Monthly Archives: December 2006

Age of Air: Progress!

It’s really long, so I think I’ll just link to the posting.  But yay, I was all productive tonight and stuff!  It makes me really happy to be able to write out an actual functional (if barely) set of rules, that I could actually see playing with.  (Unlike the conceptual skeleton that was Shattered Vistas.)  Anyway, if you’re in to checking out new game designs, please give it a go, and tell me your thoughts.

My Eragon Review

I saw Eragon tonight.

For what it’s worth, I have not read the book.

Overall, the movie felt like a bad LotR-ripoff.  I am in no way a rabid LotR fan.  In fact, I froth at the mouth and start looking for jugulars when people complain about things like Faramir’s role in the film, or discuss which dialect of Elven is more practical.

There are many many shots of sweeping vistas.  Too many.  I don’t go to the movies for sweeping vista shots.  The acting was relatively decent for a fantasy movie, although the plot was tritely formulaic.  The special effects were standard- nothing real cheesy, nothing too great, although the scene with the baby dragon was incredibly adorable.  (It grew up too fast!  I wanted more baby dragon scenes.)

The fights were incredibly lukewarm.  After the truly epic fights of Lord of the Rings, if you’re going to have an epic fight, do it right.  The climactic battles were remarkably small scale.  There were some good action sequences.  The movie probably would have been better if they focused more on those and less on the sweeping vistas.

Verdict:  Better than the Dungeons and Dragons movie, although that doesn’t say much.  The best part of the movie can probably be duplicated by taping wings to your cat, and watching it bat them off.  Go see Casino Royale (again, if necessary) instead.

Deadlands Reloaded: A Very Savage Veteran Table

Disapointed by the 14 card Veteran Table in Deadlands Reloaded, I felt the need to make my own: 54 cards, just how it’s supposed to be done.

Most of these are simply Major hindrances, and may seem tame compared to the entries in the book, but variety is the spice of life, and an unexpected hindrance can always shift the balance more than some wacky curse.

(And unlike my previous HoE Veteran table, it can be much more easily adapted to other Deadlands lines.)


Veteran o’ the Savage West
By Willow Palecek

Deuce: Just Bad
The character has found out the hard way that he’s bad at something. The Marshall should pick a skill the character has at d6- something he’s apt to use, but not the character’s most important skill. He has -4 to all rolls with that skill. Or, the Marshall can let the suit do the talking instead:
Clubs: Bad At Keeping Quiet: The character gets -4 to all Sneaking rolls.

Diamonds: Bad At Cards: The character gets -4 to all Gambling rolls.

Hearts: Bad On A Horse: The character gets -4 to all Riding rolls.

Spades: Bad With Guns: The character gets -4 to all Shooting rolls.

Three: Bad Apple
Anywhere you go, your friends and companions suffer because of you. You’re fine, though.

Clubs: Jinxed- anytime one of your companions rolls Snake Eyes, something extra-bad happens to them.

Diamonds: Fearmonger- Anywhere you go, the Fear Level increases by two.

Hearts: Carrier- all your companions have Ailin’: Major, although the disease can’t worsen.

Spades: Collateral Damage: You have the Grim Servant of Death hindrance.

Four: Shattered

Clubs: Shattered Attention Span: -2 to any Smarts roll.

Diamonds: The Shakes: -2 to any Agility roll.

Hearts: Shattered Health: -2 to any Vigor roll.

Spades: Shattered Spirit: -2 to any Spirit roll.

Five: Hindrance
Something happened to you, and now you’re not the man you used to be.

Clubs: Hard of Hearing (Major)

Diamonds: Bad Eyes (Major)

Hearts: Ailin’: Major

Spades: Bad Luck

Six: Seen the Elephant

Clubs: Death Wish: You’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, and probably done some things you aren’t too proud of. There’s only one way to make amends, and that’s going to your grave, shooting and screaming.

Diamonds: Habit: Major. You’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, and drown your sorrows in booze or drugs.

Hears: Heroic: You’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, and you’ll never let it happen again.

Spades: Phobia: Major. You’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, and it scares you silly.

Seven: Yet more Hindrances

Clubs: Bad Dreams

Diamonds: Wanted (Major)- Maybe you did some horrible deed, or maybe you were framed. You should figure out what you’re wanted for, and where.

Hearts: Enemy (Major)- You’ve angered some force of evil in the world, maybe Grimm, maybe Hellstrome, maybe Black River.

Spades: Enemy (Major)- You’re on the wrong side of a force of good- maybe the Agency, or the Texas Rangers, or some other mostly altruistic group.

Eight: Still more Hindrances

Clubs: Lame

Diamonds: One Arm

Hearts: Small

Spades: One Eye

Nine: Not that Great

Clubs: Anemic

Diamonds: Slowpoke

Hearts: Yellow

Spades: Thin Skinned

Ten: Chip Issues

Clubs: Slow Learner- You only gain experience from a Fate chip on a roll of 6. Blue chips give you experience on a roll of 5-6.

Diamonds: Tool of the Reckoners- The Marshall gets an extra chip draw each session.

Hearts: Closed Fate- Others can’t give you chips. A character with the Common Bond edge can spend a chip to give you chips normally.

Spades: Screwed- You can’t spend chips on Soak rolls.

Jack: Old Soldier
Maybe you were in the Civil War, or just one of the many smaller confrontations of the Wasted West, but you’ve been touched for life by what you’ve seen.

Clubs: Flashbacks- Anytime you draw a Deuce for initiative, you have a Flashback to your fightin’ days. You get to take no actions that round, and can’t even tell what’s going on. You can’t cancel this with edges like Quick or Fast as Lighting

Diamonds: The Horror, The Horror- Anytime you fail a guts roll, the Marshall rolls/draws twice on the Fear table.

Hearts: Combat Hesitation: Anytime your initiative card is a Face card, treat it as a Ten of the same suit instead.

Spades: Old Enemies: You have a major Enemy- composed of a specific officer and his troops on the other side. Even though it’s peacetime, someone on the other side of the border is carrying a giant grudge.

Queen: Bad Stuff
Clubs: Cursebearer. You’ve picked up a cursed object along your travels. The Marshall should be creative. Anything really nasty should come with a good side, making the character loathe to part with it once he finds out what he’s got!

Diamonds: Unequiped: You start the same with no gear other than the clothes on your back. Any equipment bought with money gained from spending Hindrance points is misplaced or in the hands of an Enemy, but the Marshall should give you a reasonable shot at getting it back (especially if it’s key to your character concept). You can’t buy any equipment or wealth related edges with your Veteran points.

Hearts: Unreliable: You have a tendency to lose things. Every session, draw a card- on a Joker, you lose something valuable. These are usually gone for good. Alternatively, it breaks.

Spades: Gremlins- Any technological item you use tends to break or malfunction. If you roll a 1 on the trait die, the mechanical device breaks until someone Repairs it (taking several hours). Gizmos or El Cheapo gear malfunction on a roll of 1 or 2.

King: Magical Weakenss
Clubs: Abomination Foe
Abominations just hate you. They always pick you out as their first foe, and can uncannily sense your presence.

Diamonds: Magical Vulnerability
Any offensive power used against your character has +4 on its activation roll, and if applicable, +2 damage.

Hearts: Backlash Magnet
If you’re a magician, anytime you draw/roll for Backlash, Brainburn, etc. the Marshall draws two cards and takes the worse.
Alternatively, if you aren’t a magician, anytime someone near you Backlashes and there’s a chance it will hurt you, it will.

Spades: Forsaken
Beneficial magic just doesn’t work on your character anymore. Negative magic does just fine.

Ace: Legendary Foe
The character has one epic arch-nemesis. This person is more than just a Wild Card, or a Major Enemy. Make them special, Marshall.

Clubs: It didn’t stay dead: The character thinks he killed a big abomination, but he’s wrong, and it’s out for vengeance. We’re talking things like Hangin’ Judges, Ancient Doom Mummies, Servitors, and the like.

Hearts: Sibling rivalry: The character has an evil twin, magical or normal, or just a mundane sibling who’s out to make their life hell.

Diamonds: Enemy of State: The character is Wanted for High Treason or some other high crime in either the North or South. The bounty on his head is a massive $10,000, and the Agency or the Texas Rangers are likely to want to bring them in. Truly innocent characters should have the chance of finding the true perpetrator of their crimes and clearing their names, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Spades: Marked for Death: The character has drawn the attention of the right-hands of the Reckoners themselves. Stone, Raven, Grimm, or Hellstrome has plans for the Hero, and they don’t turn out good. (Alternately, pick another major villain, such as Mina Devlin or Kang.)

Joker: Harrowed
Red: ‘Normal’ Harrowed.
Black: Character starts with -2 Dominion.

I’m Not Using the C-Word Today

So you’ll just have to make do with a completely secular post.

I’m Sick of Publishing Prejudice

You know those people who are like “Game X?  It’s owned by Company X, and not the author.  I think I’ll pass.”  Or “Game Y?  It’s indie?  No thanks, I’d rather play a game where I do stuff.”

I’ve got a big bucket of go-home-and-stfu for those people.  Indie games are not miraculously better than traditional games.  Indie games may be truer to the ‘designer’s intent,’ but sometimes the designer is full of crap, and these days anyone can make an indie game, sell it on lulu, and get some artsy pompous guy to buy it.

Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with lots of indie games.  Just because it’s indie, doesn’t mean it’s high concept, or doesn’t have rules for blowing people up with giant explosions.  The point to these games is fun, not GNS Jargon, despite what the legions of Forge-goblins may have you believe.

So yeah.  Read reviews, read the game, play it on it’s own merits, not because of some ethical or systematic statement about how games should be written and sold.

The Deadlands Files

Having been bit by the Deadlands bug recently (again), I thought I’d share my accumulated treasure trove of Deadlands documents, written by yours truly.

They include:

A master index of all edges/hindrances/skills relevant to the Hell on Earth line, of which there is vast overlap with Deadlands Classic.

An index of all relics in sourcebooks I could find.

My homebrew Huckster Backlash, Syker Brainburn, Mysterious Past, and Veteran of the Wasted West tables.

(Pending: rules and combat cheat sheets for new players.)

They’d take up far too much space to post here, so I put them over on

Check them out!

Lost in Time and Space

Here’s something that happened a week ago, but I was in the middle of the whole Conflict/Task saga, so I didn’t get around to posting it.

So, my extended-family’s Christmas get-together was being held.  Google couldn’t find the address (try yourself- search for Kansastown WI).  I called my relatives, confirming that I had the right address, and I got directions.

Anyway, I had been here before, about two years ago.  (Last year Christmas was someplace else).  That time, I had a little bit of trouble getting there, nothing major, but got lost on the way back.  And I’m talking passing the same gas-station twice lost.

I never get lost while driving.  It’s this thing I do.  I have really good vehicular direction sense, and I always know where I’m going more or less.  But two years ago, I got lost on these county roads.

So, what do I do last Friday?  That’s right, I get lost on my way back.  I miss the turn for highway A, keep going, and then when I get to highway A again, I take the wrong turn, misjudging how far I am (I think this is what happened).  Anyway, I figure out pretty quick that I’m not going the way I came, but I know Hwy 45 is around here somewhere, and that (eventually) hooks up with 94.  It’s not going to be as fast as the way I took, but it’s a way.

So, in my road-trip of errors, I did the following:

*Passed the mystery gas station from before, which should not have been that far north.

*Finding out that I’m going south east when I was certain I was going north westish.

*After getting onto 45 (from A), later crossing A, and then later crossing A again.

*Seeing two ‘Entering Milwaukee County’ signs, on the same road, a few miles apart, with no other county markers in between.


Conflicting Task Resolution: Part 4

And it all comes down to this.  The long awaited conclusion.  If you haven’t already, start with Part One.

The question that I wanted to ask, but felt that I didn’t have enough room to answer in one post was this:  How do I take everything I like about a task resolution system, but turn it into a conflict resolution system for when I don’t feel like going through all the motions of the basic rules?

And don’t say ‘flip a coin,’ or ‘GM’s call,’ or any other variant on those.  They’ve been said before, and it’s not what I after.

It starts with Drifting HERO.  HERO has a number of really great features, but the combat system is entirely too task based.  So my question was: how do I do conflict resolution for combat in HERO?

Anyway, let’s get back to the general, and take the imagination framework from parts I-III.  The idea is to take the basic game system, but twist it, making it so we only need one roll.

I’m going to whip out a principle for Game Design I learned from, interestingly enough, the 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons rules.  And I’ll put it in bold text, because it’s important.

When you’re adding a new sub-system to a game, whether your own or someone elses, start with the core mechanic, and build from there.

In many conflict-resolution games, the core mechanic already is conflict resolution (see Dogs in the Vinyard.)  In others, it’s much simpler, and could easily be either task or conflict resolution (see Burning games- skill rolls are only as big in scope as you make them, and Fight! is undeniably Task Resolution, yet Bloody Versus is the conflict resolution version.)

Games that are skill based are easy to do, as I alluded to before.  Just have both participants make a skill roll, and have that count for the whole fight.

Consider the World of Darkness, Shadowrun, or Alternity.  In these games, it’d be easy to take this principle and say: well, you guys both make a Dexterity + Weaponry (or situation or game system equivalent), modified in such and such a fasion.  Whoever gets a better roll wins.  *Easy*  Fast.

What complicates things for D&D and HERO, while they have skill systems, is that they don’t really have combat as a skill.  They have Attack Bonus and CV, but in both games, combat is much much more than rolling one skill.

I’ve discussed HERO in more depth elsewhere, but it essentially has two core mechanics:  roll 3d6, look for a result lower than a certain number, and roll lotsd6, look for good numbers.  For various reasons, I chose to go with the latter for my HERO conflict-res framework.

Let’s look at the d20 system.  What’s the core mechanic of the d20 system?  Easy.  Roll a d20, add modifiers, look for a high number.  How would we do a fight between two people in one roll?  Each person rolls a d20, adds some number.  High number wins.

The question then becomes: what influences the roll?

At this point, the answer is as complicated as you want it to be.  The most basic measurement of combat effectiveness is ‘level’ or ‘hit dice.’  So a level check is a decent way to do it.  You could also go d20+ level + highest ability modifier, or d20 + level + sum of ability modifiers, or d20 + level + attack bonus + armor class, or factor in some equation based on total value of equipment, or what have you.  (And do remember:  a basic advantage is worth a +2 bonus!  That’s one of the GMing rules of thumb.)

(Remember: if it’s essential to know just how many points of damage someone took, or how many spell slots they used, or how many potions they drank,  it might be worth playing it out the long way.  This system is for quick, dirty, largely inconsequenital fights only.)

You could make a whole table for this sort of thing.  I’m probably going to do something similar for HERO.

Conflicting Task Resolution, Part 3

In Part 1 I laid down some defintions, and in Part 2 I discussed some simple drift using techniques.  Now it’s time to go full on gonzo system-reconstruction.

(But first, a counterpoint to the techniques in Part 2.  I’d like to bring up that it’s incredibly easy to go from conflict resolution to task resolution, just by cutting things up into more parts.  Anyway.)

As you’ll remember, in Task resolution, we have a number of steps in a conflict:

*A series of actions, each one built on the results of what came before,

*A means of determining the success of each individual action,

*A means of determining the effect of each action,

*And, a means of declaring when the conflict is ‘over’

For Conflict Resolution, what you need is:

*An intent: one’s preferred outcome,

*A means of determining the outcome, 

*And a means of determining how it happened.

The difference I’m going to focus on here is step one: a series of actions, each one built on the results of what came before.  With the drifting techniques discussed in part 2, we can shove those intent-setting phases and narrattion-setting phases to the begin and end of the conflict.  So our initial conflict-task hybrid looks like this:

*An intent: one’s preferred outcome,

*A series of actions, each one built on the results of what came before,

*A means of determining the success of each individual action,

*A means of determining the effect of each action,

*And, a means of declaring when the conflict is ‘over’

*And a means of determining how the outcome happened (mostly redundant, but may be more important in later revisions).

 (Note that here, ‘a means of determining the outcome’ is simply our standard task-resolution system.)  The question now is: how do we squish those steps in the middle into one step?

Look at step 5- we need to know when to stop rolling dice.  In a D&D fight, this is when one side or the other is (finally!) defeated.  If we only roll once, there’s no need for step 5- the conflict is over as soon as we’ve rolled and figured everything out.  No need to keep on repeating the same old steps over and over.

Now let’s look at step 2- there’s lots and lots of actions.  If we reduce that to just one action, we can eliminate step 3 and 4, since we’re now looking at the conflict as a whole, not actions.  (And their conflict-related functions are nicely handled in step 6)

So, we’re back at our 3-step conflict resolution framework.  That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Actually, it was.  Because in my theoretical, structural explanation, I glossed all over the important bits: actually turning those steps of ‘rolling lots of dice’ into a single step of ‘roll dice, once.’  How on earth do we do that?

Age of Air- Social Combat

Here’s an idea for social combat that came out of the Battletech wargame, of all things.

The typical conception of combat is hit points or health levels. Reduce your opponent’s health to zero, then you get to do something to them: kill them and take their stuff, or maybe capture them and take their stuff.

In such a system, successful and enjoyable social combat should be based on the same principle: reduce their ‘social health’ to zero, then you get to do something to them. (This is by no means a new concept- see Body of Argument and Duel of Wits in the Burning Games).

So here’s my big idea: your social combat worksheet looks like a big cross.

At the center, you have your Confidence. If that box is ‘checked off’ by taking social damage, you’re somehow at the mercy of whoever did it to you.

There’s two mental stats: Reason, and Passion, and four mental modes of attack: Argument, Befuddlement, Intimidation, and Seduction.

Argument and Befuddlement correspond to Reason. Argument is based on bringing someone over to your way of thinking by using rational argument and appealing to their own beliefs. Befuddlement is based on lying, confusing, and just plain screwing your opponent up.
If you have a low reason, you’re easy to confuse, so you don’t have many boxes for Befuddlement. On the other hand, it’s really hard for people to convince you of things using socratic dialogue and rhetoric, so you have lots and lots of boxes for Argument.
If you have high reason, you can keep your wits about you, so you have more boxes to defend against Befuddlement- but at the same time, you have ingrained notions, and people who can appeal to those can easily sway you to a compromise, giving you fewer boxes of Argument defense.
(Note that your defense roll will be better though, so it’s probably still better to have high Reason.)

Intimidation and Seduction are based on Passion. Seduction is based on giving people what they want- money, power, or sex. Intimidation is based on scaring the bejesus out of people.
If you have a low passion, you don’t really care about much- your morale is low, so it’s easy to get you to waver using Intimidation. However, since you don’t really care about anything, it’s hard for people to manipulate you by playing to your goals, and you have more defense against Seduction.
If you have high passion, you can’t be swayed from your duties by mere show of force! You have lots of boxes to resist Intimidation. But, if someone figures out what you want in life, and gives it to you, you’ll do lots of things for them- you don’t have as many boxes of Seduction defense.
(And like Reason, Passion is rolled for lots of other stuff too, so it’s probably healthy to have a high Passion.)

Argument and Seduction are High Methods- they require a language in common, some knowledge of your enemy, and generally, some sort of price to be paid. The don’t work on mindless monsters. Damage from Argument and Seduction causes no penalties until the final core box is checked off- the person doing the arguing wants their new pawn at full strength!

Befuddlement and Intimidation are Low Methods- you don’t have to have a language in common, although it can help, they work on mindless monsters, and best of all, they give action penalties- the whole point is just to screw someone up. However, you have less options for what you can force someone to do.

And if you’re in court or something, and have a big entourage, that can be a big circle of people around your boxes, which the enemy has to ‘break through’ before they can get to you. Its hard convincing someone of something when they’ve got an army of sycophants telling them they’re right.