Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Creative vs Destructive Play

I realized, upon further reflection, what my real objection to Monte's position on high-level play is (discussed previously here).  As a player and a GM, I like to create things in the game world.  This is part of what I like about Traveller; it encourages creative play on both sides of the screen.  During character generation, the creation of Allies, Enemies, and other NPC personalities happens as part of the system.  Between sessions, starship design is an entertaining pastime.  During play, the skill system is sufficiently flexible that you can go "Hey, I want to rig up the hull so that we can run current through it in case we're being attacked by giant space squid," and the GM goes "OK, Average Engineer (Power Systems) check, 10-60 hours, and some volume of spare parts depending on your effect," rather than "OK, that'll be 30000 gp, 2400 XP, and 60 days, during which time you can't do anything else interesting."  And for the GM, Traveller is absolutely made of tools to help create.  Create subsectors, create worlds, create reasonable (well, mostly) ecologies for those worlds, and create hooks.

D&D, on the other hand, does this relatively poorly.  Players create their characters, and all else is left to the DM.  Even then, most characters seem to be mostly rules constructs with little in the way of backstory or connection to the world.  Perhaps I'm being too strong here, and projecting my own past tendencies onto others.  But I really think I'm not...  Looking back at Tim's first summer game, the whole party were all such homeless drifters with undeveloped backstories that Tim decided that we'd all had our memories wiped as the only reasonable explanation.  On the other hand, that was originally intended to be a one-shot.  So...  yeah, not sure.  I guess the character creation process is just different; Traveller goes "OK, here's the character you've got and a few seeds of backstory; what were the details?", whereas D&D's character generation rules go "Build whatever you damn well please within this massively complex framework, and if you have a few minutes at the end maybe come up with a little backstory."  This lack of backstory on characters makes it harder for the DM to come up with hooks that the players will actually be invested in...  and so they default to mechanical motives (loot and XP) and superficial plots.

Further, play in D&D is largely destructive.  The structure of most (3.x+) D&D campaigns, both on the macro and the micro level, seems to be "Oh noes, some {monster, cult, tribe of orcs, demon prince} is menacing society.  Go forth, adventurers, and whack them." Even when PCs are fighting the good fight, they're still ultimately focused on killing things and taking their loot.  Sure, sometimes they're going to go on quests for the shiny artifacts...  but it's so they can throw them into Mount Doom and kill Sauron, thereby preserving the status quo.  Either that, or they're +6 weapons and therefore make the PCs better at killing all kinds of other things.  And then when you've slain the Dark Lord, you earn the accolades of the people, a new threat arises, and you do it again, until you get sick of dealing with how the system plays at high levels and you quit and start over at low levels, or you get TPK'd, or you break suspension of disbelief ("Wait, we're like 20th level.  Where do these bad guys keep coming from?  Why weren't they ruling the world back when we started, if they were so awesome?  And don't give me that up-and-coming crap.  These dragons have been here for a looong time.").

High-level D&D is the place where creative play is most reasonable.  Spell research, crafting magic items, training apprentices, building kingdoms, raising a family, founding a monastery, taking control of the guild...  all these are things which high-level characters in D&D should reasonably be expected to do.  All of these are things which the rules either explicitly don't support or discuss (kingdom building), or things which are widely discouraged (magic item creation and spell research) by both the rules (XP costs?  Ouch) and by DMs and publishers (ex: Trailblazer's stance on crafting magic items).  And this is where Monte's focus on planar travel and artifact hunts really gets me.  It's just a continuation of the same old "kill things and take their stuff" routine, but it solves (to some degree) the suspension of disbelief problem present in fighting high-level foes on the material plane.  Other than that, it's more of the same, and it's a terrible waste of such potential for creative play.

So, DMs of the world, next time your PCs get to high levels, start slowing down the pace of the game.  Part of the trouble with 3.x and later is that leveling is really, really fast in terms of in-game time.  At 4 encounters per day of EL equal to party level, a group of PCs could go from 1 to 20 in 67 days of continuous adventuring.  This is strictly ridiculous on a number of levels; assuming they take two days off for every day of adventuring, it's still only about half a year.  Make high-level NPCs and monsters scarce, and well-protected; they didn't get to be high-level by being foolish.   Don't necessarily keep the next threat obviously on the radar; give the PCs some slack sessions with personal subplots.  Go "Things settle down, and the realm is at peace.  A year passes, then another.  What do you do, in broad strokes?"  Present the PCs with social advancement as a reward for their successes; fiefs, guild franchises, titles, tenure at the Academy of Mages, sainthood, that sort of thing.  Use interesting and political hooks; maybe the Council of Wizards is holding an election for the new Magelord, and the party wizard's name has been brought up, or the king offers the fighter his daughter's hand in marriage, then dies under suspicious circumstances.  In either case, the characters now have to go do things or miss great opportunities, but the things they must do will be subtler, and not easily solved by killing people and taking their stuff (mostly, at least).

Then, if and when the Next Big Threat arises, the PCs have a network of assets in place that they can leverage against it, but also things that they need to protect, and probably a few enemies that they've made along the way.  And then you run some adventures where the players play their apprentices as PCs against the minions of the Enemy, and pull out the old PCs only for the final, climactic set-piece battle against the Enemy itself.  And sure, maybe that last battle is on another plane, or using an artifact weapon.  But it's more of an "Our students cannot survive in the abyssal citadel of the enemy, nor can they resist the temptation of the Black Sword.  We must do this alone," situation than "Another day, another plane."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Associative Action Points

And now, something that isn't Traveller!

Thinking about Trailblazer and d20 a bit, I realized that one of the issues I have with both standard action points and their stronger Trailblazer derivative is that they're completely unexplained in the gameworld; to use the Alexandrian's terminology, they're a dissociative mechanic (caution - loooong series of posts on the other end of this link).  No justification is ever given as to why the PCs have them and NPCs don't, except that "Well, they're PCs and they're special."  This doesn't quite cut it for me.  Even worse is that the resourcing mechanism on the standard implementation is similarly completely dissociated; your pool refills when you gain a level.  But the action of gaining a level is typically the culmination of a long, gradual increase in power in the gameworld, which only manifests it in mechanical benefits because the numbers we use in D&D are quantized integers, and it would be a huge pain to implement it otherwise (I have seen a d20 variant that allowed gradual levelling actually; Buy the Numbers.  The authors really really liked partial sums).  But action points, which are largely uncorrelated with level in their function, need not be assigned in giant chunks at level-up, and it rather strains my suspension of disbelief.

So that's the motivation for this post - I'm displeased with the lack of explanation of action points, though I have no real problem with the mechanics themselves except for their recharge.  Thus, the real goal of this post is to attempt to justify action points within the game world, and to provide alternate recharge schema following from those justifications.

The first solution that comes to mind is True20's Conviction, which operates similarly mechanically to action points, and is justified as deep reserves of willpower and energy as a result of a holding strong convictions.  It's actually a very similar system to Vampire the Masquerade's Willpower mechanic.  In both cases, characters have a nature, and behaving in accord with their natures generates Conviction / Willpower.  The fun thing with True20's conviction is that each character's nature includes a virtue and a vice; acting in accord with either restores conviction, but the existence of a vice allows a DM to 'tempt' players with conviction for doing terrible deeds, while the virtue allows DMs to reward them for acting well.  This worked pretty well in practice, though because it depends on DM fiat as to whether an action was a sufficiently strong expression of a virtue or vice, it can be tricky.  On the other hand, this allows DMs to tune the power level of their game based on their stinginess with conviction, or even to alter the tone of the campaign during play - when you're fighting the good fight against all odds and holding the line against the hordes, conviction might be easy to come by, but when you're wrongly accused, outlawed, stripped of your lands and titles, cursed in the sight of gods and men, then perhaps he backs off the granting of conviction.  So that's a bug or a feature, depending on which side of the DM screen you're on.

The next possibility is something like the Glory Points system from Mastering Iron Heroes, where you get 'action points' for sacrifice and good deeds.  These are pretty easily justifiable as Good Karma, with spirits and the universe watching out for the PCs who behave well / in accordance with the natural moral order.  This also explains why Joe NPC probably doesn't have any; he's unlikely to have held the gates against the orcs to buy time for the women and children to escape.  The trouble here is that evil PCs may get shafted; again, depending on who you ask, this may be good or bad.

A third possibility is suggested by the Martial Prowess variant of Glory Points, also from Mastering Iron Heroes, for use in more morally ambiguous campaigns.  With Martial Prowess, Glory Points are earned for defeating mighty foes in combat.  The karma / spirits justification works here, too, provided that the natural order is violence (which, for something like a Viking campaign, may be true).  A word of caution, though - we tried this once at home.  The party fighter and the party barbarian got into a competition to see who could earn more; I think we got into the low 30s.  We were pretty overpowered, though, and never spent them, because we were hoarding them for the competition (plus we just kind of forgot).  Good times.

A final possibility, which is kind of a synthesis of the above 'guiding spirits' and the Ancestor rules from Legend of the Five Rings, would be that each PC has a notable ancestor whose spirit watches out for them and provides them with strength in their hours of greatest need.  Here, the actual action points represent the strength of their bond with their ancestor, the strength of the ancestor spirit, and how strongly that ancestor favors them.  Retake your family castle?  The spirit approves, +1 AP.  Spend a month studying his fighting style, slay the descendant of his nemesis, or retrieve his sword?  +1 AP.  Accidentally drop said sword into a volcano?  The spirit is not amused...  -1 AP.  This also plays beautifully with Trailblazer's action point enhancement rules, which are abilities similar to feats (gained every 3 levels) which effect how you can spend action points and what they can do for you.  As you level, the enhancements you take are representative of the knowledge and power the spirit can grant to you as a reflection of its own character; a warrior ancestor might grant Mythic Smite, while a cunning thief ancestor might grant Mythic Luck.  Some of the abilities involving passing action points around the party would still be tricky to justify, but possibly workable.

From ancestor spirits, we could also branch out to deities, with action points serving as a measure of your deity's favor, and enhancements serving as a reflection of the boons your god is best at granting to his chosen.  Heck, you could even use them to model something like demonic possession / temptation (as with the good Doctor Bones in my last Traveller game - he'd have the Prophecy enhancement, methinks) or the god-in-flesh of a character like Fool Wolf.  As long as there's some kind of supernatural entity interested in the character and which acts through means other than direct spellcasting, action points could work, with refresh happening when you particularly please that entity, and the flavors of entity not necessarily the same across characters in the same party.

This approach leaves 'unbound' characters in the lurch, though.  What do you do with the grim, atheist warrior who clawed his way up from farmer ancestors, the thief who pays lipservice to many deities but worships none, or the wizard who seeks godhood for himself?  I don't have a perfect answer to that yet.  Something like conviction would probably be most appropriate for such characters, since the ancestor / god / demon system operates on similar principles in terms of awarding AP.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Release Updates (also Iron Heroes)

From the list of releases I'm watching for:

Starmada Nova: Cricket publicly released a finalish-looking draft of the first 11 pages of rules of the new edition.  It's very similar to the early draft that I mentioned previously, but there are some interesting differences.  In particular, on page 5 under Sequence of Play, there's a note that if one player outnumbers the other by 2 to 1 or more, they move or fire with two ships for each one that the outnumbered side fires with.  OK, nothing new there.  What is new, however, is that if you get to activate two or more ships per activation, your opponent chooses one of the ships for you to activate.  That's a hell of a tactical wrinkle under alternating movement and with damage being resolved during firing rather than at end of turn.

There's also an interesting note about Partial VP on page 11; it's like the crippling rules we used during our campaign, but better - you need to take a ship down to 2/3 hull to get half its value, rather than 1/2 hull.  Also nice that it's just a standardized rule now, rather than something we hacked on.

Finally, we got a confirm from Cricket down-thread that fighters will have their own reactive movement phase.  Oh well; probably for the better.   The new enemy-forced activation rules would really mess with fighters by allowing them to force you to activate your fighters early during ship movement, which would be quite a waste.

Mongoose Traveller Campaign Guide: Released to pdf this last week, the Campaign Guide looks pretty interesting, actually.  It's about as long as the Core, but full of random tables and whatnot for GMs.  I'm tempted to pick up a copy and do a review.

5e: No official news via EnWorld in the last two weeks.  However, this last week Monte &co spent most of their blog space talking about "high-level play", and how it always breaks down in previous editions.  Arguably in 1e/2e it was least bad, but casters were king (but, they had earned it by positively sucking for the first, oh...  long time).  In 3e, it was way too complicated and combats took six hours, despite the fact that they were only two rounds of game time.  My understanding is that 4e core high-level / epic combats also take a long damn time because monsters have ridiculously high HP and AC (er, defenses).  So, I say to Monte and Company: Get thee to a playtest!  That's been the issue with both iterations of Wizards D&D (as opposed to TSR D&D before 3e) - high-level play was horribly under-playtested.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be what they're focusing on; rather, they're looking at whether the play experience should change at high levels.  Me, I'd love to see kingdom building and ascension to deityhood as things on the high-level agenda.  "Epic dungeon crawls" make very little sense to me, and frankly seem somewhat dull.  Unfortunately, that seems to be what they're looking at; it's all about the artifacts and the plane-hopping.  While planar travel might not initially sound like code for dungeon-crawling, it pretty much is.  What is the Abyss but an infinite dungeon, full of an infinite number of high-level monsters with corresponding treasure, in addition to serious environmental trap-like threats?  It's the biggest dungeon ever.

And artifacts.  Argh.  So many artifacts these days are just big shiny swords with more bonuses than you could normally get.  3.x exemplars of this problem are the Hammer of Thunderbolts and the Saint's Mace.  While these are very nice weapons, they don't feel like Artifacts with a capital A.  Artifacts, to me, must bear an element of risk or sacrifice.  The Hand and the Eye of Vecna, the Sphere of Annihilation, and the Deck of Many Things all feel like artifacts.  Powerful evil intelligent weapons (Blackrazor / Stormbringer, for example, or our own instantiation of the trope, Mavrilith) definitely qualify, too.  The Orbs of Dragonkind also have the nice drawback that all dragons now hate you.  That's pretty acceptable, as far as drawbacks go.  But those shiny +6 keen goblinoid-bane throwing dwarven waraxes?  Not so much.

Trailblazer Monster Book:  Not a whole lot of progress on this front.  Still working on lycanthropes and layouts, I guess.  I found their gnoll art, though; it's pretty sweet.  The werehyena's good, too.

VBAM 2e: Still in editing.  They did post an update a while back with some draft supply, facilities, and loyalty rules, but I have not yet perused them.  Going to wait until they put out a combined playtest draft, I think.

ACKS:  Not actually something I'm waiting for a release on, but something I'm seriously tempted to pick up, especially given reasonable pdf prices.  Their mapping system has been getting some attention in the blogosphere of late (at Grognardling, with a series in responses at Untimately), and from Untimately's review (part 1 and part 2), it sounds a lot like "Traveller Meets 1e", with the 1e side favored in the mechanics.  I also got quite the Iron Heroes setting vibe off of the publisher's website:
Enter a world where empires totter on the brink of war, and terrible monsters tear at the fragile borderlands of men; where decaying cities teem with chaos and corruption, nubile maidens are sacrificed to chthonic cults and nobles live in decadent pleasure on the toil of slaves; where heroes, wizards, and rogues risk everything in pursuit of glory, fortune, and power. This is a world where adventurers can become conquerors – and conquerors can become kings.
 See, 5e devs, that's what high-level play should sound like.

If nothing else, I should probably pick up copy of ACKS to compare against Fields of Blood, which is what I'd probably use for high-level 'realmy' play presently.  Though now that I think about it, Iron Heroes + Fields of Blood would fix / ignore a lot of FoB's high-level caster problems...  hmm...

Some of the token mechanics would get weird in mass combat, but it would probably be OK.  If the Armiger, the Berserker, or the Weapon Master engage in mass combat, they come out with piles of tokens.  Heck, this would be the best time to play a Weapon Master; usually combats are too short for them to build up to their finale / combo moves.  The Archer would convert well, since it's just based on aiming time, and mass combat turns are long.  Executioners and Hunters would do the worst of the token classes, I think.  Hunters could do OK via Tactics / Lore feats to provide wide-areas bonuses to their units, but their class abilities are too small-scale.  Executioners could do the same unit support stuff via Lore, but they're really most useful for engaging single high-value targets like enemy generals and heroes.  Harriers just get the running-around bonuses all the damn time, and Men-At-Arms are as versatile as ever.  Thieves...  not so much for the battlefield, but the Social feats would make them master spies.  And Arcanist power is sufficiently limited and sufficiently dangerous to use that applying it is actually a question, rather than "Yeah, I'm a 9th-level wizard, I'll go stop the invading army single-handedly, be right back *teleport*."

Upon further reflection, though, IH characters have huge numbers of abilities geared towards small, discrete bonuses in skirmish combat which cease to be applicable or are otherwise too granular for mass combat.  Granting an extra flanking bonus to an ally via War Leader, for example.  The scale on that is just far too small to be useful in mass combat.  One tempting option, however, would be to provide a second scale of tokens.  Mass Combat $TYPE Tokens are earned as normal tokens of their type via more-or-less equivalent actions in mass combat.  They can then be spent to provide bonuses on that scale to units which the PCs are secunded to.  The berserker works his men into a frenzy, the archer directs the volleys of his bowmen with great precision, the armiger organizes a shield wall, and the hunter exhorts his troops to capitalize on fortuitous terrain.

Weapon Master and Executioner get kind of stuck here, though - sheer weapon skill is hard to provide to people, and martial units tend not to be particularly sneaky, nor deft at backstabbery.  It might be reasonable for certain types of units, or for units which are officially under the command of the WM / Exec; if you're a light scout unit and your commander is the Lord Assassin, you might pick up a few tricks.  Likewise, the 4th Northbridge Pikemen, having been drilled extensively under the harsh tutelage of the Pikemaster, might be able to pull off some impressive feats of pikesmanship (quiet, spellchecker).

Frankly, though, I'm not really sure I have a problem with Executioner, Berserker, and Weapon Master not being ideal line-unit commanders.  They seem more likely to be best for either cutting swathes through enemy units on their own (Berserker and WM), or seeking out and disabling or dueling enemy leaders (Exec and WM).  Armiger, Hunter, and Man-at-Arms all gain Tactics Mastery, and are frankly not as suited for one-on-one confrontation with strong enemy leaders as the more offensively-powerful classes, nor to cutting though massed troops unsupported like the Berserker.  Archer and Harrier are tricky; they make most sense as commanders of specialist units (archers and cavalry, respectively).  And Thieves...  saboteurs, infiltrators, and general-purpose commanders, I suppose.  They certainly have the skill points to put into Command, even if it isn't a group skill.  Honestly, the Thief shines in diplomacy, not on the battlefield.

One additional promising avenue of research here would be to convert the Fields of Blood prestige classes (where applicable) into mastery feat trees or class abilities.  Warlord's abilities fall under Tactics mastery (possibly merging Warlord and Warcrier into one mastery feat), Master Mason's under Siege Lore, Living Legion's under Power or Armor, and Hordemaster's look a lot like Berserker rage abilities.

Finally, if I were to attempt such a game, I think I would likely use Hong's Hack, which fixes a great many things in Iron Heroes (though not the armor problem, which is frankly less of a problem in mass combat.  Neat).

And so we see that I don't actually need any more books, as long as I can be still be inspired by the advertising copy.  Why am I writing a post about new and upcoming releases again?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mailbag 2: Traveller and Funnies

A continuation of the Mailbag series, where I look at search terms and possibly mention something relevant to someone out in the ether.

"mongoose traveller how many career terms can you take": Well, this is an easy one.  By rules as written, there is no hard limit.  The two primary limiting factors on safe careers like citizen, noble, and merchant are aging and the advancement roll rule.  Aging is much less of a threat for profitable / rich classes, since they can afford anagathics.  However, page 9 of the Mongoose Core states:
If your result [on an advancement roll] is equal to or less than the number of terms you have spent in this career, then you cannot continue in this career after this term. Either your services are no longer required, or events have caused you to leave, or perhaps you are simply bored and want a new challenge.
 Thus, no character can do more than, oh...  15 terms (assuming they roll all 12s to advance and end up with a 15 in their advancement stat) in any one career, even if they make all of their survival rolls.  Granted, most characters will also be decrepit with age or lousy with anagathic debt by that point.

In practice, however, even 6-term characters are terrifyingly skilled, equipped, and well-connected.  General consensus on the Mongoose Traveller forums is that limiting PCs to a maximum of 4ish terms produces heroic, but not ridiculous, characters.  As a player in a 4-term-limit game presently, and having GMed a 6-term-limit game last spring, I can attest to this statement.

"powergaming mongoose traveller": And now we start to get into the funnies.  Look, kid, I don't know who sent you here, or why you think I'd know anything about powergaming.  Oh, that post.  Look, that was back in d20; I'm a reformed character now, I am...  ah, crud...  Fine, come in, and have some theorycraft, but you didn't get it from me.  At first, it seems hard to powergame in MongTrav because the character generation is so damn random compared to d20.  However, there are a couple things you can do to help your odds.  First, roll high for ability scores (just kidding...  high scores do help a lot, though).  If at all possible, go for a Vacuum / Asteroid homeworld; Zero-G and Vacc Suit are both important to have, and you don't usually need more than 0, so background's great for those. Finally, cultivate a good understanding of probability theory; it's your best friend during Trav chargen (well, besides your dice).

There are a couple 'standout' careers which tend to be strong in play and chargen.  Marines are scary dudes in combat, especially if you can roll Armour for combat armor.  Ideally you want to be rank 4 - this gives you a 1/3 chance of rolling armour in each material benefits roll, as well as two extra rolls.  If you get to rank 5, then your odds go down to 1/6 per benefit roll; the fact that you gain one extra roll is unlikely to offset this reduction in probability.  Agents have a fearsomely good entry on their Events table (number 8, so it occurs just under 1 in 6 events) where they go undercover, and if they pass Deception, they can get a Rogue skill and a roll on the Rogue events table, which includes a goodly number of events which give another skill.  So if your dice like rolling 8s, Agent is a good choice for raw skill generation.

Navy's Personal Development table is good, since there are no skills one it; there is a school of thought that says you should try to accumulate no skills during character generation, just ability scores.  Then, when you start play, you can rapidly train up exactly the skills you want.  I've never seen this done in practice, but if Mordecai dies, I may have to try it.  Going Navy for 4 terms and ideally getting promoted each term, you'd end up with 8 skill rolls, which would give you about +1.33 to each ability score by expectation.  If you don't get Commission (and per page 8, "trying for commission is optional."), then you'll end up with Mechanic 1, Vacc Suit 1, and +1 End from ranking up.  Looking at the Navy events table, your expected Skills Per Event yield is around...  1 in 3, plus a small variable factor based on your Edu bonus from Event 5.  Thus, expect about 1.33 skills from events over 4 terms.  When you muster out, you're at +9 points of ability scores and ~3.33 skill rank.  If you refuse Connections and Skill Package skills, then you can learn a new skill in about a month, which is insanely fast in Traveller terms.  You'll suck pretty hard at the beginning of play, though, and you can accomplish a superior skill flexibility for mental skills with a Wafer Jack for much cheaper (more on those later), so be sure to focus your training on those physical skills you can't learn from the Jack (like Gun Combat, Zero-G, and Vacc Suit.  Those are the Big Three physical skills that everyone should have.  Stealth and Pilot also get honorable mentions.  In the mental category, you cannot go wrong with Recon, Medic, and Mechanic).

One trick I stumbled across with my current character was a result of the 4-term limit.  I finished my third term as a Thief at rank 3 and realized that if I changed careers, then got promoted, I would get an extra benefit roll and any skills gotten at rank 1 on the new career's promotion table.  Basically, odd-numbered ranks are good, generally - Thief 3 / Merchant 1 got me 7 total benefit rolls (4 from terms, 2 from rank 3, 1 from rank 1) and Broker 1, whereas Thief 4 would have gotten me 6 rolls and no Broker.

If you roll Athletics, Coordination is great because it lets you throw grenades and knives, as well as climb things.  Endurance, however, may actually be better, but is less obvious; it lets you resist stunners, poison, and disease, as well as wake up from unconsciousness more quickly.  Stunners are really, really good, so being able to resist them is also very nice.  Strength is the weakest (har har) of the three (well, except for Flight for non-avians...).

So those're the set of hacks I've discovered so far for CharGen...  there are also gear selection things, but those are much more straightforward.  Do buy Reflec; lasers kill people.  Especially buy Reflec if you're wearing Combat Armor, since you're a big fat priority-one laser target otherwise, and Reflec stacked on Combat Armor makes you scarily durable.  Wafer Jacks are great, since you can load up on cheap Expert/1 chips of mental skills and then use them at 0, or gain a +1 DM on checks below a certain difficulty if you already have the skill.  Paid for itself about 100 times over just for the +1 to Broker.  Stunners are excellent against lightly armored targets, slug autoweapons are good against light-to-medium armored targets, and lasers are your best bet against heavily armored targets.  RAM Launchers are terrifying.  There is no reason not to carry a snub or body pistol and a dagger, since they are weightless.  If your weapon has any recoil at all, install a gyroscope even if you don't think you'll need it, because you may take Strength damage.  Always, always get the laser sights.  I think that's about it...  Upon further consideration, this could've been its own post.  Oh yeah - also, if you can get your Broker DM up to +3 or +4, you can make enough money to buy Miami.  This is left as an exercise for the reader.

"klingon ship color schemes": OK, this one I actually don't know anything about.  I hereby refer you to the honorable Sergeant Crunch.

"character dossier assignment": Oh, you poor bastard.  You're here because of that "Character Dossier: Asmir the Faceless" post, but you're actually looking for something homework related.  This amuses me.

"accordion thief nemesis quest":  Well, there's something I hadn't thought about in a while.  Haven't played KoL in...  not really sure.  Beginning of last semester; September, maybe.  So that's like six months.  However: the accordion thief nemesis quest is the worst of the six nemesis quests.  I commend you, brave soul, to the tender mercies of the KoLwiki page on the subject.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fantasy Traveller - Black Magic

Rounding out the five magic skills for Fantasy Traveller is black magic.  While wizards manipulate subtle arcane forces, sorcerers channel raw power, clerics ask favors of their deities, and druids command natural spirits, the black mage draws on the forces of darkness to accomplish effects including necromancy, the binding of demons, trapping souls, blood magic, curses and hexes, and similar.  Powerful black mages can achieve immortality via lichdom, raise armies of undead to do their bidding, and crush kingdoms beneath terrible plagues...  but, for every black mage who reaches such heights of power, ten succumb to weakness, temptation, and inattention, and are slain by the powers they wished to master.

Black magic runs off of Intuition and Education with similar frequency; performing the summoning ritual for a demon uses Education, but commanding it successfully requires Intuition.  Some black magic may also be governed by Endurance, for rituals and tasks which entail great pain for the caster.  Even more so than Sorcery, black magic embraces the philosophy of 'great power at great risk'; while failing a casting check in most schools is likely to simply cause the spell to fizzle, failing a black magic check often has negative consequences.  Failure to curse an enemy may curse you, failure to raise undead may cause damage to the caster as negative energies consume him, failure to summon a demon may summon something worse...  So it goes.  There is also the possibility that a failure, or even a success, will attract the attention of the powers of light, who may send their servants after the black mage.  This is a particularly good result to have occur on a check with effect -1; the spell may succeed, but has attracted the attention of powerful forces who take umbrage.

Example effects:

Place a short-lived hex on an enemy in combat - Routine (+2) Black Magic + Int, 1-6 seconds (significant action).  The target takes a penalty to a skill of your choosing equal to your effect plus one for 1d3 rounds of combat.

Raise a single humanoid as a weak undead servant - Average (+0) Black Magic + Edu, 10-60 minutes.  The effect of the check serves as a bonus to the power of the created undead.

Summon a demon - Difficulty varies by demon type, Black Magic + Edu, 1-6 hours.  The effect of this check serves as part of a task chain with the check to control the summoned demon, below.  Summoning an imp or other minor spirit is Routine (+2), hell-hounds Average (+0), succubi and nightmares Difficult (-2), vrocks and similar warrior-demons Very Difficult (-4), and balrogs Formidable (-6).

Control a summoned demon - Difficulty is one step harder than summoning, Black Magic + Int, 10-60 seconds.  The summoner may give one command, plus one per point of effect, which the demon must obey.  Not that wording is important, and compound sentences (or even compound objects) may be interpreted as multiple commands - "Kill Warlord Ugrak and his war council" is two commands, while "Kill everyone in Warlord Ugrak's tent" is one, but much less specific - if nobody is in the tent when the demon arrives, then none will be slain.  Commands need not all be given upon completion of the summoning, but the next command must be ready after the completion of the previous command.  Any command which entails long-term service, such as "Permit none but me to pass through this doorway" has a maximum duration of three months, after which the use of another command is required to retain that service.

Perform a blood sacrifice to aid in the control of a demon - Average (+0) Black Magic + Edu, 10-60 minutes.  Task chains with the Control a summoned demon task, above, but requires the sacrifice of a sentient.  Particularly succulent sentients, such as virgins and paladins, may grant a bonus to this check (bonuses for paladin and virgin do not stack; too much overlap).

Research how to become a lich - Difficult (-2) Black Magic + Edu, 1-6 months.  The effect of this check task chains with the ritual of lichdom, below.

Perform the ritual of lichdom, sealing your life force into an inanimate object for eternity - Very Difficult (-4) Black Magic + End, 10-60 hours.  If the caster succeeds, they're a lich!  If they fail by -1, they take 4d6 damage, ignoring armor, and if they fail by -2 or lower, they die outright.  Failure by -6 may have special, unpleasant consequences, such as having bound yourself into your phylactery and accidentally severing your link to your body, for an eternal conscious imprisonment.

Black magic is something which I have always found to be lacking in flavor in D&D.  Raising undead, bestow curse, and similar are just normal spells, with no particular risk attached to their use.  There is, from the rules of D&D, no particular reason that sane, right-thinking wizards shouldn't use such powers.  The increased risks associated with the Black Magic skill under these rules, as compared to Wizardry, serve as such a reason here.  With that risk, however, comes great power and great versatility, particularly with summoned demons as a means of gathering intelligence, acquiring items, and assassinating enemies.

Next up: career tables

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fantasy Traveller - Divine Magic

Today, in installment 2 of 3 on magic in a fantasy version of Traveller, I present divine magic.  As with arcane magic, there are two skills governing the channeling of divine power.

Liturgy: Liturgy is the fine art of asking deities for help and hoping that they answer.  Unlike with the arcane skills, Liturgy has specialties, as each god has their own holy book, rituals, and preferred offerings.  Liturgy 0 conveys a basic familiarity with the workings of divine magic and a cursory knowledge of the functions of the various deities in the pantheon, while scores higher than 0 must be assigned to separate deities as specialties, representing closer study of the tenets of those deities (ex: a standard D&D cleric might have Liturgy (Pelor) 2).  Note that under this system, polytheistic priests are quite possible with the spitting of points between multiple deities (ex: Liturgy (Boccob) 1, Liturgy (Wee Jas) 1 for the magically-inclined D&D priest).  The magical effects available through a particular Liturgical specialty depend heavily on the deity; a war god is likely to look favorably on requests to smite heathens, while a god of healing probably won't.  Difficulty modifiers should be assigned based on the the suitability of a given request from the deity's perspective.  Standard liturgical spell effects include turning the undead, smiting enemies of the faith, prophecy, healing the injured, curing the sick, raising the dead, and granting blessings.

Liturgy is generally governed by Education, as the governing factor of the effectiveness of prayers is making sure that you get the words right and living according to the tenets of the deity, which requires that you know the tenets of the deity and the words of his prayers.  Intuition may be relevant if you're trying to deceive a deity...  but that's a risky thing.  As a general rule, if a Liturgy check fails with effect -1, the spell succeeds, but the deity requires a sacrifice from the priest in accord with the magnitude of the desired effect; this may range from an extra two hours of prayer or the sacrifice of a goat for minor effects to a major quest or crusade for major effects.  With effects between -2 and -5, the prayer falls on deaf ears, and with effects of -6 or lower, the priest has angered the deity, with consequences such as revocation of spells for a period of time (or until ritually purified) for more merciful deities or plagues of boils, pillars of salt, rains of brimstone, impotence, leprosy, and other Old Testament-grade curses for less merciful ones.  Consult your GM to see if Liturgy is right for you!

Example uses:

Heal the injured - Average (+0) Liturgy + Edu, 1-6 minutes.  The target heals 1d6 + effect points of damage to ability scores if delivered within 5 minutes of the injury, or just the effect if delivered outside of 5 minutes.  Healing can only be administered once per injury.  For deities of growth and healing, this is an Routine (+2) effect, while for those of death and decay, this is a Difficult (-2) task.

Miraculous Healing - Average (+0) Liturgy + Edu, 1-6 hours.  This hours-long ritual is used for healing those who are terribly wounded ever after preliminary healing of injuries, and must be performed in a sanctified place.  See also Surgery, Traveller Core page 75.  As with healing the injured, modifiers for deity type apply.  Other uses of the Medic skill are likewise subsumed into Liturgy.

Bestow Blessing - Average (+0) Liturgy + Edu, 10-60 minutes.  You bestow your deity's favor on a single willing recipient, plus one recipient per point of effect, for the duration of one week.  Each recipient may 'burn' the blessing at any time during this week to gain a +2 DM on a check associated with the deity's portfolio (exception - you cannot use blessing bonuses on Liturgy checks).  Deities are jealous, however, and no character may benefit from more than one blessing in a given week.  Likewise, once a character has been blessed by a particular deity for a particular week, the blessing is 'locked in' for that week, and he cannot gain another deity's blessing for that week.

Turn the Undead - Average (+0) Liturgy + Edu, 1-6 seconds (significant action).  Nearby undead apply your effect as an inverse task chain to all of their actions for the next round (ex: Effect +6 normally generates a +2 bonus.  Instead, it would inflict a -2 penalty).  Deities of light and life may provide their followers with additional effects such as damage to the undead, while deities of death may instead provide the ability to bolster or heal the undead.  This effect also works on demons and other such entities, but this use may be Difficult (-2) or harder depending on the power of the entity.

Smite Enemy of the Faith - Average (+0) Liturgy + Edu, 1-6 seconds (minor action).  You may attempt to smite enemies of your faith with whom you are in combat.  This works much like Aiming, except that you gain a +1 plus a task chain bonus based on your Liturgy check result (ex: Liturgy check effect 6 -> +2 task chain bonus -> +3 smite bonus to attack).  This bonus stacks with Aiming, but not with itself.  Additionally, the bonus only applies to those who are actually enemies of your faith; a Cuthbertian can smite undead, liars, and thieves, for example.  Attempting to smite someone who isn't an enemy of your faith is likely to displease your deity.  This tends to be an Routine task for warlike deities, and Difficult for warmfuzzy healer deities.

Raise the Dead - Very Difficult (-4) Liturgy + Edu, 10-60 hours.  This arduous ritual must be performed in a sanctified place, but if successful, may restore a dead person to life.  The ritual requires a reasonably-intact corpse, and restores the target to life weakened and exhausted (Fatigued, and Endurance damaged to 0) by the ordeal.  Raising the dead without a corpse, or without the End damage, is Formidable (-6).  Even priests of life and growth find this ritual Difficult (-2), though deities of death can exercise their control of this domain to similar effect (they often demand sacrifices in exchange, such a death for a life, however).

Miracle - Formidable (-6) Liturgy + Int, 10-60 seconds.  Ask anything in your deity's portfolio, and hope you roll well.  Taking additional time provides a +2 DM for every two increments increased, rather than for every one increment as usual.  Ask the Dwarven smith god for a deity-forged weapon to slay the terrible dragon which plagues your people, the death god to personally slaughter your enemies, or the war god to lead your army on the field of battle.  Effects of this magnitude frequently involve the personal appearance of deities in the mortal world, or transport of the asking mortal to the deity's realm (sometimes in the form of a vision, other times physical transport).  Often deities will demand great sacrifices for service of this kind.

Druidism: The other primary form of divine magic is asking nature spirits for aid rather the deities.  Druidism does not have specialties like Liturgy does, though situational modifiers may apply based on the kind of spirits in the surrounding area - plant spirits are sparse inside a volcano.  Druidic effects include speaking with animals, skinwalking, healing, tree stride, weather control, and similar.  Powerful druids can induce natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.  Druidism relies primarily on being in tune with nature and the animal part of oneself, and so is governed by Intuition, though as with Sorcery, Education may sometimes be used for rituals from obscure texts.

Failure of a druidism check with effect -1 means that the spirits of the proper type for the chosen effect are weak in this area.  The druid may choose to force the spell, exhausting their power, which denies him the use of similar spells for a time depending on the magnitude of the effect, or he can choose to permit the spell to fail.  Effects between -2 and -5 mean that the druid has misread the spirits and failed to gain their aid, and effects of -6 or below earns the wrath of the spirits, who curse the druid in a thematically-appropriate way; animal spirits may become hostile, plant spirits may writhe and entangle him, and elemental spirits may animate the very earth against him.

Example uses:

Heal the injured - As with Liturgy.

Miraculous Healing - As with Liturgy, though a sanctified place for a Druid is one where the spirits of life and growth are strong.

Read a druidic standing stone - Average (+0) Druidism + Edu, time depends on amount of text.

Speak with Animals - Routine (+2) Druidism + Int, 1-6 minutes.  The subject animals must not be attacking, though they will generally not flee from a druid who is trying to speak with them.  Having appropriate food provides a +2 DM.

Influence Animals - Difficult (-2) Druidism + Int, 1-6 seconds (significant action).  The druid can alter try to alter an animal's reaction to the party's presence.  A successful check allows the druid to modify the animal's reaction result (per page 72 of Mongoose Core - Animal Reactions) by an amount less than or equal to his Effect in either direction.  For example, a party encounters a bull triceratops, which is a Grazer.  The DM rolls for its reaction, and gets a 9, so it attacks the party.  The druid rolls Influence Animals, getting Effect 3.  He can change the reaction roll to anything between 12 and 6, and so can cause it to cease attacking or to flee.

Enter a trance and transfer your consciousness into a nearby animal - Routine (+0) Druidism + Int, 1-6 minutes.  You gain nominal control over the mind of a nearby animal, though your perceptions are filtered through its.  Performing this on a tamed animal is Routine (+2), but truly wild, powerful, or savage animals may be Difficult (-2) or harder.  Modifiers based on size and utility may apply; controlling a raven is much easier than controlling a bear.  While in this state, your body sits motionless and defenseless.  You can be wakened by a slap, water, or damage to either your body or to the animal.  Maintaining the trance in the face of one of these interruptions requires a Druidism + End check of difficulty varying with the strength of the interruption.  Such a check is also required to maintain the trance for long periods of time.  While in such a trance, the only other druidic magic you may use is to speak with or influence animals, though speaking with or influencing animals of the type you are currently possessing is of Easy (+4) and Average (+0) difficulty, respectively.

Shapeshift into a small animal, such as a cat, monkey, or bird - Very Difficult (-4) Druidism + Int, 1-6 minutes.  While in this form, you gain the physical stats, special abilities, and senses of the animal into which you have changed.  You remain in this form indefinitely, though you revert if slain.  The animal's instincts are overlaid on yours, and it is dangerous to remain outside your natural form for too long; for every 24 hours you remain continuously in a foreign form, you must make a Druidism + Int check with a -1 DM per previous check to retain your sanity.  If you fail, you lose yourself in the animal nature and become a normal animal of that type.  Shapeshifting into larger, more powerful animals is possible, but difficult and dangerous; such animals tend to have stronger natures, and so sanity check frequency and difficulty are increased.  Additionally, you may cast no other spells while shapeshifted.  Resuming your natural form is a significant action.  When you shapeshift, damage persists across forms - if you have more damage than your new form can handle, you die.

Predict tomorrow's weather - Routine (+2) Druidism + Int, 1-6 minutes.  You can determine what the weather will be like tomorrow, and can look one additional day into the future per point of effect.

Make it stop raining - Difficult (-2) Druidism + Int, 1-6 minutes.  You can alter the weather in a small area surrounding you, such as a forest glade or stretch of beach.  This alteration persists for an hour, plus one hour per point of effect.

Induce berserk - Difficult (-2) Druidism + Int, 1-6 seconds (significant action).  You can cause yourself or a subject to enter a berserker frenzy by angering their animal spirits.  Using this ability on an unwilling subject increases the difficulty to Very Difficult (-4).  During the frenzy, the subject gains an extra minor action per round of combat and suffers no penalties for wounds taken.  Additionally, they add your effect to their Strength score for the duration.  However, they also cannot distinguish between enemies and allies, may only move towards targets and attack in melee (may not aim, hide, lurk in cover, cast spells, retreat, and so forth), and do not know how much damage they have sustained (this information is kept secretly by the GM; when a berserker runs out of physical ability score points, he just drops dead).  Berserk rage lasts until there are no further apparent conscious targets, or until the subject is slain.  Particularly tragic or poetic actions (killing one's wife, brother, or liege lord, for example) may also end the rage immediately as the target comes to his senses.

Cataclysm - Formidable (-6) Druidism + Int, 10-60 hours.  After a long and painful ritual, you cause a natural disaster in a nearby area, such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, or volcanic eruption.  If the area was already prone to such a disaster (ie, you're on top of a geologically active area), then the check is Very Difficult (-4).

Design notes:
Both of the divine skills are strong support skills which highlight the differences between Education and Intuition.  One of my goals with Liturgy was to move clerics away from the "Armored wizards who call down Flame Strikes and crap" and to emphasize the importance of the temperaments of each deity - the Trickster God's blessing doesn't provide a bonus to attack unless it's a backstab, the War God won't help you weasel your way out of things, and so forth.  With Druidism, similar concerns manifested themselves with shapeshifting, which has been historically pretty damn broken.  I think this fix should suffice; skinwalking allows druids to use animal forms, but leaves their own bodies vulnerable, while shapeshifting itself is difficult, especially for combat forms, and damage persists across them, so that if you're badly wounded as a bear and you shift to human form, you will likely perish.

To part 3 - black magic

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fantasy Traveller - Arcane Magic

First, design goals.  One of the things that I found dissatisfying about Traveller psionics is that it is a very, very limited-use resource.  Playing a character whose primary function is psionics is nigh-impossible, because psionic strength points are very limited, and your ability to use more psi talents decreases as your Psi DM drops.  This was something I wanted to avoid in the design for FantTrav's magic system.  However, I did like the relative simplicity of Traveller's psionics system - it's about 10 pages, all told, including spell listings.  In comparison with D&D's magic system, it is positively minimalist.  Finally, in core, there are five skills associated with it (telepathy, telekinesis, awareness, teleportation, and clairvoyance).  I feel that this is about the right number; it's hard for any one character to be good at all of them, which means that at least two characters can 'do' psi in the same group without stepping on each other too much.  On the other hand, it's also not so many skills as to be mind-boggling.

Initially, I tried to look at all available effects producible by magic in D&D, and then to group them into categories.  This proved to be a massive and fruitless task.  Instead, I ended up with something...  a bit simpler.  Five categories, five skills, grouped heuristically and intuitively, and with effects loosely defined.  Today, I present the arcane skills, with divine coming soon.

Also, note that with each skill is a list of sample effects.  These are just that: samples, not binding restrictions on the use of the skill.  Season to taste.

Wizardry: Wizardry is the study of the subtler manipulations of arcane magical forces.  Skilled wizards are adept at creating illusions, manipulating the minds of others, seeing across great distances, the construction of complex wards, teleportation, and the destruction of other magical effects.  Wizardry is primarily powered by Education, as it depends on careful study of arcane mysteries, though Intuition may sometimes be suitable for trying untested, experimental magics in the heat of the moment ("I need to create an illusory smell, but I only know how to create illusory images...  tricky.").  After you do it a few times, write it up, and publish, though, a particular effect may switch to Edu.

As a general guideline, if a Wizardry check fails with effect -1, the spell fizzles but the caster knows what they did wrong, and if they begin re-casting the same effect immediately following the failure, they gain a +1 DM.   Between effects -2 and -5, the spell has failed, and at effect -6 or lower, the spell has opposite the intended effect - you make the party fighter more vulnerable to fire, bolster an enemy caster's spellcasting check, or otherwise make life more difficult.  Teleportation is an exception to this guideline; at effects below -1, you just end up somewhere you weren't planning on going, with effect below -5 resulting in going places you really, really didn't want to go to (the court of the enemy king, or Hell, for examples).

Example uses:

Create an auditory illusion to muffle your footsteps - Routine (+2) Wizardry + Edu, 10-60 seconds, as part of a skill chain with Stealth (incidentally, I aim to make the skill chaining rules more merciful, and to make extensive use of chains - but that's another post).

Convince a guard that these aren't the halflings he's looking for - Average (+0) Wizardry + Edu, 10-60 seconds, with a negative DM equal to the guard's Int DM, as part of a task chain with Deception.

Counterspell an opposing spellcaster in combat - Difficult (-2) Wizardry + Int, 1-6 seconds (significant action).  You apply twice your effect as a negative modifier to the opposing caster's skill check to cast.

Disable / dispel a static ward outside of combat - Average (+0) Wizardry + Edu, 1-6 minutes.  Some modifiers may apply depending on the type and magnitude of the ward.

Teleport a short distance during combat - Average (+0) Wizardry + Edu, 1-6 seconds (significant action).  You may teleport yourself and your equipment up to 6 meters, plus 1.5 meters per point of effect.  Teleporting an ally this way is Difficult (-2).

Teleport across the continent, taking all of your allies and their gear with you - Very Difficult (-4) Wizardry + Edu, 10-60 minutes.  Additional penalties may apply if you're trying to teleport to somewhere you've never seen, or bonuses if you're going to a place you have ritually prepared or are overly familiar with (your sanctum, for example).

Sorcery: While Wizardry is the subtle, calculated manipulation of arcane forces, Sorcery is the incautious channeling of raw arcane power.  Sorcerers are good at flinging fireballs, calling down lightning strikes, telekinesis, flight, calling elemental beings from the very fabric of nature to their service, and similar effects.  If it's big and flashy, it's probably sorcery.  Sorcery runs primarily on Intuition; most sorcerers don't have a damn clue what they're doing, and don't care as long as it works.  Sorcerous rituals for doing things like calling fire and brimstone down to level a city, however, may run on Education, as careful study is required to enact effects of that magnitude.

As a general rule, if a Sorcery check fails with effect -1, the caster should be given a choice between having the spell fail / fizzle, or having it succeed with collateral damage to the caster, a party member, or something else valuable.  If a Sorcery check fails with effect between -2 and -5, it just fizzles, and with -6 or below, it backfires completely.

Example effects:

Attack a nearby foe with elemental energies - Routine (+2) Sorcery + Int, 1-6 seconds (significant action), inflicting 2d6 damage plus your effect.  You may increase the difficulty of the check to gain +1d6 damage per -2 DM taken, but this must be declared before the check is made.

Attack a group of nearby foes with elemental energies - Average (+0) Sorcery + Int, 1-6 seconds (significant action), inflicting 2d6 damage plus your effect to each target.  For each target beyond the second, you take an additional -1 to your check.  As with Attack a nearby foe, you may voluntarily increase the difficulty to gain extra damage; see above.

Armor yourself or another in telekinetic force - Average (+0) Sorcery + Int, 10-60 seconds.  The recipient gains Armor equal to your effect for ten minutes, which does not stack with nonmagical armor.  You may voluntarily increase the difficulty of the check to increase the duration, at a rate of +5 minutes per -1 DM taken in casting, but this must be declared before the check is made.

Armor yourself or another in flame - Difficult (-2) Sorcery + Int, 10-60 seconds.  Each opponent who strikes the recipient in melee for the next 10 minutes takes 2d6 plus your effect points of fire damage.  As with Attack a Nearby Foe and Force Armor, you can increase the difficulty of the check to increase the damage or duration; see above.

A few design notes:
Wizardry is more of a support school - it's good for making everyone else better at what they do, whatever it may be.  Sorcery, by comparison, is great at combat...  and not a whole lot else.  Sorcery's "increased risk for increased reward" theme also seemed appropriate to the reckless, intuitive nature of the school.  The omission of flight from the sample sorcery effects is intentional; flight is a sufficiently powerful ability that it should not be given lightly, and its utility varies significantly across circumstances.  Overland flight for the party might be of a 'capstone' difficulty on part with cross-country party teleport, but combat flight is significantly more powerful than combat teleportation.  Assign difficulties wisely.

Next time: divine magic.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mailbag 1: Starmada and BFG

As I was checking my search terms, I realized that some of them were fairly entertaining, and others were questions and might entail answers or responses.  So, here are some of my favorites, biased towards the ones that appear most often:

"starmada fire arcs": Yeah, these are tricky for beginners.  In AE, you have six primary arcs - A, B, C, D, E, and F.  There's also a second set, but they're for munchkins and rules wankers (the G arc is too damn good).  Each arc covers 60 degrees of...  well, arc.  If you take a ship's heading to be 0, directly right to be 90, directly behind to be 180, and directly left to be 270, the arcs cover angles as follow:
  • A: 300 through 360; forward-left
  • B: 0 through 60; forward-right
  • C: 240 through 300; left broadside
  • D: 60 through 120; right broadside
  • E: 180 through 240; rear-left
  • F: 120 through 180; rear-right
 I know that that may not be terribly helpful, and that I should include an image, but my image editing capabilities are rather limited (no mouse), and pulling one out of the manual would be poor form.  One trick we did find helpful in learning the arcs was copying the arc diagram from the book into the map so that we could refer to it rapidly without having to consult the book.

"battlefleet gothic firing arc templates": These I don't have readily memorized (though I thought they were just forward, aft, port, starboard...), but Games Workshops' BFG resources has something which might work.

 "starmada admiralty edition review": Huh, maybe I should write one of those.  A bit late in the game's lifecycle, though, since Starmada Nova should launch in the next month or so.  Speaking of which, most recent news on that front is that the rules are complete, but they're deciding what should go in the core book, and doing layout / formatting.  Also, they have cover art, and it has better texture than in previous versions.

"battlefleet gothic conversion": Let me tell you, when Starmada Nova launches, it's the first thing on my to-do list (possibly after constructing a spreadsheet for accelerated shipbuilding, depending on how fast OldnGrey and the other spreadsheet guys on the forums are about it).  I did do a lot of conversion work on the Battlefleet Gothic ships to Admiralty Edition, too (about 5 revisions of Imperials, Chaos, and Eldar, as well as one version each of Tau and Orks)...  but the files were lost in the great Laptop Catastrophe of Fall '11.  They may be on a backup drive somewhere, but I honestly don't know anymore.  There are three relevant threads on the Starmada forums, here, here, and here.  The first of those has most of my version 1 work, as well as parts of v3 and my v3.5 Imperials. 

"simplest campaign system": It's a simple campaign system for Starmada: Admiralty, originally published in the Imperial Starmada Sourcebook, and republished in the Options Annex.  As the name would suggest, it is in fact very simple.  You have a fleet registry (where hull damage persists across combats), and a pool of resource points which you can use to repair or buy new ships.  After each combat, the winner gets a victory point towards campaign victory, but no resource points, while the loser gets resource points, but no victory points.  First one to n victory points wins, for pre-determined n.  It's known for creating really torn-up fleets by the end of the campaign.  For a series of after-action reports from a game run using a slightly tweaked version, I recommend Blacklancer's posts here.  It starts getting good on page 3, particularly this post.  Note to self: try running Simplest with >2 players and watch the chaos.

"starmada d12 roll": Huh.  Well, there was a forum thread a while back on d10 Starmada.  Never tried d10 or d12, myself; I certainly don't have enough d12s for it, and while I have enough d10s, you'd need to do some serious work on the probabilities and the point costings.  If somebody writes a conversion to make that happen, let me know.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fantasy Traveller - Review of Literature

Most good ideas have been thought of before.  Taking Traveller and altering it for fantasy settings is one of them.  Most of the fan-made versions, however, appear to be written as conversions for Classic Traveller rather than Mongoose.  The first of these which I encountered was Adventurer by the good Doctor Grognard, followed by The Fantasy Traveller at Alegis Downport, and most recently Wanderer.  I've read Adventurer, and it generally seems pretty sensible, but it is a conversion of OD&D / 1e to Classic Traveller, so it has a lot of crufty bits from both systems.  Also a nice-looking but relatively heavyweight magic system with magic points, much as with MgT's diminishing Psi score.  Doc mentioned the other day that he's doing an update, so I might have to read it again as he goes.  Alegis' Fantasy Traveller is remarkably lightweight, but also not quite what I'm aiming for, and Wanderer seems to actually be just kind of a notion on some forums without a condensed rules document.  An interesting variant on this category of fanbrew systems is Mercator by Mithras over on the CotI boards, which rather than being a fantasy adaptation is a conversion of Classic Traveller to a Roman Empire setting.

There is one fan-conversion for Mongoose Traveller, Adventurer by Nathan at Platonic Solid.  However, development appears to have stalled with only a skills list and career tables for Barbarian, Ranger, and Fighter completed.  It still provokes some discussion on the MgT forums, though.

There are two commercial ventures into fantasy for MgT that I'm aware of.  The first is Flynn's Guide to Magic in Traveller.  Flynn's admitted purpose is to get someone to develop a full fantasy Traveller game using his magic system.  However, from the advertising copy of "150+ sample spells", it sounds a bit heavier than what I'm aiming for...

The second commercial product of this type is Netherell, by Terra-Sol Games.  It gets good reviews, but is fairly pricy and has thematic trouble as a result of Mongoose's licensing rules, where if you publish MgT-based things, you have to fit them into a subsector (Reft or Twilight; I'm not exactly clear on it).  Since I don't intend to publish for profit, I can probably get away with something similar to what Platonic Solid did with respect to licensing (namely not worrying about it), but it is inconvenient to have to mix sci-fi into one's fantasy.

Coming next week: a Traveller magic system of my own devising.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fantasy Traveller - Ability Scores

As mentioned previously, I've been kind of grinding away on a fantasy variant of Mongoose Traveller for a while now, as an alternative to d20-based systems.  While 5e looks promising, I'm not quite willing to wait that long.  I've only recently started making any real headway, so here're a few bits and pieces that I think I've nailed down.

There's been some debate over Traveller's array of ability scores in our current group, with people favoring d20's.  Without attacking the merit of some of d20's distinctions (as Roger does at Roles, Rules, and Rolls), I'd like to provide a defense of Traveller's stats.  While Traveller's ability score set, of Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social Status, isn't perfect, it should work well with a few tweaks.  First and foremost, Intelligence needs to be renamed.  As it stands, it causes all kinds of confusion with D&D players who think it does what Edu actually does.  Two promising candidates are Instinct and Intuition.  Instinct is defensible for the sensory and deductive aspects which fall under Int in Traveller; the hairs on the back of your neck prickle up, or you just "have a hunch."  Intuition works nicely also; for tasks where you're not that familiar, you run on being good as guessing and just an innate understanding of how things work, rather than a formal knowledge.  It does have the problem, however, that it abbreviates to Int, rather than Ins as with Instinct, which may, again, cause confusion with D&D Intelligence.

Education is also tricky in a fantasy setting, where generally formal education is confined to the nobility, and therefore should likely be strongly correlated with Social Standing.  However, I think this can probably be handwaved away with a reasonable bit of imagination; a character with high Edu but low Soc may be a former noble who was disgraced and removed from his station, or reasonably even a medieval-style monk or friar, with very little social clout but quite a bit of book learning.  So that's not a huge problem.

Finally, Social Standing has caught a lot of crap in our game for being useless and nonsensical.  This is, to some degree, true in a more-or-less egalitarian science fiction setting.  However, Social Standing is a beautiful tool for modeling the social system of medieval society.  The king isn't just going to listen to some uppity peasant, even if he happens to be a competent swordsman or very persuasive; it would be unseemly, and betoken weakness.  Mechanically, this can produce barriers to entry, as with "Look, they're not going to let you join their knightly order because your father was a dirt farmer, and you haven't done anything noteworthy enough to earn yourself a title.  You need Soc 9 or more to get in."  However, on the flip side, Social Standing is also a great mechanical consequence mechanism for player actions instead of gold or XP.  Caught red-handed and branded an outlaw?  Set Soc to 2.  Slay the dragon, save the kingdom, and enjoy the accolades of the people?  +1 or +2 Soc.  Gain a noble title and lands, or become the archbishop or archmage?  Set Soc to 10ish.  Marry the princess?  Set Soc to 12.  That kind of thing.  Thus, the problem isn't with the Social Status ability score; it's that we've been using it wrong.  Hell, you could even base starting gold off of starting Soc; that'd make sense, and make it useful.

I also dabbled with the idea of a Piety score to run divine magic, but I think I've abandoned that because it would be a real pain to keep track of, and would vary with deity.  Speaking of magic, that's next in this series, I think...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Combat as War vs. Combat as Sport

In perusing EnWorld, it came to pass that I found a very interesting, if also rather verbose, set of observations on the nature of combat in RPGs.  Here's a link; come back when you've at least skimmed it.  I'll still be here.

Back?  Great.  For those of you who didn't actually read the link, here's a paraphrase summary of the important bits:

There are two competing ideologies about combat in RPGs.  The modern one, Combat as Sport, is based around the idea of two more-or-less evenly matched sides engaging in combat where luck and good play within the intended rules of the combat system prevails.  The older ideology, Combat as War, favors seeking every possible advantage in order to make the fight as quick and deadly as possible (and I do mean every possible advantage).  Combat as War was prominent back in the early editions of D&D, where players made heavy use of sleep spells, thrown oil flasks, guard dogs, and other tricks to survive against foes many times their number and strength.  Examples of this type of gameplay include Justin Alexander's Caverns of Thracia game (particularly Part 8) and the infamous Tucker's Kobolds (sadly, the main site appears to be down, but part of the article is up here).  However, sometime around the beginning of 3e, the focus of D&D started to shift more towards combat as sport (but there were still enough crazy things casters could do to screw the opposition that playing Combat as War was feasible), and then 4e shifted even further towards Combat as Sport with the relegation of open-ended abilities to long-casting-time ritual status.

A discussion of the implications of this for 5e ensues, but that's not the really interesting thing here.  More interesting, and more useful, is being able to look at things through this CAW vs CAS lens.  For example, as Alex pointed out this afternoon, the response to Beyond the Black Gate's query here of "Why do you no longer see adventures set 'in the city of the enemy?'" is made very clear by the CAW / CAS lens.  Such adventures are no longer published because there's basically no way to treat such an event as a series of balanced encounters, which is what CAS-driven modern publishers strive to do.  If the PCs screw up, they're toast; victory in such a scenario requires stealth and planning and subterfuge for survival.  But that's a very CAW way to play, which is no longer in favor.

This ideological split also explains my post Damage Hurts, to some degree.  What I was seeing in that post was a shift towards Combat as War from our usual Combat as Sport ways as a result of higher perceived risk in combat.  Further, after the events of last session, I'd argue that we've shifted pretty far towards CAW in Traveller; we spent probably two hours planning how to break into a building, disable the robotic guards, and steal the goods without alerting the police or the compound perimeter guards.  We did psychic reconnaissance, bought equipment just for this task, bribed the use of a delivery vehicle, cut the phone wires, killed power to the alarm systems, mined parts of the building as a backup plan in case everything went south, and even doused the sentries we knocked out with rum.  And then we waltzed into the target area and put down the 'bots in one round with dirty tricks like non-line-of-sight psychic assault and autofire stun grenades.  Perfect execution...  and also a perfect example of Combat as War gameplay.

(Related: Trailblazer's short rest is a decidedly CAS mechanic.  Decreases resource management concerns over the course of an adventure and tries to keep the party close to full-ish resources to increase encounter balance.  Textbook.)

Finally, with the distinction between CAW and CAS articulated, it becomes another way to look at the preferences of players.  For example, I like to win.  I especially like a guaranteed win by some ridiculous maneuver as a result of lots of planning, which puts me closer to the CAW end of things.  Matt, on the other hand, seems to be more on the CAS side; his comment on resource management on Damage Hurts seems indicative, for example.  I don't say this negatively; rather, the ability to look at player preferred game style in this light is a useful tool for GMs looking to maximize fun had.

A final interesting tidbit is that this point has been made before about the Legend of the Five Rings CCG here (and arguably in other criticisms of TSR D&D combat vs WotC D&D combat); slightly more frustrating is that while I had read Slouching Towards Slugfest before, it didn't quite stick as well as Combat as Sport vs Combat as War just by lack of coining a good term for it.  The power of words.  One question which follows, then, is whether or not examples of this trend are to be found in the evolution of other long-running games.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gods and Seasons, Part 4 - Winter

(The final part of a four-part series; part 1, part 2, part 3)

Winter gods and their months:

The Keeper - The excess of the harvest runs dry, and the nights grow long and cold and dark.  This is the Month of the Keeper of Secrets, a pale, black-robed god with only one eye, and patron of black magicians and dabblers in forbidden lore.  In ancient days, the Keeper ripped out his own eye and set it in motion about the world, that he might see all that transpired below.  This is the origin of the moon, known as the Keeper's Eye, and in the Month of the Keeper, the moon is full and open for an entire month (the normal waxing and waning is believed to be the Keeper sleeping and waking).  The Month of the Keeper is a time of dark magic and evil spirits, as the winter solstice occurs.  People stay indoors and often construct folk-wards about their doors and windows to keep evil spirits out.  Festivals of the Keeper are forbidden in civilized lands, but are still practiced by witch-covens in the country, and often entail animal or human sacrifice.  Contests of riddles, however, are traditional during this month.  Temples of the Keeper are not unheard of, being usually located in large cities, and often his priesthood is comprised of spies and assassins.  Their temples are not allowed to exist out of goodwill, but because their priests are useful or feared.  He also has some worshippers among the nobility, where secrets are power, and naturally among magicians.

The Elder - The winter grows colder, with snow piling up and raging, icy gales.  This is the Month of the Elder, an emaciated, white-skinned god with icicles in his beard, and the patron deity of sailors, the sea, cold, the old, and the dead.  During this month, sailors are forced into port by the weather, and so it is a time of relaxation for them; they pay homage to the Elder to avoid his wrath, and to the Traveller to guide them.  Festivals of the Elder often entail storytelling contests about the hearth, both tales of elder days and tales of the sea.  The Month of the Elder is also a time for veneration of one's ancestors.  In ancient days, the Elder sought to cover the world in ice, but he was slain by the combined power of Warrior and the Reaper, and now is the god of the dead as well.  The icy and dead Elder stands in opposition to the firey and hearty Smith on the Great Wheel.  Priests of the Elder are often old sailors rendered unfit for duty, and he has shrines along the coast.  It is also not unusual for temples of the Elder in large cities to be responsible for the disposal of bodies, and to maintain extensive catacombs.

The Savage - As the saved harvest runs low in late winter, men may turn to unspeakable acts of savagery to feed themselves.  This is the Month of the Savage, when raiders and bandits often attack.  The Savage is depicted as a great muscular barbarian with a great axe and scalps upon his belt, and is the patron of berserkers, vikings, cannibals, the violently insane, and primitive tribesmen.  The Month of the Savage is a harsh time, and he is a terrible and forbidden god, and so there are no festivals during this month in civilized societies.  Among societies where he is worshipped, festivals of the Savage tend to involve raiding and pillaging nearby settlements.  The Savage stands across from the Warrior on the Great Wheel, and sects dedicated to the two often fight during this season.  Most temples and priests of the Savage are present in tribal societies, though some decadent societies may also use temples of the Savage as gladiator stables.  Many bestial humanoid races claim descent from the Savage.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gods and Seasons, Part 3 - Fall

(Part 3 of an ongoing series - Part 1, Part 2)

Gods and months of fall, in order:

The Trickster - The beginning of the fall season signals the end of the summer wars, with shifting territorial boundaries and shifting alliances.  This is the Month of the Trickster, a shapeshifter goddess usually portrayed as a masked woman, and a patron of thieves, diplomats, and dishonest merchants.  Festivals of the Trickster are often masquerades for the nobility, with contests of acrobatics, pranks, and petty thefts among the commons.  The Month of the Trickster coincides with the fall equinox, and so the powers of illusion and enchantment wax strong.  It is forbidden to punish a man for theft during the Month of the Trickster, though he may still be jailed and held for judgement during the Month of the Reaper.  The Trickster stands across from her elder brother the Traveller on the Great Wheel, as many thieves end up on the road, and many travellers are thieves.  The Gnomes are the chosen people of the Trickster, who she gifted with quick wits and a penchant for illusion.  Priests of the Trickster are rare, and her temples few, except among the Gnomes, and few of her human worshippers would admit to it if asked.

The Reaper - In mid-fall, the harvest comes in, and the weather begins to grow cold.  This is the Month of the Reaper, a multi-faceted god depicted as a dour man with a scythe and scales, whose domains include justice, honesty, commerce, the harvest, and preparation for the cold winter to come.  He is a patron of merchants and judges.  The Month of the Reaper is a time of hard work for the peasants as they try to bring in as much of the crops as possible.  For the nobility, the Month of the Reaper is for gathering taxes and resolving disputes.  Festivals of the Reaper are usually fall markets late in the month, where people trade their harvests and wares.  During the Month of the Reaper, it is also traditional to judge and punish those who committed crimes during the Month of the Trickster.  The Reaper stands opposite the Maiden, with harsh justice against hopeful innocence and reaping against sowing.  Priests of the Reaper serve as judges, and are permitted even to judge and punish the nobility from their marble courthouse-temples, located in large cities.  These temples often maintain constabulary forces as well.

The Drunkard - The excess of the harvest which cannot be saved must be eaten, and so the Month of the Drunkard is a time of hedonistic festivities.  The Drunkard is depicted as a fat man with a flagon in each hand (or sometimes a court jester), and is the patron of revellers, beggars, brewers, and winemakers.  After the trying Month of the Reaper, the Month of the Drunkard is a welcome return to festivals, celebration, and leisure before the winter truly sets in.  In addition to the expected drinking contests, oaths and boasts made in the Month of the Gallant are called to term during this month, and their makers often shamed and ridiculed.  It is customary to give to the poor in the Month of the Drunkard, and the fall tourneys are also held during this time.  The Drunkard stands opposite the Gallant on the Great Wheel, simple pleasures and ease against heroic ambition, yet the same disregard for consequences.  There are few open priests of the Drunkard in all but the most decadent lands, but many large cities have organized 'congregations' of beggars who worship him.  Many gambling halls, taverns, and houses of ill repute also bear his sign above their doors.

(To Part 4)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Gods and Seasons, Part 2 - Summer

(Part 2 of an ongoing series - Part 1 here)

The summer gods and months:

The Sage - With the summer solstice, the power of light magic peaks during midsummer, ushering in the Month of the Sage, a goddess depicted as a white-robed, wizened woman with a book.  The Sage is the patron of many practitioners of magic, particularly oracles, as well as those who value learning and planning.  In a lesser guise, due to her presence at the beginning of the war season, she is a goddess of strategy  also.  Festivals of the Sage are often contests of poetry and the recitation of epics, but are more subdued than the festivals of many gods.  During the Month of the Sage, the destruction of books, scrolls, and other inscriptions is forbidden, and mortal sages are often treated as protected as well.  The Sage is across from the Keeper on the Great Wheel, representing the duality of knowledge, that it can be used for good and evil, and of knowledge versus secrets.  Priests of the Sage are learned scholars who maintain her temple archives, often located in the great cities.  The Elves are the chosen people of the Sage, blessed with long lives, long memories, and a talent for magic.

The Smith - In the height of summer, the world is rendered hot as a foundry.  This is the Month of the Smith, a god depicted as a burly, grey-bearded blacksmith with hammer in hand, and the patron god of skilled craftsmen and engineers.  This month is a time of sieges, when engineers build and deploy fearsome siege weapons, and the defenders reinforce their walls and dig deep.  Festivals of the Smith are competitions of craftsmanship, with craftsmen presenting their greatest works of the last year to their lords to win his favor.  Craftsmen also traditionally choose apprentices during this month.  The Smith is opposite the Elder on the Great Wheel, representing the duality of fire and ice, as well as aged strength against aged decreptitude.  Priests of the Smith are rare among humankind, but common among his chosen people, the Dwarves, who learned their skill in steel, fire, and stone from him.  Many a human blacksmith keeps a shrine to the Smith in his forge, though, or wears his symbol on a necklace.

The Warrior - As the season of war draws to a close, savage last-ditch engagements are fought as sieges are broken and castles fall.  This is the Month of the Warrior, a scarred and tired god in scratched armor and armed with a pike, who is a patron of peasant warriors and those fighting to protect their homes.  Many peasants pray to him to protect their crops and livestock from armies, and it is terrible luck to kill civilians during his season.  The festivals of the Warrior in peaceful lands are contests of skill of arms with blunted swords, as well as archery.  In war-torn lands, festivals of the Warrior are instead cease-fires where opposing sides gather food, entrench, and rest, or sometimes even mingle.  The Warrior is opposite the Savage on the Great Wheel, representing the choice inherent in the use of force, between protection and destruction.  It is said that the Warrior is the elder brother of the Gallant.  Most priests of the Warrior are old peasant soldiers who took up the cloth, and they are often drafted to serve as leaders of peasant formations.  There are also a few knightly orders dedicated to the Warrior, and they are dedicated to helping commoners rather than the pursuit of glory common among the knightly orders of the Gallant.  They often maintain refugee camps and hospitals in areas of war and serve as neutral brokers of peace.

To Part 3

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gods and Seasons, Part 1 - Spring

During the course of thinking about my not-Western-Marches setting, I did a little contemplating of deities and time.  I'd like the passage of in-game time to be a relevant factor; wandering through the wilderness in the winter means you might get caught in a snowstorm, but you can also cross that annoying river because it's frozen over.  That kind of thing.  I've also become discontent with the Greyhawk pantheon, so I decided to come up with my own; I decided to build a pantheon comprised of gods representing archetypes rather than properly-named gods, much as with the Seven in Game of Thrones / Song of Fire and Ice.  As I was working on it, I realized that linking the two might not be a terrible idea, with the mortal world passing closest to each deity's place in the heavens once a year.  So, behold, a combined calendar and pantheon!  I've decided to use a 336-day year, with 12 months of 28 days each (corresponding to 28-day moon cycles) for the sake of simplicity.  Thus begins a series of posts with each season's deities in order.


The Traveller - In early spring, as the snows finally begin to melt, travel between towns resumes.  This is the Month of the Traveller, a god depicted as a weather-worn older man, and the patron of pilgrims and hunters.  Festivals of the Traveller often involve footraces, though races by horse or sail are not unheard of.  During the Month of the Traveller, it is forbidden to deny a traveller hospitality, for the Traveller himself has been known to walk the earth during this season.  The time of the Traveller is a superstitious one, as the equinox means that mysterious forces wax powerful during this month.  The Traveller stands across from the Trickster on the Great Wheel, and is her elder brother.  The clergy of the Traveller typically walk the roads, guiding flocks of pilgrims; when they become old and infirm, they instead tend wayside shrines.

The Maiden - Plants begin to grow again in mid-spring, and the first crops are planted, signalling the Month of the Maiden, the fertility goddess.  The Maiden is depicted as a young woman with flowers in her hair, and is a favorite deity of farmers and women.  Festivals of the Maiden tend to be centered around dances and the blessing of crops.  The Maiden stands across from the Reaper on the Great Wheel, representing the duality of youthful innocence and hardened suspicion.  Priests of the Maiden are always female, and usually reside in small towns, where they bless crops and serve as midwives and healers.  The Halflings are the Maiden's chosen people, forever innocent and fertile, and known also as the Maiden's Children; as with the children of many maidens, though, it is uncertain who their father is, as they take after both the Travller and the Gallant, and both gods look kindly upon them.

The Gallant - With the planting done, the preparation for the summer campaigns begins.  This is the Month of the Gallant, depicted as a young knight in armor.  The Gallant is a patron of knights and heroes, and favors all who are bold and audacious.  The Month of the Gallant is a time of boasts and oaths for the coming summer, and is a time when young men are stirred to action, both taking up arms and wooing ladies fair.  Festivals of the Gallant are raucous affairs of feats of strength, drinking, and boasting.  The spring tourneys also take place during this time among the nobility, with the selection of squires often occurring as well.  The Gallant stands opposite the Drunkard on the Great Wheel, as they are sides of the same coin of youthful recklessness, and oaths uttered in the Month of the Gallant are brought to task during the Festival of the Drunkard.  Proper priests of the Gallant are few, though there are several knightly orders dedicated to him who tend his temples and shrines, which are often located in perilous places.

To Part 2