Off-White Cube 0.21

Several versions on from the previous iteration of Off-White Cube, this new document has been pared down and simplified further in an attempt to reinforce the elements that I find more enjoyable in gameplay.

For the benefit of anyone who’s interested, and so that I have something of a log of my thought processes, this post will go through and comment upon each page.

For anyone who would rather avoid all that (it ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated), here is the PDF and here is a more printable booklet set up.

Front cover

Barely even a placeholder. The hope is to eventually put a few of my own doodles into what might be a ‘finished product’, but there are number of issues to consider beforehand. 1 – I’ve just been gifted a digital drawing tablet, and I will need a lot more practice before it helps me produce anything worth using long-term. 2 – space is at something of a premium on the pages. A5 doesn’t allow for much in addition to text; I’m already having to ruthlessly edit paragraphs so that everything fits in a control panel layout (all relevant subject matter on the same page or spread).

Front inside cover

This is a key target for me – can I fit most of the immediately important information on a single A5 page so that a player could play with just this and their character sheet? I’m not entirely satisfied with it – it relies on players (ahem, ‘Guests’) being familiar with the concept of HP. Experience, while not factoring into the majority of actual gameplay, would be handy to fit on too. As it stands, without using too much short hand, it needs anyone reading it to have already gone through the rest of the booklet.

The PLAYER TERMS section is a luxury addition at the moment. Thoroughly pretentious, and I don’t use it myself yet in current games, but I would like to work on including the GM as a player and removing some of the mystique which seems to hang around a playing role with the word ‘master’ in its title, and discourage the idea that one player is working against the interests of the others. The concept of guests and hosts is a little at odds with the world situation at the moment, but one hopes that this will not always be the case.

It does mean I have to think of another term for NPC – that search continues.

Definite space for an image here at the moment. Mrs Doodler has requested that there be one of players around a table, and this seems an appropriate page.

Left side of spread

One of my big aims with OWC was to ensure that when players are rolling, high rolls are always better than low rolls, and that any maths would be minimal. So CHALLENGE ROLLS have a fixed target number with all bonuses and modifiers in single digits. The need and suitability of rolling Challenge Rolls is probably the subject for another post – and a section in a possible Guide to Hosting addendum – but the odds are low enough that characters shouldn’t be depending too much upon their stats to get them out of trouble when even the best of the best has a 1-in-6 chance of failing.

CHANCE ROLLS have been broadened from just being reaction rolls to encompassing anything the Host is unsure about with possible / probable factors outside the main characters’ control.

Rather than a set list of options with which a character must be defined, I wanted there to be a pretty flexible system by which a character might be outlined. BACKGROUNDS give a little mechanical benefit, but not enough for a Guest’s choice to be guided towards a character ‘build’. I don’t like the idea of some playing an elf or noble because they get all these helpful benefits; I want someone playing an elf or noble because they want to be an elf or noble.

Something of a sucker for superfluous patterns here, so I have stuck with these four ‘i’ ATTRIBUTES: Discipline, Might, Nimbleness and Wits. I don’t like the usual occasions of too much redundancy in the more common set of six attributes, and find that trios place too much emphasis on either the mental or physical. Four allows for a balance between physical / mental and endurance / avoidance.

I have tried to reduce the impact that attributes have on the game beyond Challenge Rolls – they have no impact on attacks, defence or spellcasting ability – so that if someone comes to the table with a specific class they want to play, they don’t find themselves having to make a sub-optimal character if their attribute rolls don’t go in their favour. This, combined with an encouragement to try and avoid making Challenge Rolls if possible, should hopefully mean that attributes serve to flavour rather than define a character.

If character CLASSES were done away with altogether, I would not be overtly upset. But one can’t deny they are a helpful point of familiarity for many players, and can work as useful guides for otherwise directionless newcomers. Nevertheless, their numbers have been cut back to three ‘standard’ examples (Fighter, Specialist and Spellcaster) and one customisable option (Adventurer) so as to fit in as many fantasy settings as possible with minimal reskinning needed.

I have included the gold for EXPERIENCE POINTS since our games so far have found it to be a handy measure of a success adventure, particularly in our Barrowmaze campaign, but it certainly shouldn’t be the only way, or even the way if the game calls for an alternative method. A lot of the modules out there I wanted to be able to use OWC with operate on the assumption that this will be the default, which is why it currently is. The Guide to Hosting will probably include some options such as carousing and site-based exploring.

Right side of spread

Many RPGs take a rather binary approach to character health – you are either fighting fit or dead, with 1 point of ‘health’ making all the difference – yet encourages the description of the loss of the health resource (whether HP or otherwise) to be one of the character taking hits and accumulating damage. Electric Bastionland, however, takes the line that HP (or Hit Prevention) is the buffer against damage, and once it’s reduced to 0 the character’s performance starts suffering. OWC’s own take on HIT DICE & HIT PROTECTION follows this approach – HP is essentially plot armour.

On the basis that a simple abstraction beats a realistic simulation that nobody bothers engaging with, OWC has gone with the ease of LOAD SLOTS. One item per slot, with reasonable exceptions. Ideally, once face-to-face games become a regular occurrence again, this could turn into a tactile element, with everyone around the table using blank business cards as slots on which to write down equipment and treasures, perhaps with a coloured / patterned / marked rear side so that they can be flipped over to represent Burdens.

One of the core ideas around which OWC was put together is that these Load Slots are one of the characters’ key resources to manage. It represents what they can carry with them (and since XP is determined by treasure recovered, that is worth measuring) and usable capacity can be reduced by BURDENS. These Burdens ensure that once a character is reduced to 0 HP they start losing equipment. This reduces their efficacy but still gives them agency; they can choose to retreat to safety or they can risk pressing on to try and accomplish their goal – as long as they carry a weapon they can still fight and they are unhampered in active problem-solving, but the stakes are much higher. More interesting that just dropping unconscious.

Burdens don’t just come from damage inflicted – characters can voluntarily take one to gain a temporary benefit, some of which are class-specific, others depending on the situation. The example here is during a BREATHER, presenting the Guest with a choice: do they give up the ability to carry resources as an insurance policy, or do they risk trying to push on in the hope that they take no further damage?

A REST is deliberately left as relatively open to the Guests’ and Host’s interpretation – it’s no fun not getting the mechanical benefit of a rest for want of falling a few minutes short of an arbitrary time requirement.

The BONUSES are, hopefully, pretty self-explanatory.

Armour reduces some damage suffered by characters, rather than making them harder to hit, so it can offer some DEFENCE benefit outside of combat, circumstances-permitting.

MAGIC & CASTING POINTS allows magic-wielding characters to cast spells at a level they choose, so that the spell is as feasible to use at their most powerful as when they first learnt it. There are some excellent scaleable spell lists out there for GLOG and KNAVE – just need to work on putting together some Cleric and Druid spells for anyone who might want to emulate those classes.

This double-page spread started out as as step-by-step process for my own benefit – as much as I appreciate the value of procedural play in highlighting resource management, I have always struggled to get my head around how it works in practice.

Here I have tried to illustrate how all time-sensitive play has a very similar structure within which freeform roleplaying and gaming can happen – it’s just a matter of scale. Moments which don’t have an in-built time limit – such as idle conversation in the market with a street vendor – can be contained within a longer TURN.

One element of many RPGs I struggle to enjoy is DISTANCE measurement. While coming into the from a tabletop wargaming background means I have on occasion enjoyed getting the tape measure out and nitpicking over whether this figure is a fraction of an inch out or not, it is seldom a satisfying experience in a roleplaying game. Whether it is counting each of the twelve squares one passes through or calculating whether something is 300ft away or not, tension is rarely enhanced by such precise measurement.

So OWC goes for abstract distances – the Host is, after all, working with the Guests, rather than going out of their way to catch characters out. Communication is key.

COMBAT is intended to be dangerous and fairly quick – while experience has shown OWC characters capable of surviving fights thanks to the capacity to take 10 Burdens, the potential for several exploding 6s from an enemy attack always keeps them on their toes. It works both ways, of course, and we’ve had plenty of times when a character’s well-aimed blow shifted the tide of a melee by taking out the toughest foe in one go. Having attacks be one roll speeds up turn turnover and reduces the chances of both sides constantly missing each other.

The examples of longer turn-based gameplay hopefully reinforces the idea that turns can be scaled to suit the situation at the game table.

EQUIPMENT is another area that has found itself increasing abstracted through the various versions of OWC. Ultimately I want to avoid the scenario of someone coming to the table with the image of an axe-wielding character but reluctantly choosing a club instead because it’s more optimal. Simplifying equipment to broad categories also reduces the chances of newcomers being daunted by lists of technical names and jargon (“So what exactly is brigandine armour?”).

Shields used to be able to absorb an entire attack’s worth of damage but that encouraged characters to face up to huge opponents safe in the knowledge that they could survive the first bad hit. Now they probably still can, but there’s still risk involved.

One particular aspect of adventuring I wanted to avoid was a band of experienced, competent explorers turning up at a distant old ruin and realising they’d forgotten to buy any food. Or rope. And had thought that someone else was getting the torches. So SUPPLIES work as quantum mundane gear – the fact that they take up slots is already forcing characters to think about resource management, and Guests need to think ahead to avoid running out of supplies.

With resource management being a big part of the game, FOLLOWERS are worth hiring to carry all those extra Supplies a party might need or ensure characters don’t take on too many avoidable Burdens. Dividing followers into PORTERS and COMBATANTS keeps the roles distinct and, hopefully, understandable. Having not come from a background steeped in old-school law, I can never remember the specific difference between followers, hirelings, retainers and mercenaries. Porters carry things but don’t fight, Combatants fight but don’t carry, and RETAINERS are the ones you likely want to keep around for their flexibility and de facto role as an XP bank – if your main character dies, there is some XP saved up in that young fighter who has been following them these last few adventures.

Hopefully the rules for REACTIONS enable a strong social gameplay element to emerge in and between adventures. Explicit social skills tend to risk reducing social encounters to a one-size-fits-all roll. I prefer treating such encounters more akin to traps, puzzles or challenges – freedom to approach them in different ways with creative play encouraged.

Left side of spread

This is another page I really wanted to get in – a step-by-step process to rolling up a character from scratch. It is also deliberately the middle spread (along with some of the random prompt tables) so that anyone who has a printed booklet can quickly open to it.

(The plan is currently for the Quick Reference to be on the inside front cover, the middle spread to be character creation, and the rear cover to be the character sheet).

Rolling 3d6 to generate attributes is a nod to tradition and expectation, even if it is less conventional in how it calculates modifiers. It means that +/- 2 modifiers are more prevalent than in previous versions of OWC, but the reduced emphasis on attributes should mitigate that. No longer does a -2 Might penalty render one a hopeless Fighter.

This version also does away with starting gold and instead gives starting classes some limited options to choose from – fewer potentially overwhelming options for the newcomer with a similar end result for the old hand replacing a dead character.

The inclusion of the different VARIANTS hopefully encourages adapting character creation to suit one’s gaming table beyond these suggestions. One adds some mechanical heft and building to making a character, the other pares it right back.

Some character creation prompts right out of the school of Maze Rats, hopefully with not too much overlap. I specifically avoided consulting Maze Rats while I made these. Also handy for creating followers and other folks the characters may encounter.

Into the classes. The FIGHTER, SPECIALIST and SPELLCASTER are all fairly recognisable. Each has options to gain a burden for a benefit. These are, however, active choices that Guests have to make – if they do not wish to make use of them or have to worry about using them wisely, the classes should function perfectly well without them.

There isn’t much support for multi-classing – if anyone is minded to do so, they are better off going for the ADVENTURER who is essentially the class-less class that develops as the Guest wants them to develop, rather than following the set structure that the three other classes have.

I will probably go into more detail with each of these in the future posts, particular with regards to the intentions behind them.

Dang it – I’ve just spotted the spellcaster has a misaligned table on its page and the adventurer has somehow hidden ‘ v v ‘ beneath its own. Stuff it, I’ve been putting links to the current version all over the place – it stays for now. Will adjust it in 0.22…

And for those who want a bit more mechanical heft to their classes, here are some optional ADDITIONAL FEATURES which they can take at the cost of slowing down their character progression.

Each of these were abilities belonging to other classes which didn’t make the cut this version. They were all of an archetype that fantasy enthusiasts might want to emulate, though, hence their inclusion here. The intent was for the majority to be similarly active choices for Guests to make, though there are exceptions. The not inconsiderable impact on XP level requirements should at least avoid it being a no-brainer to take these features.

Back cover

And finally the character sheet. I’d prefer the end product to have a more evocative design, but this will suffice for the time being. Function over beauty. The aim is to have an A4 sheet of paper which fits both a character sheet and the character class page for each of the classes so that a Guest has all the information they need for a character from start to finish. Pipeline…

And here’s an editable online version of the character sheet for anyone who wishes to make a copy for their own use.

Phew, that was more of an info dump than I was planning – very well done if you’ve read all the way down here. I’ll have to cross off some of those ideas for future posts now.

To get the whole player’s guide click here for the PDF or here for a more printable booklet with extra binding margins.

6 thoughts on “Off-White Cube 0.21

  1. Excellent, wonderful little system. I quite like the Additional Features part, although the XP scaling is quite hefty. It allows for your Dwarf/Elf/Hobbit to be added to the game 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s