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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Character sheet update

So during the play test sessions I got into a little trouble over the character sheet because of some 'wasted space'.  Apparently leaving a blank spot for character portraits or doodles wasn't enough, that space had to be clearly defined.  Go figure.  So I've added a box for this - just needed to move some stuff around a bit and voila - portrait spot.  I also thought about adding in some lines for things like damage bonus so I added in three new boxes, one for base attack bonus, one for base damage bonus and one for # of attacks you get (in the rules you get an additional attack for each +5 attack bonus.  Anyway here it is:
Beacon character sheet v4
Download the PDF.

Any feedback I get on this I'll consider for the v5 draft out this fall.

Monday, September 12, 2011

So this happened

This Friday Night session report is brought to you by Butterbridge Vinters, makers of such fine wines as Ol' Purple, Only a Penny, and Retch.   Looking to forget your troubles?  Need a mild laxative?  Try a Butterbridge Wine!

After a pleasant week spent in Foxhollow, the party decided that they should move on.  Tim (cleric) was eager to make his mark on the world and prove himself to his new companions, especially the acerbic Henril.  Packing up their horses and carts, they left town heading towards Milham to the west.  The first day was peaceful and pleasant although they did meet an unusual number of travelers on the road heading west.  Conversations with the travelers revealed that they were leaving Milham because they were afraid of the sickness that had been spreading around the town.  Now the players knew of this sickness, it had been spreading since the first adventure and the times that the players had convalesced in the Milham Abbey in order to recover lost STR points they had seen the sick from outlying manses being tended to.  Apparently things were getting worse.  They camped that night beside a bridge along with a number of families what were fleeing Milham.  Chatting with the people they heard various theories about the cause of the plague, that it was spread by the bandits, that it was punishment for prideful behavior, that it was linked to the old shrine deep in the swamp, or even it was caused by a group of adventurers who had recently come to Milham and stirred up evils from the dwarven ruins (who could that be?).
Encounter with the sticky bears as depicted by Henril

The following day they ran into a small gang of bandits who were enjoying the extra business opportunities along the road.  They picked the wrong caravan to attack and this was made clear to them when Thedric charmed one and another was dispatched in a single blow.  The rest of the bandits fled and the party curiously decided not to pursue them.  Up tho this point I don't think I've seen them show any restraint on chasing down and killing foes on the run.  I suppose they didn't see any percentage in a few bandits.  Anyway they took the two heads in order to identify the fellows later on in Milham.  A few hours later as they approached the further outskirts of Milham, they came across another clump of emigrants leaving town.  As they exchanged greetings, a small dog came running up barking.  The dog had purple goo on it's fur.  As they investigated, they also heard some cries for help far off in the forest.  So leaving Thedric with their carts, they raced off to investigate.  What they found was a young man trying to rescue his wife from some purplish coloured bears.  She seemed to be unable to move and so they rushed in to drag her out of harms way and to smite the creatures.  They soon discovered that the purple goo was toxic and caused paralysis. What they didn't discover until much later was that it was also very flammable.

So a long running battle ensued where the party would bash the monsters and then someone would become paralyzed and the 'bear' would grab them and start walking into the forest.  They were not smart foes, but they were tough and persistent.  When they finally dispatched one of the beasts it came apart more like a plant than an animal, falling to the ground with a large cracking sound and throwing out roots.  It would have been a tougher battle except I had forgot to roll d4 for the effects of the poison and gave the players a 'save' against the paralysis each turn.  My gaff was balanced out as the party weren't using fire on the monsters.  Even so, the party was badly wounded by the time they dispatched 6 of the creatures and they had traveled quite far into the forest towards the 'mother'.  The mother was a huge smelly tree with long tentacles which would grab nearby animals and toss them into it's gaping maw.  It also had a number of suspicious purple 'fruit' hanging from it's branches.  One look at that and they finally ran back to the wagon to get some oil and torches.  They quickly decided that they would send Ann (the halfling) in with the oil to throw at the tree and they would follow (at a safe distance) with torches to light it.  With a few choice curses, she agreed and they carried out the plan.  She snuck into the clearing and got as close as she dared and then threw the oil.  The tree dropped some 'fruit' with a splat and out of the fruit came more of the 'gummy bears', these ones smaller than the previous.  The rest of the party came up and threw torches at the tree and began fighting the little wortlings (for this is pretty much what they were - my take on an orcwort and wortlings).  The tree burned and billows of acrid smoke flew into the air.  They fought on the edge of the clearing trying to prevent the wortlings from dragging anyone into reach of those terrible tentacles.  Colin KO'd himself rolling nice and high on the critical fumble table, something that remains a neverending source of enjoyment to everyone.  Finally a flaming tentacle struck the last wortling and it burst into flame as the tree gave a mighty shudder and died.

That evening they finally arrived in Milham.  Thedric seems to have become the party accountant and the next day he liquidated and divided out much of the remaining loot, including four of the horses and two of the carts.  Luckily for them goods were scarce and prices were high in Milham due to the ongoing banditry and the 'plague', otherwise they might have thought to have someone with a higher charisma deal with the merchants. It also helped that he started a rumour that eating from silver utensils was a remedy for plague.  Henril was eager to find out if he had any marriage prospects to review, and indeed upon meeting with the wine crier, he found he had three.  Convincing Ann to be his 'agent' he arranged to visit all his prospects.  The first was too hot (a bigoted shrew of a mother looking to cash in on her rather robust daughter and who took a shine to Father Tim), the second was too cold (a family of rail thin and nervous folk looking for a well to do business man for their bookish daughter), and the last seemed just right (a hard working bar maid looking for a decent man).  He resolved to meet her at the Seven Stones tavern later on that evening.

And that's where we wrapped up for the night.  I had hoped to get through more in this last session but in a sandbox you take what you can get and if the players are happy and laughing then it's all good.  However, due to some scheduling issues, there will be one more play test session after all.  This pleases me.  The party was deciding if they should go south into the hills again or check out the shrine in the swamp.  Possibly they will come up with an entirely different notion - but I'm sure that will be fun too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

one year later

Ayup. I been posting on this here blog for one year today.  A year ago I decided that I should take the notes and charts I'd been tooling with and post it up for everyone to read.  I figured I liked it, so maybe someone else would like it too.  According to blogger stats I've had some 5800 page views this year but I suspect that's broken since there are weird spikes and the numbers don't really add up - also since it's views and not visits it's not very useful.  According to google analytics, since June 8th I've had 566 visits averaging 47% new folks and 1200 page views.  I  hope some of these folks have benefited from my little hobby.

It's game night tonight and I'm running the last beacon v4 play test session.  I have no idea what these players are going to pull so I've stocked my sleeves with all manner of booglins and boglings and am hoping to mess them up some.  Once I'm done I'm going to be asking them for some feedback on both the game and how I ran things and then I'll look over the rules and see what needs to be changed for the v5 draft.  What's next?   I'm going to be playing some Trail of Cthulhu which is based on the Gumshoe system and I'm very interested in that.  I am also possibly going to be playing in a fantasy campaign based in Harnworld and using the Reign rules based on the O.R.E (One Roll Engine) system.  It will be fun to play again and I imagine this will spark lots of ideas for new rules or how to run things, some of which might end up here on the blog.

I also want to remind anyone who's downloaded the Beacon rules and used them to run a game, or anyone who's played in a Beacon game to let me know how it was.  I'm interested to see what people thing of the mechanics, what worked for them and what didn't.  I probably won't change things just because some people don't like the mechanic (like using HP to cast magic) but I sure will change things that aren't working or that are unintentionally confusing.

So thanks and I'll see you all around for round 2.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Weapon types

I was reading this blog post and I realized what a great idea this is.  Have different weapon types do something different in combat.  Ya, this post is from back in June and I remember reading the post on B/X Blackrazor that he references back then too, but I wasn't in the same frame of mind as I am now.  I like the simple weapon damage we're using now in Beacon (actually Blackrazor pushed me in that direction as well).  Maybe I glossed over it because I didn't want to mess with the mechanics I had for tho handed damage bonuses and duel wielding.  Anyway I like non-variable weapon damage in Beacon - mainly because it leaves little to memorize and players can grab up any old thing and start whacking away.  It lends itself to narrative weapon choices over optimization.  No more maxing out the statistics and figuring on which is the best weapon to use, more just figuring out what would be cool.  As mentioned in these fine posts, where it falls down is when players are buying weapons - why buy a nicely worked sword when a rusty crowbar will do the same damage?  Well prestige I suppose.  However, if each type of weapon had a special benefit or applicability then it would be a good reason for players to have different weapons, even carry and use different weapons at different times.  I already have pole-arms doing attack at range - I just need to figure out what the other weapons bring to the table.
Off the top of my head I can think of the following 'perks' for each type of weapon.
  • Only swords can be used to block as per the blocking rules.
  • Axes/hammers/clubs add full STR bonus as damage like two handed weapons do.
  • Pole-arms get the distance thing and first strike against rushes.
Very simple and they don't add any new mechanics to the rules, just spread the wealth a bit - both pluses in my book.  Strong guys are going to want to use the bashing weapons to get that strength bonus but might possibly carry around a sword to use in case they are fighting skilled opponents so they can increase their defense.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Rounding out the group

Back in May I posted some back stories for the characters rolled up for this play test.  I wrote the back stories in order to give flavour to the setting without doing the long exposition you might feel the need for to introduce players to your game setting.  I feel you really do need to give them something to work with - even if it's going to be a simple beat-em-up-get-the-treasure campaign.
Here are the backstories from the two new characters
Anistania (halfling rogue)
When the New Men came from across the sea, Travellers came with them.  Small but quick, they worked in the rigging and down in the holds and they were also quite welcome to be cooks for they have skill with a pot and a knife.  Barely a sackful they were then, but since the landing they have done well, and now more than one Traveller camp makes their lazy way between towns in the Soundlands.  They have been called by lots of names by the bigger folks, such as the little people, halfling, tinker, or even gnome (perhaps to an old fellow but never to a lady!) but to themselves they are called the Travellers and they love the road.
Born near Marshmill you grew up with the family Caravan as it made the yearly rounds through Hayfork and Hyntmor, idling and working as tinkers and cooks and entertainers as it suited their mood and the weather.  It was a good life full of songs and schemes and good food, but you wanted to journey further.  Perhaps the caravan was growing too large or perhaps you and your two cousins were born under brighter stars, or perhaps your reputations were growing too large, but you all decided to journey to the west and see the mountains.  Unfortunately you were waylaid by goblins on the south road, and now you find yourself with no possessions, your cousins lost, and in the company of strangers.
Colin (human fighter)
As a young boy walking the streets of Oldchurch you learned very quickly to respect, obey and even fear the priests and clerks. Life in Oldchurch revolves around the ancient Cathedral whose bells ring out announcing when to wake, to eat, to pray, and most of all announcing this massive building is all that remains from before the Fall, so many long years ago.  Early on you were singled out for your size and strength and groomed to serve in the Blue Order, the prestigious cathedral guards.  However you were too jovial and too good natured and some small part of you could not submit to the single minded discipline required of this position.  You refused an order collect tithes from a poor merchant and fell out of favour with important people. You were dismissed. Unable to find work and to spare your family, you left town to seek your fortune in the south.
Aside from Drothgar the Dwarven Cleric, there was one other PC who didn't die, but dropped out of the game.
Aurorila(elven druid)
A thousand years is not a long time for the elves.  When the human and dwarven kingdoms fell your elders watched and did nothing as the servants of chaos ran rampant.  This was not the first time.  Many many thousands of years ago the elves left their great cities and took up a life of wandering and since that time they do not involve themselves in the affairs of others.  Only the very oldest might remember the reasons for this, but since then no records are kept and no interest is taken in the workings of the world.  For reasons of your own you have left the forest and now come to human lands where you are viewed with wonder by the men from across the sea and ignorance or hostility from the dwarves and men who found no aid from your people when chaos ravaged their cities.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Objects in mirror

48!?  Who's been touching my lucky dice?
Well it's been almost a year since I started this design blog for Beacon and I just noticed I just posted my 100th post on September 1st.  Last September I was busily working away on my own little fantasy heartbreaker and I had just gone from reading blogs about role playing and playing Microlite with the kids to starting this blog and signing up with a local game group, getting ready to play some real grownup RPG.  Since then I've been introduced to Savage Worlds, Atomic Highway, and Hero system.  I've also had the chance to run a good play test of my Beacon d20 rules.  Ya 100 posts in a year isn't a lot really but then again I tried to keep this about Beacon and not so much about all the other things I like.  Maybe if I could come up with a good name I'd start an alternate blog and post about books and video games and other things.  Maybe that would be too much work.

Next Friday will be the first anniversary of the Beacon site and serendipitously it will also be the last in this series of Beacon play tests.  Now we're going to play some other games and even though I have really enjoyed the DMs chair again, I'm excited to get back into the player seat for a bit.  We will have played 7 sessions and all the characters will have made level 3 or be near enough that it makes no matter.  I am hopeful that we will return to Beacon again later on to continue the fun testing, either with the existing characters or new ones starting out at level 3 - or some mix of the two.  I also hope to release the 5th draft of Beacon this fall and incorporate the lessons learned from this play test.  A lot of the work I have been putting in this summer has been in the setting of this play test and even though much of it is sandbox, I've grown fond of it.  I believe I am going to try to put together something in the vein of a sandbox guide to the world appropriate for use with Beacon and hopefully easily adaptable for any low level d&d based campaign.  I don't expect it will be a hefty grimoire in the vein of THE WORLD OF BEACON! but it might be a nice PDF.  I really enjoy the sandbox full of plot nuggets campaign approach (for some reason I'm thinking of a catbox now...ugg) but I'm not partial to the pure hexcrawl.  I find that unless I have a general knowledge of the area the players are running about in, it's hard for me to run a decent game.  Maybe putting together some short world overviews and a couple maps will appeal to those of a similar bent.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


You might notice that in the Beacon divine spell list there is no Bestow/Remove Curse.  My noble play testers remarked on this recently.  I might be wrong, but I believe I did this for a reason. If you are running a game it's only natural to want to have actionable mechanics like "ah ha!  He casts Bestow Curse: take -6 to your ummm Dex and -4 to all your rolls Chumley."  Yes yes I realize that this is just a quick spell description and you would skin this to make it much more freakalicious in your game and all, but it still really limits the vast boundlessness of Curses into a simple fighting mechanic and thus not really scary.  Curses can cover a lot of ground - pricking your finger on a spindle and falling asleep, turning into a frog, objects possessed by spirits of past owners, objects that try to eat your spirit- oh there really are so many storytelling type things that could fall into this.  In the stories however folks are pretty freaked out by curses.  There's also the problem that  removing curses is really YMMV even in the SRD.  You can cast Remove Curse at 5th level and remove the effects of a cursed item, or maybe you can if you are high enough level compared to the curse, or maybe if it's not a special curse, or maybe something else entirely, on Tuesdays perhaps.  I just don't think it's a good mechanic. Lastly, a lot of traditional curses are simply spells or enchantments (for example Blind, Baleful Polymorph or Flesh to Stone) - and these all have their in game remedies and would just get buggered up by treating them as also as curses.  So I want to stay away from generic Curses and instead try to focus on types of 'curses' not already covered,  for example spiritual possession and influence.

Boogity boogity you interlopers!
Specifics time:  Over the last few game sessions, Thedric found a helmet you might consider to be cursed.  I had an idea that it should be haunted by a dwarven spirit.  There was no actual curse flag attached to his character sheet like in a video game - it wasn't physically welded to his head and impossible to remove/destroy but you can bet that if it was removed and given to someone else it wouldn't make him all better suddenly either.  It didn't effect his stats (yet) but it did make him all creepy and stuff.  I didn't think that a cleric would be able to simply whip off a remove curse and they would all be off on their way.  I suppose I had some idea that it would make use of the spirit related spells I was working on lately, especially Manifest.

So I kind of dropped the ball on this one.  They had the head cleric of Foxhollow remove the helmet - it was all behind closed doors and howling and spooky lights - but it was off camera.  I should really have had the party be in the room with the master cleric when he cast his Manifest spell and then they could have had a good duke it out with the dwarven spirit.  To be honest I hadn't thought the issue would come up so quickly and I figured that they would have left poor Thedric alone for a while longer.  If Henril hadn't been so eager to pull the helm off Thedric's head and causing him to do the funky chicken - or if he hadn't offered gold to a poor peasant woman to try to slap the helm on her head I probably would have gotten around to basing an adventure around speaking to the spirit in the helm, having it made manifest and then beating it up.  No blame on the players - they will always do the unexpected and focus on the things you aren't prepared for.  I wasn't prepared - so we lost an opportunity there.

Thinking back on it however I can see how those spells would work out, at least with possession type curses.  They would be fun. I don't know if they solve the entire 'curse' question however.  For example I can see needing some way to sanitize or corrupt areas in the name of religion.  I can see having ways to confound demonic imps much as as you would confound the undead.  The problem being this is mostly setting based and not universal game mechanic.  Not all setting would be interested in the old order/chaos pseudo christian religion I'm using in my game and so not all the spells I might like to have clerics use would be generally useful.  Yes yes, people can always DIY things and add them into their campaign but I also think the basic game should cover most of the bases.  

I don't have an answer for this right now but I am considering adding in some Rituals to the Divine spell list.  Rituals would be different than spells in that they would take longer to cast - hours not rounds.  They would also possibly have material components.  Either there would be one per spell level, say some sort of Cleansing ritual at first level,  or there would be a small number that could be learned as character advanced though the church.   These rituals would be primarily there to deal with weird religious shit like more traditionally cursed items or effects, 'evil' presences, keeping out chaos minions etc. My initial instinct is to make this setting material and not put it in the Beacon rules - but if they turn out really good and useful I might change that opinion.