DCC Funnel, Pathfinder Guidelines

Last night I was involved in a conversation with someone who wanted to run a Pathfinder game on an episodic basis: the PCs as 0-level characters, then third level, sixth, ninth, and so on. Each episode is set a few years after the previous one. There is continuity of character, but each may have things happen ‘between adventures’.

There was some thought about how the 0-level characters and play might be structured, and I suggested he look into Dungeon Crawl Classics… and especially the funnel.

The Funnel in DCC consists of each player bringing three or four quickly-developed (ability scores, roll on an occupation table for occupation and starting gear, go!) characters that are quite expendable. They go on an adventure they are poorly equipped for, woefully poorly in fact, in which they they find some fortune. Some is good (coins! jewels! wondrous devices!), some not so good (I had three drown in the same mud pit, dammit). ‘Wealth by attrition’ is a thing, though, so dead PCs let you concentrate your starting equipment. I’ve found playing the funnel to be a lot of fun because of how clever you need to be to survive, and that it really gives shape to the characters that survive. I don’t want a steady diet of it, but it works as a nice start to a campaign — especially since you can use up potential-PCs without feeling bad about it, while getting a feel for certain campaign elements.

Then I considered how a funnel might be constructed and applied in Pathfinder, and I came up with the following guidelines:

  • Each player gets three or four fodder fledgling adventurers.
  • As with DCC, roll stats (3d6 in order… Pathfinder doesn’t usually do it this way, but I’ll explain more below)
  • Choose a race, but perhaps don’t apply any racial traits. Right now it’s just for show.
  • Each character is a first-level commoner. Raid the DCC tables or similar for occupation (which would determine starting skills, though I’d probably identify them during play — “yeah, a scribe might have a rank in a knowledge skill” — rather than try to nail them down up front) and starting gear.

Now go on the first adventure, use up some of the fledgling adventurers (remember, wealth by attrition), and when you’re done you pick a survivor for your first-level character.

  • For each ability score, roll another d6 and drop the lowest of the four dice (the three original ones plus the new one).
  • Swap two scores if you want.
  • Apply racial modifiers and traits.
  • Choose your class.
  • Roll hit points as usual (maximum at first level) and add the ‘commoner hit points’ as a one-time bonus. You’re replacing the Hit Die (you are not a second-level character, so you don’t have two Hit Dice).
  • Choose your skills and feats. You can keep the skills and skill points previously gained from the commoner level, but (having only one Hit Die) do not get a higher number of ranks. I think I would allow you to keep those skills as class skills though, regardless of class, so you get +3 to all of them. You also gain proficiency regardless of class with any weapon you use and carry at the end of the funnel.
  • Apply any goofy stuff you may have picked up during the funnel.
  • Spend your loot and carry on as a blooded adventurer!

This should allow the funnel to be  the charmingly amusing experience we enjoy in DCC while not shorting the PCs power (ability scores) once they are full-fledged adventurers. The PCs have ability scores roughly in line with 4d6 drop 1 — the loss of ‘arrange to taste’ is, I think, mitigated by being able to swap two scores and by having developed something of an image of the character that isn’t based on ability scores. Slightly unoptimized perhaps, especially compared to point buy (which I’ve honestly never much cared for), but workable.

Early Peek: No Salvation for Witches

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Rafael Chandler’s work, what with my posts about the Teratic Tome and Lasus Naturae (which I’m really looking forward to getting, Rafael tells me it’s on target for release on schedule).

No Salvation for Witches Indiegogo BannerI was recently sent a preliminary copy of No Salvation for Witches, a 64-page adventure (A5 format, roughly 6″x9″ book) for Lamentations of the Flame Princess being published through James Raggi’s company Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Also, not incidentally, it is the subject of a soon-to-end Indiegogo project, something of a old experiment: Pay What You Want. There is a minimum 1€, and shipping is not included but roughly estimated as “around 5€, but we cannot guarantee that postage costs will not rise”. Historically shipping from Finland has worked out surprisingly well — I just checked with _Lamentations of the Flame Princess_, a 160-page hardcover (2.5 times as long as this book) with the same page size and shipping costs to Canada range from 6€ for ‘economy shipping’ through 30€ for ‘tracked shipping’ (and 11€ for ‘first class shipping’).


Hall of Fame: Vulpinoid Geomorph Tutorials

I’ve just added a new entry to the Hall of Fame regarding geomorphs and their design and use.

Michael Wenman of Observations of the Fox has been publishing a collection of mapping tutorials, and lately has been exploring and explaining geomorphs. I’ve been inspired by this series to start working on my own, and have created a couple PDFs of hex tile templates that may be useful for those interested in doing the same.

Observations of the Fox logo

Progress Linking Prerequisites Programmatically

Still working on the Echelon Reference Series, and I’m rebuilding my prerequisite parsing and linking system.

I didn’t think to capture metrics before I started, but I’m already a little over 90% ‘pretty definitive matches’ — that is, where I can match a prerequisite string to a specific game entity such as a feat or class feature. There are some cases where the link is ambiguous, such as when a named prerequisite matches both a feat and a class feature. In cases like that I modified the scripts to favor feats over class features (and similar decisions for other collisions… of which I had 26 out of the 6,695 prerequisite strings being examined.

Of the 6,695 strings being examined, right now I have 661 that I not successfully parsed (see below/beyond ‘more’ if on the front page). Many are trivially solved, but I’m sleepy and have to get up early tomorrow.

  • ‘caster level #’ and related (around 65? tricky to count without finding duplicates) are a bunch of cheap wins.
  • racial traits (56) will be as easy as feats and class features, as soon as I integrate racial information into my data set. This will be mildly funky because not only can later data sources modify an existing race — much as a new data source can add new rage powers or cleric domains — but the same-named racial trait can appear in many races. I know how to do it, I just haven’t done it yet.

Some others can be picked up by looking at ‘unqualified values’, such as class subfeatures that do not identify their parent feature. Normally the data says something like ‘suggestion bardic performance’, but I can add code to have it accept ‘suggestion’ and recognize it as the same thing (being able to cast suggestion is labeled ‘ability to cast suggestion‘, so it is distinct). Similarly with special attack (‘breath weapon’) and so on.

Tomorrow! Tonight it’s time for sleep.


Echelon Reference Series Covers

I haven’t posted since the A-Z Challenge back in April. It was partly burnout, and largely because completing the challenge severely cut into my work on the Echelon Reference Series.

I’m still catching up on that, and shaping up to have my first release in the next few weeks. I had a bit of time tonight and decided to put together preliminary covers for all the books.

I chose from stock art I had (mostly) on hand. I didn’t have any available for the Gunslinger book, but the rest I’ve got at least something… though a few are likely to be replaced.

In the meantime, have some covers.

Z-A Challenge 2014 Index

A-Z 2014 ZI’ve written quite a bit this month for the 2014 A-Z Challenge. Even discounting Kobold Kommandos because it had been written before I still managed to write (or update, in a couple of cases) 31 articles and more than 35,000 words on a variety of topics.

All things considered I’m pretty satisfied with it. I had no real plans or agenda for the posts, and nothing specifically prepared coming into it, and yet I managed to write a fair bit about two of my projects.

First mentioned was the Echelon Reference Series, including something about what it is and how I go about preparing the content for it. This is an ongoing (and long-running, I started last spring!) project to organize information for my use in designing Echelon, and hopefully resulting in some salable products.

Second, I started work on a new sandbox setting, including identifying several potential campaigns that can be set in it and expanding on one of them as a demonstration of my campaign and scenario design methods. I need to set this aside for a time and return to my regular design work — Echelon Reference Series right now — but I am very much interested in continuing this project and running some of the adventures in it. To be honest I’m a little burned out on it at the moment after pushing out so much content this much and demonstrating the methods; it will benefit from laying fallow for a little while.

There were also some more or less miscellaneous posts mixed in, but I’m pleased with how generally cohesive the content was.

Total   38,290 About 2/3 of a NaNoWriMo target! Even after removing the previously-written Kobold Kommandos.
Date Letter Words Title Description
2014-04-30 Z 1,374 Z-A Challenge 2014 Index Index of all A-Z Challenge articles, newest to oldest.
2014-04-29 Y 660 Years Ago, and Years to Come A bit of reflection on my relationship with the hobby, and where I think it will go from here.
2014-04-28 X 324 XP and Rewards in the Sandbox What changes might be needed to accommodate not giving out monetary treasure?
2014-04-26 W 1,859 Workflows for Extracting Data from Word Files How I capture gaming information from MS Word source files to the formatted results in the Echelon Reference Series and the diagrams created when visualizing game information.
2014-04-25 V 1,973 Visualizing Game Information The tools I use to lay out diagrams of gaming information to make it easier for me to understand, with specific examples.
2014-04-24 U 524 Unusual Rewards in the Sandbox I realize that monetary loot is the convention, but it doesn’t feel right for some of the adventures in this sandbox.
2014-04-23 T 1,555 Tales of the Donnerkonig Exploring ideas for the Hall of the Faded Kings and the stories presented there of the Donnerkonig.
2014-04-22 S 850 Spotlight: Sine Nomine Publishing Overview/high-level review of Sine Nomine Publishing and the works of Kevin Crawford.
2014-04-20 R 3,431 Refining the Keys of Heraka-at Polishing the previous day’s thoughts on the areas of The Keys of Heraka-at, after having had a bit of time to think about them more.
2014-04-19 Q 2,150 A Quick Overview of The Keys of Heraka-at A first cut identifying areas of interest and potential encounters in The Keys of Heraka-at.
2014-04-18 P 631 Preparation and Player Agency in the Sandbox A brief discussion of how preparing material for use interacts with the goal of increasing player agency.
2014-04-17 O 1,423 Overkill? Somewhat, But For Reasons Why I am spending so much time on front work that may or may not actually see play.
2014-04-16 N 966 Next Steps in the Sandbox: Developing Donnerkonig Heirs A first cut identifying adventures in the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign and how they may relate to each other.
2014-04-15 M 764 Macro to Micro in the Sandbox: Mapping the Donnerkonig Chronicle This post shifts the conversation from discussing the sandbox setting as a whole to a specific potential set of campaigns. The Donnerkonig Chronicle is a potential set of campaigns relating to the Donnerkonig and Sturmhame.
2014-04-13 L 1,413 Layers Upon Layers in the Sandbox Explains how the methods I use can be applied at different levels and for different scope depending on immediate need. It also describes how thinking about things early and in an abstract way can make it easier to prepare material so it can be ‘entered’ from many different places.
2014-04-12 K 432 The Keys of Heraka-at: Adventure Background A bit of background for The Keys of Heraka-at, an adventure set in and around Sturmhame. Later consideration caused me to realize it made a good campaign gateway into what will become the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign, identifying those who might take up the mantle and responsibility of the Donnerkonig, the legendary Thunder Kings.
1,480 Kobold Kommandos A post I pulled up from the archives. Originally a story sent to me by the DM, a friend of mine, and worth a chuckle or two.
2014-04-11 J 1,085 Jumbled Adventure Structure Discussing how I might randomize creation of a graph, to be used to structure an adventure or campaign. GreyKnight has since provided me a script that does a better job than the one I’d originally hacked together. His script and mine both generate good-looking graphs, but when selecting from the lists of graphs I end up culling fewer of the ones from his script.
1,500 Joachim Baas, Pirate Hunter An old PC I played, a cleric/ranger of a sea god. Given his vocation and goals (hunting pirates) he looks like he would be a good fit for this sandbox setting. Also, he was a lot of fun to play, especially since, being neutral, he had a lot of leeway in how he dealt with situations.
2014-04-10 I 1,414 Imagination, and How I Fake It I am a structured thinker and I am told I have a very organized mind. This is a powerful tool, but seems to inhibit my ability to come up with interesting and imaginative ideas without prompting — I fall back into patterns I find useful or appealing very easily. This post describes some of the tools and techniques I use to try to encourage my imagination.
2014-04-09 H 267 Horrific Monster Book: Lasus Naturae Brief discussion and pitch for Rafael Chandler’s Lasus Naturae (Freaks of Nature) Kickstarter project. Well-funded and we’ll be getting full-color hardcovers.
1,269 High-Level View of the Sandbox Starting to assign meaning and find relationships in the randomly-generated sandbox material so far.
1,960 Hit Point Variations: Mana and Madness and Taint, Oh My! Ways my variant hit point and healing rules might be applied for other purposes.
2014-04-08 G 889 Geographical Assignment in the Sandbox Initial assignment of nodes in a random graph to locations in the random hex map for the new sandbox. Some tweaking so the nodes land on, well, land generally, but not yet much interpretation. That comes later.
2014-04-06 F 1,004 Founding of a New Sandbox Starting a new sandbox setting. Since I have no real goals in mind, randomly generate a hex map using Hexographer, and a graph (nodes and edges) using randomizers and a bit of thought (I had not yet written my random graph generator).
2014-04-05 E 1,643 Entity Scope, Updated and Explained How broadly applicable a game entity is, the range of its reach and influence, from the encounter level up to the setting.
2,737 Entity Template, Updated and Explained I use a fairly standardized template to capture information about game entities. I originally presented it some time ago as part of another article, this post updates it and focuses on the entity template alone.
447 Echelon Reference Series One of my major projects, preparing research documents for use in developing Echelon, and potentially as salable products themselves.
2014-04-04 D 611 D&D: Data & Diagrams Why do I go to so much trouble to prepare diagrams for the Echelon Reference Series?
2014-04-03 C 729 Covenant of First Scholar Herol A brief piece describing and containing the Covenant between the First Scholar Herol (of the Seekers of Lore campaign) and Strolen, small god of knowledge.
2014-04-02 B 210 Burgeoning Barbarian Book Brewing My first planned product: Echelon Reference Series: Barbarian. About 200 pages collecting, organizing, and making more usable everything I know and can find about the Barbarian class in Pathfinder. Originally hoping for release in April, now somewhat more realistically aiming for the end of June.
2014-04-01 A 717 Adventure Design Requirements Adventurers need three things: a way to reach the action, a way to take part in the action, and a way to survive the action. Adventures need three things too.

Years Ago, and Years to Come

A-Z 2014 YTomorrow I post my Z-A Challenge 2014 Index, and I’m in a bit of a reflective mood.

Early in the autumn of grade six, I found a small group of my classmates sitting in one of the rooms between our classroom and the next. They were rolling funny-shaped dice and talking about things like ‘initiative’ and ‘green slime’ and ‘saving throws’. My introduction to Dungeons & Dragons was B4: The Lost City, and while unlike Homer Simpson I was not slain by an elf directly, it’s entirely possible it was an elf that conned me into being their trapfinder.

Why no, I wasn’t playing a thief, I was playing a fighter. Doesn’t mean I didn’t find the traps, just that I had to do it the hard way.

That was almost (graduated high school 1991, six and a half years earlier would be the autumn of 1984, I suppose: Jim had a new copy of the last good Van Halen album, so that seems about right) thirty years ago this autumn. Christmas that year found me with a copy of Mentzer Basic D&D, and a life-long hobby started.

Since then I’ve played many editions of D&D, and other games. Basic and Expert D&D, and Advanced D&D because obviously that was for the more mature [11-12 years old at the time] players. A couple years later I stumbled on a copy of Fantasy HERO and I remember spending inordinate amounts of time devising and trying to optimize new spells (to no practical benefit because I couldn’t find anyone who would play it… but in retrospect I think it ultimately led me through ‘highly detailed systems design’ to ‘highly detailed systems design often doesn’t add much besides detail’). Five years after I started I found a Second Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook and suddenly in addition to race, class, and weapon proficiencies you had non-weapon proficiencies and some classes had choices! You could choose one of eight specializations as a wizard, you could assign skill points as a thief, and even clerics had specific options, though really there were only two (cleric and druid — Complete Priest’s Handbook wasn’t until a bit later). Somewhere in here I also got exposed to Top Secret and Harnmaster, and Heroes Unlimited.

In university I started playing Champions, and briefly a slew of other systems, but mostly it was still AD&D Second Edition. Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons rolled around after I finished college, plus a bunch of spin-offs and variations. By this point I was already an inveterate tinker, and D&D3e was made to be messed with.

Over the last thirty years I have played with classmates and coworkers, my kids, and with people all over the world (thanks Internet!). To this day I’m happy to remember how D&D caused one of my players to engage in schoolwork so he could better read and handle the math involved, and I’ve established friendships with people I’ve never met face to face, all through this hobby.

Where does it go from here? Well, I don’t plan to stop any time soon. My primary group meets online via Google+ Hangouts, and while we originally formed to take part in the early D&D Next playtests we quickly moved off that when we decided it wasn’t for us. Now we mostly play old school retroclones and similar, including Adventurer, Conqueror, King, OSRIC, and currently Swords & Wizardry. Several of us are some mix of artists, writers, and designers, we playtest each others’ work, when bad things happen we lend each other support as needed.

I’m still tinkering, still writing, still designing. My long-term goal is still to get Echelon to a playable and publishable state. I’m building relationships with other designers and artists. I get to see ideas from people all over the world and with different perspectives that can color my own work.

And on Saturday nights, I get together with my friends, we tell bad jokes, and we kill monsters and take their stuff.

XP and Rewards in the Sandbox

A-Z 2014 XA few days ago I talked about Unusual Rewards in the Sandbox, and figured I’d respond to some of the comments I’d received.

I agree that it is a good idea to assign nominal monetary value to the various rewards. Experience points in many old school games are primarily driven by acquiring treasure. If I take that away that relationship than level advancement will slow to a crawl. On that basis alone it is worth assigning monetary value to the ‘unusual rewards’, and thus have them provide experience points.

It also gives me a gauge I can use to judge the value of otherwise intangible benefits. How much is the good will of a duke worth? What is the value of a month’s service of a mercenary company? If the emperor’s vizier owes you a favor, why should it not have measurable value?

There was also a suggestion that I assign gold value to information. This may be more appropriate to the Seekers of Lore campaign I think since that campaign rather specifically considers acquiring knowledge as the goal. I think it might be too difficult for me to let go of wanting to have the PCs ‘sell’ the knowledge to get the monetary reward.

Perhaps I will roll with this. I think perhaps having most ‘treasure’ being intangible can be helpful to the campaign as a whole. Go ahead and loot places, but it’s only money, not experience points. It’s useful for buying things, but not the things that matter if you are anchored in the world.

I think this could work out well. Assigning specific monetary value to what would otherwise be intangible rewards makes it easier for see how valuable they are. It does reduce the utility as treasure, since it might be constrained in its use as money, but since I find there’s little use now that’s hardly a loss.

Thanks for the suggestions, this should work out pretty well.

Workflows for Extracting Data from Word Files

A-Z 2014 WYesterday I demonstrated a bit of how I use Graphviz to visualize game information. I figured today I would describe a bit about how I get certain game data.

Capture to MS Word

I have created a Word template containing many styles used primarily to mark the start of different game objects such as feats and spells. I copy and paste text from the source documents (web pages — Paizo PRD is surprisingly consistent when handled this way — and PDFs being the most common).

Preliminary Cleanup

If necessary I reflow the paragraphs where they are broken at line-ends. The easiest way to do this is actually to put an additional paragraph break between them all paragraphs in the text I am working with, then use Search & Replace on special characters (quotes used below to delimit text being replaced, do not include in search or replace fields):

  • ‘^s’ -> ‘ ‘
  • ‘^p^p’ -> ‘^l’
  • ‘^p’ -> ‘ ‘
  • ‘^l’ -> ‘^p’
  • ‘  ‘ -> ‘ ‘
  • ‘ ^p’ -> ‘^p’
  • ‘^p ‘ -> ‘^p’

In English: replace non-breaking spaces with regular spaces, double paragraph breaks with line breaks, paragraph breaks with spaces, line breaks with paragraph breaks, double spaces with single spaces, strip space at end of paragraph, strip space at start of paragraph.

The various paragraph and line break steps are important. The first replaces the now-doubled paragraph markers with a non-paragraph marker that I don’t use elsewhere, the next gathers the lines of the paragraph together into a single paragraph (more than that, really — all lines in the entire block being processed are grouped into a single paragraph!), and the step after that then separates the paragraphs where they should be separated. It’s a little hokey, but works quite well.

Visualizing Game Information

A-Z 2014 VA conversation on Facebook today prompted this article.

And this article ended up rather longer than I expected. I was hoping to get to sleep early tonight. Ah well.

Many — perhaps most — roleplaying games involve a lot of information. On the ‘mechanical’ side you might have monsters, spells, feats, skills, and many other things, and on the ‘story’ side you might have PCs, NPCs, locations, special items, various social constructs (nations, tribes, guilds), and many other things. Both the mechanical and the story side can have complex relationships between their components. Classes and feats may have (and may be) prerequisites, as may a certain number of ranks of a skill, ability to cast certain spells, and so on. NPCs often have relationships to other NPCs (and PCs, and places, and special items, and so on).

Complex relationships like these can be not only complicated, but confusing. If they are tracked in lists (or worse, paragraph) form they can be difficult to follow and understand. If they aren’t even in the same place (as is common with roleplaying game objects) it can become very difficult indeed.

… I feel like I’ve written about this before, and not that long ago. I’m guessing somewhere around April E, 2014… close enough, D! D&D: Data and Diagrams. Okay, look there for the background I was going to write here about why you want to visualize things, to render the relationships graphically, but that’s already done.

So, on to the actual topic, how I go about it.