Saturday, July 31, 2010

Five by Five - Character Creation

In revising character creation for this new version of Five by Five, I tried to actually streamline the process even more than it was in the original version of 2 years ago. I cut back on the number of starting traits and tried to make rating of traits more intuitive.

This is also a part of my rules that had changed a bit from the original as I introduced the idea of defining traits as "Action Traits" (the default type of trait and the only type of trait discussed in the original Five by Five rules) and "Intensity Traits" a new type of trait that should make Five by Five work better in settings with super powers.

With the new rules and the first substantial rewrite from the original edition the character creation section looked a bit of a mess.

Rob Lang's Free Guide to organizing your RPG has some very specific instructions regarding the content and organization of the character creation section ... maybe it will help. Rob advises:

Begin this section by listing all of the steps so that the reader knows what is coming.

Then describe each of the steps, giving examples when needed.

Optionally, include a start-to-finish character generation.

Make sure your example character will fit into the example adventure you provide.

Don't put your skills inline unless there is only half a page of them. Put them in the Appendix.

The step-by-step summary of character creation helps a little to pull things together, as does the start to finish example of character creation placed at the end. But things, still didn't flow.

Rob advises not putting you "skill lists" in the character creation section. All though this has been a topic of some debate, I had already pulled my rather random (and long) list of skills out of the section and tucked it away in the back.

An explanation of Trait values included a few tables in line, but I didn't want to move them. But there was something here that did need moving. I had placed lists of equipment and information about equipping a character in my character creation section and I decided that this stuff needed to go.

I pulled the information about Equipment out of the character creation section and things got much better very quickly. Now I am feeling pretty good about the flow of the document and I am ready to take the next step:Mechanics.


Jeff Moore

(I was really pleased with the character creation example. The example character's concept changes as a result of the player's choice of "weak trait" and is reevaluted mid-stream. I think it's a good example of how a character concept can evolve as you begin to apply the "rules." The example character page is shown above as my blog post image. Click on it and check it out at full size.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Superhero RPG Renaissance

Are we living in a Superhero RPG Renaissance? I just saw the announcement of the Smallville RPG from Margaret Weis Productions. I have bought the Serenity RPG and also have the PDF copy of the Cortex System (which I received as part of my free package of goodness following a donation to Haiti survivors.)

I like Cortex and Margret Weis seems to be making a nice niche for themselves with licensed products. Good on them. I look forward to seeing this updated version of Cortex, and to see how it handles super-powers. But Smallville isn't the only supers RPG on my wish list.

There's also The DC Adventures RPG (using what will become the new Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition) and BASH! Basic Action Super Heroes Ultimate Edition (up for an Ennie for best game system!)

... then there's recent purchases of Icons (by Steven Kinson of M & M fame)

... and Villans and Vigilantes (the original classic returns!)

Add to that the sixth edition of Champions from Hero Games ...

... and Truth and Justice which is still available (and is a personal favorite) ...

... and I have to ask ... "Has there ever been a more diverse selection of Super-Hero RPG's available to the gaming consumer?"


Jeff Moore

Classic Move Night - Harvey (1950)

So for our second weekly classic movie night we watched the Jimmy Stewart film: "Harvey" from 1950. Harvey is another comedy. I begin to realize as I look back at movies that I want to watch that many if not most of them are comedies. I personally think that the classic movie comedies had more style and substance than the majority of what we have today. I am not sure it's really the case, but it's just the romanticized memories I have of them.

Harvey is about a man, Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart,) his sister Vita (Josephine Hull - who positively steals the show,) and her daughter (Elwood's niece) Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horn.) The Dowds are a well-to-do family and Vita has high aspirations for her daughter Myrtle Mae to marry a wealthy influential man. Vita's plans are challenged however by Elwood, or rather Elwood's unique problem.

Elwood it seems is the town crack-pot. I am not sure when "Harvey" is set, but I am going to guess 1919 which puts the story just after World War 1 and just before prohibition. (Elwood frequents bars and Vita makes a point of criticizing his drinking.) There are telephones, but I never see a radio or TV ... there are cars, but I am terrible with identifying models of cars, so for me ... they are no help. But the asylum where Vita tries to have brother Elwood committed has a new electric gate (invented by the gate guard) that is seen as a novel and new concept, if that's any indication. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that in this setting or time period, it seems that people's views of "crazy" are pretty extreme, as most, after meeting Elwood, go running in the other direction screaming.

Elwood has an imaginary friend. A six-foot tall upright walking, talking rabbit named, "Harvey." Elwood introduces "Harvey" to Vita's guests at a fancy dinner party that Vita has arranged for her daughter Myrtle Mae and this has the effect mentioned above, scaring everyone away. Vita is at her wit's end and calls her good friend the mayor (who obviously has a soft-spot for Vita) and puts into action their plan to finally have dear old Elwood committed.

"Dear-Ol' Elwood" is an appropriate moniker because no one in town is kinder, sweeter and more generous than Elwood P. Dowd. As a human being he is "pleasant" to a fault. It is this quality that endeared me to Elwood and to the movie Harvey. It is this quality that ultimately saves him from the asylum and allows the movie to end happily ever after.

I remembered really enjoying Harvey when I saw it as a teen, but my fellow classic movie cohort admitted to not really loving the film. ("It's okay ... " she had said.) I don't believe this re-viewing of the film changed her mind any, nor did it mine. I loved the film as much as I had remembered, despite forgetting about the absolutely forgettably contrived romantic story thread between the doctor at the asylum and his nurse. The nurse ends up with the doctor that she is obviously crushing on (some women are attracted to abuse) but, if I were her I would have slugged the obnoxious doctor in the chops and ran away with crazy, lovable Elwood. Perhaps it was this story line that had annoyed my friend. It detracts from the movie as a whole ... but it's not really important.

What is important is the mirror that the film holds up to the world as it asks the question, "Must we all go insane before we decide that it's okay to be kind to each other?"

I love this film. I love it because it has a genuine heart and soul that so many films today lack. I like it because I see a tiny bit of myself in Elwood and a lot of my dad and mom in the relationship between Elwood and Vita, as a man who was maybe too kind to every person that he met and a woman who wasn't so sure that this overt friendliness wasn't just a bit too overt.

The group had mixed feelings on this one, I obviously loved it, as did the other male member of our classic movie club. My girl friend fell asleep near the end, an indication that the film moved just a bit too slow. My classic movie partner in crime, seemed to be fairly indifferent, enjoying the film, but not over much. So, to engage her for next week I asked her to pick the next movie. She has chosen the Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire classic musical, "Funny Face." I've never seen Funny Face so, I look forward to next week.


Jeff Moore

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Five by Five: The Introduction

Rob Lang's Free Guide to organizing your RPG defines the next section of your RPG to be: The Introduction, and Rob has some pretty specific ideas regarding what that introduction needs to contain. Here's what Rob has to say:

The introduction is likely to be the first thing that the reader will go to after the cover, so ensure it is fluffless. 

It must include the following:

  • What is in the book? System? Setting? Sample adventure?
  • What is the genre of the setting? What are the major themes?
  • What will the characters do?
  • What sort of mechanic is it (dice/diceless/pool)?

At first, I took a look at the text of my "Introductory Section" which is really a collection of sections that contain what I consider to be introductory-like content, and thought ... this isn't going to work at all ... I'm going to have to rewrite everything. But, I took a deep breath and a step back, and in a moment, I was feeling up to the task.

One of my primary goals with this specific project is to revise the Five by Five rules while retaining as much as possible of the original (without rewriting it.) I don't want to create another new game. I just want to improve an old one. Ultimately, I added one paragraph to the beginning of my "introductory-like content" and in so doing satisfied most of what Rob is asking for in the Guide.

My original introductory-like content is sort of a lite and very broad / breezy look at what an RPG is. I haven't gone back to find it in Rob's guide but I seem to recall that the guide specifies another place for the "this is an RPG/How to RPG" type stuff (I think in an appendix.) I considered moving it, but decided not to.

Many games that I have read begin with a "this is how to RPG" section and although it's true that free online RPG's are most likely being read by experienced gamers only, I also know that experienced games have all seen this kind of content before and are adept at skimming through it to the next useful bits.

That said, should aforementioned experienced gamer give a copy of my game to her inexperienced little brother, I want the "How to RPG" type stuff right there up front in line where he can't help but find it. So I chose to leave this content as is. I don't consider it "fluffy" and to certain readers, I think it's essential. Plus, in reading over the introductory bits of my original text I found that they segue nicely into the section on character creation that comes next. So, I kept everything ... but I did add a little more.

What is in the book? System? Setting? Sample Adventure?

My original content didn't really seem to address this directly so I added a new paragraph at the very beginning of my introductory content with the header, "About These Rules" and I placed this information there.

There was a tendency to get "listy" here making the rules read like a text book. I don't want that and tried to keep the tone of this information more conversational. I talk about system in a very general way, letting hardcore RPG folks know that Five by Five is not the crunchy combat simulation they've been looking for. I don't talk numbers and processes here, but rather ideas and concepts.

What is the genre of the setting? What are the major themes?

Five by Five is a genreless RPG toolkit by design. It's what I want. I would love to see others with an interest in the system create "settings" books for Five by Five that narrow the system down to specifics, but that's not what I want to do here. That said, my introductory-like content from the original text talks about genre and themes in a very general way. It speaks about Five by Five's flexibility to adapt to any genre and any theme. I felt that filled the requirement here.

What will the characters do?

This is there in the final section of introductory content called, "Epic Heroes." It talks about the roles the players will take and the kinds of heroic characters they will play. This is the bit that I felt transitioned into the character creation section so well. Retained from the original rules unchanged.

What sort of mechanic is it (dice/diceless/pool)?

The technical bits about the system didn't exist, but I added just enough in the new paragraph I mention above to cover this final bit of "required information."


So, does the new paragraph add anything to the Five by Five rules? Well, it certainly can't hurt. Also, one thing this process did was make me realize that my "introductory-like content" was not really defined as a cohesive whole. It was made up of several small independent sections each with its own header. I changed this by creating sub-headers (which the original rules didn't have.)

Now all that "introductory-like content" that had it's own headers are all sub-headers under the "About These Rules" main header that I mention adding above. And that is an improvement because the added paragraph ties all the "introductory-like content" together under a single header and suddenly my "introductory-like content" becomes a proper introduction.

Looking at the text now and seeing the introduction as a cohesive whole, and as an independent section distinct from the sections to follow, improves the flow of the Five by Five text quite a bit and Rob's Guide once again fulfills it's purpose as an effective organizational tool.


Next: Character Creation


Jeff Moore

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Classic Movie Night - Some Like It Hot (1959)

So, I have a friend who, like me, is really into older classic movies. I grew up spending the wee hours of the morning watching really old movies on TV in the days before cable TV (or at least the days before we had cable TV.) Local broadcast networks would show old movies and there was no such thing as Turner Classic Television or whatever that old movie channel is called. We got to talking about old movies while other friends who were with us sort of "rolled their eyes" like we were crazy ... and we decided then and there to institute a "Classic Movie Night" to watch an old movie together and show these uppity young'ns what they were missing.

For our very first Classic Movie Night I chose the Billy Wilder / Marilyn Monroe comedy, "Some Like It Hot."

Some Like It Hot is about two down on their luck musicians from Chicago, Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon,) who play any job they can get during the prohibition era of the 1920's. The beginning of the film finds the pair playing jazz at a speak-easy run by mobster Spats Colombo (George Raft.) Joe plays tenor sax and Jerry plays base fiddle. Working for the mob proves to be dangerous business however, and the two are witness to the massacre of a rival mob (on Valentine's Day, no less.)

The only witnesses to the murders and being pursued by the mob, Joe and Jerry need to get out of town in a hurry, but they have no money and no real means of escape. Fortunately, a local talent agency is looking for a sax and a bass to play on an all expenses paid gig in sunny Florida. It's perfect. The catch? It's an all girls band. What happens next is obvious as Joe and Jerry become, Josephine and Daphne (Jerry never did like the name Geraldine,) and Some Like it Hot becomes one of the first buddy-movies in drag.

Initially, the two plan to maintain the ruse just long enough to get to Florida and then run for it, but on the train bound for Florida, Joe becomes enamored of Sugar (Cane) Kowalski (Marilyn Monroe) and convinces buddy Jerry to stick around for the long haul. Before the plot has even a second to settle down, Jerry is taking on a third persona as a millionaire named "Junior" (Shell-Oil, Junior) which Curtis plays in a cheesy Cary Grant affectation. Sugar falls for Junior/Joe/Josephine's shtick and Jerry/Daphne is roped into dating an actual millionaire (a dirty old man who pinched her/him in the "elevator") so that Junior can stage his date with Sugar on the millionaire's yacht.

Just when you think things can't get any more crazy, who should show up but, Spats Colombo and his gang; there to attend a convention for "Lovers of Italian Opera" which is code for every mob family from every major city in the United States. Joe and Jerry spot the mobsters and try to run, but stumble instead into another massacre.

"Some Like It Hot" is nothing short of zany. The changes are fast and furious and that made this a perfect first movie for our group of skeptics who expect old movies to be slow and boring. "Some Like It Hot" is neither. Also, despite being over 50 years old, the comedy is funny. "Some Like It Hot" is very funny. Everyone enjoyed the movie and we all had a great time, despite some terribly Styrofoam-like popcorn.

As a side note, Marilyn looks absolutely beautiful in this movie. Despite being at her largest size on screen, she is also at her sexiest. And she wears some of the most fantastic (and sheer) sequined gowns ever seen on the silver screen. This movie pushed me from boyish innocence to lustful manhood when I was fourteen, and it probably explains why I've always found the most beauty in "full-figured" gals.

Now, if I can just convince my gal to dress as Marilyn for Halloween. I think "Some Like It Hot" just may have convinced her. Anyway ... a great time was had by all, and I am happy to declare my first official Classic Movie Night a grand success.

Next Movie: "Harvey"


Jeff Moore

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Closer Look at the Process ... Dedication Page

Rob's Free Guide to Organizing Your RPG recommends that following the cover the very next thing you put in your RPG is the Contents Page. I agree with this assessment, but it is also perhaps the very last thing that I will actually produce during the creation process. So, for now I have inserted a place holder and a page break. We will come back to the contents page later.

Dedication / Version Page

The Guide next recommends that your RPG has a "Thank you / Version / Dedication (TYVD)" page. It also says this is optional, but I am not sure that's entirely true, because it also seems like from Rob's example that this is where your copyright information should go. He even says "Always put a version on and a date." So, that doesn't seem so optional and shouldn't be ... so, Dedication Optional? -Yes ... Dedication PAGE Optional? -No ... you need to include a version and date for your work, even if you don't want to write any thank you's.

As it happens, I had a lot of thank you's I wanted to make and ended up paring things down to get it all to fit. I also needed a place to put the copyright/licensing notice for the artwork and chose to put it here. Add to that the creative commons license that I will eventually be placing all my works under I now have a pretty full page.

I laid this one out in a single column although my main document is all double columns. I just think that the Dedication Page looks better as a single column page.

I've titled the page: Acknowledgments rather than Dedications, but it's the same thing. To begin with I mentioned the two games whose design have the greatest influence on the creation of Five by Five. Those would be "Fable" by Benjamin E. Sones and Games Workshop's "Warhammer Fantasy Role Play."

Ben Sone's Fable is a free RPG. You can get it from John Kim's Free RPG's on the Web and nowhere else that I have been able to find. It appears that John is hosting the game for its original author. John has Fable listed in the "rules-lite" section of his site. Fable is sort of a Risus style "choose your trait" RPG. It's crunchier than Risus and does some fun things with dice and combat so I was motivated to give it a try. I played a handful of sessions of Fable with my friends and liked it enough that I began work on "my own version" ... this is what became Five by Five.

If Fable is to be credited for the "choose your trait" nature of Five by Five's character definition, then the combat system and in fact Five by Five's entire basic mechanic comes from Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. It's simply this. Everything has a value on your character sheet. For every task find the relative value on your sheet and roll equal to or less than that number. It was clean, easy and fast. No arbitrary difficulty numbers and no math, just roll and go. Some may criticize the mechanic as too simple (or even broken) but it remains one of my favorite game systems. It's just so effortless.

I find that when we bring a game to the tabletop, eventually we all become game designers after a fashion... taking our favorite bits from various games and incorporating them into whatever game we happen to be playing at the moment. It's in the spirit of these house-ruling moments that Five by Five was built. It's really little more than a mash-up of Fable and W.F.R.P. It's only fitting that I acknowledge that fact on my dedication page.

About the only original thing (at least in the RPG world) is the way that Five by Five deals with a six-sided dice, creating a "d5" ... but even that can be traced to inspiration from another source. James Kyle invented and released to the International Public Domain a set of components for a board game called, "Piecepack." Piecepack is to a board game what a deck of cards is to a card game. Generic components easily available to anyone, but with no specific rules. When you buy a deck of cards, you aren't buying one game ... you are buying the means to play many games. That's what Piecepack is.

Piecepack has among its components four six-sided dice, but these dice aren't numbered 1 through 6; they are numbered Ace (1) through 5 and one face is left blank. The blank face is referred to as a Null (0). I am sure it was in playing with the Piecepack and attempting to create an RPG style board game in the spirit of Milton Bradley's Hero Quest that the 5x5 die roll (where Five by Five gets its name) was born. So a tip of the hat goes to James Kyle and Piecepack as well.

Next, I thank Rob Lang. He's the reason you are reading this now. I have made Rob's Free Guide to Organizing Your RPG a permanent part of my creation process. Plus Rob has been a major champion of Free RPG's these past few years. He's a real life Free RPG Superhero.

And last I wanted to thank the guys who started it all, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. Really, without them, my life would be so much different ... I can't even imagine it ... it would be a life as bleak as that one created when Cordelia had wished that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. Gary and Dave have made my world a better place.

I put the licensing stuff for the art I bought from Skortched Urf' Studios next. I would love to use all "free" components in my projects if I could ... but good art of abundant and consistent quality is pretty hard to scratch up for free, and it's really amazing how inexpensive art packages like this have become.

Last it's my own creative commons notice of ownership and attribution. I had to go back and sneak in a version number after re-reading Rob's Guide. But, that was the only important bit I had forgotten.

So, there we have it. Step by step through my Dedication Page. A graphic copy of the page appears above and if you click on it you go to a slightly larger copy that is quite legible for those who want to see how things are turning out.

Next: The Introduction.


Jeff Moore

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Doing it right ... this time (The Cover)

So when I originally set down to "Follow the Guide" (wow... over a year ago now),  the intent was to go through the guide step by step and blog about the process along the way. Unfortunately, I got sort of lost in the creation process and my analysis and evaluation of the guide as a tool sort of fell by the way side.

I'd like to try again; to start fresh with the guide and make the next handful of blog posts not only an examination of an evolution of my game project but also a sort of critical analysis of the RPG Guide to point out what aspects of the guide were particularly worth while to me.

For example: my original post "glossed over" the first step in Rob's Guide, "The Cover." That was incredibly short-sighted of me, and this time I intend to make amends. So, without further adieu ... here is my guide to Rob's Guide ...

The Cover

I mentioned in my previous post that I had purchased some clip-art licenses from Skortched Urf' Studios and that I wanted to use them. Drive Thru RPG has a large number of commercial grade clip art collections available for use in projects by independent game designers like me, and the pricing is very reasonable. I bought the Modern Figures 1-4 Sketchbook Bundle. And for the most part I am happy with the purchase. However, the images are really only suited for "spot illos" with maybe two exceptions. Those two exceptions are both very nice full color illustrations with backgrounds and so I set about putting the two pieces together in the hope of creating something original for my cover.

Ultimately, my options in arranging the two images seemed very limited and I have had to resort to an unusual arrangement for the cover text to make things work. However, when all is said and done I find that I am very happy with the results and the necessity to squeeze my title text into the space available has resulted in what I think is a very interesting and striking title logo. So, for me, this was a win win.

Rob's guide mentions the cover should contain the title of your RPG and your name. Check. Now, these things may seem obvious, but let me tell you ... I have links to a number of free RPG sites listed here on this blog and a handful of those don't have covers on them ... so, maybe the necessity for a cover isn't obvious to everyone, or perhaps some would consider its inclusion optional.

All I know is that when I took my revised 5x5 text and I put this cover in front of it, I gained an immediate sense of accomplishment. Somehow my work didn't feel as complete or professional without its cover as it does now. It's amazing how a simple thing like a cover makes my 8 page document feel so much more like a "real book" and not just an amateur fanzine or pamphlet. Those individuals who have created their own free RPG's and have decided to distribute them without covers, I urge you to reconsider.

It's amazing what a cover can do.


Jeff Moore

Back to the Guide ... New 5x5 on the way.

So, just a quick update to say I am working on a revised edition of Five by Five that unlike Xceptional will stay as close as possible to the original game while cleaning up just a few rules. Character Advancement has changed. Character level has been removed. And a few new ideas are introduced, but as much as possible I am keeping it the same game. So what am I doing to make this a proper revision worth excitement and hyperbole?

Well, I've completed the rules updates and added them to the body of the original text. So, I am now taking that text and squeezing it through Rob Lang's Free Guide to Organizing your RPG. The difference between this project and Xceptional is that the game is written. The design work is done and I believe that will actually put me in a better position to use the guide properly. It's called a guide to organizing an RPG, not a guide to creating one... so I think it will be interesting for me to see how applying the guide enhances a work that was already completed sans the guide.

Also, I have bought license for a bunch of professional clip art from Skortched Urf' Studios, and have been anxious to use it, so this revised version of Five by Five will have all new art work.

And finally, I will be releasing this version of Five by Five with a creative commons, attribution license that will allow other creators to use or add to Five by Five however they might like.

I think that's plenty to be excited about.


Jeff Moore