What follows is mostly for reference purposes; casual readers, mind you, this is a manual.
Halfway through senior year, I started making my own tabletop RPG, complete with people. Neither I, nor anyone in my party, had ever done this before, so you can guess how well this ended.
I didn’t have any of the resources typically used to carry out this sort of thing, so I pretty much created or repurposed everything from scratch. Dice and characters were scavenged from family board games; I eventually used a chess board to simulate a map, with roughly cut paper tiles used to express terrain; I decided to create my ‘own’ mythos, which centered on the characters jumping from planet to planet, desperately hanging on to survival. But, most of all, I created my own engine.
Well, ‘created’ is a bit of a stretch. Modded is more the term. LORE is an engine created by Gregory Weir. His is a game that is very, very basic. That’s the idea, really. It doesn’t rely on 20 sided dice, or character sheets that read more like a country’s economic spreadsheet than anything meant to signify a human being. Plus, it still gives tons of options and flexibility, allowing the game to have that ‘actually open-ended’ feel.
There’s a very innovative approach to initiative. The people with lowest initiative go first, and can be interrupted by players with higher initiative. It’s fairly complex and hard to manage, but this has always been a shitty area that needed what help it could get. Besides, when simplifying some areas, you manage to free up human CPU for more interesting things, like this.
Oh, and, rolling two six-sided dice is pure genius. It’s simple, they’re easy to acquire, a little more dramatic, and it gives a statistical likelihood for mediocre rolls which is intensely useful (the chance of interesting failures goes down from 1/20 to 1/36). Plus, the game adds bonuses to doubles (roll again) which actually increases the chance of a critical success, but still makes it dependent on the situation (if you roll three doubles, but are undergoing an almost impossible task, you’ll still probably fail).
Unfortunately for me, it’s half a game, as awesome as it is. It doesn’t dictate how characters move around the board, or lend convenient encounter tables, or even give a few pre-built characters. Weir created a system that cut not only depth, but also breadth. I had to create systems and sub-systems to complement the existing engine.
So, here’s thesis time: Martian LORE is a LORE mod that adds (so far) functionality primarily to the combat system, in which it was most lacking, and encourages a more conventional, but still streamlined, RPG experience. I understand that people like signing DMV papers, and some people like keeping track of a hundred shifting details in a character, but this only weighs down the experience for me, in the form of delayed action, lost papers, and endless discussion of minor points. In conjunction with the existing framework of LORE, my engine emphasizes breadth of experience over shallow depth of management.
The way I handle characters is identical to the way Weir does. A character will be composed of three attributes, which generally define an individual. Then, traits (I prefer calling them perks, so that it rhymes) which define a character’s aptitude for particular kinds of tasks. Skills explain a character’s knowledge; baking for instance. Quirks emphasize aspects of a character that don’t really have much of an effect.
So, an example character is:
(+) Extra Acute, Extra Empathetic, Magical Affinity, Animal Magnet
(-)Pacifist, Not so Coordinated
Languages: Japanese, Cooking, Literature, Empathy (Detect Emotion, Detect Lies), Athletics (Swimming, Running), Animal Handling
Quirks: Distinctive Appearance, Favorite thing: Starfish
Attributes and skills act as roll modifiers. If Daisuke had to outrun somebody, she would have a -1 modifier due to a mediocre strength attribute, but have a +2 modifier because of training in athletic running.
Traits can have a much broader or specific effect, and can be essentially anything based on a simple description. ‘Lucky,’ for instance, provides
Quirks make characters think twice, lending a re-roll. These are little, well, quirks, of a character that make a small impact on play, but help define the person they are.
Changes were first made to the combat system. I understand the need to be simple, but Weir’s system sucked for anything beyond conflict resolution. Total health, for instance, is limited to five. Five! What sort of depth is in that? I wanted health to be customizable (so that characters could attach small bits of health each level, instead of only being able to increase health by 25%), and I also wanted accuracy to increase damage, which is cool and makes sense.
So, I multiplied the health by five. Now, each character starts with 25 by default. The defending and offending characters make their relevant rolls. If the offending character rolls higher, he deals damage equal to the amount by which he won, plus the damage value of the weapon, which is a measure of the weapon’s scariness/raw destructiveness(Narlan the defender rolls 16 after bonuses. Rolan the asshole rolls 19 after bonuses. Rolan was using the knife weapon, which has innate damage of 1. The total damage dealt to Narlan is 4.)
When I showed my old teacher how the game worked, he pointed out the quarter under my mannequin-peoples. He said “you know, you can use glue if you want a base.” I said “That’s not a base, that’s health.” Generally, players start with a quarter. As they take damage, they burst into a pillar of blood-red pennies and supportive nickels. Then, they publicly tick down to death. It’s clunky moving around a stack of cash, but it’s cool enough to keep.
Moving on, I added a secondary roll to determine where attacks land. Two dice are rolled, and held against the following chart.
4-5: Left arm
9-10: Right arm
11-12: Right leg
Then, a third die is cast, to determine effect:
1-2 no effect.
3-4 weapon effect (which may involve amputation or burns, or artery severing, etc.).
5 damage item held in that limb (throwing down an opponents weapon, or having a trinket absorb an otherwise lethal attack).
6-the target’s head is hit, which overrides the earlier limb-attack roll, and requires another effect roll.
Players can select a particular limb or effect, and increase the likelihood of striking it. By sacrificing 2 accuracy, they expand the range that the selected limb can be hit by 1 in either direction. So, with this the torso selected, rolls 5-9 effectively hit. By sacrificing 4 accuracy, the player guarantees a hit on targeted area, assuming they manage to hit their target at all. The cost for effect roll targeting is increased to 3 for increased likelihood, and 5 for guaranteed hit, since items are much smaller than limbs. The player must state where they intend to aim before rolling attack dice.
Since I’m working with limbs, and items placed around limbs, I’m almost obligated to use Matt Rundle’s Anti-hammerspace item tracker. It essentially constrains items to a physical point in space, and does it well.
I also intend to use this diplomacy system, -adjusted to fit LORE’s dice- since it’s marginally better than GM fiat. Of course, I’ll still use fiat to prevent the classic strategy gaming guffaw: “Okay, Germany, I’m offering you half my territory, my entire treasury, peace, and bragging rights. As a bonus, your single regiment of troops gets to live. All you have to do is let me go through your borders.” “Nein! Nein! Nein! This is unacceptable!”
Besides that, I’m either following LORE laws, roleplaying logic, or winging it. Looking at it, I would say this system is comparatively simple, even with my additions. Ultimately, Martian LORE is a handcrafted engine built around a particular play style and will likely not be worth much more than a demo for most people. There are other engines with similar goals to this one, and they are more refined, more supported, and more complete. However, against all that, this may very well be revolutionary in its class for one thing: 6-sided dice.
I will probably spend a certain amount of time later on evolving this system further, creating skill trees, environments, encounter charts, and all the ideas necessary for a complete campaign in the absence of a god GM. In addition, I might refine what’s here, and compile it with the existing LORE engine to create a proper manual, and I will certainly do so if I ever put it into practice.