So the ol’ website will be a bit quieter these days because I’m running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign called “Servants of Molagrath”. I’m the DM and am also hosting at my house, so my games room is generally dominated by character sheets, paper maps, and a slew of dice. We have SEVEN people playing, which is quite the record, so yeah, lots of prep work and general tabletop exhaustion from that. So the site will be a bit quieter, which is okay since I normally tone things down after doing a release (and v2.6 was just a bit ago). I do have one battle report in mind that I want to play out (Mad Max themed!) but no idea when that would happen.
Anyway I thought I’d share some details on the D&D campaign, for those who are interested. We’re playing 4th edition because it has the best combat balance and variety. Much like our last Edge of the Empire campaign (Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games) this happens weekly and with a similar core group, I was just able to recruit a few more people to get our numbers up so high. EoTE taught me that this group tends to solve problems in a violent way, and even though they might be “good guys” on paper they really act villainous. So with this D&D campaign we just flat out accepted that, and everyone is playing an evil cultist! They are part of the Cult of the Beetle who worships the banished god and lord of decay Molagrath (imagined like the picture to the right), and each session is more or less sowing chaos across the land. For example they started by raiding and poisoning an oasis (killing a sizable merchant caravan as well), and just recently attacked a Church of Lathander (god of spring/renewal, aka their enemy) to rescue a fellow cultist who was going to be burned at the stake. So yeah, pretty fun and interesting to try this approach.
I was tipped off to an upcoming line of dinosaur miniatures as well as some cool Victorian-type explorers. Sounds like the sculptor is going to model all the dinosaurs from the old Crystal Palace Exhibit (awesome read by the way).
You can see more here: http://www.antediluvianminiatures.com/
Seems like some unique dinosaurs, and the “extracted bone” base looks like it’d be good as an objective marker. So far the humans look good too, especially the pompous noble with the umbrella who just screams Neotechnoist.
This game is buzzing on various news sites, and even though it’s not directly related to tabletop gaming I thought I’d mention it because of the possibility of riding dinosaurs! The game is survival multiplayer (what isn’t these days, between RUST and a zillion imitators). I’m tentatively excited about this, since so far computer games with dinosaurs haven’t fared well. The Stomping Land was canceled, the Primal series was just junky, etc.
I entered to get a chance at the closed beta, because who knows it could be good. If the game is as slick as the trailer makes it seem (although that’s the point of trailers) I think it could be a real gem.
What can go wrong? Also there won’t be any April Fool’s shenanigans on this blog, so don’t get too excited. Anyway these two photos catalogue my recent trip to my local gaming store. I bought a total of 11 minis (although 2 of them are gifts), all of which are for Dinosaur Cowboys. They are also all from the terrific Reaper Mini Chronoscope line, which are inexpensive minis of various genres. They do a great job of copying popular culture and switching the names to get around trademark issues. For example Rudd Starslider, Space Smuggler who is very clearly Peter Quill aka Star-Lord from the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Similarly Rex, Dark Future Hero who is Mad Max, right down to the torn sleeve (they even get a nice little nod to Game Workshop’s early road warrior style game Dark Future).
But I’m not complaining, merely highlighting the awesome range you can buy.
I’m going to base everyone up, fill in the gaps with puddy, base coat them all, and then have 9 minis lined up to paint whenever I feel like it. Otherwise I have probably ~15 more in a “paint for DC” box, collected from Ebay and various other sources. One day soon I mean to take a photo of all the minis I need to paint, and also all the minis for Dinosaur Cowboys I have painted.
This is a big purchase for me since after all I’ve probably bought an average of one mini per ~3 months for the past 5 years. My motivation is simply to get some specific DC minis based and undercoated so I can just sit down and paint them. I want to get back into painting a bit, since rank-and-file troops of mass battle games (specifically Warhammer 40,000) turned me off the hobby for a while. Basically childhood burnout that bled into losing focus on painting in adulthood. To me painting single minis like this is the peak fun-ness of the hobby. You can vary the paint scheme mini to mini, add a lot of characterization and uniqueness to each, and the look changes drastically between minis.
Since I started Dinosaur Cowboys I actually haven’t done too badly with painting new minis. I probably added close to 10 to my collection. So with luck in the next year or so I’ll have another 20 done!
As usual you can grab the latest copy of the rulebook PDF updated directly from my computer to Dropbox from http://bleedingedge.mine.nu/.
Example v2.6 Posses
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so what value does that give a posse roster? Here are two posses built for v2.6 with plenty of gimmicks and wackiness around the new weapons and trait combinations. I’m going to playtest using these (and others) to ensure the math and feel of the new weapons and other changes works.
Both of the posses were built until I felt happy with them, so don’t worry about the IP/ND values. Similarly everyone was given very similar stats and Hitpoints to help with testing.
General William’s Brigade v2.6 Posse Roster – I see the General riding into battle on his Triceratops, with his steadfast doctor Unit 4-15-3 supporting him from a seat further back. And I can’t wait for Tom West to punch someone for 2A-8D. Think of this posse as a USA Civil War era cavalry gang.
LeDorf’s Royal Force v2.6 Posse Roster – Lots of neat ideas here, from The Tombstone weapon (only 12-12″ range, but crazy damage and effects) to the Madhat grenadier (who will square off against the flamethrower wielding Malius in the enemy posse quite well), to Glargamar grabbing someone with the Dinocatcher and then slicing them to ribbons with the Rattlesnake Axe. Instead of a pure doctor this posse is using the new Motivate weapons with the Lend a Hand trait. I don’t think it will be quite as effective, but it’s an interesting idea none the less. Think of this posse as an American Revolution era British response force (thus the aristocratic name).
Before I get to that, there are also a few other changes and improvements. Some minor stuff like the table of contents being clickable and reworked to one page. +2 HP to the Leader when playing the Assassinate objective. Removing the “Clever Girl” deployment for “Diagonal”. Some clean up of the Quick Reference Sheet. Clarifying Cover to be 25%+ obscured. Adding a few new sepia toned images and a new gameplay image. Removed the campaign based Medical Devices for healing Wounds/Injuries. Cleaned up the Yeehaw! ability and split Bravery Test on Leader death to a separate section. Even super tiny stuff like using ÷ instead of / for division and defining Defense for Armor as +X instead of a flat X. So just the usual tweaks and poking and prodding.
But the core changes are around weapons, and to a lesser degree Traits. For Traits they have been split from a single complex table to one for Active and one for Passive. Similarly the less used Traits have been balanced and buffed. And Passive traits now use the highest stage, exactly like Active, instead of stacking. So Bonus HP went from +3 per stage to +3/+6/+9…same effect, but more consistency between the two types. My favorite example of a trait change is “Boxer”, which now has 2 stages of +3/+7 damage with Brawl attacks. What this means is a character can take both stages and be dishing out 2A-8D punches or 1A-9D kicks, or 1A-8D trips with Stopped. So basically you can make a Jackie Chan / Jet Li martial arts style character and still have it be viable.
Viable is actually a good word here, as something like “Racer” shows. Previously this Passive trait was +1 SPD to Hustle…but that begs the question who would ever take it over a flat Bonus SPD +1 trait? So now Racer is +2 SPD to Hustle. Again, just little tweaks to ensure variety and choice when building your posse.
(“Big Iron” picture by MMoussee, and based on the Marty Robbins song that I based the upcoming “Big Iron” weapon in this game on!)
The Main Event – Weapon Changes
Now for the weapons, which again have that focus on viability. Most of these changes are lingering leftovers from the Battle to Seattle campaign. The campaign and subsequently v2.5 were terrific for expanding the list of choices (especially the delicious pistols!), but also had a few rough edges. One important lesson I learned is once a posse is at the $2,000 level, and even more so beyond that, they can more or less afford any weapon they want for anyone (aside from crazy stuff like the $1,500 Field Gun). What this means is (eventually) price is no longer a balancing factor for weapons. “This gun does more damage, but costs $50 more!” means nothing when you have $700 in the bank.
So in the end players went for “top tier” guns, regardless of price. In case you haven’t noticed, range weapons are capable of 9 damage (before Crits), in a variety of attack-damage patterns, while close combat weapons can reach 10 damage. For range this means 6A-3D, 1A-8D, 4A-5D, etc. The problem was a lot of weapon “lines”, like the Laserbow or Pump Shotgun, didn’t reach that “top tier” 9 damage category. For example Laserbows topped out at 1A-6D. So for $1,000 posses they might be used, but anything above that and they’ll be left by the wayside in favor of more damaging guns.
Because of this a lot of the weapon lines were fleshed out to top tier. This means a “Laserbow 80″ with 1A-8D, a 6GJ Pump Shotgun with 3A-6D, a Coach Gun with 2A-7D, etc.
Similarly close weapons recieved the same treatment. Axes were split and are 4A-XD weapons now, the high attack no damage weapons go up to 10 (like 2GJ Tumbleweed with 8A-2D to follow the Thunderstick), etc. I split out Natural Weapons to their own page (and subcategorized Brawl/Beast) so the wireframe weapon image got moved too.
The other focus was on special abilities, and making those weapons less expensive and more viable. I also added, changed, and removed some of the abilities. Say goodbye to “Cover Breaker” and the related Defoliant Grenades, and say hello to “Cavalry” (+1 Damage while mounted). Both Barrels is now +2 Damage instead of +2 Attacks, to differentiate even moreso from Fan the Hammer. Sap was renamed to “Motivate”, and now has a slew of awesome ranged and close weapons like the War Horn, Harmonica, Battle Standard, etc. There are also Pulled range weapons now in the Harpoon Gun and Dinocatcher. To utilize the new Cavalry special there are Carbines, which have a short and long distance but no medium, and also close combat weapons (like the Dragoon Sword).
Another push was to get alternative names for commonly used guns, especially top tier stuff. So now instead of everyone having 500kW Six-Shooters you could use the “O’Sullivan Sixer”, or The Stampede instead of a top tier Volcanic Pistol, or Judge instead of a Peacemaker, or Enforcer instead of the 5GJ Auto Shotgun, etc. I love so many of these new names that I’m just gonna list some here…
Some Range Weapons: Ranch Blaster (600kW Walker Revolver), Ace in the Hole (Derringer), Yannigan Pistol and Big Iron (Handcannon line), Tirador Rifle, Frontier Twin Rifle (300kW Twin Rifle), Streetsweeper Shotgun, Coach Gun, Settler Defender (6GJ Pump Shotgun), M-2285 Rifle (Assault Rifle), Klondike 7000, Prairie Carbine (400kW Carbine), Boss Bow (Laserbow 80), Geyser Grenades (Tangle Grenades), Homesteader (Barbed Lasso), The Tombstone, Wagon Blazer (more viable Flamethrower!), Pepperbox Pistol, Clark Airgun, Hangman’s Noose (with 5″ Pulled)
Some Close Weapons: Biosteel Knife (same damage as Biosteel Lance, clever!), Mountain Man Axe, Horned Axe, Rattlesnake Axe, Knuckledusters, Dinofist, Power Knuckles, Sledgehammer, Spike Driver, Feudbreaker (Pickaxe), Lacerator (Whip), Boot Blade (Switchblade), Coup Stick, Overcharged Dinoprod, Hafted Blade, Dragoon Sword
So all in all lots of fun new toys to play with. The list is definitely intimidating at first glance (Range Weapons has spilled over to FIVE! tables now), but a lot of the weapons are just repeats with better damage and a higher price tag.
The Saloon posse designer will receive these changes as well, and also has a few improvements. The most loved will probably be the fact that weapon special ability names are written on the roster themselves to the far right of the weapon name, woot woot! So you’ll see 300kW Six-Shooter*, but now also in a smaller font “Fan the Hammer”. This helps players remember exactly whether the shotgun had Both Barrels or Open Choke, without having to check any list. The actually effect isn’t written on the roster, but experienced players will know them by heart, and they’re not hard to learn or leave the rules page open as a reference.
Also the free Brawl and Lasso attacks are “buyable” now, so that players who DO build that Jackie Chan character can actually see the base Punch/Kick/Shove/Trip on their roster without having to calculate it.
And an old bug was fixed around Clear Sight, which adds +1″ to all weapon ranges. Previously this effect was blindly applied, so a Repeater would get 1-14 Medium distance (because it’s the first range band) instead of 0-14. Bug fixing isn’t the most exciting news, but it’s important to do.
As for the rules in general, I think at some point I’d be done revising them…right? Right? In some ways I wish I could just stop poking and prodding them…but I said the exact same thing in 2011! And look at how much better and more refined the game is now. Maybe it’s just fun to have a project I can return to every now and then and update. One thing I DO want to avoid is tacking on rules or complexity. I might add “expansions” that do that, but for the core rules I don’t want to add a bunch of flavor-of-the-month cruft and baggage.
I know it looks like I’ve been at this blog for ~5 years, but with the big posting gaps and shift from RPG to skirmish (which was basically a rewrite) I bet you could narrow down the actual project to a 6-8 month task.
Besides at some point I’m going to want to make my diceless Hackers game, or damage template Barons game, or my blue ocean navy Privateer game, or my asymmetrical Viking raiding game, etc.
Anyway look for v2.6 near the end of March, or April at the latest (it will depend a bit on my playtesting schedule).
(Credit for the other art goes to Frederic Remington from the late 1800s)
This deviates a bit from the usual Dinosaur Cowboy fare, but I had a few topics I wanted to cover.
First of all I’ve been vaguely designing two games. I like to say “vaguely” because I haven’t put a ton of time into either, and both are fairly experimental, and they’re more an exercise for my brain than something I’d put the same amount of time/effort into as Dinosaur Cowboys (I think?)
Hackers – Diceless Skirmish: Download early rules Hackers-v0.1.pdf
Having said that, the first is more interesting to me, and is temporarily called “Hackers”. Before you get too excited it’s sadly not based on the awesome 1995 movie with the same name. Think more based on Tron, the book Snowcrash, and bits of the movie Johnny Mnemonic. The main gimmick of the design is it’s totally diceless, so no “output randomness”.
Players are hackers and battle over “The Grid”, a virtual overlay on the real world with device nodes (like a cellphone or computer server) represented by avatars (aka use any miniature you want). What’s cool is the “Nodes” are completely interchangeable and faceless; they don’t have different stats or attacks to begin with. Instead the hacker chooses a series of Commands and Tasks programs (think “spells” in a fantasy setting) that can be executed on Nodes. So in other words if you have the program “Break Firewall” it can be used from any Node, instead of being a specific ability tied to a specific Node. Actually the game started themed as duelling spellcasters so Nodes were Vessels, programs were spells, etc. but after playtesting the theme didn’t fit as well as it could, so I went with the Hacker/computery thing instead.
Lots of other neat ideas, like Tasks (buffs/de-buffs) that affect a Node until they are Shutdown (dispelled). That’s a nice departure from having to track durations of effects (like +1 Attack). The game is played on a square grid, with random terrain. Deployment is cool because you can deploy anywhere (as long as it’s not within 3 squares of an enemy Node), so the action starts right away (instead of the traditional “table edge” deploy).
So all in all some neat ideas, and something I definitely want to pursue.
Barons – Mech Attack Rework: Download early rules Barons-v0.1.pdf
The next game is basically an afternoon of effort to rework Armor Grid: Mech Attack that I (again temporarily) call “Barons”. This is a little light game that captures the spirit of Battletech but plays a lot faster. What’s funny is their main selling point (the “Armor Grid” idea) is actually pulled from FASA (the original owners of Battletech), since it was used in their Renegade spaceship series and eventually Crimson Skies. The idea is almost as good as Silent Death and their Damage Track, and perhaps the original implementation IS better (I’ve only played Mech Attack, I’ve just read the other two games).
But to be blunt, Mech Attack is not that well written, and besides the Armor Grid system it’s rather bland and has some glaring flaws. First of all I challenge any owners of the PDF to find the section that actually outlines HOW to destroy a Mech, haha. Similarly they reward NOT moving (it’s easier to hit if you “Stand Fast”), which combined with a base movement of 3″ (in a 3’x3′ area) for Heavy Mechs means games end up as a roll off with very little movement. This was especially noticable in the last game I played, where me and my opponent ended up more or less sitting in the corner and rolling off with our two surviving Heavy Mechs (literally just sitting on opposite sides of a hill and shooting, since whoever moved would have lost cover and the Stand Fast bonus).
So yeah, me and my friends mentioned a couple of these flaws and I thought I’d take a crack at a slight rework. What I ended up with so far is Barons, which is medieval based (not sure if I want to go the full fantasy route). The system moves from D10 to D6, and a simple roll-off for combat resolution instead of D10 + many mods > target profile. So it still keeps the core Damage Template system but tries to be a better game outside of that. For example “activation” is simply issue a Command to one character, then alternate to the opponent. But what’s neat is you can Command the same character multiple turns in a row, instead of having to mark activated like Dinosaur Cowboys. And also that Commands are simple, as in Move is a Command, as is Attack. So it does away with the usual “move and attack each turn, oh and you can run as a double move and stuff”. Weapons use the Damage Template system, so a Dagger pierces 1 square wide and 2 squares down, while a Mace does a big 2×2 chunk, and a slashing weapon like a Long Sword does a 3 wide and shallow 1 square down template.
We’ll see where this game ends up…in the end if the gimmick of a game (in this case the Damage Templates) could be removed and the remaining game is boring maybe means the game isn’t that great.
On general tabletop combat resolution
Having said all the above this brings us to the main beef of this post: combat resolution. While commuting home I thought that once combat resolution starts in every tabletop game (I can think of at least) the player doesn’t matter at all. What I mean is whether it’s Warhammer 40,000 or my much beloved Dinosaur Cowboys, once you start rolling dice ANYONE could be rolling those dice to the same effect. So that means combat resolution generally removes the player from the equation, and gives them no meaningful decisions or influence.
So what does that leave tabletop games as? Chess with dice to resolve attacks? What I mean is if combat resolution WASN’T dice based, and was simply automatic, then the only differentiation between players is how they move/maneuever troops, and what troops they decide in the first place (ie: army building). And then does the game become solvable, like Chess?
This becomes a problem if the combat resolution system is particularly onerous. Again Warhammer 40,000 comes to mind here. The system basically removes the player for 3 rolls in a row (roll to hit, roll to wound, roll to save). But if you revert to a “simple” combat resolution system (such as a roll-off), then why even have dice involved at all?
What this boils down to is what if there was a tabletop game where combat resolution was as involved, interesting, and full of meaningful and unique decisions as the movement phase? Before we talk more, realize that I don’t have an example of a system where this IS the case…if I did there wouldn’t be as much to discuss. Part of the problem is if the options provided to the player can easily be broken down into odds, the player will inevitably gravitate to the best odds. So that goes back to the “meaningful decision” aspect.
Part of this also comes down to melee vs ranged, because melee normally ends up as some kind of roll off. Sure both players might roll differently, such as a 1 Attack 4 Damage melee weapon in Dinosaur Cowboys vs 6 Attack 2 Damage, but in the end they’re both taking turns rolling dice (no control) against each other, without moving, positioning, or making any decisions in between. To a certain extent ranged attacks result in the same…in a “shootout” both players are just rolling dice against each other, one might just roll a more favorable set of dice if they’ve moved into cover or are shooting at a better range bracket.
So movement then plays a deceivingly BIG part of a tabletop game. Decievingly because if a random player was asked “What’s important in a game?” I doubt many would say movement. But at the same time it’s often ignored by systems, or left to tiny, obvious moves when you only have 3″ or 4″ to choose from. Similarly army building/drafting is important, but if you have a system where you can win by building a superior army alone, what exactly is the point of playing out the game itself?
Let’s look at alternatives. Computer games do a good, but untranslatable job, by having muscle skill and reflex play a factor. For example in something like Starcraft 2 two players can have the exact same army, and the combat resolution could even be non-random, but based on player skill one person will win. Where player skill is that untranslatable element of position, reflex, “micro”, etc.
Now if we look at systems where combat resolution DOES have meaningful choices, does movement matter at all? In most cases, no. For example Magic the Gathering could be viewed as one big combat resolution mechanic (of mage vs mage), but movement/positioning doesn’t play a factor at all…thus why it’s a card game not a tabletop game.
So does that mean that tabletop games will always have movement as an important factor? Probably. But is there a way to have combat resolution have as MUCH meaning and player input? And if so, would that system work? Or would it become too complex and lengthy if “both phases” had a lot of involvement instead of a brainless section of dice rolling? What about if combat resolution was stressed over movement, then do you even need movement?
Going back to the two games above, the Hackers game unexpectedly gets closest to covering this. This is because the combat mechanism is diceless, so it’s completely plannable (for lack of a better word). It’s also very fast because the outcome is decided immediately and repeatably. Similarly there is no army building because all “troops” (Nodes) are the same. Choosing “Programs” fulfills a similar niche though.
The result in my playtests was actually a surprise. Turns would be 90% planning and 10% execution. Whereas I feel like in Dinosaur Cowboys (or other games with traditional resolution mechanics) you get closer to a 50%/50% split. So in Hackers you plan a whole bunch, and try to “solve” the best approach for that turn, then the actual resolution is basically “bing bang boom” because there are no dice to roll.
So again, what if the resolution was the opposite, where 10% of the turn was planning and 90% was execution? And that execution didn’t just take time (aka Warhammer 40,000) but actually had meaningful player decisions the whole time? I guess I should have defined this earlier, but with “meaningful” I mean there are choices that different players will choose differently (so no automatic “best path”, best odds, or obvious choice that all players would do), and those choices have a noticable effect on the outcome (so not just “roll 4D6, the same 4D6 any other player would roll, and it doesn’t matter how you as a player are”). So for example Mech Attack might give the illusion of player choice during combat (because you choose which weapon to shoot first), but the options are so obvious that it’s meaningless (shoot the narrow, long damage before the wide, shallow damage with the hopes of collapsing armor).
Anyway I’m getting rambling and (perhaps?) incoherent at this point, so I’ll stop. But the fundamental idea highlighted above really got me thinking: what if there was a tabletop game where combat resolution was as involved, interesting, and full of meaningful and unique decisions as the movement phase?