Design Diary: Bulldogs!

Posted on : 08-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : Bulldogs!, Design Diaries, FATE, Freelance, Indie Games, Links


I’ve been doing some freelance writing lately for Brennan Taylor of Galileo Games. I did some freelance work for him a while back, during the 3rd Edition/d20 era. He had published an RPG called Bulldogs! using the d20 system, and I wrote a psionics supplement for it. Bulldogs! is a sci-fi space opera game. The flavor of the setting is very cool, something a little different from Star Wars. I feel that the d20 system was at odds with the flavor of the setting, though, and Brennan did, too. To that end, he decided to make a 2nd Edition of the game, using FATE as the system for it. He put out a call to freelancers to help him out and, to make a long story short, I’m co-writing the core rulebook with him.

Overall, I feel that FATE is a much better fit for the setting than d20 ever was. While writing the chapter on alien species, it was much easier to capture the flavor of each species using aspects and stunts than it ever was using d20 mechanics, and it’s simpler to boot. Check out the entry for the Ryjyllians from the 1st Edition rules of the game:

Racial Traits
Ability Scores: +2 Strength, -2 Wisdom. Ryjyllians are physically powerful, but they tend to be hotheaded and rash, acting before they think things through.
Special Characteristics:

  • Rage: Ryjyllians are able to enter a combat rage. They gain great strength and durability, but lose control of themselves and are less able to defend against attacks. A Ryjyllian in a rage temporarily gains +4 to Strength, +4 to Constitution, and a +2 morale bonus on Will saves, but suffers a -2 penalty to Armor Class. The increase in Constitution raises the Ryjyllian’s hit points by 2 points per level, but these hit points go away at the end of the rage when the Ryjyllian’s Constitution drops back to normal. (These hit points are not lost the way temporary hit points are.) While raging, the Ryjyllian cannot use skills or abilities that require concentration, such as moving silently. He can use any feat he might have except for Expertise, item creation feats, and Skill Focus (if it’s tied to a skill that requires patience or concentration). A fit of rage lasts for a number of rounds equal to 3+ the character’s (newly improved) Constitution modifier. The Ryjyllian may prematurely end the rage voluntarily. At the end of the rage, the Ryjyllian is fatigued (-2 to Strength, -2 to Dexterity, can’t charge or run) for the duration of that encounter. The Ryjyllian can only fly into a rage once per encounter and only a certain number of times per day (his level divided by four). Entering a rage takes no time itself, but the Ryjyllian can only do it during his action, not in response to somebody else’s action. A Ryjyllian can’t, for example, fly into a rage when struck by a blaster in order to get the extra hit points from the increased Constitution, although the extra hit points would be a benefit if he had gone into a rage earlier in the round, before the blaster hit.
  • Low-light Vision: Ryjyllians can see twice as far as an Arsubaran in starlight, moonlight, dim light, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
  • Claws: All Ryjyllians have retractable claws at the tips of their fingers and toes. In combat, these can be used as weapons, and Ryjyllians are automatically considered to be proficient in their use. The claws deliver 1d4/x2/slashing damage.
  • +2 racial bonus to all Climb, Jump, and Move Silently checks. Ryjyllians are cat-like and able to perform athletic feats with little difficulty.
  • The Ryjyllian Code of Conduct: Ryjyllians adhere to a strict warrior’s code. They refuse to flee combat, although if ordered to withdraw, the code requires them to observe the command. They must never show fear in the face of danger, but instead challenge it boldly. If challenged to a fight, a Ryjyllian may never refuse. Ryjyllians never use what they consider dirty tricks or deception to win in combat; the fight must be fair to be honorable. The code also requires a Ryjyllian to follow the orders of a superior without question or hesitation, although if ordered to do something that violates the code, the Ryjyllian is likely to commit suicide after he has carried out the order. If a Ryjyllian is ever humiliated in combat, or violates the code by accident, suicide is generally the response. They must make a Will save vs. 20 to break the code.
    Size: Medium. As medium-sized creatures, Ryjyllians have no special bonuses or penalties due to size.
    Speed: Base speed for Ryjyllians is 30 feet.
  • Languages: Ryjyllians all begin with the ability to speak both Galactic and Ryjyllac.
  • Favored Class: Fighter. A multiclass Ryjyllian’s fighter class does not count when determining whether she suffers an XP penalty for multiclassing. Fighting is the Ryjyllian raison d’etre, and they naturally fall into this profession.

That’s a lot of mechanics to remember. It tells you something about the Ryjyllians as a people, but a lot of that real estate above is devoted to matters of physiology, and relatively little is devoted to things that provide character hooks. Now, compare this to the stats for Ryjyllians in 2nd Edition Bulldogs!. (DISCLAIMER: The following mechanics are not final, and are subject to change.)

Typical Ryjyllian Aspects:
The Ryjyllian Code of Honor
Warrior from a Warrior Race
Loyal to My Clan
Last to Retreat
Cat-Like Reflexes
Short Temper

Typical Ryjyllian Stunts:
Ryjyllian Combat Focus
Some Ryjyllians train in special combat techniques that allow them to enter into a sort of battle trance that inures them to pain and makes them more deadly combatants. Once per session, the Ryjyllian can spend a fate point to enter into this state. While in this state, the Ryjyllian automatically generates one extra shift on any attack roll made to deal stress. In addition, the Ryjyllian gains an additional physical stress box, which can be filled as normal. However, if the extra stress box is filled, when this state ends the Ryjyllian takes an immediate consequence that is one step more severe than it would otherwise be. The Ryjyllian can exit this state at any time; otherwise it lasts until the end of the scene.

There’s a lot less real estate devoted to mechanically explaining what a Ryjyllian is, and almost all of that real estate provides character hooks. Each aspect gives you an idea of what kind of species they are, and even the stunt provides more info than the Rage ability did in 1st Edition.

Furthermore, all of the above is optional when you’re playing a Ryjyllian. In 1st Edition, everything listed was mandatory for your character. This meant that, if you wanted to play a Ryjyllian, you had to deal with all of that complexity, and your Ryjyllian would look a lot like all the other Ryjyllians out there; there was little room for variance outside of class choice. In 2nd Edition, we provide recommended aspects and stunts, but you’re perfectly free to ignore them and come up with your own stuff. We provide a baseline that you can use to start from, but your Ryjyllian is, first and foremost, an individual, and you can build that individual however you want to.

Adventures in the Mad City

Posted on : 06-04-2010 | By : Brian | In : Indie Games, Links, Reviews


I mentioned a while ago that I read Don’t Rest Your Head, and indie RPG very reminiscent of things like Dark City and Neverwhere (both of which are listed in the book as sources of inspiration). I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

To sum it up, it’s a game about people who haven’t slept for a while. After a certain point, the theory goes, sleep becomes a choice, and when you choose not to sleep, you awaken to the Mad City around you. The Mad City is a city that exists alongside our own world, and it’s populated by “Hollow Men”, who are basically people who have become automatons, extras in the Mad City, and the Nightmares who rule it. As one of the Awakened, the Nightmares target you, but you have power–drawn from your exhaustion and madness–to fight back.

After reading it, I really wanted to play it, so when my friend Matt agreed to play with me, I jumped on the opportunity. Matt created a character who was already a paranoid schizophrenic–that was, in fact, why he wasn’t sleeping; he was afraid that “they” would come and get him. This become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as his Awakening made him a target for a very sinister Them, indeed. He journeyed into the Mad City and tried to figure out what was going on.

Eventually he learned that the one who was after him was a being known as the Tacks Man. He planned to lure the Tacks Man into a trap, using the villain’s well-known greed against him. One of my favorite scenes involved Matt running from Officer Tock and his clockwork cops, carrying a fake hand of King Midas inside a fake stasis machine. He escaped his pursuers, only to run into the Paper Boys. The Paper Boys write about things–murder and mayhem, mostly–and those things have a habit of coming true. They were interested in Matt, but Matt did some fast-talking and convinced them that the hand of Midas was a much bigger story. They took the bait and wrote about the discover of Midas’s hand, at which point the fake became the real thing.

It was a great session, and I’d like to run the game again. The nice thing about DRYH is that it’s really easy to make a game that is almost entirely player-driven. It’s good to go in with a few ideas as the GM, but mostly you’re going to want to look at your players’ characters–their motivations and goals–and use those to generate story hooks that your players will want to run with. The system is simple enough that it facilitates this style of play, making improvisation extremely easy.

I had a great time, and I’d recommend the game to anyone who’s a fan of works like Dark City and Neverwhere.

Long Time, No Write

Posted on : 09-02-2010 | By : Brian | In : D&D, Indie Games, Links, News, Random Stuff, Video Games


I’ve been pretty bad about keeping this blog current lately. I’ll make an effort to try not to do that anymore.

At any rate, I just thought I’d post quickly to let everyone know that I’m still alive, and also to talk about what’s been on my mind and what you can expect to see posted on this blog in the next couple of weeks. In no particular order:

1. Steam. I love me some Steam. Steam, for those who are unfamiliar, is a digital video game distribution platform on the PC. Over the holidays they had some killer deals and, as a result, experienced serious growth. Because of this growth (I assume) they’re offering more great deals than ever before. They used to always have a weekend deal, which the still do; now, though, they have mid-week madness, too. Good stuff. Some games that I’ve purchased since the holidays on Steam, some of which you might hear about in more detail later on: Dead Space, Far Cry 2, Freedom Force, Red Faction: Guerrilla, Torchlight, Medieval II: Total War. All for cheap (as in, not one of them was more than $10).

2. D&D, as always. Haven’t played for a while (the last time was in November, I think). I’ve got a game day scheduled for later this month, toward the end, and I’m pretty excited. We’ll probably be wrapping up the current adventure in that session, which will give a friend of mine a chance to step into the DM chair for a little while. Also, if you’ve noticed that the most recent session report is not yet up, you’re very astute. Here’s a cookie. It will be going up soon, don’t worry.

3. Indie RPGs. I recently donated to Haiti through DriveThruRPG and, as a result, got a coupon for a bunch of free RPG PDFs. I got some indie RPGs that I’ve been wanting for a while, including Don’t Rest Your Head, Chronica Feudalis, Full Light Full Steam, Beast Hunters, and 316. I’ve read all of DRYH and played it once (more on that in a future post), and I’m in the process of reading through both Chronica Feudalis and Full Light Full Steam. I’d also like very much to get my hands on a copy of the Mouseguard RPG, but that may not happen for a little while.

4. Other games. I got various and sundry video games for Christmas, some of which you will be hearing about. Expect to hear about Dragon Age: Origins, Left 4 Dead 2, Metroid Prime Trillogy, and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, and possibly some others.

SotC plus D&D

Posted on : 24-10-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, House Rules, Indie Games, Links, Spirit of the Century


I’ve been reading Spirit of the Century recently in preparation for a freelance project that I’m about to start working on, and it’s giving me ideas. Specifically, I’ve been coming up with ways to incorporate some of the ideas and mechanics in Spirit into my regular D&D game. I’ll try to explain this in such a way that people who aren’t familiar with Spirit can still understand what I’m talking about.

Aspects: This is the big one, the obvious one. In Spirit, each character starts with ten aspects; these are words or short phrases that collectively give an overall impression of who the character is. They may be physical characteristics, personality traits, notable quotes, goals, important NPCs, or other, similar things. In addition, players get fate points that they can use to invoke their aspects. Whenever a player makes a roll, he or she can spend a fate point and invoke a relevant aspect in order to get a bonus to the roll after the fact, or re-roll the roll altogether (though the second roll sticks, unless another aspect is invoked and another fate point is spent). You can also tag other peoples’ aspects, which is functionally the same as invoking an aspect except that you’re doing it to someone else’s aspect for your benefit. Finally, the GM can compel an aspect, offering the player a fate point in return for the player acting in accordance with the aspect in question; this typically restricts behavior in some way, and often complicates things for the players.
In D&D: I plan on starting each PC with one aspect from the outset, as well as two aspects that they can choose at a later time, whenever it seems dramatically appropriate. When a player invokes or tags an aspect, it can grant one of three effects. First, it can allow the player to reroll the d20 roll, taking the second result. Second, it can grant a +5 bonus to the roll, after the roll is made but before success or failure is determined. Third, and this is really a very D&D combat-specific use of an aspect, if an d20 roll comes up 18 or higher on the die, an aspect can be invoked to treat it as a natural 20. Compels work in much the same way as described above; there’s really no need to convert.

Declarations: Spirit has a number of skills that can be used for gaining information, such as Academics, Mysteries, Art, or even Burglary. Gaining information is one thing, but players can actually make skill rolls in order to declare facts about a situation. For example, let’s say the players walk into an ancient temple full of traps. A player could say, “According to my extensive knowledge of the history of this temple, I know for a fact that there are numerous secret passages that we can use to our advantage.” The GM then calls for a roll, maybe Academics, and if it’s high enough, the statement is true. In Spirit, this usually means placing an aspect on the scene, one that can be tagged later for the players’ benefit.
In D&D: The knowledge skills (Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Nature, and Religion) can all be used to make declarations as above. I’d also allow skills like Insight, Perception, or Streetwise to be used to make declarations given sufficient justification or under the right circumstances. Declaration can cause a narrative effect, can place an aspect on the scene or on a person that can be tagged, just like in Spirit, or might create a terrain feature or power that can be used during an encounter. Now, to limit how often this happens, I’d probably cap declaration usage at once per scene per player, a scene being roughly equivalent to an encounter.