Sunday, August 9, 2015

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

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

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

Let's start slow

Formula: Cyberpunk + D&D = DungeonPunk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Core System - Ability Scores

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

Contests and Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

The DM and Owing Dice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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