Saturday, May 5, 2018

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

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

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

[source]
  (Random) Character generation

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

1. ABILITY SCORES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. THE RANDOM TRAIT GENERATOR (1D20)

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

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

4. SKILLS

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

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

5. WEAPON MASTERY

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

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

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

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

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

The game of your choice and be67

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

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


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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

RPG Design: Rules to Project or Rules to Experience?

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

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

Surrealist game, he said

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

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

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

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

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

It's Setting vs. Rules, then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWAT guys playing Ballerinas ...

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

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

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

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

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

Different approaches, I'd say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D&D as prototype

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

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

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

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

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

Two schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hard distinction to make?

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

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

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

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

I just liked that one [source]