Friday, July 16, 2021

Ø2\\'3|| - A little play-report with notes (Season 1, Episode 1: Deadly Electric Pussy-Cat Fart)

I had an opportunity to DM Ø2\\'3|| the other day, first session of a two-session gig (favor for a friend, nice people to game with). Other than having the pleasure to get some more gaming going (aside from play-testing THE RISE OF ROBO-HITLER), it was the first time I was able to use the printed book for the game, which was all kinds of interesting in itself. Since that first session went (imo) exceptionally well, I thought it might be a good idea write a play-report and give you guys an idea what Ø is like at the table and why ... I'll write this up as it emerges for the players, general description of the setting aside (which you can read here, if interested).


Using the District Generator the game comes with, I created the basic hex where the characters reside and the six neighboring districts. 3 hexes (including the main one) stick out to be some sort of play ground for a game I ended up calling "The Vales of Evardonn". Main hex is a poor area that is used to initiate new citizens ("NuPees") into their citizenship under the United States of Europe (USE, for short). I decide to make this the District Grünau in the greater Berlin-Leipzig city cluster. Here NuPees will train to join the "Halls of Heroes" in the District Friedensaue located just NW of Grünau, which would allow them access to the vales in the NE.

Basically, the characters believe that they are part of a huge, real life MMORPG, which is nothing more than the state and big corp gamifying work through all-encompassing augmentation. Since citizens are already indoctrinated in the artificial womb they are raised in (think Matrix meets Teletubbies), they actually believe that what they see is reality. They might believe they are hunting down goblins for xp, while in reality they are slaughtering, for instance, some illegals or commit other atrocious acts without even realizing, since it's all nicely augmented. Rainbows included.

So while the characters live an extended Anime experience on a sugar rush, training to be "heroes", reality is a dirty and improvised mass living complex under the totalitarian regime of The Family, looking a bit like this:

This will be available as a poster, eventually ...

Character creation begins with the characters realizing tat they are being lied to and how they react to that (blue pill/red pill moment). The players describe how they'd been playing when a terrorist attack took away the veil. They saw reality for the first time, didn't like it and decided to take care that somethng like that won't happen to them again. They told the officials the same, hoping to be recruited as terrorist hunters or something like that.

Since they didn't opt for a higher social status (which would have been costly), they remained being small fish, but seemed content with playing the game and supporting the family (making life miserable for others if opportunity arose, for sure).

And that's the set-up. After that the players described how they imagined their characters to be. We ended up with:

PAULINE - Augmented, she looks like a nice little girl in a white dress, behind that veil, the dress is less glorious (more like ripped, bloody and dirty) and half her face as well as one arm are replaced with cyberwear.

MR. SMITH (aka Boss Baby) & MR. NOBODY (modified Smart Assisstant) - Chubby little guy (puberty blockers and a sugary diet will do that to you) with a black suit and sun glasses, capable Hacker. The augmented version is way more slick and cartoonish than the meatspace version.

GRUBS & POOPSIE - Augmented Grubs looks like a little cherub, wingy and all. In reality it's a fat little kid carried around by huge, spidery legs implanted in his back. Too lazy to walk, in his hands always something sweet and an energy drink. Poopsie is the electric cat he carries around in a duffle bag.

They assign their potentials and roll for Anger (9, 11 and 14, not Falling Down, but still quite angry ... good). With that, the character creation is done. The basic idea is that they can be whatever they want in the scenario as long as all agree and they are willing to make the DM stronger when they describe powerful character features (which they did ... I ended up with 14 Pennies to start). I also gave a short introduction to the rules and after that we were ready to roll.

Season 1, Episode 1: Deadly Electric Pussy-Cat Fart

DISCLAIMER: What follows is the mash-up of the established setting with the characters in it, the Narrative Encounter Generator (NEG, based on this, but specified to emulate dystopian fiction with an Anime bent) and a SF-Fluff table the game offers. The NEG offers a direction, but the characters are free to act as they please. It is a sandbox with narrative impulses ... It is also SATIRE. You have been warned.

We start on a September evening. The characters are enjoying their free time hanging out at their apartment when an explosion shocks the building and the augmentation starts stutering, interwoven with the message, that their existance is a LIE and that they need to WAKE UP ... Of course, it's those damn domestic terrorists again. Normaly The Family would just activate the population to act as D/escalation Troops (the chip every citizen has implanted in their brain would activate to change them into mindless drones), but the explosion seems to interfere with that as well and the characters see their opportunity to finally shine!

Mr. Smith tries his hands on finding out where exactly the explosion has occured, but the roll fails and nothing he could come up with would change that (which makes him slightly more angry: Anger is raised by 1). They decide to just follow the destruction. Mr. Smith wants to go armed, so he grabs the one weapon in his possession. His roll comes up with a gadget that has two usages left before being useless ... a boom stick! That'd be his second Slot. They head for the door.

Outside the apartment they see some smoke and some scared neighbors (flickering between weird cartoon zoo and chubby-dirty freaks, as the state augmentation keeps switching on and off). They follow the trail of smoke to find a huge pile of rubble and a whole in the ceiling, several stories above. Had been a long time for them to see the blue sky. The whole district is one big building, basically, with no real infrastructure but the one big corp installed throughout the district, which no one living here is able to use due to the low social status citizens living here have.

In the middle of the free space the bomb created, they see a digital graffiti that says YOU ARE ALL SLAVES OF THE SYSTEM. No other signs of the terrorists, but Mr. Smith wants to try his hacking skill on the signature, with the hope that it might lead to the terrorist cell responsible for the bomb and interferrence.

The roll's a close call, so Pauline decides to offer a Relief Die for support. She connects herself to Mr. Robot, rolls the dice and it's a Double 10! That adds 20 against the difficulty, more than enough to know EXACTLY where the terrorists hide (somewhere on the roof, in a secret hideout between giant air conditioning vents). Pauline also gains an Achievement for the Double: it'll be easier for her to track down those terrorists from now on.

They decide to climb the rubble up to the roof, creating new Slots along the way: Pauline can shot her cyborg hand as a grappling hook and the spiderlegs coming out of Grubs' back are quite capable of climbiung almost every surface (to keep the illusion up that Grubs is a flying cherub, of course). They see military transport helicopters crossing the hole in the roof as they make their way up.

Mr. Smith resorts to just climbing, but as soon as they arrive on the roof, he's left behind fast by the other two speeding towards the hideout and what sounds like gun-fire and explosions. He hacks himself a ticket for a flying taxi to catch up with Pauline and Grubs at what seems to be the border of a prohibited area the military set up digitally as they engaged with the terrorists.

They approach the hideout and only find signs of battle. The prohibited area seems to have moved with the battle. Grubs sends Poopsie to scout. The cat does cat things while going through the rooms and ends its scouting at a huge hole in one room that leads outside again. In the distance the cat sees a dog fight (ha! sorry ...) between military and terrorists in front of a massive shopping mall that displays an insane shoppingspree-lightshow on its outside.


The group assumes that there's still a chance to help, so they move on towards the battle. Shortly after that, the whole block goes into Lockdown as the battle seems to shift down into an urban canyon (I had to spend 10 Pennies due to a high Oppression Die result, they had to go somewhere ...).

With the circumstances changed like that, they need to find a Safe Space or an excuse really fast, as drones are already swarming the area and they see D/escalation Troops appear on the roofs as well as a Bias Judge crawling towards the scene of the skirmish. They decide to go for an excuse. After all, they still want a chance to get those terrorists!

So it turns out Grubs is still in good contact with the Family beaurocrat that debriefed them after they had experienced that first terrorist attack (he created a Contact Slot for that). Isabel, that's how she identifies, likes the chubby little cherub and would love to help, but giving military authority is no easy task and she plays coy about it. Grubs decides to put some preassure unto her, burning the contact for that Season, but giving his roll a whopping +18.

It'll take a while and some nice cherub pics to get her back in the friend zone, but the test is made and the authority to hunt for the terrorists is given. Just in time, as they are already approached by some D/escalation type. Now the frowning smily on the mask turns into a smile and the meat-drone turns away, looking for other dissidents and trouble makers.

A short sigh of relief later they are already looking how to exploit their new powers. They have some access to the military feed and at least know where the conflict is hot. This is where Pauline's Achievement comes in handy: she finds some terrorists hiding in a nearby club with a bavarian alp theme (based on some crazy tv show). There are six of them and they seem to have some skilled hacker among them that was able to shield their presence from the military.

Bad luck for them that Pauline had rolled that Double ... 

It doesn't take the group long to come up with a scheme that does not involve direct assault. They hack into the video feed and see those criminals in the main club room, waiting it out, laying on the fake meadow that is the floor while lazily waving away some nanite flies (it's an all-in "authentic" alp-feel club house). The hacker seems busy keeping the fuzz away.

It all lines up beautifully for the characters, it seems. The plan is to send Poopsie inside, as part of the scenery (fittingly so, it appears). Grubs also explains that he had that cat "weaponized" with a fart canon of sorts (creating a Gadget Slot for that), which turns out to be quite weak (just Stage 1, not even enough to make damage). However, if they succesfully hack the cat, they could actually do some damage, weakening the opposition in the process. Not a problem, is what Mr. Smith says. The others are on stand-by to support the roll with Relief Dice, if need be.

Alas, Mr. Smith comes up with a Triple 8! That's not only 24 as a result, it's also a Season Highlight (which creates a DM Slot and counts as absolute success)! Mr. Smith added another 14 Anger Points to the result (he had gained three more Anger points in a failed test before, so he had 4 remaining) and using the cat gave another 6. It resulted in enough damage to take the room out (and was quite satisfying to get all that anger out of the system). That cat was weaponized with a fart from hell.

I think we took ten minutes to describe how it all went down because we laughed so hard: the cat would enter the room and do cat things, like sweeping some legs and looking for attention. When in the middle of the terrorists, the gas would be released, and one would imagine that they first looked around who might be the culprit ... then the dying would start :D


It was glorious, and pretty much where we ended it. They called the authorities and Mr. Grubs took care to make a "cat video" of the incident and put it online (to some effect, it raised his Social Status a bit as people seemed to like what they saw), and that was that. The DM received two Pennies since the other two players forgot about their Social Media presence (if you aren't posting regularly, the state gets suspicious, too).


It turned out to be sufficiently "cyberpunk". The players ability to come up with skills, gadgets and contacts as they need them allow for a wide range of wild results, all with individual touches.

The district generator already gave me lots to work with, the NEG and Fluff results added to that. They gave me the opportunity for the characters in the beginning, the signs of the gun battle, the dog fight in the distance in front of a huge building going crazy with advertisement, the struggle in the end, the nanite flies ... all those little bits and pieces I could use to build on and make it a rich experience with relativeley little preparation (and completely flexible ... I had no idea where this all would go).

Pretty much what I'm writing about here.

I had to put more work into getting my brain around the system again as I thought I would (I'm balls-deep into be67 right now and this was rather short notice), but once it clicked again, I found a new rhythm quite fast. The game seems complex in the beginning, but as soon as you see it all realized at the table, I'd wager it'll all fall into place quite easily.

The tools provided in the book did their job, which was great. However, I already saw some room for improvement. I think one of the future supplements should be a DMs Guide, or something like that. The DM part in the book is already extensive and full of examples and all that, but I found there is still more to say, and maybe room to discuss some tricks and traps (and, maybe, an errata of sorts, if I find any really bad hickups). 

All in all, it ended up being satire again, which is also nice to see. The setting is so dark that people seem to gravitate towards humor to lighten the mood. Just as intended. That critical fart was just plain random luck, though. You couldn't come up with that :D

I'm looking forward to the next Episode. I'll send this to the players as well, and maybe they'll add their thoughts and impressions in the comments :)


In other news, I will keep the discount on Ø2\\'3|| up until end of July and you can check out a free preview of the book right here (or go and check out the first reviews here).

If you need more convincing, maybe this post might get you there. If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here ...


Friday, July 2, 2021

How to alter D&D, the be67 revision: Part 1 (Basic/Expert rules supplement, grindhouse style)

Lockdowns have us playing more D&D again (first digitally, recently in meat space, even!). If you know this blog, you know I have a set of house rules I'm constantly tinkering with. It's all spread over the last 10 years of posting. The last iteration is something I call be67 and it pushes the whole concept into grindhouse/splatter territory. It's basically a D&D RC/HackMaster 4E hybrid with a special twist or two. This is going to be a revised collection of all those ideas, in several parts, putting all of it into a D&D context. This will be a little booklet in the end, hopefully some time this year. Stay tuned, stay safe, stay healthy ...

A word on compatibility

This should work with all and any early versions and clones of D&D. Those games are build in blocks and some of it is interchangeable or added to without much fuss. The D&D RC and the Labyrinth Lord rules are what I've worked here with, but even AD&D could be modified accordingly.

However, you'll have to take into account that heavy changes might need additional rules or changes that accomodate those alterations.

Let me give an example here (a sketch to the detailed explanations below): this system will do way more damage than D&D would do normally. Not only can dice somewhat explode (Echo, see below), you will get additional and better damage dice if the die result allows for it and the players cooperate. To compensate for that, you need to allow for tactical decisions to where a character takes a small disadvantage to be harder to hit, for instance.

It might not be enough, though, which means you'll have to install more measures to counteract massive amounts of damage. It's why we introduced hit locations (you might lose a limb but not your life) and a luck pool (reduce your luck attribute to manipulate rolls) as standards. The result is that characters are harder to hit, might get maimed instead of killed and save their lifes by spending luck points (being unlucky in future rolls as a consequence).

All those alterations are minor, as the system stays intact, but crucial, as the system would fall apart without them (due to a VERY high lethality, of course). It's the rules of tinkering. Change something, see what it affects and introduce counter-measures where necessary ...

Adding to the rules being like ... [source]
What stayed the same

You still have six Ability Scores, although partially renamed (this has to work for the late 1960s, after all). The Saves are still there. I have been looking for alternatives, but have to say, beating the original 5 Saves system is damn hard. All the alternatives I have seen, even the 'official' ones, haven't even come close.

I know people see that differently, but I found they mostly ignore the flavor and sense of gravity the original Saves radiated (Save versus DEATH RAYS!). A character's passive reaction to their surroundings should be taken as seriously as their conscious interaction. Having just three Saves (or even one!) and without the flavor (Reflexes, blech) takes too much away from the game, imho. So the Saves stay.

Attacks are still 1d20 + modifiers vs. AC.

Classes are still there, although somewhat modified. The engine is the same (Fighter, Thief, Wizard & Cleric classes), but the chassis is quite different (again, as per the assumed setting, you'll need to have convicts, hippies, veterans and such). The approach is somewhat similar to what the D&D RC actually offers, as I assume that the canonical characters are nothing more but inspiration and should help informing a DM to build their own cadre of classes.

How far I'll push this in terms of level advancement, I can't quite tell right now. We are still testing options, and while it's nice to have something simple like later editions, I can't help but admire the subtlety a class bases advancement offers (thieves are weak, but advance faster, if played right, Elves take a really long time on paper, but a capable player will have no problem advancing as fast as the others, if the game is played RAW).

I wrote a post about this, if you are interested in my thinking here (go here). I'll leave my options on the table for now, but how xp are gained had a massive overhaul and might work as enough of an equalizer to allow for the same progression (I also like to see level advancement as a group endeavor ... maybe I should push more towards something down that road?).

Anyway. As many, many people have pointed out when deconstructing D&D, those are the core tenets of the game. All changes and additions are build with this in  mind and to achieve a very specific gaming experience: 60s grindhouse splatter. Compatibility is so high, you could easily use be67 to play Temple of Elemental Evil. You just have to find a way to have those hippies crash in the Hommlet ...

Not the Europe you had imagined, though ... [source]

So this has lots of options to play the same game with a very different tone. Maybe a bit like as if Tarantino had written D&D instead of Gygax, but today and with the 60s grindhouse features in mind and gallons of blood. Could also be Wolfenstein: The New Order as a role-playing game.

Let's start talking about how to make that happen, following the example given above. In a way this is also a 'Best of the Blog'-feature, as we are turning 10 years old here :)

Step 1: Hacking HackMaster 4e to run with D&D RC

This is basically a back engineering of AD&D 2e (revised) to work with B/X. The main features in HM had been (1) exploding dice, (2) a big HP buffer for more hacking, (3) a honor system that allowed for a meta system where characters by sacrificing their honor could gain benefits from rerolls to actually surviving a deadly attack, (4) a complex and detailed advancement system with goodies for everyone and (5) critical hits that may leave you maimed instead of dead.

Most of them established in AD&D 2e, all of them good things to have in a game of SPLATTER, but also rather baroque and extensive (that honor system alone ... man, it took me ages to wrap my brain around that one).

AD&D 2e at the end? [source]
As I said in the beginning, took me 10 years get the fine-tuning done for this, but I did manage to translate ALL of that into B/X somehow:

(1) EXPLODING DICE are Echo now. This means, if a player rolls the maximum on a die, they may roll the next lower die and add the result. There is no die lower than the d4. IMPLICATIONS: it opens up the game in places where people tend to roll often, which would be mostly combat, and that means more damage. This was to be expected, so measures have been implemented with randomized hit locations and by opening up the Funk ability score (originally Charisma) as a luck pool players can drain to alter results effecting them. Limbs are lost easily, but this being the grindhouse genre, alternatives are gained easily enough (see The Rule of Cool). RESULT: Characters are maimed easily, but it's not that hard a disadvantage.

(2) THE HP BUFFER is regulated through rules for dodging and cooperation, as well as randomized hit locations and Funk. The origin of the rules of dodging are based in the necessity of gun play and the lack of AC in the game, playing in the 60s and all that. Therefore it became necessary to make it easier to gain protection from the surroundings and the support from your fellow buddies. IMPLICATIONS: It made a point-based initiative system necessary that actually made it possible for people to support each other in various ways. They can now protect and help each other, ideally overcoming enemies with ingenuity before they are seriously getting hurt themselves. Additionally they may gain via advancement a Second Wind Pool that allows for some fast regeneration. RESULT: Those rules will automatically have people change position and support each other. If still hit, it might be a limb or it might be modified by Funk. People get hit less often, but harder, which then can be negotiated to some degree with the tools provided.

(3) THE HONOR SYSTEM was reduced to Funk. Easily enough, Funk can be reduced by the points needed to alter some result effecting a character. All results can be altered, but always only the last result effecting the player (you can't just wait how it plays out and then alter the combat die after damage has resolved, for instance). Low Funk will result in disadvantages, as all low ability scores would. Which element of the game is effected is determined randomly at the beginning of each session and Funk regenerates every time a character advances. Furthermore, players can decide to start a Funk Pool with level advancement whre each point collected allows for a reroll. IMPLICATIONS: Since Funk has such strong implications for the game, it became rather necessary to make the same true for all other ability scores. There are no dump stats in be67, instead players will have to make meaningful decisions during character creation. RESULT: As characters progress between levels, their Funk usually will take a hit or two, but those decisions are ALWAYS dramatic and will fit the genre quasi automatically.

(4) THE ADVANCEMENT SYSTEM is reduced, but more detailed than what B/X offers. Characters not only gain HP and occasionally an additional attack or maybe some skill points, they can also attempt to gain a benefit associated with the ability scores. Each Ablity Score stands for another aspect relevant to the game (the Second Wind and Funk Pools are already mentioned, Weapon Mastery as well as skill points and better initiative are also options). Another heavy focus was on HOW experience is gained. This changed mostly towards xp for damage, in several variations. Usually, all damage made or taken during the game is collected and multiplied by 10. However, dismemberment, high damage and instant kills are worth a higher multiplier. IMPLICATIONS: While being totally in tune for the genre, this lends itself easily to an award system as one would know it from first person shooters. As a consequence, the whole advancement experience adapted towards that approach. The group collects special xp awards over the course of a session and check, if the awards stack towards a higher goal (combos, flawless attack, you name it). RESULT: The game resolves about the art of SPLATTER in a way that translates a computer game experience into D&D, very much with the same effect. People will cheer a gory insta-kill just as they would with your favorite FPS. What's more, everytime characters advance, something happens. Small changes, for sure, but still meaningful to the players.

(5) CRITICAL HITS, finally, are directly connected to Echo (as are fumbles, but reversed), so the result of the d12 that is rolled after a natural 20, will have additional damage implications with rising severity. Furthermore, the damage system has been altered. Instead of having weapons with specific damages, characters have Weapon Mastery in different categories and damage dice associated with that. How high the Damage Die is relates to class, level and cooperation, how many dice are rolled is determined by the attack result. IMPLICATIONS: This is quite gory to begin with, which means the critical hit tables need to offer an additional aspect to the table (it can result in nicknames, for instance, and signature moves against specific enemies, if the results are high enough). Damage is also now tied to how well a player knows the system (as well as to high rolls), and since all of this is connected with gaining xp, there's another incentive to use rules that help manifesting the genre at the table. It all loops rather nicely. RESULT: Characters can be as deadly with their fists as with their guns, which, again, is quite like you'd know from the grindhouse features. Big gun makes big bang, but the kung fu master will have organs explode with their attacks. It's all quite satisfying, actually. Even more so when players start cooperating for higher results.

And that's that. The beauty of it is, not only is it a great deal reminiscent of HackMaster 4e (to me, at least), it's also less clunky and fits the D&D RC rules (or Labyrinth Lord or Basic Edition or any other clone) rather well while emulating the genre, as you can see.

That's already a lot, right?

With the basics established like that, we can go into the specific rules next and talk about how they alter the original rules and to what effect in detail. Step 2 should be something like "Altering B/X classes to fit the 60s", Step 3 should handle combat, Step 4 everything else (Skills, Saves, the lot). Step 5 would be about advancement and Step 6, finally, will adress what DMs have to keep in mind when DMing be67 ... I'd say that's some posting for the foreseeable future.

The high art of improving the basics ... [source]

That said, what do you guys think so far? Was I able to explain how the changes apply and what they alter? Or that it's all still D&D? Are any HackMaster afficionados among you that can appreciate (or hate?) the design choices alluded to above? As always, I'm happy to read your thoughts.


In other news, I managed to publish a cyberpunk role-playing game and you can check out a free preview of the book right here (or go and check out the first reviews here).

If you need convincing, maybe this post will get you there. If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here ...