So, if you saw Part I and were holding your breath, exhale. I didn’t want to write this post but here it is.
OK, so Charlie Brumfield over at Artisian Dice asked what kind of game would you play with ancient symbol covered icosahedron. He gave us a few weeks to come up with something and the winner would win a pair of his Ptolemaic d20s. A worthy prize for a worthy contest.
I think I may have even gotten close. But in the end I just couldn’t complete the writing. Sigh. Stupid life always gets in the way of gaming.
Oh well, I had a blast coming up with an idea and play testing it a few times. See, true to my narrow roots, I (re)invented a skill based, free-form, collaborative story telling, role playing game. I think there are some jazzy aspects to it, but the play tests showed that overall it didn’t work (yet).
Basically, I wondered how would you play D&D if all you had was a 20 sided dice covered in symbols. You can’t roll it and compare it sequentially to anything. How do you compare Γ to Θ without resulting to some arbitrary number assignment (lame)?
Here is the evolution of my game. Let’s start with your character – pick a name and a nice descriptor that gives a first impression of who and what you are.
I choose Grellmoe the Gnome Mushroom Herder.
Now give yourself a skill…say, Knitting. Assign to it one randomly rolled symbol. I got a theta. Also assign a symbol to your descriptor.
Since this is a fantasy game, combat is kind of assumed. For the purpose of this discussion I’m taking the easy approach and just using a generic Combat skill (with its own symbol).
The ubiquitous stat block would look something like
Grellmoe, Gnome Mushroom Herder (Δ); Knitting (Θ); Combat (Λ);
So here is what your character sheet might look like (if you have no artistic abilities, unless you could get Dyson to write up something akin to his – which would be beautiful…I envision skill slots with alternating triangle for symbols and columns of symbols on the bottom for tracking progress)
So what are all those symbols on the bottom? Well, since this is a skill-based roll-the-dice-a-lot kind of game, the idea is to track progress by marking off symbols as you roll them. When you have all the symbols marked off you gain a new (randomly rolled) symbol to assign where ever you want. This is also your opportunity to add a new skill with your new symbol instead of improving an existing one.
Cool Idea #1: track progress by recording every first instance you roll of a symbol until you’ve marked them all. In my programmatic experiments I found that you roll on average 72 times to get all twenty symbols, with a range of 24 to over 300.
So back to skill choices. You want to pick something that will allow you to roll the dice as often as possible during the narrative. If you focus on combat specific shenanigans you’ll only be rolling in combat situations. Fewer rolls means longer to level up.
What does it mean to roll the dice? Whenever there is an opportunity to apply one or more of your skills to a situation, you roll the dice to determine your success. Since we’re talking iscohedrons here all the faces are triangles. Notice the top symbol on the dice. You want to compare the top symbol and the symbols on the three adjoining triangles with all the symbols from all your applicable skills. Every match is a success.
Cool Idea #2: When reading the result of a dice you are considering 4 faces, the top most symbol and it’s three adjoining sides.
The more successes the better! However, having no successes doesn’t necessarily mean you fail. The GM can mediate the result to best suit the narrative. Perhaps, you still succeed but not in the way you wanted. Or you may have failed with unexpected results.
Rule Zero: Don’t be a jerk – this should be the foundation rule for every game involving more than just one person…
If Grellmoe has some downtime at the evening camp site I would declare he whips out his yarn and needles and starts knitting a lovely scarf for the party barbarian. I rolled that crazy looking Coptic Alpha thingy (see the image above). Notice that the Theta is one of the adjoining faces so I score a success! Not only does my scarf start to take shape but I get to mark A off my progress chart.
Since I wasn’t paying much attention while on watch the party is attacked. As luck would have it, our assailants are animated mushrooms. When I attack I get to include my descriptor symbol! If the mushrooms were also made of wool I become a war god by including my Knitting skill! Any combat roll I make I need one of the 4 faces to match Δ, Θ, or Λ.
Sounds fun! Unfortunately, combat seems to drag on and no one ever remembers to keep track of every roll… Together, they kind of squash the overall impact. Still, I think I was close.
Note: this example followed the basic style of play I tried to outline. Really the game is just the basic dice resolution and progress tracking mechanics with campaign relevant skills. I detailed three styles of play in my original draft. The first included a richer combat structure involving Attack/Defense and Damage/Health opposing skills in a Vanilla Fantasy setting. Crystal Creatures, a monster hunting/catching/training setting was second. This game included a series of paper-rock-scissors like charts for determining bonuses and weaknesses. The third scenario was even more abstract since it involved the player characters taking roles and skills from Corporate Jobs (like HR, Accounting, Computer Guy, Project Lead, Program Manager) with skills like Water Cooler Gossip, Calendar Surfing, and Supplies Procurement. Your opponents are projects with abstract quantities of Time and Money – you get promoted (win the game) if you can complete your Project before it runs out of Time or Money (using the progress mechanic as a count down)
In the original draft I also detail how to resolve opposed rolls when the opponent has a relevant skill and when without. In opposed rolls, successes cancel each other out. That is, if both you and your opponent roll a success, the result is the same as if neither rolled a success. It is still up to the GM to help mediate the result.