Saturday, August 31, 2019

Strategic Review 102 Summer 1975

TLDR: I summarize the second issue of The Strategic Review, from summer 1975.



Contents:


  • Expanded to 8 pages 
  • An opening memorium to Don Kaye
  • Editorial from Brian Blume to assure everyone that TSR is not in it for the money 
  • Survey for the Strategists Club awards banquet 
  • Cavaliers and Roundheads rules additions
  • News from around the Wargaming World
  • Q&A about D&D rules
  • New Ranger class
  • Creature Feature: the Roper
  • A treatise on Medieval Pole Arms (as promised)
  • Additional unit organizations for Panzer Warfare
  • Ads for Origins I (Baltimore, MD), Gen Con VIII, a game by TSR called War of Wizards, and the Tactical Studies Rules catalog: Cavaliers and Roundheads, D&D, Greyhawk, Tricolor, Warriors of Mars, Star Probe, Chainmail, Tractics, Panzer Warfare, Boot Hill, Classic Warfare, dice and miniatures

Items of  Interest:


The loss of lifelong friend Don Kaye was a huge blow for Gary, just as the business is really taking off. Gary and Don needed capitol to start TSR and Brian Blume bought in for 2k, each partner owning a third of the company. Don was fairly reluctant to partner with Blume at first. Don died of a heart attack shortly before a surgery scheduled to correct it, and his third of the business went to his wife. She didn't want to have anything to do with it, so Brian persuaded his father to buy out Don's share, making the Blumes a 2/3 controlling interest in TSR. This would cause problems later.

One account I read said that Don worked on Boot Hill before he died, but credit on the 1st edition is reserved for Blume and Gygax.

The Wargaming World news is varied but mentions an early zine by Flying Buffalo and the ongoing shift in wargames to sword & sorcery and science fiction themes. 

The D&D Q&A is probably the most valuable and interesting part of this circular. It opens with an explanation that Chainmail is for large-scale battles (1:20) and that the "alternate system in D & D be used to resolve the important melees where principal figures are concerned." It then goes on to say: 

When fantastic combat is taking place there is normally only one exchange of attacks per round, and unless the rules state otherwise, a six-sided die is used to determine how many hit points damage is sustained when an attack succeeds. Weapon type is not considered, save where magical weapons are concerned. A super hero, for example, would attack eight times only if he were fighting normal men (or creatures basically that strength, i.e., kobolds, goblins, gnomes, dwarves, and so on).
Considerations such as weapon-type, damage by weapon-type, and damage by monster attack tables appear in the first booklet to be added to the D & D series -- SUPPLEMENT I, GREYHAWK, which should be available about the time this publication is, or shortly thereafter.
Initiative is always checked. Surprise naturally allows first attack in many cases. Initiative thereafter is simply a matter of rolling two dice (assuming that is the number of combatants) with the higher score gaining first attack that round. Dice scores are adjusted for dexterity and so on.

After this is an example combat between a single hero and a bunch of orcs, who swarm the hero and try to grapple him! Two hit, but when they roll the grapple check the hero shrugs them off. There are lots of little interesting notes, like how many orcs can attack at a time and that the one who attack from behind get +2.

How to do saves and morale for monsters is clarified. Experience for magic items discussed. And the fire-and-forget spell system is rehashed, noting that wizards can only cast a memorized spell once but can memorize the same spell multiple times.

The most important thing here is to see what parts of the rather fuzzy rules set confused people the most (or mattered to them the most).

The Roper and Ranger are cool additions. Oddly enough the illustration above the roper is a dragon and purple worm. Huh. I would think a roper would be pretty easy to draw – easier than a dragon anyway. Joe Fischer, a name you see a lot in early Dragon articles, wrote up the ranger. The emphasis is on traveling light and operating alone at low levels; they can only own what they carry, can't hire men at arms or servants, and can't work with more than one other ranger. They do, however, get tracking and some followers and spells at later levels. The followers table opens up the idea of unusual companions (e.g. lawful werebear, pegasus, hill giant, etc.).

The Pole Arm article is about as tedious as expected. Stats and special notes are given for 12 different pole arms. Several others are mentioned as variants.

In TSR news we find out that price of dice is rising!
Finally, be prepared for an increase in the price of multi-sided dice sets. The volume of business we do in dice is increasing, and what has been carried as an accommodation has reached the point where it is barely breaking even; then the manufacturer upped our price by some 35%. The cost will go to $2.50/set immediately.

According to an inflation calculator, that's about $12.10 in 2019. So it was fairly high; given that you can buy a basic set of dice for around $9 or less.

I wondered if War of Wizards was any good. The advertisement promised $5 pre-release rules sets for a game that would cost at least $7 on release. Heading off to Boardgamegeek, I found some pictures and discovered that it was written by M.A.R. Barker of Empire of the Petal Throne fame. Players over at the geek rated the game a measly 4.7. The games counters (cardboard chits) are horrendously bland, but everything else looks pretty good. The battle takes place on a 20-space track, and there are 71 different spells to choose from. There were two editions published back in the day, '77 ad '79. And Tita's House of Games published an edition in 1999. 



Friday, August 30, 2019

Strategic Review 101 Spring 1975

TLDR: I summarize the first issue of The Strategic Review, from spring 1975.



This TSR house engine began as a six-page, two-column circular with clean, sans-serif fonts. Printed before the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements, it provides an interesting look at D&D in diapers.

Contents included:
  • News – primarily plans for future publications 
  • A "Creature Feature" in which the Mind Flayer made its first appearance
  • A summary of changes to the new printing of Tractics
  • A discussion of spears in Chainmail, which ends in a promise to really do pole-arms justice in the future (which had me snickering, knowing just how much space they got in AD&D)
  • Two and a half pages on "Solo Dungeon Adventures" 
This last article and largest feature of SR101 was penned by Gary Gygax, with thanks to George A. Lord and play testing credit to Rob Kuntz and Ernie Gygax. Most of the three pages consisted of random dungeon generation tables that would later appear in the AD&D DMG, roughly three years later.

Some of my own earliest solo explorations used these tables and I found them to be quite workable. I was using the DMG versions, but I may have to give these precursors a whirl.

One thing I have to say, I love the look of this zine. I wish that Dragon had adopted some of the same no-nonsense styling. But I realize I may be in the minority in that wish.

Look for more of these posts as I continue my forensics into early D&D. It's, quite frankly, fascinating to see the ideas come together.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Philippe Druillet Is a Genius

TLDR: Druillet's Lone Sloan is all about the drawings, and the drawings are INCREDIBLE.

This isn't really RPG related, and yet it seems like something I want to talk about in this space.





Let me talk about the story first. An interstellar rogue is approached by some red priests to rip off the emperor of a pleasure planet. It gets messy. Despite all the high action, the story is a bit plodding at times, but by the end it all kind of comes together in something pretty cool. And, honestly, it read like an RPG session!





The drawings have that kind of greebly-vastness that only certain artists can pull off. Every panel is packed with squiggly details that suggest as much as delineate, but are nonetheless exact in their own way. Not just noise in the same way that the best punk music or stoner rock isn't just noise.





The panel layouts are incredible. They have a kaleidoscopic symmetry that reminds me of the work of Joseph Stella.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Yokai Goons

TLDR: It's hard to pick a favorite Tunnel Goons hack, but this might be mine: a two-page ghost detective game set in the Meiji Restoration period of Japan (follows the Edo period). 

Yokai Hunter. In format this free game is two tri-folds: one for the player(s), referred to as the "Hunter," and one for the "Grand Master."

Front of the Hunter's Book: woodcut by hokusai, 1834.

Let's start with the latter, the GM tri-fold. It contains a summary of 10 different types of Yokai (supernatural creatures); 2d8 (15 total) missions; a summary of the historical period; further information on how to create Yokai, hunters, and NPCs; and cogent advice on running the game, with questions about the setting the group can/should explore.

The Hunter tri-fold contains a character sheet; d20 table of names, ages, and occupations; an equipment list; and the core rules. I have already talked about Tunnel Goons in previous posts. Yokai Hunter differs quite a bit from the original game, taking Nate Treme's invention and making the system into something with the right bells and whistles for a period ghost hunting thing. Here are some of the highlights.


  • Sentence-based character concept: "I'm a [trait][occupation] who [something from your past] and seeks [a goal]. E.g. "I'm Hachiro a nervous smuggler who is hunted by a former patron and seeks anonymity." (Hunters where ritual masks when they hunt so I imagine my character "hiding" in this role, drawing on his family's knowledge of ghost hunting. His dad wanted him to go into the family business, as it were, but Hachiro turned to smuggling to get rich quick – and because ghosts scare the bejeebus out of him.)
  • Path-based stats: Courage, Self-Control, and Wisdom. These are somewhat self-explanatory, but they are used in interesting ways. The system describes them as follows: when you roll dice "the GM will indicate which path you should follow: Courage (for actions that involve impetuosity or anger), Self-control (for actions in which it is necessary to remain calm and control one's impulses), or Wisdom (for actions that require certain knowledge or prudent and thoughtful behavior)."
  • Special Equipment. When you acquire an item you test Wisdom and, if you pass, the item grants a +1 bonus, situationally. This is a really interesting way to codify magic items into a system in an unexpected and fun way.
  • Resolution gradation. Not sure what else to call this. The author Chema Gonz├ílez (aka Punkpadour) has essentially worked PbtA resolution categories into Tunnel Goons. 10+ you succeed. 9 = you succeed, but suffer a consequence. 8 or less you fail and the situation escalates.
  • Advantage/disadvantage. And Chema throws in this mechanic, which has become really popular in designs since the introduction of D&D 5e. The hunter rolls an extra d6 and discards one – highest if disadvantaged, lowest if advantaged.
  • Cursed die. And Chema adds a cursed die that starts at a d8. Basically you roll it "when you want to bet your very soul" in an action. You can't roll it while advantaged. The die, however, works like advantage – you drop the lowest one in your pool which contains 2d6 and the cursed die. If the result of the cursed die (whether you succeed or fail) is higher than your current Curse Resistance you attract bad luck and lose a point from your Curse Resistance tracker. I'm not going to get any further into this mechanic. You can read it for yourself, but you basically have a pool that shrinks as you become more cursed and is replenished only through ritual cleansing at a holy site (at a cost). And the cursed die changes sizes based on your points. It's cool.

So, what's not to like. Well, I do have a small reservation about two things: 1) having both + and advantage mechanics in the same system and 2) having difficulties that exceed 10 when 10 is a success. (What does it mean if you get an 11, but the difficulty is a 12? Did you get a mixed success, as in a 9?) But beyond that – and I don't really know if any of this is a problem without playing the game – there is nothing to not like. Which is to say, everything about this game just sings to me. It looks fantastic. 

BTW, the art, font-choices, and design sensibility are all wonderful as well. The character sheet is really attractive and makes the curse mechanic much easier to grok. 


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Solo Play: Eternal Caverns of Urk Part 1

TLDR: a solo play account.

The mad prophets have sentenced me to walk the Eternal Caverns of Urk until I receive a vision from the First God. I fear I will not return, and if I do I may be no longer sane.

[This is a solo play narrative, making use of Nate Treme's Eternal Caverns of Urk zine. My character is Kesh the Domite. HP 10, Brute 0, Skulker 1, Erudite 2. Items: mirror, flask, cloak uneven gray. I tried to stay in first person, but probably messed up some.]

Beneath a merciless noon sun I stare into the dark, cool void of the cavern's mouth. The rock in this region is chalky, formed into great boulders and plates of rainbow hues. Black moss coats the entrance. I remind myself that I have been commanded to enter, but my feet are unwilling for the moment. I check the meager "gifts" I was given when parting from the prophets, the only things I was allowed to bring: a flask of clear liquid (water?), a small mirror, and the strange cloak of striated gray that they insisted I wear despite the heat.

I step inside. The air is cold and mildewy. I will soon be grateful for the cloak I think. And the use of the water seems obvious enough, unless they have given me poison, or more likely some form of dream nectar. What of the mirror? Of what possible use could that be?

I walk for some hours, leaving the light behind me. Moving in total blackness by the touch of my fingers on the wall I begin to think I can see floating lights. At first I am convinced they are random flailing of my optic nerves, but they resolve into softly glowing eyeballs the size of beer barrels.

At first I am too terrified to move, but they keep their distance. Watching. One of them bounces and gyrates in a crazy motion, never breaking its steady gaze upon me. I walk forward, but this seems to displease them and they bar my way. Another takes up the crazy looping antics of its peer, but with a sinuous grace in place of the frenetic hopping of the former. When it stops I start to walk forward again, but quickly see them draw together. So I imitate their ritualistic dancing with some moves of my own. Katas I learned from my youth. Concentrating on my breathing and execution to calm my fears, I go through the 39 stations of the most complicated routine I know.

[This is the first roll I made other than generating random stuff. Turns out these giant eyes were into dance battles. I got by with a 10, including a +1 from Skulker.]

The eyes glisten around me. Then they all weave and bob excitedly, looking at each other as much as me. And for a miracle they arrange themselves in a broken line ahead of me, softly lighting my way.

And I go forward.

The cavern is wide here. Filled with strange yellow fungi of many hard-edged facets. Their geometry seems something more than random and I contemplate them for some time. The air here has grown warm and humid. And glowing drops of water fall form the ceiling in a florescent rain. Parched, and unwilling to drink from my flask, trusting this unnatural water over the unknown liquid in the gifted flask, I point my face toward the cavern ceiling and drink.

My heart freezes as I see a flabby mantis clinging to the ceiling. Inverted over me and frozen in with it's thorny forelimbs reaching toward me. Had I not looked up ... I shudder to think.

I tuck and roll forward into the yellow "trees" as the mantis springs forward and down. [Roll+Skulker, Success - barely] He misses, but quickly recovers and scuttles across the ceiling, hunting me. The cuboid blooms of the trees are between us, giving me cover. The mantis stops, seemingly befuddled, and stares in my direction with that strange pinched face. Suddenly there is a small voice ...

In my head! "Come out little one. Show yourself to me. I am no threat to one such as you. We will be friends."





It's a soothing voice, but something tells me not to trust it. [Roll+Erudite, Success - barely]. I know better than to come out, but I find myself unable to move. I call out loudly. "Help!"

For some minutes the voice keeps trying to coax me from my spot. I bite my cheeks and pinch myself to keep it from soothing me into feeding myself to this psychic monster. After an interminable time, I hear soft, thumping footsteps. Then a loud crack and the mantis drops, almost on top of me, stone dead.

"I say. Come out of there young fellow. You can't go messing around with these Prizing Mantises you know. Dangerous stuff. Luckily I was returning from my hunt and heard your call. Come with me and we'll get you a stiff drink. I expect you could use one!"

I hear the fruity, mellow voice of this rescuer long before I see him. It's a rather nice voice and I stand up, revealing my location. "Thank the prophets that ... Oh, hi there."

I went a bit speechless at this point. Before me is an 8' tall fellow covered in pink fur. He is extremely round and a bit bear-ish, but with two, short horns curving over his fuzzy dome. Despite his fearsome size, he somehow seems a bit comical to me, standing there in a fussily-stitched vest of green and holding the smoking barrel of some metal staff, but something tells me not to laugh. Bad manners I think – but it's more than that. I sense a vague danger. "Thank you for the rescue. And yes, I could use something to drink. How far is it to your home?"

He informs me that he and his people are camped just a few caverns further in. And that they would be welcome of some outside news. So I walk along with him, skipping to keep up at times. His gate is awkward but covers a lot of ground. As we walk, he prattles on endlessly about the flora and fauna of the caverns. As if educating me.

In fact he is telling me things I had no way of knowing ere now, but somehow it rubs me the wrong way. Like he is some pompous professor trying to fill my head with useless facts that he will test me on later. I try to listen, but I spend more time sizing him up than absorbing his words.

When we reach our destination, I am shocked at the level of comfort represented by something so hastily called a camp. Slender lightweight rods support little gaily colored cabins of silk. There is a small fire, hardly needed for warmth here, but the flames are licking at pot of something that smells incredible! A spicy stew of some kind that promises to be both hearty and energizing.

[Took a break here for tonight. I think I'm in trouble as these fellows are into taxidermy.]

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Solo Play: Tunnel Goons & Dungeon Builder

TLDR: a 5-minute solo play account.

A 5-minute solo play on a work break using James Hron's Dungeon Builder, which is tricky to use but a very cool format. For rules I used Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons.

Dungeon Builder

I've described Tunnel Goons in a previous entry. Dungeon Builder is an idea generator. You have a two-level map with dungeon rooms. In each rooms is a series of three single-digit numbers, e.g. 211 or 332. Sometimes you see 2--. In the pamphlet is a number of tables with three columns of words each. The numbers in the rooms reference which table to roll on and the position of the number says which column. So 211 means roll for a word in the first column of table 2, then roll on table 1 for a word in the second column and one from the third column of the same table. 2-- means roll once and read all three words straight across, using table 2. Clever, huh?

Dive 1

My Goons character is Kravdraa (aardvark backwards): HP 10, Brute 0, Skulker 1, Erudite 2. Carrying: dagger, pizza, midnight blue robe

Underlined stuff was generated randomly.

Kravdraa enters The Grisly Halls of Hell. Snooping around he found a loose stone and pried it free. Upon doing so, however, a poison viper jumped out and bit him (DC 5, rolled a 2, 2 damage, HP 08). Behind the stone was a spellbook.

Taking the left hand door from there, Kravdraa found himself in a courtyard with a strange tree. It's sappy red bark (bloodbark) made Kravdraa uneasy, but just as he decided not to go further into the room, the tree reached for him with it's suddenly animate, leafless branches (vampire, unstable)! Kravdraa scurried this way and that but was trapped. (DC 12, rolled a 4, HP now 0).

The tree hugged K to its bark and slowly drank his blood over several days like a delicious milkshake and converted him into a sapling slave.

Dive 2

Oops. Maybe I had better add some reaction rolls. Take two.

Tabmow: HP 10, Brute 1, Skulker 1, Erudite 1. Carrying: mace, leather jack, torch.

Revisits the Grisly Halls of Hell! (I didn't re-roll the name.) In the first room is a sneaky outlaw with a bow was hiding. Tabmow failed to see him, but the outlaw turned out to be friendly. (Reaction roll.) He was scared of this place and decided to team up with Tabmow.

They go right, down a short hall and enter a room in which a unicorn is being overshadowed by a spooky illusion! Tabmow suspects it is an illusion and tries to scatter it with his will but fails. The spooky illusion reaches for the outlaw and the outlaw's heart freezes in his chest, instantly killing him. This makes Tabmow mad and a fight ensues in which Tabmow drives off the illusion but takes damage (HP now 8).

Tabmow sets the unicorn free and heads toward the entrance with the beautiful beast following (reaction 8), but by a different door. This was unfortunate as they ran into a nightmarish "hollow" wizard. The wizard was contemplating reality and didn't become immediately aggressive, but he did tell them to "Turn back!" -- and they did, because this guy looked tough. (He was.)

Going back the way they came however, they were blocked by a set of precious undead teeth – floating fangs of pure gold – chattering madly at them as they danced around the room just out of reach! Tabmow and the unicorn charged the choppers and made short work of them to escape.

Findings

Tunnel Goons is quick and fun, but very swingy when it comes to combat. Probably needs more hit points or something. It's very easy to die in 2 failed rolls. I guess, when you think about it, your character is a DC 7, because when you roll 2d6 you would do/take damage 50% of the time against another DC 7, right? You'd be evenly matched. So rating "easy" as an 8 might be a stretch. That's probably average difficulty because you will usually have at least a +1 at your disposal. Easy should be more like 5 or 6.  To Nate's credit, it's hard to set difficulty standards because you don't know how liberal people will be with adding +s from their inventory. If the average bonus is something like +3, then his DCs would be spot on.

Dungeon Builder is a cool start to something better, but a bit rough in its current form. I felt like the columns of text were missing some sort of underlying structure (like adjective, threat-noun, twist) that would have made the results a bit more meaningful and easier to interpret.

Shroom Goons

TLDR: Shroom Goons is a free and awesome game with cool art. Play tiny shroom people and fight smorks!

"Trama is the loosely woven hyphal tissue in basidiomycetous fungi forming the central substance of the lamellae or other projections of the hymenophore."

Oookay. :) It is also one of the three stats in Shroom Goons, an awesome little hack of Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons. At first I wasn't crazy to see that the concise package of Goons had been expanded to over 2,000 words, but they all count. The page of setting material is outstanding as is the mutations. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Characters & Canges to the System

In form, you are a 3-6" tall sentient fungus.

Mechanically, it is standard Goons with renamed stats, Siblings, cool items, and Traits. Siblings are other mushrooms from your original patch with whom you share a psychic bond. When (ok, if) you die, you carry on in the body of a sibling.

The items work the same as in original Goons but the wild inventiveness of them is to be admired. You may be carrying a Teaspoon Shovel, or d6 Beer Can Tabs, or even an Insect Wing Glider or a few pages from a Car Repair Guide.

But what really makes you special is your Trait – which is a kind of mutant power. There are 24 of them and you get one randomly: Devil Fingers, Witch-Butter Body, Mindtrap Spores, Mimicry ... it's your superpower.


Art by Karl Stjernberg?! I'm sold.


The World

I'm just going to reproduce the first two paragraphs of the setting as written. Because ... it's just so cool and fun.

Shroomfolk hail from the enchanted wetlands of The Fluorescent Neverglades. Surreal, brightly colored swamps and marshlands that by the light of the Nevermoon looks like the world you see in blacklight posters. The Shrooms tend to build settlements on raised glades and in the mossy trees overlooking their spawning patches. Shroom folk are a relatively pastoral lot -- building small farms of cultivated compost and herding bugs, tame rodents, and other fungus-based animals (such as “Shroom Steeds”). 
Of course the Neverglades have many inhabitants -- froglorps, banthers, rocodiles, and the dreaded Smorks. Smorks are a species of small, bluish pig- faced imps. They are chaotic, often clumsy, and always dreadful despite their jolly demeanors. They sing cheerful murder songs while raiding the Shroom villages. You can always spot their leader by the blood-red caps they adorn.

Fucking Smorks. Amiright?!


Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Higher Struggle

TLDR: a cool, free game that could be used as a campaign sub-system to model the struggle between factions and powers.

One of the things that always impresses me when I read The Lord of the Rings is the time Tolkien spends setting up the higher struggle between powers. Sometimes we see it in the form of councils and plans, other times we see it in the form of a conflict of wills. Galadriel or Aragorn contesting with the Eye of Sauron, for instance. This battle above and beyond the literal battlefield is fascinating. It informs the latter as well, allowing us to see in every clash of arms the larger forces at work.

What am I rambling on about?

Well, it's the desire for that layer in our RPG games. Often GMs achieve it with recurring villains and reveal it through rumors and one-on-one interactions with NPCs. But is there a better way to model it?

I have seen political struggle represented in sub-systems before, or at least models that approach it. There is a nice social combat model in Diaspora, for instance. But I'm not sure I've ever seen anything as useful or simple as this little design by Mark Hunt.


Get the game here!


Scandalous Goons is a hack of Tunnel Goons, which I mentioned in a previous post. The rules of the game are basically the same, but instead of classes Mark supplies the stats of Reputation, Rumor, and Connections. And in place of inventory items we have assets like Military Honors, Spy, Blackmail Information, and Married Well. The third change is really about trading out health for a bank of Influence points.

Two things make this little game an ideal "bolt on" to about any campaign.
  1. It's very easy to adapt to your particular scenario. Change or add stats. Come up with new/different assets. Allow different factions to start with more or less Influence. An hour's work would probably be more than enough to totally customize Scandalous Goons to be completely in step with your group's campaign.
  2. It's easy to implement without interacting or interfering with the mechanics of whatever RPG you are playing.
Oh, did I mention it's also free?! 

I can't wait to take this game and use it to model the politicians, gang lords, and guild masters of a fantasy town. Or to play out some huge space opera game where star lords and planetary tyrants develop assets like warp drive levels, planetary defenses, cloaking devices, trade goods, super soldiers, etc. 

Thanks, Mark!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Simple Skills System (Revised)

TLDR: an idea for implementing simple skills in pre-2e D&D. 

Each character details their background in 50 words or less, using full sentences. This background can be revised between adventures to incorporate an extra sentence per level gained.

When a character attempts something that would require unusual skill, and the GM agrees that it is possible, even if it’s very unlikely, he sets a difficulty at 4, 5, or 6 and indicates the most-closely related ability.

The player then rolls dice as follows, trying to meet or beat the difficulty on at least one die.

  • 1d6 if unskilled
  • 2d6 if skilled (character background suggests a related skill) OR the related ability has a positive bonus
  • 3d6 if skilled AND the related ability has a positive bonus

The odds to work out to be:

  • 1d6 ≥ Dif. 4 = 50%, Dif. 5 = 33%, Dif. 6 = 17%
  • 2d6 ≥ Dif. 4 = 75%, Dif. 5 = 56%, Dif. 6 = 31%
  • 3d6 ≥ Dif. 4 = 88%, Dif. 5 = 70%, Dif. 6 = 42%

If all the dice show a 1, the failure is a “botch” and is worse than a normal failure, if that’s possible. “Extra” successes usually add minor positive benefits.

Example

A player wants his character to run at full speed across a tightrope between high buildings to escape pursuers. . 

The GM says, "that will be a difficulty 5 DEX test." Note that the GM wouldn't necessarily have to call out the difficulty; that's probably a matter of style. The GM should not consider the character's skill at all when setting difficulty. Rather the difficulty should be solely based on the situation. Is there strong wind and rain? Is the character carrying a lot of stuff? How hard would it be for a normal person to do this given the situation?

The character has a positive DEX bonus and, according to his background, was once a circus performer, so he rolls 3d6. If the highest die in that pool is a 5 or 6, the character succeeds. If two or three successes show, perhaps he gets across at high speed and can get out of sight before the pursuers catch up. Or he has plenty of time to cut the rope and not get shot at by crossbows.  

If the highest die is less than 5, he fails. The GM might allow him to catch the rope or a ledge on the way down, but the character will be in dire straights.

If all three dice show a 1, the character plummets to the ground with no chance at grabbing the rope. If he survives, the pursuers probably had people tracking him on the ground as well. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Gakking Goon

TLDR: Nate Treme wrote a neat little game, Tunnel Goons, and has invited people to hack it.

The marvelous Nate Treme recently created a rules-light role-playing game called Tunnel Goons as part of his amazing Eternal Caverns of Urk.* A few days ago he announced Goon Jam, a call for people to hack his game. To help, Nate offered up a text-only version to help people get started.

I've been "called" lately to design something fun that isn't combat or violence focused. My first response to the Goon Jam was to use this opportunity to scratch that elusive itch. So let's take a quick look at what there is to hack in Tunnel Goons and what kinds of games it might support.


Bounty from Nate's Patreon


The Game

In a nutshell, you divide three points between three classes and select three items to add to your inventory. In Tunnel Goons the classes are Brute, Skulker, and Erudite. When you try something you roll 2d6, add the points from your relevant mode and a point for each relevant item. Your inventory can get up to ten items in it before it starts imposing a penalty on your Brute and Skulker rolls. Sometimes tests are merely succeed/fail; other times you are fighting enemies and difference between the difficulty score of the enemy and your roll is the damage you do (or take). Damage reduces the enemy's difficulty, so that there is a death spiral kind of mechanic. Each hit makes the next attack easier to land and makes higher damage more likely.

So what is there to hack? Without changing the basic rules – and I think not changing those too much is in the spirit of the challenge – you have the three classes, the equipment list, and whatever flavor text you add to work with.

Classes (Modes)

I'm going to rename the classes as "modes" just to shift your thinking away from any associations with traditional RPG terminology. In calling them modes, I want to highlight that they are essentially an angle through which you address any challenges. The most obvious change here is to rename the modes. For instance, you could make them Wit, Soul, and Antics to create a game about bards who use logic and riddles or heart-felt performances or humorous capering to make their way through life's minefield. You could also increase or decrease the number of modes, with corresponding shifts in the initial points a player can spend on them. Be careful to set a limit. The game is based on a 2d6 curve, so every +1 is a really big deal. Since the original game has an initial limit of 3 on any mode, I would stick with that.

Equipment

It is a time-honored tradition in RPGs to define characters by equipment. Many look down on this because it seems a little superficial, but it doesn't have to be. The things you carry around with you say a lot about you. But more to the point, the initial list of things you offer to players when they make their characters does a lot to determine the type of game. If you want to move away from a "fighty" game, for instance, don't supply a fighty mode and certainly don't list a bunch of weapons that players can choose for their inventory. In the aforementioned bards game, I could supply all kinds of bric-a-brac, but no traditional weapons. Though I might supply a few things that could be used as a weapon – like a jester's scepter (club) or pocket knife (dagger). I think the primary goal here should be to supply interesting items that aren't necessarily useful in an obvious way, or at least not useful for doing things you want to de-emphasize in the game. If you give players a bomb, you can't complain if they go around blowing things up, right?

Is That All?

Yeah, I think so. Modes and items are the core of the game. You could bolt on other stuff, but ... I guess I would caution against adding mechanics of a different kind. If you find yourself adding other kinds of dice or a roll-low mechanic, you are getting away from the heart of the original.

For my money, the equipment list is a wide-open space for tinkering. After all, who says it has to be equipment? It could be spells, stunts, assets, or just about anything you can draw on in a situation for a dice bump.

Good luck! I can't wait to see what y'all make.


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* I hope I don't sound disingenuous throwing around words like "marvelous" and "amazing;" let me assure you they are well earned. Of all the Patreons I back, the ones for Nate Treme and Evlyn Moreau have been giving me the most joy – with apologies to all the other Patreons that also give me joy.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Do You Play It RAW?

TLDR: rules-as-written (RAW) means different things to different people. Here are some distinctions that I personally think make sense.

Rules-as-written, or RAW, as most people like to write it. What does it mean?

RAW
Used literally, it means whenever you have a question about how to play you follow what the rulebook says to the best of your ability. If you make a ruling at the table and a player looks it up then, or after the game, and finds a contradiction between your ruling and the text, you go with the text. It also means, in a literal sense, that you aren't subtracting, adding, or modifying the rules in any way.

RAI
It's pretty hard to play any game like that. There are bound to be some awkward and unclear phrasings, typos, or missing rules that make playing RAW difficult. The next step away is, I believe, rules-as-intended, RAI.

Rules-as-intended means that you stick close to the rules and play them as you believe they are supposed to be played. You are not adding, subtracting, or changing the rules unless there's clearly an error in the text, a rule is unplayable (wasn't play-tested), or you have to fill in a gap where the rules are silent. When you do fill in a gap, you do it by following the logic and spirit of the rules. You aren't inventing so much as extrapolating. Personally, I still consider this RAW, especially if the rules encourage you to invent/fill in the gaps.

Rules+
Taking another step away from RAW is adding things that don't obviously change or interfere with existing rules, but clearly weren't intended by the original rules either. Let's call this Rules+. For instance, you bolt some kind of sanity mechanic onto Oe D&D. Or allow two-handed weapons to do more damage than other weapons to make up for the fact that their wielders are forgoing the use of a shield and may be attacking late in a round. The thing about adding rules is that no matter how careful you are, you are affecting existing mechanisms. Perhaps adding a Sanity mechanic makes the Intelligence ability score in D&D less important? Or adding a differentiation for two-handed weapons begs you to add rules for parallel instances, e.g. dual-wielded weapons, reach weapons, rate of fire, etc. Adding rules is a slippery slope, especially if what you liked about the original rules set was their "simplicity." Adding rules begets greater complexity.

Rules –
Clearly, if there is a Rules+ there is a Rules–, meaning you drop some rules because they feel clunky, slow down play, aren't meaningful, etc. Subtracting may reduce complexity, but you may also be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As with adding rules, you can quickly find yourself playing a different game. For example, the Save progressions are part of class strength and weaknesses, as well as a way to differentiate between the peril of various threat types, in Oe D&D. If you dump those in favor of straight roll-under tests by ability, you may be losing one of the classes' primary advantages (good Saves) or negating one of its drawbacks (bad Saves). Also, dropping Saves means dragon breath, poison, and rays are all roughly the same type of threat, aside from prescribed damage (and in Oe it's all d6 based).

Hacking
Finally, there's hacking. It's hard to see where house-ruling ends and hacking begins sometimes. Changing the setting is a clue for a lot of observers, but you could very often change the setting of a game without touching its mechanisms, other than perhaps relabeling a few weapons. It's a distinction of quantity and quality. One big change or lots of little ones can result in the feeling that you are playing a different game. And the minute you feel like that, you have hacked the original. You have voided the warranty on play experience; if it goes south it's on you!

So, Are You Playing RAW?
It's my opinion that if you are doing literal RAW, RUI, or perhaps even light Rules+, you are. It's a matter of not believing you know more than the designer of the game and taking care to try the rules as written first before you make any adjustments or outright changes. Any such adjustments or changes should be governed by making the game play to its strengths, rather than making it feel different or fit a different style/genre of play. If that isn't your mindset, then you probably aren't playing RAW.

Fair enough?