Sunday, August 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic and Body Modifications

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The combat round in BASTARD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How combat escalates (an obituary to exhaustion)

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

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

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

Action, bloody action (echoing dice and critical hits)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Closing words and loose ends

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

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

Questions and comments are, as always, very welcome.

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

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

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