Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Beacon Christmas Update

Merry friggin Christmas.

New Beacon PDF.  New Beacon character sheet. New Beacon GM Screen.  Go to the Get Beacon page to get them.

I made a lot of changes to the text to make the rules clearer.  I capped the levels at 12 to make the game more focused on gritty fantasy.  I changed the Critical Hit table a bunch to add in more stat damage and make 00 a special snowflake.  I made a lot of small adjustments.  I didn't do anything with variable attack dice (see the previous few posts) because it wound up being stupid.  I think in other games that sort of thing can work, but in Beacon it was stupid.  I ditched the 6th level mage spell Protection from Heat and Cold because it was stupid.  I replaced it with a Protection Sphere spell which is great unless I find out it's stupid.

I have a feeling this is really Beacon version 1.0 but I made it draft version 6 (0.6) because there are probably some still some errors and omissions to be caught in higher level play testing.  Play test it at higher levels somebody and let me know.

I love you all.

Now get out of my yard so I can get drunk and prep some Ashen Stars games.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What happens at Hammercon...

...stays at Hammercon.

I said I would and I actually did update the Beacon rules in time for Hammercon V, which was all the way back at the beginning of November.  I even brought some copies of the 5.3 draft of the game with me and gave them out as a special Hammercon V edition.  It was a very small number of copies, like 5 or 6 something.  And that's the end of them.  Even I don't have any copies of that version myself. There are no more copies of that version ever.  I've since added a few additional changes to the rules and am planning on posting an updated version of the rules in time for Christmas.

Hammercon was fun by the way and I got in lots of board gaming.  Maybe next time I'll actually run a Beacon session too.

On that topic I was recently thinking of the effect of rations on game play.  Generally unless you are doing a special adventure where you are crossing a desert or something there isn't a lot of fun in carefully tracking food supplies, and indeed in most games I've played the party tries to justify saving their food and living off the land well enough to make those rations superfluous.  I was thinking that one way to streamline or abstract things a bit but still have them impact play in an interesting way would be to include a foraging penalty to the daily movement chart.  If the party are living off the land, slow their movement rate.  Just one more exciting mechanic you may or may not see in the upcoming  Beacon update!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Some love for the magic guys

Magic characters (Mage, Enchanter, Druid and the Cleric) will get a skill bump every 4th level, so at 4, 8 and 12.  This ties in better with a 12 level system and really they were not getting much in the way of class skills anyway.  This is also because they get new spell levels on odd levels so this gives them something nice for the even ones.

I'm revising the rule book (and the gm screen) to deal with the level 12 cap and fix some of the text issues and typos.  No crazy dice for bonuses or adding in laser shotguns for now.  I'm going to post that as an update with no major changes.  Hopefully I'll get that out before Nov 1, just in time for Hammercon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A lot of d4s

I spent a little bit of time working through the idea to change the static bonuses in Beacon with die rolls.  I won't say that I've given up on the idea but I won't say I'm happy with anything so far either.  One of the problems I'm seeing is how to make a smooth progression without having an arbitrary or obtuse levelling table.  Another problem is how to deal with the rapid escalation of the high end of the dice rolls.  My solution so far has been to use the standard die with the lowest variance, which is the d4.  Last post I showed a table that used d4s for an attack bonus.  I like d4s because the more you add them together the more probable the average result will come up and the highest and lowest results are not so far off as to be unfair or break the game.  A fighter with 4d4 will get a solid +10 average and in rare cases at the very least a +4 and at most a +16.  If you start adding larger dice those variances are a lot larger and you quickly start seeing +30 and +40 coming up as possible outcomes.

They add up fast!  BTW, you can buy these on etsy.
I think I could live with that sort of thing if it were the only case in the game where this kind of mechanic was used.  However it is not.  There are also incremental bonuses in the class skill system, players gain a +1 to any skill every level, and at specific levels they get class specific skill bonuses.  Should I try to substitute d4 for these as well?  I did play around with that idea a little bit and it seems to work pretty well with the level bonuses, e.g. a rogue would get a +1d4 to their subterfuge or survival skill every third level.  That is fine.  Where I'm concerned is the case of the savant class, who get a free skill bonus every second level, and also with the general bonus all PCs get for levelling up.  Those d4s would be adding up fast.

Right away I see the need to change the distribution so that the bonus comes at longer intervals, staggering them out so that you only see an increase every second or even third level. After all you aren't getting a +1 you are getting a +2.5 average.  So instead of +1 per level you would get +d4 every second or third level.  And because they would be staggered I'd want players to get some kind of advancement at each level so I would have to interleave skill bonuses with the magic level advancements and with the combat bonuses.  Nothing worse than gaining a level and getting nothing for it so I would try to avoid dead zones.  Since the skill bonus is pretty much the same as the fighter attack bonus, the progression would look the same, however it would ideally be spread out across the six skills.  You would not likely have many characters with any single skill bonus greater than a 5d4.  However the savant would break that all to hell and without some adjustment I can see characters with huge piles of d4s in a particular skill.  In fact the savant class probably already bends the skill system as they can apply generous bonuses to any skill and there are no restrictions on pumping one skill up very high.  Right now a 12th level savant character could have a +17 to any one skill if they ignored the others, however in a d4 system with the progression rate halved they would probably have a lot more than that since a modest 9d4 averages 22.5.

I'd not like to have arbitrary rules for this but it is possible that I could to make adjustments to limit skill bonuses to prevent problems, perhaps limiting a skill bonus by level number or something.  This would further complicate the advancement to keep the levels balanced and I don't like unnecessary complexity.  And if I have to do all that the question arises,  what does this do to the game and is it worth the complications.  Is having variable bonuses worth the extra effort?  Then again, it might be fun to roll handfulls of 4ds.  I'll have to try it and see.

Friday, October 11, 2013


I believe that I'm going to cap the Beacon advancement at level 12. I'm not going to do any drastic changes to the level progression or realign spells to levels or anything else that might really change the game simply because, well, it would really change the game.  I do think that capping the rule book tables and charts at level 12 will simplify everything however.  If people want to run past that level they can figure out the progression and extrapolate but I don't think I would want to play a level 15-16 character in Beacon anyway, I think things tend to break down by that point. I might have liked to make things even simpler with an even 10 levels but there's no real good reason to do that. By level 12 all classes have had a chance to get a couple bumps to their attack bonus, a few class based skill bumps and access to level 6 spells so I think it's the natural place to stop. This way I won't have to consider adding in level 7 or 8 spells, or worry about characters with triple digit hitpoints.

I'm also experimenting with replacing the attack bonus with an attack dice, ala Dungeon Crawl Classics.  I'm not going to go so far as to introduce zocchi dice or anything, however I think that with the basic d4-d12 you can get a pretty decent progression.  I'm mainly looking at how this impacts the fighter at the moment as they get the full range of the bonus and if it works for them, it will be easy to make it work for the other classes.

Here's the current attack bonus chart:

And here's an example of how that progression would map as an attack bonus roll:
L1 L2 L3 L4 L5 L6
Dice(av) d2(1.5) d4(2.5) d6(3.5) d8(4.5) 2d4(5) d12(6.5)
Low-Hi 1-2 1-4 1-6 1-8 2-8 1-12
L7 L8 L9 L10 L11 L12
Dice(av) 2d6(7) 3d4(7.5) 3d6(10.5) 2d10(11) 2d12(13) 3d8(13.5)
Low-Hi2-12 3-12 3-18 2-20 2-24 3-24
with magic users topping out at d8 and the other classes topping out at d12 
I tried to keep the average equivalent to existing values, but still the first thing that you will notice is that the high and low values are pretty wild, a possible +3 or +24 to hit at level 12.   I don't think that is a deal breaker, but it is pretty jarring, and I can see players not liking that much randomness.  I really don't like it very much so I've also considered doing this with more smaller dice in order to curb those outliers.  Also there's something cool about rolling a handful of dice and having more dice in that roll would model the reliability that comes from experience.  Doing this would expose more gaps in the progression but it would work out across the 12 levels and I'd have to jigger level 1 and 2 a bit so it would probably* look something like this:
L1 L2 L4 L6 L8 L10 L12
Dice(av) +1 d3(2) d4(2.5) 2d4(5) 3d4(7.5) 4d4(10) 5d4(12.5)
Low-Hi +1 1-3 1-4 2-8 3-12 4-16 5-20
 In this case magic users would top out at d4 and the other classes at 2d4
That is a lot more reasonable for my taste although the magic users get screwed.  I'd have to adjust that I think.  Also it is a new arbitrary mechanic with a lookup table to reference and it does nothing to address all the other mechanics that rely on incremental bonuses, like skill and magic rolls.  That means it's more complicated than what was there before and I'm not sure it adds a co-responding value to the game.  I'll have to think about this some more.

*yes I know

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rolling for XP

Lately I've heard a lot of talking about 'bennies' in RPGs.    Mostly this is in the context of how wonderful bennies are and how they enable the players, and also how they can be used to drive 'roleplay'.  I don't hate this mechanic but I don't like it either and I certainly don't think it's all that, like people are making it out to be.  I generally dislike luck points, bennies, fate points, or to a lesser degree, point spending in Gumshoe because I think that they often mix poorly with dice roll mechanics and they cause people to horde the points to use either for re-rolls or to buy victory.  Buying a victory or a reroll is not bad in itself, however usually the economies used to pay for these points are a bit borked.  Generally you get bennies for doing something interesting or funny and then you use them to take the edge off those situations where a poor dice roll would be very... well interesting or funny. I'm not saying that I'm right about this, it's just my perception of these mechanics that they let the player earn and buy security.  I can see why this is popular, everyone wants to control their destiny and having a good idea get blocked by poor rolls is a bit of a bummer.  I think that in a dice based game the best way to mitigate risk is to avoid rolling the dice in the first place.

As for XP, people seem to think that you should award XP for fighting (fine), treasure (ok if done right), and for roleplaying (good in theory).  The idea here is that the game play will be shaped by the reward mechanic and unless you want a game all about fighting and money you should reward roleplay.  However it's hard to reward roleplay because it does seem to be very subjective.  I would much rather award XP for goals completed than for staying in character or clever roleplay.  Also if you do award XP for goals be sure to indicate the kind of goals and the payoffs upfront in your campaign or it risks becoming capricious.

All the commentary I have heard discussing this subject seem to reinforce that rewarding roleplay works if you have a good GM but otherwise not so much.  I'd say it isn't the caliber of the GM as much as it is having a GM that wants to track all your RP and special snowflake moments.  Lots of good GMs are not interested in tracking all that stuff.  I've always been intrigued by the notion of awarding Experience for Damage as outlined by Alexis S. in  Experience Solved.  This system awards XP every time the PC takes or deals damage and it is a great idea.  I certainly like the objective way that the XP get handed out in that kind of system and the only reason I haven't tried this out myself is that I don't like the idea of tracking things so much.  Lots of work keeping track of things.

Anyway the long and the short of all this is that the other day I had the thought that you should just award XP every time the player rolls the dice.  This is an interesting idea for me because it covers the idea that player mitigate risk through managing to avoid rolling dice, so mitigating their risk mitigation by awarding XP when they do the roll dice is a cool response.  You are effectively saying - hey its all good to be clever and cautious because the world is dangerous and you were right to narrate how you check all the stairs with your 10' pole, but you are going to be rewarded for taking risks too, and I'll leave it up to you guys.  On the one hand you survive longer playing carefully, on the other you 'learn' more when you take a gamble.  You would not do this in a game where you roll dice to use rope or cross a bridge.  You would do this in a game where you are following the rule that you only roll dice when it matters that you fail.

This dovetails in with the idea using a mechanic to reinforce good game play by rewarding characters taking actual chances instead of pretending to take chances.  In this case however it isn't handing out bennies or fate points for players acting, but rewarding player action - having the players rolling dice instead of playing it safe and avoiding the dice roll.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Campfire stories

I was away camping last week and, since I knew I was going to be camping, I prepared an adventure to run for the family.  Naturally when camping you want to travel light so I grabbed my Beacon book, a couple pencils, the character sheets from last camping trip and looked through the list of One Page Dungeons for a suitable adventure.  That's as portable as anyone could want I figure.  I had to look through a bunch of good adventure candidates, but I finally chose the Citadel of the Severed Hand by Rob S.  I picked it because it had a dwarf ruin theme, but primarily because it featured different factions of bad guys, which I thought would be fun and useful when playing with a small party.  I liked the dwarf ruins angle because I've tried to keep the surrounds of Milham of a consistent tone when running adventures for no reason other than the place sprang up as my attempt to do something like the Westmarches Sandbox campaign.  It's my fond hope that one day far in the future enough people will have played in that setting that two strangers might meet and strike up a conversation based on the mention of a particular location or event.  "Excuse me, but I heard you mention that my mother seems as charming as a Fox Hollow prostitute, and I was wondering if you had ever played Beacon?"

It didn't hurt that there were these "myconids" all over the woods...
Anyway, it was a good adventure and the family enjoyed it.  I downplayed the evil demon angle and recast the main bad lady as an orcish witch (a level 4 Enchanter) because the party was small and still fairly low level.  It was just scary enough for my kids and they spent most of the adventure sneaking around and trying to avoid conflict, allowing the orcs in the woods to cause a distraction while they snuck in via the creepy mushroom caves.  We played while sitting around the campfire this time at my wife's suggestion, rolling dice into a bowl and me reading my notes by lantern hanging from a nearby tree. That was a good deal because it tested my theory that RPGs work better in the darkness.  At one point the kids almost dropped their pencils in horror as I gleefully described the spore riddled corpse of an unlucky adventurer in those dark mushroom caves.  And yes we dropped the dice bowl a couple times.

The highlight of the night was when the witch 'summoned' a terrible dragon, and the party was sure that their goose was cooked, but then the druid cast a swarm of bats to distract it and because of the bats, they figured out it was all an illusion.  Pretty exciting for a 10 year old!

I also had a chance to finish up some work on a one-shot Ashen Stars adventure when it was raining and we were stuck in the tents.  Ashen Stars is a pretty great science fiction rpg based on the Gum Shoe system, and I have been wanting to run a game using it for a while now.  I've never written a real investigative type adventure, and those require a lot more preparation than I'm used to, but I wanted to try it and I'm so glad I did.  I got to run that adventure last weekend, and boy was that a fun game.  I probably should write that up sometime.

So overall camping was a win for gaming.  And when we got back home I saw that my copy of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess hardcover was waiting at my door!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Still playing the DCC

Been there, it's full of weirdos.

Game design is a slow process.  Or rather it's slow play-testing things when you do it as a hobby.  I haven't done much work on the Beacon rules for a while now, but I am doing some comparison study, mostly with DCC.  Our game group is still playing DCC and it is still quite fun.  Some of the crack are showing, but really there aren't very many cracks and if you run this game correctly it is a very good one.   Not everyone in our group is a fan of the randomness of the magic system (or of 20 in general really) but I think it's charming.  This is not the game for people that want to define and control their character development, but since I prefer making a story out of what happens in game and not what I want to happen, I think its pretty darn good.

What I really like in DCC?
  • I really like using dice as a modifier over using fixed bonuses/penalties.  That's brilliant.
  • I really like the leveling factor - 1-10 seems the perfect range and there are no padded or empty levels here.
What is an interesting mechanic?
  • Mercurial magic is pretty good and it is fun to have these effects in the game.  I wouldn't port it to another game though and it does really have a feedback loop effect.  Daniloth the Elf had a -2 luck modifier (-%20 on the table!) and so he didn't do so well here with most of his spells barely usable - he was fun to play but there was not much chance he'd make it very far in the game with magic.
  • All the charts and tables used to resolve actions make things very interesting.  Half of the gaming blogs out there are posting neat effect tables and it's a popular game style.  So here is a shit-ton of them at your fingertips.
What I am not so fond of?
  • Luck is very metagamey.  It does work if you really clamp down on players and dish out consequences for low luck scores, but it's not a great design because it relies so much on the in-game implementation.   Also, I don't like bennies in Savage Worlds because players will lean on them instead of playing careful and they dilute the equation of ability vs the random factor of the dice so I don't like luck for the same reason.  I think luck is a bit too important and I can see it spiral out of hand in DCC.  I can see a high level thief being able to do anything they want to with their huge luck reserves.  Now take that with a grain of salt because I haven't even seen level 3 play yet.  Take all this with a grain of salt, this game was play-tested a heck of a lot more than Beacon.
  • I don't like the thief skills, they seem bolted on just like in D&D and I'm not a fan of discrete skills in general.
  • Mighty Deeds of Arms is way to open to abuse.  I like the bonus attack dice but the double down crit system is a bit loose. Again it can work if you make it work, but not because its a great mechanic.  In our game, even with good players, it is seen immediately as a way to bypass hit points and over-perform on the attack. This means the GM and players have to constantly negotiate to prevent abuse or over compensate, and the mechanic is watered down.  I think this would work much better if it was tightened up and there were a simple set of specific feats to select from like throws, disarms and called shots.  This is especially true considering critical hits are stacked on top.
What would I steal for Beacon?

I would very seriously consider changing many of the progression/bonus mechanics to use dice instead of set modifiers.  I very probably will take some aspects of this and incorporate it into Beacon, at least for multiple attacks and for dual wielding of weapons.  I might also use variable dice instead of set bonuses to drive the class and race abilities to some extent.
I've mentioned before that if I wasn't worried about generic d20 compatibility, I might delve into changing the level progression a bit so there were smaller number of them but they were all bigger jumps.  I'd probably take this a bit further and change the spell levels so that they were 1:1. Having something like 8-10 levels and 8-10 spell levels seems so simple - or I'd do away with spell levels all together leaning more on the HP system to scale the effects.  Changing the level ratio for advancement would be good, especially if I was substituting dice for +'s in some way.

That being said there are a lot of things that I think Beacon does right and that I wouldn't change.  I'm still in love with having racial hit dice instead of basing it on class.  I still like the aspect type skill system and using using hp for magic.  I wouldn't be interested in adding luck or any kind of benefit tokens.  I'm pretty happy with the simplicity of Beacon and I'm in no rush to chase the latest trend or redo it for a specific feel.

If I feel the urge to play something more like DCC, I'll just play DCC.  It's a lot of fun.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dungeon Crawl Classics

Dungeon Crawl Classics
I really didn't want to get into Dungeon Crawl Classics for a couple of reasons.  Firstly I just didn't want to deal with another OD&D revamp.  I mean this is the Beacon blog and Beacon is what I thought d20 should look like, I mean that's the whole reason I wrote it right?  I did like what I was seeing from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I thought that it was good enough that I wanted a copy of the hard cover, especially with the production quality it promises to have.  I also gave Adventurer Conquer King a try because it looked interesting and I'm an open minded kind of guy - always looking for new things to poke around with.  There's some good stuff in ACKS and LotFP, some stuff I might use in a campaign (domain game tables and charts) and some stuff that is very cool take on an idea but but which I probably wouldn't use (the LotFP skill system).  There is also stuff I certainly don't like about these systems and so I would probably use Beacon for any gritty Fantasy game and tack on bits from these others.

However, I stayed away from Dungeon Crawl Classics because I didn't think it had anything to add to the equation.  I flipped though the book and I thought it had too many charts and special rules and I really don't like that kind of game.  My biggest problem with ACKS is the proficiency system and the fiddly classes and DCC looked to take that even further.  It looked like a pile of disassociated mechanics and charts and probably something you'd have to house rule the crap out of to play a decent game with.  If you read this blog you'll recognize Mike (if you read this blog there's 33% chance you are Mike...) from his unreserved praise and zealous adulation - nay near worship - of Beacon, so it was a little surprising when he started toting around the DCC book and talking excitedly about how great it was and getting animated about all these luck rolls and corruption charts.  Really I felt kind of bad for him.

So then I played DCC.  It rocks.

I got roped into playing DCC as a funnel Mike ran for our kids. It was a lot of fun and ha ha it's a funnel and your guy gets killed by a mud man.  It seemed like it was a pretty solid game but I wasn't convinced.  I think people focus on the killing part of the funnel without understanding what the funnel actually does, but I'll get back to that.  It wasn't until we got a couple characters to first level that the game really became interesting to me.  The classes have interesting mechanics, the charts are many and varied but they work well.  The charts which I expected to hate I actually like because they aren't rule mechanic look-up charts you need to reference and memorize, they are modifier charts to make the game go places you wouldn't think of going.  The other big thing people remark on is the special dice and I, like a lot of other people, just thought that was a gimmick - and it is - but it's a good gimmick because dice substitution is a lot more fun than adding up bonuses and to do that right proper you need more granulation in the dice.  So in stead of getting increasing bonuses to hit as your warrior levels up, you get an extra dice and that dice goes from a d3 to d4 to a d5 which is way cooler and less unbalanced than simply adding +1's until you cannot miss.  This concept is used every where and it's consistent enough that once you get it, half the complexity of those tables goes away.  You aren't looking up rules, you are quickly referencing a die roll.

I'm so jealous of that idea.

I like the magic system too.  Push your luck mechanics are interesting and having the ability to cast away until you blow a roll and then pay the price is a greet mood mechanic that you just don't get with spell slots or spell points, or even a simple fumble table.  Teach you to cast that utility spell instead of getting the thief to do it, now you have an anus on your forehead...

As for the funnel - well it's fun to see characters die and all but I think the real value of the funnel is that you don't have folks coming to a campaign with a story already set up in their head.  More importantly you don't have 4-5 special snowflakes coming to the table with incompatible stories and then getting all butt-hurt when those stories don't progress or mesh well.  What you have is a story emerging out of the actions of these random characters who have learned to work together and seen their comrades die in interesting ways that make stories for them to talk about.  Those are some great stories.

I don't know how I'll like DCC once the higher levels kick in, and I don't know if I'll still be liking it as much a year from now or if something will pop up I'm not happy with, but I'm truly enjoying the game we're playing now (and not all due to the system, Mike can take some credit for being a good DM).  I haven't really felt a need to change a rule or disliked any design choice yet which is pretty good coming from me.  If I wasn't picky I'd still be playing AD&D probably.  We've started a DCC campaign now with our regular game group and after playing the kids game and getting a taste of classed characters, I'm really eager to see how this game works with a bunch of cantankerous and clever grown ups.

I'm still going to run my games in Beacon, but I might be willing to run something in DCC if I was filling in for the regular GM or the players already had characters or something.  Or maybe if someone was interested in trying it out - purely to examine comparative mechanics you understand.  Or if I had a good idea for a session...  That's pretty funny because I told Mike back in November that I might consider playing DCC, but I'd never run something with it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

OPD 2013

Noticed that the One Page Dungeon Contest 2013 is now on.  If you haven't heard about that then you should hear about it.  I didn't enter last year and I make no promises to enter this year because to be honest work and stuff is seriously cutting into my reading and farting around time. However you should entirely check it out even if I don't manage to get my shit together because the OPD is a great thing and it generates a million useful ideas in a good format.  You can run a campaign off of these things since they are boiled down and modular enough to stick into your ongoing adventures.  They are like putting dimes in a birthday cake which is awesome and they are unlike that too because you shouldn't do that anymore.  What were our parents thinking anyway...

I have some ideas for this, but please don't encourage me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Online character sheet

I have been playing with making a Beacon character sheet for online games in Google Drive.  I like how it's shaping up so far and I've got the inkling that I could save off a bunch of these and share them with players to keep track of their characters pretty well.  You can view the prototype here.  If I can figure out how or why making a template is a good thing I might do that, but as far as I can see you should be able to just copy one for each player, share it for edits, and have them fill it in.   An unexpected upside is how well it works on android phones and tablets.  There is probably a way to do cool stuff like make forms for players to roll up their characters for a game and lock parts of the sheet or feed some of the values on these sheets into a GM dashboard so you can track all the ACs or something, but I haven't really played around with Drive that much.  It's probably a diminishing return as well, too much maintenance for too little gain.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Stat damage and critical hits

One thing that arose from the play testing I did that I like very much is how the critical hit table drove the mechanics of weapon and armour maintenance.  In the beginning of Beacon I thought that it would be good to have weapons and armour be destructible, for armour to be very expensive and for things like disarms or broken weapons to happen, because at the level of grittiness I wanted in a game, it was interesting having to deal with these things.  It's good to have to get your expensive chain mail repaired, it gives you a reason to spend money and visit the armorer.  I think you will value armor more if it feels like a maintainable resource instead of just an AC value.  Dropping a weapon or having it break creates an interesting complication in a otherwise mundane series of rolls to hit.  Unfortunately the mechanics of keeping track of this kind of thing tend to be terrible.  I think there is a need for record keeping in a gritty game, counting ammo, counting torches, counting money is all a part of the attrition and resource management that I find interesting.   For that to work however, for players to be willing to do that record-keeping, you have to make sure that you limit record-keeping as much as possible.  I hadn't planned on armour and weapons breaking down over time and I certainly didn't want to keep track of material durability or item fatigue, so it was a great joy to me that a couple throw away lines in the critical hit/fumble table to spice up combat wound up frequently sending players off to the smithy to get things fixed.  Having to replace and repair weapons and armour tended to make the players more aware of these items and they actually spent some time on customizing and talking about their gear where in other games the gear was just a means to a number on the character sheet.

That was unexpected synergy.  Everyone loves unexpected synergies and and they also makes you look good when it happens.  I think that I would like to try to utilize that same kind of strategy to deal with stat damage.  That would be anticipated synergy.  There is a shade of difference between these approaches so I've included a graphic to illustrate it.

Unexpected Synergy
Anticipated Synergy
So the problem I have is that a majority of the time when players take stat damage they are taking STR damage either by falling below 0 HP or by choosing to take some damage instead of using HP to soak it up.  The other main source of damage is potions, again most of which impact the Strength stat.  Although the intention (and implementation) was to have some monster special attacks and a few poisons and disease effects doing damage to the other stats there is still a majority of that attrition that impacts STR.  And in Beacon loss of STR is how you die.  From the player feedback there was a feeling around the table that tying death and damage so much to the loss of STR points was a little unfair to the fighter class who rely on a high STR score the most and are the most likely to loose it.  Magic classes generally use MIND for their spell bonus and rogues use DEX for many of their bonuses and so it did seem like a wounded fighter was getting more disadvantage than those classes since having some STR damage didn't impair their performance as much.  There were some suggestions made to address this, most notable having damage apply to all stats or a random stat, having death come at the loss of any stat - or all stats.  I had problems with all those approaches.

Now I believe that the way to deal with this is to once again leverage the critical chart.  I'm going to rework the critical hits and I'm going to remove all the STR damage effects and load it up with additional effects that impact other stats.  Critical hits are supposed to be exceptional and there is nothing exceptional about taking STR damage.  This was already being done where the Brain Burn had casters loosing 1d6 MIND points or a Disable arm/hand crit did 1d4 STR/DEX which would have to be slowly healed over time.  I'm going to have more crits that impair DEX or MIND or even CHA.  I'll also try to mix up the poison and disease effects so that they do a little more heterogeneous stat damage.  Monster, item and spell damage that impact other stats, like vampires draining CHA or Feebleminded spell dropping the target's MIND to 1, can be managed on a case per basis, there's no need to have a comprehensive list of these since GMs make it their bread and butter imaging new ones.  I might comb through and look for improvements to what 's there now however.   Lastly I'm going to consider new mechanics that deal with stat loss.  As always less is more when it comes to the mechanics.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


So I was logging in to do a little post on my other blog about the director's cut of the Watchmen movie and I naturally checked my blog stats because of narcissism and stuff, and anyway (get to the point) I noticed a link-back from the RPGGeek site.  So I followed it.  So hey, Beacon has a page on the RPG geek site!  I mean it's not a super awesome picture page with tons of reviews on it and confetti and everything, but someone took the time to load it up and even enter the basic lowdown of the game details.  Thank you that someone!  So now I guess I need to get on the stick and fix those monster stats and write up a Milham supplement and all those good things that I kind of want to do but that mean I have to stop being lazy.

So now also I need to go find my password for Boardgamegeek and all that so I can respond to and embrace all my fans and admirers and engage in many flamewars.  Funny story, I was pretty active on this site like 10 years ago and posted a lot of game pictures up back when there weren't so many as there are today.  In fact think I was the one who posted the first actual pics of such games as 4000AD and Alien Contact (dude I entered Alien Contact into their database where it has languished for years).

Alien Contact on my freezer

4000 AD - recognize any appliances here?

Enough tooting my own horn.  It sure is nice to see someone took the time to enter my little heart-breaker on the geek.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What if

Beacon makes a lot of changes to the basic d&d formulas while trying to stay pretty compatible with d20 materials (and to a large extent the AD&D and OD&D modules and supplements that preceded those).  So although there is point based magic rather than Vancian magic, the spells and levels are pretty similar.  There are Hit points and Armour Class and although Beacon hit points aren't points of damage - they are points to absorb hits - it is still essentially ablative damage. There are two phases in combat, but there is still an initiative each round.  All the weirdness that comes from having a PC absorb sword strikes and lightning bolts still applies, thinly rationalized behind those trusty old mechanics.

I do sometimes wonder what would happen if I had decided to take Beacon off those rails however.  In the beginning I tried to model a system where armor prevented damage and found it less then satisfying (you hit more but it was anti-climatic because - you were doing more rolls, more math and less damage and that was not exciting).  I looked at using 2d10 or some other combination to normalize the dice rolls (more averages meant you succeeded more often at average things but less often at the exciting stuff that mattered).  I thought of only using the stat bonuses and dropping the trusty old 3-18 since Beacon uses on the bonuses usually but again, that made a lot of stuff not work (like gloves +1 DEX) or made stat damage way too nasty.   Most of the interesting changes I tried didn't really fit into the d20 framework and so I scrapped them.

But what kind of game would I go for if I wasn't worried about compatibility?  What would I keep and what would I scrap if I was just going to build a game I thought was interesting and not one I cared about interfacing with the old modules and stuff?  What kind of mechanics would lend themselves to the kind of game I like to run?  More importantly what current mechanics would I drop because I was no longer worried about easy translation of all that sweet source material.

I would probably drop the 'd20 plus modifiers' thing and go with some other success mechanic.  I like the idea of adding/removing dice instead of adding lots of modifiers.  I might use an exploding dice mechanic but likely I wouldn't unless it needed to be added to increase excitement.  I don't like wildly exploding dice, but something like L5R or V6 is OK.  One of the things I really like about Beacon is that the stats are your basic 'presence' in the game but your skills are the way you deal with things.  Your skills let you leverage or overcome your natural advantages.  I'd keep the way the stats and skills work as much as I could.  While figuring this out I'd probably change the range of success as well, make it a bit more focused.  Your characters would start a bit more capable and they'd top out sooner too.

I guess the next biggest thing I would change is the combat system.  There is something just off with d20 combat and I sure would like to wrestle with that.  You want to keep it simple roll against a target and you don't want the damage to be so severe that combat becomes disincentivized however you do want to add some kind of effect of damage.  It's not easy to mess with this - and a lot of people have tried.  I do think I would want to keep hit points, but I would try to totally separate damage from the equation.  I really like how FATE damage works in that you have consequences piling up if you blow out your buffer.    I think I'd make the old hit point pool much smaller and have it replenish much more often.  Starting with a base HP you'd get like one or two points per level.  Weapons would only do a couple points, I might even remove the damage roll.  I really like the simpler damage rolls in Beacon and might want to take that even further.

Anyway, you'd soak up the potential damage you take during a fight with your hit point pool but if you blew out your buffer you would start taking damage.  After the fight your HP would come back really fast - like catching your breath - but the damage wouldn't.  The damage would also have effects on your performance.  That's not hugely different than how Beacon works now at low levels - damage cuts into your STR and that causes your bonuses to drop - but currently it's unwieldy and you have to calculate the changes all the time.  I'd like something where you had like damage boxes and each one added -1 to all your rolls or something easy like that.  Other effects too, I'd certainly keep the critical hit concept around.

As for stats - well I'd keep them but I would just have the bonuses, not the 3-18.  Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island does this in it's d20 inspired system and I think it's a sensible direction to go.   If you are not going to use the stats as a roll under substitute for skills then I don't see the need to keep track of them when all you want is the bonus.  Just roll up the the -4 to +4 bonus or whatever and go with it - it would make spells and items that modify stats a lot more powerful too.  I'd probably change this right now if it didn't really mess with all the d20 material.

I would totally go with your level equals the level of spell you can cast.  Yes I would still keep levels because leveling up is awesome.  I would cap it though because it's too hard to account for unlimited progression.  I would probably only have like 6 or 7 levels or something, maybe an even 10.  I'd reorganize the spells along those lines, and I'd keep the 'spells cost fatigue' kind of mechanic - just adjust it for the different kind of hit point system.  Again I'd want to be dealing with 1 or 2 points instead of 7-8 points at a time for these mechanics.

Ah anyway I'm just woolgathering here.   I still fully intend to keep Beacon on the d20 path and keep polishing it up until it's finished.  If I did decide to play with these ideas, it would be a Beacon variant or some other game and I probably wouldn't throw it up anywhere.  It's not like anyone needs yet another fantasy RPG right?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Epic Space Marines Time

I think that we need to put our collective elbows together and write a pile of free Space Marine games.  Board games with spinners and Space Marines, games about Space Marines using zocchi dice, Space Marine story games, Space Marine games with FATE mechanics, Space Marines using the V6 engine, and of course Space Marines '74 kicking it old school.

Release the floodgates - maybe we can make February the Space Marine month.  Like Shark Week on Discovery Channel but instead with Space Marines... and longer.  And not on TV.  No one entity should own the term Space Marine.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Charging the old batteries

Work has been kicking my butt for the last while and I've been taking a load off and ignoring Beacon while indulging in some other sordid pass-times like Farcry 3, FTL and Legends of Grimrock when I did have some time off.  Ya the old Christmas Steam sales hit me pretty good and I couldn't help but buy too many video games and bouncing between them.  I've also got in two sessions of Diaspora with the regular game group, the initial cluster/character creation and our first real session.  It is going pretty well and I'm enjoying the Sci-fi setting and so far the FATE rules seem pretty interesting.  Good times.

I've been thinking about a couple things to knock away at in Beacon however.  The first thing, I really need to comb through the monster lists and fix all the minor errors.  In the last session I noticed that hobgoblin hitpoint range (I put in the middle and max values so it's very quick to stat up a monster on the fly) didn't match up with their hit dice.  That got me thinking that I really didn't have a standard way of indicating how many attacks a monster had so now I want to clean up all the stat blocks a bit and see if there's a good way to cram more info into them without introducing bloat.  I also was thinking about all the times that character armor was damaged in the game and how often they had it repaired.  That was an unexpected bonus from the critical hit table and I really want to introduce something to highlight weapon and armor repair in the rules - even a simple cost chart would be useful I think.  More on that later.  I'm sure that I'll find a couple other things to tweak and prod at too.  Beacon is getting there though, I no longer fret about it and I know I can pull it out and get the job done.

So I have some work to plonk away at and a couple posts planned in the next month or so, and as always drop me a note if you have any feedback or want to regale me with your Beacon story or express your undying love for the game.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Wrapping up the campaign (for now)

Dungeon Crawling by lightningtumble
The second last session we played was a short handed with only three PCs who could make it.  I try to end the sessions in a town or at least in a camp so that when the inevitable cancellations happen they don't impact the game too much.  I would like sometime to take that practice a step further and run a game where the PCs are drawn from a larger pool of players and each adventure is an outing of PCs from the local meeting place - taking a page from the West Marches sandbox play book.  I don't see that working with meatspace group as much since it would require a large pool of players and some way to queue folks up and turn others down each session - something I wouldn't think I could be good at - but maybe I can try it out if I run something on G+.

Anyway three players and I prepared something light based on their existing goals.  I thought that the players would want to do a light crawl for treasure since the monastery they had been exploring might be too dangerous for such a small group (their perception not mine).  I figured they would try to recover the remains of Kane's brother or at least go out into the hills to try to find another dwarven ruin to loot.  They did neither.  They decided to look at the map they had that showed a ton of interesting known places, and pick a totally uninteresting island out in the middle of the lake instead.  They even asked around in Milham about that island and everyone told them that they had never heard of anything interesting out on there.  They went there anyway.  My only explanation for this is I think they thought everyone was lying to them or they were metagaming and thought I would have to make something up.  I did make something up but it wasn't a secret tower of adventure, it was a crappy little village full of weird inbred NPCs.

It actually was quite fun and I got a chance to verbally abuse the PCs and  inject some weird historical info that otherwise might not have come out in game, but it wasn't a Hidden Tower of Adventure by any stretch. The most (only) exciting thing was a couple spiders.  I could have dropped in a one page dungeon - in fact if it had been a full house I would have felt obligated to insert some kind of adventure or at least a set-piece encounter.  I also wasn't going to cave in and justify the expectation that the world revolved around a wandering pack of three murder hobos; five murder hobos maybe, but not three.  Also with only three players I felt freer to play a lot of NPCs and converse with them more without excluding anyone from the interaction, which made it less boring for them than it might have been.  It worked out and we had a decent time playing off one another, dropping in jokes and conversing about things the PCs normally wouldn't care about, like the weird name of their home town or how rude it was to just walk up and case out someone's yard looking for clues.  It was a shorter session too which saved it from itself.

The last session was a blockbuster however.  We had everyone geared up to play and the party had decided ahead of time that they wanted to go back to the monastery and seek out the artifact that they were pretty sure lie in it's depths.  SO they travelled south, explored the empty upper caves and came to the conclusion that soldiers from Red Towers had been exploring here in the interim.  They figured that out by coming across soldier bodies and scenes of slaughter.  That got them fired up to get active in their treasure hunting and it also let me clean up a bunch of the lower level monsters that they hadn't encountered but who were no challenge to the party anymore.  The first few levels of the dungeon was kind of statted for level 1-3 and the party was now level 3-4 and there were five of them so when they did meet monsters they managed to beat them fairly easily.  However it wasn't a cake walk and there were a lot of fights they did have, and the creatures below were pretty nasty.  They would have had a pretty tough time, but they were playing well and they were rolling like demons.  Kane's web spell made a huge difference as more than once they used it to avoid combat against a mob of creatures by tangling the whole passage up.  They won almost every initiative, and I haven't seen so many natural 20s rolled in one session ever I think.  Also I'm a believer that adventures shouldn't be scaled on the fly.   If you meet a dragon I'm not going to scale back his stats - so you should run away.  But if you are webbing up kobolds and rolling great against ghouls, I'm not going to scale up their stats to make it harder either.  A card laid is a card played.

So the group was smashing their way though the dungeon and they were also finding a lot of treasure  - most of it treasure they was there before but they had missed because they had run away or had to retreat for healing.  I don't generally give wandering goblins treasure to carry around but I do think that if you beat the goblin general in his lair you'll see all the loot he's extracted from his little mob.   But they were finding those lairs and since they had found so little treasure before, now it seemed like a windfall.  The poor wandering troupe was getting some serious loot and you could tell that they were liking this smash and grab lifestyle.  They finally made it to the manticiore lair (where they had run away from before) and this time they managed to kill the remaining beasts and get the treasure, including the Gauntlet of Ulthur that they had been seeking.  There were still rooms more and mysteries below, but we decided to wrap it up there.

I think it was the best session of the campaign since they threw themselves into the crawl aspect and managed to accomplish a lot.  This is probably because it was the last session and they were less worried about consequences. I think that if they had done more of this kind of derring do earlier on they would have seen how the game was geared more towards a dungeon crawl and less on intrigue and pre-defined story.  They probably would have lost more characters along the way too.  I think there were a lot of times where the party might have spent too much time looking for the story hook when they should have just gone back to a ruin and hauled out some loot - and that's my fault for not explaining it well (for fear of railroading their decisions as much as anything). But all in all I had a really good time running the game and I would never have developed out so many NPCs and locations if they had just tucked in and cleared out one or two old ruins instead of wandering all over poking into things.  There were also some definite signs of wanting to pick up Beacon again sometime in the future, and even some of the same characters, and that is OK by me as it would be nice to see how level 4-7 plays and it would also be nice to return to the Milham setting which I've grown quite fond of.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Hello, Happy New Year and all that.

The final session of the campaign went really well, lots of good spell use and lots of action.  The players were rolling crazy well with many natural 20s (I suspect some infernal bargains were made).  I'll write it all up sometime but for now I'm just chillin and enjoying the piles of snow and booze I've piled up all around my house.

Oh, and I made a submission to Gorgonmilks D12 Sources of Magical Energy thing because it is fun.