Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ashcan Edition Now Live

The ashcan edition for Resolute: The Splintered Realm is now live on RPGNow. I've made some changes in the last week or so that I didn't discuss here on the blog as I made them (the time crunch meant I was writing the final draft more and the blog less- just how that went), but I'll be going over some of those things here in the next few weeks as we explore the edition together, and I get into some nitty-gritty playtesting. I hope that you do, too!

Monday, March 28, 2011

More About Disciples and Magic

As I’ve developed the concept of the disciple and chants as an important part of the game, a few things have come up that I particularly like…

Chants replace traditional healing as it’s been defined and used in my games. I’ve always conceived as the healer being someone who stands back and drops heals on the group as needed, filling in a support role only when everyone is up and at full strength, or when the healer runs out of healing… chants change this entirely. Now, the chant is something you do in addition to all the other things you do. Chants allow you to ‘turn on’ a passive ability that remains in place for as long as you are vertical. This means that you don’t cast one big heal; you constantly cast a little heal that slowly regenerates your whole team. You get to make tactical decisions; when do you turn off your armor boost chant to activate your healing chant? You have to be ahead of the curve; if you wait until the group’s main fighter has taken considerable damage, your chant may not be able to keep pace with damage. You have decisions to make. The chant makes disciples different from magicians, in that their magic operates under fundamentally different rules, and feels fundamentally different in play. Disciple magic is much ‘softer’ than magician magic. It always bothered me that the difference between many cleric and magic user spells (light for instance) is negligible. They do the same thing. There’s considerable overlap. This system eliminates any overlap at all.

Chants allow you to do other things. Now, playing the ‘healer’ doesn’t mean you sit back and do nothing, rolling on your turn for how much damage you restore; instead, you activate your healing chant, and then leap right in with your weapon. You won’t be as strong of a physical combatant as a warrior, but you don’t need to be; you are a support character. Your chant gives everyone in your group a little bonus, and you get to do other things at the same time. Also, you can strategize your chants to make you capable. Even though you only have might +2, your chant of might +4 allows you to bump your own might to +4 (6 CPs), making you a viable fighter, and it boosts the might of your team’s warrior from +7 to +8 (16 CPs to 20 CPs), making him happy too! In fact, it even helps your team’s weak magician (might +0) who can suddenly pick up a longsword and swing it with some chance of success, his might temporarily boosted to +3 (4 CPs).

Because many chants serve to boost other abilities, I need to make sure to design the game around minimizing these bonuses in other ways. For instance, the chant of might is a very valuable magical effect; a pair of warriors who have a disciple using a chant of might traveling with them have become more powerful. However, any time another means exists to get the same effect- magician spells or magical devices- you erode the overall value of disciples and chanting. Those two warriors don’t need the chanter if they both have magical bracers granting might, potions of might, and rings of might at the ready. The first one problem easy; make sure that no magician spells allow for boosts that are already covered in chanting. No spellbook is going to have a ‘bear’s strength’ or ‘quickness of the gazelle’ spell, because these are chant effects. The other one is trickier; finding cool items and integrating them into your repertoire is an important part (to me) of high fantasy gaming. Originally, I conceived of a limit to bonuses equal to half your CP total; when your hero is built on 40 CPs, he cannot have more magical bonus than +20 CPs. However, bonuses to armor ratings, cloaks, and weapons become grey areas- my suit of magical armor gives me armor +7 (16 CPs), but (although this is magical), it’s just one total; you don’t further delineate it. For Resolute purposes, it doesn’t matter if the suit has 5 CPs ‘naturally’ and +11 CPs from the enchantment; it’s all going to the same place. This muddies the issue when you have to start counting how your CPs are distributed for balance purposes;it also becomes more paperwork to keep track of with minimal gains on the back end.

The answer may be in fantasy literature, more than in gaming (although I thought D+D 4E had something like this; shows my ignorance of D+D4E I guess), where you have strict limits to how many magic effects you can have going at once. Even the greatest of heroes in fantasy literature have only a handful of magical items helping them at once; Frodo has a suit of armor, a short sword, and a ring. Sam has a magic rope and a phylactery. Here’s what I’m thinking:

At one time, you can have active:

One suit of armor
One cloak of warding
One weapon (or two weapons with the two weapons ability; or a weapon and a shield if you have shield use)
One piece of jewelry; a ring, amulet, pendant, broach or the like
One piece of clothing; boots, gloves, a belt, a sash.

You can have more in your backpack, switching things out as desired; however, you may only have two ‘special items’ beyond your basic gear; the jewelry and the clothing. This really pares back what heroes can use, but also makes you strategize more, and makes the valuable items really, really valuable. This keeps heroes from walking around with a ring of stealth, boots of speed, an amulet of armor, a belt of might, bracers of precision, and a helm of intuition. Pick two of those and wear them; the rest get sold or get carried your backpack. When you really need to use stealth, you slip on your ring of stealth and set aside the amulet of armor. You can’t wear them both at the same time. You also can’t get multiple bonuses from different items for the same thing. If you drink a potion of might +4, you have an allied disciple using a chant of might +3, and you wear a belt of might +2, you only get to take +4 CPs to your might; the potion has the highest bonus, and you default to that. When the potion wears, off, you go to +3, and if the disciple stops chanting, your bonus drops to +2. Overall, you’d be better off stowing the belt of might and instead taking up a sash of evade, since you could use that more.

This does away with bonus limits based on your CP total. As a level 1 hero built on 10 CPs, you could conceivably inherit your noble father’s girdle of lordly might +10, doubling your CP total and putting your might off the chain, moving it from +3 (4 CPs) to +6 (14 CPs). Even here, this is not a game killer; the bonus is very nice, but it doesn’t scale beyond your level so far as to make your hero unplayable; you just get to do might stuff very easily. While I don’t suggest that referees start handing out +10 items to new heroes, the game has built-in safeguards that keep things from getting too out of control.

This all serves to really define the disciple class as distinct from the magician, and even from 'clerics' in other systems.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Archyptes Revisited

I’ve locked down the magician archetype, and I particularly like how it has worked out; only magicians have access to arcane bolt, and this gives them both a magical attack, and the most versatility to build spell casting heroes. Anyone can use magic if they want to, but magicians do it the best.

However, since magicians have a unique ability that only they have access to, it makes sense that each of the other archetypes gets a unique ability. This has to be something that’s specific enough to define the archetype, but broad enough to accommodate a wide range of builds and approaches. Here’s what I’m tinkering with right now…

Disciples get chants. These are helpful magical effects that boost their allies’ abilities. A magician will never get a spell that boosts might, but a disciple can get a chant of might. Disciples purchase chants as an ability, and then purchase individual chants as applications. They’d have to have a least one application to start with- you can’t have a chant of nothing +1. Your chants affect all allies within range, and have a range of 3 + rating units; a chant +5 affects all allies within 8 units. Chants pulse on your turn… any effect you create on your turn continues until your next turn (or when it would be. If you are knocked unconscious, your chant continues until the turn you would have taken)… Sample chants include:
- Armor. All allies take a rating bonus to armor. Your chant of armor +8 grants all allies +8 CPs to their armor rating.
- Healing. All living allies recover rating wounds. Your chant of healing +5 allows all allies to recover 5 wounds each time it pulses (up to their CP total).
- Might. All allies take a rating bonus to might. Your chant of might +3 grants +3 CPs to the might rating of all allies in range.
- Wounding. All allies take a rating bonus to weapon damage ratings. Your chant of wounding +6 grants +6 CPs to the damage rating of all allies’ weapons; a dwarf warrior wielding a war hammer +7 [16 CPs] deals +8 damage [22 CPs] when affected by your chant.

I especially like chants for disciples because I conceive of the disciple archetype as the ultimate support class- no magical effect is more support-based than chants. Lastly, I’m excited that chants make it into the core rules because I’ve wanted to put chant-based magic into Mythweaver and Resolute for years, and haven’t found a good, consistent way to plug them in.

Stalkers (instead of rogues) get stealth. This is a solid ability as written, and it makes sense with the abilities other archetypes are getting that stealth is no longer allowed to them. Stealth is both a good combat ability and a good functional ability, and limiting it to stalkers only (and removing the option to purchase stealth as an application) specializes this somewhat.

Warriors are actually the trickiest ones. Each archetype has received an area of specialization, and for warriors, that has to be their weapons. Your weapon is it- that’s where your focus and training goes. I’ve leaned away from building abilities into the game that innately stack with other abilities- I’ve tried to reserve that as a function of Resolve, and once you start allowing abilities to stack, you start creating multiple stacking bonuses.


Warriors should be the best damage dealers. If you want to lay the smack down, warrior should be your choice. Weapon specialization stacks with your weapon’s damage rating. So, a warrior with might +5, a sword +5 and weapon specialization +5 attacks at +5 and deals +10 damage when wielding a weapon within his specialization field. Specialization options include such categories as swords, axes, spears, bows, crossbows, blunt weapons.

The best part about all of these changes is that they actually get me excited about making some heroes. I especially like the changes to the disciple archetype, although I see a lot of appeal in all four.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Splitting Hairs

In my clean-up draft, I’m going back and taking out that arms and aspect allow you wield things rated at the ability +1, and changing it to the ability rating. It’s an extra step, and not particularly intuitive, to think that because I have arms +3 I can wield a weapon +4… since I have arms +3, I should be able to use weapons and armor +3. The problem comes in with the hero who decides not to purchase arms at all… he cannot wear a suit of padded armor or pick up a dagger? That’s not intuitive either, although it’s more easily solved. I was giving every archetype at least arms +1 to reflect this, although this penalizes casters a little, who have to devote 1 CP to something that doesn’t really help them at all… it just covers over a flaw in the ability system.

Or is it a flaw? +1 in an ability is a considerable step. A +1 dagger is a decent weapon, assuming it’s being used by a capable wielder. A hero with no particular training in combat picking up a weapon has no particular ability to do damage with it. Will he be able to deal more damage with a dagger or sword than with his bare hands? Absolutely. Is this negligible in Resolute terms? Ehhhh. But here's the more important question: is it HEROIC for a wizard to pick up a dagger and stab at a foe with it? Only if he’s using a Resolve point- then he gets to use his lore +8 to bump his arms +0 up to +8 for this one attack, making him a butt-kicking physical combatant for a single great swing. That’s heroic. On a moment-by-moment basis, he just doesn’t use the dagger, leaning on his other abilities (as he should).

Wow. I love it just the way it is.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Final Countdown

I’m actually quite close to a final draft of the core rules- of course, this means I’m ready for serious play testing of the game as I see it, not that it’s ready for final publication. The last thing I want to do is jump the gun and release the game, then have to release updates and addenda right away based on questions people have. I want you to be able to play the game as written, and NOT have any questions! It’s only going to be 16 pages- I should be able to do that!

So, here’s the planned release schedule, which will come in two phases:

April 1: Resolute: the Splintered Realm (Ashcan edition). This $1 pdf includes the full draft of the rules, without illustrations, index, table of contents. It’s all the rules, in final draft form. This gives me 60 days to get feedback (via e-mail, the blog, the forums) on the design, and it gives you a chance to play with the rules for a dirt cheap price. It's also, from a marketing perspective, an opportunity to build momentum for the game before it 'officially' comes out. Remember: game design is a business, too, and these decisions have to be part of the design process!

June 1: Resolute: the Splintered Realm (full edition). This $2 illustrated pdf (not dirt cheap, but pretty close) includes everything, encompassing all errata and revisions that my play testing and any player discussions have generated. If you’ve purchased the ashcan, you get a $1 discount on this book- meaning that you effectively redeem the ashcan for full credit (metaphorically- how to you redeem a digital file?) if you continue on to the full edition. It will be released in both screen-friendly and printer-friendly versions that come packaged together with your purchase.

As of June 1, I’ll also be taking down all existing Resolute games and supplements; I don’t want to create confusion among players about compatibility between editions. Much of the existing Resolute material will be re-imagined through Resolute: the Splintered Realm, released as supplements to these rules.

More on Game Design!

Here are some things I’ve learned about game design, which basically revisit some of my original design goals, tweaking them based on what I’ve learned:

- The game needs a unified theme. Once I decided on the tagline, ‘the little game of big heroic adventure’, I could see it very clearly. If something doesn’t make it a little game (i.e. complicated mechanics, overly complex math, gritty detail), it goes. If something doesn’t support ‘big heroic adventure’, it goes. All of the rules are now slanted to support this. When can you use a resolve point? When you try to do something on a heroic scale. When do you roll the dice? When you do something only a hero would be able to accomplish. If any normal farmer or common laborer could force that door open with a good shove, don’t even bother rolling.

- The story has to inform all choices, and all game elements must be setting specific. Efforts to create ‘archetypal’ situations or elements (dwarves, elves, magic), invariably end up vanilla. A goblin is boring; a goblin scrounger is more interesting; the fact that goblin scroungers are the ultimate scavengers, traveling in nomadic caravans moving from ruin to ruin, moving as a pack through the desolate remains of fallen kingdoms to glean any useful objects they can find, makes them far more compelling adversaries. You don’t run into goblins in dungeons because they are there camping out waiting for stuff to happen; they’ve either just started their exploring, are right in the middle of it, or were en route when they got stuck. No matter how you slice it, they make for a better encounter than ‘classic goblins’ as I’ve always seen them. I’m building every element of the world from this perspective, and it’s given the whole text a much stronger aesthetic.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Repertoires, Spontaneous Spells and Memorization

Handling this ends up being tricky; the magic system for a fantasy game becomes a make or break proposition. I know that magicians have the baseline attack spell that they can use all the time (arcane/elemental bolt). Beyond this, they have a variety of spells. This list of spells should grow as the magician gets more powerful, with new spells added to the repertoire. So far, so good. However, how this plays out mechanically presents different possibilities. Here are some options:

Spontaneous Spells: In Mythweaver, you have a number of spontaneous spells available each turn. I could see magic working this way; you have any spell in your book available to you as desired, based on your bolt rating -1. With arcane bolt +5, you can cast up to 4 spontaneous spells per scene, casting any spell from your book. It is assumed that at +1, you can only cast your basic attack spell at will; you need more training to be able to cast other things. My original versions of the omni-weapon in the Resolute supers game worked under this concept: if you were an archer with a +5 bow, you got to take 4 trick shot effects each usable once per scene. I generally like this concept, although I’ve modified this out of the game with the use of applications, where you get to decide how many applications you want; you could use the same number of character points (20) to get a bow +7 with 2 applications as you would to get a bow +4 with 7 applications. They’re both viable ‘trick archer’ builds, with completely different philosophies behind them; the first one attacks mostly with his ‘basic attack’, using trick shots more sparingly, while the second probably leads off with his entire arsenal, going to the basic attack only after everything else has been used up.

Repertoire: You purchase individual spells as applications, only after you’ve added them to your book. Basically, the book gives you five spells to choose from as your character grows (costing 2 CPs each time you add a spell), which allows you now to master the spell, able to use it once per scene in a combat situation. Let’s say you start with charm, stun, life tap and boost might in your spell book. You can decide to spend 2 CPs to make any of these a spell you can cast once per scene. Optionally, you’d be able to use a resolve point to cast a spell that you don’t normally prepare as a ‘one time’ thing. The problem here is that resolve can then become a ‘pool’ for spontaneous spells, which I guess is okay… however, you can’t use resolve to then improve a spell and make it stronger, which becomes a good case for purchasing it and adding it to your repertoire if it’s going to be a regular thing. If I spend 2 CPs to get stun, I get to use it every scene, and I get to use a resolve point to add my intuition (for example) to the roll, sensing the exact moment my foe is most likely to be affected by it. If I don’t buy stun with 2 CPs but instead must use a resolve point to cast it, I only get to cast the basic form of the spell, and have no option to tweak it further with resolve. This seems to balance it out nicely.

I’m trying to design into the system that you can’t simply go into combat and use your stun spell 10 times. In fantasy literature, the caster doesn’t simply throw the same spell over and over again (except for the ‘basic attack’ bolt spell, which the game already reflects); special effect spells are generally only used once per scene. I want the game to emulate this dynamic. I would prefer that you work your opponent down, getting him to spend his resources (i.e. making sure he’s out of resolve) before you drop your stun spell on him (for instance).

However, a player trying to ‘manipulate the system’ to get to use stun 5 times has to not only buy stun but then spend 4 resolve points to do this; so the hero has invested 8 CPs to get this ability, and this assumes that all stuns are the basic variety that he cannot modify upward.

I could add a rule that multiple ‘special effects’ of a spell each scene offer diminishing returns. Once you have resisted petrification this scene (fighting off the effects of the gorgon’s gaze), you are more likely to resist it again; subsequent resist rolls against effect-based powers give you a cumulative +1 resist. I like this, although it is a bit of a complex concept for a relatively simple game. I don’t know if this particular rule gives the return on the investment of keeping track of it. Since many effects are one-shot tries anyway, and most foes you face won’t have resolve allowing them to refresh abilities that they’ve used, it isn’t likely to help the heroes as much as it helps their foes.

I probably need to play test some high-level fights to see if this will impact combat, or how much. If combats tend to run 10+ rounds, then I need to be wary of how multiple effects during a fight influence it; if combat tends to be over in 4-6 rounds anyway, whether you got to drop 3 charm attempts won’t matter as much.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Magic Tone

Magic becomes one of those especially tricky areas where you can really define your game and the setting. There are multiple ways to go with this, but for today I just want to talk about tone.

D+D here again rears its rather pretty little head. There are two ways stylistically to approach this:
- In Basic D+D, you had the generic spell list. You get the basic spells, but no particular flavor. The list doesn’t evoke the sense of the world.
- In AD+D, you had this funky list that included your ‘basics’, but also added all sort of interesting permutations- Bixby’s spells always had something to do with a big hand appearing and smacking you around, for instance. There was more variety here, even though I never saw the majority of these spells ever used in play- Fireball? Every encounter. Melf’s Acid Arrow? Not if I can help it. However, Melf and his acid arrow gave the game a texture and depth that I loved.

I have only so much space to work with (I can’t see the initial list being longer than 20 spells total for the core rules), but I have two ways to go:

1. A generic list of spell applications that allow you to ‘build your own caster’.
2. A handful of sample spell books from different magic energies. You’d have ‘Chandar’s Book of Flames’ alongside ‘Heldack’s Arcanum’. You’d get the two or three most common ‘textbooks’ that students of magic would study; the rare stuff will come later, but here’s where most magicians cut their teeth.

Right now, I’m leaning towards the latter. You can end up with a nice variety of spells in one of the three ‘sample’ spellbooks, allowing heroes to start with a common book, and add more spells to their repertoires as they grow.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Simplify Simplify Simplify

Consider my mind officially blown.

I was toying with recalibrating some of the abilities to see if there was some way to get to one roll in combat; you make a single attack roll, and then you layer damage into that if you hit, taking out the target’s soak.

I was making some progress when I decided to try and look at physical attacks through the same filter I’d been applying to magic. Rather than making magic mimic the way physical attacks work (my fundamental design approach thus far), what if I looked at how magic SHOULD work, and then apply those principals to physical combat… I’ve been unhappy that you only use focus to attack, but use your bolt for all other applications. If the bolt is how you make an action, it should always be how you make an action (combat shouldn’t have its own subsystem for this).

- Your ‘power’ (the bolt) should determine if you hit or not.
- Your focus item (the wand or staff) should determine how much damage you deal.
- Your warding object (the cloak or amulet) should determine your soak.
- Those last two items can have their ratings set by the same ability, with the option to tailor the ability.

So, to be a caster, you need two abilities:
- Bolt. This is your attack. Roll bolt to do stuff: Hit with a magic bolt, charm, sleep, stun, boost might, whatever.
- Aspect. This sets the rating for both your magic wands and your magic cloaks. You can tailor aspect on damage or soaks; with aspect +5, you could have +6 with wands and staffs, +4 with cloaks of warding. This makes SO much more sense to me. It’s simpler, cleaner, and applies all the time. It’s highly customizable, because you can tweak the numbers in a variety of ways.

Now, as a fighter, you need only two abilities: an attack ability, and an ability that sets the rating for your stuff (weapons AND armor).
- You can choose to use might as your attack ability (if you prefer to wail on your foes) or you can use prowess (if you prefer to dissect your target delicately). Might now gets stamina rolled into it (might is how physically tough you are all the way around), whereas prowess affects missile weapons too. If you want to be a ranger who can wield the sword and bow with equal facility, you build your hero around prowess. If you want to be a barbarian who rips doors off of their hinges, throws spears and leaps into combat with a huge axe, you pick might. They’re both equally valuable; prowess is better for ranged fighters (bows get better range than thrown weapons) but might is more useful for defending against things like poisons and constriction.
- Arms includes all of your weapons and your worn armor. This one breaks up three ways; you could tailor your arms +5 as armor +4/melee +7/missile +4. You can wield an axe +7, a bow +4 and wear armor +4. You get the veracity I was looking for (you wouldn't learn how to use a bow exclusively without ever picking up a sword) but also get variety and 'expert' characters.

This gets rid of armor as an application, and gets rid of stamina as an ability. I like both of these changes. It also gets rid of warding and focus, merging those into aspect.

Then, for monsters, you re-calibrate the way that these abilities get organized; invulnerability becomes a hybrid of the soak abilities from both arms and aspect. You could choose to focus your invulnerability on physical or magical/energy attacks; invulnerability +6 (energy +5/physical +7) means that you soak physical damage better than magical damage. This carries right over to the supers version of the game with no need to modify the system at all.

And, evade becomes the universal defensive ability against all attacks, physical and magical. The only ability that wouldn’t be defended by evade would be mental attacks; defend against mental attacks with intuition (that makes absolute sense to me) and you get to soak with your resolve (also perfectly logical, and perfectly tying with my basic concept for the game world; mankind’s resolve is his greatest asset in his battle with the messari).