Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Flame Princess Conqueror King

I've been reading the Adventurer Conqueror King (ACKS) system I picked up on Drive ThruRPG and I do like it but I have to admit that it is the Lamentations of the Flame Princess that is really drawing my attention of late.  I downloaded the free (sans art) PDF a while ago and I took a quick look at it but I didn't really look at it.  But lately I've been playing in a Labyrinth Lord game which is soon to be re-platformed to an ACKS game and so I've been looking at those systems.  While doing that, I found myself taking another look at the LotFP rules and I have to say that I think it's the best of the three.  I think that if I was going to run a fantasy game and I couldn't run Beacon I'd probably want to run LotFP and not ACKS or Labyrinth Lord.  Why?
  • Fighters fight.  If I was less worried about general compatibility with d20 I'd man up and take away leveling attack bonuses from all the non fighter classes in Beacon too.  I won't though since that compatibility is one of the design cornerstones.
  • Magic is chaotic.  This is great, re-purposing alignment like this and it revitalizes so many of the cleric spells and provides social consequences of magic.  I missed this bit until I heard Raggi talking about it in an Atomic Array interview.
  • The specialization system is great and would be easy to work with.  Assuming any special skill you might need in a game requires a 1 in 6 and then allowing specialists to add pips is very flexible. (the thing I dislike most about ACKS is the long list of proficiencies/skills.  I prefer adding to a short list because a long list will never be long enough or exactly fit your campaign).
  • ACKS just has too much going on with core mechanics.  It feels more like AD&D than D&D.
  • Labyrinth Lord is great and I love what they've done with the place but I'd have to do some major renovations if I wanted to move in.  Also who puts saving throws halfway through the book and not in the character section.  Really.   
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot in the ACKS book I really like, especially the stuff focusing on building up social institutions as part of the game, but I think that Lamentations has it beat for basic adventuring rules.  The great thing is that additional campaign orientated content is readily applied to any fantasy adventuring rule set and I can see myself mining it for a Beacon campaign just as easily as it could be mined for a Labyrinth Lord or a Flame Princess campaign.  I am totally glad I picked up the Adventurer Conquer King PDF but I would seriously considering picking a LotFP Grindhouse book to keep beside the table just in case.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

hired help

It just came to me recently that one of the biggest differences in game play between how I ran things when I was young and how the old school games were actually designed involves henchmen.  When I was a pup, I ran adventures where the party was self sufficient, players rarely hired on people except perhaps as a service provider in town or a tracker in the wild.  Everything focused on the players and they didn't need anyone's help.  In the Labyrinth Lord campaign I'm playing in (Zharillia), we have to hire henchmen, it is vitally important that we hire henchmen and if we do not hire henchmen we will not succeed. We are low level adventurers who can be killed in one blow.  We have to hire guys to hold our torches and to fight beside us (not the same guys, and certainly not the same wages!).  This is not a bad thing, on the contrary it gives everything a feeling of accomplishment.  This difference between play styles I've know intellectually, but experiencing it now I've started to think on how I'm doing things in Beacon.

a couple guys to hold the torches
When designing Beacon I wanted to include henchmen.  I knew I wanted to have that element in the game but I hadn't really thought about it much.  I did include a chart on costs for hiring porters and guides and guards and such, and some play testers even took the cue and hired a couple folks to drive wagons and fight for them.  What I didn't do however was write up any hireling management or morale rules.   Aside from outlining the costs, the PC/NPC interactions were implied.  I guess you could lift rules from 3e or AD&D for these things and I'm sure it would work fine.  I'm all good with keeping rules light and having GMs borrow or build house rules to suit, but once again I find that I would like to have a stated mechanic available that fits with the game too.

I really think I need to put in three bits of information; how many hirelings a player can manage, a short word on the basic hireling contract, and a simple morale system.  The Labyrinth Lord and Swords and Wizardry Charisma tables give a range from 1 to 7 retainers and a morale number from 4 to 10.  I can't remember how its handled in AD&D but the OSRIC book gives a spread of 1-20 (the 20 comes at charisma 19).  Not sure I want to put a number on henchmen.  Some people can manage loyal armies or even nations, and some cannot even keep a dog loyal.   If I do place limits on it, I'm thinking that I'd like to say either a character can manage a number of hirelings equal to their charisma score, or go with a fixed number formula like 10 +/- twice their charisma bonus, but again I don't know if that's reasonable.  Money talks and if you can pay people you should be able to hire them.  I guess the argument for very large groups is that a character can only have so many people personally responsible/loyal to them and then those people in turn have others responsible to them.  Anyone outside the hireling limit would be in that second removed category perhaps.

Management of hirelings and morale will naturally be based on DC and Charisma.  In either case for morale and loyalty I'd use DC, starting at 10 and modifying based on situation conditions, the player's charisma bonus, as well as any other factors (like good treatment, high/low pay, hireling disposition) apply to the rolls.  I want to make sure everything sticks to core d20 mechanics established instead of flinging in a new look-up chart or dice mechanic out of the blue.  However this shakes out it, all of this should add no more than a small paragraph to the rules.  Almost all the pieces are there already I just want to make mention of them.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thoughts on an intro adventure

The Friday game group I'm in has started playing Legend of the Five Rings and specifically started out playing an adventure designed for a purpose - to introduce the game.  I'm not sure if this came with the game or was a  supplement, and I'm not sure how much is in the material and how much is coming from the GM, but it is a very good introduction to the system.  The players choose between the available Clans and have to compete/cooperate in a competition called the Topaz Championship.  The various competitions staged allow the GM to gradually introduce game mechanics as well as setting information and tone in a way that doesn't overwhelm the players (us!).  In L5R it's hard enough to get a handle on the clans, the setting history, and the names of people and things, so this really helps - even though most of us have played many game systems.  I find it fascinating how this was done and I think it's a good idea for any system to try to put out some sort of intro adventure - even if the game is pretty rules light.  The effect of using this adventure to introduce the game and setting has been to really fire me up to play this now that our characters have passed our challenges and are ready to have our gempukku ceremonies and become samurai.  We're gonna kick ass and take names and really clean up this town - just you wait and see.

I found this adventure was different than what's usually given as an introductory adventure - the very basic "oh you read the scroll - you will be a magic-user, you picked up the sword - you will be the fighter".  It was the type of adventure geared towards players who may or may not know how to play in a particular setting or with specific rules, but do not need to be told how to roll a d4 or to "picture in their heads a character from a storybook".  I'm sure there's a need for that other type of introduction to RP gaming - the very basic concepts - however I think most of the time players need setting and system information but not an introduction to the hobby.  You only need to learn that once, and I believe most new gamers will be learning how to play with other established players, and not from a solo adventure in a rulebook.  No-one is likely to pick up and play Beacon cold if they haven't played D&D or been introduced to it via a game group anyway.  I think I am really noticing the difference here because I've been reading Adventures in OZ and the Adventurer Conqueror King PDFs I recently picked up on RPGnow and they spend a lot of page on those real basics.  Maybe L5R does as well but I didn't read that part of the book - just dived right in.   Its one thing to do this in a 600 page rule book, but in a smaller game or PDF maybe that space could be better used.

Just from our small game group and from playing with my kids, I've found that there is little or no practical difference in the ability of our least experienced player to deal with a new game system than the more experienced ones.  Any concepts that might be unfamiliar, like initiative order or attack modifiers, or saving throws is pretty quickly transmitted through play. We have a player in our group who has literally only ever played the games we've run, Beacon, Trail of Cthulhu and this L5R game, and she seems to be just as able as the veterans to pick up the mechanics either by emulation or by intuition.  I don't think a paragraph on how to read a d4 would have been useful to her.

I think you can guess where I'm going with this.  I really liked the L5R adventure and I'm much more interested in writing up a sample adventure to be used with Beacon than I am with beefing up the explanatory text in the rules because I think that there's more bang for the buck to be had this way.  I am torn however because the way I run my game is to basically set up a skeleton of a sandbox and then dump in adventure sites and situations from existing modules.  On a side note I've been a bit antsy because I really wanted to write up some posts about the cool adventures I found and used for the play test, but I don't want to ruin the campaign I was running by posting links and discussing the material when there was a chance the players would see it.  I don't distrust them, and I edit things a lot during a session, but I think it could certainly spoil some of the surprises.

So I can't see doing a simple dungeon crawl or mega-dungeon supplement for this purpose. I would like to design a couple smaller installations (cause it's fun!), but really there are so many good ones already I don't see a lot of value in mapping out yet more shrines, cities and abandoned tombs.  What I can see value in however is some sort of area adventure guide that detailed some setting and NPC information, encounter tables, and contained liberal hooks designed to introduce concepts to players and GMs.  By doing this as a sort of gazetteer instead of an adventure, I could even call out to the modules I used to populate specific sites with notes as to how I used them.  I could even include some small notes on why I chose those adventures for those areas.  I think that that might be even more useful than a prepared adventure.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thoughts on Weapon Specialization

Someone, I think it was Beedo, (ah yes it was) was talking about weapon specialization and I was reminded of why I went with simple fixed weapon damage.  I didn't want everyone to pick a longsword or a rapier.  Especially in a game where there were no real class limitations for weapon types, I didn't want everyone taking the weapon that did the most damage for the least money or whatever.  I like the idea of weapon being something that identifies a character - like a crazy rogue with daggers, daggers and more daggers, or a dangerous spear man.  Yes, I did settle on light and heavy weapons so as to complicate things a bit and account for pure smashing mass, but I think it is a good compromise having 1d6 and 1d8 as the two base weapon damages.  I do realize that some people might just game it and buy the cheapest weapon all the time, or even just pick up stuff off the battlefield and use that.  Where does that get you you crazy game designer - all your weapon prices are now moot - Ha Ha!  Well yes and no.  I guess people can do that but players like to spend money and so I expect it won't be a big issue, and characters with some cash will still fork out for a nice longsword if it makes them look good.

choose your specializations wisely...
I did have an idea about weapon specialization however.  Basically weapon specialization encourages use of a particular type of weapon instead of using many types.  The benefit I see coming from this is that it would reinforce character identity and it would somewhat discourage use of found weapons and weapon swapping. It would also add some spice to dropped weapons and magic weapons as treasure. Game wise it really doesn't matter in Beacon if you are using a war axe or a two handed sword since they both do 1d8 (and full STR bonus for two handedness), however it could matter if you dropped your weapon or when switching from ranged to melee weapons.  It also could matter when you stumble across an armory with many fine spears in a dungeon.  So I'm thinking a mechanic for encouraging characters to stick with certain weapons is worthwhile. It could be done as specialization and have the rules allow players to simply declare which weapon(s) they have specialized in, but then the question arises as to how many weapons a character can specialize in.  Maybe fighters could have two, is that enough?  Should it increase over time?  

Another way I'm thinking is more of weapon familiarity instead of weapon specialization.  You could make it simple by saying that a character is at -1 to hit and -1 damage with any weapon they are not familiar with.  Tada, they will pick weapons to be familiar with and try to use them.  For fighters, they get a pretty good attack bonus progression so it's not the end of the work if they break a sword and have to grab up an axe.  They are good at killing with anything.  For other classes it becomes a bit more of an issue so the druid may not be as eager to try something new when his pointed stick breaks.  I'm not sure what constitutes familiarity but it could be as simple as completing x combats with that weapon or leveling up with it or something.  Will this add value to the game?  Maybe.  I guess I should put this thought back in the roaster to simmer for a bit.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Random Character Race

When I ran my old AD&D games I didn't let anyone play halflings or elves.   I thought halflings were lame and only belonged in Tolkien settings and I didn't want to bother with them, and elves annoyed me because they were supposed to be ancient and have no souls.  However in actual play no one seemed to ever play either of these races much different than a human.  So for PCs I just had a bunch of different human races with slight stat modifications and cultures, and I kept the dwarves in - halflings didn't exist and elves were so unbalanced power wise that they were only ever monsters or NPCs.  Earlier on I let some people play a half-elf but later on I even cut that out and decided the races couldn't interbreed.  And even though I included both elves and halflings (with the caveat that 'halfling' is a term that could mean anything from gnome to goblin) in Beacon, I still am not eager to have people play them in my game.  Any Beacon setting source book I do will stress my distaste for the generic elf and halfling character more than the rulebook does, because in the end some people like playing them and I want people to play Beacon.  But still in the rules I included these generic fantasy races and tried to balance their powers against each other so that players didn't just pick 'the best' one all the time.  There is another way to do this however...
The first time I played DragonQuest I was surprised to see that players had to roll during character creation if they wanted to play anything except human.  I still think this is a great design because it means you can have races with clear advantages over others without having players always picking those races for flavour or to min/max their builds.  You had a 25% chance to be a dwarf but only a 6% chance to be a giant and a 4% chance to be a shapeshifter.  You would state the race you were trying for and roll percentile dice and if you didn't make it you couldn't play that race.  You could try for three races and if you missed them all then you had to play a human.  Those races granted some special benefits too, these races were a lot different mechanically because they didn't need to net balance out with humans.  Giants had huge strength bonuses, elves had some speed and magic bonuses and learned woodcraft skills 50% faster and all the races had modifiers to advancing their skills.  The bottom line is that if you managed to roll a shapechanger or giant (or even a dwarf) in DQ you will probably be playing it different than you would a human...  Character stats were also based on luck, but not in a traditional roll 3d6 sense, it was a point buy system but the number of points was based on a 2d10 'curve' averaging around 22 points. You could get 25 points if you rolled a 2 but only 19 if you rolled a 20.  It was all in all a neat system and it was an eyeopener for me coming from AD&D for sure.

I like this rolling for character race approach a lot because it would free me up to do some really different stuff with character races.  However I can see where people would not like it, especially if they want to play a specific kind of character instead of 'rolling up' a character and playing it.  Some people even express distaste with rolling stats and want everything to be point buy - Ça alors!  Point buy goes hand in hand with balance however and I'm not sure balance is the best road to take.  As long as I'm trying to keep Beacon D&D compatible I think I have to suffer some blandness in these areas.  And in the end I am pretty happy running a Beacon D&D style game and don't think I would enjoy running a game of DragonQuest as much (maybe have to try it sometime though...).  But I do like the random mechanics in character generation from a design perspective.  Maybe I should be considering some 'optional rules' to emulate some of these ideas from Dragon Quest.  There was even a roll for handedness in there somewhere that would be cool to use...