Sunday, July 31, 2011

Top Secret

The game that has been occupying my attention in the last couple of weeks more than most is the old TSR Top Secret, the original one, not the later Top Secret/S.I. (which doesn't really interest me). I've been looking for modules for the game and adventures printed in Dragon magazine. I also discovered that there was a significant revision of the hand-to-hand combat rules in the 2nd printing (and the revision is an improvement on the original rules), and that there was a Top Secret Companion which collected many of the optional rules that Merle Rasmussen wrote originally for his column in Dragon. I've also surprised myself by how many issues of Dragon I own that had articles regarding the game.

There are a lot of good old-school elements of the game. Actions are governed by broad categories of competence (and, with the Companion, formal training courses), some of which are universal, such as general athletic ability and the ability to deactivate electronics and mechanical mechanisms, while others are more focused areas of knowledge, such as scientific knowledge or a knowledge of history. This allows a character to attempt actions even in areas in which he is untrained, and to make use of the general knowledge of the player freely. In a sense, there are two separate, but interlocking, skills systems in the game: attributes and areas of knowledge, and training courses. There are also prototypes of more "story" oriented rules presented as options, such as hero points (here called Fame Points and Fortune Points).

Less worthwhile, the combat system uses a variant of D&D's Armor Class system. Weapons are given a Projectile Weapon Value (PWV) or Hand Weapon Value (HWV). This affects the ability of the weapon to hit the opponent. Projectile weapons then cause damage on a fixed table, from 1 to 12 points, while hand-to-hand weapons use a more complex system (described below). Armor modifies damage, reducing it by a percentage, or nearly eliminating damage from weapons below a certain caliber. There are some suggestions of how to handle larger weaponry (machine guns and missiles, for instance) in a Dragon magazine article, but this is not official. Damage is inflicted on a value called "Life Level", which is based on the basic, rolled attributes of the character.

Hand-to-hand combat is divided into various types: non-trained, wrestling, boxing/swordplay (these use the same table), judo, and martial arts. Hand weapons add a damage modifier when using non-trained or boxing/swordplay combat. In the original version, boxing and swordplay were separate, and there was a knife fighting option as well, but the revised system is much better. In a combat round, one character is the attacker, the other the defender. The attacker chooses an attack type secretly (which also determines which damage chart to use in the case of a hit), while the defender chooses two defenses. These are cross-indexed on the tables, and a result determined. This generally consists of a miss or a hit, possibly with a damage modifier, but can also include holds, a change of roles (defender becomes attacker and vice versa), or other results.

Combat has a number of optional rules which can increase the complexity of the game. For instance, injuries can cause temporary and permanent losses to abilities and attributes in addition to the Life Level damage.

Some activities are abstracted greatly. In the optional rules regarding arrest by police, for instance, the character is given a "chance to escape by getaway". This is simply a saving roll against the character's Evasion value, a failure indicating that the character goes to trial (and the trial is similarly abstract).

Further, there are tables of random complications, intended to be used by the Admin (the game's word for the Referee) in cases where she has not built such into the scenario. These include the results of police investigation, the chance that a target (or someone connected to the target) may attempt revenge, the chances that a message is intercepted or jammed, the chance that a surveillance is discovered, and general occupational hazards such as illness or having one's morals offended. There is even a "Campaign Rules" section that includes some notes toward a type of "domain game", with costs of constructing buildings and setting up a network of agents and contacts.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gygax Quiz (You Know, Because It's His Birthday)

Faoladh took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 60%!

You are a Gary Gygax Myrmidon. You are mighty in the ways of Gary Gygax. You're probably a First Edition or OD&D player, and I wouldn't be surprised if you had an original copy of the Chainmail rules.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

I'm not really that knowledgeable about Gary, but I seem to be better than average.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chronologies Vs. Plots

In a discussion on Dreams In The Lich House, we are playing with conceptions of sandbox and railroad style play. As usual, some people are operating from a flawed (in my opinion) understanding of sandbox play and talking about how a "pure" sandbox is this or that thing which is not necessarily so.

Anyway, I started to discuss the difference between a timeline and a preconceived plot:

A timeline does not place any restrictions on what decisions the players can make. The players may choose to confront the mastermind of the timeline or they may choose another route to success. There is no pre-scripted scene involving a necessary confrontation between the mastermind of the timeline and the players. A preconceived game includes the assumption that the players will maneuver their characters in such a way that the mastermind will be confronted, and that scene must occur to resolve the situation either positively or negatively.

I also made the following statement:

Some examples of techniques that I think are mistakes in roleplaying, but which are useful in other entertainment media (and this is not exhaustive): "Boss monsters", cutscenes, climaxes, act structures, and so on. This, by the way, does not mean that in retrospect some of these things might [edit: I meant "won't"] occur, or be imposed on the narrative of the stochastic events, but rather that using these concepts as organizing principles is a mistake.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Apocalypse Now Redux

I love this movie, both versions (though I'll be talking about Redux specifically here). It's an amazing artifact, created almost by accident. It also looks like the sort of thing that results from a proper sandbox. There are location-based encounters (the French villa for roleplaying, the ambush for combat), random encounters ("Never get out of the boat!", inspecting the sampan), and even dungeon-style location-based adventures (Kurtz, of course, at the end of the river). It also includes short story arcs (the USO show at the supply depot and later at the MASH, for instance) created by moving NPCs from one location to another. Some scenes are mythic in scope (the Do Long bridge, the end of the river), while others are more prosaic in tone (the USO show, again, and the supply depot in general).

We can find inspiration for our games in many places, sometimes not even the ones that we think of as directly applicable.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


One of the city-states that is part of the core of the Paynim Empire. The Paynim city-states are all ruled by wizards (or in one case, by a house of vampiric nobility).

Mardras is one of the few Paynim city-states where the ruler truly has the interests of his citizens at heart. It doesn't seem that way to outsiders, though, since he is a powerful necromancer and lays claim to the corpse of any deceased citizen. All citizens live lives of privilege and luxury, served by the dead, and will one day come to serve others as they have been served.

The ruler of Mardras, Choma vel Dilmun, is fairly young as Paynim rulers go, being only in his first century of age. Not being able to access youth spells, he is preparing to become a lich, the better to provide his people with the comfort they have come to expect. He is hoping to do so before his failing body gives out.

The legions of Mardras are mainly animated skeletons and a few zombies, but other undead are found in the armies, as well. Spectral commanders and mummies are notable here. There is quite a lot of tension between Mardras and several other Paynim city-states, in part because the citizens of the other cities look to the inhabitants of Mardras with envy. Choma is wary of these problems, and is trying to defuse the tension by offering trade subsidies to allied city-states. This has so far had little effect on the problems, however.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Other Projects

I try to keep myself busy, I guess. In addition to the WRG-based game, I have other projects that keep me going.

One of them is improving my computer programming skills and working on a sandbox computer rpg with domain-level aspects. I intend to base the general idea of the interface on an old game called Darklands, which is pretty much my favorite computer game of all time. It was a precursor, in many ways, to Fallout, which was designed by the same studio. I'm also looking at Dwarf Fortress as a model, as it includes most of the ideas that I want to pursue, except that its world generation is not customizable in the ways that I want it to be. In addition, its tone is pretty well set at a particular kind of humor that, though I enjoy it, is not what I want for the game I am designing. I'm also looking at the pencil-and-paper game Flashing Blades for ideas on social structure. I've done a little bit of work on this, mostly laying out some general flowcharts.

Another project is a fantasy world that has been in my head for years. I have made some attempts to develop that world design in the past, but I am currently looking at developing it in play. Some of the important exceptions to that are the languages, which I want to develop as, at least, naming languages, if not the whole way to fully-fleshed-out conlangs.

I have an idea in the back of my head to design a game to deal with my ideas of spaceship SF, but I haven't done any work on it yet. It would include a vehicle/spaceship design system, domain-level ideas to cover colony campaigns, and such.

Another computer-based project I've thought about is a multiplayer online game of domain control. I'm still working out how I want to regulate the turn structure of this idea, but right now most of the ideas I have are really too complex for the sort of semi-casual audience I'd be targeting it at.

I've always wanted to write some supplements for Flashing Blades, covering other parts of the world, such as England and Ireland (and Wales, and Scotland), the Low Countries, Spain, Italy, North Africa, Russia, Germany, Poland, and such, even as far away as Japan. It could even be worth it to develop a magic system for it, on the GURPS Voodoo model, but that might be going too far.

Which of these would be most interesting, do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Troll Blogs

Not worth my time to check out. I admit that I did click over when Christian left, to see what was said. Rubbernecking is a filthy habit, but I'm as subject to its siren song as anyone else. However, I won't be going back. What a waste of someone's time and energy it is to make that. Not one constructive point to it, only a stream of vitriol.

Don't bother. It isn't funny, which would be at least a reason for it to exist. It doesn't offer cogent criticism, which would be another. Waste of time and energy, and I have wasted enough discussing it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Useful? Perhaps

Jeff Rients linked to, which seems like it could be valuable. Anyway, that's my profile there.

Since we are losing our local game stores (though a new one just opened in my town), it's getting more difficult to find players. Tools like this should prove valuable.

Pop Culture and D&D

Part 8459074958794875 in an ongoing series:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

[WRG]Thoughts on Combat

In keeping with the idea that I will be using the WRG rules as much as possible, here are my current thoughts on combat.

Hand to hand combat: In a period (30 seconds), each figure involved generates a casualty total in the normal manner. Individual figures will not be rated as LI, except for special cases listed later (and mostly dealing with missile combat). Casualty totals are compared, and the higher total does a wound to the opponent. Determine the nature of the wound by rolling a normal six-sided die for each casualty above the opponent's total and compare to a chart (hit locations? possibly as an optional rule). For multiple combatants, first pair off combatants, with any excess on one side divided up according to a method that takes into account nominal base sizes in the WRG rules (that is, larger base sizes can be attacked by more figures of smaller base size). In a fight with more than one combatant on one side, all combatants on that side generate casualty totals, each using a different random factor roll, which are added together and compared to the total on the other side. If the single figure gets a higher total, all of the figures opposing it might be wounded. Use a modification of the "Risk to the general" rules: for each figure, roll a die (regular six-sided die for "Enthusiastic", averaging die for "Disciplined") and multiply by the excess number of casualties. If the result is greater than the total number of figures fighting against the opposing figure, the figure takes a wound based on the amount of excess casualties. (Example: Abel and Beth are fighting against Xavier. Abel generates 1 casualty, Beth generates 2, for a total of 3 on their side. Xavier generates an astounding 4. Abel and Beth roll dice, with a result of 3 or higher, since the die is multiplied by the excess casualties of 1 and, since there are two of them, the total must be 3 or more, indicating that they take a wound of 1 die in value on the wound chart. If Abel or Beth are "Disciplined", they will take a wound on a roll of 3 or higher, escaping injury 1 chance in 6, while if either is "Enthusiastic", they can escape wounding 2 chances in 6.) Edited to add: If a figure that rates as a model (elephant, chariot, or artillery, or anything that is treated as one of those, such as dragons) in the regular game is fighting against a figure that is normal, but has no armor, then count the normal figure as LI instead of LMI/MI.

Missile combat: This will have the biggest changes. When firing a missile weapon, first determine initiative by rolling a die (type based on "Disciplined" or "Enthusiastic"). The firer with initiative fires first, then the next firer, and so on (any ties roll off). The firer will generate a casualty total and so will the target (using regular hand-to-hand random factors, not the special missile ones of the basic WRG rules). The target's total will be based on a base factor of 1, while the firer's will be based on either a target that is LI (LC if mounted), or the actual target type, whichever is better for the target. The firer will cause a wound based on excess casualties.

Wounds: The lightest wounds will actually be a "recoil" result, which means that the "wounded" figure will attempt to disengage from combat. The opponent may choose to press, which will allow the charge bonus in the next turn but risks being flanked by unengaged opponents, or to let the figure disengage.

Combat sequence: The basic combat sequence will be something like 1) Check morale of all non-player figures that need to do so; 2) Referee adjudicates maneuvers of unengaged figures; 3) Determine initiative for missile fire; 4) Missile fire in order of initiative; 5) Hand to hand combat.

Mounted figures: I still need to think about this, but currently I am thinking that, for horse/camel-sized mounts, a wound has a 50/50 chance of going to the mount or the figure.

Sandboxes and Stories

When I floated the idea of going back to an earlier style of gaming with my last group, one of the hardcore "story games" partisans tended to shout me down each time I'd bring up the subject. One of the discussions that made a strong impression on me was when I'd described going back to the way I gamed as a youth. I described, generally, the idea of a sandbox, in which the referee/worldbuilder designs a setting with plot hooks, locations, and such, and the players interact with that setting to create their own story. Before I could note that this style was overshadowed at a fairly early stage by prepackaged stories, the story games guy began a diatribe about how nobody ever played that way, how it was "abusive" to players, and so on, and so on. I wasn't able to get a word in edgewise.

It didn't occur to me at the time to remember that he is several years younger than I am, and that therefore he might never have experienced what gaming was like before Dragonlance. This might be a major divide in gaming, with the older players having played in Judges' Guild-style settings under referees, and the younger players (by which I still mean people as old as their 30s or even 40s, depending on when they started gaming) having an impression of the "old school" as being railroad adventures with adversarial DMs playing "against" the players. That's the only way I can square his description of "old school" as being "abusive" with my experience of what I consider to be "old school" in gaming. Ah well, missed opportunities and all that.