Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Character Background - What Do You Really Need?

This particular post holds an idea that can be added to any RPG.

Character Background, sometimes there's pages and pages of it, and other times there is nothing at all. How do you get those pesky players to give you something to work with without burying you in homework? Easy. There is only one question the player and the GM should know about the hero:

Why did your hero become an Adventurer?

Adventuring is a dangerous business. There are more comfortable ways to live, so what drove your character to this? I wracked my brain and came up with four basic motivations for heroes: They are ESCAPING something, They are DUTY BOUND to do something, they CRAVE something, or they are SEEKING VENGEANCE for something. From there, I created a list for what those Somethings are. A player can pick one or draw a random card if they like. (I like using cards for tables, it makes them feel like a tarot reading).

The list should help to jog the player's creativity to at least give the GM a plot thread he can work with. It can also be a spring-board for the writer's in your group. But you've got an elevator pitch for their character, and that's all that you need.

Wait, why is that all the GM needs? My character's have a lot of childhood trauma. They're well rounded characters!

Yes, but this is the Movie-verse! We won't be spending an entire lifetime with your hero. We only have time to explore the facets of one trauma, if that. Since the Movie-verse is focusing on your life as an Adventurer, your motivation is of paramount importance to the audience. We see why Conan sought revenge against Thulsa Doom, how and why Luke Skywalker became the hero of the Rebellion. We connect with these characters because they remain focused on what is important to the story (Conan's Revenge, Luke's ending the Empire).

Here's a link to my Character Background Generator (FREE!)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

How to Run a Heist in Any System

This blog is in response to Zee Bashew and Matt Coleville's youtube channels, regarding running a heist. 

You want to run a heist, or your players are about to storm a heavily defended outpost. Preplanning is key, but how do your players know what to plan. I doubt any of them has real-life experience in these areas, but the characters probably do. So how do you cover for your player's lack of foresight?

The following method is a combination of the Leverage RPG system for heists and some suggestions made for Savage Worlds, but they will work for any system. You may have to add the meta-currency (bennies, tokens, fate points, hero points, most games already have one).

Start with some skill rolls. Every player needs to decide what their contribution will be to the plan: The hacker my crack the security systems, the Mastermind might get the layout, the hitter may keep tabs on the security guards, etc. Then everyone gets a skill roll. If the roll succeeds, add a Meta-Token into a pot. If it's a critical success, add two or three.

During the actual heist, any player may take a Meta-Token from the pot and spend it to reroll a failed roll or to conveniently have a tool for a job that wasn't listed on their character sheet. The Meta-Token might also follow the rules of whatever game system you are using. The player should explain how their fore-planning allowed them the advantage on the roll. Keep in mind also, the pot doesn't refill. Once it is empty, the heroes have reached the limit of what their pre-planning can do to help.

That's it. It should be easy to bolt into your game system.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Effort and Why I Dig It (ICRPG)

ICRPG uses a system called Effort, as in "this task requires more than the flip of the switch so let's see how far you get this round". Damage is effort, each round you see how much closer you've pushed the enemy toward Deadsville. Well Runehammer thought that such an interesting system should get used more often. Now, all complicated tasks have "Hit Points", and you must defeat them using the relevant skill and Effort. Now, the lock on the doorknob isn't going to be attacking you back so "where is the drama" you ask? It's in the form of a TIMER. 

A Timer is usually a d4, but it could be a d6. The GM rolls it and the players then have that many rounds to do the task before SOMETHING HAPPENS. What is it? Only the GM knows for sure and it's enough to make you pee your britches.

You don't have to use a Timer all of the... er... time, either. Suspense has to be a roller-coaster, with ups and downs for contrast. If every moment has suspense, players will become numb to it. Just pull it out every time you want the players to get worried.

Now Effort is rated by a specific die type: d4 for Basic Effort, d6 for Weapons or Tool Effort, d8 for Magic or Super-Tech Effort, d10s are skipped as they are used solely for Loot Tables, and d12s as ULTIMATE EFFORT!

Wait, all weapons deal d6 damage?



What is? Take D&D for example and the humble spear. In reality, the spear was one of the most common weapons on the battlefield. It was easy to make, cheap, keeps your opponents out of reach, and could be mastered by an unskilled user. But in D&D, those extra attributes aren't calculated. As a result, every player (that I have witnessed) picks a Longsword, a Rapier, or a Two-Handed weapon because they deal the most damage for the character type. Using a spear is a detriment to the character.

Well ICRPG says "It doesn't matter anymore, use what you like". I LOVE this. My players can now use whatever type of weapon that makes them look cool (Rule of Cool) and all I have to do is add a few tags. They can even make up weapons. Putting them in ICRPG is a snap. What's that? You want fold-away short-swords that can unfold into climbing picks like Rayla's in The Dragon Prince?

Okay so that's Shadow Elf Butterfly Swords: d6 Effort; Tags: Alien, Climbing, Concealed, Fast, Light, and Sturdy.
That took me about 30 seconds and I don't have to worry about weapon balance.

So Effort shouldn't be looked at as Damage. It's a measure of progression to a specific goal this round. Hit points are the length of the track and Effort is the speed at which you run it. And the Hit Points say a weapon should complete it's task against an single-heart opponent in two rounds with two solid hits, maybe a little longer. Picking the lock on a one-heart chest is going to take 3 rounds minimum unless you score a crit.

Also, in the Movie-verse, is there a visible difference in damage between Subotai's sword and Conan's? How about the German Machine Guns, versus the American Machine Guns? When there was a difference, it was specifically called out. Guns deal the same damage but when Arnold grabs the Bazooka... The Movie-verse doesn't care that a .45 caliber bullet does more damage than a 9mm. You go bang, they fall down. While debating the merits of weapon details can be fun, it really has no place in fiction. The objects aren't the point of the tale, the characters are. 

Note: Hankerin hates the idea of balance. But there is such a thing as good game balance: The balance of player's options so they don't feel that their decisions in character creation led them to make a boring, useless, or inept character, unless that's what they intended. No one should be penalized for wanting to look cool. 

So in short, if I want to play a wandering Spear Master, in ICRPG I have the same shot in the spotlight as Grunter the Unwashed and his Clobberrock mk Many. In D&D, not so much.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Worldbuilding 101: The Three Zones

So you feel ready to build your world but you don't know where to start. Suddenly the enormity of your task dawns on you and you panic! Do I have to script out every town and city, their populace, points of interest, and ruling bodies? Do I need to know how the toilets flush? And so you searched online for assistance. So did I.

Sadly I gleaned very little about a process for actually building a world. It all felt like that old cartoon joke:

I've made a few observations on the subject that might assist you in this endeavor. First, we will zoom out to view your entire blank world. What is your world? It's the playground for your players. But we need to know how they want to play. How do we find out? Well, there are typically three playground zones in any setting. They are:

  1. Civilization: This zone is all about the inner cities, the core worlds, mega-city 1. If your players want adventures in the city, they are telling you they want a game about intrigue. The villain's are primarily other people. The heroes must navigate their way through political pressure, corruption, all while making the right allies to help keep them alive. Cyberpunk is exclusively a civilization game. 
  2. The Fringe: The fringe is where civilization has a tentative hold over the wilderness. It's a popular starting location as it offers both intrigue and exploration storylines. It's also a quick hop back into a city if the heroes want, or into the wilderness. Fringe stories involve societal breakdowns like raiders, rising warlords, and corruption but also include stories about natural disasters, plagues, pestilence, rampaging creatures, and forbidden things lurking in the shadows. Players will often be hired to deal with local problems since on the fringe, there aren't a lot of peace-keepers. Almost the entirety of the original Star Wars trilogy occurred in the fringe of the Empire. We only ever saw one civilized world... briefly, Alderaan.
  3. The Wild: If your players choose to play in the wild, they are telling you they want survival to be important. In the wild, there is no resupply or comfy taverns. In the wild, anything strange can and should happen. The players are out here to explore. The locations should be awe inspiring. The threats should be unique and terrifying. This is the home of lost civilizations, ruined tombs, and undiscovered countries. Give it to them.
D&D tends to place its lost tombs conveniently in the fringe so that adventurers can investigate a sunken temple at noon and be back at the pub by nightfall for fried chicken. Well the fringe is a good place for it but might I suggest treating the search for the sunken temple as a transition between the fringe and the wild? You'll get more adventures out of it and survival without support will ratchet up the suspense.

So now that you know the three zones, what do you do with them?

If the players choose to play in civilization, then you know you need to pour your efforts into a city. That's just ONE city. Where do I put it on the map? It doesn't matter. There ought to be plenty of adventure there and it doesn't sound like your players are in the mood for cross-country travel.

If the player's choose the fringe, then you know you need a town. Your players may not like the town you have made but they won't know that until after the first adventure. Once you have an idea for a town, come up with three things that are troubling the town: Frequent orc raids, a mysterious blight on the crops, and a band of thieves are harassing the townsfolk. Your players will choose to tackle one of these issues, and if they hate the town by the end of the adventure they can go to a different town. In which case make a town more to their liking and come up with three things that are troubling the new town: Well those orc raiders are striking here as well, children are suffering from a strange "sleeping sickness", and there's rumor of a sunken temple in the nearby swamp. Build the towns as they are needed.

What if the heroes choose the wild? Then build an amazing location that holds a terrible secret, don't forget the keeper(s) of that secret. Also focus on how the heroes are able to survive the wilderness trek. What problems might they face? What random creatures might they encounter? Each adventure the heroes should: experience an amazing locale, fight something they've never encountered before, and learn a secret that the forgotten place holds. Here's an example: My heroes are trekking in the wilderness, survivors of a shipwreck, cast away on an unexplored shore. They strive to survive the wilderness when they come across an inland grotto decorated with the remains of torn-apart ships. What are they doing this far inland? The water in the grotto links to the ocean and the grotto is the lair of a kraken! The same kraken that destroyed the heroes' ship! That's not all. A local tribe of beast-men worship the kraken and view the pillaged vessels as gifts. As far as they are concerned, the heroes have violated their holy ground.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Index Card RPG Master Edition!

 In recent months I have been gravitating toward more rules lite RPGs. Partially because of how hard it is to get new players to understand the complexities of RPGs, and partly because I have found them too limiting. Then I discovered RUNEHAMMER. I suggest you go check him out.

Hankerin has stepped away from the crunch talk of D&D to talk about the philosophy behind it all. It was all stuff I understood in the early days of the hobby but lost as new RPG systems wrote rules for everything under the sun.

The truth is, you don't need that many rules. Here's what you need - 

  • Who is the Character?
  • What is the Character good at?
  • How do we resolves tasks?
  • What happens when the heroes do something that makes the task harder or easier?
  • How long should the encounter last? (See my post about Hit Points are Timers)
RPG's are actually about time: Can you do X before Y? Can you defeat the Dragon before it defeats you?  Suspense is also about time as well, and ICRPG introduces the idea of TIMERS to put the pressure on. Now it's "Can you pick the lock before the Boulder smashes into the party". And fact that the timer is visible to all players? No, it isn't realistic but it does generate suspense! In the Story-verse, suspense is worth more than realism. In fact, anything cool is worth more than realism, right CSI? Zoom and enhance!

This blog is now going to extol ICRPG. It's a fantastic rules-lite system that has enough depth to play a campaign and enough freedom to do anything you want. ICRPG is a system of simple suggestions. Yes, you may have to do a little work to get ICRPG to do what you want but believe me when I say it will only be a little.

Stay tuned as I gush over ICRPG the way Kami-Kun gushes over her Senpai. I don't know what that means. My daughter said it would help me connect with a broader audience.

Hit Points are Timers

I've played a variety of RPGs over my lifetime. Many of them have substituted Wound levels for Hit Points, such as Savage Worlds and WEG's Stars Wars. As a system, I don't mind them and they seem more realistic than Hit Points. There is already a huge RPG philosophical debate over what Hit Points actually are. Are they a measure of health and blood loss? Are they a measure of luck and combat prowess?

My friends... they are TIMERS. That is all they have ever truly been. If a 4 heroes do X damage per round, my creature needs Y Hit points to survive long enough to do its cool abilities. If you want an encounter to last longer, give the villain more Hit Points. If the players change the timer speed by doing more damage in a round, BRAVO!

Well that's definitely an argument against Hit Points, right? If we know it's a meta-measurement, we should stick with the realistic Wound systems?

Not exactly. One of the things I've found with Wound systems is a lack of suspense. Often times a hero or villain can be taken down in one hit (realistic), but that eases tension imho. The player accepts the possibilities of their character being in one of three states: Fine, Wounded, or KO'd. If fine, keep attacking. If wounded, keep attacking. If KO'd, kick back and wait until you revive.

But with Hit Points, the results are more nuanced and random. You might be hit for a point of damage or you might be slammed leaving only one hit point. As a result, there is greater range of dread. Hit Points build suspense because it is a timer that can move a little or a lot, but still leave you alive long enough to worry how you'll be next round. You hope you might only take 1 Hit Point of Damage while you scurry for safety.

You know, the older I get, the more I realize that a game will always be abstract, never realistic. And that my players want "Movie-verse" reality, and that we are so well versed in that reality they we don't necessarily need complicated rules to emulate that. We can just use the Rule of Cool (That's cool so yeah, you can try it), and all be accepting of the ruling, and we remember that in an RPG, everyone is supposed to win.