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Monday, July 21, 2014

Ants Webcomic for the Week of 7/21

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Feats in Saga of the Splintered Realm

In the draft I have going for Saga of the Splintered Realm, I am using 'feats' as a catch all for a variety of ways you can upgrade your character. Characters earn feat 'slots' at advancement thresholds:

Humans earn feats at levels 3, 6, 9, 12
Demi-humans earn feats at levels 4, 8, 12

Feats include pretty much everything you could want to upgrade your character. Examples include:

- The ability to cast an extra level 1 spell. You could take this as a fighter to pick up cure light wounds, or as a magic user to get an extra level 1 spell slot.

- Enemy, giving you +1 to all rolls against that enemy type.
- A +1 to any one attribute score.
- An extra attack each round.
- Two-handed fighting

Right now, I know that these are not particularly well balanced, but I'm working towards a modicum of balance. Some feats seems more powerful than others (an extra attack each round trumps a level 1 spell pretty handily), so it's absolutely a work in progress. We play tested last night with a group of level 5 characters, and I'll walk you through how this worked out...

The human fighter and elf champion both took quick strike, giving the +1 attack roll every round (with the primary weapon). My human cleric took +1 vs. an enemy type (he selected undead), and this came in very handy against the vampire they squared off with. The human magic user took quick spell, granting one round of double-casting per turn.

I like this as a mechanic that unifies a variety of other abilities into one mechanic. You want to be a very quick ranged combatant? Take sharpshooting (giving you +2 to damage) and quick draw (giving you an extra missile weapon attack per round). Pick up expertise in DEX (taking your DEX to 13) and you are borderline Legolas... by the time you get to level 12.

I plan to layer every other ability into this hierarchy... so the fellowship found a bunch of roc eggs, and they plan to raise these. If they want to train them and take them as steeds, that's fine - but they are going to have to use a feat slot to pick up the ability to ride and handle a mount like that.

Feats provide a mechanical framework for a lot of the quirky things players want to be able to do, and sets up specific levels at which they can pick up such abilities.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Revised Monster Stat Block Take 2

Here are some comparative stat blocks of what I'm working on right now... The first block is derived from B/X. The second is a streamlined version (that is going into the current draft of the rules). I have eliminated some categories, and have also decided to layer in such abilities as sense and morale into the one save modifier. It is super streamlined, as you can see from the before and after posted below...


Armor Class:
No. Appearing:
1 (1d4)
Hit Dice:
1 club
See below


Chaotic Large Humanoid; CL 13
Armor Class:         14
Hit Dice:                13d10
Save:                      +12
Move:                     30’
Combat:                 1 club (+13 to hit; 3d10 damage)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Level 2 in Progress

Here's a quick hybrid map that shows how the elemental level is coming together... It's about 3/4 finished. I just have to draw up the halls of water (which is sort of ironic)... after watching Frozen with my daughter for the 111st time, I'm tempted to make it a hall of ice and have the whole thing end at the edge of a massive glacier that is slowly pushing its way into the dungeon from where the plane of water touches the plane of air...

Elemental Crossway Redux

A few days ago, I posted a set of maps, including what I wanted to use as the crossway/entry point into my Temple of Elemental Evil section of the Vault of the Goblin. I have since considered that map, and decided that it was far too vanilla. I kept toying with it, and came up with this instead... a marked step up in almost every way:

Monday, July 14, 2014

I SENSE a problem here

See what I did there? I put a pun in the title of the blog entry.

Oh, the cleverness of me.

Play testing has proven a number of things. Charging into a room without checking it first is bad. Failing a saving throw can really ruin your night. Talking before swinging your sword can pay off. Going on an adventure with no cleric and no healing = a short adventure.

And sense is a big deal. I ask for sense checks all the time. Constantly. I know that some variations on B/X have added perception or sense as another attribute, and the temptation is pretty strong to do that, let me tell you. However, I like the six attributes as iconic to the system. Further, I like sense working more like saving throws do – a base modified by your level. I don’t want this to scale quite as crazy as saving throws (they can cap out at +15; sense should not be that high), but if I go with half level rounded up (as we are doing for attack rolls), this works nicely…

Human clerics, fighters and thieves, dwarf myrmidons have sense of 2 + ½ level (rounded up)

Stoutlings explorers, elf champions and human thieves have sense of 4 + ½ level (rounded up).

This means that at level 5 a character has either +7 or +9 to sense. At level 12, a character has +8 or +10 to sense.

Hmmm. Can I do the same with saving throws? If I change these to a higher starting point, I create a more narrow range of possible results… let’s say 4 base for humans, + prime requisite modifier + ½ level rounded up. This gives a human fighter a range of +5 to +8 at level 1 up to a maximum of +10 to +13 at level 12. Again, this scales nicely with other game situations. You are not going to fail every save at level 1, and you are not guaranteed of anything at level 12. Both of these are wins in my book. 

Lastly, I need to add sense as a modifier for monsters as well. Monsters are making sense checks all the time too (to notice the thief sneaking or the heroes creeping around outside their rooms) and I constantly fudge it rather than having a specific stat to roll. This is one more piece of information that would give a big benefit.

I'm on it!

Of Rabbit Trails and Hit Dice

Sometimes, I don’t know whether you want the thought process behind a decision, or just the decision. Since you are reading this blog right now, I have to assume you are pretty hardcore about your interest in game design and system development. Am I right, or am I right?

So, here’s the rabbit trail… in addition to looking at B/X and OD+D for inspiration on Saga of the Splintered Realm, I am also going back to what I consider the other primal text- Tolkien. I’ve been reading the Hobbit this summer with my summer school students (who I am SURE are not reading this blog right now) and was thinking today about Gandalf.

Gandalf does not have 1d4 hit dice. No. Flippin. Way.

As a matter of fact, neither does Merlin. Or pretty much any fantasy wizard I can think of. The new edition of D+D agrees.

This line of thought converges with the idea that all weapons in original D+D deal 1d6 damage. In building monsters, I have very specifically aligned their HD with size. Really small creatures (rats, centipedes, pixies) have 1d4 hit dice. Medium creatures (a wide range – from goblins to hobgoblins and such things as spiders and giant snakes) have 1d6 hit dice. Large creatures (gnolls, bugbears, most bigger creatures like bears and great cats) have 1d8 hit dice. Huge creatures (ogres through giants) have 1d10 hit dice. The truly massive creatures (dragons) have 1d12 hit dice.

Three classes in the draft thus far break this rule – magic users (at 1d4) and fighters/dwarf myrmidons (at 1d8). This doesn’t make sense from a design perspective. Dwarves especially are not the size of bears… so why the bear HD?

Then I thought of rangers… and their fantastic 2d8 hit dice at level 1. See, I want to have an old school justification for big decisions I make. If it was good enough for Gary, it’s good enough for me and all that jazz.

Rangers were good enough for Gary.

So, I can make my human magic users have 1d6 hit dice like everyone else – and I can have my human fighter have +1d6 hit points at level 1. This works FANTASTICALLY well from a character development standpoint. 0 level characters (1d6 hit points) either become highly specialized (learning magic or a whole slew of thief skills) OR they become much tougher (taking that +1d6 hit points). This also balances out your fighter against other classes. I was running into the problem where fighters were pretty comparable with everyone else at level 1. Now, that +1d6 hit points (you get to re-roll 1-3, but you only take your CON bonus once) means that a fighter with a +2 CON modifier is going to have an average of about 12 hit points at level 1, whereas everyone else has about 7 with the same CON. If you house rule max HP at level 1, the fighter with a +3 CON modifier can conceivably have 15 hp at level 1. That’s nice compared to the magic user or cleric with 6. Now the fighter is absolutely better- prepared to take on the physical dangers of the dungeon in ways others cannot… but 1d6 hp per level keeps him from scaling too far. At absolute best, he has (13 x 6) + 36 = 114 hit points at level 12. Most fighters are going to cap out under 100 hp.

Now, dwarves and stoutlings are a problem. They either get the fighter hp bonus (which I am not a big fan of), or they need something else to make them special. There’s got to be a good reason to pick a dwarf or stoutling, but I don’t want that good reason to be as good as the reason to play a fighter. What’s a fella to do?

I suppose that for dwarves the simplest solution is a bonus to AC. They are tough little buggers and hard to do damage to. A dwarf in full plate with a shield is a challenge not because he can soak up so much damage, but because it’s hard to damage him to begin with. The numbers generally scale slowly, so I’m thinking just a +1 AC modifier is going to suffice. I’d go +2, but then you are looking at a dwarf in plate mail (+6) with a shield (+1) and a DEX bonus of +1 (the max he could get) having AC 20 at level 1 with no magical benefits… then again, I’m trying to make this a viable alternative to the fighter…

Let’s attack the math from a different perspective. Let’s say in a ‘typical’ evening of adventure, you maybe will get into 4-5 fights, each lasting 4-5 rounds. That means that you can expect to have an attack made upon you about 20 times… I’m really spit-balling here, but stay with me.

If an average attack deals 3 points of damage at levels 1-2, that means the fighter can sustain 2 more hits than the dwarf. If we go with a total even distribution on attack rolls (meaning that those 20 attacks just happen to hit every pip on a d20), the dwarf will need a +2 AC bonus to even out the bonus the fighter gets from the +6 hp.

However, at higher levels this swings the other way. At higher levels, you have fewer fights that last longer (but can still assume maybe 20 attacks against you in a session as a fair average). However, these hits are going to deal much more damage, sometimes on the order of 10 points a hit (or more). Now, that +2 AC bonus equates to 20 points of damage you are not taking… but you only have 5 extra hit points as a fighter over that dwarf. Dwarf wins hands down with the +2 AC bonus.

Okay, +1 it is. Remember too that the dwarf gets little things like a sense bonus while underground and a +1 to saving throws that the fighter doesn’t get. An extra 1d6 hit points at level 1 feels like the fighter gets a huge benefit, but in the end it’s going to be a wash with the perks the dwarf gets.

Stoutlings still need love, and I think that this falls into the field of more thief-like abilities... if they are sneakier and more perceptive, this might help offset their relative 'blah' around the other races. I have more thoughts on Stoutlings, but I'll save that for another post!