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.