The Wall: Test Run Two

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

Here we are with the second test scenario. This example is useful as you can see how the rules evolve as roadblocks are hit or outcomes don’t make sense. There are character sheets at the end of this that are built using the new rules.

“CrouchingWarrior” by Volodymyr Khodaryev

As mentioned last time, an Episode is basically a single adventure, set to be run in one or two sessions. It can be part of a larger campaign, but should have a beginning and an end.

Episode: Food riots have begun in the Fifth Quarter, one of the middle class sections near the river. Order is threatened and the Company’s influence among the Elites is at stake.

Each Scene within an Episode has a goal. The first Scene sets the stage and puts things in motion. The GM might have other Scenes prepared, but these will also grow organically through PC actions. This Scene is one that is directed by the PCs. After learning in the last scene that the latest riot was started by a preacher saying the Elites are hording food, the PCs have a discussion and decide that they want to find out if this is true. Since Adriss (PC2) was the main proponent, he’s the one that is leading this scene.

Scene Goal: Find out if the Elites really are hording food

Adriss is going to speak to the Master of the Docks, the head bureaucrat responsible for the city’s emergency food stores. He has 2 in Sympathy, so that is going to be the “difficulty” (Sympathy is the difficulty because the Elite do not respect an Occupier who has sympathy for the Dispossessed) – he’ll need 2 Successes to Prevail. Adriss isn’t going to mess around – he’s basically going in with accusations. That’s the Fist and Open. He’s in uniform, so since he’s doing this Open, he’ll get his Authority die as well. His Elements include “1000 Mile Stare,” which tends to freak people out, so he’ll get the d6 for that. He’s using his Bitter Veteran Concept to intimidate the Master of the Docks, and so he can wager 1 Influence (he’s dealing with the Elite) to shift his Element d6 to a d8.

He rolls a 5 on his Fist d8, a 2 on his Open d4, an 8 on his Authority d8, and a 3 on his Element d8. He gets another d8 because his Authority d8 rolled a maximum (rolling the max on a die provides another die of the same kind), and with that d8 he rolls a 5.

Adriss got three Successes, more than he needed to Prevail, but not enough for any kind of bonus. Since he Prevailed, the 1 Influence he wagered remains with Influence. However, he used Fist, so Distance is increased.

How does this work? He was dealing with Elites, so why does Distance increase? It is an abstract of the cultural distance from and fear of the locals for the Occupiers. But then shouldn’t the score that provides the relationship with the Elites also suffer? It seems counterintuitive that the use of force – physical or interpersonal – would increase an Occupier’s sympathy for the Dispossessed.

This is a problem with the use of these relationship mechanics. The abstract is that Fist is the easiest way to succeed but that it always carries a cost. It makes sense that the cost would be a further gulf between the Occupiers and the occupied, but there’s no single stat for that. Maybe there should be.

Right now, the city has three of its own stats: Peace, Order, and Harmony. Let’s try making the difficulty ratings part of the city’s stats. Let’s call these Distance, Disdain, and Discord. These will measure the difficulty of gaining the cooperation of the Dispossessed, the Elite, and the Occupiers. PCs will have Sympathy, Influence, and Respect, which will help in dealing with the Dispossessed, Elite, and Occupiers.

At the beginning of the game, Distance is 5, Disdain is 3, and Discord is 1. When one uses Fist, the difficulty for the group interacted with increases by 1, so in this example, Disdain would have increased by 1. When Fist is used Open, the Peace or Harmony (whichever is higher) is lowered by 1 as well.

Let’s take these new rules and try them out with Beatris’ previous scene. In that case – assuming it was the first Episode and Scene, so these were new characters – the difficulty would have been 5. She got 2 Successes, which was still within 1/3 of the difficulty, so it would still have been a Negotiation. Negotiation would not allow the PCs to lower the city’s Distance, so it would still be at 5.

Adriss’ scene, on the other hand, would now have a difficulty of 3. He would still Prevail. While Disdain should lower by 1 because of the PC Prevailed in the scene, he also used Fist, which increases it by 1, so Disdain remains at 3.

That seems to work. We’ll move forward with these. For these new stats – Sympathy, Influence, and Respect – at character creation, the player will have a score of 3, 2, and 1 to assign to these. Beatris’ scene probably would have been a failure as she would likely not have been willing to lose 2 out of her 3 Sympathy. Unless there was a way these could be gained? Or could they recycle at the end of an episode? That might be the best. It’s simple and we can look at changing that later if the rest of the mechanics prove sound.

Okay, so let’s say the city’s Peace, Order, and Harmony are all 1 at introduction. The use of Fist and Open disturbs either the Peace or the Harmony. Let’s go with Harmony, since Adris didn’t actually physically do anything. That means Harmony is now at 0 and until it is increased, the PCs can’t wager Sympathy, meaning that interactions with the Dispossessed are going to prove difficult.


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The Wall: Test Run Number One

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

This records my first test run with the Wall rules. This is basically a thought experiment, running through the rules to see if they work in a basic sense. I do this as an example of play, which helps me get a grip on how the rules interact before I actually bring it to a table.

As mentioned in the rules rundown, an Episode is basically a single adventure, set to be run in one or two sessions. It can be part of a larger campaign, but should have a beginning and an end. Each Episode indicates what is at stake, and while this is provided narratively, it has mechanical repercussions.

“Golden Merc” by igorigorevich

For the test sessions, we’re going with:
Food riots have begun in the Fifth Quarter, one of the middle class sections near the river. Order is threatened and the Company’s influence among the Elites is at stake.

So, at the end of this Episode, the PCs will either have improved or degraded the city’s Order and their Influence with the Elite.

Each Episode is broken into Scenes. For the first test, that Scene’s goal will be: Gain a basic knowledge of how the riot started.

The decision is to canvas the area in uniform and try to get answers. Here is the character sheet for PC1. We’re going to call her Beatris.

Beatris is leading this as she has the least Distance and the highest Sympathy. Her Distance is 3, meaning she needs three successes to prevail. This is Heart which is a d6 and Open, which for Beatris is d6. The player decides that Beatris is going to be Subtle about this, so that’s a d4. Authority provides a d8 as a free die when wearing ones uniform, but that also requires one to be acting Open or Subtle – Hidden is actually trying to avoid anyone knowing the Occupiers are involved so Authority doesn’t work with that. The player wants that free d8, so the PCs are acting in uniform.

Beatris has the Element of Persuasion so that gives her another d6. Since she can apply her Concept of Good Cop, she can wager Sympathy (dealing with Dispossessed) to shift one die up or down. She shifts her Heart d6 to a d4, wagering 1 Sympathy. That Sympathy is lost if she fails but she retains it if she Prevails.

Any 4 or above is a Success, so with higher dice, it’s easier to get a Success. However, rolling the max on a die (4 on a d4, 8 on a d8) allows another die of the same kind, which means if you are trying to hit a large number of Successes, it’s sometimes better to have a d4. Also, rolling a 1 with a die shifted by the use of Concept (as below) is a failure but allows another die of the same type, meaning that d4s can be really useful, especially when shifting dice.

She rolls a 2 on her Heart d4, a 1 on her Subtle d4 (not the one shifted by Concept, so not a re-roll), a 5 on her Element d6, and a 5 on her Authority d8. That is a failure, but it is a negotiable failure. When the PC attains at least 1/3 of the necessary Successes (rounded down) needed to Prevail, it’s a “Negotiation.” If Beatris both pays another Sympathy and adds some kind of narrative problem for her character, she can Prevail.

What happens to the Sympathy? She is dealing with the Dispossessed, so it goes to Distance. She had wagered one and then paid one, so her Sympathy drops 2 and her Distance increases to 5. This is dealing with Order, so she can drop Order by 1 and her Distance will only increase by 1.

What does it matter that Order drops? If Order drops to 0, PCs cannot wager Influence. If Harmony drops to 0, they cannot wager Sympathy, and if Peace drops to 0, they cannot wager Distance. If these are 4 or above, they provide a bonus d6 and if they are above 7, they provide a bonus d8 when dealing with a specific Faction: Order for the Elites, Harmony for the Dispossessed, and Peace for the Occupiers.

Beatris’ player says that now she owes an NPC a favour. Estarda who owns a coffee house, was the one who gave her the information. Estarda said that the riot started after a Preacher delivered a pretty extreme sermon about the evils of the Elites and claimed they were hording food.

This whole process takes place before the scene, and then the GM and players narrate the scene, adding details.

So far, so good. The rules seem to be okay. Next time, we’ll try another.

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The Wall: First Set Basic Rules

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

Let’s start with the characters. Here’s PC1:

For resolution, dice are provide from Tools and Approaches. Only one Tool and one Approach can be used. A character always uses a Tool and an Approach. The character cannot avoid these – they are necessary mechanical explanations of how the character is addressing resolution.

(I’m not saying conflict resolution because it’s not necessarily conflict. It’s situational. Each scene has a single resolution, so I’m seeking a better term. For now, I’m just calling it resolution)

“FemaleWarrior” by zoomteam

Concept is a general description of the character’s role in the story. If the character’s conflict applies, the player can shift one die being used in resolution either down or up (so a d6 can become a d4 or a d8)

Tools: This relates to the character is addressing the problem. What format is the character using? Fist relates to using force, either physical, political, or interpersonal. It’s basically compelling someone to do something. Eyes relates to planning and manipulation of outside forces (though not manipulation of the party involved in the resolution). Heart uses charm and persuasion (this would be manipulating a party involved in the resolution)

Approaches: This relates to how the character is applying the Tool. Open is overt, in the open. Those parties not involved in the resolution will know this is happening. Subtle isn’t in the open, but it’s also not trying to hide that this is being done. If someone is not watching carefully or is not part of the resolution, they might not know this is happening. Hidden means that the character is trying to covertly effect the situation. If successful, not even other parties in the resolution will know the characters is involved.

Additions aren’t always used in resolution. If the characters are wearing their uniforms, they gain the Authority die for free. One Element can be used in resolution if the player can explain how it applies.

Relationships score the character’s relationship with the locals and provide difficulty ratings for resolution. Distance is the general cultural distance between the Occupiers (the PCs, who are part of an occupying force), Sympathy is the relationship the PC has with the Dispossessed – the have-nots in the setting, and Influence is the relationship with the Elite – those locals who rule the city for the Occupiers’ master.

The city also has a character sheet of sorts. The city has scores for Peace, Order, and Harmony, and these can affect how the PCs can resolve situations.

How all these are used and interact will be illustrated in the first test scenario, which I’ll post next.

Each session (or perhaps couple of sessions) is an Episode. Think of this kind of like a “module” or “adventure.” It’s a self-encapsulated story that can be part of a wider campaign but has a beginning and an end. Each Episode indicates what is at stake, and while this is provided narratively, it has mechanical repercussions.

For the test sessions, we’re going with:
Food riots have begun in the Fifth Quarter, one of the middle class sections near the river. Order is threatened and the Company’s influence among the Elites is at stake.

So, at the end of this Episode, the PCs will either have improved or degraded the city’s Order and their Influence with the Elite.

Each Episode is broken into Scenes. For the first test, that Scene’s goal will be: Gain a basic knowledge of how the riot started.

Using that goal, the players will give specifics to the Scene, then complete resolution, and knowing the result, will provide the narrative for how the Scene unfolds.

Those are the basic rules right now. These will evolve and change as the examples of play outline strengths, weaknesses, and limitations.

Next, let’s see how these rules might work in an example of play.

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The Wall: In the Beginning

“Knight looking at dead assassin” by Vladimirs Poplavskis

I made a post on G+ last week about a new idea for a game. Then it was called the Bridge, and that was based on what I thought would be the setting. In the entire day since that post, I have removed it from its setting – which was not actually important to the concept – and now I’m calling it the Wall. Why? In the game, the PCs are Occupiers – they are foreign troops garrisoning a city on behalf of a distant monarch. They are the wall protecting the city and the wall separating the Dispossessed in the city from the Elite. The monarch needs the cooperation of the Elite to run the city and the Dispossessed to work in the city. There’s also internal conflicts within the Occupiers, given that they are not a heterogeneous group.

The city might be part of a collection of territories or it might be the only city held by the foreign monarch – it might be the Spanish Netherlands or it might be Calais in 1557 – but that is something each group will decide for itself.

Here’s what I wrote in my G+ post:

You are foreign mercenaries stationed in a fortress that spans a river separating the homes of the elite and the places of governance from the poor and dispossessed. You are charged with keeping order and protecting the city.

Each session is an episode and the problem needs to be solved within the timeframe of that episode. You can use the Fist, the Heart, or the Brain. There is Distance (the cultural distance between you and the locals), Sympathy (the amount of sympathy you have for the Dispossessed) and Influence (your influence with the Elite).

Using the Fist creates Distance and burns Sympathy and Influence and makes it that much harder to succeed next time, but while using the Heart or the Brain might increase your Sympathy or Influence, that is going to make getting cooperation out of your fellow mercenaries that much harder. You might find yourself separated from all three.

Needs a lot more work, but so far the idea intrigues me. Inspiration: Spanish occupation of the Netherlands in the 17th century.

Some of that remains, its core, but some of it has changed. I’ve started doing scenarios which I’ll share here as the game evolves. They are like examples of play, but starting out very abstract (kind of ignoring the narrative to focus on the mechanical) and moving into more fleshed out as the system coalesces.

So, expect to see more as inspiration hits, but I don’t think I’ll have much time to work on this, with the Sword’s Edge RPG still evolving, Lawless Heaven and the Nor’Westers being written, and a super-secret project about which I cannot yet speak.

And I’m continuing my Master’s program.

Oh, and I have a family and a house.

Did I mention I have a day job?

Yes, it is cray-cray.

You can read more about the Wall here

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Sales for Third Quarter 2016

The release of Starship Commandos did help give SEP a bit of a push, but not too much. Sales haven’t been phenomenal for Starship Commandos, but there wasn’t much marketing behind it. That’s a real weakness for me. Not sure how to really sell my own stuff. Still, for this particular product, I felt a need to get the rules out there, and now they are, so it’s all good.

Sales for Third Quarter 2016 (Jul – Sep)
All sales venues

Arcane Kingdoms
Arcane Kingdoms, 3

Covert Forces
Covert Forces Redux, 1
Raid On Ashkashem, 2

The Boltcutter, 4
Centurion, 8
Nefertiti Overdrive, 19
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 25
Starship Commandos, 24

Sword’s Edge System
Crossing the Millers, 2
Kheufer Scrolls, 4
Kiss My Axe, 10
Suffer the Witch, 2
Sword Noir, 21

Total Sales to Date
Albenistan: Election Day (Modern Dispatch 113), 42
Khorforjan Gambit, 122
Qalashar Device, 135
Raid On Ashkashem, 179

Arcane Kingdoms
Arcane Kingdoms, 68
For Simple Coin, 6
Gifts of the Elder Gods, 40

Charity Products
Relief Effort, 55

Covert Forces
Canada’s Combined Security Reconnaissance Section, 111
Covert Forces, 100
Covert Forces Redux, 184
In Her Majesty’s Service, 159

The Boltcutter, 4
Centurion, 194
Cyber-state Avatar Toolkit, 43
Line Zero, 40
Nefertiti Overdrive, 99
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 652
Operation Nearscape, Free Product, 430
Starship Commandos, 24

Sword’s Edge System
Crossing the Millers, 156
Kheufer Scrolls, 203
Kiss My Axe, 228
Suffer the Witch, 97
Sword’s Edge System, Free Rules 1669
Sword Noir, 670

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Cutter’s Headspace

Inspired by our character creation sensation for Todd’s Headspace game, here’s a little Headspace fiction. The names are changed, as is the precise situation:

In my head canon, Cutter is played by Ha Ji-Won

She sat there, staring at the drink, knowing it wouldn’t help but lacking any other alternative. She had died. No, not her, Stocker. The boss. He had died. But she had been in his head, she had witnessed it. More, she had endured it. She had shared his mind as Stocker died. That was after Whistler disappeared into the grid. Mills might have still been alive, she didn’t know. If not dead, Mills had lost her implant, had lost her link.

Dead by any other name.

In there, in the head that held remnants of her teammates, still dwelt the ones who lived. Their doubts added to her own. Their grief piled on top of hers. Even when she slept, their nightmares intruded.

She had plenty of her own.

Was their some change in the pressure in the room, some palpable tension that rippled along its surface? As much as she tried to turn it off, she had become attuned to emotions, maybe even to thoughts. It was as if someone had opened a sepulchre and the stench of the dead wafted out.

“Hello Cutter”

Her hand almost went to her pistol. He kept it still and on the bar. She turned her head to meet Ashton’s eyes. She didn’t know if he had a uniform of charcoal suit, white shirt, and red tie, but she had never seen him in anything else. The two brutes flanking him, just a step behind, should have had a corporate brand on their forehead.

She offered him the most insincere smile she could muster. “What’s Hayashi-Senko doing sending it’s best and brightest into this dive?”

Todd runs Broken Ruler Games.

Headspace is published by Green Hat Designs.

You can find Headspace at Drive Thru RPG.

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Featured Commandos

This might be a little too “inside baseball” for many, but bear with me.

One Book Shelf owns both Drive-Thru RPG and RPG Now – the two primary sources of RPG e-product. As a publisher, one gets a certain number of “Publisher Promotion Points” based (I believe) on one’s sales. One can spend PPP on various services, one of which is the Feature Product Message which is a kind of in-site advertisement.

I ran a message for Starship Commandos on its release. It has cycled through all its impressions on both the front page/homepage and the category page. The click-through rates were very interesting.

The Drive-Thru RPG homepage click-through percentage was 68.28%, while the same on RPG Now was 0.32%. That’s a pretty stark difference and I have no idea what it means, but it surely means something. Here’s the thing: category pages were also starkly different from the DTRPG homepage. The category page at DTRPG had a 0.24% click-through while the same at RPG Now had one of 0.08%.

Again, I have no idea how to interpret this, but that click-through at DTRPG is insane. I don’t know how many sales come from which source, however no matter where the sales are coming from the turnover is a bit sad – of the 1,719 clicks I’ve only sold 23.

So, am I doing one thing right and another thing wrong? Some kind of gremlin in the reporting system? Complete anomaly that means nothing?

I haven’t a clue . . . which is part of my problem as I try to sell stuff. I’m about as good at marketing as I am at water polo (hint: I don’t play water polo).

Starship Commandos at Drive-Thru RPG (where it’s most popular!)

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Updating the Sword’s Edge

So much time with so little said, but that is because I have been working.


With the start of a new course right around the corner, I haven’t wasted the two months I took off from my MA program. Starship Commandos is right around the corner and a few months after that will be an updated version of the Sword’s Edge System, now just titled Sword’s Edge RPG. I had started to update Sword Noir and then realized I really should update the core before I did the variants. Sword’s Edge is the core of both Sword Noir and Kiss My Axe, so they will be updated after Sword’s Edge is out. Since I will be studying at the time, that work will go slower, but it will get done.

For now, I have a cover for Sword’s Edge and soon will have a first draft version that will be shared around to a preview audience.

I have been quiet here, but busy elsewhere.

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Designated Marksman for Starship Commandos

Starship Commandos should be out soon. It is in the final stages of layout right now. It’s going to be 6X9 or digest size. Right now, we’re looking at 47 pages, which means it may be possible to put out a very thin book. I have to look at the cost per copy to see what the price might be, but the PDF will be out first.

image by algol

To give you an idea, here’s the character that’s presented in the book. It’s different than what has been presented before because the game uses the mechanics from Riggers. The way Riggers runs is pretty much perfect for Starship Commandos.

So here is Sgt. Sara Cooper, the designated marksman for the 121 Marine Special Armour and Tactics squad.

Sgt. Cara Cooper, Designated Marksman

Scout d8

Physical d10; Mental d12; Social d20

Stealth d8, Awareness d10, Marksmanship d10, Athletics d12, Survival d12, Tracking d12

J25S Long-Range Reconnaissance
Stealth d6; Long-Range Sensors d8; Indirect Fire Support d10

Disconnected, Unconventional

Never the Innocent (Cooper will not target non-combatants, Ever)

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Gen Con Tips

I always collect a bunch of tips in my Gen Con posts, but then forget about them by the time Gen Con comes around. Here, I’m going to collect the tips and publish it on the Monday before Gen Con 2016. See, I’m writing the intro paragraph on Thursday, 6 Aug 2015 as I begin working on my Gen Con 2015 roundup. Planning!

For your arrival at Gen Con reserve space on Go Express (the $10 ride from Airport to hotels) in advance. The flights in on the day before the con are all looking to use the bus, and people with reservations were given priority. Do it on the website, though there is a small desk at the ground transportation centre (ground floor) that services Go Express as well as some other shuttles and the representative there might be able to help.

The Go Express shuttle service

There’s a food place under the escalators at the Indianapolis Convention Center which I believe is “Crossroads” that has an area to sit and WiFi. A couple of times I grabbed a single slice of pizza and checked my email there. If your hotel doesn’t have WiFi, this place is a saviour. It has been for me a few times.

Convention Center Floor Plans

Gen Con 2015 was the first time I heard about the Quiet Room, a place to just go and decompress for a little bit. It’s a great idea, and there were people napping, reading, or just sitting with their eyes closed and enjoying being out of the crowds and noise. It’s okay for babies if they are quiet, but in general, if the baby is being fussy, the monitors would ask the parent to please take the child elsewhere. There are other childcare facilities in the convention centre, and the quiet room was not for that purpose. If you need a place to chill, check the program for the location of the quiet room and take advantage of it.


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