Thursday, December 15, 2011

Starting Hit Points

So I've been thinking on how the starting game goes in Beacon and how hard a time the characters have at first level when they come up on brigands or goblins or what have you.  All touchy freely campaign stuff, don't expect any solutions today.  

In classic D&D you generally have single digit HP and so do the monsters you generally face up to (as opposed to running away) and even a single goblin (or a house cat) is a pretty big threat.  In Beacon you have a huge boost compared to this initially, but because you only add 1d6 per level this levels off as you level up.   It all works out in the end, it's just some front loading.   I approve of the philosophy, even level 1 PCs should have a decent amount of HP so they can get into more fights and have less downtime resting or hiding from every passing house cat - this makes the adventure move at a brisk clip.  But sometimes I wonder if the characters have a bit too much HP to start.  Maybe a bit of humility is a good thing.

A character's average STR is going to be 8-9 and so the average starting HP is going to be in the 9-17 range.  A goblin has like 1-6 hp, and more importantly they do 2-7 damage in a hit.  What this means is that one goblin is a nuisance and a bunch is a threat.  I have no problem with that.  A human brigand has 2-16 hp and does 3-10 damage, much more a threat to the average starting character, but still slightly weaker.

I wonder if first level characters should just get STR = HP and not the initial +1d6 as well?  That isn't a large change overall but it would make the monsters considerably tougher at the first couple levels.  Goblins would still be weaker but those bandits would be pretty tough even one on one.  It would also drop the number of spells available to magic using classes by one or two, and that might be fun.  Then again it's an exception to a rule, so it's more complicated, and something that folks could easily house rule if they wanted a tougher start anyway.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Surprise Attack

I thought it would be a good thing to talk about the changes I made to beef up the rogue, specifically the surprise attack.  Here's the rule:
Once per combat engagement Rogues may attempt to perform a 'surprise attack' (usually subterfuge or survival+DEX, based on their description of the action). If this is successful, they may either add their Subterfuge skill to the damage of their initial attack or perform an additional attack with a ranged weapon.
So you are a Rogue and you are going to be in a fight - how does this work for you?  Surprise is not a sneak attack, it's no longer a backstab analogue to be used once per combat.  It means when you choose to engage someone in combat, you get a chance to pull some cool move out your ass and trip them up with it.  It might be throwing sand in their eyes and then stabbing them, it might be pulling a dagger out of your boot and flipping it into their face, it might be shouting 'Oh my god is that Flint Fireforge over there?".  It might even mean you slide into a shadow and backstab someone - or take two shots with your bow from the tree you were hiding in.  It's a very big bump in attack power for the Rogue because you can try it once per engagement - so if you are fighting a bunch of guards you might sneak up and dispatch one and then while your fellows are brawling dive under another and stab him in the goolies.  At low levels this attack is on par or better than what a fighter could do but I don't think it unbalances the two classes because you have to make an additional roll to pull off the move, and you only get to try it on the first attack.  Once you are engaged you go back to your regular attacks and can't just run off without being subject to a free attack.  I still think it's cool though, you are the hare to the fighter's tortoise.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Beacon fifth draft

Here is the fifth draft of Beacon.

In this update you will find a bunch of changes which I thought would improve the game after play testing the previous version with a small group of folks. I think the major highlights in this version are the combat split into missile and melee phases, and the changes to the non-magic using classes.

I hope to get long play out of this one and very much hope that I can promote these rule to the first real release version of Beacon if it manages to last through lots more scrutiny and play testing.

Please let me know how it works out for you.

Download the Beacon fifth draft PDF
Download the character sheet

Friday, December 2, 2011

miscellaneous design notes

I love it when the solution to things just fits together based on the infrastructure you have in place.  I'm just going through and tightening up the Beacon book, looking for punctuation, spelling, consistent nomenclature and such, and I'm finding little gaps in the rules which I'm plugging up.
Dr. Killenger faces off against Dr. Orpheus
One such gap was spell interruption due to combat.  Now that magic users can't just rip off a spell on their turn, but have to prepare their spells and then wait till the melee phase to cast them, the counterspell is actually usable and useful.  Such was the intent.  There is also now chance that they will get hit with an arrow or have their teeth bashed in before the spell is cast.  I was worried about how to rule this up and was thinking of saving throws and concentration checks but but then it all just made sense this is d20 - just increase the DC when they cast.  I figure a distraction should move the base DC from 10 to 15 (difficult) and an actual attack on the caster would raise it to 20 (hard), or even higher if there was lots of violence going on.  A mage impaled on a spear barely ripping off his teleport spell with some crazy roll comes to mind.  No need for any new stuff here - just the way I likes it.

I also specifically set the definition of a turn which is:
A turn is the amount of time it takes for the players and their opponents to complete a basic round of actions.  This is somewhere around 1 minute, however may be much quicker (in the heat of combat) or a little longer (picking your way through a dark cavern) depending on the situation.  It is certainly less than 10 minutes. 
I want to make it clear to everyone that it's around 1 minute, it's highly mutable, and it's less than 10 minutes.  I don't care how fast you can run in your backyard with a backpack full of pathfinder books.  Anyone at my table that says that six second combat turns are more realistic now gets rocks falling on their character.  All the spells now use this convention so that if they have durations based on turns it says turn (not min.) and units longer than a turn are stated in real time units like hours or days.  Anything less than 10 minutes however is quantum time as far as I'm concerned.

I did end up dropping the spell widening/lengthening rule.  It never saw play in the play test and I'm thinking it really would just make spells harder to balance with not much benefit.  Someone would figure out the edge cases here and game the system I'm sure.

I had written up a little bit on fast melee weapons which would apply to things like daggers and rapiers, and allow you to use them in the missile phase instead of the melee phase of combat.  It seemed like a cool thing on first blush to give some differentiation to the weapons and all that.  But, I started proofreading the rule explaining it, and  like most things that break across simple classifications like (melee and missile combat) it began to seem too messy so that's now gone.

Lets see, what else?  Oh I tweaked the default racial starting abilities to include some skills.  Elves for instance get Survival and Knowledge and +1 Charisma now as an example.  Dwarves get Fabrication.

I'm in the home stretch now, hoping to get this done by next week so The Bane can play it for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

updated Character Sheet

So here's the new character sheet for the 5th draft.  Since I'm sliding into the new draft document (almost finished - just proofing reading now) I thought I would sneak it out here first.
Character Sheet the fifth.
Added in Fabrication of course.  I also slightly changed the stat boxes to highlight the bonuses (put the bonuses in the boxes folks) - you use them the most) and left some space for the natural stats you roll up as opposed to the ones in effect - say you get hurt or something...

I also put in some funny little arrows in the HP box to indicate that damage and magic fatigue should add up to the total HP. There was a lot of problems with folks tracking HP in the playtest and I don't know if this will solve that, but I thought it looked nice.  Maybe I can figure out some awesome iconography that will let me replace rules with symbols in the future.

Get the PDF

Friday, November 25, 2011

Beacon update status

So you are asking yourself what's done for the next draft of Beacon?  Me too!  I thought I better make a list for myself and then I figured you might want to see it as well.

Here's a reprint of the list of stuff for the next draft with the status:

  • removing the section on Traps - these came right out of the Microlite book and are cool but I don't think people need these outlined and I would like to reclaim the page and a half - DONE.
  • adding minor changes to Initiative and weapon replacement - maybe that whole section can be rewritten to make it easier to understand. - DONE, details here.
  • Fabrication - I'm still waffling on adding in a new skill actually, but leaning on yes for now.  almost DONE.
  • Tweaks to Divine spells, including changes to healing and new spirit orientated spells.    - 90% DONE.
  • Tweaks to enchanter spells, and spell balance in general. - the handful of spells I did mention are all done but I still need to do a sweep of the arcane spells for problem spots.
  • Divine Rituals  - DONE.
  • Changes to Hunter and Rogue?  - I'd say 90% but I'm still debating the name for the savant class.
  • Changes to the Rules for dying and stat damage. - I think I have it but I still have to write it up.
  • Removing the spell extending stuff, reexamining counter spell?  Not sure anyone is using these, we still haven't used them in the play test.  DONE, leaving these alone for now to see how they work with the  combat round changes.
  • I thought about adding in 7th level spells, but until I play a higher level game I'm not sure if it's appropriate and which spells would be best - by that time in a campaign the GM might be better off making up their own higher level spell lists anyway.  - DROPPED.
  • anything else?  - That's a good question, is there anything missing here?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

a possible 6th level cleric spell

Here's an idea I was thinking of for that 6th level divine spell from my last post.
Voice of God
Range: Hearing
Duration: Instant
Description:  The caster speaks the true language of their god(s) which causes all who hear it to take 2d6 damage and be deaf for 2d6 rounds.  In addition, creatures and entities opposed to the casters religion (e.g. undead, spirits, minor devils, lawful clerics) suffer the effects of Turn Undead/Cause Fear.  In addition, opposed creatures of less than 2 HD must make a magic resist check or be destroyed and opposed creatures of higher HD but still less than the caster's level must save or take 4d6 +1/ caster's level damage.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More messing with the cleric spells

First off I hate tinkering with the spells because it makes things different from other versions of the game, which makes people confused.  Also a lot of folks probably will use the d20 SRD spells, the Microlite spells or do their own tweaks based on their campaign setting and how rugged or fantastical they want things to be.  I can't just not adjust the spells when they appear broken however, and I can take some heart in the fact that many of the published D&D versions have absolute shit spell balance - even using Vancian magic which is easier to balance than a point system.  So the next draft - here are some more spell tweaks for divine casters.
  • Prayer is a sucky spell for 3rd level - it's gone.  If you want to buff people use Bless.  
  • Create Food and Water totally goes against the resource management vibe I'm working on in Beacon with it's 'Points of Light' and wandering about type game.  I can get into clerics making food and water for the party but I'm bumping the spell to 3rd level and cutting it's power by 30% to make it less of a daily meal replacement plan and more a survival option.
  • Magic Weapon is an OK spell with a terrible name.  It is very useful to provide groups with a magical weapon to fight some creatures.  Also I kept the greater 4th level version instead of the first level version.  That was probably a mistake.  I'm going to make this a 2nd level spell (back filling Create Food and Water), change the range to touch, and change the name to Bless/Curse Weapon.
  • Paralyzing Touch and Remove Paralysis are now the same spell, both touch based*.
  •  Hold Person re-added to level 2 spells.  The level 4 Hold spell now more clearly defined as Hold Creatures.  Hold is a good spell for clerics - its essentially nonviolent but good in combat.
  • Changing Circle of Protection and Divine Strike to make them more predictable and adjusted for point based and multiple daily castings (same reasons I adjusted Fireballs)
  • Edited Spell Resistance to make it work more like I wanted it to.
  • Added 4th level spell to Control Vermin to replace Magic Weapon.  It's a compromise between druid like animal control spells and insect plague.
Control Vermin:
Range: 400 ft. + 40 ft./level.
Duration: 1 min. / level.
Description:  Caster can summon and direct the emotions or reactions of swarms of small creatures such as ants, locusts, rats, spiders, etc.  These creatures can be made to attack a target, occupy an area, or flee in terror, but cannot be made to perform complex actions such as opening doors or fetching unseen items.
  • Hero's Feast is lame.  Replacing that with something else.  I thought maybe Forbiddance would be good, but then I thought it's not that common to use that one and wow 6th level spells should be awesome.  I think I should make it a good one.  Any suggestions?
I also think that the 5th level ritual I was trying to come up with was staring me in the face all along.  Commune is a wishy-washy 5th level spell.  It would make a much better multi-hour meditative type ritual.  I mean are you gonna ring up the Lords or Order while your waiting for the wench to bring your ale or are you going to retire to your tent to pray all night for guidance?  I know which one the Lords of Order would prefer!
Level 5 - Ritual of Communion
Range: N/A.
Duration: N/A.
Description: When attempting the Commune ritual, the caster enters a trance like dream state for a number of hours and consults with their deity or agents of their deity on a question or state of affairs they wish guidance on.  The greater the question, the greater the length of the meditation.  The more powerful the caster the more clear and informative the consultation, although the communion will never be simple and direct, but more symbolic in nature.  At lower levels the communion will give general impressions and feelings about the issues in question, but at higher levels the caster will have receive more definite images and impressions or even verbal answers and prophecy.  
To replace it I added Plane Shift.  Pretty much right out of the SRD except its a projection.  I feel otherwise it would be too powerful.  I don't get how this spell is level 5 but Astral Projection and Etherealness are level 9 in the SRD but I think a generic 'projection' spell is much more useful and can be applied to more settings.  Plane Shift as a soul projection spell seems about right.

I also have been tooting around with the character sheet that includes Fabrication and doing the necessary rule editing.  So that's moving closer to the fifth draft version of the PDF - I promise I'll have something out for you to play before Christmas if not the end of November.

*I like the idea of many divine spells being touch based - it's something about imbuing life energy into things I guess.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

slight delay

Um yeah, I'm still working on that Beacon update.  I know I projected mid November, but well...  The thing is I'd like to try out the new 2 phase combat a bit and we haven't had a chance to get a session in lately to do it.  Also I still can't think of a real great ritual for 5th level divine magic.  Also I picked up Agricola at Hammercon and I've been fondling the wooden bits and play mats a little and trying to trick my kids into playing a trial game (they just love it when I try to teach them new board games cold from the rulebook).  We've finally got in our first session of Trail of Cthulhu last weekend and that was fun.  So there is still gaming going on, and so I consider that the research portion of research and development - or so I tell my superego anyway.  Also Battlefield 3 came out and my thumbs are sore.  Them jets don't fly themselves you know.

So soon.  Stay tuned.

*update - noodling around on the OSR blogs and I found out that Jeff Dee is a pretty neat guy.  I always liked his D&D illustrations, good to see he's still around and mixing it up.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Going to Hammercon

Give me some of that sweet sweet galactic domination
So by Friday I'll be hanging out in Hamilton Ontario (in Canada) with a bunch of friends and a bunch of beers, and on Saturday afternoon I'll be at Hammercon.  I would like to say I'll be running play tests of Beacon but in fact I'll be using this as an opportunity to do something I rarely ever get to do - playing Twilight Imperium!

If Hammercon was longer and I had more time I might run some Beacon but the opportunity to sit down with 6 folks and slug it out for galactic domination is just too good to pass up.  It's a game that I've only managed to play through twice because its just too hard to get that many like minded folks together for that length of time.  It's like Civilization (the one by Avalon Hill) or Machiavelli in this respect - fantastic game experiences but only when you have a lot of engaged people with a chunk of time to spend.  I used to have a similar problem with the game Titan - the classic monster Slugathon game - but some clever folks managed to make a Java on-line version called Colossus which satisfies that particular itch and is a great way to spend a few hours during an evening.

I'm actually doing a double header to maximize my boardgaming and will be playing another Fantasy Flight game afterwards - A Game of Thrones the board game. This game I have played many times and it's one of my favourites because it is very fun and compelling - but doesn't take as much time as the some of the aforementioned games. It is theme based on the Martin books but pretty much a cross between Machiavelli and a euro game with nice turn mechanics to keep the play from bogging down and some great bid voting and supply mechanics. Both Thrones and Twilight Imperium have a similar feel in this respect which makes sense because they were both designed by the same dude - Christian Petersen.  And even though I've played A Game of Thrones quite a bit, it's not often I get to play a full on 6 player game - so here's hoping.

I would have liked to have some copies of my Beacon 5th draft available to give out at the con, but it's not finished yet.  I hope that I'll be able to hit Hammercon next year and play some Beacon - but then again it would be almost time for another game of Twilight Imperium, or maybe some Civilization - zug zug.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Divine Rituals pt. 2

OK, last post I got the rituals for level 1-3, so today hopefully I can get to level 6.  I guess it's not clear but the casting chance and cost of these rituals would be the same as the spells for that level - rituals that take more than a day would require that cost each day.  If you are performing something like consecration over a weeks time you would probably need someone to share the load vis casting, although I do like the idea of the sleepless fasting cleric muttering prayers in a week long endurance-fest.

I'm not explicitly tyring to make all the rituals equal opportunity and I'm strongly suggesting that GMs add in additional rituals to their campaigns for their evil cultists and dark flower god worshippers to use.

Level 4 - Remove Curse
Range: Touch.
Duration: N/A
Description:  The remove curse ritual takes one hour.  This ritual will remove or block the effects of curses and enchantments on the subject.  It will allow minor cursed objects to cleansed or destroyed and major cursed objects to be safely removed or interred.  Materials required for this spell should be in the 500-1000 sp. range.  Exceptional curses may require additional materials or conditions to be met (or repeated castings of the ritual).

Level 5 - seriously I got nothing, maybe some sort of investment spell for making items?  Is there any divine aspects I'm really missing out on here?  Demons?  Bingo?

Level 6 - Resurrection
Range: Touch.
Duration: N/A.
Description:  This ritual requires at least 3 clerics of the same faith to perform and takes one day to perform for every 10 years since the subject's death.  The subject returns to life fully restored and with full HP.  Some piece of the body must be used to restore it and the target creature must have a soul available and not trapped or otherwise destroyed (or have a soul provided for them...).  The material cost of this ceremony is very great (> 100,000 sp.) and usually not payable in cash - only the most worthy (or heinous) applicants would be considered.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Divine rituals

So since I've pretty much decided I'm going to put divine rituals into my setting, I figured what the hell I'll put them into the Beacon rules as well*.  These rituals are basically spells that a divine caster (read cleric) gets that are not castable in a single round but which add a lot to the class or which replace some spells from the SRD that were removed from Beacon but which would still be useful game abilities.  As mentioned Rituals require more time than a 'spell' and may also require some sort of components or conditions that general spells would not (like requiring a circle of clerics to cast).  Again, I expect people running Beacon games would change these to suit.

There is one divine ritual per spell level (excepting the orisons which are really 'training' spells).  No reason for this except it's nice and neat.  Here's the first three rituals:

Level 1 - Liturgy
Range: Sight and hearing.
Duration: 1 day.
Description: The Liturgy is a religious service performed by an initiated cleric in which blessing and instructions are conferred upon the faithful.  For every 30 minutes spent preaching (max 3 hours) people present at a liturgy will respond favourably to the caster as if he had +1 charisma.  It may also confer the effects of a Bless spell for it's duration and an equal length of time afterwards.
Level 2 - Anoint
Range: Touch.
Duration: Permanent
Description:  Anoint is a 30 minute ritual that allows a divine caster to mark a person as a follower of the faith.  This ritual is used to invest new clerics to the religion as well as protect (or maybe harvest) the souls  of the dying.  Anointing will grant an additional save at +2 against the death effects caused by certain undead or the effects of lycanthropy (or an additional chance for the subject to be effected).  Requires holy/unholy water or oil.
Level 3 - Consecration
Range: Touch and/or area 100 ft. + 10 ft. /level.
Duration: Permanent.
Description:  The Consecration ritual allows a caster to dedicate a building or altar fit to be used in rituals of the faith.   Consecrated areas act as Cause Fear to beings of opposing faiths and also make it difficult (DC +5) for them to cast spells, or resist spells of the consecrated faith.  Consecrated areas are also immune to some arcane effects such as scrying and area effect spells such as Restful Glade or Hallucinatory Terrain.
A consecration ceremony takes at least a full week of uninterrupted prayer and fasting.  An area already consecrated by a rival faith must first be cleansed both physically (by removing offending materials) and spiritually before it can be consecrated in the casters faith - a process that can be time consuming and expensive.

*ok I still reserve the right to change my mind on this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rogue and Savant

Gonna fire this across the port side and see what floats.

The Rogue

Rogues specialize in stealth and cunning.  They start with 3 points to allocate between the Subterfuge and Survival skills.  They may allocate an additional point to one of these skills every 3 levels (3, 6, 9, 12…).  Their Attack Bonus increases by +1 every second level (2, 4, 6, 8…).  In combat Rogues can attempt a 'sneak attack' by surprising their enemy (usually subterfuge+DEX bonus, but depends on situation).  If this is successful, they can add their Subterfuge skill to the damage of their first attack* or perform an additional attack** with a ranged weapon (if available).  Rogues can choose to use DEX instead of STR as the bonus attribute when using light weapons in melee combat.

The Savant

Savants are characters who have chosen to pursue skills rather than magic or combat.  They start with 4 skill points to allocate as they desire.  They allocate an additional skill point to any skill every second level (2, 4, 6, 8...).  Their Attack Bonus increases by +1 every second level (2, 4, 6, 8…).  Savants can be generally good at many things or very good at a few, they can play many different roles from professional scholars to travelling acrobats to scheming vagrants.

*sneak attack would imply the target AC is at -2 for surprise as well...
** the second attack should be against a different target - otherwise it's not really that useful.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Skill advancement

Spell Casters in Beacon don't get many skill points - we assume they spend the majority of their time on magic.  They will get their 3 skill points to start in their area of expertise (clerics - communication, mages - knowledge, etc...).  They get one free skill point to assign per level but their prime skills only get points every 5th level.  By level 15, a magic character gets 17 more skill points (14 of these freely assignable). The non-magic classes get more skills, primarily in their  skill bumps every 3 levels in addition to their one per level.  By level 15 they will have 19 points (still only 14 freely assignable).  I wanted to give the Rogue more skill points   What I have been thinking as an alternative is to give the Rogue one skill point per level as before and give them one additional freely assignable skill point every second level.  This will give them 21 skill points by level 15, and all 21 would be freely assignable.  That's a lot of points, but I think it's a good compromise for having lower combat and magic ability.

A short aside here: I worry sometimes about players deciding to pour all their skill points into one skill, it seems to me that some people would do this and I wonder how it would break the game.  Then I remember that in Microlite you get to add your level to all your rolls and I relax a bit.  Also those people would be prime candidates for getting hosed by a wandering reactive skill check (surprise - 2d4 hypno weasels).

I have also still been having strange thoughts about merging the Rogue and the Hunter into one class.  It's just that the Hunter and the Rogue are too similar as archetypes.  What I would do in this case would be to remove the Hunter class all together, and then give the Rogue a second attack with ranged weapons.  This would give Rogues more combat prowess and it would be heavily weighted towards DEX.  I like this because it gives them more teeth but they would not get the to hit and damage bonuses of the Fighter that the Hunter enjoyed.  That combat/damage bonus was problematic for me since it undermined the Fighter's uniqueness and was the main reason I disliked the Hunter.  Maybe I'd give them 2 points in subterfuge and 1 point in survival to start and let them choose which to bump every third level.  This would give you the ability to develop into either the 'sneaky hood', or the'robin hood' Rogue depending on your whims.

The Hunter class I'd replace with a new non-magic class who get no special combat abilities* but get 4-5 skills points to spend at level 1 and and additional free skill every second level (in addition to the one everyone gets each level).  You could make a really good thief by socking points into subterfuge and communication (and/or fabrication) - you could easily be a better thief than the Rogue class.  You could also be an acrobat (physical) or a sage (knowledge) or a real wood craft specialist (survival), or even a jack of all trades, fairly good at all the skills.
I don't know if it would be a viable class - namely if anyone would want to play it - but its something that stuck in my mind as an option I'm kicking around anyway.

* they get +1 to hit every 2 levels like the current non-magic, non-fighter classes

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Level 1

Ya, lots of chatting in the blogs about how level 1 D&D magic users are hard to play and how it's all a meat grinder.  I have no problem with that, I've run monty haul campaigns and cakewalks and they are no fun.  No stakes.  I'd happily play a level 1 magic user as long as the game was fun and the DM was good.  Now since I support this opinion it's impossible for me to act in any other way because this is the internet and everyone has to pick a side.  Well screw that.  Just because I see this as a good thing in OD&D, I don't have to think that that's the only way to play the game.

In Beacon, level 1 isn't nearly as 'hard' as it is in OD&D.  Firstly you get a pile more hit points - Strength score + 1d6 HP to start. Even the weakest possible PC would have 4 hp to start, and the toughest possible dwarven fighter would have 27!  Maybe that's too much, but it sure makes it easier for the players starting out and it means you are most likely going to survive first level unless you are very unlucky or you charge ahead blindly all the time.  And it's not like I didn't kill some PCs in the play test either.  First level Beacon isn't hard, but it's not a cakewalk.

But it's not all about surviving at low levels, it's about getting to do things.  In Beacon you can usually get into a couple fights before you need to flee or heal.  This is by design.  Since fights are quick you can get through a couple fights pretty fast, and you can get into a lot of them in the course of an evening.  Having to stop and rest after each skirmish would slow things down.  Also magic burns hit points.  Forget about casting one spell a day in Beacon, you can cast 4 or 5 pretty handily - you don't even need to pick them out ahead of time.  However even though a first level Beacon 'magic user' can cast way more spells than a D&D magic user, they can also use crossbows or short swords.  Ol' Thedric sure finds his crossbow in a hurry when the goblins come a running.  What I find the most interesting about using HP as spell juice is that players ration their spells, they don't want to be down to 3 or 4 hp - even if that is all they would have in peek condition in D&D.  It's a visceral thing but it works well - it's a metagamey reaction that simulates character tension/motivation, kind of like the fear players get from level stealing undead.

So I'm of the opinion that this Beacon low level game is working - working for me anyway.  The play test we've been running has characters up to level 3 now and despite a couple little grumbles, I think that the characters are pretty capable but not overpowered.  Really it comes down to what you throw at them at first level, and I'd have no problem throwing a half dozen goblins or a couple of giant frogs at them.  I think it's working for the players too, they seem to have enough to do that they aren't pulling 15 minute adventure days - but have also learned that if they don't ration their resources they are not immune to loosing half the party or flirting with a TPK.

So does this mean I'm not old sckool?  Well I think a lot of my game preferences are OSR certified even if I run a d20 system.  I like descriptive actions, random encounters, unbalanced encounters and resource management.  I'll kill your PC, I'll kill them dead.  I just hope I don't loose any readers because I didn't make everything into charts or subscribe to the meat-grinder chargen philosophy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Magic Missile and other mage spells

OK, I've already talked a bit about Fireball and Lightning Bolt, but  a lot more spells that I thought are kind of wonky when translated from SDR to Beacon.  Number one culprit is the change from spell slots to a point system, which I did keep in mind.  The other thing I'm finding however is that there is also a change because HP are spell points and that changes the cost. No one wants to spend 3 HP to do 1 HP damage to something - it isn't smart.  I already changed the way Cure spells work to address this, but now I'm going to look at a couple of low level Mage spells; Magic Missile and Cone of Cold.

Magic Missile does 1d4+1 and you get one extra missile every 2 levels.  In Beacon this means it's a crap spell for first level casters.  It also scales crappy because at 3HP to cast it is going to be a good spell the higher your level without the extra missiles.  So this ones needs a makeover.  Prestidigitation is garbage because it just replicates the effects of other cantrips like Create Fire and Mage Hand.   A couple more candidates are Cone of Cold and Comprehend Languages.  Cone of Cold does 1d3 points of cold damage - and at 3HP to cast that sucks.  You're better off to use your dagger.  Also since you don't want it to compete with Magic Missile as a simple blast spell it should probably focus on the cold aspect over the ray aspect.  As for Comprehend Languages, well that's a cleric spell really.  Clerics get the communication bonuses in Beacon so why the heck would wizards get this spell - there isn't enough spells to overlap like this anyway.

So here are my changes to mage spells level 0-3:
  • Prestidigitation now only deals with smoke and fog.
  • Magic Missile now does 4+1d4 damage.  You do not get additional missiles as you level up - you get more HP to cast it more often.
  • Cone of Cold is a wave of cold that emanates out from the casters hand and freezes stuff like small puddles or buckets of water.  It is shorter range (25ft+5/level) now than before (sight).  Think of it as a reverse microwave. It now does 1d6 cold damage to living creatures as a byproduct.
  • Shocking Grasp deals 2d6 + 1 point/per level electric damage.  More damage upfront because you can cast it a few times.  It also scales a bit because it's hard and dangerous to touch things and those things will get bigger as you do.
  • Comprehend Languages is now Decipher and it allows the caster to understand natural written languages only.  It does not translate magic writing but it can be used to figure out things written in code - just add a DC value for coded messages to the casting roll.
  • Protection from Missiles now more relevant since now missile weapons hit before spells do in combat.  it does 10 +1 point / caster level.  Which is now enough to stop a few arrows at 3rd level and hopefully a few more as you level up and get into bigger fights.  But its now a personal spell.
  • Fireball and Lightning Bolt will do 3d6 +1 per level (8-23 points at level 5, 13-28 at level 10).  That's still a lot, but nothing like doing 3-30 or 10-60 points of damage for 7 casting points from before.  It's also less variable.
  • Vampiric Touch does 1d8 +1 per level now.  I also put in wording to specify it can only restore physical fatigue not magic fatigue.
I think that by doing these changes I might actually see more use of the extending/widening spell rules so I might leave them in, but I'm still on the fence about it.  I like the idea of these rules but I'm not sure they are worth the additional complexity.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Combat experiment revisited

OK, here's another idea that's more streamlined but keeps a bit of the flavor of the first attempt:  Two phase combat.  In this method, like the last one, you would still have the GM call phases and both sides would do actions in order of initiative but there would just be the two phases, Missile and Melee. Both phases would have a move option so if you moved in missile phase you could close with an enemy or run away.  You could also move for both phases if you didn't attack.  Also changing/picking up a weapon would take a move - Actually even simpler than that - instead of having major and minor actions and all that I think you can just have two phases in which to do one of those minor things like pulling out potions, readying weapons or tipping tables over.  Casting, which still takes a full turn, would have to be stated* in phase 1 and would go off in phase 2 (again initiative order).  So combat would look something like this:

Surprise roll or determination.
Roll for initiative.
All sides do the following each phase in initiative order:
  1. Prepare spell/missile attacks/move/change weapon/etc...
  2. Cast spell/melee attacks/move/change weapon/etc...
So there would be the same fight as the previous example under this design:

Two groups meet on the road.  Each consists of a mage, a hunter and a fighter.  I determine there is no surprise (no free attack).  Assume they had weapons ready...

Round 1: Group A wins initiative.
Missile Phase:
  1. Hunter A fires two arrows at Fighter B (misses, hits), 
  2. Mage A declares a spell, mage B declares a spell, 
  3. Fighter A closes with Hunter B,
  4. Hunter B throws 2 daggers at Mage A (miss, miss).
  5. Fighter B closes with Fighter A
Melee phase:  
  1. Fighter A attacks Hunter B (hit), 
  2. Mage A does counter spell, 
  3. Fighter B attacks Fighter A (hit), 
  4. Mage B spell is countered,
  5. Hunter B switches to short sword and shield.
Round 2: Group B wins initiative.
Missile Phase:  
  1. Mage B prepares a spell,
  2. Hunter A fires at Fighter B (hit, miss),
  3. Mage A readies a crossbow
Melee Phase:
  1. Hunter B attacks Fighter A (miss),
  2. Fighter B attacks Fighter A (hit),
  3. Mage B casts Spell (magic Missile) Hunter A,
  4. Fighter A attacks Hunter B (hit - Hunter B dead)
Round 3:  Group B wins initiative
Missile Phase:
  1. Mage B prepares spell
  2. Fighter B runs over to Mage B
  3. Mage A fires bolt at Mage B (miss)
  4. Hunter A fires at Fighter B (hit)
  5. Fighter A closes with Fighter B
Melee Phase:
  1. Mage B casts Mage Armour on Fighter B
  2. Fighter B attacks Fighter A (hit)
  3. Fighter A attacks Fighter B (miss)

And so on.

So how is this better?  Well it has less phases and it's easier to track movement, if you moved that phase you can't attack that phase.  You still get the distinction between missile and melee attacks which makes things more fun, and it mixes up the combat so you don't have one side just rolling over the other. Your 5 brawlers aren't going to kill all the bowmen before they get a shot off just because you got initiative.  And you have less moving parts than the old one attack/2 moves or 3 minor actions.  It's almost as simple as the glorious 'you get to do one thing' but it incorporates full/partial movement, minor actions and all that into it.  Maybe tomorrow I'll find a problem with it but I think it might viable for now.

*to be real clear - in both this example and the one from the last post you wouldn't have to say which spell you were casting, just that you were going to be casting a spell.  Assume all spells have a similar prep action - like cracking your knuckles and humming a scale.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Combat experiment

First off I'm going to say I wrote much of this up last week and I thought I had a great idea...It was even working out that there were a spate of posts on the OSR blogs about how the combat rounds sorted themselves out, which kind of fed the idea.  I was going to post this, but I thought I should think about it more.  Well a week later and I'm now trying to think of better* way and not considering this idea as much, but I thought I should post this anyway since it is a design blog and this is how I design.  Who knows I might figure out a way to make this work in the end.  So with that preface, here goes:

Following on the heels of my desire to make the combat 'round' more better, there is a good breakdown of the different versions of D&D and how they resolve combat by Arkhein at Rather Gamey.

And look, AD&D has missiles before movement even.  I knew there was something to having missile actions before movement - probably something left over in my mind from AD&D - the system I learned first.  In any case I want combat to be fast (which is why we dropped d20 initiative) but I also want it to be fun - and fun for me means a dash of tactics.  I don't want to have all actions declared before initiative roll - that seems like it would take all the momentum out of things.  I do however think that I should be able to call out a phase and everyone doing that type of action will then have to do it at that time.  So one proposal I've been thinking of for resolving combat is 3 Phase combat: Missile, Movement, Melee.  It would look something like this:
Surprise roll or determination:
Roll for initiative:
Then all sides do each following phase in initiative order:
  1. Missile attacks / prepare spell 
  2. Movement /weapon changes 
  3. Melee, 'minor' actions, spells 
I haven't been doing spell declaration, but I think I should be doing it.

So a combat would look like this:
Two groups meet on the road.  Each consists of an mage, a hunter and a fighter,  I determine there is no surprise (so no free attack).
Round 1: Group A wins initiative.
Missile Phase:
  1. Hunter A fires two arrows at Fighter B (misses, hits), 
  2. Mage A declares a spell, mage B declares a spell, 
  3. Hunter B throws 2 daggers at Mage A (miss, miss).
Movement Phase:
  1. Fighter A closes with Hunter B, 
  2. Fighter B closes with Fighter A
  3. Hunter B switches to short sword and shield.
Melee phase:  
  1. Fighter A attacks Hunter B (hit), 
  2. Mage A does counter spell, 
  3. Fighter B attacks Fighter A (hit), 
  4. Mage B spell is countered
Round 2: Group B wins initiative.
Missile Phase:  
  1. Mage B prepares a spell
  2. Hunter A fires at Fighter B (hit, miss)
Movement Phase:
  1. Mage A readies a crossbow
Melee Phase:
  1. Hunter B attacks Fighter A (miss)
  2. Fighter B attacks Fighter A (hit)
  3. Mage B casts Spell (magic Missile) Hunter A
  4. Fighter A attacks Hunter B (hit - Hunter B dead)
Round 3:  Group B wins initiative
Missile Phase:
  1. Mage B prepares spell
  2. Hunter A fires at Fighter B (hit)
  3. Mage A fires at Mage B (miss)
Movement Phase:
  1. Fighter B runs over to Mage B
  2. Fighter A closes with Fighter B
Melee Phase:
  1. Mage B casts Mage Armour on Fighter B
  2. Fighter B attacks Fighter A (hit)
  3. Fighter A attacks Fighter B (miss) 
And so on.

It looks complicated but really if the GM is calling out each phase name it shouldn't be too hard to keep the pace up.  The benefits I see are that it makes ranged combat more interesting of a choice and it would certainly be more dynamic if you were using miniatures.  It's also a bit more interesting to me than having the  side who wins initiative getting to do everything and possibly wiping the other side out before they get any actions, or at even simply taking out their mage or archer with an alpha strike.

The problems I see with it are: loosing initiative is probably better in some cases - like magic users if they want to counter-spell, or for movement.  Well that might not be a problem actually...   Also it might be hard to keep track of which actions have been done that preclude other actions - like firing a missile precludes a melee attack so you have to wait to get hit - or if you are closing with someone and changing a weapon you wouldn't be able to hit them.  I think it would also be hard when you are breaking up player actions this way to keep everything straight if you aren't using minis.  I also didn't have the mages make any kind of check to cast their spells after they got hit in this example.  I'd have to figure out if that should happen and how it would be implemented.  Maybe it's not so different than regular combat however - if you got initiative you would beat the opposition melee attack and get your spell off so really it's only archers you would be worried about (missile shield anyone...).

Now, I did think of another option which I'll try to post tomorrow.

* a better way would have to be a simpler way I think.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What's going into the next draft?

This is what's going into the 5th draft:
  • removing the section on Traps - these came right out of the Microlite book and are cool but I don't think people need these outlined and I would like to reclaim the page and a half
  • adding minor changes to Initiative and weapon replacement - maybe that whole section can be rewritten to make it easier to understand.
  • Fabrication - I'm still waffling on adding in a new skill actually, but leaning on yes for now.
  • Tweaks to Divine spells, including changes to healing and new spirit orientated spells.
  • Tweaks to enchanter spells, and spell balance in general.
  • Divine Rituals
  • Changes to Hunter and Rogue?
  • Changes to the Rules for dying and stat damage.
  • Removing the spell extending stuff, reexamining counter spell?  Not sure anyone is using these, we still haven't used them in the play test.
  • I thought about adding in 7th level spells, but until I play a higher level game I'm not sure if it's appropriate and which spells would be best - by that time in a campaign the GM might be better off making up their own higher level spell lists anyway.
  • anything else?  
Usually while doing one of these I come up with some ideas or streamlining.  I expect this time will be no different.  I really wanted to have something out by November but I'll have to see.

Friday, September 30, 2011

in the swamp

Ya well I had a nice post all written up about the second part of the last play session but god damn blogger god damn ate it on then god damn auto saved a god damn blank page then I lost my god damn browser page cache.  This was on Tuesday and I didn't have the motivation to rewrite it before.  Here is the less flowery version*.

So lets just say the party ended once the guards arrived.  The gang took the captured bad guys and poor despondent (and drunk) Henril back to their room in the inn.  Brother Tim kept watch on the bound baddies, and in the wee early morning hours the guy in the red cloak turned into a hobgoblin.  This caused all kinds of trouble but in the end they determined that one of the bad guys was a fresh recruit, the sneaky bad guy from the tavern was a recruiter, and the hobgoblin (who could only say "Margesh") had been as far as they knew, the bandit leader.  They released the recruit and killed the recruiter and kept the hobgoblin tied up.

The next day they visited the sage and got the skinny on the old shrine in the swamp, apparently a evil hag has desecrated it many years ago and on occasion clerics or adventurers would try to explore it and they would never return.  They also found out that the word "Margesh" was hobgoblin for "boss guy".  Since that and "imlori" were the only words they could get out of him they figured he wasn't a wizard and more likely a pawn.  They thought about going to the city watch with the hobgoblin, but decided instead to go hire a boat to take them to the shrine.  No one would take them all the way but after they agreed to purchase a boat they convinced the merchant to let them hire a guide to take them to the mouth of a river which was about half a day away from it.  So they rowed across the lake and down the river mouth until they came to a sand bank where the locals came to catch crocodiles for meat and skins.  Their guide left them there with their boat and rowed away with a nervous glance into the swamps.

I'm not so cute now eh you little bastard!
So the best thing about swamps was I got to use my Swamp Encounter table.  First they got into some quicksand, then they were attacked by an assassin vine in the trees, and finally they ran into some giant frogs.  Giant frogs are great - because frogs are pretty mean looking with the eyes and the big mouth and the tongues - and just like rats and spiders - giant ones would really be terrifying.  The frogs were chewing on Tim's arm and Henril was all getting his angst out ramming his sword through one's spine and trying to pull it's brain out through it's eye-hole.  Good times.  After that battle, Tim cast a heal on himself (the new cure light wounds spell seems to be working OK BTW), and then realized that he had Comprehend Languages.  Well never too late to interrogate a prisoner, he cast it and started asking the hobgoblin questions.  They figured out that the Hobgoblin was one of many band leaders who would be visited by a "magic lady" called Imlori and made to look like the red cloaked bandit leader everyone was looking for.  Shouts of "Margesh" by during fights seem likely to be the source of the confusion among the bandits and on the reward posters.  He didn't know anything about the swamp or the shrine except that he didn't like it.  Since the hobgoblin didn't know who the magic lady was, where she was or when she visited specific hobgoblin bands, Henril killed him.  The party was a bit disappointed that the swamp shrine didn't seem to have anything to do with the hobgoblins.

Come on in folks, free cake and pies!
They finally came to a clearing and saw a statue and an alcove which seemed to be the entrance to a ruin of some shriney place.  They also found two old corpses, one badly burned, and one with a backpack which had some old coloured candles in it (and lots of mold and rotted paper too...).  When they entered the alcove to check it out, the statue began to steam and heat up.  Figuring that this might have something to do with he burned corpse, they pulled a hasty retreat and slowly investigated the alcove.  Thedric** figured out the answer to a secret riddle which disarmed the trap and the stone doors slid open.

And now we're all caught up on the situation.  I would have liked to get further sure, but I wouldn't have missed that wedding.  It was a pretty good session and everyone seems to be enjoying it still.  Talking about our plans at the end of the night, we decided to do a short one off of Trail of Cthulhu over October (for Halloween!) and then everyone seems to think we'll probably be squeezing in at least one or two more sessions of this game before we hang up the Beacon for the winter.

*Note version contains just as much flower.
**Note, I've been calling Thedric, Theodric for some weird reason so I fixed up all the posts.  It's all the same dwarven enchanter folks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Wedding

Friday's game ended at the door to a dungeon.  I didn't want to end it there, I like to have the party back in town because it makes things a lot easier.  You don't know when someone is going to be unavailable or if you are going to have a new person at the table.  Players forget what was going on between sessions.  You can't get XP in the field (usually) so I have to note what the XP for the session is and wait till the party gets back to town (usually).  I also thought that this was going to be the last session.  I had a pretty good idea that the players wanted to check out the old shrine in the swamp.  This shrine was on the original maps I showed them from the first session and many NPCs had talked about it.  Since I knew they had gotten it into their heads to go there and investigate if the old shrine was somehow the cause of the plague. I had selected what I thought was the perfect short adventure for this shrine.  I wanted something that would take one session including travel time and (and random encounters in the swamp!) thought I had the perfect send off adventure all ready.  But naturally things did not go as planned.

Things started off innocently enough and the party wisely decided to go visit the old sage Polat and ask him about the shrine, gather supplies and such.  Then Henril decided that he wanted to go meet with Marjia the barmaid and potential bride with whom he had visited the day before.  Initially this seemed a good idea, and the party members started spending some of their had won coin.  Because of the banditry and the recent sickness, Milham was seeing some hard financial times.  Trade merchants were few and prices had been rising, so when the coins started flowing and the word got out that there was a group of adventurers at the Seven Stones tavern who were buying rounds of ale and casks of whiskey, many began to show up for the party.  As the drink flowed and the party got more inebriated, their requests became more extravagant.  What I had thought was going to be a 10 minute diversion had turned into a full blown event.  By this time I had decided to just run with it.
They hired a fiddler and a piper to play for them and told them not to stop until morning.  Henril especially was trying to impress Marjia, and Colin and Thedric were eager to help him spend his coin - despite the mild protests of Brother Tim.  The tavern owner quickly saw that Marjia was bringing in more custom as a companion than as a server and so she and Henril soon became quite drunk and quite friendly.  Thedric left the tavern to visit the Waggon and Horse Inn where he was lodging, when he saw a familiar person skulking away from the party and towards the lakefront.  It was the shady fellow who had tried to recruit Henril some time ago, and who they had scared off in an very botched rendezvous/sting operation.  Thedric collected Colin and they trailed the guy to a warehouse by the docks.  They looked in through a small barred window and saw the shady guy meeting with two fellows, one of which wore a red cloak and matched the description of Margesh the bandit leader.   Meanwhile Henril had decided that this was as good a time as any to get married and he asked Marjia if she would do him the honor.  She was drunk and delighted, but needed a dress.  She went off to get one while Henril badgered Tim to perform the marriage ceremony when she returned.  Henril bought the clothes off a well dressed local and was trying to jam his burly frame into a pair of hose and tunic three sizes too small for him. Level heads went unheeded and gold pieces were flying and the shindig was in full swing when she returned with two bridesmaids and a fine wedding gown, the whole neighborhood (and much of their livestock) was there to applaud the couple.

Thedric and Colin returned to the tavern to collect Tim and Henril and hopeful that they would also be soon collecting the 500gp reward for the bandit leader.  Being a bit drunk, they were of a mind to burn the warehouse down to flush out their prey, much to the horror of Brother Tim.  Once they saw what was going on in the tavern however, they decided to try to just move the whole party to the warehouse instead.  Marjia was delighted that her suitor and soon to be husband was so rich as to have 'bought a warehouse' and agreed that the wedding should take place there.  So soon the whole procession, some 40 drunken villagers, including the piper and fiddler were marching down the street towards the docks.  As the revelers burst in upon the shady men, Thedric cast Hypnotic Pattern and mesmerized them.  They were quickly subdued and tied up.

Finally after much convincing, Brother Tim was persuaded to perform the marriage.  The two were married but then in burst the captain of the guard and his men.  It appeared that Marjia was already married and to him, the captain of the guard.  He was ready to lock them all up and throw away the keys but Tim used all his considerable charms to smooth things over.  Marjia was led away shrieking curses at her former husband and pleas for her rich new husband to take her away from 'this crappy little town'.  Henril was heartbroken and could not be consoled even by the pretty little bridesmaid who had carried his sword for him from the tavern and had assured him that she at least was not already married.

They did eventually go off to explore the shrine that session, but that's another post entirely.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beacon Screen

On Friday I got a chance to try out my new GM screen which is the Savage Worlds customizable game screen.    And I like it, it's really pretty nice although it's vinyl and so toner transfer is going to be a problem.  I was trying to research if there was a way I could prevent printer toner from sticking to the vinyl.  Maybe I can buy some plastic sheet protectors at the office supply to slip over the pages before putting them into the screen pockets.  Most of the ones I've seen would be a bit too thick or have too much friction to slide into the screen pockets easily, but they might have something out there made of light weight plastic and toner safe.   I thought it would be great to be able to use a clear spray paint or something (I have some for miniature finishing I guess I could try) but so far haven't come up with anything.  Does anyone out there know any tricks for this - like some kind of hairspray or lemon pledge preventing toner transfer to vinyl?

Anyhow, since it's a horizontal screen, I whipped up some horizontal page layouts with some of the few charts and random encounter tables for it and had my own Beacon GM Screen!  I got to use it in this session and I have to say it was great.  It was especially great to have the critical hit and fumble chart right there in front of me.  It was also nice not to have random encounters written on sticky notes but actually printed up nice nice.  I'll have to make a more generic version with empty lists for the random tables and maybe more rules on the pages, but really it's not like there are that many rules you need to look up on the fly in Beacon.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Combat tweaks

During Beacon play test there were a few things about combat that came up that I'd like to deal with in the rules.  A lot of stuff didn't come up, or if it did come up seemed to work out. Grappling came up one time and it appeared to work OK.  Some other stuff came up and either had to be dealt with or was just hand waved.   I want combat to be fast as possible but I still want a bit more tactical combat than the simple 'you can do one thing per turn'.  Two things I'd like to discuss are initiative and changing/dropping weapons in a fight.

Beedo over on Dreams in the Lich House was playing Adventurer Conqueror King and wrote about his experience.  I find this interesting, specifically this part:
"One thing I found interesting - Individual Initiative!  Okay, I know this has been an optional rule in many variants (and LOTFP used a version of it), but I've used the Moldvay BX style of Initiative by Side for as long as I can remember, with different combat actions happening in sequence - movement, missile, magic and melee, and then the other side goes."
I'm coming from the opposite side of the revelation here.  When I started working over Beacon I figured it was a D20 system and I should use D20 style initiative - otherwise known as individual initiative with DEX bonuses.  Man after about three games we cut that shit out because it was taking longer to do the initiative rolls than most of the rest of the combat.  We switched back to D6 per side - where side was determined by me, but usually 2 of them.  That's how I did it back in the olden times and it's working out pretty well for us now too.  I didn't think of having a "movement, missile, magic and melee" sequence however, that's something I didn't recall from the olden times.  Looking at it now I think it would be a good idea to try this.  Putting these phases in might solve some of my issues with not using minis and keeping track of where folks are at.  It also means player would have to decide what they were doing before they acted and that might be fun.  You want to move - well you have to do it now, no you don't know if Thedric is going to take out that archer, you will have to chance it.  Well maybe not so much what they were doing but what type of thing they were doing.

I play a board game called Game of Thrones by Fantasy Flight games.  It's very much like the game Diplomacy in that you give orders to all your armies ahead of time and then afterwards you carry out all the orders.  Unlike Diplomacy the orders in Thrones are not specific but simply a type of action; movement, support, raid, etc.  When the time comes to resolve these orders you can carry them out in which ever way you think best at the time - which direction to move the army - which territory to raid - but you must carry out that order with that army.  It simulates planning but allows for the effects of actual situations to be processed.  Best of both worlds I think.

I had the idea I might put Missile attacks before Movement as that seems more appropriate and might solve some of the issue I have with characters dancing around and firing off missile weapons in close combat.  Before I do this I'll have think a bit more - no point changing an old standard without due consideration.

Replacing a weapon
Over the course of playing, there were quite a few times where a weapon needed to be changed or replaced in combat.  The Critical fumble table causes dropped or broken weapons, and in other cases the players were expressing their desire to maim something more by going for a bigger weapon.  It was mostly hand-waved or counted as a minor action, but I do want to have a more chewy rule for it.  I want this to have an impact - but not make the players miss a whole attack.

What I'd like to do is to make drawing, changing out or picking up a dropped weapon the same as a move in turn.  Since you get one move in a turn or two if you forgo combat, you would have to use one up to change out your weapon or pick it up.  If you had to change or replace a weapon you wouldn't be able to do a full turn move, and you wouldn't be able to move and attack.  Right now drawing a weapon is a minor action and that doesn't seem to be enough.  I want to reward folks who ready their daggers before opening a door.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another look at the skills pt. 2

Stats are something you are born with.  You are large and in charge or you grew up with wits or reflexes that were quick as lightning.  Pretty much stats don't change.  In Microlite you can raise your stats as you level, but I didn't want to go with this in Beacon.  Certainly you can have magic items or special situations that raise stats, but generally this can't be done through normal means - you keep the stats you were 'born' with.  Skills on the other-hand are primarily raised through effort and practice (read XP).  If you are an average Fighter you can't become innately 'stronger', but you do increase your physical skill which means you get better at using what you have.  In the long run this pays out better anyway since stats and their bonuses are limited where skill bonuses are not so much.  I like this, Beacon advancement is based on this idea.  I rejected the idea of class based saving throws because I wanted players to be able to build their reactive checks based on what was important to them.  You want to be excellent at tracking or facing down charming vampires? Work on your survival skills.  If you want to be good at keeping your footing on a slippery roof work on your physical skills.

I've already explained some of the reasons I am considering adding to or changing the skills.  I think in these posts, I've set out how I want the skills to work mechanically and how I want them to impact classes, character advancement, and game play*.    Different games will have different skills that are relevant.  A psionic based game under this philosophy might have a skill for Concentration, a sci-fi  based game might utilize Science instead of Survival.   I have to say that the original 5 skills proposed for Microlite were pretty good ones and I'm having a hard time picking better substitutes.  I am going to take a stab at introducing one more to the bunch however.

So last post I mentioned Fabrication.  What I was originally thinking was that I wanted to contemplate a skill to be used for mechanical skills.  I wanted something that could be checked for disarming traps or for repairing a wagon wheel.  I saw this as a skill that could be used for players wanting to barricade doors or control a ship in a storm.  Or maybe building a ship.  Mechanics didn't cover enough ground however.  It wasn't something that could be combined with stats in interesting ways.  I realize that Knowledge can be used for these things - certainly Knowledge should be used to see if a character knows how to do something.  But this was something different - there is a big difference between knowing what things are and being able to make things.  On my bike ride home the other night it came to me that what I was looking for was the creative force.  That's where Fabrication comes from.

You can mix Fabrication with STR if you were a smith or were building a wall.  You could apply it with MIND if you were writing a book or researching a new spell.  You could use Fabrication with CHA if you were telling a story in a tavern - or trying to explain why you were in the Vizier's harem.  Use it with DEX if you were disarming (or setting) a cunning alarm trap that involved string, oil and a falling torch.  One problem I can see is that the short form of Fabrication is Fab - that's going to cause some chuckles around the table.  Other names for this potential skill could be Creation (Cre), Making (Mak) or something.  Whatever it's called, I'm more interested in if it works for Beacon.  I know I would like another sphere for character development, what I don't know is if I want player characters building boats or constructing fortifications.  It's an adventure game, if you needed to build a boat you should have become a shipwright and not an adventurer.

*I have a lot of worries that doing too much with skills will lead to the wrong types of game play.  Read this for another good description of how skills can impact play.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another look at the skills pt. 1

I like the skill system that was worked up for Microlite, it's one of the primary reasons I was attracted to the system and I think it's one of the features of Beacon as well.  The key to it is of course that the skills are abstract enough to be applicable in a variety of situations and yet there is enough variety to differentiate the characters.  The skills have to be abstract so that you don't get into a situation where you need to keep adding skills in to cover situations.  I think that's one of the issues with a skill driven game is that if the skills are pretty specific you either have a situation where the particular skill is required by everyone all the time or is only used once in a blue moon.  You tend to have a lot of skill overlap anyway.  How many kind of vehicles can you drive with your 'driving' skill?  Can someone with woodworking make barrels as easily as they build houses or are those two separate skills?  If you have too few skills then they do double duty - too many and some never get used.  If the skills are too generic then anyone has a pretty good chance of doing anything (which is not necessarily bad) and it's hard to make characters who excel at different in game tasks. Too many and your characters are wasting points on rarely used skills.  Naturally you can make it work whichever way you go but it will impact the way the game plays.  Of the all the changes to 2nd edition AD&D, I think it was the bolted on skill system that I disliked the most and the one I had the most player issues with.  I addressed this in my campaign back then by switching to a system with better skills management (Rolemaster...) and then by creating my own game based on ranks ala the Marvel Supers universal table.  Ya it worked OK, it was pretty fun, but it didn't feel like good ol' D&D.  I found that players were always trying to leverage their highest skills in to all situations (why can't I use animal training to make the knight's horse throw him?) or wouldn't do anything unless they were very skilled in it.  That or they wanted skills that weren't in the book and so you had to keep making up new ones.  More rules, less rulings.

The better solution for me these 20 years later has been to co-opt the 5 skills from 'advanced' Microlite.  In Beacon I've taken a pretty broad approach to how these skills are applied. Physical represents health, training, exercise.  Subterfuge is stealth, trickery, guile.  Knowledge is knowing and all the skills that come with study and patience.  Communication is expression, attention to details, understanding.  Survival is the ability to find food and shelter, take care of yourself, the instincts and will to live.  They are almost 5 extra stats really, but they are stat levers not simply another measuring stick, and this is why it works well in the game.

Combining these skills with the Strength or Mind is where the characters start standing out from one another.  It influences the way they (should be) describing their actions in the game.  I liked this mechanic so much that I emphasized it in Beacon.   Microlite has a across the board or flat level bonus which is applied to all the skills and actions.  It's simple and its a feature of the game which makes it light - but it does tend to make all the characters similar to each other over time.  Beacon does away with the flat level bonus and instead puts the bonuses into the level up process.  Classes gain in certain skills and players can choose to apply a bonus to one skill per level.  This lets players pump up different areas of and it allows for interesting builds coming from the level progression.  You can have a fighter who spend everything on physical and is a beast for resisting poisons and pulling acrobatic stunts - or you can have a fighter who is more well rounded and is a good communicator and gets bonuses for dealing with NPCs and military hierarchy.  It is flexible.

I really agonized over using the Survival skill because unlike the original 4 skills it seemed to be there just to add wilderness skills for rangers and druids to exist and there was already a lot of ways to derive these from the original 4.  However, I realized that survival was not really much different than the subterfuge skill and in fact having some overlapping spheres or imbalanced combinations is OK.  For one, it made certain classes possible, and for two, having more skills but less universal skills is good for character differentiation.   Adding in new skills changes the game by making existing skills less applicable, by encouraging certain actions or directions  for players in game.  In some ways it limits or discourages certain existing combinations - like subterfuge will limit certain types of communication such as lying, or survival would encroach on many mind and physical based challenges.  In practice however the survival skill took on some aspects of willpower for me, adding a modifier for the 'spark of life' type challenges for example, and so it actually had a net sum increase.

So all that being said, I've still been tempted to add in another skill. I'm going to go carefully here and try to talk through it because it is a balancing act.   During the play test I've seen that the Rogue class really doesn't have as much going for it as the other classes and I thought a good way to fix this would be to make them skill boats.  Maybe I'm borrowing a page from James Raggi and his specialist class in LotFP here, but it seems right that the fantasy archetype of the Thief really needs to cover a broader scope to include a role for that fellow who is clever and good at things besides swords or sorcery.  A character based on stealing is OK, but a character based on solving problems is much better.  Theoretically, giving the Rogue class extra skill points to spend means they are more likely to increase things besides subterfuge, encouraging characters that are good at communication (con-men), or knowledge (the sage).  Having more non-combat abilities means that rogues would want to use them.  I am concerned however that there is not quite enough here to work with once you get outside the sneak (subterfuge) activities.  There's no point in pumping skills into knowledge if the party mage is going to have a high knowledge skill anyway.  So if you give the rogue extra points then they are just going to pump them into Subterfuge and eventually get +20 whenever they try anything sneaky.  That's not what I want.  What I don't want is for the skills to become entirely class defining, although I realize that some aspect of this is inevitable.  I also know that any new skill is going to direct the flow of the game.  If I put in a skill for say - Commerce it will encourage players to deal with money and business - and if I don't make that a common feature of my game, then it's a wasted space on the character sheet.  Any new skill would have to address a gap in game activities that you actually want addressed (so no bathroom based skills, and nothing dealing with taxation or writing performance reviews) and not take away from the existing ones.  It would also have to be something that could be mixed with the stats in interesting ways.

What I'm thinking is of is Fabrication.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On the Hunter and the Rogue

Coming to the end of this play test and I'm still reflecting on what I've seen and learned.  Admittedly we really only ran the gamut of levels 1-3, but those are important levels for a fantasy heart-breaker because they introduce the system and because most game mechanics are at least touched on.  In the future I will be happy to get into lessons from mid-level play but for now it's enough to process.  I think that the fighter class is pretty good and them fighters seem to be able to do some smash and bash.  The magic classes are pretty good I think - I do need to do more work on their spells but I think the classes themselves are mostly good.  I do know that I had some fundamental problems with the Hunter and the Rogue classes however.

The Hunter class worked pretty good related to the Survival skill, but I have a problem with the combat bonuses. I think that without the second ranged attack it would not have worked at all but I can't help thinking that the hunter is too powerful if allowed to use a ranged weapon all the time in combat.  I'm seriously thinking of either removing the attack bonus perk for ranged weapons.  Barring that I have to figure out some way to limit the use of ranged weapons in combat because otherwise hunters will only ever use ranged weapons and so get all the benefits of a fighter in combat.  The problem is; without some sort of engagement and/or attack of opportunity rule it is hard to keep characters engaged in a melee and they can simply dance around the room each turn using ranged attacks.  I can try to discourage this or I can ignore it and simply give hunters two attacks but remove the attack bonus for ranged weapons - leaving them with the same attack bonus as a Cleric or a Rogue.  Simpler is usually better but I want to meditate on it some more anyway, maybe get some input from the players.

As for the Rogue - they simply don't seem to have enough...something.  Of all the classes they get the least perks - the advantage of using DEX for any weapon is offset by the fact that most players will use a weapon suited to their bonuses anyway.  I even thought of merging the Rogue and Hunter class but I really want to avoid this.  I thought of a couple things I could try to make the Rogue work, one was to give the rogue more free skill points on advancement - this would reinforce the Jack-of-all-trades feel and lead to some interesting builds.  For example, instead of giving them one  skill point per level and a subterfuge bump every three levels, just give them 2 skill points to spend every level.  Rogue could be the super class for all the would be sages, the con-men, the merchants and the thieves.  They would be the most customizable class in any case as you would be able to sock points into any of the skills you wanted to bump.  Rogues would likely be the kings of the non-combat sphere, but that might not be bad.  The other idea would be to figure out another class ability like the sneak attack.  This one is more traditional (the old thieves skills bit) so would probably be easy to implement, but it doesn't fit with the design principle of streamline as much as the skill point idea, however it does fit with the other design principle of interesting .

Thursday, September 15, 2011


An interesting comment showed up on the Tao of D&D blog about non-spell cleric powers which immediately brought me to mind of the clerical rituals I want to draft up for my game setting (if not for Beacon proper).  Rituals would be magical effects that would take hours or days instead of one round as a spell would.  They would be used to flesh out the magic system without buggering up combat so much.  I had already thought that one of the rituals should deal with consecration or sanctification - that would be a second or third level ritual.  There should be a ritual for messing with souls (possibly resurrection) and a ritual for imbuing items with magic (hence certain magic items...).  I'd like to find one for each magic level and make them part of church training but very hard to attain (questy).   After reading that discussion, I figured out where to start. The first ritual should be preaching.

Saying a sermon or a mass, and being able to influence players and NPCs should be the first divine 'ritual'.  It's the way the religion is spread and the primary contact between the church and the population at large so it would be taught early.  Anyone can give a speech but for a real fire and brimstone footstomper you would need a invested cleric.  Game-wise, it would be something that the character could do, it would be something the locals would seek out - a service.  It would be something they would do when the townsfolk are bracing for an attack, or for solders before the battle, or for a good harvest, or a wedding, or even before a ship leaves port.  Mechanically it would be some sort of morale boost - I can see it used by NPC priests to whip their minions into a frenzy.  It could also sway opinion towards the players and increase the possibility of henchmen and retainers being retained by a party - and it could influence these retainers during the dungeon crawl.  I can see this as working in conjunction with the cleric's bonus to the communication skill in Beacon to make them the leaders that motivate and muster the troops.  So it would be a low level mass charm - in effect making the audience slightly more disposed towards the cleric and increasing their morale for a short time.  Since it would take an hour or more to perform and be a loud affair I'm not too worried that it would devalue the Enchanter's charm spell.

I probably won't call it preachin' however.