[RPG] Example skills from early brainstorming

ndynamiteLike I mentioned in the announcement yesterday, I really like to get an early playable prototype for all my games. I think it contributed a lot to the success of Dinosaur Cowboys skirmish, in that I could sit down and roll some dice within weeks of the idea being born.
So with my RPG I want to do the same. Which means besides filling out a skeleton of a rulebook so far, I’ve also been working on the general list of Skills. I narrowed down the Jobs a bit to have actual names, cut a few, etc. I’ll be doing some re-theming to make some more suitable for the universe/history/theme. Obviously the document will get hugely formatted and touched up too.
At this point I’m going to try to sit down with some of my D&D maps that I drew before, grab some DC figures, write some stats on a page, and try playing the game. So exciting!

Anyway here is the PDF document with a big mishmash of skills. Should give you an idea of what I’m going for: Brainstorm of RPG skills (PDF)

One big TODO, and often the deciding factor to players who are glancing at each RPG system, is the character sheet. A beautiful, functional, well thought out sheet can make or break a game. I remember my first RPG (called Horizon) and how the sheets developed and improved over time as we codified common shorthand and notes.

And of course pictures from the PDF, because some people don’t have those 15 seconds to download a file and read it. Plus the easier it is to get you excited about this RPG the better.

Announcement #1: Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy – new RPG game!

I am sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo excited about this project. First of all the name is a work in progress (I’m all ears for suggestions!) but I’m going to try my hand at a Dinosaur Cowboys RPG, tentatively called “Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy”.

“But wait”, you might say, “didn’t this game ALREADY start as an RPG?!”. Yes, yes it did. You might remember a bit of the way into my original brainstorm I decided to rewrite Dinosaur Cowboys as a skirmish game. And that worked wonderfully. But with all I’ve learned, combined with all my recent RPG experience with my weekly gaming group, means I want to revisit the idea of a pure RPG. Historically as a teenager I played a ton of RPGs, and that was basically all I ever designed/created. Then I had a long lull in my late teens / early adulthood. Recently though with D&D Encounters at my local gaming store, Edge of the Empire with friends, and running my Servants of Molagrath D&D campaign means I’m back into RPGs.
The problem with my initial 2009 design, and why it ended up working better as a skirmish, was I went for a “light RPG that handles big fights well”. Looking back that basically screams skirmish, but I didn’t see it at the time.

What will this new RPG bring to the table? In keeping with my focused design ideas, let me list three core points:

  1. Player involvement is critical. I want minimal downtime between turns, I don’t want to see wandering eyes and the glow of cellphones and disinterest or inattention. Some players are prone to this regardless of the rule system, but it can still be minimized.
  2. Characters will be a flexible collection of skills, maintained on a single-page sheet, with a unified D12 system (mmm I love the picture below to the right from Marc Orphanos).
  3. The game should follow Dinosaur Cowboy history and some of it’s naming conventions, but not be afraid to break from them.

Dodecahedron-D12Another important distinction is I’m going to design this game mainly for myself and my gaming group. So the rules may not be as “fresh read friendly” to outsiders, which in some ways mirrors the original old timey roleplaying systems. The reason for this is people very rarely pick up a new RPG system. On the surface traditional RPGs look fairly indistinguishable (big books, some kind of resolution system, lots of classes), so there can be a bit of “what’s the point in switching” demotivation.
Notice I said traditional RPGs. I’m not talking about indie style RPGs that have come out in the past 4-5 years, like Dogs in the Vineyard or FATE, with a focus on fewer dice, less combat, cooperative storytelling, and freeform discussion. Those might fit some groups, but like I said this game is primarily for me and my friends, and we’re a combat-on-a-grid kinda crew with the odd lockpick or persuasion in between. So D&D 4th edition has been a great fit, and for simplicity I’ll reference it a lot below.
Similarly my core group is 5 people + someone to run it (the Sheriff, normally called a Dungeonmaster [DM]), so guess what the target number of players will be?

So far I have several pages of brainstorming and even a loose rules document smooshed together, since I hugely subscribe to the idea of “playtest early, playtest often”. If I don’t have a working prototype within a month of the initial seed of an idea I can almost guarantee I won’t have the energy and motivation to finish a game. Which means I’m hoping to do a rudimentary playtest and system test in the coming weeks.

Main Game Features
Let me distill some of the ideas so far, all of which are subject to change of course:

  • The game will be set in the same era as the “Skies and Slums” skirmish expansion, so all the new Allegiances can be used
  • Every ability (even moving) is a Skill, almost like a “power card” from D&D. This means Lockpick, Move, Fancy Attack, Big Wide Attack, etc. will function within the same framework of rules. Similarly some Skills are passive like +1 Speed or +2 Hitpoints. All Skills will be listed in a horizontal table format for easy reading/sorting
  • Square grid based combat, with nebulous out of combat situations
  • Positioning matters a lot inside combat. As a result the basic number of squares moved is a lot higher. There will be motivators to move around, such as randomly appearing buffs/effects on the field (gonna be hard to theme WHY though)
  • Cooperative turns instead of a traditional D&D style initiative order. Get a pool of Activation tokens (almost like Orders from Infinity) at a rate of 2 per 1 player, so 10 for a full group of 5. These can be spent to perform Skills.
  • There is a rotating “Shotcaller” each player turn who has the final say on what to do in case of arguments. But ideally the group would talk and plan together with everyone involved the whole time.
  • Ideally the Sheriff/DM turn is quite quick, to keep the action and focus on the players
  • Every scene/encounter should have an objective, which is a bit of a departure from the standard “kill everything” seen in combat encounters
  • Using a Skill can be done in a “Normal”/”Standard” way for the listed Activation cost, then roll 1D12 against some kind of target number (could be from an opposing roll, set by DM, based on character skill, etc.). But you can also spend 1 more Activation to use the Skill in a “Focused” way (such as “Focused Knee Shot”) which lets you roll 2D12 and choose the highest. Similarly you can spend 1 less Activation (to a minimum of 1) to have a “Hasty” usage, which is roll 2D12 choose the lowest. This means most combat skills are 2 Activations, to make players have some tough choices.
  • Attacking has a second step of rolling for damage. Yes I’ve harped on multiple-roll resolution systems in the past, but that’s for wargames, not for RPGs. It’s okay to have more rolls and depth per character. Sort of a roll to-hit >= target Defense, then roll to-damage >= target Grit. I’m considering each weapon having a flat Damage value, and you can choose how you want to allocate that damage between flat & dice. You need 1 dice to succeed over Grit for ANY damage to happen though. So it’s almost a gamble/push-your-luck system of “I need 9+ to wound, do I roll 4 dice or 2 and do 2 flat damage, but have a chance I do NO damage?”
  • Wild-West-Town

  • Characters have Attributes to define their abilities, ranging from -2 to +4. The Attributes are Might (melee and strength), Agility (ranged and quickness), Sense (intelligence and willpower), Bravery (courage and mental toughness). Every character starts at -1 for all attributes
  • Characters also have derived Statisics. These are Speed (number of squares), Defense (target to-hit number), Grit (target to-wound number), Hitpoints (track until death)
  • Character sheets should be a single page (or worst case double sided), most likely landscape instead of portrait. There will also be a group sheet that handles equipment, the dinosaur, activation pool, etc.
  • Every group (Posse) of characters has a single dinosaur
  • Dinosaurs are meant to fill gaps in the group, so there will be melee, ranged, support dinos. Dinos grow in size (Pokemon style) and have their own set of Skills available.
  • Instead of fantasy style races Allegiances are used instead. These modify Attributes and also have a couple of unique Skills and features.
  • Instead of classes there are Jobs (or Professions) that each Skill comes from. You can mix and match Skills from different Jobs to make your dream character. The generic Job is called Cowboy.
  • Instead of levelling up you get Improvement Points (IP) that can be spent outside of an encounter on new Skills. Enemies will be matched against the total Posse IP.
  • Equipment is abstracted, as is money. Instead there is a “Tier” system. 3 lower Tier items make 1 higher Tier, or vice versa 2:1 ratio. You get Tier rewards that represent your ability to purchase new equipment, or the actual items themselves. For example someone might have a Tier 1 Six-Shooter. Then they find two Tier 1 slots from an encounter, which means they can “trade up” those three Tier 1 items for one Tier 2 item.
  • Similarly weight/encumbrance isn’t managed, and every character has item slots. 3 Weapon, 1 Hat, 1 Neckwear, 1 Holster, 1 Clothing. Any excess equipment is put on the dinosaur. Minor items are not tracked or managed, or are already included in a Skill (for example Apply Bandage just has a bandage, you don’t need to manage them).
  • Weapons that are ranged will have an “Ideal” distance (in squares). They can shoot the entire board though (since counting above 5 or 6 squares is tedious). If the target is within the Ideal distance you get a bonus. If they’re EXACTLY at the Ideal distance it’s called the “Perfect” distance and you get an even bigger bonus
  • Weapons have a different area of effect pattern based on their type. Shotguns make a Wave, Sniper pierce in a Wave, Machinegun hits multiple, etc.
  • There will be the concept of Crossfire, brought back from way, way earlier in Dinosaur Cowboys. If you are attacking through an enemy with an ally on the other side you get a bonus
  • Conditions/buffs/debuffs/effects are tracked in an easier way than a turn limit. There is a “Short Effect” (lasts until the end of your next turn) or a “Long Effect” (lasts until the end of the encounter). I envision tokens with the effect written on them. Short go beside the miniature, Long go on the character sheet. For example Burning or Reload would be a Short Effect, whereas Get in There speed buff would be a Long Effect. There are Skills that can be used to “save” vs effects
  • Healing will be a factor (some Jobs are built for it), but Hitpoints will automatically restore outside of combat, which means no throwaway fights or 15-minute adventuring days.
  • Depending on the Allegiances and group members the Posse will travel around the continent, exploring and adventuring, and doing all the usual RPG things

If you made it this far I’m pleased, since reading a dump of brainstorm ideas like that can be tough. Let me reward you with a more clearly defined list. First of all Allegiances:

  • Duster: -1 Speed, +3 Hitpoints
  • Neotechnoist: +1 Agility, -3 Hitpoints
  • Crusader: +1 Agility, -1 Defense
  • Savage: +1 Might, -1 Agility, +1 Speed, -1 Defense
  • Ashlander: +1 Might, -1 Sense
  • Ascendant: +1 Defense, -1 Bravery, -1 Hitpoint
  • Slum Dweller: +1 Grit, -1 Sense, -1 Hitpoint
  • Vagrant: +1 to chosen attribute, -1 to chosen attribute
  • Nomad: +1 to a random attribute at the start of each encounter, -2 Hitpoints

And an even bigger list of Job/class archetypes that you can mix and match from:

  • Cowboy (generic, or just call it Basic or Generic)
  • Doctor (heal)
  • Preacher (prot)
  • Gunslinger (pistols)
  • Sniper (rifles)
  • Bruiser (slow melee, single big damage attacks)
  • Stabber (melee fast low damage attacks)
  • Artillery (aoe)
  • Sneak (stealth guy)
  • Planner (move others)
  • Demotivator (move and debuff enemies)
  • Mazes-and-Monsters

  • Status Guy (apply status)
  • Runner (super fast)
  • Delayer (long actions that are very powerful or take effect next turn)
  • Interrupter (better at interrupt stuff)
  • Tank (high defense)
  • Spiky Tank (sorta high defense with retaliation)
  • Dino Wrangler (uses minions)
  • Friendly Guy (ally buffer)
  • Map Guy (use terrain or get more benefits)
  • Tough Guy (okay defense but really good Grit)
  • Planter (put down lasting zone buffs, can’t overlap?)
  • Trapper (similar to Planter, but instead of buffs are damage zones)
  • Sacrificer (spend HP for bonus effects)
  • Stance Guy (enter stances with effects)
  • Aura Guy (buffs to nearby allies)
  • Kung Fu (bare handed melee)
  • Improvisation (throws rocks and stuff)
  • Combo Guy (skills work off each other)
  • Gambling Guy (skills vary based on dice)

Anyway I’m extremely excited about this concept. Logistically I’ll keep the RPG stuff on this blog/website. And like I said I’m hoping to get a crude prototype together asap so I can start playtesting and seeing how it’ll all fit together. While this is happening Dinosaur Cowboys Skirmish will take a bit of a backseat. But as we saw from the Skies and Slums announcement yesterday I do still have plans for the original “branch” of the game.
So stay tuned!

Announcement #2: “Skies and Slums” Expansion

HelicarrierI’m happy to announce plans for a Dinosaur Cowboys skirmish expansion called Skies and Slums. I first considered this idea last year in March, but I’ve decided to make it public now. When I was a kid designing games I used to make expansions that included a bunch of outlandish rules or crazy stuff that changed the game. Skies and Slums won’t be quite as drastic but there will be some neat new mechanics and ideas introduced.

First of all some off-the-cuff fluff to set the mood:
The year is 2291. Dusters and Neotechnoists are still in a stalemate, with people switching sides fairly evenly, and no real land grabs or differences there. However new slums and shanty towns have organically sprawled outside around The Wall. Most of the occupants are desperate outsiders who want to get back in to New Hope and the safety of the Neotechnoist allegiance. Others are born and raised outside The Wall and make a pilgrimage for their chance to go inside. These Slum Dwellers are resilient but poor.
But the biggest change are the Ascendants. Once the scientists, politicians, and other important officials of the world they escaped Eruption Day by taking to the skies in solar powered Sky Barges. These massive ships are like floating cities capable of sustaining a population for years. As society collapsed below they retained advanced knowledge and studies. However as new generations were born aboard the Sky Barges the knowledge was slowly lost and became a misunderstood magic. The most notable are the solar panels of the Sky Barges, which slowly began to fail in the year 2290. As this happened dozens of Sky Barges drifted to the ground. The Ascendants have managed to train Flappers for combat, as the skittish dinosaurs see the sky people as kindred spirits. From the ruins of the Sky Barges the Ascendants emerge in their Exosuits, nervous of bacteria and germs and with weak immune systems from generations in an enclosed environment.
As the communities outside The Wall become wealthier and want more entertainment travelling circuses have popped up across the country. These shows are staffed by roving performers of the Nomad allegiance.
From the ashen wastelands of the north that was once Canada comes the Ashlander allegiance. Rugged individuals have been surviving under the cloud of ash and dust from Eruption Day. Although unaccustomed to large cities and tending to seclusion and secrecy, the Ashlanders have started to spread further south in search of food and supplies. They tend to be extremely brave except for a strong fear of capture and closeness.
And finally an oversea presence has finally landed on North American shores. Hailing from the ruins of Europe the Crusader allegiance braved the rough seas to pay respects to the focal point of dinosaur activity.

From http://alexandreev.deviantart.com/art/Time-to-fly-163578668

So what does all this mean in game terms? Well first of all the timeline will be moved forward 6 years to 2291, whereas the core game is set in 2285.
The expansion will add 5 new Allegiances:

New Allegiances

  • Ascendants: +1 Defense, +4 Bravery Target Number. Wearing Exosuits to protect from ground viruses and bacteria makes the Ascendants durable, but years aboard the safe Sky Barges has made them cowardly.
  • Slum Dweller: Grit mechanic (like a saving throw), first weapon costs $50 more. These poor scrappers are resilient from a tough life. Grit will work like some kind of shield/saving throw where incoming damage can be negated.
  • Ashlander: -3 Bravery Target Number, cannot attack in melee. Brave for almost every situation except having someone near them.
  • Nomad: Roll 1D12 at the start of each encounter, check table to see which statistic is temporarily changed. There is around a 60% chance a statistic is improved but a 40% chance it’s worse. Nomads are unreliable, flighty people who tend to shine unexpectedly.
  • Crusader: Follows laws and codes. Such as no ranged weapons, won’t exercise a Snap Attack, won’t attack an enemy in the back, but are nigh indestructible due to fanaticism and devotion.

Obviously the stats and ideas are in the brainstorming phase. I really like Ascendant, Nomad, and Slum Dweller and think they bring something neat to the table. I’m not as sure on Ashlanders and Crusaders. I do want to include at least 4 new Allegiances in the expansion though to mirror the original amount.
I did consider the “Sky Warden” allegiance that is the military/police/tough guy branch of the Ascendants, as compared to the scientific/nerdy branch. Sky Wardens could even be robots or androids that were built before Eruption Day and have just been maintained since.

I also somewhat wanna rename the basic “Bandit” allegiance to “Cowboy”, which would be a bit of annoying find-and-replace in documents and The Saloon.

Tiny-CompyNew Dinosaurs (including Flappers)
In addition to the Allegiances the Flapper dinosaur type will be hireable now. I’m thinking if your Leader is Ascendant or the majority of members or something. I think of the Flapper as a mobility dinosaurs with incredibly far movement and the ability to launch into the sky (taking them off the table) and land at a later turn.
There would be a slew of other new dinosaurs, but more focused on specialization and unique niches. For example a tiny type (can’t even be mounted) that is super fast and has a single strong attack, almost like a “missile” that is launched across the field. Sort of like the Compsognathus from Dino D-Day. I’d like another type that is faster/easier to mount. Also maybe going wild and having some ranged dinosaurs.

New Weapons, Features, Traits, Objectives
I want to add some oddball weapons, stuff like The Tombstone that functions in a neat way. Maybe an Airstrike that can be called in from Sky Barge drones or something. Or single use or dangerous-to-use jumppacks / jumpjets from Ascendants.
I could see Allegiance specific weapons too, just technology and abilities that are unique to each group, to further distinguish them beyond stats.

There would be lots of new Features as well. Having some that are Allegiance specific (especially around Sky Barges and slums and travelling wagons) would be cool. Obviously some new Traits too, again with an Allegiance specific leaning. I could see some weapon specific Traits too, like expert/specialization/training named stuff around a class or type of weapon. Maybe a new Objective or two if I can brainstorm them up.

Drugs-and-StimsDrugs and Stimulants
I’m thinking of having drugs/stimulants available for purchase, sort of like a mix of existing Healing items and Active Traits. They could even do Hitpoint damage for some good effect. I could imagine the Ascendants having totally different social standards from their isolation, where recreational drug use is just part of life. Almost like Plasmids in Bioshock. Similarly some new Healing items could be cool, since the Ascendants do have somewhat advanced technology in comparison to the ground.

Similarly the Slum Dwellers might add poisons and toxins to the mix, that have debuff or negative effects when applied to enemies.

Conclusion and Timeline
I have no idea when this expansion will be done. But I figured the current v2.6 of the rules is great, stable, and with no glaring issues. So any further changes or tweaks I want to do should be moved to a separate project. Also if I’m under the umbrella of an expansion I can add in wild, possibly gamebreaking stuff, or rules that change the tone or feel of the game. For example having new Allegiances that have a bunch of custom differences beyond just stat modifications. Or dinosaurs that you don’t even mount, or can shoot/spit projectiles.

Either way I wanted to share, because like I said I’ve been sitting on this for a while, and it’s pretty exciting. Not as exciting as tomorrow’s announcement though…stay tuned…

Original Brainstorm List
In case you want to read my original brainstorm notes, or in case I need to reference them when I start work on the expansion, well, here they are…
Read the rest of this entry »

Battle Report: Coastal Raid of New Iberia

the-bayouIn the year 2285 the small Louisiana town of New Iberia is now coastal property, thanks to the floods after Eruption Day. The location is far enough east to avoid the wasteland temperatures of the desert, and surprisingly wealthy from pelt hunting of rare bayou dinosaurs. A ragtag group of ex-sailors and dino hunters have established themselves as the Coastal Defense Force. Their leader is Ronan Cioni, a descendant of the Cioni family who were the original post-Eruption reclaimers of the town.
Although their wealth is not advertised in a flashy or grandiose way, one eager and angry man knows all about it. Dash Cioni, the only brother of Ronan, was exiled from the Coastal Defense Force and the town of New Iberia after a messy situation deep in the swamp that resulted in the death of a travelling merchant and his family. The details are hazy and rumors are whispered behind Ronan’s back about the split.
But now Dash wants revenge, and he has used the promise of New Iberia’s riches to lure Captain Pellham and his Murkfoul Raiders, a rough band of pirates and poachers.

Table Setup
I decided for this battle to use my new naval ocean looking cloth from Sails of Glory to represent the watery swamp along the outer coast of New Iberia. I used the underside of this very same cloth for my last Christmas battle report. The downside is my camera gets a bit confused and tries to balance the colors to a yellow/orange tinge, which you’ll see in the pictures. Just think of it as the gross, unbearable humidity of the southeastern USA coast.

For the table setup I went with an open ocean on one edge, where the Murkfoul Raiders would have their small sailing ship. Then inland from that a series of shoals and sandy beaches. I setup an old iron cannon on a high cliff surrounded by sandbags, which ended up looking great. Then the rest of the map is scattered islands, old ruins, a mishmash of bridges, and eventually the Coastal Defense Force “clubhouse” that is a rundown, swampy looking shack.

I decided to start this battle after the Murkfoul Raiders had left their ship and successful taken the cliffside cannon. Meanwhile the Coastal Defense Force would be responding and further out from their bayou shack. This meant a slightly modified Deep Corner deploy, in that each posse could deploy up to HALF the table width. Which made for some immediate, deadly fights.
For Features the water is Populated Water (2A-2D CTN 7 attack if you end in it). This wouldn’t affect dinosaurs who are used to living in the swamp environment, but would somewhat dissuade characters from entering the depths.
To balance this and still allow mobility I did a houserule that if you could move from island to island (across the water) you could basically “jump” and ignore the Difficult Terrain. This meant all the middle islands were easily traversable as you could hop from landmass to landmass.
For Objective I considered something fancy, but went with a straight up Shoot Out (aka kill ’em all). There is a Turn Limit of 5 for this battle.

The first thing you might notice with the two posses are they have a lot of money, to the tune of $3,000 each. The reason for this is to play the rarely utilized “top tier” dinosaurs of Titan and Longneck. The Titan would be represented by the old crocodile toy I bought for the Battle to Seattle campaign, and the Longneck would be the Papo Brachiosaurus from the same campaign.
I can imagine the Titan crocodile swimming alongside the Murkfoul Raiders skiff, then bursting from the depths to bite an enemy in half. Similarly the Longneck would be at home in the swampy terrain, with it’s long legs carrying passengers clear of the muck.

Posse: Coastal Defense Force (310 IP, $3,000)
Get the PDF Roster or View in the Saloon
DC-Coastal-Battle-0011As mentioned this posse is lead by Ronan Cioni. I wanted to get the “pelt hunter” feel so I went with my newish scale cloak wearing pistol and warhorn guy, in this case a Carbine and Totem.
Ronan’s two closest friends also happen to be brothers, just ones who are on better terms than Ronan and Dash. Arnold Bridgers is a sniper who is very far from his Neotechnoist home. In his travels south Arnold discovered a bit of a medical leaning, so he has Triage. The Try Again trait he also has fits pretty well with the “all or nothing” 1 Attack rifle. Luke Bridgers is the opposite of a sniper, preferring an Enforcer Shotgun and a bit more toughness. I could see the two of them having a storied past from their ~1,700 mile trek from New Haven. Also a note on miniatures, I LOVE the old Space Marine Scout sniper that I used for Arnold, he reminds me of a Ghost from Starcraft, and I’d really like to get and paint a new one. I can’t strip the old one because it has so many memories (playing cards on the shoulder because I was obsessed with 58th Wild Cards in Space Above and Beyond, kill markers on the gun barrel cause that was 1990s cool, bright green nightvision because what other color would I ever do, cliche camouflage cloak, etc.).
The next member is an old timer named Donato the Blue who is the one true sailor, having built and used his own ships for decades. His nickname is from his love of the ocean. He uses a decommissioned Rotary Rifle found in an abandoned silo, and keeps a Clark Airgun handy to push foes away if they get too close to him and the gun.
The final member is Ali Paek, an ambitious youngster from New Iberia with plenty to prove. He wields a hand-me-down Ultra Repeater and tends to be the happiest and most motivational of the group, thus the Get In There! trait.
For the dinosaur the Coastal Defense Force got a Longneck, rightly named Queen of Iberia. I could see this gentle beast covered in streamers and flowers while parading down main street. She’d be fiercely loyal and have many years of experience hunting smaller dinosaurs as part of the New Iberia pelt trade.

Posse: Murkfoul Raiders (310 IP, $3,000)
Get the PDF Roster or View in the Saloon
The Murkfoul Raiders have a loose ship crew feel to them with various named ranks. Captain Pellham is the natural leader with a Rustler Revolver (a suitable pirate/bandit-y gun), and wears extremely sturdy armor as a sign of his station.
First Mate Quinn is older than the Captain, but still loyal and happy with his lot in life. He mirrors the Captain by using a powerful Stampede Pistol. Somehow after years raiding and pillaging and living in muck and swamps Quinn hasn’t died yet, so the Lucky trait fit well. Speed Reload seemed like a neat story point in the sense of a quiet, unsuspecting old man who can rapidly load a gun out of reflex from some past military service.
Quartermaster Hank is potentially more loyal to his Laserbow 80, lovingly named “Starfire” from some sci-fi book he found as a child. Hank is the prime poacher in the group, preferring to use Attack – Surprise and a single arrowbolt to kill a foe in one shot.
Officer Russell is a disgraced serviceman who is dour and unhappy as he drifts from one depressing raid to another. He uses a Superior Bronto Gun, wears a dark, grumpy cape and big Witch Hunter style hat.
The final member is Dash Cioni, who motivated the Murkfoul Raiders in the first place to attack New Iberia. Unlike his brother Dash focuses on melee with an aptly named Feudbreaker. He’s ripped the Harpoon Gun from the Murkfoul ship and plans to skewer the first enemy he sees. His combination of traits is set to work WONDERFULLY in the swamp, as cliffs will be no problem to climb, especially in combination with his faster-than-a-dinosaur base Speed of 8″.
And as mentioned the dinosaur is a Titan named The Deep One (very Cthulhu vibe), carrying a swarm of ravenous young on it’s back as it waits to feast on entire villages after the Murkfoul Raiders attack.

Game Summary
Instead of turn-by-turn notes I wanted to highlight some fun parts and then show a bunch of pictures.

  • Like a cheesy horror movie the upbeat and hopeful whippersnapper died first. In this case Ali Paek got charged by The Deep One on the first turn and died in a single hit. Thematic as heck, but sad to be Ali!
  • Donato the Blue then had an ongoing battle against both The Deep One and Dash Cioni. Dash failed a 2″ Charge up a cliff, which was hilarious. Even more so when Dash was STILL trying to be greedy and Charge (1A-9D Feudbreaker to 2A is so tempting) and failed AGAIN. Basically Donato survived an extra turn or two thanks to Dash’s ineptitude. Eventually Donato did get cornered in melee with The Deep One and couldn’t use any of his guns (minimum on Rotary, and Push wouldn’t work on a dino in melee), so he tried to escape combat and died to a Snap Attack. Donato did at least mow down Dash first.
  • The middle of the map was a bit of a positional shoot out, with Ronan doing his best to fight there while still supporting his right flank. He was against a mix of Quartermaster Hank and Officer Russell (who also split his attention until The Deep One had the situation near the shack under control).
  • Quartermaster Hank missed his Attack – Surprise shot that could have done 12 damage, and died soon after from Ronan’s Carbine.
  • Since the big dinosaurs had deployed on opposite sides of the table they didn’t end up in a massive fight. Instead they did huge damage to the lowly humans. Both were more or less ignored for return fire and took less than 10 damage apiece.
  • Arnold Bridgers the sniper was the most sniper-y sniper I’ve seen in a while. He stayed planted on top of the hill he deployed to and consistently hit his Lever-Action shots. Near the end as The Deep One closed in (after killing the entire left flank) Arnold even busted out his shotgun. By that point BOTH his guns ended up needing a Reload, but that was right at the turn limit so he survived.
  • Luke Bridgers had less luck than his brother, taking an early shot from Captain Pellham and then scrambling the rest of the game to reload, heal, and survive. He didn’t get to use his Enforcer Shotgun to it’s full potential unfortunately, as the Murkfoul Raiders had such a commanding position to assault on the right flank.
  • Captain Pellham was fearless the whole game, moving forward TOWARDS a Longneck dinosaur to secure the kill on Luke Bridgers, then Fleeing melee after getting Trampled by the dino, only to heal using his Small IRP and survive a whole extra turn. Him Fleeing was especially beneficial as the Rustler Revolver has a minimum range of 1…always keep a way to shoot people in melee! Eventually the Captain was sniped by Arnold though as revenge for the death of his brother.
  • First Mate Quinn had the best use of Lucky I’ve ever seen, although he still did eventually go down. After being engaged by the Longneck the Quartermaster managed to turn a 1-hit kill into surviving with 1 Hitpoint thanks to Lucky. Quinn even managed to Flee and keep away well enough to survive (with 1 HP) until the end of the game.
  • As for the “special weapons”, the Harpoon Gun of Dash was never used (sadly), and Ronan’s Totem was but failed to hit enough to trigger Terrify. The Rotary Rifle (in combination with Attack – Dire) did a terrific job of consistent damage though. The Bronto Gun, even with the post-BTS-campaign nerfs, was excellent as always, especially in these higher level battles with more Defense.
  • The Populated Water resulted in the only damage Officer Russell suffered. The underwater dinosaurs also tried to bite Dash Cioni (after he failed to Charge up the cliff) but didn’t manage to hit him. Jumping between islands work wonderfully and meant the middle saw lots of movement and action.


In the end the turn limit was reached before a decisive victory either way. The Coastal Defense Force was down to Arnold Bridgers (unwounded but with two empty guns) and the Queen of Iberia with 27/37 HP. The Murkfoul Raiders had First Mate Quinn on 1 Hitpoint, Officer Russell with 7 HP, and The Deep One relatively untouched at 28/32 HP.
So a technical win to the Murkfoul Raiders for having more survivors, or really to Quinn for escaping death that whole time. I think given another turn or two Arnold would have been eaten, Quinn would have been shot, and the dinosaurs would have ended up duking it out. That would have been an interesting fight, especially since both still had their Attack – Inspire left (they could eat/stomp a character with it and recover HP) and the Longneck’s lower damage profile was balanced by her Big Game Hunter trait.
Regardless the Murkfoul Raiders broke through the Coastal Defense Force just enough to grab a bit of loot and damage the clubhouse shack, but certainly not enough of a rout to completely pillage New Iberia.

Anyway the game was lots of fun and I liked the varied terrain and background story (amazing how much a little story adds to the tenseness and excitement of a situation). I had these posses built over the holidays and meant to play back-to-back with my Christmas report, but didn’t find the time. So I’m glad I got to the battle report pretty soon after.

v2.6 rules are feeling terrific, no glaring changes that I want to do. I might have finally tweaked and modified the game to it’s final state?! What does that mean for this blog? Well…an exciting announcement soon will shed some light on that.

Game Design: Randomness in tabletop vs video games

I’ve been ruminating on a few game design thoughts for a bit, as I tend to do when I haven’t tweaked Dinosaur Cowboys in a while. Those creative energies have to go somewhere! Then I realized I had a few topics I wanted to talk about, so I figured I’d make some posts covering each.

Randomness and the Purpose of Dice
The topic of pure determinism vs random elements is endless and has been discussed on forums since the first boardgame (I’m sure of it). Basically there are two main camps:

mmm-dice– Deterministic: Minimal or no random elements allowed, if the player chooses to “execute XYZ” it succeeds as expected. There are no percent to-hit or miss chances. Chess is the best example. These games have a lot of planning and quick execution. They can also become “solvable” where the best, most rewarding play can be absolutely decided because there is no random chance. The better player will always win. That Hackers game I was working on is the closest personal example I have.
– Random: There are random elements in the game. Normally categorized as “input randomness” (drawing from a deck of cards, having a generated terrain setup, etc.) that players see, accept, and have to deal with. And “output randomness” like dice rolls to succeed that players have little to no control over. Sometimes this means a worse player will win. A lot of people in the Deterministic camp will accept Input Randomness (normally for replayability and variety) but scour and scoff at Output Randomness. So that’s the one I wanted to talk about.

What it boils down to is you either like rolling dice in a game, or you don’t. And like I said this topic has been talked to death, so I won’t talk too much about either approach. Instead I want to highlight and interesting thought I had today: I don’t hugely like output randomness in video games, but I adore it in tabletop games. But why? This entire section will be dedicated to answering that, so don’t construe it as anything else.

xcom-please-hitThe easiest way to tackle this question is to look at video games first. The modern X-COM remake is a good example of output randomness that can be frustrating. In that game you have a percent chance to hit the target you’re firing at. The chance varies based on soldier skill, weapon, range, and enemy cover. All that is calculated and abstracted and you see the percent chance before you shoot, click the mouse and a little animation plays showing whether you hit and did damage or not. Maybe your soldier has an audio file that plays when you miss, as you sit alone in your quiet office.
Ever miss in that game with a 90% hit chance? How did that make you feel? Frustrated and like it was out of your control?

DC-Cavalier-Border-Battle-0115Now let’s look at a tabletop example, of course using Dinosaur Cowboys. You physically pick up your hand painted miniature, move into Short Distance to hit easier, and try to improve your odds further by choosing to shoot an enemy who hasn’t moved yet. You ask your opponent across the table what their Defense is, add that to your Ranged Target Number, factor in a few mods, and figure out what you need to hit. Let’s say 9+. The chance to hit feels a bit abstract, but at least you know how you arrived at it. In terms of a percent chance you know you have a 4/12 chance per dice…but your Six-Shooter has 4 attacks, so you’re rolling 4 dice. Hmm remember your math class on probabilities? Silently hope to not roll any 1s, in fact a full roll of 12s would be perfect. You pick up the dice, get a nice tactile feel from their edges, shake them in your clenched fist. The pleasing sound of clattering dice fills your games room. Both you and your opponent are staring, waiting for the roll. The dice tumble, building anticipation. 1, 5, 9, and 12. Your eyes see the 9 and 12 first and your cheer a bit. Your opponent sees the 1 and 5 and also cheers. A hit and a Crit! But also a Reload! You curse the dice that rolled a 1, consider putting it back in your bag and getting a different one.

Those examples were a bit embellished, but they hopefully highlight my point. And that is dice and randomness in tabletop games are not just about cold numbers, chances to hit, and reflecting player skill. They’re about a tactile element, and that impossible human nature feat of thinking we can control the outcome of falling plastic if we really believe hard enough. Also depending on the system the randomness covers a lot more than just hitting the enemy, such as above with running out of ammo for a Reload and the excitement and bonus damage of a Critical Hit.
Somehow it’s less frustrating in a tabletop game to miss a shot with a 90% hit chance when it turns into a talking point or good story with your opponent. Miss that kind of shot 5 times in X-COM and you’ll probably take a frustrated break for the night. Have it happen in a tabletop game and you’ll be laughing while gnashing your teeth and bantering with your friends.

dice-shaming-why-a-thingA lot of the deterministic vs random discussions don’t account for this. And a lot of the randomness DOESN’T translate well to computer games because of all the positive elements surrounding dice on the tabletop. Not just computer games, but even online software for playing tabletop games virtually, like Roll20. Seeing a virtual result of 12 isn’t the same as the whole ritual and process of rolling a 12 on a physical dice in the real world. Or boiling down a fun and unique dice system with multiple side effects into a single dry percent chance resulting in “hit” or “miss”.

Do dice objectively make for a worse game (don’t get me started on “game” vs “toy”)? Or do they represent everything a computer game can’t capture, and the tactile elements we keep coming back to boardgames and wargames for? While it does sometimes make for a worse determination of player system knowledge (not really “skill”), is that the be-all-end-all measurement for every game?
Does anyone talk about their crazy 7 Wonders or Puerto Rico win where they added up a bunch of points in a deterministic system? “Dang I really built that Market and figured out the Science combo!” Or do gaming friends talk about that time Peter rolled six 1s in a row, then came through with a Critical Hit at a key moment?

More on the topic:
Our Destructive Love Affair with Random Number Generators
Games, Randomness And The Problem With Being Human
Mainly for:
“Perhaps, once again, this difficulty with true randomness in video games is down to our cognitive biases; in board games and tabletop games alike, it is we who roll our own dice. Therefore, we perhaps feel some sense of control over the outcome; as though, by rolling the dice, we are the masters of cold, impartial randomness. However, with video games, the computer rolls our dice on our behalves.”

Game Design: Throwaway Fights

I’ve been ruminating on a few game design thoughts for a bit, as I tend to do when I haven’t tweaked Dinosaur Cowboys in a while. Those creative energies have to go somewhere! Then I realized I had a few topics I wanted to talk about, so I figured I’d make some posts covering each.

RPGs and Throwaway Fights
not-me-playingThis section is specifically in regards to Dungeons & Dragons (4th edition), but the concept applies to many other RPGs (both pen-and-paper and computer games). Before I get too far into the topic let me say a brief disclaimer that yes, I am aware a lot of people don’t like D&D, or 4th edition, or “it’s like an MMO”, and the rules don’t lend themselves to roleplaying. And let me just say D&D isn’t meant to be some artsy fartsy indie RPG where you collectively tell a story and have quirky characters and stuff. When people say “D&D is a bad RPG” they aren’t far from the truth, because although you play the role of your character, there aren’t a ton of in-game rules or systems to do so (I don’t think you need many, but that’s beside the point).
But what people should focus on is D&D is a great cooperative fantasy battle system. 4th edition is meant to have balanced classes, combat roles are interesting and focused (Defender, Striker, etc.), every character has a lot of neat choices on their turn (as compared to other D&D versions where a Fighter would eventually be outdone by a Mage, without fail), there is a team element of combining abilities and planning, positioning matters, and the mechanics and rules for combat are clear.
So to the above topic, D&D fulfills that vision and design very well. In some ways this focus on grid-based combat means D&D is closer to a skirmish game with a campaign system than a full fledged RPG.

But that’s leads to my one complaint: throwaway fights in RPGs.

snoozeD&D has some elements of resource management. You have limited consumable potions, you have “Daily” powers that can’t be used every fight (so you often save them for the big boss fight), Hitpoints and healing wears down slowly from damage, etc. The rulebook recommends around 3 encounters per day before the players get a chance to fully recharge their resources. And a common problem is avoiding this 3-fight rule of thumb by resting after each fight, resulting in the term “15 Minute Adventuring Day”.
As an adverse effect of this some of those 3 fights would be throwaways meant to grind down resources. In these fights the players weren’t in any real danger of dying, being defeated, or failing to complete their goal. Instead a group of goblins would throw a few spears, shave off a few Hitpoints and potions, then die/flee.

Going back to video games this problem still exists and is endemic to the genre.

Action RPGs like the Diablo series, Torchlight, Path of Exile, etc. might suffer the worst. You kill hundreds of thousands of monsters that are little to no threat.

This throwaway fight concept spans the globe, right into Japanese RPGs (JRPGS) like the Final Fantasy series. There are numerous encounters in that game which you can autoattack through with no thought at all, just to get more experience points in a grindy fashion. You also had consumable potions and items you didn’t need for the easy stuff and wanted to save for boss fights.

Are throwaway fights fun? Maybe once every 10 fights it’s nice to just steamroll your enemies and completely crush them, to give a sense of power and progression (especially if the fight used to be hard). But after idly clicking and sleep walking through the twentieth easy, meaningless fight, it can be a bore and really turn people off the genre.

What can be done? Well the long titled Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 had a few neat concepts I thought I’d mention here. First of all potions and items aren’t traditional consumables, instead they are available on a per-fight basis. So they aren’t single use items anymore, but instead single use PER FIGHT. Similarly Hitpoints and Mana/Magic is restored after each fight, instead of grinding down the life of characters in a feeble attempt to make a later fight more challenging. And best of all the majority of fights are life or death affairs where you need to pull out the big guns and can’t just autoattack your way to victory.
An older, quirky game Earthbound tried to avoid the throwaway fight problem by having enemies automatically flee if you were high enough level above them, thus avoiding the boring part of going through the motions when you know the outcome.


But what could be done for D&D 4th edition? Try to make almost every fight matter, and every fight be a life or death, success or failure affair. Flatten out the resource grind down, let the players recover all their abilities and Hitpoints because they’ll need them for the next fight!

What I find very interesting is if RPGs get to that point, their combat starts to resemble that of a skirmish game. Which means the RPG/skirmish distinction is even closer. In a skirmish game you have a complete, rested, fully ready force at the start of each battle. The battles are normally one-off, so consumables don’t matter as much. Normally the opponents are more closely matched in strength, meaning either side could prevail. There is no concept of wearing down a player through throwaway fights. Multiplayer online battle areans (MOBAs) like Dota 2 and League of Legends have adopted this match approach and fresh start idea.
But for some reason those elements haven’t caught on in many RPGs. There is still this taboo about having “match based” RPGs fight where all the cards are on the table and there is no saving (or any need to save) for some future conflict.

Game Design: Focus Your Concept

I’ve been ruminating on a few game design thoughts for a bit, as I tend to do when I haven’t tweaked Dinosaur Cowboys in a while. Those creative energies have to go somewhere! Then I realized I had a few topics I wanted to talk about, so I figured I’d make some posts covering each.

Execute Your Concept
focus-upThis could similarly be titled “Fulfill Your Vision” or “Have a Clear Design” or the blog post itself of “Focus Your Concept”. But basically when making a game decide what you want that game to be, what it should do well, and who it should appeal to.
To me the worst games (both virtual and table) are those that try to appeal to everyone, or are a mishmash of unclear ideas. The best games realize a laser sharp vision the designers had. In some ways good games should be divisive: either you like the topic and concept and thus the game, or you don’t. There should be no middle ground of “I didn’t like the shooting but I had fun capturing animals”, because you know neither of those executions were as fleshed out as they could be.

ets2On the video game side you might know I play a lot of Euro Truck Simulator 2. If you aren’t familiar with the game you drive a semi-truck around Europe, completing jobs and tasks for money which you use to buy different trucks/upgrades/garages and so on. When I talk to people about this game I get a lot of strange looks, like “How is that fun?” or “That seems boring”. And to those people ETS 2 probably IS boring. But that’s because they don’t like the topic and concept, and the game isn’t designed to appeal to everyone. Whereas I love the romanticized road trips of semi-trucks, so ETS 2 fulfills that niche very well. Let me list your options in ETS 2:

– Drive, buy, and upgrade a semi-truck
– Sleep in the parking lot of hotels and gas stations
– Take your truck on a ferry
– Do quick jobs in a company truck or choose your cargo
– Buy garages and hire drivers

Notice how the list entirely relates to truck driving and the simulation of supporting tasks? You can’t get out of the truck and choose food at a restaurant and have it affect your character. You don’t have an option to drive a car instead or walk around a town sight seeing.
So if you LIKE simulated truck driving, you’re in for a real treat. And if you don’t the game is CLEARLY not for you, and you move on.

gta5-just-stuffOn the opposite side would be a lot of open world games, namely Grand Theft Auto 5. GTA 5 tries to appeal to everyone, and ends up with a foggy concept and half-hearted implementations of mechanics. First of all imagine an elevator pitch for GTA 5, and what you’d say the game is really about. Then let me list a few things you can do in the game:

– Play tennis, golf, or darts
– Go base jumping off a mountain or for a skydive
– Manage real estate properties
– Go hunting for deer and other animals
– See short films at the movies
– Go for a ride on a ferris wheel or rollercoaster
– Run a triathlon
– Play in the world as a bird or cat
– Fly an air blimp
– Go out for a drink
– Go scuba diving or for a jet ski
– Complete the storyline missions and watch all the cutscenes
– Play the stock market
– Drive around listening to the radio
– Rob a convenience store
– Steal cars and from people
– Shoot people

Is the hunting of animals as good as a dedicated, single purpose hunting game? No, of course not, because it’s just one of twenty bullet points. Do you think riding the rollercoaster is as neat as Rollercoaster Tycoon? Yet again it’s just another feature to make the game seem like it has a ton of depth. In fact this type of game has very little depth, but a lot of breadth. And in this way the game can somewhat appeal to a lot of people, while not truly satisfying anyone.

super-meatboy-not-for-me-but-for-someSo where am I going with all of this? My summary would be if you’re going to design a game choose your concept and stick to it. Do one concept really well, per game. If you want a realistic modern military shooter you might have bullet drop, armor penetration, cover vs concealment, gun attachments, etc. But you don’t tack on zombies and a survival mode and laser guns. You don’t throw in robots after the fact because deep in your heart you wanted to design a robot game. Keep your concept, delivery, and execution of a vision as clear as possible.

Apparently I’m not some genius who is the first one to think of this (imagine that!). Read some similar articles written by actual journalists with talent (found accidentally when searching for images for this post). Note the issue I’m talking about is not just for open world games, I just happened to use GTA 5 as it’s well known, and most of these articles happened to be about similar games. There are plenty of messy, unfocused, confused linear games too.


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