31 January 2009

Curse of the Ranger

Am now in the process of writing up example scenarios for the No Dice Core Rulebook and have shoved in the proto-No Dice haunted house game written by my partner, the hallmark of simplicity, excellence and entertainment (I've played it). Alongside this are a scenario that is almost as easy to run based on 70s slasher movies and a last, more challenging scenario.

In this last scenario I wanted to show how developed No Dice could become from it's incredibly simple beginnings. I've packaged up a martial arts scenario that is based upon a martial arts No Dice RPG that is currently in development. This is perfect actually because one project dovetails nicely into the next, the example scenario sticks to the basics and doesn't explain things like character generation, it comes with some pre-gens, but it is the system at heart.

One of the features of the martial arts system is that it needs to have some really cool fighting moves. It also needs to have a martial arts fighting system.

The martial arts fighting system has always been something of an RPG shibboleth. The number of people disappointed by clunky kung fu melee combat systems that I have met is, well, everyone. The point is that when you're rolling them dice and seeing them scores the action goes into slo-mo, and not in a funky, John Woo, doves 'n' gunfire way.

This is, of course, directly antithetical to the idea of martial arts entertainment. We want to be dazzled by the speed, not snoring over the maths. As this is precisely the kind of problem that No Dice was supposed to tackle I hunkered down and got on with it.

You'll see the results, in brief, in the Core Book and in more depth in the finished full game setting and system.

Whilst I was engaged in the generation of a new fracas management system I stopped to think about how these rules would translate, if at all, into ranged combat. The answer was quite simple, it wouldn't. The setting of the martial arts game is historic so gunfire was something of an event anyway. Coming to consider firing a bow and arrow, however, I wondered about how ranged combat worked at all.

Essentially, the action of firing ballistics (or throwing them) into a melee is a separate event from the melee itself. A suitable observer wishing to partake in this action would find themselves with much fewer opportunities to act as the speed of the combat should be blistering.

I was playtesting the combat system last night and neither fight would have lasted more than three or four minutes in real time. Time to maybe fire two arrows to any effect. Even then the fact of the arrows probably would have curtailed the combat.

So what is all this trying to combine the two. Gun fights and fist fights are essentially completely separate beings and mixing the two oddly inappropriate. This is the curse of the ranger. You might want to be the best bowman in all of Germany (or whatever) but that means you want to take three of the suckers down in one shot each whilst they're running toward you and then get your sword out to take down the other two. The ranged and the melee are essentially two different things.

When I do come to develop a proper ranged combat system it's going to be on that basis. Immediate melee danger must happen in a different time frame to shooting. Shooting a small number of people is probably just a role play event, like making a jump, or battering down a door with your shoulder. A gun battle, well, that's where the system comes in.

Until I, or someone else with the mind to, have time to think about it in depth, I guess we will all just have to be wary of the ranger's curse.

27 January 2009

What's Wrong With D&D?

So, the main text of No Dice Core is finished. It's all polish from here on in, yay! During the joyful task of editing I note that I have made a whiney comment about the most popular role playing game in history Dungeons & Dragons. It wasn't really relevant to what I was talking about so I took it out.

I wanted to start this post by explaining that I wasn't anti-D&D per se. Then I realised that actually I would rather bathe in a soup of cow pats and urine jelly cubes before playing a session of D&D. So I guess that does make me anti-D&D.

I am very careful in the introduction to No Dice to state that were it not for Gary Gygax and his dungeon crawling classic No Dice would probably not exist. No Dice disagrees with a combat heavy, quasi-board game approach to Role Playing, just because it was first doesn't make it right every time for every person.

I find it a bit strange that all RPGs to date have been somewhat infected by the D&D way of doing things. White Wolf tried to step away from the model but even they seem to have an obsession with numbers and dice that seems to hamper their rich, detailed worlds.

Also, my colleague the Doodler noted that although Storyteller games offer a huge wealth of setting detail the advice on how to actually role play is somewhat thin on the ground.

I wasn't entirely sure what I would put into the No Dice corebook when I first started thinking about it a year ago. What it has ended up being is a compendium advice on how to roleplay without dice. And actually not just without dice but without many of the trappings of "traditional" RP. The dice, in fact, is so emblematic of Role Playing that's why it became the target of this game's prohibition.

So, what's wrong with D&D? Nothing, if you like that sort of thing, but all those people who do are well catered for. I just wanted to cater for some new people, that's all.

22 January 2009

Love In An RPG

Despite the fact that your average RPG will be rife with jaunty skull splitting and base quests for filthy lucre the topic of affairs of the heart never really presents itself to go with the power fantasies and the fortune fantasies.

I don't anticipate that No Dice will be much different. Part of the core book, the seemingly interminable and yet incredibly useful part, is a guide for players and Hosts to the roles present in various dramatic situations. I'm using an off the shelf taxonomy of these situations and several of them deal with the topic of love.

It isn't entirely impossible that a Role Playing character could get involved in some sort of affair but it is extremely unlikely. Although No Dice does away with the need to be described entirely in terms of how effective you are at turning people's insides into outsides it's still not an effective tool for role playing a burgeoning romance.

I think the central problems inherent in the role playing of a romantic affair are two fold. Firstly you only have two choices of partner as a player, a non-player (and hence the GM) or another player.

If your entire group is made up of members of the same sex this could be awkward. However it's not inconceivable that a determined group could grit their teeth and try to rise above it.

Enter problem the second. It is nigh on impossible to role play a romance in a room with three or four other people sitting around like lemons. Part of the joy of role playing is that it's immersive and nothing un-immerses you like trying to ignore the mercenary, the thief and the hacker waiting for their turn in the spotlight whilst you exchange sweet nothings with your imaginary partner.

So I don't think No Dice will be the game to buck this trend. Given the circumstances this might not be such a bad thing.

20 January 2009

So what is this "No Dice" thing anyhow?

The very first thing the No Dice project is going to produce, sometime soon, is a Core Rulebook for a very different kind of roleplaying game. Traditionally RPGs have been the domain of a set lucky few.

I name those who role play as "lucky" because I believe that it has the potential to be the most fun of any activity human beings can engage in. Ever since I cracked this system it's been my aim to open the hobby up, to coax in a few more players and deliver a new kind of experience.

I want everyone who *could* be interested in role playing to start role playing. I want to introduce new avenues for old players and new worlds for new players. I'm not saying No Dice isn't going to be an ambitious project. No Dice is the first project I have ever started that I think is, in its own small way, important.

We live in a world of MMORPGs, of video entertainment on demand, of Facebook. Our communities are online and the advantages that gives a citizen of this world in opportunities to be culturally diverse and to understand other people, places and lifestyles are immense.

For all that, though, sometimes you just need to sit down, with a regular person in a room and chill out. Sure, you can play boardgames, you can engage in witty banter, you can hunker down to an enormous Dungeons & Dragons hack-a-thon, there are always options. I am adding another option, and I hope it will become a popular one.

In the No Dice Core Rule book I'm going to try to convey an approach to gaming that, while it is not new, has never really been written down. If we were going to get intellectual about this I would say that No Dice is an RPG that is also a philosophy regarding RPGs.

None of this is meant to be an intellectual burden so we'll leave it at that.

If I were you I might *not* be thinking: just who the hell are you to be telling me how to Role Play? If you are, wow, aggressive! Even if I didn't have anger management issues though I might wonder where all this new stuff is coming from.

I've read a bunch of role playing manuals. I love role playing manuals, particularly the ones that describe worlds and settings and characters; rules-heavy ones not so much, as you shall learn. I would rather read such a manual than any other type of book. Once I have read and taken in the manuals I tend to file them away, forget most of the rules and wonder whether anyone wants to play a game with that setting.

Not that things were always this way.

When I was getting towards nine years of age in the early eighties Dungeons & Dragons was just starting to show up on the radar as a hobby in the UK. Through various means I got hold of the rule books and the old style polyhedral dice which you had to colour in with a white crayon. I also looked at other systems like the old Middle Earth Role Playing game, Paranoia and minor paperback roleplaying games like Maelstrom and Monster Horrorshow.

If you asked me now about the rules to any of these games I wouldn't actually be able to tell you much. The Monster Horrorshow used a mechanic called "The Absolutely Anything Table" which, well, you can probably guess what it did.

Back then I was desperate to play one of these games but I couldn't find a group. Whenever I did find a group all they wanted to do was roll dice and move pieces around on maps. That wasn't the type of experience I wanted. I wanted to be a participant in a story. I wanted to play a role.

I know what you're thinking, and I did. I studied acting, I went to acting school but I didn't just do acting because at heart I wasn't an actor. I studied Drama & Education which teaches you a lot about improvisation and rolling with the punches. My study there wasn't meant to prepare me to teach drama or to educate actors. It was all about how to present a narrative illusion, techniques to help normal people engage in this kind of play for their entertainment.

And it didn't stop there.

I actually went to college to study media and made a few films but I'm not a film maker either. I've written novels, and will write more, but I'm not strictly speaking a novelist. I've designed out computer games (I am a programmer by day) but I don't want to make a computer game.

I am a role player, a story teller, someone who wanted to share a fiction game with the world. Those friends of mine who enjoy this pursuit number among them some people who would take an opportunity to role play like this before considering any other way of spending time.

Some of these friends have helped me enormously in the development of this very game. One of them is my wonderful partner, a woman who wouldn't play Dungeons & Dragons unless you paid her a hefty sum. She is the one that proved to me Role Playing as a hobby could have a broader appeal than it currently does. So in a way this book is kind of her fault.

I need to also thank Justin and John who have played a bunch of No Dice. In its earlier days I also played some much clunkier versions (back when there were some dice) with Mike, Nick, Kath, Owen, Dave, Kenton, Clive and a bunch of others. Special mentions go to JC; whose game weekends gave me a first crop of willing testers; and super story-based GM Alex who, while he has never partaken in early No Dice, has a healthy disrespect for crunch getting in the way of a role playing session (even so the lengths of his games are legendary but only because of their epic sweep).

These happy few would rather role play than watch a movie, they would rather role play than go out to a restaurant, or bungee jump, or engage in any other activity or distraction. These folk will roll a dice and play a board game but will freely admit they'd rather be role playing, with an emphasis on the "role".

The game me and my closest friends have been looking for has fewer rules than most other games. It helps the players play their character in situations as diverse as fighting, to finding the dirt on a politician, to having tea with the Queen. It introduces people to strange worlds filled with compelling detail. It would be a game that would be a head on collision between the imagination required to read a book and the freedom of thought allowed in a great movie. The world didn't have that kind of game exactly, many near misses but the cigar has gone unclaimed. So I'm taking my shot at inventing one.

Not to say I haven't played in exactly the kinds of game I enjoy taking part in but such games have never been formalised. Usually a story game is another kind of game that has been altered or "hacked" to make it rules lite. We all turn up, clutching our dice bags and we play the game the way we want to play it. Everyone rolls their dice a few times though, in supplication to the gods of role playing who demand such things.

No Dice is the product of a history in love with role playing, movies, acting, writing and, most of all, great stories. I hope you enjoy trying to tune in to No Dice and wish you exciting and engaging adventures with your players. So keep an eye on this blog and watch as a new Role Playing paradigm materialises before your eyes.

18 January 2009


Okay, so now I'm here and with "Donate" buttons and filthy lucre generating advertisements all over the shop I am itching to just get on with the business of telling you about the No Dice project. I haven't got much time this evening but I'll just put a few words down so that you can get the hang.

No Dice is a new RPG. More than that. It's a new *TYPE* of RPG. It's come about as a result of my own love of the hobby, of my fellow player's love for story based RPGs and our struggle to find something new that maximises the fun and minimises the dull. No Dice is the distillation of all our experiments.

I'm just revising the core rulebook for the system and once that's done I'm going to make up an edition and publish it through Lulu who have long been my self-publishing company of choice. I had a look at Amazon's Createspace and considered jumping ship but... well, Lulu is just plain better. It really is.

The Core Book for No Dice will be free to download, it will cost to have a printed copy but only paper and ink costs, no royalty, or if there is a royalty it will be donated to a charity of my choosing.

The core project will be entirely supported through donations, not that I need much, I can do this work for love and I fully intend to, but I can work for longer if I have more money in the bank.

Future No Dice spin offs, well, I will be charging for them. Real money. But that's because they're extras, sweat from my brow and all that. There will be some No Dice freebies but that's mostly because I want to produce No Dice rules for systems based on defunct TV shows that I don't have any IP rights to. They will be entirely free, I really am doing those for love.

So now you know the plan. You should be able to see it come together in the next few weeks as I begin to publish my core rulebook excerpts. So stick around if you love RPGs because this promises to be something very different.

Feet Under The Table

This is kind of like buying a shop and getting the keys... The place is empty at the moment but you just want to make it your own and then open the doors. There's so much to do though. Customise the look, make sure you have the right links, set up the advertising bar...

I can taste the anticipation.

Oh, and let's not forget the product. I'll be putting excerpts from my first RPG product up here from the week after next. It's a roleplaying game but it's new. Very new. As I finished the first draft I realised there hasn't really been an RPG like this before.

So I have an original first product, which will run entirely on donations and advertising revenue and we'll see where we go from there. For now, I just want to make the place look good.

11 January 2009

Welcome To My New Home

This blog is what will become of what used to be www.leostableford.com. The domain is staying but the Wordpress site is going. The reasons for this will be covered in the closing posts on the wordpress journal. I hope this new site will be okay for my future readers!