Thursday, December 31, 2009

I Love Tables

Lately I've been way into tables. I'm not sure why. I used to love Rolemaster, almost specifically for its weapons tables. I dunno -- I really appreciate games where you can just look at the dice and know everything you need at a glance, but tables still have some weird allure for me. I wrote (and have used) a random adventure generator for Legends of Anglerre, Leftovers' random Horror generation tables are one of my favorite things in the game, S.O.S. relies heavily on a table for all task and conflict resolution, and so on.

Anyway, in keeping with that, here's the main table -- the effect table, or whatever I'll end up calling it -- from my in-progress Simian Circle contest entry. I'm not claiming it's totally original (it unintentionally shares some points of commonality with ZeFRS, BASH, and FASERIP, apparently -- not that there's anything wrong with that), and there's certainly more to the mechanics than just this, but I am totally in love with this table right now.

Happy New Year!

Tasks: Hits and Flops

Welcome to the end of 2009! Hope everyone's looking forward to 2010. I'm pretty jazzed about it, because I'm going to put out at least two games next year. I let myself down in 2009 by not making meaningful progress on Twists of Fate, and I don't plan to repeat that in the new year. 2010 will see the release of Leftovers and... something else -- if not Twists of Fate, then one of the other projects I've been working on, like the S.O.S. (Sorta Old-School) RPG. That one's been going on behind the scenes for months now. However, I'm really digging this other game I'm doing for Simian Circle's d10 contest, so maybe that will take precedence. I dunno. S.O.S. is about three-quarters done, barring playtesting, so it's hard to say. I also have a few board and card games in development, which is a little surprising in light of the fact that I hardly ever play board or card games. The point is, stuff is happening, and that's cool.

In the meantime, let's crack on with Leftovers.

Struggle against opposition is a commonplace occurrence in the life of a survivor, but there are plenty of times when nothing’s actively working against you. We’re talking about things like climbing a wall, jumping over a gap in the floor, searching a ruined garage for a functioning car battery, fashioning a spear out of a crowbar and a broomstick, and so on. These are called tasks (as opposed to conflicts, which involve two or more active participants in opposition to one another).

Tasks come in various categories of difficulty:
  • Trivial: Don’t even bother rolling for something this simple. Examples: Jumping a few feet, changing a tire, reviving someone who’s been knocked out, knowing where Cleveland is (or was).
  • Tricky: Most people can do this. Examples: Jumping down 10 feet without hurting yourself, changing a car’s oil, bandaging a wound, finding north.
  • Challenging: This may require some training or talent. Examples: Jumping from rooftop to rooftop over a narrow alley, replacing a muffler, performing CPR, interpreting a topographical map. 
  • Demanding: Those without training probably won’t know where to begin. Examples: Jumping a 15-foot chasm, rebuilding an engine, setting a broken bone, navigating by the stars. 
  • Severe: Only experts or trained professionals can pull this off with any reliability. Examples: Jumping a 20-foot chasm, building an engine from parts of several different engines, performing surgery, navigating by the stars on a cloudy night. 
  • Extreme: Even the best of the best will break a sweat. Examples: Parkour-ing your way up a five-story building, turning a junkyard full of scrap into a viable armored car, transplanting a limb or internal organ, navigating blind.

The difficulty of a given task is measured by its Target, which is the minimum number that must be rolled for the task to succeed.

Hits and Flops
Sometimes, it’s not enough to know whether you succeeded or failed – you want to know how well you succeeded or how disastrously you failed. For that, we have Hits and Flops.

First, success. Take half the task’s Target, rounded down, and divide the amount by which you made the roll (that is, your margin of success) by that number. That’s how many Hits you’ve scored. (Drop any remainders.) The more Hits, the better you’ve done. For every Hit, the GM should have something extra-good happen, like one step forward on the next relevant Trait roll. But it can be something a lot fuzzier too, if it fits the situation.

For example:
Jim rolls a whopping 26 on his Friendly roll to find an arms dealer in the Trench. The difficulty was Challenging (Target 13), so his margin of success is 13; divided by 6, that’s 2 Hits. The GM decides that not only does he find a survivor who knows Armando the Snake, the guy is also Armando’s brother, Rodolfo the Snake – and he likes Jim so much he’ll introduce them right away!

And failure. If your roll isn’t at least half the Target, rounded down, you’ve Flopped. Something awful has happened – or is going to happen. Two steps back on the next relevant Trait roll is an easy way to handle it, or it could be less well-defined complication.

For example:
While scrounging for food, Ben Flops his Resourceful roll. As a result, he finds several unlabeled aluminum cans, stacked together, out in the open. What’s in them? Are they safe to eat, or is this some sort of trap set by cannibal Grafters?

Hits can also be used to determine how quickly a character accomplishes a task. Something complicated like building a watchtower might be a Challenging task requiring 4 Hits to complete. The better the rolls, the faster those Hits will accumulate.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Leftovers: The Basics

In the post-apocalyptic world of Leftovers, there are two primary forms of life: humans and Horrors. And it's not always easy to tell them apart.

Not many humans are left -- no one knows how many, and there's no good way to find out. The Elder Horrors, the monstrously huge things that slithered across the world, devoured most of Mankind, but a portion escaped their notice, usually because they weren't worth noticing. These are the player characters. Despite how few humans are left, the scarcity of resources, harsh living conditions, and ever-present Horrors haven't done wonders for their sense of unity. There are gangs and factions, authorities and criminals, killers and thieves. Some fight to keep the insanity at bay, and some go insane right along with it.

The Horrors are creatures undreamed of by Man except during the deepest throes of madness. Or something. There seems to be a near-infinite variety of the things, but all of them are terrifying creatures of death and destruction. They stayed behind to claim the table scraps of humanity after the Elder Horrors moved on.

Leftovers doesn't take place anywhere in particular, but wherever you choose to set your game there are a few geographic features in common. First, there's the Trench, a miles-long cleft riven in the Earth during the conflict that's become home to the closest thing to civilization anyone knows. The Trench Authority provides law, order, and security, but rules with an iron fist. Still, an iron fist is better than a tentacle, right? Outside the Trench are the ruined remains of a nearby city (the Ruins) and the blasted-out, dried-up Wasteland as far as the eye can see. Somewhere out there, so the rumors go, there's the Bunker, an ultra-secure post-apocalyptic Utopia with electricity, running water, plenty of food and guns, and a total absence of Horrors.

Characters are defined primarily by their Natures and Traits.

There are two Natures: Human and Horrific. The more Human you are, the less Horrific you are, and vice-versa. Everybody’s at least a little bit Horrific, but the Horrors are completely in-Human. Humans can completely lose their Human Nature, too, if they sink low enough.

There are 18 Traits, so we’re not going to list them all here. Traits represent skills, affinities, professions, interests, and so on. A character might be good at fighting, or scientifically minded, or sneaky, or whatever. When you want to do something, you’ll be using a Trait.

There are three other elements of a character that, unlike Natures and Traits, are situational, in that you won’t always be including them for every roll of the dice. These are Bonds, Tools, and Grafts.

Bonds are a character’s emotional ties to other people – specifically, they’re ties to other characters. These come in four basic varieties: trust, distrust, loyalty, and betrayal. The higher your Human Nature, the stronger your Bonds. As your Human Nature slips, so do your connections to other people.

Tools are items that help characters accomplish tasks, from a set of lockpicks to a length of rope to a socket wrench to a .38 Special. Usually, a Tool can only be used with a specific Trait. The higher your Human Nature, the more Tools you can own. As your Human Nature slips, so does your attachment to worldly possessions.

Grafts are body parts from Horrors that have been transplanted onto a character’s body. These come in three varieties: Greater, Lesser, and Minor. Greater Grafts are things like giant bat wings, or two writhing tentacles in place of a character’s arms. Lesser Grafts are less severe, such as a tail or a single replaced limb, and Minor Grafts are much smaller: a Horrific (or third) eye, a claw hand, or a sharp-toothed mouth in a surprising new location. They also make people tougher and more survivable -- big pluses in the post-apocalyptic landscape -- and confer amazing recuperative powers when first transplanted. Many a life has been saved, or at least prolonged, by the timely application of a Graft.

Each of these five components is rated in die size, usually from d4 to d12. We’ll refer to these as your Trait die, your Nature die, your Bond die, and so on. Whenever you want to do something that requires a roll, you’ll roll one Trait die and one Nature die, add the results together to get your total, and compare that with a target number, or Target, to see if you succeeded or failed. If a Bond, Tool, or Graft is relevant, you’ll roll one or more of those, too.

For example, if you’re trying to fix a car and you have an ace set of tools, you’ll roll your Mechanical die, your Human die, and your Tool die. If you’re trying to steal Jim’s car and your Bond with Jim is “I’d betray Jim for a nice set of wheels,” you’d roll Mechanical, Human Nature, and your Bond with Jim.

Sometimes the rules refer to steps with regard to dice, like "+2 steps" or "-1 step." Sometimes, a move up to the next highest die is called a "step forward"; a move down to the next lowest die, a "step back." For example, if you’re rolling a d6, +1 step would mean rolling a d8 instead; +2 steps (or "two steps forward") would bump that d6 up to a d10, and -1 step (or "one step back") would make it a d4. Dice can’t be raised higher than d12 or lower than d4, unless stated otherwise. 

Those are the basics of the game.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Is Leftovers?

So what is this game, anyway? The core of the setting came from the contest's requirement to mash together at least two disparate genres selected from a discrete list. I wanted to do a post-apoc game anyway (for some reason), so I went with that, and then the "Mythos" genre -- if it can be called that -- appealed to me. I figured some version of Cthulhu awakening was as good a cause as any for a civilization-destroying apocalypse, and not something I recall having seen before.

But the third genre is what really makes Leftovers sing, if you ask me: Punk. As in cyberpunk, steampunk, etc. Specifically, the contest defined this as a mix of body modification and grey morality. What better way, thought I, to incorporate the punk aesthetic into a post-Mythos-ocalyptic world than by having survivors replace parts of themselves with parts of the otherwordly, Lovecraftian horrors that still roam the Earth? That element really crystallized the game for me.

Here's how I summarized it for some friends, and it's still as good an explanation as any (barring, perhaps, the intro fiction in the PDF):

The basic premise is that the "apoc" in post-apoc was caused by a mass invasion of otherworldly Lovecraftian Horrors. The big Horrors ate up most of humanity, then, satiated, departed through the underwater gates through which they'd come. But they left behind many thousands of survivors scattered all over the Earth -- the crumbs left over from their meal, essentially -- along with thousands of smaller Horrors who stuck around to claim the table scraps.

It's been discovered that grafting parts of these Horrors to yourself confers some of the Horrors' powers, such as supernatural strength or toughness. Doing so also heals any injury
[or it can, at any rate] -- as long as the patient is even barely alive, a graft will bring him back in a hurry -- so for many survivors in the post-apoc landscape, grafts have been a grim necessity if they want to stay alive. It's amazingly easy to transplant these grafts, almost alarmingly so. Stick a severed tentacle to the stump of your severed arm, and it'll do most of the work on its own. They almost seem eager, in fact.

However, grafts come at a hefty cost (besides hunting down Horrors for harvest, that is): The more you have, the less human you are. The game has two main stats, Human Nature and Horrific Nature. As one goes up, the other goes down. If your Human Nature goes down to zero, you're officially one of
them. But some people are cool with toeing the line. They just want the power, or they're out of their minds, or they think the Horrors are the next evolutionary step, or all three. A lot of those people are at least as dangerous as the Horrors themselves, but there are those who manage to balance Horrific power and sanity. While the old world economy is a thing of the past, there's a thriving trade in Horror parts.

The player characters are a band of survivors trying to make their way through this Horror-stricken wasteland. They might fight against the Horrors or roving gangs of cannibals, or harvest Horror parts for fun and profit, or whatever. You get the idea.

So that's the deal.

The other ingredients I chose, besides those from the Genre Blender, were "Character creation does not allow characters to have access to all attributes" and "Must include an emotional connection mechanic binding characters together." The first made sense because in a grim world of perilous survival, it isn't easy to be a generalist -- there aren't many people left who'd be willing to teach you auto repair or knife-fighting or wilderness survival or any other skill that might give them an edge over their neighbors. The second made sense because it also doesn't pay to be a loner. There isn't much humanity left, and what little remains won't be alive for long unless they stick together. I like the seeming paradox there, and the fine line people would probably walk between helping others and ensuring their own survival.

That reminds me: I just saw a great movie on IFC that illustrates exactly that latter point. It's an old Ray Milland film called Panic in Year Zero! (exclamation point included!), and it's soaked in 1962 Cold War paranoia. The movie pretty much begins with Los Angeles being nuked by unknown enemies, and recounts one family's attempt to survive in the immediate aftermath. It's a bit on the campy side at times (from a 21st-century perspective, anyway), the characters are pretty two-dimensional, and the music is kinda awesome in its ridiculousness, but it's worth checking out if you're a fan of the post-apoc genre. In fact, could it be the first post-apoc film? (No, TCM's Robert Osborne says that honor goes to 1951's Five. Let's just say for the sake of argument you don't include Things To Come in that category, although maybe you should. It's kinda post-post-apoc, though.)

Next time: The Basics.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


The title of this post has two meanings:
  1. I have another blog, Spirit of the Blank, that's all about tweaking Evil Hat's Spirit of the Century to fit various genres and needs. I love SotC, and I've had a lot of fun and success mutating it every which way. However, I have plenty of game ideas that have nothing to do with FATE or SotC that just don't fit into Spirit of the Blank's FATE-oriented mandate, but nowhere to present them to the largely ambivalent public. This, then, is a place for all of those "leftover" ideas.
  2. One of those game ideas is a little thing called Leftovers, which I wrote for the most recent Game Fu contest on Leftovers combines a post-apocalyptic setting with Lovecraftian horrors and the "-punk" aesthetic. It's gotten a good initial reaction from two-thirds of the Game Fu judging panel (the third has yet to weigh in) and friends, so I've decided to fully develop it for sale as a PDF and POD product, plus a rather bare-bones online version (something along the lines of the existing PDF I linked to above) available for free. The plan right now is for the PDF to have nice, full-color art but be inexpensive -- something like five bucks. (Hey, if John Wick can sell a PDF of Houses of the Blooded for five bucks....) The POD version may just be a black-and-white version of the PDF, or it may contain another chapter. I'm not sure yet. Right now I'm still adding, tweaking, and refining the Game Fu version. Playtesting starts next month, if all goes well.
So that's the deal. This blog will cover my other game-design efforts, starting with Leftovers and continuing with a d10-based game I've just started for Simian Circle's current design contest. But there are a ton of other little half-formed ideas -- mostly mechanical -- that will make an appearance here, and if inspiration strikes, maybe I'll make something more of them. Or maybe you will! Either way.

As for the title of this blog -- well, I like the new wave of narrative story-gaming mechanics and all, but man, if you're going to call it a game, I wanna roll some %@#*%! dice.