Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The continuing evolution of Goblins & Greatswords

It's been a weird few months, with occasional crests of mental clarity and deep troughs of frustratingly impenetrable brain fog.  For most of that time, my fantasy heartbreaker project, a.k.a. Goblins & Greatswords, has been relegated to a back-burner position and left to simmer.  It turns out that back-burner simmering is good for gaining new perspective on things.  This is mostly a thinking-out-loud sort of post; nothing's set in stone.  Any comments or insights from other minds are welcomed and encouraged.

First off, I'm thinking of shooting one of the most sacred cows of D&D-like RPGs: The d20 combat attack roll.  Instead, I'm looking at a roll of 1d12 plus an exploding weapon die. (Whenever the maximum is rolled on the weapon die, roll again and add to the total.)  Weapons that are difficult to use or have weak armor-penetrating ability get a smaller weapon die, like a d4, while those that are easy to use and/or good at breaking through armor get larger dice, i.e. d6 or d8.  Damage would still be capped depending on the weapon type.  As before, the objective is to beat the target's AC (ascending), with one point of damage scored per point the roll exceeds the AC, up to the cap. 

The most basic system would be to simply assign d4, d6, and d8 weapon dice to light, medium, and heavy weapons, which would have damage caps of 4, 6, and 8 points respectively.  An advanced option might assign weapon dice and damage to each specific weapon type.  Thus, you could have weapons that are relatively easy for an untrained combatant to use but less damaging, and weapons that require more skill to handle but potentially deal bigger damage.  Maybe a war hammer uses a d8 weapon die, with max damage of 4, while a sword uses a d4 and max damage 8.  A good all-around weapon might be d6/6. 

Monsters would probably just use d6, with their Hit Dice accounting for most of their combat ability.

This is, in principle, quite similar to simply adding flat bonuses or penalties to attack rolls, but using an extra die instead injects a little more randomness.  It's also, I think, easier to remember than a + or - modifier to a roll, because it's an integral part of the roll, not something tacked on as an afterthought -- though maybe that's just me.  And hey, finally the d12 gets some serious love.  We're talking one of the game's most often used mechanics.

It also introduces some potentially useful and interesting quirks.  For one, characters attacking unarmed obviously wouldn't roll a weapon die with the d12, so unless they're highly skilled fighter-types, they probably won't have much success punching a guy in plate armor (AC 16.)  That seems like a good thing to me.  It also means that grappling a weapon-user is more difficult, even if the opponent is completely unarmored, since achieving a grapple requires beating the opponent's combat roll, not its AC. 

Also, with two dice in play, there are at least four different "critical" conditions.  Rolling 1s on both the d12 and weapon die makes for a critical fumble of some sort, typically resulting in loss of the next combat action.  A 1 on the d12 and max on the weapon die might mean the weapon breaks.  A 12 on the d12 is a critical hit -- damage is uncapped! If the weapon die explodes on the same roll, the target could be in a world of trouble.   


Outside of combat, I'm rethinking how thief-like skills could be handled.  A binary pass/fail roll isn't usually very exciting, and there's not much player agency involved.  Could thief skills be reworked to be more exciting and engaging?  Maybe.

Let's scrap the percentages, and instead express skills as a simple bonus, ranging from +1 at 1st level up to somewhere around +12 to +16 for level 15.  Expressing it as a bonus implies that the character is just better at things that anyone can attempt -- starting off only slightly better, but eventually completely outclassing the untrained.  That's a pretty good parallel for combat, which the rules allow anyone to do, but fighters are just better at it. 

Want to pick a lock?  Any fool can try, but a character with some skill at Tinkering has the best chance.  Roll a d6 and add Tinker bonus, if any.  What do you need to roll?  Depends on how good the lock is.  A cheap lock takes a 5, a good one a 10, and a masterful one a 15 or even 20.  Didn't make it on the first roll?  Keep trying, if you've got time to burn!  Each attempt takes a full turn, but the rolls add up.  Just don't roll a 1 -- that wipes out all your previous progress, and if you do it twice in a row, you're just stumped and can't figure out that lock.  Think you're a lock-picking ace?  Get twice the difficulty level of the lock in a single attempt, and you crack it in just one round! 

Same thing goes for disarming a trap.  If you get two 1s in a row, you accidentally set it off.  

How about stealth?  A binary result -- either you're detected or you're not -- is lame.  Instead, if there's someone who could potentially notice you, the GM rolls 2d6 and subtracts your Stealth skill bonus.  Multiply by 5, and that's how close you can get before you'll be noticed.  If the result is zero or negative, you can sneak right up under their noses!  Oh, but the GM won't tell you the number.  You'll never know for sure just how close you can get until you actually try.  Sneaking past a monster at a fair distance is relatively safe and simple.  Skulking right up behind it to take its key ring is lot more daring.

Hear noise (or, more generally, Alertness)?  The GM rolls 2d6 for you and adds your bonus, making it harder for someone to sneak up on you.  If the other guy has Stealth, his bonus is subtracted; the two abilities work against each other.  Listening down a corridor or through a door?  Roll 2d6, add  your bonus, multiply by 5 if through a door or 10 otherwise, and that's how far away you can discern something at the volume of typical speech. 

I haven't yet sorted out how to bring every thief skill into this model, but I'm liking it so far. 

22 comments :

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    1. 1. I've been doing quite a bit of calculating, and it appears that the average damage per round is equal to, or a little more than, the average with a more traditional D&D combat mechanic. Fights should tend to be of similar or slightly shorter duration, unless it's something like two low-level characters in heavy armor going at each other with light weapons. Total character hit points should be less than standard D&D, because characters only get a new HD every other level (levels in between they get to re-roll and keep the higher total.) Of course, this will all need a good bit of playtesting, but the math looks promising so far.

      2. That's a good point. I don't know what a "realistic" breakage rate might look like, or how often would be intolerable in play. I'd be more inclined to scrap it entirely if it's too frequent, rather than use a mechanic that's not so readily readable, though.

      3. I could see that approach working well in a more story-based game, but I'm not sure if I like it for this. It introduces a sort of weird quantum effect to attempts to perform an action, creating things that weren't there before. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, since I'd have no problem rolling to see if a particular feature is present if I hadn't predetermined it and a player asked, but "Let's roll specifically to determine something's existence" feels different to me than "The success of your action brings it into existence."

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    1. 4. I'm not too familiar with anything past AD&D 2E. Could you explain what the effect of "Take 10" is?

      5. Well, I am basing that on long experience. I consider it lame because there's no real suspense to it. "It sees you or it doesn't" is less suspenseful than "It doesn't see you yet. Do you want to move closer?" I want whether the character succeeds in his objective or gets caught to depend on how far the player chooses to push his luck at least as much as how well the dice rolled.

      6. Covered above, I think.

      7. That's something I've been wrestling with, but it needs to be an easy mechanic. Maybe hear at full rolled distance, discern at half? Hey, I like that. "You can hear voices, but you can't make out what they're talking about. Do you want to move closer?" Meshes nicely with Stealth.

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    1. Historically in my games, it's generally taken 2-4 adventures to raise a character from 1st to 2nd level. (Since XP requirements double each level, a 1st level character in a party of 4th or 5th level characters could easily level up in a single adventure.)

      Back in the good old days, we'd usually finish an adventure in one session, sometimes even start a second one. These days, it usually takes two sessions -- work and life and the shorter attention spans of my younger players conspire to limit sessions to 1-3 hours instead of the 4-6 hour marathons of my gaming heyday.

      I've always used gold for XP, for the reasons so often cited in the OSR blogosphere: It encourages players to explore without necessarily fighting everything that crosses their paths, and it's a good proxy for how effectively each class performed in its role and how well the party worked together as a whole.

      I don't have any set number of encounters per adventure, since the adventure is usually just a goal within a sandbox environment. My dungeons tend to be 10-20 rooms per level, I'd say about 1/3 monsters, 1/6 with tricks or traps, and half empty. How many of each the party actually faces depends a lot on their choices. I've had them go through every single room a few times, and I've also had them breeze through to the goal with minimal contact with the hazards of the dungeon. Most of the time it's somewhere in between. So, if the adventure takes them to two dungeon levels, they'll probably have around five monster encounters and two or three major traps or puzzles to figure out.

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    1. 1. It really depends on the players and the game. A party who work well together can probably strategize ways for a lower level ally to contribute without excessive risk, and combat encounters could feature some lower-level mooks in addition to the bigger things. I don't mind handing out more XP to a character in that situation; it may not be realistic, but at some point one simply suspends disbelief and accepts that it's just a game. Of course, where that point lies in your mind is up to you, and I won't say you're wrong.

      2. My nieces were around 10-12 when they started, and their brother joined in when he was 7 or 8. They're pretty good at solving things like the types of secret doors I favor. At one point, they found an old map of the ruined keep they were exploring in the commander's office. My nephew says, "I look at the map. Does it show where the secret doors are?" Only his first or second session and he cracked the adventure wide open!

      3. I very, very rarely have a truly empty room, and when I do, it means something -- it's patrolled by gelatinous cubes, or it's been completely looted, or some other reason. I like to stock my "empty" rooms with stuff that tells something about the dungeon or its inhabitants, old junk that creative players might find uses for, etc.

      4. I usually consider XP for gold to include the solving of puzzles to find it. I guess it would make sense to award XP for the actual solving of the puzzle, in the same way that it's awarded for defeating a monster guarding the treasure, especially if it's a puzzle that could cause them injury or death in some way. I hadn't given it much thought before, but it makes sense.

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    1. That's an incredibly apt description of how it feels fumbling toward implementation of new ideas!

      My brain fogs are usually anxiety-induced, and thus hard to break through. It's not about a lack of ideas, but an inability to grab hold of them, stick them together in coherent chunks, and put them into words. (Evolution apparently did not favor individuals who sat down to do some heavy thinking when the fight-or-flight response kicked in. Unfortunately, working retail has pretty much the same effect on me that dire wolves and smilodons had on my prehistoric ancestors.) Sometimes I get windows of clarity, and I'll write down ideas or crunch numbers and see how things play out. Other times, all I can do is put on my noise-cancelling headphones, turn on some music, and try to turn down the conscious part of my mind and wait for things to start bubbling up from the depths and congealing.

      I did find some old drawings I made some time in my late teens, when I had written a module and had fleeting dreams of trying to publish it. I've started transcribing the module into electronic form (and revising some of the more cringe-inducing bits) and I plan to post it as a PDF in the not-too-distant future. It's pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, nothing groundbreaking, but it'll at least be out there. If that goes over well, I may dig up sketchpads and pencils and do some new stuff.

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  12. Should I assume that even though the painful subject of disabilities is out in the open, that possible workable solutions is stepping too far over some line?

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  13. There's been a prolonged silence, and my comments aren't being responded to. Since this is right on the tail of me revealing my personal methods of dealing with my own major stress inducing A.D.D. I have to think these issues are related. Since stress issues and anxiety disorders are freely talked about on this blog, I didn't think this would be intrusive or upsetting to anyone. If it was, I apologize, and it was never my intention. If its overkill on a personal subject then maybe I should have eased off on it. Again, sorry if I've caused any stress and upset over this issue.

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    1. I've been under a lot of stress for completely unrelated reasons and hadn't checked in for a while. Nothing to do with anything you said; correlation is not causation, though of course I can't do anything about it if you choose to see it that way.

      This really isn't the right forum for discussing mental health anyway, but maybe I'll do an off-topic post about it when I feel up to it.

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  14. "...correlation is not causation, though of course I can't do anything about it if you choose to see it that way."

    I'm aware of correlation not being causation. I'm not choosing to see anything, either. I asked an open-ended question for clarification. I didn't state anything as a half-baked fact, I only asked for clarification. I wondered, because a few times previously, a similar situation happened, where my comments about anxiety issues you posted about never got answered, even as you continued to post on to new subjects. If my comments were causing some kind of negative response, I wanted to know if they should be avoided, and couldn't figure out if I was being perceived as intrusive or badly received.

    I never knew there was such a thing as a specific condition for a profound social anxiety disorder until you posted about it repeatedly. If it's not a good forum for mental health issues, there isn't any way I'd know that under the conditions you set up in the first place. Since, I suffer from some related issues, it seemed like it would be a subject of mutual interest and possibly be a helpful dialogue on a subject you yourself initiated.

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  15. he adventure is usually just a goal within a sandbox environment.

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