I'm getting ready to host a cheesy, miniatures and terrain heavy OSE dungeon run for a birthday party (mine). To prepare I made myself the following PDF to print on card stock, with record sheets for characters, retainers, and monsters printed appearing as if typed on an index card. Sharing it below for anyone interested. (Also a pic of a few minis that will make an appearance in the adventure.)
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Saturday, September 19, 2020
That Time I Nearly Will Write a Solo Zine
Yes, that title is messed up on purpose. I still want to do a solo zine that is easy/cheap to mail in physical form. But for now it's on hold awaiting inspiration. In the meantime, I once did a survey in which I asked people what they wanted in a solo adventure zine. Let's see the stats first and then I have more to say.
- Sample size around 75.
- Only 17.5% want it tied to a system. 45% prefer it to loosely refer to a system.
- 55% want a unique and flavorful setting, 20% want a D&D style setting, 25% want something else (rotating, SF, etc.)
- 52.5% want 1-2 hours of playtime material, 42.5% want 3-5.
- 60% prefer self contained adventures, 15% want continuity, 25% don’t care.
- PDF is preferred, about 17.5% want to be sent paper. Many asked for phone/tablet/Kindle friendly.
- 25% want graphic content, 22.5% want it kid friendly, everyone else is in-between.
- "Include mysteries and puzzles"
- "Build a setting over time"
- "Endings are cool, and rarely carried off well”
- And while they wasn't anything particularly quotable on this front, about 10% of the responders expressed a desire for hard or semi-hard science fiction. I feel like there is a real (and probably loyal) audience there waiting on someone.
The Great Black Bell is Back
Themes and Formats
- Paper map and stand-up minis or counters similar to what Walker is doing? Or more choose your own adventure style text-based with illos?
- Stand-alone scenarios loosely tied together in the same world or a true ongoing adventure? If the latter, "seasons" of 12 issues or just commit and keep going?
- Envelope size? I want to use a standard stamp. But I could probably do it with either business envelopes (2-4 tri-folded full-size pages) or with a birthday or thank you card sized envelope and a small stapled (or not) booklet. A thank you card envelope might even work with a folded one-page zine like the Pocket-Mod format.
Minizines... ArE sO CoOl
Thursday, September 10, 2020
I am shrinking. Intentionally. I have fled most of the social media groups to which I once belonged. So, to cut to the chase, does anyone care about this blog? It's okay if you don't. Because that will be one less thing for me to manage. But if you follow my vain and extemporaneous writings here (and enjoy doing so), let me know.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Yet Another D&D Stat Generation Thing
TLDR: what it says on the tin. But this time it's a kind of fun sub-game around rolling 'down the line' (stats in order).
Roll 2d6, stats in order. The “third die” has fixed outcomes of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. You can use each number only once and can add only one number to each roll. E.g. you roll a stat, sum the 2d6 and then add one of the fixed outcomes (removing it from the list of options for the future). No retracing your steps!
I used this order because I couldn't think of the "right" order off the top of my head.
DEX: 5+5=10, +1 = 11
INT: 4+3=7, +2 = 9 (here is where things turn, I was hoping for a wizard but using a 6 only would get me to 13, so I punted)
WIS: 5+3=8, +6 = 14 (going for the cleric)
CON: 5+1=6, +5 = 11
CHA: 6+3=9, +4 = 13
Tweak? Player chooses the order of the stats before rolling. That would allow them to prioritize certain prerequisites and if they don’t pan out they could switch plans earlier. Let’s try it again but go for a Thief. Back up plan is a Dwarf or Magic User. Order is DEX, CON, INT, STR, CHA, WIS.
DEX: 3+1=4 (shit!), +4 = 8 (punt)
CON: 4+2=6 (groan), +2 = 8 (punt, come on intelligence!)
INT: 6+5=11 (bingo), +6 = 17 (wizaaaaard)
STR: 3+3=6, +3 = 9
CHA: 4+3=7, +5 = 12
WIS: 5+4=9, +1 = 10 (whew, saving that 1 for last could have turned out badly)
One more tweak. Decide on next stat to roll as you go? More fluid and less analysis paralysis up front. So sequence is declare stat, roll dice, add fixed value, repeat.
It’s fun. Like a mini game. It gives the player some control, perhaps increases chances of an 18, but also makes two or more 18s impossible. In fact, if you rolled boxcars six times your stats would be 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13. Snake eyes characters would be 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. Ugh. So there’s still a chance a GM would allow a re-roll. Let’s say if your stats total 55 or less you die during character generation (Traveller style). We’ll call it the “I can’t drive 55” rule (this one’s for you, Sammy). Odds are 90% for a player to roll a total of 56 or better based on 12d6+6+5+4+3+2+1, so you are ditching the bottom 10% of characters. Worst stats then might look like 10, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9. But they would tend to vary more than that unless the player was shooting for the middle with their choices.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Capsule Review: Free Traders
Get the game: https://lari-assmuth.itch.io/free-traders
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Make Your Virtual Games Less Virtual?
Like many of you, my local gaming group has been forced to game virtually for some weeks.
I recently started my turn as GM, and am running an innovative (but flawed) game from 1998, the Marvel Super Hero Adventure Game using the Saga system. The game uses a fixed deck of 96 action cards featuring five suits (Strength, Willpower, Intelligence, Agility, and Doom!) with values from 1-10 arranged in a bell curve; there are way more 5s in the deck than there are 1s or 10s.
Anyway, since a big part of play is the manipulation of cards, I've used Roll20.net to emulate a real table top, not some cut-rate video game. That means I made the deck of cards, created play mats with table space for each player, allowed everyone to manipulate cards, have used photos and hand-drawn maps as handouts, etc.
Surprisingly, I have found the experience almost more immersive and fun than games that use all the Roll20 bells and whistles. Here are my take-aways, aimed at people who want their online games to feel more like their in-person games:
If you are one of those GMs that doesn't let players touch anything -- e.g. control their own tokens -- cut it out! How much fun would you buy if you went to play a board game with your nephew and you didn't let him touch the pieces? If you want players to engage with the game, stop putting up walls between them and the game's components.
Friday, May 1, 2020
Capsule Review: Dungeon Gits
- Mechanic is your basic 2d6 + attribute + relevant knack ≥ 10 = success.
- All rolls are player-facing.
- Bonuses take the form of "hero dice."
- Binary character attributes are "Bashing" and "Not-Bashing."
- Simple Not-Bashing based initiative.
- Copper based money system. Small equipment list and magic item list.
- Even smaller (but adequate for showing the pattern of building your own) bestiary.
- Form: $2, 10 pages, B&W interior, public domain art, 2 column layout, few if any typos are grammatical errors.
Thursday, April 23, 2020
The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 4
I finished my Gygax 75 Challenge months ago now and I've released the workbook with examples in it. You can find it, and my other games, at https://rayotus.itch.io.
That being said, I could probably go a little deeper into where my head was at when I actually built the town of...
Exciting huh. Well I mostly just generated a town using this, Watabu's Medieval Fantasy City Generator, and colored/numbered it up. Of course then I had to describe places where all the numbers were, build NPCs, seed some rumors, generate a few hirelings, etc.
In the original version of the workbook I took a more workmanlike approach that was tedious to implement. Even though it doesn't take much mental effort to name a store where adventurers can buy sacks, backpacks, shovels, and lamps, the result is about as exciting as the process was. In other words, boring processes produce boring results, at least in this case.
So in the rewrite, I turned the process into creative prompts, asking players to write a short sentence on things like:
- The place where the characters could lose all their money
- A secretive guild hall and its reputation
- A feature unique to this town (view of a natural wonder, a strange clock, a healing spring, etc.)
I also suggested a very quick method for NPC building. The DNA method. D is for a Distinguishing trait of feature. N is for what they Need most. A is their Agenda, secret or otherwise; what do they hope to do in the following days, weeks, months, or even years? (Alternately, A could stand for an Asset they have that the players need.)
Friday, March 27, 2020
The Rhyme & Reason of Troika Damage
What Is Scaled Damage?That's what I call it anyway; I'm referring to the idea that the die roll, rather than being read at face value, corresponds to a scale of damage by weapon type.
In most RPGs a damage roll is a straightforward event. If a mace does d8 damage and you get a strength bonus of +1, a roll of 5 would result in 6 damage. (Roll of 5 +1 for strength, in case that wasn't already painfully clear.) In Troika, you would roll a d6, possibly with bonuses, for damage. But your damage would be (for a mace) 2, 4, 4, 5, 5, 8 or 10 respectively, 10 being the damage resulting from a modified die result of 7 or better. If you rolled a 2 and had a bonus of 2, your modified die result would be a 4, but you don't do 4 damage. You would do 5 damage (the number corresponding to a die result of 4). It's pretty simple in play because you just copy a table onto your sheet next to your weapon like this:
The "#" indicates the mace ignores 1 point of armor.
The Damage TablesThere are lots of variations on these damage arrays. (Click on the image below to "embiggin" it.) Weapons marked with an asterisk are two-handed. A shield is included for things like shield bashes.
The first thing to note is that every one of these lines is different. The theory, I suppose, is that each weapon has a different profile and will feel different in play. Note the average, high, low, and ranges of each block (creature, melee, or ranged). It's hard to see much in the way of trends besides the fact that variance (the range of damage possible) increases the higher the roll. This reflects the basic fact that some weapons are fairly consistent in their damage dealing, whereas others are fairly explosive. A mace deals from 2-10 damage, but a greatsword ranges from 2-18 and a fusil (longarm gun) ranges from 2-24!
Is all this difference warranted, useful, or interesting. My gut says no, no, and no. For instance, clubs, hammers, and maces all have different damage profiles, but the differences are really minor. I feel like the whole table could have been reduced to 5 or 6 types of damage profiles. Also, while there will always be arguments when it comes to realism and weapon damage, the lethality of bows, specifically, and missile weapons in general, are probably inflated. Especially considering they represent the potential of dealing damage at a distance, without receiving damage in return.
Here is a chart of weapons ranked by average damage, with a 0.5 bonus calculated in for those that ignore a point of armor.
I'll let you decide whether these rankings are "correct." But please note that while a spear and sword, for instance, are weaker than a hammer, they also have a much better bottom end (4 vs. 1) and so are more reliable at dealing damage even when the rolls are weak.
A Simpler Alternative
What Would I Do? Why Does It Matter?
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Hardscrabble Open Design Journal, Page 2
What I have learned from research and playing other solo or cooperative crawlers.
- Role-playing isn't a bolt-on feature. There's only two ways a solo crawler tile game is going to breach the wall of "role-playing:" 1) the gamer takes it upon themselves to bring it or 2) the system explicitly and elegantly pushes it. There is no middle ground where one can half-heartedly throw in a "bit" of role-playing support to an otherwise boardgame-like experience.
- Complexity has a low threshold. Most solo crawlers are too fiddly by far, for my taste at least, and fall into the realm of heavy simulation rather than a pocket game. I have ideas for solving that. Indeed I think I already have come up with a way to provide endless variety without pushing complexity, but that's my little secret for now.
- Choices have to be meaningful. I mean, this is a staple of good design for me in any interactive medium. Don't give the player a choice that is either 'obvious' or 100% arbitrary. Choices don't always have to (and shouldn't always) have predictable consequences, but players need to be given enough information that their choice feels important and, more often than not IS.
- Save points and portability mean more play. I am unlikely to leave this game out on the table to be continued later, so it needs to be something I can quickly pack up and then set back out to continue where I left off or something I can keep in a journal. Also, I would love for my game to have the form factor of a mint tin, small dice bag, or TCG (trading card game) box. Both of these things will lead to more plays of the game by reducing required investment (see complexity above as well).
- Four classes go into a dungeon isn't going to cut it. The tired trope of Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Thief (varied and/or embellished with fantasy races) walking through a D&D like dungeon has been done to death. My secret fix for the complexity threshold is going to address the uniqueness of the dungeon experience, but on the character side I want to either go for a classless system or more of a high-concept buffet like Troika's backgrounds or Electric Bastionland's failed careers.
- Tactility is huge. The physical feel of the tiles, down to heaviness, thickness, and size, is massively important. If you get that right, the addiction factor goes up. People love handling pleasing items -- thing about Mahjong tiles or really nice dominoes. Even the sound they make is kind of important when they "clack" together. Other elements also come into play, the dice, any pawns, colors and graphics, etc. So once the design is "finished" I expect to really be thinking hard about how to share the game cheaply but also nail this tactile element. I really intended to make the game print-and-play, and maybe still will, but I am going to have at least strong recommendations as to the form factor.
- Address role-playing
- Keep it simple and portable
- Make choices meaningful
- Subvert the tropes
- Provide a tactile play experience
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Hardscrabble Open Design Journal, Page 1
Let's start with Bananagrams. You've all seen it on the shelf at Target. Maybe you were interested because you liked word games (and it's a pretty decent one). Maybe you looked because you wanted a supply of letter tiles for craft projects or impromptu game counters. Maybe you immediately decided that the zippered banana-shaped pouch would make a cool dice bag. I was hooked for all three of these reasons.
As a designer, I quickly started seeing all kinds of potential in this super portable game, aside from the ones already mentioned. (To this day I carry a set of A-Z tiles in my dice bag to use as quick miniatures, for randomizing names, etc.) What I liked about them was the tactile nature of the plastic tiles. They are fun to manipulate and work into grids. The game itself, of course, plays with this idea and has you fashioning freeform crossword puzzles. But if you turn the tiles over so they are blank, or start looking at the letters as a kind of code instead of components of words, opportunities open up. Pretty quickly I began thinking about using these tiles as a kind of ad hoc map. I remember sending a picture of my hotel desk top to a friend with the tiles laid out in a 'dungeon' and a pawn sitting on one of the tiles as far back as 2016.
At the time, I was paying a lot of attention to the distribution of the letters, which turned out to not be a helpful starting point. (I'll explain why in a moment.) But if you are curious, it turns out the distribution of letters for B-grams is very similar to that of Scrabble. Scrabble has 100 tiles distributed as follows, and B-grams seems to just have the same rough distribution with more tiles (sans blanks).
Letter – Qty. of Scrabble tiles – Qty. of B-grams tiles
A – 9 – 13
B – 2 – 3
C – 2 – 3
D – 4 – 6
E – 12 – 18
F – 2 – 3
G – 3 – 4
H – 2 – 3
I – 9 – 12
J – 1 – 2
K – 1 – 2
L – 4 – 5
M – 2 – 3
N – 6 – 8
O – 8 – 11
P – 2 – 3
Q – 1 – 2
R – 6 – 9
S – 4 – 6
T – 6 – 9
U – 4 – 6
V – 2 – 3
W – 2 – 3
X – 1 – 2
Y – 2 – 3
Z – 1 – 2
BLANK – 2 – 0
Of course this is all based on English language letter frequency. But their value as word components doesn't interest me. While I like the manufacture of, and ease of acquiring B-grams tiles, I decided the 100 tile distribution of Scrabble was more satisfying. So I bought copies of the former and designed using the latter. The first step was to rearrange the letters from most common to least (e.g. E/12, A/9, I/9, O/8, R/6, etc.).
Then I boiled down dungeon components into an abstract symbology of 'straights,' 'bends,' 'Ts,' etc. representing hallways and rooms without regard to length and size. (Early experiments had me rolling dice to determine how many tiles long a hall was, or how many tiles were in each room.) I have PAGES of journals filled with these notes.
Eventually, 100 tiles was too much to wrestle with still. So I concentrated on filling out a table of basic shapes in a reasonable/minimalistic size and getting the distribution right. I ended up at a 6x6 table. I am a fan of the 'd66' roll and have been since I first saw it (I think in GW's Necromunda advancement roll tables). Basically you roll the d6 in sequence and treat them as the two digits of a number, so a 4 and then a 6 make 46, not 10 and not 64. You can roll the dice at the same time if they are different colors and you designate which one is the 'tens' die. This table allowed me to test the distribution before I marked up my pristine B-grams set with a Sharpie. It went something like this:
The d66 table I used appears left of the dice. The dungeons I generated with them are below the dice. And to the bottom right are some preliminary tile laying rules. The marked up tiles on the left are the result of a bit of noodling around. I think I ended up wasting 4 tiles as I adjusted the distribution one way and another. Red tiles, by the way, represent halls and rooms that automatically present some kind of encounter (wandering monsters, guarded treasure, traps, etc.).
One distinction worth making here is the randomly generated dungeons vs. the tile-laying dungeons. In the former, you can essentially recycle each piece so that playing it doesn't use it up. In the latter, you have a total of 36 tiles to play, period. It's possible that I will end up making this pool bigger (100), but right now I have found it very satisfying to use only 36 per level. Here are just a few of the MANY dungeons I generated in testing. Spiral tiles, BTW, were a secret doors experiment.
At this point I was comfortable that the tile laying worked, was fun (and oddly satisfying), and generated interesting enough structures for play. So I wrote up the rules for this part of the game and started working on a challenge of personal orientation. I had this design question in my mind about whether the player was oriented 'above' the map and could play a tile anywhere, or whether I wanted the point of player orientation to be 'on' the map (standing on a tile as a character in the maze), which would mean tiles could only be played where the player/character could 'look.'
The real problem seemed to be that orienting one's self on the map as character, while satisfying from a visceral standpoint, took away a lot of player choice/agency. When you have to play the next tile adjacent to the one on which you stand, often the tile played itself (no choice of side).
Watching a friend play through the maze with a pawn on the tiles helped me realize an elegant solution to the problem. To lay a tile you must be able to "see" into that square. So line of sight (forget doors and assume you can look anywhere there's a hall pointing away from you in a straight line) matters. If you want to lay a tile where you can't see, you must first move your pawn to a tile where you can see into that space. When you move, you take a risk. Count the tiles you move across (value = X, max 5). There is an X-in-6 chance (roll a d6) that you will suffer an encounter with a wandering monster.
I feel like this brings phase 1 to a close. I have my movement rules, tile distribution, and general concept down. Here is what I know in short form.
1. You get 36 tiles in a fixed distribution.
2. You start with the S-stairs down tile and draw one tile at a time from a bag as you play.
3. You can play a tile anywhere you can see. If you want to move first, do so, and roll for wandering monsters.
4. Play the tile. If there's no place it fits, play it face-down anywhere as a secret door. You can play future tiles on any open side of it; for mapping purposes it is a + intersection. Future tiles will reflect that.
5. Every red tile is an encounter. If you move onto it in the future, you must confront it. I'm not currently sure how that plays out and affects movement. I'm thinking I ditch the X-in-6 rule above and just have a way to mark red halls/rooms that have been 'beaten.' IOW, if you have to move to play a tile you might have to move through a previously played red one, which would force you to stop and take the challenge it presents. Once you beat it, you mark it. Probably flip it over and record the letter.
6. Rubble counters can be set aside and saved for later. You play them to close off 'open' sides of the level for scoring purposes. This was the initial rule. I'm thinking now you have to play them just like other tiles, which would force you to move.
7. The X counter is a special, extra-dangerous, boss encounter. For mapping purposes it is a + intersection. Future tiles will be drawn to represent that. Also the stairs tiles need a directionality.
8. Your score, after playing all the tiles is as follows:
- 1 point for each face-up tile.
- 2 points for each defeated red tile.
- 5 points for a defeated X tile.
- -1 point for each open side, as seen by a hallway pointing to an empty space or an exposed side of a secret door or X tile.
- You need X points to enhance your character and go down to the next dungeon level.