Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Mid June Update

Been a little while since the last post, but I'm unrepentant.  The play-tests have been going well and the players seem to be enjoying the game.  They also have flushed out some issues which is fantastic.  I have made corrections in the Roll20 character-sheet and made some additional adjustments to the version 7 draft which I updated and you can get here.

Most of the changes I have been makings are in purple text for now so the play-testers can find them easier, but here's a summary of the bigger things:

Melee weapon damage now includes the full STR bonus and two handed weapons get a +1 to damage.  I changed this from a practicality perspective because calculating half bonus is a pain in the ass and two-handed weapons were probably too powerful compared to one handed ones.  The +1 is good enough I believe.

I put in some conditions for taking various amounts of Stat damage, the system allows you to not use HP and instead take STR damage, and I like that idea since it allows for some decision making trade offs when a character wants to push themselves.  However now that Stat damage heals faster, a lot of players were using their STR as a HP heat sink in fights and then expecting to just heal up in downtime between sessions.  I didn't like this since it makes a HUGE difference for low level characters to soak up damage. So to balance things again I put in some conditions when you take various amounts of STR damage. 

Characters who have taken 2 or more STR damage cannot DASH and can only move once per round or half speed overland. A character taking 4 or more points of STR damage in one round are in Shock until they have had a Rest or proper attention. Characters in Shock are at disadvantage on all rolls. A character having 6 or more points of STR damage are in considerable and debilitating pain. They cannot take any actions unless they make a DC 12 Physical save to overcome the pain.

I have been toying with the idea of making these limits slightly different, perhaps use character level so that the available buffer grows along with HP, but I like this as a test and its a good way to include conditions which is something I wanted to do anyway.

I also formalized the time a little bit and fixed the definitions for turns vs rounds etc.  Some of this is to pave the way for fixing the spell descriptions and to add in a few exploration/resource rules.  Also I added in some rules for the weapon durability and adjusted the critical tables for that.  I like it and its pretty simple to track I believe, we'll see what the players think.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Looking at magic (again)

I have to admit that magic is a bit of a mess.  I've been looking over the spells and see a lot of fixing needed.  Years ago I made a couple passes through the original Microlite and d20 System Resource Document (SRD) spell lists in order to make things work better with HP based casting, but there is still a lot of spells that are either duplicates or sub-par versions of other spells.  There'e also spells that are too weak or powerful for their level/cost, like Fly is the same level as Illusory Script for example.  I don't take all the blame for this since the source material is pretty wonky as well and some of those old D&D spells are unbalanced with some just not great and others are too good.  That approach can work if you have to pick X spells every morning, but not when you can cast any spells you know if you have enough zap left.

In any case a lot of spells have suffered in translation.  I've been whittling away at fixing these again.  I'll give some examples;  Magic Missile is a first level mage spell and so costs 3 points to cast for 5-8 damage, and you have to roll for it.  In game terms this means its about as good as one sword hit but with a HP cost and I can;t see myself using that spell over a dagger if I was playing a mage.  I think it might work better as a level 0 spell costing 1 hp and doing 1d4 damage.  It's more likely to be used at the lower level BUT at the same time its not going to be like 5th edition 'eldritch bolt' kind of laser blast because it does take 1 HP to cast.  A 3rd or 4th level mage is still going to rip a few of these off now I think. 
I'm also looking for spell 'overlaps' to fix, consider the Enchanter spells Stinking Cloud (lvl 3) vs Rainbow Pattern (lvl4).   These are essentially the same thing but Stinking Cloud is probably better mechanically and in line with other 3rd level spells.  However thematically a stinky cloud is more a Druid kind of thing.   I think its probably better to merge these into one spell, like Glitter Cloud and replace the level 4 spell with something more interesting.  I picked up Modify Memory from the SRD which is actually a really nice fit.  I liked the idea of a druid having a stink effect like a skunk so I made a new stinky spell cantrip for them.  There's a lot more tweaks and pokes I've been making as I have been looking through the spell list correcting some of these issues.

I really wish I could get rid of the level 0/cantrip label and just re-number the spell levels 1-7.  That would be a lot more streamlined, but I don't want to do it because I think it would really break a lot of comparability for new Beacon DMs using d20 source material. So I am leaving it as is for now. 

Read Magic

One of the larger changes is I'm considering is to remove Read Magic as a spell.  This spell is so essential to a arcane caster that it should be a class ability.  Who's not going to take Read Magic?  They take it or they won't be able to learn any new spells or use scrolls?  So its a wasted slot in the list.  One benefit to making it a class ability is that you can let other classes do it too, I was thinking of having rogues be able to read magic scrolls at some point or maybe making it something anyone could do with sufficient communication skill or something.  To be clear, not thinking of extending magic use to other classes, just thinking it might be fun letting a non magic character try casting a hella dangerous-scroll.

Spellbooks and Learning Spells

Spell books are needed to keep track of what spells arcane casters have learned.  When casters find new spells they can write them into their books and then those new spells are available to be cast.  So spell books are a way to turn magic into treasure that can be discovered, but also a way to give magic users things to spend treasure on, since they don't buy expensive armour or weapons generally.   It costs magic users time and money to write the spells into their books so this is additional cost to level up vs what a fighter or rogue would need to spend but that's an not necessarily a bad thing.  How else can magic users gain spells?  Presumably by training with a teacher or studying.  Both those options line up with other class training costs and downtime so I don't see a problem there. 

Just from a physical perspective, spell books are hard to manage - how big are they? Can they get wet? Can they be lost or destroyed?  Can they be stashed someplace?  I thought about removing spell books and just abstracting this mechanic, but I think that these are interesting questions that can be handled in game so I'm inclined to keep spell books as they are.

Making potions and scrolls (and magic items):

The other thing I've been pulling my hair out over is players making magical things like potions and scrolls.  I really wanted to have this working since players generally like the idea, hell I like the idea, but part of me just wants to remove this from the game entirely.  The v6 rules have some simple ideas for creating potions and scrolls but its not well balanced and I'm concerned that it puts a huge cost burden on magic users since they are going to be torn between spending cash making potions and scrolls vs. leveling up.  I guess the party could all chip in to make potions or scrolls but that makes it now like buying magic items from a shop with extra steps.

I'm leaning towards dropping this entirely.  There are strange forces out there who can make magic stuff but its not the PCs and that's quite OK by me.   Not having to deal with PCs making these items makes treasure easier, it takes away the problem of balancing magic item creation system against other class spending or trying to figure out why the PCs don't just make dozens of scrolls to get past their HP based spell limits. PCs are there to have adventures, if they wanted to make scrolls or potions they could sit in a tower all day and do that instead, that's a different game.  If you want to run an adventure where players make a magic item you can do it as a one off adventure with all sorts of crazy items to collect and strange challenges to overcome.  Its magic, the rituals might not even work a second time.  I think its all around much better for magic in general to be mysterious and part of the world/campaign and not something codified in the rules.  NPC magic users just don't follow the same rules as PCs and that's OK, in fact its better than OK since it makes them interesting opponents instead of half-assed PCs.  Let those NPCs craft all the goodies and the PCs can find them in dusty old libraries and forgotten tombs.
The only reason I am still considering keeping these things in the game would be to have an excuse for the Crafting skill, and that's kind of a crappy design.  If the Crafting skill needs entirely new mechanics to justify it then its not essential or it isn't balanced with the other skills enough.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The bear and the maiden fair

The second play-test went well and there was much excitement to be had.  There were five players this time, two returning players and three new players.  The new players played an elf cleric and two dwarven brothers, a rogue and a fighter.  The new players arrived in the town (also known as The Town) and immediately met up with two of the veterans from the last session, a druid and a craftsman, who were looking for able bodies to venture back into the wilderness.  The new group set out and spend a lovely morning crossing the river ford and venturing up the old trail towards the hilltop lookout they had marked on their map.  A few miles up the path they spotted some carrion birds in the sky and discovered the bodies of a woodsman pierced with crude spears and the body of a small reptilian biped who appeared to have been the remains of a combat some days past.  After investigating, they continued along the trail and came to the base of the hills where they realized that they had come across the territory of a old One eye, a large grizzly bear.  The rogue slunk ahead to see what they were dealing with but botched his sneak and the bear came chasing after him.   I described the large and powerful bear charging towards them and the party chose to stand their their ground eager for a scrap.

The party landed a good number of blows on the bear and had it flanked so they were getting advantage on their attacks, however when the bear landed a hit it was almost always enough to take out a PC. In 4-5 rounds the bear was badly wounded but there were three characters on the ground. At this point the cleric rushed to aid them so they would not bleed out and die and the brave craftsman engaged with the bear chose to lead it away down the path with yells and taunts. He knew he was outmatched but nevertheless he succeeded in luring the bear away form the clearing and managed to last one more round before being mauled to death. While the enraged bear was chewing on the brave hero, the cleric dragged the three unconscious companions into the nearby bear-cave and pulled down the rocks, dirt and branches blocking off the entrance.  Then she ran as fast as she could back to town.
Artist rendition of the beast.

Once back in the town the cleric looked for someone to help her rescue her friends and found a halfling cleric who agreed to return with her to the bear cave in the morning.  She rested in the inn and regained her HP, and in the morning she led her new companion back and they quietly snuck into the clearing and made their way to the cave, avoiding the wounded bear they could still hear off in the woods.  They carefully made an opening and once inside they sealed it off again and then turned to healing their companions.  The reunited party was still quite hurt and decided to spend the rest of the day in the stinky bear cave. They ate and slept listening as the confused animal clawed at the branches and rocks outside.

The next day they quietly moved the rocks and debris blocking them in and went searching for the wounded bear.  While they had managed to recover most of their HP,  two of them were still badly hurt (-3 STR).  They managed to surprise the wounded bear, and after a short but tense battle they felled the beast.  They skinned the bear and then returned to the trail to find the body of their fallen comrade.  They found his remains and proceeded to bury him by the trail side.  Good words were said and then the party divided up his belongings as is the way of the wilds.  The party continued another mile down the path and finally saw the high bluffs of the lookout spot on their map, however they also saw it was crowned with a old stone fort and there were figures moving around it.  They decided they were not ready for another encounter so soon and so returned to town to prepare for a later return.

This was a good session and everyone seemed to have a good time, even with the beatings and the untimely death.  The consensus was that they realized they had bit off more then they could chew but the eventual victory and the heroics were entertaining anyway.  The initiative system seemed to be well received and again players seemed to get the idea right away.  Some of the players had played long ago using the phased combat and they said they remembered it as confusing, so this was a validation that its better now.  Also the skill system seems to be pretty understandable to new players as they quickly picked up which stat and skill combinations might apply to their actions.  I didn't have any incidents where a player didn't think they would be able to attempt an action e.g. investigate the combat scene, hide in the bushes, track a bear... but they did see quickly that they would be more effective at some actions than others so that is really good in my books.  I flushed out a few more places where the new rules are not documented consistently and will be putting up a 7.1 version of the PDF pretty soon to deal with that.

Good fun and can't wait to play again.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Four Against the North

So the first play-test went pretty well and we managed to get characters rolled up and a quick romp into the woods.  I'm choosing to run the game as a West-Marches style campaign where there is a safe town the adventurers sally froth from and there is the wild wilderness full of all manor of encounters to be met and dealt with.  I expect lots of death and seat of the pants escapes.

Rolling up the characters was fairly fast with more time spent getting the book downloaded then actually making the characters.  The rolling was quick and then some time was spent explaining the classes and races but it went pretty quickly. Then we rolled for staring money and players equipped their characters.  It all went off with little issue, although there was some initial confusion about the skills, especially how crafting would work.  I chalk that up to the word being used so much in video games, but it did bring up a good point related to if crafting could be used to make potions.  

I have highlighted Potions as something I wanted to look into in the next release since up till now they were just the Divine version of scrolls, a way to make temporary magic items from spells, and not too thought out.  I am leaning toward the idea of making potions recipe based instead
The town
of spell based which would be another thing crafting could be useful for.  In the past I've really only used a handful of potions, like healing, invisibility, resistance etc and those don't really map directly to any one spell so treating them like a magic item instead of like a liquid scroll seems like a good move.  I would put a few recipes in the rules, made up of monster and rare plant components as well as having spells cast on them and so forth.  I think that would be good fun.

Anyway once characters were made I dumped them into a wagon heading into town (hehe) and had the driver explain that only crazy people came here to make their fortunes.  He also said that there was a river to the north and everything over that river was the wild lands.  They talked to some local people to find out some basic information and then they headed out.  Pretty quickly they had an encounter with 3 wolves (2 HD d6 AC14) and we got to test the new initiative rules.  I thought they worked pretty well, in the first round the wolves attacked first (D6) and the party did not roll very well I was worried that the wolves might have been too powerful for them.  Next round the wolves went last and the Druid managed to get off an entanglement spell that dropped their AC from 14 to 8 and the others got in a few good licks.  Again the wolves rolled poorly for initiative and the party was able to finish them off.  The last round saw a critical hit and a very solid damage roll so the battle ended on a high note although the party was down quite a few HP.  It was getting late and so they returned to town to recover.

I know that a lot of people will get worried about rolling initiative every round and thnk it takes too long, but I really enjoy the dynamic nature of these combats as fortunes do change and players are reacting to that as opposed to knowing which order they will act in for the whole combat.   The extra benefit of using the Mike Mearles idea of action based initiative was people caught on right away instead of the old phased combat approach which was always a bit hard to explain to players.  I did come across an issue of omission that its not always clear if monsters are using heavy or light weapons in melee attacks and I think that I might just have monsters use their HD as their initiative roll, so the larger, more powerful they are the slower they are to react.  I like the idea of a wolf using a d6 but an Ogre using a d10 for their initiative roll.  I'll have to see how that works in practice.

So all in all a good session, looking forward to more to come.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Half a fence

I was going to make a post that talked about all the OSR blog goodies I have been reading lately, some pretty old stuff but also a lot of new ones.  I was going to do that because I was trying to illustrate what kinds of game play there was and so then illustrate what kinds of game play I wanted to focus on for Beacon.  I realized that there was a huge wall of these and there were so many great blog posts all discussing variations and slight degrees of separation in game play that I was never going to get my point across that way.  There is really a butt-load of good usable material out there if you want to tweak your game in just about any direction.  I really wanted to highlight some ideas on exploration style gaming and resource management and encumbrance.  I was going to point out arguments others had made both for and against how to model systems in play and I wanted to see if leveraging online tools changed some of those arguments.

The Fence
Also I have been building a fence and the thing about building a fence is that you need to finish it before its really useful.  I have three very impatient horses giving me reproachful looks every sunny day that fence isn't done.  The horses don't really care what research I've been doing or the day to day aspects of fence building, they just want to get out there.  I also cut the hell out of my hand last week which slowed me down for a few days and is probably an opportunity for a metaphor but screw that.  I'm pretty close to finishing it now and I think its probably better to just power though and let them play-test it.  If the horses wind up down the road then I'll know what to fix.

That's my polite way of saying I'm not sure about resource management design discussions right now but I do want to see how the new character-sheets work if I have the players keep track of items during play, something that is always hit and miss.  I also have read arguments against things like item durability which I need to try before I go any further with.  I have a group of willing play-testers raring to go and so we will play test and see if I need to come up with some clever rules for encumbrance and breaking weapons and for tracking stuff like food, water, and ammunition.  Also I still need to get that design statement hammered out so it has a bit more specificity than "I want the game to be fun and good".  There's a lot of fun good games out there.

Other than this, what have I actually changed recently?

I changed stat healing.  Beacon has a lot of focus on Stat healing because we have made HP a resource to prevent damage, so actual damage is borne in the bones as it were.  Consequently you need pretty formal rules how to deal with healing actual damage and it needs to be a lot more serious than HP recovery.  It used to be that the more damage you had the longer it took to recover each point.  If you were down -4 STR you needed to rest 4 days to get back to -3 then 3 days to -2 etc.  Years ago when I came up with that I thought this was a good way to make damage seem real and consequential, however in practice it just means more abstract non-play down time.  I changed it to a point per day, which is still pretty consequential, but it is much more in line with a week between adventures rather than multiple weeks or months and its also easier to deal with cases when you have to interrupt the healing halfway through.  The other change I made to offset to this is that you can't double up your healing on multiple stats at the same time.  So if you are down 3 STR and 2 MIND you would need to spend 5 days to recover instead of the previous 6 days it used to take, but its easier to interrupt this mid week.

I also updated spell casting costs.  I put in a rule that if you fail your spell casting roll you loose 1 HP in fatigue.  There was no original rule for this so the implication was you either lost all the points you spent or you lost none, and I would assume players would petition for the none option.  I like the idea of loosing some HP when casting even for a failure, as it reinforces the idea that magic is serious business.  I still really dislike the way magic in 4th and 5th edition D&D has become so mundane that you have wizards zapping away eldritch bolts like Tommy-guns and light spells being cheaper than bringing a lantern.  I thought of making it HP equal to the spell level so flubbing a 4th level spell would cost you 4 HP instead of 9, but that seems too high.  Losing one HP seems like a good starting point, and more if you fumble.  Critical misses still apply and I'll likely be making a pass over the critical tables to adjust for spell costs on failures and successes etc. I've been playing DCC which has some fun spell backfire stuff and I've recently been playing in a game using the 5th ed Hardcore rules and it has a pretty fun magical fumble table, both of these makes my spell fumbles seem a bit dull.   I've decided I want to spice that up a bit.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Going Fishing

Ha ha I have tricked you into thinking that I am taking a day off or some kind of vacation when in fact I am going to tell you I am working even harder to provide you quality Beacon content. When you want to go fishing you need to open a can of worms you see. And so I am telling you in a very roundabout way I have opened a can of worms. And yes this belabored metaphor is showing you a bit too much behind the curtain in my mind. Workin hard folks, workin hard.

I haven't posted every week as I had planned to do this spring, but I have been working on Beacon every week.  The new Beacon character-sheet is up on Roll20 and available for you to use in your online games.  I have also poked and prodded and worked on the new rules quite a bit (a preview is posted on the downloads page).  Its pretty interesting to crack open something from so long ago.  I believe the bulk of the game was written in 2010/11 with smaller changes being made up till 2015 (This reminds me that the 10th anniversary of this blog is coming up in September and I better make sure I get myself a nice present).  Revisiting the rules with that time elapsed really lets me see the problems with the game, not just in the rules but from a presentation perspective as well.  I am finding a lot of little things I want to change, and some I really want to but should not change because they support the design goals.  

Making these work better while retaining the initial intent is an interesting thing.  I've spent way too much time thinking about AC and Dexterity bonuses for example.  I'm also simply finding a lot of things that I want to explain better or to clarify because they were not clear, or were taken for granted.  So I'm reading and revising and re-reading and then thinking a lot about the game.  Its great fun but its taking a bit longer than I anticipated to get the rules revised.

So yes, a part of this exercise is trying to remember and keep the design goals of Beacon in mind because certainly I could re-write the whole thing. There are so many good games out there that do particular things, there needs to be a reason for another one.  There are many types of game play and interesting mechanics that I personally like and the temptation is to throw in the lot, and that is a bad idea.  So I've been thinking lot about the purpose of Beacon and what it should do that other games don't do better.  I have the original statement of purpose from the first blog post:
Beacon is a fantasy RPG designed to be fairly rules light and quick to play but still have enough meat to be satisfying and to be highly compatible with the vast amount of d20 based fantasy supplements available.
I think this is pretty good but it doesn't really tell you what kind of game experience Beacon is or what kind of hunger it satisfies.  I need to add a bit to this mission statement. Working on that bit will make it easier for me to focus on the final bits I'm working on and bring the rule book together I think.  When I imagine playing Beacon I see particular types of games like hex and dungeon crawls, deadly situations with character deaths, and having story arise from logistics as well as situations.  The thing that got me fired up to revisit the Beacon rules was the idea of supporting free online d20 games, but also provide a system for the more gritty, dungeon/hex crawl style of game.  This is coming out in my efforts to design the character-sheet so that it allows easier resource tracking, or streamlining character creation so that new characters can rapidly replace the fallen but still be interesting individuals.  So I know generally what kind of game it should be and have been tailoring the rules to this, but I need to articulate this so the design can reinforce that ideal.

Next I'm going to talk about some good blog posts I've read.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Sneak Peek

Hey all true believers,
I only have a quick update this week, I managed to get the Roll20 Beacon character sheet finished and put the pull request in.  I was told that they had reviewed it and liked it, however I had some minor process changes to make to my submission. That's all sorted out now and they will be pushing it out to production soon hopefully so that's really great.  I'll post again when it is live.  

I also have been working on getting the version .7 rules all done, but I have been making some pretty big layout changes and trying to work on cleaning things up and so I still have a way to go with that.  I did however want all the new goodies to be out there for anyone who wanted to use the new sheets online and so I have posted the work in progress revision up as a PDF and you can check it out on the Get Beacon page.  It contains most of the changes I have talked about doing, and some others I will talk about soon.  It should be fairly usable for your games even thought its not pretty yet.  There are some red text that's under review and also some big blank sections needing content or cleanup.  All in all its coming together.

I also updated the paper character sheet since really the only change there was updating the Fabrication skill.  You can use this new sheet with both the old or the new version no problems.

So things are moving along, I'm pretty excited to get into play testing.