Diceless in Finnish and other unfinished projects

26 July, 2011 at 11:40 am (Amber, dungeon crawling, game design, Ropecon, Solar system) (, , )

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.


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Serious gaming

11 May, 2010 at 8:26 pm (actual play, game mastering, Solar system)

I am currently running a Solar system game. Last session contained something I have not often seen in roleplaying, so maybe it is worth sharing. First, some background.

I started the character generation by outlining the general situation and setting: science fiction, mostly hard, characters are people sent to the prison planetoid Pluto. Game can happen there or elsewhere if the characters get away.

Next, players created character concepts (I had a bunch of skill lists as inspiration and guide) and I asked them to pose some question they are interested in, and that is about their character. “Why is your character the main character here?” was something I think I asked. Use the word protagonist if you will. The questions the players came up with were surprisingly high-brow, even though I even gave an example of something more task-oriented. Here’s a few: Was the massacre of Ganymedes worth it? Why is [the character] such a ruthless killer? Do ends justify the means?

Then, each player posed a question about another player’s character. All the questions have mechanical weight: When they come up in a scene, 1 experience. When a scene is about a question, 3 exp. When a session is about a question, 5 xp. When a question is answered (in play), 10 xp, lose the question, and come up with a new one at some point. (I’ll change those criteria in the future. Probably 5 xp when a question is answered and none when an entire session is about some question, since that is hard to judge and does not add much.)

We had some themes related to the worth of humans, the value of religion, and how far can one go to achieve one’s goals. Situation in play: The characters are leaders of one group in power and they are planning to soon leave and in the process stall the life-supporting processes of the entire prison facility (which is an old industrial complex, unsupervised by outside forces as they mostly don’t care). There’s an android or robot (a robot, as they later find out) preaching faith, goodwill and uniting the divided gangs to improve the quality of life of everyone there, and later to build a force of robots to take over as much area as they can (such as the Solar system in its entirety). As it happens, the robot walks to the players’ base and is neutralised, later to be powered up again. Once that is done there is a discussion with all but one player actively participating (and also the robot, so I get involved, too). The discussion is about the worth of human life, what should we do to the scum here, what should we do to this robot (who is judged evil or maybe only mad), and why all of this is right.

This conversation was notable in that it

  1. happened in character
  2. enriched the game and deepened the characters, especially the inhuman-seeming robot
  3. actively benefited from the game to the extent that such views would not probably have been brought up outside this context
  4. revealed us a new conflict among the characters, hence adding more playable material organically.

Some notable techniques I used to facilitate this were: to not fall back to dice (I had actively removed most persuasive and lie-detection skills from Solar system for this game, or more accurately made them hard to learn outside special training), to actively poke the questions with NPCs who take strong positions with regards them, and to then give players power to judge these NPCs (a trick learned from Dogs in the Vineyard, I think). The rules were there as a framework, but they were not explicitly invoked in this situation, which I think is somewhat optimal for may style of play.

And then the serious part

I have been explicitly called a Swine by the pundit, so of course my gaming must be ponderous and unfun. That is exactly why the robot preacher had the shape of an idealised white male (think of Tarzan or Conan) and used the name Arnold, and one somewhat shifty NPC is called Judas Calgarus, and why there is a bunch of old worker robots reactivated that have a hive mind and negotiated free time and pay to work for the PCs (there was certain speculation involving how they spend their free time, and many references to the strike that elevators did when people did not give them sufficient respect), and all the usual skulduggery and action bits, including neutralising the Terminator-like preacher Arnold by heavy gunfire.

Point being that the interesting philosophical discussion is good content, but much better when it is not too frequent and there is sufficient action and humour to balance it out.

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Prologue for Solar system

21 February, 2010 at 11:45 am (game design, Solar system)

Two friends were visiting me and we talked roleplaying, so I figured we might as well try a thing that’s been on my mind.

Design goals: To have a game that is easy for everyone to get into, but so that a longer campaign can be set up in the process or created in play by stringing a series of scenarios together.

  1. Set up a strong vision for a game world. Have people contribute, ask questions, answer them, so on. If there is glitches have someone (the GM, probably) take creative responsibility for the whole deal. Someone, again probably the GM, should write down details like names that would otherwise be forgotten. We had a city somewhere in the future where the rich built their homes above those of the poor. Eventually the poor were living in sewers where rubbish and prisoners were also thrown. This was iterated a number of times, but still it is the poor ones who keep the city living by using all that is thrown to them.
  2. Set up a goal. GM should have a few ideas ready, but if someone makes a more interesting suggestion, go with it. This should not take too long. We had a sick person in the underworld who needs a medicine that you can’t get but above.
  3. Players create characters who are motivated by the goal. They should be pretty freely adding detail to the goal.  Also, and this is important, name the characters. We had the sick person being some sort of prophet and spiritual leader with unknown motives and the characters were a cybernetic, still approximately human, mercenary called Zack and a wanderer secretly from the city above, called Nils. Both had their own motives for trying to save the leader.
  4. Players state one question about their character that they would like to know an answer to. We had: What is Nils willing to do and believe to live a thousand years? Can Zack become the master of his own life?
  5. Players state a question about one other player’s character that would like to learn. We had these being restatements of the original questions though with different emphasis: Does Nils really want to live forever? Does Zack even have a mind of his own (or he a mere follower)?
  6. Physical descriptions of the characters until everyone has some sort of mental image of them.
  7. Are the characters in order? Everyone interested in at least their own character and have some sort of image about the other characters?
  8. Does everyone have something about the game world?
  9. Brainstorm how the mission could be solved. This is quasi-play in that people should be getting comfortable with their characters and brainstorm about how the goal could achieved. The game world should be getting some flesh around the bones at this stage.  GM is free to participate. End this stage when there is at least one viable plan that could work.
  10. GM should now have a a list of questions about the characters that the players are curious about, a strong vision for the world, and knowledge about what the characters will be doing. GM should think some obstacles to show how fascinating the world is and some situations somewhat related to the questions. Don’t try to push all that in, but do add it to play when natural.
  11. Right now, you should have a game world, a situation going on and a bunch of characters ready for action with a rudimentary plan. So go at it. Play.

Since half the goal is to prepare for Solar system play and create characters, we added some rulesey bits. When characters tried to do something with risk and interesting consequences, players rolled three fudge dice, summed, added two if the characters was very good at it and 1 if the character was good, else only the roll. Positive result was success. GM was free to give a bonus or penalty dice or two if situation warranted it. I went pretty light with the dice, saying yes much of the time. Players might want to keep track of what their character is good at.

So, you have played and probably answered some questions that were posed – at least the goal should be resolved to one direction or the other. Most of the questions about the characters are probably not answered (unless you had lots of time and very focused and aggressive play, in which case you might want to use a more focused rules set to help with it), and that’s okay.

Talk a bit. Are the unanswered questions still interesting? Did any new questions arise? We had a few new ones.

Now, supposing there still are unanswered questions about the characters and supposing you want to make Solar system characters out of them, here’s what you should do. Select skills as normal, though you have made many of the choices in play. Assign resource pools as you will. Turn questions into keys so that the question itself is the buy-off condition. The ways the key gives experience should be inspired by the question and the play. For example: Is Zack merely a killer? 1 xp – kill someone out of necessity , 3 xp – kill someone when other methods would have been sufficient, buy-off – the question is definitively answered.

I imagine that after each session of play there would be reflection and some of the questions would be noticed to have been already answered and probably new questions posed. It doesn’t really matter if the questions are answered affirmatively or with a negative answer, as long as they are answered.

Why have such a prologue?

Many players, especially those less used to roleplaying, often have trouble starting to play, so the prologue is a situation where characters and the world are fleshed out and play starts slowly. Further, there is a clear purpose and motivation to go for that, which hopefully reduces the barrier of entry.

There is this phenomenon where players create characters, start playing them and notice that the character actually is quite different from what the mechanical bits would say, or maybe the game world is quite different from what they imagined. A prologue mitigates this effect by having the player play the character and only then create the mechanical description in detail.

Additional bonus is the episodic nature of play. You can have a self-contained prologue, then maybe different players, another linked situation that builds on the previous one, and soon you’ll have a vibrant world and a fair number of interesting characters. My gut feeling is that the prologue format becomes restrictive and abrasive if used with established characters and setting, but maybe not. A quick pass through the list might very well be useful even in longer games.

Further refinement

Thus far there’s been one impromptu session, so obviously further playtesting is in order. One particular issue I’d like to focus on is if players should ask genuinely new questions about each others’ characters (which might create too much clutter but also inspire new ways of looking at the characters) or if they should refine the questions the players themselves posed, which would make them sharper and enhance a shared sense of what the characters are about.

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TSoY in space: The inhuman

22 October, 2009 at 9:27 pm (Solar system) (, , , , , )

This post contains thoughts about the inhuman elements of the game world: psionics, aliens, robots and androids, cyborgs and whatnot.

My experience in balancing secrets and keys is not great, so all commentary is gladly accepted. Few of the secrets are intentionally powerful; steel and wires, in particular.


Everyone knows psionics exist. Very few have met anybody capable of manifesting them or controlling their power. There are rumours of gifted children simply disappearing and of secret government programs and corporate assassins and so on. Rumours, nothing more.

Secret of psionics: The character can contact others with her mind. This requires a successful psionics (instinct) test, possibly resisted with resist or psionics. Using a skill through the psionic contact is taxing and costs 1 instinct. Other secrets in this chapter require the secret of psionics. Only those with the secret can take the psionics skill.

Secret of disciplined psionicist: Psionics (reason), not (instinct). Using skills through the connection has no extra cost. The character has been trained by some facility dedicated for this purpose, and is almost certain to either be an employee or a very hunted rogue operative.

Secret of [freaky exotic psionic ability]: The character can use [freaky exotic psionic ability], which may cost reason or instinct, in addition to requiring dice to be rolled. Telekinesis, making the heads of people explode, invisibility, illusions, that sort of stuff.

Secret of the electromancer: Psionics affects androids.

Secret of psionic storm: Pay up to six points from insinct or reason, whichever governs the psionics ability. Roll psionics. On failure, take reason harm equal to the resource spent. On success, deal that much harm to all characters in the great area affected by the power and take half that in reason damage. Named characters get to resist; others die, are in pain, or whatever was at stake. This ability is not fast to use and any psions in the affected area may resist, hence making this a risky proposition. Still utterly powerful.

The following keys, aside from the first one, only make sense for characters with (latent) psionic ability.

Key of shattered mind: Some psionicist has violently invaded the character’s mind. 1 experience for being hostile to such vile mind-rapers, 3 for losing control in public when something important is happening (and sobbing incoherently or going berserk, say). Buy-off: Forgive and accept.

Key of the empath: The character can sense the emotions, particularly strong emotions and pain, of others. 1 xp for revealing this in play, 3 for suffering due to the talent. Buy-off: Silence the pain by becoming inured to the suffering of others.

Key of the wilder: The character has uncontrolled or poorly controlled psionic ability. It manifests at inopportunate times, particularly when the character is stressed. 1 xp for uncontrolled manifestations, 3 for major destruction or set-back by wild psionics. (Note: this could manifest whenever the character fails a roll, particularly psionics roll, or when the story guide or players feel like it. Up to group negotiation.) Buy-off: Characters gets rid of unintended psionic effects (by iron will or removing the ability).

Steel and wires

Our game has thus far not seen detailed robotic player characters. We do know that proper robots and androids are (almost) immune to psionics.

Secret of steel among the flesh: Character can accomplish deeds requiring superhuman strength or endurance. One point of vigour gives 2 bonus dice to such and makes them possible.

Secrets of wires in the head: Character can compute and analyse with great speed. One point of reason gives 2 bonus dice for analysis (not limited to epsilon-delta proofs) and calculations.

Fancy cybernetic gadgets are also secrets. Heat-vision, cleverly hidden needle guns, hidden containers, armoured skin, things out of Cyberpunk books.

Key of programmed mind: Those who built or fixed the character added some unwanted orders. 1 xp when the character acts upon the programmed orders, 3 xp when he does so against his will. Buy-off: Remove the programming.

Key of lost humanity: Some go mad when great parts of their body are replaced with inorganic materials. 1 xp for showing the cold, aloof and cruel nature that is now character’s; 3 xp for murdering or slaughter of humans in cold blood. Buy-off: Become completely human or completely machine.

Key of malfunctioning component: Some component of character is constantly malfunctioning and in need of repair. 1 xp for maintaining it, 3xp for getting in trouble when it breaks anyways. Buy-off: Fix or replace it.

The hive cluster

Just recently there have been aliens discovered. Inspirations are the zerg of Starcraft and the aliens in series of movies with alien in the name. They are not public knowledge, and whether they will ever be is up to gaming. They have a hive mind; all are connected to the collective consciousness and it commands them all, much like a player in an RTS game. The aliens encountered thus far have been somewhat insectile in appearance.

Skill: Hive mind (instinct): The character is in contact with the hive mind, willingly or not. The skill can be used to communicate and command other aliens, but they can also command back. It works by telepathy. The collective has 4 skill, takes penalty dice for distance (1 for orbit, 2 for solar system, 3 for galaxy, 4 for outside it) and can command the character; resist with hive mind, telepathy or resist. The collective can also lend its knowledge and help for the character, in which case the character gets to help almost any skill roll with the hive mind skill, though failure at the roll inflicts a penalty die. Other keys and secrets of this chapter require this skill.

Key of slave to the brood: The character is unwilling servant of the swarm, yet has little power against it. 1 experience for obeying its orders, 3 for doing so in spite of one’s will. Buy-off: Be rid of the influence.

Key of corrupted monster: Requires some visible mutations. The character looks horrible and inhuman. 1 experience for being shunned and despised for it, 3 when someone’s actively hunting the character for such taint. Buy-off: Mask your true nature.

Secret of contaminated talent: Requires hive mind and psionics. Whenever character touches the mind of another, the brood widens its influence. Pay one instinct to inflict the slave to the brood-key upon any contacted via psionics. Upon first contact they also learn hive mind at skill level mediocre.

Secret of vast knowledge: The character can scan the collective memory for information pertaining to whatever subject; pay as much instinct as desired to get bonus dice for any attempt already aided by hive mind skill, 1 die per point of instinct. This is an awfully big deal.

Secret of regeneration: At the start of a session, or when significat time in the fiction is glossed over, roll endure are heal on level of vigour harm, up to the endure result. Further, given sufficient time, the character can heal from the most severe of wounds.

Secret of [random mutation]: Character has [random mutation]. Claws like knives! Acid spit! Tentacles! Using it may or may not cost vigour. Spitting acid does, for the record.

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TSoY in space – skills

16 October, 2009 at 7:57 pm (Solar system) (, , , , )

This post contains the skill list for the scifi version of the Shadow of Yesterday that I’ve been running.


These are copied from the tSoY wiki, with removed and added entries.

Innate Abilities

Every character in this game has three innate abilities: natural reactions and quantifications of the character’s physical and mental stability.

Ability Name Uses Pool Summary
Endure Vigor This is your character’s ability to push on and persevere though pain and fatigue. It is used to test the limits of a character’s physicality and fitness.
React Instinct This measures the quickness of a character’s body and mind. It is as much “how quick the character notices something” as “how quick the character moves.”
Resist Reason “Resist” is the strength of a character’s will, and is used to prevent compulsion of a natural or supernatural type. This includes physical compulsion: “Resist” would be used for a character to keep her cool under torture, for example, while “Endure” would be used to see how long she could stay conscious under the same torture.

Other Abilities

Open abilities follow a few guidelines:

  • They are either innate abilities to a person (Athletics) or things that can be easily learned. Usually, they’re both, as in the aforementioned case of Athletics, or Scrapping.
  • They are rather wide in scope, encompassing a field of actions, without being overly broad. Movement is too broad; Climbing Fences is too narrow. Fighting is too broad; Broad-sword Usage is too narrow.
  • They are not specialized knowledge that applies only to a certain people or culture. These are the Species and Cultural Abilities, which are much more narrow in scope. Do note that academic skills are open: Internet and various projects for the freedom of information did pay off to significant degree.
  • They often overlap with other abilities, which is great. Two abilities may describe different styles of performing similar tasks.

The pre-made open abilities are below. Examine them to get ideas for your own. They’ve been organized by category. Any character can take abilities from any category, but it may be easier to choose a category or two that define your character and take most of the abilities from them.

Artistic Abilities

Freeload (Instinct)
Freeload is used to get free meals and shelter. Your character can’t really get wealthy using Freeload, but you can manage to survive even if broke, which isn’t bad.
Create (Instinct)
Create is used for painting, sculpting, and other arts where a concrete item is created.
Story-tell (Reason)
Story-tell is used for creating or telling stories, including ballads.
Music (Instinct)
Music is used for singing and playing instruments, and represents musical talent, not lyrical talent. Music and Story-tell are often used together to make an effective song.
Sports (Vigour)
Athletic activities for keeping in shape, as a job, or impressing others. Specialisation is common.

Technical Abilities

Mechanics and electronics (Reason)
Mechanics and electronics is used in building and maintaining various gadgets, equipment and vehicles.
Pilot (Instinct)
Operating vehicles. Everything between motorcycles and huge spaceships, the extreme cases included.
Hacking (Reason)
Operating and manipulating a computer effectively. Programming and gaining access where one should not have it are notable activities.

Military Abilities

First Aid (Reason)
First Aid is simple medicine: bandaging cuts, binding broken bones, and washing out wounds. If someone’s been physically hurt, this can be used to heal them.
Melee (Vigor)
Killing and surviving in close quarters combat with or without weapons. Weapons are highly recommended, though. Also, using exoskeletons and such in melee combat.
Sense Danger (Instinct)
This ability is used to perceive anything that might physically harm your character. It is not a “sixth sense”: the danger must be somehow perceivable, if only barely. Here’s where you get those cat-like reflexes.
Tactics (Reason)
Tactics is the basic skills and techniques known by any military commander. It is used for giving orders in combat and planning attacks, including ambushes.
Shooting (Vigour)
Using and taking care of weapons that shoot targets from a range. Includes weapons installed in various vehicles.
Military training (Vigour)
The daily routines, etiquette, basic combat and technical skills, rough knowledge of organisation. Can be used when fighting in orderly situations. Generally useful as an auxiliary skill.
Explosives (Reason)
Controlled and precise use of explosives. Timed explosives, mines, excavation and sabotage. Nuking it from the orbit just to be sure.

Black ops Abilities

Stealth (Instinct)
Stealth is used to sneak up on people, hide from other characters, and conceal objects on your character’s body.
Theft (Instinct)
Theft is used for picking pockets, cutting purses, lockpicking, breaking and entering without being noticed, and safecracking, as well as any other theft-related activity.
Deceit (Reason)
Deceit is used to fool other characters, including pretending to be someone else, forge a document, or straight-out lie well.
Underworld (Reason)
Underworld is used to know information about the illegal underground, including where to buy illegal things, sell stolen goods, or know who controls organized crime.
Security (Reason)
Security is used for building, recognising, analysing, avoiding and disabling various electronic security implements, such as cameras and locks.
Assassination (Instinct)
The art of killing someone unaware of the menace. Common equipment includes poisons, long-range weaponry, discreet explosives and various fancy gadgets.

Outdoor Abilities

Surival (Reason)
Survival is used to track people or animals, know what sorts of plants and animals are present in an area and their properties, as well as set traps.
Animal Ken (Instinct)
Animal Ken is the social skill for dealing with animals, and is used to deal with domesticated animals or wild ones. Domesticated animals are much easier to control, of course, and this may be used to give them commands. For wild animals, on the other hand, this works about as far as scaring them off, or convincing them not to eat you.
Outer planets (Reason)
Measure of the character’s familiarity with strange, unexplored and hostile planets, asteroids and moons. Settling them, using them and surviving therein to the extent possible.

Academic Abilities

Psychology (Reason)
Psychology can be used to bring peace to someone via private conversation. It is the spiritual equivalent of First Aid. It also is the academic knowledge of mind and workings thereof.
Rhetorics (Reason)
Rhetorics is used to sway opinion with speech or demagoguery, and is generally used with crowds. Media makes it an effective tool for crowd manipulation.
Biochemistry (Reason)
Biology and chemistry. Knowledge and research of nature (of several worlds) and processes happening therein.
Physics (Reason)
Knowledge of space, relativity, quantum mechanics and various less exotic fields of physics. Used for surviving the process of gating.
Research (Reason)
Research is the valued skill of finding and interpreting highly specific and useful information to solve a particular problem.
Diplomacy (Instinct)
Diplomacy is used for negotiating treaties between corporations, nations and other large groups.
Politics (Reason)
Knowledge of the various political parties, shadowy or influential organisations, military establishments and important people. Manipulating the aforementioned for one’s selfish benefit.

Social Abilities

Sway (Instinct)
Sway is used to affect individuals through conversation. Unlike Orate, this works better one-on-one, and the character being swayed may not even realize your character’s intentions.
Savoir-Faire (Instinct)
Savoir-Faire is used to act smooth, dance, get a kiss from a lady, and get another character into your character’s bedchambers.
Etiquette (Reason)
Etiquette is used to know your way around a society, including knowing who is important and where to get favors. It is the non-illegal society equivalent of Streetwise.
Pray (Vigor)
Pray is used for meditation, blessing actions, and performing religious rituals. It involves the character’s belief that she is connected to something better than her.
Discern Truth (Instinct)
Discern Truth is used to tell if someone is being honest, or read a person’s intentions.
Athletics (Vigor)
This is a measure of raw physicality and fitness. It is used for running, jumping, swimming, climbing, or any other strength-based task not listed as a separate ability.
Finances (Reason)
Investments, stock markets, accounting, keeping one’s finances in order, finding items of quality at affordable prices.

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