Monday, January 15, 2018

LSR: Beasts

Running a few play tests this afternoon, I was playing around with a level 3 dwarf myrmidon, pitting him against first an ogre, and then a bear. I found a few things were happening...

1. There were too many numbers to keep track of. In solo play, I was trying to keep track of the bonus for my character, and then contrast that with a beast's opposing ability. It was not a big deal, but it slowed me down just a hair every time. It didn't make for the quick resolution that I wanted.
2. Even a swing of 2 points on a level 3 beast was significant. If one ability was rated at 7 and another was rated at 5, the 7 often proved quite challenging, and the 5 a bit light.
3. I didn't 'feel' enough variety in the encounters. The monsters were largely defined by their stats (well, it's a RPG, so duh)... however, it seemed like traits were almost too important.

I have this sort of crazy idea. What if every beast has one trait point that governs all of its rolls, but then it grants advantage and disadvantage in particular situations, while also possibly having abilities that are triggered situationally...

Here is an example. My original write up for an ogre looks like this:

Ogre Brute (Level 3) Atk 6; Def 6; Dmg 8; Amr 6; Hits 7; Attacks with a club.

However, if we go with the one stat approach, I can add another layer of information:

Ogre Brute (Level 3; DT 7); Attacks with a club that forces disadvantage to Amr rolls.

Now, the ogre still deals more damage than a 'typical' level 3 beast, because the hero is going to at least lose advantage on armor rolls, if not suffer a disadvantage. This, in and of itself, makes the ogre more dangerous. Now, getting hit by an ogre brings with it a genuine fear; I know that when this thing hits, it hits HARD... and I have so much less to keep track of. It has attack, defense, damage, armor, and hits ratings of 7.

Let's go with the extreme... an elder flame dragon. My original stat block was:

Elder Flame Dragon (Level 5) Atk 9; Def 8; Dmg 9; Amr 10; Hits 12Flight (120’ with 1 action); 2 in 6 chance attack is a breath weapon, hitting all targets within 60’ of the dragon for 4 hits damage (targets roll Lvl DT 8 for half damage); senses: DT 12 for all sneak checks; 3 attacks per round in melee combat (claw/claw/bite).

However, I can simplify this to:

Elder Flame Dragon (Level 5; DT 9). Travel 120' in one action (flight); attacks with 3 melee strikes (1-4) or breath weapon (5-6). Breath forces all creatures within 120' to roll Lvl or suffer 4 hits; those who make this roll suffer 2 hits. All damage rolls vs. dragon suffer disadvantage due to armored skin. All sneak rolls suffer disadvantage due to senses.

Now, the dragon only has 9 hits (instead of 12), but the disadvantage it forces to damage rolls offsets this, since it takes less damage per hit. I know the DT of resisting the dragon breath and of sneaking past it: 9. Because it is 9 for everything. 9 is really, really (really) high... but not impossible, because even with no bonus, a roll of 6 will always succeed. However, you may need a 6 to hit, and another 6 to deal 1 point of damage... and you will have to do that 9 times. However, higher level characters will have abilities and spells that make them quite a bit more effective than their basic trait bonuses would indicate.

Now, a monster is (at its core) a level, a DT, and at least one distinctive ability. I like this.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Legends of the Splintered Realm

For Christmas, I got a copy of the Dungeon board game. I have enjoyed playing it, even if it is a bit too minimalistic (and for me, that’s saying something!).

I was playing around with how the game might be more engaging with a few tweaks, and how I would go about setting up a game like this… I ended up drifting to think about the LOTR CCG, and the handful of times I’ve played that. I like the idea that characters are simple (they fit on a trading card), have a few basic stats, and they are customizable as you play through getting items. So far, so good. I like how the encounters are pre-programmed, with storyline quests you follow that can have unexpected events and which are different every time, but which still fundamentally follow the same framework. I liked all of this, but I wanted to layer on the things I like best about tabletop RPGs: you play a character for an extended time who slowly gets better and grows.

So, I took Saga of the Splintered Realm and stripped it to the rails. I worked out a mechanic where you have five attributes, roll 1d6 for everything, and all beasts are passive (with pre-programmed abilities). I figured out how to differentiate the various character classes, how to create a framework for growth over time, how to establish rules for ongoing campaigns, how to work out a magic system, and how to have rules for characters to gather wealth, power, and magical items over time.

And, I got it into six pages!

The draft is basically done (I’m dotting i’s and crossing t’s right now), but I wanted to start to play test and post some actual play results… so, here goes!

I am going to make a team, and I’m going to start with the leader being the most versatile of the character classes: the elf champion. The elf champion starts with the following stats:
Attack +2
Defense +2
Damage +2
Armor +2
Hits +2

The elf champion also starts with two abilities. The first is scroll use, which allows for spell casting like a wizard; in this game, there are no prepared spells. You get one offensive basic attack bolt spell, and then everything else comes from scrolls you either purchase or find; wizards get free spell scrolls at the beginning of every quest, but elves don’t. I digress… The second ability is a buff that allows you to increase any ability of yourself or an ally. At first level, I get only 1 point, but I can put it anywhere. This makes the elf a good soloist, but also an excellent team member. I think the playtest will bear this out…

Every level, you get 1 point to distribute anywhere you want, and you also get 1 point in health. I’m going to put the extra point in attack, just so I’m more effective in combat. I expect other members of the team to soak up damage, so I don’t need to go for a defensive build. If I was soloing, I’d probably go defensive for level 1, putting the point into defense, armor, or hits. I also get one extra ability: I am going to pick invocation, which allows me to take advantage (roll 2d6 and take the better roll) on damage rolls with spells. Since the group is not going to have a wizard proper, I’m going to have to be the magic-casting character, and this will make my arcane bolt more effective. My final write up looks like this:

Aldarra, Elf Champion 1
Attack: +3 (longsword or arcane bolt)
Defense: +2
Damage: +2 (longsword; take advantage with arcane dart)
Armor: +2 (chainmail armor)
Hits: 3

And now for some combat… Aldarra is on her way to meet up with allies to start a quest. However, a pair of goblin skirmishers are hiding along the fringe of the woods, and they prepare bows to attack her…

Their stats are:

Goblin Skirmisher (Minion 0) Atk 4; Def 5; Dmg 3; Amr 4; Hits 1
Attacks with a light bow or a short sword
We’re going to say that they are at least 30’ away, and roll 1d6x10 for additional distance. I get a 1, so they start 40’ away. They don’t have sneak, so it is a straight up initiative roll. The goblins have a static result of 3+ level, so a 3. Aldarra rolls 1d6 + level, and gets 3+1=4. She wins. She sees the goblins pop up and knock arrows, and she throws an arcane bolt. She rolls an attack, getting 4+3=7. The goblins have a static 5 for defense, so she hits. For damage, she rolls two dice, getting (2,2). So much for advantage… she deals 2+2=4 damage. They have armor 4, so this succeeds (the beast’s ability rating sets the target for a hero’s success. A 4 or more means that she deals 1 hit of damage; if she gets an 8 or more, she deals 2 hits of damage… these are minions with only 1 hit anyway, so any damage is enough to drop them). The first goblin is down.

The second goblin fires an arrow, having a static attack of 4. Aldarra hasn’t used her buff ability, and would probably put it in defense if she had an action… but she doesn’t. She rolls to defend against the arrow, and gets 2+2=4. The attack was a 4, so (again) she barely succeeds. FYI, these are minions (they should miss a lot) and Aldarra automatically fails a check with a 1, so there is always a 1 in 6 chance you get hit with an attack, even against inferior foes.

Aldarra’s turn. She throws another arcane bolt, rolling a natural 1 and missing. Sigh.

The goblin fires again, and she rolls 5+2=7, so easily sidesteps the arrow.
She throws another arcane bolt, rolling 5+2=7, hitting vs. the goblin’s defense of 5. She rolls for damage (with advantage) getting (1, 3). Advantage paid off… that 1 would mean she automatically failed to deal damage, but the 3 + her 2 bonus gives a total result of 5. This is more than the goblin’s armor of 4. She drops it.

Technically, these are minions, and do not drop treasure. However, I will round them up to level 1 (because I am kind to myself), meaning they have a 1 in 6 chance of dropping a gold coin, and a 1 in 6 chance of dropping a minor magic item. I roll for the coin and get 2. No coin. I also roll for the minor magic, and get a 1! Nice. I roll on the random minor magic table, and I get 1, a spell scroll. I roll 1d6 for the type and get 4 (common scroll). I roll for the specific spell and get 1 (charm). Nice. Now I have a spell I can cast!

Next time, the next hero...

Monday, January 1, 2018

Tales of the Splintered Realm

I realized in the last few weeks that it had been several months that I have updated the blog, and I thought it would be a good idea to share what's been going on. I also thought that New Year's Day, since it symbolizes new beginnings and all, would be an appropriate time to launch a new venture of sorts.

1. An Update
Things have been going well for me academically. I received an email two weeks ago from my university that I have completed the first half of my doctoral program; I have earned 30 doctoral-level credit hours towards my degree in Educational Leadership. I have also completed a local program that gives me certification as a building-level administrator in New York State. This means that my transition from classroom teacher to building-level administrator is underway. It's been a great seventeen years as a high school ELA teacher, but I am definitely ready to move to the next phase of my career.

2. A New Venture
That said, I have had the wonderful opportunity this year to teach an elective in poetry and creative writing, with some very talented and insightful seniors. It's been a joy to break down stories to their nuts and bolts from a writer's perspective, and to examine how and why stories work they way that they do.

One of the revelations to me personally in this process has been that I am not a novelist. I have attempted to write a few novels now, and they have never found completion in a way that I have found satisfying. While I want to be a Tolkien, I am more of a Sir Doyle. My wheelhouse is short stories, where I can mine a single idea or follow a leaner narrative to its conclusion. I have realized that this gives me the flexibility to tell a wide range of stories across the Splintered Realm, and that over the course of time these would become a larger narrative. In effect, I am embracing a more episodic than climactic story form, where the sum total of the short stories may ultimately tell a larger, albeit circuitous, story.

This story is going to be about Mim and Rand, and their various adventures across the Splintered Realm. These are not going to be released in a chronological fashion, and I am going to jump back and forth across their story as the whim strikes me. I have posted the first of these tales, a story I wrote almost four years ago but recently revised. This is going to be the template I follow, aiming for 2,500 to 5,000 words per story.

I have published the first of these installments, and will update as I get stories done. My goal is to publish a new story at the beginning of every month, but that will depend on how life goes. This is definitely a side project, so time will tell...

Happy New Year all, and thanks for reading.

- Mike

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Heart of the Matter

Okay, so I started rambling about symbolism and iconic heroes… so let’s ramble some more.

I guess we have to start with what makes a character iconic? It seems like the simpler the better for iconic characters, and in many ways that is true. You want to be able to describe a character in one sentence, and have everyone get it. That’s great. However, I think that the reason iconic characters resonate and endure is because of something beyond simplicity. I think the answer is conflict.

The most iconic characters represent conflicts between opposing forces by their very natures. Superman endures in part because he was the first superhero. In part, he endures because his basic power set (without all of the extras) is pretty simple: he is strong, bulletproof, and can fly. Everything else is gravy; those are his powers. You take away heat vision and he’s still superman. You take away strength, and he’s something else. But, he’s also a character who embodies a wide range of conflicts. How can you be both impenetrable yet sensitive and caring? How can you be both a farmer and a big city slicker? How can you be both an alien and a human? You are immune to everything, but one green rock that glows makes you the weakest person in the world. You are brave and daring, but your alter ego is bumbling and awkward.

And this extends to your foil characters. These are part of the mix. Superman needs Batman to be in full balance. He is light, Batman is dark. Superman is hope, Batman is grim reality. Superman is above the dirty details; Batman makes that his wheelhouse. Superman relies on his own abilities; Batman has a veritable armory he carries into battle every day.

It’s his villains, too. Superman is strong; Luthor is smart. Superman pushes aside fame and glory; Luthor craves these.

So, you don’t create an iconic character like Superman by taking superman and filing off the serial numbers. You have to get to the heart of the matter.

For Marvel, this character is Captain America. And, we see a different but equally effective parallelism happening; Is Cap in the past or the present? He lives in the fringe between idealism and reality. His American dream comes directly against the tyranny of the Red Skull. His dogged belief in the good of the individual and trust in your own two fists comes directly into conflict with Iron Man’s need to keep tabs on everything and rely on increasingly powerful battle suits. Cap is a poor kid from the Bronx; Iron Man is one of the richest men in the world. Heck, they are born out of different wars: Cap comes from the World War that most clearly defined good and evil. Iron Man comes from the war that generated profound disagreement about what was good, and who would decide.  

The first character needs to be designed with his or her primary foil. They need to balance. They are the first team up, and they need to set the gait. They are brothers in a very real sense (and maybe literally… we will see).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Soft Reboot

Since I had a little time in the last two weeks between classes and projects, I pulled out the good ‘ol Echo City rules and rolled up a few characters for fun. And then, as they always do, the wheels started turning. As I was reading through, I realized that I really, really, like this game. Sure, it’s got a small wart here or an odd turn of phrase there, but by and large this is a great little game.
Sentinels of Echo CityHowever, the area where I was less pleased with the overall game was in the presentation of the game world. For every solid character with a great background, there is a weaker character or (worse yet) a character who is simply a surrogate from a well-known property with the serial numbers filed off.

In thinking about the game world, I have two competing schools of thought.

1) The game world should provide a rich roleplaying opportunity for the players; the setting’s characters (especially the heroes) should fade to the background. Games are about the PCs, not the system’s default heroes. This is one of the problems with playing in established universes; why is my level 3 hero needed when the Justice League is literally living in a bunker around the corner?

2) The game world is defined by the main characters. This one is trickier. Gotham City is not just a setting for comics… it is an extension of Batman’s entire persona. You have to understand Batman in order to really understand Gotham.

While I want #1 to be true, I think you have to embrace #2 at least in part for the setting to really pop.

In effect, we are talking about the inherent symbolism of characters, and what they can communicate. The best characters carry powerful symbolism with them, and that symbolism extends into their adventures, their adversaries, and their environment. If you want to create an iconic setting, you need to create iconic characters who inhabit it. So, if I’m going to reboot the world of Echo City, I need to start with the characters who live there. So, I’ll be posting (as time permits) my thoughts about Echo City’s characters, rebuilding them from the ground up.

In effect, I get to play a fun minigame for the game… if I am designing a cinematic universe for my own unique superhero world, what goes into it, and why?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Does This Thing Still Work?

Logged in today to see that it has been over a year since my last update! And, I realized this week it has been two years since I released Sentinels of Echo City. Wow... um. Time flies and all that good stuff. School goes well and my march towards certification as a school administrator continues unabated... but I always have some gaming stuff turning in the back of my head.

I saw a picture of Doc Ock fighting Spidey the other day, and I realized that I never really solved a villain like him in game terms. Yeah, you can have multiple attacks, but he doesn't really have a multiple attack so much as a barrage of attacks at one time. In fact, this is something that I had not successfully resolved for any hero or villain that can pummel you quickly with a series of blows. Speedsters do this. Doc Ock does this. A big tanky guy could take this as his sort of signature. Instead of landing one big attack, he is always peppering you with quick jabs. I present to you, the barrage attack for Sentinels of Echo City:

Barrage Attack (self). You land a series of blows every time you attack in melee. Roll 1d4+1 for the number of attacks you can take every round. Roll 1d6 for the base damage from your attacks: 1-2 = 1d4; 3-4 = 1d6; 5-6 = 1d8. On each attack you roll, you roll a total number of 1d20s equal to your barrage attack rating (adding your total modifier to hit to each roll). For each attack that succeeds, you roll one of the appropriate dice from barrage attack. Add your STR modifier to the total damage (not to each individual die). For example, Professor Squid is level 5 (+3 attack modifier) has STR 14 (+4 modifier) and has barrage attack 4 (for his 4 robotic tentacle arms) with damage of 1d6 for each arm. He attacks a hero with AC 17. He rolls 4d20 each time he attacks. If he rolls 5 (+7=12; miss), 12 (+7=19; hit) 13 (+7=20; hit), and 20 (allowing him to double the die) on an attack, he lands 3 of the 4 attacks this round. He rolls 3d6 for damage, adding +4 (from his STR) to the total damage this round, and doubling one of the 1d6 results (he should roll this die separately before the other two 1d6s). He could potentially deal a large amount of damage this round... or he could roll a series of 1s.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Update on all things Desing

I've been flying sort of under the radar lately, and there's a good reason. I have recently been accepted into the doctoral studies program at Grand Canyon University, pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership K-12. My end goal is to move from being a classroom teacher to a building or district level administrator, and ultimately into the role of superintendent of schools somewhere.

My journey has already started, and the initial reading is already daunting. Everything I have read and encountered suggests that I am going to need to make this a key focus of my life, putting all of my free time (and much of my currently allocated time) into my studies... for the next three and a half years.

So while this doesn't mean that I will not be writing any more RPGs or publishing any more game content, it means that I am shifting my priorities around considerably, and I don't see any way that I will be able to publish with any frequency or consistency.

I'm very glad for the decision I made to publish games under a creative commons license. I hope that the games I have published continue to live on and grow despite my relatively minor involvement in their development for the foreseeable future.

I plan to try to maintain a weekly schedule with Teaching Ted, since that requires a minimal commitment at this point to keep it rolling. I'll be taking down my Patreon page in the next few days (to keep people from being charged for next month), and I'd expect that I'll be even scarcer of a presence here.

I wish you all well on whatever path your road continues to lead you. I would truly appreciate your prayers as I head down mine.

All my best.