Friday, August 7, 2020

Swords, Spells, & Shields

A quick conflict resolution system for fantasy roleplaying with a friend or loved one when you’re somewhere without dice and your cell phones are dead!

To play, the referee describes a scene and the player describes what action their character takes to achieve a goal. If the player character tries something dangerous, or a referee-controlled opponent resists them, the referee calls for a contest of Swords, Spells, & Shields to resolve the conflict.

If you’ve ever played Rock-Paper-Scissors, you already know how a basic test of SS&S goes. The player and the referee each choose one of the weapons secretly and “throws” their chosen weapon at the same time with a hand signal.

Shields (✊) overcome Swords (👆)
Swords (👆) overcome Sorcery (🖐)
Sorcery (🖐) overcomes Shields (✊)

If the player and referee both throw the same weapon, they continue to throw weapons until one overcomes the other. This is one complete round of SS&S.

If the player character has an advantage over the referee opponent, the player and referee play up to two complete rounds of SS&S, but the player need win only one round to emerge victorious in the contest.

(Advantage can mean the player character is significantly stronger than a weak opponent, or that the player character has some edge over an equal opponent such as surprise or when aided by allies.)

Similarly, if the referee opponent has an advantage over the player character (such as through surprise or superior strength and numbers), the player and referee play two complete rounds of SS&S, and the referee opponent need win only one round to emerge victorious.

If one side has a significant advantage over the other, the referee may add an additional third round of SS&S — for overwhelming advantage, a fourth. The side with the advantage will always emerge victorious if they win one round.

Advantage is an easy way to accommodate several players or opponents engaging in conflict at once. If the sides are equally matched in strength and number, simply run one round of SS&S as usual. If one side has a strength or numerical advantage, add another round. For a significant advantage, add a third round, and so on.

And that’s it! You’re ready to resolve dangerous fantasy conflicts with Swords, Spells, & Shields. Like classic Rock-Paper-Scissors, this mechanic is highly flexible and can also be used to resolve social conflicts (SS&S can be treated as “Argument, Resolve, and Emotion”), survive environmental hazards (“Brave, Block, and Dodge”), and even simulate a complex magical duel between mages (“Spell, Counterspell, and Transform”).

For grittier adventures and more granular conflict resolution, you’re encouraged to make use of resources like Health, Supplies, and even Spells (prepared and expended in the Vancian style). Resources can be depleted as a natural result of the fiction when the referee rules so, or expended to avoid consequences as a result of lost SS&S contests.

For instance, a player character might ordinarily die when they lose an SS&S contest against a hungry ghoul. But if the Health resource is in use, the player could instead expend 1 Health (out of a recommended max 3) to take a wound from the ghoul bite instead of immediately dying.

Similarly, and more abstractly, a player character might ordinarily die when they lose an SS&S contest to evade a landslide, but the referee might allow them instead to expend a prepared Spell to create a protective barrier, or expend Supplies as food and torches to survive trapped in the darkness beneath the rubble.

If player characters are making use of resources, referees are encouraged to track opponent resources as well. This will provide many opportunities for creative player problem-solving and offer more tactical variance during conflict.

Swords, Spells, & Shields can be combined with resource management to simulate just about any roleplaying game genre you can think of. Who needs dice when you’ve got friends around to lend a hand?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Did You Just One-Shot Cthulhu?

Two to six unconventional individuals step off the day’s last coach by the lingering light of dusk. A sleepy town on the thin edge of what one might call civilization greets them with a sad, somber air of both quietude and disquiet. 

The individuals look to the town, then to one another, then back to the town. They steel their resolve, for this is the sort of place that tests one’s resolve by its mere contemplation. One by one they proceed from the platform toward the outskirts to do what they came to this desolate and depraved place to do: 

They investigate. 

Here are all the rules you’ll need to adjudicate their investigation — and encounters with the unspeakable horrors it uncovers.

Did You Just One-Shot Cthulhu?

Choose your investigators:
  • The Professor, The Librarian, or The Author
    • Advantage: chosen field of expertise and research tasks
    • Briefcase: books, papers, typewriter, intriguing letter from a colleague
  • The Journalist or The Private Detective
    • Advantage: pressing interviewees and suspects
    • Pockets: notebook, camera, pen, hard liquor, victim’s photo
  • The Doctor
    • Advantage: medicine and autopsy
    • Medical Bag: stethoscope, bandages, syringe, scissors, spirits, disturbing medical report
  • The Preacher
    • Advantage: ministry and inspiration
    • Shoulder bag: scripture, book of prayers, holy symbol, vestments, urgent request from ecumenical order
  • The Antiquarian
    • Advantage: appraisal and artifice
    • Heavy-duty case: telescope, magnifying glass, chemical testing kit, chronologically incongruous local artifact
  • The Medium, The Psychic, or the Paranologist
    • Advantage: empathy and communion with entities
    • Chest: silver mirror, astrolabe, focusing crystals, spectrometer, portent of doom
  • The Soldier
    • Advantage: applied force
    • Soldier’s pack: jack knife, revolver, field rations, discharge papers, pocketwatch with the victim’s name engraved in it 
  • The Salesperson or The Con Artist
    • Advantage: chicanery
    • Carpet bag: hair oil, tie selection, comb, straight-edge razor, freight bill of goods, local delivery manifest
  • The Heir
    • Advantage: powerful connections
    • Luggage: fine clothes, recreational pills, letters of credit, threatening message from family, invitation from a prominent local

Cash on hand: Roll 3d6 x 10 each for dollars.

Test fate with a 2d6:
  • 10+ success
  • 7-9 success at a cost
  • 6- failure at heavy cost
Choose how the investigators take harm:
  • Fall unconscious or
  • Lose use of a body part or
  • Gain a madness (check out Black Stars Rise for some good examples) 

Best of luck, investigators. It probably won’t save you.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Dungeon of the Day: Manor Cambio

The Imperial Prefect of the region has imprisoned a local dissident in his dungeon, slated for execution in three days. The dissident’s family has hired you to extract him. Find a way into the Prefect’s lavish manor and through his well-guarded dungeons to save the young would-be rebel from his fate.

Manor Cambio is a level 1-3 dungeon heist for your favorite dungeon-crawling roleplaying game. The manor makes an excellent first adventure site for new players, emphasizing careful planning and rewarding imaginative play over brute force combat solutions. Veteran parties should find the manor more than sufficiently challenging if they press on to uncover its deepest secrets.

A few extra details not found on the map sketches (unnecessary, but they add some flavor):

  • A young woman named Eurenia has hired the party to rescue her brother from Cambio, the town Prefect who imprisoned Taimon in his manor dungeon for dissent and subversion. Taimon is to be executed in the town’s center square three days from now. If the party rescues him they’ll receive 1,200 coins Eurenia and Taimon’s family managed to pool together from the village resources. This would also gain the party the attention of local insurgents.
  • The manor is a lavish wood-and-mortar mansion in a gaudy mix of the Imperial and local style. It lies a few miles outside a small town called Loknam, the seat of what the Empire calls a “backwater” colonial region, surrounded by dense rainforest.
  • Also surrounding the manor: 5’ walls with inlaid iron fencing rising 10’ high.
  • The manor is heavily patrolled by guards — some disciplined Imperials, most local mercenaries — bearing halberds and flintlocks. Frontal assault on the manor gates would be suicide.
  • There’s a rumored secret entrance to the north side of the dungeon level concealed by illusory vegetation. Cambio uses this entrance to smuggle in goods and guests to his private fight ring.
  • The under-butler is a friend of Eurenia’s and might be willing to provide the party with information — such as that opening Cambio’s secret vault requires the keyvine growing in Mistress Cambio’s conservatory (13). 
  • Mistress Cambio (3 in 6 chance present). Bored, cruel, vindictive, and self-amusing. 
    • The garden is her one love. She’ll gladly help the party make life miserable for Cambio, but might just as easily decide to torment them. 
    • Freely shares location of keyvine (which might be concealed behind her entrance to the Gardens of Ynn).
    • Will not warn the party about the dangerous bloodroot in her garden (but can be convinced to tell them how to remove the cursed weapon once it attaches to a party member). 
  • Vault treasures: Eye Cage (hidden, over-butler is spying on party), 2,800 in coins and jewels, coded binder of war correspondences (including the location of an imperial weapons testing facility), infant basilisk in cage (covered by a weighted tarp, coiled and asleep, save against petrification if it’s uncovered and awakened).

Full-sized maps: