Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The initiative system

It works ok, but I think it could be tuned up just a bit.

There's three things I'd like to do that are all connected:
1. Spread out the responsibility for tracking who's turn it is.
2. Use a big-visual cue for keeping track of who goes & when.
3. Insert a mechanism that allows for some greater player to player strategizing.

You know how things usually go with the turn-by-turn initiative system? The GM tells the first player to go. The first player resolves their action and tells the GM that they are done. Then the GM tells the second player that it's their turn.

I think that we can make the system a little less cumbersome by asking the first player to be responsible for informing the second player that their turn has arrived. Why does the GM have to moderate that announcement?

When we played those few sessions of Agon, we used playing cards to 'label' each player's turn. I did something similar, but less effective, to that in the last playtest. I'm thinking I'd like to go back to the playing cards, and even come up with some kind of little stands for them, so everyone at the table can see what your initiative score is. This would also make it easier for the first player to identifiy the second player, facilitating that change of responsibility.

Finally, I think it would be totally cool if players were allowed to "swap initiative". Player one wants to go after player two? Why not? They just swap their initiative cards before either one has acted in any particular turn. Combined with the Awesome Token system, players can now arrange themselves for the most interesting combinations. But the initative roll remains important for determining where the monsters go in the order.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

I plotted against Errol Flynn, but Mark finally killed him for me.

Lisa, Mark, Andy, and I were sitting about, talking about gaming the other night. We were specifically there to talk about TBZ, but you know how gaming minds wander.

So we ended up sparing a few minues for the Hack. I mentioned how I had a half-made fix in mind. I laid it out for Mark & Andy, and about two seconds later Mark fixed it so that it's awesome. Check it out:

First, what the tokens do.
The single "Spotlight Token" is out. In it's place are an unlimited number of tokens. Let's call them "Awesome Tokens" for now. Or "ATs". You'll start out any particular combat with zero ATs. If you have any tokens when you make an attack roll (successful or not) you may use the tokens to accentuate that roll. Each token may be used as a +2 to hit modifier or a +1 damage modifier.

For example: Say you need a 16 to hit (Uber Armor), but you only rolled a 13. You could use two tokens to boost your roll to a 17. Now you've hit. If you had any more tokens left over, you could then use them to increase your damage. Not that you need to roll under your target number to use tokens. Say you roll a 20. You've already got the Face Die bonus, and you've definately hit. You can use those two ATs to gain a +2 damage bonus instead of needing them to hit.

Did I make that more confusing than it needed to be?

How do you get these Tokens of Awesomeness?
This is the part that Mark made awesome. Roll 1d12 + [Attribute] against the AC chart (yes, the AC chart). If you hit the lowest number (8) you get 1 token. If you hit the next number up (10) you get two tokens. So on & so forth 'till you could theoretically get 5 tokens for rolling a 16. Naturally, you'd need at least a +4 modifier to your attribute to get that awesome roll, but hey, these tokens are pretty damned cool.

Also: If you manage to roll 7 or lower, you don't get any tokens at all. In fact, the monster (or one of the monsters) gets one instead. Whatever you were trying to do, you did it so badly that you gave your advantage away.

Also: When you earn tokens, you don't have to keep them for yourself. You can give them to other players.

Loose ends
There's two issues I haven't resolved yet.

1. What narration or fiction should this roll support? Crazy stunts? Out-maneuvering the monsters? Something cool and easy to narrate, I would hope.

2. What attribute should be tied to the roll. I definately want a specific one tied to it every roll. That's kinda important to me. But I don't know what that attribute should be. Daring? Wits? Something else entirely? I dunno. But I'm sure it'll be tightly tied to the first issue.

C. What to call the tokens & the associated action? Because "Awesome Tokens" isn't awesome enough. Or, at least, it's not really awesome color.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Killing Errol Flynn

The Errol Flynn / Spotlight token thing isn't doing the job I designed it to do. The initial desire that spawned the rule that eventually became the Errol Flynn thing was a desire to give the players a chance to author something dangerous and cool for their character, to gain an advantage in the combat, without having to change arenas.

Technically the EF action does do that. The problem is that once a player has the token, no one is really interested in taking it away from them. It's like the choice dries up. That's no good.

That immediately leads me to the conclusion that the advantage a player recieves from the action cannot be limited. Assuming we're talking about tokens, then what that means is there cannot be a limited number of tokens.

Hrm. I'm hitting a wall with this right now. I'll post this up, stew on it for a bit, and try posting again later on.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Time to tweak the Attributes

I wrote the current six attributes before I wrote the mechanisms that make use of them. While they worked respectably well in playtest, I think there's lots of room for improvement.

The ones that are working well are Daring, Alertness, and Size. I wouldn't mind looking for a different word for Alertness, but I'm otherwise happy with it's uses.

The ones that aren't working as well as I like are Fleetness, Wits, and Charisma.

Fleetness is the worst of the bunch. It's near completely useless. I had had this idea in mind about how some monsters or NPCs would be running from a fight and the PCs might want to catch them. But AP clued me in that Daring was a more fun attribute to use in the rare chases that might occur. After all, a chase across rooftops is way more kewl than a chase through an open field. And Daring implies the danger of the rooftops. Fleetness is out. It's gone.

Wits is not supposed to be a combat attribute. As a designer I don't want it getting mixed up in the combat sequences. However, as a player I want to use it to show how my quick-thinking characters can out-maneuver the big & dumb characters. And I'm not the only player that feels that way. I think the solution here is to replace Wits with an attribute that implies non-combat conflicts only. Wits is out. It's gone.

Charisma is totally useful and did everything I expected to do. Except add the flavor I was looking for. Charisma is kinda the catchall attribute for "When I'm trying to be friendly to people." Which is ok for some games. Not so much for this one. I mean, it works and all, but it's just not exactly what I'm looking for. Charisma is out. It's gone.

What I would like for my replacement attributes to do is to imply ways to manipulate and coerce NPCs without implying any bloody violence. Sexy violence maybe. But not bloody violence.

These are the three I'm considering using as replacements:

Hotness, Eloquence, & Stubbornness

I think they'll do what I want them to. Still letting them simmer in my brain though.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007


One of the things Andy asked me was if there was room in the system for getting into an extended combat with someone (or something) without necessarily killing them.

Please note that this post is only concerned with what happens when the PCs win a combat. Not when a monster or NPC wins.

So today I went back and checked out my notes. I had to remind myself why I wrote the rule that way in the first place. Honestly, I just couldn't remember. Here's why:

I don't want the PCs to ever fight the same monster or NPC twice in the same adventure.

I mean, it's cool if there's dozens of non-combat conflicts between the same characters, but despite being pretty tight, the combat system does take up a non-trivial amount of time. Therefore, choosing to use that system should be pretty important. Which coincides nicely with the idea that drawing your weapons on someone is pretty serious.

Have you ever played a D&D game where your characters got their collective asses kicked, but you escaped, got healed, and returned later to try it again? I bet you have. And I'm betting that the second combat was a bit of a let down. That's what I really want to avoid. I want each combat to be super-serious and properly climatic.

But yet, I wonder; Is there still room for something besides the eventual slaughter? Maybe.

To maintain the climatic seriousness I want from these combats, any non-lethal option must still result in the complete and utter defeat of the monster or NPC. I have a bit of an idea in my head about how a player may decide to opt out in favor of mercy.

"You know what? I'm gonna let this guy go if he promises to change his ways."

That might work. But I'll need a really strong guideline. I'm not willing to give up that climatic feel.

The Setting, a thought

It occurred to me this morning, while I was driving to work, that there are a few more important elements to the setting that I hadn't earlier articulated.

The world is divided into two parts. There is the part where the PCs are from and the part where the PCs are adventuring in. That's not to say that all of the PCs have the same homeland. Far from it. The important part is that the PCs are far from home during the aventures. They are always outsiders.

It also occurred to me that we're going to have to strike an important balance between too much and too little information about the setting. The game will benefit from a strong and well-directed setting. However, too much information can only serve to distract players from what the game is really about.

What it's really about: Becoming rich and famous before you retire.

If all the game revolves around the rich & famous hook, then I don't see how we can possibly go wrong. (yet)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Classes, Part II

Eric said:

What I'd really like to see (and if you don't do it, I will) is an outline of 7 classes, sans abilties, with a short description of what makes each class unique.

FYI, I'm completely cool with tossing out the existing classes and starting from scratch. But I would prefer to stick with the 4+3 formula.
So, here is my first draft:

Magic destroyed the world, so we developed Tech – and used it to destroy Magic. Ages later, Magic came back again. The Tribes all sent their Exemplars to face the troubling return of Magic, the just awakening demonic progenitors of magic, and the twisted monsters magic’s rebirth spawned. The Tribes had all kept their secrets, though; some sent fire to fight fire.



Magus – Warp the battlefield with Magic

Monster Tamer – Summon Monsters fight by your side

Tech Savant – Repair/Use Ancient Tech – Guns ‘n’ Mechs

Weapon Master – Bond with Weapons (just like Warrior)


Scion – Call on your Ancestors’ Power (just like Channeler)

Shadow Beast – Learn/Use Monster Abilities

Spirit of Revenge – Return from Hell by Claiming the Souls of the Evil and Wicked

Non - Combat Descriptions:

Magus - Representative of the Power and the Doom, you act as a magnet for both awe and hatred. Try to forge a new balance, take it all on as a martyr, or show others why they should truly respect or fear you. Limitation: No one ever takes you at face value; you must constantly explain or lie about your intentions. However, you never take anyone at face value either, and are perceptive to hidden intentions.

Monster Tamer - Your place isn't in civilized society, and your will is dominant. When you arrive in town, you get what you want, or else. Limitation: You never form equal-sized relationships and always hold a grudge against those who have ignored your desires.

Tech Savant - You speak a language that none understand and use incomprehensible methods. The Pulse of Tech always hums in the distance and distracts when close. Limitation: You break into jargon (gibberish) when explaining anything, Tech-related or not. Your concentration can't be broken - but its never on the things that others find important. The Puzzle of the Pulse is your Will of the Wisp.

Weapon Master - Everything can be a weapon, and you know how to use it. Words, gestures, and much more common weapons are extensions of yourself. People and their will fall prey to your power as well as Monsters do. Limitation: You see everything as a challenge and a combat of some sort. Sex and the conquest for it is as far as your relationships usually go. You leave someone in every town wondering if you'll return.

Scion - Your blood sings with the Songs of the Ancients and your feet dance their Steps. You have a loving heart that bursts forth with Song and Step whenever you hear good music and comradery. Limitation: You have a hard time taking anything seriously, and often insult those you wish to befriend. Even the gravest matters tend to be laughed at.

Shadow Beast - You can imitate anything you come across, and often do. Your personality is fluid to the situation, and others have trouble seeing the real you. Mirrors hold your concentration like nothing else. Limitation: A lack of change is stagnation. You never miss a chance to try something new, even if it means leaving behind something good.

Spirit of Revenge - You've been called back from Hell to enjoy one last romp. You might be able to stay forever, if you fulfill your Pact. Hell needs people more Evil than you, but become too Evil and they'll want you back. Limitation: You feel the need to constantly balance your acts of murder and cruelty to the Wicked with inspiring acts of good. However, no one ever takes your acts of kindness for what they are and accuse you of further cruelty. And they might be right ...

The Setting (A work in progress)

Currently the RBH setting is pretty loose. You play young professional adventurers in a strange land. You kill things and steal treasures for the purpose of going home and retiring as a rich and famous adventurer.

That's the important stuff. But the color is detached like an old boxer's retnas. I'd really like to do away with my lame-ass "Asian flavored like duck sauce on a porkchop" line and really have a solid setting.

Edit: Mark suggested a bit of setting in his post "Classes, Part II". I'm going to post here some suggested alterations. I expect we can toss this thing back and forth until we have a powerful little paragraph of a setting.

Edit: I keep reading and re-reading what I wrote there. And I like it less every time I read it. I think the problem is that I wrote up some legendary material that only tangently connects to the characters and the world. Lemmie try again, getting right to the heart of the matter this time.

Mark said:
Magic destroyed the world, so we developed Tech – and used it to destroy Magic. Ages later, Magic came back again.

I suggest this:
In this land there is both magic and tech. Both are ancient and poorly understood. Where they differ is their nature. Magic's nature is that of pure energy. It is both creative and destructive. Tech's power is information. In finding secrets and keeping secrets.

Now, that doesn't quite fill in all the color we're looking for, I think it hits the important part of the setting on the head.

The PDF of the thing

Here it is.

And here is the character sheet.

Because I know you want to read it at work.


My favorite part of the game so far is the tactical map + weapon system. I won't talk about it right now, though, because I figure I have the most to say about the Classes.

In this design, I wholeheartedly embrace the ethic that Class Abilities are things that no one else is able to do (instead of doing the things that everyone can do but better). I think that these areas of 'breaking the rules' are the grabby parts of the system. By defining them, you not only remind people of what the rules ARE but also what they could do differently.

This doesn't mean, however, that there can't be some formula for defining the Classes - at least, not in my mind.

Here's the rubric I think I'd use at this point to create a Class:

1 One Ability that alters the Rules Drastically
2 One Ability that works with the Weapons Rules
3 One Ability that works with the Arenas Rules
4-5 Two Abilities that increases the Flavor of the Class

I'll come back later with an example of how I'd rework one of the Classes with this model (or simply demonstrate its efficacy).

Andy asks me questions

Andy K dropped me a note on Dinner & RPGs to ask me a couple questions about the hack. Here's his questions, edited down to the bone.

1) How much from Red Box do we really use?

The core elements I took from Red Box are:
> Seven classes, 4 human & three not-human.
> Treasure = advancement. There's nothing to spend 100gp on in RB. But 100gp=100xp.
> A finite number of levels. In RB there are only 3 levels. If you were 13 and couldn't afford the next boxed set you could either make up the new levels or start a new character. I dug the idea of starting a new character when you hit the upper limit.

All of which doesn't add up to much. I'll cop to the fact that it's probably not so much of a hack as it is just inspired by the old red box.

2) I think that Mystic is really outclassed, even with Animal Companion and the "Move all over" ability. Perhaps make the animal companion stronger, or +1 stat per level?

I can do that. I think all the classes' abilities need just a little bit of tuning. Also, Mark's looking at possibly re-writing all the classes. Not sure exactly what he's got in mind, but I think it includes making the 7 classes hold together a bit better.

3) Hmmm, it may be because I'm being too old and peaceful, but while I love games with action and violence, most of the violence is against non-humans or the like. I'm wondering if one could say, "I totally want to subdue these guys (this guy) in combat!" That is, you use your weapons to "defeat" them, but at the last minute let them go and they change their ways.

I can see how you could just make a Charisma attribute roll-off to make them give up their lives of evil, but as an old hippie I kind of want the ability to take them on in bloody combat... and then perhaps "make them see the errors of their ways" with that last hitpoint being removed, rather than stabbing them brutally to death. Incommensurable?

Shortly before we actually playtested this thing, that's exactly how the system worked. You'd set stakes before getting into combat. The paragraph at the beginning of the combat section titled "What are we fighting about?" originally had guidelines for setting those stakes.

But then some switch in my brain flipped over, and it occurred to me that this was redundant with the non-combat system. I want combat to be strong, violent, bloody, and with a much different meaning than the non-combat system. I suspect that there's something else that I'm imagining about the relationship between the combat and non-combat system that I'm not expressing properly (or at all) yet.

Lemmie ponder on that one for a while. I think there's a really good reason why the combat system has to be for killing, and nothing else, but I can't seem to articulate it yet.

I'm really liking what I see.


Right on.

Too much whiff

The other night's playtest at Mark's place was excellent. The system really does move along pretty well. But I did notice that it suffers from a slight bit of imbalance. The PCs were lording over the monsters. Since there was little or no chance of even a single PC falling to the monsters' attacks, that kinda made it a bit less awesome.

Here's what I think I'm gonna do:

Change the AC numbers for heavy and very heavy armor
This will reduce the whiff-factor just a bit. More blood and less whiff = more good.

Uber > 16
VH > 14
Heavy > 12
Light > 10
None > 8

Ramp up the Awezome Monstr Powrz
I had been kinda pulling my punches on the powers. But now I'm 100% certain that powering down the monsters makes fights lame. My laughing/teleporting/knives-of-darkness baddie was probably the only interesting monster I made all night.

Come up with some kind of balance formula
The game won't break if the GM throws in monsters that are too weak or too strong, it'll just make things slightly less awesome. Therefore, there needs to be a way for the GM to know if his monsters are an even match for the PCs or not. I'll definately have to work on this bit.