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...
A few years ago my intern and I began a D&D game for our church youth group. I wanted to get back into Tabletop Roleplaying games that I had played extensively as a kid and then off and on (eventually with my own kids) over the years. Anyway, fast-forward to now, I am gaming a lot and have become interested in the spiritual dimensions of the game as well as it's ability to spark the imagination about this world and other worlds.