Friday, December 3, 2010

Character Sheet

I just got my ebay copy of the Moldvay D&D box with the Keep on the Borderlands in the mail this week.  While I was looking it over I remembered I had found some lovely character sheets to go with it by Dyson Logos from over here.  Isn't that a great character sheet?  And it's laid out in landscape too which I really like.  I think that the space is better used for some reason (the old wide-screen TV horizontal visual field processing argument perhaps).  It made me realize how stark and how little character the Beacon character sheet has.  I think that I better try to get something nicer and more than simply functional done up for Beacon as well.

So v3 should have higher level spells, new character sheets, simplified weapon damage (yes, I still like it), perhaps going through the monster lists or adding in a paragraph on hirelings or something.  Cool beans.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Water drops move mountains

No I'm not dead.  I didn't decide to ditch the Beacon site and start up a new blog somewhere else.  Conversely I haven't posted pictures of my cat or links to a funny YouTube video because there are other blogs that do it better already (I love reading them blogs).  It's just that this is a design site for Beacon.  I want to stick to the topic.  I know that not posting means I might be loosing out on new readers and people might forget to check back in, but I've decided to wait for people who like the game to remember to drop by.  I'd rather do that than dilute the content by posting up stuff every day or do attack posts about someone else's blog to raise my hit counts.

It's just that I'm happy with the version 2 PDF draft of  Beacon at the moment and I'd like to play it a bit, and give other folks a chance to play with it too.  I do have plans for codifying the higher level spells (levels 6-9) and for some more maps and setting supplements, and perhaps some other game changes (like dealing with variable weapon damage).  I'm plunking away at a bunch of little bits and hoping to get some play time in with Beacon as well as some other systems.   I'll still be posting but if a week or two goes by - well so be it.
That doesn't mean that I wouldn't like to hear what folks think about the game.  I added in a testimonial page for general comments and game input.  So thanks for dropping in, stay loose and stay tuned.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Overland Travel Speed table

Just playing around with travel speeds which would fit with my desire for a 30mile hex map.  Mostly I'd say is it's up to the GM to decide based on the context how fast the party is going to move but I would probably be weighing these variables; in chart format:
Base travel speed is 20 miles per day
Good road (hard surface, smooth) +5
Mounted +10
Hurrying/forced travel +5
Training/organized +5
Fresh mounts* +5
Off-road rough (hills/desert/scrub) -5
Off-road light forest -5
Off-road dense forest -10
Off-road swamp -15
Mountains -10
Poor weather -5
Bad weather -10
Encumbered -5
Very encumbered -10
Dark -15
Wagon** -5
*adds +5 each time they are used up to 3 times per day
**a wagon also reduces encumbrance

So adventurers sloggin trough the hills on foot hauling their loot back to town would be moving like 10 miles per day (one hex every 3 days on the big map) until they hit a road.  Meanwhile the highly trained light horse unit coming up the road from Red Towers at behest of the mayor of Milham would be traveling at 45 miles per day (one and a half hex per day).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Inspired by potatoes

This is a great post I came across that fits in so well with the setting I am working on I had to link it:

Really great to see some thoughtful answers for things like why populations would be clustered and drop off so rapidly away from the clusters (monsters!), why that is desirable (again monsters!).  Also how the common populace can be relatively well off without having wealth and how a simple crop choice can facilitate these conditions.

Variable Weapon Damage

I know I'm not supposed to be thinking of changes to the Beacon rules at this time.  I understand that I am in the ready for play-testing and preparation phase.  I know I should be preparing for playing in a sci-fi HEROES game and anticipating what that system might feel like.  I know I haven't finished playing Assassins Creed 2 yet and am behind one episode of Walking Dead.  But I can't help it.  I have been thinking a lot of about Variable Weapon Damage.

Here's the thing.  I am worried about introducing Minimum Strength requirements for weapons into the game as written because it seems a bit to fiddly, and a bit well ... inelegant.  Initially the idea was one I picked up from the M20 forums that answered the core question - how can prevent spell casters from using great axes.  I like the idea that MinSTR works with armor because you don't change armour that much and it serves to keep everyone from running about in plate and jumping over pits and such.  I like MinSTR as a replacement for outright prohibition - I don't like the fact that it becomes a burden when a character grabs a weapon off a dead gnoll.  I have also been thinking alot about this post about D6 weapon damage on B/X Blackrazor and other similar postings.  The real problem isn't figuring out how to discourage imbalance by making it harder to use certain weapons - the real problem is the fact that making a dagger do 1d4 means no-one wants to use a crappy dagger.  On the other hand I still don't want a dagger to do the same damage as a two handed battle axe - even if the two handed damage bonus of +1 is applied.

So what I am thinking of is making all 'light' weapons do 1d6 and all other 'heavy' weapons do 1d8.  Light weapons wouldn't have a MinSTR, other weapons would have a blanket MinSTR of 12.  Some of the existing weapons that do 1d6 I'd move into the 'light weapons' group, like the club, the scimitar and the rapier as well as all the ranged weapons except the long bow and the heavy crossbow.  That would simplify things a lot I think.  As for 2 handed weapons - they would do 1d8 yes, but you would still get the full STR bonus as a damage modifier (remember that one handed gives you half the STR bonus as damage).

That would simplify things while giving more options for flavour in the game.  And your storybook rogue would not be hobbling himself by carrying around a brace of daggers as his main weapons anymore.  Nor would your 7 foot tall dual battle-axe wielding wild man be such a one man wrecking crew.

I'm not saying this is a done deal, but I have been thinking of it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Naming things

You may wonder why I am spending so much time on this map and trying to figure out things like religion, political boundaries and names for what will no doubt be a sandbox style setting.   Ya I don't want to play out a detailed political drama revolving around the price fluctuation of flax, I want to run a fairly simple beat-em up game.   However it comes down to this:  I sit down and say to myself, "Ok they are standing on a road just outside a small town, now what?"  What will they do now?  What do they see? Is the town walled?  Are there merchants traveling the road?  Do they have guards?  Are they friendly?  If they stop one and ask where he is from what will he say?
Well if the roads are poor and there are lots of bandits and goblins in the woods that merchant will likely have guards and be more suspicious.   If the roads are well kept and there is a good military patrolling the roads he may be less suspicious of fellow travellers.  The more general framework you have laid out before hand the easier it will be to answer these questions on the fly.

Imagine the campaign starts on the road outside Milham.  Milham it is called because it began as lumber mill shipping logs down the river towards the city of Freeport.  Since the road was built, Milham has grown into a medium sized town and now trade flows both ways.   Milham is a walled town because all towns are walled in the Westmarch.  Even though war is not common, it is a frontier province and there are enough monsters and bandits to require fortifications (lucky for us or it would get awfully boring).  If there is anything the locals can't handle, the Mayor of Milham can send for help from the garrison at Red Towers castle which is about 100 miles away.
Map with some names on it.
Yes, you could just make up names and things on the fly but by working ahead you can include useful backgrounds or relationships that a casual traveler would know.  For instance, Freeport was a small fishing village re-named 300 years ago by Rikard the Tall to entice traders from across the sea to his new kingdom. Red Towers is the newest castle in the land, built only 20 years ago by the last Margrave of Westmarch over the ruins of an ancient border keep.  It's name comes from being built of  red clay brick and not the usual stone.  Unlike more established regions like Lakeshire and the Soundlands, Westmarch is more of a frontier and it's people are more open to new things.

If I spend some time woolgathering now, that merchant might have a lot more to talk about than you might think.

Monday, November 8, 2010


One thing that really bugs me in many settings is the pantheon of gods idea where you have a section in the setting book about all the gods the clerics can select from.  Gods like Chauncey: God of Light Transport, and Swee-tah: Goddess of Those Who Died from Poor Dental Hygiene.  Don't get me wrong - I love things like the Street of the Gods in Lankhmar, but in a campaign it doesn't work for me unless the different clerics had play differences and/or unique powers - or if there were no clerics.  That being said, I think for setting materials I will be going with a single church model.  A single model doesn't mean that all the clerics are of one mind or on the same sides - I would certainly expect factions or even different orders within this church.  I don't think that the concept of a personal (even chatty) relationship with a Deity is the right one for this model because having a very aware and communicative God would have too much impact on the world.  If a God was to take part and speak plain and direct to their flock like this, the world would become something more like a game of Populous or Civilization.  Leave a little mystery I say.

I'm going with something like... the Lords of Order.  Who are they?   Well they carved the world out of Chaos.  What are they? We don't really know.  What do they want?  They want to keep Chaos at bay.  What is Chaos?  That's what exists outside the world, from before the world - that's where Demons come from.  Are they good and just or cunning and evil?  Well um... both - that's why we cure and heal people and worship them but also that's why there are devils and suffering and injustice.  Why both - because both might and mercy are required to establish order.  Do we have free will to choose?  Yes you can choose to be good and merciful or mighty and evil, however both good and evil must be opposed to the destruction of chaos.  Is the Church good or evil?  The church strives to spread mercy, might needs no help to spread.  How many Lords of Order are there?  We don't know.  How do they grant you special powers?  We don't know, they choose people some for mercy, some for valor, some to smite chaos and some for reasons we don't understand.    Do demons also grant special powers?  Yes to some - those are cults and they need to be stopped from bringing chaos upon us.

Some of the 'Lords of Order' are going to be Godly and angelic beings, however some are just as obviously going to be Devils and Lords of Hell.  All beings of Order have their place in their hierarchy and abide by rules when dealing with people and each other.  A devil can't corrupt a soul by force and won't forswear themselves even if they will try to trick or intimidate a character.  On the other hand, demons are just in it for the destruction and have no problem with creating undead or possessing characters or going back on their word.

So one church and yes, I'm sure GM's and players will invent doctrine and saints to follow or invest particular attributes to certain Lords of Order to make things interesting.  Given that you have a church that can actually grant miracles, it will be assumed that they are very influential socially and the only thing stopping them from being the major force in society is this ambiguous theology, well that and the three way struggle between mercy-might and chaos. 

This goes back to an old school small scale vibe where you have the forces of Chaos nibbling at the periphery of  society in the form of goblin bands and mad cultists and horrible demons - and the adventurers are going in and stomping them down.  No alignments in Beacon so players can play selfless paragons just as easily as opportunist swords-for-hire.  They are all skulls for the skull throne.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Land of Beacon

Since the Beacon PDF is in a semi-fixed state now I've been turning my thoughts to the campaign setting I want to pair it up with.  Obviously in doing something like Beacon I have in mind things I like or want to explore with the rules that I have put together and given those rules, it's not going to be High Fantasy.

I also am not too keen on building up a elaborate structure of nations and peerage and  knightly orders and high society.  It might be fun to play a court intrigue game, but in that case there are probably better systems for it.  I could just ignore social constructs all together but I have an idea that it would be hard to explain away who runs the roads and protects the towns from the goblins and bandits.  I like the idea of some simple feudal structure because it's simple to understand and you can build dramatic stories in it.  It also explains how them solders and castles and roads get paid for.  I think that a good way to do this is to make the setting conform to a small map and a fairly new and smallish kingdom surrounded by unexplored territories. Like this map from back in September:
The map
Looking at that map I can think of some things happening there - the city is the largest population, it presumably controls the shipping trade (with who?) and would command the coast and the island and probably be the most wealthy with all that trade, the wine and fish and livestock.  It would be the place where the Ruler would be.  The tower and the two keeps would be places where large forces of fighting men were - obviously to protect the surrounding lands (and tax the inhabitants).  Really that's 3 powerful nobles - lets call them Counts for now although they might be the Ruler's children, his relations or simply very good fighting men.  The Count in the tower to the south west would have access to the output of the mines and the two nearby towns.  The Count in the middle keep would have those 3 towns all that grazing land to manage.  The Count in the eastern keep would have a bit of everything, mines, lake towns and the river town in their domain.  Something like this:
The 4 counties
The Ruler is the strongest of the counts who tax the the towns (governors or mayors) and the landowners (the landed gentry).  Freemen live in the cities and do trade and business.  Peasantry live on the land and farm and supply men for the army.  Simple.  Also where there is trade and craft - there are guilds.

That leaves some territories and towns outside, either as independent or as parts of other political organizations for foreign traders, elves, dwarfs and gnomes to come from.  There's also those ruins up in the northeast - well this isn't the first kingdom to hold these lands.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pages from the past pt.2 - Rune Magic

More scans today and this time relating to a magic system.  One thing that was a lot of fun for both players and me in my old game was the custom magic systems.  I was out of love with Vancian magic at the time and taking a page from the more free form power effects found in Marvel Superhero so I wanted something very organic.  I developed a couple frameworks (Spirit magic, Musical magic and probably most used was the Rune Magic) and let the characters come up with their own spells and gain higher ability in them based on how much XP they invested.

The Runes
There was one rune caster in the campaign named Lök, who was the guinea pig for the system and I think did a great job figuring out how to work it.  Here's some clippings from his spell books.
Lök's spell book - his known runes
The spell book was broken into two parts, the first being a list of the Runes that he understood or could use in casting. The interesting thing was that the runes were broken into verbs and nouns.  Gaining a new Rune would open up a whole bunch of new combinations with existing ones and was a great cause for celebration.

The second part of the spell book was the actual incantations that he had used.  The first time a spell was attempted it was very hard to cast, requiring a roll for the caster's magic skill and a result equal to a RED on the chart (picture a three colour Marvel Superhero chart something like this).  After spending XP on it a spell would shift to Yellow and finally to Green which meant it was well known.

Lök's spell book - early spells
Spells could use the same runes in them for different effects, but they were unique once crafted. The number of points used to cast the spell would determine it's effect based on whatever modifiers required e.g. amount of damage, material hardness, length of effects, etc.  He made some very popular spells like his Firewater spell with which he could make a really flammable alcohol and then light it up.  Once he acquired the rune for Earth he really went to town, becoming pretty formidable in combat as well.
Lök's spell book - later spells
It was a fun magic system and it worked pretty well considering we were basically play testing it on the fly.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pages from the past pt.1

I was digging through my old rpg papers from way back and came across some fun stuff that I thought I could post here without deviating too wildly into soup recipe territory.  Before I do that however I would like to credit the artist Susan Hill who doodled things in game or drew stuff on request because I sure as hell can't draw as well as her.  This material comes from a game I ran back in the (late 80- early 90's) using custom rules I wrote based on a Marvel Superheros style percentile chart.  It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work since character skills would be listed as a letter and sometimes with a green, yellow, red after it - not something quick to convert into from sources like the Monster Manual, DragonLance modules or ICE's Claw Law.

This first piece is a scan of a sheet showing the two main currencies, both based on a silver standard.  The top is the Kamerian coinage, with it's dragon motif.  The coins are your standard copper, silver, gold (crown), platinum (royal) but the higher denominations also have inset gems (what a nightmare that would be).  Also shown is the mithril coin which has no need for markings, being mithril and all and worth about 125 sp.

Kamerian Coins
The second set of 'coins' are Oban Marks - they are flat rectangles of various precious metals from the quarter mark (1 sp) to the Imperial (4000 sp) usually worn on a chain around the neck or waist, kind of a cross between dog tags and boat keys I seem to recall.

Oban Marks

The second bit here is a copy of the Delborian Calender.   I handed out a calender for the players to keep track of events and things.  The calendar had 13 months each 35 days long being a 'small' year and 4 of these small years for every 'great' year (based on the cycles of the moon re-aligning in Summer).  It had the moon phases drawn on it because the moon phases impacted some types of magic and sometimes things might be based on the moon phases (like lycanthropy, demons, terrible prophecy).  Mostly they just wrote people's birthdays on it.  It was great when a birthday came around and they bought/stole/made each other gifts.

Delborian Calendar
The little fellow on the page is a mugwump.  The mugwump was a small furry animal from the Delborian continent that had a breeding cycle of exactly 35 days from birth to birth.  They were a primary source of food all across the land, mainly by necessity, as they were plentiful but not particularly delicious.  At certain times of year in every major town there were large mugwump festivals held in order cook up huge batches of the critters so to keep their numbers down to manageable levels.

Friday, October 29, 2010


I got a couple pieces of feedback recently which is great because it means people actually read this.

Firstly one about the HP cost of making potions and scrolls.  My thoughts on this were that I didn't want first level characters making healing potions every spare minute so I figured a 10x multiplier would mean that they would need 30HP to do it so they would wait till 4-5th level - as Daniel pointed out it also meant that you would need to be absurdly high level to make even 3-4 level potions and scrolls.   I did go ahead and change this to a 5x multiplier in the rules but I had to think about it a bit.  You could leave it at 10x and spread the cost over the number of days - however that would pretty much make it meaningless and therefore a waste of bookkeeping.  You could also make it possible to pool the HP of a number of casters for the HP - which I really liked initially.  I think that the 10x modifier came from something I was reading on ritual spell casting in the first place where the HP was shared.  I can see a cleric meeting with his sect for the purpose of whipping up a batch of healing potions and you could even make adventures out of this idea where the party needs to convince the local church to help them by doing them a solid.  I can also see it becoming a situation where you get a party of 4 mages opening up a scroll shop which I am not so sure about.  In the end I figured simpler was better and went with the 5x mod and hope that the monetary and time overhead can prevent too many potions and scrolls getting made. 

The other feedback I got was somewhat related, it was a question about guidelines for treasure amounts.
I don't have specific info on treasure in the rules but there is some implied information.  The equipment cost charts, the cost of magic item creation and the ratio of gp/xp would determine how much treasure you hand out and let you balance it with how fast you want the party to advance.  I am pretty cheap when it comes to handing out treasure so the values are probably skewed towards that, however I tried to keep things mostly SRD compatible.  Running a game -  I probably use the equivalent of the SRD encounter treasure values for a whole session instead, and I know that I routinely cut back on written module treasure amounts by 50 - 80%.  It's probably because I did start out playing AD&D and using modules and always always got into a situation where the players had wagons full of treasure and nothing left to spend it on.  Now I try to keep the party LEAN.   I like it to take at least a couple sessions to gain a level and I find it is way more fun when they are scraping by than when they are full of cash.  It's really a balancing act to keep the amount of treasure coming in and the amount going out in sync.  In Beacon I really tried to put in a couple big release valves on the player economy besides good and services - the first being spending gold for xp and the second being costs for making disposable magic items like potions and scrolls.  It doesn't really matter what the values are or whether you give out 5sp or 500gp for a goblin band as long as you balance it on the output side as well.

Really though the answer to both these is to do what you want and what will fit in your campaign.  It can be awesome fun to have a party with a wagon of treasure and their own scroll shop.  Those guys are living large!  It can be just as fun to have a group of half-equipped characters picking through the ogre horde for unbroken arrows and a bit of silver to carry on the fight.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beacon Update

The second version of the Beacon PDF is posted.  It includes stuff like a second attack for Hunters, more combat rules, rules for scroll and potion creation, reworked spell lists (to level 5) and a bunch of other stuff.  It should be fully usable now and I plan of using it to play test a bit before making any more major changes.  And don't think it's not tempting to make more major changes.

I left up the first draft for a bit for those of you who like to compare things.

And if you notice any (unintentional) weird crap in there feel free to let me know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Potions and Scrolls

I want to allow the characters to manufacture magical items but not spend all their time in the shop building dungeon busters or wagon loads of healing potions instead of adventuring.  I think that the first guy to cast continual light on a bag of stones and then cover them in clay was a real clever player who deserved a reward, however I think that allowing other players to do this and destroy the livelihood of  torch makers everywhere is stupid.  I think it's good to put a heavy price on crafting scrolls and potions, and also make a HP expenditure large enough to ensure that characters have to be a decent level to make them. 
Divine Magic can be made into potions.  The potion must be created in a well stocked alchemist laboratory and it takes a day per spell level to prepare the ingredients. It requires an HP expenditure of 10x the spell cost to infuse the potion with the magic.  Potions are applied topically or ingested as appropriate.  Suggested ingredients for potions are rare and expensive monster parts, precious stones or herbs.  Costs should average 1000gp/spell level.
Arcane magic can be made into scrolls.  Scrolls are written copies of spells that can be cast through use of a Read Magic spell.  Generally the type of spell (and other errata) is indicated on the scroll allowing it to be determined prior to casting- but this does not always have to be the case. Reading a scroll from a different school of magic adds a DC modifier of +5 to properly cast the spell.  
Costs for making scrolls should be comparable with the costs of potions (HP 10 x spell cost and 1000gp and 1day per spell level).  Like spells found in spell books, spells on scrolls can be transcribed into spell books given materials and 1 day per spell level.  The transcriber must have a high enough level to cast the spell in order to copy it to their book.
Given these rules a 4th level Restoration potion or Dimension Door scroll would cost the caster 4000gp in materials, take 4 days to work up and require the caster had 91 HP to create.  So they aren't going to be just lying around on the ground.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Divine Magic

The Cleric class is one of the most problematic because it has the potential to be very interesting or very uninteresting depending on how it's executed in the setting.  In a detailed in campaign world there is usually a detailed and balanced pantheon of Gods (or whatnot) for clerics to play off of. In a minimalist campaign there usually isn't a lot of thought put into it and generic gods are pulled out.  In both cases there can a be a problem because in the detailed world all these divine entities would require custom versions of the cleric to carry their various philosophies/powers into the world -  something not much supported in the general rules.  In the minimalist campaign the Cleric is simply is the holy magic guy - an armour wearing magic user who heals and touts the laws of a generic god - something which is supported in the rules but can be a drag. The SRD is least helpful in this, as a lot of cleric spells are duplicates of magic user spells anyway - so the perception of  is reinforced. Sure all this can be overcome by good players and GMs in either instance, but I think that the deck is stacked against it.  Ideally a cleric spell list would be a list of spells rituals that derived from their religion and the more religions in the setting the more spells and rituals you would have to deal with.  That's hard on the GM and hard on the players however and I tip my hat to those that can pull it off well.  I can't offer many solutions to this here.  I did have the idea of making the cleric spells over entirely but I am trying to make Beacon as compatible with d20 references as I can so I settled with working over the SRD spells, trying to find ways to highlight the class.  I did put back in a lot of dualism in the spells which I think follows from the older game - I can't recall if there was an actual cause light woulds in old d&d spell lists but it was implied (or imagined) a bad cleric could reverse the cure spells.

In Beacon, Arcane magic is the magic of Words, Divine magic is the magic of Souls.  The spells come from outside the caster and can be channeled by will alone.  Divine magic spells can be made into potions, they can be imbued into objects - but they cannot be written down.   Following from this a cleric can't add spells to their spell book - they either simply know all the spells as a product of their faith or have had religious training to access them.  I am willing to go either way on this - perhaps a mixture of the two if I was running the campaign.

As for the holy avenger role - in D&D the paladin fills that role, something that always bugged me.  I mean isn't the cleric really supposed to be the paladin?  If he wasn't he wouldn't be allowed to wear plate armour and beat the hell out of things- he'd be in the back with the wizards.  They needed a whole other class just because they won't let the poor bastard use sharp objects?

So a Beacon Cleric can use sharp objects (unless his faith prohibits), and can use armour (unless his faith prohibits) and can cast spells (the ones his faith gives him).  He can be the terrible dude in black mail on the black horse with the fiery sword - or he can be the nearsighted monk with surprising strength of will.  Or the swamp witch who prays to the fen spirits to take away your blindness.  Or something else entirely.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What spells can say about the setting.

I hate to harp on these obvious things but going over the spell lists really brings home how the rules, and especially how spells rely on features of the game setting.  For example here's a pretty simple 4th level Cleric spell from Beacon:
Ethereal Ward:
Range:  Radius 25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels.
Duration: 10 min/level.
Area is impassable to Ethereal creatures and effects (including spells such as invisibility and Mage Sight, but not greater invisibility).  When the spell is cast, ethereal creatures already in the area are ejected and Ethereal based spells stop working.
So what does this say about the setting?  Well it says that the Ethereal plane is pretty damn important for magic users since it appears that the invisibility spell utilizes it in some way (It wraps the target in Etherealness to be specific).  So Arcane mages (or at least the high level ones or the sages) are probably pretty somewhat versed in Ethereal lore or mechanics to have come up with something like this.   You may not want to do anything with planes in you game (inner or outer) but there it is in the rules and your players are going to be exposed to it.  They are going to want to know what other Ethereal based spells and creatures are out there.

I put this spell in Beacon to replace the SRD spell Dimensional Anchor because that spell made a whole different assumption about the setting - namely that there are a butt-tonne of creatures called outsiders zipping around all these exotic planes and you might want to nab one of them before they flit off to the Lawful Indifferent Plane of Left-handed Smoke Elementals.  Having a 409 alternate planes might be great for your Pathfinder campaign but I DO NOT WANT.

Ok this is a bit of a straw-man argument because Dimensional Anchor is a pretty nice spell and does not necessitate having a lot of planes of existence - you could just use it for a Demon bashing campaign (I will probably do this actually, just with a different set of spells).  But the basic idea is I'm trying to remove some of the baggage.  That's the other reason I am reworking the spells instead of just using the SRD.  The main reason is just a rebalance because you have more spells per day in Beacon and a lot of SRD spells get pretty powerful if they are usable on demand and aren't taking up a precious spell slot.  Also there is a hell of a lot of overlap in the SRD and that's just lazy.

SO, you might not agree on my idea of a fantasy setting but if you use the Beacon spell lists there will be no adventures to the Lawful Indifferent Plane of Left-handed Smoke Elementals like you get when you use those nasty SRD spells.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I'm through working over the Arcane spells and onto the Divine spells now, and so almost ready to post the new draft.   Since Druids aren't a variant of Clerics in Beacon, most of their overlapped healing ability is out the window (for the better I think) but I did leave in some aspects of it - namely dealing with poisons and dealing with fatigue. There's a nice first level spell that ties in with the rules about HP and resting* and would be helpful for a traveling party.
Restful Glade:
Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels.
Duration: 8 hours.
Description:  Enchants an area, providing a comfortable rest in the wilderness.
For some reason 4th level Druid spells needed a lot of work so here are three of them I had to work up.  This is the replacement for the Druid animal shape change special ability which I think is pretty fair.
Animal Form:
Range: Personal.
Duration: 10min./level.
Description:  Caster is able to assume any natural animal form.  They assume the statistics of the form and can use any natural abilities of the animal (e.g. dig, fly, smell) however they retain their original HP and the ability to speak and cast spells.
This one should add some damage when cast on a floor or someones sword.
Static Charge:
Range:  Touch.
Duration: Instant.
Description:  Adds 1d6/level of lightning damage to an object which is discharged when next touched.
This one replaces Summon Nature's Ally 1-6 in the SRD with one spell.  I'll probably make a more robust summoning spell to replace the top level versions but call it something else.
Summon Nature’s Ally:
Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels.
Duration: 1 min./level.
Description:  Summons non-intelligent, non-magical animal(s) totaling 6 HD who fight or otherwise act on behalf of the caster for example a 6 HD lion, or three 2 HD wolves or a dozen rats or ravens with ½ HD each.  The creatures immediately vanish when killed or when the spell ends.
So that about sums it up for Arcane magic and Druids, Mages and IlluEnchanters.  Next week: Clerics and Divine Magic and hopefully a new draft of the Beacon PDF.

*Hit Points are restored fully after a solid rest, usually 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep or meditation in comfortable surroundings. Partial recovery can be determined by the Game Master. For example a character trying to rest in a cold dank cave or while hiding in a forest with no fire or shelter may gain back only some HP, while a character lodging in an expensive inn with a soft bed and a hot meal and bath would perhaps only require 6 hours rest.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

some call him... Tim

Beacon has an Illusionist class because the Microlite advanced rules have an Illusionist class (probably because AD&D had (has?) an Illusionist class).  It's also because I have a metal mini of an illusionist just like this one:
Ral Partha's Female Illusionist
It's certainly not because I ever played an Illusionist or had an Illusionist in any of the games I ran.  I believe it's because the name Illusionist sounds pretty wonky.  I mean who wants to be Latona the Illusionist?   No one will take your gold, everyone cracks wise about what you have to do to get a man, all the jokes about if they are real or not.  Also of all the spells in the Illusionist list there are a lot of mind altering spells but not a real majority of actual illusions.  Now I'm not saying that the Illusionist class isn't good - in fact I've spent more work on it than any of the other ones and I want it to work.  But maybe I should rename it.

I tried to make the class names more generic so that instead of the Ranger (retconned these days to mean 'ranged damage dealer' from the original 'elf hugger who likes to walk a lot') you have the Hunter.  A Hunter you can fit into more roles such as Barbarian wanderer, Bowman or City Rat-catcher as I mentioned a while back.  Also the class Rogue is more generic and covers more ground than simply Thief - including players who want to be an Assassin, or a Con-man, or a Horse Courier who likes to swindle people in real-estate.

Mages get a bonus to Knowledge - they are the scholarly types. Druids get a bonus to Survival/Knowledge - they are the natural philosopher types. Illusionists get a bonus to Communication/Subterfuge - they are the tricky mind messing type.  They deal in illusions yes, but that's only part of their repertoire.  They are just as happy to use charms and compulsions to get the job done, maybe even more happy.

If you hadn't already guessed, I had a sudden strong compulsion desire to re-brand the whole Illusionist class to Enchanter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

a couple illusionist spells

Working over the spell lists and I've made a few alterations to what I had in the first draft PDF.  I gave sleep to the illusionist which may be a bit jarring for first time mages but it works better thematically that the illusionists deal with mental forces like sleep and the mages deal with um... forces.  Both mages and illusionists have invisibility for now although I'm still waffling that over so they both keep it unless I find a great mage spell to slide in instead.  Copping a decent illusionist out of the SRD spell lists isn't too hard actually but I have had to modify or squeak in a few spells to chunk it up a bit.

At 4th level I inserted this little number which was a rework of Shadow Conjuration (which looked to be to much of a PITA really):
Animate Shadow:
Range:  25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels.
Duration: Concentration + 1 min./level.
Description:  Turns an existing shadow of any type into a shadow of a creature or creatures with total HD equal to the casters level.  Shadow creatures are mostly insubstantial and do 1d6 damage and have an AC of 15.

I like the imagery there a lot.

At 5th level I had a spell called Insanity and that seemed kind of generic so I made it into:
Visions of Insanity:
Range: Sight.
Duration: 1day/level.
Description: Caster creates images in the target’s mind that are so horrible that they become insane.  Save is DC 5+ 1/caster level.
That one makes me think of the guy dropping his sword and screaming "TAKE IT AWAY!" while the illusionist holds the terrible vision in front of his eyes.  He was never really right after that.  I suppose this would beg for a insanity table of some sort to figure out the effect but I bet there are plenty out there already.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I'm a grumpy old man

I got this quasi-spammish email from some folks affiliated with DriveThruRPG:
The Anti-Party

Player Characters are not the only ones who enjoy bonding in groups. Antagonists can do it, too,

These teams are the ultimate enemies to defeat, created as part of the custom design process behind the Coliseum Morpheuon patronage project. Paper Minis: Coliseum Morpheuon brings you two allied groups with complex motivations beyond simple good and evil, with challenging team tactics and intriguing interpersonal dynamics. They are here to equalize and oppose the power of your adventuring group. This product is presented in the Seven Sentence Npc format plus a secret for both teams and each individual. A complex statblock and corresponding paper miniature is provided for each member of the two teams.
The two teams consist of:

The Dirges: a group of nightmarish murderers,

    * Gallows Huge Undead (Augmented Plant); CR 15
    * Frau Kindle Female Human Sorcerer 15; CR 14
    * Mother Female Dread Wraith Sovereign Human Cleric 12; CR 14
    * Pike Male Advanced Troll War Master 9; CR 14
    * Winegrow Sop Male Wyrd Bard 9 Whispering Advisor of the Emperor Dragons 5; CR 13

The Gray Feathers: a group of formerly evil beings struggling to hold on to their redemption

    * Drahka-Kuhl Male Fire Infused Minotaur Druid 12; CR 16
    * Erzebeth Nostrayli, “The Crimson Shadow” Female Vampire Elf Rogue 15; CR 16
    * Koranger Kolyarut Inevitable Bard 6; CR 16
    * Loren Desharn Male Glabrezu-Possessed Human Fighter 10/Paladin 5; CR 16
    * “Rainbow” Unique Entity Medium outsider CR 16

Bonus paper mini: Were-Hellhound!
Now I don't mind getting this cause I did sign up to DriveThruRPG to download some real fun stuff for free (also Laser Ponies for like a buck fifty!) so I can't complain of getting a bit o spam from them.  I also like the idea of someone putting together a party of baddies for an adventure.

But a Female Dread Wraith Sovereign Human Cleric? a Male Wyrd Bard 9 Whispering Advisor of the Emperor Dragons? a Fire Infused Minotaur Druid? Good lord I don't even know what the hell that is and I'm sure I don't approve of having these guys hanging around each other!  I certainly don't want to be running a system where this is the baseline.

Grumpy old man.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Some Cantrips

I'm busy trying to get all the spells done for the next version of the Beacon PDF. In order to manage this in a reasonable time I'm dropping the Arcane lists down to 9 spells from each level (9 levels 9 spells / level for no particular reason) and only going up to level 5 spells for now (enough to run a decent length campaign off this version of the PDF.) Anyway, as I go through them I'm finding that in order to make the lists more distinct I am having to craft some new spells or variants of existing ones to fit.

Here's an illusionist version of the Prestidigitation cantrip:
Range: 10 ft.
Duration: 10 minutes/level.
Description: Performs minor visual tricks such as colour changes to things like smoke, clothing, eyes and hair, sparkling effects or other very minor illusions.
Also since the class descriptions are purposefully light there are some extra spells here and there to mimic class effects from other systems.  For example this Druid cantrip which replaces their resistance to faerie magic.
Resist Glamour:
Range: Touch.
Duration: 1 hour/level.
Description:  +1/level to resist charm and sleep effects of woodland creatures.
Or the cleric's first level equivalent of Turning:
*Turn Undead/Cause Fear:
Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft./level.
Duration: 10 minutes/level.
Description: 1 HD /level of undead/living are sent fleeing.

Another one of the reasons for only going to level 5 is to try to get more play-testing in before working on the higher level spells.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Arrows and Attack Bonus

Since combat is a 1 minute round, I'm seriously thinking of giving the Hunter class an extra arrow per round every three levels.  I'm still not sure what I think of the Attack Bonus rule in Microlite or if I want to use it but I suppose it could be used for the same effect (also used for throwing knives say...).
Attack Bonus

If the characters total attack bonus is +6 or more a second attack can be made with a -5 penalty. If the total bonus is +11 or more a third attack can be made at -10. For example, if the total bonus is +12, three attacks can be made at +12/+7/+2.
Following this a Hunter at level 4 would get +6 bonus to ranged weapons (+4 for being level 4 and +2 for class bonus) so would get the extra attack then but at a -5 penalty.  That works out however I wonder if it would be better to just hand out extra attacks as a class ability and forgo the penalties?

Hmmm an update:  Mulling it over more, I thought about a good compromise that lets me keep the fun of the Attack Bonus but gives Hunters a little bump to make them an attractive an option as the Fighter (who get the combat bonus with all types of weapons and a HP bump to boot):  Give Hunters one additional ranged attack from the get-go.  This way a level 1 Hunter would get to whip off two arrows or toss two throwing axes in a round and then at level 4 they could get off a third one at a -5 penalty.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Town of Milham

This is the Town of Milham done in Gimp with layers to separate the different features.

Milham 'the GM's copy'*
Here's Milham using other layer choices and some blending:

Milham 'the handout'

I still sometimes can't believe things like Gimp are free.

*ok ok I didn't print the keyed encounter layer because I might use this and there are spies everywhere you know.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Empowerment and Counterspell

I'm choosing to keep the "Empowering" magic rules from Microlite Advanced because I think it's a great way to get magic characters to burn up more HP and get into fun situations.  The rules are:
  •     Extending makes a spell last twice as long as it normally would. An Extended spell costs an additional 2 HP.
  •     Empowering makes a spell do 50% more damage than it normally would. An Empowered spell costs an additional 4 HP.
  •     Widening makes a spell’s area of effect twice as big as it would normally be. A Widened spell costs an additional 6 HP.
 What's not to like about that really?  I think this is like fast-food marketing techniques, getting players to spend a few extra HP to supersize their character's spells.

In addition there was a clever concept from the Microlite forums about something called Counterspell.

The premise behind counterspell is that generally magic duels are trés suck. Unless there is some serious preparation beforehand, the first mage to get off a spell is likely to char the other one into dust, silence them, or turn them into a paramecium. That's pretty boring. It's also a bit crummy because you don't often wake up in the morning expecting to get into a dramatic magic duel and so can't really prepare for it beyond the obvious.  To liven up this DUEL concept, magic users are allowed to attempt to counter spells cast by other magic users before they get cast.  The better you are vs the opponent magic user (levels), and the more effort you spend (HP as fatigue here) the better chance you have to counter their spell.  Falling to your knees in exhaustion after countering that evil mage's fireball before it blasts your half conscious companions off the bridge, now that's more exciting isn't it?

Here's how I wrote it up:
Arcane spell casters have the ability to disrupt other arcane casters by attempting to counter their spell.  Casters can attempt to counter any type of arcane spell, however get a -1 penalty when countering spells from other schools. Counter spell is considered a cantrip or level 0 spell but only counts as a minor action.

The moment that a spell is cast, any caster aware of that (and who has a minor action available) may try to counter the spell. In order to succeed the countering caster must pass a DC 20 + (spell caster's level) Save roll. Before rolling they may choose to use their magical energies to improve their chances of success: for each HP invested by doing so, this Save roll gains +1 bonus. This loss of HP is only healed by resting, as per normal magic rules.
Since Beacon spells take a full action to get off, you can only counter spells if you aren't casting them which makes for some hard decisions.  Also this is something just for the Arcane guys - the divine casters don't get to play.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Read Magic

I wanted the three Arcane magic classes to be as distinct as possible with little overlap - this would emphasize the differences in play approach of the classes.  Illusionists just don't deal out the same kind of damage as a mage would for example, their play style should be more subtle.  Druids would be experts at practical applications of magic, especially in the natural world.   Mages would have a wider array of magics and probably be more skilled at dealing with raw magic forces.  Also Arcane magic has to be real distinct from Divine magic - a decision that led me to include a lot of Druid spells into the Arcane lists, and eventually decide that Druids just weren't going to be Divine spell casters.  For the most part I did like the lists used in Microlite (which seem to be a paraphrase of the SRD spell lists), but there was some overlap and sometimes a spell's power would make it useless or overpowered in a point system where you could get away with it in a slots per day system.

The concept I wanted to get across was that Arcane magic was all about complicated and precise thought formulas - the kind of formulas that you would need to have in a book to constantly study and practice.  Arcane magic is about the written word.  Only Arcane magic can be made into scrolls.

Arcane casters, be they a mage, druid or illusionist, need a spell book and must spend time studying it and working with their craft. Now the spellbook itself isn't magic (although it probably would show faintly if you cast detect magic), however it is written in the language of magic and it's not just a book - it's also a quill and special ink and herbs and notes and lists written on the study of magic.  If you lost your spell books and equipment you would barely get by until it was replaced.  Just like you could possibly run a game of say BattleTech without the rule books and minis, it is a lot easier with them, especially a large game.   Especially a large game in the dark in a foreign language.

Microlite has spell casters knowing all spells of the level they can cast.  I like to scale that back quite a bit because I like making spells part of the loot.  Beacon rules state that Arcane casters start out knowing their class cantrips and and three 1st level spells.  The rest they must seek out in the libraries, dark catacombs and wizarding associations of the world.  The great beauty of this kind of thing is that you can totally slide in your own weird 3rd level spell in a old library deep in an ancient crypt.

I don't think I want to write specific rules for gaining new spells or what happens when your spell book is lost because that I think is a setting kind of thing, however personally I think I would be making it pretty hard on characters to cast spells beyond the simple cantrips.  In The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg, the spell casters must visit the Library in the great city of Pandathaway to transcribe some spells that were lost when their spell books were destroyed.  It was a very expensive and time consuming process as befits all things relating to the study of Arcane Magic.

note: I read this cool blogpost about Vancian magic not long after I posted this.  Sweet.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Practicing Arcane Magic

In my addled mind I can picture the typical arcane spell caster.  He is not a young man, but he is not ancient either.  He has wrinkles around his eyes since he has had to spend a lot of time in in poor light studying.  His movements and words are precise as he has learned the consequence of an improper gesture or phrase.  He may be keenly perceptive or almost absent minded except where it concerns his area of study, whether it be the forces of reality, the natural world or the arena of the mind.  His power is not granted to him, it comes from his will to understand and his ability to hold onto his mind in this understanding.  He may be a good humored fellow, but he won't joke about magic.  Magic is serious business.

I like to think there's a reason that powerful mages don't often run roughshod over the world - it's because magic is dangerous stuff and if they don't eventually screw it up (consider the primary cause of mass wasting in mountain chains is not erosion...) they usually go crazy.  Giving up on Vancian magic does not mean that you have to neuter the magic of a spell system.  Yes a lot of this relies on the campaign setting, however in the rules I wanted to make sure that there was some reflection of this - so there is always a dice roll for casting a spell.  Along with a dice roll comes a critical hit/fumble table as well.

Also a personal peeve of mine;
Whenever I have someone look at Beacon (or Microlite) one of the first comments is "I don't like that magic uses up your hit points.  I think that will make players not want to cast spells."

I just don't understand this comment because having a fixed number of daily spell slots will also make players not want to use spells (especially once they have used all their daily slots up).  Here's a clip from a email I sent to doubtful friend of mine (who shall remain nameless for now!)
Figure that you are a mage with a STR of 13 and you get a 4 on your <hp> roll so you have 17 Hp which is pretty average.  A first level spell costs 3hp to cast and cantrips like the light spell cost 1 so at level 1 out the gate you can cast light 3 times, magic missile and 2 sleep spells (1+1+1+3+3+3=12) and still have 5hp left over before you pass out.  If you get to 0hp you still have 13 STR before you die.  If there was a real emergency you still can cast one first level and one cantrip and let the heavy carry you back to town and you get all your HP back after a good 8 hour rest.

That's way better than old school d&d where you would have one sleep spell per day*.
A Beacon mage will generally have more spells available to cast than their d&d counterpart, as well as be more useful when not spell casting due to the more flexible skill system.  Some of those spell might not work,  there's a small chance they may work at double or even triple levels of power or they might even backfire and scorch your MIND.

SO you get more spells my apprentice - but they will come at a price!  Mu-hahah<cough>haha

*and probably 2 HP --- in your face!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

4 x 5 Skill System

I think it was 2nd edition AD&D that introduced the world to the Use Rope skill.  I'm not sure whether this list o' skills system idea grew out of the game organically or if it was bolted on because other systems were doing it, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I thought it was cool that my Fighter was a good fisherman and mountaineer.  I'm looking at it again now however, and I think that it's not been such a successful idea.
Initially you had class tables, stats and saving throws to give some base values to hang success checks off of.  You wanted to try something use the table.  If you had no table you would make a strength check, or make a saving throw.  If you could replace those class tables, various stunt tables and saving throws with a set of skills maybe that would be better.  However the skills didn't replace the old stuff, they were bolted onto the framework so now you had more moving parts. Also the skills didn't really integrate into the classes and they certainly didn't integrate into the level system very well.  Add to this you will still have those cases where there is ambiguity and no skill to cover the situation so you are either stuck making new skills or new tables for these new solutions or calling for more stat checks or (sometimes arbitrary) saving throws based on the situations.  How many modules had a one off weird effect that was save vs wands?  Mixing list of skills with a class/level geared system can probably work, but it isn't going to be a graceful child. 

That's why I like the Microlite skill system.  The skills and the stats are integrated with the classes and level advancement and they are generic enough that when they are matched to a Stat they can apply to most situations.   You don't need special saving throws because you can assign a skill or stat check to do the same function.  The 4 Microlite Stats are STRength, DEXterity, MIND, and CHArisma.  The 5 Skills are Physical, Subterfuge, Communication, Knowledge and Survival.  It's a 4x5 grid system.  By using them individually or mixing these up with the stat bonus applied to the Skill value you can assign a base number to most activities that aren't covered by (the few) denoted combat or magic rules.  Also depending on how a task is described by the players you can assign a more appropriate base number.

Say your players want to leap a wide chasm - you can use Physical + STR bonus to see if they do it.  The Rogue isn't happy with this due to a low STR stat, and describes using a sapling as pole to vault over it so you let her roll Phys+DEX instead.  To convince the henchmen to follow them into a magic portal you can say Comm+CHA or MIND bonus depending on if they make a stirring oration or a reasoned plea.  Pick a pocket - Sub+DEX, out lie a minstrel - Sub+Comm,  hide a ferret in their pants... um perhaps Sub+STR?  Use a friggin rope? Well that depends on what you use it for but however it is used you have a lot of options here including Sub+MIND (rope tricks), Phys+STR (climbing a rockface),  Survival+MIND (making a snare loop), Comm+CHA (Well you get the idea).

The class bonuses to the Skills also reinforces the system, not only mechanically but by encouraging styles of problem solving.  Fighters who are always working with their bodies are consequently utilizing their physical skills, Mages are going to be better at Knowledge based tasks, and Rogues get benefits from doing things the sneaky way.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

and miscellaneous

I'm sure glad that Delta posted an article on his Stone Encumbrance system because I think I would use that if encumbrance became an issue.  I won't be adding in any rules for it into Beacon anyway aside from "use common sense".  I've already got way more rules than I thought I would have.  I'm going to try to have an update to the draft doc up in the next couple weeks or so which includes more detailed  magic spell lists.  They are more detailed in that they include information on ranges and duration.

I also picked up the Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D box off of the eBay.  I'm pretty happy about that because it comes with the Keep on the Borderlands module and I've wanted a copy of that one like forever.  I think Keep on the Borderlands is the seminal work of the Points Of Light style that I would most like to run as a campaign setting.  In the past I always seemed to have kings and empires at war and Terrible Events come creeping into my campaigns and I think that next time I want to avoid this.  Less San Gréal and more Sanford and Son.  Module B2 will be a good study guide.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Movement and terrain

I didn't want to deal with movement rates and speed.  I liked the Microlite movement system where you could move as far as you needed to or as far as I thought would be cool.  The bowmen on the stairs are too far away to reach this turn.  The Dark Castle is 2 days away, you'll get there around dusk in a couple days (evil laugh).

That's not how the players think however.  They want to get up to those bowmen and take them out this turn.  They want to get to the dark castle in the afternoon so they can scope it out.  They will ask you "how far" and if you show any signs of weakness and mutter some half assed answer like '60', they'll be on you like PCs on a bowman saying "no way! I can run that far in a minute carrying my camping gear to get on a bus!" or "we said we bought the fastest horses in the city!  No way it will take 2 days to travel 60 miles!".  At least if you have some rules you can point to them and shrug.

I'm not talking power gamers here either.  If you are using minis to illustrate positioning  this is certainly going to come up.  Playing Microlite with my kids and one of  the first encounters they had with the battlemap turned into a chase around a couple of trees and they wanted to know exactly how many squares they could move to keep their distance and keep throwing things at the bad guys.  I had drawn the trees in just for flavour and they immediately became tactical points in the fight. 

I'm not really sure how I want to deal with movement except a vague idea that you can move twice in a combat turn if you want and that it has to be simple.  I like the SRD base movement rate of 20 ft.  Using minis and a 5 ft. square, that's 4 squares per move or 8 if you just move in that turn.  I can even get behind the idea that if you are unencumbered you could move double that, especially if that also covers monsters dropping their weapons and fleeing or fear spells.  I would also like to have some differences in speed based on the characters 'quickness' (add 1 square per dex bonus point perhaps?).  That means a character with 18 DEX can move 40ft while a character with a DEX of 3 can move 5 ft. (he's real slow to react to stuff, not necessarily physically hobbled).  I think I can get away with something like that anyway.  I'm not going to get into racial leg lengths or the fleetness of elves or any of that.  As for monsters, well you can use their speed out of the SRD* or just make up something.  Maybe creatures get to move 20 ft. per pair of legs or something.  Flying, swimming - hell I don't want to get into it.  Someone has certainly made some charts somewhere.

I also like this idea of move 20 if you extrapolate and say that they can move 20 miles per day on foot (no Dex bonus for non combat movement because you aren't reacting to stuff - you are slogging).  That works well for my style and leaves room for the 30 mile per day on horse movement rate that I base my maps on (although I don't know how realistic any of that it is).

As for terrain, well if you are standing on a ledge looking down on the enemy or walking across swampland to get to the castle - this is going to impact combat and movement.  How much is the question.  And how simple can I make it while still keeping things neato.  I think I need to think on it more because I don't just want to be re-writing tables from the Wilderness Survival guide over again.

* I hate leaning on the SRD so much but on the other hand it's a simple web click away and so many of these things have been hashed out for years and are common in a wide range of game supplements  - why should I spend a lot of time changing them?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gold Standard

I get that idea that the economy of d&d was based on a gold rush style of inflation where goods were scarce and gold plentiful.  Unfortunately these price lists have been used everywhere from border towns to magical fairy cities and items have been tacked on or price adjusted over the years until you have things like a length of chain costing more than the mule that's pulling it or dwarves buying plate armour off the rack. 

In my old home brew campaign I tried to institute a couple different monetary systems, there was the focus empire where the silver coin was the base unit and there were Crowns, Royals and Imperials, the island nation to the south used long flat wafers of different sizes called Marks and the sprawling trader nations to the east used a paper money system.  Since I'm neither a economist or a history expert I didn't have prices for items ready to use on demand so initially I tried using the AD&D ones or other supplements and just substituted silver for gold when making up prices. Even then it took time to reference them and then it took time to do the conversions between the different economies.  This can be fun but mostly it isn't.  As much as the default d&d coinage/price system sucks, I understand that most GM's (or their players) don't want to model a complex system like an economy.  They want to bust up some shit.  Aside from dropping unbalancing magic items and repricing expensive trinkets, when you are using modules from all sorts of places for encounters, it becomes a real drag to constantly tinker and correct the coinage on the fly.

So for Beacon I wanted to keep things close to the SRD while providing an easy out for the masochists that like to tinker*.  I've included info from the SRD on equipment and coinage (especially the 10-1 ratios and coin weights of 1/3 oz or 50/lb).  I've only tinkered with the price lists a little bit (because I can dammit).

Here's the easy out:  There was an old empire now fallen and there is a lot of old coinage from back then still out in circulation.  Especially in the dark caves and wild lands.  That coinage is pretty durable stuff and people like it and use it a lot even though that use may or may not be looked favorably upon by the local authorities.  I think there's a lot of potential in that idea. If you're in a society that has it's own monetary system and you come across a horde of 1/3 oz silver and gold pieces they might be fine using it in their markets or they may want you to exchange that coinage for theirs - they might want to tax it or even confiscate it.  Or maybe there are no societies anymore.

Meanwhile there are a lot of good discussions on 'the blogs' about finance and campaign settings and these have useful information on everything from developing resource based economy to barter systems to historical price examples.  I like the discussion about on The 25 Mile Hex about Manor Economics which fits in well with the traditional d&d 'end game' and gives some good ideas on how wealth gets carved out of those wilderness maps.

*I think that's a good design motto actually.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Land of Map

It's Friday and it's game night and for a change of pace I want to write about something on the periphery of the game but that actually has a lot of impact on putting together the core rules - the setting.  Most GMs will haberdash together their own settings for a game but most good game systems have an implied setting - even if it's just the one used in their examples.  I think that one of the reasons I'm taking so long on how to package the magic section for Beacon is that magic is one of the variable systems that can really be impacted by the setting (XP is another).  And by setting I don't mean the location, I mean the entire 'setting' package - the locations yes but also, how much treasure is out there, how much fantastic vs grit.  How many wand and healing potions would you expect to find? 

I like my adventures to be more gritty than fantastic - you are more likely to be exploring an old ruined temple than a mad wizards death-maze.  If you do run across a death-maze then it's probably only got one portal to the netherworld and a small number of magic fountains.  So from this you can assume that magic is somewhat uncommon in my preferred setting and therefore I'm not likely to have a long list of random magic items and artifacts in the treasure section or wish spell on the Mage spell lists.  Normally you'd be correct but I know that not everyone plays this way so should this go into a core 'rule book' or should it be part of a separate setting book so that the core rules can be used with other more setting appropriate material if the GM chooses?  Does this mean I should have a separate document for the spell lists so that folks can use the SRD if they prefer?  I don't know.  I expect I'll figure something out.

I have a map you know.  I made it in Gimp and it has layers (some, like the encounter layer, I'm not going to display to you).  Here it is.

The Land of Map

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Critical Hitting

It is a simple thing to say you have a 5% chance to do full damage or double damage.  That can be exciting and it can be enough.  I totally encourage this if it's the style of play you want.  However...

I am a fan of the Iron Crown Enterprises Role Master Series, even if I don't think I'd want to play it again.  Coming off AD&D in high school, Role Master seemed like a fantastic system to us.  All those percentile tables were great and the critical hit tables were just full of awesome.  Nose breaking, brain bursting, fire scorching awesome.  All those looking up tables and rolling took a toll on the game however and after a year or so we switched the campaign over to a much simpler percentile die system (Marvel Superheros).  Since then I have always had a soft spot for the distribution curve* and unfortunately, aside from character stat generation this isn't satisfied in d20.  I did think about using 2d10 for d20 but the system isn't designed for it and I believe that you would get a lot of grief and wasted die rolling by bolting it on.  I did want to keep something of that alive however so the perfect place to do it was in a Critical Hit table.

There is something special about a % table**.  Maybe it's because the most common results come from the middle and generally the things you want to have happen (or not happen) are the first and last item on the list.  Those events are pretty rare so when they happen they really stand out.  It's fun putting them together and once you flesh out the middle, you can relax a bit on game balance and put in some cool bits.  Your critical hit/miss table can have a mage loose 1d6 MIND points from a botched spell or have a fighter shatter his opponents shield (or his shield arm!), because it's not going to happen that often.  It provides a way to damage armour and keep blacksmiths busy fixing chain-mail, it provides churches with Restoration spells another source of income.  And when you roll that triple sized fireball and perhaps kill half your party - you'll remember it as special too.

* ok more of a angle than a curve with percentile dice, but still a probability graph!

** note I totally got this ass backwards if you read Trevors' comments below but remember that it's been like two decades since I played rolemaster.  The important part is that Beacon used 2d10 for critical hits because it's kick ass.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I get where the Microlite experience system is coming from - counting up encounter levels (EL) is simple and easy to work with, but for my mind I need to have wiggle room to add or subtract the amount of experience based on game play and for that I wanted more granular units.  I could have worked with EL if I hadn't wanted to give XP for spent treasure or hand out little XP perks for good game moments.  As it is I went with a general goal of 100XP per HD so that I could throw in 25 or 30 XP here and there.  Going with this makes it easy to put the level requirements at multiples of 1000 so level 1 is 1000XP, level 2 would be 2000, level 11 would be 11000.   I also like handing out 25 and 50 XP bonuses for little game play things like figuring out the magic lever or babysitting the kolbolds.  If I were to be running on a level *100 system I would be worried about handing out too much or seeming miserly handing our 1 or 2 XP.  I did like the mechanic in Microlite of once you level you wipe out your XP and start counting again - for no particular reason except simplified record keeping.

Now when I say a 1HD monster is worth 100 XP that doesn't mean that all 1 HD monsters are worth 100 XP.  A little 3hp goblin is not worth 100 XP, a crazed dwarf with his torch over a pool of oil probably is.  I like to mix it up a little when handing out XP but you could follow the basic system and assign a straight 100/HD and it should work out.  You can even go with a variant with 50/HD or 200/HD depending on how long you want to play out each level and it should work well since level * 1000 is pretty simple to work with. 

I'm not worried that it doesn't average out with or track with experience point tables in d&d or other d20 style game in particular.  I think that the with difference in game styles and difficulties and amounts of treasure in d20 fantasy systems already out there you can get away with this and still track pretty well with the modules and supplements at each level no matter how you got there.  Some games are tough and some are Monty Haul and a  level 4 cleric is probably going to be pretty much the same mechanically whether you got there in one adventure or in six.

As for experience for spending treasure - well I think this is a great idea to get dragged out of the old school systems.  Giving XP for spending treasure does two things - it rewards lots of adventuring things aside from combat and it gets rid of treasure so that players need to get more.  Also having to spend it on 'tithes and training' makes sure it gets spent and not just converted to some other kind of swag.  The 10 to 1 rate of exchange is a guesstimate based on what I consider my treasure levels will be.  I wanted to make the treasure component less than 1/3 of the XP so I pegged it to 10gp.   I can see a good adventurer at level 8 accumulating 25,000gp to spend on training and charity somehow. And if they are not wanting to part with their money, well they'll be out there fighting it up then.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some bits of combat

I'm going to try to stay away from magic for a while even though the section on class and this one have some teasers.  One thing that Microlite is very light on is combat mechanics and I have added in a lot of ideas gleaned from the web and even some of my own.  I want to keep combat very quick and light but I also want more structure than the simple one thing per turn and here's your chance to hit.

First thing is initiative which is fairly basic and which I'll keep as it is - d20 + DEX bonus.  You can do it individually, by side or by groups/types and it doesn't really matter.  I prefer to go by side because it keeps things quick.

Combat rounds are one minute long which works well with spell times.  I've adopted the turn sequence posted on the Microlite fourms (by weeot).

In combat everyone in their turn can do one Standard action, one Move action and one Minor action.  You can also forgo any action for a lesser action, e.g. take two Moves and a Minor action or take 3 Minor actions.  Casting a Spell however requires a full action turn.

Standard: Melee attacks, drink a potion, anything that requires a roll (except spell casting)
Move: Move, stand up from prone

Minor:Draw weapon, open unlocked door, shout more than a couple words.
Apparently this is similar to 4e turns but since I haven't played it I wouldn't know.  They work well for me.  If you want to run full out you get to move double rate that turn, if you want to fiddle with something you can fiddle three times.  I added in spells taking a full round to cast for gravity.  I don't want to see casters throwing off spells while running around pulling ropes and slamming doors and stuff.  Also this prevents casting and countering spells in the same turn.  Right now counter spell acts as a minor action - I'm not sure that mechanic will stay - we'll have to see how countering spells works in general I guess.

All spell casting requires a roll.  Even unopposed spells require a roll against the base DC of 10 - and you spend the HP before you roll so it's gone no matter what.  I think a lot of folks might dislike this but I think it is a good thing (magic is hard) and it allows for the critical table to come into play.

I wanted to include something for pummeling and especially grappling because I've not seen a good mechanic for it before.  I thought up the following for unarmed combat.

Punching/hitting damage is 1 + STR bonus.  Using hand weights such as a piece of iron in the fist or brass knuckles would do 1d3 + STR bonus.

Grappling/holding would be Melee attack where the DC is 10 or the opponents HP – attackers STR.
So, the higher the opponents hp, the harder they would be to hold onto.  I did it this way because  a lot of creatures don't have STR scores and it seemed easy to remember.  Have a 16 STR and want to grapple a Crocodile (hp 22)?   The DC will be 10.  Want to pin an ogre (hp 29)?  DC is 13.  Minotaur (hp 39)?  DC would be 23.  Wrestling down a monstrous Troll (hp 63) the DC would be 47!  Also it's their current HP, so it's easier to grapple a tired beat up minotaur than a rested one.  I don't know how that will work but it seems fun right now.

I like the first round/first strike ideas for missiles and pole-arms that Delta posted because I've always had problems with ranged attacks while the groups run at each other (there's always some dick getting initiative and rushing the archer) and this is the first time I've come across a good reason to have a character actually buy a pole-arm.

For now I'm keeping both the attack bonus and dual weapon rules as written in Microlite but I'm not sure that they will stay untouched.

I'd like shields to be more useful and have two ideas on that.  One is blocking and the other is allowing a shield to take the damage on a hit if the player chooses.  The first is simply if you don't attack you can block with a strength bonus, the second is that if you take a real nasty hit you can choose instead to have the shield destroyed (for the life of me I can't find the blog posted to link that but I think it's really elegant).

I will also probably try to add in a really simple terrain modifier rule if I can find one or make something up.

Combat should be fast and fun with just enough crunch to support cool stuff like ogre wrestling happening without the crunch that prevents cool stuff like jumping on tables or swinging on ropes.  Anyway that's a lot to digest in one post so I'll leave it there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Classes in Beacon

There are seven classes in Beacon. They are broken up into three areas of commonality.

  • Fighter: expert in all weapons and physical skills.  This is your go to class for fighting obviously.
  • Hunter: expert in ranged weapons and survival skills. This is your noble ranger or humble woodsman or city rat catcher.
  • Rogue: expert in subterfuge skills with a sneak attack.  This is your thief but also possibly a swashbuckler or stealthy assassin. 
Arcane Magic: (penalties for armour use)
  • Druid: nature orientated spells, knowledge and survival skills.  The hedge magician or medicine man.
  • Illusionist: confoundment spells, subterfuge and communication skills.  The tricky misdirecting sorcerer.
  • Mage:  general repertoire of spells and knowledge skills.  The powerful scholar magician.
Divine Magic: (no penalties for armour)
  • Cleric, spiritual and restorative spells.  This can be the learned priest, the wandering witch, or the charging paladin.
Aside from magic ability I didn't want to give the classes special powers with associated tables or charts. I wanted things to remain pretty simple. I removed the Cleric's ability to turn undead and made it a spell instead.  The Rogue does get a sneak attack and the Fighter and Hunter get hit and damage bonuses but these are simple and hopefully somewhat of a balance against those spell lists.

At the moment all the classes can choose between STR or DEX for their melee weapon bonus stat, however I'm thinking on limiting that to either just the non-magic classes or just the Rogue.  In Microlite, Fighters and Rogues can use DEX bonus for light weapons - I imagine this would include rangers as well. The idea behind this is that there is more than one fighting style so allowing DEX as a more finesse based style - however you don't get your STR bonuses to damage.  Since Rogues don't get the +1 to hit and damage every three levels  it might be nice to throw them this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Class mechanics

Before I go into the classes I picked and why, I want to go into the general class mechanics.

In olden times a character's class really defined what their mechanical effects were.  Originally your race was a class, and even in first edition AD&D the class determined how you played and how you advanced.  You had games where this wasn't the case, and what a lot of systems did as an alternative to the class/level model of advancement was use skills.  When 2nd edition AD&D came out it was a lot more skill based and back in the day I thought that this was a good idea.  However when playing it it took up a lot of space on the character sheet and it didn't seem to fit well with the class/level system.  I thought that the problem was too much class and not enough emphasis on the skills and I gravitated towards games with more robust skill systems.  When I made my home brew it was entirely skill based.  I could never figure out why the more work I put into the skill system the less fun the game got.  I haven't played 3rd or 4th edition but they seem to be a whole nother level of skills and feats and daily and weekly powers so much so that I don't even recognize the system (it might be great fun but it's not good ol' d&d IMHO).

Now I think I had it backwards.  I think that bolting all those skills onto a character system rooted in class starts making it harder for players to even try doing things that aren't in their skill list.  The mind set isn't there to think outside the box. This makes it harder to play non-optimized characters and it makes it harder for small groups of characters to have the right combination of skills to succeed.  This leads to more skill spill over, more multi-classing and special blended classes.  I think it can work if a game is built on skills or feats and not class/level progression (e.g. Traveller, Savage Worlds) - but that's not d&d in my mind - it has a different flavour.

Playing Microlite with my family, the rogue player (low on HP from a previous encounter) was asked to check a chest for traps and she refused saying that she didn't want to get hurt.  Some bickering occurred but she stood her ground.  Finally the fighter player (with lots of HP) said give me that chest.  Now the fighter didn't have a good Subterfuge skill but had a decent Mind stat and described how she was looking and what she was looking for so I assigned MIND+Subterfuge as the roll with a DC of 15.  She managed to roll well (17 I think) and find the poison needle.  What this illustrated to me (and the players) was that the rogue wasn't checking for traps because they were the only ones that could do it - they checked because they were good at it (+3 Subterfuge).
I think this is great and it really encourages players to try things or play characters with a different stat combination that they might normally try.  Yay Microlite.

My only problem with Microlite for classes is that they aren't distinct enough after starting bonuses and that some of the benefits or restrictions are based on dogmatic rules rather than mechanics to encourage types of play.  For example aside from the sneak attack once per combat ability what encourages players to choose a rogue over a fighter who takes skill points in Subterfuge?  Not much.

So now the class bonuses are reinforced as you progress - the non-magic classes get a bump to their skills every 3 levels and the magic classes get one every 5 levels (to be fair since they get the a magic bump too).  I tried for simplicity so some more playtesting may show issues with this but it's good enough for now.  This is in addition to the chosen skill bump every level so it is still possibly to develop that sneaky fighter character but (s)he'd have to work really hard to keep up with a rogue as they gain levels.

I also used the minSTR and armour mechanics developed by The Wanderer to encourage players to pick weapons that fit their characters rather than simply make blanket statements about usability.  Your mage can use a great axe but then she's going to have so many penalties to either magic or strength to make it counter productive.   I do cheat a bit on the philosophy by saying that arcane magic is hard to cast when using armour - however it doesn't prevent the player from doing it - it just prevents them from becoming magic tanks in plate mail armour.

As for multi-classing I don't support it.  If the only difference in character ability are these mechanical bonuses then you don't need to allow multi classing.  You can build a burly mage or a sneaky fighter if you want anyway.  Multi classing just breaks things and gets in the way of a good time.