Playing #AThousandThousandIslands in #dnd5e :

Here's the house-rule document, in PDF-…

And that post *already* has long-ass notes. But talking shop about game design is fun, I guess? So, thread:

My fave RPG rule texts are ones that trust players.

Games like Knave and Troika! set their ethos by what they *don't say*, as much as the rules they provide:

"You are sharing a cool experience with friends, here's a scaffold, climb all over it and build something together"

PS: Troika! still has, in my estimation, the best "what is an RPG?" section ever written. Basically:

"Oh wow you are getting into RPGs for the first time, here's what it is, don't be scared, just go for it, I'm so excited for you!"

Modern-edition D&D is pretty much the opposite of that.

Look at how spells are written. Generally, a spell's entry in 5E spends more words telling you what it *can't* do and in which situations you *can't* use it.

It's a rules text that expects bad-faith rules arguments.

And imho a rules text that tries to preempt bad faith disputes by attempting to remove the possibility of human interpretation *causes* bad faith disputes.

D&D's "defensive" rules writing *attracts* the rules lawyers that want to break it.

Writing this way also warps the imagination possible in a game into weird robotic shapes.

Take 5E's conditions. They are written so that there are clear, unambigious definitions and mechanical boundaries for "incapacitated" vs "prone" vs "paralyzed".

I hate 5E's conditions.

There are too many to easily remember. Quick: tell me the mechanical differences between 'restrained' & 'grappled'!

At the same time they don't cover enough. I have heard D&D rules-as-written types say: "Oh, don't worry about being 'deafened', it's meaningless."

WTF??? If you can't hear the dragon coming, I'd say that's a pretty big deal yo.

So why write a list of conditions like that?

Why not just let being deaf, or knocked over, or paralyzed, mean what those words mean, and trust that players / referees at the table will figure out a way to make that meaningful at the table?


That was a long-ass way of explaining why the ATTI house-rule doc is so brief. It doesn't even begin to address rules questions.

I wanted it to be orientation: to imply an ethos about play style and the world, and leave players to figure out the nitty-gritty stuff.

(Though maybe the current PDF is *too brief*, and says too little? I have a tendency to like terseness overmuch. And too little orientation is also bad.

Oh well. A thing to watch out for.)


In 5E ATTI, your skills give you tools, specific areas of expertise, a history, possible allies / enemies.

You picked Performance? You may be a dancer, with the instruments and masks of your art, familiarity with the way dance troupes work, etc.

I felt like this is just a natural explication of what the 5E skill list should already be doing?

This way you can skip the fiddly "background" step of chargen. Also you always keep past character histories relevant in current play.

Anyway, it's a nod to how other games handle their skills lists- as a way to communicate character / world flavour.

Think the professions of WFRP and its derivatives, or the idiosyncratic skills of Fighting Fantasy / Troika.

(I've mentioned Troika twice in the same thread. Oh well, guess you guys know which rules system we'll be looking at next, for #AThousandThousandIslands)

What else?
- recovering HP takes longer, and is more closely tied to the medicine skill.
- encumbrance is more severe. You can't carry unlimited stuff (like you can, basically, in 5E)

(I briefly toyed with an inventory slot mechanic, like many other OSR games have, but MK and I talked it over, and we decided against it.)

Gear in ATTI shouldn't be about inventory tetris, but about the idea you can't carry everything, and you will need friends / hired help

Adventuring in ATTI is about adventuring as a group. You'll likely have to travel as a caravan, with a party larger than the individual player-characters. Being a hero is putting trust in a community.

Experience in 5E ATTI is earned:

"when your actions directly bring significant, irrevocable change to a particular community"

The open-endedness of "significant change" is by design. I didn't want to slave xp to ethical judgments one way or the other.

Neither anti-social: "Kill all the orcs, gain xp!"
or pro-social: "Improve a community, gain xp!"

Because I dislike using xp as a mechanical incentive to nudge players to particular moral decisions.

Instead, xp here functions as a reminder-

That the things players do / don't do *always* have ramifications on the people around them:

1) keep players thinking about the consequences of their decisions; and
2) remind the GM that portraying such political / economic / social / ethical consequences is important.

(You could argue handling xp this way is a "xp for just showing up to the game" incentive. Which: hey, I'm fine with. Playing the game and riding out with what happens is the *whole point*, isn't it?)

Other minor things I liked:
- Firearms! One ranged shot, then use it as a melee weapon. Felt suitably martial-art-y, also reflects how common gunpowder should be in the setting;
- Skill in melee weapons contributing to armour class. Again this is about that martial-art feel;

- Armour as a hindrance. This is a world-building thing: communicating heat and humidity, as well SEAsia's lessened emphasis on body armour.
- Currency being left as an open question. There isn't a single gp standard; shopping is bartering / haggling for the stuff you need.

Writing system rules is *so* uncomfortable, for me. The area of RPG-making I feel least confident in. (I just imagine other designers leafing through my meagre attempts and tut-tut-ing)

Eventually we'd like to make a bespoke ruleset for ATTI. Necessary practice, I guess ...

BTW: if you do try these tweaks out in your game, I'd love to hear how they work (or didn't, as is more likely) for you.

Many of the tweaks come from the way I run 5E in my home games, but I have little idea how they translate to other tables ...


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More from @zedecksiew

15 May

Some light hacks of 5E for #AThousandThousandIslands. This is basically the first time we've thought about RPG-system stuff for the zines.

Yeah yeah, it's D&D -but hey, *I* play D&D, okay?…

I'm pleased with the tweaks to xp and skills. (These may seem like trivialities, but I'm the opposite of a rules-design guy, so ...)

Also: Mun Kao made a character sheet, inspired by the flow-chart-y excellence of #MothershipRPG . (Note the "Allies & Pets" column!)

Also: remember that demon hunter who fell in love with one of their targets?

Here they are, as a D&D character class!

(I wrote most of their abilities / powers in natural language, so adapting them to any other ruleset *should* be painless?)…

Read 5 tweets
20 Mar

This has always been the most obvious thing to me:

"TTRPGs are a conversation; how you get people into the conversation is design. How you describe a particular place, how you’ve drawn a particular character are as important as mechanical rules."

"TTRPGs are a conversation", particularly-

It feels like a useless thing to point out; every instance of RPG play (that isn't solo play) is obviously "people, talking".

But I've come to realise that this simple observation underpins everything I want do, re: RPG design.

The idea that everything said at the table-

"They've left a key on the table. Do you take it?"
"My character hates dwarves ..."
"Yes, but what *direction* do we flee in?"

Is play. Is the heart of the game, working. Not just when conversation triggers resolution mechanics.

Read 19 tweets
18 Mar

" Gul and others's mistrust [of vaccinations] stems from a much more sinister source ... hunting for Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, the CIA organized a fake hepatitis B vaccination program to aid in their search. "
" ... though the White House announced that the CIA would no longer use vaccination programs as cover for espionage, Pakistan moved from being a country that had almost eradicated polio to one whose polio cases accounted for a whopping 85 percent of the global share. "
Even if you expect a baseline of USian interventionist evil, this is *beyond the pale* HOLY SHIT
Read 4 tweets
18 Mar
To contextualise my thoughts re: incentivizing ethical decisions in RPGs:

Yesterday I played in a game, running through @DonnStroud 's "The Isle of the Plangent Mage". At the start of the adventure, a scene of townsfolk slaughtering beached whales.

The parent whale had already been killed; its three children were still on the beach, breathing.

The bulk of our session became: "How do we save these whale babies???"

We were playing with Old School Essentials. OSE's rules-sanctioned incentive for play is as old-school as it gets: gold for XP; monsters defeated for XP.

Read 13 tweets
18 Mar
This is my main problem with mechanically rewarding pro-social play: a character's ethical choice is rendered mercenary.

"Being good for a reward isn’t being good - it’s just optimal play. "
Bear in mind I'm not saying that pro-social play can't have "rewarding" outcomes for players:

Any decision should have (diegetic?) consequences in the fiction. The townsfolk are thankful; the goblins remember your mercy, etc.

But extra XP tickets for ethical decisions stinks.
If you give bonus XP for sparing goblins your players aren't making a decisions based on how much their value life. They are making a decision based on how much they want XP.

A subtle but *absolutely* essential distinction, when it comes to ethics.
Read 10 tweets
15 Mar
Tried reading Lancer RPG several times now. (It's been on my bedside table for a month.)

And it is *genuinely* difficult for me to see its setting's central polity, Union, as anything but an analogue to imperial US America.
* centralised polity with clear metropole worlds
* absolutely intertwined with megacorporations
* "safeguarded" by a secret intelligence bureau a la the CIA / KGB
* foreign policy against its "periphery" is expansionism / corpocratic brush war
* sure of its moral rectitude
The text uses the word "utopia" / "utopian" 18 times. (Not counting the phrase "Utopian Pillars", Union's charter.)

I kept looking to see whether it was using this world ironically. It does not.

I'm sorry, but secret police + centralised nation-state + MEGACORPS =/= utopia.
Read 19 tweets

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