Monthly Archives: March, 2012

Response to “Some Thoughts On Criticals – Curving the Scores”

Erik at Tenkar’s Tavern has Some Thoughts On Criticals – Curving the Scores.

In short, he isn’t so keen on the common approaches (maximum/double damage on a natural 20, or natural 20 plus confirmation roll).  He suggests an alternative rule where if you roll five or more above the number you needed (in D&D 3.x, hit an Armor Class five points higher than the target’s) you can roll a d10 to determine the critical effect.  Critical effects can include a bonus to your next attack on the target, a bonus to Armor Class against the target, or a free attack against the target.

[Or for the truly masochistic, I suppose you could break out the Rolemaster tables...]

Lately I’ve had a huge interest in ‘qualitative, not quantitative’ effects.  I can get behind the idea of replacing ‘bonus damage’ on a critical hit with ‘special effect’ on a critical hit.

I’m not entirely happy with the implementation, though.  Potentially three rolls for each attack seems a little much, and I’d like to have the option of ‘better qualitative effects’ for more-skilled fighters.  This could be done with three rolls by having a modifier on the critical die (the d10), but… that’s getting even more complicated.

Long ago, in the before times (mid-90s, in other words) I considered a critical system where the bonus damage was based on the number rolled… but counting down.  The lower the number on the die on a successful hit, the more damage you could expect to do.  This also took some of the sting out of the natural 20 rule (automatic hit) rule commonly used because I ruled that if you needed that rule to hit the target, you did only half damage.

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Dungeons of Carcassonne, Part 2

On reconsideration, Dungeons of Carcassonne could be almost playable (if not very good) pretty soon.

Some thoughts from today:

  • Danger of a room is equal to the number of tiles in the room plus the number of dead meeples (dead meeples means the room is clearly more dangerous than its size suggests).  May also be modified by the amount of loot (shields and trade goods) present.
  • To explore a room successfully, roll 1d6 + modifiers.
    • If you roll under the room’s danger, you chose poorly.  Your meeple dies.  Add him to the mound of the fallen in the room and start another one outside the dungeon.
    • If you roll over the room’s danger, you chose wisely (or were lucky).  Grab the loot and add the danger value of the room to your score.
    • If you roll the room’s danger exactly you bit off more than you could chew, but the room didn’t do the same.  Your meeple escapes lootless to a location one step away (you can even run out the other side, why not?)
  • Once a room has been looted the treasure is gone (no more shields or trade goods) but you can still score the danger if you explore it again.  There are rewards for being first.
  • Loot helps!
    • If you would lose a meeple but have enough shields you may spend them to bring your exploration roll up to the room’s danger and escape.  The shields are gone but your meeple isn’t.  You may choose to let your meeple die.  Shields cannot be combined with trade goods to successfully explore a room but may be combined with trade goods to escape.
    • Trade goods can let you do extra stuff — additional moves, add to your exploration roll directly (so you can successfully explore the room, or escape it), one or two other things I haven’t decided yet.
    • Once used, loot is gone.  Each shield or trade good is consumed.
  • Score at the end of the game is equal to the exploration score (gained by successfully exploring rooms) plus the total loot (shields and trade goods) unspent at the end of the game.  Meeples count too, probably at a multiple (x5 feels right so far).

This seems like a really simple customization, and I think it’ll work.  I’ll try to find time this weekend to try it.

Can anyone spot anything missing?  I could use some suggestions for specific uses for the trade goods (I’m pretty happy with shields), but is there anything else I’m going to feel stupid for missing?

Dungeons of Carcassonne

A conversation on Google+ has made me think, more and more, about adapting Carcassonne as a tile-based dungeon crawl.

I don’t have the details in mind yet, but here are some ideas to start

  • ‘Roads’ are now ‘passages’, complete with branches and loops.
  • ‘Cities’ are now ‘rooms’ (or caverns, whatever).
  • Fields are basically impassable, unless something else comes up.
  • I have no idea at this point what the river is or does.  Might be entirely optional or dropped entirely.
  • The dungeon boss is represented by/located at the cathedral (city cloister).

Not sure what to do about play, though.

One thing that comes to mind is laying out the tiles following the normal rules, but do not place meeples on the features (roads and cities).  I don’t know what to do with the passages, if they’re worth anything or just something you want to make sure you have available so you can move from room to room.

When you complete a room you may explore it.  Danger is proportional to the size of the room (cheesy-twos are pretty easy, if you can get to them, but not worth much), XP gained from the room (used just for scoring, I think) is based on room size as well.  However, shield squares (and I think the trade goods tiles are a good inclusion… probably going to need a few different kinds of tokens) give you ‘magic’ that directly increase your power or survivability.

  • If you are victorious you gain the XP from the room and the loot (see below).
  • If you are not victorious you lose a meeple.  When you run out of meeples, you are out of the game.
    • If you are not victorious, clearly someone else can try the same room… but whoever finishes the room gets first shot, if they want it.
    • Once someone has been victorious, I’m not sure what should happen. If each room can be dealt with once you have a finite game… but I can imagine an ending where no one can defeat the boss because the tools needed get used up earlier.  I think I’ll assume each resource type is finite (fixed number of tokens).  If there are none available when you defeat a room you can’t have any of those tokens (you get any other tokens available and the points for the room, of course).
    • Perhaps a failure means the room is clearly more dangerous than expected — leave the ‘dead meeples’ in the room and danger is increased by the number of meeples.  This might be reduced each time someone successfully explores a room.
  • Loot is probably consumed when used.
    • Shields might provide ablative protection — if you would lose a meeple, you can lose a shield instead.
    • Trade goods… one might let you draw and place two tiles on your turn, another might give you a temporary level bump, perhaps one is a wildcard, or gets used in place of another one.  Maybe one can be used to allow travel through a field (cavern wall), which can help solve a disjoint map.

Apart from joining up the rooms, I don’t know what the passages are good for.  Part of me is trying to find a way to handle ‘movement’ — all meeples enter at the same place (or at any edge… maybe you can enter via incomplete cities?) and it costs to move.  Maybe each turn consists of drawing a tile, placing the tile, then moving your meeple to the next intersection or room.  This leaves room for the intersections to mean something (I like the idea that an item lets you move farther more than I like it letting you draw and place another tile).  You have to be present at a room before you can explore it, so you are likely to want to (but are not required to) finish one you are close to.

Hmm.  Maybe you can have more than one meeple in play.  You can only move one per turn (unless you have an item that lets you do otherwise), so your mobility is still limited.

The end game is probably pretty straightforward.  When you run out of tiles, the game ends.  It is likely possible to win the game without defeating the boss (focus on manageable rooms — the boss tile is city on four sides, so is likely to need nine tiles to complete, and I’ve seen it get really big), and it’s possible the boss room doesn’t even get completed. Scoring is based on how many (and how dangerous) the rooms are you completed, and there are probably bonuses for remaining meeples and unused loot.

This is pretty loose right now, but I think this could be workable.

Any other ideas about how this could fit together?  I’m basically scribbling things down as I think of them, so while I’m always open for suggestions, in this case I’m unusually so.

Links of the Week: March 26, 2012

A fair amount of material this week.  Not so many blog posts linked, but I’ve spent more time writing this week (Links of the Week and other material)… and I’m reaching the point again where I want to invest more in writing than in reading.

… I’m still finding lots of good reading and thinking material though, so again it’s a bit of a quandary.

Hall of Fame Additions

Bat in the Attic: How to make a Fantasy Sandbox

Rob Conley at Bat in the Attic wrote… rather a lot, really, on construction of a fantasy sandbox.  Much of the material can be applied to general campaign construction, though.

The first page, the introduction with the ‘summary’ list of 34 steps, can be read at How to make a Fantasy Sandbox.

The follow up material consists of 18 more posts that expand on 26 of the 34 steps mentioned above (I understand Real Life caught up to him).

It looks like Step 24 — Pick the 4 or 6 most important population locales and draw a quarter page sketch map of the settlement — takes a lot of explanation.

This will take some time for me to absorb.  The material I have seen so far is remarkably detailed.

I look forward to it.

This has been filed under Setting Design as Bat in the Attic: How to make a Fantasy Sandbox.

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Starting Above First Level

At Tenkar’s Tavern, Erik has some unkind things to say about the latest Rule of Three he’s read.

There is the idea that starting at a level higher than first should be reserved for experienced players, and newer players should start at first level to minimize the complexity of their characters.

I agree with Erik that this is pretty lame.  The complexity of a third level character is hardly remarkable in a world where high school students are being taught things I didn’t get until university, as part of the normal curriculum, and for fun they play video games with complex interactions and relationships between the game elements.

Years ago my son started playing a Pokemon video game on his Nintendo, and while it is a simplistic game, there are enough variables to keep track of at any given time that it’s probably in effect more complicated than a typical third-level character.  The box handles the mechanical elements (determining whether your attack was successful), but even though the choices available are typically constrained there are quite a few options available.

I think he can handle a third level character.  In fact, his first time at the table (when he was eight or so) he played a sixth-level monk (“can I be a zombie ninja?”  “Ehh… given that we’ll be in Ravenloft I suggest against the zombie part, but ninja we can do”) and apart from some mechanical difficulties as he learned the different dice and when to roll each he had a pretty easy time of it.  The class options weren’t a problem at all.

Starting at a reasonable level above first is not particularly difficult for a new player, unless the game is a fair bit more complex than D&D.

There is a culture of starting at first level in D&D, since that’s how it has worked pretty much all the way back.  Except in Dark Sun, where PCs started at third level in order to give them a chance to survive.  Mutants & Masterminds (which isn’t D&D, but uses the d20 framework) recommends starting at tenth level.  Chivalry & Sorcery, I am told, you can start at whatever level/age is needed for the scenario.

I don’t see any problem with starting at a higher level, even for new players.  There are exceptions (I wouldn’t want to make anyone not familiar and comfortable with D&D and with good spell knowledge to play a medium- to high-level spell caster, for example), but overall starting a few levels above first shouldn’t be a problem of complexity.  A low-level wizard is manageable, even.

No More Fears (or Fire Damage)

Over at SeaOfStarsRPG a recent post discusses The Problem of Immunity.

3-D Lichtenberg Figure in Acrylic

This 3″ x 3″ x 2″ three dimensional Lichtenberg Figure was created by ebeam irradiation along multiple planes. The internal potential within the specimen prior to discharging it was estimated to be 2.2 million volts. The specimen is illuminated from below by blue LEDs.

Specifically, how really nothing should be truly immune to any particular effect.  Even paladins can be scared (they just deal with it better), and even fire elementals will burn if you manage to throw enough fire on them.  In real life there really isn’t much that is absolute.  Even the best insulators found will, if sufficient electricity is pushed at them and no easier path is available, allow the electricity through.  As the picture to the side shows, it can look pretty cool, too.

In fact, some time ago when I was working on Energy Resistance in Echelon and came to much the same conclusion.  The difference between ‘practically immune’ and ‘actually immune’ is significant at a philosophical level, but I don’t think it’s really important at a game level.  [The numbers used in that post may be revised and horribly out of date, and I do talent design somewhat differently now, but that's an implementational detail that isn't really important here as much as the thought behind it.]

I’m not entirely sure how to approach effects that aren’t straight up damage.  As said at SeaOfStarsRPG, just giving a big saving throw bonus is boring.  The solution there (reduce penalties from fear effects by the lower of half the paladin’s level (rounded up) or the paladin’s Charisma modifier) looks workable, my first inclination would be to reduce the stage of the fear effect (panicked to frightened, frightened to shaken, shaken to mildly worried) in order to stick with existing effect descriptions.

I hadn’t considered at all what to do about sneak attack, though I suppose it could be considered in much the same manner as energy damage… should it perhaps apply to critical hit damage as well?

Energy drain in my campaign I am probably going to treat as systemic damage (makes you easier to kill for a time, but you eventually get better if you don’t die).  In this case it gets very easy, you just have negative energy resistance and you’re done.

Overall, while I think that absolutes may make for easier monster or scenario design, I don’t think they necessarily work very well for world verisimilitude.  I don’t mind cranking up resistance to a high level — ‘practical immunity’ — as long as I know it can be beaten if you put enough effort (and fire) into it.

Top-Down Campaign Design

Morrisonmp at The Rhetorical Gamer talks about campaign-down design.

Briefly, I think it’s a great idea.

My  Campaign and Scenario Design series talks about how to do exactly what he’s talking about.

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Weapon Specialization I Like: FantasyCraft

In response to Beedo’s question about using weapon specialization in D&D, I said I don’t like using weapon specialization in D&D because I find it useful, but boring.

“Useful and boring”… well, it’s useful, but it’s still boring, and I don’t want boring in my game.  As much as I like abstraction (and yes, I do like abstraction, it mostly makes my life much easier), when someone spends the time and effort to focus his training and skill development in a certain area I want it to be different than when he does it in a different area.

I’m reasonably okay with the Skill Focus feat just giving a +3 bonus to skill checks with the focused skill.  While this is a generic benefit, the skills themselves can be used for different things.

Weapons, not so much.  Ultimately they all amount to “make it die”.  Weapon Specialization as presented in the rules can make the target die faster (+2 hit points of damage per successful attack, usually) but you still do pretty much the same thing with the weapon.

In August 2010 I talked about revised weapon guidelines and working toward combat styles rather than proficiency and specialization.  The rules there are fairly generic (‘simple proficiency’ lets you treat most weapons about the same, ‘martial proficiency’ lets you start taking advantages of the differences between weapons, the combat style — declared generically — let you customize the use of the relevant weapons).  I consider that post more of a ‘toolkit’ than a solution, though.

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Using Weapon Specialization in D&D

Beedo of Dreams in the Lich House asks how many people use weapon specialization in D&D.

I have used, or allowed the use of, weapon specialization in D&D as long as I can remember.  For a while after D&D 3e came out I even played a PC that took it, in part because it was a Fighter-Only Awesome.

That didn’t last long, even though other players in my group (whether I was playing or DMing) would take it because it increased their damage capability.

Why?  Very, very simple, really: it is really, really boring.  +2 damage with attacks from a specific type of weapon. Yaywn… hardly awesome, just kind of useful and limited to fighters.

AD&D specialization was no better for excitement, though it seemed even more useful.

What I want, what I really wish D&D had and what I’m working on including in Echelon, is functional differences between weapons.

Dragon Magazine #185 had an article, “The Arena Master’s Arsenal”, about the weapons of Athas. Each of the weapons presented had a normal mode of use available to the proficient, and another that was usable only when proficient.  I’m not going to describe them all here, but this is the sort of thing I want to see.

That is weapon specialization I can get behind and want to take.  I don’t like boring-but-useful any more.  I’m ditching it in other places (no more enhancement bonuses on weapons or armor, but that armor will stop arrows — cowards weapons if there ever were any — from touching you).

Make it fantastic, even when it’s not magic.  Let me do something special, then I’ll consider it specialization.

Links of the Week: March 19, 2012

So, I’ve missed another week (or rather, missed a week again).  It’s been kind of hectic around here lately.

That said, I think it’s a pretty good set this week.  I’ve added a couple of things to the Hall of Fame, have a few Kickstarter projects I either backed or want to support, and some good reading from other blogs… and a couple of videos from YouTube, one of which I think most of us can really relate to.

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