Author Archives: Michael Epstein

Tabletop RPG Guide for Parents of Young Roleplayers

This is a pamphlet I wrote for a writing class at Northeastern University, which is meant to introduce parents of new RPG players to the hobby. Below is the context document explaining its purpose, execution, and possible distribution methods. Copper Frog Games is the name I am intending to publish certain tabletop games under in the future (pending incorporation).

RPG Pamphlet

Context Document: RPG Pamphlet

As tabletop role-playing games (TRPGs) such as Dungeons & Dragons are very niche when compared to other group activities such as sports, drama or music, and as they only sprang up in the past few decades (rather recently in the world of entertainment), many parents may be undereducated about the games that their children are playing. Most of the media exposure D&D got was in the 1980’s when it was falsely linked to youth violence, witchcraft, and suicide. An information source for parents about TRPGs is therefore important for three reasons. First, it will serve to to dispel any parent’s fears concerning their child partaking in this activity. Second, it will educate parents on the benefits of role-playing games. Third, it will introduce them to the hobby and how they as parents can support their child as they learn more about it. The ideal method for delivery of this information is a small pamphlet, as it is able to be distributed both digitally (to be printed at home) or in locations such as game or book stores. By distributing it in a game store, it is very likely that there will be employees around who can further explain the differences between different role-playing games, offer suggestions for meetup groups, and more, if parents want to further research the topic. As well, by taking a physical form, it can be tucked in with a gift of a game for indirect distribution.

The pamphlet presented is targeted primarily at the parents or guardians of children just getting into TRPGs. Whether they pick up the pamphlet when bringing their child for a D&D Encounters session, or decide to independently research the topic by asking an employee at their child’s gaming store, this document should serve as an exciting glimpse into the world of TRPGs. Through the use of an informative yet positive tone, the pamphlet will put parents’ minds at ease and help them keep an open mind when examining their child’s behavior. By citing real-world examples of RPG players who made it big, addressing concerns and questions that are very common when the hobby comes up, and by keeping the information about different RPGs unbiased in relation to each other (which many forums on the topic do not do), it will appeal to the parents’ logical nature rather than their snap emotional judgments. While I will not be citing many sources directly, (barring a quote from Vin Diesel which has become very widespread in the gaming community), I will direct parents to a few additional sources regarding the hobby. This pamphlet will avoid linking TRPGs to any other major movements so as to keep the reader focused on the benefits of the games themselves, rather than any cultural importance. The information is kept light in terms of language, with occasional bits of frank humor put in to keep the readers relaxed and enjoying the piece; after all, TRPGs are games, and thus joy should be associated with them whenever possible.

The layout primarily follows a Q&A format, with the first thing the parents seeing when they open the pamphlet fully being “What are Role-Playing Games?”, followed by information on how to support young role-players and what some examples of TRPGs are. Bolded text and blocks of color pull out and emphasize the most interesting or important pieces of information, and an image of a red d20 adds a splash of color to the inside of the pamphlet. Further, small snippets of information which are not as pertinent to issues being discussed on a first read-through of the pamphlet are placed in the colored band at the bottom of the pamphlet should the reader decide to study the pamphlet more in-depth. This use of color makes the pamphlet’s contents easy to find and follow.

d6 Zombie Apocalypse Survival Horror System

This is a tabletop roleplaying system I made for a friend back in December 2010 for him to run with a few of his friends (though he never actually did). It was intended to be a very basic, rules-light d6 system for roleplaying in a zombie apocalypse setting. Thus, fear and panic are important mechanics.

I tried to keep the document a tiny bit lighthearted in the descriptions and examples, since grimdark has never been my cup of tea (and in fact, I really dislike zombies and the zombie apocalypse genre in general; they’re my second least favorite type of monster). However, I am aware of the tropes that are involved in zombie stories, and appreciate the depth that some of them hold, meaning I could still work on a zombie project in the future… though it wouldn’t be the first game I’d make.

I have not updated this system since I finished what appears below. Thus, it is a pure distillation of my game design interests and abilities at the time.

d6 Zombie Apocalypse Survival System

ABILITIES (roll in order):

BRAWN: This represents your physical toughness,strength, and stamina. It is used to determine your melee attacks and hit points. To determine your BRAWN, roll 1d6 and add 1.

REFLEXES: This represents your manual dexterity, reflexes, and grace. It is used to determine your ranged attacks, ARMOR, and move speed. To determine your REFLEXES, roll 1d6 and add 1.

LUCK: This represents your innate luck in life. It is a static value that you roll at the start of the game. Your LUCK cannot exceed the number you initially roll. LUCK recovers from being spent at a rate of 1 point per day. To determine your LUCK, roll 1d6 and add 1.

SMARTS: This represents your logic, mental acuity and capacity for learning. It is used to determine which skills you are trained in. To determine your SMARTS, roll 1d6 and add 1.

NERVES: This represents your bravery and sanity in a world gone mad. If your FEAR ever exceeds your NERVES, your character becomes Panicked. To determine your NERVES, roll 2d6 and add 1.

Derived Values:

ARMOR: This is your durability and nimbleness in combat. It is used to determine how hard you are to hit. To determine your ARMOR, add 5 to your REFLEXES.

HIT POINTS: This represents how much physical damage your body can handle. If you drop to 0 HP, you die. To determine your HP, add 5 to your BRAWN.

Movement: Your land speed is 5 feet per round per point of REFLEXES you have. Vehicle speeds vary depending on the type of vehicle.

SKILLS:

You can be trained in a number of skills equal to your SMARTS divided by 2 (round down). If you attempt to use a skill untrained, your FEAR goes up by 1 each time you attempt to use the skill. You can spend one point of LUCK once per round to reroll a failed skill check. However, you must take the result of the reroll, even if it is worse than the first roll.

To use a skill, roll 3d6. Tell the GM what the total of all three dice is. To succeed on a check, you must roll lower than the target number of the task (as determined by the GM). If you succeed, your action proceeds as normal. If it fails, your FEAR goes up by 1. If your check fails by 5 or more, your FEAR goes up by 2.

Depending on circumstances, the GM may give you a bonus in the form of 1 or more fewer d6 rolled, or a penalty in the form of 1 or more more d6 rolled. Additionally, some skills take more time to use than others.

Skill Names And Descriptions:
-Athleticism: Can be used to climb, swim, jump, tumble, or balance
-Drive: Can be used to pilot boats, planes, tanks, or automobiles (within reason)
-Knowledge: Can be used for understanding problems, nature, the occult, religion, etc., or to intuit direction
-MacGyver: Can be used to improvise traps, weapons, and other items from readily available materials
-Medicine: Can be used to treat injuries; see below
-Repair: Can be used to repair or modify broken items or weapons
-Rogue: Can be used to bluff, sneak, or steal
-Sense can be used to see far off things, search for hidden things, or hear quiet noises

The Medicine skill allows you to heal your own or someone else’s HIT POINTS. Once you make a successful Medicine check, roll 1d6 to see how many HIT POINTS you heal. If you succeed on the difficulty of the check by 10 or more, you heal 2d6 HIT POINTS instead.

Example Difficulties:

1 – Purging the world of all undead through prayer
2 – Reasoning with a zombie to not eat your brains
3 – Landing on your feet after jumping off a third-story rooftop
5 – Jumping over five zombies on a motorcycle
7 – Creating a diversion to throw a pack of zombies off your trail
8 – Rigging a booby trap with a grenade and tripwire
9 – Hotwiring a car
10 – Patching a stab wound with a standard first aid kit
13 – Smelling a gas leak before the canary dies
16 – Proving to a human guard that you are not a zombie
18 – Cooking food with ample ingredients and facilities

FEAR:

If your FEAR ever exceeds your NERVES score, you panic. A character can spend a point of LUCK to remove one point of FEAR, but not before becoming Panicked. When Panicked, a character can only Swing Wildly when attacking, and cannot use Called Shots. They also take a +1d6 penalty on all skill checks.

If your FEAR exceeds twice your NERVES score, you become Catatonic (also known in-game as “lunch” or “PDM” [prime distraction material]). A Catatonic character can only move up to 5 feet per round, and cannot attack, use skills, or even speak (they mewl a bit, but that’s it) until their condition is improved to Panicked.

Attacking: 2d6 + Brawn OR 2d6 + Reflexes

Roll 2d6 for your attack roll and add either your Brawn (for melee attacks) or Reflexes (for ranged attacks). If you match or exceed the target’s Armor with the total of the dice, they take damage according to the weapon you used. If you deal enough damage to bring the target’s Hit Points to 0, the target dies or is destroyed.

You can also choose to call on LUCK for a Called Shot, or can Swing Wildly. If you call on your LUCK, you deal double damage in exchange for spending one point of LUCK. If you Swing Wildly, only roll 2d6 for your attack roll, but deal an extra 1d6 on your damage roll.

If you choose to attack with 2 weapons (One Handed weapons are the only ones that can be dual wielded), take a -2 penalty to your attack roll with each that you use in a single turn.

Example Weapon Damage:

Ranged Weapons:
Rifle – 2d6+2 damage – Two Handed
Grenade – 2d6+2 damage – One Handed
Handgun – 1d6+1 damage – One Handed
Bow and Arrow – 1d6 damage – Two Handed
Baseball – 1 damage – One Handed

Melee Weapons:
Sledgehammer – 2d6 damage – Two Handed
Baseball Bat – 1d6+2 damage – Two Handed
Machete – 1d6+1 damage – One Handed
Knife – 1d6 damage – One Handed
Big Rock – 1 damage – One Handed

Armor:

Armor (be it kevlar, plate mail, or a riot shield) impedes a character’s evasiveness. Thus, it doesn’t afford any additional bonus to ARMOR. However, if it’s heavy it may slow you down or make your movement less stealthy (shown as a penalty of 1 or higher on those checks).

Initiative:

Whoever has the highest REFLEXES acts first in combat. In the case of a human-human or zombie-zombie tie, the two characters act simultaneously. In the case of a human-zombie tie, the human goes first. After a player’s actions end, the character with the next highest REFLEXES takes their actions.

On a character’s turn, they can move up to their Movement speed and attack once (or twice if wielding two weapons). You can talk at any time, even when it isn’t your turn, and can also drop a held object at any time.

The Undead:

Zombies are mindless abominations born into the world of a mysterious mix of disease and dark magic. Merely shells of their former selves, zombies have no emotion or intellect, only instinct. They have animalistic tendencies and a hunger for living flesh.

Zombies are terrifying in the manner by which they reproduce. If a zombie kills a human, that human rises 1d6+1 rounds later as another zombie with full HIT POINTS (assuming they still have a means of movement). They lose all semblance of self and humanity, and will attack whichever living creature is nearest to them.

However, while they are fearsome in respect to creating more zombies, and have immense numbers on their side, zombies have little else in the way of power. They have no LUCK, and poor REFLEXES, although they are tough due to their undying (though rotting) flesh. They also have no fear, due to their lack of a functional brain; thus, they have no NERVES score. They can be instantly killed with a Called Shot (representing a headshot). They are slow-moving creatures, only able to move half the normal movement speed of a living creature with their REFLEXES score. Zombies are proficient in 1 skill each, due to having the minimum SMARTS a creature can have (2). This is usually SENSE. The other abilities for a generic zombie are as follows:

ZOMBIE STATS:

BRAWN 3
REFLEXES 3
SMARTS 2
ARMOR 8
HIT POINTS 5
SKILLS: ANY ONE