Archive for January, 2013

some places you can go in Tartary

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

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This bit on the pools of water for cooling off old nuclear reactor fuel rods might be directly relevant to my game! (via player Paolo Greco) Especially if my players go to places like these.

But the real point of this post is this here: a google map of some locations in my Tartary game, with captions. As I see it there are 2 great disadvantages to using real-world locations for your game and fantasying them up:
(1) people who can’t tell fantasy from reality might get upset about what you’re saying about their home (especially if you say it’s a great place for radioactive horror);
(2) people who can’t wrap their head around the fact that you’re presenting them with fiction might demand you do more research and get it right. To show respect or some such.

I reckon these quibbles are totally blown out of the water by the fact that now I don’t have to draw a map. And players can point to places in between my Interesting Points and ask me “what’s there and why shouldn’t we use it as our base of operations?”

Also I can update it as the campaign progresses with new data points.

Also, you know these can be collaborative? Like, your players can add disinformation stuff they’ve discovered and map your campaign for with you?

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interim thoughts about mecha combat and design

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

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Ultra simple mecha hack suitable for playing with your kids

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

You will need: Hex map (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), mecha counters showing facing, 1d6. Either paper for each player to record mecha info or, if you want to get fancy, cards to deal out for the Weapons and Specials.

Build your mecha

Draw from a deck of cards or roll dice to select a weapon and a special feature to deck out your giant robot chassis. By default all mecha have 8 HP.

1. Rocket fists: max range 3 hexes, Damage D2 and spin target around 180 degrees
2. Cannon: range 6, damage d2
3. Blunderbuss: range 3, dam. D6, then take a turn to reload
4. Missiles: Minimum range 3, max 6. Damage D6
5. Hatchet: range 1, damage d6
6. Harpoon: range 4, damage d3, drags opponent closer by 1 hex each turn unless opponent breaks the cable by rolling a 6.

Apart from weapons listed above all mecha can punch (range 1, damage 1).

1. stickymines (2 of em): Range 1, autokill in 2 rounds unless the opponent rolls a 6
2. more engine: +1 move point
3. jump jets: move 2 hexes in any direction, end with any facing
4. Armour: +4 HP
5. Can opener: range 1, if you roll a 6 you can steal opponent mecha and your mecha becomes inactive.
6. Super dodge (2 of em): declare before anyone rolls to hit: attack automatically fails.

I say mecha but with a light reskin this could work for Pokemon, Barbie, Lego Friends... you know, with hugs instead of missiles.

I say giant robots but you could reskin this any way you wanted – and who wouldn’t love a version where adorable candystripe ponies blow kisses and give hugs – or maul each other with missiles and hammers?

Turn Order

Roll for initiative to see who moves first. If players have multiple mecha then everyone moves one mecha in initiative order, then everyone’s second mecha etc. After everyone’s moved, everyone gets a chance to turn one hex-side (60°) to react to the new situation.
Then everyone fights: physical attacks first, then shooting. Roll saves/whatever to react to that, take damage.


Mecha can only move straight forward and turn. Each mecha gets 4 movement points every turn to spend on moving forward (1 hex = 1 point) and turning (one hex-side = 1 point).


Range in hexes = your difficulty to hit on 1d6 – so maximum range is 6 hexes. You can shoot/fight into the front 3 hexes only. Physical attacks go first. resolve all damage/death at end of turn.

Ways you can complicate this

All mecha can also Charge (range 1 – into hex directly ahead only, damage = the number of hexes you moved this turn, and the charging mech takes 1 recoil damage)
1 move point to go up or down 1 level (marked on some maps). You cannot cross a boundary of more than 1 level. Roll 3+ to avoid losing 2 move points when entering/crossing water. Roll 4+ to exit a mud/sand hex. To cross a gorge either use jump jets or run 3 hexes in a straight line that turn (to do a running jump).
Each side has multiple mecha, but only one pilot – the rest are remote controlled. Kill the pilot and the whole side goes down.
pilots can run around outside mecha, try to break into mecha: move 1 hex a turn in any direction, roll 5+ to grab onto a mecha and start climbing. Reach cockpit one turn after climbing, roll 6 to get inside. Pilots have 1 HP.


Wampus reskin

Wampus reskin

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DnD to Tartary character translation notes

January 10, 2013 2 comments

Tartary is flailsnails, but it doesn’t run in DnD – it kinda runs in Ars Magica Lite but not really.
Which is stupid but it’s because I don’t want levels and some other DnD baggage, and AM wizards are not native. Go figure.

Tartary natives use this chargen here.
Complete combat system here.

DnD flailsnailers use this converter:


DEX, INT,  WIS, CHA are all the same.
The higher of STR or CON becomes PHYsique.
New stat: PER
ception – either use WIS or roll 3d6.
We only care about your bonus/penalty here: this will affect all skill  rolls. If I say “add Wis” I mean add your bonus/penalty (+3 to -3). A DnD attribute of 3 gives -3 penalty, 4-5 = -2, 6-8 = -1, 13-15 = +1, 16-17 = +2, 18 = +3.

Reroll Hit Points. You get D6 + Wis + Phy + 4 + level. So your dude is 3rd level, that’s +3, regardless of class/race.

REP: Reputation records your fame and badassery on Tartary, useful in social combat and when asking for favours, recruiting redshirts etc.
Rep = your DnD level +/- a modifier based on your greatest career highs and lows to date:  Tartary gets television from across the flailsnailoverse so there’s a fair chance Tartarians have watched your glorious or embarrassingly funny exploits on the village big screen.
If you have a Rep of 5+ then you must choose one of the 2 Tartary alignments, which affect how people will react to you. The alignments are Face and Heel.

Classes and skills

Tartary uses a skill system but the skills are so broad they’re like classes.
You get your current level + 3 in your core competency. So eg a 4th level fighter gets FIGHT 4+3=7. A second level thief gets THIEF 5.
EXCEPTION: at 5th level and above instead of getting an extra +1 in your primary occupation you get something else. Bring a high-level character and I’ll tell you what.
You also get 2 other minor skills, one at 3, one at 2.
Everyone gets FIGHT 3 anyway.

Minor Skills are narrower than classes but still act as a basis for players to bargain with the DM. They include:
Acrobatics/escapology (circus work, includes multi-person stunts),
Athletics (parkour – climb, run, jump)
evaluate goods/bargain,
etiquette/savoir faire,
folk ken (applied psychology/empathy),
Animal handling/whispering,
Direction Sense (track, find your way in the dark etc),
radiation sense (aka detect magic),
Concentration/iron will (useful for rocket surgeons, lookouts)
jimmy (pick locks, also fix machines with a kick or whisper),
read lips/gesture,
weather sense,
shoot – bow or guns or artillery,
sleight of hand, 
law, beliefs
, anthropology,
sail, drive, or fly vehicle.

Most equipment and magic items will be just fine: Tartary’s built around dangerous gear. But it might attract a lot of attention/avarice from powerful people. Psionics and MUs in particular will attract trouble, and Cleric magic may or may not work.

Tartary is Bollymecha part 1: the Bolly, or Dance Rules for Techno-Tyrants

January 8, 2013 3 comments

Tartary is slums and pomo Orientalism and post-Soviet social commentary and Roadside Picnic getting-melted-by-your-treasure, and constant war and endless treachery and uncaring thaumatocrats and incomprehensible honour systems and tyrants replacing each other on the banks of the Oxus.


Yes, this
Yes, this

plus this.

Because every town worth a damn has at least one mecha fighting arena, and every kid goes through at least one summer where they dream of being a big star pilot like Prince Harbir of Amritsar or that magnificent bastard Nizam The Suzerain, Pit Boss of Komtor.

And what separates those great TV heroes and heels from the local toughs, duking it out in the local dive with their grease-powered MadMaxoskeletons?

Well, unimaginable riches, obviously. And mighty hordes of followers and the splendours of a kingdom behind them.

But all those things stem from KEEN DANCE MOVES.

For which, I humbly herewith present some rules, in the hopes of encouraging frugging, as well as the more usual fighting, for justice, glory and base gratification.


Because dance is ritual magic (it’s actually a whole magic system, but that’s another post). It’s the path to power and fortune. And it’s the one way to really, truly, definitively win disputes.

The basic coin of social power in Tartary is Reputation; it’s a measure of how important you are. And it’s a stat on your character sheet: REP. Incoming DnD flailsnailers get their level as their starting REP, because their greatest deeds are shown on Tartary’s ubiquitous TV networks – late night or prime-time, depending on how great they are.

REP can be increased by accomplishing mighty and important stuff and by beating folks in the arenas. You do not get REP – or respect or followers or groupies – by shanking your enemies quietly in the night. You get it by dominating and humiliating them in the public eye.

And you can attract that eye by invoking the ritual of Breaking into Song and Dance.

When you begin a dance you change the rules of conflict; a shouted challenge to a barroom fistfight can be brushed or laughed off, but a formal challenge by dance-off is serious business – it means the world is watching – and it must be met in kind. To refuse a dance-off is to admit defeat and agree to whatever settlement the victor demands. It’s not good for your reputation, but like losing a duel, it’s still within the bounds of honour.

But if you then protest, or go back on the deal, or try to get back what you legitimately lost by treachery, why then you lose ALL respect and REP – effectively setting you back to level 0 (if the TV catches you…).


1. The Challenge

When someone starts dancing a Challenge is issued and Stakes are set.

The challenger rolls a d6 to set a target for the challengee to beat. They can add mods to this roll by Staking resources and by bringing in situational modifiers.

anything you stake may be lost if you lose the dance-off.
The first thing that can be Staked is Reputation – every point of REP staked is a +1 on the roll
You can also stake your life for a further +1. If you lose that… well in theory the victor could then legally kill you without reprisals, but that’s frowned on. Instead you’re commonly bound to do some service for the victor – either a specific task or a year of limited slavery.

If you have supporters, they can also stake their lives and join you in your dance (they could stake their Reputations but Rep cannot be pooled – only the single highest Rep counts) for +1 each

Situational Modifiers:
Anything you can bring in to hype the dance can provide a mod. Creativity is rewarded and appreciated by audiences. Classic moves include:

involve the crowd: make a d10 roll + CHA + REP + applicable skills to get the audience dancing on your side (vs the audience’s current disposition to the challenger). This can add +1 on an ordinary success, +2 on an exceptional success or -1 on a botch. If nobody brought their own band, musicians might also be called out of a crowd for an extra +1

stage effects: if you have an engineer on your side they can provide lighting or stage props, a choreomancer can tighten up your choreography, a great singer or musician can solo in praise of your majestic vertu, panache or malandragem. In each case a successful skill roll can add +1 (and a botch is -1)

2. The Response

The person challenged can Raise the stakes, Concede (or Fold), or Accept the challenge (Call).

If they Raise then they must beat whatever the Challenger got on their d6+mods, which will probably mean that they also have to Stake stuff and try to win situational modifiers – essentially they have to out-do the previous dance, make fun of the opponent’s claims and demonstrate their superior badassery and flair. They can entice the audience and musicians away (beating the previous skill roll to do so) and whatever else they can think of. If they beat the challenger, then the challenge is passed back to the original challenger who must Raise, Concede or Accept.

Each time a challenge or raise is issued, demands can be added to the dispute.

If a Raise is unsuccessful or if the person being challenged Concedes then (a) the challenger wins the dispute and any demands issued (argument, daughter’s hand in marriage, deeds to the mine, leadership of the pirate gang, rocket parts, whatever); (b) the conceding party loses whatever they Staked and 1 point of REP.

If a challenge is Accepted (Called) then the dancing turns to ritual combat (probably involving Mecha, discussed in Part 2), but not on a level playing field:

(a) the Accepter’s opponent (ie the last person to Challenge or Raise) gets initiative in the first round

(b) they also get the margin of their challenge’s success as a modifier to use at some point during that combat, either to modify one roll or to split up over multiple rolls as they see fit.


OK, example: Hakim challenges Waled for leadership of the tribe. Hakim has REP 4 and 2 supporters: a grease monkey and a trumpeter. Hakim stakes his REP and life, for a total of +5, his supporters stake their lives too (+2), the grease monkey adds spotlights and the trumpeter provides honking accompaniment for +1 each, for a total mod of +9. Hakim rolls a 3 +9 for stakes and mods = 12.

If Waled were to Accept this challenge then Hakim would get a total of +12 to use in the ensuing combat, which could be +12 on a single roll or +5 on one roll and +7 on another or any split Hakim chose.

Instead Waled Raises. He has REP 2 and 3 friends – a singer, a judge/orator and a high-CHA pilot with a magnificent moustache.  He stakes his REP (+2) and all stake their lives (+4). Waled borrows an extraordinary hat to augment his performance (+1), the singer solos (+1), and both the orator and the pilot try to involve the crowd. This is a judgment call for the DM – can you involve the crowd more than once for multiple mods? After furious pleading the DM is persuaded by the players’ argument that oratory appeals to the crowd’s religious fervour while moustache-envy appeals to lower urges, and so both are allowed (+2). The total mod is +10, Waled rolls a 5 and beats Hakim by 3.

Hakim doubts he can win the crowd back so he Accepts the challenge, knowing that Waled will have +3 in mods (the margin of his Raise) to use as he wishes in the upcoming combat.


In accordance with anthropological theory, there is a moment in this exchange where power passes from challenger to responder: when a Raise is successfully executed, the Raiser gets a choice: they can force a fight or concession, or they can take the loftier path and call for peace and reconciliation.

If they choose not to fight then the status quo is restored and everyone stands down. The challenger may only challenge again if they can present a new and compelling reason to do so. This rule was enacted because of the death through exhaustion of one Garwan the Grandiloquent, a remarkable and highly popular showman-emir who was subjected to a campaign of continuous challenges for trade concessions over 13 days by representatives of the Consortium of New Julfa Coffee Shippers.

Well duh. You think getting your Bollymech to dance isn’t going to be worth some Situational Modifier (as well as being risky)?