Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks – “Napkin, Pencil and Sugar Cube”

You know you’ve found a good game when the rules are limited to about 10 A4 pages and you can play it with “a napkin, pencil and sugar cube”.

This is a long essay breakdown of an RPG I have and will have examples.  This has also been handled from the perception of a player and GM who prefers story over stats and wants to get into play very quickly.

How you’d convert a sugar cube into a d6 dice I’ll never know, but I can’t argue with the simplicity.

The steam punk version of Victorian London and the flagship flying city of Atlantis (or the Cog depending who you ask) provides an interesting backdrop to play an RPG in.

How fast can you start?

This is a tough one as you can take two approaches, blank sheet and prepared.

All tests have two default stats, a Basic Skill that gives a +1 unless stated and Unskilled (you by default wouldn’t know how to do surgery) which is +0 as such you could in theory be in immediately.

If you choose prepared… well moving onto…

How easy is it to set up a character?

Cogs(making and modification), Cakes(social) and Swordsticks(combat), the name of both the RPG and attributes and all you have to do choose one skill range per attribute is pick which skill gives +3 to the dice roll (the other 2 are +2).  You may also choose a negative element but effectively this is all you need.

Compare this to pathfinder and D+D and you see almost no requirement to front load character creation.  You can actually start role-playing and ask players questions on how they would approach certain circumstances, you can then ask “is this normally how you would approach this?”, if they say No, then roll with the Base bonuses, if the say Yes, then you can offer the skill range bonuses to create their character.

GM: So what are you doing Dexter?

Dx: I’m breaking into this house at night.

GM: OK, how are you getting in?

Dx: I’m picking the lock in a back alley.

GM: is this your usual tactic?

Dx: Yes I know my locks

GM: OK, mark your Cog stat as Security, no primary yet so it can be +3 if you want, Jane are you with Dexter?

Jn: Actually yes, I’m watching the front in case the bobbies (police) show.

GM: OK so how do you deal with them.

Jn: Well I try to talk them away, I have the ability to charm anyone.

GM: How?

Jn: I make people believe me, one way or another.

GM: Deception huh?  Where did you get it from?

Jn: I may be from a rich family but I chose urchins as my associates.

GM: OK, street charm, you’ve baked your cake there, Street Charm, you’ve chosen your Primary so its +2.

How flexible are characters?

I think this is where CCS fails in relation to other games, in Pathfinder, you can place points in any skills when you level up meaning that if you know you’ve gone down the wrong path, you can adjust accordingly.

In CCS, once you’ve chosen your 3 skill ranges, you can’t change them which limits you to specific style of play, however by paying 6 Reputation points, you can specialise in a specific area you have been using, at the same time Reputation also allows re-rolls giving flexibility in a different way when needed.

How much preparation does a GM really need to do?

Preparation is very quick, but really how much do you need to do in the first place.

When I talk about the Apocalypse and Dungeon World, I will be mentioning the First Session rules BUT I find that you can use them in this engine due to the nature of the mechanics and so to get into the play, the GM needs very little to get started.

Going back to the (bad) example above, anything in brackets states what the GM does:

GM: So why this house?

Jn: It’s the house of a famous art buyer who cheated!

GM: Who with?

Jn: My mother, made a laughing-stock of her… she recovered, but I want to give him two fingers. 

GM: Vengeful Spirit, take it as a Fioble.

Dx: Nah he recently bought better security with his riches, prove it worthless and get something good, win, win all around.

GM: Win, win all right, (the GM creates, “Art Buyer, Cog: eye for the art +3, Cake: Money Talks +2 Sword ??? +2”, the security he bought increases the score for picking locks from 4 to 6).

How much judgement does the GM have to apply?

Actually a lot in this case, the GM will have to decide whether or not player’s skills are allowed and disallowed, the GM also will have to set difficulties for each test individually, there are also no hints of what is considered easy, medium, tricky etc where I have seen hints and tips given by Pathfinder and D+D in their rulebook.

In the example above the GM assumes that locks are good in this world but anyone skilled in security can normally do it, however its assumed he was able to buy the extra security and so pushed the target up by the Money Talks value of the skill… other cases may not be so clear-cut.

So why do I like it?

Well I think its one of the most simplest and fastest RPGs I have seen on the market so far to get the players into and start playing roles.  You can start with nothing and through role-play have a fully fledged character whereas in games such as D+D and Pathfinder, you have to prepare a lot in advance so for new players, CCS is the better game, however more experienced players may hate CCS for the same reason.

At the same time, it is also easy for GMs to make stories up easily and effectively as all you need to do is think about what are they good at in specific fields and how they would use them in the same way as the players… you can do prepared adventures almost as good as improvised adventures and NPCs and enemies are your equal except maybe in different areas so they can provide a variety of challenges for the player and feel like they have their place in this world.

For those interested in Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks go to the website below:–swordsticks.html

Feedback is welcome on this Breakdown below.