Friday, April 9, 2021

a critical reading of bolt, part 3

last time we finally made it to the hard mechanics of BOLT, now we're going to read about how to create a character and see how far we get from there. although before i've been copying/pasting passages wholesale for the purposes of accessibility, the book is only getting harder to format in a blogger post so i'm going to start taking screenshots.

"characters are largely defined by four sets of values." love me some set theory. let's get into it!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

towards an industrial economic simulation

Each labor factor (LF) represents 1 worker for small operations, or 100 workers for industrial enterprises.

Let 20 Shillings = 1 Pound, 12 Pennies = 1 Shilling, 240 Pennies = 1 Pound.

Let each loaf of bread cost 1 penny and represent 1,000 calories.

Rent costs 25 pounds per household on the first of each month.

Let productivity be a function of the sum of labor factors' individual productivities. For example, if adult workers are d6, child workers (11-18) are d3, and child workers (9-10) are d2, and if we have 3 adult workers and 2 child workers aged 11-18, our total productivity is 3d6 + 2d3. This may be phrased in terms of ratio, e.g. "Two child workers aged 11-18 are half as productive as one adult worker", so that we may convert 2d3 --> 1d6.

why you should get into #rpglatam!

the RPGLATAM community is literally my favorite group of hobbyists and players and designers, whichever word works best, on twitter. they are all so creative and thoughtful and sincere, just wonderful. recently m.a. guax (@maguaxRPG) ran a jam called RPG LATAM JAM (check #RPGLATAMJAM on Twitter) to create supplements for RPGLATAM games, and it's about to close on april 11th. unfortunately this month has been super busy and i could not contribute anything, so i wanted to write a blog post talking about three of my favorite works produced by the community.

even more pressing: tiago rolim (@arcileuto) has been hospitalized with covid-19, and members of the RPGLATAM community have come together for a bundle on to help cover the costs of his hospital stay. please please please support this effort.

i've limited myself to three works because there is such a wide variety of cool things this community has made, and i'd rather limit myself to a few than leave some out of a long list. still here is a list of as many RPGLATAM folks i could find from who i follow on twitter (i am really sorry if i forgot anyone, please let me know!):

  • @arcileuto
  • @caberlitz
  • @darkade
  • @davenadave
  • @diogo_oldskull
  • @emanoelmelo
  • @fersalvaterra
  • @gabokerr
  • @gnarledmonster
  • @guilhermedenovo
  • @knightramen
  • @lapislunaris
  • @maguaxRPG
  • @nynphaiel
  • @ollojoaquin
  • @raulranma
  • @rods_95
  • @rolimllucas
  • @verdeamorim
  • @walterlicinio
  • @wilkawill

without further ado, all these works below and MUCH more can be found on the itch bundle i linked above. please help support tiago and all of these wonderful artists!

Backback & Dream (Link)

this threefold pamphlet game by m.a. guax (@maguaxRPG) is an "engine for exploration with an old school playstyle." what i love about B&D is how it takes the old-school approach to resource management and makes it an intrinsic part of managing your character.

your stats don't give bonuses or act like mere measures of your character's abilities. instead, they're resources you have to watch out for. when you attempt risky actions, instead of rolling dice, you bet your character's resource stats to get the best outcome. other tasks simply reduce your resources, like taking an arduous trip across a desert. i love this approach so much because of how it boils down old-school gameplay to its essentials in yet a totally creative, unseen way. this is not another retroclone. i really hope i have the chance to play this!

m.a. guax has some other games and adventures you should check out! his layout work is always just top-notch.

  • Devil Grinder (Link): a cyberpunk hack of B&D inspired by the Megami Tensei series, where you summon demons to use their powers. it's really cool, and shows how flexible B&D can be!
  • Ziggurat of the Four Gods (Link): an adventure module for Into the Bronze (link) by Guilherme Gontijo (@guilhermedenovo), which is a Mesopotamian sword-and-sorcery hack of Into the Odd. you roll a d4 and interpret the roll and its direction to create a ziggurat dungeon. how cool! the module itself was written by lucas rolim (@rolimllucas).

Beyond the Borderlands #1 (Link)

this zine is part 1 of a reimagining of the classic D&D adventure The Keep on the Borderlands by alex damaceno (@gnarledmonster). for starters, alex redrew the whole region as a much more easily accessible (and cute!) hexmap. let's compare! the original:

and Beyond the Borderlands:

isn't that so cool!? each six-hex region gets its own spread in the zine, with d6 rumors and 2d6 encounters and more. there was so much work put into this, and it's all so put-together and nice. it also features a village of frogpeople and i cannot get enough of them, they are so cute (especially the drawings of them!).

alex has some other adventures and games and fun bits, and he also makes really nice resources to help run old-school style games!

  • GM Isometric Sketchbook (Link): this is a printable sketchbook full of pages with isometric grids! it's designed for you to be able to scan your completed drawings, which is really nice.
  • Pocket Worlds Sketchbook (Link): this is a template to make a giant d12 origami to represent your fictional planet! it comes with a printable zine to turn each side into a little hexcrawl, in the same shape as alex's Borderlands map.

Carapace (Link)

this is a really crazy and cool game by torthevic (@verdeamorim) where you and your friends are bugs oppressed by giant marble statues called titans, and you are all trying to pay off your debt to a blacksmith for a cannon to fight back against the titans. isn't that cool!?

Carapace takes cues from Electric Bastionland (itself a spiritual successor to Into the Odd) with its simple character creation and dice mechanics. the nice thing about simple mechanics is how it lets you plug in even more cool things! for example, Carapace has a really quick and easy magic system where you cast spells using chipped marble pieces from titans' heads (isn't that cool!?). what i also adore is the drop die table to determine, once you have a cannon, where you're able to hit the titan. it is so so so cool!!!

torthevic has other games and since he's an artist, they're all very nice-looking and cool!

  • Friends in Striped Clothes and Shiny Armours (Link): a collection of six illustrated, wacky, and fun backgrounds for Troika! The art and layout is really like cute and nice (they're colorful! i love colors).
  • Vampires & Claymores (Link): a game where you and your friends play recently-turned vampires. the atmosphere is very moody and cool and vampiric, and the mechanics it offers to simulate vampire magic and bloodthirst are also all really interesting!
what are your favorite works by RPGLATAM artists and writers?

Friday, April 2, 2021

a critical reading of BOLT, part 2

read the first post

i thought i would skip the rest of the introductory bits to go straight to the rules, but i wanted to take a look at some other paragraphs:

> Dice: Dice are clicky-clacky math rocks. They return a randomized number based on the number of faces they have. However, they are not edible. BOLT requires the use of the following dice: [...]

let me offer this question: is this a useful paragraph for anyone who doesn't know what dice are? the first sentence, that they are clicky-clacky math rocks, is basically a silly verbatim stock twitter epithet for dice; if someone really doesn't know what dice are, although "math rocks" i'm sure gets the point across if the reader (ignorant of dice) had some in their hand, is this a useful descriptor?

the second sentence uses the language of mathematics or data science, that a die returns a randomized number. this is true by those fields, but is this intuitive for the reader not familiar with either field? the language makes the dice out to be a device that randomizes and returns a number, not a clicky-clacky math rock that you roll and then read for the number facing up.

the third sentence is just another twitter in-joke which is easily understandable with some additional context (e.g. "however, despite looking delicious, they are not edible"). just an ad sequitur without already having the premise "dice look yummy" in your brain.

lots of first-person text, etc. etc. etc. politics section

> I’m sorry, but we ​have to talk about this...

> It’s a delicate task to divine the political inclinations of a game ​system, but once you build a ​game with a setting, with setting-specific mechanics, you come face-to-face with the political goals (or lack of goals) that an RPG holds.

> Sure, not every game is as nakedly political as ​#iHunt or ​Red Markets, but political worldviews are baked into the bones of every role playing game, in how characters progress, fight, grow, and lose. Are characters treated as special people? Are they pushed into specific moral quandaries? Are they killing to take people’s stuff, or for something bigger?

> Even before a writer designs costumes or adds a “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” paragraph (like this one) or decides what skin color the characters on the cover are, the text and structure of the game reveal the politics of the game and writers—in much the same way you can somewhat pick up someone’s politics from hearing what words they use.

> So be mindful of your politics--even if they're not mine--and be honest about them when you write or run games using BOLT.

> For everyone's sake.

i think here, pandey is trying to appeal to some sense of "everything is political whether or not it wants to be," although i think his grasp of this is somewhat jumbled (e.g. "political goals (or lack of goals)").  he seems to focus on the conscious aspect of political ideology, something which can be stated upfront. however, this sentiment is usually reserved for games which disavow having a political dimension, when in reality they are subject to biases which even they themselves might not be aware of.

now, i want to get into the nitty gritty so let's do it!

Monday, March 29, 2021

struggle session: review of (d6-d6) resolution system

i’m sick, missing class, and laying in bed. i’m bored. so, gonna critique the resolution system i came up with a couple days ago. read the original post for my inspiration and context.

i’m going to criticize the original version of the idea, where stats are generated by 2d6. here are some problematic facts about the resolution system with respect to this stat distribution.

  • the maximal score 2 can win against is 7 (2.78%)

  • the minimal score 7 can lose against is 3 (2.78%)

  • the maximal score 7 can win against is 12 (2.78%)

  • the minimal score 12 can lose against is 8 (2.78%)

in other words, only scores >= 7 have a chance > 0 to win against 12, while only scores <= 6 have a chance to lose against 2.

what this means:

  • 58.33% of players have zero chance of losing against score 2

  • 41.67% of players have zero chance of winning against score 12

this system can only be improved by letting there be less possible stat scores than there are possible rolls. for instance, FUDGE has 7 possible stat “scores” and a roll distribution of |{-4, -3, ..., 3, 4}| = 9. whereas our stat scores are generated by 2d6 (11 possible results), but our rolls have a distribution of |{-5, -4, ..., 4, 5}| = 11. too much variation!

let this be improved by having basically the same number of possible stat scores as FUDGE, which for us will range from 4 to 10 (median/mean = 7). this results in the following:

  • score 4 has a zero percent chance to win against score 10

  • score 10 has a zero percent chance to lose against score 4

  • score 4 has a 2.78% chance to win against score 9

  • score 10 has a 2.78% chance to lose against score 5

certain results are thereby restricted to only the most extreme stat scores. as in FUDGE, this method probably works best with stat score assignment instead of random generation.

that is why the method i published on this blog is a vast improvement over that which i posted originally to twitter.

reason why i post this after making a vent thread that discussion about mechanics and their superiority? this is the nitty gritty; i’m not talking about different systems being objectively qualitatively better, but which version of a system’s premise is most mathematically fair and viable for players. this boils down to essentially why a FUDGE system cannot be easily reconciled with stat generation.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

a critical reading of BOLT, part 1

when a. pandey came back on twitter for five minutes to ask the timeline whether we missed him, he also said something to the effect that he's offering himself up to be criticized in the manner that he criticized other games. since i've had thoughts on BOLT for a while, i figured i would shoot my shot.

let's look at the prologue to BOLT (kachow) to learn about pandey's motivation in writing this game. i've only got access to the pre-kickstarter version, "0.8".

> This is BOLT, a built-for-hacking action-adventure role-playing game engine designed to port across multiple settings. Yes, there are already a lot of "generic" RPG systems, but the availability of better-funded alternatives tends not to discourage nerds.

right off the bat we learn that BOLT is a system meant to be hacked. this reminds me of what D&D fans say about 5E (though i think WOTC is less prone to agree), that you're meant to hack it and play it the way you want.

the reason this irks me is because i feel like any game text should be read this way, i.e. do what you want with it. any game that declares this explicitly, alongside calling itself a generic system, feels like it is trying to sell the reader's ideal game back to the reader themselves. not a fan of this approach; i feel like you should present your own work as-is, and let the invitation to hack be implicit or at least not stated upfront.

> What I—Ajey Pandey, the writer of this game—think sets ​BOLT apart is that it draws influence both from the mechanically-dense, “crunchy” combat of games like Cyberpunk 2020 or ​Dungeons & Dragons and the collaborative “story-game” narrative-building that underpins ​Powered by the Apocalypse games like ​Masks: A New Generation.

"crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the crunchy and story games unite!" this is a recurrent trope on indie ttrpg twitter, trying to combine the best of crunchy games and story games to make one that satisfies everyone's tastes. i think to an extent, it stems from the desire to codify the common experience playing D&D 5E, which is basically as a loose narrative game with a super complicated (and satisfying?) character creator.

> Action in BOLT is designed to build tension through its core mechanics as opposed to narrative description, with the intent of making the player feel the same emotions as their character. But from there, every aspect of the game was tuned by the question, "What's the fastest way this can work?"

this is BOLT's mission statement; we'll see how this plays out in practice.

> This game is also meant to be hacked, and kit-bashed, and re-skinned. It’s your game as much as it is mine. So in the below rule descriptions, I will be honest about how things are built and why I built them that way. I don’t expect you to agree with me on everything. Instead, I hope that my writing is clear enough that you can identify where you disagree with me and re-wire the game to fit ​your goals.

same comments as above, with another stated goal of BOLT listed below. again, we will see how this plays out.

it's nice that pandey published BOLT on a CC-BY-SA license.

will post more? i didn't wanna say too much without making sure i wasn't pushing any buttons, but needless to say i have more to say besides reading over the prologue (which itself, i think, speaks volumes).

Friday, March 26, 2021

(d6-d6) character creation + conflict resolution

inspired by this post:

might swap THAC0 table in small town gothic for this, but i haven't playtested either so! who knows.


  1. terrible
  2. poor
  3. mediocre
  4. fair
  5. good
  6. great
  7. superb

each stat {dex, str, wis} starts at Terrible (1). you can distribute 7 points to each.

alternatively, roll 3d6 and set each stat equal to one of your dice. or smth more complicated. just get three values between 1-6.

stat check: roll (d6 - d6) and add the result to the relevant stat. if you roll at or above the right power level, you succeed. most dungeon checks are Superb.

everyone has 10 hp. when you win a stat check to attack, your target loses hp equal to the highest die. when you lose, you lose hp equal to the highest die (maybe?). when you have 0 hp, you die.

roll d6 for each monster's stat the same way as for characters to determine their power levels.

this breaks down with monsters that are more powerful than a Superb human might represent--like a dragon or something--but maybe that's desirable. like, why go head-to-head with a dragon. idiot.

original twitter idea

same thing, but add +3 to each value on the ladder

4. terrible
5. poor
6. mediocre
7. fair
8. good
9. great
10. superb

roll 2d6 for each stat {dex, str, wis}. to succeed at a stat check, roll (d6-d6) + stat at or above the appropriate action rating (THERE'S THE WORD I WAS LOOKING FOR).

math works out the same, but it takes advantage of rolling 2d6 for stats and the bell curve.