Saturday, February 26, 2011

Availability of Gear

I've been thinking about character building and growth over the campaign- and specifically about gear. Magical gear is a balance issue, and the open availability of such gear takes away from the powers and abilities of the heroes. One way to fix this is to design it right out of the game- the stuff just doesn't exist. However, this isn't very fulfilling to me as a player, since I want to be able to quest for powerful items and cool gadgets. The other way is to write them out of the game world. The Reckoning gives me a great excuse to do this; while people once could make magical items by the truck load, this ability was lost with the Reckoning, and anything that's still around is a relic of the distant past. Part of the reason you go crawling around in ancient ruins and digging through lost dungeons is because that's probably the only place to find the really good old stuff.

Starting heroes begin with gear rated at their abilities. A myrmidon with fighting +2 and stamina +3 (armor), starts the game with a weapon rated at +3 and a suit of armor rated at +4; such gear may have been earned, given, found or even stolen. You can come up with whatever rationale you want about where and how your hero started with such gear, but he or she has it. As you adventure, you can go into shops or peruse the wares of traveling vendors to replace gear to a maximum rating of +5.

However, most heroes will quickly grow out of such equipment, and will look for more potent gear. Such gear is invariably magical in nature or created by ancient crafting techniques that, since the Great Reckoning, have been lost. The only way to get a long sword +7 is to go out and find one in your adventures. It may be that the archmage has one in his store houses that he will reward you with for helping him or you may be granted one upon your assuming the title of High Baron of the North Wood, but you will not be able to go to the store and buy one. The same is true for all equipment rated better than +5; the only items of this quality that exist are from before the Reckoning, and are in high demand and short supply.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ack and Double Ack

I’m roughly halfway through writing the core rules, and I went back to edit… and I hate them. Okay, that’s a bit strong. I don’t feel inspired by them. I’m endeavoring to write the rules in a clear, direct way, defaulting to tried and true game design concepts: you start with an overview of the game and the system, lay out terminology and the fundamentals of the mechanics, get into how you play and how you make a character. It’s all very conventional… but it’s stuff I’ve done dozens of times now. I’ve designed games this way. There’s something to be said for doing the simple stuff well (actually, there’s a lot to be said for that) but I’m finding the text boring to work on. And if I’m finding it boring, you sure as heck are going to be bored by it.

I don’t want to be innovative just for the sake of being innovative (as if that’s even possible anyway). I just don’t want to put out another formulaic game system using a vanilla approach. It seems like there has to be a simpler way to design this whole thing- to lay out the basic concepts quickly, and spend all of the time applying those concepts. I can see the finished product in my head pretty clearly; I just still can’t work out the logistics of getting there.

In short, don’t hold your breath for the finished rules in the next few weeks. I’m still ironing out a lot of stuff in terms of the overall design (even though the fundamentals of how the game actually works are pretty much locked down across the board). Thanks for your patience. I have a vision for how this game is going to go forward and I’m not willing to compromise on having the core rules be anything less than my best stuff.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


With the core archetypes decided, I can now determine the core races. Each archetype will be available to humans, and many to one other race as well.

- Clerics and Paladins are human servants of the fallen goddess Yahalla; only humans can take these archetypes.
- Barbarian is available to humans and trolls.
- Myrmidon is available to humans and dwarves.
- Stalker is available to humans and elves.
- Wizard is available to humans and gnomes.

I like the idea of tying each of the core races to an element. In the past, I’ve tied dwarves to storm magic, trolls to earth magic, elves to light or nature (earth) magic, and gnomes to flame magic. Here’s what I’m playing with for now…

- Tie dwarves to frost magic… I have this iconic (to me) Jim Holloway Dragon Magazine cover in mind, where a clan of dwarves moves through the snow-covered mountains, finding one of their comrades frozen in a block of ice. The concept of the myrmidon as this unemotional machine that cuts through foes in a methodical fashion fits the ‘cold’ nature of dwarves.
- Tie trolls to storm magic; this makes sense with their berserker rage ability as barbarians.
- Tie gnomes to flame (still); I like the idea of ‘forge gnomes’ as keepers of knowledge, and this makes sense for a wizard connection.
- Elves are where I run into trouble… I see the stalker class as more of an assassin thing… if we tie elves to the moon and make them more mysterious, we can make them ‘nature-based’, but also make them creatures that thrive in twilight. They don’t particularly like bright day or night, but they exist (Midsummer Night’s Dream style) on this borderline between worlds. This also makes them somewhat more interesting than the classic view of elves that I’ve held. I’m really sort of blending my ‘dusk elf’ and ‘dawn elf’ concepts into a single core elfin race- mysterious, aloof, generally good-natured, but dubious of trusting outsiders. In short, I think they are more interesting…

Heroic Archetypes

The original Resolute: Towers of Arvandoria rules (that I’m endeavoring to emulate here as much as possible, considering how much I like them) don’t have a ‘class system’ for character building. The class system is completely optional, but my players tend to want guidance in terms of how to build a hero. Having 50+ abilities to choose from can prove intimidating for a new player, and even my experienced players like to be able to say “I’m playing a paladin” rather than just “I’ve created a holy knight of sorts”…

That said, I only have room for 6 archetypes in the core rules (3 per page over two pages). Here are the ones I’m considering:

- Barbarian: A savage warrior
- Cleric: A holy defender
- Myrmidon: A highly-trained combatant
- Paladin: A holy knight
- Stalker: A secretive assassin
- Warden: A woodland defender
- Wizard: wielder of arcane forces

I see the core rules leaning towards dungeon crawling, seeing as these are ‘classic adventure’ sort of rules. If I have to choose between the paladin and warden (for instance), I should go with paladin and leave the warden for later. However, the warden fills a nature niche whereas the paladin falls midway between the cleric and myrmidon… The barbarian and myrmidon are pretty close together, although I see a huge difference in play style between the two experiences.

One of the design decisions I have to make (business, design, expansion, game growth are all linked together, you’ll recall), is how the game will grow. Since “Into the Wild” is an area for further development, intentionally leaving some archetypes for there is a good idea. The druid, ranger, warden… these are all nature-based heroes, and can go there. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a few more (i.e. elementalist, maybe even bard) to round it out.

Warden waits for now.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Ideal System

As with many design decisions, I’m struggling to determine the final form this game package will take. Here are my two extremes:

A single 16-page pdf that packs as much stuff as it can into 16 pages. I loved this for the original Resolute rules, and I’d like to keep it. The entire game system is here, but you’d only get hints about the setting, partial rosters of monsters, and just enough of an introductory adventure to get your feet wet.

A larger, 64-80 page booklet/pdf that is intended as either a print or pdf product. This one gives you the full game system, a relatively thorough look at the setting, a solid roster of monsters, and a meaty introductory adventure.

I think that I’m going with the 16-page pdf for a handful of reasons:

- My target audience is people who want a simple, fast game they can learn quickly, teach their friends, and play. I don’t want anyone to be put off by the idea that it’s too big, or there’s too much to learn.
- The pdf marketplace rewards regular publication of inexpensive products. As a business model, I have found much more success with a monthly 10-page product release schedule than with quarterly 40-page releases. Each contact point with customers creates opportunity for someone new to pick your game up.
- I want to make sure that each product I release has been polished- with my current life and schedule, generating more than 15 pages or so at a time and getting it all the way to publication is just a bit too time-consuming. I’m concerned I’ll get bogged down if I go for larger releases, but shorter works I know that, if I have a few days off in a row or can dedicate two weeks’ of evenings at a time, I can pump out with some regularity.
- Though conventional wisdom holds that print products far outsell pdf products, I have sold 10x (at least) as many pdfs of any product that I’ve also released in print.

Right now, a skeleton of the rules as I see them in my head:

1-page introduction, setting and system overview
1-page overview of the system and basic terms.
4-page listing of abilities
4-page overview of character building (includes races, archetypes, gear, advancement)
3-page overview of refereeing (includes rewards, treasure, magical treasure)
2-page bestiary
1-page introductory adventure