October 26, 2020 at 7:50 am #1226ThaerisParticipant
Blood and Bone (BaB for convenience) is potentially a very good candidate for the various Codex Martialis / Integrum supplements. The system is basically an OSR-type game, and it seems close enough to OGL products that one may wonder why it’s not licensed as such. However, there is also enough of a difference that such licensing doesn’t necessarily make sense, either. Regardless, there is no matter on that point – it’s a neat system and it’s worthy of discussion.
Before commencing, however, I think there is a worthwhile point to make about the game and its associated products: they seem to come and go… For instance, when the game was first announced, there was a neat, free “quickstart ruleset” available which would let you play the game without giving away all of the mechanics. That is no longer available on DriveThruRPG. Furthermore, there seem to have been a few supplements and adventures which were produced for the game – they too have disappeared. I don’t understand why this is the case, but if you are tempted to try the system after reading this, the core game is still available, and is much less expensive than I remember paying for it: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/8417/Arcana-Games/subcategory/23231_28177/Blood-and-Bone
Part #1: The General Dataset
BaB, from the angle of mechanics, is a classless system. I quite like systems like these, as they resemble the CRPGs I grew up playing. In which, you mold a character into whatsoever you choose… Specialization becomes necessary as a natural consequence of the game environment, just as real life generally molds us into experts and practitioners of certain skills while lacking in others. Aside from the narrative-driven elements involved in the creation of a character, characters are defined by what could be called an “integrated dataset” within their respective character sheets. It is not necessarily the most elegant system ever devised, but it does work:
…Like most RPGs, be they on the computer or on the tabletop, there are four generally similar foundational stats which define a character:
Strength, which is a measure of toughness and power, and also aids in the overall health of the character.
Dexterity, which is a measure of agility and control, and also assists in evading attacks while improving readiness to act.
Mind, which is a measure of mental development and also assists in improving reaction times.
Presence, which is a measure of social development and also yields additional points in “Tenacity,” more on that later…
Combat Attributes are the “integrated” part of the dataset or character sheet, however you choose to look at it. These stats are derived from simple functions and will be one of the primary sets of numbers actually used while playing the game. Due to the way leveling works by default in BaB, there is really only ever the need to crunch numbers before or after a session. Combat Attributes thus generally stay put once a game session starts – for the record, all of the other stats do, too:
Alacrity is the equivalent of “Initiative” in other systems. It is formulated as: [Alacrity] = [Dexterity] + [Mind] + [Modifiers]. Turn order is generally determined by this stat, with the higher number being better than a lower one.
Vitality is the health of a character. It is formulated as: [Vitality] = 3 + [Strength] + [Traits]. Whether you regard Vitality as a hitpoint system or as a number of allowable wounds the character may recieve, once the sum goes to zero, the character is dead.
Evasion is comparable to a “To-Hit Number” in the OGL. It is formulated as: [Evasion] = 10 + [Dexterity] + [Shield] + [Traits]. Therefore, a roll which exceeds the Evasion stat of a character will hit.
Armor represents… armor! It is a buffer against hits which overcome the Evasion stat of a figure. It is formulated as: [Armor] = [Evasion] + [Armor Bonus] + [Traits]. The way damage works in the game – which will be explained later – any hit which overcomes the Evasion stat but falls within the Armor stat becomes reduced or even nullified. So, a major wound would become a wound, a wound would become a minor wound, and a minor would would be voided.
Power is a special stat which represents the magical energy, or “Blood,” found in the standard game. “Normal” characters therefore do not have this. It is formulated as: [Power] = 10 + [Traits]. If adapting BaB to a different system, this attribute could easily be swapped for any other type of magical energy.
Reactions constitute a character’s ability to employ a Trait-enabled action during a single round of combat. Traits, which will only be covered in brief later, often allow for other actions or effects to occur during combat. Having more reactions allows more applicable traits to be triggered at once, and are thus formulated as: [Reactions] = 1 + [Mind].
Tenacity is the power to overcome, or something like that. Using a point of tenacity – which are generally finite points per session – allows for an advantage roll if desired. The advantage roll allows for two D20 rolls, with the higher number being chosen. This value is formulated as: [Tenacity] = 1 + [Presence].
Skills are tied to the base Attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Mind, Presence…), but are not dependent on them – this will be more clearly seen when the dice mechanics / number generation is explained. Skills are generally advanced one point at a time and go up from level 0 to level 5. The limiting factor on skill levels is the skill base: to have a single level 3 skill, the character must have at least three different types of skill. To advance to level 4, there must be at least four different types of skills, etc. Note that in the default BaB system, the lowest level character will have two skill points, each imaginably spread out between two different skills. In that manner, no conflict, such as “what to do if starting from zero skill points,” can exist.
Out of attempt to respect IP or whatever you want to call it – or just simple laziness – I will not detail all of the individual skills. They are not terribly great in number, but the more important detail on skills is what they do to a respective dice roll. Having a level in a skill adds an additional dice to the applicable roll. The following is how things are supposed to work in the standard game:
Skill Level 0: No additional dice.
Skill Level 1: 1D4
Skill Level 2: 1D6
Skill Level 3: 1D8
Skill Level 4: 1D10
Skill Level 5: 1D12
…In this manner, you get to use all of the dice in the set. What fun! 😛 Actually, at this point, it should start to be clear how things are forming up for the character sheet / dataset for a given character. If you want further details, you should be able to download the character sheets for the game for free from DriveThruRPG via the link already provided.
Traits are special skills that a character normally picks up every time a level advancement occurs. Traits are sometimes “entry level items” which can be simply acquired, but most of the time they have prerequisites – including other traits. However, the most common prerequisites are simply base Attributes and respective Skill levels. In this manner, traits are not at all unlike “Martial Feats” from at least the classic releases of Codex Martialis. The standard game usually starts a character off with three traits, which can be martially focused, socially focused, or even magically oriented. For reorienting BaB’s engine to a different setting, designing new traits as a separate module may be one of the first items to focus on.
WEAPONS AND ARMOR:
By default, BaB does not offer bonuses or penalties on the weapons a character employs unless specific cases are involved. Instead, Traits are used to render greater effectiveness onto certain types of weaponry. This is actually somewhat novel – in simulating a very competent combatant, why should they become completely inept when using an unfamiliar weapon? Wouldn’t it make sense if they were simply better at using the weapon they specialize in using? This seems to be the mindset in which weapons were designed.
Shields notably do not contribute to Armor, but rather Evasion, which is actually quite clever. Armor confers its bonus above Evasion – how armor works by default in BaB has already been described. Both Armor and Shields do potentially hinder a character while helping them, as you may have expected. Shields and Armor have minimum Strength ratings which must be met in order for them to be used successfully. Heavier implements also limit the maximum amount of Dexterity a character can employ when equipped.
Thus far, the only item not really described as of yet are the “Modifiers” noted when explaining Alacrity. Place in combat can be altered depending on actions of the players / characters. Therefore, this term is used in place of anything else you may have expected after reading the mass above…
Part #2: Number Generation and Dice Rolls
After having to write all of that gobbly-gook, and thus someone else having to read it, there might be questions like, “well, what the heck does one do with it?” It’s a fair question, and it’s pretty easy. The Standard Dice Roll is as follows:
[Standard Roll] = 1D20 + [Skill Die] + [Attribute Level]
…If a Skill Die is not applicable for a roll, it isn’t used (such as if Strength is used as the basis for the roll). By default, the afore-mentioned Tenacity level can be used to roll to advantage if desired, or some other situations may dictate that rolling to advantage or disadvantage are in order. And, if it has not been made clear, yes, this is yet another D20 system.
WOUNDS IN COMBAT:
Minor Wounds come from bumps, scrapes, and bar fights (without lethal implements). They do half a point of damage.
Wounds are normal damage, or rather a full point of damage. They happen any time a normal roll bypasses evasion and armor.
Major Wounds do Massive Damage, I mean, double or two points of damage (I just wanted to say Massive Damage…). Major Wounds are subject to another type of to-hit calculation that looks similar to other varieties of goofy D&D horse pucky: [Major Wounds To-Hit] = 20 – [Attributes] – [Traits].
…Note that Skills are not part of this roll, or simply this to-hit number. Instead, only the D20 score and the relevant Attributes and Traits are used in calculating this to-hit number. So, when a combat roll is made, the Standard Roll will be made and evaluated for a hit. IF successful, the D20 score on that roll can be evaluated against the to-hit number above. If the D20 roll meets or exceeds that number, a Major Wound has been delivered.
Part #3: Other Notes and Conclusions on the Basic Game
Blood and Bone was launched as a roleplaying game that would match the feel of the very popular Game of Thrones books and series. As such, it features a somewhat generic equivalent to Westeros in its story elements, etc. All the while, what I saw when deciding to procure the product was interesting enough with regards to my own interest in learning about traditional RPGs. At that time, I had not seen many classless systems, and over-reliance on magic in my trusty CRPGs had made me tired of high-magic systems. In that regard, it is not a bad starting point for a tinkerer’s system – the included setting isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t stir my imagination either. It’s a game which has inspiring mechanics – in some regards – while having a lot of knock-off vibes for everything else. The knock-offs certainly include D&D, but it’s really impossible NOT to knock off D&D in most cases. Regardless, there’s certainly more in there to like than disdain, and it’s a lot cheaper than it used to be.
…One thing I did not cover was leveling. Leveling happens between sessions as-designed. So, the characters go on a narrative adventure in “Chapters.” If the characters survive, they become more experienced (usually) during the time in between sessions and return to the story better equipped (hopefully) to face their new challenges. Arcana Games made a lot of effort to make the GM focus on making the game like a playable story, and as such it’s a nice OSR product in that regard. Even better, there’s no need to track skill points or experience.
I should conclude with the embarrassing fact that I, as a tinkerer, have not actually played a game with BaB… But I think I learned what I liked and disliked about it all the same. I used to think that an “integrated dataset” for the character sheet – not unlike what you’d see in a CRPG – was a really good thing. It’s still not a bad thing. BUT, they are a lot of work, and sometime more detail only means more hassles. The problem with traditional RPGs is that they often have a hard time condensing all of that data down into a palatable format – it took me a while to put down what you’ve read here, and hopefully that by itself is clear. It’s not that it’s unclear in the source book, but almost every game I’ve sampled has a problem with making how stuff works instantly understandable.
Part #4: Implementation of Codex Martialis
As noted, the “Traits” system of Blood and Bone could easily be modified to accommodate the Martial Feats of Codex Martialis. The bigger question is how to best implement the Dice Pool. Do you basically “reprogram” the Skill system to give you access to more dice, or do you just modify the Advantage / Disadvantage system? I honestly don’t know yet, because I never got that far. But, one of the reasons I got the game was that I thought it would be a good surrogate for the CM material, and I think it still has potential in that regard.
…I have also been sitting on this media for some time, and thought it was finally time I punched something up about it. Or, to be even more blunt, I finally felt like properly learning the system! Hopefully the time you’ve spent reading it was also worthwhile.
That’s it. 🙂November 2, 2020 at 2:35 pm #1486Hans HellingerModerator
Nice analysis of what sounds like an interesting and relatively low magic (etc.) system. I too prefer something less “Class” oriented than standard DnD though I approach that in a different way in our character generation system. I wonder why their supplements appear and disappear like that, perhaps some kind of licensing issue? Do they mention Game of Thrones specifically in the game?
Game of Thrones actually first came to my attention on when some people on the old forum mentioned it as a good fit for Codex Martialis, this was quite a while back before the HBO series started.
Have you ever seen the Burning Wheel system?November 2, 2020 at 11:24 pm #1488ThaerisParticipant
I think GoT was at least mentioned in reviews. GoT was certainly an inspiration for the system’s literature, though it’s probably different enough to get a pass. Personally, I am working on a different system at the moment (I’m sure you can guess the one), so I do not feel too inclined to probe Arcana Games for why some of their modules disappeared – I’m sure I could get an answer of sorts if I pressed for one.
Speaking of classes in a system, I don’t necessarily think they’re a bad thing for a game IF they stay in their proper context. D&D, from my understanding, grew out of wargaming. It’s good to have parameters for units and what they do in a wargame, and if D&D was originally a game with a session-objective-based environment, those classes made a lot of sense back then. When D&D moved beyond that, the classes stuck around and are probably more of an obstacle rather than a help in many cases today.
I have not seen or heard of the Burning Wheel system, though I’m guessing this is the one in question?
If I might ask, what is in comparison, or of good note, to Blood and Bone as described here?
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