Thursday, December 31, 2009

Armour: Its important, but not required

In Piecemeal armour functions by giving you a Damage Reduction score (DR), allowing you to take less damage per die from each blow. As Piecemeal is based on the concept of choices not problems, armour is not universally good like D&D.

Armour has a downside as well, being bulky it lowers you chance at agility checks, and with dodge rolls (ie, your defensive roll to avoid being hit). So while you will take less damage per hit, you will be hit more often. Armour can also be bypassed by "armour piercing" attacks, such as gunpowder, a crossbow or the like.

This means you may wish to change your armouring based upon the conflict. If you are fighting a swarm of nimble goblins with small knives and clubs, then heavy armour is a good idea. Even if they hit you more, their feeble blows will almost never bypass your armour.

Compare that to fighting a giant, the lumbering brute will hit with such force and damage that the armour will not do much (if any) good..but if you are nimble and quick you have a good shot at never having a single blow land against you.

Now originally I had custom listing of armours each with their own (arbitrary) DR reduction scores versus pierce, blunt and slash attacks as well as their own dodge modifiers and the like.

That irritated me, as historical armours were built to counter historical arms and equipment. When faced with new dangers and new biology's of the wearers, armour could look very different. If you aren't primarily concerned with stopping arrows but troll claws, how would the armour differ? What about if your vital organs are in your lower gut and nothing is really in your upper torso?

For this reason I used a similar system to weapon tags. Armour is selected as a type (light, mail and plate) and then tags with their modifiers to the weapons stats are used.

So light armour has a DR of 1 as a base and a dodge modifier of 0. If the armour is also then it gives -1 to the dodge modifier but also +1 DR versus blunt attacks. armour doubles the DR against slashing attacks but also doubles the dodge modifier. So reinforced mail armour would have a DR of 6 versus slashing attacks, 3 versus blunt and piercing. It would also have a dodge modifier of -4. Other tags can reduce the negative dodge modifier, increase or decrease costs or have other impacts.

A listing how historical armours would break down is still included.

Why is this good?
In terms of the concept of avoid being hit VS ignore damage is a good example of having a choice and no "right" answer, only better situational answers.

The benefit of the tag system is that it removes the need to memorize the abilities of a myriad of different armour types. You can also limit it to "tag-less" if you want to trim the rules down more to something simple and easy to remember.

Why is this bad?
Sometimes you WANT a holy grail of armour, the worlds best system that you want everyone to strive for (such as power armour in most sci-fi games), or you simply enjoy having lists and tables of armour types (nostalgia is a powerful thing, I admit it influences me quite often).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Dragon-Age: Origins" or "How I lost my weekend"

So I was out on boxing day (not willingly) and picked up "Dragon Age: Origins", I figured what the hell? I can depart with $60 pretty easily. 2.5 days and 22hrs of gameplay later I managed to free myself from its grasp and still long to play more. The game is fantastic.. and while it would be so railroady I could puke as a pen and paper game, as a roleplaying game its the most open since Fallout 2.

Now I could act all elitist about how it seems to borrow more than a little heavily from Games Workshop in some areas (Grey Wardens and Grey Knights or the role of Mages), Im not going to. Because its awesome in GW games and its awesome in Dragon Age. Besides, GW didn't exactly invent dwarves nor elves themselves.

Engrossing story, fleshed out world that is still quite familiar and great gameplay. Some things are annoying on a technical level (the way saving works, better autosaving would be nice given how easy death is in some parts)

But kudos, the game is great. I recommend it to those few fellow foot draggers like myself who shied away from its hype.

Plus..every time I play it I can't help but hum "Hawaii Five-O"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Build a Monster Workshop

So I'd been hoping to use this post to showcase the release of Project Xenophon. Then during a final play test of that module someone immediately struck a very good idea, that ruined the whole adventure. So I'm rewriting that portion of it. Not wanting to wait another month for a post, I thought I'd discuss some of the goings on.

The first other major project I'm working on is a small graphical overall of Piecemeal, to allow for the copy and pasting of text from piecemeal. This will be the first major phase of turning it into a PDF.

In that is also going to go naval rules, though I'm not sure if the existing naval rules I use are really the best. In their case they really require miniature (or tokens) and a map, I'm thinking on ways to make it follow a more abstract pattern in the same manner as hand to hand combat.

But enough news, onto today's topic: Build -a- monster workshop
One of the features I'm working on for the next release of piecemeal is a build-a-monster workshop rather than the current system of specific monsters from an entry in some form of folio, manual or the like.

This would work similar to the "build-a-weapon" system where some basic criteria is designed, and then tags are added.

Tags could include things like "Undead", "Infected/Cursed", "Unique", "Flying" or "Savage" to allow for quick and somewhat "on the fly" monster creation (with the ability to then fine tune to specific cases). In this case "Infected/Cursed" could make the creature vulnerable to silver, while "Savage" would make it immune to morale and unable to flee.

Why I think this will be good (not play tested):

Often some regions will have a myriad of minor monsters that the players may(or may never) encounter. It would seem ridiculous to make up a large number of minor entries for different creatures. How many different 5 feet long insectoid/arachnoid/crustaceans do you really need?

Why I think this may be bad:

Variety may be negatively impacted. The problem with a crutch is you grow to lean on it, while it may be useful when avoiding dealing with a different minor and forgettable winged monstrosity..if that creature becomes a staple as the players decide to settle, it may begin to seem bland and unoriginal. Likewise if the giant crab is much the same as the giant stag beetle....will the Players care to notice the difference?

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Project Xenophon

So the module is fully written as system neutral. My original plans were to write it up in both a retroclone and 3.5 compatible manner, but I must admit I'm running out of steam for the latter portion. How many people truly care for the statistics and numbers to follow along with a module?

Friday, December 11, 2009

They may have broken my nose, but my barbed wit has scarred their ego for the rest of their life!

One of the mechanics that is great fun in Piecemeal (and one of the few bard combat powers), is the Scathing Remark and its brother the Witty Retort.

These abilities allow a bard to cause luck point damage to the recipient. So while they have no use against minions or monsters (as they cannot do physical damage), they can be useful against villains and their trusty lieutenants.

The scathing remark functions very similar to an attack roll. A d20 + bonus + skills, with an additional bonus for the quality of the comment. If this "connects" you cause the target to lose a number of luck points, equal to the roll of one of your luck dice. Thus for an average bard it would be for a d6 luck, for an insanely lucky bard it could be as high as a d12. Note this is a one time per combat event. A bard also has the option for taking a "High Brow", "Normal" or "Low Brow" approach. The idea being taking one extreme lets you re-roll the attack die and choose the better at the expense of re-rolling the luck die and choosing the worse result and vice-versa for the other extreme.

A witty retort works as a defensive mechanism, you try to beat the "attack" of the scathing remark, and if you succeed you launch your own "attack" in the same manner.

Why is this good? The first major benefit is that great lines can make for great memories, and anything to encourage it is a good idea in my books. It also keeps another stat as useful for Bards, meaning they can't really consider any stat a dump stat easily.

Why is it bad? In some campaign themes, the witty banter may not be appropriate. A scathing remark can just as easily be curses to the twelve gods, or condemnations (the same with retort) if you wished to tweak it in that manner to fit theme.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Play Example: Social Conflict Results

In following with the previous post, below is the write up (cleaned up to remove in-jokes and Princess Bride lines) for how the social conflict about two kings and a mutual defense pact broke down.

The King of New Balos believes the two kingdoms should merely sign a non-aggression pact, so as to focus on the larger issues. The Lord of the River Cities believes forming an active alliance is required.

In this case it is a major issue so each side needs to gain 25 influences to convince the other. Neither parties suggestion violates a moral or survival concern of the other, so there are no modifiers to required influence.

Round 1.)

The King and Lord select what they will do this round, and reveal after both have chosen Tone, Appeal and Maneuver.

The King decides to choose a heated (passionate) tone , while the Lord chooses an academic tone. This means the King can score epic failures and successes easily, while the Lord cannot suffer or score any form of epic victory.

The King makes an appeal to emotion while the Lord makes an appeal to Logic.

The King is part bard, but did not choose the debate skill, so he has only standard maneuvers. He chooses "Refute" (Always a defense roll, Appeal roll only if you have momentum). The Lord decides to choose "Interject" (Always an appeal roll, a defense roll only if you have momentum)

Now they roll for Momentum in this round of discussions. (Awareness Die + Social Mod + Intelligence Exceptional Mod)

The King rolls a d10+1 for a 6
The Lord rolls a d8 for a 7

The Lord has momentum in this round of negotiation. The Lord launches his appeal,

"A shadow of the Talon greatly overshadows us as it is, and those who stand against the Talon see us as a resource to aid in their own prevention, our only hope is to form a unified defense."

This is a rational statement (+2), its an appeal to Logic so the Intelligence mod of +1 is used, and it incorporates the skills "Current Politics" (+2). The Lord has a Presence of 4, this totals +9. the Lord rolls a d20+9 for a 21.

The king refutes:

"Your lands are but a herd of peasants and merchants, without a strong army or fortress between then, a unified defense merely means I protect your holdings at the expense of my own. A cost I cannot afford"

This is a rational statement (+2), its a refute so intelligence modifier is used (+0), and incorporates the skills of "Military Logistics" and "Fortification" (+2 each). The King has a Presence of 2, for a total of 8. The King rolls an 11 +8 for a 19. Thus the King has been given pause for thought by the Lords words.

The Lord sees how much influence he scored, this was an appeal to logic so The Lord rolls an intelligence die (d8). If the King had an exceptional intelligence score he would take less damage (or more if it was exceptionally bad). The Lord rolls a 5.

The Lord has thus scored 5/25, while the King has scored 0/25.

Round 2.

The King chooses again to be heated, and to use an appeal to emotion, this time with an Interject.

The Lord chooses to use a Humourous tone (Nobody can score epic successes, you can still suffer an epic failure as per normal), to use an appeal to Logic and a Statement (you score double influence but get no defence roll).

The Lord rolled a d8 for 4 and the King a d10 +1 for 3.

The Lord begins:

"Balos is a god of war, I guess I assumed you would be happy to ride to war if the Talon attacked instead of holing up in your swamp with a non-aggression pact"

This is a damn good argument (+5), it also brings in the Lords Skill in Religion (+2), as an appeal to logic the Lord adds his +1 intelligence modifier and 4 Presence. The Lord rolls a 16 + 12 for a 28. The King is interjecting and lost momentum, thus the King has no rebuttal as he is busy interjecting with his own point. The Lord is making a statement so he scores double influence. 6 x 2, 12 additional influence is score.

The King has interjected with his own point, while trying to ignore the good sense the Lord is making :

"You have a strong reputation for treachery, you have slain the mayors of several of the towns you now run while in their employ, I have no assurances you would come to MY aid."

A solid argument (+2) that uses his "Military history" skill (+2) and his Presence of 2, and social mod of 1 for a total of 7.

The King rolls a 16 + 7, this would have been an epic success when using heated tone, but as the Lord used a humourous tone, no epic success can be scored. A humourous tone is thus useful against heated opponents, but self destructive against an academic tone. As the Lord has no defense roll (he made a statement) the King rolls a d8 (his social die) and scores 3 influence.

So the king has score 3/25 influence while the Lord has scored 17/25, the king needs to make up ground. He decides to throw in a favour to score influence. Between rounds.

He will send his captain of the guard and several instructors to help the lord train an army, to revisit talk of an alliance after the Lord has a suitable military to contribute. This is an issue of minor import, and the offer is worth 7 influence. The King now stands at 10/25 Influence.

Round 3.

The King goes for a heated debate, an appeal to emotion and a refute.
The Lord goes for a heated debate, an appeal to logic and talking points. Talking points allow two appeals, but each with a penalty, it also does not allow a defense roll.

Momentum is rolled.

The king rolls a d10 + 1 , for a 7.
The Lord rolls a d8, for a 3.

The King begins.

"Without a suitable host of warriors under your command, it is fairly pointless for me to risk it all defending you, arm yourself first"

This is a weak argument, but it was something (+1), its an appeal to emotion (+1), and there is a presence of 2, rolling a d20 +4 the king gets 22, which is also an epic success. The Lord is issuing talking points, so he has no defense.

The King rolls a 7, x2 is 14 points. Ouch.

The Lord, sensing he is about to be dismissed by the King and his dreams of an alliance dashed, lashes out in a series of poorly backed talking points.

"Let me break this down for you, One, your kingdom is a squalid dump in a swamp facing down the Talon Empire, you need all the help you can get to even avoid starvation. and TWO, I bear with me the power to tap into the arcane powers and grant use those advantages we may need against superior numbers".

For the first appeal, the Lord suffers -5 for a talking point, +2 for a solid point and +2 for his "Economics" skill, +1 for his intelligence modifier and +4 for presence. The lord rolls a d20+4 for a 13.

For the second talking point the lord suffers -5 for talking point, +0 for a flaky and vague point, +2 for the "spellcraft" skill, +1 for intelligence and +4 for presence. The lord rolls a d20+2 for a 9.

The King refutes:

"In the long run we may need butter , but for now we must focus on swords. I doubt your dabbling in the black arts will bring us boon as much as bane".

The King's first refute has +2 for a solid point, +2 for presence. A d20 + 4, 14. He brushes aside the notion that his kingdom is not somehow self-sufficient. Against the black arts he gains +1 for a somewhat rational point, and +2 for his presence. 3 + 3, he fails to refute the notions of the power of the black arts. Somewhere deep in his mind his irrational fear and wonder of magic has begun to influence his decisions.

The Lord rolls an intelligence die to score influence 1. Unimpressed (And worried) the player burns two fate points and finally rolls an 8.

The Lord thus scores 25/25 influence, while the King has scored 24/25 required influence. The King has been convinced, though he had his doubts up until the end. He may still claim "Stubborn Refusal" and refuse to form this alliance, resulting in his own penalties to luck and destiny points..but why would he? He does need SOME kind of defense agreement in place after all.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Play Example: Social Conflict

I'll be running through an interesting social conflict tonight, so I thought I'd write it up in two parts. The first part (this one) will deal with the participants and situation.

Participant 1.) The King of New Balos

A brooding warlord in possession of a formidable fighting force, but a small and newly settled kingdom unable to sustain it in the long term. The kingdom is situated in a swamp and the bordering foothills of the nearby mountain range.

Level: 5
Class: 2 part warrior, 1 part bard
Intelligence: 11
Awareness: 16
Social: 13

Participant 2.) The Lord of the River Cities

A wandering specialist who through a combination of intrigue and military might has conquered or taken as allied vassals the cities and towns along a major river, up until it reaches the swamp. The once poor and backwater towns and villages are becoming prosperous due to the unified market and trade opportunities of the river. The lord has developed a reputation for beginning to dabble in dangerous magics in his court.

Level: 12
Class: 2 part warrior, 1 part thief, 1 part wizard
Intelligence: 13
Awareness: 14
Social: 10

Scenario: The two neighbouring kingdoms have each had issues with the neighbouring Empire of the Talon in its continual conquest of other nations. To their other side is the Grand Kingdom of the Eagle, which has recently assimilated (forcefully) the League of independent knights, in its own bid to counter the oppressive strength of the Empire of the Talon. Combined with the plague that has recently run through the region, killing over a quarter of the populace of some towns and cities, and it is a dangerous time to be a small fish in the big pond.

These two small kingdoms will need to work out arrangements for mutual defence, but they each have their own differing (and religiously motivated) views on how that should go down.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Magic as part of the laws of physics: Superstition becomes real

One thing I myself am often guilty of is making magic always "active". Magic is something you do to warp the laws of physics to be different from our own reality, it isn't really part and parcel.

To a degree I long ago started working in "medieval science" , disease really is caused by vapours for instance, there are only 4 elements and heavier things fall faster. But with magic I find myself often unwilling to put superstitious magic into the fabric of the world.

Let me give you an example. When undead is created its because someone used magic actively, either with a spell or a magical ability to cause the rising of more undead (like a vampires bite). I have a hard time say, having undead spring forth if a player kills someone on a full moon without leaving 2 copper for the soul to pay their fare on the afterlife. Or if the PC's kill a traitor but don't bury him on the crossroads, or if you light a candle in the vicinity of the recently deceased.

Likewise if a player kills a spider I don't make it rain, if they break a mirror I don't make them more likely to fumble for 7 years.

But maybe I should, what does everyone else think?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When danger reared its ugly head. He bravely turned his tail and fled. Bravely taking to his feet, He beat a very brave retreat

Today I'd like to talk about morale. I've seen some other people posting about morale lately and thought..hey..I like to jump on bandwagons!

(seriously, go read the Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, its a very different style of game than I would run in most cases but there is a lot of interesting things there)

In Piecemeal, its not feasible for most individuals to fight bravely on until the death, especially not as henchmen who don't even get a descent dental plan (ever wonder why the orcs have such bad teeth?).

Thus the effects of morale come into play. NPC's will have a morale score, this will be a highly variable score and can be pretty much anything. It can be increased by a PC with a high social score, a bard with skill-points in leadership, bearing a standard or flag, being outnumbered by or outnumbering the opponent.

If modifiers are not abundant, how do we get situations where people will almost certainly flee? The trick is to cause multiple morale checks on a turn.

Why have multiple morale checks instead of abundant modifiers and one morale check? Part of that is due to the way morale checks are rolled, and how it breaks down numerically. With individuals or small bands (4 or 5) you would roll a d20 per NPC with epic failures and successes on 1's and 20's as normal. With larger groups you would roll 3d6 per group. This makes a nicer bell curve on if people run or not.

Why do I want a bell curve? People are more likely to run away if other people are too. People are also less likely to run away if everyone else is standing their ground with courage and bravery. This makes modifiers a big deal in group situations, where additional checks might not. +4 to a morale check (up to a 16) and needing to make two rolls on 3d6 is far more likely to succeed than even a +3 (up to a 15) and needing to make one roll on 3d6.

What causes a morale roll? To lose more body points in a round than the opponents, to have more individuals on your side fall than the opposing side, to have gunpowder or magic used against you if you have not previously been exposed to it, or to have your leader fall.

What happens when a morale roll is failed? Well for most individuals they run or surrender. If an individual or unit has say the "Zealous" trait (such as fanatics or berserkers) they instead automatically move into "Wild Attacks" in a panic/rage.

Without getting into the niceties of Piecemeal round to round combat options, a wild attack in D&D terms would be getting an additional attack , having all attacks be at -5, and being hit on a 2+ automatically. As you can guess, not a long life expectancy for a berserker who loses it.

Why is this good?

It creates another aspect of being "good" at combat, making people run away or surrender. Given that people are worth more XP if they surrender than need to be slain, this brings more avenues for players to pursue without being mandatory.

Why is this bad?

It does cause a handful of extra quick rolls per turn to be rolled (should the opposing side wish, see main rule). But as these rolls have the option of making the entire combat finish up in one roll, I believe they actually reduce the "drag" of combat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gaining influence with factions and patrons

One thing I really love about Piecemeal's Social Conflict system is how well it deals with gaining favours and influence with powerful individuals and factions. If you haven't read the social conflict system yet, it boils down to scoring influence against your opponent. When you reach a certain level (based on what you are asking) you convince them (though they can claim "stubborn refusal" and get their own penalties).

This works well with gaining favours and loyalty, because it allows me to award a tangible non-treasure reward for quests and tasks, I split this into "Favours" and "Sway".

If you complete a favour for someone you earn a certain amount of temporary influence points with them. These represent favours, each favour can be cashed in once, with a limit of one favour per social conflict. If the players return a merchants stolen cargo I might have him give the group a favour of 10 influence. This means later if the players wish to get free passage on his ship they could immediately cash that in for 10 influence, starting them already closer (or automatically passing) the threshold to convince the merchant. If they returned cargo a half dozen times, they could not turn in 6 favours at once for 60 influence. Just because you keep returning his stolen wares doesn't mean he will automatically sail into a maelstrom and fight a demon-lord at your side.

Sway is a much stronger affair. Influence represents a permanent loyalty or duty to you from the individual or faction. Every social conflict you are in starts you with as much influence against the opponent as the difference between your sway with them, and their sway with you. So If I have two sway with the town watch (and they have none with me, which is normal for a PC) I can automatically win any social conflict for a matter of no real import. "Hey Crowley, would you mind checking on my house periodically while I am away in Korthos?".

When one gets to higher Sway, one can start automatically asking for more and more and expect the help. If you have saved the town from a rampaging orc warlord single handily, your sway in the town should guarantee you don't pay for room, board or drinks. If one has absurdly high sway, you have the power of Thusla Doom, who needs merely ask his followers to jump from a ledge to their death...and they do without question.

Why is this good?

It allows the PC's to keep track of their reputation and the good deeds they have done, the favours they have accrued in a much more tangible fashion. This means that in long running campaigns I as the GM don't have to remember absolutely every little detail from every minor good deed they have done in the last 3 years (real time), nor do I have to hand waive it and risk overlooking a good deed that I consider minor and forgettable but really stuck with the player. Often the GM and PC's remember different things.

When is this bad?

This allows Players sometimes a bit too much knowledge, in the same way knowing their hitpoints means they don't fear one goblin pointing a bow at them ("He can only do 4 damage and I have 40 hp, I'm fine"). I temper this, if it becomes a problem by having things crop up that may damage a PC's sway or favours owed without their knowledge (IE, bad deeds they have done travelling around and spoiling their reputation)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Programming concepts used as a GM and in Game Design

I recently read a brilliant article over at the Troll and Flame. This brought into play how the practices and procedures one uses in software development shape and impact both running games and designing games. I highly recommend anyone with even a passing knowledge of software development read it. The parallels are great.

Being a developer in all stages of application development, this article brings up many points on my own views of how the two mesh. As anyone with much knowledge of software development knows, good software is a skeleton that is indirect, highly generalized, and not rigid or unalterable. These factors make re-usability exceedingly high and allow for the modular nature of custom application development (my bread and butter was, for along time, doing SME custom software from scratch). Even in larger software corporations successful software is one that allows you the general tools to do whatever you need. Excel for instance is just a giant customizable tool to sort data in whatever weird format you need.

Good game design concepts are like software:

Indirect, highly generalist and easy to re-arrange components. This can be then molded to suit individual needs by rearranging components and setting firm values to create a very direct and high specific product.

I instinctively use these concepts when I try and clean up the rough ideas I first spit out in game design. A good example of that would be the "dot" inventory system, and how easily it blends into other areas.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Large Skirmish Level Battles - Simple but effective rules

One rule set I use regularly, that I promised to showcase is rules for handling larger combats. This particular system is useful for combats of a couple hundred individuals or less (maybe 40 to 200) and not for larger battles where logistics and the like take on a larger role.

This is for battles too big to resolve with individual level combat, but small enough that a lone hero can be a major tipping point.

The basic idea is that the battle will break down round by round, according to the average statistical break down, modified by a d20 roll.

For each group you will work out the numbers in a similar manner. 40 swordsmen attack, 7 will hit, of those that hit 3 will just injure and 4 will be downed. Then you modify by a d20 roll x 10%. So in the following example, for round 1 I would work out the math then roll a d20, if I rolled an 8, I would only be 80% effective in hits (rounding as normal) so I would hit 6 times and go from there.

If I rolled a natural 20 I would be 200% as effective and hit 14 individuals, injure 6 and down 4.

Individuals that are injured twice, shift to downed. Each round, take 10% of your total number of downed individuals (round up) and shift them to dead (in case there is magical healing available).

This allows you to work out fairly large battles fairly quickly. With any system with static defense (like Armour Class) use that to determine % of hits (assuming the attack rolls are a straight break down of 1-20, IE if there are 40 swordsmen then they roll 2 of each result). If there is a dynamic defensive roll, assume that all defenders are rolling 10 (it evens out in large numbers)

Morale becomes incredibly important in large battles and should usually be rolled every round.

The benefits of a system like this:

1.) It allows for a transition of the combat concepts players are familiar with. Things such as blessing your troops for that extra +1 become meaningful, without being unreasonably powerful or without adding a new set of mechanics to work with "higher abstraction" combat.

2.) It can be worked out quickly, while still maintaining that element of random chance. After all, rolling dice is fun..just not several thousand dice a round.

The downsides:

1.) It gets too unwieldy to scale up to "army level" combat

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Marine Rules Alpha Available

Well, I am still working at making them a little more pleasing, but the rules themselves are down on "paper". If you would like a copy of these (some of you have mentioned it), please send me an email (or post your email if you haven't already) and I will send you a copy.

My email again:


I'm guessing you can figure out how to format that into an address.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Projects and Marine Rules

Normally I like to be working on one major project that takes up most of my design time, one side project that I work on when I need a break from my main project, and one "hobby" project that I throw a few lines or ideas on as they appear to me, usually taking up no more than 10-15 minutes a week.

Unfortunately sometimes life (and work) throws on several new projects to the top of the pile without any forewarning. This is one of those times. I had hoped to have put out a nicely done up Marine rules PDF yesterday, at this rate I hope to have functionally written rules by Monday evening. I apologize for the delay.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Marine Voyages

One thing I've frequently dealt with in games is naval travel and combat. Be it tri-remes or galleons, my group loves to get in boats to get from A to B (or more usually from A to Ω) faster. Invariably this means they run into long sea voyages (with needs to resupply, get crew etc) and of course naval combat.

I've had several naval rules sets, but none I've loved. invariably it involves a simple set of rules with turning and speed, and wind rules. Combat for boarding actions involves skirmish level combat (rules for which are always also WIP and I'll post later), while weapon mounts and rams and fire focus on the other main aspects.

This almost always involves miniatures and a measuring tape, though I am always struggling against that (miniatures are fine, I just like being able to not need them).

These rules also tend to work best when each PC is captain of their own ship. I am planning to put these out as a separate PDF for play testers (they would be very plug and play, or even a game in their own right) if anyone is interested?

Any takers?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Creature Feature - Peripheral Terrors

I don't normally deal with specific creatures, but I thought I'd put up a system neutral creature for use in anybodies horror games. The Peripheral Terrors.

Peripheral Terrors are a lanky, fast moving humanoid with a dull grey skin. What exactly they look like is not known... as they can only be seen in your peripheral vision.

Turning to look at a Peripheral Terror means you can no longer see it, asking you to wonder if it was ever there at all. Terrors appear to be incorporeal, in so far as they can only be interacted with while in your peripheral vision, flooding a hallway you are certain they are in with flame,arrows or bullets will not harm them. They leave no footprints, yet cannot go through walls or closed doors or windows. They do however have the ability to manipulate, pick up and move objects (or harm people), though they are always quite discreet to avoid doing anything obvious (such as walking around holding something you can see when you turn to them).

Peripheral Terrors appear to be skilled climbers, able to scale sheer surfaces. They also appear to be quite adept at picking locks, disabling security systems and hiding from someones peripheral view behind objects.

These creatures will frequently be seen out of the corner of ones eye, standing in front of oblivious individuals, doing something with their mouth to the individuals face. Exactly what is being done cannot be seen.

Over time the affected individual will appear to have their face covered in small writhing worms in your peripheral vision, but again, you will see nothing straight on. The targeted individual will start to grow sickly with wasting diseases, their mind will begin to lose memories, at points they will black out and not remember actions they have taken. They end up both insane and infirm unless the worms are removed from on (and inside) their face.

Peripheral Terrors are not invisible, so spells or electronic devices to see the unseen will not locate them... unless you see the device through the corner of your eye, where it will clearly show them (ie, motion detectors), until you once more look at your device straight on..and it will clearly show they were not there. If a security system (such as cameras or motion detectors) leaves hard copy proof (such as log files or photos) the Peripherals will also not appear, unless seen through your peripheral vision.

The exact goals of the Peripheral Terrors are inscrutable, but they are filled with malice. And they do not like being investigated or discovered, they can and will lash out to cause your death..usually through unfortunate but scientifically plausible accidents. The Terror's may act alone, or they may travel in packs.. no one knows how large these packs get..some say they are a rare creature, some say thousands..some say they may outnumber regular people.

Peripheral Terror's will fit into any fantasy, supernatural horror or science fiction game.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Piecemeal Alpha Version 0.35 now released

I am having hosting issues with so the file is only currently available at pen and paper games .

This has the following Changelist:

Added Dynamic Saving Throw rules
Added rules for retirement and post-death adventure
Altered "Forked weapons" to be "Vicious" weapons, and included spiked and serrated weapons into the category.
Altered Charm and Command to use social conflict rules.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saving Throws: Adding thoughts and tactics back into split second choices

Recently Troll and Flame discussed his dissatisfaction with saving throws. On that he brought up a few points I strongly agree with, and a few changes I'm looking to make.

The big one is to make players request saving throws. A saving throw requires the player declare how his character tries to get out of the way or mitigate the problems.

This is a great mechanic for bringing in the next rule I've been toying with throwing in.

Currently I go with ability checks, altered by ability modifiers. Currently these are listed in the spell or effect. IE, Fireball uses agility checks (saves).

But I want to drastically cut it down in complexity to where the type of action the player declare determines not only the ability score tested, but the chance of it succeeding and the effect of a successful save.

I've broken up the actions taken into three categories. The first option if its a situation you can't fully avoid (barring an epic success)such as an explosion and the second being a "hit or miss" event.

Crazy enough to work(I leap at the lightning bolt and hope it goes under me):
Double or half
Double or nothing

Standard response (duck, dodge, dip, dive or dodge)
Normal or Half
Normal or Nothing

Brilliant defense ("I throw the chest into the path of the fireball to make it explode prematurely!")
Half or Quarter
Half or Nothing

Epic successes always result in no loss,
Epic Failures always result in full.

The check will have a difficulty modifier (from +20 to -20) based on the difficulty in pulling off the action, not in how crazy or brilliant it is. It may be very hard (-10) to hit the fireball with the thrown chest or very easy (+10) to pull some form of crazy stunt.

The issue comes to what type of actions some spells have, I'm thinking the "Half" and "Double" should apply to any numeric modifier, most notably with duration for enchantments.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A big thank you to the people behind the RPGBN

I'd like to take this moment to give a brief but heartfelt thank you to the RPGBN. Much of my readership has found me thanks to the RPGBN and I wouldn't want the site leadership to change hands before I can take this opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate you letting me into your merry band.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Upcoming Projects

The last 3 to 4 months have been a sort of limbo for me, moving, living on the road for all intents and purposes, new career. But now Im all back and settled in with an office once more set up in my home. So expect new content to generate a little faster. These are the upcoming projects I hope to churn out before the new year:

Piecemeal A0.35
An OSR Module codenamed "Xenophon"
An Adventuring Party! wilderness expansion

Other projects I am working on with no fixed release date:

An "intermediate" level RPG, halfway between Adventuring Party! and Piecemeal, working title "Piecemeal Basic". PDF and not just a stripped down Piecemeal.

"Exploring the ruins of Azaelchihtotolin" , A Meso-American Piecemeal Module.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Holy Symbols as weapons

One thing I notice lacking in RPG's with clerics or priests is that the holy symbol is rarely a direct weapon in its own right. When Van-Ripoff slams a crucifix into a vampire I expect that vampire to sizzle. That being said, I also always like the quote often used in horror movies "Without faith, the cross is only Iron".

One of the miracles in Piecemeal solves this issue.

Icon weapon:

This miracle allows the priest to make a suitable item into a weapon that harms mystical creatures. The item does 2d4+1 damage and gains +1 to hit (requiring no skill to use). The weapon has a speed of 5. The holy item must have a personal history with the priest in question.

Time to call forth: Speed = Priest's Rank

Piety 1 per round


Why is this good? It allows items like rosary beads to be used in direct action against a ghost..or a druid to take a fresh oak branch and destroy an undead with the flick of the wrist, while still preventing it from being mass produced and thus destroying the low magic setting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nerd Projectitis: Getting things done

Some time ago, the Chatty DM had a great post on the various projects all Geeks and Nerds work on and then abandon half-finished. With both game and software design this is an issue that has often cropped up in my life, so I thought I would have a post dedicated to the "design" portion of game design.

Here are some suggestions for conquering Projectitis:

1.) Set yourself a daily requirement for work, but keep it small and set a specific (and minor) penalty for breaking it.

In my case I demand one line of text per day. Failure to write a line of text per day involves me putting a dollar in a jar. The jar goes to the Salvation Army come Christmas time. This helps ensure I get SOMETHING done. A single line may seem useless, but over a 6 month busy spell it adds up a small chapter completed. This ensures you get over those bad cases of writers block that usually kill a projects momentum.

2.) Accept &*%$#y work.

I love to have elegant solutions that are just perfect. In Piecemeal and Adventuring Party! I have many such mechanics. I also have more than a few solutions that are still in their "awkward teen years". Many of the good and elegant solutions I do have started being awkward and cumbersome, taking many many years of re-writes and testing. Sometimes they even got worse before they got better. But its often easier to stare at a bad solution and fix whats wrong than it is to look at a blank page and create something that is pure win from nothingness.

3.) Don't be afraid of publishing things that aren't perfect

Welcome to the electronic age, there is no real cost to publishing before you are "done". Voltaire once said the enemy of the good is the perfect. This is because if you wait until its "just right" you'll lose inspiration before then. The praise, evaluations and scorns of others can be a powerful motivator to keep working.

4.) Anything worth doing is worth doing better

Following on point 3, you should never consider anything you are working on as "done". It can always be improved even if you can't yet fathom how. Perhaps it currently is perfect, but as you change other "less perfect" portions of the system, new avenues for improvement become available.

5.) don't be afraid of an overhaul, but sit and think on it for awhile

Every now and then you will need to fundamentally overhaul your project. Every now and then you will think you need to fundamentally overhaul your project, begin the process and realised you created even more and unsolvable problems in this transition. Always put in one more "phase" or release with your current version before a major overhaul, that will give you time to think this through further.

6.) Above all, always remember that you can easily save days of planning with a few short months of extra work.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Example combat tricks

A throwback to an old post , I'll toss up some examples of the combat tricks a warrior can learn when he fights new and interesting opponents.

Special Maneuver - Response Maneuver
Mastery: 1 mp
Effect: The warrior immediately deals an amount of temporary damage to the target equal to the targets movement rate. The target may not suffer more damage in this manner than the warrior's strength score. The target must pass a health check or be knocked prone.

The warrior must have just scored an epic success dodge against a charging humanoid attacker of the same size category.


Humiliation Strike
Special Maneuver - Weapon Maneuver
Mastery: 5 MP
The warrior may make an immediate standard attack upon his opponent. If this attack connects it gives the warrior +1 to his awesomeness score at the end of the session for each point of damage dealt.

The warrior must have just disarmed his opponent and then in turn wielded the weapon (see advanced disarm). This is the weapon that is used in the attack.

Throw the Gun!
Special Maneuver - Cinematic Maneuver
Mastery: 0 MP
The warrior throws an empty firearm at the target, if it connects the warrior rolls a luck die and costs the target that many luck points.

The warrior must have fired the weapon until it was empty at the target. More than half of the shots must have connected (not dodged or blocked) and have dealt no damage to the target. The fire must have been completely ineffective.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Speaking with Animals

One thing I've routinely seen in RPG's but in practice and in rules as written is the ability to speak with animals has all kinds of limitations on the intelligence of the animal and what they understand.

Things like an empathic understanding, or short memory, or using childish words..squirrels focusing on if things are shiny and not noticing the bigger inability to count.. etc etc etc.

I use a much clearer method. Animals talk and by and large (depending on animal) have average intelligence and vocabularies. The notion of animal intelligence as being universally sub par is very much a modern concept. If a druid speaks to an owl in my game, the owl is not dull as bricks (as real life owls are some of the dumbest birds around) but is instead very wise and intelligent, probably more so than the druid.

Why don't animals use more tools? Religion, thumbs..the usual reasons. Animals may very well use magic and miracles however, some of them may also have levels. Ol' One Eye isn't just a grizzly bear, he's a level 3 warrior as well. The silver fox is a thief, and the leader of the wolf pack is a priest to the moon god.

This also means that talking to animals is no more of an auto-win in the woods than "language common" is an auto-win in the city. Just because you can talk to animals doesn't mean they obey you, it doesn't even mean they want to talk back. And lord help you if they decide to lie or trick you.

The nature of animal speech as just another language also means PC's can learn the language non-magically, if they have a teacher. Their voices may not allow them to imitate the cry of a bird, but they can hear the crows talking about something wicked moving through the woods to this direction. You could also extend this to tree's and the rustling of their leaves should you wish.

Consider trying it in one of your games.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Natural and the Supernatural in terms of Fantasy Ecology

I was recently reading this article on Monstrous and Normal creatures, in it the absurdity of defining a creature as normal or a monster in a fantasy world emerged. If a Druid for instance can commune with normal creatures only, why is a Griffin a monster and a Platypus normal?

How should a druid know that a Griffin is "supernatural". Sure a Griffin may have been created by the gods, but in most mythologies EVERYTHING is created by the gods. In our own history creatures such as the Griffin were assumed to be normal creatures.

My explanation follows to the answer of another question "What do all these super-predators in the ruins EAT, the should have depopulated the area for thousands of miles around".

My answer is that Monstrous creatures don't follow the normal biological patterns of regular creatures. A dragon that is a monster does not need to eat for instance, it doesn't age or excrete or replicate unless it chooses to or magic compels (or in some cases enables) it too.

A monstrous dragon (in an appropriate campaign) is a demon that feeds on fear and greed and malevolence in the area. It was not born it sprung into existence, it only eats when it finds the action enjoyable or when it can sow terror into others. You cannot starve the dragon, you will not catch the dragon vulnerable when it needs to take a leak.

Thus the druid could not speak to a monster because the monster does not follow the laws of nature, it is a thing that "just is", and its very nature is an abomination to existence. There is no requirement for the area to be depopulated unless the dragon wishes it to be so (perhaps to spread famine).

This requires the game to be set up for it, but it offers interesting choices too. There very well be "Normal" dragons and "Monstrous" dragons who are dark mockeries of their existence. Neither group may be nice or friendly to humans (ie, neither are "good") but it allows for a very different manner in dealing with two different types of dragons.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

No kingdom for old men - Retiring PC's

One thing I thought I would briefly mull on is the concept of character retirement. A high level character is hell on wheels, why not simply reforge the whole world with one hand behind your back? Now sometimes doing just that is a good idea in a one shot world, the other option is to have a ridiculous number of other stupidly high level NPC's around to balance things out. But then you can't make ANY major changes..what fun is that?

In piecemeal, it is also very hard to level past the key points if you just pick on the need to do grand and epic things to go up.

But eventually everyone reaches their limit. The rule I use is that when you have reached the maximum level possible without breaching a new keypoint and earn enough XP to reach the next level (past the keypoint) without breaching said keypoint. You retire (more on the mechanics further down).

What does this mean? Lets say you have done something of minor import (being local hero) and breached the first keypoint/milestone and reached level one. You battle your way up to level 5, the maximum level you can reach without breaching another keypoint (by say slaying a dragon) and becoming a national hero (or villain). You can keep earning XP and adventuring until level 6 would be reached if possible. At that point you retire (you can also change this until you would reach level 7).

You've milked your heroism/villainy for all its worth and the fates no longer favour you, you're old news. So in sets retirement.

What does retirement mean? A retired individual cannot regain any luck points they lose (HP beyond physical durability if you haven't read that article), either normally or through magic. They also no longer gain fate or destiny points (re-rolls). This makes them still powerful, but if they keep fighting it out on piddly battles they will fall eventually. Thus they shift to more of a political game (or a simple life).

How does retirement end?

Option 1.) You manage to breach a key point and regain the call to adventure! You finally slay that dragon and the fates take notice of you once more, like John Travolta after "Pulp Fiction!" you are back in action and trying to forget "Look who's talking III" with all your heart.

Option 2.) Up and coming punks try to prove their mettle by taking you on. Up until you finish up these glory seekers (who are out to get you and not vice versa) you can regain your luck and prove you aren't dead yet. You may be down but you aren't out... (also why PC's should be wary of taking out retired villains)

Option 3.) Six feet under, you finally croak and make your trip to the afterlife.

Pros: Allows PC's to have a "wrap up" period after a long campaign to make changes to the world without getting into a ridiculous and overdrawn "wank fest" that permanently despoils the campaign setting.

Cons: Sometimes PC's want to have an unkillable uber-PC who goes on said "wank fest"

Friday, September 25, 2009

Balancing the Wish Spell

This isn't a very long post, but it deals with a very specific issue. Wishes.

A lot of fantasy games end up giving the players a wish; this mirrors stories where the protagonist is given a wish. But the problem is players are fairly clever and quickly realize the power of writing stupidly precise wishes and GM's as insidious (and often laboured and stupid in their own manner) with subverting them. You NEVER get a player who wishes as they do in stories with "I wish to be rich", and you lose out on a lot of good gaming opportunities there. Now some groups simply have a gentlemen’s rule about wish and when and how to abuse it...but then..there is a certain fun in trying to warp out the perfect wish as well.

Such a dilemma.

Personally I always use the simple solution of word count. Your wish has a dozen words, at least two of them are "I wish".

That's also more fun, I often limit myself in any warping occasion to half that (6 tops) more words to tack on to twist it.

"I wish for a million gold coins" is 7 words, giving me 3.5 (4) to twist it. "From the kings treasury", if he went with "I wish for wealth" I'd be left with two, best I'd come up with is "of spirit", but even then I'd end up having to fork over a bunch of high powered allies, better to just give him the gold (unless I think the wealth of spirit would be more fun).

So, quick posting game: List your wish under these conditions, and the next person can warp it and post their own.

I'll start:

"I wish for a magic sword to be forged for me"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You should fear the night

One element I often see overlooked in fantasy games is the utter danger that can appear from nowhere in the dead of night and disappear completely at dawn. There are vampires sure, but most creatures are at best nocturnal and just tend not to be out during the day. One thing I try to stress in small ways in games is that everything changes when the sun goes down. When it does you may need to hole up some place until dawn breaks.

Simple rules like common undead (at least created by some means) take damage in the sunlight, or increasing the amount or types of magic that function at night, or creatures that only exist in this plane at night. A haunted castle may only appear at night, legion of the dead may flood out from the swamps and mill abound the woods. But the night is dangerous.

Often a lot of emphasis is put on terrain as a tactical consideration, but far less often is time a consideration.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Revisting Social Conflict mechanics

One of the features of piecemeal that seems to get a lot of interest, is the social conflict mechanics. The system allows the same level of tension and tactics as combat (which it mirrors). That and as Piecemeal is being designed to work with virtual tabletops (as how I often play games of it with old friends) it means I get a lot of PC actions (especially refute actions) given to me in link form.

Here is one such example:

I decided to revist this topic because of a comment JoyWriter from the forge sent me in regards to some of the issues with the current method of tracking "required influence " (ie hitpoints for debate)

Currently required influence is based off of how important the issue is to you. This is obviously subjective (there are guidelines and examples...but not as rigid as I might like). I must agree, this is the best current "working method" I have, and it works "alright", but it is definately the weak point in a fast and fun system. I couldn't imagine making luckpoints (hitpoints) based off of how important the battle is to you afterall.

So, any suggestions for how you might improve the system?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

3d6 VS 1d20: This time it's personal

This flaw deals with a player by player preference for chance. We've all seen it, sometimes players prefer the wild variance a roll of a d20 with its epic success and epic failures each occuring 5% of the time. Others prefer the nice predictable bell curve of 3d6, with no "natural 20's" or "natural 1's" ever to come up.

Rather than forcing different these players to play different games in Piecemeal, I make it a choice. A character (or NPC) can always take the "Joe Average" trait. When this trait is chosen a player rolls 3d6 anywhere they would normally roll 1d20. This makes their numbers more bell curve and prevents epic failures and successes. Now on the one hand, the d20 can roll 19's and 20's and score higher....on the other hand it can also roll 1's and 2's and score worse.

Its a very balanced trade-off and nicely caters to all gamer tastes. Which do you prefer?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reaching the Gates of Valhalla: Giving closure to the death of favoured PC's

This is more of a piece of general gaming advice for dealing with a common problem. When a long time , cherished PC dies an inglorious death. This causes a split into two camps.

1.) avoid killing PC's in inglorious ways. This I dislike, in robbing the threat of a PC dying in an inglorious way there is no sweet taste of victory. Why roll a die if you don't want to accept the outcome?

2.) Tell people to suck it up buttercup. This I also dislike, its something someone worked on for several hours a week for sometimes several years (at least several months). If I had been working on anything else that long (like building a wardrobe from scratch) I'd be pissed if it just got heaped into the garbage with no pomp or circumstance.

So this brings me to my personal solution (which I think I may need to formalize in Piecemeal).

The post death session: When a PC dies, the next session (which I try and make mandatory attendance) deals with the spirit of the PC trying to reach their afterlife..being beset by infernal press gangs and lost souls trying to keep him from reaching his paradise-ever after.

The nature of his burial dictates much of his starting gear. Left to rot in the battlefield (or eaten etc) might make him start this journey naked. Being buried in an elaborate ceremony with many treasures may make his journey that much easier (at least give him two copper to pay the ferryman!) . Spirit versions of any "personal items" will accompany the hero. If culture appropriate it may be a good idea to bury the hero with his servants entombed with him...

The hero should also be accompanied by some faith specific spirits, ancestor spirits or the spirits of already slain friends and allies, to be played by the other PC's. This is also a good spot to have the Cameo's of already dead PC's from ages past show up.

The adventure path I use is usually very linear. Death takes you, if you are high level you may get a chance to beat death somehow and return to life (once, maybe) but I wouldn't count on it. Then its a travel to the realm of the dead, travelling until you reach the gates to your final paradise (guided by internal compass or your companions), beset by those who would try and steal your soul, aided by those you can bribe or who want you to get to where you belong. Perhaps you can avoid being sent to hell and make it to another unaffiliated plane if you are a truly resourceful villain.

This one-shot game gives you a good sense of closure to the character with the knowledge that death is not the end of a character in a fantasy realm where the afterlife is real. Enterprising PC's could even go find their comrades for a visit or as a helpful guide in the appropriate outer plane.

But either way, your ending is automatically more glorious than "I rolled a 1 for an agility check on a ledge in the middle of nowhere", without taking the risk out of travelling on shaking ledges in the middle of nowhere out of the equation.


Friday, September 4, 2009

I go, You go: Fine, but lets improve upon initiative

This post deals with either the lack of initiative, group initiative or only having one initiative per combat. On the one hand this style of initiative is very simple to keep track of, on the other hand it really robs combat and other time sensitive conflicts (I also use initiative for chases, and even scenes of hiding and evading view from pursuers) of a lot of tactics.

Not knowing if you will go first in the next round adds a lot of tactical considers , especially at lower levels. If you have players announce their actions before rolling initiative it increases even further.

Do you attempt to rush to the other side of the hallway before the guard looks? What if he wins initiative and sees you bolt across his field of vision?

Do you attempt to cast Safety Fall? Whats the casting speed? Can you get it off before you get tackled off the bridge (taking the villain with you) or you should you try and dodge out of the way and hope you can make your rolls to cling to the bridges railing?

In Piecemeal, round by round initiative is extremely important in combat. Piecemeal has no static defense number (ie, no armour class) its about pairing defense rolls to attack rolls. Going before or after your opponents can dictate if you get to both attack and defend, or only do one. This makes the speed and number of your opponents incredibly important when choosing how to do battle. A brute and a fencer (or a Giant and a Spaniard) fight very differently and have different strengths versus different opponents.

How do you run Initiative?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Making battles epic: THE monster versus A monster

This is not a system specific flaw, this is something I commonly see in many games. The clouded confusion between A monster and THE monster. What do I mean by this?

Take the Minotaur. In Greek myth there is ONE Minotaur, and when he died there was no other. Theseus killed the Minotaur and lived on in myth forever. Theseus did not kill a minotaur then loot through his belt pouch and fight two more later.

Why does this matter? The need to have an ecology of repopulating monsters robs the uniqueness of your conquest. You killed just another minotaur, not an epic monster that terrorized the lands. Just some beast that will soon be replaced.

Now there are reasons for this, one so there are always enemies to fight (can you imagine a D&D char retiring after one battle with a monster) and two so that there is a feeling of control that the players don't "waste" a monster by avoiding it or killing it too easily or in a stupid anti-climactic way.

But even if you kill THE Monster in a stupid way, the battle still becomes a tale to tell by virtue of it being THE Monster. It doesn't matter how you kill The Kraken, as there is only one..the battle still becomes part of history.

Now being THE Monster can still mean more than one if there is a finite (manageable) number and they don't reproduce (at least fast). There were three gorgons, there could be a dozen dragons or a pair of gargoyles. As long as each death is a major blow to the world of monsters.

This allows for debates as the monsters run we rid the world of part of its magic by killing this last of the dragons? regardless of its monstrosity?

Friday, August 28, 2009

gold pieces, horses and swords: A better RPG economy

The flaw I'll talk about today is pricing in role-playing games. Often pricing is a vast list of charts with a generic price listed in coins. This is by and large fiat to make and rote to remember. Its also often illogical , "so if I buy a ladder I can smash it into two ten foot poles, sell each for half price and make money?"

This fails to deal with issues such as exchange rates, local availability of materials and skilled labour, demand and previous stockpiles. Now a good GM can adjudicate these, and often why have the large and bulky charts at all?

I don't. Piecemeal uses the "dollar system". In this coins are assigned a theoretical modern "dollar value". Any time you go to buy an item you base its price upon the value of its modern day equivalent.

Buying a sword is thus akin to buying an assault rifle. If we go with a copper coin being $1 a sword thus can cost somewhere around 20 gold (depending on ALOT of factors, in same places as little as two). A riding horse is a car, a war horse a Humvee. A suit of carefully designed plate mail is much like a tank, a suit of mail an armoured car.

Now difficulties still arise, misjudgements and the like. But it allows for a lot more "fast and furious" bargaining and haggling with merchants too. After all, things don't have price tags on them. Every price is negotiable, some merchants might refuse to sell if you don't haggle (thinking something suspicious is up, like maybe the item is worth a lot more than previously thought)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Potion Potion, Boil and Bubble

Today's post is going to deal with the seeming difficulty with brewing of potions in RPGs. Potions should be a fairly simple manner of spell, more so than actually hurling a ball of flame from your hands. Most witch doctors or local dabblers could probably brew up a handful of potions.

In piecemeal, potions are just two spells cast at once. The spell that is the effect, and the spell 'brew potion'

So you'll notice a few tweaks to how potions are commonly handled. One is that they expire. Potions have limits to how long they will last, and they lose potency as they go. You cannot simply stock up a backup of potions and leave them for ten years until you need them.

The extra difficulty in casting a spell, and the extra mana (a large amount) means that potions are prime candidates for material spell component use.

This is a good thing if you enjoy having even low level wizards being able to contribute in some manner, without destroying the medieval setting with a stockpile of magic items functioning as high technology. It allows wizards to plan for upcoming events without being able to just stockpile a potion for every need.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mono and Piecemeal

This is a techical blog issue, dealing with the programming portion of my game design. In this case with the ability to run the Piecemeal rules viewer with mono. I've heard some responses that it doesn't work with mono on some peoples Linux machines (no word on Mac either way) but I just can't replicate the issue on any machine I have , I get the following when I try

Piecemeal in Mono

Which causes me some difficulty in troubleshooting the issue.

So anyone using linux and trying to run piecemeal, please, let me know exactly what is going wrong. I do want to fix this for you if I can.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Using non-standard materials for weapons and armour

In honour of Dark Sun being the new setting, I thought I would post the rules I use for non-standard materials being used for weapons and armour. Athas is a world where weapons are made of wood, bone and obsidian more commonly than steel, so this seemed fitting to post.

This is to deal with issues were different material weapons sometimes have confusing rules, ie a flint arrow versus a steel arrow. Sometimes these rules are ignored, and I state openly that rules for different materials should only be used in settings where it matters. If its a medieval Europe game then you don't need to crack out these rules for the one time a warrior picks a bronze dagger from a work bench and throws it. But if its an Ancient Greek setting and there is a mix of bronze, iron and steel it might, and if its a conquistador mesoamerican setting then the comparative power of steel makes it paramount to have these rules.

Materials are all given a few different criteria: Hardness, Sharpness, Weight and Breaking Point.

Hardness is the main factor for different materials. When comparing a piercing or edged weapon versus hard armour (mail or plate for instance) you note the difference in the hardness ratings. For example with steel weapon versus bronze armour its a rating of 1. The effectiveness of the armour is thus worsened by 1 for Damage Reduction for slashing weapons, for piercing weapons the number is different. If it had have been bronze weapons versus steel armour the armour would have its DR Increased by 1.

Sharpness is a number that is used for slashing and piercing weapons versus unarmoured opponents. It is a direct modifier to damage. A wooden sword would have a sharpness of -2, but an obsidian knife would have a sharpness of +1. Steel is used as a baseline (+0)

Weight is used as both a reduction (or increase) in weapon speed (based upon size). For blunt weapons it can also be an increase to damage.

Breaking point is the amount of damage the weapon can give or receive in a single blow (before multipliers) before the weapon risks damage. So a bone spear might shatter easily, a bronze sword occasionally bend and a lead mace may do great damage once, but its mace head will quickly be deformed into uselessness.

These rules both increase flavour in appropriate settings and offer new types of rewards beyond "magic" items. A mithral sword may be mundane, but its stronger material, lighter weight and razor edge make it a great reward on its own.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Well St. Jerome, Paladin of the Sun God, in THESE parts the Sun God demands human hearts.

I was reading this excellent post from the Tao of D&D. It brought me to a thought, in it he mentions that Deities traditionally blur to many pantheons and cultures from the same root. This is contrast to how D&D deities are(apparently) static individuals. I have never run deities in any game as being static. One of the things I have enjoyed is the mystery where players travel to a new land and find 'new' deities being worshipped. Their goal at that point to see if any of them are ones they know. I also usually ensure there are two deities to any given subject, one good and one bad. This further adds to the mystery. Is this harvest deities going to have the villagers share their bounty and be generous? or tie you up in the middle of the night and burn you in a giant wicker-man come the first rays of morning light. So as a bit of setting info, I jotted down a Piecemeal deity, along with some of the (obvious) names he's been found under.

Morality: Selfish Free
Am, the sun deity, known by many different names. One of the earliest deities in human civilizations. Am is vain and petty god, requiring that Am be held highest. Most of Am’s followers view Am as good and honourable, a view encouraged by Am. Wherever Am is worshiped his priest hoods share several traits in common, they are pious, highly organized and attempt to form theocracies to direct all they can in blind adoration of Am, building massive temples. Am has a vast hatred with the Undead, as well as the followers of any religion who will not submit to higher authority (ie, Am's). Followers of Am consider all of those to be Faith enemies. The Symbol of Am is a sun, the favoured weapon of holy warriors is the spiked bludgeon. Am is believed to reside in the Celestial Heavens, if that is true, Am would be in a state of conflict with many neighbours.

common names:
"The Light"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The plane of the dead

I received some interest on my previous post about the planes, as a setting point. So I thought I'd throw in another dose, though I should point out in Piecemeal there is a fully fleshed out cosmology.

The Inner Planes
The inner planes represent planes that are very close to reality. There are more than likely several spots throughout the normal world where the paths and portals to the inner planes exist.
The inner planes are the 4 (or maybe 5?) elemental planes
- Earth, Air, Water, Fire

The 3 planes of life and death and in-between
- Gaia (plane of life)
- Shadowrealm
- Sheol

And the plane that may be an elemental plane
- The astral plane

Today's plane:

The plane of the dead is a dimly lit, colourless place, cold with howling winds. Anyone on the plane will notice they see everything, even themselves, in black and white. It is a vast, flat, gray plane. Several rivers flow through the plane, but their waters cause truly terrible effects on those who touch them, let alone drink from them. Every now and then a traveler will see a dead tree in the ground, the results of mishaps in the past from plane shifting wizards. There are sinkholes across the plane that lead into a vast underground maze of catacombs. While the sky seems to diffuse a pale light above ground, underground is dark and is the source of the howling winds. The cavern walls are sharp and jagged rocks that wind through a maze. The plane is populated by the souls of the dead as they await (or hide from) their judgment. Forts from infernal beings who previously rounded up the unclaimed or unwanted souls, chasing the helpless across the gray plains or through the winding tunnels dot the plane. But at some point the spirits of the dead managed to unite and, with mysterious outside help, built great stone cities of the dead. Each city is ruled by a powerful spirit, usually a wizard and almost always as a brutal tyranny, though still a far better eternity than being rounded up by a demonic press gang. Active infernal outposts also dot the plane, waging war with both each other and the cities of the dead. Living beings heal neither body nor luck damage on the plane of the dead and nothing on the plane is edible. Powerful undead occasionally seek refuge here, as they regenerate mana at twice the normal rate.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Screaming from the beyond and fading into the void

One of the things I base Piecemeal around is being player driven. That means the mechanics and the world its set in should emphasize adventure, I have talked about this before on a general level. I also have mentioned how anything the NPC's can do, so should the PC's.

I generally try and keep from discussing any kind of "default setting" but I do throw setting information into Piecemeal, in the forms of tidbits of information that just scream "adventure setting".

One such example are the planes. In the system I use when running games, the planes are divided between reality, the inner planes (elemental planes, the plane of the dead, the astral plane, etc) , the outer planes (heavens and hells) and the far planes.

Today as a filler, I'll post some info from Piecemeal on the Far Planes, the wierd zones.

The Far Planes
The far planes consist of two polar opposite regions. The void and the beyond. Either realm will instantly destroy the mind and body of any living being who ventures to them, and even most mystical creatures will become insane and deformed. The beyond is said to be the infinite parts of our universe, not just in scope but that everything that can happen does, immediately. The void is the opposite, it is nothingness. Not emptiness, nothingness. The distance between any two points in the void is zero. It is zero personified.
The very narrowest edges of both "planes" can be explored however. The edge of the beyond (also known as the dreamscape) and the edge of the void (also known as the abyss)

The Dreamscape
The dreamscape is a very disturbing place to visit, and time has a very different meaning here. One could spend years in the dreamscape and return to find mere seconds had passed in reality. Everything in the realm is chaotic and unpredictable, chaotic monstrosities spawned in the beyond wander through the dreamscape and using the damage caused from various wizards throughout time, now find their way into reality, causing random destruction as they go. The ground and air itself is potentially fluidic, dangerous and constantly changing colour, everything a traveler sees will be like a weird acid trip mixed with a lava lamp and a collection of Salvador Dali artwork. Every hour a traveler spends exposed to the dreamscape they must make a resistance check or grow a mutation. Should they become unconscious in the dreamscape they must make an intelligence check or go insane. There is nothing permanent in the dreamscape, but powerful and insane wizards may hide here in temporary fortresses to heal and study. The difficulty of all spells is doubled, but mana is restored instantly. At many points through the dreamscape, it is possible to accidentally pass into the beyond itself.

The Abyss
The abyss is without any heat or light. If characters do not have their own, they will die. Chunks of matter float throughout the abyss, slowly crumbling and fading into nothing over the course of decades for smaller items and millennia for giant rocks and the debris of destroyed cities. There is no mana in the abyss, and any used will never recharge nor can it be channeled. Time does not pass the same in the abyss as in reality, a minute in the abyss is often day or more in reality. Gravity is also very light in the abyss, perhaps a tenth of what one would expect on another plane. There is air, sound can travel, it is even possible to scavenge water and edible matter if one is extremely lucky. Nothing is proven to live in the abyss, but it is strongly held that dark and ancient beings who seek to undo reality slumber in the abyss, waiting for agents who crawl through reality to awaken them. Somewhere deep in the abyss is a path to the void itself.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The build-a-weapon workshop

The flaw I'll discuss today is one of recurring humour. The endless amount of weapon options randomly thrown about with no rhyme or reason, every variation of sword is different with its own arbitrarily defined distinction. Don't even get me started on pole-arms.

Piecemeal gives weapons a set of 'tags' that define their attributes.

These are the primary tags of size, damage type, and range.

Example: Small, Piercing, Melee or Medium, Blunt and Missile.

Then a few additional tags are chosen (based on type) like pole weapon, devastating weapon (axes, hammers and picks), Firearm or Sling (among others).

So a woodcutters axe might be a large, slashing, devastating melee weapon while a Small, piercing, Firearm would represent a dueling pistol.

Each tag has certain predictable results. Weapon size increases damage and decreases speed for each step. Devastating weapons increase the damage die by one while giving a negative to attack rolls. Piercing weapons are quicker and may bypass armour on a critical hit, slashing weapons increase the damage die by one size and blunt weapons have their own special effects on critical hits.

Not all tags are beneficial, improvised weapons may get a tag like ineffective (reduces damage die by one) among others.

This allows the generation of weapon qualities quickly, without being arbitrary. If a player picks up a chair, or a battleth or a katana you can quickly ascertain its effectiveness and move on. If you are running piecemeal at the time it can even quickly generate the stats by just selecting the tags (removing any paperwork)

What are you thoughts?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The old guru who guards the mountain monastery eternally

One of the goals I strive for in Piecemeal is that any trope and NPC can accomplish, a PC can accomplish. In this case it is the trope of the aging priest, monk or holy man who sits eternally in some secluded mountain temple, or perhaps spends an eternity guarding the holy grail in a trap filled dungeon.

In piecemeal this is the miracle called "Unaging", as long as a priest is both in a state of grace (high piety stockpile), and standing upon holy ground, they do not age. Should they ever leave holy ground or fall from grace, they gain back all of their "skipped age" within 24 hours.

This allows a recreation of this trope without making it a "must perform" action. This also explains why the incredibly powerful Paladin spends his days minding a dilapidated cemetery in the woods and sends the young heroes to defeat the goblins rather than doing it easily himself (yet at the same time providing them with training and a safe haven)

So whether you are the last Grail Knight resetting traps of the first Ghost Rider giving it one last ride with Nicholas Cage you can use this miracle for the effect.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Piecemeal VA0.3

A new update, this one contains a few big ones. A couple new spells and miracles, tweaks to the weapon builder for improvised weapons,

and of course the rules for group templates.

Take a look.

The most fundemental rule (important to all rules heavy systems)

The first flaw I will discuss is the simple aspect of rolling dice. We all know the problems that occur in RPG's when dice rolling gets involved. Game play can grind to crawl as players try and figure out all their minor modifiers. This gets worse when a roll is narrowly failed and players huddle around spending 5 minutes counting and recounting modifiers to try and pass, thinking up new reasons and justifications for a bonus.

Sometimes this gets worse and occurs after the fact when players bring up a failed roll from 2 encounters ago that should have succeeded and wish to then return the broken shield to their inventory or any number of other problems. Other problems also come up time and time again.When I wrote piecemeal this was one of the first things I addressed, how to actually create rules to dictate how dice are rolled.

It works as such.First:The player rolling the die announces all the positive bonuses, and any constantly occurring negative penalties (not situational or temporary ones).Second:Those opposing (usually the GM) announce all the negative penalties to the die roll (such as a curse, or an injured limb or it being pouring rain).Finally:The Die is rolled by the player with the end modifier. The result stands. If the player forgot his sword is +5 not +4, or the GM forgot the player was blinded two rounds ago, it doesn't matter.Why? This speeds up the game a lot, you do not even realise how much until a few games using this style of rolling. Its also a great mechanic for getting players involved in a new RPG. Rules knowledge is no longer so immediatly required (and if a new player is forgetting a lot of bonuses, a GM could balance by not "remembering" all the penalties).This means sometimes actions will succeed where they should have failed, that isn't an issue. Consider it cheating fate, and enjoy the smoother game play.

Reposted as part of my "Phone it in" series..
original post

Note that I had originally planned a second post to point out how this rule applies to all other rules. If no one remembers the rules for grappling when they occur, then it obviously wasn't that essential to anyones plan for handling the current situation. Note this means that the incorrect rules may often be used, but if no one interjects with the right rules then who really cares?

Needless to say there wasn't enough for this second post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Golems: Scary death machines, not shambling robots

This bit on Piecemeal isn't as much a flaw in game play as it is a flaw in concept (in my mind). I do not like mindless automatons being called golems, in my mind a golem is a truly terrifying religious entity. The automatons in most FRPG's are just ye olde robots.

In Piecemeal this is separated. The "Classic RPG" golems are created by wizards (Simulacrum) and have all kinds of fun options of binding spirits, demons, dryads or the like (willing or maybe not) into the simulacrum for all the fun of "evil scarecrows" or "stone golems" from FRPG's.

Priests can craft a golem. Golems are not defined by their material, merely by the standing of their creator with their deity. Golems can be forged with whatever is appropriate to the deity, it isn't the physical form that holds the creature together. The golem is fueled of divine power.

The ritual takes a full two days (no sleeping) and a lot of Piety. So what physical effects does it have? To convert to D&D terms the golem has attributes based on a 1 to 1 score of the priest's "Caster Level", it regenerates damage each round based upon that level, and it has a damage reduction equal to the caster level. This makes it a combat powerhouse that is nigh indestructible, like the golem of legend.

Whats the flaw then? Well unlike the D&D golem this is not a controllable creature. It is intelligent and acts on its own accord to its goal, slaughtering everyone who doesn't follow his creator's deity (though it will not harm the faithful). Its mute, it doesn't talk, but it isn't stupid. Think more "The X-files" and less D&D.

What is its flaw? How do you defeat such a killing machine? The first option is the priest who created the golem can create a control item (he doesn't have to). It doesn't give you control of the golem, but destroying the item destroys the golem. Brute force is highly unlikely to succeed except for very weak golems made by lower level priests. The final way is that the golem is tied to places of worship and holy ground of his deity. If he is removed too far from those sites (or the sites are all destroyed or defiled) the golem is again destroyed.

What does this style of golem allow?

Combat encounters that are not about killing, but about surviving and outmaneuvering the opponent. The golem becomes less of a "stand up and fight" adversary and more of a "Jason Voorhees" villain the PC's must avoid until they can crush him indirectly. This becomes even more so if one or more of the PC's are of the "correct" faith and can try and shield their "incorrect faith" brethren from harm.

It can also allow for tough moral choices. Building a golem can protect your community from hostile and evil forces...but it also isolates it (violently so) into a xenophobic community.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Be careful on Holy Ground

Today's post is going to deal with a common lacking I've seen in many role-playing games with clerics, the lack of importance of a holy ground. While in a lot of fantasy media and historic folklore there is a strong importance of being on holy ground, not so in most games.

In Piecemeal holy ground is a prime consideration for using Priest Miracles. Most healing and damage spells are given a re-roll, or reduced piety cost when cast on holy ground. Weapons wielded by the faithful on holy ground count as magical (making the town chapel an ideal place of refuge when the werewolves attack) and those of enemy faith's cannot heal on holy ground.

This makes being on holy ground (and not being on unholy ground) very important to consider. But how prevalent is holy ground? "Consecrate Ground" is a priest miracle, any PC or NPC priest who wants to spend the piety may use this miracle. It turns a shrine, temple or church into holy ground for as long as the shrine , temple or church remains undefiled. Thus in conflicts it is often important to make sure you destroy the unholy sites of the enemy.

Why is this good?

1.) On a tactical level this adds a spiritual element to the terrain. When fighting an evil cult to Baphomet, deep in the woods around the base of the JuJu tree you need to make some decisions. Do you focus on fighting the cultists and the high priest first and destroy the shrine afterwards? Doing so means your priest is at a disadvantage and t he enemy priest is at an advantage. You could also focus on setting the JuJu tree on fire first, letting the high priest use more infernal miracles against you. And a third option is to perhaps have a thief sneak in before hand and set fire to the JuJu tree as a signal to begin the attack. It adds choices and more strategy to terrain.

2.) It makes the local temple or church more of a "safe house" from the supernatural and occult shrines that much more foreboding of a place to venture.

3.) It allows priest characters the ability to add permanent additions to the world that will have a lasting and recurring benefit to them.

How to add this into other games without using the Priest Magic system of Piecemeal?

Allow a Cleric or Druid to spend a full season blessing a church or sacred grove etc. Afterwards, as long as the church or sacred grove isn't defiled (IE its altar vandalized or the sacred oak chopped down) then all healing spells allow a re-roll for hit points regained and all damage spells allow a re-roll for damage dealt. All mundane attacks against enemy supernatural creatures count as magical. Tweak to taste to give a mechanical (and revokable) benefit to being on holy ground (besides being immune to getting your head cut off)

Friday, July 17, 2009

What im working on for 0.3 Piecemeal

Hello readers. Today as part of my "phone it in Friday" I'm going to write about something that might actually BE interesting. Part of my plans for 0.3 of Piecemeal deals with group templates.

These are useful in any starting game, but mostly with schrodinger's characters. Basically a character can choose two "starting group conditions" from a list. Each ties you to another character in the game. You cannot be tied to the same character twice.

Each "tie-in" gives you a small penalty and a small bonus, if the other player confirms the relationships, they take a small penalty instead and you gain a larger bonus.

One of the examples:

"Only in it for the money"
- Gain one additional starting item
- At first level you have half your maximum starting luck points.
If confirmed by another player, your luck points are normal, but they lose a starting item.
If both of your starting "tie-ins" are unconfirmed "only in it for the money" then you start with but a single luck point at first level.

Now, if you are wondering where I am drawing inspirations for the connections from, I'm not gonna lie..I got a lot of inspiration from the "hire stories" in Firefly (and a few other sources). The one above was obviously Jane.

Why is this good?

1.) It helps alleviate the tired old "You meet in a bar and instantly become best friends who trust each other in life and death situations".
2.) It instantly builds connections (Brothers, Lovers, Mentors. Mercenaries and Students).
3.) They only represent starting conditions, they can change as the characters grow.
4.) They aren't unilateral.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Languages other than common

The flaw I'm discussing today is only a flaw if you are a fan of cunning linguists. In a lot of RPG's there tends to be a "Common Tongue" that everyone speaks. This does smooth over a lot of things, never are there people you cannot speak to.

The simplest solution is to remove the "common tongue" that everyone speaks. Piecemeal does this, this is one step. This creates the problem then of not being able to talk to anyone. True that is realistic, but cuts out a lot of hero archetypes. The Daniel Jackson or the C3P0

Thus Piecemeal ensures the Bard Class can act as "interpreters" and explore brave new lands. Likewise the priest can use the "understanding" miracle to "get the point across" to locals.

Why is this good?

1.) It enables a greater level of mystery
2.) It makes language skills useful
3.) It supports exploration style play that much more. (along with travel XP)


You have to be willing to overlook the "everyone speaks English" trope that is very common in science fiction and fantasy. That is a fun trope in its own way.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Healing grevious wounds

Earlier I discussed healing of luck points, today I discuss the healing of actual wounds. Body point damage.

Now for back ground reading its essential you have read this post. Luck Points deal with the supernatural ability of heroes to avoid damage and their regeneration can be based upon such things as leisure and be healed in massive doses.

Body Points are actual physical damage, and quite heavy doses of punishment as well. Think about how much damage a dagger blow (a foot long blade) slammed into your leg would really be. A d4 doesn't really seem that piddly does it? Think of how long it would take to have that wound heal on its own.

In Piecemeal a healing check is made once per week. Each week the character basically makes a health check. If the character passes they gain a single body point back. This check is modified by skills applied (such as herbalism) and equipment (medical equipment) but most important to note is that negative penalties for having taken damage still apply. The worse condition you are in, the longer it takes to heal. Someone in critical condition is in serious condition.

The second important note is that while an epic success (20) heals two body points, an epic failure (1) costs a body point. That's right, you can survive a battle and later die of your wounds anyways. Other factors can also change what numbers count as epic success and failures. Resting in a clean hospital might make 16+ an epic success while crawling around in a fetid sewer might make a 10 or less an epic failure.

This, when combined with the weighty of choice of using healing magic (usually a priest issue) can be used to slow the "in game" pace of adventure.

Why is this a good thing?
1.) It makes it a choice (and a hard one) of whether to keep on going when running low on luck points, the reward is often greater by this point but the risks are higher too.

2.) It can slow down the pace of adventuring and in a very natural way, force the players to deal with the non-violent aspects of their lives in the "down time". This allows time to learn new skills (assuming you chose to make learning new skills about time training and not advancing in levels), earn piety, train for combat maneuvers or deal with social matters for the party.

3.) The risk of dying after the fact is very, very small (unless you camp in a fetid sewer for a few months) but stresses the importance not just surviving a fight, but making sure you survive it well. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.

4.) It keeps characters grounded, reminding them that after a viscous beating leaving them near death..they can't always just sleep for a week and be right as rain.

5.) It adds new options and choices in longer term adventures. If something needs doing on a timeline...does the character wait until he is healed? or head out wounded and do the best he can?

What are your thoughts for or against this type of healing?