Feb 21, 2018

Into the Depths: Your Feedback

So I'm soliciting your feedback, internet community, on Into the Depths (link is to pdf download). For those just tuning in, Into the Depths is a classless, attributeless retroclone that I wrote at the end of 2016 that incorporates most of my favourite houserules from years in OSR games. It should be compatible with almost any d20-lite ruleset (Swords and Wizardry, Microlite20, etc.). I spent 2017 playtesting it, and I have some ideas for new material for an upcoming revision, but I thought I'd ask you, the wider old-school D&D community, to take a look at it and collect your feedback.

I'm particularly interested in any parts you think need clarification, expansion, or simplification in the rules as written.

Here's a link to some of the changes I'm planning to make based on my own playtest of it. I'm also planning to condense the experience milestones into a smaller list, add some overland travel rules, and a magic system of some sort. This will eventually become the core system of Necrocarcerus if I ever publish that setting, and it's creative commons so you can use or adapt it for your own ends as well.

Feb 19, 2018

Science Fiction Skills for Openquest

Following up on these changes to Openquest's skill system, here's a list of possible skills that should be added to the skill list for science fiction games. Many of them are drawn from the Mythras science fiction skill list. I'm mainly interested in moderately-hard science fiction stuff, so there's no "Psionics" or the like. Obviously, I'd recommend removing Sorcery Casting as a skill in a sci-fi game.

New Skill Additions

Communications (INT x2)
Computers (INT + CON)
Explosives (DEX + INT)
Gunnery (DEX + INT)
Piloting (DEX + INT)
Scanning (INT x 2)
Science (INT x 2)
Social Engineering (CHA + INT)

Skills Changed for a Science Fiction Setting

Locale (Region)

New Skill Descriptions

Communications covers using complex communications mechanisms like encrypted radio transmissions, tight-beam lasers or entangled photonic systems. Communications also covers encryption/decryption, using ECM / ECCM suites, and is the skill used for issuing orders to autonomous drones, vehicles, and robots.

covers programming, hacking, data retrieval, and performing other tasks involve a computer's software systems. It's also used for setting up behaviour trees for autonomous systems (e.g. security systems, autonomous drones, etc.). Computers uses CON as one of its relevant stats because almost anything you'd want to do with it is an extended task requiring focus and concentration over long periods.

covers deploying, detonating, and defusing explosive devices. Rocket launchers and other guns that shoot explosive rounds are covered by Ranged Combat or Gunnery. Grenades, IEDs and demolition-charges are Explosives. The skill also covers analysing or identifying explosives and their aftermaths.

Gunnery covers using, reloading, and repairing weapons systems that don't use direct sights to aim, ranging from artillery to air-to-air missiles to ICBMs and installation-based rail guns. It is used by drones and other autonomous vehicles and robots to fire, and is used in most vehicular combat.

covers operating vehicles in three dimensions, whereas Driving covers vehicles that operate in two dimensions. Piloting is used for manoeuvring during vehicle combat, for astrogation and for space travel. Piloting is also used to remotely operate drones.

Scanning is the use and interpretation of complex scanning equipment whether these devices are hand-held or vehicle-mounted. Any device that returns results more complicated than a false-colour picture (e.g. thermal vision or low-light amplification) uses Scanning instead of Perception. Scanning is now also the skill used for surveying, replacing Engineering's role.

Science covers scientific knowledge, versus Lore which covers other kinds of knowledge (the humanities). Science uses specialities, so each 20% or fraction thereof in the skill grants another speciality.

Social Engineering allows a PC to engage in politics on a mass level. It deals with analysing and changing belief systems and ideologies through the use of propaganda and other means of mass communication. Influence covers changing an individual or small group's beliefs, Oratory covers a larger group, and Social Engineering works on the level of entire societies.

Changed Skill Descriptions

Athletics now also includes all zero-g / EVA manoeuvring in space.

Driving now explicitly covers all vehicles that operate in two dimensions, ranging from chariots to cars, trucks, and buses. Hovering vehicles with relatively fixed altitudes (skimmers, etc.) and humanoid robots are handled with Driving as well.

Engineering is now a speciality skill, and covers constructing or repairing any machine larger than a person, from groundcars and security systems to fusion plants and FTL drives. It also includes architectural analysis (Is the floor sloped? What's the gravity in this station? Are there secret doors here? etc.) and design. Surveying is now part of Scanning.

Locale (Region)
has only a minor change, in that "region" should be interpreted broadly to include larger areas than a medieval person would mean by that term. A space explorer might have Locale (Mars) or in a game of sufficiently grand scale, Locale (Sol System).

Mechanisms now includes the ability to build, repair, and subvert electronic and electrical systems as well as mechanical ones.

Feb 8, 2018

Into the Depths: Knowledge as Gear

In Feuerberg, I got rid of knowledge skills and added books to the gear list instead. If you carried a book (one of six to nine gear slots you might have), you could read it as you went and ask questions about the topic, and there was a chance (usually on a 4+ or 5+ 6) that it would answer the question. If you wanted to play a smart character who knew a lot of stuff it was easy enough - just carry a lot of books around with you. In theory it took a turn of reading to answer any question, though I was sometimes a bit flexible about this.

I liked this system a lot because it turned knowledge into a scarce commodity by tying it into two of the existing subsystems that govern scarcity (the marketplace of gear, and encumbrance). It also allowed encouraged PCs to plan ahead about what topics they thought might be relevant, while giving them flexibility about what they could know, instead of investing a ton of skill points or training into knowledges that might not turn out to be useful. I think most of its faults in practice (which were few) were the result of me not being consistent or investing enough time in producing possible book suggestions on my end.

One of the meta-game structures of Into the Depths is that instead of a ton of powers from magic, or your species and class, or some other intrinsic aspect of you, most of your "powers" are either obtained or enhanced by gear. The idea is that you explore a dungeon or wilderness area using your gear until you reach a set of obstacles that you can't overcome with your current gear, then go back to your home base, change out your gear load, rest up, and go on with the expedition until you hit another set of obstacles you needed new gear for, etc. I tried in Feuerberg, not always successfully, to often have treasure apparent but requiring special gear to extract. e.g. a fossil embedded in a boulder that would be extremely valuable but requiring you to bring along special tools to cut it out without damaging it.

Books as gear are meant to play into this cycle. You encounter some incomprehensible gibberish in a long dead language no one speaks - get a book on the subject and decipher it. You want to know what kinds of monsters are roaming around (i.e. are on the wandering monster tables)? Get a book on the subject and read it. You want to build a fortress? Better read a book or two on architecture.

To enhance this in future games of Into the Depths, there are three changes I'd make to the initial idea. The first is to simply add more books covering doing more stuff. Cracking codes, deciphering languages, explaining how to build complex mechanical devices like traps or certain machines, etc. This is in addition to books that just straight up answer questions on archaeology or geology or whatever.

The second change is to introduce expendability to books. I like the idea of a usage die but I think it'll be complicated to track, so I'm just going to have each book capable of answering 1d6 questions on a given topic before it's exhausted. Once it's gone, you have to buy a different book, even if you want more information on the same topic. This helps prevent PCs from sitting around asking infinite questions while they're on the expedition and have the book in their possession, as well as effectively dealing with the question of what they can do with the books during their downtime (they can exhaust all of the questions a given book can answer, which is what they were going to try to do anyhow). Rare books you get as treasure might allow for more questions.

The third change is to introduce differences in quality. This will take two forms. The first is whether the books allow you to a 5+ or a 4+ on a d6, with better books (more expensive or harder to find) allowing success on the lower rolls. The second is that basic books cover one topic, but better books can cover multiple topics. This means you can haul along more knowledge without more encumbrance.

Some book ideas (all work on a result of 5+ on 1d6):

Cryptography manual -  Decipher codes you encounter
Phrasebook - Speak a language you don't know
Grimtooth's Traps - Design and build an overly elaborate trap
Farmer's Almanac - Predict the next day's weather
Code of Law - Bullshit your way out of legal troubles
Bestiary - Fill in boxes on the wandering monster table ahead of time
Collector's Catalogue - Appraise the value of non-monetary treasures
Herbarium - Identify helpful and dangerous plants you encounter