Friday, October 31, 2014

Errata Already?!

Okay... one little thing I left out of Saga of the Splintered Realm (and I hope that's all!). I was running a solo play test of some monsters and ideas for Vault of the Goblin, and a fighter dropped to negative hp. So, I decided to look up the rules (even though I knew them) and realized I couldn't... because they weren't there! I've added this to page 50 of the book and updated the file (a grey text box in the middle of the page) but thought I'd post it here just in case...

Damage, Death and Healing. At 0 hp you are unconscious; at the negative value of your CON, you die. You recover 1d4 + CON modifier hit points per hour of rest. Most monsters are assumed to be dead at 0 hp.

Also, the game peaked at #16 this afternoon of RPGNow hot sellers... it's down to 18 right now, but I stay hopeful that it will get into the top ten this weekend at some point...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A BIG Update

Here's a bit to chew on...

1. The core rules for Saga of the Splintered Realm are now available (thanks to the Kickstarter backers!) as a pay what you want download. The rules are going to see some minor tweaks to aesthetics of the layout and tables over the next few months before the print edition is released, but this core book is good to go. Get your copy now! I'd love to hear what you think, since many of the final decisions were made behind the scenes, and were not part of discussions I threw out there...


2. I've gone back and forth quite about about my responsibilities/commitments, and based on my health situation (see #3 if you want to know), I'm going to suspend my Army Ants Patreon Campaign effective tomorrow (so that no one is billed for November). I've struggled this month to keep up with updates with everything going on, and I've decided that the game is the bigger priority, so I've put all of my energies there. I still owe the Patreon supporters some Army Ants stuff, and (although they may have to wait a bit for it), I think they'll be happy with what they eventually get. I plan to eventually re-group and re-launch that campaign in the future, but for the next few months I just cannot guarantee regular updates.

3. On the medical front - I have a stage 3/4 cancerous tumor in my right sinus (the official term is esthesioneuroblastoma if you're interested in googling it like I did and freaking out)... I have surgery on November 10th, and will have several months of radiation and recovery after. I am getting as much work done before the 10th as I can, because I expect to be pretty much useless for a while after. I know that many people have been sending kind words, thoughts and prayers my way, and I truly appreciate all of it.

Mike

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two, Two, Two Webcomics In One!

I got behind due to my surgery, but managed to cobble two pages together this weekend to get back on track... here they are (for 10/6 and 10/13 respectively):




Saturday, October 4, 2014

An Update

As you have likely noticed, I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front. I generally don't talk too much about my outside life, but in this case it's directly impacting my work and ability to keep to deadlines, so it's time to let you all in...

I went in for surgery this week to have polyps removed from my sinuses that had been giving me a great deal of trouble. My surgeon discovered that this wasn't polyps, but was instead a cancerous tumor attached to the smell receptors in my brain. I'll need follow up surgery with a neurosurgeon to remove the tumor, and may need radiation and chemo at the back end to continue to fight this. At this point there are a number of unknowns.

That said, I am in a good place with my creative projects (the core rules for Saga of the Splintered Realm have been lingering at 90%+ done for a few weeks as I dabble with it here and there) and I plan to continue working at that as I spend time at home. However, I want to say that I may drop in and out of visibility quite a bit, and I can not guarantee a January release for the game or weekly updates for the comic - my life is just too unknown at this point. I know that it will help me to have positive things (like my game and comic) to focus on, but I also know that by letting you all in, I'm relieving myself of possible stress that could hurt my recovery.

I am grateful that I have a strong group of friends, great family, and strong faith that are going to get me through this. But it's going to be a fight.

Thanks for your support and understanding.

Mike

Monday, September 8, 2014

Webcomic for the Week of 9/8/14

This week, the firefight FINALLY breaks out! Now I have to figure out how to draw 250 wasps on a 9x12 piece of Bristol Board...


Monday, September 1, 2014

Webcomic for the Week of 9/1/14

What's black and white and red (and a little yellow) all over? This week's Army Ants webcomic, of course!


Monday, August 11, 2014

Army Ants Webcomic for the Week of 8/11

Here's this week's comic... I realized as I was posting it that I changed Gunner's gloves from last week's page! That goes on the list of things to fix before this actually ends up in a print edition some day...


Monday, August 4, 2014

Tales of the Splintered Realm

So, in addition to publishing my weekly Army Ants webcomic and preparing to release my new game, Saga of the Splintered Realm, into the wild next year... I've also kind of been working on a novel.

I've actually been working on the novel for about six years (far more off than on), but a few things fell into place in the last month or so that got me over the hump with much of it. As it is right now, the book will be a central story (about 45,000 words) with another 3-5 short stories published with it as 'Tales of the Splintered Realm Volume 1'. I assumed that I would wait until I was 50 until I got into the novel publishing business, but I suppose my plan got moved up by about 8 years.

You can read a preview story introducing two of the main characters to give you a sense of what it's about. More information will follow... (of course). I'm hoping to align the release of the book with post #500 (which is about 25 posts away), and we'll see how the stars align on all of that good stuff...

Army Ants Webcomic for the Week of 8/4/14


Sunday, August 3, 2014

In Which I Run 5E... and a TPK nearly happens


Last night, I ran my wife and some friends through the beginning of the 5E adventure, the Lost Mine of Phandelver, using four of the five pre-made characters. They group made it through the first encounter with the goblin skirmishers okay, but once they got to the caves, things went south in a hurry. The fighter (after successful scouting by the halfling rogue) decided to try and sneak up to take out the goblin guarding the bridge. A failed stealth check and two failed attack rolls later, and he had sounded an alarm (I sort of improvised that, but it made sense. If you've got a guard on watch, he should have a shell to blow into or something to warn the others), and the whole place was emptying on them. They had befriended the wolves, but that didn't matter much once the bugbear riled them up into a frenzy, and they couldn't navigate too much farther in once the flood washed the fighter out and sent her all the way back to the opening. Goblin archers quickly cut down the rogue and the magic user, and the dwarf cleric and fighter had to grab the two and run. They got away, but didn't really get much out of the adventure other than riling up the goblins and making sure they have posted extra guards the next time they come back...

A few takeaways:

- I asked once if they were going to rest after the battle with the skirmishers on the road, and they said no - they felt good about themselves. That was a big mistake. They didn't try to conserve resources (especially spells) and were left with no healing and no heavy hitting spells when it mattered, because they had been all in from the get go. In my Splintered Realm play testing, they've all been running around with level 5 characters, and are used to having more resources at their disposal.
- I like this game quite a bit, although I still like the rules I'm developing better (I should hope so! I'm writing them!). I feel like some of the fiddly bits are a little too fiddly for my taste... I especially don't like that a 6 point difference in ability scores translates (assuming no other factors) into a 15% difference in many situations. A character with STR 17 has a 15% better chance of making a STR check than a character with STR 10. That's a small gain, on the whole, for a large disparity in ability scores. In Splintered Realm terms, that is the difference between a STR 11 and STR 6, which is still only a 25% difference on a check, but that 10% feels like a big difference to me. The character sheet really shows how unimportant ability scores are; since that's the case, why are the scores even there? Just get rid of them altogether...
- I know that advantage/disadvantage is all the rage right now, but I just don't see it as vastly superior to a situational modifier. I didn't feel the need to adapt this for Splintered Realm. I figure that if other people love it, they can always plug it in as a house rule without much effort. For me, meh.
- I don't like the escalation of numbers for no good reason. Why does magic missile deal 3d4+3 damage? Because an average hobgoblin has 11 hit points, that's why... Can't your average hobgoblin just still have 5 hit points like in 'the old days' and then your magic missile can do about 5 points... it feels like there's a bit of a shell game with escalation of numbers. It's fine, I just don't see the need for it. You can scale the numbers back and make the whole thing easier to track.
- I can't wrap my head around 'spending' hit dice to get healing during a short rest. You aren't 'spending' anything. Right? Is this defining 'hit dice' as an ability specifically set aside for self healing and not for determining hit points? I can't find that in the rules anywhere...
- Death saves came into play for two characters. This was an okay mechanic... I'm pretty neutral on it.
- Another apples/oranges thing, but I don't like the idea of shifting DCs the way they are implemented here. I'd rather have the difficulty set and modifiers to the roll. That's probably just me. I also think that a target of 10 is too low (an untrained person with no ability at all can do this 50% of the time), because it's almost not worth rolling - heroic characters should just be able to do such things.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Army Ants Webcomic for the Week of 7/28


Chandar Upon the Broken Throne

Oh, Chandar... he's been in the back story of my campaign world for nigh on 20 years. I have never drawn him until today... he's not a very nice man. You'll get to meet him in Saga of the Splintered Realm, out later this year thanks to my 99 awesome Kickstarter backers!



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Goblin Watchtower

In moving towards wrapping up the core rules, I decided an introductory adventure was required. Originally, I planned to skip this since the core rules will also have Vault of the Goblin as part of the package, then I realized that someone may end up with just this one book, and that I could/should use the intro adventure as a teaching tool for the GM. I was going to save that GM instruction for Vault of the Goblin (and I still may save some of it), but at least a primer to running the adventure has to go in the core rules. I like the old school vibe of the map, and it has enough nooks and crannies to do some things that are a little less conventional. Want to descend the well to attack the tower? Go for it. Want to march in the front door? Okay. Want to rummage 'round at the bottom of the pit under the draw bridge? Cool! You might find the secret door...

In terms of the adventure itself, I think that the hook is that the fellowship is exploring while the bandits who have claimed the tower are away... and the boys come home as the PCs are exploring. This gives them a number of interesting options... they can defend the tower (close the draw bridge and fire up the ballistae) or hide out and try to pick them off... or simply take advantage of one of the many means of escape, if they feel the bandits are too much to deal with. Of course, there are other things to deal with in the natural caves that have crawled out of the water, too...

FYI, that dotted line down the middle is a knotted rope. The ladders they used to have are long since rotted, and the new residents have run a long knotted rope through fireman holes to allow you to go up and down (assuming you have the muscle to do it).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

More Maps

Two maps of vastly different styles/approaches. I have been trying to mix up the elemental halls a little in terms of design of the maps, and I like how this elemental ice hall came out, with the big glacier pushing in through the south, and the skating rink over to the east (and the ice slide to the west)... maybe my daughter's been making me watch Frozen too much.

Then, I wanted to go a little more classic and old school (since my last few maps have been stretching me more) and decided to finish the rest of level 1, with the "slaver's stockade" where the goblins kept and tortured their prisoners/slaves. There was once a passage in the southwest corner that lead to the outside world, but during the Goblin Wars that was sealed off, so the only way to access this level is from the central stair. I see this as the terminus of exploration of Level 1 (in fact, many fellowships may not even get here, since it's a pretty remote corner of the first level), but I also see it as ideal for a place to set up as a base of operations. Once you clear out the undead lingering here and the all of the spiders, this would be a fancy HQ for an ambitious fellowship... convert that little chaos temple to law, fire up the old baths, clean out the prisons and torture chamber, and you have a nice little home away from home!


Friday, July 25, 2014

More from the Sketchbook

Two more pieces from sketching it up... a dwarf, and an example of charm monster for the creature section...



Thursday, July 24, 2014

From the Sketchbook

I tried to channel my inner Mike Mignola/Jeff Smith, and these are what I came up with. I'm not sure if any are keepers for the core rulebook, but it was fun to stretch my legs a little. I think that my style is coming along in terms of hybridizing what I do with what I want to do... getting closer all the time.

Now, I need to start thinking about actually signing my art! I realized that I never even put my initials on anything...





Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Of Feats and Saves

As I’ve been reviewing the core rules draft (I really want to finalize this before I get too deep into books 2 and 3… ), I find that many abilities end up working similar to saving throws… a thief’s ability to pilfer an object or foil traps is based on his level modifier + his dex modifier +4.

But so is his saving throw.

So do I need two mechanics?

Actually. I don’t.

As of right now, a save has been defined as a defensive/resistant ability. Thief abilities are generally active. However, I’ve already layered sense into your save, and that can be active or passive, depending on the situation.

I need to re-define saves. And I think I’m using feats, a la army ants.

It’s the same number derived in the same way. Roll a FEAT to do any of these things… withstand a poison, prevent being turned to stone, sneak around, sense the unknown… and you can get situational or magical modifiers to these rolls. You can take a talent that makes you a better burglar (+2 to burglary FEAT rolls), drink a potion that makes you more perceptive (+2 to sense FEAT rolls) or face a spider with a weaker than usual poison (+2 to the FEAT to resist the poison).


Since I am re-branding ‘saves’ as FEATS, I will have to re-brand what I’ve been using as feats as ‘Talents’. It’s mostly semantics, but these are important semantics in terms of their overall function in the game…

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...

Cyclops

Armor Class:
14
No. Appearing:
1 (1d4)
Hit Dice:
13d10
Save:
+16
Move:
30’
Morale:
12
Attacks:
1 club
Treasure:
See below
Damage:
3d10
Alignment:
Chaotic

Cyclops

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!

Ants Webcomic for the Week of 7/14/14

I keep trying out new pens for lettering... I still don't love it. I'm getting closer, though..


Map - Cave of the Winds

I'm definitely getting into the mapping zone. This is the third of the elemental halls connected to last week's entries. This one is a central cave that leads upward into an opening into the elemental plane of air... the evil magic user and his bugbear minions have been using giant bats to raid the cloud tower of a cloud giant far above, stealing roc eggs and raising them here in the cages (subjecting them to all sorts of mutations).

We'll be playing this Saturday night... I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Play Testing and Many Thoughts

We had a chance to delve some of the Vault of the Goblin last night with friends from college who we haven't gamed with in about 15 years. It was a blast! They played a group of four level 4s (two elf champions, a dwarf myrmidon and a human fighter) along with my human cleric 3 (who was REALLY needed) and broke up the activities of the Cult of the Dragon behind a mirror that Mary's character had previously discovered but had not yet explored. I made a few discoveries in the process...

1. The minimal rules serve well. At some point, rules begin to, by their nature, minimize options. They become more about what you cannot do in a situation than what you can. To whit: the fellowship met a banshee early on. I am going with the B/X banshee that is the remains of an elf maiden. We had already established that Mary's character is a member of the elf nobility - so she asked if she knew who this elf was, and if she could speak with her. She made a few good rolls, and before long had made a positive connection, and the banshee really wanted to be helpful - willing to tell the fellowship all she could. However, I had no idea that they'd ask to pick up her body (which the banshee was still connected to), carry it around, and use the banshee as a portable auto-kill machine. I set a chance each turn that the banshee went all crazy on them and turned full banshee, but it never happened. They kept motoring through the complex - well after they had exhausted all of their healing, spells and extra resources - and kept letting the banshee wipe out their foes. The big fight - with a 6 HD hydra - ended quick when it failed its save. The other big fight, against an 8 HD salamander and his tribe of troglodytes, ended much more quickly when the banshee took out all but one of the trogs.

As the session wore on, my friend razzed me in good humor about how they had messed up my plans. I wasn't quite sure what he meant, but as I thought about it, I realized a key difference in my approach to adventure design today compared to me from 15 years ago... back then, I was a master railroad builder. I would write a story, and then decide where and how in that timeline the PCs fit in. The success or failure of the adventure, to my eyes, ended up being how well the PCs followed the script.

Yeah. I was that guy. I didn't even realize it until last night.

However, there was no plan. For each sub-section of the dungeon, I'm putting in a few factions with competing interests, putting in a few hooks for the fellowship to decide how to handle, and then letting the chips fall where they may as things go on. The fellowship could have infiltrated the cult from within, charmed the leader and had him write a new constitution for the cult turning them into a holy order of bee keepers, or tried to kill the leader, take his ring of serpent friendship, and try to ride the hydra like a six-headed steed while they took over the whole dungeon. It was all good with me.

In short, I like where the Vault of the Goblin is headed, and I think it's going to be a fun environment for others to play with once it's done. It's ending up very open-ended and dynamic.

Now, on to specific game stuff:

The decision to change the ability score range to 2-12 was met with some skepticism, but by the end of the night I think that they were converts. There were so many times that I had to ask for an ability check on the fly, and that was a great way to resolve the situation. The strong characters tended to have success doing things that strong people can do, and the weaker characters didn't. It plays very clean and intuitive. The difference between a 9 and 10 strength is a big deal in a lot of ways (5% chance to succeed on a check and +1 modifier) ...

In combat, they missed a LOT, but that was more a function of the dice rolling (which was almost uniformly bad - if not for the banshee, they would have suffered a TPK at some point, I'm confident - three troglodytes used up half of their resources in the first fight!), but I realized that the numbers are eventually going to scale out of control. In the draft I have going, you get to add your level (monsters add their HD) to all attack rolls. Since the game only scales to level 12 for PCs, a +12 bonus isn't too bad... until you do the math.

A fighter 12 gets +12 to hit. Fine. However, he also is going to be wearing something that increases his strength (I mean, he's a level 12 fighter) meaning that (conservatively) he has +3 from 14 strength and gauntlets of ogre power... and he is using a sword +3 (the best available in the game)... so now he is rolling 1d20 +18 to hit. So far, I like it - the bonus never scales past the die, making the die roll important...

Assuming that a foe will ever have AC that high. The same fighter is wearing plate +3 (total bonus +9) and carrying a shield +3 total bonus +4). Even a little bit of DEX gives him the max available bonus (+1) for that armor type, putting him at AC 10 (base) +9+4+1= AC 24. This means that he only needs a 6 on the die to hit a foe with maximum possible protection. Few monsters are going to have better than AC 25 - even at the highest levels.

I could scale this back considerably by only having the bonus tick every other level. Instead of adding your level to the attack roll, you add half your level (rounded up). At levels 1-2 (or 1-2 HD), you take +1 to hit; at level 3-4 (or 3-4 HD), you take +2 to hit... this drops my theoretical fighter 12's level bonus by 6 points, making his total attack modifier +12. This is MUCH more manageable. Now, against a moderately-armored foe (AC 18) he only needs a 6 on the die, and against a very well-armored foe (AC 22), he needs a 10 on the die. This keeps all of the numbers under control, and continues scale well enough - a 20 HD monster (just about the cap for this game as far as I can see - we're talking Tiamat here) gets +10 (base) to hit, although there will have to be some function for giving bonuses based on exceptional ability. I don't want to get into giving monsters ability scores (although that might be necessary with how much I use them... grrr) but that would allow the numbers to align better on the monster side of things. It's a little extra math, but having that information handy for monsters might be useful... something to ponder further.

One more thing and then I'll let you go (if you're read this far, good on you!) ... I realized that the character sheet is perfect EXCEPT for spells. I am going to create a second page only for those with spellbooks to use to record their spells and available slots. It's too much information, even for a level 4 caster, to fit on the front of the page in that little magic box. This way, only casters need to print out the second page of the character sheet - everyone else sticks with the one-pager.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Maps

The second level of the Vault of the Goblin is, in large part, a tribute to the Temple of Elemental Evil. The idea here is that the goblins split into several factions worshiping primal elemental deities, and developed sub-levels with elemental energies and rudimentary temples. The area I worked up for +Erik Tenkar (that I posted yesterday) is the elemental earth region. Today, you get the crossover (which is accessed through a tesseract in the northern square area) and the hall of flame (with the huge forge that fire giants are currently trying to cut out). I am using graph paper that's a little dark, so I'm having trouble scanning out the grid without also losing line work... I'll keep plugging away at that.




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tenkar's Halls - or if loving a map is wrong, I don't want to be right!

Here are the two maps that I've worked up and am sending to +Erik Tenkar to stat up for his part of the Vault of the Goblin. Man but I love these maps. I think the idea that someone else was going to be filling it in forced me to try and tell a little more story in the visuals. I tend to think of maps as a canvas on which I am going to layer the written adventure. For these, I didn't have that luxury - I designed knowing that the map was going to be my only contribution, and it had better do something on its own. I am quite happy with the result, and cannot wait to see what Erik does with it...


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Comparative Stat Blocks

In an effort to tighten up monster stat blocks and give a little more information, I'm playing with formats. Here is a before and after for the Cockatrice... I don't know if I'm sold on this, but it's a work in progress...

Cockatrice

Armor Class:
13
No. Appearing:
1d4 (2d4)
Hit Dice:
5d6
Save:
+8
Move:
30’ (60’ flying)
Morale:
+10
Attacks:
1 beak
Treasure:
Standard
Damage:
1d6 + petrify
Alignment:
Neutral

The cockatrice, a small magical monster with the head, winds and tail of a rooster but the tail of a snake, attacks with its beak. Any creature struck by the beak must save or turn to stone. Cockatrices may be found anywhere.

Cockatrice

Neutral Medium Fantastic Creature, CR 6
5d6 HD (20 hp); AC 13; Save +8; Morale +10; Move 30’ (fly 60’)
Attack: 1 beak (+5/1d6) + petrify on touch
Standard Treasure; 1d4 appearing (2d4 in lair)

The cockatrice, a small magical monster with the head, winds and tail of a rooster but the tail of a snake, attacks with its beak. Any creature struck by the beak must save or turn to stone. Cockatrices may be found anywhere.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Backgrounds for Saga of the Splintered Realm

One of the 5E features that I'm liberally swiping is the idea of backgrounds as an important part of your character. Rather than having these come with a specific suite of skills and a lockstep approach (which I find pretty constraining as presented), I'm thinking a more free-form approach... here's my first draft of this. Some of the descriptions are incomplete, and I think the core rules should have about 20 to choose from (there are 14 here, and it's pretty thorough - although not much for a magic user)...

Backgrounds

Backgrounds represent a variety of training, experiences and jobs that your character participated in before becoming an adventurer – and which your character might continue with while not busy slaying goblins and looting tombs!
Your background gives you a +2 modifier to any non-combat check where that background may apply. For example, your background as a woodsman gives you +2 to sense checks while in the woods, +2 to sneak rolls while in a natural setting, +2 to INT checks to identify an unknown plant, and +2 to WIS checks to calm a wild animal. You will never apply this in a combat situation; you cannot take a +2 bonus to your attack roll or saving throw because you are fighting a natural animal!
Rather than listing every possible application of the background, a general description is provided. Be aware that backgrounds often overlap, and the skills layered within the background are not mutually exclusive: a farmer and a woodsman have many common skills, but each also has some unique skills.
You are also free to generate your own backgrounds. The GM is encouraged to be as flexible as possible in considering the scope of the background; as a farmer, you would have experience with not only planting and the soil, but with weather, the behaviors of common pests like mice, spiders and ants (and their monstrous varieties), with haggling in the marketplace, and with maintaining tools and equipment. Whenever one of these situations arises (identifying the type of bite from a monstrous insect, distinguishing a quality item from an inferior one, guessing how the weather is going to be tomorrow morning), your background as a farmer should grant you a situational bonus.
You are allowed to take two backgrounds for your character. You can either select these or roll for them. As a human, you can select any two backgrounds you desire. As a demi-human (dwarf, elf, stoutling), one of your two backgrounds is pre-set.
Instead of taking two backgrounds, you may elect to double up on the same background; instead of +2, you take +4 in this background.

Acolyte. You have experience in religious practices, history, rituals and rites.

Aristocrat. You have experience in the upper echelons of society, gathering deep knowledge of proper decorum and etiquette, heraldry, history, family lineages, important items. You can distinguish items of true value from imitations, and can parlay with those of high status.

Farmer. You have worked the land and know how to maximize its yield. You have knowledge of the weather, pests, tools and equipment, bartering and trade. You can appraise animals and recognize signs of sickness or disease before most others.

Host. You have experience with hospitality, including the vagaries of dining and parties. You know how to set a table, how to engage in conversation with a wide range of peoples, how to pick the right wine, how to prepare a meal for any occasion, and how to politely navigate through all manner of uncomfortable topics with aplomb.

Hunter. You have highly specialized knowledge of one creature type. You have studied the habits, tendencies, life cycles, diets and weakness of this creature type so as to find and destroy it. Examples include dragons, lycanthropes, or undead.

Knight. You have experience with the rigors of knighthood. This will include expectations of social behavior, decorum, the chivalric code, heraldry and etiquette as well as horsemanship, armor and weapons, and fundamentals of warfare.

Merchant. You know how to appraise anything, and you have a knack for salesmanship, including getting others to do what you want them to do. You know where to go to get what you need, and how to quickly plug into the existing marketplace anywhere you go.

Miner. You have spent your life underground, and can distinguish the sights, sounds and smells of the deep better than most. You can appraise gemstones and jewels easily, can intuit direction underground readily, and can find your way up, down or out with considerable prowess.

Performer. You have experience on stage entertaining audiences with music, acting or other performing arts. 

Scholar. You have studied history, science, geography and mathematics. You have a wide range of book knowledge on a great many subjects.

Soldier. You have experience in warfare, tactics and strategy.

Storyteller. You are adept at weaving stories, able to entertain, enlighten and inform through your tales. You have a wealth of knowledge both factual and fantastic that you have picked up in your travels. You can write well, and manipulate words with ease.

Street Rat. You know the workings of the urban jungle, able to fence goods, avoid authority, find a free meal, appraise valuables, plug into the black market, and navigate the sewers.


Woodsman. You have experience in the wilderness, able to hunt, forage, track, identify plants and animals and intuit direction. You can predict the weather, distinguish footprints of various creatures, and move quietly in the wild.

Requisite 5E Post

I'm about 1/3 of the way through the 5E Basic rules, and I'm quite impressed. There are several elements of this that I want to tweak for SSR - and many that I plan to ignore altogether, or which I feel like I already have a solution for that I prefer.

My response to this is that it's not superior to B/X in any substantial way, although it is a MUCH cleaner and user-friendly game than 3E, which was my jumping-off point.

And that leads me to ponder... what if THIS was 3rd edition? What if this had been the release when Wizards took over D+D at the turn of the millennium? General response in the blogosphere has been that this is a good game - maybe a great game - and that it is a significant upgrade over the last decade. However, the general consensus is also that people are pretty firmly entrenched with a game they love, and it's going to be hard to pull them away.

So in my what if scenario, if this game had been released 14 years ago... would we have Swords and Wizardry? Labyrinth Lord? Would I be working on Saga of the Splintered Realm?

I'm personally torn. I want Saga of the Splintered Realm to build an audience of its own. I also want D+D to be a brand that people like and play and have warm fuzzies about. Can we have both? Can we have a strong D+D player base, and a strong OSR base? Can these people all be friends and play nicely and share well?

If this game had been released 14 years ago, I don't think I'd be asking these questions... because I would have changed over to this edition and never looked back.

As it is, SSR rolls onward, and I'll be continuing to read through 5E to see what inspiration I can draw from it...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Saga of the Splintered Realm: Spell Points and Balance

As I tinker with spell point options for SSR, some areas of potential game breakage emerge. One of the issues is the way that this system could make casters one-dimensional. While there are areas of abuse that are possible, the largest appears in the area of cleric spells and healing.

Let's say that you have a Cleric 7 (a pretty powerful dude in this system). He's got (assuming a solid WIS score) 30 mana per day. While this conceivably gives him a wide range of spells to choose from, the fact is that he could easily find himself cast as a one-spell guy: cure wounds.

In the draft right now, cure wounds restores 1d6 base points, +2 points per mana point invested. If he maximized his distribution of this, he would cast cure wounds at 1 mana point 30 times, curing 1d6+2 (x30) points, or an average of 150 hit points per day.

That's a LOT of healing. And that's a VERY one-dimensional guy. A fighter 7 is going to have an average of about 40 hit points, so he could be fully healed from near death just under four times on average. As I said, a lot of healing.

I'm leaning towards eliminating cure wounds altogether, and going with the 1E paladin lay on hands ability instead. For every mana point you invest, you restore 2 hit points.

And here's the game balance helper: you cannot spend more than half your mana points on any one spell in any one turn. Now, that cleric 7 can spend 15 mana per turn in healing - so he can restore 30 hit points per turn. That's it. That uses half of his daily mana. Per day, he can restore 60 hit points - if he does nothing else.

Now, healing becomes, by default, a little less of a game breaker. Yes, the cleric 7 can fully restore the fighter 7 from death's door to full health - but he can only do it once, and he's already running short on points. This will be enough to shift the momentum in a fight against a superior foe (or overcome some bad dice rolling), but it's not going to be enough to save a party who has picked a fight against a vastly superior foe. Previously, the cleric could basically keep a party going long enough to overcome even supreme foes.

One of the nice things the tiered spell system does is force casters to get creative and use some variety. Sure, you'd love to just keep dropping fireballs on the room full of frost giants, but you've used up all of your level 3 spells, and it's time to get a little more creative... a spell point system without any limitations removes those sorts of blocks.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Simplifying and Condensing

In designing the core rules for Saga of the Splintered Realm, one trick is finding the most economical, simple and intuitive way to present information. For example, I cut two pages of treasure rules down to one page tonight, and didn't lose a single thing. In fact, it's now a little cleaner and easier to remember:


Monetary Treasure

Roll 1d20 + CL, target 15. If successful, the creature has monetary treasure. For the value of the treasure, roll 2d10 and multiply the result by the value multiplier (see below). Convert this to a value in silver coins.

Magical Treasure

Roll 1d20 + CL three times. Natural 20s do not automatically succeed.
·      First roll: target 20. If successful, the creature has one instance of minor magical treasure.
·      Second roll: target 25. If successful, the creature has one instance of moderate magical treasure.
·      Third roll: target 30. If successful, the creature has one instance of major magical treasure.

Experience and Treasure by Monster Challenge Level

CL
XP Value
Multiplier
CL
XP Value
Multiplier
0
5
(Roll 1d10)
11
1,750
X85
1
10
X1
12
2,000
X100
2
25
X2
13
2,500
X125
3
50
X3
14
3,000
X150
4
100
X5
15
3,500
X175
5
250
X10
16
4,000
X200
6
500
X20
17
4,500
X225
7
750
X35
18
5,000
X250
8
1,000
X50
19
5,500
X275
9
1,250
X60
20
6,000
X300
10
1,500
X75
21+
(+500 per)
(+25 per)