Blackmoor Week started yesterday

Dave Arneson

Blackmoor Week has started yesterday, and I can’t post as much as I like to. So, to make up for this, I’m collecting my thoughts (and rules) on Arnesonian gaming here in this post.

This is my kind of final interpretation of the way the Twin Cities gamers roleplayed before D&D.

This is how Car Wars fits easily into the category “Arnesonian gaming”.

And last, but not least, here are my Traveller rules, based on how Marc Miller plays it.

I’ll try to post more original thoughts on Arnesonian gaming tomorrow.

SUPERCONDENSATOR: freeform Traveller rules (PDF!)

I’ve finished the layout for my Supercondensator variant rules. Hey, there’s even a variant cover version!


Regular black cover:

Variant cover:

SUPERCONDENSATOR: Classic Traveller: Playing it fast and loose, part 1: Armor

A few days, ago, I posted about Marc Miller and how he plays Traveller. According to him, all he really uses at the table are stats, numberless skills, the world creation rules, the daily random rolls and a healthy dose of improvisation.

I like that. I like that because it is exactly the way I referee my games, as well. Just recently, I was thinking about armor in Traveller personal combat. How can I wing it? How can I emulate “what’s written in the rules”?

The following is what I came up with.

Book 1 (1977) describes different kinds of armor:

Jack A natural or synthetic leather jacket/body suit. Better than clothing or bare skin, no protection against guns.

Mesh A jacket/body suit of natural or synthetic leather reinforced with a lining of flexible metal mesh, similar to chain mail but lighter and stronger. Good against blades, somewhat effective against gun. No protection against lasers.

Ballistic Cloth A heavy duty jacket/vest covering the upper torso and legs, tailored from ballistic cloth. Good against all kinds of weapons. 

Reflec Reflective material may be tailored into a body suit, ineffective against any weapon except laser.

Ablat Ablat is the cheap alternative to reflec, and is fashioned from material which will ablate (vaporize) when hit by laser fire, carrying the energy of the attack away. Ablat also has some value as protection against other forms of attack, primarily from its bulk. 

Battle Dress The ultimate in battle armor, military battle dress consists of a complete vacuum-suit-like array of metal, synthetic and electronic armor. 

I could write a super-simple table like this: 

.demo { border:1px solid yellow; border-collapse:collapse; padding:5px; } .demo th { border:1px solid yellow; padding:5px; background:gray; } .demo td { border:1px solid yellow; text-align:center; padding:5px; }

Armor Protection
Blunt Blades Guns Lasers
 Jack  +1 +1 +1
 Mesh  –  +2 +1
 Cloth  +1  +2 +2  +2
 Reflec +3
 Ablat +1 +1 +1 +3
 Battle Dress +4 +4 +4 +4

…but the question is: Do I want to use it at the table?

My answer is a resounding ‘No‘. So, what can I do? Wing it, but wing it with structure. I’ll simply attach “tags” to each type of armor to signify its weakness. So…

Jack: guns
Mesh: lasers
Cloth: –
Reflec: all but lasers
Ablat: expandable reflec, like cloth
Battle Dress: –

The numbers? They will be improvised.

But you know, that last sentence often enough is the problem for referees. How much is too much? How little is too little? Thankfully, Classic Traveller offers a solution. It’s hidden in The Traveller Adventure (1983), and it’s called ‘Situation Throws’. To quote:

Situation Throws: In the absence of any other guidance, the referee may always resort to the situation throw. When an incident first occurs, throw two dice to determine its relative severity. A low roll means that it is easy, a high roll means comparative difficulty. The number achieved is now the situation number. The player characters involved, when they attempt to deal with the situation, must roll the situation number or higher on two dice.

How can I use Situation Throws for armor? I’ve come up with the following solution:

  1. The player characters don’t know how old or good a piece of armor is that someone is wearing.
  2. As a referee, I should know, but I refuse to burden myself with details like this. So I use a Situation Throw. 2d6, take the lower number. That’s the protection (used as negative DM) a piece of armor offers. Yes, I know, this might result in Jack armor offering a -5 DM. I don’t care – who knows what that guy is wearing underneath it? Maybe he’s layered up like a birthday cake or something. 
  3. Battle dresses use the higher number. 
  4. Really old and worn-out armor might have 1d6-1d6 (with zero being the obviously worst result).

Army Trooper Noam Zhang 985487 Age 22 Skills: Rifle
Rifle (4d6), Mesh armor (2)

against some low-life rabble 777777, armed with a revolver (4d6), wearing ballistic cloth. Both are hiding behind rotten dumpsters in a dark alley. The distance is 30m.

I roll 2d6 for the Situation Roll and get 2 and 5. So the goon’s cloth has a -2 DM, same as Noam’s.

It’s dark, the goon is hiding behind a dumpster, and Noam has to shoot at him while trying to keep his cover. I rule this is a -3 DM. The cloth armor of the goon adds another -2, for a total of -5. Noam has experience with the rifle, and he fought in a war, so I grant him a total DM of +3. Remains a -2 DM.

For the goon, we also have darkness, plus firing around cover, plus target is hiding behind cover: a -3 DM. Noam’s armor grants a -2 DM, for a total of -5. The goon has experience with the revolver, but this only means he has no negative DM on his roll. All he can hope for is boxcars, for a lucky hit.

Noam rolls a 4. Miss.
Goon rolls 6. Miss.

Noam rolls 6 and misses.
Goon rolls 8 and misses.

Noam rolls 9 and misses.
Goon rolls 8 and misses.

Noam rolls 12 and hits!

Goon rolls a 10 and misses.
Damage: 2,5,2,3 =12.
The goon loses his Strength, and 5 points off his Endurance. Before he drops to the ground, unconscious and bleeding heavily, he squeezes off another round, but misses.

Way of the Exploding Sword – action-gaming with the Index Card RPG

Art © Jörg Drühl

Here we go!

I’m presenting the latest incarnation of my tag-heavy, freeform ICRPG.

Character Creation
  • no stats
  • write down 6 tags – they can be as short or long as you want, single words or whole sentences
  • mechanically, each tag counts as +1 to your roll
  • weapons and armor are tags

E. Honda,
Class: Sumotori
Bioform: Human
extremely heavy, strong as an ox, one of the best sumotori in the world, tough as nails, Buddha Thousand-Palm-Slap, deals massive damage

  • Method A:
    In a fight, add all relevant tags to your d20 roll. If there are any disadvantageous tags, subtract 1 from your roll for each. The gamemaster/referee does the same for monsters and npcs.
    Higher roll does damage.
    If one side has severely more powerful tags, add +1d4 to that side’s roll.
  • Method B:
    Count the number of relevant tags.
    If 0–2, roll 1d4
    if 3–4, roll 1d6
    if 5–6, roll 1d8
    if 7–8, roll 1d10
    if 9–10, roll 1d12
    if 11+, roll 1d20

You roll vs GM/referee’s roll.Higher roll does damage.

If one side has severely more powerful tags, add +1d4 to your roll.

Principle of Narrative Truth
  • Everything the players describe happens exactly how they describe it, when they describe it.
  • Narration must not describe the defeat of a character if they still have hit points/heartbeats left.
  • Higher rolls in combat now grant the right to narrate, and the side with the lower roll also takes damage.
  • This way, when winning a roll, a player could also describe how their character gets hit and/or injured, only to have a sensational comeback (when, mechanically, the opponent has been reduced to zero hearts).

One fighting against many
Your total result (roll+tags) counts against every single opponent – or you treat the horde as one single opponent

Checks and Attempts
roll d20+relevant tags vs. target number

either roll damage+relevant tags and subtract total from hp
1 heart = 3 heartbeats
1 hit = -1 heartbeat
1 crit = -1d4 heartbeats

have tags, GM/referee determines
when using loot or casting spells, GM/ref rolls 1d20; 18+: loot/spell has extremely beneficial effects, maybe even functionality it usually doesn’t have

Every tag is a +3 instead of a +1 to your roll.

Example combat, just the mechanics, no narration

_E. Honda, _
Class: Sumotori
Bioform: Human
extremely heavy, strong as an ox, one of the best sumotori in the world, tough as nails, Buddha Thousand-Palm-Slap, deals massive damage

Horde of goblins
there’s a lot of them, swords

Honda amazingly has 6 tags that are relevant for a fight. Note that if Honda or the goblins wore armor, it would also simply count as one tag. Honda adds 6 to his d20.
The goblins have 2 relevant tags for fighting. The goblins add 2 to their d20.

Round 1
Honda: rolls 9, +6 = 15
Goblins: roll 14, +2 = 16
=> Goblins hit, Honda loses 1 heartbeat and has 2 left.

Round 2
Honda: rolls 12, +6 = 18
Goblins: roll 10, +2 = 12
=> Honda hits, Goblins lose 1 heartbeat and have 2 left.

Round 3
Honda rolls a 20 (crit!), +6 = 26
Goblins roll 10, +2 =12 and cry
=> Honda rolls 1d4 to determine how many heartbeats the goblins lose, and rolls… a 1; the goblins are down to 1 heartbeat

Round 4
Honda rolls 16, +6 = 22
Goblins roll 13, +2 = 15
=> Goblins lose their last heartbeat; their fate now is in Honda’s hands. Will he slaughter them? Spare them? Befriend them? Enslave them?

Freeform Index Card RPG = TAG HEAVEN!

(c) Nick Hiatt

A couple of days ago, I posted about my mediocre experiment of combining an old school dungeon crawl with ICRPG AND playing this with old friends who are deeply into freeform. It was, how can I say, a disaster waiting to happen. 

Still, I think ICRPG is a beautiful game that I can tweak and bend and torture till it does what I want (tee-hee-heeeeeee).

My goal: turn ICRPG into a game that only requires the barest minimum of system knowledge and look-up during game sessions – it has to flow freely, and numbers and knowledge must disappear as much as possible.

My solution: as a few people here on the forum suggested, I’ll use tags. And by ‘using tags’, I mean I’ll use them like there’s no tomorrow. With the exception of stat bases and hearts, everything and their dog will be tagged. Like crazy. I’ll determine what tags a piece of Loot has when the moment has come. It’ll be a spur-of-the-moment, impromptu decision, just like back in the old days when Dave Arneson and the Twin City gamers invented roleplaying. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll get more specific when time passes. We’ll see.

(insert thinking man pose here)

So, for instance:
  • Let’s take the Amulet of the Fortress: spur of the moment, I’d tag it like so – ARMOR, IMMOBILE
  • or the Amulet of Secrets: HIDDEN KNOWLEDGE, INT, WHISPERS ADVICE
  • an easy one, the Book of Traps: BUILD TRAPS, DETECT TRAPS

After tagging, the fun part begins.

The players write down the tags, and so do I. The tags are all they have and know. No numbers, no mechanics.

When a situation arises where a piece of Loot or a Spell might fit, I roll a d20. The higher the result (I’m thinking 18+), the more effective that Loot or Spell works. How do they work? I’ll make a ruling. Maybe the Amulet of the Fortress grants you more armor, but a really good d20 roll might also turn you into a rolling fortress, with two cannons blazing from your shoulders. Or the Book of Traps might turn into an actual trap you can use once before becoming a book again.
This way, the “Wonder” part of Hank’s “Danger – Energy – Wonder” advice will be active a lot more often. And magic and magic items will once more be unpredictable and… well, wondrous.

I really, really like that.

Index Card RPG – and why it didn’t work for us

Hahaha, interesting experience… just came back from refereeing a dungeon crawl with Index Card RPG….two things on my mind:
  1. Even that game is too complex for me, too many moving parts.
  2. Dungeon is definitely NOT my preferred setting.
Oh, and a third: Going back to freeform is paramount. 

I have analyzed the experience, and these are the reasons why that session definitely didn’t live up to the hype I created myself.
  • When my players were confronted with challenges or threats, the first thing they all did was look at their character sheet – trying to find loot that might help their characters. This is a double whammy for me because we are freeform gamers (have been playing freeform almost from the day we started roleplaying, 1984), and we’re used to immersion. For lack of a better expression, we want to become our characters. Not all the time, but most of the time. ICRPG definitely did not support this play style.
  • This begs the question: Why? My (personal) answer is that the structure of ICRPG (special powers and loot galore) requires resource/loot management. As a result, as a player, you simply have to take inventory. Not looking at your character sheet means potential disadvantages in-game.
  • What are my ideals for roleplaying? Immersion, first and foremost. Challenges and fun. But immersion is crucial for our style of gaming.
  • How can I referee ICRPG so it meets our goals? First, NO game mechanics on the sheet. I’ll tell the players the name of the loot and what it does (in game world terms, not in mechanical terms). Same goes for spells. All the players know is what effects their characters get when they use their stuff. This should focus their attention and energy on their characters, and not on their sheets.
Will it work? I’m not sure. I’ll keep y’all posted how it goes.