Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Brief Musing on Dungeon Design

I pulled out my original Keep on the Borderlands and flipped through it for inspiration (read: ideas to mine for the upteenth time) and was struck by how much 'free space' there is in the map. Many rooms are separated by long, winding passageways. I like the breathing room of it... you can have a fight in one part of the dungeon, and there's a chance that no one in the next chamber over hears you, because they are hundreds of feet away around winding hallways.

A wolf or giant spider can wander in and roam around in your house, because it's not compact, and you have friends and allies on the other side of the complex, down a slope and around two corners. I can see the room for random encounters. Many modern designs (including most of my own) are so tightly-packed that there isn't any room for monsters to just roam around looking for adventurers to kill.

The other thought I have (in a similar vein) is how important it is to have multiple entry points to the dungeon. It's got to have a somewhat 'open floor plan' in order to facilitate some traffic flow that allows the environment to breathe.

As I said, just some musings...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Character Development

One of the things I particularly liked about Dark Age of Camelot (back in the day) was how you developed your character. You played levels 1 through 5 as part of a generic template, and then at level 5 selected your class.

I’ve been following several discussions online about limiting the options for starting players, and allowing characters to grow organically over time. This is exactly what DAOC did. You knew from the get go that you were going to be a ‘magician’, but you had time (while you were plunking spells at skeletons and badgers) to think about exactly what kind of caster you wanted to be. Options don’t ‘unlock’ for your hero until certain levels.

Here’s what I’m working on right now for the cleric...

As a cleric, you are a holy warrior. You wield weapons and wear armor while also calling upon magical abilities to help your allies. You will ultimately take a vow to serve some higher force, although you begin play on a quest to find your calling.
  • Archetype Ability: Resolve (Roll D6 for CP investment)
  • Archetype Trait: Healing Word (2 CPs)
  • You begin with Armor +1, Might -or- Prowess +1, Weapons +1
  • During level 1, you may purchase Evade; Intuition -or- Lore; Might -or- Prowess (the one you didn’t take above)

In Play:
As a starting cleric, I roll D6 for my initial investment in Resolve (my archetype ability) and get 3. I have 3 CPs invested here, meaning that I have 2 CPs left to spend. I spend 1 CP in Resolve to increase it to 4 CPs (+3 rating) so I don’t have unused CPs in my initial build; I then put my final CP into Prowess (where I had already invested 1 CP), bringing this to +2.

Starting Sample Cleric (10 CPs):
Armor +1; Healing Word (+2); Prowess +2; Resolve +3; Weapons +1


Advanced Clerics (Options available starting at level 2)
  • You will be expected to select a belief.
  • You will take the limitation: vow. You must swear a vow to follow the tenets of this belief.
  • Special Resolve Option: Detect Evil or Good. You may use a resolve point to detect evil (or good), sensing all creatures/items/locations that emanate evil or good energy with Resolve rating units.

Cleric Beliefs:
  1. The Church of Yahalla. You become a templar. Your vow prevents you from wielding bladed weapons, since it was these weapons that slew your goddess.
  2. The Natural World. You become a druid. Your vow prevents you from wearing metal armor or wielding metal weapons. The base rating for non-metal items is +3. For example, the best non-magical weapon available to you would be a masterwork cudgel +5 (base rating +3; +2 shift from masterwork).
  3. The Cosmic Balance. You become a monk.
  4. The Common Man. You become a friar. Your commitment is to this world, and to its humble, poor and downtrodden. Your vow prevents you from every owning more than you can carry; you must give at least 25% of what you earn to others (and not other players!).
  5. Dark Forces. You become a dark priest. Your vow forces you to always submit your will to dark energies and more powerful entities of the lower realms.
  6. Your People. You become a champion. Your vow forces you to always act in the best interests of your nation or homeland, regardless of personal sacrifice or the good of your fellowship.

Table. Advanced Cleric Spells
  1. Banish Unhallowed.
  2. Boost Armor. Boost the target’s soak ratings based on your Resolve, for the rest of the scene.
  3. Boost Combat. Boost a target’s primary combat ability rating (either might or prowess) based on your Resolve, for the rest of the scene. The target must be within Resolve rating units.
  4. Light (or shadow). Use 1 turn to fiill a number of units equal to your Resolve rating with light for the rest of the scene, up to your Resolve rating units distant. As a dark priest, you may cast shadow instead of light.
  5. Neutralize Poison. Use 1 turn to end the effects of a poison. Roll Resolve vs. the DT of the poison. Success means that you end the poison altogether, although any damage the poison has already dealt remains.
  6. Stunning Word. Use 1 turn to roll Resolve vs. a living target within Resolve rating range. Targets roll the better of intuition or lore to resist. The target loses a number of turns equal to successes.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Map Aesthetics

While working on various things, I'm going through my inventory of maps and organizing. I've been floating back and forth to Dyson's site and was also looking at the D+D Maps that Tenkar pointed out... and I'm quite torn on how to approach maps going forward. I traditionally drew maps by hand, but once I learned how to use my computer to quickly plunk maps into a simple grid, I spent about two years doing all maps by computer... then I found Dyson's site, and learned again the joy of hand-drawn maps. Now, I'm going back and trying to unify my game stuff, and I find that the two styles have quite different aesthetics. I honestly don't know which I like better- or even if I have to choose! Is it possible to go with two different map styles and just move back and forth between them, or do you think it gives a game a more consistent look if all the maps are generated the same way? A few sample maps follow to show you how this plays out in practice...

First, two hand-drawn maps... then two computer-generated ones:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Trying Out a Random Generator

Here's what I've worked up for the fighter archetype... a keystone ability is one you automatically have in that archetype, rolling a base CP investment of D6 + level. All other abilities start with D6 CPs invested. Any ability that starts higher than your keystone ability automatically causes your keystone ability to bump to keep up with it; if I start with 3 CPs invested in weapons as a fighter and I roll to have 4 CPs invested in might, I also bump weapons to 4 CPs to keep pace with this...
Fighter (Keystone Ability: Weapons): As a fighter, you rely on your physical abilities and weapons to face your foes, and on your armor to protect you from harm and act as the shield for others. You get the weapon specialization trait for free; take a +1 shift to damage rolls when using this weapon type.

Fighter Abilities (Roll D12)

1-2. Armor
3. Bonus Attack
4. Evade
5-6. Might
7. Prowess
8. Resolve
9. Shield Use (Trait)
10-11. Toughness
12. Roll on another archetype table

Trying to roll a random fighter...
His keystone ability is weapon, so I roll D6+2 and get 3+2=5 CPs in weapons.
Ability rolls:
(3) Bonus Attack (roll 4 CP investment; this requires a 4 CP investment in might or prowess as well, so I pick might and have might @ 4 CPs as well)
(2) Armor (Roll 1 CP investment)
(8) Resolve (Roll 1 CP investment)
(4) Evade (Roll 4 CP investment)
(5) Might (Roll 2 CP investment, but only 1 CP left, so that’s where it goes)

Balancing: I can drop extra CPs beyond the minimum CP thresholds and move these to other abilities as desired... so I drop the overage from might (1 CP) and move it to weapons.

Armor +1; Bonus Attack +3; Evade +3; Might +3; Resolve +1; Weapons +4; Weapon Specialist (Axes)

I have a lightly-armored fighter with good might (but no prowess) who wields two weapons in combat - a pair of war axes +4. This is not a character I would have created as he is (I’d definitely pick up a little prowess if it was up to me), but it’s not at all a bad build, and is quite playable. He attacks at +3 with each axe each round, dealing +5 damage with each successful strike. This is not too shabby at all.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

This Post Goes All The Way To 11

or, Of Numbers And Other Things...

In order for the numbers in a game to mean anything, the players must internalize those numbers. I was thinking about this primarily from a referee's perspective, but it's vital from the player's side too...

As referee, you need to have a grounded, consistent sense of what '+6' means in this game and this world. You need to be able to wield that modifier in comparable ways across the whole milieu. It's integral to the authenticity of your game that a door +6, a wall +6, might +6, speed +6 and intuition +6 are all of comparable value, even though you're comparing apples to oranges (and often to carrots or watermelons).

However, this also serves a vital role for the player. Most of us have internalized what 18 strength means, even though that number has no inherent value without the point of reference provided by the system.

These numbers also have to provide some granularity, and the way this scales has to be reasonable for the game's goals. Oddly, percentile strength added the granularity at the top end of the chart rather than at the low end, which is where it often falls; classic D+D (bonus wise) doesn't differentiate between the strength of the Human Torch, Invisible Girl or Mr. Fantastic; they may all have different ratings between 9 and 12, but they're all equally +0; at the top end, the heavy hitters may all have '18' strength, but there are 100 degrees of 18.

You already know the psychological impact this has on the player- and not just the power gamer either (although you know who you are!). When you roll that natural 18/00 strength, you can't help but cheer (I'd love to find out how many people ever rolled that... the best I ever recall 'naturally' rolling within the confines we were given by the DM was 18/91 one time)... my reaction to this was more along the lines of 'I want to arm wrestle a hill giant' rather than 'awesome! +6 damage!'.