d100 Dungeon Crawl Homebrew Part 1: Introduction

Ever wanted to watch someone make a game?Well that’s what I’m going to do here. I’ve made a few homebrews and I’ve learned a little each time. I thought it might be a fun exercise to show my process here and let my readers follow along. The theme of 2020 for this blog is: “Fail Faster”. That means more updates, pushing out unfinished prototypes, and engaging in public feedback.

What follows are some notes on how I would run a homebrew dungeon crawl if called upon the do so again (and I will be). I like D&D but there are many aspects that are not quite to my taste. This homebrew is going to have a lot of similarities with Basic Roleplaying/Runequest but with some fixes that cater it to some narrative sensibilities I picked up from Fate and Cypher system.

The choice of BRP as a base is because I enjoy it as a system. If this grows beyond a personal homebrew, one of two things might happen. One is that by the time I’m done with it, it might look so different from BRP that it’s legitimately a new game not just a derivative work. Two is it might look a lot like BRP (at least as much as Unknown Armies does) and I attempt to license it with Chaosium (they don’t have an OGL to my knowledge). I expect the finished product to look a lot like d100 Fate So if that sounds like your mug of ale, have a seat and let’s get started.

Let’s start out with some general principles I’m going to follow as I create this homebrew. This is what is known in the biz as a game design bible.

D&D Problems to Fix

  • HP inflation. Characters should get better at avoiding damage not at taking it.
  • General power creep
  • Extensive book lookups. Everyone at the table needs a copy of the PHB.
  • Obsession over character builds
  • Similar race/class combinations feeling samey.
  • Armor makes characters harder to hit whereas it should absorb damage instead.
  • Zero HP should mean dead, not “I’m not dead yet!”
  • Defenses (AC) are mostly passive and don’t hinge on the PCs actions.

BRP/RQ Problems to Fix

  • Because of the limited character options, characters can end up not feeling special enough for high fantasy, although this is also a feature of the system permitting few book lookups and quicker chargen.
  • Higher math can mean it takes longer to distribute points at chargen.
  • Some versions of BRP don’t have enough differentiation between degrees of success. The version I’ll cleave closest to is Call of Cthulhu 7th edition which by and large solves these problems.
  • The Big Gold Book isn’t a complete system. It’s a toolkit. This homebrew should be a complete system that can be tweaked.
  • Combat can be a slog because a successful hit can be canceled by a successful dodge.

General Design Goals

  • Allow GM latitude in determining how to adjudicate any given conflict
  • Give the GM the option to roll, but also the option to go player facing without too much conceptual whiplash.
  • Make characters distinct and special feeling while not requiring too many book lookups and not taking a tremendous amount of time for chargen. I’m looking for chargen to take from 15 to 30 minutes at the outside for someone familiar with the system.
  • Allow players to define their own abilities without as much squishiness as something like Fate or HeroQuest. I’m thinking of something like Unknown Armies skills or maybe closer to Barbarians of Lemuria careers.

Final Thoughts

  • This post is a living document. It might change as I refine my thoughts.
  • I’m not going to slow down much to explain various systems. Some familiarity with the games mentioned is required to fully understand what I’m going for.
  • I’m not going to achieve all my design goals. Compromises will be made. Design goals will be abandoned. I will fail to achieve everything but I will achieve something.
  • You (yes you!) are encouraged to follow along and to say what you think. This isn’t a “crowdsourced” game design, but feedback is always appreciated. And I will respond to as many comments as I can.

Till we meet again (spoiler: it’s next week’s post) tell good stories together.

HeroQuest 2e: Conflict Resolution Vs Task Resolution

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Welcome, readers, to the first post of 2020! I recently had a chance to play a game that had been sitting on my shelf, sadly unplayed, for years. It sometimes disappoints me that I own many more games than I will ever have an opportunity to play. But I decided the time had come. I was going to play HeroQuest.

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Fail Forward: A Dice Rolling Ethos

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the party has spent several sessions crawling through a labyrinthine mega-dungeon, and has come, at last, to a door. The door is made of solid oak, and a quick test of the handle shows that it is locked. The Barbarian, that stalwart paragon of physique, steps forward and says, “Don’t worry. I can handle this.” The player announces her intention: destroy the door with her axe. The GM smiles: “Roll it.”

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Dragon Strike: The Ghost of TSR Past

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Yuletide greetings to the various dice chuckers, min-maxers, and dungeon masters who may still be reading this blog in December 2019. Today, I’d like to talk about a Christmas gift I received long ago, back when I was a fledgling dragonslayer: DragonStrike, a D&D lite board game that offered promise for a young, would-be roleplayer.

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A Thought on Player Agency and GM Control

Just a thought I wanted to share: being a GM becomes easier when you think of yourself as a text parser for an adventure game. Players can input commands, but unless you acknowledge and change the game based on those commands, nothing happens. This eliminates BS such as using meta-game knowledge, and acting in a manner that deflates the tone of the game or is disruptive to other players, e.g.:
PLAYER: I shoot [PC] in the face
GM: No you don’t. This action is impossible because there is no PvP in this campaign.
or
PLAYER: I open the secret door.
GM: No, you don’t. Your character doesn’t know it exists.
Many times I’ve simply said, “I’m sorry, traveler, I cannot accept your input until I’ve finished describing the scene for the viewers at home” (holler if you get the reference) when players are excitedly talking over my description. 
This isn’t a license to run rough shod over player agency, simply a reminder that GM control is more absolute than you might think. The GM’s brain IS the game. I do hear people complain from time to time: “My players did X” (that ruined the game, or that I’m having a hard time managing). You don’t HAVE TO let them.
The tendency is to hold player agency sacrosanct above the spirit of the game, but in reality you ought to balance player agency and group enjoyment, especially if a player’s agency is infringing on the enjoyment of other players. Dont forget, the GM’s enjoyment matters too!

RPG Review: A Red and Pleasant Land

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Buy it here

I’ve been wanting to run this setting for some time now, and recently, I finally got the chance. What follows is a review of the most beautiful RPG book I’ve ever encountered in the wild (the book is a true work of art in and of itself), and one of the most bonkers and ridiculously fun settings I’ve ever had the pleasure to run.

Zak Smith is a talented artist (as you’ll see from the illustrations I’ve included) as well as a highly competent game designer. I highly recommend this book if your usual D&D sessions are lagging, and you’d like to inject a healthy dose of random madness.

There are mild spoilers in this review, but only of the very basic kind. If you are a player who absolutely must be completely surprised by the game, do not read this review until you’ve played a handful of sessions. If you are a GM, planning on running this setting, read on.

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Mechanics Vs Immersion: How Aspects Mechanize Narrative

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::pokes nose into old, dusty corner of blog::

Oh! I forgot this was here. Maybe… maybe I should post something? Let’s see… what should I talk about? Oh yeah, RPGs!

Today I want to talk about immersion and mechanics. I’ve talked about this before, but my thoughts on the matter have developed over many sessions Gamemastering and playing. More and more, these days, I’m growing a little weary of extraneous mechanics. I’m less and less fascinated by involved dice mechanics that play like mini-games (Fantasy Flight, Modiphius, Cortex Plus, etc…). I’m more interested in getting the check over with, inserting that little bit of randomness that makes the story surprising, and moving on to what really matters: the narrative.

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