Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Last Post For the Night...

This is really the last post.

I've become a fan of the idea that the fundamental game mechanics create meaningful choices, and that a simple mechanic can provide variety. Here's a great example of this. I don't think my brain had shifted to this level of ubiquity when I was writing Stalwart Age...


Every round (6 seconds), you may attempt a number of actions equal to your SV. However, each action imposes a cumulative -1 die shift to all other rolls that round; attempting three actions imposes a -2 die shift to every roll that round. My character could run his movement of 100’ (1 action), pick up a found weapon (at -2 shift to the might die) and attack (at -2 shift to the attack die). You can also just distribute your attacks. With D12 attack and D10 damage, I can attack once at D12 (D10 damage), twice at D10 (D8 damage), three times at D8 (D6 damage), or four times at D6 (D4 damage). Tasks that do not rely on a dice check (flying), are not affected. I must decide how I am distributing my dice at the beginning of the round. While it might make sense to distribute attacks against a group of bank robbers, it is probably wiser to minimize your attacks against the heavily armored foe who leads them to increase your chances of hitting and dealing damage.

Already Tinkering

I use the blog to 'think out loud', so as soon as I posted the previous post, I started thinking about the basic mechanics again... I like scaling numbers back whenever possible (which can be a challenge in a supers game), but I think pulling back one step would have some benefits. If we make D4 'normal human', this pulls all of the numbers down a little bit... Here's a revised chart for consideration:


SV (½)




2 (1)




3 (1)




4 (2)




5 (2)




6 (3)




10 (5)



I already like this a little bit better. It's cleaner and simpler, and I think the subtle changes to language make the tiers clearer. In Marvel terms, Hawkeye is an expert, Daredevil is a paragon, Spiderman is super, and Thor is legendary.

As for my world, this pulls all of Doc's stats back one tier, and scales his numbers back slightly. It also makes for a significant jump from legendary to cosmic. Cosmic is reserved primarily for NPCs and big bads - Ro the Ravager type stuff. I would think a character like the 'green goliath' could achieve cosmic-level might by raging, but that would be quite exceptional. This gets rid of the D16 (which is an awkward 'die' that requires several dice to achieve). This separates worldly heroes from true cosmic threats. Here's a revised proposed Stat Block for Doc:

Doc Stalwart - Legendary Hero (D12); Hits 12; Move 30'

  • Might D12 (6); Mind D12 (6); Power D6 (3); Reflex D8 (4)
  • Armor (6); Flight (60'); Gadgeteer
  • Brawling (+1 to hit melee); Profession (Scientist +2); Grit (+2 Resolve); Charisma (+1 Popularity)

Comparative Stat Blocks

I have no idea what the new system would be called, but I have a pretty good idea of how it works. First, here's the stat block for Doc Stalwart in Stalwart Age...

Now, here's the initial proposed stat block for him in the new game:

Doc Stalwart - Legendary Hero (D16); Hits 16; Move 30'

  • Might D16 (8); Mind D16 (8); Power D8 (4); Reflex D10 (5)
  • Armor (8); Flight (60'); Gadgeteer
  • Brawling (+2 to hit); Profession (Scientist +2); Grit (+2 Resolve); Charisma (+2 Popularity)

A lot of things are packed into each ability. For example, he attacks with D16 (his tier die for being legendary) and deals D16 melee damage. He's also got D16 for popularity (for being legendary). He has 8 points to use to buy tags. He has static defenses of 5 vs. physical attacks (from reflex D10) and 8 from mental attacks (from his mind D16). However, he soaks the first 8 points from physical attacks (so bullets that deal D8 bounce right off of him - a machine gun D10 might scratch him if it rolls well). His hits seem really low, but the game has a mechanism that I first used in my wrestling RPG where you get knocked down but get back up again several times. You are not defeated at 0 hits - you just tag out of the fight for a round or two. This better emulates superhero action (since heroes are constantly getting knocked down, being out of the fight, and then leaping back in). Hits are the DV of your might + the DV of your tier (so 8+8 for Doc). This would mean a character like Twilight Archer (D10 tier and D6 Might) has 8 hits (and no armor - eek). He gets knocked down by Doc 50% of the time.

You can take multiple actions by taking a -1 die shift with each additional action; Doc can throw one punch rolling 1d16, 2 punches rolling 1d12 each, 3 punches rolling 1d10 each, 4 punches rolling 1d8 each... if he's fighting a bunch of mooks (evade of 2), he might try punching 4 per round, since he only misses on a 1. Against a foe with evade 5, he's probably not giving up too many dice... but if he has to run and pick something up, he's taking the -2 dice shift on his attack (each action uses a die rating).

By the way, a speedster mechanically works similar to Stalwart Age - Messenger (Power D20) gets 10 bonus actions each round; he can attack 11 times without taking a penalty, or use 10 actions to travel 1,000' each, meaning he can run up to 10,000' in 6 seconds. Unfortunately, his Might of 8 means that he only averages 4 points per punch, but he can quickly take out a room of mooks; against a foe with body armor 5, he's going to deal death by a thousand papercuts.  

I need an intervention - Supers Edition

It's the end of May, so my brain automatically shifts to game design mode. Just to be clear, I no longer design games to make money or get sales or get views or go viral. I write games because I cannot help it, and because my brain just keeps wanting to write them.

In many ways, I consider Stalwart Age about as strong as an entry as I could come up with for a low/medium crunch superhero system. In the same vein, I think Tales of the Splintered Realm is as strong of an adaptation of B/X as I could ever muster.

But then Hack'D & Slash'D caught me in its web of minimalistic game design. It can do everything that TSR can do, but in a much smaller space. It's faster. It's cleaner. It's simpler. I genuinely love it.

For years, I've toyed with ways to use various dice to represent characters in a supers RPG, and how this would scale. Somehow, this morning, the core of the system appeared in my head pretty much fully-formed, and after some quick brainstorming, I've framed up the bones of a ruleset. It is a supers system with a different mechanic through the lens of the minimalistic approach I have taken with Hack'D. I won't be suprirsed if the entire rulebook fits in 8 pages. 

Here's the elevator pitch...

Your character is built on four traits: Might, Mind, Power, Reflex. Your character belongs to a tier, which is structured the same way as the tiers for traits. 

Everything is rated on the same scale.

This scale includes a static value (SV), a die (giving a random result),

and a descriptor (indicating relative power of that value).

Sometimes, you use half your SV (rounded down).

Body Armor? It's the SV of your might.

Flight? Based on the SV of your Power.

Energy projection? Attack with your level die, do damage with your power die.

Lifting a ton? You need to roll 10 or better (so you need at least remarkable might);

lifting 100 tons has a target of 16, so you need to have at least D16 might to try.

You have hero points, a small pool of points to add to rolls.

Tier SV (1/2) Die Descriptor Scale

A 2 (1) D4 Poor Child

B 3 (1) D6 Average         Normal Human

C 4 (2) D8 Excellent         Street Level

D 5 (2) D10 Remarkable City Level

E 6 (3) D12 Incredible National Level

F 8 (4) D16 Monstrous Global Level

G 10 (5) D20 Supreme         Cosmic Level

I'll probably share my working draft sooner than later.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Splay - a 200 word RPG

I just discovered 200-word RPGs, and had to try one. Here's my kitchen-sink game, Splay (exactly 200 words). GURPS needed 200 books, but I only need 200 words. So THERE.

I like this a lot, because the game automatically scales to all power levels. If your game is cosmic superheroes doing cosmic-superhero things, then the challenges are relative to you. If you are military insects, then you're facing the kinds of challenges military insects would face. 

I presume you will be facing comparable challenges and traveling among comparable allies. There is an internal balance that comes from the scenarios, and nothing needs to be balanced against a larger background. The game doesn't have to balance Superman with Robin, because they just aren't in the same league at all. There's no point in trying.

If you are a wizard who wants to cast a spell to open a locked door, this is probably moderate. If you are trying to disintegrate a bridge, this is probably difficult (unless you are an apprentice, then you cannot try yet). I would think that players and GMs will quickly agree on what is the relative power of the setting and their characters, and make decisions from there.

Tomb of Myriad Horrors

The Tomb of Myriad Horrors is now available as a PWYW download (pro tip - you can choose to pay NOTHING. BWAHAHAHA). I went with a 'death by a thousand papercuts' sort of approach; very few things will kill your character outright ('no distegrations'), but everything will eat away at your soul. I like the slow grind of watching your character wither away with nothing you can do about it. The design should basically force you to slowly deal with the hopelessness of getting out alive. I also created 11 pregens, taking the starting characters from the core rules and advancing them to level 5. I envision even endgame characters as relatively 'item light', so even these characters are more 'LOTR' than 'D+D 5E' in terms of their power and items. They still rely heavily on their traits and tags.  

Making Things Harder

Here is a short snippet I'm adding to the Tomb of Myriad Horrors, and it's a game changer:

Note: Recovery of any kind does not work within the tomb. Healing spells will fail, and healing potions are inert. Spells cannot be recovered. Rest is useless; this place is utterly consumed with rot.

This changes the ENTIRE adventure. Now, I can scale the damage way back, and minor threats are really significant. ANY damage you suffer is a huge setback. You lose a point of mana? Uh oh. Hack'D, by design, makes it pretty easy to recover after an encounter is over. You can generally go from one encounter to the next relatively fresh. A trap that deals 10 hits may not seem like a big deal to a character with 35 hits, but is awful when there is no way to get those points back. That one change truly turns this adventure into the meat grinder it is supposed to be. Now, I don't have to do anything to the lich at the end - he doesn't need special things to make him extra difficult; the place, and the dangers the players face before getting to him, makes him difficult enough.