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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.

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#RPGTheoryJuly 3rd Conversation

I have decided to tackle RPGTheoryJuly from a solo play point of view. It is a minority niche for the hobby but so was play by post, LARP and game books once.

Conversation in solo play sounds like a strange idea. Why talk to yourself? When you character is talking to an NPC in solo play you quite literally imagine the conversation taking place, right down to mannerisms, turns of phrase and gesticulations. You may have made skill rolls before and these colour your imagined scene. If you know you have successfully swayed the crown prince because you just rolled a fantastic Public Speaking skill test then you can play out that scene.

If you don’t give conversation its deserved place in the limelight and the game what you are left with is going through the motions until combat starts, and that isn’t role play.

I would go so far as to say that it is these imagined conversations that prove that solo role play is true role play. I have talked to people who have played solitaire modules and at no point did they contemplate thinking about what their character said, how it was said or the audiences participation beyond a dice roll to check success or failure. That is not role playing in my opinion.

About 10 years ago I used to commute to work by bicycle. It was about 20 minutes each way. I used to solo role play my character on the way to work, making any Oracle or skill tests I needed before getting on the bike. I would then play on until such time as I either got to work or I hit a point where I needed to make more rolls. I loved these ‘sessions’. Most days I have no memory of the journey. I even got to the point where I knew the oracle tables of my favourite solo engine and I could use the digits on car license plates as dice rolls, just taking the first digit under 7 as my d6 roll. What I found myself doing though was playing over the same scene multiple times, particularly conversations. Do you know that feeling when you have had an important conversation and come away and then curse because you wished you had said x, y, and z? I found myself almost striving for the ‘perfect’ conversation, the perfect speech or even the perfect witty rejoiner. You could never do that in a group rpg but for me it made the characters story better and I mean better in a fun way not a win/lose way. I would never consider playing a fight twice just because I a lost or didn’t do as well as I could. But being allowed to do the parts where you actually learn more about your character, their personality and their voice over doesn’t feel like ‘cheating’.

It is during any conversation, in character, where you will learn who your character actually is.

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#RPGTheoryJuly 2nd – Inclusion

My attitude to game rules is definitely less is more. When you add social inclusion into the mix then I think the less is more attitude is even more relevant. I am working on a Spacemaster retro-clone right now. In the original you had about 100 words or so to describe each profession, 700 words to describe each culture and 400 words to describe each race. When trying to fill that much content you end up with phrases like this:

…and there you have the immediate reinforcement of very traditional stereotypes.

Skip forward 40 years and White Star, which I am using as the source material for my retro-clone uses just 80 words for race, culture and profession. Just enough information for you to know the ‘spirit of the profession’. What you want to do with it is entirely up to you.

It is almost as if the old designers set themselves a word count target and then struggled to fill the quote. Before you know it you are thinking “We can make these a bit xenophobic, and these a bit nazi and these can be communists.”

If you just cut all of that out and leave it to the GM and players they can make a game that works for them. In my retro-clone version I have simply dumped all of the 1980s cliches and gone with the White Star minimalist approach. The only differences are that White Star ties race/species to specific professions whereas I have said that anyone can do anything. The second change is that I have included the rules for how to create a new species, culture and profession.

I have included three to six full examples of each so the game is playable ‘out of the box’ but the intention is that the players and GM will make their own universe. As the same rules are applied to every species, every culture and every profession they are all going to be equal. The deciding factor is what you want to do with your game. I will not prescribe anything or tell you how I think your universe should work. By ruling nothing out I am, by extension ruling everything in if you want to add it.

I think the conclusion is that if game designers cannot think of anything more useful to say, stop typing and don’t try to fill the white space. In the physical world you would say if you find yourself stuck in a hole, stop digging.

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#RPGTheoryJuly Role Play

My core activity in RPG publishing is as a publisher of solo rules. In addition to standalone solo rules supplements, every game I produce comes with solo rules built in. Way too many role playing games get bought just to sit on a shelf because the GM cannot sell the game or the setting to their players. Games with solo rules can be tested and played regardless of your players enthusiasm.

When it comes to Role Playing Game theory removing the distinct roles of player and GM. The Threefold Model Developed by Mary Kuhner suggested that any GM decision will be made for the purpose of game, or drama, or simulation. If on the other hand the DM decisions are being made by dice rolls they are not under the influence of game, drama or simulation.

What I am not keen on is the repetition of the word simulation. No actually wants simulation in a game, what they want, I would suggest, is believability which is a different thing entirely. In a simulation the Dragon would win every time, the BBEG’s hordes would over run the world and deathstar would probably not have been destroyed.

In a believable game system on the other hand as long as the rules are consistent and have some sort of coherent relationship with that they are trying to portray then most people are happy enough. There is a whole spectrum of games with different levels of detail in portraying the game world. In some you hit and knock off some hit points and others you shatter bones and wounds bleed and people go into shock. These are still not simulations they are simply portrayals of violence.

So any theory of role playing that hinges on the DM/GM has to be inherently flawed. Any that puts its emphasis on simulation is going to equally flawed. Of all the theories listed on Wikipedia that actually appeals to me is Color Theory.

Color Theory 
Developed by Fabien Ninoles in 2002, was developed on the French createurs-jdr mailing list. It is an inheritor of SCARF theory and SCAR theory, which then interacted with English language theories. In this theory the goals of system design are thought of as the primary colors of TV light – Green for simplicity, Blue for realism, Red for consistency, with notions like adaptability, tenacity, brightness, and visibility being extensions of the metaphor.[8]

One would hope that the systems I am designing come out bright white. I have a suspicion that they may come out a bit more fuschia/purple. I definitely favour simplicity and when you only have a few rule concepts in a game you naturally get consistency. Of course I strive for realism but if there was a weak suit, this would be it.

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Timeless Roleplaying

Timeless logoTimeless is one of those Netflix Originals that really appeals to me. I used to be a fan of Quantum Leap with its kitsch “Oh Boy” catchphrase. Rather than jumping from body to body as in QL; the Timeless team jump back to key moments in US history to try and stop someone from destroying the United States as we know it.

As the season 1 unfold a greater conspiracy unfolds and the season finale ends with an excellent cliffhanger, which I will not spoil for you.

The time machine of the heroes is called the lifeboat and was the back up for the mothership. The mothership is stolen at the beginning of episode 1. The lifeboat crew are jut enough of an adventuring party to enable them to handle a really nice mix of adventures. You have a military officer, historian and a tech. Between them they have enough of a skill set to cover all bases.

This whole idea of broadbased characters is one that has never fitted well with level and profession/character class based roleplaying games. The military character is called Wyatt Logan and portrayed as being Delta Force. He has the obvious combat skills but has also displayed skill in first aid, bomb disposal, military history as well as many social skills that turn up in RPGs such as seduction, public speaking, influence and deception. Rufus Carlin is the scientist character but also a programmer/coder, driver and pilot and even turns his had to black smithing to create some copper foil to build a capacitor. What character class would he be?

The other breaking point for many games is levels. The usual progression is from less competent or ‘1st level’ characters to more experienced and more competent higher levels. The characters in Timeless were chosen as the ‘best available’. They certainly are not incompetent.

3Deep characters are ideally designed to play these kinds of roles and tell this kind of story. The characters have wide ranging skills each of which can be nuanced by changing the stat bonus applied. A Blacksmith may use his Craft skill with his strength bonus when hammering lumps of pig iron but the same skill with his empathy when creating items of elegance and beauty. Sure characters improve their skills over time but you do not have to start from a point where their first encounter is 50/50 as to whether it will wipe out the heroes!

The Lifeboat Crew in period costume with their time machine

Playing in the Timeless universe is a pretty good intro to the the 3Deep game system. You do not need to know about magic and monsters (3Deep does both with ease). All the foes to be faced are humans, particularly Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s, The British, before American Independence, and the Mexicans at the Alamo. It is always useful when the bad guys where a uniform!

If you are introducing new players to RPGs for the first time then having a rule set that you can create a character in 10 minutes and the bad guys are obvious it makes life easier! The simple self contained plot is easy to comprehend and there is no real stretch of the imagination to try and visualise orcs, goblins and beholders! (Not that you would throw a beholder at a starting party but you know what I mean!)

If you have watched the show and you want a cute little one-off adventure then why not give 3Deep a go. It is available from Amazon (print only) and RPGNow both in Print and PDF!