Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dice innovation?

Introducing the p20.

...or something.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Charge the Cthuloid Horror!

Last night was the middle of the end of the ridiculously-high-powered epic/gestalt game. We killed gods, and it was fun.

I've been out of town for Thanksgiving and lacked net access for most of a week.

My Hexblade revision is nearly done. I still need to balance some powers.

It looks like a number of games I'm involved in are in the process of rebooting. I may be thinking a lot about character creation and related topics in the upcoming weeks.

I'm considering a re-reading of the 1e Ad&D DM's guide. I dug out my copy before I went away for Thanksgiving. If I do it, I'll post running commentary.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Neat Tool?

I've been playing with Google Docs and Spreadsheets a bit lately.

In the past, I've used Excel-based character sheets for various games. I'm thinking that I might try to find some good character sheets that I can upload to the spreadsheets bit.

  • Character sheets are always available via the web. When I get an e-mail with an xp award that was calculated from my last weeks game, I can immediately update my sheet - even if I am not at home. If I forget my character sheet at home, I can print out a copy from any net connection.
  • Spreadsheet-based sheets are nice for auto-calculating annoying things.
  • I can share the sheet with my GM - so he can review an up-to-date version at his leisure.
  • The sheets might not be super-pretty. I might be able to fix that, though.

Monday, November 13, 2006

d20 Class Creation Rule 2

Rule 2: Find the Single/Multi-Class Balance

This rule has a number of parts. The first of these is detailed on the Wizards website, so I won't go into it too much. Briefly, the idea is that when designing a class, it is important to make sure that every level gives a character something. My gloss on this is that a player should always look forward to levelling up, and that levelling up by continuing in ones own class should be just as exciting as levelling up by multiclassing.

My rule of thumb: If, at any point in a 20 class progression, it is clearly optimal to take a single level of Fighter instead of the next level in your class, there is a problem. (I use fighter for two reasons: (1) the first level of fighter is pretty good, and (2) the second level of fighter is near-identical to the first, so the problem will not likely go away in one level). One way of handling this that I find unsatisfying is to punish multiclassing. Gamers often forget that the objective is fun as opposed to the enforcement of rules (or even tropes). If I want to encourage single-class play I'd rather make it fun to play a single-class than make it un-fun to play multiple classes.

Do I want to encourage single-class play? Sure. I want to encourage all sorts of play. Why design a 20-level class if no one would take all 20 levels? On the other hand, multiclassed characters are just as valid as single classed characters. How many iconic characters in heroic fantasy fiction began as rogues or barbarians or wizard's apprentices and moved on to something else? One of the things that bothers me about most d20 classes is that they seem to explicitly discourage multiclassing. Some of them (Monk and Paladin) all but prohibit it. Others (all spellcasting classes) put forward an opportunity cost that tends to be prohibitive.

While I want to make a class that will be fun and worthwhile to play for 20 levels, I also want to make one that doesn't need to be. When making a class, think of the sorts of characters who might dabble in it... and think of the classes that a character of the class being created might dabble in. Build in some nifty features that will make such dabbling worthwhile. If I'm building a sneaky class, I might add in a feature that works well with sneak attack or or trap sense. If I'm building a divine class, I should be aware that characters taking levels in it might well have (or gain) cleric or paladin abilities. In thinking through the ramifications of this, I should avoid the gut reaction to nerf certain combos (No! That Cha bonus to Fort and Will saves doesn't stack with Divine Grace!), and instead build the class so that its abilities complement those of other classes without becoming overpowered (Instead of a Cha bonus to Fort and Will saves, perhaps make it the Mettle ability - usable a number of times per day equal to your Cha - or Wis - bonus).

Tying this back in to Rule 1, as long as a character has 10 levels in the class I create, they should be fully recognizable as highly competent members of that class, even if they have multiclassed.

d20 Class Creation Rules: Rule 1

I've been working on my rewrite of the Hexblade that I've alluded to here before. I thought it would, perhaps, be worthwhile to comment on my general priorities in terms of class creation - both to solidify them for myself and because there is some small chance that someone might read this and find it interesting. Here is the first one (not that they are in any particular order:

Class Creation Rule 1: The 1/5/10/20 Rule

1: Don't front-load too much into the first level or so. Monk and Fighter are guilty of this. It is very tempting to take a couple of levels in a front-loaded class and then abandon it. If you can say of a class, "It is always a good idea to take X levels in this class," then your class could be better designed. If you can say, "I don't know why anyone would take more than X levels in this class," then you have a more serious problem (see Swashbuckler, where X=3). In either case, the lower the value of X, the bigger your problem is. It is certainly the case that you often need to introduce basic class features at first level. One way of doing this without too much front-loading is to introduce the features in a fairly weak state and add on to these features at higher levels - Bardic Music is an example of how this can be done.

5: A number of classes get a significant power boost from gaining new class features at 4th-6th level: Druid, Paladin, and Ranger are, perhaps the most obvious. Try to make the power climb more gradual than this. At the same time, you don't want to delay the gaining of integral class features past this point. Also, at about this level you should begin qualifying for prestige classes. Build the class such that it will not be too difficult to qualify for the most appropriate prestige classes for it. I find it infuriating when Wizards introduces a new class that fits thematically with an established prestige class, but from which it is near-impossible to qualify for that prestige class (Beguiler/Arcane Trickster?).

10: I tend to consider 10th level to be "name level" - by the time a character has 10 levels in a class, they should fully epitomize that class. That isn't to say that levels 11-20 should be empty. Far from it. What I mean here is that a characters with 10 class levels ought to be able to accomplish the feats that one expects of a competent member of their class. This is going to mean different things for different classes. For instance, it would be a serious problem in my mind if Clerics didn't have access to Atonement and Hallow at 10th level. Also, by this point you should be able to qualify for the appropriate 10-level prestige classes.

20: There is a desire to put 'capstone' abilities at the last few levels of a 20-level progression. These are powerful class abilities that reward a character for 'sticking it out' with a single class. This has become a bit more prevalent after the initial classes in the PHB, but even there the Monk and (to a lesser extent) the Druid have such abilities. I don't have a vendetta against capstone abilities per se. I think it is important to make it worthwhile to take 20 levels in every class. On the other hand, I think that it is important that such abilities be built up gradually. The Druid's Elemental Wild Shape abilities seem somewhat tacked-on to me, as does the Monk's ability to become Ethereal, and the Dragon Shaman's wings. What I am advocating here is balance. The high levels of a class should include some damn cool class features - just make sure they fit in with the rest of the class.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Crossroads in the Dust

Last night was the last game of what was probably the longest-running Wraith LARP in the world. It began in the mid/late 90s as a spin-off from Champaign-Urbana's One World by Night Vampire game. Initially, it was a play-test of expanded Wraith LARP rules written by some of the game masters - and there was only one player at first.

When I moved out here in 2001, I joined the game. At the time, there were probably a dozen or so players. At some points after that, the game would swell to almost double that size, but it was more often than not smaller than that. Most of the players were close friends. Several of them moved into a house together, which was dubbed "The Necropolis." I wasn't in that group, and the population of the house has almost completely changed, but I'm actually living there now.

The game had a good ending - a better one than I could have hoped for, really. Angela (who was running it), was worried... in part, I think, because she put us up against near-impossible odds at the end and didn't know how - or if - we could succeed. She confessed to me that she had stopped bothering to come up with methods of overcoming obstacles awhile ago, as we almost never used the methods she expected anyway. We surprised her again, though our method was a long-shot... and only worked because we were really, really lucky (it isn't often you can count on winning rock-paper-scissors 11 times in a row, but I managed it), but my character proved himself to be the most bad-ass Pardoner in the universe.

It was a good end to an era.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I was seriously considering trying my hand at NaNoWriMo this year, but it looks like work is entering into a ridiculously-busy phase.

I will, however, include herein an excerpt from last year's abortive attempt at novel-writing:


"My door is covered in scissors." Tom spoke these words several times as he stood outside at the base of the stairs leading up to his apartment. The first time he said it, the words were a whisper of disbelief, as he wondered about the full extent of his black-and-blacker induced hangover and whether he was, in fact, awake and standing outside his apartment or whether he was still asleep on Calla's couch. By the fourth time the words came out of his mouth, he'd convinced himself that he was awake, and the words turned into an angry rumble that began deep in his throat. Around the seventh time, he'd begun letting the words escape in a resigned sigh, accompanying them with a sad shake of his head.

He walked up the steps. The door was still covered in scissors. There were scissors of all different sorts - plastic children's safety scissors, stainlesss steel desk scissors, a few of the cheap pairs of tiny scissors that you get in a one dollar sewing kit, and even a pair of pruning shears. There must have been over a hundred of them total. He began to count, but caught himself in the act.

Each pair of scissors was anchored only along one blade-handle axis. Every single pair of scissors on the door was at least semi-functional. Tom marvelled at them for several moments, and he probably repeated the phrase, "my door is covered in scissors," a few more times before he thought to turn it into a question.

He carefully closed those pairs of scissors located closest to the doorknob and most likely to cut someone attempting to use it. Then, he opened the door and called out to his roommate in as calm a voice as he could muster, "Allever? Why is our door covered in scissors?"

Allever's voice drifted out of the kitchen. "I did it to keep us safe from temptation," he said.


"Huh. I guess it worked," Tom said as he sat down at the table across from his roommate, who was staring intently at a waffle. He had three jars of differently-colored jellies sitting open on the table next to his plate, and had filled in each of the waffle's squares so that they formed a spiral pattern.

Allever looked up at Tom, "No problem with snakes, then?" He sounded skeptical. "That's good."

"Snakes. Right," Tom said. "No snakes." Despite his lapses into rather strange behavior, Tom was relatively sure that Allever wasn't really crazy or abusing drugs. He kept himself clean and had a steady job. Allever had been living in the apartment for a year when Tom moved in, and the property manager - who lived next door - only had good things to say about him. Tom wondered what she'd think about their new door decorations. "So, umm, should I ask why you put scissors on the door to keep snakes out?"

"Snakes," Allever said, "are often depicted as agents of temptation and corruption. I suspect that this is a misapprehension based upon their phallic appearance, but it is better to be safe than sorry. You needed to be protected from temptation. You didn't come home last night. Again. You smell like beer. What bar was it this time and what was her name?"

"You're not my priest, Allever. Don't lecture me. I just stayed over at a friend's place."

"So... was this friend," Allever paused, briefly, "pretty?"

"Yeah. So was her couch, where I slept." Tom glared at him. "Alone," he added. "Not that I had to be alone, but it seemed like the best choice at the time. Now, I'm not so sure what I was thinking."

"Ah. Good. I kept the snakes away, then." Allever began methodically slicing his waffle along the grid pattern so that he had separate, little jelly-filled squares.