Thursday, June 13, 2019

Freeform, Light Characters

As outlined in the last post on playing the world with freeform, light rules, creating a character becomes a process of developing a description and highlighting only the significant, to play, attributes.

How might this work?

First, come up with a concept around the role you want to play. This can be a profession, a character type, or even a simple background. Later, you'll attach a name and a short title to this role.

Then, come up with a description of a couple of lines or sentences. This description will include the characteristics (such as deft, tough, cunning) and the skills (swordplay, climbing, crafting) that best fit the role you have in mind, and any quirks that make a character unique.

How to come up with a concept or description and pick skills and characteristics? The freeform technique means that this can be almost anything. You can choose from a book or show that you like. You can draw a picture or choose a miniature, and let what you see be your guide. You can pick up any RPG rules and choose character professions and characteristics and abilities that capture your interest and look playable. You can even roll a few dice for the stats in that rulebook (such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, and so on) and shape your concept around the results.

When you're satisfied with the description, then pick out the notable attributes: from 5 to 7 is a good number. Assign a +2 score to two at most, and +1 to the rest. This does not have to be exact, or add up to given number of points, because it's up to the player and the GM to judge how valuable each attribute might be.

Here are two characters, built using this method, with sketches as inspiration.

Gilbert Lurkerer, professional sneak, is extremely quick and quiet, clever, handy with a short blade or a thrown missile, and an affable gossip.
Quick+2, Quiet+1, Clever +1, Short blades +1, Throw +1, Gossip +1

Temerra Quickfoot, woodlands archer, is uncannily deft and graceful as any of her elven kin. She is a deadly archer, skilled hunter, and master of all the woodlands.
Deft+2, Elvish Grace+1, Deadly Archer+2, Hunter+1, Woodlands+1

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Play the World

Searching the for insights into the 'free-form" role-playing procedures of some of the earliest GMs and designers, the Tinkerage came across an intriguing series of posts called "Play the world, not the rules" on Darkworm Colt.

This is a method that you can summarize on a page, uses only six-sided dice, descriptive character generation, and just two basic mechanics. And the point of this is that the rules, the "Visible Rulebook" to borrow a term from from S. John Ross, are necessary only to the extent that they facilitate the interaction between the players, their characters, and the worlds they want to explore.

Here's the method for playing the world:

1 - Characters

Briefly describe your character, including notable attributes, like skills, characteristics, or professions (maybe five or so). One or two attributes may count as outstanding (use two words for emphasis like "excellent tracker"). The necessary level of detail is to create a playable role.

If you're stuck, roll dice to help you decide on your attributes, and refer to any work of fiction, rule-set or character generation system for ideas about stats and skills, professions, and backgrounds.

In general, a modifier for a notable one-word attribute is +1, an outstanding two-word attribute (skilled swordsman, talented pilot) is +2, and rare superlative attributes (exceptional swordsman; best pilot in the system) are +3.

2 - Tests

When you need to account for risk or uncertainty, roll the dice. An average roll (around 7) is average, you most likely continue but the situation is not necessarily resolved, high is good (around 9+) and usually decisive, low (around 5-) is bad and entails negative consequences.

Apply modifiers for suitable character attributes and the situation and equipment in the +3 to -3 range.

3 - Opposed rolls

Roll the dice for opposing efforts (such as combat, but also other cases of active opposition) and compare. Highest wins, and the bigger the difference the more decisive the outcome. Apply modifiers, as for tests.

4 - Hit points

Darkworm Colt uses a "three strikes" system: character can take three hits and then they're out. Tougher characters might have more hits at the GMs discretion.

For the sake of greater flexibility, I'd suggest six hits, with stronger characters adding 1 or 2 more as indicated by a suitable attribute. Lighter attacks deal 1 hit. Heavier attacks can inflict 2 or 3 hits. The GM should apply judgement and err on the side of character survival. A character at exactly zero hits is stunned, staggered, dropped, and so on, but not dead.

5 - Play the world

The game isn't in the method; the game is in the sources you choose for inspiration, in the worlds you construct, and in the scenarios the GM devises and the creativity players bring to them.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Bertuhng's Tomb - a bullet scenario

Before the good part, a scenario using bullet-style annotation, a quick note about the planned demise of Google+.

The Tinkerage has shared posts to G+ in the past. Some of the broader community posts on G+ have been infested, particularly of late, with spam and and toxic political activity, but the Community groups have been ideal for integration with Blogger and supported a substantial amount of interesting content for RPGs. The Tinkerage will continue to publish to Blogger, right here, but has made no commitment to any of the alternative online communities currently being promoted.

Bertuhng's Tomb

:: Village of Devensford, on the edge of the Miring Marsh.

: Once, many ages ago, the marsh was a pleasant lowland, part of a prosperous kingdom. Then, the plains fell or the river changed course, and the pastures and groves became a sticky, disorienting collection of marshlands and bogs. Old tombs and ruins are still to be found in the trackless wastes.

> Wherever the characters stop for the night in the village, all the talk is of wandering ghosts, and in particular, the spirit of King Bertuhng, ancient steward and hero of the land. That very night, Bertuhng passes through the village in an aura of *Terror, and flourishes a massive, flickering sword before dawn breaks and banishes all restless spirits.
> The tavern talk is that the lost tomb of the old king has been disturbed, a possibility the travelling scholar Nearfis scoffs at (Scholar [2] +Learned, +Well-travelled, *Sharp). But it's certain that none shall sleep easily in the village until the matter is settled, and there's no doubt treasure or somesuch, including the long gone king's enchanted sword, to be found in the marshes. The only person who knows anything for sure about the marsh and the old kingdom is Parson Treeth.

:: The parsonage, Devensford
: A rambling house, somewhat distant from the main part of the village.
: Treeth ([2] !Local Lore, -Infirm) has, in truth, heard rumours of the old tomb, and believes it lies north in the swamp, on the east side of a lake there, but he warns that no one can find their way within the marshes.
>A scouting party of gor-rats are skulking about the parsonage, and eavesdropping if they can.
>Gor-rats will attack the parsonage with fire if they feel the occupants aren't alert.

Gor-rats, Slinking Rat-men [1]
*Filthy blades

:: The Miring Marsh
: Vast, sodden marshlands
> Characters will meander and make little progress in the marshes. There can be suitable opportunities to become trapped, lost, exhausted, or drown. The marshes are supernaturally ! disorienting: watercourses change, the sun and stars are often shrouded, every horizon looks the same.
>Eventually, the characters will encounter the will-o-the-wisp lights of Trilits, who attempt to lure travellers into their boggy :: Trilit Hole with delicate floating lights that the Trilits fashion from a particular species of decaying reed.

Trilits, Gnarled, diminutive, bush-whacking marsh-dwellers [1]
* Bite, scratch, throttle

:: Trilit Hole. A muddy trap where Trilits mass on and hope to kill their exhausted victims. In this particular hole there is the submerged skeleton of a previous adventurer with a fabled |norther-ring on its finger.

| Norther-ring: a tin ring, that has no great value, except that it imparts on the wearer a clear sense of the direction north.

:: Berthung's Tomb
: An ancient tomb mound, partly submerged in the Miring Marsh.
: Nearfis, a scholar of somewhat darker arts than are apparent at first (+Sorcerer), is camped here with a party of gor-rats and three hobolds.
: The hobolds, capable if crude miners, have opened a simple tunnel into the side of the mound, bypassing the corridor and cursed burial chambers, and the blocked door to the east of the mound.

Hobolds [2]
! Mineworks
+ Strong
* Pick-axe

: A careful search around the side of the mound will reveal a narrow crack that provides access to one of the lesser tombs. The whole tomb is now knee deep in fetid water.

:: Outer tombs
: Four lesser tombs, arranged along the central corridor. Vengeful +Curses, and cold, incorporeal Wraiths guard this area.

Wraiths [1]
+Icy touch
- Hatred of light and flame

:: Inner tomb
: The waterlogged inner tomb is the king's last resting place, now haunted by his troubled ghost. If Bertuhng senses the characters oppose Nearfis and his vermin, he may side with them, deploying his stronger aura of +Terror.
: The king's fabled sword lies at the foot of his bier, under water. If raised to drive off the profane, it will blaze with a purging +Blue Flame, but once the battle is concluded, the badly rusted sword will crumble into fragments.
: Driving Nearfis and his minions away from the tomb, even at the cost of the destruction of the sword, will calm the spirit of Bertuhng.
: Apart from the sword, there are minor treasures recoverable from the barrow: some gold, silver, precious stones, and the like.
: If the characters defeat or capture Nearfis, he will have some (stolen) trinkets of minor value at hand.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

FOIL: Outline for a System

Things have been quiet at The Tinkerage of late, while dithering over whether to purchase and review the new RuneQuest: Glorantha (probably not) and skimming the pre-release PDFs for Warhammer Fantasy (4th Ed.).

All these heavy rulebooks (not to mention the unbearably turgid Zweihander, an overwrought clone of WHFRP now somewhat surpassed by the new edition), put me in the mood for a light, streamlined, highly flexible system – a dagger to wield in preference to the weighty zweihander, if you will.

In that spirit, I drafted the Freeform, Open, Instant, Light (FOIL) RPG, inspired by another masterpiece of light design, RISUS.

FOIL (Freeform, Open, Instant, Light) Roleplaying

Freeform Characters

Design a character with a set of Attributes in the 1-4 range, out of 10 points. Create a short brief or description, then pull out some suitable attributes. Each attribute should be specific but usable: "sneak-thief" is preferable to "sneaky". Add as much detail as needed.

  • 1 is capable, 2 is good, 3 is significant, 4 (and higher) is exceptional

Sample Character

Landser – a penniless aristocrat, trained in swordplay and drawn to the dark arts of sorcery. He has steely nerves (and questionable ethics).
Classical Fencer 3, Penniless Aristocrat 3, Dilettante Occult Scholar 2, Nerve 2

Tests and Tasks

For most tests and tasks, roll 2d6, add a relevant Attribute (or zero) and try for 7 (just made it) or better. Any other attribute assigned to the environment constitutes a negative or positive modifier, depending on the circumstances.


In a conflict, roll and add your attribute; your opponent does the same. The higher result wins. Equal results draw.

When you get into a serious or sustained conflict, such as a fight, you also commit your most relevant attribute to the conflict, which is not necessarily your fighting attribute itself. The committed attribute rank is used as a counter.

(If you have no suitable attribute to commit, then you have to take your chances and hope your opponent, or whatever is targeting you, misses.)

Rolls are compared as usual for a conflict, and the loser drops one point from the committed counter. When the counter hits zero, the loser takes a condition attribute, with a suitable 1–4 rating, usually with a negative consequence, as determined by the GM. The active attribute is not affected until the counter is exhausted (0) and consequences apply.

For example, a Deft Swordsman 4 would certainly commit their Deft Swordsman attribute as a counter in a fight, and when their guard fails and parries are exhausted, the character takes a hit, such as Gash 2. But a thief with Fast Dagger 2 and Duck and Weave 3 might well commit Duck and Weave 3 to a fight, while striking with their dagger.

Other Stuff

Stuff like armour probably provides a counter in addition to the other attribute the player commits, and once the armour counts down it gains the Battered or Tattered attribute, which then affects the next commit, and so on.

Resetting Counters and Conditions

Counters quickly reset, usually after a rest, but condition attributes are slower to heal and follow the GMs judgement (i.e., gunshots are harder to heal than simple exhaustion).

Monday, April 23, 2018

Review - Tales from the Green Dragon Inn

The two or three souls who occasionally wander into the Tinkerage will recognize both the "Green Dragon" as an establishment and the name of Eldrad Wolfsbane, or Chris Medders, who is also the author of the free-form RPG Dungeonpunk, which is reviewed here. Tales from the Green Dragon Inn is a "story telling game" inspired by the Tinkerage's thought experiment in Narrative Adventures at the Green Dragon Pub, which speculates how a scholar-author's RPG sessions might appear if they came to gaming without published rulebooks but plenty of creativity and care.

What are the hallmarks of a "Green Dragon" game?

  • Free-form characters, created through description.
  • Deep, immersive settings.
  • Light, improvised rules that are steered by the game-world and its expectations, and rely on creative interpretation.
  • Using common materials (notebooks, six-sided dice, counters from other games).

So how do the Tales from the Green Dragon Inn compare?

Character generation, using notes on a "character sheet", is exactly what it should be: descriptive, detailed, and encouraging imagination. The short sample characters are nice guides. The only point to make is that the Green Dragon Inn game seems very rooted in Dungeons & Dragons fantasy, such that the suggested classes and occupations are recognizably D&D, namely fighting man, rogue, holy man (cleric), and magic-user. This is fine as these things go, but one would hope that Green Dragon players would look beyond the regular character class stereotypes.

Players don't really need to know the rules before they begin, but the rules are perfect for Green Dragon play. Most tasks are resolved by a luck roll and interpretation. The target range is similar to that used by the "Powered by the Apocalypse" system, where a 6 to 8 is an "average" roll, higher is better, and the narrator can treat results as appropriate. Combat, as in the original post, is only slightly more complex, where more powerful creatures present a higher number to be hit. A nice addition to combat is a short chart of wounds, from scratches to fatal, which more or less matches the luck table. Armor is introduced as a way to soak up wounds, although in my opinion medium armor should be able to take more than a "scratch". All in all, it's a very light, easy system that encourages adjudication at the table.

It's fair to say that the text is riddled with spelling mistakes and other expression errors, and I hope the next upload corrects the spelling of narrative as "narritive" [sic] on the cover[1]. And there's no need to emphasize every other sentence, virtually, with an exclamation mark. But, with its simple type and layout, Tales from the Green Dragon Inn certainly conveys enthusiasm and the home-made creativity that encapsulates the ethos of the Green Dragon style.

Another quibble is that we find in the "Monsters" list references to "kids", "women", and "men". None of these are, of course, monsters, and I would hesitate to include items in a table that imply that kids are fair game for combat, or that women are for some reason less dangerous in combat than men.

But, while the world of Tales from the Green Dragon Inn is more strongly grounded in the familiar tropes of dungeon fantasy roleplaying than the professor's world (or Arihmere, we hope) the author is committed to fun and adventure in that world, and the simple rules and free-form procedures are a perfect example of Green Dragon style play in action. Let's hope that the Green Dragon Inn hosts many memorable games, and inspires even more.

DISCLOSURE: As above, Tales from the Green Dragon Inn was inspired partly by a Tinkerage post, and the author generously provided a free copy for this review.

1. Glad to say the cover has, in fact, been updated since this review was first posted. Good to see a quick response from the author.

This update May 15, 2018.

Monday, February 5, 2018

A skirmish at the Green Dragon pub

As has been noted elsewhere, at some of its most dramatic moments, the professor's curious mix of tale-telling and game can involve combats, about which the professor is remarkably clear-eyed.

Such encounters, be they skirmishes or pitched battles, arise from the scenario and choices made in play: they are never forced for their own sake, and the players' characters often (but not always) have a chance to avoid them. Rarely, if ever, do two equally matched opponents stand forth for a gentlemanly bout.

Sometimes, whatever playing pieces are at hand, from chess-men to checkers, may be first arranged to show the rough situation, but this is far from necessary, and short encounters may well be resolved without them.

Whoever chooses to act and move first, whatever the consequences, does so. If the characters are ambushed, then they must respond to the ambush. If they charge or strike, then they have the initiative. From then on, each move and counter-move is resolved as most makes sense. Every player may take some sort of action before the turn is ended.

Given the risk, dice are rolled to resolve each combat. Each player rolls, and the professor adjudicates the outcome based on their skills, tactics, armaments, and position. Usually, a roll of six or more is required for the character to hold their ground and at least keep up their guard. Depending on the foe, a higher roll may be required to strike and prevail. For example, we see in the notes that a "man-at-arms" or "greater goblin" may be slain with a roll of seven or more, but a fearsome troll is wounded only on a roll of nine or more, and a dragon struck on a twelve only. More formidable foes may withstand several hits before they are felled. Even so, when allocating hits, the higher the roll, the better.

A roll of less than 6 means that some sort of setback, a blow, hurt, or wound, is suffered. The lower the roll, the more severe the consequence. The professor is unsparing of both sides, and so a player who rolls low may be wounded, dazed, or even felled and left-for-dead. Some enemies wield dreadful weapons, which may leave a festering wound or even sickness of spirit.

Players look always for sixes – the "crown" on the dice they roll, and two crowns are unstoppable. A single crown indicates a minor boon or advantage. Perhaps the blade bites deep, hampering the foe, or an opponent can be daunted or forced to retreat. Ones, the "evil eye" are feared. A single one may show a disadvantage or complication, but double-ones indicate an evil turn. When ones and sixes appear at the same time, the roll is an alarming close call, with gains and losses for both sides!

Fights do not necessarily end in death. Stern opposition may indeed cause the enemy to falter, but they may flee, or regroup, or attempt to surround the adventurers or even split them. Many goblins could retreat from a single warrior, only to turn and launch arrows at his shield to weight it down. By this token, wise warriors know when to flee, and when a threat is beyond their powers. Recklessness and blood-lust are not rewarded in the Green Dragon game.

Against the most dreadful monsters, only a cunning strategy, knowing the fatal flaw in a dragon's hide or the means to pierce the spell that protects an ancient horror, has any real chance of succeeding. There is always a place for heroism, though, and even a common soldier may hope to defeat the old and strong and cruel if he or she is stout-hearted and battle-wise.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Too Many Hacks

After reading The Black Hack, reviews of Whitehack, and Sharp Swords and Sinister Spells (yet another "Hack" system hack)...

Hack a Character

Roll 3d6 for a series of stats, such as: STR(ength), DEX(terity), END(urance), INT(elligence), POW(er), PRE(sence)
  • Set HPs (Hit Points) from the average of STR & END
  • MPs from POW
In most cases, your character rolls equal or less than a stat on D20 to succeed in some effort they might reasonably attempt under pressure, given their background and inclinations. Modifiers apply to shift the stat target. A "1" always succeeds and usually grants a critical result.

Magic-using types might select two or three spell options (see Hack Magic), but lack battle experience.

When characters advance, they get a chance to raise their stats. Maybe another chance to raise a favoured stat.

Hack Combat

Generally, roll against STR to hack at things, and DEX to avoid being hacked, or shoot something.
  • Use 1d6 for lighter or improvised weapons, 1d8 for martial weapons, when you roll for damage to HP.
  • Deduct Armour Reduction (AR), 1-5 (leather, gambeson, maille, half-plate, plate), from any damage you take. 
Only a character with battle experience can attack and avoid in the same round (so green fighters have to choose to attack or dodge).

Creatures get HP (the GM rolls a number of dice) and Ranks that apply to rolls in combat:
  • Threat Rank (TR) modifies STR and DEX
  • Power Rank (PR) modifies INT or POW (for spells and other eerie stuff)

Hack Magic

Spell casters burn MPs to launch magic. They roll against INT or POW when under pressure. 
  • Heal: 1 MP to heal 1d3 HP
  • Blast: 1 MP to deal 1d3 damage once
  • Protect: 1 MP to reduce all damage by 1 for the duration
  • Enchant: 1 MP to add 1 damage for the duration, or 1 to the chance to hit
  • Curse: 1 MP to reduce an enemy's TR or PR by 1 (POW roll required)
  • Uncanny Ability: 1 MP to add 1 to a stat, for the purpose of accomplishing a task (sneak, persuade, search, etc.) with preternatural skill