I Tought I Taw a Puddy Tat

Yes, a tweety bird joke because I have grown week and gotten a twitter account. I mostly got it to play Echo Bazaar, a browser based game set in a surreal and fantastic Victorian London, for which Mr. Vincent Baker and Mr. John Harper are working on an Apocalypse World Hack, the snippets of which were tantalizing. At any rate, I'll probably also use it to post quick thoughts and updates regarding the site and game design and such. Probably picking up in traffic after I get back to America and have a cell phone again.

Sagas of the Icelanders

Colloquially known as "Ragnarok World" is a hack of Apocalypse World by Gregor Vuga, and it's really, really good. If you looked at Ragonarok and thought "I want a more realistic, serious Viking game" then go here to get the current draft of the rules in development.

He was kind enough to mention Ragonarok in his 'ludography', but I'd be pointing you towards it anyway, because it's really exciting to me and does some really clever design stuff. Check it out.

Apocalypse Now!

I just wanted to let everybody know that Vincent Baker's new game, Apocalypse World, is available to preorder now (you get the PDF now and the book will ship on August 1st). It's available through the unstore.

In case you're not familiar, Vincent Baker is the author of a few of the games I reviewed on here (In a Wicked Age, Dogs in the Vineyard) and is a pretty big deal in the indie RPG scene, because his games are flipping awesome. There's already a lot of buzz about this game, and with good reason: it's really, really good.

In addition to being a great ready to go game, it's also supremely hackable. A number of really interesting hacks are already being developed (and have been before the final rules even released!). You can follow them at the Apocalypse World forums.

I've currently got a bee in my bonnet to work on a Dark Heresy (Warhammer 40k roleplaying) hack for it, as I love a lot of the expanded setting material in Dark Heresy and Rogue trader, but I have no desire to ever play the system that comes in the game.

But don't worry, my Necro redo and the Book of Threes are continuing to get some lovin, I expect to have a post about some feedback from the alpha test of the Book of Threes in the next couple of days.

Shootin' Stuff

So, the first topic I'd like to address here with regard to my skirmish rules is of central importance to a modern/sci-fi wargame: shooting stuff. I'm going to start out a little theoretical and then move into some practicalities as they relate to those theories.

So, the way I see it, in a skirmish wargame, shooting has two main intentions: to control movement and to remove enemy fighters. The second is fairly obvious, but there are some implications to it I want to discuss, so I'll start with "controlling movement".

In traditional Necromunda, you have something called "pinning" when a figure is hit, but not wounded. A pinned fighter misses a turn unless he has buddies around to egg him on and he passes a test. In the previously mentioned WWII game, we modified this a bit to make it a little easier to test to get up, mostly because we made pinning a much larger part of the game by forcing characters shot at to test to avoid pinning on a miss. Pinning, then, achieves the aim of controlling movement, and our system had a pretty cool emergent effect of creating "fire and maneuver" set ups very in keeping with the WWII flavor.

The point for this post being I like the game-play implications of pinning, and I think I like pinning even on missed shots to be a possibility, so I'll probably keep that. Any other thoughts on how shooting can control opponent movements would be welcome in the comments.

Now, the more direct aim of shooting: killing and maiming enemies. In pretty much every GW game, you roll to hit, then roll to wound, and then Armor may or may not come in to negate the wound. Since each step is a simple D6  roll, and you do them all the time, they get to be pretty quick and natural. I'm pretty sure the reason for the separate hit, wound, and armor rolls is to allow for a high level of distinction between different match ups: you can be more or less accurate, shooting with a more or less powerful weapon against a more or less tough foe, and his armor can be better or worse. That allows for a wide variety of characters on each end of the role, and even more possible match ups.

That being said, the intent of shooting is to remove a threat, and so there's no inherent reason that roll should be split up into three steps. So, in the interest of trying to figure out if there's something better, I've been considering some other options. One that has caught my fancy is something to do with multiple dice, possibly of different colors (thanks to a discussion over at Praxis).

Here's the rough idea I have: a shooting character looks at his shooting skill ("Ballistic Skill" in the Games Workshop parlance) and at the stats of the weapon he's firing. Both give a number of dice to roll, which he adds together. Perhaps different colored dice can be specified which "hit" at different probabilities (e.g. something like whites hit on a 6, blues on a 5 or 6, and reds on a 4, 5, 6).  He rolls these and totals the number of hits/successes he's rolled.

Now, the target looks at his toughness and his armor, which also grant dice (again, possibly of different colors). He rolls that number of dice, and any hits/successes he scores negate hits scored by the attacker. If any hits are left, the attacker then assigns them to the target. I'm thinking that the target has a number of boxes that can be checked off in order, going something like "pinned, -1 die on rolls, -2 dice on rolls, out of action" or something like that, with effects being cumulative, and you can't skip a step.

Cover would probably be represented as a number of hits scored in the defender's favor, but possibly as fewer dice to roll for the attacker or more armor dice for the defender.

The notion here is that a character's accuracy stat would probably always be or start out as white dice, with more meaning more accurate (which might translate into hitting a more vital area, if those dice get you enough hits to wound seriously). The kind of weapon and how powerful it is would also be represented by number and color of dice: automatic weapons would have more white dice, powerful weapons would have more red dice.

Of course, another option would be to have a fixed target number (say, a 6) and then different die types (d6s, d8s, d10s, et cetera). This might allow more variability in weapon power.

So, how does this sound? Would it be too many dice per shooting action? Are the opposed rolls too funky?

Necromunda Skirmish Redux

So, awhile back I started on the somewhat ambitious project of coming up with some miniature skirmish rules that would be extremely customizable but still balanced for competitive play. I started with the notion of wanting to play "Necromunda" but with more individuality and perhaps a heavier story focus.

So, a few months back, I went through the Necromunda, Mordheim, and Inquisitor rules and looked for ideas to modify, incorporating ideas from a WWII skirmish game my friend Lance and I developed a few years back (initially based on Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings game, but since modified beyond recognition). I got the basic battle rules worked out, but never got into the nitty gritty of the point-buy character and warband creation.

Along the way, I think I succumbed to feature bloat and ended up with a bunch of cruft that the game doesn't benefit from. So now, I'm starting "from the ground up" trying to come up with rules from base principles of what I want to happen in the game, consciously working to avoid falling back on old GW based habits.

Once I finish this, I figure I'll compare the two rulesets and take the best of both worlds. That's the theory at least. So, some high level design goals:

  • Ideally suited for forces of 6-15 guys per side, but hopefully allowing for simplified rules to run larger battles

  • Quick, smooth play that doesn't bog things down in endless rolling or rules look ups or the like

  • At the same time, enough detail to make each individual fighter interesting and individual

  • Again, aimed at doing games set in the 40k setting, but hopefully applicable to any modern/sci-fi setting

The main pitfalls I'm worried about are falling into extreme and over detailing of options. I have a tendency to do this, as has recently been pointed out with the clan creation rules in The Book of Threes and from my prior experience with modifying wargames rules. One of the solutions to this I plan on is intense modularity: give a simple, basic set of rules with a number of layers of optional add ons that provide more and more detail, and can be used or discarded by individual groups of players as they like. This is also how I intend to tackle different "levels" of game play, such as campaigns and individual battles, play with a game master or without, and so forth.

Going forward, I'd appreciate any insight into these or other pitfalls I may be blindly stumbling into.


So, as previously mentioned, I got excited about making a Ninja Burger + InSpectres hack, and after noodling around with it, discovered it didn't take much to do at all!

So here it is.

Let me know what you think (this is as yet unplaytested, but considering it comes from two games that work fine and are playtested, I assume it'll be fine. I may make changes once I get the chance to play it some).

Smash it up, Smash it up!

So, a recent trend I've been reading about at the cool kid forums is a sort of game where you say "need book X to play". Basically people put out more or less detailed conversion notes for using one set of rules with material from another game (whether just the fluff or some of the actual rules). Shadowrun is a popular target, as it's a pretty universally loved world, with a pretty poorly regarded system. Another popular thing is to take Old Skool D&D and mash it up with a more modern rulesset, like the upcoming Apocalypse World (that one dubbed "Apocalypse D&D"). Basically, this notion excites me, as I've been discovering recently that a) a lot of the rules I've "grown up with" are pretty dumb, but b) I still love the worlds that they're made for.

So, right now I've got two main ideas for my own approach to this trend. The first one involves an old favorite and a new discovery: Ninja Burger and InSpectres. For those that don't know, Ninja Burger is a wacky little game available as an RPG or a card game by Steve Jackson games that revolves around, well, Ninjas delivering hamburgers. Anywhere. Anytime. In 30 minutes or less, or we commit suppuku! Inspectres is a Ghostbusters flavored game that uses both wacky paranormal activity and start up company stereotypes to good and humorous effect.

I picked up the Ninja Burger RPG rules and gave them a read through, and, well, I was less than thrilled. I haven't had a chance to play them, so maybe they're more fun than they look, or maybe right now I just have too much of a bug up my ass about hippy-dippy new fangled games, but reading through them they seemed to be rules for serious simulation of fighting and infiltration and such for a supremely silly game. They don't seem to fit!

On the other hand, Inspectres has a franchise and mission based structure, good but flexible rules that support humor, and very little 'overhead' or prep for running it. So I was struck by the idea of running Ninja Burger with the Inspectres rules. I'm going to make sure it's okay to post such a conversion from the publishers before I pursue it too far, though. But it's something I'd love to play sometime.

The other idea I have is to run a dark horror/madness type game (like Call of Cthulhu or Dark Heresy) using the Otherkind Dice rules I posted below. Dark Heresy has loads of evocative source material, and I think does an excellent job of expanding the 40k universe into its dark corners and really playing up the madness and horror of confronting Chaos and demons and aliens and what not. But the rules do a few things I don't like.

For one, percentile systems rub me the wrong way for some reason. Sure, they're imminently logical, and easy to tune, but they just seem so dry and boring. Secondly, your goal is to roll under your score (which makes sense), and rolling low to do well just strikes me as counter-intuitive. That's mostly silly, but still real.

More seriously, the game is, well, super crunchy. It has very detailed stats and combat systems and you keep track of your rounds of ammunition and take a half action to reload and yadda yadda yadda. If I want tactical combat in the 40k universe with characters I care about, I'll play Necromunda! (or the alternate rules I'm working on that allow more 'roleplaying' like elements). I feel like all of that stuff will tend to detract from the focus on investigation and horror and madness.

So right now I'm debating between two ways to make the Otherkind system work with such a setting. I have some reservations, fearing that perhaps the inherent control of the narrative that this system gives players will take away from some of the horror, but I do like how *very* story focused it is.

At any rate, the two ways. One would be to allow "dangers" that you risk with a roll to be discrete things like a phobia or "going insane" or whatever. Unfortunately, this would take away the "death spiral" that you get with lowering insanity making your more likely to lose sanity, and it might take away the gradual erosion of sanity.

The other way would be to just import the sanity/corruption tracks from those games and their effects, and make it a 'danger' associated with rolls to lose X number of points. The main downside here is that you lose the feedback from the sanity/corruption points into the main rules, since the resolution mechanic would still function separately from these things. One of the cool things in Call of Cthulhu is that the more "Cthulhu Mythos" you know, the less sane you are, but the more effective at battling monsters. So there's an incentive to do stuff that drives your character mad. One feature/issue of Otherkind dice is that "character effectiveness" can't really be reflected manually, at least not with any degree of precision (basically you either get to roll an extra die or you don't).

At any rate, my goal with any sort of mash up like this is to find a set of rules that not only don't get in the way of the world you're playing in, but actually expose new things about it and make it more fun to play. I'm pretty confident InSpectres will do that for Ninja Burger, less so for Otherkind dice playing CoC or Dark Heresy.