Sunday, March 27, 2022

be67 Teaser: Full example of Combat in a Sixties Grindhouse Universe

So before we go into analysing motivations to play a bit more, I got to finish another important part of the rules for be67: there is a complete example of how combat works in the game and as of today, it is written. Since (I assume) lots of people reading this blog are familiar with the D&D RC or some clone of it, I thought it'd be a nice idea to share the example with you for reference and with some context, where needed. I think it is a good representation of how this will resolve at the table and can give you an idea why and how it produces a different playing experience than what you'd expect from a D&D game while using the same rules and principles. If nothing else, you might enjoy it for the story it tells ...

First things first, here is the character sheet of the game:

Open in new tab for more details ...

As you can see, all of it is D&D. Where it diverges, it does so to enhance it's themes. xp are mostly awarded for damage instead of for treasure, that's the main one. But the Token economy the game presents is important in that it allows to factor in two major features a "modern" game needs to address, which are, of course, guns and vehicles. Therefore, AC is opened up to be more flexible, if you spend the Tokens and they aren't countered and using machinery will give a character Vehicle Tokens to do even more in a round of combat (more damage, more movement, more protection, all depending on what you are using).

Long-time readers might be familiar with some of the ideas here from taht other game I'm writing, Lost Sogs of the Nibelungs (which is still happening, I assure you). If you'd like to see some more details, check out this post about be67. It explains the basics (some of it revised now, but it still will give you a more than complete picture). Echo and other little details explained here.

With the above and the example I'm about to share, you should get a pretty complete picture, so here we go (unedited, as of yet):

Example: Violet Flemming (The Spy), Sam O’Leary (The Saboteur) and Joel Maddox (The Outlaw) are attempting the assassination of a streetgang boss that dabbled in Voodoo enough to pose a problem for some Californian fey because Joel owed them big time (long story).

They decide for a low effort drive-by shooting. Joel is the driver, Violet is the one with the rifle riding shotgun and Sam is in a hide-out across the street observing that dive the gang uses as their headquarters.

The GM calls for Initiative when Sam informs the others via phone box that the gang is preparing their choppers to leave and Joel puts the pedal to the metal to get around the corner into the street the bar is in. They need to move fast now.

This fight has 5 Combat Units: Violet, Joel and Sam, 5 gang members (one Unit) and the Voodoo Gang Boss. Initiative is rolled and declared. Joel ends up with the lowest Initiative (3), Violet (7) is faster than the gang (6), but not as fast as the boss (9) or Sam, who is the fastest (12). Since Sam is in hiding and the car is not yet in the street passing the bar, this is handled as a Surprise Round.

Violet had already stated that she’d hide the gun until the last moment. The GM says it’s a tough one to call, since all the gang can be aware of is a car speeding around the corner and in their general direction, so the Saves will have a penalty of 3. Neither the gang nor the boss make their Save versus Supernatural regarding Joel’s intentions. However, the boss had also been faster than Violet, so he is allowed a second Save to see if more danger is afoot. A 19! Their eyes meet as the car shoots around the corner and he sees the death in hers ...

Next, the Actions are declared in order from slowest to fastest:

(Joel, Initiative 3, 2 Tokens, 3 Vehicle Tokens) Joel’s Free Action is driving the car fast and safe past the bar while bringing Violet into a good position to shot. He gives Violet 1T Aid and 1T Damage, uses 2VT for Movement and 1 VT for Armor Class, cowering behind the wheel for cover.

(The Gang, Initiative 6, surprised) They keep getting ready to hit the road, completely unaware.

(Violet, Initiative 7, 3 Tokens, 1 Vehicle Token) Violet’s Free Action is her Attack (since her cover is blown), she is using 2T for Armor Class, 1T Aid for Joel’s driving and uses the 1VT she got as additional Damage Die (it’s a drive-by shooting, after all … the GM allows it).

(Jamal The Boss, Initiative 9, 3 Tokens) Jamal’s Free Action is Casting a Spell on Violet to confuse her. He spends 2T for AC ducking for cover (just in case) and 1T Movement to draw his gun while shouting at the Gang that shit is going down.

(Sam, Initiative 12, 4 Tokens) Sam skips his Free Action. He wants to be on top of the situation next round if this goes sideways. He gives Violet 1T Aid for her Save versus Supernatural (the Spell Jamal is preparing) and 1T Damage, just to be on the safe side. The remaining 2T go into Countering Jamal’s ducking for cover completely. He describes his support and counter as “Shouting at Jamal from across the street and giving him the finger”.

Example (cont. from p. XX): Initiative is resolved from fastest to slowest. Sam skips his Free Action and uses his Tokens to hinder Jamal from taking cover and supporting Violet’s Save versus Supernatural (by shouting and giving Jamal the finger). Since he is the fastest, no one can counter his Combat Actions and it works out as described.

Next up is Jamal. The Spell can’t be countered with Combat Actions, since it’s a Free Action, so this happens unchallenged a well. Violet feels like she’s getting lost in Jamal’s eyes and starts hearing drums and ecstatic singing in foreign voices in the distance. To avoid the effects of the spell, she’s entitled a Save versus Supernatural and has Sam’s support, so she rolls 1d20+1d4 … an 18 and a 3! So she shakes it off and lifts her rifle to take her shot while Jamal is checking out who strange guy across the street is and why he’s so mean to him. Doing that, he totally forgets to jump for cover (no additional AC), but he manages to warn the gang and gets his shotgun ready for next round.

Violet is next, but since Joel’s driving roll is necessary to get her into position (and might fail at that), Joel has to resolve his Free Action first (driving the car as fast as possible past the bar).

Joel has a DEX of 13 and a bit of a past as a Demolition Derby driver that brings a +4 to the Skill Test and there's another 1d4 Aid from Violet as well, so the roll is 1d20+13+4+1d4 versus a difficulty the GM declares to be 30 … and ends up rolling a 3 with the d20 and a 4 with the d4, which leaves him 6 points short (3+13+4+4=24). Not good, but no one is offering to sacrifice Funk for this, so the group accepts this as being a failure.

The GM declares that Joel miscalculates the turn, overwinds the steering wheel, botches his gear shifting and ends up rolling down the street towards the bar with a stalled motor. Violet’s shot will get a -2 as well, as this, if nothing else, annoys her as hell.

Still, this might work out after all, them still having surprise, so next is Violet with her pistol versus Jamal’s AC of 9. She gets to roll 1d20 with a +3 for her high DEX, a +1d4 due to Joel supporting her (he at least steers her enough into position to get a proper shot) and the -3 for Joel being an idiot driver. Her d4 turns out to be a 1, but the d20 is critical, a 20! And she is on a roll, as the d12 for Echo is a 12, which leads to the second Echo Roll (a d10) and ends the streak with a solid 8. That is another 20 to her result of 21 (20+1+3-3), all in all a brutal 41.

There was much rejoicing at the table.

After a critical result like that, a lot is happening, so the GM starts with the 20 and its Echo results: the 12 is the death sentence and also comes with an extra attack. Jamal is gone for good. Since he had his declared Actions already, the Voodoo Priest doesn’t even get a chance for his Dead Man’s Ten. The 8 has Violet in the highest possible, so she receives Double XP for learning something there, earns a permanent +4 circumstantial bonus against streetgangs. She also gets to describe this fatal blow and all gang members in sight have to make a Morale Check with a penalty of 4 to not flee in terror. It even leaves her with a Nickname (the group is undecided between “Voodon’t” and “Voodoo Chill”) and she gets to have an additional 1d6 with her next Initiative, with enough time to have a victory dance as well. The GM makes a note that the fey will give her a special little something for the beautiful work she has done here. A death so beautiful, generations to come will tell its tale …

Anyway, next for the Damage proper, as there are xp to be had for it. Her Small Ranged Weapon Mastery is at d6, Sam had spent a Token to raise that, so for this hit it is a d8. The height of the result determines the number of d8, so that’d be 6d8 with her result of 41. But she’d used 1VT for an additional Damage Die, so she rolls 7d8 for 35 points of damage. Jamal was a 5HD+2 Voodoo Priest with 21 Hit Points, which means 14 Points are left as Environmental Damage.

The player’s description: “So while Joel is driving like an idiot, working hard on making this mission a failure, a great calm comes over Violet as she lifts her pistol and focuses on that priest. That spell does nothing to her. If anything, it helps her focusing. Time slows down and she sees the paths of the bullets before they leave the barrel. Almost leisurely, she empties the gun into the guy. The giant bar window in the background explodes around his convulsing body and I’d say she even hits some neon sign behind the window, adding sparks to the whole scene (the GM allows it). But the kicker is that the Voodoo gangster is standing right next to one of those bikes and the tank is hit as well, which makes the bike go ‘BOOM’ and engulfs him in burning oil. So now he’s also burning and stumbling towards his gang before he falls down twitching. He’s not screaming anymore, as his lungs are burnt, but the black smoke rising above the burning body looks like the faces of some damned souls or something because he’s a Voodoo Priest, you know, and there is a wheezing sound no one can explain … That should do it.”

And indeed, none of them make their Morale Check, they all flee in terror.

The player also announces that she’d use her second attack to blow up one of the other bikes as well, at best one in the middle so that an explosion could have them go boom as well. Since this actually resolve the whole Combat, the GM decides that no more rolls are necessary for that to happen. Joel panicky restarts the car with Violet screaming into his ear to get moving while emptying another magazine into the row of motorcycles while Joel is making a more subtle exit. They accelerate past the bar while the bikes start showing some flames from the hail of bullets and as they make for the corner away from the bar, all of the bikes explode in a ball of light and smoke while Violet is having her victory dance in the car.

It earns Violet the INSTANT KILL and the CINEMATICS AWARD (see Character Progression, p. XX). Fun was had.

Fun was had, indeed ... [source]

So now you know why I call it a "Retroclone Mutant" ... it is the D&D RC but with a twist (my revised house rules, basically). Players will get awards for spectacularly bloody murder and grindhouse-worthy theatrics in what plays like an adult sixties urban fantasy setting. It'll also feature 7+ new classes with some tools to do your own and rules to integrate existing classes into the game as well as rules to alter existing modules and gaming materials into be67.

If that tickles your funny bone, this will be a treat for you. For sure. It's a bit more complex than your average "old school" D&D, but not more so than, say, proper AD&D would be if played RAW. I like it that way. I know I'm not alone.

Anyway, that's it for today. I hope this will generate some interest for the game. As always, I'll be happy to get some feedback on this, so what do you guys think?


While we are at it: You can check out a free preview of Ø2\\'3||, that other rpg I wrote, right here (or go and check out the first reviews here). I'm still doing a sale on the game proper ...

If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here! I'd love to hear about that, too.

Just look at that beauty ...


Sunday, March 20, 2022

How our motivations to play RPGs hints towards what we should play (and why that matters) Part 1

The blog is 10 years now and I have mostly been talking about gaming philosophy and design. The way I see it, I tried to explain (to me, if for no one else) what this hobby is. At times I tried to go a step further, I think, and aimed for some more substantial, more 'usable' content, building on the established insights. I would argue that writing and publishing games and modules was/is one way to do just that: applying what I had learned filling this blog with words. I feel I am at an impass right now, where what I did here should come to an end (of sorts) and my new focus should be on publishing ... And then I realized that I hadn't been giving this blog a chance to grow into its next stage: if I feel I'm done exploring, I should start doing something new instead of mapping. 

 Here is Part 1 of an attempt, as this will be a long one again ...

Preface: where to go, and from where?

With knowing what motivations keep players engaged and how that may relate to different kinds of role-playing games or styles of play, we should be able to make some conclusions about what players we should seek for certain games or what new games might work with existing groups.

That's the premise of this post.

To do this with any kind of benefit, we need to take a close look at what motivates people in general, which (naturally) heavily leans into the psychological. If you are a reader of this blog, you know I dabble in these topics. I am, however, at best somewhat well-read on those subjects (in general) and bring some extensive experience to the table, as far as role-playing games are concerned. I'm not a scientist. Not even an academic, actually (I'll spare you the Elon Musk quote I keep telling myself in that regard).

So, this will be what it will be. As usual. I'll quote sources for the bigger claims, but in general, as per what I wrote in the beginning, I've thought about this a long time and should be able to make my argument without bigger meta-texts.

To get a complete picture here, we also need a firm understanding of how many different types or role-playing games there are. Maybe even, how different styles of play with one game can draw different crowds. Although I'd have to say that, from a design standpoint, if you play a game other than within what the game offers, you are playing something else just claiming you are playing said game, which circles back to the original questions: what kinds of rpg exist and why are they different.

If we manage to get a grip on all that AND manage to work out some significant relations between the two categories, we got a stew going ...


What helped conceiving the idea for this post was a yt video about how personality affects what computer games we want to play. I thought the video somewhat lackluster in that it basically states that your preferences somewhat correlate with The Big Five ... Yeah, no shit Sherlock.

If you are more assertive, you like competing with others, if you are more creative, you like creating shit, if you are more neurotic you like more weird shit. And so on. Not necessarily ground breaking, unless you've never heard of The Big Five (find the video here).

The vlogger also claims that others did some profound research on the topic and shared a link to a survey (here) that'll give you some fancy label (Bard, Gardener, Architect, etc.) after you shared your preferences ... It's quite short, as far as surfeys go, and from what I could gather from others doing it, the results had been mixed or (very generally) accurate. But it ended in an "if you liked this, you might like this" kind of scheme and after thinking about it some more, I came to the conclusion that I don't trust their effort.

For one, the gaming industry at large is way more about how to make a player base dependant than about their motivations. They want you addicted to computer games, end of story ... and a very different set of psychology (addictive, dopamin producing gaming loops, that kind of design). Their approach is so different and sales related, that it really doesn't apply in what we are looking for (in other words, the motivation big corp is looking for is somewhat lesser in the hierarchy of needs, might even be unhealthy and subverting it in order to gain a buck).

Think about it: consumption is our weakest impulse, or say, our weakest state. If you are doing things, you'll consume less. Or even the other way around, once you stop consuming, you'll start being active one way or another.

Here's my takeaway from that video linked above (or another vlogger? can't remember). He (or someone else) said at one point that he has more computer game backlog than future, and that's ... concerning, isn't it? Especially considering that it won't stop a gamer from buying even more.

I mean, I'm no stranger to the problem. I own too many books, computer and role-playing games. Way more than I'm likely to have use for within my lifespan. Pretty sure I'll keep buying them and I'm writing some more, just to add to the pile. The difference is (or so I keep telling myself) that I actually work with the material ...

And I'm a collector! That's really important, right? Right?!

Still like coming home ... [source]

Anyway, I digress. Role-playing games originally came with the premise that all you'll ever need is that one game, which is completely not what you'd want to sell as a product, if you try to earn money with it. That premise still holds somewhat true (although it's constantly subverted and undermined), and playing role-playing games can have honest-to-god benefits for those engaging in them (as do computer games, btw).

It's the reason for their popularity, I'd wager, and it's our approach for mapping possible motivations to engage with the hobby.

We need to talk about what we are not talking about ...

Alright, as established in the preface, we aim to look at "healthy" motivations and how those are satisfied by playing certain kinds of role-playing games.

By way of exclusion, however, we should start by pointing out motivations that might apply but tend to be based on unhealthy impulses and are therefor to be avoided, or at least not supported.

Here's why one propably shouldn't play role-playing games:

  • out of BOREDOM
  • out of OBLIGATION
  • out of ADDICTION
  • as a form of CONSUMPTION
  • as an outlet for DISCONTENT
  • ...

Not sure if this list is exhaustive (it's close, I think), but the main theme here is that you shouldn't just play for reasons that have nothing to do with playing the game, so it should be able to bring the point home. External factors will always try to intrude a game one way or another. People have bad days or bad cases of ego or are in a slump for one reason or another. It happens. It's just, when it is the SOLE motivation to participate, it will create problems down the road.

Bored players might get bored by the game or engage in something else, obligations might change, addictions might interfere with the game (switching from, say, coming to drink and play, to just drinking and ignoring the game), the novelty necessary for consumption fades or the antics grounded in a persons general discontent starts hurting others (a good example here might be the attention whore that uses the game as a platform to present themselves, another one would be someone trying to live out some extreme desire that way).

Again, I could go on, but the point remains that all of those might motivate all players to one degree or another one time or another, but if it's the sole motivation (or ends up to be, as those things might change over time as well), it's no good for the game or those involved.

Since people with unhealthy motivations like that are usually not that aware of it, it's a group effort to work out solutions how to handle it. However, that might be fodder for another post*.

What we should talk about, now, are healthy motivations to play role-playing games.

5 is a good number ... 

What could be considered "healthy" motivations? In general, it is obvious to assume that all of them will be somehow related to some form of personal growth. To go with Maslow again:

Ideally, you should be in the upper half** [source]

What we individually seek for growth would be related to the Big Five linked above, so this is about circumstances first, and then defined by preferences. Still, I'll be making an abstract leap here, not directly linking the motivations with The Big Five.

For one, all five are manifest in all of us, with the mean being in the average and the interesting extremes quite rare. We also can be in conflict with them (or our surroundings are in conflict with how they manifest in us) and they change with age. So while it is possible to get a snapshot of an individual's personality with a test, it is not necessarily a convenient approach to motivate said individual to play (correlation needn't be causation and all that).

Because that's the thing with growth: it is what we think we need to develop our personality in a direction, something we feel necessary. Not what we are (or the result of a test), but what we want to become. Hence, as far as motivations go, I'm thinking of them as offerings, as invitations to play. A bit like the unhealthy examples above are signs that show someone plays for reasons other than playing (looking closer at those 'bad' motivations, I'm pretty sure you'll find some form of deficiancy or even trauma that makes the motivation manifest ... that's just not necessary to determine if it helps the game or not).

So here are possible motivations for playing role-playing games (as far as I can see):

  • DOING something meaningful (mainly socialicing with others for a collective experience ... leveling up, campaign play, those things)
  • LEARNING something meaningful (collecting experiences & testing approaches to reality)
  • COMPETING meaningfully (negotiation, tactics & strategy)
  • BEING someone meaningful (exploring who you are or aren't & why)
  • CREATING something meaningful (a game, an experience, a story)

See? It's about what a DM/group/game can offer that potentially triggers intrinsic motivations to engage. I'd be willing to bet that there are people looking for all five and that there are groups with games that allow for the full spectrum (although quite rare!). However, more often than not people will only be interested in parts (those interested in BEING someone would maybe not have much fun with playing a more tactical game or with people coming with a COMPETING mindset, for instance).

They all intermingle, of course, but the main point here is that those motivations are so distinct and necessitate flow states so differing that it might need role-playing games with just as differing design approaches to keep players properly motivated.

But before we can tackle that, it needs a bit of an excursion about the science of "fun".

Motivation = Flow State = FUN

First of all, as soon as I start going down these roads, someone gets ready to point out that we are "just playing for the fun of it". As in: we don't have to think too hard about it, we know what it means to have fun. End of argument ... or is it?

Actually, what it is, is called a "rhetological fallacy". Several, to be a bit more precise here. For one, it is a Sweeping Generalisation to assume all fun has the same cause (playing=fun), but one could also argue that it also describes the fallacies of the Undistributed Middle (by basically saying fun=fun) and it is also, and I quote from the page: Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (Claiming two events that occur together must have a cause-and-effect relationship. (Correlation = cause)) or, to play is to have fun ... 

You see what I'm hinting at? Fun can be several things, is actually derived from several very different things, and can definitely had for the wrong reasons. Those "unhealthy" examples I wrote about earlier? There are people that will have FUN destroying your game or making someone else unhappy or pushing others aside to have the undivided attention of the group or ... I could go on.

I'd go as far as saying that you'd need to surround yourself with people that have the "same understanding" of what fun is, but how helpful is that? It directly leads to questions of "why are you playing" or "what games do you like", as if that was conclusive enough (it usually isn't, really). So going with motivations is a good bet, imo. It's easier to say what interests you enough to make a commitment.

How's that, though?

There is one approach to this that makes the most sense to me, and that'd be that we are looking for activities that help us experiencing something that is called a "flow state". It describes a phase of perception that is so dissolved in an activity, that we can "lose ourselves in it", or in other words, moments where our consciousness is reduced and we experience immersion.

Now, the conditions to reach a state like that can be summoned as follows:


What it says, is, that when your skill level is high and matches the challenge level, you can experience a flow state (which also implies continual growth, as you'll see). If your skill is higher than the challenge level, you are either in control, or, if the challenge level is really low, you are relaxed.

However, if you are not as skilled as you could be, a low challenge will result in boredom. Why boredom? My guess would be that "high" in that regard must mean a limitation you have reached and are aware of (as in "highest possible at the time", while medium means you are aware that you haven't reached said limit, and that would make a medium challenge "boring" as it only matches the state you already reached but will not grow your skill.

I think the rest explains itself easily (also I don't see medium skill to medium level explained here ...). Apathy describes a state where offer (the challenge) and motivation (a skill to use) don't match to the point of disinterest. Low skill level versus high challenge is way more intimidating than facing a medium challenge, but both are daunting. Medium skill versus high challenge level, finally, is arousing in that it describes the tension that the challenged is aware that their skill might not be enough, but they have a chance to still overcome.

Frustration, then (missing on the chart, but one wonders ...), would be when arousel violently turns into anxiety due to the forced insight that one's skill is way lower than expected. That's just me guessing here :D

Btw, notice how the word "fun" never enters the equation?

Anyway, ideally we move in the realm of medium to high challenges with medium to high skills. That'd at least guaranty a somewhat pleasant experience (none of the words in that spectrum imply a negative experience). If all involved are high level, a bit of low challenge to keep things relaxed might work as well, if the dose is kept low or there is a good reason for it (high level skill playing with low level skill, for instance).

One can easily see how players with a high skill level could help adjusting the difficulty level for those players with lower skills or how highly skilled Gamemasters would be able to establish the skill level of their players ...

For the wife ... [source]
That said, the flow state is where it's at. From experience I would say no flow state will last for an entire session. I'm not even sure that it would be something to seek, to be honest. But I know that it can happen several times in a game, sometimes even with all involved at the same time. And those are always the moments where you get better at "the game". 

At this point we have two of three aspects down that describe how motivation manifests. It needs something you want to get better at (the skill***) and a desirable emotional condition that can be achieved while you are getting better (the flow state). What we've not been talking about so far, would be how that connects with the five "good" motivations described above. Why have skills related to "gaming"?

Well, for one, the skills aren't "for gaming" necessarily, but should be generally applicable instead. Just like shown in the list above, playing role-playing games could allow for several areas of growth through playing that are connected, but also describe strong motivations on their own. Another good description of the mindset necessary for this kind of intrinsic motivation would be the japanese philosophy associated with Ikigai (basically about filling your life with meaningful activity).

So that third aspect is about having or cultivating a mindset for growth. Not "just" playing to play, but seeing (or at least assuming) that there is meaning to it. There's even some neurological science to this that shows how we can "hack" our brains to produce dopamine from "just" doing things: you basically learn to work towards a goal through stress with completion being the gratification ... you can strive just on that without extrinsic (often unhealthy!) factors.

You see, the science behind that is actually quite solid, even from yet another scientific angle. A good introduction into the topic can be had in this interview with Dr. Andrew Huberman (Huberman Labs) and I had written about it (in a somewhat different context) in this post.

There you have it, your recipe for "fun". As a last thing I'd mention that there is the concept of "group flow", since we are here talking about people playing a game in a group. Mass psychology has a couple of twists to it, as we act somewhat differently in a group than we would alone.

I decided not to go into it, since it is easily enough explained with what musicians, for instance, do and my argument would be that if the motivations align, it'll produce the desired effect following the same principles described above. For now I see no benefit in going down that specific rabbit hole beyond mentioning that there is something to that aspect as well.

That's already lots of words ...

The next post will be about looking how those 5 intrinsic motivations interact with each other as well as recognizing and utilizing different types of role-playing games. It should close with some words on what we could do with categories like that. Just not in this post. It is a lot to digest as it is, I guess (I thought about making this here two posts to begin with, but I couldn't decide where to make the cut, so here we are).

Only if we on the producing end take our hobby serious, we can make meaningful contributions to it. For that, we need to take a close look at what we have here, define it and go from there. Map it, then formulate ways to navigate it. I think intrinsic motivations are the way to go, in all dimensions of this (me writing this, you reading this, we playing this ...). I hope I was able to contribute to that a bit.

As I said in the beginning: I've done a lot of mapping here over the years and it started to feel as if I'd seen enough to believe I've seen it all. Which I haven't obviously, but there is a point where you need to use a higher resolution to get somewhere new. I'm still feeling my way towards that.

So what do you guys think? What's your take on how the five motivations I pointed out interact? I have an approach for that in mind (a quite surprising one, I hope, but working very well), and it should be interesting to explore it ... but I'm, naturally, curious to see what people think as well!

Also, what benefits do you guys see in this approach, if at all? Better marketing? Better designs? Would it help asserting the quality of role-playing games out there? Could it be used to usher in a new appreciation for the hobby? What are your thoughts?

Different flow state. Ha! [source]


Tooting my own horn a bit: You can check out a free preview of Ø2\\'3||  right here (or go and check out the first reviews here). I'm still doing a sale on the game proper ...

If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here! I'd love to hear about that, too.

Just look at that beauty ...


*Well, that sounded a bit more dramatic than it needed to. I had all those players. the girlfriend playing out of obligation, the party guy who thought this was just another form of party (and played along until he one time brought way too much beer to the game and started to get drunk on his own as everyone else was there to play). I had the player who just came to be passively entertained (as if he was seeing a play, I guess ... he was always surprised when I asked him if he wanted to do something). I had the players that started out of boredom and moved on quickly after that and I even had the players will some unhealthy impulses they tried to vent in the game ... None of them stayed, and it almost always ended with some drama, but in my experience it's all just trial and error and a solid group can take a curveball or two like that. Still, knowing is half the battle, right?

**There is a possible therapeutic dimension to playing role-playing games. It can help with self-actualisation, socialisation and so on and so forth. Trauma, even. That's just a completely different ball-park and I'd wager that you do not just need to be a great Gamemaster to pull that off, but you'd also need some form of certified training to even go there. Maybe (and that's a big maybe) a solid rpg group can give a kid a feeling of belonging and self esteem has even a good possibility of manifesting, I think. But if it needs therapy, you shouldn't assume you could be the cure JUST by playing a game. You'd have to bring more to the table than that. That said, I might add that it is a great educational tool and role-playing has been used successfully in therapy.

***I could easily off script here and lose myself in how this is a great argument for why it not only needs "player skill", but how it is unavoidable, a necessity even. I won't. Or rather, I did that already in another post (here), defining player skill as:  

So what is player skill? As a consequence of the argument I'm making here, it is using player communication with system and DM to inform a narrative beneficially towards the goals all participants formulated in the game they are playing by narrowing down the narrative options to a manageable scale.

Read the post for details :) 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Introducing The be67 Bubblegum Barometer & talking state of the blog

Hey folks, it's been a while ... Mainly due to us moving to greener pastures (will miss Leipzig somewhat, still, we had to get going), but also because our internet moved waaaaaay slower than we did and that resulted in me not being able to do any proper blogging last month. Also other things I had to put some work in. It had been a tough couple of weeks, all things considered. I'm mostly pretty plastered (moving out with renovation, moving in with lots of new furniture and some renovation, some bureaurocratic shenanigans, taxes and so on and so forth). Hence the update here on the blog only today, with some extra content from the upcoming Retroclone Mutant be67 ...

Most days, these days ... [source]
So, where's be67 at?

It's coming along nicely, I'd say. 75 pages so far, I hope to get this finished enough to allow for some editing in two weeks or so. Then layouting and getting the pdf live. After that test printing and getting the PoD version out there as well.

Since I'll be doing nothing else but this from now on, I'm somewhat confident to have both available early April, the pdf maybe even a bit earlier. I'll offer and coordinate some one shots via MeWe, I think. Any interested parties here on the blog and without MeWe account should drop me a comment here (moderation is on, so if you want to share contact information, just add that it's not for publication and I'll delete the comment instead).

Other than that, writing the game forced me to take a closer look at some of the aspect I more or less handwaved in our house campaign. This game will be a RETROCLONE in as much as it's very closely related to the D&D RC:

  • Race as Class, but with a tool to build your own Classes
  • Descending AC, but made flexible to accommodate gun fights
  • Differing xp goals for Classes, but offering an explanation why it needs to be so
  • Differend combat matrices according to Base Classes

It's all there and very much following how I understand the game. It will be a MUTANT in as much as I heavily houseruled aspects from other D&D variants (Ardui, HackMaster 4e) into the game and made it my own by:

  • Keeping basic combat, but adding A LOT to make this the bloodiest D&D clone out there
  • Taking the principles of earning xp, but made something else entirely out of it (combat will, for instance, result in grindhouse effects that'll earn a character or even the group extra xp).
  • I'll offer rules to simplify bookkeeping and shortcut aspects of the original game I'm not that fond of (in the best tradition of OSR game designing)

... and so on. I hope it'll not only end up being the book I use to play the game I love, but that it'll also be a treasure trove of ideas for you guys to enjoy and use! 

Introducing: The Bubblegum Barometer (example from the book)

This game needs proper rules for gun fights, naturally. D&D doesn't lend itself to it easily, I found. The rules are a bit too static for it, especially if you aim for something more ... cinematic.

Like this infamous firefight ... [source]

It needs more movement and flexible AC ... and keeping track of ammunition will definitely slow down the game as soon as lots of shooting with lots of shooters is involved. We found solutions for all of that, one of them being the so-called Bubblegum Barometer (mainy because I like how that sounds), which allows to bridge lax bookkeeping of ammunition with some movie drama.

Note: the text I'm about to share will reference Damage Dice and it means that in be67 characters don't do damage as per individual weapon, but have differing Damage Dice according to Weapon Category. For instance could a character have a d6 for heavy weaponry and then deal at least d6 damage with said weaponry. There is more to it (could be more d6 due to a good roll or even a higher die due to getting some help), but that's the basic idea ...

So here's the excerpt from the book:

AMMUNITION (optional rule)

We are willing to offer some concessions regarding the strict documentation of ammunition. For one, this is about playing the equivalent of ‘bad’ (but ‘good’!) movies, so events like reloading or situations where characters are ‘out of ammo’ should follow narrative purposes more than those of a quasi-simulation of combat.

Thinking of this as an extended exchange of blows should help getting the idea, but having a character punch a hole into a zombie with their bare fists will do that too. be67 isn’t about the weapons one uses but more about the damage they do with what they got. Different set of implications altogether, as should be obvious at this point in the book.

That said, there is nothing hindering you from making the bookkeeping mandatory for ammunition, we’d just recommend being lax about it, if for no other reason than combat being complex enough in other areas and adding ammunition to that would slow things down considerably (while taking away some of the fun, in our opinion).

Here is another aspect to this that’s worth considering: combat rounds are exchanges of bullets, but decidedly not just one shot per Combat Unit per round. Bullets are flying around, like, all the time, sometimes just to Counter someone’s Combat Action, sometimes just to open a door. There’s no good way we could come up with that would manage to take all of that into account … so we discarded the notion.

We will, however, offer a compromise of sorts. Add some drama, if you will. We call it

The Bubblegum Barometer (The BB)

(and hope you all get the reference). For that, the GM needs to take into account if the characters had an opportunity to load up on ammunition (or made a habit out of mentioning doing so). If the situation is unclear (that old argument ‘But my character would have …!’), a Funk Test should be allowed to establish the grade of preparedness a character brings to a gunfight instead (Funk+d20 vs. Difficulty). Decided through dice or judged by GM call, the BB should be the guideline:

  • >20 (unprepared) – immediate use of the BB (+4) & every round after that (adding +1each round)
  • 20 to 24 (somewhat loaded) - immediate use of the BB & every round after that (adding +1 each round)
  • 25 to 29 (properly prepared) – use the BB every time ammunition-heavy Mode is used & add +1 to each time after the first
  • 29< (loaded, they brought spares & extras) – no immediate problems, they are loaded (no rolls necessary in this fight unless Character shares ammunition with someone else)

To test the BB now, the GM takes the Damage Die (DD) of the weapon a character used that round and rolls it after all Actions are resolved to find out if the next round is the last round the character has ammunition (roll 1DD vs. Difficulty). If the result matches or is lower than the BB Difficulty (which is at least 1, otherwise modified as indicated above), the character is running low and will be out of ammo end of next round unless they do something about it.

Changing weapons will start the BB at 1 again, for instance, but other characters might supply as well. If ‘loaded’ characters share their ammunition, they start to count as ‘properly prepared’ from then on. If those ‘properly prepared’ share ammunition, they are reduced to being ‘somewhat loaded’ from then on. Sharing ammunition while being ‘somewhat loaded’ or lower, will raise the BB +1 immediately (and additionally to the +1 per round). Characters will run dry fast like that.

Beyond that, enemy interaction (through disarming and whatnot) and Critical Failures will have weapons destroyed or lost, regardless of the ammunition carried.

And that's it: if it isn' established, a roll decides if you are running out and how fast (close to what you might know from games like Macchiatto Monsters, if I remember correctly). Characters will have a round to react (or are at least able to shoot one more round) and ammunition is properly limited in a meaningful way, as far as combat tactics are concerned.

And if you read this carefully, you might have gotten a glimpse of what else is in store, like weapon modes. It's a wild little system and, if our play-tests are any indication, a blast to play ... You'll see :)

I hope this whetted your interest a bit.

So much for posting at least 3 times a month ...

Yeah, that didn't work so well last month. But I'll make up for it. I might have to, as I finally took a chance and made this little enterprise a project of self-employment. The opportunity arose and I took it. Now I'm publishing full time, we'll see how it goes. For one, I have no excuses to slack here on the blog.

But I'll not just talk about the products I aim to publish this year or in the future* (although I hope there's interest for that as well). It'll still be about game design (I'm still building on lots of games, you know) and maybe I should experiment a little with additional content. Maybe establishing some sort of Campaign setting?

Not sure.

For now I wanted to let you know that things will be happening here on the blog and with Disoriented Ranger Publishing in general.




While we are at it, that module I wrote and published 5 years ago (MONKEY BUSINESS) isn't PWYW anymore. I thought long and hard about that, and to be totally honest, I came to the conclusion that the PWYW selling modell, for all it's benefits, isn't really supported at drivethru. PDFs need to cost to have any worth as far as the marketing tools available there are concerned (no 'medals' unless pdf units sold, for instance). So it's 2 USD now, which still is a steal, considering all the material you get for that. The good reviews justify that as well ... People I don't know liked it, it seems. Good enough.

As it happens, drivethruRPG has a sale right now and Monkey Business is among that. 30% off. It's an even better deal :)


* As you might be aware, it's Reflected Digressions (collected essays), be67 (Retroclone Mutant) and The Rise of Robo-Hitler (adventure module for be67/LL/MF) for this year.