Archive for the 'Role-playing' Category

50 Games in 50 Weeks: Dungeon World

Jan 09 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews,Role-playing

'CatacombsOfTheWizard' by orkboi on Flickr

'CatacombsOfTheWizard' by orkboi on Flickr

Dungeon World is another sword-and-sorcery tabletop RPG system aiming to recapture the purity of classic Dungeons & Dragons. The surface looks the same, including the four classes of Cleric, Fighter, Thief, and Wizard. The mechanics and approach, however, are quite different.

Player-character attributes mirror D&D, except for the addition of Bond, which is used to indicate how well each character knows each other character. Moreover, at the beginning of each session, two attributes are “highlighted” by other players and the GM. If a player uses those attributes during the session, the PC gets extra XP.

The basic die mechanic is 2d6, added together, plus any modifiers. 10 or higher is a full success; 7–9 is a success with a complication; 6 or lower is a failure.

The “move,” which is the core procedure of the system, is a rule that lists a trigger (the thing in the game that activates the move), possibly a roll, and a set of possible results.

Interestingly, moves are not optional. If any character action satisfies the trigger condition for a move, the character must immediately use that move.

Moreover, moves are always responses to character actions. A player can’t say “I use the Defy Danger move;” the player must narrate a character action which triggers the Defy Danger move.

This is central to the system. Players must narrate. The mechanics must flow from that narration.

There are also mechanics that allow for results to be held for the next turn, for the next use of a move, until a condition is met, or using a currency called “hold.” The move specifies the uses of “hold.” For example, if you stand in defense of a person, item, or location under attack and succeed fully, you get 3 hold. You can later spend that hold to redirect an attack from the defended item to yourself, or halve the damage of an attack against the defended item, or deal extra damage to anything attacking the defended item.

In a reversal from traditional D&D, most weapons deal no damage themselves. Damage is dealt by rolling a certain sized die for your class, and in some cases adding +1 for a particularly powerful weapon. The system justifies this by pointing out that your class’s training determines your ability to hurt people. Thieves are not build to deal damage; they have moves that make them useful in many other ways.

Unfortunately, the rules are written with often-tortured grammar, making many sentences hard to parse. Here’s an example, and I’ve even corrected two typos: “When the doom you show signs of is an onslaught of goblin arrows, if the players don’t do something to get out of the way, you can follow through with damage as a hard move.” This is frequent enough that I needed to re-read many passages to fully understand them.

I wouldn’t mind this in a supplement, but these are the core rules.

The term “move” compounds the issue. It’s such a generic word that I often felt confused by a particular turn of phrase. When a rule tells you to “make your move,” is that meant colloquially or mechanically?

When we sat down to play it, the game progressed smoothly. I spent much of the time prompting players with “What do you do?”, as the rules demanded, which non-plussed a few players. Dungeon World expects focus, an admirable quality.

much as I’m complaining about it, I found Dungeon World‘s rules and approach refreshing and effective. We had a classic hack-and-slash adventure. It did exactly what it claimed it would do.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Fiasco

Jan 02 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

'Brother' by linuz90 on Flickr

'Brother' by linuz90 on Flickr

Man, I loved Fiasco.

Fiasco is a tabletop RPG that approaches die rolls from a radically unorthodox angle. The players roll the dice at the beginning of the game, and those rolls tie into various elements of the setting (the book comes with several starter settings). Once those dice are rolled, they’re never rolled again.

The first half of the game involves describing and explaining the elements rolled, as well as their relations to each other. If the dice connect a child’s chemistry set to a protagonist’s law offices, someone will get a chance to explain that connection at some point before the game’s mid-point.

Halfway into the game comes the Tilt, a major plot point that disrupts the ongoing story and rolls it towards disaster. The rest of the game involves narrating the characters’ reactions and fates.

As a result, Fiasco is a story-driven game, to the point of being story-obsessed. The game hinges on players collaborating to narrate whole scenes without a single die roll, skill, or attribute to fall back on.

Only one in our group of four had played Fiasco before, so he guided us through the dice-rolling and story-telling process. Most of us found the system awkward at first, but we warmed to it, especially in the second half. Our story of a small Southern town and its corrupt cop, his innocent niece, and the drug-dealing lawyer and his daughter quickly spiraled out of the character’s control, into dark places. We felt gripped by the power of our story.

What better praise can I give to a role-playing game?

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3 Dice Dungeon, A Solitaire Dungeon Crawl Game

Dec 29 2011 Published by under Role-playing

'P1050124' by indiepants on Flickr

'P1050124' by indiepants on Flickr

Nearly a year ago, Greywulf posted RPG Solitaire Challenge: 3 Dice, a simple solitaire game of dungeon exploration. In his game, you roll 3 dice for your adventurer’s stats, then for each room in the dungeon, roll 1 die to determine the room’s type, 1 die for a monster, and 1 die for a treasure.

I played the game a couple of times, and while I had fun, I found two major issues:

  1. The game is very swingy. I played several games where I died within two encounters, and others where I could’ve continued playing forever.
  2. There’s nothing to do except trade blows with monsters.

There’s a tantalizing possibility resting in the rooms, though. So, let’s add some design and map the dungeon as you go!

3 Dice Dungeon

3 Dice Dungeon is an expansion of the rules in  RPG Solitaire Challenge: 3 Dice.

You create a character by rolling three six-sided dice (re-rolling if your total is 10 or lower). One die roll represents your BODY, another your MIND, and a third your SPIRIT (or magic). These represent both your current and maximum points in these attributes. You’re now ready to adventure!

Create each location by rolling 3 dice (one for each column) and consulting the table below.

Result Location Monster Treasure
1 Corridor (straight or curved) Goblins None
2 Small room (1d2 exits) Orcs Healing potion
3 Large room (1d3 exits) Ogres Magic sword
4 Vault (1d3 exits) Giants Tome of Enlightenment
5 Temple (1d3 exits) Dragon Spell scroll
6 Great Hall (1d3+1 exits) None Map fragment

Mapping: Draw this location on a piece of paper. Each location takes up about the same space on the overall map, and can have exits to the north, east, south, and west. You must mark the exits logically (an exit cannot lead to a room with no entrance on that side), but otherwise exits can be wherever you want.

How Many Exits Is That? The number of exits in each room includes the one that you entered from, so each room may be a dead end.


Attacking: If the room contains a monster, you must attack it! Pick an attribute and roll a die. If you roll less than the attribute, you hit! Turn the monster’s die so that it shows one point lower. When you hit a monster that’s at 1, it is defeated. If you roll equal to or greater than the attribute, the monster hits you; decrease the attribute chosen for this attack by 1.

Bleeding Out: If an attribute is reduced to 0, you take -1 on all attack rolls. If all three attributes are reduced to 0, you’re dead.

Crits: When attacking, a 1 always hits and a 6 always misses.

Training Wheels: In your first location, if you roll 4 or 5 for the monster, re-roll (multiple times if necessary). In your second location, re-roll any 5’s for the monster.


Once a location’s monster is defeated, you get the location’s treasure.

  • Map fragment — When you’re in a vault, you may use up a map fragment to unearth a powerful ancient artifact (see below).
  • Healing Potion — Increase one attribute by 2 points, or two attributes by 1 point each, up to their respective maximums.
  • Magic Sword — +1 on all BODY rolls. This is cumulative, so if you have two Magic Swords, you add +2 on all BODY rolls.
  • Tome of Enlightenment — +1 on all MIND rolls. This is also cumulative.
  • Spell Scroll — Use this scroll for a +3 on one SPIRIT roll. The scroll disappears once used.


When you defeat a monster (or if there is no monster in the room), total the value of all three dice rolled for the location (room, monster, and treasure). Add this to your XP total.

Leveling Up: For every 50 XP you earn, increase the maximum of one attribute, and return all your attributes to their maximum values.

Moving Around The Map

Returning to Danger: When you return to a room you’ve already visited, you run the risk of encountering a low-level monster who’s sneaked into the room. Roll a die for a roving monster. If you roll 3–6, there’s no monster.

Temple Teleportation: From a temple, you can teleport to any other temple already on the map. When you do, roll for a roving monster. You may only teleport after defeating any monsters in the room.

Descending To The Next Level: You may only descend to the next level of the dungeon from a Great Hall, and only after you have collected one artifact on this level.


Roll a die to find an artifact:

Result Artifact
1 Jade Idol (+2 on an attack roll)
2 Crystal Pendant (+3 on one MIND roll)
3 Boots of Swiftness (run from one fight per player level into a random adjacent room, with no penalty)
4 Scroll of Teleportation (after clearing a room, teleport to any other explored room; use once)
5 Sleeping Salts (cause one monster to sleep; no XP for the monster, and when this room is next visited, it is awake again)
6 Shielding Charm (ignore one hit against you)

Multiple Players

To play with others, each player rolls their own stats. In each location, roll one monster die per player. The highest monster die determines the type of the monsters in the room; sum all the monster dice rolled for the monster’s hit points.

Each player earns the XP total for each location (so, if a location provides 10 XP, each player gets 10 XP).

Note that playing with multiple players is harder, because you’ll have to share the rewards.

The Undead Level

Finally, just for the fun of it, here’s an undead-themed level:

Result Location Monster Reward
1 Corridor (straight or curved) Skeletons Map fragment
2 Small room (1d2 exits) Zombies Healing potion
3 Large room (1d3 exits) Mummy Magic sword
4 Crypt (1d3 exits) Vampire Tome of Enlightenment
5 Temple (1d3 exits) Lich Spell scroll
6 Great Hall (1d3+1 exits) None None

Crypts? A crypt acts just like a vault.

The Undead Are Weak Against Magic: A SPIRIT attack against undead does not automatically fail on a 6.

That’s it. If you play 3 Dice Dungeon, please let me know in the comments!

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: InSpectres

Dec 26 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

'Ghost Exit' by rbrwr on Flickr

'Ghost Exit' by rbrwr on Flickr

InSpectres is a lot of fun.

It’s a tabletop role-playinggame that’s basically Ghostbusters. The lightweight system includes only four attributes per PC–Academics, Athletics, Technology, and Contact–with a focus on one of them. A total of 9 points are distributed among these attributes.

The core mechanic involves rollingsix-sideddice–as many dice as you have points in the attribute that applies to the attempted action–and looking up the highest die rolled in a results table. Higher numbers provide extra Job Dice (each job requires the players to collect a certain number of job dice), while lower numbers mean that bad things happen.

Similarly, when faced with something scary or otherwise stressful–which happens a lot to paranormal investigators–the player rolls a number of dice equal to the force of the stress, and lower numbers provide bad results, including the loss of dice from attributes. Once all of a character’s attribute dice are gone, the character freaks out and retires from that particular job (and possibly from the ghostbusting franchise).

That’s most of the system. The franchise itself has a couple of attributes that can be called upon in dire circumstances, and there’s also a “confessional” mechanic, that lets players add facts to the world by narrating an aside, noir-style(“But what we didn’t know was that the tool shed contained an old stick of incense that the ghosts hated!”). And that’s about it, mechanically.

In play, we had a great time. We decided to play a small franchise in New Orleans, that was invited to investigate strange nightly noises in an old government building that once served as the governor’s mansion. The PCs faced down various ghosts wandering the cubicled building before discovering that the top office doubled as a seance chamber. Further paranormal hijinks ensued.

The rules describe a 10-die job as “easy” and a 30-die job as “hard.” We started with a 10-die goal, but within an hour upped the goal to 20, as the players quickly gathered job dice with few ill effects. Indeed, we finished the 20-die mission after losing only a couple of attribute points per player. A 10-die job seems trivial, though perhaps the players were rolling well.

The system’s simplicity let us get to the action quickly, which is critical for a light-heartedgame like this. Moreover, the high-levelmechanics prevented us from bogging down in blow-by-blowcombat.

InSpectres fits its genre almost perfectly. The only downside is that it fits this genre only. However, if bustin’ makes you feel good, I’ve found no system better than InSpectres.

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One Little Tweak

Dec 16 2011 Published by under Role-playing

"Paxil deprived" by kevindooley on Flickr

"Paxil deprived" by kevindooley on Flickr

I ran a game of Searchers of the Unknown, a simplified and free original D&D rule set, at RyvenCon a while ago. ‘Twas fun, and the system worked well, but we agreed that it could use one little tweak.

This way, madness lies. It’s so tempting to house-rule a system because it’s “not perfect.” Soon, a rules-light system grows into a rules-moderate system.

Well, this is a minor issue, but a significant one. There are four kinds of weapons in Searchers:

  • Ranged weapons, worth 1d6 damage
  • Small melee weapons, like daggers, worth 1d4 damage
  • Medium melee weapons, like swords, worth 1d8 damage
  • Large melee weapons, like polearms and two-handed swords, worth 1d10 damage.

(The actual terms are a little different, but these are more clear for my purposes.)

Those are all of the stats for weapons. Thus, there’s no mechanical reason to wield a dagger instead of a polearm.

There’s a good reason for this: space. Searchers of the Unknown is supposed to fit on one page. Complicated weapon rules would take up space and, well, complicate the system.

However, Ryven came up with an ingenious rock-paper-scissors solution: what if medium weapons give you +1 on your attack roll against enemies carrying small weapons, large weapons give you +1 against enemies carrying medium weapons, and small weapons give you a +1 against enemies carrying large weapons (simulating the ability to duck around the large weapon)?

It’s an elegant solution, and though it does introduce a slightly more complicated attack roll, I think it’s worth the tweak to balance out the game.

Hope this helps!

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Everyone Is John

Dec 16 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

As part of DC Gameday, I volunteered to run a game of Everyone Is John.

System basics: Each player is a voice in the head of a totally insane man named John from Minneapolis. Each voice has a few skills, an obsession (something they really want to accomplish), and a pool of Willpower tokens. Whenever John is hurt, bored, or falls asleep, the voices all wager Willpower tokens to take control of John. The winner controls John until he’s hurt, bored, of falls asleep again.

The system perfectly simulates the competition among voices. The only potential issue is the absolute control of one voice and the lack of input from the other voices.

On the one hand, this system generates a very intense, one-on-one experience between the controlling voice and the GM. I’m sure it’s odd for a player to have the full attention of the GM for long stretches.

On the other hand, everyone else has nothing to do except observe. The player and DM have to be entertaining. I’d like to see a mechanic that allows non-controlling voices to give Willpower Points to the current voice, in exchange for accomplishing something the giver wants.

In our case, the system resulted in a very wacky story. Each voice had to deal with strange circumstances as they took over John–the players knew what had happened, but the voices didn’t–and had to cope.

That highlighted another difficulty: voices were often presented with situations that completely non-plussed them, because the voice has no context. I’d add a stipulation that voices remember only what’s happened since John’s most recent full night’s sleep. We may have been playing it wrong, though, by assuming that voices “lose consciousness” when they lose control.

Overall, the game itself was a lot of fun. The system provided a weird, strong, memorable experience that we learned quickly.

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I’m in a Night in the Lonesome October

Oct 24 2011 Published by under Role-playing

jffdougan has kindly accepted my submission to his blog carnival A Night in the Lonesome October, “The House of Doctor Chamberlain.” Not only that, it’s the second entry! I’m honored.

The other entries so far include is a “charmed hero” theme and a neat set of “cultist” themes for D&D 4th Edition, so there’s already some cool content out there. Hope you follow the carnival!

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Exploring The Lost Kingdoms

Oct 22 2011 Published by under Role-playing

Michael Garcia’s The Lost Kingdoms is a GM aid, meant to provide a ready-to-use framework for a typical fantasy kingdom.

And that is its biggest problem.

On the one hand, The Lost Kingdoms may be useful for new GMs who want a generic fantasy town with the barest bones of backstory. The setting’s background–wild kingdoms locked away behind a gate, recently re-opened for adventurers–is a great idea. The document lists a few common locations–a tavern, a weapons shop, a general store, several temples, etc.–each with a paragraph or two of basic information.

On the other hand, who wants to adventure in a generic fantasy town?

However, there’s not enough detail in The Lost Kingdoms to raise any of its contents to life, and what does exist should be easily imagined by any GM. Do I need someone to tell me that my town has a weapons shop? If the players need one, I can just say “Yes, there’s a weapons shop.” The meager information provided in the shop’s description (that it’s run by “a very well-known pair of Dwarf brothers”) could just as easily be re-imagined.

Worse, the book’s naming hurt my brain. Most places in town have deliberately generic names, like Apothecary and Inn, but the town square is named Statdplatz. Areas of exploration are given names that sit uncomfortably between generic and specific, like Edge Mountains, Morning Mountains, Crystal Lake, and Wasted Sands.

And the emperor who unsealed the gate? Bob the Magnificent. It just jars.

To top it off, the last page refers to “the awesome random encounter chart which I also provide,” which I can’t find anywhere in the book.

Even at its current $0.99 price, I can’t recommend The Lost Kingdoms. What’s here is too generic and weirdly named to be useful.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Risus

Oct 19 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

I had the good fortune to play a game using the free Risus “everything RPG system” as part of DC Gameday this year.

Risus is very generic, which is its key strength. The system can be explained in two short paragraphs, which I will now attempt to do.

Each character is made up of clichés, each of which gets 1 to 4 dice. Each character has a total of 10 dice to distribute amongst clichés. You can add a “hook” (interesting backstory) to your character for an extra die.

To attempt an action, choose a cliché and roll that number of dice. Add the result (rolling 3, 4, and 4 results in 11); if you meet or beat a target difficulty number, you succeed. If you fail during a conflict, remove one die in that cliché for the rest of the conflict; if you lose all your dice in one cliché, you lose the conflict. You can also “team up” to assist a team leader, by rolling one cliché’s dice and adding all the sixes you roll to the team leader’s roll.

'John Carter of Mars' by artmessiah on DeviantArt

'John Carter of Mars' (c) artmessiah on DeviantArt

Our game was a Flash Gordon-style story, set in a garden party on Venus. The cast was as follows:

  • An arrogant spaceship captain (think Zap Branigan)
  • An ace reporter
  • A Robby the Robot-style robot
  • A slightly mad professor
  • A spunky female hover-limo driver
  • A femme fetale

We had an excellent group; people were throwing ideas out and actively playing. Unfortunately, though we raced after the mad Moon Men, we were unable to complete the story in time.

Risus is a flexible and straightforward system that struck me as easy to play and easy to GM. Opposed actions are against other characters’ clichés. At most, you’re rolling a couple of dice and adding the result. Boom.

Download Risus

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Let’s Play an Interesting RPG: The Beginning

Oct 16 2011 Published by under Role-playing

'Dice' by jamesrbowe on Flickr

'Dice' by jamesrbowe on Flickr

I suggested on #4eDnD that we organize an online group to play different, interesting games every week. We’d focus on trying out new things, but could certainly play the same system a couple weeks in a row if we felt that was worthwhile.

I’m pleased to announce the first session:

When: Friday, 21 October 2011, starting at 7:00pm Eastern Time

Where: Google+ Hangout. Make sure to circle me.

System: Dresden Files. You will not need to own a copy of the rules to play. We’ll create characters and define the setting during the session.

Signing up: Either leave a comment on this blog post, or join the Yahoo! group and add a record to the database table for this game.

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