Project Updates 6/16

Work for the summer has indeed begun for me. Ideas come in quick spurts in the brief moments of peace and I’ve tried my darnedest to collect them all. A couple of things have transpired in the RPG sphere for me in the last few weeks.

  • I’ve read a lot of Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) system lately as an alternative to FATE as a generic system. For kids’ games and the like. It uses 2d6, which I like better than 4dF. It uses aspects like FATE, but they have ratings to go with them, which you don’t invoke. Having the aspects “Meathead Magee” and “WWE Superstar” would translate to “Meathead Magee +2” and “WWE Superstar +4.” PDQ, unlike FATE, realizes that not all aspects are created equal. The rewards structure is a little wonky, but XP and bennies are usually the first things to change with my designs.
  • Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies is a PDQ setting I’ve flipped through somewhat. I want some way to do the islands from Zelda: Windwaker each with their own problems mixed with air travel and sky ships… Maybe some Avatar: The Last Airbender to taste. A village-of-the-week kind of deal where players solve problems and help people out in a pulpy-adventure way.
  • Mouse Guard. I’ve had my eye on this game for some time as an Adam Koebel fan (here’s his “why Burning Wheel is great” video). I picked it up on a Half-Price Books run and it was worth it. There’s some great reading material in here. The biggest selling point: Mouse Guard/Burning Wheel has some GENIUS mechanics for PC-centric play. Players are actively rewarded for engaging in their character’s beliefs, instincts, traits, and goals. Where Oaths in World of Elements make you interact with people in the world and grow by doing favors for others, Mouse Guard/Burning Wheel has a whole system for engaging internally with what the PCs want and who they are. I have to see it in play, but it would make for some very interesting games of dramatic change for players, which is something I’ve missed in running an open table game without much character development. Not of this caliber, anyway. I hope to use this type of design for a small-group PC-led campaign.
  • Blood and Chrome has been under revision. I’ve enlisted friends to run corporations for the campaign. Faction rules are in the work. Currently, they’re a hybrid between Stars Without Number faction turns and Into the Odd’s large scale/warfare rules. The next major post will probably reveal my findings.
  • Pokemon Adventures has a character sheet now. It looks horrible, but I’ve found that free handing this nonsense makes it easy to create and scan in. I’m going to do the same for B+C just to get a sense of space for the character sheet design.

And that’s all for this update. Been busy these last two weeks or so. Keep thinking about games and keep designing!

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World of Elements Revised Edition

The Four Elements combined

About a year and a half ago, I made the first edition of an Avatar: The Last Airbender hack of the Powered-by-the-Apocalypse system. It’s been through a couple of revisions since then. Here is the Drivethrurpg link if you’d like to support this content.

This is the Google Drive link if you want quick access. I know it’s a pain to click a couple times and hit checkout. 😛

Features

  • 10 Basic Moves
  • 9 Archetypes (four benders, five non-benders)
  • 8 Advanced Archetypes
  • Oath-based XP system
  • Adversaries, Threats, and Adventure Starters for GMs

Touchstones

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender ​(2003-2008)
  • The Legend of Korra ​(2012-2014)
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood ​(2009-2010)
  • Mushishi ​(2005-2006)
  • Spirited Away ​(2001)

This is truly a labor of love. Avatar: The Last Airbender is my favorite show ever. I’ve spend many, many, many, hours on this project and spent a whole campaign playtesting it (but there’s always more to do of course). Read it, play it, hack it, whatever.

Enjoy fulfilling Oaths and adventuring in a wuxia fantasy world.

Initiative Alternative: Side-Based Combat

Come on, people! Fight! Fight! Fight!

DnD 5e’s ordered initiative can be improved. Like, a lot. Step-by-step going through the order can slog things way down. And you know it. If your initiative system works now, fine and fine. I’m simply trying to help you run a better game. If your players are tired of waiting for their turn, either because they’re impatient or other players are taking too long or both, then try this out. If they’re bored during combat in general, just run better games. I’m not helping you with that right now. Let’s talk about a system that naturally speed things along: side-based initiative.

I ran a Maze Rats campaign this past semester and it has made me fall in love with side-based intuitive. A couple of reasons why:

  • Simple tracking. There’s only two sides to combat: GM and players. Every token on the battle mat is either one or the other.
  • GMs don’t have to write down the initiative order and call the next player up. That means more energy for running the monsters and writing their stats.
  • Players that KNOW what they want to do can go first. This gives the slower players more time to think through what they want with their turn. Nobody sits waiting for one player to finish, unless they’re the very last player to go.
  • Players that finish their turn can help other players. Slower players can be given advice and talk through what they should do.
  • Players can coordinate better. Instead of delaying turns and making the GM scratch out who goes when and pencil in new people’s names, the players can layer their actions together to work as a unit. (For example: two players are far from each other on the battle mat, player A moves towards player B, player B climbs up the treant, player A throws a torch all the way to player B, who uses their action to stab it in the treant’s eye, catching the whole monster on fire.)
At this point, you might be interested. Here are the ways you can implement it into your game:

Maze Rats has each side roll a d6, reroll ties. The higher side’s members go first. You then roll initiative again each round. This may result in one side going twice. If one side surprises the other, they go first.

This one is fun, but swingy and totally random. One side going twice also demonstrates the chaos of combat, but means that players can be totally stuck while taking two direct hits to the face. Players want to react to things, not stay put. On the flip side, players LOVE when they get to take a second turn before the monsters. Give and take.

Into the Odd says “When it is unclear which combat side should act first, the character at the head of the group must pass a DEX save to secure the first action.”

This CAN work. But a leader passing a Dex check to see if their side should go first seems too arbitrary. A faster leader means EVERYONE is faster? However, at least the players can control their chances of going first better than just rolling 1d6 vs. 1d6.

Mixing the two a bit, here’s my proposal:

The monster side has an initiative score. At the beginning of combat, players make a DEX roll against the monster side’s initiative score. Those that roll that number or higher go first. Then, all players go AFTER the monster side. Repeat. It looks like this:

  1. Players that beat the monster side’s initiative go
  2. ALL monsters go
  3. ALL players go (including those that went during step 1)
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until one side wins.

If one side surprises the other, they go first. The leader may make a WIS/Perception check to see if their side avoids being surprised. Or all players roll and if a majority succeed, they are not surprised.

For 5e, the monster side’s initiative score could simply be the average DEX mod plus 10. Otherwise, you could set a static initiative score regardless of the monsters. For example, in an easy game, roll above a 10 to go before the monsters. For a brutal game, the you have to roll above an 18, ‘else the monsters cronch your bones-es.

If you as the GM want to roll dice, make a DEX roll for the monster side. Then each player must roll against that.

If all the players beat the monster’s initiative, they all go first. If not, then one or two or more players are caught tying their shoes. Each player rolling initiative the first round means that each player’s stats matter; if you boost your DEX, you will have a higher chance of going before the monsters.

(Side note: you could argue WIS would work better for initiative than DEX. Intuition and perception would make you better at acting first, but tradition says DEX is the initiative stat. Do as you will).

That’s all folks! Enjoy running fast and dirty combats.

Blood and Chrome RPG

Lightcycles? Yes please.

Inspired by the likes of Bladerunner, Altered Carbon, Minority Report, Shadowrun, The Matrix, and the like, Blood and Chrome is a cyberpunk RPG about heists, harsh city life, and the cruelties of science and corporate thugs. Here is the first draft of the game, you replicant scum.

Design influences include Maze Rats, Into the Odd, Blades in the Dark, Uncharted Worlds, Cyberpunk 2020, Technoir, maybe a little Numenera(?) and the MANY rouge-like video games I’ve played.

Like the recent Pokemon RPG, there is not yet a character sheet for it. But you get the idea…

Pokemon Adventures!

It’s summer so I get to write more! Here’s the link for the game, you hungry hippo. If nothing else, read the Naming Ceremony at the end. It seriously makes giggle every time and nails the lighthearted tone I was going for.

This is a rough draft of a beer-and-pretzels Pokemon RPG based on Savage Worlds (which I just learned has a new edition, whoops), Ryuutama, Cortex Plus. It has a focus on contests between Pokemon, not necessarily battles, and journeys that trainers go on. It mixes elements of the anime, card game, manga, and video games (in that order as far as weight of influence on the design). *I* only use the first four generations of Pokemon, but that’s only because I dropped out during Diamond and Pearl. That might rub some people the wrong way to not use all 1000+ Pokemon…

The way it handles type advantage is also going to make some people upset… It uses the types from the card game instead of from the video game (minus Fairy and Dragon) to make things easier. Folks, I came from the simpler time of the 90s. Every Pokemon has already been paired to one of these nine types thanks to the TCG. Why make it any harder? Beer and pretzels, beer and pretzels…

My first exposure to Pokemon after the TCG
  • Normal has advantage against no one.
  • Psychic has advantage against other psychics.
  • Fire, Water, and Grass still have the same rock, paper, scissors going on.
  • Dark, Fighting, Electric, and Steel have a circle of predator/prey going on: Dark > Fighting > Electric > Steel > Dark. My reasoning looks like this:
    • Dark Pokemon use underhanded methods to beat Fighting in a straight combat.
    • Fighting/Rock absorbs Electricity/Lightning.
    • Steel is a conductor for Electric types.
    • And when the forces of Darkness and demons arrive, you use Steel/Iron/Swords to eliminate them.

All types (besides Normal) get advantage against one other type. And there’s only nine types. Done and done.

Other notes: No one is JUST a trainer. It’s always trainer and something else. I also really love the Drive section of the Character Details table. Something about becoming a trainer at the ripe age of 72 because of Bad Luck or for Revenge is interesting to me…

In future, I’m hoping to add Journey rules, like in Ryuutama and Adventures in Middle-Earth. Gotta have rules for wild Pokemon and wild Trainers. Plus in the anime, there are many obstacles and NPCs they encounter on the road. There is also going to be random tables for events and trouble in the town. Every town in Pokemon has SOME gimmick…

Go catch ’em all or whatever…

Campaign of Skorne: All Done!

Citizens look to the Maze Rats to stop Skorne’s tyranny.

One semester of classes, 25 sessions, 50 hours of gameplay, 50+ hours of prep, 14 total players, couple hundred monster tokens, 13 dead PCs, 9 Artifacts, 6 dead Lords of the Districts, one dead Lord Skorne later…

All done! Some takeaways:

  • The most frequent compliment I receive about the game was concerning the length. People really dig the “two hours split into two acts” formula. They know when to show up, what to expect, and when things would wrap up. It fits like a glove over the college lifestyle… And the “working adult” lifestyle too, I imagine.
  • Maze Rats leveling worked how I wanted it to. I’ve rarely had games go on this long, so it was difficult to see if the progression system was long enough to keep people active in their leveling. There was only one PC that reached the max level of seven at the last session. To me, that’s perfect.
  • The “shields shatter to negate damage” rule is cool in a vacuum, but can be obnoxious at the table. I will say that they soaked three or four critical hits that would’ve easily wiped those characters. However, there’s only so many times I can describe a shield shattering. AND players were trying to find ways to get more than one shield and hoard them as “overshields” like in Halo. AND they would just use downtime to buy more shields! Lame, but practical. I would like more cool and practical.
  • Side-based combat is forever a MUST for me, both as a player and as a GM. Things flow so much faster. Plus, when players are on a timer they work together to get their turn done as fast as effectively as possible. And there are more opportunities for teamwork. You don’t have to delay until someone else goes anymore.
  • However, as a side-note for side-based, having to roll each round is dramatic. Which is good. Players yell and scream when they roll low. It’s a crushing blow. When they roll high, everyone gets pumped for the new round. Going twice is HUGE for the players. But when the GM goes twice, players aren’t robbed of agency to react to things, but it’s pretty close… Especially if they just get attacked by the same monster for a second time and die to it. That happened twice or thrice. Into the Odd, which I’ve been reading and is grandfather to Maze Rats, has an initiative alternative that is side-based in nature that I will most likely be using for future games.
  • Maze Rats has random tables that are amazing. That is all.
  • I loved 2d6 games. Simple math, bell curve, yummy.

For running the finale: I made the final fight time-based. The long and short of it is that Skorne was destroying Death for immortality. Behind the screen I had a six-section pie chart. Every 25 minutes, the timer would go off and I would describe more of the dead coming back to life as Death is being defeated. Specifically, the guardians of the Artifacts they had been receiving all this time were coming back with a vengeance. It was a neat “tour de accomplishments.” They already knew all the tricks for each of the boss monsters and could feel smart for outmaneuvering them. On my side, all I had to do to prep was copy and paste their stats from another sheet. Easy! 🙂

If the pie chart filled all the way, Death was destroyed and Skorne could not be killed. With a new force of undead behind him, he would take the city for good and quash any resistance. Oh yeah, I had a “dark ending” ready.

Once Skorne was defeated, they each narrated their own epilogue scene. It was very sentimental for most of the narrations. Happy tears. 🙂

After the last session, there was a talkback about all the background things that happened and I finally stopped misdirecting questions. It was incredibly liberating to be able to tell the truth about most aspects of the game… But I still kept some secrets. GMs are like magicians that way, I guess…

Enjoy the summer and play good games! I can promise more posts in the form of games coming down the pipe. Basically for next semester, my group is going to split into HARD-CORE and softies groups. They’ll be playing BLOOD AND CHROME, a tough-as-nails cyberpunk hack of Into the Odd, and Pokemon Adventures, a beer-and-pretzels game based on Ryuutama and Savage Worlds and Pokemon, obviously.

I don’t think I’ll ever have time to run my Knave Hack. Sad days…

Campaign of Skorne: Endgame

The Maze Rats have their backs to the wall! In a stunning turn of events, Kothar, the guild’s lead wizard, has been attacked by an Artifact placed in the Bleak Hound tavern by the players, unaware of its evil nature. The Artifact in question, a book stolen from a deranged magician in the wilderness grew tendrils and choked our beloved wizard. The players came back to the save the day, but the damage had been done. Kothar found that his powers of portal-casting had left him. The Maze Rats now have no method by which to flee the City of Skorne to the wilderness.

They will have to fight their way to freedom.

The End of Session XP questions of the campaign have essentially changed for good:

At the end of each session, the group will answer the following questions (plus any the GM chooses to add):

• “Did we depose one of the Lords of the Districts?”

• “Did we use an Artifact against the forces of darkness?”

• “Did we cooperate as a contingent of the Maze Rats?”

For each “yes” all PCs mark 1 XP.

The New Rules

I’ve been really digging the three end of session XP questions ala Dungeon World as a schema of rewards:

It simplifies the criteria of the rewards. It’s only a “yes” or “no” for each question, but often I find that players are explaining each answer with evidence, which serves as a great recap of what all happened that session. “No, we didn’t depose of one the Lords. Krenko got away… for now.” “Yes, we used the Standard of the Vanguard against the deadbone soldiers. They will cower before us!” “Yes we worked together. How else could we have coordinated such an awesome attack on the Duchess of the Undead?”

The campaign is changing and we are in the final stages. I’m really loving this transition to a city game as the players now have to turn on the Lords. It’s getting real personal.

Last session there wasn’t a full party of players present so they did recon for future missions. Gathering info is very important as the deck is stacked against them… VERY stacked.