All posts by Peter R.

I have been blogging about Rolemaster for the past few years. When I am not blogging I run the Rolemaster Fanzine and create adventure seeds and generic game supplements under the heading of PPM Games. You can check them out on RPGnow. My pet project is my d6 game 3Deep, now in its second edition.

That’s kinda fancy gun work you got there Mister!

Before we start shooting guns out of the bad guy’s hand or put a bullet through a silver dollar tossed into the air I want to take a tiny peek as some of the math and probabilities in this system.

I firmly believe that neither the GM or the Players should ever have to understand the maths that make a system work. If that is the case then there is a design flaw. That is my belief.

Now in some ways Devil’s Staircase has that design flaw. So far I have been running little test plays imagining one on one combats or one on one opposed skills. I tried to recreate the Gunfight at the OK Corral last night and something became apparent really quickly.

You need more than one pack of cards. This is not a big deal in my opinion. If I sat down with a group of friends to play DnD I would want more than one d20. I can buy a pack of cards on Amazon UK for 99p with free delivery. If the typical character is going to have 10 endurance every time you go into a tactical situation you are going to deal them 10 cards. At the end of the scene you throw in your hand and deal another 10 cards. At the start of each adventuring day you will start the day with another 10 cards. In a game session a single player will go through 50 or 60 cards. There are only 54 cards in a deck, 4 suits of 13 cards plus two jokers. In a game session every card will pass though the players hands. But what if you have 5 players. A single deal will use your entire deck. If you then have a few NPCs and villains a single deck is not going to cut it. So you have a couple of options. Either every player has their own deck, like most of us bring our own dice to a game session or the GM has several decks. As a GM you could by a few identical decks in which case you could deal out 3 aces of spades in the same hand. Alternatively you could buy several decks but with very distinct backs so you can easily sort them out. You can then have a deck for the characters and a deck for the villains.

So for all the trick shots I propose that you can play a joker to perform those extraordinary feats of luck or skill. At the start of play there is a slight chance that the character may have a joker stored on their character sheet from when they drew their stats. If you get a joker in your endurance hand you can play it or when the hand is thrown in you can add it to your character sheet. So now if have a small pool of jokers you can play to do those special actions.

The number of jokers in play comes down to the number of players and the number of decks. If for argument sake each player has their own deck and they typically go through 50 or 60 cards per session then each player will almost certainly earn 2 jokers per session, there being 2 jokers in every 54 cards.

If on the other hand the GM holds all the cards and has a deck that is shared amongst the 5 players then every time the hands are dealt someone will probably get a joker. The snag is that everyone knows that über lucky guy. He will get 10 or 12 jokers in a single session and you will probably get none.

If the GM has two, three, four decks in a single super deck from which everyone’s cards a dealt then there is a chance that you could deal 4, 6, or 8 jokers to the same player in a single hand. If your shuffling isn’t very good you could even do that more than once.

In the previous tests, some of the time I was using two decks, one for each protagonist and dealt my own hand each time. Sometimes, when I could rope in a second player, as GM I dealt all the cards. Having the GM deal the cards was more fun. It made the game feel more intimate. There was a physical connection between GM and player. The GM tossed each card at you and you collected them up and looked at your hand. Dealing your own had felt slightly more sterile.

So far, I am leaning towards the GM having two packs of standard cards mixed and shuffled together. 108 cards is not a mammoth amount of cards, it wasn’t too big to shuffle. The number of cards you are dealing out typically diminishes as the session goes on, injuries reduce Endurance so the size of the hand goes down.

The point of this ramble is that how you manage the cards does impact how many jokers the characters will get and how fast they come round. Continue reading That’s kinda fancy gun work you got there Mister!

Devil’s Staircase Wild West Role Playing

I finally get to talk about my proposed combat system!

First off, I have been trying to think of a decent working title for the game. Not just the game but the core set of mechanics. It is my longer term goal to not only create a Wild West game but use the same core system to tackle many genres. It came to me the other day while walking the dogs that a pack of cards used to be referred to as the devil’s staircase. I think the allusion is to a fanned deck being stepped and that playing cards was a road that could lead to gambling and all sorts of vices. It was my grandmother that I can remember calling them the devil’s staircase.

A bit of Googling tells me that there is no Devil’s Staircase RPG so as of now I have a working title. Devil’s Staircase Wild West Role Playing. Hopefully over time I can swap out Wild West for Fantasy or Espionage or whatever. I think Devil’s Staircase Espionage Role Playing as quite a nice ring to it as well.

So how about a combat system.

What I want to achieve is a way of handling combat that is as fast or faster than real life or movie combat. I suspect that that is not going to be quite possible but that is the objective, speed and ease of play over detail and granularity of the rules.

Before starting with actual combat I want to think about wounds and death. Continue reading Devil’s Staircase Wild West Role Playing

Skill Resolution or playing the hand you are dealt

Someone used a phrase the other day and I quite like it. The phrase was “Going tactical”. In most RPGs if your character wants to do some thing and it is not life or death or time dependent then we don’t bother rolling the dice, it is just accepted that given enough time and effort then the character will succeed. The possible exception may be research tasks where the outcome really is not known. Picking the lock at your leisure is somewhat different to picking a lock with guards about to walk around the corner, sweaty palms don’t help.

This time I am going to look at skill resolution in my wild west game, sticking with the deck of playing cards theme.

Each character has an endurance stat on a scale of 1 to 10. When things ‘go tactical’ the GM deals each character a card for each point of endurance.

At this point there are two possible mechanics. My first thought was that this hand of cards would remain face down in front of the player until they need to ‘make a roll’. At that point they get a random number just like rolling a d10 but with the odds stacked towards the 10s (there are 13 cards in a suit and 4 of them are worth 10 if you include the jack, queen and king).

The second option is that the players take up their hand of cards and they play a card. If you want to succeed then you would play a 10, or a picture card. If you intentionally wanted to fail then you could play a lower value card. This gives the player much more control and it takes away the randomness. The cards they are dealt are still random but how they are played is within the players control.

An important factor would be how often the hand is replenished. I am thinking along the lines of taking a short breather in a combat or high stress situation would see the GM deal out one additional card to a player that has used some of their endurance cards. At the end of the scene or once the action is no longer tactical then the players would throw in their hands, good cards and bad.

As soon as the story goes tactical again then a fresh had of cards will be dealt to the players.

So if the players can see and choose which cards to play then they have to decide whether to play all their best cards first and hope that the scene ends and they can discard the crap cards back to the GM or face their characters having a lousy run of bad luck. That round spent taking a recovery could be really important if all you have left are a bunch of 2s and 3s, especially if the GM deals you a Jack!

The player choice option also takes care of another idea. Occasionally a player will ‘aim to miss’. I still make players roll their attack to check for fumbles or extremely bad rolls. Things can go wrong even if you do not mean for anyone to get hurt. We can now handle that situation by the player just choosing a really bad card for the attack. The intention being that the poor attack will miss.

I think the player choice option has a far greater scope for fun than the face down pile of cards version.

So the card we have drawn is part of the equation. We already have stats (see my last post for stats) and we have skills based upon ‘job descriptions’.

This is how I see skills working out

Pass or Fail Tests

The GM decides on a target number. The character throws down a card and adds the full value of an appropriate stat if they are skilled or half their stat value (rounded in the players favour) if they are unskilled. If they meet or exceed the target number then the test is passed.

Progressive Tests

These are tests where each attempts makes progress towards a goal such as climbing or a larger research task. The GM assigns a larger total value for the task. At each attempt the player draws a card and adds either their full stat or half stat depending on skill. After the first attempt additional cards can be drawn and the value added to the total. The total accumulates until the target number is reached.

Opposed tasks

This is a test where two parties are involved. Think of it as ‘hide and seek’. One person may be trying to sneak past while a guard may be trying to spot intruders. In another example you could be arm wrestling or a tub of war. In an opposed task just making the skill test is not enough, you need to beat the other person. Resolving this is done by adding your stat or half stat to a drawn card. The target number to beat is the opposing party’s stat (or half stat) plus drawn card.

Group Tasks

Several characters may act as a team. Teams work well as a search party, research group or even as at a tug of war. To resolve a team task the dominant stat (or half stat) of everyone in the team is added and then the team leader draws a card to add to the total.

Does that seem simple enough?