Octagon Campaign – Session 1

The Initial Situation

After seven calm days in jump space aboard the sleek, jet black yacht Dark Moon, it’s crew of five are awaiting the iminent exit to normal space, heralded by a familiar low rumble.

There is Carmen Marshall, 35 year old captain and owner of the Dark Moon and Van Dex, Carmen’s 39 year old “first officer”. The two have been business partners for a while. So far Van Dex didn’t notice anything unusual or even illegal about Carmen’s business practices. After a prior career in the employ of his home world mega corporation Tremous Dex, he’s used to the ins and outs of space trading. Carmen has never told much about her home world Raschev, why she left, and never went back home. Carmen and Van Dex are non-imperials, they’re from independent worlds far on the spinward edge of the sector.

There are also three passengers: the young and wealthy scientist Suri Brown, who specialises on psionicology, and two imperial veterans, medical doctor Edward Phila and army captain Walter Kemp, they both served in the army and have known each other since they met during the infamous Siege of Gitosy.

Over the last few days in jump space some tension has been mounting aboard. A week ago, mere seconds before the jump, the Dark Moon was almost hit by a rocket. The crew realized they were being persued only moments before and couldn’t make much from the sensor readings. After reviewing the recorded visuals of the other ship, all Walter could tell was: “they’re not imperial and they’re not from Gitosy, that’s for sure”. Carmen seemed tense at first, but shook off her nervousness quickly. Then they came up with a plan: “as soon as we exit to normal, we divert from our course to Vanejen, power down and wait if anything pops out of jump behind us, everyone put on vacc suits!”.

They spend some hours “lying doggo”, passive sensors show nothing. Then they power up again, do an active sweep some 500.000 km around, still nothing. Soon enough they get hailed: “Dark Moon, this is the Tortuga Heritage, stand by for boarding”. There is some commotion aboard the Dark Moon, “damn, why didn’t we sense them, not even a jump flash when they emerged”.

But now they’ve got a reading on their screens. The Tortuga Heritage is closing in, obviously. They know they’ve still got hours to prepare. As time passes sensors show, that the other ship is a modified far trader, it’s fast and about the same size as the Dark Moon. It sports the emblem of a blindfolded skull on it’s fins. They hail the Tortuga Heritage and ask for their objective.

Surprisingly it’s captain, one Benjamin “Quicksilver” Turkin, is quite frank about this: “see, there’s this bounty of 50.000 Credits on Carmen Marshall’s head – it’s dead or alive, so you might as well eject her from your air locks for us to pick up, but wouldn’t that be a pity? Besides, nice ship the Dark Moon, almost pathetic to see her in our cross hairs”.

Walter Kemp turns to Carmen angrily “why, surely there’s something about you we should have known, not a bad idea to cycle you through the air lock and be done with it”, but Suri takes a stand “no one is going to take anyone of us”. Van Dex is puzzled. Carmen snarls “I bet there’s more bounty on Quicksilvers head then mine!”

After some discussion Walter Kemp picks up the comm: “Tortuga Heritage, this is Captain Walter Kemp. I’ve seized control of the Dark Moon, we’ll be awaiting your docking maneuvre, and will exchange Mrs. Marshall for an immediate payment of 10.000 Credits” and Quicksilver seems to bite: “Copy, Captain Kemp, stand by”.

The Tortuga Heritage slowly closes in, both turrets aimed at the Dark Moon, Van Dex has manned the Dark Moons turret aiming at the air lock of the other ship and watches the tubular boarding gantry slowly extend across the gap. Carmen is still in the pilots seat and programs her ships computer to keep a close boarding distance to the Tortuga Heritage.

Suri and Edward take up position in the Dark Moons Airlock, ready to cover Walter, who’s preparing to meet the bounty hunters. All are in Vacc Suits and armed with rifles. Walter has secured himself with a long multifilament, EVA-security chord, tied to the air lock and pushes Carmen’s black, custom made vacc suit in front of him. They’ve filled her vacc suit with some scrap metal for mass and filled it up with hydrogen. Carmen whined at the plan, but gave in. They’ve tied the arms of Carmen’s vacc suit behind it’s back and tied the boots together to make it appear like she’s bound up.

“Ok, this is Captain Kemp, I’ve got Mrs. Marshall tied up and will meet you half way between our ships in the gantry. Have 10.000 Cr ready for the exchange.”

He slowly moves out into the gantry. On the other side he notices a woman in combat armor with head lights and a dark visor accompanied by a small combat droid. He knows these droids all to well, and mentally prepares to aim for it’s vulnerable control circuits. Then after a pause:

“Negative Kemp! We’ll meet you on our ship. Make no mistakes!”

Walter moves on carefully, everyone on the Dark Moon get’s nervous.

Suddenly Suri can’t hold it anymore, she jerks on Walters security line, tries to pull him away from danger, Walter shoves the empty space suit away from him, as he get’s pulled back. Van Dex hears the commotion and fires pulse laser at the other ship, Edward fires at the prepared space suit. Both ships get pushed appart from the explosion, the woman in combat armor and her droid spin out into space lifeless. Walter dangles on the security chord in between the ships surrounded by debris and finally get’s pulled back into the safety of their air lock. Carmen face palms.

Walter says “they’re not getting away with this, now we’re going to board, we can have the Tortuga Heritage! I’ve done this many times while in service”. He jumps, drifts some 150 meters and lands right next to the outer hatch of the Tortuga Heritage. The security line reels out to maximum length. As he manages to successfully open the hatch from the outside (a bunch of amazingly successful Vacc Suit and Electronics rolls), he feels something bump into him from behind. Suri has attached herself to the security line and cable cared accross. Edward follows quickly thereafter. Through the view port of the inner hatch they spot four mercenaries in combat suits, aiming sub-machine guns at them. Now everyone has had enough of this:

Quicksilver panicks and orders his gunner to fire rockets at the Dark Moon, despising the dangerously short distance, Van Dex fires recklessly at the Tortuga Heritage, a couple of explosions ensue, Suri gets blinded by laser reflections from the Dark Moons protective coating. Captain Quicksilver dies from a direct hit to his bridge. One mercenary goes down in the cross fire. The Dark Moon suffers hits to her fuel tankage and the cargo hold, damaging Van Dex’s Air/Raft badly. They’ll still be able to land.

Finally the Dark Moon’s Crew takes four surviving mercenaries captive, secures ten brand new SR-5 Survival Rifles and four HES-6 Hostile Environment Suits from the Tortuga Heritage’s cargo hold. They manage to restore control of the Tortuga Heritage just enough to put the badly damaged ship on a trajectory for a safe orbit around Vanejen. Then they make for Vanejen Space Port.

Vanejen is a bit larger then Mars, has standard atmosphere, still breathable without protection in spite of some notable industrial pollution. About 60% of the surface is covered with oceans and there are large ice caps on both poles of the planet. The local tech level is similar to Terra’s early twentieth century, and a feudal technocracy maintains a rather permissive law level.

Down dirtside, the crew discovers that the old navy facilities of the class C space port have been deserted more then a century ago. There are no repair facilities, and only unrefined fuel. Seems like they’re stuck on Vanejen for some time. The mood get’s worse as Van Dex finds that his calulations we’re off by some degrees. The Tortuga Heritage’s orbit is decaying …

About the rules

This has been the first time i’ve played and refereed a game with Traveller5 rules. Writing this session report, I’m surprised how much actually happend in this first four hour session. I had to look up a few things during the session, especially the space combat range bands. And some weapon stats for space combat.

Things I liked:

  • the base mechanic is super simple, roll 2d6 under target number. Basically that’s all a casual player would have to know.

  • optional granularity of the system seems to scale well. The rules allow to include technical details to various degree – as long as it’s fun.

  • Range Bands are great, they facilitate realistic narrative without bogging down the game by having to count squares or measuring distances on the gaming table.

  • ablative armor and the “10 hits put any NPC out of action”-rule, speed up combat resolution nicely.

Things I struggled with:

  • Calculating numbers of dice to roll and modifiers in combat, there are a lot of variables to take into account: distance, cover, rate of fire, is the combatant firing cautiously or snap firing? I guess I’ll get used to it.

Things to look up in the rules

  • Rules for sensor actions. I thought them less important while reading the rules but found them to contribute quite a bit to the narrative and set up of the situation, even in the first session. I hand waved this for now. Fair enough I think.

Getting to know Traveller 5 – Part II

Sir Rengwo bad-Jerzal gets in trouble

In an earlier post I tried a simple hand to hand melee between two characters. This time, I’ll try a melee fight between a competent fighter and a beast — a rather traditional situation when it gets to role playing games.

I’m presently reading The Queen of Zamba by Lyon Sprague de Camp, the first novel in his Krishna series. So, to flesh things out a bit, let’s say the short scenario I am about to play out happens on Planet Krishna.

The setup

Our Hero is Sir Rengwo bad-Jerzal (997ACB). He’s a highly educated, very intelligent noble of above average physical condition. His strength and dexterity are 9 each, and his endurance an average 7. Above all he’s very well trained with his rapier. His skill fighter-6 and his knowledge blades-6 reflect 12 years of experience with fencing weapons.

It’s a warm sunny day with few friendly clouds in Krishna’s beautiful emerald sky. Rengwo pensively strolls along some lightly wooded hills ahead of his squires, as he suddenly gets surprised and ambushed by a Yeki. Rengwo immediately draws his rapier, ready to defend himself since his jack, a lightly protective coat, won’t help him much.

Yekis are described as six legged minks the size of a tiger. They are fierce, dangerous pouncers, significantly larger and heavier then men — or krishnans for that matter.

So let’s try to define a Yeki in terms of Traveller 5 rules. I imagine a Yeki to be around 3 to 4 meters long, including the tail. That would be size 5 (large). It’s got typical strength for it’s size, and is a predator: 3D * size (the uppercase D is traditional Traveller shorthand for 1d6 — one six sided die). I roll a seven, so the final strength will be 45 … that’s a lot I think, but that’s just what the rules say. Let’s see how it works out. The Yeki fights with fangs and claws, doing 3D points of damage. It also has got a furry pelt, giving 2D-2 points of armor. I roll a 9, so the Yeki’s pelt provides armor=7. Because of it’s strength and lack of any defined skills, it’s melee number (MN) is 45. This melee number will become important in just a moment, bear with me.

To quickly recapitulate Rengwo’s stats, with his strength of 9, fighter-6 and blades-6 gives him a melee number (MN) of 9 + 6 + 6 = 21, his jack has armor=5, and his rapier does 2D of cutting damage.

The Fight

Now on to the fight. To attack in a close quarters hand-to-hand fight, one needs to subtract the defenders melee number (DMN) from the attackers melee number (AMN) and roll 2D under the resulting target number.

Round NumberYekiRengwo
1The Yeki attacks. It’s target number is AMN-DWM, so 45-21=24. The yeki needs to roll 2D under 24. Well, actually no roll is needed, since that’s an automatic success. I roll 3D for damage, and get a 12. Since 5 points of damage are absorbed by Rengwo’s armor, he suffers 7 points of damage.Rengwo suffers 7 points of damage and deducts them from his strength. He’s down to 2 points of strength, but still has got his full dexterity and endurance. He’s somewhat shaken but still up. Wisely he decides, that there’s just no point in trying to fence with this formidable foe, so he tries to climb a tree. He needs to roll his half dexterity: a 4 (rounded down from 9/2). He rolls a 5 and fails to climb out of reach at the first try.
2The yeki claws after Rengwo, does an automatic hit again, and causes 6 points of damage. Rengwo’s jack absorbes 5 points.Rengwo suffers another point of damage, and deducts it from his dexterity. He tries again to climb to safety, and rolls a lucky 3 this time. Let’s assume he’s out of reach for now.
3The yeki tries to get at Rengwo. It doesn’t even notice, how it gets hit by a crossbow bolt, for 9 points of damage. I treat the yeki as an NPC. 10 points of damage would take it out of action immediately, but anything less than that just get ignored.Alarmed by Rengwo’s shouting and the growls of the beast, one of his squires rushes to the rescue. He cocks a heavy crossbow and dares a shot at the yeki from 40 m distance. Assuming the squires dexterity at 7, and his skills fighter-4 and crossbow-3, the squires shooting number (SN) is 14. Forty meters of distance is range 2 in rules terms, so I need to roll 2D under SN 14 + 3 (thats size 5 of the yeki minus range 2), so 17. Again thats an automatic hit. I roll 3D for damage and get a 9. Considering the yekis protective pelt, that’s far from enough to take the yeki out of action.
4The yeki begins to climb up the tree, ripping and clawing at the trunk. It tries to get at Rengwo.Rengwo tries to climb higher yet, but now rolls a 5 on his half-dex check, and thus fails his climb. I decide that he tumbles down from the tree. Assuming that he’d impact on the ground with speed 2 (at least 10 kph) he would normally suffer 4D of damage (impact speed squared). But there’s a chance yet: to avoid falling damage altogether, a character is allowed to do a dex check with a number of dice corresponding to the falling height, and that’s 1D, since Rengwo’s falling height is within range 1. To roll 1D under Rengwo’s dexterity of 8 is once more an automatic success, so the fall will just stun Rengwo. All that remains to do, is roll 1D to determin the number of combat rounds Rengwo will be stunned. I roll a 6, so he will be out of commission for about six minutes.

The Aftermath

I assume that more of the knights men close in on the scene and do some more crossbowing at the yeki. So in order to focus on our heros fate, I decide to be done with the fight, and roll for some Behind the Screen Damage (BTSD). A roll on the BTSD table indicates only slight injury for the yeki, but since it has exhausted it’s endurance during the fight, I decide, that it will retreat, albeit with yet some fearsome growling.

Now, what happend to Rengwo? The rules say that damage suffered in combat is just a placeholder until after the fight. Now we’ll find out how bad things really got, by applying the Battle Damage rules.

The rolls for damage severity and diagnosis difficulty are modified by number of attacks after the first. I decide, that I’ll count the fall as another attack, so this modifier will be +2. For damage severity I roll a 3, +2 thats a staggering severity of 5D, and for diagnosis difficulty I roll a 2, adding +2 thats a formidable difficulty of 4D. So, what does this mean? Well, properly diagnosing Rengwa’s injury would be a formidable task, to be rolled with 4D under intelligence + medic skill. And to treat the injury would be a staggering task requiring a roll of 5D unter intelligence + medic skill.

Assuming one of the Rengwo’s retainers to be somewhat versed in first aid and of average intelligence I decide that the target number for those rolls would be a 9.

I fail the diagnosis roll with a 17 on 4D, the squire has no idea what’s wrong as he tends to the stunned and wounded Knight, and haphazardly patches him up. But there’s still hope: the Immediate Action Damage Control rule, allows a roll under “double medical” with 2D to lower the damage severity to “easy” (1D). Assuming a skill of medic-2 that would be a target number of 4. I roll 2D and get a lucky 3. What ever the squire did to help Rengwo, save him it did. Rengwo comes to and says “Thanks squire, it’s just a scratch, I’ll be fine”. He’ll recover within a days rest.

Lessons learned

Once again, Traveller 5 surprised me. This turned out to be a fun little solitaire adventure. I deliberately made this a borderline case with the opponent so much stronger than our hero. And I must admid, that I used rather high stats for Rengwo, to kind of get to a somewhat fair fight. Also the 3D damage for a crossbow might be a bit much. I just made it up, there is no crossbow in the Traveller 5 core rules. In the end however, this didn’t make much of a difference. After all it probably is ridiculous to try to melee with a six-legged tiger. Realistically, there’s just not much of a chance to succeed — and survive — at all.

It was interesting to note how quite a few rolls were automatic successes. The fight proper did take no more than 8 dice rolls, with quite a bit of action covered. Also, the BTSD rule and the Battle Damage rules help to focus on role playing an interesting story, and puts the focus on the characters. Every dice rolled seemed to make a difference in a sensical way. After beeing rendered out of action, it really does matter what any supporting characters choses to do. A well trained medic can be crucial to decide between quick recovery, severe injury with prolonged healing time or even death. The oracle of the dice guides the story as to how difficult diagonsis and treatment of an injury might be. Lot’s of prompts and opportunities for interesting role playing.

On the other hand it took quite some page flipping through the rules, to work the whole thing through. Something I would like to avoid at the table as much as possible. I feel just to recapitulate what was going on rules wise seems to be somewhat complicated, even at second glance. Traveller 5 uses some unusual mechanics, and I hope to develop some kind of intuitive feeling for when rolls are just not necessary. Be it because they would be automatic successes or simply wouldn’t matter much for a fun experience. After all Traveller 5 author Marc Miller advises his readers about the ROARN rule: Resolve Only As Really Necessary.

In Sprague de Camp‘s novell by the way, the yeki is caught and rendered out of action not by hand to hand combat, but by setting up a large net trap — by ingenuity rather than brute force. At the table, this kind of resolution would require planning and old school style negotiation in the first place, not some tedious dicing duell. And as in old-school games, in Traveller 5 one should try to avoid fights as much as possible, unless sound planning literally provides for automatic success. I like that!

I’d be happy to receive some comments by those experienced with Traveller 5 who might happen to read this post.

46.656 Psychedelic Landscapes

So here’s a table you might want to use in your next science fiction or plane hopping campaign.

I came up with this while starting to prep for a science fiction campaign I’m planning to run some time soon. It’ll use the Traveller5 rules set, but that’s just a side note.

So right now I try to read as much science fiction stuff as I manage, things like Dune of course, various stories by Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, parts of the Darkover Series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I also binge the original Star Trek series for inspiration, and I marvel at pictures of imagined futuristic and psychedelic landscapes. Do an image search for “science fiction landscapes” or “psychedelic landscape” … see what I mean?

I adore those retro-futuristic, quite possibly substance induced visions of the future, conceived in our own 1960ies to 1980ies.

d66 The land … The sky … Over the horizon …
11 coagulated caramel greyish purple a spherical station
12 spined blood colored hills color of thick dark blood a majestic dragonlike flyer
13 blockish hills like colorful toffees a deeper blue the hazy view of a ringed planet
14 green rolling hills foggy anthrazite dust a distant tubular structure
15 lush tropical forrest a freakish green myriads of tiny insects
16 endless patterns of industrial structures a gradient of cobalt blue to sparkling cyan a moon that appears too close
21 endless waves of industrial waste the color of sulfur shuttles trafficking
22 flat with occasional polyhedral shapes monotonous light blue a disk shaped station
23 like the rendering in an 8 bit computer game sepia colored with feathery pink clouds some batlike flyers
24 a rough desert like colored inks bleeding into each other foreboding dark clouds
25 swampy with occasional cone shaped hills almost white the cube like silhuette of the high port
26 a sea of turquois doted with myriads of steep hilled islands a crisp blue with floating ice crystals egg shaped pods traveling silently along invisible lanes
31 an endless storm beaten ocean a cold blue mist a distant air ship
32 a sprawling metropolis hazy red large birdlike creatures, homing in on their nests for sun down
33 wavey hills of reflecting metal eternally black, an endless starfield streaks of toxic industrial smoke
34 oddly peaceful rural idyll overcast with dense clouds a massive globular structure
35 a maze of deep gorges and canjons purple with yellow clouds a perfect rainbow
36 hills like burned sienna and a meandering river of quicksilver a wierd multicolored haze a strip of green light
41 a lattice of multilayered longitudinal structures a perfect gradient of blues two disks of setting suns
42 a decaying primordial forrest soaked with moisture the waning crescent of a close moon
43 vast yellow steppe smelling of creosote a turmoil of reddish clouds and gases silhuettes of floating islands in the far distance
44 iridescent vastness of transparent foilage filled with floating seeds the bright shining of the galactic core
45 an endless plain of fine white sand purple and black a veil of rain in the distance
46 hills of purple grass dotted with hulking grazers a canopy of stars colorful reflections
51 rust colored steep mountains a foggy purple to dark blue gradient feathery floating particles that reflect a distant light
52 towering pillars piercing through the mist scatterd grey clouds and beams of sun light a hazy premonition of what might be tomorrow
53 dusty rubble and harsh craters a perfect gradient from dark blue to almost white some fog far in the distance
54 dunes of colorful sands like ground marble a dull grey multicolored clouds bathed in sunlight
55 a sea of white dunes a gradient of light blue to almost black the plume of a space ship, rocketing into the sky
56 seemingly organic bulging formations a dazzling bright yellow looming cubic masses of floating habitats
61 semi-liquid multicolored plains swirls of multicolored gases chromium reflections of a ship passing by at low altitude
62 vast terrasses of grey slate a low haze of blue the notion of deep space
63 floating islands of rock on a sea of lava a dull, monotonous light blue some pink reptilian flyers
64 a large coastal delta, with mangroves and occasional villages a gradient from orange to red the hazy silhuette of a close by artificial world
65 a semi-liquid oily surface a gradient from sulfuric yellow to cobalt blue towering stalagmites of the arcology
66 monumental ice capped mountains criss-crossed with red stripes the shining swirl of the galaxy

Just in case you don’t know what d66 stands for: this is a random table to be used with two six sided dice. Roll once for each collumn, and just roll two regular dice and read the first one as tens (a 5 becomes 50 for example) and the second die as ones (just read as is). You could use differently colored dice, so you can tell which one denotes the tens. I simply roll which ever two dice I can grab and read the one that lands more leftish of the other as tens.

Have fun spacing out!

Getting to know Traveller 5

A simple Brawl

So, I recently got the Three Big Black Books on ebay. The precious package arrived last week and I’m slowly starting to get a grip on the huge amount of information and the organization of these three mighty tomes – together they’re almost 700 pages of Sci-Fi goodness.

So to get a feeling for the system, lets quickly whip up two characters and have them face off in a brawl. I spared the regular character creation system for now and just rolled up two Universal Personality Profiles or UPPs and gave equal skills in unarmed combat to both contestants.

Here’s Roy Red: 37A578, Unarmed-2, Fighter-0

Roy’s pretty weak with a Strength of only 3, but then he’s quite tough with an Endurance of 10 (that’s the “A” in his UPP). Interesting … maybe he suffered some kind of handicap during his prior career but thereby learned how to live through adversities.

Gary Green: 755B59, Unarmed-2, Fighter-0 is of average Strength, but much less enduring then Roy (Endurance is 5 versus Roy’s A). Also Gary is somewhat less dexterous than Roy (Dexterity 5 vs. Roy’s 7).

Let’s see how this will work out in the fight. Note, that I’ll not take into account any of the other stats. Just for the sake of an example, I assume that Gary and Roy got into an argument, and finally Gary started to attack Roy physically.

Unarmed combat uses the melee rules found on page 203 of Book 1 “Characters and Combat”. First thing to do is figure out each characters “melee number”, shortened “MN”.

Roy’s MN is Stregth 3 + Figther-0 + Unarmed-2 = 5, whereas Gary’s MN is Strength 7 + Fighter-0 + Unarmed-2 = 9.

Now in order to effectively attack an opponent each of the two needs to roll two dice (2D) under a target number derived as attackers MN (or AMN) minus defenders MN (or DMN). So Gary would need to roll 9 – 5 = 4 or less on 2D to hit Roy, while Roy would need to roll 5 – 9 = -4 on 2D to hit Gary. Obviously the latter is not even possible.

But now consider this little gem of gaming rules: the target number can be modified by Dexterity, which can be spent as bonus points until it is used up. So Roy still can have a chance to hit Gary if he spends Dexterity Points to increase his chances to successfully hit Gary. Also each combatant can only engage in a number of combat rounds equal to his Endurance. After that he’ll only be able to continue attacks at a significant penalty (with regard to this penalty, there unfortunately seems to be an error in the rules, so let’s skip this for now).

But let’s see how this brawl will play out:

RoundGary 755B59 MN 9Roy 37A578 MN 5
1– starts the brawl punching Roy: AMN 9 – DMN 5 = 4. The Target number gets bumped up by using up 2 Dexterity Points thus making it a 6. Gary rolls a 4 and lands a blow causing 7 points of damage (that is damage equal to Gary’s Strength of 7)
– Roys blows do no harm
– takes 7 points of damage, his Endurance is now down to 3.
– Roy is panicking and invests all his 7 Dexterity Points into his attack. Also, since Gary started the brawl, Roy gets a +1 to hit back: AMN 5 – DMN 9 + 7 +1 = 4. But alas, he rolls a 6 and thus fails to retaliate.
2– Gary, now even more angry at Roy tries to punch him again: AMN 9 – DMN 5 = 4. He almost seems to go berserk and invests his remaining 3 Dexterity Points. So he’d need to roll a 7 or less on 2D. But he rolls an 8 and fails to hit Roy this time.– Roy, having spent all his Dexterity Points in the first round can’t do anything but try to avoid Gary’s incoming punches. No roll needed or possible.
3– Gary, tries to hit again but now he rolls a 7 against his target number which is now an unmodified 4.– Roy evades Gary’s attacks. No roll needed or possible.
4– Once more, Gary tries to land a blow, but again rolls a 7 against a 4.– Roy evades, but his Endurance, which was lowered from A to 3 in the first round, is now spent. He staggers. No roll needed or possible.
5– Finally, before Gary is exhausted, he tries to head butt Roy, but again fails his roll with a 6 versus 4.– Roy can hardly keep to his feet, but dodges once more. No roll needed or possible.
6– Gary is exhausted just as Roy is, the fight stops.– Roy slumps onto a bench, wiping his bloody nose.

Now, while it felt somewhat odd, that Roy could only effectively roll dice in the first round, I find this little experience quite interesting and a refreshing change from your usual D&D roll down the hit points fights.

First, there is this unique strategy option with allocating Dexterity Points to individual attacks. Do you spent them all at once? little by little? Only as things seem to turn against your favour?

Second, I very much like the exhaustion rules. This inhibits fights becoming endless non-sensical dicing duels.

Third, and I think that’s the one I like best: This fight is technically over after 5 rounds without anyone beeing killed, not even unconscious.

Obviously violence just can’t settle this conflict: time for role playing!

Also, as a finishing note for this post, I love how those utterly frugal stat blocks of the two characters are used to maximum effect. And I can totally see how some Traveller enthusiasts have put it: Traveller 5 comes round full circle to it’s Classic Traveller roots!

PS: in fact on page 127 of book 1 there is a rule on “Spectacularly Stupid” rolls when the target number is lower then the number of dice to be rolled: Roy’s player could have decided to try to roll a 3 on 3D every round after the first (that is a one on each of the three dice). Thus fishing for “Spectacular Success” would be highly unlikely with a probability of < 1%, but I’d surely add to the fun. I also like the witful diction …

Wanderer Bills Menschen & Magie

Vor fast zwei Jahren, im Januar 2019 habe ich mit meinem Projekt Menschen & Magie begonnen. Es sollte eine Hausregelsammlung für den Spieltisch werden. Gleichzeitig aber sollte es neuen Spielerinnen, die vielleicht noch nie etwas mit Fantasy Rollenspielen zu tun hatten, eine informative Einführung sein, die auch die historischen Aspekte der ersten Rollenspiele in den frühen 1970ern berücksichtigen sollte. Nicht ganz einfach, wie die erste Probeversion zeigte. Ein unvollständiges Konvolut aus Querverweisen, Tabellen und Fußnoten. Mein Nachbar legte die Stirn in Falten und fragte, wer eigentlich die Zielgruppe sei … hm … keine Ahnung …

Aber inzwischen ist das Projekt gereift – und zwar zu drei Bänden:

Menschen & Magie: Wanderer Bills Spielerhandbuch für Old-School Rollenspiele

Das Spielerhandbuch ist nach vie vor das einführende Werk. Es erklärt an Hand einer Charaktererschaffung nach den Regeln der drei braunen Büchlein von 1974 worum es in dem Spiel eigentlich geht, und wie man spielt. Außerdem geht das Spielerhandbuch auf das Spiel in langen Sandbox-Kampagnen ein, was für meinen Geschmack in vielen vergleichbaren Regelbüchern zu kurz kommt.

Als Gimmick enthält das Spielerhandbuch eine deutsche Übersetzung von Necropraxis würfelbaren Ausrüstungstabellen, nochmals Dank an Brendan, dass ich die Tabellen benutzen durfte.

Als der System-Matters Verlag in diesem Sommer den ersten System-Matters Fanzine-Wettbewerb ankündigte war für mich klar, jetzt muss ich mich mal ran halten, und das Projekt über die Rampe bringen. Das Spielerhandbuch wurde mein Beitrag zum Wettbewerb. Es gehörte zwar nicht zu den Gewinnern des Wettbewerbs – die drei Gewinner haben sich völlig zu Recht platziert – aber meine 20 eingeschickten Exemplare waren, wie der Großteil aller eingeschickten Fanzines, nach rund einer Stunde im Online-Shop ausverkauft.

Einen Nachdruck des Spielerhandbuchs, mit etwas schlichteren Ausrüstungstabellen wird es in Kürze als PDF und Print on Demand bei DrivethroughRPG geben.

Menschen & Magie: Grenzland-Hausregeln 2020

Die Hausregeln 2020 sind das eigentliche Referenzwerk für den Spieltisch. Es orientiert sich grob an Swords & Wizardry Core, enthält also auch eine Klasse für Diebe. Außerdem gibt es als Gimmick die Klasse der Punks: eine Unregelmäßigkeit im Ebenengefüge hat sie in die Fantasy-Welt verschlagen. Neben den üblichen Fantasy Halbmenschen Spezies Elfen, Zwergen und Halblingen, gibt es Regeln für Orks, Goblins und ähnliche Humanoide, falls diese als übernommene Nichtspielercharaktere zu Spielercharakteren werden. Und auch die Klasse der Druiden ist berücksichtigt. Allerdings kann man nur im laufenden Spiel zu einem Naturgeweihten werden. Man kann nicht als Druide das Heldenleben beginnen.

Die Grenzland-Hausregeln 2020 gibt es für kleines Geld als PDF und Print on Demand bei DrivethroughRPG!

Menschen & Magie: Arkanes Wissen und Zaubersprüche

Das Buch mit den Zaubersprüchen für alle Stufen. Meine Philosophie als Spielleiter ist ja, dass die Spieler eigentlich nur die Regeln der 1. Charakterstufe brauchen, da die Charaktere ja dann alles weitere im Spiel entdecken – auch neue Fähigkeiten und Zaubersprüche. Andererseits lehrt die Realität am Spieltisch, dass es auch eine Referenz für Zaubersprüche braucht. Ich habe dazu ein unter OGL veröffentlichtes deutsches Regelwerk als Grundlage ausgesucht, und die darin enthaltenen Zaubersprüche überarbeitet und an die Nullte Edition bzw. an Swords & Wizardry angepasst. Im Laufe der Zeit kamen dann auch noch ein paar eigene Sprüche hinzu, zum Beispiel die Gunst der Fortuna, ein Spruch der die Big Purple d30 Rule in Form eines Zauberspruchs ins Spiel bringt.

Arkanes Wissen und Zaubersprüche ist als PDF und Print on Demand bei DrivethroughRPG erhältlich.

Wie geht es weiter?

Drei weitere Bände sind in Arbeit:

Menschen & Magie: Monster und Schätze ein Monsterbuch mit sehr vielen Würfeltabellen, Menschen & Magie: Geheimes Wissen, Wanderer Bills dekonstruktivistisches Spielleiterbuch, welches sich mehr als Werkzeugkasten versteht, indem es nicht nur die ursprünglichen Regeln in seine Einzelteile zerlegt, und die Hausregeln 2021, die auf den aktuellen Hausregeln aufbauen, aber Elemente aus modernen OSR Regelwerken wie White Hack und Into the Odd enthalten.

Außerdem ist und bleibt Menschen & Magie ein Open Source-Projekt! Die Quelldateien sind frei auf Github verfügbar. Jeder kann sich dort den Versionsverlauf anschauen, von der ersten Stümperversion, über Fehltritte bis hin zum aktuellen Stand der Dinge. Dort kann man also auch sehen, wie Wanderer Bill mit dem Monsterbuch und dem geheimen Spielleiterwissen voran kommt.

Da Menschen & Magie quelloffen ist, steht es natürlich auch jedem frei, sich seine eigene Version von Menschen & Magie zu basteln. Für die Einhaltung der Lizenzbedingungen solcher Derivate legt Wanderer Bill aber natürlich nicht seine Hand ins Feuer.

Die Grenzlandkampagne, 5. Spielzeit

Die Grenzlandkampagne geht in die 5. Spielzeit. Am 08.April 2016 war die erste Session, die mit dem Modul B2 – Festung im Grenzland begann. Zu Beginn spielten wir nach Regeln der “Roten Box”. Inzwischen sind wir zu den Regeln von Original D&D in der nullten Edition übergegangen, und die Kampagnenwelt um die Festung im Grenzland hat sich erheblich ausgedehnt.

Ganz nach dem Motto: “prep situations not plots” hier eine zusammenfassende Einleitung für die neue Staffel:

Es ist Herbst geworden im Grenzland, morgens liegt Nebel in den Tälern und die Berggipfel in den Höhenlagen sind bereits eingeschneit. Aber viel bedrohlicher als der heraufziehende Winter sind die politischen Verwerfungen, welche die letzten Wochen mit sich gebracht haben.

Das Grenzland, der nordöstlichste Teil des Herzogtums Karameikos, ist von Truppen aus dem im Osten von Karameikos gelegenen Thyatis besetzt worden. Ganz überwiegend haben die wenigen zivilen Bewohner des Grenzlandes sich den Thyatischen Eroberern freiwillig ergeben. Was hätten sie auch unternehmen sollen, angesichts der Übermacht. Mehrere Reiter sind nach Spekularum im Süden entsandt worden um Herzog Stefan vom Eindringen der Thyatischen Armeen zu unterichten. Die Menschen des Grenzlandes rechnen daher täglich mit dem Eintreffen von Stefans Truppen.

Die bekannte Kampagnen-Welt

Entspannte Spannung am Grenzübergang

Am Grenzübergang östlich von Hommlet stehen die Thyatischen Truppen unmittelbar hinter der Grenzlinie. Sie haben den alten Turm zu ihrem Grenzstützpunkt gemacht, und sind damit beschäftigt, ein kleines Garnisonsgebäude zu errichten. Sie respektieren bisher die Grenze zu Darokin und es haben sich zwischen den Thyatischen und Darokinischen Grenzern – zu letzteren zählen auch Hauptmann von Berg, und der treue Tiefbart – vorsichtige, freundlich-kameradschaftliche Kontakte ergeben. Das Monstergebrüll welches noch vor wenigen Wochen immer wieder von unter dem alten Turm herauf drang ist verstummt. Die Thyatischen Söldner behaupten, dass sie mit Feuer und zahlreichen bewaffneten Kämpfern ein großes Ungeheuer bezwungen hätten, welches sich in einer der natürlichen Höhlen unter dem Turm in einem riesigen stinkenden Müllhaufen versteckt hatte. Andererseits wird viel gemunkelt über die unendlichen Höhlen unter dem alten Turm, einige sagen es gäbe dort einen unterirdischen Wasserfall, andere behaupten es ginge dort so weit in die Tiefe bis das Gestein flüssig werde. Die Thyatische Führung ist deswegen nervös und sucht nach Möglichkeiten die Gerüchte zu klären.

Burgfrieden im Tal der Landa Heri

Die weiten Wiesen um die Burg von Landa Heri sind ebenfalls von thyatischen Söldnern bestetzt worden. Sie haben etwas abseits der Burg ein großes Zeltlager errichtet. Landa Heri wird auch von Thyatis als bedeutende Klerikerin verehrt und anerkannt. Ihr ist gemeinsam mit ihren Anhängern eine Art autonomer Status zugesichert worden – unter der Voraussetzung, dass sie die Beanspruchung der umgebenden Täler durch Thyatis toleriert. Jüngst berichteten Thyatische Söldner von einem seltsamen Phänomen etwa zwei Tagesmärsche südöstlich von Landa Heri’s Burg. Hoch auf einem Plateau in den schroffen Bergen habe man an einem Tag eine gewaltige schwarze Festung erspäht, am Folgetag sei sie dann spurlos verschwunden gewesen. Da er seine eigenen Truppen schonen möchte, hat Feldwebel Epiphanius deshalb Landa Heri vorgeschlagen eine Expedition auszurüsten um näheres über das seltsame Phänomen zu erfahren – nicht zuletzt fürchtet er eine Bedrohung hinter den eigenen Reihen.

Landa Heris Burg

Gerüchte in Hommlet

In Hommlet bereitet man sich mal wieder auf das Schlimmste vor. In Gundigoots Guter Stube wird hitzig diskutiert wie man sich verhalten soll, falls es praktisch vor der eigenen Haustür zu einem Waffengang zwischen Thyatis und Karameikos kommen sollte. Außerdem ist man ungewiss, ob sich die düsteren Milizen von Nulb einer der beiden Seiten angeschlossen haben, oder weiterhin noch ganz andere Dinge verfolgen. Schließlich berichten Händler gelegentlich, dass sich in Karameikos jüngst viele einfache Bauern, aber auch einige Zauberkundige dem strengen aber rechtschaffenden Orden der Einmonder angeschlossen haben – Die Kleriker des St. Cuthbert werben für Toleranz, allein Jarroo findet klare Worte: er hält die Bewegung der Einmonder für bedenklichen Unfug.

Gute Stimmung in der Felsenheimat

Nachdem vor einigen Wochen eine nicht mehr ganz unbekannte Heldengruppe aus dem Grenzland den kleinen Bergarbeiterort Kinbarak von Untoten und schleichender Verderbnis befreit hatte, wird in Kinbarak wieder aufgebaut. Prospektoren haben in der alten Höhle neue Erzadern entdeckt, die durch das seltsame Sprossen einer mächtigen Eiche mitten in der Haupthöhle frei gelegt wurden. Beon ist exkulpiert worden und hofft nun gemeinsam mit den wenigen Überlebenden Kinbaraks eine neue Heimat aufzubauen. Zum feiern zieht man gerne nach Jarnmörk. Dort gibt es erstklassige neumodische Musik genau nach dem Geschmack der Zwerge, und die Kampfarena ist renoviert worden. Man hat einfach eingesehen, dass man alleine aus Marketinggründen die Pitfights nicht länger als illegales Schmuddelgeschäft auffassen sollte. Daher werden jetzt auch immer wieder mutige Abenteurer gesucht, die den Arenabetreibern möglichst ausgefallene und seltene Monster beschaffen.

A system-agnostic magic system?

System-agnostic seems like a contradiction in itself. Let it be a conundrum to solve (thanks @anahata).

What I’m actually pondering here is a set of magic rules for tabletop rpgs, that would work across a variety of systems. Say it should plug in effortlessly into OD&D and Classic Traveller, but also work with GURPS or Fudge, and maybe even more story telling focused games like FATE or PbtA-Games.

If you think of magic spells as entities that actually break or alter the rules of any given game, it doesn’t seem too far fetched, to have them interface in a sensible way with differing base rules … I hope.

Why?

The undeniable advantage of popular gaming systems is their relatively wide spread availability, a lot of players might already have the relevant book, or can access it easily.

As I like to play old games, or maybe not so popular game systems, I usually don’t expect my players to shell out money for a non-main stream gaming book, or to tediously search the second hand market for a copy.

For players of mundane types as fighting-men, rogues or simple adventurers this usually isn’t a big deal, but the magic users player will at some point want to reference the exact wording of some spell … so she’ll need a book … a spell book possibly.

For this exact situation a freely available (think Creative Commons, OGL …) and easily accessible (free indexed PDF, print yourself at cost at the local copy shop) would be ideal.

So let’s see what can be done …

What’s in a Spell?

I think if you look at the various spells in, say D&D and GURPS, there are certain recurring elements:

  • The spells effect
  • Time to cast
  • Range to cast
  • Duration of the spell
  • Restrictions

The spells effect usually conveys a narrative right, like legitimating the player to state how the magic user moves through a wall, conjures a demon or transforms into a giant mantis or whatever. Under other circumstances, this narration would break the rules of the game. That’s why you need magic. Sometimes the narration directly accesses gaming mechanics, like a fire ball doing 6d6 damage … that’s rules system specific … that’s going to be the difficult part.

Time to cast, range and duration are simple and universal. Even in the far future or in the most unlikely fantasy realm time will come in seconds, minutes and probably also hours days, and so on, and range can always be measured in terms of real world length measurement. Nothing gamey here, use SI units.

Restrictions are important – they tell you when, and only when it is allowed to break the rules by using magic and what kind of effect this has on the base game moving along. Those restrictions make the game fair and playable. Common restrictions are:

  • Spell slots
  • Spell levels
  • Spell cost, in terms of mana, fatigue points, gold, rare ingredients
  • Time and range also act as restrictions
  • agreement and / or support of some super natural being in case of clerical magic

As already said, time and range come in real world SI units, and gold, ingredients and a deities opinion about magic are part of the narrative. But spell slots, levels, mana points are rules-specific, so this is where a “system-agnostic” system would need to substitute alternative, self-contained rules.

First take at universal magic *rules*

This is a work in progress … two basic ideas:

Spells have varying impact and effectiveness, this could be modeled by an abstract spell complexity on a range from 1 (low complexity, easy to cast), to 10 (high complexity, hard to cast).

Magic users probably will be more or less apt at working spells. This could be modeled by some magical aptitude stat. This might be an existing stat, like intelligence (INT) in the original game, it might be derived from a combination of existing stats, or it might be newly added to a given game system.

I think a magical aptitude in the usual 3d6 range from 3 to 18 should be in order. I know, this is somewhat specific, but it also is a very common range for gaming stats, facilitating success rolls with 1d20, 3d6 or derivatives thereof like 2d6, 4d6 or 2d20 with advantage/disadvantage. Also, if multiplied by 5 the 3-18 range converts to 15-90, which is convenient for percentile based systems, and there are commonly known ways, do convert 3-18 to the -4 to +4 range as used in Fudge and FATE.

Now put this together … How about this, just set up a matrix with the difference of magical aptitude and spell complexity:

Spell Complexity
Aptitude12345678910
3210-1-2-3-4-5-6-7
43210-1-2-3-4-5-6
543210-1-2-3-4-5
6543210-1-2-3-4
76543210-1-2-3
876543210-1-2
9876543210-1
109876543210
1110987654321
12111098765432
131211109876543
1413121110987654
15141312111098765
161514131211109876
1716151413121110987
18171615141312111098

This already seems to be somewhat usable to me.

For example, if a magic user with magical aptitude of 12 wanted to cast a spell of complexity level 2, he’d need to roll a 10 or lower on 1d20 or 3d6 … depending on the base rules in action. On a success, the spell would work as expected, on a failure it would fail with some narrative consequence told by the GM.

In a system with vancian magic spell slots, this success roll could indicate, whether the mage managed to learn the spell, and is able to use it safely from then on.

It’s obvious that a character with low magical aptitude and little experience will never manage to work high complexity spells. Or only under certain circumstances, yet to be defined. Seems alright to me.

Now, since those odds seem somewhat depressing, lets add some modifiers:

Experience

Measured on an abstract scale from 1 to 10, experience could be used as a direct modifier. The experience number could represent years of study in a story telling game, or be a derivative of character level in a more classical approach.

As an example, a Mage with aptitude 12 and 5 years of experience would need to roll a 12 or less in order to work a complexity level 5 spell (base number 7 and +5 for experience).

Time

A magic user might invest more or less time into working a spell. Modifiers could look like this, with a basic time to work a spell being hours:

SecondsMinutesHoursDaysWeeksMonthYears
-2-10+1+2+3+4

In essence, this would make it possible for a high experience mage to cast a spell within seconds, while his apprentice might take month or even years to master the complicated ritual.

The time to cast could be further quantified by rolling a d6, so 1-6 seconds for a combat spell, or 1-6 days for some necromantic ritual.

Cost

The magic users might invest a fraction or multiple of the base cost into working the spell. Again, think mana, fatigue points, gold … what ever your system uses. Modifiers could look like this:

Cost multiplier1/101/41/21210100
Modifier-3-2-10+1+2+3

You might think of yet other possible modifiers, but I think this basically covers it.

The actual Spells

I think in order to approach a wide range of spells in a generic way, I’d try a syntax based approach like in GURPS improvised magic, Maze Rats or Magic in the Moment, over on the Papers and Pencils blog: combinations of generic magical nouns and verbs like conjure, banish, hasten, heal, harm, fire, water, demon, monster and so on.

The actual number of magical words going into a spell could be used as yet another modifier. The more words, the higher the penalty ….

As I said, it’s a work in progress. I’ll try to model some commonly known spells with this system and see how it goes. Maybe start with good old light, heal light wounds, sleep and fireball. The players will certainly want those 😉

How’s your campaign?

On his blog @kensanata asked about peoples campaigns and posted a bunch of questions. As others have written already, that’s a fun way to reflect about one’s own campaign, so here we go:

  1. How many sessions have you been playing, more or less?

    About 24.

  2. How long have you been running this campaign?

    We started in April 2017 I think. Played about once a month, and now about every two weeks.

  3. Have you had long breaks? If so, how did you pick it up again?

    Yes, we paused over the summer months. I feel it was not difficult to pick up again. We just did it. Last year a bunch of new players joined the group and at the same time the PCs basically left the place they had been adventuring at over the first sessions of the campaign. So that was kind of a new start.

  4. How many people are at the table when you play?

    Usually around 5 players plus GM, we had sessions with 9 players though and also one or two one-on-one sessions for side quests.

  5. How many characters are in the party when you play?

    Usually every player plays one character, so about 5 PCs, and most of the time they manage to get some NPCs to come along. We had never more NPCs than PCs in the party.

  6. How many players have you had in total over that time period, not counting guest appearances?

    11 regular players in total, right now there are 6 regular players.

  7. Have you had guest appearances? How did it go? Did you gain regular players that way?

    Yes, a few. 3 – 4 I think. Some stayed for 2 – 3 sessions, and then left again. I think most players who joined and stayed were sort of determined from the beginning.

  8. What have the character levels been over time?

    The highest level so far was 5th level. Right now, there are two level 5, one level 4, three level 3, and two level 1 characters.

  9. What classes did the players pick? Did you add new classes over time?

    Mostly standard classes, so fighting-men, magic-users and clerics, now and then we had a thief join the party. Almost all of them are human, very few are halflings. I think there was only one elf and one dwarf character in the whole campaign so far.

    And yes, we have a custum class I’m particularly proud of: Punks! Perfectly normal punks from our timeline, sporting mohawks and leather jackets (AC 7) and wielding clubs or even baseball bats, it they managed to take them along as they were pulled through the limbo to the fantasy world. One of our players has even gathered an NPC punk rock band around his character. They have to get along with medieval instruments though – no electricity in the borderlands 😉

  10. Tell me about some adventures you ran over that time that I might enjoy hearing about?

    Hm, that’s sort of a tough question I find, since everything has been continous events in a sandbox. But here’s one event, that particularly baffled me:

    The party was hunting down some evil wizard who had supposedly kidnapped an NPC female magic user who had helped the party before. The evil magic user had summoned a bunch of minor demons and had a horde of gnolls at his disposal. The party lost 1 or 2 NPCs on the way to the magic user. So a pretty normal dungeon crawl up to the point, when they actually faced off their main antagonist: That evil magic user, crit failed his saving throw against a charm person – so what should I do with the boss going out of commission in the midst of the session?

    I decided to have the demons rip him apart, since being charmed by an opponent he had lost control over them. The demons then took his remains with them to the underworld, so at least some of his mightier magic items were out of reach of the player characters – just for the time being. Then I decided to let the dragon come in early, who had an appointment to get some plunder from the evil magic-user. What finally happend was, that the players didn’t care too much for the kidnapped girl, who was left to the dragon, but managed to get all the plunder and run away with it … oh my … 😉

    I also liked how on some other occasion the party basically took a whole session to plan and set up an ambush on a tribe of orcs. Decent planning, lots of NPCs involved, and our first delve into actually using the Chainmail mass combat rules. Handfuls of dice and the most successful session in terms of XP and gold we’ve had so far.

  11. Have the rule changes over that time? Do you maintain a house-rules document?

    Quite a bit actually. We started with BECM rules as written, but added house rules rather quickly – then, after tinkering with some rules additions from AD&D 1st edition, I decided to take two steps back. What we do now is basically 3LBB plus a bunch of house rules. I like to use d6s for hit dice, attribute bonuses are somewhat deemphasized compared to BECM, and if the players would let me, I’d happily do away with variable weapon damage.

    The house-rules document we use has almost evolved into a stand alone edition. It’s written in german, and is available here.

  12. Has the setting changed over time?¹

    Not much. We started at the *Keep on the Borderlands* at it’s canonical location in Mystara and I added in Hommlet, Nulb and the Temple of Elemental Evil about four days to the west. Everything else is out of the box Mystara.

  13. How much in-game distance did the party cover, how big is the area they have visited?

    Including a side quest, which was an overland journey in which only 3 PCs took part, about 160 miles from east to west. Most PCs have only seen the area between the Keep and Hommlet, so about four days of travel. So the whole area would probebly be about 20 x 120 miles.

  14. Have you used proprietary setting books? Like, could you publish your campaign or would you be in trouble if you did?

    Yes, the B2 *Keep on the Borderlands*, Mentzers *Expert Rules*, and T1-4 *The Temple of Elemental Evil*.

A free and open source setting for role playing games?

Yesterday on Mastodon @BindRPG asked about popular libre settings for rpg gaming. Interesting question I thought, some chatter went back and forth, and … man, this really got me thinking.

I mean, there are a whole bunch of gaming systems realeased under some sort of libre license. Prominently Fate core and Dungeon World come to mind, which both are available unter Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 for example. But there are others under some kind of creative commons license like Gumshoe, Eclipse Phase, Freeform Universal (disclaimer no 1: please check the respective web sites for exact licensing terms). Apart from that, there are hundreds of games released under the Open Gaming License, which might be considered less libre then creative commons, and hardly anyone of those is open source, too (Basic Fantasy RPG being one exception). And hey, since yesterday I know of BindRPG, which is even released under the GNU General Public License.

But a libre setting? When I think about settings, various creations come to mind, most of which are big companies interelectual property – most probably with some big time fierce lawyers just waiting for you to stray into their territory.

But do we actually need a libre setting?

Well, not if you just want to play in, say Hogwarts, or on the Planet of Tatooine. In those cases you’ll likely have payed for a commercial setting book anyway, which of course is meant to be used just for that. And if you home brewed your way into that other setting, the lawyers simply won’t find out. And even if they would, such use would always be covered by the concept of fair use.

At your gaming table, you could always take the Infinite Worlds mega-setting from GURPS, and include just about any other setting there is, but again, Infinite Worlds is intellectual property of Steve Jackson Games.

And don’t even think about doing anything commercially for some others intellectual property setting. Don’t do it – unless you really want to, know what you do, and have put some money aside to pay the lawyer.

So in fact, having a good libre setting would allow folks to not only play in a cool setting, but anyone could publish for this setting, and thereby add to it, for everyones gaming fun and pleasure.

And opposed to commercial licenses, open source and a libre license substantially facilitates crowd sourcing and collaboration on a common shared setting.

So, do we need a libre setting? I think yes, it would be terrific!

So, but what is a setting, really?

Role playing settings can be as small as a map of a village, some hills and a cave or dungeon just behind those hills. But a setting can also be huge, spanning one or even multiple planets, multiple star systems, and rather often than not, multiple planes of existence, epochs far in the past and future, accessible by some means of time travel.

So, on the small scale, a setting would need definitions of:

  • local geography
  • climate and wheather
  • local fauna and flora
  • local culture
  • spiritual entities and religious beliefs
  • technology, trade goods and commercial system
  • professions (which might lead to character classes)
  • political system and circumstances
  • presence or absence of magic in the broadest sense
  • notable Non-Player Characters (NPCs), who in some way represent all of the above.

On the large scale, a setting would need a common idea of the cosmology and the universe, and rules to join multiple small scale settings in different locations and epochs within the large scale setting.

How to go about it?

I think for a crowd sourced, collaborative, libre setting we would need basically a set of common rules. Rules to define those items mentioned above for the small scale setting, and rules to find out where to put small scale subsettings within the large scale – a common reference system, location wise, and time wise.

I believe the way to define all these things should be system neutral, since being specific for any one particular gaming system would run counter to the idea of a common shared setting. So any definition of setting items should use normal language, real world units, and reference to items and things of everyday life for comparison. For example some humanoid tribe could be “twice as strong” as normal humans, and a particular kind of dragon could be “as large as a blue whale”, while some gnomish folks could be “as small as cats”.

The large scale would probably need a common time line, and a common spacial map – I’m thinking of something like the subsector maps of the Traveller RPG. Subsector maps could have multiple layers, to represent multiple dimensions or planes.

I also like the idea, that the expansion of a common cosmos, is actually an in game thing. So in order to find a new place, player characters have to go exploring, and to expand into new planes or alternative dimensions, mighty rituals have to be performed, or new science has to be discovered – in game. So the common mega-setting would need rules for this, too.

I’m envisioning a core book, which would lay out the common time line, a common multidimensional reference system, and all of those common rules on how to define a subsetting. A basic core “Elves, Dwarves and Orcs”-Fantasy subsetting would be nice, too. As an example, and a common, canonical default place to start playing in. Individual subsettings could be added as zine-format gazeteers.

So, will it happen? Anyone else interested in this?

2d6 – the original tabletop role playing dice mechanic

Is 2d6 a hype? I see it everywhere. It’s in games Powered by the Apocalypse like Dungeon World, it’s in Maze Rats and Stars without Number.

Powered by the Apocalypse games introduce three possible outcomes to a roll of 2d6:

10 or more: you succeed

7 to 9: you succeed, but there’s a problem

6 or less: the game master gets to make a move, probably introducing even more complication.

That’s cool, it drives the story forward.

The B/X edition of Dungeons & Dragons (1981), which has become sort of lingua franca in the OSR scene, has morale and reaction rolls based on 2d6. In the lack of persuasion skill rolls like deception, fast-talk or savoir-faire, reaction rolls are an important, and actually quite universal mechanic to adjucate non-combat encounters. It goes like this:

2d6monster reactionretainer reaction
2 or lessimmediate attackoffer refused;
reaction -1 on the next roll
3 – 5hostile, possible attackoffer refused
6 – 8uncertain, monster confusedroll again
9 – 11no attack, monster leaves
or considers offers
offer accepted
12 or moreenthusiastic friendshipoffer accepted; morale +1

Quite a lot of role playing opportunity stuffed into this table. Especially the 6 – 8 range should prompt for some interesting social interaction. Of course the GM can liberally count in charisma modifiers and bonus points for good role playing, bribes offered, or penalties because of overall bad behaviour.

Then 2d6 is the principal die roll in many iterations of the Traveller rules up to Mongoose Traveller and Traveller 5. Classic Traveller was released in 1977. And by the way, there is also the Cepheus Engine, an OGL’ed science fiction system based on Mongoose Traveller 1st edition. There are many supplements for Cepheus, also for non-sci-fi genres, turning it into something like generic universal 2d6 based role playing game system.

But it goes further back. Just look at Chainmail, D&Ds supposed predecessor, published in 1971. The man-to-man combat table uses 2d6 against armor class, just like Classic Traveller.

Blackmoor obviously was the first ever tabletop role playing fantasy campaign. Some time ago, I discovered a post on the gaming experience in Blackmoor. Guess what kind of die rolls were done most of the time? Some character sheets from the Blackmoor campaign have been preserved. Isn’t it suggestive, that attributes and skills had numbers mostly in the range of 2 – 12? The Secrets of Blackmoor documentary released recently is well worth a look if you’re interested in the history of geek culture.

Now I find this quite intriguing. Most people think of a d20 when it comes to role playing and iconic images of dice, but rather likely the original role playing dice were 2d6. In one of my recent posts on reddit I asked how the Classic Traveller rules might be related to the Blackmoor campaign. An interesting discussion ensued and of course the answer is obvious. The designers of Blackmoor, Chainmail, D&D and Traveller knew each other, probably exchanged ideas on game mechanics, 2d6 was commonly used in war games, even before Blackmoor, and after all, d6s were much easier to get at then those funky dice D&D demanded.

Just as a reminder, 2d6 result in a simple bell curve (well, more of a roof top curve actually). Here are the odds:

2d6absoluteat least
22.78 %100 %
35.56 %97.22 %
48.33 %91.67 %
511.11 %83.33 %
613.89 %72.22 %
716.67 %58.33 %
813.89 %41.67 %
911.11 %27.78 %
108.33 %16.67 %
115.56 %8.33 %
122.78 %2.78 %

Finally let my cite this awesome catch all 2d6 based roll playing mechanic found on Norbert G. Matauschs blog, the post is called Back to really simple role playing:

we both roll 2d6; if I’m higher, I say what happens, if you’re higher, you say what happens; if we’re close, we negotiate

What more do you need?