Saturday, April 21, 2018

Let's write a Labyrinth Lord gaming supplement (Part 1): be67 - a game of extraordinary splatter

I started writing a new adventure and things got complicated. Fast. The main problem being, that no rules (I like) exist for the thing I'm writing (classic grindhouse themes with a good dose of splatter). However, just pulling another light-rules game out of the hat sounds just as stupid, so after mulling this over a bit, I came to the conclusion that I should make it a supplement for another game, adding to one game's diversity instead. Here, have a look at my workbench ... 

What game?!

Games, actually. And part of a rather popular brand of games: I'm talking Labyrinth Lord (because it is the D&D Rules Cyclopedia at heart) and Mutant Future (because it adds things you'd want in a modern setting). Both are easy to tinker with and I know my way around the D&D RC. They also come with a fan base and I wouldn't mind that.

Going at this as a supplement would allow all kinds of crossover shenanigans and you could always take any part of this and put it in your games. I'll allow that for the adventure I'm writing, so if you want to go at it with your fantasy adventure group, you'll be able to do that (the fairy court will have some beef there and is looking for able bodies to kick some heads in ...) and if Mutant future is your thing, there'll be a hook for that as well (wanna stop the apocalypse from happening? time travel!).

There'll be new classes and all that as well and they could go explore Stonehell or what have you (wouldn't it be cool to play a couple of Marines infiltrating Stonehell? Definitely!), but that was to be expected, right? I also have a couple of (somewhat) radical changes in mind to make it work with modern world idiosyncrasies like, you know, fire arms and all that. I'm not opposed to doing fire arms like other weapons, but I want to offer a change of the game towards a more .... splattery combat resolution (grindhouse).

Ash knows what I'm talking about! [source]

I'll also port a couple of rules into it that came in very handy in that other game I'm writing, Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (a light version, if you will).

Here's the pitch and a first part of the rules:

be67

"be" stands for "basic edition" and we all know what that stands for. 1967 is the year we are playing. The war in Vietnam was in full swing, as was the Cold War and the hippie movement. The Dirty Dozen had been a hit in theaters in '67 and the president of the United States was traveling Europe. It's also the decade where spy and grindhouse movies had been wildly popular. Things had been "funky" and "gonzo" and "groovy", heroes and heroines had been cool and supervillains had their own brand of evil. Add horror and splatter, psychedelic experiences and all kinds of pulp elements to this and you are in the world we are playing in.

Not sure if the movie is any good, but that poster sure has it all [source]


Let's talk Hit Locations and Initiative first!

This post will outline the necessary stuff I'll need to test in our little D&D RC campaign right now, but expect more about it pretty soon. The basic idea for the changes I want to make for the combat in be67 has nothing to do with the already existing assumptions or values the game already offers. AC stays, HD stays, there'll be no changes to the stats as the game offers them, but a couple of small additions instead and a key to implement them.

Let's start with those additions. I wrote two little posts a while back about about aimed shots and a "wizard with a shotgun". Those will formulate the base line and a couple of directions I want to take this:
  • we keep level/hd and AC, but we add hit locations and give the six body zones a separate hp value (I'd alter the original idea a bit to make some limbs tougher than others)
  • the scheme for weapon damage needn't be affected by this, because the system produces an extra of damage itself (if you check out the posts linked above, you'll see that we used class based damage instead of weapon damage ... but you can use whatever you want)
  • the "more" of damage is produced by (1) allowing players to take disadvantages for their rolls into account to add them to damage instead and (2) by adding the overlap over the target's AC to the damage when using firearms (doesn't even alter the rolls themselves, we just use the numbers that are already there ... okay, you'd have to roll for hit locations, but that's that)
  • that said, I want combat to include a couple of elements D&D combat usually doesn't have implemented in the rules, like cooperation and a somewhat fluid AC system (because, if you have a shoot-out, you'd want people moving from cover to cover and all that)
  • Armor for different hit locations will also become somewhat important, of course, so it'd need an easy key for that as well
  • Damage will also have different effects depending on the source dealing the damage, of course (cutting, stabbing, clubbing, area damage ...) and it would be nice to have rules for pain (a saving throw when ... occurs - we'll get to that)
  • to see which body part is hit, roll 1d8:  1 left leg 2 right leg 3 left arm 4 right arm 5,6,7 torso 8 head (for now, might change to d12 ...)
And that'd be the bare bones. To find out how tough a limb of any given monster is, you just have to look at the following formula:

3 x HD (or level) + limb value (+1 for heads and arms, +2 for legs, +3 for the torso) + AC-value (take it all, magic, dex, protection, whatever)
= damage needed to dismember or cripple

Hitting a 4HD ogre on the head would need 12 hp damage to behead him, for instance (more if he has protection like a helmet, of course). A good aimed hit to the head will drop an ogre like that and it'll make sneak attacks way more brutal because of it.

However, add initiative, combat movement and level-based probability to hit a target to it, and you'll not only keep some of the basic assumption of D&D combat intact, you'll also add a necessity for tactical fighting beyond what D&D usually offers. If your character can loose an arm easy as that, you'd want to avoid it from happening.

Initiative in be67

All involved roll 1d6 + Zen-Modifier (ZEN is the be67-equivalent to WIS). A result of 1 (or less) will give you 1 Token to act that round, results 2-5 give you 2 Tokens, 6-10 will give you 3 Tokens and 11+ will give you 4 Tokens to act that round. A roll of a 6 with the d6 lets you add another d4 to your initiative. A combatant that doesn't get to (or decides to) attack although he could have, gets another +1 (per attack) to the next initiative roll (doesn't apply if initiative value had been 0 or lower, because than no attack could have occurred).

[source]
Tokens are the currency you use to get anything done but attacking itself (number of attacks per round as per the game you use, with initiative 0 or lower you don't get to attack). Unused Tokens will be added to the initiative roll in the next round.

Actions Tokens can be used for:
  • Protect - reduce your initiative and raise you AC the same amount (doing so might also reduce the number of available tokens and will make you slower) // can be declared earlier in initiative as soon as an attack is declared on the character, even if the character is faster (but never lower as the initiative last declared)
  • Helping - raise a die another character is using to the next higher die (order d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 ... if a d20 is used, add another d4 and raise that with more tokens) // goes for skill checks, attacks or even damage (wizards might use Helping to raise another wizards spell effects!) // # of Tokens a character could use in a round is 1/3 of level/HD (rounded up)
  • Move - combatants can be "in reach" or "moved away [number of] Tokens" and if they are "moved away", other combatants have to use the same amount of tokens to get "in reach", for instance to make a melee attack // a combatants size and speed determine how many Tokens can be used for Move Actions (small = 1 Token per round, medium = 2 Tokens, huge = 3 Tokens and so on // slow = reduce # of Tokens by 1 (if that reduces the # of Tokens to 0, it'll cost 2 Tokens to "move away"), fast = raise # of Tokens by 1 // if a combatant gets 3 Tokens distance the opposition at the end of a round, the fight can be exited without penalty the next round after that (distance is kept until Move actions change it, of course) // the # of Tokens a target is moved away may affect ranged attacks
  • Counter -  1 Token per round may be used to counter any other already declared Token used in a round by another combatant (so you'd have to be faster) // countering Protection will leave the target at its original Initiative but have it lose the Token (which means the higher initiative is kept as well and a character might even get Tokens back he had forfeited to protect himself!)
Actions and attacks are declared from lowest to highest. You can react lower in initiative to declare Protect actions, either as you are attacked or at the new initiative you end with after reducing it to the bonus you want for AC.
Example: Say you have Initiative 7, that's 3 Tokens. However, the Goblin at Ini 3 decides to attack and he gets help from his fellows, so you decide to go down 4 point in your initiative and add that to your AC instead to dodge those attacks (couldn't go below that, as the Goblins declared at 3!). Down at Ini 3, you'd be left with 2 Tokens and one of them had to be used for Protect to begin with, leaving you with 1 Token, which also has to be declared now (if you raise your AC by just 2 instead, you would still be left with 1 Token to act at Ini 5, following that logic).
Oder of resolution is fastest to slowest after all Actions have been declared (Initiative values might have changed due to people protecting themselves). That means that combatants can move away from a combatant to avoid getting hit ... however, that can be countered!
Burning tokens, I'd say ... [source]
So combat is a negotiation with the Tokens allowing for a high amount of flexibility. People will talk and describe how they interact with each other and the environment and  as they do, the fight will manifest. It's also quite fluid, as people try to help or move or protect themselves and get moved towards or are countered.

Luck is a high factor here, but player decisions matter just as much. And remember: you can always keep tokens or forfeit your attack to get a higher initiative the next round ... so it's not just luck.

And that'd be Part 1 ...

This'll make your basic LL/OD&D/MF game way more bloody, limbs flying around all the time. Which means it doesn't hurt to have some cleric spells, for instance, available to regrow some limbs back. Or you go all medieval with it, using prostheses and whatnot (check it out). Way more gritty with just minor changes, I think.

Part 2 will explore a different approach on dealing basic damage (neither per weapon, nor per class or with one die to hurt them all ... you'll see) and how to protect against it with armor. The final supplement will collect all those rules in a nice pdf with character sheets mirroring those changes (maybe even with variants for LL/MF?) as soon as I get there.

If you like this enough to try this on your players, please tell me about it. If you think I'm missing something or reasons why this wouldn't work (beyond taste, of course), please feel free to share your thoughts. Questions are, as always, welcome, of course.

Nice hacking and slashing, folks!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

How about a Style Guide to write adventures?

I have a couple of things in the air right now and the good news is, it's more and more gaming related work than work related work. Some of it hinted, some of it still to be announced, and then there is that one gig where I get to be editor of a rpg release! Good times, good times. We are taking our time with the thing and want to get it as right as right gets, hence the need for a style and construction guide ...

Notes

A few words before we get into the thing proper. This is about how you structure content and what to keep in mind when writing something like a module or adventure with a publication as the end game. Content is still what the author has to provide (and what might be problematic in its own way) and grammar or syntax are the least of my concerns.

The lines are blurry, though, and I believe that taking the guide seriously will also take care of most of the rest. In a way, if you work hard on getting on a page what you have in your brain, you'll consciously and carefully make an effort to get it done. So a style guide will give you a structure for your text that allows you to test your material on every level of resolution. In theory.
[source]
Anyway, this is what I came up with. Jay and I thought it might be useful for the community at large, so here we go:
Style and Construction Guide (Modules)

This is by necessity pretty rough, just presenting the outlines of how a rpg module or adventure can be structured. There’s of course a high degree of variation and abstraction possible, but it’s a good, simple base to fall back on if need be.

Style will be first, since it’s the shortest. However, it needs to be applied on every stage of writing. While structure helps a reader memorizing and sorting the different elements of a text, it’s style that keeps them engaged. In that style and construction fulfill two purposes that’ll help navigating the material when read and when used in the game. The third crucial element, content, is what the author brings to the table and won’t be featured here.

Things to consider when writing (Style Guide)

1. Always consider that the reader has never heard of any aspect you are describing. In other words, take nothing for granted and instead find ways to either explain an aspect properly or give pointers, where a reader could find additional information. If you talk rules, either quote them in full (if short) or give a reference where to find more information. Same goes for every aspect of a story or skill … well, everything. Always answer the questions How? and Why? while keeping it short and concise.

2. Show don‘t tell. That also a basic, but nonetheless often disregarded: details are what makes a setting tick. I don’t need to know that there is a market, I need to know what’s special about this one. If someone is important for the story, name him, give him traits (and stats, USR is simple enough to allow for that). Every detail you give can somehow be used in a game, generalization doesn’t do that for you. What smells the arena like? What poison is used? What does the princess look like? Little things, but all the time.

3. Keep it short and open room for the imagination. In other words, don’t get too specific about the moving parts of an adventure. Rather tell people how something works and let them figure out what potential a situation has. However, doing so at different levels of resolution (what happens now vs., for instance, what are the possible outcomes) means offering a collection of flexible frames to support the CK* in a way that using them manifests the story you imagined. In that sense, a collection of short and specific random encounters and locations will trump lengthy descriptions every time, especially if they also bring something interesting or special to the table. Avoid unnecessary and redundant text.

4. Adventures are specific manifestations of rules. You don’t just want to tell a story, you want to tell it through a very specific lens, and that would be the rules of the game you decided to use. If there is action, then there’s also always to consider how the game gets involved. Are there chances for different outcomes? Name them. Little sets of sub-rules for a specific scenario? Tell the reader how you’d do it with the rules you use.

The big picture (Construction Guide)

Introduction

This is where you connect the reader with the material. You tell them in broad strokes what this is and what’s it about. It‘s the part of the module where you introduce some general ideas of how this can be played or what you imagine how it should be played. It’s where you tell the people how the material is structured. It’s also where you give people points of reference, like books, comics, games or movies they might want to check out to get an idea. It‘s where people decide if they explore a text further or not. The exposition, if you will.

Done right, it‘s where you hook the reader to invest more time and maybe use any of it in his games.

Main Part

How this is arranged strongly depends on the focus you imagine for the module and how big the whole thing is supposed to be. Look at the following elements A to D and decide a hierarchy for them, then go from most important to most detailed (mix, match and repeat, if necessary):

A. Setting: Where does the adventure take place? What characters are in it and what things are commonly known about it? What’s interesting, what’s strange, what’s useful? How does a CK bring it to live? Rumor and Random Encounter Tables are in that section.

B. Timeline: Is there a course of events important for the characters? Can the influence those events? How? What happens if they don’t and how would that manifest in the game? When describing events, go from a general description down to the necessary details. Offer rules and tools for the CK, if applicable. Weather would be here, too.

C. Factions: Who is or could be involved in the adventure/module and why? How can the players influence or interact with them? Also: consequences, dangers and benefits need to be assigned. Factions are best described going from groups to more detailed and important non player characters. Arrange all that in a hierarchy of importance (take single entities into consideration where applicable).

D. Aspects, Scenes & Locations: Usually a collection of short vignettes that aren’t covered anywhere else and might make the game more interesting. What interesting places are there that deserve more description than offered in A? What scenes are most likely to happen? It can also feature specific cultural elements that deserve further exploration. This is specific where A is general (a higher level of resolution, if you will) while being short enough to have a place in the main part instead of being put in the appendices.

Appendices

You will always end up with a set of specific events and locations that need even more detail (highest level of resolution): dungeons, CK tools, tables to big or complex to feature in the main part, extensive sub systems (that also have value beyond what’s happening in the module, like for races or riots, for instance) or locations that either have a high possibility to get explored in depth or give a general impression of common feature characters might encounter (taverns, apartments, boats, and so on). This is where they are collected.

They always should be referenced to in the main part and they, also, should be sorted hierarchical (as applicable).
I think I covered all my bases here. Following the rules outlined above should have you end up with a good start, if not a finished product (it's mostly what I did for Monkey Business, if you need my take on it). Most of it will apply to writing in general to some degree or another (the fourth style advice could apply to genre instead of rules and so on). I hope it helps.
Content hierarchies, always the same [source]
That said, I'd be more than happy to get some opinions on this as well. Did I miss something crucial? Is there advice in there you think doesn't apply? Please share your thoughts, observations and opinions where I can find them, if you were so inclined.

* That's the Crypt Keeper, which is just another term for Dungeon Master (thought I'd clarify).