Thursday, February 23, 2012

Your Princess Is In 6X Castle

About a week ago I played a short but very enjoyable game of 6X.  6X is a two-page-long settingless RPG rule-set, intended for improvisation and pick-up games. Link to 6X rules.

The core mechanic of 6X is simple, and collaborative. Whenever someone tries to do something that would logically take a die-roll in another game, the group builds a d6 chart for that roll. The player picks what happens if they roll a "1", listing off exactly what they wanted to accomplish if everything goes perfectly right. The GM picks a "6" result, basically the worst case scenario. "2" to "5" are filled in by group consensus, with "2" and "3" being good things but not the full intended success, and "4" and "5" being failures or side-effects you'd probably rather avoid.

Honestly, I was a little dubious about the system going in. I couldn't imagine I'd be happy with a flat 50% success rate for all actions, and I feared the collaborative table-making would slow things down terribly. I'm pleased to say I was wrong. Table-making is super fast and simple, and is at the heart of the fun.

Our game was set in a fantasy kingdom made up on the spot. Since we did all the charts on paper, I can easily transcribe them here as an example of play.

Theme: Medieval Fantasy
Plot: The Princess has been kidnapped

Player Characters:

Captain Midea
Captian of the Royal Guard who hails from an Amazonian land. Good at archery and swordplay. Strong leadership skills.

Fülöp the Transmutor
Duttering old court wizard several years past his prime. Powerful sorcery in a frail body. Very poor eyesight. Wielder of the Sacred Staff of Bitterness.

Bevan Rees
Plucky young annoying assistant to Fülöp. Stupid lucky, sarcastic, underpaid. Magic is not advanced.

Set-up and Pitch:
Ireeki, the Royal Princess, has gone missing, and it's our job to find her… but we don't know that yet. The PCs are all servants of the royal court of a the King of... anybody got a name for a country?  Okay, it's called Walterland. The neighboring Kingdom called... Chevalier... is very antagonistic and may or may not be involved in the kidnapping. Go!

The 3 PCs and a few NPCs are standing outside the Grand Hall of His Majesty's Castle. We've been summoned to a private audience, but then told to wait until The King calls us in. The wait was pretty long, honestly, and the party-like sounds coming from the other side of the door did nothing to make us feel that there was a mystery or adventure afoot. Our interactions with the Royal Court Jester were silly enough to keep us amused even if the plot was spinning it's wheels. I really couldn't tell if the GM was floundering, or just trying to subtly let us know that the King wasn't really too concerned about his missing daughter. We chewed the scenery, developed our character personalities, and turned Bevin's fingers intermittently invisible with a minor transmutation.

Eventually, we realized out-of-character that the King wasn't really getting to us and the plot wouldn't start till we did something.  So that's when Bevin decided to sneak into the Grand Hall.

Bevin sneaks into Grand Hall
  1. Bevin sneaks in, and finds a beautiful woman in the royal court that is happy to dance with him.
  2. Bevin sneaks in, and finds a slightly attractive woman to dance with.
  3. Bevin sneaks in, and is about to dance with a beautiful woman, when Fülöp realizes he's gone missing and casts "summon assistant" to drag him back.
  4. Bevin sneaks in, and gets himself slapped by a beautiful woman.
  5. Bevin is kicked out by the guards, and it's really embarrassing.
  6. Guards catch Bevin sneaking about and throw him in the dungeon.

We rolled a "1", allowing Bevin a fine time dancing with a courtier. But the player of Midea figured she really out to be doing her in-character job as Captain of the Guard. So she heads in to the Grand Hall to drag Bevin out. 

So this was our second roll, and we didn't even know the plot, yet. The rules probably would have had us roll initiative and take interwoven actions, but we figured it'd be faster and easier to just make a contested roll table. Midea's player would chose the "1" result, Bevin's player the "6", and a single roll would resolve the conflict. I feel this was a great way to handle it, and will be my preferred way to resolve PvP conflicts in the game from here on out. There's a bit of abuse potential if the PCs chose results that affected the world more than each other, but I'm pretty sure the GM could easily punish such bad behavior in later charts.

Midea heads into the Grand Hall to get Bevin
  1. Midea pulls Bevin out without incident.
  2. Midea pulls Bevin out, but the earlier transmutation proves contagious, and now her fingers are intermittently invisible.
  3. Midea pulls Bevin out, but stops the party, causing a scene. This is NOT becoming of a guard!
  4. The King sees Midea and calls her over to talk. Bevin keeps dancing.
  5. "Sorry, Ma'am." The rest of the guards stop Midea from setting foot on the dance-floor.
  6. Midea tries to get Bevin off the dance floor. The beautiful courtier thinks Midea is trying to cut in, and scolds her in humiliating fashion.

Looking back on it, the table was kinda stacked against Midea, but at the time it wasn't obvious. The dice favored her however, rolling another "1". She halls Bevin out, and we all now get the joy of waiting patiently once again.

The GM eventually gives us admittance to the Grand Hall, but decides to throw me a little challenge in the form of the King's  Steward deciding my wizard is too old for whatever this mission is.  So I pull a Gandalf on them: "Do not take me for a conjuror of cheap tricks!"

Convincing the King's Messenger to admit Fülöp
  1. Fülöp briefly grows to 12 feet tall, wreathed in lightning and emphasized by a dramatic crash of thunder. The steward and messenger as so impressed and terrified, they show me nothing but respect forever after.
  2. Minor lightning hits the messenger, who is slightly dazed and somewhat impressed by this. He lets Fülöp in.
  3. The light show is kinda scary, they let Fülöp in just to get away from him.
  4. Fülöp gets the targeting wrong, making Bevin 12 feet tall. The apprentice runs into the hall and the wizard hobbles after him.
  5. Fülöp reverses the polarity, shrinking down to 6" tall and squeaking with minuscule rage that impresses no one.
  6. Fülöp accidentally turns himself invisible and the guards cannot find him.

We rolled a "3", which got the job done well enough. The GM, however, was not yet done making things hard for me. Seriously, I can't recall ever having to struggle this much just to be told what the mission was. Anyhow, I suppose I did it to myself by being the only PC with obvious flaws to poke at. Since Fülöp is old and frail, he can't bow before The King. At least, not without magical assistance to overcome his arthritis.

The Bowing Spell
  1. Fülöp successfully casts the spell, gracefully bowing despite his aged and stiff spine.
  2. Fülöp successfully cast the bow spell, but with the side-effect of turning purple.
  3. Fülöp successfully casts the bow spell, but lets loose a loud and undignified fart in the process.
  4. Fülöp bows, but the spell haywires and causes him to do some weird acrobatic upside down levitating bow.
  5. Power-word: Bow. Everyone but Fülöp feels compelled to bow. His Majesty is not amused.
  6. The senile old wizard accidentally confuses the "bow" spell for the "bath" spell. It's not pretty.

A "4" has Fülöp twisting and contorting, but at least not pissing off The King.  After proper respects are paid to His Majesty, we learn the plot.

Princess Ireeki has gone missing, and was probably kidnapped. Her lady-in-waiting was present when she vanished, but The King has held off doing anything about it out of suspicion his daughter had just run away to get attention. Suitors from a nearby kingdom are due in a few more days, however, and we must get the Princess back before they arrive for political reasons.

Midea suggests we interrogate the Lady-In-Waiting. This results in a skill roll that I think came very close to stalling out the adventure before it could even get started. Clearly, there's a learning curve to 6X, and we were about to realize it.

Interviewing the Lady-In-Waiting
  1. She gives us a good description of the man who kidnapped the Princess. He has a dark beard and a heavy unibrow, is 6 ft tall, and was wearing a dark cloak. When he put the cloak around the princess, they disappeared.
  2. She didn't get a good look at the kidnapper, but she thinks magic was involved.
  3. She didn't get a good look at the kidnapper, but he left behind an eyebrow hair we might be able to use for some sympathetic magic to locate or track him.
  4. She won't stop crying and has nothing more to add.
  5. Her thoughts are muddled. The man doesn't actually have a unibrow, that's just a masking spell that prevents her from remembering what he really looked like.
  6. She saw nothing. In truth, she was busy in bed with The King, and not at her post in the Princess' Quarters at the time of the kidnapping. Her description was made up, and His Majesty will cover for her.

Isn't that horrible?  "2" and "4" are both total derailments for the plot with no further obvious direction for the plot to go. They'd be better as "5" and "6" than "2" and "4", given that they represent total failures to follow the clue trail.  Entries "3", "5" and "6" all give a tiny bit of information, coupled with another derailment that's not quite as bad as "2" or "4" but would still result in some wheel spinning.  Only "1" advances the plot or provides useful intel, and even that doesn't really give much of a "lead" to follow. Regardless of what we roll on that chart, it will require another roll just to figure out what direction to go in.  All our tables after this one were constructed to be far more dynamic and less likely to stall out the plot engine.

As it turns out, we rolled "3", and were blessed with a single hair to enchant in hopes of finding the suspect. Of course, our wizard was a bit dodgy and senile, so this was far from guaranteed to work. Knowing it had even odds to go horribly wrong, I asked for something pretty darned advantageous on the "1".

Fülöp's Follicular Flight
  1. We are magically transported to the eyebrow man. We catch him with his pants down, sitting in the privy.
  2. We are transported to the eyebrowed man's town. He's in a tavern.
  3. We get a vision of the unibrow, and know his location.
  4. Miscast! Bevin loses all his body hair!
  5. The spell transports us half way to the unibrow man. We end up in a swamp.
  6. The spell transports all of the unibrow man's extended family to the castle we're in.

I felt the GM was being far too kind to us, and I told her so. I was asking for the moon on the "1" result, and I felt the "6" should be just as punishing. Instead, the "6" on this chart was more directly useful than the "2" on the previous chart.

Not that it matters, since we rolled a "3". The spell revealed his location, and we had to ride all night to catch him. He was in the village of Targethorpe, staying at the Lamprey Inn. Targethorpe was also known for its large monastery full of orthodox bell-ringing monk mystics.

We arrive just after dawn, and attempt to find out from the inkeeper whether or not the kidnapper or princess are still here.

Lamprey Inn
  1. They're upstairs sleeping.
  2. They left at the crack of dawn, and they're less than an hour ahead.
  3. They're an hour down the road, and accompanied by a platoon of soldiers from the rival Kingdom of Chevalier! Those fiends!
  4. The owner leads us out back and facilitates us getting mugged.
  5. He's not sure what happened to the princess, but the unibrowed one was found dead and drained of blood earlier this morning.
  6. The bar keep pours you a drink to answer your questions. You are drugged, and pass out quickly.

A "5" put us back into investigation mode, despite what was almost going to be a chase or fight scene. A discussion follows about whether or not this entry on the card definitively implies that the blood-draining was vampiric in nature. I'm not sure we ever came to a consensus.

Since the only other thing that had been established about Targethorpe was the monastery, we decided to go ask the monks if they knew anything. Gwyon, the bell-loving Abbot, was a wise mystic, and old acquaintance of Fülöp's. So, once the begloved abbot was done deafening us with his bells (another great characterization by the GM), we were able to ask if he'd seen Princess Ireeki recently.

Monastery of Targethorpe
  1. Good news! She's actually up in the belltower as we speak, and Gwyon thinks it will only take him a fortnight to cure her vampirism.
  2. Your princess is in another temple. She's been sold for a sacrifice to the temple of Nergal.
  3. The monk knows of a vampire nest in the hills, and we go to rescue the girl.
  4. Gwyon hisses as you realize that he's become a vampire. He sneers "You'll never get her from our nest in the hills!" - and flies away.
  5. She was captured by slavers from Solarian Wastes. Their caravan is three days ahead.
  6. The Orc leader Gloksnag and his clan have been doing the bidding of the high wizard Dloththal. He has Ireeke.

Apparently the GM wasn't as enamored with the vampirism concept as some of the players were. But she had awesome NPC names, and that's cooler than undead any day. When the die rolled the GM's way, she got to tell us all about Orcish blood magic, and the dred wizard Dloththal.  Clearly, the Princess was in peril and we must ride out to save her.

We didn't get far. The orcs were waiting for us. As they sprung their ambush, mighty Amazonian Captain Midea tries to defend the dottering old wizard and his young apprentice. Yep, that would be another die-roll.

Orcs Attack
  1. The orcs are all female, and are mad because the evil wizard Dloththal has stolen their men. Midea convinces them to join us.
  2. There's a fight, and Fülöp's Sacred Staff of Bitterness glows so brightly the half-blinded Orcs flee in terror. They'll be back for round two after we get to prepare defenses.
  3. Midea wipes out half of the orcs in a mighty battle. Bevin hides. Fülöp accidentally sets the forest on fire, scattering the rest of the attackers.
  4. We defeat the orcs, but one of us loses a limb, and another of us is slain. Luckily, the slain hero is magically reincarnated as a sentient talking truffle-hunting pig.
  5. The orcs capture us.
  6. Fülöp turns the party into mules, hoping that orcs only drain the blood of humans

Again, we experienced a bit of trouble getting the 2s through 5s to fit. (Our 2 and 3 should be switched, and our 4 and 5 should probably be switched as well). This time it was my fault.

Not that that mattered, as a "6" came up on the die. We're all turned into mules!  That seemed rather silly and fitting. Plus, it was late. So, we all decided to end it there. Game over - we're mules now! Presumably, hopefully the orcs used us as pack animals instead of dinner. Then there'd be a chance for a sequel next time we're all feeling goofy.

Gotta admit, 6X was a ton of fun. It's easy to run, and great for engaging everyone at once. Even when you split the party, everybody gets to contribute to the possible results of every single die roll. I definitely recommend it for pick-up games, impromptu sessions, and groups that experience a lot of chaos at the tabletop. PCs working at cross purposes, players hogging the spotlight, lack of focus, and many other potential problems for crunchier traditional systems actually work as strengths for 6X. That's pretty cool.

Reading the rules for myself several days later, I see that the game is expecting for fights to be handled with several die rolls. The examples feature NPCs getting wounded at "1" and PCs wounded at "6". That's certainly more conventional and balanced, but I've got to say that for our purposes the wilder results tables worked just great.

On that topic, I must admit that the rules, despite being so minimal and looking ripe for abuse, turned out to be very enjoyable and really well balanced.  I tried _hard_ to break the system every time I was getting to propose a "1" result. That I could just as easily fall victim to an equally-ridiculous "6" (as we all eventually did) kept things from being too easy.  We sometimes had trouble filling in an appropriate "3" or the like, but for the most part that didn't matter as long as the best-case and worst-case scenarios were clear. The GM getting to define the 6 after the player defines the 1 is critical to keeping the game balanced and exciting.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Interior Dredmorating

A while back I blogged about how I was getting a lot of fun out of a graphical roguelike computer game called Dungeons of Dredmor. It's darned good - PC Gamer awarded it Indy Game of the Year for 2011.

I enjoy it enough to do some significant modding for it these past couple months. It's high time I provide a link here to my mod, Interior Dredmorating. ID is now on it's 1.2.1 release, and it's been pretty warmly received by the Dredmor fan base.

Download: Dredmorating

Sometimes a dungeon isn't really a dungeon.
Primarily my mod adds new rooms, items, art and flavor text to the dungeon. While there are a lot of mods out there for Dredmor, most are skill-and-spell based, the sort of thing you plug into the game to up your character's power (or your build options). Mine's not like that, it's more about providing new challenges and new things to explore. Not surprising at all to those who know me - I'm usually happier being the dungeon-master than being a player.

Those interested in the full details of what the mod adds to the game should check out the thread on the Gaslamp Games forum:

Friday, February 3, 2012

Continuum Conversion Overview

Just got an email from someone asking me for a few more details on my Continuum-using-Gumshoe conversion. As I typed up the response, I realized this should probably go on my blog in case anyone else wants to know what we changed to make this setting work with a different set of rules. (I think I typed something like this up a while ago, but I couldn't find it with a casual search today).

Mainly I use GUMSHOE rules, modified as needed for the setting. Here's a few things I changed that I can think of off the top of my head:

I cut the size of player character point pools down significantly (building characters from far fewer points in general than any iteration of GUMSHOE), but then made all pools refresh automatically at the start of every session. That way there's no need to remember from week to week how many points you spent in previous sessions. I figure CoNTINUUM has so much book-keeping via spanbooks and just general time-travel-related notekeeping, that I didn't want to have to waste extra effort and energy recording how many points are left over from last week.  The smaller pools are to balance that.

Off the top of my head I don't remember exactly how many points I trimmed them down to, but I've frequently thought I could have trimmed them down a lot smaller than I did without any real consequences. Gumshoe characters get so many points, since the refreshes are only at the start of entire new mysteries/adventures, and with weekly free refreshes they only need a handful of points to advance the plot. If you trim it down too far, it's pretty easy to give the PCs bonus points later, or just let them train skills via normal Continuum training over time rules. Taking points away mid-campaign because you were too generous at the start would be rather harder.

In general, I found/ruled/converted that each Continuum skill rank above Novice is roughly equivalent one point of Gumshoe skill rating. I use 'clocks' more or less like they appear on the Continuum character sheet - each spend or roll of a skill gets you 1 step closer to the next level. If a character has no points to spend but engages in a roll anyway, they also get a clock in the skill, so it's possible to advance in a skill that you don't have or have spent all your points in already. It's not perfect, but it works well enough.

I had to add a couple of skills to cover things specific to Continuum, such as the various Aquarian Skills, and a few "better at spanning" skills to compensate for the lack of a Quick stat. 

I made Gemini into a skill you could spend to have your Elder bail you out, which allows me to throw harder challenges at the player and still give them an "escape switch" for if I overdo it. These Gemini points go away when spent, and only refresh if your Span Rating increases. I did something similar with "Mentor" and "Fraternal Favors" so each PC started the campaign with a couple of "my Mentor shows up to save me" and a handful of "my chrony in the (insert specific fraternity here) owes me a favor that I can cash in right now' points. This gives the PCs a bit more narrative control than they would otherwise have in Continuum, but that's balanced by being Graceless (thus unable to spend any of those points because of too much frag, etc) feel more dangerous.

I also added a "Range" skill, of which all players have 50 points. Spending 1 point of Range lets you span a certain amount of time and/or distance, depending on your Span Rating. This was done partly to match other Gumshoe mechanics, and partly to reduce the amount of time spent calculating the exact minutes and seconds of shorter spans - while knowing your exact Age to the second is important from an in-character performance, we found it was getting in the way of keeping the plot rolling, and Range points helped make that faster. Full details at:

Besides adding things like I mentioned above, I simplified the gumshoe skill lists a bit. Most versions of Gumshoe have more crime scene forensics and evidence collecting type skill than Continuum really needs, but you may have to "season to taste" on that. There's a really light Gumshoe book called "FEAR ITSELF" that I recommend for this. Intended for less "CSI" style Gumshoe games, it has a smaller investigative skill list. It also has some good psionics-type skills that can be easily converted to represent your Aquarian Skills by just cutting out the creepy cthulhu bits.

I use Stability per Esoterrorists / default Gumshoe, and not any of the extra bells and whistles (sanity, sources and pillars, etc) from Trail of Cthulhu. I also added Continuum-specific Stability challenges/penalties, an early version of which can be seen at:   

Time Combat is basically the same, but with various Gumshoe spends and rolls instead of Continuum's reliance on the Quick stat. Incidentally, that seems to have made time combat a lot more balanced, whereas before it could be really hard on characters that were created with lower-than-average Quick. 

Physical Combat is much easier because Gumshoe is not a combat-intensive system. I was a little worried about that at first, but honestly it's turned out just fine. Continuum's weird hit location rules were way crunchier than the original game needed, anyway. One thing to be wary of is the Gumshoe rules for wrestling over a gun or getting the drop on someone. It's just too easy to surprise someone in Continuum (span in behind them), so I had to eliminate that or else every fight would be a single roll.

Obviously, that's not everything I converted to make this game run, but it's a good place to start, and about all I've got time for today. If you've got questions, drop me an email or comment.