Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How I run elementals: More than tornadoes or moving flames

One creature I like to run frequently (even if the players never discover what it is) is elementals. What I don't do is make elementals a simple "rock monster" or "magic dust devil" or "roving bonfire".

That gets stale, fast.

I run an elemental much in the same way as I would run a ghost or a demon. Primarily it infests and manipulates a region. A water elemental in a pond might absorb the water from the surrounding area and create a desert (or flood the region into a swamp). It has (to varying degrees based on the power of the elemental) the ability to be aware of the happenings in its haunted region based on its element. A fire elemental might be able to see and hear wherever a candle burns, an air elemental could hear where the wind blows. A certain level of control over the element in the region would also be present.

But if you manage to track down the elemental to the creature itself, it won't present itself in the traditional RPG manner, but more often as some kind of creature or form related to the element.

A water elemental might show as a giant fish, an earth elemental might present itself as a stone statue or a mole-man. A fire elemental might show as a salamander, or a red draconian creature, perhaps a man running around on fire screaming and an air elemental might show itself as a giant silver eagle.

Perhaps it is just me, but I prefer the players to not know exactly what they are facing, but to have an idea. It increases the mystery in my view.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fantasy versus Historical in rules design

I was reading a blog the other day( , Its quite interesting to read) and a discussion (a bit older there) touched upon the AC system being a good representation of how armour works, as armour does primarily deflect blows not absorb them (in the manner of damage reduction). While I use damage reduction for armour his point was very well thought out and explained.

The AC system in OD&D (and still used) does a good job of simply and quickly matching up armours effect in a historical context. I disagree with using AC in that manner in my games because I do not run a historical game but a fantastical one, and while in many cases this is the same there are big differences.

If we look in this one instance if the DR is modelled right the AC benefits from armour and the DR from armour should work out about the same benefit from two warriors slogging at each other with swords. The AC system is quicker to resolve and better, case closed lets choose AC right? in a historical game yes, in a fantasy game no. How does armour protect you versus a sword of sharpness? or a 50 tonne piles of supernatural dragon muscle swinging a claw around? or a magical staff of shocking? or an ogre throwing boulders? or the mighty firearm that made armour (eventually) passe? In these cases the DR model now begins to work better. The armour can be modelled to slow you down but absorb any of the blows a normal swordsman could swing, yet against the thrown boulder the unarmoured swashbuckler now has a better shot at getting out of the way.

This type of thought process needs to bleed through to other aspects of game design as well, to remember the difference between the historical model and the fantasy or mythical model. This is probably the easiest thing to overlook (I do it myself all the time) and really dates back to the question of asking yourself "How could I break immersion with this rule".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Looking to gather an online test game

Part of any rules test is testing it with a group you are not familiar with, how much of any new mechanic is good fun design and how much is a design perfected to a super niche of one particular group make up?

Thus I am looking to start up on online game, based most likely around maptool for Piecemeal 1e. If anyone who does not run a windows system or who does not like the .exe format is seriously interest I can provide a text to pdf version of the rules on a case by case basis.

Ideally a party of 3-5 brave souls for a short campaign with options to extend if fun and merryment is had by all.

Any interest?

Monday, March 22, 2010

SOLD! to the party of exceedingly well-armed individuals despite being in a safe town!

Auctions are a perfect setting for adventure that is rarely utilized. Often in games the tension is lost because it boils down to "Do I have more money than them, yes or no". There is no tactics, no strategy, beyond "keep bidding till I can't".

I say good day to such a waste of tension and always introduce the ability to make auctions a thrilling strategy game.

I always make a pre-auction party or even just a period of mingling for the big ticket hawking of the McGuffin, and I make sure it is one of several prized antiquities on the block.

I then generate a list of a handful of 'serious players' whom are interested in several items. The PC's (through social conflict) can uncover which items the various 'serious players' are hunting, and maybe even the ceilings on pricing for each item, and on an epic success perhaps even the total budget.

The idea being that the PC's can bid on items they don't want to increase the price. If the other bidders spend too much money on the first items up to bid, they won't have as much to bid on the items the PC's do want.


The three bidders are the Baron Von Badass, and Countess leSnooty and the PC's. The three items are the Ming Vase, The Maltese Falcon and the McGuffin (PC aim).

The Baron wants the Ming Vase and the McGuffin, he is willing to spend 50,000 on the vase and has 75,000 to bid.

The Countess wants the Vase and Falcon and McGuffin, but won't spend more than 30,000 on any items and has 50,000 to spend.

The PC's have 29,000.

If they figure out these numbers they can raise the price on the Ming Vase to say 49,000. The Baron raises it to 50,000 and takes the vase. The PC's then raise the price on the Falcon to 29,000 and the countess spends 30,000 on it. Now when its time for the McGuffin the Baron has 26,000, the Countess has 20,000 and the PC's 29,000.

Had the PC's not engaged in bidding they would have lost the final auction. The risk being if they bid too high, they might lose their money on a useless ware.

Have any of you ever run auctions?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Piecemeal 1e - Beta Released

The link on the left has been updated, the beta version of Piecemeal 1e has been released. This is still in .exe format though in a much cleaner view. There is still a lot of work and some additional content I wouldn't mind adding in, but at this point it is better than the previous alpha that was up. If you are not satisfied with the current state of the .exe I promise to refund you 100% of the money I received from your download.

In terms of technical improvements for anyone who has downloaded the alpha, the ability to copy and paste has been added, as has a previous and next button.

Content has been updated and streamlined and I hope improved.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adding fluffed topping to a hard crunchy core

Well the Piecemeal 1e beta is about ready to go out in the next week or so, primarily just adding fluff and helpful tools at this point (experience calculators etc). This brings me to my current topic, how much does setting really matter in a game setting? I often hear that indie RPG's live or die on their setting, but is that something in terms of actual play or mere downloads?

I too like systems with intricate fluff and background, but honestly? I don't play the system I just read and scoop the background. What about you fine readers?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Throwing out a good game element for a better game element

I'd like to discuss one of the hardest things (for me) to do in game design. Throwing out or replacing a good game element for a better one. Its very hard on a human level to throw out something thats "still perfectly good!" just because you have something better.

I will fully admit this may be a me thing (and people like me), for while I still have my 16" CRT TV stashed in a closet because it works fine, my spouse wants to throw it out since we have a 32" HD TV. On a logical level I know she is right, it may work fine but I don't need it. On an emotional level the thing works just perfectly, and since no one else wants it , it FEELS like a waste. So too with game mechanics, story points or other design elements.

To give a few specifics, in this particular case I am dealing with combat in Piecemeal 1e. From the alpha, several different solutions emerged to one problem: Hit/Miss/Repeat stale combat, A lack of tactical choices.

Two divergent systems emerged and one of them makes the other no longer needed, turning it from a good mechanic into extra (and pointless) rules bloat. Thus I know the axe needs to come down, but .."It still works just fine!". I wonder if this is what pro sport scouts feel like, a load of excellent talent and needing only to keep the best of the best.

So have any of you ever had this issue when designing a game system, campaign world or module? Any personal stories?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fresh Pie! Updating class structure

As the release of Piecemeal 1e Beta draws closer (finishing the wizard spells, and then a few bits on planes and deities), I thought I'd share an update on an old favourite PIE , spurred on by reading this post.

As a slight refinement to the current Alpha piecemeal state, classes will still be the listed five: Warrior, Wizard, Priest, Bard, Thief/Rogue/Specialist (still finicky with the name of that one).

But each class has its own "attribute" and a listing of 5 powers. Each pie piece you choose in a class ups the rate at which you gain attribute points and increases the number of powers you can choose.

For example, warriors gain a combat modifier faster and bards gain presence (social conflict modifier). The normal distribution is as follows.

Pie Pieces...Bonus
0..................1/3 level
1..................1/2 level
2..................1 level
3..................1 level + 1 per milestone
4..................1 level + 2 per milestone

The also get to choose a number of powers based on the number of pie pieces. 1 for 1 pie piece, 3 for 2, 5 for 3 and the special bonus power for 4. As characters only start with 3, the 4th bonus power is a high level gift for specialists.

So a 2 part warrior, 1 part rogue would gain the following benefits:
+1 combat modifier per level
+1/2 stealth modifier per level
+1/3 Presence, rank etc per level.

3 powers from:
Weapon Specialization
Combat Tricks
Shield Use
Dual Wielding
Combat Reflexes

1 power from:
Detect Traps

Thus we might end up with a "Ranger" taking Combat Tricks, Dual Wielding, and Specialization from warrior and Tracking from Rogue.

This makes it a bit easier to learn the benefits of each class with a bit of standardization (rather than random powers per pie piece level) and increases customization.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Levels should grant more than improvement in combat

One thing that has always struck me in many level based roleplaying games is that going up level makes everyone better in combat. If we look at D&D (and going back to 2E in my case) I first remember noticing that even the wizard got the equivalent of a +1/3 to hit bonus per level. This meant leveling was primarily about combat when you got down to it, not because a character didn't get better at other non-combat things related to their class but because combat was the only thing ALL classes got better at. This also nudged the game to be more combat-centric, especially in regards to stealth. A 12th level thief may be an expert at stealth, but unless the party is all thieves it won't get fully utilized unless the game devolves into everyone else watching the thief do things (perhaps a magic user could get involved, but not a fighter).

Some push to remove all classes from being better at combat due to levelling, I personally dislike that. One of the reason its combat-centric is combat is something everyone can do. Removing that aspect so its as bad as other aspects is like noticing you have a flat tire on your bicycle and slashing the good tire so they match.

When I put in social conflict rules, I made sure that much as warriors gain a combat bonus the fastest yet everyone gains a combat bonus, so too would bards gain presence (social conflict bonus) the fastest but everyone would still gain some. This really helped shift focus (somewhat) from just combat as a metagame solution (the problem being giving everyone someone to do, even if its not the best solution in game). This has made me create a similar shift for stealth actions. A large number of stealth actions have been removed from the thief only section (sneaking and hiding for instance) to being available to everyone, using their stealth bonus. Everyone gains a stealth bonus (though thieves gain it faster) in much the same way as everyone gains a combat bonus. Early results seem to indicate this makes stealth solutions more viable without forcing everyone to be a thief multiclass.

I am really interested to see how much of the "constant combat" stereotype of RPG's may be based on the metagaming principle of ensuring everyone can participate. Ideally if we allow everyone to participate in every facet, then non-combat facets will see more light.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I won not beautiful gold, nor so-so silver but shameful bronze

Well the results of the one page design-a-dungeon-room contest are out and my little entry came in third. Listed below is the might bronze medalist:

"I hope you brought a towel"
Note: All items, creatures and spells are from the 'Swords and Wizardry' Core Rules

Description: The first thing players will notice when they pull open the stuck, ice cold and airtight bronze door is an awful lot of water. The room is forty feet by forty feet, with ceilings twelve feet high and full to the brim of water. Unlocking the door will cause it to swing open, striking anyone in its path for 2d6 damage. The the water will flood out and roll the adventurers back for some distance. Assuming they are still alive and have a source of light (and are not lost in random corners of a dark dungeon without anything that isn't soaked to make a new torch with), they would then be able to survey the room.
The four corners of the room each contain a large statue of Atlas, holding up the ceiling. To the far wall, are two large stone statues of the thinker. Originally the waterlogged desk and waterlogged corpse of a wizard would have been between them, with his staff leaned against the wall and a decanter of endless water left open on the floor. There would have been an airtight sealed iron box within the desk. The desk will sill be in the room, probably sprawled off center and partially broken if the door is open, but the other contents (the staff, corpse and decanter) could be anywhere the water would take them. The statues are, as no doubt already surmised, stone golems. One of the thinkers would always grab the desk to keep it from leaving the room.

If anyone enters the room, the two thinkers will move forward to attack and kill them before sealing the door (and bend it shut permanently). If a thinker slips below 25% health, it will switch places with one of the Atlas statues (who will likewise also switch out if injured). There must be four golems holding up the ceiling, if there is a missing golem for more than 3 rounds the ceiling will collapse and bury everything within the room under tonnes of rubble. If the players are able to get past the attacking golems and attack one of the golems holding up the ceiling with an appropriate weapon unmolested, they can perform a "coup de grace" and destroy it. One of the active and attacking golems will immediatly break off the fight to hold up the ceiling. Thus distracting the "active" golems to crush the golems holding up the ceiling will quickly win the fight, unless the characters get greedy and kill too many. The wizard's staff was his insurance policy against golem related issues, and is a staff +1, +4 versus golems. He passed away while drinking from his decanter of endless water, causing the flooding. In his desk inside of a sealed iron box is a manual of stone golems and his grimoire; it contains the spells "stone to flesh", "Enchant Item", "Hold Portal" and "Magic Mouth". The key to the box was on a string around the wizard's neck, and if his body washed away with the water, could be anywhere. If the box is hacked open (ie, not using the key or lock picking) or shaken badly, the brittle pages of the manual of stone golems have a 4/6 chance of being broken into useless pieces.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Story Driven games VS Sandbox games: A false dichotomy

This is not a system specific issue, but one I constantly see crop up. A choice between a game being story driven or sandbox. And this bugs me, because its not a choice that exists.

The choice between a story driven game or a sandbox game implies they somehow are opposite. That is equivalent to telling someone they are either sitting or asleep. The opposite of sitting is standing and the opposite of asleep is awake, you can be asleep AND sitting just as you can be awake and standing. They are not opposite.

Likewise the opposite of sandbox (player driven) is railroad (GM driven) and has nothing to do with being story driven. A sandbox game is often MORE story driven, since with an average party it has 4 story tellers (PC's) to a single reactive player (referee). A GM driven game (what most people incorrectly call a story driven game) has 1 story teller (the GM) and 4 reactive players (the PC).

Sandbox games are not about dungeon crawls or random exploration, though they certainly can be. They are about the 4 players telling a story with the tools at their disposal (their PC) and the audience (the GM) reacting to it. It can be about anything, it can be about running a farm and a family and never involve leaving town or entering battle (boring as that may be to some).

Am I alone on this one?