Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Roll20 Sheet updated

The new version of the Roll20 character sheet is up, I pushed the code to github and thought it might take a couple weeks but they pushed it right away and so I haven't had a lot of time to write up a good blog post on the subject.  My idea to publish something on the Beacon Blog weekly is not going to happen and although I am hoping to meet a monthly schedule, honestly I'm pretty happy with the pace of the playtesting and the recent changes to the sheet.  No reason to complain about that.

Beacon Sheet Front page
The new sheet has a bunch of changes.  It looks prettier with a less crowded layout and more colour.  I incorporated the Beacon logo colours into the page headers and the repeating list controls.  I cleaned up the fonts, added a new Notes tab and moved spellboox to the end of the sheet. I put in a minimum and maximum width for the sheet so it doesn't compress or expand and throw off the labeling. 
I added in a lot more fields for notes. I found personally that one or two large text boxes on a roll20 sheet does not work like a paper sheet where you can write little notes everywhere.  Having more smaller boxes lets you organize better and keep smaller bits of info easier to read.  I also put in some boxes for tracking conditions like a sickness or if your character is encumbered.

Aside from those cosmetic type changes I fixed an issue where chainmail was not the right AC and where wearing heavy armour would remove dexterity penalties and not just dexterity bonuses.  I also fixed some of the weapon damage calculations and separated out attack bonuses and damage bonuses so you could model a spear that gives damage bonus but actually have an attack penalty.  This makes customizing weapons much more flexible.  I moved a lot of the weapons and armour detail into expandable sections that players can hide away most of the time, and I added note fields.  I also fixed the maximum range calculations on ranged weapons so they display now.  I also added in a repeating section for companions and henchmen where players can note many common attributes for a hired hand or their apprentice or animal companion.  I also rebranded/recalculated the coin totals to be in silver as well as companion wages.  Beacon is a Silver standard game so that fits better with the theme and reminds everyone to scale down appropriately.

The biggest change was adding encumbrance/inventory system.  The encumbrance system was hard to sort out because it has to be both simple and flexible but also contain a good amount of automation or it will never get used.  The last version of the sheet had a simple spot for players to keep track of their carried load and did the strength calculation for them.  This NEVER got used.  Players just won't use a system that requires even this level of manual bookkeeping and I get that.  Either its just not their thing or they do like to do it but get caught up in something else and then the tally gets messed up over time anyway.  I decided what I would try was to do as much as possible in the sheet, but not sweat the small stuff which resulted in a hybrid system where I automated as much as I could but added in namable 'container' items with a load value that would store all the odds and ends.

Beacon Sheet Inventory Page
What that resulted in was four interworking systems to track encumbrance: consumables, combat, coins and item/containers. Encumbrance for weapons and armour is calculated from equipped types, as are the most common consumables like rations and torches, tracking coin weights was already implemented, and finally these large items/containers would manage everything else.  My view of this is that the more opt-in you automate the more likely the system will get used so having players just focused on keeping track of large items and packs and sacks in a little widget was the perfect level of interaction.  You can always ignore the whole encumbrance system but I'm finding more and more that it powers that exploration vibe I like. 

The weapons and armour opt-in to the encumbrance system by default when you add the item row and you can uncheck them if you need to drop them.  Armour has different encumbrance if its work vs carried and the sheet can track that.  You can add as many items and containers as you like and they have both inventory and note text boxes as well as a checkbox if you decide to drop one somewhere.  The rows of small item trackers have a location field so you can list what container they are in etc.  All in all I think it adds a lot to the game having this in the sheet.

I'm pretty excited to see how this will work in game, it seems like the right handshake between automation and player participation in the system.  Its also a lot prettier than it was before.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Updates for the Character Sheet

I've been thinking of some updates to the Roll20 character sheet and finally got my butt in gear to make the changes. A big part of this Beacon renaissance I've embarked upon is to make Beacon very friendly for online play over Roll20 (for now) and I want to leverage the online sheets for tracking anything a player might want to track for their character.  The new character sheets have been a great facilitator to play so far and so I'm trying to build on that success.  I spend some time cleaning things up and refactoring some of the code from the last couple updates. I made the labels bigger in general and tried to clean up any bugs.  I fixed an issue with level 5 spells not expanding properly and also updated the AC bonus on chainmail.  I did update the page section headers to make them more colourful as well as apply a similar colour scheme to the repeating item buttons.

Updated Combat Page
One bigger addition was to add was a section for companions, be they hired goons, apprentices or animal companions.  Players are using companions a lot and also there is some work I want to do to beef up animal companions for Druids so I like having this on the online sheet and not on a notepad or google docs somewhere. 

I wanted to make it simple and leverage the spellbook idea of tucking away the details when not needed. I inherited some pretty good examples for this code from the original sheet designers so it was pretty simple to add it in.  I originally tried to fit this onto the Inventory page but after seeing how busy that section was getting I added it to the Combat tab.  Hopefully there is enough meat in this section to handle anything a player might want to track about a hireling or their pet owlbear.

Now players have a handy list of their companions and can track their HP and check the box off when they get killed by a norker right on the sheet, but if you click the notes button there is plenty of room for all sorts of inventory and comments.  It will even track how much you owe them.

While doing this I liked having two smaller text boxes instead of the one large textbox the spell section used, so I also updated the spellbook section to split descriptions and notes into two text boxes.

The next change was similar and revolves around the ongoing war I have with encumbrance. I also wanted to automatically calculate encumbrance to make it easier for players to manage, but not to the point of getting down to item weights etc.  I can't see tracking statistics of  every item on the sheet like the 5e sheet does, and I also didn't want to have to have players add the weight of every item by hand because they would never do it.  They didn't even always do the estimated total weight carried in the rules very often.  I settled on a meet in the middle approach.  I want to try using a weight input box on various containers and large items and calculate the totals on that instead.  I figure a player can say I put x in a sack and it weighs 2 or this backpack carries 5 weight.  I also wanted to give the ability to drop things so that when player run or loose something it can stay on the sheet but not be totaled into the encumbrance.

Updated Inventory Page
In order to do this I had to add in containers in the inventory section that could be named and have toggles like armour does.  This would let us easily track if they were being carried or not so I could calculate carried encumbrance.  These containers, like the companions tuck away on the sheet so you don't have to deal with a wall of text.  I also added in the weight of coins and the weights of common consumables like rations.  I think this will enable some easy and fun gameplay around dropping off caches of items while exploring or modeling how a sack of loot could be dropped in a chase scenario.

For backwards compatibility I had to leave the old inventory sections at the bottom.  I would hate to roll out an updated sheet and have Beacon players in the wild loose their items!  These sections are at the bottom of the sheet and don't really take up much room though.  I'm still testing these changes but I think its pretty good chance that this will be pushed up soon.

Happy Beaconing.

Monday, February 1, 2021

2021 resolutions

Last year I resolved to take Beacon out and polish it up a bit.  I think I managed to do that and I'm pretty happy with what I managed to get done.  Initially I was hoping to fix some outstanding things and build the game out a bit for online play.  Over the year I ran two playtesting groups through numerous wilderness and dungeon crawls taking them from level 1 up to around level 4.  I took some notes and get player feedback on what they did and didn't like.  I wound up making a lot more changes than I expected but I think that these changes were pretty good and took the game up a notch.  With the direction I got from this experiment I have a better idea of what works and what does not and for 2021 I want to double down on this direction and really polish the game up.  I'm still running games weekly and I even added a new biweekly group for a short term playtest and I'm hoping to get even more feedback.

There are still a lot of things to do and the main groups are now coming into the middle levels 5-8 which will expose more issues and illuminate more interesting designs to keep play fast and fun.  I got pretty busy at the tail end of 2020 and wasn't able to keep the blog up to date or push out many rules updates in the last couple months.  I do want to keep track of how the design has evolved, so here is a brief synopsis of the some of the things I figured out from the 2020 playtesting:

Character death and HP economy:

There were some character deaths but not a large number.  Initially there was a problem where using STR points to soak damage and low level players had way too much tanking ability - even more than 5e.  This skewed the game difficulty way down.  This was solved by taking out that option and adding condition penalties for loosing too many STR points in one shot.  PCs still have a bigger life buffer than in systems like OSE or Labyrinth Lord but its now more comparable with 5th edition if you consider that systems taking HD and the death saves.  Moving caster emergency spending away from STR and into their primary Stat also cleaned that up a bit.  The feedback I got on this topic was that players liked the way STR damage became the resource governing how long they could continue exploring.

Spell casting:

Players most always don't like the HP spend to cast spells even when its pointed out that Beacon casters get more HP to start and spell use is more available at lower levels than in most OSR systems (not even going to argue about 5th edition's overpowered cantrips).  One of the big positive changes to spells was adding way more skill influence to spell effects and beefing up many spells that work under a Vancian magic system but not when using spell points.  I also removed HP loss when a spell fails (except for fumbles) which I think helped balance things a lot more.  Players requested I lower the cost of transcribing spells from 50gp to 10gp and that seems to have been good move, incentivizing that activity.  Spell casters generally seem to play very conservative on casting and I do want to keep that feeling of magic being risky, although I also want them to take on the additional risk when its warranted.   I believe originally there was a big double dip effect where casters would feel it too risky to burn STR points for emergency spell casting but changing this to use the casters primary Stat I think solves this problem.  Hopefully this bears out, but the players really haven't used this option yet, possibly since so few are playing spell casters.  Aside from this I'm interested in watching and fixing the middle level game for spell casters.  I have a number of players playing clerics but I think I need more play testing of spell casters, especially at these higher levels.  


This is never popular but having players truck 3 suits of armor, 5 swords, 30 days of rations and 15 flasks of oil into the field really does make the game suffer.   In exploration games you need to have resource management to force players to problem solve, take risks and interact with the environment.  I put in a simple tally system to track items and it was not popular even with players who agreed it was desirable.  I think some players are coming around but I need to fine tune this, likely by increasing the base carry amount slightly and adding better tools in the character sheet.  I want to expand the inventory page so that players can label and equip containers and note the weight of items in the containers.  I don't want to totally automate it because it would be near impossible, but I can facilitate it better.

Hirelings, pets and companions:

Some of the players really jumped on this and it did make the game interesting.  The purpose of this is to beef up parties, drain away some coin and to provide interesting logistics.  However players were really leveraging this, some having whole packs of war dogs or hiring 3-4 body guards.  I don't want to discourage this but I did see that limiting it by cost alone wasn't going to work.  I raised prices on hirelings and especially skilled fighters.  I've also decided to link the number of companions a PC can manage to the PCs communication skill.  This I think is a great idea since it beefs up the skill, making it much more desirable, as well as shift the advantage of having larger retune to Clerics, Druids and Enchanters.  Shifting the combat benefits of companions to these classes is good I think.  I can even see developing some spells that might multiply those benefits.   I also saw a lack of support for managing pets and hirelings in the online character sheet and want to add a section to the inventory page for companions and pets.

Using modules and adventures:

Note to my play-testers: here be spoilers.

Its no surprise that found a number of really good resources and adventures in the OSR community.  You certainly could run Beacon in a save the world campaign or in a court intrigue setting, but really its built for gritty fantasy, treasure hunting and exploration type games.  I found it really easy to translate most OSR adventures to Beacon either by just matching up simple monster stats in Beacon or by converting the monsters into ascending AC and beacon HD based initiative and damage on the fly.  I do think that the power level of monsters in Beacon should be closer to 5e than OSE/Labyrinth Lord stats as the players have generally had too easy a time on most monsters.  My favorite resources for Beacon adventuring would have to be the stuff by Michael Prescott, which I find super well done and evocative.  The quality of the stuff he's putting out is humbling.  However for a more complete toolkit I have been using Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze and Forbidden Caverns of Archaia.  I bought the Labyrinth Lord versions of these books as PDF and adjust the monster stat blocks on the fly, but I think that the 5th edition versions of the books may be more suitable to run Beacon games out of the box.  Running these modules had a lot of influence on my standardizing Beacon travel and rest systems around a 4 hour watch as well as how I do random encounters.  They are really really great resources.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

How to Play - Create a character

Creating a character in Beacon is a quick process whether you use the Roll20 character sheet or use paper sheets for tabletop games.  The basics are pretty simple and the same for both online and at table.  The online sheet will summarize many of the starting skills and bonuses for the different races and classes you can choose from, but the character creation section in the rulebook is still essential as it contains more this information in detail and also has some helpful tables for reference.  It also contains all the items and equipment.

Creating a Character:

First roll for your character's core abilities/statistics.
  • Roll and total 3 six sided dice to determine your character's Strength (STR)
    • Strength is important as it effects how much damage you can withstand and gives bonuses for melee combat.
  • Roll and total 3 six sided dice to determine your character's Dexterity (DEX)
    • Dexterity is important as it can make you harder to hit and gives bonuses for missile attacks and challenges requiring accuracy.
  • Roll and total 3 six sided dice to determine your character's Mind (MIND)
    • Mind is important as it is the gives bonuses for arcane magic and intellectual challenges.
  • Roll and total 3 six sided dice to determine your character's Charisma (CHA)
    • Charisma is important as it gives bonuses for divine magic and personality challenges.
Next based on your rolls, examine the class and race modifiers and determine what kind of class and character race you might want to play.  

Its helpful to get an idea of a class and then choose a race that will compliment that class by adding additional points to your starting abilities and skills.  
  • Fighters do well with high STR as they will be able to take and deal more damage.
  • Rogues do well with good DEX score as it is compliments their combat ability and is useful for many skill challenges.
  • Hunters do well with high DEX as it compliments their special combat abilities.
  • Mages and Enchanters do well with a good MIND skill.
  • Clerics and Druids do well with higher CHA.
Skills represent the learning and training your character has, your starting skills come from your character race and the class you choose but you will also get more skills every level.  Skills are used to modify your rolls in challenges and also can be requirements for certain actions  The skills are:
  • Physical
    • Physical skill helps with physical challenges like jumping or climbing.  This skill also determined if you can use heavier weapons and armours.  Good for fighters, clerics and hunters.
  • Subterfuge
    • Subterfuge skill helps with being sneaky, tricky and things like hiding.  Rogues and other sneaky people.
  • Knowledge
    • Knowledge skill helps with research, lore, and similar challenges.  It's also very useful for reading scrolls and impacts many spells.  Important for mages and enchanters but also good for rogues.
  • Communication
    • Communication skill helps with understanding or persuading challenges.  This skill impacts managing your hirelings or companions.  Clerics and druids leverage this but it is helpful for others too.
  • Survival
    • Survival skills are things like tracking, finding resources etc.  The hunter, druid and the rogue benefit most from this skill.
  • Crafting
    • Crafting skills are used to assess, repair or build things.  Higher crafting allows for repairing heavier armour and weapons.  Fighters, mages and rogues will find this useful.
You can also just choose your character race and class based on what you want to play instead of looking for the most optimal choices.  Beacon is designed to be focused on player actions and character progression, and in the longer term the skills you choose and the class benefits will outweigh the initial character bonuses.  Also it can be fun to play a clumsy but clever rogue or a un-personable druid with great physical strength.  Your character will be your in game persona so think about more than just how many points of damage you can do and choose something you will enjoy playing.

Your starting hit points will be the maximum hit die for your character race.  Elves and Halflings start with 6 hp, Humans and Dwarves 8hp, and Beastmen start with 10hp.  Remember fighters get a bonus of 1hp per level.

Once you have chosen a race and class apply the appropriate bonuses and starting skills to your character sheet.  The Roll 20 sheet will calculate many of the class and level bonuses for you, otherwise figure out your starting to hit and damage bonuses etc.

Lastly you need to roll your starting money so you can buy equipment.  Roll 2 six sided dice and that is how many gold coins you start with.   1 gold coin is worth 10 silver pennies and most common goods are priced in silver at the shops.

The most important purchases will be weapons, armour and a little food.  If your using the online sheet your armour class, weapon statistics etc. will be calculated for you as you add them.  Otherwise update your character sheet with your armour class and the weapon information from the rule book.  Don't forget to calculate you encumbrance based on how much you are carrying.

The roll20 character sheet has two modes, play mode and update mode.  The update mode is where you will set your skills and character base stats, choose you race and class and set your hit points.  While play mode is where you will track your current status, your experience points, log weapons and armour and where you will keep your inventory.

update mode

play mode (tabbed)

Creating higher level characters:

To start with a higher level character you do the above as well as add an additional skill point for each level as well as any skills for that class at the desired level.  E.g. a third level fighter would get two skill points to add as they wish as well as 1 additional Physical. 

Roll your race specific hit die (e.g. D6, D8) for each level and add this to your HP total.  Remember again fighters get a bonus of 1hp per level.

Roll 1d6 of additional starting gold coins per level.

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.