Wednesday, September 20, 2017

[CRIT] Trackmarks Character Sheet

I guess this is the official announcement for my first published product under the Kinks & Crits banner, though I’m probably going to push out an official official announcement once I have something tangible to show off. Said product is called Trackmarks, a fantasy-noir setting for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Cynicism, fatalism, moral ambiguity… it’s a DMCA notice away from being Blade Runner, except there’s Elves and shit too.
You’ll probably start seeing posts about the world’s history, its races, the city it takes place in, the drug that’s rotting it from the inside, and the conscripted police force tasked with getting it off the streets. All this post is doing is wrenching open the sluice.
When I’m looking at a new system, I always look at the character sheet first. You can learn a lot about a system that way. Trackmarks uses an established setting, but I made changes to the character sheet that reflect a shift in tone and a few tweaks in the mechanics. I’m posting it here so you can get your first taste, so you can get hooked and start coming back for more.

Click the picture to enlarge. Download the PDF here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

[CRIT] Burning Wheel Bible Plus

I wrote a one-page reference for The Burning Wheel that consolidates the core of the game (or the Hub of the Wheel, if you will) into a menu of actions you can select from to drive the game forward. It’s perfect for newbies and grognards alike, since it gives everyone at the table a unified approach to the game to work from.
The problem with the whole “one-page” thing is that I posted it as a wall of text on a webpage, which has a pretty low usability factor, and getting it printed out for use at the table would be a major headache. So at the request of some folks who dig my Burning Wheel Bible, I worked my InDesign magic and produced a clean, logically structured version that can be printed on one page. For real this time.
Click the picture below to expand it. Click here to download the PDF!


Monday, September 11, 2017

[CRIT] D&D 5e Redux

Last Updated 9/20/17
Like I said back in my original D&D 5e House Rules post, I don’t use house rules much anymore, just a couple here and there to sand off those rough edges. I’ve come to believe that having a massive host of house rules means one of two things: you’re either using the wrong system for the game you want to play, or you don’t know how to effectively utilize the system you’re playing.
So here’s a pared-down list of the house rules I use when playing D&D 5e. I may toss a few more back on here if I find myself reverting to them often enough!

Ability Score Generation

Roll 4d6 and drop the lowest. Do this six times. Arrange the scores to taste. If you want to reroll one score, you have to reroll them all.

Attacks of Opportunity

Attacks of opportunity only occur when a creature who has been targeted or targeted another creature with a melee weapon attack spends movement without using the Disengage action.

Cover

There is no differentiation between types of cover; you have it, or you don’t. Ranged attacks against you have disadvantage. You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws.
If you are using a creature as cover, ranged attacks that would target you target your cover instead.

Equipment

You are always considered to be carrying the tools you are proficient with, besides Vehicles (Land) and Vehicles (Sea). You are also always considered to be carrying an appropriate focus for your class.
You start with a kit of your choice. When you take a long rest in a civilized area, you can either choose a different kit, or refill your current selection.
When you attempt to perform a task related to the type of kit that you have, you add your proficiency bonus to that task (for example, consecrating a shrine while you have a priest’s kit selected).

Initiative

At the beginning of each round of combat, each player makes an initiative roll against a DC set by the lowest Dexterity score in the opposing party. Characters who succeed go before the NPCs, while players who fail go afterwards.

Spell Points

Use the spell points variant on DMG 288.

Vision

Playable races that have darkvision also have sunlight sensitivity unless they forego their darkvision at character creation.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

[CRIT] Burning Wheel Bible

Check out the spiffy downloadable version of this reference I designed here.
Burning Wheel, the Swiss Watch of roleplaying games. I’d be lying if I said learning this system wasn’t a daunting task, which is why I developed this one-page handout to give to my players at the table. The idea is that the players don’t have to worry about anything except for an Apocalypse World-esque moves bible; story implications and mechanical resolution can always be handled later. Sometimes, to give the Wheel its momentum, you just need a little push.
There are four sections in the bible:
  • Pregaming: Things you can do to win Artha before the game even starts.
  • Spice Things Up: How to get the game rolling using BITs.
  • The Hustle: Go above and beyond during the game and you’ll win extra Artha!
  • Show Your Moves: How to set up, perform, and track tests.
Most of this is a radical abbreviation of The Hub of the Wheel, which is available for free on burningwheel.com, and can be read in the first 74 pages of The Burning Wheel.

Pregaming

Share a Rule (+1 Fate)

Find a rule in Burning Wheel Gold or the Burning Wheel Codex that you think is neat, and share the potential applications of it with the group.

Bring a Snack (+1 Fate)

Bring a shareable snack – a bag of chips, a pack of soda, etc. – and plop it in the middle of the table for communal use. Don’t spend more than $5.

Spice Things Up

Manifest a Belief (+1 Fate)

What Are Beliefs?: A Belief is “a short statement of ethical or moral priority that you assign to your character.” Make sure you would be willing to fight for your Beliefs! You can change Beliefs you feel are no longer relevant at the end of each session.
How To Do It: Manifest one of your character’s Beliefs in a convincing or entertaining manner. Playing a Belief should serve a purpose and drive the game forward. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re manifesting a Belief; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”

Activate an Instinct (+1 Fate)

What Are Instincts?: An Instinct is “an if/then, always, never, or when statement that you assign to your character to dictate a reaction or course of action.” They can be used to make sure your character behaves in a way that cannot be contravened by the GM. You can change Instincts you feel are no longer relevant at the end of each session.
How To Do It: Activate one of your character’s Instincts when it would get the character in trouble or create a difficult or awkward situation. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re activating your Instinct; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”

Play Up a Trait (+1 Fate)

What Are Traits?: A Trait is “a guidepost for roleplaying that announces to the table: ‘this is what is important to me about my character.’” Remember that these change every month during a Trait vote.
  • Character Trait: No mechanical use; roleplaying only.
  • Call-On Trait: Once per session, use a call-on Trait to break a tie, or to reroll traitors.
  • Die Trait: Grants special modifiers and abilities. Be sure to read these!
How To Do It: Play up any Trait when it would alter the direction of the story in an unforseen way, or if it makes life difficult for you. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re playing up your Trait; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”

The Hustle

Do Something Rad (+1 Fate)

Whether it’s a solid one-liner or a gut-busting joke, whatever came out of your mouth just stopped the table dead. Don’t force it though, because if it’s bad enough, you’ll have to pay Artha back.

Have the Right Skill at the Right Time (+1 Fate)

You have the right skill to keep the game moving when nobody else does.

Break the Mold (+1 Persona)

If you come to a point where a Belief, Instinct, or Trait conflicts with a decision you have to make, inject that inner conflict into the game. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re breaking the mold; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”

Embody the Mood (+1 Persona)

Capture or set the mood at the table through above-and-beyond roleplaying. Moments like inspiring speeches, desperate decisions, or gruesome revenge are rife for this reward.

Be a Workhorse (+1 Persona)

You are the workhorse if you performed the most tests by the end of a session. Ties are broken by whoever’s work was harder to perform.

MVP (Majority Vote; +1 Persona)

At the end of a scenario, everyone votes on the player who drove the scenario to its conclusion. This is the character who everyone agrees, “damn, we couldn’t have done it without him!”

Show Your Moves

Make a Test

Intent & Task: When you want to do something that’s important to you, you have to overcome an obstacle by testing an ability. Each test has an intent and task, which are used to select the ability to be tested. The GM can never call for multiple rolls of the same ability to accomplish a stated intent.
  • Intent: What do you want to do and why do you want your character to do it?
  • Task: A measurable, finite, quantifiable act that your character performs. The GM sets the amount of time that the test will take.
Approach: You can approach a test carefully, patiently, or quickly. You can mix these methods in any combination.
  • Carefully: +1D; failure means that you’ve “run out of time.” Must be declared before the dice are rolled.
  • Patiently: Extra successes can be spent to improve the quality of the task performed, or to activate special effects described in the entries of certain skills.
  • Quickly: Extra successes can be spent to reduce the overall time it takes to perform the task by 10% each.
Modifiers: There are a number of factors that can modify the dice pool or obstacle of a roll.
  • Help: If you are willing to accept help from another character, their player can describe how they’re helping, and with what ability. If the GM approves, their player hands you one (exponent 4 or lower) or two (exponent 5 or higher) of their dice to add to the roll. Their character is now tied into the advancement and complications of the test.
  • FoRK: Each skill you possess that is related to the test at hand adds +1D to the roll (or +2D if the exponent is 7 or higher).
  • Beginner’s Luck: If you do not have the appropriate skill for a test, you instead test its root stat, but the base obstacle of the test is doubled.
  • Tools: If you do not have the appropriate tools for a test, the base obstacle of the test is doubled. Expendable tools are lost on a roll of 1 on the die of fate.
Artha: Artha can be spent to modify dice pools during tests.
  • Fate: The roll becomes open-ended. If it’s already open-ended, remove a single traitor. Fate is spend after the dice are rolled.
  • Persona: Either spend up to three points before the roll to add +1D per point spent, or spend one point to counteract a time-related complication.
  • Deeds: Double the exponent of an ability before the roll, or reroll all failed dice after a roll.
Results: When your test succeeds, you get your intent. When your test fails, you get your intent, but with a complication introduced by the GM. Whether you succeed or fail, you mark advancement.

Mark Advancement

Difficulty: Total up the number of dice you rolled for a test. Do not include the dice gained from spending Artha.
  • Challenging: Ob > Dice
  • Difficult: Ob = Dice
  • Routine: Ob < Dice
    • If you're rolling 4+ dice, difficult if Ob -1 = Dice
    • If you’re rolling 7+ dice, difficult if Ob -2 = Dice
Advancing a Skill: If you accumulate advancement equal to what’s listed for the ability’s current exponent, advance the ability to the next exponent. Stats cannot use routine tests to advance.
  • Exponent 1: 1 routine, and either 1 difficult or 1 challenging
  • Exponent 2: 2 routine, and either 1 difficult or 1 challenging
  • Exponent 3: 3 routine, and either 2 difficult or 1 challenging
  • Exponent 4: 4 routine, and either 2 difficult or 1 challenging
  • Exponent 5: 3 difficult and 1 challenging
  • Exponent 6: 3 difficult and 2 challenging
  • Exponent 7: 4 difficult and 2 challenging
  • Exponent 8: 4 difficult and 3 challenging
  • Exponent 9: 5 difficult and 3 challenging
  • Exponent 10: No advancement
Learning a Skill: When you test a skill that you are learning a number of times equal to 10 - the root stat, you open that skill. Difficulty is not a factor when you are learning a skill.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

[CRIT] I Lied, Here's Some DCC House Rules

Last Updated 8/23/17

Advancement

Titles

At the end of each session, the Judge – with assistance from the players – bestows titles to the characters based on their performance during the session. Titles could be bestowed for any reason, from carrying a combat encounter to coming up with a funny character detail. The Judge can only bestow one title to each character per session.
Titles can be invoked to provide appropriate status boons. For example, a character with the title “Lord of Bristol” could get into swanky royal parties unquestioned, and a character with the title “Pied Piper” could summon all the rats in the sewers (being that they’re popular amongst rats).
In order to gain a level, a character has to spend a number of titles equal to their current level. Spending a title indicates that the character’s level has advanced them beyond the scope of that petty title.

Combat

Initiative

Initiative modifiers no longer exist, except for bonuses that come from Luck.
Each player rolls a d6. Players who roll 1-3 go after the opposing party. Players who roll 4-6 go before the opposing party.

Skill Checks

Skill checks no longer exist. The two mechanics that relied on them – Thief skills and Occupations – have been modified to accommodate this change.

Thief Skills

When you roll a Thief skill, instead of adding the Thief skill bonus to a d20 roll, instead roll a d20 and attempt to get under the Thief skill bonus. If you do, you use the skill successfully. The die can be sized up or down to reflect difficulty.

Occupation

You can use your occupation to do the following things. You are encouraged to get creative.
  • Make a living in an area that has appropriate work
  • Know information or invent lore related to your field
  • Access resources that only members of your profession can
  • Perform tasks that only members of your profession can

Monday, August 21, 2017

[CRIT] Why You Should Metagame

One of the ideas in roleplaying games that really gets my goat is that metagaming is a no-no. I’ve seen metagaming policed harshly in the tabletop roleplaying community, from the members of a gaming group shutting a player down, to an organized LARP instituting warnings and demerits. Even if you haven’t experienced these extreme reactions to metagaming, I guarantee you’ve at least heard someone say “metagaming” with a derisive tone.
The reason why this phenomenon bothers me so much is because the idea that you can separate the player from the character is asinine. People cry “metagaming” whenever a character expresses knowledge that they don’t possess, but their player does. But attempting to enforce this separation is impossible: if a player knows something their character doesn’t, the character’s actions will be influenced by that knowledge, even if the player has the character act against that knowledge. Once you know something, you can’t unknow it, and it will out through gameplay in subtle ways that you yourself won’t notice.
Characters are not autonomous; they need players. But to employ anti-metagaming measures is to erase the players from the equation. Games that single out metagaming – whether through social contracts at the table or rules written in the books – are denying the very fact that they are games. There is no practical way to avoid metagaming except to violate the integrity of the game.
You can’t design or play a game without also considering what’s going on in the game space. Not only is metagaming an integral part of playing any game, but it’s something that should be done actively and constructively. If you can harness this at your table, your roleplaying experience will be significantly enhanced.
If you make the meta work for you, then you never have to fear it again.

GM Transparency

Some brave GMs have nixed the screen. They roll the dice in full view of their players. If the big boss fails their saving throw or what should have been a glancing blow beheads a beloved character, there’s no going back. I judge a person’s honesty by their commitment to a random number generated by a plastic cube.
Now go a step further and show the players your notes. When you roll enough damage to kill a character, tell the player that you want them to live, but that you need to come up with an appropriate setback together. When I run Burning Wheel I even go so far as to lay all my plans bare: “The king’s vizier is going all ‘Grima Wormtongue’ on him. Now what are some cool scenes we can have so you guys can figure that out?”
Lifting the veil – even just enough to show some leg – shows the players that the game isn’t about overcoming a checklist of encounters, nor is the GM out to beat or trick them. A lot of roleplaying games claim to have elements of collaborative storytelling, but this is only true if the players share the burden of storytelling (read: metagaming).

Player Skill vs. Character Skill

Another phrase that people love to throw around in the roleplaying community is “it’s roleplaying, not rollplaying.” The idea here is that the actions characters take should come from a player getting in their character’s head, not left up to the orbs and hedrons that burden us with random values. It’s another anti-metagaming slur that translates to “don’t let the mechanics you interact with as a player affect how you play your character.”
(This doesn’t excuse one of my biggest pet peeves at the table, which is players rolling dice to help them make a hard decision, like “if I roll 1-3 I’ll go into the cave, if I roll 4-6 I won’t.” Every choice should be difficult and meaningful – metagaming or not – and players shouldn’t be allowed to worm out of that so easily.)
I have no idea where this notion came from, since Dungeons & Dragons actively promoted rollplay up through the end of its 2nd edition, and the games inspired by that era are having a renaissance. Forget writing backgrounds and fine-tuning personality traits, you didn’t even name your character until they survived their first outing. Characters weren’t defined by what the player thought of them, but what the player did with them.
It’s for this reason that I substitute rollplay with player skill and roleplay with character skill. Games that value player skill tend to be much more engaging for players because it tests and challenges them; character development is just a byproduct of that. I feel like the best games are those that make roleplay a function of player skill by gamifying character development. That way, the characters become richer and plot denser by thinking about the game as a game, which is more natural for players than thinking about a game as not a game.

The Last Word

I feel like Stefan Poag put what I think about roleplay vs. rollplay, player vs. character skill, and metagaming in general a lot more eloquently than I have. I’ve been trying to find ways to paraphrase him, but I wouldn’t change a word of what he posted. I spied this in a post he made about liking skill checks in DCC, when I was looking for reasons to rag on skill checks in DCC. Which makes me feel like an ass.
Resolving actions ‘just through talking’ was a big part of my introduction to roleplaying games (first using the Holmes set in 1978) and was a big part of the ‘role’ in ‘roleplaying’ in those early days… and that was how we liked it. Talking like a pirate or saying, “My character wouldn’t do X because of some pre-determined personality trait” was NOT a part of my early role playing experience — even though that seems to be how many people define ‘roleplaying.’ My definition of ‘old school roleplaying’ was mentally inserting yourself into the situation that the DM described and attempting to reason out a good course of action using your own noodle and the information at hand.

Our Experience vs. My Experience

Added on 8/25/17
After reading a bunch of awesome, constructive comments on Google+, I’ve realized that the dichotomy at play here really seems to be “having our experience” and “having my experience.”
When the Judge says “you’re having my experience,” you can expect either a living world that unfolds as players discover it at the same time their characters do, or a handmade scenario meant to provoke a certain sentiment. Judges who run a game like this are likely to suppress the meta so that it doesn’t break the illusion they’ve crafted. The problem with this type of play is that some players will have strong reactions against their lack of control, or won’t resonate with the concept.
When the Judge says “we’re having our experience,” the metagaming plays a much larger part. Players are encouraged to contribute the content they want to see, whether utilizing certain mechanics, hitting specific plot points, or exploring particular avenues of character development. Judges who run a game like this have to fully embrace the meta if their game is to truly be “collaborative.” But the issue here is that you need players who are in sync, willing to take setbacks, seize or shift the spotlight, and get messy with the lore, all duties that the Judge typically performs. Crowdsourcing a role as central as the Judge’s requires a lot of fine tuning, which a lot of people don’t have the opportunity or find the need to do.
Neither is bad, and neither is good: they simply are. Just like metagaming. No matter what, Judges can’t ignore that metagaming exists, and cutting such an integral aspect of any and all games at the root is not the solution. Might I suggest instead warping the meta to your advantage.
If, as a Judge, you’re instituting your experience, use what the players attempt to decipher against them. This is a common use of the meta, seen in things like the Quantum Ogre, or the whole “self-fulfilling prophecy” trick when players’ flapping gobs give you nefarious ideas. If you’re open to the more plural side of things, frame your game around specific scenarios that prompt player contributions almost like an Ad-Lib. The beauty of metagaming is that you can control what kind of meta is being had, giving you a whole new set of tools to work with and make the experience (whichever kind you choose) that much more potent.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

[KINK] Pride Season 2017

My Pride season as Mr. Leather Colorado 2017 began with a two-hour drive into the Northern Wastes of Colorado to pick up Pup Brick. I’d known the guy for years but never actually met him; we had recently rediscovered each other and bonded over a kink we both shared: pretending to be animals. Since this was Brick’s first Pride and we’d be mobbing it with Colorado’s gargantuan Leather Contingent, I knew this was intent on sharing the community I loved with him.
We got to Denver later in the day Saturday because it was Saturday on a Pride weekend and nothing fucking happens on Saturday on a Pride weekend. So we meandered and got acclimated to the festival. I got Pup Brick a sturdy leash made out of reclaimed tire rubber, and I saw his demeanor shift the moment I clipped it to his collar: shouldering a path through the crowds when ahead of me (leading me more than anything), strutting with his head held high when at heel (a command we had down to a subtle gesture by the end of the day, out of necessity). We got pulled aside for photos quite often, and it’s really not hard to see why; it was a power trip we rode the rest of the weekend!


Towards the end of the day I worked a shift at the Rocky Mountain Leather Alliance booth with my Title Family, it’s banners and tables a tapestry of dozens of Leather groups and events and venues local to our state; seeing them all in once place was damn stunning! Afterwards Pup Brick and I met with La Texa Dvynal and Miss Leather Colorado 2017 Cherry Chola at Black Sky Brewery, which is hands-down my favorite joint in the Rockies for two reasons:
  1. Their pizza is almost as kvlt as their taste in music (they skip any and all poseur shit that darkens their Internet jukebox)
  2. They’re steps away from Trade, a cozy Levi’s & Leather bar and my second favorite joint in the Rockies (the folks over at Black Sky Brewery are certainly no strangers to our fare)
Over at Trade, there were Leathermen aplenty, more family reunion than bar night. I noticed that Brick was more comfortable being the strong, silent type, letting me speak for him more often than not. It helped him adjust to an unfamiliar environment of grabby drunks, and empowered me to keep up Titleholder-levels of mingling late into the night. The trust he put in me was really touching, and when the night wrapped up we were wild about the dynamic we had built together. Still are!
The next morning was an ugly one. Cherry and La Texa woke us up in six in the goddamn morning; I never understood the physics behind “drag time,” but after Brick and I slept in a bit more and got geared up for the parade and went to Burger King for breakfast and those two hadn’t even finished inflating their tits, I finally understood; I’m a showpony and I don’t even go to such lengths. I have a newfound respect for the trials and tribulations a queen must overcome to get in face.
I knew that the Colorado ponies – including the membership of the Rocky Mountain Pony Herd – would be lining up with the Leather Contingent for the Pride parade, but I didn’t expect to meet Pony Charisma (one of my pony idols), Cardholder,  North American Pony Trainer 2017 Trixie Fontaine, and North American Pony 2017 Tindala, let alone gallop beside them in our asphalt marathon. I can count the number of times in my life I’ve been starstruck on two hooves, and that moment was one of them. I kept pace with Charisma most of the march, prancing for the roaring crowds; I couldn’t have been a prouder pony if I tried!
Well, scratch that: being together with my full Title Family for the first time after our contest? Icing on the fucking cake.

Brick and I made the long trek back up north (and then I an even longer trek back south), voices shot, legs like jelly, covered in hard-to-explain sunburns. I would go on to pull my first chariot for Voodoo Leatherworks (my home club) in Colorado Springs Pride, and immediately after that show up to the RenFaire in Larkspur as an unintentionally gimpy horse. I soaked up more Vitamin D in the span of one month than I had in the past four years.
But I soaked up at least twice as much pride.