Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Excursion - framework for light, multi-genre gaming

Excursion: a short journey or trip, especially one engaged in as a leisure activity.

This contains nothing really new in terms of options that other rules posts have tinkered with, but it's based on the idea of a set of rules that abstract most aspects of a specific RPG into generic qualities (position for task resolution, impact for measuring effect, character strengths and weaknesses). In theory, this means you could pick up any interesting scenario for another system, abstract the relevant aspects, and play through: an excursion.

The Characters

For each player character, list:
  • Type: the highest level of class, profession, or calling.
  • Brief: a short description, the kind of character you're playing ("A better swordsman than poet"), with a few lines of history.
  • Strengths: mechanically, the character's significant skills and attributes/characteristics (about five).
  • Weakness: if your idea of a character encompasses weaknesses or flaws, add one.
Seasoned, or simply lucky, player characters have 10 "STAT" (current status) points.


When characters take action, the referee will assess the relative position, in terms of strengths and weaknesses, the chosen approach, tactics, and other advantages and disadvantages:
  • Firm (3) - slight risk.
  • Strong (5) - an element of risk, but with sound skills, preparation, and tactics. A well-armed warrior attacking a goblin skirmisher; a competent engineer completing an emergency repair.
  • Balanced (7) - a substantial risk or danger that tests the character's abilities. A challenging combat; piloting an aircraft in a storm.
  • Weak (9) - a considerable disadvantage or danger. Attacking a strong monster head-on; tampering with a complex mechanism with makeshift tools.
  • Desperate (11) - relying on sheer luck or chance for success. Leaping across the chasm as the bridge falls; charging the dragon.
Roll the given number or greater on 2d6 to avert failure (a miss, loss or damage).

In combat, allow a minor move or adjustment, and a major action or attack (a charge is both, but it takes the initiative). The character that seizes initiative through action or planning goes first.

Other kinds of action, like magic or supernatural gifts, are also handled by position and the scope and type of powers the setting and scenario permits.

[Note: position here refers to a combination of readiness, situation, and approaches. As such, position matters more for resolution than character type or ability scores. A warrior wielding a great-sword is at a disadvantage in a narrow passageway, but strongly positioned on open ground, regardless of sword skill and STAT. And if you happen to have a d20 around, there's no reason you can't use that to set target numbers using the rough chances.]

Handling Impact

In many situations, such as combat, actions also have impact, which may affect a character's STAT.

Opposing NPCs have variable STAT points: rabble have 6; toughs 8; worthy antagonists 10; and monsters have 14, or more.

A character with exhausted (0) STAT is incapacitated at least, and minor opponents will be removed from play.

Damage, from weapons or other impact, reduces STAT based on relative impact, which takes both the weapon type and armor or other protection into account:
  • Superficial: 1 - feet and hands; a handgun against power armor
  • Light: 1d3 - knives; shots against ballistic armor
  • Heavy:1d6 - sword blows and bullets against unarmored
  • Severe: 1d6+1d3, etc. - heavy weapons

Healing STAT follows as a short rest (1), first aid (1d3), and skilled medical attention (1d6).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Looking at BRP Worlds of Wonder "Magic World"

Recently, the Tinkerage has been looking at the original "Magic World" supplement from the Basic Roleplaying Worlds of Wonder (WoW) set (Steve Perrin and Gordon Monson). This is not to be confused with the later Magic World (2012) by Willis, et al., although both titles share the same BRP roots. But the earlier Magic World is well worth considering, especially as an excellent, light version of the BRP ruleset for fantasy gaming.

Magic World extends on and requires the core WoW Basic Roleplaying booklet, but the system is a minor masterpiece for quick, ready-to-play rules. These days, it's hard to find in print, and the gamer inclined to research this online will have to dig into the wayback machine archives.

Magic World has about the quickest character generation I've come across in the BRP line, almost as fast as Basic D&D. A player can choose to simply roll the characteristics and then start play with the default BRP skills and scores. Or, they can select from one of four professions: warrior, rogue, sage, and sorcerer. Each profession provides some prior experience and skills, which are usually a sum, or multiple of the average, of several characteristics (for example, warriors pick up three weapons at the average of STR, CON, and DEX x 5%). Although these may seem like class descriptions, there are no restrictions on eventual cross-training, and each profession suggests a variety of possible backgrounds. Even the sage is a viable scholar-adventurer, who may be anything from a healer, to a merchant, to an elf-friend. One can imagine rolling-up a Magic World adventurer in relatively short order, selecting a few professional skills, and filling in the default skills as the game goes on. A character will be relying on good initial rolls for good skills, but that's where a little player skill, a willingness to play a character rather than an optimized build, comes in.

Compared to a modern system the line between skill and skill description is sometime blurry and requires some interpretation. The "Cut Purse" skill, for example (DEX x 5% for rogues), includes "skill to Pick Pockets, Cut Purses, Remove Brooches, etc.," which could all be rejiggered as "Thievery" or "Sleight" on the character sheet.

The magic system is compact but robust, with each spell having its own percentile chance to cast (like one of the magic systems in the BGB). Unlike the BGB, Magic World spells are relatively effective (dealing1d6 damage per magic point/level, for instance), so starting sorcerers don't feel under-powered.

Finally, the combat system, although simple, includes scope for critical hits and fumbles.

Recently, reading through Roan Studios' The Bay of Spirits setting book, which is beautifully illustrated but lightly stated out only for D&D, the thought occurred that the ideal would be a compact, robust ruleset that would make it easy to generate characters and play in (almost) any fantasy setting. WoW Magic World seems to fit the bill, and it's interesting to speculate what might have been if this version of Magic World, revised and clarified, had been the basis for Chaosium's later releases.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tomb of Swords - mini-scenario

The tomb is ancient, the grave, according to local legend, of a prince of the Ellfolk who was a master of the iron sword. Some folk tales say the sword was the prince's wife, one of the shape-shifting fey. If he was wounded, the sword danced above him to protect him, but she could not parry the death that found him, when he drowned crossing a river in a raid.

The place is called Tomb of Swords, and untold adventurers have gone down into the dark, seeking that enchanted blade, and few have returned. Now, the lord's youngest son has gone missing in the same place.

A pair of quarrelsome gargs are camped in the passageway under the standing stones, but they are mere vagrants, newly arrived, and have no interest in the deeps of the tomb.

Beyond them are the outer chambers. Patient adventurers, searching carefully, will find exquisite mosaics, scenes from the prince's life: the hero fighting the enemies of his clan; the hero drinking from the cup of peace when the battle is over; the hero and his sword-wife; the grieving fey laying him in the tomb with sword, helm, and shield, and a golden cup.

The horror lurks in the inner tomb. Every sword, every hero that ever perished in the tomb, takes the form of a roiling, black mass of dust and bone, grasping a hundred corroded swords. Mad, red eyes sometimes wink in the cloud. The sword-ghost cannot be harmed and will never relent. It is possible to parry the rain of blows with sword and shield, and the ghost will not pursue those who flee beyond sight to the standing stone.

The sword-ghost will not attack any mortal with empty hands.

Only one of the Druit gods could defeat this thing in battle or dismiss it by magic. But if a mortal could find the cup of peace and offer a draught from it, then perhaps the many tortured spirits trapped here could be freed.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Advanced Fighting Fantasy damage matrix

A while ago, in a review of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, I mentioned that the weapons damage and armour matrixes (seven digits in a row) are the least elegant part of an otherwise elegant combat system.

Is there a better way to do this? One method would be simply to roll d6, plus any modifers, for damage, which would probably result in roughly the same average damage, but perhaps lose some of the fine balance of the current damage system.

Is there a better way to represent the damage and armour table on the character sheet?

Some simply write out all seven damage values in order:

S. Sword: 1,2,2,3,3,3,4

But note that damage values only ever change by one point, and so instead of repeating figures, we could generate something like this:

S. Sword: 1 [2] [4] 4

What does this mean?

  • The left-most number is the minimum damage: that's the damage from a roll of 1 on the die.
  • The numbers like this [4] are the rolls on which damage increments by one point.
  • The right-most number is the damage on 7+, the maximum.

To use this damage profile, roll the die and check the result against the sequence. For each increment value in the table the roll is equal to or greater than, add one point to the minimum damage, and of course, if the result is 7+, use the maximum damage.

Hence, a sword profile is:

Sword 2 [2] [6] 5

This one takes longer to explain than to read. Is there yet a better way to set it up?