It’s not about equipment

Character equipment still plays an important role in OSR games. Seeing where the OSR play style comes from, that’s understandable. 

But for FKR games? Is equipment for FKR heroes as important as for OSR characters? I doubt it. If I take a look back at the pre-D&D scene, the time of the two Daves, Braunstein, Blackmoor, Prof. MAR Barker, Tekumel, the first thing I notice is that varying damage (in the sense of ‘roll a d6 for a dagger, and a d10 for a zweihänder’) was not around yet. So, apart from the fact that each weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages, there was no need to get ‘a better weapon’ so the character could do more damage.

Also, contrary to what many Original D&D players (or better: forum members) are claiming, pre-any-school roleplaying was LESS lethal for the characters than the first couple of editions of D&D. The reason for this is simple: Braunsteins and early Blackmoor was about adventure. Sure, you had your dungeons, but pre-hit point roleplaying was less about grimdark survival, and more about a shared fantasy experience.

If FKR is playing worlds, not rules – then your character is not their equipment

The premise I’m using often for FKR gaming is Chirine ba Kal’s “play worlds, not rules”. Take your favorite book and turn it into a sourcebook for your games. I’m certain the main protagonist of that book is not defined by their equipment. That equipment might help describe him (a narrative device, then), but it’s not used to define him. Exceptions confirm the rule. Literary character are defined by their actions and interactions. Again, gear is just a diegetic tool to help with the description.

I think this is important because, at least to me, this means a shift away from the tight focus on gear, to a tight focus on behavior and, if you like that in your game, character archetypes. There is a reason why I love John S. Ross’s rpg Risus so much. Not because of the system, it doesn’t really interest me. What makes Risus shine is its concept of clichés: A character is described with clichés – genre-typical descriptions. For instance: A tight-lipped Barbarian from the North with scarred forearms. Instantly, you form a mental picture. 

But there’s more to clichés than just this. In all probability, you also intuit his abilities and predispositions: fighting. Enduring harsh weather. Drinking. Resilience. You just know them.

That’s the power of clichés. And of course, John S. Ross didn’t invent them, but he was the first to introduce them to roleplaying games. A stroke of genius.

Let’s stay with clichés just a little longer. So we have…

A tight-lipped Barbarian from the North with scarred forearms

Another question: Can you imagine what equipment this barbarian is carrying?

Of course you can! A sword. A flask. Heavy fur boots. Drab. Fur cap. A backpack. Jerky. 

The power of clichés at work.

So what really matters is not equipment lists or “starting equipment” (a perennial favorite in OSR circles), but a good, solid character description. And clichés work best for that.

This does not mean equipment is not important. But it should spring naturally from the character description, instead of the other way around.

In Risus, a character’s gear is called “Tools of the Trade”. This gear comes with the character. And you, the player, determine what these tools are.

Just one last example, a longer one this time:

Henry Dorsett Case
(Neuromancer, William Gibson)

“A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void….The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.”

So… “Washed-up console cowboy with a drug problem”.

And you know how he looks. You intuit his skills. You can imagine his “starting gear”.

Isn’t this amazing?

FKR No-Pool Risus (also: One-Die Risus)

It came up today on the FKR server: dice pool systems. I generally have a love-hate relationship with them. They offer advantages (bigger pool = more power; what a immensely visual way to portray your character!), but to me, there’s a huge drawback: counting the dice. Or, worse, adding them, as T&T does, or the d6 gaming engine. Or, sadly, Risus.

BUT the single best way to play Risus (for my group and me) is this little hack:

You get to create your character as per the Risus rules. Multiply the cliché number by two. The result is the type of die you roll against the referee’s die. Whenever you’d lose a cliché die in Risus, you step down the die (so, for instance, a d12 becomes a d10 becomes a d8 becomes a d6 becomes a d4 becomes a d2 becomes zero).

So, a Grim Swordfighter from the Frosten Wastes (4) rolls a d8, while his Angst-ridden Orc Enemy (3) rolls a d6.

Easy-peasy. And works like a charm.

How don’t I roll?: The heart of FKR

 In my opinion, the Landshut Rules capture my way of refereeing games perfectly: 

Most of the times, I don’t roll dice. Diceless gaming has been around since the beginning of our hobby. Gary Gygax said (purportedly):

I don’t know if that’s true, but after all I heard in my chats with the grognards who played with Gary and the Daves, I feel comfortable he really said this.

Readers ask me if there is a rhyme and reason to this process: When do I roll the dice? When do I determine the outcome without rolling them?

The answer is: No, there is no method I’m following. I roll the dice for and/or against my players when I feel like it. It all depends on the mood at the table: my mood. The players’ mood. There is no method, no single true way. It truly is as wishy-washy as it sounds.

And it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes, I’ll draw tarot cards, or the Everway fortune cards. Sometimes, it’ll be something like “try to hit that die over there with your die to succeed”. Sometimes, it’s play-acting with minis or action figures. It’s all spur-of-the-moment, going with flow.

This, really, is the heart of Free Kriegsspiel Revolution for me: playing like we did as kids, but with a more mature mindset. At least, most of the times 🙂

Dunkelwurm: The Central Reich

Let’s do this properly. The Middle Kingdom in my FKR game.
Capital: Gareth (Kaiser Hal)
 
Geographical borders:Finsterkamm, Salamander Stone, Black Sickle, Troll Peaks,
Raschtul’s Wall, Anvil mountains, Kosch mountains
Think of: Germany in the High Middle Ages
Religion: The One God (think of: Medieval Catholic Church)
… and the appropriate spark table:

1

Counts

Conspiracy

2

Dukes

Battle

3

Indentured Farmers

Science

4

Castle

Palace

5

Knight

Graveyard

6

Cornfields

Office

7

Rolling Hills

Magic

8

Merchants

Academy

9

Craftsmen

Horsecraft

10

Guilds

Cavalry

11

Small Town

Monastery

12

Forest

Huge Amount Of Money

13

Orcs

Arcane Threat

14

Bureaucracy

The Nameless God

15

Taxman

Flying

16

Warfare

Snow

17

Shadows

Invasion

18

Alley

Revolution

19

Assassination

Demons

20

Metropolis

Empress

Impressions:

Dunkelwurm: Hero Types

After I introduced my new FKR fantasy game, I’d like to show you what type of heroes you can play.

1. Rooster Rogue (Hahnenschalk)
Rooster? Hah! You’re so much more than a talking man-sized rooster with human hands and clothes! You are the direct descendant of the proud and noble House of Rooster Rogues. Your Art of Illusion is the stuff of legends. Bag of Magic Eggs, sword, noble clothes

2. Elf:
You are ancient, but you look younger than most humans. A child you are not. Sometimes it amuses you to see those humans planning and scheming, without regards of the really long-term consequences. Plans will come to pass, and humankind is just a pawn in the Great Game. Bow and arrow, flute, bag of herbs

3. Dwarf:
Rock gave birth to you. The ground shaped you. You know the mountains and stones and pebbles, better than anyone else. Ax, hammer, metal armor

4. Soldier/Warrior
One of the elite soldiers, you know battle. You love battle, and you have the scars to prove it. From the Flying Fields of Misan to the Dire Swamps in the South, you have fought there. One-handed weapon, leather armor, shield

5. Adventurer:
Back home in the village, you were a nobody. Now, here, you’re free. Hungry and without riches, but free. You are one of the few who have left the Walled City, and the memories haunt you to this day. Knives, quilted uniform, musical instrument

6. Jarl:
A duke of the clods you are, a ruler over two villages. Or, you were. Now, Lady Adventure is singing her siren songs. Sword, polearm, leather armor, flask of schnaps

7. Magister:
Your name is known in the Academy of the West. You haven’t made it into the White Tower, but a breakthrough in your research is only a matter of time. Books, writing utensils, magnifying glass

8. Man of the Woods:
You know the forest and its inhabitants. You know them well, and they’re your friends, at least many of them. Dowsing rod, bag of herbs, a bottle filled with water from the Otherside

9. Sorcerer:
You have opened a door you shouldn’t have opened. You have started playing with forces you don’t understand. Five spells have you defeated and forced into your labyrinthine cages so they may never escape. There are 95 more. Magic elmwood staff, foliants, scrolls, robes, pointed hat

10. Crusader:
You know the One and True God. The ones who don’t believe in him are misguided. Heathens! Only when every city in the West and in the East are united under the banner of the Church, the world will know peace. Warhammer, chainmail armor, uniform, banner

11. Wandering Monk:
Life in the monastery was good. Then, It happened, and you have never stayed in one place for long ever since. Some say, you are on the run. Sometimes, the gods are talking to you. Or is it the demons? Staff, frock, holy symbol

12. Fingersmith
Quick, agile and nimble. Specialized in property relocation. Dagger, bags, mask, rope

13. Stomptrooper
No kingdom, no empire, without mindless soldiers. Comrades in arms, a force to be reckoned with. Weak when alone. Form-fitting armor, sword

14. City
Some people know all the streets and places in town. Others have all the important contacts. But you. You. Are. The. City. Impromptu weapons you can find always and everywhere , Concrete plate armor, a horse, a carriage, a tiny house that‘s bigger on the inside

15. Officer of the Cult
Obey the Master. His word is Penultimate Truth. Obey the Master. Medallion with the image of The Master (acts as armor  on a good Luck roll).

16. Hunchbacked Mystic
Reclusive eccentrics. Wise men, sages and fools. Ask them, and you will get answers. Sometimes, they even make sense. Collection of Holy Books (count as armor)

17. Troll Cannoneer
One of the oldest tribes in the world. Their culture, both artistic, refined and violent. You are one of them. Young. Inexperienced. But proud. Trokkk® Two-handed Handgunne, bottle of moonshine

18. Nine Heavenly Seas Navigator
Pirates in flying ships. Adventurers in dark space. Scoundrels them all. Sextant, flintlock pistol

19. Netherworld Barbarian
Your people have lived under the land for as long as they can remember. Fierce and loyal, with an unsatiable lust for life. Huge two-handed sword or war hammer

20. Slugman Noble
Palaces up in the mountains, decadent, glittering in the sun. Your word is law, and has been forever. Aloof, distant and cold as ice. One month supply of rare tea, traditional chukri long dagger, an elastic, absorbing skin, eyestalks that allow you to look around corners.

21. A King/Queen in Exile
Men, women, wine, slaves, gold and riches, you had it all. Then the Others invaded your lands, and you ran for their lives. Royal insignia, a rusty sword

22. Dwarven Engineer
Great tinkerers with a keen sense of weird mechanisms. Mechanical miracle workers. Book of Forefatherly Complex Constructions:, Dwarven Machines that imitate a spell effect

23. Panzer Templar
Defenders of the world. Unholy alliances threatening existence. The truth does not lie in the middle, it‘s both. At the same time. Scorchsword, roll 1d6: 1-5: metal arms, 6: metal head

24. Councilman
Secrets, trade deals and connections. Most of them shady, some outright dangerous. A fragile equilibrium. Poisoner‘s ring

25. Holy Man/Holy Woman/Holy Hermaphrodite
Your god talks to you. And your life only knows one goal: to please God. Begging bowl, chillum pipe and hasheesh, Prayer Beads

26. Runemaster
The secrets of Dere are contained in the eon-old runes the gods gave you. You know how to combine them. You know how to feed them. Treat them well, and they will be your allies. Set of runes consecrated with your own blood, sword, wolfskin complete with head , Book of The Nine Worlds

27. Stranger
You have no memory of how you came here, or who your parents are. Sometimes, you just know things, but how? Also, when you’re involved in a fight, bystanders have called your style „weird an unexpected“. You seem to have a natural affinity towards everything mechanical and… strange. Book written in a language nobody has ever seen, a small rectangular-shaped thing, flexible, but sturdy, with your name on it, a magic item that looks like a very flat rectangular box with unbreakable glass on the frontside.

Blast from the past: My first diceless roleplaying game: "Heritage" (1999, long post)

Wow!
I just found this… and it’s still as relevant now as it was 21 years ago. Let’s do this!

Heritage is the Matush Manhunt core rules system as of August 8, 1999. All future roleplaying supplements, online or on paper, will use the Heritage system. 

First of all, Heritage is not written for unexperienced or immature players. The mechanics presented herein require a good portion of roleplaying, and suspension of disbelief – not rules lawyering. 

The history of Heritage: 

I began roleplaying in 1983/1984. After playing 30+ systems, I accidently stumbled across diceless roleplaying (in form of the Amber: Diceless Roleplaying system). This was the moment when I was really hooked. A few years ago, I wrote No Points Heroes, a optional diceless/dice-using rpg, heavily based on storytelling principles. Then, I read Theatrix, which lighted another fire in me.

Not to be forgotten is the superb SLUG system by Steffan O’Sullivan. It inspired me a lot.

I didn’t take long, and I had finished Above Average, a superhero storytelling system. Still, I was looking for an even simpler game, for a storytelling system that could stand up to all requirements of a mature, earnest roleplaying game – but still be very simple, very easy to master. 

Heritage is such a system. It’s the essence of my 16 years of roleplaying experience.  

Our ancestors used to tell each other stories to entertain themselves. Later came books, later came movies. And then, roleplaying was (re-)invented. It began with easy rules, and, given 20 years, it grew complicated. More and more rules tried to simulate instead of tell a story. Heritage belongs into the second category: it wants to help players tell a story.  

Rule One: Get Involved!  

What makes a roleplaying game a roleplaying game? You can play a character and bring him/her to life. Most often, this character is able to do things which the player is not able to do, though this is not a necessary precondition. This character is thrown into adventures – which usually are not your everyday, off-the-shelf experiences.  

To make a long story short: a roleplaying game offers you the great opportunity to play another role.  

Roleplaying games and movies have much in common: they tell stories about persons; these persons may be fictional, but they need not necessarily be.  

Let’s stay a while at the movies: why do we like a film? What reasons are there that we don’t like a movie? The main reason is that we like or don’t like the Plot, the story that is told. Another reason is that we like or don’t like the impersonation, the way the characters are played by the actors.  

With roleplaying characters, it’s just the same.  

Let’s assume that the story that is told is a good one. What makes a roleplaying session a good one, then? Right: the impersonation, the way the characters are played.  

A good character roleplaying game is not a good character roleplaying game because of its power lists and tables and modifiers and rules for everything and anything, but it is a good one because the background and the stories are told well. The rules, the modifiers, the tables and the power lists are decoration, frills, not more. If character characters are played flatly, even the best story is flat.  

So the first step towards a storytelling character game is: drop the rules. I know, some readers will switch off their computers now. But please be patient, and I guarantee that you will make a radically new roleplaying experience.  

Drop the rules. Drop the numbers and power lists. Free yourself from everything that limits your imagination. Keep your focus on how your character character can become alive. You are the character. So think like your character, act like your character, feel like your character, talk like your character, laugh like your character … be your character while you are playing him.  

No, I don’t say that this is easy. It is not easy. But once you are familiar with your roleplaying character, you will add a whole new dimension to your roleplaying sessions.  

Playing your character means being him. This has nothing to do with playing effectively. Effective roleplayers are persons who roleplay to win. But roleplaying games are made to play roles, not to win. Wanna win the game? Go and play chess, or any other wargame.  

   

Rule 2: Characters are what you want them to be  

You have read correctly. We don’t need dice or tables or any other crutches to set our creative potential free. But first let’s define what “diceless” means. “Diceless” means a complete lack of random generators.  

Random generators are not only dice (like 99 percent of all roleplaying games), but also drawing cards (like, for instance, TSR’s SAGA™ system), throwing bones or any other methods of generating a random result.  

A roleplaying character is the sum of his experiences. He has lived a life before the player got to know him. We will try to filter out the essence of his life. We will pick out the most important stations in his life. This way of filtering biographical information is called “character description”.  

A character description in Heritage includes the following information:  

In-depth Character Background and History: this is the player character’s lifepath, a story of his life before the player met him.

Good Things and Bad Things. These are all those things that are either positive for your character, or harmful. Good Things and bad Things are the main concept of Heritage, so please hang on, I’ll explain them in a minute.

Wealth: Heritage has very easy rules for a character’s wealth. This is, how rich he is.

It is best if you grab a pencil and a sheet of paper now, and create a character with me. Take a short break. Fire up your imagination.  

Ready?  

Your character is Good Things & Bad Things

Heritage characters are described by two categories: Good Things, and Bad Things. These categories cover    e v e r y t h i n g.

Good Things are all those abilities, skills, and historical data that are positive for your character, or that your character is good at.

Thus, Good Things can be good skills, abilities, personality traits, quirks, and bits of his life. A good Driving skill belongs to Good Things. Your character can toss magical spells quite well? Good Thing. A happy partnership is a Good Thing. Your character may act really heroic when the going gets tough. This is a Good Thing. Or he may own a large library with books from all over the world. This is also a Good Thing. Perhaps he has connections to a CIA agent who provides him with information. This is a Good Thing. Maybe your character is described as being “filthy rich”. A Good Thing, I’d say, except if you’re a Communist 😉

On the other hand, there is the downside of life.

The Bad Things. These are all these things that your character is bad in, or that are negative for him. Maybe he is not very quick on the uptake. Bad Thing. Or, he lives on the streets, has no money. Bad Thing. Maybe he is driven by hatred because something truly bad happened in the past. Bad Thing.

Very important are also your character’s flaws. Flaws are problems that are personal to your hero and that occur again and again during the roleplaying sessions. Flaws can describe physical impairments or pyschological problems, like “Has only one leg”, or “Loses his powers when bathed in green radiation” (cited from Theatrix, page 45). Needless to say, Flaws are Bad Things. It’s simply not interesting if a character has no weakness at all. Each session a player introduces his character’s flaw into the story and makes it a major complication for the character, he receives one Plot Point. Keep this in mind when later I’ll explain the concept of “Plot Points”.  

 

Forget the tables and priorities and lists for character creation. Forget that they have existed. You only need one thing: your imagination. Imagine your character. Describe his personal history. Where was he born? How are his parents? Does he have brothers or sisters? What childhood experiences died he make? What does he like and dislike? Have there been any situations that have an influence on his life now? 

Describe your character any way you want. That means, use numbers if you like numbers, use symbols if you like symbols, use plain sentences if you like plain sentences. The only thing that’s important here is: the GM must be able to understand what you mean.

This way, you can describe your character’s strength as:

“Brawnman was sweating. The barbell seemed endlessly heavy when he tried to bench press it for the seventh time. It felt like pushing against a wall. Sweat was pouring all over his face. One inch left. Pain flashed through his pectoral muscles. Brawnman could hear his own heart hammering. Boom. Boom. Boom. One more inch. Pain. Up. Push it up. Knives skewered his arms. Up! Up! An infernal scream, then he had pushed up the 70-pound barbell.” 

You don’t like writing that much? Then what about this description:

“Brawnman’s Strength: 20 (of 20)”

Doesn’t suit your tastes, either? What about this:

“Brawnman’s Strength: * * * * *”

or

“Brawnman’s Strength: Superb”

or

“Brawnman is the strongest m**********r I can imagine outside a superhero universe.”

Create your character the way you really like him. Don’t let the usual tables and creation points come into your way. You want to play a character whose everyday identity is a renowned art dealer, and who earns 500,000 bucks a month? (“What! Only one hundred thousand for this Picasso? Wrap it up!”)  

So do it!  

You want to play a cyborg character with artificial muscles so big that he doesn’t fit through small doorframes?  

So do it!  

You want to play a top-notch hacker who creates his character gadgets in his secret lab?  

So do it!  

You have the opportunity to create the roleplaying character you always wanted to play! Do it!  

Do it now!  

Some of you will say, “Hey, this is a paradise for munchkins!”. Not really. The whole roleplaying party (ie., players and game master) have the last say. So, if a player has created a character who is able to do everything, the group has the right to say “STOP! Change your character, or he won’t join our party.”  

If in doubt whether your character is too super, ask your fellow players. No other rules here. Create a hero you really ache to play. And, please don’t forget, describe him with full English sentences. No numbers allowed.  

Don’t forget the details: What clothes does he wear? Does he have family? What about his past? Lovers? Your character is no sterile clone fresh from the tank, he had a life before you met him. Try to find out as much as possible about this life. The more you know about your character, the “rounder”, the more believable he gets. The more you know about your character, the realer he gets.  

 

Mighty Character = Complex Background  

There’s one rule of thumb: the more powerful and mightier a character is, the more complex and detailed must be his background story.  

For instance: if you play a strongman, a guy whose main characteristic is “Mighty Strong: can lift trucks”, your background requires a two-page story about how he acquired this power.  

On the other hand, if you play a character who is stronger than the strongest character, who is faster than the fastest character and who is no slouch in the mental department also (compared to 10 Cray supercomputers), you better come up with a paperback novel that tells your hero’s story.  

To help you determine how complex a background you need to have, take a look at your hero’s attributes, skills, abilities and powers. Then, estimate how powerful he is. If in doubt, ask your fellow players or your GM.  

  • You’ll need a simple background (no major complications) if he is an “average” character.
  • You’ll need a complex background (major complications) if he is better than average.
  • You’ll need a twisted background (many complications that threaten your character’s life) if he is by far the most powerful character in your campaign.

Please don’t forget your character’s motivation. There are many motivations, and the following list by no means complete:  

Revenge: the hero seeks revenge for a crime that has been committed in the past. This crime can be everything from stealing the family jewels to murdering the hero’s parents.

Love/Hate: the character is driven by a strong like/dislike for a person or group of persons. He will not rest till he has made love/peace/war with them.

Altruism: the hero wants to help people, plain and simple. Often, this motivation has a religious background (for instance: the peaceful monk who helps people and defeats enemies with defensive powers)

The world is a playground: the character is the fun-loving type. All he really wants is to have fun, playing around with his powers, and maybe even entertaining the crowd.

 This is your character, and you, only you, decide how he looks and what he is able to do. If you overdo it, your fellow players will tell you.  

How Rich Your Character Is  

You will have noticed that we don’t mention detailed sums of money here. This is because the wealth rules work without dollar currency.  

If you want to buy something, the Gamemaster determines if you can buy it. This will take the number-crunching and calculating out of the game. If you don’t agree with the GM, try to find a compromise.  

Example:  

Rick plays a superhero called Plasmadart, a young man in his twenties who accidently fell into lava during a hiking trip. Plasmadart (real life name Stephen Dubois) works as an engineer for International Chemical Trust, Inc., a corporation that specializes in pharmaceuticals. A secret spin-off of Stephen’s work at ICT is a pill that helps him keep his Plasma Power under control. Stephen has a Good Thing described as “He earns pretty much and is surely better off than average Joe Sixpack”, and thus is indeed better off than someone belonging to the middle class. However, in Plasmadart‘s background story, Rick writes that Stephen must spend most of his money for the chemicals required for his Anti-Internal-Combustion pill. One day, Stephen decides to buy a sports car, something like a Porsche. His GM takes a look a Plasmadart’s wealth level. Then, he decides that Stephen has not enough money to buy it yet. If Stephen saves virtually every single penny for at least twelve months, he will be able to buy the car.   

This is the way your character is created in Heritage.  

Don’t be afraid. If you feel exhausted after all this, take a little time-out. It’s no problem to further describe your character while playing. Experience has shown that most players modify their heroes’ descriptions during the sessions. No problem.  

This is your hero. This is your game.  

   

 Rule 3: Action is drama 

I’m glad that you have decided to read on. The general part is over. Now come the rules that make Heritage a real storytelling game. Critics often say that they’re missing the element of chance in diceless roleplaying. Well, a good die roll may be nice, but please read the following example:  

Let’s assume you are playing a character roleplaying game that uses dice. It is the third session. A group of characters has made it into the headquarters of the supervillain clan boss, Baron Ludwig von Bluthausen. And, let’s assume that Ludwig von Bluthausen is at home, suprised by the heroes. The characters try to capture him, but von Bluthausen casts very evil rune spells against them, killing Flygyrl, the youngest woman of the group, only 12 years old. The other team members strike back, using their various powers.    

A lucky die roll by a player kills von Bluthausen.    

The problem is that Ludwig von Bluthausen was the GM’s main opponent. The GM’s plan was to make von Bluthausen the meanest badass supervillain the players could imagine. All his plans were shattered by one single lucky die roll. What does the GM do?    

Experienced GMs always have a trick or two up their sleeve: von Bluthausen was wearing full body armor, or he was wearing a talisman, maybe the deadly energy bolt was deflected by von Bluthausen’s silver cigar box. There are gazillions of other possible solutions here. According to the unwritten rule that a character should not die when somebody has rolled very luckily, the GM will find ways to not kill von Bluthausen. The GM does nothing else than breaking the rules, in order to continue a good story. So, when most GMs will break the rules in such an important situation, why should we roll dice in situations that are much less important?  

What is it really about when the GM ignores the lucky roll? He wants to tell a story. He wants to tell it with the active help of the players. At the beginning of this text, we noticed that roleplaying and movies bear much in common. Let’s take another look at the movies:  

You all know James Bond. He’s standing on top of a skyscraper while a terrorist helicopter is taking off. On board of the helicopter: blueprints of an atomic bomb. What is Bond, James Bond, going to do?  

Of course, he leaps into the air and grabs the skids of the helicopter. This makes sense, because it fits into the genre and the character traits. What would you say if James bond slipped and fell? Fell one hundred yards and hit the skyscraper roof? What would you say if James Bond was killed by this fall?  

Not really appropriate. It does not fit into the genre. You know what I want to say.  

How does diceless, how does storytelling work, then? How does Heritage work?  

Roleplaying means actions and reactions. In most roleplaying games, you roll dice to find out if something was successful or not. A GM usually bends or breaks the rules when a player rolls so well that it would ruin the Plot. A GM wants to tell a good story. Die rolls that spoil the story are usually ignored.  

So, the essence of roleplaying is to focus on dramatic moments and weave them into a good story.  

This is perfectly true for roleplaying, storytelling style. The only difference is that success and failure are determined without relying on die rolls.  

   

Rule 4: Success And Failure: Importance over skill 

Success and failure go by the Plot. Abilities or skills or attributes or powers mentioned in the character’s background and history only determine the magnitude of failure or success. Every action that must be successful will be successful. If the plotline needs a character to be successful, he will be successful, regardless of how good he is at a given task. If a player forgets to really play out his character, every action will be close but no cigar. Storytelling is roleplaying, not the simulation of real life. You play roleplaying games to escape from reality, I heard;)  

The better your hero is at any given task, the more distinct will be success or failure.  

When the plotline demands that a certain action is a failure, your hero’s abilities will determine how bad this failure is – but it will be a failure.  

One critic says, “Where is the element of chance, here? Where is the surprise?” Oh, wait a minute. First, you don’t need dice to suprise your players (nor do they;)). Second, rolling dice is very comfortable, but it also destroys this special mood created by the moment.  

Rolling dice is very comfortable, because the GM and the players can let the dice decide instead of thinking of possible results.  

It’s possible then, that a player says: “I attack. [rolls dice] Wow! I scored a critical hit!”  

Is this atmospheric roleplaying? Compare this with the following description:  

“I wait for him to throw thje next haymaker. When he does, I make a step towards him. My left fist land into his face, while I use the other hand to block his haymaker.”  

What a difference! This is roleplaying!  

Storytelling (playing diceless) needs no dice. It forces the players to use their imagination. The more 

imagination is involved, the more exciting the roleplaying experience.  

To guarantee a mood-laden, atmospheric roleplaying experience, some of the characters’ actions have to be successful, while others must not be not successful. As I have mentioned above, the attributes or skills or abilities determine the range of the success or failure. This may sound complicated. Here an example for clarification:  

Imagine a seedy bar somewhere in a fantasy town. Lightwing the elf is surrounded by five thugs. Four of the henchmen hold spiked clubs in their hands, their leader is drawing a crossbow. Looks as if Lightwing has to rely on his very own reflexes. Lightwing has a Good Thing called “Knife-throwing, lightfooted Wood Elf”.   

This is the situation presented to the players. Now, let’s take four different looks at the situation. The first two examples describe what could happen if Lightwing was very good at shooting, while the last two examples describe what could happen if Lightwing was a bad gunner.  

   

  • Example #1: SUCCESS, Lightwing is very good at throwing knives 
    The guy is coming closer, but you are faster. Your knife zips through his right hand, and he drops the club. In his face, you can see the pain.”  

  • Example #2: FAILURE, Lightwing is very good at throwing knives 
    You see him coming closer, but you are faster. At the same moment, you feel a strong pain in your back. Two of his henchmen have hit you with their clubs.”  

  • Example #3: SUCCESS, Lightwing has no skill in throwing knives 
    Gee. You try to step back from your opponent’s vicious attack, but to no avail. While you try to keep balanced, your opponent swing his club at you. You stumble over a chair, and the thug impales himself onto your knife. With a very surprised look in his face he drops to the floor.  
  •  Example #4: FAILURE, Lightwing has no skill in throwing knives 
    These thugs are surely a pain in the butt, and you surely don’t know what to do here. You try to aim at on of the guys. But before you throw this damn knife, you notice a burning sensation in your left shoulder. Seconds later, you can see blood – your blood –  pouring down your chest.   

Some critics say that when playing storytelling (diceless) games, the players are at the GM’s mercy. But let me tell you, arbitrariness can also be found in diceful games. Many GMs roll their dice behind those infamous GM screens (thus giving them the opportunity to ignore die rolls that don’t fit into the Plot). Arbitrariness can be found in every kind of roleplaying game, but you should try to avoid it.  

So, we have explained the Heritage concept of Plot and necessary successes and failures.  

 

But what about those actions that are not important to the Plot?  

This is easy. Compare the description of the action (plus the character’s Good and Bad Things and his personal history) to the difficulty of the situation. Think about the success chances. Then, derive the results.  

There are five different levels of Difficulty:  

  • Easy: this is something you can do anytime. You have to be under severe stress to blow this.
  • Normal: this is something you can most likely do, given enough time and equipment.
  • Difficult: this is a task you could fail, even given enough time and equipment.
  • Extraordinary: you most likely fail this task.
  • Impossible: there’s hardly a chance for you to be successful here.

Example:  

Kid Kinetic holds a dime in his hand. Fifty yards away from him a security guard is standing before Roger G. Bingle’s villa. Kid knows that a big time drug deal is in progress somewhere in the villa, behind closed doors.     

Kid’s background mentions “Even as a young boy, I could take a dime or a nickel and propel it far away, using my magnetic powers. I once hit my grandaddy’s old Buick with a dime, it was about 200 yards away. When I looked at the car, the coin had zipped right through the door. I also could take called shots, and I almost always hit bull’s eye.”   

Let’s compare the difficulty of the situation with the description of Kid Kinetic’s ability: a man is standing in the open, without visual barriers. It’s clear that Kid will hit the security guard.  

Of course, the GM has the last say. Here’s a checklist of those questions that help when determining results of actions that are not important for the Plot:  

 

  • Line 1: Is the attribute/skill/ability and roleplay good enough to be successful? If yes, goto 2. If no, goto 3.
  • Line 2: Decide if you want to have more tension or not. If you want to increase the tension, describe the result of the action in a way that gives them reason to doubt. The victory is not certain. If you want to end the tension, describe the result positively, or present the players a new problem (e.g. “The security guard is hit in the head by your coin. He drops to the floor. Suddenly, you hear the barking of guard dogs. The dogs must have heard you.”)
  • Line 3: Decide if you want to keep up the tension or not. If you want to keep it up, give the player false hope, don’t tell him that his action was not successful. If you want to release the tension, you have to decide if you want to inflict real damage or if you want them to know that they were lucky. If you want to inflict damage, try to be fair.

These methods help you to cover most situations that occur during a roleplaying session. Please describe only what the characters’ senses can really grasp. Do not offer the players interpretations.  

Never say:  “Your bullet hits the Terroryzer hard. He screams in agony, hands pressed against his temples. Then he becomes silent, and falls onto the floor. He’s dying. In about a minute he’ll be history.”  

Instead, try something like this:  

“Your bullet hits the Terroryzer hard. He screams in agony, hands pressed against his temples. Then he becomes silent, and the only sound that of his -lifeless body bumping onto the floor. He lies there, without any motion.”  

The second version gives the players a description, but no interpretation.  

   

Rule 5: Combat if dramatically appropriate 

Of course, combat belongs to Heritage like to every other roleplaying game. This chapter gives you all the details you need to run fantastic, action-packed fights. You have the opportunity to play characteric fights exactly the way you like them. And, best of all: no dice! This means no distraction (because you have to roll and interpret the roll), this means pure roleplaying, pure fun, pure action.  

If you want to know how to determine combat results in Heritage, please re-read the previous chapter. 

  

When should a fight take place?  

Remember that fights are important elements in a story. This is not to say that a story without a fight is boring. However: a fight should have a dramatical reason. Take a look at books or movies: a character fights when the fight is important to the story, not because he feels like doing so at the moment. Unnecessary fights are pointless.  

Remember that characters can be wounded or worse, killed. Such wounds are Plot turns. They serve as a major obstacle for the character in the future. Wounds are a GM’s tool for telling the player that his character has done something wrong or stupid. But don’t overdo it: killing a character is a very harsh thing to do. It’s better to let the character have a very hard time and to throw lots of obstacles in his way. Again, take a look at books or movies: characters don’t die easily.  

The stage plays also an important role in a combat scenario. What does the scenario look like? Where does the fight take place? In a crowded alley with lots of shoppers? In a run-down block with police far, far away? The stage is important. Hundreds of different props are lying around and wait for the characters to pick them up. Imagine a fight scene in a library. The characters could break shelves, or try to hide between them. 

Single books are very good throwing objects. Imagine the chaos and mayhem when something explodes in there …  

Damage Types  

Next, you as a GM must determine what type of damage occurs in a fight. There are different damage types:  

  • Blunt Damage: this damage does not penetrate the skin. For example, you are hit by a club, or a fist.
  • Edged Damage: this damage is designed to cut. Good examples are sword cuts, or a glass smashed in someone’s face. Lots of blood. Cuts can re-open when the skin is stressed too much.
  • Burn Damage: this damage is the result of exposure to fire or extreme cold.  Burn wounds are extremely painful for a long time. The scars can be humiliating.
  • Fall/Blast Damage: this damage occurs when your body is injured by a blunt attack that covers more than half of your body. This can be the result of a fall or an explosion. Most often, bones are broken, and the body has multiple concussions.
  • Penetrating Damage: this damage is designed to cause very deep wounds. Examples for Penetrating attacks are bullets, arrows, or laser sabres.

   

Injury Types   

In Heritage, we use a storytelling injury system. This system is based heavily on description. We advise you to describe the wounds very graphically. Injuries come in different levels.  

  • Non-impact Hits And Near Misses: these are hits that connect with the character, but do no harm to him, though their clothes may be cut to pieces. Non-imact hits tell the players “Hey! Careful!”
  • Scratches And Bruises: these are unimportant injuries. They don’t impair the character, and are harmless enough to not worry much about.
  • Serious Blood Loss Wounds: these wounds bleed very much. Without medical or megical aid, the character will die due to blood loss. Someone who has lost very much blood has a good chance to become unconscious, to drop things he is holding in his hands, to forget most things that are told him. Very probably he is in shock. Physical activities tend to knock him out and increase the blood loss.
  • Maiming Wounds: these injuries mean that a part of the character’s body is cut off or put out permanently (not the head, this woud be a Death Blow). Maiming Wounds have the same side effects as Serious Blood Wounds.
  • Deadly Wounds: these injuries are so critical, they kill an average human being within a few minutes. It’s possible that someone who has received a lethal hit will be conscious till he dies.
  • Death Blows: this wound creates a wound shock that is enough to kill the character almost instantly. Of course, in Heritage, there’s  always time for a last word or two.

 

Rule 6: Improvise! 

Improvisation is one of the most important aspects in roleplaying. You as a GM have to improvise a lot. But you are not the only one. Give your players the chance to tell a story – their story – with you. Allow them to create plotlines of their own. These plotlines are called subplots and are told (aka, played) by the players. Give your players lots of freedom, they’ll respond very positively. Subplots make a roleplaying session more  believable. There’s no need to come up with extraordinary ideas, a subplot often tells an everyday story.  

Examples for subplots are:  

  • Kid Kinetic loses his well-paid job as a CEO at Universal Business Machines Corp. and has problems finding a new one.
  • Stefan Becker falls in love with the woman next door, unable to think about anything else.
  • One member of the character team notices a very powerful enemy is looking for them.

Notice that Subplots are introduced by the players, not by the GM. Very often, subplots don’t need a GM; the players are GMing themselves. As an Heritage GM, be open-minded. Give these storytelling styles a try, if they work for your group, keep them, if not: try a second time, then decide whether to keep them or kick them.  

   

Rule 7: Storytelling Techniques Do Help You!  

Heritage is a storytelling game of heroic adventure. Roleplaying is like a movie without a script. So, to make your roleplaying sessions truly exciting, you can use these storytelling techniques:  

  • Movies and comic-books often use the technique of the Voice-Over. Voice-Overs mean that the character talks to himself, disclosing his innermost thoughts only to the audience (aka, the fellow players) and not to the other characters. In the comic-book, a Voice-Over is usually written in a text  box with a fuzzy border, or in the thought bubbles.  This is a great opportunity for roleplaying, so use it.
  • Use Cut-Scenes. Imagine your roleplaying adventure is a movie. When it feels appropriate, sqeeze in a Cut-Scene. These scenes can be used to describe what the heroes’ enemy is up to, or to describe scenes from the past (for instance, when a hero remembers somebody, or  when he recalls a childhood memory), or to describe dreams. It’s very exciting to actually roleplay these Cut-Scenes.
  • And: don’t forget the Sounds! Comic-books and movies have lots of fancy sounds (“THA-WACK! KAZONNNG! THUDDDDD!”). These sounds are vital for your roleplaying experience. Don’t underestimate them. Use them often.
  • And: don’t forget the Music! Music is a very good tool to enhance the atrmosphere. As a GM, have some CDs at handy, with different styles of music for different moods. Major enemies have their own trademark music.

Good storytelling also means that your characters change. Take a look at your favorite books and movies: the characters are believable because they change. This change is not only physical, it affects the psychological make-up of your hero, too. If you take this kind of character development into account, your characters are truly alive. Characters who don’t change are boring.  

The stimulus for character development need not be a world-shaking event. On the contrary; most of these changes involve your every-day little problems. How about playing a character who has family? Or playing a very young hero? A kid? Play around with the possibilities, it’s definitely worth it.  

   

Rule 8. The Plot Points: All Power To The Players!   

You will have noticed that Heritage, being a diceless character system, offers a very large bandwidth of roleplaying opportunities,compared to many other, “diceful”, games. But that’s not all: Heritage utilizes the concept of Plot Points (first introduced by the Theatrix roleplaying game).  

Let’s  recap the creation process: we describe our character’s background and history, his Good and Bad Things. These very powerful tools are enhanced by the Plot Points.  

Usually, every hero starts with two to three Plot Points. 

What can the players do with them?  

Remember: roleplaying is telling a good story. A good story requires dramatic moments. Dramatic moments are moments that are important for the further development of the story, and they involve a confrontation of some sort. This confrontation is not necessarily a fight, it can be a struggle with psychological or romantic entanglements, too.  

 Now, every Plot Point spent by the player can turn an action that involves a Good Thing into a success.

For instance: your character just has to hack into the main computer of that allmighty corporation. Spend a Plot Point, and he will succeed.

Another example: The hero team is standing in an eon-old temple of a foreign goddess. While they were searching the temple, an automatic countdown has begun: in ten seconds, two nuclear bombs the size of a truck will blow them to bits.  The only way to escape is to stop the countdown. To do this, they have to enter the password. The screen says “Who is the Indian goddess of prosperity in the month of July: ?” None of the heroes knows the name, but Chris has a Good Thing called “She owns one of the largest computer databases containing all major religious articles and books written between 1500 and 1999.” Her player spends a Plot Point and thus turns her action (that involves the Good Thing) into a success: Chris searches her databases. After three seonds, she has found the right name (“I got it! Sranyam! Her name is Sranyam!”) and hacks it into the computer. The countdown to death is halted.

Every Plot Point spent by the player can turn an action that involves a Bad Thing into a success.

For instance: my dear, your character is the last man standing, and he’s such a bad fighter, and, worst of all, he is  facing an opponent that’s simply too powerful for him too handle. But he must make his way out of the dungeon and call for help, or the party is history. Spend a Plot Point, and he makes it through.

Another example: The hero team is caught in Doctor Killdeer’s airplane. Doc Killdeer has been knocked out by a mighty blow – and he has lost control over the airplane. It begins spiralling downwards, ever faster. Chris, the team’s engineer, has a Bad Thing that is described as: “Chris tends to panick when cornered in seemingly helpless situations.” As the airplane is only a few  hundred meters away from the ground, still falling, Chris’s player spends a Plot Point and begins to roleplay his panic and fear: she cries, moans and screams, pounding her fists onto the control panel of the airplane. As Chris’s player has spent a Plot Poin, the action that involves the Bad Thing (in our case, the pounding onto the control panel) is an  automatic success. Seconds later, the GM declares: “Chris, you hit on any button you can find, and suddenly – TSSSSSHHHHHHH – the airplanes emergeny exit door opens!”

Plot Points have even more power. Every Plot Point spent by the player transforms a character’s remark into a fact. This remark musn’t contradict the facts that are already known. If two or more players make a remark regarding the same thing, the player’s remark becomes a fact whose knowledge or competence in the specific question is best. In such a case, the other players’ Plot Points are restored.  For instance:The heroes find a dead body. The man was a police officer. His heart has been cut out of his chest. Two of the heroes search the body, but find no evidence that could lead to the murderer. Heather’s player says: “The way the murderer has used his knife reminds me of Carl Crimson, the mass murderer who escaped prison last year!” But Michael Wong’s player thinks different: “No … wait a second … [uses his PSI Powers] … I see a man … he’s wearing a robe … some kind of tunic … a white robe. He’s … about 60, maybe older. Looks like a priest!”. Michael’s becomes a fact, because he is more competent (after all, he has PSI powers, while Heather doesn’t). Michael’s player has spent a Plot Point and turned his character’s remark into a solid fact.

   

Wait a second, I can hear some GMs ask: “But what about my Plot! These Plot Points are turning player characters’ remarks into hard facts! They are destroying my Plot! If players have so much power over their heroes, how can I plan my Plot?”  

Indeed, I can understand your question. Plot Points require lots of improvisational talent. There is no hard and fast rule how to handle them. My advice is to keep trying. The Plot Point system is a great tool for everybody involved in the game to tell a good story – together. As a GM, you know there are many ways to skin a cat, so it should work best if you prepared several ways how the players can accomplish an adventure.  

If you feel slightly uncomfortable with the Plot Points, allow only one Plot Point per character at the beginning. The more often you play, the  more comfortable they get.  

   

Rule 9. Experience is dramatic  

After each roleplaying session, players earn 1 to 3 Plot Points. One point is a very simple story without much thrill. A 3-point story is an exciting evening of roleplay, filled with blood, sweat and tears, that kept you and your players on the edge of your seats. You as the GM should rate these factors and then come up with the appropriate number of Plot Points:  

  • The Overall Difficulty of the session: how difficult was it to obtain a solution? Did it present only minor obstacles, or was it a tale of action, paranoia and fear?
  • The Overall Danger of the session: how likely was it that a failure would lead to disaster? Did the session place the heroes in grave danger, or  was it a “walk-through”?
  • The Overall Depth of the session: how good was the roleplaying of the group? Were they believable? Or were they boring?
  • The Overall Technique of the session: what storytelling techniques did players use, and how often? When they used the techniques, could an unknowing bystander imagine their tale as a film? In other words: was it a good movie?
  •  Plot Points in Heritage are used for turning actions that involve Good or Bad Things into a success, or to make remarks become true.  

You’ll want to know how players can improve their characters.  

This is easy. Remember that characters in movies and theater plays improve when it’s dramatically appropriate, not when they’ve earned enough experience points or Plot Points. When you and the players feel it’s a good time that a hero changes or  improves a skill or an ability or a power or any other Good Thing or Bad Thing, then do so. When you think it’ does not feel right, don’t allow them to improve or change their hero.  

This is the end of the Heritage storytelling rules. 

Diceless Landshut

Remember the time we played the best games, had the most amazing adventures and breathtaking journeys into the world of imagination? As kids, we didn’t use dice to do that. 

And Erick Wujick, for instance, the man who introduced the first professional diceless roleplaying game (Amber) to the hobby, thought the same. I trust him. Our best roleplaying campaigns didn’t use dice, and lasted many years. And we didn’t use cards or tokens or points, either. In fact, no randomizers at all.

Vultrum is my diceless Free Kriegsspiel Revolution game. I hope you enjoy it.

Dunkelwurm: FKR fantasy game

Dunkelwurm!

The Pitch

1. The world is ancient. 
There are ancient ruins, and machines, that show there were many civilizations before the one living on Dere now. This ties in neatly with the first few modules (dungeon crawls, mostly) before the publisher decided they were verboten!, and streamlined the whole setting… just to turn it into pure boredom.

2. There are portals to other worlds.

3. There is at least one more country or continent on the map.

4. Magic is corrupting.
Dangerous, soul-sucking magic is the norm in Dunkelwurm.

5. There are many different cultures on the world.
A wild combination of disparate cultures and scientific developments – flying apparatuses in one country, and sticks and stones in the one right next to it. 

6. More sword&sorcery, less Three Musketeers.
Dunkelwurm uses FKR rules.

Sources of Inspiration

1. The art Of Talbot, Yüce, Biswanger and Holitzka
Dunkelwurm would be not the same without the stunning old school black and white art of British artist Bryan Talbot. For examples of his work, click here or here. Another perennial favorite of mine is Munich artist Claus Biswanger, who painted quite a few covers for the first modules. Klaus Holitzka, another German artists, is what I’m looking for. And last, but not least: Turkish artist Uğurcan Yüce. Yüce’s unique style (mustaches for the win!) speaks to me.

2. The music
Every kind of stoner rock, definitely. And, handily enough, the Sword&Backpack mixtapes.

3. The movies and the books
Conan. Barbarian Brothers. Headlopper. Heavy Metal, and Heavy Metal 2000. Rankin/Bass The Hobbit. Bakshi’s crazy-ass movies. Pretty much the entire Appendix N, but Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, L. Sprague De Camp, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny being on top of the list. And, not to forget, the first Das Schwarze Auge novel, Andreas Brandhorsts “Das Eherne Schwert” (The Bronze Sword; 1985).

And life continues.

So I heard from a few friends that certain people were, let’s say, delighted that I closed shop here on my blog. That I had shut up for good.

But: no.

Now more than ever. Creativity needs a medium. Mine are my face to face games – and this blog.

I really tried to hard to ignore it. But I can’t. And I have to say: I’m happy it’s the way it is. So, for the furture: more content to come. 

And thanks for y’all’s comments and emails. Very much appreciated.