Cosmic Confluences

Or maybe that should be influences. Game design doesn’t take place in a vaccum. We always build on what we’ve seen and heard, what we know works and what doesn’t. Here I’ll talk here about some of the RPGs that influenced me in my design on Cosmic Cutthroats.

One of the biggest is Champions 4th Edition. Sure, it’s math-heavy, has definite breakpoints, and is susceptible to min-maxing. It also supports a wide variety of power levels and genres, and is amazingly flexible. I wanted something like Champs, but without multiplying by fractions, maybe with less spotlight-hogging by high-SPD characters. There’s still a lot to like here, and it’s still one of my favorite games. Lots of other games, like BESM and Wild Talents, have followed in the well-worn point RPG path, but Champs is the gold standard.

The OSR was a game changer for me. I realized when I first purchased Labyrinth Lord that I’d been running D&D according to OSR principles for years, and that modern D&D worked far and away best when run this way. My favorite OSR games now are Swords & Wizardry Complete and Dungeon Crawl Classics, but the principles of accepting imbalanced encounters, rulings vs. rules, simpler NPCs and critters, creating challenges instead of stories, and allowing active input from players in running the game, all appeal to me greatly. You can see this in CC in the open-ended way PCs and GM together interpret Triumphs and Mishaps, and how players are encouraged to build new Packages as needed to build out the setting.

Games like FATE and their “hero point economy” interested me greatly. FATE itself didn’t really grab me … no offense, I just like things a little more crunchy. Some meat to sink my gaming teeth into! But Strands of Fate really appealed to me. I’ve never gotten a chance to run Strands as much as I’d like to, and I apply Fate Points a little less as a scene-editing tool and a little more as an in-game concentration/effort mechanic, but the roots are there.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned, CC is based on my work on Invulnerable, Metagene, and Wormholes & Waystations. Invulnerable works as a multi-genre game, but CC has the simpler task resolution system of Metagene. CC includes some of the races and locations in W&W.

The Finest in Hand-Crafted Universes

One idea I have for Cosmic Cutthroats┬áis to release dimension books, that would work as standalone settings. I know of one dimension-travel game that does that, so it’s not new, but it would still be fun.

Invulnerable 3rd Edition could be a sourcebook for CC, the dimension of Earth-Omega. Invulnerable itself grew out of a urban fantasy/horror game called Dirge that saw limited release online before I pulled it. In my mind, that world always had the depressing, poetic name The Vale of the Downtrodden. The sketchy setting for Wormholes & Waystations, the Sentient Assembly, would cover your space opera and giant robot genres. And I’ve always been a fan of post-apocalypse, settings, though I’ve never done more than tinker with a post-apoc setting. I have a name though, Dross Prime.

But for the core book itself, what will it play out like? How do you run a dimension travel game? I think the archetypal plot for CC will be The Seven Samurai. You’re wandering mercenary scum, you’re sucked into a local fight that’s not your own while you wait for the next dimensional gate to open, you grow to care for the locals, then, the big showdown. Of course, in a dimension travel game, you should be able to run any kind of plot. I see adventurers as money-grubbing trouble on the hoof, so Time Bandits works really well as a model, too. A major goal of most adventurers will be filling up their Edge meters, because that fuels all kinds of crazy stunts they’re capable of, so there will be a certain amount of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, too (note: also another Terry Gilliam film). Ultimately, the adventurers’ Qualities tell you what will grab the characters themselves and make the action personal.

Cutthroat Notes

About time I actually posted something here, eh?

Well, I’ve been hard at work on Cosmic Cutthroats. After 2 months, it’s playable. I’ve created a couple of characters for the game, and run a sample combat. It was fun!

I’ll talk here about how the game works, comparing it to my previous games where that might help.

First off, in case anyone is confused, this is a tabletop RPG, that uses paper and pencils and dice. Or a PDF reader, a dice roller program, and a chat program. Thankfully, in this age of ‘actual play’ videos, this is a point of confusion that doesn’t come up as often as it used to, but it still pops up from time to time!

The task resolution system uses 2d12 + an Ability Level, compared to a target number. The Ability is usually a Skill, but sometimes might be an Attribute, a Trait, or another game mechanic. If you beat the target number, you succeed, and if you don’t, you fail.

If you roll matched numbers on the dice, something special happens! If you’re successful, something good happens, a critical success I call a Triumph, and if you fail, you roll a Mishap. Higher matches are better, lower ones are worse.

You may notice that almost any roll can score the a Triumph or Mishap, even the best possible Triumph or worst possible Mishap. Interpreting what “best possible” and “worst possible” means is a task left up to the GM and players during the game. This is the same task resolution system that my super hero RPG Metagene uses, and it’s been a lot of fun.

There are six Attributes: Body, Brains, Agility, Charm, Guts, and Edge. Edge provides a pool of “hero points” to spend to improve your actions, and some Powers require you to spend Edge to activate them. Attributes typically range in value from 1 to 12, with 6 being average, which I believe is roughly the _Traveller_ ranger for Attribute scores.

There are two kinds of Skills, Basic and Advanced. Basic Skills start off with a base Level equal to 1/2 of one Attribute, or 1/4 of two. Advanced Skills also gain a similar boost, but only once you purchase your first Level in the Skill. Skills have the same 1 to 12 range as Abilities.

Traits are minor advantages that don’t really qualify as Skills or Powers. Powers are a bit more expensive than Traits or Skills, and you can modify their per-Level cost by taking Power Calibrations, which can make them more or less effective.

Some Traits and Powers let you purchase additional Options to make them more versatile. The Martial Arts Trait lets you buy additional maneuvers, and the Elemental Control Power lets you purchase Blast, Flight, Life Support, and other uses for your element-shaping. Options have a flat cost equal to one Level of the Power or Trait.

Drawbacks refund points, in exchange for giving you some disadvantage. There aren’t a ton of Drawbacks, and you aren’t expected to fill up your allotment of Drawbacks to make an effective character. In particular, Drawbacks aren’t based on specific personality aspects of your character.

Your personality aspects are reflected by your Qualities. Acting according to your Qualities lets you regain some lost Edge, but contravening your Qualities means you feel drained and lose Edge.

Gear can be gained directly through Powers or Traits, or purchased with in-game money. Gear purchased in-game can be permanently lost or stolen, but gear gained by spending character points is a part of you, and it’s expected you’ll regain it if it’s taken away at the end of the session.

There are no “classes”, per se, but there are species, robot model, occupation, and other packages, all pre-built and ready to go. Packages provide a 10% discount on their contents.

The point costs for Ability Levels get slowly more expensive, so there’s a certain pressure to create a character with diverse interests and abilities, rather than dumping all your points into one thing and hyper-specializing.

Combat is assumed to be moderately cinematic. There is a level of gritty detail, like weapon reach is taken into account in melee combat, but most enemies are Mooks and go down after losing all health in their current Injury State, or when they suffer certain conditions. Equipment and magic belongs to one of a general class of technological and magical eras, so there’s an advantage to having an elf from a magical world, a robot from a sci-fi Realm, both in the same party.

That’s it for now. Maybe next time I will post the results of the first combat trial, just for grins. Stay tuned!