Darkworm Colt is now on Patreon!

It took me a long time to make up my mind about publishing on Patreon… and now, I finally convinced myself to do it.

https://www.patreon.com/darkwormcolt is the address, and I’d be glad if you joined. There’s only one tier (The Mighty Darkworm), and it’s $1 for each creation.

Thank y’all!

How Erick Wujcik gamemastered Amber

I am particularly grateful to Erick Wujcik for three things.

First, for writing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (among so many other books). I grew up with the real Turtles comics, not the child-oriented, pizza-eating funny green turtlemen on television. The game gave me so many ideas. Thanks for that.

And second, I’m grateful for Amber Diceless. This game has influenced me like no other. This game brought me to free-form role playing. This game, in its more than 250 pages (almost all of them with tips for gamemasters), introduced me to Amber – I discovered the books after the game, in 1991.

In a rather interesting discussion on an Amber Diceless forum I asked the question how gamemasters use the rules in-play. While I either play it by the book or totally freeform, the question came up how Erick actually played Amber.

Finarvyn, an Amber Diceless (and OD&D) veteran who often played with Erick, responded (emphasis added by me):

Well, in my experience Erick didn’t ever look at a rulebook. Heck, he hardly ever looked at our character sheets. 

I think he built a general “character concept” in his head – this guy is good here but bad there, that kind of thing – and then just let us play. It seemed like he would simply decide based on if we tried clever things or not when we had the chance to act out our actions. When I talked to him about rules I got the impression that he bent or broke them on a whim if it made the storyline progress better and made the game more fun. He always seemed to put the story above the mechanics.

All the more reason why I feel so connected to him.

Cyberpunk: Why Hardwired is the real 2020 for me, part 2


The title is misleading. Hardwired is set 131 years later than Cyberpunk 2020, but still, at least to me, the setting seems more coherent and “realistic” than that of 2020:

Background

The desiccation of the soil is forcing farmers worldwide to use more and more water to extract any food at all from the land. But the sinking groundwater table is destroying virtually all traditionally cultivated plants.

Fossil fuels are running out or can no longer be used without massive additional costs due to their impact on the environment. Meanwhile, operators are shifting heavy industry into orbit in order to circumvent environmental protection regulations. The “orbitals”, as the corporations based in space are called, are growing more and more, a lucrative business. On Earth, on the other hand, the foundations of life are deteriorating daily. Tensions between “dirtside” and “orbitals” arise. These escalate to such an extent that the orbitals begin to attack the Earth with their mass drivers (electromagnetic cannons that fire nickel-iron mixtures into orbit to create radiation “screens” for future generations) by firing 10,000 tons of rocks at it. This attack, known as the Rock War, lasts 12 hours. Now the planet resembles more of a lunar landscape in places, while other formerly poor continents are flourishing. “The United States is a Third World country,” notes the source.

The USA is splintering into its individual states. The government in DC can only stand back and watch powerlessly. Independence turns many former US states into secure lands with fortified border crossings. This in turn brings smugglers into the picture. In self-built armored hovercrafts (“tanks”), they bring coveted goods to where they are needed.

Clones

In contrast to 2020, where cloning was still outrageous (we remember “Land of the Free”, a complete boxed adventure that was all about the first successful human clone), cloning technology in Hardwired is possible, but very expensive and still buggy.

The Net

There isn’t. In Hardwired, it’s the “Face” (short for “interface”).

Decking

There isn’t. The “consensual hallucination” of Gibson, the “matrix” of Shadowruns, the three-dimensional virtual space, which in a way stands as an icon for cyberpunk, is completely missing in Hardwired. In its place is something that I find far more interesting in the game: a hacking system. A player who plays a hacker, or “(Console) Cowboys” or “Crystal Jock”, as they are called, has accounts of varying degrees of influence in various networks, has to write programs in a very oldschool way (in a “programming language” called “Evolved BASIC”, or eBasic), exchange or guess passwords, or cheat or buy, and do all the things hackers do (or at least what I, as a non-hacker, think they do).

“Black ICe” does not exist – simply because the author Jon Williams does not believe in the technical possibilities that so much juice could ever flow over a data line that it would fry a person’s brain. A nice quote about that:

Nobody dies in the Net. Dying because of what one does in the Net – that’s different.

So the really dangerous thing in the Net are not just any programs, but the SysOps that monitor your system. They are the ones who locate intruders and possibly send troops. This makes hacking exciting again.

I already mentioned above that the player who embodies a Decker writes small pseudo programs in a pseudo programming language called “eBasic”. From experience, this also hits the nerve of contemporaries who are interested in this role, but at the same time have no current programming experience. One of my former players spent joyful hours writing “programs” that his Decker could use during the game. An example from Hardwired:

(…) a crystaljock wishing to break into a secured computer and steal a file while simultaneously providing himself an alibi could write the following program:
WAIT 2 HOURS
CALL 786-7787 (Korolev)
LOGON IVAN SMITIKOV
PASSWORD CHEETOFIX
ACCESS SECUREFILES DIRECTORY
LOAD FILE SECRETDATA
SAVE IN DECK DIRECTORY
LOGOFF
The crystaljock tells his deck to run this program, then heads out to spend a night on the town, making sure he is seen by a number of people during the next three or four hours. The deck obediently waits two hours, then logs on to the Korolev computer and downloads the desired file while the crystaljock is establishing his alibi.

 Case closed.

Hong Kong action: film titles

In the old HKAT! game you could roll action movie titles with a wonderfully simple generator. Very often I start with the movie title and then use it as a springboard for further adventure ideas.

A special feature of Hong Kong film titles is the translation of the Cantonese original into Mandarin. The Mandarin titles usually have nothing to do with the Cantonese original.

Snake in the Snow (Cold Fingers to Stop a Murderer)
Wuxia: Heroes hunt down notorious assassin who hides in the mountains.

Secret Fist (Garage Blood)
Modern Martial Arts: Ultra-secret agent force used for difficult missions. Secret Ultimate Fights that go to the death, identifying the heroes.

Hong Kong Kung Fu Force (Fool’s Come Running)
Modern Martial Arts: Foolish Kungfu students witness an attack and decide to find the culprit on their own.

Black Evil (Man with Eyes of Fire)
Superhero: Heroes are superheroes and fight against a powerful opponent: Black Evil. Lots of SFX.

Mighty Red Shadow (To Fight for Freedom)
Modern Martial Arts: At the time of the Cultural Revolution, or when China allowed Great Britain to keep Hong Kong for another 99 years. Chinese secret service groups are letting British businessmen  jump over the blade by the dozen in order to have as few “capitalist elements” in HK as possible already now. Heroes fight against injustice. Picturesque clubs, HK in luxury.

Storm Triad Brothers (Cat’s Meow)
Heroic Bloodshed: Siblings, working together in their father’s company. One or more of them slowly slide into the Storm Triad. At some point, a conflict arises in which they have to decide where their loyalty lies: to their own family, or to the Triad.

City’s Revenge (Boots the Largest Size)
Bizarre: Real estate moguls tear down venerable, old buildings everywhere in Hong Kong and plant high-rise buildings. When they start to tear down the old horse race track as well, the heroes appear on the scene. They accidentally uncover a large-scale fraud: The buildings were listed and should not have been demolished. But the construction companies continue. Even the small shop of a relative is to be demolished, the owner was beaten and threatened. Time for the heroes to intervene. They get support from City – the incarnated Hong Kong that doesn’t want to be wounded anymore.

The King, the Monkey & the Cop (Throne War)
Heroic Bloodshed: Young gang leader (Monkey) makes life difficult for a triad boss (King). As revenge he tries to commit horrible crimes against the police and to make them look as if they had committed Monkey. Monkey on the other hand becomes even more insane in his actions against King. The heroes are either police officers or relatives of the victims of the gang war.

Fearless Sword (Screams Banned into Steel)
Wuxia: The heroes are in search of the legendary demon sword Huet Pan Chuen (Blood Source) to destroy it forever. Other groups try to get their hands on it before it comes to that.

octaNe, and old love of mine

octaNe. A true storygame classic. I bought the book as soon as it hit the shelves, and I was never disappointed. octaNe uses “scene resolution” most of the time. That means, conflicts are resolved with one roll of the dice. Hm.

How can I resolve octaNe conflicts in a way that keeps them exciting for the players? In a nutshell, conflict resolution in octaNe works like this: A threat has a hazard rating. Each Hazard Point neutralizes one of the player’s dice, always the highest one. The dice left after the Hazard determine who gets control of the scene.

For example: A T-Rex controlled by a mad dwarf scientist sitting in a bulletproof cockpit welded onto the dinosaur’s head is, say, Hazard 2. The T-Rex attacks a completely surprised Lucha Livre wrestler. The player rolls the usual 3d6 and comes up with 2,4,5. The two highest roll results, 4 and 5, are “eaten” by the Hazard, leaving only the 2. In octaNe, a 2 means the gamemaster has complete control over the scene – exactly the constellation found in the traditional game. Now everyone involved in the game would play the whole thing out.

The scene would, at least in my eyes, lose tension.

If, instead of subtracting the Hazard Rating from the players’ dice results in one go, I were to tell a short back and forth with the player for each single Hazard point before subtracting the next point of Hazard, it would considerably increase the tension for the players. In comparison to the example above, a Hazard 2 would have two scenes, “snapshots”, of the wrestler’s fight against the T-Rex.

And most importantly, the player doesn’t know the opponent’s Hazard Rating. Does the fight already stop after one scene? After two? Or does it last even longer?

Technique: Pidgin Adventures

  • Take a short synopsis of any published rpg module. For instance, I, being German and all, choose the German old school (1985) fantasy module “In den Fängen des Dämons” (roughly, “In the clutches of the Demon”). 
  • Write down or copy the plot segments, a few sentences for each. 
  • Write down the npcs and their relationships to each other and the player characters 
  • Draw a couple of maps, if you like maps 
  • Stat your npcs and anything else that is important 
  • Go play 

Mixed successes in The Landshut Rules

So you’d like to have mixed successes in your Landshut game. I get it. So please let me introduce the Dilemma Die. I’ve been using it for many years, in all kinds of games. The Dilemma Die is also a rule I use in minimald6, my other freeform rpg.

How does it work?
The DD is a d6 with 5 blank faces and 1 face showing a flash symbol. Roll the DD with your other dice. When the flash side comes up, something goes wrong, independently from success or failure.

For instance:
I try to leap across a wide pit. My character is pretty heavy and wearing armor, so the ref says, ‘subtract 2 from your roll, please’. I roll my 2d6 and my DD, and the dice come up as 1,6 and a dilemma. 7 minus 2 is 5, the dilemma stays. Now, the ref rolls his dice, and he rolls a total of 8. What happens? My character does not make it across the chasm, and his backpack opens, with all the contents falling into the bottomless pit.

There you go. pbtA in a nutshell 😉

Sorcerers & Sellswords: Hacking the rules II

My last post hacked the game rules of S&S by introducing two new attributes, and switching the dice system to roll on-or-under.

Now, let’s go one step further and simply drop the stats. Sorcery is gone, and Swords is history, too.

Creating a character now means choosing a Style and a Calling, a Goal and a Name. Don’t pick a skill number. Instead: in a few words, describe your character – history and abilities.

Let’s try this with the character we introduced in the first post:

Galgad O’Karrt, Shrewd Psion.
He’s been through a very rough patch. Lost his belongings in the fire when they started hunting people “not like them”. Hopes his brother is still alive. He managed to survive a few street brawls, but was injured pretty badly each time. His weapon is the mind.

AND NOW use Grant Howitt’s brilliant little system for his Retrograde game.

Situation: Galgad tries to PSI Blast an ignorant town guard. He’s in pain from a deep fall the day before, so the GM says the outcome of the blast is in doubt. I roll 3d6 because he is a Psion, he uses his mind as a weapon. I get a 3, a 4 and a 5. That’s two successes (die result 4+). Galgad succeeds, and I get to dictate what happens.

Cool! That’s even simpler and easier than the original system. I don’t have to compare a stat number or several stats to my roll. I simply roll the dice and hope for at least a 4 on every die. That’s it.

Sorcerers & Sellswords: hacking the rules I

Ray Otus is creating beautiful games. One of them is his weird-fantasy hack of John Harper’s Lasers & Feelings, called “Sorcerers & Sellswords“. You know I’m a total sucker for rules-lite games, but something always kept me from fully embracing the awesomeness that is S&S, or the source, L&L.

It ISN’T the fact that all dice rolls are player-facing. I’ve made my (uneasy, but hey) peace with that. The culprit is the way the character stats are expressed. I really don’t like it.

So how do they work in L&L, and in S&S (and the dozens of other hacks out there)?
It simple. You pick one Skill number between 2 and 5. “A low number means you will be better at Sorcery (weird powers, ancient/alien artifacts, intuition, persuasion, passionate action) and a high number means you will be better at Swords (mundane tools and weapons, logic, diplomacy, calm precise action)”.

‘mkay.

I don’t know about you, but Sorcery, to me, SORCERY, does not mean passionate action. That’s definitely, absolutely, and undoubtedly Swords to me. On the other hand, SWORDS, to me, does not mean diplomacy or calm precise action. Not at all.

That’s the first thing that doesn’t sit right with me. And it’s NOT Ray’s fault. It’s the “fault” of the original system that only presented two stats that should represent what the game was all about.

Let’s recap real quick: You pick the Skill number, a number between 2 and 5, and the lower is, the better you are at “Sorcery”, and the higher it is, the better you are at “Swords”. Something comes up, you pick up between one and three d6, and roll them.

And now, it gets… too complex for my tastes: “For Sorcery, count the dice OVER your Skill number. For Swords, count the dice UNDER your Skill number. So I have only one number on my page, but I have to roll under or over, depending on the stat I’m using. But: why? Wouldn’t it be more practical, at the table, to have a stat number for each stat, roll under or equal to, and that’s it? I understand John Harper’s design behind it, it’s pure reduced elegance. But to me, easily amused and easily confused country bum that I am, to me, this is… impractical and a bit confusing.

So, instead, I do two things:

  1. Two new stats: Intuition and Charisma. Sorcery now really means “weird powers, and ancient/alien artifacts”. Swords now really is “weapons, the ability to fight (also unarmed)”. Persuasion? Use Charisma, please. Logic? Use the player’s. 
  2. A new system: Distribute 6 points between Intuition and Charisma, and another 6 points between Sorcery and Swords. No stat higher than a 5. No stat lower than a 1. If you save against a stat, roll under or equal to it. No Insight rolls. Everything else remains just as Ray wrote it.
So, for instance, this is a new S&S character:
Galgad O’Karrt, Shrewd Psion
Intuition 3
Charisma 3
Sorcery 5
Sword 1
Galgad tries to PSI Blast an igorant town guard. Galgad has prepared the attack and rolls 2d6 (1d6 standard, plus 1d6 for the preparation). PSI Blasts are Sorcery, obviously. I roll a 2 and a 6. So, one success (2), and one miss.
Galgad barely manages to PSI Blast the guard. Instead of knocking him out silently, the guard grunts loudly and crashes against the gate with a loud thud. 
Yup. Now I like it. Now I really like it.