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Let's pretend this one is new! P&P RPG with Cards

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Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015

I've spend years working on a game (on and off).
I plan to release the whole game as public domain, with all the rule book and other PDFs as well as simple templates for the cards, etc so anyone can download and print them.
Otherwise I've made the game as simple as possible, both in terms of game play and what you need to play it. I've made it so you can play it with pencil (+ eraser), paper, 3-4 6 sided dice and a pack of standard playing cards. It goes without saying that if you download the free cards and print them, things will be more interesting than if you use playing cards and consult a book to see what the card means but the game will still be 'playable'.

I have 3 reasons for releasing it as public domain: 1) I hate intelecutal property laws in their modern form and find them restirctive rather than something which protects the rights of creative people. 2) I have -um apropriated sections of the game mechanics from various RPG game books, while I don't think it is enough to get me into legal trouble, I (surprisingly) don't want to make money of somebody else's good idea even if I have put a lot of work into making something different out of it. And finally, 3) with the game released as public domain I make it so people can make money out of my game. While the game itself can not be owned or sold, new card sets can - just like you could make money making a new chess set or designing new fancy playing cards for poker, etc...

I'm going to put the game stuff I've done up on a different section of the forum but I wanted to see how the concept went down first so I didn't have to spend months explaining it.

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015
Basic Mechnics 1

I've designed the game to be GM optional.

If you play with one then either when s/he says so or otherwise at pre-determined points you would draw a card. Cards can be things you encounter in the wilderness, items for sale at merchants or they can be monsters the Dark Lord summons.

You can also adapt and use the storyline from various RPG game books as the adventure (since the game play was derived from many of these it is easier than you may think) otherwise you can play with one character as the Dark Lord (or with rival Dark Lords competing) in which case the game becomes quite tactical with less role playing (depending on how you play it) strictly necesarry. Consensus is an important element in the game mechanics

pelle's picture
Joined: 08/11/2008
I will always applaud a

I will always applaud a designer releasing something with a free/open license. Did you consider being slightly more restrictive and going for something like CC0 or CC-BY? Just curious.

If you are even the slightest uncertain if you might infringe on someone else's rights I think you should not say this is in the public domain though. In a way that is a promise to everyone else that we can freely reuse your game without getting into trouble. Since this is a game, unless you copied text or artwork, that seems very, very unlikely though, so not that I am worried, but I do not think a worry for legal issues is a good argument FOR releasing something into the public domain, rather the opposite. If you really are worried it would be better to be as restrictive as possible so that you do not risk ending up being sued for something someone else do (if someone makes commercial use of your game and get sued I can see how they might sue you for telling them that it was in the public domain when it was not).

Joined: 07/26/2015
Yeah, and even if you make no

Yeah, and even if you make no money off of it, you can still be sued for copyright infringement, and the more people print and use it, the worse it is.

Although, the current legal consensus is that individual mechanics and rules cannot be copyrighted, the court has only upheld copyright for game rules on "reskins". So unless it's egregious stealing, you're in the clear.

And I also hate copyright laws, but for games, the situation is actually quite good compared to books and music and software. Designers are free to mix and match and steal game mechanics, as long as the finished product is different. People don't get sued for print and playing games. Rulebooks are generally released for free. People pay for the game and components together without batting an eye.

The biggest copyright infringement cases were probably MtG pirate cards and unauthorized miniatures. Those copyrights were sound because the artwork was taken wholesale. If these people instead released their own expansion sets with unique artwork (and mechanics), it would be a trademark issue, rather than a copyright issue. (though the card borders and design might still be a copyright infringement)

If you wanted to let anyone make expansions for your game, it would be a trademark issue rather than a copyright issue. If you do not actively manage the quality of games bearing this name, the trademark would be abandoned, and a company could either pick up the trademark, or a slightly modified version featuring the publisher (ex. Bicycle playing cards), and in turn beat off other companies making expansions. A whole can of worms. I doubt any publisher would be willing to risk it if they weren't sure they could at least use the name of the game in peace.

As for purely printing and selling the game, if the game slumps, the publisher loses money; if the game sells well, the competition will make the profits razor thin. I still doubt any publisher would touch it.

It's nice you're releasing the game as public domain, but it's not going to help spread the game faster, unless you're already famous. Offering free print and play forever is much better, as this way, publishers are more likely to pick up your game.

Soulfinger's picture
Joined: 01/06/2015
Excellent insights here from

Excellent insights here from andymakespasta. I don't think you could get better advice.

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015
let's take this outside ;)

I'm glad to have so much feedback on the copyright side of things, this seems to be a topic which comes up fairly regularly on this forum, since I have fairly strong views on this topic I'd love to discuss this often and suggest perhaps asking the mods to start a new board or whatever for this purpose.

I have not copied any text or graphics, instead I took years to make ones I was sometimes slightly happy with. The mechanics, which I'd really like to get back to discussing, started off quite similar to a those found in my favorite series of RPG game books, however I found the system employed rather limiting and developed my own by franking various systems together and then refining the product.
I want this game to be fully public domeain, anyone can use what I've made in any way, I just don't want someone to stop others from being able to use it.

Can I ask that we mainly discuss the game itself and I'll gladly engage everyone on the legalities and philosophy somewhere else? at lest 2/3rds game and 1/3rd ip issues if you don't mind :P

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015
Basic Mechanics 2

One of the advantages of the cards is that you can play the game using the cards to generate scenarios, this means that you don't rely on the GM all the time. Examples of how the cards are used in games with no (or lazy) GM to make game play more interesting:

One player is designated as the Dark Lord, he summons monsters and sends them to attack the other players (Heroes). Whenever a character encounters an obstacle on the map (river, mountain, etc.) they would deal with it as their character would but while traveling through the wilderness, should they roll (eg.) a 1 or a 6, they must take a wilderness card and deal with that obstacle as their character could. The Dark Lord has some advantages over the Heroes when it comes to certain types of wilderness encounters, should his minions discover a dragon, and ogre or some other type of monster, the Dark Lord might try to possess it rather than have his minions battle it (although he might choose to do so anyway for his evil forces to gain experience ) - other wilderness encounters which would be wonderful for the Heroes might not work so well if the Dark Lord finds them. The Valkyrie would kill all of his minions within a certain radius rather than carrying them into battle with enhanced stats and should his minions uncover a treasure trove, they might desert his ranks, retiring to a nice cottage in the country with roses and severed heads in the garden as they've always wanted to, unless he passes a test to bring them under his control very fast.

Heroes entering a town (not claimed by the Dark Lord) would draw Market cards, just say 3 per hero per turn. The Dark Lord would draw 1 Market card per town he had corrupted should he not draw gold from that town or use it for something else.
An additional set of Battlefield cards could be printed with various types of terrain on them, these could be arranged by the players before the battle commences (optional)

Please note that this style of game play does not preclude the GM - a GM could throw something not on the cards at the players as well - it only makes it possible to play a tactical (and hopefully rewarding) game without one.
The game is designed to be as dynamic as possible, different game play modes are available, including but not limited to the following.

Two Dark Lords could battle it out with their armies of summoned minions and no GM, this mode of game play could resemble something between a game of War Hammer and the computer game Battle for Wesnoth.

Players could take their heroes on a quest with a GM, this would most likely resemble your typical D&D type RPG.

A team of Heroes could battle a Dark Lord who is trying to take control of the land, without a GM this mode of game play can be quite tactical and sometimes fairly competitive.

Players could write an objective on a piece of paper and give it to another player for their heroes to complete in order to win the game with their Heroes. The player would know his/her Hero's objective and that of one other player (the one he/she wrote). This mode of game play can be highly competitive and may require a GM to act as referee in order to stop fist fights!

A player or group of players could take one of their favorite RPG game books and reinterpret it to play by the rules of this game. This works well for books with good plots but uninteresting combat. This is an option I could not suggest if I ever intended to make money out of this game for copyright reasons – even if a whole lot more books could be sold because people wanted to play them again – this type of game play works well with 1 or 2 Heroes and doesn't require a GM since the book kind of does that for you and you do the rest yourself.
I've started writing one book especially for this game, haven't done anything one it in a year or so...

Players can keep items and experience gained from finishing 1 mode of game play and start the next with a really powerful hero. With the consent of the other players, even Dark Lords can keep favorite minions to smite the Heroes.


The game works on a simple system originally adapted from some of the RPG game books I enjoyed (it was developed considerably and frankensteined together from several types).

Characters have stats, initial and current both of which can change during the course of the game.
Some of these are just values such as Life, Gold, etc, these don't have an initial value and don't have to fall between 2 and 12.
To pass a test, use a skill or perform just about any action, the player needs to roll dice for his character; initial values for those stats which have them will always be between 2 and 12 because these are the numbers which can be rolled on 2 regular dice.
Most actions, like moving in combat, fighting with melee or ranged weapons, casting the most basic spells or parrying a blow would require the player to roll the appropriate stat or less on 2D.
More advanced abilities and spells might require the player to roll that stat on 3D, 4D or perhaps there might be a special condition for certain character classes which effects certain skills and spells.
Items can enhance the character's current stat score beyond 12, a Dwarvish warrior with a battle axe might have a Prowess of 17! the current score is the one you'd try to roll on however many dice.
This game may be a fun way to help children who struggle with basic mathematics.

The game play is intentionally kept simple, more experienced players can add other features of the game they feel enhance the game play but initially things like bonus to attack for rolling a very low total, etc do not apply. Stamina, mana and other forms of energy do not apply although certain spells might require a summon round (in which the character can perform no other action) and some may require a cooldown round (in which the character can move, fight and parry but not cast another spell) – things like characters needing to eat and sleep are not necessary features of the game although they can easily be added.
Things such as Intelligence, Charisma, Wisdom and Luck are not included in the character stats because in many cases these could be features of how the player interacts with other players or plays the game.
The Stats you need for basic game play, those which have a current and initial score, are:

Awareness: - a measure of how alert the character is. It is used for moving during combat, firing most missile weapons accurately, used in tests of perception, agility, reflex and cunning. Characters with a higher Awareness score position themselves on the field of battle last (because they can choose where to be based on terrain and where the other characters are while those with a lower Awareness score can only choose where to be based on the best terrain) and they get the first turn in battle.

Psi: - a measure of the character's psychic abilities, intuition and to an extent 'wisdom'. It is used to cast spells or in combination with another stat to perform a feat in battle, it is used to block psychic attack and can be used as a measure of how the character gets on with eg. wild animals outside battle.

Prowess: - a measure of how skilled the character is at fighting with melee weapons and seeing an opportunity to inflict damage (in an instinctive rather than calculated way, such as with a sniping weapon) it is used for striking blows and for most combat abilities in conjunction with other stats. It is a measure of how fast the character strikes blows in combat and can be used as a measure of strength or other physical things. Some weapons will increase the current score for some character classes while some will decrease it for some you may want to trade speed of attack for hitting power in some circumstances.

Armor: - has an initial and current value but you don't need to roll this.

Life: - has an initial and current value because you can get hurt

Damage: - is rolled, basic damage will almost always involved 1D at least, using weapons will obviously increase this by either a number or a number of dice or both.

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015

I'd much rather get into involved discussions on whether RPGs work without a GM than on how legal my pirate commie-anarchist RPG is.

If there are issues pertianing to the game itself (such as it not working without a GM) I need to know about them whatever my feelings on the subject are. thanks

ElKobold's picture
Joined: 04/10/2015
Hmmm... Here are my 2

Hmmm... Here are my 2 cents.

So there are two broad types of these games.

A) Co-op fantasy RPG boardgames. With or without DM player. (Descent/Myth etc)
B) "Classical tabletop RPGs" With or without DM. (D&D/Gurps/Pathfinder etc)

There are two main differences between the two categories:

1) Boardgames _usually_ aim at much shorter game length.
2) Boardgames are _usually_ very formalized in a sense that both players and "DM"(if there is one) follows certain rules and predefined events/scenarios.

"Classical" RPGS, on the other hand, are all about storytelling, and less about rules. In majority of cases DM is free to alter anything in the game, and if the DM is a good one, it lead to better experience for everyone.

From what I've read in your post above, you're fitting in neither of those two categories.

It seems too complicated and not formalized enough for an RPG-boardgame, while suffering from the fact that no card has imagination and ability to improvize, which a good DM has.

There are "classical RPGS" without a DM though. I can't recall a name right now, but there was one were, essentially, all players were acting as a DM for themselves. But there's no need for cards in this case. Imagination+Improvisation > Random card draw.

Another thing is that there are TONNS of different existing RPG systems. Including the free ones. Moreover, you don't even need a system to play a classical RPG.
Nowadays I don't have time for tabletop rpgs, but when I did, we've dropped D&D for a system-less approach. Where a DM would tell a story, and players would announce their actions (absense of predefined 'allowed' actions helps with creativity), the DM would judge how viable/probable this action would be and roll a single D6 in secret. The result of the roll was also modified by how you describe it. So 'i hit a goblin' would be 5+, but a detailed explanation would be 4+ etc.

Bottomline - your system must offer something trully unique (not in the sense of which stats do what) to be used. Regardless, if it's public domain, or not. ("Dread" comes to mind.)

I would suggest to switch focus instead. From 'DM-less RPG' to a RPG-boardgame.
With limited amount of scenarios, simple rules, good balance etc. There's still room for one of those, I think.

All this is just my personal opinion.
Sorry if it sounds somewhat harsh.

Joined: 08/21/2015
I'll chip in as I've played

I'll chip in as I've played an early version of Midnight Carnival's game some time ago, and can perhaps add a few missing details. He will correct me if I get any details wrong. What he hasn't yet explained clearly is that usually the game _is_ played on a board, (actually two to be precise). Firstly there is a large-scale "world" map on which the party move around in a manner not unlike a minatures wargame (that is, it is gridless; you can move a certain distance each turn based on your character's details (for instance, whether they have a horse). On the world map are certain different features or terrain types (eg mountain ranges, forests, etc) which can be occupied by the Dark Lord - this is a requirement for him to hire monsters to fight the party. He can also prevent the other players' characters from crossing a specific feature of the terrain. From the Dark Lord's point of view, it is a lot like a tactical tabletop wargame with added resource-gathering elements.

For actual combat, there is a smaller, grid-based board (we used a chess-board) on which obstacles are randomly placed (trees for forests, etc). This serves as the battlefield. If I remember correctly, movement on this board was considerably less constrained than in chess or something similar, but position on the board was still important tactically.

Given the importance of tactics, positioning and resource-management in the game, and the possibility for playing it in a competitive fashion against the other players, I'd say that the base game is probably what ElKobold would describe as an RPG-Boardgame (although the underlying system for modelling characters and resolving combats and actions can be adapted to other types of play beyond the board game). Certainly, I as a non role-player could play it much like any other board game, although it could have been played in a more imaginative way too. Long ago when I had more time, I was busy writing a computer-implementation of the game - the base rules are pretty consistent and closed, so suitable for this. But if you like systemless RPGs where, perhaps, creativity is much more important than tactics (I'm speculating here, not having tried systemless role-playing, so correct me if I'm wrong) it is probably on the opposite end of the spectrum to your tastes.

(Disclamer: I am Midnight Carnival' brother, so I am presumably a little biased in his favour)

ElKobold's picture
Joined: 04/10/2015
gilamonster wrote:I'll chip

gilamonster wrote:
I'll chip in as I've played an early version of Midnight Carnival's game some time ago, and can perhaps add a few missing details ...

Ok, this clarifies things :)

Personally, I would turn it into 100% boardgame and drop the P&P connection from the title. I.e. not try to be everything at once, rather concentrate on the specific niche.

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015

I'm not sure about the system needing to be completely unique in order to be used - did you mean that as legal point or do you mean that nobody would bother unelss it is 100% original.

If you mean the second then consider this.

Game A) has a unique a brilliantly crafted system and its own world with atmosphere and detail (which should be created by the players in a RPG anyway) the player manuals, character sheets and all the little bits and pieces (such as 18 sided dice, little plastic figurines, etc) can be purchased online at $450.oo or bought at certian specialist shops for a little less becasue you don't have to pay for the shipping.

Game B) (mine) has a system stolen largely from a certain series of RPG game books then adulterated with various others and finally bastardised to the point where it could probably be described as 'original' but definatley not 'unique', it exists in a simplified generic fantasy world with few to no special features...
BUT it costs as much as the elecricity and internet you use to download it and maybe the paper you use to print it. You can get almost everything you need to play it for free and you can improvise with things you probably have lying around the house if you don't have money to print out all the cards or you're just too lazy, futhermore, and this is an important point I'm stressing here, the game is highly customisable to the point where you can play it as a pure strategy board game with no RPG elements whatsoever and you can play it as a RPG with GM, etc.

I made this game because when I was growing up the D&D geek kids wouldn't let me play because I scared them "something about "taking the game too seriously and actually beheading someone"?) and also becasue I didn't have the money to buy the manuals and many sided dice (they shared with other poorer kids who they didn't regard as a physical threat though...) So I wanted to make one where kids could get it all for free and play it (alone if need be).
The alternative is to get a chain and beat the geeky kids in the face until they let you play but it doesn't make for enjoyable game play becasue they keep sniveling and asking "so, um, how do you want to do it?" and ending actions in "...if it's ok with you" which makes you have to be kind of like the GM only it's less fun because you haven't played the game before.


ElKobold's picture
Joined: 04/10/2015
What I`m trying to say that

What I`m trying to say is that being 'free' is not enough.
Here's GURPS for free

I`m pretty sure there are many many more free systems.

I haven't seen your rules, so can't say much about how unique it is. But as far as I understand, your ambition was that people use your ruleset. And to achieve that (outside the friends and family circle) you need something, which makes your game stand out.

Simply trying to help.

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015

I appreciate your help even if my responses may seem confrontational at times. You seem concerned that I will try to release it as public domain only to have people who wrote the RPG game books I - ahem, 'drew inspiration from' sue me for releasing their work as "mine".

While I recognize the possibility of this happening I find it unlikely for several reasons. Many of these will only become apparent when I release the full rules later on the relevant section of this forum, but you will have to take my word for it for now.

1)While the basic mechanics originally came from 1 series of books, as I've said, features from other series as well as some I've invented were added and those which irritated me were removed. Authors trying to prove that I used "their system" would have as much joy as people going through a pot of soup and trying to show that some of the carrots I used were originally thiers.

2)It is less frequently the systems used in combat and more often the unique background/setting and story as well as characters which usually sell these books - since I've copied NONE of these it is unlikely that authors would even notice their reworked work and if they do they may not have a huge problem with it.

3)I name and thank the authors of many of my favorite RPG game books (even those I drew zero inspiration let alone usable features) from, in addition I invite players of my game to purchase and play such RPG books using my system, meaning I am giving the authors credit (for inspiration not content!) and publicity. Even if they do find legal grounds to pursue a major international criminal case against me they may not want to because many such games have become less popular in recent years and if my game gained popularity it might well translate into sales for them (even if I don't make money out of it).

4)As indicated, I've scrambled isolated features from various different series of books, these appear only in the game mechanics and in a completely different context to the original appearance in the books. If I didn't feel that I'd significantly altered/improved the way for example, combat, spell casting, a trial in which the character passing the test changes how they fare in the game, etc. I wouldn't bother suggesting the books should be revisited and played according to my new system. Further, apart from revisiting your favorite RPG book, every system of game play differs completely from the books' system. Capturing territory, summoning monsters, defeating other human players, etc. wouldn't work in such books.
I feel I have can argue that apart from me not making any money out of it, there are no real grounds for competition. Taking features from a motorsport and using them in a ballgame or a board game probably wouldn't result in a lawsuit unless you were trying to "make money off somebody's name/brand" which I'm not. I'm not sure which % of something has to be shown to have come from somebody else, but really, "a few good ideas used in different context" are the most anyone would be able to claim. Certainly I am sure my game could not be proven to be the intellectual property of one other person, a company, etc.

I'm no expert on international intellectual property laws but people who are generally have 1 thing in common; they are EXPENSIVE! Should I face legal action, I'll retract the game from public domain (however that is done), publish apologies and or make cosmetic changes but if they think they will get a cent out of me, I'm a) making nothing out of the game and b) financially insolvent to the point where I can declare bankruptcy so the lawyer will cost them a huge amount of money and what they will get out of it is the satisfaction of knowing that they gave me a hard time for a short while and prevented people from playing a free game. I don't know about you, but I can think of much better ways to spend my time and money.

Having taken such considerations into account I have decided to proceed with the game.

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015
basic mechanics 3 (last basic mechanics!)

Luckily Gilamonster saved this being a lengthy post since most of the details have not changed.
The players related to the boards (map and battle board) differently depending on which mode of game play is being involved. In the scenario-based game play (adapting somebody else's RPG book or one of the ones I'm one day going to finish writing), the world map does not feature to any degree but the battle board does to a great degree. I'm moving away from the totally randomly placed battlefield, eg i the scenario-based game play mode the "battlefield" could be constructed according to what appears in the narrative.
The other thing which has changed is that the terrain no longer features simply as "obstacles", I've written down many different forms of terrain which may feature on a battlefield (things not featured could hopefully be adapted from those which do) they have their own properties, eg being destructible, being something which can be moved onto easilly, something which can be moved up to in 1 turn and onto/into in the next, having an effect on a character's stats when on/inside, blocking line of sight missile attacks (certain spells and most range weapons) but not area attacks or the other way round, being something characters can stand on or something characters can move over but not rest on or being something only flying characters can cross over etc.

The world map features as described by my brother, the only thing I have to add is that I do not provide any world maps, you either need to make your own one or to adapt one from elsewhere. The movement is in movement units on the map, they could be inches, centimeters or millimeters (in which case you'd need very small tokens or pins) and characters move and interact on this map. Combat would have a position on the map but would not happen on the map itself, characters within an agreed radius (usually 1) are regarded as being in combat unless they flee the combat. Characters wishing to enter the battle must pass a test in order to move towards the battle in each combat turn, otherwise the battle (however long) takes 1 moving turn to resolve itself.

A player can control many characters, there are heroes, pets, mercenaries and special characters (ferryman, Valkyrie, sphinx, etc) who could feature in a party or on opposing/competing or neutral parties. The Dark Lord has a fortress of doom somewhere on the map (a token on the map, it can be moved but not easily!) destroying it removes the Dark Lord from the game. The Dark Lord can cast spells and control corrupted territories and direct armies of minions from here. As said, the specifics of the terrain effect the game play for the Dark Lord greatly. Territories he controls determine how many and which minions he can have in his army, etc.

There will always be elements of a board game or a table top war game, usually I find the game more enjoyable with RPG elements added although for some versions of the game these are not necessary.

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