12/25/21

How to Run - Unknown Armies (grit, mental health, magick)



Someone on the FKR Collective server asked:

  1. Anyone got advice for running/playing Unknown Armies, possibly FKR-ized? I finally ordered the hardcovers (2e & 3e). Haven't read the rules in detail yet but the setting sounds right up my alley.


Take the bits from the setting that you like, leave the rest blurry, get an idea of a focused framework for the game, such as: 

- A spooky road trip throughout the rust belt

- A descent into a crumbling parallel dimension superimposed onto the lives of the NYC homeless

- A bunch of disgruntled officer workers getting in too deep when they realize their boss is a sorcerer

Once you've agreed on a setting of play (framework), have the players discuss and create PCs together as a conversation. Talk about their strengths and weaknesses, backgrounds, goals, relationships etc.

Take notes.

Use key words rather than sentences when taking notes - keep it evocative but not so detailed as to prevent the players from discovering their characters through play.

Start the game with a bang, or do a cold open, depends on preference. Either way:
Make session 1 a pilot episode - try your hand at what you think you'd like the game to be about, tonally, and see if it sticks. Because it's a pilot, tell the players anything from this sesh can be retconned by them or you afterwards, so that you can jumpstart the game with the wild energy of a one-shot, while building on whatever works to sustain the next games.


For Mechanics, Unknown Armies uses the real life engine as made explicit by various advice on how to handle contests, violence, etc, in the original system. So just use common sense. As usual, a sense of verisimilitude should inform your decision making.

When unable or unwilling to decide, use some dice as an oracle (doesn't matter whether you roll d6 high good low bad, 2d6 with graded results, 1d100 under or equal a % chance you establish when something is attempted or whatever, just do whatever feels good at the table (there's a different feel for different dicing methods, I think we're too quick to try and justify that with math and theory; d12s are underrated and really pleasant to roll, maybe use these this time).

- Disregard uninteresting or unsatisfying rulings.
- Keep using functional rulings.
- Commit excellent rulings (ie: they improve your overall enjoyment and excitment about the game) to memory on paper to build a system that'll organically fit your campaign.

Unknown Armies has "Unsanity"
If you want to play around mental health issues, check to see what your table is comfortable with, dig into your own experiences (everyone has at the very least dealt with depression on some level, right?), and see whether you want to frame it as agency removal (meh, but not because it's disempowering, the disempowerment fits the tone; meh because adventure games/tRPGs are about decision-making) or as a roleplaying prompt (also easier to handle safety wise). These are the two main ways people have been looking at mental health in tRPGs so far that I'm aware of.

I would say you can also simply not treat it as something "aside" and simply a component of a character's psyche just like any other aspect of their life isn't distanced/detached through mechanics.

If they don't have hit points, they don't need sanity points either.

---

Anything that would normally be emphasized through mechanics, such as the way unsanity works in UA 1/2e, reinforce through themes and practical situations for the PCs to interact with instead. Have them make difficult decisions that feel like there's no good answer. Give them opportunities for ambition at the cost of their humanity, yadda yadda. That's the easy part right, you've read the setting info and are flowing with ideas - the application of these ideas and their flavoring is what will make the game "Unknown Armies", not the system or character sheets or what not.

Unknown Armies has Magick
Magick in UA is easy to do freeform since it has clear in-setting metaphysics and rules to follow. An Adept has a taboo, ways to build charges, rotes, and a well-defined paradigm that helps you come up with interesting rituals. You literally have everything you already need there to run magick if you follow the same advice as for the rest: verisimilitude.
It doesn't matter whether you believe in magick IRL or not (I don't, for the record), you can suspend your disbelief enough to operate within its framework for the purpose of adjudicating whether something works or not.

Cohesion and shared expectations about the stuff will grow from a trusting table that regularly communicates openly about how they're experiencing these rulings, so it's fine if there's more negotiation early on, then a phase where most of the time things just go in the flow, and late campaign more negotiation that simply add to the richness of the simulated world cause now everyone has shared expectations and memories/common grounds aobut how stuff works.


Note that these tips work for other stuff than Unknown Armies, but I tried to frame them specifically in relationship to that game. Every now and then I see people ask "how do I run X in an FKR fashion" - the answer is always going to be the same*, though I try to reformulate things regularly to make it more digestible, and to focus on notions that are unique to the experience of playing the given game being FKR'd.

*: frame setting of play, describe characters, start game, come up with rules on the fly through persistent rulings, build the game as you go. Or use an existing framework, just remember that it's a toolkit to invoke when you as a Referee can't provide interesting answers to the players' questions on your own.

12/5/21

Go Play Talislanta with 24XX (+ A Quick Hack)

Here is an extract from the free PDF of Talislanta 4E (all of it is online distributed by the creator and it's amazing).


Muse Telempath

"He wants me to ask you where you plan to drag us both next, dear thing." [as translated by a Whisp companion]

"Are you truly as aloof and frivolous as you appear to others? That is not a matter that you would ever deign to discuss. There is little that you find interesting enough to drive you to speech. Your voice and the languages of the other humanoids are such limited tools. You find yourself frustrated when forced to rely upon them. Such moments are rare, for your whisp companion accompanies you always, translating from your telempathic projections for those confused by them. The being with whom you have bonded has long
since grown accustomed to the images and emotions you send and responds with thoughts for you to perceive. This confidante, your friend and lover, has led you upon experiences that other Muses
will never know, unless you choose to show them through the telempathic images that you compose to complement your music. There is a vicarious thrill, it is true, in experiencing this other being’s life through your bond. There is a sense of aesthetic value in the ripples of historical tide that you witness. There are the vivid impressions from which you derive your art. Yet this obsession may be as ephemeral as your creations. Your bond-mate, you are certain, fears as much. If it is to be, it will make a grand lament indeed."


Appearance
5'6"-6’, 80-140 lbs. Skin, hair, and butterfly-like wings in pastel hues (blue, aquamarine, turquoise, violet, rose), delicate features, lithe body.

Skills
Flight d8, Telempathy d8, Artificer d8, Art d8, Music d8, Natural Magic d8

Equipment
Translucent gossamer robe of pastel colors; one or more musical instruments; pouch (pigments, blossoms, nectar); whisp companion; whisp companion may have 25 gold lumens.

As you can see, you can use these as-is for 24XX. There's stats and skills expressed with +Xs but you can just ignore that and assign skill increases willy-nilly based on the skills that sound the most interesting/expressive. You can go read the Talislanta 4E Primer right now that's like 20 pages and you get a quick description of the Seven Kingdoms (one of the many regions of the continent of Talislanta) and a bunch of archetypes ready for play.

---

I'm not super interested in mechanical advancement and wanted to reduce the numbers of the sheets without getting rid of the skill die mechanic. Here's one such hack:

Saving Throw
When players try to avoid risk, roll a d6 skil die.
Increase it by one step (d8, d10, d12 tops) when:
-Your background would help
-Your talent would help
-Circumstances are favorable

If something puts you at a severe disadvantage, decrease the skill die one step (min. d4).

If somebody helps you, they roll their skill die and share the risk.
Take the highest die.

1-2 Disaster (suffer the full risk, GM decides if you succeed at all. If risking death, you die.)
3-4 Setback (A lesser consequence or partial success. If risking death, you're maimed.)
5+ Success The higher the roll, the better.

Sample Character
Alstrid, a 16yo Squire with Friends in High Places, who Sucks at Fighting
- Out for Revenge (wronged by their Rival, Katren the Brave)
- Courtly Manners

(I rolled on d20 tables for a name, age group, background, talent, weakness, motivation (w/question, here, "who wronged you") and a roleplaying tip).

Under this model, like in Classic Traveller, advancement would only be diegetic (increases in finances, status, or accomplishing goals to establish oneself in the setting more; perhaps picking up new skills by being taught, or new unique equipments through credits. While one could want specific items for each background, I prefer to tell the players they can just assume they have anything that it'd make sense for the character to have, and make a luck roll (1d6, low is bad, high is good) if uncertain. Cause I'm lazy but also this allows unique and often interesting loadouts that further distinguish the backgrounds; even if everyone plays a Knight, they'll most likely be outfitted differently (and just like that I want to run an all-Knight adventure...)

In this case you can just use the Muse Telempath description and skills (without dice) and play from the description alone. This marries the freeform aspect of FKR that I love with the funky resolution mechanic of 24XX.

11/23/21

197X

Twenty Years after the Liberation Civil War that saw the end of the Hegemony and the birth of the Trilateral Peace Council, the world is in the midst of a cold war between the Pangean Federation, the Revolutionary Socialist Union and the Democratic Alliance of Boreal. It is not only a slow bid for rapidly depleting resources in an Atomic Era, but an Ideological War between Corwinism, Chekovian Materialism and Neo-Sindarism.

The Pangean Federation and its allies of Irèse, Cairn and Carmilia are united by Corwinism, either Radical, Liberal or Hegemonist; as well as their attachment to the Reformist and Orthodox Illuminar Churches.

While the Federation is more radical (read: libertarians), Cairn and Carmilia are still governed by their Hegemony-era autarchs and boast a strong hegemonist bend. Irèse, having once been a haven for utopist free-thinkers, is a mixed bunch with a liberal party but also a socialist one still in activity. Carmilia is where Bonaventurian Romantics originitated although the orthodox version of the creed holds allegiances to no nations or crowns. "Classicists" romantics have instrumentalized the aesthetic and self-congratulatory aspects of Bonaventura's philosophy, minus the celebration of diversity and love, to use it as a pipeline toward hegemonism and hyperborean supremacism.

To the south, Hildenlandt and Krivnistan officially recognize the RSU (Revolutionary Socialist Union)'s sovereignty, whereas the radical materialists of Trinistan managed to preserve some independence due to their alliance with Irèse. The Free City of San Libertad in particular is the last haven of revolutionary radical materialists and jaded (or naive?) utopists, as well as boasting the strongest mixed breed* diaspora presence.

To the north-east, the Democratic Alliance of Boreal is more isolationist and discrete than the other two major forces, but has strong allies in Serania (whose Princes were already rich enough to be independent during the Hegemony era), Heendel (the spiritual capital of both Haadism, the Orthodox Illuminar Church and the remnants of Ancestor Worship), and the reluctant Protectorate of Hyperborea (your local friendly tundric fascists).

*: ok so that bit needs context. The people of this world are furries, like cartoon animals ala Blacksad or Usagi Yojimbo or Albedo. And like in Beastars, mixed unions are somewhat of a social taboo, because of specism. Hyperborean supremacists are literally obsessed with animals' fur/scale/skin colour which is insane and has no grounds in science. Anyways, it's a diaspora because the Hegemony attempted to exterminate all 1st to 3rd generation mixed, essentially commiting a genocide. The Hegemony, as it name hints at, was fucking disgusting.

11/1/21

Session Report - To Bring Down the Sky

Tonight I ran a quick game of my revised Underground Adventures rules using the really cool adventure To Bring Down the Sky. It's an excellent little pointcrawl on floating islands with one page of fancy isometric map, one page of key for the map and two pages of explanations around certain aspects of the adventure. Everything else is like 40+ pages of handouts and aids, mostly tailored for modern stuff - battle mats and pregens for I think D&D 5e?

The two PCs were Sinead the Cat-Burglar (also a Catgirl) and Belgbub the Reformed Torturer.
We went for a little more than two hours, here's a rundown of what happened:

- A wizard's apprentice named Hugo fell out of the sky, attacked by an angry wyvern. Belgbub caught him while Sinead jumped the beast and stabbed it to death.

- Hugo, dazed, explained that the Island was in danger, that his mistress was gone, and that he needed their help dealing with the wyverns and preferrably the whole situation... and that yes, yes he would sign a written contract guaranteeing payment to the adventurers after they pressured him into doing so. Joke's on them though as he used that to make a Geass spell, compelling all involved to respect the contract.

- To get up there, he handed them a phoenix feather that had just enough power to levitate all of them up a hole at the bottom of the island that led to its surface.

- They first went to the crystal field east of the entrance hole. Belgbug smashed one into powder and snorted some of it, out of curiosity. Tasted like pickles, no other effects. Sinead put the glowing feather on the shimmering surface of the aura surrounding the crystal field, and it sucked out all of the field energy, leaving the crystal field dead and gray, but the feather looking shinier. Also the island began to shake, and Hugo wondered if that might be a bad idea. A weird electromagnetic ghost with two heads appeared to the PCs, telling them that they could charge up the feather even more to really exploit its abilities, with a voice like it's coming out of a transistor radio. Hugo noted that the PCs' visions reminded him of the strange prisoners down the fortress.

- They rushed to the farm to the north to go find Hugo's adoptive halfling parents, Jim and Ertha. They were safe and sound but barricaded in their home - in the barn were two sleeping wyverns and a terrified calf having survived their feast.

- After considering burning the barn down and leaving the calf to burn, they abandoned the idea since the barn's doors were ripped apart by the beasts and they'd surely wake up if set aflame. So instead the catgirl tried to sneak up to them to eye-stab the monsters. She stabbed the first but the other woke up in a panic. That's when Belgbub charged it, his Wheel of Justice in hands, to pin it against the wall. Sinead gently brought the calf to its owners while Belgbug nearly got his face bit off fighting the winged lizard. He took a few step backs, stunned, and Sinead finished the wyvern.

- Jim and Ertha said goodbye to their farm and the whole group crossed the bridge back using ropes (as it was crumbling at an alarming rate). Sinead went last, doing tightrope walking while carrying the Calf as the bridge was riddled with holes at this point. It fell entirely as she got back onto the main island.

------

Some Thoughts

As usual, two hours seems like an overall superior choice for online games. Easier time staying focused and I found that we accomplished a fair number of things, pacing was ok (rocky start cause of technical issues + I was tired). One thing that bothered me was Hit Points and the Critical Damage stuff. It really doesn't do much for me anymore. I get the appeal though - one of my players described it thus:


Which is something I've talked about before - random damage brings a certain sense of kinetic fun, rolling some dice to see what happens next is exciting; but it also felt to me like we could have had the same scene with just freeform description + saving throws if needed and the general guideline I use of "you're either Fine, Injured or Down." I'm thinking of adding some classes to UA since I gave the PCs 12 HP and called them a Warrior and Scoundrel, as I wanted the notion that they were Adventurers first and foremost, with their background being added texture to that, thus the archetypes.

Living Rules Update (removed rules in italics, additions below)
- Danger Rolls = 2d6 vs 9+ (7+ with advantage).- Reaction Roll = 1d6 (1 Hostile, 2-3 Wary, 4-5 Friendly, 6 Helpful).
- Surprise = d6 vs d6, beat by 3+ to achieve surprise, lasts until it is lost.
- Initiative = Declare Intent, Resolve Every Action Simultaneously.
- Attacking = d6 Damage (2d6 keep highest w/advantage, lowest if impaired), Ablative Armour, HP.
- Armour subtracts up to 2 points from Damage, additional protection is Bonus HP.
- 1d6 HP for Mundane Characters, PCs treat a roll of 1-3 as 4 instead.
- At 0HP, take Critical Damage. Subsequent hits are at +3 on the Critical Damage table.
- PCs gain 1HP per dangerous adventure survived up to 12 max.
- Named NPCs and tough monsters gain 1HP per violent encounter with the PCs survived, no limit.

- Morale = 2d6, low means poor morale, high means strong morale, few are willing to die violently.

Have a Little Class
In addition (or as replacement) to their Background, characters get a Class, which can be picked by the Players, assigned based on Background or rolled at random for more unique takes (like a Clown Wizard). They are:

Warriors (you're strong, an expert in all tools of war, and you're harder to kill than most: you can sacrifice a weapon, shield, or armour you're using to protect yourself from harm entirely).

Scoundrels (sure, you have quick wits and quicker fingers, but mostly you're lucky. Once per adventure, you get to turn one of your failed danger roll into a success. And you hold your own with the knife or blade in a pinch).

Rangers (your sense are sharp, you know your way with ranged weapons, and you can survive in the wilderness with little trouble. Pick an animal that fits your favoured environment. You can commune with your inner beast to do any of the following: predict the weather a day in advance, calm a furious wild beast, or talk to friendly animals in their tongue. Every time you do so, you take on an aspect of your inner beast and make a Danger Roll - if you fail, it's permanent. 

Wizards (you're smarter than any of these fools and you know it. You don't need weapons, they're the tools of cretins... And armour is just too inconvenient. But it's fine - you've got Magick on your side. Begin with three spells of your own devising, which should include Effects & Conditions. Ask the Dungeon Keeper for a random table or list to pick from if you don't want to create your own.


Quicker & Dirtier Violence

Attacks are described in natural language, with an emphasis on Intent and Means on both sides, and may be resolved either through conversation or with the help of Danger Rolls. A character is either Fine, Injured or Down (whether incapacitated to a crawl, knocked out, dying or dead from context). 

Note to self: between "fine" and "injured", think about describing cuts, bruises and the general tussle of violence even if you're not calling a Danger Roll just yet. Find the d100 Ways to Die PDF for when characters do die violently.


Goodbye Again, Non-Diegetic Advancement
No more HP so no HP to gain, but I gave in to having fancy special moves for the PCs to do which stay diegetic, so I'mma try and make more of these and tie them to interesting situations or NPCs.

Without a Class, a PC feels more like a cheap/low-level adventurer, which works good for a grittier style. With a Class, they instantly feel more Important or at least, above the norm. So that's two levels of play, and you could have them get a Class after a certain milestone in a campaign.

Heck, go even further and have "prestige classes" of sort for the PCs to seek. Like:

Dragon Hunter
(monetize the killing or capture of at least three dragons. Some people fancy themselves slayers of trolls or giants. First of all, rude. You on the contrary, are rendering a great service to the community by murdering giant fire-breathing killer lizards who hoard treasures. It's simply due reward that you'd take it for yourself afterwards, it's a tough business you're running. And you do have a contract fee, too. You got really good at negotiation and tradecraft, as well as figuring out a particular dragon's weaknesses. They're all unique and marvelous creatures you see. Really valuable body parts, too. It'd be sort-of messed up if they weren't also a blight on the countryside, rampaging and stealing everywhere they go.

 

---
LIVING RULES (quick reference)
- Danger Rolls = 2d6 vs 9+ (7+ with advantage).- Reaction Roll = 1d6 (1 Hostile, 2-3 Wary, 4-5 Friendly, 6 Helpful).
- Surprise = d6 vs d6, beat by 3+ to achieve surprise, lasts until it is lost.
- Initiative = Declare Intent, Resolve Every Action Simultaneously.
- Morale = 2d6, low means poor morale, high means strong morale, few are willing to die violently.
- Classes (Warrior w/shields shall be splintered; Scoundrel w/luck, Ranger w/beastmode, Wizard w/spells; possibility of unlocking fancier, "prestige" classes by doing stuff in the game world)

10/30/21

Underground Adventures Redux (Part 2)

Here are some factoids about the setting to go along the refreshed mechanics from Part 1.


- Tech Level is around Renaissance-era Europe. You've got the printing press, gunpowder and big ships that can cross the ocean. Plus airships (using a lighter-than-air fantasy alloy called Iridium), wired telephones (fuelled by mana-infused runes), and the occasional science-fantasy super tech (albeit usually hidden away in the underground).

- Governments gravitate towards monarchies, empires, with some republics and federations here and there. Most people have an intuitive marxist understanding of their socioeconomic circumstances and are quite frank about their positions within that framework. Other oddities include a City Watch modelled after modern police forces, talking animals being treated as people (and I'm talking about regular talking animals, not furries here, although there also are catgirls/boys/ennbies), and a general sense of desilusionment and fin-de-siècle to, well, *gestures at everything*, the situation.

- There is History but most of it isn't really important. There used to be a Great Elven Empire, but now it's gone. It wasn't beat by the Forces of Good or anything, it's just that the elves are too bored with imperialism to really care about its downfall. That's the main reason why there's so much of the fair folk in our day-to-day lives. Pixies are treated as pests. Trolls often work for the City Watch and harrass people.

- Adventurers are considered a pest, an easy mark for scams, and the occasional celebrated underdog in folk tales, when they actually do some good around them. Most of the time, they don't.

- There is a Cosmopolitan City (Eko, the City of Liars) and it has a King (Randal the Immortal) and Nobles and a Merchants' Guild and so on and so on. There is a massive eastern european magical wood (Brackenwoods) and a megadungeon (Castle Redvald). Wilderness-enthusiastic adventurers will probably start in the Creepy Medieval Town (Blightburg).

- I name some fantasy people, but they're all just that - people. You can make up more and have them be very common or rarer depending on what you prefer. For me it's a bit 50/50 so I like to have humans be like 90% of the countryside population, but about 75% of the city's population. Still humanocentric but it's not uncommon to meet a Devil or Rock Troll or whatnot.

- The major local religion is that of the Twelves. That's twelve cults dedicated to twelve Gods, + the really mean ones, such as the Ungod of Spiders. Ungods are really, really bad, but the regular Gods aren't necessarily super friendly, either. They just grant the occasional boons to their followers and can make life worse for everyone if not placated regularly. Whether the Twelve are Satellite AIs with buggy personalities (they are in my world, as even magic and "monsters" are a natural occurence in it) or actual supernatural higher beings is yours to decide.

- I wrote a bestiary here so I'm not going to re-list what's in it, feel free to go grab a community copy!

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I have less of an article and more like bits and pieces of ideas and images in my head when it comes to the YALBEG/UA setting, so this is a really difficult exercize to try and put it into useful words. So instead I'm going to try and write some adventures for the setting to see if it can help convey what I'm going for.

Underground Adventures Redux (Part 1)

The sequel nobody wanted, by Alice Ghazarian, also known as Wizard Lizard



WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN
This is a recipe book for an adventure fantasy game, also known as a tabletop roleplaying game.

Think of it as a vague, cryptic information manual for some cool retro videogame you found with pages missing and no idea what kind of machine would even run that strange plastic cassette.

So in this game, there are at least two players* and around four to five is ideal, but more experienced Keepers can probably accomodate tables of up to ten or more people (I've done it before and I'm consider myself a decent Keeper). Oh, a Dungeon Keeper is the fancy name we use in this game for the person who read this book and got some more responsibilities than the other players. Basically they're here to facilitate the game by presenting a cohesive, interesting, persistent and dangerous world to the other players (henceforth the Players). They "run" the world by describing the situations within through the characters' senses, talking for and describing NPCs (non-player characters), answering the Players' questions about their surroundings and determining the outcome of the PCs (player-characters, what we call the Players' pieces, if you will) actions. Still with me?

Ok so the Dungeon Keeper (henceforth, DK) does that, with as much gusto and preparation as they want (I'll give some tips later on for that, bear with me), but just remember their job is not to guarantee that everyone has fun. That is, the whole table (the people around it, that is) is responsible for everyone's fun and safety. That means everyone should be mindful of everyone's needs and care for one another, and the fact that I have to say this says a lot about the state of the hobby... But anyways, let's say you're all newbies, or you don't know anything about emotional security because reasons, here's some tips: before the game, the DK should say something along the lines of "first of all, we're all here to have fun, so if you're feeling uncomfortable about something, or just need a break for any reason, feel free to call for one, no questions asked. This isn't some cult ritual or sacred ceremony, no big deal. Second, we're all friends here, or we will after the trials we endure together, so make sure whatever happens in the game is stuff we're OK with. In this game, there might be [list some content that you think might come up that people should be aware of before hand], is that cool with everyone?" (if you're playing with strangers, talk to them in private if possible so that they're 100% comfortable with letting you know about their needs.

Once everyone's on board, you can move on to rolling some characters, which is quick and easy in this game because they die quick and easy. That can mean the game is very dark and gritty if you really it to be, but mostly I think it means it's darkly humorous and silly and we're not here to tell grand tales but more like pathetic little picaresques of weirdoes and losers doing crazy antics.

Oh yeah, that's the Players' job by the way. Have interesting experiences without dying. Try to pull off crazy antics. Do whatever they want with the world and situations you present to them. Don't try to write a cool story, just let them do stuff and see what happens and marvel at the emergent story that happens and defies conventional storytelling tropes and expectations because maybe everybody dies in some stupid attempt at stealing the King's prized horse or something. Don't worry too much about it. If that sounds like a bad time to you, this might not be the game for you - or you can take whatever you like from it and use advice from some more fancy story-crafting (instead of story-witnessing) focused games to do something more serious with it. That's not what I'm into, so that's not what I'm going to write about.

Generating the Loser Weirdoes Characters
Hey, you need dice to play this game. A pair of regular, six-sided dice are good, a pair for everyone is ideal (but who am I kidding, you're probably playing online like everyone else, so you can just roll them on google or rolz.org or any other online dice roller. Discord has bots for it too, look it up). From now on I'll just say "d6" for a regular dice and 2d6 for a pair of dice that you add up. A d66 means a pair of dice but instead of adding them together, you make the first die the digits and the second one the unit. Like: if I roll 1 and 6, that's 16 if I want a d66 (and 7 if I want 2d6). Easy.

Because characters are cheap and I don't want people to get too attached early on, you should aim for a group of about 6 characters, that's two per player with three players, or three per player with two players. Learning to manage two or three PCs from the get-go should send the right message to your players, and yes it's fine if they focus on one and have the others as secondaries, whatever they prefer.

Anyways, roll d66 on the following Background Table to get a character. Give them pronouns and a short and memorable name (like a silly one, or a regular one, or a weird fantasy sounding one, no wrong answers, we're here to have a laugh. If you're worried about being uncomfortable if something bad happens to your character, call them something particularly silly to detach yourself. On the contrary, if you want more immersion, call them something you like. I would advise against using your own name, especially if you'd feel bad if something terrible happens to them. Remember that heroes are made, not born, and that you are generating weirdo loser rogues that have yet to prove themselves). Your background allows you and the DK to infer skill sets, knowledge, NPCs you would know and equipment. It also helps you play the character. Remember you're an adventurer / treasure-hunter now, so you can play it up or abandon your past depending on what inspires you.

If you need more details, the tables from Maze Rats are perfect.

d66 Backgrounds
Cricus Rejects
11 - Clown (honk!)
12 - Mime (your invisible backpack is stashed with invisible adventuring supplies)
13 - Acrobat (roll a d6, on a 1, you are afraid of heights)
14 - Stage Magician (you don't know any actual spells)
15 - Fire Eater (not immune to dragon breath)
16 - Snake Charmer (you could also be a Piper, or a wannabe Lion-Tamer, you know)

Punks & Other Riffraff

21 - Rat-Catcher (you should have a small but vicious dog in your inventory)
22 - Cat Burglar (yes, you can also be a catgirl)
23 - Protagonist (you're paid to pick fights and beat people up)
24 - Chimney-Sweep (probably a kid, or at least small-framed)
25 - Bone-Picker (you sort through the trash for shiny trinkets to re-sell)
26 - Rare Pet Kidnapper ("by the Twelve, you found my albino crocodile?! Let me repay you!")

Countryside Bumpkins
31 - Lumberjack (you cut trees for some local noble, you monster)
32 - Beekeeper (any situation can be improved by the addition of a cloud of confused and angry bees)
33 - Highwayman (you steal from the rich to give back to yourself)
34 - Poacher ("I hate them, with their fluffy tails and beady eyes!")
35 - Tomb Robber (at least you're honest about it)
36 - Witch-in-Training (you know a few petty spells and have a condescending familiar)

Pretentious Bookworms
41 - Physician's Apprentice (you're really good at looking like you know what you're doing)
42 - Unlicensed Alchemist (alchemy studies are a pyramid scheme anyways)
43 - Political Agitator (comes with an utterly useless university degree in TRUTH)
44 - Temple Acolyte (you were frankly terrible at following the Twelves' scriptures)
45 - Failed Librarian (shouldn't have dropped that candle)
46 - Wizard's "Apprentice" (a.k.a. domestic slavery for rich young third sons)

Murderers for Hire
51 - Reformed Torturer (you were terrible at your job)
52 - Sellsword (half of these scars were self-inflicted during training)
53 - Gladiator (you fell off)
54 - Barbarian (raised by wolves, *incoherent screaming*)
55 - Hedge Knight (heavily armoured entitled thug)
56 - Bombardier (good with bombs and guns, terrible at self-control)

Magical Weirdoes
61 - Rogue Necromancer (very lonely, you make your own friends but they're not talkative)
62 - Mohawk Dwarf (you want to ragequit life as violently as possible because of ANGST)
63 - Devil (you were banished from hell - not evil enough)
64 - Pixie ("HEY! LISTEN! HEY HEY! LISTEN! LOOK! WHAT'S THIS?! LISTEN!")
65 - Elf on a Sabbatical (this whole questing thing is just a midlife crisis)
66 - Cultist (you succeeded at summoning your God and it ate everyone else)

Write your background and name, and maybe some starting equipment on a piece of scrap paper or in a notepad. Why do you go on adventures? Because of crippling debt that's why. As a group, you share a debt of Cr10. 1 Crown is an abstract amount of silver and copper coins that's enough for about one week of upkeep or one significant purchase, like a serious weapon or re-filling supplies for an expedition, or hiring a specialist for a day's work, or a bribe to some city official. Ignore small expenses like buying a knife or a beer. A typical adventure's hoard might be worth 1d6 Crowns, as would the reward a noble might grant you for a job well done. Which means while the debt provides a starting point, you should also think of what your PC will want after a few sessions as they'll need to find their own reasons to adventure (or they can just retire once they clear their debt, that's cool too, good occasion to play another character). When a PC dies and there's no replacement available, add 1 Crown to the group debt and introduce the new character in the next scene - quickly getting the player back in play is more important than realism here.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY A GAME?
Most of the time it's just a normal conversation - the DK describes a situation, the Players ask questions or say what their PCs do and say, and the DK tells them what happens as a consequence. That's 90% of the time and a lot of game sessions might just go like that without needing to pick up dice. We usually throw dice when Players fuck up. There's Danger Rolls which are fairly broad, and there's a few more rules for handling Violence, but don't get tricked into thinking that this means combat is the focus of the game. See, this is old-school design, so the rules are not necessarily there to facilitate play (that's the DK's job), instead they are a toolbox to help running certain aspects where random chance makes things more interesting. Because we roll more dice when people fight, it makes it scarier and more unpredictable, which should encourage people to either avoid fights they can't win, or get used to rolling new characters every session (which is ALSO FINE as long as they're having fun. No shame in it, but it's no power fantasy escapism, and more like weird world simulation escapism).

Danger Rolls
When the outcome of a PC's action or inaction in the face of external momentum is unclear AND would lead to Bad Stuff Happening (like dying), the DK might ask the concerned Player to throw 2d6 and try to beat a target of 9+ (that means rolling 9 to 12 on 2d6 if that was gibberish to you). Or 7+ if they have some significant advantage such as their background or high quality equipment helping, or being prepared, etc. It's still a 50/50 shot, which should remind you that these are not like traditional skill checks or attribute checks. They're for terrible situations with terrible consequences to avoid. You just don't roll if the chances are better than 50/50 - don't make players roll to notice stuff or know stuff, they just do if it's obvious, or find stuff if they search for it cleverly (or spend enough time looking), and they either know stuff if it makes sense according to their background, or you tell them where to find someone who would know, and then they decide whether to spend energy on that. But failed perception checks or knowledge checks are just terrible. I'm not even going to argue with you. They're bad.
Oh, and do remember to telegraph risk - you don't need to tell the Players exactly what will happen if they fail, but they should have a good idea of why they're picking up the dice and what's at stake. If they seem like they're taking a stupid course of action, it's probably because you didn't convey the situation as clearly as it is in your head. Rephrase, check that everyone's on the same page, and then ask them what they're doing again. If they still want to do the stupid thing, that's normal, they're Players - but informed (even terrible) decisions are essential.

NPC Reaction Roll
Oh yeah there's these too! I like to use them when it's not clear how an NPC should act, or to inject some additional randomness to a situation. Maybe they were pissed off before the PCs arrived or something. Just roll a d6.

1 - Hostile (will attack or hinder if reasonable)
2, 3 - Wary (unwilling to help, generally unpleasant)
4, 5 - Friendly (willing to help as long as it doesn't inconvenience them)
6 - Helpful (willing to go above and beyond for some reason, might become an actual friend!)

VIOLENCE IS TO BE AVOIDED SO HERE IS 900 WORDS ABOUT VIOLENCE
When dealing with violent situations, I have a little bit of a procedure that I suggest you follow if you get overwhelmed or worry about making judgment calls when death is on the line. They're entirely optional, but without them you're going to be too nice and players will resort to stabbing people to get what they want. With them, they will stab a few people, get stabbed, roll new characters and then start being cleverer. Or your group likes Reservoir Dogs-type situations, which is also fine by me.

Surprise
When two or more parties might be involved in an ambush, or one side tries to avoid being noticed, roll a d6 for each side, with ad hoc bonuses to the side with significant advantage if necessary. If a side beats the other by 3 or more, they have achieved surprise and can act unnoticed until the situation dictates otherwise. That doesn't mean a free round of attack before "normal combat" by the way. If an ambush happens and one side begins taking down the enemy one-by-one in a sneaky way, it could last until there's no enemies left. Maybe make luck rolls if it starts to become suspicious, but don't just treat it as a "surprise round", that's videogame logic. Surprise lasts until it is lost.

Initiative
There is none. Everyone declares their Intent (and possibly clarifies how they go about achieving that), and then we resolve every action. If someone is getting murdered and they have something they need to do, they get to try even if we know they'll be dead by next round. Which means a knife fight can end with everyone bleeding out on the floor. Which means you want to avoid these! See? Violent violence rules promote pacifism.

Attacking
When an entity (character, creature, etc.) tries to harm another, the DK or Player throw a d6. That's how much damage they deal. Armour is subtracted first, then Hit Protection (HP). When attacking with significant advantage (such as fighting with a spear against a knife at good range, or shanking a guy armed with a morgenstern while grappling on the floor), roll 2d6 and keep the highest. When your attack is significantly impaired by the circumstances (such as trying to shoot someone you can barely see in the mist, or fight while being heavily injured), roll 2d6 and keep the lowest.

Armour means any kind of protection. Actual Armour (1), a Shield (1), Heavy Armour (2) or Cover (1 or 2) are the most common things that are subtracted from damage. BUT it doesn't stack beyond -2 to damage. Any extra protection grants you bonus HP during a fight instead. This prevents the d6 range for damage from becoming tedious with at worse a 1-in-3 chance of no damage being taken when being very well protected. Which means fights are quick and rounds rarely go without something changing.

Hit Protection is what keeps you from being seriously hurt and represents a mix of luck, stamina, grit and fighting ability. Mundane people usually have 1 to 6 HP. Players, being our favorites, should mark down 4 HP if they roll 1, 2 or 3. Hit Protection is recovered after a short rest (patch your wounds, eat something, have some wine, etc.) ; Critical Damage is healed when the DK says so, if at all.

NPCs you didn't bother to name or pest-like monsters die at 0 HP. Named NPCs and tough monsters, as well as PCs, have to roll on the Critical Damage table when they reach 0 HP. Subsequent rolls are at +3.

Hit Location (d6)
1. Leg or Tail
2, 3, 4. Torso
5. Arm or Wing or Tentacle, etc.
6. Head

Critical Damage (d6 on the first hit, d6+3 on subsequent hits)
1. Drop weapons, superficial cuts, wind knocked out of you, bruised, dazed, knockdown
2. Dislocations, shattered or broken weapons, numbed limbs or body parts
3. Incapacitated limbs, deep wounds, smashed teeth, broken bones
4. Severed arteries, internal bleeding, spine injuries, gouged eyes
5. Portion of a limb lost, organs ruptured, bleeding out, artery severed, stunned
6. Entire limb lost, body parts hacked in half, shock and blood loss, edge of consciousness
7+ Eviscerated, flying body parts, arterial spray, death in 1 round

Player-Characters (actively played and taking part in the adventure) gain an additional HP for every dangerous adventure (DK's discretion) that they survive, up to a maximum of 12 HP.

NPCs and Monsters gain an additional HP for every session where they survived the PCs, with no upper limit. Henchmen and followers don't count, also. This makes for cool recurring villains and archnemesis that grow more dangerous on the long run.

Morale
Because violence is so darn terrible and death or injury is just around the corner, most sane people don't want to keep fighting if weapons are involved, or at least not without very good reasons. This is represented by the morale rule. How it works is easy: after every significant change in a violent situation, the DK should roll 2d6 for groups or individuals to check their morale. A high roll means morale is high, and a low roll, means morale is low (simple enough) - the DK should interpret what that means in practice based on the situation and motivations of the NPCs involved. Stupid monsters and animals are usually operating on instincts, which normally include self-preservation. People usually want to stay alive. Keep that in mind and that'll make your games way more interesting as people trying to avoid being dead get to come back later and interact with the PCs, making the campaign more and more immersive and bringing verisimilitude to the experience. Also it might remind the Players that they also shouldn't fight to the death unless they really want to.


MECHANICS SUMMARY
- Danger Rolls = 2d6 vs 9+ (7+ with advantage).
- Reaction Roll = 1d6 (1 Hostile, 2-3 Wary, 4-5 Friendly, 6 Helpful).
- Surprise = d6 vs d6, beat by 3+ to achieve surprise, lasts until it is lost.
- Initiative = Declare Intent, Resolve Every Action Simultaneously.
- Attacking = d6 Damage (2d6 keep highest w/advantage, lowest if impaired), Ablative Armour, HP.
- Armour subtracts up to 2 points from Damage, additional protection is Bonus HP.
- 1d6 HP for Mundane Characters, PCs treat a roll of 1-3 as 4 instead.
- At 0HP, take Critical Damage. Subsequent hits are at +3 on the Critical Damage table.
- PCs gain 1HP per dangerous adventure survived up to 12 max.
- Named NPCs and tough monsters gain 1HP per violent encounter with the PCs survived, no limit.
- Morale = 2d6, low means poor morale, high means strong morale, few are willing to die violently.

And that is all the rules. Next time I'll tell you about a world of high zany adventure!

10/24/21

Zoopunk 2.0 - Grandville

Opening Mood.

Dusting off my favorite genre with a reboot of my homebrew Cyberpunk meets Blacksad world, Zoopunk.



Glimmer of a cigarette under sheets of rain and fog, an alley people hurry past, busy bees.
City shadows above, vertical horizon of steel, glass and concrete, hologram perfection beckons.
A rat in a trenchcoat steps on a cancer stick, flicks a switch on his mirrorshades.
Infotainment sticks to the walls, floor, sky, floats around, kaleidoscope of colour and sound.
No smell yet, so it’s still wet back-alley, cigarette and the memory of the dame’s lips on his.
Overriding a nearby overwatch drone, switch to UV mode, blood washed away by the rain.
Infrareds and a rewind shows a rhino beating the shit out of a shaggy dog. German sheperd?
Same breed the dame mentioned had been following her since her husband’s death.
And her husband’s, the rhino, they never found the body. There are no coincidences in this job.
Tap-tap-tap on his shoulder. He turns and gets a glance at a polar bear's claws before the lights go out.


THE GRANDVILLE SPRAWL
It creeps all cross the country like a scar - rapid urbanization from Lille to Paris, from Paris to Lyon and from Lyon to Marseille. 20 million registered inhabitants, probably twice as much without ID chips, living in the cracks.

Since January 1st of this [undisclosed] year, the Acte pour la Protection des Forces de l'Ordre is officially in action, which means the Gendarmerie Nationale is now in its right to use lethal force against any suspected threat to either their own person or National Security. Daily protests have been going on strong throughout the last few years to attempt to repell that unconstitutional law, to no avail, as well as the upcoming bill re-definining protests and rallies of more than a hundred individuals as a threat to National Security...



REACTION! REACTION EVERYWHERE!
Continental Europe and especially France resisted a bit longer against Corporate extra-territoriality, so that means our Overlords have to be a bit less overt except when they're elected into office, which isn't that hard considering that more than three quarters of the population don't vote - at least not with ballots anymore.

Above ground, the Socialists are dead and buried and presidential elections are a tug-o-war between the open fascists of the Parti National (still belonging to that same family that funds today's Rassemblement National) and the crypto-fascist Nouveaux Républicains - basically corporate sock-puppets.

Underground, the Left is still going strong, with the Anarchistes and the Garde Rouge regularly attempting and failing to federate the hundreds of smaller movements that live and die at the whims of corrupt cops and even more insidious media outlets.



UN JOUR EN FRANCE
For those who accepted or were successfully encouraged to get chipped, life is somewhat similar to today. Except there's no more birds in the sky, wearing air filtration masks is a matter of life or slow cancerous death in the smoggy streets, minimum wage has been halved (thank god for the gig economy, now you can work four jobs at once to make ends meet! And worst case scenario you can still sell some of your blood or organs to the private clinics, they're in dire need!)... Unionizing is a grey area now, and a social taboo in most productive citizens' social circles.

Life isn't so easy for those who won't, or aren't allowed to...thanks to the Social Sanitation Program (enacted by the Parti National ten years ago that two terms' worth of Republicans have not seen fit to abolish) - targetted by the SSP are the migrants (now also including 3rd or 4th generation people of middle-eastern, northern african or central european descent, and anyone who openly identifies as muslim), the queer (now including "effeminate men" and "agressive women"), the mentally unfit, the non-rich disabled and any sort of parasite, artist, or dreamer.


GIVE ME TECH GIVE ME TOYS GIVE ME STUFF GIMME

We've got ubiquitous VR-goggles for all ages! We've got Augmented Reality through the Cloud.
It's everywhere, you can't turn it off without hacks, and it's specifically designed for your needs and desires. It'll show you what you want to see and erase anything else. The streets of Paris are as beautiful as they were a hundred years ago - the Seine is running clear and there are no corpses down there either.

For my american audience: no guns allowed. You might get away with pepper spray if you look vulnerable and "normal" enough. A knife might get you arrested. A pocket handgun will get you shot. Good luck fighting the cops now. There are underground distribution circuits but you better show gang signs or be part of something political. Some say there's people in the Catacombs that are less observant about who they sell to.

Designer drugs are popular, so are Better-Than-Life Chips. The National Order of Medicine isn't fast enough to legislate all of the new stuff, so instead they made everything prescription-based, easier to regulate who gets what. Which means a lot of underground drug smuggling as national healthcare only covers a minor part of the costs of medication, and pharmaceutical companies get to set the price now, here like anywhere else.

Did I mention people are animals? Or, more like animals are people.

WHY FUNNY TALKING ANIMALS

Because I like to clash cartoon animals with gritty futuristic noir and pink mohawk hyper-violence.
That's really just it.

SO HOW DO I PLAY THIS

You know the drill, play worlds not rules, so here's a quick and dirty system for task resolution that you can feel free to replace with whatever you like. When trying to avoid something terrible happening to one of them, the zoopunks can try and make a saving throw, 2d6=9+ to pass, 7+ with advantage.
If someone gets hurt, roll on the Injury Table (d6), if they get injured again, roll d6+3 instead.
Anyone can sacrifice a piece of armour to avoid an injury table result.

Locations - 1 Leg (or Tail), 2-4 Torso, 5 Arm (or Wing), 6 Head

Injuries
1. Drop weapons, superficial cuts, wind knocked out of you, bruised, dazed, knockdown
2. Dislocations, shattered or broken weapons, numbed limbs or body parts
3. Incapacitated limbs, deep wounds, smashed teeth, broken bones
4. Severed arteries, internal bleeding, spine injuries, gouged eyes
5. Portion of a limb lost, organs ruptured, bleeding out, artery severed, stunned
6. Entire limb lost, body parts hacked in half, shock and blood loss, edge of consciousness
7+ Eviscerated, flying body parts, arterial spray, death in a minute or less

For character generation (and a bunch of cool tables including the injury one below), I use Sprawl Goons with the following exceptions: no Stats, no Resilience Points or Inventory Score, I just rely on Background to infer skillsets, knowledge, contacts and other abilities. The d66 Background in the Booster Pack is amazing.

Roll for what kind of animal you are here.