Monday, March 25, 2024

An Update

hello world

I am still playing Beacon, I have a weekly game that's been running a number of years now and have had a chance to playtest things quite a bit.  It's not a proper playtest since I'm also trying to keep the players entertained and some rules I would like to change (and test), I have not since it would impact choices they have made.  Its been a great help running a long campaign and the rules are holding up mostly, some creaking as the levels approach double digits and also as the play shifts from delving to more heroic adventures.

I haven't posted much in the last few years but I'm still working things out and exploring the limits of d20 within my preferred styles of play.  I've also been playing and running other games, notably Old School Essentials and Blades in the Dark, both great games.

I think you can play Beacon as it is and it works for long term campaigns.  There is not a lot of support here for adventure material but you should be able to pull most D20 material into your game with a few tweaks.  I think you would be pretty safe with d20 materials for most characters up to 7-8th level but then I think the general power level of the game diverges from the 'baseline' d20s.  I think that's actually good for my personal requirements and I prefer Beacon advancement caps out at level 12. I'm more interested in focusing the game to that older 'OSR' level 1-10ish range than adding more 'oomph' to make Beacon cover those d20's later stages.  With that in mind, I still do need to beef up the rules to smooth out that progression curve and to provide some good spells and game features for the final levels of the game.  My eye now is on those 'domain level' rules, however like all the other changes I want try to thread a needle between detailed accounting and total abstraction.

There are a bunch of things I have changed since the last published update.  I think I will wait a bit before doing another update however, I'd like to finish out this current campaign and do some reflection.  I can say that I want to move the needles even more into the direction of  Old School play and do away with more fiddly mechanics, in particular how the movement/combat actions work and having so many subtypes of shield and armour.  I do want to continue to deflate the combat numbers, in this case on the AC side.  I think it would be much better overall to just have light/medium/heavy armour which would line up with leather/chain/plate but leave some space for custom and magic armors in the betweens.  That's an easy adjustment I think, although updating the roll20 sheets is its own concern.  I would like to know if anyone is using it so I don't disrupt their game(s).  I don't feel there is a lot of value in keeping the old version intact however.

I also want to work out a way to keep the current henchmen/hireling rules but not have it bog down play so much.  In my current game I have about half the players have a companion, and one often has a whole whack of hired men/trained animals.  I like this approach, however it really sidelines the player who only want to play their one PC.  Its a tricky issue because even if you sort out the impact of having some players with way more actions because of their NPC adjuncts, there is still a table focus issue to consider.  Players will want to leverage their many hands and sorting through that means other players do not have as much to do.  Also the problem is that simply so much time is taken up by players with lots of  character 'agents', even if they are doing simple tasks, that the turns and rounds get longer.  As the levels go up there seems to be more expectation of hiring large groups of guards or even small armies.  I want to encourage that but also keep it from impacting table time and stretching out encounters.  I know you can always do custom solutions for this based on your players but I would like to provide some mechanics mitigate or solve this issue and to make this an interesting part of the play. Ideally I would like to include mechanics that reward character choices for this kind of play without forcing it on other the players to stay invested or stretching the time required to manage it.

That's about it till next update. If you play Beacon and/or use the roll20 character sheet let me know, I'm pretty interested in anyone's experiences as I consider what to do to cap this game off.  Its been a really long process working on these rules and a lots changed in that time.  I'll keep plugin away but I'm also interested in other stuff.  There are a ton of great options for this kind of RPG these days but I still find myself coming back to the simplicity of Beacon and am happy to share my experiences with these rules.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Beacon is... a rules-lite fantasy game.

I prefer to spell this as "rules-lite" and not "rules-light" since using lite indicates this is a simpler variation of another object - in this case the standard d20 SRD.  Lite indicates something lacking a substance usually present like salt or fat, or in this case rules.  Rules-lite is tougher to define, it could mean that there are few rules, and some RPGs do go in that direction.  It can also mean that there are a few simple rules that can be applied in a common way across game concepts, and this is more the definition I have applied.  I use it also because Beacon is a derivation of Microlite so there is lineage implied in the term.  The Microlite system was an eye opener as it managed to boil down the basic d20 rules and present them in an incredibly compact way.  By adding skills to emulate most class based abilities a huge amount of class and level rules were condensed into a tiny rules space.  Much of the material I've added to Beacon is based on this one concept as I've tried to extrapolate the whole system out from that base.  

There are now currently a whole set of Microlite variations to emulate different styles of game from Microlite74 which emulates the original D&D, Microlite81 which mimics B/X and even M20 Fifth which tries to emulate 5th edition.  My first D&D was AD&D so that level of complexity is the pinned expectation I have for fantasy gaming.   So its not a surprise that the development of Beacon is my personal attempt to redevelop a level of rules similar in scope to first edition AD&D from the core Microlite rules, but not to mimic AD&D.  Like other Microlite variations I've tried to model a style of play by adding features or modifications to the core system while trying to keep that system consistent.  The main areas of customization in Beacon are:

  • Finding formulas for game mechanics like penalties/bonuses, leveling costs and class abilities instead of relying on charts;
  • Defining race and class abilities as Stat and Skill bonuses with fewer special rules;
  • Simplifying base damage and damage bonuses to prevent monster hp inflation and long combats;
  • dealing with spell effects vs spell casting costs in a point based system.
When 5th edition came out the bar moved slightly since it was a very good game and introduced many good ideas to streamline rules such as the Advantage mechanic.  Adopting the Advantage mechanic allowed for a lot of simplification for situational modifiers that were in the earlier rules.  Other popular modern d20 ideas like inspiration, talents and feats I didn't incorporate since in my opinion they didn't streamline the core rules but rather added additional tangential systems.

Not all the design has been towards simplified core mechanics, in some cases I have actually added complexity where I though it added value.  The removal of level based dice bonuses found in Microlite have been slowly phased out in favor of skill choices in order to add weight to the skill system.  You can see this in how physical skill now determines combat bonuses or in how some spells are more powerful if you have the appropriate skills.  Anytime I can add in interesting choices for player builds while keeping a simple rule I tried to do that.  There are also rules that were added that are more complex than their traditional equivalents, the initiative and morale systems are cases in point.  These systems I've made more complex than typical rules lite mechanics because I wanted to bring some additional tactical choices into the game for combat and also include a type of death spiral for NPC relationships.  Initial versions of Beacon opted for a stage or phase based approach to initiative while the current rules incorporate even more complexity by focusing on PC actions.

The other aspect of rules-lite is determining what you need the rules for.  Some RPG have rules for every situation that might come up, and others barely have more than a pass/fail rule.  There are some really great games available that have super streamlined rules that will let you quickly resolve anything that might come up in an RPG.  I really admire a lot of the rules-lite Old School games for their simplified and interesting take on the game but find that most of them leave out a lot of things I like to see in my games, particularly in the areas of level advancement and spells.  I tried to include rules that  codified aspects of the game so that players can make informed decisions or interesting choices.  I like to have players choose which skill to invest in based on how it will impact their melee combat bonus vs. how it will impact particular spells, or how many companions they can manage at one time.  That adds interest and customization without requiring a whole feat system.  Also I wanted to reinforce some types of game activity over others by including rules for those activities, so I added in rules for encumbrance, travel, exploration and learning spells.

But this leads into the next design statement:

Beacon is..  an Old School fantasy game.

But I will leave that for next time.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Beacon is... a d20 fantasy game.

Beacon was designed to be light and simple while still feeling like D&D and to remain essentially compatible with (in 2010) modern d20 materials.  There are lots of interesting fantasy games, that use other systems or even rebuild classic D&D.  Some use dice pools, point economies or player and GM playbooks.  Tempting as it can be to play with these however, the core design of Beacon is the d20 system.  

Using the standard D20 mechanics you resolve most challenges using a DC or difficulty class.  The DC is assigned by the game master is determined by how hard the described action is vs the method used to attempt it.  A DC of 5 is for simple things, 10 for normal risk, 15 for hard stuff and 20 for really challenging things.  You can even go higher; DCs like 25 or 30 should be used for truly heroic tasks. There are additional rules but unlike older versions of D&D, with their many tables and charts, d20 really does try to standardize challenge resolution on this simple mechanic.  Even combat uses armour class (AC) as a special version of DC with its associated combat modifiers.

The best reason to use d20 is the amount of material that is available for it.  With very little effort you can adjust materials on the fly between sources.  I do remember the days when the most interesting modules were written for fantasy systems MERP or Role Master and converting these on the fly to d20 took some effort.  Years later, when the d20 Open Game License, came out it seemed that this was going to become the standard for a vast library of sourcebooks and games.  Now there are always going to be published materials that need tweaking for your campaign, adjustments to monsters, treasure, spells, the desired tone etc., however I wanted people to be able to use as much of the existing d20 material in Beacon with as little work as possible.

After 12 years has this paid off?

Well yes and no.  Using a simple d20 system has been great for running games and for tweaking rules.  Its a great baseline.  As for using other material, its not come up as much as I expected and to be honest most of the material I personally use for games is scaled and compatible with the older pre-d20 rules and so needs a lot of adjustment anyway.  The d20 materials I have read don't fit the tone I like, although the power levels are closer to Beacon (up to the point where they aren't).

I have had a constant tug of war trying to find that balance to maintain compatibility between the low values often seen in old AD&D style games and the higher values seen in modern D&D.  My preference for campaign materials seems to land in the older material - mostly the pre-d20 or more modern OSR stuff, however I am first to admin that Beacon which has d20 in its core tracks much closer to d20 monster manuals than it does to the old school monster stats I enjoy.  I have a simple monster stat system in the rules, but you can still easily pull 5th edition monsters right into your Beacon game for use at their intended threat level, where say Labyrinth Lord monsters would generally be too low powered and take a bit of adjustment.  I have mostly relied on generating simplified Beacon monster stats based on creature HD; type x number, and then adding special abilities from the source material.

I have many times lamented this and thought about making changes to down-shift this towards the old materials, but it would come at the expense of this initial design statement.  Twelve years ago that seemed like crazy talk to throw away d20 sources, but today with so many niche d20 experiences its not as wild a prospect.  The market keeps changing however, especially with digital VTT products coming out.  To be useful Beacon needs to be usable and so maybe its not so bad a novice GM can drop in their favorite 5e dungeons and monsters while still benefiting from the other streamlined features in Beacon.  As for my preferences, I can always adjust my favorite adventures on the fly.

As I was writing this post, The Alexandrian posted a thing about the difference in skill resolution between different editions of D&D which is a pretty good read and very relevant to this topic.  Beacon ties skills to leveling and already bounds 20 and 1 rolls with a critical hits and fumbles but that bounded accuracy does not apply to rolls outside of combat.  Its possible to roll a natural 20 and succeed a non-combat challenge but roll a 19+3 and fail one.  He does have some good discussion in that article why the different versions feel so different power wise.

The next design choice I want to talk about is related to how these d20 core mechanics are leveraged.

Beacon is... a rules-lite fantasy game.

So that's next time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Beacon is... 12 years old

Where does the time go?  It was September 2010 when I started posting about Beacon.  There have been big stops and starts in that time, but I have been pushing my thoughts for my fantasy heartbreaker RPG out onto these pages for quite some time.  

I'll be the first to admin that this blog is not a very good ambassador for fantasy role playing, or OSR games, or even for Beacon.  I post rarely and when I do its usually a rambling kind of post that references rules and obscure details.  The Beacon blog seems to be more of a navel gaze and not a really a repository of comprehensive ideas.  The purpose of this blog is to represent the game and document the design choices I make.  That said, the most useful thing a general audience will find on this site is the page where you can download the rules and maybe a notification of a new or upcoming update.  I did write a 'sticky' page to help players navigate character generation.  I should do more of that kind of thing.  I find that when I have time to work on the game its generally fixing rules that are not working and trying to do layout changes to the PDF or updates to the Roll20 character sheet.  That's important stuff certainly, but I think it may all be for nothing if I don't occasionally communicate what Beacon is about and why you might want to play it.  

So what the hell is Beacon anyway?

Beacon is my take on the Dungeons and Dragons game by way of D20, Microlite and OSR content.  

I realized I haven't come back to the Beacon mission statement in quite a while. Over two years ago I laid out a bunch of changes I wanted to make to the game, and I've made most of those changes.  Then I went on to make many more changes based on running the game over a longer period of time. Once that rabbit hole was opened I've dived right in and I have been updating and playtesting and re-updating the rules.   I've pushed past the fairly minor tweaks and polish and have been really making a lot of additional changes I didn't foresee.  Part of this is just catching up with ideas in gaming over the last 5-6 years, but there have been some bigger changes as well.  Playtesting has been a real boon and I'm lucky I have some players who are pushing the rules and making me think about the how and why of Beacon vs other systems and/or their expectations of how the rules should work, what works online and what suits the kind of games I like to run.  

I think that the game has been improved tremendously over the years, the last 3 years especially.  In my opinion it is just overall cleaner, simpler, and better designed for the kind of play I want to be doing.  But, as I've alluded to already, my thoughts lately are trying to sort out if its all just a stack of home rules or if Beacon is its own game and following an actual design. Certainly I have an internal idea - more of a feeling - of what rules I want in the game.  I've had many discussions with players on why a rule works a particular way in Beacon as opposed to other d20 systems.  I think I have a design, but I'm not sure I've communicated it out.  Also Beacon has some rules or systems that are clunky or that seem inelegant but have been kept for compatibility with other d20 games and I have done a lot of back and forth over if I should 'fix' these or leave them.  I've had some large back and forth swings on how to deal with some aspects of the game over the years.  For these situations sometimes I need to swoop out and look at the bigger picture of what the game is supposed to be doing.

So what is the mission statement - the design?  What separates Beacon from basic D20 (and the hundreds of other fantasy RPGs)?  

Next post I'll start with the first one:

Beacon is... a d20 fantasy game.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Beacon 7.5

I've updated the current PDF of the Beacon rules, it's the 7.5 draft now.  This version of the rules lines up with the changes I made to the Roll20 character sheet in February.  As always I wanted to fix more things then I had time for and I had to weigh the need to have the new rules available against fixing unfinished items or formatting.  You will see some stuff in red that is under revision along side the stuff in purple which is highlighting new content or changes.  The Pdf isn't as pretty as I'd like, but its usable.

This version of Beacon has a lot of changes and includes new rules or tools that I've been using for some time in my playtesting.  This release is really the 'Skill' release and many changes involve the skill system.  During playtesting I noticed that the power creep was starting to become very noticeable around levels 6 and 7.  I tried to address this by halving the dice bonus from skills.  At the same time I was able to make skills more important in all aspects of the game.  In most cases I am trying to give players choices in how they can progress their character builds by choosing where to put their skill points.  I also had noticed a problem with the way spending coin to add experience points was causing some players to outpace others as well as generally making leveling up too rapid.  Changing the level requirements from instead of "XP plus treasure equals the level target" to "XP and treasure both equal the level target" allows for a lot more treasure in the game in general, and doing this means that I don't need to put any arbitrary limits on how much a player spends on their advancement.

Other important tweaks to the game were reworking the attack bonuses to utilize the physical skill, adding the rogue's ability to have a 'special' skill and changing the hunter environment bonus to apply to any non-combat skill checks instead of just survival rolls.  Any place I could take out a lookup table or special class rule related to a particular skill I tried to do that.  I did wind up making a new class of 'small' weapons which are the same as light weapons but have less encumbrance.  This change primarily serves the character sheet, but is necessary in the game because of the way weapons are abstracted.  I balanced this out somewhat by removing the special rules for two-handed heavy weapons and codifying how bonuses are applied to these (now three) categories of weapon.  Small weapons get no bonus for STR, light weapons get an attack bonus and heavy weapons get an attack and a damage bonus.  I do like having weapon damage being set instead of rolled but at the same time I've added back in some complexity like weapon damage types blunt, slashing and piercing.  Damage types are good fun in combat I think and give reasons for PCs to carry specific weapons again.  

I've removed the monster section for now, I plan on replacing it with more of a 'monster builder' section instead.  I still use the basic idea of 'everything based on hit dice' when running monsters, but I have found that having large monsters always using large dice for initiative does take away from combat.  I still rely heavily on number and type of HD for coming up with monster stats, but I've gravitated toward having monsters with multiple HD types per attack and special abilities which I want to reflect in the rules.

The direction of Beacon for a while has been to abstract many of the game processes while still retaining meaningful resource management to support the expedition style play I want to encourage.  This release finally has the table for making camp while on an expedition, and lifestyle chart for cost of living between adventures.    The goal of these changes was to make the fun bits more fun and the bookkeeping more streamlined.

Finally I am still working on fixing the spells, something that is taking longer than I ever imagined.  I like a lot of the newer spells I've put up which are more quirky and less generic than the original spells I brought over from the d20 SRD.  There are still a lot of spells that are not suited for point spend still, but that number is dropping.  Next release I hope to have most of the spells out of the red and adapted for microlite style magic.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Introducing the Skill Bonus

I wrote this post a while back but got caught up in other things and didn't post it.  Since this I've gone and made a bunch of changes to Beacon and the Roll20 sheet.  Consider this post #1 of the new changes for the next release*.

Skill Bonuses vs Skill Points

I've been doing lots of hemming and hawing over skill points and damage etc.  The basic Microlite mechanic is to add skill and your attribute bonus to your d20 roll and classes are defined by which skill they can use, and which ones they advance in.  Its a great mechanic and gets rid of so many special rules.  Coming up with  simple but robust skill advancement for longer campaigns is what started me writing Beacon.  However as I am playtesting higher level play I am starting to see some issues with Beacon and how it plays.

Playtesting is a big deal, especially when you start to see the trends to the way a game changes as players get more skills and abilities.  Elegant rules at low levels can start to really change as the players progress.

The problem I am seeing is I don't like seeing +10 bonuses to dice rolls before magic or other effects at mid level.  Mid level players getting that much of a dice bonus seems fun to them now, but sets of warning bells in my mind when I extrapolate that trend to the second half of the level ladder.  Given the current rules, its very likely players at the highest levels would be getting +15 or even +20 to their dice rolls at which point so many of the other rules become irrelevant or washed out by that one calculation.  Magic swords need to be +5 or more to make any noticeable difference at that level.  Since armour does not scale to match all those high numbers become wasted unless you start ramping up the opponents.  You can just keep scaling up the monsters, but then you have inflated the numbers to no purpose.

Also I don't like seeing higher damage bonuses flatten out all the differences between weapon types and attribute bonuses.  There is already a problem where clerics and magic users do such low damage in comparison to the martial classes that they cannot participate in combat.  This is by design when the certain classes are doing two or three times the baseline damage of others, but when it becomes 4 or 6 times greater, then its a problem.  The root issue is the core mechanic of adding skill number to the dice roll.  Having such a big component of the bonus come from skills flattens out the dice rolls and either washes out or causes inflation to everything else. 

I tooled around with making it harder to get skills, like one every couple levels or limiting how much a skill could be raised per level etc.  However this just makes it harder to level up, and less fun.  Skill is such a core differentiator to class in the system that it made progression more complex and harder to manage.  You really do need to give a new skill point each level and the classes getting extra additional skill at different levels helps balance and define their progression.  Also I found any time I limited total skill points it caused issues somewhere, either there was not enough of an effect or there was too much effect from the skill, in and I was fiddling around with each case.

I think I have the answer though.  Making the skill BONUS equal to half the skill number.  This is the same as how stats work where every second point gives a point (except skills have no negative mods).  It also has the effect of letting skills operate on two scales, the skill Bonus can be used for die rolls and the skill NUMBER can be used for other things.

This seems to me that it may resolve the issue and a downstream of this change is that I can simplify a lot of other calculates to use skills.  I can change base attack bonuses calculation from a table to use the physical skill bonus.  I can give fighters a damage bonus based on physical as well and also the sneak attack and hunter damage now will be seen to work in a similar manner.  Casters would use knowledge or commune BONUS instead of caster level which makes sense however the spell effects can still use the skill NUMBER.

 It also makes leveling up more interesting since you have to balance long term point gain vs immediate effects and I can also do away with the hard to track level caps on skills.

*Actually a Morale system would be the first change I made to the sheet and the rules, so it should be post #1.  Consider it Bonus Content.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Morale System

I think I have the basics for an pretty simple morale system for Beacon.  I like the idea of morale and especially the idea of  having to coax hired NPCs or companion animals to do dangerous things.  I'd really like to give more mechanical weight to charisma, and also more things or PCs to spend money on that have both narrative and game weight.  I was toying with different ideas but think I've settled on the simplest.  The base 'Morale' score for NPCs, henchmen, pets, etc. is 10 and can be modified plus/minus depending on game events and interactions.  When there is a situation that would call for a morale check then the GM just sets a DC for it and the player most involved makes a d20 roll just like any other check.  Send your war dog up against a bear might be a DC of 12, sending them to fight undead however might be a different story.  The higher their bonus and the more loyal they are, the more likely to pass that morale check.  And the other side as well.

SO pretty simple but what makes it work for me is the idea that this score is constantly tested and changes.  Certain situations should automatically modify morale, just like sanity in a Cthulhu game, so say every time the NPC fails a morale check they get -1 to morale.  If a party member dies the NPCs get -1 to morale from the shock.  Maybe its -2 if its a PC who dies, their confidence falters.  If they are mistreated or have to endure unpleasant treks or long boring waits, that's more -1s.  On the other side if the PCs treat them well, or they have a decisive victory, or if the PCs give them a share of loot then their morale would go up.  It would cap out at -10 (miserable) and +10 (fanatical) just to keep a lid on it, but the trend would be over time adventure situations should whittle away at morale and players will have to take remedial actions to woo back loyalty from long-term hirelings and henchmen.

Oh and I forgot, if an NPC misses 3 morale checks in a row they are done.  They leave, or run away with the players map, or something fun.  This is kind of like the 5th Edition death save except only on the failure end, one success will clear the tally but three strikes in a row and that NPC has had enough.

So now I need to make a table of morale changing events and put it into the rules in along with explanations for how it impacts hiring henchmen etc.  I already have a good idea how this would work with character expenses and have made a table for the lifestyle expenses PCs can choose from while in town.  Having PCs spend coin on keeping up a level of wealth will also sweeten the morale of their hirelings, the rich command more respect.  When PCs return to civilization they can choose how long they stay and what level or wealth they maintain, and this will impact their relations with NPCs as well as determine healing, access to training etc.  The morale modifier and Charisma bonus would be factored in to the starting morale of hirelings, everyone admires the rich man and wants to ride their coattails, but who wants to face danger for a slob in the gutter?

Living Expenses

When not exploring, characters will be in civilized or semi-civilized areas which will require daily expenses.  The lifestyle a PC choses will have an impact on how fast they can recover from their adventures, and also how the local NPCs will react to them.

LifestyleCost/dayDescriptionRecoverySocial ModifierMorale Modifier
Squalid1 spSleeping in stables. Gain HP = levelDisadvantage-2
Poor5 spCheap food, Shared common rooms and common housesGain 1/2 Hit DiceDisadvantage-1
Fair10 spGood food and drink, private accommodation.Gain all HP and 1 STAT pointNone0
Good50 spFine food and drink, clean private accommodation, access to facilitiesGain full HP, 1 STAT point, research and training allowedAdvantage+1
Aristocrat100 spFinest foods and drink, access to facilities, social opportunity, luxury accommodation

Gain full HP, 2 STAT, research and training.  Audience with notables.


I see this as an optional rule and it can be used when its useful and waved when its not interesting.  Maybe you only want to use it for hired hands and not for important NPCs like animal companions or apprentices.  Maybe you want to do the opposite and only track morale for important NPCs.  Or maybe use it for player characters who want to have reasons for interparty conflicts.  I am going to put the morale tracker on the Beacon character sheets primarily for when making more detailed NPCs, however I see no reason it couldn't be used for PCs as well as NPCs.  think it makes a good optional rule since some players might like to have a morale score as well to guide their roleplaying and others would just ignore it.  You could even have some players use it and others not use it in the same game, from a PC side it would just inform play, so the perfect optional rule.