Saturday, 14 August 2021

Wilderness Paths

Here are some lightweight rules for finding paths through the wilderness. There are lots of different wilderness exploration rules, focusing on all sorts of things like weather, food, or getting lost, but these rules focus on finding better paths over time.

For these rules to be useful, you need three things:

  • a wilderness map divided into regions
  • reason for the adventurers to cross through the same area many times
  • resource constraints that make shorter, safer paths worth finding

An ideal situation would a West Marches game where the party is heading out from a central point over and over again. Finding better routes through the familiar areas close to home pays off in the long run, enabling them to speed past problems they faced early on.


Divide the Map into Regions

The regions on your map could be hexes, or just named areas of a more freeform wilderness map. It doesn't really matter, as long as they're big enough that there are several paths through it.

This doesn't take a large region, even the classic six-mile hex of forest or other rough terrain is large enough that you could cross it many times and still miss points of interest.

When you blaze a trail..

When the party first crosses a region (perhaps en route to a more distant landmark), roll 4d6 in order. Each die represents a leg of the path through the region.

d6This part of your path is ..
Hazardous. Your path takes you to, over, or through a dangerous obstacle like a steep cliff, a swift river, a ravine, noxious plants, treacherous terrain (bogs, pits, sharp), and so on. Every time you come this way you must deal with it.
Circuitous. Switchbacks, curling pathways through dense forest, along the banks of a winding river. The path will take you there, but it takes extra time. Perhaps instead of only a day to cross this region, it takes two.
Occupied. Your path goes directly past a lair, through an often used hunting ground, within sight of watchful sentries, or along a regularly patrolled track. This may not be the only encounter you have in this area, but every time you come this way, you risk meeting whoever or whatever lives here.
Terrain-specific. Deserts expose you to the elements, forests confuse you or slow you, mountains force up steep climbs or across windblown glaciers. Wherever you are, this part of your path is quintessential of the terrain type.
Direct. This part of the path is straighter and easier going than usual. Save yourself some time. Perhaps instead of three days to cross the region, it takes only one.
Secluded. A sheltered gully, a disused trail, a hidden pass—whatever it is, nothing else seems to come this way and your progress is hidden from view.


Travel Time

Blazing a trail through tricky terrain takes twice as long as travelling along a previously used, known path. Depending on the scale of your regions, it might take four days to cross a region (eight while blazing the trail).

Example: Mossgrove

Two days from Fair Riot is a swampy wood the locals call Mossgrove. They had no advice on how to cross the swampy forest, and so the party must forge its own trail. The dice: 4,1,2,2. Terrain-specific, hazardous, and then a double result of circuitous.
  • The western edge of Mossgrove wood is knee-deep water over soft loam. Leeches and gnats harry you as you trudge aimlessly through the algae-streaked waters. There's absolutely nowhere to rest.
  • A half day from there, the water deepens and the bottom turns to soft, sucking mud. Everyone risks getting stuck; ponies and heavily laden adventurers risk sinking completely.
  • Beyond the quagmire is a labyrinth of dry mounds, riven by deep, muddy streams. Picking a path through here that keeps your boots dry is endlessly winding (you may even have looped a few times), taking 2 days longer than you'd expect.

There must be another way..

Each time the party cross a region, they can choose one of the paths they know, or blaze a new one. If they forge a new one, roll 4d6 again and interpret the result.

If the party just wants to detour around one part of a path roll two replacement dice to represent what they find on the detour. Maybe it's better, maybe it's worse!


Example: Avoiding Mossgrove Quagmire

On their return through Mossgrove, the party decides to see if they can find away around the quagmire. After two days of travelling through the maze (the eastern two legs of the original path), they roll two dice: 1, and 3. Hazard, Occupied!

This is even worse! On their third trip, they roll 1 and 3 again (I'm doing this as I write). It's not until their fourth trip, that their attempt to find a way around the quagmire pays off with a roll of 4 and 6. Their best path through mossgrove is now:
  • Knee-deep leechwater with nowhere to rest
  • {Detour}
    • Slow going between closely spaced, mossy trees
    • A secluded route around the edges of the quagmire (perhaps around a tar-smelling bog where few animals tend to come)
  • Two days of circuitous travel through the labyrinth of streams

Guides

If you have a guide who knows the area, randomly roll the path using 3d6 instead of 4d6. Not only is it shorter, but they will be able to warn you of any hazards or occupants ahead of time.

These rules are Mosaic Strict.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

More MOSAIC Strict Sets!

It's been a few months since I posted about MOSAIC Strict, but a bunch more rule sets have appeared. Too many for me to do justice to each one, but I've returned to keeping the Mosaic Strict Rule Sets spreadsheet up to date!

Last time around, there weren't any rules for making characters; a number of people have addressed this with new systems ranging from the very generic to the highly specific!

Here they are, 22 new modular rule sets to mash together with each other, or to add to existing games:

Advancement

Adventuring
Character Creation
Combat
Magic
NPCs
Resolution
Social

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Coming Apart v0.3

For a little while now I've been working on Coming Apart, a sci-fi PbtA game about scrappers in rust-bucket starships working their way to something better by doing high-stakes salvage missions nobody else will touch.


Mechanically, it's heavily inspired by The Regiment, which was John Harper's ashcan WWII game. Lots of lead flying at you (or in this case, shrapnel and fire) as you try to get your mission accomplished.

It's set in a 'post planet' era a few centuries after "Too Good to be True". Planet killing weapons have wrecked humanity's few good homes, but instantaneous interstellar travel has opened the universe. Now, a scattered humanity stretches across incredible distances, linked by delicate webs of trust.

Play wise, I was heavily inspired by the smash 'n' grab style of the Void Bastards video game, but with a base-building component: all the ships are modular (like the modern day ISS), so one of your options is to saw something off and weld it onto your own ship.



Before long, you get a shot at targets from higher danger classes, which opens up more modules, threats, but also new advancements.

Right now the game is at a very early stage; despite its length it's still very much in the middle of refinement. (When I design I seem to go through bloating/contracting phases as I explore a bit and then distill to the core of what I want.)

If any of this sounds like your thing, have a look at the v0.3 rules and playbooks.
There's only been a tiny bit of playtesting; there are marked holes but also undiscovered ones. If you squint a bit, it's playable, but not necessarily fun yet! All the numbers are uncalibrated, so death spirals, unwinnable missions and boring cake-walks are just as likely as thrilling action.

Still, happy to have feedback if you have any!

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Scorched Earth NPC Relationship Table

Integrating player-written character backgrounds into your campaign is real work. Sometimes they just write so much, who can keep all those names straight?

Why struggle? Let the dice be your friend! Every time they bring someone up from that dog-eared sheaf they keep bringing to game night, just roll d6:


d6Whatever happened to so-and-so?
Moments after you last saw them, they joined up with the enemy. Life as an entry level hobgoblin is hard, but it also has a kind of simplicity. They don't really think about the past. Cudgel, rusty helmet, raawr, you know?
They died, pretty much right away. Their surviving relatives and friends remember the PC as a bit of a dick to them in their final years.
One day, their home just fell into the earth, and they haven't been seen since. Coincidentally, the hole is the entrance to that dungeon you were planning on using next!
It was never reciprocal, and the NPC is honestly having trouble remembering the PC's name. I mean, it's great you thought we we were close or whatever, but I think you read too much into it. Please don't make it awkward.
Nobody can remember the NPC. Who? Are you sure? There's no magic at work, just an overactive imagination.
After a brief, high fever, they erupted into a brightly colored fungal mat. Nobody's been able to clean it up, the stench is unbelievable.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Some Mosaic Strict Sets Appear!

Forty eight days ago, I wrote up Mosaic Strict, a somewhat light-hearted set of compliance rules for making modular parts of RPGs. It asked, what if there were no mechanical interconnections between various parts of a game at all?

Since then, several folks have actually made Mosaic Strict rule sets!

EDIT: Since this post was published, more have appeared. I'll track them in a spreadsheet.

A Lovemaking

The first was Paul Czege, who wrote A Lovemaking, rules for how characters negotiate whether to get it on. Released March 1, 2021.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things in the Dungeon

Next was Alfred Valley, with what must be the shortest Mosaic rule set so far, a two-sided business card on how to decide whether to hang up the spurs and leave the dungeon. Released March 4, 2021.

Turn Up Your Nose

Third was Dan Maruschak with a one-pager on how to empathize with the snobbish upper classes when they're forced to deal with people 'beneath them'. I imagine this could be played inverted to good effect. Released March 9, 2021.


Matthias of Liche's Libram wrote this rule set about how to interpret the significance of characters' dreams. Released March 14, 2021.

Cook Off

Matt Bohnhoff's first rule set is about cooking under pressure! Whose dish will win the day? Released March 15, 2021.

The Magic of Names

I missed this one on Twitter when it was first announced, but there's now an Ursula K LeGuin-inspired freform magic system! By Thomas Manuel, March 30, 2021.

Quick Combat

Last on my list is this quick-play combat system, also by Matthias of Liche's Libram. Lose an eye in no time! Released March 31, 2011.

Fishing Trip

Matt Bohnhoff then made this chill mini-game about stepping aside from the adventure to catch some fish. Released April 1, 2021.


I'm aware of a few more cooking.. but to my knowledge they aren't released yet. Did I miss any?

Sunday, 14 March 2021

The Thwarted Course

Word has spread as far as Birevia—masons are needed, or those willing to learn, to repair an ancient bridge. The silver is flowing, but why is nobody returning?

The Thwarted Course is my take on a classic setup: the ogre-troubled bridge. Here, however, the ogre isn't an isolated hermit, but the penultimate link in a dreadful chain of exploitation.


This location has had a long, long gestation, I think I started on this map seven months ago! Here's the illustrated bridge on its own, ready for you to either print and show to your players, or to restock however you like:


If you're using this location in your own setting, the bridge fits almost anywhere you have a steep-sided river in a sparsely populated area.

If you're using this with the setting from the Trilemma Compendium, the bridge stands in the far northwest, in hex 0107, upriver from Witchknuckle in northern Claimsun. If adventurers investigate the road, it should eventually connect to a Martoi cyst of some kind—a ruin at least, possibly a fortress.

* * *

Thanks to my generous patrons for supporting this adventure-making project, long have you waited for this installment!

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Nothing at the Bottom: MOSAIC Strict RPG Design

This blog post describes an experimental RPG design principle, Mosaic Strict. I'm defining this principle because I'm curious what kind of games result from applying it. (I have no idea!) I'm defining it very carefully because we live in a fallen world and shared understanding is fleeting.

MOSAIC is a set of criteria that might be true of an RPG text:

  • Modular
  • Optional
  • Short
  • Attested
  • Independent
  • Coreless

If all the criteria apply, then that text is Mosaic Strict. If only some (or none) of the criteria apply, then it's not Mosaic Strict. There are no partial points, it's all or nothing.

(If you use a hash tag for some reason, please use #MosaicStrict capitalization so screen readers handle it properly.)

Modular

Mosaic Strict RPG texts are meant to be used together with other RPG texts; each text only describes a portion of the rules that will probably be in use. One might describe an initiative system, another how combat works, another how gutter mage rituals work.

Anyone trying to have a pleasant evening of gaming will probably need to use several of them.

Modular: Any game text that explicitly claims to be
an entire, complete RPG is not Mosaic Strict.

This doesn't mean that all Mosaic Strict texts necessarily work well together! Any given pairing might be hot garbage. That's fine, because they're all..

Optional

Mosaic Strict RPG texts are all optional; you don't have to use them. Each play group will decide for itself which one(s) they are using. If a game text describes itself as mandatory, or necessary for the use of a certain gaming experience, it is not Mosaic Strict.

Optional: Any game text that describes itself
as necessary for play is not Mosaic Strict.

Please note that the modular and optional tests aren't about the rules of a text and whether they're "really" modular or optional; this rule is about how the text describes itself.

Short

Mosaic Strict optional rules are concise enough to fit on a two-page spread, no more than 1500 words.

Short: Mosaic Strict game texts are no more than 1500 words.

This includes any and all words that are part of the publication, such as words in illustrations, the document's title, subtitle, headings, subheadings, byline, copyright notice, Mosaic Strict attestation (see below). If the text is longer than this, it's not Mosaic Strict.

Attested

If the game text doesn't explicitly say that it's Mosaic Strict, it isn't.

Attested: Mosaic Strict texts say they are Mosaic Strict.

This rule exists for three reasons:
  1. Mosaic Strict game designers, if there ever are any, have a slim chance of finding one another if their work is labelled
  2. It might help confused readers of your Mosaic Strict optional rules understand why it refuses to use the term saving throw for no good reason
  3. It makes the acronym work

Independent

Now the easy stuff is out of the way, here's a tough one, the rule that is really what Mosaic Strict is all about:

Independent: Mosaic Strict texts do not refer to the mechanics
or quantified state in any other game text.

By mechanics I mean any procedures (do this, then do this next, roll these dice, use dice at all) that tells you how to play. By quantified state, I mean any use of numbers, tags, attributes, binary or multi-state conditions (alignment, prone, not prone) to characterize what's going on in the game world.

Mosaic Strict texts don't refer to any rules whatsoever from other documents. Mosaic Strict texts do not build on one another, they don't assume you're using alignment or levels or that you have a Strength stat described in another document, none of that. There are no mechanical connections whatsoever between Mosaic Strict documents.

This means that a Mosaic Strict game text that describes a turn order for combat cannot assume that characters have Dex scores, or that the game is using 2d6. The combat turn order document could define those things

Now, game worlds have things that can be counted or quantified: money, a PC's height in inches; light switches flip on and off. A game text can refer to quantified things that exist in a setting and still be Mosaic Strict.

A two-page spread about being a wizard could say that you need $13,333 to join the magic society and that you must devour 13 white cats to be able to cast a tree-climbing cantrip up to three times a day and could still count as Mosaic Strict; these are all in-game quantities.

A game text that references any mechanical quantity from another text is not Mosaic Strict.

Coreless

This isn't a separate rule, but a consequence of Independence that I need to be really clear about: There are no core rules and no character sheet at the bottom of Mosaic Strict, no standard interface of compatibility.

Coreless: assume nothing else is in use beyond free-form play

A game text could define a character sheet and still be Mosaic Strict, but any other document that requires its use is not Mosaic Strict.

A game text could define a universal resolution mechanic and still be Mosaic Strict, but any other document that references that resolution mechanic is not Mosaic Strict.

There's no central document or required rule at the heart of it all, only free-form play role-play and whatever assumptions a particular group brings with it.

A Few Clarifications

Q. Is this gatekeeping bullshit?
A. No! Or at least, I hope not. I intend this in the spirit of the 200-word RPG contest: a very specific set of rules to see what comes out of it. My first few conversations about this convinced me there's a powerful temptation to do almost what I'm describing, slithering back into much more normal game design, so I want to be really, really clear about what I'm talking about.

Q. This sounds stupid, how does this make a better game?
A. I doubt it will!

Q. Is there any Mosaic Strict actual play so I can see what the fuck you're talking about?
A. No. The Mosaic Strict criteria are meant to apply only to RPG game texts. They don't apply to play styles or culture, design aesthetics, genres, or anything else—just the text of the RPG.

This means that if a bunch of people get together, grab three Mosaic Strict documents (one for being a wizard, one for stealing things, another for driving too fast in a jalopy) but bring along their 5th edition play assumptions and experiences and use a d20 for everything, the criteria of Mosaic Strict have nothing to say about their play experience. If a group is playing Call of Cthulhu mashed up with cool take on slime infection in a Mosaic Strict two-pager, we don't say that their session was Mosaic Strict or not.

All play experiences incorporate elements from the players that are not in the rules. Mosaic Strict only applies game texts, not play experiences.