Doing the Dice Engine on Roll20 II : Macros

I explained how easy it is to do the handful of d20 rolls for the Dice Engine on Roll20, but with macros you can make it even easier and get it to help with remembering the relationship between aptitude and the number of dice to roll.

A macro is just a stored instruction with an easy name. In this case we are going to make macors with the names a0, a12, a35 and a6p. These represent aptitudes of 0 (a0), 1 or 2 (a12), 3, 4 or 5 (a35) and 6 or more (a6p). When you invoke them they will roll the correct number of dice for the aptitude they represent, plus the wild dice. Note that you use the same macros for negative aptitude, you simply treat the results differently by removing excess high dice, instead of excess low dice.

To make the first on, go to the collections tool.

Click the collections icon

Then press the +Add button next to the heading “Macros”.

In the dialog give the name “a0” and in the actions pane type “/r 5d20”.

Save it. Mission accomplished.

In the chat screen type “#a0” and press return/enter twice. Dice should roll!

However having to type all that is still too much of a nuisance, so go back to the collections panel. Next to the macro you should see a check box for “In Bar”. Check that on and you will have a nice little button to press.

Do the same for the following macros:

a12 -> /r 6d20

a35 -> /r 7d20

a6p -> /r 8d20

And then you have a nice collection of quick dice rolls and can focus on just playing your game.

Doing the Dice Engine on Roll20

I play test the All Us Gamers system online using Roll20 and Discord.

Roll20 does not have any specific support for All Us Gamers so how do I do it in a convenient way?

That’s easy. Roll20 allows you to roll dice in the chat using this sort of notation. /r 6d20. That reads “roll six dice. The dice are 20 sided.”.

“What about the wild dice?” you ask. Simple, the first result is the wild dice.

Here is an example.

In this instance the aptitude was a negative value for a specialised task, so 5 dice at disadvantage (keep the 4 lowest numbered after rolling them) with a difficulty of 12, and the wild dice with the usual difficulty of 10.

The notation to summon this is “/r 6d20”.

Five dice plus the wild dice on the left.

So the wild dice ( a 6 ) fails. Of the five other dice I keep only the four lowest, so one of the 20 results is discarded, leaving 17, 14, 10, 20. Against a DN of 12, only the 10 becomes a fail dice.

So I have two fail dice and three success dice. I spend one of my precious focus points to re-roll the fail dice against the DN of 12.

The notation to summon this is “/r 2d20”.

Two fail dice are re-rolled.

Remember, the wild dice is gone. Once it becomes a fail dice or a success dice its just one of the gang, so to speak. So against the DN of 12 only the 16 is a success, taking the success total to 4. That is an extra success result. Huzzah!

Next, lets make handy macros

Book of Struggles Toolkits

I have again reorganised the work. It is now broken out into The Book of Struggles and The Struggle Toolkits: Combat, Stealth, Manoeuvre and Social.

For a while the Book of Struggles seemed to be expanding in scope faster than I could write or play test it. Then I realised that the main new work was all specific to different types of struggle and example cases. So I have again reorganised the work into The Book of Struggles and The Struggle Toolkits.

My readers will have worked out by now that I am developing this game using a Lean/Agile process. I’m putting the parts out there as they become “good enough” and then refining them. That is why I haven’t tackled print yet, and I am only doing PDF for now. That way I can release improved versions for free at no loss.

So I will soon publish the Book of Struggles PDF, again as a Pay What You Like download at DriveThru. Hopefully I will also release the Struggle Toolkit for Combat at the same time. Then later toolkits for Stealth, Manoeuvre and finally the big one, Social. The Social Toolkit may need to be split further if it grows too much, but we shall see.

Here is the current directory for the Toolkits:

Combat Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Combat: Brawling
  • Combat: Close Combat
  • Combat: Firefight

Combat Extension Rules

  • Rearguard Action
  • Injury and Healing
  • Injury Levels
  • Gaining Injuries
  • Heroic Action When Injured
  • Medical Intervention
  • The Attack Action
  • Attack Action Difficulty and Aptitudes
  • Attack Action Success and Saves

Stealth Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Stealth: Cat and Mouse
  • Stealth: Infiltrators and Sentries

Stealth Extension Rules

  • The Sneak Action
  • The Lookout Action
  • Alarms and Alarm Triggers
  • The Disable Trigger Action

Manoeuvre Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Manoeuvre: Chase
  • Manoeuvre: Race

Manoeuvre Extension Rules

Not yet defined

The Social Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Social: Competitive Lobby
  • Social: Investigation and Deception
  • Social: Scam and Detect
  • Social: Bribe and Bargain
  • Social: Stand Off Dance

Social Extension Rules

Not yet defined

This work has also resulted in some minor refinements to the other core books. Mostly presentation of the rules rather than functional changes. The updates will release shortly after The Book of Struggles.

Then its on to some settings. I’m working on a new setting set in the Carpathian Mountains at the time of Vlad III Dracula, a.k.a The Impaler. There will be some sorcery in the setting but its very low fantasy. Should be fun.

Combat Toolkit Enters Playtest Phase

Now Working on The Mists of the Carpathians Setting.

Goals and the Book of Struggles

Further to the principles of The Book of Struggles conflict is based around achieving goals or preventing opponents from achieving theirs.

In The Book of Struggles the goals will be explicitly stated, so that a success outcome will be an advancement of the goal.

Consider a combat situation. Your goal could be to kill your opponent. However it might be to bypass them to obtain something, or hold them at bay while something is done. It could be that you want to stop them from harming you or those you are protecting while convincing them to cease hostilities.

So the mechanism in the Book of Struggles abstracts out the idea of a goal, and creates two flavours of goal, a one step goal, and a multi-step goal. The multi-step goal should only be two or three abstract steps, and there are some where the character can only step forward to ultimate task success, and others where the characters position can be pushed back, even to the point of the goal being impossible.

Consider a woman who has dashed into a room with a goal of grabbing a compass from the shelf as a two step goal. The guards in the room intend to prevent her from getting to the compass and will perform single step attempts to capture her instead.

During conflict there is the possibility of “incidental harm”. That is damage of some sort, physical injury, resource loss, reputation damage and so on, depending on the conflict at hand.

In the scenario above the woman is a pirate, armed with a cutlass, and the guards have swords. As the pirate pushes for grabbing the compass and the guards try to disarm her and grab her, people may get stabbed, sliced or pummelled. These injuries may have an impact on the ability to continue the struggle.

Multi-step goals can be put on hold while a one step goal is enacted, without necessarily losing the current multi-step position. So, in the case of the woman fighting to grab the compass, when she is only one step away, she may decide to enact a goal of “knock the opponents prone”, with the idea that that would give her a clear shot at grabbing the compass, and maybe diving out the window, before the guards recover.

The Book of Struggles will have use cases, combat is the obvious one but there is also chases and races, arguing to persuade a 3rd party, infiltration against security guards, hide and seek and so on. Each use case can catalogue the common goals, harms and timings for action to give players a large repertoire of tools for handling very varied conflict and retaining player agency within the structure.


Reorganising the Work

Originally I had the rules body of this game in two outer core parts – Character and Action. However it became obvious this was not the right way to deliver the rules to players and game masters, even though it was analytically neat.

On Aptitude is now about character aptitude and character development, along with with those parts of the action cases that support or flow from the character structures. That means taking the initial materials and chopping them about a lot.

At the same time The Book of Struggles is gathering to it the core part of Actions about conflicts. Having now become a focus its getting easier to expand the cases in a nice, fluid, easy to remember way.

All Us Gamers relies on player knowledge about how things are in reality. The structures let players interpret between their understanding of the situation the characters are experiencing through action resolution and back again. This means much can be implied and players don’t have to learn lots of new rules about things they already mostly understand anyway. The rules can be holistic. (You might want to read Dissociated Mechanics – A Brief Primer.)

However, some ordinary but complex things its helpful to have guidance on, and in the book of struggles I’m shifting in the structure for damage to machines, and repair, and extending from that to injury to people, natural healing  and medical treatment. These rules need more play testing but they are managed, again, by general method. Things have a worsening condition. At crucial moments saves are made or they get worse, leading to eventual break down or death. In the case of living things saves can also lead to improvement even without intervention.

Settings are the places where rules and game structures will be found for fictional things like magic, faster than light space travel and time portals, because these are things that don’t have real world obviousness to them, all though they have bodies of work and  traditions that need to be considered.

In every case for an extended rule, its anticipated that players will want to apply them in detail to their characters and character actions. The game master is more likely to use all these more sparingly for game master characters, instead opting for the inner core generalisations much of the time. This should make the game both enjoyable, fast paced, and low prep.


Principles of the Book of Struggles

Old school game structures, have over the years, tended to whittle down to combat mechanics and some open narrative mechanisms.

If you look at 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons you will see a strong mechanical support for combat encounters. These mechanics are of the general structure “I go, then you go”, with characters taking turns to inflict hit points on one another.

The rule books have often suggested adding more colourful narrative rather than reciting bare bones mechanical values. Instead of “I hit with my +1 sword for 10 hit points damage” a player might say “I swing my sword, glowing with a magical aura, and slice my opponent with a deep wound”. This is flavourful, but has no mechanical effect. As the rules are heavy on mechanical effect the players generally don’t do the narrative much.

All Us Gamers has a general approach that marries the narrative, qualitative approach to resolution systems that can use either judgement or a more quantitative mechanical Dice Engine, provided in the Inner Core Rules, to produce narrative, qualitative results.

Its intended that the first port of call in the resolution procedure is the informed decision. In other words the circumstances suggest an outcome and you just flow with it. The deeper character development in the On Aptitude module assists this decision making.

When necessary the Dice Engine is called upon, and then the circumstances have more concrete ways of providing aptitude and difficulty settings. Again the On Aptitude module can provide more tools for setting these values.

The Dice Engine produces graded outcomes between total disaster and incredible success, and the informed decision method is expected to produce similar outcomes by fiat. These outcomes then modify the circumstances, and play is ready to move on to another round of action or go out to extended, longer time frame activity.

In The Book of Struggles the cycle described above is used to handle conflicts between two characters or groups, with combat being an obvious subset. The Struggle Engine allows opponents to declare simultaneous actions (a “my action vs your action” structure) and then the struggle outcome is a product of the combined action outcomes.

The possible Struggle Engine outcomes include:

  • One side succeeds to some degree, applying their action to the opponent
  • The struggle hits a lull, and neither side has much advantage
  • The struggle is hot, and one side may be building an advantage.
  • “The Advantage” is a condition that may be tossed between sides, used to “press the advantage”, lost, or taken by an opponent “seizing the advantage”.

This prompts increased narrative scope as the character actions play out against one another, and the circumstances change and boil, while still allowing mechanical underpinnings to support the game flow. Either side may be subject to informed decision or Dice Engine resolution styles for their actions.

Consider a police officer chasing a suspect through a shopping mall.

The officer may “try to head the suspect off”, while the suspect may “try to get lost in a crowd and change direction”.

Some possible outcomes:

  • The suspect succeeds, the police officer gets to the cut off location at the escalators but has lost sight of the suspect.
  • The officer gets to the cut off location and sees the suspect has changed direction, so they are now further apart and the suspect has the advantage. (The officer’s next action could be to try to “seize the advantage” by calling out to the crowd to stop the suspect)
  • The suspect gets blocked by the crowd and is closer to the officer when the officer gets to the cut off point. The officer has the advantage. (The suspect’s next action might be to try to “seize the advantage” by throwing a passer by into the officers path and then dodging deeper into the crowd)
  • The suspect “dodges” straight into the location the officer picked and gets tackled. A new struggle begins with the officer at advantage to get the suspect down and in cuffs.

The struggle engine can also be used for groups, for example two military forces fighting over terrain. Individual player actions on the battle field can have an effect that feeds in as part of the conditions for the higher level conflict.

These mechanics give support to a very wide range of interesting adventure situations. Looking forward to getting some more play testing and refining done.


Continued in Goals and The Book of Struggles


On Aptitude : Words and Numbers

All Us Gamers is intended to allow a careful balance between number handling / dice rolling mechanics and the use of narrative style game play, where decisions are made based on descriptions, without resorting to dice at every step.

In the On Aptitude module that is under development this can be seen in the way character attributes are described. Here is the current table of character attributes:

AptitudeStrengthAgilityHealthPerception
2HerculeanAcrobaticRobustPerceptive
1StrongAgileHealthyObservant
0NormalNormalNormalNormal
-1WeakUngainlyUnfitUnobservant
-2PunyClumsyUnwellUnaware
AptitudePresenceDeterminationMentality
2CompellingUnstoppableBrilliant
1ForcefulDeterminedIntelligent
0NormalNormalNormal
-1RetiringImpatientSlow
-2TimidApatheticStupid

The aptitude values, ranging from -2 to 2, are to plug into the dice engine. However the descriptive names are important too. When a game master and player are working through what happens in a situation, the descriptive names provide insight into the judgements being made. Should the action or save just be determined by fiat, or would a dice roll make sense here?

For example, a wooden beam has collapsed onto someone and another character is trying to shift the beam off them to unpin them. A normal strength person could probably do it with some exertion, so a character with Herculean strength should perhaps just be given a “yes ok”. A Puny character might get a “You are going to need a lever to even try”. In between those extremes go for a roll, with disaster results perhaps giving a strain injury, and incredible success being a “You lift the beam and hurl it aside” description. For the Herculean character you might roll to see how well they do the job, and if they avoid accidental side effects. For the Puny character, if they are in dire need and have no lever around you might roll to see if they get lucky but would require some negative cost.

This is where role playing game rules differ considerably from board game rules. The RPG rules are more to act as guidelines, providing structure when needed but also allowing the players and game master to determine reasonableness in their judgements. For an excellent take on the idea of role playing game structures consider reading the extended essay about game structures at The Alexandrian.

Next: Principles of The Book of Struggles


Production Plan 2

When you use an agile development process production plans may not last long. Production Plan 1 was ok but here is where we are at on the eve of the On Aptitude Kickstart.

Our collection of core modules looks like being:

  • On Aptitude – character definition and development and necessary additions to action process
  • The Book of Struggles – handling conflict like combat, chases, computer hacking etc.
  • Of Wealth and Treasure – character and corporate possessions, assets and the power of wealth
  • Us and Them – factions and their behaviour in a low prep manner
  • Time Wise – pacing and time management structures for your games

And beyond the core there are now three settings to choose from for development:

When the Plague Came A flu like plague that sweeps the world turns out to have worse consequences as many survivors become murderously paranoid or rabid.

Shadow Over the Galaxy Mankind settled the farthest reaches of the galaxy 3,000 years ago. As the immortals of the core worlds fall into more conflict with the provinces, something lurking in the dark between the space lanes begins to cast its shadow over civilisation.

Time Roads Atlantis built a massive network of roads between eras, securing its domination over a 4,000 year stretch of history. Then the chaos wave smashed through the network, wiping Atlantis from history leaving the history we now know in its place. There are a few pieces of time travel technology and surviving time roads to be exploited by the survivors and those that stumble into it.

The Kickstarter will allow backers to vote on which of these three settings will get developed first. Only backers votes will be used to make the decision. I will obey their choice.

Production Plan 1

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!

This is the first planned set of items being created in 2020 for the All Us Gamers collection. The Inner Core has already been released. Here is a look at what each of the other works are.

Core – On Aptitude

In the Inner Core, when your character is trying to do something, you decide your character’s aptitudes as you go. Aptitude gives a number that can alter how many dice you get to roll in the Dice Engine procedure for deciding how things turn out. This is great for playing in a very improvisational way. However it is useful to have slightly more structure than that when designing and running your character, so you don’t have to do all the mental work without support by some guiding process.

The On Aptitude module provides a more structured way to define your character’s capabilities. There are four aptitude types defined, Attribute, Culture, Profession and Specialisation. Each of these describes an aptitude level and the circumstances where it can be applied to an action or save. The guide does not list all possible variations of aptitude description, instead allowing players to provide meaningful descriptions such as Profession: Engineer 1 or Specialisation : Star Drive Engineer 2. During play the application of these aptitudes is guided by an understanding of the described aptitude spheres and negotiation with the GM and play group.

There is also a system for improving your character’s aptitudes over time through training and adventure experience. Experience is gained by achieving team objectives. The section regarding character behaviour due to “motivation” plays in to this by giving additional experience when an objective is achieved if it aligned with a character’s motivation .

This module of the Core is heavily play tested and nearing completion. It should be released sometime in January 2020.

Core – Book of Struggles

This module lends structure to playing out conflicts between characters and groups. It introduces a general game structure called a struggle, where each side in a conflict is simultaneously trying to do something to the other while defending itself. The Inner Core action mechanism underlies this, and the opposing results play out to produce an interesting conflict narrative. Its also possible for one side in the struggle to “gain the advantage”. A side with the advantage may press the advantage, while the other side may attempt to seize the advantage.

The obvious use for struggle is combat, such as a duel, brawl, aerial dogfight or clash of arms. However the struggle mechanism is also applicable to chases, where one side is trying to escape from the other. Other struggles include attempts to over come an active security system, or to persuade a potential benefactor to accept your point of view rather than that of a competitor.

This module also includes structures for handling injury and healing, and mechanical damage and repair.

There is a fair bit more play testing required for this module, and its unlikely to be released until the end of February.

When the Plague Came

This is the first specific setting release planned for All Us Gamers. It is a “collapse of civilisation” scenario based on the sudden spread of a plague that produces uncontrollable, murderous rage in its victims. The players take on the roles of ordinary people, who are friends with one another, coping with the collapse of the world they know and trying to survive and forge a new life under the radically altered conditions.

This setting carefully builds on the On Aptitude and Book of Struggles modules in the core. It is also an excellent vehicle for introducing a series of game master techniques for managing different kinds of time flow in the game and summoning encounters for players to experience. It also produces lots of guided improvisation opportunities.

The base kit and core between them will have everything needed to play. The additional modules for When the Plague Came provide more nuanced techniques for handling different time periods throughout the unfolding disaster. They lend support to a game master who wants to provide a game where the players go from the “normal world as we know it” through to the post collapse environment a year or two later.

This setting is in its infancy with some broad brush strokes laid down. We will be looking for play testers towards the end of January, 2020.

If you want to know more, join the discussion on Facebook.

Got Here, Now Go There

So the inner core rules are out at DriveThruRPG.com. There were steps to take to get there, play testing, testing on people that never did RPG before, setting up this web site, making the pdf and negotiating the artwork, working out how to publish at DriveThru, setting up a Facebook page and group and finally getting things set up at RPGGeek.

Now what?

Well the inner core is just a start. The outer core awaits. I intend to put the outer core out as a “pay what you want” set of pdf publications. There will be a section about character that covers defining character abilities, and growing through both training and adventure experiences. There will be another about conflict actions, or what I call struggles.

However to get there Cup of Tea needs some funds, so its time to look at building a Kickstarter campaign as a way of putting the cap out for some coins by those interested. However I don’t think of the outer core as an interesting project in its own right, its a growing set of universal rules, but I want to put some exciting adventures out there as the real focus.

So I’m pulling together designs for some major world settings. Each will require the creation of different parts of the outer core to support them, and its those world settings the Kickstarter campaigns will be for. There’s a zombie one, a far future galactic adventure and a time travel setting in the works.

The zombies need to be the first cab off the rank, since such a campaign draws on the struggle mechanism and the character expansion. The setting itself has multiple rule sets.

The first rule set will be for the first day when the players find themselves in a city with infected, rabid humans showing up everywhere. That first day will be hectic and need play structures for tracking time in detail, and having encounter after encounter while trying to survive.

Then there will be the following week, where survivors begin to find one another and try to gather supplies, with the introduction of an additional time tracking method where half a day at a time might pass by.

Then a section for the following month, where the mix of zombie types changes, and the players and their survivor group are finding other survivor groups that can be potential allies or a threat. During this time things start to break down as power and ready supplies dwindle.

Finally the rules for the following year (and beyond?) which allows for broader time passages and a mix of politics, down time tracking, changes to the nature of the threats faced and maybe a second zombie wave.

Each of these will be its own production, although it may all also get bundled into a print book. Maybe the extra sets become stretch goals for the Kickstarter. I’ll know more what the plan is in the new year. Stay tuned!