Wednesday, January 30, 2013

D&D bow houserules

Tired of shooting that bow over the same distance for the same amount of damage? Here are some house rules to change the way bows work. I'll talk about STR, DEX and CON and how they work to turn bows into a more personalized weapon.

I love bows. I love the silence, the skill, and the stealth behind using them. I want my characters to feel it too. So I think bows should work side to side with the character's skills to make him something different. I really like characters that are fleshed out, that have something in particular that makes them stand out. That's why I sat down to make a set of house rules so not all bows feel the same. So here it goes.

I'm going to work with STR, DEX and CON. STR will work with the bow's damage, DEX with the bow's aim and CON with the bow's range. The idea is that higher strength gives you more draw-weight, CON allows for a longer pull (since you tire down slower) and DEX gives you the well know aim.

Lets start with strength. Simple rule is STR adds to your damage. Attribute bonuses are added to the arrow's damage. This represents your character's ability to pull much heavier bows and using heavier arrows that, having more momentum, produce more damage.

Your character's CON increases the weapons range by 10ft per bonus (might want to change it to 5ft for some rules). So an attribute bonus of +2 increases your bow's short/base range by 20ft. This is a representation of being able to do a longer pull on the bow without becoming tired. It's not very realistic ballistics wise, but it represents the long years of training your character has and the benefits this gives on improved character endurance.

DEX adds to your character's ability to aim the bow correctly. This adds the character's DEX bonus to the to hit roll. You're better and sharper at leading the bow on the target so you get a steadier and more precise aim that improves your hit.

Finally there's one extra rule. Damage drops by range. At short range you get the weapon's full damage. Medium range you have a -1 penalty to damage and long range applies a -2 penalty to damage. This will cause some "noise" with version using range increments as per 3.x, but I'm more of the S/M/L range era.

An optional rule is to change range for rate of fire. Cutting range by half allows your character to add one extra attack per round. Sure, that makes medium range into long, but if your character has the stats to compensate for range it can be very good to have that extra attack, no matter the range. For example a character with a bow ranging 60ft might want to cut the range in half because his +2 from CON gives him a 20ft gain. Bringing it back to 50ft range and one extra attack per round.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Dog Throw - The disruptive 2d10

The 2d10 can generate numbers in a range similar to 1d20, but without the linear distribution that characterizes 1d20. This is handy when you want to favor certain rolls over others. With a d20 a player is as equally prone to roll 1 than 5 than 15 or 20. So the odds for outstanding success and utter failure are the same. In life this is generally not the case. If a character is good at something he would expect to be good at it most of the time, not fumble it for no apparent reason. It makes me wonder how come characters don't end up neurotic or just completely mad.

Unfortunately the 2d10 has a drawback, each step isn't exactly separated by 5% chance of success or failure. This makes it complicated for GMs who are used to 5% steps to adjust probabilities.

The distribution for 2d10 compared to 1d20 looks like this:

Roll % 2d10 % 1d20
2 1 10
3 3 15
4 6 20
5 10 25
6 15 30
7 21 35
8 28 40
9 36 45
10 45 50
11 55 55
12 64 60
13 72 65
14 79 70
15 85 75
16 90 80
17 94 85
18 97 90
19 99 95
20 100 100

It has a very low probability of rolling low numbers, 6% of rolling 4 or less compared to 20% on the d20, and similarly for values 17 or higher. This makes it a terrible option if you play games that require to hit a certain high value like some 18 or 19 armor value. It will be very hard for players to roll that high.

On the other hand 2d10 favors skill and adds predictability to the game. Lets change the rules a little and say a hit is achieved on a roll of 12 or higher. So our character fails on a roll of 11 or less, which is 55% for both 2d10 and 1d20. If the character enjoys a +1 modifier to hit, then an 11 is required and the odds of failing are equal to rolling a 10 or less. This amounts to 45% on 2d10 and 50% on d20. A skilled character has less probability of failing with 2d10, but this early benefit is offset by a slower progression later on. While the d20 continues to gran 5% benefits on every plus after +5 the 2d10 begins to give less and less for each plus. Meaning it becomes harder to get good the better the character already is. Which is, ironically, may be seen as a good thing. I certainly believe greater progression should have considerably greater cost. Don't you think?

So 2d10 has some really good benefits, like a non linear distribution that gives some predictability to the rolls and makes higher modifiers have less benefit. On the other hand it makes rolling a 20 an event one in one hundred, so forget about using it in classic d20 systems. It would simply mean a complete rewrite of all the combat mechanics.

So, as a player or GM have you played games that use such a roll? As a designer have you considered it as part of your mechanics? Yes, no, why? I make strong use of it in the combat and skill mechanics and would like to know what others think of this die roll.

Image is a 3D printable item you can acquire here:

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Dog Throw

So I'll be posting a series of articles that talk about die rolls and probability, I've decided to call "The Dog Throw", a Roman term for what we nowadays call snake eyes. I'll be diving deeper into the probability curves of Era dice mechanics. Doing a lot of number crunching and publishing things I find out in these blog posts. Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy doing the tests and discovering how these mechanics interact.

If you liked the image you can get your dice here:

DMing with a copilot, Next's goals

Is D&D Next offering too many options? After reading today's post by Mike Mearls I'm under the impression that something akin to RPG "simple user interface" is very distant from their priority list. He mentions dials, but shouldn't it just have one dial on the "lets play" scale that goes up to 11? Will so many dials require a coGM and campaign-engineer akin to the old time airliners? (image cockpit 707)

The article left me asking myself if building my own RPG is what I really want. More importantly, do I want to go through this "dialing" process with my gaming group, and how does this affect online gaming? If I have my own personal "dial settings" for D&D, how does that add to the setup time on G+?

As noble a cause as it may seem I think Mike Mearls is missing the point. Building three levels of game is a noble cause. I'd even go as far as supporting the basic and standard. Keeping the basic as an entry point with a small learning curve, but the advanced rules with so many options and dials is a bit too much.

Rules that affect the core, may not work together, haven't been playtested together (read emerging dynamics here) and have pretty much a "use under your own risk" sign, sounds like lots of add-ons and many many dials to turn and adjust. Gives me the feeling of a "user interface nightmare", something as a GM I'd like to stay away from if I hope to keep my sanity and that of my online players.

Anyone else see this coming as an issue not only to adjust your own game, but to relate to other online players and a real game stopper for G+ Hangout gaming?


Do RPGs share the same fate as stars?

The more I read into this month's Legend and Lore the more I ask myself if D&D Next will implode itself into a black hole. Is WotC "nuclear fuel" running out and will all the piling of extra features be too much for a suffering core system to handle?

As I read more and more of Mike Mearls' Legend and Lore series this month I can't see another way out. The opening article of his D&D Next design goals series sounded pretty much like last year's D&D Next launch article. His latest article posted today doesn't bring anything refreshingly new to the table and does add a great deal of extra baggage.

It's easy to do more with more, and that's what D&D Next promises. More rules, more additions, more this and more that. What I want is a game that allows me to do more with less. Less rules, less tables, less reading necessary for play. I said this a few months ago: I have the money, but I don't have the time. Give me something I'll pay for to get playing now, not in three months when I finish reading the books.

Now some may say that's what the basic version of D&D is for, and I'd agree, except for one thing: it's still d20. There are many who will say D&D is d20, myself included. I can't imagine D&D without d20, but I also can't imagine more complex rules based on the linear probability curve of the d20. It is my strong belief that the more stuff you pile on top of d20 to go from basic to standard and later on to advanced, the more prone to having the whole thing collapse. The d20 system is good, but it doesn't have that punch, that "nuclear fuel" that can power a bigger star. Without the outward pressure of a hotter more intense core a bigger star just collapses into a black whole. Will this be Next's fate?

It is my opinion that WotC should break away from d20, as much as that may hurt, and step away from that reductionist design methodology they love to use. The one that justifies all those rule books they love to print. Instead they should use simpler rules which interact with each other in a way that produces emergence in the game. That means simple rules that lead to complex patterns emerging instead of endless rule books that try to describe those complex patterns.

Finally I'd like to add, please, do not make two distinct rule sets. Sadly he's hinting at it when he says:

"Options in the final category—ones that alter the core in a fundamental way—are best used one at a time or with careful consideration for their interaction. Since they alter the core, they might not work well together. When we design them, we'll always assume that they are the lone, engine-altering option you're using. That path allows us to keep our sanity and also makes it more practical to implement such rules. A hit location table is one thing, but making one that also accounts for armor as damage reduction requires far more work."

I read it the following way : "We're aware all the other stuff (basic and standard) might not be enough and actually slow down play as more and more 'modules' are added, so we'll include some grass root changes to the game we really don't care to playtest too much, so use at your own risk since we evaluated them as 'stand alone' only, good luck."

They should make Next be "Next", something really new that moves away from classic D&D. For those of us who like d20, they should have reprints and be done with it. To do otherwise they risk ending up with a system "contaminated" with the past and without sufficiently new stuff to compel current players to buy the new edition.

Is this a D&D Next only issue or do you think other games suffer the same fate as their "novelty" runs out? What's the fix?


Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Dog Throw - Die roll usability

This is the first of many blog posts that have been swirling in my head for the last months. Posts about dice and rolls, the math behind them and how to simplify things for the end user, aka players and GM. So my first post is going to be about usability and what I found important when selecting the die rolls for my game.

What is die roll usability? I'd define it as the ease of completing the following three elements:

Learnability : Is the mechanism easy to learn, will the user be able to quickly begin completing the primary, routine tasks? For example attack rolls, skill checks, etc.

Efficiency : How well can the aforementioned tasks be completed? Maybe the mechanism is easy to learn, but requires adding too many numbers which slows down things or too many table lookups.

Adaptability : As much as game designers may work to look into and document every scenario at some point the players and GMs will have to dive in and adapt the game. Is the mechanism clear enough so the players and GMs know what they're doing when they're fiddling with the numbers?

What do you look for in a game's dice mechanics? What makes it a win or lose when it comes to usability on your tabletop?

If you liked the image you can get your dice here:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Who's arrows did you recover?

It would seem that recovering arrows after an encounter isn't as easy as I though and for reasons I wasn't aware of and that buying arrows in a town you just passed may not be so fitting. I'm no bow expert, not even by a long shot (no pun intended), but doing some research for the bow and crossbow mechanics I've stumbled onto some interesting things I'd like to share which can be turned into some interesting plot twisting ideas. Getting the party to make an unexpected journey to some town, or curb their path a little by means of these.
It has just come to my knowledge that bows are more effective at making arrows fly the heavier the arrow is. So a light arrow will have less energy transferred into it and the bow will vibrate a lot more than when a heavier arrow is used. Take for example the following graph:

The blue line is the kinetic energy and the red line is the momentum. It is interesting to notice how the kinetic energy increases as the arrow weight increases. Under first impression this should not be so. After all the bow is like a spring and the energy it has depends on the pull being done. For the same pull distance the same amount of energy is stored in it. It can't create more energy simply because it has a heavier (yet same length) arrow notched in it. So the conclusion is the bow is more efficient in transferring its stored energy to the arrow when using a heavier arrow. Obviously the arrow weight has to be within the ranges for the bow. This bow is 60 lbs, a 70 lbs bow's graph uses higher weight values, going up to 1400 grains (see image reference below).

So how does this come into play? I really dislike having to waste too much time keeping track of things. It can lead to too much paperwork that doesn't add to the adventure. But when I stumble upon stuff like this I like to take note of it and keep it in mind for future use.

Under the assumption that the party member have bows, the arrows would have been built to better fit their particular bow (this is the general abstraction). When they stocked up in town before leaving for the adventure they got just the right arrows for their bows. No real worries there, they had the time and money to get just the right stuff.

Move forward a few days if not weeks and the party is now beginning to feel the strain of ammunition. They've recovered arrows as players usually do and kept on. But say you want to slow them down, need them to take a turn in the adventure or you're just seeing them go the wrong way. Here are a few ideas based on a simple rule that improper arrows will have some sort of penalty when used:

  • The arrows you just took from the orcs are ok, but they're not the right weight for your bows. You'll be shooting at -1 to hit (or damage) as long as you don't restock. Modifiers may vary. You may hint that the party do something to get better arrows.
  • You've come to a small town, but the local smith doesn't have just the right arrows for your bow. He can build them for you, but it will take him a few days. This way you can stall the party for a few days and maybe create an event in town that contributes to the adventure, a raid, some merchant passing through, a "natural" event (of divine source), etc.
  • You've come to a small town, but the smith suggests that you travel to another nearby one to get the arrows of the type you need. He doesn't have the material for such type of arrows or would take too long to get. This can help you lead the party in another direction.
  • The fighter's and the rogue's bows are quite different given their size and strength. One's arrows does not fit the other's. They can't share ammo so the rogue needs to get more somehow. This can be used to promote other activities for a player who is always shooting from the rear.
  • You want a particular character to use the magical arrows the party just found. Make the arrow's weight fit that character's bow. All other characters have a penalty when using them.

Overall the scarcity of arrows should not be a game stopper nor a reason to stall the game with undue paperwork. But in certain situations the weight difference and effectiveness of an arrow can be used by the GM to lead the adventure without having to pull the party by the nose.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

D&D classics must buy, classic musty smell

So WotC scored a hit today by relaunching it's pdf online store. There is no doubt it's been a total success, but as the euphoria goes away and things settle back those pdfs, even when printed, will lack that thing that distinguishes them from the real thing.

See here I am with my original 1978 Tomb of Horrors module.

There's something that print has that you can't get with your pdf. Nope it's not the worn out tape holding it together. Not the worn out edges either. It's the musty smell!

For that you can acquire for only $9.99 extra Smell of Book's Classic Musty Smell

Make your newly printed PDFs smell like the real thing. Tell your buddies of those countless adventures playing the module you just printed. That's right, rough the printout a little, add some tape and let it dry in the sun for two days, apply Smell of Books "Classic Musty" and dream yourself the great DMimg adventures you wish you've had.

 (I wonder why WotC didn't bundle it with its pdfs, it would've been a killer)

Also from Smell of Books, enjoy a true Tuesday:

And a RPG Saturday can not go by without:

Or buy them all in a great savings bundle and make your DnD classic, retro, OD&D weekend one to remember.

D&D's bow breaks the fighter

Weapon design should be taken seriously even if D&D is only a game. I'm going to show how the current bow model in D&D negatively affects the fighter. Some may say that overly realistic weapon models may slow down game, that this is the way it's always been, that it's only a game and so many other reasons to maintain the status quo. The truth is the current bow model works against the fighter and in effect leads to its nerfing.

I'll begin by stating the rules I'll be using here. Strength bonus can be applied to a composite bow's damage roll and dexterity bonuses are applied to all bow's to hit roll (range weapon to hit bonus). I'm assuming that given a high score a fighter would most commonly use it in strength and a rogue would use it in dexterity. I will then show that the +1 from DEX works better for the rogue than the fighter's +1 from STR when both are using a composite bow.

A +1 added to damage will make an average arrow (1d8) go from 1-8 hp to 2-9 hp of damage. A +1 added to the to hit roll will increase the odds of hitting.

The average damage done by an arrow without the +1 is 4.5 hp as the 1d8 has a flat distribution, and 5.5 hp if the +1 is added. This damage only counts if the character hits. So against an AC of 10 the character has a 55% probability of hitting (10 or greater on a d20). Multiplying 55% vs 4.5 hp we get 2.48 hp/roll. Doing the same with 5.5 we get 3.03 hp/roll. The net benefit of the +1 STR is 0.55 hp or 22% improvement.

If we look at the rogue we see that the damage does not increase, but the odds of actually hitting are better. So while the hp damage does not increase the hp/roll does. A rogue with a +1 to hit has 60% of hitting an AC 10 target. Doing the math we get 2.48 hp/roll without the modifier and 2.7 hp/roll with the modifier. That's a 9% increase. Which so far is lower than the fighter's, and all would seem well.

But let's do the same process for all rolls leading up to 20. The tables below shows the data for the fighter and the rogue. As the AC improves and the required roll gets higher the hp/roll ratio remains the same for the fighter, but increases for the rogue. The fighter keeps getting that 22% benefit, but the rogue begins to get better beyond a roll of 16. Against a target that requires an 18 or better the rogue has 33% improvement when having the dexterity bonus than without it, while the fighter still has only 22%. A roll requiring a 19 or better requires an 18 or better when fired by the rogue. This creates a 50% hp/roll bonus.

Fighter Bonus Table

To Hit Odds to hit hp/roll at +0 hp/roll at +1 STR Benefit hp/roll % increase
10 55.00% 2.48 3.03 0.55 22.22%
11 50.00% 2.25 2.75 0.50 22.22%
12 45.00% 2.03 2.48 0.45 22.22%
13 40.00% 1.80 2.20 0.40 22.22%
14 35.00% 1.58 1.93 0.35 22.22%
15 30.00% 1.35 1.65 0.30 22.22%
16 25.00% 1.13 1.38 0.25 22.22%
17 20.00% 0.90 1.10 0.20 22.22%
18 15.00% 0.68 0.83 0.15 22.22%
19 10.00% 0.45 0.55 0.10 22.22%
20 5.00% 0.23 0.28 0.05 22.22%

Average benefit 22.22%

Rogue Bonus Table

To Hit Odds to hit hp/roll at +0 hp/roll at +1 DEX Benefit hp/roll % increase
10 60.00% 2.48 2.70 0.23 9.09%
11 55.00% 2.25 2.48 0.23 10.00%
12 50.00% 2.03 2.25 0.23 11.11%
13 45.00% 1.80 2.03 0.23 12.50%
14 40.00% 1.58 1.80 0.23 14.29%
15 35.00% 1.35 1.58 0.23 16.67%
16 30.00% 1.13 1.35 0.23 20.00%
17 25.00% 0.90 1.13 0.23 25.00%
18 20.00% 0.68 0.90 0.23 33.33%
19 15.00% 0.45 0.68 0.23 50.00%
20 10.00% 0.23 0.45 0.23 100.00%

Average benefit 27.45%

I can conclude that the +1 from dexterity benefits the rogue more than the +1 from strength benefits the fighter. The fighter gets a benefit against unarmored peasants, leather armored magic users, and studded leather on rogues. Whereas the rogue gets a great bonus against plate mail, banded mail, full plate and other highly armored targets. The table below shows the average benefit difference between the impact of STR and DEX as the bonuses increase.

+1 22.00% 27.00%
+2 44.00% 54.00%
+3 66.00% 82.00%

Now as some may say: it’s a game, it’s not meant to be real, but how can it be fun when the guy that’s supposed to be the lead fighter simply sucks against the hardened  opponents on the battlefield?

Realistic weapons or is it just a game?

I've had mixed responses from my posts and comments on bows and crossbows. Got some really good feedback from folks who know their stuff when it comes to bows and crossbow. I'm thankful for that opportunity to broaden my knowledge.  On the other hand I've had some responses along the lines of "oh it's a game", "if you don't like it go play something else". This seems to be a standard response from folks who don't want the system changed, and how is the system going to improve if it doesn't change? What happens when folks who bring these comments to me are also the more outspoken members of a community driven game design process? How much improvement can come from that?

I can understand some errors in D&D weapon design from back in the day, but things seem written in stone for the last 40 years. The internet allows a quick search that brings enough information to the table to show that the bow and arrow model in D&D is wrong and could be improved. In the seventies there was no internet, so I understand. Push forward 40 years and what's the excuse now?

I believe as designers we should work on making better models of the weapons, and not just copy paste from prior editions or similar games. It's our job. Even if it's a game. I like to believe we're building a game, but we're not playing around. As much fun as creating a game can be I think it should be taken seriously. More so if you're charging real money for it. Unless of course we're willing to accept game money.

Dinosaurs & Dandelions

Mike Mearls: Don't worry, I'm not making the same mistakes again.
D&D community: No, you're making all new ones.

Do those quotes sound familiar? Mike didn't actually say them, it's taken from Jurassic Park. A conversation between John Hammond and Ian Malcolm. It did seem appropriate after reading Mike Mearls' latest post on D&D Next Goals out today. I couldn't help recall that famous quote from Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). In "Lost World", John Hammond is desperately trying to bring his park online. Which he thinks failed last time because he didn't take the proper precautions. Not enough fences, more security, all female population, etc. When in truth what he should have done is not breed velociraptors. He had been foretold by Ian himself:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: John, the kind of control you're attempting simply is... it's not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh... well, there it is.
John Hammond: [sardonically] There it is.
Henry Wu: You're implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will... breed?
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, I'm, I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way.

RPGs have a tendency to build a life of their own. D&D is alive in so many of us and it wants to break free. That was the initial promise when we saw those books, right? They used to say "Products of your imagination" right below the TSR logo.

Mike listed eight design challenges in his article today. Three of which stand out to the balance and particularly caster/non caster balance issue. I'll quote a few: "Create 3E-style multiclassing that creates balanced characters within reasonable mixtures of class levels", "New options are nice only if they are balanced and interesting. Open, aggressive playtesting—maintained beyond the core game tests—is a key part of this goal." and "keep casters and noncasters distinct but balanced across all levels. This becomes more challenging as we allow for more customization, but it is important to keeping the game functional."

Just like John Hammond didn't realize the problem was breeding velociraptors and t-rexes and not the lack of proper security, Mike Mearls fails to realize the problem is with D&D's underpinnings and not the "balanced" derived from "aggressive playtesting" as he calls it. Mike needs to understand that just like the dinosaurs, D&D is alive and will continue to grow in the player's hands as it is played. In the same way the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park became male and began to reproduce. Breaking away from the constraints imposed by their creators.

Until the D&D design team realizes this and begins to make a grass roots change to the system it will continue making all sorts of "new mistakes". They must realize that the old rule system: hit points, attack rolls, XP, level progression, etc., does not scale well to meet the current demand for skills, character personalization and growth, backgrounds, etc. These features still seem bolted on top of the "sacred cow rules", instead of being an integral part of them.

Nowadays I see D&D more like a dandelion. With every new edition being like a gust of wind blowing seeds in a new direction. These are planting new communities and groups of players that are thriving and without a compelling offer from WotC many see no reason to return. Mike Mearls keeps failing to address the weaknesses of each edition and prefers to focus on the strengths. A new edition built on the strengths of prior editions is good, for new players, but bad for old timers because they already have the good in their favourite edition. The only way I see for the dandelion to stop loosing seeds is to solve the quintessential issues from the ground up, even if that means doing away with the "sacred cows" of D&D.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Combat Aesthetics

How much is speed, book keeping and ease of use stopping us from looking in new directions when it comes to designing combat mechanisms? Are we tossing out good ideas because our prototypes are not up to standard?

My recent work on the combat mechanics for Era has got me thinking about the aesthetics and priorities when designing it.  I have come to see speed, ease of use and book keeping in mechanics as a hindrance to their design.  Not because speed, ease of use and less paperwork are not important when designing a combat mechanism, they are, but I've come to see them as obstacles rather than requirements. I don't want to hear that it will take too long or that's too much math, paperwork or die rolling.

Thinking on the implementation of an idea too early on I may lock out aesthetic requirements and concepts from the creative process that would otherwise improve the game. More so, working with an idea that may be too slow or hard to use is a great step ground it and get valuable insight. The idea may be too slow to implement right now, but actually working on it may lead to new ways of solving the problem, and quite possibly viable solution.

That said I believe combat should appeal to the player's interests.  It should focus on narrative, expression, fantasy, challenge, fellowship and discovery.  It should above all create a story worth telling.  It should promote narrative so the combat conforms to the story and not the story to the combat.  Break away from the round to round and initiative rolls that pause the narration of combat and thus break story into small elements called combat rounds.  Make the story continuous.

Allow players to express themselves through their characters.  Make each feature in the player's choice of weapons, armor and combat style relevant to the encounter.  It's fun to make a character like you dreamt it, but it is even more fun to see the character take a life of its own in combat when the combat mechanics helps him stand out.

For example you can have a rogue walk around with a short composite bow. You imagine him well, sneaking over roof tops or walking silently through the forest.  Silently raining death on his opponents with a bow that does 1d6 per attack, two attacks per round. It's cool, you feel it, you taste it, heck you can even feel the cold winter wind freezing your cheeks as you stand silent high above the plaza. Wouldn't it be better though, that the bow was custom built to your height and arm span? With a draw weight that matches your strength and that is great at that killing distance you always get to, and have it provide more attacks per round and a bit more damage because it was built just for your attributes. See that's what I'm talking about expression. Enable the mechanics to be an extension of the character's expression so the weapon and character are unique.

Combat has to be fantastic and challenging. Swing, twist, dodge, run  and jump. Do all those activities as you dreamt them. Don't limit combat to one or two actions per round that make all characters equal (see expression above).  Make combat a fantastic event worth retelling (see narrative above), and make it challenging. I'm want dodges and parries all over the place because it adds to the emotion. I'm taking away high hit points because I want each round to be a challenge. I don't want a bloodbath, I want heroic kills. Death will come swiftly and hopefully to the monsters. No more chewing through tens if not hundreds of hit points. More movement, more skill and less hit point walls.

Combat should also provide a sense of fellowship.  That feel that players are working together.  Not only by all attacking at once, but allowing for group tactics and mechanics that promote team work.  Imagine shield walls, close formations, coordinated attacks that break morale and a rarity among many games : monsters that are actually afraid of dying. Leaders and brave fighters in the group that hold the line against incredible odds. I want the strength of the party to be greater than the sum of its parts.

To make all this possible it is important to dream it first and worry about its implementation later.  If concern for speed, usability and book keeping come first then combat will always be crippled.  Concern for speed, usability and book keeping close off passages in that dungeon of discovery that can bring new ideas and thus new fast, usable and light solutions to the game.

The solution is out there.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bows, a comparison between Era and D&D

As a game designer I want you to take full advantage of a bow's design to leverage the attributes and training of your character. You've trained your character, improved his attributes, now you want to see all this manifest itself in the adventure. Sounds fun? Read on.

I'm going to do a quick overview of the bow mechanics in D&D and how they're changed in Era to allow a more realistic experience and better character expression as a player.  We'll be looking at the range, damage and firing rate of the longbow, short bow and composite bow.

D&D has four types of bows: short, short composite, long and long composite. The main difference is range and damage. The shortbow has a range between 60 and 70 ft while the longbow has a range of 100 to 110 ft.  Damage is 1d6 for short and 1d8 for long. There are damage modifiers for strength that can be applied and a minimum strength to use a composite bow. If your character doesn't have sufficient strength the composite is used at -2 and the strength bonuses can only be applied composite bows. Finally I'd like to point out that they have a fixed amount of attacks per round. I play with 2 shots, other GMs may vary. Range affects aim and it's a to hit modifier.

Now in Era I want to make this more realistic without necessarily making it more complicated.  I want you as a player to be able to build a custom built bow that takes your character to the fullest potential as a marksman. Making use of Era's unique fatigue and combat mechanism to do so.

So I'll start with a few definitions:

a) A composite bow is one which is made of different materials so to have different draw-weights as the archer draws. "Almost all composite bows are also recurve bows as the shape curves away from the archer; this design gives higher draw-weight in the early stages of the archer's draw, storing somewhat more total energy for a given final draw-weight. It would be possible to make a wooden bow that has the same shape, length and draw-weight as a traditional composite bow, but it could not store the energy, and would break before full draw." (1)

b) What really matters is the draw-weight and stored energy.  The amount of stored energy in the bow is what sends the arrow flying faster and thus further and with more penetrating power.

As a player you want the bow to be an distinctive aspect of your character. As you move through the forest and stumble upon a group of unaware goblins you want to put as many arrows into them as quickly as possible. As you ride over the grasslands, guiding your horse with your knees, you want to shoot at passing orcs and take them down from their mounts. You want to take the evil knight at long range as he charges to your position.  The bow must feel like something awesome in your character's hand. Something that makes him stand out from the rest of the party.

Yet range, rate of fire, damage and size all seem opposing design factors.  How to put this into play in a simple way and also in a balanced manner, so the bow doesn't become an arrow Gatling gun with mega range?

In comes Era's fatigue combat mechanism and a few changes in the weapons description.  The combat mechanism factors in strength, endurance and dexterity.  If your character has higher strength he can carry more weight and be less loaded.  Endurance dictates how fast the character gets tired, as mechanism allows for more than one attack per round, the cap being the character's dexterity divided by two.  Era makes use of the term dynamic encumbrance or DynE, which represents the work required to move a weapon.  The heavier the weapon the higher the DynE.  The higher the DynE the quicker the character wears out as DynE eats away from the endurance.

So how does this apply to bow modeling in Era?

I'll put strength to be related to draw-weight.  The more strength the character has the higher the pull the bow can have and still be used by the character.  A character with a strength of 12 can pull a 20 to 25 lb bow.  One with 15 strength can pull 60 lbs, etc.  The draw-weight sets the damage and range.  In Era damage drops over range as the arrow slows down.  A higher pull bow will have more damage than a lower pull one, arrow being the same.  A higher draw-weight bow would also have a higher DynE, requiring more energy to fire and thus wearing the character's endurance faster.  A character may be able to get 4 shots off with a light bow before becoming fatigued in that round.  A heavier bow may allow only one shot per round or two at most, but will have higher range and damage.  Take note that DynE is independent of draw-weight and it is more a measure of power than force. A lower pull composite bow that packs more energy into the arrow will require less strength, but a higher DynE.  Because DynE is the amount of work your character's body needs to do to "power" the weapon.

As a player you can now decide how to build your character's bow.  To make it unique to that niche function you enjoy playing and in doing so leverage as much benefit out of it as possible.  Do you want a normal self bow made out of a single material.  It is cheaper, but it won't have the same pull and energy transfer as a composite.  This weapon may do 2d6 damage at short range (20m) with your characters 14 STR.  It would also have a DynE of 4 making it relatively easy to fire.  Now turning into the more expensive composite bow may grant a higher range doing 2d6 at 30m with a DynE of 6.  This will give you slightly less shots per round as your character's endurance is tolled higher.  Any of these weapons will give you anywhere from 5 to 8 shots per round (10 seconds) if your dexterity is high enough.  With this type of bow your the quick marksman.  Your character carries a small maneuverable bow that isn't very effective at long range, but a real killer at short range.  It may not have enough punch to break through full plate, but face it, how many encounters are against full plated knights?  That's not your character's niche.  He's quick, agile, stealthy, or maybe a swift horseman that gets in and out before the heavy and slow warhorse and knight can catch up.  So who needs that much power when you've got speed?

On the other if you want higher range and more power then your character can use the English longbow.  Pulling near 100lbs it would require constant training and a strength of 16 or higher.  This bow can deliver an armor piercing damage of 2d10 or 2d12 at up to 50m.  Having a much higher DynE of 10 or 12 it will require an extremely well fit character to fire continuously.  A horseman could easily cover 50m in about 15 seconds.  So getting as many arrows on target can be a live or die situation, but firing a lot of low power arrows won't get you anywhere if the knight is full plated.  So using a bow like this which allows two or maybe three shots that could kill is definitely the way to go in this scenario.  It's not a job for a rogue though, you need the strength and endurance of a professional soldier to do this. It is also not a bow you'll fire while mounted. Exposing your character to a charge and leaving him with no clear exit strategy. But with a good defending front line this could be the only way to stop this type of threat.

Thoughts? Any archer scenarios you've always dream of playing, but never quite manage to get that realistic feeling? With which of these do you identify better?

In the next article I'll talk about the mechanics of crossbows vs bows.  How character attributes factor in as well as skill, training and mastery of both weapons. Stay tuned.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

D&D's composite longbow, does it even exist?

D&D lists the short bow and the longbow as its two main types.  Then it includes the "composite" version of both.  But try as I can't find a reference to a "composite longbow".  The longbow commonly refers to the English longbow which was by no means composite.  On the contrary it was build out of a single piece of wood, namely yew.

The composite bow is one made of various elements, thus its name.

It is possible to make a composite bow with the pull of a longbow.  But then the following rule would have to be amended:

If you have a Strength bonus, you can apply it to damage rolls when you use a composite longbow (see below), but not when you use a regular longbow."
It makes no sense to apply the strength bonus to one and not to the other when both have the same draw-weight.  After all they have practically the same range and damage.  It's just the build that changes and how compact it can be.  Allowing the composite bow to be used while mounted.

BTW, shouldn't higher strength mean longer range?  After all it means the character can pull a much stronger bow, right?

Source "composite longbow"

Fixing the fighter

Redesigning the fighter to place him back into a leading roll in the adventure has been one of my greatest challenges when designing Era.  Ironically the path to fixing the fighter was by taking away those things that are most commonly identified with the fighter class.  Namely stripping him of hit points and armor.

There are five changes which I clearly identify as key to putting the fighter back in the forefront of adventure.

  • Limit hit points. Characters have the same amount of hit points for life.
  • Separate to hit and to damage roll. Give the character a separate to hit roll on which all combat skills are applied.
  • Penalize heavy weapon and armor usage. The heavier the character the slower the attack.
  • Change the initiative roll. It's a skill check now.
  • Add group skills. A great deal many fighter skills are fighter centric, let his skills affect the group.
Limit hit points

Rising hit points is a common game design concept. As characters level up they gain more hit points. The idea being that these hit points represent a degree of skill and luck. Unfortunately to maintain encounter balance as characters rise in level so do the monsters rise in hit points. This creates a requirement for ever rising spell powers too. After all if the magic user is going to be a relevant character in 6th level encounters the spells need to do more than the 1d6 magic arrows did at 1st level.  So magic user spell power rises because monster hit point rises.

In Era characters have the same hit points for life.

Separate to hit and to damage roll

Separating the to hit and to damage roll means having a roll to determine if the target is hit and another one to determine if the damage is sufficient to penetrate the armor.  Doing this gives a clear die roll to which the skill bonuses are applied.  Skill is not something abstracted into hit points, it is clearly applied on the to hit roll and also in the dodge and parry rolls.  The character either hits or misses.  If it hits it might pass the armor and damage the character.  Nonetheless there is no ambiguity as to what happened.  Nothing like a hit that does 10 hit points of damage, but actually means the character turned the attack into a glancing blow.

Having this separate skill allows the game mechanics to add all skill bonuses to the to hit roll in the form of skill bonuses and not as extra damage.  This once again reduces the classic hit point escalation that eventually leads to meaner monsters and more powerful magic.

You might guess by now that the fighter class will be the one enjoying the most bonuses when it comes to hit rolls.  More so, since the magic user spells are weaker now (see fixed hit points above).  It's harder for the magic user to hit and do damage than it is for the fighter.

Penalize heavy weapon and armor use

Most games don't take armor and weapon weight too seriously.  Yes, some do have a penalty or a cap on dexterity bonuses.  But that only matters if you have high dexterity to cap! By putting a fatigue based mechanism into place that grants more attacks to faster weapons and lighter armor the game benefits the lightly equipped character.

Initially you might think this is counter productive to the fighter, but take a closer look. Who's going to have the high strength, dexterity and constitution attributes to carry all that armor? Well the fighter of course! So the character best fit to use heavy armor is the fighter. He'll be really good in armor while the other classes not so much, and he'll be even better out of it because he'll be lighter and more agile.

So stripping the armor and heavy weapons from the fighter makes the character focus on skills to prevent getting hit. This promotes a fighter that is good without armor and excellent with it.

Change the initiative roll

Last game I changed the initiative roll from the classic 1d6 or 1d10 and lowest goes first to a skill check.  Characters must succeed in their skill check to maintain their coolness in combat.  Guess who has that the highest? The fighter. By moving away from a random initiative that anyone can win at, to one in which the fighter is more skilled at, I'm giving the fighter an advantage over the less battled hardened fellow party members.

Add group skills

Instead of adding more skills that grant more attacks per round, more damage per attack and more and more weapons, I'm adding group skills.  The fighters natural coolness in combat makes the class a natural leader for the party.  Why not exploit this as leadership and command skills which help make the party a better combat unit.  A bit like the cleric's bless spell, but with balls.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Do you play with Fibonacci?

Leonardo Pisano Bigollo died in 1250 so I doubt you'll be playing D&D or any other RPG with him anytime soon. Maybe later though. Leonardo, know to many as Fibonacci, made a certain number sequence very popular when he published Liber Abaci in 1202. Fibonacci made a great contribution to math in the west and as role players we should be thankful to him.  He introduced the Hinud-Arabic numeral system.  You know those numbers : 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 we use every day.  Without him 3d6 would look like IIIxVI and WotC would have registered DXX instead of D20.

Before I go into talking about the use I've given to the this number sequence in my game let me talk about it first.  The sequence I'm refereeing to is known as the Fibonacci numbers.

Fibonacci numbers looks like the following:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811, 514229, 832040, 1346269, 2178309, 3524578, 5702887, 9227465, 14930352, 24157817, 39088169... etc. etc. etc.

As you can see the numbers grow and grow, but they're neither linear nor exponential. If we were to draw it out the image created would look like this.  Creating the very familiar image of a shell.

The Fibonacci numbers are also closely related to phi the golden ratio (1.6180339887498948482...).
The Fibonacci numbers are found all over the place in nature.  For starters in a sea shell as shown below.

Notice how each square is exactly the same size as every number on the series?
1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13

But they're present in plants too.  You can find more examples here

And bees! Did you know that the number of grandparents a bee has is a Fibonacci sequence? Read here for more detail.

As it so happens I've come to use the Fibonacci series as well when doing game design. In developing the combat and fatigue mechanism I included the Fibonacci series as the growth rate for fatigue points. When looking at the activity table you can see the row labeled Fatigue Rate. As the character takes more actions per round more points are needed and we move from left to right. This represents the rise in the character's heart rate and it's an indicator of fatigue.

(Fibonacci numbers in green for clarity)

When developing this I tried all types of numbers. Linear growth, exponential, logarithmic, you name it. Only when I put the Fibonacci numbers into the table did things begin to work as I wanted them to.

This gets me thinking. Shouldn't we as game designers look deeper into this and include such a number series in our games a bit more often? It is after all present all over nature, shouldn't it be present in our games when we creating a make believe reality.

Know any games that have numbers like these in them? Let us know!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dungeon builders are a extinct species

I'm not talking about you or me or others who like to draw up maps and create dungeons.  No, I'm talking about the mysterious men (and possibly women) who actually took to the task of digging the dungeons.  They're all gone now.  I mean, when was the last time your party went out to adventure into a dungeon that was being built?  Never!  Dungeons were built a long long time ago and filled with mysterious creatures eons ago.  Whoever built them died off millennia ago because there are no new dungeons around.  They're all worn out vintage things.

Along side their extinction these builders took many pieces of knowledge and power needed to build dungeons.  I will enumerate a few of them here.

Gas - The arcane dungeon builder put methane detectors and eliminator in all dungeon settings.  When was the last time your torch lit up a methane pocket in a dungeon?

Porous ground - Dungeon builders put water proof walls or built dungeons in places without ground water.  Flooding in dungeons is rare, at least a lot more rare than in real mines.  Mines have complex systems to eliminate ground water.  Maybe this is done by some magic spell cast on the dungeon?

Radon gas - Yup, none of that either.  Not that tracking radioactive materials with long term effects on the characters is particularly entertaining.  Maybe that explains the giant rats?  Which weren't so giant when they started living in the dungeon.

Collapse - earth quakes - support - Notice how a lot of dungeons don't have supporting structures.  They seem to be unaffected by structural issues which plague mines.  A Hold Ceiling spell maybe?

What dangers do you put in dungeons, aside from monsters, which add to the realism of traveling underground?  Vapors from deep magma activity?  Corrosive gases?  Steam from a deep geyser?

Any adventure in which the party actually meets the dungeon builder?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

D&D needs an entirely new set of rules

D&D needs throw d20 away and rally around a new set of rules. Mike Mearls and WotC needs to scrap everything and start from zero.  A hard thing to say and even harder to execute given all the resources poured into Next already.  Yet, after reading Mike Mearls recent posts in Legends and Lore I see no other way out.

Let's look at the two goals:

To start with, here are our two guiding principles. These ideas guide everything we do.
  1. Create a version of D&D that embraces the enduring, core elements of the game.
  2. Create a set of rules that allows a smooth transition from a simple game to a complex one.
What are the core elements of the game?  Are they fantasy adventure, the spirit of dungeon crawling, fighting creatures, getting treasure and becoming rich and famous?  Or classes, d20 rolls, armor class, levels, skills and those basic elements that haven't changed from edition to edition.

Simple to complex?  Why would I ever want to buy that?  I barely have time to read the simple stuff and he wants to sell me the complex.  Maybe he meant detailed instead of complex.  You can add more detail to things by using the same simple rules, just look at fractals.

I want to point out a line Mearls writes "Changing the rules of a game in a fundamental way creates rifts within your community." I'm not sure if Mearls says that as a reason not to rewrite it or as a recognition of the fumbles WotC did with prior editions.  Nonetheless he recognizes a great deal of fragmentation and questions the returning of long time players, aka the old school.  He puts forth the question "Why go back to a familiar game if you find out that it isn't really familiar anymore?"

He answers it with the following paragraph.  "So, the first big picture goal is to make a version of D&D that speaks to the recognizable elements of the game. ... , but the design implication is that D&D Next should deliver the primary strengths that each edition brings to the table. If an edition was good at something, D&D Next needs to do a good job of providing it."

That is wrong wrong wrong, and wrong in so many ways.  Mike Mearls should focus on the weaknesses of each edition and bring a solution to them in D&D Next.  If I'm comfortable with 2nd Edition giving me a new edition which has all the strengths of 2nd is not compelling enough to change.  D&D Next needs to provide me the solution to 2nd Edition's weaknesses.

D&D Next needs to provide a solution to the weaknesses of all prior editions, even if that means taking d20 out of its guts.  D&D Next needs to provide the D&D adventure spirit with a new set of mechanics.  To do otherwise is to compete at price points with the likes of Pathfinder and the indie community.

It needs to provide a new rule set with a low learning curve that uses emergence as a means to create more detail.  Mike Mearls and crew seem obsessed with writing more and more rules on how to do things.  He mentions "though people were seeking the introductory product, fewer and fewer players were moving deeper into additional material", and "We need to reverse that trend and make a version of D&D that new players can pick up with ease and that existing players can continue to play by utilizing a wealth of world-class adventure content."

What they hint at is selling more fluff and less crunch.  I'm in total agreement with that, but D&D's history has been quite the contrary.  D&D design philosophy has always been a "reductionist" one.  Writing endless rules as if that were the game.  A detailed description of things that can happen, how to handle them and how they fit together to build the whole.

They should consider a more "emergent" approach to the solution.  One in which a simple set of rules allows for a more detailed game without necessarily calling for a more complex set of rules.  He hints it here "To create a continuum of options and complexity, we need to make a game that has a simple, robust core that is easy to expand in a variety of directions.", but drops the ball when he says "We can't change the core game to accommodate those later options, whether they're new classes or detailed rules for climbing."  More detailed rules for climbing?  Leave that to the GM, concentrate on content, talk about wall types, issues rogues have encountered through history and let the GM have an understanding of this.  Do not fill the book with lookup tables which will only slow down the game.  I know you love writing it and enjoy selling it to us even more, but it's not practical and that's the reason most experienced players are not buying it.

I would suggest these two goals instead of the ones presented by Mike Mearls:

1) Write a new game focused on fixing the issues within all editions, even if that means throwing the d20 out and starting from scratch.
2) Focus your sales on content not rules.  The rules you build in 1 should be simple and generally applicable throughout the game.  All else should be content (fluff) that inspires the GM and players and explains how to use the simple rules (from 1) in new creative ways.  That means not a single extra table to lookup stuff in.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Is D&D magic not sufficiently advanced?

As Arthur C Clarke would point out "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".  So why the frack does my ranger travel on a horse through pouring rain, hungry and cold.

Shouldn't the statement "Magic is indistinguishable from any sufficiently advanced technology" be true too?  And if D&D has magic, why does the town smell so bad?

Why am I worried about the damage of a cross bow bolt?  Shouldn't crossbows have two settings kill or stun and automatically load bolts from a replicator device embedded right above the trigger?

Why is my fighter's magical sword made out of steel while Luke's is made out of light?  Potential Lukas lawsuits aside, wouldn't it make sense to have magical light swords in D&D?

Why worry about the obnoxious cleric when that little device Spock carries around is quite fit at saving anyone in the party?  Oh and find diseased items.  And traps.  And poisonous gas, and ah so many things.

Why is full plate armor so in fashion?  When full plate is less advanced than kevlar and kevlar is less advanced than Dune's personal shield?

How many of you play in such high magic settings that it is, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from sci-fi?

What sets D&D apart from science fiction if in the end science fiction and magic can become intermingled.  At least according to Arthur C. Clarke.

The recognizable elements of D&D?

What are the recognizable elements of D&D?  Dice?  Hit Points?  The four classes?  Dragons?  I just finished reading Mike Mearls' articles D&D Next Goals, Part One & Part Two.  What the heck is he talking about when he says " So, the first big picture goal is to make a version of D&D that speaks to the recognizable elements of the game", and how distinct is that from last year's goal at about the same time of year "We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game."

Sorry, but one year later I don't see them one bit closer to their goal.  To be honest I'm having a hard time telling one article from the other without looking up the publication date on them.  For example this text "What that actually means will be covered in part two, but the design implication is that D&D Next should deliver the primary strengths that each edition brings to the table."  Hadn't they gotten over this "all in one goal" by about July last year?

They want one core rule set to provide the simple and the complex, and they want a smooth transition between the two on top of it all.  In my opinion that is impossible.  At least impossible with one core rule set based on the d20 system.

Take for example hit points.  A nice abstraction back in the day and very functional today in many OSR games.  But put the whole skill, feats and extra frosting on top of that and the system begins to break down.  Aren't we counting skill twice?  Once as a rise in hit points (it's harder to get hit and killed) and again as that skill that makes your character once again "harder to hit and kill"?

If you've been reading the posts by Mike Mearls last year you've probably heard all the ideas regarding healing surges and what to do with the cleric.  All that would go away if clerics didn't have to heal so much.  That would be so if hit points didn't rise so much and characters were simply harder to hit out of pure skill.

The original D&D rules are great and the abstraction simplifies gaming a lot.  As players add more rules and more detail (classes, powers, skills, feats, etc.)  The abstraction in the game is put to test and it doesn't fare too well.

What I'm about to say may sound like blasphemy to many, and if so I apologize.  It's my strong belief that D&D needs to be rewritten from the ground up, a grass roots change that takes the d20 system from its inside and replaces it with something better.  The Next best thing, pun intended.  Then maybe from those rules derive a simpler and more familiar D&D Basic.

Building on the current d20 mechanics hasn't gotten Mike's team any closer to their goal.  Read last year's publication and read today's.  They're still beating the same ol' dead horse.  WotC needs a new Gygax, or at least someone willing to take the risk with a whole new system built from the ground up to satisfy the Next 40 years of D&D.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Initiative, it's a matter of coolness not dexterity

In tonight's game with +Brian Kelsay , +Lawrence Augustine Mingoa and +Tre' Grisby  I changed the rules of initiative.  Instead of 1d6 or 1d10 plus dexterity bonuses I put initiative as a skill check.  Your character's mettle attribute is rolled against to determine if the character keeps his coolness in combat.  Win and you're cool and in control of the situation, lose and your character hesitates for those precious seconds that may mean the difference between life or death.

What am I looking for in with this?
  • Initiative to be more than just getting to attack first.  It's the characters ability to stay cool and in control of the situation.
  • Initiative to depend on the character's skill and preparation and not just some random roll that may land 1 or 8 with the same ease.  This benefits the more battle hardened characters.
  • Allow character training, specially fighter training and combat hardening, to affect the rolls of others.  Leadership by a strong fighter character in the group can improve the overall mettle of the party and thus the control of the situation.  In doing so turn the tide of the battle.
For example, at one point while exploring a building in an old mill Brian's character is surprised  by a hiding orc.  Nothing to do about the surprise attack, he's clearly surprised, but the character succeeds in the mettle check and by a large margin.  His combat experience kicks in and instead of losing it the character stays cool and in control.

Brian yields "initiative" so to speak, letting the orc attack first.  He blocks the swing by successfully parrying the blow and trips the orc and attacks.  He hits the orc dead center on the back and brings him to floor where Tre's character pummels him silly with the morning star.

Initiative is no longer about swinging the sword first, but rather reacting first and keeping in control of the engagement.  Even if this means letting the enemy swing first and get closer so the party may get itself into a better fighting position.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Wisdom is for the player

When it comes to attributes I've decided to leave wisdom to the player.  For me this attribute has always been controversial.  The "character would be wise to do this and not that" situations seem to arise.  These not only create dispute as to what the character would or would not do, it also limits player immersion.  When a character has 7 wisdom somehow the player always makes the right calls.  Yet when the character has 15 wisdom it is the character who makes the right calls.  This gives me the feeling the player isn't playing the character, but rather using a tool.  Which is in my opinion contrary to the purpose of role playing games.

For this reason I've made characters have two different attributes.  One is illustration which measures the level of knowledge and abstract thinking.  The other is enlightenment, which as the word says measures how illuminated your character is to the world.  So while illustration may measure the academic preparation the character has, enlightenment measures the spiritual development.  A very illustrious character may still be very foolish.  Less so an enlightened one, but the player should play one much more wisely.  Either way there is no roll to help the player decide what is the right thing to do.  In that regard wisdom is left to the player.

In regards to magic, illustration is the key attribute for magic user while enlightenment is the one for clerics.  In between there is a third supporting attribute: mettle.  Mettle measures the character's conviction.  A very educated character may still have a weak character.  Having very high illustration while keeping your mettle low will not make your character's illusions work very well.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

D&D Next, next

I could go into a long rant about what I see wrong in D&D Next, but I wont.  As the year begins and we close in on the anniversary of it's announcement I have this to say to the WotC crew.


KISS the rules folks.  You're making it too complex and not actually making anything new.  Sell me something light and refreshing.  Then sell me all the additional content and material.  LATER, when I understand what you're talking about.

I haven't signed up for the playtest material because, honestly,  I don't have the time to read through all that stuff.  I haven't finished reading +BareBones RPG which I purchased a month or two ago.  I haven't purchased 14 other things on my wish list because I know I won't be reading them any time soon.

Also, I do programming for a living.  I see enough if-then-else statements at work.  I don't want to disconnect from it all and see more of them with the rogue, cleric et al. progression path.  Trim down on the complexity please.

Please, make it concise, simple and quick.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Did you pack lemons with your iron rations?

So, you love to take your character into deep dungeon crawls? I hope you packed some dried lemon slices with those rations. An unbalanced meal can lead to a party with a serious vitamin C deficiency. And poor vitamin C leads to the dreaded scurvy.

Named after the latin scorbutus, scurvy is a very dangerous illness that if left untreated leads to character death.  Sailors were known to suffer scurvy on long sea journeys due to lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Traveling down deep, dark and damp dungeons can lead to the same lack of fresh food.  Bread will become stale, fruit will become over ripe just on the trip to the dungeon entrance and will spoil shortly afterwards.  So good supply of vitamin C needs to be ensured so your character's legs don't end up as these:

Yea, I know.  It makes rot grubs look like a walk in the park.  So players make sure to pack some of these on the following trip.

Just 3 dried orange slices will provide 120% of your characters daily USRDA required amount of vitamin C.  They are very easy to make and will preserve for quite some time.  The body consumes about 3% of the stored vitamin C per day ( and consumption will slow down as body reservoirs run low.   That means that scurvy will set in between 30 and 60 days.  Most surely around 60, but could be less if the diet was initially poor on vitamin C as the body needs 8 to 10 mg of vitamin per day.

Symptoms can be broken down into four stages.  Each successively more dangerous to the adventure.
  1. Abnormally lazy and sudden fatigue.  Muscle ache in legs and lower abdomen.
  2. Gums swell, itch and will bleed under pressure.  Teeth may become loose at the roots and actual joint and muscle pain will be felt.
  3. Gums become putrid and begin to smell like rotten flesh.  Gum bleeding will occur.  Flesh will become gangrenous and spontaneously bleed.  Skin will develop ulcers, particularly in legs and feet, which will become gangrenous.  There will be severe muscle and joint pain.
  4. To cut it short: death.
As a GM keeping tabs on food might be an administrative nightmare, but also open up options for adventure and treasure too if you concentrate on the concept and not so much on the actual amounts.  For starters any creature in the dungeon that can't metabolize vitamin C will need a source for it.  This may create interesting environments in which dungeon dwellers cultivate special mushrooms or plants.  Maybe that's a weak point for a tribe of creatures found deep under the earth.  Hit their food supply instead of hitting them directly.  Or distract them with an attack on those plants as a way to take them off guard.

It might also set up a small side adventure in the dungeon as the party loses its pack of orange slices and has to retrieve it, go find an alternative source of vitamin C or risk having to turn around and head back to the surface.  Remember the clock is ticking and your character is eating up the reserves at a rate of 3% per day.

Dried orange slices can be a great bargaining chip in negotiations.  Equally important in long dungeon crawls as in long sea or overland journeys (and steampunk balloon trips!).  Deserts, wastelands and frozen tundra provide very little fresh fruit and vegetables.  The party may meet a traveler or group of travelers willing to give information or help in return for fresh fruit or a cure for their scurvy.

As an inspiration for magic items there's room to get creative.  A never empty lemonade waterskin.  Or never ending orange slice which regenerates every night as long as you don't finish it all in one day.

Scurvy was historically a limitation to long sea journeys and its cure was not found until early in the 20th century although work arounds were available in the 19th century.  In the medieval setting of D&D scurvy can be woven into the campaign in many ways.  As part of the adventure as show above or as an advantage an armada has over another.  A whole adventure can be created around the idea of having your party go out and figure out how the threatening army manages to sail for so long without any illness.  Is it some secret spell?  A magic item?  Or arcane knowledge and potion making?