Last week, we looked at character creation in our upcoming Monsters & Magic RPG, available June from Mindjammer Press. As the launch date approaches, I’d like to talk a little about the core mechanic of the game – what we’ve called the Effect Engine. We’ll be releasing the Effect Engine under an open license, with its own SRD, so you can use it to power your own games, as well as to tweak and customise how you use Monsters & Magic.
Our design goal with Monsters & Magic has been to create a game which would suit old school games, but also incorporate the latest thinking in RPG mechanics. Most importantly, it would allow you to use your old school and classic fantasy RPG material with little or no conversion, on the fly. The Effect Engine is the result: a flexible core mechanic which takes the traditional classic fantasy attributes and statistics as its “inputs”, ties them into a system of “action checks” (either static or rolled on 3d6 + modifiers), and outputs “effect points” which you can use to cause a wide variety of freely-narratable in-game effects and consequences. Today’s preview showcases two double-page spreads from the game system chapter of Monsters & Magic, introducing the Effect Engine.
So what is the Effect Engine? Simply put, it’s a rules mechanic which generates effect points, which you then spend to create effects. Effects can be almost anything you could “do” with an action – physical or mental damage, knockback, wounds, throwing sand in someone’s eyes, distracting someone, even turning them to stone, on the negative side; but also positive things like getting yourself into superior tactical position, “powering up” before casting a spell, successfully hiding in shadows before your ambush, and so on. Pretty much anything which can result from your action can be an effect, as long as you can describe it.
The number of effect points you generate on an action check is equal to the amount by which your action check result exceeds the resistance. If you get a check result of, say, 20, against a resistance of 15, you get 5 effect points. If you outclass your opponent, you can generate very high effect point totals, and even create multiple effects. On the flipside, if you fail your action check, you generate consequence points (basically negative effect points), which can result in you coming a cropper – the Effect Engine equivalent of fumbles and botches. But, again, consequences can be descriptive and very varied – and are usually described by your opponent. That’s right; if you screw up your sword strike against that ogre, the ogre gets to say what happens. Or, more likely, the GM…
Effects change how the game plays; they can give bonuses or penalties to your abilities, as well as restrict how you describe what you’re doing and what you can do. There are restrictions on how many and which effects or consequences you can inflict on an opponent, or incur on yourself, and choosing your effects is a freeform yet tactical process, which gives genuine in-game weight to how you describe your character’s actions. There are many cool tweaks and extensions to this broad-brush system, which you’ll be able to read about in detail in the Monsters & Magic core book.
That’s a quick summary of the Effect Engine; check out the Preview for more details, and feel free to stop by at the Monsters & Magic community if you have questions. Next week, I’ll post an Example of Play, so you can see how the Monsters & Magic game works at the table.
Good gaming, and may your dice ever roll true!
Normandy, May 2013
Last week, I posted a first look at the character sheet for our upcoming OSR RPG Monsters & Magic (out early June), as well as a sample character from the game, Gramfive the Grim. This week I wanted to post a preview of the game’s layout, including some sample pages from Chapter 2: Creating Characters.
As you may have seen last week (check out the post here if not), Monsters & Magic characters look very much like the classic fantasy characters you know and love – they share the same attributes and many of the same statistics. There are some differences, but by and large there’s a lot of crossover. That means, of course, that your classic fantasy characters are very playable using the Monsters & Magic rules. Depending on your tolerances, there’s little or no conversion required, especially at low levels, and even at high levels any conversion you’re doing can probably be handled on the fly, during play.
There are a couple of reasons why. The first is the Effect Engine, the core mechanic of Monsters & Magic. I’m going to go into this a lot more next week, but suffice it to say the Effect Engine takes pretty much all the same “inputs” as your favourite OSR or classic fantasy game – character level, weapon damage, attribute modifiers, other bonuses, etc – but uses them in a unique way to allow you to achieve all manner of cool in-game effects, from damaging your foe, to affecting the local environment, getting yourself into advantageous positions, putting your foe into disadvantageous positions, helping others, and lots more. You can pretty much take your favourite classic fantasy character, look at his character sheet, and roll your action checks using the Effect Engine with what you see written down there.The second thing which supports this style of play is the trait, a key concept in Monsters & Magic. A trait is a very simple thing, but also a profoundly flexible one: it’s a simple word, phrase, or short sentence which describes something crucial about your character. It could be an ability, a personality trait, an element of background, or a physical or mental characteristic, or any one of a thousand things. And, simply put, whenever you describe one of your traits helping you in what you’re doing, you get a bonus to your Effect Engine action. You don’t have to spend any resource to do this – if you like, traits are simply a “bullet point list” of the things your character can do.
In Monsters & Magic, you get traits from three places: your race, your character class, and your individual character (what are called personal traits). So, for example, Infravision is a trait; so is Hide & Sneak. And, of course, you can roll your own, within certain boundaries. The mechanical effect of traits is something I’ll discuss next week, but you get the gist.
Anyway – we hope you like the preview! The layout design is by the awesome Michal Cross, and the featured artwork by the very talented Eric Lofgren, Linda Jones and Gill Pearce. See you at the next post!
Normandy, May 2013
The Monsters & Magic RPG and the 4-page preview presented here are copyright (c) 2013 Mindjammer Press Limited, and will be published under the Open Game License and the Effect Engine Open License. For details please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s look at some of the differences. First, you’ll see there are two types of hit points – physical and mental. Monsters & Magic lets you engage in not just physical, sword-and-board combat, but also fear attacks, intimidation, battles of will, debates, social browbeating, madness attacks, and much more. Also, hit points in general are quite a lot higher – conflict of any kind is dangerous in Monsters & Magic, but at the same time PCs are generally more than one-hit-and-you’re-dead mooks, even at 1st level.
Next, check out hero points: that’s a resource that you’ll use for many purposes in the game. Hero points are scarce, but you can gain them during play, and use them to do cool stuff, including determining how you react to a successful attack against you. Effects and consequences are the flipside of hit points – they’re things like temporary advantages, good positioning, tactical perks, wounds, “conditions”, etc, which have a game-related effect. Hit points may measure how far you are from death or defeat, but effects and consequences measure just how your current state affects what you do.
Traits are key in Monsters & Magic – they’re a way of defining your character’s boundaries, what he or she can do. More traits aren’t necessarily better than fewer in any numerical sense – if anything, having more traits broadens what your character can do. A character with fewer traits will be just as competent in those areas as one with more traits. Whether you want more traits is a decision about the nature of your character, not necessarily about how powerful he or she is. You get traits from your character class and race, but also from your personal background choices and also from the decisions you make as you level up.
There’s lots more to say here – check out your alignment focus and drift, for example, for an idea of how your character’s decisions may affect play. But, hopefully, you should feel pretty much at home on this character sheet. We’ve spent the past months writing out some of our favourite old school characters on this character sheet, and running them through our favourite old school modules. Which character would you write up, and which module would you play?
Normandy, May 2013
We announced the game back in March, in a joint press release with Angus Abranson’s Chronicle City, who’ll be producing and publishing the print version of the game. Since then we’ve been heads down playtesting and polishing, and finally I think we’re in a good position to start talking about the game in detail. Thanks for your patience!
Monsters & Magic is a modern-rules fantasy RPG with a distinctly old school flavour. It’s a complete game in its own right – the core book is approximately 80,000 words, and we’re expecting it’ll exit layout between 128 and 156 pages in length. It’s going to be a gorgeous paperback, with all new artwork by such RPG industry luminaries as Jennell Jaquays (of old school Judges Guild and TSR fame, and of course much more!), Jason Juta (Warhammer 40K, Wizards of the Coast, etc), who did that gorgeous cover, Eric Lofgren (Fantasy Flight, Paizo, etc), Linda Jones (Triple Ace, Mongoose, etc) and Gill Pearce (Mongoose, Moon Design, etc). On the writing side I’ve been fantastically supported by our “Monsters & Magic Working Group”, which includes RPG writers such as Ben Monroe, Graham Spearing, Tim Gray, Gianni Vacca, Colin Speirs, Mike Olson, and more; and the layout and graphic design is in the hands of the awesome Michal Cross (Achtung Cthulhu, Mindjammer 2e). We’ve kicked the rules around and incorporated cool ideas for what we wanted this RPG to be.But, although Monsters & Magic is a complete standalone game, it’s not designed to be used in isolation. No – one of the impulses for writing it in the first place was to provide a rules set incorporating all the latest RPG rules developments which could nevertheless be used to play all the classic, much-loved, and voluminous old school fantasy supplements, adventures, and resources we’ve all got on our shelves. Dust off those multi-adventure campaigns, those wilderness maps and encounter tables, those bestiaries, spellbooks, and gazetteers, and revisit them with this new set of rules.
Since our announcement back in March a lot of people have quizzed me about the “old school renaissance” aspect of Monsters & Magic – what that means, whether M&M is an OSR game, and so on. Let me start by saying that its core design concept is profoundly OSR: Monsters & Magic has been written to allow you to play classic fantasy type games, using your classic fantasy resources without having to convert them, of the shelf, as is, with minimal prep. It’s a game I’ve been playing myself for the past 4-5 months in my old Judges Guild campaign – we’ve been fighting giants in the Steading, and pretty soon we’re heading back (via a feast in the banquet hall of Huberic of Haghill) for the City State of the Invincible Overlord itself – and then on to further adventure! All of the things you’d expect to be able to do in that kind of fantasy game, you can do in Monsters & Magic – but you can do more, and that’s where the “modern” bit comes in.
Monsters & Magic uses a rules mechanic we’re calling the “Effect Engine”. Basically, you roll 3d6 plus modifiers against a target number, and the number of points you get above or below that target act as a currency you can spend to take all manner of cool actions. Some are standard actions – doing damage, moving, knocking people over, etc – and some are custom actions specific to your character class or even invented by you as you level up. It’s a simple and yet extensible system.
You’ll find a lot in the M&M rules that’s familiar – there are attributes, modifiers, and hit points; there are traditional character classes, there’s an Armour Class, and there are levels and hit dice. But there are mental hit points, too, and effects you can place on yourself and others, some standard, some improvised, which can give you bonuses or penalties and have other cool game effects. The system is specifically designed to be easy to remember, flexible and permitting lots of improvisation, while retaining a solid “gamist” backbone, non-arbitary and as crunchy as you like.The Monsters & Magic rulesbook contains eight chapters, covering creating characters, with races and classes, the game system (including the Effect Engine core mechanic), core equipment, advancements, running the game, as well as a selection of spells and monsters focussing on low-level play. There are also rules for high-level play, including running things like ships, castles, and kingdoms as extensions to your character – if you’re familiar with the work I did on Legends of Anglerre and Burn Shift, you’ll feel right at home here. Remember: you can use your favourite spell books and bestiaries with Monsters & Magic, as well as using the game standalone. The book finishes up with an introductory scenario, and an appendix on using off-the-peg classic fantasy material with the rules.
Monsters & Magic will be released under the OGL, and at the moment we’re anticipating releasing the “Effect Engine” as an open license too – just working on the wording of that at the moment. So if you want to write material for the game – and even create your own games using the Effect Engine – you can. It’s a non-setting specific RPG – use with your favourite fantasy setting, commercial or homegrown. If there’s appetite in future, we’re considering releasing further material for the game including expansions, settings, and scenarios. Just let us know.
That’s it! We’ve set up a Monsters & Magic Google+ community for the game, so please stop by and say hi, and we’re be maintaining a Monsters & Magic page at the Mindjammer Press website for game-related information, downloads, and so on. We hope you’ll enjoy the game!
Normandy, April/May 2013
The Brown Dirt Cowboy and I listened to the new Bowie album, “The Next Day”, last night. It was quite an experience. The first listen through, we were extremely disappointed; the songs sounded weird, filled with strange and unsatisfying musical decisions, often too short, obscure. I found myself getting angry; this was the man who gave us Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Hello Spaceboy. What was this stuff? Had he finally lost it, got old, and was chucking out something safe, empty? Well, at least we still had his back catalogue…
Every now and then I could hear sparks of interest – hints that something might be going on that I wasn’t picking up on. Weird resonances from his earlier songs. Tracks like Dirty Boys and Love Is Lost occasionally seemed to rise up – only to get muddled in my head again. Then, after the last track, Heat, Chris said: “That one was good.”
Then the album finished. Nothing like anything of his we’d heard before. We talked about it: was it likely that Bowie, the captain to a generation of space cadets, had lost all his talent and turned out a POS, or could it be that on first listen we were finding it notoriously inaccessible? Bowie’s always been important to us: the BDC was a first generation space cadet in the 70s, turning up at Bowie concerts with the lightning streak painted down his face and dressed like an alien. I was the Ashes to Ashes generation, and didn’t really “get” Bowie until my 5 years underground in Tokyo bashing my head with Heroes. We decided to give The Next Day another listen.
And then another.
The songs opened up. By the end of the third listen of Love Is Lost tears were rolling down my cheeks and my feet were tapping. I started smiling at the lyrics. Yup – it was Bowie. But Bowie as he should be – 66 years old, confronting his mortality and decrepitude, but still the same balls-out honest commentator on his own experiences he’s ever been. I don’t find Bowie an original thinker; but he has a way of encapsulating and expressing the spirit of the time in a mighty powerful and sometimes shocking way, a way that utterly sets him apart and marks him with true genius – a memetic engineer beyond compare. The Next Day is flooded with death and anger; but also weirdness and reflection; and, as it should be, some cracking songs.
I loved it. Fourth listen through, and still exploring. Recommended – but listen to it more than once, and trust the Captain!
You’ve probably realised I’ve been on an Old School binge since before Christmas, trying out various RPG systems in my hunt for a set of rules which will hit my old school sweet-spot – replicating the vibe and feel of white box D&D and AD&D 1st edition, especially playing the old Judges Guild Wilderlands campaign, but using rules which exploit the modern rules innovations of the past 10+ years, including the cool narrative things a lot of modern RPGs are doing.
What I’ve been looking for is a very simple ruleset which allows me to pretty much use old school material with little or no modification (stats, spells, scenarios, magic items, equipment, etc), and which replicates the structure and feel of white box D&D or AD&D 1e and the old school tabletop experience – the same kind of dice, minis if you want them (but not mandatory). I want it to use the “good ole” D&D terms – the same attributes, hit points, levels, experience points, alignments. It needs to have the narrative flexibility of games like HeroQuest, where you can simply say “I try to do this” – whatever “this” happens to be – and the rules support it, but the narrative element needs to be “diallable” – you can use it as much or as little as you like. It needs to be a solid “game system”, ie not rely on GM fiat for resolution. It needs to cope with character personality, alignments, social, mental, and physical conflicts, contests, but to do so “invisibly”, behind a very simple mechanic. That simple mechanic needs to be fractal, so you can unpack it to do all manner of sophisticated stuff, but you don’t have to. And, finally, it needs to be very simple – no more than a few pages for the system, easy to learn in a single sitting, use without reference to the rules.
Well, yesterday I decided to have a go at rolling my own. I’ve been writing settings and scenarios for years for publication, but I’ve never actually sat down and designed a roleplaying game. So I guess it’s about time.
I’ve got about 6000 words in the past day or so: the core mechanic, basic D&D-style classes, how to handle most in-game events, and so on. I ran off a character sheet in Excel (you can see a PDF here – tentatively dubbed Monsters & Magic, because, well, it’d be rude not to alliterate), and converted our Dungeon World characters from last week to give the system a test drive, which we did this afternoon.
We finished an hour or so ago, and had a blast. We started with the PCs – minus Xiola Zenwaith, the elven wizard who fell in battle with the hill giants and dire wolves at the climax of the previous (Dungeon World) session – recovering in their hidden cave outside the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, had to avoid hill giants and dire wolves searching for them, and snuck into the caves beneath, encountering carrion crawlers, troglodytes, and orcs.
First realisation: a bug in the system was making it way too lethal! Dungeon World‘s “difficulty level” allowed 1st level players to handle the Steading; the new system is as unforgiving as D&D, but also had a glitch in the “one roll” design that made damage potentially very high, to the extent we lost Shamira Sunfire, cleric of Mitra, to the carrion crawlers quite early on, and almost lost Pook i’the Hood to an orc ambush slightly later (although dousing torches was a foolish idea!).
I’ve fixed the lethality – essentially capping weapon and attack damages to the maximum for the weapon you’re using – and the old D&D 0HP = death rule has been replaced with the AD&D negative HP = bleeding out rule, which is less harsh but still flavoursome. The XP awards seem to feel reasonably okay – maybe a bit generous, but nothing too tricky right now, so I’m keeping them. The PCs had 2 fights and several skill challenge type events, plus, after losing another PC (the cleric!), there are now just 3 of them; a total XP award apiece of 400-500XP felt not too high.
The action system is agreeably crunchy while being very flexible and able to narrate whatever you want, although I still need to simplify the “special effects” rules and sharpen the “failure is interesting” focus somewhat – it’s still a bit too binary (there were a few “you fail *CLUNK*” moments when things threatened to grind to a halt), and the ripostes were again a bit too lethal, but I’m polishing it. The “critical hit” special effect was very cool – Gramfive the Grim chose to slash off one carrion crawler’s paralysing tentacles in lieu of doing full damage, which felt very tactical, removing its special attack in exchange for prolonging its life a bit.
The “mental damage” rules worked very well, though I need them more granular – the bard terrifying the orcs with a brandished (and suddenly lit) torch was extremely effective, possibly too much so!
We left the scenario with the party in the tunnels and warrens deep beneath the Steading, having encountered some orc guards. We discussed leaving for civilisation to rest up and maybe recruit some new PCs – but for now we’re going to proceed another session in “stealth recon” mode to see if more intel on what Nosnra is up to can be gathered before hightailing it back across the Howling Hills to Haghill. We’re aware that G1 is now way overpowered having switched from Dungeon World to a more D&D-emulating ruleset, but we’re also keen to keep the narrative flow without breaking out into metagaming just yet. The City State and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy await!
Back to Mindjammer, The Worm Within, and Burn Shift tomorrow – but hoping to playtest Monsters & Magic more next weekend. Hopefully then I’ll have something to distribute to you good people for comments!
I’m deep down in the New Commonality of Humankind this month, doing the final write-through of the upcoming Mindjammer 2nd edition RPG, due out spring 2013 and using the new Fate Core rules. I mentioned late last year I’d try to post updates and peeks – so here’s a look at the character creation guide for the hominid genotype the Chembu, the genurgic enhancement specialists of the Commonality (you may recognise them from General Ulgus in the Mindjammer novel). I hope you like it – and of course there’s lots more to come in the bumper 300-page hardback in a few months!
HOMINIDS (HOMO VARIENS)
Hominids derive from human stock which through genurgy or genetic drift have become separate sub-species. Some are far removed from their human ancestors. Four hominid species — the Chembu, Javawayn, Hydragand-Dezimeer, and the Viri — are presented below; you can find others in Chapter 17: Alien Life and Chapter 20: The Darradine Rim.
Base Cost: 3 aspects, 1 stunt
The Chembu are genurgists — specialists in genurgic enhancement — and the managers of the Chembu Genurgy Corporacy (page XX). Their homeworld is a water-world inhabited by a bizarre organic global mindscape-analog, which welcomed the original colonists (after some horrific initial misunderstandings) into its “mass mind”. Known as the “Planetary Intelligence” or just “Chembu”, it’s connected to the Mindscape, although its thoughts are too alien for most people.
Before the colonists’ arrival, the Planetary Intelligence lived by genurgically modifying its environment; the Chembu hominids now have a symbiotic relationship with it, a phenomenon with significant philosophical ramifications. It has sensory, communication, and manipulative organs best described as “psionic”, whose powers the Chembu have been unable to replicate.
The Chembu themselves are genurgically-enhanced waterworld dwellers (see “Genurgic Enhancements” on page XX). They appear “streamlined”, with hairless, dolphin-like skin, lungs and gills, and other modifications. When creating a Chembu character, you may use your character aspects, skills, and stunts to buy genurgic enhancements as well as your extras budget.
|Apparent Age:||Mature adult|
|Typical Occupations:||Corporacy Mercantilist, Diplomat, Genurgist|
|Typical Enhancements:||Extended Lifespan|
|Mandatory Extras:||Gills, Mindscape Implant|
|Flaw:||Weakness to hot, dry conditions|
You must take at least 1 of these.
Commune with the Planetary Intelligence
Chembu is Mother, Chembu is Father, Chembu is All. No human can understand the all-encompassing love that is the commune with the Planetary Intelligence.
- Invoke: To succeed at a recovery obstacle for a consequence caused by mental stress; resist coercion or intimidation; gain knowledge which may be known by the Planetary Intelligence (similar to Mindscape exomemory — see page XX).
- Compel: To be lost or susceptible to coercion or suggestion when out of contact with the Planetary Intelligence; be lost within or distracted by the massmind of the Planetary Intelligence.
The Individual is Nothing: the Group Mind is All
You may look like an individual, but in many ways you’re not. There is only one Chembu.
- Invoke: To gain strength from the knowledge that you’re not alone; share knowledge, feelings, perceptions; communicate effortlessly with Chembu.
- Compel: To have difficulty understanding individualism; act counter to your own individual interests if it benefits Chembu; be distracted by the Group Mind.
Nature is to be Improved Upon!
The Planetary Intelligence improved you; now it is your mission to improve the cosmos, one being at a time.
- Invoke: To find and take advantage of flaws in a naturally evolved being; gain a bonus when creating, understanding, implementing, or repairing a genurgic enhancement.
- Compel: To act superior to lesser beings; stumble upon a flaw in yourself; point out a flaw in others, or attempt to fix it.
The Planetary Intelligence
The Planetary Intelligence is perhaps the most remarkable being ever encountered by humankind. The biosphere of the world of Chembu exhibits emergent properties which aren’t reducible to its constituent organisms; in effect, the whole planet is a single organism, alive and conscious in ways which its constituents — including the genurgically modified Chembu hominids — aren’t able to comprehend.
All organisms on Chembu appear to be attuned to the emergence and maintenance of the Planetary Intelligence — in essence, every plant, every animal-analog, acts as though it was an organ or computing constituent contributing to the Intelligence’s whole. Commonality scientists theorise that’s exactly what they are — that, at some point in the distant past, the predecessors of the Planetary Intelligence reconfigured all the life forms on their planet to act as nanomachine assemblies, giving birth to a single, planetwide organism.
The Chembu aren’t the only “children” of the Planetary Intelligence. Since First Contact, the Planetary Intelligence has worked with the Commonality to create the Bioship Fleet — interstellar vessels comprising mechanical components mixed with organic material hybridised from mixed human and Chembu stock.
The Chembu bioships are amongst the biggest of the Commonality’s citizens: vast cyborg bio-mechanical starships, the oldest can be as much as ten kilometres long. The first bioship, with an incept date of 244/77, is Planet Seed 1; now over 115 years old, it’s 10.5 kilometres from end to end, and still growing…
That’s all for now – more to come! Let me know what you think – and fire away if you have any questions.