Saturday, December 29, 2012

Where do they go when the dungeons are closed?

Oh, where do they go when the dungeons are closed,
And the lich's crypt stands stark and untenanted?
Do our heroes of might like to drink, fuck, and fight,
Or keep confidences with demons and other dark denizens?
Does each warrior have a hobby, 
And each cleric a vice?
Does the wizard like sailing, 
And does the thief breed show-mice?
Does the dwarf lay abed, 
Just a hirsuit sleepy head,
His axe put aside for the nonce?
And what does it cost?
How many silvers are lost,
On games of chance,
On ale and whores and feasts?
Are our dungeoneers civilized,
Well-kempt, well-bred, and polite?
Or are they just beasts,
Like the ones that they killed,
Who finance these revels each night?

Adam M. and I were discussing what happens to adventurers between their adventures. It's my thought that such people would be inclined by nature and by chance to spend some or their loot. Maybe they're slowly acquiring a lair of some sort. Surely, one must have bed and board to keep fit. Perhaps such folk have a pastime or interest of some sort over which they obsess. Or maybe they have vices trifling or troubling toward which they gravitate when there's nothing to stay their hands. Idle hands and all...

I want something mechanical to help players flesh out their characters in some way. I'm tempted to emulate Joshua Macy's approach in the SFX! mechanic for "shticks," which is to say let the player decide, within a certain set of parameters, what the thing is that he or she is doing. These are "typical" actions for that PC, and things that cater to their strengths, usually. It's a very flexible mechanic, I think I'd like something a little crunchier, with random tables and so forth. Unfortunately, I'm too damned lazy to create those, so am back to something a bit more flexible. That's just fine. My players are pretty high-imagination/low-maintenance.

This particular mechanic, though, is not really about strengths and capabilities, though certainly they could be in the mix. It's not about what you can do, necessarily. It's more about your motivations, both long and short term. It encompasses your habits, both good and bad. Some general questions could be asked to get started. A lot of RPGs do this, but usually just to add flavor to the character. Here are some flavor questions which could conceivably lead to something more crunchy, mechanically.

What do you want out of life, in a permanent sense?
What do you want right now?
What do you really love?
What do you love maybe a little too much?
How are you living when you're not on the road?
What are your habits and what do they cost you to support?

So, for example, let's consider my DCC character Berzerker Joe. Joe's a warrior (naturally, with that moniker). He's strong and agile, but not above average in any other way. Maybe he likes to go to the gladitorial pits. Maybe he likes to drink, wench, and brawl. Maybe he has a little lady (or man). Maybe he's saving up to buy a bit of land. Certainly he has daily expenses. What does he do to satisfy them?

So, as Joe's player, I see him (a chaotic warrior) as very much living in the now. He's a serious Conan of Cimmeria fanboy, but that's another matter. Let's answer those questions, above, to see what we can figure out about Joe.

For long-term goals, I could see him wanting to found a mercenary company, and have a chapter house in Mustertown. Just a place where he and his company could crash at night, with a lock on the door and maybe some guards (0-level guys who are looking to advance in the company). He'd like to have a reputation as a badass. He'd like some great stories to tell, eventually, should he survive. He'd like to make that one big score, and be set for life. Hell, maybe he could get a place inside the walls of Ur-Hadad if he gets lucky, and settle down with a hot shield maiden.

What does he want right now?
Joe wants a beer. (Carousing tables!)
Joe wants to get laid. (Nope. Not going all FATAL on you. This is getting handwaved.).
Joe wants to get some new armor and maybe a horse. He wants to maybe go hunting tomorrow. (And these things cost money. They can also be used as mechanism for gaining new knowledge/skills or acquiring items "on layaway.")
He wants to play tonk and roll the dice, see if he can pick up a little scratch. (Integral game of chance, here?)

What does he love?
Joe really loves a good bar brawl. (I probably would not use this. No combat without player involvement.) He also likes betting of the gladiatorial games. This expense can vary, wildly, depending on his Luck (Integral gambling mechanic rears its head again. I should leave this one to Adam M. Hey, Adam, invent a game of chance native to Ur-Hadad, and a mechanic for resolving it, preferably opposed rolls.)

What does he love a bit too much?
Joe really loves the ladies of the night just a little too much. He's just a simple guy and hadn't seen a lot of pretty, sophisticated ladies before he got to Mustertown. He gets infatuated with particular girls every once in a while, and some of them are infatuated with him as well, whether for his dashing charm or his steady supply of silver and other gifts. (This could involve both Personality and Luck checks in DCC. Could have Charisma and Wisdom in D&D. I don't have a clear picture in my head at this point how to approach this mechanically.)

How are you living when you're not on the road?
Right now, he sleeps in an inn. He likes to get a private room when he can, but often has to settle for the common room. He hates the common room. It's full of thieves. So, where you sleep has a variety of potential outcomes (I'm not sure I want to get into the mechanics of how particular physical effects based on rest actually work. However, if one rests in a place of one's own, one may recover faster in various ways--e.g., from Spellburn or wounds, or what have you). The food may be better or worse, and the booze as well. (I could see random diseases, hangover, and other fun stuff happening with this. It should have a distribution curve with a very strong central tendency. The extremes should be rare but with actual impact on the PC.) The accommodations can be more or less secure. (Want to sleep in the common room? There's a chance you get robbed.)

So, there are some motivations leading to some mechanics. Still kind of sketchy, and leaning in the direction of waaaaay too many little fiddly bits. I'd like it to be a bit more streamlined, something that can be handled in 15 minutes, not an hour). Well, let's start with things that exist in threes. Three is a magic number, as you probably already know, so that's auspicious. Three categories is what we need: Goals, Needs, and Vices.

Those three broad categories are useful for my purposes, in that they also provide three areas into which points can be put, once bought. That's right. There's a point-buy system in the offing, with points bought affecting the which die in the chain you get to use.

I'm thinking that it might be nice, especially with DCC, to allow characters with less potential (in terms of stats) to benefit more from this system than those who are more gifted. Seems like a fair trade to me, and makes this guy (STR 4, AG 7, STAM 3, PERS 5, INT 6, LUCK 4) feel a little bit better about his lot in life.

However, we must consider that the broader functions of this mechanic should provide some tensions among themselves.


Goals are force multipliers: They are capable of helping the character out. Generate a positive number here.

Things you can put your money into, long-term. Things you can put effort into, long-term. Things that you can build for the future (and to improve your current situation). Every PC should have at least one of these. These outcomes, if invested in, should pay off in the long term (how long, ultimately, depends on the goal). This interacts with Vices, and is its opposite. Good outcomes here negate bad outcomes there, and vice versa.

This should be a base d6, with a dice chain, and the potential to explode.


Needs are constants. They may be set at a level and produce fairly steady results for that level. This is either a positive or negative number.

You need to eat and drink, to have a place to rest, to be entertained in some way or to improve oneself or to acquire things you need to live your life. Every PC should figure out what they need to spend money on when they're not munching iron rations in a dungeon somewhere. This should include choices for room and board, which may change if a housing Goal is met, for example. It should also include other things. Maybe we can bring in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs here:

Bio-basic needs (food, drink, sleep)
Safety needs (shelter and clothing)
Belonging (being in a gang or club, being part of a fellowship or family)
Esteem (for self and from others)
Self-Actualization (being all that you can be)

This hierarchy is so thoroughly Modern, that it seems silly to apply it to a fantasy RPG setting, but whatever. Joe's self-esteem will not be undermined by such concerns. For sake of ease in application, I'll simply say that Esteem and Self-Actualization get dropped. They're harder to model. The others equate, roughly, to:

Bio-basic: Your lodgings and food. Spend more money to avoid problems. Spending excess money can, in rare cases, make it easier to meet Belonging needs (potential contacts, more loyal henchmen, club dues, etc.)

Safety: This reduces simply to either getting robbed or not. The more you spend, the less likely the outcome. It gets subsumed in the same roll with other needs.

Belonging: This has to do with the company you keep. Good company means you have more and better friends to help you achieve short and longterm goals. Bad company means you tend to pursue your vices more than your goals, with predictable consequences.

In any case, meeting needs means avoiding negative outcomes. You gotta pay a certain amount to make that happen. Failing to, or being unable to, means that it's more likely you'll have a negative outcome.

This should generate a small number that affects the Goals and Vices in some way. I think maybe when you spend money to deal with what you really need, it affects the dice chains for Goals/Vices.

Make this a 2d6 mechanic, with 7 being the "neutral" outcome. Anything higher, and you get to add to the Goals dice chain. Anything lower, and you add to the Vices dice chain.


Vices are force multipliers in a negative sense: They can undermine a character's ability to take care of him or herself, and thwart the accomplishment of goals. Generate a negative number here.

This is where you spend your money in ways that don't really advance your goals and needs. A PC may be a drunk or an addict, bet too much on games of chance, dabble in arcane magics of dubious utility, or whatever it is that he or she does to blow off steam. A PC should always have at least one vice.

I think these get modeled like Goals, but in a negative sense. With goals, the more you spend the more likely a good outcome. With Vices, the less you spend in this category, the more likely a bad outcome. So, it's not so much that you're spending to indulge your vices, more more that you are spending NOT to indulge them.

Again, like Goals, we start with d6, but this time spending money makes the die chain go down. We have the potential for exploding dice as well.

Putting It All Together

Between adventures, have the players tell you what their PCs are doing with their wealth.

First deal with needs. A certain amount must be spent to avoid bad outcomes by satisfying Needs. Make this approximately 10% of wealth held by the PC. This will get you in at d4.

Spending more can move the dice chain up to d6 or even as high as d8. Spending less can drive it down. Spending only 5% drives it down to d3 and spending 0% drives it to d2

Roll the resulting die plus a d6. Anything higher than 7 allows you to either (a) increase the Goals dice chain one step or (b) reduce the Vices dice chain one step.

So, the default would be d4+d6. Spending and extra 5% would get you 2d6. Spending an extra 10% would get you d6+d8. Spending an extra 15% would get you d8+d8. Make this the upper limit.

Spending only 5% would reduce the die to d3. Spending 0% makes it a d2. It would be really hard to have good things happen if you don't spend money.

Next, the PC can "bet" an additional 10% to move the dice chain in either Goals or Vices. For Goals, this would move the dice chain up. For Vices, it would move the dice chain down. Thus, each dice chain would vary from d4 to d8. The die used is also affected by the "Needs" roll, as described above.

These two dice (on for Goals, one for Vices) are rolled as opposed, and as exploding. Each point of one cancels out one point of the other. If the total is anything other than zero, then either Goals or Vices is activated, and there's a table of outcomes which I've not written yet.


Berzerker Joe decides he's not going to spend any extra money on his Needs. He'll go the bare minimum (10%). He gets a d4 to go with d6.  He rolls a 2 and a 3, respectively. That's a 5. A five is less than the 7 he needed. It will drive his Vices die chain from d6 to d8.

Joe decides go ahead and spend the extra 10% at this point, hoping to generate a better outcome, despite his bad choices (this could represent things like bribing authorities or buying drinks for a group of people who might otherwise beat and rob you). He chooses to use that to drive his Goals die up to the d8 level. He could also have driven the Vices back down to a d6.

So, now there's an opposed roll between d8 and d8. He rolls a 7 for Goals and a 3 for Vices, so neither of them "exploded." The final result is a net +4. This is a positive outcome. Presumably this will contribute toward the accomplishment of a Goal or, alternately, get converted into a financial or other material gain. He did something moderately successfully and gets modestly rewarded.

Now, I'm not entirely sure where to take it from here. I'm thinking that a table is needed, one going from a central zero-point, out to +20 and -20. This would for the most part cover the dice chains used for Goals and Vices, even taking exploding dice into account. I'll work on that later.

In basic outline, I'd like to give players options for both learning new things, adding or subtracting from their material wealth, causing or curing various ailments. Adding to or subtracting from attributes (in rare cases). There are a host of possibilties. Mainly, though, it's like to see it result in them being able to make (a) a choice about what happens and (b) convert the outcomes into something that is about the character's ongoing story, for good for for ill. Maybe he makes a friend or enemy. Gains or loses wealth. Get a discount or a markup on some materials or on a piece of property. That sort of thing would have to be determined specifically according to the PC's stated Goals/Vices.

So, what do you think about this mechanic? Is it fun? Is it boring? Is it fucking stupid, and why don't I just shut up already? Any ideas of other things to do?