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.