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Atlas Games has released an Open Games License version of WaRP, the mechanical part of Over the Edge. (For those who haven’t heard of it, Over the Edge was a tremendously influential role-playing game released 20 years ago. And yes, there’s an anniversary edition.)

The PDF included in the download package is so horribly formatted that I had to slurp it into InDesign and rejigger it just to get something I could stand to look at, and while I was doing that, some half-formed rules popped into my head for handling Call of Cthulhu-style Sanity loss. (Odd, because I never really liked Call of Cthulhu as a game.) They look like this:

Instead of having a Sanity rating that starts out high and gets eroded, we have a Madness rating that starts out low and builds. Each character starts with 0 Madness (though you can start higher if you want, as part of your Flaw).

When your character runs into something horrible, the GM calls for a Madness roll. The GM rolls a number of dice based on the horribleness of the thing you ran into. You pick a Trait to use to oppose this roll, and take a number of penalty dice equal to your Madness.

(I was originally gonna have the GM roll your Madness + horribleness dice, but realized that’d be a pain in the butt for testing multiple characters at once.)

If you fail the roll, two things happen: (1) Your Madness goes up by 1 point, and (2) whatever Trait you used for the Madness roll gets cracked.

What does cracked mean? In fictional terms, it means that your character now has a psychological association between the Trait and the horrible thing. In game-mechanical terms, it means you make a mark next to that Trait on your sheet, and from then on, every time you roll that Trait, one (or more, because your Trait can be cracked more than once) of your dice should be of a distinction color or size. If the distinctive dice roll highest (or among the highest, in the case of ties; and in the case of bonus/penalty dice, we’re only counting the dice you keep for your total), you have to narrate some sort of crazy behavior into your action. This doesn’t have to mean success becoming failure; just that your character is becoming unhinged in some way that comes out sometimes when you use this Trait.

A Trait that has been cracked a number of times equal to its die rating is fully cracked. A character goes fully insane if their Central Trait becomes fully cracked, or if every one of their other, non-Central, Traits becomes fully cracked.

Fringe powers should probably start out with one crack each.

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Not certain, but I’m guessing that this has something to do with this.

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Idea 1: Alignments as trust networks

Ben Robbins on D&D alignments, over on Story Games:

Detect Evil doesn’t make someone glow red. The paladin or cleric just says “trust me, that person is evil, kill them.” And why do you believe that guy? Because he’s lawful good? How do you know he’s lawful good? Because he says so, and he’s part of some well recognized religion which says “this is what’s right and wrong, we’re lawful good, trust us.”

(Note, a later commenter has pointed out that in Basic D&D, at least, the Detect Evil spell did cause things to glow. Too late, though; I’d already been inspired.)

Idea: Cyberpunk setting where society has degenerated into something feudal and strongly influenced by fantasy gaming, with sufficiently ubiquitous wireless networking that netrunners are very like wizards. Alignments are basically just mutually exclusive trusted-key networks, possibly affiliated with social organizations, like religions, bunds, corporations, or franchise nations.

Still missing: A reason for the various alignments to be exclusive. Because if they’re not, they’re not alignment-like, are they?

Idea 2: Memory-palace magic

Idea: Wizards need to set up memory palaces to do magic and memorize their various spells and arcane formulae. Players actually map out their memory palaces, noting which areas relate to which magical abilities. Magical combat consists of invading someone else’s memory palace, which involves using the map for tactical combat. (Possibly Diaspora-style social combat.) Assuming Fate rules, maneuvers can place Aspects on a zone in a memory palace, which can then be Compelled later on whenever the wizard tries to call upon that zone for a magical effect.

Could maybe be adapted for an Inception-like game?

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A dice mechanic looking for a game:

Assume an RPG where you roll a die, or dice, of varying size to check for success. Like, the dice range from d4 to d12, and you’re looking to get a high number or sum. I think the Cortex system uses something like this — roll a few dice, keep the best two, add them.

So, what if there’s a mechanic that lets you, after you’ve rolled, take out one die and replace it with a re-rolled die one size smaller? Like, you’re rolling a d10, but it comes up crappy (you rolled like a 1 or a 2 or something), so you do a thing (invoke an Aspect, spend a Plot Point, whatever) and you get to yank that die and re-roll with a d8. Odds are pretty good you’ll beat a 2, but not as good as with a d10. This could represent some kind of desperation, a gamble against ever-worsening odds.

I dunno, though. It’s still missing something. I mean, if you’ve got any sense of probabilities, you know how to bet in that re-roll, right? The average roll on a d8 is 4.5, so it only really pays to re-roll that d10 if it comes out 3 or lower. Does this have any teeth to it?

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According to someone on RPG.net, Margaret Weis Productions is discontinuing their Battlestar Galactica and Serenity RPGs, and you can get the PDF versions massively discounted on DriveThruRPG.com, but only if you buy today. I see that the Serenity main rulebook, for example, is now $10 instead of $40. (Isn’t $40 kind of a lot for a PDF?) Anyway, I decided not to buy anything, but I figured other people might be interested:

Oh, wait, the BSG Quickstart Guide is free (usually $10). Might as well snag that….

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Oh, man, y’know what’d be awesome? Fate-based Car Wars/Mad Max-style setting using Diaspora as a base. Some kind of simple point-based vehicle-building system (based on Diaspora’s ship-building rules), and a road combat mini-game.

Mini Six

Dec. 8th, 2010 02:09 am
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Anyone out there looking for some lightweight role-playing rules, but not up for all this newfangled indie hippy gaming stuff, might want to check out Mini Six, a stripped-down version of the Open D6 rules. (Open D6 itself is an open version of the rules behind the old West End Games Ghostbusters and Star Wars games.)

The Mini Six rules are downloadable for free as a 36-page PDF. Only about 20 pages of that is rules; the rest is five sample settings:

  • “Perdition”, Firefly with the serial numbers filed off
  • “Rust Moons of Castia”, a fantasy setting (probably based on some other setting that I don’t recognize)
  • “Farnsley’s Phantasm Investigations”, Victorian steampunk Ghostbusters
  • “Precint ’77”, a ’70s cop show
  • “Imperium in Revolt”, thinly-disguised Star Wars

Also, the downloads page has a link for another free PDF containing “The Door to Infinity”, a Doctor Who-like setting. And there’s a fan submissions page with a couple more free settings: an old-fashioned radio-style sci-fi setting, and a modern-day zombie game.

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An idea that came to me in a thread on Story Games about card-game design: Fate’s Aspects could be reworked using cards.

I figure each player gets a deck of Aspect cards, with each of that PC’s Aspects written on one card. At the start of the session you shuffle your deck, place it face down, and draw (say) five cards. These are the Aspects you have available to invoke in that scene.

To invoke, you take an Aspect card from your hand, and play it face-up on the table in front of you. (No need to spend a Fate point; this system replaces Fate points.) You then get the usual stuff you get by invoking an Aspect — +2, re-roll, or declare something. But you can’t invoke that Aspect again until it comes back into your hand. Aspects on the table are available for compels. When someone compels your Aspect, you take that card and put it back in your deck. At some point you’d shuffle and redraw, but I don’t have any good ideas about that yet.

In a typical game of Diaspora or Spirit of the Century you’d have ten cards for your ten Aspects. I think maybe in a Dresden Files game, where you only have seven aspects, you’d make three extra copies of your High Concept (or maybe two of your High Concept and one extra of your Trouble?), giving you ten cards.

For tagging environmental and other character’s Aspects, I think you’d get a few extra cards in your deck, saying “Environment” or “Opponent”. Play those to tag those Aspects. When someone uses an Opponent card to tag or compel one of your Aspects, you get to pick up one of your tabled Aspect card and put it in your deck. (This part seems a bit awkward.)

Game names

Feb. 28th, 2010 10:43 pm
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Hey, indie role-playing game designers! I love many of your games, but there’s this one thing’s been driving me nuts, and I think you could maybe do something about it: When you’re coming up with a name for your game, could you consider that people interested in it are going to do Google searches, not just for the game’s home page, but for online discussions?

Take Vincent Baker as your model in this. When you google for Dogs in the Vineyard, Kill Puppies for Satan, or Mechaton, you get links pointing to pages about those games.

But what if you’ve been hearing about this awesome SF RPG called Diaspora? Not only do none of those links point to anything having to do with the game in question, but one of them is about an entirely different game! The same goes for Shock:.

Worse yet is a game I found mentioned today on an RPG forum — Project: Vanguard. Without the colon, this was the name of a US Naval Research Labs project from the 1950s, with the goal of launching a satellite. Not only does a simple Google search not turn up anything about the game, but “vanguard” is a common enough term in RPG names and discussions that even putting the name in quotes and adding “rpg”, while it does turn up good links, also turns up a lot of false positives.

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Rope in Fate

Watching the latter part of Hitchock’s Rope, it seems to me that you could run that whole long psychological and investigative cat-and-mouse game in Fate, with most of the movie consisting of Investigation, Empathy, and Deceit rolls, trying to assess and declare aspects, leading up to a big Will conflict at the end.

Also, that scene at the end where Jimmy Stewart’s character summons the cops by firing a gun out the window? Hope there wasn’t anyone standing where the bullets came down.

An encumbrance mechanic

An idea for D&D-like games: Give each player an (empty) Altoids tin, or some other small container. This is a holder for the items their character is carrying. For small items (scrolls, flasks of potion, daggers) use scraps of paper or business card. For larger items, use pieces of wood or Lego or other substantial items. You’ve got to write the names of the items they represent on these objects, so if you don’t want to write on your Lego blocks, use something else.

If you’ve got several different sizes of small box, give the larger ones to the players with stronger characters. If all you’ve got is the same size box, give the weaker players null items (Lego blocks with nothing written on them) to represent a smaller carrying capacity.

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Shortly before going to bed last night, I saw a thread on Story-Games about cobbling together an RPG based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics.

Result: Last night, I dreamed that I was reading the sixth Scott Pilgrim book, and there was a bit where one character says of another, “She decided not to show up since she’s already got two minor consequences.”

Though now that I’ve run the idea through my mostly-awake brain, I suppose Teenagers from Outer Space would make a good starting point. On the other hand, the video game aspects of the books would work pretty well with a leveling-up system like d20 or Microlite20.

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Everyone who plays RPGs oughta go read Dylan Horrocks’s short comics story, “The Physics Engine”. I’m especially thinking of [livejournal.com profile] jimhenley and [livejournal.com profile] bruceb here.

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You could make a great character- or scenario-generation system for a role-playing game by just picking one item from each category on the Periodic Table of Awesoments. I’m thinking some kind of Primetime Adventures game where you’re running a bad ’70s action TV show. “OK, So I’m Mister T with a Rocket and a Battle Axe, in Space, fighting Alien Ghosts with my pet Cobra! And I have to incorporate product placement bits for Beef Jerky and Beer.”

Or the world’s strangest Clue variant.

(via BoingBoing)

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Looking through some old Alarums & Excrusions zines, I found the following in a comment I wrote back in May 2002:

Actually, I’ve got some ideas about running a Ranma-like game, and they require some different mechanics. […] At the core is a token mechanic, where each character has disads that he can trigger (or that can be triggered by other characters). Triggering your own disads gains you a token (I’d probably use poker chips) in the GM agrees that your PC was actually disadvantaged, or it was funny. Triggering someone else’s disad requires you to give that player a token. Some special powers might also require paying a token to use for advantage. This mechanic simulates the stupidity of the Ranma characters — they often fail to do simple, rational things because they lack the tokens to pay for them.

The Aspects mechanic from Fate and Wheel of Fate would work well for this.

I could swear I saw a martial-arts Wheel of Fate game out there somewhere on the web a few weeks ago, but Google hasn’t found it for me.


Sep. 7th, 2008 01:43 am
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I’ve been hankering for more gaming in my life, so when I heard that NerdNYC was having a gaming get-together within walking distance of my home, I couldn’t miss out. (Though I didn’t actually walk, since it was raining.)

I played one game of Jungle Speed, a tense twitch game that relies on fast pattern-recognition skills. I’ve played it before at GC. I came maddeningly close to winning at one point, then fell way behind.

Then I got into a couple of games of Incan Gold, a quick, simple game with a treasure-hunter theme (and step-pyramid art, though I don’t think the Incans were pyramid builders). Players explore a tunnels as a group, with each player having the opportunity, at the end of each turn, to either press on or return to camp. Returning secures your existing treasure, and might let you scoop up more on the way out, but bars you from further gains in that tunnel. Pressing on gives you the opportunity for further treasure, but risks losing it to a random hazard card. There’s a strong chicken aspect to the game. It supports up to eight players, and I think it’s better with larger groups.

For role-playing, I signed up for what is probably [livejournal.com profile] cadhla’s ideal dream game: The PCs were all Disney characters, living in Kingdom Hearts-style linked worlds, when the zombie apocalypse hit. ([livejournal.com profile] bugsybanana says that for it to be truly Cadhla’s perfect game, it would have to smell of pumpkin spice.) We started out holed up in Scrooge McDuck’s money pit, and wound up heading to the setting of Aladdin to get the genie’s lamp and end the plague. I played Huey Duck; the other PCs were Scar from The Lion King, Mulan and Mushu, Sally from The nightmare before Christmas, Clayton from Tarzan, and Gonzo from The Muppet Show.

The really odd thing about this game was the resolution mechanic, which involved pulling a piece from a Jenga tower to do anything dangerous or interesting. If the tower collapsed, your character died. This only happened once, near the end of the session, but for a good half the game the tower was really intimidatingly skeletal, and we all eyed it warily as we weighed our options.

It also occurred to me that you could use this mechanic for a really tasteless game in which the PCs are firemen trying to evacuate the WTC on 9/11.

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Via [livejournal.com profile] jimhenley, here's the table of contents of Green Ronin's book Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Titles I own (or have owned) are in bold, titles I've played are in italic, titles I've both are both:

Big long list )
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LPJ’s Choice and Blood is a d20 Modern supplement about abortion, centering on the conflicts around abortion clinics. It includes new intermediary classes like Clinic Defender, Sidewalk Counselor, and Blogger, and its new feats include Flash Mob, Medical Immortality, and Street Demonstration.

It’s a 24-page PDF, and it’s not free; I’m not sure how much it costs. This thread on Story Games suggests that this may be just a cheap attempt to make quick cash off of a sensational idea. But if I owned d20 Modern I’d be tempted to get it just for those classes and feats.

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Something that popped into my head this afternoon while crossing Herald Square to buy Trauma Center: Star Trek would make a pretty good variant Dogs in the Vineyard setting. It’s got the basic format down — character go from place to place encountering problems, indoctrinating the locals into their belief system (interplanetary bourgeois liberalism), and depending on the situation, dispensing advice or lending a helping hand or kicking ass or making out with the virginal space hooker. That whole moral issue at the heart of Dogs, that of whether the moral situation justifies escalating to violence, that’s a natural for Trek.

The bit that doesn’t fit is space combat. I can’t see having each of the bridge crew handling their own station as a full conflict participant — that’s just too many traits and dice floating around for the density of narrative.

One solution is a group conflict system of some kind, one where all the characters get to contribute to the same pool of dice. But I’m not sure how to work this. Maybe for each arena, you’d define both a pair of stats and a pair of bridge positions, and each of those positions contributes one of the two stats’ dice. Like, maybe:

  • Talking: Captain and Communications
  • Chasing/Fleeing: Navigation and Engineering
  • Fighting: Captain and Helm

I can’t think of a fourth, and I’m not sure what stats to use. There should probably be a catch-all for things like trying to beam up your planet-side crew members without letting the Klingons get a shot in while your shields are down, and maybe a way of handling repairs. And the Captain can call on any player to contribute trait dice as narration requires, but there may need to be a way to keep this from leading to a huge dice pool.

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Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] lumpley, I’ve heard about The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, a narrativist RPG set among the faculty of a small northeastern college in 1919, that asks the question Are you willing to swallow a soul-eating telepathic insect bent on destroying human civilization if it will get you tenure?

Not cool enough for you? How ’bout this: No gamemaster. Also, you can play a full campaign in a single session of three or four hours.

Still not enough? OK, check out this two-page ad in comic form: Page 1, page 2.

Or just go download the draft version in PDF format for free. (The final version should go on sale in a week or two from Bully Pulpit Games.)

Purple sage

May. 3rd, 2005 10:54 pm
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I’m halfway through Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, which was recommended as a good inspirational source for Dogs in the Vineyard. And it is, even though the Mormons in the book are the bad guys. There’s a strong faithful-versus-the-unfaithful plotline, with a Mormon Elder organizing his community to interfere with a powerful businesswoman who’s being too friendly with the Gentiles. There’s lots of useful period and location color — I’d never thought about how visible people would be against the sky when standing on a ridge.

And the opening chapter reads almost like a series of just-talking conflicts, with stakes clearly defined and the hero bringing his gun dice in at the end of the last one without actually escalating. I’m going to disappoint [livejournal.com profile] drcpunk here by not actually marking up the damn chapter with game mechanics, mostly because it would be tedious, but also because I can’t resolve whether it’s got three conflicts with the second and third being over the same stakes (a no-no), or just two conflicts with a new PC joining in the middle of the second (also a no-no). Here, go read it for yourself.

I’ve read that Riders was phenomenally popular in its time. It was published in 1912, which means that most of the old pulp SF writers probably read it growing up. When I read the first of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books I realized that this was the prose style that Gary Gygax had been trying to imitate, and sadly failing. With Riders I see the style that those old pulp writers were trying to imitate, and sadly succeeding. There are enough puzzles set up that I actually want to see how the story comes out, but if I have to read much more about the damn three-year-old girl who says things like “Has oo a little dirl?” I may just give up.

April 2017



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