Sunday 25 November 2018

Dreamscapes & Deletions - a potential project

Idea 1: could I make a game that is entirely contained in 1-page handouts (apocalypse world style playbooks & cheat sheets) with no central rulebook.
Idea 2: Could I hack together an OSR version of Lacuna.
Fuck it lets do both.
So some background. Lacuna, by Jared Sorensen, is a weird indie game about MK-Ultra inspired agents exploring a psychadelic film noir dreamscape. It's fucking brilliant, you should all get it and play it. Here it is,and here it is in Spanish. Seriously. Play Lacuna.
The rulebook is short and has large gaps for the GM to fill in, but one of the best campaigns I've ever played (lasting 3 years and getting fucking trippy by the end) was run in Lacuna. I'm a huge fan of it, it deserves more attention.

Of particular interest is the Heart Rate mechanic. When you roll dice, you add the total to your Heart Rate. An elevated heart-rate makes you more efficient at what you're doing. Go too high, though, and you risk cardiac arrest. So I'm going to take that and bolt it onto an OSR framework.

Here's how I'm gonna make it work.
You roll your Age on 3d6+18 (for a range between 21 and 36).
Heart Rate is a number you track similarly to XP and HP.
Your resting Heart Rate is 60 beats/minute for women, 70 b/m for men. This is what you start at.
Your Optimum Heart Rate starts at (Age + 60) b/m and caps out at (Age tripled + 60) b/m. In this bracket, you're more efficient.
Your maximum Heart Rate is (200 - Age) b/m.

So older agents take longer to reach their optimum heart rate and hit cardiac arrest sooner. However, they spend much longer in 'peak' performance. Younger agents hit peak performance quickly and take longer to max out and have a heart attack, but they also spend less time at peak performance.

Whenever a player rolls dice for any reason, they add the result to their Heart Rate. Dice rolls in the system are:
To Hit. Used in combat. Roll X or more on a d20. So, to succeed you want to roll high, resulting in elevated heart-rate. Enemies have Defence rather than AC, which negates all rolls of Y or greater.
(IE you might need 11+ to hit, but an enemy negates all hit-rolls of 18+). Combat is stressful, but if you go overboard your less likely to succeed.
Damage rolls. Roll a dice if you hit, the victim loses that many HP.
Saves. Roll X or more on d20, like the saving throws you're familiar with. Danger is scary, the near-misses of a successful save are scary. High rolls mean you pass but also add more to your heart rate. Save catagories are Normal Hazards, Psychological Trauma, Glitches, Hacking & Malfunction.
Attribute Rolls. Roll under a relevant attribute to do a thing outside combat. You want low rolls to succeed (failure is frustrating). Uses the six base stats (str/dex/con/int/wis/cha) however since you're not in your body str/dex/con are irrelevant, you don't even bother rolling them in cgen. Wisdom is replaced with Willpower. You use intelligence rolls for attempts to make sense of or investigate the dreamscape, Willpower to alter the dreamscape, and Charisma to interact with the residents.

Rolls can be Careful or Reckless depending on what you're doing. This works like 5E's advantage/disadvantage. Roll twice, take the lower/higher result. Of course, the Heart Rate mechanic (and some rolls being roll under/roll over) means that sometimes you want high rolls and sometimes you want low.

In your Optimum Heart Rate, if you don't like the result of a roll you can ignore it and roll again, since you're on top form. Of course, you still add the old roll to your heart-rate. So when you're in your optimum zone, you can just refuse to accept failure and power through any obstacle, but doing so brings you closer to maxing out your b/m and having a heart attack.

So, those are the mechanics. You can fit them on one side of A4. A character sheet that takes you through CGen and a short brief on the setting fits on the other.
I'm working on four sheets:
Security Agents (basically fighters. Best to-hit rolls & defence, lots of HP, good saves vs Hazards & Trauma, can follow through in combat to get additional attacks when they drop a foe).
Logistics Agents (basically wizards. Poor to-hit rolls, defence and HP. Good saves vs Hacking and Malfunctions. Can contact Control to request aid in the mission.)
Support Agents (basically clerics. Poor to-hit rolls, but decent defence and HP. Good saves vs Trauma and Malfunctions. Can interact with the programming of the mission to restore HP and similar).
Surveillance Agents (basically thieves. Decent to-hit rolls but poor defence and HP. Good saves vs Hazards & Glitches. have always-on abilities such as the ability to walk through walls).
Then additional briefing handouts you can give the party detailing the setting as and when relevant, and stuff for the GM.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Children & Gaming & some shout-outs

So this chap Douglas Carter has been using The Dolorous Stroke to run wargames using 90mm figures. He's got a blog over at ludus giganticus and it's pretty cool reading. Definately check it out, he's doing something cool and different here.
It's interesting that another play report (JC over at, also very cool, touching on oldschool rpgs and skirmish gaming) also had the author playing with their kids.
You see a lot (both tabletop and otherwise) of games ~for kids~ are written to be super simple and have their content toned down. You see these primary-coloured designs, mechanics that are set up to involve minimal complicated stuff and little room for upset, and so on. Honestly, I remember being in school and hating a lot of the dumbed-down stuff aimed at me. 
TDS, meanwhile, involves some fairly complex procedures in play, what with tracking cards, stats, etc. No maths that a kid can't handle - at most you're adding and subtracting two-figure numbers, or dividing by two - but it's a reasonable amount of information to track. (Then again, I'm a firm believer in letting the rulesy people handle the mechanics if its confusing, regardless of the age or experience of the player -  you say what you want to do, the GM rolls the dice). 
More interesting is that the violence in TDS is, really, quite graphic. People get run through, bleed to death, have their guts spilled, get eyes gouged out. It's nasty. JC literally says "One approving note from the kids: "This game is really gruesome!"." This is, to be honest, fine as far as I'm concerned. You know if your kids (or kids you're in a position to run games for) can handle different content. I knew I could at that age - my parents wouldn't let me watch anything pg rated on TV for the longest time, and then were completely OK with the violence and blood in stuff like Darren Shan or the Dark Materials trilogy. Hell, even classics of children's literature (The Hobbit, Narnia, etc etc) have some scary violence. Don't mollycoddle kids, they can handle stuff a lot of the time.

There's a larp I do that I've mentioned a few times, Empire. There's no age limit, and you have parents bringing the whole family along to dress as pseudo-medieval families and roleplay in a field for a weekend. It's pretty great. My IC group has a few kids in it (ranging from age around 8 to late teens) and I'm consistently impressed by some of the stuff they do. Not 'considering they're kids', these people are some of the most interesting roleplayers I deal with regularly. 

And sure, their characters are still basically children. They're kid-sized, they have kid-priorities a lot of the time. But at the same time, they're fucking clever. I've seen them tackling plots that the adults are stumped by. I've seen them make a total killing trading goods and services*. Hell, I've seen some of the older kids (13 & up, for health and safety reasons) take to the battlefield and be pretty darn effective with a spear or a bow. It's not just that they can keep up with adult players. The game's better for their being there.
*child labour laws don't apply when you're all pretending to be wizards and trading fake potions and mana.

I'm sure there's some deeper thought about how we're all just playing pretend, but fuck that noise I don't wanna go theorizing about child psychology or something.

Edit: I'm sure there's something interesting to be said about how two of my more successful projects (Ynn and the Library) are directly inspired by the stuff I read as a kid and aim to re-capture that feel, and are also home to some fairly fucked up stuff. There's no disconnect; kids' entertainment - at least the stuff that stays with you - has some fucked up stuff in it.

In conclusion, I'd like to (mis)quote Sideshow Bob at the conclusion of Crusty Gets Busted:

Treat kids like equals, they're people, too! They're smarter than you think! They were smart enough to [catch/impress] me!"

(also seriously, those blogs are neat).

Saturday 17 November 2018

Why I like the OSR

There's been lots of doom and gloom in my gaming circles lately, so I'm writing about why I love the OSR to cheer myself up.

My gaming has really four distinct areas I'm interested in. Namely larping, Warhammer, World of Darkness and the OSR. I only really publish stuff for one of those, though.
In the case of larping it's because a successful larp is an event. You need a good venue, a team working with you, supplies for your effects and sets and stuff. You need a budget and a supply of people willing to follow your instructions. I don't have those. So, as a larper I mostly just play and have fun, or occasionally I follow instructions and make special effects.

For Warhammer and WoD, the issue is a little different. I have, in the past, produced a whole load of content for Warhammer. Alternate army lists, campaigns, rules hacks, and so on. Even entire variants on the game. I've produced homebrew for WoD as well. None of it got published. None of it is really publishable because it's so tied to somebody else's IP.
This is what bothers me. People over at The Gardens of Hecate or Iron Sleet is producing work as skillful, as beautiful, as creative as anything in the OSR. But because the IP they're working with is so tightly tied to the company that makes Warhammer, they'll never be able to really capitalise on on that, promote themselves and carve out their own niche like you might in the OSR.
Likewise in the World of Darkness communities I see STs putting huge amounts of work and creativity and funds into their projects. (One recent larp I was at booked out an entire hotel for their post-event crew party. The larp itself was at a different venue, this was just so the crew could unwind and get sozzled somewhere nice afterwards). Again, they don't get the recognition the deserve, while people pick apart what White Wolf are doing with a fine toothed comb.

This is a problem. These projects are, ultimately, fan works. They're a rank below the stuff officially published. It restricts creativity, but more than that it restricts your ability to publish. You can't buy anybody's homebrewed hacked together Vampire the Masquerade project on DTRPG.

This, then, is what I love about the whole OSR movement. Nobody owns it. Nobody has authority over it. It's a shared communal space that exists either through a weird quirk of a licensing agreement around D&D or else in a sort of rejection of the big company's claim that they get to decide what D&D is.
Rather the OSR is made up of fans, creators, the small press, the indie outfits, and the homebrewers. The lines between all of those are vague and blurry. Anybody can make something good, and publish it, and get recognition, without needing to give too much of a shit about the rigors of intillectual property. This is, really, wonderful and rather unique if you compare it to any other tabletop gaming community.*

The OSR has fuck all barriers to entry. Most gamers are familiar with the basics of six stats, hit-dice, levels, armour class. It's a lingua franca of sorts. You can get yourself some cheap-ass layout software (I use MS Office), some public domain art, and just make whatever you think is cool. Self-publishing is super easy and if you have a blog or any sort of social-media presence, you'll find an audience who are keen to see new, weird content from new, weird creators.
Nine months ago I released a daft project about using random tables to make a fairy garden, basically out of nowhere and with no industry credentials, and it went great. I'm not special in this regard: loads of people are dropping cool stuff (so many that I'm not gonna try linking, as this post will be entirely made of links) these days. It's a great time to be into D&D.
These days, if you want to make stuff for the OSR, the single biggest obstacle is sitting down and writing it. Everything else is great.

So, yeah. Not to downplay various real issues, but I felt it worth writing out why I wanted to be part of this creative community in the first place, at least in part for my own sake.

*the only exception I can think of is the historical wargamers, who again aren't really limited to specific franchises.

Sunday 4 November 2018

Law Enforcement in Esoteric Enterprises

Security Guard
The standard rent-a-cop that might be found guarding warehouses, banks and so on. Training and experience are very varied, some are veterans of the police or military that have drifted into the career, others are pretty much sitting ducks. Equipment is typically poor.
Security Guard: 3 flesh (1 dice), 3 grit (1 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 17+. Nightstick (+1, d8 damage). Radio and flashlight.

Beat Cop
The standard officer on the street. Reasonably well trained. Reactions and equipment vary wildly depending on your location; cops in the UK have only basic weaponry and are trained to de-escalate or restrain, while American cops have sidearms and the will to use them.
Beat Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 16+. Nightstick (+2, d8+1 damage) or tazer (+1, d6 damage and save or be stunned for a round) or pistol (+1, d8 damage). Strength and Wisdom 13. Handcuffs, radio.

Plain Clothes Officer
An undercover cop. Could pop up in all sorts of situations, from a plant in a criminal organisation to an unrelated officer pretending to be an environmental protestor. Smooth talking yet reserved.
Undercover Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 16+. pistol (+1, d8 damage). Charisma and Wisdom 13.

Riot Cop
Heavily armoured police sent to deal with large-scale disturbances. Seasoned veterans equipped for close combat. Aggressive, well disciplined.
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 17 (riot armour & shield, high dexterity). Saves 15+. Club (+3, d8+1 damage) or stun baton (+3, d6+1 damage and save or be stunned for a round). Strength and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs, gas-mask, radio.

Firearms Officer
For when the police really want to shoot somebody, typically only brought out to deal with armed standoffs, raids on criminal bases, and dealing with occult criminals. Well trained and determined.
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 16 (riot armour). Saves 15+. Shotgun (+3, d12) or automatic rifle (+3, d10) Wisdom and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs,  radio.

Police Marksman
As with firearms officers. Employed to shoot people the police really want dead. Slow, careful snipers. 
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 16 (riot armour). Saves 15+. Marksman’s Rifle (+3, d12 or –1, d12 if not aimed already) or pistol (+3, d8) Wisdom and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs,  radio.

Men In Black Field Agent
Black suits. Dark glasses. Earpieces. Strange firearms. ID doesn’t match any agency you’ve encountered.
An unearthly presence. Unsettling, commanding. Always composed, relentless, seems not to feel fear or pain. Civilians shy away from the instinctively. The police obey them without question.
Field Agent: 6 flesh (2 dice), 9 grit (3 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 14+. Hypertech Pistol (+4, d12). All stats are 13.
Can cast any of the following spells by brandishing their ID, 3-in-6 chance the spell is cast successfully when they do. Command, Sleep, Silence Dispel Magic, Antimagic Shell.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.

Men In Black Paladin
Smart suits. Scarred skin glimpsed behind porcelain masks. Odd weapons. Strange sigils on their cufflinks. Voices are mere whispers.
The specialists of the Men in Black. They display agency ID that hurts to look at. Their command of police and bystanders is absolute, mundane humans submit to their will wordlessly or cower beneath their gaze.
Field Agent: 6 flesh (2 dice), 15 grit (5 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 12+. Hypertech Pistol (+4, d12). All stats are 13.
Can cast any of the following spells by brandishing their ID, 5-in-6 chance the spell is cast successfully when they do. Suggestion, Dispel Magic, Protection from Weapons, Spectral Step, Spell Immunity, Time Stop.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.

Men In Black Abomination
Dressed in a smart black suit. Gloves over their hands. Face hidden behind a reflective black glass mask. They smell of ozone, the air around them crackles with static electricity. Silent. Unarmed.
Looking at this thing makes your eyes hurt. Civilians and the police shudder and weep where they pass. Small animals die, plants wither.
Their demeanour is blank and emotionless. They pursue their targets with a single-minded dedication. Injury doesn’t seem to bother them. The powers that be only bring out such creatures when dealing with the worst disturbances.
Abomination: 9 flesh (3 dice), 12 grit (4 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 8+. Hand (+4, d8 and memory wipe). All stats are 13.
On first encountering an Abomanation, Save vs Stunning or spend d4 rounds weeping and cowering. Save again if you see what’s under the mask.
Touching the Abomination’s skin attacks your memory: Save vs Stunning or forget the last 5 minutes.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.

Saturday 3 November 2018

Look at this cool thing!

So this guy Oddsbod did art of the White Librarians from the stygian library. Here it is:

Suffice to say I really like it, and if you do too you can find more stuff like it at and