25 May, 2018

200 Word RPG 2018: The Wanderer (Version 2.0)

(A few modifications have been made to the game. A few bits that didn't seem particularly clear have been cleaned up a bit. I've also changed the tokens from a single black and a white to a pair of each to add a bit more choice about success and failure for the warrior's actions in the early stages of the game. It's still a case that offering more chances of success early means a higher difficulty in later stages of the game, and conversely making things harder for the wanderer early makes the climax easier. If I write a third version of this game, I'll do it after the 200 word context is over, maybe adding a 100 words, providing a character sheet, or maybe a bunch of potential companion cards with unique looks to them and advantages that can be chosen... we'll see how things go.)

The Wanderer
As she strides the Bonelands toward the Onyx Citadel, the last obstacles in her lifelong quest of vengeance await. A band of companions guide her destiny.

Three questions define you.
How do you know her?
What did you teach her? (Her advantage)
What haven’t you taught her? (Your advantage)

Everyone starts with 2 black and 2 white tokens (hidden), a blank page and pencil. A bag contains six more tokens of each colour.

Each act, everyone (including any Dead) takes turns narrating a situation, asking another player how the Wanderer faces it.

Everyone secretly contributes one of their four tokens to the situation’s narrator, one more is drawn from the bag.

Narrator reveals the contributions.
<1/3 black = full success
<1/3 white = full failure
Otherwise both apply

Narrator describes what happens.

Tokens returned to bag, everyone replenishes their spent token by drawing a random token from the bag.

Act One: Flashbacks (What challenge was faced?)
Success: She gains an advantage
Failure: Someone loses an advantage

Act Two: Bonelands (menaces confronted)
Success: Menace neutralised
Failure: Someone loses an advantage (or their life)

Act Three: Citadel (citadel’s defences)
Success: Defence overcome
Failure: Someone loses their life, or she dies (game over, you lose)

A Metaphysical Point-Crawl

The Dark Places concept is all about mythic strangeness, entities lingering on the edges of consciousness, somewhere between madness, death and dreams. It was never meant to be mapped; and certainly couldn't be contained by mundane 2-dimensional flatness. The setting is a swirling 4-dimensional vortex, constantly in flux, constantly bringing something new, or recycling something old.

How would adventurers make sense of such a place? 

In simple terms, it's only once they stop trying to make sense of everything that they begin to transcend in the grand scheme. Instincts, gut reactions, action for it's own sake, doing things because they need to be done rather than becoming tied up in the hubris of why they are done and the constraining reasons for why they are right.


Yes, there are expected frameworks in the narratives of RPG space. Gamers like maps, they often like a structure, despite the chaos.

For those who watch the new Dr Who, consider the interconnected weaving of timelines between the Doctor and River Song. Everything is out of order. She dies at the beginning, they meet at the end, and she is born somwhere in the middle (along with numerous other encounters along the way). We see everything from the Doctor's temporal perspective, but imagine if we had half a dozen characters encountering one another in an erratic temporal manner, imagine if time and space meant nothing to these character's except within their own frame of reference. We meet Character A in the order of 1, 8, 4, 7, 3, miss a few episodes, 13, 2, miss another episode, 9. But we meet Character B in the order of 6, 9, miss an episode, 10, 4, 1, 2, miss another, 5, 7. Then Character C starts a few episodes in with a dramatic death, before visiting 5, 4, 3, 2,1... basically watching their life unfold in reverse. During one session, Character A is the wise veteran of non-quantum reality while Character B is still green. During another session, Character B is the veteran, while A and C are their apprentices. During a third session, Character C is the mentor to A. During another session, we find out that Character D is the daughter of B, and later than she is the mother of A. Things only get more complicated as further character's are added to the matrix. Storylines only make sense from a single character's point of reference, because the entanglement and interconnectedness of all things renders narrative meaningless beyond this.

Mapping the physicality of such stories is only marginally easier. Spherical concentric layers like an onion. Each layer fluctuating, with wormhole passages sporadically linking them, sometimes according to regular patterns, sometimes according to inscrutable arcana. Every voyage across the Dark Places will be different, the same passage across assorted realms will NOT exist two times in a row. 

The points to crawl between will vary in their distance from each other, the points may not even be connected at all on the next time you try to travel between them. Every time a journey across the Dark Places occurs, a new map is created, and previous maps are meaningless.

23 May, 2018

Walkabout: Symbolism

This is European Celtic symbolism.

This is Asian Shamanic symbolism

This is North American First Nations symbolism.

This is Australian Aboriginal symbolism.

Yes, each of these examples are indocative of the continents they are from, but they are each on a narrow subset of the rich diversity from the continents indicated. I've tried to narrow down similar types of imagery from pre-modern eras, and while the first three sets are derived from quick Google searches, they're typical of the kinds of imageey sets I've seen numerous times over the years. The last set of images is on a piece of paper I recieved from Indigenous artists in Moree last year, again similar to many of the image sets I've seen on websites and in books about Australian Aboriginal artwork. I know a lot of the "Australian" symbols aren't native to the Gamilaroi people (who live in and around Moree in northern NSW), they're just the kind of symbolism that is expected of Australian Aboriginal people. They're a part of the shorthand in modern Australian Aboriginal art, they have meanings much like heiroglyphs have meanings, or Chinese ideograms. I guess there are a few more similarities between these Australian symbols and Chinese ideograms, especially when you consider that previous writing systems were generally eliminated across the region, replaced by a standardised writing under Imperial decree or Communist mandate. Yet fragments of the old symbols remain, hidden and now considered obscure, arcane or even sacred. In both cases, the symbols are incorporated into art, carvings, sculpture, hidden in plain sight.

So even though I know that playing with these symbols is using blatant stereotyping, and some of the Indigenous elders I know would be upset as being characterised through symbolism that isn't from their particular ancestral people, they've become a general collection of universal symbolism across the country. Many of those elders who would be upset at being stereotyped would be even more upset if they knew people around the world were using the specific symbolism of their people without their express permission. It's one of those "lesser of two evils" things.

22 May, 2018

200 Word RPG 2018: Immortal Neon Katana

Only one will remain. Don’t lose your head.

Total Tokens = 5 x Players.

Immortals have Combat and Cunning. One is d6, the other d8.

Youngest goes first.

Choose someone to describe the scene, and another to narrate your challenge. Challenge narrator may take up to 5 tokens to determine the difficulty. If pool empty, duel someone.

      * = d4
      ** = d6
      *** = d8
      ****  = d10
      ***** = d12

Player describes their Immortal facing the challenge, then rolls relevant die.

Immortal >= Challenge. Player gains all difficulty tokens.

Challenge > Immortal. Challenge narrator claims a token, others returned to pool. The player’s die used is decreased by a degree.
If combat < d4; Immortal dies.
If cunning < d4; Immortal goes insane and must be duelled before a winner declared.
Once you have tokens you may spend them to:
Regain a decreased attribute (1 point per increase, up to starting score).
Roll an extra die (cost as challenge dice).
If rolling two dice, use higher die result.

Immortal Duel = sudden death. Winner increases their Combat or Cunning die by 1. Loser dies. Divide loser’s tokens in half (you keep half, round up; remainder back to pool).

200 Word RPG 2018: Lost Souls

(I'm not as sure about this one, but it was in my head and I had to get it out. I'm stumped on the last two questions for the second round... they need to be somehow related to the resolution of the lost soul's desire, but trying to get the feeling and the wording right with 11 words left is proving problematic. Maybe it's time to start editing words out of other sections when and where I can.)

Lost Souls
Requires: Masking tape, marker, stopwatch

All players sit in a circle and take turns, going clockwise.
On each players first turn, the player to the right is “Death” they hold the stopwatch. The player to the left (and sequentially each player around the circle) is asked a question. 

The active player notes the answers.  
    Who is this lost soul?
    How did they die?
    What was their desire?
    What stopped them getting it?
When they stop, Death writes the time taken on the tape, an attaches it to the player’s forehead so everyone but them can see the time indicated.  

Once the circle has been completed, each player begins a second round of questions begins, this time answering questions posed by the other players in turn.  
    Who mourns your lost soul?
    How can they resolve the souls’s desire?

If the player takes longer than the time indicated on their forehead, they are unable to help the lost soul who now wanders endlessly.

The player who’s second round time is closest to their first round time saves their lost soul, by resolving their desire. Other lost souls fade away into oblivion. 

21 May, 2018

Crazy Idea for a Hit Point Variant

I don't know if there are any other games that do this, it feels like something that should be a part of an OSR game because it uses a lot of the tropes from that field of gaming. Maybe there is, maybe it's new.

Here's the idea.

One of the issues I have with hit points in most D&D and OSR games is the idea that every level, hit points go up, and up and up. You start gritty and fragile, one or two strikes can take you down. Eventually you get to that level 4-7 sweet spot where combats take a little longer, where special powers become available, and where characters start to feel like they can make a difference in the world. Then you transcend this point, combats become a boring slog, roll after roll to whittle away one another's pool of hit points, weapons still do the same damage on a strike but it takes so many more of those strikes to inflict significant impact.

I'm looking to remedy this a bit.

There's a school of thought which states that hit points reflect combat prowess and ability to dodge or absorb the worst of any incoming strikes. But if it represented this, why wouldn't hit points be modified by dexterity. Since hit points are based on constitution, they are more clearly an analogue of the physical wellbeing of the individual... this is backed up by the idea that poisons, diseases, fall damage, and other types of non-combat injury all work with the same hit points that combat does. Some newer games have circumvented this by introducing "ability score damage" in which specific creatures are able to ignore hit points. I used to do something similar, where critical hits didn't do double damage, but instead inflicted an equal amount of damage to hit points and Constitution (where a complete loss of Constitution resulted in instant death).

Instead of that, I'm now thinking that characters should simply have hit points equal to their Constitution scores. An average of 9-12 points, with less than a quarter of the population having fewer than 8, and less than a quarter having more than 13. This resolves the issue of starting characters being too fragile, and the issue of high level characters being too resilient.

Instead of hit points being a direct pool use for absorbing incoming damage, they now become a pool of energy used to replenish that Consitution pool. This happens when characters have a short rest, while the hit point pool gets replenished by eating food and taking long rests. Wizards and other magical characters still have the issue of low hit points, meaning they don't have a large pool of reserves to restore themselves (they do it through magic instead). Fighters and Barbarians do have significant pools of reserve health, if they get the chance to take a breath they can come back to a conflict with a second wind. Other character types fall between these extremes.

There's more in this I'm sure, but as a system idea it seems to address a few of the problems I've seen arise regularly.

20 May, 2018

Walkabout: Songlines

This article from the Australian Broadcasting Commission, reinforces and draws on a lot of the ideas I've previously heard. Ideas that have been confirmed by the elders I've been speaking to, but it also doesn't quite go far enough. 

As Australia's first city, the pathways of Indigenous people were certainly used as the basic method to get from place to place, and those paths eventually became the accepted methods used by settlers, then paved for use by carriages and cars.

But in addition to the Sydney basin, this occured across the whole country. Explorers typically followed the paths linking different communities of Indigenous nations, often aided by native guides. When later leading surveyors across the land, the explorers took the paths they knew, and the Aboriginal pathways became locked into the settlers maps as the roads between towns.

Often the Aboriginal settlements were located on strategic waterholes, places where paths crossed rivers, or trading paths crossed each other, so naturally these became the places where settlers established their own towns to take advantage of the same strategic geographic elements. The Aboriginal communities were driven off, or killed, or otherwise had their connection to the land removed. Their marked trees were torn up, so that evidence of their sacred sites could be denied, but the placement of the old camps and settlements lies embedded in the current maps of the continent.

This basically means that in Walkabout, the Nomads roaming the highways uphold the sacred journeys of the Indigenous wanderers. They don't do it deliberately, but the travels along tarred motorways follow the same tracks that have been trodden for dozens of millennia (at least). The communities they meet are settled on places where the spirits have watched and influenced humanity since before recorded history, some home to those who have tried to reclaim the old ways of industrialization, some home to those who have tried to claim even older tribal ways.

Descendants of the Australian Aboriginals can be found in all these groups.