2020-03-29 Developing the rules

I’ve had two sessions of my 2d6 “ancient school” game, now. I started with a small set of rules (see 2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules) and I am starting to feel the urge to systematise my approach. Perhaps this should go under “Referee Guide” of the system? 🙂

How should I handle a spell with an area of effect? I have a character that can throw fireballs. I need to remember that this characters is just a beginner. So their “fireball” is more like a magic missile: it strikes a single person, or if it causes a big explosion then it’s a scary looking explosion that doesn’t really kill people. Thus, to affect more people at the same time, I should just treat that as a new spell, a new special ability.

How to handle huge differences? I mean, I basically have this rule:

If you win the opposed 2d6, you deal damage. If the difference is small, you deal one hit. If the difference is larger, let’s say three or four, you might deal two hits; more than that and it’s a “special effect” (blown back, injured, taken out, depending on the kind of attack).

The reason I use these numbers is that new character have three hits per default. Third level? Maybe. 🙂

But what happens if you win or lose with a difference of eight? Of ten? It’s overkill! I guess you could say that a difference of ten is five hits (since the current wording could be interpreted as “divide by two”) and if you have a fighter with heavy armour and a shield they have six hits so they’re still going to survive it.

Also, remember that one side rolling a two on 2d6 is a 1 in 36 chance, and the other side rolling a twelve on a 2d6 is another 1 in 36, so this should be really rare: 1 in about 1296. This isn’t going to happen often and thus a catastrophic setback would be just fine.

I should get better at narrating what getting hit entails. Does a hit or two have fictional consequences? One hit, bruises, two hits, serious injuries that take a long time to heal? Perhaps I’m still thinking in D&D hit-points: those hits are more like “morale” or “will to live”?

I’m happy with using D&D HD as simple hits. Ten orcs have ten hits. Six ghouls have twelve hits. That worked just fine. An orc leader (3 HD) gets three hits. I’m also happy with the way I assigned the bonus: orcs get +0 to attack. Ghouls in their tunnels get +1. The orc leader is like a human fighter and should get +2; in this case he’s wielding a magic mace +1 so he actually gets +3. That scared the players!

I also try to assess how easily an enemy might be affected by something. Thus, if the players have the initiative and pick the fire mage to attack the ghouls, then I might say something like “the ghouls are totally not used to fight fire and so they just roll +0 this turn” – but once the ghouls aren’t attacked by magic, or if they have the initiative and decide how to attack, then they’re back to getting their +1 bonus.

I guess this could be formalised into a system of strengths and weaknesses and all that, but perhaps we don’t actually need to remember that. Do we?

I’m a big fan of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D as oral culture:

there is an important point in having the mechanical rules be an oral tradition: the process of forgetting stuff works to our advantage when we can claim that any rule unimportant enough to forget deserves to be forgotten

I totally recommend that old blog post of mine where I pulled together some good quotes on that issue: 2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels.

So, given that: do I need a list of monsters and their capabilities? Do I need to write this down? Maybe not. When Norbert G. Matausch interviewed Bob Meyer on the use of dice and all that, he said:

The exact mechanisms, and way I determine results, I prefer to keep obscure by keeping them to myself.

I don’t know if I agree. I guess I like to see the wizard behind the curtain, I like to see how it all works so that it can be taken up by other people. Isn’t that how humans rose to great height: by being able to transmit their knowledge, creating culture? To keep it all in my head and not writing it down anywhere in some public place feels weird. Perhaps that’s simply the social media zeitgeist. Everything happens in public, or not at all. 😅

Anyway, I’m happy to be back blogging about role-playing games. 😁



Hey Alex, great to get some insight into your gaming/refereeing process! Personally, I write down my monsters, their abilties and hits (”Orc: 1 hit, nasty bite/infectuous on 10+”, for instance). When it comes to magic, I either handwave the effects, or, for combat spells, the player rolls 1d6 or more, if the character’s experience warrants it, for damage.

It’s rulings all the way, but they have to follow from the fiction and stay consistent.

Norbert 2020-03-30 08:20 UTC

Here’s something I wonder: if the orcs win with a roll of 10 vs. the player with a roll of 9, is the effect big (”infectuous on 10+”) or small (since the difference is just one)? These first two sessions I used the difference instead of the absolute value of the winning roll.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-30 10:04 UTC

I wanted to chime in and say I’m also happy that you are blogging about role-playing games again. I love what you are achieving with Just Halberds and all the posts related to it. Have you thought of editing, illustrating and publishing it? Maybe at itch.io, the trending platform for independent games.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-26 18:09 UTC

Well, in my mind, it is already published – right here, on this site. And I even have a cover image. 😄 I don’t know whether it really needs much more. Perhaps if I had more setting material.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-27 06:26 UTC

Yes, you are absolutely right Alex. You have published Just Halberds here, in your site. 🙂

I still think this is a perfect game for a layout in the vein of Mothership, Fleshscape and similar games.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-30 16:36 UTC

Well, if anybody wants to collaborate on this, please contact me. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-30 19:04 UTC

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