Dead Man’s Land: You Are the Zombie

This is the end of the world. The Star Wormwood appeared in the night skies. The moon turned red, rains fell as blood, rivers ran scarlet, and the dead came to life and attacked the living.

This is the Zombie Apocalypse. And you are a Zombie.

They call you “carriers”, people infected with the zombie plague. Still rational, still living, not yet cannibals, nevertheless you are slowly dying.

But by bit, the plague is eating away at your humanity, killing you by inches, turning you into one of the millions of mindless walking corpses that throng the cities of the south. And as it does so, you become more like them.

Tougher. Faster. Able to sense their presence. Able to hide among them. Able to see through their eyes. Able to regenerate damage, by feeding on flesh. (Not necessarily human.) But sometimes, there is this rage and hunger…

You are becoming one of them.

Your goals are simple: Survive the wastes. Fight the hordes. Cure your disease. Nothing else matters.

North, in the high mountains and cold climates, are Sanctuaries, cities of uninfected humans. You are infected, so cannot dwell there, but their very survival depends on your kind.  You alone can brave the wastes between the Sanctuaries and the zombie hives. You alone have nothing to fear from the plague, nothing to fear from zombie bites or zombie attacks…

Except dying from them. Which is happening already.

Those vast, abandoned lands between the Sanctuaries and the cities are your domain, the domain of dead men walking. They call this place Dead Man’s Land.

The Game of Living Zombies

Dead Man’s Land is the game of Living Zombies. Currently under development by Jasyn Jones, it’s a zombie apocalypse campaign setting written specifically for the ∞ Infinity Gaming System.

It features the same action-movie heroics as other ∞ Infinity campaigns, in a horror setting where zombies have destroyed the world. Packed with secrets to discover and causes to fight for or against, Dead Man’s Land is a zombie apocalypse where you are becoming one of the walking dead.

Destiny: Injury Traits

As an option, gamemasters may choose to describe injuries in more detail, based on the type of damage that caused them. Such descriptions are called Injury Traits, and function just like other Traits. (See Character Traits.)

Injury Traits are optional, but encouraged. They do not makes things worse for the character — the game effect of Injuries are the same, as is the rate at which they heal.

They do, however, make combat more vivid, by giving concrete descriptions to the abstract Wounds and Injuries of the combat system. They also aid Players by providing new opportunities for the character to gain Action Points (as with all Traits), as such they actually aid the character in facing the difficulties of a module.

Why Injury Traits?

In Destiny, damage is measured with Wounds and Injuries, abstract measurements of the effects of damage. But not all forms of damage are identical. Some effects cut through muscles, some crush bones, some burn skin and flesh, some assault your mind or spiritual connection to the Divine.

All of these varying attacks could cause any number of different effects. For example, flame can burn your hands or legs, could cause welts and blisters, or char your flesh to the bone.

Game systems introduce a lot of complexity trying to measure and track many of these different types of damage, not always successfully. Destiny uses Injury Traits to emulate all of these effects, and more.

A flamethrower causes Flame damage. If you get a Serious Injury (-4), you could have the “Badly Burned” Trait, which can make certain types of physical activity harder or just impossible. Climbing, for example, or picking a lock. Each time the character is meaningfully hampered by the Injury, they gain an Action Point.

The GM decides which Injury Trait a particular attack causes, based on the circumstances and type of the attack. The previous Flame attack could also inflict the “My legs are badly burned” Trait, meaning the character’s arms and hands are alright. So the Trait could affect climbing, but not lockpicking.

(The penalty stays the same, however. Pain is pain.)

The potential range of Traits is very wide. Poison or disease could inflict “Blurred Vision”, “Staggered and Confused”, or “Retching”. Cyberpsychosis could inflict “Catatonia”. A Psychic assault could inflict “Crippling Migraines”.

Not only do Traits vary based on what the attack was, the same attack could inflict one of several different Traits. Blunt force trauma (from a bat) could inflict “Broken Bones”, “Knocked Down”, “Concussion”, or “Knocked Unconscious”.

The GM chooses which, based on what they think is most appropriate. This enables the system to be highly flexible, emulating the vast range of real-world results, without needing a lot of complicated mechanics unique to each attack type.

You can emulate any type of damage with Injury Traits. Tear Gas, beanbag rounds, knockout darts, Poison, Hand-to-Hand combat whatever. All inflict different Traits, because each attack is unique.

In this system weapons or attacks (spells, miracles, and so forth) are defined by:

  • Damage Rating, Range, etc.
  • The necessary Attack, Defense, and Treatment skills
  • A description of how the weapon operates in the Real World (and a description of the weapon itself)
  • A sample of Injury Traits the weapon inflicts

The DR is used to generate Injuries, and the real world description and sample Traits are used by the GM to select a Trait appropriate to the circumstances.

Destiny: Hero’s Luck

In action movies, main characters — Heroes and Villains — are just lucky. For whatever reason, destiny seems to cheat on their behalf. Action Points reflect just this sort of luck.

Mechanically speaking, each main character has a number of Action Points that refresh each session (determined by their Action Rating). At any time, a Character may spend a Action Point to gain a +3 bonus to any Skill, Combat, or Characteristic Challenge. After doing so, their current number of Action Points is reduced by 1.

Example: Bill rolls a -2 when trying to pick a lock, for a Skill Total of 8. Bill is certain that’s a failure, so spends an Action Point for a +3 bonus, making his Skill Total an 11. The gamemaster indicates this is a Success. Bill reduces his current Action Point total by 1. 

You can freely spend at least 1 Action Point on any Challenge (assuming you have any left). In addition, if one of your Traits applies to the situation, you may spend additional Action Points. So long as you have Action Points remaining, and Traits that apply, you may spend as many Action Points on a single Challenge as you wish.

Example: Bill rolls a -4 against a similar lock (Skill Total 6). He spends a Action Point, but is certain a 9 won’t do it. He decides to invoke a Character Trait (“They ain’t built a vault yet that I cain’t break into.”), which allows him to spend another Action Point, for a Skill Total of 12 (6 + 3 + 3). Again, he succeeds.

Doing so will leave the player short of Action Points, at least until the next session. However, characters can gain Action Points during play. Any time one of their Traits causes the character to suffer a meaningful difficulty, they gain 1 Action Point.

Powers (such as spellcasting, blessings of faith, or pulp powers) reduce a character’s Action Rating, meaning they have fewer Action Points to spend in a session. Advanced races (which vary by setting) may also reduce the Action Rating. Last, characters can learn Stunts, which enable them to break the rules in specific ways. Each Stunt learned also reduces the character’s Action Rating.

No combinations of Powers, Race, or Stunts can reduce a character’s Action Rating below 1. Players are simply disallowed from purchasing abilities that would do so.

As the game goes on, a character’s Action Rating will increase. This will allow them access to more Action Points per session, as well as more or more potent Powers, races, and Stunts.

Destiny: Character Traits

All characters have two to five Character Traits: evocative, free-form statements used to define mental, physical, or other idiosyncratic facets of a character.

“Ugly as Sin” is a Character Trait (physically repellent), so is “Prickly Sense of Honor” (code of behavior, but also sensitive to slights), as is “Life on Wheels” (crippled, spends life in a wheelchair). There are innumerable possible Traits, limited only by player imagination.

Each applies in specific situations, sometimes hindering the character, sometimes aiding. Traits are combinations of advantages and disadvantages, and serve to describe what makes your character unique.

Traits allow you to spend additional Action Points on a Challenge (see Hero’s Luck, next post), and when one causes the character meaningful problems (makes the module harder to “win”), they gain an Action Point.

Example: A character with “A Prickly Sense of Honor” will be sensitive to slights. If someone offers insult, they’ll probably challenge them to a duel. If this causes significant problems, the character gains an Action Point.

Traits work hand-in-glove with Action Points to reflect the kind of setbacks and sudden victories endemic to action movies. They reward roleplaying, give concrete benefits to drawbacks only when they are a drawback, and allow players to indicate what they want their character to be. “Baddest Mother on the Block” is obviously a very different character than “Ice Cold Killer”, and both are different from “Blood! Ewwww!”

Character Traits are persistent, they last until the player decides to change them (during Character Advancement). Other Traits are temporary: Injury Traits (representing different forms of damage), Subplot Traits from the Destiny Deck (details in a later post), or Player’s Call Traits from Combat Interaction skills.

“Enemy of ‘The Seven Tigers’ ” could be a persistent Character Trait, which dogs the character the entire campaign. Or it could be the result of a Nemesis subplot, and only apply for one adventure arc. Either way, the character gains an Action Point only when it causes problems.

So long as they last, other kinds of Traits are treated exactly the same as the Character Traits.

There are additional rules for Character Traits. These will be fleshed out as playtesting continues.

[Note: Character Traits are adapted from the Fate rules, under the auspices of the Open Gaming License. In Fate, they are known as Aspects. However, Character Traits and Aspects are not identical; not the least because Character Traits apply solely to characters, and not to locations or situations, and cannot be used to make declarations. Rather than calling them the same thing, and confusing Fate players who pick up Destiny, I renamed them to make it clear that Traits and Aspects are not identical.]

Destiny: Success Ratings and Immersion

Destiny game mechanics are predicated on supporting immersion as much as possible. Mainly, this means getting out of the players’ and gamemaster’s way. Simple mechanics with quick flow are unobtrusive, and allow the players and GM to focus on their characters and the world around them.

One way Destiny does this is with the Success Rating system and how it ties into GM descriptions. Description is the key to presenting in-game actions vividly, and Destiny aims to make the GM’s job much easier on that score.

First, the mechanics. (These follow on from, and refer back to, concepts in earlier game mechanic posts.)

Success Ratings

For most Skill Challenges, the Result is read as a Success Rating. Each higher Success Rating represents a better and better outcome for the character.

ResultRating Success Rating Description
-1 or Less 0 SR Failed
0 0 SR Complication
1-5 1 SR Success
6-10 2 SR Solid Success
11-15 3 SR Superior Success
16+ 4 SR Spectacular Success

-1 Result Rating or lower is a Failure: the character failed at the Challenge.

0 Result Rating is a Complication. The character has neither succeeded nor failed at the task. They can attempt it again using the same skill, but at a -3. Or they can try and approach the problem from a new angle, using a different skill to attempt the Challenge again. (The GM has final say on which is appropriate, or what other skills can be used. Different skills might have higher or lower Difficulty Ratings, depending on the skill.)

1 SR is a Success, the character barely succeeded at the task.

2 SR is a Solid Success, they did well at the task. Not outstanding, but well.

3 SR is a Superior Success. The character did remarkably well, enough to earn compliments or admiration for their accomplishment.

4 SR is a Spectacular Success, the character did amazingly well. In many cases, the gamemaster may decide to reward the character with some small mechanical benefit for such an outstanding accomplishment. (A small bonus to the next Challenge of that skill, additional benefits beyond succeeding, and so forth.)

Description

Once players have made a challenge, and the GM has determined the Result, it’s up to him to describe what happens. It’s best for the game if the description is short but vivid. Interesting descriptions draw players into the game world, help make it feel more interesting and alive.

Suppose the character is trying to leap across a gorge.

The GM describes the various Success Ratings as follows:

Failure: “You grasp at the ledge opposite you, but your fingers just miss it. Without a sound, you fall into the abyss.”

Complication: “You land hard, your body dangling above the chasm. You are sliding towards the edge. You desperately grab at a plant and succeed, but it is pulling loose and you start to fall.” (At this point, the GM can ask for a climbing total or allow the character to use another skill to avoid falling.)

Success (1 SR): “You barely made it across the gorge. You scrabble at the edge of the cliff for a second, trying to find a vine or crack to get a grip on. After a moment of panic, you pull yourself up.”

Solid Success (2 SR): “You jump the gorge and land on the other side. You’re a little winded, but exhilarated.”

Superior Success (3 SR): “You easily clear the vast distance to the other side, lightly landing on your feet. The extreme height doesn’t bother you; you own this mountain.”

Spectacular Success (4 SR): “The jump is easy; you hardly notice the distance. Landing on the other side, you reach back and grab your friend’s hand, pulling him up before he can plunge into the dark chasm below.”

(In game terms, the GM decided that the mechanical benefit for 4 SR was being able to save another party member, who was going to fall.)

This is one of the main reasons why Skill Challenges revolve around Success Ratings, not Result. It’s impossible to make 16 points of Result meaningfully different. But the difference between a Solid Success and a Superior Success is fairly clear.

This clarity makes it easier for the gamemaster to describe the action, which makes his desscriptions more likely to be vivid and interesting. Of course, no GM is forced to describe things in such a manner, or at all. They can just say “You succeeded”.

But if they want to, Destiny is built so the system gives them sufficient information to know how to narrate the outcome of Challenges and make the character’s actions seem vivid and interesting. This is the basis of immersion.

Destiny: Combat Basics

(Continuing the posts on Destiny game mechanics, and drawing on the current version of the Alpha Test Rules Set, some basic information about combat.)

In combat, characters have combat skills (firearms, melee weapons, thrown weapons), weapons (a gun, fists, a sword), and armor (shields, kevlar vest, hides).

Weapons have a Damage Rating, reflecting how much damage they do. Armor is measured in plusses, representing how much it protects the character.

Armor plusses are added to a character’s Endurance to get a Toughness value. (Inanimate objects, such as vehicles or wall, have an inherent Toughness value.)

Combat Challenges involve one character’s Attack Rating (attack skill + Damage Rating) against another’s Defense Rating (defense skill + Toughness).

Attack: Attack skill + Damage Rating

vs.

Defense: Defense skill + Toughness (Endurance w/ armor bonus)

As with Skill Challenges, Combat Challenges involve rolling 2d10 to get a Bonus. The rolled Bonus is added to the Attack Rating, which is compared to the Defense Rating. 1 Result is all that’s needed to succeed (so ties go to defender), and every 1 point of Result equals 1 Wound.

Wounds accumulate with each successful attack. A character with 2 Wounds who takes 4 Wounds now has 6 Wounds.

As they accumulate Wounds, a character becomes Injured. Injuries represent the long-term damage inflicted by combat. A broken leg is an Injury, a head wound is an Injury, a 2nd degree burn is an Injury.

Injuries cause penalties to Challenges, the more severe the Injury, the greater the penalty. Different types of Injuries may be identified by an Injury Trait. (Traits are described in a follow-up post.)

All characters have the following Wound capacity:

Wounds Injury (Penalty) Description
1-5 None Easily ignorable.
6-10 Moderate Injury (-2) Hurt, but still combat-capable.
11-15 Serious Injury (-4) Out of action. (Unconscious, etc.)
16-20 Mortal Injury (-6) Bleeding to death. (1 Wound a round.)
21+ Dead. Dead.

Mortally Wounded characters automatically accumulate 1 Wound a round until their Wound total is 21, when they die. The first aid or medicine skill can treat Mortally Wounded characters, preventing them from dying.

Destiny Alpha Test Roster

Well, just a couple of days into planning and prep for the Destiny Alpha Test, and we’ve already got the initial roster of four players filled! (Update: Along with two last-minute additions!) Those brave souls daring the uncharted seas of untested RPG rules are:

  • Winstoninabox. Long-time member of the Torg Mailing List, Winston is a teacher, living in  Japan, and a perennial commenter on the List, who’s had a great deal of influence on how the rules have been developing.
  • Bryan Jones. My brother (and List lurker) and a Torg neophyte. He mainly plays D&D and kills — kills — at Modern Warfare on the Xbox. Bryan lives in Boise, Idaho (which I tease him about constantly).
  • John McGlynn. Ace computer programmer, recent emigré to the Seattle area, veteran of my “Lost Worlds” Torg campaign from 2005 and my earlier “Mythepolis” D&D game from 2003, and a dab hand at pointing out/exploiting flaws in rules. (All rules, from card games to board games to RPG’s. If you play Dominion with the man, don’t put up money. That’s all I’m sayin’.)
  • Ron Lundeen. Lawyer, former ancient member of the Torg List (from way back in the early 90’s), veteran of many Torg campaigns, participant in, and namer of, my long-running “Glory’s Warriors” Torg campaign, long-time GM of Torg, D&D, and several other systems, designer of several of his own systems, and small-press publisher (started writing modules for Living Greyhawk, now has his own company writing modules for Pathfinder).
  • Thomas Stevens. A late breaking addition, Thomas is a veteran gamer, also a survivor of the “Lost Worlds” campaign, and one of the few people to already have Playtester credit on Destiny (as part of testing Skill-Based Combat under adverse conditions). Thomas excels at identifying and utilizing holes in RPG rules sets, as well as working with “under development” rules sets (a fact he proved as playtester for the psi rules and Psi axiom). Welcome to the team, Player #5.
  • Glen T. Another late addition. A new member of the Torg List (joining after the Great Migration of March ’12), Glen has proven himself an active member of the List and has commented on several of the proposed rules for Destiny.

This group gives us a good spread of gaming experience, rules knowledge, and a number  of different approaches to RPG rules in general. In all, I think it’s a great group to start the Alpha Test with.

The ball is now in my court, to get the rules doc assembled ASAP. As soon as I do, it’ll be posted for public comment before we begin the Fight Club.

After that, we’ll start with some one-off combat scenarios, to shake down the combat system. Tests of other parts of the rules will follow.

Anyone still interested in joining the playtest is more than welcome. I’m sure there will be scheduling conflicts, and there will be open seats. Even if you can only drop in for a single session, or just make comments on the rules (when posted), it’d be appreciated.

I’d like Destiny and Storm Knights to be the best they can, and anything you can contribute will aid immensely.

On to the Alpha Test.