Category Archives: Game Design


Hello readers! Here is hoping you had a fun Halloween and are enjoying November. For those that have reached out over social media, thank you. Personally, things are improving, while there is a lot of rebuilding to do here in Puerto Rico post Hurricane María, I’m working, we are among the tiny percentage that have power back, and despite some additional problems popping up at home as consequences of the winds, rain and extended blackout, I feel like I’m on a better mood and a better place. The island still has a long way to go… If you’d like to help you can find out more in my first post on the subject.

Something else I have written about before is my love for Stars Without Number! From my first unboxing of the POD copy post, to my many lists thought the years, Stars Without Number is a staple. Backing the revised edition Kickstarter was a no brainer for me, and we recently got the Galactic Omnibus collecting all the previously published material for the game. Look at the pictures my friend Anibal Delgado took!

I am always impressed by Kevin Crawford’s Sine Nomine Publishing Kickstarters and products. He is a consummate professional, keeping backers informed, accessible to answer questions and sort out any problems. He delivers quality products in a timely fashion. I own most of what he has published. He consistently takes OSR mechanics and reimagines them in ways that consistently please and surprise. That coupled, with his advice and tools for sandbox gaming, make his games a must own!

You can find the free beta rules for Stars Without Number (SWN) here. One of the things I love in the revised edition is the inclusion of aliens as an option for players. This was something missing from the previous version of the rules and one of the elements that have really fired up my imagination. After reading the rules I began to tinker with converting the heroic alien species from D20 Future. Continue reading D20 FUTURE HEROIC ALIEN SPECIES CONVERSION

Good night to the Devil

This will be my last post on Devil’s Staircase for a while. It is not going away, quite the opposite, but I will tell you abut that later. This post is in two halves and the more exciting bit is the second part. I shouldn’t really have said that so just ignore it for now.

Part 1

In testing there were two things that came up. Now these are both combat tweaks but I never really wanted the game to be all about combat. The objective of creating a standalone game engine was that it could be applied to any genre. Anyway, my play test group cannot wait to whip out the colt .45s and after that things only go one way.

The first thing that became apparent was that an initiative system was needed. It was not in the first draft because if you have ever read Michael’s post on Combat it was pointed out that a combat that lasted 2 minutes or so could take hours to play. I wanted a system where every card drawn was a bullet flying or a punch being thrown. What I didn’t want was so many stages to go through that fights bog down. So here is a single card draw initiative system…


The GM deals everyone a single card including one of each major NPC or group of NPCs. These get turned face up. If a joker is dealt it can be played to win the initiative or added to the players character record and a new card dealt. If there is a draw then the characters speed stat can be used to divide the characters. If they have the same card and speed then their actions are considered simultaneous.

The system now works on a system of interrupts. The person with the lowest card describes that they want to do. The person with the next lowest can then interrupt the first action with their own or just describe their own choice. And so it goes with each person has declared their own actions.

Once each action has been declared then they are resolved in order of fastest first, the reverse of the order they were declared.

So in this example we have three protagonists, A Sheriff, Deputy and Rustler.  They are currently in a bit of a stand off gun fight on the main street. Their initiative cards are

Sheriff: 4
Deputy: Jack
Rustler: 5

The Sheriff says ‘I am going to try and dash across the street to get more cover.

The Rustler says ‘As soon as I get a clear shot I am going to shoot the Sheriff.

The Deputy says ‘I will give covering fire to protect the Sheriff.

The actions are resolved with the Deputy shooting at the Rustler as the Deputy is the fastest. If he survives then the Rustler can fire upon the Sheriff as he crosses the street. If the Sheriff survives he can run for cover across the street.

So, despite the introduction of initiative we still don’t need rounds or turns. If the Rustler had said that he wanted to try and crawl away without being seen then all the declared actions could have taken place without any interruptions. The Sheriff and Deputy could have eventually got to where the Rustler had been hiding to find him long gone.


The next bit is more setting specific and this will effect all future DS games.

So far the damage done in combat comes in the form of ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘many’ with the many being inflicted by a Joker. When all the test fights had been carried out with gun slingers striding out into the dusty streets this was fine. We had more damage being done by sticks of dynamite but that was still ones and twos being done by individual sticks. The sorts of weapons we have in the wild west range from deringer single shot pistols to Gatling guns and hunting knives to cavalry sabres. Some of the feedback I have had says that players like cool equipment. Ranged weapons have already been differentiated somewhat with different range modifiers making it easier to hit at range with a rifle than a revolver. The solution that was most popular was pluses to damage. So a single pistol round would do the standard damage. A Winchester Rifle could then be a +1 weapon so the damage would be ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘many’ and a Gatling gun could be +2 when used to spray several targets (3/4/many) or +3 when used against a single target (4/5/many). Seeing as there are not going to be many magical weapons this means that particularly high quality weapons or large calibre guns become the sought after loot items. It takes no real effort to record a weapon as being a +1 or +2 on the character record.

For melee combat the standard hunting knife or a dagger would be the norm then a war axe would be +1 and a cavalry sabre +2.

These changes were well liked by the play test group. In future projects such as a fantasy version this means that we can have shortswords and daggers as the base weapon and then +1 for broadswords and battle axes and +2 for halberds, lances and greatswords. I can even see a bastard sword being +1 when single handed and +2 when used two handed.

Finally, it is interesting now that the rules changes we are getting are now becoming more tweaks than major changes. Continue reading Good night to the Devil

Devil’s Staircase Aces High

This time I want to get some ideas out about character progression. I am certainly not a fan of games that use levels and experience points. I suppose there are two reasons. I don’t like the way that levels often come combined with new abilities. It can seem very binary one moment you can’t and then suddenly you can do whatever it is that your new level conferred on you.  I also don’t like the lumpy nature of levels and experience points. You can spend forever and a day accumulating enough experience points during which time you do not improve at all and then suddenly *poof* you level up then it all starts again.

Games with detailed skills systems can get around this by allowing you to improve skills individually which makes progress more natural and tied to the skills actually being used in play or trained. I have house rules for Rolemaster that scraps levels and development points after 1st level in favour of this sort of Runequest progression.

This is not going to work for Devil’s Staircase as the skill system is too simple and lacks the granularity to allow one part to progress when it has been used while other parts remain static. It also does not fit with the fast and light ethic of the game so far and it would be a pain to try and fit that in with a card deck system.

What I want to achieve is that more experienced characters have greater control over their destinies. This is what better skills confer in the same way that getting more hit points and an improved proficiency bonus does in D&D.

I think I have a system that does this.

High Aces

A character can earn a High Ace. This is recorded on the character sheet. The High Ace can then be used to change the value of an Ace in the Endurance hand from a 1 to an 11. The High Ace can only be used once per day for each High Ace that a character has.

Over time a character can earn more High Aces and so can apply this boost several times each day if they have the aces in their hand to apply it to.

I like this idea as it adds an additional element of strategic thinking to playing the character.

So where do the High Aces come from and how are they earned?

What I am thinking is that they will be awarded by the GM for completing major plot way points. My first thought was actually to give them to the major end of level boss type NPCs and when they are defeated then any unused High Aces pass to the character that defeated them. In the Wild West themed game that would work well enough but in “Devil’s Staircase Espionage Role Playing” or an equally subtle genre based upon political intrigue or diplomacy villains may never truly be defeated.

Using major plot or story way points does not send the message that every villain must be killed to get the bonus.

So now all bar an equipment list and a starting adventure I think we are pretty much ready to play. This is what a basic character record looks like. We can stick a few possessions on the back of the post-it note!

Devil's Staircase Character Record