Thursday, December 28, 2006

Order of the Stick

Last night, I played the Order of the Stick Adventure Game. The game is based on the Order of the Stick webcomic, one of the few webcomics I read regularly.

The game's production values are high, which was nice to see. It comes with a set of Quick-Start rules in comic form. The Quick-Start comic rules are several pages in length. It also comes with double-sided cheat-sheets with combat rules for each player, filled with densely packed text. These two things, taken together, should have been warning signs.

The game wanted to be Munchkin. It played, however, more like Talisman.

To play the game, you (randomly) choose a character from the comic. The available characters are the member of the Order of the Stick. Each character has a deck full of schticks - these range from standard things (Roy's gets the Greenhilt Sword, Haley gets a Longbow and Sneak Attack, Elan gets a Rapier and Chain Shirt) to amusing things like Belkar's "Probably Evil" and Elan's "Poorly Planned Illusion." You start off with a few schticks and gain more as the game progresses (by trading in loot and slain monsters).

The dungeon is created as you explore it. You go room to room, slaying monsters. There are dungeon room cards and monster cards (in two different decks). The monsters aren't random: they are played against you by other players. Monsters drop loot (another card type). The rules were a bit complicated for a game that centers around stick figures.

Every schtick card and monster card has a small comic on it. Some of them are quite amusing. A lot of the loot is funny as well.

Unfortunately, gameplay was prohibitively long. We opted to go for the game version that was supposed to last 2-3 hours (you can add or subtract dungeon levels to regulate game time), but after five hours we hadn't even made it to the lowest level of the dungeon. The game encouraged a mix of player cooperation and competitiveness, but in our game the competitiveness seemed to win out and we spent some time sniping at each other. I could see the game going more quickly with more cooperation, but the competitiveness was clearly encouraged.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

House rules for a campaign

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about my Sigil Hardboiled campaign idea lately.

Will I run it? Maybe, some day. I haven't had much luck running games of late.

Anyway, I was thinking about the house rules I'd use if I did run it, and thought that the thought-process I went through might be interesting.

First, I go through a period of brainstorming, thinking about the qualities I'd like to see in the game that aren't part of D&D's default assumptions.

I come up with:

a dark and gritty noir-like feel:
  • I don't want characters running around in heavy armor carrying giant weapons. Daggers, light (or hand) crossbows, clubs, and staffs should be the weapons of choice. Wearing a sword (while not illegal) will mark you as a troublemaker, and you'd be treated as such.
  • Combat should be fast and quick, and should occur mainly in darkened rooms and alleys. It should often end with one side running away.
  • Problems should be solvable with or without combat. The "with combat" option should often lead to more complications in the long run. This isn't the sort of game where killing your enemy outright solves everything.
  • Good and evil are much more in shades of gray than in black and white.
an almost entirely urban environment:
  • The city government, such as it is, isn't going to be overrun by the PCs - but many officials are susceptible to bribery.
  • Naturalist-based characters probably won't be appropriate.
  • Stuff that happens outside of the city is rarely as important as things that happen within it - external scenes are largely set pieces.
  • The city should be cosmopolitan and exotic, but known to the PCs (at least on the surface).
characters who are capable and skilled at their jobs, but who aren't god-like:
  • PCs need to be employable, both personality-wise and skill-wise.
  • PCs shouldn't be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, optimistic fools - but neither should they have seen it all already. I imagine the characters to be in the level 5-12 range.
  • PCs should be imperfect heroes placed in even less-perfect situations.

Then lets look at each of these, in turn. I'll come up with one or more house rules (or setting changes/elements) for each.

Weapon choices:
- Much of this can be handled through social pressure, but I don't want to rob characters of their class abilities without giving them something in return. The unarmored Defense Bonus option is a good place to start. Also, giving someone a good reason to use a dagger over a sword would be nice. How about allowing a dagger to be drawn as a swift action, rather than a move action? Alternately, some sort of dagger-specific feat might be created.

Fast combat:
- I want to speed up combat, but I don't want it to be too deadly to PCs. I'm not a fan of pointless character death. Encouraging rogue levels among PCs would be good - starting a combat with sneak attacks is a good way to shorten it. There are a number of methods of simplifying things at the table that I'd use (pre-rolled initiatives on index cards and that sort of thing). I don't know that a specific rule would help here. I do want to make it easier to run away, though. Perhaps allowing a Flee action - a DC 10 (+1 per opponent threatening you) Reflex save will allow you to avoid attacks of opportunity if, as a full-round action, you take a double move out of a threatened square and don't move into any other threatened square.

Problems solvable without combat:
- Wizards made sure that all character classes have something to do in a fight. I want to make sure that they all have something to do in a social situation. Aid Another actions help, but they aren't terribly exciting. Also, given the characters' jobs, they'll probably all need some social skills. I might simply say that characters can choose one skill from the list of (bluff, diplomacy, gather information, intimidate, and sense motive) and treat that as a class skill. I'm probably going to have to increase skill points anyway.

Shades of gray:
-This is more setting than rules. Factions exist, but they do so mainly in the shadows. The Society of Sensation is a social club. The Dustmen are cultists who have infiltrated the morticians guild. The Fraternity of Order is a secret society. Outer planes won't be defined in terms of Lawful/Chaotic/Good/Evil, but rather in terms of Logic/Passion/Peace/Conflict. Many elements of the former will map on to the latter.

City government:
-Again, mostly setting, though I may need to make up some guidelines for bribery. The problem here is less The Lady of Pain than the Dabus. I may make the latter more free-willed most of the time. Perhaps the Dabus are really spirits that possess city employees on occasion. I'll play with it.

Naturalist characters:
-I'd allow the urban ranger variant from UA. I'd also consider an Urban Druid-like character who communes with city spirits or somesuch.

Centrality of the city:
-This is a setting/adventure design thing. I might do something to increase the likelihood that natives of Sigil will somehow end up back in Sigil.

City familiarity:
Knowledge (local) is sort of a pain. It will need some attention. I'd want this reserved for things like knowing about secret societies and legends about things that aren't major landmarks. I don't want PCs to need this in order to locate a tavern, know the name of prominent residents, or know current events.

PC Employability:
No psychopaths. No complete loners. Everyone should have some useful skills - more useful than a specialized Expert, at least. Flexibility is key. I think that starting characters at level 3 would be a minimum. I'm toying with the possibility of allowing characters to be gestalt up to level 3 for increased flexibility - but one side of the gestalt would have to be a class with no magical abilities (rogue, scout, fighter, or swashbuckler, mostly). If I did this and required that, by level 3, the character would have to have at least - say - 30 skill points, then I wouldn't have to worry about increasing skill point allotment.

PC level:
I might play with the advancement rate. If I start them at level 3, I'd allow them to advance normally until level 5 or 6 so that they can advance/customize their character a bit as they begin playing. I'd then slow the advancement so as to stretch out the sweet spot (to level 12ish) that I'd identified. If things made it to that point, I'd figure out where to go from there.

Imperfect heroes:
I'd allow the character traits option, but not flaws. PCs should be distinctive, but not crippled.

Now, I need to go through the points I have above and condense them, stripping out the unnecessary stuff. I also have to address the issue of magic and how to reconcile it with the tone I am seeking.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Strange campaign idea

Character creation guidelines:

One of your parents was a member of Famous Adventuring Party X, that defeated Great Menace A. Famous Adventuring Party X, along with your parent, disappeared when you were very young. You were left in the care of your other parent. When you got old enough you received a letter held in trust for you from your long-lost parent - it told you that you must meet those who would share your destiny on the first day of the year (next) at the Famous Adventurer Tavern. They'd all be wearing red hats. You should wear one too.

The others, of course, are the children of the other members of Party X.

The twist?

There was no Party X, really. It was all one guy - a shapechanger (doppleganger, changeling, wizard with Shapechange, whatever). That one guy did in fact defeat Great Menace A. Maybe he had a party with him at the time and didn't want to admit he was the only survivor. (Alternately, that one guy was Great Menace A, defeated the party, and replaced them.) In any case, he would come into towns as different members of Party X... and, well, had some kids with a bunch of different people (and may have switched genders for some of them). The PCs - who may all be of different races - are actually siblings, though they don't know it.

As they set off to look for their lost parents, perhaps the truth will come out...

Where did I put that beast...?

Okay, if you attack a Displacer Beast and you hit it, you roll a miss chance. Why is it that if you miss you don't roll a hit chance?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shareable on-line character sheet

A month ago, I was ruminating about the possibility of using Google Docs & Spreadsheets to keep an updated character sheet on the web in a way that you can share it with your GM.

You can look at the sheet I've been working on here.

Another neat thing about this: there is a discussion feature. I haven't played with it yet, but it might be a good thing for sending notes back and forth between games.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

d20 Class Creation Rule 3

Rule 3: Don't Delay Gratification

This rule is implicit in Rule 1, but it deserves explicit mention. A class shouldn't be designed such that members of that class are underpowered at low-levels and have to 'pay their dues' in order to access the actually-cool abilities later. Delayed gratification isn't any fun during the delay, and in many games it isn't clear that there will be a "later" in which you will get to reap the benefits of your dues-paying.

On gaming forums, classes are often compared with the assumption that the character will be level 20. This makes little sense to me: in the vast majority of campaigns, even if the character reaches level 20, most of its play-time will be far below that. Moreover, not all characters are played to level 20 - or even to level 3. Keep this in mind when designing the class.

WoAdWriMo: thoughts on adventure design

Over at the WoAdWriMo forum, I alluded to something unusual I was thinking of doing with the adventure I want to write.

In short, the point is to make the adventure useful to as many people as possible. I'd considered statting things out in multiple systems, but realistically, the vast majority of people who would run the adventure would do so in d20 - and, of those who wouldn't, the vast majority are likely familiar enough with d20 to convert it.

Instead, I'm thinking that I will write in support for a wide variety of gaming/campaign styles rather than game systems.

Want to run a political game? A humorous game? A dark, morally ambiguous game? A game with evil PCs? An old-school, trap-filled dungeon romp? A pulpy swashbuckling adventure?

My current plan is to provide advice and encounter alternatives to support as many of these as I can.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Introducing Bart

Angela is planning on running an every-other-Sunday or so D&D game in the old Wraith time slot. She's never run D&D before. She's barely played D&D, really, but she grew up possessing an old 1e Monster Manual, which she loved. She's obsessed with creating ecological and environmental detail and has an encyclopedic knowledge of zoology, which she will use.

In order to take advantage of what I expect her strengths as a DM will be, I decided that I should create a character interested in exploration and animals. The party already includes a druid and a scout, though, and I didn't want to infringe upon other characters' niches. Thus, I decided I would play a chef.1

Bart Fliegenbart2 is the son of a dwarven tavern owner. He grew up in the kitchen, but was stifled by the banal tastes of the typical dwarven palate. Fortunately, he was exposed to travelers who would talk of other lands and their cuisines... and who would occasionally appreciate his creative kitchen concoctions.

Bart has left the hills where he was raised in the hopes of broadening his culinary horizons. He seeks out people of various races to learn what they eat... as well as creatures of various species to learn what they taste like.

1 I like to cook. I've also been reading a lot of Poppy Z. Brite lately.

2 The name is a reference to Clan Fliegenbart, a mad concoction of a series of all-night, mostly-dwarf, marathon games of Warhammer Quest.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Jeff has declared June as Worldwide Adventure Writing Month.

One month.

One ready-to-run adventure.

Any game system.

I'm doing Swamp Castle for D&D: sunken castles, savage lizardfolk, a hidden enemy, and a bard who just wants to sing...