast and easy set up, with a continuous character development of meaningful choices. Random where possible, but with enough room for individual customization. This is what I got so far for LSotN.

It just needs 9 rolls and some interpretation ...

To set up a level 0 character for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, a player rolls his characters family tree (with 3d6), a sub-table for the family tree indication his skills (1d6), his 6 qualities (each 3d6) and his hit points (1d6). That's it. Now for the interpretation part.

A character's family tree

A roll with 3d6 will decide how important a character's family is in his clan and how he is related to the other characters. The lower the result, the more important is the family, so rolling lots of ones is good (a result of 1, 1, 1 would make him a son of the clan's chief), while sixes always indicate some foreign/magical element (a result of 6, 6, 6 could mean a character was raised by dwarves, etc.).

A group will most likely come from the same clan. The roll for a family tree will also show which characters are related by comparing the results of their rolls. If two characters share one die number, they might be distant cousins, while sharing a complete set would mean they are brothers. The interpretation of those connections will not only help bonding the characters, but also produce some hints how this posse is perceived by their clan (son of the chief has to proof his worth, etc.).

Finally this roll decides how well a character is equipped and what skills he will have learned.
Players should have an active part in creating a clan structure and I believe that finding out what's what as part of the character creation helps with the immersion into the setting and should form a group that will be ready-to-go from the beginning.


I've talked a lot about those in the last few days. there's one aspect that got somewhat neglected, though. The way LSotN is shaping up right now, the value of a quality is of secondary importance. Other than in D&D a low result with the 3d6 is not per se a bad thing, as the values are not used to give a character any benefits other than the one a player decides to be important.

In D&D a high ability score will give a character a bonus and a low ability score will come with a penalty. Some bad rolls during character generation will result in a weak character (not judging here, just saying). The qualities in LSotN, on the other hand, are more like a character's reserve, while player choices during character advancement will decide which development is best for his character. The bonuses are placed, so to say.

So a character won't be dumb or strong. It's a change of perspective. Characters can achieve anything, but have different limits. A character with low Wits (compare to Int in D&D) might very well become a wizard and dabble in the dark arts if the player decides to make Wits the character's primary core quality. Wits being connected to sanity would make that character a bit more vulnerable in that regard (much higher risk to go insane), but the strength of a primary core ability is not in the value itself, but in the traits and benefits that come with that choice (better healing rates to regenerate lost wits, higher chance to improve the value, etc.).

What I'm trying to say, is, that disconnecting the benefits of an ability score/quality from it's value, allows a player to make more meaningful decisions throughout.

Roll Hit Points and off you go ...

With some background for the characters, a few skills and some gear the group is ready for their first quests as soon as the hit points are rolled. They got all they need.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wits in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs

I think a detailed example how Qualities will be structured and what they can do would be helpful to understand Lost Songs of the Nibelungs a bit better. And it's what I thought about on my way to work, so this is what I got ... Anyway, after presenting the outlines of the core system I have in mind in my last post, this will give an impression how those ideas could manifest in the rules.

Nothing is set in stone yet, of course (as the point buy aspect needs to be calibrated and I need to see how strong all those ideas impact each other). But some of the stuff is oriented on house rules I've been using for quite some time now, so it's not really arbitrary or random.

Short summary of the rules, a detailed example and magic ...

I'll take Wits as the first example, because it will also give an impression what magic will look like in LSotN and it's my gold standard for the rest of the game (need first to know how those elements of the game shape up that have nothing at all to do with combat). Here goes (summary of the rules first):

Characters are defined by a set of six Qualities: MUSCLE, WIT, NERVE, FINESSE, GRIT and WYRD, each with a random value of 3d6. As the characters advance in level, the players decide where the characters strengths will be by assigning the Core-Points they get with each new level (1 Core-Point per level, 10 Core-Points all in all). With human characters one Quality needs to be the Primary Core Quality. It's the one Quality that needs always to be higher than the other Core Qualities (from now on referred to as Secondary Core Qualities). A Quality can't have more than 5 Core-Points (Core Value).

Choosing a Quality as Primary or Secondary Core Quality will have several benefits. There are, for one, several aspects the Qualities will be used for (a value function, a passive function and an active function) and being a Core Quality will bring benefits with those aspects. In addition to this, choosing a Quality as Core enables a player to choose from several traits associated with a quality (number of points available is the number of the new level a character achieved - you level up to 3, so that's the number of Trait Points you get to spend).

A character can't have more basic Traits than he has Core Value in a Quality, but there will be traits that'll stack with a basic Trait (see Mana Pool in the example below). The stacking is not unlimited, though. it's a system that'll work like Skill Mastery and Combat Mastery (both will be discussed in another post, but it's not unlike the Weapon Mastery the Rules Cyclopedia uses), which (in short) means that mastery has 5 steps (basic, skilled, expert, master, grand master) and a character can't go beyond that.


Justification: To describe Wits as some variant of Intelligence doesn't do the term justice. Wits is an old word and if you assume that it connects somehow to "wizard", you'd  be right about that. It's all connected and that's how Wits describes best all the functions the quality needs to have in the game: the magical (like in "wizard"), the sanity (like in "not losing your wits") and the knowledge (as in "quick learner").
Unseen Academics do not approve ...(art by the great Paul Kidby)
Value Function: Every Quality or Skill Check were Wits could be used, allows for a roll of Wits + D20 (+Endurance)*  vs. Difficulty

Passive Function: Pool of Sanity a character has.

Active Function: Can be used instead of Mana to cast magic.

As Primary Core Quality:

  • Core Value as permanent Skill Buffer for knowledge and social skills (every skill-check needs a difficulty, the Skill Buffer does not reduce that difficulty but allows a partial success if the result of the check is not below Difficulty minus Core Value).
  • Core Value as bonus to the healing rate of sanity.

As Core Quality:

  • Core Value as skill points to distribute per level.

Traits (examples):

  • 1 Point: buy 1d6 Mana, this allows the use of Cantrips (which basically means a character with this trait can spend Mana to get an edge on several checks and saves, even in Combat). The trait may be purchased more than once. With every level up a re-roll of all the bought dice is allowed and the higher result is kept.**
  • 1 Point: Cast level 1 spells
  • 2 Points: Cast level 2 spells
  • 2 Points: Force 1d6 Mana from the surroundings (takes one round, every living thing is entitled to a saving throw for half the damage (or no damage, if they have the Trait mana pool) and will be seriously pissed). Can be bought more than once (Trait Mastery).
  • 3 Points: Cast level 3 spells
  • 3 Points: Create minor magic items
  • 4 Points: Cast level 4 spells
  • 5 Points: Cast level 5 spells
  • Variable: The Spells themselves cost the original point value of the spell level minus 1 (1 point will either buy 2 level 1 spells or 1 level 2 spell).*** A character can't hold more spells than his Core Value (so the maximum is 5 spells per spell level).
I could go on and I guess there will be quite the list before I see what gives way and what holds.

A few words on Magic

To cast spell costs two times the level of the spell in mana/essence/spiritual energy (for now I'll call it Mana ...). It's as easy as that. Mana usually regenerates over night, but only if Wits was not affected. If Wits has been in any way affected, mana won't regenerate until Wits is completely restored, too. With the right trait, a character could get some mana from his surroundings, but such a deed might have dire consequences.

A word on armor and magic. With the mana approach there is an easy solution to handle the effects on armor on a caster: the Armor Class a character is wearing is added to the spell level before it is multiplied with 2 (so in order to cast a level 2 spell, a warlock wearing armor with a bonus of plus 4 would need 12 mana to cast the spell instead of 4). The maximum Mana a character could muster is 50, and only if he's very lucky****. So wearing armor might not be a wise decision (but possible).

Wanted to keep it short, but fresh ...

That's it so far for today. Rituals and other forms of magic will be part of another post, as will be several other posts

This wants to happen, so who am I to complain?

* One of our house rules in D&D was that a character could spend Endurance points to substitute a gap between his role and a difficulty. So making a successful skill check wasn't the problem anymore (which is good to have) and a character depleted a resource he had (also something I wanted to have in the game). Here is a post with some thoughts I had about it back in the day.
** An idea I first encountered in the fantastic retro-clone Epées & Sorcellerie (if you've never heard of the game, check out this review I wrote in February 2014), although there it was used for generating Hit Points (and I still might formulate a Trait for Grit to allow something similar ...).
*** Incidentally, if a character advances to level 5 and buys only spells with his Core-Points, he could buy 2 level 1 spells, 2 level 2 spells and 1 level 3 spell (costs: 1 + 2 + 2), which mirrors exactly what a level 5 character in the Rules Cyclopedia can memorize ...
**** Another house rule of mine I intent to implement into LSotN is that if the highest natural result of a die is rolled, it will produce an echo. This echo is nothing else but adding another roll with the next lowest die to the result (a rule inspired from HackMaster, here are more old words about it, but I'll write an update soon ...). So with 5 possible dice, a player might wind up echoing all the sixes with some d4s. And if someone would manage 5 sixes with the original set and 5 fours with his echo, he'd have reached the 50 points maximum. It's unlikeley, but possible.

Maybe I should write a post about all those house rules I intent to use. Ah well ...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

More on Lost Songs of the Nibelungs: Terminology and Core Systems

After giving first impressions of the concept I'm aiming at with Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (LSotN), it's now time to give a more detailed description of the system I have in mind and fix some terms for future reference.

Playing a bit with the visuals and the sub-title.
Nothing fixed yet ... (I used scribus and inkscape here)
Core Qualities, Traits, Skills and Edges

First of, there will be no set of classes in LSotN. A player will be able to build his own individual combination of traits associated with the classic class system presented in D&D (like casting spells or back-stabbing, etc.) by deciding with every new level which Quality (D&D terminology: Ability Score) adds to the Core.

In selecting a quality as core, a number of traits become available a player can choose from. So if a player wants his character to be able to cast spells, he needs to choose the quality with those traits and invest points into it (new level = number of points available to invest in traits).

With every new level a character additionally gets 1 core point to add to his qualities. A quality may not be chosen more than 5 times and for humans one quality needs always be leading as Primary Core Quality with at least 1 core point more than the others (playable fairy creatures like dwarves and elves won't be restricted like that, but maybe by level).

Core Points also act as a quality's bonus. So how high a bonus is does not depend on how high a quality is, but on the number of times it is selected.

The reasoning behind this is that all qualities are considered as pools, in a way, and will be subject to change quite often during a game (my examples in the first post had been the quality for Constitution, which will function as a buffer for  the hit points and Wyrd as a pool of points to influence a characters fate, all other qualities will have similar mechanics associated with them).

This way there's no need for a player to correct a bonus every time his character looses points in a quality and gets a fixed bonus instead. Another merit might be that a player is free to choose even lower qualities as core (it's still 3d6 in a row on this one, so there will be low qualities ...).

From: The Nibelungs Part 1 (the movie by Fritz Lang) [source]

Characters start with level 0 and get their first Core Point and trait with achieving their first level (level 0 will be an orientation for players which way their character could go).

Here is a definite list of the qualities LSotN will use:
MUSCLE (former Strength) - Pool for a character's Exertion of Force
WITS (former Intelligence) - Pool for a character's Sanity and Magic
NERVE (former Wisdom) - Pool for a character's Serenity (Encounters)
FINESSE (former Dexterity) - Pool of a character's Quickness (Initiative and Saves)
GRIT (former Constitution) - A character's hp-buffer and Endurance
WYRD (former Charisma) - Pool of a character's Fate
Basically qualities will have (1) a value, (2) an active and (3) a passive function:
  • (1) A character's current value in a quality is the value function and used for all kinds of quality-checks (as would have been an ability score).
  • (2) The active function means that a player can spend quality-points to achieve certain goals (Wyrd to avoid deadly damage; Grit to gain a bonus for checks; Muscle to use a character's strength beyond his capabilities; etc.).
  • (3) The passive function, finally, is the vulnerability of qualities to certain forms of attack (Nerve might be provoked, a character's sanity might be challenged through his Wits, etc.) and will indicate when a damage to a quality will leave a mark (getting enough damage to affect a character's Grit will leave scars, even if all damage is healed, etc.).

Healing rates for qualities will depend on how the loss occurred (using Grit actively to gain success in a quality-check would deplete Endurance, but heal much faster than the sum of all the character's efforts (the passive function) would, etc.). Might depend on magical healing or level or time, stuff like that. If a quality is primary core quality, the core-value is adding to the healing-rate.

Hagen from the movie The Nibelungs by Fritz Lang

Kriemhild and Hagen (also from the movie by Fritz Lang)

While traits will take care of all those class benefits known from D&D, a character will also have a selection of specific skills to choose from and get an edge in (an "edge" is the bonus a character gets on a quality-checks when the skill applies). A point spend on a skill is a plus 1 on a quality-check using this skill (stacks with core-value of the quality).

A character gets 1d6 skill points to distribute at character creation and the added core-values of Wits and Finesse every level from there on. Depending on the development a player chooses for his character that may end up being not that much, but there will be an option to spend a trait points of other qualities on skills.

I guess that's enough to stomach for now ...

So much for the core system of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs. Everything else builds on the ideas outlined above. Other facets that need to be addressed in future posts will be (in no particular order):
  • the character creation (with random family trees and clan history)
  • detailed description of the qualities and the traits
  • careers for heroes (become a king, a general or the puppet-master ... ehrm ... adviser behind a throne - it all begins here)
  • magic (about spells, rituals and pools of Mana), combat (in several posts)
  • the fine art of courtly love (a character will get a quality-boost if he maintains a courtly affair with a maid - which will basically means investing xp and gold ...)
  • all the stuff a DM might need to referee this game
  • Monsters, too (with a format I can agree on, maybe something with territory and threat-levels).

Asked my players if they were up for some play-testing and I was talked into making this possible until Easter 2015. I aim to do just that and produce a playable beta-version of LSotN until then ... 

Siegfried travels through a forest (also from the Fritz Lang movie)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs - OSR Role Playing Game of Germanic-Noir Tentacle Horror (another exorcism of ideas)

Let's start the new year with a crazy idea: throughout the year 2015 I - the Disoriented Ranger - will gather enough focus to conceptualize and write a role playing game [dramatic music ensues]. This is not a random idea, but haunting me for a month now and if I can't get it out of my system, I'll grow more beard and start pillaging along a coast or two ...

[Edit: Just decided that Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is a better title, so I'll go with that ...]

Origins and Concept

1. Charisma/Wyrd as foundation of a game

It all started with me reading an introduction to The Song of the Nibelungs and writing a post about it back in December (here). Other than changing Charisma to Wyrd (to better reflect a certain period, in this case mimicking etymological realities of the Dark Ages or ca. 500 a. D.) I did propose a house rule to reflect the Nibelungs dark fate in a D&D game:
A player may take any amount from his Wyrd score as a bonus to saves or to reduce damage he received. The only ways to regain those points are (1) plus 1d6 whenever a character gains a new level (up to the original maximum), (2) a wish and (3) a difficult quest for a divine entity. In all other regards it's treated as an ability score, so it might be subject to attacks that reduce it as a form of damage. If for some reason a character's Wyrd drops to zero, it can't be regenerated by any means from there on and the character will meet a tragic doom as soon as it's convenient for the DM (but within the same session).
Wyrd becomes a character's fate and works in all other aspects as Charisma would. It got me a bit excited to read that the mechanism described above manages to capture exactly how recorded history describes the motivations of the tribes that brought down the Roman Empire in the middle of the 5th century (quotable reference here).

In short (and to follow my winded logic how this connects): (A) to get followers a king-to-be not only needed treasure, he also needed to be a hero. Being a hero was defined by being lucky (fated, one might say) in the challenges he chose. A successful hero will attract followers and, ultimately, seen fit to be king (if he's generous with his treasure, too). (B) the brutal fate of the Burgunds described in the Song of the Nibelungs adds a dark twist to this idea in that being victorious comes with the ultimate price, discipleship leads to envy leads to betrayal ...

A Dark fate awaits them all [Public Domain and Art]
... which pretty much describes how Wyrd works (and incidentally what it means, too). A hero will sacrifice Wyrd to survive his challenges and gets followers (high ability score) or envy (low ability score) for it, with the danger of loosing it all big time (but go out in style).

2. Themes of the game (introducing tentacle horror and folk noir)

So far this is only a twist to what D&D can be like: Adventurer seeks fame and treasure to become hero, get a following and land to be finally a king among his people. Using the Dark Ages as a background, though, has some serious implications that are best formulated further to get a direction how to change D&D in order to reflect the atmosphere the game wants to evoke in the system first (terminology and mechanics).

The fall of the Roman Empire was a consequence of several barbaric tribes migrating further south, taking the Roman border by force and settling mostly where Romans already had established some infrastructure to form many small kingdom at war with each other.

They had their reasons to try and get what
the Romans had ... [picture is Public Domain and art]
Let's begin with how the Romans saw those barbarians. Caesar rather had built walls than dealing with those wild barbarians populating dark forests with, according to Caesar no less, had "unicorns and elks without joints"*. An elk without joints is now either something very stiff or (and this I prefer far more) a horror that resembles an elk in that it has fur and antlers, but has tentacles instead of bones.

Imagine such a creature roaring in a dark ur-forest. This is what I'd want in my game. Not only fierce nature, but nature transformed by dark magic. Well, that and everything else mythology might throw my way (Siegfried slayed a dragon, the Nibelungs may be considered some sort of dwarfen race, etc.). Add to this the decadent remnants of a now extinct Roman Empire, still clinging to old frivolities in shadows thick enough to hide them, often bound to sinister occult forces. The characters facing such evil would be hardboiled strangers in a dark and hostile country, surrounded by enemies but also the hope to make it and the legends of gold and fame to feed this hope.

The mood of  Lost Songs of the Nibelungs.
It's very much inspired by noir fiction. Here is a moody piece of music to illustrate the idea further (Era Escura by Faun):

Expect nature to be one of the biggest enemies in the game. Any creature that might have a chance to eat you, will most likely be at least twice as strong as it's D&D equivalent.

3. How it's D&D and how it's not

The system I have in mind owes a lot to the D&D I know (which amounts to HackMaster/AD&D 2E and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia). It will have 6 attributes that are based on the classic 3d6 in a row schtick and it will have saves (if somewhat altered). HD/Levels and armor class will have a home here, too. Basically I'll try and come up with something that's not too hard to convert to older editions of D&D. At least I'll keep lots of the DNA ...

... and change the rest (because it ain't no D&D no more). The first thing I'll do is change the terminology, somewhat like I did here and will end up (so far) with the following alterations:
Strength = Muscle
Dexterity = Finesse
Constitution = Grit
Intelligence = Spirit (?)
Wisdom = Nerve
Charisma = Wyrd 
Bonus = Edge
This way the game will sound very different and thus evoke a different feel than D&D (I'll go for a mix between hard-boiled vocabulary and Indo-Germanic roots, if that makes any sense at all).

Then I'll change that whole business with the classes and build a level-based point-buy system where an ability score is the main focus. Basically I'll invert the idea that certain classes focus on certain ability scores to if your main focus is on a certain ability score, you are good at certain things and with every new level you get points to buy traits associated with your main focus. 

An example:

Everybody is equal at level 0 (like they do it in DCC, I guess). Same HP (1d8, rolled), same damage (1d6 plus Edge), etc.. When reaching level 1 the characters decide what their main ability score will be and get 1 point

(the level you reach is the points you get)

to buy a trait associated with that

(Muscle as the main focus would allow to buy a base damage of 1d8, Grit would allow to buy an 1d8 as HD per level, etc.)

and add their Grit to their initial HP (more hit points mean more hacking, so this will be gory).

So the focus allows to buy several features that where associated with the class-system before, changing that focus between levels will basically allow customizing an individual hybrid-class that is the character (it's like multi-classing, but with the ability scores as the main source).

As in the examples above already illustrated, this game will be heavy on altering ability scores: you can use Wyrd to avoid death (with a twist) and you add Grit to your HP (Grit will function as a buffer: if you fall under zero HP, Grit will be reduced and the character is severely injured (this is where you get scars, etc.) and if Grit is reduced to zero, the character is dead). Same will be true for all the other ability scores. Nerve will reflect Sanity, Spirit will have to do with the occult (Mana?), stuff like that.

Ten will be the highest level. After that the adventurers are considered heroes and the game changes to domain-play (maybe a supplement? ... But I digress). Some of the house rules I wrote up on this blog will be part of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (echoing dice, called shots, etc.).

There will be no Vancian Magic. But this couldn't be a surprise, either.

Additional Sources of Inspiration

Die Nibelungen (movie by Fritz Lang, 5 hour epic and in the public domain, here is a link)

So this will be 2015 at The Disoriented Ranger

You can see, I already got the basic outlines of the game and (I guess) around 60 % of the rules. Combat will be a bit tricky, as will be initiative and magic (well, magic maybe not so much), but that's sort of the point. I want to see if I'm able to create a customized set of rules for a specific setting.

Layout, art, etc. are things I will find out in the next months.

The rest are ideas I'm chewing on since I started the blog. The Goblintribe-Simulator will get some love again, Settlements and regions will be built, cultures will rise and fall and I'll aim to get at least 120 posts out there this year. Also: the usual nonsense.

I wish all of you a successful year 2015. May the dice be on your side and the great DM in the sky full of bright ideas of what life will offer you :)

*I'm quoting here Herwig Wolfram's Das Reich und die Germanen (transl.: The Roman Empire and its Germanic Peoples), p. 69 of the German version.