Check out this illo of the characters from our Aurora Star Wars campaign!
L-R: Pharsah, Lillireelareefia (Lily), FX-807 (Foxbot), and Khayrat.
Here’s a Kickstarter project that’s wrapping up in a few days that might pique your interest as it did mine! It’s an SF/near future/science-fantasy game that takes place in a non-colonial Americas! Led by first-nations designers, it promises to be a nifty new take and world to explore:
Check it out! I’m very excited for the project. They’re real close to closing in on 1M and it’d be rad to see them make it over that mark!
The playtesting of the Star Wars ruleset for my Aurora Engine continues well. We’ve all been having a blast in our adventures across the galaxy, and I’ve been steadily tweaking the rules to make things run smoothly or to shift the game’s playstyle more towards what we want/like.
One of the prime ways of character distinction and ability definition (that has needed no tweaking) has been the inclusion of freeform “Stunts,” of which each character starts with three (And can buy more later through advancement.)
While they’re (for now) simply called “Stunts,” they are intended to represent just about anything nifty or special about the character in just about any area: species traits, unusual training, extra experience, exceptional knacks, or various powers, including the Force. They “break the rules” in specific areas /ways to provide bonuses or additional/special abilities for the character.
This isn’t by any stretch a new idea; both FATE and Cortex Prime use something similar to this, and it is akin to Talent or Feats or Advantages or any number of similar mechanics in many an RPG (though these latter ones are generally prescribed and selected from a list). But two things make them especially sing in the Aurora incarnation. First, by allowing them to be so freeform, they invite creativity and customization and let the player state what’s important to them and the character. Second, and even more importantly, they are all expressed/worded in a particular way to call attention to themselves, and as such further highlight the defining aspects of the character in the fuller narrative sense:
Because I/of X, when Y, Z
The first part of the statement describes how the character is unusual, amazing, has a special bit of gear, or whatever; the middle part is a limited situation where this “rule breaking” applies; and the last bit is the special benefit.
Here are some examples from our SW playtest games/characters…
Some of the stunts describe bits that are important to the character from their character’s species:
Because I am a Twi’lek, and have spent time learning how to control my head tentacles (lekku), I gain the “Extra Limb” trait.
Because I am a Squib, and can smell with my fur, I gain the “Discerning Smell” trait.
Because I am a Miralukan, I have Force-sight and I can see through walls and containers up to 1m distant.
Because I am made of many different parts, I gain the trait “Faceless Droid”
Because I am a Selonian when I drop to all fours my speed increases by 50%
Because I am based on Imperial technology, when I slice Imperial equipment, I gain +1d.
Here are some that represent special training, or abilities. Note that as part of the description it helps evoke the why of it, ie, is this from your background, something you trained at, bought or had implanted, or something else?
Because I have subdermal plating, when I take damage I can roll 1d: on a 5 or 6 I gain an additional point of resistance to weapon or impact damage.
Because I have spent my life around machinery, I don’t always need the right parts to fix things, and half any penalties for lack of proper parts.
Because I am a tinkerer, I am rarely caught unprepared, and have trait “Lots of Gizmos”.
Because I was raised in small tunnels, whenever in confined quarters I gain the trait “Tunnel Rat”
Because I am trained in Jedi precognition, when I wield a lightsaber I can use Melee to defend against ranged attacks.
And then there are those that provide amazing role play opportunities/nudges…
Because I am a crazy ass squirrel, when I do something incredibly stupid, I remove 1 die from any penalties.
(I just love that one so much!)
Some of these straight up allow something that isn’t usually allowed, such as the Lightsabre deflection of ranged attacks, seeing through walls, or the dermal plating for extra armour. Most however provide skill boosts, a reduction in penalties, or create a trait/tag/aspect on the scene/character. Here, wording the stunt with a trait/tag/aspect is the best/most flexible and provides the most opportunity in play as it allows for all the things a trait can allow, not only providing bonuses or negating penalties, but also creating ‘narrative truth’ that can allowing things that wouldn’t ordinarily be possible (and vice versa). With that in mind, we might revisit these stunts to re-word them towards a broader tags/trait language/way.
These stunts have worked great in our games thus far, providing for a lot of cool moments and places for the characters to shine, whether in the traditional sense of doing something remarkable, or in the RP sense, reinforcing the character and the story they are creating.
(Just the other session, the “Extra Limb” trait came in handy as the character had been knocked off the edge of a tower, clinging for dear life – fortunately that “Extra Limb” trait allowed them to grab their rifle before it fell never to be seen again!)
A very cool little bit of RPG history explored here, with the delving into the idea of Fate/Fortune/Fame/Luck/Inspiration mechanics: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2021/01/a-history-of-hero-points-fame-fortune.html
Extra cool in that the first RPG I ever played – Top Secret – is the first RPG to include such a thing, with its Fame and Fortune points. Which is interesting, as I hadn’t really thought of it before, that this concept of a narrative meta-currency has always been a part of my RPG experience and even my conception of RPGs and how they operate.
And the twist that Top Secret had in it was cool too: While Fame and Fortune points did the same thing, you gained a Fame point at the end of every mission and thus knew how many you had. But Fortune was rolled in secret by the Administrator (GM) when you created the character, so you never really knew exactly when your luck might run out…
“The way we played it — the way my teenage friends and I read ourselves into the world — was as small-time operators, always. The corporations were behemoths, the system so massively corrupt and powerful that no one could win against it. You fought to survive around the edges of it, living off the scraps. “High stakes, low impact” — that was our house rule. Because punks don’t save the world. Ever. They just try to live another day.” — Jason Sheehan @ NPR
That little bit from a review of the new CP 2077 computer game drew my attention because it both mirrors how we also played the Cyberpunk RPG back in the day and because it captures so well what I’ve noticed in the current crop of cyberpunk releases. So many of them seem to hew strongly towards the cyber and the glitz and the machine gun prophecy, while steadfastly avoiding the punk and any deeper implications or explorations. More than one of the games I’ve read even begins with their premise as “you are elite mercenaries, plying your trade for the endless corporate wars.” CP 2077, at least as as Jason’s review describes it, also seems to push towards that side of things.
But the essential bit to our old Cyberpunk campaigns was always being on the edge of being quashed. And of the perils and impact of living within a complete corporatocracy. As we got older, ideas of the dehuminising aspect of it all got incorporated into our games, a subtext to the more foreground and obvious reduction of one’s humanity through cybernetics or braindance. Along with the questions that comes from being under that constant state of duress: what is considered winning to us, what does family or friendship mean, to what levels are you willing to go, is there an escape of sorts, and so on. That was the vital bit that made our cyberpunk games cyberpunk and therefore different from our other games.
Here we weren’t the mighty adventuring party, or the team of elite spies, or the superhero group, or the gritty commando unit, or mecha pilots, or slinging around in a space opera. (And to note, we played those games too and loved them!) In Cyberpunk, we were local, caught in the cogs, and eking out what we could, step by small step. And rather than just grabbing the neon and the cyber for the aesthetics, that to me remains the essence of what a good cyberpunk game should embrace.
Something came to me recently that’s worthwhile adding to my earlier thoughts on why I am in favour of bell-curve dice systems: With the clustering of results, and their lack of swinginess, they greatly reduce the dreaded “streaks of suck” where one poor roll is followed by another… and then another… and then another…
With a linear die system, such as a d20, you’ve got the same chance as rolling a 1 as you do a 10 as you do a 20. Rolling a bunch of bad rolls in a row isn’t all that difficult to do. And sure, sometimes those strings of bad rolls can be kinda funny in their own, peculiar, way. But more often than not it creates, at best, difficulties for your character and, at worse, puts them into great peril. And it can be frustrating as heck, a thwarting of self and an affront to the idea of competence.
(What about the opposite end? That can also be annoying… rolling several great rolls in a row where they are not useful, or having a string of them and then not having them for what feels like a very long time…)
But with a bell curve of results, even if your chance of failure may be the same on the whole, the distribution of those bad rolls is much more evenly distributed over time. Because the results cluster to the middle, rolling a bad roll is more likely to be followed by a middling roll than having an equal chance of having yet another bad roll. Which leads not only to less frustration but also to that greater sense of competency as well as confidence which allows for greater planning and, ultimately, more meaningful choices.
I played a tonne of the Cyberpunk RPG back in the day. My friends and I picked up the first edition (retroactively named/referred to as the 2013 edition) pretty much as soon as it came out, and it became one of our games of choice almost instantly. When the 22.214.171.124 edition came out, we eagerly snapped it up and kept right on playing. And even as I I headed off to university and beyond, new games were started with new groups. I’ve enjoyed it aplenty.
With the newly released Cyperpunk computer game comes a new edition of the RPG rules, this time titled Cyberpunk Red. Intrigued, I gave it a quick read through (hence the pun title for this post) and wow, is it ever a blast from the past. In that it feels as though it is from the past. In that the rules haven’t really changed all that much. In that it is as if 30 years of gaming and RPG rules and concepts growth hadn’t happened.
To be fair, the Interlock System that underpins the rules was (and still is) a pretty solid core. At the time of the first Cyberpunk game, it felt especially streamlined and fresh and a nice implementation of a skill+attribute based system. But with the reflection of having played so many other systems in the intervening years, the inelegant and sometimes even kludgy edges of the ruleset as a whole now show through for me. In addition, it hasn’t added any narrative hook support, something that’s intriguing me more these days.
All in all, reading the rules I was left with a sense of meh. I’m still keen on cyberpunk (in the full exploration of its genre, not just the aesthetic), but depending on the type of campaign we were going to play there’s a few other rulesets I’d gravitate towards instead. Rope in the good background info and world lore from Cyberpunk, yes, but upgrade to a keener operating system.
There’s this refrain I’ve seen pop up a few times over the past few weeks that, while the first time seemed amusing, by the third there was clearly some gross misunderstanding going on at best or, at the other end of the spectrum, some downright purposeful falsehood being peddled to promote hostility and prejudice.
So here’s the thing:
NO, D&D did not remove all distinction between ‘races’ in the game.
NO, all ‘races’ are not now the same.
NO, the publisher was not forced/pressured/browbeat into doing this by some sort of morality warrior mob.
NO, the game hasn’t been ruined.
What has occurred is that the recent sourcebook (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) notes that the standard attribute score bonuses of the various races (species) speak to archetypes and gives the option for you to switch them around on your character, if you choose. Also, you can swap out languages and proficiencies for another.
Now, I’ve made the argument before that attribute bonuses are the most boring way to differentiate between different species, while also being sorely restricting to RP and flavour. So I’m quite happy that this change has been made, opening things up.
But for those who are making the argument that without these attribute bonuses all races within the game are now the same, what they’re saying is that for them, a +2 to Dex is a greater differentiator than being resistant to poison. Or being a construct that doesn’t breathe or sleep. Or innate magic. Or, you know, breathing fire.
Which, to editorialize for a moment, I find absolutely and hilariously ridiculous.
Besides providing a more prominent distinction between the different heritages, these kind of abilities are also far more exciting and meaningful in their use and how they shape the feel of the character’s lineage. Best of all, in sidelining attribute bonuses it also sidelines the potential for them to invoke or reinforce limiting and/or negative stereotypes, connotations, and contexts that can bleed beyond the game.
So I would invite those who are worried to set that aside and see that far from being a diminishment this is a flourishment instead.
And to those who say the game itself is under attack by a bunch of hysterical agitators, I would like to say that we all can see that it is, in actuality, you who has got your knickers all up in a twist.
We’ve been playtesting the Aurora RPG Engine during our regular Sunday game and it’s been going very well! (Much smoother than I figured it would, actually, which has been a most pleasant surprise.) As we play on, I’ve noticed a couple of really neat things.
First, because Margin of Success is determined by the number of “remaining” dice, there’s an easy way to figure out what the probabilities are for achieving a certain MoS for a certain number of dice. This is because asking “What’s the chance of generating an MoS of 1 on 5 dice?” is the same as asking “What’s the chance of generating success on 4 dice, so that I have one die left over?” To which we already have the answer from the previously generated probabilities chart: roughly 50% (though again it’s really 45%).
This also makes it nice an easy to generate a matrix to quickly reference the probabilities for each MoS:
Or, as a chart showing the chance of getting at least MoS X:
Second, the above leads to another very cool and interesting thing: the system is bidirectional.
Typically, the difficulty of a task is handled by adjusting the base dice pool. This allows the player to viscerally feel their chances and properly size up the situation, thus letting them make appropriate choices (and fully RP it out). However, there are certain instances where it may be more appropriate to not “give away” the difficulty of a task to the player and have them roll blind. In certain campaign and genre styles – such as one where the characters are expected to be over their heads or one where it is a grim and failure-heavy milieu – this may apply to most of the tests/rolls. For others, this may be saved for more uncommon circumstances where the level of tension is heightened by explicitly being uncertain and not in the know.
The sweet thing here is that, as evidenced above, the probability of success when removing dice is the same as requiring an MoS equal to that number of removed dice. Therefore, if a player needs to succeed on a test where the difficulty is pegged at minus 2d, the test can instead easily be run ‘blind/hidden’ by having the player roll and checking if they get an MoS of at least 2. If not, then the test is failed.
This can also be useful for areas like perception, discerning realities, investigations, and similar, where the GM may not want to tip their hand that something is there (by specifying there is a penalty) and where the overall margin of success can be used to determine the amount or exactness of the information gained or discovered. For example, the players are searching a room and there is a particular item that is difficult to find (the GM has determined it’s well hidden indeed at a -3d difficulty). They roll; on an MoS of 0 they find a few mundane items, on an MoS of 1 they find some important documents, and on the MoS of 3 they find the secret compartment containing the important item. To flip it around, if the characters already knew the object was in the room but just not where, and they were actively searching for it, the GM could let them test normally with the up-front 3d penalty.
(As an aside, Star Trek Adventures does a version of this for many types of searching, sensor, and etc tests, giving a basic amount of information on a success and allowing the player to spend Momentum (their version of MoS) to give additional and more exacting details and information.)
With this bidirectionality, the engine gains even more flexibility and adaptability, all in service of running the game in a way that supports the campaign genre, tone, and style.