Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Free RPG authors should aspire to Krendel by William J. Altman

Krendel by William J. Altman is a charming generic roleplaying game system with extraordinarily high production values. Aimed at experienced and new players alike, it leaves nothing to chance, taking painstaking effort to explain everything with exceptional examples.

At 206 pages, there is too much joy to detail in a review but I hope to give you a skim that might urge you to download and plunge in.


Krendel provides you with an array of sculptors chisels to carve out your character. Concept first, motivations and temptations (with a list to boot) and relationships (with NPCs and PCs). Before you place your statues amongst your ornate fountains and topiary, Krendel provides a reason for your characters to be together.

Strength, carrying capacity, health, XP and karma all act as you expect. Skills (learnt profession), Traits (natural abilities) and Powers (see below) describe your character. This is a great way to cater for different settings.

Skills are broken down into expertises and each have actions associated with them. This makes for explicit uses of a skill. If you've got Academics then rather than narratively convincing the GM that you're good at puzzle solving, there is an action Puzzle.

Regardless of your setting, your player character is special in some way (as are you, dear reader). Krendel uses power mechanics to give extra actions, or improve the success, or do specific things at certain times. Your character has a power pool to govern their use. A big list of Core powers (common to most settings) is given and if that's not enough for you there is a whole book full of these powers, also free to download.

Generic mechanics, beautifully explained

The core mechanic is a simple target number. You take your skill, add 4 and any GM difficulty bonuses. You then roll a 1D10, equal or under the target number is a success. The neat bit here is that your level of success depends on how big the number is on the die. The bigger it is, the more successful you are and being really successful will give you extra actions or improve your combat.

Failures are dealt with in a modern, narrative way; rather than "you swing and miss the troll", you have "you hit but you've made the troll really cross, it's dropped its knitting and sharpening its bone crunching teeth on some granite".

There are modifiers for help from other player characters and karma to spend to improve the outcome. Damage is served on a platter of types including bludgeoning, corrosive, sonic, badger and mental. It can be lethal, subduing or permenant (can't heal from it). Extensive rules for grids and miniatures allude to its old school, war game heritage and there are attractive pcitures to drive home the details.

Effects and conditions describe limitations (temporary or permenant) that befall your character and are grouped by type. For example, Mutations include effects of cancer, evolutionary and splicing - all with their own rules.

Equipment can be damaged and has a level of quality. You might also be holding an artifact, with magical abilities too. There is an enormous amount of equipment to gorge on! There are crafting rules for players to boost their tooling with setting appropriate effects on play.

Take my hand

Krendel doesn't hang the GM out to dry, but instead guides them through the steps needed to make a setting. A lot of the items in this section would be appropriate for any game system. Scenarios, game balance and encounters are all explained with environment effects thrown in too. There are species (making up a monstrous manual of sorts).

As your approach the end, you'll find a quick start and primer, example characters, species creation, an index and back cover.

New to roleplaying?

The writing of Krendel really does lay itself bare for people new to roleplaying, although the language is more appropriate for older readers. I imagine a GM picking up Krendel but I can't imagine them reading through it all. Do new to roleplaying gamers have the staying power for big rulebooks now?

The core mechanic is simple but the complexity lies in the combinations of modifiers and actions that build up with skills, powers, traits, species, effects, weapon artifact. For a new player to remember all the actions modifiers they have isn't easy. The examples could do with being tied together with an example of play.

Add it to your collection

Krendel is clearly a labour of love, illustrated throughout and rammed with lists. You are probably an experienced roleplayer, begin at the quickstart at the back. It is a huge piece of work that clearly took an enormous effort to complete. The diligence to complete a game of magnitude with such clarity is exceptional. If you're tired of lite systems that force you to invent everything yourself, give Krendel a try. If you just love to read RPGs then the writing of Krendel is a delight.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Flipping Lunch Box Heroes by Jackson and Stogdill

Lunch Box Heroes by Matt Jackson and Christopher Stogdill is a coin flipping generic roleplaying game system wrapped around a flipping neat dice-pool-but-not-dice-pool mechanic. Bold, focussed and malleable, it's flipping well instantly likeable.

Flipping characters

You have Brawns, Agility and Brains. Yes, you, the flipping reader. Well done you. You like pain I know, so you chart that with Fortitude (how much of it you can handle) and Hits, for when the pain really does flipping hurt. Those are common to all characters.

The player needs to get their thinking caps on to choose some flipping skills and gear. Gear is different from just "stuffs in my flipping pockets" because gear gives you a bonus. It's that magic sword with +1 of nasty paper cuts rather than 20ft of flipping rope your players demand even in a Minecraft flatland.

Flipping mechanics

Attributes, skills and gear are measured in coins, which is the number of coins you have to flip for a check. Heads are passes and you're aiming for a target number of heads to pass (1 is easy, 6 is impossible). That's the flipping. The player tries to combine an attribute, skill and gear to flip as many coins as possible so focussed characters are best.

Draws, criticals, fumbles, healing, magic and experience points are all dealt with curtly and with common flipping sense.

The flipping sugar that fills me with joy

The flipping rules is roughly a page of reading, the rest is help. Help for The Judge (the GM/Ref/DM), examples of play, how to rip monsters out of other flipping RPGs. It's so neat that the whole system fits on a single flipping page, included at the back. I like the cover too, it has that unapologetic scruffiness that Lite RPGs do so well.

Flipping injuries

Have you ever seen me flip a coin? No? It's not something you'll see twice because I'll have your eye out. I flip a coin the same way a snake juggles. Although the system is fast, (counting heads), the act of flipping isn't. If you're flipping 5 coins for an action, that's going to take time. It points out that you could use any even dice and count evens but then you'd be using a system much like every other. It's the flipping that's novel.

I'd like to see some more use of typography, perhaps two columns, more paragraphs and the language can be simplified to make it easier for new or younger players. An extra picture or two would help - in the same style as the cover. I also don't think it's important to state that the game is about flexibility and having fun at the top. If a prospective player/GM has downloaded it, they know what a Lite system is all about. If not, they'll never be able to run it as the players will get stuck on creating their own skills (standard drawback of Lite systems).

Flipping Conclusion

Lunch Box Heroes, is Lite, novel and familiar, well written and presented with plenty of assistance. It is different enough for you to download and read, print out the final page and fold it into your grab bag for when your GM is off gallivanting around Vegas.

One last thing...

You might recognise Christopher Stogdill from the excellent Frugal Gamer blog. If you don't, then shame on you. Add him immediately to your feed reader. Don't use a feed reader? What is this, 1997? Oh, you get your English butler to read this out. Well, of course you do. Get him to read it out to you.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Ebon by Greg Porter uses a directed graph for the character... I'm not joking!

Ebon is rare. It's rare to find a character mechanic that is surprising, unique, woven into the system and described in two pages. Attributes, secondary attributes and skills now look so... well... pedestrian. I'm going to jump straight into the gorgeousness.

The heart of the graph

Aspects describe your character and flow from one to another like snaking rivulets on a rain sodden window. The river flow begins with Primary Aspects that describe raw talent, slither through Secondary (honed talents), slosh into tertiary aspects (broad life experiences) before sploshing into Reserves, which represent your ability to withstand hardships.

The Aspects are arranged for you in a lovely directed graph (see below), the three primary ones (Body, Mind, Spirit) being in the middle. These are filled out with a delightful point assign technique where you begin with choosing a tradeoff between the three primary and then flowing the numbers down across the others.

Familiar ground - ish

The system is a dice pool: target number is between 1 and 6, roll D6 equal to the Aspect, at least one of the die you've rolled must be larger or equal to target. Each die over the target improves how well you've succeeded, each 1 gives you a narrative drawback. The damage you take, be it meaty-stab, brainy-ache or some other, it is all managed using the subtleties of the Aspect graph. Brilliant!

The horror, the horror

Horror is neatly categories into your everyday, communal-garden mundane blood, gore, violence; and spooky Cthulhu-esque supernaturality. Each bounce of different parts of the Aspect tree. Magic and Piety is used to fight their respective horrors. Experience raises aspects and you recover lost reserve over time. There's also a gear table.


Ebon is micro and so you're going to have to work quite hard to run it. Some of the language could be simplified. I don't think Aspects gain anything from being called Aspects rather than attributes and defining Endeavours (types of action) isn't that useful. This would leave more room for examples or a slightly larger font. A not-too-arty type could make the most amazing character sheet out of the Aspects graph.

Fizzing thoughts

The core idea of attributes (Aspects) that feed other, less important, attributes is inspired. It made ideas and possibilities buzz around my head. The graph Greg has provided is excellent at horror but what about Sci Fi? A tweak here, a tweak there and it could be used for any genre. For the more crunch inclined, how about getting the players to lay out their own graphs? You could end up with less regular shapes.

I did a PhD in circles and arrows

When was the last time you read a system that made you feel like you wanted to write a whole new one? Ebon's directed graph of Aspects is beautiful thought out and I would love to use something like it. Graphs are not just for plotting, they're for characters too. Greg, thank you for sharing.