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#RPGTheoryJuly – 8th – Adaption

I once wrote a blog post along the lines of Role Playing Games do not exist. The premise was that the rulebooks we buy are not complete games, they are just toolkits. It is using these tools that we construct our own unique games. I think the interest in actual plays is to see how other people play the same game. There are no right or wrong ways of playing, there is just acceptable behaviour at my gaming table, everything else is up for negotiation.

So all games are adapted almost daily by their respective DMs/GMs.

Somethings are adapted more than others. The two examples I am going to hold up are 0D&D (including all the B/X variants) and Mythic.

The oldest open game content I could find on DRTPG this morning was dated 2004 and the oldest OSR rulebook was Labyrinth Lord. Just searching for core rulebooks under the OSR category turned up nearly 500 titles and that is just core rules. OSR and open content has become an entire industry in its own right based around adaptation of a single source.

Mythic GME has a similar status. I know about 250 people who have used the GME rules. They either own the rules or have used one of the online emulators. Yet I don’t know anyone who plays the Mythic RPG.

Every set of solo rules I have ever played, bar one The Trouble with Rose, has some Mythic DNA in its background. My influences are most certainly Mythic, Tiny Solitary Soldiers, the One Page Solo Engine by Karl Hendricks and No GM’s Sky by Todd Zircher. If you are familiar with them you will notice a trend towards ever simpler systems. Mythic is huge, dice heavy and excessively wordy. TSS is extremely compact and but at the cost of certain functionality. One Page Solo is pretty well rounded but requires a d6 for virtually everything except one roll and that is a d12 and/or playing cards. I don’t like the ‘it nearly works but this bit I couldn’t fit in’ impression.

No GM’s Sky added two new elements to my solo play. The first was building a “Complication” result right into the oracle. This instantly strips out all the requirements to have to make subsequent rolls for plot twists and interrupted scenes. For experienced solo gamers I think that is sufficient, for new solo gamers I think it requires a bit too much mental heavy lifting. The second element was Game Icons and by extension Story Cubes. I knew these existed but I had not used them or really knew how to interpret them. NGS provided me with a extended example of their use in play. I am a real convert now.

I take parts of mythic, parts of TSS, bits of One Page and now bits of NGS and mix them all into my projects. Mythic, TSS and One Page are all generic. NGS may also be, I have just never seen it used anywhere else. What I bring to the party is adaptation. I don’t make generic rules. I learn how to play a game and then adapt these generic tools to the games core mechanics. That is adaptation.

I suspect that if you read all my solo rule booklets back to back in order of release you could probably highlight exactly where I discovered my influences. The first emergence of a complex question tool, the first occurrence of No because… in place of No but… and most recently Game Icons.

Today these threads converge as I finished the first draft of my Osr Solo Rules last night. They need some proofing and testing but they will be released sometime this week I imagine. This is the convergence of two great sequences of constant adaptation and evolution.

The final oddity here is that I have already released solo rules specifically for 5e and they are wildly different to my OSR rules and yet the games are, underneath all the fluff, intrinsically the same thing.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 7th – Core Loops

Solo games don’t have loops. They have humps. As there is no need to pass information back and forth between GM and player, the understanding in solo play is perfect, as are the descriptions of the setting and the creation of the atmosphere. The basic core loop in RPGs is

  1. GM describes situation
  2. Players describe actions
  3. Go to 1

The closest solo play comes to a looping structure is when you need to consult the oracle/GME and most likely for a complex question or situation. Here the process normally follows along something like this.

  1. Ask the question
  2. Roll on the oracle/GME
  3. Roll on follow up tables
  4. Interpret answer
  5. Continue play

The biggest hump is at stage 3 & 4. The longer these steps take the greater disruption the player experiences to the continuity of the story and to the suspension of disbelief. I do my absolute best to reduce and remove the burden of stage 3 and the big hump. If you have to roll multiple times on different tables then your focus is not on your game but on the solo rules.

My current project is a solo engine designed for 0D&D/OSR/D&D B/X. It all started with Blades in the Dark and my blades solo rules. Blades has a mechanic called the Fortune Roll that is within a gnat’s whisker of being an oracle. The core mechanic is a pool of up to 3d6 and it can be applied to anything the GM doesn’t know the answer to. I was then thinking about D&D and it’s closest equivalent is just a single d6 . When do wandering monsters appear? Roll 1d6. Is the party surprised? Roll 1d6. Spotting secret doors? 1d6. Want to kick in a door? 1d6. The d20 may get all the glamour but the D&D world turns on a humber d6.

In designing a solo engine for OSR D&D I want to use 1d6 to drive the whole thing. My first ever solo engine was Tiny Solitary Soldiers by Spacejacker and that runs off of 1d6 (well it is 2d6 but one works just as well). So I am going to use that as the core except that I have evolved it a bit over the years. That is fine for an oracle but how do you handle complex questions with just a single d6? I don’t want to go down the route of multiple rolls but just 6 options is clearly not enough to handle complex questions. This is where the greatest disruption happens and the part where I put most of my effort.

Right now, I have only vague and untested answers to how to build a 1d6 complex question answer generator but that is something I will solve this afternoon.

So what does all this have to do with Core Loops? I think it shows that core loops are a way of trying to cope with the failure for any of us to imagine anything in the same way as another person. That is why we need to constantly question and loop back to expand on our descriptions. The way I see the market square will be very different to the way that you see it and the same goes for the traders and the customers.

I do have an ‘ask the audience’ question for you.

I am writing solo rules for OSR games. It just cries out to have a three word name <blank> Solo Rules. Where the blank starts with an O. The rules would then be abbreviated to OSR itself. I am oscillating between 0D&D Solo Rules that gives 0SR, or releasing the rules under a CC 3.0 BY license and then they would be Open Solo Rules which gives OSR. Can anyone else come up with a way of getting an OSR name?

P.S. It was Tiny Solitary Soldiers that I use for Solo Role Play while cycling to work using car number plates for random numbers.

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#RPGTheory July – 6th – Interaction Design

Until about 20 minutes ago I didn’t know what interaction design is. Apparently the cool kids call it IxD. As it happens Interaction Design is what I have been specialising in for the past two years without even knowing what it is. I kind of like it when I arrive at a conclusion and then discover that some really bright people got there before me. It makes me feel clever.

So, obviously Interaction Design covers how people interact with things. In my case I am thinking solely about solo rpg rules. A player could by Mythic GME and use that one tool for years and be perfectly happy. There are tens of solo engines out there that are suitably generic to work with any game and you just need to pick the one that you like the feel of.

I tend to work from the other end. If you love a particular RPG and really get the way it’s mechanics work then I try and use those same mechanics to build a matching solo engine. The point of this is mentally you do not have to break off from the game’s mechanics to pick up the solo engine mechanics.

Take Blades in the Dark as an example. The game runs on pools of 1-3d6. Its mechanics are nice and simple. You roll your pool and take the highest die or dice. 4+ is a limited success, 5 is better, 6 is a full success and if you rolled more than one 6 then you have a critical success. No imagine you have to jump in and out of this system and Mythics d100 system. The two are wildly different and Mythic is much more table driven then Blades. (Shameless plug coming up here!) In my blades solo rules I have taken the standard Blades fortune roll as a core mechanic and used it as the oracle. You build you dice pool with 1d6 for unlikely events, 2d6 for 50/50 and 3d6 for likely. Where I cannot fit all the possible options in to the dice pool mechanic I still stick with the 3d6.

I feel I have been a bit unfair to Mythic here but originally Mythic GME did everything right. The GME used exactly the same mechanics as the Mythic RPG and the solo rules could be used for skill resolution. That is great interaction design. It is when you start to use Mythic for playing 7th Sea or even D&D that things start to split down the lines of two quite different rule sets.

So I think interaction design is really important but it is also entirely optional for solo players. Pick an engine you like and works for you or pick an engine that works for the game. They have the same end result if you are having fun.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 5th – Game Objectives

When I first saw the title for today my first thought was about railroading players. If you have a set objective in mind then you are more likely to be tempted into railroading your players to achieve that objective. Then I remembered Sagas of Midgard (@DHornGames). This is a fairly rules light RPG with just one objective and that is to die well. You cannot railroad players into killing their characters, you can only give them opportunities.

In solo play I frequently don’t know what the objective of my game will until I am forced to produce it following an oracle or story prompt roll. I keep a list of loose threads as my solo plays unfold and I try and link loose threads together. This means that there are less loose ends in total but it can turn several loose ends into the hints of a greater story arc. There is certainly no railroad because there aren’t even any tracks.

That is true most of the time. When you try and solo play your way through a purchased adventure module things suddenly get more ‘enclosed’. The advice I was given for soloing modules was to read the module in detail. You can then use your knowledge to answer the oracle questions. I did this recently and for me it is the most dissatisfying of experiences. I then did feel railroaded because the option I wanted wasn’t an option.

So if I am playing a module of my own choosing and using the rules of my own choosing and my own choice of solo engine the only thing that is different is my normal preference for a sandbox experience and the defined objectives of the module. The point of playing the module was to experience someone else’s ideas rather than my own and to absorb more setting ‘lore’. What I got was that definitely feeling of being railroaded towards a climatic scene and that was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not. What probably would have been better, for me, would have been to extract those bits of setting information on to post-it notes and worked them into my own free play. I could have put words into my own NPC’s mouths, I could put carvings on to my own cave walls. I think the reason I didn’t is that I had assumed, wrongly, that the author knew best.

Maybe, playing bought adventures is a skill I have yet to learn? That is entirely possible. Maybe I should do more? I certainly need to do them better!

Getting back to game objectives I would say I don’t like them being built in. Keep them ‘soft’ such as have fun or exploring Norse legend. Your mileage may vary of course.

As a bit of a P.S. if you want to play a solo game with a single objective try Todd Zircher’s No GM’s Sky. The objective is to ‘get home’ in a universe that doesn’t even exist until you start playing.

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#RPGTheoryJuly 4th Bleed

I am trying to work out what the idea behind ‘Bleed’ is. Are we talking character bleeding and wounds or ideas bleeding from one genre to another?

I am going to take this as physical bleeding and I am going to continue looking at this from a solo role playing perspective.

The first game I ever published was 3Deep. It is a simple d6 game but I build a solo engine into it right from the start. 3Deep uses 1d6 to 3d6 for weapon damage depending to the weight or power of the weapon. The problem with d6s of damage is that once you have seen one d6 of damage you have seen them all. They are not intrinsically exciting and you don’t get to roll buckets of them. To counter that sameness I introduced two mechanics . One was knock back. You roll damage and you roll for knock back. If the damage was higher then the difference between rolls is how far the target is knocked back. This is great for knocking people off watch towers or breaking down a shield wall.

The second mechanic was special damage. All through the game there is a 1s and 6s rule. 6s give the character a boost, think critical successes, and 1s diminish the result. When looking at damage if there is a net positive number of 6s then the attack can cause special damage. Blunt weapons cause stun, fire attacks cause burning and slashing weapons cause bleeding. Imagine you attack with a lance and do 3d6 damage. The roll is 2, 3 and a 6. The total damage was 11 with one point of bleeding. You roll 2d6 normally for knockback and roll a 3 and a 4 for 7. The target staggers back 4m (11 – 7) under the force of your blow. That is a basic rundown on the combat system and where bleeding comes into it.

The issue with characters bleeding is that they can win a battle and then bleed out. I have in the past asked the oracle “Does anyone save me?” I don’t really want the adventure to end and as I am the hero and it is my story I tend to make this a likely event. The 3Deep solo engine uses ‘plot twists’ that can introduce NPCs, complications or even make completing your quest easier. I have had a character dying from blood loss and the oracle introduce a new NPC and save the character. The enforced change of scene caused by the blacking out of the character is a perfect device for introducing these new elements.

So what if the oracle had said No? I have no problem with time in my solo plays. If the character dies on July 4th I have no qualms about playing the character on June 1st to see how he got to be on the quest that killed him.

Would it have been better to have not had the bleeding mechanic in the first place? Then I would have won the battle and been able to lick my wounds and carry on. It is my experience that the enforced wounds like bleeding and burning add to the visualisation or flow of the scene. If your character is in a shoot out and someone throws in a molotov cocktail, without special damage you take some damage from the burning petrol and then return fire. If on the other hand you character is actually on fire you are more likely to drop and roll.

In a group rpg bleeding is of little consequence, normally, as long as someone survives the battle you will be saved.

In a solo play death doesn’t have to be the end and doesn’t need to be seen as a failure of loss. Defeat can change your story and introduce new story arcs. Death can make you explore more of your character’s background.

The time hopping is something that can only really be done in solo play or following a TPK. If four characters survive the fight but you bled to death, they are going to mourn, loot and move on as they have a quest to complete.

So how do I feel about bleeding, and burning etc. for that matter? It can make combat more dangerous, and therefore not something to be leapt into at every opportunity. It can add a bit of narrative flavour to a wound and it opens up an opportunity to extend the story, does some one save you and if so who and why? I am in favour generally. I am working on an OSR SCi-Fi game right now. I haven’t written the combat system yet but when I do it will include bleeding, burning and stunning wounds.