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?

Rules for traveling and hanging around

Here are some house rule for open table fantasy sandbox games.

Hanging around at the tavern

Player characters who don’t take part in an adventure, because their players couldn’t make it to the session, are supposed to hang around at the local tavern. It costs them 1 gp per day to stay there. This may well lead to going into depts, but that’s their problem.

Traveling

Player characters who need to travel quickly in order to catch up with a party may travel 18 to 90 miles or 3 to 15 hex per week. It costs them 15 gp for a week of traveling. Roll on the following table for each week traveling (i.e. if you need to travel 16 hexes, you need two weeks, so roll twice!). You gain the number cast on 2d6 times 20 XP per week!

2d6 event
2 you disappear and become a non-player character. Only the GM knows what happend. You might be found and become a player character again if the party successfully finds you.
3 Something bad happens. You’re traumatised and lose one level.
4 you’ve been assaulted and robbed. You reach your destination with nothing but rags (AC 9) and a cudgel (1d4).
5 you get injured and lose one week of traveling time – roll again.
6 you get help from some higher npc – you owe him a favour now.
7 you make an interesting discovery. You couldn’t gather much, but you’ve found (1) the entry to an unknown cave system, (2) ancient ruins, (3) the lair of a terrible monster, (4) a gate to another world.
8 you meet a traveling companion, roll again with +2. You get +2 on a reaction roll, if you want to hire him as a retainer.
9 you find some work on the way, and earn 3d10 gp
10 somehow you come in possession of a treasure map
11 you find a valuable gem (1d10*100 gp), lucky you
12 you find a magic item (GMs choice)

9 to 5 jobs for adventurers

Characters who stay at some place for a longer period of time might try to find work. Roll 2d6 plus charisma modifier. On a result of 8+ you find a job and earn 2d4 * 10 gp per week. If you miss you have to wait for a week and earn nothing. On a critival miss (2 on 2d6) wait two weeks before roling again.