26 January 2012

There can be only one (mechanic)

I know he's not a highlander but he's got a sword. That's almost good enough, right?

I'm torn between two systems: Either d10 against a static modifier, or d10 against the GM's d10, with opportunities to roll again or whatever. All other things being equal, which would you prefer?

The first one is the way it's been done for ages. There are a bunch of tables saying how difficult a thing is, and you look at it, and then you roll and try to roll better than it. It's kind of mechanical, and actually requires nearly as much GM fiat as the dude making it up on the spot. It's just better hidden. It's easy to understand, and lets you play percentage games when you want to.

The second way is what I'm trying to do in The Odds Are Against You, because I'm using cards and you can play your high card when it's an important moment and your low one when you want to save your high cards for later. You, basically, get to choose your own odds. If you want to be sure to win, play a 10. If you'd like relative certainty, play a 7 (you have a 70% chance of winning the card flip.) It reverses the roles a little, which is kind of what I'm after.

But which do you think would be more fun?

D&D Next: Some mini spoilers

If you haven't heard about 5th edition, go google it right now. I'll wait. We on the same page? Cool.

D&D Next is, basically, some playtesting that the developers of 5e are going through in order to figure out what we, as a playerbase, actually want. Leaving aside the obvious fact that the playerbase both hates and loves everything depending on who you ask, we've managed to get leaked some good information from sources unknown. The one I'll be talking about here is found at this link: http://trollishdelver.blogspot.com/2012/01/what-we-learnt-from-first-d-next.html

It's got a couple of interesting points that I'd like to chew over with you guys. I'll borrow the Trollish Delver's format, because it works as well as any.

  • Iconic monsters will remain threats at higher levels
  • Levelling won't be all about big bonuses
  • Flexibility will be key to gameplay
  • More advice will be given to DM's on how to run games
  • Old-school randomness will make a comeback
  • Characters will feel like individuals
  • The art will be harken back to the good old days

1- Iconic Monsters Will Remain A Threat At Higher Levels

This seems good to me, but we'll have to wait and see. One of the benefits of playing a game like Labyrinth Lord or Swords and Wizardry is that the attack bonii, damage, and health were all tied to Hit Dice. It's elegant and easy. If you wanted a new monster, you just changed the Hit Dice and gave it some special abilities. Done and done. I understand that's not even remotely the way it's done now, but it's good to see they're getting back to that by offering a "quintessential orc creature that easily scales." Why they ever moved from that, I'll never know. 

2- Levelling Won't Be All About Big Bonuses
From the sounds of it, levelling will give you more breadth instead of depth. I.E. as you level, you'll learn to do new things more than you learn to do the things you already do better. Sounds good to me, I guess. Maybe this'll help get rid of the fact that characters over, say, 6th level are already superhuman in their abilities by scaling that back some. Would be nice.

3- Flexibility Wil Be Key To Gameplay
I have no idea what this is supposed to mean and I can't even guess. Check the Trollish Delver article for what they had to say. Sounds like marketing bullshit to me, but we'll just have to wait and see. 

4- More DM Advice
I don't know how to feel about this. More DM advice is good, but why bother to mention this? I feel like I'm missing part of the conversation

5- Old School Randomness
Again, I don't know how to take this. Random tables aren't hard to make yourself, but I guess it's nice that they seem to be moving away from the point-buy as a default. At least, from the tone of this. They might just be talking about giving you random monster encounters again. Hard to tell.

6- Characters That Feel Like Individuals
Taking away the copy-and-paste mentality from 4e where everything is ruthlessly balanced can only be a good thing. Looking at 4e powers made my eyes bleed. From what Monte Cook is saying, it sounds like substituting default abilities will be the main way to change up your character, which is cool. It was one of the things that I was sorry to see not be used in 3e prestige classes at all.

7- Old School Art
If there's no more Wayne Reynolds, I'll be a happy camper. It seems like D&D has some of the most uneven art in terms of quality, with a few gems here and there amidst a background of awful art. If this changes, it can only be for the better. 

My verdict: Based on just this fairly insightful article, I'm quietly hopeful for something good to happen. I won't get too excited, because I've seen what WotC can do to dreams, but I'll keep my eyes open and ready for something decent.

24 January 2012

TOAAY: Senea

Senea is the name of the setting that I'm going to use for The Odds Are Against You.

Imagine, if you would, an independent space colony, thousands of years old, on a wrecked world. The days are short, the sun is weak and ineffective, and what little civilization remains is due to a small, bizarre implant that harvests the mental energy of its wearer and converts it to usable power.

The remaining population (several million, a far cry from the nearly billion that once existed) either accept the laws of the Lord Ancestor and live in a guarded settlement underground, or attempt to eke out an existence amongst or alongside the half-feral Surfacers.

Underground's not a bad place to live- it's slightly warmer, and there are a few manufactories working on reclaiming scrap from the surface ruins and converting it into life's necessities- weaponry, walls, tools, and the ever-necessary lifesuits that every Caver wears on the surface. Their lives are longer, if not slightly more cramped and controlled, and there's even a burgeoning middle class. Mercenaries are the most common link to the outside world for most citizens, and that's fine by them- Surfacer raids are not uncommon and that's more than enough of a sight for most Cavers.

Living aboveground is for the hardy, insane, or ambitious. Outside of the watchful eye of the Lord Ancestor, tyrannical autocrat for underground society, Surfacers are actually free. Armed with a combination of salvaged Ancient gear from the times of the meteor strike cataclysm or even the age of the Progenitus, and barbarically crude zip-guns, hand weapons, and explosives, Surfacers frequently loot the surface world's ruins, the Caver outposts, and each other for what they need.

I dunno, I know my writing needs work (what else is new), but I think it could work. As a matter of fact, I think it will work.

No, this doesn't conflict with what I posted yesterday, it's an expansion of the same idea.

The Odds Are Against You: Dystopian Edition

I think this is the setting I want for The Odds Are Against You.

I think that a nice near-future dystopian setting would be a lot of fun to be an action hero, especially if you happen to be the kind of guy who thinks that jumping into the middle of a group of heavily armed soldiers wearing nothing but a ponytail, some kneepads, and a sweet bandana is a good idea.

The whole gist of The Odds Are Against You, of course, is that you're the kind of guy who's a bad enough dude to get away with it. You win against this situation because you've got explicit plot armor, these guys are faceless mooks, and you've got an awesome, awesome idea of exactly how you're going to get away with it.

If you don't remember, The Odds Are Against You is the game of action roleplaying, where you're dealt a hand of cards and you play them out every time your character isn't a Bad Enough Dude to get it done automatically. It's not a bad system in my oh-so-humble opinion, although it hasn't been playtested for shit yet. I aim to change that soon. But I digress.

The point is that I've been working on it for months and I just now realized where I want to go with it. And I'm going to release it, and soon. But not now. It needs work. You see:

  • Since the game is neutral when it comes to awesome versus mundane, you're encouraged to pick the awesome because it's awesome. However, there's no real explicit reason to do so, meaning some people might miss the point. Maybe some sort of "awesome incentive" is required?
  • The rules for injury don't cause enough injuries. Maybe some sort of penalty to maximum hand size would be better, or maybe even a penalty to the result shown on the card face. Injuries should mean something.
  • The mechanics for getting more cards are, basically, that you do something risky or jeopardize your goals. I'm thinking that riskiness should tie into your first card flip, where failure means you almost screw it up, you get hurt, and you can get a free flip. Succeeding on the second one means no more injuries and you win by the skin of your teeth, and failure means you're hurt further. 
  • Jeopardizing one's own goals is a risky proposition, and it needs to hurt to be effective. It should be HAMMERED home to the GM that he needs to make each card gained this way really, really suck. It shouldn't be an off-hand thing. It should be a "I really need this." And even then, it might not work the way I want it to. 
  • I think that at the end of each scene the players should regain a number of cards if they've ran below it. Heroes often just need a breather to go back at it again, harder, and the heroes of this game should reflect the fiction.
  • It needs a pre-made adventure and I'm not good at modern. Sorry, but it's true. There's a lot of variables for it.

I think it's time for a nap, my brain feels fuzzy again. 

23 January 2012

Mall of the Dead

Honestly, I'm tired of having this in the back of my head, bothering me- so I'm putting it out for everybody to see.

It's a system built around AIM FOR THE HEAD, but I'm not picky and it's pretty system neutral. Since it's one page, you're treated to, basically, a couple of set pieces with a lot of room for improvisation. If you haven't figured it out by now, that's pretty much all I need to get a game going, and that should be enough for you.

The basic flow goes like this (and this is going to end up being longer than the pdf itself, if I'm not careful):
1) The players' survivors are in a department store where they've been hiding out- the zombie apocalypse happened while they were shopping, and naturally nobody bothers to tell the people at the mall, so they're stuck. The players can hear a helicopter going overhead at roughly the same time each day. Might as well try that, there's shit else to do.
2)The players emerge and the mall's nearest entrance has been smashed to shit by somebody driving a truck through the mall. Near the smashed wall is a horde of zombies, who are prevented from rushing in by the wreckage. Bad idea to try and go through, but if the players can swing it somehow, their car could be out there.
3) The only safe option is through the mall. There are lots of little stores which could have something, but they could also be time-wasters with nothing but zombies and gore. Its up to the players.
4) The players get to the food court, where it's open enough that there are way too many zombies. Zombies eventually fall from the enormous skylight, raising one hell of a racket. That's bad.
5) The players are left with a choice- try and go out to the other parking lot and escape via car, or try and hail the helicopter. Up to them, really.
6a) If they try the helicopter, there are still more zombies up here, as well as a firearm. If the players brought something to get the helicopter's attention, the chopper can rescue them if they're not being eaten alive. The pilots aren't going to fire their weapons, in case they crash somewhere horrible, they're going to need the ammo. The players might escape at this point.
6b) The players go to the parking lot. There are a whole lot of zombies out here, as well as zombies in cars and a pileup. The players' cars might be wrecked up, but if they aren't, they can escape- provided the roads are clear.

And that's the Mall of the Dead. It feels like it's missing something, but honestly, I could care less because I think that's all you need to get your creative juices flowing at the table. I'll probably go back and add more later, but don't count on it ;)

Here's the link, my friends.

20 January 2012

Paranoia: The IRCing

I'm actually going to run a game of Paranoia via IRC with some random guys I met via /tg/. If you've never played Paranoia, you really should. The setting is a pop-culture mockery of both modern society, of the doom and gloom post apocalyptic future some people think we're going to be in, and of the hopeful, automated society the rest of us imagine. It's a commentary on human nature and our own stupidity and capitalism and communism and secrecy and also itself.

It's also got lots of room for GM fiat, intra-player squabbling, cheap and easy death, and fate points. 

It's like it was made to be played with random people. 

So yeah, it's gonna be fun. 

I'm thinking about making the characters in advance, one for each person that's supposed to show up, and then handing them beforehand. It's not like I expect anybody to cheat, but it feels right, somehow, to not even intentionally generate your own character. Thrust into the world of Alpha Complex, if you will.

What does this mean for Aim for the Head and Black Shield? It means that they might take a little longer. I kind of knew that anyways. The basic rules are done, sure, but you can get a link from mediafire yourself if you really wanted to. The difficult part was always going to be making it into an actual dungeon-crawl game, like a HeroQuest+, or a WarhammerQuest-, if you will. Extensible but with all of the simple rules still in place because, unbeknownst even to the HQ designers, they accidentally made really simple resolution systems for everything. But I digress.

17 January 2012

Black Shield, the HeroQuest pseudo-clone

Welp, I've got some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?

Who am I even talking to?

As it turns out, porting the HeroQuest rules took me a little under one page, as long as we're talking about the stuff that you just need to play: how to move this guy, how to move that guy, what spells do, you know, the basics. The sort of thing that's covered in the "basic rules" section of the thing. It was easy. The spells are on self-explaining cards and so are the weapons and armor and potions and stuff, so that's even less to go on the actual "rules" page. I'll probably make this into a multiple-page PDF instead of a strictly one-page project (because I'm having so much fun, this is a trip down memory lane), which includes the need to find a great, iconic image or some sort of graphics wizard to whip one up for me. It's almost done. It's so close, you could run something right now (like, right now right now), but I'm going to wait to do the items and the magic for a little later. Because that's how I roll.

That was supposed to be the good news, but it ended up also being the bad news. In case that wasn't enough bad news for you, here's some more: It's gonna take longer than a day. But that's good news if you didn't know that I was on such a tight self-imposed schedule.

The more you know!

If you've got any suggestions to HeroQuest, let me know here. I'll also be scouring some of the HeroQuest messageboards and seeing what people come up with. I'm probably going to avoid most of it, embrace some of it, and marvel at the insanity of some people for a very tiny amount of the cases.

Anyways, I've been up for almost 18 hours now and it's probably getting close to nappy time. I'll probably see how much work I can continue dredging out of this brain of mine before I call it a night. Probably, I can at least write the cards into a text form, or find a copy of Zargon's screen and transform it into text-only before the night is up.


16 January 2012

Martin Luther King Day

One of the most influential people in the last 100 years.

I'd be remiss not to note his day.

HeroQuest: the Clone

I want to write a game like HeroQuest, except suited to long-term roleplaying endeavors, or even quickplay style games. I don't know if I want to keep the grid combat (although I probably will because I have like a shit-load of Descent tiles hanging around and I've got to find some way to use them, other that Descent), which means that it'll still have charming rules like how long weapons can attack adjacentways.

And the players will be pre-written like in Descent, except I'll make it per-class instead of per-character, but the difference is really minimal since you're still just choosing an instance of a guy to play as for this next adventure- whether you're Gluthorm or Thornspell Mage is minimal if they both do an extra point of damage with Earth spells.

I've even got a copy of the Heroquest rules, and I think I'm going to skim over them and make a couple of changes, couple of additions, and a couple of tweaks to suit my preferred style of gaming. It'll be like a HeroQuest retroclone, if you will, but with the serial numbers filed off and hopefully enough stuff changed that nobody's going to get grumpy at me for doing it.

I think it'll be great fun, even if I can't get it to the one-page ideal that I've been striving towards!

Mall of the Living Dead

Continuing my enjoyment of not only zombie games but of writing things for them, I'm writing up a one-page "module" for AIM FOR THE HEAD, my zombie roleplaying game, wherein I intend to subject my players to the delights of a mall full of zombies.

I know, right? It's a cliche for a reason. In a world where you're one of a handful of survivors in a sea of grey shambling flesh (talk about special snowflakes!), there's a certain appeal to mowing down the inane, mindless hordes of consumers like you always fantasize doing on the rare occasions you're forced to go inside of a mall. It's a beautiful thing, and it even does a couple of things for a module design that I think are really nifty.

1) It lets you confine the area very naturally. Malls are built like ye olde castle, in that you're designed to stay in. It's absolutely intentional- they're supposed to be nearly self sufficient, easy to get in, and difficult to get out. For all of the spacious courtyards and high ceilings, there are naturally a tiny number of semi-hidden, chokepoint-styled exits. When the living dead are all around you, chokepoints are a horrible thing, meaning that once you get in a mall, you're going to need another way out. This very naturally creates drama, because
2) For all of the junk inside of a mall, very little of it is useful in guaranteeing your survival. This means that your players aren't finding rocket launchers or chainsaws (well, maybe chainsaws, but there's not really any gas to power them), which would ruin the feeling of "holy shit, zombie apocalypse." More pertinently, the players aren't going to find much in the way of food or water, except in the Food Court, and the great majority of that is going to spoil very, very quickly and probably be entirely uncooked. Mall food is pretty unpalatable even when cooked fresh, and a couple of days with no power and no new shipments of food is going to leave a horrible place.
3) A mall is a place you visit, not a place you stay. This ties into 2, but in a totally different way. In daily life, you don't stay because you have a home to go to, the crowds are tiring, and the security guards will yell at you when you try to sleep there anyways. In a zombie apocalypse, you can't stay because there's nothing to eat, there's almost no real defense, and there are a hell of a lot of zombies around already, between the people that died there, the other people that thought it'd be a good idea to hide there, and the zombies that wander inside periodically and can't get out again.
4) It ties into the Dawn of the Dead-styled "zombies as consumerist allegory." The less said about that, the better, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not a philosophy blog and I'm certain you expect only those philosophies here which pertain to gaming.
5) It makes sense to get caught there. It almost feels like you're stuck there on a normal day, so getting caught there when everything is zombies? Totally plausible. Furthermore, it's very diverse. Pretty much anybody can be at a mall, meaning that characters can be literally anybody- a vacationing family man, a down on his luck homeless man, a security guard, a trucker just there on a pickup, a UPS guy, anybody.

All of these things are pretty easy to get across, I think, although in a one-page design I'm a bit more brief.

Watch this space- it's on its way soon.

13 January 2012


I'm releasing it here first for feedback from the five or so people who read and comment here.

It's a one-page zombie RPG. I actually had space to devote to setting, because the core mechanic is so damn simple and after that, it's all about setting anyways.

Zombie games are the ideal in designing a short roleplaying game, because so little can (and should) be expressed via rules. There shouldn't be hard and fast rules for what you find, what survivors are like, or what zombies can do. It's not important, and it shifts the game from "oh shit, what'll happen next" to "oh, whatever, that zombie has six movement and does 1d6 damage, that's not even a threat."

It's why fighting a zombie in D&D isn't scary, but it can be in Aim For The Head. One zombie can kill you if you get a bad roll in AFTH. Trying to run away can kill you. The only way to be safe is to not roll, which means playing carefully, keeping quiet, and avoiding attracting attention. In other words, the only time you're rolling in AFTH is when you're potentially screwed, and that's exactly the kind of on-edge feeling that a game should provide. I haven't playtested it yet, unfortunately, so there are likely some rough patches out of the bat.

The only thing I can think of off the top of my head that I'll likely change is that the Fight roll doesn't explicitly limit how many zombies you take down (I was thinking one zombie per 6), but intentionally left it blank for the moment.

Let me know if Aim For The Head provides that. I'll be taking all criticism into account, and changing the document to suit it.

Here's the rapidshare link, and here's the mediafire one.

12 January 2012

Brevity is Golden

The more I play around with creating systems and settings and modules for my own use, the more I realize that I'm really bad at padding things out.

I'm really bad at writing these 200+ page odes to a setting, or coming up with 90 classes and twelve thousand spells and fifty six magical items. As a matter of fact, it was one of the reasons I had such a goddamn hard time writing modules for my short-lived "one month module" series- I'd write the gist of it, the important bits, and still be on page two. I'd write more but it feels like overload. It makes the module lose its focus and makes me feel like I'm telling people what to do and how to play.

I don't want to tell anybody how to play, really. I want to tell people how I play, and telling somebody how I play is about the shortest thing ever: "Prepare absolutely nothing but memorize the book. Create a believable fiction from a combination of things you've been thinking about during the day and the game fiction as it's presented in the book." Bam, done. That's the essence of playing games the Lawful Indifferent way.

That's what I want more of. The essence of a game. To that end, I've been strongly thinking about creating 1 page games, settings, dungeons, you name it. I've got an idea where a game is a collection of pages tailored to whatever you're doing- kind of like GURPS, if you will, except much lighter. I'm thinking like a one-page game that is complete in and of itself, with maybe additional one-pagers that add extra little setting bits or additional classes or whatever it is that needs to be added. It'd be really fun, I think.

To my mind, the interesting design space isn't in the massive rulebooks or the kitchen-sink approach to everything, or in the rules-heavy combat-oriented fantasy gaming. We already have a lot of that, and we've had a lot of that practically since the hobby started. What we need is something that emphasizes what the play is supposed to be in a transparent matter, and I think a one page rpg could be just what the doctor ordered.

09 January 2012

So 5th edition, huh?

So 5th edition D&D is coming out apparently soon, because if there's one thing that Wizards of the Coast has found out, it's that inventing a miniatures wargame with the D&D brandname is a fucking fantastic way to get people to blow a hundred bucks on buying the rules to Warhammer Fantasy Lite, so why not make a new and totally incompatible version every couple of years?

The more I'm watching this unfold, the more I realize what level of marketing genius they truly have over at Wizards. "Forcing" players to upgrade or be left behind every couple of years, they can probably rely on peoples' enthusiasm for endless sets of rules and miniatures combat to get people to upgrade over and over and over again before they catch on.

I mean, it's been what Games Workshop has been basing their entire business on for over a decade now, the constant cycling of rules and miniatures. Frequent overhauls and revamps are their lifeblood. After all, if GW sells you a new core rulebook and your chosen race's codex and then $200 worth of miniatures, they'd be insane not to want to sell you all of that again by changing the rules, the codexes, and making your old minis obsolete.

I need to get in on that or something.

But enough criticism. I think that 5th edition could be Wizards' chance to make things right again, as evinced by the fact that apparently letting Mike Mearls back on board. I don't give a damn what anybody said, he obviously understands what this game is best as- he designed Iron Heroes for fuck's sake. And then Monte Cook, designer of the bizarre and brilliant Ptolus campaign setting and some of the coolest and most creative tweaks I'd seen given to the (rather kind of crappy) 3.x edition system.

Yeah, I'm optimistic. Maybe we'll get away from the "combat is the only real important part" of 4e and back into a system that's not just congealed combat rules.

06 January 2012

The Odds Are Against You

Tired of hearing about my action movie-styled roleplaying game yet?


I'm almost done with the .PDF and all it needs now is some playtesting. In a couple of days (once I finish some work I've been putting off, heh heh, this client is a damn saint) I'm going to post the preliminary rules and try to get some gaming done. If I can't get my real-life group to throw me a bone, I'll get an online group to do it over IRC or Skype or something with a quick one-shot. Everything will be tested pretty much at once- the legibility of the PDF, my writing style, my sample adventure, the system, EVERYTHING.

It's like a crash course playtest.

When that playtest is done, I'll do it again. And then again. Three playtests is probably fine.

It's designed to be made of one-shots anyways, so it's not like I have to have people playing it multiple times over a series of years to make sure that it's got an enduring thing going on. It's the sort of system where I can be like "dudes, I'm bored, play this game with me" and we'll be able to blow an hour or two talking about stuff and pretending to have imaginary people shoot other imaginary people in the skull while jumping off buildings and then piloting helicopters directly into buildings SHIT YEAH.

My sample mission is going to be stopping a Russian arms dealer from giving pro-Communist South American rebels a massive upgrade in firepower. If you can't tell, it's sort of set in a "what if the Cold War never really ended and instead the proxy wars in third world countries kept on a-going" metasetting that's not really meant to be a setting per se as much as an excuse to use all of recent history's best "bad guys" in a sweet bad guy mashup.

If you can't tell, I'm excited about my project and am very much having a good time thinking about it. It's one-half of the reason I haven't really been writing much on this very fantasy-oriented blog. The other half being real-life time constraints, which have a certain way of slamming us into submission and crushing our writing wills. Or is that just me?

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...