From DC, to D13, D6xD6, and BNHP

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

What with Halloween just 13 days away, I’d like to share a tiny bit of Dark Conspiracy RPG history and of personal pitch.

My goal with DC was, as you may know, to create a setting into which any horror story could be fit. Details I needed to achieve that goal—cyberpunkish urban sprawl, anachronistic rural regions, areas of bleedthrough from hellish dimension, and a rationale for beneficent aliens becoming inimical, for example—slowly amalgamated into a distinct personality of DC’s own.

But not everyone likes the DC mechanics, the inhouse system ported over from Twilight: 2000. Note that the T2K rules did play their own role in shaping DC’s character as a combat-heavy game of meet the monster; get your asses kicked; learn its weakness; come back better armed and kill it.

For GDW it made sense to have a shared system for all of its RPGs. (Well, until Space: 1889 broke ranks.) And the other reason is I wasn’t yet a mechanics guy. My two contributions to the inhouse system were to add experience rules (in Traveller: 2300, which got me hired in the first place) and to push for a change from d10 to d20. Adding an Empathy stat and trimming the T2K weapons list to suit DC were more a matter of developmental editing.

But since that time, my design skills for game mechanics have grown. Even earning an Origins Award! In RPGs, I’ve developed a passion for minimalist precision. For universal mechanics that dependably but unobtrusively support play. Even, say, hmm, I don’t know, maybe Dark Conspiracy adventures?

So here’s the pitch. If you love DC as a setting, but not the mechanics, I have three options to sub in for them. First, D13 is specifically designed for horror, any type, a bit more brutally than DC, but with push-your-luck paranormal abilities rules suitable for DC’s Empathy stat. Second, there’s D6xD6 (d6xd6.com is the core rules), and come to think of it, Chuck McGrew’s use of it in Don’t Look Back 3e could handle the DC setting right out of the gate. Lastly, there’s the Bookmark HP RPG, a deceptively simple system that has been called “an epiphany in game design.”

Each game system has its own unique take on dice mechanics; all three with dependable math under the hood. So, if you love the world of Dark Conspiracy, but aren’t a fan of its mechanics, why not give one of these three a try? Links in the sidebar.

Julia Baily, Spiritualist, Bounty Hunter

Photo by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash

I’ve been delving deeper into solo gaming the past few years, including solo role-play, which falls into two categories.

Category one is programmed adventures for systems like GURPS, RuneQuest, etc., and lesser known RPGs such as Risus. You may know these as “pick-a-path,” “which way,” or “choose your own adventure” books. I have quite a few of those adventure books on my shelves, unplayed, because who wants to refamiliarize themselves with a different RPG just to use them?

The solution has been to play them with on-the-fly conversion to a flexible system I’m familiar with: my D6xD6 RPG.

Category two is oracle-based adventuring, using a card deck, a set of dice tables, or other randomizers. There are plenty of great oracle systems out there, usable with pretty much any RPG you like, some of them with their own rules built in.

But for this, I’ve been using my Bookmark HP RPG, because the 1-10 scale is intuitive and character design is quick and easy, supporting storytelling without getting in the way.

And I’ve started a YouTube series exploring both categories, most recently the adventures of an Old West bounty hunter named Julia Baily, guided by the ghosts of murder victims. Check out the various videos for an introduction to the various programmed adventure settings and oracle systems, some musings about role-playing in general, and of course a bit of demo of my RPG rules in action.

Let me know what you think, with comments there or here. And thanks!

Some Un-Conventional Advice

Based on decades of professional game demo experience, and grad school teacher training, I would say that the best way to kill role-play enthusiasm for new players at a convention event is (a) pre-gen characters and; (b) rules info dump up front. Saddle players with those at the same time they’re supposed to be engaging with the unfolding story, and you’ve made role-play a chore.

Look, I get it. In most game systems pre-gen characters are a necessity, because there are so few hours in a convention demo slot. Which is why as a player myself, I quit going to those sorts of slots.

Conversely, the best way to engage players in a new RPG is:

  1. Let them create their own characters;
  2. Role-play until the first needed dice roll;
  3. Explain how dice work for actions;
  4. Role-play with that knowledge until combat breaks out;
  5. Explain how actions work in combat;
  6. Role-play to the adventure’s conclusion;
  7. Give players a memento of the session—the character they just created, to dream about playing its future adventures.

This is why D6xD6 and Bookmark HP RPG bookmark and biz card character sheets exist. First, to emphasize just how quickly and concisely you can design a character, and second, to fit the unique character you designed in your wallet or a book. I’ve seen countless 8½ x 11 inch character sheets in convention trash cans because they start to bulk out folders, or spill from the backs of books. (Even the D13 RPG is designed for generating characters quickly at the table.)

Running convention events, I’ve seen this approach succeed repeatedly, virtually inevitably. Some free advice from an old hand who just likes to see people succeed and have fun.

Visit the Bauner Coast

This is book two of the D6xD6 Dungeons Kickstarter, a setting that proved the D6xD6 experience system is campaign-able. (You can purchase the Bauner Coast setting on DriveThruRPG.)

I had sort of assumed the D6xD6 RPG was best for one-shots or mini-campaigns of a few sessions. But 6 months of play with a group of fans on Facebook demonstrated that the game holds up well for longer term with recurring characters. In terms of character growth, playing long-term felt a lot like the one- and two-year TFT campaigns we played back in the early ‘80s.

With this FB Bauner Coast campaign, we spent most of the time in Mautram, “City of Wonder!” a Machiavellian trading capital that’s home to the Scholarly Institute of Conjuring and Sorcery, the School of Mystic Illusions, and the secretive Black House of necromancers. It’s a truly beautiful city, with wide, clean streets, ornately decorated buildings, and well-dressed citizens—the very embodiment of the truism that appearances can be deceiving. It’s no accident that Mautram hosts the School of Mystic Illusions.

But Mautram is only one locale on the Coast. One player’s character was a second son of a minor noble house in knightly Byasse, to the south, and had trained as an elementalist in rough-and-tumble Hov’s Bend, far to the north. Another player invented a tribal hunter from jungle south of the map’s edge. The mission was to investigate abduction of a pair of half elves from the wilds of ‘Tweenland; half elves being a rare sight, wandering loners.

A third book in the series, a random dungeon crawl system, may well see the light of day this year. Everything’s written except for fleshing out what wealth gains you. It’s a tricky issue in a game with no shopping list. You know the type: Don’t go into a dungeon without a hooded lantern (7 s.p.), a 10’ pole (3 c.p.), a 50’ rope (4 s.p.), a week’s worth of standard rations (3 g.p.), and on and on.

Conan spent his earnings on binges in taverns. I have the bones of a system for renown, social climbing, or charity, but it needs some work.

Originally all three zine editions were intended as one 8 ½” x 11” volume, something that I’d been writing for a couple of years, but you know the story about clawing my way out of a three-month depression via a January “PC a day” challenge, and the happy February discovery of a Kickstarter “Zinequest” promotion. Splitting the big project into three sections untangled the pieces, making them manageable. And honestly, I’m happier with the more convenient zine format.

P.S. I’d also assumed the Bookmark HP RPG was uncampaignable, but having discovered my D6xD6 assumption was wrong, I decided to give its bookmark sibling a chance, and our two-player cyberpunk campaign is now 8 months old, with no sign of stopping.