Monday, May 31, 2010

Aspects, part 1: The Search

I've spent a lot of time talking about dice and mechanics, but my preferred games are those that lean toward a more narrative play style. I like mechanics to provide a means of resolution, but I prefer a light touch, and if they lean toward encouraging play all the better. I've played games that are highly tactical and that make a game of resource management, and I've played games that have massive tomes of character customization options. However, unless these things tie back into who the character is as a story person I lose interest in these things in short order. Lengthy discussions of character optimization plans bereft of any consideration of the character's identity beyond a playing piece bore me to tears.

Because of this, I knew from the outset that I wanted some kind of mechanic in this system that encouraged and rewarded role playing, and role playing in a particular bent. My list of essential concepts included "broken characters." I want people playing characters that have problems. As I noted when I made that list, flaws have been a part of RPGs for a long time, so this is hardly a revolutionary concept. In fact, this Shadowrun group I'm playing with now has made use of them rather extensively in the various mechanical systems we've tried. So far though, nothing's quite been "it."

The first type of flaw mechanic we used was an oldie: pick your flaws at character generation and receive extra build points for them. This has the weight of time and tradition behind it; almost all role players have tried a system like this at some point. Without any prompting from me, my players loaded up on the flaws. Drug addictions, enemies, cyberware rejection, the works. And then the ugly flaw in this system began to rear its head.

People didn't play their flaws.

The drunkard never drank. The drug addicts never needed their fix. The person who suffered double essence loss for cyberware never needed/wanted to get any. The combat monster acted the same in combat as everyone else. These flaws didn't manifest in broken characters, and gave out what amounted to free points.

I know the counter-argument, or at least one of them: why didn't I enforce them? I, as GM, could make the drug addict get his fix or impose detox penalties (which were in the flaw description). I, as GM, could make the combat monster initiate and refuse to leave combat without a Willpower roll (which was in the flaw description). And so on.

The reason is because I'm not that good. I, as GM, had my hands full keeping the run on track, the pacing up, and the plot details straight as the group invariably did something out of left field. Come combat, when a lot of flaws are really supposed to kick in, I was managing the opposing forces, all of which used the exact same rules as the PCs (no real mook rules in SR), and I was rolling a lot of dice, both when being attacked and attacking myself. I needed the PCs to track and mechanically initiate their own flaws, and they were paying more attention to their implants, powers, and gear, because that became more interesting at the time.

So when we switched systems, we switched flaw mechanics as well. Wild Talents doesn't give you any more build points for your flaws. Instead, you define your flaws, and they only pay off in play. In fact, they only pay off when you play the flaw and it causes you a significant problem. If you've got an enemy, that flaw only gives you something when said enemy shows up and makes things harder for you and your team. You want to be a drug addict? You can, but you'll only get something for it if you wind up high or in withdrawal at an inconvenient time.
The very first session with these new rules, the flaws kicked into overdrive. The drunk drank. The drug addict got his fix. It was as if life in the shadows suddenly came crashing down on this team of untouchable professionals and they all cracked under the pressure at once. That session saw not one, but two bouts of public urination and a pseudo-prank call to Lone Star Security's vice division. It actually lead to the team face getting an irate call from their Johnson demanding to know what kind of team he'd hired.

A little bit over overkill, but I chalked that up to a learning curve. The thing that bothered me is that the system granted bonus experience for invoking a flaw, and I didn't like that. I know some people aren't concerned with keeping the party on an even keel, but I've been in games where disproportionate experience awards leads to massive power imbalance, and those at the back become less and less involved in the game as their characters are less able to handle the challenges thrown at the top tier earners. In fact, I give full experience to every PC in the group regardless of if the player shows up for a game. Rather than use experience as a carrot/stick tool, I simply ask those who continually miss sessions without any notice to not come back.

But I digress. After that first session with the new rules where some earned more experience than others, I had a bad feeling about the flaws. I didn't know what to do with them yet, but I knew I wanted to do something.

More importantly than any of that though, is the element of fun. Is it fun to have the GM constantly slapping you with penalties and gimping your character? From my viewpoint, if someone thought it would be fun to play an addict, they'd want to play an addict, and they'd want to play the addiction. When they were worth build points, the disadvantages disappeared immediately. When they were worth experience, they were invoked when the characters saw an opportunity to gain xp. They weren't used as a tool to further define the characters as story people.

And that's when I stumbled across John Wick describing a development in his design of Houses of the Blooded. In this, he talked about aspects, which he first encountered in a Spirit of the Century game. I did some digging into these wonderful little tools myself, and came away feeling like I'd struck gold. They were exactly what I was looking for. I'll talk about them, and how I'm planning to use them, next week.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Since porting weapons straight from Shadowrun 4 seemed so successful, I'm looking at armor with that same eye. But immediately upon seeing armor stats, I see there's a problem. Armor ratings in this edition of Shadowrun are high. This is because armor is something you roll in this game, and on average 1/3 of the dice you roll will be successes.

I don't want to roll armor. With an eye for minimizing opposed rolls, I'm going to make armor a static number. Still, Shadowrun's a fully tested game, and its armor rules were written to work with its weapon damage codes, which I took whole hog, so the idea of abandoning the material completely leaves me thinking I might be pitching a lot of material already written for me.

So if 1/3 of the dice come up successes, why not cut the listed armor ratings down that much and use the resulting number as the static armor value in my game? Another quick glance says there's going to be a lot of rounding and judgment calls for this, but that's okay.

As for the impact/ballistic divide, I always thought the reason for this was so that melee weapons, which routinely do less damage, could still be viable. Since most melee weapons seem roughly on par with firearms for damage now, let's ditch impact completely and make armor a single value applicable to all incoming damage. Simpler yet.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Now that I know how combat and wounding works, adding weapons into the mix is almost taken care of for me. Since I want the quality of the attack roll to factor into damage, and I want to keep die rolling to an minimum in combat, giving weapons a static damage code makes a lot of sense. Add your yang dice to the weapon damage and that's how much you do. Seems simple enough.

In fact, this is more or less what Shadowrun does, and that's very appealing. While I don't want to refer to the game mechanics too much for inspiration, making a system that can easily port over the gear from Shadowrun has tremendous appeal. That means less hand crafting the gear catalog later. Given the size of said catalogs, yes plural, that's a very good thing. In fact, if I weren't so concerned with utilizing Shadowrun's gear catalog, I'd be tempted to revamp the wound and weapon system into something simpler such as the variants discussed on the Evil Hat Productions Wiki. However, my guys are gun nuts and I think they'll only tolerate so much abstraction before there's a revolt. So, for the moment I'm going to try something that makes a detailed conversion of the firearm catalog possible.

Taking a gander at the weapon listings in SR4, I see they all have a few stats: damage, rate of fire, penetration, recoil compensation, and ammo capacity. Melee weapons might have reach. So let's see...

SR4 introduces the idea of variable damage tracks, meaning that the number of boxes in your health meter varies from character to character based on stats; prior versions put everyone at 10. Period. Still, in all the time we played this edition, most people hovered somewhere close to 10, so Shadowrun's health meter isn't too far off mine. That means its weapon damage codes aren't too far off either. So to start off, I'm going to import the weapons with their damage codes unchanged.

Now, I want to shade combat in favor of offense. In general I want a combat system in which you take damage if you get hit. Maybe you can mitigate it a little, but a hit hurts. This prevents grinding combats. The last thing I want is people blazing away at each other with no one in danger of dropping. That said, I've got some thoughts about armor (which I'll discuss later) that make penetration as a base attribute for a weapon a little bit much. I'll keep it for the special ammunition though. In fact, having a glance at ammo rules, they tend to modify either damage or penetration or both, and I think I can keep all those modifiers in place too.

Rate of fire needs to change though. Again, if speed of resolution is the goal here, I need to change rates of fire. For example, the advantage of a semiautomatic weapon over a single shot one is that you can fire twice in one round. Makes sense, but I don't want my players rolling that much. But since I'm representing speed in terms of how much it advances you on the battle wheel, I think tying the shot cost for firing a gun to the weapon's rate of fire is a simple way of fixing that. Now both a single shot and semiautomatic weapon fire once per action, but the semiauto takes less time and lets you act again sooner.

Moving on to burst and autofire, these are a little trickier. Both add to damage, which seems completely appropriate, but I don't want to base the damage increase on a formula derived from the number of bullets you spray. Again, calculations slow things down. In this case, I'm tempted to handwave things a bit and go general. Even my gun enthusiast player isn't in love with autofire rules that require you to track lost bullets for walking fire among targets. At the same time, I don't want to jack the damage up too much. Though the system should favor offense, one shot kills, especially against players, should be rare.

So why not have burst and autofire backfill some of the damage? Bursts do damage as normal, except that they also fill in the damage box below their hit. Autofire's more powerful, so it can backfill two boxes. And to cover autofire's walking fire aspect, let's say you can choose to forgo backfilling the damage and instead apply your attack to everyone in an area. Seems simple enough. It basically does the same thing with a little less detail and a lot less calculations.

As for recoil, this is a monster of a mechanic. I've had players who base their entire character over countering the effects of recoil. The thing is, why? Usually so they could fire bursts without suffering penalties. I've already made bursts cost more time than single shots, so do I really need additional negative factors? Sure, it would be more realistic to include rules for it, but I've long ago lost any interest in using realism as a game design metric. RPGs are storytelling games modeled after certain genres. No, I think I'm just going to pitch recoil entirely.

Ammo... does anyone out there track bullets? I used to require it, just to be fair to the mages in my parties. After all, if the mage had to roll drain for every 6M mana bolt he threw, the sam should have some kind of downside to firing his 6M heavy pistol, shouldn't he? The thing is, no one ever did.

I came up with a solution to that once. I made weapon cards for everyone. It showed range, damage, die pool, all that stuff. At the bottom they'd make a stack of poker chips as high as the gun's magazine capacity. Every action, they'd strip off a number of chips equal to the number of rounds they shot. When the stack was gone, underneath were the rules used for reloading the gun (Shadowrun required different actions depending on how you loaded the gun). People thought it was pretty neat, and people did track their ammo under that system, but that seems like a lot of work for a minor detail. I'll have to think about that some more. For the meantime I'm ignoring it.

Now melee weapons, not that they'll see much use in my game. In the current group I'm playing with, several own knives, but none of them know how to use them. At all. They just like to draw them slowly to intimidate people they're interrogating. Seriously, they make the shhhhhhk sound effect and everything. It's clearly not the kind of thing that calls for a robust melee weapon catalog, but hey, better to have it done than get caught unprepared. Besides, guns ported over pretty easily.

I once designed a system that gave blunt weapons a higher damage code than bladed ones, but that let any bladed damage that penetrated armor do double. Seemed like a nice touch. For this, though, I'm thinking straight port from SR is again in order. Damage code is dependent on the Strength attribute, which I don't have, so the base value needs to be bumped up a little, let's say 2, since that puts the base damage on par with a lot of guns. Sure, melee weapons can't burst fire, but I have this idea that guns can't produce yin dice (you can't block with a gun), while melee combat does. So to dodge in a firefight, you'll need to combine Firearms with Dodge (which costs extra shots), while Armed Combat will give you both yin and yang dice. That seems like a good tradeoff.

Anyway, back to converting the weapons. Drop the penetration for the same reason as the guns, and reach... on the fly I'll say that reach gives you the rating in bonus dice but adds to your shot cost when using the weapon. Basically I'll add the reach rating to the weapon's speed when figuring out its shot cost. Forget relative reach. Theoretically if two guys are facing each other with reach weapons, giving them both a bonus should even things out.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Since I'm at a point where I'm playing solo fights with characters smacking each other into unconsciousness, I realized I need to figure out how to handle initiative. I know I want to allow for speed to account for multiple actions, and not just put you at the top of the round.

Enhanced reflexes is a fundamental part of the Shadowrun game, and it's one that the line has struggled to address throughout its history.

Originally, everyone generated an initiative total, and combat started with the highest roll and progressed down. If your roll -10 gave you a positive number, you went again at that score. The problem was you could have a street samurai with an initiative of 32 acting on rounds 32, 22, 12, and 2, while the mage would act on round 6. If they're on opposite sides of the fight, the sam most likely screamed "Geek the mage!" and pumped about 20 pounds (sorry, kilos) of lead into him long before he could act.

Shadowrun 3 changed the procedure a little. You still generated your initiative total, and you still got to go multiple times if your initiative -10 netted you a positive number. However, everyone got to go once. Then everyone subtracted 10 from their total, and those who still had actions went down the list again.

Shadowrun 4 got rid of the whole -10 thing entirely and instead granted extra actions based on your level of augmentation. In play, it turned out a lot like SR3, with everyone getting their turn in order, and then the faster guys going again (and maybe again).

My group understands the need to balance game reality with playability, but they haven't loved these initiative solutions. I've got a mage in the party, and he's begged me not to make speed the king of combat, but others want to see speed play a significant role.

I've always thought that Feng Shui's initiative system was neat. Your initiative total gives you a number of "shots," which are like action points. Your actions spend these and lower your total. When that lowered number comes up, you can go again. It's very similar to how Shadowrun's older initiative systems work, but makes your actions more important to when you go again. That gives me another way to represent reflex augmentation: reduced shot cost. I like that.

The thing is, I don't like the idea of breaking the action and rolling for initiative every round. Dungeons and Dragons did away with round by round initiative in third edition, and it worked remarkably well.

What I've settled on is a modification of the second edition Exalted initiative system. Exalted has a wheel with 8 segments, and your actions move you a number of wedges forward. When the combat reaches your wedge, you can act again. That lets me still represent augmented reflexes with a reduces action cost, but I can do so without a round by round initiative roll.

In reading reviews of the system, I found a lot of complaints about how it worked, but they seemed to hit the same button most times. In this system, your defensive value drops the more you do in an action, but when it's your turn again your defense resets. The complaint was that fast characters not only went a whole lot, but they remained untouchable.

My hope is that by making defense ablative (remember, you have to spend your yin dice to counter your attacker), I'll avoid this problem. In theory it sounds good, so I'm going to give it a go.

However, instead of an 8 wedge wheel, I'm going 10. It was a suggestion from my wife to expand the wheel a little, and her number's perfect. Since 10 is the max die pool in this system, a character's initiative won't ever have more than 10 dice. Thus, when rolling initiative at the opening of combat, you start on the wedge equal to the number of successes you rolled on your initiative check. No successes? You start on wedge 10 after combat goes one round around the wheel.

For the moment, initiative is its own stat, with its own pool and method. These two, along with a shot cost modification, can all be bettered though augmentation, though obviously I haven't touched that yet.

Off to create shot costs for actions in a round.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Throw Down!

With knacks and wounding done, and combat using the same basic resolution system that knacks use, I'm ready to stat up some characters and have them go at it. Yeah yeah, I have no weapons and no armor and don't know exactly how either works yet, but I can at least use the rules to have myself an MMA brawl or something.

I'm particularly fond of the pools mechanic from Shadowrun 2. In a nutshell, you had pools for various types of actions, like combat. Throughout the round, you could draw extra dice from this pool to add to your attack and defense rolls. Once you spent the pool, it was gone until next round, when it refreshed. Because it came back so easily, people rarely hoarded it, and it added a player controlled tactical element to managing your character. One of my players is a big fan of them as well.

I want something like pools in this system, but I'm not sure handling them the same way is the answer. Remember, I'm shooting for smaller die pools. I do like the simple resource management pools add however.

As a compromise, I'm borrowing a rule from Wushu: when you roll your action, you split your successes into yang dice (attack) and yin dice (defense). Your yin dice cancel out your opponent's yang dice, and if you clean him out entirely, he misses.

This sounds like an opposed roll, doesn't it? It is, sort of. But I'm thinking that you split your successes into yin and yang on your action, and you hang onto your yin dice until your next turn. Thus you roll your offense and defense on your turn and hang onto that result throughout the round. Technically this is an opposed roll, but the only person rolling is the one who's acting on a turn. Should speed things up while still granting that tactical element.

Post Playtest Note
I ran a simple combat all by my lonesome. After having two mock characters smack each other around for a bit, I can say that as far as a basic resolution system I'm happy with it. It took forever for one side to put the other down, but I'm thinking the addition of weapons will change that.

At first blush this might leave empty hand enthusiasts without a good game options, but I figure anyone who really wants to do his best Bruce Lee impression will invest in abilities that give him additional hand to hand options (adept powers or cyberware), neither of which I've created yet.

Going all out and leaving nothing for defense can really hurt your opponent, but if you don't put him down, having no yin dice hurts you pretty badly too.

Side note, the d8s for wound penalties seems pretty cool. I'm succeeding with them more often than I expected, but I'm also using mock characters designed to fight (high Razor method).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wound Penalties

I said from almost the very beginning that I wanted wound penalties, and I also said I didn't want them to ever render a character completely ineffective. This means dropping dice from a pool is out. This also means jumping the number of successes needed in tests is out.

I considered dropping a character's method, but if I'm staging this by wound level this means even a specialist (method 5) at a deadly wound only rolls successes on a 1. Again, he's effectively nerfed and that's no fun.

I've got a quirky idea. I'm not sure how I feel about it, and I've not seen anything like it used before, but it's the best thing I've come up with so far. I need something that makes success less likely without reducing the die pool. So how about change the type of dice rolled?

For each level of wound, replace one d6 in your pool with a d8; your method remains the same. The switch in die type feels a little inelegant to me, but it does exactly what I want it to: makes success harder to come by without making it impossible. Even if someone's entire pool is converted to d8s, he's still capable of acting, but he's going to have less chance of success.

My big problem? Even with my monster collection of dice, I only have 3d8. I hope my players have more than that.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I really like the idea of consequences as presented in Fate. They give narrative control of a character's wounding to the player. That isn't something I've seen before, and it's a cool way of getting descriptive detail into the game without me dictating a litany of pain to one of my players. I figure if they're mutilating themselves, it won't hurt as badly.

But the way Fate uses consequences doesn't feel quite right for Shadowrun. In Spirit of the Century, consequences don't come into play until your stress meter is already filled, and the condition monitor I have is twice as big as the one in Spirit of the Century and it's split along stun and physical. My characters are going to be able to suffer a ton more punishment than those made under Fate. In fact, it'll likely take a long combat in order for them to top out their health meters and begin taking consequences, and avoiding long combats is something that got me started on this project in the first place.

In order to bring consequences into play earlier, I'm going to try putting them into the players' hands. Instead of an additional level of damage, they're an alternate level of damage. When a character takes a hit, he can choose to mark off the box, or he can suffer a consequence instead. If he takes the consequence, the box on his condition monitor stays clear, but he now has some sort of wound that the enemy can exploit and gains bonus dice when acting against the character. Right now, I'm thinking you can take one consequence per wound level, so one light, one moderate, etc., and the number of dice it grants your opponent equals the severity: 1 light, 2 moderate, and so on.

Except I don't think consequence is a heavy enough term for Shadowrun, so I'm going to go with "injuries" instead.

Of course, with injuries providing bonuses to your opponent, there needs to be some consequence to having damage marked on your condition monitor. The knee jerk response is to inflict a die pool penalty equal to the wound severity (1 light, you get the idea by now). But this goes back to the death spiral issue. At a deadly wound, any knack below 5 is rendered useless. And yes, at a deadly wound you're not going to be tip top, but this is a game, and games should be fun. Not doing anything is not fun.

That's next on the agenda.

Friday, May 14, 2010


At first blush, Fudge's damage system seemed to be pretty similar to others I'd seen. In fact, it looked a lot like Shadowrun's own. However, while it had a damage track with boxes you filled in as you took hits, there was one important difference that I thought was fascinating: damage wasn't cumulative. For example, say you've got a damage track ten boxes long. You take a 3 point hit. You fill in box #3, but boxes 2 and 1 remain clear.

Neat. I like that.

Fate has an interesting option when it comes to damage as well. Once you fill up your damage track, you take what are called consequences. These are injuries you describe that your opponent can use to gain bonuses against you. That sounds like a great way around that death spiral problem. It makes injuries important, but doesn't cripple you. Sure, your opponent might suddenly become a whole lot more powerful, but you're still able to do things. Worth considering.

After messing around with a damage track model taken from Fudge, what I've got is something akin to an inverted condition monitor from the older Shadowrun editions. It's 10 boxes long, and divided into four wound levels: Light, Moderate, Serious, and Deadly. However, unlike Shadowrun, I have the number of boxes decrease per wound level, so Light has more than Moderate, which has more than Serious. Deadly still has just one box.

Like Fudge, damage in this system doesn't backfill. When you take a 6 point hit, you only fill in box 6; 1-5 remain clear. If you take a hit to a box that's already filled, you instead fill in the next highest box that is clear. Thus you can eventually suffer death by papercuts, but stubbing your toes after taking a single, severe hit won't take you out.

As an additional bonus, because each box of damage represents a separate injury, this works much better with Shadowrun's own magical healing rules, which state you can only cast a healing spell on a single injury once. The problem was it was difficult to keep track of what was a single injury since all the damage was cumulative. In this system, each box is a separate wound, which means you can cast heal once each box. How's that going to work? I have no idea, but it's nice to know this is working with other game details nicely already.

Finally, there's the issue of augmentation. In Shadowrun a variety of implants and powers increase your Body score, which in a way represents the ability to take damage. Certain metahuman species gain bonuses to Body as well. In Fate, certain knacks add to your stress meter.

Since I have no soak roll, and no attributes, adding to some sort of resilience score isn't an option. I do like the idea of adding to the condition monitor, but the thing is that lengthening it doesn't just give you the capacity to take an additional hit. Because each box has a damage value, tacking more boxes onto the end drastically increases a character's damage capacity. For example, adding just one more box onto the end of the condition monitor means that a character can take an 11 point hit. Flat out, just take it. A standard character would drop from that (or suffer an injury and still take damage, but I'll get to injuries in another post).

Then I got an idea: if each damage box is its own wound, why not grant additional wound capacity at existing levels. For example, a tough character would have two separate 6 point damage boxes, meaning he could take a 6 point hit twice before rolling up to higher levels. This expands his ability to suffer damage and stay on his feet without rapidly making him into an untouchable powerhouse. Even if a character had 4 rating 6 boxes, one well placed hit from a high powered weapon would put him in as much trouble as anyone else.

From a game design perspective, this prevents power creep. I can have tough PCs running around (which makes our street sam happy), but in the end he'll still have human limitations, which means I don't have to equip the opposition with heavy machine guns and sniper rifles just to have a prayer of inserting danger into the scenario.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Knack List

I sat down with three Shadowrun books, the main book from the second, third, and fourth editions, and compared their skill lists. You'd be amazed at how different they were. At the same time, I was reading Fudge, which I found to be very interesting in light of the fact I'm writing my own system. For those not familiar with it, Fudge is a game system that is highly adaptable, allowing you to customize it to your tastes. As such, portions of it almost read like an RPG design guide than a rulebook.

On the matter of skills, Fudge discusses the depth vs breadth consideration of skill lists. You can go broad, painting abilities in wide strokes that leave you with fewer skills, or you can go more detailed, meaning each skill covers less ground and characters have more to choose from.

This being Shadowrun, I of course immediately thought of guns. In that context, we're talking about having a single guns skill or pistols, rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, etc. Shadowrun itself has done it both ways over its various editions.

This being a game I'm designing for my particular player group, I decided to ask them directly. One player said he preferred simple rules he could learn and then push aside. Another, a gun enthusiast, said the granularity was important, not only for realism but for the feel of the game. If the game was a game of specialists, you should specialize your skills.

So I'm borrowing a page from the second edition of Shadowrun and I'm compromising. Knacks will be broad (one guns skill), but you can specialize if you like. In fact, there are two levels of specialization, just like there were in SR2. You can concentrate, which focuses your knack, and you can specialize, which narrows it further.

For example, Firearms is the basic knack. You can concentrate in one type of firearm, like pistols. Now your knack only applies to pistols. You can narrow this further by specializing in one specific kind of pistol, such as the Savalette Guardian (because does anyone ever use a different pistol since Fields of Fire came out?).

This gives granularity to those who want it, but provides a basic knack list to those who don't care about the options additional complexity offers and just want it simple.

Monday, May 10, 2010

No More Skills

I had another revelation as I was looking over Fate again: skills are gone. Well, sort of. I'm planning on keeping learned abilities like guns and climbing as die pools, but I'm not calling them skills because there will be other die abilities available through die pools as well.

Fate has no attributes. The only scores your character has are his skills, but Fate's skills aren't just learned things. They include other aspects of the character like wealth, resilience, and strength. This strikes me as perfect. You want to be a really strong character? Select Might as one of your starting skills. You want to be rich, put Resources high on that skill pyramid.

In fact, using this skill pyramid to take care of a lot of the non-skill character qualities fits very well with Shadowrun. Veterans of the game will recall the priority system, in which you assigned priorities to things like race, money, skills, etc. The higher the priority, the more points you got to spend on that aspect of your character. I see no reason to do something like that with the skill pyramid.

So your money is determined by your Resources, and that gets a rank just like any other skill. You want more? Put it higher. Same with magic. You buy your level of awakening by assigning it a slot in your pyramid. You want to be strong, or tough, or willful, you put those on your skill pyramid.

This means the skill list is going to have more than skills on it, and thus it needs a new name. I've got the term "knacks" kicking around in my head. I wonder where I got that from?

Okay, knacks it is. So you can buy non-skill abilities with slots of your knack pyramid if you like. But, and here's the thing, if you don't put them on your pyramid you're not punished. You might not be as strong or rich as someone who does, but you don't suffer penalties. I want to reward player choices, not punish them, and so I'm looking toward giving bonuses rather than penalties.

As a side note, handling resources this way works really well for my group. Or at least I think it will. You can have a permanent lifestyle, the quality of which is determined by your resource knack, and then the entire thing is done. I know my players would routinely forget to buy lifestyle, and when they did they'd only buy a month of squatter. Plus, no one remembered to pay rent unless I said something. It obviously wasn't a detail that interested them. This works it back into the game in a way that doesn't require micromanagement.

Now, Fate's skill list is for Spirit of the Century, which is a pulp game. Thus its entries are appropriate for an early 20th century world. Shadowrun is decades ahead of our own time and features a high level of technological advancement. Thus, there's going to have to be some reworking. Looks like I'm making that knack list by hand after all.

Friday, May 7, 2010

First Playtest

My group finished up an adventure with time to spare for the evening, so I asked them to indulge me and try out the bare bones of the system I'm putting together. If you've been following my progress, you know I had no rules for augmentation, spellcasting, or even combat and wounding. All I had was basic die resolution. But hey, if the dice themselves have significant problems, best to learn that now than after I create the rest of the system, right?

I explained to them how methods worked, then gave them all 3x5 cards and asked them to make characters. I used point buy for methods, ripped straight out of Wilderness of Mirrors, and Fate's skill pyramid. For skills, I tossed them the GM screen and said to pick whatever they liked.

I didn't have a scenario planned, so I borrowed another aspect of Wilderness of Mirrors and had them come up with the run and all its details on the fly.

Results of the playtest?
  • Contacts as an attribute was fantastic
  • Die system is very easy to learn
  • Interplay of method and skill rating is interesting and effective
  • Shadowrun's skill list isn't a good one for this system; I need to make my own tailored to my mechanics
All in all, they liked what they saw, but more work is required. Still, off to a good start.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


While creating methods I had, for a brief moment, considered making the methods into die pools and using them as extremely broad skill pools. Thus a character would only have five ratings and these would encompass both skill and attribute. Wilderness of Mirrors does something like this, in fact.

However, Wilderness of Mirrors is designed to bring the exploits of Bond and Bourne to life, and while there are similarities between shadowrunners and secret agents, the fact is that shadowrunners are simply not as omnicompetant as your average secret agent. Thus there needs to be more granularity in whatever skill metric I use.

So, skills.

Since methods don't add dice to your pool, I have some leeway in setting the rating for skills. For ease, I'm going to shoot for a 1-10 range. Nice and simple, and it tops you out at 10 dice, which can be quite commanding, especially with a high method, but isn't such a big pool that you'll be sifting for long.

Since skills determine what you can do, it makes sense to pillage Shadowrun's own skill list. After all, this system is being used for that game, and no skill list is more appropriate than one that's already written for it.

With that massive load taken care of, it's time to turn to figuring out how you get ranks in skills. While the most common method is build points, I'm rapidly losing interest in such systems. They're flexible, no doubt, and I love giving my players options, but I'm older and my time is more precious to me than it was 10 years ago. I don't like games that require a session (or two!) dedicated just to making characters. It's one thing if we spent that time coming up with individual and group stories and hooks, but hours of number crunching on end? No thanks. Not for me, nor for most my group.

I'm going to try the skill pyramid from Fate instead. In a nutshell, you get one skill at 7, two at 6, three at 5, etc. This gives you plenty of options and flexibility, but removes the number crunching of buying individual ranks.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Methods, part 2

Last post I talked about ditching attributes in favor of broader categories called methods, but I'm still left with the same problem of expanding die pools. Or, rather, I was. Then I read Wushu, and ran across a mechanic I thought dovetailed perfectly with methods as I've defined them.

So now, methods run from 1-5, and any die that rolls equal to the method or under is a success. This means methods play a significant role in representing competence without inflating the die pool. Your skill will give you the number of dice to roll, and your method will determine what number is a success. While this introduces a little variance in terms of target number, it seems pretty easy to learn and remember.

I'm quite enamored with this solution. So much so that I'm prepared to move on to skills and consider this done for the moment.