Stepped Dice Game of Raising Stakes

While designing the Cortex Plus version of Jadepunk, I stumbled upon an attractive dice mechanic that I want to explore. It’s inspired by Cortex Plus (naturally), as well as Chronica FeudalisSavage WorldsFate Core, and Marvel Universe Roleplaying (the terrible old one with the stones of effort, only to some degree, but still awesome that I can include that here).

Design Goals

I believe every good design needs a reason for being: something you want to achieve or a problem you want to solve. Without this you are just spinning your wheels, creating for the sake of creating (not bad, as an exercise, but not helpful for serious design sessions). In light of that, here are my design goals for this system:

  • Create a tension-filled, story driven conflict mechanic.
  • Leave room for tactics, both inherent in the mechanic and from special abilities.
  • Make “giving in” increase the tension.
  • Do away with “action rounds,” but don’t leave it quite as freeform as the Conversation of World games.
  • Have enough space to play with multiple genres, from the mundane to the superhuman.
  • Give one player a moment to shine, even if they fail (make their moment longer
click to continue.

Your Fandom Opinions Are “Correct”

Few discussions can drive a wedge between nerd friends than one person admitting they liked the Star Wars prequels.

Why is it that fandom is so terrible to those minority members who like unpopular things? Why do we feel the need to be gatekeepers of the things we love or love to hate; dissenters be damned?

Isn’t it possible that the minority could be right?

My Introduction to Fandom and Pop-Culture


My childhood was steeped in a particular concept of Superman. I was introduced to comic books in 1992 with the X-Men cartoon series on Fox. That started a (very expensive) fascination with superheroes.

I owned quite a few Superman books, but never really got into the character until Doomsday killed him. A lot of people didn’t like the four Supermen that replaced him, but I felt they were fresh and, in the case of Steel, really damn cool! Superman, for me at the time, was old and boring, but Steel was a complicated character who could be challenged by writers in ways that Superman could not. I dug the character when a lot of people back then just called to have their old boring Supes back. But when he … click to continue.

D20 Jadepunk Design Journal: Skill Synergy

Last time we went over how we’re replacing abilities with professions, and why we feel that’s important. This time, we’re going over how skills interact with each other.

A Case for Synergizing Skills

During a design conversation, the ineffable Jesse Ferguson had an idea to decouple skills from professions (abilities). As a huge fan of World of Darkness games, this didn’t sound unreasonable to me, but there are design considerations – the most important of which is the extra time spent at the table adding your traits together.

We spent a lot of time trying to come up with a solution because we both liked the idea that you can use a skill or ability in a way that is relevant to the concept of the trait, but that isn’t by the letter of the rules.

If you’re familiar with superhero gaming, then I’m sure you’ve come across that moment when someone like The Hulk screams at a minion in an attempt to intimidate the poor ant but fails because his Presence/Charisma bonus is utterly deplorable. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for The Hulk to benefit from his incredible strength in that situation?

But we’re not talking superheroes … click to continue.

Writing in First Person

I’m just under 14k words on my WIP. It’s the first time I’ve used the first person narrative, after being inspired to do so by the James Patterson Masterclass.

My findings are that it’s a mixed bag. I feel much more connected to the main character than when I write in the third person limited point of view. But I feel disconnected from the story somehow; it’s like I don’t have enough room to describe scenes without the main character sounding like a complete bore.

When I write in the third person limited, I can certainly get into the character’s experience, but it always feels like there’s a certain amount of distance. For this story, I didn’t want the reader to feel safe. I wanted them to feel like they were part of the action rather than watching a movie about it (or reading a book).

I probably wouldn’t have noticed the limitations of the first person had I not had to write a scene the main character wasn’t in, which was done in the third person limited (don’t tell me about the rules; I CAN’T HANDLE THE RULES!). In this scene, I didn’t feel as connected to my … click to continue.

D20 Design Journal: Abilities and Professions

Okay, so it’s not abilities and professions so much as abilities or professions.

When creating Jadepunk: Tales From Kausao City for Fate Core, we went back and forth between skills, broad skills, and, what we eventually settled on, professions. One thing that never came up was using abilities as a player stat. It’s just not something we thought was important to the world of Jadepunk.

Why Jianghu Rebels Don’t Need Abilities

One could make the argument that they do (if they have zero strength then they can’t even move), but when you’re making a game, it’s not about realism, it’s about pointing out what’s important.

Common tropes in fantasy are the Big Strong Barbarian or the Agile Rogue, but in Wuxia and Western stories those don’t matter as much; it’s more about the Skillful Swordsman or the Fastest Draw. In short, skills matter more to Jadepunk inspirations than crude abilities. It’s not what you are; it’s what you can do.

Abilities have a feeling of limitation. They tell you as much about what you are as they do about what you are not. “My Con is only a 9; I’m not tough.” Limitations like that don’t make for impressive freedom … click to continue.

Important Jadepunk Concepts

As we get continue production on Cortex Plus, and gear up for Jadepunk d20, here is a list of things that we consider when modifying a system to be used for Jadepunk.

Capable Characters

The traditional “level 1” D&D character will not work in a game of Jadepunk because they’re just starting out and establishing themselves as heroes. But Jadepunk is inspired by wuxia warriors and western gunslingers – the most capable heroes in all of fiction, right from day one.

Unique, Yet Familiar, Archetypes

The profession ratings in Jadepunk made characters conform, to some degree, to familiar archetypes, yet they were given the freedom to modify those archetypes as they see fit.

Similarly, professions should not feel like roles, but rather focuses on particular types of action. These characters have already left their former lives and have proven to be adaptable. Professions as ratings to roll with, as in the Fate Core version, made it feel like a character can potentially do anything in the game, to varying degrees of ability. So every character must, in some way, feel like they are capable of performing any action within the Three Pillars of Adventure (combat, exploration, and social interaction).


click to continue.

Jadepunk is Coming to D20

In case you missed the news: after writing has completed for the Cortex Plus edition, production will begin on a Jadepunk conversion for the d20 system.

We’re even redesigning the Jadepunk logo for the occasion.

You might be asking yourself: which d20 system? While we are selling it as a Dungeons and Dragons 5e conversion, the reality will look like something based on 5e, but heavily modified to represent the Jadepunk setting as best as we possibly can.

Since we are working on Cortex Plus rules, at the moment, all we have are preliminary notes, but they are encouraging. Here’s a list of what we’re planning to do:

  • Design a system to create your Jianghu society before creating your characters. We hope to include some elements of 13th Age‘s Icons, as well as some of the patron mechanic from mine and Paul Mitchener’s Perpetual Motion Engine. (This really should have been done in the Fate Core version, but it didn’t occur to us until years later.)
  • Beef up backgrounds to take over for racial profiles, and add in a Secret/Issue table the player will roll on to determine issues the society is dealing with that stem from
click to continue.

Three Step Prep: Investigations

Who doesn’t like a good mystery? Whodunnit stories account for some of the bestselling novels and have featured in movies for decades. Unfortunately, many GMs struggle with good mysteries in their roleplaying games.

In my last post, I wrote a Three Step Adventure Prep to make planning adventure games a simpler endeavor that doesn’t railroad player decisions. In this post, I’ll demonstrate how to use that method to create a mystery adventure.

What Makes a Good Mystery?

James Patterson says that a story is about the twists and turns, but is even more about revealing character. Revealing character may be front an center in fiction, but in roleplaying GM prep is all about the twists and turns; revealing character is a mutual job between the players and the GM.

So here’s a way to create lots of twists and turns to throw your players off the trail of the real culprit!

1. Hook: The Event

This is often a murder, but it could just as easily be a theft, or any number of things. What’s important is that something negative happens that affects the PCs with stakes they feel strongly about. They could stumble upon a friend’s corpse or discover … click to continue.

Cut the GM Prep

Sick of extensive GM prep that doesn’t survive contact with players? A few years ago, I wrote an article that boiled an adventure down to a ‘Fate Fractal.’ Since that time, I’ve made the process even simpler.

Three Step Adventure Prep

The emphasis on this method is to give the players the ability to influence your story, while not allowing the players to obliterate your prep.

1. Create a Compelling Hook

Jacob Possin showed me the usefulness of basing adventures off of a single hook and then seeing where things take you from there. I think it’s a great concept.

For purposes of this method, your hook should not only drive the heroes into the story, but it should suggest a specific threat. Think of the hook as the inciting incident: the first time the threat of the story strikes. It should come with high stakes that directly affect the players.

2. Create the Main Threat

Write up the main threat in terms of whatever that means in your system. You need a threat that directly relates to the hook and continues to threaten the PCs throughout the adventure.

3. Create Secondary Threats

You could technically start playing without this … click to continue.

Patrons, Causes, and PC Goals

Have you ever had a player not be conducive to play because their PC just wouldn’t believably sign on for a particular mission, or would be confrontational with someone who was supposed to be central to the campaign world, maybe someone the PCs were going to serve?

I think we’ve all had that player at one time or another (or been that player a time or two, if we’re really honest).

Most readers of the gaming portions of this site know that I’m big on not making the job of a GM complicated when it comes to adventure design, but I’ve always approached it from a story/adventure generation point of view. Now I’m going to combine that with an integration of player goals using the simplest tool possible: the patron.

What is a Patron?

For purposes of this concept, we’re going to define a patron as the following:

Patron • Any person, organization, cause, or other entity that a group of players have sworn fealty to in such a way that their adventuring career serves the best interests of the patron first and foremost.

A shorter version would be: it’s why the PCs are adventuring.

Having a patron in … click to continue.