Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Something old ... something new ...

So lately I have been working on a medieval skirmish combat version of the Xceptional Game mechanic that would allow me to concentrate on combat in general and weapons and armor specifically. I had a bunch of rough ideas on paper which I decided to dump here because I felt like I needed to post something, and every once in a blue moon (oh, so rare, but really welcome) some one will read something I've posted and say something encouraging ... and I needed some encouragement.

Then a few days later I look at the post, and ... well as you know, I found it to be a mess. So I have "gone back to the drawing board" as it were. The thing is, I am in fantasy skirmish combat mode now and still haven't put that to bed. So some of the work I did in trying to improve the weapons and armor aspect in Xceptional is finding its way into what I am doing now, but what I am doing now isn't Xceptional ... it's new.

Or, actually it's really old. As I decided that trying to force the Xceptional Game mechanic to become something it wasn't was like trying to chop down a mighty oak tree with a small herring, I began to look for something to replace it with. And I had something already prepared. Or at least remembered from long ago.

The very first RPG that I ever tried to create was called Xerospace. It was science fiction and a mix of space opera and mutants with super powers (the premise being that the act of traveling through Xerospace (my own version of hyperspace) actually caused mutations (aka super powers) ... it was Star Wars meets the X-Men. And as with everything I do, it had it's own quirky little game mechanic. One that I haven't fiddled with since 1997. Just for fun I laid it in to the work I was doing with Player Facing Rolls to see what might happen and ... wow!

So now I'm working on a completely new fantasy based game system and here we go again.

I am thinking of just calling this one Rage Precognition Grace after the three primary character Ability Scores which I am retaining. That was also the name I used for a 1 page RPG that I did, but it's mine name so I can reuse it if I want to.

I want to drop a quick note of thanks to Rob Lang at the Free RPG Blog. He gave a very nice little shout out to me on his blog that I only just read today (and it couldn't have come at a better time.) After throwing up my hands in exasperation as my efforts to make the Xceptional mechanic do something it couldn't. I was really questioning myself. Sometimes when our creativity takes a hit, it's hard to recover. And there is very little gratification in the "free RPG game" let me tell you.

Rob's kind words gave me a much needed boost of self-confidence and renewed determination. So, I am writing again and feel invigorated in doing it. Thanks for that, Rob!


Jeff Moore

Monday, May 24, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board ...

Blah! Look at that last post ... what a mess! All those tables and notes and all in the name of making Xceptional easier?! LOL. Sometimes I need to take a step back and look at my work objectively. Or at least attempt to look at it objectively.

Xceptional is supposed to be an easy to use rules light system. It's not. The "control damage" mechanic is interesting in its own way and I like what it does in theory. But in practice I find that I am constantly trying to "fix" it. Okay, maybe it's time to admit that sometimes something isn't worth "fixing" and just leave it be.

The Xceptional document as it appears here doesn't suck. If someone finds something of interest within it ... that's awesome. But, as a playable game I believe it's scope of appeal is small and it's flexibility for growth and adaptation is even smaller.

A good game should be "home rule-able." That is the system should be accessible enough to encourage tinkering and tweaking from the folks around the table who play it. I think that "Five by Five" manages to capture that appeal. I don't think Xceptional does. The system is too inflexible. I am discovering this as I try to "home rule" the system myself ... and fail.

So I am scrapping those efforts and moving on. No harm; no foul. I just use what I have learned from this exercise and move on.

To start with I am going to define some clear cut design goals.

[1] A generic (read genre flexible) super-powers RPG. (I like superheroes, but believe the best thing about a good superheroes RPG is that it can be adapted by it's players to be any genre.)

[2] Choice based character creation that can be randomized (Xceptional does this, as does Hi/Lo Heroes - see those for examples of what I am trying to do. New players and players who are uncertain what sort of character they want to play can roll a few dice for inspiration. I think this is especially important in a genre as wide open and versatile as comic-book heroes.)

[3] No point buy. (I hate math based character creation. It's slow and demanding. It seems to be the "go to" method for most of the games of today which is the main reason why I believe there is still room in this crowded RPG market for what I hope to offer.)

[4] Character Classes (These old-school RPG mainstays remain to my mind the easiest way to introduce new players to their role in a play group. It's adventure hero stereotyping, and although some players argue that a class system in limiting, I have yet to experience a game where my character class prevented me from playing the character that I wanted to play.)

[5] Levels (Clearly defined character advancement guidelines that like the character generation mechanic do no depend on a "point" system to purchase power ups.)

[6] An easy and flexible resolution mechanic that lends itself to house-ruling should the players wish to do so. (The system should use 2d6 as the primary randomizer - this is my randomizer of choice.)

- There you have them ... my goals for the game I want to build. Any thoughts?

If you look back at my previous games, you can see signs of these goals in my works. That being said, I have not yet managed to capture that "perfect" mix. Hi/Lo Heroes is actually pretty good, but all the powers in the game are merely fancy names for die roll modifiers and nothing more.

I like Xceptional's approach to powers. The idea here was establishing a tight game mechanic and then using powers to "break the rules" in a very "collectable card game" kind of way. I'd still like to explore this, if I can do it without making the game too complex.

Interestingly, the soon to be released ICONS RPG comes close to matching many of my goals and I was tempted ever so briefly to simply abandon my quest for "my perfect" RPG and just to house rule Icons (It's system looks very easy and flexible and open to the type of tweaking any group might require to make the game their own.)

But, then I would have to live with the knowledge that I was never able to achieve this goal for myself. That I had presented myself with a challenge and that I had failed to meet that challenge. I like tinkering with game design. I want to see this through. Ultimately, If I can ever beat this beast it would be available here for free ... and that's a cool thing too for all us poor gamers who unfortunately can't afford to support a market that desperately needs our support.

That said, buy Icons when you get a chance. It's a good bit of work. If nothing else, use it to roll up random characters when you are stuck for ideas ... then convert the randomly created character to the "point buy system" of your choice ... if that's the way you roll. If that's all you ever used it for, I think you'd still get your money's worth. (Although, you might also try using my own Hi/Lo Heroes in this same capacity. I really do believe that Hi/Lo's random character creation works pretty well.)

Anyway ... this is me ... back to the drawing board.


Jeff Moore

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Player Facing Rolls in Xceptional

So I just read Ron Blessing's article on "Player-Facing Rolls" and it occurs to me that this sort of approach when applied to my Xceptional game mechanic may be exactly what I need to push my game system from pretty good to pretty awesome.

Player-Facing Rolls simply means that the GM doesn't roll dice. Every die roll falls to the player. The old Marvel SAGA system did this (but with cards) and the new ICONs game does too.

My system currently uses a "roll to hit" made by the attacker, followed by a "control damage roll" made by the defender. While not really an "opposed roll" system, it is one where both sides roll to resolve every attack and one where if we were to make the system "Player Facing" the total amount of dice rolling would be cut in half. This simplifies and speeds things up immensely.

Here is how I see it. The Xceptional combat system eliminates all the "ineffectual rounds" of combat keeping things fast and deadly by assuming that every declared attack scores a successful "Hit." The only roll remaining is the "Control Damage" roll and its effect depends on which side of the attack the player is on.


Player rolls an Offensive Action check.

Critical Success = Monster suffers one hit. Player chooses which Ability takes the hit. Player Rolls to Attack again!

Basic Success = Monster suffers one hit. Player chooses which Ability takes the hit.

Basic Failure = Monster suffers one hit. GM chooses which Ability takes the hit.

Critical Failure = Monster suffers zero hits. No Ability takes a hit.


Player rolls a Defensive Action check.

Critical Success = Player suffers zero hits. No Ability takes a hit.

Basic Success = Player suffers one hit. Player chooses which Ability takes the hit.

Basic Failure = Player suffers one hit. GM chooses which Ability takes the hit.

Critical Failure = Player suffers one hit. GM chooses which Ability takes the hit. Player must roll to Defend again!

Difficulty and Opposing Skill Values

Making "Player Facing Rolls" work by incorporating Difficulty ... skill vs. skill ...

Normally the roll under system is Trait x Skill. To improve the game mechanic to recognize difficulty (especially important since only the player is rolling dice) the multiplier applied to a Trait is no longer a flat skill value but rather a reflection of the difference between skill vs. skill ... this opens up the skill ranges immensely and allows for more freedom in character advancement as well.

The multiplier for the player's roll is based on the difference between his skill and the skill of his target.

Skill Factor is Player Skill minus Monster Skill:
Skill Factor
Roll Under Trait *X
-6 or less
Weakness (roll 0 on 1 die only)
-4 to -5
Roll 0 on 5x5 roll
-2 to -3
Roll Trait or less on 5x5 roll
-1 to +1
Roll Trait x2 or less on 5x5 roll
+2 to +3
Roll Trait x3 or less on 5x5 roll
+4 to +5
Roll Trait x4 or less on 5x5 roll
+6 or more
Roll Trait x5 or less on 5x5 roll


Player Skill minus Monster Skill (Find Player Skill down the side.)

M0 M1 M2 M3 M4 M5 M6 M7 M8
P0 x2 x2 x1 x1 x0 x0 W W W
P1 x2 x2 x2 x1 x1 x0 x0 W W
P2 x3 x2 x2 x2 x1 x1 x0 x0 W
P3 x3 x3 x2 x2 x2 x1 x1 x0 x0
P4 x4 x3 x3 x2 x2 x2 x1 x1 x0
P5 x4 x4 x3 x3 x2 x2 x2 x1 x1
P6 x5 x4 x4 x3 x3 x2 x2 x2 x1
P7 x5 x5 x4 x4 x3 x3 x2 x2 x2
P8 x5 x5 x5 x4 x4 x3 x3 x2 x2

While I'm at it, I also want to mention what I've come up with for weapons and armor. You may note that my new Player Facing Rolls mechanic derives a lot of meaning from not only basic success and failure but also critical success and failure. I have tied the frequency of critical effects (both success and failure) to weapons and armor. This opens up a wide range of useful weapon and armor values.

WEAPONS and ARMOR have values. These are cross indexed to determine "Critical Factor"

The 5x5 roll now uses dice of differing colors. Record the color of your "Critical Die" on your character sheet. A good option is a red and white die, where red is the Critical Die.

There is a target number that this die must reach before a critical success is achieved with a successful roll, or a critical failure is achieved with an unsuccessful roll.

Critical Factor Critical Success if ... Critical Failure if ...
-6 or less (No Critical Success Possible) Critical Die is a 3, 4 or 5
-4 to -5 Critical Die is a 0 Critical Die is a 3, 4 or 5
-2 to -3 Critical Die is a 0 Critical Die is a 4 or 5
-1 to +1 Critical Die is a 0 or 1 Critical Die is a 4 or 5
+2 to +3 Critical Die is a 0 or 1 Critical Die is a 5
+4 to +5 Critical Die is a 0, 1 or 2 Critical Die is a 5
+6 or more Critical Die is a 0, 1 or 2 (No Critical Failure Possible)

Check the Critical Success Column when you succeed at a task.

Check the Critical Failure Column when you fail at a task.

Critical Factor is equal to the difference between Armor and Weapon values and is dependent upon whether player is attacking or defending.


A0 A1 A2 A3 A4 A5 A6 A7 A8
W0 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 -8
W1 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7
W2 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6
W3 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5
W4 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4
W5 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3
W6 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2
W7 +7 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1
W8 +8 +7 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0


W0 W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W8
A0 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 -8
A1 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7
A2 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6
A3 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5
A4 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4
A5 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3
A6 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2
A7 +7 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1
A8 +8 +7 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0

Since players make all rolls, Monsters won't need Abilities except as a means to track damage, (but will still need skills to act as opposing values to determine difficulty.)


Monsters only have two Abilities: HIGH and LOW

HIGH = the larger pool of life points, usually where the Monster will choose to take damage when given a choice.

LOW = the smaller pool of life points, usually a small number, the Monster's "vulnerable spot." Generally, this is where the player will want to apply damage.

Monsters also have weapons and armor ... these may be actual weapons and armor or reflections of natural abilities like claws and scales.

This post seems a bit all over the place. It's a stream of ideas reflecting what I am working on right now and the kinds of changes that Xceptional is likely to see in the near future.

Just thought it might be fun to share.


Jeff Moore

Monday, May 17, 2010

ICONS RPG - First Impressions

Yay! I got my pre-order PDF copy of ICONS today and I couldn't wait to get home from work so that I could give it a read through. I also wanted to post about it right away to get out some first impressions!

First Glance... it's beautiful. Full color pages throughout (I think the print version will have black and white / gray scale pages ... oh, well.) The art is really neat and clean and bright and has a Bruce Timm influence. It matches the atmosphere and flavor of the game text and rules. The presentation is top notch ... that being said, the PDF lacks both a Table of Contents and an Index. That seems like a crime to me.

The game has both random character generation and a point buy option. I actually love the approach here to random generation. You will end up with characters of wildly differing power levels, but this is off-set by a special aspect called "Determination."

Determination is used for a variety of special things during game play and everyone has some to use, but characters with fewer powers have more than those characters with a lot of powers. This is meant to create a bit of balance. It means that even if you don't roll so well during character generation you will have more Determination to even things out.

I liked the random character tables a lot and they made me want to create a hero right away ... (that's cool!) I love random generation for games like this (and it's super rare!) because conceptually it's often hard for new players to know what they want to play when they step up to the table and are presented with a genre as wide open as comic book heroes. This game isn't for game balance Nazis or rules lawyers ... the system is pretty quick and dirty (but to me that reads, accessible and fun.)

I did notice some editorial discrepancies even in just my first few minutes with the book. Page 14 says Abilities greater than 6 count as Powers. Page 16 (the character creation example) says Ability over 7 ... later I found another reference (page 29) that says over 6 ... so, I can assume that any ability 7 and above is considered a power (for purposes of finding Determination) so, it's no big deal. On one of the tables a symbol meant to represent a Specialty Group (as opposed to a single specialty) is placed next to Wrestling, but it should be placed next to Weapons. I can figure this stuff out, but it kind of bothered me that the editor didn't catch things that bothered me on my first read through. (Plus no Table of Contents maybe the print version that I receive will have one of those though.)

The game system is loosely based on FUDGE but looks to be faster and easier and doesn't use FUDGE dice ... so, calling it FUDGE based to me is really only tipping of the hat to the game systems original source of inspiration. Everything about the system looks good and complete but I didn't see any form of character advancement or experience rules.

Despite this, the game looks good ... the book is gorgeous and I want to play this.

I'll post a more complete review of the game once I've had some time to absorb the material properly.



Friday, May 14, 2010

Kids who RPG ...

So, being a father with a 5 year old, I am always open to RPG type documents that are designed to introduce children to the hobby. A wonderful document called "RPG Kids" has been inspiration for a few one-off games with my daughter.

Last weekend, she asked me to play. I was thrilled! I had kind of coaxed her into it the first time. But this time, she asked me ... "that game with the treasure chest ... you know..." So, I quickly threw something together using Advanced HeroQuest tiles and prepainted mini's from HeroScape and we were ready in a few minutes.

I sat up a "dungeon" from the tiles in a sort of cross pattern (well a double cross) with four rooms with monsters and a final room at the end with a dragon. I set a miniature for me and one for Kaylee at one end of the dungeon and a dragon at the other end. I explained that hidden in the dungeon (one in each room) were keys to the Dragon's room and that we needed to get all four keys in order to enter the Dragon's lair and defeat the dragon.

I used different dice for our "characters" and the monsters. I gave Kaylee a d12 for her character and took a d10 for myself. The monsters in the first two rooms used a d6, the monsters in the next two rooms used a d8 and the Dragon used the d20!

Rolling to hit was an opposed roll of the dice ... high roll wins. When my character acted, Kaylee rolled for the monster, and when Kaylee's character acted, I rolled for the monster. One hit marked a character/monster as wounded, the second hit removed them from the board.

She was very competitive. When she was the monster she wanted to "win" just as much as when she was the Elven Princess. She didn't seem to understand that as fellow adventurers it was better when the Brave Knight beat the monster in a dice roll because the Knight and the Princess were on the same team. (My character was the knight, whom I couldn't name Jacob because that was a boy in her school and so I couldn't use that name ... she instead dubbed me, Sir Knight-Head.)

But despite this bit of confusion concerning just which "team" she should be rooting for, we both had a good time. She seems to understand the mechanics of the game in so much as "higher roll wins." But the Role-play aspects even simply understanding that the Princess and the Knight were one team unified to battle the monsters, seemed to allude her.

I want to try again this weekend and I want to include my girl friend in the game. I think that if my girl friend plays with us, and I maintain the exclusive role of the monsters, while she maintains the exclusive role of hero that it will all make more sense to her.

I'll let you know how that goes.