Yearly Archives: 2010

Old Site Materials

Update March 6, 2011: I’ve incorporated as much material as I’m likely to from the old site.  It looks like the articles I’d posted to my old site have been migrated (look early in the archive, around 2003-2006), most of the rules documents I was putting together have as well.  The remainder was mostly works in progress or otherwise no longer meaningful.  I’m dropping the ‘/oldsite/’ directory here.

I’ve just copied all RPG materials from my old site (, before it got replaced with a WordPress site) to this server, under /oldsite/. Over time I’ll do a better job integrating it, but for now this will make the material available.

As things get better integrated, they will be removed from this area.

Back in the Saddle

Okay, yesterday I spent about 13 hours deploying the latest version of our product at work, the first major release in 18 months and most of my work since the beginning of June.

About bloody time that one’s done. We’re starting our scoping exercise for the next one, but the happy thing for me is that I’m no longer in the crunch of it.

This suggests I’ll have time for my own writing again, so I may be able to get back on track.

Introduction to Echelon

Origin of the Name

It is not explicitly spelled out in the D&D 3.x core books that play changes significantly through the various levels. The lack of this explicit statement has caused, for many people, a detachment between the levels of power and the styles of play appropriate to those levels of power. This is evident from the disparity of ability between classes of different types – spell casters gain power on a quadratic curve, while those who don’t use spells grow more linearly.

Or, to use a common complaint about D&D, “fighters can’t have nice stuff”.

On top of this, because ‘mundane’ characters, those who do not use magic, learn only ‘real’ things such as combat tricks or skill use, there is the perception that much of what these characters can do should be learnable by ‘anyone’. After all, it’s just a matter of training and skill, not magic.

The name ‘Echelon’ was chosen as a conscious reflection of how D&D, especially D&D 3.x editions, actually works. Just as échelon originally meant a rung of a ladder, Echelon has explicit tiers of ability, power, or incredibility. The abilities (called ‘Talents’) gained at each level are expected to be appropriate to the tier.

Echelon was also chosen because this game no longer uses classes, and all other editions of D&D (and most d20 games) have. Character differentiation is managed through their tiers (as indicated by level) and the talents chosen. A high-tier martial character is expected to be just as awesome and incredible as a spell caster of the same tier.


Echelon Core Rules Draft Outline

So, October’s been rather lighter on posts than I really wanted. Between trying to get my act together health-wise (eat better, sleep more, work out better), a compelling project (Vale of Elsir map for Nik) and work (the next release of our primary service is now staging for release next month) I’ve been fairly pressed for time.

In an effort to get my writing kick-started again, and because next month is National Novel Writing Month, I’m adapting the NaNoWriMo plan for Echelon. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write, over the course of November, a 50,000-word novel. That’s not quite what I’m doing, and the subject of this post should be a pretty good hint as to what I’m aiming for.

I’m going to try to have a draft copy of the Echelon Core Rules together by the end of November. As appropriate for NaNoWriMo, I’ll be putting a less focus on perfecting things and more on getting content together. I’d like to be able to go to the table in December and actually try this.


Vale of Elsir, Reinterpreted

Vale of Elsir

Vale of Elsir, according to Nik

A friend of mind is running a D&D 4e campaign and was unhappy with one of the maps he was using.  In order to get a complete view of the Vale he was using several maps butted together.  They had differences in color and style (which never looks good) and some weird geography that got on his nerves.  Mine too, when I saw it.

I’d been looking for a challenge, and this looked like an interesting one.  He sent me a copy of the original, marked up where he wanted changes.  Extend a mountain range here, chop this river in half so it doesn’t go over the mountain range as in the original, and so on.

I’ve spent perhaps 15 hours on this in the last few days, usually a couple of hours at a time in the evening while we hashed out what was being done with the map.  It’s fairly close to what I’d originally scribbled as a starting point, but some things got moved or changed as we came up with better ideas.

Of course, I see some room for improvement yet, some specific things to work on next time.  However, this was my first time compositing something this complex, and overall I’m quite satisfied.

Languages in RPG Settings

Just an aside, and entirely unrelated to the rest of this post, but yesterday was my 100th post to this blog.  Not really meaningful or important, but I think it’s a little bit cool. — kjd

Sometimes we overcomplicate things in the design of role-playing games in an effort to be realistic. One place I’ve really noticed this is in language rules. I have seen a great deal of effort put into managing language, and I think it’s probably not at all needed.


Token Pools in Echelon

When I first read of the token pool mechanic in Iron Heroes (the core of which can be found on this site in the Open Gaming Content Library under Token Pools) I wasn’t pleased. I thought they would be a pain to track.

In the last few years I’ve been watching and playing a lot of different board games (something to do during my lunch hour), including a bunch of German board games. These games can be full of resource management and I’ve seen a number of ways of keeping track of resources. Of them all, collecting and manipulating tokens of various types has been perhaps the most straightforward and playable.

Considering how much I dislike keeping track of powers usable a certain number of times per day (let alone how I feel about Pathfinder’s ’rounds per day’ of use of powers like rage… there’s a lot of things I like about Pathfinder, but this isn’t one of them), a mechanism that allows use and reuse of related powers but constrains their overuse appeals to me.

In short, I know a bit more about resource management in games than I did then, and I’ve come to decide that a token pool mechanic such as is described in Iron Heroes may well be what I’m looking for in Echelon.


On Talent Prerequisites

In a recent thread in, I was asked if I would really allow a player character to have “any bizarre talent of his level just because he feels like it”.

The short answer: sure, why not? As long as it makes some sense for the character, I see no reason related to balance to restrict it. There may be setting reasons to disallow it, but that’s beyond my control outside my own campaign.


Yet Another Map

Mountains, hills, forests, rivers

Mountains, hills, forests, rivers

Some more experimentation.  I’m generally happy with it but there are some things I’m dissatisfied with.

  • Mountains, I’m mostly happy.  A little artifacting still visible, but applying a bit more (or a different?) displacement map to it could solve that.
  • Hills (the brownish-green bits) could do with a bit more breaking up.  The hills use the same base turbulent noise pattern as the mountains so they’ll be consistent in area covered, but I could use different noise and draw the affected regions by hand (which might give me better interaction and merging with the mountains).  I think I should adjust the resolution of the noise, so the hills have more breaks.  A bunch of options to consider here.
  • Forests… eh, I screwed it up a bit.  My colors are off a bit and the bump map is weak.  I can identify a few places that should improve this, though.
    • Use different turbulent noise than the mountains and hills (whether or not they use the same noise or different noise, the forest needs to use different noise).  As it is I’ve got hilly areas at all the ‘light colored’ areas of the forest, and that really doesn’t look right.
    • I picked pretty complete areas of forest.  I think it looks better when it’s a little more scattered, as in my previous maps.
    • Pay attention when doing the bump maps and coloring, and don’t screw up on the channel creation and selection.  The two interacted… poorly.
  • Rivers are coming.  I think I should probably start with the rivers narrower.  I’m getting a handle on having them interact with the other elements (forests and hills and whatnot), though I need to work some more on the terrain interactions.  If you look closely there is reason to send the River Police after me.
    • I should maybe look into paths for the rivers instead of going raster with them (it could make for some other useful tricks later), but I’ll leave that for later.
  • Grass (texture on land) I’m pretty happy with.  It looks reasonably ‘grassish’ and the color variation suits.
  • Waves (texture on water) isn’t bad, but could be improved.  I shouldn’t have used the same texture as on the land.  I suspect that if I take the noise (desaturated plasma) and displace it using itself for the displacement map it may do what I want.

All in all I think I’m still improving, and as long as that happens I’m satisfied.

Except for the damn forests.  Gah.

Energy Resistance in Echelon

One of the sticky bits I’ve faced in building monsters in Echelon is a lack of energy resistance and energy immunity talents.

This was something of a challenge because immunity should cost more than resistance, but there are creatures in the RSRD (mephits) that are immune to one or more energy types at low levels (down to Expert for certain, I don’t remember seeing any at Basic). I was not prepared to give total immunity to an energy type at such a low level, but this was actually easier for me to reconcile than I’d expected.

For the sake of simplicity I’ll assume ‘fire resistance’ for the rest of the article, but the rules and considerations apply to all energy types.

Note that I’m not putting any thought at this point into ‘vulnerabilities’. I haven’t decided in general what to do about ‘disadvantages’ so don’t really have a path planned here. Most likely I’d treat them as ‘negative talents’ and give a spare slot or something for them, but to be honest I’m tempted to ignore them and drop them altogether.