Freeform Index Card RPG = TAG HEAVEN!

(c) Nick Hiatt

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

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

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

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

(insert thinking man pose here)

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

After tagging, the fun part begins.

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

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

I really, really like that.

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

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

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

What you have is what you are

So if I’m using Into the Odd as my go-to system for OSR fantasy gaming and I roll this character: (STR14, DEX11, WIL14, HP4 (pistol d6, saw d6, spyglass, animal trap), I’m starting with a someone who might be a trapper.

My next character is STR11, DEX10, WIL11, HP3 (speargun d8, oddity), and this is interesting, too. I like to combine all sorts of things with all other sorts of things, and that’s why I decide to roll not on Chris’s Oddity table, but on the Index Card RPG’s Starter Loot Table: I get Meditation Beads (“by counting the beads, the mind settles. Senses heighten, intuition improves”, +1 WIL). What do we have here? A monk living by the sea? A deeply religious fisherman?

Let’s shake things up and stay with this guy.
If I want my fantasy campaign to be strictly elves-dwarves-orcs fantasy, I consider the Oddity table a no-go. So let’s grant the player a roll on the Index Card RPG’s Ancient Loot Table: the Cloak of Aras,  an armor that deflects one attack against the wearer per turn. Wow. Powerful. So our character might be the son of a legendary warrior. Or the Chosen One.

I roll on the Shabby Loot Table instead: a Wool Cloak, granting the character 0 armor, but warmth in cold weather. Well, might be a poor fisherman.

If I feel adventurous, I roll on the Epic Loot Table and get: The Amulet of Thunder (when rolling for damage, if the die is showing half of its maximum value or less, I’m allowed to reroll, the second roll is final, though). So now we have a fighter with a speargun who does huge damage on a regular basis.

Let’s get back to the Index Card RPG tables one more time. I’m rolling on the Starter Loot Table again: Weapon Kit, +2 damage. All kinds of doo-dads that make this character a force to be reckoned with. Okay, so now this is a full-blown warrior, I’d say. Or a fisherman with an enormous skill for doing damage.

I like this. And I’m considering using Milestone Awards for Into the Odd: not only do character level up when they meet the requirements, but they also get rewarded for it.

Into the Odd: But what if I want to roll for my attack?

If you want to stick to your D&D roots and refuse to let go of to-hit rolls, consider this solution:

Room Target Number. 

This is stolen shamelessly from the Index Card RPG (a game that’s very, very well crafted, but way too fiddly for me). The GM assigns ONE general difficulty rating to one location. The more complex, dangerous, crowded, etc a location is, the higher the difficulty rating (also called “Room Target Number”). 10 is your standard, off-the-shelf room without much danger or difficulty, while 19 is a room packed with gun-toting hopping rat-vampires hell-bent to invite you to dinner, with you as dinner.

This number is the Room Target Number for ALL rolls that are made in this location, at this point in time.

The GM now looks at the stat that’s being tested. Is it high enough to warrant a bonus to the d20 roll? If so, how big a bonus?

The player now rolls a d20, adds any bonus, and tries to beat the Room Target# (roll equal to or higher). If he does it, he is successful. In combat, he then rolls the damage die for his weapon.

MONSTERS attacking player characters in combat roll d20+bonus (if they have one) and must beat the characters’ Armor*2, plus 10. If they are successful, they then roll their damage die.

Into the Odd: On classless classes

I’ve been thinking a lot about Into the Odd lately. I’m really tempted to switch our OD&D campaign to ItO, namely because it’s even more barebone, but still complex enough to provide satisfying play. Most of my players don’t care about rules systems, so making the transition wouldn’t be a problem.

One thing I’ve come to enjoy, really, is the classless approach of ItO. Your character is not a certain class by definition, but his gear defines what he can do. This is a radical deviation from old school thinking, but one I like a lot. Runehammer Games’ Index Card RPG works along the same lines.

The advantage is pretty obvious to me: You allow the players to combine “classes”, or rather, class abilities/powers in a way that was not intended in the original game. Multiclassing on steroids, so to speak.

Let’s say I grant weak starting characters 2 rolls to determine Arcana/Oddities, and I include the beautiful “loot tables” from Index Card RPG. My first roll on the “Basic Loot Table” is a 64, and it says: “Translocate: INT Spell, Swap places with an ally you can see”

My second roll is on the “Warp Shell Loot Table” (Warp Shell is a FANTASTIC setting, by the way). A 45: “Drain: INT SPELL, Drain MAGICAL EFFORT from a target, and convert into HP”

“Magical Effort” is an Index Card RPG’s mechanic that I’m translating like so: “Drain: INT SPELL, Drain MAGICAL EFFORT d4/d6/d8/d12/d20 (Novice/Pro/Expert/Vet/Master) from a target, and convert into HP.”

Bingo. So now I have a character who can magically swap places with allies, and who can drain life energy from opponents. What is that? An energy vampire? A Darkness Mage? A Necromantic Doom Prophet?

The point is, it doesn’t matter.