Author Archives: jabber

Donjons & Dragoons: The Core Rules…

05a497a869a001c176ff3cfe2a8e7f65Shortly after writing a post on design decisions for the basic rules engine of the game, it occurred to me that I was putting the cart before the horse. Instead of imagining what a game based of a wargame would look like, I really needed to design a wargame and then let the core rules for the RPG evolve from that naturally. So I spent some time doing that and ended up with a simple set of rules that will most likely serve as the mass combat system in book 2 of the set: Captains & Campaigns.

Using the conflict resolution from that game as a base, I added a simple ‘drama generator,’ in the form of Misfortunes, and now have a set of core rules that I believe could have realistically come from the mind of a literature professor whose hobby is miniature wargaming. The results are below.

TASK RESOLUTION

Basic Task Resolution in Donjons & Dragoons is accomplished by the player rolling a number of Dice equal to whatever Attribute the Judge thinks is appropriate to the action being taken. Firing a musket, for example, is clearly based on Dexterity, but repairing it would likely require Saavy, and using it in melee might rely on either Dexterity (if using a bayonet) or Thews (if bashing an enemy’s skull in with the buttstock). The final decision is the Judge’s to make.

Before the roll, the Judge will set a Challenge Level, based upon the difficulty of the task at hand. The player then rolls the appropriate number of dice: each ‘5’ or ‘6’ is a Success; each ‘2’, ‘3’ or ‘4’ is discarded, and each ‘1’ is a Misfortune. The number of Successes is then cross-referenced with the Challenge Level on the Task Resolution Table to get a result.

TaskResTable

BB=Bolloxed   B=Blunder   F=Failure   PS=Partial Suc.   S=Success   SS=Smashing Suc.   CS=Cracking Suc.

Advantage & Disadvantage

The Judge may decide to give the roll Advantage due to some situational benefit in the character’s favor. A Rifle, for example gives Advantage during shooting tasks, good roads give Advantage to characters marching along them, and having an NPC owe the character a favor will give Advantage when trying to get them to do you a favor in return.

Second-Charge-Bunker-Hill_vintage-americanThe Judge might, instead, decide to give the roll Disadvantage in circumstances where external factors work against the action. Travelling in bad weather would give a character Disadvantage when marching, getting a favor out of a character that despises you gives Disadvantage, and Charging an enemy on a hill gives your attacks Disadvantage (and could also, reflexively, give the enemy Advantage).

Where an advantage is in play, dice succeed on a roll of ‘4,’ ‘5,’ or ‘6.’ Where a Disadvantage is in play, they succeed on a ‘6,’ only.

dice1Rerolls

Certain character abilities, like Trades, will allow rerolls. Each reroll may be used to reroll a single die, once. No die may be re-rolled more than once, and the player must accept the result of the second roll, even if it is worse than the original.

Resistance

When another character passively resists, or actively opposes, an action, they may (at the discretion of the Judge) roll dice to counter the successes of the character taking the action.

cuirassier ROUGE copyPassive Resistance represents some form of protection or opposition, gained from external factors, that does not require direct action on the part of a character. For example, a wall will give Passive Resistance to a person taking cover behind it when they are shot at, armor would give Passive Resistance to a sword strike, and contacts in the royal court might give Passive Resistance to attempts to ruin one’s reputation. The exact number of dice rolled will be determined by the Judge, and several factors might be combined to make a larger pool.

Active Resistance uses personal Attributes to oppose the action. For example, a target who is aware that they are being shot at may use Active Resistance to dodge the shot, a character being court-martialed might use Active Resistance to defend themselves against Prosecution, and the subject of torture will use Active Resistance to avoid giving information. In all such cases, the Judge will determine what Attribute is used for the roll, and this will determine the number of dice rolled.

In some cases (such as ducking behind a wall to avoid being shot) the Judge might apply both Passive and Active Resistance, but no Resistance Dice Pool may ever go higher than 6.

For every Success on a Resistance Roll, the acting character’s successes are reduced by 1. An Action cannot be reduced to less than an F result by Passive Resistance. Blunders can only be forced by Active Resistance.

Misfortunes

When a ‘1’ is rolled on a die, regardless of retreat-the-retreat-from-russiawhether the test is a failure or success, some misfortune falls upon the head of the acting character. The Judge will choose from one of the following unfortunate events (or may make up an original one on the spot, if they desire), for each Misfortune rolled. In some cases, multiple Misfortunes may be used to make a specific event even worse.

Reduce Success: -1 Success on the roll.

Counter Action: An opponent gains an immediate action (one roll). An individual opponent may only gain one Counter Action per unit of time.

Delay: The completion of the action is delayed one unit of time for each Misfortune spent. A musket takes longer to load, a lock takes longer to pick, the character slips on rubble while trying to ascend a breach, their bayonet gets lodged in their enemy, requiring an extra unit of time to retrieve it, etc.

Broken Item: A piece of applicable equipment is broken if Misfortunes equal to its Durability are used on this event.

Endanger Others: Some other character is placed in eminent danger due to the character’s actions. Useful as a means for the Judge to put the PC in the horns of a dilemma.

Looming Peril: Save a Misfortune to use later. Such saved Misfortune may be used at any time, not just during a character action. By saving up, more dramatic misfortunes can be engineered and dramatic turnarounds can be saved for more appropriate moments.

FINIS

So that is the entirety of the core rules, except for specific advice on how to apply them in certain situations, like combat, negotiation, making things, traveling, etc.

49593_napol_emp_lgIt is definitely (at this point) lighter and less mechanical in it’s design, something I think Maxwell Luther would shoot for, being a lit professor and wanting to hew as closely to Braunstein as possible (but with a bit more mechanical structure and advice for the referee).

I’m currently hammering out the character generation, and that should be the subject of my next post. So far, it’s simple, and random, with lots of luverly tables. In other words, very 1970’s…

Donjons & Dragoons: The (Fictional) Foreword…

To take a break from designing mechanics, and flex my layout muscles a bit, I decided I’d try and put together something that might reflect the intended aesthetics of the project. So I did a little bit of research into the typefaces and layouts of OD&D’s Little Brown Books and wrote a foreword for the first volume ‘Men & Muskets.’ In doing so I named my theoretical author and came up with a background for him, as well as a voice.

My initial take on the eventual layout was to recreate the format of the LBB as closely as possible. But several things occurred to me as I was fiddling around with it:

1. I just can’t see a literature professor going with a sans-serif font like Futura. So I went with a Serif font instead. This isn’t totally out of line with the LBBs, by the way, as the supplements that followed also ditched the sans-serif. I also chose to go with more spacing between paragraphs. Much easier on the eyes, even if it fudges the page count a bit.

2. I’m going to use more classic paintings and woodcut illustration than original art (if I do any drawings at all). In 1973, the availability of cheap public domain art to use for a Georgian era wargame would stand in stark contrast to the limited range of good fantasy artwork available to Gary and company at the time.

3. When considering the limitations of the published materials, I also think that Luther, in his position of university professor, would have had access to greater resources than Gary would have, due to his more financially stable position and access to university resources and contacts, and he would have taken advantage of that. He might have even created it as a research project exploring methods of open-ended, interactive literature.

Keeping all that in mind, here is the foreword to Donjons & Dragoons…

NOTE: Just to be clear, for those who are just tuning in, this is a fictitious account of a history that might have been if someone other than Gary Gygax had been the father of RPGs. There is no actual Professor Luther, he never played with Dave Wesely or Dave Arneson, and the game itself is a modern creation, albeit, one that simulates the fashion and technology of the 70’s. In other words, It’s all Alt-History folks…

ForewordSample-1

ForewordSample-2

 

Donjons & Dragoons: The Basic Game Engine…

Designing the Game Engine, the mechanical base upon which all other aspects of the game are built upon, is the first task for any designer.

You can license or borrow an existing system to avoid a lot of basic work, take advantage of certain mechanical perks and/or to bank on an existing fan base for said engine. Many, many RPGs have been based off of the D20 system, famous for its progenitor, Dungeons & Dragons, for example, and UNITY is very popular for video game design due to the flexibility and customization it offers when creating both 3D and 2D games on a wide variety of platforms. And let’s not forget the bajillion variations on Chess, Risk and Monopoly out there.

testamentThe downside to this often involves licensing fees and/or restrictions, and the fact that sometimes, what you want to do may not be wholly compatible with the engine you’ve chosen, requiring a lot of extra customization work to shoehorn your game into the existing system. D20, for example, is pretty good for D&D styles games, but many find the class and level system, Hit Points, etc. to be so at odds with the thematic or mechanical goals they are trying to achieve that, by the time they’ve modified the game to their liking, they may find that any benefits gained from it are pretty much negligible and the results are off-putting, to say the least (Moses as a 3rd-level paladin.7th-level Levite priest/10th-level prophet of the Lord, anyone?).

Starting from scratch, of course, is a lot more work, both in basic design and in making sure it works as it ought to. Let’s face it, D20 has nigh on 50 years of design behind it and, if you start with it as your base, you can pretty much fill in the blanks as far as the rest of your game goes. With your own game, however, you’ll be responsible for a lot more statistical analysis and play-testing to work out all the bugs and hedge cases that can grow out of even the simplest systems. This goes double for video games, where creating an engine from scratch takes a particular type of coding genius that is not as common as you might think. The end result of all that work is often worth it, however, as what you have is truly yours and is designed from the start to fit your game’s theme and aesthetics.

In my case, I am also saddled with an additional, self-imposed, restriction when it comes to Donjons & Dragoons: I can’t just base it off of D20 or some other system. I have to create something new, but that also draws on the existing game mechanics of the period (pre-1974) in order to end up with a project that gamers of the time would not only find somewhat recognizable, but acceptable as a game. Remember, the concept of or role-playing as a dedicated game was pretty much non-existent at the time (outside of Wesley, Arneson and the handful of people that owned Michael Korn’s Modern War in Miniature), so my theoretical author would have had limited resources of inspiration to draw upon.

TO D6 OR NOT TO D6…

RomanD20Polyhedral dice have been around for millennia, Totten had his Teetotum for Strategos, and there was much discussion in wargaming ‘zines over the 60’s on approximating percentages using everything from D6’s to D20s to randomly drawn chits. But, despite this, the vast majority of games before the advent of Dungeons & Dragons relied on the humble D6 for resolving issues of chance, and I plan to do the same for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it is historically relevant. It has been the randomizer of choice for games throughout the centuries (especially among the lower classes), it inspired Pascal to develop probability theory, and it has been at the center of wargaming since the days of Von Reiswitz’s Kriegspiel.

Secondly, it is readily available (almost everyone has a few lying around the house) and the results of its probability curve are understood on an almost instinctive level by most people who play any kind of board game, i.e. when you say something has an ‘X’ in 6 chance, they can pretty easily gauge what that means. These things are still as true today as they were in 1974.

Finally, I must consider the perspective of our theoretical author, who I think would have been of a more practical, less business oriented, bent when considering polyhedrals vs. the standard D6. I think his educational goals and desire to make sure that every student could easily procure the materials for the game, would be very different from the economic forces driving Gygax, who saw the potential of polyhedral dice to provide a secondary revenue stream and limit the loss of profit from piracy of the written materials.

The only question is, out of all the different methods for using a standard D6 for resolution, which do I use?

CRT OR SIX-TO-HIT?

Many traditional wargames utilize a Combat Resolution Table (CRT) to determine results.

OGRECrtIn OGRE, for example, one divides the attack value of a unit by the defense value of the target to get a ratio of odds (1:2, 1:1, 2:1, etc.). A D6 is then rolled, the number cross-referenced with the appropriate column, and then a result is obtained (No Effect, Disrupted, or Damaged/Destroyed). The procedure is simple (even if it requires some basic math), the probabilities are easy to read, and the results are pretty much spelled out.

It doesn’t have to be used simply for combat either: a CRT could be converted into a more universal table with results like No Effect, Partial Success, and Full Success. It could even be expanded for increased granularity, adding results like Full Success x2 or Critical Failure (and a there are many examples of games in the eighties, like Marvel Super Heroes and Gamma World 3E, that did just that).

Of course the major stumbling block for such a system is the fact that it relies on constant reference and lookup, but if you kept the table handy and compact enough that it might be kept confined to a single page or small game screen, that wouldn’t be a problem; especially for the wargamers of the period who were used to much more arcane information being presented within much more complicated (and often badly organized) layouts. However, CRTs are also a lot more predictable, and make decision points a lot more cut and dried and, well, mathematical (“if I move tank A in to support the attack, I only add x percent and that is not enough to shift the column from 1:1 to 2:1, so I won’t”). While this is great for making crucial (if rather unrealistically precise) decisions in a strategic wargame, it can be an anathema to role-playing, where such mechanical deliberations detract from the narrative.

ProbGraph

Probability graph covering target numbers 2-5…

Another common wargaming mechanic, which would also be familiar to the players of the time, is what is commonly referred to as the Six-to-Hit method: grab a number of D6’s equal to the number of men/the combat factor/number of shots/whatever, and roll them. For every die that scores a certain target number (sometimes fixed, sometimes contextual) you gain 1 Success. In some games the defender will get to roll dice (representing armor factors, terrain, etc.) as well, cancelling out attacker successes for with theirs.

This system is fast, the size of the pool can be easily tailored to individual character abilities (Chainmail’s Superhero rolling 8 dice to the normal soldier’s 1, for example), difficulties can be easily set based on the minimum and maximum pool size, and situational modifiers can be easily reflected by adding or subtracting dice from the pool based on referee whim. The results can be harder to predict and describe, and it can also feel very swingy and out of your control, unlike CRTs, where player manipulation of the odds is an important component.

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

I like Six-To-Hit for the flexibility it provides, but I also like CRTs for the very clear results they provide, which makes it easy for the referee to determine target difficulties and results, and also allows me to tailor the results beyond the simple success system without a lot of discussion about how 1 success is different from 2, 3 or 6. Aesthetically, tables are very much the fashion during this period in gaming history, so I am thinking that a mix of the two is in order, and would fit well with the mind-set of the time.

In effect, we’re replacing the combat matrix of original D&D (OD&D) with a shortened Universal Results Table, and then using dice pool mechanics to provide the results for the left hand column, rather than the roll of a single D20, which I have never been a huge fan of (it’s too linear and I hate rolling single dice). To keep this sensible, I am going to restrict the size of the dice pool, and as a result, the maximum number of successes, to six. This gives me a six by six table with a range of 36 possible results, spread among the following categories: Blunder, Failure, Partial Success, Success, Smashing Success, and Cracking Success.

 

With this table, I can tweak the results of the successes beyond the binary succeed/fail of the OD&D matrix and provide simple easy to remember results for different types of actions, like combat, trade, social situations, etc. As an example, let’s take a look at combat (likely to be a very common activity in our game) as seen through the lens of the CRT:

A player who scores a Success result in Melee scores a single hit, which would kill a standard soldier or ‘hurt’ an enemy hero. If he rolled 3 successes and scored a Cracking Success, he might kill 2 ordinary soldiers, kill two and wound an enemy hero once or some other combination. But if he rolls to far under the umber of successes needed, he’ll score a Partial Success, so that he scores a hit, but loses an action in the process (perhaps he overextends himself and is forced to recover).

Of course the results would be different for other activities, and the referee would be encouraged to use the General Table and his own judgement for non-specified cases.

Now, it is very true that I could come up with an even simpler, more narrative version of this system, but considering the decade of game design I am trying to emulate, this seems to me to be the more likely outcome of a first professional foray into RPGs. I think that our author. being present at the first Braunstien games and observing the difficulties that arose from full-fledged free form play, would have erred on the side of more, not less structure.

Maybe later on in our alternative history, when Avancée Donjons & Dragoons is revised into a second edition, the author (who will hopefully not have had the same falling out with his own company as Gygax had) will simplify this mechanic so that charts are no longer needed. But for 1974, and the author’s wargaming and educational roots, I think we’re hitting pretty close to the correct mixture of mechanics, if not hewing a bit more narrative than might have been likely in the circumstances.

All of this is, of course, only the roughest cloth at this point. I still don’t know what the base target number will be (4 or 5, I need to run the numbers a bit more), the basic CRT and individual results tables will undoubtedly go through more than a few permutations, and there will be additional wrinkles added to the system to bring it to life (such as a method for the players to reroll dice to improve their odds and a system of ‘Misfortunes’ to increase the dramatic potential of every roll), but at least we have a basic skeleton to hang a game on…

The RPG That Might Have Been…

waterlooLast year I started to delve into the wonders of the Georgian era, with a particular interest in the rather profound and sweeping impact it had across the globe. The unification of the UK into a single nation, growing industrialization, faltering colonialism, the Enlightenment, the revolutions in the US and in France, and a world at war for almost half a century, fomented massive changes in society, technology, the arts and warfare. Changes that unequivocally shaped our modern world.

Obviously, this is a period ripe for adventure gaming and it is little wonder to me that it became one of the most common subjects for wargaming enthusiasts, rivaling the American Civil War and WWII in popularity during the golden age of the hobby. Fantasy, on the other hand, was looked down upon in many circles, the historical exploits of real armies and genuine heroes much preferred over the doings of magical warriors, mythological monsters and *gasp* elves!

And then came Gygax.

Gary loved wargaming, but he was also a huge 6c352529c0987bcb64076f33acf71e4efan of fantasy and pulp sword & sorcery stories. For him, mixing the two was the chocolate peanut butter cup of gaming, and, despite the grumbling of the grognards who considered fantasy to be childish, his fantasy supplement for Chainmail would eventually spark greater interest in, and establish a beachhead for, future games in that genre. His seminal work, Dungeons & Dragons, would cement that foothold and see fantasy and science-fiction outstrip historical gaming in sales, to become the lingua franca of the gaming industry in specific, and pop-culture in general.

Gary Gygax was, in Malcolm Gladwell’s terms, a Super-Connector: a combination of Connector, as a man who had wide connections across gaming circles; a Maven, as a man who had a expansive knowledge of wargaming and eclectic taste for pulp literature; and a Salesman, as a person who could mass-market fantasy, and the idea of single character wargaming, and take it from a smaller niche in an already niche hobby, and turn it into a cornerstone of popular culture.weselydave

Sure, Dave Wesley (top right) is the (criminally unsung) grand-pappy of refereed role-playing as a gaming exercise, and Dave Arneson (bottom right) took his ideas and ran with them, creating the basis of what is probably the most novel (in every sense of the word) game idea ever created. And the timing was right, too, with a whole generation discovering Tolkien and Howard, and watching Star Trek, and a host of other science fiction and adventure programs on TV. But Gary refined the idea from Dave’s copious (and disorganized) notes, spread the word, and convinced people to play it.

But what if there was no Gygax?

What if Gary had never been fired from his insurance job, and as a result, had never become an editor at Guidon Games or produced Chainmail with its fantasy supplement? The timing was right, the idea was ‘sticky’, but what if, instead of Gygax, someone else fell into his place ? Someone who, while still as avid a gamer, was much more interested in the exploits of Wellington and Nelson over those of Conan and Gandalf?

Would the first RPG had been of a more historical bent? And how would that have affected the history of gaming and popular culture from that point on?

 

DONJONS & DRAGOONS: Rules For Napoleonic Wargames Campaigns Playable With Paper And Pencil And Miniature Figures

napoleonicwarsWhile D&D did, indeed, greatly influence modern culture, so did Star Wars and Marvel Comics (whose Savage Sword of Conan brought Howard’s creation back from the depths of obscurity). And as the RPG concept quickly blossomed to encompass other genres, from science fiction (Gamma World, Traveler), to historical (Boot Hill), to the bizarre (Burrows & Bunnies), in a few scant years, fantasy would have surely followed in short order. Would fantasy’s influence over the geek-sphere have been reduced, somewhat, by the lack of D&D? That is a question academics could argue about until the end of days, so I intend to focus, instead, on what the first RPG, itself, might have looked like if another, more historically minded author, had taken the reins of the RPG revolution. And then build it.

I am going to imagine that this hypothetical author (read: me, born 30 years earlier) played in Dave Wesley’s original Braunstein games, and hobnobbed with Duane Jenkins (Duuuuuaaaaaane Jenkins!) and Dave Arneson (who I’m disinclined to believe would have ever managed to make the idea a commercial success, being the William Dawes to Gygax’s Paul Revere). This person would have taken part in creating ‘Brownstone’ and then branched off with his own versions. And while I do believe he would have based the mechanics off of wargaming precepts common at the time, I’m going to assume he was more of a traditional writer than Gygax, most likely a professional educator who saw the value of the format for teaching history (which I plan to do), and the RPG design will reflect that in tone and function.

I’m also going to assume he would have the same resources as Gygax did, by which I mean to say that I still plan to use modern tech (i.e. Adobe CC, not traditional paste-up, since I’m an academic, not a masochist), but the end result should have a look and feel very similar to the original set, with the typefaces, layout and general production values of a small press product from the early 70’s.

Now, if I were actually working in a university and doing this as a research project, I would endeavor to put a lot more research and time into making it uber-authentic (deep research and personal interviews with those who were there, no anachronistic references or systems, reliance on outside materials and knowledge to play, etc.) with little regards to how well it will sell. However, since I’m (still) not and it’s not, I’m just going to treat it as a paying product that also happens to be an interesting intellectual and artistic exercise.

5129x-+HaDL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_This means I will take a few liberties here and there, and be a little less OCD in the 70’s-history-details department, to make it marketable and playable. I won’t worry too much over whether a mechanic could be considered too ‘modern’ if it gets the job done, for example, and Cornwell and O’Brien will be as influential as Forester and Tolstoy, despite the fact that their series were written much later (especially Cornwell, whose Sharpe novels are the inspiration for sample characters like Dick Blunte and Sgt. Lyre). Despite a few, niggling, anachronisms, however, the end result should be very close to what I believe D&D could have been.

Now that I have my goals and limitations sorted, I’ll begin the actual game design process, which I will document on this blog in future posts…

STATE OF THE JABBERWOCK…

Still trying to find a full time job 3 years after graduating with my MFA, so things have been slow on the gaming front, with little time to play, much less design, but here is the dirt on the projects at hand.

QUARTERBACK BLITZ

Now in it’s 9th revision, I have completely revised the game to use a smaller playing surface and simpler mechanics that still accurately represent professional football, but abstracted to speed up play considerably. The 1-1 field representation and UGO-IGO mechanics have been replaced by something that more closely resembles the chess match that is X vs.O in flow and visual components.

THE BOARD

QBB_Field_Rev9The board is now split into irregular areas that reflect how the offense mentally identifies the field. This makes plays easier to design and also helps to reduce the number of movement related skills.

The Zone skill, for example is now unnecessary as the amount of segmentation decreases as one moves upfield, with board spaces becoming larger, allowing a Free Safety to cover the rear of the defense realistically.

THE PLAY SEQUENCE

Whereas before, I had each individual player taking an action during a turn, I have realized that the action in a play really can be divided into a sequence of three parts: 1. The Line Action, where interaction between the O and X lines determine the flow of the rest of the play; 2. Running Routes, where the rest of the Offense deploys to receive the ball and the defenders react to those deployments; and 3. The Resolution, in which the ball is released and the final results of the play are determined.

This greatly speeds up play, as it is no longer necessary to fuss with all 22 players during a single play. The results of 1. The Line might end up with a sack or a running play, eliminating the necessity of dealing with steps 2 and 3. Similarly, the results of the line limits how many players the offense gets to deploy before they must pass the ball, and certain timing passes will force the ball to be thrown immediately, again, eliminating the need to waste time fiddling with non-active players. And Step 3. The Resolution, is now a simple roll off on a table to determine final yardage instead of the back and forth moving of miniatures until the ball carrier is brought down or reaches the end zone.

THE CARD

Building plays is now easier with a system of offensive and Card_Play_Routedefensive cards that focus on particular parts of the play sequence and certain areas of the field. A coach’s hand will consist of a number of cards (7 on average) which can include a combination of Play cards (routes, defensive structures, etc. as seen on the right) and Action Cards (special events and skill usage).

Rules for skills are now presented in a more usable format: Instead of having to memorize skill lists with tons of exceptions, all the info needed to play will be on the particular card used (both play and action). This makes the game easier and faster to play and allows for a smaller number of broader skills with a greater variety of uses.

 

BARBARIANS OF HEAVY METAL: THE CARD GAME

BoHM_Card_Rider_Eddie_FrontThis is actually pretty close to done. In play-testing, the mechanics seem to work extremely well at recreating miniature wargaming with cards.

I want to redo the armor rules and tighten up the mechanics for building Titans, to speed up play and reduce complexity a bit. Also, I’m considering how to simplify the card types to cut down on clutter.

 

DONJONS & DRAGOONS

waterlooJust before finishing Bone Orchard, I went off table top RPGs and hung up my hat as a designer in that area. The customer base was too segmented and the profit to cost ratio was poor, but mostly, I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. It might have helped if there was a subject that really grabbed my attention and hadn’t been thoroughly explored yet, or if the RPG market was even slightly interested in any of my more outlandish and niche projects like BoHM.

Flash forward 2 years and I’ve picked up an interest in the Georgian Era, and Napoleonics. After a lot of reading over the last year or so, I am inspired to do another RPG based on that period. This time the interest is an academic one, however. I want to make what I believe the first RPG would have looked like if I had been at the forefront of that design instead of Gygax and Arneson. What would it look like if I had created the first RPG, based on Napoleonic wargames instead of fantasy, and based on my particular design ethos and predilections?

So I’m slowly, over time and in between working on other things, building an RPG based on the period, based on the 3 booklet structure of the original D&D game, but with rules of my own,which will be more heavily inspired by the refereed narrative of the Braunstein games of David Wesley rather than the more mechanistic Chainmail rules. It’s one part academic exercise, one part keeping my design skills sharp and one part trying to finish something less graphically and workload intensive than my other two projects.

There is another motive: I am looking to create a video channel on games and game design and I think this would make an interesting subject for a ‘How To Write an RPG’ series of videos for that channel. But more on that later….

METALWORKS (3/25/15): MEET REX…

Stryper_Cover_TheCoveringFThe final deck for my demo set is complete: Rex Sweet, Nazarite Priest in his Juggernaut class 4RC-H4NG3L ‘Archangel.’

Along with this new deck, I’ve updated all the older ones as well, to take into account some slight rules tweaking and to include counters for Heat, Power, and Damage as well as Control Markers, so you can mark cards from your deck that are placed into other player’s areas.

All that is left is to create the cards for creating the Tactical Display track and put the rules into a proper demo rulebook, although the latter might have to wait as I have a metric butt-tonne of cards and counters to assemble before tomorrow. Still, everything should be good to go for you to download the game and give it a whirl within the week.

METALWORKS (3/22/15): MEET LITA…

Lita_Osbourne_SquaredDeck production is speeding up as repetition means less original content to create with each new deck. The latest one inroduces our first female Rider, Lita Osbourne (patterned after Lita Ford and Natasha Kerensky), and a new, heavier class of Titan: the Juggernaut class SAB-V0LUM4 ‘Supernaught.’

Lita’s deck strategy is more about subterfuge and support than the previous two, making use of more external forces granted to her as favors from other Lords around the Metalsphere and finding ways to sabotage her enemies’ plans.

I’m confident that I can get one more deck done, and this one will be the mortal enemy of Lita’s, a Nazarite in another Juggernaut class Titan who can give her a run for her money…

METALWORKS (3/21/15): MEET ULI…

ULIFollowing up on Eddie from last week, we have Uli Jon Hammet, Yngwie marauder, ex-gladiator and current leader of the Star Scorpions, a band of interstellar pirates who work on and off as mercenaries. You can find Uli’s Deck here.

Once again, there are three sets of cards in the PDF. The first 2 pages are Titan and Rider cards, the next 4 pages are Titan Systems and the remaining pages make up Uli’s 60 card TAC Deck.

I’m going to try and knock out a couple more decks before Thursday, and as each deck gets easier as cards repeat, that might happen, but I also have to get the rules written up and put in PDF. I’ll get that done first and post them up sooner than later so you can test out both of these decks against each other.

 

METALWORKS (3/15/15): MEET EDDIE…

bruce_dickinson_iron_maiden_portrait_by_nonsense_prophet-d76ugv8I’ve been plugging away at the demo decks for BoHM: Titans for a bit now, trying to nail down the format for the various types of cards you will find in the set, and I’ve finished my first test set: ‘Iron’ Eddie Dickinson, Veteran Sabbathite Rider in his 1RN-M41D3N.

There are no images ready for the System cards yet, and all the portraits in the TAC Deck are almost 100% borrowed from the intertubes without permission, but other than that, the cards are ready for print and playtesting, once I get the next rider and the rules online

There are three sets of cards in the PDF. The first 2 pages are Titan and Rider cards, the next 4 pages are Titan Systems and the remaining pages make up Eddie’s 60 card TAC Deck.

Next up: Uli Hammet, Veteran Yngwie Rider and his AX3-YNGW13 AXEMASTER!

It’s been snowing like crazy over here, so I’ve had lots of time to work on the card prototypes for Barbarians of Heavy Metal: Titans. For this Metalworks, I want to show you how things are coming along in that area, and discuss a few of the mechanics in play.

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF BATTLE

There are a number of card types in BoHM:Titans. It is a Tactical Card game and that means that, as a card representation of a tabletop miniature wargame, it needs a good deal of variety to represent the many wrinkles in that game medium as well as to provide plenty of options for deck customization.

To that end, Titans contains three broad categories of cards, some of which are further divided into specific sub-types. It may seem like a lot of things to remember, but like Magic, a lot of the differences are not necessarily about mechanical sub-systems, so much as a way to organize and target specific types of activity. For example, there is little difference between a Leader card (special in-game personalities) and any other Strategic card in the TAC deck, but there are cards (like the Hashashin) that specifically target Leaders, which means they need a specific icon to represent them, but not an entirely unique rules subset.

The three categories of cards are Titan Cards, System Cards and TAC cards.

TITAN CARDS

Titan cards represent the actual physical structure of the Titan and the Rider behind its control interface. The primary card sub-type in this category are the Superstructure cards, which are laid in a pattern to thematically represent a diagnostic interface, like so:

BoHM_Card_Superstructure_Diagram_01

Superstructure cards are unique to each Titan (and will eventually have unique art for said Titan). Each card represents a specific targetable body part with information pertaining to that specific Titan on it, including the Production ID (the Titan’s name), Hit Location numbers, Damage capacity, Systems loadout and, on the head, the game stats and cost (in Metalocity) of the Titan.

When a particular part of the Superstructure takes damage in excess of its Damage Capacity, you flip the card, which then shows you the effect of losing that bit of the Titan (in a nice, bright, alarming red):

BoHM_Card_Superstructure_Diagram_04

A Titan is only as good as its pilot, however, so the next most important card in this category is the Rider Card, and that is what we will examine next.

I should point out at this juncture that, while most of the graphic design you see on these cards (including icons, backgrounds, etc.) is all my original art, the portrait style images you are going to see from this point on were scoured from the internet for prototyping purposes.The cool image of Bruce Dickinson on the cards below, for example, is borrowed without permission from Ian Jones, although I might commission it and some other work from him for the game if I get enough funding. Check his stuff out, it is really cool.

BoHM_Card_Rider_Eddie

On the back side of the card we have the bio information and cost in Metalocity for our rider. On the front, all the game info needed to use him, including (from left to right) his School of Rock (with Harmonic and Discord numbers), Ride, Fire, Fame, Defense, Shred (melee), Luck, Health, and Rumble (hand to hand) stats.

Below that, in the text box, we have Eddie’s Skill set (which can enhance certain TAC Cards) followed by a special rule that sets him (a veteran) apart from lesser metalheads on the battlefield. In this case, he can cause damage to conventional forces, which represents his fearsome reputation causing mass desertion among the ranks.

At the very bottom we have the various musical styles Eddie is proficient in, which determines which Sonic Wizardry Cards he might include in his TAC Deck.

The third card in the deck is a Target Card, which bears an image of the Titan and serves as a ‘miniature’ on the Tactical Display(which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post).

SYSTEM CARDS

The systems listed on the Superstructure Cards are represented by special System Cards which detail their capabilities and state of readiness.

These cards are set up in the center of the player’s area and are typically activated by ‘Rocking’ them (turning them sideways). After they are Rocked, they must be ‘Readied’ in a later phase. Cards can also be ‘Reaped,’ or removed from the play area and placed in a Salvage Pile.  Certain weapons with ammo restrictions might also be ‘Flipped’ over on their face to represent that they are still functional, but out of ammo (Rock/Ready and Reap BoHM_Card_System_MJ1-N1R_Gothammerare the main ways you utilize cards in the game and should be familiar to those who have played similar games before).

The Gothammer on the right, is a Ballistic weapon (indicated by the tilted bullet which means that it can be targeted by certain TAC cards, like the Weapons Jam Discord), it takes up 5 component spaces on the Titan and is High Tech (tech levels, again, allowing targeting of special cards, like Repair, and so on). It has indirect fire, which means it can hit any zone on the Tactical Display, does D8+4 damage and has an Ammo Check rating of 2 (any roll of doubles of 2 or more flips the weapon).

The special rules make each system unique, so no two weapons need be alike. Our Gauss cannon, for instance must be powered to fire (which generates heat), and does extra damage to the surrounding area when it hits. The little hand rocking out at the bottom indicates that this card has a Hardcore result, for those who roll a Harmonic when using it (which, again, I’ll discuss at a later time).

TAC CARDS

The most numerous and variable cards in the game are the TAC cards which make up the TAC deck. Each player may hold a number of cards in their hand equal to 5 + their Rider’s Ride stat.

TAC cards can be Rocked, Readied and Reaped, but also Rolled, i.e. placed at the bottom of the TAC Deck, instead of Reaped, if the card so indicates. They come in a wide variety.

BoHM_Card_TAC_TerrainTerrain Cards represent the surface features of the battlefield and how it affects the combatants.

You may play Terrain Cards as a Move Action, which represents your Titan moving into that Terrain, and you might have a number of such actions which means you can layer Terrain cards on top of one another to increase their effect. The number and type of Terrain you can include is determined by the Mission Environment, so these Woods can only be used when said environment is Temperate, for example.

Titans retain the advantages of these cards until they leave a Zone, at which point all terrain cards are Rolled back into the TAC Deck.

Support Cards represent conventional forces, artillery and other battlefield support elements. It is here that you find you infantry, tanks, aerospace forces, and so on, and there are a few special subtypes within this category. Almost all of them require a Support Test, based on the Rider’sBoHM_Card_TAC_CF Fame, to Ready into play, representing the scarcity of resources and the fact that only the most famous metalheads will have access to the choicest support units, like the F-Bomb or the Valkyries (seen at right).

The Valkyries, for example, are a type of CF, or conventional Forces card (infantry, in particular, as indicated by the top right icon). These are played onto the Tactical Display and function like Titans, with 1 action each Game Round (called a Clash).

They have their own limited set of stats, like movement speed, Fire, Defense and Armor, as well as a set range, damage type (D6+2 in the Valkyries case) and Damage Capacity. Elite units will have other special rules.

BoHM_Card_TAC_tACTICALTactical Cards (indicated by the barricade icon in the top right) represent certain advantages that might present themselves during the course of battle, like an opportunity to push an enemy of the side of a cliff, or special tactics a rider might regularly use, like powering down to hide their Titan.

A Rider’s skills are often important components when determining the effectiveness of certain Tactical Cards. Just because two different players have the Run for the Hills card in their Deck, it is the one whose Rider has the Thrall skill that will find it most useful, playing more and/or better cards as instants than the Rider who was never a slave in the Metalsphere.

BoHM_Card_TAC_StrategyStrategic Cards are like Tactical cards, but on a grand scale. They represent the effects of long term planning before the battle and have a much longer-lasting and widespread effect than Tactical cards, which are all based on spur of the moment decision making.

Like Support cards Strategic Cards really rely on your reputation to use effectively. You may never use a Strategy card that has a Fame requirement (represented by the flaming star icon) higher than your Rider’s Fame. For instance, I Am More Metal Than You, represents the Titan Rider challenging another Rider’s Metalocity, and that only works when you are plenty Metal yourself.

BoHM_Card_TAC_LeaderA sub-type of Strategic card is the Leader (represented by the skull icon wearing an officer hat). These cards represent special personalities in your Warzone that you might have influence with. If you have the ear of a Leader, they can use their influence to provide everyone on your side of the battle with long term enhancements.

While there are generic personalities, like Hashashin (assassins) and Shades (scouts), most leaders, like the War Pig, are very particular to a certain School of Rock, and may only be used by a Rider from that School. This often have negative effects on Riders from the opposing School as well, as the War Pig does on Nazarite Infantry.

BoHM_Card_TAC_HarmonicHarmonics are special cards that you can play when you roll your Schools sacred number on the Rocktohedron (the eight sided die). They come in two types: generic, like the Scream card to the left, which can be played by anyone; and School Specific, which can only be included in a deck of a Rider from that specific School of Rock.

These cards are used to really push the uncertainty of combat, where a bit of luck is always a factor and special circumstances can swing the tide of battle in truly bizarre directions, like ripping another Titan’s arm off and beating it with its own appendage. Some Harmonics are Reaped immediately, but some stay in play until Reaped by Discord.

BoHM_Card_TAC_DiscordDiscords (represented by the Augmented Fourth Icon) are the opposite of Harmonics, and you actually don’t play these on yourself, but on other players who roll the number of the opposing school on their Rocktohedron.

You play Discords directly into another player’s area, and they hang about causing problems until that player can Reap them with a Harmonic or special card.

They come in general and specific flavors, but you really want to stack your deck with Discords that affect a specific School (represented by the icon to the Left of the title) to get the most use out of them, which means keeping a side board with Discord cards for various schools handy.

Overheat Cards are part of the Heat system in the game. Generating excess heat shuts down systems as it rises, but it also leaves the Titan open to having one of these cards played on it by another player during the HVAC phase if the heat level equals or exceeds the rating on this card.

Overheat cards allow me to implement a wide variety of funky heat effects that can hamper, damage or even disable a Titan. The Ammo Explosion card on the left, for instance, reaps an Ammo Bay, which (based on the info on the Ammo Bay card) causes it to explode and damage the Titan. There are also cards for shutting down down the Titan, melting components, cooking the Rider and setting the surrounding terrain on fire.

BoHM_Card_TAC_SonicFinally, we have Sonic Wizardry Cards. In the universe of BoHM, sub-quantum superstring manipulators can be built as a variety of instruments to produce music that literally manipulates reality.

Certain Titans are built with giant Harmonic Resonators (the core of a superstring manipulator) inside them, moleculer speaker arrays in their surface and a special instrumental interface in the cockpit to allow the Rider to bend reality from inside the machine. To the outside observer, it looks for all the world like the Titan is playing air guitar, or miming the play of some other instrument.

In Titans, Sonic Wizardry cards are basically science-magic and can do some fairly awesome things if you have the right styles at the right ratings. The card above, for instance, is in Eddie’s TAC Deck.

NOW TO CREATE THE ACTUAL DECKS

Now that I have the prototype bases done, I am moving into InDesign and designing the card sheets for the demo set. There will be at least 4 Titans and 4 Riders with 4 unique decks, but if I can, I want six ready for demoing at Cometcon at the end of March. But I also have about 180 cards to create for the next revision of QBB, so we’ll see what happens.

Any comments on what you’ve seen, questions on how the game might play out or suggestions for cool heavy metal inspired cards? Head over to my forums and let me know what you think…