Progress on Battletech rework

Well I have tentatively named the rework In the Mech Hotseat (that goes to the new game page for it), to try to convey that you’re really managing the Mech, and allude to how important heat management is. The name is likely to change though as it doesn’t roll off the tongue and isn’t super memorable (compared to the likes of Glowquest and Echo Death!).

Progress is going well, and I’m nearly at the point of my playtests just being playing the game for fun, which is a good sign.

The game page has more detailed information, background, etc. But a brief summary is you still use the paper maps from Battletech, and your vast mini collection for Mechs, but the focus is on 1vs1 duels and how to make them interesting and compelling. Which is achieved by having a dice placement/allocation minigame to represent power/heat management. You can maybe get the idea from the rough sheet examples above, where you can see slots to place dice to do different stuff.

Anyway you can read the Rework Brainstorm or take a look at the rough, unformatted Weapon/Active/Utility Subsystem list for further information.

I think the biggest hurdle will be balancing and tweaking all the Subsystems, especially once Covid clears up well enough that I can playtest face-to-face with friends and see the crazy, unbalanced custom designs they come up with. The core rules are feeling pretty solid now I think.

Fickle RPG online dice roller

During my last remote session of Fickle RPG I realized maybe half my friends who played don’t actually have enough D6s on hand, and had to resort to online dice rollers. Most of which aren’t designed in the least for the style of dice rolling that you do in the game. So I figured I’d make a simple Fickle RPG dice roller that everyone can use next time!

Fickle RPG Dice Roller:

I think I’ll use that as the main link. But it’s a redirect that some places (like Facebook messenger) have problems with. So I’ll likely pass around the alternate link of

The roller is made with plain HTML and Javascript and is totally enclosed in a single file. You can use it offline by just opening the HTML file in a web browser. Which is super handy as it’s braindead simple to setup, no install needed or whatever, and in case my hosting plan ever goes away or is down. You can download a ZIP of the dice roller.

Anyway suggestions are more than welcome! I primarily meant the process to be done with hotkeys, so you just press the number of dice you want, how many go to Fickle, and answer Y/N to Luck Dice going to Fickle or Flat, then it rolls and you get your total success right away. People might use the dropdowns and buttons though still.

Setting: Spaceship crash in Fickle RPG

With Covid-19 keeping all the fun RPGing remote, I ran a pair of sessions recently for Fickle RPG. We used Discord for audio/video and people scrounged whatever sheets they had lying around or could print, as well as a mish mash of D6s (I never realized how few of my friends had dice collections haha). The game is really meant to be played in person, as allocating the dice loses a lot of the bluff/guessing element when there’s an audio delay and people can’t be face to face. We also didn’t use the Underdog Bonus as it was easier remotely for people to just allocate/roll/total successes and tell me what they got.

The same theme was used both nights (was back to back Fri and Sat, super fun but mentally tiring). The first night had 4 players but unfortunately one had connection/internet problems so they bailed halfway through. The second night had 5-7 people that fluctuated as some people had to leave a bit earlier than others, or arrived late. I was somewhat rusty for the first night, and took what I learned and tried to correct the mistakes I made for the second night. Fun all around and I’m glad to play again.

Anyway here is the Spaceship Crash setting document.

Basically in the year 2285 Earth is a mess, as are a few settled/colonized planets in our solar system. The United Patrol and Colonization (UPAC) corp who manages it all wants to send out giant Worldships to look for new planets to exploit colonize. This plan fails and the ships lose communication just past Pluto. Which of course fires up a protest group of neo-Luddites led by Jeremiah Penwrick. UPAC tries a last ditch effort of just sending out any ship they can. The players are on one such ship, the UPAC Lentana, and the session starts with them rudely being awoken from cryosleep to the ship tearing itself apart in atmosphere. A sabotaged gyroscope is the culprit!

A few “a-ha” moments were that one player was a Penwrick traitor who was trying to sabotage the mission. The other is because the crew were in cryosleep for 93 years, UPAC actually advanced their technology well enough to get FTL travel, and had arrived on the same planet earlier.

Here’s a recap I sent to the gaming crew, and I’ll paste again here to get an idea of how it played:

Second Night: 15 person converted mail carrier. 1 meal of food after crashing. Radar was split into two. One other survivor who was wounded but was saved (was a female doctor). Found the advanced fuel rod buried under a rock. Found an intact cryosleep chamber of Almon Garcia, looked like he was in a coma, so they opened it up then jacked him full of post-cryo stims, which overloaded his body and killed him. Scavenged various food (superheated snakes, space potatoes, etc.). Storm was incoming, and on the way to the second radar piece it hit. Over the next day the water flooded and rose to 150 feet. They used the inflatable habitat as a floating thing with a crude paddle to try to get back to the ship. Dove to their ship, recovered Picard and the other radar, which ACCIDENTALLY had the safety rope cut from basically right at the raft. Player had an encounter with a merfolk/mermaid type creature with purple stones in it’s head that shut down nearby electronics. Eventually made another dive for the radar and got it. Climbed a mountain, with the help of a zero-G zone, and setup the radar at the top. It found a UPAC vehicle near a settlement. Went to the settlement, which was primitive, and the people there kept chanting “they’re back”. Finally the party asked how long they were in cryosleep (same 93 years), then it dawned on them that UPAC discovered FTL and made it to the planet 10 years ago. That crew fought and killed each other. The super advanced ship was still there and accessible. Everyone got on, and just as they were going to put the expended fuel rod in the traitor player smashed it. The traitor had saved another player’s life, so they sided together him. Then THAT player had saved another player’s life, so he sided with the traitors too. This left two loyal UPAC players who had a shootout/scuffle to the death with the other three. At one point the traitor’s buddy pointed the ship at a mountain to suicide. Turns out in the heat of the battle we literally ALL forgot about that, until 2 or 3 turns later when they asked what happened with the flying, so everyone smashed into a mountain and died.

First Night: Bigger ship (25 people), less food concerns, had a “Mule” (open topped ATV type vehicle) since one of the players had chosen to be a pilot so needed something to do on planet. The 7 foot long radar also was intact. Found the advanced fuel rod buried in a field of snow. A few of the less Intellect-y folks failed a roll and saw a glowing white light, when touched they had a vision of a massive flood. Oh and the fuel rod when hooked to the Mule sent it into FTL across the planet. Found a swamp, blew up the explosive gas there, found lumps of “membrane” wrapped creatures. Tried to seal up part of the spaceship as a life raft in case the incoming storm was the apocalyptic flood from the vision. Had a run in with some local savages. Once the radar was setup it kept randomly breaking, WEIRD. Eventually jury rigged the Mule with the advanced fuel rod onto the spaceship/liferaft, and went to blast into space. Turns out the obviously sabotaged radar was done by a player, who was the pilot, who flew the ship straight up, then lol straight back into the planet

Thinking about Battletech

Ah Battletech. What a classic. I got the 4th edition starter box when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, then a few minis, and played a bunch with friends. I took a long, long hiatus on the game (long enough that I even FORGOT I had the starter box if you can believe that), and ended up picking up a duplicate second copy maybe 5-6 years later, played for another ~3-5 years, then moved onto other things. During that time we tried campaigns, we used an old program called “Design Depot” to make piles and piles of custom Mechs (step 1: max armor, step 2: put in XL engine, step 3: load up on weapons), and had a pretty darn fun time with the game. Later on I played Mech Attack, which uses a damage template system similar to the old old Renegade Legion (another FASA product). And even later after that me and my semi-original Battletech gaming group considered what our own custom version of the game would look like.

Because here’s the thing with Battletech…the rules are solid and simple to pick up. Roll 2D6 to hit, 2D6 for location, damage is flat (unless a missile system), you manage your heat, and you whittle down the enemy. BUT I have two big problems with the system though, that emerged over time and with repeated plays of all different types. The first is a 1vs1 type Mech vs Mech match up, especially with Assault tonnage, is really boring and not very tactical or interesting. Basically comes down to a roll off of shooting, damaging, crossing out boxes, and hoping for some good internal criticals. A huge part of this is a basic Assault mech has 3 movement, on a paper map that is traditionally about 18 hexes by 15 hexes. And changing 1 facing costs 1 movement. So you can imagine the glacial snail battle that emerges. We literally ended battles by standing beside each other and just rolling to hit until someone exploded.
So then you think “oh I’ll play Lance vs Lance (4 mechs per side) instead!” Except the game scales terribly as you’re shuffling sheets and micromanaging a lot of (kind of) dull information.
There just isn’t a happy middle ground. Which makes me sad because I have a lot of Battletech minis and fond memories of the game, and would love to be excited to play it again, but I kind of know what awaits. In hindsight, or maybe for future plays (if ever), I think having a scenario and different deployment/setup would help, as would using comparable designs from an early, non-crazy year like 3025 or 3050. But I’ve been singing the second part of that sentence for a long time now, as I ended up really disliking our super optimized, kinda samey custom designs, whereas I like the official designs that had flaws and failings you had to work around (like a real war machine).

Reworking Battletech

So what does all this mean? Well, I took a quick brainstorm this weekend and rough pass at some reworked rules. I tried simplifying each Mech sheet so that it could fit 4 to a page, and designing rules around a Lance vs Lance. Which meant a simplified to-hit system (instead of counting up a bunch of modifiers each time), and simplifying the internal slot structure of the Mechs. Then I tried a super duper rough playtest. And after some notes and messing around I decided Battletech done that way just feels like Dinosaur Cowboys but with hit locations and heat. Maybe it’s my own shortcomings, but I was already imagining porting over the different deployment types from Dinosaur Cowboys, after I basically setup my 4 Mechs half a dozen hexes from the edge of the paper map. Sure I could inject more interesting tactical decisions compared to actual Battletech, like having a simple reaction system (where you the defender can move, return fire, or hunker down), and I could get the location tracking to a single roll as part of the to-hit, but really it would just be a skirmish game but with Mechs instead of soldiers (or cowboys 🙂 ). And then I kind of lost steam at the idea of making that, because it felt like retread ground.

I was thinking that the fun part of Battletech, besides the pile of existing designs, is how there are parts where you feel like you’re managing a big stompy robot. So THEN I was thinking what about if I went the complete opposite direction, and instead of trimming the rules to work for 4vs4, I made them MUCH more interesting for 1vs1. Think of a game like FTL: Faster Than Light (a truly amazing, well designed, genre defining game). In that the developers considered having ship movement in space, but it didn’t add much. What if the movement in Battletech doesn’t actually add much? Especially in a 1vs1 situation. What about if the real game could be managing the power, heat, routing of damaged subsystems, targetting and firing, stabilizing, etc. of the Mech? Pushing the Mech to it’s limits, squeezing every ounce of performance from it like a true veteran pilot would. Almost like how Fickle RPG turned the actual act of dice resolution into a (for lack of a better term) minigame. All of which could have the interesting, meaningful decisions I so crave from a game.

Instead of trying to make a simple paper map with basic terrain and slow movement into some kind of super cool tactical simulator, maybe the focus should be on the Mech itself. How to do all that AND make it fun is the question, of course. But one I want to spend some time trying to answer.

My gut instinct would be a dice placement game like One Deck Dungeon or the computer game Dicey Dungeons (or Sagrada to a certain extent). Lots of space on a big record sheet for that kind of thing, and starting your turn by rolling a slew of D6s then messing around with them would be cool. Or a bag builder like Dice Masters or even a Yahtzee style roll-and-do-stuff like Dice Throne.

Quick dice system for roll-and-move racing games

I had ordered a simple kids game called Cars Risky Raceway and it arrived over the weekend so we were playing it. The game uses basic roll-and-move (well, spin-and-move) to get around the board. Which is a perfectly fine mechanic for teaching kids (like my middle son) the basics of games. But for my oldest daughter it gets a bit boring. The track itself is terrific with nice bridges and a good amount of squares:

So after some thinking I threw together a quick dice system that works with the game, or any similar roll-and-move games as a drop-in replacement for the ~5+ year old kids. The idea is to simulate the speed and rush of racing by trying to quickly match dice. And since adults are naturally faster at it there is a built in handicap for kids to keep it challenging.

Roll 4D6 of one color and 2D6 (we called them the “kid dice”) of another color. We used dice with pips/dots instead of written numbers.

We used a dice cup for this so the dice stay together (and we could roll them and count down from 3 before removing the cup for even MORE racing feel).

Reveal the dice and both players try to find any matches. ONLY the kids can match with the “kid dice”. For each individual matching dice you call out and grab, you get to move 1 square. If both players shout the same match at the same time, just re-roll.

For example we roll 3, 3, 4, 6 and 1, 6. The adult sees a match on 3s and calls that out before the kid can, but the kid calls their own match on 6s. Both players move 2 squares. They roll again getting 1, 2, 4, 5 and 2, 2. The poor adult has no available matches while the kid gleefully yells out 2s and gets to move 3 squares (for three 2s).

The “kid dice” handicap can be changed as needed, such as giving them more dice. We also have some colored dice from Monza (which is a great kids game on it’s own) so we also tried matching with colors, which I found my kids were able to do faster than D6s. And of course we expanded the system with Nitro Boosts and stuff, but those are simple enough to theme to what you want.

Neato Picture
Also a cool retrofuturism picture of “glowing roads” that’s ever so vaguely related to racing games, I guess?

Productive night and a first rulebook of The Grand Adventure

What’s that? A new rulebook in the span of a day? That’s right, it was a productive time but I’ve put together a (probably over-ambitiously versioned) v0.9 of The Grand Adventure. It’s still missing Jobs (classes) and a character sheet, but that’s okay. The new dedicated listing page has some more info.

And here is The Grand Adventure rulebook (v0.9 PDF).

But basically I needed a more narrative, grid-less/board-less, kid friendly RPG for my nieces and nephews on my wife’s side. After a quick playtest and further refinements, The Grand Adventure is the result.

I can’t wait to play it all weekend with my own kids! And probably it and some Santorini next week with my nieces (because everyone seems to really love Santorini, enough so that we bought our own copy after giving it as a gift at Christmas).

At some point I’ll get back to games aimed at grown adults, since I’d like to finish up Glowquest. But I’m not in a huge rush, it’s nice to just be productive when I feel like it, and not try to force game design until it becomes a chore.

The Grand Adventure – brainstorm and images

Well that was a nice Christmas and New Year for me. We played a lot of Santorini (my oldest daughter loved it) and some Quest for El Dorado and so on. With my other nieces and nephews (who aren’t as avid of game players) I had bought one of them some D&D stuff, but it was clearly a bit too much for them, so we tried Party of Light, and even that was a bit too much and not what they were after (they wanted less grid combat and more adventure-y stuff). So I off-the-cuff threw some rules together on vacation, and now wanted to refine them into yet another RPG for kids. I mean adults will find something fun in it too, obviously. So The Grand Adventure (working title) is roughly the result so far, which has no board/grid, so it’s easier to prepare (helps me a lot!), and has a focus on fast combat where you still get to have something fun happen on a miss, and other stuff kids tend to like (such as re-rolls and no dying – just losing overall as a party). So taking some elements from Glowquest a bit.

Anyway I’ve been looking around a bit for some title page art (premature much?!) and wanted to share some cool images. These would be recolored, touched up, and overlayed with the title.

So far I’m tending towards the colorful plant/jungle, the waterfall, and the fantastical house or airship thing. I think some simple line art of explorers could work for the inside like the series called Middle Earth Traveller by Evankart.

And here is a dump of the brainstorm document I have:

– Overall game uses no board, but has relative positioning so we can still use minis

– Body
— Strong
— Swift
– Mind
— Smart
— Social
– Soul
— Tough
— Tricky

– Above attributes are assigned Best (+3), Good (+1), Bad (-1), and Worst (-2) and two 0s.
– Stats are assigned secretly during creation
– Skill checks are D10+attr >= DC = success
— Could have a couple of named Skills that give +1
— Would be more interesting if Skill did something else, like roll 2D10 choose highest?
—- Reason being a +1 doesn’t feel hugely impactful, results in more math for mods, etc.
– Basic check should be around DC 5, which results in 60% chance of success

– Character sheet should be a half page, with instructions on what to do right on the sheet
– Then your class is another half a sheet you put below. So you have attributes/stamina/name/etc. and your spendable abilities

– Combat/attack is 3D6, do 1 damage per 5 or 6 rolled
– Most monsters have 1-2 Stamina so they die quickly
– Also gain 1 Power counter (likely just glass beads) per: miss, roll of 6, and doubles
— For example rolling 1, 3, 5 would be 1 damage, no Power
— Rolling 3, 3, 5 would be 1 damage, 1 Power (from doubles)
— Rolling 1, 2, 4 would be 0 damage, 1 Power (from miss)
— etc
– Only have a set amount of Power available from the glass bead pool, so players are encouraged to spend and not horde
– Power is spent on class features, like a whirlwind attack for a Berserker or a Double Shot for a Ranger or a Healing Word for a Healer, etc.
— Almost like Surges from Glowquest
— Try to avoid a generic list of spendables (at first?) for heroes. DM would only have a generic list most likely, to save on monster creation time
– Max spendable Power cost is 4
– Power is reset to 0 at the end of the battle
– Every hero gets 1 re-roll per encounter, as kids like re-rolls
– Math odds for attack

– Heroes have 5 (?) Stamina total, and take Damage (counting up from 0). If they reach their max Stamina, they are placed face down and the party loses 1 Resolve
— At the end of a turn face down they stand back up with 0 Damage (fully healed). So basically miss a turn by dying
– Resolve is set at the start of each session, likely 4. Lose the game or have dire, critical consequences if 0 Resolve remains
– Magic used outside of combat costs 1 Stamina
— Help balances when to use it. Magic doesn’t boost Skill check, just gives more options/tools
— Maybe non-Magic classes have better base stats like more Stamina or damage per hit or something

– Classes can level up and choose new bonuses and power spenders (need a name – Ability most likely)
— For example a lvl 2 Berserker could choose a Blood Rage skill or a Deadly Chop or +1 max Stamina or a new Skill or some combination of all
Knight (sword+shield defender), Healer (duh), Savage (offensive melee), Archer (ranger type), Shapeshifter, Wizard (uses fire/ice/earth/wind elements), Shaman (uses summons?)

– Races eventually, which give a Power spendable ability, such as Elf having “1: Keen Sight”
— Could also provide a +/- to attributes like +1 Strong
– Initiative is just whoever wants to go first, then DM acts after each player, as usual. A turn order token to pass to the next person seemed to help a lot
– Choose only 1 Item at the start. No Party of Light style split between normal/magic items to begin with
– Make a list of magic items (by name only) for ease of handing out
– Currency? Gold coins makes the most sense, very basic though? 10 Gold = 1 Item?
– Need a broad world map for where they are going, seemed to help a lot