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Friday, 15 March 2019

A rules rutter


What are we looking at here? A good question. You know I was talking about having another crack at revising the Dragon Warriors system? More like completely rewriting it, in fact. It's a project I've returned to many times over the years, usually abandoned in short order as the need to actually crack on and run a fortnightly campaign gets in the way.

This time of going back to the well, I have a rules mechanic that I'm finding pretty neat. Those could be famous last words. I did remark to one of my gaming group that "designing a new set of rules is like doing a jigsaw. After early frustrating dead ends, everything seems to come together, gathers momentum, gets exciting – and then you see the gaps that the remaining pieces just won’t fit into. Rinse and repeat."

But I think I can punch through the doldrums of design to arrive at a workable set of streamlined rules that will fit any contingency. God knows we need it. The obscure rules lurking in the thousands of pages of GURPS books is starting to try the patience of most of my players. We only get a few hours' gaming every couple of weeks. We need something simpler.

So, that book in the picture. In order not to repeat the false starts I've made in the past, I took all the notes I've made on different versions of DW2 rules and collected them into one volume, which I then printed up on Lulu. I find having a physical book like that is easier than wading through multiple files on the computer. Just behind the rules book there you can see the homemade booklet I used to prep for writing a chapter in The Design Mechanism's upcoming Lyonesse RPG.

Just to give you a taste of all these notes, one of the briefest sections in the booklet is this overview I sent to Grenadier Models UK when we got to talking about collaborating on a new roleplaying game in the early '90s.
Everything is based on a skill system, so a character might be a Rank 3 Wizard and a Rank 8 Fighter, or whatever. Ranks are purchased with Improvement Points, which are acquired by training or experience. There are no "character classes". The cost to acquire ranks of different skills depends on the character's culture. So elves need fewer IPs to advance a rank of Wizardry, more to advance as Fighters. 
Combat is handled by comparing Attack and Defence values. In some ways it is similar to the Dragon Warriors system, but characters can exercise a degree of choice in how much they concentrate on attacking as opposed to defending. The range of choice reflects different styles of combat. When a hit is scored, damage is determined by a single dice roll which is modified by the weapon used and the attacker's rank as a Fighter. Armour works by absorbing some of the damage.

I am in two minds about whether to include hit location or not. It adds a certain colour to any combat system, but it does tend to slow things up - and you get into problems where non-humanoid creatures are involved. The alternative system uses "wound values" - any wound causes Attack and Defence penalties, depending on how much damage is inflicted in a single blow. Characters are more likely to pass out from cumulative wounds than to fight on until cut to ribbons. This means that combat is fairly ferocious and damaging, but as long as the players' side wins in the end they will generally be able to heal up their fallen companions.

Magic is divided into three types. The first is Wizardry. This uses up no spellpoints, but requires a skill roll to work properly. It is also quite difficult to learn. It is the way a magic-user would contrive most of his "special effects" - weird events that are not directly related to combat. About a hundred Wizardry cantrips allow the magic-user to pass through locked doors, go unnoticed, conceal a trail through woods, and so on. I dislike the idea that wizards in many systems have to use up their spellpoints for quite minor effects. I cannot imagine Merlin or Gandalf crossing off a couple of spellpoints for an illumination spell, for instance. The Wizardry rules are intended to represent the popular fictional concept of the magic user more accurately.

The second branch of magic is Thaumaturgy. This is combat related magic. Wizardry illusions do not do real damage, for instance, but Thaumaturgy illusions can. Thaumaturges expend psychic points to cast their spells. The number of points available increases only slightly with rank, but what does increase significantly is the number of spell-matrices the Thaumaturge can hold in his mind. When a spell is cast, the mental matrix for that spell "fatigues". It will defatigue with sleep, but a further casting of the spell when the matrix is still fatigued will cost double points. Higher ranking Thaumaturges therefore never get to the kind of artillery-level capability of a D&D magic-user, as their power really lies in the greater versatility they get from having more spell-matrices available.

The last magical skill is Theurgy. This involves the manipulation of campaign magic. Such things might include gathering information about a foe's army or creating an enchanted artifact. Theurgy is often done in conjunction with other magic-users, as it involves a permanent loss of psychic strength and it is better if this loss can be shared between several characters. It takes long periods of time to work (and must often be performed on specific astrologically-favourable days) so it is useless within the limited time-frame of one adventure.
The idea is to capture all the rules notes from over the years so I can sort the wheat from the chaff. So I'm not sure which of the ideas here will make it into Dragon Warriors 2 (if any) but we'll see. I certainly want magic to be more mysterious, less "artillery".

Oh, and while you're here -- did I mention my Kickstarter for the final Blood Sword book? It's going strong and there's still one day left to jump aboard.


40 comments:

  1. I like those rules. It all sounds simple but elegant.

    The first paragraph reminds me of "Warrior, Rogue, Mage", which I almost mentioned in reply to your previous post. Warrior, Rogue, and Mage aren't character classes, rather:

    "they're your basic attributes, which measure their capabilities in combat, stealth and academics respectively."

    http://www.stargazergames.eu/games/warrior-rogue-mage/

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    1. That's quite like Powered by the Apocalypse games. Though in DW2 combat won't be an ability category of its own.

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  2. For my part, I like the TORG: Eternity rules. You have 40 skills. Within those 40 skills you cover genres ranging from pulp hero fights to cyberpunk to occult horror investigation - often within the same adventure.

    I think the magic system above seems a bit over-complicated and too simple at the same time. Instead of combat and non-combat AND "theurgy" just do ritual and cantrip. Cantrips are quick spells that can be used in combat (or some other time-sensitive situations) while rituals are lengthy spells used over the course of minutes/hours/days. Cantrips spend psychic power while rituals require all kinds of different(expensive/rare/requires an adventure to get) material components and/or a permanent/lengthy reduction of psychic power (calling forth and binding a Rendarr daemon reduces your psychic power by 4 for the next month afterward).

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    1. I certainly won't be putting those three types of magic into DW2. The notes above were pitched at Grenadier, so there's a tabletop slant to those.

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  3. Regards magic, commonly in narratives wizards are more likely to suffer negative consequences should they be unskilled or over-extend their powers, rather than 'run out of magic points'.

    From a purely rules standpoint, to allow some creativity but also consider 'game balance' in the design of individual spells, my own leanings would be for the following, which has some aspects of 'spell points' but allows more interesting consequences for abusing magical power. It's also 'generic' in that the 'type' of spell is purely a cosmetic label - cantrip, evocation, incantation, all use the same underlying system.

    Wizards have spell casting skill.
    Wizards have magic tolerance. This is how much magical power they can channel safely.

    Spells have a time to cast. Smaller spells will be almost instant, just a single round. More powerful spells may take minutes, or even hours to complete.
    Spells may need physical or temporal components such as material, environment or date.

    Spells have a difficulty to successfully cast.
    Spells have a power value (can be zero).

    After the minimum time has passed, a wizard attempts to cast the spell. The difficulty determines the roll required. A failed roll channels 1 point of magic (or some fraction of the spells power, possibly determined by the failure). They may attempt the roll again in the following round (or longer for lengthy spells). A successful roll channels magic equal to the spell power, and assuming the wizard survives, it resolves.

    If a wizard channels more power than they have tolerance, negative effects are felt. The greater the excess, the greater the effect. Some effects can be permanent, including death.

    Groups of wizards may be needed for really big spells that cost more power than a single individual can tolerate. The channeling is distributed among the wizards involved.

    Many wizards employ magical devices (wands, staves, rings etc.) that allow power to be channeled through the device rather than their own bodies. These act as a buffer for channeled energy, accumulating it therein. Overloading a device can destroy it (sometimes spectacularly!). Attuned devices may make specific spells easier to cast.

    Wizards regain tolerance through simple rest, 'healing' the damage incurred from channeling raw magical energy. Devices recover in a similar manner, slowly bleeding off magical radiation over time.

    (Note: I incorporated some of this into my own version of DW, allowing sorcerers to spend more MP than they had, but with the chance of consequences).

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    1. That reminds me a little bit of the Maelstrom RPG from the mid 80s (although that didn't have "tolerance", which I think is an interesting idea).

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    2. Every world is going to have its own magic rules. (Or several sets thereof.) That's one reason why GURPS magic doesn't work. What is "generic magic" when we see such diverse examples in fiction? I think Maelstrom came closest by providing a spell construction template, and I'll probably end up borrowing a bit of that.

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    3. Ah, to clarify - the underlying 'system' is generic, in that the same rules are used regardless of the way the magic is presented in the game world - the actual spells would be carefully authored of course.

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    4. It sounds like a great metamechanic, and one that would work fine for Legend. I was just thinking of Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell, where there doesn't seem to be anything like a tolerance limit -- although powerful sorcery can be dangerous there in other ways.

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    5. I still think it sounds like you're going to end up very close to Barbarians of Lemuria - even the magic system looks like you're going, independently, to get to a very similar end point.

      In BoL, spells are left undefined, but you are expected to judge whether the magic effect is at the level of a cantrip, or of the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd order of Magnitude. Higher magnitude spells not only require more Arcane Points, but also more 'requirements', which again are defined as needed, but it might be reasonable that a 3rd Magnitude spell might require an extensive ritual, the stars being right, human sacrifice etc. etc.

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    6. I've been looking at BoL and I like the way they do magic. It does a really good job of recreating the pulp sorcerers and brings back fond memories of reading Lin Carter and REH in my youth. I'm not sure that "DW 2e" will go that way, though, if I can figure out how to incorporate PC magic at all.

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  4. I think we are all very excited at the possibility of DW2E. Getting the right balance between boardgame rulebooks and freeform storytelling is obviously the key to making a great RPG, and there is no doubt in my mind that the sorcerers of 'New Dragon Warriors' will be suitably Eldritch spooks, and not flamethrower squads !

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    1. We ensure that in our own games by almost never having PC sorcerers. I guess DW 2e would have to find a better answer than that... Or would it?

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    2. I think it would. The market for fantasy RPGs in which the players' *can't* be some kind of wizard/sorcerer/mage must be a lot smaller than for games in which they can.

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    3. Well, it's DW so I think the market these days is very tiny anyway -- judging by sales of the Serpent King Games edition, anyway.

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    4. True, but why make it harder on yourself than you have to?

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    5. I'm imagining what is needed for an RPG to be commercial these days: custom dice, dice pools, cards, lots of metarules about storytelling, gimmicks like flashback mechanics, different PC "races"... The only trouble is, whenever I try playing a game like that I end up abandoning it, so I don't think I could write one!

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  5. For me, the great strength in Dragon Warriors (other than the world of Legend and the general feel of the rules) was definitely the combat system. I really liked three things:

    1) The split between Attack and Defence, and the fact that Defence had to be split up between multiple opponents, so even a very high-ranking character could soon be swarmed by low-level enemies.

    2) The armour bypass roll - someone in plate armour was basically invulnerable to all but lucky strikes from weak weapons.

    3) Health Points went up slowly. A 5th Rank Knight could only take one more good blow than a 1st Rank Knight, unlike D&D where the rapid increase in Hit Points with each level (unless you were unlucky with the dice) made a huge difference.

    This all meant that a high-ranking character without their armour was doomed if they went up against a host of low-level enemies, or if they went up against a well-armoured low-level enemy without an appropriate weapon.

    The idea of allowing a character to sacrifice Attack in order to Defend more effectively (wasn't this an option for Knights with the parry skill?) or give up on defence to have a better chance of attack makes a lot of sense, and offers more strategic possibilities.

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    1. Yes, that's the most appealing part for me too. It's a very clever system.

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    2. A concept that was refined even more in Tirikelu, that. But one complaint about both DW and Tirikelu is that they are largely combat and magic systems with other skills tagged on -- as most RPGs were back then. DW 2e has to abide by a single mechanic for everything or it's going to look like a throwback.

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    3. I'm sure that's true. A game with a single mechanic is easier to learn, and in a system with several different mechanics there's always the risk of forgetting something or using the wrong one.

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    4. The problem with it is... well, take my favourite bugbear, GURPS. Is that a single core mechanic? At first glance, yes; everything is rolled on 3d6. But notice that quick contests use a margin of victory rule, regular contests just use success or failure, and combat (a special variety of regular contest) adds damage (inconsistently not based on margin of victory) and then unravels into over a hundred pages of special cases. Tirikelu gets the whole game into about 40 pages, and many systems do a lot better than that, with or without single mechanics.

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    5. As described: no, it clearly isn't a single mechanic. That's just crying out for people to get confused!

      (I've never played GURPS but I have read it. My wife has played it, and made it very clear that she was in no hurry to play it again. I introduced her to Dragon Warriors instead!)

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    6. I've sworn never to run another game using GURPS, though did waver for a while as I thought about homebrewing a stripped-down version I could live with. But I decided to write "DW 2e" instead!

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  6. One mechanic to rule them all... :-) nothing wrong with throwbacks. DW 2e! Where do I pay???!!! Ray has summarised some of my favourite elements of DW.

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    1. True, but in that case you could always play DW 1e!

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    2. Indeed, I'm coming around to the view that it shouldn't be called DW 2nd edition, as that implies it's somehow a refinement of DW 1e, the way that GURPS 4e was clearly the same game as 3e only without the bits that didn't work. Whereas what I'm working on is a different set of rules for Legend with a different purpose.

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  7. Dave I’m sure somewhere on this blog or perhaps in one of your interviews or podcasts you revealed your preferred name for Dragon Warriors but that Oliver insisted it had to have the word Dragon in the title...? Or have I just imagined that??? Something grim, lyrical but melancholic...

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    1. Well remembered, Nigel. I liked the name Dead Men & Heroes (not my idea; I think it was Nick Henfrey who came up with it). I'd originally tried that on Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson when they asked me to design an RPG for Games Workshop, but they didn't like it either. More detail from 2m 40s into this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUgyvVQFGBc

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  8. Sign me up then for a copy of DM&H! :-)

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  9. Dave, why do you need to make a new system for DW 2E? Why not use an existing open source ruleset and customise it for the setting? For me the true gem of DW was Legend and the stories you told, not the system.
    Using an existing game system could leave more time to write more on Legend.

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    1. You're quite right, Nick. What interests me is writing background material and scenarios. Most Legend roleplayers these days probably use their own preferred system, and quite right too. For years we used GURPS but, as several posts have shown, I've increasingly chafed against that. So I was going to do my own stripped-down version of GURPS, but then decided it would be quicker to design a new set of rules. That's really just for my own group to use. I don't expect anybody else to chuck in the system they're using to switch to "DW 2e" or whatever I end up calling it.

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    2. I don't mind switching systems if the scenario is good. I don't have time these days to convert scenarios to my preferred system. That's why I'm running The Enemy Within with the WFRP 1e rules, which can be pretty frustrating!

      Whatever system you use one of the most challenging things will be the magic systems as you have discussed. That will really set the atmosphere for the game. Good luck, hope you'll share what you come up with!

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    3. The magic system is the sticking point, certainly. Since we don't usually have player-character sorcerers in our campaigns, and no two NPC sorcerers are ever alike, it's hard to see what the magic rules would even look like. I might just say, here's the core system, tack on whatever magic you like -- and leave it at that.

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  10. Dave I think you underestimate the appeal and awesomeness of your work. You have loyal fans and I suspect we’re all old enough now that we aren’t using our pocket money to buy your books anymore :-)

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    1. Kind of you to say that, Nigel. I don't think Legend is going to appeal to a generation raised on CRPGs, though. The son of one of my gamers has just started playing D&D 5e. "He didn't take to DW," his dad told me, "because you can't play different races."

      Me: "Eh? Ta'ashim, Mercanian, Mungodan..."

      Him: "Elves and dwarves, mate."

      Still, hopefully it still has a place in some older hearts :-)

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  11. I agree with Nick Daniel. I rather see new material on Legend than a new game system.

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    1. I wouldn't expect any new rules I come up with to take up much room, so if there's a Jewelspider book it would be 90% background material, mostly scenarios. Think of Alas Vegas, where the rules only comprise the first few pages of the book, rather than, say, GURPS or Mythras.

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  12. Forbidden Lands from Fria Ligan is going OGL and would suit Legend very well. I should say "The Year Zero" engine, as it's shared across the Mutant Year Zero games and more. Forbidden Lands reminds me a lot of Dragon Warriors though.

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    1. It sounds interesting, but the boxed set is priced at over £100 on Amazon so I don't think I'll be trying it anytime soon!

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