Thursday, 29 August 2013

Inspirations: the Sands of Time, part eight

Over the course of seven posts, I have discussed: general ideas and issues, possible systems, combat in the game, how to model it in tabletop, a homebrew possibility for handling the combat, dicepools and buffers, and some new options for combat.

At this point, considering this was supposed to be a quick little side-project, that is more than enough.

So here I present a tentative draft system for Time Faffers, based on previous posts plus (inevitably) stuff I thought of while writing this up. While I wasn't consciously inspired by it, I notice certain similarities to Parkour Murder Simulator. Given they're trying to solve some of the same problems, I suppose it makes sense.

Time Faffers: a Roleplaying Game of Jumping On Stuff

Doing stuff


A character's actions are limited by their Focus. PCs have three Focus per round, each represented by one die. These can be committed to Opposed or Unopposed actions. Focus or Momentum (see below) committed to an Opposed action must be declared beforehand; for Unopposed actions, further dice can be added after each roll if desired.

Opposed actions

Opposed actions are those directed against a sentient opponent, such as combat, misdirection, stealth or barter.

Each point of Focus committed to an Opposed action grants a d6 roll towards that action. Each roll is separate, and you use the highest roll. The opponent rolls any dice they have previously committed to a suitable defence, or a d3 if none.

If you exceed the target's score you inflict Effect equal to the difference in scores. If the Effect is greater than necessary to accomplish your goal, you can attempt to convert it into Momentum. If you roll equal to or less than the spare Effect on a d6, you gain one Momentum die.

Each additional roll of 6 (critical) mean you inflict a point of Effect regardless of score. Each additional roll of 1 (fumble) means you suffer a point of Effect regardless of score.

In the case of combat, Effect is Stamina damage. In non-combat situations it is more nebulous, including things such as slipping past a guard, winning concessions, social embarrassment, leaving clues while sneaking about, dropping items, or getting into a tricky situation without immediate physical harm.

Unopposed actions

Each point of Focus committed to an Unopposed action is one d6. The results are cumulative (4 + 3 = 7, and so on). An action has a fixed Difficulty which must be beaten to succeed. If you exceed the Difficulty, you convert any Focus spent into Momentum dice (or possibly the last Focus). If you fail, and do not spend more dice, the Focus is lost.

In a handful of cases, the action may have a difficulty of zero. This covers things like running to build up speed for a jump.

Cold actions

Some actions don't lend themselves to building up momentum, but demand the character's time and energy. This might include such things as heaving trapdoors open, squeezing through narrow spaces, bearing heavy burdens, picking up spilled coins or tying ropes. Such actions may have a fixed Focus cost (with no die roll or Difficulty), or may call for a die roll but not allow Momentum to be generated. In some cases, Opposed actions may be Cold.


Momentum represents physical and emotional flow, which builds during continuous action and allows you to accomplish increasingly impressive feats.

Momentum dice can be used to supplement Focus dice when taking actions, as long as the GM judges it appropriate. They can be used to initiate actions just like Focus dice, as long as the player has no remaining Focus dice.

Momentum dice are retained from round to round as long as they are not spent. Momentum spent to initiate or accomplish a task is lost, though Focus spent on the same task can be converted to Momentum dice. Momentum is usually lost when switching between types of activity, or when a character does not roll any dice during a turn.

Predicted actions

As combat and other opposed actions can occur during someone else's turn, how do you defend yourself? Well, you can commit Focus the turn before from your pool. For example, a character might commit Focus to self-defence, keeping watch, bracing for impact or resisting blandishments. Such dice apply to every such event until your next round (within the bounds of reason)

Similarly, you can Ready an action to occur in response to an event, spending Focus as normal.

Example: Self-Defence

Vodor runs and scrambles over a wall, only to find herself surrounded by giant wasps and out of Focus. In the ensuing round, she can barely protect herself from the wasps, rolling 1d3 against each and taking some damage. In the next round, rather than attack, she commits two dice to defence and the third to an attempt to escape. This allows her to roll 2d6 for defence (though she won't inflict any damage unless some 1s get rolled) while she tries to get out of there.

Modes of play

In Time Faffers, there are several broad types of play that may be occurring. These include:

  • Parkour
  • Combat
  • Stealth
  • Social

While they play largely the same, Momentum cannot generally be transferred between them. For example, if you build Momentum whilst swinging and leaping your way across a ruined walkway, you cannot use that Momentum to befriend a guard at the far end.

If the GM feels it is appropriate, some or all Momentum may be burned as a one-time bonus when switching between Modes; depending on the result of the next roll, new Momentum may be generated. For example:

  • a particularly dramatic round of combat might help intimidate or impress an NPC
  • a highly successful piece of oration may distract NPCs long enough to get the drop on them
  • skilled sneaking may leave enemies vulnerable to attack, or let you take control of a social situation
  • acrobatic feats may provide a dramatic entrance, surprise monsters, or help you get into cover quickly


Combat is an Opposed action.


As well as engaging in ordinary combat, characters may perform manoeuvres to attack in various more specific ways.

Action manoeuvres

These are actions in and of themselves.

  • Vault - run up and over an object or enemy to escape or to improve your positioning.

Follow-up manoeuvres

These require an appropriate setup, typically via an Unopposed action.

  • Charge - rush in with great force after a run-up, leap or cannon.
  • Backstab - strike a vulnerable spot, typically following a sneak up, duck-and-roll, overhead flip or feint

Attack manoeuvres

These are forms of attack, performed instead of an ordinary attack.

  • Hamstring - slows some enemies down (reduce speed), by targeting vulnerable but non-lethal spots
  • Feint - doesn't inflict damage, but can expose enemies (subtract Focus) and build combat Momentum
  • Unbalance - trip, shove or smack with a shield, this doesn't inflict damage, but can hamper enemies (subtract Focus) and build combat Momentum
  • Disarm - reduces some enemies' ability to fight (reduced die size)

Enemies may be Vulnerable to specific manoeuvres, which grants the attacker a +1 bonus on die rolls - importantly, this means you cannot roll a fumble, while a roll of 5+ counts as a critical. Correct use of vulnerabilities makes combat much easier.

Enemies may also have special reactions to certain manoeuvres or actions. For example, an enemy with a spear or shield may brace against a charge, while a werewolf might snap at characters trying to vault over it.

Example: Cannoning Attack

Surrounded by shadow-beings, Lyris rushes at a wall, runs up a few steps and launches herself back towards a startled shadow with enormous force, allowing her to make a Charge attack.

Her player rolls 1d6 against a Difficulty of 3 to perform the manoeuvre, and rolls a 2. Not wanting to fumble this, they add another die and roll 6 for a total of 8. Lyris now has two Momentum dice. As it turns out, the shadow-being is vulnerable to Strong attacks, granting a +1 bonus to rolls.

The third point of Focus is committed to the attack, along with both Momentum dice, granting a roll of three d6s +1. The shadow-being rolls 1d6 to defend itself. It rolls a 3, while Lyris' player rolls a 2, a 4 and an 6, for an overall 7. Lyris inflicts four hits, obliterating the three-Stamina monster, and can roll 1d6 to convert the spare Effect into Momentum. Unfortunately, she rolls a 3. Her turn is over and she is out of Momentum.

Example: Parkour

Red Morris is out a-burgling in the slums when a rival gang spot him. The chase is on!

Morris spends one Focus to run straight at a wall and up it, allowing him to spend another grabbing the top and swinging over. Each of these actions nets him one Momentum die. Eager to get away quickly, he spends the third Focus point to leap from the wall onto a nearby rooftop, but rolls badly and needs to spend a Momentum dice to make the jump - he loses it, but converts the Focus into Momentum, leaving him with two Momentum dice and no Focus.

At this point Morris has the choice of ending his turn and retaining the Momentum as security for next turn, or pushing on with Momentum alone. Without Focus to produce Momentum, he won't be able to build up to more challenging feats.

However, a few of the gang are still hot on his heels, so he decides to run for the girder that leads to the next building. It's a tricky balancing act, and though he makes it across, he's lost the momentum built up earlier on, and will start cold next turn.


Enemies typically have between one and three Stamina, which determines how many hits they can take. Mortal enemies die or are disabled when they take enough hits, while supernatural ones are usually helpless and need a coup de grace to destroy them. A coup de grace is a Cold action costing one Focus (or Momentum). However, after a short time helpless, supernatural enemies may become active again with a single point of Stamina. Some monsters may guard their fallen against coups de grace.

Player characters typically have ten Stamina. They can regain Stamina during a rest, or when refreshed by certain resources, such as sacred springs.

Non-combat injuries

Some activities, such as leaping chasms and rushing through sawblade traps, are inherently dangerous. If the Unopposed checks for such actions are failed even once any additional dice are committed, Stamina is lost. Typically a fall costs one Stamina per ten feet, while traps inflict between 1d3 and 2d6 damage. In some cases, a secondary action from the PC or a nearby ally may mitigate or avoid the damage; for example, a PC can attempt to grap a falling ally and haul them back to the ledge.


I don't think my ideas here have changed since part four.

PCs possess certain artefacts (or innate powers) that absorb mystical energies. When discharged, the energies allow them to rewind time slightly, in order to change their future.

Use of time-faffing is divided into Minor charges and Major charges. Five Minor charges equal a Major charge. An artefact can hold one Major charge.

A Minor charge represents a second or two of rewinding, and can be used in two ways.

Firstly, they can retry a failed action with the knowledge of that failure. This allows the user to reroll a single die for their own actions with a +1 bonus. As they do not know what will happen if they act differently, there is still a chance of failure.

Alternatively, they can modify a single die roll (other than their own) directly affecting them, setting it either to maximum or minimum. This represents reacting to events they foresee, since the events will happen exactly as they did last time.

Note that players may wait until fallout from a roll has been calculated (for example, damage taken from a trap or inflicted by their attacks) before deciding to use a charge.

A Major charge allows a much more extensive rewinding of time, which generally covers a minute or less. Simply, the use of a major charge allows a substantial revision of what has occurred, negotiated between player and GM. The party may have taken a different fork in the passageway, anticipated the ambush, or rushed over to rescue an ally rather than engaging an enemy. Return to the point where the change occurred, and proceed from there, making a reasonable guess at what would have changed mechanically.

Using a charge does not require Focus, and any number of charges can be used in a round. Players may reroll the same die repeatedly if they wish.

Artefacts typically recharge by absorbing energy from supernatural monsters, or from mortals affected by magic, when making a coup de grace. A single enemy typically provides a Minor charge.


Assuming that anyone wants to customise their characters mechanically, this could be done by allowing them to select a small number of strengths and weaknesses relating to actions. These would increase or decrease the die size respectively when using related actions.

Options might include Climb, Jump, Sneak, and whatever else seems appropriate. And of course, they can pick outfits, weapons and all that sort of thing.

Well, I think that's something approaching a workable system? But I'm sure I've left something out, or some egregious nonsense left over between revisions... do let me know.

One thing I am still turning over is whether to keep the current assumed round structure (one at a time), or split the turn into several rounds, with each character doing one thing at a time. The latter would actually help keep combat simple, because rather than having attack and defence separately, there'd just be a single combat to which both characters can commit dice. In that model, you'd typically each spend one Focus at a time, but could potentially spend two or three on a single action and then sit out the other rounds.

I'm also aware that enemies and abilities are massively underspecified, and the manoeuvres need some work. Exactly what work is another question.

Briefly: Genre-hacking in Icosahedrophilia

Just a quick note this time. Icosahedrophilia is a 4E Actual Play podcast I've been listening to for years, using a homebrew setting with various Wizards elements plus a ton of other inspirations, most notably the works of HP Lovecraft. I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say it's a horror campaign, but it plays around more than many games with things like forces far beyond the PCs' direct capabilities, rather grim reveals, and other horrorlike elements.

In the latest episode, Chris announced that he was going to experiment with a Sanity mechanic, based on the PCs' existing mental characteristics, which will degrade through exposure to things that Should Not Be and other classic Lovecraftian tropes. I'm really interested to see how this one goes, and what he does with it. Will a Sanity mechanic really work out in 4E, with its heavy tactical focus and optimisation, or will it simply be frustrating for players in the way that stunlocks and other effects can be? Chris has played around before with various canon mechanics, like Fortune Cards and some rules for the effects of long-distance travel, sea voyages, or exposure to other planes. This one is so far only a stat on the character sheets, and hasn't been brought into play, but I'm curious about it. Perhaps something based on Ravenloft's emotion and madness rules? More of a Call of Cthulhu take?

So yeah, that's basically it - this post is at least partly to prod Shannon, as I know she's interested in hacking horror elements into other genres. But I'm hoping it'll be something worth checking out for anyone interested in mechanics.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Inspirations: the Sands of Time, part seven

The series so far: general ideas and issues, possible systems, combat in the game, how to model it in tabletop, a homebrew possibility for handling the combat, and dicepools and buffers to increase the actiony-feel.

Last post I was wondering whether the dicepool system I mentioned could be combined with the combat system I'd already discussed, since I was quite pleased with both. At the time I couldn't think of any ideas, but I've now thought of something. The idea is that while player actions are constrained by a pool, it's not a dicepool in the conventional sense.

Merging Dice

I've already discussed the idea of varying die size to represent the character's focus on a task. One possibility would be to generalise that further.

A character has a pool of five (which you can think of as dice, or action points, or whatever). The first die spent on a task allows them to roll 1d4 towards it. Each subsequent die does not stack, but instead increases the die size by two (that is, one size), so 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, to a maximum of 1d12 if full attention is given to the task. Combatwise, this should work well; enemies will be rolling middling dice, likely a d6, and so a PC can handle two enemies at once with reasonable confidence, while retaining a spare die to use for manoeuvres or to overwhelm one enemy. Alternatively, they can hurl their efforts into overcoming one enemy and take the other's attacks. I would be inclined to allow a flat 1d2 or 1d3 roll for passive defence as long as a character isn't locked in place, on the basis that even a character not actively fighting back is still moving around and potentially brawling with others, making them harder to hit. But I'm not sure.

Combat stances

The aggressive and defensive stances could be handled in a couple of ways. One would actually be to have separate attack and defence rolls, so characters choose where to focus their efforts every round. Another would be to spend dice to parry hits (one for one) to reduce the chance of injury, or for a bonus that applies to calculating how many hits you got but not how many you took. For example, you might roll 1d8 with three dice for aggression: a roll of 4 would give you a score of 7/4. If the enemy rolls a 5, then you inflict two hits but also take one. There may be a more elegant solution, though.

Additional rolls

A slightly more complex idea is using additional rolls for non-standard stances.

In one model, if you fight aggressively, both combatants make a separate opposed 1d3 roll and incur additional damage based on the result. This is basically a gamble on the attacker's part, and wouldn't be worth taking as it stands, but the attacker would also gain a bonus to their main die roll.

In a second model, the attacker would roll two dice of the appropriate size; the higher is used to calculate hits on the enemy, and the lower to calculate hits incurred. This model gains particularly from focusing on combat, as you're obviously less likely to roll a low defence on a higher die, and more likely to roll a high score on one of the dice. However, it could still be worth it if you really want to drop an enemy but just don't have the dice to spare.

With 1d3, there's a 33% chance of inflicting additional damage, and a 33% chance of suffering damage. Whether this is useful depends on the damage and recovery systems. Essentially, as the PCs have to fight through many combats, a system with slow recovery or lingering injuries makes this a bad choice. On the other hand, if damage represent increasing vulnerability but can be readily recovered between combats, then eating some damage to put down an opponent quickly could be worth it. In particular, it matters whether injury is more HP-like (with predictable damage thresholds) or based on random rolls, since risking another roll on an injury table that could drop you is probably unwise. That being said, as this is a party game, it could still be worth it if you can be revived easily after the fight.

Failure rates

A disadvantage of the merging dice model is that spending more dice only affects the ceiling, not the floor. You can still readily roll a 1 on 1d12, and will do so fairly often. While I'm okay with that in the tumultuous world of combat, where you're (effectively) rolling against a variable difficulty (in the shape of the enemy roll), I'm less happy with it for other activities. Characters in Time Faffers are supposed to be skilled at acrobatic and athletic feats, and I don't want them to be constantly failing to climb trees or run along walls. What to do?

Well, I could actually simply have them succeed at things by spending dice, perhaps setting variable costs for tasks. Want to leap across to a ledge? One die. Want to run from a ledge along a wall, rebound into a window opposite just as gravity takes hold of you, and swing from the curtain rail into a chandelier in one smooth motion? That's going to be at least three dice. This system would probably scrap Momentum entirely, although I might retain die rolls for challenges like evading sawblades or timing jumps through fire. The advantage here is that you can easily incorporate moves into combat by simply spending the dice. A disadvantage is that it transforms non-combat elements into pure narrative, and the problem here is that unlike POPSOT, a tabletop game doesn't have the advantage of visuals to convey either complex room layouts, or how cool you look. Basically I'm worried that the platforming would just boil down to "you use five dice each round to do some stunts which were seriously cool, honestly, and then get into another fight".

Another alternative would be to have dice merge for combat, but work differently for other tasks. They could work like an actual dicepool, with set numbers of successes, as discussed last time. They could simply add +1 to a single die roll, which allows a character to automatically succeed at simple feats when focusing on them (1d6+4 means you'd pass anything with a difficulty of 5 or less).

A third option would leave players reliant on Momentum to accomplish difficult tasks, or to guarantee success. We could keep the merging dice system, so there's always the chance of a low roll. However, you gain Momentum for beating a target, which can be used to bump up later rolls. You need a 2+ to jump the gap, a 3+ to run along the wall, a 4+ to spring from the wall to the opposite window, and a 5+ to grab the curtain rail in midair and swing from it onto another ledge. This would need tying into some kind of speed system, as otherwise there's no reason for players not to simply spend five dice per round accomplishing one stage of the procedure. It would need balancing with whatever gets decided: the target numbers if the whole thing must be accomplished in one round (about one die per task) are very different from if you split it across two. I'd also want to consider whether players vary in their skill at different kinds of action, in which case they might gain a small bonus, or a boost to die size.

Finally, I could switch things about and allow players to spend dice as necessary. If the first roll fails, you can burn another die to try again (either as a reroll or an addition); otherwise you can move on to the next part of your task that turn. It's only if you repeatedly flubbed that you'd actually fail a task. In this model, difficulties and dice would mostly determine how long it took to complete a task, rather than whether or not you did - which for many aspects of play (just about anything unopposed) would be fine.

Cumulative Dicepool

So while I've played around with variants, an actual dicepool is also a possibility. You could decide how many dice to dedicate to a task, and then roll them cumulatively. I originally thought that you'd want d4s or something small as the base die, in order to limit the range and make low pools beating high pools a real possibility. The larger the dice, the smaller the probability of one die beating several, right? Luckily, I did the maths, because apparently not. I suppose to some extent it makes intuitive sense, because it's more likely you'll get a freakishly high number on a small set of dice... yeah, I'm losing it. But them's the numbers what I got.

Success rates

(positive result in your favour, any degree)

With d4s:

  • 1d4 vs 1d4 = 6/16 = 0.375
  • 1d4 vs 2d4 = 6/64 = 0.094
  • 1d4 vs 3d4 = 1/256 = 0.004
  • 2d4 vs 2d4 = 105/256 = 0.410
  • 2d4 vs 3d4 = 121/1024 = 0.118

With d8s:

  • 1d8 vs 1d8 = 28/64 = 0.438
  • 1d8 vs 2d8 = 56/512 = 0.109
  • 1d8 vs 3d8 = 70/4096 = 0.017
  • 2d8 vs 2d8 = 1876/4096 = 0.458
  • 2d8 vs 3d8 = 5560/32768 = 0.170

So actually, for a system like this, I might want to use d10s or something. A minor disadvantage of larger dice, of course, is that you're increasing the gap between averages, and so setting a difficulty that'll on average require three dice (16ish) puts it out of reach of a single die - but then maybe that's okay. Especially if we're using Momentum.

Using an additive dicepool has the distinct advantage of giving a built-in floor to rolls. More dice will always reduce the risk, and you can guarantee a certain minimum level of performance. This allows a trade-off: do you try to accomplish more in a round and risk failing some of it, or make certain you'll succeed at a small number of things?

Yer'actual dicepools

Hang on, why am I not just using a normal target-based dicepool, you may wonder? Well, partly sheer laziness at considering yet another system, but also partly that I'm not convinced it brings anything new to the table. It still has the floorlessness problem seen in merging dice. I don't immediately see it offers any benefits in terms of fighting styles. Possibly it would make setting difficulties more straightforward, since intrinsically you can't get N successes without rolling at least N dice.

So, still not sure what's the best option here, but at least I've got a few possibilities that might work out.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Inspirations: the Sands of Time, part six

Anyone remember this thing?

Months ago, I started looking at whether you could take anything interesting from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time for use in RPGs. Posts have included general ideas and issues, possible systems, combat in the game, how to model it in tabletop, and a homebrew possibility for handling the combat.

I've been a teensy bit distracted with about a million other things since then, but I rediscovered the series recently and had an idea, so I thought I'd return to it.

Action Gaming

There were a couple of problematic points that I touched on briefly, which posed real problems for making a tabletop game inspired by POPSOT. The first was the way the game models actions, with a very high action rate driven by the player rather than the character. The second was the tactical aspect of the combat, which depends on careful use of manoeuvres, and which I was struggling to think how to implement.

See, the problem with manoeuvre-based combat is that I think it would get repetitive, which is a major problem in the source material. If all you have to do is pick a suitable manoeuvre to (probably) win the combat, the game boils down to pair-matching. Another suggestion was to roll a skill to succeed at a manoeuvre to gain a bonus on attacks, which has the problem that all combat can turn into "roll skill, then roll attack; if you fail skill then attack is unlikely to work" with very little variety, and possibly each player using the same skill repeatedly.

A possible solution that came to me was to use a per-turn depleting dicepool. There's probably a common name for this thing that Dan could tell me, but it's not important right now. Rather than having a strict limit on actions, there's (effectively) a given amount of energy available to the player, which can be focused or dispersed across multiple actions in the space of their turn. Succeeding at some actions will make others easier, but splitting attention risks failing at all of them.

For example, let's say you have five dice per round. You could spend all of them attacking a single monster, with a high chance of victory. You could split them across two targets, potentially hampering both but with less chance of destroying either. Perhaps you could choose to devote some to parrying, increasing your survivability when you're wounded. Alternatively, you could use some of the dice to attempt a combat manoeuvre such as tripping, disarming, wall-jumping or backstabbing, which would reduce the energy available for attacking, but increase your chance of success in attacking if you chose a suitable manoeuvre for the circumstances. Perhaps the success lets you add +2 successes to your combat result as long as you roll at least one, for example. Perhaps there are varying degrees of difficulty for such manoeuvres, but the rewards are greater for more challenging manoeuvres; flipping off a wall to land behind your foe leaves them much more vulnerable than simply feinting.

However, that still leaves things open to repetitive play. And there is another issue I was thinking about, which is the problem that in a wall-running ledge-jumping game of constant action, failures are likely to kill the atmosphere. The other idea that came to me, then, is Momentum.


Basically, Momentum would simply allow you to build up a rhythm by succeeding at tasks. Unnecessary successes could be stored as Momentum, and form a buffer to overcome minor failures later on by spending them. For example, you might begin trotting along a low wall, and roll four successes when only two are needed. Next, you leap to a platform nearby, and get the necessary three successes exactly. However, the climax of the obstacle calls for rebounding off a high wall to reach a window, a much more difficult task. You only roll two successes, but need four; however, you have two Momentum spare to fulfil the task, allow you to bare making the window.

Momentum would persist throughout continuous action, but be lost if there's a non-trivial break. This means players have to weigh up the benefits of hurrying on when on a roll, versus taking time to analyse a situation carefully or rest after a tough challenge. Also, I would probably distinguish verbal from spatial Momentum, so that a character immersed in conversation takes a while to get back into their parkour stride, and vice versa. This helps prevent spiralling effectiveness.

Incidentally, this is somewhat similar to Dan's Stunt Pool idea for Parkour Murder Simulator (which I am still hanging on for a playtest of) but wasn't consciously nicked.

Combining the two may alleviate the combat issue. The idea is that rather than taking combat turn-by-turn, players would think about building up a strong rhythm that will let them tear through opponents, and so would weigh up different manoeuvres and approaches to each combination of environment and enemies. This would be enhanced if there are situational bonuses, so that surprise attack or high ground or provide a bonus, while bottlenecks let you limit your number of opponents.

I think this principle could be generalised into other activities too. In conversation, for example, a character who succeeds well early on can gain control of the conversation, making it easier to sway or override the other person, and making it less likely they'll suddenly argue. Over-succeeding at rolls to be sneak around or spy out an area places the character in a good position - perhaps they've found a bit of shelter where they won't be spotted when a guard swings around, or noticed features of the layout that will inform their further activities.

Fundamentally, in a game as simplistic as this one is going to be, the interesting stuff is going to be primarily about trying to do cool things rather than the mechanics, so I just want to make sure combat doesn't get too repetitive.

What I don't know is how (or if) I could implement this dicepool system alongside the combat system I was considering last time, which I was quite pleased with.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Your character in society

So Shannon has done another couple of her thought-provoking posts about character traits, one focusing on personality and the other on social responsibilities. I thought I might play around with that and see what I can come up with. They're mostly to do with relations with other people, but not entirely - I had a couple of extraneous ideas and couldn't be bothered writing a separate blogpost!

Also I really need to start having a "Stolen from Shannon" tag...

Demanding Boss: Your work often throws up unexpected problems that demand your attention. Maybe you have a boss who hurls last-minute deadlines around with abandon, suddenly changes your shifts, or expects you to work late without notice to deal with a problem they probably causes. Perhaps your line of work has clients calling at short notice with urgent problems, like criminal law or freelance interpreting. Maybe you're the one in charge, and whenever things go wrong the buck stops with you: the McDonalds has to stay open, the post needs delivering, the police force servers absolutely need to be back online.

Tithe: You contribute an unusually-large chunk of your money to social causes, be it favourite charities, a religious organisation, sponsoring kids into college or looking after some vulnerable folks in your neighbourhood with regular supplies. The result is you end up tight on money regardless of your income, but cutting the tithe would mean leaving those causes in the lurch and raising some questions.

Volunteer: One way or another, you ended up giving a lot of time helping out, be it shaking a collection box for wounded veterans, leading the local Guides, offering first aid at local events, teaching the local language to asylum seekers, or chatting with folks in hospital. People depend on you, and if you skip out, you know there's going to be consequences for them - not to mention the gossip it's likely to provoke.

Soft Touch: You might be a scarred orc mercenary with a smile that makes strong men faint, but you're a sucker for a sob-story. Sure, you don't necessarily buy whatever they're telling you, but you can't just blank out the beggar on the street who tries to get your attention; you feel like you need to give them a fair hearing. If an enemy pleads extenuating circumstances, you just can't bring yourself to finish them off until you hear them out. And leaving someone you could be helping out really tears at your heartstrings.

Shady: Maybe you never got caught, but spent (or spend) enough time with the criminally-inclined that the attitude rubbed off on you. Maybe your 'crimes' were mere ethical differences, strictly within the law. Maybe you never broke a law in your life, but through no fault of your own people just get that impression. The police may not have any interest in you, but neighbours look askance at you, and something about your manner draws the attention of security guards and ticket inspectors. Getting people to credit what you say is always a little tricky, and they're not so keen to chat anyway.

Cossetted: You always had it easy - at least until lately. Perhaps you had the proverbial silver spoon, or maybe just overprotective parents. Your circumstances mostly shielded you from hardship, discomfort and distress, and likely from many kinds of social awkwardness. When these situations do crop up, you struggle to respond appropriately, regardless of your normal social graces. Some people may feel the urge to keep pampering you out of kindness or to avoid complaints, while others may want to toughen you up or simply see you squirm.

Netizen: You're a big part of some online community, perhaps a mod or acknowledged expert, and you feel a strong responsibility towards it. Wherever you go, you want to spent at least a little time every day attending to perceived or real duties - and preferably a lot. You can deal with this stuff anywhere you have internet, but if you can't get online it's going to bother you and people will start asking after you. Of course, if you're going online, you can be tracked...

Figurehead: Want it or not, you're seen as a spokesperson for some group, and your actions and words reflect on them. You may not be bothered about yourself, but people you care about could be in for trouble if you don't watch what you do and say - and even what you're mixed up in. Be it a social movement, a subculture, a religious group or an ethnic minority, you represent something bigger than yourself.

Old Acquaintance: It's hard to brush off someone who dandled you on their knee as a baby, or the folks who gave you a place to stay when you first came to town and have always kept an eye out for you. The senior staffer who showed you the ropes, the teacher who always has a kindly word, the landlord who likes to chat for an hour when they phoned with one quick question. Full of neighbourly concern and well-meaning interest, they'll ask all about your goings-on, and spot inconsistencies or hesitations. They'll want an introduction to the folks you're walking with, too, and if they get concerned you may find them calling round unexpectedly or even starting an intervention.

Dignitary: Being someone around town (or a hotshot in the company) can be nice, but at times it poses problems. You've got duties to attend to, whether that's opening shopping centres, presiding over rituals, settling gang disputes or giving the nod to the latest projects. On top of that, you've got a reputation to uphold, which means neglecting your work, getting into trouble or making a faux pas can pose you some major problems. Moreover, the dignity of your position loses its impact if people don't respect it, especially in public, so you need to consider how best to defend your status, whether for selfish motives or for the sake of the office itself.

Awkward Roommate: One or more unrelated folks lives in your house, and every day is a process of negotiation - not to mention scrutiny. Skip one of your responsibilities and they're bound to cause trouble; start doing anything weird and they're going to notice. Slinking in late and dishevelled, you can bet they'll burst out to tell you off for disturbing them. Bring a couple of friends round and they'll come nosing for info, or else pointedly brush through you all to get something from a cupboard. Weird lights or early-morning starts are bad enough, let alone trailing blood through the house. Expect to see passive-aggressive (or plain aggressive) notes, floors exactly 50% swept, and your hollow-eyed housemate hurrying through the kitchen informing you that thanks to your late-night conversations they haven't slept a wink.

Well-Meaning Roommate: You and your roommate get on just fine, except that their genuine concern for your well-being and happiness is just a little overdone. They don't mind what you do, but start acting strangely or keeping secrets and they'll be on it like an eagle-eyed puppy with a Mother Theresa complex. They won't judge you, honest, they're just worried about you. Brushing them off will only make it worse, because they know you're just not like that. Expect to see little notes with smiley faces, delicious meals that went cold an hour ago because you came home late, and worried eyes regarding you fixedly while they ask a little too casually if anything's up. And of course, your housemate sat on the stairs at 5am when you finally stagger home.

Overpreparer: Few people are as adapt at planning and organising as you. Perhaps that's your day job, or maybe you simply find it reassuring to handle that stuff yourself. Either way, you tend to take things a little too seriously, and hate having to rely on someone else's preparations. You always want that little bit more information, those extra couple of items just in case, and one more draft of the timetable. Other people find it a little obsessive and even ridiculous, and while your preparations may help smooth over obstacles, it grates on more spontaneous people. If you don't get your way, you're inclined to be twitchy and anxious, always keeping an eye out for problems other people are bound to have overlooked.

Up and Doer: There's no holiday like a busman's holiday. Relaxing may be fine by you, but you just can't handle doing nothing. The moment things go quiet you'll be cleaning up, fettling, knitting, reading or starting some kind of self-imposed project. At work you prowl around seeking new assignments, and being left to twiddle your thumbs is sheer agony. Your restlessness is liable to get on others' nerves, and your enthusiasm sometimes leads you to do things people would rather you hadn't - like throwing out their old magazines, scouring the Teflon off their non-stick pans, or taking apart a motorbike in the middle of the kitchen when guests are due over. While you can cheerfully spend hours on end assembling matchstick models, you struggle to be still and quiet, making you a liability in some situations.

Figure of Pity: Something in your past or present means people feel sorry for you. You get a lot of kind words and people asking after you, and it's hard to escape attention sometimes. Well-meaning neighbours are liable to drop round to check up on you or bring small gifts, and it's not always that convenient. It can also interfere with other relationships; you're often left wondering how much of people's friendship (or romantic attachment) is simply pity. On the plus side, they'll often excuse foibles and erratic behaviour on your part; on the downside, it may simply make them worry about you even more. You may not be a focal point for gossip, but news about you certainly get around somehow.

Outsider: You don't quite fit in, and everyone knows it. Maybe there was a scandal or tragedy that left you outside the social loop, or perhaps you simply moved here and never really made friends. You might have had a close social circle that gradually left town, or gone away to war and come back to somewhere that doesn't feel like home any more. Somehow you never hear about things until they're over, and most people don't open up to you. Kids might stare at you, and drunks mutter about your standoffishness or whatever history keeps you apart. Being identifiable, people tend to hear about your doings, and remember that difference can easily prompt resentment, fear or even hatred.

New Kid: No matter how long you've been here, people still think of you as not quite up to speed. Maybe it's your age, maybe your background ("Star Patrol, huh? Well here in the Scouts, we do things a little differently!"), maybe some personality quirk. Sometimes that means they take it easy on you and give a helping hand; other times they pass you over, brush you off or drop extra jobs in your lap. You may be expected to prove yourself, or just be at the bottom of some kind of pecking order. Some folks are offering you a chance to make good, while others consider you a waste of time until you earn your place - whatever that means. Maybe they think you don't have the experience to take on a job, or maybe they don't think it's fair to dump a toxic assignment on you. Whatever the situation, you're always struggling to just get treated like everyone else.

NOTE: In some situations, you could kit this out as representing sexism, classism, certain flavours of racism or other forms of discrimination

Friday, 9 August 2013

A change of direction?

So recently I've been considering trying to start running games again, having been playing for a while now (with mostly different people, though that's unconnected) and sorted out some real life inconveniences. A couple of my old players have prodded me on the subject, so I had a bit of a chat about things this weekend over board games. The outcome threw me slightly.

I'd been considering this on the assumption (based on their own comments) that they'd want to either revive Pathfinder or pick up some D&D 4E again. Both of these can be very low-overhead to run: there's a whole swathe of prewritten adventures or seeds out there you can adapt or crib from, plus simple encounter generation rules for unexpected trouble. In both you tend to operate in a relatively limited area at any one time, which means little need for pre-building regions, and I have a decent overall world map for general politicking and cultural stuff (I used the same world for both, and plan to continue doing so). The default playstyle is wandering into an area and poking whatever's there, which makes devising things to do relatively simple: much of the time, either monsters happen to the party, or the party explore an area and interact with what they find; in either case the dungeoneering rules can amply deal with most things that are likely to happen in a fairly satisfying way.

As it turned out, the players who stayed around to chat decided they weren't particularly interested in going into dungeons to meet new and exciting people and take their stuff.* It is... not entirely clear what they do want (most haven't played that much, so it's hard for them to know), but it seems to be a combination of more interpersonal stuff and a less encounter-focused premise. Now, I know that it's entirely possible to run such things in D&D variants, but I have to admit I haven't the faintest idea how. Previous research suggests there's minimal existing content along those lines, which I reckon is a combination of a) minority interest, and b) difficulty.

The advantage of encounter-based adventure design is that you really don't need to worry too much about the party - that's the GM's job in selecting suitable adventures and picking hooks. If you're attacked by a rampaging band of orcs, or stumble into a troll den, or find a shiny artefact lying around, it's fairly clear that a response is needed and the range of responses is broadly predictable. While no plan survives contact with the enemy, the robust rules for said contact should allow you to at least get some fun out of it. However, non-encounter storylines are much trickier. If you decide to go for plotting or mystery, then you need a reasonable idea of the various NPCs and their attitudes and relationships, plus clues as to what's going on so the players can actually twig. You also need to consider how the PCs are likely to respond (on the basis of your limited insight) and what that means for the NPCs. The plot needs to be something that both players and PCs would reasonably be interested in and get involved in, and be within their capability to handle (whatever that means in practice). Oh, and for most players you want to make sure that it's a game, rather than a story with occasional die-rolling. Exploration is fun, but is more of an overlay (like "being a mercenary" or "working for law enforcement") than an adventure in itself: the place being explored needs to be populated with things to do. Simply getting on with life calls for a reasonably detailed setup and (probably) a lot of NPCs whose lives can intertwine with the PCs in meaningful ways - and this isn't something D&D is designed for. You also need the players to have a reasonable idea what they want, and ideally, know how to help steer the game in directions they’d prefer.

In short, running something other than "go on adventures where you meet monsters and fight them because they're there" in D&D is really an awful lot of work, most of which falls on the GM, much of which has to be done on the fly, and which has limited support from the actual system. I can't see myself handling that. Inventing details on the fly, that I can cope with. A related concern is that none of the players are very experienced, and so they're less likely to shoulder much of the work themselves by controlling plot and so on. This all sounds very pessimistic, I'm aware, but healthwise it's important for me to not take on things that I won't actually be able to manage.

Anyway, we talked a bit about other options - Call of Cthulhu came up, as a couple of the players have been in my games and apparently enjoyed them. I'd be willing to do some more, but I do already have one Cthulhu campaign on hiatus due to player availability, and having experienced Pathfinder's chargen people are keen not to do lots of one-shots that require regular chargen. Also, I have an ambivalent relationship with Call of Cthulhu because a lot of the scenarios aren’t great by my reckoning, and others have a tone that I don’t enjoy (I consider Lovecraftian to be Weird, rather than Horror, and play fairly unserious games). The other thing that came up, because I do own it, was Traveller.

In some ways I think Traveller might help with the D&D problems I mentioned. The game is more obviously player-driven, with people hopping around worlds and seeing what's to do. They have non-combat things to play around with, like trading and maintenance and finding jobs. There are bills to pay, cultures to explore. On the downside, I don't know that much about it (bar what I've learned from Close The Airlock! and Arthur, and my sci-fi knowledge is weaker than my fantasy background, especially where planet-hopping is concerned. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems like it's worth investigating, so I thought I'd start off by rolling up a subsector and see where that gets me. I like this kind of stuff.

Because it's a high-tech setting, with potentially vast variation between worlds, there's pitfalls to watch out for in terms of having planets that can actually feasibly support the space-hopping setting, places to explore and so on. Luckily Traveller has a robust subsector-designing guide to ensure you end up with a setting that's functional, plausible, interesting, and has a good balance of sci-fi elements, right? Right?


There are, it seems, some issues with Traveller world creation. I've spotted some of these myself, others have been raised by others around the Net. So next post I'll be having a glance at those and seeing how much they actually matter.

*Obviously, it may be that the other players feel differently, in which case we'll need to negotiate this again.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Monitors: injury once more

I have once again been mulling over options, and I'm inclined to think that trying for a comprehensive system covering different damage types is perhaps not going to work. As I've mentioned before, soft attacks seem to end up as a choice between complexity and swinginess. I'm also a bit concerned that by making soft attacks increasingly granular, you could end up with simply several alternate hit point systems, with players simply choosing the easiest option to down a particular target. So instead I'm going to consider something a bit different.


Yup. What happens if I try coming up with subsystems that work for each major type of effect I'd like to allow? I'm going to look at blinding for starters, but similar things would apply to other forms of attack.


For minions, rather than tracking things, I'm considering having an injury/recovery roll. A single hit from a weapon of any type rolls its normal damage die: on a 1 they shrug it off, on a 5+ the minion is out of the fight (for whatever reason), and on a 2-4 they're wounded but not yet out. In subsequent rounds, they roll a D6 each round and the same applies. Note that this means more powerful weapons have a better chance to eliminate minions right off the bat, but as long as that doesn't happen, the minion isn't more likely to drop out subsequently. It's somewhat more random than tracking methods, but on the plus side it's quick and simple, while still allowing some room for variations in damage. Similarly, minions' armour can reduce the roll (potentially to 1) just as with other characters, and some may have resistances or vulnerabilities to particular attacks, or a better chance of recovering.

Cumulative duration

As suggested previously, blinding attacks roll a die to see the duration of the effect - depending on the nature of the attack (bright light, drugged syringe, pepper spray) the duration may be is reduced by a particular form of defence, such as armour or flash-reactive visors. Attacks are cumulative, so a target taking 4 and 6 rounds of blinding is blinded for 10 rounds. While blinded, a target rolls two dice for any action that relies on visual input, and takes the worse roll. If the blinded score reaches half the creature's Perception attribute, they roll three dice instead of two. Certain creatures will be able to rely on other senses and so ignore blinding.

This system requires a certain amount of tracking, but on PCs and major NPCs this should be okay as long as the number of attack types is kept in check.

Another downside is that against small groups of powerful creatures, halving rolls is more effective than against large groups of weak creatures. How well does this scale? The number of rounds is likely to increase with level, but creatures' defences may also increase, as will the rolls that are being halved. However, halving a skill of 20 (-10) is much worse than halving a skill of 2 (-1). In contrast, a fixed penalty will be effective against weak creatures, but much less so against larger creatures.

Duration penalty

Rather than a fixed penalty, blinding might inflict a penalty equal to the duration of the effect, with the penalty dropping as the effect fades. This makes some intuitive sense, and provides an incentive to keep piling on the flash grenades. Creatures affected for a long time are also automatically largely out of the fight, which may allow them to be taken down easily, or ignored to focus on others. However, this isn't likely to play nicely with cumulative duration, since it's fairly easy to stack up a -20 penalty that way and keep a creature locked down. Instead, a higher penalty can replace a lower penalty. So if a mouse is blinded for 4 rounds, and then takes a hit inflicting 6 rounds of blind, they end up with 6. This may also be less unwieldy and more realistic.

In this system, the severity of blinding varies with the weapon, which means it should scale reasonably well. It also allows protective gear to mitigate the severity of the attack, rather than just its duration. Riffing on that, a creature wearing night-vision goggles that takes a flash grenade might suffer extra rounds of blindness, and so on. A downside, though, is that a low roll makes the attack both brief and ineffective, while a high one makes it long-lasting and effective, which might be too swingy - it'd need testing.

Blind Die

A completely radical system here. The blinding effect inflicts a set penalty, and allocates a particular die to the target. At the end of each turn, the target can roll that die to see if they recover, succeeding on a 1 regardless of die size.

In this system, the weapon type will determine how likely a creature is to recover quickly, but everything is left random. A creature might have abilities like modifying the die size (this could be what visors do), or rolling at the start of its turn instead of the end, to mitigate the effects without negating them.

Obvious disadvantages: you need to track not only that a creature's blinded, but what die size blinded it, although I'm not sure this is worse than tracking a number of blindness points. It also allows only a single bindary "blind" state, and I'm not convinced that variable duration compensates. Finally, this effect is completely unbounded - while it's likely that a D6 weapon will be recovered within 3 rounds, it could quite plausibly persist for ten or more, and has no theoretical limit. This contrasts badly with the other, more predictable options.

Rolling to wound

So far I've eschewed models where you have to roll to effect a target, because I feel like the number of rolls can build up and get unwieldy. However, rolling to wound isn't necessarily any worse than rolling for a damage amount. What if I simply replace one with the other?

Let's say each creature has a given number of "wound" slots, each of which potentially has its own knock-on effects. A successful hit would automatically inflict some penalty (see the various "pinning" ideas I floated) because I don't like binary failure, but not necessarily cause damage. The attacker must roll to wound, perhaps a straight 50/50 roll modified by the weapon and the target's defences. A success gives the target a wound with its knock-on effects. If they run out of wounds, they're out of the fight. Very tough targets might have multiple wounds, weak targets only one. Things like a self-driving military vehicle might have several discrete wounds representing key systems, and perhaps the wound lost is chosen randomly.

Traditionally these sorts of things seem to use Toughness stats and so on, but my take on it is, if someone manages to hit you with a weapon, then your toughness has very little to do with whether it injures you. Now, it's possible that something like an Endurance roll might allow you to overcome effects of a wound on a round-by-round basis - but that's a different matter. The only thing that's going to block injuries entirely is armour. Or whatever other defence seems appropriate.

How does combat even work?

Another part of this equation is working out what other rolls are involved in a combat. Some kind of hit roll is a given (yes, I could scrap it, but only to be contrary). I could make a single success roll that encompasses everything from hitting the target to the amount of damage done. I could have an attack roll, then a dodge roll, then an armour roll, then a damage roll, then a damage soak roll... Somewhere in between seems mostly likely, though I may revisit the "one roll" option.

While ranged combat is usually considered a matter of shooting straight, I think there's a broad preference for the defender's stats to come into play during melee. I could therefore have either the defender's combat skill or their agility modify the chances to hit them, but as I've mentioned I think it has some possibility as a way to balance ranged and melee combat. It also reduces the amount of maths needed on a roll. I suppose I could also stop using a roll-under system and instead just use modifiers, in which case I could roll die+modifier vs. the target's appropriate skill - although as I'm favouring an autosuccess model, that could increase the proportion of unsatisfying combats if not balanced carefully.

Single Success

Going back for a moment, the Single Success Roll model might be something like: 1d20 + AttackerSkill + weapon modifier - DefenderSkill - armour = damage. So 1d20 + 12 Ballistics + 2 (heavy blaster) - 8 Dodge - 4 armour = 1d20 + 2 damage (however that translates). My main objection here is it's fiddly maths! In practical terms, the player would roll 1d20 + skill + weapon = damage, and the GM would apply damage - defence - armour = result. So it's two separate lots of maths, but it's still something to bear in mind. I'm a bit tempted by this model, though. It's straightforward.

Okay, how about this?

  • An attack roll involves a roll under the attacker's skill. The defender may roll to evade if in melee or if they spent an action for evasion on their previous turn. If they fail, they are affected by the attack.
  • A wounding model handles most physical attacks, while blinding damage is modelled with a blind die and slowing with a slow die. Restraint by ropes, webs and so on requires a Strength check to escape (with occasional allowance for Houdini stunts).
  • A wound requires a roll of 11+ on the d20, with weapon strength as a bonus and armour (or other defence, depending on the weapon) as a penalty. This number should be tweaked so that Monitors have around a 75% chance of wounding an average target.
  • An unsuccessful roll leaves the target pinned: they suffer a penalty until they spend an action to recover.
  • Monitor-grade characters have 3 wounds, civilians 1, and hulking alien monstrosities 5 or more.
    • For example, armour might protect against bullets, while cybernetic implants might protect against chemical or neurological attack.
  • In general, a wounded creature suffers a -2 penalty on all rolls, and creature that has lost more than half its Wounds loses one action. This will vary somewhat by creature type and number of Wounds.
  • Running out of Wounds leaves a target unconscious or otherwise disabled.
  • While only wounding attacks can mechanically eliminate a target, other attacks make a target less dangerous and more vulnerable. A blinded, slowed or restrained creature should be more likely to surrender or otherwise abandon a fight, being less able to defend themselves.
  • Weapons may have specific types, which have particular effects on particular targest.
    • For example, an electrical weapon may be more effective against robots, and less against the Tree-Maws of Betelgeuse.
  • Blinding imposes a -5 penalty on any rolls where vision is significant.
  • Slowing reduces Speed by one rank, and imposes a -5 penalty to any rolls where rapid reaction is significant.
  • Restraint imposes whatever conditions seem appropriate for the source and nature of the restraints. For example, handcuffs allow movement, but many actions are impossible or treated as blind (if cuffed behind the back); a net probably imposes a penalty on just about all physical actions.

I have in fact picked the Blind Die option, because although I have some hefty misgivings about it, I do think it's at least interesting and worth playing around with. This is not going to be the best system in the world by any stretch of the imagination - but it might do long enough for me to make some progress elsewhere.