Friday, April 3, 2020

OPD 2020

I want to make sure that I plug the One Page Dungeon contest for 2020.  This contest has been going on for 10 years(!)  and its one of the great game resources to come out of the blogosphere.  

One page dungeons are cool, they are hip, they are super easy to adapt into your games.  I've used so many of these for inspiration, even dropping some whole on top of my players.  There is something about the format and level of detail that makes these so easily digestible and the competition makes the cream rise.  The reviews are a good read as well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Influences Part 1 - Ashen Stars

Most of the writing I have done about other games I moved out to my other blog so that it didn't dilute this site, which is supposed to be about Beacon design commentary.  Now that I'm resolved to try to post something on here once a week, I thought it would be good to write about some of the games I've played in the last few years and what influence they've had.  Naturally there is a lot of overlap between what I'm playing and the game design process so I think since its relevant.  I'll try to bring it all back around to how it impacts that crisp hot Beacon brand in any case.

And I guess I should start with Ashen Stars.

Ashen Stars is a gumshoe based space police investigative game.  Players play Lasers who fly their space ship around the crumbling remains of a vast Federation solving crimes, kicking butts in a mostly non-lethal manner.  The game setting is one of the best I have come across, just the right amount of familiarity and the right amount of ambiguity to make good sci-fi stories happen.

I found space cops to be a really good game premise because the players have to follow procedures and maintain their reputations rather than just kicking in doors and shooting people.   Its great fun being able to parade a bad guy around and have him be untouchable because the players don't have the proof to take them down yet.  Players HATE this but it is really the best because they love hating stuff and it takes some time to nurture those relationships.
Also having mechanics that force players to own up to their actions is useful.  Having a reputation mechanic that offers the option for them to take the short cuts but at the risk of loosing future income is delicious.  There are so many good systems in Ashen Stars, the ship combat is simple but fun, the gumshoe investigation mechanics are good, it has the right level of abstraction for tracking items and money.


I did find that some of the mechanics seemed a bit stodgy when the players were resolving physical challenges.  The d6 mechanic does not leave a lot of room point spend systems are are not my favorite.  I am probably not really running gumshoe on all cylinders so my games tend to be too easy and players seem to always have enough points to buy success.  I have tried ramping up the  challenge but once a few ability pools are used up the players want to rest and recoup, this is the 10 minute adventuring day of gumshoe it would seem
But I get the idea that as you use up your resources the narrative gets more tense but in my experience players will be miserly with points and when they run out, they will start feeling the game is against them more than if they had merely failed a roll normally.

I also felt that the game was missing a level of play at the party level.  Ashen Stars has a ship sheet and there is the idea of the crew as a business entity with reputation and shared resources, but I found it wasn't enough to really draw the players together.  The first time I ran the game the players either didn't care about earning money or they didn't have anything to spend their money on and so there was no real fear of loosing their reputation and not finding good jobs or having longer down times between them.  There were some ship modules to buy but for some reason they didn't glom onto these like I expected, maybe they were not as relevant to their PCs regular actions.  Again this might reflect on my GM chops more than the game system itself. 

When I next ran the game I tried to address some of these perceived issues by establishing a corporation for the party with a bank account and I gave them a large Traveller style mortgage on their ship.  I also added in some living expenses and a the concept of financial random encounters all in the effort to give the players something to hunger for and to make the reputation loss mechanics more meaningful.  If I were to run the game again I would incorporate these ideas into the game and pay way more attention for ways to compromise the crew reputation.

I don't want to give the opinion that Ashen Stars is not a great game as written, because it really is a fantastic and classic game.

Since Beacon is designed to be a Old school d20 system and have a high compatibility with other d20 systems there isn't a ton of mechanics that I would try to directly incorporate from Ashen Stars.  I considered adding in some kind of reputation mechanic and know this is done in other d20 games, but I don't think I would add it to the core rules, especially since Beacon is PC focused and not at all party focused mechanically.  I might someday consider some sort of party mechanics outside the core rules, maybe some kind of play supplement or campaign books.  So not much mechanically, however from a 'GM advice' perspective I would definitely take a lot from Ashen Stars, most importantly the gumshoe core concept of giving clues rather than asking for 'notice rolls' and having players get spotlights on collecting information appropriate to their skills and activities.  The Knowledge and Subterfuge skills stand out here but all the skills are easily applied to information gathering.  A player with a high Physical skill would notice an expert swordsman pretending to be a novice, a player with high Communication would naturally draw NPCs out in a conversation etc.

And this is longer than I thought it would be so I'll leave it there.  Would I play this game again - hell yes.  Here's my original thoughts on Ashen Stars from years ago if you are interested;
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thursday, March 19, 2020

a Visual History of Beacon

Here's a picture I took of all the different versions of Beacon I printed out in booklet format along with the DM Screen.  There were more versions in PDF but I tried to keep the game easily printable in a this cheap and handy format.  Older versions you can see were on letter paper but I found it a little too small and wasted space on the top and bottom margins.   I found that the layout worked best using legal paper.  Its not the tiny booklet format of Microlite, but its still pretty portable.

So when you download the Beacon PDF, go for booklet printing on legal paper and you'll have a fairly low cost book you can feel happy about spilling beer on and writing notes all over.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Crafting and durability

The initial idea behind a Fabrication skill was to compliment the Subterfuge skill for rogues and stand in as an alternate skill for managing mechanisms and traps.  Having two skills meant you could have some options for allocating those skill points as opposed to having rogues just tossing everything into Subterfuge.  It was also to give players an additional skill they could bump to become more proficient at generally building stuff or repairing things, a shop class sort of thing and something for dwarves to be touchy about.  However, now I have lived with it a while, Fabrication is a crap name for a skill.  Its not thematic to the genre, it is a fancy word in a gritty game.  I suppose that Subterfuge is just as bad really, but that skill is a hold over from Microlite and I am loathe to change it.  Also, the Fabrication description kind of suggested that it applied to making up stories and so made it hard to tell if lying or entertaining people with tales was Communication, Fabrication or Subterfuge.  I added Fabrication for what I thought were good reasons and I do think the skill has a place in the game, but the name and definition are just off. 

Crafting is better I think.  

Crafting accomplishes what I wanted for Fabrication, the skill for building, repairing, working things.  That's pretty easy to explain from a dead stop and fits the theme better.  Also no dwarf would be ashamed of putting Crafting on their resume, while Fabrication is clearly something elves get up to.  Along with changing the name of the skill I also want to beef up some mechanics that will leverage it.  There are the obvious creation rolls where players knock together things and the obvious dismantling of things like traps, but there is some room to have more maintenance type things.  What I would like to do is alter the item damage/durability mechanics slightly so that weapons break down and there is repairing that needs to be done.  My goal for this is to add a bit more crunch to the system to support the hex-crawl and West Marches styles of play I want the game to focus on.

Currently on the critical hit/fumble table it is possible for you to break or damage to your weapons and armour, and there are also sunder mechanics for breaking shields which you need to then have replaced or repaired.  I want to expand on this a bit so it also address some of the comments about weapon pricing that were brought up on another blog about the wide range of weapon costs for items that do essentially the same damage.  What I am thinking of is a durability rating for weapons and armour that is based on their quality/price and this rating would go down when a player rolls that fumble instead of flat out breaking.  Where a cheap weapon with low durability would break, a better weapon with more durability would loose a point and could be repaired.  If an item's durability is all gone then it is not repairable.  I think this is a better solution for Provinto's issue about players cheaping out on their weapons without mucking around with the light and heavy weapon damage rolls.  I think Beacon has too many damage modifiers already and I think its better to have a new weapon attribute than it is to make damage calculation more complex.  I also think that this is another good lever for loot and treasure, as crappy old goblin knives would probably have a durability of 1 while that super fancy  sword and shield from the treasure room might have unheard of durability of lets say 5.

That being said, I'll likely have to play test this a bit since it could run a bit boring in practice.  It needs simple bookkeeping or it will be hard to manage or leech away fun.  There's a fine line where resource tracking becomes nickle and dime mechanics and I certainly don't want to have players grinding away on item management instead of beating on monsters.  It does have appeal however as I see Beacon supporting a grittier play style with short episodes of adventure which are punctuating periods of downtime for healing and training and spending loot.   Also, I want more mechanics that support West Marches style games, so I like the concept of having a character sit out an adventure working away on repairing her sword while others go on an expedition and I think that fits right in with the cleric making a healing potion, or a rogue spending a couple weeks training for level 3.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Initiating change

So diving right into discussing changes I want to bring into the next release.  But there are a lot of topics and I need to figure out what to work on first.  If only there were a way to order these, some kind of system to determine who goes first...

Beacon does not have what might be considered standard initiative as in you roll a d20 add your DEX bonus and then murder away.  I have never really liked that system, the best that can be said about it is its simple.  Before Beacon when playing d20 type games I always used a house rule where each side rolled a d6 to see who had the advantage every round of combat.  I don't know where that came from, if it was in the original D&D rules, or if it was just carried over into our games from way back when we played free-form* games as kids.  Anyway I don't do it that way and I talked about why Beacon implemented a variation of the this idea along with combat phases here and here.

I was pretty happy with the phased approach and I really liked the tactical changes this brought to the game.  I find it more engaging how players have to think about what they are doing before they roll for initiative, and I like how the battle can change round to round and the players have to react to this.  It might have taken a little longer to roll each round and to call out the phases but it was made up for with more player interaction as they chose their actions based on what the others were announcing and then interest as they played out the round.

Well I recently heard about a really good idea for initiative from some young up-and-comer named Mike Mearls called Greyhawk initiative.  This is something that was making the rounds back in 2017 but I just heard about it a couple days ago so its shiny and new to me.   Greyhawk initiative is simply the idea that everyone picks an action and then rolls a different die based on their intended action; e.g. ranged attackers roll a d4, melee attackers a d8, spell casting folks roll a d10, and all other actions roll a d6.  You resolve actions based on lowest to highest.  This is pretty nifty.

This idea is very similar to the action based combat phases in Beacon where action determines battle order, but the big improvement I see is that it is easier to explain and even better it adds variability.  You might get off a spell right away, the archer might get off a shot before the guy downs his healing potion, but he might not.  I am very interested in this and I think its a simpler and more elegant expression of the idea I was trying to get with the phased combat system.

I think I'll take this pretty close to what is laid out in the original article, d4 for ranged attack, d6 for movement, d6 for light weapons, d8 for heavy weapons and d10 for casting and add them when doing two.  I also like how this system allows for advantage/disadvantage in the rolls, that's such a sleek mechanic which I also want to use more in the game.  I'll have to work thorough the details a bit more, but I have that optimistic feeling that this will be pretty cool and I can't wait to try it out.

*My cousins and I used to play a game we called 'Top Secret' which was just a couple lined sheets of paper with a d6 based table for gunshot hit locations and a d6 based table for compass directions.  You would roll for initiative, roll to shoot and roll to dodge and everything else was just lets pretend we are secret agents.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Beacon News

I think I want to put out a new release of Beacon.
Well something like that.

Years ago I was working on a version 7 release that had some minor layout and mechanic fixes but then I got busy and it languished on the vine.  I didn't intent to drop it, but it got set aside and I just didn't pick it back up.   I could say the reason is because I got busy with work, or I was busy with moving, or some other excuse, but those are not really the reasons.  I was still playing lots of games and I still had time to work on the game.  To be honest Beacon had been kind of slowing down even before all that stuff anyway.  I remember I was running a Ashen Stars online game and being obsessed with early reports of Blades in the Dark rules and trying to figure out how to merge these ideas with the Ashen Stars setting.  I think that if I had still been as fired up over Beacon I could have still found time to tinker with it.  I think I didn't finish up the v7 release because I couldn't make it necessary.   There wasn't a solid real problem I could identify that needed fixing, just a general looseness that I was trying to resolve.

I had other games to play too.  When I first started working on Beacon I was simply looking for a d20 game that I wanted to run.  This was during the 4e/pathfinder era and what was out there at that time was just not my style of game, there was so many stat blocks and skill trees and just so many fiddly rules.   I worked on Beacon and read all the wonderful home-brews and OSR blogs it revitalized my interest in in the system.  Then a funny thing happened, D&D 5th edition dropped and it actually wasn't that bad, and at the same time all those OSR inspired games like Adventurer, Conquer, King, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Dungeon Crawl Classics came out as polished books and there was a ton of good stuff to play with and everyone was fired up to try them out.  The final straw I think was that Blades in the Dark arrived like Aphrodite stepping out of the foam.  I really really liked the ideas in Blades and I have to say that running it (via Scum and Villainy) was excellent fun and a real learning experience for me.  In any case suddenly there were too many good games out there I wanted play and to run, and a lot of new ideas I hadn't even thought of.  So I left Beacon alone, it was good enough and there was not really any direction to take it.

So why come back now?  The only good reason really; I want to run it again.

I have been running other games for a while now, and I think that I can step back into playing Beacon with some fresh perspective.  I also have some particular ideas gleaned from the last couple years, specifically from online play.  I think I want to run a game on Roll20 and use an updated version of the Beacon character sheets since I really want Beacon to support that style of play.  For online play my sweet spot seems to be a simple shared display for maps/whiteboard, an integrated dice roller, and very importantly online character sheets.  When I ran Ashen Stars on D20 it was good and I really enjoyed displaying files and marking up maps, however we didn't have the character sheets integrated in the session, and had to use google docs which became somewhat of an impediment.  It worked and it was a very fun game, but I think it would have been better with some additional IT support.  So I would like to revise the existing Beacon Roll20 sheets to remove the integrated dice rollers and add more features for tracking consumables and ideally links to an online rules compendium.  I got a Pro subscription for Roll20 so that I can work on these things.  I also think I would like to run a game in the style of Ben Robbins' West Marches campaign since I believe that Beacon is suited for that style of play.  The original Beacon world maps were directly inspired by the West Marches posts and although I incorporated a lot of those ideas into subsequent games I've run, I haven't actually run a true player driven sandbox style game.  So maybe its time for that.  I also have an idea to leverage Discord for this.

As soon as I thought about running the game I started to get ideas of what changes I wanted to work on.  Lots of ideas, too many ideas really.  I had to clamp down those and remind myself of the core purpose of the game and then the purpose of the update.  I want to focus on a few aspects of the rules to streamline play, but more than that I want to update the presentation and work of assets to support this concept.  A lot of other ideas I had would change the narrative focus, or would take Beacon further from its compatibility with other d20 systems, so I am going to leave those things out.
I thought that this might be a lot easier to get motivated if I had a plan for what I want to put into this version, so here it is:
  1. Incorporate advantage/disadvantage mechanics to streamline most roll modifiers;
  2. Change the horribly named Fabrication skill into a more meaningful Crafting skill and add some additional rules to support this concept;
  3. Work a bit on conditions, fatigue and permanent injury;
  4. Better Focus the game to support the West Marches style play and online play in general;
  5. Possibly finish and release seventh level spells;
  6. In addition to an updated PDF, release the new rules as a Roll20 compendium and update the Roll20 character sheet;
  7. Look into re-implementing combat initiative using an idea Mike Mearles posted for D&D.
  8. Generally clean and polish and tweek the game so it is robust and light.
So since this is the Beacon design blog,  I'm going to do some posts discussing these and other things and hopefully document some play-testing while I'm at it.  So stay tuned.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Hot and fresh post for a new decade

Just like people, I suppose a lot of hibernating blogs get a sentimental poke right around the new year.  Well although I've not posted in a hell of a long time I have checked in now and again.  I've even started some posts on occasion so that people would know I'm out there and still playing games and stuff and I do think about Beacon now and then.

I made the Beacon Blog for the specific purpose of chronicling the design and play of Beacon d20 and so I don't feel its the right place to be posting about other games I'm running/writing/playing or writing about other topics.  I did make some other blogs for other writing and for posting about other games, but since I am not actively working on Beacon, I'm not taking making the time to write in general.  I have still been playing/running games pretty regular and been very busy working and doing the usual things we do to get by.

So why post now?

Someone is playing my game!  I was poking around the Internet and I ran across a blog called Provinto RPG that mentioned they had not only read Beacon but played it a bit, and even seemed to have liked it.  I am certainly very flattered by the review of the system and more flattered by the criticism/house ruling of the weapon system and posting a conversion of an old adventure. It means a lot to have someone read, play and get the system enough to push out elegant additions like this and man oh man converting a module is pure gold.  So thanks Provinto, you certainly made my day.  I'll be reading more of your blog for sure.

I also was trying to catch up on pod casts and hit a cryptic reference to Beacon on Happy Jacks from their 2017 season and it reminded me of days gone by.  Good Ol Stork may not remember the name of the system or anything about it, but he remembers quality.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with Beacon.  I mean I will keep the posts up and keep the rules up there for anyone who is interested in playing it, but will I ever update it again is something I haven't decided.  When I started working on Beacon there was a reaction happening online to the D&D 4e/Pathfinder game style and a lot of OSR blogs out and I had strong interest in getting back to a simple play style but with polish and new ideas.  It was a very successful movement.  Since that time a lot of changes have happened and some really good d20 based systems and material have been published, both independently and from the big guys.  D&D 5e was a solid revision and introduced a lot of really good changes to the franchise and systems like Dungeon Crawl Classics introduced a wealth of material of that style of game. In addition to that there have been so many new games put out, and game systems begging for tinkering with.  Since I started working on Beacon I have run/played campaigns in Gumshoe (Trail of Cthulhu and Ashen Stars), Mutant Year Zero, Dungeon Crawl Classics, D&D5e, Call of Cthulhu 7ed, Forged in the Dark (Scum and Villainy).  I've run one shots of MechaMythender and Fiasco.  I've read a whole pile of amazing work and listened to a lot of great pod casts.  If I was to revisit Beacon I would be bringing a very different measuring tape to the genre.

And yet I still like the simplicity of Beacon and think there's a place for a super simple but comprehensive d20 system.  A number of years ago when I was running Ashen Stars on Roll20 I worked with a guy who helped my put a Beacon character sheet up on on that platform and I thought it was great to have a free and simple option for online play.  I think that Beacon stands up to that idea so maybe it would be good to take another pass at it, add some modern tweaks and polish up some of the rough bits.