Play β€œGunslinger in The West” Now

June 28th 2022: Huzzah! A preview of the full game is available too! See here:

For June’s goal, I am counting Gunslinger in The West as out now! Have a one-pager and a two-pager condensing a larger 15-page document I’m keeping on the backburner for some more formal testing (graphic design would be nice to have too).

Without further ado, Gunslinger in The West:

Prelude

The West is a land of the lawless and everyone else. You gave up all to come here as a Gunslinger on your horse with your gun to protect – or to take – what little is left.

Perhaps you found some fortune on the way, perhaps you made some friends, all fleetin’.

Regardless of how the sun set, you are here now. There is no Law or government man to tell you what, so how will it be? Save the innocent from the rough? Rough ’em yourself? Explore the wild, undiscovered places? Seek your own justice or justify your own acts?

Your skills got you here, but they will only help keep what is yours yours, steel and soul. So roll your two dice, rely on what makes you particular, pray to luck. You will need it.

Features

Be a deadly Gunslinger in The West with your posse of partners. Fulfill why you are there or get into your own kind of trouble.

  • 2d6 minimal math (-2 to +2) rolling at-or-over 🎲🎲
  • Character creation, progression, and scars
  • Minimal stat tracking via “Particular” skills
  • Game Marshal (GM) guide
  • Riding, hands for hire, and service costs sections
  • Problem and place creators
  • Period-appropriate tables of items and androgynous names

Play Now

(Links below go to Google Drive and the latest game document.)

A single page (both sides) giving the highlights of the game.

(Check this one out!) Two-pages that fill out the system with generating tables, guides, Gunslinger creation and progression, and more!

TBD – Full game system written with extra characterization, examples, and Belle’s Town, and introductory showdown. (Art also TBD.)

The Future and Past

The TODO list is pretty clear cut:

  1. Get the full game updated with the changes from one- and two-pager templates!
    1. See the above preview!
  2. Explore art opportunities.

But what got the game here?

In all truth, Gunslinger in The West is a test project to see what a BITS game with only specialties (the S and no BIT of BITS), called “particulars” in this game. To genuine surprise, this take on the system works quite well!

Further, exploring what it is like to play a ‘hero’ character was eye-opening for development. I will be applying this later to a Halo / DOOM inspired RPG – keep eyes out for it! πŸ‘€

Ride on, Gunslinger! Cheers to your time in The West ~

Can RPG Gear Level-up Too?

Chatting about roleplaying games (RPGs), it struck me: Why are there not rules for leveling-up gear like player characters (PCs) do?

Time to discuss:

PC Leveling

Leveling is when someone or something has accomplished a great deed or series of actions.

What causes a PC to level is everything from grabbing more gold, having adventures, slaying a dragon, or just surviving to fight another day.

When a PC gains a level, some boon or bane happens to them. In most games, the PCs get better with more health, increased performance, and special rules they can use in-game. The rare few games allow a PC to get worse – since these are a super-minority, let us ignore ‘getting worse’ in this analysis.

Gear

Gear, equipment, weapons, armor, trinkets, and more – “gear” for now. These are the tools that assist or enable a PC to do things.

In both real myth, fictional fantasy, and sci-fi, gear is everywhere. Most of it involves no-name, indistinguishable junk – a sword exists for someone to have a sword, nothing more, a helmet could be a hat for how much value it has.

That gear doesn’t matter.

Or maybe it does? Famous pieces of gear had to start somewhere after all.

Some examples of famous gear that get more legendary as time goes on:

    • Medieval armor could be handed down for generations, gaining notable battle scars and a reputation, as much as the family’s suit inΒ Mulan.
    • The oceanic-people’s term “mana” denoted the power of possessions owned and passed down by great leaders.
    • Excalibur from the real life legend of King Arthur, a sword with magical properties and a key to ruling all of Britain.
    • When Bilbo gains the One Ring inΒ The Hobbit, the simple thing shows off its powers again and again until the Ring seats its place as a hugely powerful piece of gear.
    • Gundam introduces the titular Gundam mobile suit. It is dumb and clumsy at first, nearly destroyed by ‘grunt’ enemies. Through use, new systems are installed, abilities get unlocked, and the suit itself becomes ‘smarter,’ able to engage legions of enemies.
    • Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber fromΒ Star Wars was a fury – slaying armies and being the blade to end the infamous Clone Wars. Its fame builds, being lost and destroyed and reforged over decades.
    • Halo‘s Master Chief armor, the Crysis nanosuit,Β Bolo‘s namesake tanks, Warhammer 40K‘s … everything, cast iron cookware, and the real world compounding its infrastructure and technology.

Plenty of gear has gotten better with use. Why, then, do virtually all tabletop roleplaying games miss out on this opportunity to grow bonds and allow players to influence the fictional lore?

Gear Leveling

You get where I am coming from now. TTRPGs ought include a benefit for players to keep around the gear their PCs use.

Not only will leveling gear increase player investment, it will also serve as an avenue for story, roleplay, and unique leverage should the PC’s gear ever be the focus of aggression.

What such a system could look like might be this, what I am including in the BITS system (by no means exhaustive of possibilities):

When a piece of gear is worn or wielded during or is otherwise actively used in completion of a game milestone (slaying the dragon, intercepting a bullet meant for another, broken by the enemy and reforged afterward, etc.), that gear may level up.

When leveling up, gear gains an ability either related to what it was involved in or used for, or is chosen randomly from a table.

Gear may also gain a name the first time it levels up, e.g. Sting. Gear may also gain a title the second time it levels up, e.g. The Orc Finder.

Gear may only have a total of 6 abilities. If there are already 6 abilities for given gear, the gear may not level up. Abilities may be removed if the gear is destroyed, severely damaged, re-created, or otherwise changed fundamentally in form or function.

Why cap at 6 abilities? That is to keep all the special things gear can do to a manageable minimum. (Humans can only maintain about 7-ish items in memory.) But I am not married to the idea – with further playtesting, perhaps 4 or 3 is a better cap.

The above comes with the idea that magic/ancient/prototype/exotic items will already come with some abilities, a story to tell about their creation and history. Whether the player keeps pre-made famous gear or births a story of their own, that is roleplay, something up to the player πŸ™‚

Any better ways to add legendary power to gear?

Always open for suggestions! Tell me in the comments or send me a DM.

Now off to make a randomizing table of famous abilities gear has had in fiction and history – cheers!

BITS – Gear Maker

If making a roleplaying game, there must be guidelines available to fill the game with gear.

BITS as an RPG system keeps it real with simple, universal rules for equipment. Every paradigm results in the single ‘value’ of equipment that BITS uses for everything from effectiveness to monetary amount to requirements for use in game.

Because BITS also makes for different kinds of games, it also comes with different methods for putting together a design consistent and (fairly) balanced.

Let’s cover what those are:

Kind

What kind of thing is it?

The simplest question with the simplest answer. This category of gear creation is as simple as comparing what is wanted with what is available or similar on charts.

For readability, let me label separate charts for separate things (though every piece of gear could go onto every other list – the tiers remain the same):

TierMedieval / Fantasy Weapon Kind
0Fists, Feet, Darts
1Knives, Cudgels, Hatchets, Whips, Sticks, Rocks, Slings, Mini Crossbows
2Swords, Clubs, Maces, Axes, Spears, Short Bows
3Broadswords, Battle Axes, Flails, Warhammers, Pikes, Lances, Crossbows
4Claymores, Zweihanders, Great Mauls, Halberds, Long Bows
6Especially Magical Weapons, Ballistae
10Siege Machines
Tier 3 melee weapons have disadvantage if used with 1 hand; T4 can’t be used without 2 hands.
Ranged strung weapons from T2 on can’t be used without 2 hands.
T10 is meant more as once-off, immobile set-pieces or divine favors than regular-use gear.
TierMedieval / Fantasy Armor Kind
0Clothing
1Leather, Furs, Round or Square Shield
2Studded Leather, Mail, Kite or Legionnaire Shield
3Partial Plate, Wall Shield
4Full Plate, Wheeled Shield
6Especially Magical Armor or Shields
10Stone Wall, Metal Gate
T1 shields can be attached to the back, the shoulder, or the forearm for carrying.
T2 shields need a hand to hold.
T3 shields and higher require 2 hands or other means of projection.
TierModern / Sci Fi Weapon Kind
0Tasers
1Pistols
2SMGs
3Assault Rifles, Chained Swords
4LMGs, High Powered Rifles, Shotguns, SAWs, Molecular Blades
6Rockets, Grenades, Miniguns, Sawn Shotguns, Energy Swords
10Missiles, Artillery Shells, Vulcan Cannons
Only includes gunpowder and later weapons.
T2 ranged weapons have disadvantage if used with 1 hand.
All ranged weapons T3 on require 2 hands to use.
All Modern / Sci Fi weapons cannot be blocked by worn Medieval / Fantasy armor.
TierModern / Sci Fi Armor Kind
0Clothes
1Kevlar, Riot Suits
2Ceramic Plates, Bulletproof Glass
3Shelled Carapace, Ballistic Shield
4Bomb Suits, Powered Armor, Light Force Field
6Mech Armor, Ship Hull, Tank Hull, Force Field
10Spaceship Hull, Structural Force Field
Some armor may regenerate, stop or push back attack, or cause attackers harm.
No Modern / Sci Fi Armor can block magic.

Make

What is the make-up of this thing?

This method requires more work but can enable a game designer to create unique-yet balanced equipment.

The formula goes like this:

Tier = SUM(all elements of thing)

An example would be a Large, Automatic, Grenade Thrower. Large is +2, Automatic is +1, and Grenade ammo is +1, making this weapon a Tier 4 weapon.

Same can be done with a Normal Pike. Halberds are Large (+2) but this one is Normal (+0), so the weapon is T2. (This contradicts the previous section, but that is game design – fiddle with the value +/- 1 to get something that “feels right.”)

All elements are either +0, +1, or +2 in value. A small list of those elements as might concern combat equipment:

Thing+0+1+2
Melee SizeSmall, Off-HandMedium, 1-HandLarge, 2-Hands
Gun SizeSmall, Off-HandMedium, 2-HandsLarge, 2-Hands
MeleeNormalChainedPowered
RangedBullet, LaserExplosivePlasma
AreaFlameGrenade, RocketBomb, Missile
MagazineUnchangedDrum, ExtendedLink Fed
QualityMundaneBlessed, MasterAncient, Exotic
ShieldNormalPlatedPowered

A T1 Laser Pistol, a T2 Chained Sword, a T3 Powered Maul, a T4 Large, Powered Shield, a T10 (!??) Ancient, Large, Link-Fed, Twin Missile Launcher πŸš€

Mind, some elements are exclusive (i.e. a thing cannot have two different sizes). Otherwise, the math is simple and easy to follow.

So simple, in fact, an RPG that allows customizing a character can give players an allowance, a number of ‘points’ to buy and make gear of their own.

These elements discussed don’t cover everything, nor does every element fit nicely into a +0, +1, +2 system. Be a designer – adapt! Wiggle the numbers or add rules instead.

Some suggestions of elements that add rules instead of numbers:

  • A second weapon (grenade launcher on a rifle, flame thrower built into a shield, a shield or bayonet fitted to a laser gun).
  • Scopes that increase range.
  • ‘Smart’ seeking ammunition.
  • Compact design to make something be a size smaller without losing the bonus (e.g. Moderate +1 size made into a Small +1 carbine).
  • Extreme fire rate that does two attacks at once.
  • Extreme fire power that does extra over an area or by ignoring armor.

Follow?

Only these two categories for gear crafting in BITS. That’s it πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

I have tried other methods of making weapons, armor, and stuff in general and nothing fits as nicely as considering what Kind or Make of a thing there is. Both have applicability depending on how they ‘feel’ with other mechanics and player expectations for customizability.

Oh, again, of course these groupings can be fudged +/- 1 depending on game needs. Heck, in a “modern” game of mine without knights and magic, melee weapons are either T1 or T2 depending on size, all strung weapons are T3, and missiles fit into T6 instead of T10.

Gotta do what you gotta do πŸ˜‰

Which do you think is the best way to craft equipment? Where have you seen similar or (gasp!) better systems?

Tell me in the comments, send me a dm. Cheers ~

BITS – Downtime Activity

What is there to do when roleplaying game adventurers aren’t slaying dragons and delving dungeons? That in-between time, going from beat to beat?

That downtime activity can lead to great boons for a player’s character, their group, or the fictional world at large. Or, it can let a wounded treasure-seeker lick their wounds to fight another day.

Downtime activity is important. Here is how the TTRPG BITS system implements it:

Core Mechanic

As with everything in BITS, it all comes back to the core mechanic

Roll 2 6-sided dice (2d6) to meet or beat a target number, the challenge representing the effort and sheer luck put into the task 🎲🎲

Downtime does the same with any activity taken, the challenge increase or decreasing inversely with how much time is taken, aid used, and what tools are available.

Time as a Resource

How much time is given to an activity? The answer will drastically affect the probable outcomes.

Given an hour, a downtime activity is likely to fail, needing 11+ to succeed. Only with serious aid and concentration can a positive outcome be better guaranteed.

A day? 9+. There might have been enough time, but the chances of something being missed are not slight.

7+ for a week. >50% of success here. There has been dedicated time to a worthy project. That, and this should be the default downtime in the normal course of a game – a week to prepare for the next adventure.

5+ for a month. Even building a siege engine could be done by one with this time. Should be easy.

A year or more? Patience is rewarded by automatically passing this test, though that assumes some peace and quiet as well.

The higher a target number, the higher too are the chances for breaking or having a dire consequence for the task. When the same value is on both dice but the sum of the dice are less than the target, that critically fails the activity (how is sensitive to the context).

Same for rolling a double pair above the target. A critical success in BITS allows a character to take any of their otherwise allowed actions immediately, giving them a chance at success or failure in the same amount of time.

But what can a character do with their downtime?

Activities

Some ideas for downtime, only one selected for the span of downtime, say, a week:

    • Crafting – Buy resources, improve gear, repair equipment, or make some material possession. A wizard makes their potions, a knight buffs their armor, a Jedi improves their lightsaber, and Sam buys bread for the Fellowship πŸ§™β€β™‚οΈ
      • Critical failure ideas: what was bought was faulty, the attempt breaks or degrades the quality of the original item, a personal injury happened.
    • Networking – Socialize, carouse, or spy, a character learns more about others. Relationships can be made or destroyed here 😎
      • Failure ideas: a friend is insulted, a stranger seeks a debt on you, the enemy changes plans because of the spying.
    • Resting – Simply put, regain health. Physical, mental, constitutional; no matter the source, dedicated rest may set bones, treat illness, and settle humors 😴
      • Failure ideas: the condition gets worse, a new illness is contracted.
    • Training – Study, meditation, or physical exertion to gain some experience or improve ability. As the designer, I suggest this be the activity for characters to level-up abilities or gain skills (since abilities cap-out at a value of 4, I suggest capping the benefits of training at 2 for an ability; the road to being the best is by being out and about and doing things!) πŸ’ͺ
      • Failure ideas: a personal injury happens from training so hard, the skill decreases from improper technique, social standing falls as some flub is public and ridiculed.

Now, I do not include traveling here. Traveling I consider to be a separate action all together. Downtime is meant to be what you do staying in one place, though should that place be on a starship or boat piloted by others in the crew vs. on feet or needing one’s direct influence, I see where downtime can be spent on other things πŸ™‚

Above should cover most everything, but if a player wants their character to do more, that is for the player and the GM to negotiate πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

But let us not forget followers and those under a character’s command! Those NPCs could undertake downtime activities too with the same respects given to consequences.

Final Notes

Even though probability says that doing the same activity day-after-day (i.e. the shortest time possible over and over), these short instances increase the likelihood of critical failures. Those failures could be worse than not trying at all, so taking time to get it right (with the bonus of possibly being able to take on additional activities!) is well advised.

Buying / Going to market may not need to be a ‘roll for it’ activity, but it should include at least a 50/50 (or 7+) roll to see if 1) the items were bought at a fair price (failure), and 2) the items are not fake/rotten/stolen (critical failure).

Time is weird. BITS likes the number 4, so perhaps difficulties could be based on using 1-of-4 parts in a day, 4 days in a week, 4 weeks in a season, 4 seasons in a year… IDK. Time is a construct. Don’t @ me πŸ˜‚

And on that speculative note, here exists now downtime activities for all games that adopt BITS as the core system. Fantasy or sci-fi, grimdark or heroic, BITS works with it all 😁

What do you do in your downtime? Render, revel, rest, revamp?

Whatever you and your characters choose to do, cheers to it!

BITS – Initiative

Can’t design tabletop roleplaying games without talking about who can do what when πŸ™‚ BITS needs to address the concept of “initiative” as all other game systems do.

What is “initiative?” Every TTRPG (tabletop roleplaying game) has a means to decide whether players or the non-player characters get to act first, and which of those actors goes first among the first, last among the last.

Deciding who goes when can be quite fiddly, but BITS aims to be anything but.

Order of Operations in BITS

Rolling Group Initiative

BITS relies on a community favorite in the TTRPG community: group initiative.

How that works is that one player (a different player than the last one) rolls a single six-sided die (d6). This roll is for all other players at the table –

Except for the game moderator (GM). The GM rolls a d6 for all the non-player characters.

When compared, whoever has the higher roll has their group (player characters, non-player characters) go first in any order they decide. Ties mean everyone gets to act all at once, the resolutions / consequences not taking effect until everyone has had a go.

All this happens every turn until the conflict needing initiative is resolved.

Declaring Actions

But what is to prevent players or the GM from meta-gaming / cheating? Choosing to optimize their character actions depending on the rolls and such?

To fix meta-gaming, both the GM and the other players declare what each member character of their respective sides is planning on doing and against who or what (if applicable).

For example, if two characters want to smack the same third character, great! But if the first character successfully smacks the third into submission, the second character gets to smack so much thin air.

Even should an action go to waste if successful, characters must still roll for it. Who knows – perhaps their action would have been a critical success and they get an immediate action to use! Or they critically fail, something bad happening for making the attempt, regardless of what came before.

Surprise!

Any character(s) that have the drop on others get a free action before those “others.” Once done, the d6s roll like normal.

Nitpicking Action Orders

If groups are too much for some folks, break down the single take-turns phase into sub-phases.

Since initiative is typically for combat resolution, let me assume violence is the objective of these sub-phases. Since this is BITS, let there only be four sub-phases:

    1. Range – actions meant to affect something away from the actor and happens relatively instantly.
    2. Melee – actions meant to be within arm’s reach of another. Requires some kind of movement and/or wind-up to do.
    3. Magic – an action requiring a bit of concentration to execute effectively. Can be interrupted if the previous phases succeed against the actor, but that is optional.
    4. Other – all other actions. Moving, getting something out, opening or closing, reviving a friend, saying what needs saying, etc.

These above are in order of execution. With “us vs. them” turn order, no matter which side goes first, each phase is executed for both sides before moving on.

Example: with first group A and second group B, turns would be 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, etc.

Other Kinds of Initiative

Why group and sub-phase initiative matters is because other kinds of initiative can be… less than optimal.

Not to say some are really cool! See real initiative below for Blades in the Dark.

Dungeons & Dragons

Every character rolls a die and adds one of their six attributes. The order changes every time. So much change so often, there are addons to the game to keep track of up to a dozen or more characters in order πŸ™ƒ

Index Card RPG

Roll a die for group initiative. Players always take their turns to the left of the GM in a round-robin style. The roll determines if the GM goes first or the player to the left goes. Thereby, internal group order is determined by seating at the game’s beginning.

Mork Borg

Roll a die for group initiative. Lower values, non-player characters go first. Higher values, player characters. Order inside the groups is freeform.

Call of Cthulhu

Characters have a dexterity stat. Nothing is rolled, only those with higher dexterity go before lower dex. Predictable, quick, but would be prone to repetition if not for how quickly combat makes characters dead πŸ’€

Powered By the Apocalypse Games (e.g. Blades in the Dark)

No mechanical initiative, but the players with real-world initiative have their characters go first. Think fast for real, act fast narratively. Not participating allows other characters (e.g. the GM) to act indefinitely. True, real, freeform initiative.

And that is initiative in BITS! It is fairly open for interpretation, but can get into the nitty-gritty weeds if a group of players really wants to go there. Systems can simplify or expand as needed – one of the benefits of BITS 😁

In your games, how do you handle initiative? I am looking for your ideas!

May you go first now that you have read this article – cheers!

Mork Borg – Part 4: A Reckoning

Start at the beginning, or jump to what’s been missed:

Part 1: Murder and Worms – Three from death-row scour the rooms and horrors of the buried den of the addictive Rotblack Sludge.

Part 2: Meat and Statues – The trio meet the ruler of the underground complex.

Part 3: Eyes and Ash – Lesdy inadvertently provides the last clue.

Endgame Summary

Over 4 hours of actual play, 3 well-powered characters controlled by 1 player survived by lucky rolls and ingenuity but barely.

There were 15 rooms, 9 Tier 2 enemies (guards and Lesdy; 2 damage, 2 HP, roll 9+ to attack or defend against them), 6 Tier 1 enemies (Lesdy’s aids and the strangling plants), 1 Tier 4 (Fletcher), and 1 uber-Tier Worm that was, sadly, never given the chance to eat a character 😒

Riches and weapons and some Rotblack Sludge were acquired too, but these things may not last long.

BITS Mechanic Changes

I will leave the details to be included in other posts as I continue to develop BITS.

Suffice to say:

    • I combined MB‘s attributes into BITS: Strength and Toughness (Body), Agility (Interaction), and Presence (Thought).
    • Enemies came in the 1-4 difficulty tiers of BITS which also account for their HP and damage.
    • Weapons fit into the BITS categories.
    • HP was limited to 10 for Cat, 6 for Bubble Guy, and 4 for Invisible. (Aiming for about 6.)
    • All random encounters and findings were either rolled for before the game or were pared down to a d6 roll table that fit on half a notecard.
      • Random tables:
        • Bookshelf (in the Library, if searched)
          1. Random Unclean Scroll
          2. Cloud of Dust, +1 IT tests of 30 minutes
          3. Incomprehensible Gibberish Book
          4. Uncontrollable Scream From Characters, -1 T tests until sleep
          5. T1 Knife “Nib”. Leaks ink.
          6. d6 Bag of Coin
        • Junk Search (lots of rubbish in the complex)
          1. Bony Dog Remains, ration for a day
          2. Black Stone Bracelet
          3. d3 Bag of Coin
          4. Urn w/ Fine Powder (roll 9+B or lose d6 HP)
          5. d6: 1-3 Sacred Scroll, 4-6 Small, Nipping Beetle
          6. T3 Crossbow w/ d6 Bolts
        • Corpse Search
          1. Nothing
          2. Bloody Agent Letter (Fletcher knows the characters are coming)
          3. Necklace of Teeth
          4. Hopeless Number of Spiders
          5. Rotblack
          6. d6 Bags of Coin
        • Encounters (only in 3 of the rooms)
          1. 4 T2 Guards
          2. T3 Bone Spider, Surprise, DAdv for 1 hr on successful attacks
          3. 2 T1 Starving Dogs
          4. Agent, starving, tortured. Can tell of the worm.
            (…the below happen only once each if at all…)
          5. T1 Lesdy Spy, gives ‘gift’ that teleports party to Lesdy
          6. Sagsobuth, sells poisons (6 damage, d4 uses), and tube of living wood (rewriting scroll inside); 10 damage split if attacked at all
    • Armor would reduce by 1 point to negate all damage of an attack. 0 for Armor sundered beyond use or as clothing.
    • Critical successes gave an extra action and were more likely on lower-difficulty obstacles.
    • Less of a mechanic, more of an ethic: Don’t include ‘children’ in the game. If someone or something is young, call it that: “youth.” There is virtually no need to ever include children in a game of violence and horror when other means to leave it to player imagination will do.

Impressions and What I Would Change

The game was great! I had so much fun being a first-time full-blown GM. Player C had a great time too, with special compliments to including low-key background music (sad violins) and rockin’ boss-fight beats (Smells Blood on loop).

The biggest piece of improvement feedback came for picking lowest rolls with disadvantage. Player C really did not like that, as even after the first roll all hope could be lost. A real heartbreaker, those!

I understand now that the characters were overpowered as they were able to proceed without caution and given lots of chances for lucky rolls. Further, I took a lot of time drawing the rooms on notecards that would then be a visual indication of what was happening; the map was invaluable, but the time spent certainly had its own value perhaps better spent.

After careful consideration, here is what I would change:

    1. Find a way to lessen or get away from map making without completely relying on the Theater of the Mind (everyone has to imagine where they are and what they see from the GM’s descriptions).
    2. Set player hit points to 2d6, or a generic human to default 6. Too much life allows carelessness and for games to drag on. That, and rebalance some natural weapons and powers (less damage and/or limited use, such as on the magical power Blink).
    3. Leave clues and keys out in a way that all but screams to a player “use me.”
    4. Make Specialties more prevalent. (They give advantage to certain actions and are used to replace ‘class’ in BITS.)
    5. Try something different with advantage and disadvantage. Instead of rolling twice and picking the highest/lowest value, other options: Pure +/- 2 to the roll value; lower/raise the difficulty of the roll; use the highest/lowest die of 2d6 twice; double the effect of any critical rolls; etc.

That’s about it!

Closing Thoughts

Mork Borg is a solid game system. However, I have my doubts about its world and definitely about its first adventure.

I turned what Fletcher was doing into a kingdom-wide problem (Rotblack as a drug) and made ash fall from the sky. How the mission is given to the characters and how Aldor gets handed off also got clarified. The world begins its end at the end of the first mission, not randomly on some day down the line.

As for BITS, I truly feel BITS made the system more straight forward, faster, and no less deadly (ignoring the extra powers I gave the player’s characters). Every conflict of interest is resolved with no more than 2d6, tables are reduced to a d6, random effects and character sheets exist on notecards, and the rest is left to improv.

Bam! First time as an established-game-system GM! First time with Mork Borg! First time giving BITS a full flex as a system and conversion!

I couldn’t be happier for all the fun had and all that was discovered along the way.

Now is the time to take these learnings for application to other BITS games and notes. (And to see if player C will continue their adventures in the current game’s ash-eaten world 😁)

What did you find when you played Mork Borg? Who survived the first dungeon delve? How have you improved your own TT RPG sessions after experiencing them firsthand?

Let me know all that and if you’d like to play in a game using BITS in near-literally any game world you have in mind. I am sure we could whip something up πŸ˜‰ Cheers to your dice rolls! 🎲🎲

Mork Borg – Part 3: Eyes and Ash

Read part 1 for a synopsis of the Mork Borg game, this story’s start, and part 2 for dangerous encounters:

Part 1: Murder and Worms – Three from death-row scour the rooms and horrors of the buried den of the addictive Rotblack Sludge.

Part 2: Meat and Statues – The trio meet the ruler of the underground complex.

Rude Awakening

Something twists and strangles.

The passed-out party awakes to bulbous plants using their roots to dig into skin, vines tangling around necks.

After the initial shock, it should be a cakewalk to snap apart weeds. Yet the first attempt fails. And the second! And…

Health falls. Struggling leads to naught as Invisible, the naturally lowest in health of the group, finally reaches zero hit points. He is on the verge of death, unless something, someone can save him.

Bubble Guy, in the nick-of-time, breaks their bonds. With a free action, Bubble Guy Blinks into the side of Invisible’s murderous creature, knocking it off the helpless companion.

Cat then escapes and together Cat and Bubble Guy pulp to mulch the plants most vile.

Getting Invisible awake again, he has a broken arm and is still on the brink of death. Cat stays with Invisible and purrs (a healing factor for others) while Bubble Guy Blinks rapidly through the complex to find… Anything at this point.

Desperation drives action now.

A woman (not Lesdy) is in Fletcher’s ‘workshop,’ the fires burnt out and Bubble Guy leaves unseen. Through the rooms and halls, bodies are where they were left, doors open where left ajar. However, in the grand dining hall, Lesdy and 2 other women are sitting at the massive table there. Bubble Guy is not so lucky this time and is seen before Blinking away.

Lesdy and the women leave down the dark corridor. Bubble Guy, thinking ahead, activates their Bubble power and follows.

Down the spring door Lesdy’s group climbs. Bubble Guy follows but at such haste, falls down the ladder in the dark and one-handed (the other sustaining the Bubble magic).

Bubble Guy suffers only lite damage from the fall. An aid to Lesdy is not so lucky. Caught between hard rock and the impenetrable Bubble field, momentum carries Guy into the aid, and they squished into stone.

After witnessing their kin’s death, Lesdy and the other woman make greater haste into the greenhouse, daggers drawn, watching their backs.

Lesdy ought to have watched her front.

Cat, hearing the commotion, jumps into a tree before jumping down onto these two returned with weapons out. Without mercy and without words exchanged, Cat slays Lesdy and her ilk.

Breakout!

The trio, now rejoined, searches the corpses for anything useful, as one does. On Lesdy is a pocket full of bleeding eyeballs – large, small, grey, green, blue, brown, utterly black.

Eureka! The characters understand these are eyes for the one-eyed statue they found before.

A short journey later, an eye from the pile gets settled in the stone-king’s socket. With a crack and crumble, the wall behind the characters falls apart, rolling into empty spots in the cobble as by some unseen will.

Within the dreary apartment before hidden is the sought Aldor. The spawn is starved, slightly maddened, desperate for Rotblack, and unwilling to leave.

After what they’ve been through, Cat, Bubble Guy, and Invisible give but few words before hauling the youth out. Muscling Aldor through the ravages of the complex, Aldor is unable to break free before being matched back to the locked surface gate to a welcoming party… of no-one.

No sound echoes through the falling ashes, no form breaks the smooth monotony of mounded char. As above, so below goes the grey waste endlessly.

The characters barely have time to shrug at each other and rattle the bars before a collection of dark coaches rumble through the drifts.

Sleeker steps out to welcome them and welcome back Aldor. The Shadow King’s favorite rants and rages all for naught as hulking, shapeless things of flickering smoke and shadow guide Aldor into a windowless carriage.

The return of any of the party, not to mention all three, was quite unexpected for Sleeker, especially when the first day waned. So much is the surprise, Sleeker can only give a gift in the moment of the trio’s lives. Should they want more, they perhaps could inquire at the Shadow Keep.

As Sleeker boards the last coach, it has little worry all of them may meet again. After all, the prisoners-turned-heroes-of-the-kingdom have managed to cheat death so far…

The End of Days

Left alone in the falling grey, the characters must delay any decision making once more as the second day passes and darkness begins to settle.

Above, the clouds part to a blacker-than-black sky, a void that touches at the very foundations of one’s soul. From the expanse fall legions of stars that sound like a million million screaming trumpets. Yet all this is forgotten as between the visions seen in the nothingness above and fundamental, undeniable feelings of despair, comes meaning, as prophesied in the holy Calendar of Nechrubel:

OF THOSE WHO BUILD MIGHTILY, STONE BY STONE, SO SHALL THEY FALL, STONE BY STONE.

Divinity has ordained the end is nigh! Thus concludes one of the last days at the death of the world πŸ’€

By sword and fire and word and spell, Cat, Bubble Guy (formerly Untouchable), and Invisible managed to make it back onto the surface of their dying world…

… in time to see a herald sign of the end πŸ”₯πŸ€˜πŸ’€πŸ€˜πŸ”₯

Where will the party go next?

That is a story for another time πŸ™‚ What I can do is say to check back next week for Part 4: A Reckoning where I explore what worked (or not) and how that has affected the BITS system of tabletop roleplaying.

Big, big thanks to player C for being exquisite in roleplay, rolling, and patience as we got through a long and deadly adventure ~ Lots of fun in Rotblack Sludge!

See you next week! Cheers to your own dungeon delves πŸ‰

Mork Borg – Part 2: Meat and Statues

Read up on what the Mork Borg game this is, how it works, and who is trying to survive in the dank and dark:

Part 1: Murder and Worms – Three from death-row scour the rooms and horrors of a buried den, origin of the addictive Rotblack Sludge.

Down the Hall…

A surprise awaits Cat, Bubble Guy, and Invisible in what appears to be a pump room: four more guards.

Thinking quick, Invisible, still in the hallway, drops weapons and listens unnoticed. Bubble Guy carries the old man, so is in an awkward position. Though Cat can still fight, the band would be vastly overwhelmed.

Using talk, Bubble Guy asks after Aldor. The guards, unimpressed, take Bubble Guy and Cat prisoner. Through a trap door in the same room, all but Invisible are led into parts reeking and sweltering.

Invisible is left behind as the trap shuts. Horror awaits the other two.

Chains with hooked flesh hang from the ceiling, tables crusted with viscera carry jagged implements, fires burn hot in open furnaces, a yawning pit to where the great worm drops from where a wall ought be, and working among it all: a giant of a man, bald and tattooed and sweating, the master of this place, the boss, Fletcher.

Fletcher and Bubble Guy question each other on what they are doing there. With some charisma, Bubble Guy gains Fletcher’s liking after disclaiming any knowledge of Lesdy, the troublesome witch who has been Fletcher’s bane.

Only a minor interruption of Invisible botching a silent entry through the trap door sends two of the guards to investigate. Bubble Guy claiming it is only they and Cat, a deception believed by the boss.

Fletcher continues his work while monologuing the process of creating Rotblack Sludge and the incompetences of the Shadow King. From chains dangled into the depths of the pit, skulls and ribcages are drawn up. Cracking these vessels on his workbench, Fletcher shows off the crystalized black material that is Rotblack.

The drug is a source of control over others for him with the added benefit that users will eventually return to the place it is made. Fletcher emphasizes his points with grand gestures to the dripping pieces hung from the ceiling.

Through the trap door two guards return with word of a massacre of the other guards in the complex. Fletcher turns dark in tone at this not because he now disbelieves his guests, but when he understands that all the meat on those bodies was, with remorse, wasted.

Waste is something Fletcher cannot abide by. No, not at all.

Not. At. All.

Cue the music.

From a furnace Fletcher pulls a white-hot rod out with but one huge hand. From it rattles a fiery chain and the bright, spiked ball of a massive flail.

Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.

The flail gently swings in the air.

Bubble Guy puts the old man down, trying to explain away things going awry. A guard points out the sword Bubble Guy carried was one of their own.

Swoosh swoosh swoosh.

Unarmed, surrounded, Cat and Bubble Guy edge away towards the pit. Begging and promises go nowhere.

Swooshswooshswoosh.

Fletcher gags! A chain is tight around his neck! Invisible, high on the giant’s back, causes a distraction to both Fletcher and the guards, letting Cat and Bubble Guy pounce.

The beast of a man Fletcher is hardly harmed by the chain around his trunk of a neck, nor the clawing of a cat, nor an unarmed magician. Yet also Fletcher fails to grab Invisible off his back or Cat off his chest. The guards are hardly about to slash at their leader, so stand at length away from the thrashing melee.

Bubble Guy thinks of what is available… The urn! This is thrown into Fletcher’s face as further distraction, perhaps incurring blindness until something better can be found. Effects are…

Incredible.

The powder is variably poisonous. To Fletcher, it happens to be maximally poisonous in just the same amount as Fletcher has hit points!

(I, the GM, unbelieving that through very rare cases the ‘big boss’ has been downed in one shot,) Fletcher takes a saving action to perhaps retain at least a single hit point from the poison.

In that too, Fletcher fails.

Eyes and nose and teeth and tongue and all things melting from his bones, Fletcher dies horribly on the very floor he had done such wrong over. Cat and Bubble Guy barely escape the collapse. A great gurgling death-cry rises from the pit as the sound of sucking muck deafens the chamber as Fletcher sputters his last.

Prisoners

In short order, the frightened guards are slain one by one. However, the last guard surrenders, offering to tell all!

With him, the trio march through an unexplored room of junk and into what must have been a statue room before its backside collapsed into the pit. The only things there are another door, some scuffed cobblestones, and a monument to a one-eyed king.

Finding nothing but a bloody eye-socket in the room’s statue, the trio head through the far door. There they find a screaming man who attempts to crawl away shrieking.

This distraction gives the former guard a chance to flee back through the statue room. After a messy chase of the crawling man and killing the guard as the guard took the chance to flee, the crawling man calms knowing the trio is not sent from Fletcher nor will they eat him. He lets know he is a Shadow King agent who was the last survivor of his particular group. The rest?

Eaten.

The man is starving and can offer little new information. No child of the King was ever encountered, nor clues to any whereabouts. As the party decides what to do (they have no food to feed the man), the agent dies in the bounty of filth.

Without more clues, the party heads back to the garden to council with Lesdy again. However, only her caldron of roots and mushrooms remains in the garden.

Now sampling the food once before offered, the group regains much of their lost health. Without Aldor, they may not return above. But here below, there is water, food in the garden… Could they live there indefinitely?

A decision for the morrow. As the day wanes, two sleep with a guard, Cat, posted.

Not even the strong Cat can stay awake as the room swims and shimmers before Cat’s very eyes. The stew! The. Stew…

With no guard standing, not even nightmares disturb the company’s slumber, though they are not alone…

Dun dun dun!

Stay tuned for Part 3: Eyes and Ash next week! A… deadly conclusion to the rampages in Mork Borg‘s Rotblack Sludge πŸ”₯πŸ€˜πŸ’€πŸ€˜πŸ”₯

Cheers to the grim and the dark ~

Mork Borg – Part 1: Murder and Worms

Long after the Halloween when I had the privilege of Game Moderating the grimdark OSR Mork Borg tabletop roleplaying game, I share with you what went on, the changes made, and how I made it fit the BITS RPG ruleset!

Right to it:

What is Mork Borg?

MB is a grimdark rules-lite game that takes place in a dying world. As mentioned in a post about RPG modes of play, this game “lets players know and know often that their fumbling is pathetic” when compared with the horrible troubles of the world.

There is great strangeness in MB. There are great monsters and great despair. All of these are included in the sample dungeon-delving scenario provided with Mork BorgRotblack Sludge.

This is the game I (Game) Moderated on the all too appropriate Halloween πŸŽƒπŸ”ͺ

Who Played

Other than myself as GM, there was only player C who knew nothing of TT RPGs. Because the starting scenario didn’t include an estimate of how many player characters should be involved, I delved into other plays of the scenario posted online.

It came down to about six randomly created characters were needed to have just a few survive the adventure.

Because C had no experience with RPGs, I’d create characters they could choose from, including based on character types they’d be most interested in playing as. Further, to be kinder for a first-time experience with RPGs, I made it my duty to make these characters heroic:

    • The Cat – Based on the the large cat from Dungeons & Dragons, this character was a fury of claws and teeth and too many hit points, especially considering their special ability included a number of lives they could be reincarnated by!
    • The Untouchable – A magician with three spell powers: Broil (control any fire in a room), Bubble (untouchable so long as the spell is maintained, but doesn’t stop momentum while in the bubble), and the overpowered Blink (no cap on the number of uses with this spell; as a free action, teleport anywhere you can see instantly).
    • The Invisible – Just that. Invisible at all times, anything swallowed also disappearing. However, picking up or wearing items, leaving footprints, and any sounds or smells could be detected. Delicate with the least number of hit points and of course, no gear.
    • The Gunslinger – Carries two revolvers (similar to the MB pepperbox pistolet) and knows how to use ’em. While each gun has 6 rounds inside, there is only one box of bullets that could deplete after critically failing any reload.
    • The Space Wizard – A personal favorite. Heavily armored environment suit and a cut-anything energy sword (treated as a magic item). Powers include a gravity gauntlet to push/pull a target and a hologram projector. However, any damage taken is doubled (the suit is punctured) while the suit being destroyed or removed is instant death!
    • The Everyman – A randomly generated ‘meh’ person. No bonus, no nada (though perhaps I would include the best of the random gear available πŸ™‚ ).

Since these folks had a touch-better abilities than a randomly created character would and they would be united in intention under the control of one player, C, only three were allowed to be chosen. (The rest were saved as backups if the adventure really went to pot.)

Adventurers on this mission: The Cat, The Untouchable, and The Invisible.

As will be covered, this trio was perhaps a bit too heroic for the horrors soon faced πŸ’€

Introduction

The three characters share a cell together in the Shadow King’s prison. Soon to be executed for dealings against the King, a personal representative, Magistrate Sleeker, offers a deal the prisoners cannot refuse:

Raid a buried complex where comes a potent drug – Rotblack Sludge – that, more importantly than its horrific side effects, goes untaxed. Further, rescue one of the King’s favorite spawn, Aldor, who seems to have gotten involved, disappearing some days ago into the underground abode. Failing any of these things, the prisoners best not leave Rotblack Sludge, joining all the other agents sent, none who have returned πŸ”₯

After an armored carriage ride, Sleeker lets the characters know it has done them a minor justice: they have waited until the couriers for the Rotblack drug have left, therefore it is suspected the chambers below will be fairly empty this time.

On that note, Sleeker releases the characters to tread down underneath the mounds of falling ash that bury the world. There, the adventure begins…

Day 1

Quickly Cat, Untouchable, and Invisible explore their surroundings. The way behind is locked by Sleeker who will kill them should they emerge empty handed. The ways tangent lead off into dark tunnels, but each is barred by gates or rubble. The only way ahead is an ornate door on the left, a ruddy door on the right.

Through the latter they go, sad violin music playing for them somewhere far off.

A library is found with skeletal bodies about. Nothing is investigated, but through the next door they go without pause.

How rude. Or so the four guards inside find it. The first battle is brought!

Cat mauls many while Untouchable – hereafter known as Bubble Guy – has both armor and shield smashed apart. Invisible runs away to go pick up bricks from the collapsed entries seen earlier. It is here that Bubble Guy learns how to use the Blink power to pop behind enemies every turn to get a surprise attack on their backside.

Together, after taking a little punishment from the guards, the trio murders all four found. Finding on the bodies and in the room a key, a mysterious urn of powder, and all the swords of the guards, they follow bloody footprints farther down into places clearly excavated more recently.

The first room holds nothing but bloody chains, a wedged and handleless door, and a hole.

Through the hole is a cave glittering with jewels and a sharp drop into sulfuric mists. Blinded by greed, gems are torn from the wall, but not without notice.

Behind, from the depths, rises a magnificently immense worm. Rows of teeth like blades in a maw as wide as a man, body pale as pus, the hissing thing creeps upon the trio.

Taking the wiser route and acting fast, Cat, Bubble Guy, and Invisible squeeze through a crack in the cave before the worm can smash its face at the gap behind them.

Crawling along, the trio emerge into a greenhouse choked with exotic plants underneath a sooty glass ceiling where dim sunshine makes itself known.

Exploring, Cat and Bubble Guy meet mysterious girl Lesdy at her fire and bubbling caldron. Lesdy offers rest and refreshment, but the offer is repeatedly declined. There is only one concern: Where is Aldor?

Lesdy does not know and the trio leaves. But, as Invisible remained hidden and is the last to traverse back into crack, they look back to see other people staring at the departed from the bushes…

In the crack, there are bolted-on handholds up to a spring door. Through it the trio comes into a dark corridor with dim paintings. Following one direction, they enter a grand chamber meant for feasting, but where guests would be and feed, only an unresponsive old man sits.

Reconnoitering the location, the trio is in the place behind the first ornate door they found, along with the connecting guard room. Nothing else of value but the man remains.

They take the old man away down the corridor. To where? The trio does not know. Only death waits for them above… at least if the King’s spawn is not found.

Careful to avoid the spring floor door, Cat and Bubble Guy and Invisible march through the corridor to a light at the other end and… a surprise.

Gah!!! What is going to happen??

Look for Part 2: Meat and Statues next week πŸ™‚

Cheers!

P.S. I totally forgot to introduce a random encounter in the room full of chains… this will be corrected 😈

The 4 RPG Modes

I have studied tabletop roleplaying game systems for awhile now. With that has come =oodles= of learning that I then pass along here and there to you.

One of the patterns I cannot help noticing is the kind of experiences that recur again and again. From Dungeons & Dragons to Call of Cthulhu to 5e Hardcore to Tiny Dungeon and more, each picks from a small selection of difficulties. Or, what I call “modes.”

How Mode Is Established

A game sets its experience first and foremost with how well it prepares the fictional characters players use to face conflicts conflicts in the game.

Being well prepared decreases the difficulty and commonly increases the feeling of power in the player by overcoming conflicts. The opposite – likeliness of death, powerlessness in the face of adversity – grinds down the expectations of a player.

That laying of expectation is “mode,” a combination of difficulty and empowerment.

For example, a darkly-themed war between “the Heavens and Hells” would imply low expectations for a player playing as a meager human. However, if the player character slays demons and commands angels, that would clearly be a heroic or super-human achievement. Therefore, just because the theme says one thing, the tone is ultimately set by the mechanical achievement of the characters.

Let us explore the four modes I’ve identified (the most common to the least common):

Heroic Mode

This is vanilla Dungeons & Dragons, specifically the 5th edition (5e).

Though facing everything from giant rats to otherworldly gods and titular dragons in dark and dank dungeons, characters rarely die. Should a character bite it, they will not be dead for long.

With an abundance of healing potions, spells, and entire rituals to bring the dead back to life, 5e enables characters to slog through the worst. In addition, characters are given buckets of hit points (the things that allow a character to take punishment and keep on kicking), which lengthens both the attrition the characters can sustain and gives the players ample time to reposition or reconsider their actions!

Ultimately, the players are in near complete control of their fates, the randomness of dice smoothed out over the many rolls required to bring a character down.

At the end of the day, Heroic Mode is meant to make the players feel that they are the heroes in command of the story, and heroes never die.

Human Mode

A more grounded perspective on what a character is expected to do.

Characters may grow to become stronger, have eventual access to rare-but-powerful items, and can give as good as they get. Yet, “Human” characters can die, are more limited by their means, and may eventually cap-out with how truly able they can be.

Games I’d put into this category are Tiny Dungeon and Index Card RPG. Characters start at a common few hit points (e.g. 6 if one species, 7 if another, or 10 for everyone no matter origin), have a few useful-but-limited pieces of equipment, and the magic or technology of the world can only do so much (e.g. not make someone alive the way they were before death!).

Adventures can be had and bold actions taken, though consequences, if uncommon, will be felt. Confidence armed with caution is the rule of the day. (Luckily, Human Mode still lets folks run away!)

Hardcore Humbled Mode

Ah, the “grimdark” mode.

Games of this ilk are geared to punish characters for the hubris of attempting to right the game world’s wrongs, to fight against the will of things far more powerful than mere human understanding.

These games are brutal. Mork Borg, Call of Cthulhu, Zweihander, and Band of Blades would be appropriate inclusions, as would virtually all of the “old school renaissance” (OSR) games (some might be considered Human Mode if the game designers are generous).

Weapons break, armor protects but little, hit points are low and capped low, characters can become both temporarily better and permanently worse, and often the choice is whether to eat or have fire to stay warm and safe(r) from the dark. Characters are brittle and weak and progress but little towards any goals.

Obstacles are enormous: god-eating gods, titanic monsters that slay at a whim, powerful overlords that care not for the plights of mortals, and vicious consequences for any attempts by characters to do anything await. Characters will fail and they will fail often and failure will be all sorts of terrible.

Hardcore Humbled Mode is at the edge of what it means to be a game. This mode lets players know and know often that their fumbling is pathetic in the face of such impossible odds.

Super-Heroic, Herculean Mode

The last mode, the godly mode! The complete opposite of Hardcore and a step above Heroic!

I have included this because of how Dungeons & Dragons 5e changes as characters progress. At lower levels, characters will encounter threats that really are challenging. Even teamwork may fail (though the consequences, as mentioned, do not last). However, once top-tier levels are achieved, players become =unstoppable=.

A game enabling this mode poses no threat to character ability. With hundreds of hit points, equipment that smites mountains, magics and techologies that command the forces of nature and space and time, and other resources even the players stop tracking for their grandest treasures are but toys, players shall feel like gods.

Do what you want to who you want when you want where you want how you want, and consequences be cast to the wind. The only challenge might be fundamental cosmic and natural entities who band together to face the player characters, but even that is no guarantee of defeating the force of god-tier beings.

This mode I’ve encountered the least in my studies. I think it may be because such systems are immediately called “unbalanced” when encountered cold – why 5e gets away with it I suppose is because the gradual nature of slowly increasing levels to enter this mode.

Another reason Herculean Mode is so rare may also be this: Players find out that being godly is =boring=. When nothing can stop you, there is no real conflict, the spice that drives entertaining stories. Challenge with the possibility of failure is more fun πŸ™‚

Perhaps that is why people in general like to topple the powerful and rarely rise to accept the responsibility of power themselves πŸ€” I digress!

Four modes that every game adopts some form of. The theme tries to set the tone, yet the mechanical foundations laid for the players’ fictional characters establishes the feelings felt.

As an aside, BITS keeps these modes in mind for the specific kind of game it is trying to make. My WIP Gunslinger is a Human Mode game, while converting D&D characters is a Heroic Mode affair as opposed to BITS of Mork Borg and that Hardcore Mode adaptation.

I =really= think I have included all modes (there has been a lot of reading done!). Yet, if you have one or an amendment to make, comment! Let me know!

Toodles and cheers to your gaming ~