dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
One benefit of the d20 system and its endless permutations is that if yo spend enough time looking, you'll almost certainly find that whatever changes you want to make, someone has already done it.

Like with the subject of this post. I don't think Armor as DR is more realistic or anything, I just like it better--and admittedly, playing Baldur's Gate II has shown me how easy it is to turn everything into rocket tag when there's no way to mitigate damage other than "don't let them hit you"--and so I've been looking for a formal implementation for a while. And while looking around online last night, I found out that Game of Thrones d20 does that while also having shields that make one harder to hit and opposed roll combat, with both attack and defense rolls.

Okay, cool. That means I can dump the damage roll and move to static damage, since I also found this chart that makes any conversions easy. Just plug in the damage done and the attacker size and it outputs a value. It even accounts for critical hits and variations on critical range and multipliers.

One obvious problem is monsters. Unlike Game of Thrones, where nearly every enemy is human, most D&D settings having plenty of monsters and I can't just turn Natural Armor into DR because Natural Armor is usually inflated to make monsters challenging. I don't know if there's a standard modifier I can apply, like 1/2 NA or 2/3rd NA. Fortunately, in E6 Natural Armor never gets too high, but it's something to watch out for.

A second is, assuming I want to use the variable between attack and defense roll to add to damage--and I do--how to account for penalties to the attacker, which are now also penalties to damage? One way is to make some of them into bonuses to the defender which are ignored for calculating damage. Like, Power Attack then gives the defender a bonus to parry/dodge, but if the attacker hits, then damage is calculated using the margin of success without that bonus.

Or maybe that's not worthwhile and it's easier to have tiers, like "For every 5 by which the attacker beats the defender, they add 50% to their base damage." That keeps hit and damage bonuses distinct while making a skilled warrior do more damage overall beyond the obvious note that a skilled warrior will hit more often. Or even easier, for every 5 over, they move up one size category on the chart. Simple and clean.

This also allows armor penetration as a standard weapon ability or feat. Like, it's easy to take something like Keen Edge and the keen property and make them armor penetration instead.

I'm not sure if I'll get around to testing this since I'm currently on a huge Exalted kick, but it was food for thought. And after months of turning Exalted into a game about 8bit Nintendo sword and sorcery which, amazingly, works, I might be able to make this work too.
dorchadas: (Equal time for Slime)
Working more on that post-magical apocalypse Pathfinder setting and finalizing the playable groups. So far, this is what I have:

  • Humans: I probably don't have to explain these, and I haven't changed them much.
  • Elves: Faerie nobles. I wrote about my take on them here.
  • Fey-Blooded: Either the descendants of faeries or the children of people affected by faerie magic. I included these for people who wanted more traditional "elves are humans but arrogant and pretty and live longer"-style characters.
  • Dwarves: Marooned space aliens. I wrote about my take on them here.
  • Gnomes: Former servants of the elves, now split into two cultures. The sky gnomes live among the humans and dwarves in the traditional D&D halfling niche, and the mist gnomes are Fremen crossed with the forest people from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind with creepy living technology who frighten everyone because they actually live in the Mist.
  • Dhampirs: Children of the rulers of the Nations of the Night, included again here. What can I say? I really like vampires as open rulers. I also added them because I wanted to use the material from Liber Vampyr.
  • Dragonkin: Humans who were taken and changed by the Dragon Kings, those dragons who openly rule lands around their lairs.
  • Grippli: Cute frog people. These are the odd ones out, for reasons I'll explain in one moment.
I want a couple more, but I'm having a hard time deciding what else to include, or if I should just stop here.

The reason I say grippli are the odds ones out is that all the others are either from somewhere else, like how elves and gnomes are from Faerie and dwarves are aliens, or they're humans or human-descendants who have been changed, like dhampirs or dragonkin. Grippli are frog-people and don't fit into either group, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, it doesn't quite fit with the theming. They occupy a similar place as the sky gnomes, but on the other hand, at least they don't have as much overlap as gnomes and halflings usually do, so I might as well leave them in.

While I was writing this, I realized that I should include Gamma World-style mutants as playable, since they fit into the "humans who have been changed" portion and also help play up how dangerous the Mist is supposed to be. I plan to have the Mist be like Gamma World radiation, where too much exposure leads to mutation, and it makes sense that some people wouldn't have escaped it unscathed in the initial chaos. So there's any easy ninth option.

I've got a couple thoughts of a tenth option:
  • More Animal People: Maybe bird people, maybe insect people, maybe lizard people. Something so the grippli aren't alone in their thematic space.
  • Robots: Basically warforged with the serial numbers filed off. Say humans and dwarves cooperated to make electrotech golems for defense against the creatures in the Mist, some of them gain sapience, and now they decided that going into holes in the ground and trying to steal the treasure therein is a worthwhile life goal.
  • Aasimar and Tieflings: This fits with the "descendants of humans," but I already have alien terraforming and faeries as the main sources of antagonists. I'm not sure I want to add angels and demons as well, as it could end up feeling too crowded. On the other hand, I'm a sucker for the war between heaven and hell trope, and there's plenty of material already written about these two, so I may end up going for that.
I'm currently leaning toward mutants and robots, because I love science fantasy and weird settings and turning this into Final Fantasy Legend sounds like a great idea to me, but I'm not quite sure. I'll need to think on it a bit.
dorchadas: (Do you speak Elvish)
Not as different as the dwarves were, admittedly.

The elves—alfar, in their own language—have always been a people apart. Born of Faerie, they primarily dwelt there and uncommonly crossed into Khrone, though there were small communities of elves scattered among the other races until the Mist came. When the cataclysm began, those elves who could fled down the grey roads and slammed the gates of Faerie shut behind them. A few elves remained behind, either exiles or those who could not make it to the grey roads in time, but the vast majority of them were gone from the world for long years.

Now the elves are returning to chilly reception. The gnomes, their old servants, were abandoned when the elves fled and harbor a bitter hatred for their former masters. Many others view them as cowards for running or look on them with suspicion for returning, thinking that they plan to conquer the remnants of civilization as legend said they tried to do long ago. Still, something draws them back to the mortal world. Perhaps the elves will be able to overcome others' wariness through their own actions, and perhaps they will confirm them. Only time will tell.

Physical Description:

Elves are tall and graceful, with clear skin, bright eyes, and shining hair. Their legs end in hooves like those of a stag and their heads are surmounted by a pair of curling ram's horns. The most striking feature other than their horns is their eyes, which are a single solid color with pupil and white barely distinguishable from the surrounding shade. They have a much wider variation of colors than humans do, with green or white or blue hair, obsidian black or snow white or greenish skin, and amber or silver or rainbow-colored eyes all possible.

Those elves still part of Faerie society are organized into two great coalitions, the Summer and Winter Courts, who trade off power with the seasons. Members of the courts call themselves the ljosalfar and the svartalfar respectively, though the political distinctions between them are obscure to anyone not born of Faerie. Those elves who remained during the cataclysm tend to disclaim affiliation in either of the courts, feeling that they were abandoned by their fellows, though their immortality also estranges them from the people they live among.

Elves have a difficult time relating to mortals. For an immortal creature used to seemingly-incomprehensible games of politics to fill eternity, the drive to accomplish something or to leave a legacy is hard to understand. Other races similarly have a hard time understanding the elves, who seem to give no thought to concerns that mortals find important while spending enormous time on trivial concerns, like organizing all the straw in the barn so that it faces east or making sure every herd animal they own is exactly the same color and pattern. Exiles and those who remained behind during the cataclysm have a much easier time understanding mortals, but are still often viewed with a wary eye for their connection with their more capricious cousins.

Game Mechanics
  • +2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, -2 Constitution: Elves are agile and enchanting, but less sturdy than humans.

  • Medium Size: Elves are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.

  • Normal Speed: Elves have a base speed of 30 feet.

  • Type: Elves are fey with the elf subtype.

  • Low-Light Vision: Elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light.

  • Keen Senses: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception skill checks.

  • Immortality: Elves are ageless, seeing the passing of centuries with unchanging eyes. They are immune to aging effects and do not gain any positive or negative benefits of advancing in age categories.

  • Beguiling Liar: In Faerie, what you believe hard enough can become true, and elves are skilled in enforcing their vision of what is real on others. They gain a +2 racial bonus on Bluff checks to convince an opponent that what they are saying is true when they tell a lie, and Bluff is always a class skill for elves.

  • Otherworldly: As immortal creatures of Faerie, elves have a hard time relating to mortals. They suffer a -4 penalty on Sense Motive checks with all creatures not of the fey type.

  • Faerie Resistance: Elves have mercurial minds and bodies infused with the power of Faerie, and it is very hard for an insidious force to gain a grasp on either one. They gain a +2 racial bonus on saving throws against mind-affecting effects and have DR 2/cold iron.

  • Cold Iron Sensitivity: In addition to their vulnerability to cold iron, elves find it uncomfortable and are always considered nonproficient with cold iron weapons or armor.

  • Sneaky: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Stealth checks, and Stealth is always a class skill for elves.

  • Starting Languages: Elves speak Sidhelien and Sylvan.

The main inspiration here is kind of a mix of Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies and the webcomic Dark Places, particularly the way the fey behave in the Silver Chain storyline and the backstory revealed here. Nothing wrong with D&D elves--I'm as fond of the arrogant, tree-loving wizards as anyone else--but I'd like something different here. And while I was originally writing this, I realized I can take half-elves and cast them into elves traditional "humans, but long-lived, arrogant, and pointy-eared" niche, and keep the actual elves different, so it's win-win.

The appearance is obviously taken from Magic: the Gathering's elves from Lorwyn, which I've thought was a great look for elves from the first time I saw it.
dorchadas: (Grue)
I finally got some drive to work on that riff on Skybourne I was thinking of doing, but I want to take it even further away from generic fantasy. So I wrote up a description of dwarves that's pretty different from the traditional take, which I present below:

Dwarves claim that their ancestors came from beyond the stars, descending to Khrone long ago to study its people. Their accounts differ on why they remained. Some histories say that some conflict among their people resulted in a civil war, with the losers being exiled to Khrone's surface and the winners returning to their home. Others claim that something happened to the other dwarves out among the stars, and their high civilization gradually fell as their technology ran out. The modern dwarves still have enough of their ancient prowess to avoid being annihilated by the Forest, but they are nothing compared to the might of their ancestors.

Physical Description:

Dwarves are shorter than humans, rarely topping four-and-a-half feet in height, and their stone-grey skin and enormous obsidian-black eyes make them immediately recognizable. Their bodies appear thin and frail, but they hide a surprising strength within their limbs. While younger dwarves are completely hairless, elder dwarves often grow wispy white or grey beards, looking more like moss growing on stone than the beards of humans.

Society: Dwarven society is rooted firmly in the clan and the hold, and the advent of the Forest has done little to change that. Those dwarves which were forced to abandon their subterranean holdings did so as a group, and while some settled among the other races they did so in groups. There are many cities now that have dwarven quarters, where the crackling of lightning can be heard at all hours. Other dwarves with more time managed to build flying towns powered by fulmencraft, and travel the winds trading from city to city. While dwarves may seem insular to outsiders, they can be extremely gracious to anyone who has any knowledge they wish to acquire or any devices they have never seen before.

Relations: [not written yet]

Game Mechanics
  • +2 Constitution, +2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma: Dwarves are strong, sturdy, and inquisitive, but their alien viewpoints and insular nature hinders them when dealing with others.

  • Medium-Size: As Medium creatures, dwarves have no special bonuses or penalties due to size.

  • Slow Speed: Dwarves have a base speed of 20 Feet.

  • Type: Dwarves are humanoid with the dwarf subtype.

  • Darkvision: Dwarves can see in the dark up to 120 feet. Darkvision is black and white only, but is otherwise like normal sight, and dwarves can function just fine with no light at all.

  • Guardians of Beyond: Dwarves came from elsewhere, and they have long experience combating the other beings from beyond the sky. They gain a +2 racial bonus on attack rolls against aberrations.

  • Inured to Storms: Dwarves have lightning resist 5.

  • Fearless: Dwarves have great experience dealing with a variety of dangerous situations and gain a +1 racial bonus on all saves against fear.

  • Scholars of Ancient Lore: The ancient dwarves were sages beyond modern ken, and the modern dwarves continue that tradition of learning. Each dwarf gains a +2 racial bonus to a single knowledge skill. In addition, that skill is always a class skill.

  • Thunder-Crafters: Fulmencraft is the ancient heritage of the dwarves and they grow up surrounded by the smell of ozone. Dwarves gain a +1 racial bonus to Craft (Fulmen) and Knowledge (Engineering) checks, and these skills are treated as class skills for all dwarves.

  • Starting Languages: Reticuli, the sibilant tongue of the dwarves, and Trade Tongue.

And that's what I have so far!

The proximate inspiration is the description of goblins in Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars series, which gives them stony skin, near-featureless faces, and odd habits, and it reminded me a lot of greys. Throw in the Grey Alien Racial Guide I found up for free on DriveThruRPG, put them together with my idea to give dwarves a niche other than miners (in this case, lightning-powered mad science) and you get what I have.

I also wrote up elves with the goal of making them a lot more fey than the traditional tree-loving D&D depiction, but I'll stick to one subject per post for now.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
I love me some airship pirates, as my Flight of the Phoenix game writeups probably gave away. And poking around the Giants in the Playground forum today, I found reference to a kickstarter for Skybourne, which has airship pirates, some kind of death forest that took over the planetary surface, and is by the same company who did Spheres of Power, which I bought during the last DriveThruRPG sale and which isn't a perfect replacement for Vancian magic, but is way better than grab-bag spell lists.

I love post-apocalyptic fiction and it's especially nice to see one with a non-standard apocalypse. I mean:
When the great forest grew, it destroyed everything that had come before it.
really makes me wonder what's going on. I'm sad I missed the kickstarter now, but I'll keep an eye on this.

I guess I can't say I hate class/level systems anymore, can I? It's not the concept that annoyed me, just the implementation.

Edit: Looking through the link on the kickstarter update about religion leads to a Google doc filled with fantasy mush, which is true to D&D but a bit disappointing. And there's some info about the forest here. With the kaiju enforcing the will of the forest mentioned there, it seems like it'd be pretty easy to rip out the religious parts entirely and have an animistic world of capricious spirits, with the planetary spirit antagonistic to the civilized races. Just the kind of thing I love.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
I'm working on what I described as a "Frankensteinian P6 Grim 'n' Gritty strain-based spellcasting psionics-as-skills [module] [module] Dark Sun homebrew" on an thread, and I've recently come to the question of how to handle the preserver vs. defiler split. The original 2e books just treated it as separate classes, with the defiler advancing about twice as fast. D&D 3.x makes all classes require equal XP per level and I don't want to change that, so I went to the drawing board.

One thing I already changed is that I made most character conflict an opposed roll (Attack vs. Defense, Casting roll vs. Saving Throw), so I figured I'd add a roll to draw power from the land when preserving. Preservers have to roll against the local terrain type, with less verdant places having a higher DC, to draw the power out. Failure means they roll again next round and add it to what they've already rolled, Sovereign Stone-style, and when they beat the roll or if rounds equal to the spell level have already been spent channelling, they cast the spell. That way it doesn't take an entire combat to cast one magic missile due to bad rolls.

Defilers get to skip all that, rip the life energy out of their surroundings instantly, and cast with no problems.

I also wrote in that defilers can use metamagic feats with one fewer spell levels required than normal, and there are some metamagic feats that only defilers can use, like the ability to heal themselves with some of the energy or making everyone caught in the area that turns to ash feel sick in addition to the normal penalties. Preservers don't get any of these benefits.

Using "defiler" and "preserver" is a bit of a misnomer, though. There's just sorcerers, and they can decide how to cast spells at any time. Previous editions had them as separate classes, or as a dark side-style choice where too much defiling caused spiritual corruption, but that's stupid. It shouldn't be a tipping point, and it shouldn't be a choice made at character creation, because it should be a constant temptation. For the sorcerer among the dunes trying to pull enough power to cast invisibility before the band of gith finds her, she can think that it's already a desolate waste. How much would one bit of defiling here hurt? What's ash when it's already sand? It's only the one time, after all. And then next time her friends are in danger and she can't risk the glitterdust not going off. But these were special circumstances. It won't happen again. Until it does.

I know balance is important in D20 and this isn't balanced at all, but I don't really care. Defiling is better than preserving in every way other than the trail of ash defilers leave behind them and the knowledge that they're contributing to the death of their world.

There's a reason that Athas is a blasted wasteland, after all.
dorchadas: (Not the Tale)
Alright, let me get this out of the way first:

Other possibilities: Being Chaotic Neutral, the Deck of Many Things, Dual-Classing, or Polymorph Other.

I'm not actually sure why I never played Planescape: Torment back when it was current. I certainly knew about it, since I was hugely steeped in the Infinity Engine games and I loved (and still love) Baldur's Gate to pieces, but I never picked it up. Thinking back on it, it honestly might just be that my sister never bought it. She was the one who asked for a lot of the video games that we ended up owning, and I leeched off her purchases and finished more of those games than she ever did. I'm not sure she ever got very far at all in Baldur's Gate II, but I know that we owned it and the expansion even though I was the one who got the farthest and that was only to halfway through Act IV.

Checking the Wikipedia article on 1998 in video gaming, I was probably playing Starcraft I with [ profile] sephimb and [ profile] uriany, or playing Might & Magic VI, Baldur's Gate, or Fallout 2, or Homeworld. Regardless, I've known I had missed something for a while, and since I finished off my highly-modded Baldur's Gate playthrough earlier last year and since I hadn't played a good traditional WRPG in a while, and since I had friends who have been suggesting Torment to me for months, it was time.

This is not your standard RPG.

The main draw of Torment is the setting. My favorite D&D settings are Dark Sun, and to a lesser extent Birthright, but from my time on the internet I can tell that Planescape is one of the most well-loved. I never really knew why before, but then again, before Torment my main exposure to Planescape was through owning a copy of the Planescape Monstrous Manual (which had awesome DiTerlizzi art) and through articles in Dragon Magazine, neither of which did much to explain who the factions were, what Sigil was, or why everyone was speaking in this weird jargon.

Now I can see why. Planescape is a kitchen sink setting that works. It allows everything to exist but doesn't destroy the setting in doing so, since while there's always some part of the multiverse that might have what you're looking for you have to find out that it exists and then find out how to get there. It actually makes sense of D&D's ninefold alignment structure and then adds a few more planes on top of that to cover the shades of grey. It has the belief-creates-reality component that makes Mage: the Ascension such an interesting universe, and all that provides a wonderful basis for Torment to weave its story together.

As an example, your character is called the Nameless One, because he's forgotten his name. But when you meet people, it's possible to give them a false name. Say, Adahn. And if you tell enough people that you're called Adahn, across a wide enough swath of existence, you can actually go to a bar in the City of Doors and meet a man named Adahn who wasn't there the last time you visited the bar. They talk a lot about jink in Sigil, but in the planes, belief is the real currency.

Where belief is power, the nameless amnesiac is unbound by any chains.

The most interesting part of Torment specifically for me is how it straddles the boundary between what are usually considered the bondaries between WRPGs and JRPGs, especially as they were in the 80s and 90s. Like WRPGs, you start with character creation and get to define yourself, but like JRPGs you're always playing a specific character with a specific backstory. Like WRPGs you recruit a party to accompany you in your adventures, but like JRPGs the party spends a lot of time talking amongst themselves and with you. Like WRPGs there are dialogue choices available and plenty of tactical considerations in combat including positioning, but like JRPGs the battle and story sections are poorly integrated and make basically no sense when put up against one another. Zing!

More on that later. One of the things I knew going in was that Torment is quite possibly the only D&D game that has ever occurred where the most important stat for any class is Wisdom, and where Charisma is more important than Dexterity and Strength combined. Wisdom governs how often the Nameless One can recover the memories of his previous lives, and Charisma helps with the talking. And oh, what talking there is--there are around 800,000 words in Torment, about as many as the Bible, which isn't a bad comparison when the Nameless One can get into philosophical debates with both angels and demons. The conversations are really where Torment shines, and the first part of the game that lets you loose in Sigil to run around and talk to everyone is definitely the best part.

This is definitely an appropriate time for an  photo emot-iceburn.gif

You can resolve a dispute between a psychic gestalt composed of thousands of semi-sentient rats and a group of peaceful undead who are annoyed that their bodies are being stolen. You can intervene in a gang war, debate with the prostitutes of the Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts, help a pregnant alleyway give birth, buy weapons from a golem dedicated to destroying existence, and shift the beliefs of an entire town. You can join a half-dozen factions, or join the Anarchists who hate all the faction backbiting and want to bring the whole system crashing down.

You can learn what it is that can change the nature of a man.

Torment is certainly the most expansive RPG I've ever played in the variety of what you do. I mean, just look at the words "pregnant alleyway" I wrote there. That's really not an exaggeration, nor am I making a joke. That definitely happens. In the infinite expanse of the Great Wheel, anything can happen, and usually it will at some point or another. With all the games that tread well-worn paths out there, Torment is a great counterpoint. It uses the worn-out trope of the amnesiac protagonist, but it does so in order to allow the player to interact properly with the nonstandard setting. It's not elf-dwarf-orc fantasy, but the player can ask nearly everyone out there what is going on, and talking to everyone is a great way to pick up quests, which leads to talking to more people, which leads to discovery. Torment is quite possibly the second RPG I've ever played after Morrowind where being told to go talk to someone else actually made me excited about what I would learn, rather than annoyed that I had to trek across the map instead of just completing the quest now.

"It had no wings but still, it was unmistakably an angel."
-Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Alright, now here come the problems.

The first is that Torment really drove home to me what an incredibly bad fit for Planescape the rules of AD&D Second Edition really are. This was true of several of the famous settings--Dark Sun works a lot better with something like Runequest or Exalted mortals level, for example--but Planescape, with its focus on belief changing reality and the infinity of the multiverse containing nearly everything, fits a lot better with something like Mage: the Ascension, as indeed someone already realized.

That's the high concept level, but the way the rules are implemented in Torment are also odd. D&D relies on an equipment treadmill, but the only party member who can meaningfully replace most of their equipment is the Nameless One, and even then he can't really find much new armor. Black Isle had to implement a tattoo upgrade system in order to provide an extra treadmill path for the characters to follow, which is neat and it does expand on the Nameless One's own tattoos, but the tattoos are effectively pieces of paper that are slapped on to skin rather than anything permanent. It's very odd.

Furthermore, the Nameless One breaks almost all D&D rules. He can freely change classes by talking to trainers rather than being locked into the choice he picks at character creation, which is good because you start out as a fighter and as anyone who's played D&D knows, fighters don't get nice things. He gets free stat increases every level, which does allow for a better sense of progression and helps to meet the ludicrously high stat checks some conversation options take--seriously, there are checks in the script that require 24 Wisdom or 24 Charisma, which is higher than most statted gods have--but 2nd edition had basically no way to improve ability scores short of a Wish spell and that advantage is not extended to any of the Nameless One's companions.

A duel between mighty wizards devolves into a slapfight.

It's good that talking to people is so interesting, because combat is incredibly dull. There are very few places to rest--unlike Baldur's Gate's possibility of wandering monsters, Torment just flat out bans you from resting, so I was pretty reluctant to use my spells at any point because I never knew when I'd be able to rest again. That meant that basically every fight was box-select party, left-click on enemy, repeat. I'm glad that one of the mods I installed after following this guide automatically maxed out everyone's hit points when they leveled. The Nameless One can die and live again, and sometimes that's necessary to proceed, but his companions drop all their gear on death and even with the ability to raise the dead re-equiping them and healing them back to full is just annoying.

That's why I said above that the first part of the game is the best part, because most of the second part is an on-rails trip through parts of the planes, but while you go to Carceri and Baator and the Outlands, they're mostly empty wastelands filled with packs of enemies that jump you every 15 meters. Also you can't rest, so hopefully you have enough healing items to make it through. I nearly quit the game in disgust and watched a longplay, but the knowledge that the ending was very good and that I needed to play through it because it was important that I'd have the chance to make my own choices kept me going. And the ending was very good, but it was 15 minutes of great after six hours of disappointment. And I actually really hold that against Torment, because one of the draws of the setting is the sheer variety of the experiences and sights out there in the planes, but when you leave Sigil and get to explore it's all deadly dull.

At least you can solve the final battle multiple ways, including talking the boss to death, so that already puts it one up on Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines.

"Meh, I never liked those guys anyway. I'm out of here."

I'm tempted to say that Torment should have been a point-and-click adventure game the same way that Bioshock: Infinite should have, but I don't think that would have worked either. The best part of Torment is the dialogue, but the option to commit violence and do evil deeds at any time is an important part of the game. Maybe it should have been some kind of adventure/RPG hybrid like the Quest for Glory series. We've had tragically few of those, and it would have perfectly fit Torment's style.

Torment is a game where I don't think that watching a longplay or reading a Let's Play provides the proper experience. A major part of the game is determining what kind of person the Nameless One is--his nature, if you will--and if you watch it you won't necessarily get the sense of the other possibilities. Having played through as a good guy who keeps his word, there's a completely different experience there if I would be willing to be Neutral Evil like the Practical Incarnation was. There are entire characters I missed and factions I didn't join. I'm sad I left it so long to play this game, because it really is the perfect game for me. Just, maybe next time I'll play it through with an infinite health cheat. The combat is basically just a distraction from the real game. Which in a CRPG, is a really nice change.

Now I'm looking forward to Torment: Tides of Numenera a lot more. If they can learn from the lessons of Planescape: Torment, carry forth the importance of exploration and conversation, make the setting weird and interesting, and make every conflict meaningful so that there's no dull slog of random encounters, I might have a new favorite story-based RPG.

Play Torment, everyone. It's so good.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
I've had another setting idea lately, probably using a variation of True 20 (as I wrote about here). The basic setting up a world of islands on a vast sea, but instead of an archipelago the islands are mesas and mountain tops, with a sea of corrosive miasma covering most of the world. Water is as precious as gold, and trading airships cross the miasma, binding the remaining inhabitants of the world together. Below the miasma are the illithids, engaged in a long process of terraforming the world to be more to their liking, and the various creatures of the ecology that they're creating--stuff like grick, grell, ropers, various fungi, aboleths, otyughs, and other betentacled horrors. The point here to take the various monsters that D&D usually has as nightmare monsters from beyond reality and cast them all as parts of a single ecosystem.

Non-aberrations would also have been displaced by the miasma too, so there'd be conflict with ogres and kobolds and so on for the remaining living spaces as well as between nations over water and arable land.

The other idea I had, fueled by Planescape: Torment and The War Against the Chtorr series, is that since the mind flayers are basically invading aliens terraforming the world in this scenario, have the githyanki and the githzerai show up as other aliens to battle it out with their ancient foe, turning the world into a three-way battleground. That's the high-end area of the campaign. The mid area is expeditions into the miasma to recover ancient artifacts and fight the ecosystem, and the low end is conflict on the mountaintops.

Fitting with the science fiction-ish theme, I'd get rid of standard wizardry and recast psychic powers through a sorcerous lens. Pyrokinesis would thus be "The Lore of the Flames," Empathy would be "The Lore of the Heart," Teleportation would be "The Lore of the Spheres," and Victorian-style spiritualism would be "The Lore of Whispers." Another part of the reason I want to use True 20 is that it's magic system is already basically psychic powers so there wouldn't be much converting required, other than reorganizating existing powers a bit.

Well, today I was reading my RPG RSS feeds and it turns out that apparently Jeff Grubb came up with that idea twenty years ago.

It's mostly there, other than the githyanki/githzerai angle. Living on mountaintops, cloud sea, mind flayers down below, the works. He focuses on cloudsea versions of existing water monsters as a way to avoid the problems with underwater adventures rather than aberrations as a unified ecosystem rather than lolweird monsters, but the principle is the same. He also doesn't do anything new with the magic and doesn't have the science fiction lens, so I can legitimately feel like I take the basic idea in a new and interesting idea. Still, there really is nothing new under the sun.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
Now that the Dragon-Blooded Charms are mostly done and Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom is statting up monsters, I've returned back to my old Dungeons & Design series about making a fantasy heartbreaker, since it turns out that while I do like Novus a lot, it still does just enough things differently that I'm willing to spend hours kitbashing up something new based mostly on True 20 with added bits from Novus and Ken Hood's Grim 'n Gritty combat rules (PDF warning).

So, I read back over my old post about dice mechanics about bounded accuracy and dice curves, and I have a better idea than 2d10, which does have a bell curve but doesn't allow the full range of d20 results. However, rolling 3d20 and taking the middle keeps the d20 and the full range of results while making it a lot less swingy. Higher numbers are slightly more common than 2d10 and slightly less common than d8+d12, but the added benefit is that I can use the other dice to do additional functions. One concept I really like in Novus is how 1s and 10s always explode, leading to a larger randomization range even though it's not likely to happen, and while it's not quite as elegant with middle of 3d20 I did think of a reasonable facsimile. If any of the dice rolls a 20, add an exploding d6. If any of the dice rolls a 1, subtract an imploding d6. If there's both a 1 and a 20 on the same roll, add an exploding d6 gain a Conviction Point.

I tried to write an AnyDice program to demonstrate this myself, but there's enough complexity there that I couldn't get it to work right, and I don't understand Troll's syntax well enough to even make the attempt. I did go post about it on, though, and the creator of Troll kindly wrote out a program that was a lot shorter than I expected:
x := 3d20;
m := median x;
if 20=x then \ if there is a 20
  m + sum accumulate i := d6 while i = 6
else if 1=x then \ if there is a 1
  m - sum accumulate i := d6 while i = 6
else m
Which you can copy over to Troll or scroll down the user rolls drop-down until you get to "Median 3d20 + exploding/imploding d6."

What I learned is that the odds of rolling a twenty under this system are 5.6%, which is almost the same as the base d20 system's 5% odds, and the odds of rolling a 1 are 4.3%, so it's very slightly biased above the usual d20 average due to the times both a 1 and 20 are rolled exploding and not imploding. But that's fine with me, and it means that I probably don't need to mess with d20 DCs at all, which is good! Less work for me!
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
Maybe it's the fact that my read-through of all the Dark Sun books is almost done, but lately I've been thinking about running a Dark Sun game using the Exalted rules. Bleeding, permanent crippling, infection, environmental damage, and weapons and armor granular enough that it's possible to model the "metal is rare" and increasing scale of wood < stone < bone < obsidian < metal weapons without much trouble. There's even a great list on of a ton of armor types made from chitin, wood, leather, monster bits, and so on to steal from. I never thought D&D of any sort was a great fit for Dark Sun's hardscrabble survivalist brutality.

I've given a bit of thought in how to translate the interesting parts of Dark Sun over to the mechanics, too.

This is easy. I can use Revlid's Mutation Revisions and build them all out that way, the way I did for standard D&D in my Dungeons and Exalts post. That'll take maybe 30 minutes at max.

This one is easy conceptually, but would take time. Basically, Exalted's Charm structure makes it easy to make psionic power cascades. A Telepathy one starting with Contact and everything branches off that, a Psychometabolism one starting with Biofeedback, a Psychokinetic one starting with telekinesis, and so on. Or maybe two or three entrance points into each tree. That's similar to how the Complete Book of Psionics worked, and it's how Exalted's Charms work too, so they're a natural fit.

Also, I could use the Essence stat as a measure of psionic power, to emphasize how central psionics is in Athas. And I can even keep Exalted's supernatural martial arts by stealing the fluff of the sensei kit from The Will and the Way and recasting them as psionic fighting styles. The elemental focus of martial arts even fits Dark Sun's fluff, too. Anything that leads to less work needed for a project like this is good in my book.

This one is a bit harder. The way I'm thinking of it now is to assume that all magic is basically the same (no arcane/divine split) and requires external power, but priests and druids get theirs from powerful entities and wizards have to draw energy out of living things. They'd draw on the same spells, then, but wizards would get a wider selection with a side order of witch-burnings.

I could do it in WFRP-style spell lores, divided into three circles each. So, the Lore of Fire for fire clerics, with...I don't know, Torch Circle, Bonfire Circle, and Inferno Circle, with five spells or so per circle. Then Lores for the other three elements and the para-elements (Sun, Rain, Silt, and Magma). Elemental priests get all three circles of their element and the first circle of a related element. Druids get the Lore of Animals and the Lore of Plants and the Lore of one related element, and pick one at three circles, one at two, and one at one. Templars get anything their sorcerer-king deigns to give them, which makes them a lot more powerful and versatile, but it's that way in the original source material too, plus they're tied into their city-state hierarchy and all the backstabbing and treachery that comes with it.

Wizards get anything with no restrictions, including stuff that no one else can get like the Lore of the Dead (making undead creatures, surviving death, etc.), the Lore of the Spheres (traveling to other planes), the Lore of Enchantment (enchanting items, which would be a wizard-only thing), and probably some other stuff, but have to deal with witch-burnings and their existence being illegal basically everywhere. Get the Larceny and Performance skills and pretend to be a mindbender or a priest.

Unlike the source, I wouldn't bother to mechanically distinguish preservers and defilers beyond modeling spellcasting, where it would be the same except preservers would take longer to cast their spells and defilers would leave ash behind. If not leaving black ash everywhere were an easy choice, then Athas wouldn't be a blasted desert hellscape, now would it?

It seems like it would work really well, yet as with many of these ideas I have, the main thing that puts me off is the writing. I just spent a couple dozen hours writing down all the Dragon-Blooded Charms and applying the various layers of errata to get a single PDF with all the Charms in it that doesn't require flipping through multiple books so that I could run that Ollantijaya game I mentioned a while ago, and do I want to start another project immediately? It could work, but it would take work.

Well, that and I already have a couple dozen complete RPGs that require less tinkering that I could run, once I have time for another game. It's true that I like RPG tinkering for its own sake, but I'll just faff around forever messing with projects unless I set some limits.
dorchadas: (Arrow to the Knee)
This post is inspired entirely by this video:

I've been looking for an extended version of "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold" for months, and I finally found it. I haven't seen any of the Hobbit movies and I'm not like to unless they ever show up on Netflix or [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd buys them, so this is the first time I've seen any footage from it. I haven't even watched the trailers.

After I found this, I sat down to watch it with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and we ended up getting into a discussion about how dragons are portrayed. And while it's true that the lone knight fighting and beating a dragon has a very long pedigree--and indeed, occurs repeatedly in Middle Earth itself, with Eärendil defeating Ancalagon, Túrin defeating Glaurang, and Bard defeating Smaug--I really like dragons as nearly-unstoppable forces of nature. More like dragons in Shadowrun, I guess, where dragons mostly sit in the back and manipulate everyone and are powerful enough to demolish cities and survive orbital strikes even in a world of 2060s technology.

Dungeons & Dragons lives up to the latter part of its name by having a dragon for every occasion. First level characters can fight pseudodragons, second level characters can fight faerie dragons (or maybe switch those, depending on the party), third level characters can fight pavilion goes on and on. Go to the online Monstrous Manual and scroll down the D section and there's whole pages of dragons for every occasion. And that's a reasonable approach, especially in a game like D&D that's based on an endless variety of different kinds of monsters with extremely specific ecological niches (lock lurker, anyone?), but I like the idea that dragons are rare, fantastically powerful, and you probably need an army, an archwizard, or other supernatural aid to fight one.

I guess "other supernatural aid" applies to the heroes mentioned above. Eärendil had a magic ship hallowed by the Valar, Túrin was using Gurthang, and Bard had the thrush tell him where to aim.

I keep bringing up D&D, but there's a D&D setting called Birthright that does dragons this way. There's only one kind of dragon, and you can see from the picture there what kind of threat they're supposed to be. Birthright actually does a lot of generic fantasy stuff right--it has elves that are complete assholes, for example--but the dragons are one of the things I really like about it. Dragons as forces of nature, not as a ladder of different types that are color-coded for your convenience that you climb on the way up the XP ladder.

Basically, I think there's value in there being monster-based challenges where the players can't just roll initiative and go to town. I actually just got something on DrivethruRPG called Stealer of Children that involves a first level party and a creature that requires magical weapons to hurt, forcing the party to think of novel strategies to kill them. As long as there's enough warning about what they're facing, that is. No one likes having something invincible sprung on them out of nowhere, as "realistic" as it might be. I'm pretty sure the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain thought that Smaug just showing up was pretty cheap.
dorchadas: (Exalted: One True RPG)
This post is mostly prompted by this Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom post where I statted up the groups using Revlid's Mutation Revision, as well as realizing that Exalted is basically Runequest with dice pools, and a brief exchange with [ profile] lowbeyonder about running Dark Sun using Exalted. I thought, Hey, can I stat up the D&D races using that system too? and this post is the result of that.

Costs are listed as-is this time.
  • Dwarf [9 pts]: Dark Vision [2 pts], Inhibited Essence (Requires N more motes to use Charms or Spells and N*2 more motes to attune to Artifacts) [1 pt], Night Vision [2 pts], Poison Tolerance (resist poisons as a supernatural being) [2 pts], Slow [+1 pt], Stonesense [Detect sloped passages, shifting walls, new stonework, etc.) [2 pts], The Bigger They Are (+1 bonus to hit and +1 DV vs. creatures with the Large [2 pts] mutation or bigger) [1 pt]

  • Elf [13 pts]: Acute Senses (+1 bonus to Awareness rolls) [2 pts], Disease Tolerance (resist diseases as a supernatural being) [1 pt], Mastery of Sword and Bow (+1 to Melee [Slashing Sword and Short Sword] and Archery [Self Bow and Composite Bow]) [2 pts], Night Vision [2 pts], Silent Movement (+1 bonus to Stealth while unarmored or in Light armor) [1 pt], Resistance to Sleep and Charm (+5 MDV vs. Compulsion and sleep-type Illusion effects) [4 pts], Secret Door Sense (May make a Perception + Awareness roll to detect nearby secret doors or passages) [1 pt]

  • Halfling [5 pts]: Acute Hearing (+1 bonus to hearing-based Awareness rolls) [1 pt], Master of Throwing Weapons (+1 bonus to Thrown rolls) [2 pts], Natural Climber (+1 to Athletics rolls for climbing) [1 pt], Small [+1 pt], Stubborn [+1 MDV) [2 pts]

  • Human [5 pts]: Favored (gain an extra Favored skill) [3 pts], Natural Learner (Charms and Spells only, -1 XP cost) [2 pts]. Humans also begin with 3 more dots of Skills.

  • Gnome [8 pts]: Acute Hearing (+1 bonus to hearing-based Awareness rolls) [1 pt], In the Shadow of the Trees (+2 bonus to Stealth rolls in forests) [2 pts], Master of Illusions (-1 to opponents' MDV to resist Illusion-keyword effects used by gnomes) [2 pts], Natural Brewers (+1 bonus to Craft [Water] rolls) [1 pts], Night Vision [2 pts], Small [+1 pt], The Bigger They Are (+1 bonus to hit and +1 DV vs. creatures with the Large [2 pts] mutation or bigger) [1 pt]

Elves are overpowered, but at least you have to pay for that power. The extra Favored skill, XP break, and bonus skills are probably the best way to represent human dynamism, which is usually the main D&D human trait. Note that Charms here would be just martial arts mostly, even though I did edit some of the martial arts I found to use non-combat abilities (Ride and Dodge are the two I can think of).

So, there's the basics! Here's a couple more for people who want to play crazy stuff:
  • Lizardfolk [12 pts]: Blade Proof [1 pt], Large Lungs [2 pts], Lethal Attack [3 pts], Natural Armor [4 pts], Natural Weapon x 2 [2 pts]

  • Tiefling [6 pts]: Cold Resistance [2 pts], Creature of Darkness [+4 pts], Dark Vision [2 pts], Electricity Resistance [2 pts], Fire Resistance [2 pts], Night Vision [2 pts]

I don't even know What else is out there. I haven't played D&D since AD&D 2e except on computers, so all this talk of the Kids These Days, with their shardminds and their shifters and their goliaths and their eladrins, is a mystery to me. It's not like Neverwinter Nights ever let you play any of those.  photo emot-raise.gif

Also, gnomes and tieflings should get special powers (tieflings causing darkness, gnomes talking to animals), but I'm not sure how to cost those and not willing to spend too much time figuring it out at the moment.

Since I've already got Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom as my Exalted-rules-but-other-setting game, this thought exercise is probably as far as I'll ever go with this. If you really have a hankering to play D&D fantasy with d10 dice pools, I can point you at Dungeons and Darkness. The guy there has done more on his conversion than I'll almost certainly ever do on this one. And there's a post in that thread criticizing it for having wizards that are super overpowered and fighters that are useless, so you know it's emulating the source material! Heyo!
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
A long time ago (ten years!), a game came out for PS2 called Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. And it had almost nothing to do with the original Baldur's Gate, but it was fun enough on its own, especially played co-op, that I played it through twice with the same characte. Then the sequel came out, and I played through most of it with [ profile] uriany, but never quite beat it. About a year and a half ago, I decided to start playing it with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and slowly, haltingly, we finally made it to the end.

How long it took us to play through it isn't really a reflection on the quality of the game, because the moment to moment stabbing of the bad guys is fun enough. I say "fun enough" because I was playing the necromancer since necromancers are one of my favorite character types, but I had forgotten that his most effective skill builds require standing in place and channeling, which doesn't really fit in with the mobility that most ARPGs ask of you. Meanwhile, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was playing the barbarian, dual-wielding two-handed swords that I had enchanted to the hilt, and was doing at least three times my damage at a conservative guess. Maybe four times. It was kind of hard to tell what with all the huge numbers flying out of the bad guys and overlapping. There was definitely no LFQW here.

The plot was...serviceable. The bad guy only showed up in cut scenes for most of the game and we really had no idea what we were up again, but I admit some of that is probably just us clicking past the plot to get to the next part where we could stab ogres in the face again. There was a vampire lord and the Zhentarim and a dark elf claiming to be a very tan sun elf and a part of the elemental planes and the lizard man who commited a sudden but inevitable betrayal at the end of the first game and an obvious hook into the sequel when one of the pharaohs of Mulhorand was talking to a servant who was all like "The vampire has set sail for fail!" and the pharaoh was like "lol n00b if u wnt 2 do smthing good..." Except the sequel never came.

And I can kind of see why. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was pretty fun, even if the sorceress was obviously the best character. The water effects look like the characters are walking through weird, perfectly-symmetrical jello, but I remember thinking that they were great at the time because they actually reacted the characters' presence. The basic formula of killing guys to get items to kill bigger guys to get bigger items worked, and all of that was carried over to the sequel, but Dark Alliance II just didn't have that much to grab me.

I think it's because there wasn't really much that's changed other than the new classes and the workshop. Going from Diablo to Diablo II had the new classes, but it also had the skill system, the gems, the runes and runewords, the additional overworld areas, the acts, the mercenaries, etc., etc. Dark Alliance II is essentially the same a Dark Alliance, and that's okay, I guess, but it doesn't lead to particularly memorable or exciting gameplay when compared to the first game. I actually think I liked playing the sorceress better than the necromancer, just because casting ball lightning is a lot more visually impressive than casting shadow spray.

I'm not sure I would have played through it at all if it weren't for co-op, but even there there were enough minor annoyances that I kept finding things that bothered me. Both players having to be on the screen at the same time got one of us trapped behind objects multiple times and even led to some deaths, and any time managing inventory or skills or talking to anyone was annoying. Basically, it actively decreased my enjoyment at any time that we weren't directly engaged in killing things, and even then it was a drawback.

A nice bit of fun, but with games out now like Torchlight II or full-patched Diablo III, I don't really think Dark Alliance II is worth much more than a footnote unless you're dead-set on playing your ARPGs on a console.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
At least according to Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World, which I haven't read yet but which I'm going to get around to...eventually.

I was introduced to D&D at a very early age through my father's story. Yes, singular--it wasn't really his thing, but he played a tiny bit in college and remembered that he had been a crossbowman and had the highest Charisma so they made him the party leader. It obviously didn't have much impact on him because that was all he could remember, but I asked him to tell me that story again and again, hoping to glean some other tidbit or scrap out of him all to no avail.

At the end of elementary school, I met some people who invited me to play in their D&D game and I lept at the chance. I'd love to talk at length about what happened in that game...but I honestly don't really remember anything. I remember that we were using a battered copy of the old AD&D 1st Edition book, with the iconic image on the cover. I remember rolling 4d6-drop-lowest and having a spread between 10 and 17, I remember being told that Charisma was basically worthless--and I don't remember any reaction rolls or morale checks, so that at least was an accurate summary for that game--and I remember making a dark elf illusionist. I don't remember why I was allowed to make a dark elf because I clearly didn't know what was going on. The DM ran me through an intro scenario in a town where I went into a bar (of course) and ate with my character's hood up and an elf came and sit across from me. When I lowered my hood, he of course immediately attacked, and after a verbal warning, I cast Hypnotic Pattern...which did nothing, because elves have sleep and charm resistance, which I didn't know about. Having to go home and eat dinner fortunately prevented my character from being murdered right after being created, though maybe that wouldn't have happened.

Of the actual game that followed, I literally remember nothing other than that I made a joke about a key we found after killing a whole room full of skeletons being a "skeleton key."

And come to think of that, that was my only experience of playing D&D. While the game had run I had picked up the AD&D 2nd edition Player's Handbook (after Drow of the Underdark, the first roleplaying book I ever bought), which did lead to some confusion trying to reconcile between first and second edition (though admittedly the differences are small). But after that I picked up the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual and proceeded to run a game for my sister. That went about as well as you'd expect from a 12-year-old's game, though I did tend toward the "Grand sweeping story" end of the pool. Of that game, one of the things I remember is that I had this conception that D&D adventures had to take place in an adventuring party, so I made a bunch of NPCs to accompany her, most of which just kind of followed her around without ever interacting with the game world. That's probably just as well, because it's bad enough when the GM has to NPCs talking to each other in front of the PCs, much less 6 or 7, though admittedly me being 12 might have had something to do with that too. The other thing I remember is that she killed a balor by turning it into a rabbit with a wand of polymorph, managing to get through both its magic resistance and its saving throw.

I also ran a Dark Sun game for some of the same people I played that AD&D 1st Edition game for, but that game fizzled because of my fascination with technomancy as a concept. Long story short, giving the PCs weapons of mass destruction in a campaign based on wandering around getting into fights in a world focused on hardscrabble survival doesn't end well.

After that, I mostly moved on to Vampire: the Masquerade (about which more in two years or so on its 25th anniversary) and considered D&D beneath me with all the pretension that a teenager can muster, but I eventually realized that the way one pretends to be an elf is not in fact a measure of one's personal taste or maturity or inner character. And while I still am not that fond of class/level systems as a whole, playing some kind of skill-based D&D derivative isn't anathema at all. So here's to 40 more years, now that the OGL means D&D is free to be used by just about anyone who wants to!

Now, if only I could decide what kind of game I wanted to run... (^_^;)
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
So, all those changes I've been talking about in my Dungeons & Design series? Well, it turns out that I've been pre-empted--Tim Dugger, who worked on Rolemaster and a Rolemaster-lite game called HARP Fantasy, split off and made an RPG called Novus that does a lot of the same things that I was looking to do. Novus had an open beta playtest a couple years ago, and I managed to find an early copy of the rules on Scribd. While it's not the final version (it's labeled 0.3) and from reading about it on I know that a lot of the basic rules stayed the same even if the details changed.

A list of things Novus does that I was considering:
  • Rolls are made using 2d10 + bonuses vs. a difficulty number.

  • Characters are defined by their skills. Hitting people with swords and using magic are both skill-based.

  • Willpower is a stat and Wisdom is basically renamed Perception. Dexterity is also split into hand-eye coordination (Agility) and gross motor control (Speed).

  • Combat involves rolling vs. the opponent's defense. Extra points over the difficulty translate directly into damage.

  • Weapons have a static value added to damage, and armor subtracts from damage done. Shields add to the difficulty to be hit.

  • Scoring extra points over the base difficulty allows the player to pick special effects, like a bonus to the next similar roll, making a spell harder to resist, or adding to the attack's damage.

  • It has a system of Talents that provide bonuses not covered by the skill system.

  • Like Rolemaster or HARP Fantasy, there are Backgrounds like "Urban, Upper Class" or "Sylvan" that provide characters with a starting set of skills.

  • There are Fate Points that allow the characters to influence rolls

  • There is a list of combat maneuvers that can be bought, like Power AttackStrike or Ranged Disarm or ChargeMoving Strike.

  • Spells have a casting target number that the caster has to beat with their spellcasting skill to use.

  • Spells aren't Vancian, instead using a spell point system. Apparently one of the supplements has a fatigue system as well.

Things Novus does that I wasn't thinking of:
  • The 2d10 both explode and implode. That's much better than bounded accuracy for allowing the occasional crazy result while typically keeping things in a more predictable range.

  • It's class/level-based, but class just determines how much it costs to buy skills--spells are cheaper for wizards, for example--and levels provide more points to buy skills. Also, there's a PDF supplement that allows a classless, levelless option.

  • Only the attacker rolls in combat, but the defense is based on a static 15 + modifiers, so changing it to attacker and defender both roll wouldn't be too difficult. It would make hits in combat more likely and increase lethality, though, but I'm not convinced that's a bad thing.

  • Combat has an action point system, where each participant gets 5 AP every round and different maneuvers cost different amounts of AP.

There's probably more in there that I'm forgetting, but that's a pretty comprehensive list.

Right now, I'm fixated on a weird science fantasy world using that lovely Runequest Collector's Edition, but if my interests do swing back to more classic fantasy I'll probably do it with Novus. In addition to all the reasons laid out above, it's close enough to D&D that I can use the wealth of OSR material I've found from trawling the internet and reading blogs for the past year.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
I've written before about how I don't like percentile systems, and while that's not really that true any longer, I think I've realized at least part of where my dislike came from. It has a lot to do with the way the information on the character's skills is presented to the player.

The typical benefit for percentile systems that I've seen when people ask online is that they're transparent and easy to explain and understand. "Shoot Dude 47%" is intuitively obvious in a way that "Run Away •••" or "Gibber Insanely +12"[1] isn't, and it's easy and fast to intepret the results of the dice, too. Rolling two d10s and comparing to the skill is much faster than, to pick a kind of system I use pretty often, rolling from 1 to 15 d10s, looking for 8s and 9s, counting those, looking for 10s and counting those and adding that to the 8s and 9s, then rerolling all the 10s and starting from step 2. And all that is true and reasonable.

The unreasonable bit on my part is why D&D's dice system doesn't bother me even though it works much more similarly to percentile systems than to the dice pool systems that I usually prefer to play with. Each has a randomizer that produces a linear result, each increments up an equal amount when the character improves, and games like Rolemaster even have the same roll-high resolution system that D&D does. This was really driven home to me lately while I was working on converting Only War's system of Aptitudes to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and thinking about the odds. Characters in WFRP tend to start with a ~20-50% chance to accomplish actions, depending on their stats and what skills they have. And if you just look at the page, that seems really low. I've seen research--though don't quote me on this because I can't find the article anymore--that the average person feels competent at a task when they succeed at it at least 80% of the time, so obviously seeing the numbers on the page can be demoralizing, and that's demonstrated by doing even some cursory Googling of WFRP+whiff factor.

The thing is, that never bothered me in D&D, even though the underlying math is similar. A starting AD&D fighter with no other bonuses attacking an orc in chainmail has a 30% chance to hit--15+ on a d20. Using ability checks as a substitute for an actual skill system, a guy with average Dexerity has a ~55% chance to jump across a chasm. The complaint can come out through experience--the last AD&D game I ran, I converted the thief skills into roll-high on a d20, and the thief got really frustrated with constantly failing at his thiefitude[2]--but I don't see the same kind of initial impression of incompetence that a WFRP or a BRP character can generate.

Typically, percentile systems I've seen handle this by changing the base for a roll. If a character has climb 45%, then that's not their chance to climb a brick wall under a sunny cloudless sky, it's their chance to climb it in the rain. A sunny cloudless sky adds a 20% bonus, and maybe gale-force winds would subtract 20%. But again turning to Google, you find that in practice a lot of people don't do that, and so complaints about character incompetence mounts. In Dark Heresy, they even had to expand the range of possible bonuses up to 60% in the errata and note that the general difficulty is actually Challenging, so Average tasks should be rolled with a 10% bonus. Obviously, that's not a super-elegant way of dealing with the problem.

I personally fixed this in WFRP by letting people pick the 10s and 1s on percentile dice after they roll, which turns the normal linear distribution of percentile dice into my beloved bell curve and stops the whiff. That does have it's own problems, though--the most obvious being that it's not a "percentile system" anymore because a 50% on the sheet is actually more like a ~75% chance to succeed. There's also a weird stepped progression system: for example, going from 50 to 54 doesn't improve your odds at all, because you could already switch the dice (50->05, 51->15, etc.) so all those numbers are already successes for you. One could make the argument that this is realistic, since people tend to hit certain skill levels, plateau there for a while, and then jump up to a new one instead of improving linearly once they've attained the basics[3], but invoking realism in an RPG discussion isn't just opening a can of worms, it's ripping the roof off the worm factory.

Anyway, realizing that the problem was one of presentation for me was a big part of why I stopped hating percentile systems and stopped trying to hack WFRP into some kind of hybrid monstrosity. And also why I sunk a bunch of money into Runequest 6. I still prefer dice pools, but I'm much more in the camp of "different tools for different game types" now.

[1]: One thing I really do like about Call of Cthulhu is that it uses skills like this to provide character information. For example, you'll have a cultist stat block that says something like: "Skills: Pistol 39%, Fist 60%, Dodge 65%, Laugh Maniacally 50%, Persuade 25%, Credit Rating 20%, Function in Normal Life 05%." Obviously some of those will never be rolled and probably don't exist anywhere else in the game, but it's a great way of telling you information about that NPC.
[2]: And now I wonder if this would have happened if I had left them as percentages. Does 20% chance of Hide in Shadows cause more negative reactions than Hide in Shadows 17+? It does for me even though I know they're the same if I take a moment to think about it, but for other people?
[3]: As can easily be demonstrated with my own Japanese ability. Grr. (>_<)
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
I was going to do more on the subject of sandbox vs. plotted games, but I can't organize my thoughts properly, so this one goes first.

One thing I often say about my GMing style is that every game I run turns into a horror game regardless of what it started out as. But that's just based on the fact that I like Lovecraft and like including cosmicism, the insignificance of humanity, vanished pre-human races, and creepy monsters with tentacles, not really based on the mood my games are trying to evoke.

The problem is that invoking a horror mood, as opposed to just using horror tropes, is really hard and almost entirely relies on player buy-in. In a passive medium, it's easier to evoke the kind of dread that horror requires because the narrative is entirely under the control of the author, but that's not the case in most RPGs. The addition of the dice means that it's harder to maintain a consistent feel, barring GM intervention. Sometimes the axe murderer gets a lucky hit. Sometimes the player gets a lucky hit. In a book, it's easy to put the protagonist in continuous danger without actually killing them, making you worry about their safety and thus invoking the connection that actual horror requires.

To demonstrate what I mean, here's an example the other way. One of the inspirations for Delta Green was that John Tynes played a game of the infamously-deadly Call of Cthulhu campaign Masks of Nyarlathotep in university and...well, it was infamously deadly. So deadly that they went through all the various family and friends of the original characters who could have reasonably gone to investigate what happened and started bringing in people on the street and random guys they found in bars. They basically zerg rushed Nyarlathotep with such luminaries as Backwash McJesus and his brother Bastard, two hobos the PCs randomly found on the street and later roped into saving the world. I think it was a triple-digit death toll by the end.

In essence, horror without an investment all too easily becomes farce. Then again, that's pretty true of roleplaying in general.

Assuming you have that investment, though, there are still better and worse ways to go about it.

By far the best system I've seen for representing madness is the Madness Meters that I've mentioned before, but while they work just fine for a modern-day occult horror game like Unknown Armies or the excellent Delta Green, they make much less sense for a fantasy game--even a dark fantasy one. Penalizing adventurers for killing people or stealing things or seeing weird monsters might work okay in some kind of meta-game about how adventurers are crazy because no sane person would come out of a underground cavern system laden with enough treasure to set them up for life, only to walk to the Mages Guild, blow it all on even sharper swords that go *ting* and armor that glows, and then go back underground, but for a typical fantasy game about hardass murderhobos it's not that great. That cuts out the Violence, Unnatural, and Self gauges right there and doesn't leave much of the meat left.

Ravenloft is pretty clearly a topical example. I'm only familiar with the second edition version, but there are three different mechanics there: Fear, Horror, and Madness Checks. Fear is when the ghost jumps out and shrieks in your face, horror is when you hear children laughing in the decrepit old mansion, and madness is pretty obvious. Failing Fear checks makes you have a short-term freakout, and failing Horror or Madness Checks have long-term consequences. Horror can give penalties on Fear Checks, and Madness is CoC-style with permanent disorders. That's workable, if a bit tailored to the heavily Gothic overtones that Ravenloft has.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has something similar, though it's oriented differently. Fear Tests give you a dice penalty if you fail them but don't constrain the PC's actions, Terror Tests make you run if you fail them, and Insanity Tests give you insanity points. Anyone who hits 6 IPs needs to make Willpower Tests to avoid getting a disorder, and if they stave it off until 12 IPs, they automatically get one. After a Disorder, IPs go down to zero and the counter starts up again.

Call of Cthulhu, of course, has its Sanity system that are basically mental hit points. Lose too many at once and you freak out.

Dread is one of those new-fangled indie games, but it's the only game I've seen that has an mechanic that directly invokes apprehension. Take a Jenga tower. When you do something dangerous in game, pull out a block. If the tower falls, your character dies at the end of the scene. It wouldn't work for a hexcrawling fantasy game, but it is a mechanic that perfectly does what it's designed to do.

Finally, this isn't really a rules example, but the entire reason level draining exists in D&D is to make undead actually scary on a metagame level. I'm sure everyone's familiar with players treating all monsters as bags of HP and special powers regardless of their appearance or capabilities, but if they can suck out your levels? That's scary. Undead being immune to morale served a similar function back when battles were PCs + hirelings vs. tons of monster and most battles lasted until one side broke and ran, but undead always fought to the last.

Honestly, I'm tempted to just rip off the WFRP system. I like the idea of encouraging a sense of creeping horror à la the Ravenloft mechanic, but I actually think that giving it mechanical weight works against that in the worst way. Horror, as I said above, is more of a mood thing determined by investment in the situation and the characters, and attempting to induce it mechanically just draws attention to the artificiality of the game and works against the end goal.

But fear is easily represented, especially stealing the Conditions I mentioned from my social post. Fail a Fear Check, and you get a choice--run away, cower, Conan-style berzerk rage to wipe out the unnatural, etc. Maybe penalties if different options are chosen, like automatically gaining an Insanity Point if you go berzerk but hey, you can fight the monster from beyond.

I'm currently leaning towards using this system I'm thinking up to run Sun and Storm, since my other idea of sword-and-sorcery Romans in the jungle would be better served by Runequest, and using fear/insanity there would fit perfectly, since the game is about a civilizational collapse after being conquered by an army of the undead. Though oddly, the original game has no sanity or fear mechanics. I'd think that having to fight your friends and family who now serve the Storm Legion is way more psychologically damaging, even to the generic adventurer, than fighting goblins.

Wait, who am I kidding. Everyone knows that murderhobos don't have family or friends.

Anyway, Fear Checks and escalating insanity points, resisted with Willpower. Simply, nonintrusive, and it already works in another game system.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
So, if you hadn't previously gotten the impression from my posts, I love resource management in video games. My favorite roguelike is Unreal World, which is best described as, "You're an Iron Age Finnish person. Good luck with that." I've put 630+ hours into Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, with mods that reduce the ammount of ammo in the world, make repairing weapons harder, reduce carrying capacity, make it easier to get hurt and harder to heal, require you to eat food, make you check for food spoilage, make you eat a variety of food through tracking different nutritional indicators so that eating a diet of nothing but Sugar Bombs will make you die of kwashiorkor...that kind of thing. I'm really big into the survivalist experience in my interactive media, even if in real life I'm an inveterate city slicker. So how do I translate that kind of experience into a tabletop game where there isn't a visual representation of the world that you can poke around in and where tracking your calories, hydration, protein intake, nutrient intake, sleep, and alcohol consumption all separately is way too time-consuming and fiddly?

Back In Ye Olde Dayes
Or, how OD&D did a lot of things really well and utterly failed to communicate why it did them or even what kind of game it was.

When I got into D&D, it was second edition[1], when the art was all heroes in heroic poses doing heroic things, but the rules were still focused on murderhobos descending into dank holes in the ground and stabbing everything right in the face and stealing whatever wasn't nailed down. When I read the rules about henchmen or getting XP for treasure or wandering monsters or how carrying too much reduced movement rates, I didn't see what the point of them was and ignored them in the games I ran.

The thing is, there was a reason for them; it was just terribly explained. The original game was focused on murderhobos and the rules reflect an experience that's tightly focused on going into holes in the ground and hauling treasure out of them. XP is only gained when treasure is hauled out of the dungeon successfully. That's why wandering monsters are so dangerous--because they expend player resources but don't carry any treasure--and why strict time tracking was an important part, because staying down in the dungeon longer carried the risk of more wandering monsters. Monsters not providing XP meant that no particular way of dealing with them was incentivized, unlike a lot of modern games that provide XP for killing the bad guys.

As an example, this was my biggest problem with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I would ghost through the base, accomplishing my objectives and get the ghost bonus if I could, then go back and knock every single guard out and stuff them in the ventilation shafts, because I got XP for every knockout and letting them stay conscious would have been extremely suboptimal. Objective-based XP avoids all these problems. It's not about how JC Denton gets through the base to hack the computer--it only matters that he does. Similarly, it doesn't matter how the PCs haul out the treasure, it only matters that they do.

XP for treasure is also the reason for the detailed encumbrance rules. The movement rate changes for carrying too much stuff matter for time tracking to determine wandering monster rates and how fast the PCs can run away if they find something they can't handle. Also, it limits how much stuff the PCs can bring in to the dungeon, so they can't carry every single magical item and load themselves down like a Christmas tree. It incentivizes them to find or steal a stronghold to store their equipment, leading into the original end-game of founding petty kingdoms, ruling them, and adventurering to support their rule.

It's all actually rather well-designed and tightly-integrated, as long as you don't try to run Tolkienian quest fantasy with it. Oops.

Welcome to Post-Apocalyptia
Part of the reason I think rules like this are important is that the standard generic fantasy RP world tends to be post-apocalyptic in flavor, whether from Tolkien's influence, from lingering psychic damage to Western civilization caused by the fall of the Roman Empire, or just because that's what everyone does. Someone on succinctly summarized it as, "when everything was AWESOME and BIG and IN YOUR FACE until somebody FUCKED UP and BROKE EVERYTHING and now EVERYTHING SUCKS." That fits all my favorite games and settings--Dark Sun, Sun and Storm, Exalted, Fading Suns--which I think are my favorite mostly because it provides the best reason to have adventures. The fall of the Glorious Empire is why there are abandoned ruins littering the landscape, why the law has a very short reach, why there are so many A-Wizard-Did-It monsters infesting the wilderness, and why heavily-armed vagabonds are allowed to roam around and plunder at will without being taxed and regulated into oblivion. In a game where the characters have a comfortable level of resources, like most modern or future era games, there's not much point in tracking every last bullet or meal the characters eat, but in a game of limited resources and penny-pinching, it matters a lot more. When I run Shadowrun, I track all the bullets and nuyen spent for basically the same reason--to enforce the feel of living on the edge where one bad push could send the characters over and of having to constantly scrabble to maintain what they have.

Plot-based vs. Sandbox
There's another consideration about tracking resources, though, and that's the impetus for the game's story. If it's plotted out beforehand, then tracking ammo and food is probably unnecessary unless they're specifically supposed to be in some kind of low-resource dangerous scenario. Whether the characters can fight their way through the Tombs of Structural Unsoundness to get to the city and overthrow the duke is more important than how many arrows they have. If it's a sandbox, then the most important thing is whether or not the characters survive, and how many arrows they have and when they run out of water is much more important.

This obviously isn't a strict divison, since it's perfectly possible that whether the characters have enough arrows to fight through the Improbably Large and Detailed Caves and reach the princess in time is of vital importance, but it's a tendency. Mass Effect doesn't care where you eat or sleep, Cataclysm does.

How to Implement All This
So, most of this entry is me justifying why I want to include rules for this at all, but I have to mention here that I don't actually know the best way to include rules without doing a bunch of side work. See, unlike combat and social interaction, where it's perfectly possible to just roll some dice and make stuff up and have it be a reasonably satisfying part of the game, I don't think survival mechanics fall into that. If survival is just "Roll your survival skill every day or die," then...well, for one, it's too granular, like single-resolution rolls under the social-skills-as-mind-control model, but two, it's boring. What does rolling to find water add to the game if it's never taken any farther than just making the roll? If the roll is failed, but there's no way to engage with that other than rolling again or randomly wandering around, then it's just a roll to find out if you have to waste time.

What I mean by side work is making up maps or tables. For my Fallout game, I found a pdf called Wasteland Garbage that has tables of random stuff on it for the players to find when they're rummaging around ruined buildings, and I think it's done a lot to make scavenging more interesting and saved me a lot of trouble of trying to figure out what exactly the PCs find, especially since most of it would be that kind of random junk. But making it up myself would have taken a bunch of work, and I think to make scavenging meaningful, you really need something like that table. To make survival meaningful, you need to know the travel times between the places the PCs are going, what kind of terrain it is, and what creatures live there. It's certainly possible for running out of food to lead to adventure--after all, that's basically what Unreal World is about--but not if it's just elided with another survival roll and then moving on. Without an actual structure for the mechanics to hang on, it's just random dice rolls that might kill you.

This is one of those things computers handle much better than TTRPGs, just because they can make all the maps and distribute resources easier. But with a good set of random tables and a map, it's certainly possible in a TTRPG. That's how it used to be done, after all. Without that map and with no tables, it's probably more trouble than it's worth. That does fit in with the sandbox idea, though, since a sandbox is typically built out of a map and random tables.

Actual Mechanics
4e Dark Sun had a concept called "Survival Days." It tied into the healing surge mechanics, which I'm not that fond of, but the basic idea is sound. Keep some abstraction, so that food isn't measured in loaves of bread and pounds of meat, but in the amount of food and water necessary to keep someone alive for a day. Or in Dark Sun, probably separate food and water. Anyway, make the basic unit the day, and track everything that way. A basic Survival roll finds enough food for one person for one day and takes X hours, slowing travel time and requiring more rolls overall. And maybe an extra encounter check for each time spent hunting, so if the party runs out of food, they'll greatly increase their chances of things turning interesting. That wouldn't need tables of what kind of food they find, just a map and a list of the kind of creatures in that terrain. Tracking arrows is just something for the PCs to do. Maybe a simple rule that if the arrow does more than X damage, it breaks.

I don't think there's any way to implement this without the map and so on, though. If your fantasy game doesn't need a map and random encounter tables, you probably don't need to track food or ammo either, unless you're specifically playing survival horror. Or WFRP.

[1]: The first game I played was first edition, back when illusionist was a separate class from magic-user, but the first books I really read were all second edition.

D&D Meme

Aug. 11th, 2013 12:07 pm
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
I haven't posted one of these in an incredibly long time, but one of the blogs I read linked this "What D&D Character are you?" quiz and I tried it out. It's rather long, as a warning if any of you want to take it.

I Am A: Lawful Good Elf Wizard (5th Level)
Ability Scores:

Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells/

Detailed Results )

Charisma 11, which I suspect is because of all the introverted answers I put in, though with those stats it looks like I used 4d6-drop-lowest for stats. Clearly, I'm not a real old-school character. :p
dorchadas: (Default)
So, I found this article about the place of magic in a fantasy world, and I thought it would make a good cap on the stuff I've been writing about my personal take on magic systems.

Number Two and Three are probably the most obvious ones that leads to trouble, and a lot of what I've already written is about them. And he's right. Groups like the Freemasons are the most obvious example of how advanced crafts were essentially occult arts back in the day, but it runs into the same problem that a lot of non-magical situations do in RPGs--barrier to entry. "Real World Physics + Magic" takes seconds to explain. It can lead to some confusion (does a fireball light things on fire?), but not nearly as much as working out the effects of disease being caused by disease spirits or smithing being an innately magical profession. Does that mean contaminated water doesn't make people in this world sick? Or maybe contaminated water attracts disease spirits. What does being a master smith mean if their weapons are magical? It does lead to a nice Tolkienian vibe, where the ancient weapons you find lying around are great because they were made by smiths whose skill is so great that the craftsmanship lasts for millennia, though.

Alchemy is also often the problem in reverse. Quite often, and especially in D&D-esque games, making potions requires knowing magic--Brew Potion requires a caster level, for example--but that doesn't really fit the traditional idea that the magic is in the ingredients and combining them properly is a mundane process. I like alchemy to be available to anyone and just be hard and the knowledge well-guarded, though, and I've always loved the Elder Scrolls way of doing alchemy. The only problem is coming up with a way to make that work in a tabletop setting. I'll deal with that when I talk about Survival mechanics later on.

Number One is something that bothers me, and I've written obliquely about it before, but it's difficult to fully get over without deliberately concealing the mechanics from the players or adding random consequences to magic, WFRP- or Dungeon Crawl Classics-style. Random consequences aren't bad, and they're a great way of limiting the use of magic if you don't want spells-per-day or magic points or anything like that, but it's tricky to design well enough such that the player doesn't feel like it's more trouble to use magic than it's worth. No one wants to play the wizard and then not be able to use magic. If that's the kind of world you're going for, better to set it up at the beginning so no one goes in with the idea they'll be tossing off spells.

Another problem is that a lot of real world folkloric magic is a known system and thus non-mysterious. It's just that it's unknown to most people. I mean, ceremonial magic or alchemy are all about rigidly-adhered to formulaic procedures that are supposed to be "input effort, get result," so in that respect, it's a false choice. But feel is pretty important in RPGs, and having magic feel mysterious is important to some people. I don't necessarily need it to feel mysterious, but I like it to feel weighty. I'm not always a huge fan of people just tossing off spells at the drop of a hat.

Numbers Four and Five are more interesting, though. Five especially, because having to obey some moral or behavior code is huge in most historical systems of magic and barely comes up in fantasy, where it's usually based just on study and knowledge. There's some D&D nod to it in the paladin's and ranger's strictures, but I think the most common way of thinking of that is of dick GM's making paladins fall for any number of silly reasons. It can work well with smaller, more limited schools of magic like I mentioned, though. Maybe ice witches can never light a fire or their magic gets weaker? Maybe druids can't use metal weapons? 2-4 restrictions is probably enough to give some kind of ethical framework without unduly limiting characters' actions. Another possibility is make the strictures the price of power, so apprentices only have something minor but archmages are much more tightly bound. Apprentice druids must plant a tree four times a year on the equinoxes and solstices, but arch-druids must eschew all materials fashioned by human hands other than their own? Something like that.

On four, I don't have much to say. I don't like magic points all that much--I prefer a fatigue system--but WFRP's rituals also provide a good way of limiting power, since they need exotic components, sometimes need specific times of the day or year, and have consequences for failure. Those rituals have pretty ridiculous requirements (500g diamond, a dragon's tooth, and a gong blessed by a dying priest to cause a one-minute earthquake. Also, if you fail the casting, the earth opens and swallows you) but they're a good inspiration.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
I always forget something.

Effect-Based Spells vs Exception-Based Spells
Basically, this is the collision between a superhero-style powers system--or a True20 magic system--and a D&D-style many spells system. In an effect-based system, the powers are called things like "Blast" or "Armor" or "Element Control," and everything beyond that either comes from changing the flavor. Want a fireball? Add the fire tag to Blast (if the system supports it), or otherwise just say it's a fireball. Want an iceball? See fireball. Exception-based systems are like D&D, where instead of Blast you have Fireball and Delayed Blast Fireball and Ice Storm and Melf's Minute Meteors and Meteor Swarm and Burning Hands and and and.

Neither of these is automatically better. Effect-based systems reduce the number of possible rules collisions or edge cases that break things and make it relatively easy to include new powers without having to write a bunch of text. Exception-based systems have much greater variety and avoid the problem where powers start feeling samey--finding a scroll so your wizard can finally learn Meteor Swarm is way more exciting than finding a scroll so you can finally learn Blast +2, Fire. It's really the same as the D&D magic items debate: a +5 sword is boring, but Stormbringer is awesome.

Having read Runequest 6e, I'll probably cheat and take their approach. It's built on an effect-based system, but it specifically says you should tailor the magic to the group that has it. A necromancer with the Wrack spell causes the flesh to rot off their target's bones, but can't use it on undead or inorganic targets. A pyromancer hurls a ball of flame that sets the target on fire, but also their surroundings. This does mean that some groups' versions of spells will simply be better than others, but I'm not sure that's a problem. It also requires some work, but not as much work as converting dozens or hundreds of D&D spells to mesh with a lower-hit-point system and new way of calculating damage. The Grim 'n' Gritty rules don't even try--they basically say, "Either magic is really limited or non-casters die."

You might think this is just asking people not to look behind the curtain, and in a way it is, but I've already tried it with spells in the DELTA GREEN game I'm running and it works pretty well there. The one character who keeps copying and poring through the ancient tomes and mad cultist's scrawlings they confiscate has found what mechnically is the same spell more than once, with a different name and some different ingredients and ritual steps listed each time. Which one is right? Is either of them? Well, he hasn't cast the spell yet, and if he does, I'll put on the viking hat.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Read more... )

That was a lot. I think I'll end it here. If I have any more thoughts about it, I'll obviously write another post. Otherwise, next up will be social mechanics. (^_^)v
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
a.k.a.: Why do I need an Etiquette skill if I wrote "Lore (Nobility)" for a lifepath? I guess that's the natural problem if I try to make a closed skill system but leave skills that are open to expansion.

Right now, I'm thinking about dumping Etiquette, adding a basic "Culture" skill that applies to different cultural groups, writing down some example Lore skills, and then stealing from Shadowrun and giving people a pool of points to pick only Culture and Lore skills, in addition to the stuff they get from lifepaths and maybe a bit from a lump of free points after the lifepaths to round things out a bit, World of Darkness-style.

So then, instead of Lore (Nobility), that skill would have been Culture (X Nobility), where X is a specific kind of nobility if their culture is different enough to need its own skill, or otherwise just Culture (X). Then more Culture and Lore skills would get added on as they go through lifepaths. I'll probably have Lore (Arcane), Lore (History), Lore (Natural Philosophy) [as the catchall pre-Scientific Revolution science skill], Lore (Otherworld) [about spirits and so on--I prefer animism to typical D&D polytheism], Lore (Dark Magic), and then probably a couple specific lores for the setting I'm thinking of, like Lore (Lifeshaping) and Lore (Stormsmithing).

This is ending up like WFRP's division between "Common Knowledge" and "Academic Knowledge." Common Knowledge is stuff about "the Empire" or "the Dwarves" or what have you, like Culture, and Academic Knowledge has subdivisions like Astrology and Herbalism and Magic and The Arts. I don't mind copying that structure, though, because it works.

I should add a Tactics advanced skill, too, if I want to include any kind of higher-tier subgame. Maybe also a Seneschal one, like Dark Ages Vampire. I always loved the name of that skill for managing property in Ye Darke Ages. Also, why is Animal Training an advanced skill? That would have made it impossible to ever domesticate anything--can't learn how to it without trying but can't roll checks untrained, therefore pet dogs and cats don't exist. I think not.

That does mean most of the LOLNO skills are magical in nature or stuff where you either know it or you don't, but that's not unreasonable, I think. That prevents one of the problems with skill systems, where it becomes impossible for people to be competent without a huge outlay of points in the beginning. Reading Alternity really brings that home for me--it has a neat mechanic and I like the system, but the skills are a horrific monstrosity. I mean, "Deduction" is a skill used to make leaps of logic that the character would know but the player wouldn't, and one of the examples is a starship engineer figuring out what's wrong with the engine. So what's the point of the engineering skill if you don't roll it to diagnose problems? Beats me!

Or having "Teach" as a skill that gives you an XP boost, which is one of the most blatant ways to encourage annoying metagaming that I've ever seen. Though I suppose traveling around the galaxy to find teachers for the dozens of skills you want to learn is a good way to spark adventures.

Anyway, I'll get to magic one of these days. I promise.
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
The idea of Feats is great, it's just the implementation that was terrible.

Wait, what?
Pre-3.x D&D didn't really have any mechanical way of representing characters' capabilities other than ability scores, race, class, level, spells, and equipment. Stuff like coming from a wealthier family, or being taller or short than the normal range, or having a particular talent with a skill or weapon, or even things like "How hard is it for non-thieves to hide? What if you grew up a street urchin but then became a caravan guard?" are all things that the GM had to either ban or come up with spot rules for on the fly. Feats provide a mechanical structure to hang all that on, and that's a good thing.

The problem comes in when you look at the actual feats. Not only are they not equal in value like I've mentioned before, but there are over 3000 of them published, and in d20 the typical character only gets 7 of them, ever. Toughness is even worse under those circumstances.

I can avoid that, because I dislike class/level systems and this won't be one, but I still have to either develop a variable point-buy system for Advantages or just try to make them as close as I can and accept that some might be worth a bit more or less than normal. There is an extant point-buy system for Feats, but it's unarguably worse than the existing system. I mean, Skill Focus costs 10 points, and Natural Spell costs 5. In what world is being able to cast spells on people while you are in bear form mauling their face worth half as much as getting a +3 bonus to one skill? He also costs Toughness at 10 points, so...

The design principles laid out before the bizarro costs list are worth it if I do decide to go that route, though.

One possibility of using lifepaths is that I can add Advantages that you can only acquire by taking specific lifepaths. Like the "Noble Birth" Advantage, I mentioned earlier, or culture-specific stuff. I do have ideas for the setting I'd like to use with this, but I want to hammer everything else out before I start talking about it.

Fortunately, since I want to model the standard D&D murderhobo/"homocidal transients" character types, there's a lot of Advantages I don't need to write. Anything involving too much wealth, or involvement in organizations, for example. Though I could write those and put them into lifepaths, for people who used to be soldiers and mustered out or went AWOL. Speaking of soldiers...

Gating Techniques and Boring Advantages
One of the criticisms leveled at the Feats in d20 is how warriors needed to take a bunch of Feats just to do their job. Stuff like Improved Disarm, where they have to take it in order to not be punched in the face whenever they try to do something other than "I stab them in the hit points." And that's a legitimate criticism! It also runs into another problem I've been thinking about. Namely, how to properly divide them between new abilities and making abilities better.

The problem with an Advantage that gives a new ability is that it implies that it's not possible unless a character has the Advantage, unless stated elsewhere. Unfortunately this leads to a trap, where they're either boring "+2 to blah" Advantages that you take because you have to but you don't actually care about them, or you wall off bunches of abilities behind an XP paywall. I might be able to get around that by adding riders (Improved Disarm! Now you can disarm and do some damage), but I'll have to think about it. Of course, I don't plan to write 3000+ Advantages either, so...

Maybe if I made some of the boring stuff Advantages you get in lifepaths, so some of them are taken already? Hmm...

Magical Powers
True20 has a separate "powers" section, and taking Feats grants you access to 2 powers per feat taken, or one if you're a "Wild Talent" and aren't formally trained in an arcane tradition. I'm not sure I like that, but I think some kind of structure for supernatural powers that fits into the experience scheme is necessary. One of the problems with pre-4e D&D is that casters can acquire new spells with essentially no downside. It doesn't cost them extra XP, it doesn't cost them any of their other capabilities, it only costs them the time to search out the spells. This was my major problem with the Wayfarers RPG--everything is all set up as point buy and balanced, except that casters can learn as many spells as they can find. I have to avoid that, but I'm not sure if I want to just tie them into Advantages, or provide a separate system. Probably the latter, but I'll think about that when I talk about magic. Which should be next.


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