Monthly Archives: November 2013

There are a lot of arguments over rollplay vs roleplay.

Personally I don’t mind the things described as rollplay. I think a kind of linked skirmish game with characters progressing from skirmish to skirmish is or can be fun.

On the other hand I’ve also had sessions where the roleplay was to the fore and they can be more fun or at least different.

It’s impossible to have both at once as it only needs one rollplayer to prevent roleplayers having their immersion.

However there’s also third option. Personally I’m not keen on *talking* in character but at the same time I want my character to naturally *act* in accordance with the character I have created.

For example, in terms of show don’t tell

– a character with high strength and endurance and high skills in rocket launchers and heavy armor tells a story

– a character with high dexterity and agility and high skill in stealth and sniper rifle tells a story

– a character with average physical attributes and high intelligence with a standard issue pistol tells a story

but only if those skills and attributes work in the game work in the same *cinematic* way you associate with those descriptions.

Another example, in a levelling fantasy game

– rogues level based on gold looted

– wizards level on lore discovered

– clerics level on (varies according to god but for example could be visiting shrines and pilgrimage sites and healing damage)

– fighters level by hitting stuff e.g. damage

so in a game the rogue might want to loot a nearby temple, the wizard might want to read some ancient carvings, the cleric might want to curse or restore the altar and the fighter wouldn’t care as long as he got to hit stuff.

So rollplayers playing their character according to the game mechanics would naturally roleplay.

A third example, make some abilities into time-consuming rituals which must be done in advance e.g. say instead of having healing spells as such druids have a ritual that allows them to harvest an amount of enchanted mistletoe from a druid grove at full moon which they can either use to heal wounds or rub on a weapon or armor to gain a temporary magical bonus of some kind. A rollplayer playing a druid in that situation will ask where the nearest druid grove is and want to travel there to do their ritual.

So ruleplay – where rollplayers *naturally* roleplay their characters while they’re rollplaying because that is how the rules are designed. This might not be enough for roleplayers but I think they’d find it easier at least.



Melee Weapons in Fantasy RPGs

Aim: Simple but with flavor, flavor in this context meaning that cinematic weapon categories should have a functional niche. Cinematically a longsword is a broadsword is a cutlass (more or less) but an axe is not a sword because a sword is swishy while an axe is smashy.


Historical context (imo)

1) Spears were the norm in battles for most of history. I think because they were cheap, relatively low-skill and as thrusting weapons they allowed the soldiers to stand close side by side creating a mutual defensive benefit (Weapons that needed more of a swing would need more space between the soldiers)

2) Spears used two-handed were also used for hunting as they are good against animals who charge, leap or pounce as their own momentum adds to the damage (boar spears had a horizontal bar across as stuck boar would try to reach the guy with the spear).

3) Swords seem to have been the most handy weapons as they were balanced for cut & thrust but not that good at getting through heavy armor.

4) Axes, maces, picks, hammers etc all follow the same principle of putting the weight at the end focusing the force to a point. This makes them better at punching through armor but slower and less swishy (because not balanced). Used especially in the late middle ages for smashing through armor.

5) Axes were also often used by cultures which had limited access to metal e.g. nordics.

6) Daggers, fast but low reach, generally a very bad choice except when attacking from stealth or in a grapple.

7) Short sword, similar to dagger, ranks of shield and short sword men (e.g. Romans) get the same shoulder to shoulder defensive bonus as spearmen)

8) Piercing weapons like daggers and short swords have a chance of finding chinks in armor.

9) Long sword (bastard sword) can be used one or two handed, reasonably well-balanced and designed for cut & thrust, pierce attack for dealing with armor.

10) Two-handed smashy weapons are slower than one-handed but more smashy.

11) Halberds, a combination of spear and 2H axe, can be used either way but only one mode at a time.

12) Polearm, shorter knightly version of halberd, more handy 2H smashy weapon which can be used to parry with.


so the key attributes of melee combat (all imo)

1. Swords as the best choice overall if available

2. Spears as both a cheap, low skill beginner weapon and optimal in the context of a shoulder to shoulder fight or hunting

3. Axes etc not as good as swords overall but relatively cheap and lower skill compared to swords and better penetration against heavy armor

4. Short swords, not great unless you’re the Romans, cheaper and lower skill than a sword, faster than an axe so a good rogue weapon

4a. rogue class skills could require the rogue character to be “light” where light is defined as only carrying items of gear from the “light” list (which could include short swords but not axes, maces etc)

5. Daggers, as (4) but more so.

6. 2H weapons, slow and last to strike so vulnerable unless protected by heavy armor



Swishy: cut & thrust weapon

Smashy: slow but high momentum weapons, good against armor, ability to damage armor/shields

Very Smashy: as Smashy but more so

Throw: Throw

Chink: pierce weapon has a chance to bypass armor

Pierce: exploding damage

Brace: charging, leaping, pouncing creatures add their momentum to damage if weapon braced

Precision: bonus to chink and piercing (but only dagger surprise/stealth attacks)

Defensive: weapon has parrying ability


Weapon Weights

light, 1H, 2H



Dagger: light, chink, pierce

Knife: light, swishy

Spear: light, chink, pierce, throw

Spear: 2H, chink, pierce, brace, defensive, throw

Hatchet, Club: light

Axe, Mace, Hammer: 1H, smashy

2H Ace, Mace, Hammer: 2H, smashy

Shortsword: 1H, chink, pierce

Broadsword: 1H, swishy

Longsword: 1H swishy or 2H swishy or 2H chink, pierce

Staff: light, defensive

Polearm: defensive and (2H smashy or 2H chink, pierce)

Halberd: defensive and (2H smashy or 2H chink, pierce, brace)

Compressed/deleted some posts on social combat as there are games out there which have cool mechanics already.

For example


Apocalypse World


Dogs in the Vineyard

so just find one you like and add it into your game.


The idea here is that because combat involves a series of interesting decisions while non combat situations often only involve a single skill check, games drift towards revolving around combat. So if you want to broaden things out make non-combat situations into more of a mini game.

The aim would be to create an adventure like

  • the players have a trading ship that gets hired to take some scientists and supplies to resupply a research colony in a section of otherwise uninhabited space
  • the players have to jump through a number of systems, ice gathering to refuel along the way and rolling for mishaps
  • each mishap would lead to a mini game resolved using a non-combat mechanic where failure cost resources like spare parts, time and player strain
  • as strain increased mishaps would happen more frequently with more serious ones occur.
  • NPC passengers and/or crew could malfunction, especially as strain increased, requiring resolution using the social mechanic.

with possibly no combat at all and for that to feel like a satisfying game session with lots of drama.


How does burst or auto fire work in real life?

1) It fires multiple shots.

2) It makes it harder to hit after the first shot because of the barrel jumping.

So if the first shot was easy then each subsequent shot would be a little less easy.

If the first shot was difficult then each subsequent shot would be a little more difficult.

3) It’s also good for suppressing / pinning.

4) They jam.

So how to model that in a game?

You figure out the roll you need for the first shot to hit and then add a penalty for each subsequent shot. It could be simple like a DM-2 in all cases or vary by range e.g. DM-1 at point-blank range, DM-2 at short range, DM-3 at medium, DM-4 at long, DM-5 at very long etc.

So a character fires a burst of 3 from their automatic rifle at short range needing 6+ to hit with the first shot, 8+ with the second and 10+ with the third. Or only roll as long as they hit i.e. if the first shot hits then roll for the second and if that hits then roll for the third.

At long range against a target needing 10+ to hit then the second and subsequent shots would be 13+ which is an automatic miss so you don’t roll for that (unless you’re using the same roll for pinning).

A submachinegun firing full burst at point-blank range might be 4+ for the first shot so it’s 5+ for the second, 6+ for the third, 7+ for the 4th etc up to 12+ for the 9th (or the max. size of the clip whichever comes first). Again, maybe stopping rolling after the first miss if it’s a single target, maybe not if there’s a clustered group.

Any time there’s a really weird result e.g. a character firing point blank with an SMG and rolling eight 3s then make it a jam instead.

This creates the realistic effect of automatic weapons being very deadly at close range but not much better than single-shot weapons at long range except…

pinning / suppressing could work off the same mechanic where near misses created the pin effect for example say the maximum roll to hit was set at 13 (auto miss) and a shot within 4 of hitting could have a chance of pinning then a 9+ would give a chance of pinning. In which case a burst of 3 from a machine gun at long range (needing a 10+ for the first shot, 14+ for the second and 18+ for the third would be turned by the maximum limit into three shots needing 10+, 13+, 13+ meaning 6+, 9+, 9+ for possible pins) would still have 3 chances to pin.

A roll of 2 could be a jam although that might be too much so maybe just a chance of a jam (this allows the opportunity for higher tech weapons to get a bonus other than more damage and maybe higher-skilled characters to get a bonus to their jam save to represent better maintenance).



Extending the idea in the “Initiative” post.

In a non-level game add an “experience” attribute that measures the number of seriously life-threatening incidents a character has had and overcome.

Say the range is 0 to 12 and a character starts with 0-4 depending on whether the game implies earlier life experiences e.g. in Cthulhu an ex-gangster might start with 3, an ex-cop 2, ex-military from 0 to 4 depending on if they were in a war or not, and most characters 0.

After surviving a seriously life-threatening incident a character would try to roll above their current experience level on 2d6 to increase the rating by 1 (so experience would increase rapidly early on followed by diminishing returns). This experience rating would be the basis of their initiative rating (modified by Int, Agi, special talents etc.

So a character with an experience rating of 3 would need to roll above 4+ to increase the rating to 4.

Each such incident would also require a sanity check where their experience rating could be their save i.e. the same character with an experience rating of 3 would need to roll 3 or less on 2d6 to avoid a sanity check. A grizzled veteran with an experience rating of 8 would only need to roll an 8 or less.

Characters who start with experience may have to make some insanity checks at the start.

Life-threatening situations wouldn’t necessarily have to be combat. They could be anything which could lead people to crack up.

For example I am going to use the idea of some solar systems having a kind of surrounding gravity sink in my Traveller game. Jumps are supposed to take a week but jumps into systems surrounded by a gravity sink take an extra week when the navigator knows they are there in advance but 1-6 extra weeks if they don’t. So the first explorers into such a system will be in jump space for an extra 1-6 weeks not knowing how long or if they will ever get out. That might give an experience roll for each extra week providing a strong boost to experience but with the possibility of some serious mental damage as well – possibly even an impromptu encounter trying to sedate one or more of the crew.

So a starting character going through this could potentially have an experience of 6 (out of 12) in the first hour.

Incidents would have a threshold rating where they no longer counted for experience e.g. a standard human vs human firefight might have a threshold of 8 so it doesn’t effect a character who already has an experience of 8. A fight against a dog-sized bug might have a rating of  a 2 if in the open in daylight against 1 of them but against a horde of them (+2) in the dark (+2) in cramped cave underground (+2) then the threshold might be 8.

A player would only roll for incidents rated higher than their experience rating.

Failed experience rolls would have some kind of cumulative insanity effect.

For example create an insanity table with rows from 0 to 20

– 0 to 8 are blank

– 9 says “likes a drink, occasionally needs one.”

-10 says “occasional nightmares.”

-11 says “Starts smoking.”

-20 Full Arkham asylum treatment.

Then every time a character fails an experience check they add 1-3 to their insanity roll taking whatever penalty they get – which are mostly just flavor until they reach the top end of the table where the penalties become severe.

It needs more work but I think this is a good idea in essence. What it would mean is your starting character would either a) be much tougher or b) have started to crack up completely, just getting through their first dungeon / battle.