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I've been texting with a stranded astronaut!

I have always been a fan of "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, but outside of a free Lone Wolf app, I never really tried it packaged as a game. Honestly, I've gotten this game, because it was on sale and I've heard good things about it here and there. I was not prepared for what it offered.

You know, there are some games that break the barrier between fact and fiction. ARGs or Omikron: The Nomad Soul comes to mind. Lifeline gives you a similar experience, but delivers it in completely different and innovative way. When you open the app for the first time, you will receive a transmission from someone named Taylor, who is stranded on some good forsaken moon. The ship is crashed and you (the player) are the only person Taylor could reach. So you begin to talk.

The game is basically an interstellar chat app. Taylor writes what's up and every now and then, you can respond, give advice or even make decisions on how Taylor should approach any given task. That's it. That's all there is. No stats, no inventory, just a conversation between two strangers light years away. This alone makes the game quite immersive, but there's more...


To reinforce the fact, that Taylor is a real person, stranded on some lonely moon, the game adds an element of real time. Whenever Taylor goes off to do something you see "[Taylor is busy]" and the app stops responding. Now you can only wait. You don't know exactly when you will receive another message. Sometimes, Taylor will give you a hint "I'll report back in half an hour", but often you will have no idea. This adds to the whole immersion factor, as I found myself thinking what is Taylor doing, how is his trek, did anything interesting happened? Them, you receive a text saying "oh no" and you jump in to see what happened, because you start carrying about this stranded astronaut.

This waiting aspect, and first person narration make this much more than a "Choose Your Own Adventure" game. The barrier between what's real and what's fiction is much thinner than in other (even similar) games. It is much easier to believe that you are talking to someone light years away, than believing that you are in that place, while you are clearly sitting on your couch and drinking coffee. After a while, receiving a message from Taylor, will be almost like receiving a text from someone you know You will want to know what happened when they were away. It is a great mechanic that I am hoping to see in more "Choose Your Own Adventure" style games.

If you are thinking of getting Lifeline (iOS and Anroid), know that it is more an experience than a game. Gameplay is limited to those binary choices while you chat. It is more like a good book, but you are getting more invested in the character and can actually advise them on how to proceed. Comparing Lifeline to book is not a bad idea actually. Just like a good book, this game is a vessel to transport you to that fictional world. While the whole game takes place on a barren, almost featureless moon, the writing brings it to life. Especially, that everything is narrated from Taylor's point of view, who has pretty quirky, but relatable outlook on the whole situation. During the few days it will take you to complete the game, you will get to know Tyler pretty well. I was sad when the story finished and the communication ended. I wish I could still receive texts from this person who I helped during the shittiest time of their life.

Savage Road Warriors: Part 2

Combat at High Speeds 




So, you are driving a car at full speed, but the guys behind you are catching up and the guy in the truck next to you is grinning like he's going to ram you. You want to waste those suckers and you want to know the odds, right? 
Combat during a chase works pretty much the same as on foot. The big difference is the speed and the fact that a speeding car is a pretty shakey affair. When attacking from a moving vehicle, you normally need to consider the speed and unstable platform modifiers (as per Vehicular Combat rules). Savage Road Warriors chase rules are less gritty than that, and more cinematic. All the vehicles are traveling roughly at the same pace, so any speed modifiers come into play only under special circumstances (GM's decision). As for the unstable platform modifier (-2), as long as you are trying to hit something like a car or bigger, the size of your target balances it out. After all, it's not that hard hitting a car. For the sake of gameplay, when you are shooting another vehicle during a chase, you only suffer the standard range modifiers (as dictated by the cars' position on the track). Of course, if you are the driver you would suffer the normal multi-action penalty for shooting and driving in the same turn. And, if you are trying to hit something smaller, like a tire or a driver, you take penalties from the unstable platform and possibly even from a Called Shot. All of those stack up, so if you don't have the edges to back it up, it is best to just aim for the car and hope for the best.


Boarding and Melee Combat:

If you think, the drivers have all the fun during a chase - think again. Sure, they get to drive those cool rigs, but sitting in the passenger's seat has it own set of perks. First of all, when not driving, you do not suffer the multi-action penalty when shooting others in the middle of a chase. And, while the driver is busy not crashing the ride, you are free to roam. There might be mounted weapons, or other gadgets in the car you can use, or you just can climb out of the car. Getting on the outside of the car is pretty simple (just requires an action). From there, you can make the fight much more personal. With a successful Dexterity check, you can jump onto and board any car that is on the same track space as you. You can start "on-foot" combat with anyone in/on the same car (narrative permitting). If you do, you get an initiative card and follow normal Combat rules until you get back to a friendly vehicle. Standing on top of a vehicle, gives you a better vantage point, you can target cars that you don't have advantage against. If you are staying on top of a car, the GM might occasionally call for Dexterity checks, especially if the car is hit, going through rough terrain or avoiding an obstacle. On a failure, you loose your footing and fall. Roll for dexterity again to grab onto something. You are now considered prone, unless you climb up with a successful Strength check. If you are not very agile, it might be a good idea to dispose of the enemy driver and take over the car instead.

New Edges:

To better emulate the the high octane action feeling, Savage Road Warriors has few extra Edges available to characters who want excel during the chases.

  • Gas Monkey (Novice, Agility d8, Driving d8): You are experienced in boarding vehicles during a high speed chase, jumping from car to car like a monkey. Moving in and out of cars is a free action for you and you automatically pass any Boarding tests (it still requires an action).  
  • One Handed Driver (Novice, Driving d8 or Ace): You can drive with one hand and fire a weapon with the other without invoking the standard –2 Multi-Action Penalty.
  • Vehicle Focus (Seasoned, Driving d8 or Ace): You are an expert at driving a single class of vehicle (car, truck, bus, etc… ). All Driving rolls made when behind the wheel of your chosen vehicle are made at +1.
  • Trademark Car ( Novice, Driving d10): Works as Trademark Weapon Edge, but for a car. You can choose any unmodified ride.

Savage Road Warriors: part 1

Fury Road style car battles in Savage Worlds


Since seeing Mad Max: Fury Road I am on a bit of post-apocalyptic spree. If you haven't seen the movie (and you should, it is one of the best action movies I have seen!), a big part of it are extended car chases/battles in the middle of the desert. One big "War-Rig" truck is fleeing while other factions are trying to take it over. Awesomeness ensues. Long story short, I want it in my Savage Worlds games!

While Savage Worlds has mechanics for vehicle combat, I am not looking for wargame-like arena car mchanics. Fury Road takes place on a long, straight road, it was more of an action packed chase, than a skirmish. Next logical thing, was to look at th chase rules, but both old and new seemed to be missing something. They are great for a simple chase or dogfight, but not detailed enough to be the main event of the session. So, I looked into various RPGs, wargames, board games and even some video games to find the best system to emulate those Fury Road scenes. There are some good ideas in there, but usually on the more crunchy side. Nothing I found suited me better, than the Savage Worlds Deluxe chase rules, but even those were somehow lackluster. Not all is lost though, I found some good bits on my travels through post apocalyptic car games. I think, that with some extra rules, the deluxe chase rules can be as nail-biting, as a good combat encounter. 

I have a feeling, that this topic will span few posts. I want to make the expanded rules first and then add more info about customizing cars within this sub-system and maybe even adding few Edges. It would also be nice if I could compile it all into a nice pdf, fingers crossed for life not getting in the way of that. Ok, enough pondering, now to the rules.

Before we start: 

Read the Savage Worlds Deluxe chase rules and the Vehicles section from the core book (there aren't many changes between Explorer's and Deluxe editions, any of them is fine), especially the stuff about collisions and vehicle damage. There will be some changes to those systems, so make sure you are familiar with them. The aim of this ruleset is not to be a replacement for the generic system found in the corebook, but to emulate a specific type of chase. One where you mostly shoot and ram your way out of the problem. Think more Mad Max and Death Race, than James Bond. Going at full speed, throwing molotovs at the guy behind you so he won't board your war rig. Ready? Then let's check out the track you will be chasing on.

Track:

Photo by David O Miller
There is one big addition to the chase system - the track. It is a simple 6x1 grid (I will make some half-decent graphic in the near future). It is an abstracted representation of where the cars are, relative to one another, not an actual road. Use some counters to represent where the cars are. The car in front is always in the first space on the grid (so if it gains more ground against the opponents, they are just pushed back on the track, in a similar manner how the original chase rules worked) and other cars are placed accordingly. Where you are on the track dictates in what range you are to the other cars. So if you are on the same spot, you are bumper-to-bumper with the other cars on this spot (melee range). One spot away, you are in close range, Two - medium and three - long.
Any more than that, and you can only see the guy, but not do anything about it, unless you get closer. If a car ever goes beyond sixth spot and won't manage to come back to the track on their next turn, they are out of the chase. The track is a small step away from the standard Savage Worlds formula, but I think it is a good addition. I will spend another post talking about it. If, however, you don't want to use a physical track and counters, you can just give each player (and group of NPCs) a d6 to track their current position.

Turn by Turn:

Narrative will dictate how the beginning of the chase looks like. Is everybody starting from the same position (like a race)? Did one side had a head start (and the others are chasing them)? It will also dictate the win conditions: reaching the finish line, stopping a certain car, surviving X amount of turns to reach safety, etc. Setup the placement on the Track according to the narrative and roll your driving dice.
Initiative works the same way as in the deluxe rules. You get a card for each success and raise on your Driving (or other applicable) skill. Just like in the original rules, cards give the driver the advantage (so the driver can only attack the cars with equal or lower Initiative) and an obstacle on drawing Clubs. Unlike the original rules, the card does not decide on your range/position in the chase (this is handled by the track). Card's value dictates how many spaces on the track you can move. Number cards allow you to move up to one, face cards up to two, ace and joker up to three. You don't need to move all the spaces you were given, sometimes, it might be more beneficial to stay where you are, so you have a better access to the enemy. If you don't move any spaces, you are still driving at high speed - everyone is, you are just keeping up. 
After you "moved", you can...

Attack!

Any person in the vehicle can make an attack on any target that they have advantage (the driver had maneuvered) against. The driver (any anyone who aided him in the driving roll ) suffers a standard multi-action penalty (-2) if he wants to attack with a weapon. Additionally, when on the same spot on the track, the driver can attempt to ram his opponent (as per Vehicle rules) without the multi-action penalty (in the narrative, it would be a continuation of his driving). Any passengers, act on the driver's card. Shooting is done with the range modifier based on your position on the Track (I don't use the unstable platform penalty, in my opinion cars are big enough to give you a bonus that would negate that. I would still give the penalty if they want to shoot something human sized). While on the same track spot, melee attacks can be performed (given the characters have suitable weapon) or the enemy car can be boarded (with a successful Dexterity check). Damage works in the same way as in the Savage Worlds Vehicle rules (custom "Out of Control" and "Critical Hit" tables coming soon). 

Winning the Chase:

The terms of winning depend mostly on the narrative, but there is a one sure way that can make you win any chase - disabling or loosing all of your enemies. The former is self-explanatory: deal enough damage to the enemy cars that they can no longer drive. The later, requires the use of Track. If any car starts their turn behind the track (beyond the sixth spot, mostly because other cars got the lead and pushed the remaining participants back on the track), he needs to get card high enough to come back to the sixth spot (which sometimes means moving more than one spot forward). If he fails to do so, he is out of the chase. They are either lost, or left so behind, that they can't catch up any time soon.  

What's Next?

Special tables for car damage that will reference this system. A more in-depth look on the track, and the areas you chase through. Different types of chases (especially goals and winning conditions) and finally extra rules for customizing your car. All of those will spice up this system even more, so stay tuned!

How balanced are your dice?

So, this video by Daniel Fisher is going around the roleplaying corners of the interwebs.  Thanks to a golfing trick, you can check if the d20s you own are weighted. This might explain the myth of lucky and unlucky dice.


Apparently, translucent dice are better about being balanced and Chessex is quite an offender in cutting costs to produce dice. Well, no Chessex bag of dice for me then. I wonder how other companies compare.

I am tempted to check my own dice (and wondering if the other dice in the set would work), especially the Q-Workshop set, as they are considered a premium dice manufacturer. I might wait with checking my 3D printed dice until they are painted, because they might be a bit porous and quite frankly I don't want salt trapped inside.

Roleplaying on the Fury Road


Thanks to the recent Mad Max movie, Post-Apocalypse is once again a genre people are talking about. I have seen numerous requests online for RPG recommendations  to play a Fury Road style campaign. There are many Post-Apocalyptic RPGs out there (some going almost as far as the beginning of our hobby), but it seems the genre wasn't very popular in recent years and people forgotten about many good games that let us have adventures in various wastelands. With that in mind, I present you a rundown of my current favorite post-apocalyptic games:

Outside of Polish only Neuroshima (that you might know from some board games), Atomic Highway is my current go-to post-apocalyptic game that does not use one of my favorite generic systems (more on that later). It is perfect for mad max style campaign as it has a whole chapter on cars and their customization. In fact, cars are pretty important part of the game. It uses a simple dice pool engine (called V6) with a twist. It is a straightforward  mechanic, with attributes and skills. It uses backgrounds to give you extra skills and starting equipment, which is something I always liked in my RPGs. It is a pretty vanilla post-apocalypse, with mutants, deserts, modified cars and a lot of action, so it is really easy to adapt it to the world of Mad Max. Best of all, is available for FREE!  Also, if you are not keen on the dice pool system, check out this awesome conversion from Zach S. to D&D5e. If you want to start exploring post-apocalyptic wastelands on the cheap, this is the way to go!

Barbarians of the Aftermath uses a rules lite, narrative system from Barbarians of Lemuria. I understand that narrative systems are not everybody's cup of tea, but hear me out. This book can be used as a system neutral guide to running post-apocalyptic games. The apocalypse generator is worth the price of admission alone. The book gives you a pages upon pages of different options (which can also be used as a random generator) to create different apocalypses and then play in this world. You can create everything from standard Fallout-esque 50s nuclear holocaust to the Great Old Ones rising and ending the world in 2012. All those choices change the world in various ways, from availability of certain items, to how gonzo the setting is. The game is available on DriveThruRPG for $10 and would be great for one-shots or short campaigns, and a perfect tool to make your own post-apocalyptic world from a scratch for a long campaign.

If creating your own post-apocalyptic settlement sounds exciting, then The Quiet Year is for you. It is not much of a roleplaying game, as it is story game. You don't play singular characters, you represent voices in a community. The gameplay is something between board gaming and roleplaying. You draw a card and narrate events based on its prompt. It is also a map drawing game. You will create a basic map on the beginning and as the game progresses you will draw extra stuff on the map. At the end of the game you will have a fully mapped and fully fledged settlement with NPCs, buildings, nearby points of interest and all that jazz. While the game can be enjoyed on its own, it is a great tool creating a "homebase" for your campaign. After playing it, you and your players will have a good knowledge of their surroundings, which is always a nice thing. It is available in PDF and print from the author's website. If you want to check out the style of game, a free fantasy version is available.

If the narrative and story games above sound too artsy-fartsy for you, you might be interested in Other Dust. It is a retro-clone, so it is based on the 0 edition dungeons and dragons. It doesn't get more "traditional" than classes, levels and d20s. Being a part of the Old School Renaissance comes with its own set of pros and cons, but overall it is a solid game. It is a little more gonzo, than Mad Max, with more prominent mutants and psychic powers, but those can be easily omitted. The highlight here is the advice on running a post-apocalyptic sandbox campaign. Sine Nomine Publishing is famous for their sandbox toolboxes (Stars Without Numbers, Silent Legions) and Other Dust is no exception. You get a plethora of random generators and advice on running a sandbox campaign, most of which is system agnostic and can be used in basically any game.  The game is available at DriveThru in both PDF and Print-on-Demand.


The above games, while solid stand alone products, are my go to products when it comes to mining for post apocalyptic ideas. If I were to run a campaign set in atomic wasteland I would go with Savage Worlds. It is a pretty quick and action oriented system, is suitable for long-term play and is one of my go-to system for traditional roleplaying. The system is simple enough, that I can mind the ideas from other games and "transplant" them almost on-the-fly to my Savage Worlds game. And, if you want to just to jump into a ready-made post-apocalyptic world Savage Worlds has you covered:

The above games offer a slightly different take on post-apocalyptic gaming. Those are the four big, commercial Savage Worlds games that I am familiar with:

  • Darwin's World is the most gonzo of the bunch. You have multiple playable mutant races and it is more fantastic take on post-apocalypse. You can play Mad Max style campaign using this book, but you would need to cut some stuff out. Darwin's World was originally a D20 game, and it shows here and there.
  • Day After Ragnarok adds a little supernatural to the standard atomic wasteland formula. Apocalypse happened after Nazis started the mythic Ragnarok and Allies shot down the giant Serpent down. The world has ended in the 40s, which limits the technology, but also gives the game more gritty, dieselpunk feel. If you are looking for Mad Max mixed with Hellboy - this is the game for you. 
  • Hell on Earth: Reloaded adds even more supernatural to the mix. It is more or less post-apocalyptic Deadlands, western in the wasteland.  While Deadlands is one of my favorite settings, the idea of future cowboys is not my cup of tea, but if you are looking for a game with more emphasis on vehicles and supernatural, check it out!
  • Broken Earth would be the most vanilla take on post apocalypse - which is far from a bad thing! It focuses heavily on building and developing a settlement/community and has a good system for tracking that. It is a solid book, full of good ideas and plot hooks. if you are looking for the "Lone Wanderer" feel of Fallout games, this is a game for you.

All of the games are available both in print and as PDFs, from various retailers. As with anything Savage Worlds, there are also some great fan-created supplements available for free. Savage Appocalypse and Raiders and Ruins are two that I am familiar with. There are also conversions of other games like Fallout or Redline (that is very focused on vehicular combat). So take your pick, or put them all into a blender to brew your own flavor of post-apocalyptic goodness.

I will add Appocalypse World here as an obligatory mention. Appocalypse World has a bit more narrative approach to gaming and is pretty rules lite. It is a fine blend of traditional roleplaying and storygaming techniques. It has spawned many conversions and hacks since it was released and it seemed people were interested more in the mechanic, than the world. But, it is a solid post-apocalyptic toolbox style game - grim, gritty with just a dash of weird. If you are interested in finding more about it, and how it can be used for Mad Max style campaign, check out this article from Charlie Etheridge-Nunn on WhoDaresRolls.com

3D printed Dice?


Somehow related shameless self-promotion. I was learning 3d modelling for 3d printing in last couple months. As one of my projects I have recreated the portal companion cube. Soon after that, I have modified it into a D6, as seen above. I think it would be a decent Wild Die for Savage Worlds, or simply a die for any d6 based system. I have ordered some samples from Shapeways to see how this die would work. There are already some awesome dice designs ready for 3D printing, but it would be cool to have some genre specific dice. I am thinking of designing some wild dice to go with different flavors of Savage Worlds and 3D printing them to use in game. 3D printing opens up the design to be something more than just numbers and small graphics on each side. I would like to play with this idea.

I wonder if people would be interested in something like that? Would you buy a 3d printed die? What designs would you be interested in? What genres do not have a good dice to go with them?

Now, I need to work a bit more on my modelling skills to create a proper RPG dice set in a single theme, because that would be even cooler!

What do I think about Lankhmar: City of Thieves

Savage Worlds had ventured before into the Sword & Sorcery genre with Beast and Barbarians from GRAMEL. Now, Pinnacle has thrown in the hat into the ring with Lankhmar: City of Thieves, based on the Fritz Leiber's stories.

I never really got into the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I bought the paperback of Ill met in Lankhmar, but the version I had started with the origin stories of the duo and those didn't really drawn me in. I think I should revisit the book and start with some later stories. Nevertheless, I consider myself a fan of Sword&Sorcery and almost every fantasy game I run was heavily inspired by the genre. Quite frankly, I never could get on board with the "magic is part of everyday life" approach of high fantasy, but I digress...

I was excited to get my hands on another of Sword&Sorcery Savage Worlds game. While, just like the Beast and Barbarians, I will probably not run the game as is, I am always on a prowl for some tweaks to the Savage Worlds system to use in my own campaigns. So, with this in mind, this is what I think about Lankhmar: City of Thieves.


If you have never played/run Sword&Sorcery style game, Lankhmar would be a great start. The book gives some good advice on the genre without being condescending. Those hints are scattered and hidden among the descriptions of locales, magic items and rules, but they are there. In fact, the descriptions of Lankhmar and the surrounding lands are full of good Sword&Sorcery fluff. Reading through the gazetteer and  GM's will give you numerous ideas for adventures. The book also sports a selection of Savage Tales - short adventures ready to be used in almost any campaign. It was disappointing not to see an adventure generator. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the one in Savages Worlds of Solomon Kane, and not having one specific to Lankhmar is somewhat of a let down.
Overall, I enjoyed the fluff portion of the book. I would have probably enjoyed it more, if I was more familiar with the world. Surprisingly fluff is not where the book shines for me, it is all in the...

Rules! 

Honestly, I think the designers behind Lankhmar had really outdone themselves. I enjoyed each and every new rule and rules tweak they had put in. You get the expected new races, edges and hindrances, but you also get an expanded magic system and a half dozen setting rules. All of those combined emulate Sword & Sorcery genre very well. Those are my favorite parts of the book, so let's look at them one by one:

  • Races -  Ghouls (humanoids with transparent flesh), Ratlings (offspring of humans and intelligent rats who live under Lankhmar, who still look a bit rat-like) and Humans, that come in four different flavors, depending on the culture. It is nothing really special here. All of them are pretty solid and distinctive, and fit the genre and the source material pretty well.
  • Hindrances - You only get six of them. Most of them are here to add flavor, and one (Obligation) is used with the setting rules. I don't personally care for those, but they are nice to have.
  • Edges - This is where the fun starts. You get almost thirty new edges, most of them being quite useful and powerful. Combat edges are great for hardy warriors and I can see many of those edges being used in my other campaigns. Then you get three new Arcane Backgrounds, that are tweaked versions of the no power point rule, but are one of the best version of Savage Worlds magic I have seen so far. They are supplemented by a set of power edges. As an icing on the cake you get a handful of professional and social edges. The highlight here is definitely the combat edges, followed closely by the magic system.
  • Magic - Magic is split into three categories: black, white and elemental. Black and white is what you think when you imagine good and evil wizards, with black magic being more powerful, but corrupting you over time. Elemental is basically everything outside the black/white spectrum. It would be considered neutral and has extra rules for connecting to the element it is based on. You get some advice on how to create new strains of elemental magic outside of the three (Ice, Fire and Sea) described. As mentioned before, the system uses no power point rule, but the negative modifier can be "paid off" by spending extra turns casting. You also need ingredients to cast spells and lacking those gives you more negative modifiers. You also get another set of rules for rituals, similar to those from Solomon Kane. You also get some new Powers along with a table of stats for all the existing ones.  I see myself using this system for most of my Savage Worlds games.
  • Setting Rules - all of the six rules make emulating the Sword & Sorcery genre a little bit easier. You get rules explaining why characters in Sword and Sorcery seem broke all the time, why berrying  betraying your allays is so effective and why don't they use armor. The highlight here is the Knock Out Blow rule. You know how in Sword&Sorcery (and pulp in general) you can one hit a guy into unconsciousness? Would you like to have that in your game? Then, this rule is for you! It uses The Drop rule from Savage Worlds to do so and, in my opinion, makes this rule much more exciting.

I was presently surprised with this book. I was on a fence about getting another Swords&Sorcery Savage Worlds game, because Beast and Barbarians worked well for my needs. What I found is some awesome rules and cool city setting. Fortunately, knowledge of Fritz Leiber's works is not a necessity, and the book gives you enough lore to run a campaign comfortably. Even if you are not planning on running a game in Lankhmar, there is enough good stuff here that is worth the price of admission. If you are fan of  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser,  thinking about running a Sword&Sorcery game, or you would like some cool tweaks to the Savage Worlds system you should check out this book. In the meantime, I will give my paperback copy of Ill met in Lankhmar another spin.

What I think about FU (Freeform Universal)

Every now and then I delve into an indie game and report back with musings about what I found. Today I look into a small generic engine for narrative roleplaying: 

FU: Freeform Universal 

Pay What You Want PDF, by Peril Planet

I enjoy my fair share of generic roleplaying games. Everything from the crunchy and simulatonist GURPS, through middle-the-road Savage Worlds, to a very narrative FATE. All of those games have their fair share of strengths and weaknesses., but if you are aware of them, you can run a very successful campaigns with those RPG engines. I know I did.

As my time becomes more and more limited, I tend to use more rules-lite systems for my games. Especially when it comes to one-shots or short campaigns. Games like Risus and The Pool (oh, I need to post my musings about those) were good for certain games, but when it comes to quick and lite games, FATE ruled supreme. Well... now I can say that FATE was dethroned, by a small and very simple game - Freeform Universal, or FU.

FU is a deceivingly simple game. You roll some D6s, choose highest (or lowest if the odds are against you) and narrate the outcome based on this value. There, I basically explained the system in one sentence. 

However, the beauty of FU lies in something else than its simplicity. It is how it merges the mechanics with the narrative. Firstly, to check how many dice you will roll, you look up what traits from your character applies to the task. You check your character's "aspects", equipment and any situational advantages to add positive dice. For each obstacle you add negative die. This very fluid and does not take you away from the narrative as there are no numbers. This wall is [-steep] and [-it's raining], but you have your [+climbing gear].  You have one positive, two negative traits. They cancel each other out, to leave you with a single negative. So you roll two dice (you always roll one as a freebie and add more from the descriptors) and choose the lowest (because the leftover descriptors were negative). That's pretty cool that you can roll without considering charts and/or numbers.

Yet, this is not the best aspect of the game! When you have your result, you follow a simple "ladder of outcomes", to answer the question: Did I managed to do it? FU does not give you a binary Yes/No like many other systems. It gives you more narrative outcomes. Stuff like Yes, but... or, No, and. I have written about this before here. This makes the game much more fun and much better suited for improv or pick-up-style game.

I think it is a brilliantly designed game, great for one shots, or even no-prep games. Sadly, while FU seems popular, there isn't much in terms of hacks and rules exploration like it is in Apocalypse World,, FATE or even Savage Worlds. It baffles me really, as the game is not only build for expansion and exploration, but is also released on the Creative Commons license. I secretly hope that more people will start experimenting with FU. I for one am designing a (little more crunchy) survival game based on FU with some Gumshoe system mixed in. I hope more games will follow... 


Survival RPG devlog 3: Characters

The third entry in this devlog took a bit longer than expected. Not only I had to test some ideas when it comes to the characters, but real life got in the way of doing so. This is still a work in progress, especially I am still looking for better words for some of the terms in game. As it stands now, Characters have few traits (+equipment), Endurance (with skills) and goals. While the first two aspects are pretty set in stone, different aspects to goals are being tested. So let's see what makes a character:

Traits:

Traits are similar to Fate's aspects or even Risus's Cliches. They are either a word of a short phrase describing some aspect of the character. The aim of the game is to make the players rely more on their equipment and their endurance than their traits, so each character will only have few of them.

Four seems to work pretty well for traits. It is low enough number for players to come up with with interesting descriptors for their characters. The most important trait connects to the character's background. It answers the prompt: "I used to be...". This roots characters in the setting. Maybe your character was a surgeon, a taxi driver or an architect. Each of those add flavor to the character but also can be used to add a die to the test.

You get two more free traits, and one fault (or drawback or hindrance). This is a similar setup to Fate and even FU, and it seems to work well. There is no need to fix what isn't broken.

I quite like the idea of creating or describing a character with a sentence, like in Numenera. It would work well with the theme of the game. Unfortunately, apart from "I used to be [blank]" I don't have anything that would enclose all traits in a single sentence. That is something that I have put on the back burner for now.

While you only get four traits permanently attached to your character, you get access to other, more temporary traits. One of them comes from wounds. Each type of physical or emotional stress  will take its toll. Wounds will only give you a negative dice. To get more positive dice, you need equipment. If you try to intimidate someone, it is much easier if you are aiming a gun at them. I will go into more depth about equipment in the next devlog, for now, just know that you can use equipment to add dice to your test, or skip the test altogether.

Endurance 

As discussed previously, Endurance is a pool of points you can spend to add to the dice result. You will need to do so, more often than not, as a medium difficulty test would be around 6 (to roll on a d6). It symbolizes your will to survive. It is your willpower, your stamina and hope combined. If your current Endurance is high, your character feels that they can take onto anything. With low Endurance, you might want to rest, so you can refresh your Endurance pool. This connection between the pool of points that let's you improve your chances of success and the system for regaining those points is a central mechanic of the game. It encourages the characters to do the "boring stuff" like eating, sleeping, talking to other survivors over some found tequila, that are important aspects of survival genre and makes the PCs more mundane, and not heroes, able to face any obstacle at any time. No Heroes, remember?

You get 40 (this is to be tested, it might be taken down to 20, I will need to play with different players to decide exactly) Endurance points during character creation. During game, you can spend them at any test. One point spent, adds one to the result from the dice. You can spend as many points as you want on a single test, but once they are spent, they are gone until next refresh (which will probably not refresh all points at once). This way the player is facing an important decision with every dice roll.

You can also exchange some of your Endurance points for "skills". They can be used just like Endurance points (1 to 1 spend on dice rolls), but only on actions that fall within the scope of the skill. The game will have lists of skills for different genres, but the lists are open ended. So, why would you opt in for getting skills, instead of the catch all Endurance? Because you get two skill points for each endurance point you spend. You will be able to exchange Endurance for skills during character creation and any time you would "level up" in other RPGs.

Goals

Goals are the third and final aspect of any character. They describe the characters personality, needs and wants. They will work in a similar way to TSOY's Keys (skip to page 12). When a character will achieve one of their goals, they regain some endurance. You can also break them, so you can regain a bunch of points (probably get all the points back). So if you are a protector (gain Endurance when you help others survive), if you kill another human being, you get a full refresh, but loose that goal and can not gain endurance from it in the future. People, and especially their views, change when they find themselves in life and death situations and struggle to survive.

GMs will get some advice on using the character goals and making temporary goals that change with the narrative. I am compiling (and stealing from TSOY) a list of goals/behaviors the characters can have. As with skills, it is not a comprehensive list, and characters can create their own goals.

Appendix: Names, words and such.

As the system is now, it uses pretty generic naming conventions. Skills, Traits and Goals to not carry the emotional weight of survival, struggle or even any of the design guidelines from Part 1. They serve they purpose for now, as many roleplayers have a clear idea of what skill, wound or goal means in a RPG. For the release I will want to change them, this is what I have now and what message I want to carry:

  • Traits would probably change to Assets. It works great with using equipment, and even using your own "powers" works with it. Does not work well with wounds and stress.
  • Endurance is good, it works well for what it is supposed to do system wise. 
  • Skills are way to generic, I want them to be seen more as: How you cope/survive. 
  • Goals are ok, I can leave them unless I find a better word encompassing wants/needs/agendas and something to be broken.
If you have any advice on making the naming conventions more thematic, send them my way (best to leave a comment here). On a bright side, I have a pretty good title for the game. How do you feel about: Endure ?

Survival RPG Devlog 2: Basic Mechanics


After the brief introduction, it's time to look into some of the mechanics of the game. Bear in mind that this is still a work in progress and is a subject to (possibly dramatic) changes. With that in mind, let's look at the basic task resolution mechanic and how it reinforces the game's theme. Before we proceed, let's look at one word that is quite important to the game:

endurance

noun
  • the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.
         "she was close to the limit of her endurance"
  • the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear.
Endurance is an important aspect both game-world and system wise. It is each character's main attribute and also their will to live, their grit, willpower and stamina combined. It will deplete over the course of the session and the players will find ways to replenish it. With that in mind, this is how the task resolution mechanic works:

  • Player Characters have two types of attributes: Traits and Skills. 
    • Traits are your character’s descriptors, you only have few of them tied to your character, like [Slender] [Surgeon]. Traits give you dice.
    • Skills (name to be changed) are a pool of points. You start with 20 points in only one skill - Endurance, but can spend them to purchase other skills on 1-to-2 ratio during character creation. So you take down your Endurance to 15 (spending 5 points) and getting 10 points in, let’s say, running away. You can spend your points to add to rolls.
  • The GM narrates the story, if you disagree with the narration (for example, when the GM tells you that your character will get stabbed by this random guy you just met), you can roll for it.
  • You want to roll above Target Number (TR). You roll a hand of dice and (depending on circumstances) use the highest or lowest die. 
  • Before you roll, you can add any amount of points from your skills. You can always spend points from your Endurance, but you can only spend points from other skills, when they apply.
  •  If you roll above the TR, you can narrate the outcome of the action, if you didn’t the GM narrates. You will probably narrate a positive outcome, and the GM will narrate a negative outcome most of the time.

I will go more into skills and traits in the next post. The basic rule is - you are starting with one six sided die, and add one die per applicable trait. Traits can add positive dice (like your character traits or equipment you are using) and negative dice (wounds, both physical and mental and obstacles - traits of NPCs, locations or objects). Positive and Negative dice cancel each other so you only roll one type of dice for each roll. You choose the highest die if you rolled any positive dice, or the lowest if you rolled negative dice. This mechanic is basically stolen from Freeform Universal, and as it under Creative Commons license I don't think that will be a problem ;).

Players can (and should) spend points from their skills to add to their roll. So if you rolled a 4 from your dice and spent 3 points, your result is 7. You are trying to beat the Target Number. The Target Number values are not set in stone. I am thinking that an easy task would be 4, medium 6, difficult around 8 or 9.  I am toying with the idea that Target Number is kept secret from the players (like in the Gumshoe systems). Maybe TR should be static, and the difficulty coming only from the Negative Dice? This is something I would like to hear from you.

I am also toying with incorporating the Yes, and/but and No, and/but as described previously here. This would depend on what you rolled on your dice. So if you rolled 1 or 2, you add a complication (BUT) to the narration, and if you rolled 5 or 6 you add something beneficial (AND) to the PC into the narration. I am torn on adding this, because I don't want to alienate non-story-gamers.

Ok, back to the points. Once you spend your points, they are gone for time being. This ways players know that their characters have limits and are only human. Those points can be refreshed by fulfilling human needs. So everytime the PCs have a meal, sleep and just have some relaxing time in-game, they can replenish some of their spent points. This way, players are encouraged for doing all those "boring" survivalistic things like eating, staying hydrated or just drinking found whiskey to forget.


To sum up the basic system: You roll a set of six sided dice, and depending if you had more positive or negative traits, you get either the highest or the lowest die rolled. You add that to the points you spent from your Endurance/skills to get your result. If the result is higher than the TN you can narrate what happens, if it is below - it is up to the GM.

So, what do you think about this system? 

Survival RPG devlog 1: Intro

...and now for something completely a bit different.


Survival games are all the rage on the video games front. From pure survival in games like Minecraft, through survival horror like Evil Within, to a personal survival stories in games like This war of Mine. There is something very appealing in being thrown into a hostile environment and surviving against all odds.

While you can run a survival scenarios in many existing RPGs, there isn't a system that focuses solely on the that situation. After playing some This War of Mine, and reading about The End of The World from Fantasy Flight Games (that concentrates on living trough different flavors of the apocalypse, but not survival per se), I have decided to write a game that focuses on the hardships of survival.

It usually takes me a bit of time to finish a game. Heck, the only one that I have finished and somehow published was Heist Aces (that is still asking for an updated version). To keep myself motivated, I am starting this devlog, where I will post my progress in writing this game and respond to comments and criticisms.

First, I am laying down the design principles for this game. Whatever additions or changes I will want to make, they will need to follow the below guidelines:

Wrong Place, Wrong Time - the game's focus will be surviving in harsh and hostile environments. The game should be able to handle variety of survival scenarios. No matter the setting or the genre, the player characters will always start in a wrong place, at a wrong time.

No Heroes - player characters are not specialists trained to deal with the threats they are about to face. There are just unlucky people who have to find a way to survive against all odds. They are not equipped for the task, nor are they prepared. They will struggle, make morally questionable choices and rely on ever depleting resources... and so will the NPCs. Other survivors can be suspicious or even hostile towards PCs, not because they are evil, but because, just like the players, want to survive.

Nothing is forever - characters get tired and depressed, resources dwindle, people die. All of this should have impact in-game and on the game mechanics. On the other hand, nothing will stay bad forever, characters will rest, find hope and overcome their obstacles, but those victories won't last forever.

Those three guidelines summarize the game pretty well. You play as people who need to endure things they are not prepared for. They will struggle, but they will have their victories. I want to create a system that will support those feelings, but without overwhelming bookkeeping, and unnecessary math. I have also decided on some system guidelines, they can be changed, but I would like to stay within the restrictions:

  • Player facing mechanics - only PCs roll dice. This not only let's the GM focus on the story, but also puts the players in a more active role - if you won't do anything, this mutated dog will rip your throat out.
  • No bookkeeping -  I want to keep the game as simple as possible. It is very easy to add a ton of  negative modifiers to the character for being tired, depressed, etc. A game like that can become nothing more than a spreadsheet, instead of story. I don't want that. I want to focus on the story. If possible, I want to avoid negative modifiers and keeping track of each unit of food, water, ammo, what-have-you. 
  • Rewards, not requirements - Instead of telling players what their characters need, I want to reinforce that. Having a good night's rest, a hearty meal or finding loved ones should be rewarding.
  • Important Equipment - In survival scenarios, having a pocket knife can be difference between life and death. I want equipment to be important, making tasks possible without rolls, or at least much easier to achieve.
  • Generic - Most of all, I want the mechanics to be generic enough, to play in different settings, from desert island, through urban disaster scenarios, through sci-fi. 
I have an idea for a mechanic that would fit those requirements. I am still testing it. It uses only six sided dice and a pool of points you can spend. You try to beat an unknown target number. I will go into more detail of the mechanics in my next post, in the meantime, I am curious what do you think about a dedicated survival RPG idea? What would you like to see in a game like that?