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.


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.


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!

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:


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