Friday, February 28, 2014

Shakespeare Deathmatch is DONE!

I put the finishing touches on Shakespeare Deathmatch tonight, and placed my order for a proof copy of the rules and character cards. They are a bit more pricey than I was hoping/expecting, but I should still be able to cover all of my costs with the KS... (crosses fingers). I'll ultimately post a post-mortem (as I did with my Army Ants KS) so you can see all of the costs and how I used the $ to produce products.

I want to wait until the cards come in to give them a final proofreading. At that point, I'll be finalizing both the game cards and the character cards/rules, ordering physical copies of everything, and sending e-mails to all backers with their pdf copies of the game (so you can see what it finally ended up looking like!).

Assuming there are no major snafus with the character cards (there weren't any with the playing cards, and that's when I was figuring out a lot of the logistics - I think I know what to expect this time), I'm looking at rough deadlines similar to this:

Feb 28: Order proof for the character cards (done)
Mar 14: Order bulk copies of character cards and playing cards to fulfill KS orders; send e-mail links to all KS backers with pdf copies of all game materials.
Mar 28: Ship complete game and t-shirts to all backers.

This means that all of you should have your KS packages in hand by Shakespeare's birthday! What a great way to celebrate...

Thanks for your patience and support throughout this process.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gettin Out From Under It!

Gosh by gosh by golly but it's been tough to get things done and posted. However, here are some quick updates:

1. I posted a new Army Ants webcomic. It's a week late, but I'm crossing my fingers that I can get back on schedule from here on out...
2. I've been plugging away at Shakespeare Deathmatch. I'll do a proper update in the next few days, but I do have the character cards well underway; I worked up a template for the character cards this weekend (that took a few hours - I didn't like how they were turning out, but I finally got a format I liked) and I worked up the first 12 cards. I also went through all of the responses from backers and organized requests - many of these are quite different from my original plan, and I'm trying to honor the requests of backers as much as possible while still staying within budget. We'll see how that goes...
3. I also continue to gather notes for my OSR BX re-vamped edition. I like how it's coming, but it's a slow process as well (and my lowest priority right now).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Vault of the Goblin Session 3 - And About XP

I've pretty much made up my mind that the bulk of our campaign together is going to see Mary's elf (and her posse) exploring the depths of the Vault of the Goblin (which I'm developing as Book 3 of the Saga of the Splintered Realm). She managed to finish clearing the old goblin temple (several hundred miles from the Vaults, but with a magical pool that will allow access). In the process, she took on two goblin prisoners as henchmen and added a dwarf 1 to her party - so the count is now an elf 2, cleric 1, dwarf 1 and two goblins (which I've now made level 1 goblins, getting to play test the rules for the goblin class I'm also working on)!

Whew. She took part in three encounters:
She was almost one-shotted when she was surprised by a living crystal statue that came to life without her realizing what it was. The thing dropped her to -1 hp on its first flurry of attacks, and the cleric was busy dragging her out of the way as the two goblins wrecked it in two rounds. They rolled REALLY well.

Some takeaways:
- About clerics not having level 1 spells (which I'm calling 'sphere' 1 to eliminate confusion between xp and spell progression - I'm looking for an even less clunky term, but 'circles' is just as awkward depending on the grammar of the sentence it appears in)... having no healing power at level 1 makes this level very difficult. Even the two cure light wounds he will have next level will make a huge difference in their durability as a fellowship. I'm not going to change this (I like this nod to BX, and it makes sense that the powers-that-be don't hand out their blessings willy nilly ... you have to pay some dues to earn the ability to wield holy power).
- XP progression is slow, which I know is by design. They have cleared an entire (small) temple complex, and have killed (in total):

1 Ettercap (4 HD)
1 Crystal Living Statue (3 HD)
1 Wight (3 HD)
10 Large Spiders (2+2 HD)
6 Medium Spiders (1+1 HD)
10 Goblins (1-1 HD)
5 Stirges (1/2 HD)

They have captured about 350 gold in valuables
They have found a spear +1, a short sword +1, 2 potions of healing, and a scroll of mirror image

Macheon (my cleric) has earned 524 xp (after the 10% bonus from high Wisdom), putting him about 1/3 of the way to level 2.

I have gone 'by the book' in awarding treasure, and it's been pretty meager (all things considered). Then again, they've been fighting low-level foes. They are low level. They are still struggling to purchase the best gear (they cannot afford plate mail yet, and upgrading the two goblins to chain mail was a big deal). These things are appropriate to level 1. They should NOT be able to outfit a small army yet and lead an entire platoon of well-trained men at arms. They are a rag-tag little group, and they feel like it. Then again, the two main fighters now have a +1 weapon, meaning that the group is capable of taking on pretty much any threat and at least hitting it. I will see how this goes. At some point, it should 'feel' like they are getting richer. However, this shouldn't kick in until level 3 or so. However, once they start taking on 6 HD monsters (as a for instance) the 'average' treasure value bumps to 200 gold. Loot the lair of a few of those, and you'll be over 1,000 gp (for the whole group) pretty quickly. All of this, so far, I'm okay with. I'm using 1 gold = 1 xp for treasure, and that is okay...

I suppose the xp value for foes is where I'm running into some trouble. It just 'feels' like a 3 HD magical creature (the wight or the living statue) should be worth a sizeable amount of xp - they are each worth 90 xp in the current formula I'm using. That means that, with xp bonus for high scores, a team of two level 1 characters earns 100 xp total for killing two 3 HD creatures. A level 1 fighter has to kill 20 such creatures solo (or 40 with a partner - or 80 in a team of 4) to get to level 2. That's a LOT.

Then again, that's the OSR.

However, I don't want this to be a rule that people hand wave away because it's too slow and people are losing interest because their characters aren't advancing. It is no problem to give a 'story bonus' or somesuch and just bump the characters. That's not the point. I want you to be able to play 'by the book' (even though I know almost no one will)... If I make one minor shift to my chart (bumping everything 1 HD down vs. what XP it is worth) those 3* HD creatures are now worth 150 XP each, the 2+2 HD spiders are now worth 90 xp each, and the ettercap is worth 300 XP. This changes my total award to:

1 Ettercap (4 HD) = 300 xp
1 Crystal Living Statue (3 HD) = 150 xp
1 Wight (3 HD) = 150 xp
10 Large Spiders (2+2 HD) = 90 xp each
6 Medium Spiders (1+1 HD) = 45 xp each
10 Goblins (1-1 HD) = 30 xp each
5 Stirges (1/2 HD) = 15 xp each

This puts my total award at 2145 xp (in monsters) + 350 (gold) = 2495 xp for the whole adventure. We played three sessions (at an average of 2 hours per session with pretty focused play) to clear this.

That's just about right. If a level 2 fighter did this solo (possible, but unlikely) he deserves to move to level 2. A pair of level 1-2 characters (what I had for most of this) should come close to leveling up. Going back to the conversation about 'how many goblins' to get to level 2, a level 1 fighter (with no xp bonus) needs to kill 67 goblins to get to level 2. Solo. A group of 4 level 1 characters needs to kill 268 goblins (assuming they have no treasure - not really a safe assumption) for the 'average character' (assuming 2000 xp as the average requirement) to get to level 2.  It's still a lot of freaking goblins, but it's not insurmountable, and when you throw in the occasional chieftain, shaman, wolf guardian and their coffers of a couple hundred silver coins, this gets a little quicker.

This feels much better.

Consider the adjustment made.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Keeping Magic Magical

One of the big distinctions that appears between OSR gaming and late 2E/3E+ versions is the fundamental view of magic... OSR gaming leaves magic intentionally vague and mysterious, while later versions endeavor to account for the nature and function of magic in its various forms. This rears its head in the ugliest ways in terms of the specific costs of mass-producing magical items. I'm far more interested in magic that doesn't work in any sort of consistent rule that we can determine... for example:

A dwarven master weaponsmith, on the evening he learned that his son had died in battle, went into his shop in absolute silence, pouring his sorrow into his work - releasing his anguish with each hammer blow, cooling the metal with his fierce tears. Two days later, he returned home with a hammer that he had named for his son, a war hammer +2 with limited empathy and lawful alignment. This is an OSR weapon.

This is better than the 3E+ approach to saving up 50,000 gold coins and a crushing a gemstone valued at at least 10,00 gold. The dwarf cannot re-create the circumstance of this smithing, and he cannot mass produce such weapons (unless he has a whole bunch of sons he can sacrifice to make it happen). Each magical item becomes unique in its story, even if it's not unique in its abilities.

In the same vein, as I write spell descriptions, I'm intentionally excising language that limits or inhibits the spell. For example, in hold person, I particularly like the phrase 'human like creature' as a potential target for the spell, and I'd prefer to end there rather than listing creatures that can be affected. For example, is a mermaid 'human like'? What about a dragon that has used polymorph to appear as an elf? I'd rather leave such situations to the GM to determine... what makes something 'human like'? Physical appearance? In that case, I'd argue yes in both cases - and I think that in general, GMs should be liberal in their flexibility with the application of spells. The more you describe a spell in minute detail, the more you limit how and where it can be used. I plan to avoid this.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Can One Post Contain THIS MUCH AWESOME?

The answer... I don't know. But let's find out!

1. I AM the next OSR Superstar. Okay, that's not exactly a fact, but power of positive thinking and all of that. I have my three entries written up, and I'll be giving them a final look-over tomorrow before sending them Tenkar's way. Best. Contest. Ever.

2. Second. Best. Contest. Ever. I entered Dyson Logos' super-awesome map contest, where I got to finish a map that he started! This was a great deal of fun, and it was a challenge to try and mimic Dyson's cross-hatching style at the scale he does it. Man, but he has a tight style! I could not get my lines as fine as his (I don't think I own a marker that makes lines that thin - and even if I did, my fingers just don't work at that scale) but I tried. I'm pleased with the effort, although you'll see that his blog is already filling up with incredible entries - there are some great mappers out there!

3. As backers for the KS know, the cards for Shakespeare Deathmatch came in today, and they look sweet. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself...

4. Oh yeah, I also updated my webcomic (cause I have all of this free time, apparently). You should probably get caught up on that.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Time Frame for Saga of the Splintered Realm

One of the decisions I need to make (and soon - much of the setting material will be deeply influence by this decision) is WHEN in the history of the Splintered Realm this game is set. There was an event called the Great Reckoning, when mankind slew the one true goddess, and everything fell into chaos. I've set various games at various points in the history of the realm. So far, I've explored:

10-20 years after the Reckoning. Mankind is just coming to terms with the devastation wrought by the Reckoning. No heroes have emerged yet, no communication between communities is possible, and people have just begun to get their feet under them. The realities of the changes to the world have just set in.

800+ years after the Reckoning. Mankind is on the verge of a new golden age, ready to re-establish the Old Kingdom and re-establish man as the central power in the realm. (I've alternately used 813 AR and 833 AR as key time periods of games and campaigns. My first games were set in 813 AR).

Right now, I'd like to think about materials I produce for the game has happening 'frozen in amber'. You get a snapshot of the world at a particular moment, and then any individual campaign builds upon that. This seems preferable to me to having your 'event of the month' that individual campaigns are expected to build upon. The era of the world will fall somewhere between these two extremes.

So, let's brainstorm a little. These are elements I'd like to include:

- The idea that we are at the end of the dark age. Mankind is ready to build roads between lands, establish political treaties that could act as the precursor for something like a regional government, and ready to purposefully explore and possibly even settle the region. We're entering the age of exploration.
- Elves remember. Even middle-aged elves (400 years or so) remember a time before the Reckoning, and they are still pretty ticked with mankind for what he did. If I back it up even further, a 'starting player character' (assuming an age of about 200 for a starting PC) wouldn't remember, or may have been just a child when the Reckoning happened. Okay, so somewhere between 200 and 400 years ago.
- Mankind doesn't remember at all, and doubts are beginning to surface about a time before the Reckoning, and what that might have been. The Old Kingdom of Cavaria is considered a myth by many. 200-400 years works for this as well. This is about the length of time from today to the founding of the Colonies or the American Revolution (at best the Civil War) in terms of how close they feel to it. That's about right.
- Old dwarves remember (like the really, really old ones), but younger dwarves only listen in awe to the tales told by elders. Dwarves would look at this like most of us do World War II. We know if happened, we see the consequences of it, and we have only 1-2 generations back that were there. It was still fairly recent for us, but a world away for the newest generation.
- Dragons fall into two clear distinctions. Elders existed before the Reckoning (almost all long before the Reckoning), while a whole new generation was born after the Reckoning, and would be the common dragons that players would encounter. In 3E terms, I don't want common dragons to be any older than 'mature adult', which again is 200-400 years. That range comes up again. Nice.

If we go with an average human generation as being 25 years, and we go with 9 generations (I like that number, and 9th son of a 9th son seems like it should resonate somewhere. Still working on that), then we end up with 225 years. That's a bit on the short side, but not bad.

Hmmm. 228. This is one of the power numbers in my life (my classroom was #228 for the last few years; we were married on the 28th, my house number is 28...) so I like the way this echoes. This also means that the 'oldest' dragon most players will encounter will be adult or younger, which aligns nicely with the way I see dragons working in the core rules (the basic dragons covered in the game - of the 6 to 11 HD variety - are all newbies, age 228 or younger).

Year 228 AR. Spring. Winter has just ended.

The amber has been set.

Feb 8 Session Report

Linwe (Mary's Elf 2) and Macheon (my Cleric 1) make their way to the old goblin temple, cutting through thick overgrowth (which was magically enhanced by the elves to bury the temple so it would be lost), tracking the spiders to their lair. They investigate the top of the old goblin temple, attacked by five stirges. Macheon is knocked unconscious in the fight, and (after defeating the stirges and finding a gemstone in their nest), Linwe retreats to a tree hammock she makes where she and Macheon can rest.

Within a few hours, a small spider leaves the temple (coming up through the altar at its peak, after activating the device) and immediately picks up their trail. After a short battle, Linwe defeats the spider and hides its body.

In the middle of the night, a scout party of twelve goblins arrives to re-claim the temple, and they use fresh blood to activate the altar, opening a secret door inside. Seeing how the entrance works, Linwe uses blood from the spider to activate the altar a few hours later (after she and Macheon fully recover) and they descend. They find the secret door off of the entry, and the signs of a battle between goblins and a spider, which they killed. In the spider’s web, they find the remains of a gnome and a scroll case with mirror image inside. In the next chamber, they find 4 dead goblins and 2 dead spiders, the scene of another battle between these forces.

Investigating further, they come upon a ransacked barracks once held by goblins. Linwe discovers a hiding spot beneath a stone, and recovers a bag with 100 silver coins and a potion of healing.

On the next level, they come across three spiders that have backed the eight remaining goblins into a tomb to the temple’s shaman. They fight the spiders, and the goblins (seeing their opportunity) jump into the fight. After a three-way battle, Macheon is again unconscious, Linwe hurt (but not as bad as she could be after using the healing potion) and only two goblins live, quickly surrendering after the final spider falls.
They spend a day and a half recovering within the burial chamber of the shaman, at the foot of his sarcophagus (which freaks the goblins out to no end…). Once they recover, they open the sarcophagus to fight a wight, which they manage to defeat using magic missile and a magical spear they find within its sarcophagus. After this victory, they return to the elves to report on what they have found, purchase new gear, and turn over their prisoners.

All in all, a successful session! Macheon (my level 1 cleric) is well on his way to level 2 (now having 277 xp) while Linwe will be level 2 for some time (since she has 4387 towards the 8000 she needs for level 3). She started at level 2, and did the first few encounters solo, so she's a bit ahead of the young cleric who accompanies her.

Play Testing Notes:
- Experience progression is slow (which is by design), and they are earning money at a relatively slow pace; both characters were able to upgrade to scale armor (+5) which is better than chain but not quite plate mail. That's pretty good for only 1/4 of the way through level 1. 
- So far, the treasure tables I've worked out have yielded reasonable results. Mary rolled really well for a level 3 treasure, and ended up with a spear +1 that was buried with the corpse of the goblin shaman (who was now a wight). She dug the spear out of his sarcophagus while Macheon used his turn undead ability to drive the creature backwards, so I gave the monster an instant upgrade from a ghoul since they now had a +1 weapon with which to attack it...
- I am playing with level drain, and for the time being at least am allowing a save vs. level drain. I don't want to nerf the game, but level drain is a bit out of balance as written....
- One of the rules for the second book is a Fate mechanic. Here's how it's play testing right now; you get d4 fate points each level, and you also can earn fate for significant achievements. You can use a fate point to either take the maximum result on a die, or to add d6 to a die (I'm toying with both options right now). I don't know what the final rule is going to be, but we'll keep playing with it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

About Ambition

As my notes begin to come together for Saga of the Splintered Realm, I start to see the scope and scale of this project begin to emerge.

If it happens as I see it, this is going to be - by a wide, wide margin - the biggest thing I've ever done. I've already discussed how I see this as three core books, but let me re-iterate:

- Core Rules ('vanilla' game with no default setting; flexible and generic). For this rulebook, I'm continuing with the basic premise of: if I was the designer for the next edition of the world's greatest RPG, what would I do? I'm assuming for now that I have an unlimited budget (which I don't) and unlimited time (which I don't). However, I am in no particular rush to get this thing done.

- Setting Book. This would take the 10-15 page treatments that I have done of the Splintered Realm and explode it by x10. I'd profile major NPCs, outline major regions and communities, and provide a more thorough history of the whole place. This would also have an expanded bestiary and expanded spell lists as well as unique relics and artifacts of the Splintered Realm.

- Megadungeon Book. This would outline the history of the goblins of the Splintered Realm, and discuss their dungeon-building shenanigans. The idea is that there is 'one dungeon to rule them all', and it does (quite literally). This would also be a GM toolkit/dungeon-design guide.


- I also have an unfinished draft of a novel set in the Splintered Realm... and all of a sudden, some of the holes in the book (and primary reasons I never finished it) have filled themselves in. I can see maybe why I never finished it, but now I might just be ready to.

- I have ideas for an immortals expansion (rise of the demigods) that could either become part of the setting book, or could be a book unto itself.

The initial idea is that each of the three books (four including the novel) would be on the order of 128+ pages, with additional pages based on how well the KS for this backs (and this is totally going to be a KS - maybe as early as this summer. We'll have to see how much progress I make over the next few months). I could see these expanding (in fact, I hope that they do!) to 160 pages each (my sweet spot for trade paperbacks).

If I'm going to actually do this thing on the scale I imagine, I might need to enlist some professional artists. My business model has been to only spend money towards my projects that I make from projects - this would mean that artists would have to be included as stretch goals. I need to set some reasonable expectations for how this happens, but it would be fantastic to get some original art by some of my favorite classic OSR artists into the project. I mean, if I'm the lead designer on the next edition of this game, then I'm also hand-picking some of the greatest artists of all time (am I right, or am I right?) I'd have to set an art budget and keep to it, but it would be SO worth it. I'll be generating the vast majority of the art on my own, but I can supplement this with key pieces by notable artists.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

How Consolidated is TOO consolidated?

So in my last post, I alluded to how I was consolidating all of my 'thief-type' abilities (move silently and hide in shadows) into one 'sneak' ability. Today, I was messing around with 'hear noise' and 'spot', and realized that these are the opposite of the two thief abilities, and could likewise be consolidated into 'sense'.

I DON'T want to get into contested rolls, but I'm fine with the 'passive' ability affecting the 'active' ability. For instance, as a thief you have sneak equal to your level +2. A stoutling gets an automatic +4 to sneak. Let's put it up to the Bilbo test...

Bilbo has sneak +4 as a racial ability, and the one ring grants invisibility +15, giving him +19 to sneak in ordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, sneaking into the abode of Smaug isn't ordinary circumstances. Smaug, as an 11 HD dragon, has sense +11 (I'm giving dragons sense = to their HD; simple math that makes sense to me). Bilbo's +19 has now been reduced to +8, and adds are good that - even though Smaug cannot see him, he's still going to know he's there.

I am tempted to only give this bonus while the dragon is in its lair (since Smaug scours the mountain looking for the dwarves and cannot find them). It seems reasonable that a dragon is always +2 to sense, but gets its HD bonus instead when in its lair. This keeps me away from any sorts of contested rolls or 'you succeeded with your sneak but he succeeded with his sense, so now we see the margin of blah blah blah...'.

Is this too much combining of abilities? It feels right to me, but what do I know?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Unifying Mechanics and Assorted Goodness - the power of the d20

In thinking about a unified mechanic, I'm swinging away from roll low (my initial thought) and towards roll high for almost everything (except ability checks). In almost every instance, the target for the roll/check would be 20... here are some examples:

A thief gets a bonus to 'sneak' (what I'm calling the unified ability for move silent, hide in shadows, and assorted similar abilities) equal to level +2. A level 10 thief rolls d20 +12 (target 20) to sneak successfully. Boots of elvenkind or a cloak of elvenkind give +10 to sneak (and the two together give +15). A stoutling (re-skinned halfling) gets +6 to sneak while outdoors (but it never improves). 

A thief also gets a bonus to 'spot' (the unified ability to find secret doors, traps, hidden objects, etc.) equal to level +2. A level 7 thief rolls d20 +9 (target 20) to spot a secret door or a trap. Elves get a bonus of +4 to spot while outdoors; dwarves get +4 to spot while underground.

A cleric rolls d20 to turn undead, added his/her wisdom modifier as a base. The target starts as 10 for an undead of the same level as the cleric. For each level (HD) difference between the cleric and undead, the target moves by 3; a cleric 5 attempting to turn a 7 HD vampire needs a 16 or better to turn.

I am leaning towards take the suggestion of +Aaron Day to tie all saving throws to your prime requisite. At first I wasn't big on this, but the more I think about it the more I like it. The fighter uses his great strength to hold up his shield against the dragon breath, fight off the mind control, shake off the poison effect, and even to smack away a fireball with his two-handed sword. It's got a great epic feel to it. The magic user wields his powerful intellect to know exactly where to pinch his arm to stop the poison from getting into his bloodstream, he knows exactly how to inhale to minimize the impact of the poison gas, and he correctly determines how to avert his gaze to prevent the basilisk from turning him to stone.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Let's Talk of Levels

One of my goals throughout is to eliminate - or at least reduce- what I perceive as a bloat that has affected the game over time. If you look at the AD+D 1E Deities and Demigods (which I foolishly e-bayed a few years ago during a purge that I'm beginning to regret...) you'll notice (if memory serves) that the gods aren't all that impressive. Even the most powerful deities are in the low 20s as far as levels go.

I remember absolutely loving the idea that heroes in the Dragonlance setting (which didn't do a lot for me otherwise, but which I remember mostly for this element) was that characters were limited to level 15 as a punishment for hubris. I love this, and the idea that the B/X books terminate at level 14 fits perfectly for me.

Discussions of characters from fiction (especially conversations about Lord of the Rings) tend to come back to the idea that many of the great heroes aren't all that impressive level wise. Aragorn might only be level 8 or so. Gandalf could be built as a level 5 magic user if you really pushed it.

The fact that the demi-humans have hard caps that are relatively low (halflings can only get to level 8?) seem especially harsh when humans can get to level 36. That poor halfling is going to spend some 20+ levels sitting around watching others advance while he sits mired in what is, by contrast, the starting gate.

If humans cap at 14, then a dwarf getting to 12 or elf getting to 10 doesn't seem quite so bad anymore. Sure, they can't go as far as a human can - but they can get pretty close.

It re-frames the whole psychology of level advancement. One of (what I see as) the big errors that 4E made (from what little I know of it) is looking at levels 1-10 as the 'starter' levels, where you don't really get going to until level 11. That's just crazy to me. You don't need to conflate the leveling process and speed up experience (as Tenkar discussed with his readers at some length) if the leveling process caps out in the low teens. What's the hurry?

My instinct now is to leave the core rules relatively neutral on the whole issue of level caps. Can you go past level 14? Maybe... the rules won't tell you one way or the other. However, the setting book will make it clear that 14 is the cap progression for mortals in the Splintered Realm. After that, you are entering the realm of immortals, and that's VERY hard to do...

Skills and Some Thoughts: 

The other ancillary benefit to this is that it builds in a cap to progression of skills and abilities. Let's say (for instance) that your target for any 'skill check' is 20. At 20, you succeed. In most cases, you get to add your level and the ability modifier to your roll. As a level 3 magic user with Lore as a skill, you always roll d20 and add your INT modifier (let's say you have 18 INT, so +3) and your level (+3). d20 +6 to see if you find out this piece of lore, target 20. Odds are not good for you (you need a 14 or better), but then again, that's old school D+D, isn't it? You weren't guaranteed of much. If you're rolling, it's because it's difficult. Even if we say that all skills have a default bonus of +2, this increases your total modifier as a level 3 MU to +8, still giving you less than a 50% chance. Pushing this all the way to level 14, you now have +2 (base) +3 (INT) +14 (level) for a total modifier of +19. You only fail on a roll of 1 when checking for 'standard' lore (target 20) and even difficult lore (+4 to the target or target 24) would need a roll of 5 or better on the die. Then again, you are as smart and as experienced as you could possibly be.

I have to think more about this skill thing, but I like where it's headed...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Let's Talk of Saves and Rolling Low

A caveat as I begin a series on game design decisions: I have NOT read very much that's come out in support of D+D and its variations in the last decade; this means that I may unintentionally re-tread ground that someone else has already trod or make 'discoveries' that were a big deal five years ago, but I never heard about it. I'm going to read what people have written online about these things, but I'm not going out to buy 50 books to see how every designer has attacked these problems. It may be that I discover something that you've been doing for ten years, and it may be that I stumble across a new mousetrap. I'll take it for what it is.

(/disclaimer off)

I REALLY like the idea of one save to rule them all as introduced in Swords and Wizardry. I just think that idea is the bee's knees... however, there are a few other things that I have thought about regarding saves:

- B/X often has roll low as a way to find success. The rules don't specifically have ability checks anywhere in the game, but I think a lot of people house rule this, and it seems like a very intuitive way to go for the core rules. You don't need a specific way to resolve forcing open doors; forcing open doors requires a strength check (roll equal to or less than your strength). That modifier of up to +4/-4 really gives you a ton of variety. If it's a strong door, take -4 to your strength for this door; if it's particularly easy, take +4 to your strength. (1 always succeeds, 20 always fails). Simple enough. I want to keep roll low for success wherever and whenever possible to keep this as a unifying mechanic.

Saving throws then work the same way. Your save is based on your class and level, and you want to roll below your save rating. Easy peasy.

However, I like some variety in saves, and one of my favorite changes from 3E (other than ascending AC, which I'm definitely using) is three saves. These were more intuitive than the 5 saves from classic D+D, but kept some variety. However, you can keep the same variety without adding any mechanical bloat (and without creating the wide variations in saves that you would see in high-level 3E). If you tie saves to three different abilities (Wisdom, Dexterity and Constitution), you can port over the 3E saves and tie the base bonus to your ability modifier. For example, as a level 7 cleric (giving you a base Save of 9) with WIS 18 (+3 modifier), DEX 7 (-1 modifier), and CON 13 (+1 modifier), you would make a WIS Save with a roll of 1-12 on d20, a DEX Save with a roll of 1-8 on d20, and a CON Save with a roll of 1-10 on d20. This creates some variety (potentially, unless you have the same bonus/penalty in all three abilities) while keeping the math simple (you still have only one save number to write down). This keeps the Armor Class concept of 'a higher rating is better', because it never made sense to me that a lower saving throw number was better. Since you already have to accept that rolling low for ability checks is good, you can accept that rolling low for a saving throw is good. Poison and Death Ray become CON saves, Dragon Breath becomes a DEX save, and Magic/ Rods/Staffs/Wands become WIS saves. A monster from 1982 that forces a save vs. Death Ray now forces a CON save. Conversion is done.

This is the kind of thing I'm aiming for - a simple, intuitive fix that maintains variety and flavor, and which maintains ties to classic editions of the game.

Sing To Me Of The Splintered Realm

This blog post's title has been echoing in my head for about a week. I’m not sure if it’s an invocation to the muse (Homer style), or the first line of a novel, or the preface to a game. Whatever it is, I can’t stop thinking about it.

I alluded in my last post to an OSR design I have been thinking about, and tonight Mary and I did our first ‘official’ play test of the new game system, so I’m ready to talk about it…

First, some back story. A few weeks ago, one of my students asked about classic D+D, and wanted me to tell him about it, since he knew I was a gamer, and he’d heard about it. He wanted to know about 3.5, but I talked him down, and I ended up bringing in my 1983 basic red books and demonstrating a few brief scenarios for him so he’d get a handle on how it works, and I think he quickly grew enamored of the game.

Of course, so did I. I forgot so much about Basic D+D, since I literally haven’t played that version of the game in nearly 20 years, and I have not played D+D in any form in about a decade, spending all of that time playing and developing my own systems.

After only two short sessions (we would play during lunch), I started to find rules that bothered me, and we started to run into inconsistencies (if I can surprise on 1-4 on d6, but I’m sneaking up on a creature only surprised on 1 on d6, how do we resolve that?) and wonky mechanics (why do monsters roll d6 to sneak up on things, but thieves roll percentiles?). And, I started upon the slippery slope of developing a handful of house rules. Then I went back and pulled out all of my old notes (and I have TONS of old notes) from when I was running D+D in the past, and started to dust off my old house rules. Then I went and read through Labyrinth Lord and Swords and Wizardry, and borrowed a few things from here, cobbling a few things from there.

And then the bug bit. The OGL taunted me, beckoning me to dip my toes into the water.

Oh, OGL, you cruel mistress.

Then I started to play ‘what if’? What if I was the lead designer on D+D Next? What if my only caveat was that I was to use the 1981/1983 B/X rules as my primary inspiration, but could draw upon anything that has ever been D+D for further inspiration? What if I was to design the game in the way that the game was introduced to me: through the core rules, the World of Greyhawk, and Keep on the Borderlands?

So… my tentative project was born. In my imagination right now, it looks like three books. Although classic D+D has the 8 ½ x 11 letter-sized volumes, I have grown enamored of the 6x9 trade paperback, and I absolutely love my HC Army Ants core rulebook. To my mind, the 160-page trade paperback and/or hardcover is the perfect synthesis of ‘full game’ and ‘I can manage this’. I look at something like Pathfinder, and I’m overwhelmed. I look at B/X and I say ‘now this is a game!’ The final product might be something like:

- Core Rules. A re-mix (not a retro-clone, because the goal is to streamline, unify and modernize mechanics from B/X while keeping the flavor and intent intact). This would retain the ‘general fantasy world’ vibe of B/X, along with general fantasy monsters and general fantasy spells. Nothing new or amazing here – just a streamlined and unified version of B/X with a slew of modern sensibilities layered in. And yes, race is still a class.

- World Book. A re-mix of World of Greyhawk (that awesome boxed set with the two-poster map) and the original Forgotten Realms book (similar vibe). These two books painted the world in broad strokes, but created a vast playing environment. This book would include a whole bunch of race and class options that are non-standard, including such things as gnomes as a playable racial class and a series of sub-classes for each class. For example, an arcane archer might be a sub-class of elf that uses his magic to (among other things) improve his archery skills. This would have more specific monsters and magic for the Splintered Realm itself.

- Campaign Book/Megadungeon. A close lens on a starter setting (a la Keep on the Borderlands) with the megadungeon it sits on top of, the region nearby, and a whole bunch of advice on the logistics of actually running the game.

At minimum, I see the core rules at 128 pages, and the world book/campaign book/megadungeon as a second book at 128 pages. Depending on how this project grows, I could see it stretching to the point where it becomes three books each in the neighborhood of 160 pages (my ideal), but that’s a rather big goal. This becomes my big project for the next year or two (while still producing Army Ants adventure journals with some regularity, and keeping the weekly webcomic going).

The working title for this project: Saga of the Splintered Realm.

Hey, I figure the blog name already sets me up for this… no need to re-brand or launch a new blog, right?