So it happened! We had session 1 of Paranormal Cowpunch. The brief synopsis is as follows...
The intrepid crew (Prospector Billy and Ripley) left El Dorado City and headed out for El Dorado County. They traveled as part of the crew for a regular stagecoach, staying a boarding houses and ranches on their way out of civilization. During that time they picked up some rumors. Turns out there is a strange mist that descends from time to time even though the climate doesn't sustain that much moisture. Also, some people noted seeing a stranger who seemed to smell faintly of salt water and fish, which is also strange since there is no ocean nearby. Some of the ranches appear to be closing as well for unclear reasons. The party is heading out to spend the season at the Lazy J Ranch outside of Gordon. People expressed interest and relief to learn that its proprietor, Dame Edna, is doing well after her husband dies a couple years back.
Anyway, they head out on the last leg of the journey. Their stagecoach if full. Among their companions are the driver, 15 year-old Reginald Weems, and two cowpunchers named Alice Rollinger and Lester Jenkins. There are also a number of more gentle passengers, including a charming gambler, an older couple, and two women who never quite got as fleshed out. They were two days out of Burned Bush Wells and then an indeterminate distance to Gordon. Some time in the afternoon they, too, experienced the mist and then found themselves in a running battle with red-eyed Dire Wolves. They and their companions made a break for a hill to take a stand there. Chaos ensues, Prospector Billy and Alice both get mauled but manage to hang on. Reginald also gets bitten but not nearly as badly. Ripley and Lester patch them up and--with Reginald bandaged and driving, make for the Cross Y Ranch where Alice works.
Before they leave , a number of them see a figure in the mist that looks humanid but seems to be made entirely out of writhing snakes. In their delirium after being bitten, Billy and Alice both have visions of this figure as well.
So this was the first actual battle that the party encountered. Last session we tested the archetype mechanic and the "Hero Dice" but this was the first time using the old Boot Hill mechanics and the result was...mixed. Prospector Billy is played by a teen who became bored with the amount of rolls necessary. I mentioned in an earlier post but there are three rolls; one to hit, one for damage location, and one for damage. All of these use percentile dice (2d10 with one representing the "10's" place to generate a range of 1-100). The game these days move faster but that may improve with some practice. However, the location roll really helped with the storytelling. I liked that there was an actual location for me to work with that the other players could also recognize as having a generally agreed upon in-game effect.
Otherwise everything move right along. Our sessions, however are much shorter than what is considered conventional for most people...about 75 minutes. The reasons are solid. We play on Wednesday night. We have school and work the next day. Also, attention spans are short at times. I have seen one livestream that is about this length--Oblivion Oath on Paizo--I have been impressed by how much they get done in a short amount of time. would it be fun to play longer? I am sure I would like it, but I know to stop when I see the players fading a bit.
Anyway, that is all. Next week we should have two more players. That should be fun...
OK so...let's talk about character generation. the first thing we did was make a Boot Hill character according to the second edition rulebook. We rolled percentile dice, which gave us bonuses or penalties in a variety of areas. These were later added to the weapon stats to establish both the order in which people act and the odds of success at gunfighting. I really don't want to get bogged down in this. You can buy the PDF of the old Boot Hill games on DrivethruRPG and the link is at the end of the previous post.
What I do want to talk about is what we did for actual roleplaying (RP). After we were done establishing what sort of shootists we were, I asked my wife and son to describe their characters, giving them evocative names and a sense of who they are. For the sake of simplicity we are calling this their "archetype". I stole this name from a game system called RISUS, which is the system we use in the aforementioned semi-moribund clergy game. Another term (popular in more conventional games) is "background". Here, however, it has a specific mechanical function.
Simply put, the archetype that the players choose makes them good at some things and less good at other things based on what that sort of character would be like. Archetypes can--quite literally--be anything the group can agree on. You can be "the Man With No Name" or "Little Jimmy's Mechanical Dog". It is totally up to the group to establish how serious or how gonzo the operation will be.
For example, for this game I told them to pick a character archetype based on the theme of "paranormal cowboy (or cowperson or cowpoke or...cowpuncher)". My wife chose "Ripley" and gave that name to her character. Ripley needs no introduction to those familiar with the Alien franchise. If you are not familiar, they are movies you can watch.
Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) has a fairly strong archetype with particular strengths and weaknesses that a player can lean into while improvising. My son chose "Prospector (Wild) Billy". You can see a drawing of Billy on the sheet in the photograph. Again, we know what Billy is about. He probably talks to himself, makes a mean chili, owns a pick, and rides a mule, among other things.
Each of them was given a pool of 3 six-sided dice (3d6) to roll when they are in a non-combat situation and want to do something that would fit into their archetype. Does Ripley need to resist her revulsion generated by the tentacle monster rising out of the rotting corpse of the sheriff's horse? She can roll 3d6 to see how she does. I--as the GM--will determine the number she needs to get over for a success. I will either set a number in my head that she has to beat or for more exciting randomness, roll a 20-sided die (d20) to see how it compares to the 3d6 roll. Yes, a d20 has a range of 1-20 and 3d6 has a range of 3-18 but I might use modifiers...or not. We will see how it works out in game play. In any case there is no success or failure (sort of), merely plot points and bumps in the road.
As the characters advance, they will either get bonuses to their 3d6 rolls or another six-sided die to add to the pool. Again, it will depend on the direction of the story. In this game--unlike many other RPG's--there are no distinct "levels". There will, however, be various stat increases and other buffs as the story continues. they may even get a d6 in a new archetype if the situation allows...like "Bartending Warlock" or whatever...
But...what if your archetype doesn't cover an action and you still want to do it? This is where the story gets interesting, right? For this purpose (for now) we are going to make use of "Hero Dice". If Ripley and Billy need to infiltrate that fancy-dress party being thrown by "Doc Vlad" the undead pharmacist, they have a problem. Neither of their archetypes, after all, are given to social niceties. They are out of their comfort zone and working against type. After some entertaining improve, I will roll a d20 while adding and subtracting modifiers in order to come up with the difficulty of the task at hand. Then they will roll a number of dice.
At the beginning their dice will be an 8-sided die (d8) added to a 4-sided die (d4). Why? For starters, there are lots of cool dice in the world and we should use them all! Also, it means that as they progress in experience the size of those dice can increase.
A Note on Mechanics:
First of all "Mechanic" in this sense is just a fancy way of saying dice rules...
With that out of the way, you may have noticed that the adventure we are playing at my house is one with a few different mechanics. Many newer games have one kind of mechanic, In the current versions of D&D and Pathfinder (two of the most popular games) all the various modifiers are added to or subtracted from a d20 roll. This is the same if you are hitting an orc with your mace or charming the Duke of Earl. There is strength in this system, actually. it is easy to learn and moves the story right along...most of the time. The moribund games I run are mostly in D&D 5e and I like it very much.
That said, there is something cool about the special secret randomness of having a diverse set of dice mechanics. I will make no arguments for better flow or historical veracity. "Flow" is a subjective concept in gaming and there is nothing historical about fighting the undead in a landscape inspired by Sergio Leone. What kids of dice to use is also subjective and at the family table--so far--this seems to be working.
So far (yes, so far) we are using three different kinds of dice rolls (Percentile dice, 3d6 v. 1d20, and 1d8+1d4 v. 1d20) rather than just one. Is the system we are using "fair"? Is it "balanced"? I don't know. It is very hard to tell what that even means in a "rules light" game. What I do know is that it sounds like fun.
So next time we will give this game a "go" and see how it works. In the brief test-game our two heroes went shopping for equipment. They are under the impression that they are the newest hires for the "Lazy J" ranch near the town of Gordon. But they aren't their yet. There is a days long stagecoach ride ahead of them.
That said, so far so good with the game. Both players made use of the Hero Dice and their archetypes. Sadly there were no gunfights so we don't know how that mechanic from my childhood has held up. I guess we shall see, won't we?
Link of the Week:
Check out the RISUSverse! It is ridiculous and uses dice pools of d6's exclusively (yes, a unified mechanic). The rules fit on four pages and the RP is very fun! ...oh...and it is free...
Over at Burbania Posts I mentioned that I have been super-busy and not quite getting things done here at the web page. I am trying to change that. Another place where I am not participating quite as fully these days is in my favorite pastime of tabletop (or "pen and paper") roleplaying games (RPG's). At church and in public I tend to refer to this hobby as "Dungeons and Dragons" but gamers know that is just the tip of the iceberg. Last year I had a number of games going. I had a clergy game, a game of former youth groupers (now in college) and one for my son and a friend of his who lives far away in Texas. For the last few months I have had none. I am the Game Master (GM) for all of them so prep time is essential. I hope to get back to them once I have the time. However, I still want to play.
This is the reason for yet another heading on this web page. I am working back in by turning to my family. Over the summer my middle son ran a game for us based on the old-school "B/X" D&D rules. If you don't know what that means don't worry about it. It was the kind of D&D I played when I was a child in the '80's. Now I am working on a game to run for me, my wife, our at-home son, and the other boys when they are back for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am calling it "Paranormal Cowboy" and stealing rules from a variety of locations to make it work.
What follows (in this post and in future posts) are thoughts, rules tweaks, and other things that someone other than me might find interesting...
THE BASE GAME:
So my first challenge in this exercise was to find a base system to use as a foundation for the various other rules that will flesh out the experience. For this I turned to the second RPG I ever played. Boot Hill (second edition) was an early attempt to expand the hobby out from sword and sorcery motifs and into other areas of potential interest. Perhaps obviously it is a cowboy game. Gunfighters square off on the main streets and back alleys of movie-styled western towns. When I was a kid I loved it. It was perfect for single-session (one-shot) adventures where one can skip straight to the climactic moment in the second reel when everything comes to a head and somebody fails to leave town alive. My friends and I could roll up ridiculously powerful gunslingers in moments and then just as quickly get shot down in the proverbial blaze of glory. So when I was considering what kind of game I wanted to play on game night at the house, I naturally thought of this one.
What I am taking from this game are the basic character generation and combat systems. Both use percentile dice--two 10-sided dice (d10's), one representing the "10's place" and one the "1's place"--that give us numbers from 1-100. those dice are then compared to a chart that will help determine bonuses for gunfighting. Speed, Accuracy (shoot and throw), Bravery, Strength, and starting Experience are all determined with this role. Bonuses and penalties are then applied to determine chances to hit, etc.
The attacks are also made with percentile dice and there are all kinds of modifiers to them. Is the target running or standing? Are they behind some sport of barrier or are they standing in the middle of the street like Gary Cooper in that movie? After the initial roll to see if the attack succeeds, there is another percentile roll to see where a successful hit lands. Body parts are designated and then a third roll tells us whether it was just a flesh wound or...terminal. That part was always a bit sobering. In old school games--unlike today--your character could die fairly quickly. Literally a single shot could have them measured for a coffin.
This is important, actually. In real life, I am not a big fan of guns. the potential for instant death adds a little "reality" in the game. No matter how heroic or strong you are, a bullet can kill you. It also encourages the players to think of fighting as their second or third means of solving many problems. They put time into their characters, after all, and they would like to keep them.
Finally, in another nice twist, it might look like you were hit (a successful attack roll) but if the determined location is covered--say you were shot in the leg but you are standing behind a feed trough--then you weren't shot at all. This means lots of ducking and dodging, using the landscape to the player's advantage. Players have to think a bit before acting. Of course they are probably fighting zombies and zombies don't care...
Sure, it is number-crunchy, but that is part of what makes it fun! Also fun are the very high risks your character can take. I will not provide details about the mechanics. I do provide a link below to a place where you can buy a very reasonable PDF.
OK, there are many weaknesses. It requires math. The grappling rules could be better. hand-to-hand combat rules are non-existent. There are no magic rules and no cthulian creatures (I said this was paranormal, right?) but the largest system problem is...well...
There is no way to sugarcoat this...There are actually no rules for roleplaying (RP) or exploration in this RPG...other than gambling...I guess...
One of the best parts of this kind of game is that we all get the chance to play (as in acting out) a character. This character needs to be in a convincing world. When I was playing Boot Hill in middle school I really looked forward to the chance to be someone other than myself. It s a big appeal to the game to this day. Back then, though, we were dependent on our fellow players to be good improvisers and on the game master to be comfortable keeping the story rolling by arbitrating disputes between players and giving them all the chance to influence the world and the many non-player characters (NPC's) that lived in it. That is a tall order for a bunch of twelve year-olds! So many games ended in so many tears...
Even at my advanced age I feel like a little dice rolling for exploration and social interactions helps to distinguish the characters from each other and to ease roleplaying. For this I used a different system that I will talk about in the next installment. I will also start to talk a bit about the world we are building and how our first session went. First, though, I need to show you how to get a copy of Boot Hill, right? I mean...y'all want to play it now...
The Link of the Week:
So the link of the week this week is perhaps the link of forever, namely drivethruRPG. Hunt around in there and you will find 2nd edition Boot Hill. You will also find 1st and 3rd edition. 3rd edition reputedly has RP and exploration rules. Maybe you want to do that. I will not. I am sure it is a great game, but I didn't GM it when I was 12...