Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Oddpocrypha

 Oof, was it really four months ago I last wrote about imperfect examples of play?

Well, I'm finally putting it into practice.

I've got this thing about making my games a self-contained book that doesn't need any additional support. Of course, with RPGs it's common practise to mine ideas from dozens of books and blend them together, but I like the idea that somebody could pick up one of my games and feel like they have everything they need in a single volume.

Rules are the easy part, but I also want to make sure that players have good guidance on how to actually run things, and enough adventure content to get things started.

With Into the Odd there's a few pages of guidance for running the game, a short example of play, and an adventure module with a dungeon, wilderness, and small town. The Oddpendium is just a heap of random tables to gesture broadly at the rest of the world. I wanted this to feel a bit like those box sets where you get your rules and adventure all ready to go. Something you can buy one day and feel like you can sit down and run it that evening. 

Electric Bastionland takes a different approach. Here I wanted guidance and procedures over providing specific library content. Sure there are all the failed careers, but I wanted this book to focus on getting people making their own adventures, their own version of Bastionland. It's all about procedures and principles for the conductor to internalise so that the world will eventually start to just flow out of them. The Oddendum is where I can luxuriate in mini-essays talking about the word, the game, and how to run it, in many ways a greatest-hits of my relevant blogposts over the years. It's not as easy to pick-up-and-go as Into the Odd, but my hope was that once it all clicked people would find it easier an more fun to run. 

In approaching Mythic Bastionland I knew I wanted to do something different. Of course the flavour is different, the focus lies in a different style of play, and the rules have been warped, but I also wanted a new approach to how I'd advise the person running the game. Finally, I'm feeling good about the direction of the game now that I've started to work on the Oddpocrypha section, putting the focus on a large bank of examples of play, each accompanied by notes breaking down what happened, why, and how things could have been done differently. 


There are a few in the playtest doc right now, but I'm aiming to have this be a significant chunk of the book.

Here's how one of them might look, followed by the text itself.


CHARACTER CREATION

PLAY

Ref: So in this game you’re both Knights, but you’ll have different strengths and weaknesses. Start by rolling your Ability Scores. They’re Vigour, Finesse, and Charm. For each you’ll roll a d12 and a d6 and add them together. High is better, 10 is average. 

Hands a character sheet to each player. They start rolling their ability scores. 

Tal: Okay, so I got Vigour 11, Finesse 14, Charm 7. 

Moss: I got Vigour 6! Urgh. At least my Finesse and Charm are higher, 10 and 12. 

Ref: Yeah that’s pretty bad! Don’t worry though, just means you’ll need to be crafty and not rely on brute force. The scores might get better later too as your character ages. There’s this rule where… Actually, scrap  that for now. You need to roll d6 for your Guard. This is how good you are at avoiding getting hit or taking lasting damage. 

Tal: Okay, 3, I guess that’s okay.

Moss: I got 6! Guess I’m crafty like you said. 

Ref: Okay now you each get to be one of these Knights.

Ref fans through the book, showing some of the entries for Knights.

Ref: The book says you can choose from here or roll. What do you think?

Moss: Obviously we should roll.

Tal: Oh I dunno, I don’t want to be stuck with a character I don’t like.

Ref: Okay how about we roll, but if you hate what you get then we’ll just choose instead. 

Tal: Yeah, thanks. 

They both roll Knights, getting the Moss and Talon knights. 

Tal: I get a bird? I’ll stick with this one!

Ref: Great, so this gives you some gear and a special thing you can do. Let’s get it onto your character sheets and we can get started. 

THOUGHTS

When getting the players started with the game I like to get them rolling their character as soon as possible, before I even start telling them about the world. The things they discover in making their character will get them immersed in the world right away.

It’s good that Ref gives a bit of context for Ability Scores. If you’ve played a lot of RPGs it’s easy to assume that everybody will work out the average of d6+d12, but just telling the players that 10 is average gives them a point of reference for their character.

Getting bad rolls here can be disheartening, so it’s good to see Ref reassuring Moss that their low Vigour score isn’t going to make their character useless.

We can see that Ref almost goes into explaining the rules for characters ageing, and how their Ability Scores can increase, but decides not to overload the players right now. At this point it’s enough for the players to know that their scores can change later, they don’t need to know the details while they’re focused on their character in the here and now. 

On our very first example, Ref is already breaking the rules. The character creation process says nothing about letting the characters roll a Knight and then decide whether to keep them or roll a different entry instead, but Ref sees that Tal is feeling anxious about getting a character they don’t like and decides to give the players the best of both worlds.

Ref could have stood firm, insisting that Tal either rolls a character or chooses one, but instead Ref took the chance that Tal would probably be happy with their character, but would appreciate the backup option if they didn’t like the Knight they rolled.

This can go the other way, with some players finding it too much choice to be handed a list of 72 Knights to choose from, so would rather take the roll. A huge part of the Referee’s role is sensing the best option for their group. If in doubt, just ask the players and trust them to be reasonable. 

TEACHING THE RULES

PLAY

Tal: Okay, now the rules?

Ref: So this is a bit more complex than Into the Odd, but the core is the same. Wait, were you both here when we played that?

Tal: Yeah I think I remember all the rules.

Moss: Wait, no, I missed that week.

Ref: Okay I’ll start from scratch then. When you do something risky I’ll ask you to roll a Save, so you’ll roll a d20 and try to get equal or less than the Ability Score. So Moss if you made a Vigour Save you’d need to roll 6 or less on a d20.

Moss: Got it.

Ref: Combat is… you know what we’ll deal with combat when it happens. For now you just need to know that the die type next to your weapon is the die you roll when you attack with it. So Moss your Cudgel does d6 damage. Oh, and you have a Shield which gives you Armour 1, meaning you’ll take 1 less damage from attacks against you.

Moss: Right. Does my bad Vigour score make my attacks weaker too?

Ref: No actually. There are times in combat when it will matter, but it won’t affect your attacks.

Moss: Oh right, that’s good then.

Ref scans over some of the other pages of rules  and prepared notes. 

Ref: Yeah the rest we’ll just deal with as we get to it. I’ll give you plenty of warning so I won’t just drop a horrible rule on you!

Tal: What are these things on my sheet? I’ve got Burdens and Feats.

Ref: Right, right. Burdens are bad, you don’t want to have them but sometimes you’ll get them! We’ll deal with them when they happen. Your Feat is a special thing that only you can do. There are some other ones linked to combat but… you know what let’s just get started and we’ll do a little combat brief when it happens. 

Moss: Sounds good, let’s go. 

THOUGHTS

Here I’ll show my bias toward getting the game started as soon as you can, backloading as much of the rules explanation as possible.

The game is designed in such a way that players don’t need to know all of the rules to begin with, but there are some important considerations with this approach.

Players may be relieved that they don’t need to learn rules immediately, but some may worry that they’re going to make a critical mistake without knowing all of the details of how the game works. 

Here Ref starts with the bare minimum, explaining how Saves work. This is a nice rule to start with as it’s very simple and gives further context for the information on the players’ character sheets. They get a little bogged down talking about weapons and armour, and frankly I think Ref could have skipped this whole section, sticking to the line that combat will be explained when it happens. 

It’s natural for players to ask about other parts of their character sheet that they don’t yet understand, here the Burdens and Feats. Ref could have just said “we’ll deal with that later” but here I like that they at least gave the context for those things, if not the actual rules in detail. Now Tal understands what those things are, but hasn’t needed to learn exactly how they work in game terms. 

Something that Ref missed here is explaining the objective of the characters. In this game the Oath gives Knights a very clear purpose, so I would encourage Ref to at least explain the Oath and warn the players that they’ll be judging themselves on their adherence to it at the end of the session. 


The conversational style of writing is a tricky one, and the potential for cringe is high, but I'm hopeful that I can make this into something useful for potential referees. 

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

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

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Universal Creature Profile

It was fun playing around with another type of Universal Profile last week, so let's keep it rolling. Can we make this work for creatures?

UNIVERSAL CREATURE PROFILE
Roll 5d6, drop the highest, then read the remaining dice in order as:

Bone: How much hard structure does this thing have?
Flesh: How much soft stuff does this thing have?
Senses: How acute are its senses?
Brain: How intelligent is it?

1=1: A Bit
2=2: Some
3=3: Lots
4=N: Null, actively none, perhaps by design
5=H: Hazardous, not through lack or excess but the nature of the thing
6=S: Super, off the scale. Think big then go bigger.

EXAMPLES

32H2 - Chitinous bug creature. It hijacks the senses of nearby creatures, severely limiting the victims own senses during this time, causing permanent damage if the bug isn't hunted down and driven out of the victim's head. 

211H - Scrawny little wretches, fumbling around in the light of their hazardous lanterns, but crafty enough to have learned to use local wildlife to their advantage. If you find yourself beset by hostile encounters, perhaps one of these is pulling the strings in the shadows.

HN21 - A monster made entirely of bristling bone spines, tipped with paralysing  venom. Simple minded scavenger that generally wants leaving alone, but won't hesitate to drive away competition for its carrion.

3S33 - Hulking ogre-like creature, as big as their mountain. They understand their realm better than anybody else, but more content to delegate work to their minions while they enjoy the fruits of their success. Frustrated by being surrounded by idiots. 

Art by Midjourney

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

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

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Universal Borough Profile

I've had a week off, enjoying/surviving Paris, one of my favourite cities to visit. To go full clich√©, it's a city of many halves, each one beautiful and terrifying in its own way. Shades of Bastion everywhere. 

Looking back at my Universal Hex Profile, let's see if we can refit it to generate a Borough of Bastion. 

UNIVERSAL BOROUGH PROFILE - THE FOUR Cs

Roll 5d6, drop the highest, then read the remaining dice in order as:

Climb: How wrecked are your legs after a day walking here?
Code: How screwed are outsiders without a guide?
Crush: How tightly packed is everyone/everything?
Crap: How much filth is lying around?

1=1: A Bit
2=2: Some
3=3: Lots
4=N: Null, actively none, perhaps by design
5=H: Hazardous, not through lack or excess but the nature of the thing
6=S: Super, off the scale. Think big then go bigger.

EXAMPLES

S132 - The ultra-vertical high-stacked Borough taken to its extreme, pushing through the smog and the clouds, mostly welcoming for the tightly packed crowds of tourists, leaving piles of rubbish in their wake. 

3NN3 - Residential buildings and heaps of industrial waste both piled high, but now walled up as an insurance write-off. Nobody can live here anymore, and visitors only permitted under armed escort. Any valuables found within are used to help pay off the Borough's debts. Perhaps one day it'll break even again. 

H212 - Built on the broken ground of a failed urban mine, getting from one street to another often requires ropes and spikes. Because of that, most of the residents came from mountainous regions of Deep Country, bringing their spiky dialect with them. Not much in the way of public services, but nice to escape the crowds. 

311N - Concentric spirals of paved steps, or funicular if you can afford it. The streets are clean, spacious, and well signed. When you see a Borough like this you have to ask why more people don't live here. Cost might be a factor, but there's usually something more sinister too. 

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Art by Midjourney

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

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

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Rolling Back a Decade

This week's post has been largely replaced by being away on holiday. I'm back now but putting things up a week early on Patreon really messes with the post-time continuum. 

So while I'm (not) away, let's break time even further by travelling back ten years, when Into the Odd was being playtested, unaware of its bright future. 

Two old posts condensed into one. 

In Favour of Static Saves

You might notice a big change in the current edition of Into the Odd.

Saves are now "roll equal or under the appropriate stat". Nothing modifies this roll.

Here's my reasoning.

I want players to be fully informed of the risks they take.

A character with DEX 7 now knows that they'll have to roll 7 or less on a d20 to pass a DEX Save. No matter what. They won't be asking you what number they'd have to Save against when considering their actions. All the data they need to make an informed choice is on their own character sheet.

The game advises Referees to warn players when their actions will lead to a Save. Saves occur as a result of a choice or action.

These factors should combine to make the DEX 7 player do whatever they can to avoid DEX Saves. No leaping across that pit unless it's a safe jump. Better yet, let's find a way to bridge the gap or go in another direction.

The changes should also eliminate the unpleasant surprise a Save can bring. Imagine this.

A STR 12 character is fighting a corrupt guard. They take a big hit, run out of HP and find out their opponent has STR 17.

The Referee said the guy looked burly, but STR 17?

Using the old system, the player must now roll 15 or more to avoid being incapacitated and possible killed. I love deadly combat, but this could come out of nowhere.

I don't want players to be thinking about the STR score of their opponents or working out probabilities during combat. Having static Saves greatly reduces the amount of numeric data you're factoring into the decision and lets you focus on the situation.

D&D was pretty close to having static saves all the way up to third edition, and that seemed to work just fine. Of course, saves were often modified for tougher circumstances, which I won't be doing.

So, let's get this straight. A STR 10 character has a 50% chance to avoid Critical Damage from both a stick-waving street urchin and a Timeless Horror from Beyond?

Yes.

The Urchin is beating his stick for d4 damage. He has a handful of hp and you can knock him down without much thought.

The Astral Horror is lashing out for d12 damage, warps your form into a tortured abomination with each hit and constantly barrages you with mind control effects. Your swords and bullets glean off its shadowy hide, turning your weapons ice cold. Even if you find something that can hurt it, it has dozens of hp and is going to make a few Saves before you can bring it down.

I'm not worried about the Astral Horror not being scary.


Why Don't I Get Better At Fighting?

For the mundane Into the Odd character, not interested in Arcana, you hit a peak of offensive ability quite early on.

Get yourself a set of Modern Armour and a Field Weapon. Congratulations, you're dishing out 1d6+1 damage and ignoring a point of damage against you from each attack. That's about as good as things get. No, you don't get an attack bonus as you level. No, your high STR doesn't give you a damage bonus. No, you don't gain feats and powers.

Sucks, right?

What advancement really does is give you the opportunity to fight smarter. There are a few ways this works. 

  • You have more hitpoints, letting you stay in the fight for longer. You can't fight if you're dead.
  • Your Ability Scores will increase a little. This lets you pass Saves to avoid nasty monster effects and makes risky combat manoeuvres more viable.
  • If you're on a battlefield, and of any real importance, you should be on a horse. The armour and damage bonus here is quite a big deal.
  • You've been gathering riches this whole time. Even if you don't carry your cannon everywhere, you might have a small army or a galleon that can fire broadsides at your more persistent enemies. At the very least you should know when to take your elephant gun, fire oil and bombs with you on expeditions.
  • Even if you aren't using Arcana to cast Spells, you'll have gathered a bunch of weird stuff along the way. You have a potion that turns you into the Hulk, a thermal detonator and a glass jar containing some sort of intelligent lightning bolt. When things get tough, each one of these could save you. 

These are all very deliberate design decisions. One of the main goals of Into the Odd is to take the focus away from the character sheet. There really isn't much on there. Three Ability Scores that you only use for Saves, your hitpoints, and a bunch of gear. 

But you want to be Legolas with Flintlock Pistols, blasting away dozens of foes each turn. I'm not saying you can't make your mark on the battlefield, but it isn't all about damage output.

Legolas was only able to fight like that because he had five times the hitpoints of Joe Averagelf and rolled well on his STR and DEX scores. Joe can stab an orc with twin daggers just as easily, but gets an axe buried in his back on the next turn. Legolas has the luxury of surviving long enough to look cool before shield-surfing to safety. He's grabbing a short rest off-camera while his hp recover.

Shooting guys with his bow while he shield-surfs? Good job he has such a high DEX, or he'd have found himself plummeting into the orc horde for trying something so stupid.

Advancement in Into the Odd doesn't give you huge damage output and cinematic combat abilities. It gives you the survivability that you need to be able to act heroically.

Just remember, you're still going to fail Saves. Is climbing on top of the elephant really worth what will happen if you fall down into the beast's path?