A rough and fun naval supplement for Dinosaur Cowboys

ShipsFor the Coos Bay campaign battle I knew I wanted to have the posses fight each other from the back of Swimmers. For those that aren’t familiar, traditional boats and ferries aren’t used in Dinosaur Cowboys. Instead in the spirit of the theme giant ferries and ship decks are strapped to the back of various dinosaurs, such as a ferry on a Thalassomedon or Mosasaurus, whereas a smaller sloop would be on a Nothosaurus.

Soooo you kind of end up with a ship deck, but in your imagination it’s on the back of a dinosaur. In terms of game mechanics that makes the boat MUCH more maneuverable since you can go backwards without momentum, cross small islands (since the dino can clamber across), etc.

Nathan-Swimmer
Mockup of a Swimmer provided by Nathan, one of the campaign players

In terms of the rules I mapped out decks for the Sloop and Skiff (which can be launched from the Sloop). The actual passengers ferries would be much larger. You can see the layout of these to the right, or in the rules themselves.

Otherwise the rules provide a framework for moving the ship, using various stations on board (like going “Below Decks” to heal, firing Swivel Guns and Cannons, etc.). There are also rules for boarding via boarding planks or grappling hooks. Also for swimming in deep water, and everything else necessary to add boats to a standard game of Dinosaur Cowboys.

In terms of balance and tweaks, we’ve only played the rules once, but they seemed to work well. The biggest complaint was that there wasn’t much incentive to fire a Cannon. So I’d consider tweaking those to Reload None (instead of Auto), giving it a bigger arc, maybe a different damage scheme (like 1D12 Attacks, D6 Damage), etc.

Download the Swimmer Naval Rules PDF for Dinosaur Cowboys

Anyway the rules are fairly one off so I don’t think I’ll revisit them again. I’ve been loosely brainstorming a new naval game in the back of my mind so this was somewhat an outlet for that. Plus it’s fun to have a unique battle every now and then!

Battle to Seattle – Coos Bay Boats and Crater Lake

Two quite fun games yesterday!

On one side was Coos Bay, which used the newly roughed out “naval rules” for fighting aboard a Swimmer dinosaur. The match up was New Haven Vigilantes against Dustin Tails.
The other table was Crater Lake, with a guest player using Rhinebeck Herders against the returned Dustbowl Dusters.

Both sides were on the hunt for metal scrap. At Crater Lake they were looking for old meteorite to give to a crazy hermit/prospector who had a metal working shop in his house and would upgrade a weapon for the winner. They deployed in their boats.
At Coos Bay there was rough iron on various islands that could be brought to a merchant in town to also make upgrades. They deployed using the Layered deploy, which made for some early chaos and Shot in the Back bonuses.
In the case of upgrades everyone could basically choose a Weapon Special Ability, with a couple removed for balance issues (for example “Seeking” would be overpowered on a normal weapon). In the end everyone, without fail, went with “Hail of Shots”, which allows 1-reroll per attack. This was spread across various weapons in each posse.

In terms of the games I was able to get more pictures since I was just being referee and not actually playing, so that’s a nice change of pace. The games seemed to go well, with Dustbowl Dusters barely squeaking out a win against the NPCs, by having 7 metal compared to 6. In the process though they had 3 members taken out of action, and ALL three took Wounds. Still no Injuries yet at least! On the other side Dustin Tails won against New Haven Vigilantes both in metal and in kills.

Next week New Haven Vigilantes will finally get to fight an NPC posse, in this case at Dunes Park along the coast. The fluff rumors heard were “a weird sighting of a weird dinosaur”, so that’ll be fun to see what happens. And then Dustin Tails and Dustbowl Dusters will be facing off at the Warm Springs Indian Reserve, which they’ve heard is a semi-ruined town that still does some business (aka the closest thing to civilization in a while).

Anyway I’ll do a separate post with the naval rule supplement. In the mean time enjoy the usual smattering of pictures! I split them by table again:

Combined
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Coos Bay
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Crater Lake
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Battle to Seattle – Redwoods and Lassen Volcano

Another Battle to Seattle night! We had two simultaneous games again, except this time at different locations, hooray. The first was Redwood Forest in northern California. The second was at Lassen Volcanic National Park, aka the Lassen Volcano.

We also had our first guest player, my cousin Rob, who would play vs New Haven Vigilantes in the Redwood Forest. I was playing some savage cannibal cultists against the Dustin Tails posse. The Dustbowl Dusters couldn’t make it.
Speaking of my cousin he’s actually designed an RPG called Realm of Strife which has a terrific class mechanic where you basically can mix and match power sources to define what your character is. For example a pure Vigor character is a Fighter, but if you mix Vigor and Stealth you get a Ranger, or Vigor and Faith for a Cleric. With a bunch of power sources this makes quite an impressive matrix as you can see here, and I like gives a fresh, less restrictive approach to class design compared to the traditional D&D multiclassing. In some ways it reminds me of the old computer game Titan Quest.

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Above: The tin can trees, and also the New Haven Vigilante Stegosaurus who is started to get some custom armor added.
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Above: The new inca statue and the path to the volcano.

Redwood Forest
I hastily made some large tree stumps from old tin cans and cardboard tubes. I used textured spray paint, followed by a flat brown coat, and then a light dusting of green and more textured spraypaint. Then a bit of protective clearcoat. I’m happy with how they turned out, and made for some fun line of sight blocking terrain.

In terms of the game the New Haven Vigilantes setup in the middle of the table, in a rough camp of barrels and crates. The idea was they would be ambushed by raiders just as the sun set. The raiders would deploy half their posse to each long table edge. So basically Center deploy with a slight change.
There was a single objective in the middle, marking supplies, which either posse had to get off the table. The idea was the New Haven Vigilantes wanted to grab their supplies and run from the ambush and rally up later, whereas the raiders (predictably) wanted to steal things! So Smash and Grab objective type.
For Features the plan was “Dusk”, which is kind of like Night, and provides a 10+ save against Long Distance attacks. The other was Gusting Winds from the strong breeze through the trees, which provided 2″ Pushed to all weapons. However the players ended up forgetting both Features so they weren’t even a factor. I’ve definitely done that before!

The posses involved: Bigtree Raiders (PDF) vs New Haven Vigilantes (PDF)

In the end the New Haven Vigilantes, who started right on top of the supplies, were able to safely get them off the table and secure victory. From what I saw it looked like the rider of the T-Rex fleeing (and taking the dino with him) hurt the push to secure the supplies. Then it looked like a fight amidst the trees as everyone tried to position around the supplies.

Lassen Volcano
The Dustin Tails posse heard screaming as they approached the volcano, and saw a young woman chained at the base of the volcano. A hooded cultmaster was preparing to sacrifice her to their Molten King, while various cultists chanted nearby. Sort of like Indiana Jones Temple of Doom, haha. Anyway the cultists had to wait until the stars were properly aligned to perform the sacrifice, which gave Dustin Tails a chance to sneak in and try to rescue the girl. However as they approached the cult leader noticed them, and soon cannibals were pouring from the jungle to attack.
A Line deployment was used, with Dustin Tails in a 4″ line near the road. The “Sacrifice” was an ally and could be used normally. The cult leader deployed on the volcano itself, while the cultists were continually added from the two long table edges. They were easy to 1-shot with only 6 HP and crude weapons (Throwing Knife and Axe).
An Escort Objective was used, where the Sacrifice had to be moved off the short table edge opposite the volcano.
For features there were a few. I had a new “inca head” statue (more aquarium terrain repurposed) that was Fearful Ruins to Dustin Tails and Inspiring Ruins to the cultists. Also the volcano would start erupting at the start of turn 2, spreading deadly lava D6″ forward each turn. Anyone in contact with the lava would suffer an automatic 1D12 Damage.
Also the cultists were represented by goblin and other monster figures (like Skaven from Warhammer) since with the heat the Dustin Tails gang was hallucinating the cultist warpaint into a truly menacing appearance. Plus let’s be honest, I just wanted to use goblins in Dinosaur Cowboys.

The posses involved were Cult of the Molten King (PDF) vs Dustin Tails (PDF)

The cultists started strong with some early pressure, but eventually the overwhelming firepower of the Dustin Tails posse chewed them to pieces. The Auto Shotgun was particularly deadly with a kill a turn. That 5A-5D at Short distance just mulched 6 HP cultists!
The cult leader was somewhat effective, initially Slowing the Sacrifice with his Bolas. He tried to go toe to toe with the Dustin Tails Leader but both characters found the high Defense of their opponent tough to surmount. The lava was a huge factor in this fight and came less than 1″ away from hitting the cult leader. After the Dustin Tails Leader killed the cult leader he was actually overtaken by the lava (after an amazing 6 on the D6″ lava roll) and suffered 12 damage on the D12 roll! Good thing he had 14 HP.
The Sacrifice was harried the rest of the way down the track, and had fairly low HP by the end, but was able to survive. She had a lot of defensive Traits that helped get her out of sticky situations, especially Escape.

So double victory for the “player character” posses of the campaign!

What’s Next
Next week should be another fun one. We’ll have another guest player to fight against Dustbowl Dusters at the dried up Crater Lake. Then Dustin Tails and New Haven Vigilantes will fight onboard Swimmer dinosaurs. Basically hopping island to island trying to recover metal salvage to give to a weaponsmith.

Battle to Seattle – Skirmish at Lake Tahoe

Last weeks battle was a fun setup and game, although it did bring up the issue of rifles and their relative power level. Part of the problem is the relative flatness of the terrain, as you can see from the pictures.

But anyway the players had heard a rumor of old maps and information booklets in an abandoned camper trailer near Lake Tahoe. When they arrived they found the lake totally empty however, and a few other gangs wandering around the area (since watering holes are popular stopping spots). However in the middle of the night a boat drifted to the surface, probably from wreckage loosening under water. Everyone assumed the information was aboard the ship, so a fight ensued. Some crates had been offloaded in the middle of the night so they became a focus as well.

The tributary rivers were Strong Current which pushed towards the lake itself. The lake was Deep and Populated, which was tough for people to cross. The boat was Pit Fight only, meaning no guns could be used (on it, off it, into it) for fear of damaging the goods.

The deploy was Quadrant, but in an 8″ square instead of “deep” to the middle of the table.

The objective was Capture, with a 7 turn limit with a possible 8th turn (roll of 7+ at the end of turn 7). Both the boat and crates could be captured.

This was our first simultaneous 2x1vs1 game, and that aspect was really fun. If posses from different tables reached the boat they would just ignore each other basically, since they would be on different turns and activations and so on.

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The boat itself was made by me long, long ago. I think I was maybe 17 or 18 years old at the time? It was made for a D&D campaign and was originally an airship (there was a clear plastic cup glued to the bottom to raise the boat up) that was hopping the planes, as in a planar campaign, like the video game Planescape Torment. The sails were a bit dark for Dinosaur Cowboys, but otherwise the scale and details were perfect.

This was also the debut game of some new figures. The players all bought various resin minis from the Black Scorpion “Tombstone” line. They look great and have some nice poses and weapons. We’re going to try to do a painting night soon so hopefully you’ll see less gray.

After the game we had one posse go to the Redwoods, and one go to Lassen Volcanic Park. We had to talk a bit “out of character” to end up with this, since so far everyone has pretty much gone to the same places, haha. Should be a good set of fights this week. We also have the first guest player so I’ll be interested to see how that goes.

Possible Variant rule: Trailblaze

MarchingI was thinking of a fun idea of a “Marching Order”, where basically if you are in a safe position you can move further. Now for the sake of fluff I’d probably call it Trailblaze, since marching brings to mind images like the right (which are still awesome, just not very cowboy-esque).
There are two options I could use. Either a Variant Rule OR a new Trait. How I envision it working is one of these ways, which are valid for either a trait or variant:

Trailblaze: Double Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″. Remove Defense bonus until the start of next Activation.
Trailblaze: For this Movement Phase use double Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″. Cannot perform an Action Phase this Activation.
Trailblaze: +4 Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″.

Pretty neat right? I could see this really giving mobility to entities who aren’t in the fight, but need to be. Sort of like if you deploy badly and need to reach somewhere you can. The downside is either the variant or trait could be exploited in some ways. For example a maxed out Runner being 24″ away and getting double Speed and going 10×2″ in one move. A maximum or cap on Trailblaze would help with this, such as “Double Speed up to 12″.

Game balance exhaustion

balanceYou know what is an unfun process? Trying to balance a game, specifically this one :) You would think by now, after years and development, this game is relatively balanced. And in the sense of “it’s symmetrical, so everyone has the same resources”, you’d be correct.
Where the problem really comes into play is when one strategy dominates the game. This has been especially noticeable in the Battle to Seattle campaign. Initially two posses were focused heavily on rifles. But in yesterdays game the third posse reworked a bit to also try to focus on rifles. In the end this meant 3 players independently decided to bring 300kW Twin Rifles and build a similar character to wield it.
Now this is not technically unbalanced on it’s own, since everyone could buy the same rifle and use the same stats. Where the unbalance and problem comes in is that’s now how I intended the game to be. I never meant for each game to devolve into a “sniper match” where everyone lines up and doesn’t move very much. I figured the mechanics and choices supported this, such as having tons of pistols to choose from and dinosaurs that are only effective up close. But what actually ended up happening is a sniper “arms race”.
You might have heard the term “kill your darlings”, which basically means don’t just coddle an idea because you spent a long time on it. But what’s really hard is killing someone elses darling (which sounds really dark and morbid). What I mean is the initial rifle users enjoyed shooting at long ranges and outdistancing everyone. But because the game isn’t designed around that, it sort of has to change or go.

A few important points have come out of this:

1. Neodollars on their own are not enough of a balancing mechanic. A lot of guns are priced $10-$20 different from each other, with the idea that each player will be strapped for cash. What actually ends up happening is everyone buys the biggest gun they can, regardless of price, and based purely on the stats, and then just builds a posse around that. Either that or they get flush with enough cash, such as halfway through the campaign where we have $1500-$2000 to throw around, and then money is no object. Armor suffers from the same problem, which is why I had to add a Speed penalty to try to balance, because money alone is not enough.

2. Skirmish games are actually pretty hard to balance and to prevent a dominant strategy, especially in a smaller play group. If a strategy doesn’t have a valid counter besides one-upping the same strategy, that’s a problem. But all this thought on balance brought me back to thinking of Mordheim and Necromunda. Now that I think about it people always complained about the balance in Mordheim, saying mass slings were overpowered, armor was too expensive, etc. That is basically the whole idea of the Coreheim fan project. I’d like to be able to achieve a playing field where most combinations of weapons work and are feasible.

3. Playtesting on your own is not enough. It’s like quality assurance for software in some ways. Subconsciously I think when I playtested I might have thought rifles were overpowered, so I tended to keep just 1 in a posse instead of having that be the focus. Similarly

4. I need more terrain. Now that we have two 3′x4′ games going simultaneously (which was awesome by the way) I realize I need more terrain. I was happy with the amount of terrain I had for ONE such board, but two just means everything is spread way, way too thin. I’m going to try to get my friend to bring over his terrain which should help build some line-of-sight blocking avenues. I think this has helped demonstrate the power of rifles when you can get a pretty clear shot right up to your max range.

So what to do?
Well, tweak. Try to bring rifles to a point where they are support weapons, instead of basically high damage weapons that are always shooting you from further than you can shoot. My ideal situation is a midrange battle in the center of the table, since there are the most guns available at that range, it gives some leeway for close combat to happen, etc. But due to point #3 above I think I overlooked rules and weapons that prevented this from happening. It’s tough because even when I try to build a posse different than what I normally do, I still feel like deep down it’s influenced by my play style and choices.
Which is why public playtests are great, and also why this longer running campaign with friends is perfect. The one-off games we’ve done in the past normally had prebuilt posses from me, so there was sort of a natural balance. Whereas now it’s “winner take all” and everyone understands the building rules well enough to capitalize on any holes or flaws in the rules.

A good related quote from “The Art of Game Design” on balance:
“…balancing a game is nothing more than adjusting the elements of the game until they deliver the experience you want.”
So in summary right now a sniper arms race is not the type of gameplay I envisioned for Dinosaur Cowboys.

Reworked Panic Speed to remove D4, D8, D10

back-to-basic-diceThe image to the right basically sums up the latest change. In other words you no longer required 4-sided (D4), 8-sided (D8), or 10-sided (D10) dice for Dinosaur Cowboys! I had initially included these dice specifically for Panic Speed of certain dinosaurs, so that the random range was fairly close to the base Speed. For example a Runner has a Speed of 10, and used to have a Panic Speed of D10 (1-10).

With my v2.5 tweaks I went to ONLY D12s and D6s. To achieve a similar random range modifiers are used. So going back to the Runner, their Panic Speed is now D12-2. Obviously anything with a modifier to Panic Speed has a minimum of 1, so technically the range ends up being 1-10 still, just with 2/12 chances to end up with a total of 1 (since rolling a 2 or 3 would be modified to 1).

Overall this is a great change as it reduces the barrier to entry to play the game. I figure most players have some history of RPGs in their past so getting D4s and so on isn’t that tough, but there is always a chance there are new players who only have the basics.

I’ll be retaking the “Components of the Game” shot (which the above image was cropped and edited from), which also means I can include some new miniatures in there from my recently painted stuff. I also updated The Saloon code to use the new Panic Speed values (and adjust the font size on PDF export as necessary).

Anyway here are the current v2.5 dinosaurs with this change:
reworked-panic

The latest batch of Dinosaur Cowboys changes also included some other big reworks, mostly around formatting. For example now there is a Statistics Overview section before “The Turn”, which I learned from the Judge Dredd Miniatures Game rulebook really helps give an idea of how a character is defined. This was especially necessary because I use a lot of the statistics in the combat section without the reader having much idea of what they do. Similarly I included an example Weapon statline at the start of the Combat section.
I also shifted around the Statistic Improvement Cost page, mainly compressing it by removing (now redundant) descriptive text. I also changed the Quidel “Creating a Character Example” end result to be a screenshot of the PDF posse roster instead of plain text.

So yeah, lots of touchups that should help make the game more accessible to new players.

As I said before, look for v2.5 near the end of this month. In the meantime you can still get the latest rulebook copy synced from my computer on my bleeding edge Dropbox.
But yeah look for the official release after the Battle to Seattle campaign is done. Speaking of which, Lake Tahoe battle tomorrow night woo hoo!

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