Wednesday, October 9, 2019

About Tags

Tags are labels. They're short descriptions that are attached to a person, item, or place. Their effect can be good (#faster than greased lightning) or bad (#wanted dead or alive), but the best ones can be either depending on the situation (#never breaks her word). They should always be noteworthy.

In Clout we always preface a tag with the hash symbol ("#"). We also use italics for the tag, so we can tell where the tag ends and normal text begins.

Examples

On a Place

A river might be #swift and #impassable. It's also #wet but that's not noteworthy enough to mention. A log crossing the river might be #wet, and that's definitely worth mentioning, cause that will make it harder to cross. It would be even more difficult to cross if it was #wet and #slimy.

On an Item

A sword might be #sharp or maybe even #enchanted. Then again, it could be #cursed.

A tag doesn't have to be one word, so maybe a player could find a sword that #magically deflects arrows away from the user.

On the other hand, tags shouldn't be too wordy. Instead of a ring that #makes the wearer invisible while extending his life and controls the other rings (technically that's three tags, but I'm making a point here), it's simpler to say that it's #The One Ring and have a separate write-up about what that means.

On a person

Robin Hood is #The Best Archer in the Land, even though Little John wins when they have a contest. He's also #Devoted to Maid Marian, which is usually used against him. Being the #Leader of The Merry Men is both an advantage (he has manpower at his disposal) and a disadvantage (he'll put himself in jeopardy to protect his men). Even though he's an #outlaw, I would go for the longer form of #Steals from the rich to give to the poor, as this, too, has a good side and a bad side.

Tags Can't Be Too Powerful

Some judges worry that players will take tags that are overly powerful and destroy the game. There is really nothing to worry about.

Let's imagine the worst-case scenario: Jack is a lifelong munchkin, and he gives his character the tag of #Supreme Being.

So what? There's two built-in mechanics the limit Jack's ability to abuse the tag.

Reason 1: Tags only give you a +1

The first is that the text of the tag doesn't increase its effect. When you're walking a tightrope, it doesn't matter if you're a #trained acrobat or the #Supreme Being, the result is the same: the roll is only boosted by one result category.

Judge:
Make a Nimbleness roll.
Jack:
5!
Judge:
That's a failure. Did you want to apply any tags?
Jack:
Yes! I'm the #Supreme Being.
Judge:
That will drop your clout one level, and it brings you up to a partial. You make it all the way across, but half way across you lost your balance and fell. You managed to catch yourself, but everything you were carrying has dropped into the crevice.
Jack:
But I'm the #Supreme Being! That doesn't make any sense!
Judge:
No, it doesn't. But that's the way it works. Don't be such a munchkin in the future.

Reason 2: Tags Burn Clout

The second mechanic that prevents abuse is that applying a tag to a situation causes the player to lose clout. A character only starts with 3 levels of clout to begin with. Every time Jack wants to apply #Supreme Being, he loses one of those levels. The only way to get clout back is for the character to actually fail at something, or to allow a tag to be applied against him. Jack's best-case scenario is to accept clout for a negative tag, and then to get lucky by rolling a 12 on a good skill. This would normally result in a crit, but now it gets knocked down to a (regular) success. He gets to succeed, and he gets to keep the clout.

Judge:
Make a Nimbleness roll.
Jack:
5!
Judge:
That's a failure. Did you want to apply any tags?
Jack:
Yes! I'm the #Supreme Being.
Judge:
That will drop your clout one level, and it bring the result up to a partial.
Jack:
But my clout is already at zero.
Judge:
In that case you're stuck with the failure. You start out across the tight rope, but realize that you can't make it, so you turn back.
Jack:
But I'm the #Supreme Being! That doesn't make any sense!
Judge:
No, it doesn't. But that's the way it works. Don't be such a munchkin in the future.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Clout Primer

It occurs to me that I haven't yet told you how Clout is played. Here is the "bullet point edition" of Clout. It should be enough to give you a sense of how the game is played. Note that this is still early days, and things may change. For example, I'm currently reworking the way armor and weapons work and the damage system keeps flopping between the one presented and a "pointless" system.

Goal

Clout is a game of gritty, over-the-top cinematic and pulpy action and adventure. It is not meant to simulate realism.

Character creation:

Skills:

  • Pick three skills (from the skill list) that you're good at
  • Pick three skills (from the skill list) that you suck at
  • Skill list:
    • Aiming
    • Athletics
    • Burglary
    • Driving
    • Fighting
    • First Aid
    • Health
    • Nimbleness
    • Observation
    • Persuasion
    • Stealth
    • Wilderness Survival
    • Will-Power

Tags

  • Pick three tags
    • One that will almost always be an advantage
    • One that will almost always be a disadvantage
    • One the can either, depending on the situation

Clout

  • You start with three Clout.

Game Play:

  • Roll 1d12.

    • There are no modifiers to this roll. Ever.
  • Consult:

RollResult
N/ACritical Success
10-12Success
7-9Partial success/failure
2-6Failure
1Fumble
  • This called the rule of 7/10, because 7+ is a partial success and 10+ is a full success. That makes it easy to remember.

  • The player may apply tags to boost the result by one level for each tag applied.

    • To apply a beneficial tag, the player must spend clout.

      • Each tag applied costs 1 "point" of clout.

      • Exception: Applying a good skill is free.

      • The tag can be attached the character, a piece of gear, the location, the situation, or maybe even an enemy.

      • This is the only way that a player can achieve a critical success.

    • For example, raising a Failure to a Partial would require applying one tag (and spending 1 clout "point"), no matter if the die roll was a 2 or a 6.

  • Players can also be offered Clout by applying a "negative tag" that will lower the result by one level.

    • A player can refuse the offer, but they must spend clout instead.

    • The offer can come from the GM, or from another player.

  • After all is said and done, if the final result is a Failure or worse, the player gains Clout.

  • NPCs never roll. The story is about the PCs. If an NPC tries to do something, focus instead on how the PCs try to stop them.

Combat:

  • Combat is just a task using the Fighting or Aiming skills.

  • Generally (but not always):

    • On a failure, only the PC takes damage

    • On a partial, both the PC and the bad guy take damage

    • On a success, only the bad guy takes damage

    • On a critical, roll extra damage, or hurt two bad guys, or whatever

  • Standard damage roll is the lower of 2d12

  • Gear (weapons and armor) affect the damage roll based on their tags.

  • Weapons and armor can be none, light, medium, or heavy

  • Light armor protects against light weapons, but not against medium or heavy

  • Medium armor protects against light and medium weapons, but not heavy.

  • Heavy armor protects against all weapons

  • Protection means that the damage suffered is the lower of 3d12

  • Protection must be invoked (spend Clout).

Damage

Every PC has distinct 12 hit points.

123456789101112
-1-2-3💀
  • A hit marks off only the indicated hit point

    • If the indicated hit point is already marked off, go to the next higher that's available.

    • If any of the hit points in group 6, 7, or 8 are marked, the character has a minor wound. Describe it. This counts as a negative tag and can be applied.

    • If hit point 9 or 10 is marked, the character has a major wound. Describe it. This counts as a negative tag and can be applied. Compelling this tag drops the result two levels instead of one!

    • If hit point 11 is marked, the character is seriously injured. Describe it. This counts as a negative tag and can be applied. Applying this tag drops the result three levels instead of one!

    • If hit point 12 is marked off, the character is out of action. He's not necessarily dead. He might be unconscious, or captured. But he might be dead

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Magic in Clout

My friend James asked me about magic in Clout. I'll answer that in a second, but let me talk about James a bit first.

One Christmas in the late 1970's, James got Dungeons & Dragons (the "Holmes" edition) as a gift. He showed his friend Donald, who showed it to me, and my life has never been the same. I don't know what ever became of Donald, but James and I became lifelong friends. When my mom passed away earlier this year, James was the only non-family member to attend the service.

James is good people.

Anyway, James asked me how magic is going to work in Clout.

Short Answer

It won't. That is to say that the first release of Clout will not have a magic system included at all. There are two reasons for this.

Reason 1: The Intended Flavor of Clout

The first reason is that Clout games are meant to be played in over-the-top pulpy fantasy worlds, like those seen in Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian or George Lucas's Indiana Jones. In those settings the heroes never use magic; it is only an obstacle that they must overcome.

Reason 2: It's Your World

The second reason is that defining a magic system defines the very nature of the world. One of the core objectives of Clout is to allow the judge to use the game world of his own desire. You can't do that if the magic system is already defined in the rules. The way magic works is very different between Lord of the Rings, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dying Earth, and just about any other fantasy world you can think of. Trying to shoehorn one world into another world's magic system changes the world.

Magic in My Current World

There is magic in my playtest world, but it's out of reach of mere humans. In my world only bloodthirsty demons can cast spells. Very brave (and stupid?) humans will often seek out demons and serve them in exchange for magical favors. By definition, anyone willing to serve a demon is evil.

The demons require two things from their human supplicants: favors and sacrifices. Every time that a wizard/supplicant requests a magical favor ("spell") from his demon, the demon demand flesh and blood:

Magic
Points
Sacrifice
1Hen
2Bull/Infirm Person
3Criminal/Slave
4Freeman
5Virgin
6Human Infant
+1Noble

A noble counts as one level higher. So a virgin princess can be sacrificed for a 6-point spell.

The sacrifice must be enough to completely power the spell. Six hens will get six 1-point spells, not a 6-point spell!

The costs of spells are based on it's overall power level. Healing a wound would be 1 point while raising the dead would be 7.

The intent was to create a truly evil magic system. In the game world, it will be clear that most wizards are evil. Maybe there's the good hearted old woman who will only sacrifice a hen to heal her sick neighbor. but the demon knows that it's only a matter of time before the temptation of power corrupts her. Even if it doesn't, her power will attract another supplicant with greater ambitions...

Yes, wizards are evil. It's a good thing that there are heroes to rise up to confront them!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Is Clout an OSR Game?

Short Answer

Maybe.

A lot of it depends on how you define "OSR." The problem is that everyone seems to have their own definition of what makes an OSR game.

Long Answer

Let's quote the current Wikipedia article, and address it bit by bit.

The Old School Revival, Old School Renaissance, or simply OSR...

No one even agrees on what the acronym even stands for! I prefer "Old School Renaissance."

Inspiration

...is a movement among players of tabletop role-playing games (especially Dungeons & Dragons) that draws inspiration from the earliest days of tabletop RPGs in the 1970s.

Clout undoubtedly "draws inspiration from the earliest days of tabletop RPGs," so that's a point in favor. But Clout also rejects a lot of concepts from those days and draws upon more modern styles of play, so that's a point against.

Current score:

OutcomeScore
Clout is OSR1
Clout is not OSR1

Things are looking murky. Let's keep going.

OGL

The OSR was made possible by Wizards of the Coasts' release of their Open Gaming License in 2000, which allowed the free and unapproved use of large amounts of creative and rules mechanic material related to the Dungeons & Dragons game.

Clout does not use any Open Gaming License material at all. I'm writing all the text 100% from scratch. So that's a point against.

Current score:

OutcomeScore
Clout is OSR1
Clout is not OSR2

Player Agency

Broadly, OSR games encourage a tonal fidelity to Dungeons & Dragons as it was played in the first decade of the game's existence--less emphasis on linear adventure plots and overarching metaplots and a greater emphasis on player agency.

Yes! This is exactly the style of play that I envision people using with Clout. One way that Clout emphasizes player agency is by focusing on the players exclusively. The judge never rolls dice to determine the success or failure of NPC or monster actions. If the monster is going to attack Gronko, it's going to succeed unless Gronko does something to prevent it.

On the other hand, there's nothing in Clout that prevents judges from emphasizing "linear adventure plots and overarching metaplots." If that's the way the table wants to play, Clout will let you.

I'm calling this a point for.

Current score:

OutcomeScore
Clout is OSR2
Clout is not OSR2

Cloning the Past

Frequently they are built around older rules systems made available by the OGL. As such, the OSR label includes most Dungeons & Dragons retro-clones; most OSR games are variants of ... Dungeons & Dragons rules

In fact, almost every OSR branded game that I've seen have been D&D clones, or D&D rules in different time periods. The exceptions are Legends of the Ancient World (a game clearly inspired by The Fantasy Trip) and TunnelQuest. Like the latter, Clout is not a clone of anything; it's not even trying to recreate the feeling of any previous game.

Point against. Current score:

OutcomeScore
Clout is OSR2
Clout is not OSR3

Ethic of Play

The general ethic of OSR-style play emphasizes spontaneous rulings from the referee, or Game Master, over set rules found in a book. The idea is for the players to engage with the fantasy as much as possible, and have the referee arbitrate the outcomes of their specific actions in real time.

This is exactly the play-style that Clout demands. The 7/10 rule is pretty much everything you need to know to play. There are no rules for surprise, falling damage, morale, nor any other special situation that might arise; it assumes that the judge will be quick on his feet with fair rulings.

Point for. Current score:

OutcomeScore
Clout is OSR3
Clout is not OSR3

Game Balance

The idea of game balance is also de-emphasized in favor of a system which tests players skill and ingenuity in often strange or unfair situations. The players should expect to lose if they merely pit their numbers against the monsters, and should instead attempt to outwit or outmaneuver challenges placed in their way. Keeping maps comes highly recommended.

While I fully support that style of play, Clout does nothing to either encourage nor discourage it. No points either way.

Final Score

OutcomeScore
Clout is OSR3
Clout is not OSR3

So is Clout an OSR game? Maybe. Everyone will need to answer that for themselves.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Clout's Core Mechanic in a Nutshell

Core mechanics are the bee's knees. All the cool games have one. For my purposes, I'm defining a core mechanic as the single process that is used to resolve the effectiveness of a character's action, regardless of what the action is. For example:

  • GURPS: Roll 3d6 + modifiers. If you get roll over your (stat + skill) then you fail, otherwise you succeed.

  • Dungeons & Dragons (3rd Edition): Roll 1d20 + stat bonus + skill bonus + situational modifiers. If you under some target number, you fail, otherwise you succeed.

I call Clout's core mechanic the "7/10 rule." Roll 1d12. If the roll is 7 or higher your result is a "partial success"; if the roll is 10 or higher your result is a "success." Anything else is a failure. You can then apply tags (though you'll probably need to spend clout to do so) to improve your results.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

What is the Clout Role-Playing Game?

So there's a million different role-playing games out there. What makes Clout unique? I don't think there's any one thing that's unique to Clout, rather it's the combination of features that makes it unique.

  • Easy to play: If you can remember "The 7/10 rule" (or the optional "5/9 rule" instead), then you know how to play Clout. You should never have to open a book during play.

  • Clout has no class: In Clout, characters are based on skills and "tags," not character classes.

  • Tags: Tags were initially inspired by "cliches" in S. John Ross's brilliant Risus but ended up looking a lot more like "aspects" in Fate. These are short phrases that are used to describe something about a character, a place, or a thing. For example, you might decide that your character is #The Best Swordsman in the Land; that would be a tag.

  • Short skill list: I like skill based systems, but most systems have an outrageous number of skills. GURPS is a great game, but it's bloated with over 400 skills. I don't really want to play in a campaign where I have to make a bunch of checks against my accounting skill. The 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons has about 40 skills, which is better but still too many. Savage Worlds has a very usable 23 skills. Clout uses 13 very broad skills, which I think covers just about everything a PC would want to do.

  • No skill-attribute stacking: Stacking attributes and skills adds complexity, and occassionally leads to min-maxing or wonky results. I first had this pointed out to me in Steffan O'Sullivan's Fudge. I avoid this in Clout by doing away with attributes altogether (although the classic ones are all there in the skill list).

  • Single roll resolution: In Dungeons & Dragons, a single round of two PCs fighting six kobolds could potentially take 16 dice rolls! In GURPS that could be 24 dice rolls (8 attacks, 8 defense rolls, and 8 damage rolls). In Clout this would be just two rolls: one for each PC. This mechanic was inspired by Paul Elliot and Mike Hill's great TunnelQuest.

  • Variable result task resolution: inspired by TSR's Conan Role-Playing Game and by Steffan O'Sullivan's Fudge. In addition to a simple success/failure result, the die roll can return a result somewhere in the middle, not to mention a fumble or crit.

  • Small rulebook: Hopefully the rules will be short. I consider wordy rule books to be a bug, not a feature. Risus is 6 pages and feels very complete, though I doubt that I'll be able to be so concise. The 1995 version of Fudge is 100 pages, and it's too long.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Rick Loomis 1946 - 2019

Rick Loomis passed on Friday, August 23, 2019.

Rick was the co-founder of Flying Buffalo. He was the publisher of Tunnels & Trolls which was the first "rules-light" fantasy RPG on the market. He also published other board and role-playing games and aids, such as the great Citybook series and the awesome Grimtooth's Traps series. As if that wasn't enough, he is also credited with inventing the "choose your own adventure" type of solo game.

He was true pioneer and powerhouse in the industry.

Rick was also a Viet-Nam era veteran of the Unites States Army.

I only met Rick once, at the Flying Buffalo booth at GenCon in the early 2000's. He was very nice to me. On a personal note, my only professional writing credit is in a Flying Buffalo product.

If you want to support the family there's a GoFundMe page. If you want to support the family and get some PDF swag in the process, you can do so at Bundle of Holding.