I’d like to introduce you to a homebrew system I’ve been working on recently. I call it the Journeyman Engine, and it
comprises elementssteals liberally from some of my favorite Odd Borg Hack games.
I was hoping to create a lightweight system that supported rich and flavorful character concepts with enough knobs, buttons, and levers that interacting with the world would be fun but not a burden.
Resolving risky actions
Any time your character is going to try to do something risky, you’ll roll two dice, applying any appropriate modifiers, and compare the total against a range of outcomes:
Roll Outcome 6 or less Failure (2 might be a Fumble) 7 - 9 Success at a cost 10 or more Success (12 or more might be a Critical)
One die comes from your character’s Ability (Strength, Agility, Wits, Empathy) and one die comes from your character’s Skill. The dice you use depend on the rank of each:
Die Ability Skill d4 Weak Unskilled d6 Average Apprentice d8 Strong Journeyman d10 Elite Master
With this, it’s easy to see that Magdalene, a stoic swordsman with weak Empathy (d4) and unskilled in Manipulation (d4) can only hope to succeed at a cost when trying to persuade the noble into acquiescing to her request. That is, at least, without aid from equipment or ficitonal positioning. Were she to supply the noble with enough wine or present the signet ring of the noble’s husband, she might get a +1 or +2 to her roll, opening up the possibility of an outright success.
Pushing a roll
Were she to fail, she could attempt to push the roll, giving her one final chance to succceed, at the expense of rolling her Ability die to see if it is reduced. On a 1 or 2, her Ability die would be degraded one step on the Dice Chain.
d10 -> d8 -> d6 -> d4 -> Broken!
When an Ability reaches Broken, the character takes on a condition, appropriate to the Ability. Physical failures result in Damage while Mental failures result in Stress.
In June of 2020 a group of folks gathered to produce and sell a book of single-spread adventures with the intention of sending proceeds to support a bail fund for protesters targeted and jailed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
My son Lex and I wrote an adventure, and I’m releasing it now on itch as Pay-What-You-Want.
It’s a short dungeon crawl through an ancient holding taken over by mysterious verdant growth.
I recently started getting more interested in Ironsworn as the engine for some solo roleplaying. But instead of running in the quasi-Medieval Ironlands setting, I wanted to try a modern urban horror game. Based on some recommendations and feedback, I chose to use the new Starforged system, just removing the starship and exploration aspects, and modifying some of the assets and tables in play.
For setting and mood, I chose the modern world of Kult: Divinity Lost 1 and set my story in a fictionalized version of Richmond, Virginia. For the purposes of a solo game, I felt it would be best to play as a Sleeper character, slowly coming to the realization that the world around him is an illusion, and occasionally gaining glimpses past the Veil.
Some of the themes I wanted to explore in this game are:
- Family duty versus personal autonomy
- Fate versus self direction
- The id, the ego, and the super-ego
Coupled with all of that, I’ve been binging various horror and personal drama media over the past few months that I felt certain would inform and guide some of the situations I’d run into.
I started to develop a character, Simon Brinkman, who’d be a thinker and a helper. Not too old with a few close contacts he could rely on. The idea of a large family came to mind. Many of the dramas I’ve been watching lately deal with the intrigues of family life. The phrase "the seventh son of a seventh son" tugged at me. To keep things mysterious, Simon would be the unwitting seventh son. His grandfather Llewellyn Brinkman sired six sons with his wife Miriam before she died. His father Matthew might not actually be his father… 2
For his stat spread, I gave him 1 in Edge and Iron, 2 in Shadow and Wits, and 3 in Heart. He’s always been good at finding things, so I made him a Sleuth, and he unknowingly relies on his natural Empath abilities. Soon, his Haunted nature will make itself known.
We create one Bond, his good friend Liz Tollier. She’s a resident in the ER at VCU Medical Center. Simon has known her since high school, and apart from a very brief, very awkward period of dating, they’ve maintained a strong friendship ever since. 3
The last step to getting this story started is an inciting event. In Simon’s case, it consists of two voice mails:
"Hey, Simon. It’s your dad. Say, listen. Any chance you’re free this week? There’s… there’s something I need to tell you. And it should be in person. It’s not… nothing… nothing bad, heh. Always that way, right? But best not over the phone, and certainly not on a voice mail. Call me back and let’s grab dinner. Your choice, my treat. Love you."
"Mister Simon Brinkman? This is Sergeant Dennis Beauchamp with the Virginia State Police. This call is in regards to a Matthew Brinkman. Please call at your earliest convenience. Day or night. Thank you."
In the next session, we’ll witness Simon’s father’s funeral, and see how he handles family he hasn’t seen in years.
- Kult relies heavily on many themes and ideas found in Gnostic traditions. The world we inhabit and navigate is an illusory construct. We humans have been blindered to our own divinity, trapped in a material cage. A quasi-religious Matrix, if you will. ↩
- Kult also explores mature topics and uses graphic imagery in its depiction of the world and the inhabitants therein. Throughout my Family Ties posts, I’ll include Content Warnings at the start should these topics and descriptions come into play. ↩
- Since she’s an initial Bond, we’ll make her Formidable (1 box per progression), and she’ll impart a +3 to any roll where they act in concert towards something. ↩
In preparation for this blog, I thought it might be wise to talk about some of the games I ran or played in 2021. The year started off strong as we were still in the throes of COVID’s first lockdown and vaccines weren’t yet available. I was playing RPGs roughly five nights a week with a good mix as GM and as player. As summer approached and the world seemed to be waking up a bit, sessions dropped to three or fewer times per week. In that time, I ran or played the following systems/settings:
- UVG - One of my longest running campaigns, this group has been playing pretty steady since mid-2020. We started using FATE Accelerated, then moved to Tiny D6, before settling on my own hack of Troika! for the system.
- Troika! - I ran weekly sessions for my teenager and his friends for a while. They chased an evil Sorceror across multiple spheres and got into a variety of misadventures along the way.
- Mutant Year Zero - My regular Saturday evening group spent a good long while exploring the wastes around a future London and dealing with troubles and intrigues within the Ark.
- Vaesen - Ran the same Saturday evening crew through the adventure included in the core rule book.
- Warpstar! - Ran half a dozen sessions of A Pound of Flesh using Warpstar! as the system before it petered out.
- Dungeon Crawl Classics - I ran The Portal Under the Stars as a one-shot for a group between regular sessions.
- Barbarians of the Ruined Earth - This was my Tuesday group for a good spell. Trailing and dealing with a marauding sorcerous warlord and his beastly horde.
- Cthulhu Deep Green - Ran a few sessions of Operation: Fulminate late in the year. We haven’t finished it yet.
- Call of Cthulhu - Playing in a series of playtest sessions for a friend’s new adventure/sourcebook that’s been really intriguing.
- Cthulhu Dark - Joined the Miskatonic University Podcast crew in a playtest session as a teenage painter touched (or cursed) with insight into the eldritch.
- Sunset Kills - A Buffyish group of high school misfits battling werewolves and a bizarre carnival.
- Trophy Gold - Played Evlyn Moreau’s Where the Wheat Grows Tall over several sessions.
- Electric Bastionland - Played a one-shot with the Miskatonic University Podcast crew.
- Custom Year Zero Engine games - Played in a group that started off as a Knave hack running a pseudo-Bronze Age Mesopotamian world, but we were all enamored with the YZE and the GM started to craft a custom set of skills and a magic system that fit the world.
- Knave - Began as an OSE adventure, we eventually switched over to Knave. The world our GM created was clever. A Westworld-style amusement planet focused on fantasy. The park had long been abandoned and the AIs governing the system had gone insane long ago. We played as autonomous hosts, still fully grounded in the make-believe world.
- Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition - For a few sessions this summer, when we could sit outside and socialize in person, my local group got together to run one of the Candlekeep Mysteries adventures. I played an apprentice wizard emloyed as a docent of the keep.
New Year, New Blog
“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” - Plato
“Now is better than never.” - The Zen of Python
I know in my work life as in my private life, I’ve caused myself a lot of suffering by overanalyzing the beginning of something. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, my RPG hobby resurrected in a big way. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years thinking about what makes gaming fun for me and hopefully for the people at my table. I’ve spoken about a lot of it with folks in voice chats, but never properly put thought to word.
My number one intention for this blog is to act as a repository for what I hope to be a useful resource for folks who want to tackle settings and adventures for crunchier systems in a more minimalist way.
Welcome to Neverending Pretending!