Project status, aka what have I done for 8 months?

Been a while? Yes, it surely has! Last post was about 8 months ago. What have I been doing since then? Where are all the projects I was so excited about? How can time fly this fast? In summary to every question you might ever have: I wrote and extensively played 2 RPGs, I combined all my rules into 1 blog, and was repeatably interrupted and distracted by general life stuff.


house-of-the-dying-sunHorizon Games Blog Consolidation – Done – This is related to my new project Fickle RPG (mentioned below). Long time readers or the especially observant might notice a new logo and link in the right sidebar. Well I was about to create yet another WordPress blog for my Fickle RPG rules when I realized I would have over half a dozen blogs if I did. That’s ridiculous.

So instead I painstakingly consolidated ALL my projects, rules, and ideas into one place: Horizon Games. Seriously that was quite an effort, but I’m happy with the result.

I collected content from all my childhood games, brainstormed projects, and rules in progress and put them onto Horizon Games. I covered Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy and Dinosaur Cowboys there as well. So for any non-DC related news or updates check out that blog instead. In other words if posts and content are dead here look at Horizon Games as I might be working heavily on another game at the time.

Bad News

Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy RPG – Cancelled – Perhaps “postponed indefinitely” would be more accurate. I still like a lot of ideas in this game, but two issues are holding me back:

  1. Playtesting: Nearly impossible to solo playtest 4-5 unique PCs plus enemies. A large component of the DC RPG was the idea of turn collaboration and that’s also lost in a solo test.
  2. Too Many Mechanics: From the neat D&D Next style advantage/disadvantage, to Echo Death style skill/power lists instead of classes, to allocated damage dice pool, to shared action points/orders per turn, to codified non-combat solutions, DC RPG has a TON of unique game mechanics thrown in. And I say thrown in very specifically, as I more or less dumped every single cool mechanic I had thought of or seen in the past while into this game. Which results in a mechanically overwhelming game, and one that is arguably doing a lot to achieve very little.

What I instead am doing is splitting a lot of the neat mechanics out into separate games, namely Echo Death and Fickle RPG.

Skies and Slums Expansion – Postponed – This is basically my “catch all” for future Dinosaur Cowboys development. I’m pretty tired and fatigued with tweaking the core rules, which I’ve mentioned before (basically the past 2-3 years have been “this is the last version”). If I ever DO get the urge to add or tweak a bunch to this game, it’ll be under the guise of the Skies and Slums expansion.

So until I DO get that urge, I’m going to postpone this expansion. I could add a whole bunch of new features, allegiances, weapons, dinosaurs, etc. But I want to do so only if I’m excited with the idea, and involved with the project. Which right now I’m not. My focus is elsewhere.

Mixed News

Dinosaur Cowboys v2.7 – Soonish – Although I just said I don’t want to tweak these rules much longer, I actually admittedly have a few minor changes and balance updates I need to do. They are so incredibly minor that I could realistically call it version 2.60001. Also because the changes are so small I’m not hugely motivated to do them.

Regardless I’ll cover the specifics in a post very soon, and look for the release a bit after.

Good News

Dinosaur Cowboys Battle Report – I want to sit down and play DC again very soon, mainly to use a childhood jet airplane model (specifically a swing wing F-14 Tomcat) as a center piece for posses to fight over. I also want to do my “Civil War” style game with the same posse on both sides.

So with luck I’ll get my table setup, wrangle a player, and get a battle report going before the new year.

fickle-logoFickle RPG – Released – What is Fickle RPG? Well if you paid close attention to the DC RPG mechanics, you might remember the concept of “fickle” vs “flat” allocation for a damage dice pool. Great mechanic! But as mentioned above pretty much tacked on to a cumbersome, overburdened RPG.

So instead I split that mechanic out, polished it, and made a (get ready for buzzwords) light cooperative narrative RPG with interesting and choice-drive mechanical resolution ready for any genre/theme. That game is Fickle RPG

Quite a history behind the game. You might remember a year or so ago I made a post about game design, and asked the critical question “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?” I think Fickle RPG answers that by having an interesting resolution system full of choice.

I had the basics bouncing around my head for quite a few months. Meanwhile I was playing a Star Wars RPG called Age of Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games) which my friend was running. But they needed to take a hiatus. So my weekly gaming night was free. On a whim I asked the other players if they wanted to playtest a light RPG I had been working on. The interest was there…the rules weren’t. As in I hadn’t actually sat down and written the rules. So having scheduled a session for a game that didn’t exist, I hastily wrote the rules, and we played.

This initial session of Fickle RPG went really well and gave me hope that I was onto something. So I ended up running the game many more times in the past ~3 months, for around a dozen different people, between 4-5 campaign threads. Some of the players hadn’t even touched a game more complex than Settlers of Catan.

So anyway if you take one thing away from this blog post, it’s that Fickle RPG has been my focus for over half the time since my last post.

Party of Light – Played – Somewhat related to Fickle RPG, I also made another light RPG called Party of Light. The intent was to play a one-off session with my family and nieces. So the core concept is to teach roleplaying basics, different dice, etc. to kids. I’ve since played this game 4 times (so far!) and it’s been great at achieving all those goals. My nieces have had a lot of fun with it, and the game is still engaging enough for adults. Win-win all around.

If that sounds interesting be sure to read more about Party of Light. Notice how handy that Horizon Games blog is already?

Other News

Besides that what have I been doing? Preparing for my wife to give birth to our second kid. That’s been a pretty central focus. I’ve switched office locations with my work, which added a lot of commute. I’ve been running a lot of Fickle RPG nights with friends. I’ve been playing a ton of computer games like Heroes of the Storm, Vermintide, and Zombasite. I failed miserably at writing Nanowrimo this month. All in all plenty of non-Dinosaur Cowboys stuff. :)

I’d probably write more here, but I literally just finished describing my new rules on Horizon Games, so I’m tired of repeating the same text.

[RPG] Preliminary rules prototype

As I mentioned in my last post this idea is on a bit of a hiatus. But I figured for completeness I’d share the rules so far. What’s funny is my favorite part is actually the combat resolution system, just like how that was one of the core features to survive in Dinosaur Cowboys skirmish from inception to today.

Anyway without further ado check out the very early Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy rules PDF

Some-RiflesAs for the resolution system I like, let me pour out some info on it:
The main idea is you roll 1D12 and try to get above a number. That number could be set, or based on the enemy skill, or against a statistic, etc. You can do the action quicker (“Hasty”) but then you roll 2D12 and choose the lowest, or take your time (“Focused”) and again roll 2D12 but choose the highest. In the case of combat there is a second step if you succeed on the roll. That is to allocate your Damage Pool between Fickle and Flat damage. Fickle means you roll dice, Flat means it’s added on. You’re rolling against the target’s Grit (say an 8). But the fun part, and where the mechanic really shines (and fulfills my hope of “resolution being as interesting as movement”) is you need to succeed with at least 1 Fickle roll to do any damage. But the Fickle rolls have a chance to fail, whereas Flat damage always comes through. Fickle can also Crit (on a 12), but can also Fumble (on a 1). So there’s a balancing act of how much Fickle vs Flat to choose depending on the target’s Grit.
That might have been a rambling explanation, but that’s why I’m posting the rules. So say I have a 6 Damage Pool and the target has 4 Grit. 4+ on a D12 is pretty easy odds, so I’d probably allocate only a single Fickle point and the remaining 5 pool to Flat, meaning I roll 1D12 looking for 4+, and if I succeed I do 1+5 damage. But what if their Grit was 9? Do I go all in Fickle? What if I had a skill that increased my Crit chance? Would I want more Fickle or would the potential Fumble not be worth the effort? So some neat decisions there.

[RPG] Example character sheet

I honestly CANNOT believe it’s been a month since my last post. Talk about time flying, that’s just unreal to me.

So what’s been happening with the Dinosaur Cowboy RPG? Well first of all I did get a solo playtest in with some rough mechanics. Like I said I like to get a playable prototype done asap. I ended up with a pretty well fleshed out character sheet, which you can see (and download) below:

Download the DC RPG Sheet PDF

The playtest revealed a few stumbling blocks for me. First of all simulating 5 players plus enemies in a combat situation is extremely tough. Especially as a large part of the shared turns is the idea of player banter and group decision making, which is obviously lost with a solo playtest. And second I think I’m letting mechanics and ideas bleed over from one of my other recent brainstormed projects.

So what am I gonna do about this? I think I need to convince at least one or two friends to playtest with me. But it’s tough to get enough dedication or interest to try a prototype for any length of time. But seriously playtesting an RPG is really hard otherwise.
As for the mechanics the “activation pool” spent freely in a shared turn is very similar to the diceless Hackers game I mentioned before. Again in a wild sense of time flying that post is almost a year old. Normally if I’m starting to implement mechanics from another game it means I should finish the initial project first instead of cludging it into another game.

So I think I’m going to focus on that. Which means I’m as flaky as a high school teenager as I flip flop between ideas. I think having a blog like this is an upside for motivation, centralizing ideas, and putting down some concrete material. But the downside is I feel obligated to my imaginary readers to finish what I announce. But I think the playtest was pretty demotivating, and all it really did was make me want to finish the Hackers game.
Update: The game is called “Echo Death” and you can see the early workings at

I guess I’m saying I don’t know where the Dinosaur Cowboys RPG will end up, or whether I’ll fully finish the Hackers game, or what. But yeah, just not feeling it right now. We’ll see where we end up by the next post.

[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!