Thomas Novosel

blog for art, writing, and games

Tag: TTRPG

Shortsword (Review)

I don’t normally write reviews for games, but I think this is as close as it will get on here. In a game review I want to describe what I find most interesting and clever, as well as describe what I would use the game for. When I say that I would use a game for X or play it because of X, that is because it fits that nook and cranny for me. There won’t be a number rating, or stars, or be about me talking about what I don’t like. If there is something entirely objectionable, it won’t be made into a blog post. If it is just the type of content that I would warn about, then I will include a content warning section in my post.

I will try to use this methodology going forward for TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) reviews. Now onto the game…

What is Shortsword?

Shortsword is a rules light rpg system written by Giuliano Roverato that is “inspired by grim TTRPGs of old.” I don’t know what this means or what this is referencing, but it is what is described on the product page. It currently is for sale for $1.00 (the recommended price is $4.99). I think that this game should be sold at the recommended price, but that is because I really like it and would want more. The game is 12 pages (it was exported as spreads, so that is actually 7 pages of PDF), and it really is rules-light as it only took me a few minutes to read and then make a character. I think that you could run most pre-written scenarios for fantasy games easily with no conversion necessary due to the way the rules are written (I will explain more in the highlights section).

RAT-CATCHERS

In this game you play as adventurer’s looking “to do odd jobs in hope of gaining some Ceramic.” It is really easy to roll up a random character (3 dice rolls) and each character rolled is very evocative due to the game designer’s efficient use of language.

For example, here is the character I made:

Polo
Origin: Ogre (spiky + big)
Vocation: Disgraced Noble (spellbook, and bottle of champagne)
Skills: Cat Whispering

The picture of my ogre is drawn by me, the rules PDF has no illustrations within except for the cover art.

Each of those three stats has a d6 table with entries of similar quality. What makes it efficient is that without using many words, I feel like I have a very unique and interesting character from then outset without having to write anything more than this to know how to play my character. Like, I can be interesting because I am a spiky ogre, I was a noble so I am aloof a bit and used magic for some reason. Finally, for some reason, I am really good at hearing and understanding what cats have to say. What does this mean? I don’t know, but it is a bunch of hooks and knobs and levers that I can pull while playing the game without knowledge of the world.

Which, since the worlds setting is in between the tables and lists in the rules, this is a good thing.

The GRIM WORLD

When I say that the setting for this game is between the lists, I mean what the lists infer about the world is enough for me to get a good idea of what it is like to live in the world of Shortsword. Since the game is a rules light throwback to grim setting TTRPGs, I know that this is a dark place with big hats and heavy coats.

I know from the origins list that Ogres, Automata (robots?), and Fishpersons exist in this world. And that being an adventurer in this place means you are without ceramic (money) and could be a Mime, Rat-catcher, or a Tuna Fisherman.

What the game doesn’t have is a setting brief, or a paragraph about the world. But it doesn’t need it, that is what character creations lists and the games rules are for.

I like everything that is here, and I think adding a setting paragraph or a section describing a nebulous city or world is unnecessary with what is already here. Could it be useful for running a game? Probably! Especially if the lists are as tight and well-coordinated as what is already inside. But, I think I could just come up with a grim world of my own fine enough without it.

Highlights

That is the skinny of the game. You may be asking me (Thomas) “what are the game rules??” and I would say. The game is super short and I don’t want to post the whole game that someone worked on and put up for sale in a blog post. My job here, or what I am doing, is describing what I like. Which takes me to the game mechanic-y bits that I like:

  1. The game uses d6 for resolving actions (Tests). Rolling an additional d6 for how well suited your character is to the task. What makes this RAD, is that the same rolls are made in combat as when just doing something. Yeah that is a tight core mechanic, but what makes it genius to me is that the lowest die rolled when acting is how much damage the player’s character takes if they fail.
  2. Because damage is not tied to creatures, and abilities are fiction first (mechanics are flavor, so a dragon breathing fire demands the player roll to avoid, damage is tied to failure etc) this means that all I need to do when converting antagonists/monsters is pick how many wounds they can take before dying. Which the game has a guide for (it’s between 3 and 9). This is why Shortsword would work really well for playing most adventure scenarios written for other systems.
  3. Normally, something that can take a little bit of word count and paper space to describe is initiative and turn order and etc etc. The other golden standout for me is this one line of text in the Combat section: “When it’s important to know who goes first, whoever has the least Armor begins.” That is excellent no-nonsense decision making that I appreciate in rules-light games.
  4. All of the lists in the game. They are all excellent.

Those are the things I would carry forward and learn from this game. I want to write lists as good as these that just fit together like a puzzle. I also envy the cleverness in the damage rules, it just makes this game easier to pick up and run with a prewritten scenario.

If I had more…

This was going to come no matter what. Whenever I look at a game, I always think of what I would want more of. What would I want to see added to flesh out the rules a little more. Based on what I read, I actually only have two things that I would want to see from a revision of what is there (and both are purely selfish desires).

  1. I want a d6 list of Spells for the game. As is it was the only thing that I wanted more of as every other list was tight and succinct. I could grab a spell list from another game or just make up magic as I go, but I kind of wish there was a list of spells as short and evocative as there was for skills, origins, and vocations.
  2. The PDF for the game is in spreads, which means that I can’t print the game as a booklet. If I had a version of the game which has 1 page per PDF page instead of spreads for layout then I could booklet print this game.

That is all I would change or ask for. Both aren’t big things, and with how short the games text is, if I really wanted to I could just come up with my own d6 table of spells and just cut the print outs and scan the pages to assemble a booklet version.

THE VERDICT!

I said before that I don’t want to give stars or thumbs or ratings. If I am reviewing something it is because I find it interesting and worth checking out. That said…

I think this rules light system is EXCELLENT and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick to pick up system for playing fantasy rpgs. It is especially good for if you have a system-less or system neutral scenario that you want to run, but that you don’t want to create stat blocks for.

Go check it out here and see how good it is for yourself: https://roll4tarrasque.itch.io/shortsword. If you can, pay the recommended price because it is 100% worth it for the rules that you get.

Nicest Detectives

Nicest Detectives is a low rules ttrpg for playing detectives who are clumsy, have families, and still find a way to succeed (whether that changes the world or not, is open to interpretation). For reference, this game is about detectives like those in The Nice Guys (2016).

You can play detectives from any timeframe, as long as everyone agrees to be in the same timeframe.

To Make Your Detective

Each detective has three stats: Person, Family, and Luck. To create a character, distribute 7 points across these three stats. The max any single stat can be is 6. Having a high Person means you are skilled and have a good vibe to what you do. Having a high Family means that you have good relatives, dependable friends, and resourceful colleagues.

Whenever either Person or Family hit 0 after a roll, raise Luck by 1. Having a 0 in Person or Family means your burnt out or you have stressed your relationships as far as you can until you put some time into them. Gain 1 in the stat you work to improve/repair.

Dice Rolls

There are a few times when players roll dice, here they are:

  • When your detective needs weapons, gear, resources, then they roll d6+Luck+FAM (family).
  • When your detective needs to meet contacts, figure out what a clue means, or shmooze it at a party, then they roll d6+Luck+PER (person).

These are examples of two types of actions where stats are added to the dice roll as modifiers. Even without modifiers, all actions are rolled using this rule…

When a P.I. acts, roll LUCK (d6+luck). P.I.’s always succeed (unless the player doesn’t want to). P.I.’s take the changes to their stats based on their roll result, & pick which tags are used to flavor their actions. The other players will ask questions about how it goes down. The GM will play as anyone met, and describe what happens when things go wrong.

  • On a 7+. +1 to BOTH FAM & PER. Choose flawless or stumble.
  • On a 6. +1 PER. Choose tricky or some say skilled.
  • On a 5. +1 FAM. Choose stealing helped or family’s supportive.
  • On a 4. +1 to ANY STAT. Choose Vices can be virtues, or tactics can be distracting.
  • On a 3. -1 PER. Choose underestimated or ignored.
  • On a 2. -1 FAM. Choose bad at cover ops or got a cousin.
  • On a 1. -1 BOTH. Choose sacrifice or failure.

Max out a Stat

Whenever you max out a stat, something big happens. Something BIG. For luck this means that you skip ahead in the adventure, luck is reduced to 0 when this happens for the detective who triggers the skip in the adventure.

For Person, it means that your image cannot be tarnished, it is perfect in how it is. If anything goes against your character, or something comes up that is out of character, you risk your whole persona falling apart. If it falls apart, then person goes down to 1. Circle it, you can’t roll person until you make a big show about who you really are.

For Family, it means that your family relies on you and you rely completely on them. If something threatens them because of your work and you can’t get there fast enough or comfort them, then they need a break. If this happens, then family goes down to 1. Circle it, you can’t roll family until you do something for them.

New Sessions

Whenever a new session is started, rearrange and redistribute your stats scores using what you currently have on your character sheet. If you do this, the session starts with the player describing an event that occurred between sessions to explain why one of the stats increased or decreased.

Core Design

The core rules of Nicest Detectives is that players succeed. Detectives succeed until the players decide they aren’t succeeding. The drama comes from the mysteries that are being investigated and the people they are up against. Adventures are supposed to be planned as most mysteries would for role-playing games. A mix of antagonists and clues and hints.

When making up a clue, give it some hints to where it leads. These hints can only be gotten when the players find and talk to the person it is linked to. The clues are items and documents. The clues always lead to the answer for the mystery, about who did what and why they did it.

Getting enough clues and making sure that no one is able to pry them from your hands is how you solve the mystery and win the game.

RPG Creature: The Black Ocean

This is a creature for fantasy and horror scenarios.

Note to reader: I am currently over halfway finished reading The Fisherman by John Langan. It is very incredible and seems to me to be like a weird-fantasy or Cthulhu-esque horror scenario with what is going on in the book. I won’t spoil it, but something that is talked about as just a very minor thing at the moment, not even being the big monster or the grand antagonist is a black ocean. The ocean seems incredibly terrifying especially to me, as it can be a vast entity of terror that fills any shape that can dare to hold it. This monster write up is partially inspired by the black ocean where the fisherman casts his lines in Langan’s book.

An unending rage

There are times when the adventuring party will go out to sea or to any body of water and will find a rocky section. This is not the black ocean. The fiercest hurricane’s waves are nothing compared to the depthless rage that is contained in this oceans waters.

How you can tell you have are at the black ocean:

  • Crashing waves that quake across the coast and over the water. Although there is no sign of bad weather or winds as there is a clear sky.
  • Peering into the waters you sense endless depth. Like looking into absolute darkness, you can sense the endlessness of it but cannot see past its walls.
  • On the edges of the water, off the coasts on the rocks lining its edges will be bone dust and shredded flesh. Any fish that is in this water has high chances that it will be shredded apart by its waves until it is entirely unrecognizable. Just bits of rotten fish flesh on whiter than any sands coasts.

Interacting with the water

No vessel can go over the black ocean, any that even attempted to would be likely destroyed or crushed within its grip. But, rumor has it that sacrifices to the ship of the dead may bring forth a vessel that will carry you to its opposite shore. Travelling on this ship is also rumored to take from you, because if the sacrifice is not large enough then the ship will crash itself on a pile of stones in its center. The water’s waves wiping whatever doesn’t starve off the rock in a single day, no blood even appearing in its dark waves.

When a creature not of the black ocean treads even a step into the waves. The waves will lick and grasp at the individual dragging them from an inch of water into the ground. Breaking bones with every wave’s crash, pounding their form into the rocks underneath the yellow foam coming from each pillar where waves meet. It appears like the sea is foaming at its mouth when someone touches it and is consumed. The body will very shortly, after screams and drowned words, be visible as the water retreats. All blood and liquids within the form have been removed entirely, a dried and desiccated corpse remains. Then a final wave will splash along the shore, dragging what remains into the depths below.

If anyone goes under the waves, it is absolute darkness. It is impossible to see through even using magical means. Anyone trapped under the waters will be spun and disoriented by the undercurrents. Unable to sense until the hands latch on, the murmurs of the dead bodies that have sunk below ring true as they reach up to latch onto those who find themselves with their head submerged. These bodies are lifeless, but the black ocean’s currents manipulate their forms so that they twist and snap to take perform its actions. Treat this as you would a very difficult grapple.

Learning about the ocean

The black ocean is only mentioned in the most obscure texts, and even then only mentioned in passing in reference to when the world was born. An ocean that was primordial and later enraged as it sunk below the world into a land filled with darkness, bare forests, and beaches that hold its edges in.

When the black ocean is discovered or comes up in play, here are some questions that could be worth answering or finding answers to:

  • What beast is rumored to live trapped beneath the black ocean’s waves?
  • Who has forged a path to the black ocean in the past?
  • What warnings are found carved into the stones at the black ocean’s shores?
  • What happened when a sample of water was taken from the black ocean?

Black Ocean – Stats

Type: cosmic force,

HD: endless.

Armor: why even ask? This is an ocean.

Intelligence: Unable to be determined. Any sign is incomprehensible as it is a force of energy beyond our scale. It has a sense of scale like looking and gazing at a night sky full of stars.

Align(ment): all are destroyed in the black ocean except for the Sea King Mary and the Ship of the Dead.

Attacks:

  • 1+(1 per character in the ocean) attacks / round
  • Crashing Wave (1/round per character caught): any characters in the black oceans water will lose 25% of their HP for every round in its grasp. No roll is made, attacks always land. A prepared defense will halve the damage dealt.
  • Dragging Maw (2/round): any characters in the water will be pulled 3x their movement speed further from the shore or any safety.
  • Truth Trance (1/round): target will hear disturbing truths and secrets about their lives. Secrets only the dead or themselves may know, these are dark enchanted words spoken in a speech that resembles the sound people make when they are drowning. Coughs and gurgles. This trance makes it so a character cannot move on their turn or act, the trance is broken when the target is touched or shook.

Defenses:

  • Attacks against have no effect.
  • Any items that touch the water have a 90% chance of being pulled in with unmatched strength, characters who hold these items will find letting go in time before being pulled a medium difficulty check. Items cannot be pulled from the water and have a 65% chance of being completely destroyed.

Special Qualities:

  • Entities that are aligned with the black sea have 6x their normal speed when moving under its waves.
  • Characters caught in the water cannot defend any attacks made against them. Any defense made will double damage done by the black ocean against them.
  • Character caught in the water cannot escape it without assistance from an outside force. Even that task would be treated as incredibly difficult, and any success would come at grievous costs.

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