22 May, 2018

200 Word RPG 2018: Lost Souls

(I'm not as sure about this one, but it was in my head and I had to get it out. I'm stumped on the last two questions for the second round... they need to be somehow related to the resolution of the lost soul's desire, but trying to get the feeling and the wording right with 11 words left is proving problematic. Maybe it's time to start editing words out of other sections when and where I can.)

Lost Souls
Requires: Masking tape, marker, stopwatch

All players sit in a circle and take turns, going clockwise.
On each players first turn, the player to the right is “Death” they hold the stopwatch. The player to the left (and sequentially each player around the circle) is asked a question. 

The active player notes the answers.  
    Who is this lost soul?
    How did they die?
    What was their desire?
    What stopped them getting it?
When they stop, Death writes the time taken on the tape, an attaches it to the player’s forehead so everyone but them can see the time indicated.  

Once the circle has been completed, each player begins a second round of questions begins, this time answering questions posed by the other players in turn.  
    Who mourns your lost soul?
    How can they resolve the souls’s desire?

If the player takes longer than the time indicated on their forehead, they are unable to help the lost soul who now wanders endlessly.

The player who’s second round time is closest to their first round time saves their lost soul, by resolving their desire. Other lost souls fade away into oblivion. 

21 May, 2018

Crazy Idea for a Hit Point Variant

I don't know if there are any other games that do this, it feels like something that should be a part of an OSR game because it uses a lot of the tropes from that field of gaming. Maybe there is, maybe it's new.

Here's the idea.

One of the issues I have with hit points in most D&D and OSR games is the idea that every level, hit points go up, and up and up. You start gritty and fragile, one or two strikes can take you down. Eventually you get to that level 4-7 sweet spot where combats take a little longer, where special powers become available, and where characters start to feel like they can make a difference in the world. Then you transcend this point, combats become a boring slog, roll after roll to whittle away one another's pool of hit points, weapons still do the same damage on a strike but it takes so many more of those strikes to inflict significant impact.

I'm looking to remedy this a bit.

There's a school of thought which states that hit points reflect combat prowess and ability to dodge or absorb the worst of any incoming strikes. But if it represented this, why wouldn't hit points be modified by dexterity. Since hit points are based on constitution, they are more clearly an analogue of the physical wellbeing of the individual... this is backed up by the idea that poisons, diseases, fall damage, and other types of non-combat injury all work with the same hit points that combat does. Some newer games have circumvented this by introducing "ability score damage" in which specific creatures are able to ignore hit points. I used to do something similar, where critical hits didn't do double damage, but instead inflicted an equal amount of damage to hit points and Constitution (where a complete loss of Constitution resulted in instant death).

Instead of that, I'm now thinking that characters should simply have hit points equal to their Constitution scores. An average of 9-12 points, with less than a quarter of the population having fewer than 8, and less than a quarter having more than 13. This resolves the issue of starting characters being too fragile, and the issue of high level characters being too resilient.

Instead of hit points being a direct pool use for absorbing incoming damage, they now become a pool of energy used to replenish that Consitution pool. This happens when characters have a short rest, while the hit point pool gets replenished by eating food and taking long rests. Wizards and other magical characters still have the issue of low hit points, meaning they don't have a large pool of reserves to restore themselves (they do it through magic instead). Fighters and Barbarians do have significant pools of reserve health, if they get the chance to take a breath they can come back to a conflict with a second wind. Other character types fall between these extremes.

There's more in this I'm sure, but as a system idea it seems to address a few of the problems I've seen arise regularly.

20 May, 2018

Walkabout: Songlines

This article from the Australian Broadcasting Commission, reinforces and draws on a lot of the ideas I've previously heard. Ideas that have been confirmed by the elders I've been speaking to, but it also doesn't quite go far enough. 

As Australia's first city, the pathways of Indigenous people were certainly used as the basic method to get from place to place, and those paths eventually became the accepted methods used by settlers, then paved for use by carriages and cars.

But in addition to the Sydney basin, this occured across the whole country. Explorers typically followed the paths linking different communities of Indigenous nations, often aided by native guides. When later leading surveyors across the land, the explorers took the paths they knew, and the Aboriginal pathways became locked into the settlers maps as the roads between towns.

Often the Aboriginal settlements were located on strategic waterholes, places where paths crossed rivers, or trading paths crossed each other, so naturally these became the places where settlers established their own towns to take advantage of the same strategic geographic elements. The Aboriginal communities were driven off, or killed, or otherwise had their connection to the land removed. Their marked trees were torn up, so that evidence of their sacred sites could be denied, but the placement of the old camps and settlements lies embedded in the current maps of the continent.

This basically means that in Walkabout, the Nomads roaming the highways uphold the sacred journeys of the Indigenous wanderers. They don't do it deliberately, but the travels along tarred motorways follow the same tracks that have been trodden for dozens of millennia (at least). The communities they meet are settled on places where the spirits have watched and influenced humanity since before recorded history, some home to those who have tried to reclaim the old ways of industrialization, some home to those who have tried to claim even older tribal ways.

Descendants of the Australian Aboriginals can be found in all these groups. 

19 May, 2018

Dispatch Guide

A bit of time to get some page layout done.

It also helps that I've finally got a computer that can handle stuff like this again.

Hopefully the second book for The Law will go live (at least as a PDF) some time this week.

18 May, 2018

200 word RPG 2018: The Wanderer

The Wanderer

As she strides the Bonelands toward the Citadel of Onyx, the last obstacles in her lifelong quest of vengeance await. A small group of companions guide her destiny.

Three questions define you.
How do you know her?
What did you teach her? She gains advantage
What haven’t you taught her? You gain advantage

Everyone starts with 1 black and 1 white token (hidden), blank page and pencil. A bag contains six more tokens of each colour.

Each act, everyone takes turns posing a situation, then asking another player how the Wanderer faces it. Everyone contributes one of their two tokens to resolve the situation, one more is drawn from the bag.

< 1/3 white = full success
< 1/3 black = full failure
Otherwise both apply

Describe what happens. Everyone replenishes their spent token by drawing a random token from the bag. Spent tokens are returned to the bag.

Act One: Flashbacks (What challenge was faced?)
Success: She gains an advantage
Failure: Someone loses an advantage

Act Two: Bonelands (menaces confronted)
Success: Menace neutralised
Failure: Someone loses an advantage (or their life).

Act Three: Citadel (citadel’s defences)
Success: Defence overcome
Failure: Someone lose their life, or she dies (game over, you lose)

17 May, 2018

Walkabout: People of the Outback

Going through some of my old notes, I found a few things that felt a little problematic at the time, but now seem far more so.

In the last round of playtests for the game (which echo back to 2012/2013), I defined a character by a series of template stereotypes in a mix-and-match system. I still like this idea, but it's the nature of those templates that will need to change in the rewrite. Three template fragments were combined in that system. Each template came in a general form, with a specialty that could be used to refine what it means specifically to the character.

First were the "people", where these are the culture the character grew up with and those who they consider their family. The people might be considered a "race" in some games, but not quite. I basically categorised the various types of people by the culture and technology they shared rather than any genetic heritage. The "Nomads" were those who roamed the highways in mobile towns built on the backs of trucks and assorted vehicles. The "Cultivators" lived settled lived in the old farming areas, trying to live a pastoral life again. The "Scavengers" lived in the ruins of the old cities, trying to piece together a new life from the remnants left behind of the past. The "Tribalists" thought that the ways of technology were the wrong path to spiritual harmony, and deliberately chose to live their interpretation of a life with nature (noting that the Indigenous communities of Australia didn't have to be tribalists, and it was just as likely that an Indigenous Elder might see these Tribalists as fools misunderstanding and misappropriating their culture). The "Arcologists" were the descendents of the wealthy upper classes who had hidden themselves in bunkers and fortresses to weather the apocalypse. The "Outlanders" were those who embraced the chaos of the post-apocalypse, including mutants, bandits and those who deliberately opposed any attempt to return the world to the tyranny of the past and the darkness of capitalism. Then there were the "Skyborne" who lived in balloons drifting high above the surface of the world, who retained the most technology from the old world, but who had become insular, inbred, and vaguely xenophobic toward the ground dwellers. Within each group there were specific castes, such as the nomads having drivers, mechanics, traders and navigators. I still like these ideas, they can stay.

Second came an "edge", where different types of people would pay different amounts for various edges, or might have access to specific edges reflecting their people's culture and technology. I had a wide variety of these, from pets to special vehicles and equipment, from mystic insight to mutations. One of the "edge" types was a reputation, which gave a character access to a range of skills based on the kinds of things they were known for in the wider community. For example, an "honourable" character would gain access to a bunch of social skills and advantages, while a "vicious" character would gain access to a range of violent and combative skills. I think that the reputation is actually more important, and I'm actually going to pull that out of the edges because everyone should have a reputation for something in this setting. Especially the player characters. The last edge type was a connection to another "people", for example a nomad might have an "Arcologist" connection indicating that her family regularly did trade with the old wealthy underground elite. This is also something that I think shouldn't be limited to a binary where some characters have it and some don't. As I was writing settlements for the game all those years ago I started to realise that almost every settlement had a range of cultures in it, and while there might often be one particular group that is predominant in the community, it was virtually impossible to find one that was completely homogeneous. I had also created an edge where a character had the option to belong to a specific subculture of their people (where some subcultures might function as links between various types of people). One of those subcultures was the New Koori Nation, which was a subset of tribalists and cultivators, divided into males and females with different areas of advantage based on "mens knowledge" and "womens knowledge". This is leaving me at a dilemma, it's accurate, but the presentation of it is culturally problematic.

Finally came the "dance". This is getting tossed in the bin. The dance was based on the idea that almost every group of Indigenous people in Australia shares their knowledge through the ritual corroboree, and this involves dancing. It also came a bit from the Rippers in Tank Girl, and a few other sources that functioned as inspiration for the early incarnations of the game. Don't get me wrong, Tank Girl is still a huge inspiration, but the idea that every character has to dance feels a bit problematic. Most of the Indigenous Elders I know wouldn't dance, but they all have their own methods for sharing news and knowledge. making every Walkabout Wayfarer character dance feels a bit like reducing them to a caricature of the culture rather than a representative of it.

One of these things I did like in the system as it was presented was the idea that no character was too much of a unique and special snowflake. While all template fragments were balanced against one another, those that should have been the most common had a low cost (1-2 points), those that should have been less common had a higher cost (3-4 points, but possibly reduced in cost if you bought a pair of template fragments that had a tendency to be found together), and some fragments that would have been quite rare in the setting had the highest cost range (5-6 points). Everyone had 8 points to spend, and all characters needed three base template fragments to build their character. This basically meant that a character could have a single super rare thing about them (at 6 cost), but the two other template fragments would have to be run-of-the-mill to balance against this special factor. Another character could have two uncommon elements to them (3 cost each), but the third element would be pretty common (2pts). Players could opt to not spend the whole 8 points, and if they did this, they might gain a minor XP bonus for every unspent point, or maybe an extra piece of equipment from those available to them. part of this idea was that character's weren't necessarily super special heroes at the start of their journey, but their paths had already been started. It was only through interaction with the spirit world and coming to understand the balance of the holistic world that characters become truly heroic and memorable. This idea is staying.

16 May, 2018

Walkabout: Magic of the Dreaming

I've been digging through my old Walkabout notes, some of them almost a decade old. I had at least two versions of the game, drawing on different clusters of inspiration.

In the original version of the game, magic was a fairly static affair. At the end of each game, a player could ask another player to inscribe a tattoo or marking on the characters body. The player would literally give their character sheet to another player, and that second player would literally draw on the character sheet in pencil, and fill in a couple of words. This would be related to some deed that the character had performed during the course of the story. If the player liked the idea, they could find a shaman, or do some kind of "quest of permanence" to integrate that marking into their soul. If the player didn't like it, they could erase it during a later game. Characters would have a limited number of these marking slots on their body, and if they suffered a permanent injury like a loss of a limb, then naturally there would be less "marking slots" to play with.

The whole idea here was that characters would be dedicating their body to the spirits and showing that dedication in the physical world through those markings. As a benefit for this dedication, characters would gain an automatic success on actions associated with the marking and the keywords written with it. One wedge-tailed eagle glyph might provide benefits to perception checks, a different wedge-tailed eagle glyph might provide a sense of presence and majesty to it's bearer... a character truly dedicated to this spirit, with multiple markings on their body dedicated to wedge-tailed eagle might get both. It was a very freeform system, and when the success bonus from the glyph was used, the character would either need to re-inscribe the glyph, rest and allow it to recharge, or perform some deed for the affiliated spirit.

A variant magic system linked into the elemental concept I've had in many of my other games. It basically works of a cubic cosmology. Air on one side of the cube opposes earth on the other, water opposes fire, and wood opposes metal. If you cross section the cube in one way, you get a square with the Western Hermetic pattern of elemental forces (Air-Earth-Fire-Water and mysterious quintessential life forces in the middle)...and if you cross section it another way, you get a square with the Eastern Taoist pattern (Fire-Metal-Water-Wood...with a balanced earth in the middle). But it didn't seem to fit the paradigm of Indigenous mysticism as I understood it. I felt like I could reskin it in some way, perhaps renaming "Earth" as "Wombat", "Air" as "Eagle"...but it was getting tricky to do some of the others and this was really starting to feel like the hollow cultural appropriation I was trying to avoid in this project. That obstacle was actually one of the things that brought the project to a standstill.

But recently I heard a talk by an Indigenous elder about certain redgum trees. He said that a sacred life like this required the elements to come into play. Seeds from the plant are eaten by birds and are thus infused by the air in their journey, then they are dropped to the ground in the bird's shit where they become buried and infused with earth. Next, they can wait for years or even decades until a bushfire sweeps through the area, and the energy of the fire invigorates the seed. Finally, with rain, the energy of water completes the cycle and the plant begins to grow. This struck me as a hybrid of the Hermetic wisdom, channelled through an Indigenous lens to give a perspective of the world. So maybe the elemental concept might have been valid after all.

I still like the idea of the marked wayfarer, where the first marking is an indication of the character's status as a wandering balancer of nature.

So my next idea is to unite those concepts. Similar to some of the ideas that I've been having for magic under the banner of "Familiar" or "The Law".

If I'm running with 4 attributes... those 4 can be combined in six pairings.


Now it's a case of meshing those pairings to one of the elemental affinities.

Physical-Social : Air
Physical-Mental : Metal
Physical-Paranormal : Fire
Social-Mental : Water
Social-Paranormal : Wood
Mental-Paranormal : Earth

In the non-magical version of "The Law" a characters rank die can never be the highest die they possess... they always need to have one of the attributes higher. Under this magical system, a character might be limited to having a magical die no higher than the corresponding attributes.     

To use a magical effect, the character needs to be using one of the attributes linked to the element. But the two attributes have slightly different manifestations of the elemental energy.

Air (using Physical): This is about movement and speed
Air (using Social): This is about surface appearances of things, fleeting thoughts and illusion
Earth (using Mental): This is about science and the immutable laws of the universe
Earth (using Paranormal): This is about resilience and permanence
Fire (using Physical): This is about strength and raw power
Fire (using Paranormal): This is about destruction of body, mind and soul
Metal (using Physical): This is about death and decay
Metal (using Mental): This is about the darker thoughts, and knowledge of spirits or technology as an antithesis of the living world.
Water (using Social): This is about clarity of purpose and leadership
Water (using Mental): This is about higher conceptual thoughts, and the cycles of nature
Wood (using Social): This is about emotional energy and community
Wood (using Paranormal): This is about health, growth, renewal and regeneration

When I was thinking about this paradigm of magical thought for "Familiar", I was working with the theory that different schools of magic would fall into a specific elemental pattern. A character could spend XP to understand the framework of a specific school of magic (theurgy, illusionism, conjuring, alchemy, divination, etc.). This would give them a natural bonus when trying to perform mystic effects relating to that school, and would let them boost the associated elemental die by one step. There would be dozens of these magical schools, and to gain the maximum die in a certain element they'd have to understand the framework of five different schools each contributing their knowledge to a holistic understanding of the element (one school = d4, two schools = d6, three = d8, four = d10, five = d12).

Under the Walkabout version of the system, each of your body markings would provide a natural bonus when attempting to perform specific subtle actions, an a boosted die of the relevant element. For example, a marking of the Gecko might provide an automatic bonus success when climbing walls (a Physical action), and since this is a movement related effect it would increase the Air elemental die by a degree. If the character is engaged in subtle magic, they simply gain the success. If they want to climb a sheer surface that requires multiple successes, they might invoke full air magic by rolling their physical attribute and their air elemental die.

Here's where my thoughts earlier today seem to have reached a conclusion I'm happy with.

In Mage: the Ascension, the power of magic(k) is limited by the mage's Arete, their one-ness with the universe. The more enlightened they are, the more powerful the effect they can manifest. This system has a bit of that in it as well.

I like the idea of having rote magic, and that's linked into the markings on the character's body, but could just as easily be linked to artifacts, fetishes, magical items and rituals that require outside forces to achieve. The game could go that way, but it doesn't need to. 

When a character invokes one of their elemental dice, they are effectively casting "vulgar magick" (from the parlance of Mage). Elemental dice always apply to the success column of the table, this reduces the chances of rolling a 1 (and failing), but there is also a chance that the elemental die will be the highest rolled. A character who opens themselves up to mystic forces doesn't necessarily know how to control them all the time. If the elemental die is the highest rolled, it represents uncontrolled magic flowing through the character and into the world...an effect based on the elemental force will manifest in the world at the discretion of the GM (maybe filtered through a random table and translated into the story by the GM). Such effects could be powerfully positive, or powerfully negative. Magic is always dangerous to someone, and the spirits are always watching. Familiars like it when uncontrolled elemental energy flows into the world, some feed on it, some absorb it into themselves for their own manifestations, some redirect it to their own ends as it is unleashed.

Within the dreaming, characters might gain automatic bonuses or penalties to their elemental dice depending on where in the cosmological geography they currently stand.