Sunday, November 29, 2020

Version 7.4

I just pushed up version 7.4 of the Beacon rules.  A lot of changes to the layout this time.  Druids are divine again.  I'll post more on the specific changes soon as I think there are some interesting design choices in this one.  Items in RED text are suspect and the stuff in PURPLE is the new bits.

Grab it here.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

November update

Still running twice weekly games and having a good time.  Roll20 is working well for this kind of campaign and the sheets are working as is keeping various maps in play for overland travel, dungeon exploration and managing handouts.

In the playtest some players are starting to hit level 4 as they explore and fight their way across the wilds.  I think that the rate of advancement is about perfect, combats are averaging about 3-4 encounters and around 250-300XP per six player session and they are spending a good amount of treasure to top up to next level when they return to town.  It will be interesting to see how this shapes up as they hit the mid levels 5-7 and see if it still seems to track.  

The overland map is expanding outward as they explore and looks like this now:

Adventure Map
The northern wilds

Using the VTT features in roll20 is great although I wish I could use a tablet or something to do the live drawing part since using a mouse with their tools is very obtuse.  The players are able to add annotations to the maps and I am using copy/paste to lay out the terrain icons which works well.  In Roll20 the DM needs to manage the map I think although I would love if the players did take on more mapping and notetaking.

I'm currently working on the 7.4 rule update which is a bunch of minor tweaks and fixes more than any big changes.  Still slowly updating the spell descriptions to make them more skill facing and still working on more challenging monsters.  One player bought a bunch of war dogs and we quickly realized that adding 2HD for trained animals was too much, so that buff got scaled back to 1HD.

I'm tightening up the language around combat round actions a bit, each round you get an attack action and a maneuver or two maneuvers.  

Attack actions are: 

  • weapon attacks;
  • aiming;
  • casting spells;
  • defense.  

I specifically listed Aim as an attack action since PCs with multiple attacks could then use an attack to take aim if they wanted.  I also called out the Defense action here which makes it more clear how that works to provide AC bonus.   

Maneuver actions are: 

  • movement of various kinds;
  • manipulating items;
  • swapping gear;
  • assist;
  • or other miscellaneous actions.  

The assist action is new here and I see this as a replacement for things like flanking or other ways to give another player advantage and still leverage the initiative system.  The way announcing actions and movement happens it is too hard for players to rely on combat positions for bonuses so having this action will mitigate that I hope.  It also lets other players set up surprise attacks for rogues which would let them act sooner in the round than if they had to set themselves up.  These are not really changes so much as clarifications to existing mechanics and hopefully its all a lot more clear for those reading the rules now.

I also formalized overland travel and rest around the 4 hour "watch" period, generally rolling for an encounter and giving a travel description for each 4 hour period.  I standardized the journey encounter rolls to a d6 where 1 is an encounter on the relevant table and 6 is a 'character moment' where a PC will give some information about themselves either in a story or in interaction.  I like that idea since it gives some sense of time and getting to know one another on overland treks.  Players were kind of hesitant at first but since they know its coming up they are starting to warm to the idea and prepare things for it.  I like it a lot, especially since its an exploration game and I am discouraging long backstories at character creation.  I also added a petite rest because I noticed when they are resting players fall into the idea of first and second watch pretty quickly but it was a bit hard on PCs who only had minor wounds as they usually got tapped to keep watch.  I decided to give PCs who only rest for 4 hours a small HP recovery equal to their level.  I also want to make sure that PCs who didn't get at least 4 hours rest in a day would have disadvantage until they did.

No firm date on when I push this latest update out, but it will be soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Big Scary Monsters

Still running playtests and getting a lot of good feedback from the players.  The fixed weapon damage seems to be going well although I have toyed with having monsters roll damage vs having them do half HD damage on regular hits and full damage on critical hits.  Having the monsters do fixed damage seems to take away some of the excitement but that might be my baggage talking.  When a HD12 skeleton hits with 6 or 12 point of damage every time it really changes the tone of the encounter.

I have been thinking about monsters in general.  A problem in Beacon (and in d20 systems generally) is that big bad monsters are usually not as effective as bunches of smaller monsters.  Players will quickly gang up on a big monster and quickly chip it down with their attacks or lock it up so it can’t attack.  TO deal with this for your big nasty monsters you either have to make them so powerful that if they connect they wreck the PCs, or you have to make them so hard to kill they become a slog.  This isn’t ideal from a narrative perspective.  I've had multiple instances already where the party will take out a Orge or an Ettin with minimal fuss but be totally overwhelmed by 3-4 small creatures with high AC.

For a while now I have used the monster HD for their initiative and one the surface it seems like a good idea, bigger monsters are usually slower and it fits well in many cases.  One place it doesn’t fit is when you want a powerful monster to be fast.  You could make it have a small HD type but with lots of dice, like 5d4.  You could also just override the HD for initiative for that particular monster.  Both those ideas would work I think, but I think there’s another way to do this that might take care of the other problem of players dogpiling your set piece monster.

Why not have monsters with multiple HD?  The idea comes from this post by AngryGM which posits making big monsters with multiple stat blocks so they function more like a group of creatures.  It’s a pretty interesting idea and honestly we were already giving monsters multiple attacks in a round so giving them additional HD associated to that doesn’t seem out of line.  This would also be useful for initiative since you could have a monster with a fast and a slow attack.

You can do this two ways; either have a monster with two HD types use both at the same time, e.g. a creature with a body and a tail attacking each round, or you can have the monster evolve/devolve so that it uses up an initial HD first and when this is gone the second HD kicks in.  The idea of having a big nasty monster with multiple ‘parts’ that can attack and be targeted independently seems to solve a lot of problems.  First it’s tactically interesting if you have a dragon with a head and a tail and claws and the Wizard immobilizes the tail with a web.  Also if the monster has sequential HD and two HP pools you can have it start out quick with small HD initiative then once that pool is gone it becomes slower with larger HD giving bigger damage and slower initiative.  Or reverse that and that a ponderous monster become quicker and more desperate when it’s D12 pool is gone and now it’s rolling D4s.  You can even do the 'Hydra' idea where you lop off a head and the monster grows new ones which increase in HD each turn.  This whole component monster concept bakes in some flavour as well which is very nice.

You might say why even tie HD to so many monster mechanics if your going to do something like this?
Well, the idea of basing all the mechanics off HD still simplifies a lot of things and for most monsters it works well.  All we are doing here is breaking a mighty monster into easily manageable smaller parts.  In fact the rules say monsters shouldn’t just be stat blocks and should be unique monster-y things and so mashing some simple monsters together into a big monster seems to fit that design philosophy.

I think I'm going to winnow down the Beacon monster list and remove the larger and more complex monsters, and putting in  a few examples of these complex monsters instead. Maybe I'll add a short section on designing more interesting larger monsters along with that.  I've also decided to pare down the sections on Poison and Disease and just have a few examples instead.  As with the monsters its better to have an idea of how it could work and how to customize it for your adventure than to have a large list of easily derived items.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Changes to the Rogue and to Spells

Updated beacon rules posted.  This is version 7.3 and has a bunch of changes.

Quick summary of some changes:

  • Add reactions,
  • Static weapon damage,
  • Dwarves get an initiative penalty, 
  • Halflings can't use heavy weapons,
  • Added some weapon and armour limits directly to the classes,
OK that last one needs some explanation.  Ten years ago I thought it was cool to allow all classes to use all kinds of armour and weapons and then build in complex feedback systems to balance the classes so you didn't have plate mail enchanters running around waving dual great axes.  So one hand gives and the other takes it away.  Now I think its way better to just limit the classes. Its a lite rules game, so there's no time for this kind of backroom shenanigans.  This stuff should be as clear and simple as possible.  So going forward you will see even more of a shift away from some of the old mechanics to use more streamlined stuff.  Keep this in mind when I redo movement and range in the future.  I'll probably do a whole post on how I think its time to relax some of the design that is there just for compatibility with 'standard' D20 material.  There's just so much out there now its not really needed anymore.  
  • Merged the Rogue and the Non-class class,

One of my players in the play-test said, "Rogues should have the most skills".  I thought about that and I decided that they were probably right.  Instead of having the unclassed character option, I should just give rogues more skills that they can spend on doing tricky stuff.  Climbing-  physical skill, sneaking - subterfuge, disarm traps - crafting etc.  This solves a long standing problem of what to do with the horrible "non - classed" class which was always needed but never used.  Merging these two classes means you can now be a sneaky merchant or a backstabbing assassin, or even a tricky sage type pretty easily in the game by choosing a rogue class.  In return I've also changed the equally terrible rogue surprise attack mechanic to be a simple "if you have advantage add your subterfuge to the damage", a blend of 5th edition and Microlight mechanics.  Hopefully this works as well as it looks on paper.   Its too bad really because I had finally resolved to rename the non-classed class to "Journeyman".  This does leave room for a third non magic class.  I was thinking of a ranger type but, Druids might become jealous and recently I had the idea some kind of Tinker might be more appropriate.

  • Arcane casters get a new spell every level,
  • Reworked a lot of the level 1-3 spells.

The other thing I've decided to do is to rework all the spells and bring skill points into a more prominent role for spell effect.  One of the big changes is that many of the spells with scaling effects are based on caster level and I am working on making these rather be skill based instead.  This means there is actually a reason for a cleric to pump points into Communication and for Enchanters to increase their Subterfuge or Knowledge skills.  I will try to base these changes on the nature of the spells themselves but obviously the classes will have more spells that use their 'primary' skills than others.  All arcane casters will benefit from having higher Knowledge, but Druids will benefit from having higher Survival as well.  I think the effect of this will be casters will be more diverse, even within the same class, and it will really add value to the skills.

There's a bunch of other stuff too.  Yes I am changing a lot more than I intended to change at the beginning of this year.  The old game was pretty crap actually... huzzah!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Initiative and Damage Changes

Tycho says, "Roll for initiative".

So the play testing has been going very well and the players seem to agree that the new initiative system is very good and makes for some interesting and dynamic combats.  Using the Mike Mearls "Greyhawk" system of declaring actions and using that to roll lowest on different dice creates interesting scenarios where players weigh their need to act faster or take more time to move into advantage.  Having initiative every round makes the combats more dynamic and players are reacting to the events rather than just waiting out their turns.  Monsters have fled battle and been caught fleeing or fled successfully based on their initiative rolls over a couple rounds.  Its all been pretty good.

There are a couple things I want to add to lean into this concept even more.  I want to add a rule that if you are holding your action you can REACT to an opponents attack if they are later in initiative order.  You roll a 3 to cast a spell and the opposing wizard rolls a 6, you can cast your spell and hope to stop them or you can hold your action and try to counter their spell.  This is a more interesting choice I think.  Same as blocking, if your quick enough you can move to intercept an opponents attack and block it, saving the poor halfling rogue from being impaled on the bad guys spear.

The block and counter-spell actions have been in the Beacon rules since the beginning but are rarely used.  I think because they required you state your intention at the start of the round and forgo your attack, players thought they were both less fun and harder to execute.  In any system where you have to choose to attack or try some mitigating action, you are usually going to attack since its the simpler option and it has a net effect of taking out your opponents and ending the combat.  However in a specific instance it may be better to react to mitigate damage and so when you see those situations and can react to them its pretty fun.  You are now PLAYING the game.  I think it much more likely you will choose a block or counter-spell to interrupt an opponents action than it would be to declare that as your action at start of a round.  It also means that blocking or countering a spell cannot happen unless you have initiative, which I think is a good limiter to those actions and so they can be a bit more powerful than they might otherwise be if they were just regular actions.  I might look for other reactions to add as well, things to make the combat flow more fun, it seems to be a natural fit for this initiative system to have these type of reactions.

However not all is sweet in our delicious candy-land.  The other side of this initiative system is that it means that you are rolling three times in combat for every attack and this is causing things to go slower.  Rolling lots of dice is fun but also slows down the game.  Picking out dice and adding up the results is slow and so usually games will try to get rid of as many rolls as possible.  They usually start with initiative and I get that, but I think that's the wrong approach since initiative is such a great tool for modeling combat.  Why get rid of the good and interesting rolls where luck really does play a huge part?  I would rather get rid of the other side of things and get rid of the damage rolls, and in fact that's what I'm going to do.  

Beacon already has simplified damage for weapons, based on if they are light or heavy, and I think its time to go even further and just set the damage for those weapon types.  My initial thought is you would take the middle number and say its 3 points for light weapon and 4 for a heavy weapon and critical hits will always do double that, so 6 and 8 respectively (and +1 for two handed heavy weapons).  This takes out a whole roll and makes things resolve faster, and you still add all the STR and fighter damage bonuses etc. so the numbers will work out the same as they do now.  I'm not sure what to do with monsters at this point, although the obvious thing is to take half their HD type as the base damage amount.  Monsters in combat need some other attention in any case.

I might in the future look at trying some kind of system where I'd lower the amount of set damage and use the value on the to-hit roll to determine how much damage is done.  For example you roll 3 points higher than the target AC so you would do 3 with a light weapon and 3+1 with a heavy weapon (plus all the other damage bonuses).  This might work but it would need some thought to model that out without breaking the game, since you can roll a LOT higher than the required to hit in some cases, and that number goes up the higher the character levels so it would have a real scaling effect.  It would also really impact low AC monsters (and PCs) disproportionately which would be bad.  Also it would be a lot of adding stuff up which is doable, but again takes time.  If you know your hit is going to do 3+2 damage unless you crit that's easy to keep track of.  If you need to ask the GM the specific AC and calculate it multiple times in a fight, or Hermes for-fend, make the poor GM do all the damage calculations for the combat, then obviously not so much joy.

So just the fixed damage for now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

August update

Play testing is still going on and at two games a week I hardly have time to think about posting updates.  I updated the Roll20 character sheet, adding in a calculated encumbrance field and updating the inventory page to make it easier to manage.  I also put in some dedicated slots for food etc.  I wanted it to be more prominent so that it would get used.  Also I named the inventory boxes so if one was so inclined they could use the storage locations for random events or to track when players drop their packs etc.  

The example below shows this character with (10 STR) can carry 7 weight before becoming encumbered.  On the sheet you see rations (1), 7 torches (most of 1 so 1), 1.5 wt of coins (1, noted to be in bag), in the backpack 50' rope (1), and in the sack, a pair of heavy candle holders (1) so 5 on this sheet but also if you add two more light weapons to go with that crowbar and her armour then she's at about 6 'weight'.  That number is beside the can carry number in a box marked 'current' and managed by the player.  If STR drops due to wounds, well then its pretty easy to see when you have disadvantage.  This is still somewhat manual, but its easy enough to eyeball, which is how it needs to be to work.

I did change the base amount of weight that a character with 0 bonus gets to 7.  I wanted characters with low STR to be able to carry at least 3 weight which is actually a lot more stuff than 2 weight given the way small items glob up*.  The next update of the rules will reflect this and also I'll be tweaking weights for some bulk items like rations etc.  I also make reference to the fact that hired help does not generally need to worry about the disadvantage that comes with being over-encumbered so those guys you can load up a lot more.  However if the guy carrying all your food, tools and water is killed you're going to have to make some decisions about your other gear.  Also if you load a poor torch bearer up with coins and treasure, he might just disappear on you.  All these things I think make for interesting play.

It's all opt in of course, but I've been pushing it in play and I think it does make exploration style games much better when you use something to track these resources and even a simple system like this is plenty good to manage it.  

*glob up is a pretty good way to describe grouping different things into abstract categories.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Some bigger changes

Posting another update to the v7 rules.  You can get it on the Get Beacon page using the preview rules link (is stamped version 7.2).  I was trying to get this out to fix some issues with STR bonus for melee weapon damage but I also wound up making some pretty big changes, again based on the on going play-testing.  A bunch of stuff in this one but here is a summary of the changes:

  • The 'biggest' change is also the smallest, Clerics will use their CHA bonus for casting divine spells.  I thought that was a really good idea since it makes sense that divine magic comes from personality and not smarts and also CHA was the odd one out with little mechanical effect hanging off it.
  • Beastmen will be able to become clerics but they will also get a -2 CHA as a racial modifier.  I think this balances the extra HP but we will see.  I hated having Beastmen so limited to classes that I considered cutting them out, but I think this might work and give some more options while not inadvertently making them the go to race for clerics.  They still can't use arcane magics but everyone should be able to have a spiritual life.
  • I added in the encumbrance rules but I dropped the numbers a bit and changed the 'stone' to 'weight' as a custom unit of bulk.  Average PC can carry 6 weight of stuff and not the 10stone/100lb situation I was talking about before.  I also put in a table of common weights which should make it simple to track.  This hopefully will remove any cultural/realism overhead but accomplish the same thing as the stone system.
  • Made some additional balance changes to creature ACs, spell descriptions etc.
  • Changes to costs of some items, notably hirelings, rations and ammo.
  • I changed the way taking damage works.  Now you cannot choose to take STR damage instead of HP.  Casters can  however choose to spend STR instead of HP for spells.

So that last two obviously are obviously pretty big but I think that the system of choosing STR vs hp was not working at all and some players were burning out their STR and others were not and falling unconscious all based on how they saw the situation instead of arising from the situation.  I think this rule was totally destroying the feeling of immediate danger in combat and was forcing players to meta game at exactly the wrong moments.  It also was super confusing to those familiar with other d20 systems and it broke the whole low levels is deadly vibe I want the game to have.  Now you hit 0 and then the damage spills over to STR as you would expect.  

HOWEVER I don't want to entirely give up on the concept of pushing limits that the rule was supposed to foster so I also changed the casting rules allowing casters to choose to use their STR points for spells.  I think this accomplishes the same thing I wanted to have with the old rule but without the other bad effects.  It does give casters more spell power but the price is pretty high.  The new rules for STR damage conditions are still in place so casters using these points pay a high price with long recovery times and conditions.  Also since a critical miss or other situation could zap your STR unexpectedly using it for spells can be pretty dangerous, so this presents an interesting decision mechanic.  I may at some point figure out a feat for fighters to tap into this STR pool somehow for the same reasons.  SO I think that in the original rules the idea was good, but the implementation and the costing was bad.  We will see how this works out.