Posts tagged ‘game design’

October 18, 2013

Setup Questions for Nonhumans

So, when you’re running a game, you need to spend a bit of time coming up with what elves and dwarves and stuff are like, right? Or you could just let one or more of the players do all that and spend your time doing more important things, like thinking up exciting situations to put the PCs in. So here are some questions you can ask people playing elves and dwarves and children halflings to get them to tell you about their societies.

DWARVES

  • Do all dwarves have beards?
  • Do dwarves have books, or some other kind of writing? How do they make them?
  • How does one build up a good reputation for themselves amongst the dwarves?
  • What dangers do dwarves face, deep down below the earth? How do they deal with them?
  • What do dwarves think of halfling pipeleaf?
  • What does dwarven romance look like?
  • What does family mean to dwarves? What must a dwarf do to be disowned?
  • What is your favourite kind of stone? What does this say about you, compared to other dwarves?
  • What kind of music do dwarves like?
  • What place do oaths have in dwarven society? What happens when someone is branded an oathbreaker?
  • When do dwarves wear masks?
  • When dwarves leave their homes to live amongst humans, what do most of them do? Is there a guild for dwarves? Do humans expect you to all perform the same kind of work for them?
  • Where do dwarves get their wood from?
  • Which animals do dwarves keep in their underground homes? Do they have steeds or cattle, that are praised amongst other races for their ability to live and work underground?
  • Why do dwarves have such a rivalry with elves?
  • Why do dwarves live underground? Are there dangers on the surface, some kind of enemy scouring the earth for dwarves to kill?
  • Why haven’t dwarves poured forth from their halls to conquer the kingdoms of the other races?

ELVES

  • Are elves really as stoic as the other races think, or are there times where they express their emotions more readily?
  • Are musical instruments just as prized by the elves as song is?
  • Can elves really talk to plants? Why do people think they can?
  • Do elves change colour with the seasons, just like the trees do?
  • Do elves ever eat meat or are they strict vegetarians?
  • Do elves only live in forests? Where else do they live?
  • How common is magic among the elves?
  • How long do elves normally live?
  • How well do elves get along with dragons?
  • What are elven naming conventions like? Do you have a secret name, or more than one, even?
  • What do elves think of fire? Do they believe in a god of fire?
  • What happened the last time the elves went to war?
  • Who are the natural enemies of the elves? What creatures do they fear the most? Are these the same things the other races fear?
  • Why are elves so secretive?
  • Why are there so few elves?

HALFLINGS

  • Are there barbarian halflings, living in the wilderness, with no hint of civilized agriculture?
  • Do halflings tend to feel small and uncomfortable in the company of other races? Do you?
  • Halfling lawyers—you opinion?
  • How many songs does a halfling know? Do your people prefer to write their own, or do they borrow whatever songs they like?
  • Is there such a thing as halfling literature? If not, why not? If so, what is it like?
  • What are halflings like after they find religion?
  • What contributions have halflings made to human society?
  • What do halflings think of theatre?
  • What does red hair on a halfling mean? Are there limericks about red-headed halflings?
  • What is the most popular halfling sport? What do you think of it?
  • What kind of reputation do halflings have amongst the other races?
  • What’s the one thing no halfling would be caught dead without, when they go travelling?
  • Why are halflings such good gardeners?
  • Why do halflings love to gamble so much? Is it all halflings or just some?

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Oh, hey, if you want to take a bit of Red Box Vancouver cannon for your own game:
Dwarves all talk like Sean Connery.
Elves talk like surfer Keanu Reeves.
Halflings all have Italian accents.

Last post was this stuff for character classes.

October 17, 2013

Setup Material

Here’s a list of stuff to help GMs run character-driven adventures, arranged by class.
If you’re playing Dungeon World, you can use these bonds instead of the normal ones. If you aren’t, you can use these bonds to create links with other PCs or important NPCs.

BARBARIAN
Bonds

  • __________ does not understand me, or my culture. I will explain myself to them, no matter how long it takes.
  • __________ got me involved in a questionable adventure and I’m having second thoughts about it now.
  • __________ has seen the lands of my home, more recently than me.
  • __________ showed me how to get high.

Questions to Ask

  • Have you brought anyone from your home with you? Who?
  • In what way is your home more beautiful than any other land you have been to?
  • Of all the other people from your homeland, who would you most like to see again and why?
  • What is the most dangerous creature that has stalked the lands of your home? Have you ever defeated one?
  • What is the strangest thing about the lands you live in now?
  • What precious thing does your homeland lack, that these lands you now roam have in abundance?
  • What protects your homeland from invaders (if anything)?
  • When did you discover your appetites?
  • Why can’t ever return to your home?

Situations to Introduce
A portly and venal merchant has come before you to offer you that which you have an appetite for, or a sure-fire way to get it. But this merchant has brought hidden assassins who spring upon you, in full view of the public. Precious spirits are spilled, braziers are dislodged, tapestries catch fire. Who’s ire have you attracted this time?

You stand before the enemy army, ready to fight their champion. But then you see your own side begin to retreat—they plan to leave you hear to fight alone! Why does the commander bear a grudge against you? Who can you call upon from your side to support you? What are the enemy troops fighting for?

BARD
Bonds

  • I told __________ all about performing inside a rich noble’s home and saw the greed in their eyes.
  • __________ helped me make some important contacts. I owe them.
  • __________ is my lover, or was, or would have been, or… it’s complicated.
  • __________ knows I have a secret map.
  • __________ started a fight while I was performing, and payback’s a bitch.
  • __________ would be an excellent subject for a ballad, if only they got into more adventures. So I’ll just help them out with that.

Questions to Ask

  • What are you running from?
  • What’s the best thing about performing for others?
  • Who trained and taught you the arts you know?
  • Why do you travel so much? Would you like to settle down, or no?

Situations to Introduce
Charlatans have been travelling from town to town, selling cursed magical items. You’ve just stumbled across their accounting ledgers, but their guards have just stumbled across you. Have you met them already? What did they think of you before?

For weeks now, you’ve been tracking a band of thieves who have stolen a fantastic artifact that falls right inside your area of expertise. And they’ve just ambushed you. That must mean you’re getting close! Where are you when it happens? What other business did you have here, that’s not related to these thieves?

The Crimson Enchantress has ensorcelled a mob to become violent. Who or what is she trying to provide a distraction for? Who wants you to prevent her plans from coming to fruition?

You’re in the middle of a brawl between the town’s two most powerful gangs. Rumour has it they want to celebrate different festivals on the same day.

CLERIC
Bonds

  • I have intervened with other priests on __________’s behalf before.
  • My deity has marked out __________ as someone important. I must help them fulfill their destiny.
  • __________ has been through hardships that would break me. They can stand against the darkness I see looming over the world.
  • __________ has worked with servants of my deity before.

Questions to Ask

  • Have you ever failed your deity? What did you do to atone?
  • How does your family feel about your calling? Is it a prestigious position, or something that is looked down upon?
  • What did you do before dedicating your life to your deity, if anything?
  • What did you do the last time a rival temple tried to move in on your territory?
  • What social restrictions are placed on the faithful here? How do you feel about this—are they voluntary restrictions, or forced upon you?

Situations to Introduce
Another follower of your deity has been performing miracles. Whispers that she is the “Chosen One” abound, but you know some of those whisperers would like nothing more than to take advantage of her youth and inexperience. Still, you don’t fully trust her. Why?

Demonic influence manifests itself upon the material plane! What’s your relationship to the person acting as conduit? What does your deity have to say about this influence?

The city’s hierophant has asked you to assist in the performance of an important ritual, involving some of the local nobles. Which of your friends and family are in attendance? What’s your history with the hierophant’s temple? Your deity reveals a nefarious plot, unfolding all around you. Which of your deity’s precepts is being violated?

You’re pursuing the kidnappers when they enter the catacombs below the city and a horde of the undead appears to block your passage. Who have they captured and what do they mean to you? What do the rumours you’ve heard say about these catacombs? What else is buried underneath this city?

DRUID
Bonds

  • Me and __________ are tracking the passage of a terrible monster through this land.
  • __________ has fought in defence of my lands before and has my respect.
  • __________ is familiar with the sickness that infects the land, which must be purged.
  • __________ seems suitably impressed by my powers and I just can’t help showing off in front of them.

Questions to Ask

  • Were you always like this, or did something change to make you one with the land?
  • What kinds of people live on or next to your lands, and what problems do they bring?
  • What problem has brought you to leave your lands and venture into unknown territory?
  • Which animal is your favourite? Why?
  • Why does the wealthiest merchant around here welcome you with open arms, every time you show up?

Situations to Introduce
All the animals of the land pass by you, fleeing en mass from the terror that lumbers forward. What do you suspect this mighty monster’s ultimate goal is? What source of magic hereabouts could be powerful enough to draw something so dangerous? Of the people you care about, which ones are closer to it than you are, and why aren’t they fleeing, like the animals are?

The city guards have let you inside the walls, but now they’re demanding the “gate tax,” which you’ve never heard of before and also seems rather exorbitant. At the same time, they just let someone in strange black robes walk right on by them, and you smell something very, very wrong underneath that cloth.

FIGHTER
Bonds

  • Me and __________ were both hired by a boss who turned on us.
  • __________ proved a worthy ally in the last war, even considering that one mistake they made.
  • __________ saw me kill someone important.
  • __________ stood up to me and got away with it. That’s how it is, I guess.

Questions to Ask

  • Do people ask to become your apprentice or squire ever? What do you say to them?
  • Did you join the war willingly, or were you drafted against your will?
  • What did you do the last time someone challenged you to a duel?
  • What happened to all those coins you used to have?
  • What kind of oaths did you swear on the day your old mentor was murdered?
  • Which enemy (or enemies) do you spend the most time fighting against? What do they threaten that you want to preserve?
  • Who wielded your signature weapon before you? Anyone?

Situations to Introduce
Assassins attack you in a crowded marketplace. Why do they want you dead? How did you defeat their leader when last you met them? Do you owe someone, or did you take something that some villain wants for their own?

The festival was in full swing, and then the iron golem appeared, intent on kidnapping shrine maidens and delivering them to the evil warlock who hides inside a local mountain. What did the warlock hire you to do, and why did you have so many misgivings? What will happen if the shrine maidens cannot finish appeasing the local spirits? Which of them do you suspect is actually in league with the warlock?

You stand between the caravan and the bandits. They have some kind of monster with them, intent on seizing some “special” cargo. Why didn’t you kill the bandit leader when you had the chance? Did you know about the risks before you joined the caravan?

PALADIN
Bonds

  • For what they have done, I have sworn to guide and protect __________.
  • I have heard of _________’s exploits and am suitably impressed.
  • __________ gave me food and shelter when I had nothing.
  • __________ obviously doesn’t trust me, and this needs to change.

Questions to Ask

  • Are you dedicated to a particular lord, deity, or social institution? Are you on a personal quest, for yourself? Why or why not?
  • Is there something particular in your past that drives you to fight the good fight? What are you looking to atone for, personally?
  • What do you think about other local authority figures? Are they using their power responsibly, or are they corrupt and venal?
  • What was your first job, and why do they want you back?
  • Why did your family send you away?

Situations to Introduce
The innkeeper’s daughter stumbles back to the inn, clutching her neck, covered in blood. She collapses, dying from a vampire’s bite. Everyone staying at the inn begins to fight. Why did you keep an eye on those fur traders? What is that monk hiding beneath his robes? Why does the nobleman bear a grudge against you? What will you do about the innkeeper’s dying daughter? What will you do about the vampire, still on the loose?

The séance just turned ugly. Which of your dead relatives do you see, standing in the darkness before you? What don’t you want them to say to you? How did the ghost-talker convince you to attend, and what kind of bargain did the two of you agree on? Why is it so important that the baroness doesn’t die during this ritual?

You’re caught in a mob of beggars and vagrants, rioting against the king’s new laws. The mob is surging towards the palace. Where were you trying to get to, originally? You see a team of thieves in the midst of the mob, using strange magic to disguise their activities.

RANGER
Bonds

  • __________ and I took down a great beast once, and paid for it dearly.
  • __________ left me in a pinch when they were supposed to come through for me.
  • __________ once talked me into guiding some halflings on the run through dangerous territory, and never thanked me properly for it.
  • __________ was once my enemy, but we’ve since reconciled.

Questions to Ask

  • What did you lose that now you seek to regain, out here in the wilderness? Who took it from you (if anyone)?
  • What monster lives around here and why do you try to avoid it?
  • What’s the most important thing about this forest, that needs to be protected, at all cost?
  • When the dwarves petition to get their lands back from the king, which side of the argument do you support? What’s your relationship with the dwarves like?
  • Where did you first meet your animal companion?

Situations to Introduce
You can see the orcs, just across the river. They have the ferryman and his family captive, and they’re chopping up his boat. The sheriff is itching to get at them. Did he tell you why? What kind of dealings have you had with these orcs before? If they enact their plan, you would benefit in some way—how?

You’ve been poking around some ruins next to the city of Tyr for a few days now, and right in front of you there’s some traders making a deal with a band of monsters. Where do you know these traders from? Do they know you’re there? How far away is the city they’re headed for (and is it Tyr)?

THIEF
Bonds

  • Me and __________ are the only survivors of a dubious adventure.
  • __________ helped me steal something really valuable from someone who is really dangerous.
  • __________ knows where I stashed some loot.
  • __________ still owes me for some stuff they were supposed to fence for me.

Questions to Ask

  • Are you part of a thieves’ guild? Why or why not?
  • How were you involved with the notorious criminal who just turned up this morning, dead in a ditch?
  • What’s the biggest score you’ve ever taken down?
  • Who’s your competition?
  • Why did you return the last thing you stole?

Situations to Introduce
A friend of yours gives you something to stash for safekeeping—something you’ve been trying to get a hold of for months. What sort of danger is your friend in? What job did you already take on in an effort to raise the money to buy this thing, and how soon do you need to complete the contract?

The room begins to fill with water and the manticore emerges from a secret doorway in the ceiling. What other traps did you find here, that haven’t been triggered yet? What were you hoping to find in this dungeon? What do you regret most about bringing the blacksmith’s only son down here with you?

You find your poison dealer dead at home, apparently by suicide. But there is something suspicious—where have you seen that faint bluish tinge before? Which two books are missing from the house’s library, and why would no one else but you notice their absence?

You’re stuck in the city jail. What did they catch you doing? The guards throw a shopkeeper in with you. From the way they talk, a wealthy merchant has bribed them because he doesn’t want to pay the shopkeep for goods delivered to his manse. A very wealthy merchant…

WIZARD
Bonds

  • __________ and I shared a mystical vision, after drinking the blood of the demon world together.
  • __________ has supplied me with forbidden tomes.
  • __________ once brought me safely through the Haunted Forest.

Questions to Ask

  • A wealthy stranger offered you a fat purse of coins to perform some kind of ritual. Who do you think they were and why did you refuse?
  • How do people treat you usually, when they know you are a wizard?
  • What did you miss out on by studying magic?
  • What magical mystery have you been yearning to solve for years now?
  • What strange vision haunts your dreams, night after night?
  • Who taught you magic, and what kind of terms are you on these days?
  • Why does your mentor want you to collect parts of rare monsters?

Situations to Introduce
An arcane tower has suddenly appeared on a nearby hilltop. The local militia broke through it’s gate only hours before your arrival and have not emerged since. Now the overseer of the Stevedore’s Guild is collecting “taxes” and the children of the town implore you to rescue their fathers from the evil-looking, magical tower. Why did you come to this town in the first place? Who do you know amongst the missing? How much do you owe the stevedores?

Finally, you arrive at the magical centre of the Great Forest, a place of power if ever there was one. But the elves have arrived here, too—hot on the heels of a monster. What can this monster offer you for your aid? Why does the leader of these elves dislike you so much? Why is the Elf Queen so interested in your arcane research?

You’re in someone else’s arcane laboratory. Why aren’t you supposed to be here? What would be most useful to you? Were there any defences you had to overcome to get in here? Who’s with you and why did you bring them?

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Next post is questions about fantasy races.

May 21, 2012

The Metamorphica: A Book of Random Mutation Tables

As promised, the book is finally done!

This is a picture of the cover.

The Metamorphica is a very large system-agnostic collection of random mutation tables, for any table-top role-playing game. The digest-sized PAPERBACK VERSION is available from lulu.com for only US$6.66 plus shipping, but you can download the pdf version for free (either FROM LULU or FROM HERE for less hassle) from DriveThruRPG HERE.

How did this happen? Good question!

I was originally inspired to make this when I started using the old Realm of Chaos mutation tables while I was running old Red Box D&D. We had a lot of fun with mutagenic substances so I decided to make a much larger collection that included mutation ideas from a whole range of other role-playing games. Along the way I added a lot of new ones as well, and when it became too big to be a stapled booklet, I decided to add procedures for creating all sorts of monsters and mutants. And also to make it available as a printed book and not just a pdf.

The Metamorphica is system-agnostic, meaning there aren’t any rules in it per se: no attack bonuses, no hit points, and no task or conflict resolution systems. I intend to use this for more than just D&D, but making the book compatible with such disparate systems as Metamorphosis Alpha, Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World, and Diaspora would make it way too long, and take way too much time. You can just make up rules in play if you need them, that’s what I do. It’s really not that hard.

Art preview!

The Metamorphica was written by Johnstone Metzger and illustrated by Andrew Gillis, Nathan Jones, Johnstone Metzger, and Nathan Orlando Wilson. If you need to get in touch with anyone about this book, Red Box Vancouver (no spaces) has a standard gmail address that will accept your inquiries.

Also? It’s free!

Yes, this is (essentially) a free book. But if you would like to not-so-subtly encourage future products of a similar nature, or just buy me and/or the artists a drink by way of thanks, feel free to donate whatever you feel is appropriate. I will also happily accept pdfs, which you can send to the above-mentioned gmail address (the name of this blog, no spaces).

Or, if you would really like to do me a favour (warning, real-life bummer stuff follows):
I find the violence surrounding coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the economics of the electronics industry that encourage it, particularly concerning. Especially since this book would not have been possible without such electronics. However, I have neither the time nor the expertise to track down and properly vet charitable organizations working to solve this issue. If you know of one, and can make an adequate case as to their accountability and their work in the DRC, please let me know. If you don’t know any charities working in this area specifically, don’t worry about it, just enjoy the book. And if you are unaware of this issue, please look it up, the information is readily available. Thank you.

April 22, 2012

Book Announcement: Random Mutation Tables Collection

So it has been a long time since either cr0m or I updated this blog. But things are still happening!

I have been working on a book of random mutation tables, which is now in the final stages of preparation. The Red Box Vancouver guys always get excited when I pull out the Realms of Chaos books, so I decided to make my own thing that’s got more mutation stuff and none of the stuff I don’t need (because those books are thick and heavy). And since I started doing that, I figured why not just make it a product, too, right? I might as well, so…

It’s called The Metamorphica and it should be ready for public consumption before the end of May. It will be available as a free PDF, or as a print-on demand softcover for I-don’t-know-how-much, but hopefully pretty damn cheap. It’s 160 pages, digest-sized, with the occasional illustration. It’s system-agnostic, so you still have to make up your own rules, but I figure that’s a lot easier for you to do than it is for me.

How does The Metamorphica compare to the mutation tables you already have? It’s basically an amalgamation of every mutation idea in every role-playing book I’ve ever looked at, plus a bunch of my own research. It’s no cut-and-paste job, though, it’s original text and interpretations, even if some of the ideas are old and/or classic.

Here’s the back matter:

From the sorcerous influence of the Gods of Chaos to the ferocious inhabitants of hostile and unexplored planets, from uncontrolled experiments conducted in top secret laboratories to the demonic hordes of Hell, table-top role-playing games the world over teem with monstrous and bizarre creatures. If your game has a need for random mutation tables and procedures for creating all sorts of mutant abominations or unnatural things, whether they are corrupt demons and unique monsters or strange aliens and new superheroes, The Metamorphica is the book for you. As a collection of biological, psychic, and supernatural mutations, all grouped into tables so results can be randomly selected using dice, this book is a system-agnostic resource for campaigns of such diverse genres as dark fantasy, four-colour comic book, post-apocalypse, modern horror, science fiction, transhumanism, and weird high fantasy.

The Metamorphica contains:
Over 650 individual mutations, all with their own descriptions.
Physical and metal mutations, as well as psychic and supernatural powers.
Several different types of mutation-generating tables.
Lengthy random creature tables.
Procedures for using mutations in four different campaign types.
Procedures for creating aliens and demons.
Procedures for creating mutant animals, humans, and plants.

I’ll post again when it’s ready.

November 20, 2011

What I Have Learned from Random Mutation Tables

Here is a lesson I have learned from using random mutation tables in D&D. I normally use the old Realms of Chaos books for mutations, and usually it’s because characters come into contact with a mutagenic substance like warpstone or liquid derived from it.

First, let me define a term: All fiction, including role-playing games are composed of certain elements: characters, setting, props, and situation. Props are things that are important to the story but aren’t characterized, and aren’t just part of the setting. Right? Mostly, I’m ‘a talk about props here.

One of my main joys in being a DM is putting the players into a strange situation, with a whole bunch of moving parts they can interact with, and seeing them invent solutions to their problems that I would never have thought of in a million years. When you introduce a puzzle, the payoff is pretty minimal, because either the players figure out the solution you’ve already devised, or they don’t and there’s failure and disappointment. But when there’s no set solution, you can be surprised and have to improvise. This is one reason why I like random tables as well, and certainly other DMs will agree. I know Tavis Allison has written a post or two about improvising based on random tables.

However, random tables are a means to encourage improvisation on the DM’s side. What I want to discuss here is improv on the players’ side, and one of the key ways to do this is to introduce complicated props.

In a typical D&D game, your average treasure haul will include mostly coins and swords +1. The problem with these is that the only thing coins actually do is buy stuff, and the only thing a weapon or armour +1 does is change the probabilities of your dice rolls. Having a magic weapon or not might make the difference between fighting a certain creature or running away, but it’s a pretty minimal encouragement to creative problem-solving.

Props that Do a Thing

Better is a prop that does a specific thing: A sword that glows when goblins are near, a staff that casts cure light wounds, a sword that bursts into flames. Now you have a prop that does a thing, and the player’s options just increased by one (and a very visible option, too).

Sometimes, doing a thing can put extra work on a DM, though. Take an example from Playing D&D with Pornstars: Snakes are Books. The one disadvantage to this prop is that whenever the players read a snake, they look at the DM and ask “what does it say?” If you don’t have a random table for book subjects, that can be a lot of stuff to think up. There’s a magic spell from Postmodern Magick (the Unknown Armies supplement) that lets you read any book you know of, just by opening any other book. It’s pretty cool, as long as you don’t have to sit there inventing books and texts for hours on end to entertain the players. But if you have some really awesome random book tables (or a really cool library), this is dope.

In essence, though, these are props that create more props. They get your character access to information, which hopefully leads to some sort of action, because the action is where the game is really at. I want to see how the players combine the various props and spells and stuff that they have, and create some sort of plan. Especially when it involves props I introduced, and the players use them in some way that totally surprises me. And a sword +1 is never going to do that. What will? Let’s think of some examples…

Ring of Protection
Your average ring of protection +1 gives you a slightly better armour class. Whoop-de-doo. How about a Ring of the Untouchable? Whoever wears this ring cannot be touched by another living being, or by that beings clothes. This is an effective mosquito repellant, and it protects against viruses and bacteria that are not already infecting the wearer. Other creatures cannot touch the wearer, even if they are wearing metal gauntlets. Natural attacks, such as claws or bite, have no effect. The wearer cannot be pushed around, unless the pusher uses a tool. Weapons still have full effect, even lassos. Whatever the wearer is wearing or carrying is also affected, so it defeats pickpockets as well. The wearer can be touched by the undead, and by demons and other extra-planar entities.

Sword +1, +3 versus Gnocchi
This sword may or may not give a bonus to hit and damage. However, it hates all gnolls and gnomes and anything else whose name begins with a gn-, even Pietro Gnocchi. Anytime it hits one of these creatures, the wielder may immediately make another attack against anything close enough to hit. If the wielder chooses not to make an attack, he must quench the blade’s thirst with his own blood. Even a small amount will do, but he must take 1 point of damage.

Stonecutter
This sword does not actually cut through stone, it’s blade just ignores all non-organic material. It can pass through stone, metal, fabric, dirt etc. as if it were not even there. Stonecutter ignores AC bonuses from metal armour, but not leather, and can attack through doors and walls that are thin enough. Keeping it in a scabbard can be a problem, although the hilt of the sword does not share the properties of the blade. The hilt can be strapped to a belt and will not pass through walls, doors, or armour.

Potion of Mutation
If you drink it, you gain a random mutation! Actually, this is a lot like the snake-books, in that it’s a prop that makes new props. Instead of, say, a book that tells you how to kill trolls, it gives you, say, a third arm which ends in a giant lobster pincer. Good thing I have some random mutation tables!

That was pretty rambly, but I’ve got stuff to do so there it is.

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.

December 30, 2010

Designing Quests

So, I spent the other day discussing some game rules I’m working on that use, more or less, “the list method.” At the same time, I was thinking about using the list method for designing quests in old-school D&D, mostly so that Dalamyr and William Parsnip (and others after them) have some systematized framework in which to pursue their individual quests in our Red Box game and feel like it’s a part of the game and not something we hand-wave (or ignore). And then I read Gregor’s post The Whole World is a Savvyhead’s Workspace, and I thought “yes, that’s right, exactly!”

And so I wrote up the generic list-based quest generator for my old-school D&D game. This is the first draft:

As the DM, you can offer quests and adventure hooks to the players. But you must wait until they tell you what quests they wish to undertake before you tell them what that quest entails. Players do not care about the quests you force on them.

Once the players tell you what quest they wish to undertake, use these lists to tell them what they need to do to accomplish their quest. Pick maybe four or five things on the first list, I guess more if you want a really hard quest, and connect them with “and” or maybe “or.” Then flesh out the details using the four other lists. Don’t pick too many things or the quest will never end.

When you tell the players what it will take to accomplish the quest, don’t keep details hidden, and don’t lie. This is a quest, not a mystery! If they are looking for a hidden lair or a lost treasure, fine, but put all the requirements out in the open, so they know what they have to do. Your job is to get them moving, not to hold them back.

Here’s the first list:

In order to complete your quest…
you need (suitable/specific) information;
you need to find a (suitable/specific) location;
you need to obtain (suitable/specific) equipment, material, and/or supplies;
you need to find a particular item;
you need to find a particular person;
you need to obtain help or assistance from others;
you need to protect yourself from something or someone;
you need to build/fix/figure out something first;
you need to create/set up/establish something first;
it will take days/weeks/months/years of labour.

And here’s the secondary lists:

You need information that…
you can only get at a specific location;
you can only get from a specific person;
you can only obtain by performing (suitable/specific) actions;
will allow you to find something, someone, or some place;
will allow you to use something, someone, or some place;
few people know;
many people know;
may be expensive to obtain;
requires research to obtain.

You need to find a location that…
is suitable for a particular task;
will provide you with a (suitable/specific) product;
you can find a (suitable/specific) person at;
is far away;
is dangerous;
is guarded;
is hard to get to;
is hard to leave;
is hidden;
is unique;
you have never heard of.

You need to find a thing or stuff that…
you can only get from a specific place;
you can only get from a specific person;
you need to perform (suitable/specific) actions in order to obtain;
you need specific skills or knowledge in order to use;
is far away;
is dangerous;
has side-effects;
is guarded;
is kept in a secure location or compartment;
is hard to get rid of;
is hidden;
is unique;
you have never heard of.

You need to find a person…
who can only be found at a specific location;
who is suitable for a particular task;
who will provide you with a (suitable/specific) product;
who has (suitable/specific) equipment, material, and/or supplies;
who has a particular item;
who wants something from you;
who is far away;
who is dangerous;
who is hostile;
who has their own agenda;
who is guarded;
who is hard to get to;
who is hard to get rid of;
who is hidden;
who is unique;
of a rare occupation or disposition;
of a common occupation or disposition;
that few people know;
that many people know;
that you have never heard of.

So, an example:

Dalamyr the 5th-level cleric of Stryxus has already begun rebuilding the abandoned village of Yew. Using these quest-building rules, let’s figure out what he needs to do:

In order to rebuild the village of Yew:
he needs suitable building materials;
he needs to obtain help from settlers (i.e. somebody needs to move in);
he needs to establish law and order;
and it will take months, maybe years, of labour.

Luckily, he has a suitable (and specific) location already, and it has roads connecting it to the surrounding area, so he doesn’t need to build those too.

In our game, he’s already spending most of his dungeoneering loot on supplies and labour. Now I’ve established that he needs to convince people to move in and he needs to get somebody to run the village. Where will he get those people from? I don’t care! That’s up to Dalamyr.

Thank you for reading this far. If you have any suggestions for how to improve these lists, or if you use them in your game, please comment. I want to hear from you. Also, please note that these are supposed to be generic, so that lists tailored to specific locations in the game (and in other games) can use this framework. I’ll be writing more setting-specific lists later.

October 9, 2010

Red Box to d20: Thief

Before we get too far into the Thief let’s talk about Skills, since he’s the only Red Box class that has what is a “modern” conception of skills. Whereas the other classes’ attempts to do things are governed by a variety of rules: the surprise rules covers hiding and sneaking, door opening is covered by the open doors rules, finding pit traps can be covered by the “trap goes off on a 1-2″ rule, and of course there’s Moldvay’s offhand remark about rolling under a stat.

For our d20 conversion, I’m going to use stat checks in lieu of skills, modified by various situational bonuses (ie Elves get a bonus when searching for secret doors, but not when searching for treasure in a pile of garbage).  Thieves are going to work the same way, which means that stats are going to be even more important for Thieves than for any other class. And it also means, given the difficulty of rolling decent stats using Red Box’s 3d6 in order method, that Thieves get completely screwed by this system.

Both seem faithful to the original text. :)

So here are the Thief’s saves, with the Fighter in parentheses:

Death Ray or Poison (Fort) 13 (12)
Magic Wands (Will) 14 (13)
Paralysis or Turn to Stone (Fort) 13 (14)
Dragon Breath (Ref) 16 (15)
Rods, Staves or Spells (Will) 15 (16)

Virtually identical. Fort 13, Ref 16, Will 14.5.

BAB HD  Fort Ref Will
+1  1d8 +2   +0  +0
+1  2d8 +2   +0  +0
+1  3d8 +2   +0  +0

It’s weird to think of the Thief as bad at Ref saves. I’m actually starting to wonder if Dragon Breath maps well to a Reflex save, considering that the Fighter is better at it than a Thief. It makes you wonder: how did the designers imagine the Fighter surviving a blast of fire from a Dragon? Hunkering down behind a shield and gritting his teeth, or diving out of the way? Likely neither–it was a simple calculation of: Fighters are tougher than thieves.

Next let’s have a look at the Thief skills:

Level  Open Locks  F/R Traps  PP   MS   Climb  HS   Hear Noise
1      15%         10%        20%  20%  87%    10%  32%
2      20          15         25   25   88     15   32
3      25          20         30   30   89     20   50

Man, this is a weird class. Thieves are actually not the stealthy, skilled burglars they’re cracked up to be. If anything, they are amazingly nimble climbers and desperate pickpockets who likely live short, brutish lives. I wouldn’t hire these guys for anything except climbing impassable walls and other underground barriers in order to place ropes for the rest of the party.

I’ll give Thieves the following bonuses:

Level  Open Locks  F/R Traps  PP   MS   Climb  HS   Hear Noise
1      +3          +2         +4   +4   +16    +4   +1
2      +4          +3         +5   +5   +17    +5   +3
3      +5          +4         +6   +6   +18    +6   +5

It’s a little weird, I’ll admit it. I’ve made him a worse climber at 1st level, in order that he can get a small bump at 2nd & 3rd. I’m comfortable giving him the same percentages in d20 for Open Lock, because even the simplest lock is a DC 20 in the d20 system. Ditto for Finding and Disabling Traps, which although they are separate skills in d20, don’t need to be here.  Same with Pickpocket (Sleight of Hand in d20).

The Listen skill specifically says a 1st level Rogue using MS to sneak past you is DC 15. The +4 seems reasonable enough. Climbing a typical dungeon wall is DC20, so our +16 is actually a bit low to map to the Basic numbers, but the d20 system isn’t granular enough to do 1% bumps, so I’m going to keep it, if only so we can end up with a number near 89% at 3rd level.

Hide is tricky, so I’m going to use the same reasoning that I used for Move Silently and move on (silently). Hear Noise jumps from 32% to 50% at 3rd level, so I’m going to do what I did with Climb and back into the higher number, giving Thieves a nice +2 bump per level.

So not terribly faithful, but approximate.

This exercise in converting the Red Box classes to some sort of d20 approximation has been interesting. I never realized how underpowered they are compared to their d20 counterparts, never mind the stat bonuses.

I also never realized how concepts like niche protection and class balance were really just hand-waved until 3e D&D. Regardless of how you feel about 3e and later versions, you can’t make the argument that they didn’t at least consider how the classes stacked up with each other. Seeing these classes translated into the d20 “lingua franca”, I really understand why only a masochist would play a Thief. I also see that the Fighter, long held to be the workhorse of the Red Box, is actually really a tough row to hoe.

The other thing this has shown to me is that a d20 conversion would be a lot more faithful if, rather than trying to port Red Box classes over, I’d worked on some brand new, 3 level d20 classes.

I’m not going to continue with the experiment any further, but hopefully someone (other than me) found it interesting.

September 29, 2010

Red Box to d20: Halfling

I haven’t got much enthusiasm for the last two classes, but it feels like we’re on the home stretch, so let’s just power through the Halfling and then take a bit longer with the Thief, because he’s the only class is Basic that has Skills.

The Halfling’s saves are identical to the Dwarf, something I never noticed before–that’s how popular the Halfling is at RBV. One thing I did notice is that the Dwarf/Halfling saves are different in Basic and Expert D&D, which is just strange. I’ve been referring to the expanded charts in Expert so I can see where the first improvement is for a class (ie 4th level for Fighters), and the Dwarf/Halfling saves are significantly better. Here they are side-by-side (Basic/Expert):

Death Ray or Poison 10/8
Magic Wands 11/9
Paralysis or Turn to Stone 12/10
Dragon Breath 13/13
Rods, Staves or Spells 12/14

I’d love to know what the story was here. Did they decide that Dwarves needed more advantages? Is one a misprint? It’s weird. Anyway, I’ve been using the Expert saves until now, so I’ll keep ‘em. The Halfling:

BAB HD Fort Ref Will
+1  1d6 +6  +2  +4
+2  2d6 +6  +2  +4
+3  3d6 +6  +2  +4

This guy has the same xp as a Fighter: 2,000. He can’t use long bows or two-handed swords, so he’s no different than a Dwarf (although the wording is different, talking about weapons that are “cut down” to size). He can’t see in the dark, nor does he have d8 hit dice. But his saves are very good. Seems reasonable so far. What else?

He’s accurate with missile weapons, getting +1 to hit at all times. Call it Point Blank Shot, even though it’s quite a bit better than d20 with the lack of a range restriction. He gets +2 to AC against larger creatures, but I’m not going to mess around with size categories right now, so let’s call it a +2 Dodge bonus.

He gets a 16% bonus to initiative. Call it Improved Initiative, to make up for PBS. Their hiding ability is fearsome. Outdoors, it’s 90% and indoors it’s 33%.

Calculating a hide bonus is a little complicated, because the average adventurer has a 16% chance of hiding–never stated explicitly, but in general that’s the rule of thumb for Basic: when in doubt, roll a 1 on a d6. I’m going to keep DC 15 as the baseline, even though Goblins and Orcs have +2 and +1 to Spot, respectively. Why? I don’t know exactly. It seems like a reasonable compromise to handle the range of DCs the Halfling is likely to face from level 1-3. Adding to the trickiness is that the average d20 PC has a 30% chance of hiding with an unmodified d20 roll vs DC 15.

Probabilities are not my strong suit, so I asked some smarter nerds to weigh in. Here’s what one of them said:

A 15% chance of success corresponds to the smaller part of the area under the normal distribution curve about one standard deviation from mean. A 90% chance of success corresponds to the larger part of the area about 1.3 sd from mean. A 30% chance of success is about 0.5 sd, so I’d just up the halfling to 1.8, which yields a ~96% chance of success when hiding outdoors, and a 50% chance (0 sd) to hide in other conditions.
That’s assuming that skills follow some kind of normal distribution, and that returns on ‘investment’ in the skill tapers off, which is exactly how it doesn’t work in d20.

A 15% chance of success corresponds to the smaller part of the area under the normal distribution curve about one standard deviation from mean. A 90% chance of success corresponds to the larger part of the area about 1.3 sd from mean. A 30% chance of success is about 0.5 sd, so I’d just up the halfling to 1.8, which yields a ~96% chance of success when hiding outdoors, and a 50% chance (0 sd) to hide in other conditions.

That’s assuming that skills follow some kind of normal distribution, and that returns on ‘investment’ in the skill tapers off, which is exactly how it doesn’t work in d20.

The consensus was that +4 to hide indoors and +9 outdoors was a reasonable compromise, given the complexities in translating Basic’s percentile system to the d20 DC system.

So here’s how the abilities shake out:

Weapon Proficiencies: All (except long bows and two-handed swords)
Armor Proficiencies: All
Hide bonus: +4 (+9 outdoors)
Point Blank Shot, Improved Initiative, Dodge (+2 vs Larger than man-sized)

And that’s the Halfling. Next up is the weakest class in Basic, the poor, pitiful Thief.

September 28, 2010

Red Box to d20: Cleric

Next up is the Cleric, a class that I consider to be the best overall class in Basic D&D, despite what I said earlier about the Elf. The Cleric is nearly as good a fighter as the Fighter–he does slightly less damage and his ranged weapons suck–and he’s got the same hit points as an Elf. But instead of 4,000xp, he needs even less than the Fighter: only 1,500. And he can turn undead as well as cast cure light wounds once he makes 2nd level. Even though Elf is the most popular class at Red Box Vancouver, it’s no coincidence that of the three highest level PCs, two are Clerics.

In other words, the next time someone complains about the CoDzilla in 3.5e, tell them it’s part of a long tradition of divine ass-kicking. 

So the Cleric. Here are the saves, with the Fighter and M-U for comparison:
Death Ray or Poison (Fort) 11 (12, 13)
Magic Wands (Will) 12 (13, 14)
Paralysis or Turn to Stone (Fort) 14 (14, 13)
Dragon Breath (Ref) 16 (15, 16)
Rods, Staves or Spells (Will) 15 (16, 15)

These are surprising. Looks like the Cleric has one of the better Fort-type saves in the game ~12.5. Ref is not great, but no worse than the M-U, at 16. And versus magic, the Cleric is decent, ~13.5. Using DC 15 as our baseline:

BAB HD Fort Ref Will Spells
+1 1d6 +2 -1 +1 none
+1 2d6 +2 -1 +1 1 1st
+1 3d6 +2 -1 +1 2 1st

Clerics don’t get spells until they’ve “proven themselves” to their god by leveling.  We can revisit that when we look at spells. They can use all armor and all non-edged weapons (swords and arrows are specifically called out in the text as examples). And they can turn undead.

Armor Proficiency: All
Weapon Proficiency: Simple, Martial (non-edged).
Eschew Materials: Basic has no material components or focuses.

I gave the Cleric Martial weapons because the warhammer, a highly iconic cleric weapon after the mace, is a Martial weapon. That’s something I might change when I give the equipment list the d20 treatment.

As far as turning undead goes, I don’t see any reason why we can’t use the d20 version. It’s close enough to the Basic one, although because Charisma isn’t a prerequisite for the Basic cleric, we’ll use Wisdom as the operative stat.

Saves are still a little weird to me. Being no good at Ref works with the whole “heavily armored priest” archetype, but being better at Will saves than an M-U is strange to me. I think it’s the M-U that is weird, though. There’s an analysis of the Basic classes that shows that they’re all about as powerful as their relative xp costs… except for the M-U which has a very high xp cost to the amount of powers it has. Maybe the M-U saves were nerfed at some point for the same reason?

Next I guess I’ll tackle my two least favorite classes, the barely used Halfling and the nearly useless Thief.

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