Friday, November 25, 2022

Tinkering with Armor Class

As I've been playing Hack'd & Slash'D more, I'm finding that the armor class ratings tend to be too low. A suit of leather armor only allows you to reduce damage 5% of the time... and a suit of plate mail is only effective 25% of the time. At the very least, I want to double these numbers... this would make leather a default rating of 2, and plate mail a default 10 (50% chance of success).

This would give plate +3 a rating of 13, making it 65% likely to cut combat damage in half. That's better...  

I could swap things out a bit and get rid of the layer of armor between chainmail and plate, and move the basic tiers to every 3 ratings... this would mean:

Leather is AC 3 (15%); Studded is AC 6 (30%); Chainmail is AC 9 (45%); Plate Mail is AC 12 (60%). This means there are two types of light armor and two types of heavy armor... it also means that a suit of plate mail +3 would have AC 15, giving the wearer a 75% chance of succeeding with an AC check.

Furthermore, I have not been applying the level difference modifier to AC checks (upon review, the rules aren't clear about whether you should or not, but I always assumed you didn't - you are resisting unleveled damage, but a level-based attack), but maybe I should (you would be more likely to be able to use your armor effectively against a goblin than you would against a dragon, right?). I like how this alters combat based on level differences - your armor is pretty awesome, until you fight a foe 4 levels higher than you are, because you are 20% less likely to absorb that damage. At level 6, your suit of chainmail +2 is very effective when you are being fired upon by hobgoblin archers (it cuts damage in half on a roll of 16 or less, so 80% of the time). 

This means I have to modify AC values for monsters as well to scale them to the new ratings.

The other benefit is that I can create all kinds of layers between the existing armors... a local smith could forge suits of armor from the giant ants that populate the area. This is heavy armor that is slightly more effective than chainmail, so it has a default AC of 10. It's not magical, so a suit of ant chitin armor +2 has AC 12. This ends up giving a lot of gradation between armors. 

One more takeaway: this means that a level 10 wizard is going to have AC 10 against goblins even with his simple traveling robes... because he's a level 10 wizard. No matter what, you don't reduce armor below 0... and you always take half damage on a natural 1 AC check (so even unarmored characters get to check). 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A New Map for the Vault of Mischief

I was originally using an older map as the entry into the Halls Beneath Bryn, a layer called the Vault of Mischief... but then I started to like the new style of maps I was doing... and then I thought that there were a few things I could clean up on that map... and then I just re-drew the whole map and consolidated. 

I've been updating the megadungeon to move rooms into the proper places with the new key. I'm breaking some basic rules of megadungeons by basically stocking every room. I cannot really help myself. Plus, from a player's perspective, I don't really want to spend time looking around empty rooms for the chance of finding something that isn't really there. I know that it gives the dungeon more verisimilitude to have empty rooms... but when you can only get the gang together for 3 hours once a week, spending an hour of that time scouring empty rooms for nothing seems like a big waste. It is a design choice born from the practical realities of gaming, not from an effort to create a fully immersive game world. 

It's a trade off around practicality. You can always say that room with a pit full of spiders is just empty. Knock yourself out.

Several Discoveries

I had heard about the five room dungeon before ('natch', as Max Traver likes to say), but had never really given the concept more than a passing thought. It seemed like, 'okay... yeah... sure', but not particularly revolutionary or anything.

Count me as a believer.

I have now created two mini-modules for Hack'D & Slash'D using the five-room dungeon design suggestions, and I love them both. I just posted the second one. I also have been playing with my mapping style a little bit to make maps that are 1) at least passably attractive; 2) stylistically aligned with the game; and 3) quick and easy to make. I think I've found a winning format, as you can see below... (this is the map for mini-module 2):

However, I can also see how this will allow me to build my mega-dungeon... I can conceive of it as dozens of these five-room dungeons... which each have 1+ entry/exits. Some will be dead ends (you only can leave the way you came in), some will be through-lines (you can go backward, or forward into the next section), or will be connected to other sections (the well in area 3 drops into a mini-dungeon two levels lower; there is a secret door in area 4 that leads into another mini-dungeon at the bottom of some stairs, the magically-sealed portal in area 5, once you find the command word, leads into a deeper extension of this module). 

This is FANTASTIC stuff. Again, count me as a believer.   

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

When Play Testing Goes Off The Rails

Well THAT was a s**t show. I did a play test for the mini-module I posted, using my pregenerated character. I did the option of a rain storm... so first, I didn't realize to leap across the rocks. Then I hit the bear trap. And failed my sneak check. And failed my check to convince the gnoll to not start yelling for help. Then almost got beaned by a goblin with a sling. Then failed again to get the gnoll to stop yelling. Then failed to hit him with my sling, so I had to run up and cut his throat with my dagger, which I was trying to avoid.

Then my luck turned. I noticed the quality of the sling, so managed to upgrade my sling. And then I managed to sneak into the party with the goblins (area 5). And I managed to sneak around the outside through the trees without being seen. And I managed to sneak up and get close enough to the girl Abigail to tell her my plan - I'll cut her loose and let her borrow my boots to sneak back through the trees and wait for me... I'll follow a few minutes later, once she's clear (or create a distraction if she doesn't get out).

It was going so well. But I failed my CHA check with her. And she freaked out. Because I was too short for a stormtrooper or somesuch. I decide that there is a small chance (unlikely) that she sort of confesses what she's done, and I roll a 1. She blabbers something about how I'm not her boyfriend and she is SO done with him and she just wants to go home. Then she starts screaming.

I try to cut her ropes quickly, but it fails. Because that's how today is going. It's going to take me 1 round, but I don't have that because 9 goblins are alerted to my presence. They start pulling out bows. 9 of them. 

I double-check my character's alignment. Lawful. Darn. I was kinda' hoping that I'd made him neutral. She would make a decent meat shield right now. Because I lose initiative, I don't have time to make a choice. 9 arrows come flying at me, but only 1 hits (because the goblins failed an INT check that maybe firing arrows towards your prisoner might forfeit your ransom). Unfortunately, two of those are 19's, which seems close enough to a critical failure that I need to see if she got hit. She does. Twice. 

And she's dead.

She was about to make her big offer to the goblins, but didn't get the words out in time. They pepper me (and her dead body still tied to a tree) with arrows. They do a lot of damage to me, but once I've killed 5 of them, they fail a morale check and run. 

Because I'm lawful, I feel the need to finish the job... I cut her down from the tree and try to sneak out of there (I think it's likely the goblins are in hiding at this point... I roll a 1. Yep. I can get out if I move quickly, which I do).

I hit the second bear trap crossing the stream (because of COURSE I do), and limp back to the manor house with a dead hostage, both legs wonky, and 3 hit points. I fail the CHA check with her dad (because of course I do) and he has me arrested. Fortunately, I make my CHA check with the local constable (I had advantage because I am telling the truth and all... that should matter) and they let me go, but tell me to never come around this family again, and to maybe lay low for a while. 

But that's ONLY after I pay back the 10 gp I was given for taking the job in the first place.

Thinking Spells

In my draft for the druid, I have them getting access to nature magic (well, duh)... and I was thinking that I'd organize this as under faith spells, with a tag as 'nature' so that you know these are 'special' faith spells. But maybe the better way to go is to view the subclasses, and whatever special spells they might use, as a whole different sub-system. Rather than druids are a sub-class of cleric which gets special forms of cleric spells, maybe druids are an optional class with a secondary spell line. In the game, the four main classes and two spell lines are the biggies... but druids have their own spell selection (which I guess is how 5E does it... and kind of how 3E did it... so good for me for solving a game design problem others solved a few decades ago). I suddenly have more 'room' to work with because I am viewing this game as an almost entirely digital book, so page count is not even remotely a concern, and ease of finding things is paramount. If I end up with the same spell written up in three different spell lists, it's no big deal.

That tracks.

Okay, back to re-organizing that...

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Productive Snow Day

We had our third snow day in a row, so I got a TON of work done expanding Hack'D & Slash'D. I've always thought of building a game by releasing completed supplements, and using this blog to give 'in progress' updates as they seemed appropriate. However, there is a lot of design work I do behind the scenes that never sees the light of day. I have decided to do that work in a very public and immediate way, and created a series of Google Docs that are set up to expand the game ever forward. There is a companion (sort of a combined Unearthed Arcana and Monster Manual II), a campaign guide (world book), and megadungeon... and I love it. I don't feel the need to stock every room of a level before releasing it. I have a map (which I recycled from seven years ago, turned sideways, and re-keyed) and a bunch of foundational information. I don't have a map for the inn yet, so I just did a quick write up. Great. There's enough there for me to play, and enough for you to improvise around, so it's worth sharing. As I do actual plays/more writing, I can go in and edit the document, and (if you happen to be in the document at the moment), you can watch me edit in real time.

All these links are on the left side, the top link.

The way I set up the core rules has allowed me to frame all expansions in the same format, which is a tremendous help. I have the core rules that are pretty well locked down, and a way to expand the game in multiple directions. The ONLY thing I'm missing is a regular presence on DriveThruRPG. People 'out there' need to see that I'm updating the game with some regularity. I think that maybe a series of one-page adventures is the way to go. I can design these relatively quickly, make them look pretty sharp, and put them up as pay-what-you wants. The whole idea of these is that they increase visibility for the core rules, not necessarily serving as a money-maker on their own.

I mean, the core rules are only a dollar, so none of this is a cash cow, but maybe I'll end up starting a Patreon or something at some point if the game catches on. Who knows? For now, I'm having fun working on it, and I'm happy that more people than I expected have downloaded it. 

Thanks! 

Hack'D & Slash'D Resources

The following links provide resources for the Hack'D & Slash'D Fantasy RPG.

The Hack'D & Slash'D Core Rules

The Hack'D & Slash'D Companion

The Realm of Veil - A Campaign Setting

The Halls Beneath Bryn - A Megadungeon 

Mini Modules:

A1: The Goblin That Broke My Heart

A2: The Signet Tomb

The Realm of Veil

I found my name... Veil. I like it. Okay, so I'm placing Hack'D and Slash'D in the Realm of Veil as the 'official' campaign setting. 

While there are top-down and bottom-up approaches to setting design (start with the gods and work down, start with the level 1 adventurer and build up), I'm far enough along in my creative life that I am comfortable juggling several balls at once. I am taking a 'through-line' approach where I'm going to consider the cosmic forces at play while also considering what this means for the guy buying eggs from the merchant.

One thing I forgot in my top ten (so it's number eleven by default) is that the setting needs to explain the rules... by that, I mean that the setting should create some sort of logical (or at least smell test passable) explanation for how things work the way they do... why do clerics use blunt weapons only? Why are halflings good at being sneaky? Why does magic work how it does?

Okay. So, my top ten got me thinking, and then in my sleep my subconscious did the rest. I woke up a handful of times in the middle of the night and scribbled notes into my notes app on my phone so I wouldn't forget. I'm going to summrize here, but odds are good that I'm going to create a 'living' Google Doc by the end of the day that is organized by sections where I will do the world building. There will probably be another for the megadungeon. I've always worked on things behind the scenes, but you can watch me build this in real time if you are so inclined. It will be a shared document, so if I'm in there working on it when you pop in, then you're in there watching me write. 

Anyhow, I made some decisions.

The Fates lived before this realm. There was a time before. There will be a time after. Only the Fates know about any of this, and they have not shared a shred of it with anyone. They are not likely to do so.

They have one daughter, born when this realm was created. Her name is Veil, and she is the lesser goddess of the created world, and mankind was put her under her auspices. If and when the game adds druids, they will pay homage (not necessarily worship) her.

The Four Elemental Realms, and the creatures therein, also predate this realm. They don't care much about what happens here, in general. When they, or the titans that dwell there, are pulled in to this world's mechanations, they usually just want out. Water seeks water. Fire returns to the flame. However, from these four elemental realms the raw material was drawn for the creation of Veil (both the land and the goddess).

The Outer Planes were created concurrently with this realm. For reasons known only to them, the Fates created eight greater gods to bridge to this land. Scholars posit that they were curious what choices humans would make if given options. Humans living peacefully in a garden may have been a boring proposition for the Fates. They are drawn to conflict.

These outer planes are roughly equivalent to the Cosmic Wheel of classic D+D cosmology. 

Each of these greater gods created two races: one for their realm, and one to dwell in Veil. For example, Blyss the liege of light created angelic creatures for their realm, and the high elves for Veil. At the opposite end, Abyss the queen of death (who dwells in the 666th pit) decided not to create a race, but instead claimed fallen mortals to create the undead. She's always been the trouble maker among the gods. Since Blyss and Abyss are opposites, elves have special protection from undead (they cannot become undead, and they are immune to ghoul paralysis). Abyss created the race of demons to populate her vast holdings. There's a lord of tyranny who created fiends for his world (Hell or something like it) and hobgoblins for Veil. There's the merchant god (chaotic good ish) who has the scales as his symbol. There is Roma the goddess of home, (neutral good ish) who created the halflings for this realm. There is a lord of order and master of craftsmen who created the dwarves for this realm (lawful neutral ish). There is a realm of shadow (neutral evil ish) and a beastlands (chaotic neutral ish). You get the idea.

Abyss has been messing with all of it. That girl is TROUBLE.

Blyss (who had both male and female forms) had two children, twins. The boy is Paladin, and the girl was the huntress. He stayed at home to protect it (and is something of a nephew to Roma) while the girl (I don't have a name for her yet) wandered a lot. I like this idea of elves having wanderlust, and of feeling the need to, at some point, leave home on a trail of some kind. The great hike or Sojourn or something. Maybe that's the lesser goddess' name... Sojourn is not bad. 

Anyway, she met a human, fell in love, and had a bady. That baby was the first demigod; his name was Syrek, and he became the ruler of the lands of Veil. He ushered in a golden age, and he ascended to level 18 as both a warrior and magic user. So, a very powerful dude. He sought two things: Veil as his wife (though she spurned his advances) and ascension to greater godhead (petitioning the gods for this). Veil refused to marry him, and the gods met and voted not to grant his godhead. It was close, and his grandparent, Blyss, cast the final vote no - Abyss didnt appear that day (claiming that the other gods had shut her out, which was, of course, a lie). Syrek turned to Abyss for remedy (or she approached him more likely), and she crafted a dagger that could kill a god. She made him believe that he could take Blyss' power for his own, and then he must be named a greater god. His mother tried to stop him, but he killed her before killing Blyss. 

Then the poop hit the fan.

All living creatures (yeah, even the bad ones) joined forces against Syrek, marching on his fortress at the middle of Veil. He had trapped the goddess Veil there, and was set to force her to marry him. However, the combined forces of all mortals (despite the work of Abyss against them in her support of the now-mad Syrek).

Oh, and Syrek had a general of his armies who fell madly in love with Abyss and ended up killihg himself to become the grand death knight, and he's still dwelling in a pit of sorrows beneeath Bryn, because yeah. 

The good guys won, and Syrek fell. 

That was 813 years ago.

The City of Bryn, the once golden city, still stands are the 'center' of Veil. The four corners of the world spread out from it - the wilds to the west (where the elves abide), the lands of Flame and Frsot to the north (where dwarves and giants dwell) and the broken lands to the east (lands of chaos and strife). To the south is the vast Celestial Sea, which brings visitors from other parts of Veil... and from lands far beyond.

Syrek's Citadel is still the highest point of Bryn, but it is a fallen citadel. From the idea 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer', the races of Veil have kept close watch on Bryn. Though largely a human city, dwarves and elves keep powerful garrisons here. The hobgoblins have claimed the undercity proper as theirs, and they patrol the sewers, watching over the various gateways into the halls beneath. 

And the megadungeon beneath Bryn festers. Not all gates were closed, and not all hobgoblins have kept their discipline. Some have become enamored of Abyss, and a cult to the goddess of death may be growing in strength.   

Some game implications:
- Elves no longer have a true god. Some have followed Paladin, while others find solace in Roma's embrace. For most, they remember Blyss and the empty old temples in sadness, where all of the statues are adorned in shrouds.
- Clerics are not allowed to carry sharp weapons, because a dagger killed a god. That's kind of a big deal. There aren't a lot of clerics, because the gods are kinda' mad at people still. It's awkward. The most common god worshipped is Roma, who has been most active. She is a protector, and it is in her nature to watch over and protect people. She has the most active and vibrant system of temples and worship as a result.
- Mortals are limited to level 10 and tier 5 magic. The gods have decided they don't want you using Time Stop and Wish against them. However, vestiges of old magic remain, and some mortals seek power beyond level 10. Abyss, as you might imagine, encourages such delusions of grandeur. 
- Shadow elves might be the progeny of the shadow lord, or they might be elves that were corrupted by Abyss... not sure on that one yet.
- Abyss is a goddess of corruption; most of the minor humanoid races are derived from hobgoblins that were pulled away and towards worship of demon lords during the beginning of this age. There are lots of demon cults popping up all over the place.

Monday, November 21, 2022

A Game Needs A Game World

In cobbling together Hack'D & Slash'D (I hesitate to call it 'game design' really - more like a bunch of covers of a greatest hits collection with some original guitar solos thrown in for good measure), I was cognizant not to include any setting material - or the suggestion of setting material. The Hand of Vecna implies someone named Vecna from a certain place died under certain circumstances and for some reason his hand persists. That's setting. I defaulted to the most iconic D+D tropes, because they are the most iconic, not because they are the best. I have no "in this world, gnomes take the place of halflings" because there is no 'this world' for that to be true in.

However, I have a hankering to build a game world from raw cloth. I've been playing in and tinkering with the same game world for several decades now, and the stories there are starting to get a little stale for me. I LIKE the setting (a lot), but that doesn't mean I have to be indebted to it. 

I'm free to see other settings is what I'm saying.

So, since the goal in game cobbling was to put together the most iconic version I could that fit with my preferred play style, the setting should be the most iconic setting I can come up with that fits my preferred play style. Is there a way to straddle the line so that it is neither so 'original' that it doesn't feel like a classic setting, but not so 'classic' that it's just a best-of including Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms (I'm so old that "Dragonlance" is still 'new school' to me. Kender? Get off my porch with yer new-fangled halflings!)?

What makes a D+D setting iconic? What are the default settings for a default setting?

Here's a top ten, in no particular order (and that is almost guaranteed not to be your top ten)

1. A multiverse. There are many planes of existence beyond this one in some sort of cosmic wheel-ish kind of thing. There are ways to get there. Portals and doors and conduits exist.
2. Polytheism. There are many gods and god-like entities interacting with this world. They generally don't get along with each other.
3. Swords. There is a lot of conflict. People generally don't get along either. 
4. Sorcery. There is a lot of magic. This doesn't mean it's 'high magic'. For some strange reason, Forgotten Realms jumped the shark for me when I read about how continual light spells were used to power street lamps that never went out... and magic users were suddenly reduced to being National Grid. Magic was no longer magical. Even though magic is not exactly rare, it's also still mysterious.   
5. Feudal Europe as a rough historical foundation. Parallels for African traders, Viking warriors, Chinese explorers, and Aztek builders can live at the peripheries of the game world, but the foundational setting is Feudal Europe. You don't travel to the moon; a piece of the moon falls into this land and has a dungeon in it.
6. History. The place is lived in. There is at least one 'earlier age' (probably a golden age) that was better than this one. 
7. Lots of dungeons. Lots of reasons to have lots of dungeons.
8. At least one big dungeon. The signature location of the place. 
9. At least one big city. The signature city of the place. 
10. Lots of strange stuff. It doesn't all make sense. Logic gets checked at the door. It's a puzzle where half the pieces are from another set, but you manage to squeeze them all together anyway.

First thoughts:

I'm looking for ways to connect dots among the top ten. Here's a possible starting point:

The golden age was a time when magic reached its peak (an era of high magic). Then something happened, and magic was blamed. Something bad. A war between good and evil. The dungeons are largely relics of where the evil things live(d). 

I mean, good had to win, right? Because if evil won, then the whole place would be ... well, not this land anymore. So, good won, but at a great cost. Sacrifices were made. There is a lot of bitterness for the many sacrifices that were made, and everybody thinks their sacrifices were bigger than anyone else's. Lots of tragic backstories to go 'round. Lots of simmering anger that prevents lasting peace or everyone sitting around a fire holding hands.

Now, magic is viewed with tremendous suspicion. Even faith magic, despite its difference from arcane magic, is part of the circle of distrust. This would mean that people don't flock to church on Sunday morning (if ever), and temples are largely relics of the past. People have moved on from the gods, and maybe just default to believing that fate is fate, and that's it. The gods are not a big factor anymore. This would make both clerics and magic users social outcasts; people don't go to the wizard's tower to buy potions; they walk on the other side of the street and never pass it on a full moon. And even though the local bishop might be able to cure your son's disease, you won't go there because you don't believe in the power of the gods, and you think it's all evil in disguise. You won't be fooled again.

Can you tell that the last few years have made me question my faith in the goodness and intelligence of collective humanity? Ugh.

Okay. This feels like a classic setting sort of thing... I'll keep going.

I suppose I need to name the place. Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk and Aerth are all sort of iconic sounding names. The Splintered Realm is a relatively iconic sounding name. 

I've always liked "Arvandor" as a name, but that's already in D+D. I've used Arvandoria as my parallel for Narnia, but the 'ia' ending gives it a bit of a faerieland feel. Andor is a TV show. Vandor is a minor Star Wars Planet. Kandor is the bottle city from Krypton. Candor means truth (without softening the blow). Gondor is a Middle Earth nation, so Gandor is too close... Qandor feels Middle Eastern. Maybe go with something else... I like that rhythm, but it has been pretty much strained to breaking. What about Andar? That's a slight step to the right. Still same vibe, but different enough....

I like Middle Earth (who doesn't), so maybe Middlemeet? 'Mid' roots suggest Viking echoes, so maybe avoid that since it leads to a particular aesthetic/imagery. I like things like hub, nexus, hub, core... maybe a play on words with one of these? Nexos or Coren. Those aren't bad.

Andar?
Coren?

Meh. I'll keep thinking on this...

Sunday, November 20, 2022

I probably need an intervention

20 days ago, I was burned out. Now, I'm releasing a new game.

Because I have a problem. 

If you download this game, you might be an enabler.

Live with THAT.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Armor Class Ideas

In the draft for Hack'D & Slash'D, I have armor class as a negative value you subtract from damage. In theory, I like it... in practice, it kind of sucks. If you deal 4 points of damage against a foe in decent armor, you might end up dealing no damage, or 1 point, which is sort of discouraging. It also requires me to tamp armor class down... a -5 is basically game breaking.

However, (as I started to suggest last post), I could swap it so that every time you are hit, you check your armor class. If you roll your AC or lower, you sustain half damage (sort of like a check to resist magic). That's reasonable, and fits with other mechanics.

So, leather might give +1, while plate mail gives +5... so wearing a suit of plate mail +2 gives you AC 7. Any time you are hit with a physical attack in combat, you check your armor class (roll 1d20, wanting to roll 7 or less). If successful, you suffer half damage from that attack; if you fail, you suffer full damage. Armor then doesn't totally neutralize damage, but it's always helping you (or potentially helping you)... and even an armor class of 10 (which would be very, very rare) only cuts damage in half 50% of the time. So, it's a nice thing to have, and it has an ongoing effect in play, but it doesn't break anything. 

File that under LOVE IT. 

Oh, and shields then grant you advantage on a number of AC checks each round. A small shield would give you advantage on one check, a large shield on 2, while a large shield +3 would grant you advantage on up to 5 armor class checks per round (which would probably just be all of them all the time).

Desert of Despairing Souls Session One

I'm almost ready to post the rules for the new game, Hack'D & Slash'D (see what I did there?). In the interim, I made some characters at level 5 to test out several of the hacks and to do some slashing (see what I did there, again?). Here they are...
 
Teothas the Lawful Elf Magician 5
Staff (1d4); sling (1d4/short range); AC -2; hp 20
STR 7; DEX 12; CON 7; LOR 15; INS 12; CHA 7
Spellbook; adventurer’s pack; 100 gp 
Spells Casting (Tier 5/1d8): All Cantrips; Charm Person; Magic Missile; Sleep; Levitate; Portal; Web; Haste; Lightning Bolt
Cloak of Protection +2
 
Tashya the Lawful Human Cleric 5
Mace +1 (1d6+1); sling (1d4/short range); AC -3; hp 30
STR 11; DEX 8; CON 9; LOR 9; INS 13; CHA 11
Chainmail Armor +1; Small shield +1 (2/round); adventurer’s pack; 100 gp
Spell Casting (Tier 3/1d8)
Wand of Paralysis (Hold Person) Td4 charges.
 
Grym the Neutral Dwarf Fighter 5
War Axe +1 (two-handed; 1d10+2); AC -3; hp 40
STR 15; DEX 12; CON 12; LOR 7; INS 7; CHA 7
Chainmail armor +1; adventurer’s pack; 100 gp
Bag of holding; 3 potions of healing
 
Nessa the Neutral Halfling Thief 5
Short sword +1 (1d6 +1) or short bow +1 (1d6+1/medium range); AC -2; hp 25
STR 9; DEX 13; CON 9; LOR 8; INS 11; CHA 11
Leather Armor+1; adventurer’s pack; thief’s tools; 100 gp
Elfin cloak and boots (advantage +2 to sneak)
 
And, I figured I would use this map that I made a few years ago and never used. Here it is...



Session 1:
 
On the run from the Iron Guard of Molidyn, the heroes have crossed into the Desert of Despairing Souls, seeking refuge among the nomadic people dwelling in Ubek’s Oasis. Here, they find refreshment and rest, but soon hear of adventure. A prophecy claims that the elder Efreeti Gushon is about to break free from his prison in Hazrak’s Tower, wherein he has been bound for 333 years. Holy men among the dervishes suggest that signs point to these four heroes being an answer to their prayers – they suggest that the key to revising the Djinni Ubek, who can make war against the Efreeti and imprison him again, are hidden in Ubek’s Tomb. They agree to set forth for the tomb.
 
Yeah, this is just my riff on the Desert of Desolation Series, but with the goal to fix some of the big plot holes in that story. I always loved the concept, and some of the images and encounters were awesome, so I’m stealing those.
 
They set off!
 
Their first encounter is about a day into the 60-mile trek. I figure that they can cover about 15 miles a day (2 miles an hour in the desert for maybe 8 hours – then they have to rest). I’m going to say that they have to make a CON check at the end of every day or they lose 1 point of CON until they can get out of the sun and recover for 1d4 days of rest.
 
They go 14 miles and see a huge creature wandering on the horizon, coming towards them as the sun begins to set. They slow their march, and ready weapons, but keep moving forward. Maybe it’s the Efreeti. That would be quick. Nooo. Of course not. Instead, it’s a Stone Giant friar who wanders the desert, speaking in nonsense. They can try to make a CHA check to interact with him, but if the roll is bad, he gets enraged and attacks. That should be fun. If they do well, they can get something helpful.
 
Tashya, despite being the youngest, is the default leader. She attempts to speak with the Stone Giant, hailing him in a friendly voice and offering him some water. She rolls 15. That stinks. The giant starts ranting about how they are bandits trying to steal from him; it’s initiative.
 
Suddenly my dice decide to roll high. Figures. Now that I have a roll under system… grr. The giant goes first.
 
Stone Giant 7 [Neutral; AR 12; AC -3; HD 7d10; club 4d6 or stone 3d6; mighty]. Suffer disadvantage on LOR and CHA checks.
 
He has 60 hit points. He draws his club and swings at Tashya. He hits with a 2, dealing 14 damage. She tries to get her shield up to block the blow, forcing a second roll (disadvantage). This is a 10, so still hits. Her armor soaks 3. She is down to 19 hp remaining.
 
Teothas casts a lightning bolt, and the giant resists with a 5. Teothas rolls 18 damage, so the giant suffers 9. It is down to 51. Teothas rolls his tally die and gets 2. He’s already got a tally for today, and he’s only one spell in!
 
Grym swings his axe, hitting with a 5. He has a 5 in 10 chance of getting a second attack, and rolls 3, getting the second attack; he rolls 12, which hits! He deals 3 and 8 points, but the giant’s skin soaks the entire first attack, and means it suffers 5 from the second; it is down to 46.
 
Nessa activates her cloak and boots, trying to move into position for a sneak attack. She checks DEX (for the stealth) and gets 7. No problem. The giant loses track of her as she blends into the dunes around her. She will attack next round.
 
Tashya swings her mace, getting 15 and missing. She should have healed herself…
 
Round 2. The Giant goes again, but we’ll see if it stays on Tashya… no, it goes to the dwarf who is cutting at it with that axe. It rolls a natural 20 and leaves himself open to attack. All attacks against it are at advantage, as it uses the round to try and pull its great club out of the sand it is stuck in.
 
Teothas uses a magic missile and deals 9 points of damage… well, that was just as effective as the lightning bolt, but only has a 1 in 8 chance of giving him a tally. I roll a 5, so he’s good. Still only 1 tally on the day. The giant is at 37 hp.
 
Grym attacks with advantage and rolls 14 and 16… the 14 is still a miss (by 1). Grr.
 
Nessa attacks from stealth as a sneak attack. She rolls a 3, so she hits. She gets to add her level to damage, so she deals 12 damage; the armor soaks 3, so the giant suffers 9 and is down to 28.
 
Tashya swings her mace again and gets 9. She hits, dealing 2 points of damage, which the giant completely soaks. Again, healing might be a better idea.
 
Round 3. The Giant has recovered his club and swings at the little halfling who just poked him in the ankle. He gets 11 and hits her. He deals 12 to her (after her AC adjustment of -2), and she is down to 13.
 
Teothas uses another magic missile, dealing 9 again! The giant is down to 19. On his tally die, I roll 6 so he does not get another tally. He’s still at 1 tally (out of 5) on the day.
 
Grym attacks and gets 17, so he misses. Drat.
 
Nessa rolls out of her tumbling from the club hit, popping up with her bow. She looses an arrow and gets 3. She hits, dealing 6 damage. After the 3 point soak, the giant suffers 3 and is down to 16.
 
Tashya decides to heal Nessa. She uses a cure light wounds, restoring 7 hits to Nessa (who is now at 20). On her tally die she gets 8, so this does not give her a tally.
 
Round 4. The Giant is pummeling the dwarf, so he’ll keep going; he rolls another natural 20, so the whole crew gets advantage again. He’s having a bad day.
 
Teothas uses another magic missile, and deals 10 points, leaving the giant at 6. Teothas rolls 1 on the tally die (ugh) and takes his second tally on the day. Not good. He’s switching to the sling if needed (or at least cantrips for a bit).

Grym attacks with advantage and gets 7, so hits. He has a 5 in 10 chance of getting a second attack, and rolls 8, so no. For damage, he rolls 9. The giant soaks 3, and suffers 6, so he’s at zero. The heroes win after four rounds of combat.
 
The giant carries his entire fortune on him in a satchel… he is carrying 77 gold coins, and a pair of gauntlets of ogre power! These could (maybe should) go to the dwarf, but they will only give a 5% bonus to hit… if Tashya takes them, it significantly improves her combat value. She takes them, increasing her STR from 11 to 16. Nice. It is the end of the day, so all make a CON check to see how they are managing the heat. Teothas is the only who who fails, and his CON drops to 6 temporarily… he’s feeling pretty weak from the stifling heat.

Notes:
I made a few small rule adjustments as I was playing. The core rulebook is 24 pages long, and it's got pretty much everything you need. I like the format - it's very tight and clean. Everything is pretty intuitive, and I feel like the tally spell system is the bee's knees... even though these are level 5 characters, they are probably a bit light on gear for what real level 5's would be at this point, but we're going to go with it. 

I'm not sure how I feel about armor class... I almost want to make armor class a D10 roll; if you roll your AC or lower, you just ignore that attack, and the armor soaks it entirely. AC would never be better than 6 (plate mail +3), so that's not a game breaker. I might try that next time.

Did I Just Solve Spell Points?

I’m thinking of a freeform sort of spell point/tally system… it works this way. As a caster, you have a maximum spell tier and a tally die. That’s it. That’s how you track your available spells that day…
 

Level  

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Spell Tier

1

1

2

2

3

3

4

4

5

5

Tally Die

1d4

1d6

1d6

1d8

1d8

1d10

1d10

1d12

1d12

1d12

 
You have a daily number of tallies equal to your caster level. You roll your tally die (based on your level), after each spell you cast. If you roll that spell’s tier or lower, you receive a tally. Once your total tallies equal your level, you are done for the day.
 
As a Magician 1, each spell I cast has a 25% chance of being my last one for the day. I could be one and done, but I could also get on a hot streak and cast ten spells before fate intervenes and stops me. Moving to level 2 gives me an extra tally every day, and also decreases my chances of getting a tally from 25% to 16%, so it’s a significant step up. I’m not more powerful per se, but I have more control over how I cast spells. The system alternates every level between increasing raw spell power and increasing your ability to manage that power effectively.
 
As a Magician 5, I can get 5 tallies before I’m done for the day. I can cast spells of tier 1, 2, or 3, and I roll my tally die (1d8) every time I cast a spell; if I roll the tier of the spell I just cast or lower, I receive a tally. Tier 1 spells have only a 12.5% chance of giving me a tally, while tier 3 spells have a 37.5% chance of giving me a tally. Early in the day, I may not worry too much about getting a tally, so I drop a tier 3 spell when I maybe didn’t need to, because I don’t mind taking the risk. However, during the fight with the big bad, I might be at tally 4… so every spell I cast is a risk… yes, even a tier 1 spell could be the end of my casting day, or I could keep getting lucky and keep rolling high all day, never running out of energy.
 
As a Magician 10, I’m incredibly powerful. Even my best spells (tier 5) only have a 42% chance of giving me a tally, and I can get 10 of those… yes, I could be out for the day after ten tier 1 spells, but that would mean I’m doing nothing but rolling 1s on a d12, so that’s pretty unlikely…
 
Cantrips would have their own system; you just apply your tally die as both the chance of getting a tally and the total number of tallies for the day. You only get a tally on a 1; as a Magician 1, I use 1d4 as my tally die for cantrips, and I have 4 tallies worth of cantrips every day. As a Magician 10, I have an 8% chance of getting a cantrip tally (a 1 on 1d12), and I get 12 of those every day, so I use cantrips without a care. My availability (or lack thereof) of cantrips has nothing to do with my standard spell casting.
 
Please excuse my hyperbole, but I think that this system if frickin’ brilliant. All I have to write on my character sheet is (tier 3/tally 1d8) for my spell casting ability, and I know everything I need to know to run my spell points for that day.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Climbing out of Burnout with Statistical Analysis

I blame Kevin Chenevert.
 
He sent me a draft of a game he’s working on (which you should definitely pick up when he releases it. Just sayin’). He borrows something in there that comes from The Black Hack – the idea of dice that exhaust. This was a new concept to me, and it took me a while to wrap my head around it… I know for some of you this will be like ‘duh, I’ve been using that for years’, but stay with me as I get caught up. Hey, I have admitted I don’t read a lot of stuff other people have written. I just stay in my own tiny corner of the gaming world and tinker over here most of the time.
 
Anyway, the system gives you a die, and when you roll a 1-2, you move down to the next die. When you roll a 1-2 on the D4, you are done for the day/week/month/whatever. You’ve exhausted that spell or ability or item. A wand might have Ud8 charges. This means it is guaranteed to have at least 4 (the first one, with a 1-2 on the D8 after the second charge is used, a 1-2 on the D6 after the third charge is used, and a 1-2 on the D4 after the fourth charge is used). I’m not a statistician or a math teacher, so I should probably ask someone (or maybe one of you will do some teaching), but basically, I assume the math works like this:
 
On a D8, I have a 25% chance of rolling 1-2 on each attempt; on a D6, I have a 33.3% chance of rolling 1-2 on each attempt; on D4, I have a 50% chance of rolling 1-2 on each attempt. Multiple rolls means that I keep multiplying the existing chance by the next chance to get the new cumulative chance. So, if I have a 75% chance of surviving the first D8 check (I stay on D8 with a roll of 3-8), I have a 56.3% chance of surviving two D8 checks (75% chance of a 75% chance), a 42.2% chance of surviving three D8 checks (75% chance of 56.3%), a 31.6% chance of surviving four D8 checks; a 23.7% chance of surviving five D8 checks; a 17.7% chance of surviving six D8 checks; a 13.3% chance of surviving seven D8 checks; a 10% chance of surviving eight checks… and I don’t get to below a 1% chance until I get somewhere around check seventeen! There is a realistic chance that I’m pushing this out three or four places before I move down to the next die.
 
On a D6, I have a 33.3% chance of rolling 1-2 on each attempt. I have a 66.6% chance of surviving the first check, a 44.3% chance of surviving the second, a 29.5% chance of surviving the third, a 19.6% chance of surviving the third, a 13.1% chance of surviving the fourth, an 8.7% chance of surviving the fifth, a 5.8% chance of surviving the sixth, a 3.8% chance of surviving the seventh, a 2.5% chance of surviving the eighth… you get the idea.
 
On a D4, I have a 50% chance of surviving each roll; this one is easiest in terms of math. Just keep dividing by 2… so the first roll is 50% chance of survival, the second is 25%, the third is 12.5%, the fourth is 6.3%, the fifth is 3.2%, the fourth is 1.6%, the fifth is less than 1%.
 
And now my statistical skills are at an end. I have no idea how to begin mixing and matching these results, but I will presume that the most likely outcome follows the 50% line through all dice… so you’d get through the D8 two times (failing on the third and moving down), the D6 two times (failing on the third and moving down), and the D4 once (failing on the second and being done); this gives you a rough average of 8 results before you’d peter out, starting with a D8. The minimum you could possibly get is 4 if you are rolling bad that day, but with a bit of luck you could end up over ten, and even into the low teens. There’s a pretty big swing, so I’d expect that we’d see a pretty wide standard deviation on this, but again… statistics. I don’t like what I perceive as a very wide deviation in results.
 
I’ve worked out an alternative. 

Because I’m me.
 
I figured what if you had a fixed die, but you tallied your rolls on that die; when you roll the total tallies or less, you are done. This means that you always get one success with any die (no tallies yet), but a 1 always fails on the second check, a 2 always fails on the third check, a 3 always fails on the fourth check… etc. The bigger the die, the more chances you have, and the less likely you are to roll low comparatively. Here’s a quick overview….
 
The tally system % chances of success

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

D4

100%

75

37.5

9.4

--

--

--

--

--

--

D6

100%

83.3

55.4

27.7

4.6

<1

 

 

 

 

D8

100%

87.5

65.6

41

20.5

7.7

1.9

<1

 

 

D10

100%

90

72

50.4

30.2

15.1

6

1.8

<1

<1

 
The average number of results is 2 on D4, 3 on a D6 or D8, and 4 on a D10. The tally system is most effective with smaller dice; there is a significant difference 3 and 4 tallies on the D4, whereas the D10 has very little realistic chance of realizing tallies beyond 7. The D6 appears to give the most robust results, with a bit more variety across the results. However, we could offset this by adding a fixed number of successes before the tally system kicks in.
 
If you have access to 3+Td6 Tier 1 spells on a given day, you will be guaranteed to be able to cast 4, have an 83.3% chance of casting 5, have a 55.4% chance of casting 6, have a 27.7% chance of casting 7, have a 4.6% chance of casting 8, and have a miniscule chance of casting 9. This feels like a tighter bell curve.
 
Is the tally system worth the extra bookkeeping? I’m not sure. As a caster, it gives me one more thing to keep track of (which could be annoying), but it’s also more mysterious; it makes magic a bit of an unknown force in the game. It makes it so that not even the magician is fully aware of his or her power, which I really like from a player’s experience perspective.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Burned... out.

This year has already gotten away from me a bit. I had every intention of doing Teaching Ted twice a week for infinity, but this year is... it's something. I feel like I owe you something of an explanation, so here we go...
  1. I've had a sinus infection since August that won't clear up. I'm on my third round of antibiotics. My immune system is shot.
  2. I teach 8th graders. They are little walking carriers of infestation. 
  3. #1 and #2 are a bad combination.
  4. We joke about this in education... teachers routinely say 'this is the worst group I've had in a long time' or somesuch about students. Rose-colored glasses and the past and all that. However, I can say without equivocation that this is the most CHALLENGING group of students I have ever had. The drama, the fighting, the behaviors, the educational gaps... it's just incredibly rough. I'm asking elementary reading teachers for strategies, because I have students with deficiencies I never thought I'd see in eighth grade. It's all a lot. 
All that said, it's already been a long year, and it's only going to get longer. I have no motivation or energy to spend on anything but treading water right now. When I think about teaching, I don't see any humor in it or anything to joke about. It's all kind of bleh for me at the moment. I'm having trouble getting fired up for much... I stopped watching the LOTR TV show after two episodes; I gave up on She Hulk after three... I can't be bothered to turn on Andor, because I just don't feel like watching, even though I've heard it's awesome. I can't bring myself to care. I think about rolling some dice and think I'd rather take a nap.

It sounds like I'm in a real funk or depression, but I'm not. I'm in pretty good spirits overall, but I just don't have any energy for anything other than basic life maintenance right now. So creative stuff is not even on the back burner. It's sitting in the sink in a pile of dirty dishes. I don't know how soon I'll be trying to dig it out of there.

Be well. Hope we talk again sooner than later.

Mike 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Biting the Hand That Feeds You

I showed a few of my strip drafts for Teaching Ted to some of my colleagues yesterday, and they were... concerned. They are good colleagues, and I trust that they are looking out for me. They said that I should maybe re-consider publishing Teaching Ted. I am a public school employee, and I could easily get myself into trouble with an administrator, parent, or student who sees themself reflected in some negative way in the strip.

This is a fair concern. I'm in the middle of completing my beginning-of-year video trainings, and the advice in all things hews towards, 'when in doubt, err on the side of caution'.

I am a public employee who is held to a higher standard. I have accepted that a long time ago. It might not be fair, but I am judged, and my behavior is scrutinized, even after the school day ends. I go to the local supermarket to get milk and eggs, but I'm not Mike - I'm still Dr. Desing, and (the community presumes) a representative of my school. I attempt to comport myself appropriately as a result. I accept that as part of my life as a teacher.

So, is Teaching Ted in some way a violation of that?

It's a fair question. I want to make sure I don't inadvertantly violate confidentiality or compromise my professionalism. However, I'm also a citizen of the United States with the legal right (and I'd even argue a responsibility) to criticize what I see as inequities or hypocrisy in our political, cultural, and social systems. I think I can move forward with a clear conscience. I know what my intentions are, and I think that petty people are going to be petty if they want to be; trying to get ahead of the pettiness of others is a fool's errand. If I say something that gets someone mad, then it's possible I've simply called them out on their behaviors, and they're not happy about it.

That said, here are the decisions I've made regarding Teaching Ted that should buffer me pretty well:

The Superintendent is the Charlie's Angels voice box; it is a disconnected voice. 'The Superintendent' speaks in cliches and eduspeak. The Superintendent is a hybrid of all medioce superintendents everywhere (and there are many of them).

The principal is going to be Napoleon Bonaparte. In earlier variations, he was a man with a Napoleon complex. Going with a parody of the actual historical Napoleon is going to solve my problem.

I'm never going to mention parent or student names (except for generic first names like 'Joe' or 'Sue'). Parent and student faces will never appear in the strip.

I lean towards only wanting to fully reveal characters who are sympathetic and likeable. Mr. Victor, while probably an effective teacher, has also given in to some of the worst impulses that teachers can be pulled towards. He's lazy and selfish, and doesn't really put his students first. As a result, his face is always hidden behind a newspaper.

So, I figure I go forward... and I have this blog entry for when I get into trouble later on :)

Monday, August 22, 2022

Writing Process: Comic Strips

I find the writing process for a comic strip is fundamentally different than other types of writing I have done. You have a very limited framework to fit ideas within, so things like rhythm, timing, and pacing are vitally important. A few word changes or re-ordering a sequence can fundamentally shift the entire strip.

Additionally, there are two competing forces at play when writing a comic strip; you ultimately want some payoff for the reader. There has to be at least a chuckle or a moment of 'aha' that a reader receives for their investment. It's a low-intensity interaction with a reader, but you want the reader to experience at least one thing during their time in that individual four-panel strip. On one hand, you want to pack as much stuff in as possible. On the other hand, this is a marathon and not a sprint; a long-range reading of some of the great comic strips of all time will reveal that they would have a 'theme' for a week (or longer), mining that idea for as many different individual strips as possible. However, the thinner you spread your material, the less likely you are to give a reader a payoff in each one.

With Teaching Ted, I want there to be three payoffs per strip. I want there to be something in the first panel that makes you smile or snicker or roll your eyes or something; the message on the chalk board, the cat meme on his desk, the sign under the superintdent's name plate - there should be some immediate encouragement for the reader to keep going. Panel two is the transitional building panel; it's the rising action. Panel three is the climax - that's the big payoff for that strip (I think) or a really powerful tease/hook for the final panel (which should be its own form of payoff), and then the final panel has the final downbeat and the closing statement. It's hopefully the best panel, and pays off the investment in the other three.

However, I'm finding that in drafting, I'm often combining two or three ideas into one strip for maximum payoffs. This is the strip I'm working on this morning...

This is one of my TV strips. The idea is that Ted is watching TV; this is my way to reflect on larger political and social events that have some impact on teachers and classrooms; Ted is a witness (often disengaged) to the larger forces happening that will ultimately force their way into his classroom (via his TV at home). In this case, I was thinking about the "don't say gay" policy in Florida, and how to blow this up. By the way, I've decided Ted works in a hybrid conservative state that takes the worst educational policies of the south and merges them into one super-state of awfulness. Anyway, the script started this way:

1. A NASA mission today went wrong when the controller was unable to stop the mission in time.
2. In his own words, "I didn't know if I could say abort. You know. Because of the other word".
3. That other word, as we all know, rhymes with PLAY. And, we will not say it either.
4. In other news, the governor has proposed a bill that would prohibit the public use of the word "abort".

It was okay. It's got a few little payoffs, and an ironic kind of twist at the end. It works well enough, but it's not great, and only borderline good.

I had another draft going with kids and toy AR-15s and them being a song and dance group that goes around doing patriotic songs. I didn't feel like I could get a whole four-panel strip out of that gag, but I fit it into panel one. Then, I decided to up the ante on the word you cannot say joke, and stay there for the rest of the strip. I had to pack things more tightly, but ended up with a much stronger draft:

1. Those local kids are so patriotic.

And cute! Those miniature AR-15s were adorable!

2. Now to national news. An unmanned space mission went awry today.

Apparently, the flight controller saw a problem, but here’s what happened, in the flight controller’s own words… 

3. I wanted to say abort, but I didn’t know if I could say that anymore. You know. Cuz of gay.

4. Turns out he was allowed to say abort, but will now face misdemeanor charges for the other word.


Then, I had to edit as I was doing the layout, because not everything fit on the page. I cleaned up and tightened dialogue due to limitations of physical space, and ended up with an even tighter draft. Here's the page with dialogue. I used different colors to differentiate the various people speaking.

You'll notice that Ted has no arms here... that's because I've streamlined my process quite a bit. I don't draw a new chair or TV or even basic posture for Ted (unless needed) every time; for many pages, I have the basic elements in place, and then I'm just going to draw a hand and (in this case) a bowl of popcorn. He'll be eating popcorn as he watches; but I'm able to use 90% of the same drawing in every panel here, and add the 10% that changes. In some ways, my process is closer to animation than cartooning, because of how I'm managing pieces of the work flow. I've done one chalk board drawing; every time Ted is in front of the chalk board, it's going to be the exact same board design. Right now, I have ten different Ted postures drawn and two sides he can stand on the board; this gives me several thousand variations on how Ted can be standing at the board and talking to his class to work with. By building in these ways to speed up the process, I am more confident that I can maintain a schedule of two strips a week, and move to three a week if I get some momentum going.