Monday, July 7, 2014

Preparing for a Real Life Adventure

Following in the mode of the Tolkien stories, characters in fantasy campaigns often face long treks from one place to another. These are often long arduous journeys taken on foot. I have decided to embark on one such journey, known as the Camino de Santiago. Rather than fill this blog with all that off-topic stuff, I have started a new blog just for that.If you're interested, you can follow my preparations and my thoughts on that in my new blog, Camino Crawler.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Problem with Talking to Normals

Being a gamer, it should come as no surprise that I am a geek. I also have the good fortune of working with a fairly geeky crowd. As wonderful as this is, it can cause problems when I have to talk to "normal" people. I forget where I am and slip into my normal geeky ways, which the normal person has no way to cope with.

Just yesterday I had an appointment at the State Department to get a new passport. The lady there took my (original) birth certificate, and said that it would be mailed back to me with the new passport. The gamey/geeky idea hit me that documents have power. Instead of our normal world where documents reflect reality, I thought of an awesome fantasy scenario where the reality would reflect the documents! Thus the person who had the right document could control the universe by changing the document! (This probably isn't an original thought; indeed, if I recall correctly, the ending of The Never Ending Story is something like this).

So when she told me that she was keeping my birth certificate, I feigned a gasp and said "Oh, no! That means I haven't been born!"

The State Department lady was completely deadpan, and said "Of course you've been born. You just can't prove it for a few days."

Surely, I thought, no one can be this literal! She must be playing along! Encouraged by finding a government employee with such a keen wit, I followed with "Ah, well, if you want to make me younger, that would be awesome."

She gave me a blank look and replied, "That would be fraud."

That's when it occurred to me that she was neither playing along nor was she keen of wit. I smiled, and briefly thought of trying to explain the concept of documents controlling the world, but it seemed to me that the discussion would be lost on her. Instead I reassured her I wasn't looking for fraud, and I left.

It's hard to talk to normal people.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A New Magic for a New Dekahedron

Years ago I did what every GM does: I wrote my own RPG to reflect my play-style. It had many names during development, but due to the (non-)availability of domain names, it was eventually officially named Dekahedron. The intent was to create a rules-light, skill based system that was unencumbered by copyright or licensing hassles.

Time marches on, and preferences change. For reasons that I'll probably put in a future post, I've moved away from skill-based systems and my current preference is for attribute-based systems. Coincidentally or not, this is very much in-line with what I believe to be the essence of the current "old school role-playing" movement. This led me to work on a new version of Dekahedron. This isn't the Dekahedron 2.0 that I talked about a few months ago, rather this is a new project. I'm currently calling it Dekahedron: Old School Revision, or "Old School Dekahedron" for short. When I'm feeling particularly terse, I just call it "OSD".
The core rules — saving throws, task resolution, melee combat — are all pretty straight forward, and already written. The complicated part is a magic system.

I'd decided to go definitively non-old-school for my magic system. It seems to me that all the old games centered around a list of spells. When the new style of rules-light games hit the market, the rules were so loose to give the spell casters increased flexibility, but adjudicating these became completely arbitrary. I've decided to take a page from BESM and Hero, and let players create their own spells, but with a strong rules framework about what they can create.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Flavor of Space Battles

I am currently planning a space opera campaign, to be set in a distant future. Unlike the previous game that was set in the Star Trek universe, this one is set in a universe of my own creation.

I want the characters to be space travellers. I want them to have their own ships. I don't want them to be able to get on the phone with headquarters to request more stuff, so perhaps they'll be merchants, or pirates. Either way, it's obvious that there will have to be space battles.

Oddly enough, while I dislike combat in a sword & sorcery RPG being handled as a miniatures tactical board game, that's exactly what I want in space combat. Maybe it's because that zero-drag Newtonian motion is so unlike anything that we have on earth that it becomes interesting.

Anyway, the main question that I'm battling (heh heh) with right now is the flavor of those battles.

In the space opera genre, there seems to be three main flavors of space battles. Not coincidentally, each corresponds to a war movie:

  1. Midway (or maybe, Baa Baa Black Sheep if you remember that TV series): This flavor of campaign is marked mainly by carriers and fighters. In this type of campaign, player characters would probably be fighter pilots--each one launching his own fighter from a huge carrier to break through the lines of enemy fighters, and attack the main enemy fleet. This is the style of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. The benefit of this style of play is that space combat becomes just an extension of personal combat--each PC has their fighter, and each makes their own offense and defense rolls, and each takes their own damage. It's very easy to write the rules.
  2. PT-109: This is the type of campaign in which ships--be they destroyers or battleships, or even armed merchant vessels--fight each other directly. While fleet actions are certainly possible, in the campaign most combat would be the PC's single ship against one or two enemy vessels. In this flavor, PCs are usually all crew members of the same ship, filling different roles such as the Captain, Pilot, Gunner, and Engineer, each somehow contributing to the combat effectiveness of the vessel. This is the style of most episodes of Star Trek. The challenge with writing these rules is that you need each PC to have a meaningful role in the combat, otherwise the other players mentally check out while the captain and GM play a board game.
  3. Hunt for Red October: In space terms, this is a situation where ships are hard to detect. Kind of like if the cloaked Romulans went to war against the cloaked Klingons. Instead of worrying about the accuracy of the gunners to hit the enemy ship, the focus shifts toward a big game of cat-and-mouse where you attempt to detect the enemy ship without giving away your own location. You see this in the old submarine movies where they "run silent, run deep", and they debate whether or not to use a sonar "ping". Instead of action scene, you have a lot of tension scenes. PC roles are the same as the Pirates, but the Gunner becomes a sensor operator (the sonar man in the old sub movies). This shares the same disadvantages ad #2.

Number one was ruled out by one of my players. That leaves two or three. Currently I'm leaning towards the second flavor.

Edit: Original post had formatting errors due to copy/paste retaining HTML. Tidied it up but didn't change content.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Roll20.net: Another Virtual Tabletop

I've posted multiple times about my quest for a virtual tabletop solution.  At the time I had been using ScreenMonkey, and was happy with it.

Then I picked up the September issue of Knights of the Dinner Table magazine.  In the editorial Jolly Blackburn mentioned another solution in passing--Roll20.net.  As I said, I've been happy with ScreenMonkey, but I like to check out "new shinies", so I did.

You may recall a few posts back that I said I was thinking about writing a plug-in for Google Hangouts to facilitate die rolling.  Now it looks like I don't have to, as Roll20.net supports voice and video chat natively.

So the game moved over to Roll20 for a few trial sessions, and I have to say we won't be going back.  The move to voice (we don't use webcams) has sped up the game to near-tabletop speeds, and has added 100% to the enjoyability of the game.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Wood Elf

I'm hoping to get my brother into RPGs, so for Christmas I gave him a copy of Frank Mentzer's Player's Manual from the 1983 basic set of Dungeons & Dragons.  I chose that particular edition because the opening pages are the best introduction to the hobby that I've ever seen anywhere.

Well, it doesn't make sense to give him a book if I don't plan on running a game, so I gathered a few friends and started a weekly old-school D&D campaign.  My goal is to use this campaign to introduce him to the hobby, then switch over to my re-write of Dekahedron.

One of the players--James--wanted to play a Ranger.  But Rangers were in AD&D, not D&D.  So I split the difference and made a new race for him: The Wood Elf.  If the original D&D elf is a hybrid fighter-magic user, then the wood elf is a hybrid fighter-druid, which is exactly what I think a fantasy ranger should be.

Here's the write-up:


Wood Elf

RequirementsWisdom score of 9+
Neutral alignment
Prime RequisitesStrength
Wisdom
5% Experience BonusStrength of 13+ *and* Wisdom of 13-15
10% Experience BonusStrength of 13+ *and* Wisdom of 16+
Hit Dice1d6 per level up to 9th level
10th level, + 1 hit point, and Constitution adjustment does not apply
Maximum Level10
ArmorRestricted to organic-based armors only (Leather armor)
shield permitted if made only of wood and leather
WeaponsAny, but must be entirely constructed of organic materials
Save asElf of the same level
Fight asElf of the same level
Special AbilitiesFighter Maneuvers (Lance Attack, Set Spear vs. Charge; at 850,000 XP, Combat Options for Fighters);
half damage from dragon breath at 1,600,000 XP;
infravision;
extra languages (elf, gnoll, hobgoblin, orc);
1 in 3 chance to detect and follow tracks in the wilderness;
immunity to ghoul paralysis;
Druid spells;
Most Cleric spells

More so than the other Elfin sub-races, Wood Elves are one with nature. They live in isolated communities scattered throughout The Dreadwood, each lead by a self-proclaimed Elfin Princess. Unlike the more common Elves that dwell in great forest-cities, Wood Elf communities are intentionally kept small in order to reduce the environmental impact on the local area. When a community gets too large for the local area--usually when it reaches a population of 500 or so--an Elfin Maid will be named Princess and gather a group to form a new community.

Like the other Demi-Human races, most Wood Elves do not adventure. Those that do are almost always from the Priest-caste, which is presented here. They go out into to the wider world sometimes to spread their views on nature love, and other times to judge the other races for their treatment of the Wood. in fact, some believe that the Cataclysm that gave rise to The Dreadwood was caused by a Wood Elf ritual as an attempt to restore their view of "natural balance."

Wood Elf priests are not limited bludgeoning weapons like the Human clerics, but any weapon that they do carry must be 100% organic, with (for example) no stone or metal parts. For example, the arrows used by Wood Elf priests are often tipped with ivory arrow heads, costing twice as much as normal arrows.

While Wood Elf priests can technically wear any type of armor, the requirement that it be 100% organic effectively limit them to cloth or leather armor with a wooden shield. There are rumors of other types of armor made from organic materials, but such things are rare.

Wood Elves may cast any Druid spells supported by their current level. They may also cast any Cleric spell that does not relate to good, evil, law or chaos. For the number of spells per day, see the level progression chart.

Level Progression


LevelXP
Required
Spells per day by level
1st2nd3rd4th5th
100*0000
22,40010000
34,80020000
49,60021000
519,20022000
640,00022100
780,00032200
8160,00033210
9320,00033320
10440,00044321

*Per The Dreadwood house rule, 1st level clerics and Wood Elves receive 1 first-level spell every-other-day.

EDIT: I forgot to mention it earlier, but I used an excellent article, "Building the Perfect Class" by Erin Smale to help me determine the XP progression.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Jumping on the OGL Bandwagon

I've said it before, but one of my most favorite games is Big Eyes, Small Mouth (also known as BESM).  The rules are a kind of cross between a simpler, easier version of Hero System and a more fun, less crunchy version of GURPS.  The greatest failing of the game is that its publisher (Guardians of Order) went tango-uniform a number of years ago, and the title went to White Wolf, a publisher who has let it languish.  It is only available for purchase as over priced (IMHO) PDF files

Before they went kaput, however, Guardians wrote a D20 port of the game, and released that under the Open Gaming License (OGL).  While the game was released as BESM D20, there was also a trademark free version called "Anime D20".  (Note that it's only free of the BESM trademark, and that it still carries WOTC's "D20" trademark and related licensing burden).  I happened to be reading Anime D20 this past week, and it struck me that I could get rid of all the D20 cruft and have a pretty good approximation of the original BESM game.  This version would be covered under the OGL, so I could distribute it freely--even publish it, if I were so inclined!

So this is my next gaming project.  It needs a name.  For the time being I'm calling it Dekahedron 2.0 (Dekahedron is a public domain RPG that I wrote years ago.  More importantly, it happens to be a domain name that I own).

So do I start a new blog for the project? Or do I use this one?