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10Nov/110

PAX 2011 DND Podcasts

Posted by Dennis

In case you missed it and you enjoyed the first DnD podcasts here's the next installment -

PAX 2011 Live D&D Game, Part 1


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9May/110

Blender Update 5/9/2011

Posted by Dennis

I really should change the name of these posts but this at least keeps them all the same.  I could I guess globally swap the name out and I might at some point.

Let's see what's changed...

Modified the damage tracks and recovery methods to further differentiate Physical from Fatigue to Mental damage.   Physical damage, as the most common damage source has two methods of recovery, an immediate 'interupt' action on your part when you get hit with damage (much like Savage World's Soak roll) and then you or someone else can (preferably someone trained in it) can work on the wounds during the downtime between fights.   There are limits, if you attempt a first aid roll and fail, the right most box on the damage track gets an X in it and it requires an extended rest (8 hours, once every 24 hours) before that box can be tried to heal again.

I think that will increase the value of First Aid such that someone in a group really should take it, preferably more than one.   And it allows for lingering damage.   Because the penalties are really kind of low from any of the damage tracks it's not so much the penalties that get you, it's the loss of the length of the track.

Fatigue damage occurs for a few things but typically it's applied from the following, for every two scenes your in without a significant rest (2 hours) you incur one level of fatigue.  If you're not actually in a scene but time is passing in game and you're awake you incur one level of fatigue every 12 hours.  So most people can go about 48 hours before they drop down unconscious from being too tired.   In a setting that allows the Healing power, having Healing used on your incurs a level of Fatigue as Healing is simply revving your body up to regenerate in my system.  The person with the power can spend more power to offset that and block the fatigue buildup or they can elect to take the fatigue on themselves and spare the patient.   I try to have options.

There will be other sample sources for fatigue as well, bad air will incur a fatigue level every X unit of time depending on how bad it is, some poisons might cause Fatigue as well extreme labor, and it's possible to 'push your run' to move faster for a turn and pick up a level of fatigue that way among others.

Fatigue is recovered one step by 2 hours of rest and doesn't require any rolls, it's just automatic.  So a full night's rest will refresh and revitalize anyone.   It's my systems answer to Healing Surges from 4th Edition, a way to regulate an adventurer's work day.  It helps to avoid the 5 minute work day and the 5 day workday.

Mental damage, as the rarest form of damage (in most settings) is a lot like Physical damage in most respects except for the recovery time.  There is a way to mitigate mental damage as it happens and characters have mental damage resistance and mental evasion.   The biggest way they differ is that you can only recover mental damage after an extended rest, not a short one.   And if you fail the recovery then you get an X in a box that lasts for a week before it can be recovered again.

The mental damage is primarily of use for horror settings, Cthulhu, Zombie Apocalypse, adventures and settings where the characters are subjected to all kinds of mind breaking sights and encounters.

Because of the way the system works in such systems it's quite likely that a character will go insane so it's a lot more 'pure mythos' than survivable.

It's possible to buy knacks that offset the penalties that can accrue from the damage tracks as well boost your ability to better mitigate the damage when it occurs and even extend one or more tracks with an extra buffer step.    And the inverse, to take a character flaw that makes you weaker in one area, removes a buffers step of your track, makes it harder to mitigate the damage or increases the penalties you suffer.   It's all about being able to build a character as close to your concept as possible.

So that covers the current way to track character damage.   Each track is the same length, six boxes, well 5 since the first box is implied as it means you're at full.  The last box means you're incapacitation in some fashion and out of play.

I'm currently working on a sample adventure that incorporates the Extended Skill system, combat encounters with Extras alone and Extra's + Villainous Stars.  It's set in the 1930's Egypt and will include horror elements to show mental damage and periods of work that will show the buildup of Fatigue.

Unfortunately due to my adventure concept I have to essentially write two adventures since it can divert pretty much right at the start into two paths but that's okay, I like that kind of thing.

I'm toying with the idea of trying to playtest online with random folks using Maptools to do the map and some VoiP conferencing system to put everyone in voice communication.  Since I don't see the sample adventure taking too long I think it would be possible to keep everyone entertained for the duration, and the system is hopefully fast enough that player downtime won't be too burdensome.   Like most, I've found the more downtime between your turn, the much more likely you are to be disengaged.

Game systems where individual rounds take forever (relatively) find players not paying attention to what's going on when it's not there turn.  In great part that's why I turned to Savage Worlds after a long 4th Edition DnD campaign in an effort to keep players engaged in what's going on.  And disengaged players just exacerbate the problem since it takes them longer to get bakc in the game when it is their turn and that just causes more downtime for everyone so everyone disengages even more.  It's a vicious cycle.

And in full part why I decided to write my own game system in an effort to keep that same speed of play, just with my own take on balance, options and mechanics.

28Mar/110

Blender Update 3/28/2011

Posted by Dennis

Not much to report lately but I'll offer what I've got.  Work has been kicking my ass along with doing things around the house that I just haven't had the time to do much.

But with that said, I'm going to be adding in a Dodgy Bastard Knack that can be bought by a character.   My thought is to allow them to take a hit on their next turn to increase their Evasion score this turn.  It'll go something like this for play testing -

Dodgy Bastard - Before an attack is made against you, you may choose to dodge out of the way and gain a +2 Evasion against this one attack and are Off Balance until the start of your next turn. (Off Balance is a standard -2 Evasion penalty)

I've cleaned up my States section and currently employ Dazed, Off Balance, Slowed and Immobilized.  Dazed = no actions, Off Balance is the -2 Evasion penalty, Slowed reduces your speed to 2 and Immobilized means you cannot take any actions that require rolls based on Brawn or Grace.   I want to strike a balance between no states and Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition's ginormous amount of states which while they add verisimilitude are incredibly unwieldy in game play at times.

I also really don't want any lingering states that have to be kept track of if I can help it.  The most you can be dazed for instance is one turn and that's if you fail your undazing check.  So fail = lose one turn, succeed = suffer a penalty on this turn, suceed well and get your full turn.   No getting stuck losing actions turn after turn because you rolled crappy and not getting to play.   It's awesome when a party of players stun locks a boss (or is it? Really?) and they put a beat down on it and it never gets to do anything.  It's not so awesome when it happens to a player.   And I'm going to fall down on removing not so awesome issues where I can.

The exception is Immobilized from the Crowd Control power which does linger as long as you don't break free and the power user keeps the power going on you.

In addition to hammering that stuff out I wrote the Animate Object spell which will be used for everything from summoning skeletons to making tables walk to dancing swords.   To counter the potential power of such a thing I think I've got it limited in such a fashion that it's useful but not overshadowing.  Time will tell.

And I've created a first draft of a character sheet, I don't have it with me or I'd post it, it's blah like all my character sheets are, I design for usability not graphic splendor.  I have trouble reading character sheets filled with backgrounds, stains, rips textured boxes, white text in black boxes, with tiny fonts.   Ergo I don't do that.

Animate Object -Rank: 2

Range: Thrown

Power Cost: 2 per object

Duration: Persistent (Scene)

Pool Drain: 2 per object

Special FX: Dancing sword, walking table, raising skeletons or corpses.

Targets: NA

Description:  This power allows the power user to animate items and control them for the purposes of attacking.  The animated objects attack on the power users turn and each attack costs the power user an action.

The animated objects enter the scene on the power users next turn and are the equivalent of Extra’s.  They have a base Evasion of 13 and a Damage Resistance of 4.  Any damaging attack will destroy them.  The objects deal damage like an improvised weapon or 2d6 non-exploding.

Enhancements:

Spend an power point per object to increase their Evasion and Damage Resistance by 1 and modify the damage to allow for exploding dice for one additional point total.   This does not count against pool drain costs.

Special:  This power requires that appropriate objects be within range per the special fx of the power to function. The objects must remain with line of sight to the power user or they stand idle.  They must remain within range or the effect is lost.  The pool drain is released per object as it is destroyed or released by the power user.

15Feb/110

Blender Update 2/15/2011

Posted by Dennis

The biggest thing is possibly that I'm thinking of changing the name to Lights, Camera, Action!  - The Gaming System to stress the more 'action movie' feel the system is going for.   As an example I'm stressing limited use of pointless encounters.

Sure they make sense sometimes, specifically perhaps for a dungeon crawl type play session but for a more memorable session I believe that encounters should have a point.  They should provide information or a memorable boss or scenery or some item that's relevant to the storyline.  They should rarely be 'trash mobs' or a grind.

It's a personal design philosphy that really set in with the advent of Dungeons and Dragon's 4th Edition.  Cool combat but it's combat that by design takes a while to accomplish.  Spending that time on encounters that mean nothing quickly became a waste of limited play time.

You don't really have a lot of pointless scenes in good movies, each scene generally has a purpose, whether it's just action for action's sake or to further the story or allow for character development or build or relieve tension etc.

And that's what I'm looking for.  The highlight reel version of adventuring.  The days of running campaigns that lasted 2 years with 6-8 sessions a month that run 5 - 12 hours?  Long gone.   Life has a way of doing that to you.  The broader you live the less you get to do any given thing.

Currently I'm bouncing around as ideas hit me among the chapters of the manual or  doing the grunt work. For instance I finally chewed through the miscellaneous modifiers for attacks at range, specifically, Cover, Lighting and Obscurement and the first run on the penalties and how the mechanics works.   Lighting and Obscurement are pretty easy, if it's dark out and there's a blizzard you don't hvae a chance in hell of seeing much less hitting something beyond arms length.

Cover though took a little bit of time and I'm not sure if I really like it yet but essentially there are two types of cover, Resistant and Non-Resistant.  It's broken up into the typical 4 types, 25, 50,75, 100 percent cover with each applying an increasing penalty and with 100% cover requiring a perception roll to have any chance at all.   The attacker can at their option choose a one step better cover modifer but this grants the target additional damage resistance.  It's my first thought on granting some bonus to both sides to simulate shooting through the cover.  The attacker can choose to shoot through the wall to get at the target rather than trying to pop off the exposed bits but if he does the wall gives a bit of boost to the target's ability to mitigate damage.

With resistant cover the attacker doesn't get that option unless they have a heavy rated weapon.  With a normal weapon they can only shoot the exposed bits.

Realistic?  Not terribly I suppose but I really didn't want to get bogged down into looking up charts to see just how tough this or that material might be.   This is quick enough to me and provides an additional option for the players that it seems workable.  We'll see once we go to playtesting.

I'm also working on Character Flaws and Traits.  Traits are very similar to the Aspect system of Spirit of the Century and Strands of Fate, they have role-playing value but no mechanical value.  When a player builds a character they have to choose two mostly good and two mostly not-good defining Traits of their character.  The player and moderator can both bring these into play with limiations on number of times and the players earn additional Plot Devices aka fate chips, bennies, luck tokens, they've been used under a lot of names.

Flaws on the other hand are direct mechanical penalties to a character.  I'm not putting in any Flaws (aka dis-ads, hindrances, limitations, etc) that don't have a direct mechanic game impact.  What I've often seen is that players take flaws that don't have any math and then those flaws rarely come into play, an issue with both the players and moderators for not doing it of course, it's not one sided.  For example in some systems there are Flaws like Curious or Aggressive which have no direct impact on game play but are intended to dictate roleplaying.  And if you're going to get something for taking a Flaw (like additional character building points which have a direct mechanical impact) then the FLaw should have the same game impact.

Right now I'm also not doing minor/serious Flaws, they're all equally valuable or un-valuable I guess would be the better term.  Granted with many it's hard to really know if they're balanced since they can have limited opportunity to come up but I'll shoot for what I think is balanced and then adjust as necessary over game play.

My current list of Flaws includes -

Gullible, Trick Knee, Bad Vision, Socket Wrench, Weak Willed, Clumsy, Weak Back, Slow Thinker, Wanted Man, Frail, Doomed To Failure, Bad Karma, Pain Sensitivity, Milquetoast, Queer Duck, Sickly, Berserker, Bloodthirsty, Slow Learner, Telegraphic, Epileptic, Obese, Hind Brain, Slow Healer, Overpowered, Vulnerable,  One Armed Man, Crippled Hand, Folds Like A Cheap Suit

It's a work in progress though as I come up with more flaws that are unique enough to add to the others.

An iffy one is Wanted Man which I may flip over to an example Trait.  Right now it's intended to cause a game impact at least once every session or two but again dis-ads like Hunted or Wanted tend to be pointless since the moderator seldom enforces them and if they do it has to happen within the current storyline.

30Jan/110

Castle Ravenloft and Kids

Posted by Dennis

Over this last weekend we, my boys and I, played Castle Ravenloft the Boardgame.  I have one son about to be 9 and 2 sons that just turned 7.

We played the introductory mission as a group, the 'find the stairs and escape out of the dungeons' one.

With a Fighter, Rogue, Ranger and Cleric we beat it handily having to only spend one surge.  We were able to use the Teleport scroll to get three of us to the exit that the third son found for us saving us some escape time.  [Per Ian: Tell them that I found the stairs.]

I didn't find any problems with playing the game with younger children.  I will be honest and say that my sons have been reading for years, they come by it honestly, I was reading chapter books by age 3 and have read tends of thousands of books in my lifetime so far.  My wife is also a strong reader and from a very early age we read to them and along with them.

I mention this because for a young player to be able to fully participate they do need to be able to read the various power, character, treasure and monster cards even if the adult handles general comprehension, encounters and the like.

From a gaming perspective, while the boys didn't make all the very best decisions, the process of making decisions can't help but be a good thing for them. Once three of us were stuck on a tile with a gargoyle (AOE attack that hit everyone and even on a miss did damage) that only had 1 hit point, the ranger decided to try and save his brother a tile away with a bow shot rather than use his Careful Attack which does 1 damage automatically to a monster on the same tile that would have killed the gargoyle and saved us all from certain damage.  That subjected three people to guarenteed damage on the chance that he could prevent damage to one person.   Not the wisest decision certainly in terms of efficiency but IMO you have to let them make those kinds of decisions or you might as well play by yourself.

The boys enjoyed it even when halfway through things were looking grim as hit points were being slowly but surely bled off.  A little encouragment, "Don't worry, I got your back, I have a healing spell" kept things moving along at a good clip. I took the cleric for precisely that reason.  As a backstop and safety net.

One thing I found interesting is they were very able to divest each other's rolling dice for their 'own' monsters, the ones under their control, from it actually being a direct attack on each other.  So it wasn't "Ian why did you hit me with that?!", it was "Oh man, that kobold got me!" even if it was Ian rolling the dice.

And the three of us slipping away from several monsters chasing us after we found the exit [Per Ian: After I found the exit.] was a high five all around.

These types of games encourage creative thinking, tactics, strategy, cause and effect, resource management, the benefits to a growing mind are pretty wide spread.

I will say that more involved scenarios might pose a greater problem when playing with younger players and I certainly wouldn't advise you to let them play unmoderated as a general rule, there are wordings and the like that just arent' that clear without a little more experienced intellect to go over them.

Some advice on alternative scenarios is the obvious, first one escape the dungeon but some other simple ones would be to take one of the crypt or other unique cards and using the typical randomly somewhere between 9 and 14 tiles deep placement have it spawn a a specific bad boss or maybe simply a duo or trio of monsters, a kobold and two wolf pets or three zombies or two gargoyles, you get the picture.  Or instead of an Assassinate Question, make it a Fed-Ex quest and they find an item in that tile but when they enter the tile spawn a monster on every tile with an unexplored edge and they have to get out of the dungeon alive with the item.  Ravenloft really supports a little creative thinking for dungeon crawls to keep it fresh.   And as always check various community sites, there is a ass load of extremely good (and bad) custom content for the game.

Granted you could play with even younger children but I really think the ability to work out what their cards say is a rather important factor in determining if their attention span is suited for the game.

But if your kids can read and you have Castle Ravenloft then consider letting them help you escape the dungeon every once in a while.

25Jan/110

Game Math Part 6

Posted by Dennis

Work has continued on my game math and things are still looking 'okay' for the most part.  I just realized on the drive to work this morning though that I don't have any mechanism to reward good strength stats in melee.  With fixed damages for the sake of the math and balance, it's going to be a bit tricky perhaps.

Typically games that reward strength in melee do so by granting a bonus to the damage.  Savage Worlds lets you use your str die as one half of your damage roll, Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World 4E, various D20 systems give you a flat bonus to your damage, Hero systems gives you additional dice of damage.

A problem is though that at this level of granularity flat bonuses stack up very quickly. This has the subtle effect of making your ability to hit more important than your damage output when you do hit.  As well as making any hit damaging.  It's a lot like older editions of Dungeons and Dragons where after awhile the damage range on your weapon became less important than all the bonuses you got from magical properties, strength, feat, and assorted other bonuses.

I need to run the numbers and see just how deadly fights become with my current mechanics when adding in flat damage bonuses based on dice pools.  My thought was to add a +1 for each die of strength in the strength pool.  But that means a warrior with a 5 dice strength is going to deal on average 13 damage on a regular hit with a 2 handed weapon (2d8).  That's going to hurt someone with each hit.  Granted that's the worst case scenario.  I could though adjust for that by nudging protections up slightly but that will have a cross effect against ranged weapons.

But on second thought that helps to balance ranged weapons versus melee weapons as the ranged weapons have a universal DC to hit a target while the melee weapons have a variable DC based on the targets melee skill.

With game design the more features you add the more a single change can have a big waterfall effect that you're not expecting, especially if you're not using formulas or my favorite, simulating it with a million virtual warriors locked in eternal combat, to verify the math.    I think the lack of simulation or advanced math testing that there are powers in the 4E power collections that simply do not work based on the math.  That some powers are just such weak sauce that they're only taken by accident or because they sound cool.  Cool goes a long way but a player shouldn't, in my opinion, be able to gimp his character by going on cool.

But then I could be wrong. 🙂

17Jan/110

Nook Color

Posted by Dennis

After a lot of consideration I picked up a Nook Color this weekend.  I had it rooted roughly 30 minutes after actually using it for the first time, and 20 of that was to check out the stock OS on the device.

A stock Nook Color is funcitonal if you want it to read books and browse the web (except for Flash).  It's oddly disjointed in usage.  For example Pinch Zoom, the much beloved functionality doesn't work for Books or the Browser but it does work for pictures.  WTH?  It's like the Book, Browser, Pictures, Magazines app writers weren't quite on board with what should be available or what the other guys were doing.   As another example, to read a book in ereader format you touch the sides of the screen to page forward and back.  With a .pdf you drag upwards and downwards.  WTH? again.

For the money a stock Nook Color is worthwhile, if you have the money without impacting important things in life.  It serves okay as a book reader (the e-ink of the Nook and Kindle are better for this in general, things like reading outside, battery life, eye strain).  The inclusion of very functional (except for Flash of course) web browsing, a magazine reader make it 'just' worth the price of admission.

It's only when you Root or take control of the device and put a fully functional copy of Android on it that it really really starts to shine.

Using AutoNooter to root the device is painfully simple.  Your risk of 'bricking' the device is very low and you can restore it to default stock by the simple process of powering it off during the boot process 8 times in a row, this makes the nook think it's broken and it'll restore itself to factory fresh leaving no sign it was ever rooted.

There's also a way to run Android Froyo off a SD memory card and thus you can go stock by simply taking the card out or go 'pro' by putting the card in.  This makes it almost impossible to break the Nook by rooting it.  You'd literally have to drop it on the floor and physically crack it wide open while putting in the SD card for this to go wrong.

So anyway, I got it rooted, this took roughly 60 seconds start to finish, I first tried Froyo on the SD card but it was a laggy, I was on a slow speed SD and I didn't know about having to power of the screen after a reboot to make it not laggy.  I've got a quality Class 10 SD ordered and will revisit that process then.

After rooting using AutoNooter which puts on the Google apps including the oh so important Marketplace I went and installed a better browser Dolphin HD, Angry Birds (why I'm not sure myself), pdf readers, .lit readers, cbr readers, .epub readers, .rtf readers,  I have 1000's of books in various formats and the Nook directly only reads a few of those.  Now I can read all the Walking Dead comics I have in .cbr format without having to manually convert them to pdf's.

I added 'cool' launchers with themes and graphic skins, widgets to forecast the weather for me, winamp to play my music, video players, video streaming players, file server access apps, gmail, google chat, exchange mail, the list goes on.  All freely available, legally, through the Android Marketplace.

I've got it stuffed with game manuals and books so I can refer to them anywhere without having physical copies handy, apps and utilities to make my life easier and in general make it what I really wish my iphone was.  With a 7" screen.  There are 'atmospheric' apps I could use for a little background noise or just use Winamp or Pandora or something else to have a little setting music going on.

Essentially using free, legal software I've turned this little e-reader into a fully functional tablet computer that makes it crazy attractive for the cost.

So I give it 5 thumbs up, assuming I had 5 arms, if you go the extra step and root it.  3 thumbs up stock standard.

9Jan/110

Game Math Part 4

Posted by Dennis

The search for a game math mechanic that I'm happier with continues.  Unfortunately the single die roll which determines attack and damage doesn't work well for me.  The math extremes are between the top and bottom are just too extreme.  It's a lot like the issues with the One Role Engine and it's derivitives, there's just too much disparity.

I'm still working on the dice pool versus the flat percentage probability of the D20 and WFRP versus the stepped dice of Savage Worlds.    The flat percentage while I think it works well for DnD leaves little area for... excitement?  You know 1 in 20 times you're going to do maximum damage. If you're an avenger or twin weapon ranger you know one in 10 rounds you'll get a critical hit.  That kind of thing.  Other systems you don't even get that, you simply hit or miss.

Granted the use of the damage dice are a secondary implement in how to determine how well you did.  But I think for most people there's a subtle or not so subtle expectation that if you roll 12 higher than you needed to hit that you should somehow hit 'better' or 'harder' or whatever.  But if you need a 7 or better to hit (or 30% or higher) to hit then it doesn't matter if you roll a 7 or a 19 you have the same range of results.

With the single roll out of the question I broke combat down into the ubiquitous attack and damage rolls again.  This oddly enough broadened the math between the least and maximum dice pools.

Like apparently many people I enjoy the thought that the better your attack roll the better your result should be, rather than a binary or trinary result which is pretty much all the other systems I'm familiar with.

I've run a few bazillion simulations and balance is getting closer and is within reasonable parameters right now.  Some of the current highlights -

A character's ability is determined by their dice pool.  Someone untrained in a skill has a pool of 1d10 and is subject to a -5 penalty.  Someone with some training or ability gets a 1d10, a master of something gets up to 5d10 in their pool.

Success at something is determined by beating a equaling or beating a 5.

Your level of success is determined by how many multiples of 5 you roll over the necessary number. This is very Savage Worlds but I found that type of mechanic workable for what I wanted and thus using it.

In combat a character has two defenses.  Their Damage Avoidance or DAv and their Damage Absorption or DAb.   DAv determines if you get hit at all.  DAb determines how badly you got hurt by the attack.  Again this is like Savage Worlds Parry and Toughness.  I'm not 100% in like with it but tracking Hit Points is slow and annoying regardless of the mechanic and I found the Wound levels of Savage Worlds another thing worth stealing from them.

A round of combat consists of a character rolling his attack dice pool and determining the highest number rolled.  This is then compared to the target's DAv.  For each multiple of 5 that the attacker rolls over the DAv they roll their damage.  Damage is determined very simply, weapons that are wielded in one hand deal 2d6+xd6 damage and weapons that require two hands deal 2d8+xd8 damage.  The xd6 and xd8 are variable depending on how well the attacker rolls.

While it sounds odd that two attacks at 2d6 somehow equal one attack at 2d8, oddly enough that's how the math works out with the range of damage avoidance and absorbtion numbers I'm using.  I was a little surprised myself.  But using the same damage for each major group of weapons provides for ease of play and opens up a lot of roleplay opportunities without having to worry about the nuts and bolts.  Granted for some groups that's simply not going to work, they want the 12 pages of weapon stats, but that's not the group I'm designing this for.

Example:  Attacker rolls his dice pool of 3d10 using a pistol, a one handed weapon.  His highest die is a 9.  This is then compared to the DAv of the target.  If this was a 5 then the attacker hit with +4 over so he deals the base 2d6 damage (one handed damage).  Let's say he shoots another person the next round who's DAv is 4 and gets another 9.  9-4 is 5.  This means on the second shot he does the base 2d6 but because he got 5 over the necessary value he gets to add another 1d6 for 3d6 damage.   This varies from the Savage Worlds in that it's open ended.

Another reason I'm using Dice Pools is that I want to include a Stunting mechanism.  I'm doing this through the use of doubles.  To determine how many stunt points you have you simply add your matching dice up and take the one's digit.  Example:  You rolled 2 6's in your pool.  6+6 is 12 so you get 2 stunt points.  Roll 2 9's?  18 or 8 stunt points.  Two 10's?  20 and 0 stunt points but then rolling two 10's is reward in and of itself.

As a character's skill increases, their dice pool increases.  This causes a corresponding chance for doubles and thus stunt points.  Someone without any training or little training with a 1d10 pool, never gets to stunt.  With 2d10 they stunt but rarely.  With 5d10 they'll stunt roughly 25% of the time.

Stunt points will be used add special effects to an attack.  The list is nebulous at this time but I foresee things like for X points you get to add another dice of damage, or push the target  X spaces or knock the target prone or immobilize the target by pinning it to an object or smashing a knee cap etc.

These points will allow players (and the GM) to essentially build a power on the fly as they need to and the better skill a character has the more stunts they'll be able to pull off.

Right now I've got the numbers pretty balanced again, between 1H+Shield, 2H and Dual Wielding warriors.  How it's working out is that dual wielding works better against lightly armored targets and 2 handed weapons work better against heavily armoured targets.

Dual Wielders have a bit of a penalty in that they never achieve the win percentages that the other two types of fighters do but they have an advantage that's not apparent from the combat sim in that they get two rolls per round and thus two chances to get stunt points.   So the dual wielders will in general be the flashier fighters while the other two will be more steadfast and stable fighters.

This works out pretty well to my thinking.

Some things that came out of this is that in Savage Worlds a dual weapon fighter HAS to have ambidexterity to be as effective as the other types of warriors. As a result I'm simply not going to be sticking an off hand penalty into the system.  Anything that's mandatory to be equitable should be a given.

Another thing that came up is that if you assume a multiple action penalty of -2 like Savage Worlds then for the math to add up you can only allow this to be reduced to -1.  If you allow something like Two Fisted to reduce that 0 then the dual weapon fighter becomes drastically better than someone who doesn't wield two weapons.

By removing the off hand penalty completely and then limited MAP removal to -1 and subsequently offering an equivilent advantage to 2 handed fighters to gain +1 attack bonus and shield fighters to gain +1 bonus defense when using shields you continue to keep the math balanced.   If you don't test all three types of fighters against each other then you always run the risk of breaking the math of any system.

Right now the numbers are looking good at this particular juncture, A vs B vs C are within reasonable balance and have a bit of Apples to Oranges feel with them with each type of fighter having a bit of a niche to fill.

There's always though the 'feel' of the system.  I really want to replicate the ease of Savage Worlds system, just with a little different feel and the inclusion of some other mechanics and get the math more in line with what I need to be happy with it.

5Jan/110

Game Math Part Three

Posted by Dennis

I've been noodling the math some more.  I'd come up with a scaling damage system that seems workable but I've hit a bit of a snag.

To sum up the system, your level of ability at something is set by a dice pool.  The more dice you have in the pool the better you are of course.  Each time you need to do something roll the appropraite number of dice and take the highest one.  The dice can ace or explode such that if you roll the highest possible value you get to keep that then roll it again.  This repeats until you don't roll the highest value for that die.

The value you roll is compared against the defense of a target which is a flat number right now, how it's determined is still to be determined but likely it would be a factor of skill and physical defenses.

For every X you roll over the defense of the target, currently for every 4 or 5 units is the number I'm using using d10's for the dice pool, you inflict a damage condition.  This starts at Dazed, then 1 Wound, 2 Wounds, 3 Wounds, 4 Wounds.   Once you get to the 6th condition, 5 wounds, you're dead.  The number of wounds you suffer inflict attack roll penalties.  Unfortuantely this is resulting in a definite death spiral that's hard to get out of.  That's one issue.

The other issue is more subtle.  As your dice pool for your attacking dice goes up, your average value goes up as well which also makes your average damage go up in direct correlation.

The systems I've got my eye on right now for inspiration I'm realizing have flat damage.  It really doesn't matter how good you are with a sword in Savage Worlds or Dungeons and Dragons, you're going to inflict the same base damage pool for the majority of your attacks.

It's realistic of course that someone skilled can inflict more damage than someone unskilled, I don't really have a problem with that.  It's the granularity of it that's the biggest issue.

Someone with a dice pool of 1 die has a  3% chance to defeat someone with 5 dice in their pool and this doesn't even start to bring in the Stunting system which is currently set up with doubles rolled during your dice pool.  i.e. the more dice the higher the chance for doubles the more stunts you can pull off.  2 dice versus 5 dice is 13% chance to win, 3 dice vs 5 dice is 27% chance to win, 4 dice vs 5 dice is a 40% chance.   The percentages change too drastically for me to think this is a workable solution in its current state.

Assuming I remove the ability to increase damage with the use of stunt points this still leaves a limited level of granularity.    Now I do know that the Level +/- x range limitations exist pretty heavily in many games, it's just a fact of life.  But I want content to be more widely useful than say Dungeons and Dragons or Gamma World or Mutants and Masterminds etc.

Perhaps I might have to go back to the drawing board and work with a system of a smaller or larger pools (hates handfuls of dice) and flat bonuses to represent skill levels.

29Dec/102

Doing the Math

Posted by Dennis

If you happen by here from time to time you might notice I like to run the numbers with the mechanical bits, especially when something feels off about it.   There is some iffy math in Savage Worlds for instance in that certain options are a bad idea although some become good when combined with other things.  Take the Aim maneuver, always a bad idea unless you have the ability to use it every round which requires you to take another option to allow that.  But the average player looking at that tends to go, "I'm going to aim this time for the +2" when they're faced with a hard to hit opponent.  When getting to roll twice is in all ways better.

I'm not picking on Savage Worlds in this regard, all game mechanics suffer from it to a greater or lesser degree.  All things considered Savage Worlds is better than most.

So now that I've settled on a system to focus on at least temporarily, I'm working on balancing the numbers and it's pretty interesting stuff.  Unfortunately balance means that things can get a little... odd.  Savage Worlds for instance likes to use 2's and 4's for a lot of things.  +2 to this, -4 to that.  While easy to remember it doesn't necessary make for good balance.  To get better balance you might have to go with 1's and 3's for some things and 2's and 5's for others for example.   Not the best way for ease of use but long term what's better, a little longer ramp up time or numbers that 'work'?

I've built a combat sim which makes me feel all Worlds Deadliest Warriors that allows me to nudge the numbers, basically the success and effect results in a variety of ways.  Currently I'm trying to figure out a reasonable balance between a 2 weapon build (i.e. two attacks), a 1 weapon + shield and a 2 handed weapon.

Side Note: The numbers I'm working with really drives home the point of just how powerful Ambidextrous and Two Weapon Fighting is in Savage worlds.  Take those two things and you'll win a huge percentage of the time versus something of the otherwise same stats wielding a two handed weapon or a 1 handed weapon and shield. From a power perspective it makes Ambidextrous a must have feat since you can only take it at character creation.

As I'm being influenced by a lot of the design philosophy from the Savage Worlds system in the base mechanics I'm working with things like the Multi-Action Penalty and Off Hand Penalties.   But I'm also basing weapons on very broad categories and taking the base accuracy trait from Dungeons and Dragon's 4th edition.   The categories I've devolved down into really 1 hand/2 hand and melee/ranged.  I was initially looking at adding in Light and Heavy as the Gamma World system but really by the numbers they're either functionally the same or unbalanced.  Lighter weapons hit more often but deal less damage, heavy weapons hit less often but deal more damage.  Numerically over time all things considered for a decent game mechanic to work those should be balanced.

I may revisit that idea but right now it didn't fit with other portions of what I'm trying to accomplish.   It works in Gamma World because your ability to hit is based on your raw stats, not a skill at fighting and I want the ability to have a fighting skill.  But I didn't want to have a Fighting Heavy and Fighting Light skill to allow for distinctions.   It shoeboxes characters too much.

Anyway, after a few million simulations I've got some numbers that are probably as close to balanced as you can get without getting up to using a d100 for everything.  It's a question of granularity, too little and it's impossible balance, too much and it's unwieldy.

A 1H+Shield vs 2x1H vs 2H are all at 50% plus or minus 4%.    The worst discrepancy is a 1H+Shield vs a dual wielding 1H.  The shield guy wins roughly 54% of the time.  The actual combinations and win/losses are (running  100,000 simulations each time):

1H+Shield vs 2 x 1H  = 1H/S wins 54% of the time
1H+Shield vs 2H =  Draw, it's 50.3% in favor of the shield guy
2H vs 2 x 1H =  Draw all things considered but 2 x 1H wins 51% of the time.

To verify that the algorithms aren't horribly broken I tested each type of fighter against itself and as expected it was within half a percent of 50%.

While these simulations are simply a starting point for a working system, it's nice to be able to have it balanced at the gross level.   And of course, once details start going in it could end up completely unplayable/imbalanced and kick me back to the start but at least I get to create a few new neurons out of it which might help stave off Alzheimer's for a few more years.

28Dec/100

Dice Mechanics Redux

Posted by Dennis

As I mentioned awhile back I've been tossing around a dice mechanic for a game system.  There's a rather extensive set of design goals I've got floating around in the back of my head.  Here's some random thoughts on existing mechanics that keep them floating.

Disclaimer: I like my systems to be mathematically balanced.  Some people don't, I'm not them.   I don't like systems where combinations of race/class/powers/builds are just world crushingly more powerful.  Whether by accident or player design characters that end up with those combinations make the game less fun.  When one player constantly upstages everyone else during play, you're going to find few enjoy playing.   So balanced math is near the top of the list for design goals.

Let's look at an obvious mechanic in almost every game, weapon damage. Weapons have different damage... for lack of a better word let's use range. Let's take a familiar system to many, Dungeons and Dragons.   A longsword is a d8, a greatsword is 2d6.  One averages 4 points of damage, the other 7.  But it gets tricky, a long sword has +3 to hit while the greatsword is only a +2.  That nudges the longswords damage over time upwards because it hits more often.   A long sword also allows you to use a shield which decreases the damage you take over time because you're harder to damage.

Are they balanced?  Unlikely.  With a limited set of ranges caused by a fixed set of dice (d4,d6,d8,d10,d12) it's not possible to balance them.  You can get them close but there's always going to be a particular weapon that's simply... better to use.

Gamma World Fourth Edition bypasses this by throwing out the whole individualized weapon stats, a move I really applaud.  It's a paradigm shift for this particular style of mechanics.    There is no one best Light 1-Handed Melee weapon in that system.   This is an awesome step forward for roleplay and characterization and a giant step backwards for mechanical diversity.   But the step forward is what I personally care about.

So one of the design goals is that weapons are Gamma World 4E in flavor.  A few broad categories or rather combinations of categories, Light/Heavy, One Handed/Two Handed, Ranged/Melee, define each weapon.  Light weapons favor faster fighters, heavy weapons favor stronger fighters etc.   Light weapons hit more often but do less damage, heavy weapons hit less often but do more damage.

But mathematically is there any real difference?  If something hits more often but less damage and less often for more damage, isn't that simply the same thing by the numbers and all its really doing is giving the illusion of a difference?  Something to think about certainly.

The damage ranges conflict with another design goal, a better roll on your attack increases your damage output.   Dungeons and Dragons allows for this in a binary way, you hit and deal your normal random range of damage or 5% of the time, on a natural 20, you deal maximum damage.    But if you need say a 5 to hit that means that it doesn't matter what you roll really.  You either need any one of 14 numbers, makes no difference which one or that 20.  5-19 always results in the same damage.

It works but I'm thinking, what if your damage scaled in a more granular fashion?  So that a 19 is better than a 15 is better than a 10 is better than a 8 is better than a 5?  That would be pretty cool now wouldn't it?  Of course if we were playing with a computer we could easily do that.  Computers have no trouble computing what 57% of 1d8+4 is.   People, generally not so much, ignoring any Rainmen in the group of course.

On a side note, one of the House Rules I used for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition is I averaged damage across the board.   1d8+4 meant you dealt 8 damage.  It worked really well for speeding up the game and no one found it detracted from it.  So it was a win/win in our group.   Other's who've tried it report a similar overall

After running millions of simulations and computing percentages and spreads and the like my current design (after shelving several) is to use dice pools for your attempt roll.  The 'better' you are at something the more dice you get to rol but you still only use ONE of them.  The pool currently ranges from 1 to 5 with non-skilled getting 1 die with some penalties and legendary world shaking heroes getting 5 dice with bonuses.

To this basic premise I add the ability to fine tune percentages by adding flat bonuses, a flat bonus nudges the percentages up by (1/dice size)*100) percent.

A hero with a some training in Heavy Melee skill might have a 2d8+4 which averages out to roughly a 10, while a 5d8+4 averages 1 better with an 11.

Whaaaa? you might be saying, increasing the dice pool from 2 to 5 increases my average roll by only 1 point (technically it's 1.4 give or take).  That's crazy, why spend character points to get bigger pools?

Well there's a fix I have in mind for that which is simply adding in the exploding or acing dice mechanic from Savage worlds.   Which simply means that if you roll the maximum on a dice you get to roll it again and add them together.   With explosions turned on let's run those numbers again.    2d8+4 exploding now averages 11 per roll.  5d8+4 exploding is 13.6 so we've gained a 2.5 higher roll.   That's a more reasonable gain.

Exploding dice also have a very critical (to me anyway) benefit of allowing anyone to successfully attack anyone. Granted it might be a ' slim chance' but there's none of that "Oh they're level 2's and I'm a level 12?  Pfffft, I just walk through them, they don't have much chance to hit me and if they do it'll take a week to burn through my hit points.  Meanwhile every time I swing three die."  This is important to me because it keeps all content relevant.  There are no creatures that get 'out leveled'.   That's one thing I dislike about Dungeons and Dragons in all Editions but especially 4E.  Any creature four levels higher or four levels lower than the players is difficult to impossible to use.   They're either impossible to hit or impossible to miss or vice versa depending on your viewpoint.

One of the other design goals was the use of 'stunting' dice mechanic that Dragon Age Origins RPG brought to the table.  With that system you roll 3d6 but one's an off color.  That die is your stunt die and the value shown gives you that many stunt points you can use to give your attack a bit of 'oomph' by letting you knock someone down or daze them or move after the attack etc.  In other words you're encouraged to do cool shit on your turn which is never a bad thing.

Now we could go with an odd color in a dice pool and that would work certainly.  But what if instead we say that if you roll doubles of a number you get that many stunt points...  That gives a player a bigger incentive to up their dice pools than purely more chances to succeed.

Your chance of getting doubles with 2d8 is only 12.5%,  with 5d8 though you're going to end up with doubles 83% of the time.  Which kind of makes sense, a barely trained fighter is going to be lucky to hit you with a sword much less do a double flip over the bar, bounce off the mirror after cracking the bartender on the skull and then swing out to catch the chandelier to swing over to the door.  But a legendary warrior with a 83% chance of getting some stunt points should be able to do something that awesome a majority of the time.

Another design goal the use of a bell curve where extreme swings in value are infrequent is in one of those shelved systems but I had to drop it as I like the idea of dice pools.  It might be possible to 'do the math' and come up with a way to drag it back in but for now it's on a back burner.

By the way, the d8 I refer to is simply a placeholder.  I've yet to determine which die size offers the best results for the damage design goal.

So right now my current mechanic, using a dice pool for attacks of exploding dice along with a way to allow for stunting handles several of my large view goals.

The trick is of course going through the nuts and bolts of the minutiae.   How to handle specialized training? What about weapon quality?  What are the typical min/max ranges of bonus possibilities and penalties.  What about the range of target numbers you're trying to succeed at, whether it's whacking someone with a sword or picking a lock or convincing a tavern wench to meet you after closing?

Let's not forget about weapon classifications, how do we truly differentiate those?   What about damage mitigation?  How many hits, hit points, damage ratings does it take to go from healthy to dead?  How many attacks does that take on average?  Is it too slow to be fun aka the high level solo boss slog in 4E or too flast like the one hit kill possibility in Savage Worlds?

Game mechanic design isn't something you can just jot off on a piece of paper.  You can have what appears to be an awesomely workable system but then once you start coming up with all the nuts and bolts it just falls apart.

But running through it is certainly mentally stimulating.

23Dec/100

Castle Ravenloft Alternate Rules

Posted by Dennis

I found this post on some alternate rules that you can use for Castle Ravenloft.  These are rule changes and tweaks fostered by the gaming community to help with some of the... idiosyncracies of the existing rule system and by all accounts make the game even better.

Your results may vary but I'm linking it to give you the option to look over and try them if they appeal.  Because options are good.

I'm appending the current alternate rulings here but understand they're definitely a 'living document' and you should check the forums for the current version which may be different than these by the time you read this.

Unless stated otherwise follow the standard rules. If there are options, it is Hero’s choice per standard rules.

1. Player Count Scaling
......a. 4-5 players – No starting treasure and 1 Healing Surge
......b. 1-3 players – No starting treasure and 2 Healing Surges

2. Heroes explore during their Move Action instead.
......a. Exploration Phase is removed. 
......b. Once per turn, Heroes now explore in the middle of their Move Action by spending 2 movement points while adjacent to an unexplored edge.
......c. If the explored tile has a white triangle, in addition to normal Monster placement, draw 1 extra Encounter Card and resolve immediately.
......d. If the explored tile has a black triangle, in addition to normal Monster placement and Encounter card draw, place 1 extra Monster. Resolve the Encounter Card normally drawn immediately.
......e. Exploring does not end your Hero’s turn. All unspent movement points and Attack or Move actions are still available.
......f. When exploring a tile and a villain spawns on that tile, the exploring hero ends his Hero Phase immediately. (The hero was shocked to see such a villain and fear took hold of the hero for a second)

3. If Hero did not explore, spawn extra Monster(s) instead of drawing an Encounter Card in the beginning of the Villain Phase.
......a. In the beginning of the Villain Phase, place 1 monster-generator token (use HP tokens) on a tile with an unexplored edge and then place the same number of monsters on that tile as the number of monster-generator tokens there. For example, if there was already one monster-generator token on a tile and you place another monster-generator token on that tile because you didn't explore, 2 monsters will spawn on the said tile.
...........i. Every monster card drawn this way can be discarded instead by spending 5 XP each.
...........ii. These extra monster spawns count as Encounters when Adventures has special rules regarding Encounters. For example, in Klak's scenario, every Encounter that is canceled, that player takes 1 damage. Therefore, every monster canceled (discarded) canceled will also cause 1 damage to the active Hero canceling the monster spawn.
...........iii. When placing the monster-generator tokens (HP tokens), they must be evenly dispersed (i.e., can't put a second on a given tile unless every other tile with unexplored edge already has one, can't put a third unless all others have two, etc.)
...........iv. When placing the monster-generator tokens (HP tokens), they must be traceable through squares to a hero (either alive or dead/downed).
......b. Any time a tile with monster-generator tokens no longer have an unexplored edge or cannot be traced through squares to a hero (either alive or dead/downed), move all monster-generator tokens (HP tokens) from that tile so that they meet all the requirements above (i.e. evenly dispersed, traceable to a hero and on a tile with at least 1 unexplored edge.)

4. If at any time you cannot place a monster, draw an Encounter Card instead for each monster not placed.

5. Can only keep 1 monster card as an XP card per turn. (Heroes choose which monster card to keep for XP if killed more than 1 monster.)

6. In addition to standard Hero leveling rules, a Hero can spend 10 XP to level up during their Hero Phase.

7. Moving Monsters will go to the closest square to achieve its Tactics.
For example, when a monster moves adjacent to a hero to attack the hero, it'll go to the square closest to its starting point instead of going deeper into the target Hero's tile. This minimizes the occurrence of monster being placed in the middle of a Hero mosh pit. Another example is when a blazing skeleton moves to the next tile to get closer to Heroes (following the Otherwise tactic), the blazing skeleton will go to the closest square of the next tile. This increases the distance that the slow warrior has to close before it can attack it with his "adjacent" attacks. Overall this rule gives a feeling that the monsters are smarter by applying this one sentence rule.

8. Remove Encounter Cards from play. Remove every copy of the cards listed below. For example, Neglected Passage and Passage of Time has multiple copies.
......a. Neglected Passage (2)
......b. Overrun (2)
......c. Hands of the Dead
......d. Circle of Death
......e. Patrina Velikovna
......f. Green Slime
......g. Passage of Time (2)
......h. Gray Ooze
......i. Howling Ghost
......j. Icy Corridor
......k. Strahd’s Hunger
......l. Strahd Attacks!
......m. Choking Fog
......n. King Tomescu’s Portal
......o. Animated Armor
......p. Prowling Ghost

20Dec/101

Castle Ravenloft Howling Hag

Posted by Dennis

What with work and a birthday party for the boys we again side tripped into another Castle Ravenloft adventure.  We only had time for one as I was busy triaging an issue in London but it was quite entertaining.

The adventure is The Howling Hag where some old lady is cooking up a nefarious ritual in the crypts beneath castle ravenloft.   Each adventurer starts separated in a corner of the possible 5x5 playing tile map.  They have to explore their way to each other and to the center of the map.  Due to the randomness of the tiles you're never sure if you're going to hit a dead end or a way out.   Each explored tile draws in at random 0 to 2 monsters or triggers the Hag to show up on the new tile explored.

The Hag has all kinds of gnarly teleport powers and as a result adventurer's were popping all over the place.  Our cleric found a workable path to the center ritual room but was then teleported to another location in the crypts.

Unfortuantely that was the ONLY working path we came up with in the end.  We were poised to make a 3 hero rush on a possible path, our fourth hero was trapped in a dead end section when the Hag slowly but surely started teleporting us away.

I'd managed to use my Great Leap ability to launch myself past all the monsters and the hag to the edge of the last unexplored tile that would connect to the ritual room that we had access to and when the tile was revealed it caused a dead end.  It really did come down to not only the last tile but the direction it was revealed from.  If we of explored from the other possible avenue we'd of had a straight shot to the ritual room and a chance of defeating the hag.

With four heroes alive but all down to 1 or 2 health, and only one working path that we couldn't get to it started to look bleak.  Then the hag started loading up the dead end passage sending the Cleric and Wizard to join the Ranger while I, the Rogue was left to try and defeat 5 monsters and survive long enough that the Hag might randomly teleport me into the working path.

Alas it was not to be, our 1 in perhaps a 1000 chance was soundly defeated as I lay dying on the floor, out of any means of rescue or healing thus sealing our fate.  The other three escaped through a side door to spread word of my demise as the Hag completed her foul ritual causing all the women in the land to grow beards.  I'm glad I didn't survive to see that day, better to be dead.

This was a really fun adventure for us all things considered.  The exploration to get together and the having to play solo and sometimes getting no monsters and sometimes up to 2 monsters per tile made for a fairly exciting game.   As each tile as flipped there was a sense of anticipation "Would it dead end?  Would we have a path?  Would we be able to group up and grow stronger?".

Some people might find it annoying that pure luck can cause an otherwise well played and successful session to fail in that it's possible to not have a clear path to the ritual room where you win.   But I quite enjoyed it myself.

So far there hasn't been a 'bad' adventure in the book, I think we're up to 8 or 9 but still The Howling Hag and and the Klak - Kobold Sorcerer adventure are by far my personal favorites.

The next map is The Gauntlet where the group has to face down waves of monsters to get to some goal.  Should be interesting.   This will also be the adventure where we bring in new Hero options from the community, a Warlock, Barbarian, Druid, Assassin, Avenger will be joining the mix at the very least.  It'll be interesting to see if the community has come up with better or worse heroes in the areas of playability, power and interesting to play.

16Dec/100

Castle Ravenloft Custom Cards

Posted by Dennis

No they're not anything I've done, that credit goes to someone on Board Game Geek but they're pretty cool even if I didn't have anything to do with them.  You can download the PDF's and print them yourself or there's a way to get real cards as well and save yourself an ass load of ink costs.   Keep reading.

Also I'd get them downloaded if you think you'll ever have any desire to have them before someone at WOTC decides to send out C&D letters on them even if they're original work since they mimic official material so closely in look and feel.

It's two sets of cards that you can have professionally printed out (albeit in hong kong) for use in your Castle Ravenloft The Board Game games.   It includes monsters, encounters, magic items.

I've ordered one of each of the decks, once they come in, ETA is about 2 weeks, I'll let you know about the quality but others have already ordered them and had very good things to say about them.

Link 1 - http://www.artscow.com/share/Ravenloft-CT-Design-Deck-1-51sx67j1u8uh

Link 2 - http://www.artscow.com/share/Ravenloft-CT-Design-Deck-2-37hsub6q12a3

I don't know if the author gets anything from it or not but if you browse for coupons you can get them for about $10 each shipped, less if you catch a good coupon, some people have gotten them for under $5 shipped.   Even at $10 they seem a reasonable value to me.  YMMV as always.

13Dec/101

Ravenloft Gameplay Continued

Posted by Dennis

We continued our foray into Castle Ravenloft The Board Game this last weekend.  With only three people anything else was pretty much out.

We played three different scenarios, Daylight Assault, Final Transformation and Destroy the Dracolich.

Daylight assault didn't go well for us.  The object was to collect 12 treasures and escape with them but we just couldn't come up with the loot faster than the monsters were taking down our health.  Like Chess, sometimes you know you're going to lose before it actually happens and this was one of those time and we didn't have to play out the last round.   Strahd had us for breakfast, brunch and dinner.

The Final Transformation was much easier for us and we won it quite handily.  In this one you have escort a bitten young man to a specific location in the castle and cure him.   We sped through this one once we found the fountain, even with the extra monsters spawning two tiles away as we were all in the same tile and the scenario as written says that he's curred after 5 turns with a player in the same tile.  Since that reads as any player each game turn we cured him 3 times, once per player.   As a result it was pretty easy to hold out long enough to get him all cured up.  Interesting scenario though and we though we were going to get a bit of Defend the Castle while we cured the lad but by curing him 3 times per turn and the monsters spawning 2 tiles away and most only advancing 1 tile per turn it just didn't  work out that way.

Destroy the Dracolich, aka Gravestorm, also went pretty easy for us.  We found the undead wyrm without a lot of trouble and was only down one surge when he popped up.   The Phylactory ended up 5 tiles away but with my wizard's ability to Fey Step I was able to jet over in two turns and destroy the thing which crushed out half the beast's health.   We ended up down two surges on this one as Gravestorm hits pretty hard and we were still spawning monsters rather than getting Encounter cards but we did it without losing anyone which counts as a win win situation.

Some things we take away from this - The cards, much like 4th Edition when it came out have wording that is confusing and not clear.   When in doubt we went with the 4th Edition clarified rulings where appropriate or by whatever I felt was in the spirit of it rather than as it was written.

The ranger with its Careful Attack makes mincemeat out of 1HP monsters since it's an automatic kill just by moving adjacent.  The Fighter with Cleave has a good tile clearing power since Cleave does an automatic 1 damage to a second monster after rolling a hit on a first one but so far we've rarely had two monsters on one tile so the power has been rather iffy.

Some of the Daily powers or all of them really rarely get used except to absorb bad things from cards like "Burn an unused daily power or take 1 damage" since they're too good to use on minions and by the time you find something tough to use them on you're dead. 😉

We'll go after the Howling Hag the next time we play and perhaps the Guantlet of Terror since that sounds like fun.

Each game lasted about 30-45 minutes.

10Dec/102

Dice Mechanics

Posted by Dennis

I've been thinking about dice mechanics and what I like and dislike about them.  By dice mechanics I don't mean the guys in little overalls who fix your craps dice but rather the ways various roleplaying games introduce randomness into their systems.

The number of systems that I know about and this doesn't include all of them by any means, is pretty large and run the gamut.  You have the ORE system where one dice role (One Roll Engine) determines everything about whatever it is you just tried from success to damage to location etc.  The problem I have with the ORE system is it's mathmatcically sketchy, the odds of success go down way fast as the number of successes go up.  But I digress.

You have a system like Warhammer FRPG where you have a flat percentage chance using percentage dice which also determines your hit location.   A system like Dungeons and Dragons where you have a flat percentage chance at a success but a myriad ways of determining the level of that success.  There are systems with bell curves like Hero Systems where you roll 3 dice and take the total.  You have exploding dice and wild dice in Savage Worlds which means a dice can roll a number bigger than it's max value and you pick between two different rolls as to which one you want.  Systems where you have a single die type and systems where you have 6 or more die types.  Systems where you roll one die and systems where you roll double handfuls.

It's a lot.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out what I personally prefer and if it's feasible.  I'd like a bell curve where the average value just falls on the success side of the success/fail line and the average 'hero''s chances for typical tasks falls in the 75% success range.  I want it possible to have really cool rolls ala Exploding or Acing die where a player might normally get a 10 as average but every once in awhile gets a 20 or 30 or 40.   And I want a system that randomly supports Cool like the Dragon Die from Dragon Age: Origins.  In case you're not familiar with DA:O the dragon die is a different colored die in the pool that a character rolls and the result on that die grants them points they can spend to add Cool to their results like extra damage or knocking someone down or whatever.

A problem is, the more die you have in the pool, the greater the chance of exploding die that really crank up the totals.  You want explosions to not be the 'default' or at least I don't, I want them to be memorable or exciting when they happen, not a disapointment when they don't since the don't is the expected result.

But to have something like a Dragon Die you need multiple dice, or do you?  That's a topic for further discussion but in general since I'm looking for a bell curve system, multiple dice are available anyway.

Then there's the level of success.  The majority systems have an inital roll that is  binary or at best trinary levels of success.  Your initial roll determines that you either succeeded or you failed.  YOu have to then make another roll to determine the level of your success.  Some extend this so that you either failed, or succeeded or succeeded really really well with no other gradations.  The old Miss, Hit, Critical Hit trinumerate with a variant that a critical hit just gives you a chance at a greater level of success.

The biggest thing holding back a real scaling die roll in terms of results is that all systems except the most simplistic ones always differentiate the range on a per character basis.  One character might have a possible range of success of 1-6 while another might be 1-12 and this can change on a per attempt basis.  That makes it impossible for practical purposes to have the initial roll determine the success level as it would involve some crazy math on each and every roll.

A CRPG though could handle this very well.  Say a roll of 10 is a minimal success and a roll of 20 is a maximum success.  The computer can very easily compute the percentages of the ranges without any problems.  But a human figuring out what 8% of 12 is on the fly is not nearly as easy.

Obviously dice mechanics are a big thing and a major way that systems differentiate themselves, well the dice mechanic and the combat engine that falls out of it as a result, and there are many many ways of doing them.

Is there a best one?  No, not in my opinion, there are some that are a best fit for the rest of the chosen mechanics but I think if there was a best one, we'd of seen it by now.  This many designers spending this many decades at it, if there was a Theory of Relativity level dice mechanic it should have popped up by now.

Or perhaps we just haven't had our Einstein yet.

6Dec/100

Castle Ravenloft Game Play

Posted by Dennis

This weekend instead of having a session of Gamma World 4E I brought out Castle Ravenloft The Board Game and we played Adventure 2 and 3, the first two multiplayer adventures.   I'd already played Adventure 1 which is a solo adventure of the "Escape the castle" kind.

Adventure 2 was a "Find the Chapel and Recover the Widget And Destroy the Monsters In It" adventure and uses what appears to be a recurring mechanic where the location tile you're looking for is somewhere between 9 and 12 tiles deep in the stack meaning the player(s) have to last 8 tiles worth of encounters and monsters before they start having a chance to uncover the goal tile.

A few things went wrong with this adventure, we (I) forgot about handing out treasure for a bit and the way the cards are written I ended up using my surge value as my full hit points.  It's a pretty easy mistake to make if you don't look closely at the card, the column that displays your hitpoints just has a number in it, the one that displays your surge value has a number and a large HPS after it.   Just glance at the character card and see which one pops off the page as your hit points.

So with those two difficulty factors added in, we failed the mission.   The Rogue and Ranger were vying to see which one would use up the Healing Surge tokens first and the Cleric burned the Healing Word power and then ta-dah, when one character starts with 0 HPs at the start of their turn and there are no surges left, the group loses.   An interesting if contrived way to insure cooperative play I suppose.

We got several tiles toward the Chapel but never found it before the incapacitation of one member of the party the remaining characters decided to pack it in for the day and head back to the Barovian Arms And Grub and get some stew and stew about their failure.

At first with multiple people, after having played solo, I thought well this is going to be dull, one person just reveals a tile, takes the hit from the monster activation and then as a group they kill it and move on.  But that mechanic where if you don't explore a tile you get an Encounter card works very well to keep that from happening.  Some of those encounter cards are just downright mean (and I'm already compiling a list of home-brew cards I'd like to put in there if they're not already there.  Example:

Berserk Fury!
Strahd's commanding voice echoes through the tunnels under the castle as he urges his minions to try harder or face the consequences of failure...
Effect: The active hero activates ALL monsters on his Villian phase even those that are not under his control.

Normally a player only activates the monsters they spawned in, although they also activate any other monsters of the same type on the board if they're controlling one of that type.  So if two people both have a Wolf under their control each person activates both wolves on their turn which makes having multiples of the same creature on the board immediately tougher.  Another nice mechanic for ramping up difficulty at random.

Anyway, it's a definite choice to make where adding another monster to the board is a viable alternative to suffering the possible effects of an Encounter card.

With the rules a little more sorted out we attempted Adventure 3.  In this one you have to explore the tunnels looking for the chaos sorcerer Klak who's causing grief and kill him and his evil artifact.  More on the artifact in a moment.

This one went better for adventurer's, we reached Klak intact and not having had to expend any Surge tokens. One cool thing was right as we reached him, an Encounter came up that made everyone run two tiles back toward the entrance.  And then another Encounter that shifted one of us with a monster moving that player back near Klak and plopping a monster in the middle of the others.

Klak's rather cool ability to constantly explore unexplored edges which summons a monster and teleporting around and pushing people around was really fun to try and deal with.   He was constantly adding in new monsters and then fleeing to new tiles.

It was all for naught though and we defeated him and then destroyed the artifact.

The artifact was a bit of a pointless twist in actual gameplay.  Yes it's a AC 15, 5HP object you have to destroy but once you take out Klak, it's really a matter of a single turn, two if you roll below average to destroy it and without any time pressure and it not doing anything at all except sitting there I found it a bit of a 'uh this is anticlimatic' moment.

My first thought on making it more of a option is extend Klak's ability to it like so. "On the Villian phase the artifact summons a new monster on one adjacent tile that does not contain a monster already."  That would ramp up the "Damnit would someone kill that thing!" in a simple and easy manner and thematically correct.

All in all though the game went over very well and we'll be playing it again most definitely.  It's a good game for the GM and players to get to play together for once if they enjoy 4E mechanics, albeit very simplified, and the tactics tree on the monsters that function as the DM work fairly well although I'd like to see some with a bit of randomness to them and some that try to retreat to stay at range, but home brew or expansions could easily add that kind of thing and the game is definitely built with expansions in mind.

29Nov/100

Castle Ravenloft – New Adventures

Posted by Dennis

Played a solo game of Castle Ravenloft yesterday, first time playing and was immediately struck by expandable by the consumer the game would be.

Sure enough a quick search this morning and there's a bunch of new adventures, heroes, magic items and the like available.

You can get started over on this thread on Board Game Geek and start picking up all kinds of nifty things for the game.

The game is very simple to pick up, assuming you've played 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons or at least have some faimiliarty with it.

The solo Adventure 1 turned out to be a cake walk for me as the Dragonborne Warrior as one of the first itmes I looted was a Teleport Scroll.  I just kept exploring edges, killing monsters till Strahd woke up and came after me.  Once he entered my tile, I burned the teleport scroll and put myself on the far side of the dungeon and kept digging through the tiles while he came after me again but I found the Secret Staircase before he got anywhere near me.

Without the teleport scroll I'd of probably been dead, the Staircase tile was 4 tiles deep and I was out of Healing Surge tokens with a skeleton, a ghoul and a gargoyle and of course Strahd.  The teleport to get out of jail free card was pretty much that, an I Win button.

Short review - Good quality materials, game is reasonably fun, playable solo and provides a bit of a 4E hit when you don't have any other options.  It's a basic dungeon crawl, you navigate a randomly generated tile based map finding and killing monsters, collecting treasure and trying to achieve the Victory Conditions of the specific adventure you're play.  There's quite a bit of luck to the game, weighted to that end in fact given monsters, loot, attack rolls, tile selection are all randomly generated.  Your only real tactics are in picking and choosing when to burn one use powers and items.  But with additional characters in play this can be mediated to some extent.

If you're a DM who wants to play 4E this is one way to do it.  If your'e a group of people and just want a beer and pretzels session of 4th Edition without having to deal with character generation and running a 'full' session this certainly fills that need.

Overall I'll give it a 4 out of 5.

23Nov/100

Gamma World: Molemen?

Posted by Dennis

Session 2 of the Gamma World 4E mini-campaign -

We pick up with our Gamma World Heroes as they wake up to the dawn of a brave new world, literally after the F3 class Flux Storm that descended on them as they defeated the huge bag lady in Novac.

After getting acquainted with the effects of the change storm and the nightly reality shifts they headed out toward the fabled ruins of Homa where they must recover suitable trophies in order to be Have's rather than Have Not's back in their village.

Nearing the Strod river they come across a strange trio, a pair of radmuties, glowing greenish beings along with a External Destroyer class 209.  But Ronson's keen eyes note the huge sentry bot never aims any of the multitudes of its guns directly at the trio (Klod and Klix having been distracted by shiny objects and wandered away from the herd).  So without any obvious peril Ronson shrugs and meanders on down the road with Stinky and Petey behind him.

They cross the Strod river where the Fofo makes a bridge over it, the dull grey poisonous waters swarming with razor fish and things better left hidden by it's murky depths.  In the distance one of the river trader's boats pulls up at the sight of them and waits for them to pass, it's Omega tech laden hold safely out of harm's way while in the distance behind them the Radmuties curse as their ambush is given away.

The trio continue their march to the south west toward Homa when they hear the heavy growl of a porker's bike coming up fast.  They duck into the ditches hidden from view and watch as a heavy porker thunder's by on his huge hog while on a long chain behind him a flying monkey bounces and scrapes on the highway leaving bits of itself behind with each contact, the heavy chains sending showers of sparks.

As the day passes and night approaches they spot dots up in the air behind them, circling in widening patterns and at this time they remember the flying monkeys of Castle Strod, that the evil beyond imagining Count Strod sends out to garner prey for his torture games.

Discretion being a huge part of survival in the Earth That Is they pick up the pace and strike out for the great Rift, a mist and fog shrouded valley between two huge cliffs that drove upwards as the world changed in 2012.  The Fofo diving into the mists, unhurt by the upheaval.

Scurrying as fast as they can, using terrain to try and hide them from the monkey's sight proved of no use.  They were spotted by the outrunners and a band of monkeys swarmed them.  They broke and ran, seperating trying to save themselves and the monkeys simply split up and dove after each one catching up to them easily.

With three seperate fights going on things, Petey and Ronson held their own and managed to defeat their creatures while Stinky was put down, slowly ichoring out on the ground.   But with a push the others managed to kill or drive their opponents away and made it to Stinky's side in time to stablize her.

Carrying the unconscious body the two of them made into the safety of the mists of the Rift where they took the time to recover as the swirling blue black fog of the mist filled the air.

They moved along the Fofo through the great rift.  After a time the fogs lightened and brightened and then through a opening in the mists they spotted an inviting house sitting next to the road, lights streamed from inside and the smell of cooking filled the air.  Through the open doorway a table set for dinner could be seen.

Stinky went closer and then the smell of good food and the thought of a soft bed took over her mind and she proceeded to stumble forward oblivious to everything else.

At this point Ronson and Petey went "well hell" and started shooting the house, knocking away its inviting form to reveal a monster underneath.   Chair like creatures vomited forth through the door, symbiotic creatures that gathered up the food and brought it to the house only to be blown to splinters before they could do more than get close.

The house rose up of two legs worthy of Baba Yaga and thundered toward the group in ground eating strides as huge pseudopods extended from it to smash into the heroes.  But with Petey swarming all over the creature confusing it and Stinky's android grip they held it down, taking a beating in the process but the whole time Ronson's fiery flares chipped away at the house setting more and more of it on fire until it collapsed into a fiery inferno of burning critter.

They each dove after some shiny objects littering the creatures gullet, coming away from some Omega tech items of the house's last dinners, or diners as the case may be.

Recovering they moved on, a bit more surefooted as surely the house would have driven out any competition.  And as it turns out they traveled unmolested.  As they drew near the exit of the rift the ground started to shake and vibrate and then ahead of them a huge machine plunged upwards out of it.   A earth borer of some time.  A strange creature emerged as they stood in stunned astonishment and it introduced itself as Bartholamole.   A explorer/inventor of the mole tribes.   His steam powered digger though was out of coal and he'd been forced to surface, just short of the source of coal his sensors ahd picked up.

A bit of bargaining and the group agreed to retrieve his coal after Bartholamole gave them a Incredible Amazing Expanding Wagon that turned from toy size to a full sized wagon to retrieve the coal in.

Pocketing the wagon they moved south and ran into Peddler Jack, a traveling peddler of a siesmic/giant origin and looking tough as a mounting they talked awhile and continued onwards, passing the sight of of a destroyed toll booth that Jack had told them about.

A little further they found the Blue Belles, a porker gang that had set up a tavern and a bit of a shanty camp.  Inside they went into the Wallow, the local bar and one of the two buildings.  Outside they'd seen a locomotive that burned coal to drive a turbine to generate electricity along with a coal tender car filled with coal.

After talking with Rusty behind the bar, Ronson went upstairs to talk to the Boss of the hogs [Yeah I went there].   The boss turned down his request for any coal and while talking another porker burst into the tavern and rushed upstairs where Ronson overheard him tell a story about Strod attacking one of their porker camps up the road.   Wasting no time Boss rallied the troops leaving but Rusty and a few bruisers behind as they roared off on their hogs to their buddies.

Ronson, Stinky and Petey, seeing but the three porkers in the bar along with a few fellow travelers opened up the whupass in an effort to get their coal.  Ronson going after Rusty while the others took out the bruisers.  During the fight as things were looking bleak and the heroes were bleeding all over the place, Ronson managed to convince one of the travelers hiding under the porkers were killing visitors and eating them or something to that effect and one of the traveler's joined in on the fight helping to distract Rusty and giving the group a chance to kill them.  The traveler dying int he process.

As the porkers from the outside watch towers made it into the bar Ronson managed to convince the first one in that the traveler had started the trouble, killed Rusty and the other two and they'd just been helping out.  That porker spouted it as gospel to the other three that entered a few seconds later.

While the porkers were trying to make sense of it, the group headed outside to collect the coal they'd bought from Boss Hog, at least that was their story.

As one of of the porker's rushed away on his hog to tell the others, the group hurridly and with much nervous glancing about filled the Amazing Astounding Expanding wagon with coal and then started pushing it down the Fofo.  Each taking a 5 minute breather in turn to recover.

They made it back to Bartholamole without any signs of porker pursuit and then convinced the mole man to use his strange earth digging craft to carry them to the outskirts of Homa under the saftey of the earth.  Gifts were exchanged during a tea ceremony and Ronson got an amulet that would let the moleman know if he wanted to visit again.

The group watched the moleman's craft vanish back under the ground of the small dead end canyon they'd been depositied in.   As the stars came out overhead the distant green-yellow glow of the Homa ruins could be seen lighting up the night skies.

19Nov/100

Savaging Gamma 4E

Posted by Dennis

After some casual thought I believe it would be possible to Savage (the general term in use to denote converting some system to Savage Worlds) Gamma World 4E.   I was able to convert several sample origins and origin powers without significant roadblocks.

The purpose of this thought exercise is that after using Savage Worlds, a combat 'light' game, the combats in Gamma World 4E seemed slower than they used to (and they seemed reasonably slow before) and more drawn out.  Granted the tactical options are vastly superior in 4E than Savage Worlds but with greater options comes greater down time as the players figure out what they're going to do.   So I wondered if a bastard child of the two would be workable; a way to combine the faster simpler combat of Savage Worlds with the wacky random chaos of Gamma World 4E.

My thoughts on a way to impliment the 4E weapon and armour generalization (which I really approve of) that 4E brings to the table would be to base Light weapons on Smarts/Agility as the 'skill' to use for them and Strength/Vigor for the Heavy weapons.

So light melee would use the higher of the creature's Smarts or Agility roll as their attack die, rather than Fighting skill and the damage would be xd6+Smarts or Agility with of course the limitation the xd6 could not be higher than the attribute.

Ranged weapons may be an issue unless we just generic them make the damage the same system unlike the standard SW's where ranged weapons have a fixed damage die, no bonuses really.  But to keep the 'feel' of Gamma World 4E where the stat adds damage it might be necessary.

To make Guns still desirable, they would keep the same Ammo (either none or a lot) system but with a gun you can Double Tap, Auto Fire etc and we could leave those with a fixed damage appropriate for their catagory (1H/2H/Light/Heavy).

All the various conditions that 4E is famous for would in general become Shaken status as mostly appropriate.

All the 4E skills would simply become Knowledge Skills where necessary under Savage Worlds or use the equivalent SW skill.

Stats would be determined as such.  The character gains a d10 in the stat of it's primary origin and a d8 in the stat of it's secondary origin.   The rest would be determined at random by dealing the character 3 cards from the deck.  Joker would be a d12, Aces be a d10, face cards a d8, 5-10 would be a d6, 2-4 would be a d4.   Or that's my first rough pass on the idea there.

Skills: You start with the normal d4 in all skills.  Your origin powers grant you a 'die up' for their appropriate powers and then you roll 3 skills at random and they go up a die size.

As an example here's the Android origin Savaged -


Android
Mutant Type: Smarts;Dark; +1 to Dark OverCharge
Skill Bonus: Increase Knowledge: Science by 1 die size.
Built To Last: Gain +1 Toughness
Machine Powered: You do not need to eat, drink, sleep.
Android Critical (Level 2 or 6): When you score a critical hit, you deal +1 damage to the target until the end of the encounter.

Android Powers:
Machine Grip - Android Novice
Frequency: Unlimited
Target: One Creature
Attack: Smarts
Hit: d6+Smarts and the target is Grappled.

Be My Battery - Android Utility
Frequency: Scene
Trigger: You take electricity, fire, laser or radiation damage.
Effect: You are immune to the triggering damage type until the start of your next turn.  You also recover one wound.

Dark Energy Meltdown - Android Expert
Frequency: Scene
Target:  All creatures in a medium burst centered on yourself.
Attack: Smarts
Hit: 2d6+Smarts radiation damage.
Effect: The target’s pace is reduced to 2 for one turn.

Sample Mutations -

Metal Body
Target: You
Effect: You gain +1 Toughness and remove one Wound.
Mandibles
Target: one adjacent creature
Attack: Strength vs Parry
Hit: 1d8+Strength and the target is grappled.