02 June, 2021

Simulacrum — Beta Release

I've had a few requests to provide copies of my game, Simulacrum, and sometimes I've posted drafts in the comments section or to /osrg.   Overall though I've been reluctant to put it out in a main post.  In part that's because I wanted to continue to write about the process of development, and putting out a near-final release would seem to detract from charting its creation.  And I've not been in any hurry because this project has always been for myself, rather than based on any delusion that the world breathlessly awaits another OSR game.

But a lot of my reluctance has to do with wanting it to be the best that it can be before really releasing it to the wider world.  I'm currently running a playtest campaign with it; after a year in my players have hit 7th level and I'm looking forward to their exploration of the game's higher levels and the inevitable tweaks that will produce.  I like to edit things as much as possible, tweaking individual words, moving layout elements a few mm, and so on, and not to no effect: I think the benefits overall have been clear, looking back at older drafts.

Still, I think it's time.  So, without further ado, here's the beta for my humble game.  I'll be continuing to run my campaign, read blogs and other games, and take into account feedback, all of which will lead me to tweak things here and there, and eventually I'll put it up on DriveThru and make it "final", but for now you should find this perfectly playable.

1 - Simulacrum Player's Manual - Beta 22-06

2 - Simulacrum GM's Manual - Beta 22-06

3 - Simulacrum Designer Notes - Beta 22-06

4 - Simulacrum Playing Aids - Beta 21-06

The Player's Manual is entirely self-contained, and should be everything a player needs.

The GM's Manual completes the game; it has some cross-referencing, in that it expands and comments on Player's Manual material, but is GM-only.

The Designer Notes are bonus material, made simply because I'm tired of downloading OSR games and having no idea what they did to depart from the TSR baseline, let alone why they did so.  Everything I've done has been for a reason, and I imagine at least a few of you reading a history/theory/game design blog are going to be interested in that kind of inside baseball, as I am.  By reading it, those on the fence can decide if a given change has a basis that makes sense for them.  Completely optional.

Lastly, the Playing Aids PDF consists of a few simple squares you can print and cut out to give to players so that they can announce their stances each round by throwing down their choice on the table, aiding the GM in running fights quicker.  They're not necessary at all: ever since I switched to Zoom I've been just handling that verbally, but in person I've found that it speeds things up.  The PDF also has a GM's sheet that I print off a copy of each session to track key session elements: time passing, treasure gained, and so on (the little dinosaurs in the time-tracking boxes are a reminder to roll for a wandering monster).

The only thing that I feel is missing is a character sheet.  I created one for my own use, but it uses graphical elements I stole from other works and so wouldn't be right to share.  Characters are pretty simple, as they are in most OSR games, and so this shouldn't be a major hindrance.

Why Bother?

As I said above, most of this was about creating a game for myself: very few people play most OSR games.  What it does and why is thoroughly explored in the Design Notes document, and there's lots of changes.  However, in short, I do think this offers a few key things that other editions / clones don't:

A thorough design focus on 4-5 players.  As I've explored in other posts, old-school D&D assumes large parties: 6 PCs/NPCs at the very minimum, with 15-16 total towards the top end.  Old-school lethality is definitely a thing, but a lot of it comes from your modern group of 4 to 5 players rolling up to keeps in the borderlands without any retainers and getting mobbed by hordes of monsters placed to challenge player groups that were two to three times the size.  Simulacrum takes a combination of PC toughening and monster weakening throughout the game framework that brings things back to a more even keel in terms of party / enemy balance.  PCs aren't superheroes, but neither are they hopeless frails in the face of the enemy.  This isn't intended to make stronger heroes per se, but to level the playing field back to where things used to be, albeit in a non-traditional fashion.

Native hexcrawl support.  Using the system I've worked out in an earlier post, the game handles hexcrawling in a far cleaner fashion than the traditional D&D rules, making the wilderness portion of the game not just something paid lip service to, while at the same time not bogging things down with a mountain of tiresome Wilderness Survival Guide-type survivalist tedium.

Two core classes.  A tight two-page spread gives you all your core character creation, so that making new characters is quick and easy.  At the same time, a mix of modular add-ons and spell schools allows one to create a set of custom classes for their own campaign, or to have an extremely flexible structure that allows you to more readily capture a wide variety of archetypes and variations than normal while at the same time not needing page after page of classes and subclasses or descending into the hell of "builds".

Streamlining without compromising core play.  I've tried to make things run more smoothly in terms of aspects of weapons, armour, saves, task resolution, classes (as above), and spells.  However, I tried to avoid the common phenomena of streamlining to the point of removing what makes an OSR game actually OSR.  Things like encumbrance and the classic dungeoneering procedures are kept and even sometimes slightly clarified / expanded upon, and advice on how to use the engine in old-school games sown throughout, so that the game doesn't become a generic fantasy ruleset.  "Rules-light" is not an end unto itself.

I would welcome any questions or comments.  I'd only note first that between the GM's Manual and the Designer Notes that a lot of the "why" as to what I did is covered.  Still, if I missed something or are not clear there, by all means let me know.

I hope this is of some use to you out there, either as a full game or as a collection of elements for you to steal for your own OSR game, as is right and proper.  For those of you who commented on earlier drafts or run playtest games, thanks for your feedback over the years: it's been invaluable.  Happy adventuring.  Go forth and plunder!

32 comments:

  1. Thank you Keith for posting the beta of your game! I am looking forward to reading the books and trying their ideas in my games.

    Best,

    Lucas

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glad to finally see this on your blog.

    One thing I'd like to see in the Designer Notes (Or the GM's Manual) is how do you handle languages and what purpose do they serve in the game.
    I've become less of a fan of how Languages work after reading Arnold K's blogpost on the subject and was wondering how you tackle the issues presented in that post or if you have a different view and use of Languages entirely.

    Anyways, happy to see your system being publicized more as it gets finished.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have a special systemic approach to languages beyond what is explored in the Player's Manual, where I specifically leave that to the GM, based on their desires for realism vs gameplay convenience. You can see why "Common" became a popular choice, especially in systems that want to encourage roleplaying and general diplomacy with encounters rather than just hack and slash. Ultimately, some people want to invest the time into segmented languages, and others find it annoying, but the community is too fragmented on this one for me to make a one-true ruling for my game and expect it to satisfy everyone, and it's not mission-critical to any sort of experience I'm attempting to capture to mandate it.

      I was intrigued by an idea in the comments to the post you reference that every speaks Common but languages still exist as a way to eke out positive Reaction Roll mods, however. That's an approach I hadn't seen or considered before. Cheers.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for sharing this with us. I look forward to reading through it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thoroughly enjoy what I've read so far. Campaign Matters is such a nice way to handle these rules that are so commonly modified. The Named Levels offers a tiered approach to play that offers some of the benefits of more modern PC leveling, but without the complexity and min/max behavior that can come with it. I appreciate the notes that help establish how Simulacrum would compare to other classic editions, such as how attack bonus compares to fighter levels or feats help create characters that emulate classic classes. Nicely done!

      Delete
  4. These rules look very interesting - will I be able to solo them ? (just me running a single character)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm ... characters under the system are more powerful, certainly, but are they powerful enough? I suppose it comes down to whether or not you're willing to start them a level or two higher, and if you would use retainers or not. The common failing of solo play is in the action economy, where a solitary creature/character, even if strong, winds up losing because its opponents have so many more attacks collectively. You can compensate for that here somewhat by ensuring you have a warrior with Hordeslayer (i.e. cleave/sweep). Ultimately I'd give a solid "maybe" but feel compelled to point out that, just as this ruleset was designed with 4-5 players in mind, Scarlet Heroes is specifically designed for solo play and so (though I've never played it) would likely be the better choice. If you wind up trying this out anyways, let me know how it goes. Cheers.

      Delete
  5. Hi Keith. I really like the rulebooks. I notice that the GM's manual has been updated. What has changed? Thanks! Lucas

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi. Mostly the monsters: I gave another pass through the monsters to fix whatever I could find, so treasure was adjusted, a few stats here and there fixed, more special abilities added, some of the encounter numbers adjusted (especially for creatures with big lairs). I also added a new weapon property (Silent) and redid the generic dungeon wandering monster table to be clearer and based on intended PC level instead of the level of the dungeon. Lastly, I fixed the missile table in the back, which didn't match the Player's Manual version.

      I'll likely update it again next month, as I am working on adding an additional two pages to fit in a spread of 16 demons and devils into the monster section. Thanks!

      Delete
    2. I love that you're providing updates to these files as you edit them. Thanks in advance!

      I'm a watcher on the page comments. If you happen to think of it, please add a comment here, so I'll know when the August update is available.

      (I noticed a typo in my comment, so I deleted it and reposted.)

      Delete
    3. Will do (and I'll be updating both of them next month). Thanks again for your interest!

      Delete
  6. Just wanted to say that I was skim-reading through your Design Notes file and I keep feeling - over and over again - really impressed by the creativity and wisdom in various little decisions in your rules. After a while, it's hard to get too excited by 'yet another retroclone' but I feel there are a bunch of common-sense innovations/houserules in here. Inspiring work - thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey, may I ask how you handle an issue with combat declarations? I think only PCs will have combat stances, but presumably enemy spellcasters need to declare intent to cast during this phase as well. Do you have a standard procedure for adjudicating whether players or foes FIRST commit, out loud, to spellcasting? Like an initiative for declaring intent? I can imagine tactical situations where one side gets an edge from knowing what enemy wizards are doing before they declare their own actions.

    Just curious whether this comes up, whether I'm understanding your rules, and how you handle this, if relevant. Great stuff!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi. Thanks for the kind words on the Design Notes: I'm glad someone is finding them useful (or at least interesting).

      For combat stances, those are PCs only (they only mention players, but I'll add a more explicit note in the next draft).

      As for spell declarations, how I've been handling has been rather loose, I realize. Yes, enemy spellcasters declare at the same general point as the PCs do. I don't *think* that I've ever told the players if enemy casters are actively casting before they decide their actions, and in any case they've never pressed me about it before deciding on their own actions. I know I always decide if the opponents are casting on their own merits, without regard to if the players might be doing the same: I see that as part of my GM role as a neutral arbiter.

      While it's been working for me so far, I think you're right that it should probably be more rigorous. I'm going to do a bit of thinking and research and should have an answer in a couple of weeks when I update the draft (which I'll mention in a new comment on this post). Thanks for the note!

      Delete
    2. Thanks. To riff off comments elsewhere by Ben Milton and Chris McDowall, there's advantage in a style that hands the players as much information as possible and makes their game-challenge about figuring out how to respond. That would incline me toward GM declaring enemy casting before the players decide on their stances ('oh no, the shaman is muttering, I'd better focus on taking him out. I press the attack with Offensive stance.' / 'uh-oh, the ogre mage isn't casting, he's coming for us. I choose to Guard the squishy wizard this turn').

      I suppose there could be a related issue for missile and melee declarations within their individual phases too, no? I.e. do PCs who chose to Dash know who the enemy intends to attack before they conduct their own interrupting attacks. The difference is between:

      "Ugh, that ogre might go after our wizard this turn, so I'd better strike him."
      vs.
      "Whew! The ogre is still focused on our barbarian, so I'm going to trim those orc's ranks this turn instead."

      Anyway, not to quibble too much, and thanks for thinking about these edge cases. My brain likes having the clarity of a fore-written procedure. I have a wargaming background and so have had to work through these issues in that arena.

      Delete
    3. Dash at least I know how I do it: it matches the normal mode of combat in that you don't know what they're going to do before you yourself decide to act. That having been said, picking it means you generally have a pretty good idea (the giant scorpion is probably going to sting us; that enemy berserker is probably going to try to smash out mage, the next hit will probably kill me, etc).

      No problem at all with the quibbles: it's the sort of fine detail that I enjoy and that I think really makes the difference between a playable game and a good one. I very much enjoy the "rulings not rules" aspect of old-school play, but of course there were and are limits to that. In particular, I think it's essential that the core procedures of the game be nailed down, to give you a concrete base for riffing around. So, anything that is a hard rule should be as clear as possible, and questions like yours really help there.

      Delete
  8. Updated drafts to 21-08.

    Player's Manual: Removed Mage requirement to have at least 9 Arcana (if you can have crappy warriors, why not crappy mages?); added a death threshold para to the ability score section instead of hiding that info away under Dying, so that players calculate it ahead of time (and flipped it around so that it's roll-high instead of roll-low); allowed high-level martial artists to damage creatures with their hands that are only hit by magic weapons; added electrum pieces for compatibility purposes; added time to don armour; clarified spell declaration (thanks Gundobad); split up Movement Phase wall of text; minor spell tweaks

    GM's Manual: Expanded the ToC; heavily expanded the Experimentation and Carousing tables (over doubled); added system advice on light and darkness; added another page of Misc Magic Items; added a dual-page spread of "daemons". Overall an extra six pages added (one of which is a new colour art splash page, to keep the layout fixed in the right places).

    Designer Notes: Misc clarifications

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the updates! I appreciate you keeping us up to date on the latest changes!

      Delete
  9. With my playtest campaign coming to an end at 60 sessions due to real life intruding, I've updated the drafts to 21-12. The characters reached level 8, so material beyond this lacks real-life testing. Two deaths overall (RIP Taffy the Mage and Snort the Sneaky) and many a lost Ensign Ricky retainer. Couldn't ask for a better group to work with.

    Player's Manual: Mostly subtle wording polishes and small-scale changes at this point and so hard to call out. More specifics on forcing doors. Made fatigue affect healing, so that being short of food/water/sleep matters more. Gave greater granularity to the rules for carrying coins. Ruled that potions require encumbrance (Small items) rather than being free items. Allowed held missile fire to be made at the end of any phase, not just the Magic Phase. Made lost spellbook recovery more affordable and quicker.

    GM's Manual: Add a Campaign Matter option to allow GMs to make rod/staff/wand saves one level lower than whatever effect they're creating.

    Design Notes: Minor clarifications.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry to hear that your campaign has come to an end. Still, 60 sessions is quite significant! I hope you're able to start up a new campaign soon.

      Merry Christmas!

      Delete
  10. I regularly lurk around the OSR blog scene, but I'd somehow missed these docs until very recently--thanks so much for sharing them! I actually started reading with the Designer Notes and was immediately intrigued when almost every one of your goals/decisions in the design aligned with my own tastes. The project got me excited enough that I'm seriously considering using Simulacrum as the primary mechanical skeleton for my next campaign. Great stuff!

    That said, I have a couple of questions about your implementation of navigation and overland random encounters.

    1) Why do navigation checks use a unique PC D12 roll rather than the standard task resolution? Is it as simple as wanting to be sure the roll isn't tied to any particular ability score/mod? Or was it just the easiest method to keep the modifier for Hex Entry Cost significant?
    2) Unless I'm missing something, overland random encounter checks are only triggered after navigation checks are made (the one exception being camping in the wilderness). However, as written, navigation checks are only made when the PCs are headed to a hex they've never visited. Does this mean you never check for random encounters when the PCs are in familiar territory?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good timing: I just updated the Player's Manual and Design Notes earlier that day (for Tim, I heavily reworked the Warrior's abilities and feats so that the best abilities are mutually exclusive class abilities while the lighter, fluffier stuff is reserved for feats; added a "noisy" mod for dungeon exploration; and added rules for Mage familiars).

      Navigation checks use a D12 because, as you suspected, the modifiers applied by the base hex cost fit really well with the D12 scale, whereas they'd need finagling to fit the D20 scale. It also matches up with the random encounter roll die, which I thought was nice (if hardly important). In my earliest drafts I tried to fit everything to D20, but I found that I was needlessly breaking compatibility with TSR material at times (which I sought to keep whenever I had no strong reason to break it), and sometimes getting awkward results due to the 20-point scale, just in the pursuit of dice consistency that I think is somewhat overrated.

      Good spot on the wording for navigation random encounter checks: a case of "I was playing it right, but didn't notice that the wording doesn't support that". You roll whenever you enter a hex, or make a navigation check (i.e. when searching a hex). I've updated the Player's Manual and Design Notes to fix this, and will be updating the PDF for the hexcrawl rules post on this blog shortly to match. (I'll also be making a substantial, unrelated update to the GM's Guide later this week.)

      I've had people from time to time take the rules for a spin and it's always resulted in excellent feedback, so if you do give it a try at the table (or even notice other unclear/wrong passages), I'd love to hear about it. Thanks for your interest!

      Delete
    2. Thank you for the summary of what's changed. I look forward to checking it out!

      Delete
    3. Very cool. I can get behind the changes to the Warrior. I think the new arrangement does a better job of encouraging feat choice based on preferred style rather than straightforward effectiveness vis-à-vis damage output. It also puts less pressure on me to replace Brawler immediately since I'm leaning toward dropping it in favor of generally available intentional combat maneuvers.

      The Designer Notes mention a Retainer Offer Reaction table/hiring chart, but I haven't been able to locate it in either Manual. Was it dropped along the way (intentionally or not), or am I simply overlooking it?

      Delete
    4. Also, any guidelines on the timeline for recovering fatigue from its various causes (starvation, thirst, suffocation, etc.)? The descriptions of Climbing and Forced March provide specific details, but I don't remember any other examples. At least on the page, your implementation of fatigue seems extremely punishing (for good and ill), so I'd want to be clear about what players can do to overcome it. Any general notes about how fatigue has felt in play at your table would also be appreciated.

      Delete
    5. Re: the Warrior changes. I agree. I wanted martials to be a serious threat in this game, not a sad second-banana to casters (and when there's only two bananas to choose from, that's doubly important). Much like Richard Garfield and his understanding that the Black Lotus was good, but not getting just how good, I knew that Smite and Hordeslayer would be the most popular choices for PCs, but in play one of those was picked about 90% of the time, which was dull; mechanically, warriors typically wouldn't start getting differentiated seriously (barring magic gear) until level 10.

      The Retainer Offer Reaction table was moved to the GM's Manual, as part of a general effort to get all non-PC-relevant info out of the Player's Manual. It will be in the updated GM's book draft later this week.

      I have no fatigue guidelines for the specific instances you mention, no. My feeling was that they were so circumstantial and also fiddly/particular that trying to hard-code those specific instances would be a bad idea. For example, "without air" could be stuck in a void / vacuum, or holding your breath too long, or outright drowning. If your lungs are full of water, recovery would probably take a bit. If you were just oxygen deprived, probably quicker to get back to normal--different cases, same mechanic and rules situation. "Fatigue cannot be removed until its cause is addressed" is the broad guideline, but overall I felt these were prime areas to just let a GM rule as they will.

      Fatigue in general has felt good, insofar as it's come up. There's not a lot of situations where it applies, so the most I've seen in play is heavy, which was alarming but no one thought it improperly applied or punitive (and I don't have shy players). My main playtest party has a necromancer and the Unflagging Endurance spell, so they don't tend to run into march-based fatigue any longer. It may be a matter of taste, but I did in general want fatigue to matter rather than some minor -1 or -2 to hit and that's that.

      Thanks again for your questions.

      Delete
  11. GM's Manual update: expanded carousing table (50 options now, as my players keep churning through content), new mundane equipment fast packs for quick chargen help, a hexcrawl aid chart, two new magic system variants (intended for NPCs, not yet playtested)--black mages and sorcerers, retainer offer reactions, advice on stealth, a take on the Table of Despair, some new full-page colour spreads. Up to 94 pages. I think this one is pretty stable now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These updates sound amazing! Thanks for continuing to expand and improve upon this content.

      Delete
  12. Keith, I've just finished my second full readthrough of the Simulacrum docs, and I have one or two (or twenty) questions/comments for you. Before I explode the comment section here with my rather lengthy list, I figured I'd ask: would you prefer I post them all here or send them to you directly? If the latter, what point of contact should I use?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy to entertain however many questions you have. Send an email to sinisterwangho at gmail and I'll go over them. Thanks!

      Delete