Wednesday, September 13, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part II — The Force

The Force is one of the things that makes “Star Wars”... well, Star Wars. It’s not quite magic or psionics as seen in other works of fiction, but it’s easy to understand, and so well-known it’s even referred to outside of fantasy and science fiction (I can’t count the number of times someone has said “Use the Force” or “Jedi mind trick” without talking about Star Wars).

This is my new favorite meme. (image:


In the role playing games, novels and the video games they inspired, Jedi, Sith and other Force-users have access to dozens of powers. But since this series is only focused on the original trilogy of films, there’s only about a half-dozen abilities. Most of these names come from the d6 system Star Wars RPG, where they were created.

  • Battle Meditation, which Luke does while hiding from Vader in the Death Star throne room at the end of “Return Of The Jedi.” Qui-Gon Jinn does it better in “The Phantom Menace,” but remember, we’re only covering the original trilogy here.
  • Enhanced Reflexes, used when Luke leaps out of the freezing chamber on Bespin.
  • Force Choke, Darth Vader’s favorite gimmick.
  • Force Defense, which Vader used to block Han’s blaster, and Luke used to parry the speeder bike shots on Endor.
  • Force Lightning, the Emperor’s signature move.
  • Healing, which Obi-Wan does after Luke is attacked by the Tusken Raider.
  • Suggestion (the Jedi Mind Trick), Obi-Wan’s favorite for the weak-minded.
  • Telekinesis, or as “Weird Al” Yankovic put it, “I picked up a box, I lifted some rocks, while I stood on my head.”
  • Telepathy, Luke’s message to Leia shortly thereafter in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

That’s nine Force powers. You could make each one its own Specialism, but let’s take a cue from last week, where I described The Force (or Use The Force) as a Specialism itself. Each power, then, is just a way a character can use The Force. We don’t even need to detail “power levels” or anything like that; in most of the Star Wars RPGs, there are specific rules for how much damage Force Lightning causes, or how far a message sent with Telepathy will reach.

Yoda's player is making a Wits + The Force roll right now. R2-D2's player is eating some potato chips. (image:

But this is USR, and specifics like that are not Unbelievably Simple. Narratively, it doesn’t matter. How high does Luke leap, on a successful Wits + The Force roll? As high as the game master decides works for the story. The target number is set based on the amount of stress the hero is under, the obstacles in the way of the leap and the need for the hero to succeed (in this case, our game master, George, set it at a 7).

Another example: the Emperor rolled well on his Wits + The Force roll when attacking Luke with Force Lightning, causing enough hit point damage to knock Luke to the ground and keep him sparkling with electricity. He doesn’t need a separate listing of damage caused by Force Lightning. It’s just an effect of this particular Wits + The Force die roll.


Training to gain powers is an important part of The Force in Star Wars. Since there’s only nine powers to choose from, let’s say a hero with The Force as a Specialism starts with two, and gains another after each level. You can increase or decrease that rate, of course, especially if you add more Force powers.

And then there’s the Dark Side. In the other Star Wars RPGs, you collect a number of Dark Side points each time you use a Dark Side power (here it’s Force Choke and Force Lightning), or if you do something else evil. Too many, and you’ve fallen to the Dark Side and become an NPC. You can do the same in USR Star Wars (say, a number of points equal to your Ego die value — 6, 8 or 10), or simply make it part of the story, where a character turns to the Dark Side when it’s dramatically appropriate.

A Kind Of Magic

The rules for The Force can probably be used for any other kind of supernatural power, too; because of the way combat is handled in Domino Writing-style USR, a killer fireball or a summoned mass of strangling vines is just a way to describe a successful Wits + Magic Specialism roll. Or it could be an Ego + Magic roll, to represent those characters who derive their power from their force of will.

What Force powers did I miss from our Original Trilogy list?

Monday, September 11, 2017

VSGMR: Where Do We Begin?

A Very Simple game should have very simple rules, and in an effort to be comprehensive, I'm including everything I can think of in the game's rules. That's a conflict, of course, but here's the solution: a one-page summary of the necessary dice rolls, with detailed information on those rules, and following that a big section of optional rules, like points values, special abilities (one of the things the Yahoo Group really got a lot of enjoyment from), and scenarios.

We start with an introduction and the materials needed to play. I called the miniature figures "guys" because that's what they're most often called, especially when they're not actually hobby gaming miniatures (i.e., LEGOs, action figures, even dolls). The girlfriend of a friend used to call them "your little people," but I'm not going to use that term in the rules.

The current version of the rules also mentioned a measuring tool. As in most miniatures battle games, that refers to a ruler. For VSGMR, where "twisting and turning" the measuring tool is suggested, try a flexible ruler, like the ones used for sewing. It's basically a ribbon.

Like this, but you only need one (mine is yellow). (image:
Dice, a playing surface, and markers of some kind should be easy enough to come by. Coins are great markers, though make sure they're all the same size, since using a large coin as an objective marker makes it a little easier for figures to touch.

That leaves terrain, which at its most basic (its Very Simplest), is stacks of books or old boxes, maybe decorated a little bit. There's also print-and-fold terrain out there; finding good resources is the subject of another post.

So here's where we start, with what you need to play. It hasn't changed, and it will be part of the basic rules of the new VSGMR. It's is one of about a dozen games, or game variants, I'm playtesting and revising now. They'll all eventually be on my website, though some have work-in-progress versions available now.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part I — Classes

Now that we’ve looked at a lot of the basics to help expand your USR games, from Specialisms to vehicles and monsters, let’s turn to settings. And if the sales charts from ICv2 are anything to consider, the most popular genre after medieval fantasy is “Star Wars.”

For Domino Writing-style USR, “Star Wars” consists of the classic trilogy (“A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return Of The Jedi”). The prequels and sequels have new ideas to offer the “Star Wars” universe but nothing as indelible as the original films. I won’t be writing much about them, though I’m looking forward to someone providing stats for Qui-Gon Jinn and Kylo Ren.

Everyone in this picture, too. In a few weeks there will be stats for one of them. (image:

In most fantasy RPGs, a character has a race and a class. Despite appearances, that’s not the case for Star Wars, where a character’s species really isn’t that significant. A Wookiee might have Strong +2 as a Specialism, but a Rodian or Ithorian doesn’t have particularly strong “racial” characteristics. Droids, on the other hand, are nothing but special abilities. Consider Multi-lingual +2 or Computer hacking +2 (Specialisms droids from the films might have).

A character’s profession is best described using an archetype, like the ones we’ve seen for modern-day characters and in USR games like Somnium Void.

Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Pilot, Bargain, Hide, Charm
Suggested Equipment: Pistol, Huge debt
Note: “Rogue With A Heart Of Gold” isn’t really a good Specialism, since there probably aren’t many ways to apply the bonus this would provide if it was a Specialism. It’s a great description of the character’s personality, though.

Primary Stat: Mind
Suggested Specialisms: Dedication, Leadership, Inspiration, Athletics, The Force*
Suggested Equipment: Lightsaber

Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Military Tactics, Terrain Knowledge
Suggested Equipment: Rifle

Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Invent, Survivalist, Riding, Bargain
Suggested Equipment: Droid parts, All-weather clothing

Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Knowledge, Reference Tools, Etiquette
Suggested Equipment: Computer

Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Negotiate, Leadership, Languages
Suggested Equipment: none

Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Hacking, Computers, Repair, Jury-Rig
Suggested Equipment: Repair tools

*A note on The Force: To simulate the Jedi or other Force-users at the most basic level, the player simply makes a Wits roll against a target number determined by the game master, depending on the complexity of the power. We’ll get into a more involved (but still Unbelievably Simple) version of The Force next time.

What classes need to be added to USR Star Wars?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Monsters

A “monster,” in a role playing game, is any enemy, from the little goblins and huge dragons of classic fantasy, to security guards and ninja in modern games, to little robots and huge mutants in science fiction. They don’t have to be inhuman — even your evil twin is a monster, after all. Since our guiding principle in USR is to be simple and fast, let’s create an entire Monster Manual in one chart.

Like these ones, but all in one blog post. (image:
This is inspired by the original monster chart, found in Scott Malthouse’s Halberd Fantasy Roleplaying, page 26. It assigns levels to monsters, to approximate their power and competence. We’ll streamline it here.

Power Level
Main Stat Die
Combat Bonus
Hit Points
Giant Rat, Goblin
Guard, Orc, Thug, Wolf
Ninja, Security Robot, Soldier
Bear, Gang Boss
Ogre, Super-Soldier
(or D12)
Dragon, Vampire Lord

Main Stat Die: The die used for most of the monster’s rolls. In most cases, this will be its Action stat, but a psychic warrior might have its Mind as the main stat, to better use its powers.

You can assign the other stats as needed, based on what’s appropriate for the monster (for example, the guard standing outside the emperor’s throne room has Action as his main stat, representing his fighting skills with that halberd he’s carrying. But if you’re trying to convince him to let you pass, you’ll have to decide what his Wits stat is — probably about the same as his action, a D6). In the same way, Specialisms aren’t listed for monsters, but they can be assigned as needed, probably offering a bonus of +1 or +2, like a starting hero. You might even assign a penalty to a monster’s roll, say -2 if a big, dumb ogre is trying to solve the riddle your hero has posed. And trying to play a riddle game with a normal wolf simply won't work at all, no dice rolls, penalties or bonuses needed.

Combat Bonus: This is used for both the monster’s attacks and defenses, and represents weapons, armor, brute strength, magical ability, and whatever else is needed. It too can fluctuate depending on the specific attack the creature is making: that vampire lord uses a +5 to lure your hero close to him, but only a +2 to throw a punch.

Hit Points: The maximum hit points for the monster, putting Power Level II and III monsters on par with most Domino Writing-style USR heroes. You can take a cue from Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition and decrease a monster’s HP to 1, if you want to have heroes wipe out a half-dozen monsters in just a few turns.

The math here is pretty easy to see, so you can create more mosters easily, though most things will fit somewhere on this scale.

Where do monsters in your game fit on the Power Level chart?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

VSGMR: Updating For A New Tomorrow

So, a long time ago my game VSGMR (Very Simple Generic Miniatures Rules — I wanted a placeholder name, and it kind of stuck. Hey, it worked for GURPS) was popular enough that it earned its own Yahoo Group. I was just there this morning; you can still find a number of expansions written by several participants, everything from cavemen to "Star Wars."

Speaking of old miniatures games... (image: Pinterest, uploader unknown)

But time has passed and VSGMR is a little out of date, especially given the growth of simplified miniatures games like One Page Rules and Games Workshop's own "Age of Sigmar" (much, much easier to get into than the older versions of "Warhammer"). There's room for plenty of games in the world, and so I will be bringing VSGMR back. I revitalized my own Domino Writing-style USR roleplaying game with an ongoing series here on this blog, and I'll be doing the same with VSGMR.

First, it needs an update, if only to actually keep to the "Very Simple" part of its name. Every gamer knows how easy it is to keep adding rules to a game, and looking through the most recent version of 2013 I see rules for buildings, for special abilities, for using a sheet of paper to make measurements, and on and on. I'll be streamlining the game, with the basic rules in one place, then some official expansions after that. "Very Simple" needs to mean very simple.

Here's the core rules: 

  • Use any figures you have, any size. Their equipment and abilities are whatever you say they are.
  • Roll 1 die (a d6) per figure, on a 4 or better (sometimes higher) it's a success.

That's it! Look for the revised rules soon. If you have any suggestions for the revised version, let me know.