Warrior Gambits

I’ve been mulling over martial encounter powers lately. While encounter powers are good at varying actions between rounds, they do encourage throwing out your strongest stuff until you’re down to grinding away with at wills.

On approach I came up with the use of “gambits”. Basically how they’d work is you’d declare them when making a weapon attack. If the attack hits, you get a minor perk and a free secondary attack based on the gambit used. It the initial attack fails, the target instead gets a bonus to defend against further that gambit for 1 round, as they’re on guard against it.

That should create an interesting flow overall. At around 50% accuracy, the player would be looking at a 50% chance of needing to change gambits, 25% chance of an at-will level hit, and a 25% chance of an encounter level hit. I’d have to work out the numbers, but that does seem to be a workable approach. Give the player 3 gambits to start and they’ll have a choice each round even when a gambit is down.

One potentially issue I see is that the chance of heavy hits gets really badly hit by low accuracy. To counter that, I might add a “feint” option. If you take that, a miss triggers the secondary attack instead of a hit. The result would be higher accuracy at the cost of removing the chance to double hit.


Character Creation and Twists of Fate

I’ve been thinking about randomized character creation lately. It seems to me the most enjoyable part of that is ending up with something unexpected. I’m less interested in gambling on the character’s power level than I am in being given a handful of interesting traits an potential hooks.

After a bit of tinkering, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Start each character with a luck pool that can be spent on rerolls.
  • Roll up some “twists of fate” for the character. These can include background elements, talents, flaws, personality traits, special events, and so on. I’m probably start with 3 twists per character.
  • Players can spend luck to reroll any of these twists.
  • If the player isn’t satisfied with their rerolls, they can spend a little select a twist. I’d likely put a “once per character” limitation on this. That way if the player has a concept they really want follow they can push for it, but they’d still need to leave some element up to chance.

So the final results would be that if a character leaves their initial rolls as is, they get to go into play with a full pool of rerolls. On the other hand, if they want to pick and choose their traits, they have some leeway to do so, at the cost of having fewer rerolls during play. Hopefully that’s a good level of enticement toward leaving things to chance. I want to encourage players to stick with their rolls as those random traits can help the player explore new character concepts they might not normally go with. On the other hand, making the reward overly potent can penalize existing character concepts and encourage fudged dice rolls.

As for the twists themselves, I’m thinking of covering a wide range of traits, but building some flexibility into each one. For example, a species / racial twist might give you an advanced trait package if you pick that species or let you act as a hybrid if you pick a different one. I’d also like to have flaws a possible twists. However, to avoid the issue of randomly rolling a weaker character, I’d likely go with a Fate like approach and have flaws benefit the character after they’re turned against them.

Published in: on August 19, 2013 at 5:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Combat Styles: The Siren

A while ago I was talking to friend about bards. We got to talking about how it’s a shame that people often think of it as a “fiddle while my friends fight” class when there are some powerful character types that can fall within the class. Here’s one example and how it might work in play.

Siren (Combat Style)

Sirens have honed their voices to be extremely compelling, even mesmerizing. With a few melodic words, they can weaken and bend the minds of their opponents, draining their very will to fight.

Inspirations: The sirens from the Odyssey are the style namers, tough the vocal powers of the Bene Gesserit from the Dune series are a classic science fiction example.


Sirens attack the minds of their foes through speech and song. Such attacks usually radiate out from the siren, though they can also be focused in an arc or even on a single target.

They also tend to gain an increasingly strong grip on the targets mind as these attacks are sustained. Initially, the target may simply be distracted, finding it difficult to complete their tasks. From there they may find their perceptions and actions manipulated, making misstep and possibly confusing friend from foe. In the final stages, the target will forgo other actions to pursue the sirens calls.

However this progression is hardly inevitable. With enough help or if compelled to act against their nature, characters may break out of the grip of the sirens sound. So long as the target has some will remaining, they may struggle against and potentially break free from the siren’s grasp. When that happens, the siren generally has to change tactics as newly freed targets find their minds and hearts hardened against the siren. Entering a state of fighting fury is a common alternate plan, but other options are certainly possible.


A Siren’s best defense is to quell any desire to attack them. In any game with defense pools, this can mean being able to spend defense points to prevent an attack from being attempted. In other games, this may fall on distraction penalties to hit the Siren while they’re using their abilities.

Published in: on May 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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HP Musings

I’ve been thinking over the classic portrayals of hit points as raw toughness vs hit points as skill and luck. That in turn got me thinking about using a more general “defense pool” that lets you shift the number to ensure the character’s safety for an otherwise debilitating or deadly hit.

In fact, you could easily take this even further and let the defense pool fuel more indirect forms of defense. For example, you could give a character the ability to spend defense points to remain hidden. For character with the right abilities, like binds or manipulation abilities, you could even spend points to keep an opponent from attacking you at all. To make things more interesting, such abilities should probably have varying cost so the locked down character’s player has a way to up the cost if they stay engaged in the action.

You could potentially expand this to a more general “cheat point” approach. That could work nicely as it would let major push to accomplish extraordinary things at the cost of making them more vulnerable. However, I would want to limit this, both to keep these points from dominating character competence and to keep players from blowing all their points in a single “bidding war”.

Published in: on May 18, 2013 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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4 Point Adventurers

While hidden menace is in testing, I’ve been musing over how you could trim down classic adventuring classes for an evening of light dungeon bashing fun. Here’s what I’m currently tossing around.

Each character starts off with basic training in a fighting style as well as a secondary area of expertise.

For the fighting styles, I’ve been considering “3 slot + 1 trick” approach. The slots I’m thinking of are a “main hand” or primary proficiency, an “off hand” or supporting proficiency, and an “armor” or passive proficiency. From there, just adding a special “thing this character is good at” and you’ve got some decent ground work for an fighting style.

I still need to mull over the areas of expertise. Right now I’m thinking of using areas such as exploration, investigation, persuasion, and logistics. I may adapt the 4 point approach of fighting styles to these. I can see “What tools do I use?” and “How do I stay safe?” being solid questions to ask for any of these.

I may post up some mock classes over the next few weeks to see how this works out. If that goes well I may revisit making an light rpg with an “Old School Hack” flavor.

Published in: on December 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hidden Menace: Basic Plays, Part 2

Last time I covered buy ins, enticing, and countering in my upcoming hidden menace game. This time I’d like to look at the other options the player gets.


Empowering a game element lets you improve the target by granting it knacks. To empower an element, you must play a card and state what kind of knack you’re going for. Common examples include specific skills or attributes, such as swimming or strength. Overly broad knacks such as “magic” or “mad scientist” may cost an additional card.

If the card’s theme is related to knack you want to add, you may play it face up. As long as the card is in play, the target can use the knack.

If the card’s theme is not related to the knack, you must play the card face down. At the end of the scene, if the face down card is still in play, you must discard that card and draw a new card to your hand.

Knacks can be invoked whenever their owner it trying to do something that matches the knack. When invoked, they add an extra die against any attempts to counter that associated action. Only one knack may be invoked per action.

The knack’s owner can also sacrifice the knack at any time to add it’s card to either side of a counter attempt they’re involved in.


Players may protect a game element to make it harder to remove from play. To protect an element, simply play one card for each layer of protection you want.

If you play the card face up, you must state what form the protection takes. The target form must be related to the card’s theme. Such protection is powerful, but can be removed if an agent takes an appropriate action to remove it.

Alternately, you can play the card face down to represent more abstract qualities like luck or plot protection. This is less potent than face up protection, but can not be readily removed.

Each protection card on an element may be added to any counter attempts to keep the target in play. If the owner remains in play at the end of the counter attempt, those cards are returned to the owner instead of being discarded or redistributed.

As with knacks, protection may be sacrificed to add cards to any counter attempt the character is involved in. Sacrificed protection cards do not return to the owner at the end of the counter attempt.


At any time, a player can either introduce an agent to the game or claim an existing element as their agent. Claiming an agent works much like protecting an element with a few key differences.

  • A face up claim represents a character motive, rather than a means of protection.
  • Claim can only be used to counter either attempts to control the agents actions.
  • If the target is removed from play the owner can surrender the claim to discard the claim card and draw a new one to their hand. If they choose to hold on to it, they can try to bring the agent back into play after the next scene finishes.
  • When a player’s first agent is claimed, they must choose an allegiance for the remainder of the game.

I’ll go into allegiances in a later post. The idea here is that players start neutral and gain extra abilities once they get an agent and pick a side.

Published in: on October 21, 2012 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hidden Menace: Basic Plays

It looks like I’ll be using cards as both a resource and an idea spring board, so let’s look at what a player might do with their cards. Here’s my current list for actions any player can take.

  • Buy In
  • Entice
  • Counter
  • Empower
  • Protect
  • Claim

Here’s how I’m thinking of handling the first three. I’ll split the next three into another post.

Buy In

Buying in lets a player describe the game world and what happens in it. To buy in, the player must place a card down in front of them. As long as that card is in play, that player can freely add any details or events to the current scene. At the end of the scene, the buy in card is discarded and the owning player may draw a new one.

The buy in card may only be played face up if the owning player’s first bit of narration matches the card’s theme. If they do match, the face up card can be used to defend that narration from any counters.


Enticing involves giving a card away in exchange for a favor. To entice the other players, simply lay a card face down and state what you want for it. Any player who fulfills those conditions gets the card. If more than one player does so, you may choose who gets the card. You can also state what type of card it is or let prospective buyers peek at the card at any time.


When another player adds a detail or event you don’t want in the game, you can attempt to counter it. To do so, place either a row of cards of a single die between you and your opponent. Playing cards sets your initial bid while playing a die starts you off with no bid.

All cards in your bid must be played face down unless you can state an existing detail that both supports an argument against your opponent and matches the theme of the card.

Once you’ve played your bid, your opponent must match it or forfeit. To match a bid, they must play one card for each card in your bid. For each face up card you play, they must play a face up card of their own or play an additional face down card. As with your own bid, they can only play cards face up if they have an argument that fits the game world and matches the theme of the card.

If they match your bid, they may either “up the ante” by playing an additional card or “hold” by placing a die next to their bid. If they up the ante, you must match their new bid or forfeit. If you match their bid or they hold, you can then up the ante or hold. This continues until either one player forfeits or both players hold. If both players hold, they must either reach a compromise or roll the die next to their bids, with the high roller winning.

Once the counter has been resolved, discard all cards in both bids and distribute an equal number of fresh cards between all player who didn’t win. This includes all player who didn’t participate in the conflict as well as the losing player.

Published in: on October 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hidden Menace: Opening Moves

I’ve been mulling over the “hidden menace” game and trying to plot out how I want the game to flow. Here’s what I’m thinking for the opener.

All players start the game with no allegiance and no agendas. They start by drawing a full hand from a themed card deck. They can then use these cards to inspire and reinforce matching elements of the game world.

Some of the cards in the deck will be “shadow cards”. These can be played from the owning player to introduce clues or rumors about the menace into the game world.

Once one of these clues has been played, another player can turn that clue into an actual threat or hazard. Doing so aligns the player who created the threat with the hidden menace. After a threat is revealed, any remaining neutral players can choose to align themselves with either the menace or the seekers. They may also choose to remain neutral and change when future threats are revealed.

That’s roughly where I’m at right now. I still need to flesh out faction goals a bit more. I know the seekers want to reveal enough leads and advantages to overcome the menace. For menace players, I might make the goal actually involve putting a certain number of shadow cards in play or draining seeker resources. Ideally I want outright stopping the seekers to be against the menace’s best interest. I may also throw in some hidden agenda cards to make things more interesting. As it allows, any further ideas on this would be welcome.

Adversary Goals

One troublesome issue with designing the hidden threat game is figuring out the goals of the player that controls the threat. With the seekers it’s pretty easy as the game centers around “find out what’s wrong and fix it”. So what goals should the shadow player have? “Don’t be found” looks like it would stall out game play. “Defeat the seekers” creates a more adversarial approach and may incentivize blocking each others narration. If there are any suggestions for this, let me know.

I’d already been considering using a “shadow deck” both to represent the treats power and to supply themes or them to build on. What I may do is make some shadow cards “agendas” which have a point value if they’re completed. Those points will likely be largely cosmetic, but this will give the player a goal. As a side benefit, that goal will be unknown to the seeker players until it’s revealed, adding an extra element of uncertainty.

I will be looking back over Against the Inevitable this weekend as it had similar factions. If I recall correctly, that game put the factions in direct opposition and tied to balance their power level over time while disallowing early eliminations. I may also start cleaning up the documentation so you folks have a play test document to toy around with.

Published in: on September 14, 2012 at 6:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hidden Menace Games

I was talking to my wife a while ago about some scenarios and the idea of a hidden threat whose nature is revealed in play came up. It’s an intriguing idea so I did some posting around rpg.net to see if there’s already a game in place that does this. Here’s the initial post:

Hi folks. I’m coming back to game design after a bit of a hiatus and was looking to work on a “hidden threat” style game were the big bad’s nature comes out during play. I’m thinking it would start of with signs of trouble with more being revealed during play. This would ideally be set up to handle quick on-shots so I’d like it if the threat can be made up on the fly from random elements rather than having to rely on pre-planned scenarios.

So my question to you folks is: Do you know any systems that already handle this well? If not, I’ve got some seed ideas to work from, but I’m definitely open to suggestions.

For those familiar with the series, I know the old Buffy the Vampire Slayer series had a similar narrative flow. I’ll have to check how the rpg based on the series supports that. I also vaguely remember an old ghost busters inspired game (Inspectors?) which might have some useful elements.

If any of you fine folks know a game system like that let me know. Currently I’m coming up dry on the rpg front. However, I have seen some board games and card which might be useful. For example, “Betrayal at House on the Hill” captures the feeling of unknown danger fairly well, while “Once Upon a Time” is good at mixing randomized elements with player improvisation.

I’m still working out the details of how I’d want this to play out, so suggestions are certainly welcome. Right now I’m thinking of something like this.

  • Play Starts with a location and a “shadow” card, representing the first hint of danger.
  • “Hero” players call out quick character descriptions for “seekers” appropriate to the setting.
  • Seeker characters reveal additional shadows through investigation, while also uncovering both dangers and useful items/information.
  • As revealed shadows increase, a few become more dominant and powerful.
  • At end game, shadows condense to a single final threat which must be overcome.

So that’s what I’m looking at right now. Having written it out, it looks like I may want to give a second look at “Betrayal at House on the Hill” as it has a similar tempo but with fixed ending scenarios. Any other ideas you folks would like throw on the pile?

Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 4:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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