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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Stellar Adventures review

The author's bio note at the end of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain made mention of the "big three" roleplaying games of the time: Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller. With Stellar Adventures (Graham Bottley and Jonathan Hicks), the Advanced Fighting Fantasy (AFF) Second Edition rules makes the jump into science fiction, and just as AFF makes as good, or better, a fantasy game as D&D and RuneQuest, Stellar Adventures is an excellent, fast, flexible system in the mode of Traveller and other sci-fi systems.

Character generation is, if anything, slightly faster than in AFF. SKILL, STAMINA, LUCK, and PSI (the equivalent of magic) and TECH (the technology/engineering rating for android characters) are allocated from a pool of points. Then, the player selects special skills and skill levels from a list and a distinguishing Talent.

The rules of the game are the same as those for AFF, and very clearly explained. The small table on difficulty modifiers is a masterpiece of concise design. The basic system from AFF is simple and robust, it's just unfortunate that the "Roll over SKILL" option repeats an error from the original AFF book. The target number for a roll-over system for Skill tests should be 14, not 15, to duplicate the probabilities of the roll-under system.

Combat, of course, is a large section of the rules, and it's here that Stellar Adventures takes a subtle but radical step. In AFF, combat is resolved by opposed rolls, and this makes perfect sense because most combat is hand-to-hand, a series of sword blows, claw swipes, and so on. Stellar Adventures retains the opposed roll mechanic – but the majority of combats are firefights, with ranged weapons. To a Traveller player, this is strange indeed. Surely aiming and firing a weapon is a test of Skill rather than an opposed test? But, on reflection, Stellar Adventures really makes this work. The opposed attack total isn't about taking a single shot; it's an abstraction of dodging, taking cover, finding the nerve to aim and shoot accurately in a chaotic exchange of fire. It makes sense that the more skilled combatant gets the first hit out of all this action, and a single combat roll handles this. The opposed combat roll still introduces some oddities, however, and in particular there's no penalty to hit when attacking out of a weapon's range (the penalty applies to damage instead). Personally, I would apply a range penalty to attack totals, giving the edge to longer-ranged weapons, and stipulate that a ranged attack must total at least 14 to hit, so that it's possible to roll the higher attack total and yet miss due to lack of accuracy.

As befits a multi-genre sci-fi rulebook, there are sections on equipment (including cybergear), robots (with a player character option), vehicles, and starships. The sections for vehicle and starship design are remarkable for their scope and simplicity. Unlike more convoluted system (High Guard for Traveller for instance), one just selects basic vehicle options like size and speed, adds weapons and armor, and then options in the form of modules, and then calculates the total cost of all features. This is a fast system that allows you to design almost any kind of vehicle or starship. Of course, the GM will have to keep a close eye on the armaments and enhancements, lest the PCs quickly assemble an unbeatable vessel, but the system provides the ability to build anything appropriate to the setting, from a motorbike to an Imperial Titan to a free trader to the Liberator. And there's a somewhat free-form vehicle combat system that follows the same conventions as personal combat, making it easily scaled and interesting for all players.

Setting design is handled in a similarly descriptive fashion, with "place characteristics" such as Size, Tech, and Society given a 2-12 score (either by rolling or assigning directly), with the GM interpreting these scores depending on the context. There's also a dice-drop method for determining star maps and solar systems, which has a nice element of random inspiration.

Reading Stellar Adventures, the Classic Traveller system often sprang to mind, as Stellar Adventures shares many general ideas with Traveller. Indeed, Stellar Adventures would model Traveller's sprawling stellar empire, mercenary companies, meandering tramp traders, and morally dubious sci-fi adventure well. But with a little GM adjustment, I think Stellar Adventures could scale up to space-opera, and even grimdark science-fantasy, or down to hard sci-fi, and the nice part is that the rules permit, even encourage, this. The only genre it's less likely to accommodate is broadly speculative transhumanism, and since there are no rules for hacking, cyberpunk would be a stretch (though doable). Stellar Adventures isn't perfect – no game is – and there's certainly something in here that I would tweak or tinker with, but Bottley and Hicks have adapted the AFF framework with great success to provide an easy, highly adjustable system for science fiction gaming.

[This review is based on a reading of the PDF rulebook, and not actual play.]

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bullet Journal for scenarios - with a scenario

The Tinkerage has been experimenting with adapting the Bullet Journal concept to generating notes for gaming.

Bullets are a way of marking and arranging journal entries in a concise, logical fashion, and so they seem ideal for generating notes for RPG scenario planning and actual play.

These notes are not tied to any particular system, and can be used freeform as well. For example, a High difficulty (+) might read in a system as a high difficulty class (DC 15+ on d20), a Hard difficulty modifier (-30%), or even a difficulty adjustment (half skill rating).

Here are the (trial) bullets and entry formats for RPG scenario journaling.


Name, Type [Resilience]
The Name or Description of the character, type (optional), and Resilience (equivalent of hits, toughness, HD, CON, Stamina, Luck, and so on).
Shifty, Thief [2] - a moderately tough thief
Wolf [1] - a lone wolf

(Condition) - a temporary or ongoing state

| Equipment x/n uses
|Arrows 16/20 - a quiver of 20 arrows with 16 remaining

Level of Difficulty, Threat, or Quality 

! Very High
+ High
* Standard
- Low
? Very Low
* Stone door - requiring a standard roll to force open
+ Locked door - a high level of difficulty to pick
? Rusty gate - easy to break open
! Swordplay - the skill of a deadly master swordsman

Locations and Scenarios

:: Location
:: Ruined crypt

: Note/Story/Background
: The crypt roof has collapsed, and a wyvern lurks inside.

Events in Play, Actions

> Event/Action
> Wyvern hides in barrel vault

A Bullet-styled Scenario: Drowned Tower

: The laird of Orfyre needs retainers (or adventurers) to call at the toll-bridge at Nystie and enquire why the tolls have stopped flowing to his lordship's treasury.

:: Nystie Bridge
: Arched stone bridge, in full view of the tollhouse tower and the archers there

2 Archers [1]
! Concealed
* Archer

:: Downriver
: Shallow crossing. The bodies of the tollkeeper and his guards are washed up here
+ Strong rushing water

:: Tollhouse, a longhouse with square tower and gate, guarding the bridge
* Barred gate (recent damage)
- Makeshift bars across the rear windows
* Rough walls, climbable

: Keiraffen, a ne'er-do'well minor noble and cousin of the laird, attempted to rob the tollhouse, killed the tollkeeper and his men, but could not find the coffers, and is camped here with his gang of brigands drinking and making a desultory search. Because he's kin, his lordship will be less than pleased if Keiraffen is killed (unless it looks like an accident, or someone else's work).

Keiraffen, a ne'er-do'well nobleman
+ Swordplay
* Gambler
* Schemer
- Drunkard

4 Brigands [1]
* Brawl
* Skirmish
* Sneak
- Undisciplined

: The tollhouse coffers with more than a month's taking are cleverly +concealed under the bridge, not that Keiraffen would ever think to look there.