Archive for the ‘Gamehack’ Category


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.


Burning Wheel / Attack on Titan hack

January 13, 2014

Simple hack for playing Attack on Titan using the Burning Wheel Gold rules.

Obviously, there’s good odds that the titan stats I’ve made will be completely wrong 5-10 years from now as the story keeps revealing more and more about them.


Shadowrun via Inspectres

November 1, 2013

Picked up the Shadowrun Returns videogame since, hardcore chemotherapy leaves you with a lot of time on your hands.  The game starts with a crew breaking up because of stress and betrayal.  It struck me that this was basically an Inspectres game – small start-up, sent in to deal with high stress high danger jobs, and basically burns out the people involved.  And Inspectres plays a lot smoother than Shadowrun ever did, so…

Shadowrun using the Inspectres rules

Character Creation

1. Pick Race – Human, Dwarf, Elf, Orc, Troll

Humans: Pick a Talent per the normal rules

Dwarves +1 Technology, Elves +1 Contact, Orcs, +1 Athletics, Trolls +2 Athletics -1 Contact

2. Pick Archetype

Archetype works like a Talent as far as the Inspectres rules works.

Street Samurai, Rigger, Shaman, Mage, Adept, Decker


Franchise Dice becomes “Crew Dice”.  Pretty much all that happens is a renaming:

Library = Datafeed, Gym = Enhancers, Credit Card = Hardware Suppliers, Bank = Stash.

You could choose to hand out titles, though I’m guessing after everyone has picked Archetypes players will have a good idea of what their character does compared to another – the Decker or the Rigger will be your techies, etc.  Crews tend to either make decisions by votes or by having a leader, and if you go with someone in charge, good idea to pick that person now.


Stress for Shadowrunners is obviously inclined towards more serious stuff than the wacky hijinks of Inspectres.  

Stress Rolls

1  – Mundane hassles – going hungry from lack of creds, lack of sleep from neighbors yelling, having to take the long way around because a neighborhood is on police lockdown, finding your stuff stolen, etc.

2 – Mundane hassles w/some danger or consequence – being betrayed, getting arrested for minor things, facing a mugging or minor street altercation, surviving a non-targeted driveby shooting, catching a wound that you or your friends can patch up, finding the body of a friend.

3 – Real Heat – being ambushed or under serious assault from other runners or professionals, Having a SWAT team after you, surviving a bombing or organized terrorist attack, being seriously wounded where you should see a street doc soon, finding the body of a friend or relative you thought would live safe and never see the shadows.

4 – Outgunned – being under attack from assault vehicles while on foot, going up against a cyber or magical being that you probably need a rocket launcher for, having several special forces teams after you, getting hurt bad enough someone better take you to the hospital or top end street doc now.

5 – Fuck Me – Finding out the last 10 years of your life were engineered to happen the way they did by a megacorp, discovering a plan to forcibly alter everyone’s DNA but having no way of stopping it, finding out all those close friends you thought betrayed you so you killed them first in a giant vendetta – didn’t, etc.

Cool Dice

Cool Dice work pretty much the same way.  The only difference is that Shadowrunners aren’t normal folks dealing with ghosts – they’re a little more inured to the madness around them.  

Once per session, a Shadowrunner can spend 2 from a Crew Dice type to buy a single Cool die before a Stress roll.  This might be something like “Adrenal Control Chip”, “A Spell of Calming”, “Pills, lots of fucking pills”, or whatever explanation works.  The Cool die remains (provided you didn’t roll so bad as to lose it).


Confessionals work the same way.  For extra fun, each player might want to declare what their character’s usual way of having a confessional works for them – one person might have a blog, another might sit in VR space talking to their favorite program, another guy drinks and talks to the portrait of his dead partner, someone else maybe literally goes to the church and has a confession with the priest.  These all set up fun ways of coloring how you might be having those confessionals.

Personality traits apply just like in Inspectres.


Tenra Bansho Zero: Archetypes

October 12, 2012

Tenra Bansho Zero has this pretty interesting character generation system. You pick from a list of Archetypes – packages of skills, abilities and special equipment. Each Archetype has a Karma cost associated with it- you can take as few or as many as you want, as long as you don’t go above 108, with the game strongly recommending between 50-90 Karma.

The first neat thing is that an Archetype could be encompassing, like a character class – with multiple skills and powers, or it could be an aspect of your character’s past – “Hard Luck” for example. Each Archetype typically covers between 1-5 skills, and what keeps it functional is a) TBZ has a relatively short skill list, and b) it’s really easy to get many skills IN play, so you don’t have to have an obsessively detailed list – you cover the main ones and let the players buy the rest during play.

And it gives some stupid easy rules for making new Archetypes…

Underworld Connections

You either grew up around, or spent some time with the seedy part of society. If you weren’t directly working for a gang or organized crime cartel, you certainly spent enough time interacting with them to be part of the scene.

Karma: 35
Skills: Criminal Arts 3, Willpower 3, Pursuit 3, Notice 2, Evasion 2
Attribute Penalty 0
Primary Attribute: Knowledge
Equipment: None
Weapons: Knife +2
Special Abilities: None

Fate: Never Escape the Past
Description: Reliability. It made you friends and earned you enemies. And now, of course it’s the same reason they all want to pull you back in – they either need you or they need revenge upon you.

One of the People

You’ve either grown up with or spent time amongst the working class.

Karma: 10
Skills: Movement 3, Information 2, Persuasion 2
Attribute Penalty 0
Primary Attribute: Body
Equipment: Worn clothing
Weapons: Carrying Pole +1
Special Abilities: None

Fate: This village is your home, now
Description: You’ve laughed, cried, struggled and put in sweat with these people, and they need you and want you to stay. But your life of adventure- danger, duty, could destroy them all. Is this your home? Can you be as selfish and foolish to believe you can settle down and live a simple life?


It’s not the brush, it’s not the words, it’ s the heart behind the words. You seek a form of deep truth and enlightenment through your art, and it is what makes you admired, if not fully understood by the world around you.

Karma: 30
Skills: Willpower 3, Etiquette 3, Notice 2, Forgery 2
Attribute Penalty 0
Primary Attribute: Spirit
Equipment: Professional brushes, ink, inkstone, scrolls and paper
Weapons: None
Special Abilities: None

Fate: Finding the mystery calligrapher
Description: Honestly, the piece you saw changed you – it awakened you to the truth of calligraphy, and you have to know the person who made it. What is their philosophy? What is their way?

Notes: You could have a sculptor, painter, tea master, or whatever high art would lead to a form of truth as an alternate character idea. Adjust equipment accordingly.

Traveling Merchant

Amidst the war and turmoil – trade still happens. You’ve been around and seen a lot, met a lot of people. Living between borders lets you see things from a perspective few have.

Karma: 30
Skills: Persuasion 3, Information 3, Etiquette 2, Notice 2
Attribute Penalty 0
Primary Attribute: Empathy
Equipment: Pack or cart of trade goods
Weapons: Walking staff +1
Special Abilities: None

Fate: Seeking Something Before Going Home
Description: You want to go home, but you can’t go back empty handed. Maybe you need a special medicine for a loved one, or perhaps you need a certain amount of money to help them out – no matter what, your travels revolve around getting this thing.

Disciple of the Sword

You’re young and untested, studying a sword art that you may never perfect… and most likely won’t live long enough TO perfect.

Karma: 20
Skills: Movement 3, Melee Weapons 2, Evasion 2, Etiquette 2, War Arts: Southern Seas One Blade Style 2
Attribute Penalty 0
Primary Attribute: Body
Equipment: None
Weapons: Katana +3
Special Abilities: None

Fate: What is the definition of a warrior?
Description: You’ve been trained in a specialized dojo, one which has focused on teaching you not just the way of the sword, but a philosophy as well. How do you reconcile the noble ideas of warriorship with the endless butchery of war? This doubt haunts your heart, and may leave you dead if you don’t solve it in time.

Notes: You can choose a different War Art if you prefer, as well as a different appropriate weapon (bow, spear, etc.)