Sunday, September 15, 2019

Way of the Exploding Sword – action-gaming with the Index Card RPG

Art © Jörg Drühl

Here we go!
I’m presenting the latest incarnation of my tag-heavy, freeform ICRPG.

Character Creation
  • no stats
  • write down 6 tags – they can be as short or long as you want, single words or whole sentences
  • mechanically, each tag counts as +1 to your roll
  • weapons and armor are tags

E. Honda,
Class: Sumotori
Bioform: Human
extremely heavy, strong as an ox, one of the best sumotori in the world, tough as nails, Buddha Thousand-Palm-Slap, deals massive damage

  • Method A:
    In a fight, add all relevant tags to your d20 roll. If there are any disadvantageous tags, subtract 1 from your roll for each. The gamemaster/referee does the same for monsters and npcs.
    Higher roll does damage.
    If one side has severely more powerful tags, add +1d4 to that side’s roll.
  • Method B:
    Count the number of relevant tags.
    If 0–2, roll 1d4
    if 3–4, roll 1d6
    if 5–6, roll 1d8
    if 7–8, roll 1d10
    if 9–10, roll 1d12
    if 11+, roll 1d20

You roll vs GM/referee’s roll.Higher roll does damage.

If one side has severely more powerful tags, add +1d4 to your roll.

Principle of Narrative Truth
  • Everything the players describe happens exactly how they describe it, when they describe it.
  • Narration must not describe the defeat of a character if they still have hit points/heartbeats left.
  • Higher rolls in combat now grant the right to narrate, and the side with the lower roll also takes damage.
  • This way, when winning a roll, a player could also describe how their character gets hit and/or injured, only to have a sensational comeback (when, mechanically, the opponent has been reduced to zero hearts).

One fighting against many
Your total result (roll+tags) counts against every single opponent – or you treat the horde as one single opponent

Checks and Attempts
roll d20+relevant tags vs. target number

either roll damage+relevant tags and subtract total from hp
1 heart = 3 heartbeats
1 hit = -1 heartbeat
1 crit = -1d4 heartbeats

have tags, GM/referee determines
when using loot or casting spells, GM/ref rolls 1d20; 18+: loot/spell has extremely beneficial effects, maybe even functionality it usually doesn’t have

Every tag is a +3 instead of a +1 to your roll.

Example combat, just the mechanics, no narration

_E. Honda, _
Class: Sumotori
Bioform: Human
extremely heavy, strong as an ox, one of the best sumotori in the world, tough as nails, Buddha Thousand-Palm-Slap, deals massive damage

Horde of goblins
there’s a lot of them, swords

Honda amazingly has 6 tags that are relevant for a fight. Note that if Honda or the goblins wore armor, it would also simply count as one tag. Honda adds 6 to his d20.
The goblins have 2 relevant tags for fighting. The goblins add 2 to their d20.

Round 1
Honda: rolls 9, +6 = 15
Goblins: roll 14, +2 = 16
=> Goblins hit, Honda loses 1 heartbeat and has 2 left.

Round 2
Honda: rolls 12, +6 = 18
Goblins: roll 10, +2 = 12
=> Honda hits, Goblins lose 1 heartbeat and have 2 left.

Round 3
Honda rolls a 20 (crit!), +6 = 26
Goblins roll 10, +2 =12 and cry
=> Honda rolls 1d4 to determine how many heartbeats the goblins lose, and rolls… a 1; the goblins are down to 1 heartbeat

Round 4
Honda rolls 16, +6 = 22
Goblins roll 13, +2 = 15
=> Goblins lose their last heartbeat; their fate now is in Honda’s hands. Will he slaughter them? Spare them? Befriend them? Enslave them?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Freeform Index Card RPG = TAG HEAVEN!

(c) Nick Hiatt

A couple of days ago, I posted about my mediocre experiment of combining an old school dungeon crawl with ICRPG AND playing this with old friends who are deeply into freeform. It was, how can I say, a disaster waiting to happen. 

Still, I think ICRPG is a beautiful game that I can tweak and bend and torture till it does what I want (tee-hee-heeeeeee).

My goal: turn ICRPG into a game that only requires the barest minimum of system knowledge and look-up during game sessions – it has to flow freely, and numbers and knowledge must disappear as much as possible.

My solution: as a few people here on the forum suggested, I’ll use tags. And by ‘using tags’, I mean I’ll use them like there’s no tomorrow. With the exception of stat bases and hearts, everything and their dog will be tagged. Like crazy. I’ll determine what tags a piece of Loot has when the moment has come. It’ll be a spur-of-the-moment, impromptu decision, just like back in the old days when Dave Arneson and the Twin City gamers invented roleplaying. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll get more specific when time passes. We’ll see.

(insert thinking man pose here)

So, for instance:
  • Let’s take the Amulet of the Fortress: spur of the moment, I’d tag it like so – ARMOR, IMMOBILE
  • or the Amulet of Secrets: HIDDEN KNOWLEDGE, INT, WHISPERS ADVICE
  • an easy one, the Book of Traps: BUILD TRAPS, DETECT TRAPS

After tagging, the fun part begins.

The players write down the tags, and so do I. The tags are all they have and know. No numbers, no mechanics.

When a situation arises where a piece of Loot or a Spell might fit, I roll a d20. The higher the result (I’m thinking 18+), the more effective that Loot or Spell works. How do they work? I’ll make a ruling. Maybe the Amulet of the Fortress grants you more armor, but a really good d20 roll might also turn you into a rolling fortress, with two cannons blazing from your shoulders. Or the Book of Traps might turn into an actual trap you can use once before becoming a book again.
This way, the “Wonder” part of Hank’s “Danger – Energy – Wonder” advice will be active a lot more often. And magic and magic items will once more be unpredictable and… well, wondrous.

I really, really like that.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Index Card RPG – and why it didn't work for us

Hahaha, interesting experience... just came back from refereeing a dungeon crawl with Index Card RPG....two things on my mind:
  1. Even that game is too complex for me, too many moving parts.
  2. Dungeon is definitely NOT my preferred setting.
Oh, and a third: Going back to freeform is paramount. 

I have analyzed the experience, and these are the reasons why that session definitely didn't live up to the hype I created myself.
  • When my players were confronted with challenges or threats, the first thing they all did was look at their character sheet – trying to find loot that might help their characters. This is a double whammy for me because we are freeform gamers (have been playing freeform almost from the day we started roleplaying, 1984), and we're used to immersion. For lack of a better expression, we want to become our characters. Not all the time, but most of the time. ICRPG definitely did not support this play style.
  • This begs the question: Why? My (personal) answer is that the structure of ICRPG (special powers and loot galore) requires resource/loot management. As a result, as a player, you simply have to take inventory. Not looking at your character sheet means potential disadvantages in-game.
  • What are my ideals for roleplaying? Immersion, first and foremost. Challenges and fun. But immersion is crucial for our style of gaming.
  • How can I referee ICRPG so it meets our goals? First, NO game mechanics on the sheet. I'll tell the players the name of the loot and what it does (in game world terms, not in mechanical terms). Same goes for spells. All the players know is what effects their characters get when they use their stuff. This should focus their attention and energy on their characters, and not on their sheets.
Will it work? I'm not sure. I'll keep y'all posted how it goes. 

Kung Fu Goons, v2

I updated my Kung Fu Goons game. Now, the combat example is included. It's still a One-Page-Game:

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Classic Traveller, the way Marc Miller plays it: old school 2d6, done right

Classic Traveller, Book 1 of 3.

Classic Traveller, all books combined, German edition.
No special reason why I'm including it here, other than:
It's simply perfect. My copy still looks so, so good

An online buddy of mine recently shot me a private message on Discord and asked me about Classic Traveller. I love that game, even though I haven't played it much, or way less than I want to. Marc Miller, the author of the game, is still playing Classic Traveller – which should tell us a thing or two about what version really deserves our attention.

So how does Marc Miller play Classic Traveller?

In a nutshell:
  • The rules in the books are tools for the referee. If you need them, use them. If not, then there's absolutely no reason to use them.
  • Stats (strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education, and social standing) are the only numbers on the character sheet.
  • Roll 2d6 to determine each stat – no fixed Dice Modifiers (DM), the referee decides when and if to add or subtract from the player's throws.
  • Pick or roll a service – write down skills, but no Dice Modifiers. Again, the referee decides on how skills affect the rolls.
  • Saving throws are 2d6 + Dice Modifiers, determined by the referee, against a Target of (usually) 8+ (also subject to change according to the referee's opinion)
  • Weapon Damage: 1d6 for mostly harmless arms, 2d6 for melee weapons, 3d6 for average firearms or really dangerous melee weapons, 4d6 for extremely dangerous weapons like las rifles or shotguns.
  • Damage for the first hit ("first blood" in the rules): comes right off Strength first, then Dexterity, then Endurance. For every hit after the first one, the player can distribute damage between Str, Dex and End as they see fit.
  • One stat at 0 points means injury, two stats at 0 means the character is mortally wounded (but can be saved), and three stats at 0 means instant death.
That's the complete game system as used by Marc Miller. Very, very Arnesonian in style.

Can I tweak it just a bit to make it more Arnesonian-like? Of course:

The average damage is: 3.5, 7, 10.5 and 14 points.
The average stat is 7. That means, if an average character is hit with a melee weapon (average damage 7), that stat is reduced to zero points, and the character is injured. A second hit means the character is bleeding to death, and a third hit kills them outright. So, a average character can take 3 hits with a melee weapon before they die. They can take bit more if they're attacked with small weapons, and they are mortally wounded after a hit with a huge weapon. Las rifles or shotguns have the potential to kill an average character with one hit. Firearms have the potential to severely injure with one hit.

The first thing I'd get rid of are stat numbers. Simply write down if you're above or below average (7 points) in a stat: "strong" could mean you're stronger than average, while "weak" could mean you are, well, below, average.

I'd keep the saving throw mechanic, it's simple and beautiful.

I'd give characters 4 hits, +1 for each stat (Str, Dex, End) that's above average, and -1 for each stat below average. Armor increases the number of hits.

In combat, characters lose hits according to the situation, the opponent's roll and the weapon the opponent is using. So, a average knife stab in a crowded bar would probably result in pain and injury, but if I roll a 12 for the knife attack, most characters will go down.

So, in closing, these are my Braunstein Traveller rules:

  • Roll 2d6 for Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Social Standing. If a stat is 5 or lower, write it down as "below average", or similar. If a stat is 9 or higher, write it down as "above average", or similar. Don't write a stat down if it's average.
  • In Traveller Book 1, pick or roll your service and play the mini-game.
  • Write down the skills you earn in service, but not the numbers. 
  • Your character can get hit/injured a certain number of times; the exact number of hits is determined by the referee. In combat, if the winning result is really high (again, the referee has the final say in this), or your actions leading to this situation were stupid enough, it is entirely possible that your character is severely injured or even dies. 
  • Note for referees: a character has 4 hits: after the first hit, characters are stunned, after the second, lightly injured, after the third, severely injured, after the fourth, mortally wounded. Armor and above-average stats give the character a number of "free hits" – think damage sponge – before they start getting hurt.


  • When the ref calls for it, roll 2d6: 
    • try to roll 8 or more
    • ref might increase or decrease target numbers as dictated by the situation


  • You roll 2d6, I roll 2d6. Who rolled higher determines what happens. If we're close, we negotiate. 
  • Winning with a high number (ref determines what that means) means a really good and/or severe hit.
  • Shields grant a character 1 free hit before they can get injured, light armor also 1 free hit, medium armor 2 free hits, heavy armor 3 hits. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Easy-peasy d20 freeform vehicle combat rules

One of my free rpgs, published in German, is Freeway Warrior.
It's a Mad Max rpg that uses d20 exclusively. As you might have guessed, the system is very Arnesonian, roll 1d20, high is good.
It's pure old school, using lots of tables for character generation and other stuff. You can even roll up your vehicle.
One thing I'm really proud of is the vehicle combat system I developed for Freeway Warrior:
Here's the text (autotranslated by Deepl because I'm really lazy today):
In the fight man against vehicle or vehicle against vehicle we distinguish between light and heavy weapons.
Light weapons are those that a person can easily carry with one hand: Guns, submachine guns, light machine guns, oil sprayers, smoke candles and so on.
Heavy weapons are those that a person can only carry with difficulty or not at all with two hands: heavy machine guns, on-board guns, cannons, minelayers, rocket launchers, and so on.
Now you could simply give a vehicle a number of hits and then use the normal fighting rules. That would be possible, of course, but we find it boring. The distinguishing moment in vehicle combat, in my opinion, is that a single hit -- the decision-maker, the kill -- decides the fight.
Therefore we introduce in the following the hit matrix for the vehicle fight. The upper line indicates whether the shooter shoots at a vehicle with a light or heavy weapon. In the left column you can find the types of vehicles to be fired at. Where the weapon and vehicle types cross, you find a number. This is the number that a shooter must roll at least on the D20 to make the kill -- the hit that paralyzes the vehicle --.
If the referee wants to make a vehicle particularly robust, he can also increase the number of required kills from 1 to as many as he likes.
Characters who can shoot well are allowed to roll the dice again if they fail.
Motorbike, Ultralight Aircraft: light weapon 15, heavy 10
Small car: light 16, heavy 12
Sedan: light 17, heavy 14
SUV: light 19, heavy 15
Light truck: light 20, heavy 16
Truck, Zeppelin: light 20, heavy 17
Tank: light 20, heavy 19
If a character scores a kill, he rolls 1d20 again. 1-16, the hit damaged a part of the vehicle so badly that it is no longer possible to continue. 17-20, the driver was hit.
KILL -- which part of the vehicle was hit?
1-2: tire, apron, track, gasbag
3-4: engine
5: passenger
6: fuel tank or battery
7-10: chassis, undercarriage

Car Wars Classic: Arnesonian roleplaying, Steve Jackson Games style

Before you continue, please do yourself a favor and download the digital edition of Car Wars Classic from the official publisher here:

1981, Steve Jackson published their seminal game, Car Wars. I bought the pocket edition about six years later, and we loved playing it. The one thing that slipped through our fingers was the content presented in chapter 4, simply titled "Characters".

CW was a conflict simulation game, and the chapter on characters had one focus: to answer the question, 'what happens when a vehicle is destroyed, but the driver survives?' When the game was written in the late 1970s, it had never been the intention to write an rpg.

But still, players being players – they turned CW chapter 4 into a full roleplaying game. There were many groups in the 1980s who used the rules for roleplaying.

To quote the Car Wars book, page 48:
When a player wants to try something that isn’t covered by any of the skills in use in that campaign, the GM should fall back on “roll 2 dice and pray ” In other words: Require the player to roll 2 dice. The higher the roll, the better the result.
This is exactly the same method Arneson and the other Twin Cities grognards used.

How does the Car Wars Classic rpg work?
  1. A character has 3 "damage points" – "the first hit wounds, the second knocks unconscious, and the third kills. They can wear body armor, which adds DP". Body armor adds 3 DP, Improved body armor adds 6.
    Again, this is exactly the way most Twin Cities games handled armor.
  2. Starting characters get 30 points to buy skills; one skill at base level costs 10 points. Using a skill at base level means rolling 2d6 and shooting for at least a 7. Every point beyond base level adds +1 to the roll and costs another 10 points. If a character does not possess a skill, the player rolls 2d6-4 for the skill check.
  3. Skill checks: 2d6+skill =7 or more
  4. Pistols inflict 1 to 2 damage, smgs 1d6 damage, rifles 3 damage, shotguns 2 damage – you get the idea. 
  5. Skill contests are opposed 2d6+skill rolls; whoever scores 7+ AND is 5 points higher than their opponent, wins the contest.
  6. Hand-to-hand combat is needlessly complicated and thus not relevant for our purposes.
How would I tweak the system?

I wouldn't change much. Each character has 3 "damage points". Armor adds damage points. Choose 3 skills. Later in the game, you gain new skills or skill points. Skill checks are 2d6+skill = 7+. opposed skill checks are 2d6+skill, higher result wins.
Combat: opposed 2d6+skill, higher result hits and inflicts 1 to 3 damage – no additional damage rolls, they're counterintuitive when you roll really high to hit and then roll 1 for damage or so.
Ranged Combat: referee tells you the number you have to roll on or above.

That's the Car Wars Classic rpg. Enjoy.