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?