Thursday, February 12, 2015

Gold & Glory, take 2. Start from scratch (sort of).

This time, we have a different starting point: this one!
I really like the name and the feel it carries, so I'll stick with it.

So we're starting with a certain damage system, one that has a cinematic feel but isn't too abstract. Seeing as many fantasy games feature combat, to varying degrees, I'll start from what is going to be the most mechanics heavy part of the game. If I can't get a minimum viable product out of it, back to the drawing board.

Rolling Dice
With some exceptions, many systems employ dice and G&G isn't about to be any different. Currently I'm leaning towards 3d6, roll under a composite of attribute and skill (and any modifiers). Attributes will likely go up to 12 and skills up to 6, meaning a master, with a maxed attribute, performing something well under his skill is nearly always promised success.

An attack is a clean, transparent roll: take your combat skill and roll under it. If you want to pull off anything flashy or more complex, the GM will apply modifiers as they see fit. Both players and opponents roll attacks.

When being attacked, defenses are the same - both sides may roll them and defending means you have ignored all damage the attack might deal. The might is there for a reason - defending is a choice with a price. When defending, the defender takes 1 damage and must state they are defending before an attack roll is made. Even if the attack misses, that damage is taken as the character primes for a defense, expending energy. If the attack connects, a successful defense occurs when you roll below or equal the attacker (for players) or just below them (for opponents). Modifiers might apply based on the attack.

Damage also uses d6s. All weapons deal d6 damage, with bonuses for exceptionally damaging ones. Certain circumstances or attacks might have more dice.

Makes the same assumptions as the linked post - armor is a massive asset which might turn a combatant into a nearly unstoppable thing, depending on circumstances. In general, using armor means combat fatigue between fights and ongoing damage during fights. But, it also means you can much more easily get up close, personal and stabby with opponents.

Is nowhere to be found yet. I'm not sure what I will do about it. Just saying this now.

Magical Equipment
Unlike magic, it is to be found, but it has one important assumption: it's rare, unique and not at all mundane. No simple clean bonuses as magic, nor simple clean effects. Normally used at cost, normally conveying a clearly unfair advantage.

Like before, this is raw, but deals more with the general idea and concepts.
Anyone wants to give this a quick playtest when I get more concrete things done? 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A particular damage tracking system

While in the shower, an idea about damage tracking began to form in my mind, so I'm gonna put down the beginnings on paper... or blog, I suppose.

As I tend to start with, several assumptions:
  • Most damage is small numbers, rarely higher than 6, very rarely double digits.
  • In accordance, the damage you can soak is not a lot, but it can be relatively exceptional.
  • High damage is indicative of a terrible foe, one who can kill you with considerable ease, if they just put their minds to it. Fighting something with a high damage is not something done directly.
  • Armor assumes this concept. The heavier you go, you trade your long term mobility and relative efficiency for short term survivability against harsh combat conditions.
Now that we have our assumptions, I'll go on.

Combat Fatigue or Avoiding Deadly Blows
To my knowledge, following some research, combat is more about avoiding any blow, as any blow can prove to be fatal. Even more so when weapons are involved. To go with that, the majority that any character in combat is doing is to avoid deadly blow - by way of dodging or armoring up. Whichever it is, it means that they are tiring themselves out as they do it. Dodging is extraneous and armor is heavy.
Taking inspiration from Fate, mostly, I envision a grid 5 cells wide and several lines long. This grid acts similarly to stress in Fate but assumes a somewhat greater level of potential hardiness. Characters would start with one or two lines. When they take damage, it first goes into here, filling into no more than a single line. If the line fills out completely, you have avoided the blow entirely. If it did not, it spills into-

Hit Points or Your Own Token Variation
If something hit hard enough to take any chunk of hit points away, things are not good. Taking actual damage should leave scarring and is going to take a while to bounce back from. This damage, even small, would indicate an actual wound, as opposed to the cuts, scrapes and bruises that are included in combat fatigue.

Heavy Armor
Any armor would do, really, to avoid terrible fates. Even padded clothing could save you from some blunt trauma. In general, going up to having a chain shirt would be within the definition of wearing light enough armor to not really feel it. Glossing over how realistically a chain shirt would be defensive, you get what could be the light side of the medium class of armors in many games. The rule is that the heavier your armor, the more protective you can expect it to be.
But once you hit heavy armor, you are met with a ticking clock - the armor, by virtue of being really quite heavy, will be chipping away at your combat fatigue. When going about with such a heavy armor, your options end up being haste between fights, several fights in a row or well earned rests whenever possible. Whichever option you choose, it won't make adventuring any easier. In some cases, heavy armor may even restrict certain activities which might require finesse or manual dexterity.

Surviving Longer
This system would favor athletic characters - whichever way is chosen to reflect that. Fate does provide more Physical Stress for higher levels of the Physique skill. D&D models this by giving the fighting classes better hit dice. Mind that this system is not suitable as a replacement in most cases, since it would take a lot of tweaking on its end or on the other end.
Whenever the milestone for more combat fatigue is hit, another line should be made available for the character. In other cases, maybe another cell on each line might open up. The idea is that more combat fatigue unlocking could be another blow deflected, maybe even two. However it is done, it will probably save the character's life in combat.

Final Thoughts
The system makes several assumptions which I don't recall finding in sufficient force in games I know. Some assumptions, on their own might exist, but not in this particular mix.
And this system is still just an idea put on paper, so I'm not quite there yet with what to do with it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gold & Glory part 1

To my great surprise, there is no D&D-styled game called Gold & Glory. There is just the one Forgotten Realms supplement about mercenary groups, but that's it/

From the last post, the name I'm going with for the RPG With Some Combat as an Obstacle is Gold & Glory. Behind it are several concepts:
  1. The party are adventurers, front and center, first and foremost. Their goals align with one of two things, sometimes both: Gold and Glory. Progression will be based on character and party goals, both of which must provide Gold, Glory or both when completed.
  2. In that vein, the party receives 3 kinds of awards - Gold, which is used to buy stuff; Glory, which is used to improve your character; Things, which can be anything from a title, to loot to a statue in the center of town. When taking up a goal, there should be absolute clarity on what is awarded.
  3. Characters are relatively simple constructs, created freeform. There are 5 attributes, ranked 0 to 8, and 11 skills, ranked 0 to 4. More is better. To make skills more in-depth, each has abilities which may be learned, called moves, and specializations which may be picked up.
  4. Rolling is done via a d6 dice pool. The amount is decided by attributes, an amount of dice you roll equal to its rank, and a skill decides how low still counts as a success. Succeeding in a task requires a certain number of successes. Rolling all or none is criticals.
  5. Equipment is general and provides clean and easy to parse bonuses or advantages. Weapon choice has bearing as far as category goes, armor choice has bearing according to weight.
  6. HP is Endurance, Mana is used to limit spell use. The prior is how close a character becomes to being taken out by the next attack, when 0 is "right there". The latter relies on open choice magic with limited daily supply.
  7. Glory is used as XP to improve your character, purchasing skill levels, new moves & specializations and even improved attributes.
  8. Gaining Glory is done strictly through goals and carousing. Defeat of opponents, in that regard, is not considered inherently glorious. Similarly, a goal must in itself be glory-worthy. Kobolds are rarely glorious. Any fodder is rarely glorious.
  9. Combat is done in one of two ways - actual fighting, bloody and hectic, and obstacle combat, which is a quick roll against a set difficulty. When doing the latter, the stuff form the previous post comes up.
 I've already started putting things down on paper. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An RPG system with combat as an obstacle (when fighting simple encounters)

Some time ago, when I was still messing about with creating an RPG system, a friend put an idea on the table to relegate combat to a simulation, if I find combat itself too bothersome. His intention was to have a diceless game where combat is resolved by making assumptions in a simulation and declaring the result narratively.

Sometime in the past month I remember reading a blog post where "combat as an obstacle" was mentioned. Can't recall where it was, though, and searches didn't really pan out. Anyway, there the idea was to treat simple encounters with mooks and fodder as a DC obstacle rather than actual combat, to cut the time it takes to go through combat in a session and leave more room for roleplay and exploration.

Between the two, I'm now openly considering building a system around this mechanic, since its consistency and fun-factor might prove to be integral to making combat work. As combat remains a sometimes-major part of RPGs, I think it makes for a logical base to start at.

Conservation of Resources
As I understand it, combat isn't so much about surpassing a hostile force as it is doing so while conserving resources. To me, this should lead the design concepts - even when combat isn't fully run, it should consume resources and there should be a consistent and clear way to adjudicate this. The blog post I had read did say that resources should be consumed, but it was a guideline.
Assuming a game that isn't centered almost singularly around combat (modern D&D, though 5e less, as well as its derivatives, comes to mind), there are 3 resources that may run out in combat: HP, Magic and Consumables.
  •  HP is loading bar until the character dies. It doesn't really matter if you use it to illustrate injury or combat fatigue, since it all means that the closer you are to 0, the likelier it is for the next attack to kill you. Since in combat HP loss tends to be inevitable, this resource most likely will be lost at every fight, barring a good obstacle-passing roll.
  • Magic is however the system handles spellcasting. Vancian obviously gives a tangible resource, while another tangible resource is something like MP. In general, unless clearly intended, magic is a resource that may be conserved reliably. Some games even provide free magic, in the form of at-will spells to any degree, which provides spellcasters with consistent conservation (that is to say that you can rely on the spellcaster to consistently produce damage without spending resources, much in the same way a fighter can).
  • Consumables are everyone's magic. Anyone can use them and they act as standins for magic when that isn't available. In a similar way, they can be reliably conserved.
 But there remains an issue with the latter two - it's hard to decide, post-combat, just how much is spent from them. In particular, there isn't a surefire way to decide whether or not they even factored in, except in detailed simulations. But I have a proposition for a solution: either before or after the obstacle roll, either may be used to confer a bonus or affect post-roll results.
For instance, were we to play D&D this way, a fireball is a major advantage. If the fight was a borderline affair, the wizard might opt to use it up and give that as a bonus to the roll. If it were after the roll, the more lenient option, the wizard might take a look at his spells and decide to improve the roll or mitigate negative results. This works similarly for potions as mitigators and scrolls or wands.

The construction of the DC
Now comes the hard part - how hard is a fight? Opponents contain all sorts of variables and indicators of difficulty, so it's hard to say. In essence, these DCs are nearly always rulings based on good judgment. Luckily, not all is truly lost - some games provide clearer indicators or even guidelines for fight difficulty based on opponent choice. If there are guidelines, it's easiest to draw a line from them to obstacle tables. If there aren't, assumptions must be made and there isn't an obvious way to find out the perfect difficulty.
But now we get to the most important question: PC contribution - how much and what does it affect? PCs could lower the DC as much as they could gain bonuses to the roll. Depending on what you use to roll, one or the other makes more sense. In a d20 game, sticking to a pure roll against a variable DC seems wiser, since it gives an intuitively clear result.

Modus Operandi
There is, what I feel to be, a critical part that needs to be included: how the party approaches the fight. Clearly, neither side wants to be wiped out, barring special circumstances, so how the party wants to fight could and should affect the DC and even the results of both success and failure. Way I see it, there are several ways to approach combat:
  • Extermination - the party wants to wipe out the other side. This means chasing fleeing opponents and being brutal. DC remains averaged since the party is not holding back from making all their free hits and spells count but is also chasing the enemy. An abundance of ranged attacks could lower the DC/give bonuses for obvious reasons.
  • Dispersal - the party wishes to make the enemy go away by means of violence. Fleeing opponents are disregarded and the party hits anyone else hard. This is the easiest to do, since it's short and not at all subtle.
  • Blitzkrieg - the party intends to end the enemy as quickly and as ruthlessly as possible. This might mean expenditure of magic and consumables as sometimes numbers are an issue. It should be difficult, made more possible by using resources. It assumes the enemies don't reach the point where they try to escape.
  • Capture - the party wants to capture any number of opponents alive. This is probably the hardest option, since it means that they need to avoid killing their opponents and also avoid being an easy target while doing so.
  • Assassination - the party does not want the following deaths to be immediately known. Normally reserved for small numbers of weak opponents when sneaking around. Some games innately support this option, but the idea is that it might not work and escalate into an issue. It's harder than the other options, except Capture, primarily due to the limited approaches possible.
HP loss and resource consumption
When fighting, as I stated before, HP loss is nearly always inevitable. Something or someone will pull off an attack, maybe more than once, and there go the HP. It's important to state that this roll should never automatically cause a TPK - it's meant when fighting otherwise easy fights. Such fights might go extraordinarily wrong, the byproduct being a TPK, but it should never be automatic.
So how much HP is lost is an important question. The easiest approach is to squeeze attacks and health indicators together. In D&D, this could be based on HD. An example in D&D, assuming a pure d20 roll: a critical success means no HP loss; a success means the party needs to split a total loss equal to the combined opponent HD; a failure means each opponent has dealt an amount of hits equal to his HD, split among the party; a critical failure would mean max damage per HD. That last outcome is a fight going extraordinarily wrong, which might mean a TPK.

Since HP is your main resource, any other resources consumed should do something about that. Most resources are capable of doing either of two effects: make the roll easier or make the outcome less harsh. For instance, a fireball might be "go in magic blazing, hitting the entire other side hard" for an easier roll or "if the tide of battle doesn't go well (a failure or critical failure), this is a last resort" for a less harsh outcome. A spell might also negate combat completely (sleep, anyone?). One way or another, that resource has been expended. In this regard, too, it might be smarter to say that there are 3 ways to expend resources: intention, declaration and hindsight. The first would be to simply say it would be used, never mind how the fight actually goes. The second is circumstantial, meant to mitigate failure. The third is to do either post-fight, changing the outcome to taste.

Memorable fights
The single most important thing to remember here is that fights are memorable. In this context, a fight is combat that the party actually ran through, rather than rolled as an obstacle. This also means that fights are as befitting the party. Those 3 slingshot-using kobolds are an obstacle, while the chief, his shaman and the 4 leather-armored spear-bearing kobolds are a fight. But it can also go the other way: a pair of level 1 characters running into 2 orcs could also be a fight, despite being a random encounter that isn't too dangerous, by virtue of being dangerous and interesting enough.
But a memorable fight has another meaning: critically failing or succeeding at a combat obstacle should be a narrative thing - let the players concoct some tasty fiction to go with their great success or horrible defeat.

Player agency
One thing I feel stands out the most here, as a final observation, is player agency. This system presents the players with many choices and options, under the assumption that they are entering combat. They choose how to deal with it and what the fight is worth to them. In certain cases, the roll itself might end up being memorable.
What I have not explicitly touched is ad hoc agency: players figuring out the environment or non-obvious resources for valuable resources. I have not touched it because that's a table thing - the GM already awards you for these, if he does, and would readily treat them as resources since they are simply affecting a roll as they would normally would.

Final takeaway
This system is still raw and untested, and isn't at all concrete, but it offers a framework that would deal with the small, least interesting, combat with a single, clear roll. To me, this can save entire sessions by removing the clutter that fights might pose. I'm about to try it in as many games as I can.

(A note: this entire thing assumes the party is not being surprised. An ambush is always a fight, since it's not the party choosing to approach. If the party ambushes, they got a bonus.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

More on heavy armors

The original G+ post is here, which I'm going to develop on.

Heavy armors are, well, heavy. This is a trait that comes up mostly in combat, but also outside it. I've been thinking how to enhance armor choice in games with a heavier emphasis on logistics (that is to say that the happy-go-lucky adventuring of modern D&D, or more narrative games, are not as well suited to what I have in mind for heavy armors).

First, a few assumptions:
  • Heavy armor is an investment. The heavier the armor, particularly when plates start being involved, the price tends to drastically jump. Buying heavy armor needs to be relatively difficult and pricey.
  • Heavy armor is protective. As long as you can maintain mobility and focus, the heavier armors should be able to keep you alive against most human foes and plenty of monstrous ones.
  • Heavy armor is a choice. For fighters in modern D&D, heavy armor is a must the moment they can get their hands on it. The assumption is that taking heavy armor means giving things up.
The concepts will be split into 2 parts, out of combat and inside it.

Part 1: Out of combat
Out of combat, armor is a tiring affair for the long haul. Mainly speaking - walking around in heavy armor is walking around with many tens of kilograms on your body. They might be spread out, but they normally mean adding a third of your body weight to lug around, sometimes even more than that.
To simulate this, without becoming too technical, I propose the following: every certain amount of time units of exploration (say, turns of 10 minutes) you receive a fatigue token. The amount of tokens you have have 2 impacts: the first is changing the max HP of the character by reducing it at a 1:1 ratio. The second is that when the amount of tokens surpasses the character's CON score, they must rest or lose consciousness for 1 time unit. After they wake up, they lose 1 token and should rest properly.
When a character rests, they lose up to 10 tokens. Resting takes 1 time unit.
If the system or GM allow, the game is advised have a method of reducing just how tiring armor is to a character.

Part 2: Inside combat
Inside combat, the concept changes a bit. Characters are suddenly pumping with adrenaline and renewed strength. The first thing that changes is that they stop gaining fatigue tokens.
Every round (or several rounds) in combat, the character wearing heavy armor, instead of gaining fatigue tokens, will now start to lose HP at the a certain rate. The heavier the armor, the quicker the loss. This might seem counter-intuitive, but remember the assumption about protection: if armors negate hits, they should help negate most of them. If they negate damage, they should negate most of it. Heavy armor is a sacrifice of long combats in favor of survivability

Appendix: Wearing armor
Putting armor on or taking or taking it off is, well, time consuming. Normally, heavier armor would require a second person to actually get all the armor on. During an adventure, it might take an entire time unit to put it on with the help of another, more without. But this kind of stuff starts falling into a niche I call "too much nitpicking to care about". I'm all for some level of logistics, but this feels a bit excessive.

This still feels a bit raw to me, but it's still being developed and I am liking it so far, even more than the initial idea.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thoughts and discussions about classes in RPGs

Last night I was in the shower, after having spent some of my day thinking about my RPG, Stuff of Legends, I had a thought. To intro with some background, I've decided to design Stuff of Legends without classes or character levels from the get go, letting skills and their levels describe the character.

So I had a thought, and it was following playing both Numenera and D&D 5th edition lately. In either game, there are classes present, subtly in the prior, overtly in the latter. The way the games function, and how the characters act out based on and despite of their class, got me thinking on why classes were retained as a feature, despite moving away from the wargaming roots.

My thoughts about classes are mixed for all kinds of reasons, but now I find a warmer spot for them in my heart. The complexity of the 3rd and 4th editions of D&D had turned me off them, but D&D's 5th edition had given me a chance to rethink why exactly I had issues.
I've found out that I do not actually have issues with the concept of classes. The idea that a character had spent their formative years learning a specific trade or, in this case, class, is more than OK - it makes sense. In this regard, I find classes logical, since they provide a lens on the character and their life before being generated.
But I still have issues with classes, despite it. For starters, in some games, a wealth of information and in-game-world choices are present. If a game were to be set in modern times, it would make very little sense to me to rely on classes. If the game is fantastic, or medieval, a different issue rises: multiclassing. I honestly multiclassing has no room in fantasy gaming, unless it is handled like older D&D did it - once you pick up a new class, you can't return to an old one*.
So the train of thought continued and brought me back to my game: why do I not have classes in my game? The answer feels half-hearted: because it restricts the move from concept to on-page character. Restrictions apply due to setting, so you won't find Earthbenders from Avatar in Steampunk England, nor would you find a wuxia hero in a pre-historical hunter-gatherer style game.
But when you look beyond the restrictions of setting, classes seem to restrict in less-ideal ways. Let's use D&D 5th edition for some examples, since it's the most essentially flexible of the bunch. Let's take the Eldritch Knights path for the Fighter. This path talks about wizard-mixed fighters with strictly abjuration or evocation spells - defense and offense. Spells only up to 4th level and a limited amount of them. Assuming we define within the spell levels allowed, you cannot have an Eldritch Knights with Alter Self, See Invisibility and Dimension Door, for a type of spy-counterspy Knight. If you wanted this, you would have to houserule or multiclass. If the GM has chosen to not do the first and not allow the second, the player has a concept that they cannot realize and that chafes for me.
I think that, in the bottom line, I am torn - classes give a very clear outline of who the character sees themselves to be. As far as I know, the vast majority of people in the past several thousand years required a very good reason to change how they were going about their lives. In the context of fantasy RPGs, for a wizard to dip into fighter there would need to be a very major event in their lives, as would the other way around. But in the same time, classes are restrictive in their nature and even the most flexible systems leave things to be desired.

The term discussions serves two purposes for me: the first is to open the floor for discussions, while the second is to point at a subject as something I am not sure about. Below I have a few such discussions for which I would like comments, replies and actual discussion to come up. My thoughts are laid out, in part, above and, while they may change, will direct what direction I want to take with the discussions.
Additionally, before the discussions, are some relevant mechanics from my game, as it is the primary subject of the discussions:
  • Currently, characters receive some definition by spreading points between 3 pillars: warrior, specialist and arcanist, which describe the 3 primary types of characters: combat, non-combat and esoteric. Besides providing advantages, these pillars have no other mechanical use as of yet.
  • The number of skills which describe character roles and capabilities stands at 17, though this number will change. These are grouped under attributes and are as general as I was able to get them, with skills like Combat and Knowledge.
  • Nearly everything comes in 4 levels which map to beginner through master.
Discussions are kept in a numbered list for convenience of reference.
  1. The issue with which way to take, classes or classless, stands strong for me now. So does multiclass - or picking up new skills out of the blue. I prefer to remain classless, but then a skill system needs boundaries as to what skills may be picked up and I'm not sure how to work this out.
  2. If restricting multiclassing, the question of when the restriction lifts is a big one. As this is restriction, rather than banning, when does the restriction lift, how and where does the limit for lifting stands? If for skills, how to even model that?
  3. The pillars currently serve a small but relatively significant role, providing an image of the character which could be filed under multiclassing from the get go. This fails, though, to help map out progression, which is where multiclassing fails for me. I'm not sure if to rely on the pillars for a solution at all.
That's pretty much all I have right now, though more might crop up. I'm not entirely sure what kind of comments and replies I'm looking for, but if I had to define: new views or examples from existing games - things to broaden my scope.

*I recall this from Baldur's Gate, so I suppose the right older D&D is AD&D.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

D&D 5th Edition and Infrequent DMing

I've run my first game of D&D 5th edition just now. I woke up before the sun did and went in with little prep.
Luckily, the results were good.

So impressions from the DM side about the mechanics that were taken into account, given no combat occurred and barely more than 1 spell used:
  1. The minimization of applicable bonuses and calculation thereof is wondrous. Because there are no branching and overly complex stats, calling a roll for anything has become easy and pleasant.
  2. The game still relies a lot on combat, as far as characterizing the characters. There are RP spells and RP character options, but they are a bit too few.
  3. I'm probably skipping a lot of rules by winging it, since the game felt barren of rolls, but it was fun and interesting. I suspect I might need to give the book a more thorough read.
  4. There are not enough monsters to really run a campaign with right now.
However, I'm also brought to another point: I feel like I'm a fair enough, but below average, DM/GM. Partly, the fault lies in how infrequent I get to do so, but I hope to remedy that. In another part, I think I need to get used to getting usable prep done for games, since by how much I'm winging it, I sucking out potential awesome from the game.

While we're here, let me tell you how it went. Playing were +Alex Perucchini and +Other Tim. +Anthony Fournier was slated to play but didn't show up last minute.

The mission the party got was to find out why the heck these local, nice kobolds were acting up and raiding farmsteads for food and goods, taking livestock and anything else they can conceivably lay their hands on.
They headed out, Alex a Paladin and Tim a Warlock, to the den of the kobolds. The guards outside were forthcoming and called for those in charge once they saw adventurers and feared for their lives. Out came a pair of Dragon Priests, who agreed to discuss the recent events within the den.
The party was taken to the priests' chambers, where the aforementioned refused to disclose details, and eventually the priests led the party to their draconic patron, a massive green dragon. The priests did not actually come with the party, so they did not hear the dragon debunk their story and request that the adventurers resolve this. The party got back, entangled the priests and got out of them that they are paying off a hobgoblin racket. Back to the dragon and then instructed to get this all resolved and kill the hobgoblins.
The party got back to see a small riot happening around the priests in the main chamber of the den and through character abilities found out the location of where the priests were keeping the money they were collecting. Since it was hidden, the party surmised that there wasn't actually a hobgoblin threat. With the recovered money, they paid off the town and gave half the remainder to the kobolds to live off.
0 combats, lots of roleplaying and one very big dragon.

+James Young - in case you were wondering what had happened.