Monday, January 28, 2008


This is part one of a follow-up to my last post.

I've been thinking more about size and its effect upon combat in d20. I've come to a couple of preliminary conclusions. Primary among these is that the scaling of everything relative to "Medium" size and the 5' square is a source of many problems. Here's a simple fix that probably raises a host of other issues (including lots of CR-shifting), but is pretty neat nonetheless:

Everything has a "Base Square" - a medium sized creature's base square is 5', a large creature's base square is 10', a huge creature's is 15', etc.

The base square is the space taken up by a creature.

A creature can take a step to an adjacent base square (formerly a 5' step).

A creature can make an attack on an adjacent base square. To do so, it makes an attack roll against every creature in that square. Those hit may attempt to avoid the attack by making a reflex save vs a DC equal to the attacker's to hit result.

Friday, January 25, 2008


One of the things that made me pretty happy about 3.x D&D was that they made monster attacks more on-par with PC attacks. In earlier versions of the game, for ever time my Thief tried to stab a monster, it could attack me multiple times depending upon how many natural weapons it had. Dragons, with their two claws, bite, wing buffets, and tail slaps, were about the worst.

What bothered me about this wasn't that monsters were dangerous, but that even 'slow' monsters were often faster on the attack than I was.

It looks like 4e is going to bring back a bunch of attacks each round for "solo" monsters (Case in point: see this excerpt from Worlds and Monsters about 4e dragons).

I can understand the desire here. When a group of PCs fight a single big monster with one attack/round, it isn't always as exciting as it could be.

In the ridiculous/epic/gestalt/Greyhawk/Ragnarok campaign, we fought one of these guys. Go look at it. Be sure to check out the picture. See those little things flying around it? Those are huge white dragons. Anyway, this fight should have been a lot tougher than it was... but big, sentient glacierthings don't get too many attacks... so we took it down pretty quickly.

Really, though, the answer isn't to give it more attacks or to give it immediate reactive attacks or something like that. The answer is...

Well, go back and look at the thing. The answer is pretty obvious:
  • How the hell do you attack it? Unless its name is Achilles, stabbing it in the heel isn't going to do much good. Really, stabbing it at all isn't going to be much more effective than someone eight inches tall stabbing you with a needle. It might hurt, but it will mostly just be annoying.
  • You and your party-mates charge the thing. You have the party tanks on either side of you. The great beast claws you... but not the guys standing 5' to either side of you... despite the fact that its hand is the size of a bus?
So, lessons:

Make it so that you have to get into position to be effective. You might have to climb the thing (see Shadow of the Colossus). You might need to find the loose scale (see The Hobbit). There are all kinds of possibilities.

Area effect attacks: big things should hit big, not fast.

Note the combination of these two things can make for an exciting fight. PCs need to get in position to attack, but they want to stay spread out so that they don't present an easy target. When you have area-dependent buffs or touch-dependent healing, this adds to the tactical considerations. Fighting a big thing should be different.

The Unholy Trifecta

One week and I will be free.

I'm seriously considering ZeFRS (or a tweaked version thereof) for running the Thundarr/Exalted game.

One unlikely benefit of this?

I think it comes pretty darn close to the Retro-Stupid-Pretentious ideal of Jeff's Threefold Model.

Retro: ZeFRS: a game system out of the 1980s

Stupid: Thundarr: doesn't get much stupider

Pretentious: Various bits: Exalted, my bizarre insistence on a coherent cosmology and theory of magic, and my likely tweaking of the game system to include some funky stunt-mechanics.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Work is still being atrocious. I have today off for MLK Day... which means I get to sit in front of my computer at home working on this grant rather than sit in front of my computer at work doing it. This does have advantages, don't get me wrong, but it is hardly a day off.

This thing will be over before the end of the month. I am looking forward to February, which promises to be cool.

February 8-10 is Winter War, the local gaming convention. Despite living here since 2001, I've never been to one of these. (Admittedly, I didn't know about it for the first few years... and then I was told that it was all historical wargaming...) I am going to go this year. It is close enough to my home that I could walk there. I have no excuse. I should also find out about the auction - and whether it is the sort of thing where Angela could enter some of her boxes for dice and stuff.

February 14-17 is Capricon. Angela and Grace have a table in the dealers' room. I'm going to go and help and hang out and stuffs. I'm not entirely sure what I'll do there, but it should be fun.

I'm hoping that our Wednesday night group will reconvene come February. That would rock.

Also in February: More actual content in this blog! Less of me whining about work! Hurrah!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Elminster Temptation

When I wrote the post on Arcane Texts of the Second Age, I was very tempted to create an NPC in the setting - a wizard who used psychology texts upon human animae in the way that other wizards use tech manuals on techgods.

Then I stopped myself. Yeah. Its a cool idea - but it could be a PC (or a major villain in a campaign). I think that it is easy for setting designers to fall in love with their settings to the point that they need to create virtual PCs. Yes, you need NPCs in a setting - but you need to be careful (1) that they don't overshadow the PCs and (2) that they don't use up cool concepts that should be reserved for PCs.

I'm not sure that the concept I came up for should be a PC, but the thought that it could be gave me pause... and I thought it notable.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

UPS: the big question

Does everything become a power?

It could. I could do away with a separate skill list and set of ability scores and instead have a list of universally-available "everyman" powers.

Do I want to go that route?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Notes toward a Unified Power System

In my spare moments, my mind has been wandering in the direction of my wishes for a 4e d20 system that expands on the Book of Nine Swords.

Here's what I'm thinking so far:

Each power would be located in a category (something like a spell school) and assigned a power level. It is conceivable that a single power might end up in multiple categories.

Magical categories could include things like Fire Magic, Shadow Magic, Healing Magic, Divination, Illusion, Necromancy, etc.

Non-magical categories could focus upon specific fighting techniques or skill sets (e.g., Swashbuckling, Lancer, Combat Brute, Unarmed Combat (in various styles), Stealth, Loremaster, etc.)

The trick will be balancing things like a non-magical Stealth category against something like Shadow Magic. I can think of a couple of ways of doing it, but I'm undecided. I'm leaning toward magic (1) having some thematic drawbacks and (2) being less flexible and repeatable. I might move a bit more toward 'at will' uses for mundane skills and 'per encounter' uses for magical skills. I'm thinking that one way of doing this is to have each power define its own refresh terms.

Powers would be of six types:

Actions are instantaneous (or near-instantaneous) effects initiated by the user. These are often attacks, but also include things like unlocking doors, turning water into wine, or catching a glimpse of your enemy's thoughts.

Empowerment provides something (including, possibly, yourself) with a property it would not normally have. This includes relatively mundane things like inspiring a sense of readiness in your allies, as well as things like magically fortifying a door or increasing your physical strength. Magical healing is typically an empowerment.

Manifestations are typically magical. They create something - a wall of flame, an illusion of an army, or a gust of wind - that was not there before.

Reactions are much like actions, but they take place only in response to specific external stimuli. A featherfall spell is a reaction, as is a parry or riposte.

Rituals are complex and often consume both time and resources, but they may combine more than one type of action - or even more than one category of action.

Visages are similar to empowerments, but they affect only the user and may include drawbacks as well as enhanced abilities. They typically last for a significantly longer time than empowerments.

Heroes of the Second Age

So... who are the PCs in a Second Age campaign?

PCs are individuals who have learned (consciously or unconsciously) to empower their anima and/or affect the spirit world. These fall, roughly, into three categories:

1. Those who have learned techniques (through study, natural talent, or happenstance) to manipulate the spirit world. Wizards fall into this category.

2. Those who have entered into some sort of pact with a true god, and have had their anima tied to that of a god, receiving some of its power. The most common such pact involves promising worship, but there are many possibilities (spreading the god's name elsewhere, selling your soul, undertaking some task on the god's behalf, etc.).

3. Those who have, unconsciously, learned to strengthen their anima over time. This might be due to increasing self-awareness, skill, confidence, or fame (or some combination of the above). Many people do this to some degree, but there are those who become capable of superhuman feats.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Necromancy in the Second Age

Upon death, the spirit of a living thing shatters. Shreds of it stay with the physical remains, becoming the spirit of the corpse (or the spirits of the pieces of it). What happens to the rest varies. In some cases, however, it is known to remain more-or-less intact as a free-floating spirit, or ghost. Other times, the shattering of the spirit happens along less neat lines. Usually, this results in one or more ghost-like entities that have varying degrees of sentience. Rarely (but notably), a piece of the animating spirit stays with the body, resulting in a ghoulish animated corpse.

Through necromantic magic, shreds of animae (usually collected in places where much death has occurred) can be forced to join with the inanimae of corpses, resulting in animated corpses. Alternately, some necromancers can tie their own spirits to the inanimae of corpses, controlling them remotely as gruesome extensions of their own body.

It is possible to use such techniques to bring the dead back to life - finding the pieces of their spirit and carefully putting them back together with those of a healed corpse. This works better when done closely to the time and place of death, as the pieces of the shattered spirit will be easier to retrieve and suffered less deterioration. These rituals are difficult - and dangerous. If some of the spirit-pieces are lost or damaged, the result may involve the resurrection of something that is incomplete and, possibly, not fully alive.

Monday, January 07, 2008


I will have my life back.


Next up: Necromancy in the Second Age

Friday, January 04, 2008

Arcane Texts of the Second Age

Spirits are governed by the laws that created their hosts. For the spirits of living things and the spirits of nature, these are simply the laws of the natural world itself. The true gods are the spirits of concepts, themselves, and would not exist but for the ideas in the minds of mankind - which is why they feed off of the attention - whether it be worship, fear, love, or hatred - of men.

The techgods, however, are different. Their hosts were created intentionally, following certain rules laid out by men. These rules can sometimes be found in ancient tomes: science texts, technical manuals, electronics handbooks, and user guides. If you find the correct book, and you learn these rules, you can use them to gain tremendous power over a techgod. Wizards often seek out these texts...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Experience Equation

Rate of Character Advancement = 1 / Character Capability

Something like this was an assumption of early D&D, but it has been lost. In today's D&D, as it is meant to be played, you advance a level every 11 balanced encounters or so, and each level is roughly balanced with every other.

Who knows what tomorrow's D&D will bring? Well... we might have some ideas. They've suggested that the level advancement rate is still constant, but that the "sweet spot" has been extended. To me, this (along with hints that multiclassing is a wholly different thing than it once was) suggests that they may have abandoned the idea of keeping the difference between different levels constant. This isn't a post about 4e, though. This is a post about the Experience Equation - and why something like it is a good thing.

The basic idea: With the Experience Equation, you can give someone the choice of playing a novice or a veteran. The veteran is more capable, but less flexible in development - he's going to advance very slowly. The novice is rewarded for being less capable at the beginning by advancing more rapidly. D&D recognizes this even in its current incarnation, though there it is instituted through the Challenge Rating system, which has always felt a bit clunky to me.

The advanced idea: Character Capability is not necessarily the same thing as Experience Level (or its equivalent in other games). I've been thinking a bit about that one-on-one gaming thing. Combat in a one-on-one game can be pretty deadly - particularly because the game wasn't really designed to support it. Why not give your player a bit more meta-control? Give your player an unlimited number of Action Points. Allow them to be spent for something like Second Wind in the Star Wars Saga Edition (an instantaneous healing thing). The catch? Every time you spend an Action Point, your experience for that encounter is divided in half.

Other applications? I'm sure there are a ton.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

I was woken this morning by a car alarm going off. Repeatedly. I think it started around 8am. Last I heard it was not too long ago. This is not fun. The thought of taking a sledgehammer outside was tempting, even given the warmth of bed. I feel for those of my neighbors with champagne-induced hangovers.

I don't generally do the New Year's Resolution thing, but I hereby resolve to finish one of my big gaming projects.