Errant RPG from Chubby Funster

Here, it is, the “thing” I mentioned. It is the Errant RPG, by independent game designer Greg Christopher. Ina nutshell, this is an outstanding game. It is a free download, click the image to go to the site (I’m loving WordPress already, I could never figure out how to make blogger do that).

OK, so what about the game, besides being free, makes it so outstanding? Quite a few things.

Before I go any further, I must point out that the die mechanic here is roll under, in all situations, including combat. All modifiers are applied to the target number, NOT the roll. I saw a comment somewhere about modifying the target putting the onus on the referee, whereas modifying the roll put it on the player. The person making the comment feels that will speed up play, since the player only has to announce his roll, rather do any math. I’m not sure I agree with that. Either way, the math is getting done. The only real advantage to modifying the target is that it supports the roll-under mechanic in a logical way. Pluses are still bonuses, and minuses are still penalties. It keeps things from being confusing.

I’m not sure which label to apply. OSR, supports old-school style play, simulacrum, whatever. I’m not real handy with labels. It reads like it will be old school in deed, if not in word. It has the classic six attributes, and they pretty much do the classic things. They are determined in the classic way. There are a couple of additional “stats”, Luck and Karma.

Luck is a metagame feature, as is typical for things of this type. Starting Luck is rolled on 2d6, and may be modified by race. It’s use is interesting. Luck can only be used with a d20 roll, so it can’t be used to reroll damage, for example. When it is used, the player adds the character’s Luck value to the target number. If this raises the target number over the failed d20 roll, it becomes a success. (Remember, this is roll-under, and modifiers are applied to the target number.) Then, the player must subtract one from his available Luck. Pretty simple.

Karma is this game’s answer for Alignment. It ranges from -25 to +25. Most folks hover right around zero. The extremes represent extremes of Good and Evil. The number fluctuates based on the character’s actions. Interestingly, changes to a character’s Karma are decided democratically by the players at the table. They nominate each other, debate the degree of Karmic shift, and vote. In the right situation, this should be really cool. A group that has shades of dysfunction, rules lawyering (since they like to bitch over details), or whiny little munchkins may have problems. Likewise, small groups of only 2 or 3 players, unless mature gamers, could run into issues. The Karma rating comes into play with things that are dependent on the relative Good/Evil of the subject in question.

Hit points are handled a little differently. They are rolled pretty much as you would expect, based on class and level. They are explicitly stated to represent the character’s ability to endure physical hardship. They represent fatigue and minor scrapes, cuts, and bruises, most often. Once they are depleted, shit gets real. When HP are at zero, subsequent damage is taken against Attributes. Not a terribly new idea, right? Well, in Errant, they are taken against random stats. Each time the character takes more damage, another randomly determined stat takes a hit. Gritty, brutal, and delightfully evocative. Once a single Attribute reaches zero, the character is dead. Obviously, you won’t be hacking at goblins until one of their Attributes hits zero. Such third-tier creatures and NPCs are dispatched at the end of their HP. I almost forgot to mention: there is a chance Attribute damage can result in scarring and permanent injury. Good stuff.

I was intending to do this in one post, rather than the multi-part series I’ve done in the past, but there is too much more I want to say. I don’t want to gloss over anything and leave someone with a misconception. This game really is worth a look, and I would hate for hurrying the post to leave someone with a wrong idea about something, and that keep them from checking it out. So, until next time . . .

Welcome to the new digs

Welcome to all of you that stay with me and make the journey to the new realm. I’m not sure what happened with blogger, it just went “dark” on me. I’ve been wanting to try out WordPress anyway. I just didn’t because . . . well, I guess I already said why I didn’t. So, here we are. It may take me a few days to get settled in and get this place looking familiar (I was happy with how I had things arranged in blogger). I found something new right under my nose that I’ll be reading and giving my impressions on soon. It’ll be the first “official” post here, so don’t go far.

Viscious Cycles

After all these years, I’ve identified a basic pattern to my ADD. It isn’t universal. My lack of focus doesn’t always follow this pattern, but I have identified this as one way my focus shifts.
For example, right now I am working on S&S for Alternity. I’m trying to keep real changes to the system to a minimum, limiting additions, and not adding any sort of mechanics unless unavoidably necessary. In short, I’m trying to keep it simple, which is true to the old school.

However, it is work. It does involve conceptualizing things, tweaking, twisting, and re-spinning certain aspects. Additionally, these modifications will need to be explained to anyone playing (which is a purely academic point for me, at this time), rather than just having us all play from the same book we all know. (We, in this case, being a complete hypothetical, of course.)

So, from all this angst will inevitably spring a desire to get back to something simpler and more pure. Typically, this leads me to S&W WhiteBox. I love that game. The elegant simplicity just sings. Then, I start actually thinking about doing something with it. It is at that point that I see all of its holes which I will need to patch.

Which brings me around to thinking that if I’m going to be doing all that work to make WB play S&S the way I want it to, I may as well be using Alternity as the foundation . . .

Full circle.

Alternity S&S Magic Hazards

What follows are my preliminary ideas for the hazards of magic use in an Alternity S&S game.

Compulsion
Magical power is an addictive thing. Once tasted, the lust for it never goes away. Any time a caster’s power or ability increases the player must make a Compulsion Check. If this check fails, the character’s Compulsion modifier, which begins at 0 increases one step.
If the character is ever faced with the opportunity to increase his prowess, and the player wishes to pass on the opportunity, a Compulsion Check is made against the character’s WILL. If this check is unsuccessful, the player must attempt to obtain the object of the Compulsion. This could be a spellbook, enchanted object, rare ingredients, or magical formula. Anything that could result in the character being more powerful is fair game.
Note that fulfilling the Compulsion is not a suicide mission. If the object of desire is well-guarded or otherwise inaccessible, the character will plot and scheme ceaselessly until he works out a plan for acquiring the object. It is an obsessive Compulsion, though, and will dominate his every thought until he owns it.
Corruption
Magical power was never intended to be wielded by men. It is corrupting, damaging to a caster’s very humanity. Too much contact with the forces of magic will eventually render the caster a twisted, mad creature, no longer human.
 Casters have an additional Trait, Humanity. It starts at one-half WILL. Each time a casting roll attempted, successful or not, the player must make a Corruption Check, against the character’s WILL. This roll is always made with the Control Die only. Each time it is failed, the next roll is made with a +1 per failure. If the roll fails, the character’s Humanity drops by 1. If the sum of the roll + modifier is 20 or more, the character has acquired an Arcane Taint, selected from the following list:
Negative Aura*
Animals and children react negatively to such a character. Animals and children will never react favorably to such a character and may react very negatively.
Disfigurement**
 One of the character’s normal physical features becomes disfigured. It is disturbing and discomfiting to look at, but not supernatural or unnatural. Affects Interaction Broad Skill.
Distrusted
 The character finds it very difficult to win the trust of NPCs. Affects Culture, Interaction, and Leadership Broad Skills.
Broken**
 The character’s physical being is becoming weakened by constant exposure to magic. Affects all Strength Skills, plus Endurance.
Mutation**
An unnatural form of disfigurement. This could take the form of a cloven hoof replacing a foot, an obnoxious odor, eyes of unnatural hue, claw hand, or anything else that isn’t natural about the human body. Affects all Personality Skills.
Odious Personal Habit*
The character develops a personal habit that is so bad it negatively affects his interactions with others. Some examples could include arguing with oneself very loudly, refusing to bath, “nervous” speech patterns, insistence on neurotic behaviors, etc. The possibilities are endless. This affects all Personality Skills.
Nocturnal
 The character has become a creature of the night. Any activity undertaken in daylight suffers a +1 Step penalty.
Mad
The character has become insane. This is difficult to nail down and should be worked out on an individual basis. No matter what, though, it is bad.
Each time an Arcane Taint is gained it causes a +1 Step Penalty to the associated ability.

Odious Personal Habit
The character develops a personal habit that is so bad it negatively affects his interactions with others. Some examples could include arguing with oneself very loudly, refusing to bath, “nervous” speech patterns, insistence on neurotic behaviors, etc. The possibilities are endless. This affects all Personality Skills.

Nocturnal
The character has become a creature of the night. Any activity undertaken in daylight suffers a +1 Step penalty.

Mad
The character has become insane. This is difficult to nail down and should be worked out on an individual basis. No matter what, though, it is bad.

Each time an Arcane Taint is gained it causes a +1 Step Penalty to the associated ability.

Alternity for S&S: Initial Thoughts

(I wasn’t going to post this, and just keep these notes here as a back-up. I think, though, that I will post them. If I keep them as back-ups I’ll delete them and this design history will be lost. I find it very beneficial to trace the genesis and development of these things, especially when I get off track or need inspiration. Please forgive me if these “designer’s notes” are a little more stream-of-conscious than usual. That’s just how I roll.)

Broad skills for the types of magic as in ZeFRS. They are “free”, point-wise, but each comes with Compulsion. This is not a Flaw in the traditional sense, and does not grant bonus points. I’m not sure what it is, beyond the cost of learning magic. At any rate, Every time a sorcerous character increases in magical power (such as improving his broad skill, learning a new spell, unlocking the mysteries of an enchanted item, etc), he suffers a permanent one-step penalty to the roll. Compulsion checks against WILL whenever the character is presented with an opportunity to increase his power and ability.

Spells should be pre-defined rituals, except for Summoners. They command demons to their bidding.

The Cost of Doing Business I want to study up on the cyberpsychosis rules to see about using them as a model for how sorcerers lose their humanity as a result of trucking with dark forces.

All spells are rituals, to some degree. Some are relatively quick, some may take days, but none are able to be cast in combat. Sorcerers employ a variety of tricks and tactics to bring magic into combat, but no matter how the trappings may differ, mechanically, it all comes down to the same thing:

Foci
A Focus is an item enchanted to be a receptacle for spells. There are an endless variety of Foci. Some examples are:

  • Knotted ropes
  • Wands
  • Staves
  • Corked jars
  • Flash paper
  • Rings of power
  • Crowns or helms
  • Crystals

Pretty much anything, as long as it is of sufficient quality can be enchanted to hold at least one spell of modest power.

As a general rule, the more spells that are attempted to be placed into the focus, the more likely it will be destroyed in the attempt. Each spell increases the chance of failure, it isn’t some flat rate. The relative power of the spell also has an effect.

Obviously, combat is not the only instance where a sorcerer may need to bring magical power to bear in short order. There are many other foci, such as those used in divinatory magic, that are designed for uses other than combat.

That’s it for preliminary thoughts. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so I want to keep the core systems as intact as possible, reskinning where necessary.

ZeFRS Wrap Up

I finished reading ZeFRS this afternoon. Essentially the rules finish up with fairly standard chapters on Hazards (such as falling, fire, and poison) and Life in an S&S World (largely an economy and equipment chapter). These final pages were fairly predictable. They are virtually the same in every game because that’s just the way it is. There is very little innovation to be eeked out of an economics chapter (The Riddle of Steel was the last I’ve seen with its unique and quirky way of handling specific countries’ currency based on weight of precious metals contained). That’s not a knock against ZeFRS, just a fact of game design. One of this type of coin equals this many of that type. It hasn’t changed much. Likewise, hazards. Basically, the hazards chapter for any game simply shows how to plug said hazards into the damage system.

ZeFRS attacks its subject with all the gusto of a northern barbarian. It very exuberantly dives in, seeking to take its new ideas and forge a new type of gaming experience. Unfortunately, it ends up being like a bad teacher. We’ve all had somebody try to teach us something they are very passionate about and knowledgeable in. They’ll explain it in a very quick and cursory fashion, and not understand how we didn’t “get it”. It is so obvious to them, they can’t conceive of it being less so to someone else. That’s how these rules struck me. I love how dangerous and risky the magic system is intended to be. But, other than the excellent Obsession rule, how do I translate those ideas into a playable system?

By the end of the book I realized something. The rules are chock full of fresh, innovative, and new ideas. Ideas that were indeed ahead of their time. Now, 27 years after the release of the rules ZeFRS is based on, their time has passed. There are a lot of systems that have taken a lot of those ideas (but not Obsession, for some reason) and refined them. All these ideas need is a well-explained system to plug them into and they will shine like the jewels of Atlantis. A system where damage is realistic, combat is gritty and dangerous, and magic poses a very real threat to the very soul of anyone who even dares to learn how to do it, let alone actually casts spells.

It makes me want to bolt these fantastic ideas onto Alternity. Don’t groan, I’ve not made any bones about liking the system. I think it could pull it off. In fact, it seems there are certain ancestral ties between Alternity’s resolution mechanic and the ZeFRS color chart. They both feature degrees of success based on the resolution roll. I know they aren’t the only two rules systems to have that sort of feature, but I recall reading somewhere that there are design ties between the two. There are a few Alternity-to-Fantasy things floating around. I need to look at some, I think . . .

Ailoria: A New Map

This is a hand drawn sketch (obviously) of a new setting/world. I was waiting for my wife at an appointment she had Saturday morning, and it just came to me. It’s going to be a gritty, S&S themed thing. I feel awkward over what to call it. I hate calling it setting because that, to me, connotates something designed as a backdrop for a specific purpose. I don’t feel comfortable with world either, because obviously, it isn’t. Besides, I know me, if I start calling it world, then I’ll feel compelled to venture beyond the confines of this map. I want to keep my efforts focused here.

Anyway, I’m going to develop it along the lines of the small-kingdom concept I discussed in this thread. I’ll also be trying out the Welsh Piper’s Hex-based Campaign Design.

Speaking of it being gritty S&S, I’ve come to realize something. I don’t want pure, true-to-the-sources S&S. I want an S&S style, but I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I still want some classic D&D tropes. Some. For example:

  • I don’t want the chief adversaries to be limited to humans. I want monsters.
  • I don’t want to have to make up some horror lost to time, in order for the adventure to truly have a monster
  • At the same time, I don’t want to have to consider the implications of orcs having their own nations. Monsters exist, but mainly as antithesis to civilization and the forces of Law. They are the Bad Guys, and are not to be trusted.
  • Lastly, I want to allow for good, old-fashioned dungeon crawls. I don’t want every adventure to be a case of sneak-in-without-getting-caught, grab the loot, and run-out-before-we get-killed.

So, there it is. This will be my design log, which I’m sharing in hopes of getting feedback that will help me do this the best I can. This map is the starting point. I’m going to port it into GIMP and try to pretty it up. That will be submitted for comment, as well.

PS> The name is pronounced EYE-loria.

ZeFRS Magic

So, magic. The magic in ZeFRS is covered in three pages. Yes, that’s right, three pages. There are no predefined spell lists. In fact, there aren’t even guidelines for inventing spells. It is suggested that the player and referee should have a meeting of the minds to determine the risk:reward ratio. Frankly, it left me a little flat. I’m not afraid to whip this shit up on the fly, but some sort of guidelines are needed. Without them it becomes very easy to create spells that are completely out of balance and unfair to all concerned. Especially with a magic system that is so dangerous for casters.

All is not lost, however. There are some really cool ideas for imparting the mood of S&S magic. My favorite, bar none, is Obsession. Once a character learns his first magical Talent, he gains a rating in a new Talent, Obsession. It represents the uncontrollable desire for magical power. From then on, every time the character grows in magical power his Obsession rating increases by one. Any time the character is faced with the opportunity to increase his magical power and the player wants to resist it, a roll must be made. If the roll is failed, the character succumbs. Here is a quote from the Obsession section:

if it possible to sate the character’s lust for magic without harming his friends, he will do so. But if injuring or betraying them can’t be avoided … well, sometimes a magician just has to do what he has to do…

I think that is an awesome mechanic to model the absolute danger to a magician’s soul. It is one thing to foist certain penalties or limitations on them. If they have the choice of when to risk the dangers, then they aren’t nearly as dangerous. When they are being compelled to face the dangers, it changes things.

All in all, there are some excellent ideas here for S&S-style magic, they just aren’t very well developed. Something along the lines of Barbarians of Lemuria’s magic system would be a good fit. Magic in BoL is a somewhat a la cart affair, but with clear advice on how to judge the power of spells.

It is one thing to embrace the rulings-not-rules, DIY spirit. It is quite another to be left without any direction whatsoever. I just wish there had been a little more in the way of guidance.

ZeFRS Chapters 2-4

Fellow OSRers rejoice! If for no other reason, brothers and sisters, than the casual ambiguity laced throughout these rules. I love this stuff. So much of it is left open to interpretation, and at the same time leaves the prospective referee feeling comfortable enough to deliver that interpretation. Some rules sets have had passages that left me scratching my head and flipping back and forth until I became disenchanted and moved on. Not so, here. Several times I found myself slightly confounded, and just said to myself “I’ll worry about it when it comes up” and kept right on reading. Also, in these chapters, I spied certain passages that I felt needed modification. When I’ve finished my reading I’ll collect my house rule ideas and post them for critical review.

For now, though, Chapter Two: Talents . . .

I fully expected this to be a standard listing of this type of thing, and for the most part it is. There are magical talents listed, which, I assume, are fully detailed in the Magic chapter. There’s a fair description of them in this chapter, though, and they are quite flavorful and moody. One thing that struck me while reading these is the cost of magic, in the toll on the caster’s body. In many cases the caster acquires a weakness each time he casts a spell, successful or not. At first I chaffed at this a bit, thinking it was very restrictive. It may yet turn out to be, once I’ve read the Magic chapter. Another thought occurred to me, however. Casters of magic in this game are threatening, simply in the fact that they are able to command these terrible powers. Sure, a necromancer may develop a cloven left foot for even attempting to raise my character’s dead grandmother and animate her corpse, but, would my guy want to risk pissing him off? I like that thought. Of course, the spells have to be powerful enough to warrant the gamble, and that remains to be seen. As I noted above, house ruling is a simple matter, and scaling risk/reward should prove to be no problem, if I perceive an imbalance.

Chapter Three covers the Resolution Chart. It’s very straight-forward. I’m sure at the time it may have seemed a little gimmicky, but the bottom line is, it works. It is in these two short pages that we run upon our first Ambiguity. Some modifiers result in “column shifts”. If you’re interested, and without the rules, you can refer to my previous post for a look at the Chart. Anyway, these column shifts seem to have been ill-defined from the outset. There are the individual columns, and these are also bound by heavier column lines in groups of 4 or 5. So, the question arises, What constitutes a column shift? Is it counted by individual columns, i.e. a -1 shift takes column 8 down to column 7? Or, is it counted by the larger, grouped, columns? It gets even fuzzier from there, so I’ll stop. Sounds like a muddy mess, right? Here’s the thing: All it takes is one simple decision from the referee, and the problem is solved. Make a ruling, before play even begins, let everyone know what it is, and get to it.

Chapter Four is Combat. This combat features some things I traditionally desire in a combat system. Armor reduces damage, the chance to hit is based on attacker’s skill, modified by defender’s skill, a “damage point” system which models a character’s ability to prosecute the fight, backed up by a specific wound system which allows a sense of uncertainty.

Let me expand on that damage point thing. Characters have Damage Points, bought up at character generation, and I’m assuming, improved through play. These damage points seem to represent most of what hit points do: luck, favor of the gods, endurance, ability to shrug off a blow, etc. Damage Points are fewer, and not automatically improved as the character advances. Once all the damage points are gone, further injury invites the possibility of unconsciousness or death.

Then, there’s the whole Specific Wound thing. If a hit is truly grievous, it causes a Specific Wound, regardless of armor or other factors. This wound, based on location and damage type, can result in anything from losing the use of a limb, to death. A character so abused is allowed to roll to avoid the effect.

There’s a section on Mass Combat, which I haven’t read yet (I wanted to get this post in). I know I’m probably forgetting some things I wanted to mention. If I remember them I’ll pass them along. For now, it is time to read that Magic chapter . . .

ZeFRS Resolution Chart

Here is my version of the ZeFRS Resolution Chart. I made it to be somewhat printer-friendly, though I did splurg a little with the heavy title text and sword. Either should be easily deleted, should you desire. I wanted something easier on the printer than all those heavy blocks of color. I made this one from scratch, using Libre Office Calc for the “table” part of it, then imported it into GIMP for the title text, “key” text, and sword. The key text is left open so that it can be color-coded to the appropriate section of the chart.

I have printed this out, and it looks good, completely legible and clear. The “interior” lines on the graph are thin, but I think they look good that way. I used colored pencils on it and this is how it turned out:

I darked up some of the lines by hand, mostly because I knew I wasn’t going to waste ink and print it again, so there was no point doing it digitally. Unless I need to print it again, that is. If I do, I’ll upload the update.