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REWIRED Diary: Why We’re Here, Where We’ve Been.

Version .12 of REWIRED is a huge milestone for me on the project. It’s a fleshed out skeleton of the system I’ve been wanting to run for a while. It’s the expanded ideas from WYRED, some loose ideas we had floating around when discussing a “WYRM-SF” project that never really got tackled (in part to real life goings on,) feedback from players who wanted a little bit more than what WYRED offered in 2 booklets, and even some concepts I brewed up previous in a cyberpunk hack for another published gaming system entirely.

Why We’re Here.

Let’s rewind to the very beginning.  Talk to most role-playing game enthusiasts, and when you ask them what game they started with you’ll often get the name of the “world’s most popular fantasy game.” They may have started with different iterations of it, be it a particular edition or heart-breaker clone. While I was exposed to it, my first real entry into the hobby was a different game with Elves and Mages in it. This one also involved computer hackers, cyber samurai and took place in a near-future Seattle. Yes, I’m talking about Shadowrun, of which I will always be a fan and will devote too much of my disposable income to.

I’d also begin picking up other titles over the course of my youth….GURPS Cyberpunk, Cyberpunk 2020, Ex Machina (for BESM), and to this day the number of various cyberpunk-flavored RPG’s I’ve acquired in PDF and print grossly outnumbers my collection of D&D books. These games, of course, were the gateways that exposed me to novels like Snow Crash, Neuromancer,  Holy Fire and a crap ton of inspired comics, anime and movies at an impressionable age.

So long story short….I’m a pretty big fan of Cyberpunk, especially in my RPGs.  But damn if it’s not a tough genre to game for complete newcomers! I grew up and live in a small college town in Texas, known for its agriculture. A lot of times, when folks around here are exposed to anything cyberpunk, it’s because I (or my older brother or one of his friends) introduced them to it. And the bulk of the games I listed above aren’t the most newcomer friendly, no matter how much they try to streamline the process: Outdated scifi from the 80’s and 90’s, using terminology and pathologies long extinct in modern tech jargon. Huge skills lists, entire catalogs of weapons and cybernetics, bloated game mechanics…it’s overwhelming to the first timers, as well as the GMs trying to run them!  You get into the overly detailed and complex combat systems; in concept they sound simple, but in execution it never fails we have scenarios that bog down the game play with GM’s having to look stuff up and players proposing absurd rules like rolling for every round fired from a light machine gun. 

This is where my journey began: to set out to brew up what I now refer to as “Quick and Dirty” rules where the character creation, the combat, and the rules referencing flies at a pace to keep up with the genre’s gritty, cut-throat feel.

 

Where We’ve Been

The first stop in this journey was actually, of all things, a homebrew modification for the New World of Darkness rules set.  After taking a hiatus from Shadowrun in my early twenties, I got involved with a group of friends to regularly play Vampire and other spin-off titles.  After NWoD came out, I think I found myself enjoying the core mortal game book the most and started bashing together game crossovers and alternatives with its mechanics. We had a few good games with it, but it was still a bit complex to teach and had some nagging flaw issues that I never resolved. I eventually lost steam for it after WW put out their own Mirrors: Bleeding Edge, which I had a lot of mixed feelings on (and continue to this day to.)

The spark would later return to me after I fell in love with the WyRM system, starting with Warrior, Rogue & Mage and then again with Resolute, Adventurer & Genius. The later in particular really struck a chord with me, being that it was fast-action pulp, with an expanded skill system to WR&M and streamlined into a single-roll system for combat. Also, these titles were my introduction to Creative Commons licensing, which floored me with the beautiful simplicity of sharing and remixing.  It was a refreshing change in pace from the legal jargon of OGL, and the (at the time) restrictive nature of the White Wolf “Dark Pack” fan guidelines.

WYRED was born of this. Originally the first concept draft was titled something like “Solo, Face & Hacker” — but then I saw Mark Meredith at Dice Monkey working on a project titled “Pointman, Hacker & Thief” (which, sadly, appears to have gone to the ether…) and decided to break the mold on naming schemes. The name itself was an homage to the WyRM Rules System that it used for the core mechanics.

Interestingly enough, some of the earlier drafts of WYRED were pushing 40-60 pages. Our 6th draft even converted to a d12 system, which worked but was ultimately scrapped in favor of the d6 mechanics for various reasons. But around the time of the later drafts, we (being myself, my buddy Matt Bryant who became part of the game development, and our play group) discovered a title I picked up on a whim: Weird West.  This was my first venture into PocketMod style gaming; and while it was a bit minimalistic for my tastes I immediately saw the advantages of tiny booklets to print out and give to players.

The final iterations of WYRED got trimmed down to two PocketMod booklets:  One for rules, one for augmentations and equipment. For the most part, the final versions received positive feedback from folks looking for “rules lite” cyberpunk game play, and the decision to go PocketMod was equally praised. I even got fairly positive feedback on 4chan’s /TG/ boards a few times — only complaint I really saw was over a lack of setting.  Though it’s no indie blockbuster, to this day I still get the occasional emails and PM’s from players who’ve discovered it and inform me of their successful game nights with it.

Spin-Offs & Stagnation

WYRED took ideas from other WyRM games, tweaked them and ran wild. From there, it was cool seeing how others would continue to take our little gaming project and continue to adapt it into their own. My favorite reports came from a player who was using it for a Steampunk setting. We adapted the rules for running other properties at our tables — I ran a WYRED adventure on Old Republic Coruscant, while one of Matt’s friends ran us through an amazing TRON one-shot. Probably the coolest off shoot from all of these variant setting ideas was Matt’s “Star WYRED” which ultimately became MAIN SEQUENCE.

It was becoming apparent how flexible the WyRM system could be taken, and we began to explore future projects to expand it. At the time, I had taken some opinion polls and had received a large margin of feedback from players stating that they were interested in alternate setting booklets and rules over expanded cyberpunk stuff. We began kicking around all sorts of brainstorms on things like mutations, magic systems, alternate period settings and what not. Eventually, we were even tapped by Michael Wolf (creator of Warrior, Rogue & Mage and the WyRM system) to work on “WYRM-SF,” a complete science fiction rules set for the system.

We shot out the door with all sorts of concepts we wanted to play with: expanding the “tags” system we’ve been kicking around, varying scales of game play (from regional/planet play to entire solar system/galaxy games) to even all sorts of different types of powers and options. There was a lot of potential there….and probably still is, but the truth is: Reality is a bitch. Matt had moved on to Oklahoma to work full time at a pretty important job, I had been returning to college and getting over a breakup from a long-term relationship. For a while, I took a complete hiatus from gaming for some more “real time.” I was also working on my actual writing, having started another blog for poetry and beginning to work on fiction submissions. Eventually, my old gaming blog was hacked, and I ended up merging my writing blog with my domain name. All said, I just simply lost steam for a while.

Relighting the Fire

Inevitably, I’d get back into the gamer swing of things. And with that, I’d begin to tinker with some new ideas. Some of these ideas came from one of my current room mates, who’ve brought up points about thinks like dice mechanics using bell curves, keeping things tactical while also simplified, and degrees of realism in RPG mechanics. After a while of bouncing these ideas back and forth, as well as revisiting some of my old favorite RPG systems, we ended up drafting around Christmas break what became the REWIRED “Rough Sketch.”  Now, as you may see, I’m back in the throes of building up a game that I really want to play. REWIRED has a hell of a foundation of inspiration behind it. And I’m hoping the direction I’m taking with it will be appreciated by other gamers. If not, no big deal — I’m already getting good feedback and support from the folks at my game table.

 

In the next REWIRED Diary, I’m going to talk about the direction I’ve taken with the new system, and where I want to go with it.

 

REWIRED Character: “Trigger” Ray

Trigger RayWelcome to the first of a series of pre-made character concepts for REWIREDwhich can be used as either starting Player Characters, NPC’s, or merely inspiration.

Trigger Ray has been working the violent life of a Ronin  for the better part of a decade. A high-school drop out,  he got his start doing courier runs for local drug dealers and gang bosses. Many have taken his skills for granted; Trigger never seemed like the brightest crayon in the box. But when shit hit the proverbial fan, he was usually the one left standing from a deal gone wrong. What he lacks in book smarts he’s made up for in instinct, which can prove to be more valuable of a tool for his trade than the sidearm he keeps on him.

Even though he’s not even pushing 30 yet, Trigger dreads the day he loses his edge. Ten years of being a gun for hire, if burnout doesn’t wear him down his reputation will. To compensate, he’s taken some high-risk jobs to land him some choice cuts of augments and a nest egg for his nomadic lifestyle. City after city, he makes it a point to get himself some work, some cash, and then: an escape out.

Key Notes:
Though his Data rating isn’t so hot, his Alert perk grants him a +4 Awareness bonus.
“Ol’ Betsy” is a heavy-hitting revolver he’s kept with him since his first “dirty” job. The Precise tag lets him roll 4d6 and take the best 3 when using it.

Hands On Review – BareBones Fantasy

This review originally appeared on our tumblog. 

 

A few weeks ago, I put out a request on G+ to seek out some more Creative Commons licensed tabletop games. From that post, I learned about the upcoming game BareBones Fantasy, and was given an opportunity to hop in over G+ Hangouts and try out the system. I have about 3 play sessions under my belt already, have lurked for a few character generation gatherings, have spent time gabbing with Larry Moore (one of BBF’s authors)…and now I have a review copy loaded up on my phone and Nook Color that I’ve been reading over the last couple days.

I almost didn’t need the PDF to write about it. Play a session or two, and you quickly get the bulk of the system down. This far from a fault: the core game mechanic resonates across the game and is easy to scale and judge for just about any situation. It gives a lot of control over to the GM, but allows for game play spent mostly on actually playing the game, and not having to look up esoteric rules decisions.

An Overview:

Know this: this is NOT a D&D retro clone. This is its own beast, built using the d00Lite rules system. And don’t let that “Lite” title fool you: while the game mechanics are pretty simple and fast to run, there’s a lot of meat in this product.

 

Let’s just get one thing out of the way: BareBones Fantasy follows a lot of the traditional themes and concepts of fantasy gaming. Elves, dwarfs, magic, goblins and dungeon crawls…all of them are here. But that’s okay! This isn’t about bringing anything new to the genre, but offering another outlet to play in.

To quote the authors in their introduction:

“Tired of hauling around heaps of heavy books (which cost lots of money), DwD Studios embarked on a mission to create a comprehensive, playable and complete fantasy game…”

“A lot of lite game systems are out there, so we wanted to make sure ours was distinguishable in its own way. We opted to add a lot of stuff (while keeping things “lite”) such as magic items, creatures, systems for adventure and dungeon creation, a broad brush-stroke setting, and more. This is a lot of game in a small amount of space, and we didn’t do it by making the fonts tiny… we did it through application of categorical thinking and by making certain assumptions about the level of gaming experience of GM’s and players.”

The book is 84 pages, with a very professional and aesthetically pleasing layout. The format appears to be perfect for “Booklet Printing” at home, and also renders quite beautifully on mobile devices. Matter of fact, I was impressed by how easy it was to read on my smartphones.

The game itself is very straightforward. Assuming the reader has a modest amount of tabletop RPG experience, it wastes no space telling us “How to Role-Play” or give us lectures on tabletop etiquette. Instead, the authors delivered complete gaming package in a single booklet. As someone who has become a stickler for what I call “Table Economy” (the amount of elbow room available at the game table), this is a welcomed design philosophy.

The Core Mechanics:

As you can probably tell from the name, the d00Lite system is a percentile based system. There are two types of die rolls called in this game: Percentile/d100 based rolls (where success is based on rolling under the target percentage) or standard “D” rolls (rolling a number of d10’s and adding the results.) Task resolution is percentile based; the D rolls are usually for stuff like damage, healing, generating stats etc.

An interesting take that makes this system stand out from other percentile systems I’ve played: 00 is counted as Zero, and is the best roll to make. 0-5 always succeed, 95-99 always fails. Also different is the Critical Success/Failure mechanic: while the extreme ends are automatic success/failures, a Critical is determined whenever doubles are rolled. So, let’s say my difficulty for an action is 45%. Rolling an 22, 33, or even 44 is a critical success. 55, 66, 77 and so forth are critical failures.

Character Creation:

Making player characters for BBF is a pretty quick affair, taking only about 10 minutes or so. Players roll 5d10+30 for four ability stats (Strength, Dexterity, Logic and Will). From there they pick one of four races (Humans, Dwarfs, Halflings or Elves) and then pick their skills.

The skill system is a unique flavor for the system. Instead of ordinary skills like you’d find in other games, the base game uses seven skills named after particular classes/archetypes you’d expect in fantasy games: Warrior, Thief, Scout, Cleric, Enchanter, Leader, Scholar, & Spellcaster. All skills have a base value equal to half of their related ability score (although only Warrior, Thief & Scout can be used untrained.) At character creation, the player gets to choose a Primary and Secondary skill (which grants them a bonus 20/10 percent) and then gets to assign one level of training to the skill of their choice (each level of training grants an additional +10).

After skills, the player then chooses Descriptors for their character, both one beneficial and another hindering. These are traits intended to flesh out the character and aid role-playing, and in return for using them in-game the GM may reward additional Development Points (the BBF’s version of experience) to the character.

The next step continues in the actual role-playing development for the character: Moral Code. This is, in my opinion, an awesome alternative to Alignment systems found in D&D and other RPG’s. There is a column of Aspects, and on each row the player must choose one of two for his character (Kind or Cruel, Focused or Unfocused, Selfless or Selfish, Honorable or Deceitful, Brave or Cowardly.) After the Aspects are chosen, they are then rated on a scale of Somewhat, Very or Totally.

A couple things I really enjoy about the Morality system: it’s not hard lined to be used as a means to railroad a character personality. It’s flexible, but also helps a player define and assist their role-playing in decisions. The only major mechanical aspect tacked on to it is if the GM feels the player is performing an action contrary to the Aspects of the character’s morality, he may call for a Will check in order to perform the said action. Also, I like that “Good and Evil” are concepts reserved for NPC/Creature descriptions, but not aspects/descriptors of the characters.

Moving on, the next step is equipment acquisition. PC’s choose any 6 items (weapons, armor, equipment, mounts etc) under 100 GP to start with, in addition to 2d10 gold pieces. Lastly, they fill in details like Body Points (essentially Hit Points,) Initiative, Damage Reduction from Armor and other such traits.

A Bit More Info on Skills:

The skills offer a bit more than just a percentage to perform actions with. Each skill has a list of abilities the character can use the skill for. Warrior is pretty much your combat related abilities, Thief is your typical stealthing and trap/lock disarming type stuff. The real juicy stuff comes in with the skills that require training for use: Clerics get favored weapons from their Deity, learn spells, and detect moral auras. Enchanters, who use spells to imbue items, can also craft potions and runes and obtain familiars. Leaders can perform cool battle cries and offer some nifty tactical advantages to their allies. Spellcasters (being the token Wizard/Mage skill) not only gets its picks of spells but also cool “Low Wizardry” abilities (similar to D&D Cantrips) as well as the ability to detect and read magic. I’m actually pretty happy with the Scholar skill, giving the character the ability to not only pick up career paths but also give them bonuses to Diplomacy, recall historical events, and even inquire information from the GM.

Combat (Because We Kill Things!):

Combat runs amazingly well in this system. Characters perform actions based on initiative order, and are given the standard one free movement plus an action. They’re allowed to perform multiple actions, but acquire a cumulative -20% difficulty for every action after the first. What makes this interesting is order to attack a target, you’re rolling completely against your own skill level (armor in this system is purely Damage Resistance and soak.) A character is free to attempt to dodge the attack, rolling against their own Dex scores, but this counts as an additional action on their turn and thus generate the accumulative penalty.

This creates an interesting battle economy…even starting characters with the right skills and stats can make the choice to go headstrong into battle and perform multiple attacks, but must consider that in doing so they leave themselves open to multiple opponents and over extending themselves could prove fatal very quickly.

The game uses an abstract measurement of distance, simply measuring things out in “Spaces.” What each space is can be scaled by the GM if they so choose, but plays just as well without it. What’s really neat is while this system can support miniatures with no problem, the abstract measurements also help keep things easy to gauge in more “theater of the mind” based game play.

Magic System:

All spell casting skill sets have access to the same list of spells in BBF. What separates them is function: Spellcasters get more spells per level, Enchanters cast them upon items through runes or imbuing, Clerics are granted them as favors of their deities, etc. What really makes the magic tick is although there are only 17 spells to choose from, the players get to define the flavor and environmental nature of the spells when they cast them. For instance: Offensive Strike (the only real direct damaging spell in the game) can be a bolt of fire, a ball of ice, even a swarm of locusts…whatever the player comes up with. The catch is whatever they choose the spell to manifest like can have an effect tacked on by the GM — that burst of fire could set wood and oil aflame. This can be used against or in favor of the players pretty easily, especially when it comes down to criticals: A crit success could result in an ice blast freezing the opponent in place, while a failure might result in frostbitten fingers on the caster.

Another interesting aspect of the Spells in BBF is that they take sort of a middle road of “modern” spell systems and classic “Vancian” magical systems. The usage of the spells is on a per-spell basis: Offensive Strike can be used over and over, Divination can only be used once per hour, Summon can be used a number of times per day equal to the level of skill training, so on and so forth.

Character Progression:

Now, the game measures character development in terms of “Ranks.” This along with “Levels” in skills named after eerily familiar character concepts might mislead players into thinking it’s another one of “those” fantasy games. Truth is, “Rank” (measured in ratings of 1-7) isn’t a level of achievement to work your way up to as it is a measure of how much that character has advanced in order for the GM to gauge challenges. Character rank is determined by consulting a chart and factors in their highest attribute and highest skill level (not rating, but level of training.)

Players earn Develop Points as they play the game by role-playing their Descriptors. After each session, the GM goes through a checklist with each player for additional DP to reward. Combat and treasure is not the main motivator for advancement here; at best, you only get 1 DP for being able to say you survived a combat encounter any time this session. Role-Playing, things your character has learned about the game world, deeds and accomplishment of story goals is what rewards and advance PC’s here.

The GM Goodies:

The actual game mechanics and player information that I’ve being going on about this whole post only makes up about 30 pages or so in the book. The rest is GM Guidelines, full of not only handy rules and options for various conditions, effects, difficulty modifiers and the like….but also tools Magical Item generation (with plenty of pre-made items,) a full Bestiary  an Adventure Idea generator, random dungeon generation, a complete “Brush Stroke” campaign gazetteer at the end. I’ll be honest, I normally don’t read over implied settings but I did enjoy this one and intend on using it. The “Keranak Kingdoms” setting is provided with a nice map of the continent and the many regions of it, in which each are described in a few sentences.  It also runs with a quick run-down of the Pantheon, and then it’s left to the GM to fill in the blanks as they wish.

The GM section, in my opinion, is where you get your money’s worth. A GM who is busy but still wants to come up with memorable gaming sessions can quickly whip up a night’s worth of gaming (or more) in relatively quick time. The charts and tables don’t necessarily shoe horn specifics, but offer ideas and guidelines to inspire ideas in the GM for the story they want to craft.

The Tools to Build Your Game On:

The game as presented in this book is complete and stands fine on its own. The mechanics are solid and sound enough that in the event the GM wants to discard a rule, or bring in additional house rules to compliment their style of gaming, it’s very easy to do so without breaking the game.

For those who do find themselves wanting more (perhaps more spells? Skills? I myself have contemplated more player races) it’s easy to eyeball over the existing material and scheme up your own additions to the game. Matter of fact, being that it’s released under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, you’re free to publish your own modifications for non-commercial use. The guys at DwD Studios have been pretty supportive of early fan material, and are planning on future publications to help spread and promote new ideas.

Final Thoughts:


BareBones Fantasy hits many sweet spots: Solid core mechanics, a quick and flexible character creation system, fast-paced combat that is easy to pick up but still offers plenty for tactically minded players to enjoy, and minimal paper work while still offering plenty of options for the GM to make their game as simple or complex as they want. The book itself reads easy, is aesthetically pleasing and has appropriate artwork throughout it. Not to mention, they’ve taken advantage of their digital release and references to page numbers are hyper linked, as well as providing the standard bookmarks you’d expect for a PDF RPG.

While there are plenty of fantasy RPG’s out there, both premium and free, Larry Moore and Bill Logan have created a solid gaming experience and succeeded in providing a stable foundation for any fantasy campaign in a single booklet. While relatively “lite” on the rules (I got more of the “Rules Necessary” vibe,) the additional adventure and item creation tools they provide make an excellent springboard.

And while it may not have AAA production value, I honestly cannot find any faults in this product. The editing is top notch, the art compliments the game well, and the rules and guidelines were explained quite clearly. It may be tough to sell your gaming group on yet another Fantasy RPG, but this one was an obvious labor of love for the folks involved and deserves some recognition in the indie RPG scene.

This game is available in PDF format via RPGNow for $9.99. Includes both regular and printer friendly versions, character sheets, handouts, a map of the setting and even a free adventure! 

Keep up with DwD and future BareBones Fantasy releases at http://dwdstudios.com/barebones/

This article has been edited for corrections in terminology.