Friday, January 30, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Series Part 4: Playing One Character vs Playing Several

I originally planned to post this as post 3, but changed my mind because I wanted to give people something to play with, dice to roll, etc. So, here's a bit of my thoughts on the question of one character vs a party. Scroll down for the TL;DR in bold.

Also, I have comments to reply to on previous posts. I will do that shortly!

Although the phrase "solo role-playing" might imply that the player takes the role of a single character, the reality is that, in some games, this is not the recommended course - either due to the lethality of the game world to lone characters, or because characters occupy various niches and thus a lone character is ill suited to deal with the variety of common challenges they might encounter.

Both situations are typical in the more popular fantasy games as well as the more realistic, as opposed to cinematic/pulp, military games (think Band of Brothers vs. Sgt. Rock).

If you want to play a solo character, a lone wolf with no team to speak of, for genres or game systems that assume teams of PCs with specializations, then, as the player and GM, you may want to exercise your freedom to alter game play. You can do this either by reducing the level of danger/challenges encountered, focusing on the kinds of challenges that your character is best suited for, or rewrite the rules to reflect your preference.

As an example of the last, I highly recommend checking out the free supplement, Black Streams(Solo Heroes). It uses an ingenious approach to interpreting hit points. As a result, the lone character has an increased chance of success and long term survival, without the need to resort to resort to reduce the difficulty of encounters. Even if you don't play Old School Fantasy games, there is inspiration there to be had.

Without modifying the game so drastically, you can focus on the character's strengths. 

If, for example, you are playing a thief in a traditional, class/level fantasy RPG, then the focus could be on committing "jobs", rather than solo looting ancient cyclopean ruins. 

This kind of thing can work quite well. Understand that you may need to do some rules tweaking, depending on the game system. For example, in a system where character growth is dependent on combat, a lack of same will hamper character growth, in system terms, if your adventures revolve around intrigue.

If playing that same thief from that traditional, class/level fantasy RPG, you want to raid subterranean lairs, you might decide to scale encounters/challenges. For example, when you are 1st level, rather than the four to eight orcs you might ordinarily expect to meet if you were in a group, you limit the number to 1 or 2. 

I have played many enjoyable games this way - I won't call them campaigns because the characters were short lived - and it is well worth a go to see if it works for you. Without a doubt though, some will find it unsatisfying because it doesn't feel like the game they set out to play - either because they have to tweak the rules too much to give their lone hero a chance, or because they really want to play out the exploits of a team.

If that is you, then you will take on other characters - call them NPCs if you like, but of course, they aren't, as there are no non-players in your game - and either treat all of your characters as special snowflakes, or have one main character and treat the rest as secondary.

Special snowflakes are full fledged PCs in their own right, which you the player do your best to run independently of your other characters, while I mean a secondary character as one that supports the goals of your PC, although they too should have some depth, with varying degrees of focus during game play. 

In either case, you will find it helpful if these NPCs have at the least their own agendas and one or two character quirks. These you can use to provide narrative color, as well as friction for your main character, if you have one.

The extreme alternative is to treat the secondary characters as 1-dimensional props. These poor souls exist simply to fulfill their role in the group and are easily replaceable, e.g.s. torchbearer, porter, the mercenary, etc. Although, over time, you will undoubtedly find they take on personalities of their own.

Perhaps, surprisingly if you follow The Ever Expanding dungeon, this last approach is my recommendation for the beginning of your solo ventures.

TL;DR: if you are just getting started, stick to one main character. If you need sidekicks/other characters in the group in order to succeed in system terms, treat them as 1-dimensional cannon fodder who dutifully follow non-suicidal orders. 

  • Because many people find playing multiple characters difficult, either for characterization, record keeping or some other reason. 
  • It allows the player to easily use a game intended for a team of characters, without having to tweak the rules. 
    • Since D&D (in all its editions and simulacra, including Pathfinder) is the most popular RPG (I don't have the numbers, but I'm pretty sure it's true), and is a team-oriented system, this will be the situation for most people who are trying solo gaming.
  • Later, you can develop the secondary characters as much or as little as you wish.
The alternative to all of this, of course, is to reconsider your choice of system. 

There are rules sets that support a more Conan, less Lord of the Rings, more Batman and less Justice League adventures.

Games based on source material that regularly features a lone protagonist: superhero, samurai, vampire/werewolf protagonists, etc., or those centered on Lovecraftian horror for instance, more often readily lend themselves to the solo PC. In these genres, the basic assumptions lead to a system that very often requires no adjustment as a result; one investigator is just as likely to go insane investigating Mythos horrors as a group of them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Series Part 3: The Essential Toolbox

When we consider at the bare minimum what a human Game Master does, we can distill out what is essential to have mechanisms or systems for in our solo toolbox.

What, at the bear minimum, does a GM typically do?

  • They answer our questions about the game world. 
    • Do I recognize the figure in the trench coat? 
    • Which political agents are at work in this town?
  • They adjudicate the success of our actions. 
    • I climb the side of the building, do I make it?
    • I jump into the rough water and attempt to retrieve the sword from the bottom of the river. Do I succeed?
  • They determine the reactions of others to our character. 
    • I hold up my hands in a sign of peace, how do the orcs react?
    • I apologize to the mafia boss for hitting on his wife. Does he accept my apology?
  • They adjudicate conflict, ideally without bias towards a particular outcome. 
    • I offer the merchant 1000 credits for the respirator, does he accept?
    • I attack the guard with my sword. Do I hit or cause damage? 
What you should notice almost immediately is that many of these might be handled by your rules of choice.

This picture of Pumpkin has nothing to do with anything. I just felt like the wall of text needed a picture
Conflict is almost always handled explicitly in RPGs, similarly many systems have Skills or Abilities mechanisms that determine if an attempt to do something succeeds or fails. Reaction tables go back to early versions of D&D, and wargaming before that.

Regardless of how much fluff is included, what isn't so common in a rule book are mechanisms to handle questions about the game world.

Many of our questions about the world will be closed questions (yes or no), and while there are a variety of ways to generate the exact answer, most boil down to 50/50 one way or the other.

Open ended questions, such as “What’s in the room?” or “What does the guard say?” seem more complicated on the surface.

However, they are more easily tackled, if you invoke your role as the part-time GM.

You might:

  • Decide by fiat - arguably the simplest method, but it does little in the way of surprise. However, even here, there are ways to shake things up. 
  • Consult a randomizer (such as cards or dice) with assigned results to each value. Random dungeon generators and room stocking tables are common examples of this. 
    • You can prepare these lists on the fly - using your role as GM to make them more logical and feel less random - or in advance. 
  • Consult an oracle. Here I mean something that gives a non-literal result for you to interpret - be they pictures, random word lists, tarot cards, etc. 
Fiat and randomizers will in part at least, be touched on below, but oracles will merit their own post(s).

Mechanisms to answer our questions about the game world.

A mechanism to adjudicate questions about the game world can also serve to answer questions about the success of our actions, the reactions of others, and adjudicate conflict. 

Indeed, with just this one mechanism, and without a set of rules, you can play a solo role playing game. However, if you are using an RPG system, you will probably defer to those rules when the system already provides the means to answer your question.

Type 1: Natural Language to Percentage Chance

Mechanisms of this type have a form like the following:

A Sure Thing
01 - 90
91 - 100
Very Likely
01 - 75
76 - 100
Somewhat Likely
01 - 60
61 - 100
01 - 50
51 - 100
01 - 40
41 - 100
Very Unlikely
01 - 25
26 - 100
01 - 10
11 - 100

Now you might quibble about the percentages, but the concept is clear, I hope. You pose your yes/no question, decide which adjective best describes the possibility of the hoped for result, and roll using the appropriate row to interpret the results. 

More often than not, you won't know which adjective is the right one, and in that case, go with 50/50.

Mythic: Game Master Emulator, or Mythic : GME,is probably the most well-known example of this kind of Yes/No table. The Mythic results table has more adjectives, and is unusual in that it makes use of an additional attribute which shifts the likelihood of a yes or no result as things go well or badly for your character.

Mythic’s table also includes the possibility that either result might be an extreme example. That is to say, if you roll sufficiently poorly, your result becomes a “No, and” and conversely, rolling well can give you a "Yes, and". I highly recommend purchasing Mythic GME as it is a complete method of solo gaming that offers a number of ideas that I will not be covering.

Wargamers who own Too Fat Lardies Platoon, Forward! will find a similar system to Mythic, without the notion of “Yes, and” or “No, and.” Rather than the granular approach Mythic takes with the d100, Too Fat Lardies use a d10 for percentages.

A free product which I rather like, is a system known as IN-RADIC. It can be found here. The author makes use of 2d6 instead of percentile dice but the approach is the same. In addition, he provides an oracle and a set of pulp wargaming rules that can be used as a rules lite RPG as well.

Type 2: 50/50 Systems

These systems avoid the use of varying chances of yes/no and focus only on the 50/50 outcome. As this is probably the most common choice with the Natural Language to Percentage systems, you can be assured they work quite well.

The most obvious method of deciding a 50/50 question is to flip a coin. Perhaps more common among gamers is to roll 1d6, 1-3 = yes, and 4-6 = no, or perhaps, odds = yes, evens = no.

Either of these methods works perfectly well, but with little effort it’s possible to add interest to your game’s narrative.

Taking a hint from the various bits of advice given to GM’s to say “yes, and” or “yes, but”, we can use the dice to bring in additional details about the game world, our actions or the actions of NPCs.

Here are three such mechanisms, all based on the ubiquitous d6:

The first method essentially replicates the Mythic-type approach to using yes, no and extremes of both.

1 = “No, and “
2-3 = “No.”
4-5 = “Yes.”
6 = “Yes, and ”

Next, we can add the possibility of getting a Yes or No, but not quite exactly what we bargained for:

1 = “No, and “ (Not only no, but extraordinarily so)
2 = “No.”
3 = “No, but <something yes-like>”
4 = “Yes, but <something no-like>”
5 = “Yes.”
6 = “Yes, and “ (Not only yes, but extraordinarily so)

The problem with a straight "yes" or "no" is not unlike the problem with receiving that answer to a question in other day-to-day activities; sometimes it's acceptable, but it's harder to go someplace interesting from that.

So, finally, and my preferred, refinement: 

1 = “No, and “ (Not only no, but extraordinarily so)
2 -3 = “No, but <something yes-like>"
4-5 = “Yes, but <something no-like>”
6 = “Yes, and “ (Not only yes, but extraordinarily so)

An example might make all of this easier to follow.

The Scene:
Inside the tavern, Arnax’s eyes take a minute to adjust to the darkness that envelopes the interior despite the bright sun outside. He saddles up to the bar and the bartender says, “what’ll you have?”

Does he know where I can find the Old Man Who Gives Out Quests?

I roll 1d6. I get a 1, the result of “No and” on all three tables. I come up (i.e. made up, decided by GM fiat) with the following:

No, and he says, “If you value your life, you won’t ask again.”

Notice that the “extraordinarily so” doesn't have to be extreme, but if you want it to be, go for it:

“No, and he pulls a gun and shoots”

Or if surreal and dream-like is your preference:

“No, and he removes his head and punts it to the waitress who takes off running.”

What if I had rolled a 2?

The first and second approach would yield a simple “No”, which results in “No, he doesn't.” Helpful in some respects, but not for driving your game to interesting places.
The third approach could yield something like:
  • No, but he says, “There’s a kid who comes in here everyday and claims to know him.” 
  • Or No, but he says “For 50 gold crowns I might.” 
  • Or No, but he says “if you drink enough, they say he comes to you in your dreams.” 
You can see the benefit of the last approach in that, despite the question being a close-ended question, the results drive the game in new directions.

If you prefer, declare exactly what each result will be prior to the rolling of the die, writing it down to keep yourself honest.
So, for example:

1 = No, and he says, “If you value your life, you won’t ask again.”
2-3 = “No, but there’s a kid who comes in here everyday and claims to know him.”
4-5 “Yes, but it’ll cost you.”
6 - “Yes and he nods to a lone figure bent over a table nursing his drink. ‘That’s him.’”

This approach leads into the next type. 

Type 3: Dicing Between Options aka Featherstone’s Matrix

This method is similar to the last example, although there are two variations that I want to demonstrate.

The first I call “The Featherstone” and it gets its name to from an idea Donald Featherstone presents for playing skirmish wargames solo. As it turns out, it works equally well with role-playing.

The second variation is what I am labeling the Matrix method, based not on the movie of that name but on Engle’s Matrix games. It simply takes the argument resolution method from the Matrix games and uses it for deciding which of several options is, in fact, the case.

The Featherstone:

The Featherstone involves deciding upon the likely outcomes and assigning percentages to each of them, so that totaled, the result is 100%.

A simple yes/no result can be treated as 01-50 and 51-100 ,but you could include the “buts” and “ands” as well.

Does the bartender know where I can find the Old Man Who Gives Out Quests?

01 - 10 = No, and he says, “If you value your life, you won’t ask again.”
11 - 50 = “No, but there’s a kid who comes in here everyday and claims to know him.”
51-89 = “Yes, but it’ll cost you.”
90 - 100 - “Yes and he nods to a lone figure bent over a table nursing his drink. ‘That’s him.’”

But you could take it further:

01-10 No and he threatens you
11-20 No but he tells you a kid comes in everyday who clamis to
21-30 No but for 50 gold crowns he might
31-50 No but the old man comes by from time to time
51-60 Yes but he’s dead.
61-70 Yes, but you’ll need a letter of introduction if you want to meet him
71-80 Yes, but it’ll cost you 50 gold crowns.
81-90 Yes, but he isn’t talking until you order a drink, this isn’t a church.
91-100 “Yes and he nods to a lone figure bent over a table nursing his drink. ‘That’s him.’"

That’s a little extreme, but I wanted to demonstrate the possibility that this method opens up. In actual play, 3 or 4 options are plenty, especially for a yes/no question.


The Matrix method is something of a cross between the Mythic method and the Featherstone. Declare your possible outcomes, decide how likely each one is (called the strength of the argument in Matrix terms) and roll. The exact method and table necessary is illustrated here.

You could use the full Matrix method but it is a bit more time consuming to setup, as it is intended for multiple players.


Obviously, use whichever method most appeals to you, but if you are just starting out, I recommend using:

1= “No, and “ (Not only no, but extraordinarily so)
2 -3 = “No, but <something yes-like>”
4-5 = “Yes, but <something no like>”
6 = “Yes, and “ (Not only yes, but extraordinarily so)

At first, don’t worry about writing things down before you roll - once you find that you like solo gaming, you might not mind the few seconds that takes, but in the beginning, we want the game to move at a good pace to keep your enthusiasm high.

Why this method?

It uses the d6 which in all likelihood, everyone who owns a boardgame owns. It only provides four outputs, which are quickly and easily generated, and all of the results move the story and the game world forward.

So, roll the dice, go with your gut in terms of the result. Later, you can write things down before you roll, or tweak the results by combining them with oracles or random generators.

With our method for resolving questions about the game world, and incidentally, the other questions as well, if our rules of choice do not, we’re ready to play.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Some Thoughts on the First Trelleborg Session of 2015

As mentioned previously, I recently ran the first session of 2015 of my ongoing social game campaign, The Trelleborg Campaign. I posted a brief recap of the session over on the campaign blog today.

It was enjoyable, but there are, as always, areas of improvement.

Primarily, i think i could have done  a better job of making the fight seem more epic and the evil more malevolent.

During the game, I did for a second, start to regret the use of the d30 rule a bit when one player used it to deal a massive pile of damage to the salamander. On the one hand, that is the point - a moment of tremendous luck/grace of the gods. At the same time, it's one of many times when the d30 has taken the sting out of an otherwise challenging encounter and I think it actually lessens the threat of danger the players feel.

It was the 2nd time we've played at one of the players' houses, and it seems so far that, compared with the games played at the FLGS, socializing takes a greater priority. I don't dislike it - i rather like getting to know the people in the group outside of what character they play in the game and what their play style is - but at the same time, I am there primarily to play (and have spent hours prepping to do so) and would rather minimize socializing during the game, and do it before and after, and during intermissions. 

Not sure how, or if, I will address this, as two data points is hardly enough to base action on. Ideally, I would create a similar situation as described in How to Run, where players have ample time to unwind and hang out before the game begins.  

Alas, we don't have that flexibility at the moment.

As for next session, i took a quick poll about what they planned next, and the consensus seems to be that they will go and attempt to finish off the white apes (and pick up Snow Ball along the way) who are a thorn in the side of the Nezumi (rat people) on level 3 west. That part of the complex is already mapped and pretty much ready to go, so i will focus on improving my descriptions of atmosphere and tone before then.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Series Part 2: Some Misconceptions We Need to Clear Up

I hesitated to post this next bit mostly because people are probably waiting for something actionable. I'll get there, I promise. Remember, I wrote this as something designed to be a stand-alone publication, separate from my blog. My thought was that, it's possible the reader would be starting from scratch and so I wanted to set down some things that would guide the process. As before, any and all feedback is welcome - at some point I will probably collate the posts into a pdf, and i'd like the final result to be as helpful as possible.

My underlying assumption for all that follows is this: solitaire gaming does not correspond 1:1 to social gaming. I, and many others, have tried to push against that barrier, and I have yet to see anyone convincingly succeed in duplicating the group play experience in a solitaire tabletop environment. Indeed, I, and, again, others, have come to the conclusion that such a goal is misguided.

While playing solo is similar to group play in many respects, and with some game systems, it might be difficult to tell the difference, the differences are there. Certainly, for those who mistake drinking soft drinks and munching on pretzels with friends as an essential part of role-playing, it is nothing at all like social gaming. Regardless, solo RPGing is best thought of as a wildly different animal.

Primarily, your experience will not be entirely that of a player, but rather, you will be a Player with some Game Master duties. For gamers familiar with certain “indie” RPGs, this is nothing unusual, but for those familiar with only traditional RPGs, this might appear to run up against a long established, sacred, and inviolable duality. 

Yet, and I hope this isn't a surprise, there is no law requiring the division of the responsibilities of player and GM, into two different people, despite what your rule books might tell you. This is not to say that we have carte blanche when we act as our own Game Master; solo games are not an exercise in creative writing with dedication to a particular story.

If you want to tell a particular story, you are better off trying your hand at writing a short story or even a novel.

While you may write if you play an RPG solo, at least if you keep a journal of your adventures (and I recommend that you do - more on that later), you are, first and foremost, playing a game. Through the use of randomizers and oracles, liberally mixed with your psychology, the twists and turns will surprise you, often pleasantly, sometimes frustratingly, and take you anywhere but where you thought you would go when you first sat down. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what we want. 

Surprise is key to the long term enjoyment of your solo venture; it is what will bring you back to the table again and again. As a word of warning for those who are invariably going to try to develop a complex AI using dice or cards or something else to GM your tabletop experience: that way lies folly. It is an enjoyable exercise, to be sure, but if you insist that a system take the role of GM 100%, then you are better off with purpose designed solitaire adventures or video games, which possess sophisticated AIs beyond duplication with practical mechanical systems.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Series Part 1: Introduction

For NaGaDeMon 2014, I set about, for the second time, trying to write about how to play an RPG solo. 

Rather than making it into a PDF eventually, I have decided to release it here now,  both to help anyone interested in the topic, but also, as a way to refine it based on whatever feedback it might generate. 

Playing RPGs (and wargames) solo has brought me hours of enjoyment and I hope that for those who are curious about how to go about it, that I can be of some help towards setting them on the path. For those who already play this way, I look forward to your feedback.

And, now, without further ado:


The most common question I get about my solo role-playing activities is “how do you play an RPG by yourself?” This is not only a question driven by assumptions about what it means to play a role-playing game, but, more often than not, people want details, instructions, a guide to follow, so they can do it themselves. There are many tools available to the new solo RPG enthusiast, but surprisingly little is available that illustrates exactly how to put those tools to use.

The most well known solitaire role-playing activity is probably the paragraph-based “Choose your own Adventure”-type. Tunnels and Trolls has dozens of modules designed in this format, and even Dungeons & Dragons has solo modules in its past. These, enjoyable as they are, are limited to the options presented by the author. The adventure is highly structured; in gaming terms, it’s a rail-road.

A similar type of game, with more randomness to it, but still a railroad, is a method I call the H.E.X. method. H.E.X. is a one page RPG, freely available at the time of this writing. The adventure consists of encounters that can occur in any order, determined by the roll of the die. The number of encounters exceeds the count of the die’s sides, so that a mechanic to add to the rolls, usually based on successful encounters, is key to the game. In essence, you can’t leave until you collect the keys.

Both of those types of solo-games are enjoyable, but the player is reliant on someone else to do the legwork of creating an adventure, if there is to be any amount of surprise. For someone interested in something more like they experience in a group setting, free form gaming is the answer.

Free form gaming comes in two flavors: structured and unstructured. 

In the structured game, the events follow a pattern - there is a structure upon which the events hang, but nothing dictates the content of what occurs; it is what some might call, a play ground model. Unlike the railroad, the player has agency within the boundaries of the structure to go and do what they want. Examples of this include using ideas like the 3-Act structure, the heroe's journey, or more specific to role-playing, the 5-Room Dungeon model and John Fiore’s 9Q’s.

The benefit is that, for those who play to tell stories, these games have a satisfying development of the narrative that is not necessarily found in the unstructured game. The unstructured game is as its name implies. This type of gaming is well suited towards games of exploration and discovery, bet it in the dungeons of a pseudo-Western European fantasy world, the icy surface of a distant planet, or the jungles of South America. It is, in gaming terms, sandbox-style play.

I will focus on the latter two options in this document. They require more from the player, but they are more rewarding in the long haul. I will present several tools for your use, but more valuable, I hope, are the walk-throughs of actual plays. The goal is to make it clear how one goes about playing an RPG solo (at least, how I do it), so that those who have been unsure of how to start, can begin their adventures.

Can You Really Play RPGs Solo?

For those new to the idea of solo role-playing, I know it sounds a bit odd. We tend to think of role-playing as something done necessarily with others, as if it’s some essential part of the idea. But, as it turns out, there’s nothing essential about the presence of others to role-playing. 

At it’s core, role-playing is “make believe” and plenty of children demonstrate daily that pretending to be a firefighter, a teacher, a doctor or an antrhopomorphic train can be solitary activities. The difference between what children do, and and a role-playing game is the rules, however many or few there are. 

Finally, for those who believe an RPG must have at least a GM and a player, many indie games have repeatedly illustrated that games can be GM-less, with the role of the GM distributed to the other players.

A Note about Rules Choice

When playing an RPG solo, you have a great deal of latitude when it comes to choice of rules. You are limited only by what you have access to and what appeals most to you, without need to consider what anyone else wants to play. There are very few, if any, role-playing games that cannot be given the solo treatment - even the most rules heavy. At the other end of the spectrum, if you have no rules of choice, it is possible to play a solo role-playing game with no rules at all, other than some of the various systems available here and elsewhere.

If your RPG of choice focuses on gridded surfaces and miniatures in combat, that portion of the game might be better approached as a solo skirmish wargame, with respect to tactical control of your enemy. A great deal has been written regarding solo wargaming, the best known of which is Donald Featherstone's Solo Wargaming, but I also highly recommend a membership in the Solo Wargamers Association, which includes a subscription to Lone Warrior, a quarterly journal dedicated to solo gaming.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trelleborg's Dungeon:1st Game of the New Year Tonight

Now that the holidays have passed and my players are (mostly) available again, we've scheduled the first session of the year for tonight. I will continue running b/x - despite my liking some of what I saw in the 5e starter set, I have no reason to change systems.

The campaign began as an open table and ran that way until September or October. It took one session with a random player who, perhaps unintentionally, nearly sabotaged the party's plans to form an alliance with the rat people of the third level, to turn it into a closed group by December. The group is solidly 5 players, plus invited guests. Currently the party with hirelings and charmed creatures is some 8 or 10 strong, depending on whether you count the charmed white ape, waiting for the party to return, and the tanner who acts as the party's fence and handles sign ups for the adventurers guild they are forming. 

The campaign has had its ups and downs in terms of my feelings about the sessions. Much of it, I think has been that I have been on my heels often trying to keep up with their plans and machinations - but as I am finally getting ahead of the party again on that front (in terms of the dungeon at least), I'm hopeful that i'll be able to find a grove that works for me. On the plus side, I am happy with how much freedom the players have, and that they take advantage of it- in addition to the adventurers guild, they now have some merchants working with them, and they have sent forth for engineers to submit their bids to rehab the tower above the dungeon, with an eye towards making it their home base. Even tonight they will probably spend their time trying to stop some cultists from opening up a portal to the Abyss and bringing forth Abaddon's diabolical army, rather than exploring further into the dungeon. 

The cultists, and their raiding bandits, were to be a minor encounter to alert the party to the presence of an entire section of the dungeon that they were unaware of. However, the first few times, they showed no interest and that was that but of course, the raids continued, prisoners continued to be taken. A chance wandering encounter roll brought the cultists to the fore again, and this time, with evidence of prisoners recently captured and brought below, they did a little investigating and became incensed by what they found (some of my more gory/twisted descriptions, more at home in a Lamentations of the Flame Princess game).

The party has their work cut out for them: it wouldn't be so bad if the high priest of the cult hadn't turned into a salamander (in b/x a fire elemental lizard thing) that retained his previous form's powers, although he's gone a bit mad as a result of the transformation. 

When we left off in December, the party was in a bit of a panic about how to deal with this unexpected threat. I'll give them some time tonight to make sure they dot their i's and cross their t's to their satisfaction. I don't know how they will try to defeat the cult, but I am sure it's some way I haven't thought of, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hot Chow! Rapid Play WWII

Posting has been a little light lately, to say the least. That doesn't mean I haven't been gaming though - I've played Hold the Line twice, and I've played a few scenarios from One Hour Wargames several times. 

Scenario 5: Bridgehead - Stand off at the hill. Missing crew on PAK 40 due to laziness.
As I mentioned before, I'm using my own rules for One Hour Wargames, but using many of Mr. Thomas's ideas as their foundation.

Below are the current draft of my WWII rules, "Hot Chow!" (I watched half a dozen or so WWII movies in the last month, and I swear, that line was in every one.). They are very much in the "playing with toy soldiers" tradition, and owe a debt to almost every rule set I've ever read. 

Hot Chow!

Rapid Play World War II

Table size: These rules are designed to work well on small tables, such as a 3’ x 3’ table, as used in Neil Thomas’s One Hour Wargames. The largest force fielded in those rules, and in these rules, is 6 units, or a reinforced company, although on a larger table, battalions should be feasible.

Figure scale: Unit frontage matters, not figure size or ratio of figures to real soldiers. 1 unit of infantry = 1 platoon and that is the basic unit for movement and combat.
Basing:  An infantry unit (platoon) should have a 4”-6” frontage. Depth is about half of width, but whatever looks right is acceptable. Vehicles and heavy weapons do not require basing.

  • For the record, I use 5 or 6  figures to the platoon (I use 1/32 figures). Weapon crews are 2 figures. 6 figures really makes more sense at 2 per section, but I don't have enough figures to do that for all platoons.
  • I've tried using bases 6" x 3" as well as figures without a base. I think the best compromise might be platoons of three 2" x 3" bases with each hit removing a single section.
Ground scale: If you must know, it’s 1” = 25m. This gives a platoon a frontage of 100m  - 150m which is about right for WWII platoons in the attack.

Tools: two six-sided dice, a ruler or measuring tape, pencil and paper or hit markers if necessary, toy soldi

Basic Unit Data
Combat Points
Attack Range
Infantry Rifle Platoon
12”, 6” for vs armored vehicles
Infantry SMG Platoon(2)
9”, 12” on road

  • 1 infantry unit represents 1 platoon
  • 1 tank model represents about 3 vehicles
  • 1 ATG and crew represents about 3 guns and crew
  • 1 mortar and crew represents about 3 mortars and crew
  • 1 HMG and crew represents about 3 HMGs and crew

Movement is how far a unit can move per turn. Regardless of the number of elements that make up the unit, all move together.

Combat Points are how many hits a unit can take before removal from table. It represents both actual losses and morale. This can be tracked with markers, stand removal, figure removal, etc. It also represents the number of dice a unit rolls in combat - as the Combat Points are reduced, so too are the dice thrown.
  • Tanks and other vehicles don’t have Combat Points but instead utilize a method I’ve stolen borrowed from Featherstone.
  • EDIT: When originally posted, I forgot to include how many dice tanks roll to attack. I usually have them roll 3 dice against other tanks, and 2 dice vs everything else, although I have had them roll only 1 die on occasion. I justified the later as a trade off for getting to survive longer than any other unit, on average.

Attack range is the maximum distance at which a unit may attack an enemy. (1)

Turn Structure:
  1. Initiative
  2. Morale Phase (side A) if necessary
  3. Action Phase (side A)
  4. Saving Throws (side B) if necessary
  5. Morale Phase (side B) if necessary
  6. Action Phase (side B)
  7. Saving Throws (side A) if necessary

Each side rolls 1d6. High score wins initiative, winner is side A, loser is side B. Re-roll ties.

Action Phase:
Sides may activate their units in any order. Units may either move or fire, but not both in the same turn. Units are not required to take any action, however see Sitting Duck rule under combat.

  • Units may move in any direction as long as the terrain is passable, up to their maximum movement rate.
  • When attempting to enter difficult terrain, roll a d6, on a 1 or 2, the unit stops at the terrain’s edge and can re-try next turn if desired. On a 4-6, the unit continues moving into the terrain\ at their normal movement rate. (4).

  • Unit must have LOS to target, or in case of mortar, target must be in LOS of friendly unit.
  • Units have 360 degrees of facing.
  • Woods, forests, bocage, unharvested fields, buildings, hills, mountains, etc. block LOS to units on the opposite side of those features, but  not units occupying those features.
    • That is, units inside woods, fields, etc. are in LOS.
    • And yes, units in buildings are in LOS.
  • Attacker rolls 1d6  per Combat Point remaining. Hits are scored per the following table(5):

vs. Infantry
vs. Heavy Wpn.
vs. ATG
vs. Tanks
*Subtract 1 from Tank Saving Throw result  **Subtract 2 from Tank Saving Throw result
  • If target in cover, -1 on attack roll
  • Sitting Duck Rule: If attacking same target as previous turn and target has not moved, +1 to attack rolls.
  • For each hit, the target unit loses 1 Combat Point.
  • Base to base contact negates cover bonus.

Saving Throws
Only tanks have saving throws
Roll 2d6:
  • 9 - fall back 1 move
  • 10 - fall back 2 moves
  • 11/12 - destroyed:

Optional (and untested):
Assign each infantry unit a quality of: Green, Average, Veteran, or Elite
Elite units roll 1d6 per hit, on a 4-6 (3-6 in cover) the hit is negated
Veteran units roll 1d6 per hit, on a 5-6 (4-6 in cover) the hit is negated
Green Units roll 1d6 per hit, on a 1-4,, the attacker can re-roll the hit die, and if it hits again, the target unit loses an additional Combat Point

Morale Check: (Optional)
If a side is reduced to 1/2 of their starting units or less, on their next Morale Phase, roll 1d6. If result is greater than units remaining, roll 1d6 per unit.  Other than a result of “No Effect”, the result counts as the unit’s action for their next activation.

Optional: If using unit quality, adjust as follows: green -1, veteran + 1, elite + 2

<=1 - roll a saving throw, for infantry remove if failed. for armor, treat 10+ as fall back 2 moves. If passed fall back 1 move.
2 - fall back 1 move
3 - no action next turn  
4 - No effect
5 - No effect
>=6 - fire at nearest enemy, if none, then advance to close

No further morale checks are needed until the force loses an additional unit, at which point, they will check morale on their next Morale Phase (6).

Another play of Scenario 5 - That Sherman has no luck. Figures are placed on cardboard sabots.

(1)Please note that it is shortened to make play feasible on smaller tables. 12” represents some 300m, when in fact, an M1 Garand, for instance, had an effective range of 457m according to some website or other. I’m willing to sacrifice simulation for game play. Similarly, a panzerfaust 100 should have a range of 4”, a bazooka around 6” and panzerschreck around 12”. Tough luck.
(2)In One Hour Wargames, Neil Thomas limits forces to infantry, mortars, ATG and tanks. However, my Soviets wanted their SMG companies to get some kind of recognition. Who am i to resist the Red Army?
(3)As mentioned above, HMGs are not included in the OHW force lists. I allow an HMG to replace a mortar. 
(4)This is taken from the Wally Simon 70% rule.
(5)This table is based on Morschauser mixed with Neil Thomas's WWII rules
(6)This approach to morale owes a debt to G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. but also, if I recall, Tony Bath's campaign rules had something similar.