Wednesday, January 24, 2018

LSR Now Available

Legends of the Splintered Realm, my first new release in about two years, has been posted on RPGNow. It's a pay-what-you-want download, so I guess you have nothing to lose...

And for what it's worth, this game feels to me like a Lord of the Rings RPG should feel. I think it actually emulates that world really well. I like how character levels scale; it's possible to have a group of level 1 hobbits walking around with a level 5 wizard, and they all can contribute. It doesn't have concrete character stats so much as it paints characters in broad strokes, giving each one a few unique abilities that make individuals stand out.

I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

LSR Actual Play

Here is an example of an actual play experience for Legends of the Splintered Realm. The game is finished. I want a day or two to read it over before publishing it. It will be available at in a few days...


Two heroes, Grimsby and Teothas, have entered the lair of a mighty hydra. As it rises from its shallow pool, the heroes draw weapons and prepare for combat.

Grimsby (Lawful Dwarf Myrmidon 3) Atk +3; Def +2; Dmg +3; Amr +5; Hits 6
Abilities: Fortitude (ignore one attack per turn); Resilience (advantage on Amr rolls); Precision (advantage on Dmg rolls with weapons); Specialist, axes (Advantage on Atk rolls); Shield (+1 Amr).
Gear: Enchanted axe; enchanted banded mail armor; 2 potions of healing

Teothas (Lawful Elf Champion 3) Atk 2; Def +3; Dmg +3; Amr +5; Hits 6
Abilities: Defender (3 points to distribute); Scroll Use; Evasion (advantage to Def rolls); Shield (+1 Amr); Mysticism (advantage on all spell casting rolls).
Gear: Enchanted sword; Enchanted chainmail armor; potion of haste; Scrolls: haste; hold

Hydra (Lvl 4; DT 7). The hydra is a 5-headed serpent that bites with each head each round. For each hit that the hydra suffers, there is a cumulative 1 in 6 chance that 1 head ceases to function, and the hydra takes one fewer attack each round. Due to its long necks, a hydra can bite foes up to 30’ away.

The heroes roll for initiative vs. the hydra. The hydra has a default result of 7 (its DT). Grimsby rolls 2+3=5, and Teothas rolls 5+3=8. The order will be Teothas, the hydra, and then Grimsby.

Round 1
Teothas knows this is going to be a fight. He uses a free action to activate his defender ability on Grimsby. Grimsby will take +2 to Att (now +5), +1 to Def (now +3). With his action, Teothas will use his scroll of haste on Grimsby, giving the dwarf an extra action each round. Hopefully, he has just made Grimsby into a little machine of destruction…
The hydra gets five attacks. It will make two at each of the heroes, with a third randomly selected. I will say 1-3 is Grimsby, 4-6 is Teothas. I get 2. Grimsby is getting attacked three times. Grimsby rolls three Def rolls vs. DT 7, and gets 1 (automatic failure with 1 hit damage), 3+3=6 (a hit), and 4+3=7 (avoids the bite). Grimsby is hit 2 times. He rolls Amr to soak the damage of 7, and gets (3, 4) on the first roll, so 4+5=9 (soaking this hit altogether) and (2, 2), so 2+5=7, soaking this as well. He suffers 1 hit total, leaving him at hits 5. Teothas rolls two Def rolls vs. DT 7 and gets (2, 3) on the first roll, for 3+3=6 (he is hit) and (3, 5) on the second roll, for 5+3=8, dodging the second bite. Teothas is hit once. He rolls to soak, getting a natural 1, suffering 1 hit. He is down to hits 5.
Teothas gets to act, swinging his axe two times due to haste. He rolls (2, 6), for 6+3=9 (a hit vs. DT 7) and (1, 1) so an automatic miss for this attack. He hits once. For damage, he rolls (3, 5), getting 5+3=8 hits. This is enough to deal 1 hit to the hydra, bringing it to hits 6. It rolls 1d6 to see if a head is severed, and gets 2. It still has all 5 heads, since only a 1 would sever a head after it sustains 1 hit damage.

Round 2
Teothas uses his hold spell scroll, even though he is hesitant (since this is a great spell to save for a rainy day…). He rolls his Lvl (with advantage due to his mysticism ability) and gets (3, 1). This is a result of 3+3=6, so he fails to hold the hydra, and the spell is gone. Drat.
On its action, the hydra will continue to bite. It rolls 1d6 to see who the extra head goes after and gets 4. Teothas this time. The hydra attack Grimsby twice, and Grim rolls a natural 1 and 3+3=6. He is hit twice, and takes one automatic hit, down to 4. He rolls Amr to soak those two hits, rolling (3, 5), so 5+5=10 (he soaks it) and (2, 1) getting 2+5=7, and barely soaking this bite as well. His armor is so powerful (between the magic of his armor, the shield, and the enchantment from Teothas) that it will require a pair of 1s on damage for him to take damage on an armor resist roll. Teothas rolls 3 Def rolls, getting (5, 5) for 5+3=8 (a miss), (6, 5) for 6+3=9 (a miss) and (2, 2) for 2+3=5 (a hit). To soak damage, Teothas rolls a natural 1, meaning that he suffers 2 hits. He is down to hits 3.
Grimsby attacks twice, rolling (5, 5) for 5+5=10, and (6, 3). The 6 is an automatic success with +1 hit dealt. For the first hit, Grimsby rolls damage of (5, 4) or 5+3=8 (1 hit damage) and (4, 3) or 4+3=7, another 1 hit damage. Grimsby deals 3 hits this round, leaving the hydra at 3 hits. It must roll for each head, and gets 5 on the first roll (a 2 or lower is needed), 2 on the second roll (3 or lower is needed, so a head is severed), and 5 on the third roll (4 or lower is needed, so no head is severed). The hydra now has hits 3 and 4 heads remaining.

Round 3
Teothas throws an arcane bolt, rolling (6, 6). This automatically hits, and deals +1 hit damage. He rolls for damage and gets 2+3=5. The armor soaks the rest of the damage, but the 1 hit leaves the hydra at 2 hits. It rolls to see if a head is lost, and gets 1 (5 or lower was needed). Another head falls limp, and the hydra has 3 heads remaining. Each hit it suffers will now automatically take out a head.
On its action, the hydra attacks (5 on the roll) Teothas twice and Grimsby once. Teothas rolls (4, 3) for 4+3=7, dodging the first bite. For the second bite, he rolls (5, 2) for 5+3=8, dodging the second. Grimsby takes on one head, rolling 2+3=5, getting hit. On his armor roll, Grimsby rolls (5, 4), and gets 5+5=10, easily withstanding this hit.
Grimsby gets to act. He thinks about drinking a healing potion, but he feels pretty good about their odds if they just keep pressing the attack here. If he’d taken damage, he probably would be drinking a potion. As it is, he swings twice, getting (3, 1) for 3+5=8, and (2, 2) for 2+5=7. He hits twice. With the first hit, he rolls (5, 2) so 5+3=8 (1 hit to the hydra) and (6, 1), so an automatic 1 point. The hydra loses 2 more heads (down to 2) and has 1 hit remaining.

Round 4
Teothas looses an arcane bolt, rolling (6, 3). This is an automatic success with an automatic 1 point of damage. The body of the hydra collapses into the pool, and the heroes are victorious.

For treasure the heroes roll D6 for gold, and get 3. They recover D6x4 gold coins from among the refuse of the cave. They roll and get 1x4=4. Oh well. Each hero takes 2 gold coins.

For minor treasure, they roll a 6, and it drops a minor item. Rolling D6, I get 1; this is a scroll. For the type of scroll, I roll D6 and get 3 (a common scroll). For the scroll, I roll D6 and get 5, a scroll of passage. Teothas takes this.

For an enchanted treasure, I roll D6 and get 4+4=8. This is the DT, so the heroes find an enchanted treasure as well. Rolling D6, I get 6. They find a rope of climbing. Grimsby claims this.

They defeated a level 4 beast, so each hero also collects 2 XP. If this was the final encounter in a quest, they would have earned an additional 40 XP, or 20 XP each. 

The synergy of Teothas' spells and Grimsby's abilities created a powerful combination. Grimsby was very difficult to deal damage to, and was able to attack quickly. Without these magical abilities, the encounter is likely to have ended much differently. As it is, the heroes still took considerable damage, and were pushed pretty well by a moderately powerful beast that they were equitable to.

Monday, January 15, 2018

LSR: Beasts

Running a few play tests this afternoon, I was playing around with a level 3 dwarf myrmidon, pitting him against first an ogre, and then a bear. I found a few things were happening...

1. There were too many numbers to keep track of. In solo play, I was trying to keep track of the bonus for my character, and then contrast that with a beast's opposing ability. It was not a big deal, but it slowed me down just a hair every time. It didn't make for the quick resolution that I wanted.
2. Even a swing of 2 points on a level 3 beast was significant. If one ability was rated at 7 and another was rated at 5, the 7 often proved quite challenging, and the 5 a bit light.
3. I didn't 'feel' enough variety in the encounters. The monsters were largely defined by their stats (well, it's a RPG, so duh)... however, it seemed like traits were almost too important.

I have this sort of crazy idea. What if every beast has one trait point that governs all of its rolls, but then it grants advantage and disadvantage in particular situations, while also possibly having abilities that are triggered situationally...

Here is an example. My original write up for an ogre looks like this:

Ogre Brute (Level 3) Atk 6; Def 6; Dmg 8; Amr 6; Hits 7; Attacks with a club.

However, if we go with the one stat approach, I can add another layer of information:

Ogre Brute (Level 3; DT 7); Attacks with a club that forces disadvantage to Amr rolls.

Now, the ogre still deals more damage than a 'typical' level 3 beast, because the hero is going to at least lose advantage on armor rolls, if not suffer a disadvantage. This, in and of itself, makes the ogre more dangerous. Now, getting hit by an ogre brings with it a genuine fear; I know that when this thing hits, it hits HARD... and I have so much less to keep track of. It has attack, defense, damage, armor, and hits ratings of 7.

Let's go with the extreme... an elder flame dragon. My original stat block was:

Elder Flame Dragon (Level 5) Atk 9; Def 8; Dmg 9; Amr 10; Hits 12Flight (120’ with 1 action); 2 in 6 chance attack is a breath weapon, hitting all targets within 60’ of the dragon for 4 hits damage (targets roll Lvl DT 8 for half damage); senses: DT 12 for all sneak checks; 3 attacks per round in melee combat (claw/claw/bite).

However, I can simplify this to:

Elder Flame Dragon (Level 5; DT 9). Travel 120' in one action (flight); attacks with 3 melee strikes (1-4) or breath weapon (5-6). Breath forces all creatures within 120' to roll Lvl or suffer 4 hits; those who make this roll suffer 2 hits. All damage rolls vs. dragon suffer disadvantage due to armored skin. All sneak rolls suffer disadvantage due to senses.

Now, the dragon only has 9 hits (instead of 12), but the disadvantage it forces to damage rolls offsets this, since it takes less damage per hit. I know the DT of resisting the dragon breath and of sneaking past it: 9. Because it is 9 for everything. 9 is really, really (really) high... but not impossible, because even with no bonus, a roll of 6 will always succeed. However, you may need a 6 to hit, and another 6 to deal 1 point of damage... and you will have to do that 9 times. However, higher level characters will have abilities and spells that make them quite a bit more effective than their basic trait bonuses would indicate.

Now, a monster is (at its core) a level, a DT, and at least one distinctive ability. I like this.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Legends of the Splintered Realm

For Christmas, I got a copy of the Dungeon board game. I have enjoyed playing it, even if it is a bit too minimalistic (and for me, that’s saying something!).

I was playing around with how the game might be more engaging with a few tweaks, and how I would go about setting up a game like this… I ended up drifting to think about the LOTR CCG, and the handful of times I’ve played that. I like the idea that characters are simple (they fit on a trading card), have a few basic stats, and they are customizable as you play through getting items. So far, so good. I like how the encounters are pre-programmed, with storyline quests you follow that can have unexpected events and which are different every time, but which still fundamentally follow the same framework. I liked all of this, but I wanted to layer on the things I like best about tabletop RPGs: you play a character for an extended time who slowly gets better and grows.

So, I took Saga of the Splintered Realm and stripped it to the rails. I worked out a mechanic where you have five attributes, roll 1d6 for everything, and all beasts are passive (with pre-programmed abilities). I figured out how to differentiate the various character classes, how to create a framework for growth over time, how to establish rules for ongoing campaigns, how to work out a magic system, and how to have rules for characters to gather wealth, power, and magical items over time.

And, I got it into six pages!

The draft is basically done (I’m dotting i’s and crossing t’s right now), but I wanted to start to play test and post some actual play results… so, here goes!

I am going to make a team, and I’m going to start with the leader being the most versatile of the character classes: the elf champion. The elf champion starts with the following stats:
Attack +2
Defense +2
Damage +2
Armor +2
Hits +2

The elf champion also starts with two abilities. The first is scroll use, which allows for spell casting like a wizard; in this game, there are no prepared spells. You get one offensive basic attack bolt spell, and then everything else comes from scrolls you either purchase or find; wizards get free spell scrolls at the beginning of every quest, but elves don’t. I digress… The second ability is a buff that allows you to increase any ability of yourself or an ally. At first level, I get only 1 point, but I can put it anywhere. This makes the elf a good soloist, but also an excellent team member. I think the playtest will bear this out…

Every level, you get 1 point to distribute anywhere you want, and you also get 1 point in health. I’m going to put the extra point in attack, just so I’m more effective in combat. I expect other members of the team to soak up damage, so I don’t need to go for a defensive build. If I was soloing, I’d probably go defensive for level 1, putting the point into defense, armor, or hits. I also get one extra ability: I am going to pick invocation, which allows me to take advantage (roll 2d6 and take the better roll) on damage rolls with spells. Since the group is not going to have a wizard proper, I’m going to have to be the magic-casting character, and this will make my arcane bolt more effective. My final write up looks like this:

Aldarra, Elf Champion 1
Attack: +3 (longsword or arcane bolt)
Defense: +2
Damage: +2 (longsword; take advantage with arcane dart)
Armor: +2 (chainmail armor)
Hits: 3

And now for some combat… Aldarra is on her way to meet up with allies to start a quest. However, a pair of goblin skirmishers are hiding along the fringe of the woods, and they prepare bows to attack her…

Their stats are:

Goblin Skirmisher (Minion 0) Atk 4; Def 5; Dmg 3; Amr 4; Hits 1
Attacks with a light bow or a short sword
We’re going to say that they are at least 30’ away, and roll 1d6x10 for additional distance. I get a 1, so they start 40’ away. They don’t have sneak, so it is a straight up initiative roll. The goblins have a static result of 3+ level, so a 3. Aldarra rolls 1d6 + level, and gets 3+1=4. She wins. She sees the goblins pop up and knock arrows, and she throws an arcane bolt. She rolls an attack, getting 4+3=7. The goblins have a static 5 for defense, so she hits. For damage, she rolls two dice, getting (2,2). So much for advantage… she deals 2+2=4 damage. They have armor 4, so this succeeds (the beast’s ability rating sets the target for a hero’s success. A 4 or more means that she deals 1 hit of damage; if she gets an 8 or more, she deals 2 hits of damage… these are minions with only 1 hit anyway, so any damage is enough to drop them). The first goblin is down.

The second goblin fires an arrow, having a static attack of 4. Aldarra hasn’t used her buff ability, and would probably put it in defense if she had an action… but she doesn’t. She rolls to defend against the arrow, and gets 2+2=4. The attack was a 4, so (again) she barely succeeds. FYI, these are minions (they should miss a lot) and Aldarra automatically fails a check with a 1, so there is always a 1 in 6 chance you get hit with an attack, even against inferior foes.

Aldarra’s turn. She throws another arcane bolt, rolling a natural 1 and missing. Sigh.

The goblin fires again, and she rolls 5+2=7, so easily sidesteps the arrow.
She throws another arcane bolt, rolling 5+2=7, hitting vs. the goblin’s defense of 5. She rolls for damage (with advantage) getting (1, 3). Advantage paid off… that 1 would mean she automatically failed to deal damage, but the 3 + her 2 bonus gives a total result of 5. This is more than the goblin’s armor of 4. She drops it.

Technically, these are minions, and do not drop treasure. However, I will round them up to level 1 (because I am kind to myself), meaning they have a 1 in 6 chance of dropping a gold coin, and a 1 in 6 chance of dropping a minor magic item. I roll for the coin and get 2. No coin. I also roll for the minor magic, and get a 1! Nice. I roll on the random minor magic table, and I get 1, a spell scroll. I roll 1d6 for the type and get 4 (common scroll). I roll for the specific spell and get 1 (charm). Nice. Now I have a spell I can cast!

Next time, the next hero...

Monday, January 1, 2018

Tales of the Splintered Realm

I realized in the last few weeks that it had been several months that I have updated the blog, and I thought it would be a good idea to share what's been going on. I also thought that New Year's Day, since it symbolizes new beginnings and all, would be an appropriate time to launch a new venture of sorts.

1. An Update
Things have been going well for me academically. I received an email two weeks ago from my university that I have completed the first half of my doctoral program; I have earned 30 doctoral-level credit hours towards my degree in Educational Leadership. I have also completed a local program that gives me certification as a building-level administrator in New York State. This means that my transition from classroom teacher to building-level administrator is underway. It's been a great seventeen years as a high school ELA teacher, but I am definitely ready to move to the next phase of my career.

2. A New Venture
That said, I have had the wonderful opportunity this year to teach an elective in poetry and creative writing, with some very talented and insightful seniors. It's been a joy to break down stories to their nuts and bolts from a writer's perspective, and to examine how and why stories work they way that they do.

One of the revelations to me personally in this process has been that I am not a novelist. I have attempted to write a few novels now, and they have never found completion in a way that I have found satisfying. While I want to be a Tolkien, I am more of a Sir Doyle. My wheelhouse is short stories, where I can mine a single idea or follow a leaner narrative to its conclusion. I have realized that this gives me the flexibility to tell a wide range of stories across the Splintered Realm, and that over the course of time these would become a larger narrative. In effect, I am embracing a more episodic than climactic story form, where the sum total of the short stories may ultimately tell a larger, albeit circuitous, story.

This story is going to be about Mim and Rand, and their various adventures across the Splintered Realm. These are not going to be released in a chronological fashion, and I am going to jump back and forth across their story as the whim strikes me. I have posted the first of these tales, a story I wrote almost four years ago but recently revised. This is going to be the template I follow, aiming for 2,500 to 5,000 words per story.

I have published the first of these installments, and will update as I get stories done. My goal is to publish a new story at the beginning of every month, but that will depend on how life goes. This is definitely a side project, so time will tell...

Happy New Year all, and thanks for reading.

- Mike