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.

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