Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Variable HD examples

I've converted some monsters over to using the proposed variable HD mechanic so you can see what it looks like.  I'm liking the idea, however I realize it's not for everyone.  The good news is that you can totally use the SRD version or your own monsters in Beacon and it wouldn't break anything.  I just like the idea because it minimizes bookkeeping for me.  The Bane asked if a monster was using a listed weapon would the damage be based on weapon type or monster HD type and I said I'd use the monster HD type.  I figure that this represents the monster's bonuses or penalties.  You can of course use the weapon type and again it won't break anything.  You can even mix it up and choose when to use a weapon and when to use the base HD type and it still won't break anything.

Here's some monsters, for the HP I put in the median and the max just so you can get a feel for the numbers.
  • Goblin original: HD 1d8+1 (5 HP), AC 15 (Leather), Morningstar +2 (1d6) or javelin +3 (1d4) 
  • Goblin vHD: HD 1 d6 (4-6 HP), Bonuses +1, AC 15 (Leather), Morningstar (1d6) or javelin (1d6)...
Of course that's with all the stats for comparison but in fact you would just derive these, and it's easier to deal with weapons as well, just give them any old thing. So it would really look like:
  • Goblin: HD 1 d6, AC 15 (leather), club, pointed stick, broken bottle, rolling pin... 
  • Goblin Captain: HD 3 d6, AC 15 (leather), iron bar, javelin, nasty hook 
  • Goblin Prince: HD 4 d6, AC 16 (chain), morningstar, sword, axe
  • etc.
For the Hill Giant you could go two directions, use 8 d20 and make them less skillful (+8) but more massive or go with 12 d12 and make them more skillful (+12) but less bulky:
  • Hill Giant orig:  HD 12d8+48 (102 HP), AC 20, Great-club +16 (2d8+10) or rock +8 (2d6+7)
  • Hill Giant vHD:  HD 8 d20 (84-160 HP), AC 20, Great-club or rock; or
  • Hill Giant vHD:  HD 12 d12 (78-144 HP), AC 20, Great-club or rock 
Other examples:
  • Lizardfolk orig:  HD 2d8+2 (11 HP), AC 15, Claw +2 (1d4+1) or club +2 (1d6+1) or javelin +1 (1d6+1)
  • Lizardfolk vHD:  HD 2 d8 (9-16 HP), AC 15, Claw, club or javelin
  • Minotaur orig:  HD 6d8+12 (39 HP), AC 14 (leather), great axe +9 (1d10), gore +4 (1d8+2)
  • Minotaur vHD:  HD 6 d8 (27-48 HP), AC 14 (leather), great axe, horn gore
  • Hydra orig: HD 3d10+5 +1d10/head (19+x HP), AC 15, 1 bite/head +3 (+1/head) (1d10+3), or spit acid +2d4
  • Hydra vHD: HD 3 d12 + d12/head (19-36+x HP), AC 15, bite/head, or spit acid/head
  • Griffon orig:  HD 7d10+21 (59 HP), AC 17, Bite +11 (2d6+4) 
  • Griffon vHD:  HD 7 d10 (39-70 HP), AC 17, Bite (1d10)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spell DC

During a recent session it became apparent to me that I forgot to include the difficulty ramp for spell casting.  The rules say spell casting is DC 10 and the chance to successfully cast a spell is:
 Roll + Level + MIND bonus >= DC 
Thus a reasonably intelligent caster with a +2 MIND bonus would fail on a 7 at level 1 by level 7 would only fail with a 1 (the D20 5%).  Well this is fine but not really too dramatic and it does not add any provision for the spell level.  I had forgotten my original intent - that the DC would be 10 + spell level.  I graphed this out to see what it would look like for both lowest and highest spells per level:

DC 10 +1 per spell level

Well this is better than maxing out the whole system at 7th level, but clearly the caster level bonus totally overtakes the spell difficulty increase.  There are some options to deal with this so that some tension is kept in the system.  One way would be to increase the DC modifier for spell level or decrease the caster level bonus.  These approaches simply cancel out and create extra math and I don't want to do it though because I really I like the simplicity of +1 per level, however if I were to do it I would change the caster bonus. Folks are used to attack bonus principles and gaining ability when they level. That would look like this:
Caster bonus every second level.
...and that looks like it really punishes casters.  It basically freezes them at a 50% chance for their highest level spells.  Lowest level spells suffer as well - having cantrips fail 10% of the time for a bright level 11 spell caster is not right.  No, not liking this so it looks like we'll stick with the first table.

But that sharp curve needs to be addressed somehow so that the whole mechanic does not become irrelevant, what are some other options?  Well DC is all about Difficulty and what makes spells more difficult to cast?  Complications!  Apparently, the system works after all! First there are the standard complications of changing the spell itself - Extending, Empowering and Widening should all include a DC modifier.  Then there are DC modifiers for environmental conditions - I imagine casting a spell from horseback or in a hurricane (or when falling, or in deep water...) would be more difficult than from a quiet neutral stance. Actually this is good because it rewards the high level caster, letting them become more proficient and allows the GM to adjudicate DC as it was intended - as a difficulty modifier.  I like it - a high level caster can attempt things a low level caster wouldn't - like a fireball while rollerskating.  Also they might be able to cast cantrips while caught in a tornado but just might have some difficulty with that 7th level spell.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Variable Hit Dice

Looking over the rather ugly monster listing I have in Beacon I really want to do something to clean up that mess. I grabbed most of the monsters from either the Microlite sources or from the SRD and although I like having a good monster resource available in the Beacon booklet, I cringe every time I see something like HD 6d8+14 or 3d8+9. I have been thinking there must be a better way.  Actually the Microlite source gives a hint as to the answer for me here. It says:
Assign Hit Dice (d8 for most things, d12 for Dragons and Undead).
How about expanding on this idea and assigning the type of HD based on the creature type/size? For example a tiny little bugger like a ratling would use d4. Humanoid creatures like goblins use d6. Larger man sized creatures use d8. Larger than man-sized or very tough creatures like the undead would use d10 or d12 and finally huge creatures like giants or dragons could use a d20 (or even d24 or 2d10?). As an extra feature - this HD dice type could double as both hp base and their attack damage. Doing this you would merely decide the size or toughness of the creature and then how many HD you wanted to give them for bonuses and the HD and damage would be pretty easy to follow up with.  It's pretty easy to figure out the average of each die type and use that as the HP baseline.  You could have very skillful tiny monsters that were 7-8 HD with associated to hit bonuses but with low HP and damage due to the d4 base and you could do large lumbering tough monsters with only 1-2 HD but using d12 or d20 for hp and damage.  I think it would make things easier to remember and allow you to tweak things pretty quickly for an encounter by whipping up in extra skillful goblins or slow clumsy giants simply by changing the number of HD.  I wouldn't want to have too many categories and types of dice but a simple size/toughness based chart should suffice and it seems flexible enough to handle oddities.

I'm going to do some number crunching to see how it works out but this idea seems like it may have legs.  It certainly will clean up the monster section for me so I have hopes it will work out.  It seems like such a simple idea is someone doing this already?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Look at you, all covered in blood.

A friend of mine was telling me about Dragon Age and how in the game after a combat when you are talking to NPCs you are still shown as being covered in blood.  I think this is great, however I bet those NPCs don't react to this in any way (although computer NPCs generally let you walk around behind them and loot their houses/stores while they stare at the wall).  Anyway the point is that combat would make you filthy.  Me, I can't even get my bike out of the shed without getting all dirty.

I would like to pull this card out in a tabletop game however.  Imagine the characters have been invoved in even a small skirmish on the road and a couple days later they come to a town.  The town watch would ask them where they were coming from and how they found the roads and then specifically ask about the bloodstains on their cloaks.  It's not like they have changed or stopped at the river to wash.
"Why officer we are a band of minstrels coming to town to participate in the autumn festival. Blood?  What? You want to look in the saddlebags?"
Also blood (not to mention sword and arrow tears, scorch marks and all the other things you might come across in a fantasy world combat) would probably be pretty hard to wash out.  I would imagine the party looks pretty messy, and in a dangerous way that would get you reported to the neighborhood watch if you were walking around civilized folks.  Yes everyone is dirty but they are mostly covered in shit, not blood and brains. If they are actually coming back from a dungeon then it would be like 50 times worse - they should be lucky if they even have clothes.  Try playing out a scene where the characters slip off to an underground lair and then have to pop in for tea at the magistrates house.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gearing up for the 4th draft

I thought that the 3rd draft of Beacon would be the one that I could sit on and play with for quite a while. It was certainly the one I wanted to really play test a longer campaign with - especially handing out the book for players to use and comment on (read: break).  Well naturally almost as soon as I published it I had a few small changes I wanted to make - the largest being a switch to the silver standard, but also adding in some minor refinements to polearms, initiative and scrolls to make the rules more obvious.  I also thought about adding in level 7 spells which was something I originally wanted to wait on until I saw how the first 6 levels of spells were being used.  I think that the magic system in the SRD kind of falls apart a little once you hit level 7+ and the spells become either too powerful (wish) or not powerful enough (discern location) for the level, or they are basically large versions of lower level spells - something that might work in a spell slot system but not so much in a spell point system where you can bump up the potency or ranges.  So I might like to work on them or maybe high level spells can stay on the back burner a while - I donno.
I also wonder what other things I should try to slide in there.  I do really want to get a longer term draft so I don't want to introduce anything new that might need to be changed, however I also don't want to put out a 5th draft in a month because I absolutely need something for a campaign.  Some suggestions off the top of my head would be;
  • add in an explicit speed stat (derived) for movement;
  • make a more formal table for combat modifiers;
  • write up something about wands and maybe some other magic items;
  • add a table for water travel to go with the overland travel table; and
  • something just friggin awesome.
    I think I'll try to shoot for end of April as a deadline.

    *update:  I also noticed that the rules for spellcasting neglect to mention that the target DC is 10 +1 per spell level.  I'll be fixing this as well.

    Monday, March 21, 2011


    I was cleaning out some shelves and pulling some books to put in boxes (ah I have too many books!) and I pulled out Death Angel's Shadow by Karl Edward Wagner.  Oh well I had to read that again. Then I had to dig out Bloodstone and Darkness Weaves as well.   I also realized I'm going to have to look out for a copy of Dark Crusade and the rest of his short stories some time - something I forgot to do the last time I read these books a decade ago.
    If there is a feeling I wish I could convey at the game table it's the feeling I get when I read Wagner's Kane books.  There are great and terrible things in the world and the rumours you may have heard are true - just not quite as you imagined them to be.  I like the Kane books because even though you get the impression that there are terrible elder gods and powerful forces at work in the world - these stories focus on the human scale.  Kane may be immortal but he's as gritty and real as it gets when he is sweet talking a monarch or dropping a stone cornice on his enemies below. This makes them a good fit for inspiring the proper level of oppression and fear in a game without going too far and making things seem either unreal or hopeless.  It's also great fodder for planning out your own adventures as these stories cover a lot of excellent ground.  From a creature stalking a lonely winter keep, to a terrible slog through deadly swamp, to a deadly game of cat and mouse in a plague scoured city, Wagner's Kane can deliver the goods.

    *update: Apparently there's a Kane movie in the works based on Reflections on the Winter of my Soul the first story in Death Angels Shadow - with the idea to do the other stories as well.  Wow that could be a good movie, and I would like to see their take on Cold Light too.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Just hanging out a bit

    Well over at LotFP, Mr. Raggi has announced he's switching to a silver standard along with some other cool changes in his new Lamentations of the Flame Princess Grindhouse edition.  So that settles the question for me.  If  he can do it with game in print, then I can do it in the next draft of Beacon. His reasons are basically the same too - gold should be more valuable.
    Actually I have to say that I've been getting a lot of enjoyment out of the LotFP site this last month as he (Mr. Raggi) was running contests for spells and magic items and I entered one of each.  For the magic item contest I entered an item called the Three Wolf Moon Surcoat which was based on the striking and legendary image image to the right.  As cool that is however, I am even more proud of the spell I entered in the first level magic spell contest called Carfrith's Serous Illumination. I thought that I was being extremely clever AND providing a very useful spell, a non combat spell that allows a magic user to provide some real value to a party by making body fluids glow.  I mean come on you could track monsters, find traps and secret doors easier, detect fingerprints - this one has it all really.  Naturally someone else had the exact same idea and submitted a spell called Blood Luminescence.  Oh well, I still think my name is better anyway.

    So then to top it all off I entered my submission into the 2011 One Page Dungeon contest and I won't say much about it now except to say:  its probably not something you would run in Beacon.  I suppose this brings me to another minor dilemma.  I started this blog with the intention of providing a developer diary for a game and I'm still committed to that vision, however I am finding that there is more I want to write about than just Beacon: book and game reviews and bits and bobs for other RPGs for example.  I'm wondering if I should partition this blog or start an alternate one to deal with that stuff.  I'm sure that I'm taking it all too seriously, but ah well I guess it's good to have a luxury of things to think about and no deadlines.