Friday, October 28, 2011

Cast off thine tactical grids and embrace the mind's eye!

Going off of Jeff Rient's recent ditchin' the minis post I've been inspired to post an excerpt regarding my own revelations on dumping minis and moving back to narrational movement.  I originally planned on including this in a DM'ing section but I've since decided to adapt it for the combat section so that both players and DMs are on the same page.


"When I originally started writing these abilities many of them had features or effects involving squares and tactical movement. At the time my players and I had gotten used to and started to expect tactical grid based combat. However, I rather enjoyed hexes for their ability to ignore silly diagonal rules and because I had a few lying around so the name was changed to spaces.

Later on when the OSR kicked in to full swing I decided to pick up a copy of Labyrinth Lord. Suddenly I could remember with full clarity the kind of fun, quick and dirty combats we had when I was younger where all you had to do was relay to the DM where you wanted to go and what you wanted to do and he would  update his mental map and verbally describe the places and positions or he would quickly scribble up something on a sheet of paper (usually graph paper). I loved it and realized how much I missed it. So I went through the classes and the abilities with a fine tooth comb and edited them to remove all the nitty gritty elements of tactical map-based movement.

In it's place grew up nebulous effects like causing opponents to flee, knockback with the actual direction being entirely up to the DM and the characters attributes.  Then I took it a step further and decided that spaces could be a pretty useful, if not nebulous, tool for a DM. You see player character still have a speed, this is represented in spaces which if you desire to use a square/hex map works perfectly well. If like me you'd like to switch back to almost entirely narrational movement a space on the field of combat is whatever you decide it to be.

To some DMs, a space is any increment that places the fencing hero and villain no more than three spaces away from a precarious ledge. To others, it's an increment that causes a melee heavy party to come under projectile fire for a few rounds while they evaluate their lack of ranged weapons (or a big shield!)  To that end a space is entirely contextual, in a bar brawl moving through a throng of people is quite difficult and a space may be something as small as half-a-foot.  It may be even less if you're crawling through a dungeon scaled down for wererats. While a cavalier jousting will have much larger spaces, typically equal to the stride of a charging mount.

In this way you can simulate terrain and other conditions (moving through a crowd) to slow down characters that would otherwise be represented by some rigid static penalty meticulously laid out in some table in the combat section that you can never seem to find. The table will of course have many obvious situations but you may disagree on the severity of the penalty and there will of course be examples that are missing so you'll have to approximate them on your own anyways. In any event with these parting words let me leave you one important guideline.

"Always be consistent"

Your spaces should  be longer for clear outdoor movement than it is for moving through thick foliage, moss covered caverns, and worn down bridges overlooking choppy waves pounding the cliff-side revealing
jagged rocks with every retreating wave.  If you created an ad-hoc penalty for pushing through a crowd, remember it the next time it happens or write it down.  Consistency is the key to keep verisimilitude while a reliance on abstraction can quickly kill it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Man With No Name

As a creature paradoxically possessing too much and yet too little time I find myself multi-tasking (in a way) quite frequently.  Now I generally have a Hulu stream or a movie playing while I write to both lessen the impact of long term boredom/fatigue and also because I subscribe to the idea that inspiration can come from anywhere.  Especially the Wild West.

I was watching "The Man With No Name" for the first time.  I had thought that it payed homage to Kurosawa's Yojinbo in the same way that Eastwood's later "Pale Rider" payed homage to "Shane" before it.  I wasn't expecting scene by scene recreation.  Ah well, it was just as entertaining the second time around as it was the first.  Still the finale pitting Mifune's Sword and skill against the upstart's gun was important for the way it symbolized the last gasp of an era (When the Last Sword is Drawn also tries to capture this moment).  The impact just isn't the same with the "Ha-hah! My gun is bigger prepare to lose Yankee!" plot line.

Doomed to Repeat; Creative Urges

Been a while since I've posted an update.  Here's what I've been working on.

My players and I grew frustrated with Saint Sage Edition since we were coming from some fast and loose systems.  Moving back to the structured, "There's a DC for that.  There's always a DC for that" was a bit of a wake up call.  As much as I love Sage Edition I'm beginning to realize that I love it for being a great d20 system and thus a great D&D system.  Thematically I don't think Star Wars and 20 levels really coincides.  With that in mind we came up with a very agreeable solution.  All the players love SW Minis.  I personally love it for it's simplified approach of taking the "Keep It Sweet and Simple" design approach of Sage and further boiling it down.  Abilities are useful, rather than roadblocks on the way to power.  Many abilities are resolved with a simple saving throw.  A Saving throw is always 11!  Talk about ease of use, this is a terrific rule of thumb (later expansions would add in Save of 6 or 16 but all it's really doing is adding or subtracting +5).  That single rule  I love so much I decided to adapt Static Save DC's for my own games.

So I began the task of going through the glossary and rules of Star Wars Minis to create a playable RPG system.  I'll talk more about that in a follow up post.

I've also been working on transcribing my thoughts to my over-burgeoning text documents.  From there I've been taking barebones systems and trying to create a rough draft of my games.  I'm of the opinion that at some point you need to start writing things down in a coherent fashion or you'll never make progress.  Things have been slow going so far.  I'll never marginalize the work of a copy editor again.  There is nothing more agonizing than taking well worded paragraphs and putting them on the chopping block to make a coherant idea fit on a single column or page.

Currently, I'm working on getting the basic combat system down.  Here is where I ran into a bit of trouble and it pertains to anyone interested in design and modification of RPG systems.  I wrote many posts ago about Wounds, the lifeblood of your character.  As opposed to Hit Points these represent actually taking a serious hit, and if you're lucky you can keep on going.  I based the idea (well revised it really) from the Star Wars RCR d20 system where a critical hit could go directly to Wounds.  Thus recreating the Samurai-things can be settled in a sudden stroke- action present in Star Wars.

 The problems were many of course, they decided to keep critical multipliers in, and as you can imagine doubling 2d8 plus modifiers will nearly always trump your Constitution score.  In my original revision I merely had criticals go straight to Wounds with no doubling or tripling to speak of.  I reasoned that damage progressed at a rate equal to half your level while Wounds progressed at a rate equal to your level, therefore damage would not out pace Wounds.  Of course this idea has a few holes in it, namely that it is ignorant of damage modifications that come from feat choices or class features but the basic premise was a decent one.

The critical system has gone through some changes since then.  Mostly to rectify the idea that a certain ability score will affect the severity of critical hits.  Also having Armor apply only to damage to wounds as a way to minimize extra rolling.  As I was writing up an example in the Critical section I was blindsided by the conclusion.  A man wearing decent armor would still be flat out killed by a man with a longsword and a decent damage attribute.  I put it succinctly, "The defender would then receive a whopping 19 Wounds.  At which point he presumably dies."

Here's the lesson.  This goes out to everyone who likes to propose changed to their RPG system of choice.
"Rules do not exist in a vacuum.  Remember that even the smallest changes can have far reaching consequences on the overall balance of the system."

As someone who decided to design a core system from scratch after coming to the conclusion that tinkering with an existing system to make it work was more trouble than it was worth, I had hoped that lesson would have stuck with me.  Now then, it's time to look into solutions.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Inspirations from the Sea

I took an extended vacation with the family for the past week and I noticed it did wonders for my creative process.  Going cold turkey from the internet and assorted electronics certainly gave me time to focus and brainstorm.  In that period I was surprised by the amount of content and ideas that rolled out, filling an entire legal pad in less than a week no less.  I think putting pen to paper rather than trying to put another entry in an already crowded text document certainly helped, especially with one central theme per page.  I hammered out some class mechanics and changes, adventure ideas, setting locales, an entire quick start adventure, advice on tone and imagery and a number of odds and ends.  It ended up being my most productive week, with regards to fresh ideas, all week.

That being said I wanted to acknowledge how your present location can influence and often inspire you.  I first noticed this when walking back down the hill on the battlefield after the fireworks were over and thinking how the pitiful lighting, large amount of shapes moving about, indistiguishable shapes and unrecognizable noises would be like in a time period where the night really was the end all be all boogeyman (mostly because of all things that really did go bump in the night, lions and mummys and werebats oh my!)

Here are a few entries that warranted entries on my note pad inspired totally by the sea, the weather, and the location.

The rising sun does more to enliven you than the newfound warmth in your body.  It is the sense of security that only the day brings, that the horrors of the night have been put to rest and the remaining can keep on going.

Beach - Simple Pleasures
There's something magical about the walking the seemingly endless sands and eternal waves that brings perspective to what diminutive creatures we in the scope of these timeless forces of nature.

Cities by the Sea
Running with the idea that overtime waves shift the location of sand and the reason the current beach is still here is because the city actively trawls through the ocean replacing sand lost (like from the recent hurricane).  It gave me the idea that perhaps in olden times people would build beach side cities and as the sand would slowly traverse and buildup on new locations on the coast the people would simply pack up and build a new city leaving behind a string of abandoned buildings on barren cliffs all along the coastline giving an eerie post-apocalyptic vibe.

Reminding the PC's how they lack modern conveniences and staples
As you emerge from the woods you are delighted to see farmland ahead of you and what's more it appears to be harvest time.  You're looking forward to the fresh cream, cheeses, vegetable (which have been absent from your plain rations for the some time) and best of all the allure of fresh bacon!  Now hopefully they'll accept you as farmhands for such a rare and nourishing meal.

Cold Winds
Nothing puts you in a sour mood quite like dismal cold weather and strong winds that curiously always seem to be blowing in whatever direction you are facing.

Lost City Dogs
Watching a bunch of dogs frolicking on the beach while their owners met and chatted I started thinking about dogs in your typical D&D world.  Then I thought, what if a town had been brazen enough to try building near a living wood (one that expanded near continuously and was hostile to foreign objects, read: people).  Let's say this town had a number of dogs, and let's say the inevitable happens and the town is swallowed up.  The dogs of course would survive.  The PC's could encounter them on their travels, remarking at how unusual it is for a wild dog pack to be so genetically diverse (and non-hostile).  They could befriend them at the cost of their food supplies and have a dog pack escort them through a dangerous area.

Prickly Salesman
I'm beginning to understand why my player's characters so frequently respond with overwhelming violence for everyday trivialities.  Should we rewind the clock a few hundred years with a much less severe justice system I could easily see myself decking a few condescending salesman & beach buffoons.

Misc. Imagery
Saltwater and strong breezes leaves your hair stiff and breezy.  Remember that when describing coastal natives.
The combination of sand and water shred your callouses when running on the beach.  If you do it for a while expect some super callouses!
The water can be surprisingly warm, even in October but quickly chills the further you get from the shallows.
Seagulls - Everywhere.  Sandpipers are adorable.
Don't forget to play up the smells of fresh seafood to the aficionado and revolted alike.
The hustle and bustle of port cities quickly disappears in the face of cold weather.
In some regions (Cape Cod for instance) the tide can recede for miles.
Not all beaches are foot friendly!