Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Roll on the random notes table

 It's been a while: some random notes and impressions.

Roll a d6:

1. Warhammer FRP 4E

The Old World is still as cool, dark, and evocative as ever. This is the one "almost played" game that I've known of for years and never played a session. This edition is massive, detailed, comprehensive, wonderfully illustrated. But there are so many fiddly rules, stats, statuses to manage. XP converted to individual skill percentages! While there are plenty of enhancements to the original system, there are also too many gritty sub-systems.
  • The map on the inside cover should be evocative, but the coloring is too green-grey, the detail too fine, to make it engaging, let alone readable.
  • Years ago, I converted the classic WHFRP adventure "Night of Blood" to RuneQuest 3, and it was an easy conversion and an excellent adventure in play.
  • All the classes and careers would make an excellent sourcebook to convert to Whitehack (see below).
  • Even better, convert to BRP using the SRD (see below).

2. Whitehack 3E

A hack of the original "White Box" edition of D&D, Whitehack uses the familiar design elements: the same six ability scores, levels, accumulating hit points and Hit Dice (HD), armor class, saving throws, classes, and XP advancement.
But these original rules have been ingeniously adapted into a flexible, compact system of their own. The profession-like classes, Fighter, Thief, and Wizard, have been converted to true archetypes: the Strong, Deft, and Wise. You then assign your own groups—species, vocations, associations—and abilities to create professions and sub-classes that can be wholly unique. For the Wise, magic "miracles" are a free-form system to duplicate any powers. Sometimes, the slightly awkward generic phrasing—groups, slots, miracles—makes it hard to follow how these choices mesh together to make a character.
Although it's the version of D&D I'd play if I were to play D&D, it still has the same features of the original. Armor makes you harder to hit, but this doesn't scale much with your chance of hitting or your chance of hitting something else, so you gain an abstract reserve of hit points instead. Monsters have HD alone, so their chance to hit you is always proportional to the number of hits they can take. You chase experience points, and at certain points acquire levels that grant instant access to new abilities that you perhaps didn't have or even practice before.
On the other hand, Whitehack has some brilliant subsystems, like bases to represent patrons and other extraordinary adventuring party resources, and it's concise and clear and engaging. And it has some neat random tables that would work for solo play as well as in-game inspiration.
  • There are a few intriguing pages in Whitehack about converting ability scores to use those of other systems. This means with relatively little work, you could convert content from almost any ability score and hit points system to run with Whitehack. I looked at the old ICE Middle Earth Role-Playing (MERP) modules and the idea was very tempting (Strength=St, Dexterity=Ag, etc.).

3. The One Ring 2E

I only have the PDF, but this is evidently a beautiful book. But you don't play the book design or the illustrations, you play the system, and the rules, though no doubt strengthened and improved, seem to me to have the same issues as with the first edition. As in my previous review, the rules are evocative, but my concern is that in trying to guide play through a Middle-earth experience the systems tend towards being prescriptive or procedural, with multiple conditions and narrative elements to track for every activity. When journeying, or in encounters with major NPCs, this ends up pushing the players' significant decisions away from their sense of the world and towards a series of dice rolls.
  • On the other hand, the descriptions of cultures and locations, the way that Eriador is presented, is exactly how I'd like to play that old corner of Middle-earth. BRP would make a better fit, but also the freedom of XD20.

4. Basic Roleplaying SRD

Chaosium has published the core rules of Basic Roleplaying (BRP) as an SRD, and it's astonishing that there isn't more discussion about this. The BRP system in the SRD is truly basic, in that it's a base, a foundation, for any range of games. It presents only a compact version of the core rules. Sure, it lacks a detailed equipment list, bestiary, or magic system. But if you're a GM building your own campaign from your own sources, these are what you're designing or lifting from other sourcebooks already. 
  • Download it, print a copy, decide on your skills list—you could run your game in the Old World or Middle-earth with this. (OK, for WHFRP you'll have to add the Consume Alcohol skill.)

5. XD20 2E

The original XDM: X-treme Dungeon Mastery was insightful, inspiring, and influential, but as I noted in my review, it was also hastily written, oddly organized, and not always adequately edited. So I was keen to join the second edition kickstarter. With the PDF of the page proofs in hand, I've confined myself to checking out the revised in-house system, or XD20, before the printed book arrives. 
It's a promising start. The second edition XD20 is now presented in one version, the simple rules for creating your character makes sense, and the core system—roll a d20, roll high to succeed and then roll again for effect—is elegant and flexible.
I still have no idea what the stat "WAH" means, but I know exactly what all the stats do. It's maddeningly unclear if the combat system means enemies would roll each round exactly like PCs or if it's all combined in the PCs' roll, but it would work either way. It's a system designed to wing it, but now you can wing it with elegance and speed.
  • If TAC=Strong, PSYCH=Deft, and WAH=Wise, you basically have the means at hand to play any fantasy setting.

6. Roll a d100 instead

While reading a certain tome mentioned above, a compressed d100 system kept running through my head. For some actual rules tinkering, see below.

The situation:
  • Grim 15
  • Perilous 30
  • Risky 50
  • Uncertain 70
  • Favorable 85
+/-10 for unusual circumstances

Roll d100 under the situation number to prevail.

Character can use a Quality to reprise a roll (reroll a single die) or change the situation (if feasible).

EXAMPLE: Linz, the boatman, find himself on the river as a possibly magical storm sweeps through. Suddenly, the situation is Perilous! Linz decides to try and run to shore. The first roll is 42! Linz can reroll the 40 die to try and reach safety, or use the next round to steer into the current to find a better course (roll Risky).

Your character has a Station in life (roll situation and read accordingly), a significant Characteristic (Strong, Quick, Smart, etc.) a current Career and two related Qualities.

A character has Toughness (3) points and sometimes armor points (1-3) with which to fend off wounds. Each wound taken then potentially makes their situation worse.


  1. Really nice to have you back and writing again, Andrei! I like the Rough Chances d100 variant you've shared.

  2. Also thanks for the annual reminder to reread my Basic Roleplaying material! I forgot that Astounding Adventures had some great suggestions for playing the type of pulp-y game I enjoy - and it has a handy pulp adventure generator as well.

  3. Might have to consider the Rough Chances d100. I picked up XDM2e as well and ran a quick session the other day at work: https://librariangamer.blogspot.com/2022/05/playtesting-xd20.html
    I dunno what Wah means, either; I tend to think of the stats as Physical, Mental and Spiritual and I am hoping for a writable character sheet that can be modified like so.

  4. I may have to think more about "Rough Chances" on d100. I have a lot of affection for the d100 roll, as it's the mainstay of BRP gaming but also fine-grained and easy to think of percentile chances. I've tended towards 2d6 for ease of use and access. I've often thought that if you use a d100 there should be some leverage, the way that BRP can use 1/20 and 1/5 to generate special and critical results on the same roll. Perhaps specials on doubles or something like that.
    My idea was based on how fiddly the WFRP rules had become, despite my respect for the world and the feeling of the game system.

  5. I too prefer 2d6 but there is something lovely about roll under %. As a solo player there's just a bit too many things going on in standard BRP to be ideal as a solo game even if the Resistance Table provides an ideal solo-friendly player-rolls only mechanic. Some kind of "Fighting Fantasy stats" but d100-roll-under-% mashup (with BRP's specials) would be super fun as a solo game but I have so many useful bits & bobs already it is hard to motivate myself to put that together.