An update from the conversation happening over on LinkedIn: I am including the brainstorming down below, but an important preamble: The distance a class can impose effect (e.g. self, within melee reach, at range) is inconsequential to the archetypes proposed here. We dive into what can take hits, make hits, and augment the context hits happen in.
Post years of study, there are only three: a trinity of RPG classes that fall into any game.
The fighter class. Physicality, brawling, hitting, crowd management.
This class is the heavy assault battleship in games. Hit hard and gets hit hard. Strength and endurance are the key attributes.
The fantasy ranger and modern assassin. The class is always much more intimate and delicate at getting to the right places and pressing just the right points. A key is focus: effect the right spot (e.g. sniping headshots) or the right individual (e.g. dump effects on a single target).
Gunslingers, drone operators (perhaps a Support overlap?), pilots, marksmen, and fast. Speed and precision are the key attributes.
As it says: Wizards, magicians, and those that do things through powers seemingly unknown. Whether through the arcane or advanced technology, these be a game’s healers, specialists, manipulators, and status controllers, a.k.a.:
Medics, sweet talkers, glass cannons (arguably a DPS overlap), hackers, and buffers. The smart and seemingly cunning or wise.
Take hits, make hits, affect hits.
That is all, folks! Every character, every role, every class in every RPG out there fits in these overarching categories.
Sure, there are combinations of the Tank, DPS, and Support (e.g. a sniper carrying a shotgun, heavy melee Darth Vader using Force magic), yet these are merely mixing the basic ingredients to everything a player might play as.
This trinity equally corresponds with the every-occasion Body/Strength, Mind/Speed, and Soul/Will set of game attributes seen in titles like Soulbound. In all, I view this clarifying of themes as an evolution of game design, but that is another post 🙂
Keep this in mind when designing your next game or selecting your next character to play! Cheers to it all!
Initiative – i.e. who goes first – in roleplaying games is a no-size-fits-all situation.
I have given it my shot to find a one-size solution. The result: Pick whatever feels convenient in the game and the context 🤷♂️
Through my research, I have come across many options to determine who goes first. This post is a brief reference – completely unexhaustive – for your own gaming inspiration, yet inspiration it may remain 🎲🎲 In no specific order:
Particular to “move-and-do” combat-style games where moving is always a free action along with talking, the least time-required actions go sooner. Example:
Ranged Attacks (a flick of a finger) Melee Attacks (a step, a move of an arm, a twist) Heavy/Magic Actions (big and heaved devices, aiming, a few motions) Other (complex actions with steps needing a few seconds)
Action Points & Betting
Characters have a limited resource – some “time” or “action” or “stamina” component to the game. These get spent on actions (bigger action effects cost more) or get auctioned, where higher bets go first, but risk being unable to act while others do.
The resource gets restocked automatically or the game may have mechanics that a special “recoup” or “rest” action brings them back.
A popular option, a simple die roll decides who goes first. Once done, that person picks the next person to go. The second person then picks and so on, until everyone has gone.
Elegant (one roll, no math), Popcorn leads to a gamble: do players only pick players, hoping to overwhelm their foes? If so and they fail, the enemy gets to go, then select themselves to go the next turn (since they would not have acted in the new turn), leading to a potential double whammy.
The action order starts on the GM’s left (or determined by a roll) and proceeds clockwise.
All Declare, All Act
Everyone declares what their character(s) will do. Then the consequences are rolled for. Together, all at once.
Personally, a bit messy, but the speed of resolution and the unexpected carnage of melee can be really cool 😄
When to Roll?
When do these initiatives take effect?
If relying on pure positioning, static stat, or the type of action being taken, rolls never need happen for initiative.
Roll once at game start is another option. This keeps order steady and certain throughout a session of play.
Once every encounter is D&D‘s bread-and-butter. Only done when an interaction starts where order matters.
Lastly: roll repeatedly after everyone and everything has taken an action, e.g. at the start of every turn. (This is cumbersome and a drag – avoid it.)
When to Act?
You would expect only one character acts at a time. What happens when there are ties in determining order? Or that characters are in the same “phase” of action?
Ties can be resolved with a roll, but quality game design seeks to minimize repeat tosses of the dice.
Instead, everything that is tied or otherwise going at the same time goes at the same time! Actions are declared, actions are rolled for, and consequences are applied simultaneously. E.g. two folks can punch each other out in a brawl, or opponents can shout down or interrupt the speeches of their counterparts!
Surprise Gets a Free Turn
See just above. In virtually all cases, if an action is not detected or comes from no-where, it gets to go without consideration of what or when other characters act.
A universal in RPG design!
As I feel it, these are the most impactful initiative systems an RPG can have. While there are oodles of systems out there, these are used in many places (thereby tested), are relatively simple, rely on dice at most, and are ultimately RPG agnostic – the mechanics can work in any game (though may not always convey the same game “feel” – e.g. Dr. Who aims to minimize physical violence!).
What initiatives do you use? Have I left out a stellar example of speed and effect of play? Tell me more! I owe you one. Cheers!
A big time commitment to any roleplaying game is almost always the combat.
Roll to hit, roll how much was hit, repeat.
While simple in process, this becomes a slog when characters in games have buckets of hit points (HP, the equivalent of life). Each mighty cleave of a sword or bullseye from a rifle does but a chip of damage from the HP block. Again. And again. And again.
Others and I agree – fewer hit points makes for better play. One might even try to put the “hit” back into “hit points” 👀
Premise of Hits
HP represents how many hacks a character can take or effectively avoid to prevent their own demise. Depending on the type of game, 0 HP either means a character cannot prevent others from working their will on them (no fight left) or could mean they are dead (this time, the sword block is too slow, the swing finding mortal purchase).
How many hits a thing can take then can vary. You might have seen the videos of people about to fight, but one clip of the chin puts a fighter down. Remember Julius Caesar? He took over 40 (!!!) stab and slash wounds before finally going down.
Caesar aside, most combatants can only get in a bout for so long, minutes at most. This has been found out by the RPG community: A good rule of thumb is that a sturdy human being without special training can withstand about 3-4 hits before a ‘this-settles-it’ hit lands home.
The Old-School (OSR) RPGs hold this as fact: Fewer HP is better play. Whether that is some max HP of 12 or 20 for a player’s character, it undermines the hundreds of HP even moderate-level play in a game like Dungeons & Dragons can introduce.
Excessive, eh? Some solutions to high HP:
Crafting Better Dungeon HP
Professor Dungeon Master over at Dungeon Craft on YouTube introduces a great rule of thumb for D&D -type monster blocks:
Every attack that lands does 1 hit’s-worth of harm. Sword or fist, all the same. Criticals, heavy weapons, and especially high rolls (e.g. naturally in the top 25%) count as an additional hit. Spells do hits equal to the level of difficulty they are +1 (levels exist from 0 to 9).
As for HP, take a monster’s health, round to the tens-digit, and divide by 10 (minimum 1 HP). Thereby, a monster with 84 average HP can take 8 hits.
Professor Dungeon Master (minorly paraphrased)
This is a great quick-and-dirty way to reach the same conclusions of regular D&D combat, but only faster.
Assuming a group of four adventurers though, 8 HP still requires at least two rounds of combat with every adventurer landing a standard hit (8 HP / 4 hits-per-round = 2 rounds).
Can this be better?
BITS of HP
My own homebrew wraps as much as it can into the standard 1-2-3-4-6-10 scale of effectiveness.
Tier 1 characters can only take 1 and give 1 hit (and are easier to hit – that is a separate discussion). Tier 2 gives and takes 2 hits. Tier 6, 6 of each.
Player character weapons and armor also exist on this scale: Tier 1 does 1 hit’s-worth of harm (e.g. knives), tier 4 does 4 hits-of-harm (e.g. halberds, especially heavy weapons). Characters themselves have the ability to sustain ~7 hits of harm on average.
But what if players still want to roll their damage?
Layering on the HP
(The following is a thought exercise – I have yet to test in actual gameplay.)
Keeping the difficulty tiers of BITS, what if HP scaled by double or by 4s?
1 – Minion
2 – Soldier
3 – Specialist
4 – Elite
Example HP Scaling
This way the chaff of low-level minions can still be swept away, but more bossy characters can take a few blows before being made low.
When players strike, a success gives them 1 hit. When they roll damage, they get an extra hit for, say, every complete 5 or 10 points of damage rolled in the D&D fashion.
Players get to roll more of their dice, folks are rewarded for high rolls, and combat remains quick (but not so quick as to be a wash!).
Simple reduction of HP, HP by tiers, or HP by scaling? Or just keep D&D -style massive blobs of hit points, why does this article even exist? 😜
I am curious: Tell me what you use for HP in play and share what you think could go better in the fictional combat of roleplaying games.
Anyways, stay tuned for from-the-field reports as I experiment with different systems. Cheers to your characters coming out on top!
Magic in fiction is mysterious, fantastic, and often fickle. When I make games, magic is both incredibly powerful and incredibly dangerous.
To aid me at the gaming table when things inevitably blow up, I have created these foibles to emphasize the “glass” of magic-slinging, ability-wielding “glass cannons:”
When rolling to see if an ability or spell goes off as expected, a natural 1 (on a D20, doubles under target with 2D6) is a critical failure. The character’s ability to use these powers ceases until they take a short rest and fulfill the requirements of whatever foible they roll a D20 for.
A guideline for D20 D&D-like spell levels/slots to see if they fire:
Spell / Ability Level
1, 2, 3
4, 5, 6
D20 Guidelines to Magic
Roll at or less than the target? No magic – it sputters out.
Want to negate the critical failure so as not to lose powers and gain other ills? Immediately sacrifice a worn or wielded magic item – this foci destroys itself to protect you.
Think these difficulties are too, well, difficult? Get magic items that improve stats or automatically cast the power (scrolls, some wands), commit to rituals (i.e. take a lot of time) to gain advantage on the ability’s use, and get magic-minded friends to help (gaining +1 up to the spell’s level).*
* The idea of blood magic is a fine one to introduce to your tables: when below die target and the roll isn’t a critical failure, spent 1 hit point to improve the roll’s value by 1!
11. Silence is your only answer. (Secret:) Any intervention by the Giver is declined without notice for D6 days.
12. Meet your maker. Invoke a dialogue to know how you must improve your standing.
13. Confess and all is forgiven. Tell a different secret to each friend so that all may hear.
14. Your gratitude for these gifts is found wanting. Make a gold offering of 100 multiplied by your level and the spell level.
15. Your hubris is offending the Sponsor. Make a blood sacrifice, yours or anothers in the name of your Lord.
16. You must prove yourself. Deal D4 critical successes to those unoathed to your Bestower.
17. “I? I am a jealous one.” Only the blessings and methods of your Giver can benefit you for D6 days.
18. This is a blessing and a curse. Your nearest foe becomes endowed with the powers of your Host, increasing a tier of difficulty, restoring full health, and gaining advantage through their conflict now or upcoming.
19. Take penance for your sins. Magic and alchemical methods cannot benefit you for D6 days.
20. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?” An avatar of your Bestower, and agent of vengeance, steps through a portal 30 ft away (Tier 6 25+ DESTROYER).
This roleplaying game generator has 36 unique cataclysms to ring-in your fantasy game’s apocalypse. While made under license for Mörk Borg, the descriptions are general enough to apply to any game needing a conclusion 🔥
The Final Day comes in ‘friendly’ and ‘ink bane’ versions. The addon is available now on sale over here.
Warning ⚠ Linked, unaffiliated content has mature themes of violence, blood, and everything “Nano-infested doomsday RPG about cybernetic misfits and punks raging against a relentless corporate hell” would imply 💀
Dark-fantasy Mörk Borg is all about the end-times. From the set of Miseries to the seventh and final obliteration, the end is nigh.
Problem: That set of fictional cataclysms depend heavily on the lore, setting, and rules of Mörk Borg. Prophesies, grim fantasy, monster rules.
So it struck me: what would a present day apocalypse look like? Thus this new system-agnostic modern module Today Is the End.
Today Is the End
A grimdark, modern-themed list of 36 terrible ends to the world. Rolling D66 (one six-sided die is the first value, a second D6 the second value) selects a tragedy to bring into the game to send a one-shot night of play or a whole campaign off with a bang.
From the rules:
The seventh seal is broken, the final war begins, the bombs drop, the world burns, and the enemy calls upon society and soul. These are your final hours. Every 15 to 30 real-minutes (or 1 hour game time), roll D66 twice on the below. If the same number has been used before, use the next highest that is unused.
The curtain falls for the last and final time when:
all characters the players have or could play as (such as friendly NPCs) are dead and gone,
all six of a section have been enacted (crumple and burn the pages here – existence snuffs out without warning),
actions have miraculously stopped the machinations of the End Times.
Meant to come at the end of what already may be a long gaming session, Today Is the End careens headlong into chaos and cataclysm at a literally-breakneck pace.
To cater to any game system set in the modern world, Today Is the End relies on random trait selection and ‘qualitative’ difficulties (is it easy, moderate, or hard to do?).
A grimdark, fantasy-themed list of 36 terrible ends to the world. Rolling D66 (one six-sided die is the first value, a second D6 the second value), select a tragedy to bring into the game to send a one-shot game or a whole campaign off with a bang.
From the rules:
The seventh seal is broken, the onslaught of the seventh Misery begins. These are your final hours. Every 15 to 30 real-minutes (or 1 hour game time), roll D66 twice on the below. If the same number has been used before, use the next highest that is unused.
The curtain falls for the last and final time when:
all characters the players have or could play as (such as friendly NPCs) are dead and gone,
all six of a section have been enacted (close and burn the book – existence snuffs out without warning),
actions have miraculously stopped the machinations prophesied by Verhu of HE so long ago.
Meant to come at the end of what already may be a long gaming session, The Final Day careens headlong into chaos and cataclysm at a literally-breakneck pace.
While catering to the stats, lore, and ‘weird’ of Mörk Borg, The Final Day can be brought into any fantasy setting – stat effects can be either random stats or a best-call for the system in question, monsters are monsters or their near counterparts, and difficulties are generic enough for any system (minimum 10% change in probabilities).
Warhammer 40,000 Only War is a grimdark soldiers-at-the-front game that is inundated with minutia that makes the title more a tactical simulation than a game-for-fun as-is.
Big game tomes tracking every little thing makes sense – back in 2012 during the game’s publication, D&D was the primary RPG example in town, Only War itself based off of the piles-o’-dice tabletop wargame WH40K. There is so much here, this blog post will have to be abridged (not a full conversion of the main features to BITS).
The publisher has since come a hugely long way with Age of Sigmar: Soulbound, yet there are still gems here applicable to the BITS system. Skimming over some areas of detail, I introduce to you the best BITS of Only War:
The Core Mechanic
Skipping the dice piles of the wargame or the recent Soulbound RPG, Only War requires rolls at or under a percentage, that percentage being a combination of ability, skill, context, personal modifications, target modifications, and other tidbits.
There is a boatload of math here, each modifier being a range from -60 to +60, in increments of either 5 or 10. Ouch.
BITS is here to save the day for us: Genericize the difficulty, add minimal additions to rolls, and roll 2d6 at most.
Rabble, conscripts, untrained guards, small beasts.
Professional guards, foot soldiers, trained.
Specialists, veterans, brutes, large beasts.
Captains, elites, killers, vicious beasts.
Demi-gods, lords, titular mortals.
The gods made flesh, god-like beings.
BITS Difficulty Reminder
Let us skip the rest of the mechanic since most all of it can be replaced by BITS for faster, easier play.
BITS mitigates this with Body, Insight, and Thought. Here, we can take an average of the Only War stats that correspond (each stat averages to 31%: 2d10 + 20), and giving stat points for what percentage comes out:
% Range to BITS Value (Semi-Heroic is the best fit, Heroic second)
I won’t drawl on the trainings/skills a character has either – as is the typical, there are too many. So instead, base skills (the “Specialties” of BITS) on the role the character plays: Are they a pilot? A driver? The vanguard? A mechanical, biological, or software technician? A psychic (aka magic) user?
Let the character role decide what the character can and cannot do with advantage because it is safe to assume the characters are competent to some degree.
As for health, using Soulbound‘s B+I+T+S or a 2d6 or even d6 can lead to different experiences, whatever the game should “feel” like at your table:
Kind of Play
Heroic, 1-to-16 range
Semi-heroic, 2-12 range, average 7
Deadly, 1-6 range, average 3-4
The Fun BITS
A brief here before the next sections: What follows are the parts of Only War that really stood out to my design-eye.
These mechanics either are fully formed and standalone, require minor tweaks, or are great inspirations for BITS. Keep in mind that the following may not be 1:1 representative of Only War, but at least has a basis from the work done there.
Notable: Supply Lines
Or as the game calls it, “logistics.” Characters can get any gear they want, but they must request it and they must roll to see if it arrives.
Gear is gear – every game has equipment. Yet no game yet come across has quite this wartime mechanic of supply lines! (Band of Blades may come close – it has been awhile since reading up on it.)
Logistics shines because depending on who the characters are, what their army group is, where the battle is taking place, and how the war is going overall changes what is likely to be available.
When it comes to bad logistics rolls, an army group isn’t left to sticks and rocks. A saving grace is that every regiment has its own stock of basic kit, a class of weapons and items they have in spades. Not fancy, but an army won’t be for want!
The implementation is as math-heavy as the rest of Only War. A route BITS can take may look like:
Every player may attempt 1 requisition between missions, adding their Insight stat to how they barter / promise / beg / threaten / steal for it.
If the players are in retreat or in a break-neck push ahead, requisition cannot happen.
The effectiveness of the item is the base challenge of the roll (tier 1 quality = 5+ roll, 2 = 7+, etc.).
The whole squad can get basic infantry gear; heavy or specialized infantry gear or vehicle parts must be rolled for one at a time while acquiring a single vehicle increases the challenge of the roll to the next level (e.g. a tier 1 scout vehicle becomes 7+, not 5+).
Advantage to the roll if winning the last battle by a landslide (utter destruction of the enemy), the next mission is “the big one,” or the item is part of the “standard” for the group. Disadvantage if the previous mission was a real beating for the characters, the next mission is a full wartime evacuation, or the item is especially “exotic” (i.e. alien, heavily modified, experimental, part of a different military branch [not the army], etc.).
Apply other boons or banes based on the conditions of the field, for example:
+1 to Roll
-1 to Roll
Fresh Shipment / Overstocked
Base Recently Raided
Friendly Industrial / Fortress World
Backwater / Naturalized / Enemy World
Session 0 (Before Entering War)
Base Depot / Facilities Destroyed
Longstanding Base (1+ Year)
Trivial Forward Operating Base / Camp
Winning the War
Losing the War
Deadly Next Mission
Minimal Enemy Force Expected
Logistics Modifier Examples
Why not include the requisition of support as well during the mission? Being able to call in a tank company, have a friendly regiment on the flank, rely on air support, or signal an artillery barrage all adds to play for sure!
And of course the Game Moderator (GM) can choose if a piece of kit is even available to be rolled for – a super-heavy battle tank may simply not be around on a cut-off backwater of a warzone!
Notable: Regiment Creation
Creating an army and the soldiers who play a part in it is =superb=.
Only War walks a player through the fighting style, homeworld, standard kit, commander disposition, and even lore of the battle group they wage war on behalf of. All this before a character is made!
The regiment establishes kit, special rules, and bonuses players may (or sometimes must) apply to their characters and operations. Everything from vehicles to resources to tactics become available, as per these examples from the game:
Cadian Shock Troops
Poster-boy soldiers. Solid firearms and a squad APC. Dadv to disobey orders. Lasguns and launchers.
Catachan Jungle Fighters
Lone-wolf guerilla fighters. Extra health. Adv in ‘nature’, Dadv cooperating. Flamers and knives.
Death Korps of Krieg
Gas-mask-wearing attrition and siege group. Adv to push forward, Dadv to fall back. Artillery.
Elysian Drop Troops
Death-from-above. Anti-grav devices, maybe a dropship. Not that strategic (less Thought). Carbines and bombs.
Zealots. Solid firearms and more advanced weaponry. Good Insight, Dadv to fall back. Cannons and plasma.
Mordian Iron Guard
Armored regiment. Get a tank and combat drugs. Dadv for actions taken while in the open. Small arms.
Tallarn Desert Raiders
Mounted hit-and-run. Scout walkers and extra HP. Extra movement when ambushing others. Launchers.
Elite backliners. Extra stat point, solid standard gear. Dadv on lower-born social tests. Sniping and auto guns.
There is so much more…
I might make a blog post that is a direct get-started conversion where homeworlds, commanders, et. al are covered in depth – for now, group creation in Only War is now the basis for BITS!
BITS lacked a firm understanding of how to implement vehicles before Only War. Now, the inspiration:
Vehicles are a unit type above Infantry – Infantry have a disadvantage to harm them (though perhaps some bonus +1 or the vehicle tier for shooting the broadside of a barn, e.g. large vehicles?).
Further, vehicle BITS tiers (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10) add a ‘0’ to the end of the tier for the vehicle’s hull health, e.g. tier 1 becomes 10, 2 20, etc.
Same ‘0’ applies to vehicle-grade weapons. A tier-1 effectiveness vehicle weapon does 10 damage, and so on.
Combat vehicles are either without extra protection or are “armored,” impervious to non-explosive, non-anti-armor weapons.
Optionally, a scale can be introduced to equate with infantry protection where it reduces incoming harm:
No extra protection, canvas, open
Light infantry, flak fabric, car door
Medium infantry, plates, car frame
Heavy infantry, carapace, car engine block
Super infantry, powered armor, combat vehicle
Heavy combat vehicle, mobile weapon platform
Ancient / Exotic / Experimental protection
Vehicle Armor Point Array
For every tier, a vehicle gets 2 features aside from whatever motive (wheeled, tracked, or walking) it uses. A tier 1 scout could have any of the following, up to 2: mounted infantry weapon, mounted vehicle-tier weapon (counts as 2 systems), a fireteam carrying capacity (4-6 infantry, heavy weapons and ‘larger’ personnel counting as 2 infantry), armored, hover engine, turbo engine, slaved cyborg operator, damage control, amphibious functions, large replacement parts, etc.
Notable: Force Fields
Only War defines how BITS handles these kinds of ‘magic’ fields of protection!
First, they do not overlap. Only the strongest field applies at a time, though pop one, a second might be in place.
Next, effect tier must be equal to or greater than the field itself, otherwise all of the effect is negated completely (a tier-1 pistol and a tier-1 vehicle gun are treated the same). But fields remain ‘ablative,’ in that once damage arrives that is on par with the field, the field only goes down 1 point in effectiveness in exchange for stopping all damage. The new effectiveness – until recharged – can then be attacked by lesser-effect weapons.
Example: A tier 4 vehicle-mounted shield takes 2-damage small-arms fire. The damage doesn’t make it through and the shields hold at 4. (Attention is drawn to being shot, however!)
Then an airstrike arrives, doing 4-damage to the shield. The shield decreases in power to 3, stopping all of the airstrike’s effect. But a second airstrike arrives, again at 4, dropping the shield now to 2. A small-arms rifle takes a potshot for 2, now able to damage the shield down to 1.
As the vehicle’s turn ends, the shields recharge back up to 2. This stops pistols, but won’t stop rifle or heavier fire more than twice.
Should actions against the field critically succeed when the damage is at or above shield power, the field ‘pops,’ reducing to 0 to stop the attack (and if especially egregious, a GM might think the field has run out of power or requires maintenance!).
The above is a tentative scale of field shield power, though it could be split into Infantry-Vehicle-Ship-Planetary scales:
Containment / Wall Field
Vehicle / Building Field
Example Field Strengths
Robot eyes, regrown limbs, spare organs? The idea that any character can be saved from extreme physical harm – at a cost – is stellar.
Replacement parts are noticeable, but as standard do nothing ‘extra.’ Requisition, time, and medical and technical talent can be spent to, say, breath in any atmosphere, run faster, lift heavier, punch harder, see farther, or just have laser eyes 🙂
Notable: Levels of Damage
In a strange way, Only War has both a bean-counting health system (typical of RPGs), and an abstracted level of wounds.
The level of damage affects a character’s healing rate and NPC comrades. Once more severe levels are healed, it is easier to heal the rest. My take:
Only War Harm Term
< Body stat left of life
7+ Luck test each day of complete rest to heal 1.
> Body in harm, > Body left
Each day of complete rest to heal 1.
Harm <= Body
Each day of no further harm heals 1.
Abstract Character Health Levels
This seems a little heavy handed – why not heal 1 based on the context of where and how healing is done like most other games? (D&D “rests” come to mind.) Regardless, state is something to keep in my own game-design back-pocket for a while yet.
In the meantime, a handful of health is optimal (certainly not more than 20), perhaps spacing states at half- and quarter-life marks, rounding up. (Again, analyze this another time 🤷♂️)
Let’s consider NPC comrades:
Notable: NPC Comrades
Every player character in the game is supposed to have a “comrade,” someone who follows them around, follows orders, and provides support. (Excluding some chosen roles during character creation.)
Having a battle-buddy is nifty, though comes with caveats. It bolsters the number of soldiers to make a squad, provides some mechanical and narrative flexibility, but also adds a greater burden on the GM to track yet other NPCs. I am a bit on the fence with these kinds of henchmen, so it needs further investigation.
NPCs are either unharmed, wounded, or dead – there is no middle ground! Nor excess tracking of health. A single hit of any caliber reduces the NPC’s state, though extreme harm (in excess of the NPC’s effect tier, or double the tier or more?) should count as at least 2 hits.
When healthy, they take orders, can do tasks on their own, and generally support the player character with a +1 ‘help’ to rolls.
What It Does
Great. Sticks around.
Cannot run (‘Slow’ speed). Would assume they have Dadv or reduced effectiveness. Takes a week of rest to heal.
Not doing great. Mark the name down, when and how they died. Get a new comrade back at base.
BITS will explore adding a fourth state, “critical,” where NPCs could be carried back to base for saving, or left behind to hold back an onrushing tide!
Only War lacks a “lookout sir!” rule; a comrade can intercept incoming fire on behalf of their leader. Rather, only when doubles are rolled when targeting the player do these NPCs get hit. This is messy, so BITS adds “lookout sir!” when a hit would kill the player character and not otherwise hit the NPC (an explosion would hit both characters regardless).
Notable: Compatible With Other Games
Blows my mind that more games fail to include integration or conversion specifications with other titles. Maybe it is the problem of ownership and copyright, should a system such as D&D combine with Mörk Borg by name 🤷♂️
In any case, Only War fits itself nicely alongside other titles in the Warhammer 40,000 RPG line. The game is thorough with the mechanical tweaks and also cautious with the theming, reiterating what Only War is meant for versus the ‘feel’ other titles expect to provide.
2600 words, and barely scratching the surface of Warhammer 40,000 Only War!
Like fitting a foot into a too tight shoe, a great feel and look once there after putting in the work. That is what BITS is – a tight, sleek frame for the games that go in, running like a charm ~
Only War is no different. While BITS applied some of its principles to help Only War conform to a more concise feel, Only War gave as good as it got. Multiple points of inspiration came from Only War that BITS is already applying in game drafts soon to be shared!
What are you taking from BITS of Only War? The war tracking? Army building? Force fields? I want to know – share your insights and this post and we’ll meet again in a bit! Cheers ~
A cornerstone addition for any fantasy or medieval roleplaying games is the trusty steed. Whether mounted by a knight or pulling the cart of 💩, if a game has swords, it is ripe to have equine to swing swords from.
Here’s how they get implemented in the BITS system, though the rules below are quite system-agnostic.
Horses are a Tier 3 creature, meaning they have 3 hit points and are fairly difficult to hit and dodge (a 9+ roll to succeed against). However, unless it is a trained war horse, a horse should be unlikely to attack unless driven to, and that with disadvantage.
As for temperament, horses naturally avoid doing and receiving harm. Rather, eating and herding with other horses is the preference.
Being atop a horse automatically gives one a height advantage over other characters. Whether attacking or seeing over low cover, a mounted character has it.
However, the height comes at a price: A mounted character can be picked out from a crowd and has little (if any) cover themselves.
There is a bonus to speed though. Walking or galloping, horses give double the speed of a human for longer. E.g. instead of moving into the next area as a move, the horse can move into one area and then the next, or instead of ~10m run a horse may sprint ~100m.
If a horse suddenly stops (either from an obstacle or legs being shot out from under a rider), anyone mounted must suffer the consequences.
If walking or standing still, a d6 roll of 4-6 means the rider is fine. 1-3 means the rider is trapped under the beast and needs a Body BITS test to get out. A 1 also breaks the leg of the rider.
If galloping, roll d3. The result is how many 10s of meters the rider is thrown (e.g. 2 is 20 meters), with 3 damage for every 10 meters thrown.
For the number of those mounted, only one armored (or especially large) rider can be on a horse at a time. If unarmored, the horse can mount two at a time, even if one or both riders are injured.
What’s a horse without flared-nostril panic?
Horses must roll for panic if anything ever surprises them. These can inclusively be attacks (including surprise slaps to the behind), sudden visions of much and rapid activity, horrific scenes and smells, and loud noises.
A sample panic list, where failing a 7+ Insight BITS test sees the animal lose control:
Buck. 11+B BITS test to hold on.
Rear up on hind legs. 9+B BITS test to hold on.
Bolt. The horse gallops randomly d6 times. 7+B BITS test to hold on.
Shriek. All horses a room away (~10 meters) also panic.
Sudden stop. If not moving, the horse backs up d6 times (or stops when going into a wall or the area to the rear).
Nothing happens. After a start, the horse is controlled.
Chariots, Coaches, and Carts
Chariots are two-wheeled carts that need at least a driver and one horse to operate. They can be large enough to carry one or two passengers / archers / lancers with two or four horses, respectively.
Though lacking the height advantage of a mount, a chariot offers half-cover to those inside from at least the front if not the sides. War chariots can also include armor and bladed wheels.
Coaches are enclosed boxes that need a driver on the outside to work. Any number of horses can be used to pull a coach.
Those inside a coach have full cover but no height advantage. Those on top or driving have height advantages, but no cover. Coaches can be armored and even outfitted with weapons.
Carts are the basic of basic. No cover, and no height advantage unless standing on top. One, two, or four horses can draw carts, but so can mules, ox, and teams of goats (if the game is so inclined).
War Horses – Can attack with hooves for 3 damage whether striking or kicking. May be armored and are much less likely to panic or panic badly (e.g. immune to any panic except physical injury). Can also charge and trample without impunity.
Charging – Get hit by a running horse, get knocked prone to the ground. Simple as that.
Trampling – d6 damage to be run over by a horse (average at 4). Worth rolling to see if a horse jumps over something first, but there’s always the risk of harm when being both prone and in a horse’s way.
Saddles / Packs – Any horse properly equipped can carry more gear than a person can. If a character in BITS can carry only 2 items naked, 4 to 6 items clothed, and between 6 to 10 in a pack, a horse can carry a minimum of 10 extra items that stay with the horse when equipped to do so.
Stirrups vs Bareback – An optional consideration. Stirrups help a rider stay mounted and leaves their hands virtually free. Bareback requires one hand in the mane of the horse if the rider doesn’t want to have a disadvantage to their mounting or moving. Not a recommended rule, but a historical acknowledgement of what is available.
Other Devices – Things like blinders could reduce panic chances from certain sources. Whips and lashes could force a horse to go faster. If ignoring the cruelty of some of these devices, this topic is far too granular for what BITS aims to abstract away.
There it is: Horse mounts in BITS. Catering to a fantasy setting in this one, but westerns (like the very applicable Gunslinger in The West) or any setting with an equestrian-bent should use these rules for game inspiration.
Could this be extrapolated out to other kinds of animal riding? Dire wolves, bears, dragons? Of course! Though, attacks, temperaments, panic reactions, and other stats would need a bit of contextual tweaking, but that is the easy part!
What animals do you like to ride into battle? Is this ruleset missing anything (other than feeding [daily, and water, too!] and maintaining [horseshoes!] a mount)? Hit me up with your knowledge here – I am too naïve to know much else 🙃
Money makes the world go round, right? How about the tools that money acquires and that acquire money?
Like everything else, the BITS roleplaying game system handles that. Here’s how:
The Tools That Brought Us Here
As the stellar game Mörk Borg puts it, “you are what you own.” I couldn’t agree more.
Equipment, the tools we use, is what separates us from the beasts. Yet, there is no need for these tools to be complex in their implementation when at a table among friends in play.
BITS keeps tools simple. Everything has an effect for the intended use or a retarding effect on what is being done. Effects reduce the barrier between action and outcome; retardation reduces the amount of effect.
That’s a lot of verbiage 😑 Some examples:
Consider combat: A weapon has an X amount of effect through violence. Armor reduces that effect by Y. The final effect would be X-Y.
Example: Armor has a retarding effect on violence done to the wearer.
Same goes for more utilitarian tools. Crowbar? Useful for breaking open locked doors. Shovel? Digging holes. Pick? Breaking rock. These things might have a special advantage in the situation, too.
You get the gist.
Yet, sometimes an object is used outside of its intended scope. In those cases, the tool has disadvantage for doing what is was never meant to. A butter knife could theoretically slay a dragon, but gosh-darn is that going to be a hard time!
Virtually all game experience revolves around conflict, and 9/10 times (no source; don’t @ me) that conflict will see a violent resolution.
When it comes to violence, every stick, sword, pistol, and whatever will have a 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 10 effect. I shouldn’t have to remind, but for those that need it spelled out: the effect of violence is the edging from construction and order to destruction and death. The states are abstracted, but relatable.
To rehash, the scale goes like this:
Minor. In hand-to-hand, something like a rock or weapon with a reach less than a forearm (knives, hatchets). A small caliber, such as a pistol.
Moderate. A sword or battle axe, arrows. An assault rifle.
Major. A blade requiring two hands for 100% use. Crossbow bolts. A machine gun.
Mighty. Claymores, swung tree trunks, and huge mauls. A high-caliber weapon, personnel explosives.
Is this scale exact? No. It is simple, modular, and easily tweakable, as BITS is meant to be. But if I can help settle a question, leave a comment – I get to every one!
Putting a Stop to Things
Protection from effect reduces the amount of effect. Protection ranges from nothing 0, light 1, medium 2, to heavy 3, with higher versions looking at 4, 6, and 10 (though 10 is essentially ‘plot armor’ and in use is a sign of bad game design [except if the point is to assault God]).
Example: A 2-effect sword strikes a 1-effect leather jerkin piece of light armor. The final effect is a detriment of 1 towards the jerkin-wearer’s life.
A mention about shields: The best way BITS has found to handle a held shield vs. a worn piece of armor is to give advantage to the defender’s roll to dodge or block. Otherwise, just lend +1 to the shield’s use in defense. For further flavor, a shield can be smashed to pieces to prevent 100% of effect from an action, but this can only happen once and only in combat (e.g. no smashing shields to prevent harm from a great fall).
It all means the same: the influence you have in society and over your own time when not using first-degree violence.
Now, there are a lot of different folks out there. Some folks like to see their wealth counted to the last coin; some folks like just to know they have enough for their needs and leisure.
Is BITS flexible enough to cater to all tastes?
You know that answer 😜 To prove:
#1 Bean Counting
Whether bags of coin or rolls of wadded bills, when piled high, they look great.
For those that like to count their money, they have an abstract-yet-significant amount of value. How significant?
That depends on how precious of a commodity money is.
For the extra-rare money games (1-2 pieces of treasure a session of play), set the value of an item equal to the amount of effect an item has. 2-effect sword? 2 bags of coin. 3-effect hunting rifle? 3 rolls of dollar bills. 1:1 effect-to-fat-stacks.
In modern-wealth terms, the #-effect could mean the # of zeros after the first digit an item costs. 10s, 100s, 1000s, etc.
For the more liberal money games (say, 2-12 treasure earned in play, all characters are likely to have at least 1 in their pockets), sum up to the effect as value. That means you add up all the effects to the current effect.
Example: A 4-effect item is worth 1+2+3+4=10 of a currency. 2-effect is 1+2=3.
#2 Wealth Class
For those looking to do less math and more play, wealth class is for them (and you, too).
Wealth class is the abstract level of influence a person is in society. It could be considered as follows:
Poverty! Completely broke. Might beg for bread. Hard to count the unwashed masses, as they slip through the cracks of society.
Lower. Peasantry and labor class. Can cover necessities, but barely. Food, poor housing. Hundreds of dollars in the bank, maybe. About the bottom 40-60% in society’s value hierarchy.
Middle. Skilled and trader class. Can afford some leisure, but has to budget for it. Thousands of dollars available in the bank. 30-45% of the population.
Upper. Overseer and mercantile class. Can look wealthy. Can be impulsive with leisure. Hundreds-of-thousands to low million in the bank. 20-30%.
High. Inherited and aristocratic wealth. Rich. Want for nothing. Millions banked. 10-15%.
Elite. Royalty, old-family, and monopoly wealth. What society dreams of being but could never sustain. Hundreds-of-millions. Top 1-4%.
More money than God. Few if any good deeds done to get here. Do as they please. Cannot reasonably spend enough to reduce the class. Not generally known to the public, but members here come to know each other.
A class can buy anything of classes below it, no questions asked (within reason).
Buy things of the same class? Might need to roll – on a critical failure (e.g. 1 on a d6), the class reduces by 1 but the thing is yours.
Try to buy things above the class? Can maybe do 1 class above, but will reduce class by 1 or 2 guaranteed. Consult with the Game Moderator.
With bean counting, more beans means bigger numbers means better wealth. What about class?
With class, consider:
Gather treasure (or large enough paydays that went straight to savings) equal or more to the current class value, then spend that treasure to roll for a class increase at the end of, say, a month. Using d6, increase the wealth class by 1 if the roll is over the current wealth class – on a 1, decrease by 1 for some unforeseen expense or misjudgment on funds.
Example: Change wealth by gathering treasure/savings/windfalls equal to current wealth. Exchange that treasure to roll d6 (perhaps at the end of a month or so). Increase wealth by 1 if the roll is over current wealth; decrease by 1 if the roll is a 1.
What Is This Worth?
Shop keeps may buy things similar to their other wares at 1 level below the thing’s actual worth, 1 level above if selling.
Want to bargain? A successful Insight test (the ‘I’ in BITS) could get the price leveled to what it is supposed to be.
Example: A 2-effect sword will be sold to a merchant at the same rate as 1-effect, bought at 3-effect. Negotiate to make it a 2-effect cost.
Capitalism at work.
The above though fails to answer the question, “what is this worth?” Like everything else in BITS, it follows the 0, 1-4, 6, 10 pattern. A guide:
What It Is
Trash. Rubbish. Rags.
Mundane. Everyday. Simple. Cabbages, toilet paper bundle, concert tickets.
Middling. Required extra process. Prepared meal, handy labor, mediocre laptop.
Uncommon purchase. Some haggling. Jewelry, performance computer, car, US health insurance.
High quality. Fancy. Sports car, leisure boat, simple property, US medicine.
Above and beyond. Rare. Complex property, large vessel, small plane.
Exotic. One-of-a-kind. Especially unique. Companies, aircraft carriers.
A little give and take with the above will make for a great starting place in determining a thing’s value if not readily apparent. Cool?
And that’s all I have for gear and wealth in BITS!
A familiar topic, I have tried posts before for making gear and giving a highlight to its use. Yet, the economy talk was little and, well, I am better now than before in understanding what makes BITS fun 🙂
I am sure more can and will be added. Super-effect where the value is multiplied by 10 or 100, repair costs, base materials vs. final product, etc. Adding more is always possible with BITS, though simplicity is always key – in that, less is more 😉
How do you like to handle ‘stuff’ and the stuff used to buy it in your games? I want to know! Comment about it and I’ll owe you one. For now, cheers to your day!