Need for Speech: words have power, Hodor, OG and a new word/rune-based magic system

I started watching Game of Thrones recently, and Hodor got me thinking about magic. In some oblique ways.

RPGs are mostly a discussion. Speech and writing, in their tabletop and PBM incarnations, are almost inherent to the form. This happens because there are not enough physical game tokens to allow expression of all the subtleties of what happens in the game world. For a NON RPG, like the DND 3E miniatures game, the need for speech is absent: it’s possible to move tokens and roll dice and point at tokens, and that’s enough to resolve the game.

Note that this has nothing to do with system completeness: it’s possible to have an incomplete system needing arbitration, where the referee resolves combats by moving, changing, adding and subtracting “bits” from the table, not a word spoken.

Speech at this level is about the world. Players make statements about the world and roll dice, which are about the world. The referee adjudicates and reports the results. So, we are playing, and this is the nature of the game: making statements about the world.

There is another level of need for speech, which is the speech that happens in game: characters talk to each other. The player of Hodor has problems with that. I played a speech-impaired character once and it was funny and challenging (the system was Fate though, which was the only negative note, because all players and the GM did a brilliant job).

At any rate, Hodor can’t speak. Hodor can act though. Which would be incredibly interesting if Hodor was in a game of Diplomacy.

Hodor is a bit extreme though. Let’s talk about Robin Law’s OG.

Og-Cover

OG is a gem. In OG you character knows how to use 3-8 words. You can unleash the very full panoplia of your extensive vocabulary when interacting with the Referee, but with other players? Stick to your own 3-8 words! If you know only “small”, “stick” and “you” you can’t say many things that do not insult virility. And that’s kind of cool because it’s a game made fun by its special player interaction.

It would be interesting if RPG magic was the same. Incidentally the first fantasy novel I read was A Wizard of Earthsea by U.K. le Guin, which has a system that is basically UG-Magic-University. You learn words for things, so that you can command them. And humans get baptized, so if you don’t know their real secret name you have to use their “common name”, which is what they use in daily life, or just use “dude”.

So, if you want a flexible rulelight magic system, one that is a bit crazy but completely not playtested, enjoy this one:

You MU begins the game knowing INT/3 names for generic things and 1 mana. When a new level is gained,  one new name is learnt and 1 mana per level is gained. You might want to use a foreign language (French? Italian? Lithuanian? Japanese? Kurdish? Finnish? Tsolyáni?) for the special names to stop your character from using them in play. They become game tokens, so you to avoid messups you want to be specific when referring to them. Or you can trace runes mid-air or pronounce the rune names. Whatever. Words have power.

To cast a spell, tell to the Referee ALL the words you are using this round. For example for Fireball would maybe be “big powerful fire blast there”, while Create Fire would be “fire”. Then, using the 5MORE system or rolling under INT or under CHA or trying to SAVE, roll once for every word you pronounce in the round. Consider every word as a different TASK for 5MORE EXPERT purposes.

You need to succeed at every word check to cast the spell. If you fail a roll, spend 1 mana to convert it to a success. If you elect not to spend the mana, all the words you are speaking in the same round get messed up and are all counted as failures. So yes you can take time casting a spell.

When you are done with words, something happens. The Referee will let you know what happens depending on the words that failed. As a yardstick, consider that a comparable D&D spell should have (2 x level) – 1 words. The referee and players are encouraged to write down combination of words of power, and the referee is encouraged to have the same combination of words have the same effect every time. Players should record combination and effects only if their characters have writing implements.

Now, this seems eminently more powerful than D&D. Surely it’s more flexible, and if you’re lucky it gives you infinite free spells at level 1.

But.

Failures.

Bite.

There are two consequences for failures.

The first one is that the caster gets burnt.

  • For each word failed, the caster can’t use that word for 1d6 turns.
  • For each three words failed, the caster takes 1d6 damage OR the caster can spend one mana OR the caster can get stunned. The caster can choose which as they know how to fend off magic power. Stun duration is 1d6 rounds if chosen once, 1d6 turns if chosen twice, 1d6 hours if chosen 3 times, then days, weeks, months, seasons.
  • For each six words failed, something awful happens. Maybe the caster gets whisked away by a gate for a while, or they develop a horrible mutation. I’ll let your Referee adjudicate.

So if a caster fails seven words, they can’t use any of them for 1d6 turns, takes three times a mixture of 1d6 damage or 1 mana damage or stunned for 1d6 rounds/turns/hours, and something horrible happens.

Plus, there is the second consequence. Magic happens regardless. Referee, consider that magic has a personality. And that words have personalities. And that some words don’t like being used close to each other. Let them play. You might even have the words make reaction rolls against each other and the MU to determine if the play nice. Mispronounced words will most probably misbehave at some level, and the caster might even pronounce other words instead of the failed one.

Note that if a spell targets someone, using a generic name (like “human”) grants an additional save, while using the Secret Name forces the victim to reroll 1 succeeded save.

You can learn new words from other people

Note that you can totally use this system as rune magic too.

Enter the Dungeon Fuck Yeah

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a multiplyer online RPG for a while. It’s something I was really into ten years ago, but then I started studying again, and had to work full time too, so I really didn’t have much time to spare. Then Lost Pages arrived, and I definitely kept on not having much free time.
Anyway, today I went out for a coffee and took some notes. And now I’ll try to make some sense out of it:
Enter The Dungeon Fuck Yeah is going to be a browser game. The technoloy will be node.js for the server and a browser supporting canvas and websockets for the client. I have experience with this kind of setup (I prototyped an RTS using the same solution for 7DRTS last year), it works fine.
It’s going to be free to play. Even if I introduce donations, I don’t want to let people buy their swanky equipment with real monies.
Gameplay will be hexcrawly for the ovverland map and room-based for the dungeons. By “room based” I mean that a movement ation brings a character from a room to one of the next rooms: inside a room there’s no finer location (except in combat, described later). Basically, a pointcrawl with a location per each room. Characters can move individually but it’s possible to form a group: this way, when the leader moves, everybody follows.
The game will be the typical OSR fare: go in with your group, steal treasures from the dungeon, try to get back alive. Experience will be granted in part for killing monsters, but most of it for liberating treasure. Treasure will be a special type of object that needs to be brought out, but it will slow down the character (as does armour), which with this kind of abstract pointcrawly movement means moving less frequently. And, of course, less chances of outrunning pursuers.
Combat happens when characters stumble into monsters. At this point a mockup would be ideal, but I have nothing to show. At any rate, all participants get an action every round. The actions at the moment are:
RANK: switch between front rank and back rank. Back rank can melee only with polearms but can’t easily be attacked in melee either. If the front rank is all gone, the back rank becomes the front rank. And that would be a TPK waiting to happen.
MELEE: attack an opponent in the front rank.
MISSILE: attack any opponent. From the front rank only throwing weapons are usable for a missile attack. No bows in melee. Flaming oil will be there.
MAGIC: do magic stuff. Mechanics TBD but probably will be something similar to either Empire of the Petal Throne or something mana-based. Or both.
BACKSTAB: thieves can risk doing that thing that makes daggers appear from the chests of enemies. Or die trying.
FLEE: run away from combat. If someone is still fighting it has greater chances of working. Less encumbrance helps.

Now, the dungeon: i’ll start with something minimal. A goblin den. The den has many rooms and a bucket of goblins inside. And traps. And there are two special rooms: the LAIR where goblins spawn and the BOSS ROOM where the goblin king and its treasure is.
Now, if the king is alive, the goblins fight better. But if there are many goblins and the king dies, there’s a big chance that a new king will rise. So if players want to kill goblins and take the treasure, they are better off maybe killing some goblins to weaken the tribe, then kill the king and take its treasure, so that no other king will chase as they try to leave the dungeon. A goblin den with a king will also increase the chances of meeting goblins in the hexcrawl map.

Now, the goblin cast:
GOB: a normal stinky, flimsy goblin
SLINGOB: a goblin with a sling, second rank fighter. They attack characters at random.
HUNGOB: a goblin with a bow. They attack either the character with less HP or the less armoured.
FIREGOB: a goblin with a big jar of flaming oil. Boom.
GOBARD: a goblin bard. very lewd songs. better fighting chances for goblins.
DOGOB: a worg. chases fleeing characters and bark attracting goblins
MAGOB: a goblin mage. Uses a magic box or a magic die. Random effects are always amazing.
GOBRE: a big deformed goblin. big fists and big maws.
HOLYGOBARCH: does some holy magic, can sacrifice goblins to create cool effects
KINGOB: the king. Sits on the treasure. Bigger than other goblins, makes them more motivated.