Archive for August, 2011

August 25, 2011

An Alternate Reward System for Playing Your Role

For Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, “role-playing” didn’t mean funny voices or acting out your character’s unique personality. It meant playing your role, whether that was cleric, fighter, or magic-user. Role-playing awards might mean re-roll tokens, or an xp bonus, but were not given out for dramatic performances.

With that in mind, here is an alternate reward system for role-playing, with roll bonuses, saving-throw re-rolls, and allows abilities to increase. It fulfills two different goals. The first is that it incentivizes certain class- or role-specific behaviours, by rewarding appropriate actions and making it easier to increase class-elated abilities. The second is that it allows for more player-determined advancement, by allowing players to choose which abilities they will try to increase.

As much as I stand behind the sentiments in the last post, I also like it when characters can improve and overcome their faults, or hone their strengths. And this is a rather simple way of allowing a player to indicate what they find interesting or important about their own character, instead of being locked into a fixed, undeviated improvement path based on class, level, and what spells are found during adventures. Players should be able to make choices about improvements before 9th level, I think.

Each character class has five experiences that help define their role. When you do one of these five actions, mark the circle next to it. Do not mark it again until after you erase it.

You may erase all your marks to get certain bonuses, at any time:
* Erase all your marks to get a bonus to a single roll equal to the number of marks you erased.
* If you have 2 or more marks, erase them all to re-roll a saving throw.
* If you have 3 or more marks, erase them all to attempt to increase one of your favoured abilities.
* If you have 4 or more marks, erase them all to attempt to increase any one ability.

When you attempt to increase an ability, erase all your marks and choose which ability you would like to increase. If you are erasing 3 marks, you may only choose one of the two abilities favoured by your class. If you are erasing 4 or more marks, you may choose any one of your six abilities. Once you have chosen an ability, roll a d20. If you roll equal to or less than the ability’s current rating, it does not increase. But if you roll higher than the ability’s current rating, it increases by 1. Favoured abilities are listed next to the class names, below.

The seven B/X Classes listed out in alphabetical order:

Clerics (Charisma and Wisdom):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you heal or rescue a fallen comrade.
○ When you ignore attacks in order to heal, bless, consecrate, or turn undead.
○ When you survive a battle against the servants of enemy gods.
○ When you tithe half your wealth to your temple (minimum 100gp).

Dwarves (Constitution and Strength):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you donate half your wealth to a Dwarven institution (minimum 100gp).
○ When you find a trap before it is triggered.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you survive a battle where your side was outnumbered.

Elves (Strength and Intelligence):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you rescue a fallen or captured comrade.
○ When you recover magical items, scrolls, or spellbooks from a dungeon.
○ When you spend half your wealth on magical research (minimum 100gp).
○ When you use magic to defeat a superior foe (more hit dice).

Fighters (Dexterity and Strength):
○ When you lead retainers into battle and they all survive.
○ When you rescue a fallen or captured comrade.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle where your side was outnumbered.

Halflings (Constitution and Dexterity):
○ When you ambush a superior foe (more hit dice or greater numbers).
○ When you get to the other side of a lock or blocked passageway.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.

Magic-Users (Constitution and Intelligence):
○ When you cast a spell to directly aid a comrade.
○ When you recover magical items, scrolls, or spellbooks from a dungeon.
○ When you spend half your wealth on magical research (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.
○ When you use magic to defeat a superior foe (more hit dice).

Thieves (Dexterity and Intelligence):
○ When you ambush a superior foe (more hit dice or greater numbers).
○ When you find a trap before it is triggered.
○ When you get to the other side of a lock or blocked passageway.
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.

August 24, 2011

Awesome Characters are Not as Awesome as They Appear

In a post on his blog, Blair made a comment about his character:
“You rolled a crap set of ability scores? So did I for my Red Box Vancouver character, and that PC is one of my favorite characters; deal with it.”
The aforementioned former Colonel Kaffshyth (now the Warlock-Axer General), has the following “crap” stats: Str 9, Int 9, Wis 14, Dex 7, Con 14, Cha 7. That’s a full 18 points lower than your average “4d6 drop the lowest” AD&D or 4e character!

However, in an earlier post, Blair also crowed that while DMing he managed to “Totally beat the living shit out of badass dwarf Gamgar,” who is my character. During that adventure, Gamgar had the following stats: Str 9, Int 6, Wis 10, Dex 10, Con 14, Cha 8. Since then, he has lost an arm and a leg, and now has Dex 6 and Con 12. He is but a third-level dwarf with worse stats than Kaffshyth, and his only magical weapons are a shield that weighs nothing and a sword +1, +3 vs. undead (which proves mostly useless whenever he has to fight ghouls).

People have a tendency to think of characters who do exceptional things as having exceptional abilities. Witness Gygax’s ridiculous interpretation of Conan’s stats. Or the urge to interpret Charisma as physical attractiveness and thus the pervasive presence of females with a score of 18, from the ancient Bone Hill module to the first four issues of the more recent Fight On! magazine. And certainly the urge to play heroic fantasy heroes has created numerous techniques for generating characters with higher stats, and little or nothing in the way of flaws. Stats are a way to communicate information, so naturally, the easiest way to show how exceptional and special a character is, is to give him or her exceptionally high stats. Which neither Gamgar nor Colonel Kaffshyth have.

So why is Gamgar considered a badass? Because of what I tell people, mostly. Gamgar managed to survive his first few adventures by scamming gullible goblins, through a lucky series of reaction rolls, in spite of his low Charisma. As a Dwarf, his saving throw vs. death is a little better than 50%, which came in handy when he fell in a river wearing plate mail, and again when he released a poison cloud of gas from a jewelled skull he attempted to loot. For someone who usually only takes a single retainer into the dungeon with him, if that, he’s been pretty lucky in that department too, even if most of them have died fairly quickly—they at least kept Gamgar from dying! And yet, for all his bad-assery, he hasn’t seen much profit. In a game that says “If no one has reached the 2nd level of experience in three or four adventures, the DM should consider giving more treasure,” Gamgar has managed to survive twenty adventures, but is still only 3rd level. Partly, that’s because, although he doesn’t like to leave his companions behind, he’s not afraid to run away when he has to.

Nor is Gamgar the only bad-ass 3rd level Dwarf in the Black Peaks. Graham’s character Connor had the head of a polar bear and wielded a flaming sword, until his body was stolen by the wizard Zamzomarr. What were his stats? Str 5, Int 13, Wis 4, Dex 4, Con 13, Cha 10. The only bad-ass stat Connor had was his prodigious 22 hit points. Meanwhile, Graham managed to roll two 18s in a row for his latest character (in Dex and Con no less!), whose lowest stat is a 10. Having moved on from the worst stats in RBV history to the best, Graham’s new guy still managed to lose an eye in his first adventure, and almost died of blood loss in his second.

Meanwhile, Dalamyr the Cleric of Wisdom is the most famous character in our campaign. He’s a 5th level Cleric with the following stats: Str 12, Int 9, Wis 14, Dex 9, Con 9, Cha 8. He’s completely average (for 3d6-in-order), only 1 point better than Kaffshyth in total, and yet he’s been on hand for some of the most earth-shattering quests and witnessed some of the strangest events in the Black Peaks. Everybody talks about him and his Doomriders, despite his low Charisma.

As for Blair’s crap-statted Kaffshyth, he’s called the “Warlock-Axer” because he managed to kill a high-level wizard one-on-one. How did he do that? This warlock, suffering from a Light spell cast on his eyes and some hit point damage already, had Charmed Kaffshyth and the two were escaping from the other PCs. After seeing the warlock use Fireball on his companions, Kaffshyth managed to make a (difficult) saving throw, and shook off the Charm. The warlock had the bad luck to run away in the wrong direction, making it easy for Kaffshyth to dispatch him.

The point is, these characters are bad-ass because of the things they have done, a good deal of which have come down to sheer luck. They are not bad-ass because of their stats, and their stats do not reflect their experiences, their successes, or even necessarily the way their players have role-played them. For the most part, stats in Red Box Vancouver have been an obstacle to overcome, not a source of strength. We’ve all had characters with crap stats, and we’ve all dealt with it.

August 17, 2011

Wordle of Algol

world of algol wordle!

Oh! I spammed you.

August 8, 2011

The Epic Histories of Microscope

MIIIIIIIICROOOOOOOSCOOOOPE!!!

For this post I’m going to take a minute to plug somebody else’s work, instead of mine or ours, and that’s the game Microscope, by Ben Robbins. Along with those guys in New York, Ben blogging about his West Marches sandbox D&D campaign was one of the original inspirations for Chris to start Red Box Vancouver, which makes him one of the reasons I play D&D today, and enjoy doing so. Considering how committed Ben is to playing and promoting the West Coast Story Games Style, this is almost ironic. Almost.

Microscope: A Fractal Role-Playing Game of Epic Histories is a game that is, much like old-school D&D, all about the setting. Unlike D&D however, players don’t discover the setting because there’s no DM to reveal it to them. This is a game where you build a setting, much like Universalis or Tony Dowler’s How to Host a Dungeon.

But the settings that you create in Microscope aren’t build around a map, they’re built around a timeline. Where things are in relation to each other isn’t so important as when. You’ve seen those epic histories plotted out for the Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Tékumel, Traveller, Warhammer, and like every cyberpunk game ever made—Microscope turns making those timelines into a game.

At the start of the game, the group of players decides on how this timeline will start and end, and some basic ground rules—like “no furries,” or “this is epic fantasy,” or “all guns are laser guns!” (or that’s the gist of it, the actual details are in the book). Your timeline can be sci-fi, fantasy, cyberpunk, alternate history, alien beings, or an animated cartoon if you want. You could do an alternate history of Marvel Comics even, where instead of gold, silver, and bronze ages, you have classical, psychedelic, post-Kirby, and recession eras, and the only scenes you play out are those that happen in the comics.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once you start, everybody takes turns. On your turn, you can add a new era, somewhere in between the start and end points, or you can add an event to one of the eras (or a scene, once you have events). This event happens sometimes within that era. If you add a new event to an era that already has one or more events, you add it in wherever—or I should say whenever—you want. Before or after events that exist already, it’s all good, and there’s no veto from other players, so as long as you follow the rules established at the beginning, you can create whatever you want.

Once you have events, you can also add a scene, instead of adding a new era or event. A scene goes with a specific event, and if you declare a scene, players have to pick characters and role-play it out! This is where we “zoom in” on our timeline (Ben likes the phrase “drill down”), to pivotal moments, and play out scenes like Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt carving up Europe, or the botched negotiations between the Elven prince and the Dwarven ambassador that lead to centuries of war, or Captain Picard matching wits with Q. You can use scenes to find out why the uplifted orangutangs decided to live underwater, how the first demon was summoned and bound, or what finally convinced the anarchist to throw his bomb at the tsar.

It’s actually slightly more complicated than that, with stuff like a spotlight player who gets to make up more stuff, and some rules for deciding creative conflicts while role-playing scenes, but I’ve given you the basic idea. Once you’ve played for a few hours, you end up with a timeline that looks like this:

This happened at Fabricated Realities in Olympia, Washington.

Since there’s no built-in end-game, you only stop when you feel like it. You can pack up your timeline and continue playing it next week or next month, making it even bigger and bigger. If you like this kind of co-operative world-building exercise, you’ll probably be interested in Microscope. It’s not the only game that does world-building, and it’s not the only game that does timelines (although Jackson’s Hydra isn’t published yet), but it’s the only one that does world-building timelines. And considering how well it does that, it will probably stand alone for quite some time.

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