Archive for the ‘Gamehack’ Category


Anime Sorcerer

February 18, 2017

Gearing up for a game in the near future, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that I find myself often drifting back to Sorcerer for anime inspired games.  And the more I thought about why that is, I figured it’s probably worth writing up a little guide as to what makes it a good fit and how to make it work for you.

Dangerous Power & Riding The Line

Well, it’s not hard to find several anime or manga series that revolve around power that’s not totally in your control and characters who risk going to far… which is pretty much what Sorcerer is all about.

I usually start by asking what does it look like when the protagonists lose control of the power?  Giant robot Evangelions going on a rampage? Psychic powers ripping up city blocks, police squads and your loved ones while your body mutates out of control?

Usually thinking a bit about that will tell you how to word the pitch in terms of mood, theme, and how to define your demons and sorcery in the game.  Also consider if there’s any limitations on what kind of characters would make good protagonists.

Specializing Your Demons and Sorcery

First, does the world know that the demons exist?  And how are they viewed?  Usually the Rule of Secrecy is the first thing that disappears in an anime or manga setting.

Second, you may require demons to only be one type, and to have certain types of powers, or none of others.  The Imminent rules in Sorcerer and Sword are often useful, potentially along with the Pacting rules if small one-time demons get used a lot in the setting.


I know the core Sorcerer rules set up that demon Needs are completely individualized, but I find that usually leads to… really disjointed situations that maybe don’t fit well together.  Instead I prefer to pick an appropriate Need that generally falls into one of these categories:

  • Colorful but not hard to fulfill (“Say the magic words & raise your hands!”)
  • A logistical need to fulfill that sometimes is a problem (“The robot needs refueling”)
  • Something that will probably lead to complications later. (“Steal something sentimental from someone and then sacrifice it.”)
  • Something thematically intense every time (“Make a promise to an enemy then deliver on it”)

The demons might all have the same need but if they are different, you generally want them to fall into the same category type, or you might have a very disjointed feeling game and setting.  Generally I make the differentiation around desires rather than needs.

Demons as… sort of known?

Baseline Sorcerer establishes that demons violate your fictional setting – whatever people in the fiction believe them to be, it is just projections, guesses, and not the actuality, which is ultimately OTHER.

In anime and manga, these things may be known on some level, even 100% accurately described… but not controlled.  Are these things giant robots? Yes.  Do they sometimes activate and move on their own?  “That’s impossible!” but apparently that too.  Oops.

“My Demon is a good demon!”

There’s a common trope where you have most of the demons of whatever sort as evil, but the protagonists have somehow found/created one that is good.  The easiest way to handle this in the rules is to change it’s Need and/or Desire so that it’s less messed up than the usual ones.


Starting at the bottom – humanity 0

I like to consider what Humanity 0 looks like, first, since it often makes all the other definitions easier.  It tends to be a thing that happens a lot in shonen anime and manga, sometimes temporarily for protagonists, or with permanent consequences for antagonists.

  • Becoming obsessed with a goal and becoming inhuman through extreme experimentation/magic/cybernetics, etc. – always a villain favorite
  • The demon is in control and can wreak havoc without your influence for a time. (Tokyo Ravens)
  • You disappear or fade out from existence. (Control: C)
  • You become a monster or demon, probably the very thing you’ve been fighting. (Madoka Magica)
  • Go berserk or obsessive in pursuit of your goals, taking the most extreme and ultimately destructive path. (Full Metal Alchemist)

You can look at what kind of characters end up here, and what sort of behaviors preceded going too far.  This helps you suss out things that are bad for Humanity, and conversely, which things would be good for it as well.

Dual Humanity Definitions

The dual humanity rules in Sorcerer & Soul get a lot of use in these kinds of stories.  You’ll find there’s a lot of antagonists who, in one category, are the scum of the earth, and in another category, shining exemplars.   If one definition is “Compassionate” and the other is “Decisive and confident”, you can see how someone might focus one or the other, and keep up their Humanity through relentless pursuit of embodying that.

You can also set up Humanity definitions as completely orthogonal to actual morality – in which case, “What’s right?” is tested in theme against “But I need to do something quick and easy to get my Humanity score up”, which doesn’t always line up.

Funky Humanity Tricks – “The Power of Friendship!”

Now the other set of rules to pull from Sorcerer & Soul – all those bits about using Humanity as an action score unto itself.

The most common usage is declaring why your character is so motivated about doing XYZ and rolling Humanity to generate rollover successes.  It you want to truly emulate the genre, try Humanity vs. 1 die, but useable maybe once per session, since it seems to often create a super boost.  (note that this can stack with the usual roleplaying bonus dice).  This is a Shonen manga/anime classic – Naruto and One Piece for example rest heavily on this one.

If your setting is a bit more grim, maybe you can do Humanity rolls vs. 1 die of the Humanity of various allies/friends/loved ones who died, that are motivating you to push on and Do The Thing.   This sets up a perverse dynamic – the protagonists obviously want these people to live, but the more of them who sacrifice themselves or are victimized along the way, the more powerful you get in dice, potentially allowing you to take on “The Big Bad”.

Really dark series, however, posit Humanity as a force that interferes with effectiveness, rather than enhance it.  The most obvious one might be having your Humanity rolled against your acting score before you can commit an act of violence… which sets up a great point of decent people not wanting to hurt others, but also means the character might be forced to ride a low Humanity score to survive.


While I’m pulling direct from series here, I actually prefer to create new settings and ideas that are anime-like, but if you see how it works with established ones, you can see how you can make your own as well.


Demons: EVAs. (Objects, Armor, Big) Need: Power Cord  Desire: Hurt someone you care about.  EVAs may be a state secrets, but yes, the world basically knows about them and there’s no way a 200 foot tall robot is going to uphold the Rule of Secrecy.  People think they’re just machines, mostly.  Rebellion: doesn’t activate when you need it to, activates when you don’t, goes on a rampage, etc. Sorcery: Disturbing visions/flashbacks into your traumatic subconsciousness.

Humanity: Actual decency and kindness to the people around you.  Humanity 0: Being useless for a while, and if you have an EVA it can rampage without your control for a while.  Make a Lore roll vs. 1 die to come back from your state (whether, it’s  catatonic or, you know, physically transformed into liquid or whatever).  Otherwise you’re gone forever, another useless pilot.

Special Humanity Rule: Your humanity can generate rollover successes for anyone trying to manipulate or lie to you.  This includes if you’re lying to yourself.  (Notice how this can quickly cause a Humanity check as well…)


Demons: Parasytes.  (Parasites, Shapeshift, Perception:Other Parasytes, Lethal Damage, Vitality, maybe Hop)  Need: Migi needs sleep, but the other Parasytes need to eat people, generally.  Desires: all across the board here – the basic list in Sorcerer can work and you can add on to it with stuff like “Motherhood”, or “Domination” etc.  The Parasytes are mostly not known at the beginning of the series, and looked upon with horror and fear as people find out about them.  Rebellion: Well… leaving the host, committing horrific acts of violence, etc.

Humanity: Caring for the people in your life.   Note that the series involves a lot of Humanity Gain rolls for protecting people from being eaten BUT at the same time has a lot of Humanity Checks for emotional distancing.   Humanity 0: Trade down your maximum Humanity per Sorcerer & Sword, you’re now Inhuman.  If this happens again, your Humanity max must continue to drop further.  If you reach absolute 0, you’re now a Passer Demon and not human at all.

Special Humanity Rule: Humanity rolls against you committing violence or simply allowing other people to be sacrificed through callous inaction.



Kill La Kill

Demons: Clothing (Object, Boost, Taint) Need: Blood, lifeforce of wearers. (Makes an attack vs. wearer’s Stamina, as if it were an Edged Weapon). Desire: Most either want something like Alien Domination, while Senketsu has Knowledge.  Aside from Goku Uniforms, the world is generally uninformed about clothing.  There’s not a Rule of Secrecy, though the REVOCs corporation is keeping it’s true history hidden for obvious reasons.  Rebellion: Aside from the usual “won’t activate” possibility, there’s always Taint which can be used against the Wearer.

Humanity: Connections with friends and family.  Humanity 0: Any demon-clothing you wear can make a Binding roll vs. 1 die on you.

Special Humanity Rule: Power of Friendship – anyone who pitches in their support and tells you why you matter can make Humanity rolls to create rollover successes that you can use.


A small Inspectres Hack

October 28, 2016

One of my favorite go-to games for a one shot, or to get to know new gamers, is Inspectres.  It’s mechanically simple, doing what fictionally makes sense for your character is often a good way to play, and you get a full story in a single session.  It also plays around with narration trading and we kinda sort out who the players are pretty early on, especially since no one can easily fall into “I play this sort of RPG character just to survive” kind of tropes.

That said, there’s a simple thing I often forget when I run the game, and I only remember AFTER the fact: a fair portion of the fun, and the Stress Rolls, comes from mundane things.  THEN the weird stuff stacks on top of it.

It’s like a normal kind of bad-day-at-work: your phone keeps losing connection during important calls, the system is down, you got a parking ticket, and traffic is jammed to all hell.  Also there’s a pterodactyl with a flaming skull flying over head and you can’t get the banishing circle together without a trip to Home Depot.  Argggh.

Bureaucracy, Breakdowns, Birthdays

Anyway, this tiny hack is something to make it easier for me to GM the game next time.  At the beginning of any scene, roll a D6:

1-2 Bureaucracy

3-4 Breakdowns

5-6 Birthdays


Bureaucracy can be literally bureaucracy – but it’s basically any time society grinds away and makes your life harder.  Did the old woman pay you in a money order and now you’re driving around trying to find parking so you can cash it before the electricity bill for the ghost containment unit is shut down?    (Oh, look, some jerk parked diagonally and took 2 spots).


The more minor, annoying, and yet worst-possible-time, the more likely it is to be the thing to breakdown.  Enough of these and you start to really get pissed.   The humor is less about things that directly block action, they just make the work-arounds more ridiculous.  “The mechanic says if you turn left the axle will snap, so you’re going be making a lot of triple rights to get around town, ok?”  Your keyboard doesn’t type ‘r’ or ‘a’ anymore.


Anything dealing with people from the agents’ normal life outside of ghost hunting – family, friends, etc. – obligations.   OF course your mom wants to come by and visit but your place is full of the possessed objects from the last job.   Your band buddies want you to play for one of their weddings.

Anyway, this serves as a simple reminder to keep throwing this stuff into play, and from that, stress rolls and ridiculousness.


Mekton Hack: Follow Your Heart

June 12, 2016

I found an old copy of Mekton Zeta.  Mekton remains one of the best games for mecha-anime action, provided you’re looking mostly for simulationist play.  But I remembered that most of these old school games aren’t too hard to revamp if you throw a new reward system on top of them…  so, I figured I’d come up with some house rules to make Mekton more anime-like in play.

These rules replace the Improvement Point system in Mekton.  These are pretty close in function to how Spiritual Attributes work in Riddle of Steel or Blade of the Iron Throne.


Player characters and major NPCs get 3 Drives.  A Drive is a motivation which they are willing to risk and push for – protecting planet Earth, someone they’re in love with, revenge, finding out the truth about the Secret Government, whatever.  You can change these over play, but ultimately they’re Flag Mechanics for everyone to know what to angle your scenes around and where the fun conflicts are for you.

It’s probably a good idea to channel these Drives into general categories for your setting for your particular campaign – “Make a Drive about the Aliens and how you feel about them”, “Have a Drive about one of your team mates”, “Give a Drive about what you wanted to do with your life that got interrupted by the war…” etc.

Drives have a score from 0 to 3.  They start at 0, and every time you take a risk or major action for a Drive, it goes up a point, up to a maximum of 3.

Drives affect dice

When you take actions that are in line with one of your Drives, you can roll a number of extra D10s equal to the current Drive score that applies, and keep the highest die.  So if you have a Drive 2, you get to roll an extra 2D10 for a total of 3D10 and take the best of the bunch.

As you can see, high Drive can make a big difference in your rolls.


Criticals are no longer infinitely exploding dice – you can’t just keep rolling 10’s and get some outrageous score.  You can explode the dice only when your action applies to one of your Drives AND only as many times as your Drive score.

So, if you’re fighting to Save the Earth (score 2) and you roll a 10, you can explode the die and roll again, and if you get another 10, you can explode it just one more time.

Drives and improvement

You can improve your skills by spending down your Drives.  Between your 3 Drives, spend down a number of points equal to the current rating of the skill to raise it one rank.  For example, if you had Melee 5, you’d need to spend 5 points from your Drives and the skill would go up to 6.

For stats, you have to do this twice – the first time put a check or a star by the stat.  The second time you spend down, the stat raises by 1.


Knowledge Rolls

May 3, 2016

“Make a skill check to see how much you know about X thing” has typically been a really crappy mechanic in most games.

There’s three typical pitfalls:

  • If you roll poorly, you might get no information at all, which often goes against the idea of a highly knowledgeable character
  • You might succeed but receive no useful information
  • You might fail and the GM gives incorrect information, but because you know the roll was bad, you don’t trust it, so it’s almost the same as getting no information at all.

Apocalypse World solves a lot of this by making their version of the knowledge roll being “Pick from this list of questions, the better you roll, the more questions you get to ask” and the list is broad but nearly always relevant questions.

I’m leaning towards this as a broad, portable set of rules that can go into most rpgs where you might want to make a knowledge roll:

Free Knowledge

First, your character gets a bit of general context about the situation, object, or topic at hand for free.  That may be just a sentence or two, but it does provide some knowledge about it.  “These swords are of Eastern make – the warriors all fought from horseback, so the blades are curved to allow slashing while riding by.”

3 Facts

You make a roll.  The GM gives you 3 facts about the thing you’re trying to understand/remember etc.  Failure means 1 of the 3 facts is accurate.  Success means 2 of the 3 facts are accurate.  Critical or whatever makes a really good success by this system’s mechanics means you get 3 facts correct.

If there’s some reason your character would have especially good knowledge about the thing in question (“I grew up in a port town, of course I know boats”), then one extra fact is correct – if you failed, you’d still get 2 of 3 correct facts.

So, short of a critical success, you have some space for doubt, but also you have some ideas of things to explore/research/or consider further.  This might involve finding experts to verify the truth of some things, compare the facts to evidence, or perhaps use magic or superpowers as a way to confirm things.



D&D Hack: Initiative Damage

December 22, 2014

This is a simple hack from a game mod I was working on a couple of years ago.  It’s designed to give people a simple way to give combat damage more effect while avoiding the complications of hit locations, wound damage, etc.

Initiative, slightly bent

Instead of a D20, use a D12.  D12 + Dex mods etc. has two effects – it means the initiative totals are lower and the attribute mods play a bigger part.


For characters and creatures, they each get two ratings:

Shaken: 1/4 their total Hitpoints (round up)

Reeling: 1/2 their total Hitpoints (round up)

Initiative Damage

Whenever a creature takes hitpoint damage from a single attack equal or greater than their Shaken threshold, they lose 4 Initiative from their total.   When a creature takes damage from a single attack equal or greater than their Reeling threshold, they lose 8 Initiative.

A) If the creature hasn’t acted this round – it will act on it’s new initiative total.

B) If the creature has already acted this round – it will act on it’s new, lower initiative total NEXT round. It does not get to act again this round.

Stunned – Initiatve Zero or Negative Initiative

If a creature is reduced to zero or negative initiative, it cannot functionally act.  It is rolling around in pain, stunned, or otherwise unable to functionally do much.  At the end of the following round, it regains 1D6 initiative.  If it is still zero or negative, it will need to continue to spend rounds regaining it’s senses (+1D6 initiative) until it has an Initiative of 1 or higher.

For the sake of gameplay, creatures at 0 or negative Initiative cannot be take further initiative damage until they have a positive score.

Managing this in Play

My suggestion is to take index cards, put the characters’ names on them, along with their Shaken/Reeling ratings and you can write the initiative in pencil.  As they take damage/recover, you can line up the cards in order.


A useful thing to consider is whether certain actions or attacks do greater initiative damage as part of play.  Some attacks may do relatively low hitpoint damage but pretty big initiative damage (“I shoot down the beehive with my sling.  Let the enemies play with that…”).  You can easily suggest saving throws or attacks against alternate defense ratings that may result in a -4 or -8 initiative.  Monsters that typically suffer saving throw penalties from certain types of attacks may suffer initiative damage whether they succeed or fail the roll.

Magic vs. Magic Users

The basic rule listed above naturally favors tough, high hitpoint characters from getting stunned this way.  You might want to rule that spellcasters are less likely to be stunned by magic, being more accustomed to dealing with such things.   Spellcasters might be only be Shaken at 1/2 hp and Reeling at 3/4 hp from spells.  Or, if they make a save, maybe they suffer no initiative damage whatsoever from magic.

You can customize this accordingly – this might be true of clerics vs. life drain or evil spells, or of druids vs. poisons, elementally based creatures vs. that type of element, and so on.  Obviously consider this with care, the point is to keep this relatively simple.


This system works really well if you want to make certain types of monsters immune or resistant to some types of damage.  For example, arrows are not going to bother a zombie, really.  Or a stone golem.  Or a treant.  Once players become accustomed to dishing out damage to stun creatures and taking advantage of it (and also, having to cover their own team mates who are stunned), finding something that simply, won’t, stop, is a great way to highlight why they’re scary.

Consequences in Play

This rule can make combat more lethal in all directions – getting stunned opens the door for followup attacks that simply mob someone.  Smart play with stunting can swing things in the player’s favor.  You can also set up monsters or events that do mostly or solely intiative damage (“The dragon’s wings cause gusts of wind to knock you down, take 1D6 initiative damage.”)

Heavier damage attacks are favored over lighter attacks, so you might have to find some balance if your game is supposed to do the usual “light damage several attacks vs. heavy damage few attacks” setup that shows up.


The math here assumes you’re playing a D&D or D&D like game that is 3rd edition or later where the attribute modifiers tend to sit in the -5/-4 to +4/+5 range.   If you are using a game that has a smaller range (such as -2 to +2) you’ll want to both use a smaller initiative die (D6 for example) and do correspondingly less initiative damage (-1/-3, for example).

If you’re using a game that relies heavily on multiple actions/attacks per round, you might want the stun status to only cost 2 or 3 attack/actions rather than fully leaving the creature unable to do anything.

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Double Cross without Illusionism

April 10, 2014

So, now I’m looking through the DX book more deeply at the adventures set up.  Over the years, there’s been a few different scales of illusionist adventures, usually along one of these lines:

Checkpoint Illusionism (All Roads Lead to Rome)

Where the adventure consists of a few checkpoints which are flexible in how you get to them or get out of them.  This is the most flexible of the bunch but still problematic because often the checkpoints expect a very rpg-trope level of outcomes.  Feng Shui and HeroQuest pushed this sort of play.

Branching Path Illusionism

A set of events leads to a potential number outcomes from any scene, leading to a limited number of other scenes.  This is the most common  type seen in a lot of games, with White Wolf games being the most well known.

Step by Step Illusionism

A specific linear set of events to happen in a set fashion, scene to scene.  These are pretty rare, but Double Cross has this pretty much in spades.  There’s a minor point of branching in the adventures, but it is pretty locked in.

Where it doesn’t fit

Anyone who’s played a lot of D&D or White Wolf games can recognize the issue of trying to run an investigation game, a social game, or a “how do I get past this obstacle” game when you give people certain power options.  Once a few powers or spells fit together, a lot of problems just evaporate and you find what maybe a good portion of the adventure was built on, disappears in 10 minutes of play.

This is very true of Double Cross.   There’s a lot of “Simple Powers” that cost nothing or next to nothing and create plot-changing actions easily.  For example, just the electricity power set you can get a power to simply “read” anyone’s data being wirelessly transmitted.  Another power lets you record any data to a USB, disk drive, etc, just by touching it.   Given that the setting involves a secret war between a government organization and superpowered terrorists, you’re basically snatching cell and email data and potentially solving a lot of mysteries much easier.

So you end up with two options: a) ditch the adventure you’ve prepped, b) stop the players’ powers from actually working or mattering.  You either spent a lot of time putting together adventure material that is now useless, or you crap on the players’ choices and stomp on whatever they thought was cool about those powers.

This is a big reason of why Illusionism is shitty.

Making it work for Double Cross

Well, it’s actually not that hard.  There’s two easy levers by which you can improvise action.  (Go read GM Improvisation 101 and it’s links for basic applications – these two are the DX ways of applying that.)

Mission and Politics

With this giant secret war going on, you have your side, a bunch of other sides, and everyone wants something.  Action is basically “someone wants to get/do something” (your side to theirs, their side to yours), “Someone wants to convince someone of something”, “Someone wants to find something out/hide something”.

Set up some general motivations, set up a few Macguffins, and this is easy enough.  You can simply give players missions from their higher ups and that works well enough.

What you’ll have to adjust for is the fact that the general powers in Double Cross can make some things trivially easy to do – many of the powers give the players unparalleled ability to sneak in, get things, get info, or get out without even having to fight at all.

This means that instead of thinking of play in a single “Do X thing” as the whole adventure, you look at the consequences that comes out of the actions they take.  Did the players get ahold of a bunch of communications?  Maybe they find out someone they trust seems potentially a spy or a mole.  Did they sneak in and get the MacGuffin easily?  What if different parts of their organization are trying to get them to give it to them, but not the others?

Doing the missions isn’t the hard part, it’s what happens because of it that the real conflict comes forward.

Personal Drama

LOISes and TITANs, make the game go around.  Early in a session should be about players making LOIS connections and all you have to do is look at the positive/negative emotions and press one or other and have it show up in play.  These are effectively the Flags the players are giving you to work with.

The one problem for Double Cross is the ever growing Encroachment rate means you can only take so many scenes to deal with personal issues vs. deal with other problems.  As a group, you’ll need to figure out if this choice is simply a matter of where we focus the spotlight of action (“We spend 5 scenes dealing with emotional fallout, but it’s not like our characters missed any missions”) or if it’s an actual logistics choice (“You can go save your sister, or you can make sure the whole city is safe.  Make your choice.”).

Scene Count

A specific issue for Double Cross is that each scene adds 1D10 to a players’ Encroachment rate.

The average number of scenes a single character goes through in the 3 adventures is about 7-8 scenes.   When you look at most players having a starting Base Encroachment of near 30%, plus an average of 7D10 to 8D10 (35%-40%) over the number of scenes – you’ve got about 65-70% before you even start talking about using powers or an Impulse check.

So, keeping that in mind, you probably want to keep in mind the overall Scene count before closing up a situation or giving players a chance to Backtrack.


Looking at the core adventures, a lot of the scenes with combat don’t have any good advice about what happens if you decide to just run, or lose a fight.  Given how much of the combat powers pump up the Encroachment rate, it seems like it’s a critical skill to adapt or deal with the players potentially winning combats through non-direct tactics, convincing the opposition to give up, or avoiding a fight altogether.

If you have simple motivations applied to the NPCs, you should have no problem coming up with their responses on the fly.


The Shadow of the Jedi

March 24, 2014

The Shadow of the Jedi – a Star Wars hack for Clinton R. Nixon’s The Shadow of Yesterday.

So, I’ve been sucking down a bunch of media as I’ve been recovering from chemo and such the last few months, and got into the Clone Wars cartoons.

The quality of the show is pretty swing-y but it did get me thinking down an interesting line of thought: in this cartoon, we see the Jedi doing a bunch of morally sketchy things – almost destroying someone’s mind to rip forth information, sacrifice thousands of sentient beings created as slave soldiers… you know, problematic stuff.  Yet they’re not assumed to be Dark Side despite all of this.

It got me to wondering if the whole Light/Dark divide was mostly an artificial creation on their part – that the Force is just neutral and the constant freaking out about going to the Dark side is because even the masters aren’t sure where that dividing line actually is – so they overcompensate.   It makes all the ridiculous inconsistencies about their philosophy of detachment make more sense – if it’s just made up, with no basis in fact, it can be inconsistent.

Of the Star Wars RPGs I’ve seen, they all try to have a mechanical dividing line between Light/Dark Side and it usually turns out… flat in play.  So I started thinking of TSOY’s Keys as a useful idea – they pull you in a direction but don’t lock you in, which works a lot better in terms of the characters trying to make decisions and moral struggles in the SW universe make more sense.