Saturday, January 30, 2010

Giving some control over ones destiny - now with darts!

I was playing through some old school goodness (testing my entry into the "Design a dungeon room contest"), and a player made a momentary err in judgement, their beloved character forced to have their fate depend on a single saving throw with slim chances of success.

Two things occurred to me.

1.) Although tense and exciting to watch the die roll, in this case the player (having had a tough week) felt out of control, no action or force of will could improve their chances (lets not get into the nitpicky and correct details about the choices leading to this moment).

2.) My games room is a GAMES room, and I like to try new mechanics..even I know they have no chance of practical and recurring use.

What did I come up with on the spur of the moment?

Throw the dart, get your randomized result from 1-20.

As I have this option available to me (having a dart board in the games room), I think I may utilize it in fun games on a "save or die" roll.

Why is this good?

Its fun to throw darts, and it gives a vastly increased sense of ownership of the role.

Why is this bad?

Assuming you don't have a player who is REALLY good at darts who gets constant 20's, there is also potential wrangling about wierd dart related situations..and if a 1 is rolled the player may have 2 additional darts in his hand already. Oh, that and you need a dart board set up.

How did this turn out?

The player took a solid 3 minutes aiming before the rest of forced his hand by shouting repeated warnings of the approaching glacier that is headed right for him. With a moment of silence he threw...


4 minutes later the character died as a side effect of being swarmed by monsters, but it was a blast at least this once.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Making the big overhaul - restarting a project as a requirement for further improvement

There comes a time in any project that was "force started" for the overhaul. Where you have to see that you cannot build any higher on this foundation of sand, and need to abandon it, and recreate much of what you have already done on a new and solid foundation of bedrock.

I am at this stage in piecemeal, this is in the sense of both it as a programming venture (where I kick started a lot of my rusting programming skills in non-financial software) and as a game design venture.

In terms of game design, the game has a lot of bloated baggage in terms of rules that cater to the evolution of characters or game play from my gaming groups. That works fine for my gaming group, but for new groups I'd want to do things right from the start rather than work around the evolution of the rules and the situations of one game group.

I will still play with the bloated and rotting carcass of existing with my current game group, why not after all, but new groups and games will use the rules I'd want to have made from the get go.

Why did I start making such a brutal slog to this point, only to ditch and start again? Well for starters I'll be keeping much of what I've made, but rather than trying to alter the existing design from the inside..I've kicked over the building and I am cherry picking the best bits from the rubble. The second reason, is it's a bad idea to not start being creative until its tend to never get anywhere. I'd rather show what I have, make continuous improvements and restart if I need to. Continuous Improvement.

This is an important trait in any design work, the ability to take what you have, admire it for what it is...then throw it in the dumpster and strive to make something better, without having any regret for your previous creation.

I'll release my existing work on Piecemeal in the next few days, and the next release after that will be the piecemeal Beta, which will be designed from the get go to make an easy export to .txt and then .pdf format. The beta will also feature a lot (hopefully) more user friendly format, new changes races, a built in (but easily discarded) setting.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Multiple attacks per round - Good idea or bad idea

As a warrior gains levels, he gains more attacks per level. It is a pretty well grounded tradition in roleplaying games. But after reading this post I'm back to wondering..should it be?

In the case of piecemeal the concept just creates headaches and wrinkles in game design. I already allow many opportunities to gain additional attacks per round if the situation is right. Be it from combat maneuvers such as "riposte", from the much loved "Opportunity Attacks" or the "Wild Attack" option.

And I'm wondering if that might be a better option all around. Rather than a character being "entitled" to two or three attacks a round, they earn extra attacks by either setting up the right circumstances or being darn lucky.

A higher level warrior is more likely to get 2 or 3 attacks a round, but even a level 1 character could (through extreme luck or stupidly favourable circumstances) gain more than that.

The good:

It allows for more varied combat options as the extra attacks aren't an "entitled" swing of the sword but a series of bonus. If a warrior has learned the combat trick (similar to a mage with a spell) the warrior may gain a "Free" shield punch or headbutt in the right circumstances.

The bad:

There is a mechanical simplicity in just a flat "three attacks per round", I'm simply not sure if its a good simplicity (elegance) or a bad simplicity (dumbing down)
As a high level concept for how to handle multiple attacks per round, what do you think?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Critical Hits: More damage or other affects

One thing I've been mulling is, do I handle critical hits with as much fun as I can?

Im starting with the assumption you have critical hits, I've never seen players who don't like the suspense of seeing that 20 potentially roll up. But is additional damage the solution? It is certainly a valid and I wouldn't bypass it, but I was thinking..maybe more choices are needed?

What if you could choose to either do double damage, stun the target or knock them prone?

Specific effects like "broken arm" and "slashed eye" I am not interested in, not every opponent has an arm or an eye. Generic effects that can be fit into any situation are (in my case) the way to go.

Rolling a fumble could be simplified by turning your opponents attack into a critical hit (if it connects).


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Experimental Travel Mechanics - A half formed though on hex crawls

Part of favouring sandbox games is needing to deal with lots of wilderness travel (usually). But as someone who has done his fair share, wilderness travel is pretty brutal business even without monsters. Plenty of would be explorers died without the need for monsters or war bands to do them in.

I already make exploration give out XP, so there is reward for doing it. But choice requires risk VS reward (even if its just lost opportunity that is being risked).

Currently I use GM fiat, random encounters, slow table etc. But that puts a lot of extra burden on the GM to be both fair, creative and interesting all on short to no notice. Sooner or later travel will get a stale "ya, you make it" in any long term campaign.

I'm currently mulling an idea of ability checks to determine how much hiking through the woods sucks.

So far the one I'm liking the most is negative healing checks, being forced to make health(con) checks even at full health, risking that one will slowly TAKE damage (foot in a gopher hole, sun stroke etc). An intelligence check to avoid getting lost (say moving 1 hex off course in the approximate direction) and an awareness (wisdom) check to avoid losing 1 dot worth of gear ,perhaps forcing players to mark down no more than say 5 pieces of critical gear they will NEVER lose unintentionally. These checks could be made say, once per week of wilderness travel.

So travelling across a forest for 3 weeks means you could get beaten up, lose some of your stuff and wind up 2 days north of the village you were looking for.

Its a rough and half formed idea that impacts most hex crawls, what do people think?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Disarming: Making combat more varied

One thing that bugs a fair number of players is combat being attack, rinse and repeat. While I've added things to reduce that, where each round is a risk VS reward choice, not simply "attack".

Warriors have been given "combat tricks" to let them add more changes. But some of the more common flaws are things like disarming.

In disarming its often a pointless decision. Make a difficult attack roll to inconvenience the opponent as they draw another weapon (discounting special cases like a sword that makes its wielder invulnerable). The other option would seem to be to make disarming easier, but that that point it ends up where disarming becomes TOO common.

I've recently put in a change where a normal attack can be turned into a disarm AFTER the attack roll, but before the defense roll. This means the player has a bit more choice and tactical a 17 a high enough roll to risk an extra -5 to hit? Thus disarming can become a useful defensive opportunity, since at the very least it may neutralize this rounds attacks.

Not sure how I like the mechanic of changing the action after the roll thus far, but in this case it seems to be working out well.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Let loose the dogs of war

"Smithers...release the hounds"

This isn't so much a game rule design issue as an issue with players. One thing I am noticing more and more as I talk to other game groups is the lack of dogs in a party. Lack of horses I often understand, horses don't do well underground.. but dogs?

Dogs are one of the most useful things a player can have, loyal, powerful and more importantly...alert. Throw in a spiked collar and some studded barding and a war dog becomes even better. At low level my characters (if they could afford it) would bring a war dog with them (rottweiler usually), if not at least a game dog for its alertness.

At high levels, I expect one of a party's henchmen to the Kennel Master and follow them with a trio of Rottweilers in full barding and spiked collars.

Dog is man's best friend for a reason, and when you are going somewhere dangerous, you better bring along the hounds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When gameplay slows to a crawl

A comment in my last post by the Paladin in the Citadel, as well as this fine post over at The Tao of D&D made me think above how a game can slow to a crawl.

I do have some rules to keep that in check currently, but I may need a more concise rule to complement that one.

I am thinking about a limit of three variable modifiers to any die roll. By variable I mean a bonus that doesn't ALWAYS apply. Using a warrior's combat modifier to an attack roll for instance, doesn't count as a variable modifier. Basically anything that isn't calculated before the game. A bless spell giving a bonus to hit or a bonus for high ground are examples of variable modifiers, as are penalties for injuries or weapon ranges. Thus when its time to declare your bonus you would be limited to at most three variable bonuses (bonii?) and your opponent could declare at most three penalties.

Why is this good?

It speeds up gameplay

Why is this bad?

It prevents a tonne of smaller penalties from being able to add up.

Im really not sure if its a good idea in practice or not, any feedback?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Size Matters

If you prefer more of a miniatures based combat, issues of weapon length don't really matter that much. I myself find miniatures based combat to be often too constricting, removing the chaotic nature of movement in combat (much of which is involuntary). In such a system, the benefits of a longer weapon reach become quite arbitrary, which I dislike.

The obvious rule is that some weapons are too large to work in certain environments. This gives different places a different maximum weapon length. In an open field your two handed sword is quite deadly, inside of a cramped apartment... you probably can't even unsheathe it without knocking over a table and stumbling around.

This however makes the longer weapon (which is slow to swing) in too many ways, inferior to the shorter weapon. Making the increased range give an initiative bonus seems wrong to me..the small knife truly is faster to swing than a two handed axe.

But what benefit does a spear really give with its range? It keeps people at bay, they have to rush past a spear point to get close enough to slash at you. Thus I came up with the following handy mechanic.

If your weapon reach is smaller than anyone attacking you, you suffer -2 to hit for each range smaller. Someone with a short sword (range S) trying to close on someone with a spear(range L) would suffer -4 to hit, as it is very hard to dart in for a clear shot while the spear man has the ability to poke at you, and time to step back and maneuver as you advance.

A few henchmen with pikes would thus be useful to poke at a monster and help keep it at bay, while you attack it with a sword. Because henchmen have a longer reach than the monster, the monster gets -2 to hit anyone, even you, as they work to restrict its movement under pain of pointy stick. As you attempt to move in with a sword you may ALSO gain a penalty to hit if the monsters reach exceeds your own. The pike men would receive no such penalty.

Why is this good?

It improves the amount of choices available in terms of tactics and armament without "nerfing" any options, nor making any options "the best". This has created some interesting combinations. A character who wields a rapier, and dual wields a whip. The whip has a size of small, but a range of L, so it becomes useful to keep opposing warriors at bay. Thus Zorro was born in the game.

Why is this bad?

This can create an extra layer of complexity you just may not care about.

Other notes:

Part of the balancer for this is the Grapple and Pin rules (which are thankfully quite simple). They also work to limit the benefit of long weapons (providing you can pull it off)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hand-eye co-ordination and damage creep.

So I was thinking on a minor topic, and this is a minor post. One thing that always bugged me was damage creep in melee combat. Don't get me wrong, I like that strength is important for how useful Thog the barbarian is with his club, but at some points it became TOO important, in that it far overshadowed the club itself.

To this end I'd already set that a strength bonus cannot exceed the maximum damage of the die (ie, even with +5 strength on a hulking Goliath, its still only +3 on a flick knife). I also made specialization give a re-roll of the damage die rather than any static bonus. This makes the die roll itself more important. But the creep was still a bit too high for my tastes.

I've recently tweaked it again so that the strength bonus cannot exceed the die roll. So if you have +3 strength but roll a 1, you only get +1 damage.

I also noticed that missile weapons were kind of boned in this regard. A crossbow has it's set die, there is no way to gain more damage. I was informed later that D&D 3.0 and later uses dex to give bonus bow damage, that seemed like making dex a "Superstat" since it already gave a "to hit" bonus.

Instead I went with Awareness (you could sub in perception or wisdom or even intelligence, depending on system). This means to be a good archer you need both high agility (or dex etc) and awareness (or perception etc). Ie, you need good hand-eye co-ordination, you need to be good at both.

Why is this good?

It prevents bonus creep from reaching absurd levels while still making stat choices meaningful. It also prevents a single "superstat".

Why is this bad?

Sometimes you want a superstat, a game where fighters are strong, thieves are agile and mages are smart (And the other stats are dump) is just fine if that is the kind of play style you like.

Monday, January 4, 2010

So you all meet in a tavern and instantly trust each other...again

Part of Piecemeal is a quick system for generating characters (Schrodinger's Character). Part of this speed in character generation is making new characters fit in with the party. This is where the group template rules of Piecemeal fit in.

Rules as written:

Group Templates are built using "Connectors". Connectors are generic forms of social bonds between individuals.
Each character should be connected to at least two different social bonds to two different individuals in the adventuring party.
Each social bond gies you a benefit (Gain) but has an associated penalty (cost).
The last option is the choice of the target (the other side of the social bond) gains the opportunity to confirm the connection. This alters the gain and cost social bond, often impacting themselves instead of you.
So if Reginald lists "Like Family" to Alberto then the listed gains and cost apply. This does not mean that Alberto considers Reginald family, to do that he would "confirm" the bond, perhaps by stating they are cousins or childhood friends. Then the changes in "Confirm" occur.
You cannot (without GM permission) list a single bond more than twice, nor have more than one bond with an individual.

Sample Connectors:

"A history of tough scrapes"

Gain: Start with an additional 300xp
Cost: 1 fate
Confirm: Target also gains 300xp, but loses 1 fate in addition

example: Old war buddies would a confirmed relationship connector. The family bodyguard, or a soldier who server with the target's father would be unconfirmed. The bodyguard had often been looking after the target, but the target was probably never even aware. The soldier may have a promise to look after the target of which the target doesn't truly understand.

"Like Family.."

Gain: -
Cost: 1 fate
Confirm: You gain 2 fate, target loses 1 fate instead of you paying the cost

example: (See above)

"Protective Of.."
Gain: Target gains 1 fate
Cost: 1 fate
Confirm: target starts at level 0 (-50xp) instead of cost
example: A burly warrior who is looking after his friend's kid sister would be an unconfirmed, he is protective of the kid sister but she doesn't care. If the kid sister was a nervous and scared person who always runs to the character in danger then its a confirmed relationship.

Why is this good?

This allows a new group to be quickly built and have a cohesive reason to bond togethor. The alternative is either more time or THIS (first 30 seconds)

Why is this bad?

If people don't in time flesh this out, its not much better than nothing. That said it forces people to immediatly think about WHY these people trust each other with their lives.

Too cool not to share, the ultimate D&D game room

Ok, while not the intended purpose of this blog..I can't help but share this amazing gaming room. This is pure win.

Fixed Link

Two years of work and pure cool. Read the text for full effect of unseen benefits and tricks.