Saturday, August 29, 2020

Ballpoint Map

It has been a very challenging couple of weeks here (and that is a bit of an understatement), so gaming stuff has been way off the priority list, but I've been tinkering with things in the background. Over the last few days, I wrote the first few pages of what could become a fantasy novel (never going to happen, but I can start one anyway) and today I made a map. I just took out my graph paper and a ball point pen and started drawing. 

I had an image of Tomb Raider style caverns in my head, and started doodling. I usually don't like symmetrical maps, and try to avoid them, but this one just kept demanding it. I decided it is in the depth of a swamp or jungle, an open, airy sort of dungeon at the edge of a small lake, with many openings for creatures to come and go. I also decided to explain the symmetry - it is the temple / followers' tomb for a two-headed snake deity where each of the heads has a unique identity. While the main statue in the south center is of the two together (as they are), the left side is dedicated to one aspect of the deity, and the right side is dedicated to the other. I just dropped two random tables on the side, and decided I could always just use the solitaire matrix to populate this thing and figure out more as I go.

Parenthetically, I used to spend hours and hours working up a dungeon for an evening of play. I spent about thirty minutes on this, and with the solitaire framework, this map, and a copy of Tales, I could run an adventure in here for hours. Parenthetically (part two), I like how organic the ballpoint pen makes the whole thing. I can feel the vines coming through the ceilings and smell the mist the lingers in these halls (often about mid-knee level, so you never really know what is slithering around at your feet)...

Monday, July 13, 2020

No Update for You!

I kid, here is an update.

1. Not much on the gaming front. I haven't had time to get much gaming work in over the last few weeks. I have done a little bit of tinkering with Shards of Tomorrow and I flipped through my books once or twice, but that's been about it... because...

2. I finished my doctoral program! I successfully defended my dissertation a little over a week ago, and had to do another big round of edits to get the dissertation ready for form and formatting - and then I needed about three days just to sit and stare at a wall and realize I was finally DONE. That, and I had a job interview for a building principal position (and I have a second round interview tomorrow), so that has been taking all of my time and attention. Finally, I promised a friend I'd do some editing on a project of his (that is pretty sweet), and I have to get that done before I get back into my stuff. I hope that I can get back to more gaming stuff in the coming weeks.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Shards and Species Design Work

I’m toying with a random generation system for character species in Shards of Tomorrow. You roll for four different qualities of your character, receiving 1d4 results in each quality. The final category, dispositions, is the tendency and reputation of a species; you don’t have to be these things, but they should flavor your decision making in character design. Maybe your species is arrogant, but you’re the outlier who just happens to be really self-conscious and self-deprecating. I rolled up a species to see… and rolled 4/3/3/4 for numbers of qualities in each category. Wow. This is going to be an exceptional species…

Abilities: +1d4 DEX, +1d4 CON, +1 AC, +1d6 hp
Talents: Chameleon, Flight, Shape Change
Characteristics: Webbed hands and feet, scales instead of skin, mammalian appearance
Dispositions: Violent, spartan, self-disciplined, tolerant

Description (made up based on what I rolled above):

The Volok consider themselves a vastly superior species, but they show a remarkable patience with the ‘inadequacy’ of lesser species. In their natural form, they are a scale-covered people that resemble flying monkies, but they are continually changing form and color, blending in with their surroundings and assuming the forms of other species. They are highly prized as spies and assassins, but are also greatly feared for this. Some planets have enacted laws requiring Volok to retain their ‘natural’ appearance at all times, making the activation of their natural abilities an illegal act. In general, suspicion of Volok runs high among most species, and a Volok in his or her natural form is likely to be greeted with suspicion in most places.


I like this. It feels a little more like the supers game in terms of character building, but it definitely hews towards the source material (which is Star Wars. Duh). I have struggled in the past with creating game balance between Wookies and Ewoks; now I don’t bother. Wookies are awesome, and Ewoks are lame. That’s just how it goes.

It's a galaxy with thousands of stars, and tens of thousands of planets. There are a lot of species to choose from.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Some Shards Thoughts

I have been kind of quiet, but that doesn't mean I'm not working on stuff. I've actually run a few solo sessions investigating level 1 of the Vault of the D'Ro, and have been mapping and stocking that dungeon. I expect that to be the next update for Tales, and should be out once I finish it... I've got all of the notes together for it, so it's just a matter of doing some layout and writing. No big shakes, once I get around to it...

That said, my free time today was spent cobbling some notes for a new edition of Shards of Tomorrow. It's hard to see this game even making it to 48 pages to be honest - big chunks of the Tales book are magic, treasure, and monsters. Between them, these three things account for 29 out of 48 pages! Instead, Shards would have:

1-2 pages on mysticism. This is much more flexible and open-ended, working a lot more like powers in Sentinels of Echo City and far less like one of the magic fields in Tales. Basically, apostles (Shards Jedi) get access to mysticism, attempting a number of mysticism checks each turn equal to their level. You can do things like a light heal, a simple command, a light telekinetic push or pull, levitate, jump a short distance, or boost an ability for a short burst. Once you have WIS 14+, you can attempt an epic check once per turn with one of your attempts, completely healing yourself or an ally, moving huge objects with telekinesis, levitating everything nearby, jumping huge distances, boosting abilities for a turn.

1-2 pages on commerce and relics. The monetary system will be important, and there will be mystical relics of the distant past to recover, but the availability of magical items has to be more limited due to the setting. 1 page of relics is probably plenty. 20 relics sounds like a good number to start with.

Only a few pages of monsters. There would be some sample monsters, along with some guidelines for generating monsters... and that takes me to character creation:

Character creation is the big change from the original Shards, and from my other games. I have expanded the size and scale of the region that encompasses the game; there are now hundreds of settled planets with thousands of different species. So, when you roll up a character, you are probably rolling up a unique species. Writing the supers game was good for forcing me to cast off such quaint concepts as game balance, so that comes into play here. You could get really lucky and roll up a species that is like a Wookie - bigger, stronger, and faster than everyone, with solid pilot skills, a cool weapon, and mechanically inclined. Or, you could roll up a Tuscan Raider, and get a bonus when in the desert. I'm trying to echo both Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy here, so having a motley crew of adventurers with an assortment of backgrounds and abilities is at the heart of the game. Like the supers game, character creation becomes a mini game within the game, as you roll up exotic and weird alien species to populate your galaxy. Then, you join with other freaks to zip around the galaxy in the shadow of the Void. The availability of talents will be a bit wider as well; you start with a random number of talents at level 1, rather than just getting 1.

That brings me to the idea of the Junker. I hoped that every group would end up with a junker in Shards, but the game didn't demand it. Now, it will. Your team starts with a junker, and everyone rolls at character creation; high roll gets it as 'their' property, and then you roll randomly to see how you got it.

Of course, the game needs some setting material too, although I really like the approach from Tales... a starter location, a starter adventure, and a broad strokes (1-2 page) overview of the explored galaxy. I suppose that this could get expanded by a page or two, and another page or two of history... and the Void Imperium needs its own section... so maybe I could get this bad boy to 48 pages after all.

Half of the book is already written, since the mechanics and game play for Tales will basically just be re-skinned.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Tales of the Splintered Realm FAQ

People have questions! I have (some) answers. This feels like a FAQ... because it is!

Could you clarify sundering?

Sure! You make a single attack roll once per round, targeting all foes in melee range (up to 4 of the same size). You can hit all, some, or none of those foes. If you hit any, you make a single damage roll against all foes.

Starting at higher levels

When starting at higher levels, measure starting cash in gold instead of silver, and multiply by level; a level 3 starting character has 3d6 (x30) starting gold, or 90 to 540 gp. Roll for 1 magical treasure per level; a level 5 character would roll for 5 random items as if from a level 5 monster. The character can then buy and sell as needed from there.

What impact does size have on the game?

Size impacts hit dice (see the top of page 27, first bullet) and number of creatures you can attack at a time (see page 18 under range and distance). The bigger you are the more HD you have, and the smaller the fewer. You can engage in melee with 4 creatures of the same size; I would subtract 2 for every category smaller, and add 2 for every category bigger; a wyvern is huge (2 categories larger than humans) so up to 8 humans can melee against a wyvern at once. A rat is small, so only 2 humans can attack a single rat at the same time with melee attacks.

Gnomes and stoutlings are medium (but at the very, very low end of medium). I toyed with having them be small and giving them D4 hit dice, but that made them much less playable. So I tweaked the sizes a little. Wood trolls are large (hence the D8 hit die). A few monsters have abilities that vary by size ('can swallow a creature medium-sized or smaller on a critical attack'), but that's about it.

If you want more variety in your smaller folk and their mechanics, it's an easy plug in:

New Talent: Little Folk. You have learned to leverage your smaller size in combat with larger foes. Any foe larger than medium size takes -1 to attack rolls against you.

What impact does armor have on spell casters? Are there penalties for wearing armor?

There is no relationship between armor and spell casting. As a magic user, you haven't spent any time or energy learning how to wear armor or carry a shield, because it's just not your priority - not because of rules. Specific bonuses/penalties for armor/spell casting rules were a little to crunchy for my taste for where the game is. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Dungeon Map In Progress

The dungeon from the core rules for Tales of the Splintered Realm continues to grow. I've played through the core rules level with my solo character, and then my daughter Grace joined me as we explored the Kobold Den (the south west extension of the dungeon, that also connects to the sewers). Today, I drew up the eastern part, which is a ruined tomb for those D'Ro who had led something of a rebellion against the D'Ro leaders, with disastrous results. The southeast corner still needs to be added to, with a section that will connect both to the sewers and to a secret door in one of the tombs that I will be adding.

It's a work in progress, and will be added to (of course). I'm thinking that the three components of the rest of level 1 will be the first supplement for Tales. I need to create some new monsters and spells to add to these as well. I might be able to get each one to a one-page handout, which I would think is ideal. I'm trying to follow the format for the first section from the core rules; a few keyed encounters, but also some random options.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Lairs and Locales #1

I finally got around to finishing Lairs and Locales #1 and it is now live on drivethrurpg. I had it done over a week ago, but I wanted to do a final edit, and I have been back into dissertation purgatory this week, since I had to do another major revision. I think this might be the last one, and then I can spend all of my time on gaming material with that pesky doctoral program finally behind me.

I played with the layout, and came up with what you will see here. It's formatted landscape on 8.5 x 11 paper so that it's easy to print now, but also so that it's easy to re-format into a larger book later on. I have continued the visual aesthetic of Sentinels of Echo City Deluxe, so that the two books will ultimately look and feel the same.

Ultimately, I'll be re-formatting some things (for example, all new game rules and mechanics will be in one part of the book, and the adventures will be in another part). I will also be writing a thread that unifies these into a single, large campaign (the Search for Doc Stalwart). I wrote that first hook for this adventure, but then decided not to include it. I need the freedom to create more open-ended environments for now, and then I can add that campaign thread later when I can see all of the finished books... I may want to change the order of presentation once they are all done, and I'd rather not write myself into any unnecessary corners right now.

On to the promo blurb (and yes, of COURSE it is inspired by the Hall of Doom):

This release is in support of Sentinels of Echo City, Deluxe Edition. 

Boondock's Hideaway is the place to be if you are a villain; and the place to avoid if you're a hero. It's a dome that is full of villains that is secreted deep in the swamps. Because that's how villains roll.

This book has rules for reputation, an overview of the Hideaway, six villains for your game, and some random encounter tables to see what crazy stuff is happening tonight. 

As a pay-what-you-want download, feel free to check it out for free and throw some loose change in the tip jar later if you are so inclined. Thanks!

This product uses the Open Game License.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Few Things

An assortment of things:

1. Erik Tenkar (of Tenkar's Tavern fame) has shared that he has some health issues going on. I am praying for him, and hope you do, too. He's a good guy, and I hope he has a speedy recovery.

2. Aldo created a fantastic fillable character sheet for Sentinels of Echo City. It's linked to the left. You'll want to download that :)

3. If you are having any trouble with your discounted copy of Tales of the Splintered Realm, please let me know (mtdesing at roadrunner dot com). If you purchased the pdf, you should be getting the print edition for a base price of $10. In the 'thank you' message from drivethrurpg, there is a copy to the direct link for the discounted version. If you cannot find that, I'll send you the link directly via email. For some reason, drivethru is not super excited about helping me sell games on a different site. I would use their POD builder, but the last time I tried I found it impossible to use. Maybe it's better now...

4. I am VERY grateful for the all of the enthusiasm and support people have shown for my projects over the last few weeks. It's been a lot of fun to log on every day and see what people are doing with the games.

5. I am THIS close to being done with my doctorate in educational leadership. I am on the FINAL review stage, and have one more set of edits to do to my dissertation and I should be truly and absolutely done with that beast. Whew.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

LULU Update

The print editions are live on Lulu - and just FYI, Lulu has a 15% off print editions coupon ONEFIVE that ends at midnight on 5/14, if you want to take advantage of that, too.


Print Copies In Hand

A few print copies of Tales of the Splintered Realm arrived at my doorstep this morning! I will be reviewing it and setting up the discounted copy today, creating the codes, and contacting people who have purchased the pdf with a direct link for the $10 version. This book is gorgeous. I'm so happy with it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Rogue's Gallery

The text for the first supplement is written. It is an overview of Boondock's Hideaway, which is the 'tavern' of the superhero world, populated by criminals. It's got a very intentional Legion of Doom HQ vibe, but it also has its own things going on. The next step for the book is the creation of a motley assortment of villains who tend to hang out in the Hideaway. I've been trying to come up with unusual, unique villains as I go, but a) that's tough, and b) this may not be the place for that. I almost think that for this supplement, I am better off hewing closer to familiar tropes as I stock the common criminals who linger here. I would like it to feel like a combination of Spidey and Batman's rogue's galleries, giving an assortment of level 1-3 villains to throw into the mix. I like the way that Reputation has been playing into my design work; villains come here to see and to be seen, and reputation is the currency of the place. The more infamous you are, the better access you get, and the more other villains tend to linger in your shadow. None of them are the mastermind sort. Here are my rough outlines for some villains:

- A boomerang or baseball throwing guy- athletic, trick weapons, maybe a utility belt, some gimmick. Boom-A-Rang was alluded to in the core rules, so maybe he can appear here.
- Light suit of battle armor with a bug theme. Killer Cockroach or something like that.
- Fox-themed girl with claws and sneak, and maybe empathy or even charm powers. Foxy Lady seems a little too on the nose.
- Electrical themed minor villain (a la shocker). Surge Projector?
- Green Goblin, Hobgoblin, and Jack O Lantern are my favorite Spiderman enemy trope, so I want something like that. Maybe go headless horseman theme but make the 'horse' a sky cycle of some kind? Throws explosive pumpkins. Carries a sword? I could call him Sleepy Hollow. Meh. Horseman of the Hollow is better....
- Just some basic muscle. A 'light' brick who carries a weapon like a wrecking ball or a crow bar or something like that. Pretty straightforward. I could maybe make three of these and call them the Destruction Crew or something. There is the wrecking crew in Marvel, and this is basically a variation on those guys. Maybe they have some synergy when working together? Like they each get +1 to attacks and damage when within 30' of one other, and each gets +2 when within 30' of both others. That would be something, and adds a little strategy to battles with them.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Reputation for Sentinels of Echo City

I am working on the first setting supplement, for Boondock's Hideaway, and was thinking about how helpful it would be to have a 'rating' for how well a hero or villain is known. I started tinkering, and came up with a system I like and will be play testing - this is not "official" yet, but an official set of rules will be with the first supplement in this series. Feedback is most welcome!



It’s a negative or positive value that reflects how well known a character is. While CHA is your ability to use your personal charm and influence, reputation is your larger popularity in the game world.

Reputation ranges from -20 to +20. It is used as a check in any situation where you might get a public response to your name. Every time you do something that might affect your reputation, attempt a 1d20 check. If you roll on the OPPOSITE side of your reputation in the relevant direction, it moves 1 point that way. When you do something good, you want to roll above your current reputation. It is hard to maintain a strong reputation in either direction; if you want to be greatly feared, you better not accidentally help someone out - you might get caught on camera and have people say nice things about you. A 20 always ‘succeeds’ (moving in the direction of the check) and a 1 always ‘fails’, moving you towards reputation 0. Villains do bad stuff and want a 20 to get 'more negative' in their reputation, and heroes do good stuff and want a 20 to get 'more betterer' in their reputation. Or something like that.

For example, as a new hero, you have a reputation of 0. You rescue a kitty from a tree. The old lady who you helped immediately posts on social media (yeah, old ladies have Facebook, too.) You attempt a check, with a target of rolling over a 0. As long as you don’t roll a 1, you succeed; good news, 95% of the time you are at reputation 1. After several adventures, your reputation is now 7. You are rocking it. Unfortunately, you get some bad press when you get into a fight with Mr. Awesome (it was a misunderstanding that you totally worked out). Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t see it that way; You roll 1d20, and you want to avoid rolling below your current reputation; if you roll 6 or less, your reputation drops 1 point; a roll of 7 or better doesn’t help you (because this is a ‘negative’ reputation check) but at least the only fallout from the fight is literal fallout from the thermonuclear device that was set off over the Pacific (it was a BIG misunderstanding). 

Reputation in Play

Reputation allows you to make a reaction check when you aren’t there, or when your name alone is being used in some context, but you are not the one making a CHA check. In many situations, you are trying a reputation check before a CHA check. “You’ve never heard of Magnet Master? Oh. Well, look guys… if you could help me out this time, I’d really appreciate it…”

You attempt a check based on your reputation rating. While a reputation of 1 is going to make it unlikely for something special to happen, a reputation of 10+ is going to be helpful. Reputation also works for epic checks; with reputation 14+, you can do amazing things. “Because Lord Wrack threatened to attack the America’s Day Parade, we are canceling the whole thing - and all parades forever until he is in prison.”... “Normally, we don’t just hand out F-16s to civilians, but you are Doc Stalwart after all…”

The default setting for reputation for existing characters would be level x3. Therefore, Lord Wrack as a villain 5 starts you game at -15 reputation, and he's trying to really, really hard to get to -20.

New Talent: Popular

You start with 1d4+2 reputation. You score critical success on a reputation check with a roll of 19 or 20, and you may attempt a Feat to avoid reputation loss when you roll a botch on a reputation check. You automatically receive +1 reputation every time you level up.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Campaign Hook and Some Character Building

Mikah the Chronicle opened a filing cabinet. It was amazing he knew which one. There were hundreds - no, thousands - of filing cabinets here. They sat in rows and rows, each filled (presumably) with file folders. Mikah the Chronicle produced one. He handed it to you. You read the label: “Last Known Location of Doc Stalwart.”

Campaign Hook: The Search for Doc Stalwart

At the end of the Stalwart Age, Doc Stalwart was the greatest hero in the world. He had overcome incredible challenges, defeating many of the most powerful villains in the world. And then, at the height of his fame and success, he disappeared.


That was twenty years ago. Eventually, people accepted that he was gone. Probably dead. Maybe at the bottom of the sea. Or at the edges of the solar system. Or in a far-off dimension beyond mortal reach. But now, he’s alive. Several mentalists have felt his presence in the world. 

The campaign is a loosely-connected series of location adventures wherein the heroes undertake a quest to find Doc Stalwart. As they go, they may amass clues that will allow them to find him and restore him to life. Or, maybe they won’t.

My idea right now is that I am going to write the adventure locations one at a time, and plant a seed in each one about the quest for Doc. I am going to make a character to maybe play test with...

Judah Jynx. The son of the ghost Zirah - Judah has supernatural powers.  I'm thinking a ghost as the character theme.

Let’s see what I get from random rolling:

Altered human. +1 to one attribute, +1 Feat rating.

4 Traits:

He’s like the invisible girl, but with a stun instead of the telekinesis. Hm. I need some way to do damage (right?) I don’t really like invisibility or swingline, but I’d rather have teleport. Actually, I am going to swap invisibility and swingline for blink. So, I have stun, blink, and phasing. I’m sort of a proto-vision kind of character. Definitely works with my ghost theme.

I’m going to take a drawback and pick up one other trait… not sure what. I need a way to deal damage, so I’m thinking a weapon of some kind (a sword like his mom?) He doesn’t need the sword - he is bound to the realm, unlike his mom - but he THINKS he does. He has panic attacks when the sword is not on him. 

He will take melee weapon, sword, with his bonus trait. So, he has:

Stun, Phasing, Blink, Melee Weapon

Rolling for attributes:

12, 14, 15, 12, 13, 12

Wow did I roll really well! I’d like to bump up that 15 to a 16, and while it doesn’t make sense to drop 12s, I don’t need secondary attributes that high. I’m actually going to drop the two 12s all the way to 10, giving me 2 points; I bump the 15 to 16, and the 13 to 14. Noice. I arrange as follows:

STR 12 (+3); INT 10 (+2); PWR 16 (+5)
DEX 14 (+4); CON 14 (+4); CHA 10 (+2)

For hit points, I roll 12 (I rerolled a 2 and got 6). That gives me 16 starting hit points.
My Feat modifier is +8.
My talent will be enemy (?) I don’t see this character having an enemy, but I guess he would… sure… hmm. Have to think on that more.

Armor class is going to be 15. 

I have to do some math on my traits:
My sword deals base 1d8 damage. Happy with that. It cannot be thrown (and if it could be, he wouldn’t; he’s got that anxiety about being separated from it, so intentionally winging it at someone else in combat doesn’t make much sense).
When I phase, I’m going to take +5 to AC (bumping it to 20), get +5 to hit and damage with my sword (instead of the +3 I get normally), and I can attempt a PWR check to move through solid objects. Dang that’s nice… I extend this to my blade (of course) which partially phases with me (or which channels some of my natural energy; something like that).
I have a stunning glare (to 90’) that forces a target once per turn to attempt a Feat (DT 25) or be stunned for 1d6 rounds. Nice.

He’s going to be a hero, and his purpose is going to be to honor his mother (who is trapped in the Shadow Realm, and is only accessed via a special mirror). He was born in the shadow realm, but then was brought over. I was going to go with his name (Judah Jynx) for his moniker, but I looked up ghost in the thesaurus and found Ether. I modified that for a moniker. And, reviewing my notes, I see that I forgot a +1 to one attribute. Oops. I throw that into DEX.

Judah Jynx; Hero 1
AC 15 (20 phased); hp 16; Feat +8; Sword (+4/1d8+4 -or- +6/1d8+6 while phased)
STR 12 (+3); INT 10 (+2); PWR 16 (+5)
DEX 15 (+4); CON 14 (+4); CHA 10 (+2)
Enemy: The Shadow King Asigoth (and his servants)
Blink (as a free action, up to 160’, 5x per turn)
Phasing (one action once per turn; PWR check)
Stun (one action; force target within 90’ to attempt Feat CR 25 or stunned 1d6 rounds)

I wanted a character a little bit like Nightcrawler; I think I have him. He’s definitely different, but he makes sense. 

About the Shadow Realm (also called the Vale of Shadows): This is a mystical dimension of dark energy. It is controlled by the Shadow King Asigoth, who seeks to cross over into our realm and touch all corners with shadow. His efforts were stopped by Zirah, who intentionally made herself a barrier between lands, preventing him from crossing over. 

On Superhero Worlds

On a suggestion, I found a pdf of the original version of Aaron Allston's Strike Force and skimmed through it - and I didn't love it, at least not in terms of what I want to do. I thought that the practical discussions around running supers gaming were good, but other than that it's mostly a roster of characters. I suppose that what I keep reacting to is that many supers gaming supplements are 'here are my/our cool characters' rather than 'here is where your cool characters live'.

It is one of the key problems with gaming in Marvel's or DC's worlds - it is awesome to be where Batman is and to fight some of Batman's enemies, but when Batman keeps showing up, he kind of takes the spotlight from you. I have addressed that by having all the great heroes be also kind of dead. Ermugurd, there were all these incredible heroes who did tremendous things, but now there's a bit of a void and we hope you'll step up, because they didn't take any of their villains with them when they died.

And, the fact that they're dead almost makes me want to avoid creating stats for them. How powerful was the Emissary? How much could Magni lift? What was Eldritch able to do? They assume a more mythical status if I don't tell you how powerful they were - because of that, you are always just a little bit in their shadow. And it's always just a shadow.

I'm interested in the stories of before and after those heroes lived. I'm actually not all that interested in telling stories about the greatest heroes at the height of their powers defeating overwhelming threats.

And again, my focus is on creating a living gaming environment, not a fixed world that has already had the coolest stuff happen.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Stalwart Age Stories

Doc Stalwarts ongoing comics also have prose adaptations. 
These are linked below.

The Unfinished Business Storyline

Sentinels Locations - First Thoughts

Doing some brainstorming for this project:

Nexus Rings are 50’ wide metallic bands composed of an alloy derived from several meteoric metals. These rings have been distributed throughout the known galaxy by the same alien race that created Doc’s ship. They require a complex activation sequence and possession of a ‘key’ that is composed of a comparable alloy. Note: There is an ancient alien race of scientist types who were good-natured, and who put a lot of things in place. They were kind of Ancient Rome on a cosmic scale, but they are now extinct. A lot of technology is their ancient stuff that is just being found now.

Introduction: Standard Locations (6-10 of them). These would be common ‘sorts’ of locations. There would be general commonalties, and maybe 3 sample floor plans for each one. Maybe a page of information, and a page with three floorplans… so a total of 2 pages each?
  1. Bank Floorplans
  2. Warehouse Floorplans
  3. Factory Floorplans
  4. Manufacturing / Processing Plant Floorplans
  5. Office Building Floorplans
  6. Goonsquad Fight Clubs
  7. Tunnels in the Depths

After skimming through the core rules, here are some sample locations that I want to develop:
  1. Harvyst’s House of Horrors. A maze of traps and illusions to drive visitors insane, crafted by the criminal Harvyst.
  2. Boondock’s Hideaway. Booncock, his bouncer Knuckles, and several of the villains who routinely stay there (just some more general villains for your use).
  3. The Penthouse Stronghold of Cybron and his criminal empire.
  4. The Jungle Abode of Simian Prime. The ape’s treetop fortress along with his mechs, battle suits, creations, and various apish minions.
  5. A school of young supervillains being trained by someone evil. Maybe an evil Hogwarts?
  6. The Volcanic Fortress of Marog Kyl. Set atop of volcanic spire on a distant world, inhabited by magma creatures, preparing to wage war as Marog tries to activate a Nexus Ring that sits in the shadow of his fortress.
  7. The Ruins of Demascus Station – a fragmented space station filled with strange and wonderful objects gleaned from a hundred worlds, now controlled by a strange sentient race.
  8. The Undersea Temple at Poseidon’s Beard. A vast undersea temple complex now held by a race of underwater militants and their various allies.
  9. Antiquity Isle. An island in the Bermuda Triangle populated by dinosaurs, protected by a dinosaur-riding savage, and watched over by a technological complex hidden deep in a volcanic crater, where scientists carefully monitor the isle’s inhabitants. Game stats for dinosaurs, prehistoric beasts, and savage peoples.
  10. The Powers Family Sky Fortress. The base of operations for the Powers Family.
  11. New Valhalla’s Fortress.
  12. Underground Mutant Stronghold in Meridian (map of Meridian? List of encounters?)
  13. First Family Dojo (See page 115).
  14. Vigilance Dam and the Hall of Heroes (see page 119).
  15. Witch Alley? (page 123)
  16. Arkovian Bunker where a villain holds sway. (see page 124)
  17. Marakevian fortress (see page 124)
  18. Part of Saltmere? (page 124)
  19. Part of Zualu (page 124)
  20. Mystic Tower of Zan Zelak. The center of the Keeper of the Mystic Veil, a well of all worlds, and the elder library of all known things. Stats for the Chronicle.
  21. Ro the Ravager’s Celestial Tower. Ro, the Voice of Ro, his various creations, and a whole bunch of weirdness.
  22. Ruins of The Tomorrow Complex. This could be its own section of the rules, with several sample levels. These could be themed with time travel, the undead, alternate worlds, and various strange laboratories. This could be five sections easy.

Sentinels Campaign Setting

I have decided to at least try to develop a Sentinels of Echo City campaign book, but I still am not sure how to focus it. Let’s set out some goals for the project and then discuss how one might approach such a thing…


A campaign guide, to my mind, should do several things. First of all, it should provide a relatively comprehensive backdrop for gaming. This is different philosophically from developing an encyclopedia of the known world. It is not Wikipedia of Stalwart Earth. It is a roleplaying game supplement, and I want to approach it that way. It is supposed to provide a foundation for ongoing play, not lay out an existing universe in detail.

I also don't want it to be a catalog of characters. It is not the 'official handbook of the Sentinel Universe' or anything.

One issue is that I already did a ‘general’ overview in the core rules. It’s 20 pages long, and gives a pretty solid, albeit cursory, overview of the game world. I don’t want to just take that, write it again, and add ten layers. I feel like the primer that is there is pretty good – I could add a whole bunch of miscellaneous detail, but it wouldn’t significantly add to the game or the world. What you NEED to know is already in the core rules.

Focus on the idea of hooks. Every element should include hooks – not only what is it, but how you might use it in play.


Maybe I could think of it on the whole as expanding section 10: Adventures. Rather than writing linear adventures, I could provide 20+ settings within and connected to Sentinel Earth that may provide a foundation for adventure. These could range from the small to the large, from street level to cosmic. Wormwood Station, the Junkyard Dawg’s Compound, and Aegis Section Delta (from the core rules) all provided a map to explore, visit, invade, defend… a few of the characters that inhabit the location, and hooks for how you might set an adventure there. This would allow me to ‘dip my toes’ into dozens of locations, exploring each of them in significant depth while skimming past other places. These then become iconic, archetypal locations that suggest what similar locations might be like. This also allows me to build on the core rules while basically eliminating redundancy, which I like.


These ideas lend themselves to a modular approach. I could work on these one at a time, each at about 4-8 pages. I could release them as pay what you want downloads as I do them, trying to knock out one every few weeks. Once they are all done, I could go back and bundle them together in one master book. An average of 6 pages with 20 of them would be 120 pages, so targeting a 128-page supplement is not out of line. The core rules are 192 pages. To create another book that long, I'd need to create about 30 different locations... I do think that a version of the Solitaire Framework would be at the front of the book, and that the whole idea would be that you use the Solitaire Framework to build adventures as you explore locations. There is not a lot of 'he is sitting on his throne counting gold coins when the heroes arrive' type of text; it will be more along the lines of 'the villain is likely to be working in his lab, but is possibly in any other location in the complex.'


The visual design should be the same as Sentinels. I don't want to create a 'new' look for the game. I want to build on what I've already done, and have a second book that looks and feels like a companion to the original.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Upon Further Reflection

So I was toying with the idea of a revised and updated version of Sentinels of Echo City. I could update the rules to align with some of the minor tweaks that I've made with Tales of the Splintered Realm. I could upgrade the layout and give the entire art an overhaul. I could really tighten up the presentation and the layout, cleaning up text and refining some of the rough edges out of it.

Then I read the first half of the book again. I'll finish reading it tomorrow.

But I love it. It's just a bit quirky. And free-wheeling. And just shy of polished. It's clean, and well-presented, and bursting at the seams with good ideas. I haven't actually sat down and READ the thing in two years, but I had to admit it. Despite the little grammatical things I now know how to clean up, and the breezy layout, it's a gem of a game.

It's not a perfect, tightly-edited product. It's a great, high-energy, burst of superhero love. It captures what I wanted it to capture, exactly the way I wanted to capture it. In some ways, it is lightning in a bottle. I could tighten it up and refine it, but that might just kill the thing I love most about it.

One of the things that separates the better creative people from others is their knowledge of when to stop work on something. Could it be cleaner? Sharper? More professional? Yes, yes, and yes.

But would it be BETTER? I don't think so. 

I accept that Sentinels of Echo City and Tales of the Splintered Realm, although sharing the same basic engine, are actually different games. The differences in the two books are surprisingly stark to my eyes. I love them both. Tales is going to college and will have health insurance. Sentinels is going to tour the country in his van for a bit. But they're both fantastic kids.
And I am going to do what I can to support them both on their journeys forward.

Print Edition of Tales Update

A copy of the print rules is on its way to me! Once I get a chance to proof it one last time, I'll update the files on Drivethrurpg and put it live for sale. Probably about two weeks...

Here's the wrap-around cover, as a proof of life.

More LULU Trouble

Oh snap. Since I expect you want the good news before the bad news, I'll do that.

The good news: Lulu is up! It works. I can login, and I solved the problem of why my pdf files were not uploading. I can now proceed with a layout for Tales.

The bad news: I have to make a list. There's a lot of bad news.

1. Almost all of my old files have broken covers. Either (A) the covers have not finished porting over yet, and Lulu is still getting things up to speed (crosses fingers); or (B) the covers are not compatible with the new Lulu system, and I have to re-do them. Which sucks. So, I'm going to wait and see.

2. Lulu will not let me create a saddle-stitched book at 52 pages. Yes, it's divisible by 4, but that's not enough for Lulu. I created a dummy version where I cut 4 pages, and was able to create a saddle-stitched print edition. I am at a crossroads. I could (A) reduce the campaign setting information to a one-page overview (get rid of encounter tables) and cut the three tombs adventure - to get to 48. It's a solution I could live with. Or, I could (B) add 12 pages of content. I am leaning towards A, because I could see the campaign setting being its own setting book with significant expansion, and the three tombs could then be ported to that book as one of a series of adventures in the Splintered Realm. That's actually a workable solution to me. But, it means less game in the end. But 48 pages makes my heart happier, and sounds like a model I can replicate for the next book (the campaign guide). I see two more books right now: the Vault of the D'Ro and the Campaign Setting. If my target for each is 48 pages, I see a lot of possibility for both projects. I could always just put the three brothers up as a free adventure, or as the first in a series of free pdfs to support the game... or I don't know what. But it could easily be 'out there' without it being in the core rulebook.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

LULU No Like Me

I was in the middle of trying to format the print edition of Tales of the Splintered Realm the other night, when Lulu decided it needed 'about 2 hours' for a system update.

Two days later, I cannot log in, I get error messages when I ask for password help, and only one of my print books is live. I'm assuming that something went horribly askew at their end, and that they are still trying to get their full system up to speed. I think I have a print edition formatted and ready to go - Lulu REALLY did not like the fonts I was using - and I hope to be able to get a preview copy ordered by the middle of next week. Once I have a print copy in hand and can confirm that it looks good to my eyes, I'll be putting it live for the world.

Hope you are enjoying playing around with the new system.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Tales of the Splintered Realm Now Available

Welcome to the Splintered Realm. Don your armor, heft your weapon, and prepare your magic. Adventure awaits.

In this fantasy roleplaying game, you will play a heroic player character in a fellowship of other heroes, taking on the role of your character. You will use these rules, an assortment of dice, and your imagination to help build a shared tale of the Splintered Realm.

This game is released under the Open Game License, with original content released under a Creative Commons Share-Alike License. You are free to take, adapt, modify, and re-publish this work as you see fit.

All you need is this book, a stack of graph paper, a pencil, and some dice that you fill in with a crayon, and you’ll be ready to play.

A print edition will be available by May 15; you will receive a code to take $4.95 off the cover price when the print edition is available (getting the print edition for $10.00 instead of $14.95).

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Play Test Report Part B

Got to play test the warden and the bard, and learned some cool things...

The warden is actually overpowered. He had nearly as much firepower as the magic user, but also gets some healing, some defense, better armor, a fair weapon attack. He has got it all. The warden is definitely my answer to the B/X elf. I like the difference between them, though - it's a totally different set of magic you have as a warden than as a magic user, even though there are comparable effects. I had originally built the warden magic as 1 die back from comparable magic user stuff - if a tier 4 area of effect is dealing level d10 damage for a magic user, I had it as level d8 for the warden. I have pulled that back another die, so now those effects are level d6. You are still a viable offensive caster, but you are not packing the punch of a magic user.

The bard was AWESOME. Loved it. Simply fantastic. He doesn't get the high damage spells, because they don't kick in until tier 3+ (fireball), but that is no good against a fire giant, so I skipped it, and went with utility: hastes, slows, levitates, shield... this battle was about using magic to support a levitating bard raining arrows down on frustrated (and slowed) fire giant.

One other thing was that the timing of spells, with a turn being only a minute, and consisting of ten rounds, was perfect. I had to consider strategy with spell rotations - had to stop firing the bow a round before I wanted to because the levitate was wearing off and had to re-cast it, and once haste dropped, it was more effective to start throwing arcane darts (a guaranteed hit) than to keep up with the bow. 3 bow attacks with a 50% chance of hitting and 7 average damage were better than a guaranteed average of 10 at first... but not after haste dropped and it was 2 attacks. I felt a little bit like I was racing the clock - I did NOT want slow wearing off on that giant and for him to start throwing a boulder every round. I expected the bard to get owned; he was actually pretty awesome.

Niche Characters

I do my best thinking while doing dishes and mowing the lawn. Truly.

And I just washed a big ol' sinkful of dishes.

In thinking about the warden and bard, and how to distinguish them a little, I had a few revelations that I'm excited to test.

For the warden, I realized that I had left the classic ranger idea of the hated enemy out of the game. I'm not sure how that happened - it has been part of most fantasy game engines I've toyed with over the last several decades, yet somehow it eluded inclusion in this version. It makes sense for a warden to have a hated enemy, and it makes sense for the warden's ability to ramp up considerably. A bonus of + level to all rolls against that enemy makes sense to me, and is VERY powerful, but also very niche. I'm going to play test with it vs. giants. Yeah. He should be excellent against giants. But I would think he'd be pretty mediocre against the giant without it. I'll probably simulate both just to see. I like this a lot - it allows the warden to really shine and dominate in certain encounters, but to be a support character the rest of the time. (I would think 'humanoids would be an enemy against any humanoid of small or medium size, while giants and their kin would be against large or bigger humanoids... thinking on this further).

For the bard, I realized that he doesn't shine during combat. He shines before and after it. It's in those quiet moments when nothing is really happening, but we're either recovering from or preparing for adventure. I am thinking of these sorts of things:

- Your song allows all allies within 30' to add your CHA modifier to their resting healing rolls.
- Your song protects the fellowship from any chance of a random encounter while you are singing.
- Your song allows all casters (yourself included) to recover a certain number of slots of spells. You may have used up your daily spell limit, but the bard can sing you into a few extra spells today. It would be small - maybe CHA modifier slots total. Hey, one extra tier 2 spell today is a help.
- Your song protects those within 30' from scrying, crystal balls, and arcane eyes.
- Your song reveals the presence of all traps within 30'.
- Your song reveals the presence of all magic within 30'.
- Your song reveals the presence of all enemies within 30'. (this one could be REALLY powerful if used in the middle of a packed inn). As you string your lyre and prepare to sing, that shifty dude in the corner makes sure to get at least 31' feet away from you... I'd call that a tell.

You would get to use your song your level times per day, and each time you use it you could stack in a number of effects equal to your CHA modifier (minimum of 1). So, a bard 3 could sing 3x per day. If he has CHA 14 (+3) he would be able to stack 3 of these effects together at once. In combat, the bard is okay, and can basically back up any caster in a pinch. Outside of combat, he makes your fellowship much more durable and resilient. You wouldn't be able to sing twice in a row; I'm thinking there has to be an hour cool down between uses or something.

I REALLY like this. It's much more of a roleplaying thing, and makes those quiet moments between combat important, too. It FEELS more bard to me, which is nice.

And THAT... is why we playtest

Yesterday, I threw together a set of level 5 characters with solid gear and good abilities, to represent what a level 5 character of each class might look like. I made them all human, and gave them the same attribute distribution (albeit in different attributes). I gave them max hit points. A tried to balance abilities and magic for efficiency.

And then I had each of them fight a fire giant. I got through the first four, and I'll play out the other two today.

It was... interesting.

The fighter was the most straight-up battle. He just kept hitting the giant hard, and the giant would hit him back harder. It was a straight-up slugfust. The fighter won in 8 rounds. It was a 2-hand fighter; I might try a sword and shield fighter as well, just to see the difference. I'm starting to think that 2-hand might be underpowered, or that sword and shield is overpowered. We'll find out. As it is, the fighter's higher AC and excellent damage output meant the fight was never really in doubt. He missed an unusual number of times as well, so the fight should have probably been even quicker than it was.

The magic user was a rout. He dropped ice storm, then hold monster, then a few more ice storms. He used up all of his tier 4 spells, and finished with an arcane dart to seal the deal, but once the giant failed the hold monster resist Feat, it didn't matter. Six rounds total. If the giant had made the Feat to resist hold monster, it MIGHT have been a different situation... but the magic user still had a few big guns to pull out if needed. There was a whole layer of potential strategy to prolong the fight if he had to. But it was never needed.

The thief was where I learned a lot. As written, the thief is pretty weak. Only one attack per round with a dagger and a pretty meh sneak attack. The sneak attack was successful, but only dealt an extra 11 points of damage. Against a foe with 100 hp? Not gonna matter. And it didn't. There was the possibility of an instant kill with assassination, but it's a small chance that didn't happen. The thief kept hitting, but he just could not match the damage output. Not that he SHOULD, but he should at least be competitive. I went back and added options for two weapon fighting and archery to the thief, making him a viable backup fighter (but still not nearly as effective as a true fighter), and upped the damage die on the sneak attacks from d4 to d6. It also made me revisit poison damage, which had all been level d4s. A wyvern sting deals an extra 6 points? Nope. Not a real threat. I have changed poison throughout to D6s, which are still not automatic kills, but at least they feel a little worse. I might end up going to D8s, since you get a Feat to resist. I mean, if a wyvern is going to sting you, you should have a risk of dying from it. 3d8 means you could sustain up to 24 points of damage, and that makes more sense than the 12 point cap that is currently in place.

The friar was, far and away, the most fun. He was able to deal consistent damage. He had a lot of options during the fight. He dropped sanctuary twice, allowing him to rest, cast healing spells, activate spiritual hammers, put up some vigor, and jump back into the fight. It went 17 rounds, with the friar almost dying twice, and he managed to whittle away the giant over time. He had to use a blade barrier strategically coming out of his second sanctuary to hem the giant in (and deal some quick damage) and ultimately took home a victory. I love everything about this class.

Today I will test the warden and the bard. I have a few predictions:

The warden will feel midway between the magic user and friar. His melee is weaker than the friar, but his spells are able to take bigger chunks of damage. He doesn't have the "I win" button that the magic user does, but he can still do more offensively than the friar regarding magic.

The bard is kind of a mess. I LOVE the idea of chants, but I can already see that they are going to be relatively innocuous in actual play. I mean, the idea of regenerating 1 point of damage per round all the time feels good, except when faced with a foe who can deal an average of 20 points per round. The idea that you could compel him to listen to you during combat is nice, but what are you going to do once he's compelled? It's not like you have any way to really deal significant damage. The bard is the ultimate support character and jack of all trades - that is both his strength and his weakness. I've already revised so that he takes a tier of magic every level, and will always end up with 2 tiers each of arcane, faith, and nature. I might change this so that you can take any tier you want, but you are limited to tier 3 - the thing is that I don't want a bard keeping pace with another caster. If I set a limit that you cannot learn the same spell type two levels in a row, that solves it. You can alternate between arcane and faith, for instance, and ignore nature altogether (if that's the kind of bard you want), but you still will never be as good as a magic user or friar in their arena. The bard is also going to default to the bow as the go to weapon. He's going to get archery, giving him two attacks per round when he's not casting, which will be helpful. Again, he's the ultimate support character. He's going to get owned by the giant. I just want him to be able to do a few things before he dies.  

I've spent twenty years trying to get chants into the core of the system. I may have to wait another twenty before I really figure out how to do it well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Classes and Flavor

The core rules have six classes available, and I wanted to find a balance between presenting the classic tropes, and reflecting this world. Classes are where you kind of put your stamp on the game, since it's the most visible flavor piece from a player's perspective.

So, there are three classic tropes: the fighter, the magic user, and the thief. These hew as close as possible to the source material, while still being the best fit for this game. They, and their abilities, are directly inspired by B/X.

But, the three others are unique to my world, drawing from multiple sources.

The warden is inspired by the druid, but it's not really a druid. It's more of a cleric of the wilderness, if that makes sense.

The bard is more aligned with role playing. Bards get chants, which work different from the other three kinds of magic. I have wanted to put chants in the core rules for a long time, and I found a simple way to layer them in. They are nifty and different. You don't lose anything by not using bards (and ignoring the class altogether if you really want to), but they add a different layer to the game that I like.

The friar is the last one I solved. Originally, it was just a re-skinned cleric, but I have shifted it subtly to be a bit more monkish. The friar has light armor and weapons, but gets to carry a quarterstaff. The friar attacks twice each round with the quarterstaff, damage increases every level, and it is always considered an enchanted weapon - so a friar at level 1 can hit anything with it.

The friar and warden reflect the religious realities of this world. The true goddess has died, and other things have stepped up to fill the void. There has been a return to worshiping nature, and the warden has emerged as an important religious leader that is trying to fill that gap. Friars hold on to the past, looking to restore the goddess. It's sort of a reversal of a classic paradigm. The contemporary worship is in the past, while more pagan beliefs are coming to the fore. The idea of a temple in town where a bunch of priests are sitting around isn't really a thing. The temples are old, many relegated to the role of museum of the distant past, with a few lonely caretakers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Kobold Den

In play testing, my character found a map (it was a random treasure) in the lair of a giant bat. I decided this would be an area beyond the secret door in the starter dungeon for the core rules. This will ultimately be the first expansion for the game (because I'm already working on THAT). The idea is that I'm going to build a mega-dungeon over time. This is part of level 1, where it connects to the sewers under Stalwart Keep. I have learned to appreciate the value of secret doors - you can have a whole lot of things happening right next to each other if one side is not aware of the door.

In this case, a pack of kobolds set up shop in what was an abandoned start to a mine. They sneak into the sewers to hunt rats and spiders. It's fun. But then the gibbering mouther that lives in the muck pit (former start of a mine) in the middle drove their clan chief mad. And he started to sacrifice bigger and bigger things to it. And they tried to give it a rot creeper as a special treat. But the creeper wasn't as dead as they thought it was. And it ended up killing their chief. So now, they are holed up in the northwest corner, the creeper patrols the south hall, and a few guards have been forced to stand watch in the east, behind a barricade of garbage, to keep the creeper at bay. And there's a living statue that knows not to attack the kobolds. And that mouther just keeps screeching all the time, and everyone is a little on edge about it. And nobody knows that there has been a well-hidden secret door in the southwest that leads to dungeon level 2 there the whole time.

A few meditations

I had time to sleep on some concepts in play testing, and here are some things I've mulled over:

Money and XP
I have to take money out of the XP progression. The XP chart is lean - it has to be. There are only 6 levels in the game. The default progression has to be slow. The difference between level 2 and level 3 is huge - it's comparable to two levels in B/X. It's comparable from moving from level 3 to level 5. The treasure charts are, by design (and necessity) relatively random. You can find a lot of gold in one lair, and nothing in the next three. That's by design. The problem is the opposite; if you get lucky for two or three lairs in a row, suddenly you are ramping up XP like crazy, and you can pick up a level very fast. Now, you've moved from level 3 (B/X numbers) to level 7 in a handful of encounters. It's a potential campaign killer. If you can kill three dragons, you deserve that XP. But if you just happen to get really lucky when rolling their treasures, it shouldn't automatically end the game because you top out your character.

CON checks vs. Feats for Poison
I toyed with making poison saves a CON check vs. a Feat. I really like this, because it makes CON a little more important, and it feels more reasonable. But, then I realized why I made it Feats in the first place:
- All creatures have a Feat rating, but only player characters have attributes. What about when a goblin gets poisoned? You have to hand wave it. Hate that.
- This opens Pandora's box. Then, shouldn't avoiding a trap be a DEX check? And shouldn't some spells be WIS checks? Shouldn't some manipulation require an INT check? Ugh. Breaks the simplicity of the engine.
- The source material says no. Feats are a synthesis of the entire saving throw system from B/X. Poison was resolved as a saving throw, not as a CON check. Old school, yo.

Attributes Revisited (Again)
Thought a little bit more about attribute scores and modifiers. My original system has the progression at +1 modifier for every 2 attribute points, and the system I was tinkering with moved it to every 4 - what if we meet in the middle at every 3? It looks like this:

Rating (Modifier) - Descriptor

2-4 (-1) Poor
5-7 (-) Average
8-10 (+1) Above Average
11-13 (+2) Exceptional
14-16 (+3) Heroic
17-19 (+4) Epic
20-22 (+5) Titanic
23-25 (+6) Godly

There is a a lot to like here. It still keeps the numbers in check, but gives a little more gradation. It also moves 'average' down slightly, which I like. A 'typical' PC has 7s across the board - he or she is nearly above average in all things. You are likely to get a handful of +1 modifiers, and getting an 11 once in a while is not unlikely. Min/Max rules have to go, however. That's old school. You get what you get.

I like the crossover for monsters. An ogre has STR 16. Giants are 17 (hill), 18 (fire and frost), or 19 (storm). A titan starts at 20.

It keeps an important break point at 14 (that's the threshold for being able to attempt epic checks). You feel almost as good about your 8 as you would 13, so a fighter with STR 8 is not feeling like a total loser next to that Fighter with STR 13. He's still capable, and viable as a character. I also like that magical devices can have a +3 attribute modifier as their default - that guarantees you will bump to the same location in the next tier up. I like that it breaks the tiers into 3 parts (low epic, medium epic, high epic). And, this ultimately ports over to the supers game a little better. I like that the Hulk gets +6 to attack and damage, and not 'just' +4. The raw scores don't change in that game, just the modifiers. Captain America (STR 13) is getting +2 to hit and damage, Spider Man (STR 15) is getting +3, Iron Man (STR 18) is getting +4, the Thing (STR 20) is getting +5, and Hulk is at his +6. This keeps a progression in place that distinguishes the characters mechanically enough to feel different, but keeps it relatively old school as well.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Play Test Reporting

I've spent the evening exploring part of the starter dungeon for the core rules with a fighter I rolled up and have been playing with my revised rules, including the mods to character attributes. Oh my goodness does this feel old school. He's running from monsters, hiding behind doors, getting jumped by random encounters, climbing into little alcoves, making INT checks to map correctly... he just needs a 10' pole and he'd be the most old school dungeon crawler ever.

I LOVE the changes to attributes. Now, I am playing a viable fighter who doesn't have over the top attributes. It doesn't really matter that much. He failed a STR check to force a door (by 1 point), so that higher STR would have helped there, but that's been it. I LOVE the rules for fighting with sword and shield. Fights feel messy and dirty, as he's swinging (and repeatedly dropping) his sword and trying to shield bash skeletons to dust. I got very lucky (literally rolled 15 twice on a D30 potion chart) to get 2 greater potions of healing, which he had to drink both of just to survive. The XP are coming slow, and the treasure is small (but appropriate). Treasure no longer gives XP, so I have to keep killing monsters if I want to get XP. And I do. I really do.

The temptation to pick up a level of thief once I hit 2 is going to overwhelming (it will be SO helpful for solo dungeon crawling), and I might need lore at some point just to keep up with all the magic items I'm finding, but this has been fun.

If I was to tie XP to treasure (1 gold = 1 XP), I'd have picked up another 12 XP in addition to the 14 XP from monsters. That seems reasonable. I house rule that back in, which means that it is literally back in the rules - so it goes from house rule to official rule instantly.

The next thing is going to be to pick up a retainer of some kind. It would be cool to have a goblin or kobold who follows him around... hmm...

Attribute Scores

Rut Roh.

I keep going back and tinkering with foundation concepts that underpin everything. I figure, this is my chance to do that, so I may as well at least investigate options as they come to mind.

One of the things that occurred to me last night while rolling up a fighter was attribute scores - if you are a fighter at level 1 who doesn't have STR 12, you are at a disadvantage. You are losing +1 to hit and damage every round just by dropping to 11, and +2 to hit and damage every round if you let STR slip to 9. And a fighter with STR 7? Fugeddaboutit. You are looking at a loss of +3 to both hit and damage every single time you attack.

The other issue arises at the top end. One of the intentional things in magical item design is trying to keep attribute creep under control. If you pick up an item that gives you giant strength, you have both STR 18, and +6 to attack and damage rolls in combat, which is HUGE. You are dealing tremendous damage with every swing.

What if we cut the scale down considerably, and put our break points every 4, rather than every 2, attribute points. Here's an example of how that might look:

Rating 2-5 (-1 modifier). Below average range.
Rating 6-9 (no modifier). Average range.
Rating 10-13 (+1 modifier). Exceptional range.
Rating 14-17 (+2 modifier). Heroic range.
Rating 18-21 (+3 modifier). Epic range.
Rating 22+ (+4 modifier). Beyond mortal ability.

Now, your level 1 fighter can have STR 10, 11, 12, or 13 and get +1 to attacks and damage. Or, he can have a 'lowly' STR of 6, and only be +1 back from a much stronger fighter.

It's not that your high STR doesn't matter. The game relies on a large number of checks, so your high strength score still makes a difference. Just not in combat.

Now, you can pick up a gauntlet of storm giant strength (STR 18) and rock the checks - you can rip doors off their hinges and lift huge weights. But, you are still only getting +3 to attack and damage, so it's not breaking the game in terms of bonuses. Your level still matters a lot, and your magical weapon is just as important. This keeps attributes in line with other, comparable scales.

Let's look at other implications:

For INT, this means that the formula for arcane spells would be different; your number of spells would be your tier + your INT modifier. As a tier 3 caster with INT 10, you get 4 spells of tier 1, 3 spells of tier 2, and 2 spells of tier 3 each day. If you can get that INT to 14, you get 1 more spell of each tier. It's not a game breaker, but it's a nice perk for having that exceptional intelligence. You can still be a magic user with INT 6... it's just going to be a little bit harder for you. The difference between 6 and 14 matters, but it's not an impossible difference. However, those lore checks are going to be far, far easier for the smarter magic user.

WIS and CON work the same way with their spells.

DEX modifiers to armor class would be mitigated, which keeps AC scaled a bit lower - which aligns with how AC scales for monsters a little better. I am ALMOST tempted to allow you to add your level to AC (as happens with my other games), and to make the armor you wear less important. Now we're DEEP into tinkering with the rules. However, your ability to get out of the way of damage should in large measure be a facet of experience. A magic user 1 and magic user 6 with the exact same gear should not be just as easy to hit; that second magic user has been in hundreds of battles, and has learned how to avoid being hit.

Since the game only goes to 6 levels, this is easy to mitigate. At the top end:

That magic user 6 has a ring of protection +3, and has DEX 14 (+2) from magical items. He has AC 21. In the current system, he has AC 15.
A fighter 6 has a suit of plate mail (+3) with a +3 enchantment, carries a shield (+2) with a +3 enchantment, but gets no DEX bonus because of the heavy armor. He has AC 27. In the current system, he would have AC 23.

Don't love how this is scaling. It works to add level for the supers and army ants games, because there are so few add-ons in game that contribute to AC, but here (where there is a lot of magic), that's not so much.

We could always scale back magic, too, so that there are only 2 levels of enchantment - enchanted and mystical. This would cut our magic user down to a 20 AC at level 6, and our fighter down to 25... and if we pull the AC bonus from a shield back to +1 (which makes more sense here), he's now down to AC 24. Again, your level matters more than your gear.

I'm going to let this simmer for a day or two...