Tag Archives: Game Design

GAME AESTHETICS: THEME VS. MECHANICS

Theme [theem] (Noun)

  1. a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.

Mechanics [muhkan-iks] (Noun)

  1. the technical aspect or working part; mechanism; structure.

I chose these definitions carefully, to delineate the difference between the overarching aesthetic experience versus the underlying game engine that makes gameplay possible. Normally, theme and mechanics work together to provide a complete gameplay experience, especially where licensed properties, like Firefly or Doctor Who, are concerned. But this is not strictly the case in every instance.

There are, for example, games in which the accurate depiction of the theme is the main source of interest for the player, and the mechanics are really only there as a means to reinforce the theme rather than provide ludic interest. The purest form of this (Theme 4, if you will) would be a game of ‘pretend’ like the childhood games of Cops & Robbers or Doctor’s & Daleks, where there are no mechanical underpinnings to the games at all, and play proceeds based upon whatever the group agrees will reinforce the illusion of being a masked bandit, or genocidal cyborg with a plunger and egg whisk for arms.

Too. Darned. Cute…

 

On the other hand, there are games in which the interesting interplay of game mechanics, and the skill at handling those mechanics determines the ‘fun’ level of the game. In some cases, the mechanics define the gameplay experience so thoroughly that any theme laid over them is only so much window dressing. The pure form of this (again, off the end of our scale at Mechanics 4), would be building a car. Unless the mechanics function in perfect alignment, car no go! And the joy of driving is entirely predicated on the mechanical quality of the car and the driver interaction with it.

A Chevy Nova. It literally “No Go…”

Let’s look at a few examples, one that exemplifies Theme over Mechanics, one at the opposite end of that scale, and one that represents a good balance between the two.

THEME 3: THE TIME LORD RPG (1991)

Back in the very early nineties, two years after the original series had bowed out, Ian Marsh and Virgin Publishing released a Doctor Who role-playing game: Time Lord – Create Your Own Adventures in Time and Space.

This was the second such attempt at an RPG based upon the series, and it couldn’t have been more different from its predecessor in design. Whereas the first RPG was simply a restatement of the generic set of RPG rules used in FASA’s previous game, Star Trek, with a Doctor Who make-over, Time Lord was built from the ground up to mechanically reflect the realities of the Doctor Who television series.

Almost every rule reinforced the theme, with little care as to how things worked outside of television reality. Genre Tropes of the series were given mechanical life, like the Screaming special ability, which allowed a companion to cry out for help (and be heard) across any distance, through miles of tunnels and labyrinths, or even across the gulfs of space (someone luckily left a communicator open, or something), so that the Doctor could come to their aid. It could even be used as a weapon, in some cases (as it was in the episode Fury from the Deep). Silly? Possibly, but very in character for the television series.

Another good example existed within the combat system. As long as a character is moving or behind cover, it is exceedingly hard to hit them with gunfire. Even when they are one area away! Again, silly? Not if you take into account the fact that, due to the restrictive size of the studio spaces the production team had to work with, almost all the firefights on the show took place within scant yards of each other, but few people got hit (unless a group of enemies concentrated their fire on a single target, like an extra or tragic supporting character, which is also covered in the rules).

Add extensive rules for scientific research (including an in-game time segment known as the Research Turn), cutting through doors and walls (a common way to create tension in the series), and creating MacGuffins (pseudoscientific devices or solutions that resolve the story), and you can see that Time Lord is an excellent example of a game that can easily be rated Theme 3.

T♎M: FIREFLY – THE BOARDGAME

Like a lot of folks, Firefly really pressed all the right aesthetic buttons for me, and I was a might irritated when it was cancelled due to corporate shenanigans at Fox. So when Gale Force 9 released a licensed board game, I was right in line to get a copy.

The issue with licensed properties, from my perspective, is trying to strike that balance between theme and mechanics. I want the game to reflect the goings on in that particular fictional universe, but at the same time, I don’t want Candyland with Browncoats and images from the show instead of gingerbread men and candy themed aesthetics (“Damn! I’m stuck in the Reaver Swamps of Miranda again!”)

The Firefly Board Game, however, manages to hit both sides of the equation pretty equally. The objectives and overall aesthetics do a great job of capturing the theme of the series (“Get a ship, get a crew, keep flying”), but also presents a variety of interesting mechanical twists that keep the game interesting and challenging from a ludic perspective.

One of the key ways I think you can judge the balance of a game like this is to consider how well the mechanics function with a stylistically similar theme. For example, the Firefly mechanics could also, with very few tweaks, be suitable for a game of 18th century piracy on the high seas, or maybe even a mob family type game. They are too linked to the thematic essence of small time transport/smuggling missions and operations to be useful for, say, a global conquest or economics game (not without a great deal of modification, at any rate), but within that limited thematic scheme, you could reskin the game fairly easily.

MECHANICS 3: MONOPOLY

Monopoly is the board game boogeyman for many folks, and for certain ludologists, it is the perfect example of how not to design a game. I tend to find this opinion over-exaggerated, especially since very few people have ever actually played the game according to its actual rules, relying instead on the oral tradition passed down for generations: the erroneous Free Parking rule alone can be said to account for much of its reputation as an extremely long and frustrating game. And yet, even with that reputation, it is still one of the best selling and most well known board games in the world, having spawned hundreds, if not thousands of variations.

But, just how different, mechanically speaking, are those variations?

For the most part, that answer is: not at all. No matter what version of Monopoly you are playing, whether it’s Star Wars Monopoly, Harry Potter-opoly, or Dallas Cowboys-opoly, you still roll two dice, move your pawn in a clockwise direction around a board separated into exactly the same number of squares, buy, rent or sell property, or draw cards. It doesn’t matter whether the game’s currency is in dollars, Galleons, or Imperial Galactic Credits, you still get 200 of them when you pass “Go,” and the most expensive property on the board, whether it be Hogwarts, the Death Star, or Dallas Cowboy Stadium (which, funnily enough, many of us here in Texas also call the Death Star), is still to the right of that space.

So as you can see, the theme of the game is pretty much inconsequential to the gameplay, itself. There might be minor mechanical variations to an individual version of the game (like Doctor Who’s 60 minute speed play variation), but it is extremely rare for those to make enough of a difference to change the basic play of the game, which is recognizably Monopoly, and is of little mechanical use for anything else. Aesthetically speaking, you don’t ‘feel’ like a wizard/jedi/Dallas Cowboy when playing, and nothing about the buying and selling of property to try and bankrupt your opponents fits particularly well with any of the above, thematically speaking. This makes Monopoly an iconic example of Mechanics 3.

COMING NEXT…

If you have any comments or suggestions on the material covered here, feel free to sound off in the comments section. I’m always open to new points of view on what is, after all, a very complex subject. I’ve already had one commentator on Facebook provide me with some insight that actually changed my perspective on the subject of the next post: Simplicity vs. Complexity, which is actually a much more complex and deep subject than you might imagine…

DONJONS & DRAGOONS: CHARACTER SHEET…

I’m currently typing up the next installment in my Game Aesthetics series, and I’m about half-way done with it, but in the meantime, I’ve also been working on the next revision of my Donjons & Dragoons project, and I thought I’d post up the completed character sheet for v2.

This sheet takes a lot of cues from the B/X version of Dungeons & Dragons, rather than the original set, and the graphics are a bit more advanced than anything the TSR produced in its initial offerings, but I justify it for the following reasons:

  1. Maxwell Luther, our fictitious professor and alternate time line father of RPGs, would have access to resources that Gygax and company did not, including a professor’s salary, a university printing press, and students and faculty from a variety of disciplines (especially art) to help out here and there.
  2. Luther (who is roughly based on me) would not settle for something that looked ‘rough’ or ‘amateur.’ In this case in particular, the game started out as a possible academic research project, and it would not do for the final product to look ad-hoc.
  3. I’m a multimedia designer, as well as a teacher, and this is not a strictly academic project (I plan to sell it when all is said and done), so it makes me happy to create art and layout that mimics the old school without being entirely bound by it.

Front Side…

As for the individual design elements, I stuck with Regency style iconography and frames. Some might question the use of a royal lion head, instead of a Fleur De Lis, for Élan, but I decided that each nation needed its own particular symbol, and that heraldic device is particular to the British, who are the focus of the initial game.

Back Side…

The backpack on the back side is my quick illustration of the infamous Trotter pack that burdened British infantry until the late 1800’s. And the ammo pouch, Brown Bess musket, and sword are all from that period, as well.

A quick glance at the front will immediately tell the veteran gamer that this game is very different from OD&D. In fact, the title font is where the similarities end. The current design takes an entirely different tack from the one Gygax would have taken, being based on an entirely different set of wargaming rules (basically Maxwell Luther’s version of Chainmail, which I will include in the basic set), and background influences.

GAME AESTHETICS: INTRODUCTION…

So, school is out for the summer, and my attention is now (partially) freed up to work on some of my extant projects. I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the second draft of my Donjons & Dragoons RPG experiment, getting prepared to iron out Defensive schemes for my (soon to be done done) Quarterback Blitz boardgame, and am finally ready to continue regular blog updates, starting with this one, the first part of a series on my ever evolving theory of Game Aesthetics.

WHY?

Well, that is the real question, isn’t it? Aesthetics is all about understanding the principles behind taste and the perception of beauty, and to do that we have to ask ‘why?’ Why do I like this? Why do I hate that? Why do I feel meh about the other?

Why should you care about this? Because understanding the ‘why’ of your aesthetics helps you to make more rational decisions about how you allocate your time and resources. And when it comes to the finer (i.e. more expensive) things in life, this is an invaluable skill.

But to be able to intelligently ask that question, one not only has to understand themselves, but the qualities of the thing that they are passing aesthetic judgement on. “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” is a valid argument only in so much as it defines what turns you off and on, but does nothing to help you understand how one type of artifact is perfectly acceptable to you but another, seemingly similar one, is not. Furthermore, when you lack understanding of the subject, it hampers your ability when it comes to creating a similar artifact of your own, and tailoring it for specific demographics.

DUDE, WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH GAMES?

Games, like paintings, or sculpture, or music, or wine, or any other art form, have measurable qualities. Now, the measure of these qualities is subjective, to be sure, and what is slightly nasty to one person might be extremely nasty to another, and heaven on earth to yet another.

However, within some set variation, we can create a basis from which we can more easily estimate whether or not a game might appeal more to player A or player B, and target our design towards one or both.

So, in the end, applying the study of aesthetics towards games is not only good for helping you to become a more informed consumer (think of all the Kickstarter money you could save), it can also make you a better, and more focused, designer (think of all the Kickstarter money you could earn).

BUT FIRST…

One of the big questions that almost every academic in game theory seems obsessed with is the definition of what, exactly, a game is. Seriously, the pursuit for the Ultimate Answer™ to this question seems to spark more unnecessary debate than Gamergate, and several folks are pursuing it as though finding the answer will somehow enlighten humanity as to the true meaning of life, the universe, and everything (or, at least, prove how much smarter they are than everyone else).

And I couldn’t care less.

For the record, the only qualifier for the title ‘game’ that seems to hold up to any kind of prolonged scrutiny or argument is that it needs to be ‘interactive,’ in the sense that you ‘play’ it. Everything else just seems like excessive harping over lingual minutia and general philosophical twaddle. Folks can argue that point all they want, but for me, the pursuit of this Holy Grail of a definition seems to be about the most boring (and ultimately pointless) thing in game theory.

So what I prefer to do is move the conversation away from that and onto the more interesting question of why we play games, and to facilitate that discussion, I’m just going to assume that we all know what a ‘game’ is, in the broadest sense.

STRUCTURE

When I first started thinking about game aesthetics and trying to isolate some common qualities that could be universally understood as aesthetic in relation to gameplay, it quickly became apparent that many of these qualities existed in opposition to each other. For example, a game can give a player many options for how to proceed during play (agency), but if many of those options are ‘false choices,’ obvious decisions between something obviously good and something glaringly stupid, and/or the results of all of those choices leads you to only a one or two possible endgames/outcomes, isn’t the game actually very linear, with only the illusion of true agency?

This led to my construction of dyadic sets of aesthetics, based on a sliding scale of 1-3 towards one side or the other, with a ♎ indicating both aspects were in balance (I originally used a 0, but that was often misinterpreted as meaning neither quality existed!). This scale presumes that there is one more step beyond each end, that represents some non-game variation on the quality. For example, in an Agency vs. Linearity measurement, Agency 4 would represent endless choices, factors of influence, and endgames beyond the ability of modern game mechanics to properly represent. Linearity 4, however, would represent the total lack of ability to affect the outcome, as one would find in a standard novel.

And again, these ratings are all very subjective: subject to personal opinion, the possible permutations of complex gameplay mechanics, and so on, but that is actually a strength. A game like Rising Sun might be designed with only a few true randomized elements, but the complexity of the system interactions, and the chaos unleashed across the board by certain moves or events, can often make it seem highly indeterminate and hostile to long-term strategy, which might make it extremely unpopular with the Eurogame crowd (and elicit laughter when people try to relate it to Diplomacy). But, despite this skewing of perception by personal experience, there is an average opinion that can be extrapolated from all of this, which can serve as some sort of clue as to how a game ‘feels,’ and that information can be very useful.

THE DYADS

I have identified six aesthetic dyads that seem to hold true for most games (or at least all the ones I have every played). They are:

Theme vs. Mechanics

Simplicity vs. Complexity

Determinacy vs. Indeterminacy

Agency vs. Linearity

Interaction vs. Isolation

Player Skill vs. Mechanical Skill

I’ll discuss the first one in my next post on the subject…

Donjons & Dragoons: Characters Part 5…

ClfDWaNWEAAKbJLThe school year is over, I’ve turned the student’s grades in and I have a little more free time (more than I can afford, actually), so on with the motley.

Up to this point, it has all been about the dice and the player, but our final step is based on the Judge and his plans for the characters and what kind of stories he wants to tell.

I should point out that the Men & Muskets booklet will generate characters who are mainly soldiers, and soldiers in the Peninsular War, at that. This does not mean the whole game will be set solely in that period and with those sorts of character. Indeed, I think that our literature professor, who would have enjoyed the complex interplay of characters from across the spectrum in such works as War & Peace, would have been more inclined to focus his campaigns on multiple characters in multiple arenas of conflict, both martial and social.

In effect, I believe he would have come up with some form of Troupe play, where each player had multiple characters across the battlefield as well as in the halls and drawing rooms of the powerful aristocrats, and even in the dirt and dung of lower class life. A single adventure would play more like a novel for Dr. Luther, with the scenes going from a group of infantry, to their superiors at HQ to the family woes at home to the petty power struggles of politicians and merchants trying to make hay out of the conflict. War & Peace in RPG form.

At the same time, I think he would recognize that the simplest way to explain how to play is to start with the simplest of stories: that of the soldier in the field and their day to day interactions. So that is what Men & Muskets will start with. Book 2 of the basic set, Captains & Campaigns, will expand the game into slightly larger territory, and later expansion supplements, like Navies & Nabobs, Blackamoor (colonial settings) and  Airs & Aristocracy (basically, the ‘Jane Austen’ supplement), will introduce new arenas and styles of play.

But for now, each player will be encouraged to roll up 3 characters who to give the Judge the largest selection of protagonists to draw from when creating adventures in the Peninsular War. And for most of these, he will need to determine their Rank and Unit.

RANK

If the Judge desires, unit ranks can be rolled for these just like everything else, and that is the default assumption. The lower and middles classes roll on the Enlisted table:

Table_Enlisted

The Raised From the Ranks result indicates that the character started out as an enlisted man, but after some act of extraordinary service (like taking a French Eagle) or bravery (surviving as part of a successful Forlorn Hope), they were elevated from the rank of Sergeant to Ensign. Such a promotion is as much of a curse as a blessing, due to the ruinous fees that are required to keep pace with the officer’s lifestyle, and the derision, from both officers and enlisted, that it attracts. Due to the extremely tight class structure of English society, such men were considered ‘neither fish nor fowl’ and their former mates were often as hostile to them as their new ‘peers’ for daring to rise above their natural place.

The Upper Classes may attempt to purchase a commission by making a Wealth roll OR they have the option of forgoing that and rolling randomly for a rank earned through battlefield promotion (which earns them a +1 to their Soldier rank, as recompense).

Table_Officer

Officer and NCO Numbers Per Battalion

6c1b40d19eaf2d45687e54321f937778

If the Judge is following the organizational structure of a British army in 1812, there may only be one Lt. Col per Battalion, 1 Major per ½ Battalion, and 1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants and 1 Ensign per Company. Likewise, for the enlisted ranks, there are a maximum of 2 sergeants and 3 corporals per Company.

If there are too many officers of a particular rank at the level of play desired by the Judge (Lt. Cols at Battalion, Majors at ½ Battalion, Captains/Lieutenants/Ensigns at Company, etc.), then the person with the lower social rank is reduced in military rank one step. Officers were often given brevet ranks upon the death of their former superior, which could later be taken away if someone of greater position and more money purchased a commission, so we must assume that this is the case here.

If social rank is tied, the character with the lesser Charisma is reduced in rank. If these are tied, the one with the lowest Luck is reduced in rank. Otherwise, both parties must roll off using 2D6, the loser being reduced in rank until a vacancy opens up (usually with the death of a senior officer).

Alternate Ranking

Instead of randomly determining ranks, the Judge may assign ranks at will to fit whatever campaign plans they have. For example, he might have decided to start the characters off as prisoners of the French, in which case, he might want all of the characters to be enlisted personnel. Or, he might want them to be part of a small exploring unit, with a junior officer or two and some experienced rankers scouting the frontier under the command of one of Wellington’s senior exploring officers.

UNIT

There are a great many historical battalions the Judge my choose to assign the characters to, and there is no reason that he has to assign them all to the same one. As I mentioned earlier, Luther would have likely indulged in Troupe style play, where the players might have characters in a few different units or places to capture the bigger picture style of the great literary epics.

A player might have an officer in the historical 95th Rifles, a Sgt. in the fictional South Essex and a spy in the French army, and the Judge might jump between those characters during the same adventure, maybe even in the same session of play, to resolve bits of action that might influence other parts of the adventure. During major historical events, like the Battle of Barrosa, a player might have several characters all engaged in different parts of the battlefield as well as back politicking and spying behind the lines, so that a single major battle like that might take several sessions to resolve.

2isfcshAlso, like the characters in the original D&D campaigns, I think that character’s in Luther’s games would have come and go based on availability and the adventures at hand. Captain Vaughn of the historical 95th Rifles, for example, might end up serving with the fictional South Essex battalion after his unit is seconded there for a special mission to contact and help Spanish partisans, along with an officer from the diplomatic corp and several rankers from a depleted company of the 33rd Fusiliers.

There are historical lists of the battalions actually involved in the war, but it’s easy to come up with new ones who might be slotted into the historical narrative without causing it to deviate too greatly. and the book will have a few suggestions along those lines.

Finally, the Judge may decide to override the dice in other parts of chargen to ensure a better fit, skipping the roll for Culture and just deciding that all the character’s will be Irish so that they fit into the 27th Inniskilling regiment, for example, in order to narrow the focus of his campaign.

FINIS

And that about wraps up character generation. With this and the basic rules sorted, there is enough to create a few characters and take the system for a spin. As a helpful little aid for anyone who wants to try it out, I’ve created a Quick Play PDF with all the relevant info from the last half dozen posts, whittled down to bare essentials so you can quickly generate some characters and try them out. If you do, leave me their stats and your impressions in the comments section below…

Donjons & Dragoons: Characters Part 4…

The previous posts fleshed out the character of our in-game persona on a personal level: their strengths and weaknesses, their place in society and what they do. Now we will look at a set of characteristics that represent how they interact with the world outside of the the implications of birth and profession.

5. QUALITIES

Qualities represent those ineffable traits  which set a character apart from others of their birth and station. There are three of them: Élan, Leadership and Renown, and they are generated using information we have already generated for the character.

These three Qualities are an attempt to address three issues I think would have arisen during Professor Luther’s design of the game (as they did with Gygax) based upon the wargaming precepts of the day, namely the ‘rank’ or ‘level’ of the individual heroes and their ability to bolster the morale of troops, but also the literary implications of playing the ‘protagonist’ in what is, basically, an interactive novel of sorts.

Élan (Mettle+Luck+Soldier)

Jacques-Louis_David_-_The_Emperor_Napoleon_in_His_Study_at_the_Tuileries_-_Google_Art_Project

“In war, luck is half in everything…”

Most of the main protagonists in a narrative have the ability to survive and thrive regardless of their individual strengths and weaknesses. Something about being the focus of the story gives them the ability to persevere mentally and physically against all odds. This ‘plot armor’ tends to protect them from mortal (if not temporary) harm and gives them a reserve of inner will to experience the most horrific events, weakening them without breaking them until, at last, the narrative ends and their final fate can be realized.

In much the same way, our heroes will not be killed by the first musket round to fly their way, nor will they run in pants-wetting terror at the first sign of danger, because they have at their disposal an internal reserve of ardous, impetuous spirit called Élan.

A character’s base Élan is a combination of two character attributes: Mettle and Luck. These represent the character’s ability to avoid serious harm and impairment through mental toughness and outrageous fortune. To that we also add any ranks the character has in the Soldier trade, to represent a warrior’s ability to deflect or minimize the damage from blows. Any Élan lost during the game represents some of that reserve being worn down by lucky escapes from major injury, major wounds turned into non-lethal scratches and bruises or sheer, bloody minded determination keeping the character going despite the odds.

Élan, once lost, recovers slowly. You recover your Luck’s worth of Élan immediately after an encounter in which you lose it (up to the amount you had going into said encounter). After that, you recover 1 point per day (more with medical attention or the help of certain other items, like alcohol and pleasant company). Once out of Élan, the character is open for a killing blow and/or mental break.

Only major characters have Élan. The average soldier typically goes own with a single hit. They also run in terror as soon as they fail a Mettle test, unless they are led by someone with great…

Leadership (Charisma+[Soldier or Sailor]+Statesman)

The ability to command can lead others into situations where they would not normally go, and keep them there when the going get’s tough.
This Quality is useful for a number of in game effects. For each point spent:

  • You can reroll a die used for a Charisma check.
  • You can generate D6 Élan which can used by any character under your direct command to recover Élan loss.
  • In the Mass Battle rules, you can cancel a failed order (among other things).

Leadership recovers slowly, like Élan. You immediately recover your Charisma’s worth after a battle, and that amount again after each full day that passes.

 Renown (Starts at 0)

barrosa“By Jaysus, boys, I have the cuckoo!”

Sergeant Patrick Masterson, 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers

This quality represents the character’s fame and notoriety and recognition of their ability to perform great deeds. It is the most direct equivalent to ‘Level’ in OD&D, but instead of accruing as a result of experience points, it is awarded for great achievements during major events, like storming the breach at Badajoz and surviving, or capturing a French Eagle at the Battle of Barrosa. Each point of Renown allows the character to add +1 Success to any roll. Once spent, Renown points are gone for the rest of the current adventure.

FINIS

That was a short post, but we’re nearing the end of character creation and there is only one more thing to take care of at this point…

Donjons & Dragoons: Characters Part 3…

NOTE: I think I’ve got the Spambots under control, so, as a test, I’m opening comments for the first time in donkey’s ages. We’ll see how it goes…

6c352529c0987bcb64076f33acf71e4eAt this point, our character has largely been subject to the whims and vagaries of the dice, their attributes and place in life largely out of their control. A single decision (their initial Trade) is made, but even that is heavily influenced by the circumstances of their birth.

At first, I questioned this decision, wondering if my basic premise (that of a literature professor replacing Gygax as the ‘father’ of RPGs) would result in a game with a more narrative, choice driven, character generation scheme and rules. After all, considering his profession, his approach would logically be more inclined towards a literature first, gaming second approach, whereas Gygax (and as a result, OD&D) was arguably more gaming first, literature second.

The fact remains, however, that the games of the time were largely simulationist in nature, so some semblance of that should show in the initial design. Considering the wargaming roots of the hobby, and our professor’s initial intent to create a game that gives life to the models in those very wargames, where success and failure, life and death, are so driven by the roll of the dice, it seems natural that his more narrative inclinations would be tempered by his simulationist background. Some sort of hybrid would emerge, where tools for dramatic situations outside of combat would be more thought out, but the role of random chance and tabular information would remain strong, and this is my best approximation of that result.

That said, we are now getting to the point of the process where the players will be making some direct decision for their characters…

4. TRADES

c08eec09152cb58c6bd19cf7850a6efaA Trade in the game allows the player to reroll Attribute dice when an action is taken to allow a character trained in a specific area to succeed more often (and suffer less Misfortune) while attempting certain tasks. In certain cases the Judge may decide that a specific Trade is required to even attempt the roll in the first place (as would often be the case with many tasks that require advanced education, like Engineering or Doctoring).

The term Trade is just a tiny bit incongruous here, because no one in the upper classes and aristocracy would ever demean themselves by referring to what they do as a ‘trade.’ After all, trades are what the hoi polloi engage in, not people of breeding and rank! But at the same time, the definition for trade is ‘a skilled job, typically one requiring manual skills and special training,’ which holds true for even a Duke, who must learn to read, write, manage large land holdings, and whip servants with force enough to dissuade impertinence (How dare you call Statesmanship a trade!) but still leave them capable of doing their work.

So, unless I think of something better, Trades it is.

Our birth class will have given us a single Trade, and In this portion of character generation we will determine if our character has any additional Trade ranks due to being clever. This is determined by our Savvy Attribute:

Table_Trade_BonusRanks

These ranks can be added to our existing Trade, or used to learn a new one, from the list below. Each Trade has a brief description of the sort of things you might do with it, any starting bonuses you receive for taking that Trade at character generation, and basic starting possessions (if any).

NOTE: I removed Bureaucrat, Farmer and Servant from the list, as the last two (being just another form of laborer) are redundant  and the first is fairly useless (from both an objective and subjective point of view). I’ve corrected the previous post in this series to reflect that.

88f146693383a192917c400ad51eac4cAcademic: A Trade that covers a wide variety of subjects of a book-learning nature, from sciences like Astronomy or Engineering, to liberal arts like History and Poetry, and everything in between. Can be used to recall  knowledge, do research or impress others who find such things impressive (i.e. other academics).

At character generation, Academics gain 1 Expertise in this Trade without having to reduce their Rank. They start with D6 Books on various subjects.

Example Expertise: History, Engineering, Poetry

Aristocrat: This ‘Trade’ covers all the knowledge necessary to maneuver through high society, including knowledge of societal ranks, manners, and activities (like hunting, dancing, riding, etc.).

At character generation, an Aristocrat may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Charisma by 1. They start off with Very Fine Clothing, a Fancy Sword, a Thoroughbred Horse and a Servant.

Example Expertise: Dandy, Rake, Intrigue

Banker: Bankers understand everything about money and running financial institutions. This makes them naturally good at math, bookkeeping, financial negotiation and generally increasing wealth.

At character generation, a Banker may reduce may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Wealth by 1. They start off with Fine Clothing, a Money Belt, and a Riding Horse.

Example Expertise: High Finance, Accounting, Bureaucracy

Parson_woodfordeClergy: Members of the Church (the player should signify their denomination). They can use their sermons to inspire, intimidate. They know a great deal about religion (theirs and others) and many have basic knowledge in medicine.

At character generation, Clergy may reduce may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Luck by 1, representing the will of the Almighty to use them (for good or ill). They start off with a Holy Book and the ability to read, write and speak in 1 language for every Rank they have (one of which must be their native tongue).

Example Expertise: Vicar, Monk, Inquisitor

Craftsman: An artisan who makes a specific product, like shoes, barrels, etc. or provides a more general service like blacksmithing or silversmithing (the Judge will determine if your class level fits the work you do).

At character generation, Craftsmen gain 1 Expertise in this Trade (which represents their actual skill) without having to reduce their Rank. Whenever they work outside of this expertise, however, they suffer Disadvantage. They start off with Workman’s Tools specific to their Expertise. If they have Wealth of 3 or more, they also have a place of business and all the necessaries to run it.

Example Expertise: Blacksmith, Wainright, Mason

pic_416156bDoctor: This Trade represents a university trained physician, trained (if not necessarily competent) in all the most modern medical techniques of the day.

At character generation, the Doctor may reduce may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Saavy by 1. They start with a Doctor’s Bag, and Riding Horse.

Example Expertise: Battlefield Surgery, Psychiatry, Coroner

Entertainer: This Trade encompasses any all the entertainment arts, from drama, to music to demonstrations of mental or physical acumen. May be used for performing, creating new content and capturing an audience’s attention.

At character generation, Entertainers gain 1 Expertise in this Trade without having to reduce their Rank. They start with an Entertainer’s Kit that fits their Expertise.

Example Expertise: Acrobat, Actor, Violinistsarah_mapp-the-bone-setter

Healer: This is the lower class version of the Doctor trade, uneducated in modern medicine but wise in the way of folk remedies (“Aye, paraffin and brown paper’ll fix that up right as rain…”) , herb lore, midwifery and the like. They often worked on animals as well, and were well versed in local folklore and gossip.

At character generation, the Healer may reduce may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Luck by 1. They start with a Healer’s Bag and a Knife.

Example Expertise: Plant Lore, Midwifery, Animal Care

Hunter: This is the Trade of game-keepers and poachers alike, and covers the tracking, stalking, shooting/trapping and cleaning of game, as well as living rough.

At character generation, the Hunter may reduce may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Dexterity or Vigor by 1. They start with a Musket, Ammo Pouch, Knife and D6 Small Animal Traps.

Example Expertise: Sharpshooter, Trapper, Tracker

V0020299 A rat-catcher (accompanied by two dogs) carrying a cage of lLaborer: This Trade covers any sort of manual labor, from shovelling dung to serving the aristocracy (which impertinent types might imply is essentially the same thing). Farm laborers, drovers, sweeps, servants, etc., all fall into this category, which covers the ability to get the most done with the least effort as well as the ability to skive off and still get paid. Laborers with Expertise might be actual tradesman with some particular skill for making barrels, laying brick, etc.

At character generation, the Laborer may raise their Strength, Vigor or Mettle by 1. They start off with some sort of basic tool for their work, like a Hammer, Shovel, Servant’s Uniform, etc. If they have an Expertise and at least Rank 3 in Laborer, they are a Tradesman and may have Workman’s Tools for that particular trade.

Example Expertise: Bricklayer, Butler/Maid, Rat-catcher

Landlord: The management of properties, ensuring their maintenance and milking the most profit out of them, is the purview of the Landlord. They might be over a single building, large estate or even an entire Dukedom, but whatever the level, they must manage workers, pursue rents and occasionally act as the local magistrate for internal legal affairs.

A Landlord starts out with a holding to manage based on their Rank and/or class. A Rank of 1 indicates a single building or tenement, while a 5 or more indicates an estate of considerable size. Whether or not they own or simply manage it for another depends on their class and the Judge may increase the size of the holding if the character’s Title entitles them to more.

Example Expertise: Innkeeper, Mill Operator, Work House Owner

06b5953ea954dfa1b6be18266443c4bcLawyer: The Law, and everything to do with it, from trials to contract negotiation, is the domain of this Trade. They are empowered by the government to operate in a court of law.

At character generation, the Lawyer may reduce may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Savvy by 1. They start with a number of Lawbooks equal to D6 x their Lawyer Rank, Lawyer’s Robes and a Powdered Wig.

Example Expertise: Criminal, Contract, Military

Merchant: Buying, selling and arranging the transfer of goods, across the country or across the globe, is handled by the humble merchant, who must be highly organized, mathematically minded, able to quickly evaluate the value of any object, and an expert haggler.

At character generation, the Lower Class Merchant starts with 1 Wealth rating in Trade Goods, a Wagon to carry them in, and a Draught Horse to pull the wagon. Merchants in the Middle Class start with a Warehouse, their Merchant rating in Trade Goods and a full wagon train to carry them. Upper Class Merchant’s have Warehouses (complete with land transport and D6 Wealth in Trade Goods each) and Ships equal to their Merchant Rating.

Example Expertise: Clothier, Spices, Sutler90cb567161f97547930377a99d2e673d

Rogue: Pickpockets, burglars, cutthroats, swindlers and all the other villainous scum that populate the lower class slums of every major city in Great Britain, as well as the horse thieves, vagabonds, gypsies and charlatans that haunt the countryside, as well.

At character generation, the Rogue gains 1 Expertise in this Trade without having to reduce their Rank, to represent their main criminal vocation. They start off with Rogue’s Tools for that Expertise.

Example Expertise: Fence, Forger, Highwayman

Sailor: Covers a knowledge of river, lake and sea, how to traverse them, whether in small boats or as a member of the crew of a larger trading vessel or ship of the line, and live off of them.

At character generation, the Sailor may reduce may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Thews or Vigor by 1. They start with a Club and a Bottle of Spirits. There is a 4 in 6 chance that they know how to swim.

Example Expertise: Gunner, Navigator, Shipwright

napoleonicwarsSoldier: Marching, fighting, shooting, living rough and working regulations to best advantage are all part of a soldier’s life. The enlisted ranks will also be well versed in digging trenches, building emplacements and other sorts of menial military labor.

At character generation, the Soldier may raise their Thews, Vigor or Mettle by 1. Enlisted start with a Musket, Ammo Pouch, BackpackUniform and Hat – Shako. Officers start with a Fine Uniform and Hat – Bicorne.

Example Expertise: Artillery, Cavalry, Light Infantry

Spy: This Trade is not one gained through normal channels. It represents a character who specifically works for His Royal Majesty’s government to root out information on some particular form of enemy, foreign or domestic. From street level informants in the London underworld, to master spies in Spain, seeking advantage for their armies and countering the agents of the enemy, they are masters of stealthy infiltration, the acquisition of secrets and the knife in the back.

At character generation, the Spy may take another Trade at Rank 1 as a cover. This cover may be of any class equal to less than the Spy’s birth class. They start with whatever equipment their cover starts with, as well as a Poignard, Spyglass, and Falsified Documents.

Example Expertise:  Disguise, Infiltration, Seduction

William Pitt from Posthumous memoirs of his own time by Nathaniel Wraxall V2 1836Statesman: Politicians, diplomats and attaches to the royal court, those with this Trade are master negotiators with some real world authority and/or power, which they wield as effortlessly in the halls of Parliament as they do the drawing rooms of high society, and everywhere in between.

Statesmen who have a Peerage may sit in the House of Lords. Statesmen who can afford to sit in the House of Commons (Wealth 4 or better), or can find someone who will financially support their candidacy, may run for election to do so.

At character generation, the Statesman may reduce a single Attribute by 1 to raise their Charisma by 1.

Example Expertise: Diplomacy, Intimidation, Truth Detection

EXPERTISE

You may pick an Expertise for your Trade by reducing it one Rank (to a minimum of 1). You gain Advantage on any roll for which your Expertise applies. Each Trade will have a few examples of Expertise that might be chosen, but the Judge may allow others if they consider them narrow enough to be useful in a few specific circumstances.

LORD-BYRON-RELAXING-AT-HOMELITERACY

Characters in the Upper and Middle Classes are assumed to have had at least some schooling and know how to read, write and do basic math.

Those in the Lower Class will be largely illiterate, however, unless they have a Trade that the Judge determines gives them the ability (like Merchant or Entertainer – Actor).

The chance of literacy for everyone else in the Lower Class is 1 in 6.

LANGUAGES

A character may roll 2D6 and add their Savvy Rank: they know a number of additional languages equal to the result – 12. They must justify each language they take to the Judge’s satisfaction and he may decide to limit them to a lesser number of languages or simply declare that they only speak their own.

FINIS

So now we know who your character is and what they do. From this point we can take the information we have and use it to derive some purely mechanical info for use in the game, which we will do in the next post…

Donjons & Dragoons: Characters Part 2…

Welsh-OfficerAfter some noodling on the cultural aspects of the character from the last post, I’ve settled on the following characteristics,,,

Émigré: Hanoverian Germans, American Loyalists and other exiles from countries allied against the UK, who are serving in the British army. Gain Advantage when fighting against their kinsmen who side against the British, and when scouting, spying, or navigating within their homeland. Allied forces will also gain Advantage in marching and counter-marching within the Émigré’s home territory, so long as they are with them and actively advising.

Welsh: The Welsh gain Advantage on any rolls involving singing, statesmanship and seduction.

Irish: The ‘Luck of the Irish’ gives the starting Irish character +1 Luck. They suffer Disadvantage, however, whenever dealing socially with the English and Welsh, or when rolling to maintain order and discipline on the battlefield.

Scottish: Scotsmen gain Advantage on any roll to maintain battlefield discipline and order. Conversely, the fearsome reputation of the Highland warriors imposes a Disadvantage to the same on any battlefield enemy against which they march or charge. They are very thrifty, however, and suffer Disadvantage when making Wealth rolls, as their frugal temperament will often work against them when spending money, especially with those who refuse to haggle.

As you can see, not all of the cultures are equally disadvantaged. There is, for example, no disadvantage to being an Émigré or Welsh, and the Scottish are at less of a disadvantage than the Irish. One commentator mentioned to me that the Welsh are essentially the ‘elves’ of this game (which I find appropriate considering Tolkien’s love of the Welsh language and culture), but without level caps, like OD&D.

This is intentional and represents the under-representation of those ‘races’ on our chart (the chance of being welsh is only 4%, for example). This was not an uncommon method for ‘balancing’ results back in the day, and much preferable (IMO) to allowing direct choice of race and then ‘hobbling’ the character in some other way.

TO THE MANOR BORN…

The next part of our character design process concerns three things very important to Georgian society: class, titles and wealth.

KCS067This is also very important for our RPG, for it is what sets it apart from the standard wargame and makes it something special. We might know that our miniature officer in a table-top wargame of Napoleonics is almost certainly a wealthy noble due to the expense of purchasing a commission in the British Army, but the rules don’t really encourage us, mechanically, to explore his background in any way. He is just one more piece on the battlefield.

One might go as far as to name him, come up with an imaginary personality for him and even record his exploits, if he is particularly lucky or involved in memorable engagements during a campaign (as the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson was wont to do), but it is all a simple personal fiction, made up as the player wishes, with no real interactive/game structure or balance. Our miniature officer could be royalty, have come up from the ranks for some imagined past act of bravery or have the assistance of a lucky faerie companion, if the player so chooses to describe it that way. But whatever the description, it is all made up after the fact and doesn’t change the actual rules of the game one whit.

In an RPG, however, such things are of great import to playing the character and the rules reflect it. The child of a Peer will be a very different character from that of the street urchin who joined the ranks to escape crushing poverty, for example. He will have a mechanical advantage in situations of society and wealth, but is unlikely to possess the toughness and roguish skills of his streetwise counterpart.

The following rules present a bit more complexity than that used to create characters in OD&D, but531001_400433280025300_1590190270_n I think that this is one of those areas of design in which Luther, a literature professor, would differ from Gygax, whose game was essentially, at it’s heart, still very much a wargame in the traditional sense. OD&D characters were given attributes, a career class (which often served as their name as well) and some equipment, but rarely a backstory in those early days. They were characters in the sense that they were named individuals, but they still remained largely playing pieces (albeit, ones with much more agency) and the player was more like the Greek gods of old, guiding their mortal pawn and watching them live or dice by the throw of the cosmic dice, than actors playing a role.

In stark contrast, I think Luther would have created a more narrative style of gaming right out of the gate, something that would have drawn from the SCA tradition of playing the character in a more dramatic, immersive sense, with primitive systems to support such play. And that would start with Step 3 in the character creation process…

3. ROLL STANDINGS

There are three Standings in Donjons & Dragoons: Class, in the social hierarchy sense; Titles, which are specific, awarded ranks within that hierarchy; and Wealth, an abstract measure of your purchasing power.

CLASS

Determining your birth class is a two step process, determining your overall societal rank followed by your position in that rank. This is important because it not only gives you a starting Wealth rating, and a starting Trade, but also because it give you a greater sense of the what kind of life your character lived before taking up their current adventures (something that will be elaborated on in the rulebook).

Table_Class_UKAristocracy: Your character’s father is, or was, a Peer or the child of a Peer, possibly of royal blood. They may inherit a title upon his death, assuming they are the eldest surviving son (see TITLES, below).

Take ONE of the following Trades at a rank equal to the character’s starting Charisma: Aristocrat, Sailor, or Soldier.

Thomas_Gainsborough_-_Mr_and_Mrs_AndrewsLanded Gentry: The character’s father is, or was, a member of the lesser nobility (a Baronet or Knight) or a wealthy landowner of means. They will receive no hereditary title from him, but may inherit his lands and wealth.

Take ONE of the following Trades at a rank equal to the character’s starting Savvy: Landlord, Sailor, Soldier.

Upper Middle: The character comes from well to do parents who have provided them with a top notch education that can lead into a variety of professions.

Take ONE of the following Trades at a rank equal to the character’s starting Savvy: Academic (Professor), Banker, Clergy, Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Sailor, Soldier or Statesman.

Lower Middle:  The character’s parents owned a thriving business of respectable size that required long hours to support, but also provided a comfortable living and, possibly. a decent education for their offspring.

Take ONE of the following Trades at a rank equal to the character’s starting Savvy: Academic (Teacher), Clergy, Entertainer, Landlord, Lawyer, Merchant, Sailor, Soldier or Statesman.

Lesser Freeholder: The character’s parents owned an inn, shop, public house, farmstead or other small, common business, which everyone in the family labored at constantly to support. There weren’t much in creature comforts, but it made a stable living.

Take ONE of the following Trades at a rank equal to the character’s starting Vigor: Clergy, Craftsman, Entertainer, Healer, Laborer, Merchant, Sailor or Soldier.

V0020299 A rat-catcher (accompanied by two dogs) carrying a cage of lLaborer: The character is a common laborer or craftsman, working for an established business owner, working as a servant, or travelling from odd job to odd job.

Take ONE of the following Trades at a rank equal to the character’s starting Vigor: Craftsman, Entertainer, Healer, Hunter, Laborer, Rogue, Sailor or Soldier.

Poor/Orphan: The character was born extremely poor, living a meager existence on the streets helping to support their family, orphaned and forced to grow up in a work-house, or as part of a criminal gang. Some young children are scooped up by the military at an early age to serve as drummer boys, ship’s boys and powder monkeys.

Take ONE of the following Trades at a rank equal to the character’s starting Vigor: Entertainer, Hunter, Laborer, Rogue, Soldier, or Sailor.

TITLE

If your character is male and has a father with the title of Baron or greater, he may inherit his father’s title and the lands. It all depends on his Birth Order and his Father’s (and possibly Grandfather’s) Status.

Birth Order: Roll a D6 to determine how many male children are in the family. Then roll a second D6 and subtract it from the first. If the total is 1 or less, the character is the eldest son. Otherwise, the result will determine their actual place.

Father’s Status: Roll on Table UK3A: Peerage, to determine your father’s rank.

Table_Peerage_UKNext, roll a D6. If the result is 1 or 2, the character’s father has passed and the eldest son inherits his title and full Wealth rating.

Grandfather’s Status: If the character’s father is the son of a Peer, then his grandfather holds the title and his father is in line for it. If this is the case, determine the grandfather’s title (as above) and then the father’s birth order (as above) to determine his place in the line of succession.

Female Titles: If your character is a female member of a noble family, her title is dependent on the title of her husband, if she is married.

Roll 2D6 and add the ladies Charisma rating. On a result of 12 or more, she is already married and should roll on the Marriage Class table below to determine her husband’s Title (and hers, if any), as well as her starting Wealth (which replaces that of her Birth)

A Note on Female Characters

Now, one of the things that had occurred to me when trying to imagine the impact of this game replacing OD&D in the history of RPGs is the place of women in the growth of the hobby. The fantasy milieu of that game was certainly more friendly to women characters than the historical Georgian era. Would Lee sharpes-goldGold, for example, have become such an avid role-player if her character was so restricted as indicated by the rules above? More importantly, would Luther have considered the place of women in gaming as he wrote the rules?

I’m going to have to do more research on the subject to definitively answer this, but my experience and gut instinct tell me that there would be some allowance made for female adventurers in such a setting. After all, outside of the obvious female partisans and assorted spies and provocateurs, there were also ‘wild women’ of the aristocracy who did precisely what they wanted, when they wanted to.

But aside from that, I think that there is wide scope for stories told outside of the war, in the style of Jane Austen and Tolstoy, where the war is a backdrop to courtly maneuvers and high society shenanigans. This would be addressed in a later supplement, Airs & Aristocracy, and include rules for running a game where the action switches from the war, to the halls and drawing rooms of power, and back again, with players running different characters in both areas whose actions can affect each other, as in War & Peace. Considering his love for Tolstoy, I think this form of troupe play would be very much on Luther’s mind as designed the game.

WEALTH

bc47b906403f7f92dbd400652ec3c972Luther being a professor of literature, not accounting, would have absolutely 0 interest in keeping track of money down to the farthing. In most literature, wealth is depicted less in terms of actual coinage and more in terms of description. You know, for example, that a character is rich by the many frills on their uniform, the quality of their horse, the silver filigree on their fancy, rifled pistols and the fact that they have servants waiting on them hand and foot. Likewise, a character with a shabby, patched uniform, dung on his boots and an outdated blunderbuss is clearly a peasant with nowt to his name.

Wealth in Donjons & Dragoons, then, will be based on a rating, just like an attribute, and represents raw purchasing power. A 0 represents no source of income, with only a few farthings to one’s name, while 6 represents massive land holdings and investments that are rarely found outside the coffers of a King.

Our class (or marriage class, in the case of noble women) provided us with a base Wealth Rating. This is now modified by a roll of 2D6 on the chart below:

Table_WealthMod_UKA negative modifier might represent family debts, poor management, or reckless spending that has reduced the character’s income below the normal level. A positive modifier might represent hard earned savings, or a sudden influx of wealth from battlefield plunder, political appointment, etc., so even a common Private in the army might have a tidy sum socked away in the hem of his clothes if he gets lucky (like many of those at Vitoria, where soldiers ‘liberated’ the modern equivalent of $128m from the French baggage train). Whether he can keep it is another thing, entirely…

MANNERS MAKETH MAN

So at this point, one should have a fairly good idea of where their character comes from and under what circumstances they live their life. From these seeds, the rulebook will encourage them to flesh out the history of their character. As we will see later in character generation and combat, characters have a much greater life expectancy in this game than OD&D (through a form of narrative immunity/plot armor), so such detail, which would seem extravagant for a character who might fall into a pit and die a few minutes after entering their first dungeon, is well worth the effort in Donjons & Dragoons.

Next up, we will discuss Trades, Qualities and assigning characters a Rank and Unit…

 

Donjons & Dragoons: Characters Part 1…

This is the first part of what will be a number of articles on creating a character in Donjons & Dragoons. In this post, we’ll look at the physical and mental aspects of the character.

THE GENETIC LOTTERY…

324f1b56b00ba82198b44011c1a4cf79In real life, we do not get to choose the circumstances of our birth, only what we do when opportunity presents itself. And while being incredibly choosy about the how’s, where’s and why’s of our characters is pretty much the rule in these ‘enlightened’ times, it was much more of an exception to the rule in the early days of game design. Characters, in those days, rarely took more than a few scant minutes to whip up, as most of the design decisions were left to random chance.

This would make perfect sense to Maxwell Luther. For one thing, Georgian society was highly stratified, and one’s choices in life were largely determined by their birth. And even more importantly for a professor of literature, many literary protagonists are considered heroic precisely because they overcome low birth and personal flaws, and aspire towards greatness. As such, he would likely trust most of the character generation decisions to dice and reference tables in order to quickly create the widest variety of potential protagonists for his adventures.

Some decisions will be made by the player, but these will be largely narrative in nature, taking the raw mechanical information and using it to develop a fully fledged character. Other design decisions, like assigning them to a unit, will be made by the Judge, to better allow him to fit the character into his campaign. Both parties can, of course, agree to choose results that make sense for the stories they want to play or tell, but those sorts of options will be covered in the Captain & Campaigns booklet, and the roll of the dice will be considered the default method of character generation.

Character generation is a six step process, and today we will look at steps 1 and 2, which cover your physical, mental, spiritual and cultural makeup.

1. ROLL ATTRIBUTES

The characters physical, mental and ‘spiritual’ traits are the first order of business in character generation.

There are seven Attributes, each rated from 0 to 6, with 0 representing complete inability in that area, and 6 representing the peak of human ability. The Attributes are:

dbefdd9efa6ebaa09366d1cd85838f67Thews: Physical strength and muscular endurance. I use ‘Thews’ instead of the more pedestrian ‘Strength’ because it has a more literary flair that I think would appeal to Luther. Many heroic protagonists from classical literature are often imbued with ‘mighty thews,’ so it has a nice ring to it.

Vigor: Physical energy or power; vitality. The classic Endurance stat, again, using a more colorful word.

Dexterity: Skill or adroitness in using the hands or body; agility.

Savvy: Intelligence. Not as a result of education (although that might enhance critical thinking skills to a degree), but natural cleverness, raw cunning and mental dexterity

Charisma: That certain special something, positive or negative, that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people.

Mettle: This represents the character’s courage, spirit, mental toughness and discipline under pressure.

Luck: Napoleon is often quoted as saying something along the lines of “I would rather have lucky generals than smart ones,” and from a soldiers point of view, the great battles of history have been decided as much by luck as strategic genius (Wellington admitted as much after the battle of Waterloo). It is certainly true that literary heroes depend on the (strangely focused) attentions of Lady Luck to survive and prosper, as our characters will.

Attributes are generated, in order, by rolling 3D6 on the chart below:

Attributes

As you can see, I’ve weighted the table towards 3, which is the heroic average, meant for characters, the protagonists of our game. A rating of 2 would be average for non-player characters. You’ll also notice the table only goes up to 5, not 6. This is because your birth may influence your attributes in either direction (as might your Trades).

2. ROLL YOUR CULTURE

The focus of Men & Muskets will be on creating character from the United Kingdom (Book 2: Captains & Campaigns will introduce rules for Spanish and Portuguese characters, and later supplements will cover the rest of the world). As such, characters may be of English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish descent. This is determined by the roll of a 3D6:

Culture-Table

If the percentages seem odd to you, I assure you they’re fairly accurate based upon the population and army composition levels of the era. The Irish, for example, had a large presence within the ranks of the British army, and the Scottish regiments were often bolstered with non-Scots due to recruitment shortages from the comparatively tiny Scottish population. The Émigré category covers Hanoverian Germans, American Loyalists, and all of the other oddball national and cultural exiles that fill out the corners of the British army.

9695a40bc5f27fb49c485e5be3102cd1Some of the totals have been jiggered in one direction or the other for various reasons, both historical and practical. The Welsh, for example are over-represented, and the English slightly underrepresented due to the vagaries of the 3D6 probability curve, as well as the need to generate military and non-military characters based on general population, not just military population.

Each culture has it’s benefits and drawbacks, based more on literary tradition than actual, historical fact (an area I think Luther and the general wargaming community would have disagreed vociferously on), with the English treated as the ‘default race,’ i.e. ‘humans’ in OD&D, with no boons or flaws, mechanically speaking.

The specific ‘race’ rules are still a work in process and subject to change, as I’m torn between sticking with general modifiers (+1 Mettle, -1 Luck, etc.), coming up with unique rules exceptions (like the OD&D Dwarven abilities to detect sloping passages and fight giants with +1 to-hit and -1 AC) or some mix of the two. So more on those later.

Next up, we look at the social circumstances of one’s birth…

 

 

 

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…

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