Showing posts with label Gaming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gaming. Show all posts

Monday, July 03, 2023

Geekerati Video: Chatting with Alan Bahr About Swords of Meropis and Tabletop Role Playing Games

 Alan Bahr is publisher and lead designer for Gallant Knight Games and his company recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for a storytelling game called Swords of Meropis. Alan was inspired by Sword & Sandals films like Jason and the Argonauts and wanted to make a game that captured the feel of those classic fantasy tales.

In this interview, I chat with Bahr about the inspiration behind Swords of Meropis and the basic mechanics underlying this storytelling focused role playing game. Bahr is no stranger when it comes to designing games focusing more on interaction than on tactical combat, but this is one of his first designs that fully utilizes what I call a “player focused” storytelling approach.

It’s an approach that really came into design focus with Better Games’ series of Free Style Role Play games in the 1990s. While there were some earlier games that incorporated storytelling elements, like Greg Stafford’s inspired Prince Valiant Story-Telling Game (originally published in 1989), the Free Style Role Play system games like Conrad’s Fantasy, Where Fools Dare to Tread, and Good Guys Finish Last by Better Games really pushed the boundaries of player agency and narrative focus in a way that would be immediately recognizable to a player of Apocalypse World and other modern storytelling focused games. Better Games were a major contributor in the Southern California gaming scene in the 1990s and their ideas were ahead of their time.

Just take a look at this character sheet for their horror game Where Fools Dare to Tread.


Since this is a starting character, there are no numbers on the sheet except for the task resolution chart. As the character gained experience, the only numbers you would see would be bonuses, such as a +1, to the skills. I’ll be doing a deeper dive into the mechanics of Better Games’ Where Fools Dare to Tread in my extended analysis of Candela Obscura by the Critical Role team, but you can easily see how cutting edge this game was mechanically.

Alan and I don’t discuss Better Games in detail, but it is a game in the same vein as Alan’s design for Swords of Meropis. The focus is on player agency and storytelling, but with mechanics that allow for solo gaming as well as troupe based play.

Check out the conversation. We talk about a lot more than his upcoming game and our discussion ventures into how while we often hear and see role playing game play presented as art, we don’t often enough think about game design as art. Just as live streaming performances and home games are moments of theatrical art, so too is good game design an example of artifice.

Take the time to watch and/or listen and please make sure to share if you enjoyed the discussion.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Miniature Games I Wish I'd Developed Further: Disney's Frostlanders

Starting with Field of Glory in 2008, and continuing with the excellent Bolt Action in 2012 Osprey Publishing has published a number of high quality rules for use with miniatures in a wide variety of genre. This multi-genre approach to miniature wargaming is best highlighted in the series of blue spined paperback digest books (Little Blue Books? LBB) they began publishing in 2012. This series started with the Dux Bellorum “Historical” Arthurian rules and has included a number of excellent games like In Her Majesty's Name, A Fistful of Kung Fu, or Black Ops: Tactical Espionage Wargaming.

Building on the success of the LBBs, they released the first edition of the Frostgrave fantasy miniature skirmish game in 2015. A couple of years later, they streamlined and clarified the rules with a second edition.

Like many of Osprey's offerings, Frostgrave has an easy to learn system that is highly flexible and moves quickly. The focus of the rules are on casual fun and not on tournament play. In some ways, this is a similar approach to the one that Games Workshop has with their smaller minigame offshoots of Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Age of Sigmar such as Space Marine Adventures or Blitz Bowl, only cheaper and more ecumenical with regards to which miniatures can be used.

Unlike Games Workshop’s current Brandon Sandersonesque epic fantasy game Age of Sigmar, Frostgrave is firmly entrenched in longstanding and traditional fantasy tropes. Frostgrave shares many thematic elements with Games Workshop's classic Mordheim game, but is much easier to learn is more focused on story than Mordheim was when it was first released. Though it has some advancement rules, again similar to Mordheim, in Frostgrave those advancements are limited to a few characters in your warband which minimizes bookkeeping from session to session. Frostgrave is so easy to learn that it inspired me to begin creating a derivative game that I can use to play with my 7 year old twin daughters History and Mystery. Inspired by James August Walls’s many Google+ posts about gaming with his family, I began designing a mashup of Disney Infinity and Skylanders to play with my twin daughters.

The game never quite got finished and I thought I would take it back up again. We still have a ton of Disney Infinity and Skylanders figures around the house and since both of those games are unsupported by their designers, I’d love to put those wonderful figures to good use. I even designed a couple of potential logos for use in my home game back in the day.

As easy as the rules for Frostgrave are to learn, they do have a couple of "fiddley-bits" that might have made things a little complex for playing with my daughters. For example, in the Frostgrave rules as written it is possible to hit an opponent and not injure them and most rolls in the game are contested rolls. By and large, I am not a fan of contested rolls. I understand their utility in competitive games, but I plan on running this game more like an RPG than a competitive wargame. So I want to move away from having contested rules as much as possible and use a Monte Cook and Numenera inspired mechanic where the players to all the rolling. Additionally, Osprey has not published a fan license that states what we as fans are and are not allowed to do with their rules, so I've decided to use a rules set inspired by the actual Frostgrave rules.

So here are the beginnings of the simple rules I came up with and which I want to get feedback on to expand. I’m happy to change themes later so that these can become the basis for something more, but I’d love to have all of you pitch in on the development with your thoughts.

1) All die rolls are made with a d12.

2) Turns follow the following pattern.
            a) Roll for Initiative.
            b) Hero Phase
            c) Ally Phase
            d) Villain Phase

3) Player Characters are rated in the following areas:

MOVEMENT -- Min (4)/Max(10)

MELEE -- Min(-2)/Max(+4)

RANGED -- Min(-2)/Max(+4)

RESISTANCE -- Min(0)/Max(5)


 HEALTH -- Min(8)/Max(20)

4) Villains are rated in the same statistics, but their numbers are 5 higher for all values 
     other than Health and serve as difficulty numbers the players must roll better than.
5) On a player's turn, the player may move and take 1 action. That action may be an
    attack, a power activation, or another movement action.
6) When a player attacks a Villain, the player rolls 1d12 and adds their relevant statistic
   (melee in hand to hand and ranged for ranged attacks). They then add their statistic to that value. If that value is greater than the Villain's equivalent statistic, the Villain has been hit.
7) On a successful hit, subtract a Villain's Resistance from the total and what remains is the amount of Health lost.
8) If a character is "prone" then it takes half of their movement to get up.
9) To activate a power, the player rolls 1d12 and compares it to the activation score of
     the power. If it is higher than the score, the power is activated.
10) When a Villain attacks a Hero or Ally, the Player rolls a Melee or Ranged test. If the roll is higher than the Villain's value in that area the attack misses.
11) Villain powers activate in the same manner as Player powers. This is one of the few
      rolls the Game Master will make.

I've only done stats for a couple of characters, but I have a feeling that this will be fun. What are your thoughts?

All icons used in this post were made by Lorc. Available on

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Tabletop Thursday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortles

With the pending release of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, I thought I’d visit the frenetic foursome’s nearest parallel in old school D&D and present a Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class for Moldvay/Cook and BECMI D&D.

Role-playing games have a long history of anthropomorphic character options. I’m not sure what the first humanoid animal player character option was, but I’m going to venture a guess that it was the Ducks who have featured in Runequest since the first edition in 1978. Tunnels & Trolls (1975) and Monsters! Monsters! (1976) come close, as both provide options for “monster” characters, but none of the options included are as explicitly anthropomorphic animals as Runequest’s Ducks.

According to Chaosium President Rick Mients (2020), Ducks have been a part of Runequest since the initial playtests and served as a proxy for Hobbits. Though Ducks are described in the 1st Edition of Runequest (see above from page 78), Mients believes that the earliest drawing of the Duck species was the cover illustration of Wyrm’s Footnotes #8 (1980) by Jennell Jaquays. She certainly played a part in popularizing the species as she also co-wrote and illustrated the Runequest adventure The Legendary Duck Tower for Judge’s Guild. The adventure was a play on her popular D&D Adventure The Dark Tower, which was recently reincarnated in a Deluxe Edition Kickstarter by Goodman Games.

Legendary Duck Tower and Other Tales | RPG Item | RPGGeek

It didn’t take too long for D&D to get in on the anthropomorphic animal bandwagon, you have the Aranea by X1, the Lupin in X2, and possibly some earlier than that. Tortle non-player characters were added to the mix in 1987 in Dungeon Magazine issues #6 and #7 in the two part adventure “Tortles of the Purple Sage.” Tortles inspired by our favorite chelonian champions were introduced in Dragon Magazine #179 as “Tortle Mystics.” The BECMI D&D mystic class was analogous to the AD&D and and D&D 3.0 and later Monk class, so it didn’t take a person with deep lore of comics and rpgs to know who was being referred to in the article.

While mechanical options for some anthropomorphic PCs were added by the mid-to-late 1980s to both the AD&D lines (the Hengeyokai) and D&D (Pooka) product lines, there were no rules for Tortle player characters. In the 1990s, TSR published rules for playing Lupin and Rakasta as BECMI characters in Dragon Magazine #181, but those rules violated the “ancestry as class” rules norm of Moldvay/Cook and BECMI and it wasn’t until the Rage of the Rakasta module that a Basic D&D specific class for the Rakasta. Sadly, that class was limited to the first 5 levels of play, but the class can be easily expanded to full BECMI by any DM (something I’ll likely do for my next post).

With the publication of the AD&D 2nd edition Red Steel boxed set, players of D&D finally had official rules for Tortle PC characters. Those rules are fun, and for a great setting, but are not for the era and style of game play I’m hoping to present here. I want to give players of BECMI and B/X games the opportunity to play everyone’s favoring pizza purloining chelonian champions. I’ll probably include other Tortle options later, but for now I think I’ll just focus on adapting the Tortles from Dragon #179.

The first step in adapting the Tortle into a full B/X class is to examine the benefits of the ancestry and to plot them out in a way similar to how the Lupins and Rakasta were presented on page 48 of Dragon Magazine # 181. The benefits of the ancestry will be drawn from The article provided the specific benefits of the ancestries and then the experience point penalty for playing as that ancestry.

Let’s take a look at the description from module X9 The Savage Coast to see if that will help us get a start.

Not really. The only benefit we are seeing here is that they can hold their breath for 10 turns and have a base AC of 3 (likely due to their armored shell since this is the equivalent of plate mail). We have no information on stat bonuses or significant special abilities. We want the characters to feel special, so let’s dig a little further and check out AC9 the Creature Catalog on page 47.

We get a little more information here as it includes information that Tortles are slightly below average Intelligence, that they don’t wear clothes or armor, and that they can withdraw into their shells for protection. How much protection? Who knows. It also looks like the average adult Tortle has 4HD and saves like a fighter. This suggests that the most common Tortles people will encounter are warrior Tortles and that these tend to be fairly experienced. Typical of early D&D products, we find that you can make armor from “fresh tortle-egg shells.”

We’ll set that bit of dehumanizing information aside and we are still left with a little less information than I’d like, so it’s time to look at Red Steel which presents Tortles as a playable ancestry.

This time we are given a little more information. I think enough to begin building a full Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class. Remember that in B/X and BECMI most classes don’t add or subract from core attributes like STR and DEX, instead they have a range. My sense from reading these is that we’ll require a minimum CON and WIS to receive XP bonuses and that those will be the Prime Requisites for a normal Tortle (to come in the next newsletter). Our Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class will have DEX and CON minimums and have those as the Prime Requisites. Additionally, we’ll give a +4 bonus to AC and give good saves to account for the ability to pull into the shell at will, but we won’t give hiding in the shell as an ability because we want this to be an active class and not one where players are encouraged to withdraw. You can keep that if you want.

This brings us to the second step, which is to take those benefits and recommendations and transform them using the Rakasta class from Rage of the Rakasta as a guideline. The Rakasta advance in combat ability like a fighter, have fighter hit points, and have the Magic User Saving Throw Array with faster improvement. Having done that, I’ve incorporated the bonuses above into a transformed version of the Mystic class from the BECMI Rules Cyclopedia and I give to you…the Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Maybe I’ll update it and make more edits for a final version. I will certainly be presenting the frenetic four and an adventure featuring them in the not too distant future.

Every appearance of the Tortle Ancestry.

Classic D&D (B/X and BECMI)

X9 - The Savage Coast (1985)
AC9 Creature Catalog (1986)
DMR2 Creature Catalog (1993)
Tortles of the Purple Sage Part 1 Dungeon Magazine #6
Tortles of the Purple Sage Part 2 Dungeon Magazine #7
Voyage of the Princess Ark Dragon Magazine #179

For AD&D 2nd Edition

Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix
Red Steel Boxed Set
Red Steel : Savage Baronies Boxed Set
Savage Coast Monstrous Compendium PDF
Savage Coast: Adventures on the Savage Coast
Tortles of Mystara: Dragon Magazine (Never published article by Bruce Heard)

For D&D 3rd Edition

Red Steel, Dragon #315

For D&D 5th Edition

Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016)
Tortle Package (2017)
Descent into Avernus (2019)
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemont (2020)
Monsters of the Multiverse (2022)

Third Party Publications

“A Traveller’s Guide to Tortle’s Tears” in Threshold Magazine #28