Tuesday, 15 September 2015

PowerFrame in Print

The PowerFrame Core Rulebook has been out in PDF for a few months now, and while I always intended it to be primarily a digital book, I got enough enquiries that I thought it was worth creating a print-on-demand copy as well.

I got the proof copy a couple of weeks ago, and activated the print option on DriveThruRPG as soon as I was able.

  • The physical book includes the PDF at no extra cost, so I encourage you to choose that option over the book-only one. 
  • If you have already bought the PDF and now want the book as well, you are eligible for a $10 discount off the book – please contact me at powerframe(DOT)rpg(AT)gmail(DOT)com so I can send you a coupon. 
  • Likewise, if you bought the book by itself, you can contact me for a free copy of the PDF.

It's softcover and uses Standard colour rather than Premium, because those are the only options available for A4 books on DriveThruRPG at the moment. Although I made a few layout changes for the print copy, it would have taken too much work to reformat it to US Letter. I'll put up hardcover and/or Premium colour options if they ever become available.

Of course, print has certain limitations. The Mysticism supplement I'm working on has led to a few revisions in that chapter, and while I'll update the PDF and POD files, any books purchased before the update will require errata. I'll be releasing free errata files through the new PowerFrame website as new versions come out.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Arcane Errata

I started working on a book of pre-built Spells for PowerFrame and ran into a small problem. It's certainly not game-breaking, and I think I've come up with an easy fix.


I noticed when writing variants of the same Spell that it was actually cheaper to have an area-effect centred on the Caster, than it was to affect a single target at range!
  • Range:self (-2), Area:area1 (2) = 0
  • Range:range1 (1), Area:single (0) = 1
There's an extra discount built into Range:self, which allows me to charge more for Major Arcana intended primarily for self-use. However, it means that while the area or wall Parameters may take up more Vocabulary space, they actually make Spells easier to cast if you can start the effect from your own Hex (which works well for "buffs" but isn't quite as practical for harmful Spells). In effect, if you start with your own Hex you can get better Range for the same net cost by stretching out an area or wall instead of using the range Parameter.


The easiest fix seems to be to change the Resistance of Range:self to -1 instead of -2.

This means the Range increments would be priced self (-1), touch (0), rangeX (X, 1 or more). In the above example, the two Parameter sets would at least have the same total Resistance.

The other option I considered was to make the area, cone, and wall Parameters cost 3 instead of 2. I'm not sure if this would be easier in the long run (as there aren't many established Spells that use these Area Parameters compared to the number using Range:self), or if it might either cause other unforeseen consequences or not fix other problems caused by the self discount.

Does anyone have any other thoughts or suggestions?


This change would modify some of the sample Spells in the Core Rulebook, as well as the Parameters section. I'm also thinking of adjusting a few of the Major Arcana Resistances, but I'll save that until I've gone through the Book of Spells and made sample builds for all the Major Arcana in case I run into any other issues.

Once I complete the Mysticism review, I'll update the PDF to v1.2 and release an Errata PDF for people who bought the v1.1 physical book.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Troubles with tremulus

I've run two mini-campaigns of tremulus so far, and while both have been enjoyable and created good results, there are a few issues I've repeatedly run into with the rules as written. Much of the time, I just fall back on my experience (such as it is) with Apocalypse World, papering over the cracks with the parent system.

Now I should stress, this is me looking literally at the rules as written, from the perspective of a game designer. I know that it's possible to work around the problems in the rules and use common sense, but I'm analysing how the game presents itself.

Sanity Checks and the Damage Move

First off, as a point of order, the book says:
When a character sees something terrifying or potentially startling (and thus, could reasonably cause shock), he must immediately Act Under PressureYou can refer to this as a sanity check. It is a roll +reason (unless they have moves that indicate otherwise).
  • On a 10+, they take 1 less shock and may act normally.
  • On a 7-9, they take 1 less shock but are -1forward.
  • On a miss, they take full shock and are either -1ongoing (for the scene) or the Keeper holds one (Keeper’s choice).
But this isn't Act Under Pressure, which is worded thus:
When you hurriedly flee, are doing something quickly and precisely, or are trying to resist something frightening, roll +reason.
  • On a 10+, you do it.
  • On a 7–9, you flinch, hesitate, cave, or stall. The Keeper will offer you a worse outcome, a hard bargain, or an ugly choice.
Perhaps you're meant to combine the results, but even so it seems somewhat superfluous. The Sanity Check is really its own Move, with its own set of consequences. The only reason to conflate it with Act Under Pressure, as far as I can see, is that it's a roll +reason.

In tremulus, Shock and Harm are two different forms of Damage, which is fine. However, there's a separate Damage Move:
When you suffer damage, roll +damage suffered (after subtracting any protections you may have). No other modifiers come into play. 
On a 10+, the Keeper can choose 1:
  • You’re out of action: unconscious, trapped, incoherent, or panicked.
  • It’s worse than it seemed. Take an additional 1 damage.
  • Choose 2 from the 7–9 list below.
On a 7–9, the Keeper can choose 1:
  • You lose your footing.
  • You lose your grip on whatever you’re holding.
  • You lose track of someone or something you’re attending to.
  • You miss noticing something important.
On a 6 or less:
  • The Keeper can still choose something from the 7–9 list above. If they do, damage suffered is reduced by 1 (to a minimum of 0).
So if you see something frightening, you first make a Sanity Check, and then immediately roll the Damage Move. While that functionally works, I have some issues with it.

It's two Moves in a row with no player input. If something terrifying jumps out in front of you, you roll +reason and note what penalties you end up with, and then you roll +damage and the Keeper gets to choose additional consequences.

In the worst instances, you might reduce Shock with the first roll and increase it with the second Roll. It's two rolls where one customised Move might serve the situation better.

Now, I can see where this two-roll structure comes from - it's sort of the same way Apocalypse World treats physical Harm. However, there are differences.

In Apocalypse World, you can take Harm by:
  • Choosing to Seize by Force;
  • Having another PC use Seize by Force or Go Aggro on you;
  • Giving the MC a Golden Opportunity (missing a Move or ignoring a clear threat), and the MC chooses to Inflict Harm.
So it goes (rolls underlined): Move that opens you to Harm > Inflict Harm > Harm Move > What Do You Do?

In tremulus, you can take Shock by:
  • Choosing to enter a situation you know contains something horrific;
  • Making a successful Poke Around roll, if the Keeper reveals something Shocking;
  • Missing a Move and having the Keeper choose to inflict Shock;
  • Having the Keeper make a Hazard Move that reveals something Shocking;
  • Having the Keeper perform a Hard Move on you that inflicts Shock.
So it mostly goes: Keeper chooses to inflict Shock > Sanity Check > Damage Move > What Do You Do?

There are very few situations where the player has a choice over whether to expose themselves to Shock or not. In most cases, it's something the Keeper decides. Once that decision is made, the player makes two rolls in a row, over which they get no input.

Maybe it generates a sense of helplessness and powerlessness in the player? That's the only genre-appropriate upside I can see to the whole procedure.

General vs Situational Keeper Move

The Keeper's section has this to say about Keeper Moves; underlining has been added for emphasis:
There are two classifications of moves: general and situational. General moves can be used at any time. Situational moves should be contextualized and make sense given what is happening. They are used when the characters are either in a threatening situation (often involving a hazard), or when a character successfully Pokes Around or Puzzles Things Out.
And here's the list of Keeper Moves:
  • Separate them.
  • Capture someone.
  • Put someone in harm’s way.
  • Announce trouble elsewhere.
  • Foreshadow future trouble.
  • Take away their stuff.
  • Make them buy.
  • Activate their gear’s downside (hitting tags is especially useful for this)
  • Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
  • Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
  • Turn their move back on them.
  • Let the dice decide. Call for a roll+luck.
  • Make a hazard (obstacle) move (from your framework).
  • Trade damage for damage.
  • Inflict damage.
  • Present items and clues.
  • Reveal knowledge.
The problem is, most of the Moves are situational, and all of them need to make sense in the context of the fiction. You can't just choose to "make them buy" if they're not trying to acquire something. You can't "turn their move back on them" if they haven't made a move. You can't "separate them" if they're already alone. General moves simply can't be used "at any time", so the division is largely meaningless.

As I did earlier with Apocalypse World, I divided the Keeper Moves into categories to make the list easier to deal with in play. For tremulus, it looks like this:
  • Positioning (Separate them, Capture someone, Put someone in harm’s way)
  • Portents (Announce trouble elsewhere, Foreshadow future trouble)
  • Gear (Take away their stuff, Make them buy, Activate their gear’s downsides)
  • Bargain (Tell them the possible consequences and ask, Offer an opportunity)
  • Revelations (Present items and clues, Reveal knowledge)
  • Moves (Turn their move back on them, Let the dice decide, Make a hazard move)
  • Damage (Trade damage for damage, Inflict damage)

Soft vs Hard Keeper Moves

From the "Moves in Action" section:
When you make a Keeper Move, it should always:
  1. Flow from the fiction.
  2. Allow for character intervention
  3. Set up future moves.
This means you describe what happens, but pause just before the outcome is known. At that point, you ask the players what they do.
And on Hard Moves:
A Hard Move:
  1. Flows from the fiction.
  2. Cannot be interrupted.
  3. Is to be feared by the players.
This means you describe something from start to finish and it happens before you ask the players what they do.
Which sounds fine in theory, but in practice this Hard/Soft distinction is also largely meaningless. There isn't really a Soft and a Hard version of each Keeper Move. Let's take a look at the examples provided in the book:
  • "Soft": The creature leaps out at you from the rafters = Put someone in harm's way
  • "Hard": The creature leaps down from the rafters and you take 2 harm as it bites into your neck = Inflict damage
  • "Soft": The Mayor rises to usher you out of his office = Foreshadow future trouble 
  • "Hard": The Mayor ushers you out of his office, closes the door, and you hear it lock firmly behind you = Hazard Move (probably Claim Territory)
  • "Soft": The chanting rises to a crescendo and something begins forming within the mystic circle = Foreshadow future trouble
  • "Hard": The chanting rises to a crescendo, something forms within the circle, and the slavering beast tears three cultists asunder as the rest run screaming past you = Hazard Move or Inflict damage (Shock)

 Really, when you threaten to separate characters or take away their stuff and give them an opportunity to do something about it, you're actually "Foreshadowing future trouble". You then trigger the "Separate them" or "Take away their stuff" move on a miss.

If we follow the procedure described in the book, you'd have to set up a Move like "Put someone in harm's way" and give the character a chance to intervene before figuring out whether they end up in harm's way or not – not whether they take harm or not, but whether they were actually in harm's way after all; "Inflict harm" would be a separate Move. You'd have to threaten to "Take away their stuff" but give them a chance to not have their stuff taken away. If you "Turn their move back on them" they get a chance to do something about it before it happens, despite already putting themselves in a situation that allowed you to turn the tables. How do you even give characters a chance to intervene part-way through "Announce trouble elsewhere" or "Foreshadow future trouble"?

By RAW, the only way you can pick one of the Keeper Moves and just have it happen is to spend Hold, which is not something you're always going to have. There's no other allowance to just pick a Keeper Move and have it happen, despite the book saying "In any case, to make a move, you simply select one, and do it." The examples that follow in the book contradict the written procedure by simply having stuff happen.

This whole section is very fuzzy, and while I know how it's supposed to work (thanks to Apocalypse World), the way it's written makes me think that the author either does not have a full understanding of how Moves actually flow, or does not know how to explain the procedure in writing.

Making Moves and Spending Hold

As the Keeper, you make a move:
  1. Whenever there’s a pause in the conversation and everyone looks to you to say something.
  2. As a consequence of a character’s failure (someone makes a move and gets a 6 or less on their roll).
  3. At any time, when you spend a point of hold.

What, no "Whenever a player hands you a Golden Opportunity"?

Spending Hold to make a Move at any time is cool, and I think holding "Hard Moves" over the players and being able to hit them with stuff out of nowhere is great for building up tension and uncertainty in a horror game.

Apart from Hold, though, you're procedurally only supposed to make Moves when everyone looks to see what's happening, or if they fail a roll. Consider the following situation:

An Investigator is trapped in a cluttered attic with an axe murderer who's looking to increase their body count. What do you do? The player says "I'm going to search this desk for my uncle's letters," thus triggering Poke Around. Ooo-kay... Technically they've triggered a player Move; they're not looking to the Keeper to find out what happens, the Keeper has no Hold, and if they make the roll they haven't failed either. There's no option for the Keeper to use a Move on a Golden Opportunity (turning their back on an axe murderer) until Poke Around gets resolved. So they find their uncle's letters, and then the axe murderer will get back to them? But as I discussed in the previous section, they'd get a chance to intervene even if the Keeper goes straight to "Inflict damage" next.

That's obviously a ridiculous situation, though; no Keeper in their right mind is going to let you blatantly ignore an axe murderer without serious and immediate consequences, and yet if you follow the procedures in the book that's the result you get.


I've had very good play experiences with tremulus. The questionnaire-based Playsets are inspired (even though half the time I end up with the less-inspiring results), and the recently-released Derelict Adrift Playset really sparked my imagination (even though it has its own set of problems).

However, I'm glad that I ran and read Apocalypse World before tremulus. The latter's florid and archaic 'voice' is fitting for the genre, but also serves to obscure information and procedure.

I know that this article is tragically nit-picky, but as a game designer it irks me when you're given procedures that say one thing and imply another. When you drill down and examine the Keeper's rules, there are parts missing, and other parts seem to connect together oddly and possibly create unintended consequences if followed literally – which is something you should be able to do with MC rules. While vague "GM advice" is de rigeur in RPGs, games Powered by the Apocalypse should be treating MC Rules as hard rules, not vague advice or riddled with "you know what I mean" or "use your default GMing style here" gaps.

If you're familiar with *World games, then by all means buy it and play it, but take the Keeper's section with a grain of salt and be ready to back it up with prior knowledge. I wouldn't recommend tremulus as your first PbtA game – try reading Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, or Monster of the Week first.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

PowerFrame Core Rulebook

The PowerFrame RPG Core Rulebook is now up for sale on DriveThruRPG!

It's been a long journey, but I finally made it! Today I'm going to talk about the system's history, and look towards the future.


I started writing the very first draft of PowerFrame about nineteen years ago, I think. This isn't one of those "X years in the making" stories, though; I realise that's not a selling point! PowerFrame's been an active, evolving, and most importantly played system for all that time. Even now, though, the very core of the system remains exactly the same as the day I first wrote it down. It's building outward from basic principles that makes it the flexible, modular, adaptable system that it is today.

I was at University at the time, and voraciously played many different RPGs. I'd previously written a fantasy board game called PowerQuest, based on an earlier campaign idea I'd had that involved questing around a fantasy kingdom seeking the lost pieces of a suit of power armour to fight against an ancient evil. I realised that the simple system I'd used for the board game could be easily adapted and expanded into an original roleplaying game, and initially the game was called the PowerQuest RPG. However, I soon realised that, since it already contained fantastic and technological elements, it wouldn't be hard to fill in the gaps with modern equipment and expand the game into a simple generic system. This was in the mid-90's, when Generic was the Wave of the Future!


I named the generic version of the system PowerFrame, to reflect its origins and express its powerful, flexible, and "fill-in-the-blanks" approach.

For the next ten years, I kept writing rules modules, hacking the game to emulate the style of whatever I was watching or playing at the time. I introduced the game to new groups as I moved, and some of the players started using it to run their own games too! I wrote up the rules in Word, but in those days traditional publication and distribution meant getting it out to a wider audience was a distant pipe-dream.


I bought a copy of Adobe CS so I could professionally lay out a publishable copy of the rules. The InDesign version has gone through three different layouts.

Initially I was planning on perhaps releasing the rules through print-on-demand, designed to be ring-punched and filed in a binder. I took that approach because the rules are modular and at the time large sections were in flux, so it seemed sensible to allow people to reorganise things and have a system where I could easily release single updated pages. However, that system proved a little ambitious, and there were practical issues, as well as some minor problems with the layout design.

I also experienced a crisis of confidence. As I was approaching completion on this version, I poked my head up and did a little research into the state of the RPG hobby. So much had changed in the ten years or so I'd been exclusively playing PowerFrame! I discovered the Forge (which had come and gone), and RPG.net, and all sorts of new games. I went on a year-long pilgrimage to try out new systems, and used this new knowledge to look at PowerFrame in a completely new light.

In an about-face, I briefly tried to create a completely electronic layout! This would be published exclusively in PDF, but presented much like a website – no page numbers, just topics on pages, and with hyperlinks for quick navigation. While ambitious, early feedback told me that people still wanted the option to print the rules. I compromised, so while the current layout is still intended primarily for use on tablets and computers, it includes page numbers as well as chunky hyperlinks.

Version 1.0

The final version of the rules took exactly three years from creating the new InDesign file to its release on DriveThruRPG. Writing and formatting took two years during my spare time. While a lot of it was lifted from earlier drafts, I went through the whole text to clean it up, revise, and polish things.

I also completely overhauled some subsystems; magic, in particular, got gutted and refitted. The old magic system relied on lists of pre-written spells, but expansion and variations on a theme meant the magic system was 75 pages on its own. Breaking the spells down into their component pieces allowed me to cut the page count to about a third, while technically increasing the available spell variations.

After completing the main body of the text, it took another entire year to finish off enough art to comfortably fill out the book!

The Future

Now that the Core Rulebook is out, I can finally turn my attention to other projects. I have some board and card games in the works, and at least one idea for a new RPG I want to work on: Thunder Hunters! Primitive hunters living alongside dinosaurs in a world that never was!

I also have a few freelance jobs on my plate at the moment, but unless I find permanent employment I'm always on the lookout for more! If you're after editing, illustration, layout, or graphic design, send me an email at powerframe(DOT)rpg(AT)gmail(DOT)com to discuss your project.

I might also write some supplements for PowerFrame if I find the time, or if there's demand. Massed combat, cybernetics, a Mystic Companion, bestiary, setting seeds or entire setting books... I don't want to just run on the supplement treadmill unless people actually want this stuff, though – so if you think something's missing from the Core Rules, let me know!

Here are some handy PowerFrame related links:

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

PowerFrame: Multi-Genre Mashups!

I've finally completed PowerFrame's last illustration and submitted the files to DriveThruRPG for review, so the Core Rulebook should be available for sale shortly! Stay tuned for the release announcement, or join the Community on G+!

In a recent discussion, I was surprised when someone mentioned that it was a "unique selling-point" that PowerFrame was designed to support multi-genre mashups. I guess the traditional appeal of generic systems is in allowing a single system to emulate different genres by tailoring the rules to suit each unique world, but in my mind their true strength lies in the cross-genre possibilities.

After all, when you have a single game system that has rules for swords, firearms, and beam weapons; plate-and-mail, flak jackets, and powered armour; cybernetics, spaceships, and magic; the obvious thing to me is to start mixing and matching! In PowerFrame, at least, everything's written and rated against the same set of basic rules. All of the example weapons, armour, and creatures are put together from basic principles, and so you can break them down, modify them, or build your own original stuff using the same guidelines. This fluidity is key to combining the trappings of different genres and having them all work smoothly together.

The first-ever PowerFrame game was a techno-fantasy world. Other campaigns have included post-apocalyptic wild west, gothic sci-fi, and urban fantasy. My current campaign is a post-apocalypse techno-gothic monster mash; after civilisation was destroyed by a Cthulhoid apocalypse, Earth's native monsters rose up and fought back the cosmic horrors. Now, vampires, werewolves and worse dominate the human population while keeping the Mythos aliens at bay in a shattered world.

Of course, you can always use PowerFrame to play a "straight" genre game. It's been used for straight-up fantasy, Warring States ninja, Age of Sail pirates (albeit with magical rocks), Cthulhu investigation, and it can also support straight modern or sci-fi games.

The game does come with its own approach and assumptions (for example, firearms are a bit weak to encourage engaging gunfights rather than paranoid sniping), but it's designed to be flexible and adaptable, so you can often tweak it to your needs with only a few minor changes.

Anyway, it should be out in the next few days, so you'll finally be able to see for yourself!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

PowerFrame: Ability Descriptions

Only one more picture to go for PowerFrame! It's going to be a fairly large and involved piece, though, and I still have a little bit of proof-reading and last-minute edits to do, but I'm still looking good for a June release! In the meantime, if you haven't seen it yet, please check out the free Rules Primer!

This second-last picture is for the Ability Description section, illustrating the Tech Ability.

The Nuts & Bolts chapter goes into nitty-gritty detail of all the Abilities, Attributes, and Traits in the game. The Ability Descriptions include cross-references to the main places in the rules where the Ability is used, and also describe any unique special functions or properties.

Tech allows characters to build and repair high-tech items such as computers, lasers, cyberware, antigrav systems, starship drives, and the like. The exact functionality will depend a bit on the technological norms of the setting. Repair allows you to restore lost Structure and functions to damaged Tech-based items.

In addition, Tech is one of several Abilities that allows for Specialisations. Rather than having to buy separate Abilities for Electronics, Computers, Cybernetics, and Robotics, each of these fields is a Tech Specialisation. Every positive level of Tech allows you to pick one area of Specialisation.

For Tech, trying to do something without the appropriate Specialisation gives you a massive penalty. The same is true for Medical Specialisations (but First Aid does not count as a Specialisation). For other Abilities with Specialisations (Artisan, Craft, Engineering, Music, Scholar), a Specialisation gives the character a +1 in the appropriate field.

Ironically, there aren't currently rules for cyberware in the core book. It gets a little complex dealing with body replacements when characters have a single Health pool and start replacing parts of their body with Structure. I have some ideas for handling it, so if there's demand I'll probably release a short supplementary PDF for cybertech.

The final illustration is going to be a big battle scene, but I haven't yet decided on the genre or layout.

Monday, 25 May 2015

PowerFrame: Equipment

Only two more illustrations to go for PowerFrame! There was a bit of a lull in art production last week because I was working on a free introduction to the full rules. Check it out! If you like what you see, please consider joining the Google+ Community. Now I'm back to working on the last few pieces, starting with some equipment.

There's not a lot to say about equipment, really! I've never been a big fan of tracking huge amounts of gear in games, so I try to cut it down to the basics and essentials where I can. To keep the Encumbrance system actually usable, I tend to give expendable gear such as rations or ammunition no Encumbrance value – so you don't need to recalculate every time you use something.

While you can just stick to the basics, I have included a fairly comprehensive Equipment section for groups that prefer to outfit their characters thoroughly. Most of it focusses on camping and survival, food, light sources, and other outdoorsy stuff.

The pictures above are from the Specialist Gear section which includes tools required to apply certain technical and practical skills, medical kits to assist with first aid, and some basic computers. Most general equipment doesn't have a particular in-game effect (other than facilitating appropriate actions), so it's not too hard to figure out in-game Encumbrance and Cost if you can estimate its real-world size and cost.

I already have the next illustration planned and thumbnail-sketched – someone fixing their own cyber-arm, for the Tech Ability Description section of the rules.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

PowerFrame: Arcana

I only have three illustrations to go for PowerFrame! I also now have a completed cover image, which I'll reveal sometime soon. For now, though, here's the fourth-last image – an arcane researcher, which will illustrate the section on Creating Arcana.

A while back, I overhauled PowerFrame's Mysticism system to cut down on the page-count. Going with a "build spells from the components" approach allows for greater flexibility, and does away with the need for an exhaustive spell list that's full of minor variations of similar spells.

Parameters define the limits in which a spell operates – things like range, duration, and area of effect.

Major Arcana form the body of a spell. They are stripped-back effects; if Parameters define the when and where, Major Arcana supply the how. They may describe how to make a damage roll or apply a status effect, or where to move a target, or what information is revealed, or many other effects.

Although the list is fairly comprehensive, you can create your own Major Arcana by describing the desired effect and rating its difficulty using the guidelines provided.

Minor Arcana are specific details such as a particular type of target, or a scale of hex, or an ability or attribute. Minor Arcana have no effect on their own, but some Major Arcana require a Minor Arcana to specify what the spell affects. Minor Arcana supply the what or the who.

For example, the RESTORE Major Arcana restores lost points to a pool stat such as Health, Endurance, Mana, or Fortune. It has the same effect on each pool, but you need to use a Minor Arcana to specify which one the spell is targeting.

Some Minor Arcana are lists of game terms (hex scales, abilities, attributes), but others are more descriptive. The subject Minor Arcana category includes various types of characters and creatures, and could easily be added to or revised to suit a particular game world. Likewise, the matter Minor Arcana could be rewritten to reflect a particular world's elemental philosophy.

Although it's a bit of a challenge to get a handle on all the Arcana and figure out how to build spells the way you want, once you do it's a very satisfying system. To help out, I'm designing new Caster and Spell record sheets. I've found that once you have a spell written out, it becomes very easy to modify it on the fly without having to recalculate the whole thing.

If there's demand for it, I may release a supplement featuring new Arcana, and possibly even a collection of pre-made spells for those who don't want the hassle of building their own.

Friday, 1 May 2015

PowerFrame: Critical Hits

Four illustrations left to do! This picture is for PowerFrame's Critical Hits chapter, and illustrates the "Push & Stun-Only" Critical Hit Table. This post, I'll summarise how Critical Hits work.

In PowerFrame, a Critical Hit is any Attack that beats the opponent's defence by 5 or more. Every additional 5 points increases the severity.

The basic rules allow you to deal with Criticals simply by increasing the Damage by 2 for every 5 points of Attack Margin, but there's also an optional detailed Critical Hit system that gives combat a more risky and gritty feel.

You roll for Damage as normal (generally an Ability plus the weapon's damage rating plus a roll, against the defender's Toughness, Armour and roll). Even if you deal no actual damage, you still get to check for a Critical Hit result.

You roll a single die (not open-ended), add the Damage roll's Margin (which could be negative if you rolled below the defender), and add +1 for every additional 5 points the Attack hit by. This is your Critical Hit result. Look up the total on the appropriate Critical Hit table, depending on the damage type (Cutting, Piercing, Bludgeoning, Energy, Grapple, Push, Stun-only).

A result of 2 or less has no effect. Generally a result of 3 is ineffective as well, apart from Bludgeoning attacks or hits to the head. Results of 4 to 6 tend to be minor Stun or Bleed results. 7 to 9 become more serious, leading to broken bones and severe bleeding. A result of 10 or more is usually fatal, or at least debilitating – severed limbs, pulverised bones, paralysis, massive bleeding, and so on.

So although it's possible to inflict a Critical Hit result even if you don't deal any actual damage, it will most likely be pretty minor. Unless your Attack hit by 10 or 15 points, the best you can get with a Damage Margin of 0 is a 6. You generally need a Damage Margin of 4 or more, which is a fairly serious wound, to have a chance at taking out an enemy in one hit.

Critical Hits against player-characters do happen, but more often than not you can minimise the risk using Fortune to re-roll bad results. That said, I did once play a character who was hit with an Attack Margin of 20+ and a Damage Margin of only 1 who was very neatly decapitated (Damage 1 plus Attack Bonus +3 plus a 6 on the Critical die for a total of 10). Most of the time though, Critical Hits seem to affect enemies, and it can be pretty gratifying for a PC to devastate their foes in graphic style.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

PowerFrame: Attack Results

The latest illustration for PowerFrame is a bit late because I had a sudden and unexpected (but welcome!) run of freelance design work all come in at once! Now that's behind me, I'm hoping I can double-time the next picture and get back on track. After this piece, I'm down to the final five!

This illustration will grace the Conflict chapter, in the section on Stun damage.

Attack Effects

There are four general types of Attack you can make in PowerFrame, depending on whether you aim to Wound, Subdue, Grapple, or Push.

Wounding causes Health loss, Grapples penalise the target's actions or perhaps even immobilise them, and Pushing causes forced movement. Attacks aiming to subdue inflict points of Stun.


While Health loss inflicts no particular penalties and results in long-term unconsciousness or death, Stunned targets suffer a penalty to most actions (apart from inflicting or receiving damage) – but it also wears off automatically at the rate of 1 point per turn. If a character accumulates 6 or more Stun they fall unconscious temporarily. Characters can't be killed from Stun alone, but every 5 Stun inflicted in a single blow also reduces Health by 1.

Normally you need a weapon that inflicts Stun damage in order to make an Attack to Subdue (boxing gloves, concussion grenade), but it's possible to inflict Stun with any weapon at reduced effectiveness (using the flat of the blade, pulling the blow to avoid permanent damage, or aiming for a weak-spot such as the stomach).

Stun can also be inflicted from means other than an Attack to Subdue, such as poison or a mystical effect.

Stealth Attacks

On the subject of ninja, PowerFrame has built-in ambush rules accessible to anybody – but characters with high Stealth who use the environment to their advantage are more likely to pull off stealth attacks with greater success.

If a character is unaware of your presence, and your Stealth roll is 5 or more points higher than their Wits roll, they don't get to make an Avoid roll. You simply have to beat their base Avoid value with your attack, which also increases the chance of a Critical Hit (an Attack with a Margin of 5 or more).

If you beat their Wits roll by 10 or more, they don't get a Toughness roll either. You roll Damage against their base Toughness plus Armour value with no die roll added. This greatly increases the chance of taking someone out in a single hit or, if you managed to score a Critical Hit, of at least maiming or debilitating them.

I'm unsure what picture will be next; I'll just see where my artistic whims take me. The pieces I have left to do are: Tech (Cyberware), Critical Hits (Push), Professional Equipment, Creating Arcana, and a Battle Scene (genre uncertain).

Friday, 10 April 2015

PowerFrame: Characters

Six illustrations to go for PowerFrame RPG! This week I drew a picture for the "Nuts & Bolts" chapter, which is a reference for the various elements that define characters. In this post, I'll introduce those elements.

Characters in PowerFrame are defined through three major categories: Abilities, Attributes, and Traits.


Abilities are the primary means by which characters, creatures, and even objects are described in game terms. Characters are differentiated by choosing which Abilities they are good or bad at.

Abilities can represent physical traits (Strength, Toughness, Looks), learned skills (Melee, Engineering, Driving), and knowledge (Languages, Appraising, Bureaucracy)There are also some Special Abilities which either work in unusual ways (Fortune, Magic) or have restrictions on which characters can use them (Berserk, Fly).

Abilities start at 0, which is the level of an average untrained adult human. That baseline varies depending on whether we're talking about Strength, Riding, Medical, or Magic. Abilities can go up to 5, and you can also take some at a negative to represent weak areas. Races often have special modifiers that raise or lower the starting and maximum allowed values.

Intelligent Races can improve their Abilities through learning and practice. The list of Abilities is quite long, but it combines everything that would be separate "stats" and "skills" in other systems. Once you're familiar with them, you can probably pick a dozen or so Abilities to build your character around and ignore the rest. 


Unlike Abilities, Attributes are assigned rather than chosen. Most are either dictated by a character’s Race, or derived from one of their Abilities.

Attributes normally can’t be improved using Experience Points, although those based on an Ability will improve as the Ability increases.
  • Health: How much damage the character can take before they pass out or die. Normally 6 for humans. Health is a static value because being Tougher and better Armoured reduces the amount of damage you take.
  • Size: Humans are Size 0. Things larger than 2 metres are Size 1 or more.
  • Hit Locations: Characters usually have six Locations, which are used for equipping Armour.
  • Carry: Based on Strength and Size, this determines how much Encumbrance you can carry before suffering a Burden penalty.
  • Endurance: Based on Toughness, this is used to track things like hunger, thirst, exposure, and exhaustion.
  • Movement: Based on various Movement Abilities and Size, you have several Movement Rates for walking, swimming, and climbing. Some Races also have access to flying or burrowing.
  • Threat: A measure of advancement and dangerousness in combat. Used when calculating combat XP.
  • Ranking: Arbitrarily-assigned ranks in organisations.


Traits are special descriptors that represent unusual capabilities or weaknesses that can't be modelled with Abilities or Attributes. They are assigned to Races and creatures, and aren’t available to characters that don’t start with them.

Traits describe things that make a character or creature different from the standard human baseline. They include things like natural weapons and armour; the ability to fly, burrow, or use another type of movement more or less effectively than a human; breathing underwater or not needing to breathe at all; fast-healing regeneration; phobias, aversions or reactions to various things; innate powers that mimic spell-like effects; and many more. Traits are a catch-all category, and it's possible to invent new ones to represent powers that work in specific ways.

Traits are rated in Threat, to give some indication of their effectiveness. Drawbacks have negative Threat.

Flexible Creations

By putting together a set of Racial Ability Modifiers, Attributes, and Traits, you can quickly and easily define a new fantastic race or creature. If the existing Traits don't have what you need, you just need to define how something works and assign a Treat rating to it and you can plug it into the existing system.

Create your own original races for your own original worlds. It's possible to stat up and play the Oni-Faced Naga pictured above (Natural Armour, Natural Weapons, Comfort Zone: Warm, Dark Vision, some Racial Modifiers; possibly some additional weaknesses or powers). Heck, I once created and played a five metre tall pearlescent chipmunk-thing, the spawn of a holy sky-squid, with fleshy "dreadlocks" that dropped off and turned into small versions of itself. It made sense at the time...

I'm not sure what I'll be drawing next, but my list of possibilities is getting shorter!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

PowerFrame: Weapons

This week's Polearm illustration isn't very exciting, but it was fairly quick to create. It's going in the weapon lists, on the Spears & Polearms page.

Yes, PowerFrame is one of those RPGs with pages of weapon lists, although I haven't gone all-out with glaive-guisarmes and voulges and such! This post, I'm going to talk a bit about how the game provides interesting choices by differentiating weapon types, and how it supports you in making your own creations.

Differentiating Weapons

The baseline melee weapon in PowerFrame is the sword. It uses your Melee Ability to attack, and your Strength Ability to do damage. Bigger swords cost and weigh more, and have bigger damage bonuses.

Different weapon types such as axes, bludgeons, chains and flails, daggers, and even some sword varieties, change up not just the Attack Ability but also the Damage Ability.
  • Axes – Attack: Strength, Damage: Toughness
  • Bludgeons – Attack: Melee, Damage: Toughness
  • Chains & Flails – Attack: Avoid, Damage: Melee
  • Spears – Attack: Melee, Damage: Hunting
  • Light Swords – Attack: Melee, Damage: Avoid
This also applies to ranged weapons, although things like guns and lasers (and chainsaws) do damage based on a set number, not an Ability calculation.

Varying the Abilities creates a couple of interesting effects. Firstly, it serves to make the weapons feel distinctively different. Secondly, it means characters with diverse Ability choices can find a weapon that suits their style (or conversely, allows you to create a character tailored towards a particular fighting style).

Given the other functions of Abilities such as Strength (Carry, Pushing, Grappling), Toughness (Damage Resistance, Endurance), Avoid (Dodging), Melee (Throwing, Catching), or Unarmed (Grappling), choosing a particular weapon style has other implications for a character's playstyle.


While the different polearms use a variety of Attack and Damage Abilities (mostly defaulting to Melee and Strength), their main distinguishing features are the Reach and Hold-Off Attributes.

Normally close-combat weapons can attack a target in an adjacent 2m Hex. Weapons with the Reach Attribute can make a close-combat attack against a target a number of Hexes away equal to the Reach rating. All the listed Polearms have Reach 2, although particularly long pikes might have Reach 3 or 4.

When you're attacked by a weapon that has Hold-Off, it imposes a condition on your movement. For example, if attacked by a Pike you need to make a Move roll against the wielder's Melee in order to move closer to them. There is some variation; Boar Spears prevent any movement closer to the wielder, but only if you are wounded by the attack. Man-Catchers prevent all movement if you are caught by its grapple.

Not all Polearms have Hold-Off. The Lance provides a damage bonus if you use it in a mounted charge.

Designing Your Own Weapons

As with many of its subsystems, weapons are created using an effects-based system. All Weapon Special Attributes are listed and rated in Threat (used to calculate Experience awards from combat), so it's just a matter of coming up with a literal description of what the weapon is capable of and then going through and selecting the appropriate options.

Case in point – we're just setting up to start a new campaign in a post-apocalyptic techno-gothic setting (think Vampire Hunter D). One of the guys is playing a werewolf, and he jokingly suggested he have "lightsaber claws". To his surprise I said I could stat them up no problem, but I was interested to know how he imagined them working. I think he's either gone with fingertip implants, or some sort of knuckleduster projectors.

Actually creating them was a simple matter of adjusting the Beam Sabre I already had on the weapon list.

Beam Claws x2 – Attack: Unarmed, Damage: 4 (+2 for dual-wielding) Energy, Close Only, Cost 7 ea., Enc 1 ea., Threat 4 ea.

It's lining up to be a pretty nuts campaign, and I'm glad to be able to demonstrate the system's flexibility and diversity. The first session is tomorrow!

The next picture on my to-do list is a character who displays several nonhuman Traits, such as armour, weapons, and wings.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

PowerFrame: Customising Armour

Eight illustrations to go! Last week I made a post about armour in the PowerFrame RPG. This week I'm back with the Modern Armour illustration, and some further armour discussions.

Please consider joining the PowerFrame Games Community on Google Plus if the game seems like your cup of tea!

Custom Armour

If you want to make your own armour, or if you disagree with the ratings PowerFrame provides for a particular armour type, you can easily create a set of balanced stats that reflect the performance you have in mind. As with all things in PowerFrame, just about anything's fair as long as you follow the guidelines.


Designing armour is pretty easy. The main thing is to decide how much protection it will provide against the four different types of damage – Cutting, Piercing, Bludgeoning and Energy. 

Compare your proposed armour to the listed armour types to get a feel for appropriate Toughness Bonuses. They are normally between +1 and +3 for Ancient armour, with an additional +1 for Modern and again for Future armour. To make the calculations easier, assign an even number of points between the four Damage Types.

Add together the Toughness Bonuses you’ve assigned to the four Damage Types to give the armour’s total protection rating – which is then used to calculate its Cost, Encumbrance, and Threat.


Currency in PowerFrame is rated in abstract Currency Units; 1 CU is around $50, and is also 1 gold piece in fantasy settings.

Cost per Location is equal to the protection rating divided by 4.


Encumbrance is an abstract measurement of weight and bulk. The numbers are small enough to easily keep track of, and it can be an intriguing balancing act to outfit your character in a combination of gear that doesn't slow them down.

The Encumbrance of each Location is equal to the protection rating divided by 4, minus 1, with a minimum of 0.


Threat is a rating of equipment's combat effectiveness. The more Threat characters are equipped with, the less Experience they get from combat.

A point of Threat is equivalent to 1 point in an Ability. Since a complete suit (six Locations) of armour that provides +1 against all Damage Types is the equivalent of 1 extra point of Toughness, each section of armour is rated in 12ths of Threat. For example, armour that provides +1 against all Damage Types is worth 2/12ths of Threat per Location.

The Threat per Location (in 12ths of Threat) is equal to the protection rating divided by 2. To figure out the Threat of a suit of armour, add together the Threat of each Location and round up to the nearest whole number.

Lightweight Armour

Modern and futuristic armours often provide better protection for the same weight, as they use lightweight materials and production techniques not available in ancient times.
  • In most cases you can reduce Enc by 1/2 for modern armour, and by 1 for futuristic armour.
  • Any reduction in Enc results in an equivalent increase in both Threat and Cost.

Next up, I'm probably going to draw a selection of polearms to put in the Weapon section. Yes, PowerFrame is one of those systems that has several pages dedicated to weapon lists, and for the next post I'll delve into the ways the system differentiates them and creates interesting choices.

Friday, 20 March 2015

PowerFrame: Armour

Last Sunday I posted PowerFrame's Size Comparison diagram, and with only ten pictures left to do, committed to completing one illustration a fortnight. Now, less than a week later, I'm pleased to present the next picture already - Future Armour!

This picture will sit alongside the Future Armour table in the Armour section, and will also feature in Under the Hood to illustrate the section on designing armour. 

If you're interested in the game, please consider joining the PowerFrame Games G+ Community!

For this post, I'm going to go over the basics of armour in PowerFrame.

Reducing Damage

When you get hit by an attack, the attacker rolls and adds their Damage rating – typically a combination of their Strength (or another Ability) and a Damage Bonus from the weapon. Some weapons such as firearms just have a set Damage rating. To resist you roll and add your Toughness, plus any protection granted by Armour. If the Damage roll exceeds the Toughness roll, you lose the excess off your Health.

The very first draft of PowerFrame was built around a techno-fantasy setting, and there were only four types of armour. The basic three fantasy varieties – Leather, Chain (Maille) and Plate – granted a +1, +2, and +3 bonus respectively. Futuristic power armour granted a +5 bonus.

Diversifying the Armour List

For a long time, weapons and magical attacks had Damage Types – Cutting, Piercing, Bludgeoning, and Energy. However, since armour provided uniform protection against all types of damage, it was really just for flavour. Eventually during a system discussion with +Andrew Grosse and +Melysa Hamilton, we realised that giving different Protection ratings against the four Damage Types allowed us to expand the armour list dramatically! It was a pretty obvious step, but I'd been focussing on the system's simplicity in the past and hadn't really thought about it until then.

Using Ancient armour as the baseline, Modern armour gives better protection for the same Encumbrance, but also has higher Cost and Threat. Future armour takes that one step further.

Piecemeal Armour

Characters are divided into six Hit Locations - Head, Chest, Stomach, Hips, Arms, and Legs. Each area is armoured separately, meaning you can choose to wear only a piece or two, a whole suit of the same type, or a piecemeal outfit. You can put together your armour based on what you can afford, how much you can wear without slowing down, your personal sense of style, or simply what's available at the time.

Normally you can only wear one piece of armour on each Location (although the Futuristic Bodysuit allows one extra layer to be stacked on top). If you wear two overlapping pieces, you get an Encumbrance penalty and only apply the highest Protection against a particular Damage Type.

I'm planning to tackle the Modern Armour illustration next, so the next article will expand on the armour variations and the rules for creating your own armour types.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sizing Up PowerFrame

After this weekend, ten images and a final editing pass are all that stands between me and the release of the PowerFrame RPG PDF! I've just completed the images for the Size Comparison diagram, which is made up of 28 original animal images and some re-scaled images I'd created earlier.

I haven't blogged for a while, but now I'm getting close to completion I'm going to write an article each time I finish an image talking a bit about the section of the book it's for. I'm aiming to complete at least one picture every two weeks, so there should be another post up before the end of March.

Size in PowerFrame

The Size ratings go from -5 to 10. The measurements for Sizes 0 to 10 progress on the Fibonacci sequence: Size 0 is 1 to 2 metres; Size 1 is 2 to 3; Size 2 is 3 to 5; Size 3 is 5 to 8, and so on. Sizes smaller than Size 0 are half the dimensions of the next largest category.

In the very original version of PowerFrame, there was no Size attribute. Larger creatures had higher Strength and Toughness, and lower Attack Abilities and Avoid. When I added Size, it made sense to add it to Strength, Toughness, and Movement Abilities, and subtract it from Attack rolls, Avoid, Wits, and Stealth.

However, while this works fine for animals and unintelligent monsters, it created a problem with large or small creatures that use weapons.

PowerFrame uses different Abilities as the basis of Attack and Damage for different weapon types: Swords use Melee to attack and Strength for damage; axes use Strength to attack and Toughness for damage; some fine blades use Melee to attack and Avoid for damage.

So if larger creatures simply have higher Strength and Toughness, that means that the larger they are the more accurate they become with axes, in addition to having higher damage. On the flip-side, tiny creatures start inflicting massive damage with light blades because of their high Avoid. This runs counter to the intent, that increased Size should boost damage and damage resistance while penalising accuracy and evasion (and vice-versa for reduced Size).

In the end, I had to separate the Strength attribute from the Abilities it affects. After several iterations dealing with the problem in different ways, the final version works like this:
  • All characters pick Abilities within the normal -5 to +5 range (0 being average), plus Racial Modifiers. 
  • Size is always added to Abilities in the following situations:
    • Add Size to Strength when trying to perform a feat of strength against a static Resistance.
    • Add Size to Strength or Toughness when resisting a Physical Effect (such as Damage or Pushing) that is not based on an Ability (crossbows, firearms, traps).
  • Size Differential
    • Whenever two characters of different Size are fighting each other, or one is trying to hide from the other, the defending character must modify their rolls. The Modifier is equal to the acting character’s Size minus the defender’s Size.
    • The defender adds the Size Differential to their Avoid rolls.
    • The defender subtracts the Size Differential from Strength or Toughness when resisting a Physical Effect (such as Health loss or Pushing) that is based on an Ability.
    • The sneaking character adds the Size Differential to their Stealth rolls.
Although it may be a little fiddly and it's one more thing to remember, it does properly model larger things being stronger and harder to damage while at the same time being less accurate and easier to hit.

A lot of the time you're probably going to be playing Size 0 characters fighting Size 0 threats anyway, which means you won't have to worry about Size modifiers at all. If there was only one set of attack and damage stats this solution wouldn't have been necessary, but I think the variable weapon stats are more valuable in terms of flavour and mechanical interest.