Sunday, 20 January 2013

Generic Cyberpunk 2020 Bastard System: Fantasy Edition

For some reason today I got onto thinking about using the Cyberpunk 2020 system as a generic GURPS-esque system - I think I started off by wondering what system I would use for a fantasy cowboys sandbox thanks to watching Django Unchained yesterday, and it sort of snowballed from there.

Here is what I have so far. This is a fantasy/medieval history iteration, not a western one. I am posting it up here for comments and, if anybody really wants to, play testing. You'll need to have some knowledge of Cyberpunk 2020 to know what the fuck I'm talking about, but still.

The basic aim is to try to emulate the grittiness and danger of the Cyberpunk 2020 "Saturday Night Fire Fight" system, as well as the importance of armour and shields. The rationale is: if you are prepared for a fight, fully kitted out, you will be very tough to kill. If you are unprepared/unarmoured, you will die extremely quickly.

Character Generation

Default is to assign 60 points between the stats, but you could roll 9d10 and use the total instead. The 'Iron Man' system of character gen would be to roll a d10 for each stat in order, re-rolling 1s.

'Cool' is renamed 'Fortitude'.


As standard. Combat skills would include Brawling, Archery, Polearms, Slashing weapons, Bludgeoning weapons, Exotic weapons (for things like whips, nets, bolas, etc.).


Combat rules are as standard - d10+skill+REF. BTM modifiers apply for both attacker and defender. Hits are randomly assigned, also as standard. Following exceptions to main rules applies:

Damage reduction - all penetrating hits damage armour by SP1, but axes, pole-axes and maces always damage hard armour (i.e. plates) by SP1 irrespective of whether they penetrate.

Edged weapons are armour-piercing against soft armour (e.g. leather, hide, padded) - SP is halved.

Pole-axes, warhammers and military picks are armour piercing against hard armour - SP is halved.

Damage to head is doubled without a helm.

Shields work against all hits to arms, torso or head (though not to rear attacks), and are SP 14 (wooden) or SP 16 (metal). All hits to wooden shields reduce the shield's SP by 1. Shield users suffer a -3 modifier to hit when attacking. [Designer Note: The idea is that if you are fighting a shield-user, you're probably going to have to either wear down his resolve with repeated blows, outflank him, or go for the legs with a called shot at -4 to hit]

Sample armour SPs:

Hide/padded 4
Soft leather 5
Ring mail 10
Chain mail 12
Banded mail 12
Scale mail 14
Field plate 18
Full plate 20

Sample damage ratings:

Longsword 2d6
Two-handed sword 3d6
Battle axe 2d6
Mace 1d6+2
Pole-axe 1d6+3
Spear 1d6
Short sword 1d6
Dagger 1d3+1


Not thought about that yet.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

On Dwimmermount and Lateness

Things seem to have kicked off big time over Dwimmermount. (If that word means nothing to you and you are reading this blog, I would be extremely surprised, so forgive me for not going into the back story on this.) It's not my place to comment on the particulars, which I am not privy to, and it's certainly not my desire to stir shit in any sense, so I'll steer clear of making any sort of statement on the particulars.

But I will talk in generalities: I think Kickstarter is a nice idea, and I have backed some campaigns in the past, but I am highly suspicious of the legal nature of such projects and their likelihood of success. It's my view that a contribution to a Kickstarter should effectively be seen as a gamble, and contributors should only hand over as much money as they would be willing and able to part with for literally no return. A wise gambler only puts down as much money as he has to waste. The same should be true with a Kickstarter and the attitude to success should, as with gambling, be pleasant surprise, not expectation. It's my hope that the behaviour of contributors will come to reflect this.

Personally, as somebody with ambitions to create and distribute material for use in RPGs, I would never use such a campaign, for the simple fact that I know that I am rather feckless (my main character flaw - yes, I do have them, amazingly) and also often extremely busy. My ability to actually complete a project within an acceptable time frame is not high. It would therefore be irresponsible and negligent of me, to say the very least, to promise any completed product by a given deadline in return for punters' hard-earned cash.

Moreover, I am in general suspicious of quick fixes when it comes to creative endeavours. Good art (and yes, I consider game design an art) is produced because, fundamentally, the producer needs and wants to express something. It's not something that they do primarily to make a living, and it is something that they would be doing even if they were not being paid to do it, because they would enjoy it. If you were really going to be producing great stuff to use in games, you would be producing great stuff to use in games anyway, Kickstarter or not. So, then, why would you need a Kickstarter in the first place? (The only possible answer is "To finance art and layout", to which my only response would be, "Did Gygax and Arneson give a shit about art and layout?")

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Running the Rule Over Rulings and Rules

There was a huge hullabaloo on recently on the desirability of rulings versus rules. To create a synopsis on this strange controversy: there are some people who object to the idea of the GM making rulings, because that is too much like the GM making things up as he goes along based on his subjective judgements, and is consequently unpredictable and open to abuse. There are others who like the idea of the GM making rulings, because it is quick and easy, masses of rules covering all eventualities do not have to be memorised, and it allows the GM to be flexible and respond using his own understanding of his own game and how he wants it to be.

I fall into the latter camp. But what rarely gets mentioned in these sort of debates is that all it is really is fiddling around the margins: even in the most rules-heavy games, the vast majority of the GM's work is composed of making rulings.

Firstly, outside of the specialized and strictured arena of combat, even if the GM is applying a rule mechanic, the means by which he applies that rule mechanic is almost always discretionary. For example, in most skill-based games, the GM provides a numerical difficulty rating which the player has to beat - but since the rule book will not be able to give anything more than a few examples to provide guidance in what that difficulty rating should be for a given task, that rating will ultimately come down to the GM's own judgement: it is, in effect, a ruling, albeit a guided one. Many mechanics in RPGs have this character, when you think about it.

Secondly, once you get away from skill checks and similar, much of what happens in a typical RPG session is effectively at the GM's discretion, though it is not commonly given the title "ruling". For instance, when the adventurers go and visit the Frog King in his throne room and enter into negotiations with him, how does he react to what they say? If the game includes a reaction-dice style mechanic and his reaction is "unfriendly", how does that unfriendliness manifest itself? What does the Frog King think of the PCs - will he try to manipulate them? Threaten them? How cunning is he? These decisions that the GM has to make are all functionally identical to rulings, even though though he probably does not think of them in those terms.

Likewise, in a fight with a group of kobolds, how do the kobolds strategise? How do they choose their targets for ranged attacks? What does Kobold 3 do this round? Does Kobold 4 run to get help, or throw a javelin at the party's magic user? Again, these decisions are functionally identical to rulings: they are down to the individual GM's judgement.

It will ever be thus. In most modern legal systems, especially in common law jurisdictions, judges have a great deal of discretion in how they apply the law. Terms of art such as "reasonableness", "proportionality", and "balance of probabilities" are everywhere; when a provision in a piece of legislation requires that an action be "reasonable", it is down to individual judges to determine the meaning of reasonableness in a given context - to make a ruling - albeit often with guidance. Legal systems recognise the importance of this approach, because it is not possible to write laws which will cover every eventuality and always be so reliable and accurate that they can simply be applied robotically whatever the situation.

The same is true of rules and rulings in RPGs: no matter how comprehensive a set of rules can be, the number of eventualities they can actually cover will be vanishingly small. It is not possible, for instance, to draw up a set of rules to cover precise niceties of social interaction - "If the players say x, the monster says y" - and this is why social interaction is basically an exercise in the making of rulings. Similarly, it is not possible to draw up a set of rules to cover all potential combat tactics - "If x, a kobold will do y" - and this is why the decision-making of NPCs in combat is an exercise in the making of rulings.

The great majority of what a GM does in any given session, then, is ruling. It seems quite plain that the only course of action, in light of these circumstances, is not to attempt to develop comprehensive rule systems (a quixotic goal), but to create games which teach novice GMs how to make rulings effectively.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

On Removing Ability Scores

When he wants to, Kent can really write. I mean really write. I read this with a great deal of interest, because it chimed with something I've been thinking about recently: removing ability scores. Scott, in the comments, talks about the same thing.

What are ability scores for? I use them for two things: sometimes, a rough and ready saving-throw equivalent where necessary ("roll under your DEX to see if you fall off the tight rope or not") and a way to envision my character in my own mind, physically and mentally (this also, I suppose, includes selecting a class).

Are either of these things necessary? Not in the slightest. Whether a character achieves a task can just as easily be determined by the DM telling him to roll a d6 and achieve a certain result based on what the DM knows about the character and the situation. And envisioning a character should surely be possible with or without stats.

However, it must be said that there is something in the random generation of stats which makes the character creation process really shine. I love having a blank character sheet and rolling dice and seeing what comes up. It sets the mind racing with creativity and promise. There is something almost primevally powerful about the way an actual living being seems to come fully formed from the ether thanks to a few d6s.

Replicating this process without stats is difficult: randomly generating a class seems the obvious choice, but it is not as satisfying in anything like the same way. Nonetheless, I think I am faced with the proposition that stats may in fact be of primary use as a process rather than as a mechanic or rule. There is, in fact, a huge amount of discourse in my field on the value of law as a process rather than a series of rules; to my eye, it seems that much could be said of RPGs, although that may require elaboration in a future post when I am not full of cold, exhaustion and red wine.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

On Economic Factors and Play Styles

I was thinking earlier on about AD&D 2nd edition, which is the iteration of D&D I probably played the most during my formative years. It occurred to me that for a long time the only books I had were the DMG and the Monstrous Manual. I was only about 12, and didn't have a part time job, and my pocket money was at most about £5 a week, and the money I did have was being mostly spent on Warhammer plastic skeletons, so I couldn't afford the PHB. I just ran games using the classes from Red Box Basic and tried to guess at what the abilities of rangers and paladins were; likewise, we just cribbed the combat rules from the Red Box.

So from the very start, I've been used to house ruling and coming up with decisions on the fly. There was no question of playing the rules as written because we didn't know what they were.

Without trying to sound too much like a grumpy old fart from Yorkshire, kids nowadays probably don't experience that kind of making-do mentality that we had to put up with, because kids nowadays tend to want for much less than people of my generation did (which is of course more true the further back you go).

I wonder if, then, there is a partial economic explanation for the fact that "DIY D&D" (rather than complete and all encompassing rule systems like 3rd and 4th edition) is so popular with those who are somewhat older, above and beyond the obvious notion that it is based on nostalgia and familiarity.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

On Rudeness and Play Styles

Beedo wrote an interesting post yesterday on the need for DMs to have good social skills. He focuses on negotiation and willingness to adapt, and to discuss potential problems. All eminently sensible. I found this paragraph of particular note:

I've had a few irksome situations in recent memory, cementing my tenet that a DM needs to be able to talk to headache players, ie, confront the mismatch head on.  I've had the guy that wanted to treat the scripted, linear adventure path as an extreme sandbox, blatantly ignoring agreed-upon "missions" to hi-jack the sessions.  I've had the guy that insisted the only character he wanted to play was that neutral evil half-orc assassin, who promptly started messing with the other players as easier sources of XP than the dungeon.  I've had the guy that thought old school exploration was a quaint and interesting throwback to the ancient times; real D&D involved a fully laid out miniatures battle mat, with both sides set up on the table ahead of game time, so the session could always start with the first combat.

Which made me think - yes, I agree that DM needs to be able to talk to headache players, but at the same time, isn't part of being an adult adapting and compromising on what you in particular want or need out of a given situation?

My favourite types of game are sandboxy, objectively GMed, and entirely open-ended, but if I'm with a group who are all into heavily plotted campaigns and want to play a supers game, I'm going to do my best to take that seriously and fit in with what they want. Isn't that just good manners?

One of the biggest geek social fallacies that I seem to come across, again and again, is this idea that it is your job to try to make everybody happy all the time by giving them what they want. No: being an adult is about compromising in the name of the greater good, and in role playing games that includes players as well as GMs. Beedo is right that it is important for the DM to be able to tackle headache players, but in the broader context, why on earth should he have to?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Gaming Year

Games Played

Rules Cyclopedia D&D
Cyberpunk 2020
Blood & Honor
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Lady Blackbird
In A Wicked Age
Murderous Ghosts

Games Bought

Apocalypse World
Cyberspace (literally bought yesterday, in fact)
Palladium Fantasy 1st Edition
Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition

Games I've Wanted to Run But Didn't Have Time to

Changeling: The Dreaming
Call of Cthulhu

Least Fun Game of the Year

Diaspora. I just didn't "grok" it (as I believe the kids would put it).

Most Fun Game of the Year

Actually, it was probably the one-shot of Risus we played. The Cyberpunk 2020 campaign was fun and extremely unlike how a Cyberpunk 2020 game really should be (it mostly involved impromptu DJing in inappropriate circumstances). And there were some great moments in the Rules Cyclopedia and LotFP games because, well, D&D always has great moments.