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?