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Remember the Gazetteers?

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One of the thing about the Northern Reaches is that it had a DM book and a Players Book. I don't have all of them, but if memory serves, this was the only one that had more than one country detailed. I thought about this earlier tonight when I was working on a project.

When I was in high school playing my version of D&D, the Gazetteers felt like so much boring reading with no real value. I loved reading them and thinking about the stories that could take place in these various places. The issue was that I didn't feel like I could do the setting justice if I put it into the games I ran.

In my defense, I was 16. Still, I'm the same person that played Spelljammer without any 2e books and a mishmash of various editions + Dragon magazines. Why on earth did I get the sudden concern over playing "by the book"?

What I enjoy about rulesets and sub-systems is that they are tools to help me play my game. The settings books at that time felt like places to tell a story according to specific constraints. Some of the constraints did not fit into my game, so I tossed out most of it.

These days, I see similar books that seem to fit between a setting and a module. Anomalous Subsurface Environment feels like one of them. You're in the future, a city is laid out, there are lots of new creatures and all kinds of new devices. I feel like I could put Denethix in my game. More than that, I could just take out the city and just do the module, even with the lasers and robots.

The Grognardia review says it best:

... we get lots of random tables and adventure hooks rather than pages of historical and cultural information that serve no immediate purpose.

So while I am toiling away on a creature book, I begin to see connections between the various monsters. A series of images of giants make me wonder what kind of place would exist to deal with these massive creatures? My brain delighted in thinking about the backstory, history, and all sorts of neat story ideas featuring these giants. Maybe they are descendants of the Greek Titans. Maybe they are servants of evil gods sent to lay waste to the earth. Maybe they found a cache of growth potions.

After about an hour, I realized that as much as I wanted to write a Gazetteer type of book to explain these giants (and lots of other creatures), that I was about to create something that the 16 year old me would never use. Read? Oh my, yes, but not for a game. It's true that I can work my way back to random tables and adventure hooks, but I'm in the place now where I want to convey a sense of different without the story getting in the way. In other words, the setting where these giants exist is different, but not so much of a special snowflake setting that they cannot exist somewhere else.

I read a review of Slumbering Ursine Dunes and found a description of something different, but useful. One line from the review stuck out to me:

No verbiage is wasted on things that will never interface with play.

Finally, someone has put to words what I was thinking almost thirty years ago. Slumbering Ursine Dunes has a new class, tax-collectors, magic devices, and a solution to uninteresting elves. There are places to visit that aren't detailed into a series of keyed rooms or hexes.

If I were to write a mini-setting, a gazetteer, or interesting hex-crawl, it would look a lot more like S.U.D or A.S.E and less like some of my favorite reading material as a kid. I'd make sure to present the bones of new classes, new monsters, and unique locales to be sure. More important, though, would be a list of adventure hooks as well as a way to generate your own. After all, it is not about my vision for a perfect fantasy setting, it's about evoking possibilities and providing tools to fleshing out those possibilities.

Where does this leave me several hours later into working on this project? Two new classes, a handful of new spells, unique creatures, and just enough info to let you know that this isn't just another faux European place. The only jargon I've got so far are the names of the gods, a city name, and a word for a massive giant-killing crossbow. The names of the Gods matter to Clerics because you get three or four extra spells available to you depending on the god you serve. The giant-killing crossbows matter because giant attacks happen more than would normally happen rolling against the encounter table. The names feel a bit Phoenician/Roman/Punic, but creating a character is still rolling 3d6 in order, buying some gear, and walking out of town to seek your fortune. If you want, you can generate a name that sounds Phoenician/Greek/Roman, etc, but if you want Bob the Bold, go for it!

Just don't call the tricherabishtra a big freakin' crossbow. Maybe a trichee, if you're a local. :)

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Restarting and More about Dice, Cards, Killing Stuff, and Taking their Loot

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I'm sure the entire world knows that things went well with my son's surgery. Being able to spend the past two days with him reminds me why I like to talk to him about games.

He has good ideas.

Making Creatures and Clerics

I am about 20% into generating stats for a monster book I mentioned earlier. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I am generating statistics for everything I can find and then refining it later. The latest kernel to come from that feature two opposing Cleric traditions: the Dragon and the Gryphon. While thinking about Clerics that worship these two creatures, I realized that their spell delivery system would be unusual. Dragon priests would deliver spells by breathing or otherwise exhaling something, including gouts of flame. Gryphons were a bit more difficult, but I settled on sonic based spells as a specialty.

There's more, but that bit of inspiration is staying with me enough to test it out on my group.

Oh Em Gee, It's White Star

I have also been dying to put out something for White Star. I see the rush to publication and I feel a bit behind. However, instead of rushing into a project, I want to finish the one I started first. So White Star will have to wait, for now. (It is extremely difficult.)

Dice and Cards

Berin Kinsman has written recently and Fred Hicks some time ago that RPG makers need to expand beyond the dedicated gamers and write to a totally different audience. I thought about that when the inspiration for 2d6 and a deck of cards hit me. It's not that the mechanics are totally different, it's that no special dice or equipment are necessary to purchase in order to play the game.

The more I keep going, however, the more I find that this system doesn't really lend itself to a new gamer. Maybe I'm wrong, but I see it growing past a small set of rules. So, for whomever the audience turns out to be, I added a tweak to the card mechanics.

To review, every character that uses a fourth stat, a resource pool for special ability associated with that stat, and a playing card called their Chi. Using a special ability requires a 2d6 + drawn card to determine success.

The new wrinkle is adding other cards to function like the Chi card. These Tag cards would not be a representation of a character's overall Chi or destiny. Instead these cards would represent techniques or quirks associated with using their special abilities. The mechanical benefit would be that Tag cards would be treated as Chi cards for determining resolution. Basically, you draw your Chi card or one of the Tag cards, and you have an automatic success in using your special ability.

Here's an example Wizard:

The Wizard has a Chi card of the 4 of Clubs. He has acquired bits of magical lore through his research represented by Tag cards. He has the 9 of Hearts, which represents small round objects. He has the 3 of Spades which represents the number three. He also has a 7 of Hearts that represents Oak wood.

Normally when casting a spell, only the 4 of Clubs is significant in determining success. However, if the Wizard attempts a spell that incorporates one of more of these Tag cards, they can be used to help determine success.

Let's say the wizard casts a spell that is a variation of the Bolt spell that does 1d6 damage. Let's say that the spell shows itself as three small spheres of green energy emanating from the Wizard's hand before racing toward a single target. This spell incorporates the small round objects Tag card and the Number Three Tag card. This means that if the Wizard draws a 4 of Clubs, a 9 of Hearts, or a 3 of Spades, the spell is an instant success -- you do not need to check the dice + rank result, look at the suit, or anything else. It just works.

What I like is that it encourages spell research into some unusually descriptive spells. I also like that magic talismans that represent these Tag cards are a new kind of magic item.

I've also been working on good tags to use. Early on, I figured out that all tag cards must be nouns. Adjectives really confuse things.

Did Somebody Say White Star?

Yes, yes. The mecha/tank game or the setting I mentioned earlier are strong possibilities. Like I said earlier, though, one thing at a time. Having said that, I hope to have a review up soon.

That's all for now. See you in a couple days with a lot more work done. :)

Two Dice and a Deck of Cards

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Carl Sandburg mentioned iron thoughts in one of his poems. Mine come when the insomnia  wears out the part of me that second guesses my ideas.

About ten days ago, I flushed out an idea for a general purpose RPG that used two regular six-sided die and a standard deck of cards. For those that do not have tsu.co accounts, I repeated it again on Google Plus. The idea can be summarized as follows:

Spread ten points across three attributes, Brawn, Finesse, Acumen. If you are a Wizard, set your Magic stat as 1.

The secondary stats are Health and Mana. Health is calculated by (2*Highest Stat)+2nd Highest Stat+Magic. Mana is calculated by your Magic stat + 2.

Draw a card from the deck and mark it on your character sheet. This is your chi or whatever you wish to call it.

For non-magic actions, roll 2d6+associated stat. If the result is 10 or more, the character succeeds! If not, mark a tally under the associated stat. Once the tally marks equal 4 + stat, increase the stat by 1 and erase the tally marks.

For Magic, draw a card and add your magic stat to the rank of the card. Then consult the table below. The first item that applies is your result.

  • If you draw your chi card, the spell is a success.
  • If you draw a card that equals your chi card's rank, the spell is a success, but deduct the spell's Magic Rating from your Mana.
  • If you draw a card that matches your chi card's suit, the spell is a failure, but do not deduct Mana.
  • If you the drawn card's rank + Magic stat is 10 or more, the spell is a success.
  • If you draw a face card, the spell is a success.
  • All other results, the spell fails and deduct the spell's magic rating from your Mana.

That was a week ago. Since then, I realized that I could add other special abilities with a fourth stat and a resource pool to manage it. The ideas started flowing.

Yesterday, Eric Nieudan happens upon this post and decides to build his own dungeon generator with 2d6 plus a deck of cards.

I read over it and instantly love it. So, I did what any self-respecting geek would do, I made a spreadsheet of it for testing. After testing it, I offered some suggestions that tested out well. I'll post a link to the corrected system when it comes available.

The iron thought that will not escape me is that I need to finish this game somehow. In addition to the Wizard character that uses magic, I have a psionic character, a priest character, a thief character, a martial character, and a few more. With Jens D and Eric Nieudan to start the idea, I have something for the referee's section of the game.

This needs to be made and I can't sleep for thinking about it.

Maybe supers would work on this system...

More to come on this and other game stuff in progress.