One-Page RPG: Collaborative Taskforces

Collaborative Taskforces is such a tacky and cumbersome title but that is the exact reason it is so fitting for my first attempt at a GMless one-page RPG. My day job has been throwing around some buzzwords of late and in spite of my shown cynicism in this one-page RPG, I believe it is leading to something good. However, I still found that I needed to vent some of my frustrations with “office talk” so I made an untested one-page RPG that makes a mockery of it!

Figure 1. I think I had a nightmare like this

In this game players will be “luckily” chosen to participate in a new initiative at their corporate office job. It has them involved in working with people from other departments while tackling tough problems on top of their regular duties and to top it off, the employees that do not perform will be fired at the end of the day.

I am sure this kind of work may be suited to some people but I do not find any joy in it. I believe you will find this reflected in the primary resolution mechanic which has players on a downward spiral unless they can risk the whole project or ensure that they are seen when they do something positive. Is it bleak? Yes. Am I cynical? Sometimes.

I also thought this might be a good opportunity to practice using some graphics and laying out the page. I think it worked out okay though it was something slapped together. I had one issue with a particular image becoming jagged around the edges after export. I tried everything except changing the image but no amount of messing with DPI or rasterising settings seemed to fix it. I think it may have been caused by me inadvertently changing the size of the image when it was grouped with some other layer. Whoops.

Anyway, I hope you find joy in this whether that is snickering as you read the wonderful job title generator or if you play it with your pals and laugh about being fired at the end of the day. Let me know what you think!

This link will take you to itch.io where you can preview the game and download it for free: Collaborative Taskforces Download

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Fantasy Spell Generation

Spells that are esoteric, wizards that are deranged and corrupted by magic, and mysterious magical symbolism are all features of some of my most enjoyed fantasy in roleplaying games. For this reason, I have been working on a solo RPG that, by the end, will have the player in possession of a grimoire of spells and a brief history of the wizard that created them. I think this could have great results when porting the grimoires into other fantasy games, however I have yet to finish designing the game. In the meantime, I wanted to show off the spell creation process as it currently stands. WARNING: Some of the spell offerings here depict violent or aggressive acts.

Figure 1. A spell randomly generated using the process I developed for a solo RPG I am also working on.

The above image demonstrates the type of spells that can be created using my process. The spells are referred to as Opus Phenomena Vicissitude because I thought it sounded neat and mystical. Each Opus Phenomena Vicissitude includes a spell name to provide just enough information as to what it might do, a requirement of the spell that must be offered to cast the spell, and finally the glyph which is mostly just for show in the grimoire. Imagine handing a scroll or a whole tome of these to a player! I know I would be excited to delve into it.

To create spells like the one depicted in figure 1 you can use the process described in the download at the bottom of this post. It should be noted that I have taken aspects of the design out that related to the solo RPG for your convenience of generating spells without becoming bogged down in other details. For this, you will need a set of playing cards with both Jokers removed, some paper, a pencil, and a mind for the dark arts.

I know elements of this process can be a tad vague but that is by design to allow flexibility in the interpretation of spell names and glyph-making. Hopefully, I can find the sweet spot before releasing the solo RPG. In the name of the RPG community, I hope you find this helpful and I would be happy to receive some feedback as I do know that these things can be difficult to describe to someone else who has not been working on it and some of those tables are large which can make them difficult to read.

This link will take you to Dropbox so you can download the document: Opus Phenomena Vicissitude

Interested in reading more?

Using Tanglegrams for Planning RPG Sessions

As I facilitate more roleplaying games, I find myself leaning more towards sandbox experiences with a large cast of NPCs. I establish a starting scenario to introduce these characters over the first few sessions without much of an idea of what the narrative is going to be. This is not to say that I do not plan any story – I often like to have something happening at the forefront in a session but it is determined by player and NPC actions instead of pulled from a plan. To do this I maintain session notes to remind myself of who interacted with who and how it went but this becomes painful when I need to trawl through notes from multiple sessions. Here is where I believe a tanglegram could benefit my and your campaigns.

A tanglegram is like a mindmap except it focuses on the interconnections between people and things. It was originally proposed by Ian Hodder in his 2012 book, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things, where he argues that humans live to sustain a material world. I believe this could be used to track the many NPCs, objects, factions, and PCs in a roleplaying game between sessions to aid with identifying story seeds and generating initial session situations.

Though untested, here is how I may approach this in future campaigns that I facilitate.

  1. Create a cast of characters (including PCs)
  2. Map the connections between the NPCs and PCs by using colour-coding or labelling to identifying the type of relationship and whether or not it is one-sided or not
  3. Add in various objects, locations, and factions of significance as independent entities
  4. Review the map and make necessary changes after each session and then use this in the planning process before the next session

Create a Cast of Characters

We all develop and create NPCs in a variety of manners and with varying degrees of depth. For the purposes of illustrating the use of Tanglegrams I am leaving each NPC at a single, brief sentence and only including a few.

  • Newt, an ancient witch preparing a blood ritual to revive her long dead sister and using Dr. Patella to gather bodies
  • Eye, Newt’s long dead sister who leaves the streets of Amberbrooke bloody
  • Residents of Amberbrooke who are working hard to establish a new life here
  • Meretah, a self-proclaimed detective who is often found nose-deep in a book or other people’s business
  • Chaypin Patella, a world-renowned doctor in the recent employ of Lord Amber
  • Rose, a local herbalist that tries to watch over Amberbrooke and its residents

Initial Mapping

To make use of these more easily then identifying the type of relationship between two entities is crucial but it is best to keep these brief. As you can see the relationships between each character is known and those who do not have knowledge of others is easily visible.

Figure 1. The initial map of the tanglegram demonstrating the relationships between various characters.

Adding in the Rest

In this step the locations, objects, and factions should be added in as separate entities with attached relationships. As you can see below, I colour-coded my blocks to distinguish between characters, objects, and locations. It may look something like this:

Figure 2. A tanglegram demonstrating the relationships between characters (yellow), locations (blue), and objects (purple).

Review and Planning

Over time these tanglegrams could become monstrously large but by displaying the relationship between all entities within a sandbox campaign it may be easier to identify story seeds or situations that players find themselves in. For example, the players may be out strolling at night and may see Chaypin Patella at the ruins or Meretah at the tavern. One evening the players may visit the doctor to find that Rose is banging angrily on his door and asking him to leave the healing to her. This could be left as a brief scene to introduce characters or it could blossom into something more.

An obvious limitation of this visualising method is that it represents a tangled web of relationships – I suppose that is the point. With the understanding that we do not require to understand or see every relationship at once, just those relevant, it becomes less of a problem. Some software could also reduce this problem by allowing a use to click on an entity and have the relationships to it highlighted or to select multiple and have the pathways between them highlighted. I do not know this exists, but it could support the use of tanglegrams well. In the end, this is nothing more than a tool to facilitate the generation of ideas and note-taking that I thought might be interesting to try out the next time I facilitate a game.

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Playing Dread Remotely

Dread was the first roleplaying system that I used as a game master and I recently had the pleasure to be a player of it remotely. My friend wrote a scenario that was inspired by an SCP article and it was an excellent time for all involved – I even died horribly to some freaky monster and like all good monsters I cannot begin to even describe it properly. Traditionally a game of Dread uses a Jenga tower and has players pulling a block for a given action should their character be under duress or working out of their skill. This lends to a beautifully tense table that blends perfectly with the horror genre that Dread lends itself too, however using a Jenga tower remotely is uncomfortable.

These are a multitude of options available as a substitute for a Jenga tower for Dread to be played remotely, though most of them attempt to replace the physical challenge of Jenga with a mental challenge and many of these do not create the feeling of dread for me. In the recent session that I played in we used Minesweeper but the feeling of dread for me was not caused by the game of Minesweeper, instead it was the skilful storytelling of my friend as the game master. Minesweeper did not work because it does not meet the criteria that I believe a physical Jenga tower meets for a game of Dread to successfully impose suspense on the players.

The Criteria and Options

For a game of Dread to work I believe the primary manner of resolution must meet the following criteria:

  • A visibly diminishing chance of success
  • Flexibility to make multiple ‘pulls’
  • A quick action to perform
  • Provides choice for the player

Many people have suggested rolling dice, drawing playing cards, digital Jenga, or playing minesweeper to be a substitute for the Jenga tower. Each may work to some degree; however, I find that most fail to meet the above criterion as described below.

  • Minesweeper fails at criteria 1-3 because it is simply too easy given the information the game provides (a possible solution could be a time limit imposed on the player for picking a square to click and maybe banning the use of flags)
  • Digital Jenga is difficult to manipulate as transferring 3-dimensional movement with precision form a mouse to the computer is awkward and it could easily lead to players feeling cheated. A potential solution could be VR, however that is an expensive solution
  • Playing cards may work and there are several methods for doing so such as drawing the single joker resulting in a death and a reset though depending on the software used then you may not be able to visibly see the diminishing deck. The problem with this is that it does not provide much choice for the player
  • Rolling dice is another flexible option that most people tend to focus on strict probabilities for that can sometimes result in lacklustre player without choice for the players. A possible solution for this is described below

How I Will Play Next Time

The next time I play Dread remotely I intend to use the following method. On paper, it seems like it could work and successfully meet the criteria outlined above though I suspect that it may require some tweaking.

Players will use dice sizes from D4 to D20 and for each pull must roll a number of dice required to have the maximum face value of each be greater than or equal to 12. Dice remain on the virtual table and if the player rolls a number that has already shown up, they are removed from the game (the Jenga tower falls) and the dice on the table are then removed. Players then reset the table following these rules in conjunction with the Dread tower reset.

Here is an example:

  1. P1 chooses to roll 1d20 and they get an 18
  2. P2 chooses to roll 1d4+1d8 and they a 3 and a 7
  3. P3 chooses to roll a 1d6+1d12 and they a 6 and an 11
  4. P4 chooses to roll 1d20 but they roll a 3 which has already shown up thus they are removed from the game

This method meets the criteria above as players have choice in how they wish to roll to hopefully increase their chances of being safe while showing a diminishing chance of success. The action to roll is quick and players can easily perform a second or third roll if required by the rules of Dread. If you ever have the chance of testing this approach out, then please let me know how it goes!

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Random Table: What’s in Their Pocket?

Figure 1: A random table

The use of random tables in my games are still predominantly focused on the before aspect of the game – the preparation. However, in my most recent campaign of Mutant: Year Zero I did return to utilising random tables during a session and I found that I very much liked the random aspects they can introduce while also allowing a modicum of control.

Though random tables are in the early stages of ruminating deep in the basting juices of my mind, they have provoked me to consider where different GM tools might lie on a spectrum of chaos and control. My preparations for a game session involve a couple of possible situations tied to each PC and the plots which is derived from the drives and goals of the NPCs – it is quite minimal, but it rests on the more control side of the spectrum. Then the players bring in their moxie to add a touch of chaos to drag my prep towards the centre and this is where I feel that random tables rest – I create them and the dice bring in that delightful chaos.

In the spirit of random tables and my endeavour to use them more here is a table to be used when you need to know what is inside a person’s pocket. I have tried to keep it thematically neutral but interesting so that it can fit in any setting while providing questions with each roll.

What’s in Their Pocket?

2D4Pocket Contents
2Tracked Orb: A small glass orb that rolls after the last person who touched it. When viewed by the wielder, it shows their reflection and then fades to black with a red ‘X’ that can be viewed from any angle.
3Rotting Finger: A shriveling lump of flesh with exposed bone depicts a decaying finger moist with infection. Near the base, where it has been severed, is half of a ring mark.
4Blue Stain: The pocket is empty but the sides feel powdery. The thief’s hand is now stained blue for all to see!
5Pocket Change: A small amount of currency either in a container such as a pouch or loose inside the pocket. It can be in pristine, polished condition (1/6); worn and used (4/6); mucky and smelly (1/6).
6Scratch Pad: A tiny notebook or pad for taking short notes with. In the most common language a series of three numbers are hastily scrawled on it, e.g. 32 1 15.
7Clockwork Device: A small device that begins to chatter when in the presence of heat. In the cold if the device is squeezed it prints out a sheet of paper with a series of dots and lines on it that translate to the noise around the device during its most recent chattering.
8Formal Invitation: A letter written on heavy card stock invites the beneficiary of this letter to a private soiree. The incredibly fine print towards the bottom reads “BYO sacrifice but food and drink is provided”. It’s signed “- The Dimaryp Opportunity”.

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Lumbrik Class for The Black Hack

For use with The Black Hack

Plagued by dreams of mechanized humanoids descending into green cracks in the Earth is what originally inspired me to create the Lumbrik class for DnD 5e. I liked the idea of robotic or robotic adjacent heroes in a fantasy setting but I found the Warforged of Eberron to be a little mechanically bland – I suppose without the context of Eberron they just feel like any other race in DnD 5e to me. Due to the incessant violent coughs and ejection of blood from my throat caused by contact with Dungeons & Dragons – yes, I know I should have it looked at – I decided to port over my custom class to The Black Hack so that I could use it again.

The Lumbrik are actually a worm-like species that are about the size of a human forearm. They live in underground tunnel networks as small groups who feed on the knowledge contained in the DNA of organisms. In an effort to gain more knowledge they designed mechanized suits that would interface with them called Exoframes. This allowed them to travel the surface of the world to consume more knowledge. You can find the untested custom class below. If you like the look of this, have suggestions, or a play report then let me know below. Enjoy!

Starting Stats

Starting Hit Points (HP) : roll 1d4 + 8
Starting Hit Dice (HD) : 1d10
Usable Weapons & Armour : None
Attack Damage : 1d4 unarmed, counts as a Large Weapon

D6Exoframe Insignia
1A purple worm bursting out of the ground
2Bold, flaming text that reads: “Global Worming”
3A lantern overflowing with glow worms
4A raven with worms for eyes
5A large, open book with indecipherable text on it
6A worm with a throbbing and disproportionately large brain

Equipment

Every Lumbrik starts with a special ‘Crank’ function as described below. Also choose to start the game with either A or B:

  • A – 2d8 coins and purse, built-in large shield (+1 Armour Die), a shopping list of exotic fruits and vegetables
  • B – 2d8 coins and purse, built-in one-handed weapon instead of one arm (Replaces Attack Damage with 1d6), a kill order with a body quota

Hardened Frame

The Exoframe is made of hard metals and provides protection from attacks (AV2). Also when rolling Broken Armour Die a Lumbrik rolls with Advantage.

Subterranean

Due to your familiarity with the world underneath you do not suffer from Panic! due to a lack of light. However, an abundance of flashing lights may cause you to Panic!

Crank

Each Exoframe is constructed with a unique mechanical function that requires cranking for use. For every Action spent cranking increase the Usage Die for the given crank function up to a maximum of Ud12. In addition to downgrading the Usage Die when a 1 is rolled, you also lose 1 HP.

Function NameFunction Effect
LightYour Exoframe sheds bright light from a glass bulb with thick copper wire in it to allow Nearby creatures to see. This light lasts until the Usage Die has been depleted.
StompTwo large hammers extend out from your Exoframe and begin hammering on the ground around you. A number of creatures equal to your that are Nearby become Stuck. Attribute Tests to remove this Hindrance are made with an additional die equal to the Usage Die used for this. This occurs immediately after the cranking actions have finished after which the Usage Die is depleted.
MagnetA large chunk of metal in your Exoframe begins to rapidly spin. A number of metal items equal to the rolled value of the Usage Die are violently attached to your frame. When the Usage Die has been depleted, every attached item is then violently ejected outwards dealing 1 HP of damage to a number of Nearby creatures equal to the number of items ejected.
ShieldA large sheet of metal erupts from your Exoframe and rests into the ground after the cranking actions have finished. It provides cover for all Close creatures that stand behind it. While standing behind this, a creature has access to a shared pool of Armour Dice equal to the highest face value of the Usage Die. This effect can be stopped with an action after which the shield retracts itself into the Exoframe.

When You Gain a New Level

Acquire and share a number of Experiences equal to your current HD to advance a Level. When you gain a Level:

  • Roll a d20 once for each Attribute – if you roll over, it goes up one point, make an extra roll for one Attribute of your choice.
  • Gain 1HD – Roll 1d10 – gain that many additional maximum HP

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Dungeon Crawl Classics Level 0 for The Black Hack

Figure 1 The Black Hack hardcover placed with artistic apathy on top of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Egyptian Lich cover

The first time I read about level 0 funnel dungeons in Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) I was smitten. After years of playing in games where the backstory of a character was either non-existent, a re-telling of yet more murdered parents, or something of the sort I was ecstatic to try out the process of the funnel – just for something different at the very least. However, I prefer running games with the Black Hack (TBH) so like many others I decided to hack the Black Hack by incorporating level 0 characters into it for the purposes of running funnel dungeons.

The basic idea of the level 0 funnel dungeon is each player controls multiple characters (around 3 to 4 each) that are considered level 0 (they have less hit points and no class). Each of these characters has some randomly generated occupations and equipment, then are thrust into a deadly dungeon for any reason from greed to bad luck. Only the strongest, luckiest, or most cunning will survive and reach level 1. The modified TBH character creation steps and D12 occupations table are presented below.

Character Creation for The Funnel Hack

Step 1. Follow the “Roll Dice for Their Attributes” (step A) step of the Black Hack character creation process

Step 2. Roll 1d12 on the occupation table below and note any weapon (considered usable even after the funnel despite your chosen class) or gear that accompanies it. This counts as the character’s first background so write a sentence or two that contextualises it

Step 3. Roll 1d4 for the character’s hit points

Step 4. Attempt to survive the funnel with the following rule adjustments:

  • If the character’s HP is reduced to 0 or less, they die without rolling for Out of the Action
  • All damage is either 1d4 with a weapon or 2/1 for improvised weapons/unarmed

Step 5. Your sole surviving or chosen character now follows the “Swap Two Attributes” (step B) step of the Black Hack character creation process. Remaining surviving characters go about their lives or perhaps they can be recruited as hirelings

Step 6. For your chosen character follow the “Choose a Class” (step C) step of the Black Hack character creation process except when you determine hit points for your level 1 character add the following hit points based on the chosen class to your current maximum hit points instead of rolling any dice:

  • Warrior: +6 HP
  • Thief: +4 HP
  • Cleric: +6 HP
  • Wizard: +1 HP

Step 7. Venture forth into the great unknown as a level 1 Black Hack character with one scarring memory that haunts your dreams

Occupation Table

The table below was derived from the D12 Inspiration table in The Black Hack for the purposes of this post. You can roll on this or any other occupation table – just remember that an occupation likely gets a weapon and some useful or interesting gear.

D12OccupationWeaponGear
1HunterWorn light bowArrows Ud6, whistle that emits a deep note when used
2Escaped PrisonerCrumbling ShivFraudulent papers, broken shackles
3DeserterRusty short swordCloth Armour AV1, wineskin filled with something black and sticky
4GamblerShiny DaggerFlask, letter of debt, papers of prepared “I owe you”
5Fleeing NobleDull KnifeSignet ring that draws the eye, 10 coins
6Indentured Wizard’s ServantInscribed StaffLocket with a picture of someone you don’t recognise on the inside, torches Ud4
7Forgotten SoldierSharpened Short SwordShield with a forgotten insignia
8SmugglerBloodied DaggerSack of contraband that has a strong smell, 4 coins
9Town DrunkBroken BottleBottle of booze, stolen holy symbol
10Professional Clinical Trial Participant10 coins, green potion (Single use. Heals 1d4 upon use and one of the following effects: 1 – you are compelled to move left for a minute; 2 – the sclera of your right eye permanently changes to a deep yellow instead of white; 3 – A fuzzy feeling causes you to be distracted; 4 – you are weakened for 1 moment)
11FarmerSharp PitchforkHen that responds to a name, 2 coins
12WoodcutterHand axeBundle of wood, chalk Ud6, iron spikes Ud6
Occupation table derived form the D12 Inspiration table for character backgrounds in The Black Hack

I hope someone finds this a useful tool for starting a campaign in The Black Hack or at least found it to be a somewhat joyful read. I intend to use this as a tool for running Tombs of the Serpent King as a funnel dungeon for my upcoming Black Hack campaign. Leave a comment (if you can?) with any suggestions or thoughts below.

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