Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beacon 4th Draft

Today I'm officially posting the 4th draft of Beacon which is the one I'll be using to play test in the upcoming months.  What's changed since the 3rd draft?  Well last month I put up a list of the expected changes... and actually I didn't do many of those.
  • 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 did however do the following:
  • an introduction to the basic D20 mechanics for those who haven't had one;
  • change to silver standard and adjusting all the prices accordingly;
  • reformat the monsters section to use variable hitdice types for hp and damage;
  • reformat some lists as tables;
  • modify and/or tweak a lot of rules, especially magic resist and the dexterity penalties from armour; and
  • add in some short race descriptions, skill descriptions and lots of other minor text fixes or clarifications.
I figure that all this falls under the friggin awsome line item above although some might suggest that it's actually more friggin adequate as updates go.

So if you use Beacon in your game or have looked over the rules before and considered using it I suggest you carefully review this version because there are a few subtle differences that are intended to make things more internally cohesive but perhaps not as D20/Microlitey as before.  You may notice that armour is a lot more expensive than before for example and the way it impacts dexterity has changed (for the better I believe).  Or you may notice that spells have become slightly harder to cast as their level goes up.

As usual I'll leave the old draft up for a few weeks in case you were using it and need a reference.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Some fancy footwork

I ran across this post about dealing with simple combat maneuvers while reading stuff on the super helpful OSR Links to Wisdom site.  I think this is a great solution to the problem of keeping combat interesting without adding complex rules or breaking the system.  Basically you can declare any special move you want to try and then you roll an normal attack - if you get a critical hit you pull it off.  If you get a normal hit then the defender gets to decide to take the hit or take the effect of your special move.  If the attack is simply an attempt to force someone away from something or towards something they don't know about, then the defender would probably let it succeed. On the other hand, if the attack is to disarm or a pin or a throw, then they will likely take the damage instead.  I think this is interesting and could add some interesting choices to a combat without causing too many headaches.

Now in Beacon which is d20 and where you presumably have skills that could cover these maneuvers, the questions should be why would you do this instead of just using skills and stat vs a DC check and why a critical hit instead of a DC value.  Well obviously this rule is intended to allow for combat actions that are too effective to be regular skill checks or combat rolls, maneuvers would probably be abused to replace regular combat rolls if they were predictable to pull off.  By placing the choice on the target's plate you avoid the abusive portion of this and by making a critical hit the only way to take away that choice you are setting the bar pretty high for success (target choice or 5%) but without a penalty for attempting it.  Also we can't forget the natural inclination here is to think - oh only a 5% chance for this to work, but in actuality it's based on the maneuver - sure a killer hip throw into the volcano will only have a 5% chance to succeed, but something more subtle like a flank or a push back probably will succeed because the target will opt for it over potential damage - especially if the target is wounded.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011


When I was dealing with pole arms I wanted to make them different and useful so I made it so you could set them to take a charge but -4 for close combat.  Except the short spear.  The short spear you can throw, can use as a pole arm and has no penalty for close combat.  Why all the favor for the spear?  Because of this show:
I have been watching Morbito on Netflix.ca and it's a great show and it really gives some love for the spear.  I try to enjoy Anime because really there isn't much creative fantasy TV out there except in Anime.  The price for this novelty is that you have a lot of duds.  Many of the shows I can't really recommend because they are either a weirdly paced, badly voiced, or even a bit skeevy - but this one was very good.   Morbito is the story of a bodyguard named Balsa who is hired to protect a prince, and she can kick some ass with that spear.

So if Beacon rules make the short spear a little unbalanced compared to the other light weapons and you have a lot of folks deciding to use the spear - well I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Preparing for Adventure

Well if you have been watching closely you've noticed that I've had a preview of the 4th draft of Beacon up for a few weeks now and you also probably noticed that it's been updated about 5 times in that space.  Well I had to keep it up there so it was available for character generation, but at the same time I had a lot of changes to make - way more than I thought I did.  I think I'm mostly finished with that now and even if it's not necessarily done, I think it's in pretty good shape.  Some of the things I ended up fixing were:

  • the price of whiskey (1000 bucks a cask- crazy!  I changed that trade item to horses instead.)
  • and armour ( I made all the 'fitted' armours much more expensive.)
  • more pole arm rules (pole arms are used at range (at least 5') and suffer a -4 when used point blank) 
  • fixing armour and shield effects on dexterity (it now impacts DEX instead of DEX bonus which allows it to be much more granular so I adjusted the shield AC bonus as well since I hated having to have +4 to AC to compensate for a -3 DEX bonus)
  • and lots more small rule, explanations and example wording tweaks on races, skills, monster abilities, combat.
  • Made monster damage into HD type+HD number which would mean a bugbear would do d8+3 damage with his weapons instead of just d8.  This is still easy to derive but lets the elite versions of monsters do more damage than their same sized but less skillful counterparts (in addition to the attack bonus).

A few of these items were pointed out to me by players, but most were me just re-reading things and preparing for the ADVENTURE*.

woo woo, bring it on!
And as to that adventure.  I have written up short backgrounds for each of the players which I hope will give them a sense of place in the setting without being too heavy handed as to their motivation or personalities.  I'll post these once I have actually sent them out and gotten feedback just in case someone hates what I've come up with.  The players rolled up a party consisting of an Elf Druid, a Human Hunter, a Human Fighter, a Dwarf Cleric and a Dwarf Enchanter.    I like the party composition, it's a bit different and I think we can spin out something entertaining from this.

I am a bit vexed about how to do the XP though.  As part of the update, I've adjusted XP to account for the change to monster HD so instead of a simple 100*HD number it is now (10*HD type)*HD number.  I don't know if I want to test this at this time however since I am of a mind to do things one of two alternate ways.  I could try to do XP based on damage to see how it will work; or I could simply do level progression by play session in order to get a wider range of levels for play testing in.  If I level the characters up each session it would be good for testing many parts of the game but it might not be as fun to run or to play.

*This is real awesome - you can play that old Atari 2600 Adventure in your browser.  Next thing you know we'll all be flying about in air cars!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


The Enchanter cantrip Confusion is not that good.

Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft. /2 levels.
Duration: 1 min.
Description: In combat, target has 5% chance per level of attacking the wrong target.

It's terrible at low levels and problematic at higher levels (gets too powerful for a cantrip) and with solo monsters you have to figure out what the wrong target might be. How about this instead:
Range:  25 ft. + 5 ft. /2 levels.
Duration:  1 min.
Description:  In their next combat action, target has +5% chance of a critical fumble per every 2 caster levels up to a max of 50%.

So this just slides the target's failures into a greater chance of a critical miss, 5th level Enchanter making an enemy fail crit on a 4 or less is nasty without being too breaky n'est pas?  At 17th level it would be a 10 or less.  That sounds like more fun to me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rolling up some characters

I'm getting pretty pumped up to run the gaming group I'm in through some adventures using the Beacon rules.  The other day by happenstance we were doing a board game night and while setting up Betrayal at the House on the Hill a couple folks started rolling up characters.  Something about rolling up characters really triggers the keeping up with the Joneses syndrome in gamers, and so then everyone wanted a character sheet and started to roll up some stats.  I outlined the choices in the rules - either roll 3d6 and you can swap one pair of stats, or roll 4d6 and drop the lowest.  I think it was a 2/3 split for those options in that order in fact.  We also played the Castle Ravenloft  board game which was is fun in small doses.

And I was getting real excited as they made their character choices, as unlike playing with my kids these folks have played a good number of games and will really give a good workout to the rules.  A good example being I was asked about tower shields giving full coverage*, which is a level of detail I hadn't gone into at this point.  It's also the first time in many years I will get to really flex my game master chops and I found that just having a stack of half generated characters (just stats, classes and a couple names for now) fired up the mental boiler.  On the way home that night my mind was steaming and the few little do-dads and neat adventure hooks I had been working on before all pushed themselves into my head and demanded attention.

Actually running a game now, one thing I'd like to be able to do is to beef up the second portion of this blog, which would be the "Beacon Companion", or the setting document.  I think that every system should have at least one default setting, even if it's not going to be used.  It gives people something to run with right out of the gate before they have to know all the rules or start tweaking and creating things for their own game.  So I'm going to start worrying a little less about the rules (once the 4th draft is finished this month naturally) and start putting together some more posts on setting and fluff stuff.  And since my players might be reading this I won't be posting anything relating to plots or maps or other stuff they haven't figured out or shouldn't know yet until after they run into it.  Also since it's play testing and summer is coming up I don't know how in depth the campaign will be able to get, I can optimistically hope for 3-4 sessions at most I think, but maybe that will lay some groundwork for a longer campaign next year.

*I don't want to get into real stimulation type combat, but I say they could be full cover if you plant them down and hide behind them and are not attacking or moving.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Resisting Magic

Microlite says this about resisting spells:
The Difficulty Class (DC) for all spells is 10 + Caster Level + Caster's MIND bonus
Fair enough, this is right out of the 3.5 SRD.  This is a somewhat OK rule for determining if creatures resist magic, but not so good a rule for if players resist magic.  Unless you really want to stat out all your NPC casters or use monster HD for their MIND bonus (which could be perfectly acceptable), then it adds unnecessary complication. Also 10 is a normal difficulty, I think resisting a spell should be somewhat harder than say hearing an approaching guard.  You should be breaking a sweat anyway. Also I can see a player's MIND stat influencing their ability to successfully cast a spell and to resist a spell - however once a spell is cast I figure it's a done deal - the magic horse has left the barn - and so the caster's MIND bonus is not likely to influence that target's ability to resist it's effects.  Let's give the dimwitted spell casters a break on this one.

So this is what I say about resisting spells:
 For spells that can be resisted, the resisting target must match the Difficulty Class (DC) of 15 + Caster Level.
I'd almost be tempted to use the spell level instead of the caster level because otherwise you are going to have to figure out the caster's level for scrolls, wands, magic traps and all matter of things.  If you just said DC was 15+2*spell level you could have everything laid out right on the table.  Of course you would then have capped resistance to low level spells.  A 15th level caster can cast a sleep spell just like a 1st level caster can - should the target be resisting that sleep spell against DC 30 or DC 17?  I guess it depends on how you think magic should work (and in particular point based magic).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Save vs. Saving Throws

I just can't leave this saving thrown idea alone.  Even though it's perfectly normal to have a standard couple of saving throws and to have them increase as a class or level advantage I just don't like having to bolt this onto the otherwise pretty decent skill system.  There should be no need to have a separate mechanic for reactive skill checks (saves) as opposed to active skill checks (your regular skill rolls) It should be possible for a player to buff certain skills and have that translate to a higher chance of dodging a falling rock or greater mental fortitude to resist a charm.  It should also be possible to have the GM make a up a reactive skill check based on the situation   instead of having a predetermined saving throw to determine if someone avoids getting splashed with orge urine. I also am totally into the idea of players being able to customize character development through skill selection and I want to encourage the rogues who are practicing their acrobatic skills (points into Physical) or the fighters who are hitting the books (spending points on Knowledge) in order to better deal with magical attacks.

So I'm going to pull a 180 and I'm not going to create special "saving throws" based on level.  What I will do is try to figure out some notable combinations within the skill system to base reactive checks for special creature or situational effects like drain and petrification.  I think that physical will likely still be the most common skill used for these things but I think that that is OK - it does pay to exercise when you are in the adventuring business.

Some initial thoughts:

  • Fortitude and reflex type saves will stay the same - physical + STR or DEX respectively;
  • Resisting undead draining effects or other attacks on the "spirit" perhaps Survival + CHA;
  • Knowledge is a good stand in for study, focus and mental discipline - thus resisting magic in general would use  Knowledge + MIND;
  • Resisting illusions, glamors and other charming or persuading effects might rely on your 'more creative side' so could be Subterfuge + MIND;
  • The Communication skill would impart composure and an eye for detail which would be a good basis for reactive 'notice' and surprise checks (Communication + MIND) - not exactly a "save" but useful enough to be desirable.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Saving Throws

Sometimes one thing will lead to another thing, and then another, until you are looking up things on the Internet again and trying to figure out how you are going to get out of this one.  It all started for me with updating monster stat blocks.  Well I guess since monsters play a large part of the mechanics of the game it's only natural that when you are dealing with them you will run into the rules.  In particular in this case I  ran into the rules about saving throws.  Well I thought I had it all figured out - anytime you needed to roll a 'reactive check' (basically a saving throw) such as fortitude or reflex you would simply roll physical skill + STR or DEX bonus against a DC.  Nice and simple.  Well it then made sense that for things like level drain or strength drain that you would roll physical skill + CHA bonus right?  It does make sense to me anyway.  Then I thought well resisting mind control and distractions could be physical skill + MIND bonus.   It even makes a nice table for reference:
Voila!  It all makes sense and the problem is solved.  Well not quite.

The problem now is that you have placed a real premium on the Physical skill.  As fighters are the only class to get bumps to this skill as a class advancement you have given fighter's a big bump as well.  This in itself isn't so bad but I can see this really cutting into the skills that players would otherwise take.  If the only way to increase your saves is to spend points on physical then people won't want to spend them on knowledge or communication as often.  Meanwhile that fighter with her built in class increase is becoming a better public speaker than the cleric and a better tracker than the hunter...  You could use other skills as the base for different checks to mix things up a bit, but it really doesn't solve the problem because some checks are going to be more common than others and it also makes things complicated.  Damn.

The solution I am thinking of for this is to instead use level + STAT bonus to do these saves.  I'd still use the same breakdown but instead of basing the advancement on the skill I'd use level (or half level actually) to model the character's increasing resistance to things.   This is nice cause it's simple and lets players increase their resistance without having to sacrifice skill choice. In someways I hate to do this cause it takes away a little from the skill system, (you can't build up your character to resist poisons or have amazing concentration) but in other ways it does bring experience into the equation and I think can live with that idea.

I think...  And just when I thought everything was all figured out too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Level Drain and Finger of Death.

While I am working over monsters to use variable Hit Dice types and looking at higher level spells I keep bumping into two issues that I want to put more thought into, level drain and 'instant' death spells.  After mulling these things over in the back of my mind for a while now I thought it might help me to write a post about them.

First let me say that I like the idea of level drain.  I also think that it is a horrible game mechanic and I always used to try to avoid using because it brought the game to a screeching halt.  Level drain is awesome because it is a game mechanic that manages to capture the feeling of the in game effect.  Players are terrified of loosing levels almost as much as their characters would be terrified of loosing life-force.  This makes those monsters that drain levels a very good monster class to trot out because it ups the game.  However once a character actually undergoes level drain then all that excellent is thrown away as you immediately get into the mechanics of character generation and those are some of the least immersive and most tedious game mechanics.  Level drain works well only in very simple games like OD&D.  Even in AD&D it was a massive pain to drop levels and almost impossible to do without bringing the game to a stop*.  However the anticipation of a level drain is such a great mechanic that it deserves some leeway and some attempt at saving.
One thing I have been thinking of is substituting stat loss for level, this has a few things to recommend it, one being that stats are more dear than hit points and so some of that sense of dread is retained.  I immediately thought of Strength loss but then I started thinking how cool it would be to have it be Charisma instead.  This kind of tied in with my idea that Charisma is a will power analogue.  Charisma could be a good indicator of your vitality and a case could be made to say that as it dropped a character became less and less animated and more suggestible until they were a walking husk.  As cool as that might be on paper, I don't know if it would strike that same level of fear into the hearts of the players.

The other issue I've been dwelling on is the spells that cause instant death. Well instant death if you fail a saving throw.  There is a good discussion of dealing with save or die mechanics over at the Alexandrian so I'm not going to go into the whys of it here.  Funny thing is that he proposes using stat loss for this as well.  I'm not one to shy away from using stat loss as a mechanic - just look at the rules for damage or the critical hit table in Beacon.  I think that I will probably be including more stat loss effects in spells and creature abilities to represent more drastic damage than HP damage (I probably already have).  However the problem with this is that it is hard to translate those type of mechanics to when characters are targeting monsters - even if you use simple HD derived stats for the monsters it's more to keep track of.  I guess you can expect to see some of those save vs death spells to remain and some to be converted to stat busters.

*update note:  apparently the concept of negative levels was developed in 3rd edition D&D to deal with this, it seems like a reasonable compromise and once again shows me that you can't ever keep up with all this RPG crap.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tempest in a Teaspoon

So all the entries for the 2011 One Page Dungeon Contest are now in and available for viewing. I'm once again blown away by some of the entries and I'm glad to be able to peruse through these awesome adventures.
My entry is called Tempest in a Teaspoon and is not fantasy but actually a sci-fi adventure.  When I sat down to make an entry, and realizing that I'm not a great artist, I figured out what I wanted to do was work out a feeling instead.  The feeling that came to mind was the feeling I had when I read Stephen R Donaldson's Gap series.  Now these books were not great books due to some really terrible plot and characterization problems (my opinion), but they did have a few great moments and I really liked how he dealt with spaceships, space stations and combat.  The way that energy and gravity constrain the options availabe to the characters in the story was really interesting.  There are some really neat scenes in there, including some asteroid chase scenes, EVA, and illegal space lab stuff.
The adventure title references a popular metaphor of neutron stars and the idea that a very small amount of this dense stellar material has a huge effect on the space around it  - but it also references the idea that this small little job to collect some data has a lot of complications.   I also had in mind a particular Television show from the 70's that dealt with the salvage business and really wanted to work that in as well.  While I was working on fleshing out the encounters I also mashed in a pretty obvious theme from literature so it turned into a real mixture of influences in the end.  I'll leave it up to you to figure it out and how they are referenced.
So that's the feeling I wanted to pack into the adventure - dirty space stations and dirty spacers, radiation and rocks flying by, proximity alarms flashing and double crossing drug dealers.   I didn't have any particular system in mind for this (Beacon/Microlite wouldn't be a very good rule set for space adventure in my opinon) but I think it would work best in something designed for more sciency sci-fi like Traveller or a Star Trek RPG, rather than the more fantastic space operas.