Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Pre Generated Characters for Hack'D & Slash'D

In working on the first release to support Hack'D & Slash'D, I created some pre-generated characters. I thought I'd share a preview, since these show off how the game can create a wide range of different character archetypes... 

Bold Human Fighter 1

Armor 1; Hits 12; Move 40’; Spear 3 (4/40’) or Dirk 1 (2)

Traits: Might 4; Mind 0; Reflex 2

Tags: Brawler; Fortitude; Two Handed; Warrior

Gear: Leather Armor 1; Spear 3; 3 gp

Clever Human Thief 1

Armor 0; Hits 5; Move 40’; Shortbow 2 (3/60’) or Dirk (1)

Traits: Might 0; Mind 2; Reflex 4

Tags: Archer; Sharpshooter; Stealth; Thievery

Gear: Shortbow 2; Toolkit; 3 gp

Curious Stoutling Burglar 1

Armor 1; Hits 7; Move 40’; Dagger 2 + Dirk 1 

Traits: Might 2; Mind 1; Reflex 3

Tags: Stealth; Thievery; Two Weapons; Warrior

Gear: Dagger 2; Leather Armor 1; Toolkit; 2 gp

Faithful Human Cleric 1

Armor 2; Hits 7; Move ; Club 1

Traits: Might 2; Mind 3; Reflex 1

Tags: Guardian; Mystic (Common, Light); Warrior

Gear: Leather Armor; Shield; 2 gp

Friendly Human Friar 1

Armor 1; Hits 6; Move 40’; Quarterstaff 3 (4) or Dirk 1 (2)

Traits: Might 1; Mind 3; Reflex 2

Tags: Brawling; Mystic (Common, Deep); Warrior

Gear: Quarterstaff 3; Leather Armor 1; 3 gp

Jovial Dwarf Myrmidon 1

Armor 2; Hits 12; Move 40’; Hand Axe 2 (3) + Dirk 1 (2)

Traits: Might 4; Mind 1; Reflex 1

Tags: Brawler; Fortitude; Two Weapons; Warrior

Gear: Ringmail Armor 2; Hand Axe 2

Inquisitive Gnome Trickster 1

Armor 1; Hits 5; Move 40’; Dagger (2) or Dirk (1)

Traits: Might 0; Mind 3; Reflex 3

Tags: Mystic (Common, Wild); Luck; Thievery

Gear: Leather Armor 1; Dagger 2; Toolkit

Serious Wood Elf Scout 1

Armor 1; Hits 7; Move 40’; Dirk 1 (1) or Shortbow 2 (3/60’) 

Traits: Might 2; Mind 1; Reflex 3

Tags: Archer; Nature; Sharpshooter; Stealth

Gear: Leather Armor 1; Shortbow 2; 1 gp

Studious Human Magician 1

Armor 0; Hits 8; Move 40’; Quarterstaff (2) or Dirk (1)

Traits: Might 0; Mind 4; Reflex 2

Tags: Fortitude; Mystic (Common, Arcane); Spellcraft

Gear: Alchemist’s Oil (1 flask); Quarterstaff 2

Noble High Elf Champion 1

Armor 1; Hits 8; Move 40’; Dagger (2) + Shield (1)

Traits: Might 3; Mind 2; Reflex 1

Tags: Mystic (Common, Mental); Two Weapons; Warrior

Gear: Leather Armor; Shield; Dagger 2

More Fiddly Bits

The further I delve into the rules for Hack’D & Slash’D, the more happy I am with the game balance that has been hard-baked into the fundamental mechanics. Let me give you a few examples:

There are no specific restrictions about armor and weapon usage by class or role, because there don’t need to be. Since your traits set your availability of armor, weapons and magic, you cannot be great at all of those; if you take more might, you get access to heavy melee weapons and armor, but you won’t have much in the way of magic or ranged attacking, because you don’t have the points to do it all. If you get access to a lot of powerful magic, then you won’t have the points to also wear good armor and carry a longbow. You’ve got to make decisions. You can be an arcane archer (mind 3 and reflex 3 at level 1), being pretty good with both bow and magic. You won’t be as good as a pure archer or pure magician, but you’re close. There are no rules or restrictions needed for this. I also like that your ‘role’ can be largely malleable as a result. You can be a ‘fighter’ who wears lighter armor but carries a great bow, or you can be a ‘fighter’ who wears plate mail and wields a greatsword. Either is a viable warrior.

The magic system also balances itself. One of the bread and butter spells is vestments; it allows any caster to use a task to activate armor 2. Armor 2 is not much (the equivalent of studded leather), but considering that it potentially soaks 2 points from every attack you suffer, it can really matter. However, because it requires a task to activate, it also means you are checking the companion action with -1 edge. With a standard attack, you can just go for it; you miss, you miss. For spells, this significantly increases the odds that you are going to fail and burn one of your precious mana points. Strategically, most casters are going to cast a task or two in the first round while moving into position (getting themselves maximized for combat effectiveness), and then start their full assault in round 2. I like how the mechanics lead to some strategic thinking where you can’t just throw your best spell every round. It makes sense to give yourself a cantrip first that will make sure a later spell is more successful.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Inching Closer to Publication

I'm getting a little closer to publishing the revised ruleset for Hack'D & Slash'D, and you can tell I'm very close because I created a character sheet today. That's usually my 'tell' that I'm feeling like the rules are pretty far along. It's a simple, clean character sheet for a simple, clean game.

I've also drafted the text for DriveThruRPG, so that's another tell that I'm getting close. April 1 seems like a good target for a release date - I want to do a little bit of high-level group roleplaying with some more significant monsters to test out some other abilities and magic in more depth, but beyond that I think I'm near the edge of ready.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Little Changes That Add Up

I don't know if I've ever spent this much time and energy fine-tuning a game before. I am in NO rush to be done with Hack'D & Slash'D, and because of that I keep going back and making tweaks to the rules continually. I'm finding that little changes are adding up to big effects on gameplay, and on the flexibility of the rules. Here are some examples:

Changing the paradigm from class unlocking your weapons and armor to traits unlocking your weapons and armor has solved so many problems in a very elegant way. If you are a big, strong character, you can carry a big sword and wear plate mail - because you are big and strong enough to do it. If you've put your points here, then you probably won't have points left to be great at casting spells (because your mind will be pretty low). My hybrid caster/warrior (my preferred archetype at all times) is naturally not as good as either the pure warrior or the pure caster. He or she is going to be decent at both (I can set both might and mind to 3 at level 1), but will already be behind the warrior or wizard who put a 4 in one of those. 

Changing from spells automatically working (and then needing to find a way to put limits on them) to requiring a level check each time has been huge. The limitations are hard-wired into the basic mechanics. Now, you can go ahead and cast all the spells you want - but you always risk losing mana, and mana is a PITA to recover. 

I really like traits that allow you to grant benefits to other members of your team. I like to add little things that contribute mechanically to team work. However, since I often play solo, I never find these useful, and often find that they can harm a character. I'm finding ways to tweak such abilities so that they can be used for your benefit or another's benefit, as you see fit. This is HUGE, because now my solo character can take inspire (granting one automatic 12), and can use it solo, or can give it to someone else during a team up. This is one of those Aragorn abilities; he makes other people better by his presence, but he can also gut check when needed and force himself to do something remarkable.

I've known for a long time that I could write 100 pages of rules that would allow me to play the game I want to play, but with lots of fiddly details that made it happen. Eventually, I got to the point where I could write 80% of the game I wanted to play in 20-30 pages, and I was willing to make that trade off. I am almost to the point where I can play 100% of the game I want to play in 20-30 pages of rules, and that makes me quite happy.  

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Some High Level Play Testing

Let’s make a high-level character. I was thinking about this while driving around earlier, since I have the Little Prince and star imagery in my head (from an unrelated thing), I’ve made him a moon elf prince who fell to the realm from the dark side of the moon. His mother is the demigoddess of dreaming. His name is an anagram of the word dreaming. He seeks to do things in the real world, and has put himself into exile from the dreaming lands of his mother. 


Medrigan the Moon Elf Prince - Noble Wanderer 5

Armor 7; Hits 50; Move 40’; Blade (7) 

Might 4 (5); Mind 3 (4); Reflex 2 (3)

Tags (6): Defender (+1 to armor checks); Luck; Nature; Persona; Two Weapons; Warrior 

Amulet of Stars (Mind +1); Boots of the Four Winds (Reflex +1); Girdle of Strength (Might +1) 

Blade of the Crescent Moon (6+1 damage; 1 mana; grants mystic with common magic only); +1 attack per round due to hasted weapon.

Gem of Lunar Affinity grants 1 mana to cast healing word (restoring 7 hits).

Enchanted Elfin Scale Mail (5+1); Elfin Enchanted Shield (+1 to Armor)

Let’s have Medrigan take on two Manticores

Manticore - Large Fierce Mythical Beast 4

Armor 5; Hits 28; Move 60’ (Fly 90’); Bite (6) + Tail Spikes (6/30’)

As he is moving through the mountains, two manticores surround him, descending from above. He draws his blade and prepares for battle. Initiative. He wins. Round 1: He approaches the first manticore and attacks twice, hitting both times. The manticore makes both armor checks, so he deals 2 and 2 damage, leaving the manticore at 24. The first manticore attacks twice, missing both times. The second attacks with the bite (missing) and tail spikes, getting a natural 12, dealing 8 damage. Madrigan makes his armor check, soaking 7. He loses 1 point, and is at 49. Round 2: Medrigan attacks again, hitting twice. The manticore makes one armor check but fails the next, suffering 9 damage; it is down to 15. They both attack; The first one lands a natural 12 (bite) and 10 (tail). Medrigan gets a natural 12 to soak the first, so he suffers no damage. He makes the second armor check, so also soaks all of that damage. The second attacks, hitting with the bite but missing with the tail. Medrigan soaks all of that damage.  Round 3: Medrigan hits twice, once with an 11, so deals 8 and 7 damage. The manticore makes both armor checks, so suffers 3 and 2 damage, for 5 total. It is down to 10. The first manticore hits with its tail getting an 11, but Medrigan rolls a 12 on his armor check; he soaks it all. The second hits with the tail only, but Medrigan again soaks it all. Round 4: Medrigan only hits once, but uses his luck ability to re-roll the second attack, and now hits. The manticore makes both checks, so only suffers 4 hits.  It is at 6 hits. The first manticore hits with the tail on a 12, but Med counters with his own natural 12, suffering no damage. The second manticore attacks, hitting twice. Med makes both armor checks, so ignores the damage.  Round 5: Med attacks twice, but only hits once, albeit with a 12. The manticore makes its armor check with a 12, so Med only deals 2 damage. I’m going to rule that the manticore is dead, because I’ve already learned what I needed to from this so far…

Because this battle is a slow, non-fun slog. Med is going to win, but it’s going to take FOR. EV. ER. Not good. That’s the bad news. The very, very good news is that this is not a game design problem (at least, I hope it’s not) - it is a creature design problem. I’ve been thinking of building creatures the same way I build characters, which tries to keep both armor and damage output relatively balanced for a front-line combatant. Ideally, the squishier characters will be able to deal out a bit more damage, but will also be squishy and will not be able to soak as much. We’ll see how that plays out down the line, but as for this battle, I need to re-work the manticore. Let’s decrease armor a bit and increase damage output a bit, and see how that changes things.

Manticore II - Large Fierce Mythical Beast 4

Armor 3; Hits 28; Move 60’ (Fly 90’); Bite (11) + Tail Spikes (9/30’)

Let’s get it going again and see…

Round 6: Med attacks twice, hitting once. He deals 7 damage, and the manticore fails to soak, so is down to 21. The manticore attacks twice, hitting with the bite for 12. Med makes his armor check, but still suffers 5 hits, and is down to 44. He’s taken some damage. Okay, then. Round 7: Med hits with two 11s, dealing 8 and 8 damage. The manticore makes both armor checks, soaking 3 from each, so it suffers 10 hits. It’s down to 11. It attacks twice, but misses both times. Round 8: Med hits twice for 7 and 7; the manticore makes both armor checks (one with a natural 12), soaking 3 and 5 hits. Med deals 6 damage, leaving the manticore at 5. It attacks twice, hitting with the bite for 11. Med soaks his 7 armor, but suffers 4 hits and is down to 40. Round 9: Medrigan hits once for 8 damage. The manticore fails its armor check, and is dead.

Okay. That was MUCH better. That was a simple change. Medrigan would earn 20 xp for that. Balance is restored. I think that it’s going to be a good idea to get rid of the rules about the edges for different level encounters; those rules are not going to be needed to maintain balance between different levels, because the damage output for upper level monsters is going to scale up fast enough that low-level characters will be at a pretty big disadvantage against giants hitting for 16.  I mean, if a giant 5 that deals 16 hits rolls a 12, it deals 18 hits with its club; if Medrigan fails his armor check (very unlikely, but it happens), he suffers 18 damage, which is about 1/3 of his total hits. That's considerable. Even with his best armor check, Medrigan is still suffering 9 hits against that natural 12. If Medrigan is traveling with a wizard 5 with 25 hits and armor 2, that wizard can get taken out in two hits pretty easily. That wizard is also able to deal 20 hits with his arcane storm spell, so the giant could be taking pretty heavy damage on his end... espeically if he suffers -1 edge to resist the damage type of the spell (ice magic against a fire giant). The giant might have 50 hits, but they are going to rip through each other in a few rounds. I don't really mind that.

Once More Into the Delve, Dear Friends

I updated the actual play thread (over in the Hack'D & Slash'D resources tab). I got to play test changes, and made a few more tweaks on the fly, and I really like the rule changes. This all feels very balanced and there are no glaring challenges; even a small amount of damage (an offhand that deals 2) can deal significant damage (4 points) on a natural 12 with a failed opposing armor check. I like it.

I changed healing word, and I LOVE it. It’s now a free action, but can only be attempted once per round. Since it requires a check to be successful, it’s not going to be automatic at all, but it allows healers to be doing other things as well. It’s a great utility spell now that can be used in combat. I absolutely love this spell now.

I made a few changes to mana, and these really work nicely… you can only cast spells ranked at your current mana +1; this means that as a longer fight wears on, you have fewer high-power spells to choose from. This ‘feels’ like a wearing down. I haven’t done any high-level play yet, but the idea that you can keep trying your heavy hitter spells each round is something I’d like to mitigate a bit when we get there. This should do it… There’s already the incentive not to try rank 6 spells when you don’t really need to (you have a 50% chance of losing a mana point with each attempt), but this would be even more resource management on the caster’s end, which I don’t necessarily mind.

Speaking of which, there was very little in the way of resource management between combats. Almost everything resets at the beginning of the next minute, meaning that it is going to be very unusual for wounds or lost mana to carry over between fights. This is not a good or bad thing, necessarily, but will prevent games from becoming wars of attrition over time. I didn’t love that so I added a slower drip on mana recovery. You don’t reset your mana every minute, but recover 1 mana every hour. This makes healing fully between combats in a dungeon more problematic, since your rest can be interrupted by wandering monsters. It might add that layer of larger attrition without adding a lot of complexity. I found that Vessa was healing only as much as she felt she had to, because the risk of rolling a 1 and being out of mana was a bit scary. 

Delvers of Daggerford at Level 2 Redux

The Delvers of Daggerford got a soft reboot based on the myriad changes I've made to the core rules.  I like all of the changes - the stat blocks are a little bit cleaner, the numbers feel a bit more balanced (Skarn is about as maxed out for warrior damage as he can be, and it's still reasonable), and I really like the new tags and the way that magic is layered in as a tag rather than having it be linked to one 'class'. Regarding class, that's the biggest upgrade to me; none of these characters has a generic 'class', and already I feel the benefit of this choice. I've decided that battlesinger is a dwarf thing because they all sing together on the battlefield; a bunch of dwarves all getting natural 12s and sharing these with each other through song is a pretty cool concept, and would make a dwarf battle group quite powerful; the group is always giving points to the lead dwarf in the fight, who's getting natural 12s on every action due to the influence of the song they're all singing. Also, my expectation is that Grubs is now going to be dealing HEAVY damage; he is sniping for 7 points against foes who don't focus on him. That's as much as Skarn hits for with his axe. This might be unbalanced; he'll be hitting for at least 12 damage when he gets to level 6. I mean, I guess that is assassin material, but DANG. It is also going to make foes want to focus on him a lot more... which is part of the reason he has some might to give him the extra hits.

Grubs - sly human scoundrel 2 (50 XP) 8 gp
Armor 2; Hits 14; Move 40’; shortsword (4) or quality crossbow (5/120’)    
Might 2; Mind 0; Reflex 5 
Archer (+1 to hit with ranged); Assassin (+2 to damage when not primary target); Stealth (+1 edge to sneak); Thievery
Studded leather armor; adventurer’s pack; tool kit
Mim - insecure gnome mythweaver 2 (50 XP) 4 gp
Armor 0; Hits 10; Move 40’; dirk (2); Footman’s Sling (2/60’)
Might 0; Mind 5; Reflex 2  
Mysticism (Common Magic; Arcane Magic; Mentalism); Persona (+1 edge to influence)
Traveling robes; adventurer’s pack; 2 potions of mana (restores 1 mana)
Skarn - grizzled dwarf battlesinger 2 (50 XP) 11 gp
Armor 3; Hits 22; Move 40’; Heavy War Axe 6 (7) + Hand Axe 2 (3)
Might 6 (5); Mind 2; Reflex 0
Brawler (+1 melee damage); Inspire (1 natural 12/minute); Two weapons (1 offhand attack); Warrior (+1 to hit)
Chain mail armor 3; adventurer’s pack; lesser gauntlets of might (+1); 1 vial oil of enchantment
Vessa - noble elf lightbearer 2 (50 XP) 4 gp
Armor 4; Hits 16; Move 40’; broadsword (5) or Sling (1/30’)
Might 3; Mind 3; Reflex 1  
Defender (+1 edge armor checks); Guardian (+1 to armor/can share shield); Mystic (common magic; light magic)
Chain mail armor 3; shield; adventurer’s pack; 1 vial holy water; 1 antidote;
Vial of bees’ honey; each drop restores 3 hits (4 drops left); 1 vial oil of enchantment

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Hack'D & Slash'D Keeps Getting hacked... and slashed

Living up to its name, this game keeps going through the meat grinder. Feel free to take a look at the most recent iteration.

I decided it was time to stop calling it version 2.0, since it was at LEAST version 2.8754 or somesuch. I couldn't even imagine how many edits I've made (even major edits have been in the dozens). I've just dropped the edition idea, called it Hack'D & Slash'D, and added a 'revised' note in the opening notes with the date. I'm okay with the idea that it's a living document that always sees a little bit of improvement and clarification when needed, but I also at some point would like to lock down the core game so people aren't afraid to start playing only to find that everything they've created is wrong and needs to be fixed.

Because I've been there a few times with this. I mean, I do it to myself, so I'm not frustrated (at all) - I keep getting excited to fix things or improve things, and I feel like I keep doing that. For this version, the biggest changes are moving from attribute checks to level checks as the default way to resolve a situation; your ability to get past a door is based more on your level than your physical abilities. You could use strength, or cunning, or guile, or just your understanding of how doors in underground environments can get warped over time (because this isn't your first rodeo), and you know how to use just the right amount of leverage and pressure to jimmy that bad boy open. If you've got a lot of might, you get to add a die to that check because you've got the power to really pull at it.

In the same spirit, I've simplified the six attributes down to three traits: Might, Mind, Reflex - and these are largely used to resist rather than act. With a rating of 4+ in any of these, you get +1 edge to level checks where they apply (as I outlined above).

The biggest shift is in getting rid of classes and races altogether. All characters get four tags, and you get to use these to build the character as you see it; I've decided to build a paladin type. Here's my first character with the newest set of rules. He's a bit different from the last set of characters:

Arek, Noble Human Templar 1 (0 xp/1 gp)
Armor 1; Hits 8; Move 40’ Apprentice’s Blade [1] 
Might 3; Mind 3; Reflex 0
Mystic (Common Magic; Light Magic); Warrior (+1 to hit in melee); Guardian (+1 armor with shield) 
Shield (+1 armor checks); Adventurer’s Pack

I like that he only took about two minutes to generate. I still had a lot of choices to make, even with the few things I had to decide. I am thinking about just making up a bunch of characters to see how the process goes... maybe make a bunch of level 2 characters with 100 gp in gear and see what it all looks like... actually, a resource with pre-generated characters as PCs or NPCs is not such a bad thing to work on.

4:30 am Musings

If I was to populate a river near Ancient Rome with great whites and rented Evel Knievel's motorcyle for a weekend, could I theoretically cross the Rubicon while jumping the shark? 

Because, to be honest, while not a fan of AI art, this seems like the only reason it should exist. The collective creative energy of all of humanity is the only thing worthy of generating such an image.

On a complely related note, I got an idea at about 4:30 am.

What if I went full-on narrative and did to the other foundational pieces of the game what I already did to alignment - replace structure with language. Instead of lawful good, you are now noble... or faithful... or stoic. They're all flavors of how you're interpreting lawful good for your character, but they do the same thing - they guide your roleplaying choices.

Because that's what it's about. Now...

- What if instead of a class, you had a role - and that could be anything?
- And what if instead of a species, you had an origin - that, again, could be anything? 
- And then, while we're at it, let's kind of get rid of attributes altogether, eh?

Let's call it the Samewise Gamgee approach. Because, I wanna play me some Sam. That's my jam. But I've never (ever) been able to create a set of rules that truly lets me play as Samwise. I mean, he's a hobbit gardner for goodness' sake. How the F-itty-F do you play a hobbit gardner?

Easy. You play a hobbit gardner. Rather, you play a faithful hobbit gardner. Whose starting weapon is a frying pan.

I'm going to get working on 'version 3' of Hack'D & Slash'D. See you in a bit with an update.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

More Philosophical Shifting

In the ongoing effort to streamline, simplify, and clarify the rules for Hack'D & Slash'D, I've reversed course on a few things I've recently argued in favor of... the most recent update to the rules (which as of this moment is only done through the rules on Common Spells on page 19) includes these changes:

- I've ditched the rules for multi-classing, and instead inserted several options to make characters more flexible within their existing classes. This was prompted by the problems that I was starting to run into with levels... if you are a mystic 3 with arcane 2/light 1, what is your caster level, exactly? Yeah. That's what I thought. Now, you have a way to make mystics more versatile casters, to add a little bit of casting to the warrior and rogue, and to increase your diversity as you advance. Adding tags at levels 3 and 5 means that you can now be a warrior caster at 1 (but you'll be a relatively vanilla warrior), or add the casting later in your career. This allows you to become the traditional D+D cleric pretty easily: warrior with conjuring tag and light magic. Bingo. You can go more traditional paladin approach (add that caster tag at level 3), or wait until level 5, and use it to round your character out at the end of your career. Rogues can now be bards with relative ease, and mystics can end up picking up several fields over time and becoming quite diverse. All of this feels better.

- I totally overhauled rules for mana. Instead of mana being a separate check, it's now embedded in the original check to cast a spell. All spells require a check, and you only lose mana on a bad failure; the more challenging the spell, the more likely you lose a mana point. If you fail with a 4, you lose a mana point if the spell was rank 4 or higher. There's going to be a crossover where by level 6, you only fail on a roll of 4 or lower, so you're insulated a bit from losing mana on a 5 or 6... since a 5 on the die is going to be a success by the time it matters. The rules for mana have gone through a tremendous evolution over the last few months. 

I pulled xp scaling wayyyy back. There was no reason for numbers to be as big as they were (except B/X hanging over the game still). 1 xp now means something. I'm toying with the idea of awarding xp based on the level of the foe, modified by the difference between the heroes and the foe... but then you have to factor in the number of heroes. It might be easy enough to go with something like this; a creature is worth xp equal to its level. 1-2 creatures = that level; 3-5 creatures = +1 level; 6-10 creatures = +2 levels. Add or subtract the difference between equivalent levels. A level 1 hero vs. a level 1 monster earns 1 xp (same level, level 1 foe). A group of 4 level 4 heroes against 1-2 level 5 monsters each earns 5 xp (same equivalent level defeating level 5 foe). At level 2+, defeating a solo level 1 creature solo is not worth any xp, because it's too easy... but 3-5 of those creatures grants you 2 xp. Still tinkering with these ideas. 

Meditations and Revelations

In Chris Farley SNL interviewer voice:

Remember when I blogged about being almost done with the core mechanics for Hack’D & Slash’D? Yeah. That was AWESOME.


A full disclosure before I continue. I like writing games and designing games as much as, and sometimes more than (gasp) playing games. Designing games often IS the game for me.

The old cliches are things like the journey is the reward, getting there is half the fun, and I’m more about process than product. And, yes, those are largely the excuses of people who don’t know how to get stuff done and push through to the finish line and actually put a bow on the dang thing already, but they can also be true and end up being my jam.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying I’m re-examining some basic game mechanics again. I would tell you how I got here, but I’m not sure, and it’s a deep rabbit hole that starts with staging musicals (which it turns out I’m going to be doing again! Hurray!), goes to using pentagons and stars as a foundational shape in the production design, the idea that the dodecahedron (which I have dedicated my current role-playing life to) is the greatest of all the dice - and I will FIGHT you - and then to how you look at the die from different angles and the appearance changes.


It SOMEHOW got me thinking about the very concept that ‘half damage’ is a holdover from saving throws and fireballs and dragon breath. You either take full damage from a fireball, or half damage from a fireball. It’s a mechanic that is simple and elegant, and it makes a lot of sense. It is linked to the idea that on a ‘critical hit’ you deal ‘double damage’. I’ve just assumed that is true since I was ten. Because it is the LAW.

But for my game, because so many numbers are fixed, these fundamental beliefs were really limiting nuance. I needed more nuance somewhere. 

I was trying to get that nuance in slicing the results; you could take half damage, or quarter damage… or you could take -3 damage, or maybe -6 damage.

But… it was numbers. Numbers to remember.

I don’t like having a lot of numbers to remember. I want it right in front of me.

And then I thought about how my original impulses had been to use armor for damage reduction; I like that intuitively. I like that plate mail reduces more damage than leather does. My original draft of the rules had this in place, but it became a game killer; a monster that deals 4 damage would NEVER be able to damage a warrior in heavy plate mail that soaks 6 - because my original draft said that armor always worked. In later drafts, I said that armor only worked some of the time, but then it always worked the same way when it did: heavier armor was just better at doing that thing.

But, I realized this morning I could marry the two concepts… and I could move ALL resistant checks from attribute checks to level checks. In fact, I could give the whole concept of level check its own new moniker (like ‘save’ or ‘test’ or ‘feat’ or ‘resist’ or ‘mitigate’ or something simple and clean and elegant and that sounds nice when I say it 832 times in the core rules).

The shift is this: When you try to stop something bad from happening to you, roll 1d12 + your level. If you roll a total of 10 or better, you did it! You used your experience and training (which level directly reflects) to position your armor to absorb part of that attack, your persona to reduce that dark magic damage, or your stamina to neutralize some of that poison. If you roll a natural 12, you did even a little better than that (like +2).

Now, the problem here is that if you have a rating of 0 in something, you are only reducing damage on a natural 12. I suppose we could go with 11 being +1 and 12 being +2. This is elegant (1 is 1 and 2 is 2… so that’s good and gives nuance and is easy to remember) plus, even with a rating of 0, there is always a reason to roll.

The revised language would look like this…

  • Against a physical attack: Check level; if successful, soak armor.

  • Against a poison: Check level; if successful, soak stamina.

  • Against an arcane spell: Check level; if successful, soak reason.

I can then scale back damage quite a bit, because instead of 20 dragon breath being mitigated to 10, it may only be mitigated by 6 points… so even 12 or 14 starting points is pretty significant. 

A shield can still give you +1 edge on armor checks.

Standard weapons deal 2-5 damage.

Heavy weapons deal might + 2-5 damage.

So, in play, this becomes really clean. You attack with your greatsword (damage 5) against a foe with armor 2.

If you hit with a result of 10+, you deal 5 damage. If you roll a natural 11, you hit for 6 damage. If you roll a natural 12, you deal 7 damage. 

Your foe with armor 2 then checks level. With a result of 10+, they soak 2 of that damage. On a natural 11, they soak 3. On a natural 12, they soak 4.

Buh. Dang. One roll each time. Numbers scale. There’s a lot of variety. You can ‘hit’ and deal anywhere from 1 to 7 points of damage, depending on your attack result and the opposing level check.


Remember when I solved damage scaling in Hack’D & Slash’D? Yeah. That was AWESOME.