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“Three If By Air”

Okay, this is one run at “Three if By Air, the Game of Revolutionary War Air Combat.”
Written by Owen K.C. Stephens, Illustrated by Stan!

The final may play nothing like this.

MAP

Play on a hex grid at least 22 x 36. Each player sprinkles a handful of coins (no more than 20, no less than 5) across the grid for terrain. These represent things sticking up into the air–steeples, treetops, flagpoles, and so on. (Look it’s the 1700s, You are fighting HIGH in the air!) Center each coin in a hex. If an attack you be traced through a hex with a coin, you can’t make that attack unless an ability says otherwise.

PLAYERS

Players — 2          Units — 6 each
Players — 3          Units — 4 each
Players — 4          Units — 3 each
Players — 5 or 6  Units — 2 each

Each player is British, or American. In 2, 4, and 6 player games, make teams of an even number of players. In 3 or 5 player games, it’s a free-for all (fog of war, and all that — the final game may include more factions such as Canadian Moose Dirigibles, Tidewater Steam Gliders, and Pogo-Armed Yetis, for all I know).

British players may have British or Hessian troops. American players may have American or French troops, but cannot have more French than American.

Make your units before play. You get 10 points. Divide them among these 5 attributes, which are used with combat characteristics, no more than 4 in any one attribute.

Attributes
Offense: Used with ATTACK.
Defense: Used with EVADE.
Toughness: Used with HEALTH.
Speed: Used with MOVE.
Accuracy: Used with RANGE.
.
COMBAT CHARACTERISTICS
ATTACK: For each attack, roll 1d6 and add your Offense. If the value exceeds your target’s Evade, the difference is the damage you do.
EVADE: Each time you are attacked, roll 1d6 an add your Defense to see if you are damaged.
HEALTH: You can take damage equal to 2 + double your Toughness value. If damage would reduce you below this number, that unit is removed from play.
MOVE: Determines both movement order and how far you can go. Each round you can move a number of hexes equal to 1d6 + your Speed, to a maximum of 7. If you choose not to ATTACK, you may move an additional 1d6 hexes in phase 2. You can always move less than your maximum (including moving 0).
RANGE: Each round at the beginning of Phase 2 you roll 1d6 -3, and add your Accuracy. On that Phase you can attack foes a number of hexes away equal to this number, to a minimum RANGE of 1.

UNITS

If you are AMERICAN, your units are Lightingrod Class War Kites. If on your first attack against a target your attack roll is a natural 6 (a 6 shows on the d6), you may also attack a second unit if it is within 6 hexes.

If you are BRITISH, your units as Beefeater Rocket Cavalry. You gain a +1 to attacks made against a target in an adjacent hex.

If you are FRENCH, your units are Hot Air Balloon Dragoons. When one of your units takes damage, it moves 1 hex in a direction of your choice.

If you are Hessian, your units are Trebuchet Infantry, lobbed into the air by ground forces each round. You may only move in a straight line each turn, and gain +1 ATTACk and +1 EVADE.

PLACEMENT

Each player picks one side of the map to begin on, in secret. All sides are then all revealed. If two or players pick the same side, and there is a side with fewer players having picked it, the players each roll a d6 (rerolling ties) and the one who rolls highest decides to stay or move 1 side clockwise to the nearest side with fewer players. After that, each other player in descending order of die rolls must  move 1 side clockwise to the nearest side with fewer players until there is not a side of the map with fewer players assigned to it.

The each player rolls 3d6 and totals them. In descending order of those die rolls, each player places 1 unit within 3 inches of their side of the map. Proceed through this order until all units are placed.

PLAY
Phase 1.
Everyone rolls their MOVE. The unit with the highest move may choose to go first, or wait and go last. If two units have a tied MOVE, they may defer to one another, or write down their movement and reveal them simultaneously to move simultaneously.

The unit with the next highest MOVE then decides to go immediately, or go last (or next-to-last if the highest MOVE is going last).
Proceed until everyone has moved.

Phase 2.

In order of MOVE, each unit rolls its RANGE, then attacks or moves another 1d6 hexes.
Proceed through all units, then the round is over, and go to Phase 1 of the next round.

RETREAT

If a player ever goes 3 rounds in a row without any unit making an ATTACK against a target in range, that player’s units are considered to have no taste for battle and retreat, and are removed from play.

VICTORY

If you have eliminated more than half of an opponent’s units, that opponent is eliminated and any remaining units are removed of play.

One side wins when all opposing sides have had all their units removed from play.

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RPG Seed: Journeyfolk

This is the seed of an idea. The barest hint of a setting, a slight blush of a game mechanic.

The Setting

There are great and mighty heroes of the land, movers and shakers who can face down armies, raise mountains, and challenge the gods themselves.

These titans are busy. Perhaps they must oppose the forces of Khernobog. But for whatever reason, while these paragons can do any twenty things they wish, there are always 100 more things to do.

You have been apprenticed to one of these mighty beings for years, cleaning weapons and cooking meals and cleaning up after familiars. But now, you are a journeyfolk. You are trusted to actually take care of some minor things on your own, dealing with some of of the 100 problems your great and powerful patron doesn’t have time for so they are freed to tackle other issues.

And if one of these lesser problems kills you, that will prove it’s important enough to draw your patron’s direct attention.

The Rules

When you attempt something you might fail at, you make a roll. Every die that turns up as a 5 or more on that roll is a success. For typical things, one success means you have accomplished your task. Difficult things, or those actively opposed by others, might require 2 or more successes at once. Long, complex things might require many successes, earned over time.

Every turn, you get three action dice. These are normally d6s. (For our purposes these are colored green, though that’s not required by the rules). Anything you do on your turn must have at least one action die attached to it. If it’s something you can’t fail at (walk across the room), you just expend the die and take the action. If it’s an action you could fail, you roll the action die to see if you succeed.

You also have other dice, like Physcial dice (attribute dice are blue), Combat dice (skill dice are white), and Fire Spell dice (magic dice are red). These start at a d6 each. When you expend an action die to attempt something, you can add these dice if they are applicable.

You can keep adding dice to see if you succeed, until you roll a “1” on one or more dice, at which point you have to stop. However, you can only use each die you have one per turn, and every action must at least one action die attached to it.

You can spend experience points to buy up the value of your dice. Buying up skill dice is cheap (they only apply to a limited number of rolls), buying up attribute dice is more expensive (they apply to broad categories — in fact there may only be three attributes, like Mental, Physical, and Spiritual), and buying up action dice are extremely expensive (as they can apply to any action).

When you take damage, you have to degrade your dice. I’m not sure how yet. Maybe just your action dice degrade. They can go down to a d4, which can’t *succeed* at a task, but you can still expend those action dice to do things (you’ll just have to expend additional dice as well, if you are attempting a thing you could fail at).

Damage might be broken into categories, like physical (wounds), mental (confusion or insanity), social (reputation), and spiritual (possession, demoralization). If so, engaging in a public debate can’t result in physical damage (unless things escalate to violence), but might result in you taking damage to a Diplomacy or Mental Attribute die.

Your patron is also a die, but one you can only use out of combat, and which has a recharge time measured in days or weeks, rather than a turn. Need to talk your way past a guard? Invoke your patron’s name. Want a curse removed? get your patron to send you the materials needed to do so. Want to have a band of mercenaries guard a town? Ask your patron to pay for them.

The more often your patron helps journeyfolk like you, the fewer resources they can dedicate to help on each occasion. Your patron die begins at a d10, with a one week cooldown. You can move it up to a d12 with a month cooldown or a d20 with a season cooldown; or a d8 with a day cooldown.

This obviously isn’t a playable system yet, but it’s the nugget from which a game could be carved out.

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Pulp Powers: Prechometry

Exploring a concept of a psychic power I’ve never seen anyone use in  story or game before.

“Prechometry”

The ability to touch an object and gain impressions of noteworthy things that are going to happen to it in the future.

Especially useful variant is “image prechometry,” which allows you to touch a detailed picture of an object (such as a blueprint), and determine what major things would happen to it if actually existed.

In my “Diesel Pulp” just-for-fun setting, the Black Duchess of Crimea has a number of prechometrist stranniks, who allow her military to troubleshoot new designs without ever actually building or testing them. While this system is not perfect, it saves so much time and money as to give the Black Duchess a huge advantage.

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How The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota Saved the World

Carson pulled the twine tight, again. She walked around the enormous almost-sphere of the material, again. She pulled a new skein of twine from her coat pocket, and tied it to the end of the twine coming off the twine-ball. Again.

this won’t work, mortal

The voice was much weaker than he had been when she’d started. Good. A few more hours, and even she wouldn’t hear it anymore.

She smiled, and she began tugging, wrapping, and walking around the twine. Again.

“It will, Svarmag, thank goodness. While you deigoth can only be bound by unique memorials, they don’t have to be hanging gardens, or colossi.” She patted the oversized string ball affectionately. “Just, you know, noteworthy.”

they built the sphinx itself to bind me

Carson smiled. “And then Napoleon’s troops screwed up and let you out, I know. Though let’s be honest, if you were stored in the nose, you probably aren’t why they built the sphinx. I’d bet there were dozens of you stored in there. You were just the lucky booger who escaped.

this is not fitting. it is not permanent. it is no…

Carson felt a grin tug at her face. Oh, it would take some planning. A foundation, dedicated to the cultural impact of the ball. A little money. Some websites.

But yes. Svarmag would be bound in twine, Forever.

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Ungol

Ungol is the Accursed City, the Land of Maddened Death, and the location of the Skulmance.

It is a kingdom, a ruin, a demiplane, a demigod, and an artifact.

Ghouls live in Ungol, as do wererats, rakshasa, jackalweres, and hags.

It can be reached only through rituals, though some rituals once performed open a path on a regular, though often infrequent, basis. It opposed, and is opposed by, Valorgard.

Only pain and wickedness comes from Ungol, and to even know of it can give it power. Even its dust has power. So we do not speak of it.

But anything written of Ungol morphs and changes, until the writing spreads dangerous lies that benefit only Ungol. Only writing inked with the blood of an unwilling sapient creature, and scribed on pages made from another unwilling sapients skin, can hold unchanging words of Ungol.

So we also do not write of it.

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Cooperative Chess

I’m not saying this is a good version of this idea, or even that this is a good idea.
But it SHOULD be playable…

*There are three colors of pieces, white, black, and red.

*Black and white are both lines up on one side of the board, with the white pieces being the left half of each line, and the black pieces being the right half. There is no queen, instead both black and white have kings.

*Red pieces are set up normally on the opposing side.

*One player runs the white pieces, and one runs the black pieces. They work together, and are considered to be on the same side (for example, their pieces cannot capture one another).

*The red pieces represent the opposition, and their movements are determined randomly.

*White moves first. Then red. Then black. Then red. Repeat this sequence until a king is in checkmate, or normal rules of chess would indicate a draw.
*Number all of the Red pieces, 1-16, starting with the pawn on A7, running right to H7, then moving up to the rook on A8, and running along the back row to H8.

*On Red’s move, move it’s pieces by following these priorities:

1. If its Red’s King is in check, it takes a legal move to capture the piece placing its King in check (if this removes the King from being in check from any piece), block check, or remove the King from check. If multiple such moves are possible, Red prefers capturing a checking piece, then moving the King out of check, then using another piece or block the King. If multiple such moves exist determines which move it makes randomly.

2. If Priority 1 move does not occur, and a Red pieces is in a square where a black or white piece can capture it on the black/white’s next turn, and the piece can legally move to where that will not be true, it does so. If it can capture an opposing piece with this move, it does so (see Priority 3 if there are multiple pieces it can capture).

Otherwise it moves the fewest squares it legally can to move to a square where it cannot be captured on black/white’s next move. If multiple such squares exist, select which one it moves to randomly.

If multiple Red pieces can fulfill priority 2, move the one that is of the highest value. If multiple pieces of the highest value exist, move the one that can capture an opposing piece. If none can capture, determine which one moves randomly.

3. If a Priority 1-2 move does not occur, and Red has a piece that can legally capture a black or white piece, without exposing its king to check or ending in a square where a black or white piece can take it on their next move, it does. If there are multiple such legal captures, it takes the highest-value piece it can. If there are multiple such captures of pieces of the same value, determine which one it takes randomly.

4. If a Priority 1-3 move does not occur, and Red has a piece that can legally capture a black or white piece, without exposing its king to check, but doing so leaves it in a square that can be immediately taken by a black or white piece on its next move, roll 1 six-sided die. On a 1-3, the Red pieces makes the capture. On a 4-6, it does not. If there are multiple such captures possible, roll once to see if Red makes any such capture, and if it does use the rules from Priority 3.

5. If a Priority 1-4 move does not occur, and Red has only a single legal move, it takes it. This is true even if it is a move that was ignored during Priority 3.

6. If a Priority 1-5 move does not occur, roll three dice, total them, and subtract 2 from the sum. If the result is 1-16, and that Red piece is still on the board, move the piece matching that number. If that Red piece is no longer on the board, go to Priority 7.
6a. If the piece is a Red pawn, and it can move to the Black/White home row without ending in a square where it can be captured by a black/white piece on its next turn, the pawn takes the move and is promoted to a Queen. It retains its original numbering.
6b. If the piece can move to a square where it could take a black or white piece on its next move, it does so. If there are multiple such squares, it selects the one with the fewest black or white pieces able to take it on their next move. If multiple such squares exist, determine which one it selects randomly.
6c. If no move is indicated by Priority 5a, make a legal move that goes as far as that piece can go, in a randomly determined direction, that does not end with it in a square where it could be captured on black or white’s next move.

7. If the Red piece indicated by the die roll is no longer on the table, instead move the remaining Red piece with the closest number. If two remaining Red pieces are equidistant in numbering, go with the lower number if the result was odd, and with the higher number if the result is even.
7a. If the newly-selected Red piece can legally capture a black or white piece, it does. If this would expose its King to check, the King is moved in a randomly determined direction however many squares are needed to keep it out of check, in ADDITION to the Red piece making a capture. If there are multiple black/white pieces the Red piece could capture, use the preferences from Priority 3.
7b. If the newly-selected Red piece cannot capture a black./white piece  with a legal move, it is moved in the following manner. Roll 1d6 and add one. This is the numbered row the piece moves to. Roll 1d6, with 1 being B, 2 C, 3 D, 4 E, 5 F, and 6 G. This is the column in that row the piece moves to.
If there is a black or white piece in that space that is not a King, it is captured, if there is a black or white King in that space, the Red pieces is captured. If there is a Red piece in that square, the higher value of the two Red pieces takes the square, and the other is capture. If the two red pieces are of the same value, determine randomly which one gets the square.

*If either the Black or White king is placed in Checkmate, or if both are ever in Check, Red wins. If the Red King is ever in Checkmate, black and white win.

PATREON
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What is “Common”?

Okay, for gameplay reasons I am totally down with a “Common” tongue, as is frequently presented in RPG campaigns, especially fantasy RPGs.

But what IS it?

Without changing any rules at all, you can help give a campaign world some interesting backstory by explaining why there is a “common language.”

Here are 20 examples, built on tropes common to d20 fantasy games.

“When the mighty empire of Te Essar collapsed, its official language was already known to most of the world, and became the common language of trade and diplomacy.”

“The deity Commonos wished all people to trade stories, and gave them a single language in which to do so.”

“The eldritch Power Words, Glyphs, and Sigils used in so many spells require significantly study to use to their full mystic potential, but their common forms are easy enough to learn, and taught to populations worldwide as a method for seeking those with a spark of spellcasting talent.”

“The Plane of Shadow is a reflection of all that occurs on the Material Plane, including all language. The Shadow Tongue is a simplified amalgam of all mortal tongues, and can be vaguely understood by any literate person.”

“The Logos Prima was invented by a travelling bard centuries ago, and carefully designed to be easily learned by anyone, from any culture. It has a single, unified spelling and sentence structure, and avoids elements that make some languages more difficult to learn, such as tonality and gendered nouns, and has a simplified structure to allow it to be picked up quickly.”

“It’s a virus. Exposure to the sound, or the sight of it, allows it to creep into your mind, and infect your thoughts with its syntax, and vocabulary.”

“They come once in each generation, to every library and school above a given size. The Solresolut, the Inevitables of Communication. Immortal teaching machines, they offer the language of the Law of the Spheres to any who will learn it, then leave the laws themselves behind. Ignorance of the law is no defense, but every mortal is given a fair chance to learn them.”

“When the world was young, the Cyclops discovered art, and architecture, and language. They built mighty fortresses and huge henge that could predict the seasons. No one knows why these cyclopean ruins were abandoned, but their uses to ancient cultures to know when to plant, when to migrate, when the moon would eat the sun ensured that the basics of what was written upon them would be learned worldwide.”

“The angels spoke Enochian, the tongue of the heavens. Devils taught it to man, to ensure they would be ready to bargain for even more knowledge.”

“It turns out if a demigod archmage genie gets annoyed enough with translation errors in her mail order service, she’ll wish ‘there was one Common language almost everyone knows’.”

“The self-replicating Printing Press Golems nearly destroyed the world. But from their ruined movable type, a single common alphabet was born… ”

“Look, humans can interbreed with almost anything. If it;’s a less common or less popular combination, we just call it a half-whatever. half-dragon. half-angle. half-orc. If it’s happened enough to develop its own culture, it gets a new name. Minotaur. Centaur. Harpy. As a result, the most popular human languages are taught to a LOT of wondering offspring…”

“The first Riddle of the Sphinx was a grand mystery for centuries. It was taught in every academy, studied by every sage. Given how crucial context is to understanding and solving riddles, it’s native tongue was taught alongside it, to ensure no nuance was lost in translation.”

“When madmen worldwide all babble and scream in the same language, it’s worth knowing what that language is, and what they are saying.”

“The Grand Trickster demanded that all understand his jests, and the skalds sought out to ensure this could be so, though it take carrying his words to every corner of the world.”

“When the gods made mortals, they gave them language. That which best spoke of rock was adopted by the dwarves. That which best spoke of wealth was adopted by the dragons. And that which best spoke of toil was adopted by the workers, crafters, and servants of the world.”

“They come to every port and trading post, in creaking ships and caravans of twisted beast. They are known by their brightly painted masks they never remove, and overly-sweet perfume scents masking a hint of rotting flesh beneath their faded robes. They buy, and sell, and trade, and make many wealthy, but they do it all in just one language. If you wish to do business with the Traders, you must learn this common trade tongue.”

“In the first seasons, the beasts all knew two languages, which gave them dominion over the material world and the spirit realm. The tool-makers stole the common words of material dominion from the beasts, and became ascendant. Now druids guard the spirit dominion language closely, and forbid that it be taught to any but those of their own order.”

“The wind whispers, the river mutters. Fires spit and curse, and the earth groans. Early people could rarely master all of any elemental tongue, but ususally learned a few key phrases from each, forming them into a set of common words and phrases that were almost universal.”

“Common? You mean Khelvish? Sure, it’s common where you are from, in the lands between the Basalt Mountains and Shallow Sea. A few folks ’round these parts know it, too. But if you want to be able to talk to everyone in these parts, you’d best learn Fworven, or at least Low Glett.”

PATREON
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Discomfort Vs Safety

I hate being in situations where I don;t understand the social expectations.

This includes nearly all forms of confrontation.

Not knowing how things are supposed to go, not having a clear grasp of the rules of any interaction with people, makes me extremely nervous. Sometimes it makes me puke. I am not kidding when I say it’s among the hardest things I have to deal with.

For some things, my career of choice has made such interaction unavoidable. I have spent decades trying to get used to those specific interactions, both so I can fake them when they go off the rails of what I am used to, and so I just feel I have a stronger grasp on what their (generally unstated, often poorly understood) rules are.

When I don’t HAVE to interact in a way that makes me uncomfortable, I generally don’t. If I have spare spoons I might dip a toe in just to remind myself that fire won;t actually fall from the sky, but I rarely have the spare spoons.

Sometimes, however, I don’t feel I have a choice. Sometimes it’s about something more important than my comfort level.

My current apartment complex has a pond in the open area behind our building. It’s not huge, but at the center it is 4-5 feet deep. And, of course, as a result of the week+ of snow and sub-zero temperatures, it’s mostly frozen over.

But only mostly. And, that surface ice can’t be depended on.

Yesterday, I happened to glance out a window and see three boys playing on that ice. Throwing rocks to try to break through the ice… that they were standing on. Stomping on it to see if they could crack it.

Yeah.

I froze for a second. I did NOT want to have to interact with youngsters, age unknown, attitude unknown, and try to convince them (with no real authority) to stop paying on the ice.

In shock, I mentioned to my wife what I was seeing. She confirmed what I knew, but did not want to admit.

“Oh, lord, you need to tell them to cut it out!”

Yeah, I did need to. My discomfort, even if it was going to be extreme, was not as important as the safety of these boys. Yes, they were being stupid. But that doesn’t reduce the value of their lives.

So I stepped outside, and called out to them. I asked them to PLEASE not play on the ice. The ice could be thing, the water is dangerously cold, and if they slipped UNDER the ice it could be hard to get them out.

Oh, they said. Really?

Yeah, I promised. Really.

Okay, sir. Thanks!

And they got off the ice. And have not gotten back on it.

Objectively, this was an incredibly minor interaction.

Subjectively, I was exhausted and shaking for about 30 minutes.

But this wasn’t about me.

Sometimes, it isn’t about me.

All Hail the Nerdarchy!

I had a chance to sit down with the awesome folks of Nerdarchy at Gen Con 2018, and talk a bit about tabletop gaming, content creation, and the evolution of RPGs!

(And some thoughts on Starfinder RPG, Paizo Inc., 5th Edition D&D, Green Ronin, crowdsourcing, and more!)

PATREON
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“You’re Always Aiming For Their Eyes”

“I want to aim for his eye! So I can blind him, and kill him in one shot!”

“Okay, his eyes widen as he sees your malicious intent, and he throws up a guard. Make an attack roll.”

“What modifiers for aiming for his eyes?!”

“None. You’re always aiming for your foes’ eyes.”

“No I’m not! I’m just trying to hit. I want to do a lethal blow now!”

“You’re always trying to land a lethal blow, unless you do something special not to. It’s a fight. Your character is always doing their best unless you say otherwise. Your attack rolls already represent the very best attack your character thinks can land. Of course you want to stab him in the eye, or cut off his head, or pierce his heart. And that’s represented by the existing combat rules of the game. And when the foe goes down, that is when you succeeded.”

“But maybe I can do those things before that!”

“Sure. It’s called a “critical hit.” in this game. A “stunt” or special maneuver in other games.”

“But I want a SPECIAL chance to kill him in one shot!”

“Okay. Do you want every foe you ever fight to have a special chance to kill you in one shot, too?”

“You’re no fun!”

“If you want to try to be flamboyant in your attacks because that’s fun, I am fine with that. That’s why I said he reacted to your effort. And if this attack kills him, it’ll be because you ran him through the eye, and that’ll be awesome.

If you want to have a reduced chance to be effective because of what you are trying, feel free to not use your full combat bonuses.

If you want an increased chance to be effective because of what you are trying, once I allow that why wouldn’t you always do that? And every other PC? And every NPC?”