Friday, 5 April 2019

Game Sketch: Earth Superleader Macrofortress

Characters play various world leaders who know each other and have both domestic and international concerns.

One: Scenes

  1. Conference calls. These are calls between the world leaders petitioning each other for help, admonishing behaviour, demanding love, and so on. Game model is Dramasystem with a relationship map, dramatic poles and emotional concessions etc.
  2. National issues. Each world leader has a political concern which they have to address, and to do this they need to take certain political actions; they can do this by using Drama Tokens earned in Conference Calls. Their handling of their situation will determine their ranking amongst their peers.

Two: Interdimensional Threat

As the game progresses the threat of a malign alien intelligence looms over the world. This is signified by a Threat Counter which increases over time (similar to the Doom Track in Arkham Horror). Furthermore all National Issues stem from this alien threat, and the characters will balance solving their National Issues with the greater good; fixing national problems to remain in power has an adverse affect on the Threat Counter.

Three: End Game

At some point, all of the world leaders will have to band together to fight the alien menace. Here they will literally merge into one entity, the Earth Superleader Macrofortress (ESM) and do battle with the entity in time-honoured fashion.

  • Their national standing will determine which part of the ESM they occupy. The most prestigious is the head which makes all the strategic decisions in the fight. After that the limbs make many of the tactical decisions under the direction of the head. The least prestigious is probably the gut, which exists only to power head and limbs and generate waste with no decision-making in itself.
  • Each PC therefore has a decision to make: increase their national standing to ensure the highest prestige in the endgame, but at the cost of making the final threat stronger.

Four: Fluff

The actual fictional basis for the ESM can be decided by the group. Examples:

(a) consider world governments constructing their ESM platforms in space; at the end of the game the world leaders are brought up to their respective platforms via space elevator, and will pilot their individual craft and merge them into the ESM to do battle. At the end of the battle they may or may not have enough power to return to Earth.

(b) the world leaders will at the point of crisis be biologically shaped, enhanced and fused together into one monstrous giant which can do battle with the alien threat in a remote desert area. Assuming the fused leaders prevail, they are then fused together for the rest of their days (and may or may not be functionally immortal); and given their gross collective body, they can no longer exist on land for long periods of time. Instead they must wander into the ocean so their massive form is supported (consider the undines in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun) and become a new Leviathan. They may in time encounter other Leviathans, fused world leaders of previous ages, now doomed to haunt the depths, becoming legend to a population with all too short a memory.


This idea inspired System Mastery 144: Cyborg Commando and the concept of five world leaders assembling to form Voltron. I used to own Cyborg Commando; I bought it in a sale in the late 80s for £4.10. It is utterly horrible.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

OSR alt combat

In a week or so I’ll be running StormHack (Black Hack, Whitehack, Chaosium’s Stormbringer) at Concrete Cow. This is a modified combat system for OSR systems.

Monsters

Monsters have

  • Armour Class, a success threshold
  • Hit Dice, to be thrown down on the table to indicate the monster’s damage
  • Damage, which they cause on weak hits and misses

Making attacks

When a character makes an attack, roll d20 vs an appropriate Ability (e.g. STR).

  • If the roll is below the PC’s STR but above the monster’s AC, it’s a hit and damage is done to the monster
  • If the roll is above the PC’s STR it’s a miss and the PC takes damage
  • If the roll is below the monster’s AC it’s a weak hit (assuming it’s also below the character’s STR) and the PC takes minor damage

Damage to Monsters

The base damage is the actual number on the d20, minus the monster’s AC. On top of that if the character has any weapons (including Demons of Violence) they get to roll dice and add that to the total.

When they do damage to monsters it’s applied directly to the hit dice on the table. By default only one die can be taken off at a time and the whole number on the die must be beaten (e.g. a d6 reading 5 needs 5 or more points to defeat it). Abilities allow PCs to split damage between dice, hold and stack damage from previous rolls, etc.

Damage to PCs

During combat if the PC takes damage, the GM gives them a token. These can be black tokens (Fatigue) or red tokens (Harm). These add up over the course of the combat.
(Tokens can also be gained outside combat).

At the end of the combat, the PC rolls a Body saving throw. These are handled like Resource Dice in the Black Hack. The number of red tokens modifies the die roll. Actual wounds are counted as the number of red tokens minus the die roll.

Spot rules:

  • Occasionally damage is checked during combat, if the amount of harm exceeds a certain threshold.
  • Wounds are applied to one or more Ability Scores (Traveller style).
  • Armour and shields provide their own Resource Dice which can be used in place of the Body roll, both during combat and after.
  • Wounds can also have other effects; these will be dependent on the kind of damage the Monster does. For example, disease, corruption, poison, paralysis, bad odour.

Survivability

This system will make characters (a) more likely to take damage but (b) also more likely to survive it. There are reasons for this:

  1. The in-combat accumulation of points on the table should tell the players how tired and beaten up their characters are, so at any point they can choose to quit or continue. However they’re not obliged to do so unless the situation forces a roll from them.
  2. This means they can continue to have heroic fights against impossible odds, and otherwise survive. Furthermore the presence of demon armour (demons of durance) makes it easier for them to shrug off hits.
  3. Unlike other OSR games this game is less likely to make a character drop dead suddenly. Instead, they get debilitating injuries which need to be healed.
  4. If the characters use their demons to survive, their demons in turn gain Malice and the power to transgress. This transgression is a basic levelling-up of the demon, and it’s accompanied with new complications for the character — erosion of their friendships, gaining notoriety, etc. Thus you want the characters to survive, so they can transform and become more demonic.

TTFN

Sunday, 24 February 2019

The City Accelerated

Years ago I wrote a series of blog posts around the “City Accelerator”, a tool for creating and growing TTRPG cities (using partial inspiration from CRPGs).

I updated and collected the ideas in this document. It’s about 15 pages long and under 4000 words, too long for a single blog post, so this is a summary.

Goals

The aims were:

  1. Focus on the details that matter
  2. Player-facing; everything on the table
  3. Involve the PCs in the city
  4. Involve the players in the world-building

Method

This is how the tool is supposed to work. It has three sub-systems.

The first system considers a topological approach of Districts connected with Entry Points and populated by Spaces. Spaces are where scenes actually happen. Districts and Spaces can be tagged with descriptions such as “open”, “close”, “high”, “dirty”, “noble”, “crime” &c. Spaces inherit the tags from their District but also have their own individual tags.

The second system considers the people in the city, in three tiers. Pawns and Knights occupy the lowest tier as Free Agents, Bishops and Rooks hold the middle tier as the feudal lords of the city, and the King and Queen occupy the highest tier. Each kind of character has a certain property, e.g. Knights have Ambition, Bishops have Territory, the King has Divinity. Crucially moving between tiers strips a character of the property of their old role when then enter the new one (e.g. a Knight becoming a Bishop loses Ambition and gains Territory).

The third system is just a brainstorm around a set of questions around the sights that a visitor to the city might see, from seeing the city in the distance all the way to walking through the city to its Heart.

I’m going to develop three examples based on current and old RPGs I’ve run. One is a sort of traditional fantasy pre-apocalyptic game called Glory that I ran in the early 2000s (inspired by Viriconium as well as Grant Morrison), one is a modern OSR-ish game called Black Mantle that I’ve blogged about, and the third is Lag which is definitely at the Indie/Storygame end of the scale, and which I’m just getting into with the first few playtest games.

Comments welcome.

Addendum: later finds

These are resources I discovered after writing the original blog posts, but which complement the tool really well:

  • In Corpathium is a brilliant dice-on-the-table method for randomising city districts (I like dice on the table). The author is a Viriconium fan, too. The method proposed is totally compatible with mapping out Districts.
  • Sine Nomine games use location tags for fantasy, sf and modern horror RPGs; potential inspiration for all kinds of city tags.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Lag: the End

Begin with the end in mind, right? Here is a section on how to wrap up a campaign of Lag.

Finishing a game

As the game progresses through scenes, each character’s Arc will be explored through their Mission and Calls Home. Throughout this process the characters’ time zones will move from Home to local time, with an accompanying shift in Lag.

Character Arcs conclude in one of two ways:

  1. Going Home. The character returns to their point of origin, either willingly or not.
  2. Stay behind. The character could become naturalised, they could move on instead of going home, they could die, or they could abscond.

Which conclusion happens may be well signposted during play, or it may be a surprise. But one character will always Go Home, and one always Stays Behind.

(simple version)

The game enters its final stage when at least one character’s personal Time Zone equalises with Local Time (i.e. minimum local Lag, and maximum Lag for Calls Home). At that point the character may have two further scenes of their choice. One scene must resolve their Mission, and the other can either resolve their connection Home, or bid farewell to one or more PCs in a Hotel Encounter. After the second scene, they will take their Avatar off the time zone track and place it on the Going Home tile, and narrate their exit.

Following the first character’s exit, all other players must then resolve their Arcs within two scenes of the first character’s scene as before. The last character to conclude must Stay, and the other characters get a free choice.

(alternative version)

There are two Exit Cards on the table: one for Going Home and another for Staying. The first character to end their Arc picks whichever card they want and narrates what happens after they leave the Hotel.

The second character must take the other remaining card on the table; so if the first character Stays, they Go Home.
We now have two players holding Exit Cards. They may intrude on the remaining player’s final scenes as themselves, as NPCs, even as characters from Home by spending Drama Tokens as usual; and just like the other Dramatic Scenes this character wants some concession from the leaving character. If the leaving character grants the concession they accept the card and narrate their exit accordingly. If they refuse they must take the other card from the other player, who narrates that character’s exit and hands their card over.

Once the leaving character’s player has accepted a card they may use it in play in the same way.

(remarks)

I think I prefer the second option because it’s in keeping with the token economy of Dramasystem; but it’s reliant on leaving characters holding excess drama tokens on their exit for it to work. Playtesting needed.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Lag

This is a role-playing game about displacement, jet lag and home sickness. The characters are strangers staying in a luxury hotel in a foreign country.

During play the characters will discover the world outside their hotel life, have meaningful discussions in the hotel bar, and difficult conversations with whoever it is on the other end of the call home.

Lag

All of the characters suffer from Lag, the difference between their personal time zone, the time zone they left and local time. As the game progresses the characters will move away from their home time zone as they adjust to local time.

Scenes

During the game the players explore each character’s arc in three kinds of scenes:

Mission scenes explore the character’s reason for being here, and will involve their local contacts (to be played by other players). These will be connected with their Archetype (see below).

Calls home scenes explore the character’s ties back home. These connections may be personal (e.g. family, lovers) or professional (e.g. Head Office).

Hotel encounter scenes with other characters in the hotel. Chance encounters in the elevator, the bar, waiting outside the hotel for the morning taxi.

Archetypes

The Celebrity

This Archetype is all about connecting with fans and the public. Their Mission is to entertain, promote something or otherwise use their face and media presence for commercial gain.

The Corporate

This character is here to work with other members of their organisation. They may be discussing strategy, dividing spoils, or electing a leader. The character may well have to defend their territory from rivals.

The Entourage

They’re here simply as a hanger-on to someone else. They may be a child, a lover, or a freeloader. Their mission will be to make the best of their situation and not become bored.

The Entrepreneur

This person is here to buy or sell. Their wares could be rare, illegal or highly valuable; whatever the reason they need to be here to make the deal in person.

The Exile

This character is running from something. Maybe they’re a fugitive from justice, perhaps they’re a disgraced VIP, or they could be a refugee from a war zone.

The Hatchet

This character is a troubleshooter is here to fix a problem that relies on their expertise. This may involve a technical problem, political situation, or silencing someone. Expect hard decisions and not making any friends.

The Pilgrim

The Pilgrim is here to find something. It could be a reconciliation with a lost child or lover. It could be treasure, knowledge, or spiritual enlightenment. It could be inspiration for their next masterpiece.

The Player

This character is a criminal intent on theft of something from an individual or organisation. It could be a heist, a confidence trick, or state or industrial espionage.

Back Home

Examples of people you have left back home:

Domestic

The Domestic connection indicates a family member, dependent or lover. This relationship hinges on personal obligation and conversations will hinge on emotional connections such as family obligations, the status of a relationship, or guilt at being here and not at home to take care of the other person.

Head Office

This is someone with a position of power over the character. Obviously this could be a company boss, but equally it could be a crime boss, a family patriarch or matriarch, or even a client. In each case the conversation will hinge around business obligations, and the cost of the character’s inaction (both threats on the person and what failure means for the character’s organisation).

Nemesis

The last category is someone who poses a real threat to the character. They could be a rival who is eyeing up your territory, a cop who is convinced of your guilt, or a blackmailer who is trying to force you to do something.

The city state

The city-state is a peculiar mixture of ostentatious new wealth and conservative attitudes. It’s eager to court foreign business, and the city centre is a luxurious tourist hotspot and temple to capitalism with outstanding hotels for business guests and a dazzling array of restaurants and retail outlets to tempt passing travellers on an overnight layover. But outside this centre the state rules the population with draconian laws, overcrowding is severe and the gap between rich and poor is vast.

Systems

My first go-to system is Dramasystem and specifically Malandros for the dramatic vs. procedural scenes. In this example the Procedural scenes will probably fit with the character’s personal Mission, and the Dramatic ones will work with Hotel encounters and Calls Home.

PbtA is the alternative, which could work with the usual setup (follow the characters around for the first session) but might require careful consideration of the various Fronts.

Also, playbooks.

Inspiration

Mostly inspired by working for weeks on end in Singapore with an 8 hour time difference from home.

Film examples

RPG examples: Over The Edge (obviously).

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Cow sighted

Been quiet here and on the podcast for various reasons; the main one is I’ve been pouring my creative energies into getting ready for Concrete Cow 18.5 on the 15th September. I’m offering 2 games: in the morning I’ll be running StormHack (that’s Stormbringer meets Whitehack) with the classic Chaosium scenario “Stolen Moments” from the 4th edition Perils of the Young Kingdoms.

Getting ready for that has been relatively straightforward to the afternoon offering, where I’m hoping to run Grand Tableau (aka hipster Everway). I made a fortune deck using Lenormand cards (Pixie’s Astounding Lenormand, to be precise). I’m quite pleased at how it turned out…

First, slip the card into a standard MtG style card sleeve (I do this to protect the original Lenormand cards in case I want them back in the future). Then get some backing card, approximately tarot-sized. We mount the sleeved card onto the larger card with the card meaning below it, like this:

Then slip that whole thing inside a second card sleeve that’s sized for larger cards (I think the sleeves are made by FFG and designed for games like Dixit).

There we go… and the final touch, put the 36 cards inside a nice wooden box.

Quite pleased with this effort, and not a bad way to spend an evening while watching Iron Fist season 2 with one eye. Hopefully I’ll get takers on Saturday.

(the scenario is The Death Hand Of Saint No-One, which is actually a Continuum scenario — we’ll see how it turns out exchanging time travellers for urban magicians)

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Grand Tableau: Gates, Courts, Primes

And now for something completely different, because I can never work on just one project (in fact this is what was bugging me as I was trying to finish the last post).

This is my character sheet for Grand Tableau (a remix of Jonathan Tweet’s Everway using the 36 card Petit Lenormand deck, with elements in common with Amber).

The picture is low res but the vector pdf is here. Haven’t tried printing it yet.

Now, about the deck.

Cosmology and the Fortune Deck

The 36-card Lenormand deck has four Aces, twelve Court cards and twenty numbered cards. These represent three tiers of reality:

  • The Aces are the Primes, which are universal cosmic principles.
  • The Court cards are the four Courts of magic. These are the twelve schools of magic available to PCs (at the start). Kings are static, Queens are dynamic and Jacks are mutable. When I run this game I plan to make extra cards and give them to the players as table artefacts.
  • The numbered cards represent Gates between each tier of occult society. These correlate with the ratings in each element.

The Gates have a kind of informal hierarchy. No one card is necessarily stronger than another, but they represent a transformation of magical awareness.

  • The sixes represent the first step; gifts, opportunities, guidance and crossing thresholds.
  • The sevens are all about connections and networks in occult society.
  • The eights are about gathering, consolidation, thoughts and ideals, symbols and membership.
  • The nines concern themselves with legacies, remnants, plans, deep impressions, future vision, truth and falsehood.
  • Finally the tens are about evaluation, power, transformation and territory.

As magicians gain strength in each of the suits they will transform according to the level they’ve achieved. At a rating of six they become an attractor, becoming visible to occult agencies. At seven they will start to notice their peers. At eight they will acquire a mark that identifies them to their peers, and may choose to enroll in a College. Nine and ten are very uncommon and usually involve specialisation in the chosen College.

That will do for now. Time for bed.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

StormHack characters part 3: demons and ambitions

The character history method from part 2 should produce interesting, three-dimensional characters with a bit of mystery and personal plot hooks.

By comparison, demons are cartoonish, one-dimensional, one-trick ponies — which is intentional. Demons are all about a character’s singular purpose in life and how it’s both a path to power and damnation. Whereas the human side of the character should feel “real” with believable professions, the Demon side is much more like a character class.

I. Brief notes on demons

A demon represents a character’s drive. What I mean by this is that the demon is essential for the character’s heroic aspect. A superlative warrior unmatched in combat owes their ability to their demon; their identity is the demon, the two are inseparable.

There are six Demon Realms that define six dimensions of activity.

A Demon Realm has associated lesser and greater suits, or petitions which may be made for magical aid. A demon can access the lesser and greater suits from its realm, as well as the lesser suits from two adjacent realms.

A demon always seeks to transgress against its master. It achieves this goal by accumulating power through its master’s over-reliance on its services.

When a demon successfully transgresses, it undergoes metamorphosis.

II. Generating the demon character

To generate the demon half of the PC you need to decide on Drive, Demon Realm and Seeming.

Drive

Drive is a lot like a Character Class. It’s a direction for the character’s life, something they’re supernaturally good at. The basic fantasy tropes of fighter, magic user, thief and so forth work here; in fact I really encourage thinking in these terms. The demon is all about power and exceeding human capability, and the powers it bestows fit into these particular classes. In fact, it’s probably not possible to think about Drive without thinking about your demon’s Realm at the same time — so we’ll cover that next.

Demon Realm

The Realm of Violence defines warfare, causing harm and injury. Its demons are demons of combat, demon weapons. It borders the Realms of Durance and Majesty. It is almost always associated with martial Drives, i.e. fighters and soldiers.

The Realm of Durance concerns surviving pain, disease and injury, and superseding the limits of the body. Its demons are armour, shields, wards and pacts. It borders the Realms of Violence and Flux. It will be associated with martial pursuits as well as the wilderness, for example scouts and rangers, barbarians, and possibly some priests or druids.

The Realm of Flux concerns movement through and perceptions of space and time, and its demons are transporters, teleporters and gates. It borders the Realms of Durance and Contrivance. It is often associated with athletic and/or larcenous Drives such as thieves, acrobats, or assassins.

The Realm of Contrivance is about satisfying desires and needs. Its demons are lovers, seekers and procurers. It borders Flux and Voyance. Its drives are frequently arcane, including illusionists and sorcerers.

The Realm of Voyance deals with knowledge of past, present and future. It borders Contrivance and Majesty, and its demons are scryers, seers and ledgers, and its drives frequently involve priests, oracles and sages.

The Realm of Majesty controls minds. Its demons are possessors, controllers and parasites. It borders the realms of Voyance and Violence. Its drives are politicians, leaders and enchanters.

Seeming

Last, have an idea of what the demon looks like — to the PC, and to the external observer. Many demons, especially low level ones which are only beginning their metamorphosis, appear as some kind of motif on the character. A fighter might have a particular sword, for example. It could be clothes, body art, a piece of jewellery. It could be something large and immobile, for example a hotel, but this would limit the scope of the game to in and around the hotel (which wouldn’t play easily with a hex crawl).

Perhaps more interesting is the PC’s internal perception of their demon. If you go with the idea of the player to their left playing the demon from time to time, that player will be helped by knowing how the PC actually sees their demon. Is it a voice in their head, a long shadow from behind a tree, a reflection, a speck of dust in the corner of their eye? Or is it more overt, like a goblin that sits at the end of their bed?

III. Example: Kayl’s demon

We know a lot about Kayl’s past from part 2, but what about their ambition?

The obvious choice is to follow Kayl’s background and make them some kind of witch or mystic. Perhaps when the adventure starts they’re just on the cusp of awakening; they have realised their potential and manifested their own demon.

For Kayl’s Drive we simply write Fane Witch. That’s nice and punchy; it’s direct in the description with just a little hint of the connection to their backstory.

If Kayl’s a witch, the more obvious Realms for their demon are Voyance, Contrivance and Majesty. Contrivance would make them some kind of conjurer or illusionist, and a very physical kind of magician. Majesty would make them a kind of social manipulator, and confrontational with it. The middle ground is Voyance, which would make them a seer and able to connect with other worlds. Note that they will access minor powers from Contrivance and Majesty as well.

What is this demon’s Seeming? Kayl’s player decides that they have taken to wearing makeup outwardly, great black smears over each eye which makes them seem strange and ferocious despite their youth. Inwardly their demon mostly manifests in their dreams; it is the voice of the matriarch interred at Aelfa, speaking from the threshold of her tomb under a sky like ash.

And that’s all for now. I’ll come back to StormHack with actual mechanics in the near future. But the next post will be something a bit different.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

StormHack A6 and the 8 page method

I go back and forth between writing tools and methods (rich text, outliners, markdown, mind mapping) and those are all useful but also terrible for procrastination. This made me think back to my first A6 version of StormHack which by strange coincidence was posted exactly a year ago today.

8 Page, Thousand Word RPG method

Two nice things about the 8-page pamphlet format:

  1. It forced me to draw boxes around the system elements which really focused me on what I wanted to say to players
  2. It also forced me to be economical with writing

The word count is at most 135 words per page, so 8 pages is just over a thousand words — call it a 125 word-per-page target for a nice round number. This is just for one side of A4 paper folded into an 8-page booklet, not counting the other side.

Now although people have risen to the 200 word RPG challenge (hey look, the deadline is tomorrow) I think for me even 1000 words will be a stretch to fit everything in; so instead I need to think about what my little booklet will do. It should be something I can hand out at the table that explains everything people need to know about the system.

What about the other side of the page? Maybe a map, setting detail, or a character sheet. But that’s for some other time.

StormHack 2.0

For now, here’s version 2 of A6-StormHack. Print it, cut and fold where it tells you and you’ll have the booklet. I’ve taken a knife to some of the sections in the previous versions; it’s much more mechanic focused. See if it makes sense.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Bolt On

This was unexpected:

It’s a tweet from Sean Nittner from a series concerning submissions for Forged In The Dark. Weirdly the image comes from a two year old post from this blog concerning Dice Clocks.

(it made me wonder if he’d read what I wrote and this was some very, very oblique vaguebooking)

The opening tweet is a bit nonsensical: if you’ve created a rule for a new kind of action, then surely the system reflects that by definition. But I don’t want to take it out of context so here’s the whole text for this point:

Mechanics concern: Bolting on new tech. If you’ve got a rule for a new kind of action in the game, that is fantastic. If it’s core to the game that’s even better. The trick is to make the system reflect that, which might make for a deep (and possibly uncomfortable) dive.

If games looks like “Everything Blades has plus a random treasure table” or really “and plus anything” then chances are there is still to many Blades in your Dark! Consider these ideas (and I’d love to hear more):

  • Create your system from the fiction you want to see. Decide what you care about (that’s really important, this is your game, what YOU care about is what matters here) and build from there.

  • Consider your values and how they affect your design choices. They always are!

  • Question the narrative of play. Why the are the characters taking the actions they do? What is happening in your setting? How do those interact?

  • Leave spaces to fill in the details, but define enough of it that everyone knows the basic parameters they are working with.

Crucially Nittner is speaking as a publisher to a potential pitch, so his opinion is critical (in more than one sense): this is what he would like to see from a differentiating product. I’m not that audience, although I am an advocate for genre awareness (hence Fictoplasm). But I’d also say, why not bolt things on? A lot of games are modular by design, Blades included (along with PbtA, OSR, etc.).

The other interesting thing is this is Evil Hat, home of FATE, a system so generic and malleable that it should be simple to apply desired settings (a great strength, particularly if you’re developing games). But with FitD suddenly talking about baked-in mechanics which drive towards a particular genre. I’d be very interested to see how much the different Forged products differentiate themselves from the source and each other. I think I’m right to say the best PbtA games require incredible dedication and thought, plus engagement with the playtest base to achieve the creator vision.

Will company oversight help the differentiation, or will everything come out smelling of FATE?