Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Inspiration from unexpected places

So I was running through a game of adventuring party when I noticed some poker dice on my shelf. I had bought them from a dollar store because..I like dice.

Now don't get me wrong I still believe in making the game use 6-sided dice, but I noticed the dice mechanics don't specify actual numbers, just that higher is better...everyone knows playing card rankings..(9,10,J,Q,K,A)...

Bam, big hit and instant awesome to play using poker dice.

So when I package up a starter kit..it will definitely be the "fancy" print out with some poker dice. As I say, the play area is important...you can't spell funny dice without fun.

There is candy at the bottom of this post

My marketing instinct says this cannot fail! The flaw I will be dealing with in this post is priests, and their similarity to being simply wizards. This was brought up again, very recently on RPG bloggers over at Greyhawk Grognard, so I thought it would be a fitting time to trot this out.

I'm sure we are all familiar with the argument, wizards and priest(clerics) are just both magic-users and the only distinctions mechanically are different spell lists (and even still they blur at higher levels).

Piecemeal solves this by making Wizardly Magic and Priestly Miracles very different functionally. Wizards cast spells by finding and learning tidbits of magic, and then carefully honing their minds and body to be able to control the mystic energies and to be able to house more inner strength. Priests get their gods to do it by earning the favour of their deity through deeds.

All of the priest miracles are available to any priest at any time. If St.Example asks his god to help him, his god isn't going to say "you should have prepared the correct spell ahead of time". The priest is not a conduit for the gods power, he is just asking for help.

Mechanically this uses the Piety Point mechanic. These used to be called Grace points until someone noticed you received piety for burying a character(Go watch the Gamers). Since then I could never get them to call them anything but Piety Points so I rolled with it. Think of them as "Brownie points for your Deity".

Piety Points are something priests or pious characters earn through their deeds. I'll just dump the chart from the game:

Preaching to a congregation for a week: 1
Personally converting someone to your faith: 5 + cumulative level
Converting a Region to your faith: 50-1000+
Building a Roadside Shrine: 2
Building a Small Shrine: 10
Building a Small Temple: 30
Building a Medium Temple or Church: 120
Building a Great Cathedral: 300
Building an Epic wonder: 1000
Small task of your faith: 5
Moderate task of your faith: 20
Large task of your faith: 100
Epic task of your faith: 500+
Killing faith enemies: Cumulative Power/Level
Defiling/Destroying Temple of faith enemy: ¾ As building, + task
Converting Faith enemy: as regular converting x 3.
Burial of faithful: 1 + cumulative level* (Must be appropriate to level)
Sacrifices (God specific): Variable.

So looking at this you can see that a local village priest can rack up his piety points with preaching to the town, baptising the new births (or rites of initiation to youths etc) to count as converting, and burying the dead (or cremating them etc as faith decrees). Of course he'll also have to spend some of that doing this like increasing farm yields, blessings, the occasional healing, etc.

But to really gain piety,the best option is to adventure. Priests who head out on crusades, or to work as missionaries, or travel to the frontier to build churches will gain far more piety.

Now what about the type of god? Can a war god and a god of love really perform all the same miracles? Short answer yes, Long answer no. This is one of the fun bits (for creative players), to call forth a miracle a priest has to justify it in regards to their Deity's domain. Thus a follower of a harvest deity wouldn't have to justify calling forth "Increase Yield" for crops, but a follower of a war god could not, unless perhaps those crops were to be used in brewing poisons to tip weapons with (even if most of the crop would be used for eating).

Earlier I mentioned non-priests could also summon miracles, this is true. Any pious individual can earn piety points, but the costs to summon miracles are the difference, costs are based on class build. Thus a non-priest would pay a hundred times the cost to summon a miracle, a one part priest - two part warrior (say a Paladin) would pay twice the normal cost, while full time priests would pay the normal piety cost.

None of a priests abilities seem to be based on levels you are probably noticing. This is where we get into "Rank", rank has nothing to do with church standing, its just an attempt not to use the word level a billion times. Rank is a combination of character level, some ability score modifiers, and some modifiers based on class build. A lot of miracles are affected by a priest's rank (which represents among other things how much his deity favours/values/is amused by him). Thus a low rank priest might ask his god for food and get crusty bread and some water, a high rank priest may be lavished with a feast and fine wines.

All of the miracles are left somewhat vague in terms of what actually occurs (to allow for justification) but are generally based on religious and mythological acts of the gods. Golems for example are not robots..but truly terrifying (and intelligent) agents of a gods will.

Why is this good?

1.) There is ZERO confusion as to the difference between a priest and a wizard
2.) It allows Priests to be as zealous or laissez -faire about their faith as the players feel like being. Someone with a single part in priest may baptise the odd baby, or smite the odd heretic but is generally more concerned with his warrior, or thief or bard training. While a pure priest will choose to be far more aggressive in pursuing his faith.
3.) It makes religion oriented campaigns not only possible, but immensely fun. A priest based game set in Mesoamerica for instance was incredibly epic, with a huge amount of possible avenues.
4.) It makes every priest miracle used a decision and not a problem. Spells aren't wasted if you don't use them by the end of the day, the piety stockpiles. This also naturally helps keep the world low-magic..with the potential for doses of high magic to be inter-spliced in every now and then. This combines very well with level based healing.

Any Thoughts?

Also: Candy

Monday, June 29, 2009

Everybody Vance Now! ..Give me the magic!

Now true, while C+C Music Factory may have been stuck in my head, It was unfair of me to try and jam it in yours. But today I'm going to deal with another Sacred Cow, Vancian magic..sort of.

I describe the magic system in piecemeal as Non-Vancian..but that's not entirely true. Its non-Vancian in the system of "Fire and Forget" spells that people associate with the term. Its incredibly if not MORE Vancian in terms of theme and feel. I'll split this post into two sections. First I'll deal with the mechanics of how its not Vancian, then the mechanics of how it IS Vancian.

First, why its not Vancian:

Spells do not have a level, you do not memorize spells, cast them and then run out. Spells do require study and learning, and memorization, but its different.

When a wizard has learned a spell, they write it down in their grimoire (spellbook, or some other medium). They may have dozens of spells in their library, but they can only memorize a certain number, this is based on their class training and intelligence (not level). This may seem counter-intuitive..after all, why can a higher level wizard not cast more spells? Note that memorization has nothing to do with how many times they can cast a spell. Memorization just dictates what spells they can cast at a moments notice. So a wizard for example would not need to memorize "Sleep" twice to cast it twice, they simply memorize the spell and its available for use. This means a wizard will often memorize a few combat spells and a wide variety of utility spells, even if they may never use them.

Why is this good? It allows the wizard the ability for spontaneous problem solving. How often did a D&D wizard have "Gaze Reflection" instead of "Magic Missile" just in case they randomly ran into a medusa? Now some players did, some players saw these "just in case" moments as the whole reason to have a wizard and not another fighter. But now both styles of wizard players have more options. They can have their cake and eat it too (possible through magic!).

Then of course, how do you limit a wizards spells if not through Vancian memorization? Through mana. Now some people find accounting for mana points a hassle, but if you use the right tools, its actually more fun not less. Each spell has a difficulty and a mana cost (and a casting speed). To cast a spell a wizard must have a spellpower equal to or higher than the difficulty. A wizard gains spellpower based on the class make up (pie pieces), a full time wizard faster than say a warrior who dabbles. Its very much like a warriors combat bonus. If you want to transplant this system to other games think of it as a "magic thac0". Then comes the mana cost, mana functions mechanically a lot like "hit points" in other games. You gain a die roll worth per level, when you expend it you regain it through rest or other less mundane means.

So if a 2nd level wizard has 2 spellpower and 20 mana, they could cast a difficulty 2 spell that cost 5 mana four times, as long as it was one of the memorized spells.

Of course..this really doesn't have enough "knobs and dials", I prefer to have every action be a "choice not a problem" as a mantra.

Next we get to power levels. Basically a wizard declares what intensity they want to cast a spell at, higher power levels have higher difficulty and higher mana costs. Think of it this way..does your 6th level wizard want to cast 1 6d6 fireball or a 2d6 fireball now and a 4d6 fireball later? How much damage does it really take to scorch some orcs? Here is a sample spell listing

Chain of Awesome Explosions

Difficulty: 1 per power level
Mana: 1 cumulative per power level
Casting Speed: 4

Spell causes 1d20 damage to 1 target per power level.

Note this is not an actual spell (though it could be..hmmm). So you can see there are a lot of options for charging up the spell. Some increases in difficulty (or mana, or speed) are linear, some are non-linear (cumulative or doubling) and some are static. This varies spell to spell. This adds a lot of choice in HOW a wizard casts a spell, and how they expend their power.

Note that no spell requires any material spell components, but unless stated otherwise they require words and gestures. That said, spell components are a big part of the game that really appeals to creative players. Long story short is it relies entirely on player creativity, I'd read the section in piecemeal if you are immediately curious, if not it will be a future post.

Why is all of this good?
1.) It increases the ability for utility spells
2.) It increases the amount of choice and decisions given to wizards about how they face problems and how they expend their power.

Now, why IS it Vancian.

One of the important notes in Vancian magic (to me) is the sense of lost knowledge. A scant few spells remain of the thousands that used to exist..and no one truly understands magic..that's why its magic. You can't write new spells (at least not in a reasonable time frame, often taking lifetimes for even minor magic), so there is only one way to get new spells...from others.

Now if you are a fan of wizard colleges ala Harry Potter then the next mechanics might be a good idea to dump. But if you like lone wizards sitting in their tower in the middle of god knows where jealously guarding their knowledge..you know..the old tropes..these will be down your alley.

Wizards don't share spells for mechanical reasons. In the spell lists are a nullification spells. "Counterspell", "Dispel Magic" and "Erase Runes", these spells whole point is to shut down the magic of others, they are also difficult to use. As a general rule you must be much more powerful than your opponent to use them easily. Unless of course you have read your opponents grimoire and thus know exactly how he casts the spell, down to the last minute detail.

Mechanically that makes these spells effective automatically, even the most idiotic of sorcerer's apprentices can counter the mightiest of magics from any GMPC wizard (Raistlin, Elminster, Gandalph, you name it) when he has read the spell they memorized.

This makes wizards reluctant to share their spells in an academic setting (especially for villainous wizards) and makes careful apprenticeship more common. Its also the impetus for wizards to adventure. They don't gain new spells from leveling, the only way they get new spells is to go out and find them. Meaning they need to find ancient tombs of wizards..or storm the towers of live ones.

Long post, but one that will ALSO be referenced a lot.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Important Note for those interested in Piecemeal

I am making sure to point out that Piecemeal.exe will run on mono compliant Operating Systems. That means Windows, Linux and Mac. If you do not know what Mono is or have it installed, please download it here:


Its free and incredibly useful.

I decided to make this little tidbit known because I know about 5-10% of PC's out there aren't windows based and its not always fun to pull out emulators just to try something new.

As an aside I have only had one person find (and contact me) about a humourous easter egg. There are quite a few hidden in there, some funnier and better hidden than others.

You know what rules everybody loves? Encumbrance!

Today's flaws are generally well known. The magical backpack and the absurd and difficult to work out encumbrance. Most people don't even bother with it, but at the same time it does get ridiculous, often unintentionally.

The encumbrance system in piecemeal is both simple and easy to use. Its the "Dot System". How does it work?

Each character can carry a certain number of abstracted "dots" worth of equipment. A dot is way of representing awkwardness, weight and unusual storage requirements.

Characters can carry a number of dots equal to their strength before becoming over-encumbered. But how much is a dot?

A small item (like a short sword) is 1 dot, a medium item (a longsword) is 2 dots, a large item (like a two handed woodcutters axe) is 4 dots. A tiny item (like a small knife) is half a dot. Other items take up varying amounts of dots, a suit of armour for instance is 1 to 3 dots depending on type. Its fairly abstracted, but also intuitive and easy to alter or change.

Now what about items like backpacks? Containers allow you to store many dots worth of things inside them, while taking up fewer dots worth.

example: A full backpack is 4 dots..but can hold 8 dots worth of things, with restrictions. No individual item can be larger than 2 dots, and rooting through a container has a "search time", for a backpack that's a d3 rounds. This is a way of making it known that items you store aren't easily usable in a crisis situation. You cannot nest items (obviously).

What happens with encumbrance? Well lets take an average man with strength 10 as an example.

If he is under-encumbered by 2/3 (less than 4 dots in gear) he gets a bonus to his move, physical ability checks and attack. Running around with a sword, buckler and leather armour thus keeps him at peek performance in a fight.

If he has normal encumbrance (between 10 and 4 dots) he is unaffected. So throw a full backpack, and a pair of belt pouches (1 dot) on him and he's able to move about.

If he is over-encumbered at all (he picks up another belt pouch full of stuff) he gets -1 penalties to his move, attacks and physical checks.

If he is over-encumbered by 1/3 (13 dots) he suffers -2 penalties.

If he is over-encumbered by half again (15 dots) by saying throwing on ANOTHER backpack full of coins and gems and he's at -5's. He'll have a hard time moving unless he drops something.

If he is over-encumbered by 2/3 (17 dots) he's at -10. So throwing a suit of chain-mail on top of his arms, combined everything else is just too much to even move..something has to be dropped (or he needs bigger muscles, or better training on how to carry awkward items).

Why is this good?

1.) Its simple and easy to calculate

2.) Its still related enough to "reality" that it is easy to reconcile and not feel like a stupid "just because" rule.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Boo Hit Points, Boo-Urns Luck Points

This is a common flaw in a lot of peoples games. What is a hit point? Why is anything more than none equal to ready to rock? etcetera etcetera etcetera. Now a few weeks ago Troll and Flame linked to these wound and vitality rules. I had never seen them before, but they did share a lot of similar traits.. but also some major design differences.

Onto Mechanics!

First off, luck points work exactly the same as hit points when its time to mark off the damage (or cash in poker chips). The major difference here is that luck points are explicitly luck and avoiding the damage. When push comes to shove you can keep thinking of them as hit points, the more damaging an attack would have been (less armour to slow it, poison added to it, the arrows on fire etc), the more luck it uses up to have it miss at the last second. If you have ever seen an action movie, you know that even trained stormtroopers or Nazi panzer elite seem to miss the hero with every bullet. Those are luck points.

The major differences with luck points over hit points or "vitality points" are that they are scalable, transferable and only rarely by-passable.

Scalable: As mentioned earlier , piecemeal uses a damage divider mechanism. This means that as the heroes (or villains) shrink or enlarge, the luck points scale with them. This seems a minor element and not really important until we cover...

Transferable: This is so common its become its own trope. If you see a high level hero riding a horse, kill the horse. Want to have bodyguard games? Don't bother, want to see the PC's try and rush off with the princess over a should sword fighting an army of evil monkeys , don't bother since a stray blow spells doom. We also get into the fact that once a hero gets onto a boat, all of his heroic statue means naught for keeping the boat from sinking. All of that gets addressed with transferability.

Basically a hero (or villain) can use his luck points to knock off damage to those under him, or any vessel he is operating (from a chariot to a star-fighter). So a knight could keep his squire, steed or favourite hound alive..but the plucky squire could not use his luck points to keep the knight alive (unless say the squire was carrying the unconscious and wounded knight on his back). A high level captain can have his ship pull off all kinds of heroic acts of daring in the same manner as a high level warrior can shrug off a platoon of lizard people.

Note again, this is a one way transference. The fearless hero may be able to keep his horse from being vapourised in a stray fireball..but he now has to chip in luck points to cover damage to both of them. Of course if the hero is riding a dragon, the heroes 20 luck points spread a lot further when shielding a monster with a damage divider of 12.

And last we get to: Rarely By-passable

As mentioned earlier, Luck points are not 100%. Unlike vitality rules you don't have to worry about random goblin #242 killing Elric the Godslayer with a lucky thrown rock. Luck points are usually only bypassed by very specific means, in this case the exceedingly rare "Destiny Point".

So if the BDH's have a run in with the BBEG then people might die in a single, dramatic sword blow (or thrown spear etc). But even in those extreme circumstances its a gamble.

The other time Luck Points get bypassed is by player choice, if a player does not attempt to avoid damage, luck won't save him. So he ends up grappling someone in spiked armour..if the moment he realises its spiked armour he doesn't try to get out of the grapple..the damage from the spikes bypasses luck points. So while Lo Pan could tackles a robed figured in spiked armour and take only luck damage...if he then chooses to keep trying to hold on (rather than get away) it bypasses luck. If he tries to escape the grapple but the armoured figure (or the environment) keeps that from occurring then luck is not bypassed. Basically the only time your supernatural luck won't save you is if you choose (and continue to choose) to purposefully injure yourself.

Now what happens when you "Run out of Luck"?

Then you start taking "Body Points". Now in piecemeal luck points (per level) are based on the luck stat, and body points are based on your strength (and never go up). In other games you could change this to be class based, its not truly important.

But body points represent the actual, physical grueling wounds that take weeks or months to heal. And when you start losing body points you start taking universal penalties (a negative to every die roll from to hit, to damage, to ability checks etc). This applies equally well to machines (say a fighter craft) or a ship as its damage starts crumbling it.

Your penalties accrue from -1, to -2, to -5 and then -10 before death (or obliteration). Living creatures normally pass out at the half-way mark. So if a starting character has 10 strength, he has 10 body points, and once he loses more than 5 he passes out.

Why is all of this good?

A lot of the "Sacred Cows" of D&D combat tropes don't work, you can keep your horse alive, pets aren't useless at high levels and you should bother giving your squires a name. These sacred cows are good for slaughtering because people generally don't like them. People can get used to them and stop minding them, but that's not the same thing.

It allows for more game styles, all of a sudden you can be an epic captain of a pirate ship or a Dhow looking for the Ruhks nest without it being a death trap. And if you like sci-fi..this is a FANTABULOUS mechanic for star-fighters and mechs. Its also great for bi-planes and other "Great War" era dogfights.

It keeps characters grounded at high levels, there is always that slim chance (Albeit it not random and arbitrary) that their number could come up, when that gypsy said the half-blind son of an orc is destined to kill Elric the Godslayer..he panics and starts keeping an eye out for half-blind orcs.

Its also good when dealing with creatures and opponents that aren't heroes. When you start hacking that dragon to bits, it only gets easier and easier as its body point total drops. This is "pendulum" gameplay, its hard to start hurting the dragon..but if you live long enough to cut off its wing and stab it in the eye its going into a death spiral. Just hope its not a heroic/villainous dragon with its own luck points.

This was a rather long article, but it is a rather large concept in Piecemeal, expect this article to be linked to A LOT in other posts.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fancy Party!

A minor tweak to the dice mechanics of Adventuring Party!, mainly just an aside as I put up a second version of it, the Fancy Version. The rules are absolutely identical, the fancy version simply has pictures and the like. If you are quickly printing the rules to introduce new players the game, the plain version will do fine. If you want to keep a copy on hand, the fancy copy (may) be a nicer option.

Swinging from a chandelier and kicking someone into the fireplace.

Today's post is a short one, the flaw is well known, bland combats. While swinging from a chandelier and kicking someone in the face is awesome (which in piecemeal is its own benefit), its often a poorer mechanical choice than stabbing someone with 4 feet of steel blade. If you make it better mechanically then all of a sudden every combat is a string of crazy stunts and no one bothers with weapons..the implements specifically designed for killing people.

In piecemeal this is also dealt with by the use of "Opportunity Attacks" (nothing to do with "attacks of opportunity").

Every time a player passes a keypoint they gain a "Lucky Number", thieves get even more "Lucky Numbers". Because this is half superstition, players always choose their own lucky numbers. Whenever a lucky number is rolled on an attack, the attacker gets to make an "Opportunity Attack" for free. Opportunity attacks have one real caveat: They cannot be made using your primary weapon(s). They can even apply if you miss an attack.

Some examples:
Punching someone with a free hand.
Tripping someone
Kicking a chair between their legs
Tackling them into a grapple
Throwing a mug of ale from the nearby table
Having the arrow you fired miss, but hit a pipe full of steam and scald them instead.

Note that this means higher level heroes(and villains) with more lucky numbers can pull of some crazy chain reactions as you can score a lucky number on an Opportunity Attack.

Gaming Story:

A very high level character engaged in an aerial dogfight with some airships and ground based rocket batteries. A lucky number on a missile attack kills a cannon gunner, for his opportunity attack he declares the slumping body of the gunner swivels the cannon and fires as it rolls past another airship. This ends up scoring a devastating hit and triggered another opportunity attack..so the cripple airship rams into the third airship, a critical hit and another opportunity attack. The third airship is downed, and as it crashes to earth it slams into the rocket battery and triggers YET ANOTHER opportunity attack, sending all the rockets flying off at once, one of which strikes the first airship again (thankfully no opportunity attack). Even at very high levels with 4 lucky numbers this was a VERY unlikely string of events, but it'll be remembered for a LONG time.

This is a very simple mechanic to add into any game (in D&D I believe they use tiers to gauge the type of hero a character is) and adds a high level of spice.

Why is this good?

1.) It feeds gamer superstition, the piles of burnt poorly rolling dice visible online tells you this is a big priority.

2.) It creates the opportunity for extra mayhem without either forcing poor mechanical choices (which are still valid for when its right) nor making every fight a constant stream of outlandish stunts.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Quick Updating

Another version of piecemeal went up (alpha v0.28), with some more font size fixes and workarounds, and for practical purposes some XP calculators (for minions and trickery). I thought I'd expand a little bit though on why updates are so frequent. (The post on Opportunity attacks still forthcoming)

In my personal opinion, one of the strengths of an electronic medium over print is the ease and cost of corrections. With print you simply can't (cost effectively) reprint the books and send them all out again. With electronic mediums the cost is virtually nil. If there is an error it can be fixed in moments and its no huge loss. Its wikipedia versus an actual print encyclopedia.

This has added benefits too, on the one hand showing something with flaws isn't something any e-artisan likes to do. But if you wait till something is perfect it'll likely never be done. I've seen a lot of very good projects that aren't being shown and used because they aren't quite right. Often they never get released, which is a shame because the public can work as a great beta tester, and even if they aren't..sometimes its good to let the early adopters have a run at things early on.

"The perfect is the enemy of the good." - Voltaire

Of Hacking and Slashing

Today I'll dig into combat in piecemeal a little more. The flaw is the general one of "roll to hit, roll damage, next round". Now in terms of player involvement I already talked a bit about defensive rolls to keep people at the table. I'll go a little bit into keeping each round of combat from being a simple problem to pick the good solution and more into a choice of different tactics (before options like magic and the like are involved)

Combat follows the basic premise that each round, those involved declare actions and then roll initiative. Each round mind you.

Initiative is your agility die (varies based on stat), + your weapons speed, + your exceptional intelligence modifier.

Someone who is quick on their feet may be faster, but someone with a quick brain almost always will go faster.

Then we get into into fighting options. Each round a character chooses one of these options (before initiative).

Dodging, Parrying, Blocking (if trained in shield use), Power Attack, Wild Attack, Brace (with spear)

Dodging: A character always gets a defense roll (modified positively by things like having a free hand and negatively by wearing armour), but loses any remaining attacks for the round once they start dodging. Thus winning initiative is important.

Parrying: A character who parries only gets a defense roll AFTER they attack. Their defense roll is modified by things like their skill with the weapon, and the weapons quality. Winning initiative is also important to this option.

Blocking: This is the ideal choice, but requires both training and a shield (or cloak). The character always gets a defensive roll and an attack. The defensive roll is modified by the size of the shield.

Power Attack: This is ideal for an ambush. The character forfeits any defensive roll and deals more damage, either adding their strength die or an additional damage die from the weapon (whichever is less).

Wild Attack: This is an option of the desperate. Your attack rate goes up by 1 per round, but all attacks are at -5. Its usually the last thing someone does before being mobbed by zombies, as you have no defensive roll.

Brace: This is used by knights lances and defending spear men against charging opponents, the basic concept is probably familiar (hold the spear steady) and do multiples of damage on a single attack. This doesn't factor into the usual combat decision tree so I won't go much into it.

Then comes time to deal damage (in either luck points or body points).

This is where that armour that seemed counter productive in the dodging section comes into play. Armour gives you damage reduction (barring highly armour piercing attacks). So Chain mail, with its Damage Reduction (DR) of 5 versus piercing attacks may cause you to get hit by many more arrows you cannot dodge easily...its unlikely any will do serious damage.

As a side note: What about helmets? Helmets are used for both lowering your chance to succeed at awareness checks, and lowering the chance you suffer a critical hit, which I'll expand upon in another post.

Why is this good?

This makes there be a lot of variation in what a "good" warrior should be, good against what? Against the goblins with their d4 damage hunting arrows and daggers a strong warrior with a two handed sword and chain mail can walk through power attacking everything. But against a giant he will find the armour worse than useless as he tries to dodge the giants club every round. In those cases an unarmoured fighter with a quick blade will work best. It also really cranks up the value of SHIELDS which are often nigh useless in fantasy games. They are one of the most valuable piece of military hardware a warrior can have, and now they showcase that.

Now obviously this can still create a bit of "OK, so in this fight I DODGE every round", which is where "Opportunity Attacks" come in, being tommorows post. These have NOTHING to do with the "Attacks of Opportunity" that came into d20 games. These are your opportunity to swing from chandeliers, pulls rugs out from under people and are tomorrows post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tempest in a Teapot

Well, some people read a post of mine from earlier titled "Murder gets Boring". Some of them disagreed with the premise, some of them probably didn't read it before sounding the alarm. So, here is a quick post to dispel some myths:

1.) The rule mechanic is not to force you not to kill heroes or villains.

Not only does death still often occur as a result of the capture, the idea is a choice of situations, as stated. This is to make the various genre tropes part of the gameplay.

2.) This rule mechanic is not to force morality

In fact it is explicitly stated this has nothing to do with morality. You may capture a war criminal just to put him on trial and have him hung. A villain may capture you just to lower you slowly into a pool of mutated sea bass before conveniently leaving the room and laughing maniacally.

This was explicitly stated that it has nothing to do with heroes not killing people anymore than its about the villains.

3.) This rule mechanic is not bribery.

Perhaps I'm crazy here, but I'm under the firm view that a games mechanics support the gameplay you want to happen. This is not bribery, its why you choose the game system when you start your game. I do not pick up D&D and then play a story game with it for fear of "bribing" players with powers of narrative control. If I want to play a Hogwarts game I do not pick up sorcerer for fear of bribing the players with non-demon related magic.

In both cases I would choose games with mechanics that suit and reward the styles of play I want.

Conversely if I was playing a game where I always wanted villains to live (to suit trope) I would play a game where that is possible. HERO has a nice mod for the "A-Team" where all physical damage becomes intimidation. I used a mechanic like that in a piecemeal one shot where physical damage all counted as "influence", no one could die but you could force people to surrender. The mechanics back the gameplay you want.

This isn't bribery or trickery, its why you choose a game system to run a type of game.

Fighting Large Monsters: an accounting nightmare

This is a relatively short post, and a minor flaw as well. But this deals with monsters with the ability to take scores of punishment, and the task of managing how much they have taken..especially with multiple monsters.

I use the damage divider mechanic. How does this work?

for perspective lets state that an average human can take 10 damage before dying (and 5 before passing out). An ogre in other games might thus be able to take three time as much damage, just crank up the hit points, and his attacks will do more damage (higher dice, different dice), all kind of "Jerry-Rigged" in my mind.

The damage divider would work by keeping the ogre (assuming its scaled up as an average human) to still only take 10 damage (5 before passing out), and with its club still only deal a d6 damage.

But, it would have a Damage Divider of 3. This means it would only take 1 point of damage for each 3 full points dealt, and for each point of damage it deals, it would deal a full 3 points.

This can work in reverse too, A pixie may have a damage divider of 1/3, meaning it deals 1/3 damage and takes 3 x damage. (or any other number).

What does this do? It keeps the sense that large monsters are dangerous and damaging while lowering the amount of accounting needed, especially when dealing with large groups of monsters (like a band of ogres or trolls or minotaurs). It also makes spells that change sizes (shrink and enlarge) a lot easier to figure out.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A follow-up to Social Conflict Mechanics

OK, based on what feedback I did get, and my own gut feelings I went with the experimental rules, polished them a bit and put up V.A0.27 of piecemeal up. That said If I get more feedback streaming in I can easily undo that.

So the flaw has already been discussed, the characters who have the social skills of the players in reality, but the social skills of a hermit shut in on paper. Which in turn puts pressure on players without amazing social skills (like detecting deception, or reading body language) to not try and play characters who are socially apt.

How do these mechanics work? A lot like combat in Piecemeal (with differences).

When a social conflict ( a major one happens), the debaters spar in rounds of statements, appeals and rebuttals trying to score influence. When you score enough influence you have convinced the opponent in their heart of hearts (for now at least). This does not force them to act a certain way, they can still claim "Stubborn refusal", where they continue acting contrary to what they believe deep down. This does preclude them from using fate and destiny points among some other tweaks. This means convincing the villain he is wrong before the epic showdown (or the Villain convincing you he is in fact your father) is a good way to gain a "cinematic advantage" mechanically, without "breaking the fourth wall".

Even though there is a mechanical backing, the players still have to come up with things to say, points to make, etc. This represents what the character is trying to say (even if it doesn't come across right). The strength (or weakness) of the actual arguments made gives a bonus or penalty to rolls.

So, to dig deeper into mechanics.

First the nature of the argument is set. Each side says how important the issue is to them. The more important an issue is to them the more "Influence Points" it takes to convince them. Think of this a lot like setting how many "hitpoints" they have. This ranges from trivial (2) to Life and Death (50). This is further modified by if you are arguing for or against their morality, survival or faith. It can require ALOT more or a lot less once those come into play.

Then comes the round by round verbal sparring.

First the players set a tone:
Heated - Epic failures on 5 or less, Epic successes on 16 or more
Normal (Informal) - Epic failures on a 1, Epic successes on a 20
Academic - No Epic failures or successes
Humourous - All appeals score at most 1 influence point, no Epic successes can be scored against you.

This here as you can see adds a little bit of tactical get go from the beginning. Using humour to diffuse a tense situation can be great, but its rather pointless against an academic debate.

Then the players choose an appeal, an appeal is a lot like an attack.

They can choose to appeal to emotion. In which case they add their social modifier to their "appeal roll", as well as any skills they can bring into their argument and their presence*. If they succeed in their appeal they score a social die worth of "influence points" (think damage) minus their opponents exceptional social modifier.

An appeal to logic works the same way, except on intelligence.

This adds a level of tactics again, if you are charming..appeal to someones heart strings, unless they are far more charming than you and see through your blatant attempts to sway them. If you are smart, attempt to show them up with logic..unless they are simply smarter than you.

As mentioned with earlier, its always good to have "Attacks" used opposed die rolls to keep people on the table. "Rebuttals" are a similar mechanic. There are a few different kind of rebuttals based upon how you want to defend yourself.

Refuting always gives you a rebuttal roll, but you may lose your appeal if your opponent seizes momentum and puts you on the defensive.

Interjecting always gives you an appeal but you lost your rebuttal if your opponent seizes momentum.

Counterpoint is ideal, you always have an appeal and a rebuttal (though not always as good), though it requires training in debate.

A Statement of fact forgoes a rebuttal to score double influence

Talking Points gives you two appeals at the cost of a rebuttal, though each appeal is weaker.

As you can see, choosing the words and style of discussion you want (from a raging scream-fest to a ponderous scholarly debate) are possible, with a lot of choices for how you want to act.

Next you check for Momentum, which is akin to initiative.

Whomever "seizes momentum" has put the other side on the defensive and goes first, making their actual speech, including any special tricks (like lying, attacks on character or logical fallacies).

Their opponent then makes their rebuttal statement. Dice are rolled, if the Appeal exceeds the Rebuttal (if there is one) influence is scored.

If the opponent has the option to make an appeal the same process is used, and influence may be scored for the opponent.

Then a new round begins.

* Presence works a lot like a warriors combat modifier, and its gained in much the same way except by bards. As non-warriors go up by 1 every three levels in combat, so do non-bards go up in Social Conflict.

Why this is good?

1.) It encourages cinematic final battles where the heroes try to convince the villain he is misguided rather than always just jumping out form behind cover and shooting him (which is still a valid choice).

2.) It doesn't FORCE any behaviour, but it still makes social conflict worthwhile mechanically.

3.) It adds the same tension and excitement for dialog one CAN get from Combat. This allows people who like rolling funny dice and making tactical choices to not be forced to play the warrior.

4.) It makes winning a battle without ever fighting it possible, without feeling like fiat (which feels like a cheapened victory to some)

That being said alot of people don't like getting mechanics involved into social mechanics. Well the great #1 rule in Piecemeal (and any RPG) is you only need the rules if you want to use them. Just be sure to tell players at the table you AREN'T using rules like these before they invest heavily in them.


Monday, June 22, 2009

System Neutral Sizzle Cards!

These cards are inspired by an article over at Stupid Ranger.Print these cards on standard business cards (4 by 7 ratio) and shuffle them up. Each player and the GM draw one sizzle card per game. Players can play the Sizzle card at any time by reading the text. Where a specific mechanic isn’t mentioned the player (usually with GM fiat) explains how this relates to the current situation. If you get into a lot of fights over the nature of these cards, your group probably isn’t one that should be using these cards.

Get them here (click save as)

Meeting interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture... and NOT killing them

I decided to post this when I read this good little piece. And how so few games emphasize the adventure that is exploring new lands without slaughtering things. Consider this a follow up to my post on how murder gets boring.

So often RPG's reward mechanism (Experience Points) favour certain play styles and the playing invariably end up leaning towards that play style. I talked about how murder versus capture could be made a choice and not a problem before, so now I'd like to talk about how the need for a fight in the first place can be removed with the same concept.

In piecemeal it is fully possible to be an epic adventurer who doesn't feel the need to use violence or have others use it for you, you can be an explorer. Mechanically this works by rewarding XP for travelling and rewarding XP for reaching destinations.

XP for travelling works by going through a checklist of how dangerous, uncharted and difficult to navigate the terrain is, to give you a per day value. A benefit of piecemeal being computerized is that this calculation can be done for you.

This could work out to as high as 650 per day (travelling into the complete unknown, through dragon infested mountain range comprised of steep chasms and current volcanic activity) down to nothing for travelling in safe and familiar terrain.

What is to stop a character from just walking in a circle until he reaches level 20? A few things. The first is that after he goes through a terrain a few times it will become better known and mapped, and eventually the dangers will either eat the character or be driven away (and thus the area becomes safer). The second is that Keypoints (think milestones) prevent a character from exceeding certain levels until they complete deeds of certain magnitudes.

This is where reaching a destination comes in. When you find a new destination you also gain experience points and may (or may not) qualify as breaching a Keypoint. Some examples listed in Piecemeal are:

Uncommon Locations 50xp (ie, a border fort deep in the woods)
Rarely Visited 400xp (ie, a far off mountain monastery)
Unseen for Years 1000xp (ie, a far off kingdom across the sea)
Unseen for Generations 2000xp (ie, the same kingdom if the sea is infested with sea monsters)
Of Questionable Veracity 5000xp (ie, uncovering Troy or Machu Picchu)
Fabled Locations 10,000xp (ie, finding El Dorado or Shangri-La)
Mythic Locations 50,000xp (ie, finding the Garden of Eden or Noah's Ark)

These are just rough guidelines if you have your own unique XP awards for various locations.

What does this do? It opens up another play avenue besides killing, exploration. If your players are even out of ideas for what to do in a player driven game they can simply say "I wonder whats off the map?" and go. That combines well with player classes having a built in need to adventure.

This is an easy portion of piecemeal to plug into your current RPG of choice if it does not already have a similar mechanism.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mechanics for Social Conflicts

First off, Happy Father's Day to all the male gamers with their own pack of level 0's to keep track of. Secondly, my topic for today is social mechanics.

Now Piecemeal has had a social resolution system for awhile, but I've never been super thrilled with it, so with the latest update I threw in an alternate system and I'd love peoples votes on which version they think of as better.

The old version worked as a series of comparative ability checks, with different "verbal maneuvers" you could pull off to give you the edge. A complicated series of paper rock scissors meets ability checks, trying to get a certain number of successes before the other guy.

The new system I threw in place features an appeal roll and rebuttal roll, with different maneuvers in place, trying to score enough influence to exceed the difficulty of the opponents position. I know that's vague, but perhaps this will help, I modelled it off of the combat system. It runs like a piecemeal combat, with talking.

Now in both systems you still have to make an actual statement and/or rebuttal as a player, and in both systems that represents what you are trying to say..not what you actually manage to spit out of your mouth in the heat of the moment.

This brings me to a problem however. Which one is better? I haven't had much time to actually test this new version, its one of those "inspiration" moments. But it FEELS more exciting. Perhaps my boring side is showing, but I like watching the epic speeches in movies where the hero convinces people to follow his lead as much as I like the part where he then kicks someone down a well (Don't get me wrong, I like both).

Before I go too into depth into social mechanics in general, I'd love to know which version people prefer, and then save the social mechanics post till after the results come in.

The Awesomeness Score

As promised, my next post is on Awesomeness. This is a short little post detailing the mechanics involved.

The flaw is the general difficulty some systems have with encouraging awesome stunts. The rules either make them a bad idea, or make them so easy that its all that is ever done. And if everything is awesome then nothing is.

In Piecemeal this is achieved through the "Awesomeness Score", which represents how much favour your curry with the trickster deities (or the fates etc depending on setting). As you do awesome things you gain fate points. So doing awesome things is still dangerous and can end badly, but it also rewards you for later if you pull it off. Pulling stunts has become a choice not a problem in design terms.

At the end of each session each character adds up their awesomeness score by compiling certain listed modifiers, I'll list a few here to give you the idea.

Their Exceptional Luck Modifier. Why? Exceedingly lucky characters get a little boost here

+1 if they wear a cape.
+1 if they have an awesome hat etc Why? These modifiers are ways to encourage visual style to adhere to trope. Things like Kilts in a Scottish game, or tall hats in a western would give a bonus, and if you so desire really out of place style choices could be a negative.

+3 if they wear (and need) an eye patch. Why? Eye Patches make you look bad ass. Always.

+1 to +5 per great line, set-up or comeback. Why? Everyone has more fun at the table with a few great lines floating about. Note these should be in character rather than the player who can derail the game by saying "its only a model" the most. Again though, whatever makes your game more fun.

Arbitrary bonus for pulling off amazing stunts. Why? This is part of the fun, to encourage someone to swing from the chandelier or ride the banister. Its a very broad and nebulous grouping though, how do you systematically categorize how awesome wrestling a bear on a canoe going over a waterfall is? The only stated general rule is that it should be taking extra risk for the purposes of style.

Adhering to trope. Why? Similar to stunts, this is a carrot mechanism to make it a choice to do the silly things that fit into the trope. Do you let the villain finish his monologue or take the opportunity for a free round of arrow fire? Normally this would be a simple problem of "of course you shoot him", but now its a choice. Shooting him is more effective, but if you think you'll win anyways, hell, let the blowhard talk and boost your chances at the trickster deities favouring you (they love trope)

Being the MVP +5. Why? This is a nice mechanic to remind people this is a social team game. Players (not the GM) vote on who was the most valuable player that session. This is a fairly noticeable boost towards getting a re-roll.

Arbitrary penalty for spoiling the fun of others. Why? Ya, we get it, your thief is a monster who will slit his friends throat while they sleep, take their stuff and blame it on a monster to the rest of the group. But when your fellow players sat down and made a group template "I'm a psycho" wasn't what they as a group wanted to play. Its akin to being in a touch football game and tackling someone. Sure that's the rules for football, but not this game of football. This is an extreme example of course, but this is just another general mechanic to remind people this is a social team game. Unless everyone enjoys sir betrays-a-lot and his antics (Which they might), its another form of breaking trope.

What does this score do?

At the end of the session each player takes their "Awesomeness Score" and rolls a d20. If the d20 + Awesomeness is 20 or more they gain a fate point (re-roll). Then they take how much unused Awesome they have and roll again, until they fail to earn a (re-roll)


Chuck has +10 to awesome this session. So at the end of the game he rolls a d20 and gets 16, earning a fate.

He only need 4 points of awesome to reach 20, so he takes the extra +6 and rolls again, getting a natural 20, earning another fate and using none of his awesomeness.

He rolls again getting an 18, he seems to be on a roll. This uses up 2 points, earned another fate and is prepared to roll again with +4.

Then the GM noticed he is rolling the D20 left out from the game of Formula De they played earlier and makes him do the whole process all over again with a regular d20.

This is by no means a complete example, but it gives you a better feel for the mechanics. It encourages the type of play you (may) want without making it mandatory. It also adds a sense of fun and excitement to end the night on when everyone is rolling to earn points.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Re-rolling dice

OK, This is more than I normally post in a day, but I figured this is a timely discussion as its going on in several places.

First off is the flaw. Inglorious and uncharacteristic deaths. Somehow the high level character who can be engulfed in flame, shot with a thousand arrows can slip on a wet stone in a stream, knock himself out and drown in 3 inches of water.

Now part of this goes into the nature of what exactly hit points or the like are? In my case I'm explicit. You have luck points, representing the supernatural and uncanny ability to have every storm trooper miss, every arrow land a half inch behind you in the dirt and every bit of cannon shrapnel zing a fraction of an inch around your body. In the "Default Setting" this luck is the result of the interest of the trickster deities, but it could as easily be the threads of fate, the blessing of the gods or some kind of time travel paradox where you have to live long enough to back in time and be your own grandpa struggling to keep the timeline in place. Not truly important mechanically.

The solution I have is fate (and to a degree) destiny points. Fate points being that same inhuman luck able to manifest in other aspects, such as the slippery rock. The same forces that let the goblin arrows miss help you keep your balance.

This comes up with re-rolls. Now mechanically a re-roll is not any different than adding modifiers. Its another way of making the end numeric result more favourable. So I can't assume there is any logical hatred of re-rolls in that sense. Hell in piecemeal a trained warrior can re-roll his damage and choose the better result, not as any kind of "the curve of the blade changed" just as a mechanical way to get a higher number. The same theory as a modifier, but it still allows minimum damage while not letting you exceed maximum damage. After all, an arrow hitting the same location (your throat) by intention or random chance is not any more or less deadly.

The issue I conclude (hopefully not wrongly, I apologize if I'm putting words in ones mouth) is the nature of this luck. In my mind, once a sword blow or bullet that connects is less likely to kill your character than anyone else with the same armour and build, you are using such luck already. I have no compunction with butchering sacred cows myself so I don't see any problem with being explicit about what a "hit point" is.

For anyone not considered with the debate over the use, I'm going to throw down a little more description below:

Fate Points allow the following:
A re-roll of a die or set of dice
To regain a handful of luck points
To add something plausible and not already described to the game*

* How does this work? Lets say a character is jumping off a cliff to avoid pursuit, assuming the GM had not described the cliff as "sheer", he could declare there is a small ledge he could attempt to land on. Its plausible and the GM hasn't said there isn't one. Alternatively he could not spend a fate point and simply look for a ledge and let the dice (or GM fiat) land where they may.

How does one gain Fate Points? One adheres to trope, and generally improves the feel of the game. In the base case this uses the "Awesomeness" mechanic, which I think will have to be my next post tomorrow. Basically you encourage the characters to pull fun and impressive stunts, to gain re-rolls to save for later. A give and take.

Destiny Points allow the following:
To choose the results of a die or set of dice without rolling.
To fully replenish ones luck points
To bypass a targets luck points with an upcoming attack
To include something along the lines of Deus Ex Machina*

*How does this work? Lets assume the character in the previous example had already had the cliffs described as "Sheer". He could leap over the side of the cliff and spend a destiny point to declare he happened to land on the back of a passing (and now confused) giant eagle.

How does one gain Destiny Points?
As a general rule you don't, if you are on some epic quest (like taking a ring to mount dhum) you might be given one, and you should never have more than one. They aren't something you can waste and are akin to possessing a potent magical item or a lesser wish.

Why do they work as they do?

First off they allow for consistency in design. The characters can now shrug off various dangers equally, even if they are arbitrarily shelved into a different category of "attack".

Secondly, the ability to use "Carrot and Stick" means that there is a good way to encourage players to do cinematic big damn hero actions that aren't the most logical choice, without making it mandatory. It creates choice instead of a problem. You can let the villain monologue and adhere to trope (gaining re-rolls) or you can shoot him in the neck while he's talking and get him flat footed.


Why no love for the play area? Improving the tactile element to RPG's

This is a personal peeve of mine in role playing game design so I apologize if this comes off as a bit of a "rant".

Role Playing games feature a large amount of minute details to micromanage in comparison to the medium they suggest to track them, pencil and paper. Boardgames however often have even more to keep track of, but they are far easier to manage. Why? Effective use of the play area. You don't have an inventory section on a sheet in monopoly to manage you money, you have bills. You don't write down how many armies are in each province in risk, you have army tokens. And when we get into advanced and euro board games one gets even more tokens, markers and playing pieces.

And this isn't a foreign concept in RPG's, many players prefer miniature use because it enables them to better keep track of whats going on. So rather than relying on constantly writing an erasing on a piece of paper (and thus needing to redo your character sheets periodically) allow me to suggest some of the tactile elements used in Piecemeal (and Adventuring Party! actually) to keep track of things. And yes, the tactile element is important, you can't spell funny dice without fun after all.

1.) Poker Chips
What they are used for:
I use poker chips to keep track of "Luck Points", which are in D&D Terms hitpoints. In Adventuring Party! they are even explicitly called "Luck Chips". This is a vastly superior way to keep track of something that changes frequently. When a player heals you toss him more chips, when he is injured he tosses in chips to you. It immensely adds to the tactile fun of the game and allows the GM to both reign in potential "phantom HP" cheating as well as keep a very quick gauge of how the party is doing.

2.) Coloured Beads
What they are used for:
I use coloured beads to keep track of "Mana" (or power points if you play mazes and minotaurs or some other game) in both Piecemeal and Adventuring Party!. I use one colour for "fives" and one colours for "ones", when a spell is cast the player throws some of his precious mana into the pot. You can even get coloured plastic crystals from dollar stores if you are a fan of the "Warpstone" feel of WHFRP. This allows much less accounting from mages and has the same benefits as poker chips described above.

3.) Play Money
What they are used for:
This is in my case somewhat system specific, but I'll bring it around to be more generic. With the priest magic system in piecemeal one earns "Piety" which they spend on miracles. So It allows me to collect piety without any accounting on the players end, and more importantly allows me to reward it immediately and not at the end of the game (where we may forget all that occurred). This system can just as easily be used for Experience Points, thus removing the need for the "Experience Point Calculation" post game wrap up. As players do things you can immediately hand them the XP and forget about it.

4.) Playing Cards
What they are used for:
I use these to keep tabs on my "Fate" and "Destiny" points players earn. These are basically re-rolls and there is a large discussion about that going on right now actually. They thus have their hand of cards and can play a card to get a re-roll. I use the Aces specifically to represent Destiny Points, so when times get really tough its nice to see a player literally pull an ace out of their sleeve and slap it on the table. It really adds to the fun. I can't help but feel one of the drivers of the enduring popularity of the "deck of many things" is that you get the tactile fun of drawing from a deck.

So I ask you, what are YOU doing to improve the play space and reduce accounting? Hopefully these will at least spawn some ideas.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Adventuring Party! Updated

If you head on over to zzarchov.bravehost.com or penandpapergames.com's independent and small press section you can get the latest update to "Adventuring Party!"


Layout changed (mostly) to two columns.

Changes to "Bribing a Guard"
Changes to Bolt and Stun in magic.
Added the Torch Bearer and Porter as Henchmen
Lantern can now be thrown as a small blast item


Well I've been showcasing this to a lot of non-gamers, and frankly they like it and as I played it more and more I noticed some things I thought could be smoothed over and improved upon. Just because its an intro game doesn't mean its not worth improving.

Why no pictures?

As mentioned earlier this is designed to be able to be used in a pinch, meaning I want it to be easily printable from someones computer without draining all their ink (that's just rude).

I am working on another version that will have all the fancy layout one comes to expect in any role playing game you'd place in your gamer shelf. But I will always make sure there is an "easy print" version available.

Now that my turns done, im going to wander off and get some coffee, tell me how much damage I took when I get back

This flaw is one that is pervasive in a vast number of turn based games. One your turn you do things, and then you sit back and wait till your turn rolls around again. Sometimes this can take awhile too. You roll your attack and other actions, then wait as people do things to you against static defense numbers. Saving throws are the one exception.

And Saving Throws had it right. I believe it was Arneson who once said he thought players should roll saving throws because it gave them a sense of control over their characters destiny. Dice rolling adds ownership and forces involvement.

In Piecemeal you have defensive rolls. Now the tactics of what type of defense you are using (none, blocking, dodging, parrying) are different "risk V reward" mechanisms and can be explained in detail in the next blog post. In this case the mechanics basically work as thus.

The attack roll is a modifier + d20, then the defender must roll a modifier +d20 to evade or otherwise stop the blow from doing damage. This is different from rolling against a static number.

Why is this good? It gives players something to do when its not their turn. It makes them as responsible for whether or not they are hit as the attacker. Sure if may still just be a die roll, but if who rolled the dice didn't matter people wouldn't mind just handing them over to the GM.

Having things to do when its not your turn is a key element in keeping people engaged.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why "Intro to RPG" games should use six siders only

This is a bit of a controversial statement I know. I want it to be clear I like all the wacky dice, and I think using them GREATLY improves the dice rolling experience. But I make this statement out of pragmatism.

People do not want to devote alot of time or effort to something new they are "iffy" on. Getting any kind of commitment to set a time can be (more) difficult.

When I made "Adventuring Party!" I wanted it to be easy to use to introduce new players to. That means supplies have to be easy.

When I stopped by to show someone how its played I only needed an hour (which we had in waiting) and supplies already present. Paper, Pencils, Standard Dice,Poker Chips, and Pennies. Swiped from the poker set, Yahtzee game and swear jar.

I personally don't carry gamer dice on me, so If the game required them It couldn't be done so spontaneously. Now this can be a little disengenous if you expect to carry printed rules (even if just 20 pages with adventures) but not dice. However most homes have a PC and printer these days, so it wasn't an issue.

People tend to put things off, if you can't be spontaneous with introducing them to a roleplaying game it may take months if ever before things stop "coming up" and bumping you. Don't think of "Adventuring Party!" as the indepth game you'll play for years, think of it as part of the "Sales Pitch" to get them to invest time into another system. Its the Movie Trailer of RPGs and I've had great succes with it.

Adventuring should be the best option mechanically.

This is a broad flaw, a lot of games that support "high adventure" really don't. The most effective route to achieving your personal goals and ambitions is to not go out and adventure. Now obviously this is easily fixed by even half attentive GM's who create the setting to either spur the characters on, or make adventuring a better idea. Failing that the meta-game aspect of "well I don't want to sit here and be a peasant for 4 hours a week" kicks in.

This this seems almost like a silly flaw to be explaining. And it is if you run games with plot arcs and stories and big bad end guys and the like. But if you run a sandbox game it becomes important.

Why? Because sooner or later the players will come to a point where there are not obvious threats to the land, or get rich quick schemes. They will need to find their own things to plan for, their own goals to research. Talented players will overcome this, but a nudge in the right direction would help

So in Piecemeal I tried to make the classes almost force an adventurous life upon you, in a couple of ways.

1.) Keypoints (or milestones) part of the XP system is that merely gaining XP won't let you exceed level caps. To get beyond certain levels ( Zero, Five, Ten and Fifteen) you need to accomplish feats of certain worth. No matter how many orcs you slay, you won't get past level five until you do something that raises you from Local Hero to National Hero, such as slaying a dragon, overthrowing a corrupt barony, converting a province to ones faith, robbing the royal vault, etc. I'll go into Keypoints more in another post, as they are really deserving of their own.

2.) Class Specific benefits.

Each class has their own benefits that can only (effectively) occur through adventure, each of these points will also get their own more in depth post.

Wizards do not share spellbooks for very concrete mechanical reasons, there are no mages colleges. Spells cannot be researched in any rational amount of time, taking a lifetime to invent even simple spells (if your lucky). Thus magic is an accumulated knowledge form, the most rational way to get new spells is to defeat rival wizards and take them, or to loot through old and dusty tombs of long dead wizards.

Warriors gain a lot of their power through "Combat Maneuvers", little tricks they learn as they go, these tricks are not automatically gained. They can either be taught by an instructor, find ancient manuals, or most commonly..recreate a maneuver used on them. Warriors thus often travel the world to learn new fighting styles, find new opponents to face in battle so they can be exposed to new maneuvers and thus learn to recreate them on their own.

Priests gain their magic through deeds (Expect several long posts on this) basically. So while they can gain a trickle of power through "tending to the flock", power comes quickest if they are actively working as missionaries or crusaders.

Likewise thieves gain benefits from pulling off riskier heists and bards gain better political leverage and disciples the more they travel.

The concept being that even if the GM has nothing specific planned, the players can go "That kingdom follows a different faith right? And the knights there are strange tribal warriors who don't fight with conventional armies like we do? Any wizards in towers over there? Lets go!"


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Piecemeal Update

Version Alpha 0.25 of Piecemeal is now up at Zzarchov.Bravehost.Com.

Whats been changed? some bug fixes, a little bit of content snuggled in. And the begining of the change to larger text (about 50% increase in size).

Some layout issues means this isn't fully converted and may be a few updates before all the layout is hashed out.

But hey, Im trying something new here..bound to be a bumpy ride for awhile.

Fresh steak from one of gaming's sacred cows

Magical healing. For some reason it takes a team of local priests a whole week to heal up a powerful character from minor damage in some systems, while a near dead peasant can be fully healed with excess to spare in a few seconds.

Part of the "Luck Point" system used by Piecemeal is that it actually defines what "taken damage" is. In the context of Magical healing this allows for a more rational way characters are affected by spells.

Without getting into the nature of luck and body points (another post), you gain so many Luck Points back (think of them as HP) per level. Thus a low level (say level 2) character healed for a d4 points, would get the result of that roll per level (aka 4 points back) while a high level character (say level 7) would gain proportionally more (in this case 14).

Why is this good?

1.) I reduces the need for every party to have a healer, or an army of NPC priests.
2.) It keeps priests miracles powerful at high levels, without being able to "Spam" a medieval city with healing, to the point that death and serious injury no longer really exist. This is further reinforced by the Piecemeal system of Priest Miracles, but that too is another post.
3.) Healing potions never become "obsolete" or "not worth the encumbrance". The same potion that could save your life at first level could be just as valuable at 10th.

Note that when using this with other systems, you obviously want to re-arrange the dice involved in healing spells. 3d8 is no longer required, a simple step up of die sizes may be more useful (ie, d2 up to d12). Thoughts?

Unrelated News: As per requests I'm working on upping the font size in Piecemeal by 50%, just wrestling with newly formed layout issues.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Additional Hosting Fun!

If you head on over to pen and paper games, they have graciously provided me with hosting space and a place on their forums in their "Indie Games" section.


I'd like to personally thank their admin "Farcaster" for setting this up.

As a note, I still maintain and update my original site at zzarchov.bravehost.com

Murder gets boring

This is one of a larger group of "Experience Point" flaws. All of the solutions mesh into each other, but for brevity I shall break them into smaller pieces.

This one deals with the problem of wholesale slaughter of your enemies. In this particular post I'll deal with murdering opposing villains, the big villain or at least the stalwart dark lieutenant. Many GM's are frustrated that they cannot have a recurring villain because PC's will not stop until they murder them. Its like a party of Terminators.

This is a mechanically based flaw. You either get the same XP for killing, or its the only way you get killing added to the fact that dead villains can't trouble you later.

Piecemeal deals with this in the following manner. When you drive off (force to flee, abandon plans or the like) or kill a villain, your party gets experience points equal to 10% of the villain's experience point total. If you can capture an enemy villain you gain experience points equal to 25% of the villain's experience point total, even if you later execute the villain after a "fair" trial (or sacrifice on a dark altar if your evil)

This creates an incentive to not ALWAYS murder, without making it mandatory. While taking prisoners is more valuable it is also more dangerous. If you kill Baron Von Badass he can't escape and menace you later, if you take him prisoner you will gain more. If he escapes and menaces you again, at least you'll be more familiar with his weaknesses (and can gain the experience points again).

Whats the logic behind this? Well, in Piecemeal the implied nature of "heroes" is that they have the blessing or at least interest of the trickster deities, fates, or the like. Thus when you take prisoners you increase the opportunities for high adventure. This has the side benefits that players should know they too can expect to be taken prisoner rather than killed immediately. After all, Baron Von Badass wants more experience points too.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How to search for clues and conduct an investigation

Hello at least one reader,

Today I'M going to discuss the nature of searching a scene for information. Perhaps the smoldering remains of an evil cult's shrine as an example.

Often I see this done as the GM remembering (or searching) through a character sheet for important skills or abilities, telling them to make a roll to gain information (a spot check of some kind) and hoping they make the check. I see this as a flawed system. It involves the GM remembering character sheets and the frequent missing of obvious clues.

In piecemeal I handle investigations differently. When it comes to investigate an area, the Players announce the skill they are using to investigate the area or scene. The amount of time this takes is based upon the size of the area they are investigating. An individual corpse might be a few minutes, the smoldering remains of the evil cult's shrine might be an hour or two, and the entire nearby village might be a few days. There is no limit to how many times one can investigate an area or with how many skills, beyond limits of time.

Players ALWAYS receive all the information on that subject that is available. They also should (but do not need to) roll an intelligence check to see if there are any attempts at forgery or misdirection (aka, planted clues). 99% of the time this is a worthless roll and they should know that going in.

An example:

When investigating the burned shrine: Fi-tor investigates the area using wood lore, Maggie Kewzer investigates the area with stone working, while Claire Ricks investigates with Religion.

They are given the following information. Fi-tor is told the wood used in the ceremonial pyre is a rare type of Oak from a series of groves south of the local town. Maggie learns the sacrificial altar was carved of local stones (found throughout the area) while Claire is told that with a shrine this size there would be between 10-20 people.

Then they make intelligence checks (pointless) to check for attempts at misdirection (there are none).

Now the players can ask any related questions, either now or later as they think on them (the did a thorough investigation and it will stick in their memory to "draw conclusions from" later as it dawns on them).

So Maggie can later ask if iron chisels she finds in a house near the southern woods could have been used to carve the altar.

Why do I run investigations this way in piecemeal?

1.) The GM does not need to know what skills a character has. If the character picks a skill the GM can't see any relevance too, then the GM can rely on the character to ask related questions to make it relevant.

2.) The players have control over how thorough their investigation is, and do not need to rely on hidden "spot checks" or the like. If they choose to spend 2 days in the woods playing CSI, that is their choice.

3.) The players are NEVER forced to operate on zero information unless they choose to be.

4.) Every skill is as useful as the players choose to make it, there are no skills that are "required for a useful character" and none that are "useless and a waste of character points".

This is a fairly easy system to plug and play into your game, consider giving it a try.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Schrodinger's Character

The flaw being discussed today is two-fold. First is the boring first session where people sit around for half an hour to an hour (or more) rolling their characters and generally being involved in their own little world. The second is the high likelihood that after spending this hour they die in the first five minutes of the first adventure.

To solve this problem I use "Schrodinger's Character", which is a type of point-buy character creation method.

The mechanic works by having the players choose a name and an archetype (" Samuel the Bumbling Scribe, Marcus the Green Soldier, Al'Sarek the Wandering Holy man").

Then start the game, just like that. Now this may raise some questions like "How do they interact with mechanics?", the simple response is that they roll first..apply mechanics second. This makes character creation part of the game and makes it almost certain that all PC's live through their first session.

How does this work in practice?

Sam is looking through an abandoned shack in the woods and finds a book. The GM declares that it is written in say "Elven". Sam declares that his character can read elven (and maybe creates back story to justify it, he's a scribe so it shouldn't be too hard) and so he reads the book. Elven thus is used as one of his starting skills. Note that starting skills are based upon your starting intelligence, so he has also declared he has an intelligence of AT LEAST one.

When Marc attacks an Orc he rolls a 14, the GM rolls the Orc's defense of a 15. If Marc declares this is a hit, he'll have to justify at least a +1 bonus to hit somehow (say choosing to have a high agility score). He'll also have to ensure that at the end of the night his total "to hit" modifier is at least +1.

This works for starting skills, starting items, starting stats, everything. At the end of the night any unused points are then assigned and the character is completed.

Why do it this way?

1.) Time:
Gaming is in my mind a social activity. Sitting in your own world working out numbers and trying to guess what you'll need in the coming hours isn't' very social, at least in my experience. It tends to be an hour of people flipping through books, occasionally eating something and staring intently at the slip of paper in front of them. This fixes that.

2.) Insta-Death
Everyone has seen this at least once. You sit down, you work out your character (After an hour) are ready to go..and fail an easy agility check, fall down a grassy slope and break your head open on some rocks. Other pathetic deaths like this occur, leading to either GM fiat (in which case why roll dice in the first game at all) or a serious case of either headesk or facepalm. This fixes this. You get to choose to survive the first adventure. This is the story of how you became an adventurer, not of all the thousands who came before you and didn't have just the right skills and items to succeed.

Options for normal point buy or randomly rolling a character still exist, but this is my preferred method, especially for a first game.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More people will read if you tell them there is pie

This flaw is in regards to classes. Always there seemed to be a need to have either four (or less) rigid class concepts, of a bazillion different classes, sub-classes, kits, prestige classes and the like in games. Often many of the different classes were really identical except for the addition of a term like "shadow" or "death".

For Piecemeal I created the "Pie Piece" system. Assuming one did not take some trait (more on that later) that altered it, characters receive three "pie pieces" to build their character class.

There are 5 different types of pie the characters can choose from. I'll go into the exact definitions later, but they are listed below:

Warrior: Anyone who's power comes from physical combat
Thief: Anyone who's power comes from stealth
Wizard: Anyone who masters their own magical forces
Priest: Anyone who gets their power from a deity
Bard: Anyone who's power comes from speech and other people

The more "pie pieces" a character puts into a class the more skill he has in that field. Having a single piece only gives you the vaguest abilities, and should only be taken (mechanically) if you can use those abilities to supplement those of another class. Having two "pie pieces" in a class makes you more or less able to stand on your own in the class. Having three "pie pieces" gives you that extra kick to make you truly excel in that one particular field.

This gives new characters alot of different options for how they can be trained. A paladin could be portrayed as a "2 part warrior 1 part priest", a gladiator as "3 part warrior" while a courtisan spy might be "1 part thief 2 part bard".

What about something really out there, like a ninja? A ninja would be a "2 part warrior 2 part thief". How is that possible? Some of the starting traits alter the number of starting pie pieces in exchange for another benefit or flaw. In this case "elite training" would allow a character to start with 4 pie pieces.

What about truly epic characters? like a Kensei?

Part of the advancement process means that when a character becomes "world class" he gets to choose another pie piece. This also allows him to put 4 in spot, unlocking what you would call "epic specialists".

This a Kensei could be a "4 part warrior", an Archmage a "4 part wizard".

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why an EXE instead of a PDF?

On the matter of why I chose to put Piecemeal in an .exe format. There are a few different reasons why that is the case. The first is that Piecemeal (unlike Adventure Party!) does feature a lot of rules. A large peeve of mine is the difficulty in cross referencing rules to other pertinent rules inside of RPG books. The ability to click to a term as it is mentioned (in case you have forgotten or simply not read about that term yet) is a large feature. Piecemeal is also designed as a plug and play system, so that you can remove bits and without too much fuss..add them into your own game system of choice. The compartmentalization offered by an interactive program allows for quick reference during play (as laptops are becoming almost a standard in many game tables). The last reason is to aid with virtual tabletop gaming, platforms (Some free some not) that allow old spread out gaming groups (such as my own) still play classic pen and paper role playing games on our computers, thousands of miles from each other. PDFs of the size required by Piecemeal are unlikely to be printed out, so any viewing of the rules would have to be on a computer regardless. For a shorter RPG (such as Adventure Party) where it is not rules heavy, and where printing is a viable option, I chose to put it in simple PDF format.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Ok, that was childish and geeky. In many ways, so am I.

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.

The player rolling the die announces all the positive bonuses, and any constantly occurring negative penalties (not situational or temporary ones).

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).

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.

It Begins...

Hello theoretical readers,

This is a blog about game design. More accurately its a blog about games and supplements I've already designed and produced at zzarchov.bravehost.com. The point of my blog posts will be showcase a flaw in game play (RPG, War Game or Board Game) , list my solution and then explain why I chose that solution and how it solves the flaw.

This allows you, the theoretical reader to then decide for yourself if you want to implement these solutions. I will try to post at least two posts per week. In the beginning this may be more, as life complicates things it may be less, but consider it a running average I will try to maintain.