Friday, 27 April 2012


I love Kickstarter. I think that the model for supporting creative endeavours is great. I've supported a few projects since I really got taken with the concept last autumn, and two of them so far have been tabletop games. These games have both been funded now, and I'm waiting on the rewards. While I wait, let me share them with you!

Avarice Industries - project link - homepage
I really liked the concept of this, of industrial espionage, corporate villains and being able to manufacture anything that you can dream of. Sounds a little bit vague, right? Reading a sample of actual play clinched it for me and helped me to stump up the cash:
Tasha: She doesn’t have to be home for us to take back what’s rightfully ours. (Bridget, I reach into one of the many pockets on my tiered skirt and pull out my auto-pick.)
Luke: (Hah. I still love your “Skirt of Many Pockets.” I also still can’t believe you fit a crowbar in one of those things.)
Tasha: (It’s easy when each pocket is really a pocket dimension. I paid out of my nose for it though.)
Nelson: Oh come on! Everyone on this floor is going to hear a gunshot! Do you really want to pay off the police YET AGAIN?
Luke: (I pull out my ballpoint pen.)
Nelson: Oh… well… um… how’s a pen going to help us out?
Luke: (I take the pen and ruthlessly jam it into the lock.)
Bridget (GM): ….really?
It sounded like it would be right up my street (and that of the people I play with) in terms of providing opportunities to think really outside of the box. My rules pdf could arrive any time in the next week or so!

Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack - project link - homepage (eventually, just a holding pattern for now)
This one instantly appealed to me, partly because of the Vincent Baker connection, but mostly because you build mechs out of Lego and then fight other people. I mean, how cool is that??? It'll take me a little longer to get going with this, partly because it's not as simple as printing off some character sheets (buying Lego pieces and building mechs will take time), but it will be worth it I am sure. The game is based on Mechaton, which I already have - so in principle I could be giving that a go now - but is expanded from that with a whole setting and added rules. I have a dream that by the year's end I'll have had some people over for the afternoon, some pizza and some robot-destroying war action.

Honourary mention for Everything is Dolphins, which I almost supported and then forgot what day it was finishing. D'oh!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Games Night Supplemental

Rather than edit my last post, I just wanted to add two points that were really good about the house rules last night IMO. These both came via Patrick who was GMing.

First was our equipment; I've mentioned before, and Patrick has too, this idea of using a certain number of syllables to generate your equipment. Last night he tied it into a person's Charisma stat, which seemed to work really well I think. My Charisma of 11 was enough to get me
  • Long knife
  • Blow gun
  • Cloak
  • Kit bag
  • Specialist tools
I.e., whatever a person who was escaping from a sinking ship might actually have on them (their most valuable and useful possessions and nothing more).

Second was the rules for unmemorised magic that I did mention in the AP post. The magic user had their one Level 1 spell as normal, which they could use as and when they wished, but then had the option of trying to perform "unmemorised magic" - it may work, it may not, you might get the magic missile that you want or you might cause your hands to turn to cheese. Using 2d6 plus a person's Intelligence modifier gave a fast and useful way to keep the magic user pivotal, but not overpowered. With a modifier of +1, as my nephew had last night, the character has about a 28% chance of total success, and still has a pretty good chance of getting a lesser success (getting the desired outcome but also something unfortunate happens). Not too powerful, but powerful enough to really help turn the tide.

Patrick showed me these rules a few months ago, and I thought they were great at the time - especially with the section full of names for what a person is as a magic user - Magician, Wizard, Incantrix, etc.

Games Night: Isle of the Unknown

I was supposed to be away for work this week, and so there was no regular games night set up. Instead Patrick suggested that I join in a game he was hoping to run using Lamentations of the Flame Princess as the system and Isle of the Unknown as the source material. A few people were supposed to join us at our regular haunt, but they didn't turn up; fortunately my nephew and a friend of his were there and joined me as fellow shipwreck/piracy victims on a mysterious island...

As I say on my Games I Have Played page, I've only played D&D once really. I enjoyed it, but didn't get a great feel for the game. Patrick said that LotFP is very much like D&D - all I know is that it was great fun as a system, fast and intuitive. I think that the game does require a mindshift from other things that I've played more recently, as your survival chances are pretty slim as a Level 1 anything. The ten skills that start with a 1 in 6 chance of working whenever you use them makes "good ideas" have to be great ideas to stand any chance of working (in some ways you want to minimise the dice roll). As a Specialist, my character class meant that I could add an extra four points in those, so upped the odds in some skills. Sneak Attack worked beautifully. Seeing as I ended up in negative hit points after a failed Stealth roll, perhaps I should have assigned the points differently, but no matter.

Very different though from Cyberpunk, where hurried thinking easily leads to loss of life, and Apocalypse World where the focus on story leads to a level of flexible harm.

Isle of the Unknown is a great setting, and Patrick GMed it really well. He had told me about it some time ago - he was looking for a way to randomise the different island hexes - and that was one of the first things that got me thinking about the relationship between maths and RPGs. The random element lead us on a merry dance, negotiating with slime bear-worshipping goblins, sneak attacking mine owners (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and then holding out in a mine office building against two dozen lizard men, their warlord and a shaman.

We really pulled something together - or so it felt - in that last stand setting. My Specialist - Charley Shortbread, best random character name ever - had the idea to throw lanterns full of oil at the shaman and the warlord while they were outside (which lead to the shaman being killed before he could get a spell off). And then we barricaded ourselves at the top of some stairs to bottleneck the lizardmen attacking us. A supply of pick-axes that were thrown picked some off, and then our magic-user read Patrick's house rules for unmemorised magic (hacked from Apocalypse World) and started casting Sleep like a madman (two failed rolls lead to him being cursed by a storm cloud and cursed to always talk about the moon in every sentence). Our fighter kept the barricade and distraction going, while I tried to sneak out and Sneak Attack the warlord... Which is how I ended up lying in a pool of my own blood. The magic-user cast one final great Sleep spell and all the lizards went down. Close scene with me being put to bed to recover...

All in all a great night!

Memorable Exchanges from Games Night
Me: "Does throwing a lantern count as a Sneak Attack?"
Patrick (DM): "Only the first time - and the burning oil doesn't get the damage multiplier!"
Me: "Awww..."

Patrick: "Why would you do that, why would you stab the mine owner in the back of the neck when he had just finished offering you a job?"
Me: "I'm Lawful!"
Patrick: "...What???"

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Wicked Wednesday

I'm really looking forward to the next time that I GM or play In A Wicked Age. I love how easy it is to set up, but also want to add some spice in terms of strengths for NPCs, and that takes a fair bit of thought at the start of a session, at a time when you just want to get things going.

I'm working on a random table of 36 strengths. Some are skills, some are really special powers. I'll put a few of them up week-by-week. If you have any more suggestions please let me know in the comments!

Bare Knuckle - the warrior monks trained you in the arts of weaponless combat.
There's a lot of flexibility in terms of style here, but you can't be wielding a weapon of any kind.
PCs use with violence; NPCs use action.

Bind Dead - you can command wandering souls, and even reanimated bodies to be bound to a location, an object - even another person.
You have a collection of talismans and must speak words of power while having a clear perception of who/what you are binding.
PCs use for others; NPCs use action.

Burn - basic pyromagic, controlling already extant fire (growing, subduing, shaping).
To command the destructive element a pyro-mage uses hand gestures and concentration.
PCs use directly; NPCs use action.

Charm - tactile hypnosis grants a subtle power of suggestion over a subject.
Skin-to-skin contact and a clear thought to sway the subject (you have to try and make them feel like it is their idea).
PCs use covertly; NPCs use maneuvering.

Heal - your hands can stir up the force of life and healing in an injured person. You are, quite simply, a lifesaver.
You need time, space and no interruptions. Positive results restore an injured or exhausted person. (the person you are attempting to save will roll covertly and for themselves AGAINST you; you might be trying to save them, but it is an intrusion into their body and sense of self to do so)
PCs act for others; NPCs use maneuvering.

Phase - your body is bound together by your mind, and you can shift the density to pass through or allow objects to pass through you.
A rare focusing crystal embedded in your chest gives you all that you need. It would be awful if it were to break...
PCs act for themselves. NPCs use maneuvering.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Ammo Maths

Almost as soon as I posted Tracking Ammo it dawned on me that an obvious series of questions arises:
  • If I find a handgun with a 5 rating, what's the likelihood that I will get at least ten shots from it?
  • If I have a shotgun with a rating of 3, how many shots am I likely to get from it?
More generally:
  • If I have a gun with a rating of X, what is the probability, p,  that I get N shots from it?
  • If I have a gun with a rating of Y, how many shots, Z, am I likely to get from it?
These questions are all inter-related, so a bit of thought on one or the other will start to get some answers. I'll have a think and get back to you over the coming days.

Tracking Ammo

I've been throwing ideas around for a zombie game for ages, ever since I heard of All Flesh Must Be Eaten but was too cheap to buy it.

I circle around hacking games that I already know about - Risus, In A Wicked Age, Apocalypse World - and would want to use Liverpool as a setting because (a) that's where I live, and (b) I think it would be neat to have big city centre maps that get updated over time to show what has happened where - where there are road blocks, where other survivors might be etc. I'm still testing ideas out on paper with different systems, and aim to share these as time goes on.

Anyway, that's all preamble. The thing that I want to share is an ammo tracking mechanism. I thought it might be a nice halfway house between the "infinite ammo until you really fail a roll" that I have experienced in Apocalypse World and the "track every single bullet you fire" of Cyberpunk.

(not that there is anything wrong with either of these, of course)

Ammo is by default very rare. A gun has a rating from 0 to 6. After each time a character fires their gun (by whatever in-game mechanism that has) they roll a d6:
  • If they roll higher than or equal to their current rating, they reduce their rating by 1.
  • If they roll less than their current rating they stay on that rating.
So, if a person starts with a 6 their clip/magazine etc is effectively full. As time goes on, after every roll they make, the chances are that they are going to have less and less ammo in their gun. When the rating gets down to 1 they know that the very next time they shoot the gun it will be out of ammo.

I think that this mirrors the way that hit points and damage were presented to me in the past: when you have only lost one hit point, that's like a scratch or a graze; when you're down to less than a quarter you could be in serious trouble. In the same way with ammo, on a 4 you have let some shots off but you're alright; if you're in a pitched battle and your shotgun has a 2 rating you had best find a way out of the danger zone.

Anyway, I'm sharing this for a reason: what do you think? Any thoughts? Any tweaks?

Monday, 23 April 2012

Games Night: To The Stars/IAWA

Before I went on holiday I GMed a hacked together version of In A Wicked Age set within the shared game universe that our gaming group have put together, To The Stars. The setting for all of this is Zero Point Way Station, a giant space habitat that sits right at the very edge of the solar system in the Oort Cloud. While I didn't have time to write this up two weeks ago and post about it, I did make plenty of notes on my phone the next day while I was waiting for my flight to Spain.

After running In A Wicked Age previously, I knew that I had to think about preparation a little more. In that respect, I think that I did well by producing a list of names (mostly populated by the names of space scientists via Wikipedia), and also by manually writing out the six combinations of NPC form dice, just to make things neater.

The Oracle for the game was something that the four people in our regular group put together, each of us taking a suit and writing thirteen game seeds. It was a really great set of things, and there were so many provocative images and ideas that I could see it really being quite a valuable little resource. I might ask the others and see what they think about me putting a simple pdf up. For the purposes of that particular session we decided to fudge things ever so slightly to make sure that we used one card from each person's suit.

The four seeds were
  • A brave rogue, dared by friends to attempt the circumnavigation of the station.
  • A gardener tends megafauna in enclosed biomes under the light from an artificial sun.
  • Four old men plotting abduction.
  • News of a predator stalking the Undercyst reaches a princeling looking for a challenge.
From these we got the three player-characters:
  • Hyatt-Wang, a two-headed philosopher trying to keep knowledge secret;
  • Krupp, an old man plotting to kidnap Hyatt-Wang with three other old men;
  • Janus, a lovable rogue who is trying to circumnavigate Zero Point;
and a host of others including the mayor of the Undercyst; Ecumenides, a massive Amazonian woman who wants Hyatt-Wang for a husband; Scorsese, an uplifted-velociraptor and shepherd to giant land squid; and Stross, Roth and Falken, the other three old men who want to kidnap Hyatt-Wang for their own purposes.

It's safe to say that nothing happened as any of us planned. PCs seemed perpetually at loggerheads with each other. I think that at times I was too vague with foreshadowing, and at others I gave descriptions that I thought were really clear, but which clearly (after the fact) weren't. Still, second time GMing and all that!

Two things: first, in the final moments of gameplay all three players finally got on to the "Owe" list for the game, which means that all three of them could potentially come back as characters in a future game of Tales From Zero Point (he calls it, not having a better name in mind). This was interesting, as it was something which didn't come up at all in the first game of In A Wicked Age that I ran; it seemed like the PCs were rolling against lower dice throughout, until the very end.

Secondly, while we all had a much better handle on the dice mechanic for resolving things this time, it also felt at times like the mechanic was a bit hit-and-miss. That's not to say that some intriguing stuff didn't happen with the dice-leading-to-story aspect of things. I guess there were two areas where it didn't feel quite right. In the third round of rolling the player with the high roll automatically wins. I can understand there needing to be some kind of cutoff point, but in some cases this felt a bit flat.

Another thing was there not seeming to be a good way of rolling for things which were not due to interaction between characters. If a PC is trying to stab someone, that's a roll of (say) with violence and for myself against (say) NPC self-protection. If a PC is trying to use their knife to pick a lock... What do you do? Do you always let them have it, make them roll some way, flip a coin, have "environment dice" that they are rolling against? What works best? More importantly, what would be simple, clear and consistent?

All-in-all, a great session; I'm looking forward to the next time that I can GM something, and hope that we get back to Tales From Zero Point at some point in the not too distant future. I'm still noodling on various things related to the maths and probabilities of the dice mechanic of In A Wicked Age. When working on it before my holiday some results jumped out at me, so I'm hoping that I can take those and forge on with getting some numbers for the maths side of the blog.


As well as work getting busier, I also went on holiday last week; which meant no Games Night for one thing, and no internet access for the most part either (because I purposefully didn't take my tablet PC). But all of this did allow me time to get a lot of thoughts and notes down from various games I've had whirling in my head, and even some which I had no idea about until I was away for a while.

In the coming weeks, while work will be busy, you can still expect more random game ideas, hacks, settings and oddities. Plus Games Night this week should be really interesting, as I'm going along to my first proper OD&D session, and probably playing with some new people too.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Down Time

Things are getting busy, just when I have things I want to say! Lots of work on soon, so regular posting is paused, but will resume in a few weeks or so. Expect more game ideas, a bringing together of various ideas on dice rolling and the maths of it, an Oracle that we used just last night when playing our hacked version of In A Wicked Age, and hopefully (when I've worked out all the kinks) an original one-/two-page game that I might try and give a go later in the year.

Back soon!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Tuesday Night's Stats Lesson

GHOST/ECHO was pretty amazing on Tuesday night, another great example of a wonderfully complex story being built up from simple pieces collaboratively. That was one of two amazing things that happened on Tuesday.

The second was when someone (I feel like I should protect his identity) rolled three d6s and said, "Wow, look at that!" He had rolled three 6s. Which is quite amazing - but more amazing was the comment that followed next from him: "There's only a 1 in 18 chance of that."

My head snapped around like Linda Blair. "Whaaaaaat?!" I cried. "1 in 18? 1 in 18?!!!"

"What? What's wrong?"

Sigh. What do they teach people these days?

If two (or more) events are independent - meaning that one has no bearing at all on the other (and vice versa) - then we can take the probabilities of these two events and simply multiply them together. So if we had a coin and a d6, and wanted to know the probability that upon flipping and rolling them we got a Head and a 5, we would take the two probabilities (1/2 and 1/6 respectively) and multiply them together to give us 1/12. Job done.

The same holds true in this case for our three 6s. For all intents and purposes we can assume that they do not affect each other. So rolling three 6s is (1/6) times (1/6) times (1/6) or 1/216 in total. If you're a percentage kind of person that means there's slightly less than a 0.05% chance of rolling three 6s. 1 in 18 is around 5.5%.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Games Night: GHOST/ECHO

noisms has already beat me to writing about games night, where we played GHOST/ECHO. GHOST/ECHO is really stripped down, which is pretty freeing I think. We were using it as part of our shared universe that we generated with Microscope, and were playing it as a one-shot in just one of the events that we had determined.
'Blueprints' for Zero Point Way Station stolen by spies
GHOST/ECHO works by giving provocative words - names for PCs like Coil, Demon, Grip, names for places like Heartbreak Square, Echo Park, and names for 'Wraiths' (enemies) like Dogs, Spiders, Hawks - as jumping on points, and a really simple but deep dice mechanic (more on that in a moment). The names really worked well as the provocations for an interesting world, that just kept building up around us. We "knew" some things already, there was a hint of what kind of tech level the world was at (from our Microscope play), and the rest just came along as we encountered it.

I really liked the concept of the "Ghost World" that we came up with ultimately: a globally persistent augmented reality that had been partially corrupted, somehow infected and then abandoned. People still went there (we went in to look at a dead letter drop) and it was safe from snooping because any sane person would stay out, lest whatever does exist in there should hunt you down. Quite a chilling place. I'd be interested in playing another round of something where that was a part of proceedings.
The dice mechanic for GHOST/ECHO works like this: in any situation where you roll dice, you have your Goal and a possible Danger - kill someone and take damage, hack someone's brain and suffer neural feedback, etc. You roll two d6s, high is good, and then you choose where you assign each die: so if you roll two 6s then you have your goal and avoid the danger.

But say you are in a knife fight with a street-thief: you roll your dice, and get a 6 and a 2. What do you do? Do you stab the guy in the throat (6) but suffer an injury yourself (2), or do you fumble shivving the guy (2) but manage to dodge his blade (6)? It's an interesting mechanism, almost like compounding the "what do you do?" of Apocalypse World - the GM asks you "what do you do?" to state your intentions, but also "what do you do?" when you get the result of a roll. This is a pretty neat mechanic, and means that you can avoid stats and everything. It's not about how strong you are, how tough you are or how dexterous.

Another great thing from the table last night: Patrick, at the start of the game gave us ten syllables to describe the equipment that our characters have. I will have to remember that for future games.

Next Games Night: a story from Zero Point Way Station, another one-shot, generated by an In A Wicked Age style Oracle. And I'm GMing!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Two Game Ideas

These are just the seeds of things that I was thinking about over the weekend. Maybe there is something interesting in these; maybe not. I am not sure where they might lead, I'm just trying to capture them somewhere.

Smiley Faces
Law enforcement in a dystopian future where everyone is supposed to be happy. What if there was crime? What crime would people commit? Who might criminals be? What would they gain? And what would law enforcement professionals be like?
I see this as an Oracle-starting game, it's all about the storytelling, filling in the blanks from both players and GM. The dice mechanic should be there to add some spice to things, so that events can go badly sometimes. In principle, I want to see other ways of negotiation dice/player negotiation to resolve things.
There might be a system out there already which would just natively support this.

Starts on a Spaceship
Make it as big or as small as you like. The players are senior crew. What are their positions? What are their responsibilities? (perhaps they don't have a command structure in the same way that, say, Starfleet does)
After twenty minutes of routine shipboard stuff, minor engineering stuff, maybe crew command decisions, the ship is hit by something. Something big. What do you do?
Does the ship crash? Does it reach that small planetoid? The captain is dead. ("HE'S DEAD JIM!") What do you do?
The ship reaches the moon, most of the crew are dead. The engines are fused metal and crystals. Scans of the planet were strange. Possible signs of native intelligence. What do you do?
The ship doesn't reach the moon, and is adrift, venting atmosphere. The captain is dead. ("I'M A DOCTOR NOT THE MESSIAH!") What do you do?
There are strange noises/scans coming from the section of the ship that was hit/Lt Redshirt didn't come back from the perimeter patrol. What do you do?
More importantly: how are you going to get back to civilisation?

The second hints at possible undiscovered life etc, but perhaps it might be interesting to do it as an ultra-hard sci-fi, where it is all about the decisions and consequences of humans in the void.