Monday, July 30, 2007
Tomorrow starts a week in New Orleans.
Now is the time to be distracted.
One of the things that I claimed I was going to talk about when I began this blog was morality in gaming. I don't mean the morality of gamers at the gaming table, but rather how gaming can have moral content in various ways. For instance, about a year ago, I wrote an article for the Silven Trumpeter about adding moral complexity to your game as a GM. I need to double-check, but I think I still have the electronic rights to it. If I do, I'll post it here.
Anyway, I have a half-written doctoral thesis on moral epistemology sitting around collecting dust these days. I figure that I should put my academic training to use in some way.
What I am going to talk about right now is lay a bit of groundwork for future discussions by laying out some examples of how different games quantify morality. There are three big options that I've run into:
This is the granddaddy of moral systems. Whether it is the Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic trichotomy of early D&D, the 9-position map of the current system, or one of various offshoots, these methods have a few things in common. First, they are primarily used for mapping morality - they are descriptive in the sense that they indicate an individual's moral position. They have few, if any, tools for creating or managing interaction between a character's morality and elements of the larger game system.
Morality in this system takes on a single value (sometimes 0-10 or 0-100). Humanity in Vampire the Masquerade is one such version of this. Arguably, so is Call of Cthulhu's Sanity, Aberrant's Taint, and the old FASERIP Marvel Super Heroes' Karma. Usually, but not always, there is a threshold below which a character becomes unplayable: your vampire succumbs to the Beast or your investigator becomes one with the straightjacket or whatever. The number attached to morality in these games usually has a good deal of interaction with the game system. In Vampire, humanity determined - among other things - how well you could function during the day. In MSH, Karma acted as both experience and as spendable currency to boost effectiveness of your character. In Aberrant, Taint can be used to buy abilities more cheaply... and higher taint inhibits your ability to deal with normal people. A single-scale morality system is typically fairly simple - characters tend to be rated according to the same criteria. This could lead to some problems, such as the fact that all Karma in MSH was lost if you killed someone... which made playing characters like the Punisher or Wolverine problematic.
Multi-scale virtue systems are similar to single-scale morality systems, except that they have ratings across a number of virtues. Exalted, for instance, uses Compassion, Conviction, Temperence, and Valor - each of which is rated on a scale from one to five. Unknown Armies uses a 5-scale Madness Meter. Like a single-scale morality system, these systems typically interact with the rest of the game mechanics. They are typically a bit more complex than single-scale systems. Also, a peculiarity of these systems is that it isn't always good to have high values in all ratings. An Exalted character with a 5 in any virtue is, essentially, insane.
Some games use multiple systems. Vampire, for instance, uses both single-scale morality and multi-scale virtues.
At this point, I am just describing the major options that I've seen. I'm sure there are others.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Anyway, I was reading a thread on a forum (probably EN World - I don't recall) about how complicated running a d20 PC gets at high levels. Having been there, I can relate. It is even worse to create a PC at a high level... or an NPC. The latter is a huge strain for most DMs.
So, recognizing this as a problem, I began to think of a possible solution...
What if we had a thing called a MegaLevel that was essentially a five-pack of levels (or a 4-pack or whatever)? Each MegaLevel (ML) could consist in a simplified/precalculated set of benefits that you get in five levels of a class.
We could create a 18th level NPC with 3MLs and 3 levels.
I'm not sure how to do this, precisely, but it seems like a neat idea.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
The Good: In general, feats seem a bit simpler.
The Bad: A number of feats have odd prerequisites - mostly ranged attack feats which have strength minimums. The Dodge feat is unchanged from D&D - and is eclipsed by Martial Arts I, which does everything it does plus some other stuff.
The Force: Use the Force is a skill that has some basic abilities attached to it - precognitive flashes, minor telekinesis, and a wee bit of telepathy. In order to make Use the Force checks, you need the Force Sensitivity feat (which Jedi get for free). There are also force points, which function for most PCs like action points but which can be used by people with other force abilities to power them. These other force abilities come in a variety of forms. First, there are Force Talents - these are talent trees open to anyone with the Force Sensitivity feat. Force talents are grouped in the familiar Alter/Sense/Control trio and include things like Force Perception (use your Use the Force skill in place of the Perception skill) and... ummm... some other stuff. Second, there are Force Powers, which you gain by taking the Force Training feat (which gives you your Wisdom modifier in Force Powers. Force Powers are usable once per encounter and include things like Force Grip, Mind Tricks, Force Lightning, and Move Object. Third, there are Force Techniques - special abilities gained by prestige classes at 7th-11th level, and, finally, there are Force Secrets - special abilities gained by prestige classes at 12th level or above. There are some Dark Side mechanics. Some powers (like Force Lightning) automatically increase your Dark Side score. Also, you can pretty easily play a PC who is from a tradition of force users other than the jedi or sith.
The Good: You can do pretty much everything that the Jedi and Sith in the movies did. The Dark Side mechanics are pretty clear without being too intrusive.
The Bad: Force Talents. Force Powers. Force Techniques. Force Secrets. Force Points. Force This. Force That. Confuddling terminology makes me want to cry. Also, the limited use on force powers is sort of weird. Isn't it fairly standard for force users in the movies to throw multiple large objects around in a single scene?
Equipment: There's a fairly straightforward list. There aren't a lot of options, but there are enough to get by on. There's plenty of room for an equipment supplement.
Combat: There is no armor class. Instead, attack rolls are opposed by a character's Reflex Defense (similar to d20's reflex save). Movement is measured in squares (1.5 meters) rather than feet. There are no 5-foot (or 1-square) steps. There are, however, still attacks of opportunity. All characters get damage bonuses based on their character level. Hit points work as in normal d20, but characters get triple-max hp at first level. There is a damage threshold that plays an important role. There are 'condition steps' that remind me a bit of the Storyteller system - these represent things like stunning and such. Things seem streamlined, but I'm not sure how it will play, yet.
Level, redux: It is important to note that character level factors into a lot of things directly (either on a 1-1 or 1/2-1 basis): damage rolls, defenses (Ref, Fort, Will), and skills. On the one hand, this will guarantee a basic competence that can be expected from a character of a given level. On the other, it seems like character level might be the defining characteristic of many characters... which is odd.
The Book Itself: A lot has been made of the size and shape of the book: it is SQUARE and NINE INCHES! I don't really care. The book size and shape is fine. It doesn't bug me. What does bug me is the big fold-out map thing that they stuck in it about 3/4 of the way through. If you're going to do something like that, put it at the end of the book, please.
Coming soon: my thoughts on making a Star Wars Saga Edition PC...
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
For those of you who don't know, this is the new Star Wars rpg that is based off of streamlined d20 rules.
Back in the late eighties, I played a bit of the West End Games d6 version of Star Wars. The books were cool (they still are. I still have them. I love the mock-up ads in them.), and the rules were pretty simple. There were bits of them that didn't really feel like Star Wars to me, though. Skills were very specific. You could be a great droid repairperson without being competent as a starship mechanic. You could be an ace fighter pilot, but not be able to use a landspeeder. That might make sense in a realistic game, but it didn't work for me in the Star Wars universe.
When the d20 rules for Star Wars came out, I wasn't interested. Star Wars and d20 didn't seem like a good mix to me. The d20 system seemed too tactical and number-crunchy to get the fast-and-loose feel of Star Wars pulp.
Now, Wizards has released the Saga Edition, which cuts down significantly on just those aspects of d20 that I don't think fit Star Wars well. The game isn't perfect, but it looks like the best Star Wars rpg yet.
So, what did they do?
Levels: Similar to base d20, with a few exceptions. Every four levels you can increase two abilities by one each instead of one ability by one. Each level you gain a certain number of Force Points. These work a lot like Action Points (from Eberron, d20 Modern, and other places) for most characters, but are used by force sensitive characters to fuel their force powers. Force points don't carry over from level to level.
Good: It works. Leveling up actually fits many peoples conceptions of Star Wars.
Bad: The force point mechanic requires leveling up to occur with a particular frequency, which might not jibe with some people's expectations and playing styles. Also, there are no rules for playing past 20th level - and force points don't really replenish except for leveling up, so 20th level characters will run out of force points without some sort of house rule.
Races: There are a bunch of races: wookies, rodians, quarren, twi'leks, bothans, ewoks, gungans, and others.
Good: There are no level adjustments. The races all seem fairly well-balanced.
Bad: Few of the races are really presented in a way that makes them compelling as PCs. There aren't any rules for making up your own race. There are a few races that are missing, like Tusken Raiders and Jawas.
Classes: There are five base classes - Jedi, Noble, Scoundrel, Scout, and Soldier. There are two 'layers' of prestige classes, one which you can qualify for at 7th level and one which you can qualify for at 12th level. Prestige classes include things like Jedi Knight, Jedi Master, Ace Pilot, Bounty Hunter, and Crime Lord. Multiclassing is expected and does not appear to be penalized. Classes have talent trees, like in d20 Modern. Every level in a class gives you either a talent from a talent tree or a bonus feat from a class-specific list.
Good: The classes cover the basic archetypes that you need. The prestige class implementation looks solid. The classes seem reasonably balanced (with one exception). The Jedi doesn't overshadow everyone else.
Bad: The Scoundrel class is a bit weak compared to the others. They probably ought to have received an extra trained skill. The classes may be a bit too heavy on niche protection. Most character concepts will require some multiclassing.
Skills: There are, I think, 18 skills (not counting multiple knowledge skills). The skills are fairly broad for the most part. The skill list now includes Initiative. Skills in SWSE don't have ranks like they do in normal d20. Instead, your skill roll is 1/2 your character level + ability modifier. You also have a list of class skills - you can pick a certain number of these (depending on your class, you get between 2 and 6 + your Int bonus) as trained skills. You gain a +5 bonus on rolls with trained skills. Also, there are certain skills (or uses of skills) that cannot be used unless the skill is trained. Skill focus (a feat) adds another +5 and can only be taken with trained skills.
Good: The skills are (mostly) nicely broad. Balance, Escape Artist, and Tumble have been grouped into Acrobatics. Bluff, Disguise, and Forgery are now Deception. Hide, Move Silently, and Sleight of Hand are now Stealth. The skills themselves have a wide variety of uses. Use the Force is a skill (and is well-done as one), but it requires a feat (Force Sensitivity) to use. If your Intelligence is raised by leveling, you get additional trained skills retroactively.
Bad: For some reason; Climb, Jump, and Swim are still separate skills (why not Athletics?). (I also think Ride ought to have been grouped in with Survival, but I can deal with that.) The way in which trained skills are acquired is somewhat limiting. As far as I can tell, you simply can't take a non-class skill as trained - so if you want to play, for example, an acrobatic character you need to take levels in either Jedi or Scoundrel. Also, having Skill Focus in a skill means that you have at least a +10 in it. At relatively low levels, it is a simple matter to have a +14 to a skill roll, which makes DC 15 tasks automatic and DC 20 tasks fairly trivial. A lot of tasks are DC 15 or 20.
to be continued...
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
That's okay for armies, I guess, but (without funky class abilities) it seems pointless for a PC to be mounted. The only PCs that I hear about who are largely mounted characters are (1) Paladins and (2) characters who utterly twink out the benefits of the double-damage on a mounted charge weapons. In part, this is because a mount is a liability - they are fragile and potentially expensive. In order to make use of one well, you need to invest in the Ride skill and in a number of feats.
Some possible fixes:
- When mounted, you do not provoke attacks of opportunity from unmounted opponents smaller than your mount (though your mount may).
- On a mounted charge, you may substitute your mount's strength for your own when calculating melee damage. Alternately, on a mounted charge, you do not take a penalty to AC (though your mount does).
- Fold the benefits of Ride-by Attack into the Mounted Combat Feat. Currently, the mounted combat feat (1) just overcomes the inherent weakness of having a mount, (2) doesn't actually improve your combat ability while mounted, (3) relies upon a high Ride score, and (4) acts as a speed-bump. I want mounted combat to be viable without a huge feat investment.
- Create a new feat (replacing or building off of Ride-by Attack) that allows you to take attacks of opportunity more easily when mounted vs. unmounted opponents smaller than your mount. One possibility:
Ride-By Attack [General]That last feat might be too good, though it does get at some of the big advantages of being mounted. A mounted tactical feat might be better.
Ride 1 rank, Mounted Combat.
When you are mounted, you may take a full-round action to make a ride-by attack. Your total movement for the round can’t exceed your normal mounted speed. When you move into a square where you threaten an opponent who is unmounted and smaller than your mount, that opponent provokes an attack of opportunity from you. You and your mount do not provoke an attack of opportunity from any opponent that you attack. You can take a number of attacks of opportunity equal to your normal allotment or one-half your ranks in Ride, whichever is less. When making a ride-by attack you do not get to take a normal melee attack.
A fighter may select Ride-By Attack as one of his fighter bonus feats.
Mind you, my personal horseback experience, though not nonexistent, is minimal. I'm basing this off of the depiction of mounted combat that I see in books and movies and such... which is more along the lines of what the rules should be modeling anyway.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I really want to go this year. I don't know if it will happen. It ought to. Angela is going. She and Grace have a table in the art show, and will - hopefully - be selling much art. Anyway, that means I have a place to stay in Indianapolis (not that I would need one in a pinch - it is only two hours away).
The problem? I'm moving 'in August' - I may or may not be quasi-homeless for two weeks at the beginning of August (depending on whether we can finesse move-in times). Also, I have a conference in New Orleans in the beginning of August. I used to live there, but haven't been back since Katrina hit. I'd like to extend that conference with some vacation time... but moving... and GenCon.
There's no real point to this post. I was frustrated and needed to vent. Thank you for letting me vent in your general direction, Internet. You're a good friend.
Monday, July 09, 2007
The original vision for Worldwide Adventure Writing Month, as I understand it from Jeff, was to create a bank of quality free adventures on the web. Making it a "month" was partially for publicity and partially for writer solidarity.
I think that maybe, though, the month-format worked against it more than for it. A significantly larger number of people expressed interest in WoAdWriMo than have finished. Some of those, like myself, are still working on their adventures. I suspect, though, that most of them just stopped when they realized that they weren't going to make their deadline.
That seems to run contrary to the point.
My thought? We could use an Internet Adventure Archive. Ideally, I'd see each adventure in the archive with a forum that people could post reviews, playtest results, and suggestions in... or even supplemental material. The authors could post there, too, to answer questions and the like.
As part of this, we could have an Adventure Writers community - where authoring tips and suggestions are made. WoAdWriMo could reside in this community, but the idea would be that the community would function year-round. WoAdWriMo would be the annual 'event' of the community.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Yesterday was fairly productive, Gourm-wise. I wrote quite a bit. I'd hit a bit of a snag in terms of how to present a section of the adventure, but Angela and I went and talked it out over late-night coffee, and it seems to be gelling.
Essentially, there's a town of goblins - a few hundred goblins, some of whom have a not-insignificant number of class levels. It would be a bad idea for the PCs to kick in the door and take them all on (in part, this has to do with there not being a door). I had to come up with some ways of conveying this to the PCs and then anticipate how they'd handle the town... and then figure out how to present the town in a way that will make it run smoothly for the GM regardless of what the PCs choose to do.
Hopefully, I'll finish up that section early on this week.
Friday, July 06, 2007
The big difference? The way you learn, prepare, and regain the ability to use maneuvers is different than spells... and, in my mind, superior. The 'daily use' of spells has always bugged me. It would be rather easy, though, to plug spells in for maneuvers and get a Bo9S-style magic system.
Each of the three classes in Bo9S each treat preparation and recovery of maneuvers differently, and these could easily be adapted to different magical styles.
The swordsage knows a ton of maneuvers. It takes the swordsage a substantial amount of time, however, to change the maneuvers she has prepared or recover the ones she's used. This is analagous to a wizard. The wizard under this system could stop and read her spellbook to change prepared spells or re-prepare spells.
The warblade knows few maneuvers, but can use them near-constantly. This is analogous to a sorcerer or warlock. Such a character might need to spend a single round concentrating or somesuch to recover their magical energy in full.
The crusader knows several maneuvers, but doesn't have full control over which are available at any given time. This is actually a pretty cool style in play, since it encourages creativity. It would match up well to a wild mage sort of character.
I'm also a fan of how maneuvers are learned. Some high level maneuvers have prerequisites - they might be other specific maneuvers, or they might be things like 'two other maneuvers of this school.' This makes sense for spells as well.
'Caster level' under this system would also benefit. Bo9S characters have an effective 'caster level' equal to their level in the martial class + 1/2 their other character levels. This makes multiclassing significantly easier.
The upshot of these changes would be more flexible spellcasting that could feel different for different styles of caster.
I wouldn't be averse to putting spells into narrow schools like the Bo9S styles, but that would be a lot of work.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
OK. There are occasions when using it can be fun - usually when the GM puts his own interpretation onto the cards. I've seen a version of it show up in a Mage game where the the draws resulted in the start of a major campaign arc.
Usually, though, the results of a draw from the deck are either insignificant or utterly change your character in a random way.
Where is the fun in that?
A lot of people like the Deck, though. I think this is more due to its form rather than its function. Part of the appeal, I think, is the ability to use actual decks of cards as props. People like drawing cards and having unique effects attached to each card. The Deck of Many things is pretty much the only standard D&D magic item that falls into this category. Sure, there's the Deck of Illusions - but the cards there all have more-or-less the same effect.
I think there's plenty of room for more card-deck magic items out there. Any ideas?
Monday, July 02, 2007
I mean, it would have to be in order to make it to day 32, right?
As predicted, I didn't finish my WoAdWriMo adventure. I have a good bit done with it, and I am fairly happy with what I do have (but I still need to add a couple of action scenes to the first section based in the town). Will July see it completed? Almost certainly.
Anyway, for those loyal folks who have been staying with me, take a look at the lovely prestige class I wrote up:
To qualify to become a wretched butcher, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.
Intimidate 7 ranks, Sense Motive 5 ranks.
Skill Focus (Intimidate)
The character must kill someone and mutilate their corpse as an example to others.
The wretched butcher's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Balance (Dex), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Hide (Dex), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Listen (Wis), Move Silently (Dex), Open Lock (Dex), Search (Int), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Spot (Wis), Tumble (Dex), and Use Rope (Dex).
Skill Points at 1st Level
(4 + Int modifier) ×4.
Skill Points at Each Additional Level
4 + Int modifier.
The following are class features of the wretched butcher prestige class.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency
The wretched butcher is proficient in the use of all simple and martial weapons, as well as with the whip. Cutthroats are proficient with light armor, but not with shields.
Table: The Wretched Butcher
Horrific attack, Atrocious strike +1d6
Horrific insight, Friend to Fear
Sustained Horror, Atrocious strike +2d6
Virtuoso of Terror, Atrocious strike +3d6
Horrific Attack (Ex)
A wretched butcher who makes a successful attack upon an opponent may attempt to demoralize that opponent (via the intimidation skill) as a free action.
Atrocious Strike (Ex)
A wretched butcher learns to take advantage of the fear others feel for him, and is able to strike demoralized foes for extra damage.
The wretched butcher's melee attack deals extra damage any time he strikes a foe who is suffering from the shaken, frightened, or panicked conditions. This extra damage is 1d6 at 1st level, and it increases by 1d6 every two class levels thereafter. Should the wretched butcher score a critical hit with an atrocious strike, this extra damage is not multiplied.
An atrocious strike cannot be used with a ranged attack. If used with an attack that deals nonlethal damage, the extra damage dealt is lethal.
Horrific Insight (Ex)
A wretched butcher who studies a victim for at least 1 minute may make a Sense Motive check with a DC equal to 10+the victim's Will Save. If the wretched butcher succeeds, he may add his Intelligence bonus to his Intimidate checks against that victim for 1 day.
Friend to Fear (Ex)
At second level, a wretched butcher may substitute an Intimidate check for his Will Save against all fear effects.
Sustained Horror (Ex)
When a wretched butcher demoralizes an opponent, she remains shaken for a number of rounds equal to the wretched butcher's class level.
Wretched Tableau (Ex)
When a wretched butcher successfully makes a horrific attack, all enemies within sight must succeed at a Will save with a DC equal to the wretched butcher's Intimidate check or be affected by the demoralization just as the opponent struck.
Virtuouso of Terror (Ex)
At fifth level, when a wretched butcher successfully attacks an opponent he has already demoralized, that opponent becomes frightened for 1d4 rounds.