Saturday, May 30, 2015

Game Design, Attributes, and Jumping Sharks

In developing Sentinels of Echo City, the process of character creation has revealed something of a bug in the ointment... which is actually good. I'm happy when I find these wrinkles that need to be ironed out while the iron is still plugged in and hot.

In this case, it's powers - or rather a set of powers that fall under the umbrella of POWERS. I mean things like magnetic control, or weather control, or energy solidification, or telekinesis. There's nothing built into B/X that nicely governs these.

To this point, I've been handling these as Feat rolls (or contested Feat rolls, as necessary). Let's go with magnetic control for the moment as an example... Magneto wants to use his magnetic powers, and rolls a Feat to make it happen. Fair enough. He's pretty high level, so his Feat is going to be pretty solid. However... he's Magneto. It shouldn't be 'pretty solid'. This guy picked up a stadium with his powers. He routinely picks up dozens of cars at once. That's not 'pretty solid'. In fact, the biggest problem is that anyone of his level with magnetic control is going to be 'pretty solid'.

That's nice for game balance, but not so hot for the source material I'm trying to emulate.

And this is where we may jump the shark.

Now, while I don't feel BEHOLDEN to the foundations of the game, I don't want to make changes willy-nilly. I especially don't want to make changes that harm cross-compatibility with other OSR games. This has to look and feel like B/X with significant but nearly invisible surface changes.

At this point, a few attributes aren't really getting much mileage - INT, WIS, CHA - and the game has some needs. I can find places to use INT and CHA, and in fact can lean on them even more if I end up making a few tweaks, but WIS just isn't fitting. I've got a draft of the entire book done, and I have not found one situation where a character has to make a WIS check, or uses WIS for anything. Basically, B/X just has it there for clerics. No one else needs or uses it. This game has no clerics.

So, if I simply swap out WIS for a PWR (power) rating... I open up a world of possibility. Now all of those contested Feats become WIS actions against the target's Feat resist. Now Magneto can have his PWR 24 or so and rock out the magnetic control like he should. And, now I can have other attributes share the load a little more. All of the social control powers (mind control, emotion control, fear) get tied to your CHA. Most of the mind controlling characters in comics have high CHA - either they are attractive, or have strong personalities, or both. That's CHA. And this makes sense with how STR works. You make a STR check to lift a car with your hands... why would you roll a Feat to lift a car with your mind? Another Attribute check makes more sense.

This may feel like a minor change, swapping out wisdom for power, but to me it starts to gnaw at the foundations of the game a little too closely. However, it doesn't hurt its compatibility with SSR at all - a cleric can show up and be just fine. He happens to have wisdom that works one way, and the superhero he's working with happens to have power that works in a slightly different way. No harm, no foul.

Okay. Back to designing...

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Patreon Appeal

I have just updated my Patreon page to reflect my broader goals for the campaign. The plan is to move everything to Patreon, and use that as my 'one stop shop' for fundraising for my various projects. In short, I want to be able to publish everything I do for free (or as a pay-what-you-want download), and I'd like to be able to do all of the bonus things I did for the most recent Kickstarter as extras for Patrons. I'm working towards funneling all content (high-resolution images of maps and pictures) and exclusive comics content to that one Patreon page.

For example, the two maps I posted to my blog earlier today for Saga of the Splintered Realm are going to be posted for Patrons to grab as higher-resolution images to use as they will, under the Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution license. I want to keep releasing gaming things that way, and I want to use Patreon to make it happen.

If you've enjoyed my work, I'd truly appreciate your support. For just a dollar a month, you will be getting quite a bit of content.



Saga Maps

Because I'm not content using one of the dozens (if not hundreds) of maps I already have, I worked up two new maps for the Saga that starts tomorrow with my friend and his son... the Vale of Ravenswood, and the starter village of Wyvern Hollow.

Forgot to mention that because these are part of Saga of the Splintered Realm, they are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License. You go ahead and have fun with these... if you need high-resolution copies, let me know.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Some Design Notes: Armor Class and Invulnerability in Sentinels of Echo City

Some of the current thinking for Sentinels of Echo City regarding Armor Class and Invulnerability:

Armor Class for supers is a base of 10 + DEX modifier + Level Modifier. Most supers don't wear armor or have invulnerability; they just have that base AC. AC has to improve a little as characters level, or they will eventually always get hit. The Level Modifier bonus keeps things relatively low-key. Spidey at level 8 (about where I'd put him) has AC 10 base + 7 (from his DEX bonus) +4 (level modifier) for a total AC 21. He's almost impossible for a common thug with a pistol to hit; that thug needs a natural 20, and won't get to crit against him. That makes sense to me.

Armor Class can be improved by the body armor talent. This gives a base +1d6 to your AC (in addition to the modifiers above - roll this at character creation). A character in chain mail armor might have a +4, while a character in heavy plate armor takes +6. This is the best way for a character with low DEX to improve his AC.

Invulnerability doesn't impact Armor Class; instead, the character ignores the first so many points of damage per attack equal to Invulnerability. This would also be rated +1d6 for a starting character; at Invulnerability 6, you effectively are immune to small arms fire (since most small arms weapons deal 1d6 damage), excepting a critical hit. The Hulk probably has invulnerability 10.

Some characters will have both Body Armor and Invulnerability. Superman probably just has Invulnerability (albeit a high degree of it - and his high DEX bonus makes sure he isn't hit too often), while Iron Man has both Body Armor and Invulnerability (albeit medium amounts of both).

A character could break the system: level 7 (so +4 level modifier) on top of AC 10 (base) with high DEX (maybe a +6 bonus) and body armor (let's say +6 for fun) has AC 26. We could balance this by saying you get the better of EITHER your DEX bonus OR body armor (since heavy armor would prohibit movement); this aligns with the existing rules, makes sense, and enforces some game balance. In this example, the character has AC 20. Personally, I'd trade out the body armor for a shield in this case, since the shield gives +1d4 to AC while you carry it, so the character could still have up to an AC of 24. This is a character who is heavily invested in defending himself (and might be along the lines of Captain America, although Cap doesn't have quite that much DEX; he's probably at +3 to his modifier, but 1 level modifier higher).

We could complicate things SLIGHTLY by allowing a combination of DEX and body armor, up to a maximum bonus of +10. This means that Cap gets +3 from DEX and +3 from wearing that sleek chainmail, +5 from his level modifier, for a total AC of 21 without his shield, and AC 26 with it (he's upgraded his shield over time). He is VERY hard to hit with that shield in hand. It also means that if you put Spidey in a suit of heavy plate armor, he's only getting a marginal bonus from that armor, since it's slowing him down and actually neutralizing part of his DEX bonus by its nature. I actually like this option better than the paragraph above. Make it so.

By the way, this all came out of play testing my character Tribune (think Mr. Incredible with flight- I posted a pic of him yesterday), and having him lose half of his hit points to a few very lucky rolls by a group of thugs. Sorry, but six thugs are not going to almost take out Mr. Incredible. Not happening. Just a few points of invulnerability (let's say 3 points) makes it 50% likely that small arms fire bounces off of his skin altogether.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Superhero Art

Throughout Sentinels of Echo City, the art is going to alternate between original pieces (mostly high-contrast black and white images of 'iconic' characters and poses), I'm going to create pieces modeled on some of my favorite superhero cover designs. I've already shared the cover, based on Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars #1 (from 84, baby), but this piece is an homage to this cover of Action Comics 810 by Bullock. I'm really happy with this one...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Starting a New Campaign

In talking with one of my best friends last night, he suggested that he and his son (who is 8) would like to play a few games of Saga of the Splintered Realm... and as we talked, we realized that with summer nigh, we could schedule a weekly game that would go at least for a few months. They're both new to RPGs (although both have played a lot of miniatures games, so they have some grounding in what goes on, and I've run two sessions before, one of my game and one of the intro scenario in the new D+D boxed set). This is the first time they want to sign on for something longer with brand new characters starting at level 1.

Suddenly a campaign was born.

Right away, I knew I didn't want to use anything from the two books for SSR... he and his son may end up playing later some time, and it would be great that they have resources available to keep playing. If they have already run through the Vault of the Goblin, then they will have less fun the second time around. This means I get to design an actual campaign for real players for the first time in almost 20 years.


Since they don't read the blog (I know, right?), I figure it's safe to talk about the design of the game here. My initial thoughts...

- This happens (or at least starts) in a pocket realm disconnected from the Splintered Realm proper. Eventually, the characters will probably end up there, but for now they're (quite literally) in their own little corner of the universe.
- The pocket realm is VERY loosely inspired by the original Ravenloft module. There's a magical valley, a small village, a ruined castle, and a few small outposts of demi-humans spread around.
- Almost no one realizes this is just a pocket realm. They assume that there's a larger world beyond the mountains and southern gate held by dwarves. They are wrong.

The hook is this: the elder of the village (who magically kept the whole place in check) has recently died. He was actually a very powerful sphinx (some form of elder sphinx, I assume) that took human form, but no one knows this. He was 'the wizard'... the only magic-using human of the entire valley (as far as the people know)... he had put up magical wards that protected the village and kept the vampire lord (or maybe lady?) of the castle from taking over the village. Now, he's dead, and he has left in his will some... odd things for the player characters (who both had some tie to him in life). I'm not sure exactly what yet, but I keep thinking about a pocket dragon who just happens to cough up a fur ball ('scale ball'?) a few days later. In that half-digested mass will be a key... I want to wait until I see what kind of characters the two players create, but I've got a hook for almost any character archetype. As long as they don't both want to play thief grave-robbers, I should be able to make it all work. 

I assume I'll post maps/play materials/etc. as I make them up. First thing up will be an area map, and probably a map of the village. The castle itself is a bit further down the line, but I've already got ideas for the dwarven gate, the elfin tree fort, and the ruined stoutling hamlet.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Sentinels of Echo City Sample Super (that's alliteration all y'all)

Let’s take the hero Bedrock (a standard ‘brick’ type) from level 1 (a new hero) to level 6 (an ‘average superhero’) to see what happens… using the alternate point buy system where every hero starts with 60 points to distribute, and is capped at a range of 3-18 in attributes at character creation:

Bedrock, Hero 1 (Altered Human)
AC 17; HD 1d6 (hp 16); Feat +8 (+13 physical resist); punch (+7/1d8+6)
STR 18 (+6); INT 7 (-); WIS 8 (+1); DEX 10 (+2); CON 16 (+5); CHA 5 (-1)
Qualities: Invulnerability; Striking (1d8)
Talents: Fortitude (+5 hit points)

Level 2: Adds improved dice, moving striking to 1d10; hp to 21

Level 3: hp to 26; punch now at +8; Feat now at +9 (+14 physical resist)

Level 4: adds expertise, taking STR to 19; hp to 31

Level 5: hp to 36; punch now at +9; Feat now at +10 (+15 physical resist)

Level 6: Adds expertise, taking STR to 20; hp to 41
AC 17; HD 6d6 (hp 41); Feat +10 (+15 physical resist); punch (+10/1d10+7)
STR 20 (+7); INT 7 (-); WIS 8 (+1); DEX 10 (+2); CON 16 (+5); CHA 5 (-1)
Qualities: Invulnerability; Striking (1d10)
Talents: Fortitude (+5 hit points); expertise (+2 to STR)

I like the way that levels allow for slow, incremental progress for a character without any world-shaking changes. Characters don’t have the opportunity (in the rules as currently presented) to ‘buy’ new powers. You have what you have, but you can get better at it as you grow. This aligns with the comics I’m trying to replicate. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Well That Escalated Quickly

Okay. It's as official as I can make it... Sentinels of Echo City is my next game project. I managed to live in pseudo-denial for almost two days about it, but I just can't help myself. The rules are almost writing themselves at this point. I already had a solid working draft for a supers game using D6s (along with a sandbox campaign setting), but when I layered that setting on this rule set, it was like putting peanut butter on my chocolate.

My best guess is about 128 pages, with half of it rules and half of it setting. My best guess is some time next month. Of course, my best guess a week ago was that I wasn't going to work on a game for a few months and take a break, so what do I know?

Friday, May 22, 2015

What If: Not the Cover

This is not a potential working cover for a game that does not and will not exist. Heh. Man, my love of 1980s comics is all over this thing... or rather, it's NOT all over this thing. Since this thing doesn't exist.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"What If" Issue One: Checks

Thanks +Christopher Cortright! The whole "What If" comics format has the 1980s vibe I want... man, that's a cool idea. Okay, here in issue one of "What If: An OSR Superhero Game", we discuss attributes and checks.

One of the problems with attributes is the whole idea of scaling... a character with STR 12 (a really, really strong normal dude) can't lift a car up over his head. It's not going to happen. A character with STR 16 (a superhero with 'Incredible' strength), is going to be able to lift a car over his head with some effort and luck. That's only a 4-point difference in ratings, but a HUGE difference in what they can do. If we set lifting the car at target 30 (for instance), this means that the guy with STR 12 can lift it on a roll of 18 or better (so 15% of the time), but the guy with STR 16 can lift it on a roll of 14 or better (so 35% of the time). Neither of these is right. 

So, we introduce the idea of 'super-human checks'. We keep all of the granularity on the player end (with STR ranging from 2 to 25, Professor X to the Hulk), but we put checks on two very simple scales... anytime you want to try something 'super-human', you need a rating of 14 or better to try it. STR 13 and want to lift the car? No chance. STR 14? Grab those dice and let's see! There's a gulf between 13 and 14 for game purposes. The default check for a super-human task is 30, with a modifier of either +4 (pretty easy by super-human standards) or -4 (tough for even a super-human). On this scale, we have three simple designations for STR checks:

+4 to the roll. Up to 10 tons.
no modifier (vs. target 30). Up to 100 tons.
-4 to the roll. Over 100 tons.

That car is under 10 tons, so it's target 30 with +4. That super with STR 16 rolls 1d20 +16 +4, target 30... he now needs a roll of 10 or better to lift the car over his head (so he has a 55% chance of success). DING. We have a winner. This is reasonable.

And the big HULKy guy with STR 25? He can lift that car on a roll of 2 or better (he just can't botch), can lift up to 100 tons with a roll of 5 or better, and needs a roll of 9 or better to lift in excess of 100 tons. That sounds pretty hulky.

And, the GM always has the option of giving +2/-2 instead if we're in the murky area... if something is 15 or 20 tons, I'm giving +2 to the roll... if it's 120 tons, I'm giving -2.

This goes against my love of granularity on the check side of things, but makes for a fast game, and still allows a 1-point difference between STR scores to matter on every single roll. I know that there's a big difference between 25 and 75 tons, but at the end of the day, you don't want to sit there with your laptop trying to figure out how much a bulldozer actually weighs. This gives you a ballpark where you can make informed decisions and keep the action moving.


Another character for the game I'm not writing

Let’s try another hero and see what happens… 4d6, keep highest 3:

10; 7; 9; 11; 14; 17

Much closer to a ‘normal human’ except for that 17. Interesting…

I roll 2 for origin. Construct. Gets +1 to AC. Okay then…

I roll 6 for powers.

08           Burglary
30           Fear
75           Serial Immortality
44           Healing
47           Leaping
83           Stun

Okay. He’s totally an animated scarecrow. It’s not even close.

I could trade out, but it’s more fun to try and make sense of this all. I’ll also keep the stats I rolled and won’t bother min/maxing.

STR 11 (+2); INT 7; WIS 9 (+1); DEX 17 (+5); CON 14 (+4); CHA 10 (+2)
AC 16 (10 base +6 from DEX +1 from Construct); hp 10; Feat +9; Move 30’; punch +3/1d4+2

He was created by a powerful magical princess in a fairy tale land (an alternate dimension) after she read a bedtime story about scarecrows, and she didn’t like it that they were mean and snuck into your house in the middle of the night. Sure, they did that, but only because they liked people and wanted to heal them. They don’t actually kill anyone, just stun them. That makes them nicer. He was created, and then fell (or was pulled) through a wormhole into our world. He’s sort of lost without his princess maker. He can be killed (he dies at 0 hp), but is instantly reborn at the beginning of the next turn, emerging from the closest pile of straw (even if the closest straw is thousands of miles away).

His name is Straw Man

Again, this is a very weird character that I would never intentionally make through a point build system... but it's also a much more interesting character than another variation on the Thing.

I think I need to put together a few characters of mid level and run some superhero combat against a big bad or two. Not that I'm play testing. Because that would mean I'm writing another game. And I'm just not going to do that.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Saga of Splintered Supers (Not A Working Title)

So, I was admiring the book for Saga of the Splintered Realm, and it hit me that this engine would make a pretty sweet old school superhero game. The concept is that the makers of the FASERIP system used B/X as the inspiration for their game rather than developing a new game altogether. Before I knew it, I had about 15 pages of notes…  let me show you what I have so far:

Let’s make a character… for fun! This will NEVER become my next game project. No. It won’t. I have to keep telling myself that...

1. Roll 4d6 6 times, taking the best 3 dice:                             

13, 8, 8, 13, 18, 17                             

Wow. That’s pretty good!

2. Roll 1d6 for origin.

1. Artifact. You possess an item that grants you powers. Take +1 power.
2. Construct. You were made, not born. Take +1 to AC.
3. Cyborg. You have been updated with technology. You have +1d6 hit points.
4. Mutant. You were born with your abilities. Take +2 to your Feat rating.
5. Mutate. You used to be a normal human, but have been changed. Take +1 to any attribute.
6. Outsider. You are not human, native to another land, world, or realm. Start one level higher.

I rolled 1. My character uses an artifact, and takes +1 power.

3. Roll for powers and abilities.

Roll 1d6 for the total number of powers/abilities (+1 because I use an artifact). I roll 5+1=6. I roll % dice 6 times (I made a list of 100 powers using notes from my other supers projects), and get:

28           Counter Attacks
71           Pilot
77           Resist Cold
34           Driver
32           Disintegrate
35           Elongation

Wow. This is soooo weird. Okay, so he has elongation, disintegrate and resist cold… but he also has counter attacks, driver, and pilot.

I could min/max on powers as well (trade two I don’t want for one I do want), and I am tempted to drop counter attacks and driver to get invulnerability… in fact, I will do that.

I’m thinking this guy is (or was) a decorated military pilot who went on a secret spy mission over the north pole, and ended up finding an alien crystal that turned him into some sort of frosty crystalline creature who can morph and change. He is composed of constantly shifting crystals, and he can (once per turn) focus his energy into a disintegration beam that comes directly from the crystal (which is now his heart) and destroy stuff.

Wow. This is weird. But AWESOME.

He’s a physical guy, so STR, DEX and CON are going to be important. I see INT, WIS and CHA being less important … I am going to do some min/maxing with one of those 13s, taking it to 11 to bump the 17 to an 18.

STR 18 (+6); INT 8 (+1); WIS 11 (+2); DEX 13 (+3); CON 18 (+6); CHA 8 (+1)

His invulnerability allows him to add his CON modifier to his AC (as well as his DEX modifier), so he ends up with AC 19 (10 base + 3 + 6 = awesome). He has a Feat rating of +10 (4 base +6 from highest attribute modifier), will start at max hit points (6+6=12). His punch allows him to attack at +7 (LM 1 +6 from STR) and deal 1d4+6 damage (all supers deal base 1d4 physical damage unless they take the strike power upgrade).

Once per turn he can attempt to disintegrate an object or foe, rolling a contested Feat against a creature, or a Feat against the DT of the object. His elongation allows him to stretch up to his Feat rating x 10’ (so 100’) each round. He can travel that far in a round as well. He is especially resistant to cold (from the power of the icy crystal), meaning that he takes +2 to Feat rolls to resist cold, and automatically takes half damage from cold-based attacks.

We’ll call him Clarion, the Crystal Man

A few notes:
There is a little bit of game balance built in… things like Feats, AC and modifiers range a lot farther here than they do for fantasy gaming, but they still stay in some check. The fact is that his hit points are still relatively low, his AC is still under 20 (so a creature with even a small bonus has a fair chance to hit him) and his Feat rating, while impressive, is still manageable. His disintegration beam is a bit of a game changer, but he can only use it once per turn, and foes get a resist (and there's got to be some built-in game consequence for disintegrating living creatures).

Honestly, this is so weird and funky, but also so old school, that I LOVE it. It has none of the inherent game balance that I’ve tried to put into my other superhero systems, but instead allows free range over this broad landscape of funky powers that have only a little bit of inherent balance based on character level. Even there, you are going to end up with some pretty wide ranges… for example, strike is a power that allows you to upgrade your unarmed damage… if you roll low, you end up with 1d6 base unarmed damage… but if you roll really high, you can get up to 1d10 base damage (and the two-handed attack upgrade will bump you to 1d12 base damage when you put your fists together and pummel a foe). 

I like that character generation took about 10 minutes and I ended up with a funky cool unique hero who is playable.

And NO this is NOT my next gaming project. I don't know why you keep saying that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kickstarter Post Mortem: Saga of the Splintered Realm

The Saga of the Splintered Realm Kickstarter is officially in the books; the boxed sets and final backer rewards shipped today, and should be finding their way to backers' mailboxes starting early next week (depending on where backers live). As a result, I feel comfortable posting links for the various editions. If you didn't take part in the KS, you can get the game:

In PDF (two different volumes)
In softcover (two different volumes)
In hardcover (one volume collecting both books)

About the Kickstarter

I like the transparency of the process of conducting a KS, so I thought I'd break down how the project went from my end:

Paid To (For)
Running Costs
Starting Balance From KS (after fees)
Artists for art budget
ULine boxes (for boxed sets; includes shipping)
3/22/15 (flash drives and dice for boxed sets)
Printing Maps/Character Sheets (+ shipping)
CreateSpace (publishing/shipping of SC books)
LULU (printing/shipping HC Proof copy)
LULU (printing/shipping HC to backers)
Shipping Backer Rewards: US Post Office
Shipping Backer Rewards: US Post Office

Approximate Hours Spent:
Writing and Editing                    200 hours
Creation of Art/Maps                  60 hours
Promotion/Shipping/Packing      40 hours

Approximate Time Investment:  300 hours (so about 2 months if working full time)

Summary: I made about $1,000 on the Kickstarter (so it was my most successful so far), but it was also the most labor-intensive (also by far). I created about twice as much content as I did for the Army Ants KS, and a good chunk of it (i.e. making the boxed sets) required a lot of time (adding to that promotion/shipping/packing total above).  I also found out that shipping costs had gone WAY up from the time I launched the project. I'd say that shipping was about 30% more expensive than it was when I did the Army Ants KS, and I didn't expect that escalation of costs. 

What would I do different? Not much. The project was 4 months late, but I'm playing the 'cancer card' on that one and don't feel too guilty about it. This was the first project I've done where other people were involved, and I was very happy with the contributions of everyone else who chipped in. Things went more smoothly than I expected in terms of getting art, writing and other materials done for the box. 

I'd say the project was successful all the way around, and I'm looking forward to finding out how people feel about the boxed sets when they arrive. In my humble opinion, they turned out pretty slick.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It's AWAY!

Saga of the Splintered Realm Complete Rules

The hardcover edition of the Complete Rules for Saga of the Splintered Realm (collecting books 1 and 2 in one volume) is now available at copies for the Kickstarter backers have already been processed, so now I'm opening this up for anyone else!

Links for the softcover editions will go up after those ship to backers (probably tomorrow), in case you'd prefer the game in softcover. Personally, I LOVE the HC, and it's my go-to edition for sure. It's fancy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Loving UPS Right Now

Look what UPS left on my doorstep today:

I'm closing in on finishing the boxed sets. Once the maps/character sheet pads come in, I'll be putting together boxes and shipping them out, and those have been printed and are waiting on shipping from the printer. During the final assembly, I'm tempted to put a crayon in the boxes... just because.

I know that I'm quite biased, but this project is turning out more awesome than I pictured it. It's a cool little boxed set, and I have to thank +Kevin Chenevert +Erik Tenkar +Todd McGowan and everyone else who contributed or backed the Kickstarter. This is exactly the game I was hoping to make.