Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gear Packages and Bases of Operation

The single slowest part of character creation, in my experience is picking equipment. There is rarely that much difference between the gear picked, unless an experienced or crafty player is involved, and yet picking the same stuff takes forever every time. Players are trying to pick enough items to have something for everything, and they try to carry it all.

But this begs the question, why bother?

No, seriously, why bother? What is gained by doing this? -- As far as I can tell, maybe an illusion of player control, but even that's debatable.

My idea for a solution is two fold, as there is both cause and effect to be addressed.

Cause - players feel they need to be prepared for all things at all times.
I blame Tolkien for this mentality, as he wrote the grand wandering story of the One Ring. Ive played too many games were the PCs travel all over the game world, and everything has to kept handy. This isn't completely terrible as its brought things like the Portable Hole and Robe of Many Things which are fun to play with. However since players are wandering and expecting to rely on themselves, you get a laundry list of items. So rather than changing the items available or something extreme, why not just give them a base of operations? Maybe a house, or a ship or some other place where stuff can be stored. You don't need to carry all your crap when you can just pop home and grab that ten foot pole or hydrospanner you need. But that's not the real reason to provide a base of operation, you do it to tie the players into a setting, to incorporate them into a story so they actually might care about at least a few npcs.
Solution - Provide a base of operation with a safe storage facility, and an opportunity to set down roots through roleplaying.

Effect - players want to have items to handle everything
Players should want to be prepared for problems, as thats half of what being an adventurer is about, but there is a difference between prepared and carrying everything and the kitchen sink. Anything can be taken too far, and poring over equipment lists can eat time like no ones business. Most genres have specific gear that's all but mandatory (and the DM had best know their material enough to pick these out) so total them up and write them down as packages, as they should show up. This has the added advantage of reminding the DM what sort of obstacles should be in adventures. If they players only have to pick one or two items and a package instead poring over lists it should go quicker. In fact you should be able to organize packages into specialized forms, such as one for the combat wombats, sneaky types and so on with the gear they need.
Solutions - Organize commonly used items into packages to cut down on what needs to be bought.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Making playing a human appealing to play

In pre-2000 D&D and its close relatives playing a non human (demi-human or humanoid) conferred specific ability or stat bonuses that exceeded anything a human could achieve. On the other hand humans were the only race to have access to all classes and no limits on how far they can advance in those classes. So a dwarven wizard or halfling paladin is out, and a human thief will always be capable of higher levels than an elf, even with the elfs longer lifespan.

This is not a horrible solution, but it can restrict the potential roleplaying opportunities though admittedly there are almost as many or more ways to munchkin out a character. A dwarf with arcane powers is a fascinating concept for example but as they are written up in 1e/2e AD&D they have some rather brutal resistance to magic as they progress in levels.

This leads to question of direction, do you give humans a bonus or restrict demihumans? One of the key concepts of pre 2000 D&D is the fact that the world is human dominated. If demihumans can be anything what is to stop them from overshadowing the humans? An incredibly durable dwarven paladin or the unearthly dextrous elf thief will achieve things over their longer lives that a mere human could, on a purely mechanical level. A wonderful example of this and the various mechanical tweaks tried to fix it is the halfling. As written by Tolkien a halfling does not belong in an adventuring party, because they simply arent suited for it. And culturally, going out adventuring would be treated like a sign of madness. So as the editions increase, they begin to gain additional abilities like luck bonuses until we have halflings that are more like Belkar from Order of the Stick. And the Baggins were never "shoeless gods of battle".

If we give humans bonuses to offset the fact that their mechanical stats are inherently going to be lower, you either give them equal stat bonuses and thereby cheapening the stat bumps that the other races have or an alternative bonus. Perhaps the reason the humans are the most populous and powerful race (besides breeding like rabbits) is the short term view that humans have that motivate them to push themselves hard.

If instead we restrict demihumans then we are limiting roleplaying opportunities, but the ones left are simpler to handle mechanically. The different races then become focused on the racial niches they've carved out. Such as an elf being a mage rather than a barbarian or a dwarf who fights rather than slinging arcane magic.

More notes on my Con Games

Based on my experiences at last year's GASPcon I need to do very specific prep. Rather than worrying about specific stats, as they are easy to create on the fly. What I need more is the mechanics to give a very specific feel to the game and a crib sheet of vignettes and characters to touch on when I need something to make the game fun.

Easy Credit Blues
I want this to feel like a mix of Serenity with Issac Asimov and other late 60s and 70s sci-fi. That means the crew's ship is liable to be falling apart rather than the immaculate ships of Star Trek (the Serenity contribution) while all the possible worlds to visit are remnants of a star spanning empire, with some major similarities between them. However that alone isn't really that interesting in a one shot con game. What I will have much more fun with is a card based mechanism to deal out random secrets that all the players have, things like "you're a traitor and seek to screw the players at a critical moment" or "you're actually a humanoid robot thats attempting to pass as a human". Each card will have ROLEPLAY IT written in big bold letters and "if you cant do this one, speak now!" so they will be warned and informed, and hopefully willing to introduce more elements of chaos and confusion.

Doom comes to Barvales
I will be drawing on the whole survival horror element of Death Frost Doom, Resident Evil, and some of the video games Ive been playing up the weird and horrible aspects that Lamentations is intended to have. A major element of the game will be surviving, with an eye to either carve out a new niche in the new order or take back the city from the horrors. That means gaining or protecting resources and taking advantage of all the resources I provide. My Doom players will get cards too - dealing out a card listing the character as being a local of Barvales, a pious pilgrim, or an outsider who has come to take advantage of the holy ritual everyone is coming together for.

For both games Im looking to deal out personality quirk cards, to give the players something to roleplay besides the cliched stuff like the drunk scottish dwarf.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

[A2Z] A is for Almarand, the stone that stalks

Almarand is a whispered denizen of the area around the bottom of the Walk. Attacking only on the dark of the moons, even armored and armed warriors have been taken by the creature. However it only ever takes one victim a night, leaving no witnesses and few traces. Two months ago a boastful warrior armed with a magically ensorcelled blade boasted that she would slay the beast and managed to convince the authorities, civil and criminal, to clear the road surrounding the Walk on the night of the dark. For the first time a cry was heard, but it was fierce and inhuman. In the mornings light all the was found was bloodstains and chips of rock. A sizable reward for the recovery of the magical blade, and a somewhat smaller one for the capture or destruction of the creature, has since been raised.

This completes the initial stage of my A2Z of Bridgeport write up - now I need to make it up into a document and start layout.

Custom RPG notes, part 3

As I ponder my little experiment, and listen to all the Thacoshammer, Save or Die and Roll for Initiative podcasts, Ive noticed that what I want to run is almost a lite version of 2nd edition D&D with hacks to the combat system - the circle is now complete as I return to my first rpg ever.

One of the more disappointing mechanical conceits of older D&D is the overly complex weapon system, where weapon access is limited by class or proficiency. Now admittedly some of these do have something remotely approaching logic (i.e. classic wizards spending all their time learning spells rather than swordplay) but even those break down when you look at them too hard or change part of the setting, like clerics being restricted to blunt weapons when the major religion is say a Norse pantheon. Secondly having damage variation by specific weapon is a detail that I don't feel actually helps the game, even when it doesn't inspire munchkins (ahem 2e katanas..) as your just as dead if the sword blade thrust through your chest is 2.5 feet long as you are when its 3 feet long. So to simply damage and allow cooler roleplaying characters and choices Ive knocked up a little table.

Weapons Small Medium Large Two Handed
Warrior 1d6 1d8 1d10 1d12
Rogue 1d4 1d6 1d8 1d8
Warrior 1d4 1d6 1d8 1d10
Mage 1d3 1d4 1d6 1d8

Dual wielding roll for each weapon and pick one.

This hopefully will allow the sword wielding mage or the cleric with an axe, as weapons are only mechanically important for how big the they are and leave the specific weapon up to the player to roleplay.

And anyone know how to fix the big gap ahead of my table?

Prelimanry Con Game Writeups

Doom comes to Barvales - Lamentations of the Flame Princess

    Barvales, beacon of civilization amidst the the Great Dismal Swamp, is the site of the single largest carnival and market within 1000 miles. Vendors, pilgrims and wanders from the surrounding lands come together once every two years to haggle over, celebrate and experience the wonders that will be there. However this year things may be different, as an ominous prophecy of doom for the city has been circulating. Security has been increased, with many mighty mages and holymen hired to be present and the city leaders are CERTAIN all will be well. But hey, that guy over in the corner looks a little pale and sick.....

     Doom comes to Barvales will be run under the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Deluxe rules, but no prior experience with them is needed if you have any clue how to roleplay and can roll dice. Characters will be provided, but a black sense of humor and experience with the playstyle of games like Resident Evil may help you live longer...

The Easy Credit Blues - Stars Without Number

    The simple fact is, it costs alot to keep a ship running. After one too many tariff, tax and cheating merchant, the captain needs to make some coin, now. Even knowing its too good to be true he's taken a job that promises low risk and great money. Just a simple little run across the sector to drop off some humanitarian supplies and pick up some art, thats all. Just a simple job....

     Easy Credit Blues will play under the free Stars Without Number rules, an old school inspired sci-fi game. All you need to play will be an understanding of roleplaying and a willingness to think laterally.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thoughts on Free RPG day (or the swag I got and what I think)

Free RPG day has come and gone yet again, and the lucky people got there swag. Before I go onto the break down of what I got I have to toss out my problem with the whole idea, we're preaching to the converted. Rather than reaching out to non gamers Free RPG day seems to me to be more of a pre-Origins, pre-Gencon demo for too many companies upcoming products. If you want to grow the hobby, why put the material where basically only existing gamers go? I mean admittedly there will be some random people walking in, or the tragic gamer girlfriend dragged along that will see something that catches their eye. And maybe some existing gamers will explore outside their comfort zone (ahem D&D fanatics) but there isn't the access to non gamers that is needed to truly expand.

Anyways, bitching is done.

What I got - Fantasy Flight's Black Crusade, Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Green Ronin's Dragon Age RPG.

Black Crusade - this is my big winner of the day. Black Crusade is FFGs fourth book to its Warhammer 40K rpg trilogy (yes we are going into Douglas Adam territory). What makes Black Crusade different is the characters, as you play Heretics. Now that means its dead easy to do an evil campaign and play soulless evil monsters, but the cool stories will spring from the fact that the appellation Heretic comes from the Imperium, so this could be anyone from a defeatist trooper to someone with a modern day liberal view. All that matters is that your outlook on the world differs from the official views of the Imperium, therefor you are a heretic. This looks EXTREMELY interesting. The adventure is pretty straightforward, but a nice twist on a jail break adventure, but with combat and interaction.

Dragon Age - this has been an rpg Ive been very curious about for quite a while, as Ive heard very good things about game play, and the stunts idea are quite cool. I had thought that the game was a little closer mechanically to traditional d20 games, but its different. Now I have just enough to ponder material to steal. The adventure is actually quite nice, with a mix of combat, exploration and interaction in it. The main reason that this isnt a top marks product is the fact that the back cover talked about Dragon Age boxed set 2 - it has roleplaying and exploration stunts! I want that!

Dungeon Crawl Classic rpg - oh were to start with this. Its not a bad product, but its definitely not what the cover offers. The rules in the booklet are, well nonexistent. You have brief notes on the differences between the system and both old and new school D&D, and a link to the beta document. I guess my bigger problem is with the weird dice it wants to use - I dont understand the point of adding additional dice. Now on the plus side you get two adventures, though both are written to be brutal, and some very cool artwork.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Custom/Experimental RPG notes, part 2

Here are some additional ideas for my custom brew of D&D.

  • Rather than sticking with death at 0 hps or -10, I think a more characterful idea is death at hp = -(max on hit die). Therefore a wizard would shuffle off at -4 while a fighter would last to -10.
  • Im considering digging out a master list of the kits available in 2nd edition AD&D to blend into a list of archetypes. This would allow for the changes needed in some kits *cough* Bladesinger *cough* to make them all playable, roleplaying features to add to the game. This should dovetail nicely into my revamp of nonweapon proficiencies.
  • Im thinking of at least writing up a version of the minion concept from 4e, as it simplifies large scale combat alot, even if it weights things in the favor of the players more than I like.
  • Quite possibly one of my favorite concepts in rpgs, I want to draw on the concept of degrees of success, like is found in Alternity. If specialties work much like 2e's proficiencies, roll under the stat+1, then using the same algorithm from Alternity for degrees of success. A straight roll under is an ordinary success, meaning you completed the action successfully. A roll thats half or less of the target number is an excellent success, granting extra damage, bonus profits or benefits or simply a heroic success. A roll thats under under the a quarter of the target number is an amazing success, one that gives significant damage increase or a success that the player can narrate (within reason).

We're all one big cult here

 I have to give full credit to Steve at Postcards from the Dungeon for the bullet points in this write up.

Cults are a wonderful possible villain for campaigns, but most are portrayed in very cartoonish, one dimensional ways (I'm looking at you Cthulhu cults). This is a complete shame as many, many more stories can be spun out of these groups. If they arent monolithic cartoonish cults, suddenly there can be interplay between factions and with the party, roleplaying of negotiations or turning a faction, and resources for fighting the cult. 
  1. Three main categories of people
    1. The ignorant outsider (hasn’t been inducted into the mystery, yet)
    2. The loyal insider (is a member of the cult)
    3. The apostate outsider (is an ex-member of the cult)
  2. Three subcategories within the cult
    1. The nominal member (in name more than deed, does the minimum)
    2. The active member (whole heartely believes; volunteers; above & beyond)
    3. The inner group (the leader & those immediately around them; same rules do not apply, may violate the very premises that are imposed on the other members)
  3. Three rings of information
    1. Outward facing truth (intended for the ignorant outsider)
    2. Inward facing truth (intended for the loyal insider)
    3. Core (secret) truth (what’s known by the leader & inner core)

    Rather than use this just for cults, I think almost any group based villain could be explored this way. In fact I think blending the opponent creation section from Misspent Youth with this list to create a quick build enemy creation process.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Experimental Idea - RPG this time

As much of a fan of pre 2000 D&D as I am, I'm always looking to tweak and modify the rules to fit ideas. Listening to my various podcasts on gaming has brought different aspects of the various old editions that I enjoy, along with some ideas for fixing the areas that were a bit ignored. So heres some preliminary thoughts and mechanics I want to explore.

  • One of the few changes to D&D that 3.0 did that I can actually get behind (just because I have to explain things less, and players who arent as comfortable with math seem to like) is the replacement of Thac0 with the additive attack result method. I personally prefer descending armor but the approach of Target20 resolves combat, saving throws and has an option for thieves abilities. This would have the advantage of resolving the math issues simply and uniformly.
  • Rather than going with usual critical hits on a natural 20, Id much rather explore at least the concept of "cinematic moves" from Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying though this still needs alot of work.
  • Rather than staying with existing weapon restrictions that prevent the cool ideas like wizards with flashing blades, a concept I came across on my podcasts was using some sort of graduated damage, so a warrior will be able to do more damage with a longsword than a wizard but both can use the blade.
  • Thanks to ThacoHammer podcast, Ive been pondering the concept of nonweapon proficiencies, appropriately renamed, rather than skills as they tie into stats and the overall concept of ability rather than training. The reason that this is desirable is the simple fact that the characters of a quasi-feudal world will be much more tied to who they are rather than some sort of training or equipment, for example a noble is noble by birth or courageous action, not wise investment or skill at a trade.
  • Stats will be rolled 3d6 6 times and placed as needed
  • One of the my favorite habits of games lately has been giving players poker chips that allow the player to cash one in to add/edit an element of the setting. For example the players could need to get info from a shop keeper and the player could spend a chip to say the shopkeeper is really an old army buddy of the fighter and much more friendly to him than otherwise.
These are my original thoughts, with spells being pulled from existing D&D (why reinvent something when there are thousands of spells already written)