SUPERCONDENSATOR: Classic Traveller, the way Marc Miller plays it: old school 2d6, done right

Classic Traveller, Book 1 of 3.

Classic Traveller, all books combined, German edition.
No special reason why I’m including it here, other than:
It’s simply perfect. My copy still looks so, so good

An online buddy of mine recently shot me a private message on Discord and asked me about Classic Traveller. I love that game, even though I haven’t played it much, or way less than I want to. Marc Miller, the author of the game, is still playing Classic Traveller – which should tell us a thing or two about what version really deserves our attention.

So how does Marc Miller play Classic Traveller?

In a nutshell:

  • The rules in the books are tools for the referee. If you need them, use them. If not, then there’s absolutely no reason to use them.
  • Stats (strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education, and social standing) are the only numbers on the character sheet.
  • Roll 2d6 to determine each stat – no fixed Dice Modifiers (DM), the referee decides when and if to add or subtract from the player’s throws.
  • Pick or roll a service – write down skills, but no Dice Modifiers. Again, the referee decides on how skills affect the rolls.
  • Saving throws are 2d6 + Dice Modifiers, determined by the referee, against a Target of (usually) 8+ (also subject to change according to the referee’s opinion)
  • Weapon Damage: 1d6 for mostly harmless arms, 2d6 for melee weapons, 3d6 for average firearms or really dangerous melee weapons, 4d6 for extremely dangerous weapons like las rifles or shotguns.
  • Damage for the first hit (“first blood” in the rules): comes right off Strength first, then Dexterity, then Endurance. For every hit after the first one, the player can distribute damage between Str, Dex and End as they see fit.
  • One stat at 0 points means injury, two stats at 0 means the character is mortally wounded (but can be saved), and three stats at 0 means instant death.

That’s the complete game system as used by Marc Miller. Very, very Arnesonian in style.

Can I tweak it just a bit to make it more Arnesonian-like? Of course:

The average damage is: 3.5, 7, 10.5 and 14 points.
The average stat is 7. That means, if an average character is hit with a melee weapon (average damage 7), that stat is reduced to zero points, and the character is injured. A second hit means the character is bleeding to death, and a third hit kills them outright. So, a average character can take 3 hits with a melee weapon before they die. They can take bit more if they’re attacked with small weapons, and they are mortally wounded after a hit with a huge weapon. Las rifles or shotguns have the potential to kill an average character with one hit. Firearms have the potential to severely injure with one hit.

The first thing I’d get rid of are stat numbers. Simply write down if you’re above or below average (7 points) in a stat: “strong” could mean you’re stronger than average, while “weak” could mean you are, well, below, average.

I’d keep the saving throw mechanic, it’s simple and beautiful.

I’d give characters 4 hits, +1 for each stat (Str, Dex, End) that’s above average, and -1 for each stat below average. Armor increases the number of hits.

In combat, characters lose hits according to the situation, the opponent’s roll and the weapon the opponent is using. So, a average knife stab in a crowded bar would probably result in pain and injury, but if I roll a 12 for the knife attack, most characters will go down.

So, in closing, these are my Braunstein Traveller rules:


CHARACTER CREATION

  • Roll 2d6 for Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Social Standing. If a stat is 5 or lower, write it down as “below average”, or similar. If a stat is 9 or higher, write it down as “above average”, or similar. Don’t write a stat down if it’s average.
  • In Traveller Book 1, pick or roll your service and play the mini-game.
  • Write down the skills you earn in service, but not the numbers. 
  • Your character can get hit/injured a certain number of times; the exact number of hits is determined by the referee. In combat, if the winning result is really high (again, the referee has the final say in this), or your actions leading to this situation were stupid enough, it is entirely possible that your character is severely injured or even dies. 
  • Note for referees: a character has 4 hits: after the first hit, characters are stunned, after the second, lightly injured, after the third, severely injured, after the fourth, mortally wounded. Armor and above-average stats give the character a number of “free hits” – think damage sponge – before they start getting hurt.


BASIC ROLLS 


  • When the ref calls for it, roll 2d6: 
    • try to roll 8 or more
    • ref might increase or decrease target numbers as dictated by the situation


ONE-ON-ONE COMBAT 

  • You roll 2d6, I roll 2d6. Who rolled higher determines what happens. If we’re close, we negotiate. 
  • Winning with a high number (ref determines what that means) means a really good and/or severe hit.
  • Shields grant a character 1 free hit before they can get injured, light armor also 1 free hit, medium armor 2 free hits, heavy armor 3 hits. 

Easy-peasy d20 freeform vehicle combat rules



One of my free rpgs, published in German, is Freeway Warrior.
It’s a Mad Max rpg that uses d20 exclusively. As you might have guessed, the system is very Arnesonian, roll 1d20, high is good.
It’s pure old school, using lots of tables for character generation and other stuff. You can even roll up your vehicle.
One thing I’m really proud of is the vehicle combat system I developed for Freeway Warrior:
Here’s the text (autotranslated by Deepl because I’m really lazy today):
In the fight man against vehicle or vehicle against vehicle we distinguish between light and heavy weapons.
Light weapons are those that a person can easily carry with one hand: Guns, submachine guns, light machine guns, oil sprayers, smoke candles and so on.
Heavy weapons are those that a person can only carry with difficulty or not at all with two hands: heavy machine guns, on-board guns, cannons, minelayers, rocket launchers, and so on.
Now you could simply give a vehicle a number of hits and then use the normal fighting rules. That would be possible, of course, but we find it boring. The distinguishing moment in vehicle combat, in my opinion, is that a single hit — the decision-maker, the kill — decides the fight.
Therefore we introduce in the following the hit matrix for the vehicle fight. The upper line indicates whether the shooter shoots at a vehicle with a light or heavy weapon. In the left column you can find the types of vehicles to be fired at. Where the weapon and vehicle types cross, you find a number. This is the number that a shooter must roll at least on the D20 to make the kill — the hit that paralyzes the vehicle –.
If the referee wants to make a vehicle particularly robust, he can also increase the number of required kills from 1 to as many as he likes.
Characters who can shoot well are allowed to roll the dice again if they fail.
Motorbike, Ultralight Aircraft: light weapon 15, heavy 10
Small car: light 16, heavy 12
Sedan: light 17, heavy 14
SUV: light 19, heavy 15
Light truck: light 20, heavy 16
Truck, Zeppelin: light 20, heavy 17
Tank: light 20, heavy 19
If a character scores a kill, he rolls 1d20 again. 1-16, the hit damaged a part of the vehicle so badly that it is no longer possible to continue. 17-20, the driver was hit.
KILL — which part of the vehicle was hit?
1d10
1-2: tire, apron, track, gasbag
3-4: engine
5: passenger
6: fuel tank or battery
7-10: chassis, undercarriage

Car Wars Classic: ancient school roleplaying, Steve Jackson Games style

Before you continue, please do yourself a favor and download the digital edition of Car Wars Classic from the official publisher here: http://www.sjgames.com/car-wars/games/classic/img/car-wars-classic-rules.pdf

1981, Steve Jackson published their seminal game, Car Wars. I bought the pocket edition about six years later, and we loved playing it. The one thing that slipped through our fingers was the content presented in chapter 4, simply titled “Characters”.

CW was a conflict simulation game, and the chapter on characters had one focus: to answer the question, ‘what happens when a vehicle is destroyed, but the driver survives?’ When the game was written in the late 1970s, it had never been the intention to write an rpg.

But still, players being players – they turned CW chapter 4 into a full roleplaying game. There were many groups in the 1980s who used the rules for roleplaying.

To quote the Car Wars book, page 48:

When a player wants to try something that isn’t covered by any of the skills in use in that campaign, the GM should fall back on “roll 2 dice and pray ” In other words: Require the player to roll 2 dice. The higher the roll, the better the result.

This is exactly the same method Arneson and the other Twin Cities grognards used.

How does the Car Wars Classic rpg work?

  1. A character has 3 “damage points” – “the first hit wounds, the second knocks unconscious, and the third kills. They can wear body armor, which adds DP”. Body armor adds 3 DP, Improved body armor adds 6.
    Again, this is exactly the way most Twin Cities games handled armor.
  2. Starting characters get 30 points to buy skills; one skill at base level costs 10 points. Using a skill at base level means rolling 2d6 and shooting for at least a 7. Every point beyond base level adds +1 to the roll and costs another 10 points. If a character does not possess a skill, the player rolls 2d6-4 for the skill check.
  3. Skill checks: 2d6+skill =7 or more
  4. Pistols inflict 1 to 2 damage, smgs 1d6 damage, rifles 3 damage, shotguns 2 damage – you get the idea.
  5. Skill contests are opposed 2d6+skill rolls; whoever scores 7+ AND is 5 points higher than their opponent, wins the contest.
  6. Hand-to-hand combat is needlessly complicated and thus not relevant for our purposes.

How would I tweak the system?

I wouldn’t change much. Each character has 3 “damage points”. Armor adds damage points. Choose 3 skills. Later in the game, you gain new skills or skill points. Skill checks are 2d6+skill = 7+. opposed skill checks are 2d6+skill, higher result wins.
Combat: opposed 2d6+skill, higher result hits and inflicts 1 to 3 damage – no additional damage rolls, they’re counterintuitive when you roll really high to hit and then roll 1 for damage or so.
Ranged Combat: referee tells you the number you have to roll on or above.

That’s the Car Wars Classic rpg. Enjoy.

How the Grognards really played, 3rd edition

This is the second re-write of my Really Old School Rules, modeled after the way Dave Arneson, David Wesely, Phil Barker, Bob Meyer, Jeff Berry and many other Twin Cities gamers roleplay(ed) before D&D.

I’m looking for a new name because “pre-D&D” is absolutely NOT what it is (thank you, @Matt Jackson, for pointing this out in your podcast). Arneson’s play method has nothing to do with Gygax’s younger game – it deserves another title. If you guys come up with a good one, i’m happy to adopt it.

One thing that kept me thinking was hit points. We know Dave Arneson used hit points after the unfortunate one-hit-kill incident in the infamous “Troll under the Bridge” game, a test game where Bob Meyer played a hero and got killed by one blow. I tend to handwave this aspect in my games, but now I have more historical information.

On Facebook, I posted the following question:

Let’s take a look at Strategos, a military game that had major influence on Arneson and Wesely, as well. Table T says:

Of interest to me is the results section. The higher the difference between the winning dice roll and the losing dice roll, the worse the result becomes for the loser. As we’ve read, Arneson used points, at least in the sense of “this character can get hit X times”, and Bob Meyer seems to walk the same path. I’ll use this for my own interpretation.

I also asked Chirine ba Kal (Jeff Berry), one of the oldest friends of Prof. Barker’s, and the current “official” Tekumel referee, the same question about a Really Old School Star Wars campaign.

NorbertDid you use hit points? Or “three strikes and you’re out” or similar things? 

ChirineYes, modified by the particular game’s setting. It works. Hits were based on the game’s setting. Blasters generally meant that the hit was fatal; same for lightsabers. Tekumel sessions used EPT for the stats and HP – for example – but the players were the ones who kept track of them; they would tell the GM what had happened, which also told everybody in the party, as everybody role-played. I have some dice to indicate where hits occur, and we use these for some games. otherwise, it’s Phil’s rules and roll %D. If one knows how the world works, it gets pretty easy and fun to play.


CHARACTER CREATION

  • Write down a few words about your character.  
  • Note one special power that allows you to do things others can’t. Special powers are defined before play by the ref and the player. By design, this is open to interpretation. 
  • Your character has no stats, but you may write down “strong”, “agile”, “tough”, “charming”, “smart” or “wise”. If this helps you in a situation, add +1 to the roll. 
  • Your character can get hit/injured a certain number of times; the exact number of hits is determined by the referee. In combat, if the winning result is really high (again, the referee has the final say in this), or your actions leading to this situation were stupid enough, it is entirely possible that your character is severely injured or even dies. (Note for referees: a good number is four hits: after the first hit, you’re stunned, after the second, lightly injured, after the third, severely injured, after the fourth, mortally wounded. Armor gives the character a number of “free hits” – think damage sponge – before they start getting hurt).
  • In mass combat, you count as four men.
  • If you’re playing a published rpg setting: 
    • roll attributes. Write down only extremely low and extremely high stats. 
    • pick 10 skills from the rulebook (if the game uses skills)
    • pick 2d6 pieces of regular equipment/gear from the book, then lose 1d6 of them
    • pick 2 “Powers”: special equipment, spells, special abilities, connections, special backgrounds etc.


BASIC ROLLS 


  • When the ref calls for it, roll 2d6: 
    • High = good 
    • Middling = does not change the situation, or negotiated/mixed results (fleeting success, success with a downside, failure with an upside) 
    • Low = bad 
  • The ref can also roll his 2d6 against the player’s. Higher result wins and gets to say what happens.
  • You can also use a d20 instead of two regular six-sided dice. If a character has an advantage of any kind, the player may either roll 2d20 and pick the higher result, or add +5 to his 1d20 roll. For disadvantage, roll 2d20 and pick the worse result, or subtract 5 from a 1d20 roll.


ONE-ON-ONE COMBAT 

  • You roll 2d6, I roll 2d6. Who rolled higher determines what happens. If we’re close, we negotiate. 
  • Winning with a high number (ref determines what that means) means a really good and/or severe hit.
  • Shields grant a character 1 free hit before they can get injured, light armor also 1 free hit, medium armor 2 free hits, heavy armor 3 hits. So a player character wearing leather armor (=light armor) can get hit once without major consequences, after that, he can usually take 4 hits before he dies.


MASS COMBAT 

  • Melee is simultaneous. Only the first row of combatants can attack, except for polearm/spear attacks from the second row.
  • Each figure may move up to one length of a pen in normal terrain. Difficult terrain halves movement. Very difficult terrain allows movement of up to 1/4 of a pen. Fast or slow combatants move farther or shorter than one pen — come up with your own rulings here.
  • First, Missles are fired, second, spells are started, third, combatants move, fourth, spells started in step 1 now take effect; fifth, archers who didnʻt move and havenʻt been engaged in melee may fire again, sixth, Melee
  • Using light weapons: roll 1d6 for every 3 men 
  • Using medium weapons: roll 1d6 for every 2 men 
  • Using heavy weapons: roll 1d6 for every man 
  • Using superheavy weapons, or mounted: roll 2d6 for every man. 
  • Attacking heavily armored opponents: 6 is a kill 
  • Attacking opponents in medium armor: 5, 6 kills 
  • Attacking opponents in light or no armor: 4,5,6 kills 
  • 1 hit kills a normal being. Monsters and npcs can take a number of hits depending on how many humans they’re equivalent to. E.g. A bear that’s as powerful as 4 humans can take 4 hits. 
  • Hirelings die first; player characters only start taking damage after their hirelings have died.
  • Check morale with 1d6 when a unit has lost 3+ figures, when a unit has lost more than half of its members, when a unit is attacked from behind or in the flank, or when friendly units are routing nearby.
  • If the unit rolls higher than the its morale number, it is routed and immediately turns in the opposite direction and moves as far back as it can. It will continue to do so till it reaches the end of the playing field; at that moment, itʻs considered defeated.
  • Morale numbers: under fire
    • Civilians: 3, Soldiers: 4, Veterans/Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 6
  • Morale numbers: routing/other
    • Civilians: 2, Soldiers: 3, Veterans: 4, Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 
  • A leader might be able to rally fleeing troops; roll 1d6 and stay at or under the leaderʻs Leadership Skill (1=uninspired, 2=typical, 3=talented, 4=superb, 5=tactical genius).
  • Modifiers to Morale: 
    • Attacked in flank -1
    • Attacked from behind -2
    • Leader close by +1
    • Double ranks (formation wider than deeper) +1
    • Triple ranks (formation wider than deeper) +2
    • Lost half or more figures in unit -2
    • Witnessed the loss if their leader in this turn -2
    • Lost a general -3

This way, 10 soldiers in leather armor and with swords fighting against 3 knights with war axes on horses roll 5d6, and 6s kill. The knights roll 6d6, and 5 and 6 kill.

Back to really simple roleplaying

Professor MAR Barker started it. He started creating his world Tekumel in the 1940s and kept adding things and adventures to it till he died in 2012. That’s A LOT. Probably there’s no other work of imagination as developed as Mr. Barker’s world.

When original D&D was published, Mr. Barker tried to adapt the game to Tekumel, so other peoplecould go on adventures in this fantastic world. It was a mediocre success. So he developed his own set of rules, which is still in use today, played by people like Chirine ba Kal and Bob Meyer, to name just two. Chirine has told us again and again that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson used these rules (or very similar ones) as well.

What you’re about to see is NOT the cover of the rulebook. It IS the rulebook. These rules have been in use for at least 30 years.

 
 

Yep. That’s it. 

The interest in the rpg community in super-simple, super-lite rules seems at an all-time high at the moment, and personally, I think that’s good, very good indeed.

As you might have guessed, my favorite taste of rules-lite is Perfected, or to be more exact: opposed rolls. Using opposed rolls cut out two things that I don’t like in rpgs: math. Checking stats to see if I rolled high or low enough.

My most downloaded rpg, with thousands of downloads, is Landshut, a Free Kriegsspiel Revolution game on one page. You can grab it for free here: https://darkwormcolt.wordpress.com/the-landshut-rules-free-kriegsspiel-rules/

Another rpg system using this method is the brilliant Sword&Backpack, written by Gabe Soria. Check it out here. The rules? Player character tries something, referee tells him what to roll with a d20, or rolls against them. Done.

Cecil Howe, he of Hex Kit fame, made a booklet version of Sword&Backpack, and it’s a beauty to behold. The booklet version adds a rule: Whenever a character is trying something that is appropriate for their background or profession, add 5 to the d20 roll.

Cecil also published a zine for Sword&Backpack (unfortunately only one), called Peril, and yes, it’s good! In Peril, Cecil also introduced a new concept he calls “Difficulty”. To quote: “This is the number of combat rounds a monster can lose before it is defeated, think of the D as standing for difficulty. The number can be any number, not just one. Really tough monsters will have a high number, and really flimsy monsters will have a low number. “

Bob Alberti is the treasurer of the Tekumel Foundation. He played in Prof. Barker’s game for over 20 years. His ruleset is, as you might have suspected, similarly simple. To quote: “You have dice to resolve any questions (01-10 good, 90-00 bad, use common sense). (…) All the other crap – character stats, encumbrances, combat rules, etc., are the tools of the rules-lawyer, and not worth the attention of dignified persons.”

Today, Claytonian published his one-page rpg “The Party“. And lo and behold, it uses opposed rolls to solve everything. Check it out here.





Older School: Pre-D&D, 2nd edition

After working on the rules with friends, this is the latest incarnation of the Blackmoor/Arneson/Pre-D&D rules, as I interpret them. They now include the simple mass combat rules I’m using at my table. Ray Otus came up with the title “Older School”. I LOVE it.


CHARACTER CREATION

  • Write down a few words about your character. 
  • Note one special power that allows you to do things others can’t. Special powers are defined before play by the ref and the player. By design, this is open to interpretation. The freedom in pre-D&D is its biggest strength and weakness (for modern players, who are used to hard and fast definitions) . One referee might say that “wizard” is already a special power. In another game, it might be different. 
  • Your character has no stats, but you may write down “strong”, “agile”, “tough”, “charming”, “smart” or “wise”. If this helps you in a situation, add +1 to the roll. 
  • Your character has 5 hit points; the referee may handwave hp and say your character dies if/when you screw up real bad. 
  • In mass combat, you roll 3d6.  


BASIC ROLLS 


  • When the ref calls for it, roll 2d6: 
    • High = good 
    • Middling = does not change the situation, or negotiated/mixed results (fleeting success, success with a downside, failure with an upside) 
    • Low = bad 


ONE-ON-ONE COMBAT 

  • Both combatants roll 2d6: The higher result hits. If we’re only 1 point apart, we negotiate: maybe we hit simultaneously, or we both lose our footing, or anything else that makes sense in the situation. 
  • Rolling a 12 deals +1 hit. 
  • Normal weapons deal 1 hit, 2-handed weapons deal 2 hits. 
  • Shields add 1 hp, light armor adds 1 hp, medium armor adds 2 hp, heavy armor adds 3 hp. 


MASS COMBAT 

  • Melee is simultaneous. Only the first row of combatants can attack, except for polearm/spear attacks from the second row.
  • Each figure may move up to one length of a pen in normal terrain. Difficult terrain halves movement. Very difficult terrain allows movement of up to 1/4 of a pen. Fast or slow combatants move farther or shorter than one pen — come up with your own rulings here.
  • First, Missles are fired, second, spells are started, third, combatants move, fourth, spells started in step 1 now take effect; fifth, archers who didnʻt move and havenʻt been engaged in melee may fire again, sixth, Melee
  • Using light weapons: roll 1d6 for every 3 men 
  • Using medium weapons: roll 1d6 for every 2 men 
  • Using heavy weapons: roll 1d6 for every man 
  • Using superheavy weapons, or mounted: roll 2d6 for every man. 
  • Attacking heavily armored opponents: 6 is a kill 
  • Attacking opponents in medium armor: 5, 6 kills 
  • Attacking opponents in light or no armor: 4,5,6 kills 
  • 1 hit kills a normal being. Monsters and npcs can take a number of hits depending on how many humans they’re equivalent to. E.g. A bear that’s as powerful as 4 humans can take 4 hits. 
  • Hirelings die first; player characters only start taking damage after their hirelings have died.
  • Check morale with 1d6 when a unit has lost 3+ figures, when a unit has lost more than half of its members, when a unit is attacked from behind or in the flank, or when friendly units are routing nearby.
  • If the unit rolls higher than the its morale number, it is routed and immediately turns in the opposite direction and moves as far back as it can. It will continue to do so till it reaches the end of the playing field; at that moment, itʻs considered defeated.
  • Morale numbers: under fire
    • Civilians: 3, Soldiers: 4, Veterans/Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 6
  • Morale numbers: routing/other
    • Civilians: 2, Soldiers: 3, Veterans: 4, Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 
  • A leader might be able to rally fleeing troops; roll 1d6 and stay at or under the leaderʻs Leadership Skill (1=uninspired, 2=typical, 3=talented, 4=superb, 5=tactical genius).
  • Modifiers to Morale: 
    • Attacked in flank -1
    • Attacked from behind -2
    • Leader close by +1
    • Double ranks (formation wider than deeper) +1
    • Triple ranks (formation wider than deeper) +2
    • Lost half or more figures in unit -2
    • Witnessed the loss if their leader in this turn -2
    • Lost a general -3

This way, 10 soldiers in leather armor and with swords fighting against 3 knights with war axes on horses roll 5d6, and 6s kill. The knights roll 6d6, and 5 and 6 kill.

Pre-D&D: How Dave, Gary, Phil and the original grognards played



To me, going back to the roots of our hobby means one teaching moment after another. For instance, did Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax use the Original D&D rules? In public, yes, or at least houseruled versions of them. But in private? After doing quite some research and after private communication with players who were there at the dawn of roleplaying games, I think it’s safe to say that they used a completely different set of rules – in fact, a much earlier version, before levels and before fancy dice. 

They played a version that avoided the pitfall of using Chainmail as one-on-one combat system in roleplaying because it was way too deadly and thus, simply no fun. (In fact, Bob Meyer, one of the earliest players of Dave, complained after one of the first games because his character died after just one blow – that was one of the reasons Dave introduced “hits” or “hit points” into the game).

So how did the roleplaying game that came before D&D really work?

In a nutshell:

  • write down a few things about your character
  • one special power that allows you to do things others can’t
  • no stats
  • no hit points; but you have to screw up real bad to die 
  • saves: roll 2d6; high=good; middling=does not change the situation; low=bad
  • combat: we both roll 2d6; if I’m higher, I say what happens, if you’re higher, you say what happens; if we’re close, we negotiate

Variations included 3d6 or d100 instead of 2d6, but the above is the complete game system. 
A like this a lot.

Still, I’ll change a few things because Klint Finley’s 2017 article is still darn impressive , and because I love mass combat in my rpg sessions.


Character Creation

  • write down a few things about your character
  • one special power that allows you to do things others can’t
  • no stats, but you might write down “strong”, “agile”, “tough”, “charming”, “smart” or “wise”. If this helps you in a situation, add +1 to the roll
  • 5 hit points; or the referee handwaves and you die when you screw up real bad
Saves 
  • roll 2d6; high=good; middling=does not change the situation; low=bad
One-on-one Combat
  • we both roll 2d6; if I’m higher, I hit; if you’re higher, you hit; if we’re close, we negotiate; rolling a 12 deals +1 hit
  • 1-handed weapons deal 1 hit, 2-handed weapons deal 2 hits
  • shields add 1 hp, light armor adds 1 hp, medium armor adds 2 hp, heavy armor adds 3 hp
Mass Combat
  • each player character rolls 1d6 for every two people in their group; 5 or 6 is a hit
  • 1 hit kills a normal being; monsters and npcs can take a number of hits depending on how many humans they’re equivalent to. A bear that’s as powerful as 4 humans can take 4 hits in combat.
  • hirelings die first; player characters only start taking damage after their hirelings have died


So let’s put this beauty to the test.

The silver-colored fighter on the left is Korkonn, warrior of the Alligator Clan. He is strong and can cling to giant opponents. He has 5 hit points (in mass combat, this gives him 2.5, or 3, d6 to roll). With him are 6 other fighters. They also get 3d6 in total. So Korkonn rolls 6d6 in this melee.

The giant dark monster on the right is a Gorgolyth. It is as strong as 10 men and thus fights with 5d6 and has 10 hit points.

Round 1: Korkonn rolls 6d6 and gets one 5 and two 6s, the rest of the dice show lower numbers. The Gorgolyth loses 3 hit points. Gorgo rolls 5d6 and scores three 5s which means three of Korkonn’s fighters die, and Korkonn loses 2 dice. 



Korkonn and his remaining 3 fighters launch another attack, rolling a 5 and a 6, which costs Gorgo another 2 hit points (he now has 5 hp left). Gorgo scores a 5 and two , and Korkonn loses another man. Korkonn is now down to two men and 4d6.

Another round of combat, and Korkonn has lost his last two fighters. Only now Korkonn can get hurt, and we switch from group combat to one-on-one combat. Gorgo deals 2 hits with each successful attack, Korkonn deals 1, but also wears  medium armor, giving him 2 more hit points. Korkonn starts with a total of 7 hit points, Gorgo with 5. Korkonn adds +1 to each roll because he’s strong, Gorgo adds +2 because it’s fucking strong.

First round: Korkonn loses 2 hit points. Now he’s down to 5.
Second round: again, Korkonn loses 2 hp and is now down to 2.
Third round: Gorgo gets hit (Korkonn rolls a 12, which means 2 hits) is down to 3 hp.
Fourth round: Korkonn gets hit again and is now down to zero hp. 

Poor Korkonn.

Clarifications:

Special powers are defined before play by the ref and the player.  
Armor, in the simple version, is not accounted for. If you want to get more detailed, you have several options:
Armor:  
simply reduce the opponent’s “kill numbers”, so for instance, they score a kill with a 6 only.
Fighting power:  
For instance, instead of 1d6 for every 2 men, you get 1d6 for each single one.

Behold the Master of Contradiction

Well well well well… yesterday, on MeWe, I asked why we’re inventing new rules all the time instead of using the myriad of the ones already in existence. Today, I’m thinking aloud about a way to play without hit point and without damage roll. . . . . (dramatic pause) . . . . No hit points? No damage roll? Why? For several reasons: I, as referee, am much too lazy to keep track of hp. I tried using d20s as hp tracker, but even that is way too much work for me. The fewer numbers all players (including me) have to track at the table, the quicker the game moves. Different options a) I could ref like some of the old grognards: they simply don’t count hp. Instead, they guesstimate and handwave. This is a possibility, and I did that for many, many years in my games. The problem is: it started to feel very arbitrary, kind of like the Great Norbert Show. Nope. b) The most obvious path is to use “hits” instead of hit points. Things like “three strikes and you’re out”. Some old games do this. Apocalypse World does it. This works, but sometimes, it feels a bit… stale. c) The option I favor at the moment is to replace hits with “tags”. A prefect example for that is the pbtA game Legend of the Elements. Its combat move is as follows:

Commit Open Violence (+Hot)When you strike out violently with intent to kill or incapacitate, roll +Hot. On a 10 or greater, your attack is successful; Tag the target appropriately. On a 7, 8, or 9, choose one:~ You don’t Tag them.~ You’re left in a disadvantageous position. ~ You’re left open to their counterattack.

And how does the book define tags?

Tags are small descriptive words or phrases that are applied to characters, and Environment Tags are phrases describing the state of a location (…) In one sense, Tags do nothing on their own (…)All the mechanics in the game flow from the fiction, and Tags are fictionally binding. If a soldier has the Trapped In Ice Tag, just because the numbers haven’t changed doesn’t mean the MC can just describe them breaking free and running. They’re trapped, after all! The MC would need an opportunity to use one of the MC Moves to have that soldier break free.Similarly, with some moves it would make sense to apply lethal Tags. For example, if the Warrior swung his battle-axe and rolled a 10 on their Commit Open Violence roll, it makes perfect sense that they could apply the Mortally Wounded Tag or even the Dead Tag. That’s how MC characters are taken out of the action, not by any loss of a mechanical resource but when they fictionally aren’t participating any more.

If you analyze that move, you’ll find that what it does, basically, is:
it describes the result of an action that might hurt a character. The consequences (for npcs) are free-flowing, a successful ax attack to the face might (or should) result in the death of the character.

On the other hand, player characters are treated better. They can get hit three times; first mildly, then moderately, and finally, severely. They can mitigate the effects by spending Fortune points. I really like that mechanic, and I’ll definitely try it with my players.

A combat example for Kung Fu Goons

Referee: Cheng, you open the door to the restaurant, and a dozen or so mooks come running at you. You see blades flashing, and one of them has a submachinegun. What do you do?
Cheng: Okay… I have Kung Fu 1, so I add +1 to my 2d6 roll, right?
Ref: Yes.
Cheng: And for every cool detail I describe, I add another +1?
Ref: Yep! What do you do? They’re closing in fast.
Cheng: I wait till the first two are close to me, then I throw a low kick that sweeps them off their feet (1), the three mooks behind them are crashing right into them and tumble to the floor, as well (2). I regain my footing and high-kick the next, sending him into the glass cabinet where the porcellaine dishes are stored (3).
That’s three details, correct?
Ref: Yep, it’s a +3.
Cheng (rolls 2d6 and adds 3 for the details, plus 1 for his Kung Fu stat): 10!
Ref (compares Cheng’s 10 to the mooks’ 8; now the mooks are down to Difficulty Score 6): Great! What next?
Cheng: I cock my fist for a mighty blow (1), but before I can punch, two mooks swing at my face with full force (2). Their blows connect with a sickening crunch, and I drop to the ground (3).
(rolls 2d6+4): 11!
Ref (compares the mooks’ 6 to the Cheng’s 11; a whopping 5 points damage, which means they’re down to 1 – the next roll will definitely take them out, leaving their fate in Cheng’s hands): Wow, solid roll, Cheng! Mind if I join you to describe a few things?
Cheng: Not at all! So, I’m on the floor, still dizzy, and try to pick myself up…
Ref: …and in the corner of your eye, you see the submachinegun guy, and before you can react, he shoots! You can see the line of destruction the bullets are cutting into the carpet. TATATATAAT!
Cheng: Aaah! AAAAAH! I make a desperate kip-up, and where I was just moments before, the bullets turn the floor into a fricking mess! You can see my face. I’m grinning. Oh yes, I’m grinning. Then I start running towards that guy.
Ref: SMG guy squeezes off another burst, and you hear the bullet tearing into the wall behind you, then you’re directly before him. He drops the gun and pulls a huge knife…
Cheng: …and hits me in the shoulder! AAAH! My blood colors my 300 dollar shirt red. BASTARD! Chain fists to his face! He falls backward, I leap with a flying guillotine kick and ram him head-first into a chair. Then I look around, casually brushing my nose with my thumb.
Ref: The rest of the mooks are running now, they’re headed for the exit!
Cheng: Pah. I allow it. Cowards.

Sprawl Goons and Hardwired: a match made in heaven

Nate Treme published his one-page rpg Tunnel Goons a few days ago. Then, he started the so-called Goon Jam, a fun contest with the goal to write a hack of Tunnel Goons. So far, 16 games have been submitted (one of them being my Kung Fu Goons).

A while ago, I explained Why Hardwired is the real 2020 for me. Yesterday, Paul D. Gallagher, author of the beautiful, beautiful Augmented Reality cyberpunk sourcebook, submitted Sprawl Goons, and it’s a match made in heaven.

Tunnel Goons and its hacks are freeform enough to adapt to every play style, and at the same time, they provide enough structure to avoid the wishy-washy handwaving excesses that haunt so many freeform groups.