Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The goodness that is Into the Odd

There's a reason why I like Into the Odd. In the past, I compared it with early forms of roleplaying (like our homebrew system, the Landshut rules). And I came to the conclusion that, bottom line, ItO is the winner. The reason: Referees can bake the setting right into their classes, and that helps everyone at the table. And game prep is a snap, compared to what's required to run a proto-rpg. In my words:

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Kharak Kharkulanen, or: Creating like it's 1984

…and my grandma just gave me that super-awesome shiny black box with the first rpg I've ever played for my birthday.

So that's how I'm writing my campaign world.

You know, I've been refereeing for 35 years – but I never really created my own world. Oh sure, I wrote a ton of material for all the games we played, and I wrote probably even more generic material – generic fantasy, generic cyberpunk, generic what-have-you. But my own setting? I guess I never really thought about it. That's weird, and it's weirdly unsettling.

I'm writing my own setting.

And I'll start just like back in the days when I was 14 and refereed my first roleplaying game.

How did I come up with stuff?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Apocalypse World, powered by ancient rules

My gaming buddy Wizard Lizard sent me his idea today:

Brainers & Hardholders
Take Apocalypse World's color, strip out all of the rules. Keep the playbooks as classes, or even pregens with set stats, special abilities (pick a few and keep the rest to unlock through play or XP), use D&D-or-what-not rules as needed That's a great idea because it reduces the Apocalypse World rulebook to its useful parts and gets rid of the unnecessary esoteric rules language thta plagues pbtA games.

In a way, that's what Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax, Prof. MAR Barker and all the other early (war)gamers did: use literature as fuel for their imaginary adventures.

Of course, I will hack our Landshut rules to power Apocalypse World. Because nothing says DIY gaming like combining a post-apocalyptic setting with a set of rules that are named after a Lower Bavarian city founded in 1204.

Let's convert Apocalypse World 2e to Landshut.

The Landshut Rules: now have their own page

Our ancient school, free kriegspiel rules now have their own page here on the blog: The Landshut Rules

Check back often!

Landshut Troika!


I'm no fan of adding big numbers in-game. To me, any number above 3 IS big. So, Troika! gets a new set of rules – but nothing on the character sheet changes. Thanks to Jared Sinclair, a prolific Troika! designer on the Troika! discord! I've written about Classic Traveller several times on this blog before, and the new revision of Landshut Troika! has its root in CT.

Let's begin.

Skill in Troika! is used for all saves, so it's a very important number. It's rolled with 1d3+3, so it has a range between 4 and 6. Use Skill to make informed decisions about a character's competence (positive or negative Dice Modificators). The number itself is NOT used in play.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

GLOG: the ancient-school approach

Two days ago, I adapted the original edition of Gary's game to our Landshut rules.
Today, I'm trying to do the same with the GLOG. Specifically, Skerple's Many Rats on Sticks edition.
It's a voluminous edition, with 50+ pages. To me, that's about 45 pages too long ;)

Let's do this. I'll play with a d20 instead of 2d6.

Moonhop. Said it before, will say it again: such a GOOD game

Just so y'all don't forget: Moonhop is still a perfect game. Perfect. Because it combines the sheer joyful craziness of the GLOG character classes and magic system with the sheer genius of Into the Odd. Just sayin'. Or louder: Go buy that darn game, it's gooooood.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Original edition – ancient school style

Old School Rules, or better, Pre-Gygax rules, share one quality: They are immensely flexible. You can glue almost any other system onto them, and they still won't break.

I have mentioned on MeWe that I find myself of two minds when it comes to roleplaying: for scifi campaigns and Hong Kong action sessions, I prefer our Landshut rules just the way they are: no hit points, no xp, no fixed character classes, no fixed character races, no ability scores, no damage roll.

Strangely enough, this is not my preferred way of roleplaying when I referee fantasy. For my fantasy games, I want all the bells and whistles.

I've already written about how easy and quick the Landshut rules can be adapted to play Cyberpunk 2020. Last week, we started our space opera campaign, using the Landshut rules to power Star Dogs.

Today, I want to adapt our rules to play the game that Gygax made out of Dave Arneson's rules. Let's see how this works out. For this post, I'm using the Single Volume Edition. I'm also throwing some of Campaigns Playable's house rules in the mix.

1) Roll abilities
For every 15+, I write down "very" + the adjective that belongs to the characteristic, and for every 5 or lower, I write down the opposite of the adjective. All other numbers signify an unremarkable, average stat.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Aw, the heck with it: Our rules now have a real name

Download these rules as a handy pdf: The Landshut Rules

Some of you know of my brave forays into the primeval ages of roleplaying. As a result of these beautiful journeys, I finally formulated our homebrew rules.

Still, I feel they deserve at least some kind of reference, a name that tells others where they originated from. So, I decided to stay traditional and name our rules after the place they come from: Landshut, the Lower Bavarian town I was born in. The Twin Cities had and still have their Twin Cities gamers and several variants of Twin City rules, and now Landshut has its Landshut rules, and I think it's fitting.

So, without further ado, I'd like to present to you

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Playing all the games, ancient school style: Cyberpunk 2020

This post copies the structure of my last post – but applies my free kriegspiel, pre-school Landshut rules.
Today, let's create a Cyberpunk 2020 character that will be played with rules that predate the game with the dragons.

CP2020 characters have Intelligence, Reflexes, Coolness, Technical Ability, Luck, Attractiveness, Movement, Empathy, Body Type.

Let's say we roll these stats with 3d6:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Playing all the games with It's All Just Saves From Here On Out: for instance, Cyberpunk 2020

Some readers asked me, 'hey can I play 'IAJSFHOO' (pronounced: I-jeff-shoo – don't ask me why) and use another game's attributes?

Sure, you absolutely can – and sometimes, you maybe even should.

Let's take Cyberpunk 2020, for instance.

CP2020 characters have Intelligence, Reflexes, Coolness, Technical Ability, Luck, Attractiveness, Movement, Empathy, Body Type.

Let's IAJSFHOO-ify this and roll the stats with 3d6:

Intelligence: 8
Reflexes: 15
Coolness: 8
Technical Ability: 12
Attractiveness: 8
Movement: 15
Empathy: 12
Body Type (strength, endurance, constitution): 17

I'm not interested in Luck points, so they're not available in ma game.

Weeeeeiiird spread. Moving on.

Let's pick a character class first:
CP2020 offers these classes:

  • Solos
  • Netrunners
  • Techies
  • Medias
  • Cops
  • Corporates
  • Fixers
  • Nomads

Our character is really not very bright or cool, so netrunners, techies, medias, corporates and fixers are right out. Solos, cops and nomads stay. This character is immensely strong and resilient, so I choose a career as solo.

Let's pick skills next.
Conveniently, CP2020 characters start out with 10 skills, as do IAJSFHOO characters. I pick all ten skills from the Solo career skills package:

  • Awareness/Notice
  • Handgun
  • Brawling/Martial Arts
  • Melee 
  • Weapons Tech
  • Rifle
  • Athletics
  • Submachinegun
  • Stealth
  • Combat Sense

It's also very convenient that each CP2020 skill is assigned to a stat – just like in IAJSFHOO:
  • Awareness/Notice (INT)
  • Handgun (REF)
  • Brawling/Martial Arts (REF)
  • Melee (REF)
  • Weapons Tech (TECH)
  • Rifle (REF)
  • Athletics (REF)
  • Submachinegun (REF)
  • Stealth (REF)
  • Combat Sense: increases Awareness and Initiative.
IAJSFHOO characters start at Level 1. This Level adds to stats.

So far, our character looks like this:

Solo, Level 1

Intelligence: 8 (Awareness/Notice)
Reflexes: 15 (Handgun, Brawling,Melee, Rifle, Athletics; SMG, Stealth)
Coolness: 8
Technical Ability: 12 (Weapons Tech)
Attractiveness: 8
Movement: 15
Empathy: 12
Body Type: 17

I pick (2d6 =) 5 gear items from the book.
1. Budget Arms Auto 3 pistol
2. Sternmeyer SMG 21
3. FN-RAL Heavy Assault Rifle
4. Knife
5. Kevlar vest

Now, I lose (1d6=) 2 of them:
the knife , Sternmeyer SMG 21

So this means my character starts with a Budget Arms Auto 3 pistol (d8 damage),  an FN RAL Heavy Assault Rifle (damage 1d12), and a kevlar vest (armor 3 against bullets)

Next, I'll pick 2 "Powers". I decide to get two pieces of cyberware implanted:
1. Kerenzikov Booster Level 3 (Humanity Loss 15, including neuralware processor)
2. Smartgun Link (Humanity Loss 2)

In CP2020, you lose 1 point of Empathy for every 10 points of Humanity you lose. CP2020 works with a 2–10 stat range, IAJSFHOO uses 3–20, so roughly twice as much. So, for every 10 points of Humanity my characters loses, he also loses 2 points of Empathy.

He has a total Humanity Loss of 17 points, which means his Empathy is down to 10. That's average and no reason to worry – yet. With Empathy 6, a character turns into a "cold fish", as the rulebook calls it, with Empathy 4, he becomes chilly, and distinctly unpleasant for others, with Empathy 2, he's usually violent and sociopathic, and with 2 or lower, he becomes a cyberpsychopath and his life as a player character is over.

So, in closing, this is how our CP2020 player character looks like:
Solo, Level 1

Intelligence: 8 (Awareness/Notice)
Reflexes: 15 (Handgun, Brawling,Melee, Rifle, Athletics; SMG, Stealth)
Coolness: 8
Technical Ability: 12 (Weapons Tech)
Attractiveness: 8
Movement: 15
Empathy: 10
Body Type: 17

Budget Arms Auto 3 pistol (d8 damage),  
FN RAL Heavy Assault Rifle (damage 1d12)
kevlar vest (armor 3 against bullets)

Cyberware (Humanity Loss 17)
Kerenzikov Booster Level 3 (Humanity Loss 15, including neuralware processor)
Smartgun Link (Humanity Loss 2)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Download my new, free game

It's all just saves from here on out

My roleplaying game socialization happened in 1984, with a game that used stats between 8 and 20, and roll-on-or-under saves. This mechanic is probably the single most important imprint on my gaming DNA.

Add hit points, and you already have a system that works.

The outcast-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned came up with a pretty cool idea on freeform rpgs many months ago. I'm riffing off of these now.

You start at 1.

Each player: Roll six times 3d6 and write down the numbers. Invent six stats, assign each one a number. If the referee thinks you're trying to fuck with him, you might lose that stat. AND the number.

You get 10 skills, each linked to one of your stats. If you save against a skill, save against the stat+Level.

Pick 2d6 items from an rpg book. Then, lose 1d6 of them. If gear can be destroyed, assign hit points to it. Or assign stats, just like characters have.

Pick 1d4. These can be cyberware, mutations, spells, PSI, connections, special backgrounds, whatever your group thinks is Cool.

Roll ad20 on or under the most appropriate stat. If you don't have any, save vs. 4.

Small weapons: 1d6; medium weapons: d8; large weapons: d10; some weapons might have smaller or bigger dice than that.

Damage comes off a random stat. One stat at 0: scratched. Two stats at 0: unconscious. Three stats at 0: serious wound. Four stats at 0: dead.

Light: reduce damage by 1. Medium: reduce damage by 2. Heavy: reduce damage by 3 or even more.

Save vs. your most appropriate stat, opponent does the same. The highest, but still successful roll hits and rolls damage.

Unimportant NPCs
Assign stats and numbers as you need them. Give them between 5 and 20 hit points. Make a KO save vs. 10 each time they are hit and have less than half of their hp left. or simply drop them after one hit.

Important NPCS
Treat them like player characters.

Instead of rolling damage and subtracting it from stats, simply make a save vs. the most appropriate stat. The referee may slap modifiers on the roll. A successful roll means you took the damage quite well. A failed roll means it got you good. The exact number of hits a character can take varies from setting to setting, but 4 is a good number.

Example character (for Shadowrun) 
Fatback McCormic, Overweight Elven Gang Member Level 1 
(and hell yeah, I rolled great!)

STATS and (Skills) 

  • Brute Force 15 (Brawling, Steamrolling opponents) 
  • Agility 14 (Bando Bull Kung Fu, Freeclimbing, Shooting Pistols) 
  • Eye for Opportunities 12 (Help friends in combat) 
  • Stubborness 12 (Immovable) 
  • Leadership 8 (Intimidate bigger opponents) 
  • Smarts 12 (Tamper with electronics, speaks English, Russian and Chinese)

GEAR (picked from SR1e)
Knife d6
Expandable Baton d6
Browning Max-Power d8
Yamaha Rapier

Cyberware: Dermal Plating (counts as Armor 3)

Example combat, no fluff text
Fatback McCormick against T-Rex, a small arms dealer (20 hp, armed with a pistol)

Fatback sees T-Rex with a pistol closing in on him, draws his Browning Max-Power and squeezes off three shots. T-Rex also tries to shoot. As Fatback shoots three times, my ruling is that he has to roll with disadvantage (roll 2d20, pick the worse number).
Fatback: rolls save vs. is Shooting Pistols 15, gets a 12 and an 11.
T-Rex: rolls save vs. 10, fails the roll. 
Fatback hits with all three bullets.
Fatback rolls for damage: 6,3,8.
T-Rex now has (20 hp - 17=) 3 hp left. I roll a save vs. 10 to see if he remains conscious, but I fail. 
T-rex drops to the ground.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

More classes for your old school games than you can shake a 10 foot pole at

A while ago, I posted my final version of my homebrew system. It deliberately tries to go farther back than the most known, bestselling fantasy rpg. "How the Grognards played" emulates the gaming style of Dave Arneson and the other Twin Cities gamers.

More than a year or two ago, I created minimald6, an extremely rules-lite game that got hacked into 31 (and counting) different games. My gaming tastes have changed since then (I'm playing Arnesonian style almost exclusively now), but one thing remains:

I can use the random character creation method of minimald6 for my Arnesonian games. Since I gave  minimald6 a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license, you can modify those games however way you prefer. Me, I'll simply put  the random character classes here.

What changes for my games?
Just character creation. Instead of freestyling it, you now roll for your class, Then, you choose two so-called "specialties" (skills, life events, gear). Everything else is played as I describe in "How the Grognards played".

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The GLOG Link Experiment: Back again!

Oh, wow.

One of the most popular pages on Darkworm Colt went missing – and I didn't even have time to check what happened. Now I did, but I still can't retrieve it.

So I wrote it again: The GLOG Link Experiment (GLOGLE) is back:

If you have new GLOG material, please let me know, I'll happily add it.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Cease this madness at once

Rawle Nyanzi has written a beautiful and important piece about indie games, indie books and indie publishing. In a nutshell, he points out that every criticism, positive or negative, about big brand rpgs, games and books does nothing to change the current situation: Big brand media utilize psychological targetting methods to inflame "critics" – this increases both the volume and frequency of mentions. Bad news are good news. 

The bigger the piece of the cake for big name media, the smaller the pieces get for indie authors and games. Big media doesn't even like us – it's the money they're after, and that's the reason you won't find any kind of golden thread in their publication policy. If there's money to be made with, let's say, transgender-heavy dungeon crawls, that's what they're going to publish, even if all their old modules are about heroic beefcakes rescuing long-legged blonde cheesecakes from rotten towers of old ugly male bearded wizards.

Big media franchises don't have morale. They don't have a code of conduct. Big media corporations are unethical. Their only concern is money, so they have to be very flexible, morally. Big media companies don't care about you.

The future of roleplaying and, I believe, book publishing, is independent. Indie publishing. Indie games. Indie authors. Indie designers. Look at the breathtaking rpg products the OSR has generated so far. Look at the new wave of sword&sorcery and scifi writers who are all published by indie companies. Indie is the place of innovation, of real change. 

Indie is the future of our hobby, not the soulless products churned out by big media.

So what's the solution? Let me quote Rawle:

  • From this day forward, I will not mention any major media franchise on this blog, and I will erase such talk if I see it in the comments. Also, I will not like, share, or reply to any social media post that discusses a major media franchise. This does not only apply to woke brands. All major brands, including anime, will not be mentioned here. No big brand requires my help in getting the word out, so I won’t do it for them.
  • If it is mentioned on any mainstream geek site (Bleeding Cool, IGN, Comic Book Resources, Anime News Network, etc.), it is a major brand. Those sites get a lot of traffic from interested parties, so they don’t need you to talk up whatever they’re talking up. Meanwhile, great content languishes in obscurity because everyone would rather complain to a company that deliberately antagonizes them, thinking they’ll change with the 17,863,485,736th email.
  • Spare me your talk of circlejerks. Non-mainstream content has to be talked up, no matter the source. The only way to create actual competition is to treat non-mainstream work with the same obsessiveness as a franchise that spits on its fans. No million-dollar executive is going to have a change of heart because you whined like a baby on Youtube, so stop it and be part of the solution instead.

This is what I'll do from now on, here on Darkworm Colt and in my private life.
We are the future.

Initiative has to be crazy

Not only OSR games suffer from the same old, same old problem with initiative rules. Essentially, those rules boil down to two alternatives: the whole group gains initiative and the individual members can determine in which order they act, or the rules determine who acts when.

It works, of course.
(And personally, I like group initiative a lot.)

But I think the single best twist on these age-old rules are Dan Sell's Troika! initiative rules. You can use them in every roleplaying game. Speaking from a professional standpoint (I'm a certified intructor for reality-based self-defense and instructor-in-training for a Russian martial art), Dan's initiative rules are realistic. Realistic, as in yes, it really works like that in melee, it's all a huge fucking mess, and things happen you just don't want to happen and everything is going in all directions all at once.

So, yes. Do yourself a favor and use Dan's rules. They're that good. AND they're fun.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Troikatober: Into Troika!

Some of you might know that I'm a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Into the Odd. In all honesty, I do think that Troika! and Into the Odd are the best game systems around – this also includes my own rules-lite rpgs. (The GLOG clocks in at third place).

Today, I'd like to show you my ideas on converting Troika! backgrounds (player characters) to Into the Odd – and vice versa. This has been totally NOT playtested, so tread carefully.

Troika! StaminaInto the Odd STR

Into the Odd

Into the Odd
Advanced Skills: to use them in Into the Odd, simply make a save against the most appropriate stat and use the Skill number as stat modifier.

When converting from Troika! to Into the Odd, roll 3d6 for CHA/WIL.
An example:
I have a Troika! lansquenet with Skill 4-Sta 22-Luck 10. His Advanced Skills are 2 Greatsword Fighting, 2 Pistolet, 1 Run, 1 Fist Fighting and 1 Astrology.
Let`s convert this character to Into the Odd:
Stamina 22 is STR 16. Skill 4 means I have to roll 1d+3 to determine DEX; I roll a 2, so I have DEX 5. Luck 10 translates to 4 hp. I roll 3d6 for CHA and get a 9. The ItO lansquenet looks like this: STR16-DEX5-CHA9-hp4

Monday, October 7, 2019

Troikatober! Another background: Old School Pro-Wrestler

You worked hard to be where you are. The marks love you. You were one of the best jobbers in the biz, and you never, not even once, broke kayfabe. When the time came, you were prepared. You know you were indispensable for the federation, and you negotiated well. Your moves are basic, but you can sell pretty well. And when you throw the sign for your generic legdrop, the crowd pops like crazy.

You start with 2d6+30 Stamina

Yellow t-shirt (you rip it to shreds before a match begins)
Huge biceps you call pythons

Advanced Skills 
3 Microphone Skills
2 Basic American Pro-Wrestling
3 Finishing Move (determine name)

You can start using your Finishing Move when your opponent has one-third or less of their Stamina left. After you perform your Finishing Move for the first time, your Advanced Skill for it decreases by 1 point every time you're trying it again in a match. Once your Finishing Move Advanced Skill reaches zero, you can't try it any more and have to wait till the match is over.

Basic American Wrestling 


P.S. Yes, I'm in the designing phases for a pro-wrestling RPG based on Troika!. Suitable for all players, no pro-wrestling knowledge required.

Friday, October 4, 2019


Over on the Troika! Discord, we announced Troikatober. One month full of Troika! goodness.
My first entry is a background.
Haiku Tribesman
The fives and sevens
truly mean the world to you,
strong son of symbols
Possessions of yours
- Honorable book of rhymes 
- Pen that knows the truth
Look, your Advanced skills
3 Write into the hearts of men 
4 Spell: a Living Word
This, your only spell 
Will it with your blackest depths 
and become a word

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Friday, September 20, 2019

SUPERCONDENSATOR: Classic Traveller: Playing it fast and loose, part 1: Armor

A few days, ago, I posted about Marc Miller and how he plays Traveller. According to him, all he really uses at the table are stats, numberless skills, the world creation rules, the daily random rolls and a healthy dose of improvisation.

I like that. I like that because it is exactly the way I referee my games, as well. Just recently, I was thinking about armor in Traveller personal combat. How can I wing it? How can I emulate "what's written in the rules"?

The following is what I came up with.

Book 1 (1977) describes different kinds of armor:

Jack A natural or synthetic leather jacket/body suit. Better than clothing or bare skin, no protection against guns.

Mesh A jacket/body suit of natural or synthetic leather reinforced with a lining of flexible metal mesh, similar to chain mail but lighter and stronger. Good against blades, somewhat effective against gun. No protection against lasers.

Ballistic Cloth A heavy duty jacket/vest covering the upper torso and legs, tailored from ballistic cloth. Good against all kinds of weapons. 

Reflec Reflective material may be tailored into a body suit, ineffective against any weapon except laser.

Ablat Ablat is the cheap alternative to reflec, and is fashioned from material which will ablate (vaporize) when hit by laser fire, carrying the energy of the attack away. Ablat also has some value as protection against other forms of attack, primarily from its bulk. 

Battle Dress The ultimate in battle armor, military battle dress consists of a complete vacuum-suit-like array of metal, synthetic and electronic armor. 

I could write a super-simple table like this: 

Armor Protection
Blunt Blades Guns Lasers
 Jack  +1 +1  +1 
 Mesh  –  +2 +1  – 
 Cloth  +1  +2 +2   +2
 Reflec –  –  –  +3 
 Ablat +1 +1  +1  +3 
 Battle Dress +4  +4  +4  +4 

…but the question is: Do I want to use it at the table?

My answer is a resounding ‘No‘. So, what can I do? Wing it, but wing it with structure. I'll simply attach "tags" to each type of armor to signify its weakness. So…

Jack: guns
Mesh: lasers
Cloth: –
Reflec: all but lasers
Ablat: expandable reflec, like cloth
Battle Dress: –

The numbers? They will be improvised.

But you know, that last sentence often enough is the problem for referees. How much is too much? How little is too little? Thankfully, Classic Traveller offers a solution. It's hidden in The Traveller Adventure (1983), and it's called 'Situation Throws'. To quote:

Situation Throws: In the absence of any other guidance, the referee may always resort to the situation throw. When an incident first occurs, throw two dice to determine its relative severity. A low roll means that it is easy, a high roll means comparative difficulty. The number achieved is now the situation number. The player characters involved, when they attempt to deal with the situation, must roll the situation number or higher on two dice.
How can I use Situation Throws for armor? I've come up with the following solution:

  1. The player characters don't know how old or good a piece of armor is that someone is wearing.
  2. As a referee, I should know, but I refuse to burden myself with details like this. So I use a Situation Throw. 2d6, take the lower number. That's the protection (used as negative DM) a piece of armor offers. Yes, I know, this might result in Jack armor offering a -5 DM. I don't care – who knows what that guy is wearing underneath it? Maybe he's layered up like a birthday cake or something. 
  3. Battle dresses use the higher number. 
  4. Really old and worn-out armor might have 1d6-1d6 (with zero being the obviously worst result).

Army Trooper Noam Zhang 985487 Age 22 Skills: Rifle
Rifle (4d6), Mesh armor (2)

against some low-life rabble 777777, armed with a revolver (4d6), wearing ballistic cloth. Both are hiding behind rotten dumpsters in a dark alley. The distance is 30m.

I roll 2d6 for the Situation Roll and get 2 and 5. So the goon's cloth has a -2 DM, same as Noam's.

It's dark, the goon is hiding behind a dumpster, and Noam has to shoot at him while trying to keep his cover. I rule this is a -3 DM. The cloth armor of the goon adds another -2, for a total of -5. Noam has experience with the rifle, and he fought in a war, so I grant him a total DM of +3. Remains a -2 DM.

For the goon, we also have darkness, plus firing around cover, plus target is hiding behind cover: a -3 DM. Noam's armor grants a -2 DM, for a total of -5. The goon has experience with the revolver, but this only means he has no negative DM on his roll. All he can hope for is boxcars, for a lucky hit.

Noam rolls a 4. Miss.
Goon rolls 6. Miss.

Noam rolls 6 and misses.
Goon rolls 8 and misses.

Noam rolls 9 and misses.
Goon rolls 8 and misses.

Noam rolls 12 and hits!
Goon rolls a 10 and misses. 
Damage: 2,5,2,3 =12.
The goon loses his Strength, and 5 points off his Endurance. Before he drops to the ground, unconscious and bleeding heavily, he squeezes off another round, but misses. 

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: https://itch.io/jam/goonjam/rate/468684

Thursday, August 29, 2019

SUPERCONDENSATOR: 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: ancient school 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: http://www.sjgames.com/car-wars/games/classic/img/car-wars-classic-rules.pdf

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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

How the Grognards really played, 3rd edition

This is the second re-write of my Really Old School Rules, modeled after the way Dave Arneson, David Wesely, Phil Barker, Bob Meyer, Jeff Berry and many other Twin Cities gamers roleplay(ed) before D&D.

I'm looking for a new name because "pre-D&D" is absolutely NOT what it is (thank you, @Matt Jackson, for pointing this out in your podcast). Arneson's play method has nothing to do with Gygax's younger game – it deserves another title. If you guys come up with a good one, i'm happy to adopt it.

One thing that kept me thinking was hit points. We know Dave Arneson used hit points after the unfortunate one-hit-kill incident in the infamous "Troll under the Bridge" game, a test game where Bob Meyer played a hero and got killed by one blow. I tend to handwave this aspect in my games, but now I have more historical information.

On Facebook, I posted the following question:

Let's take a look at Strategos, a military game that had major influence on Arneson and Wesely, as well. Table T says:

Of interest to me is the results section. The higher the difference between the winning dice roll and the losing dice roll, the worse the result becomes for the loser. As we've read, Arneson used points, at least in the sense of "this character can get hit X times", and Bob Meyer seems to walk the same path. I'll use this for my own interpretation.

I also asked Chirine ba Kal (Jeff Berry), one of the oldest friends of Prof. Barker's, and the current "official" Tekumel referee, the same question about a Really Old School Star Wars campaign.
NorbertDid you use hit points? Or "three strikes and you're out" or similar things? 
ChirineYes, modified by the particular game's setting. It works. Hits were based on the game's setting. Blasters generally meant that the hit was fatal; same for lightsabers. Tekumel sessions used EPT for the stats and HP - for example - but the players were the ones who kept track of them; they would tell the GM what had happened, which also told everybody in the party, as everybody role-played. I have some dice to indicate where hits occur, and we use these for some games. otherwise, it's Phil's rules and roll %D. If one knows how the world works, it gets pretty easy and fun to play.

  • Write down a few words about your character.  
  • Note one special power that allows you to do things others can't. Special powers are defined before play by the ref and the player. By design, this is open to interpretation. 
  • Your character has no stats, but you may write down "strong", "agile", "tough", "charming", "smart" or "wise". If this helps you in a situation, add +1 to the roll. 
  • 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 good number is four hits: after the first hit, you're stunned, after the second, lightly injured, after the third, severely injured, after the fourth, mortally wounded. Armor gives the character a number of "free hits" – think damage sponge – before they start getting hurt).
  • In mass combat, you count as four men.
  • If you're playing a published rpg setting: 
    • roll attributes. Write down only extremely low and extremely high stats. 
    • pick 10 skills from the rulebook (if the game uses skills)
    • pick 2d6 pieces of regular equipment/gear from the book, then lose 1d6 of them
    • pick 2 "Powers": special equipment, spells, special abilities, connections, special backgrounds etc.


  • When the ref calls for it, roll 2d6: 
    • High = good 
    • Middling = does not change the situation, or negotiated/mixed results (fleeting success, success with a downside, failure with an upside) 
    • Low = bad 
  • The ref can also roll his 2d6 against the player's. Higher result wins and gets to say what happens.
  • You can also use a d20 instead of two regular six-sided dice. If a character has an advantage of any kind, the player may either roll 2d20 and pick the higher result, or add +5 to his 1d20 roll. For disadvantage, roll 2d20 and pick the worse result, or subtract 5 from a 1d20 roll.


  • 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. So a player character wearing leather armor (=light armor) can get hit once without major consequences, after that, he can usually take 4 hits before he dies.


  • Melee is simultaneous. Only the first row of combatants can attack, except for polearm/spear attacks from the second row.
  • Each figure may move up to one length of a pen in normal terrain. Difficult terrain halves movement. Very difficult terrain allows movement of up to 1/4 of a pen. Fast or slow combatants move farther or shorter than one pen -- come up with your own rulings here.
  • First, Missles are fired, second, spells are started, third, combatants move, fourth, spells started in step 1 now take effect; fifth, archers who didnʻt move and havenʻt been engaged in melee may fire again, sixth, Melee
  • Using light weapons: roll 1d6 for every 3 men 
  • Using medium weapons: roll 1d6 for every 2 men 
  • Using heavy weapons: roll 1d6 for every man 
  • Using superheavy weapons, or mounted: roll 2d6 for every man. 
  • Attacking heavily armored opponents: 6 is a kill 
  • Attacking opponents in medium armor: 5, 6 kills 
  • Attacking opponents in light or no armor: 4,5,6 kills 
  • 1 hit kills a normal being. Monsters and npcs can take a number of hits depending on how many humans they're equivalent to. E.g. A bear that's as powerful as 4 humans can take 4 hits. 
  • Hirelings die first; player characters only start taking damage after their hirelings have died.
  • Check morale with 1d6 when a unit has lost 3+ figures, when a unit has lost more than half of its members, when a unit is attacked from behind or in the flank, or when friendly units are routing nearby.
  • If the unit rolls higher than the its morale number, it is routed and immediately turns in the opposite direction and moves as far back as it can. It will continue to do so till it reaches the end of the playing field; at that moment, itʻs considered defeated.
  • Morale numbers: under fire
    • Civilians: 3, Soldiers: 4, Veterans/Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 6
  • Morale numbers: routing/other
    • Civilians: 2, Soldiers: 3, Veterans: 4, Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 
  • A leader might be able to rally fleeing troops; roll 1d6 and stay at or under the leaderʻs Leadership Skill (1=uninspired, 2=typical, 3=talented, 4=superb, 5=tactical genius).
  • Modifiers to Morale: 
    • Attacked in flank -1
    • Attacked from behind -2
    • Leader close by +1
    • Double ranks (formation wider than deeper) +1
    • Triple ranks (formation wider than deeper) +2
    • Lost half or more figures in unit -2
    • Witnessed the loss if their leader in this turn -2
    • Lost a general -3

This way, 10 soldiers in leather armor and with swords fighting against 3 knights with war axes on horses roll 5d6, and 6s kill. The knights roll 6d6, and 5 and 6 kill.