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.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Summer Update

I'm not positng much but I am running games and am still working on the 7.5 version of the Beacon rules and feel like I'm in the home stretch.  I've felt that before though and soon found out some big issue that needed to be sorted out.  So hopefully I'm in some kind of stretch anyway. The players in my weekly game are at level 7 and starting to use 4th level spells and also needing more complicated monsters and situations to keep things interesting.  The longer we play, the more the rules get tested so its been a much more productive process than I had in the past when I was running short one offs or just thinking about the game.

I'm mostly working on fixing the spells from levels 4-6, some of which I haven't touched since I originally put them in the book.  I did clean up the level 1-3 spells quite a bit, but the have not really worked over the higher level ones.  Some of these spells are not worth the casting cost, others are overpowered.   There are even references to systems and terms that don't exist in the game any longer.  I have decided that I want to do more to 'fix' or pin the spell effects and get rid of effects that get bigger based on caster level.  This is all to make it easier to understand the cost/value when you make the change from slot based to point based magic.  Slot based magic you can have powerful spells limited by per day use or just toss out some special effect as a novelty, but hit point based casting needs to be more balanced vs the cost in player survivability.   If you can cast fireball for 7 points a pop, it does not need to scale with your level, the scaling comes with the additional hit points you get.

The rate of character advancement seems very on point to me and the characters in the weekly game have gone from level 1 to level 7 in about a year of playing, although I am starting to see some issues with the amount of treasure they are accumulating and how much they can spend on equipment and leveling up.  I really need to add more big ticket items to the game since once you have plate mail or a couple hundred gold for transcribing spells there is little else to spend on except leveling up.  Beacon XP requirements to level are pretty simple line plots compared to the class based tables of BX/OSE or the sliding tiers of 5th edition.

My original thought on was two fold; to keep the formula dead simple so you always knew what was needed for the next level, and every level should take a little bit longer to get to than the last one.  I think that gives things a certain gravity and lets players get used to each step up in the game.  I am not sure the effort should be doubling,  but certainly a few more adventures than the last time.  I don't think this is happening even factoring in each level is 1000XP more than the last, its a pretty shallow rise.  Also it seems that by spending treasure and carrying over treasure from the last level, players are leveling up at a constant pace, or even having the level up rate accelerate as they run out of things to spend silver on.  

I've also noticed that I have to be very careful about how much treasure I am giving out even though the amount is already very low compared to most D20 fantasy campaigns.  As an example, in an adventure that took three sessions, the party rescued a bunch of dwarves and were rewarded 10,000sp (split 6 ways) by the King, which would be a laughable amount of treasure in 5th edition or even OSE, even accounting for the comparatively higher value of silver and gold in Beacon.  It would be nice to have some more things to buy and mechanisms to handle players with more inspiring amounts of treasure without breaking the game economy.

One thought on this was instead of spending silver to buy XP, I could separate the level experience point and silver piece requirements so that players would need to have the required 1000XP/level to advance and also spend silver equal to 1000 x their current level.  This would would increase the leveling curve from a 1/2/3/4... to a 2/4/6/8... and it would also make sure players couldn't just buy a level with silver they had lying around.  I like the idea and especially having the PC collect enough coin to level up making it an even bigger deal.   Right now PCs will toss a few coins at their XP like an investment account, or use them to top up after an adventure.  If they had to save up the cash and then drop it all on their next level, then its more memorable.   Narratively it is as if the PC was training and carousing, researching and otherwise spending money on improving their adventuring life.  I also think that having it split this way it would let GMs have two levers to control the leveling speed instead of just one.  You can adjust treasure and encounters to suit the pace you want to keep.

Other than this I am still tinkering with the rogue sneak attacks and trying to sort out how to make combat have interesting choices while streaming the crap out of it where I can.  I don't think anyone is really missing the rolls for damage and the Cinematic Advantage works really well.  I would like to lean into the initiative system so that Rogues and Hunters leverage a maneuver roll for their special attacks.  I like the idea of Rogues using a d6 for sneak attack and having a one round cool down, the choice here when to use this and when to try for Cinematic Advantage seems interesting to me and, more balanced than either making them roll to hide or giving them additional damage every round.  I would like to give the Hunter an option to roll a d10 maneuver which would let them choose between aiming (for automatic advantage), or doing a double shot which would give them double the weapon damage (and use up ammo twice as fast).

I'll try to get all this in to a usable state soon and push out the update this fall.  I did notice that the 2020 Microlite omnibus still has the version 6 rules for Beacon which seem so clunky now compared to what's been changed this last year and a half.  It would be good to get to a point where I would be happy to get them to go with the newer one.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Quick update for May

This is just a short update as I've been pretty bad at keeping the blog updated.  I'm still playtesting, running a weekly and a bi-weekly game, and that is going very well.  Players are creeping up to level 6 in the longest running game and I think that the advancement/experience rate is holding up pretty well.  Having the players run through levels 1-6 in about a year seems like a good pace and it gives time for all of us to feel out each new rise in capability.

The Communication skill is being re-labeled as Communion.  I think that this is a broader term and so it is more suitable as a skill.  Communication already was prime skill for clerics and enchanters and doing the work for things like leadership tasks, praying, noticing details etc. and Communion fits that role a lot better.  So now you are meditating with a magic orb? Communion check.  Trying to keep an angry mob calm - Communion check.  The leopard king is raving and you need to figure out what he wants?  Communion check.  All that and the short form COMM doesn't change, so I consider that a nice bonus.

I'm still tweaking combat actions, especially how maneuvering can give advantage.  For a long while players were taking a lot of time to roll both an attack and a maneuver for every round of combat in order to maximize their attack dice, and this was starting to bog down the game.  I think I cracked it when I heard about Cinematic Advantage which I thought I was doing, but wasn't exactly.  I had players making rolls to maneuver around and use the environment to get advantage yes, but there was no cost to it and so they were spending too much time doing it and it was bogging things down.  Cinematic Advantage is clever because if you fail you get disadvantage, and that's the part I was missing.  My more tactically minded players were ALWAYS trying to get advantage since there was no risk.  This was bogging things down as some players were making 3-4 rolls every round trying to get that extra dice and monopolizing the combats.  When they failed they just got a regular action.  With that risk of disadvantage in place now they seem to be more cautious and use that mechanic less often.  It also immediately made for more exciting fights as players got into trouble more often when they tried to be fancy and instead found themselves down on one knee or surrounded by opponents. 

Last thing I want to mention is adding rituals for Druids.  Since Druids came back into the Divine Magic fold I've been trying to rework their spell list and also sort out how they should manage animal companions which I decided they should get at level 3.  I've decided to make some rituals for them, similar to the cleric rituals.  Level 2 ritual is summon animal companion and the Druid has to go vision quest for while in the wilderness and then gets to roll for a bunny or an ostrich or whatever animal choses them.  Real high rolls and they could get a magic creature or an elemental maybe.  None of this spirit horse comes back from the dead, fits in your pocket crap from 5th edition either, these guys need food and places to sleep and die if they are killed.  Also if you treat them poorly or as cannon fodder then the next vision quest is going to go sour.  I highly recommend tossing karma into that ritual.

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.