So I’ve fallen in love again

…and this here is what my heart is beating for, right now.
Veil 2020 is Fraser Simons’s simplified variant of his own pbtA game, The Veil. It blends the simplicity of Whitehack classes with an innovative mood mechanic that helps players to roleplay their characters. Plus, variable damage – in a pbtA game! Very cool, I like all of it.

And you know what? That’s not the first pbtA game I really like – not by a long shot. Even though I call myself an old/ancient school roleplayer, it probably is more correct if I said a just like roleplaying a lot. I like reading rpgs, I like writing rpgs, I like refereeing rpgs, I like playing rpgs.

BUT. Almost every pbtA game I’ve ever read or played is packed with good ideas. Almost every game is a goldmine of inspirations and hints and possibilities. Of course, we also have true gems in the OSR, no doubt about that. I just think it’s worth taking a look at those games, as well.

That said, last December I wrote my adaption of Apocalypse World for our Landshut rules. That’s the beauty of pbtA games: You can hack them extremely easily to make them fit more traditional play styles. I know some hardcore purists don’t like that, but I couldn’t care less.

Really all you have to do is to simplify the “moves” of pbtA classes playbooks, slap your preferred dice mechanic on top, and you’re good to go.

Let’s create a Veil 2020 character, then.

Every V2020 character has six linked emotional states:
mad – peaceful
sad – joyful
scared – powerful.

Distribute -1, 0,0,+1,+1,+2 between these states. The higher a number, the more likely is success when the character acts.

I’d like to play a Zen-minded netrunner, so I go for this spread:

0 mad  +1 peaceful
-1 sad  0 joyful
0 scared +2 powerful

So, I have a peaceful, slightly sad, but enormously skilled netrunner. Every mood has a direct impact on my actions, so, when using the original rules, I roll 2d6+mood and hope to score at least 10 (for a clear, clean success; 7 to 9 is a mixed success, 6 is a fail).

Now, the class:
I’m playing a Pusher (netrunner). I have neural interface plugs all over my body, a cyberdeck, and I use my mind to navigate the endless sea of data. I can take 4 harm (that means, a good hit with a medium autopistol or sword will kill or at least K.O. me). I get to choose a specialty, and that is, I can manipulate people’s cybereyes to make them see illusions.

I buy a light autopistol and keep the remaining 200 eurobucks in my pocket.

So this is my V2020 character:

Acid Shogun, a pusher
0 mad  +1 peaceful
-1 sad  0 joyful
0 scared +2 powerful
netrunner (specialty: cybereye manipulation/”illusions”)
4 Harm
light autopistol (damage 2d4, take lower)

and translated into Landshut rules:

Acid Shogun, a pusher
peaceful, slightly sad, but enormously skilled netrunner (specialty: cybereye manipulation/”illusions”)
4 Hits
light autopistol

It really doesn’t get any easier than that!

Back to really simple roleplaying (repost from August 2019)

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.

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.

Git y’all’s Troika! ass in ar OD&D

I’ve sung the song of Troika! before, and I’ll continue to sing it. Troika! is the rebel child of British roleplaying, a world away from the American forefathers as you can imagine.

Troika!’s rules feel old, but move fast. And that’s where the original edition of Gary’s game and the much younger sibling from the UK have something in common. OD&D IS old, but moves fast, too. So, naturally, I have to try and play Troika! with the rules of the little brown books. This will be easy, very easy. Let’s see.

All I have to do is to pick or roll a Troika! background and treat the Advanced Skills as rough guidelines for saves. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of role-under stat saves; I like them to be more guesswork-y, if that makes sense. So, roll a Luck Die (d6), gauge the character’s Advanced Skill and tell the player what number to roll on or over.

Let’s try that with Caro’s Owl Detective.

As class template, I’ll use the elf. Like in yesterday’s blog post, an investigator starts out with 1+Level Detective Points. Re-interpret the OD&D spells in a way that applies to investigative work. “Lightning Bolt” could mean getting valuable intel on someone. Starting investigators get 3 detective tricks (ref determines). You can have any Level of spell. When you do your Owl Detective thing, save vs. INT (the higher the spell level, the harder the save). If you roll successfully, the trick works. If not, the trick doesn’t work, and you lose (spell level) Detective Points.

If the Owl Detective wants to Interrogate someone (one of his Advanced Skills), I’d simply say, roll more than 4 to be successful.

So there you have it. Your Brit rebel game in the warm embrace of its American ancestor.

Little Brown Books Cyberpunk, or: OD&D 2020

OK. I’m innocent. Honestly. Wizard Lizard started it. His credo is “OD&D can do anything”, or sometimes, “OD&D is the best game”. And while I’ve sworn not to write OD&D any more (because of reasons), I’m breaking my promise now. The original D&D game is still one of the best games ever written. And while Wizard Lizard has used OD&D to power Zoopunk and Shadowrun, I’m using it to run Cyberpunk 2020. The cool thing is this: It takes about 15 minutes to re-skin the game to fit your genre. So cool.

So, this, then is Cyberpunk 2020 by way of The Little Brown Books:

Rockerboys (thieves): Music is the universal language, and you speak it so, so, so well. That’s ALL you live for, ALL you want. The thief skills are your rocker skills; sway people with ROCK’N’ROLL (open locks), read corp fine print (remove traps), interpret catchy tunes your way (pick pockets), compose (move silently), hide in shadows, detect lies (hear noise).

Solos (fighting-men): They not only work like F-M, they are the prototypical F-M.

Netrunners (clerics): hack into computer systems. xd6 (6s explode) to determine how many minutes the run lasts; refs roll 1d6 each minute to determine if ICE and corp hackers notice something, 5+ they do; small x=tough system, large x=easy-peasy lemon squeezy). Use the Turning Undead table to determine the outcome of the netrun (with skeleton being a simple, unsophisticated system, and vampire being fraggin’ orbital bank HQ shit). Think about the consequences of failed netruns, too.

Techies (magic-users): they start out with 3+Level Tech Points. Re-interpret the OD&D spells in a way that applies to the miracles of technology. “Lightning Bolt” could mean short-circuiting nearby wires so they electrocute the target. Stuff like that. Starting techies get 3 spells, er, tech tricks (ref determines). You can have any Level of spell, repeat: you can have any level of spell. When you do your tech wizardry, save vs. INT (the higher the spell level, the harder the save). If you roll successfully, the trick works. If not, the trick doesn’t work, and you lose (spell level) Tech Points.

Medias (thieves): you know all the tricks in the book of communication; you know people who might help you or owe you a favor. You’re in that game for The Truth, and you really think you can uncover and discover it. The thief skills are your job skills; ask the right people (open locks), get clearances (remove traps), steal info (pick pockets), shmooze your way in (move silently), go undercover (hid in shadows), analyze rumors (hear noise).

Cops (elves): you can be a tough street-cop (elven fighting-man) for one case, and a sly investigator (elven magic-user) for the next. As an investigator, you start out with 1+Level Detective Points. They work like he Techie’s tech points: Re-interpret the OD&D spells in a way that applies to investigative work. “Lightning Bolt” could mean getting valuable intel on someone. Starting investigators get 3 detective tricks (ref determines). You can have any Level of spell. When you do your cop thing, save vs. INT (the higher the spell level, the harder the save). If you roll successfully, the trick works. If not, the trick doesn’t work, and you lose (spell level) Detective Points.

Corporates (clerics): You’ve been in the biz for a while. You know how to deal with people. And you know to to pull certain strings to get certain things done. Use the Turning Undead table to determine the outcome of your activities (skeleton = a simple, unsophisticated task, vampire = that shit might be way above your paygrade).

Fixers (dwarves): Import, export. So to speak. You help people get what they desire. And you help them lose what they want lost. Use the Retainer/NPC Reaction table to determine the outcome (not the reaction of your business partners) of your business transactions.

Nomads (hobbits): When everybody else has lost their collective fraggin’ mind (and soul!), you know what’s important in life: a tribe. A family. A wolf-pack of friends. But life on the road has its downsides, that’s why you know how to shoot guns and throw shit. And you add +4 to every saving throw against things that hurt.

Static vs. dynamic: how old is your game?

One thing I notice again and again is the huge difference between old school and “ancient school” rpgs. As readers of this blog you probably know that I use the later categorization for roleplaying games that were played before Gary’s version was published. Gary’s game itself would be “old school”.

Even if you
 take extremely simplified and boiled-down versions of Gary’s game, probably all of them (at least all I know of) keep one rule mechanic: You have to roll under or over a certain number to hit an opponent in battle. This is what I call “dynamic vs. static”, in the sense of one person having to roll against a non-random number. Even the earliest known variant of Gary’s game, Craig vanGrasstek’s Rules to the Game of Dungeon, use this mechanic. So, bottom line, in most games (Classic Traveller being one of the exceptions), we get this flow of actions:

  • determine initiative
  • winner of initiative rolls against target number and does damage or not
  • loser of initiative rolls against target number and does damage or not
  • repeat

And then there is the ancient school of roleplaying. All the games that came before Gary’s version. All the games that the Twin City gamers played. In contrast to Gary’s game (or at least, what he played in public; there are a few credible people saying he played ancient rpg style when he played with his friends), ancient school games don’t work like that. All games I’ve witnessed are using opposed rolls. You attack me? Roll dice, but I roll mine – and if I roll higher than you, I counter-attack successfully. This is what I call “dynamic vs. dynamic”. The bottom-line of ancient school rpg melee, then, is:

  • roll dice against each other (maybe you get to add a bonus because of some advantage), higher roll hits, a tie means both side hit simultaneously
  • repeat
In play, it’s a remarkable difference. In dynamic-vs-static games, you have the occasional whiff factor, characters might miss their attacks. In dynamic-vs-dynamic, there’ll always be at least one hit. Both variants deserve attention. I usually go for dynamic-vs-dynamic, but sometimes, misses in combat really do increase the tension of combat. 

Play worlds, not rules: characters in literature and how to translate them

In “ancient school” (pre-Gygax) rpg circles, you’ll often hear “play worlds, not rules” and variants thereof. The reason is simple: before there were any rulebooks, all referees could refer to when they played was literature (books, movies and radio plays). So how do you translate a character from literature to rpg speak? The following example will hopefully help.

Let’s take William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer. Luckily, I found an interesting synopsis of the characters in the book. I pick Case, the male protagonist:
Case/Cutter (Henry Dorsett Case) 
Case, sometimes called “Cutter”, is the novel’s antihero. He is introduced as a morose, down-and-out drug addict, living out his days in the slums of the urban jungle that is Chiba city as a small-time hustler. He was formerly one of the best console cowboys, or cyberspace hackers, of his time before he foolishly tried to steal from some of his criminal partners. As punishment for double-crossing them they used a fungus-based poison to maim his nervous system rendering him incapable of logging into cyberspace. In exchange for Case’s hacking abilities and services, a mysterious man named Armitage offers to cure him of the extensive neural damage he sustained. Case cautiously consents to undergo the procedure and later on he has his liver and pancreas biochemically altered ensuring that he cannot get high again, allowing him to break free from his drug habit. He goes through an immense roller coaster ride spanning the depths of the urban sprawl to the heights of space, meeting a myriad of colorful characters along the way. In the midst of all this mayhem Case manages to free an artificial intelligence (Wintermute) and change the face of the matrix in an immense way.

I’ve underlined the things that characterize Case. Let’s paraphrase:

  • former drug addict
  • small-time hustler living in Chiba
  • used to be one of the best console cowboys
  • liver and pancreas filter system: can’t get high on drugs

That’s a LOT to work with.

Now, how would I convert this to minimald6?
Like so: Case (also called “Cutter”), one of the best console cowboys, former drug addict and small-time hustler living in Chiba, liver and pancreas drug filter, cyberdeck. 3 hits. High INT, low STR and  CON. Roll 3d6 when hacking and doing related things, 5s and 6s are successes.

How would I convert this to Landshut?
Like this: Case (also called “Cutter”), one of the best console cowboys, former drug-addict (can’t get high because of liver and pancreas filter), cyberdeck. 3 hits. Roll 2d6+2 against ref’s 2d6 when hacking and doing related things.

How would I convert this to MoldHammer?
Simple: Case (also called “Cutter”), Hacker (3 in 6 success chance). Former drug-addict (can’t get high because of liver and pancreas filter), cyberdeck. ❤ <3, to-hit: 10. Level 0.

It’s really that simple. Pick a couple of interesting points, write them down, give bonuses to rolls when the character is doing stuff he’s good at. Grant him a few hits. Done.

d66 Landshut Rules mini classes

The kind soul behind the Meidos&Monsters blog has written a pretty interesting d66 table for fantasy classes you can use for the Landshut Rules. To give you a taste of what’s going on there:

1x: Martial Classes

  1. Archer. Your arrows can penetrate targets and find their mark in unlikely circumstances.
  2. Ranger. You can commune with animals and find paths through the wilderness.
2x: Roguish classes 

  1. Locksmith. You can unlock, or lock, doors with ease. 
  2. Burglar. You can get in to places where you think there’s treasure without triggering traps and surprises.
3x: Wizards 

  1. Black Mage. Your magic is destructive and dangerous. 
  2. White Mage. Your magic is near-holy in nature. 
To see the table in all its glory, go there: