Cyberpunk: Snapshot of a run (short fiction)

The security guard is too slow. My head slams into his nose with full force. I watch him going down.
Over by the tree of life sits the monkey man, high up on a branch. From time to time he throws stones into the crowd. Only that the stones are actually electric shock grenades.
The rapid fire pistol staples an arched line into the synthplast of the wall, hacking the solo’s arm in half. But he is so full of adrenaline boosters that he just grunts furiously.
As I quietly let the body of the guard slide to the ground, I notice movement behind me. With both hands, I grab the Ruger of the unconscious man. He’s still holding it in his hand. Point the barrel next to me backwards and pull the trigger. Bam. A body falls. Bam. The howling in my ears is unbearable. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. I feel the empty click of the pistol. Only then I turn around.
Good man, the Swede. However, it is strange that his icebreaker is so intelligent. Almost too intelligent. I focus on the scene in front of me again and hope the other two solos are good enough to protect me. The corporate ice looks like a shoulder-high Great Dane.
The monkey man is climbing out of the treetop with his head down. His face a white bloodless mask, his body 80 kilos lab-bred sinewy power. The veins in his arms look like finger-thick cables. When suddenly a company guard appears in front of him, holding a Taser, monkey man lifts his hands. His grin exposes filed canines. Then he leaps. He doesn’t bother to push the guard’s Taser to the side because he knows he’s much faster. Something snaps and the guard’s body falls to the side. The man’s head is looking backwards.
I see the solos engaging around me. The Great Dane stares at me. On its collar the name of the corp. I jack the Swede’s icebreaker all the way up, empty my memory and stretch out my hand to the program. Sparks are dancing on the palm of my hand. The Great Dane sniffs it. I see how one of the street samurai shoots a company guard into a bloody heap. Time to get out of here. The Great Dane is still staring at me. Then it wags its tail and dissolves into pixels that form a three-dimensional image of a computer disk from the 20th century. I take it. Finally.

Free kriegsspiel: Bloodstone

Over on the Discord Into the Odd server, Wizard Lizard and I are exchanging ideas of how to make free kriegsspiel and/or proto-rpg even cooler. Since we both are fans of Warhammer (the setting, not the system), we thought of ways to make violent fights really, really memorable and, well, messy. Warhammer is not exactly like OD&D in this respect. The interesting thing is, of course, you can use this system without the optional ‘Gore Die’ rule and play regular elfgames and science fiction stuff with, as well.

I tentatively call these simple rules “Bloodstone” because Warhammer + Braunstein, you know. 

Character Creation, how we actually, really play it
  1. Title (name, career/class/race)
  2. Three-detail Description
  3. Five-detail Bio (personal details, alignment, god(s), etc.)
  4. Good Stuff: all the things that are advantageous to you (skills, stats, talents, special equipment)
  5. Bad Stuff: all the things that are disadvantageous to you
  6. Hit Points (also called “hits”; three strikes and you’re out, give or take a few if you’re exceptionally fragile or tough)(Monsters may be able to take anywhere between 1 and A LOT of hits; I’d recommend notable monsters to be about as durable as player characters)
Procedures of Play
  1. Trying Something Risky (Skilled) : referee tells you what number (or more) to roll on 2d6, usually 7+
  2. Trying Something Risky (Unskilled) : referee tells you what number (or more) to roll on 2d6, usually 9+
  3. Saving Throwreferee tells you what number (or more) to roll on 2d6
  4. Luck Roll: d6, high = good, low = bad

Opponents roll 2d6 against each other. Add +1 to +3 for Good Things, and subtract 1 to 3 for Bad Things. For instance, an “agile” tax collector with “saber-fencing” skill would add +2 to the roll, while a “ridiculously weak” rat-catcher would subtract 2 points.

Simple mnemonic: you add or subtract as many points as the skill or attribute has words to describe it – so, “longsword” adds 1 point, “very quick” adds 2 points, “terrible constitution” subtracts 2 points, “fucking weak clown” subtracts 3, and so on.

The side with the higher sum hits. Ties mean both sides hit each other simultaneously. A combatant with zero Hit Points left dies.

Weapon damage is 1 for small, 2 or more for big weapons. If you roll doubles, damage doubles, as well.

Optional Rule: Gore Die
As mentioned in the intro, we’re big Warhammer fans, so it comes quite naturally that fights have to be… a fucking mess, frankly. In a fit of inspiration, I came up with a rule called the Gore DieRemember how you roll attacks with 2d6. These two dice should have different colors. ONE die is the Gore Die. The higher that die, the messier, bloodier, gorier your hit is. Note that a gory, bloody, bloodspraying, disgusting hit will not kill the opponent if he still has Hit Points left – but it will definitely put negative modifiers on his next attack roll, movement, abilities, skills and so on. Only when Hit Points are reduced to zero, a character dies. To give you a few rough ideas for Gore Die results:

Gore 1: drop weapons, superficial wounds, hits that knock the wind out of you, stumble, bruises, stuns, knockdowns 
Gore 2: dislocations, shattered weapons, numb limbs 
Gore 3: incapacitated limbs, deep wounds, smashed teeth, broken bones 
Gore 4: severed arteries, internal bleeding, spine injuries, gouged out eyes 
Gore 5: half a limb lost, organs ruptured 
Gore 6: entire limb lost, body parts hacked in half 
Gore 7: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, flying body parts, fuck what a mess

Gore 7? How? This is another optional rule: When a character is down to 1 Hit, the next attack that takes him to his gods has Gore Die +3.

Combat Example
(written by Wizard Lizard)

Haans Fiddlewurm vs Angry Goatman, Round 1. 
Goatman charges Fiddlewurm, trying to pin him to a tree. Fiddlewurm, being a bastardly fella, rolls to the side after swinging madly with his axe in the goat’s direction. (Goatman rolls a total of 5: 3 on his Gore die, plus 2, and Haans a 9 (6 on the Gore Die). The Beast screeches madly, the axe stuck in its skull. It stumbles around the tree, spraying blood everywhere.

Round 2. Noticing the foul creature is blinded by blood and pain, Haans runs towards it and messily pulls out the axe, tearing off bits of skull and brains, covering himself in humors as he does so. The goat-thing’s noises stop abruptly as it falls limply on the leaves-covered floor. (Haans 7 (1 on gore die, 4 on normal die, plus 2 because Goatman is seriously handicapped and relatively easy prey), Goat 2). The referee decides to give goatman the coup de grace here because he rolled the worst possible result on 2d6. Had goatman rolled more, the fight might have gone into the third round.
Two sample characters, written by Wizard Lizard:

Snori Durak, Man-at-Arms

A hairy, middle-aged dwarf with a healthy distrust for humans

Tough (player rolled 10 for “Toughness” attribute, all other stats are average), has darkvision and excellent hearing. Knows mining, metallurgy, horse riding and war

Warhammer & shield, crossbow (19 bolts), knife, full suit of mail with helm. 
Sturdy military attire, slingbag with cutlery, tankard, blanket and tinderbox. 
8 gold crowns

Carina, Poacher

A young and petite woman with silver hair and large hands, from a family of six in Altdorf

(here we have a character whose player has rolled average for all attributes; thus, none is listed on the character sheet)
Excellent sight. Knows how to scale sheer surfaces, 
hide and move silently in the woods, find and follow trails, herb lore, 
finding, disarming, setting up traps and how to use a woodsman’s axe.

Two-handed axe, arming sword, knife and a leather jack.
Broad hat and travelling cloak, heavy boots, backpack with blankets, 
tinderbox, cooking pot, a flask of fresh water, six silken tissues, 
a card engraved with the Valantina Gang symbol, a lantern and a flask of oil. 
94 gold crowns.

…the reason why Into the Odd is still really, really, REALLY hot

A half year ago, I wrote:

Even though Pre-School rpgs are the “ancient form of rpgs”, they require a lot of work and preparation from the referee, as well as a deep knowledge of the setting. Into the Odd takes DMs by the hand and guides them; DMs unfamiliar with the setting can still pull off a great session. If this was a contest, Into the Odd would be the winner.

And while I’m still in cray cray nerd love with “pre-school” rpgs (rpgs that were played before D&D was published), I’m also, not very secretly though, madly in love with Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd. The reason mentioned in above’s blogpost is just one of many; a few days ago, creative Into the Odd author Rattlemayne added another one.

On Discord, he wrote,

And DANG, I have to say: He’s right!

What I find so funny about this is that the “missing” to-hit roll of Into the Odd bothered me from time to time – and now a fellow weapon fighter (I’m a full instructor in a full-contact style that also uses weapons, and my background in my beloved Russian martial art also includes sabres and swords) is rubbing my nose into what I just couldn’t see. An eye-opener, and important for my deeper understanding of the subtleties of Into the Odd.

Bonus: totally unrelated clip of a self-defense teacher.

Play worlds, not rules, part 5: How we roll

In part 1, I took a look into how people played roleplaying games before any “official rules set” was published.
In part 2, I shared how we handle experience at our table.
In part 3, I  wrote about the dice rulings I use at the table.
In part 4, we looked at a short example of how old grognards are playing Blackmoor.

Today, I’m sharing the method we use – the way we roll (quite literally).

Let’s say you’re playing the Gray Mouser, one of Fritz Leiber’s beloved heroes:
Small (about five feet), thief, very good swordfighter, former wizard’s apprentice with basic magic skills.

You’re rolling 2d6, just like the Blackmoor crowd did back in the days (and still does today). 

Let’s say you want to climb a wall. Roll 2d6. Roll below average (under 7), and your achievement is below average. Roll really low, and something happens you won’t like. Roll around average, and nothing really changes, your climb is still not finished. Roll above average, and you move the situation into territory that’s advantageous to you: You climb the wall successfully.
Oh, and because you’re so light, I’ll add +1 to your roll without telling you.

Let’s say you’re caught in the middle of a deadly silent horde of skeleton warriors that are attacking you. This is what modern games would call an “opposed roll” – my skeletons against your Mouser. Because there are so many skeletons, I add +3 to my roll. 
Because you are such a good sword fighter, I secretly add +2 to your roll.
Higher roll wins. If I want to have a longer fight, this means you defeat a few skeletons. If it’s something I want to be over quickly, that roll determines the outcome of the entire fight. If it’s completely unimportant, I simply determine the outcome, probably slightly in your favor.

Oh, and what about Hit Points. On most days, I can’t be bothered. If I can, I use the old rule “three hits and you’re out”, plus/minus a few for especially tough or fragile characters. Unimportant opponents die after one hit – this includes groups of unimportant monsters. 

There you have it. The system I’m using at the table. This is not the system in a nutshell – it’s the entire, complete system.

Why D&D has nothing to do with the original sword & sorcery stories

Old school D&D: “I’m modeled after the old science fiction stories, where life is short and unforgiving. Your character probably dies very early on. What would you expect, with those ridiculously low hit points?”

Old science fiction stories (Vance, Leiber, ERB, de Camp, Carter, etc): “Our protagonists are heroes, that’s why we’re still (or, again) so popular with many readers. Life is short and unforgiving – but not for our heroes; to them, it’s dangerous, but they usually live to tell the tale.”
Notice anything? Old D&D was definitely not “modeled after” these stories. Anybody seriously claiming D&D is sword&sorcery in the tradition of Leiber, Vance, and their companions is wrong. The low survival rate of early D&D is a remnant of wargaming and has nothing to do whatsoever with the literary sources.
Even the term “Vancian magic” in the context of D&D is completely incorrect. Reading the literary source material, you’ll soon find that Mazirian, one of Vance’s heroes and a very powerful sorcerer, for instance tells the reader that he can hold four of the best/most powerful spells at any one time in his memory, or five minor ones – at best.
There are only 100 known spells on earth. One hundred. And every mage is a potential target because he might possess a spell that others don’t. I think cozy evenings in the armchair, while smoking a pipe, are definitely not on the list of those guys.
In my proto-D&D games, I’ll change all of this to make it real Vancian. What do y’all think?

Play worlds, not rules, part 4: short example of true Blackmoor gaming

In part 1, I took a look into how people played roleplaying games before any “official rules set” was published.

In part 2, I shared how we handle experience at our table.

In part 3, I  wrote about the dice rulings I use at the table.

Today, I hope you’ll enjoy the following video clip. Bob Meyer (2nd from left) was one of Dave Arneson’s first players – he truly witnessed the birth of our great hobby. This is a short clip from this year’s Gary Con, where Bob refereed a Blackmoor game. What’s of special interest to me is the “game system” Bob uses: opposing forces roll 2d6. Compare numbers. Higher side gets their way. This is as pure as it gets. I love it.

Video URL:

Play worlds, not rules, part 1: Juggling ideas for stone-age rpg sessions
Play worlds, not rules, part 2: Experience levels
Play worlds, not rules, part 3: Playing around with dice
Play worlds, not rules, part 4: Short example of true Blackmoor gaming
Play worlds, not rules, part 5: How we roll