Every so often on twitter, as I scroll through the #ttrpg tag, I see a certain type of tweet. It’s always from an account with a game-studio-sounding name I’ve never heard of, something like Darkwood Games or Blathersplotch Studios. In the tweet, they announce an exciting new UNIVERSAL table-top roleplaying system! Finally! A system that puts YOU in control! You can do whatever you want with it! Be a pirate! Or a space captain! Or (insert third generic genre here)!
It always breaks my heart a little to see these posts, maybe straggling along with one or two likes. I add my own little heart icon, because hey, buck-up champ. We all deserve a shot, right?
There’s a trend in nerd culture or fandom to attribute moral failings to the things we don’t like. It’s not enough for something to be not our cup of tea, or bad, it must also be harmful, destructive, problematic, etc. And to be sure, there is a great deal of harmful, destructive, and problematic stuff in fan culture and media. I bring it up only because that is what I don’t, in this case, want to do for some of the games (or types of games) I talk about generally here. I don’t think these games are morally corrosive or even necessarily bad. I’ve enjoyed a few, in specific circumstances. They just, generally, lie firmly on the “not my cup of tea” end of the spectrum, and I’d like to talk about why.
I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. Or the apocalypse either, for that matter. In my mind, it’s usually portrayed as wish-fulfillment of the worst sort. Everything has gone to hell, things are awful, but hey, you made it through unscathed. And look at all the zombies, raiders, or insert-other-here, just begging for a violent comeuppance. There are the occasional vague gestures towards to how “terrible” things are, and how bad you should feel for enjoying this consequence-free land of violence and pain, but it always rings a bit hollow to me. At least Day of the Dead was honest about it.
For it’s part, Mutants in the Night harkens back to the sentiment and message of Night of the Living Dead more than Mad Max. Your protagonist might be trapped by zombies, but at the end of the day, it’s racist cops that eventually put you in the ground.
As I continue to play-test my Blades in the Dark hack, I’ve done more and more fiddling with some of the “side” mechanics that are a bit off to the side of the core game-play loop. And, once again, I find myself looking at re-rolls.
My original intent in investigating this was to replace the “Devil’s Bargain” mechanic in Blades. In Blades, anyone at the table can suggest a twist or complication the active player can agree to in order to gain +1 die to the roll. It is a good, thematic mechanic for Blades, because it is inherently risky. A +1 can really help you out, especially if your dice pool is low, but it could also just as easily provide no benefit, as you could easily have rolled the result you needed without the extra die, or the extra die could not give you the result you want. It’s less a bargain, more a gamble, with fits with the roguish, things get you into trouble theming of Blades.
For my game, I want a mechanic where friendship, relationships, etc pull you out of trouble, where your friends are team-mates, there to help you when you need them. I think this is where re-rolls excel, because they are most effective as a ‘saving throw’ then an added gamble. The Devil’s Bargain asks you what your willing to risk to get a better shot at winning big, while Intimacy, like the FATE mechanics it’s roughly based on, asks you what you’re willing to spend or sacrifice to avoid failure.
Disclaimer: In this article, I’ll be presenting some advice on how I think more planning-focused GMs can plan out a score in John Harper’s Blades in the Dark. Please note that I don’t think that this is the ONLY way someone could plan a score, or that planning is even necessary for more improvisational GMs.
Still with me? Cool. In Blades in the Dark, the structure of the book and it’s advice indicates that improvisation with the foundation of an expansive, detailed world is the go-to default for running the adventures that make up the game’s session-to-session experience, termed by Blades as “scores.” However, not all GM’s (myself included) do particularly well with on-the-spot improvisation, and while improvisation-from-source-material is one of the best ways to do improvised adventures, it isn’t strictly speaking the best or only way to run adventures for every GM.
Therefore, in this article, I’ll be presenting a methodology I’ve used to pre-plan scores that mimic the “sample” score provided in Blades in the Dark in style, so that they can be run from a written plan by less improvisational GMs.
If you read my previous article on Advantage in 5e, you can probably guess that I have “opinions” on Fantasy Flight’s cute little dice systems. Opinions one might describe as “unpopular” or “hateful.”
Look, I’m not going to lecture you on why these dice are badwrongfun / not much of an improvement over binary dice systems (That’s the Angry GM’s job, and he already did a better job than I could), but I will point out how the disconnect between dice mechanics and game design made the new Star Wars FFG games take a major step backwards from where the system was at with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd Edition.
Feature image taken from here.
I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the d20. That icosahedronal sonavabitch has been my ruin many a time. Hell, from the name of this blog you can probably tell that I prefer d6’s.
Part of this is an accessibility thing. Any game that prides itself on “special” dice is actively throwing up barriers to it’s entry. Everyone has d6’s. To get a d20, you need to go to a game store, pick out a set, maybe buy a couple extra d20’s in case one betrays you, roll it a few times to make sure it isn’t cursed, have a maiden true blow gently upon it, etc etc. It’s a bigger hassle than cannibalizing a game of Yahtzee is what I’m saying.
Every time I go back to reading The Angry GM, that sonavabitch makes me want to try running a game again. Not just any game, but good ol’ DnD. What can I say? Either he’s a persuasive writer or I’m just a gullible sod.
In either case, reading the latest batch of rants and articles got me thinking about player agency. After looking up some old stuff of bankuei’s on fictional positioning, and I’m thinking the two go hand-in-hand with 5e’s Advantage and Disadvantage system.
A brief overview: In 5e, players can sometimes either get “advantage” or “disadvantage” when performing an action. If they have an advantage, they roll two d20’s and take the higher number, if they have a disadvantage they roll two and take the lower result. As part of 5e’s unifying superstructure, there’s a lot of conditions, statuses, and spells that grant advantage and disadvantage in specific situations, but there is also a surprising amount of leeway given to the GM.
I recently started playing in a game of FATE, best summed up as “Chthulu vs. the Mob.” The name of this little campaign is “Guys and Dohls”, and I figured it was worth blogging about a little. For our first session, we put together a skills list, built our city, ramped up through character creation, and played a short “tutorial fight” to get the rules down. So, without further ado, I give you our city, Oubliette d’Ivoire.
I’ve been thinking about the core, basic mechanics of roleplaying games recently. It seems everyone has their own unique theory on the basic particles that make up a roleplaying game universe, but I was taught that in order for a model to be worthwhile, it needs to offer some sort of insight. Hopefully I meet my own criteria.
To summarize, I believe there are three ‘core’ things a player does in a roleplaying game. Characterization, action, and resolution. Everything else; combat, story, adventure, is built from these three core aspects. Lets see if I can’t break this down a bit and show you what I mean.