Posts Tagged ‘spectra’

A mostly inconsequential name change

It’s been brought to my attention that a game called Spectrum has been released, and in the interest of not causing any confusion, I’ve renamed my open-source game system to Spectra. It’s been a dormant project for years, but I think I want to revive it, and this would head off any potential miscommunication.

The updated document is still incomplete and looking for contributors; you can access the latest edition here (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1y2WLB14sFRVsndtI0pu7VRCQdtVHi9N8)

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Spectrum, Color, and Colorblindness

Since color is an essential mechanical element in the Spectrum system, it bears thinking about how the system might accommodate those who have difficulty distinguishing colors. The answer is: more readily than you might think.

Among the rules tweaks being added to the new Spectrum Prime document is a sidebar addressing these concerns. The most direct of them is actually the easiest to deal with. There’s nothing intrinsic about “yellow” that says “infiltration, stealth, and information gathering,” for instance. The colors can readily be remapped by players who have trouble with one or more of the extant colors on the action chart. So long as all players at the table are clear on which colors correspond to what roles, it’s not a problem: the column headers on the action chart are left blank in order to allow specific campaigns to rename them with setting- or genre-appropriate labels, and a quick color notation can handily be added in this space as well.

Notation of dice has received a slight adjustment, both to streamline rules discussion and to distinguish dice from different columns: instead of the traditional D (for die) present in the abbreviation, use R, Y, G, B, or P when talking about dice of specific columns. While at first this might seem to contradict the previous point about reassigning colors to the five roles, the standardization of these color codes to the columns facilitates communication about what types of die you mean. No matter what color or name you’re using for “fighting stuff” in your specific game, you know that 2R8 always means using two eight-sided dice for those actions.

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[NGDM] One more thing, Jackie!

A lot of ideas about this come to me as I’m going to sleep at night. That makes posting about them slow, since I have to wait until the next day to put anything up, but I get to hammer things out in my head before they make it to the blog, too.

Here’s what occurred to me last night: at the current rate of advancement, in which you get 1 CP for a scene, +1 CP for each character involved, and +1 CP each time you hit a keyword, scenes can rack up some pretty hefty rewards. There are two reasons this could get out of control: first, we didn’t say anything about whether other players could hit keywords, narrate in other characters, etc., and so you have the potential for exploding CP totals; and second, we assume that every character gets that CP reward at the end of the scene. We also didn’t actually specify what it means to pass the scene and thus how you determine if you earned the CP or not.

That last part is the important one, I think, in the long run. My solution is to state that the character starting the scene also specifies what their goal for the scene is. In our example scene, Lakshmi’s player might say that she’s breaking into the atelier to find something expensive to sell. Now, it’s not a significant goal unless there’s something to gain or lose. The gain, obviously, is to find something that she can use in a later scene as a hook to get some money, while the converse is that if she fails, she’s on the verge of being pretty much broke. As with scene framing in House of Cards, I prefer to hang the impetus for the scene in terms of what could go wrong as opposed to what it means to succeed, so let’s say that in setting that goal, the player also wagers a consequence for failure: a stress keyword that persists for as many scenes as the CP reward for the scene would be.

Casting our minds back to the fight scene example, then, Lakshmi’s player bets the keyword “Destitute” and assigns it to yellow, reasoning that if she goes into debt, she won’t be able to pay off her contacts in town and thus lose some of their reliable information. At the end of that scene, then, since Lakshmi failed to meet the goal, she has to live with that keyword for five scenes (the final CP stakes of the scene: one just for having a scene, and then four keyword hits). We’ve now created a mechanism that makes sure that scenes are important and have lasting effects. As for the really high CP totals, there are a couple of ways we could go: either make CP totals go only to that player, or limit/restrict the addition of CP to the player who’s in charge of the scene. The first option disincentivizes other players’ participation, since they get nothing out of being in a scene. The second option is a little better, though it does imply that characters added into a scene that they’re not in charge of won’t have as much reason to whip out their cool keywords when they’re not getting a reward for it. Still, since scenes now provide significant drawbacks for failure, characters present in a scene have a reason to want it to succeed.

The rules for this seems therefore like they should read: Each player gets to start one scene during the session. Their character is present in the scene, and states a goal to accomplish during the scene as well as a stress keyword as a consequence for failure. The character of the player who starts the scene can hit their keywords to raise the CP stakes of the scene, but if the goal is not met, then the stress keyword persists for a number of scenes equal to the final CP stake for the scene. Other characters in the scene contribute +1 CP to the total for being present, but cannot hit their keywords to raise the CP total.

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First, let’s finish up our hanging fight scene. Lakshmi has taken a wound (-1), and with her low dice, that’s a big deal, so she wants to get out of this wizard’s atelier and away from the guardian automaton. Time for her to perform a complex action: she’s going to put all of her magical power (both green d4), narrating the effort as a frantic invocation to wind spirits to push her along and increase her movement speed, assisting her red d6 to escape.

Because the action spans multiple die denominations, we need to figure out timing: one way to handle this is to prioritize ongoing complex actions at each die step over independent actions. This mechanically advantages complex actions, so I’m going to hang a tag on it now to keep an eye on whether it breaks the system to do so. For now, when we get to the d6 phase for initiative, Lakshmi will get to complete her escape attempt roll before the automaton gets to act, which countermands the wound penalty step. To codify this fully, the rule we’re going to work with is this: complex actions and independent actions are separate categories resolved in that order, with wound penalties applying within the categories.

Lakshmi calls up the air elementals to help drag her across the floor to safety, rolling a 1 and a 3, which become a 0 and 2 due to the wound penalty. Then, at the d6 step, she rolls her red d6 to complete the action, adding the +2 so far from the earlier step; her die is a 5, knocked down to 4 by her wound, for a total of 6 on the action.

The automaton doesn’t speak, but it certainly has something to say about that. Hitting the keyword “Fists of Iron,” the automaton makes an attempt to use its strike to grab her and hold her fast. Sadly, the gamemaster rolls a 3, which isn’t enough. She slides in a whirl of dust through the bench to the door. We’ll say that the automaton smashes its way towards her, but she’ll be able to get away.

Something this little fracas reveals is that wound penalties get really nasty, especially on the complex action: Lakshmi’s break for freedom actually took a total of -3 total penalty, and actually killed one of her green dice on that first step. That’s pretty hard going, although if you think about it, stress can be even more detrimental (at most steps, a die takes the equivalent of a -2 penalty per point of stress, and a d20 drops to a d12: the virtual equivalent of a whopping -8 penalty). Still, one possible fix is to apply the wound penalty once to the total of the entire spread of dice on a complex action, because we want people to take complex actions – it’s one of the features of the system. This means there has to be a phase during dice allocation at the beginning of a round in which players decide which dice to chain together, and that gets iffy if another proposed rule I’ve been percolating – allowing characters to drop out of a complex action to defend themselves – is also going to make the cut.

Much to ponder here. On a different note, here’s what I’ve sketched out thus far on the fantasy setting idea (or meta-setting, I would have to maintain) that popped up earlier. In principle, it’s something that can be grafted to just about any other game setting, but it aims to have a flavor all its own: the idea of the Quest made manifest. It’s made explicit in the world itself that you can’t even get into Viridian unless you’re a Hero with an epic adventure to complete. When you prove yourself properly dedicated, the island opens up and basically gives you the Quest you need.

When the flames of justice burn low, and dark times threaten the land, a hero may strike forth from the southernmost edge of civilization to seek what is needed to set things right. One who honestly seeks right must journey due south without stopping for one span of the moon; on the dawn of the following morning, that stalwart traveler will rise and look north to see the twin Pillars marking the path to Viridian, where their Quest awaits.

Viridian is the name of an archipelago as well as its main continent-sized island. (It may also be the name of the world it inhabits, since no other landmasses have been found there.) The main island’s exact dimensions are unknown: it measures approximately 1300 miles from its southernmost tip to the edges of the frozen arctic wastes of the north, from which no traveler returns; from the Stormy Sea in the west to the Still Sea in the east, Viridian encompasses over 1400 miles at its widest.

About a hundred miles south of the Pillars, the Hero’s Road begins, and runs most of the length of Viridian to Great Mount in the center of the southern plateau. The sun’s apex at noon appears to envelop the peak of Great Mount in a blazing golden halo. While everyday inhabitants of Viridian sometimes use the Hero’s Road for their own travels, they do so sparingly and only for short distances. The Road is enchanted: it never follows exactly the same route twice, and always leads its travelers to challenges that test their abilities and resolve. The only stable points along the Hero’s Road are the endpoints, as well as the great city of Andel near the middle of Viridian.

Several other significant islands or island groups make up Viridian. Black Heart is the easternmost island in the Still Sea. Ruled by a sorcerer-king, its people are ghosts and revenants. The dead of Black Heart are bound in two ways to their ruler (hence, the Twice-Crowned): he has stolen their memories of life, and has mingled their bones such that their remains are hopelessly scattered so that, until all of the countless thousands have been laid to rest, no one among them shall know peace.

Just north of the Pillars lies a trackless frozen waste. The nomadic tribes who wander the northern steppes warn travelers that nothing is to be found in the ice, and will not travel there. The nomads’ secret is that the north used to be their kingdom: five vast and powerful cities once rose there, and their ruins may yet be shrouded in ice and snow. The legends they tell only to themselves say that, just as they believe all things have spirits that may grow powerful, these five cities birthed gods whom the tribes worshiped. These gods grew cruel, however, and turned the people to cruelty and horror, and in shame, the tribes united to cast down their deities. The legends vary from this point forward. One of the tribes either sacrificed themselves to allow the others freedom, or were so wicked that the other four rose up against them; the impassable cold that now blankets the north was either summoned by the magicians of the tribes to lay waste to their former civilization, or was created by the gods themselves in outrage at their betrayal. Now, the four tribes of the north wander the plains, venerating the small gods of all things but never building a permanent settlement to prevent a repeat of their ancient folly.

Five schools of magic are located around Viridian. The Crimson Academy teaches magic for warfare in the city of Andel. An inn called the Topaz Tiger hides a school for arcane spies. The Order of the Leaf has no fixed location, but its masters wander the island. Those who would study under the mage-prince of the Sapphire Throne must persuade one of the eleven existing students to forfeit their seat. The Knights of the Lavender Shield maintain hospitals along the highways.

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[NGDM] Oh, wait, we need a setting.

Yeah, right there in the NaGa DeMon rules: an RPG has to have a setting as well as rules. Hrm. Well, since we’re designing something generic, it’s not too much of a stretch to come up with one – in fact, it’s useful if one is trying to sell a generic system to have some pre-created support material for people to use, as-is or hacked, or even as a benchmark for crafting their own.

I want to hold onto the previously discussed premise for use, and I think for right now I’m going to flesh out a fantasy backdrop. My tastes in fantasy gravitate towards the baroque; I like the feel of cosmopolitan fantasy places like Sigil or New Crobuzon, which are kitchen-sinky but not too much so. Any setting in which magic and weirdness are treated as technologies, and societies have adapted them in the practical ways that actual societies tend to do, appeals to me. The Secret of Zir’An and the Iron Kingdoms will probably also be a bit of an influence for the same reasons. I want a bit of the feel of pulp swashbuckling action, but not as jaded as pulp tends to be: I want a sense of wonder and grandeur like Tolkien, but imagine that Tolkien had read a lot of Howard and replaced the songs with fight scenes.

An interesting idea occurs to me: what if this is a meta-setting, and not necessarily a stand-alone? I’ve always liked the trope of traveling to another world from a starting location for some important reason: shades of the Narnia series, perhaps, as well as Thomas Covenant. Let’s not have the method of travel be arbitrary and out of the players’ control, though: anyone who knows how and is willing to make the trip can get there. I have the image of a very large gate in a far-off frontier that you can go to in order to access this place – something suitably magical and epic, like “a month’s journey south from the southernmost land”.

So what do you find there? I think the place should be reasonably self-contained; it’s not a whole world, but perhaps a very large island, big enough to contain a number of different cultures and societies, but not so big that it becomes one of those settings where you can just stay in one pocket of the map and don’t have to interact with the overlapping cultures. (Creation, I’m looking at you.) The kitchen-sink element comes from the fact that the gate to get to this island basically appears anywhere the conditions are fulfilled: go to the southernmost edge of civilization and then strike out for a month, and on the dawn of the appointed day, you’ll turn around and see the two obelisks, as far apart as ten strong men standing shoulder-to-shoulder, through which you can pass into Viridian.

Okay, more on this once I start writing it down. 🙂

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[NGDM] A few add-ins, plus a fight!

While I compile the rules into a coherent written form and flesh them out, I’ll toss a few ideas here to keep some transparency on what’s going on.

The action declaration system is intended to be super-flexible in allowing characters to perform actions, provided that they are capable and willing to use their imaginations and descriptive talents to explain how their fighting skill is going to win the fair princess’s attentions. (I just thought of one in the time it took me to type that sentence, as well as a way to escalate the stakes with keywords: the knight regales the princess with tales of his exploits far and wide, replacing what would normally be a blue die with his more impressive red die [fighting in place of communication]; he then relates to her how his father and his father’s father had used this same trusty sword which now hangs at his side, hitting the keyword for his signature weapon to trigger a plot point and raise the stakes – the malevolent suitor who threatens to usurp the king’s throne by marrying the princess is a sworn enemy of the knight’s lineage!)

That said, not everyone will come up with an appropriate or workable solution on the fly every time, and there are only so many times you can reuse the same ideas. Mulling this over, I came up with the idea of “column shifting” (a term I’m ripping off from the old TSR Marvel Superheroes game, but not the exact mechanic under it). If you’re absolutely, positively stuck, you can simply roll your die for an action at a penalty equal to -1 per column of difference between what you’re rolling and what the most appropriate action column would be. So if you’re trying to use a red die to heal (the worst possible difference, four columns away), you make that roll at a -4 penalty. This stacks with wounds and stress, so you can only expect to succeed at disparate actions if you (a) have a huge die to start with, (b) aren’t hurt or stressed, or (c) your action isn’t way across the chart from where it ought to be. This also reinforces the flexible, neutral nature of green actions, because the worst they can get is a -2.

I also want to create two “phantom columns” for those times when you just can’t come up with a clear way to assign actions to columns. This is mainly for the GM, not for the players, but if you just can’t rationalize any other slot to put an action into, white dice are used for the column of “helping the players” while black dice are used for the column of “hindering the players”. It might even turn out that there’s a mechanic to buy one of these dice with bennies, to represent getting an NPC involved in the action, but that’s still brewing.

So, let’s test-drive this thing a little more. Our mage-thief, who’s now named Lakshmi, finds herself rummaging through the atelier of a wizard looking for rare (and therefore expensive) items, when the wizard’s guardian automaton activates from a hidden alcove!

The gamemaster decides this will be a challenge for Lakshmi, but not too much of one: the guardian is worth 24 points, slightly more than Lakshmi, but besides being a little slower than Lakshmi, it is unimaginative, following its simple programming without any imagination or creativity. Four d6s are assigned with keywords; the guardian has no bonus points (both to keep the fight simple and to represent the automaton’s mindlessness).

Both sides decide what they want to do, and what dice to assign. Lakshmi realizes her daggers probably not going to be great against an opponent that’s all metal and no flesh, so she backs away into the gloom of the workshop, looking for an exit: her player assigns her yellow d6 for the perception attempt and the red d6 conditionally for the attempt to break for it. (Normally, a flat-out dodge is a purple die, because it’s a passive non-combative action, but the gamemaster agrees that the sheer athleticism of Lakshmi’s usual acrobatics in such a small room are pretty active.) The automaton, meanwhile, has just one agenda, and that’s to disable the intruder. The gamemaster assigns only the red d6 as it advances. Because they both have the same denomination of die on their action, they would go simultaneously, but Lakshmi’s player decides that not getting hit is really important, so she spends a bennie to bump her initiative down by one spot to the d4 level, and rolls a 5. There’s an opening under a bench that she could duck through in order to get a clear shot at the door – but can she get to it? The d6 level comes up next – Lakshmi couldn’t bump the d6 for the escape attempt to a faster level because it was contingent upon the results of the earlier yellow die. Lakshmi bolts for the opening, while the automaton grabs for her with its claws. They roll: Lakshmi is unlucky, getting only a 3 to the automaton’s 4, so she takes a wound.

Both characters are out of dice, so it’s a new round. Lakshmi decides to go for broke. Whispering the words of shadow in hopes of blinding the machine, Lakshmi tries to wedge one of her daggers into a seam in the automaton’s joint to impede it. That’s two keywords hit, upping the stakes for the scene, and her green d4 and red d6 assigned. She’d like to also be able to scoot herself across the floor the rest of the way through the escape route, but she doesn’t feel like risking a die of the wrong color without a good justification or taking a column shift. The guardian has magical senses that allow it to try to ignore the shadow spell, so it assigns the yellow d6 to that, and continues to try to grab Lakshmi with the red d6. She throws up the spell, but only rolls a 1! The guardian’s perception roll of 4 at the next step prevents her spell from giving her cover to escape, and with her wound penalty of -1, the undamaged guardian gets to swing first. It rolls a 3, which Lakshmi’s player can either take as wounds due to not assigning a defense die, or drop her attempt to hit the guardian and use the red d6 for that instead. She goes for the parry, and rolls a 6 (which becomes a 5 due to the wound penalty), fending off its clutching grasp with the blade of her knife. But it doesn’t look good for her if she can’t get away!

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[NGDM] A quick chargen rundown

Let’s write up a character!

I keep using this nebulous mage-thief as a character example, so let’s do that: a cutpurse for a fantasy setting with some minor magical talents. Start with 20 points.

Envisioning magic as flexible and fast, but our character wielding only minor tricks, I buy 2d4 for her, giving each of them a keyword for the types of magic that would be most useful for a thief (namely, a Silence Spell and a Shadow Spell). She can pull off some other magic, too – a keyword doesn’t lock you into one specific application, it just lets you pull out a signature trick and up the stakes of the scene. If things get tough, though, her real first line of defense is a pair of daggers she keeps on hand, which I figure should be a red d6: she uses them in concert most of the time, fighting pseudo-Florentine, rather than throwing them or using a single-blade style, so it’s a little more effective than a d4 would suggest, but still a single conceptualized action rather than multi-tasking. That spends 14 of our points, but we need her to be able to do some actual, y’know, thieving. We give her a yellow d4 (not great on its own – we might say she relies a bit on her spells to cover a pretty ordinary skill set) and keyword it with a phrase that just popped into my head, a “catfall cloak,” a minor magic garment that gives some vaguely-defined balance and quietness to her movements. That leaves two bonus points that can be spent for bennies or saved up to buy something later/upgrade a die. No wounds to start with, so voila! I cobbled together a simple character sheet with a couple of ideas: circles for the dice, filled in with their denomination and color, plus a space to note down a keyword for each, as well as extending the line to put down stress as it occurs (since stress is color-bound).

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