You know how I’ve said Dinosaur Cowboys is a roleplaying skirmish game? That’s fairly true in the sense that the split is 50/50. What I’m interested in doing though is revamping the game to be 10/90 in favor of skirmish. So rejoice, this blog will get some new life breathed into it as I plug away at some major rule revisions.
If you want to hear some brainstorming details, keep reading…
Know what I like best about Dinosaur Cowboys? The combat rules. I like XD12+Y damage with Zx1 chance to need to reload. It’s a simple and elegant system and translates marvelously to both ranged and melee. I also liked the background information, western / prehistoric theme, and the ol’ questing / travelling split. I waffled on Dinomounts for a while, but I think the end result of adding bonuses is a good approach. I might playtest D6s instead of D12s as a main dice, because if I’m going for a more dedicated skirmish game I think D6s are easier for people to get into. Less options for Armor Rating though.
So how do I want to revamp it all? Well, I’d like to continue to shift the focus along the “hero” and “sidekick” idea. I liked this approach, but found the mass of sheets eventually cumbersome. What I’d prefer to do is have a Mordheim style “roster” warband sheet that represents a 1-6 person “posse”. The main leader, called a “boss”, would have a slightly larger statline (in terms of information available). Using the existing rules consider them to be able to take the Active and Boost Traits, whereas “sidekicks” (everyone else) could only take Passive (to reduce bookkeeping, since Passive just gives straight up bonuses).
Experience and loot would be tracked as a posse, instead of individually. In addition the boss would be the “front man” and would have stats associated with skills and diplomacy, whereas everyone else would be combat oriented. Dinomounts would fit in as another sidekick. They could either fight on their own or be mounted before or during combat. I’m going to keep a similar approach to them of having base melee attacks and their own hitpoints, and then granting a bonus to anyone who is riding them. Then an enemy can continue to shoot at the Dinosaur itself or at the rider.
Allegiances (aka factions) will be another new change…or at least providing stat differences will be the change. There will be Duster, Neotechnoist, Savage, and Bandit. What this allows is your posse to be made up of multiple Allegiances, and each one provides slight benefits and drawbacks to flavor that sidekick. Dusters are tougher (+hitpoints) but slower. Neotechnoists are better with guns (+damage?) but weaker. Savages are faster (+move) but…something…weaker as well maybe? Bandits are generic and have no benefits or shortcomings.
So yeah, 1 boss, 0-4 sidekicks, and 1 Dinosaur. Heck I might just drop the term “Dinomount” entirely. I’ll need to really compress the statlines so that all 6 can fit on a single page, but I think that should be doable. The main concern are weapons, especially multiple weapons per person. I might change ranges to be simpler, for example they just have a single Range stat instead of 3 X-Y values. The given Range is medium (no bonuses or penalties). Half that is Short (+1 Attack) and double that is Long (-1 Attack). Or maybe put weapons onto standardized cards, but that becomes more bookkeeping again.
For “dying” I really like the Stun/Out of Action approach of Mordheim and a similar Flesh Wound approach of Necromunda. I don’t think I want to follow that exactly, so there will still be a specific numbers of hitpoints. Those numbers may just be a bit lower than now. Perhaps low enough to track with markers or tokens instead of pencil, since again – bookkeeping. Ideally a fight could be done in 30 minutes or so, which means 80+ hp monstrosities will be going away in general. But yeah, once a unit is at <= 0hp they are Downed (or whatever term). They can't do anything, but can be helped by a friendly unit who grants them +hp. A unit who was Downed may suffer permanent effects afterwards…or…something. I'm not sure what to do as a penalty. The whole Injury table from Mordheim is a bit too many rolls, especially when the skirmishes and results need to be fast. Each fight shouldn't be as big an event as a Mordheim match. Maybe the Downed person has to take a penalty to some skill for the next fight. Like "Crippled" would be -1 Movement or something.
I think I’ll change Break Tests and that whole mess. I like the idea of the Flee/Stunned (although I’m going to call it “Shaken”), and I think I’ll apply it to people as well as dinosaurs (currently the only affected type). If a model loses half it’s total hitpoints in between their turn, they need to make a Break Test at the start of their turn. If they fail with an odd number, they Flee, otherwise they’re Shaken just for that turn. I’m going to make it so Flee means they can’t move, and Shaken means they can’t shoot…maybe. Or maybe I’ll just have them run away for that turn, instead of the split (aka more complexity). I think this feature will be called Shellshock or Massive Damage or something, and will tend to make opponents focus fire on big targets to try to make them run.
On the "minor changes" front I'm likely going to add a bonus if healing is applied by someone else (the idea being they aren't in shock while wrapping a blood soaked arm). This would facilitate a "medic" style sidekick who would carry the healing and try to boost allies that way.
I’m also going to boost the baseline Armor Rating to lean towards 6. That way an unarmored target has a 50/50 chance to be hit. A “standard” or common AR would probably be 8. This is mainly because the last few times I played the base AR meant getting hit a TON was common…and at that point why even roll the dice ya know?
I am also toying with the idea of moving from defensive rolling to offensive rolling. What that means is instead of rolling >= AR, you would try to roll >= shooter’s skill. There would be a similar skill for melee. The upside of this is people can improve beyond just getting better weapons. However armor would need to be refactored, for which I have four ideas. Either I remove it entirely (plausible since cowboys don’t exactly tool up in bullet proof vests), I make it a saving throw (ala Mordheim, aaaaagain), I make it damage reducing, or I make it modify the enemies to-hit roll. I think playtesting is in order for that, but yeah, I was thinking of more numbers sidekicks could increase (beyond hitpoints) to reflect their growing skill.
The downside of “offensive rolling” is stats can look confusing. For example say you have a Ranged Skill of 7. Well, that sounds pretty good, except that you wouldn’t want to roll >= 7 to hit on a D12. Instead you would need to subtract 7 FROM 12 to get 5, and that’s the target number. Think of that like Ballistic Skill in Warhammer 40k, or THAC0 in older D&D versions. The other approach is to make Ranged Skill 5 to begin with, and need >= 5 to hit. The downside is LOWER Ranged Skill becomes better. Perhaps the solution is in the naming, so instead of Ranged Skill it would be Miss Chance or Ranged Fault Factor or something similar to denote that lower is BETTER.
I'll need to work out a "points system" so that other posses can be matched up against the player. Encounters would probably be similar to how they are now, like you could still fight a solo feral dinosaur or a pair of ruffians, but the option for a straight up 6vs6 match is available. So basically what I started heading into with the "Hired Dusters" idea.
I might also revamp the “you go, I go” approach to combat if 6 characters are involved per side. A more likely approach would be Activation based, so that you activate a single piece, then your opponent does, and so on until none are left. This helps stop really long turns, but adds a bit of tracking to remember who has moved or not.
So yeah, between the skirmishes there still can be RPG elements in terms of getting jobs, travelling, exploring and so on (instead of just one preset skirmish after another). But I think the game really needed to choose a focus, instead of trying to split evenly. The existing big stack of sheets for 6+ people is cumbersome, and doesn't provide many benefits.
I think I'll start by mocking up the Posse Roster and making related changes from there. The core rules should stay pretty similar though, I figure.