Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Burdens

Burdens are one of the more significant additions I'm playing with in Primeval Bastionland. They're inspired by Fatigues from Mausritter, which in turn made their way into Cairn and Runecairn (which you can click to see in my glowing readthrough earlier this week). 

It's a lovely feeling having so many brilliant designers tinkering with the Into the Odd chassis, but it's really useful when I can steal their innovations back. 

But to be fair to myself, I've not quite lifted things wholesale. In short, your knight picks up Burdens throughout their journeys, from a wide range of sources. They go onto your character sheet, separate to your inventory, and if you ever have three or more than you're Exposed, essentially being treated as if you have 0hp. 

Each Burden comes with a specific requirement for you to relieve it, or you can take the generic solution of "spend a season of reflection or indulgence", supposedly either praying or drinking a lot. 


Of course, in my first draft of this idea I went bonkers and tried to write as many as I could. Could I do 100? I mean, this game already has so many lists of 100 things, it would be a nice bit of symmetry. I could give each of the 100 Knights their own specific type of Burden that gets triggered when they act in a certain way. That way your Knight feels cool and unique, like some of the better PBTA playbooks!

Since then I've regained my focus, and most of all remembered the sheer joy that comes with deleting words from the page. Aaah. 

So we now have 7 Burdens (ignoring Scars, now a special type of Burden but otherwise very close to how they work in Electric) and I'm pretty happy with them. They'll definitely get changed around a lot, but it feels like a solid foundation. 

  • Ache: Get a hot meal and restful sleep.
  • Glory: Protect your legacy.
  • Oath: Prove your word to be true.
  • Shame: Perform an act of mercy or sacrifice.
  • Vanity: Ensure your deeds are known.
  • Woe: Spend a full day in reflection or indulgence. 
  • Wrath: Achieve a worthy victory of arms.

At first I was annoyed at myself for writing that big sloppy initial list. After all, this refined approach makes sense for a number of reasons:

  • The GM can learn the list more easily, giving them greater confidence to select the appropriate Burden for a Knight when needed.
  • The players will be less confused between a huge list of slightly different ailments. Eventually they'll just internalise what it means to have an Ache, not having to remember the difference between Hungry, Exhausted, Deprived, and Frigid. 
  • It's more accessible to anybody reading the book as a core list of things that Knights are likely to get hung up on. Helps get that theme across more succinctly. 

And there's no point beating myself up over it. After all, you can't have a refined thing without the process of refinement. It has to start with a crude material. 

The approach of "thrown down the block of clay and find the statue inside" has served me well for a while now, but I have to remember not to resent that initial raw heap. The statue was always in there. 

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Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Soulless

This week is the tipping point where I really do feel like AI is going to steal work from human creators. Of course this has been obvious for a while, but now I can see it in action in my own hands, as I've been testing out Midjourney for image creation. Naturally I prompt it to spawn inane creations that make me chuckle, but I've also been using it for actual RPG stuff. 

I tried it out on Primeval Bastionland hoping to slot in some placeholder art to help me and my playtesters visualise the world. 

Similar to the Failed Career spreads from Electric, I'm working on separate Knight and Myth pages for Primeval Bastionland. The former are your PCs, and bank of character ideas, the latter your world broadly painted through stories, all real. Underneath their name each gets a a two line shot of flavour text, just like the Failed Careers, but here I've leaned into some flowery poetry. For each of the entries I started the AI off with just the flavour text and a few general guidelines ("Greyscale Medieval Art" and canvas size)


Prompt: The Order. They were six in the circle, no first among them Each a knight and sage, master and student. Greyscale medieval art.

The first and most obvious thing about this art is it's actually good. There are tricks you can learn to get better outputs, but the real trick is to keep trying until you get something that looks good. Even then, the AI struggles with details, especially when you want actual humans.

God help you if you want somebody riding a horse.


Prompt: Female Knight. Within a blink they were on their steed Knight and horse at one, a red streak in the green. Greyscale medieval art.

That one took a LOT of attempts. You can't be too strict about composition either, but if you want dreamy mythic visions then this is good stuff. Making creepy scenes is easymode.


The Mournful spirit. They wandered ahere and athere, drawn by sorrow. Old as the sun, timid as a child. Greyscale medieval concept art.

So this tool can't do everything (yet?) but aside from helping out artless writers, there's something I actually really like about it for this project.

It throws out things that I don't think a human artist would draw.

WAIT I know how that sounds. Of course human artists can surprise you, even if you give them a relatively specific brief. 

The difference is that the AI doesn't seem to give a shit about making you happy. You aren't paying it. So sometimes you'll really want a Wyvern and it keeps giving you stuff like this.

(Prompt: The Wyvern. All jaw and neck like knotted string. All wing and tail a baleful sting. Greyscale, medieval, concept art.)

Yeah it's my fault really. When I wrote that flavour text I wasn't imagining it would be interpreted by a robot, so we get a monster that is literally "all wing and neck". No human would interpret the brief that way.

But I want this world to be a bit weird and dreamy, right? Maybe I can get on board with this Wyvern.

Well, no. I'm pretty sure I want this thing to have some sort of discernible anatomy.

Or... do I?

And that exemplifies why I'm enjoying this process so much. 


 (Prompt: When night met day, where water flame. They saw the child, rejoiced in name. Greyscale medieval art.)

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Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Bonuses

When should you give the characters a bonus to their attack? This would be Enhanced in ITO or a Bonus Die in EB. 

Sometimes this can feel arbitrary, and it's just a game of "can I convince the GM". There's an element of that, but when I GM I try to look for one of three ways that the character is earning the bonus. In short, I look for something in return. 

A Note on Freebies: Sometimes a bonus just happens from a situational advantage if it makes sense. You're fighting cog robots that are winding down, and their description says attackers get a bonus against them once they start to flag. Orcs are vulnerable fighting under sunlight. The examples for this post are more for situations where a player might say "do I get a bonus because..."


What's Earning Your Bonus?

INFO: You've learned something that would help here. This how I might handle weak spots. Not glowing bullseyes, but a reward for going out and talking to hunters and those who have fought the creature before.  That stone mammoth has STR 19, Armour 3, so getting a +d10 to every attack because you learn of its hatred of fire is practically necessary. 

PREP: A good action now to reward good action later. The classic is "setting up" an ally for their attack. You could formalise this as a standard move, but I like keeping these things a little more open. In essence, if a player can point back to a previous action that specifically set up the current attack I'm happy to give them a bonus for it. 

RISK: Really there are a few ways this can go. The classic is "roll a save, if you pass then you attack with bonus if you fail then your attack whiffs and maybe you take damage" but there's a lot of fine tuning that can be done in there. I don't really like whiffs, so I'd probably just have the attack go through as normal, with either immediate damage to the character or, better yet, a bonus being granted to their target on their counter-attack. There are even cases where you might not call for a Save, and just allow a bonus in return for taking a hit yourself. Fight recklessly and both of you will get +d8 to attacking each other. If they join in the recklessness maybe it goes up to +d10! Here the Risk element is still present, even without a Save. 

How Much of a Bonus?

Now this is where it gets tricky. If it's something that can't be easily repeated I lean towards generosity, giving a +d12 bonus, otherwise I tend to go to +d8 if it's something that can be brought out again and again. Naturally that gives us +d10 to use as a middle ground if you're uncertain.

+d6 does work if you just want to throw them a bone, but I feel like I'd rather just grant the full +d8 or advise them to find a better approach. +d6 is better suited to passive ongoing bonuses instead. 

Sometimes removing a level of granularity like this lets the spotlight shine more brightly on player choice and agency. 

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Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Slow

Relax everyone, I've solved Soulslike Combat in RPGs™

Like all the great rules of our time this was written for my games but works with anything. 

SLOW ACTIONS: Some actions or items are noted as Slow. To use them the character must have declared the action at the end of their previous turn, declaring targets if needed. Declaring a Slow action is not an action in itself. 

Not complicated. Inspired by Into the Breach more than the actual souls games. Works on the idea that you can give some truly horrible abilities to your monsters as long as the players get a chance to respond. 

Put to use below. 

THE WURM
Callous, cruel, awful, and long Feasting far beyond its hunger, only happy in bloated rest 



The unending devourer STR 18, DEX 8, CHA 5, 10hp

Crush (d8 blast) or gorge (2d12, slow, swallow whole on 7+ for d8 ongoing damage until the victim is freed)
Craggy hide (A2)

  • A force of gluttony, greed, and sloth. It exists to ruin the balance of nature
  • Speaks to all living things but loses patience with anything that isn’t worshipping or bringing gifts
  • Cannot rest until its colossal hunger is sated, then sleeps for a year

In the wake of the feasting

  • Towns are left crushed and bare
  • Forests are torn from their roots, all creatures swallowed or scattered 
  • It rests in places dark, wet, and repellent to intruders

WURM BEHAVIOUR

Conversation
1:
Spout hatred
2:
Spread fear
3:
Aggrandise self
4:
Insult enemies
5:
Seek submission
6:
Entice fealty

Combat
1:
Cut off escape
2:
Trap them and leave
3:
Target the weak
4:
Break their arms
5:
Flee to advantageous ground
6:
Blunt assault

EDIT:

EXAMPLE OF PLAY BY POPULAR DEMAND

GM: The dragon rakes its claws at you for d10 damage (Rolls a 2) that's 2 damage.

Player: Phew, I still have HP, so I manage to dodge the worst of it. 

GM: At the end of its turn the dragon rears back and prepares to blast you with its acid breath. (Looks down at notes) Just to warn you, this one is nasty! It's a Slow action so it has to perform it next turn, targeting you. 

Player: Hmm.. how badly injured is the dragon?

GM: You've tired it out a little but it's in pretty good shape.

Let's look at 3 ways it could go from here

REALITY BRANCH 1

Player: Okay I'll run up and stab the thing with the spike of my billhook (rolls a 7).

GM: (subtracts the Dragon's armour of 2 for 5 damage, enough to lose some HP but not wound the creature) The Dragon is forced back, but your spike fails to pierce its glistening scales. Its jaws flash open and you're drenched in a spew of acidic spray (Rolls 2d10 damage, rolling 3 and 9) for 9 damage, and you're covered in corrosive bile that'll keep hurting you till it's washed off. Not looking good. 

REALITY BRANCH 2

Player: Is there anything I can hide behind?

GM: The ruined chapel is probably too far away, the rest is pretty open terrain. I'll give you a DEX Save if you want to try to dive into the ruins in time, otherwise you'll get hit with the acid. 

Player: I'll take it (Rolls a DEX Save, passing).

GM: You sprint and leap behind a fallen column just before the dragon unleashes its acidic breath in your direction. You hear the sizzling of corroding rock around you as you hide. Right, now it's your turn again, what do you do?

REALITY BRANCH 3

Player: How intelligent is this Dragon? It spoke before, right?

GM: Yeah it speaks a little, but it's definitely got an animalistic nature. 

Player: I throw myself down in front of the dragon. "Oh mighty creature, spare me and I'll show you where you might feast until you are truly sated"

GM: What's the idea here?

Player: The locals said this thing was just like raiding for food, right? Seems mostly driven by hunger.

GM: Yeah, good idea, but this thing isn't certain to be open to negotiation at this point. You'll need a CHA Save or it'll just ignore your pleas. 

Player: Okay, I go for it (Rolls a CHA Save, failing)

GM: The dragon doesn't seem impressed. It eyes you hungrily before blasting you with a shower of acid (rolls 2d10 for 4 and 6) 6 damage for now, how does that leave you?

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Journeys

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Primeval Bastionland is finally at a stage where I can drag it to the table for an early playtest to see if the idea has any real legs.

It's built on the Electric Bastionland rules, but a couple of additions are needed for context here.

EXPOSED: Characters who are caught unprepared, helpless, or overloaded are Exposed. They are treated as if they have 0hp. If they improve their situation then their hp is consulted as normal. Traps and ambushes usually catch their victims Exposed when sprung.

BURDENS: Knights regularly acquire Burdens on their soul. Anybody carrying 3 or more Burdens is considered Exposed. Burdens are Relieved by their specific requirement, or taking a season of reflection or indulgence.

Being a game explicitly about quests, I wanted to have some tools on hand for roaming around the wilderness and undertaking long journeys. I wanted something different than just "roll to see how good/bad your journey is", so I'm trying out a set of guidelines that should encourage the players to plan their journey carefully and engage with the locals without being too focused on the minutiae of navigation and resource management.

DOMAINS & PROVINCES

A typical Domain covers 9 Provinces.

Roll a Host for the central Province, forming the main settlement and seat of power.

The remaining 8 Provinces are set to the North, Northeast, East etc. Each is defined by rolling a Myth that it is known to be linked to. If appropriate this may include a smaller settlement.

Myths can be interpreted literally, or in a more abstract manner. In case of duplicates the myth takes on several forms.

TRAVELLING

Days are split into 3 phases: Day, Eve, and Night. Travelling at Night is ill-advised if not impossible.

Travel between Provinces takes:

  • 1 Phase by horse or river with a route
  • +1 Phase on foot
  • +1 Phase without a route

Travelling to a new Domain follows the same guidance as above, but replaces each Phase with d6 full days. Each day gives the choice of two Provinces to pass through, each with their own Myth.

Etiquette dictates that hospitality be granted to travellers, though a favour is usually asked for in return. Roll a Host to discover who you find.

If Travellers are forced to spend the night camping without having secured the area they gain the Burden:
Weary: Sleep somewhere safe and comfortable.

Similarly, each day they go without food and drink gives the Burden:
Deprived: Have a hot meal and clean drink.*

SEASONS

A year is roughly split into summer and winter. After a Quest is completed roll 1d6.

1: The season changes.
2-3: The season is turning. Change after the next Quest.
4-6: The current season continues.

In winter, Eve is treated as night, and anyone travelling outside of a settlement gains the Burden:
Frigid: Get yourself warmed up.

*Yes, this is replacing the existing Deprived rule for this playtest!

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Style

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Style. It doesn't matter which one you have as long as you have one.

Now I think that quote is talking about fashion, in which case I do not have one, but I think it carries over nicely to games. 

The games that just wash over me and fail to make any sort of impact are those that lack a style. I'm not talking about lavish production values, instead I just want a game to grab something and run with it. 

2400 is lo-fi sci-fi on a single sheet of paper. You can spot the style a mile off.

Lancer is hyper tactical mech-building blast'em up. There's a lot that doesn't work for me, but it goes hard on its thing. 

Worlds Without Number (or anything by Kevin Crawford) is a workhorse system dragging a cart overflowing with resources to actually run the game. You don't have to be flashy to have style. 

But the topic that got me thinking about this is a dilemma on how I run games. 

On the one hand, I like the idea that GMs don't need to spend hours ahead of a game rigorously preparing an adventure, showing up with reams of notes. 

On the other, one of the first two ideals of what would become Into the Odd were:

  • An impartial GM. The GM uses the rules provided to challenge the characters and does not alter the situation to aid or hinder them.
  • Adventure Module compatibility. The game assumes the GM is using a pre-planned environment and hazards, whether their own or by another writer. 

So I've long been drawn to the idea that the world exists outside of the GM at the table, and they act as an impartial representative for the world, rather than spinning it at the table as required.

Naturally, I've usually landed somewhere in the middle. I prep in broad strokes, flesh it out at the table, throw in something new if it feels right, and make liberal use of random tables. 

The Blorb principles got me thinking more closely about how I might be able to acknowledge the distinction between the pre-game prep and in-game improvisation, while still drawing on them both for any given session. 

So this is all very messy at the moment, but I feel like it's starting to form a shape.

  • Prep can be in broad strokes. 
  • Details can be improvised, but must honour the essence of those strokes. 
  • If something must be created at the table from nothing, let the dice be the oracle.

 

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Forest

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The Forest 

Roots deeper than soil, farther than sea
No passage is swift, no figments believed 



Travel

  • The forest knows what happens anywhere else in the forest.
  • All forests are connected.
  • Some of the most dangerous and feared individuals end up imprisoned or entombed here.

The Fearmonger in Wood
STR 17, DEX 16, CHA 12, 3hp
Encased in rune-carved wood (A2 against metal)
Crushing grasp (d10) or cloud of spores (everyone in blast loses their speech until they leave the forest) 

  • Wants to cultivate a healthy fear of the forest and have word spread beyond.
  • Takes any form they wish with elements of deer, owl, boar, and mouse.
  • Can call upon woodland creatures for aid and hurry along the seasons, but is outranked by the old trees.  

The Verdant Maze

Place
1: Entwined Wall of Trunks and Roots
2: Mossy Stone Pile
3: Descent into Damp Earth
4: Leafy Clearing
5: Tree Bridge
6: Trailway

Omen
1: Riders Approaching
2: Frantic Movement in the Branches
3: Twisting in the Roots
4: Fading Light
5: Rising Mist
6: Watching Eyes


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Graphene

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I love rules-lite systems, but I'm recently moving toward rules that are light but strong

Rules like Graphene. 


Light systems are often praised for how they "get out of the way" once you hit the table. The players don't have to spend a lot of time and energy on the rules themselves, so they channel it into the other parts of the game instead: exploring the environment, making their characters memorable, and good old fashioned problem solving. 

This is something I've always strived for with my own games, but I've started to feel a dissatisfaction when the rules feel completely absent. 

It's a difficult balance to describe. I don't want the GM or players to have to think too much about the cogs and gears of the system, but I want those few mechanical parts to be a more solid presence on the game. 

Reaction and morale rolls in D&D are the classic example here. They don't really add much complexity that you need to hold in mind, but they have a major impact in the way your dungeon crawl plays. Now those Gnolls want to talk to you, and you've got to decide what to do when the Ghouls start to flee toward the dragon cave. Of course the GM could just make those things happen, but it feels different when it comes from a rule rather than a ruling. 

The best anti-example would be one of those systems where you have a dozen +1s and -1s to keep track of, but they usually balance out to some inconsequential modifier that doesn't even affect the majority of possible rolls. Similarly, there are those fiddly little rules that you sometimes forget to use in play... then realise that in forgetting them nothing was really lost. Those are always the most satisfying parts to chop out of a work-in-progress game.

But this desire for strong rules goes further than that. Maybe they're stronger even than the GM. Maybe Rule Zero is losing its shine for me. RULES NOT RULINGS!?

Well, no. I like games that empower the GM, but I want the game to have a power of its own. Just like how you obviously shouldn't fudge the dice, maybe the strength of the fiction and the agency of the players are both enhanced if the rules cannot be broken. 

I suppose this is all adjacent my thoughts on those 3 Tiers of Truth. I've had a lot of fun with loose games that hardly engage with the rules and are mostly improvised at the table, so perhaps I'm just craving something more solid as a contrast. The grounded, impartial, almost sim-like feel of a high-crunch game without the brain melting complexity. 

It might be a futile quest, but I'm going to keep searching for that Graphene. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

ITOR Last Call

Last Call for new Into the Odd Remastered pre-orders! Existing backers, this is also your last chance to modify your order.

At the end of Sunday 15th May the Pledge Manager will close and the final details go over to Fria Ligan.

You can pre-order here, where existing backers can also confirm their delivery details: https://bastionland.pledgemanager.com/projects/into-the-odd-remastered/participate

We're still on track for June delivery, and I'll keep the updates coming as we get closer.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Problems

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I like encounters that are a problem with a problem throwing problems.

Wait! Hear me out.

Okay, let's assume we're talking about a classic monster encounter that at least has potential to be antagonistic, and think of it this way instead:

  • The encounter poses a defining problem to the players (the troll is blocking our route into the deeper caves)
  • The encounter has personal problems of its own (the neighbouring kobolds are making a racket, disturbing its hibernation)
  • Engaging with the encounter causes dynamic problems that need responding to (you cut off the the troll's head but it gradually begins to grow back. The tiny head starts barfing acidic bile around the room, what do you do?)

Defining Problems

This is the reason for tension in the encounter. Why is this thing a problem at all, rather than just something existing alongside you? Monsters blocking the way is obvious, but you might have encounters that are working against you in less obvious ways (this goblin is following us around but we don't know why). 

Personal Problems

This is the "why" of the encounter, flipped to their perspective. It can be blunt, like a Beholder that finds themselves disgusting at all other beings, or more complex, like a golem that's been bound into performing a likely impossible and very specifically worded task.

Dynamic Problems

These are the turn-by-turn problems that usually emerge if things turn to combat. It's a solid rule of thumb to have each round of combat feel different to the last somehow, and good encounters give you the tools you need to do this without too much forced-feeling improvisation. Remember, the point of these is to create interesting "what do you do?" moments for the players, so things like winding up for a huge attack are often more interesting than the attack itself. 

Standard Caveat

As with all of these guidelines, I wouldn't hold myself to following them to the letter 100% of the time. Maybe that Black Pudding doesn't need to have a personal problem... but at the very least it's useful to think about its wants and needs, however simple, and keep them in mind when running the encounter. Sometimes "hungry, drawn to warm flesh" is more than enough. 

 

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Defence

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ITO and EB have three types of defence. Pretty bloated system, right?

I wanted to talk briefly about how to use them both alone and in combination with each other.

Hit Protection (HP)
A guaranteed buffer of "safe" damage that can be taken before getting wounded. Easy to recover once the fight is over. It's the most abstract of the defences, but usually represents a general sense of skill and stamina. 

Strength (STR)
Raw physical endurance. Both the mass to soak up hits and the vigour to keep on fighting when wounded. More debilitating and difficult to recover, losing STR is always painful in comparison to losing HP. 

Armour (A)
Anything that lessens the effect of an attack against you and give a chance to shrug it off altogether. 

Now things get more interesting when you use them together. What does that look like?

For these examples, assume that the defences not mentioned are unremarkable. 


High HP, High STR: If you want to make something tough, this is probably the safest way to go. They're going to stick around, but gradually get worn down. I'd use this for most typical scary monsters that you want to pose a real threat and not be easily taken down. 

High HP, High A: I've seen discussions around whether something fast and small should use Armour to represent their ability to dodge. In general, I'd save that sort of thing for another category, but I can see the temptation to put them here. Instead, I'd use this category for the skilled, armoured opponent that frustrates the characters until they can land one decisive blow on them.

High STR, High A: The classic big monster profile here. In general terms, before considering actual armour-like protection, I give +1 armour to big stuff, and +2 to REALLY BIG stuff (maintaining the maximum of 3). Just be aware that this profile is vulnerable to a lucky one-shot if the players roll high and you roll badly. 

High HP, Low STR: THIS is the fast, small monster profile. They can duck and dodge safely until you land that blow which will likely take them straight down to instant death at STR 0. 

Low HP, High STR: Just a dumb brute. Good for your orc-likes. 

Low HP, High A: I've used this for both untrained-armoured-grunts and automaton-like monsters. It's interesting in that it can feel a little more like the classic D&D combat with lots of swinging and missing, with one or two decisive blows. It has a use, but I wouldn't make this the standard. 

Low STR, High A: I like this for skeletons and the like. Fragile enemies that can be shattered with a good hit but are surprisingly difficult to land a good blow on.

High Everything: Use with caution! I mean, you can use it, but just make sure it's something that you're prepared to have stick around for a long time. In particular, make sure it has interesting things to do while it's out there surviving for so long. 

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Ten

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I was reminded that this coming Friday and Monday are Bank Holidays here in the UK, so I should take a few days off work.

Well I care deeply about the wellbeing of every member of the Bastionland Press corporate empire, so in addition to taking next week off work, I decided to give myself a free day to work on a project that probably wasn't going to go anywhere, and you know what that means...

The dreaded return of Project 10!

I've written about it before, but I'm very aware that it lies outside of the interests of many people that read this patreon/blog, so I've tried to keep it in the background. Well, today is the exception, so let's get on with what I've been doing with this little wargame.

The whole point of this game is that I wanted something I could use with big bases of small-scale miniatures. This week I painted a block of foot knights and a commander.

 

Bringing my 10mm collection to a still-tiny 4 (and a bit) units. 

Not quite the dozen units I'd need to actually test this game on the tabletop yet, not to mention my delayed aspirations to create a modular 1x1m battlefield. TTS is fine, but I want to get a proper feel for this. 

Who needs miniatures when you have blank cards?

 

Very much drawing on the aesthetic of 90s White Dwarf Battle Reports, which were a huge catalyst for this project. Note the very first example of artisan, homemade, oversized Combat Dice™

It's no substitute for seeing a miniature army laid out, but it works as a stopgap and might even spur me on to paint more quickly. 

Taking my luxurious variety of units for the Empire of Steel, Guild under the Mountain, Guardians of the Wood, Raiders of the Shadowrealm, Red Sun Horde, and the Army of the Dead, I had a morning of playtesting, an afternoon of making changes, then repeated it all again the next day. 

So what's changed and why?

Traits

Look... if you're actually following the progress of Project 10 then my biggest piece of advice is not to get attached to any of the traits. Treat them like a pet hamster. Enjoy the time you have with them, but know that they are unlikely to join you in your retirement. 

As these are the core of what makes units (and by extension, armies) interesting in this game, I'm always changing them and trying new versions, sometimes reverting to the original. I'm aware that any specific changes I talk about here are just as likely to change again before you read this, or snap back to a previous ruling, but I'll live dangerously and highlight a few. 

Missile: Previously this was split into Short and Long, with each having slightly different restrictions for when they can fire. Putting them together makes it easy, as units with this trait now just follow the standard rules for shooting. You can't shoot after your second pivot. Done. Artillery still has its "no moving and firing" restriction but it feels more intuitive there. Again I'm dipping into Neil Thomas' wisdom here, as he often gives an extended range to slings, javelins, and other short ranged weapons favoured by skirmishers, representing a more abstract sense of that unit's area of control, rather than a strict range based on their static position on the board. 

Tough: This trait has changed names a few times, but represents units that are better able to withstand damage throughout the battle, be it through armour, discipline, or physical resilience. Formerly reactive (essentially having Damage Reduction of 1 point), it always felt slightly at odds with the other traits, which largely occur on the unit's own turn. It also increased the instances of "I roll... nothing happens" which wasn't desirable. So instead it's now tied to Rallying, allowing a unit to more readily recover after taking damage. The idea that damage represents both casualties and failing morale is key to this, and I'll talk about it a little more further down. 

Loose: Look, I hate this Trait. I need it, as I want to allow for units that are primarily made of skirmishers or other loose form infantry, but it's probably changed more than any other rule. Dip into your wargame of choice and find the section on skirmishers. It's rarely a succinct little ruling, and commonly involves at least three special effects that apply to this unit. Maybe they can move and shoot, or move through rough terrain, or move through other units, or move after shooting, or move and shoot in any direction, oh and they should be weaker in melee, but harder to hit with missile fire, and less able to reform, and and... You get the idea. So currently I've got a ruling I don't really like, but I wanted to at least point it out and shame it in public. One day there will be a great rule here, but today is not that day. 

Terminology

Rolls of 1-3 are now called Hits, and 4-6 Misses. This might seem small but it's one of those many tiny things that makes other rules easier to understand, and gradually improves the quality of life factor of a game as you bash away at it. 

Terrain

I previously had a very clever set of terrain rules that involved a grid with two axis. One was "affects movement" and the other "affects shooting" and it resulted in 9 sub-categories of terrain that had examples and made me feel like I was doing great work.

Well, something I've learned is that if you look at a piece of your writing and think "oh yes, very clever" then maybe you should stop patting yourself on the back and look again with a more pragmatic set of eyes.

This very clever system was actually just a clunkier way of describing 5 common types of terrain (open, rough, blocks movement, blocks vision, blocks everything) and then 4 weird edge cases that didn't really need a common rule.

And for similar reasons to my changes to the Tough trait, I've taken a more hardline approach to cover. No more damage reduction for being around some bushes. Either get in the woods (blocks vision) or deal with getting shot at.

Flanking and Supporting

The rule that "flank and rear attacks roll double" felt like a core part of the game. Almost too core. Out of curiosity, I tried a version of the game with no bonus for hitting the flank or rear. 

I actually, mostly, preferred it. 

The previous bonus was so impactful that most games would come down to "who can flank most effectively" and while I knew this was going to be a "rank and flank" game, I didn't want it to be the only way. 

I'd previously tried a version of the game where flank and rear attacks got +1CD, instead of doubling the damage, but I landed somewhere slightly different (see the next section).

Supporting had always slightly annoyed me, as having these big block units in two ranks always looked a bit wrong, not to mention the strange situations that occur when you have a supported unit pivoting, or getting flanked and everything descending into a huge central scrum. So that's gone for now as well, and I've been enjoying battles that more readily use the width of the board. 

But you can't just remove the two most significant ways of causing big damage in the game! Surely everything just grinds to a halt and turns into the sort of attritional warfare I wanted to avoid, right?

So let's inject another one of those deliciously divisive chaotic elements. 

Shock

Gasp! A new rule! 

I didn't include separate morale rules in this game as (like in One Hour Wargames) I saw that all as being abstracted within the damaging and eventual breaking of the unit. Likewise, any attacking reluctance by a unit is modelled in the existence of the three "miss" results on the Combat Dice. But I wanted to try something out, so I first tested the idea that units would take 1CD of damage whenever they were charged on the flank/rear, when they became Shaken, or when an ally within 1 measure was Broken.

Well, the impact was huge! I rolled some unlikely results, but I saw a chain reaction rip through an army, with 4 units Breaking as a result of a single attack. The devil in me liked it, but really it just made me want to keep my units further apart from each other, which didn't feel right. 

So Shock now exists in a tempered form with just the first two triggers: Flank/Rear charge and becoming Shaken. It can cause small chain reactions, and lets me explore a new  design space with the Fearsome and Dauntless traits, but the jury isn't quite out on it yet.

Rallying

In reaction to a number of the changes above, Rallying is now slightly easier to do than before. You can basically do it in place of attacking, so a melee-based unit that's marching through fire is probably going to rally every turn. It's another Chaos element, so perhaps we're reaching critical mass, but I'd always rather test something that's about to explode rather than something that bores me to tears. 

So I'm granting myself a little more P10 testing this week before my break, then we'll return to the world of the primeval.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Patching

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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Calendars aren't my strong suit, but if this is Editorial #52 then I make that a (nearly) full year of doing these things (just conveniently ignoring those weeks that I skipped). I was initially hesitant about having my regular content on a delayed release for non-patrons, but it seems to have worked quite well. The only downside is that I change my mind so quickly that often the ideas I'm sharing are out of date by the time they hit the public blog. 

So let's see if I can make it to 100. 

Ben Milton's Glatisant Newsletter got me onto reading about Blorb Principles for running an RPG. Whether or not this particular style of play suits you, this principle-setting is a useful tool for focusing in on what elements you really want to keep in mind when running or playing a game. Better still, a shared set of principles for the table avoids those issues where the game drastically misses the expectations of one or more players. 

So, yes. Set principles. I think it's worth doing.

But what about this Blorb thing? I'm not going to repeat everything that's been written already, but it largely fits with my own style of play. In particular there's one section that nicely distills something I've never quite managed to put into words before. 

Quoted here (but you should absolutely go and read the full post): 

Three Tiers of Truth

The DM is asked a question like, for example: what’s in the office?

a. Look in the prep. Maybe this room is in there and the text says what is canonically in there, and you’re all set.

b. Otherwise, maybe you have a rule (“default offices have a stapler, a typewriter, a visitor’s chair” etc) or mechanic (such as a random room content table). Use that.

c. If you don’t have that either, make something up. Try to make it something that won’t help or harm the players too much. It can be evocative and build mood, but shouldn’t be 20 angry beholders (or 20 free healing potions). Don’t feel bad: allowing DMs to start small is how we get new DMs. But, patch the hole, or this category of holes, for future sessions. Then over time your DMing will get more and more solid.

Always work in that order, top to bottom, only falling to a lower tier of truth when you have to.

A campaign that’s built on all T2 and T3 truths isn’t as engaging as one that has some solid T1 framework in there (in a cloud, bones of steel), but as you patch holes (as T3 instructs you to) feel free to patch them with mechanics and general solutions (i.e. T2 truths). That’s you building a DM’s toolbox.

Yeah, of course I like the bit that essentially fits into a 3-bullet procedure. I've lingered around the idea of the "impartial GM" before, but never really committed too hard to it. This feels like a good, practical structure to put that idea into practice. 

But of course I need to make some initialism or acronym in order to wedge this into my brain, so I'm remembering the three tiers of truth as:

1: Prep
2: Procedure
3: Patch

The first two should be pretty self-explanatory. 

1: If it's written in your notes then don't change it because of stuff the players have done ahead of encountering it. This goes back to the quantum ogre and beyond, so not much for me to add here. 

2: If it's not in your notes and you have a rule or roll somewhere that's fit for purpose then use that to generate a new truth. All part of the appeal of encounter rolls, reaction rolls, morale checks. The stuff that makes the world feel dynamic and real even outside of the GM's notes. I'll stress here that there's a huge difference between "making a world feel real" and "making a realistic world" but that's one for another day. 

3: This is the one that I want to give more thought to. That essential GMing skill of making shit up when the players do something you weren't prepared for. I've joked before that this is the most important skill to cultivate, but here it's presented in a slightly more specific way.

You're patching a hole. You're here because you didn't prep for it and you don't have a procedure for it. Now that's not innately bad but on reflection I agree with the Blorb principles that if a game has too much of this I start to lose interest. The curtain starts to fall and the world feels a little less like a living place to explore.

The original principles suggest that you change up your prep to that next time a similar situation arises you can draw on one of the higher tiers of truth, but I'm more interested in the immediate patching that occurs in the gameplay.

In the same way that "describing failure" is trickier and more important than "describing success", I'm starting to think that I want to give more thought to the specifics of how I patch those holes that exist outside of the prep and the procedures. The original post has some good advice (don't invent anything too helpful or too harmful) but how about treating it as an opportunity. Just because you're avoiding being especially impactful to the characters doesn't mean you can't have an impact on the players.

Each time I have to patch a hole mid-game I'm going to make something up that checks at least one of the following:

  • Evoke the flavour of the world - the intent being to further solidify their sense of the greater world they're exploring
  • Indulge their senses - shameless attempts at immersion, putting the players right in the minds, ears, and noses of the characters
  • Reinforce something that they've already learned about this place - I'm not 100% sold on this one, as there's a degree of quantum ogre about it, but I also feel like you can never give players too many reminders

So using the original example of the players searching an office that you hadn't planned for, we could patch in three different ways if we were running a game in Bastion:

  • Evoke: The office is a mess. Under the piles of paperwork you can just make out dozens of stacked in-trays and out-trays. The desk is littered with dried up rubber stamps and empty pill bottles. 
  • Indulge: You're hit with the heady smell of correction-fluid, a large bottle of the white chemical spilt on the faded carpet and paperwork scattered throughout. 
  • Reinforce: The office looks abandoned, furnishings thrown to the ground and hastily searched. Presumably whoever looted the other rooms also had a good rummage through here. 

Sure you can shoot for all three at once, but we don't need to apply that level of pressure here. Remember, it's just patching the hole. 

 

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Knights

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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Each Knight has a Shortsword (2d4), Mace (d6), or Axe (d6).

Riding horse (3hp), torches, rope, and dry travel rations.

Specific Knights also receive:

Holdings: The things they own and have access to.

Myths: The truths which are known.

 

The Moss Knight

The tree and stone did not need to be taught This one knew to study under them

Holdings

  • Wooden Buckler (A1 in Melee)
  • Bag of assorted animal bones
  • Tattoos (see below)

Myths

  • Can speak with uncut stones, but they talk very slowly and are extremely literal
  • When spending the night under a tree it shares a useful vision through dreams, and grants restful sleep
  • After spending a night inside, take the Burden: Stifled: Spend the night in untamed nature.

Tattoos

Colour
1. Faded Black
2. Deep Blue
3. Raised Silver
4. Pale Green
5. Scarred Red
6. Burnt Copper

Design
1. Branching Spirals
2. Tangled Thorns
3. Curved Stars
4. Horned Snakes
5. Twisted Bones
6. Flaming Rings


The Gilded Knight

A beacon of the brave and bold All cloaked and masked in shining gold

Holdings

  • Gold-coloured armour with cloak and masked helm (A1, bulky, opponents who know the value of gold have their first ever attack against you Impaired)
  • Illuminator Globes (cast bright light for a few moments when broken, can be replenished at a secret source)
  • Take the Burden: Symbol: Pass your golden armour onto a worthy successor

Myths

  • When Wounded, all allies fighting alongside regain d6hp
  • When they gain financial wealth, take the Burden: Unworthy: Be rid of your financial wealth
  • When slain, the armour must be cast into darkness. A new Gilded Knight emerges when they are most needed

The Cost

How long has the armour been worn?
1. Days
2. Weeks
3. Months
4. Years
5. Decades
6. For all memory

What was left behind?
1. A Farm 
2. A Crown
3. Only Graves
4. A Student
5. A Teacher
6. A Castle


The Willow Knight

The senior knights fought the storm, falling as broken bones The youth was thrown about, but arose in the calm

Holdings

  • Youthful energy (can be Shattered like a shield)
  • Replace Riding Horse with an Old Grey Charger (1hp, d6 trample)
  • Lyre (only knows sad songs)

Myths

  • As long as they are not wearing Armour any attack dice rolled against them are discarded if they show their highest possible result. Shields do not count as Armour for this purpose.
  • Elders won’t take them seriously at all until their worth is proven.
  • If not carrying any Bulky items they can choose to automatically pass any Save to avoid physical harm, taking the Burden: Unproven: Prove you are worthy being a Knight. 

Memories of Home

Place
1. Riverside
2. Coast
3. Mountain
4. Pine Forest
5. Moor
6. Castle

Disaster
1. Death
2. War
3. Famine
4. Plague
5. Fire
6. Flood

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Mourning

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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They wandered here and there, drawn out by sorrow

As old as the sun, as timid as a child

Mourning Spirit

STR 5, DEX 15, CHA 17, 3hp.
Flashes of despair (d8 blast), immaterial body (ignores normal weapons).

  • Lingers protectively around a place tied to past sorrows
  • Grants visions of the past sorrows, but only to those who come with peace and humility
  • Repelled by earth from a burial mound, or any funerary imagery

Their World

  • Islands within the mist of time
  • The mourned past can be seen as readily as the now
  • None can die there, but any that leave gain the Burden:
    Haunted: Destroy a part of the past which haunts you.*

MOURNFUL FORMS (Roll 2d6)

Shape 

  1. Robed 
  2. Skeletal
  3. Rotund
  4. Knightly
  5. Childish
  6. Amorphous

Matter

  1. Glow 
  2. Frost 
  3. Fire 
  4. Mist 
  5. Shadow 
  6. Water

*Burdens now function slightly differently to my previous iteration. If you have 3 or more Burdens you are considered Unready, and Burdens can (generally) only be removed by fulfilling their specific requirements. In this case you must "Destroy a part of the past which haunts you".

 


Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Exploration

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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Like so many others I've been playing a lot of Elden Ring over the past few weeks. I'm 27 hours in, and so far it's already been one of my favourite videogame experiences. I played the original Dark Souls 10 years ago, enjoying it but getting stuck at some point and never finishing it. I haven't gone back into the series since, and was mostly drawn into Elden Ring by the comparisons to Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild was the best and worst thing to happen to my experience with videogames. Its inviting world, near limitless freedom, and wide open structure tapped into everything I want from a game, but it lowered my tolerance for games that fail to deliver. Clever systems and finely-tuned challenges are good, but above all else I want to feel like I'm exploring a world in my own way, and that the world is worth exploring. 

Years later I dipped into a remaster of Assassin's Creed: Black Flag hoping for the same feeling, but it always felt like the world was behind a fluttering curtain of systems, and my plans weighed down by a rigid structure for what I should be doing at any given time. No Man's Sky had a lot to like by the time I came to it, but it still felt like there was a game developer's hand on my shoulder as I played. I picked up Shadow of War for free and I don't know if I even made it into the sandbox, dragged down into the tutorial-mire before I could even run freely. 

So I wanted to acknowledge some of the ways in which Elden Ring gets it right for me and nails the element of exploration in a way that so many other games fail. Might be a good checklist if you're hoping to stimulate that same feeling in your tabletop RPG.


It lets me do what I want, not what I should be doing.

It lets me go to dangerous places even if I should probably come back later.

It lets me run away.

It lets me sneak.

It lets me grab some treasure without fighting.

It (usually) shows me the dangerous thing before it kills me.

It shows me big, distant places that I can go to.

It doesn't note down everything for me, and expects me to pay attention.

It sometimes points in a certain direction, but doesn't tell me why.

It lets me visit most regions of the world (perhaps all of them, I'm not sure yet!) without fighting a single boss.

It  puts some weak enemies in the strong areas and some strong enemies in the weak areas. 

It has wandering encounters.

It changes between night and day.

It punishes you for dying, but not too much, and throws you right back in.

It puts some treasure just in a remote place, not necessarily behind a guard. 

It has lore, but most of the time bombards you with flavour.

It has a plot, but it feels more about whatever your character is currently doing.

It lets you change your mind and do something else instead.

It lets me play for 10 minutes or 10 hours and feel satisfied either way.

Perhaps I'll go and dip in right now.