2018-12-07

Just Like 1977

Last Saturday I visited the "near future" from the perspective of 1977. You can hear about my experiences and get a bit of a dramatic reading from the Ogre rulebook on episode 20 of my podcast.

This weekend I'm going to test my mettle in the dungeon with Death Test 1.

 

Wish me luck?

Adding Profession/Background to Simple Skills

In my last post I talked about a simple skill system.

The GM sets difficulty at 4, 5, or 6, then indicates the related ability. Players roll some number of dice based on their bonus:

-1 or worse: roll 2d6 and take worst
0: roll d6
+1: roll 2d6 and take best
+2: roll 3d6 and take best

Basically you roll d6 equal to your mod+1, unless it's negative.

But what if you want a profession or "background" to play into it? Then I would ratchet it all down 1 step. You roll dice equal to your bonus. If you don't have a positive bonus, you roll 2d6 and take the worst. However, if you have an applicable background, add 1d6. So, the new rules set looks like this:

Simplified Skills (w/B)

  • If you have an applicable background, you get one die (d6). You also get one die for each positive point of related ability bonus.
  • If this gives you more than one die, roll them and take the best one.
  • If you have no dice (no applicable p/b and no positive modifier), you roll 2d6 and take worst.
  • If you match or beat the target difficulty set by the GM (4, 5, or 6), you succeed.

The odds are the same:





2018-12-06

021 Many Voices Make Podcasting Better

It's an all call-in show with Ivy "The Happy Whisk," Colin "Spikepit," Darren "RFED," and Carl from the Megadungeon podcast. Topics include anxiety at the table, dealing with creative struggles (follow up), a new type of table, "telling it to the page," and much more.

020 Cybernetic Tanks, 1977

• Steve Jackson's Ogre -> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogre_(game)
• Newer Versions -> www.sjgames.com/ogre/
• Winchell's Story ver 1 -> www.projectrho.com/ogre.html
• Winchell's Story ver 2 -> www.sjgames.com/ogre/products/ogrezine/forgingfirstogre.html
• Music behind reading is "Boss Battle" (altered) by Mystery Mammal
• Intro/Outro Music is "You Can Use" by Captive Portal

2018-12-04

Simple Skills System

This is just an idea I had for skills in B/X, 0e, or AD&D. 

Of course, the GM has to agree to let you try. If you want to try playing a song on a lute with zero experience, the GM can just say you fail. 

When the GM decides to call for a skill roll, they set the difficulty at 4 (easy), 5 (average), or 6 (difficult). The player must roll that number or higher to succeed on one or more dice. The number of dice rolled is based on the related skill and its modifier as follows:
  • Ability -1 or worse, roll 2d6 and take the lowest
  • Ability +0, roll 1d6
  • Ability +1, roll 2d6 and take the best
  • Ability +2 or more, roll 3d6 and take the best
The odds work out like this:


Why is this better than simply trying to roll under you raw ability with a d20? For one thing it's roll high = good, which seems to be more intuitive. It also lets you set a difficulty level, where you would have to use modifiers to do that with the d20. 

2018-11-30

Road Wars

I had totally forgotten about this game design until someone brought up playing with Matchbox tanks on the floor with their son. This is a race game I designed to be played on the floor with any kind of vehicle toy, but especially with ones you make out of plastic building blocks.

One of these days I may dust this off and try to improve it. For now, here's the download.


https://www.flickr.com/photos/33789024@N03/3780750008/in/photostream/

2018-11-28

018 Call-in-apalooza

• Jim Jones Extra Life -> www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=39374
• Larry - Follow Me and Die! -> anchor.fm/follow-me-and-die
• Judd - Daydreaming About Dragons -> anchor.fm/daydreaming-about-dragons
• Cody M - No Save for You! -> anchor.fm/nosaveforyou
• Rich - Cockatrice Nuggets -> anchor.fm/rich-fraser
• Ivy - Happy Whisk -> anchor.fm/thehappywhisk
• Colin Green - Spikepit -> anchor.fm/spikepit

2018-11-19

There and Back Again

[Rules update log below downloads. Last update 11/24/2018 5:21 pm (PST).]

This is a small game I have been fiddling with for some time. The inspiration came from two articles about how the 1937 edition of The Hobbit differed from its more commonly read revised version and what kind of world was implied by that edition, sans Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion. The articles probably explain it better than I can, so I linked them below, but here is the introduction text to the game.

You are an adventurer in the world of The Hobbit. Specifically the world as it appeared in the 1937 edition of that book. Anyone can be a wizard with the right knowledge, trolls turn to stone in the sunlight, animals or magical objects can speak, elves aren't always nice, and the wild is full of terrible creatures like goblins, giant spiders, and even dragons!

(Art © William McCausland, used with permission.)

You need 3d6 and the rules (link below) to play. When you print the sheet, set it horizontally/landscape, two-sided, binding on short edge. And don't let the printer scale it down. Then fold it accordion-style so that the title is on the front and the character sheet on the back. (Fold it once more if you want to stick it in your pocket.)

Rules

Articles (one is linked inside the other)

Rules Updates:
11/24/2018 - Ver 0.4b clarified player facing rolls, reorganized, added example dangers
11/23/2018 - Ver. 0.3 clarified how toughness works, failures, dangers, monsters.

2018-11-09

Bronze Age RPGs

A conversation mentioned on my recent Plundergrounds podcast (episode 14).

Ray: What are your favorite bronze age games, if any?

Chris: First tell me what you mean by 'bronze age', please.

Ray: Historically, pre-iron age? LOL. I realize that it varies by region. I suppose I mean the period between neolithic man and iron age man. So ... cities, agriculture, basic metal working, alphabet, etc. Roughly 3000 - 1000 BCE. In fantasy terms, any setting where iron is rare and city-states are the norm. Sword and sandals.

Chris: OK, good enough. Paul and I are in the final stages of just such a project, but it won't be out until next year and it's more book that you usually want. But it does have city states up the wazoo.

Here's the best of the rest:

Red Gods of Babylon looks very cool. Full game, appears to be free. The creator makes some odd errors, but only a scholar would notice. This product more than any other I've seen demonstrates a serious historical effort. I haven't had a chance to properly read it, so can't comment on the system, but it looks like something I'd have fun playing.

Blood & Bronze is looks to be more made up than historical, judging by this line from the review: "Ninlil, the Queen of No Court, the patron deity of adventurers and caravan-folk, of shipwrecks, graverobbers, and runaways." This is just pure invention, as far as I can tell. Doesn't bear much relation to historical Ninlil, in any case. But the product looks pretty slick.

Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia is, as near as I can tell, a fantasy setting inspired by Mesopotamia, with little to no historical merit.

Ankur: Kingdom of the Gods I have no idea if this was ever actually published, but it has ancient aliens. Seems to be inspired by Sitchin, not history.

The Ishtar Gate seems to be Spanish language only, another fantasy setting inspired by Mesopotamia.

There used to be a fan made setting for BRP systems called Uruk that was pretty good, but only in French, and doesn't seem to be available anymore. There was also a BRP ancient Egypt book, but only in Italian.

GURPS probably has a few, and their products are well regarded. Low Tech is a kind of bronze age equipment guide that I see talked about a lot.

For a fantasy version of Egypt, there's Hamunaptra by Green Ronin.

Also by Green Ronin, and more historical is Trojan War, but Im not sure really how historical it is, or how Bronze Age it is. The Trojan War took place at the cusp of the Iron Age, and everything we know about it comes from Homer who wrote 400 years later, and only some of what he had to say was born up archaeologically.

And of course there's Testament which is really iron age, but is pretty cool all the same, and a decent historical effort.

You know about Agon, also set just after the Trojan War. And also in that vein is Arete which looks pretty cool. I'd buy it if there was a print version I didn't have to pay an arm and leg for for shipping.

A homeric game using Pendragon rules was supposedly written, but never published.

And you know Paul Elliott made a bunch of free historical games like Zenobia and Warlords of Alexander. Those are all iron age, though. There are a bunch of Rome games (iron age). And Paul's own very cool Hunters of Alexandria, also iron age.

That's all I'm aware of. Most people seem to think that Greek Hoplites = Bronze age, which is why I asked.

I've not so far seen any treatment of these bronze age cultures: Crete, Hittites, Elamites, Indus Valley, Mycenaeans, or China (though a Mycenaean book will also be released next year in the same series as our Babylonian book).

How's that?

Ray: That's so awesome!! So here's the thing, I was going to talk (briefly!) about bronze age games on my podcast. Do you want me to tease that you and Paul are working on one or just keep my mouth shut about that?

Chris: You can tease if you want. It's called Mythic Babylon, published by the Design Mechanism as part of their Mythic series for their game, Mythras. Already published are Mythic Britain (dark ages), Mythic Rome (republic, iron age), and Mythic Constantinople (early medieval). Coming next year are Mythic Babylon (middle bronze age) and (perhaps) Mythic Mycenae (late bronze age). I head tell of a New Kingdom Egypt, too which would be late bronze age.

And yes, I meant Paul Mitchell for Hunters of Alexandria, and Paul Elliott for Warriors of Alexander and Zenobia.

Paul: Apocryphal has already mentioned most of the ones I'm familiar with, including Agon and the Mythic series.

For a purely fantasy but bronze-age inspired setting, there's a Fate-based game, Crestfallen.

While still talking about purely fantasy games, Glorantha is a bronze age setting and the myths are certainly Mesopotamian-inspired.

If you want a really out-there take on ancient Greece, there's Hellas (Ancient Greeks in space!)

And lastly, still on ancient Greece, and more historical than the above, but still more mythical (not to mention Iron Age rather than Bronze Age), there's Blood of the Gods, the first published RPG thing I wrote.

Chris: To be clear about Glorantha, it's an original fantasy setting where Bronze is the main metal, but other than that it's not especially 'bronze age'. It draws from many times and cultures, and some parts of the world are inspired by Bronze Age Mesopotamia. I think I can see Hittite influences in the myths. It really is its own setting (and one of the best ever published IMO), not just a fantasy version of our world with the serial numbers filed off.

Of the other games mentioned above, Tekumel isn't a bronze age game. If anything it's science-fantasy. It draws inspiration from ancient India, Mesoamerica, and other places. It's thoroughly fascinating.

Earthdawn I'm not really familiar with, but I'd be surprised if it's 'bronze age'. It really ought to take more than just 'bronze is the metal we use' to make something 'bronze age'. Let's call this kind of game 'Bronze Envy'.

Ray: Bronze Envy. LOL. That's good.

014 Bronze Age Games, Advanced Sorcerers & Sellswords

• Ray's Radio Revival: Universe -> radiorevival.blogspot.com/2013/12/universe-dimx-xmin.html
• Mythras -> thedesignmechanism.com/
• Bronze Age Games -> jellysawgames.blogspot.com/2018/11/bronze-age-rpgs.html
• Sorcerers & Sellswords -> jellysawgames.blogspot.com/p/sorcerers-sellswords.html

2018-11-06

012 Downside Up

• Spikepit -> anchor.fm/spikepit
• Sword Breaker -> anchor.fm/dmdad
• DM Dad -> anchor.fm/dm-dad
• Beowulf audiobooks
- S. Heany abridged -> tinyurl.com/y9yx9qrj
- S. Heany read by Guidall -> tinyurl.com/y96xl4b8
- B. Flynn read by Logan -> tinyurl.com/y7erpuyj
- C. W. Kennedy read by Griffin -> tinyurl.com/y83x2c9p
- Sutcliff prose version -> tinyurl.com/ya4ezrhy
• Dragonslayer -> www.imdb.com/title/tt0082288/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
• Veins of the Earth -> tinyurl.com/yayv7kbb
• Tome of Adventure Design -> froggodgames.com/frogs/product/tome-of-adventure-design-2/
• Microscope -> www.lamemage.com/microscope/
• How to Host a Dungeon -> tonydowler.com/projects/how-to-host-a-dungeon/
• Fan play-through -> www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzhprAUoJXs
• Tony Dowler (the creator) playtesting HtHaD v2 -> www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHrCSJpt9Xd56LTh4Ozc5yk9e-aLnXgQK

2018-10-17

009 Finding Nemo - The Other One

• 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) Trailer
-> www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVHqBr3C0zc
• Not the scene I referenced, but still some damn good organ!
-> www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyQFnzcLE5A
• Logan Howard's Sword Breaker Podcast
-> anchor.fm/sword-breaker

2018-10-12

007 Military SF Planning Part 2

Yes, those are planes in the background. I was recording from a cul-de-sac near a small airport.
• Metagaming & Steve Jackson's OGRE
-> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogre_(game)
• Laumer's Bolo Fiction
-> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolo_universe
• Larry Hamilton's Follow Me and Die!
-> followmeanddie.com/
• 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars
-> www.drivethrurpg.com/product/56768/Three-Sixteen
• Carry by Nathan Paoletta
-> ndpdesign.com/carry-a-game-about-war/
• Logan's Sword Breaker zine
-> www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/11205/Sword-Breaker
• Stay Frosty
-> www.drivethrurpg.com/product/206742/Stay-Frosty
• Kirbys Kids
-> www.kirbyskids.com/

2018-10-04

004 Dungeon World Moves

A solo-rant for people new to Dungeon World or veterans who want to understand moves better. I talk about what they are, what the basic pattern is, why the "irritating" advice "Don't say the name of your move" is important, how the levels of success match up to D&D combat rolls, and talk about moves as a social contract.

2018-09-27

003 Grab Bag

• It's a Grab Bag! (Random thoughts and call-ins.)
• Colin from the Spikepit podcast talks bio-dungeons and Goblintown
-> anchor.fm/spikepit
-> jellysawgames.blogspot.com/p/goblintown.html
• Urmo the Magnificent
• Cody M on unruly reptile familiars
• My Kickstarter Attitude Adjustment
• Frank Turfler of the Liner Notes podcast talks about bio-dungeons
-> anchor.fm/frankt
• Reading Dragonlance at 50
• Final Thoughts/Responses to Callers

2018-09-24

002 Bio-Dungeons

• Jason Hobbs, Podcasting Junky
-> hobbsnfriends.com/
-> hextalk.audiodungeon.com/
-> anchor.fm/jason-hobbs
• Logan Howard & Jesse Ross, Sword Breaker
-> www.rpgnow.com/browse/pub/11205/Sword-Breaker
• Evyln Moreau, Patreon
-> www.patreon.com/evlynmoreau
• Andrew Walter, Expectorating Encrustor
-> www.andrewwalter.co.uk/
• Ray Otus
-> www.patreon.com/rayotus
-> www.jellysaw.com/

2018-09-19

001 Making the Fantastic Familiar

• RIP Meathead
• Familiars and Animal Companions
• Pack World (Dragonriders of Pern, Elfquest)
-> jellysawgames.blogspot.com/2017/08/plundergrounds-45-pack-world-free.html
• Tension between the Fantastic and the Real
• Setting vs. Player responsibility for "Realism"
• Homework!
• Mailbag: Colin "Spikepit"
• On Fighting Fantasy
-> www.gauntlet-rpg.com/fear-of-a-black-dragon/the-warlock-of-firetop-mountain
• Troika! and Evolving vs. Set-It-and-Forget-It Initiative
-> www.rpgnow.com/product/199603/Troika
-> www.rpgnow.com/product/231948/Troika-Initiative-Cards
• Other Stuff
-> www.patreon.com - subscribe to the Plundergrounds zine
-> www.jellysaw.com - free games and articles
-> I'm "Ray Otus" on Google+ & Goodreads
-> Music is "You Can Use" by Captive Portal

2018-09-18

000 Pilot

In this pilot episode I talk about
• Forest Hymn & Picnic - www.kickstarter.com/projects/cecil-howe/the-forest-hymn-and-picnic?ref=user_menu
• Troika! - Free, no art version: www.rpgnow.com/product/199604/Troika--Free-Artless-Edition?manufacturers_id=6992
• Astro- - an in-development 2-player game
• Books - Dragonlance, Nero Wolfe, Invisible Cities, Sandman, Dr. Strange & Dr. Doom
• Jianghu Hustle - misdirectedmark.com/category/podcasts/jianghu/

2018-09-13

Principia Apocrypha

I read this over the weekend and the advice is very good. (Also the illustrations by Evlyn Moreau are super cool.) The funny thing is I was just finishing up a very close read of the Dungeon World text. Coupled with that, I had just heard Jason Cordova and Jason Hobbs on the Hobbs & Friends of the OSR podcast talk about the 'horseshoe effect.' And that gave me a different perspective on Principia.

The horseshoe effect says that the indie/story game scene and the OSR scene, being at opposite ends of a kind of spectrum, are actually closer to each other than everything in the middle, like the two ends of a horseshoe.

Principia Apocrypha is one good example, I think. The OSR advice in here follows the format of the GM/MC agenda from PbtA games. And all of it, with one or two minor exceptions, is absolutely applicable to Dungeon World. (Often it is essentially the same advice given in Dungeon World, just stated differently.)

Anyway, it's free and it's worth your time.
https://lithyscaphe.blogspot.com/p/principia-apocrypha.html

2018-08-28

Dungeon World with the Brews, Bones, and Blades

Session 1: In One Bite

Characters

JJ is Fenfaril, and Elf Mage aligned to The Clock: a chronomancer. She has styled, short hair, a think body, and is of indeterminate age. Her robes are a mishmash of styles, some dated, some futuristic.
Bill is Marikoth, an Elf Fighter who wields a shield and wicked, flesh-rending flail covered in piercing spikes and hooks. He has hard eyes, wild her, scarred skin, and a ravaged body: battleworn.
Both are of neutral alignment.

Intro

GM: You are struggling to stay afloat in violently churning water, grasping at bits of wreckage from The Cupid. It is sinking so fast that only its wide stern is still visible. Aside from that single break in the horizon there is only water and wreckage as far as the eye can see. Your greatest fear is the sharks that are happily picking off your fellows one by one. That is, until…
The water begins to “boil” beneath you, fish leap from the surface all around, some of them flying blindly into you with great force in their sheer panic. Then a ring of translucent white spikes break the surface in all directions. These rapidly growing peaks form a circle easily 30 yards in diameter.
A whirlpool begins to form inside this growing ring of … Teeth! 
Only when you see a ring of grayish-pink gum beneath the tree-sized spurs of bone do you realize these jagged triangles are the teeth of the most massive creature you have ever seen …. and you are going down its gullet!
Let’s go back about 10 minutes…

The Sinking of The Cupid

Questions

[Note, I planned this one-shot to run at a con for a table of six, so I went ahead and asked all my questions, even though there were only two players.]
GM: Marikoth, what disturbing rumors floated around the docks about The Cupid, and why did you board her anyway? 
M: She's in bad need of repairs, but we are desperate!
GM: Fenfaril, where is The Cupid headed and why is it so important you reach there?
F: To the forest island of Quendril. We carry a summons from the queen of the elves; she calls for her brother. 
GM: Marikoth, you once swore you would never get on a ship again. Why? What changed? 
M: I get terribly seasick! I have sailed three times since anyway, but only to serve the Queen herself will I get on a ship.
GM: Fenfaril, what made the Captain of the Cupid turn south into the fabled Sea of Monsters?!
F: Three pirate ships were closing in on us.
GM: Fenfaril, there was a famous explorer lost in this sea nearly ten years ago. What was that explorer's name and what did they seek to discover?
F: Bombaril was searching for the Isle of Mermaids.
GM: Marikoth, you catch one of the other passengers looking at you several times during the voyage, describe them. Why do you think they are interested in you? 
M: The person I catch staring at me is a refined man in charge of others. I think he's looking at my scars.
GM: Ok, both of you, where were you when you felt something collide with the ship and everyone began shouting?
F: In my cabin, reading.
M: On the focsle, heaving!

Going Down

GM: The ship is listing hard to starboard, stern down. It makes you slightly nauseous. Everyone is screaming for help and clawing at the higher and dryer portions of planking. What do you do?
[Marikoth grips the mast, but (Defy Danger STR, 6-) it cracks beneath the weight of fallen rigging and everyone climbing on it.] 
GM: He pitches into the water and will surely drown in all that armor if he doesn't find a bit of flotsam soon! (M: Defy Danger STR to swim to the fallen mast, 7-9.) You see a piece of the mast, but it is already overloaded with people. To get a spot you know what you will have to do! (Put them in a spot.)
[Marikoth pulls another poor soul off, into the water, without a second thought and grips the mast!]
GM: In the hold, Fenfaril, your cabin is beginning to fill with water. Through your cabin door you hear pounding feet and the cracking of timbers. What are you doing?
[Fenfaril hears the confusion and tries to assess the situation (Discern Realities 6-), but he can't see much from inside his cabin and the water is rising! He summons his magical energies and tries to slow time around him so he has more time to act (Cast 7-9, in doesn't last long). He manages to gather his stuff and work his way through the confusion and up the ladder before he feels the spell slipping.]
GM: Marikoth, something bumps into your leg and slides by. Seconds later you catch the round eyes of another swimmer nearby, and then they are jerked under - mouth open for a scream that never escapes their lungs.
Marikoth: I see the inevitable and I try to hold onto the mast until the last second. As the creature closes his mouth I'm hoping the mast lodges in it sideways. I try to paddle with my feet and position it. (Defy Danger STR, 12!)
GM: You do that! Fenfaril, your head is peering out of the hatch. The shipmates you just climbed over to get there are now slowly, slowly turning their heads to stare at you. What do you do?
Fenfaril: I look around. Is there a captain's launch? A small boat I could free? 
GM: There is, but how are you going to get there with the deck nearly vertical? 
Fenfaril: I assess the situation, running through the steps of what I'm about to attempt in my mind. I'm visualizing a complicated, acrobatic path to the boat.
[GM: Like in the Sherlock Holmes movie? F: Nods. GM: Yes!! -- I can't remember what we rolled here, but he got a 7-9]
GM: You see it! But at one point you have to swing from a rope and "catch" a spar as it swings around. Trouble is, that spar is heavy looking and it's coming fast. It's going to hurt!!
Fenfaril: Yes it is. I leap into the air, landing on the second mast that is now horizontal, running along its length. I grab the rope I've seen will be there and swing into empty space. 
GM: The spar catches you right in the midriff, knocking the air out of you (roll d6 damage). 
Fenfaril: Oof. Okay, I drop into the boat though. Shaken but mostly ok. 
[Fenfaril tries to cut both ropes holding the launch up at the same time and fails miserably. One end swings below the other and he is forced to choose (put them in a spot) to either hold onto the boat or his bag of books, which he used to grab one of the ropes and bring it within cutting distance. He chooses his books and falls into the drink and goes under.]
GM: Mariketh, your plan worked! For what that's worth. As the massive creature draws its jaws together, blotting out the sun, the mast catches for a moment, holding the jaws apart. Below your dangling feet you see the water, wreckage, and people draining away into its gullet. And ... you see a whole world below. It's like you are looking into a huge natural chimney. There are strange living creatures on the walls and flitting through the air below you. The last of the water is almost gone and you can feel the mast flexing. It's time for you to take the fall or ...
M: Yeah, I drop! 
GM: You do...

Flashback

GM: In your final moments you think back over your life...
GM: Marikoth your weapon bears scars on it too. What great battle are they from?
M: They are from the war against the bugbears and giants.
GM: How did your weapon save your life in that battle?
M: I was falling, spent, and an ogre was bearing down on me. I flung my weapon at his head as a last ditch effort. It smashed into his forehead, flying higher and farther than could possibly be explained by my weak throw, and felled the ogre. It toppled and landed just inches beside me, then I passed out. When I awoke the battle was over and I had been counted among the dead.
GM: Fenfaril, you are seeking a rare ingredient for a ritual that you are desperate to perform. What is the ingredient? 
F: A pixie trapped in amber.
GM: What do you hope to do with that?
F: The queen is passing into the West. It's why she has called her brother. We need a repository for her knowledge that we can consult when she's gone. We want to save all that lore.
GM: And the amber is/will be the repository?
F: Yes.
GM: Your mentor tried the ritual once before you. What is your mentor's name and why did he fail?
F: Quelan, In his pride he tried to be the vessel himself. He is now a mindless, drooling invalid.

GM: Intense cold. Muffled sounds. Tumbling uncontrollably in a rush of seawater, alongside other creatures and bits of The Cupid. No sense of up or down, no hope. The end comes with a crash that knocks the remaining air out of your lungs. Against your will you gasp for air … 
And there is air! 
You are lying on a spongey beach of flesh and the remaining wave of water flows past you into a dark tunnel. The stench of rotting flesh and seawater is almost unbearable, but you are, for the moment alive. And you have no idea which way is out. What do you do?

2018-07-19

Hacking Lasers & Feelings

I am a huge fan of the elegance and simplicity (and play value) of John Harper's Lasers & Feelings.

In a nutshell, L&F is a one-page game inspired by Star Trek and the music of The Doubleclicks. Character creation takes only a minute or two, each player choosing a few descriptors and setting a single character stat on a continuum between 1 (Feelings) and 6 (Lasers). This effectively means the character has two stats, because you have to roll under your number to succeed at Lasers (science & reason) and over your number to succeed at Feelings (rapport & passion). You get extra dice to roll if you are an expert or prepared to do the thing you describe, and the number of success you roll matters. There's a bit more to it than that, but not much.

Game play is a bit like a Powered-by-the-Apocalypse game in that there are multiple shades of success, all rolls are player-facing, and the GMing advice echoes PbtA - play to find out what happens, use failures to push action forward, etc.

I have no experience with the game in long-form, but as a con game you can run in as little as 2-3 hours, it's fantastic. I've probably run it two dozen times that way. It's also a great game to hack and has inspired numerous derivations. I am going to write about some of the better ones in another article, but I want to go into the why and how and hacking L&F here.

Why is Lasers & Feelings so hackable?

  • It's fast and light, so it's a perfect way to play a setting that attracts you but either doesn't have a system yet or is tied to a system that's too heavy for your taste. Especially if you only want to experience the setting for 1-6 sessions. 
  • The text is short and most of it is universally applicable (e.g. GM advice), so you only need to re-write bits and pieces.
  • John has kindly released it under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, so you can make your hack public as long as you give John credit, don't charge $ for it, and share it under the same license.
  • It's a really fun game! (Who wants to hack a game that isn't?)

What do I have to change?

There are two levels to hacks, "re-skins" that just change the setting and "derivations" that mess with the mechanics. 

Re-Skins

To re-skin L&F you need to change three things:
  1. The dice poles. You do this by asking yourself how characters in your setting cope with challenges. You are looking for two complementary/opposite methods of dealing with the world. For a fantasy game it might be Might (fighting, feats of strength, hardiness) and Magic (lore, spellcasting, charisma). For a Lovecraftian horror game it might be Books (scholarly pursuits) and Bullets (action-oriented stuff). Keep in mind that your character will always have at least a 17% chance of succeeding at their worst pole. So a warrior in the aforementioned fantasy game could still attempt Magic (e.g. spell-casting or maybe just trying to use magic items). Honestly, setting your dice poles is probably the hardest bit of hacking you will do. You want something intuitive, meaningful, and cool. By setting your dice pools you are literally deciding what your game is about and what characters do in it.
  2. The character descriptors. This is really several things in one. In L&F you have descriptive characteristics: Style, Role, and Goal. Each is represented by a list of choices, e.g. "Choose a style for your character: Alien, Android, Dangerous, Hot-Shot, Intrepid, Savvy, or Sexy." You also have a few lists that describe the characters as a group or their key asset, the ship. The important thing is that these are all just lists of descriptors. Re-writing the descriptors and possibly changing the labels for the categories will give you a whole different feel. Think of this as the chrome of your setting. Want to create a L&F hack loosely based on the videogame Joust? Your roles might be: Knight, Bird-Tamer, Daredevil, Scout... Want a Fast & Furious hack? Your styles might be: Family, Sexy, Smart, Fearless... Be careful about descriptors that are vague or broad. You may find that they apply more often than not to actions, which can make them boring.
  3. The adventure generator. In L&F you have four random tables of six items each. Together they form a sentence that is the thesis or central problem of each session. Rewriting these tables (and possibly how they fit together to form the idea) describes some of the possible narratives in the setting, so it's worth taking some time here to think about variety. Try to make the combinations take you down a number of different story "types." A bad fantasy generator, for instance, would just tell you when and where you fight monsters. A good fantasy generator might have you intervening in a lover's quarrel between warring tribes in one game and digging up a dangerous artifact in another.
That's pretty much it for a re-skin! You can repeat John's excellent advice text or modify it to suit your tastes. 

Derivations

Some things you might change if you want to go deeper and make a derivative game:
  • Add "levels" or some other support for long-term play.
  • Mess with Laser-Feelings so that when you roll on (not over or under) your number something happens other than gaining insight. 
  • Swap out the adventure generator for something that works differently. I have seen some neat collaborative map-building things in this slot.
Some things you probably don't want to mess with:
  • Adding more ways to get dice. Adding dice dynamically ups the character's success rate. It's already fairly easy to get at least a mixed success, so keep it challenging.
  • On a related note, adding skills or stunts or spell lists or magic items. Essentially anything that would undermine/trump the descriptors as the thing that makes your character an expert or prepared.
  • Having more than one stat/two poles. Once you go with a third stat, you have essentially broken one of the game's core concepts. I have toyed with the idea of a second continuum that is "perpendicular" to the first. For instance you might create an Avatar hack that forces you to set a number between Fire and Water, and one between Earth and Sky (air), for instance.
  • Adding damage (hit points and weapon damage).

In any case, derivations need play-testing. The base L&F system is a tight design. If you monkey with the bones of the game you might throw the game play off kilter. Just be ready to re-balance the mechanics to keep the game fun and true to the original spirit. Or, if you are departing from the spirit of the original, think about where you are headed and how you are going to get there. Don't just bolt on mechanics from your favorite games. L&F is so lean that it could be like putting a snowplow on the front of your bicycle.

2018-05-18

Plundergrounds 6.5: Plundered Pages 1 (Free!)


Download: Screen - Booklet 

This 32 page zine compiles all the extra materials for Plundergrounds released to date, with revisions and lots of new content.

Inside you'll find:
  • Items, locations, monsters, NPCs, and effects that supplement the themes in issues 1-6 of Plundergrounds. 
  • Maps for Ape City and Kazarak, drawn after those issues were released. 
  • Fan-sourced content, like cool breath attacks and hoard curses for dragons, a plethora of dungeon doors, and three sample entries for ...
  • The Alpha World challenge! A creative exercise for making up more interesting fantasy settings.
  • Toolbox essays and commentary that were cut to make room for more adventure content. 
  • A dwarf shrine (move, spell, and item) that was first published in The Gauntlet Codex zines: https://www.patreon.com/gauntlet.
  • Brand new material centered around art that I commissioned but which went unused, including… 
  • A new map-based one-shot adventure, The Giant's Rest, featuring flora and fauna mutated by a magic pool and a dead giant's skeleton.


2018-04-24

Plundergrounds 6: The Black Gate


Plundergrounds is a series of theme-forward zines devoted to Dungeon World adventures. Each 24-page issue features a new and different setting with enough content to keep a group of players happy for 1-5 sessions.

Character death is a part of Dungeon World and the Last Breath move is one of the game’s signature elements. But what if death were the focus of a session or three? What terrible purpose would cause characters to journey in Death’s realm? What strange things lie beyond the Black Gate? How would they escape Death’s greedy clutches?

Journeys into the underworld are as old as literature, literally. Gilgamesh enters the land of the dead hoping to bring back the secret of immortality. Odysseus, desperate for advice, sailed to the edge and poured out libations to the seer Tiresias. Finding himself lost in the dark valley, Danté navigated the rings of hell to find a way back out. And those are just a few stories from Western culture. Look up Yudhishthira, Izanagi and Izanami, the hero twins of the Maya, Kaknu, and King Gesar!

“Appendix N” works for this issue are:

The Earthsea Trilogy (books, 1968-72), Ursula K. Le Guin. In Earthsea, dead spirits go to a dark valley under strange stars. That was my starting point.

City of the Singing Flame (short story, 1931), Clark Ashton Smith. I have always loved stories about magic portals and this story haunts me with its alluring, immolating column.

The Passing of the Grey Company (chapter in Return of the King, 1955), J. R. R. Tolkien. The tone of Aragorn’s ride to call out the oath breakers is so freaking awesome!

What You Carry (200 word RPG, 2017), Evey Lockhart. First line: “Awaken and fall through the bottom of your grave.” It’s amazing; read it and others at https://200wordrpg.github.io.

To purchase this issue, visit the Plundergrounds Back Issues page.

2018-02-27

PocketMod Games

PocketMod is a one-page, book fold format. It's a little tricky to work with at first, but the format is really pleasing for writing microgames. Here are some folding instructions and a couple of PocketMod games I made.


Space Trucker
http://www.rayotus.com/jsg/pnp-spacetrucker-pm.pdf
Space Trucker is inspired by 70s "trucker" stories/music - with a dash of Kung Fu, Space Opera, and Funk thrown in. The system is Minimal d6 by Norbert Matausch. The format was inspired by Sean Wills' Thronelands.

Flash Fantasy
http://www.rayotus.com/jsg/pnp-flashfantasy-pm.pdf
This game is an expression of the Minimal d6 system, by Norbert G. Matausch, suitable for playing OSR modules. Or at least that was my goal; you can decide if I succeeded.

Extra Funk, a Little Punk, and Disco Hobo Drunks
http://www.rayotus.com/jsg/pnp-spacetrucker2-pm.pdf
Space Trucker fan Greg Gelder created this cool supplement. It includes more characters, more trucks, more maniacs, more minions and monster, more planet names, and more missions! It also has a list of cool truck stops, a Galactic Citizen's Band radio jargon glossary, and a list of Swag/Style elements. Greg's purpose here is to expand on some of the promise of Space Trucker that didn't fit into the original PocketMod, specifically to add some funk, punk, disco, and hobo elements.