Levels or skills should advance when they are used, but Basic roleplaying (Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, etc.) makes it awfully slow, while Burning Wheel’s approach requires inelegant tables and book-keeping and system mastery.
The idea is: For each class or skill write a list of fictional actions.
So, for fighter in old school game:
- Fight a superior foe
- Fight against superior numbers
- Protect an ally in combat
- Avenge someone close to you (kill the orcs who burned your father’s farm, say)
- Recover an ancestral weapon or piece of armour
- Use an ancestral weapon or piece of armour
- Recover a weapon or piece of armour of legendary status
- Use legendary equipment
- Slay a beast of legend
- Lead an army
- Survive a siege
- Be the master of a company of mercenaries
- Conquer a castle
- Establish a stronghold
- Keep a stronghold
Whenever an action is accomplished, mark it.
Once you have marks equal to next level or rank, erase all marks and increase the level or rank by one.
Note that the list includes things that fighters do, and likewise people who do those things are fighters, to some extent at least. At low leves fighter only need to fulfill their role in the party, while at high levels they need to build a legend of their own and influence the world in order to advance.
As a further bonus, this gives a nice way of estimating NPC strength. See how many things you mark, and that is an upper bound for their level. How many things they certainly have marked at the same time? That’s the lower bound. Lord of a castle in an area of constant warfare certainly has led an army, survived a siege and kept a stronghold at the same time (so level at least three), but may also have conquered a castle, led mercenaries, protected an ally in combat, fought against superior numbers and against a superior foe and avenged someone close (so at most level nine).
It is easy to change the conditions and at the same time change what fighters are in the setting, and who are fighters in the setting.
For further complexity, training: Obviously it could be yet another action. But maybe it is automatically erased when the character stops training. Otherwise, better action would be to train under famous/more skilled/legendary master.
Or consider: Add some actions that depend on character race or alignment.
Or: Have players build the list when starting play, or adding a new entry at the beginning of each session, or when someone levels up that class or skill.
There’s some limitations, of course. You would not want to do this in a game system with huge list of skills, or then you would have to have each character only develop a handful at a time.
Skill reduction can be handled like this, too. Write one action, or several actions, or absences of actions. When they are marked, the player has the option of reducing the skill or class level in question. If the players opts to do so, then they get some compensation equal to the marked actions and the marks are erased. Some tokens, say.
Similar rules: Magical items in Earthdawn (IIRC), keys in Solar system (the reduction is buy-off), this thread about Dungeon world.
In other news
I’m running two Amber games at Tracon (if there are players – last year it was an anime convention with some roleplayers huddling in a corner) and maybe giving away some rpg and maybe fantasy books I no longer use.
There has been several updates and one playtest of diceless/nopaton, which now lives on Google docs. It is still in Finnish. The major change is that now there are some principles for playing it. And there is rotating player (and hence game masters, sort of).
I developed the ideas of previous post a bit, cleaned them up, and wrote them down in Finnish. It is not done yet. It is free of copyright, so do whatever you will with or to it. Here’s the link: diceless
WordPress does not allow uploading .tex or .txt files, so if you want the .tex source for the PDF, feel free to ask. You can then recreate the PDF with LaTeX and easily modify it, change the appearance, remove the aesthetically unpleasing hyperlinks, or whatever you want to.
I also have two other PDFs that may have content of interest. I have not really worked on them for a while, and if I do so, it will include rewriting and in case of the old school project redesign from scratch. The projects are scifi material for Solar System (in Finnish) and yet another attempt at old school system (in English). Links: huomisenvarjot and OSrpg. A fair warning: The writing and presentation are horrible. These are more first drafts than anything else.
As previously, the .tex and .bib (bibliography) files are available on request.
Now I’m off to meet relatives and then to Ropecon, where I’m running one throne war of Amber diceless and one town of Dogs. Back online after a bit more than a week.
We did indeed play Burning Wheel old school style. I had a number of pregenerated characters, seven I think, and there were five players. I had built the characters so that a number of them had specific drives; locations or non-player characters. There was a duel of wits to determine where to go and the result was, as the fate had it, death frost doom.
First, I’ll describe our play a bit; then, some of what happened in and under the cabin.
The player characters were a knowledge-seeking sorcerer, a haughty knight, a ranger whose family had been killed by orcs (traditional D&D character if there ever was one), an overconfident and mad monster hunter from the wastes and a doctor who could talk to birds and insects. They started in a tavern (the name of which I recall no more; maybe Broken boot?) and, after talking about where to head next (we used duel of wits; there were preciously few dueling skills around the table, so untrained duel of wits) consulted the skies to see if this was the proper time for such traveling and tried recruiting some people; indeed, they managed to find one guardsman willing to travel with them. The circles roll was a failure, so I decided this NPC is a traitor. This NPC was, to some amusement, named Regdar. Onwards, then.
Since the DoW was a major compromise, they decided to travel to the Whitecap mountain, but first check out where the goblin hideout was. The orienteering was an abject failure: seven or eight dice, obstacle three, two successes. So there was getting lost and a bandit ambush. Here I chickened out, having only two bandits in the woods and Regdar make the attempt to rob the characters. It did not end well.
Lesson learned: Use credible threats. They can take it; else, they will perish. Now I have pretty much forced myself to create an incompetent bandit leader as a NPC. Too bad. Regdar lived and will have his revenge. Or make a fair attempt at it, at least.
With one bandit as a prisoner and another dead, and one mage now armoured in leather and plated leather breastplate, the party continued onwards. This my complication of choice for that failed orienteering roll, so I let it ride and had them reach the mountain. There they encountered the strange guy living in the woods. Some talk and dinner later they continued onwards, after punching the old geezer. (I did not get to deliver the tasty line, since death was not at line. A pity.)
The cabin and the underground complex of doom (and death and frost)
Inside the cabin they, in no particular order, made a fire, burned a tapestry/painting, destroyed a clock, the sorcerer stole the book of names (but did not read it, just snatched the damn thing, as per his instinct) and finally moved down to the temple. Again, in no particular order, there was walking on faces of stone, messing with doors, grabbing a skeletal hand or two, playing with the organ and stealing something from the altar. Three characters died, two lived. I refer any who own the adventure to read the back cover.
The atmosphere was quite good, though one player did not help the matter. One player actually commented that he was expecting more monsters, so, Jim, your design works as intended.
I will try to organise more of these sessions, as this I count as success, even though few, if any, of the players had played together before this.
I will need to start naming things and drawing my map on paper; as is, it is firmly located in my head, but not drawn anywhere. Further, I will need to name places and things. The city, in particular, needs a name.
To transfer the characters to BW wiki or forums would also be useful.
This is a game I want to run some day. Maybe next Saturday, but probably later.
There is a bunch of kingdoms, fighting as they ever do, but also occasionally financing explorers to distant lands. There is a great waste west of the known kingdoms; there are few barbarians, some stunted people, a number of ancient ruins and scores of monsters there (or say the rumours). Some explorers discovered ways through the waste: An oasis here, a deserted town with a well there, easy passage through rocky wasteland somewhere else.
The remarkable things is what was found on the other side: There’s more waste, of course, but there is also a great sea, rolling hills and steppes, a range of mountains that separates the waste from the great forest further to west. Further, a walled city of no small proportions was found, deserted and with no sign of where the original residents are.
Rumours of the discovered new land quickly spread and across the waste many traveled. Now the once-dead city has plenty of life and the surrounding wilderness is slowly tamed. Yet there are tales of monsters, of ancient tombs and caverns, of unexplained vanishings of children in the streets and of strange foreign cults to vile gods. Many claim to have witnessed some or much of these mysteries. Furthermore, there are visitors from the sea: people of foreign appearance and language who trade in goods and slaves, sometimes even settling in the city born anew. They bring rumours of the past: A curse and deadly diseases.
Enter player characters. For whatever reason, they are in the city born anew. They are desperate for money, noble and idealistic, seeking power, or simply curious. They will brave the dangers that threaten the city from without and within. Maybe they will live to list their deeds and boast.
System of choice for this game is Burning Wheel, as the quick-witted and cultured among my readers might have already guessed. No experience with the rules is necessary; there will even be pre-generated characters. If you are not familiar with the rules, you may wish to skip to the game-wise section.
Three lifepath characters, exponent cap of 5 (four for sorcery, faith, etc.). Should stat or attribute exceed this, -5 and make it grey (in particular, faith B4 or G1; I heartily recommend B4). Available lifepaths are those in the red book, waste wanderers from the wiki and LPs in Magic Burner when and only when the book is brought to the game; I don’t own it, at least yet. Human characters only (for now; other stocks may be encountered by adventuring and be made available as PC races thereby). Gifted separately for different schools of magic (alchemy included in any) and separate magical skill for art magic, practical magic and standard sorcery with abstractions. Death art is a skill. The faithful should have some idiom and some deity corresponding to it; player’s responsibility, though I keep veto power in case of inappropriateness.
For beliefs, I recommend having one that motivates general adventuring; earning lots of money, arcane power, ancient secrets, or maybe glory and fame. One should be about specific monster, NPC, item or adventuring location; feel free to name the monster, NPC, item or adventuring location; I will cope. The third one can be about whatever; do keep in mind that the cast of player characters will not be static.
The rules for finding the path are in use; basically, locations are handled as relationships and finding them is similar to rolling circles.
This game does not require a stationary set of players or characters. Participate when you feel like it. I am willing to run the game whenever I have some time and some players (one or more); I may initiate a game as may any players; simply tell me the time and what you intend to do, so that I can prepare the location, if necessary, or create/convert monsters or NPCs.
I will have pre-generated characters that are somewhat capable of adventuring, if not outright optimised, but you are encouraged to bring a pre-burned character if you have the books. You can, the entire group willing, focus on adventuring outside, within, or below the city, or even in the nearby islands; Duels of Wits (social resolution system of BW) about adventuring locations are a fine means of solving the issue, but do inform me ahead of time where you intend to go. Getting to adventure locations is nontrivial; orienteering, sailing/navigation, or streetwise are useful skills. Moving in a party is recommended, but not a required.
I will prepare the adventuring locations to some detail; likely as not, this means using stuff found on the ‘net interpreted through BW lens. If I am not given suitable information on the plans of the party, then I will not prepare and the quality of the game is likely to decrease, as sandbox play requires some preparation to feel authentic and rooted. Note that players may use wises, circles and other relevant mechanics as normal: If I have decided why an NPC died and you want to roll murder-wise to know that it was the butler but it was not, then I will let you know that I have decided who the killer is and you may roll the wise to find out.
Players are encouraged to draw maps, write game reports, and generally communicate with each other. You can keep your characters or I can keep them; if me, than I will try to transfer into electronic format, probably on the BW wiki.
Burning Wheel is not a simple game and is very character-focused, so this is very much an experiment, but one that I am eager to try.
I will further write mechanical implementations or sketches thereof to some goblin spells, especially for my dungeoncrawling game. Also, I hereby release the rules of the dungeoncrawling game (particularly their presentation) into public domain.
Born of fear and mud
Should it be so that some dark corner, or alley, or woods, or perhaps even cave is feared and dark rumours abound, there will, sooner or later, be a goblin there. Maybe goblins are born of these rumours, or maybe the rumours of the goblins.
Once born, goblins will do as their nature makes them to: Cruel tricks and stealing people, particularly children, is their calling and source of mirth. Should a number of goblins live together for a while, a shaman will emerge and a pit of mud will be constructed, if suitable one does not exist yet.
Captured children are thrown into the pit, only to emerge as ugly goblins, much like those who created them. Captured adults are cast in and emerge as ogres, deformed monsters and mockeries of their former selves, small-minded, aggressive and brutish.
Goblins are demonic, or feyish, in nature, and some have sorcerous abilities. Not all do, and they are not equally adept at their use. Shamans are naturally the undisputed masters of these arts.
Goblins are born of fear and can use it against their foes. A goblin can, in lieu of surprise attack, (attempt to) scare its foes. Everyone surprised by the goblin must resist it; those that fail are affected as though affected by normal fear effects. If any opponent succeeds, the goblin is also affected by a fear effect as though victim to its own power.
Boo! does not work in proper daylight or lighting of equivalent quality. Other goblins can hear one yelling Boo! over great distances, and they are curious creatures…
For my dungeoncrawly game: Roll magic versus magic, each target resist individually, effect as though the fear spell. Typically a number of goblins equal to magic result of the one invoking Boo! come to investigate at their leisure.
Burning Wheel: Will versus will, with steel test being the fear effect.
D&D 3rd: Will save DC 10 + 1/2 HD + charisma modifier of the goblin saying Boo!, failure means being frightened for d6 rounds. Shaken if you want the goblins to not be infuriating opponents. Either way, if anyone succeeds, the goblin is frightened. Spell-like ability, takes a standard action.
Goblins can open doors from and to dark places, partially disregarding the distance between such places. They are so small that adults must grouch or even crawl to enter one and look like poorly made. There is typically a short winding tunnel after such a door, containing at least one corner such that it is impossible to see the entry and exit points of the tunnel at the same time. At the end of the tunnel there is another similar door, which opens somewhere else. Typical goblin door disappears once closed or left unattended and further it is impossible to turn around after losing sight of the entry door (going back is the same thing as going forward).
When opening a door one must imagine the location where the other side is supposed to be (and tell it to the GM, if appropriate). Most of the time the door opens to the desired location or at least to that direction; sometimes the unexpected happens, for which is the following random chart. Roll a suitable die.
- Oops: The other side of the door is the spawning place of the goblin this sorcery was used or taught by.
- Long ways to go: Traversing the tunnel takes d6 hours.
- Goblins: d4 goblins are lurking within the tunnel, just in case you would happen to wander through.
- Horror: An undead, demon, spirit, or some shadowy beast is lurking within the tunnel, preying upon unwary passengers.
- Shadows: Travellers are cursed to see everything as though it was night at all times. No light is bright enough, no colours distinct.
- Shadowy sight: Travellers can henceforth see in dim light as well as cats.
- Reduction: Travellers are gradually turned to size of the goblinkin.
- Permanency: The doors and the tunnel is permanent.
- U-turn: The exit point of the door is the same as the entry point.
- Scared: When leaving the tunnel the one who opened the door casts Boo! on the others who are treated as surprised.
- Infused: When leaving the tunnel one character with little magical or mental ability acquires some and can henceforth open a goblin door at will.
- Roll twice, apply both results if possible, else use the nastier one.
Dungeoncrawling game: After having entered the tunnel and moved so that returning is no longer a possibility, roll magic; on roll of anything but 1, the maximum distance the tunnel can cover is 20 metres multiplied by magic roll; on roll of 1, game master rolls a d12 and consults the chart. (Reduction is likely to reduce might of the character to around half; infusion gives +1 magic and goblin door at will to one character with lowest magic attribute.)
Burning Wheel: Roll will, count successes, no successes is botch, otherwise distance covered is in the ballpark of 20 metres per success. Becoming smaller reduces power by 1 and gives power cap of 6. Being infused gives a character with lowest will some custom trait that goblins have and access to goblin door. Else treat goblin door as a natural magic skill related to will.
D&D 3rd: Wisdom check DC 5 to avoid mishap, 1 is always a mishap, otherwise distance traveled equals 10 metres * check result. Shadows and shadowy sight mean dim light and low-light vision, respectively. Reduction as though being reduced to small size. Neutralise with any spell that can remove curses. Infusion gives/increases inherent bonus to charisma by 1 and gives goblin doors at will. To determine who it affects, take the highest mental score of the characters and then take the lowest of these. That’s the character you are looking for. Spell-like ability, but full-round action to open the door.
Goblins are vile monsters, but also willing to help humans and others, for a price. Here’s a list of services they might grant and of prices they might ask. They are not very reliable trading partners, either, and will weasel out of an agreement if able to. Goblin traders are typically shamans out of favour within a nearby settlement.
- Equipment the goblin happens to have, typically of poor quality – As much coins as they think you have; you would not be dealing with them if you had good choices, so better milk the situation for all it is worth.
- Training against opponents the goblins are threatened by (say, kobolds) – Beard of a dwarf or delicious, fresh ears of an elf, or something similar.
- Boo! at will – One live adult, subdued.
- Goblin door at will – One live child, subdued.
Goblin magic is, I feel, suited for old school play. I doubt it would work very well with encounter-based D&D play, for example, being utterly broken and too unpredictable.
I’d love to add stats for older editions of D&D, but I don’t have the rules for any.
Everything not keyed to rules of BW or D&D is released into public domain. The intro text is not, though.
D7 wrote about the care and feeding of random encounters. Here’s some examples of what I have been doing in my current dungeoncrawly game.
The game practically relies on random encounters. There are few creatures here and there that are not part of encounter tables, but anything that moves around is a wandering monster. I have separate encounter table for different locations and in one case, entries to a particular location.
Of gaming and risk management
The background story is that a bunch of people survived the end of the world, escaping to the expansive network of caves and tunnels wherein the fantastic exists. Right now there are a total of 26 characters the players more-or-less control.
They have some conflicting needs; it is necessary to defend the noncombatants. It is likewise necessary to explore surroundings and try to make sense of the underworld. This means that it is necessary to split the group of 26 people; around five characters at a time have gone exploring or fighting or whatever.
Wandering creatures are the reason for having capable guardians keeping the noncombatants safe. (Alleged invisible flying monster fluttering among the people is another.) From this follow two characteristics of these encounters: Certain creatures should be encountered pretty often; a small chance of really random stuff is also useful.
A lair of wolves implies frequent encounters with wolves (unless they are wiped out or prevented from entering or such). This is just common sense, and also lets players figure out smart ways of dealing with the recurring visitors. The rare encounters (I have one table roughly titled “monsters”, where there are ten or so random pretty dangerous monsters) are there to add danger and uncertainty to the whole affair. Preparing for the unknown, from player point of view.
Of simulation and realistic environment
Second purpose of random encounters is to simulate something like a dynamic dungeon environment. This particularly means that I need to add more herbivores there. The key is making them somewhat interesting as encounters; natural defenses, potential for being tamed, just plain exotic. I still need to do some work on this subject. Since there is a fairly open area nearby, there will be random creatures of all shapes and many sizes occasionally finding any particular location.
Of story elements and improvisation
Encounters that are close to each other, time-wise, may just be random situations. Or not. If, say, wolves are rolled twice a row to enter the same situation, maybe it is the same pack. Are they chasing something or being chased by something? Perhaps they were successful in their hunt are returning to their lair. The possibilities are even more lucrative when there are civilised creatures involved.
This effect should not be emphasised too much; the game is about exploration and survival, not story improvisation (other games are better for that purpose).
The encounter tables are not etched in stone (I much prefer pen and paper). They should be changed as a result of the game. Player characters exterminated a number of centipedes, so I removed them from the encounter table. If there exist a total of 50 kobolds and 30 of them are killed, rolling for 3d10 kobolds is not smart; make it 2d10 or 3d10, drop lowest. Should a few goblins spot people in their areas and live to tell the tale, the number and frequency of goblins appearing will go up.
These are facts about my game that may or may not be related to my approach on encounter tables.
- Simple monster stats. Here’s a centipede: Might 6, magic 2, poison. Here’s a minotaur: Might 15, magic 2, all damage from charge must be taken by single character. I can improvise these stats at will in play and they will roughly make sense. This means that using encounter tables is utterly fast; I don’t need to browse a manual or write stats downs before play, because I can assign them on spot.
- Lack of planned story: Yeah. Random encounters certainly tend to fit poorly in preplanned stories, especially if there is a mood to convey. Furthermore, it is usually not very interesting to fight a yet another random group of grunts on the way to Borgoria.
- Lack of tactical depth: The combats are not very tactical. I don’t need to carefully plan a location or the opposition to make the combat exciting; combats are fairly quick, most of the time, and pretty brutal. More importantly: They are not the point. (Consequently: No battle maps. Sometimes dice and tokens and pencils masquarading as heroes and monsters and cave walls and whatnot.)
- Several characters: Losing any one character is not something that will kill the game. There are others to play. (Thus far, no character has died, but one was very close.) So, arbitrarily dangerous random encounters do not break the game. An additional consequence is that I can include instakills and paralysis and madness and such with impunity, should it feel useful.
- Not rolling dice unless the options are acceptable: I build the encounter tables, I set the probabilities of encountering something, so I also accept any and every result the dice give. In play I am an arbiter, not someone who tries to challenge the players (or build an interesting story).
Previous Wednesday, me, ksym and wgaztari did some old-fashioned dungeoncrawling. I was the GM. A dungeon was one I had designed some years ago after having read about megadungeon mapping and map design. I had basically designed enough of it to keep running the game for several sessions. There is no map except the one drawn in play, partially be me, partially by the players.
The rules can be found in a wiki: http://dungeonsurvival.pbwiki.com/.
Style of play
A sandbox world; surface destroyed, players play a bunch of survivors trying to survive within a vast network of caves, or more precisely a small portion thereof. There are a total of 26 survivors (25 originally, one more joined in game), 5+1 of them somewhere around 1 or 2nd level in power if converted to D&D3rd, 10 1st level NPC or PC class, 10 first level commoners. Players can play any number of these at once, as suits the situation and their preferences.
This gaming is all about exploration. There were only two combats total in the first session, which was something of an introduction.
The shape of the dungeon and terrain it has are of great importance; they are the arena of play. Large rocks to hide behind as a small kobold warband chases after hooded and cloaked creatures, rocky terrain where centipedes have easy time moving and hiding, while people less so, a deep pond for a crocodile to wait in. And the player characters must divide their forces to watch all entrances they want to hold secure, which means that the activity level of different entrances is an interesting factor.
Random encounters are paramount, not only to keep the PCs threatened, but further to create cause and effect. Kobolds discovered the band of humans, so I will adjust the random encounter tables to reflect that; a much greater chance of kobold warband appearing, particularly. Not all random encounters are threats; rarely there will be a lone survivor who is only glad to find more people (the previous such survivor was mute, though).
It is all about resource management; right now, hit points, people, spells, alchemical ingrdients and torches are all pretty big deal. There is sufficient water, but food may become a problem.
I started the game when scouts discover a place that looks promising; there is life and water. So, basically no option to choose another starting location. It is a large cavern with water, bugs, moss and mushrooms. There’s four exits plus the one they came from. Careful investigation, less careful investigation, a crocodile performing a surprise attack, soon dispatched (armoured monsters can take a few hits). One entrance is explored, some centipedes are fought, one character is reduced to 0 hp by poison, none killed. Main group arrives. An alchemist starts brewing poison, the wounded are resting.
The alchemist has completed the venom, which is fed to the centipedes using part of the dead crocodile as a bait. While the poison is (hopefully) taking effect another cave is explored; there are two skulls on wooden poles on the entrance. The maze-like location is explored a little, sounds of marching foodsteps heard, retreat made, whispers heard, kobolds shooting at small escaping hooded figures noticed, kobold party avoided.
Things to improve
Measuring time is difficult due to no sun. I’ll need to make random encounters less frequent and build the time economy more heavily around them. A chance of encounter per four hours, maybe.
Better random encounter tables. Just adding an option for wandering monster, which will include such fabulous beasts as minotaurs, rust monsters, orcish rampagers, giant scorpions, elementals, cave-dwelling versions of boars and big cats and wolves and bears and so on might do the trick. The cave is far too tame as of yet, and it is a place where there is water, so encounters ought to be varied and frequent.
Tools of the trade
Simple googling reveals any number of random dungeon generators, which are fun enough as toys. There’s How to host a dungeon by Tony Dowler, including a free version, which is basically a toy for generating dungeons.
Resources that give random room descriptions would be useful. Not that I would use them as such, but they would be good for inspiration. Do any suitable generators exist?
Another useful thing would be wandering/random monster/encounter tables. I can’t be the only one using them, and creating a wiki or something for them would be of little effort. Are there any such tables online?