Thursday, June 16, 2022

Eldritch Gambit: Why?


 

Portrait of the author bloviating. At least I didn't put it in the book.

There is very little explanation of why I made Eldritch Gambit in the book itself, which is intentional. I am one of apparently few people who don't find author editorializing in core books enjoyable. That said, this is a blog post, and editorializing is great for a blog.

The primary reason I wrote Eldritch Gambit was to have a skeleton (pun intended) system for BONED. In this game, you play as amnesiac skeletons trying to recover their memories and escape from an inter-dimensional oubliette. BONED is in playtests right now and coming out soon enough. We are having a lot of fun - Eldritch Gambit shines in this setting!

In this very specific context, the problem with using most existing D&D-alikes is that you start out with a class or other array of abilities. This gives you a "niche," and a defined power set right from the start. But what if you don't know who you are and only find out during play? It would ruin regaining memories if you already knew you were a Rogue or Magic-user. You can't just hide it either, because so many of their features are dependent on this initial choice

So, I made most things very dependent on Attributes instead, and magic largely dependent on items. You can discover your class and such later - it only affects the die used for non-combat Checks. While it was tailor-made to a specific setting, I started to feel like this was an optimal way to play.
  • One nice thing about the Attribute-dependency of your "build" in this game is that it meshes well with the design philosophy of Dark Souls style games, making it easy for that ilk of players to grasp.
  • So-called "niche protection" is weakened, but I think that was always overrated. Making your character mechanically different from others is a matter of choosing the right attributes, class, skills, gear, and in-game advantages.
  • It's also more difficult for a new player to pick who they want to be out of a lineup. You can get around this by offering starting setups of gear and attributes. I'm honestly just not a fan of strict classes and find it aggravating to shoehorn my character concepts into them.

The other reason I made Eldritch Gambit is that I really liked the idea of push-your-luck mini-games and got to focus the system around that (Gambits). It was also a perfect receptacle for many other ideas I had or ran across in other games at the time, like freeform backgrounds, volleyball initiative, non-incentive highlights XP, armor as HP, gambling with XP, etc. It went from being just a design experiment to support a particular weird setting to a celebration of how I just like to do things in fantasy RPGs.

To be blunt, it has not been a commercial success. I'm a failure as a designer I guess, but at least I got to make the game I wanted to play.

I've played and game mastered a wide variety of systems since the mid-80s, starting with Basic D&D. This has definitely given me a specific set of experiences that informed what I do and do not like. Maybe these tastes are not for everyone, but they're definitely for me. I already did positives in the book and above, so what follows is a list of gripes I have had playing other systems and what I did differently in Eldritch Gambit. 

So if you don't like griping, bail out now.

You encounter 1d6 Gripes.

- my Gaming Gripes, and my Solutions in Eldritch Gambit -

  • HP bloat: Tracking massive pools of HP is tedious and so are the lengthy battles of attrition it demands. I made sure EG kept HP fairly low, reworked armor so that it added HP instead, and introduced Rallies that restore some HP by sacrificing an action.
  • 5-minute workday: It felt unheroic to nap after every battle to get back Spells, and this really hurt the flow of a few adventures I was in. I'm all for resource tracking for material things, but the snooze loop for regaining Spells is just aggravating. In EG I got rid of resource costs for Spells entirely. As a side bonus, this also means no more keeping track of enemy magic user Spell slots or magic points for the GM.
  • Initiative tracking: I dislike players tuning out between fore-ordained turns or keeping track of all those initiative numbers. Popcorn initiative was very appealing, but I found it too easy to engineer a one-sided slaughter with it, especially in low HP games. EG solves this with Volleyball Initiative, where the target of the last action gets the next. It also neatly follows the "spotlight" flow of a battle.
  • XP Incentives: I was always uncomfortable with advancement as a morality tale or scooby snacks from the GM. In EG the players themselves just decide what the most worthy highlights of their last game were and get XP for those. This was playtested for a long time when I DMed D&D 3.5, and players really enjoyed it.
  • Perception: I had bad experiences on both sides of the table with this. As a DM players would start throwing the dice while I was describing the room. As a player I'd fail perception checks for unbelievably mundane things. Probably the most OSR thing about EG is the elimination of perception - just tell them what is there and stop gating it behind a check. It retains an Insight action, but that is for knowing something extra about what you see, rather than just seeing it.
  • Whiff factor: I'm not really against misses, especially for ranged weapons. BUT I still feel like it is rare to really miss in melee combat. In Eldritch Gambit, when you don't get a clean hit, melee becomes an exchange of blows or slugfest. Specifically, a melee failure is a Clash, which means the highest damage roll wins, dealing the excess or margin to the loser. Possibly taking damage on failures also means you have to rely on good clean hits if the target is more powerful than you. Combat feels risky and messy, which was intentional. You can also throw your damage die at the same time as your Check, since you will use it either way.

More later as I think of them.



Saturday, June 4, 2022

Brandy Buck Boys

 The Trailer Park Boys as Hobbits, with a Sunnyvale random encounters table. I freaking love this show, just found out about it and have been binging it something awful. They're so much like many people I grew up with. Desperate, earthy, deeply human, horrible, compassionate, and trapped in their own habits.




Avzinnia Sessions & Genesys Impressions

 

I recently got to play an utterly fantastic game in a friend's campaign, as one of a pair of mismatched priests hunting down heresy in a Meso-American inspired setting. He ran it in Genesys, a clear favorite of his. Augustus is on the left, an ambitious sun priest on the hunt for a promotion. Tiago (my character) is in the middle, a secret anti-priest devoted to prolonging the slumber of a destructive serpent god. We had made it clear at session zero that we were playing bastards who would do anything to achieve our goals, which helped set the tone.

Long story short, it was a supernatural mystery/horror campaign. We investigated a whole array of village politics, deceitful hosts, chosen ones, possessed maniacs, and dangerous treks through the wastelands. Each priest was a heretic to the other, and many tense scenes were devoted to reconciling their differences, at least long enough to meet their common goal. In the end, Tiago sacrificed himself by allowing the serpent god to partially possess him, then taking a fatal leap into a pit before it could take him over entirely. Augustus spent the epilogue disillusioned with his faith, warning away the church, and setting up as a hermit. It's hard to sum up in a paragraph, which is as much as I can expect anyone else to read about someone elses's campaign, but it was one of the finer experiences I have had in role-playing and a story I will always remember.

Genesys notes:

Character creation: the system was flexible enough to make these odd characters, but also had what I felt were unnecessary complications. You choose archetypes that give you different attributes and starting skills, then choose a career which affects how much favored skills cost, etc. I didn't see the point to the different costs and really just wanted to pick attributes and skills as I pleased without worrying about that. But again, the important thing is that we could still make the characters we wanted in the end.

Magic System: a warding spell was our first try at the magic system. We were using a combination of "Realms of Terrinoth" and "Zynnythryx guide to magic" for guidance. We ended up just winging it, rolling Discipline with two purple difficulty dice for an effect that would scare people away. Scoring a few successes, the GM judged that only someone with a strong will could enter afterward. I was impressed by how easy it was to just make things up on the fly with magic, as it definitely suited the emergent story better than predefined spell lists.
 
Later we realized we weren't using Implements like wands or staves, which explained why our magic felt a bit underpowered. It definitely kicked things up a notch when we retconned some of our weapons as implements.

Dice as Oracle: one of the most controversial things about Genesys itself is how the dice are used. In most games the dice settle uncertain outcomes, but in Genesys you also use them to guide the emergent story. They have cues about what happened beyond success or failure. Our GM understood this well but it took me a while to come to grips with it. 
 
In one example, we had difficulty finding a trail to lead us to the top of a mesa, because we failed our checks to do so. But, in doing so we were also building up Threat results! The GM interpreted this to mean that one of our foes came down from the mesa to confront us, which also revealed the hidden path. In essence, this was a good practice fail-forward event encouraged by the die result itself. It's a different way of thinking and without it I can see becoming frustrated with the weird results of genesys rolls. It demands an oracular approach which isn't everyone's strong point. But when it works, it really does add a lot of wonder to the story. 

One of the most striking features of this campaign was that it had character arcs and massive personality changes without the input of sanity meters, bonds, etc. None of the characters had lengthy backstories, social bonds, or even last names. I'm definitely finding that a lot of character detail and rules "support" for such things are not necessary at all.
 
Anyone else have similar experiences with Genesys or other oracular die systems?

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Transforming Mechs in METTLE Core

I'm going to use the Macross mechs as an example of how to do transforming mecha in METTLE. Robotech (Palladium) was my second RPG, after D&D of course. It was the first one I actually bought myself after nearly evaporating in a kid nerd frenzy on seeing it in a hobby shop. I'm a big fan of Macross/Robotech but not a comprehensive student of its mecha stats, so your opinions may differ. I don't feel bad because the sources I am using all differ too, FWIW. The point is, this page will likely change a lot as my opinions evolve.

Veritech VF-1A

I'm going to start with the Basic VF-1A. Piloting this beige beauty is the anime version of wearing a red shirt in Star Trek. They just get blown out of the sky like popcorn. Still, I think they are neat. I'll be using Robotech's mode names for clarity (Battloid, Guardian, Fighter).

METTLE Stats 

I like to get right to the point, so here are the METTLE stats I ended up with.  Parenthetical values for speed and range are scaled down to mecha scale, if using that.
  • Fighter: Handling +1, Speed 6-11(3-8), FRAME 17
  • Guardian: Handling +1, Speed 7(4), FRAME 16, Poised.
  • Battloid: Handling +1, Speed 5(2), FRAME 15, Poised.
Weapons:
  • Gun pod: Attack Bonus 21, Burst 2, Ammo 30, 2H, Range 6(3).
  • Head laser: Attack Bonus 19, no hands, Ammo - effectively unlimited, Range 6(3).
  • Missiles (Med): Attack Bonus 22, Burst Special 1-12, Ammo 12, Range 6(3).

Modeling

You can see my reasoning, such as it were, below:

 

Handling 

The handling stat itself doesn't change much between the modes, but the modes do handle in different ways. Fighter handles as vehicles usually do, with current Speed being the Difficulty to hit them. Guardian and Battloid modes are more maneuverable and use their pilot's Focus+Handling as if it were a Poise score. This is covered by giving it a new trait called Poised.

You can argue that the Guardian mode is less effective at hand to hand, because it is so ungainly. I am on the fence about making it any worse mechanically, and hope the lower Frame is enough to reflect it.

Frame

To start modeling, I am going to pull stats from various places, none of which seem to agree on exactly how much this thing weighs or how tall it is in any mode. Yay. Height has little effect on conversions, but weight is important. Weight ranges from 13.3 metric tons (Obsidian portal) to 18.5 tons (Robotech RPG, Palladium 1st edition). Regardless, this falls closest to a FRAME of 14 on the Conversions table in METTLE Core page 87 (13,385 kg/30,500 lb or 15 tons/14 metric tons). Same as an F-14 tomcat - more than a schoolbus but less than a Sherman tank.

Now, this is where modeling by weight starts to falter - those of you who watched even the first episode of Robotech saw the perennial nincompoop main character just fly through a building in guardian mode with no meaningful damage. In Palladium this was accounted for using their "mega-damage" system, but we don't need to do that in METTLE.  This just means we will need to add a few points to Frame to account for whatever sci-fi technomagic made that nonsense possible. This is justified in Macross 2 as a sort of force field system (SWAG, hat tip to rivetgeek) that draws power from the engines, providing more protection for non-fighter modes! This is something they never touch on in the adaptation, and I had always just assumed a kind of alien alloy armor. Fascinating! The Frame of 14 would probably only apply when sitting on the flight deck powered off.

Three different Frame values is a little futzy, but it also gives a solid reason to convert to Battloid or Guardian when things get hairy. Even Fighter should get a little bump to show it is working in the background to some extent. This splits Frame to 15 for Fighter, 16 for Guardian, and 17 for Battloid. Wow! Even if you don't buy the energy conversion armor, the non-fighter modes are probably better able to take a hit by sheer flexibility and hiding structural weaknesses like the wings/fins and cockpit. This doesn't count as Armor, it just boosts Frame, meaning you don't have to track it. The drawback is that you have to stat them up as separate vehicles - but let's face it, we were always going to have to do that.

Speed

If we didn't have to stat the modes up as separate vehicles by weight, we would still have to do it for Speed. The veritechs are apparently powered by a fusion turbine engine in each leg, so no worries about operational range. Using similar sources and the METTLE Core conversion table on page 87:

  • Fighter mode can reach about mach 4, for a whopping max Speed of 11. Fortunately you only have to Check this when doing maneuvers, and crashing at a high altitude mostly just means you drop an altitude - so higher is safer. On the other hand, stall speed is about 6 (240 kph?) so keep it within 6-11 in Fighter mode.
  • Guardian speed tops out at around 500kph, for a max speed of 7. It can hover so there is no stall speed. It jumps to Speed 8 in Space.
  • Battloid Speed: Sources differ a great deal here, but let's err on the high side. Running is described from 60 mph (~4) to 165 kph (~5) so let's be fun and say 4 on foot and 5 using the jets as skates. In space their skate Speed jumps to 6.

Speed and Range scales with Zone and mech size. If you are only playing at a mecha scale, just subtract 3 from all speed and range stats. This is shown in parentheses in the final stats above. This can make Zone based movement easier - also remember that you expand the size of the Zones themselves if not playing at a cramped human scale - this helps account for the unspoken logarithmic nature of these stats.

Weapons

systems can be modeled by scaling using the Battloid's Frame of 17 as a base and adding points as if it were a similar weapon wielded by a human, or "Micronian." The technical names of these differ in Macross and Robotech, so I'm just going to call them what they look like.The head lasers are good for sustained combat or suppression fire, the gun pod is good for massive burst damage, and the missiles are good for blowing things up.
  • Gun pod: as a scaled triple barrel assault rifle, heavier and capable of automatic fire. Attack Bonus 21, Burst 2, Ammo 30, 2H, Range 6.
  • Head laser: as a lighter rifle. Attack Bonus 19, no hands, Ammo - effectively unlimited, Range 6. 2 and 4 laser versions at higher ranks have AB 20 and 21, respectively. Also good as a cutting tool.
  • Missiles: the default loadout is 12 medium missiles carried under the wings. The Special Missile Burst adds a Split die for every extra missile fired, split up to 12 ways as usual. There is no room for them in Battloid mode, so blast them all off before transforming - there is no prize for coming back with all your missiles! Attack Bonus 22, Burst Special, Ammo 12, Range 8.

Note that these Attack bonuses are quite high compared to human scaled characters, but this doesn't mean you are rolling a lot of dice in METTLE. This is before subtracting your target's Frame, so it feels just like combat at a human scale by the time the remaining dice are in your hand. If you are attacking a much weaker target, like Minmei or an easter basket full of puppies, you can just Raise (p.27) as many dice as you want to 6 to get them out of your pool, you monster.

Transformation

These happen very fast and do not seem to impede anything trained pilots are doing in the show. As long as they have the right Focus, just let the character start their turn in whatever mode they want. If they are unskilled at operating mecha, as Rick Hunter was in the first episode, it will eat their Action if they even know which slider to pull.

Missile Blocks

The classic Itano-circus swarm of missiles would be a death sentence if not for the fact that they are targetable. A Missile Block is a special Block Action that uses a firearm to set off the missiles, often destroying the entire grouping. This is handled as a Block but the damage is doubled. Like a standard Melee Block, this can even result in extra damage hitting the attacker, either from the Blocking attack or stray explosions.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Try Finger But Hole: Eldritch Gambit <-> Elden Ring Conversion Guide

Twitter has been alight with indignation for the first gauche author who entertains the idea of making Elden Ring themed games or hacks. Ever sensitive to their scorn, I did this anyway. Eldritch Gambit has many parallels to souls-likes despite being an OSR - or OSR adjacent, thanks critics:

But anyway, the easy similarities between the two are that Attributes and gear are the main source of a "build," light and heavy attacks via Gambits, few HP and high lethality, easy restoration of HP, etc. Spells as items, It just begs to be done. To those still seething at my audacity, be relieved that it will benefit me none. Those who are playing Elden Ring now are occupied and not likely to favor a table top version anyway, especially not for a wee unknown game like Eldritch Gambit.

More may be added to this post later as I think of it.

Flasks, Grace, and Resurrection

I'm going to break with nearly everyone modeling a Souls-like right off the bat and say just don't even use these. Eldritch Gambit already has a Flasks-like system with Rallies, which just restore HP in return for an Action. If you really want to model Flasks, give them a limited number of Rallies depending on how many Flasks they have before they rest at a Site of Grace just like in the game. Number and bonuses depend on finding Seeds/Tears as usual. The random part of the Flask/Rally still depends on Armor in Eldritch Gambit, as below.

Resurrecting at Sites of Grace or Bonfires or what-have-you may seem essential, but it is really there to make a video game possible. I do not think it is necessary for a ttrpg. It falls apart badly for groups if one character dies and comes back at a site - do enemies defeated by the rest revive while fighting them? The "official" souls game forced a group resurrect if half the party or so died, but you can see how that also feels kind of awkward in play. Note how in souls games the NPCs do not get Site of Grace or Bonfire resurrects, even if Tarnished/Hollow! Take the hint.

Attributes

These are a fairly intuitive conversion if you are remaking a character. Eldritch Gambit characters start at Level 10, putting them in similar ranges to Elden Ring/Souls characters and advancement by raising attributes is nearly identical.

Elden Ring -> Eldritch Gambit

  • Vigor          ->     Strength/Endurance
  • Mind           ->     Charisma
  • Endurance   ->     Endurance
  • Strength       ->    Strength 
  • Dexterity     ->     Dexterity
  • Intelligence  ->   Wisdom
  • Faith            ->    Wisdom
  • Arcane         ->    none 
You'll notice some Attributes in Elden Ring fit more than one Attribute in Eldritch Gambit, or none. Just take this into consideration when distributing Levels, you are not going to get a one-for-one conversion.

Message Signs

These have a random chance of spawning near anything you are trying to do, making that thing much more difficult. Want to climb a ladder? Too bad, gotta deal with umpteen signs all around it that say "behold ladder" or "need giant but hole." Every time characters attempt a a non-combat Check, add 1d6 to the DF due to intrusive signage. 

Hidden traps are obviated entirely by this feature, as they will be festooned with message signs. This forces a game into a common new mindset in some OSR groups where the traps are simply known to the player and they must decide whether to interact.

NPC Dialogue

NPCs that exhaust dialogue the GM prepared (or not) will either fall into an unwakeable magic slumber, teleport away, or just die on the spot! No more answering pesky questions from players.

Armor

Eldritch Gambit assumes your character is not wearing mismatched piecemeal armor like a moron, but Elden Ring clearly does not. A simple way to deal with players paying fashion souls mix and match is to grant 2 AP per class of the armor for the chest piece and 1 for the rest. For every 5 AP the character has on, the set burdens them by one Load.

Class Head Chest
Arm Leg
Light 1 2 1 1
Medium 2 4 2 2
Heavy 3 6 3
3
Ultra 4 8 4 4

So a Tarnished wearing leather armor (5 AP) who puts on a heavy helmet, let's say the Dumbo Bucket of the Uberdong Ass Knights, will have piecemeal armor of 8 - 4 for the bucket helm and 4 from their armor sans normal headgear.  This is a Load of 1 either way so there is little drawback until their AP reaches 10, the next armor class.

The lighter armors could benefit from being resistant to certain types of damage like Fire or Bolt. As Magic is a separate type of damage in souls games, this can be added as an Element tag in Eldritch Gambit. This becomes the tag of any previously un-tagged Spell, instead of assuming the damage is physical.

Weapons

Little difference here, reskin some to get the weirder weapons. A heavy/R2 attack is the same as using a Critical, which are intentional in Eldritch Gambit. It is unclear to me what Ashes of War are as objects, but they could be Materia, perhaps little relics or trinkets you could add to the handle. These could grant martial Spells like Berserk, Repel, Vorpal, Smite, Missile, etc. as a fairly close conversion. Expendable items like fire grease are clearly Ephemera.

More to come later, but for now everyone who would be interested in playing Elden Ring as an RPG is probably just playing it as a video game.

Enemies

Model their gear and Templates after their counterparts in the game and assign them a Threat level as usual, if not Named. Named foes are built as characters. Invaders are just hostile named NPCs, which is hardly unusual.

Eldritch Gambit is available on DriveThruRPG (+print!) and Itch.io. It's great but new and basically unknown even compared to other struggling Indy OSR-alikes. If you read it and like it too, help change this.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

METTLE Core Launch!

 METTLE Core is a compact set of powerful and adaptable rules to help you run or make your own Role-Playing Game (RPG). This core set is geared towards heroic tales of courage, mystery, and intrigue. Detective stories, crime dramas, B-movie mayhem, daring rescues, tense exploration, gritty post-apocalyptic survival, wild-west gunfights, Nazi-clobbering, low fantasy, and grounded science fiction. This focus on so-called “mundane” heroics caters to an underserved style of play and provides a general base to the system. Upcoming games may indulge settings reliant on magic, superpowers, or miracles of science.

  • Adaptable Toolkit: flexible enough to suit a wide variety of genres and power levels.
  • Easy to Learn and Play: The basic rules are all you need to know. Mastery is a matter of using those basic moves in clever ways.
  • Engaging Combat: Move? Attack? Block? Rally back into action? Grapple? Guard an ally? Your call!
  • Freeform Experience: decide for yourself what your own character did to earn their advance in power.
  • Funky Dice Pool: a new hybrid dice pool system keeps the number of dice low, counting to a minimum, allows for direct contests between scores, and supports collaborative Twists, Raises, and other fun stunts.
  • Rich Narrative: players can explicitly alter events using Twists. These add dramatic surprises and give players bargaining power in the story.
  • Room to Grow: the intentional “hackability” of this ruleset leaves plenty of space for your own creative additions.
  • Scalable: combat fits all sizes of creatures or vehicles with no tweaks or extra rules.
  • Vivid Characters: Characters start out with history, goals, and personalities of their own. No need to ask, “but what’s my motivation” – it’s built right in.
  • Volleyball Initiative: combatants pass their next turns to each other or their target, so your chance to shine can come at any time.

METTLE Core is on a CC-by 4.0 license and we are excited to hear what you do with it!

Get it here at DrivethruRPG (Digital and Softcover POD) or Itch.io (Digital only).

Half off for launch!


 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Red Light, Green Light

I found this charming little cat statue at the Ships of the Maritime Museum in Savannah Georgia:


With the accompanying description:

14. "Cat"

Probably French, 19th century

"Ceramic "cats" like this were placed in the windows of brothels in English ports in the late 18th and 19th centuries. If the cat had green eyes, this meant the house was open; if the cat had red eyes, it meant the house was full or that police were nearby; if the cat's back was turned, it meant the house was closed.

So uh, hey...

 

Is that where the traffic light colors come from? Brothel cat eye codes?

The Straight Dope about the origin of traffic light colors cites early 1800s railroad signals, but is the cat's eye code older than those?

Eldritch Gambit: Why?

  Portrait of the author bloviating. At least I didn't put it in the book . There is very little explanation of why I made Eldritch Gamb...