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Hi, I'm Marshall Burns and this is my blog. I compose music, design roleplaying games, occasionally paint, and occasionally write stories and poems. Mostly, I'll be talking about roleplaying games that I'm designing. Sometimes I talk about occult philosophy. Don't mind me.

If you came here looking for information about the Rustbelt, allow me to direct you to my new forum on the Forge.
Current Month
Nov. 20th, 2009 @ 10:04 am more Dread Age of Sail braindump
* Take the historical Golden Age of Sail and twist it. The world has fallen under a Taint, and it slowly changes it for the stranger.

INFLUENCES: Burning Wheel, Poison’d, The Shadow of Yesterday, Lady Blackbird

This game needs BW lifepaths but simplified.
  • You choose a rough age, which determines how many lifepaths you may choose, and might also modify stats; f’rinstance, the really young have to add a certain amount to Soul, while the really old have to subtract a certain amount from Body
  • Each lifepath is an occupation, vocation, or other means of getting along.
  • When a lifepath is taken, it will:
    • instruct you to modify attributes; f’rinstance, “Pirates are superstitious; +1 Fear. Pirates lead dirty, sinful lives; -2 Soul.”
    • make trait slots available
    • make traits available; you will choose from your available traits, up to a number equal to the trait slots you have
    • if it’s the last lifepath you took, it may impose a condition
OR, perhaps lifepaths only affect traits, and attributes are determined by a checklist system, like Steel in BW or the stats in Poison’d

Characters consist of a set of attributes common to all, and a number of trait slots that can be filled with traits.

Traits can be “bought off” like TSOY Keys. The reward of buying off a trait is opening the slot back up for a new one.

Traits function by:
* allowing you to use your attributes in special ways
* opening up constraints on declared actions (like, if you have a trait saying you can fly, you may now include flying in your descriptions)
* allowing you to do special dice tricks
* a combination of the above

Certain traits can be gained at any time you have a free slot. Others require a free slot and some sort of accomplishment; f’rinstance, learning sorcery would require an apprenticeship to a sorcerer.

Conditions are sort of like negative traits. They are bought off like traits, but this earns you Edge instead of extra slots. They function by:
* constraining declared actions (like, if you’re suffering from the condition “mute,” you can’t speak)
* authorizing the GM to say that certain things are true (like, if you’re suffering from the condition “trapped,” the GM may say something like, “Ok, they put you in irons and take you to the brig.”)
* imposing obstacles
* imposing dangers
* a combination of the above

Edge is a Positioning mechanic, essentially synthesized from Artha in BW, Xs in Poison’d, and advantage in the Rustbelt. You gain it through:
* careful/clever planning before a task
* momentum from a string of successful tasks
* advantages in conflict
* suffering a condition and overcoming it
* perhaps roleplaying traits well?

Spending Edge allows you to:
* re-roll a miss
* explode a 6
* perhaps gain a trait slot?
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Nov. 19th, 2009 @ 01:17 pm The Dread Age of Sail
I designed a game in my sleep last night. In the dream, it was called "Jack Roberts' Dark Age of Sail," but that's nonsense when you wake up because it sounds like it was created by a guy named Jack Roberts, so I'm calling it "The Dread Age of Sail."

In the year of Our Lord whatever-teen whatever, the English sailor John Jonas Roberts sailed to the New World under the Spanish flag. While there, he had an incident with a remnant of Toltec sorcerers. A curse fell over him, and followed him back to the Old World.

A month later, the curse took Roberts' life. He was never buried because, after dying, he returned to his ship and slaughtered his entire crew, who then went to work making sail for the high seas. The Dread Pirate Jack now terrorizes ports and waters all over the world, spreading his curse wherever he goes. The Taint of the curse infects the sea and the land alike, and few are those who haven't been touched by it. As it grows Tainted, the world grows weird. Animals and people lose the thread of their species, and evolve (or devolve) in strange ways. Sorcery and superstition gain presence and power. Everything gets a little bit harder and a little bit bloodier.

Now, this actually sounds kind of like a Rustbelt hack, but in the dream it had it's own system that was a little bit Poison'd, a little bit Burning Wheel, and a little bit other stuff. There's a thing sort of like conditions in Mouse Guard, and a thing sort of like Keys and Secrets from The Shadow of Yesterday, but not quite. From what I can remember, it's almost the same system I had in mind for Neverwood, and close to the one used in Lunar Notes, but a little better.

I'm trying to decide the attributes. From the dream, I can remember three: Fear, Spite, and Soul.

All of the attributes were beneficial in certain circumstances and detrimental in others, like in Poison'd but (deliberately) not balanced. Fear, for instance, was actually beneficial if you were being sneaky or were defending against magic (because Fear is the attribute of superstition).

There needs to be some sort of Body stat. I'm also thinking Nerve, Faith, Craft, and Taint. I'm not sure what else goes in.

Chargen was somewhere between BW's lifepaths and Poison'd's lists of character qualities that determine stats (which, if you look at it, is just BW's lifepaths boiled down).

Attributes were the only effective values on your sheet. Other than that, you had "traits," which included skills and all sorts of things, and simply allowed you to use your attributes in special ways.

I'm gonna work on it some more. This is just a brain dump so I can get this stuff down before I forget.
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Nov. 10th, 2009 @ 12:10 pm Announcing the Reader, Root Doctor, and Yegg.

The Reader, Root Doctor, and Yegg are now up. The Reader is a psychic with psychic powers. The Root Doctor is a mash-up of folk magic stuff. The Yegg is a master thief.

I'm not happy with the Root Doctor's poppet skill. I don't really like the effect, and thus I don't really like having it in there at all. But I gotta think about audience a little, and I know that people would be disappointed with there being a class like this without the ability to make voodoo dolls. I don't know what to do about it.


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Nov. 9th, 2009 @ 03:29 pm Announcing the Changer, Helter-Skelter, and Gloomdoll
More MADCorp employee handbooks: the Changer, Helter-Skelter, and Gloomdoll.

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Nov. 6th, 2009 @ 01:14 pm And now, the Shootist, Tank, and Cooler

Okay, I said I was going to do this once a week, but I got too excited. So sue me. Now We get the Shootist, Tank, and Cooler.

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Nov. 4th, 2009 @ 02:09 pm introducing the Hardcase, Junk Knight, and Maddog

The MADCorp employee handbooks continue with the Hardcase, Junk Knight, and Maddog, three more fighty classes.

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Oct. 28th, 2009 @ 02:09 pm (no subject)
Hey, for those of you who are interested in the whole MADCorp employee handbooks thing, I've got an exercise for you:

If you played a [insert class name here], what would you name him/her?
Of the options provided for starting equipment, what would you choose and why? (Feel free to ask any system questions that make it easier to choose.)
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Oct. 27th, 2009 @ 05:22 pm Introducing the Bruiser, Carver, and Crasher classes


I've been working on the Employee Handbooks for MADCorp: the game of corporate dungeoncrawling horror. These are pamphlets handed out to the players that explain the powers and special rules pertaining to their character's class. They're kinda fun, so I'd like to share the first batch, the Bruiser, Carver, and Crasher. All three of these are specialized towards direct physical conflict, but in different ways.

I want to invite discussion, comments, feedback, and questions! Even questions about what some of the system talk means. I'm not secretive about my design, and, in fact, the core rules would already be available if I had them all together in a readable form.


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Aug. 24th, 2009 @ 03:05 pm The Dealer's Guide to Spirits
from the work-in-progress Hex Rangers playtest document

from the work-in-progress Hex Rangers playtest documentCollapse )

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Aug. 5th, 2009 @ 02:15 pm Coffee & Cigarettes Live Action Roleplay
inspired by the film by Jim Jarmusch

This game is for two players and a director.

Each player chooses a famous person to portray. A musician, actor, artist, writer, etc. They are meeting somewhere for some purpose. Coffee (and/or tea, if the characters are English) and cigarettes will be involved.

Players: between the two of you, decide why this meeting is taking place. Did one of you invite the other? For what purpose? Is that purpose concealed, to be revealed during the scene? Or is it a chance encounter?

Director: set the scene. Describe what the meeting place is like. Do you open the scene on one person waiting for the other? If so, who arrives first? Or do you open the scene with both characters already there?

The scene is played in real time, and is live action: everything you do, your character does; everything you say, your character says.

Players: the scene is not about coffee and cigarettes. It is not about the purpose of the meeting. It is about the relationship between your characters. Especially, it is about establishing and vying for status. You must introduce a conflict over status, and develop it through the scene, and finally come to some manner of resolution. Try offending the other person without being overtly offensive, and/or try taking offense when obviously none was meant, and/or try putting the other person off-balance with something unexpected. Use the coffee and cigarettes, your purpose of meeting, and your mutual celebrity as contact points for creating and developing the conflict.

Director: it is your job to keep the players on their toes and maintain the quality of the scene if things get out of hand. Anytime things seem to be flagging, or when the moment seems ripe, throw in a twist. Here are things you can do:

If you feel a player’s line could have been better than the one he said, you may call out “change!” The player must now say a different line. The line that was changed is treated as if it was never said; it will be cut out during editing.

Cut! Take it from…
If things are led to a dead-end or something otherwise dissatisfying, you may say “cut!” and direct the players to resume the scene from a specified previous line.

Introduce a minor character
Assume the role of a minor character and walk onto the scene. Like the players, you act your part live and in real time. Examples of this from the movie include the waiters in various scenes, Vinny Vella’s son, and the girl who gets Steve Coogan’s autograph (and fails to recognize Fred Molina). You can also try this off-stage as a phone call, like the one that Molina gets from Spike Jonzze.

Bird in the ear
You can direct the players to pause in the scene, then go whisper some information into one of the players’ ear. Whatever you tell him, the player should treat is as fact. Don’t worry that the other player didn’t hear it; this imbalance of information is precisely the intended effect.

Something happens
You can interject occurrences into the scene. Simply call out what happens, and let the players react to it as they will. Sound effects are very good as well.

Director: you will also call the end of the scene.

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