Saturday, September 20, 2014

Rpg analysis - Cthulhu Dark

What is Cthulhu Dark? It's a system with very few rules created by Graham Walmsley to play investigative lovecraftian games. It's very lite, the main rules comprise only two pages and, using a small font and no cover, you can even fit all of it in one page. Although I know the system for years now and have seen it play a few times, I never had the chance to run it myself. In fact, my gaming table was never fond of the idea of playing it. The simplicity of the system, the lack of hard rules, the lack of customization and overall liteness drove them off. I was just able to play it myself on the other day and it was amazing.

Character creation is made in seconds. The player thinks on an archetype he wants to play, describe the character succinctly and gives them an occupation and a name. For example, Jonatham Walles, the old seasoned linguistics professor of Arkham. Or Margareth Jennings, the young and dashing journalist from the Los Angeles' 'Daily Currents'. Then, the GM presents a situations to be investigated and things catch on from there.

The main mechanic is very simple. Any time an investigator is challenged by a hard situation, or you want to see how well he's done some task, roll 1d6 if it is possible to be done by any human, +1d6 if it is something the character is specialized with and stick with the highest number. Then, the GM interprets the results, ranging from 1 (your action succeeds just by the skin of your teeth, probably with very costly repercussions) to 6 (not only you do it well, but you may also gain benefices from it). If there is a chance of failure, a player (or even the GM) mays state how clearly you may fail and roll 1d6 against you. If he rolls higher, the character does not succeed. It is a very fast and simple resolution mechanic.

The other mechanic is insanity roll and insanity die. The insanity rolls is, at any time you are confronted with a horrific situation or unnatural (dealing with magick, seeing the mythos creatures, reading a mythos tome), you roll 1d6 an compare it to your Insanity value. If the roll is higher than your Insanity, add +1 to your insanity level. Everyone starts with 1 insanity and, when you get to 6 insanity, you go completely insane and loses your character. The insanity die mechanic is, at any time you exert yourself and accept sacrificing your sanity to do something, you may roll your insanity die. If the insanity die is the highest one rolled, you now have to do an insanity roll.

One of the most amazing qualities of Cthulhu Dark is its adaptability. With a few tweaks, you can play anything with it. In forums it is possible to look at rules for emulating dungeon crawling, rules for playing cyberpunk, rules for playing splatter-horror, survival-horror, action-thriller. All you have to do is shift the focus by changing the Insanity attribute to something that fits the setting, while using the same mechanics.

In a cyberpunk setting, give a list of cybernetics characters can buy which widens the scope of actions one can do and change Insanity to Machine/Hollow. Every time you use your cybernetics to the expenses of your humanity and soul, roll the die. When you get Machine 6, you've become a soulless machine. Or if you want to play an action-thriller (similar to Max Paine and Matrix) or even action horror (like Dead Space), substitute Insanity with Slow-mo, Bullet-time or just Karma. Every time you test your luck, goes beyond your limit or just call down the bullet time to make everything go slow, roll the Karma die. When Karma gets to 6, it is time to pay your debt to destiny as finally a bullet hits you right in the head, or your body give in to the stress and injuries you suffered during the adventure. However you rename and re-do the Insanity aspect of Cthulhu Dark, just remember to use it to evoke what you are trying to simulate.

Now, talking about one of the less appealing aspects of the system to me, I don't like that it does not work very well to play long running campaigns, although that is by design – as the game was made to be simple and fast. But I believe it is not hard to implement a few rules to allow character growth. For example, having at the end of each investigation all the surviving player characters add a specialty linked to a fact that happened during game. For example, if in the game the character had successfully hidden from a monster, the player could add to the character sheet 'light feet', 'quiet' or anything that fits. Anytime such specialty could be used in future games, it adds +1 die to the roll. Also, to diminish the lingering effects of insanity, at the end of an investigation all Insanity scores should be halved (rounded down). This adds a dimension of growth to the characters and the possibility to make long lasting campaigns possible. Although a very simple approach, It is nonetheless very similar to how diceless games, such as Amber and Karma, do. While you don't have many numbers, stats and values to handle and thousands of xp points to deal with, you can still develop your characters in a way that both reflects their story and the game mechanics.

Overall, Cthulhu Dark is an endearing system, fast paced and simple to use. It never seems to get in your way when you are narrating and gives you enough tools to develop narration and plot without interference. As of now, I'm thinking of the many possibilities of Cthulhu Dark and may be developing those ideas in later posts.

Until next time


Image 1


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

OSR Extras (12) – Splatter Beast, new character class

Do you guys know splatterhouse? The extremely gory game from both the Sega Genesis era and its remake for XBOX 360? In resume, it's a game where you have to save the girl you love, Jen, who was taken by evil forces inside a dark Mansion (the aforementioned 'Splatterhouse'). For that, you join forces with the Horror Mask which transforms you in a Jason-like figure while you smashes and splatter through a horde of abominable and grotesque monsters, with more blood spilled than in all Mortalk Kombat games combined (maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, eh?).

Nevertheless, it's a very gory game and, if you like splatter fiction (like the books of Clive Barker or Slasher horror films), you might be interested in those games. As I was re-watching some scenes of those games, I could not help to think about how amusing it would be to play something like that in a tabletop rpg. You know, playing as a savage hulking beast capable of destroying enemies into pieces and stuff like that.

And that is exactly what I bring you folks here. A new character class if you want to play a very gory, brutal and violent warrior, capable of mangling foes left and right. The Splatter Beast:

Splatter Beast

By some work of unknown forces, you were changed. Now you are a vessel of some source of energy hard to control and even harder to conceive, that gives you an instinctively understanding on the workings of skin and bones and flesh and blood. But not that boring kind of understanding related to lab coats, emaciated bodies and weary eyes of studies. No, your knowledge runs on a much more primal basis of fear and force, brutality and violence. You are a master of gore and all that is meat and bones bow to your skill. And it doesn't matter if you are happy or not with your current state – the power does not care. Do it for good, do it for evil. It's pointless. You are a Splatter Beast.

Requirements: ST 12, CON 10
HD: 1d10/level
Attack: +1/ 2 levels (+1 at 2 nd, +2 at 4 th, +3 at 6 th etc.)
Saving Throws: As a dwarf (1 st edition) or a paladin (2 nd edition)
XP progression: As a dwarf (1 st edition) or a paladin (2 nd edition)
Weapons and Armor: You may use any weapon and any armor.
Alignment: Any. Although one could think that the Splatter Beast is irrevocably evil, that is not true. In fact, many of those fighers bestowed with this gift of power become broken souls, unable to deal with what they've become. Many will use this power for good, others for evil. The powers do not care much


. Splatter Die: The main feature of the Splatter Beast is the Splatter Die. It starts as 1d3-1 at level 1, becoming 1d4 at level 4, 1d6 at 6, 1d8 at 8, 1d10 at 10, 1d12 at 12 and 1d20 at 18. Every time you make a melee attack, you also roll the Splatter Die and add it to your attack roll. However, besides adding to your attack roll, the Splatter Die also has other abilities. If you roll equal or higher than a creature's HD near you (at the range of your physical attack), you may choose one of the options below:

. Splatter Kill (Mutilate): You outright kill the creature in a flashy and fleshy way. If the creature is too big or powerful, the GM might deny this option. Instead, consider that you mutilate it and cause extra damage equal to the value rolled in your splatter die. Optionally, instead of extra damage, the GM may allow you to cause some affliction to the creature, making it blind, slow or something else.

. Rumble: You trample through the battlefield, smashing against the monsters and throwing them into one another. You cause your splattter die damage in an area near you. As an option, and if it is possible, you may also throw a monster against other monsters, causing an area attack (relative to the monster's size, the GM will decide) where the monster lands, causing your splatter die of damage.

For example. a 4 th level Splatter Beast would have +2 Attack and a 1d4 Splatter Die. Let suppose it is attacked by 9 kobolds (1 HD each, 4 with short bows at distance and 5 surrounding the beast). During its turn, the splatter beast attacks the kobolds near it. Rolling 13 at the attack, + 4 as the splatter die, the beast chooses to Rumble and causes 4 damage at all kobolds. Since all of them had 4 or less hp, they are all dead in a shower of trampling and stomping. On its next turn, the Splatter Beast could take one of the corpses and throw it at the other kobolds, causing damage in area and probably wiping out the feeble enemies.

. Weapons of flesh: When you use a body part as a weapon during a melee attack aginast a single opponent, your damage caused is equal to your splatter die. At level 6, the flesh weapons count as +1, at level 12, as +2 and at level 18 as +3. You can't combine this option with Rumble or Mutilate.

. Blood feed: The Splatter Beast needs blood to survive. Per day, it must drink as much blood as it needs water, or they will suffer the same effects for dehydration.

And that is the Splatter Beast. I hope you folks enjoyed it. I have some other ideas for new gory character classes that I'd like to share with you in case you like this one.

Until next time

Images 1, 2

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rpg Theory - The Persona aspect of rpg and the GNS theory

 I talked a little bit about the GNS theory (Gamist, Narrativist and Simulationist) in my last post, and today I`d like to elaborate a little more about this subject and give you folks my take on the GNS theory and my addendum to it.

In its core, the GNS bases its premises in three aspects: the game aspect (challenges and tactics), the narrative aspect (the mechanics that deal with character development and story building) and the simulation aspect (how well does the system emulate its proposed genre, like western, fantasy or sci-fi). Albeit a very engaging theory, I find some of its points problematic, specially concerning many of its abstract concepts and the difficulty of applying them in a direct analysis of a rpg system. In part, I believe that happens by reason of its conceptual application. At first, the GNS was used fundamentally to categorize the different player behaviors and expectations. But it took not long for it to be translated and applied to more direct game design and used as a guideline to write rpg systems in general. Thenceforth, many others have theorized and build upon the GNS theory and some of its notions have changed or, at least, the way those notions are apprehended by the public have changed. As of today, the three concepts are normally understood as follows: Gamist (rpg game that focus on rules, crunchiness, tactics, challenges, combat); Narrativist (rpg games that focus on telling stories, shared narration, open-ended player characters attributes); Simulationist (rpg games that focus in character building and realism).

However, I find such definitions either excessively abstract or lacking in their direct application as descriptive tools for rpg systems. So I started to think about the subject of properly describing rpg systems with a more direct approach. The main question that directed my searches was: What composes the fundamental aspects of a role playing game? Are there any characteristics that comprise every single tabletop rpg game? In order to achieve such endeavor, I mingled concepts and played with some ideas and, even though I change my mind from time to time, I believe I've found a manner to which I'm comfortable with and find affordable its application as a descriptive method for rpg systems.

Basically, what is tabletop rpg? It's a game of telling stories in group. But those stories are not told randomly, like those said in a bonfire during a camping trip. No, they use specific sets of rules to direct the storytelling process. Such sets of rules are called Systems, and there are hundreds of them. Every rpg system has 4 main aspects:

. Gamist: The game and rules. Every system has a set of rules that all participants must follow in order to build the story together. The more a system feels like a tabletop game – having rules for specific roles that a character must have (like classes), having the story scenes be based on challenges (like, for example, having challenge levels or specif objectives in each scene needed to be done in order to advance the story), having tactical and complex rules for challenges (like combat grids) – the more gamist elements it has.

. Narrativist: The story and narration. Every participant may contribute with the story building. The more a system gives options to its participants to build the story – having everyone to contribute with the narration, having the world building be done by everyone and having open-ended attributes that allow for improvisation on the part of the players – the more narrativist elements it has.

. Simulationist: The genre and mood. The system has an ideal setting or mood that it tries to emulate with its rules. The more a system has mood and genre components – the design of its nomenclature reflect the genre its trying to emulate, the game rules has specifics for the genre, and the game awards the players for acting in consonance with the mood or genre – the more simulationist it is.

. Personalist: The character and roleplay. There are characters (Personas) that the participants may interpret and play. The more a system focus in character building – giving options to customize the skills and capacities of a character, giving options for mechanical representation of a character demeanor, moral and personality and awarding players for creating a backstory for a character – the more personalist it is.

As you may see, I added a fourth layer of description to the GNS theory – The Persona element, which has elements of the original Narrativist elements, but focusing entirely in character building. I believe that this addition helps better describing a rpg system because it deals with the very important element of the 'characters', be them primary (of the players), secondary (of the GM) or tertiary (the extras of the world). Just for the sake of nomenclature, I call this the 'GNSP' idea.

It is important to notice that the fact that a system has more elements of an aspect than other system does not make it 'better'. This is just a descriptive method, and in no ways it tries to judge normatively a system. Every system can be fun to play, that is not the question in debate here. The proposal is of a method of describing systems.

However, this post is merely an introduction to this GNSP theory I just briefly presented. At length, I hope to introduce more of its parts and discuss every element meticulously.

Until next time,


Image 1

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Rpg Reflections - What makes combat interesting in Gamism, Simulationism and Narrativism?

In my last post, where I talked why rpg systems make warriors boring, I think I jumped across a crucial point of the discussion: what makes combat interesting? So, today I'd like to elaborate a little bit on this question using the GNS theory (gamism, narrativism and simulationism), which is a very well known rpg theory and gaming theory. If you are not acquainted with this theory, do not worry, for I will make a quick introduction of it.

Just as a very broad and brief summary of the concepts, Gamist games and players focus on challenges and on the 'game' aspect of an rpg. The main objective comprises of defeating the problems that appear during the adventure using all the different skills and powers that your group of characters has. Simulationist games and players tend to center around the 'roleplay' aspect, and the system offers a wide array of options for customizing characters in order for them to 'feel real' and to simulate reality. Narrativist games and players focus on the greater picture, the 'plot' and 'story' being created by the group. Its mechanics are created in order to give every participant in the table a chance of adding to the story, often sharing the narration control of the GM with the players.

So, through the lens of those different views of play, what makes a combat interesting?

Combat in Gamism: The fun is in the challenge, in creating a good character build and being able to overcome your foes with superior tactics. The stats and mechanics exist to create a tactical environment for the players and the GM to clash forces and strategies. Characters builds are oriented for specific maneuvers, monsters have specific weaknesses and, although luck is always present, a good player, well versed in the rules of the game and with a good character build, is able to overcome most of the challenges with ease. The most well known example of Gamist Combat is D&D (specially 3 rd edition and 4 th edition) and Pathfinder (which is, basically a D&D 3,75 ed). Those games give a thousand different choices for customizing your character, every single one with different tactical applications. Combat may take hours (sometimes days), with monsters using the widest array possible of powers and skills to take the players off guard. However, in my opinion, the greatest example of Gamist combat in rpg is the not well known Fate of the Norns. In that game, instead of using dice, you use little runes, each one linked to different skills of your character, and you are able to play them in the gaming table following very strict and interesting rules (similar to a Domino game). The way you combine pieces in relation to what others combine in the table will affect the result of your actions and this is probably the most tactical and interested combat system I have ever seen in a tabletop rpg game.

Combat in Simulationism: It is all about simulating the verisimilitude of reality. Every action and every move a character makes must have an echo in the rules. Blinking, changing weapons, readying weapons, speaking, everything makes the difference. With the focus shifted from the 'challenge' to 'simulation', combat in a Simulationist game must feel real. Injuries have clear effects at the body. If a character is hurt, he will feel pain, and that must interfere in someway with his rolls. The stats reflect this reality, and players have a wide variety of many 'small' options, small variations of skills, attributes, advantages, everything in order for them to feel the combat as real and to feel immersed in the game. Although we have many simulationist rpgs systems (like Storytller/ing, Daemon, EABA, Fuzion), they are very similar in their objective of simulating reality. If I'd point one out, I would say that the greatest example of a Simulationist game is Gurps, one of the great old ones of all rpg systems. In Gurps, combat turns take 1 second, a very realistic approach, and the characters can do very little in their turns. It is like the saying: 'Art imitates life, and life imitates Gurps'.

Combat in Narrativism: The focus is on telling a story and narrating events. Because of that, the stats of a character normally matter very little to narrativist combat. All that matters is how the player will narrate his actions, and the stats function mostly as a 'coloring' tool. Some good examples lies within two of the oldest narrativist rpg games: Risus and The Pool. In those games, characters have very broad stats (like, for example, 'Viking', 'Retired Space cowboy', 'In search for the Holy Grail', 'Master of the Elements beyond Space and Time'). Those stats may be used however the player find them possible to use – you may use 'Viking' for drinking, and 'In search of the Holy Grail' as a social skill to convince a merchant guild to lend you a boat in order to fight those pesky orcs for 'The Greater Good'. Narrativism does not care much about realism and challenge, but in telling an interesting story. Other very well known narrattivist game is FATE, which is less 'open-ended' than Risus or The Pool. Each character has specific stats to use and rules are more solidified. However, the greatest of all Narrativist games is the infamous Wu Shu. In this game, you have very broad stats (just like Risus and The Pool) but, instead of rolling a fixed number of dice depending on your level of those stats, you roll 1 die per description you say in your action. So, if you say 'I attack the guy (1) with my knife (2)', you gain 2 dice. If you say 'Gritting my teeth (1) in a smile filled with a rage (2) similar of a thousand eunuch demons of hell (3), I raise my hand high (4) and descend it upon my enemy's neck (5), while saying “how'd you like this now, sucker?” (6)', you roll 6 dice. Wu Shu is one of the most different, strange and amazing rpg games I've ever read. Everyone should take a look at it.

So, what makes combat interesting? All o those. There is no thing such as 'plain gamist' or 'plain simulationist' rpg game. All rpgs have a fair share of all those different flavors – some have more of one than another, but nevertheless they all share a bit of every aspect. You, as a player and as a GM, must find what kind of combat you prefer the most – what kind of rpg gamer you are. If you are interested in Gamism, creating tactics and attaining victory against challenges; in Simulationism and feeling immersed in the world while you roleplay your character and play with realistic mechanics; or in Narrativism, where your passion lies in telling stories, adding details to the setting and sharing narrations with the GM. With that, I conclude this reflection by asking you folks to ponder about the way you like to play your games and think of what is your favorite style.

Until next time


Images: in the text


If you liked this post, you may help me improve by sharing it in your social networks. Also, if you are curious, give it a look at my music and literary blog. If you like my work, consider becoming my patreon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rpg Reflections - Why do rpg systems make fighters boring?

Warriors and Fighters are awesome. They are the quintessential hero of fantasy and mythology, doing feats of extraordinary skill and prowess in the battlefield. In mythology, we have the likes of Heracles, who strangled the Nemean lion; or Bellerophon, who, flying mounted at Pegasus, defeated the Chimera; or the god Susanoo, who fought in a titanic struggle against the giant snake Orochi. In modern fiction, few warriors of fantasy can have a greater fame than Conan, the cimmerian barbarian who fought innumerable foes; but, going beyond sword and sorcery, we may see the Jedi Knights from Star Wars, and also behold the many super heroes comix, filled with great martial artists and fighters – like Batman, Daredevil, Wonder Woman and many others.

And why are warriors awesome? I believe because they touch that primal beat in all of us, the instinct of fighting, of getting on our feet and standing tall against opposition. They fight with steel, flesh, fists and bones, bleeding as they claw their way through their many foes. They may use strength – like Samson – cunning – like Ulysses – or incredible agility – like Zorro – but they take hold of the battlefield with their skill.

However, those amazing stunts and incredible maneuvers are not what normally happen in most rpgs. In fact, playing warriors in most rpgs resume to saying 'I attack' and rolling the dice to see if the enemy was hit and then roll some damage. At most, a player might be allowed to 'try' doing amazing stuff as a fighter, but those actions are just 'mechanical'. If you try doing some awesome thing like swinging down a chandelier while doing a back flip, landing at a table, then spout a quirky line and kick the bad guy to a fireplace, you will probably – in most rpg games – have a ton of penalties to your attack roll. So, instead of doing something awesome, you just stick to the 'boring' basic action and say 'I attack'.

Even D&D (and the OSR systems) – which is a rpg game that tries simulating heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery – doesn't treat warriors very well. Old School D&D have some abstract notions in combat (Rounds are very long time wise, attacks and defenses allow for some open ended narration of strikes), which allow some space for roleplaying. However, there are no encouragements for players to narrate their attacks, because it all boils down to the attack roll against AC, with little to no variation. And new school D&D (3 rd and 4 th editions) may even be worse, because they made every aspect of combat very deterministic. Combat rounds have a very strict set time, each attack represent one strike, everyone has specific actions that can be done, be them attacks or move actions. All those specifics focus much more on the 'game' aspects of combat instead of the 'roleplay' aspects.

That is the main problem with fighters and combat in most rpgs: they don't align 'mechanics' with 'roleplay'. Nevertheless, there are rpg systems that allow a lot of interaction between mechanics and roleplaying. Marvel Heroic Roleplay (MHR) compels the players to roleplay every aspect they want to use during an attack in order to roll them – so, if you have Super Speed and Super Strenght, if you want to use both in an attack, you must narrate how they are being used; you can't just say 'I attack'. The Open Versatile Anime rpg (OVA) also makes clear that actions must be correlated with narration. Maybe the greatest example of all recent rpgs is Dungeon World, from the Apocalypse World Engine rpgs, that has very awesome moves and actions for each character class that are directly tied to in game fiction.

Having narration without mechanical output feels empty and pointless. And having mechanics without narration is cold and distant – in fact, if only for the mechanics, it is much better playing a strategy wargame or a video game (like Dark Souls or Final Fantasy). But Rpgs like Dungeon World, MHR and OVA show us that it is possible to find a middle term between mechanics and narration and make combat (and warriors!) incredible.

Thinking about that, on the next days I will be posting about Combat Stunts and Prowess – ideas to allow warriors to be awesome. To allow warriors to jump on the giant scorpion's back and make it sting itself, pull the fur of a werewolf and wrestle with it in the ground and blind a beholder's eye before it shoots its evil rays.

Until next time,

Image 1

If you liked this post, you may help me improve by sharing it in your social networks. Also, if you are curious, give it a look at my music and literary blog. If you like my work, consider becoming my patreon.