Modos RPG

GM Tools

GMs have a lot of work and roleplaying to do. The easier their job is, the smoother the game goes. I’ve talked about the GM tools in the game before, but I’m thinking they deserve a quick-reference page as an appendix as well. With one, a GM could have a sort of Don’t Panic button in the back of the book.

What are these GM tools? Glad you asked. Here’s a draft:

  • Average Person Rule. All difficulties are based on what an average person could do. +4 is challenging, +8 is difficult, +12 is arduous, and +16 is impossible.
  • Take Half. Don’t waste time rolling dice if it won’t enhance the game.
  • Four-Second Monster. Yes, “one-second” was a little fast. It now takes four times as long to make a monster on the fly. Determine level, set its good skill equal to the level, set its good attribute (the non-10 attribute) score to 10+level, give it d8 armor and weapon, and customize as needed.
  • Let Players Help. There are several ways for players to help! They can track their own damage, actions, and postures. They can add depth by acting out their actions and damage taken, and they can even run NPCs if those NPCs don’t know any secrets.
  • Rule Zero. Yes, the GM can be wrong, but arguing just slows down the game. If a player’s concern isn’t critical, ask him to wait until after the game to discuss it.

There are probably more GM tools, but these are a good start…

Thinking out loud on: Weapon Focus

Weapon focus, the perk, is going to get some revision attention. Two reasons:

- like attributes were, its name isn’t as clear as it could be,
- it might be more balanced, or at least more attractive, as a perk if it applied to weapon categories instead of specific weapon types.

Does it make sense for a person who trains primarily with one weapon to be better with that weapon? What about other, similar weapons?

Should there be three weapon perks, one for each fight skill (melee, missile, and unarmed)?

Are you more likely to encounter a blades-specialist than a bastard sword specialist? What about a bows specialist? And: if you’re very familiar with bows, does that mean that you have more skill points in fight(missile), or that you deal more damage with bows than another weapon type?

Thinking out loud on: the Specialize perk

The specialize perk has a very short history of being the only perk to grant a bonus to skill use. It also has a short history of being significantly better than choosing to substitute your perk for a skill point. I might have a solution:

The intention for the specialize perk was always to set someone apart – to make someone a specialist in a particular skill. Granting someone skill points that could legally exceed the level cap seemed to be the way to grant that distinction.

The problem is that the old way 1) broke the “no skill bonuses” rule for perks, 2) eclipses the choice of substituting a skill point for a perk, and 3) still feels over-powered. If the new perk looks like this, is it still a valid choice compared to other perks?

Specialize (skill): Choose a skill. You gain special knowledge of this skill, even if you have no skill points in it. You also may take more skill points in this skill than you have character levels.

A brave, new world

I’d like to share my comments about my game world on another site:

In my world, people don’t fight when they’re outnumbered, rulers have lots of bodyguards, and casting a magic spell is a good way to earn some dungeon time. And no, it’s not a dungeon full of gold and dragons, either.

Sources of these decisions:

Outnumbered: game rules, real world, Game of Thrones

Bodyguards: real world

Dungeon time: Skyrim

Let’s increase the risks in a fantasy world – in order to increase the rewards.

Who's on first?

Better question: who’s acting first?

I’ve run my Skyrim adventure module a couple times now, and it’s in a chatroom which is a window that shares my desktop with 3 or 4 other GMing-related windows. Which means: it’s a small chat window. So when a fight breaks out, I’m lucky to have even one of the contest results on my screen at a time.

I’m thinking I can resolve this in a way that would be good for both chatrooms AND tabletop games. The initiating character, by definition, initiates each action (he’s the one taking his turn). So when he announces his action, everyone else has a moment to react, and say so. If you don’t say anything, then everyone who DID announce an action or reaction rolls at the same time. Then the GM goes around the table resolving the actions in the standard order: initiating character, highest initiative, next highest, etc.

What will have to come out in playtesting: does it slow the game down to pause and see who’s reacting? What’s the difference between willy-nilly act-and-roll, versus announce-then-roll order?

Too many actions!

Some playtesting talk has highlighted that the Duel Wielder and Martial Artist perks are unbalanced, by granting extra actions without the attribute scores to back them up.

I was toying with the idea of making each perk grant bonuses, like:

- Dual Wielder: gain +1 damage and +1 parry while using a secondary weapon.

- Martial Artist: gain +1 damage and +1 protection against unarmed opponents.

A little design-focus points to these not working because:

- If a perk grants +1 to parry, that negates the benefit (option) of substituting a parry skill point for that perk.

- most non-human opponents are “unarmed.”

So how to balance these perks? How do we make them interesting, without making them broken?

All the Rules

Here they are, in all their unformatted glory! 98, by my count. Double digits, baby!

Module Number Title Text
0 00 Rule Zero The Guide of Modos is the final arbiter of what happens in the game.
0 01 Campaign Theme Each game or campaign has a theme that provides guidance on how to play the game, what will happen in the game, and how the rules will be interpreted.
0 02 Light Levels Table Light in any area falls into one of four levels: bright (only those sensitive to light have vision difficulty), dim (no vision difficulty in area), shadow (some vision difficulty, -4), and darkness (no light present, vision difficulty -8).
0 03 Range Table Ranges in the game fall into one of four categories: close (adjacent or nearly adjacent), short (close enough for effective interaction), medium (too far for consistent interaction), and long (beyond interaction range).
0 04 Player Influence Players facilitate and improve the game by contributing to the story, primarily where their characters are concerned.
0 05 Easy Tasks Any easy activities or obvious outcomes in the story do not require die rolling for resolution, just roleplaying.
0 06 Contests A non-easy activity or questionable outcome can be resolved by two d20 rolls, one for the player and one for the GM. The side with the higher roll gains the more favorable outcome. The result of either side’s roll is called its “contest.”
0 07 Attacks An attack is a contest that permits an opposing party to counter or avoid the purpose of the contest.
0 08 Defenses A defense is a contest that counters or avoids an attack, if it is higher than the attack.
0 09 Bonuses Die rolls can be improved by static amounts called bonuses. A negative bonus is called a penalty.
0 10 Difficulty When conditions make a contest more or less likely to succeed, it gains a bonus called difficulty. An opposing contest that does not involve a character is called a difficulty contest.
0 11 Difficulty Table Some difficulty amounts are titled to act as landmarks. These are easy (0), challenging (4), difficult (8), arduous (12), impossible (16), and divine (20).
0 12 Mandatory Contest When an attack has a chance of failure even if the opponent doesn’t defend, the attacker must still make the attack against a difficulty contest.
0 13 Minimum Contest A minimum contest is the result that a contest must exceed to be successful.
0 14 Secret Contest Outcome The GM may roll a contest for a player if that player’s character wouldn’t know about the result of the contest.
0 15 Take Half A player or GM may eschew a die roll, prior to rolling, and take the result equal to half the highest number on the die.
1 01 Character Concept Every character has a character concept, which is a statement or description that gives a character form within the story of the game.
1 02 Goals and Flaws Character goals and flaws should be included in character concepts to facilitate the awarding of hero points when players roleplay their flaws in spite of their goals.
1 03 Character Level Each character has a level that acts as a relative measure of character progress. Each level includes one attribute score increase, one skill point, and one perk.
1 04 Average Person A level 1 character has the same capabilities, or average of total capabilities, as an average person. Furthermore, difficulty bonuses should be gauged in terms of difficulty to an average person.
1 05 Attributes Attributes are the fundamental way by which a character exists in terms of rules. The significance of an attribute is measured by its score.
1 06 Attribute Bonuses An attribute bonus is a bonus that applies to all contests involving a given attribute. The bonus for even attributes is equal to the ((score) – 10)/2. The bonus for odd attributes is equal to the ((score) – 11)/2.
1 07 Physical The physical attribute represents the physical, or bodily, power of a character.
1 08 Mental The mental attribute represents the mental, or noetic, power of a character.
1 09 Metaphysical The metaphysical attribute represents the metaphysical, spiritual, or magical power of a character.
1 10 Skill A skill is a character’s ability that improves with training or experience. Each skill is related to one attribute.
1 11 Skill Points Skill progress is measured in points which are a bonus to all contests involving that skill.
1 12 Maximum Skill Points A character cannot have more skill points in one skill than he has character levels.
1 13 Specific Knowledge A character cannot use a skill that requires specific knowledge unless he has at least one skill point in that skill.
1 14 Perk A perk is a discrete benefit that a character gains that cannot be classified as an attribute, skill, or hero point.
1 15 Perk Contest Limitation Perks do not grant bonuses to contests.
1 16 Perk Substitution When a character gains a perk, he may instead take a one-point attribute increase or one skill point.
1 17 Perk Tree Perks may increase in significance if they gradually build on previously acquired perks.
1 18 Bonus Action A character gains an extra action each round for every 5 points that his attribute score exceeds 10. This bonus action must be related to the attribute, and must be unlocked by a perk that allows the use of a specific skill with this action.
1 19 Level Points Characters improve by gaining level points awarded by the GM. A level point is a one-point attribute score increase, a skill point, or a perk. Once a character has gained one of each type, his character level increases.
1 20 Hero Points Player-characters may use hero points to improve contests as dictated by their character concepts. The amount of the bonus is determined by a d6 roll. A character may store as many hero points as he has character levels.
1 21 Hero Point Sources Hero points renew every day. The GM may renew a PC’s hero point by rewarding that PC for good roleplaying.
1 22 NPC Dispositions PCs with free will decide their own dispositions to others. Characters without free will have five levels of disposition to others: helpful, friendly, indifferent, unfriendly, and hostile.
2 Awareness A character cannot make a defense contest against another without first having awareness of that character.
2 Initiative Contest Characters determine the order of turns in a round and the sequence of priority during simultaneous actions by making an initiative contest. Players choose which attribute best represents this initiative.
2 Action Activities of significance are counted in segments called actions. Each action permits making one contest.
2 Combined Action A character may, during his turn, forego making a new contest if his next action utilizes the same skill as his previous action during his turn. The new contest result is equal to the previous contest result.
2 Posture Posture is an abstract position in conflict which can simulate the use of favorable conditions or positions, typically represented by limitations on earning progress.
2 Offensive Posture All characters take, by default, a position in close range to each other called offensive posture.
2 Defensive Posture The GM may allow a character to take a position within short range, called defensive posture, if the situation permits. Close range attacks make half progress to and from defensive posture, and short range attacks make half progress when a defensive attacker engages a defensive defender.
2 Changing Posture The GM determines how many movement contests are required to change posture, but the default number is one.
2 Delay At the start of his turn, a player may postpone the beginning of his turn to the end of any other turn, called a “delay.” If the round ends, the player may begin his new turn at the start of the next round.
2 Extra Action Actions gained above and beyond the default three actions per round are called extra actions.
2 Free Actions Each round a character gets three actions, called free actions, which may be used for any purpose.
2 Non-actions An activity that does not, by itself, constitute an action is called a non-action. Non-actions may be used freely if they do not interfere with actions.
2 Progress A character measures his distance to his conflict goal by earning progress, or progress points. His ability to make progress is represented by a die type.
2 Progress Pool When a character makes progress, it accumulates in a progress pool.
2 Maximum Progress A progress pool has a maximum capacity, called maximum (or max) progress. Exceeding this amount indicates success.
2 Regress Regress is a character’s ability to limit his opponent’s progress. Whenever one character makes progress, his opponent may reduce that progress by subtracting regress, as long as they are of corresponding types.
2 Regress Limit Regress may not reduce progress to zero. Progress from a successful contest has a minimum of 1.
2 Round A round is a cycle of conflict activity during which all characters in conflict may act.
2 Simultaneous Actions A character may take an action during an action of another character’s turn. All such actions occur simultaneously. If sequence is necessary, the initiating character takes priority, then each character from highest to lowest initiative.
2 Surprise When one character surprises another at the start of conflict, the GM decides if he gains a free action before the first round, or gains a 4 difficulty bonus to his initiative contest.
2 Initiating Character During his turn, a character’s actions take priority over others. Because the character initiates these actions, he is called the “initiating character.”
2 Turn Each round is divided into a series of turns, one for each character in conflict. A player-character may choose not to act during his turn.
3 Damage Pool Damage taken in combat accumulates in a damage pool. Each character has a damage pool for each of his attributes.
3 Catatonic A character who takes more metaphysical damage than his max metaphysical damage is catatonic. Catatonic characters have no metaphysical power and cannot take metaphysical actions.
3 Mostly Dead A character who takes more physical damage than his max physical damage is mostly dead. Mostly dead characters have no physical power and cannot take physical actions.
3 Flanking Posture A character in flanking posture treats offensive opponents as defensive, and defensive opponents as offensive. Taking flanking posture requires two movement contests.
3 Fleeing Characters may escape combat by fleeing. Fleeing requires one movement contest from defensive posture, or two movement contests from offensive posture.
3 Unconscious A character who takes more mental damage than his max mental damage is unconscious. Unconscious characters have no mental power, and cannot take mental actions.
3 Flying Posture A character in flying posture is effectively out of combat until he takes an action affecting the battleground or a combatant. When he does so, he chooses whether he will use offensive or defensive posture, and is treated as being in that posture only during that action.
3 Free Movement Simple footwork, or otherwise easy maneuvering, is assumed in combat and does not require an action.
3 Maximum Damage Each damage pool can hold an amount of damage equal to that pool’s attribute score, called maxiumum (or max) damage.
3 Melee Weapon A melee weapon is a weapon designed to be held while being used to cause damage.
3 Missile Weapon A missile weapon is a weapon that deals damage by being or firing a projectile. Using another missile weapon requires at least one fight action for reloading.
3 Mounted Posture A character in mounted posture is assumed to be utilizing his mount defensively. Taking and maintaining mounted posture requires one action per round at the start of a character’s turn, but grants a character defensive treatment. The mounted character may attack as normal, but may choose for each attack whether he would like to remain defensive or be treated as offensive, relative only to the target of his attack and for that action only.
3 Physical Damage/Protection Physical progress in combat is called physical damage, and physical regress is called physical protection.
3 Natural Healing Physical and mental damage heal naturally at a rate of one point per day, and metaphysical damage heals at a rate of one point per hour.
3 Armor Armor is the primary source of physical protection in combat. As armor gets heavier, it reduces a character’s physical attribute score while he is wearing the armor. This causes a corresponding reduction of max physical damage and physical bonus. This is called the Physical Penalty.
3 Weapon A weapon is anything that deals physical damage. Weapons have size categories that tend to increase as the weapons are bigger. Each weapon also has a range that identifies the maximum distance at which a weapon can deal damage.
3 Weaponless damage All characters, even unarmed, can deal d4 damage.
3 Double Weapons Some weapons can be used as two weapons instead of one. These weapons generally use a higher type of damage die when used as one weapon.
3 Mental Damage/Protection Mental progress in combat is called mental damage, and mental regress is called mental protection. All else equal, a source of mental damage generally uses a damage die two types lower than its physical counterpart.
3 Metaphysical Damage/Protection Metaphysical progress in combat is called metaphysical damage, and metaphysical regress is called metaphysical protection. This damage and protection is generally limited to small amounts from supernatural sources.
3 Reloading Table Reloading requires the following number of actions for these types of missile weapons: sling – non-action, throwing/bow – 1 action, crossbow – 2 actions.
3 Shields Shields provide bonuses to physical defense contests, and do not penalize the physical attribute score unless severely bulky.
3 Sword Swing An action in combat generally takes either the time or effort required to make a solid, effective sword swing.
4 Action Substitution Any physical or mental actions required by a spell may be made with metaphysical actions, and the metaphysical bonus, instead.
4 Casting Actions A spell does not occur until the last of its casting actions have been performed (during this action). If there are more than one action, these actions must be combined during the spellcaster’s turn, and regardless of the attributes used, the actions are considered cast spell (or spellcasting) actions that use the metaphysical bonus.
4 Damage-over-time If a spell deals damage once for each of its casting actions, the caster incurs casting damage after the first successful action, and deals damage during each successful casting action.
4 Casting Damage A spell takes place by weaking the caster metaphysically. This is represented by metaphysical casting damage, equal to d8
(spell level). Casting damage occurs when the spell takes effect.
4 Maintain Action For a spell to last beyond the beginning of a caster’s next turn, the caster must begin his turn with a maintain (mental) action to continue the spell. Damaging spells cannot be maintained.
4 Spell Attributes Each spell has several attributes that facilitate its use: spell level, casting actions, spell difficulty, targets, range, cover, effect, and half-effect.
4 Spell Cover A spell is rated by the amount of cover that it can overcome. The types are none, partial, full, and indirect.
4 Spell Defense Ending a spell’s effect requires one or more defense actions of the type first listed in (casting) actions. The first defense reduces a spell’s effect to its half-effect on a target. If that spell had only one casting action, it ceases to affect the target. If that spell had multiple casting actions, the spell’s half effect ends once the target has succeeded with defenses against the spell’s original contest. Because the caster has already performed the casting actions, the defense contest does not require further actions on his part.
4 Spell Difficulty Spell difficulty is a difficulty bonus added to each contest used to cast a spell.
4 Spell Duration Spells do not last beyond the beginning of the spellcaster’s next turn unless he uses a maintain action.
4 Spell Effect What a spell does is called its effect. Spell effects become more potent at higher spell levels.
4 Half-Effect When a target resists a spell, he begins suffering only half of the effect of the spell, called its half-effect.
4 Spell Level A spell’s general power is measured by its level. Spell level is equal to the spell’s number of casting actions, and equal to the amount of casting damage above d8.
4 Minimum Casting Contest A spellcaster who fails to roll a contest higher than 10, before he has finished combining spellcasting actions, fails to cast the spell. He does not take casting damage.
4 Spell Targets Each spell affects a target category. These are: self (affects caster only), single (affects one target only), and multi (affects one target per casting action).

New rule of the day: Regress

This new rule came up logically, revealing itself as an unwritten rule that was already in the rules anyway. It was previously called “protection,” which has little or nothing to do with a word like “progress.” And here’s what the rule looks like:

“Regress is a character’s ability to limit his opponent’s progress. Whenever one character makes progress, his opponent may reduce that progress by subtracting regress, as long as they are of corresponding types.”

So protection reduces damage, or counterpoints reduce points, or whatever you’re calling your regress reduces whatever you’re calling your progress.

Got Rules?

I’m excited! I know, it happens a lot. But I’m streamlining the Rules Catalog, and I think I have the 150+ rules of 1.2 down to under 90 in 1.3. I’m pulling out some definitions masquerading as rules, GM guidance, and most significantly: skills and perks. The rules don’t need a listing of those so much as a definition, and the frameworks in which the skills and perks operate. Because in theory, players can make up their own skills and perks anyway.

If everything runs smoothly, this could make for some pretty fast and simple rules module creation. Which is where I’m dying to go next…

Pick-up game

I took Return to Volskygge for a spin online last night, with three brave souls. Which was very fun – getting to be the Guide instead of the Writer for a while.

While I’ll have to wring feedback out of the players, I can provide my own insights here:

- The 1.3 combat system had a very immersive feel to it. There were definitely turns being taken, but actions flowed smoothly whether a character was initiating or not.

- Two people took pre-generated characters (Farkas and Farengar), and the other character took about half an hour to make. I got the impression that it would have gone much faster in person, and if the player had actually seen the rulebook prior to character creation.

- The rule concepts seemed pretty easy to grasp; I wasn’t repeating rules left and right.

- There was some confusion over actions: when to take them, and how many to take.

I called the players “brave” because they’re coming back for more next week, and they have no idea what lurks deeper in the barrow…


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