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.