Character Building

When On Aptitude was released it provided mechanisms for your character to have specific traits and skill sets. It also added a mechanism for improving your characters skills.

This is a common area of interest for players, how to build up their character over time. There is always the ability to gain material wealth, and now there was a way to become more skilled.

In the Open Table Chassis currently under development there are a few more formal mechanisms coming your way for elaborating your character. It all started with the idea of a formal quest and a play tester hassling the Town Watch quartermaster for a discount on swords and armour.

Lets start with the later. It presented the idea that since there are services available in the home village, like things to buy, soldiers to hire, training to be paid for, that characters relationships with villagers might be something to formalize. This is especially of value because the home village is intentionally set up as a high game structure, reduced role play, space in the game. So a series of mechanisms for making friends and influencing people within the village has started to be put together to allow some services to be available, and some to be cheaper (or more expensive or unavailable if someone doesn’t like you).

To dovetail with that is the idea of village reputations. How good are you at looking after the people you hire on for an adventure? Are you generous or stingy according to village gossip? Do you honor quests you are given? Do you succeed even at the hardest quests? So the Chassis will also have a system for formalizing reputation within the village, which will influence not only your ability to access services and get them on the cheap, but also your ability to gain and maintain friendships with the town notables. Legendary reputations may also leak across into home villages of other DMs where your character is present from time to time.

So, what about the people “out there” in the adventure spaces of the world? They can have contacts and reputations for your character too, but in a less formalized, less detailed way.

The magic system as it is developing also takes advantage of these mechanics, allowing for reputations and relationships among the sorcerers and entities in the spirit worlds. This helps with gaining access to spells and to working to get spiritual aid. The details here are still in a very preliminary stage of design.

Finally there is a nobility layer being designed, where characters can work their way into noble standing, taking on certain duties but gaining access to grand quests.

When in full flight this gives players lots of scope for developing their characters and buffing up their capabilities. And the quest system also provides accelerated skill development and strong purpose for adventuring.


Update: Here is a write up at RPGGeek that overviews some of the play tests.

Breaking Down the Next Product Plan

The development of the core rules and toolkits has followed a principle of agile / lean production. Large chunks of work broken down into smaller, doable modules, where customer reaction could be used to adjust the design of the existing and future components.
This next slab of work will go the same way.

Here is the index to the Open Table Chassis – Fantasy as it has been cobbled together so far. Each section is mainly notes or bullet points in the actual document, although some is more fleshed out, having been used to play test the combat toolkit.

In order to get something out in a reasonable time this needs to be broken into parts, with plug in points in the core chassis for those parts to connect to.

Pulling out the magic stuff is a first item. That is getting fairly well developed but there is no point finishing it without the chassis being out there.

The Quest system is also a good candidate for break out, although its a really great and important part of the concept, the chassis can work without it. There is also a dependency from the Magic mechanics to the Quest System so the Quest System will need to get finished first.

The last 6 items in the index are all works taking the Chassis forward in more detail and adding content, so they can wait till further down the line.

The basic structure stays: Village Start, The Adventure, Village Return. The concept of reputations is important and the details for hireling and companion reputations stay, other reputations will be added to the relevant modules, such as quest reputation.

The adventure as an objective could be moved out to accompany the quest stuff, but its better if that remains in, along with encounter zones, wonders and various bric-a-brak.

Socializing in general concept stays, but there are detailed elements associated with quests and magic that get moved out into those modules.

Stuff about searching and spotting and hiding and evading should all end up in the toolkit that focuses on such things, and be part of that toolkit set.

So here is a rough breakdown.

Further down the track, we will be pulling the whole system together into a single print product, and creating an Open Game License System Reference Document for the core rules.

The Open Table Chassis

Having thrown together an old school style of play for running the Combat Toolkit play tests, and having 15 players regularly continuing with open table play, it seems like time to make the game structures for this type of open table into a product.

For those interested in some detailed philosophy of open table play I recommend the Open Table Manifesto.

Just as an aside, the Stealth and Investigation Toolkits are also being worked on. As with the Combat Toolkit they will be a mix of mechanics and ruling guides. We are using the Call of Cthulhu (7th Edition) RPG as a framework for play test, obviously with the AUG mechanics swapped in for the Basic Role Play mechanics.

The Open Table Chassis is a set of rules structures to allow groups of multiple players, with multiple characters to casually play with multiple game masters, potentially each with multiple home regions in a single game setting.

For this to work each play session has a single GM, using one of her home regions, and whoever is available to play, each using only one of their player characters. A fairly “board game like” rules structure is used to break an adventure down into a cycle of 3 parts.

Prep

The players have episodes in their home location where they do things covered by fairly mechanical rules: go shopping, do training, spend growth points to grow a skill, hire people to guard treasures or accompany the group on an adventure, socialize, build reputations, acquire companions and gain quests.

Adventure

The players go off to role play in a world slightly artificially structured into areas of increasing risk, and with treasures to be gained, hazards to be faced, and factions to be dealt with.

Wind Down

The players return home, gain growth points for the adventure based on treasure gained, risks and difficulties, and for quests completed based on commitment of time, risks overall and encounters braved.

In a given session of play there will be one or more complete adventure cycles. Any adventure in progress when a session runs out of time comes to an abrupt end and the wind down is flicked through.

The chassis comes with some simple book keeping, tracking which characters are the primary quest bearers for which home town, and what the character reputations are there, and tracking things that may be transferred between GM home regions, like magic items, pieces of technology, or global rank.

The first Chassis will have a baked in fantasy genre. Its treasures will be coins, gems, jewels and works of art. There will be some generic sorcery and mysticism rules (aimed at eventually being used for Mists of the Carpathians) and a collection of play structures for dungeon, wilderness, ocean and city adventuring.

A second Chassis under development will have a baked in space opera genre, with aliens, high and low tech worlds, space ships, interstellar corporations and nations and super tech artifacts left behind by “the ancients”. This will be used to lay some ground work for the Shadow Over The Galaxy setting.

Fun times!

Combat Toolkit Released

Combat struggles have risk for characters who must brave death, or serious injury, to fight through the enemy in order to rescue prisoners, hold a rear guard action to let friends escape, blast away in savage firefights to defend an important position, or fire missiles to disable a deadly orbital space station.


This toolkit expands the mechanisms of The Book of Struggles to add some detailed support for combat. It provides rules extensions for managing injuries and how they heal, the method by which a combat struggle can apply injuries to characters, and the mechanisms for medical intervention.

The toolkit also supplies a set of guides for handling different situations such as brawling, close combat and firefights. Additionally you are given sets of possible non injury complications that might arise commonly in those combat situations.

This toolkit builds on the All Us Gamers RPG core rules:

Core Books and Toolkits Integration

So what’s next?

Time to begin the journey into print with the first setting. The dungeon setting created for play testing the combat toolkit has become quite popular, despite being very raw, so that is going to get all the attention. Stay tuned for a kickstarter on this.

At the same time there are other toolkits to develop. The next most useful one is going to be the Stealth Toolkit, which will cover sneaking around, and trying to catch sneaks in the act.

Here is the backlog of projects for a more complete picture:

Toolkits

  • Stealth
  • Espionage
  • Chase and Race

Settings

  • Open Table Retro series – Dungeon, Wilderness, City, High Seas
  • Mists of the Carpathians
  • When the Plague Came
  • Shadow over the Galaxy
  • Timepaths

Combat Toolkit Nears Completion

Having just a bit more crunch than the core rules the Combat Toolkit has needed a bit more testing and tuning than the earlier rule segments. Can’t wait to start writing the Stealth Toolkit.

To play test the Combat Toolkit I created a throw together, old school dungeon crawl system. Such adventure style is sure to pit the players into combat situations, and it kills two birds with one stone, as some of its novel mechanics are needed for Mists of the Carpathians.

However the dungeon adventures, as an open table, have been popular. There are now multiple player groups delving into the dungeon every week or so. So the next product to work on in earnest is going to be an open table dungeon crawl. This will probably be our first foray into print, rather than pdf only, so this is going to be exciting.

Big Combat Toolkit Playtest

The toolkit has been through a few tests. This dungeon adventure was the first to really have full context.

We played online, using Roll20, Discord and the Dice Roller.

The adventure is written up as a session report at RPGGeek.

A lot was gained, testing that the mechanics RAW flow properly, and that improvising over the top of them doesn’t break anything. It not only worked well but it was a very fun RPG session.

Much in the Way of Combat and Dungeons

I’m play testing the Combat Toolkit and trying to ensure that the way it gets used is explained clearly. Its difficult because of the dominance of the wargame style of the big mainstream game. I attack, I get a hit, you take hit points, you attack, you miss, I attack etc etc.

Here is a write up of a brawl from one of the play tests of All Us Gamers, I have added some “mechanics” and “fiction” labels to highlight the interplay. The Book of Struggles has most of the key mechanics in it other than the injury and healing rules:

Mechanics:

Player Characters

Mike – Doctor with aptitude 4, combat aptitude 0

Daph – Martial artist with combat aptitude 4

Frank – Ex military Private Investigator, combat aptitude 5

(average combat aptitude 3)

Game Master Characters – Gang

2 gang thugs, combat aptitude 3

Gang tough, combat aptitude 5

(average combat aptitude 3)

Game Master Character – Non Participant

Keith, bar keeper. Has a baseball bat behind the bar and his friend Dave the policeman on speed dial.

Fiction:

The players annoyed the gang earlier but moved on. They are in Keith’s bar, discussing their next step in the mystery they are unraveling. The gang members have decided to rush in and give the players a good pounding to “teach them a lesson”, then leave.

GM: The front door to the pub burst opens and the gang you were having words with earlier rush in with obvious intent to attack, no weapons visible. This is a struggle with two action groups, they have surprise giving them the advantage. What is your operation?

Mechanics:

(GM notes to herself that the thugs operation is to match up one on one and start clobbering, so they press the advantage my running at each player swinging fists hard and yelling, -2DN to them (10), +1DN to the players (13) )

Mike: I don’t want to fight, I will duck behind the bar.

Frank: Fair enough, we’ll screen Mike.

Daph: I’ll sweep up my chair as a shield.

GM: Mike, your still in the struggle unless your side advances. Weak link for group results on both sides.

The GM rolls for the thugs, its a poor result given the advantage and aptitudes:

Gang tough: Success, Thug 1: Failure, Thug 2: Dismal Failure

Success point pool 2, failure point pool 5. Group result is Dismal Failure.

The players do OK:

Mike: Failure, Frank: Success, Daph: Success. Success point pool 4, failure point pool 2. Group result is Success.

The players side advances.

Fiction:

GM: Ok, Mike freezes for a moment but then dives sideways behind the bar. Daph has grabbed the chair and swung it in front of the two young thugs, making them flinch back. Frank, you have got into it with the older beardy guy.

Mike: What’s the guy behind the bar doing?

GM: He has stood back away from the fight with an annoyed look on his face.

Mechanics:

GM: The attackers have used up their advantage, its on the table. Mike is not in a struggle, Frank is in a struggle with beardy guy, and Daph you are in a struggle with thug one and thug two. Daph, what is your operation?

Daph: I want to smash Thug one out of the way, holding off thug two.

Frank: And I’m going to gut kick the beardy guy so I can help Daph.

GM: OK, Mike what are you doing?

Mike: I’ll look up at the bartender and hassle him to call the police.

Daph vs Thugs

Thug one: Extra Success, Thug Two: Success. Equates to Extra Success.

Daph: Incredible Success

GM: Its a Hot Struggle. Daph, you swing hard with the chair. It shatters on Thug two, sending him reeling toward the bar with a bloody nose, Thug one gets a hit in giving you a minor wound but you strike back giving him one too. You have the advantage now, how would you describe it?

Daph: I’m free to be in fighting stance for a good kick and balanced to easily deflect thuggish blows and turn them against my opponents.

Frank vs Gang Tough

Gang Tough gets Extra Success.

Frank Gets success.

GM: Another hot struggle. You lay into each other and each get a minor wound, but the tough pushes you back over your chair and you fall prone. He now has the advantage.

GM: Mike, the bartender hasn’t called the police, but he has tossed you a baseball bat.

Daph: Mike, take a swing at Thug Two and keep him off my back.

Mike: Alright.

GM: Ok, Mike and Thug Two are a new struggle. Thug Two is dazed with a serious wound. (Thug two’s operation is to rejoin the attack on Daph from behind, unaware of Mike)

Mike: I’ll just swing for his head and knock him out.

GM: Thug one appears to be trying to push you back toward Thug Two Daph, what’s your op?

Daph: I’ll press the advantage to take his momentum and throw him to the floor with it.

GM: Frank? (The tough’s op is to press the advantage and kick Frank hard while he is down)

Frank: I’ll roll to my left and stand up.

Mike vs Thug Two

Thug Two: (aptitude loss from injury, -1) Failure

Mike: Extra Success

GM: The thug needs to save against the attack, he gets a miserable failure. That’s a knock out and a serious injury. As he is already seriously injured it escalates to incapacitated.

Mike: Oops. Barkeep, maybe an ambulance?

Daph vs Thug One

Thug One: Failure

Daph: Failure

GM: A cold struggle – Thug one rushes in, Daph grabs him to throw down but Thug One pulls Daph down with him. Your both on the floor in a grapple.

Frank vs Gang Tough

Gang Tough: Failure

Frank: Failure, uses a focus which results in Extra Success

GM: Frank the beardy guy tries for a kick, but your roll avoids him and your up on your feet facing him. You have him off guard and gain advantage.

Fiction:

GM: The guy at the bar is on the phone, talking to ‘Dave’ and suggesting an ambulance might be a good idea.

Mike: I’m a bit worried about the guy I brained, I’ll check on him using my medical aptitude.

Daph vs Thug One

Daph: My operation is to get the guy face down in an arm lock.

GM: Ok the Thug’s operation is to push you off and stand up.

Frank vs Gang Tough

GM: The beardy guy looks like going for some kind of kick.

Frank: I’ll press my advantage and go for a straight punch at his jaw.

Mechanics:

Thug One: Failure

Daph: Failure

GM: Cold struggle – you’re both rolling about on the floor trying to get at each other. The thug has a black eye, Daph your jacket is pushed up over your chin and getting in the way.

Gang Tough: Failure

Frank: Success

GM: You land a blow Frank, the beardy guy needs a save. A minor wound. He already has one so it escalates to painful.

Fiction:

GM: Frank, you can see he has been knocked about and is in some pain. He looks like he is going to run for it. Mike, your guy looks concussed. You start doing some first aid to keep him ok until the ambulance arrives. Daph and Thug One are still struggling on the floor under the table now.

Frank: if he runs for it I’ll let the main guy go and help Daph.

GM: The beardy guy backs off, and when he sees you aren’t following he runs for it out the door.

Frank: Daph, need a hand?

Daph: I’ve got this.

GM: The Thug seems to be trying to break off now, what’s your operation Daph?

Daph: I want to slam his head into the floor and knock him out.

Mechanics:

Thug One: Miserable Failure

Daph: Failure, uses a focus but it stays a failure.

GM: you both are banged about a bit, getting caught up in your own clothes, smacking into table legs with your shins.

Fiction:

Frank: I’ll tap the thug with my foot and yell “Oi! Time to give up!”

GM: You can hear a siren in the distance. The Thug scrambles away from Daph.

Daph: No way! I grab him and keep wrestling.

Mechanics:

Thug: Failure

Daph: Success

Fiction:

GM: Daph, you grab the thug as he rolls away and push him face down to the ground, and climb on top of him pinning him down. He is yelling incoherently.

Frank: I lean down and say “Stop struggling buddy, or she might break something”

At this point the combat struggle is over. Daph and Frank both have minor wounds. Thug one has a serious wound. Thug two has an incapacitating wound, but the approaching ambulance means he will be ok. Mike has another beer.

So anyway, we’ve been play testing this sort of battle, another we have is some guys charging into a room with swords to take on a slightly larger force, and it just occurred to me there and then. Classic Dungeon.

So I am revisiting the truly classic dungeon crawl with a new game mechanism. The nearby town is a menu for purchases and quests, and the place to return to after each delve. The dungeon is a vast maze, with levels that are harder to deal with as they get lower underground. Intelligent denizens have little fiefdoms and conflict with one another. Unintelligent beasts wander the corridors. And there are traps. Yes, old school traps, only the game rules make them interesting.

I’ve been designing it to help combat play tests but I think I will polish it up and put it out there.

Combat Toolkit Enters Playtest Phase

The Book of Struggles gives a complete mechanism for handling character to character conflicts. However its possible to have more detailed rule extensions for specific situations, and extended examples of using the struggle rules in those specific situations. Hence the value of the Toolkits.

The Combat Toolkit gives examples of the struggle mechanism in use for Brawling, Close Combat, Firefights and Rearguard Actions. It explains conditions that might be pertinent and complication examples.

In addition to the combat situations being fleshed out it provides some extended mechanics for handling injury and death, natural healing and medical intervention. The injury levels are Minor, Serious, Incapacitated, Critical and Mortal. Each injury level has a natural healing cycle during which the injury may worsen or improve. The medical interventions are defined as First Aid, Field Care, Hospital Care, and Surgery. Characters use their related aptitudes to carry out the interventions and if done well will improve the healing process.

This extension can add a mild layer of complexity onto combat struggles. The play testing is focusing on ensuring that these things hang together well with the narrative style of play and can be operated smoothly during the session when used.

Now Working on The Mists of the Carpathians Setting.

It is the middle of the 1400s. Vlad III is on his way to becoming Vlad “The Impaler”, Dracula and voivode of Wallachia as he leads Ottoman forces into that realm. There is much struggle ahead of him before he can gain that exalted position.


Against this backdrop the players become characters in a mist shrouded region of Transylvania, where there is much conflict between Noble Factions, the landed Boyars and the Church powers. Teutonic princes, Transylvanian Saxons and Knights Templar each have their secret plans. The Romani peoples, favoured for their skills as musicians, sadly also find themselves a favoured class for enslavement. Beyond the quiet rural areas creatures fey and fell lurk in the wilds, dragons (Dracul), giants (Uriași), werewolves (Vârcolac) and the dread vampires (the Strigoi or the much feared Moroi). The mountains are the source of sorcery, a power slowly fading from the world. Some may master this, and much which lives in the mountains or the deep woods is changed by its power.
The source book being developed describes a forgotten region in Transylvania, the political intrigues of the region, how to create your own factions and major characters for your campaign, and how to throw together encounters and adventure situations for players to engage.
The magic system builds on the skill system in On Aptitude adding sorcerous specialisations and professions, and the character sorcerous power pool. It includes magical conflict, including the ability to posses, using the mechanisms from the Book of Struggles. Those with sorcerous power and much skill may make items imbued with magic and a will of their own. Here are two examples:

The Gloves of Elaine

The beautifully embroidered, burgundy coloured, velvet gloves have the name “Elaine” stitched into their cuffs. They enhance the aptitude of the wearer by 2 whenever using agility to perform actions with their hands.

The enchantress, Elaine, was a woman of the Southern Teutons. Her powers allowed her to make fine miniatures of blown glass, stitch fine tapestries, and to emblazon enchanted coats of arms and symbols on her husband’s armour that aided in his defence and his presence.

20 years ago Elaine was murdered by her husband’s rival, Burn of Anglevise, while Elthic the Red was on crusade. The gloves seek revenge against Burn and his family, wishing to drive the master to steal from them, weaken their armour and weapons, make their surroundings unpleasant, or assist their foes in bringing them down with improved weapons, armour or alliance seeking presence.

The Horse Stick

Durriken the Horseman crafted this stick from a tree deep in the forest where the wild and most hot blooded stallions would stop to drink during the winter migrations. He carved a handle in the likeness of a wild horses head with a flowing mane. The rest of the stick he left in its natural form. The stick, when used to lightly touch a horses cheek or stroke its neck would enhance the wielder’s ability to calm and befriend the animal.

Although Durriken was a Roma leader of much renowned he fell in love with the daughter of a landed man in the township and their son, Remus Pangratiu, became a Boyar who resented his Gypsy lineage. He inherited the horse stick but spurned it, secreting it away.

The youngest of his seven grandsons, Gabriel Dragan, works as apprentice to the Pangratiu stable master. He has his great grandfather’s affinity for horses and has discovered the horse stick among the brick a brac of his late mother’s possessions. The stick has whispered to him and he found himself wielding it on horses he was breaking and has discovered its power.

The stick is urging Gabriel to leave his civilised surrounds and seek a life in the wild woods.

So Serious Work Begins

Work has been ongoing for this setting for some months but it is now starting to take shape. There has been some play test adventures already which are helping to flesh things out. There is still a way to go, we will keep you posted as it develops.