Sunday, February 28, 2021

Deathtrap Games Rules Cyclopedia

 Announcing the Deathtrap Games Rules Cyclopedia

After the great response I enjoyed to my last article, I decided to put that list into a blog format. That way I can make use of the tags system to let users quickly search for rules by keyword or genre. This makes it easy to add and let's me be more consistent about keywords and Genres.

At the moment, it is a pretty bare-bones tool, but I hope eventually to have an index of open gaming engines and free RPGs that are easily pillaged for optional rules.

This is a casual side project, with no particular schedule. I will be posting uodates here as the project develops.

See it here. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

An Incomplete but Helpful List of Easily Ported Rules (WIP)

Image by Borkia from Pixabay

I have no idea what this little project is going to turn into... probably a searchable blog or database once I have gotten a little further into it. I wanted to list a series of optional rules I've run across in the Indie TTRPG scene that I find valuable, including where they can be found, what genres they might best be used in, and some keywords for playstyles.

This is going to be a living project where I add a few every once in awhile, and see how it evolves.

I will not include material I have seen presented as an optional rule in the core book of a current pooular TTRPG. For example, I do not include Advantage / Disadvantage because it is a rule in the core of D&D5e, and readily visible to anyone in the TTRPG community. This is meant to draw attention to options you might not have discovered. 

In each entry I have a "Find it In" section; this does not list the original appearance of the mechanic. Instead I list where I have seen interesting, innovative presentations of the mechanic. I give priority to games that are free, open culture, or at least have a downloadable quick start manual, or that cost less than $10. And I link to where the rules can be accessed most easily in my experience. 

I also have sample Keywords that cover descriptions of kind of feel or experience the mechanic supports. If a rule works well to make a campaign feel "Dark", then that is where I list it. This will let you easily use this list with the Poster Pitch tool I have presented in part one of my two-part guide to rules hacking. 

Likewise I have listed common genres of TTRPG that this specific rule will support well. 

I ask you for your feedback: Is this a project worth expanding and developing

An expanded, indexed blog version of this list is now avaliable 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

TTRPG Rules Hacking in Action

Image by PIR04D from Pixabay 

I thought it might be helpful to give an example of a rules hack I did last year that I was particularly proud of as a follow up to my four posts on rules hacking and customization. The previous ones are:

And I wrote my recent review of Blades in the Dark as a lead-in. 

Picture This... 

This is from an ICRPG Core 2e fantasy campaign I ran in 2020. It was, by this time approaching 140+ hours and 34 sessions into the game. 

The PCs are mercenaries hired by a merchant-prince to equip and train bronze-age shepherds with 14th century weapons and Armour so that they can defend themselves from an invading tribe of cannibalistic Demon worshippers who've built hidden war camps in the unsettled bush around the shepherds' lands. 

The PCs are leading a green militia on their first foray against one of the invaders' war camps. Just as they are an hour out from striking distance, their advance scouts learn that the encemped war-band is striking out towards a village about five hour's wak away., leaving only enough guards to keep the invaders' captives in line and prepare for the return. 

The PCs wait two hours then strike, letting a few escapees to alert the main enemy force of the attack. This gave the PCs several hours to prepare an ambush for the returning invaders. 

The PCs have significantly smaller numbers and mostly green recruits, but better technology and time to prepare. Not to mention tactical acumen & exotic magics. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Game Review: Blades in the Dark

Game Review : Blades in the Dark

"Blades in the Dark" cover
by John Harper ©2017 Evil Hat
: John Harper
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions & One-Seven Design
Marketplace: Amazon
Engine: Forged in the Dark

Blades in the Dark is a game about playing a gang of criminals in a gothic manapunk city called Doskvol. The city is stuck in a state of eternal night, haunted by ghosts, and surrounded by monster-infested wastes. The humans within the city use magical lightning weapons to defend the walls, which is generated by refining the magical blood of sea monsters (that also happens to be a highly addictive drug.)  The city is oppressively stratified; for many, a life of crime is the only way to get ahead that doesn't involve surrendering your freedom to the military or a ship's captain.

This is the first game to use the now stunningly popular Forged in the Dark engine. Other game using it include the scifi crime game Scum and Villainy and the Dark fantasy mercenary RPG Band of Blades.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Game System Hacking 101: pt.2

Image by FunkyFocus from Pixabay

This is part of my series on tweaking and modifying the rules of a TTRPG, or stealing and hacking in the rules of a another TTRPG into the one you want to play, in order to let you build the experience that you want. In the previous article I discussed why you might want to modify a system, how to create a rubric to determine what is a desirable mod, and how to figure out where the system can be made to better suit your aims. 

In this article I am going to show you how to get your hands dirty and actually alter rules in a smart, methodical way.  To do this, you should have a working understanding of the rule system you are using. And have an idea of how it plays. 

What Should I Hack?

Assessing Rules

If you have done the first few steps, you should have an idea of where your system of choice doesn't quite support your desired experience. Knowing roughly where the problem areas are is the key to choosing what to hack. The next step is to have a look at specific rules and looking at which ones could be changed to build a better experience.

For example, I decided, when planning my OSE game The Golden Heresy, that the binary setup that Old School Essentials through hit points didn't serve my purpose. Characters who are either ready to rock (at any hp total other than 0) or dead, just don't serve my aims. I want combat to leave a mark on a character. So this is a prime rule to alter or expand.

I also noted that the OSE's NPC reaction table doesn't really create a space for treachery and double-dealing in the way I like. It might be a hack worth considering as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Game System Hacking 101

So let's talk about the hows and whys of hacking a TTRPG system as a follow-up to my articles on finding the right system for the TTRPG experience that you want to create and why you might still want to modify the rules.  After I am done this article, I am going to give you a review of John Harper's masterful Blades in the Dark, and then I will go into fine detail about several rules hacks I have made borrowing ideas from it and plugging them into my standby: Index RPG Core 2e. Which will lead into the extreme version of rules hacking: building your own bespoke TTRPG.

Once I've done that, it is my hope that I can create an index of useful rules to hack and where to find them, as well as sharing another example of a hack in the form of the encumbrance system I created for my custom home rule set, AEr (previously discussed here and here).

So, Why not Play RAW?

Most TTRPGs are so deliberately open-ended and artfully vague that there really is no way to play "Rules as Written" to begin with. The Rules are there to provide a few mechanics to resolve problems, and expect that the GM will be able to extrapolate from those a fair way to adjudicate described layer actions. They can provide a frame, but no game system can even hope to be comprehensive.

Most of the more "crunchy" games out there offer they sheer volume of rules and content they do because they are trying to narrow the scope of the game to create on particular experience. For example: Dungeons & Dragons, as it was originally conceived, is a game about sneaking into mysterious and surreal labyrinths full of monsters to claim ancient treasures and magic powers. To make that work, they created specific rules, like experience points and levelling, designed o make players want to keep going back into the dungeon, and focus on getting treasure, not fighting monsters or seducing barmaids.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

... And What to Do When You Have Found It.

This is a follow-up to my previous article on learning systems in order to build the game experience that you are looking for. And I begin with a quote from one of the most seminal editions of Dungeons & Dragons:

"The D&D game has no rules, only rule suggestions. No rule is inviolate, particularly if a new or altered rule will encourage creativity and imagination. The important thing is to enjoy the adventure."

—Tom Moldvay, The Dungeons & Dragons
Fantasy Adventure Game Basic Rulebook

And a counterpoint:

"Because D&D allowed such freedom, because the work itself said so, because the initial batch of DMs were so imaginative and creative, because the rules wre incomplete, vague and often ambiguous, D&D has turned into a non-game. That is, there is so much variation between the way the game is played from region to region, state to state, area to area, and even from group to group within a metropolitan district, there is no continuity and little agreement as to just what the game is and how best to play it. Without destroying the imagination and individual creativity which go into a campaign, AD&D rectifies the shortcomings of D&D. There are few grey areas in AD&D, and there will be no question in the mind of participants as to what the game is and is all about. There is form and structure to AD&D, and any variation of these integral portions of the game will obviously make it something else."

—E. Gary Gygax, Dragon Magazine, Issue #26

There is a tension that has always been with TTRPGs between creating rules that can be studied, exploited, and mastered, and the need to keep rules light and flexible to facilitate narrative play. The whole point of introducing a referee to wargames in Stratego was to prevent the rules of the game from constraining the Player's strategic imagination, while still having more structure and challenge than a Freikriegspiel.

Image by Mikutano from Pixabay 
Without rules, a roleplaying game can feel arbitrary and unfair. The referee needs to have reasonable constraints. Having rules to interpret, rather than just a story to tell helps position the referee as an arbiter, rather than an adversary. With too many rules, a game can become dull and unimaginative. It rewards rule mastery and character builds over clever, immersive play.

Roleplaying Games walk a delicate balance between being a game and being a narrative exercise. Too much focus on one at the expense of another can break the immersion that makes the game enjoyable, or stray off into the land of "let's pretend" without challenges.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

What are You Looking For?

"Mirdon waits patiently for more Pacts & Blades"
Made with Hero Forge, used in accordance with the EULA

This Probably Sounds Familiar...

I hoping to help you figure out how to get what you are looking for in a TTRPG, by telling you how I figured that out for myself. This is vitally important to know if you really want to get the most of the time that you can afford to spend on this hobby.

 I played a fair variety of TTRPGs in my teen years: AD&D (both ed'ns), Palladium Fantasy, RIFTS, TMNT, After the Bomb, Robotech (Palladium veers.), Top Secret SI, Shadowrun, Aliens Adventure Game (Leadng Edge vers.), Cyberpunk 2020, Vampire: the Masquerade, Mage: the Ascension, and Thrash FFRPG

I wanted variety in my gaming experience, and I was very fortunate to have a group of friends with open minds and hungry imaginations; they were always interested in trying new things. They had no compunctions about trying new rules if it offered them a new experience. And I often had new players in and out of my group who were eager to learn.

My 20s was spent playing much more intimate games; I played with the same five people pretty much constantly. While they were interested in trying new games, it had to be a rare occurence, balanced with comfortable and familiar systems like Dungeons & Dragons 3e. During that time I did manage to get in some Shadowrun, some GURPS, and a little Call of Cthulhu d20, and Mage: The Awakening. But I as often found that if I tried to play a system that strayed too far from my players' comfort xone, they would quickly ask to shut it down, which is why I played only a small amount of Fate Core and only three sessions of Changeling: the Lost despite really liking the system, myself.

My 30s intensified this trend. My players locked themselves down to World of Darkness, Pathfinder, and Dungeons and Dragons 5e. I could no longer persuade players to try anything new. They had the games they liked, and that was that. No more experimenting with systems for me, thank you. As this carried on, I became deeply unsatisfied with the role-playing game hobby. I was not getting to experiment with new rulesets, and I had this creeping feeling like I was going nowhere as a GM.