Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy (2016)

Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy (2016)

Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy Rules (PDF)

Original Blog

The idea of this game was to make a true RPG set in the Dinosaur Cowboys world. Instead of choosing a character class players would grab a batch of Skills from a list and combine them to make their own concept.

The game leveraged the existing lore of Dinosaur Cowboys, such as having “races” be Allegiances like Duster, Savage, Nomad, etc. The core attributes/stats were somewhat akin to FFG Edge of the Empire. Gear was abstract and designed around a Tier system, instead of specific items and money. Weapons were quite simple, but had various attack templates on the square grid (like 4 across, 2 deep) to add some positioning. Resolution were various sets of Skill checks (Opposing, Statistics, Set, Passive).

The party would have a pool of Activations they could all draw from to move, use skills, etc. So the turn would be a communal effort and thought process. You could spend more or less Activations to improve or decrease your chance of success. Basically “Hasty” for -1 Activation would mean roll 2D12 and choose the lowest. “Focused” was the opposite end, where you spend +1 Activation to roll 2D12 and choose the highest.

Also one of my “internal rules” was that non-shooting solutions needed to be as viable, so speech/talking (via the Sense skill) was just as important useful, and had as much mechanical support.

Overall the game has a ton of neat mechanical ideas. Almost TOO many though. Definitely a lot of fat to be trimmed from this game to make it anywhere near playable. There is a lot going on, and although some might be cool in a vacuum, there is just too much packed into one game.

For example here were the original three goals I set out to achieve. You can tell from the rules and description above how much the scope blew up from there:

  • Player involvement is critical. I want minimal downtime between turns, I don’t want to see wandering eyes and the glow of cellphones and disinterest or inattention. Some players are prone to this regardless of the rule system, but it can still be minimized.
  • Characters will be a flexible collection of skills, maintained on a single-page sheet, with a unified D12 system
  • The game should follow Dinosaur Cowboy history and some of it’s naming conventions, but not be afraid to break from them.

The Original Blog link above has a lot more information, plus the early design process of the game.

Lessons Learned
I learned that if I haven’t written or brainstormed a game in a while, I run the risk of jamming all my ideas into my next project. That’s what happened with Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy. There are concepts from Echo Death (communal activation pool) and Fickle RPG here (Flat vs Fickle damage), as well as D&D 5th edition (advantage equivalent with Focused). Not to mention the huge array of Skills and related combinations, much like Rain Slicked Precipice computer game from Penny Arcade.

So yeah just too much going on. I also learned if I’m working on a couple of projects, to not let one mechanic I really like bleed into another game. That is what happened with Echo Death and the communal activation pool.

Also making anything Dinosaur Cowboys related is tough because I have so many graphical assets and chosen formatting that the rules look quite good. Which sounds a-okay, except if a prototype is pretty or nicely formatted it’s harder to rip it all out and start again. For example the Skills table would be quite tedious to reformat, but I can only guess at the drastic rule changes that are needed and would have to be reflected in those pages.

And finally the most important lesson: testing a full fledged RPG simulating 5 players and a GM is hard. Like insurmountably hard. Especially when a lot of the player turn is talking and deliberation on how to spend orders.

Anyway the game is neat, and I’m glad I got the various mechanics and rules down on paper. I like a lot of aspects, but I need to start fresh from the ground up and really choose what/how I want the game to play. Because honestly Fickle RPG feels like it can achieve almost the same idea with 1/20th the rules.