Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ready weapon

I'm not one to complain when players automagically pull out a potion or other similar item from their backpack in the middle of a fight.  I don't want to make people describe how they stored their potion so it wouldn't break, how they reach around to their back while fending off goblins with their free hand or how they dig the item out of their backpack without unpacking the damn thing.  Its a game and this little fudge keeps things simple and really doesn't hurt the balance of things.  I do however want to make sure that weapons are not handled so automagically since that does impact some in game mechanics.  So In Beacon you have to ready a weapon before you can use it.  I'll let players ready a weapon in advance of combat if they are in a situation where it would be reasonable - like entering a dark cave, or when a wolf howls.  But I don't want players travelling down the forest path to have their weapons always at the ready for hours at a time.

Combat in Beacon is broken into two phases - the reason for this is I didn't like the more complicated major/minor/utility action breakdown of a combat round - and I also found the single action combat round to be too open to abuse.  You can read up on why I went with two phases here and here- the point is - I wanted a simple breakdown that had the fewest rules required to achieve a decent level of tactics.  I also wanted to make sure that characters dropping/breaking or switching their weapons in combat would be impacted, but not penalized so heavily that it would be a problem when this happened.  Breaking a weapon and grabbing a replacement needs to add tension and excitement to the combat narrative, but it shouldn't be punitive.

So, assuming you aren't surprised, a consequence of this is that the Missile phase of the first round of combat often has players readying their weapons.  This isn't a real problem for people using melee weapons because they will get to ready their weapon (and move) then attack in the upcoming melee phase.  However folks using ranged weapons are a bit S.O.L in this situation.  If you ready your crossbow you will miss firing it in the missile phase and have to wait out the melee phase.  Well you can move both phases (up to 120 feet/yards if you move in both phases) anyway to get out of the fray and line up a shot.  I don't have a problem with this either I'm certain dedicated bowmen will deal with this as part of their tactics - but I'm pretty sure it will discourage the more casual use of things like throwing daggers, darts and hand axes.

There are two ways to handle this that I can see.

one way to handle it
The first is to make a distinction between ranged weapons like bows and thrown melee weapons like daggers.  In this case I change the Missile Phase to Ranged Phase and indicate which weapons are Ranged.  I somewhat like this idea, but it does introduce the issue of missiles flying in all  the phases and I can see confusion arising from that.  I also can see another problem that if a party is surprised and miss out on the Ranged Phase they will still have to spend a phase readying daggers and darts and won't get to use them until next melee round.

The second, and I believe better, way to do this is to make some weapons available instantly.  No need to ready that dagger - just throw it.  This appeals to my sense of narrative because - hey there's a dagger in your throat - and it would give a good reason for characters to carry certain weapons for these situations.  It also fits with the idea of unarmed combat - there is no way to justify making players miss a round of melee because they didn't ready their fists.  Making the cestus (your basic steel belted or spiked mittens) available for attack without being readied* only makes sense, why not just extend this to daggers, darts, staves and spears** as well.

* when you are wearing them, and you better not try wearing them 24/7 and eating your dinner or hanging out at the bar with them on however.
**well if you are carrying them like a walking stick maybe?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Congratulations Reaper

Yeah, I bought in to get a butt-tonne of Reaper Bones miniatures.  It was a stupid good deal and the fact that I don't even need any minis shouldn't enter into it.  I shouldn't dwell on the concept that I HAVEN'T EVEN PAINTED most of the last batch of minis I bought from Reaper yet - and that was a while ago.  I'm not going to lie, I blame society for this.  And they are plastic - I really like that someone is working on high detail plastic miniatures. And you have to support the arts right?  I mean I'd rather see Reaper get a cool 3 million than have it go to a new bailout package to buy larger wallets for bankers.

I did manage to paint some ghouls
And I did need some space marine figures.  And pirates.  And townspeople, you never have enough townspeople.  I really needed to round out my selection of creatures too - if I actually used minis in a game that is.  

If you don't know what I'm talking about go here to view an appalling amount of miniatures.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A stranger comes to town

As mentioned before, things are not good in Milham, so when Kane the mage came to town he quickly decided that the rumours of prosperity and enterprise in the Westmarches were just that - rumours. It was plainly obvious that this was the backwater of civilization and he wanted nothing more than to return to Kingstown and be done with it. However he had come to find his brother Hollaway and so he started asking around. He quickly fell in with jaded mercenaries Henril and Anastanja (Ann), and found out from Ann that she and Hollaway had gone treasure hunting in the hills to the south and that in one of the old dwarven ruins Hollaway and their other companion Pik had been overwhelmed by goblins. She had barely escaped and was not eager to return, however when pressed she agreed to show them where the ruin was. Eventually their discussion caused the strange old man in the corner to interrupt them. This unkempt fellow introduced himself as the Abbot of a monastery near the town of Whitewater and said that he was interested in a certain book which might be found in a monastery of his order to the south. Naturally this monastery had been overrun some time ago and no one had heard from the monks for many decades.   He gave them rough directions to the southern monastery and said  he was willing to offer 20 gold crowns if the adventurers found and supplied him with this tome in their travels.

He looked a little like this, but much dirtier
This is where things went a bit sideways. Although Kane was willing to take this transaction at face value, he did recall that the order the monk mentioned was one noted for being a fringe sect with a spotted reputation. Henril and Ann were not satisfied they were getting the full story and so followed the old man back to the Seven Stones inn and bribed the innkeeper to tell them which room he was staying in and to look the other way. Then they marched up the stairs, knocked and then kicked in the door. The old man was attempting to climb out the window so they captured him and much to Kane's growing horror, roughly interrogated him. They found that he wasn't actually the abbot, more likely a monk who had lifted some materials from the abbot and who was looking top acquire more relics and items in an effort to buy off his pursuers. He insisted that he had the means to pay for the book, however he was not going to tell them where that money was.  They warned him that if he tried to leave town they would hunt him down and kill him which might be the equivalent to a handshake for this gang.  Then they bought a donkey and cart, some overpriced food and hit the south road.

Naturally they met a woodcutter right out the gate.  He was the nice man who had let them stay in his cabin to heal some while ago.  The woodcutter informed them that he had taken the money they paid him and had bought him a fine wife to chop the wood while he brought it to the market.  He thanked them for allowing him to double his business.  They continued south for a day and a half, passing said wife, before their next encounter - a young ogre!  The ogre surprised the party and caused their donkey to dump the cart and flee, but they managed to dispatch it pretty easily.  They retrieved their ass, and continued on into the hills where they encountered a stag and managed to take it down.  The dim witted hired man managed a terrible field dress of the stag and they got a meagre amount of meat from it.  The next day had them travelling the hills uneventfully and they passed the ruins where Hollaway met his demise.  They decided to give it a pass for the moment and continue on to find the monastery.  They were waylaid by goblins that night and managed to dispatch them - but not without a decent fight.  They travelled through some forested hills and there was a bit where Henril fought a pair of wolves.  They eventually managed to find the high hill that the monastery was on, and after searching the area they found a promising cave entrance.  However it was getting late and since they were near Red Towers castle they decided to press on to rest there before entering the caves.


I like that the random encounters shape the story.  I would have never planned for the woodcutter to be such a campaign fixture but he has become one because I keep rolling woodcutters.  I would have never thrown an ogre along the road by design, but it came up on the encounter table and provided some needed colour.  I am also pleased at how the revised hit points are working out.  I think that the battles are a little more reasonable now, especially the fight with the goblins. It was much more balanced where four goblins managed to incapacitate two party members before they were dispatched.  This didn't cause any permanent damage to the party and there was little doubt that the party would win, especially with Henril being a 3rd level fighter, but it made the fight a lot less one sided than it would have been in the past.  Also Kane was still a very effective force in the combats - firing magic missiles often and dealing enough damage even with the reduction in HP.

I also found that there was a still lot of D&D hangover happening even with players a bit familiar with Beacon.  It was obvious that the players were basing their play on other similar game rules and not the Beacon rules.  There was still a tendency for the players to try to 'use their skills' rather than describe their actions.  I had to actually stop players from saying things like 'I use my Subterfuge to...'.  I found that playing with the novices during my camping trip was a lot different in this respect, as they had no problem with the narrative aspect of the game and therefore were much less skill orientated and much more creative in their actions.  Skill based games have poisoned the whole hobby in this respect I think.  I also noticed that the players didn't really leverage the combat phases and so would do stuff like ready a bow in the missile phase - and then have to sit out the melee phase and wait till next combat round to attack - a basic misunderstanding but one causing a lot of dissatisfaction.   I was told that they thought that missile phase was the 'ready weapon' phase - but it clearly isn't.  Some of this stuff requires the player to have knowledge that they can ready a weapon or move in either (or both) phases and then leveraging their actions accordingly.  But some of that is stuff I can fix - mostly by renaming the phases to 'Ranged' and 'Close' as was suggested by the players.  I also think I need to make some types of weapons available instantly (like throwing daggers) because of the way the phases work they will otherwise get nerfed.  I think I better take this phased combat discussion off to another post however.  I like how it works - I feel it's almost there - but there are still a few tiny tweaks needed I think.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another Suprise Attack

So not exactly a rousing success so far for the rogue special surprise attack rules.  I thought that it was a good rule because it allowed the rogue to sneak up or otherwise prepare themselves and then get an attack benefit for being tricky.  In practice it has not proved to be as good as the idea however.  I think the rule basically works as intended, but it does have some problems which are becoming apparent.

I think the main reason it has proved to be problematic in play is because a player has to make two separate rolls in order to pull the manoeuvre off, which is OK if they succeed but very not OK if they fail.  At the table the rogue player may be happy to make the stealth check and then miss the attack roll which not only is a bummer, but also may place the character in a bad position. Some of the suggestions from around the table were to just automatically add in the extra damage on a 'first strike' or to add the subterfuge bonus to the attack roll but I think both those approaches don't scale very well, especially at the low end.

Since last session where it was very obvious there was some kind of issue, I've been trying to think of a solution.  My initial thought is to simply have the rogue player announce their sneak attack or ranged double strike and then roll two d20 and if they get one success then it succeeds as a normal attack, however if both rolls are successful then the rogue has accomplished the special attack as they stated.  I like this because it's simple but I realize that it doesn't reward stealth except as a damage bonus.  It does however factor in AC which is supposed to fold in all those kind of abstractions that would be relevant such as target reflexes, situational awareness and toughness.  It doesn't mean an automatic success (although it does give a big bonus to the basic attack success) but it scales up well as the character's attack bonuses increase and when opponents are tougher as well.  It also kind of fits nicely with the missile double strike portion of the ability.  I haven't thought of anything else that I like better yet either.  Perhaps the there is a better way to organize the stealth roll and to hit roll in the existing rule so that the problem doesn't arise, but that doesn't mess with the statistics as much as this double roll mechanic will.  But I'll take elegant over minor probability changes in most cases.

Also, back to problems with the original rule, what I meant by 'combat engagement' in the original text is not obvious.  The intent was that once per opponent per combat the rogue would have one chance to pull off a surprising move that would confuse their foe.  It was a way to bake in the tricky but make sure that in the long run it wasn't going to usurp the fighter role of going toe to toe.  A rogue in combat with a number of foes could only surprise each particular opponent once.  It should also encourage rogues to change targets.

This then might be a better rule for the section on surprise attack in the rogue description.
In combat a Rogue may attempt to perform a 'surprise attack' by rolling two d20 for their initial attack on an unsuspecting foe.  If one die roll is successful then they succeed in their attack as normal, but if the second is also successful, they may either add their Subterfuge skill to the damage of their melee attack or perform an additional strike with a ranged weapon (provided they have an additional one available).
I would like to put in something more concrete about the attack being novel or unseen or otherwise unexpected but I don't know how to do that without getting back to the problematic skill check.  Also, how this interacts with the rules for critical hits and fumbles I leave up to your imagination for the moment.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Return to Milham

Some months have passed in the town of Milham and the character of the place has changed somewhat since the plague.  Perhaps one third of the population has died or left, and although the disease has abated for the most part, it will be a long time until industry and trade return.  The surrounding manses that provided food and jobs have turned inward either to deal with their own losses or to protect themselves.  The price of food is five times what it was in the spring and with no harvest coming, it will continue to rise.   Those now residing in the city are the unemployed field workers or poor craftspeople without means.  Many of the remaining townsfolk are sick and hungry   There are few homeless however, most of the town houses stand empty and squatters have taken up residence in the homes of those dead or otherwise moved on.  Those still living in their homes no longer recognize their neighbours and the handful of city watchmen who remain no longer patrol the streets at night.  Milham is a meaner and colder place than it was.

And so it was that when Kane the mage came to Milham by the north gate he was greeted by a lone guard who told him to return to the north.  Kane was seeking word of his brother the mage Halloway who had come to the southlands some many months ago in pursuit of adventure and riches.  His search of the town led him to the Scarlet Archer inn and to a pair of capable mercenaries, Henril of Butterbridge and Anistanja the Traveller.  Also along the way he couldn't manage to avoid hiring a very insistent porter/guide who, despite having a very low intellect, knew a meal ticket when he saw one.

I'm not sure how much the players were excited to get back to playing Beacon or returning to the town of Milham after almost a year, but I was pretty excited to be back running a game in this environment.  I did dabble a little in the setting when I was camping, but I was interested to see what my regular group would do with the rules changes.  I was also interested to see who would take the option to create new characters and who would make the changes in HP and Skill selection to translate their old characters from the previous version we'd been using.   So we got a chance to roll some dice and try out the new combat system and I got a lot of good feedback.  And that's great because it was fun, and it gives me stuff to write about here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Beacon Plus

I had a Google Plus page for Beacon but now they gone and integrated Google Plus and Blogger so I hooked it all up and am curious to see what happens.  Hopefully good things.  Hopefully I won't loose all my posts or spam everyone on G+ with messages.  Hopefully it will let them of you out there who are keen on Beacon keep track of things easier and keep them who aren't interested in Beacon out in the cold dark depths where they belong.  Also that it lets more folks know about Beacon because it's my special little snowflake.