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:
- 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.
- 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).
- The game should follow Dinosaur Cowboy history and some of it’s naming conventions, but not be afraid to break from them.
Another 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?”
- 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)
- 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!