Friday, February 24, 2023

A Defense of Railroading

If that isn't a clickbaity blog post title, I don't know what is. Them's fightin' words in these here parts.

But hear me out. You can cancel me later (there's plenty of time), but at least read a bit first. I LOVE the idea of sandbox gaming as a romantic notion. I love that I could have an entirely blank canvas to explore, and I'm limited only by the collective imagination of everyone at the table, hemmed in by a few loose frames that the rules might put in place. I feel like seeking out an underwater nation? If I ask for it, the GM will probably comply. I can decide I'm going to the world's best library (if the GM doesn't know yet, a few dice rolls will tell them), and can set off to sift through ancient manuscripts. I can then charter a boat, or build one, or commandeer one, or seek out for the dark ship the Midnight Vagrant, attempting to become its captain. Because, why not? I can do ANYTHING.

It's amazing.

As a romantic notion.

But the reality, at least in my relatively limited experience, is crickets. Pause. Shrugs. 

Because players want agency, but they often have no idea what to do with it. And I know the counter argument to this - if you give the players a rich environment with meaningful choices, they are equipped to move forward. 

Again, in my experience, it doesn't happen. I've given you a two-page write-up of the seven forces at work in the city, and you are a young thief. Do you seek to align with one of these seven, to challenge them, or to set off on your own? Which of the ten wards do you head to (you have a list with ten places of interest in each). You can go to the town square and pick pockets, or try to get in on a back-alley game of dice. There are ten interesting folk at the inn you could interact with (I gave you a one-sentence description of each one). You also have four rumors you could follow up on.

Shrug. Scratch ear. Shrug again.

I've written before about how, IMHO, VERY limited restrictions make people more creative. When I tell my eighth grade students they can write ANYTHING at all, they stare at a blank page. When I tell them to write a fantasy story, they stare at a blank page. When I tell them to write ten lines of dialogue between two characters on an elevator, and one of them is seventy, and the other is twelve, and the twelve year old loves to say duck, and the old man thinks he is saying a naughty word, they get right to work.

They want choices. But the choices they want are within a really, really, really, really tiny framework.

The adventure I'm writing has player choice. You can pick up a piece of glass or a piece of pipe to fight the rat. You can explore the console first or the door. You can turn left or right. Simple choices. Binary opposition. That's it. There are a lot of locked doors, computers you cannot access yet, and places you cannot explore. It's a huge complex, but you don't get to see most of it (yet).

Because if you can go anywhere...

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Shards Stuff

I spent a few days mulling over how a space station might work as a larger play environment / megadungeon, and thought about how it could be used in a variety of ways. I want an environment that can:

  • Be revisited many times.
  • Serve as the foundation for an entire campaign / ongoing series of adventures.
  • Be used for one-off adventures.
  • Act as a launching point for campaigns that go in any direction.
  • Not just be the Death Star with the serial numbers filed off.

I think I've got something that works. Here's the elevator pitch:

When the Enteri faced extinction, they built an ark that would allow their species to survive. Scientists and pacifists by nature, they created a legion of bots to assist in the creation of this. Within their tallest peak, they built a massive laboratory that would survive their planet's collapse. It worked, and they spent decades floating in space, gather all manner of flora and fauna for preservation. However, their bots became corrupted and turned on them. Now, mad bots patrol its halls, strange creatures break from their binds, and the last remnants of the Enteri hide in the deep recesses of the complex, struggling for survival. 

I liked how work was going on material for Hack'D & Slash'D (with having a living online document as support), meaning that you can watch the design process in real time, if that's your jam.

Here's a link.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

A Megadungeon... In SPAAAACE

I am thinking Shards again recently, and I have the first issue of Dispatches from the Pale in final edits. It's a six-page supplement that expands the moon of Banquo's Maw in a similar way to how the core rules expanded Banquo's Tooth. It doesn't have a starter adventure yet, and I might want to add that and get the book to eight pages - it is six at present. I'll probably play with it for another week or so (I have this week off of school) and can then publish it.

However, I started to think of an adventure in a 'megadungeon' sort of environment. My first thought was a temple on a distant world with deep passages beneath, but that basically is just a regular megadungeon. This one should be more 'space' themed. I googled this and pretty quickly came upon a thread where someone talked about Moria on the Death Star, and that did it for me.

That's quite the elevator pitch.

The basic idea comes from my idea for the Citadel of Tomorrow in Doc Stalwart's world - it's a massive research center that had something go cataclysmically wrong. If this space station has been floating around for two hundred years collecting all sorts of crazy stuff from hundreds of worlds, then there's a clear in-game reason to have a wide range of encounters. If this is a just a ship from one race where something infected them (the bad guys got a fungus that made them all zombies), you have a pretty good environment. But... if the peaceful scientific folk were infested with that fungus, and the infected started opening all of the cages, and the uninfected survivors have quarantined themselves in an area where they are clinging to survival and their sanity, and a thousand strange creatures are roaming the halls... that sounds like a megadungeon. Throw in a few dozen MacGuffins they have collected over time, and this begins to work like a Megadungeon.

Sure, you can go in and try to explore the whole thing (good luck, kid), or you can enter airlock 47, traverse the third level concourse that has been overrun with spider-creatures from Alax, bypass the security systems for the vault, overcome the summoned void creatures that are also trying to get this item, recover it, and fight your way back out. This sounds more mega-dungeony to me.

It also allows me to create a 'monster manual' at the same time that details the various creatures throughout the planets of the Pale.

I'm going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of all of this. Sounds fun!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Thinking Shards

I keep thumbing through my softcover of Shards of Tomorrow and thinking. I keep seeing opportunities for expansion and adventure. I keep going back to my ideal of a monthly magazine (a la Dragon, of course) of game support material. I keep inching closer to something like that... in the interim, I drew an alien bounty hunter to see how my style is coming along. I love how it keeps getting cleaner and simpler. This guy might be on the 'cover' of whatever that is. Or not. I really have no way of knowing.


Saturday, February 11, 2023

Revisiting Shards of Tomorrow

I saw this morning that I had missed two questions on DriveThruRPG for Shards of Tomorrow, and I had to check the rulebook to answer the one question... and then I started paging through the book... and then I remembered what a fantastic game this is. I am far enough removed from it now to be able to look at it objectively, and it looks like a really fun game to play. 

The biggest takeaway was how much is packed into 48 pages. I kept turning pages and going "oh yeah - wow - this is cool". I remember reading an interview with Dave Sim late in his run on Cerebus where he said he would look back at issues from a few years earlier and think how he used to be better than he is now - he wishes he could draw like that (even though, of course, he still could - it is just that he was more critical of his current work, but could be more objective and therefore appreciative of older work). I had a similar response to the game - "wow, I don't write games like THIS anymore".

I mean, of course I do. I must. I'm still me. But still, it was great to have the reaction that the game was something I'd aspire to create, and then to realize that I did.

If this sounds like a lot of navel gazing and self-congratulations... well, maybe it is. But is also makes up for several decades of feeling like my work wasn't good enough and that maybe I didn't have what it takes.

I no longer feel that way. It's a good feeling.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Top Rope Wrestling RPG Now Available

It’s 1985. The Lord of the Squared Circle tournament. You’re backstage, taping up your wrists. Yeah, you’ve wrestled some independent house shows, but this is the big leagues. The International Wrestling League. IWL, baby. You just saw Assassin Ace pass through, and you’re pretty sure that was the Hangman headed out to the arena. The crowd cheers and you feel your pulse pounding. Mr. Ellis, the promoter, pats you on the back and tells you you’ll do great. You hear your theme music start. 

It’s go time.


Top Rope is a flexible, simple, straightforward wrestling RPG in 2 pages that lets you recreate 1980s-era pro wrestling using 1d6.

Come get some.

Top Rope Wrestling Game Resources

You can pick up a copy of the rules for Top Rope here.

Options and Plug-Ins Include:

Promotion Play. Promotion play is an extended 'campaign', where you build a promotion over time. See this separate document for a variety of options for promotion play.

Battle Royales. In a battle royale, all the wrestlers in the match are the ring at the same time. The goal is to throw wrestlers out. In general, wrestlers break into one-on-one matches within the battle. When a wrestler gets to stamina 0, another wrestler can try to throw him out of the ring. This requires a successful might check. If the check succeeds, the wrestler is thrown out. If this fails, the one who was almost ejected recovers 1 stamina and continues in the match.

Celebrity Matches. Sometimes for events, the promoter will get celebrities to team with existing talent. Often, this means teaming the celebrity with someone far more proficient and experienced. The celebrity is always built as a jobber, since they have only had a few weeks of training to prepare for the match. Most often, two experienced wrestlers team with two celebrities in a tag-team match; a celebrity must be the one to claim the pinfall against one of the wrestlers for the match to end. A celebrity match always draws x100 fans in Promotion play.

Elimination Tournaments. In such a tournament (typically 8 or 16 man tournaments), you recover 1 juice after each match; you have only so much juice to get to the end of the tournament. Elimination tournaments are often held for a new promotion to determine its initial champion.

Handicap Matches. Sometimes, a more capable wrestler will take on two lesser foes; a new wrestler to a promotion might take on two jobbers in a handicap match to try to build a reputation, or a tag team of lower-tier wrestlers may take on one of the upper-tier wrestlers. These are gimmick matches but tend to be popular. One side acts as a tag team, while the solo wrestler competes the whole time.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Numbers On My Mind

I am still working through the drafting process for Hack'D & Slash'D, and this morning started thinking about shifting all of the numbers down a bit. It started with thinking about 'common people' and minor monsters, and how a modifier of +0 was pretty reasonable for them. For a peasant to pick up his hoe and smack a monster that is attacking him with it is a pretty big ask. He's going to miss most of the time. He's going to hit it once in a while with a glancing blow. He's going to hit it good every so often. +0 reflects this. On a d12, he misses on a roll of 1-9. He hits on 10-11. He smacks it good on a 12. He has a 25% chance of hitting in combat, and 1 in 3 of those will be solid. If he has a little bit of training or skill, he increases this to 33%. If he has significant training and skill (+3), he has a 50% chance of success.

That's good.

Monsters reflect this. They are granted a default bonus equal to their level. This means that (if we were to convert monsters to characters), monsters are sequenced in this way:

  • Level 0 monsters have +0 to all abilities (so 0 character points).
  • Level 1 monsters have +1 to all abilities (6 character points).
  • Level 2 monsters have +2 to all abilities (12 character points).
  • Level 3 monsters have +3 to all abilities (18 character points).
  • Level 4 monsters have +4 to all abilities (24 character points).
  • Level 5 monsters have +5 to all abilities (30 character points).

Let's stop there. These numbers suggest a few things:

Monsters scale up quickly. There is a significant power difference between a level 2 and level 3 monster. They are 8% better at everything. Level 3 monsters have a 50% chance of success all the time. That's quite a bit.

Having PCs start with 20 character points is incredibly high. They don't have the hits, but they are effectively as powerful as level 3 monsters at level 1. This is way out of scale. Furthermore, since a 'normal person' is built on 0 points, they are scaled way beyond normal creatures. 

I can still allow characters to grow into bigger numbers but we can scale them back at level 1, and then grant +1 Character Point per level thereafter, to show this growth.

If I think of it this way, it makes more sense:

  • A commoner is built on 0-4 character points.
  • An exceptional normal is built on 5-9 character points.
  • A heroic character is built on 10+ character points.

If you are built on 10+ your level CPs, you have 11 CPs at level 1, and will have 16 by level 6. This means that monsters get more dangerous as you go. They are scaling differently. While you are about as capable as a level 2 monster when you are level 1, you will only be about as capable as a level 3 monster when you are level 5. 

It also means that having a +0 in an ability is not bad, it's just very average. I like that you only record exceptional abilities on your character sheet (if reason is +0, don't write it down). 

I am really, really okay with this. This also causes two other sets of numbers to change:

For heavy weapons, instead of defaulting to 1d12 for damage, you add might to damage; light weapons always deal 1d6, but heavy weapons deal 1d6+might. I'd prefer the guaranteed damage every time over the chance of getting a 12. Using two-handed then gives you +1 edge to damage.

For armor, we scale back to light armors (leather +1, studded +2) and heavy armors (chain +3, plate +4). This gives better scaling options for magic as well (so now magical spells that increase abilities and ratings don't potentially break the game as easily).

Based on all of this, here's my revised Arath (bear in mind I haven't done any official play testing for this game yet)... I can see him putting points in might, stamina, and persona as he grows (he's probably going to add a level or 2 of light mystic to become a paladin of sorts).

Arath, Stalwart Human Warrior 1
Armor +3; Hits 9; Greatsword (1d6+4)
Check level for second attack; Defender (+1 edge to armor checks)
Might +4; Persona +2; Reflex +2; Stamina +3
Chainmail (+3), Great Sword, Adventurer’s Pack, 6 gp

Friday, February 3, 2023

Arath the... Daring?

Making a character to do some play testing, and I decided to draw him up as I was creating stats for him. He seemed to be very familiar... and as I was finishing the drawing, I realized that he was pretty close to Dirk the Daring from Dragonslayer... I am going to chalk that up to either 1) great minds thinking alike, or - and far more likely - 2) the power of my subconscious.

So, here he is, Arath the ... not daring. Not at all. Decidedly un-daring.

Arath, Stalwart Human Warrior 1

Armor +4; Hits 9; Greatsword (1d12);

Check level for second attack

Intuition +2; Might +6; Reason +1;

Persona +4; Reflex +3; Stamina +4

Chainmail (+4), Great Sword, Adventurer’s Pack, 6 gp