... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Blog Post of Note: Rethinking clerics and religion, part 1

I have a couple posts in the works, but thought I should direct people to this post instead on the Sword of Mass Destruction blog.



Sword of Mass Destruction: Rethinking clerics and religion, part 1



There are some points where I might disagree, but that's mostly because I think of religion in terms of structural anthropology and Indo-European studies (Georges Dum├ęzil and the like.) It's not relevant to the topic, which is how to design religions for your D&D game. Of course, rather than going through a checklist like this, my approach would be more like "take two or three actual historical cults and merge them, change the names, and add a little spice to make it feel unique." But you still need to keep things like this in mind when looking for cults to borrow.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Blog Post of Note: How Much Mapping Is Actually Required?

Alex Schroeder raises the question: How much mapping is actually required? He’s not talking about mazes, where the architects include features meant to confuse invaders or lead them into traps or ambush spots. The example he gives is of a fairly linear map with a few branches.

He suggests that this map doesn’t really need to exist at all. The details of the dungeon can be handled entirely with text. I’d agree that a truly linear map with no branches or even one with just one or two side passages could be handled this way.

But some areas should always be mapped, for example one with more than one exit in most of the walls. Even if the area can be described in words, it’s actually easier to understand it with a map. Another example is a room with large furniture, statues, pillars, or anything else that breaks up the floor space. It’s not complicated to describe, but figuring that stuff out with a map is practically instantaneous.

This does lead to some ideas about mapping, but I’ll save those for other posts.

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Artwork Updates

I mentioned earlier that I'm re-doing the cover illustrations for the Liber Zero pamphlets. I plan on making corrections in the already released pamphlets and updating the graphics to give them a more unified, cleaner, cartoony look. Here are four of the updated graphics, to give you some idea of what's going on.

Character
Creation
General Abilities
Character
Advancement
Backgrounds

Monday, January 20, 2020

Classifying Game Structures: Classes, Skills, Resources

Time to continue the classification system first started here, the one built around How PCs do things (Structure,) What PCs do to advance (Focus,) and Where PCs do it (Setting). Previous posts in this series:

  1. focus (four options)
  2. setting (and mood) (two options, not counting mood)

Changes since those posts:

  • Ditching the fifth focus (Undefined)
  • Ditching the third setting (Cosmic)
  • The Action focus is now Arena.

On to RPG structures. Class and Level games have just a few broad descriptors that can be improved, while Skill and Talent games have many specific descriptors that can be added or improved. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Class and Level systems assume everyone is able to walk, run, notice danger, get in a fist fight, build a fire, and possibly other things as well. Class abilities are a little something extra: exceptional combat ability, ability to cast spells, boosted stealth abilities. They usually start at the bottom (level 1 or level 0) and work their way up.

Skill and Talent systems assume everyone has some default skills and trains (adds skill points) to raise some of those defaults or add additional skills like blacksmithing. The finer the distinctions between skills, the more skills there are (Melee Weapon skill vs. Sword skill, Ax/Mace skill, Spear/Polearm skill.) The skill levels may start higher than class levels, and there’s a lot more character variety. Talents are pseudo skills that are harder to add or improve and may have less range for development.

Either system may have limited features of the other type, for example general ability scores (Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity) as default human skills that are very difficult or impossible to improve.

Let’s contrast some examples:

CLEF vs. STEF

OD&D is the quintessential Class and Level Exploration Fantasy game. There are six ability scores, but by default they aren’t even used as a typical skill system, just a guideline to what the character is good or bad at. Characters have only one broad class ability – Fighting-Man, Magic-User, Cleric – at the start, and it begins at level 1. Level improves when characters explore, quantified as bringing back treasure from adventures.

Chaosium’s Stormbringer is a Skill and Talent Exploration Fantasy game. It, too, has ability scores and several default skills. Skills improve when used while exploring.

STEF vs. STAF

Contrast Stormbringer to The Fantasy Trip. The later version covered by In the Labyrinth is a Skill and Talent Exploration Fantasy, although the mechanics are quite different and there is a rudimentary class system, which really only affects the costs of talents (skills.) But in its first incarnation as Melee and Wizard, it was a Skill and Talent Arena Fantasy game. The focus was on fighting, physically or magically.

I’ve mentioned before that there’s probably only one other structure type. I’m more certain of that now, and I’ve finally settled on a name: Point Resource. Whereas the other two types focus on resolving conflicts based on character statistics, Point Resource games have point pools that are detached from character abilities and instead affect the flow of the game. Here is another game contrast:

STOF vs. PROF

TOON announces in its introduction that you should forget everything you know about roleplaying games. It starts with what looks like a simple Skill and Talent system: four abilities, 23 skills, and a bunch of schticks (talents.) But it’s worth noting that players can spend 3 plot points to pick up a schtick temporarily for one session, or 1 plot point to use a schtick once, so characters are more fluid than you’d expect. But despite the fact that you can superficially run a session as an Arena challenge (like the example cartoon olympics adventure) or as Exploration or Investigation, the real focus in TOON is on Other. Experience points, called “Plot Points”, are earned by being funny, and can be spent to make other funny things happen. This is why it’s a STOF game.

Contrast to a much later game like InSpectres. Again, there’s a rudimentary resemblance to Skill and Talent systems (four broad abilities.) But the focus is not on improving the character, although that’s possible. It’s on improving the franchise the characters work for. Investigating the mystery earns a pool of dice, and these can be spent to improve the franchise or eliminate Stress characters may have acquired. This is moving closer to a PROF game. It’s more obvious in the UnSpeakable (Lovecraft-influenced) variant, which doesn’t even have the four main abilities of InSpectres. Every character starts with one skill, and there are no skill levels. The game starts with a communal pool of dice called The Pit. To do things, players must roll dice: if their skill covers what they want to do, they roll one die, otherwise they must take dice from the pool or take an automatic failure. When the pool runs out, the game is going to end soon, and probably most characters will die or go insane. The dice pool, in this case, truly governs the way the story evolves, and acts like a Point Resource.

Story Games are almost always PROF/PROM games, or hybrids that lean towards PROF/PROM.

So, that gives us three Structures X four Foci X two Settings = 24 possible game types, although I’m guessing a couple of those types have barely been explored. I may want to do follow-up posts classifying some well-known games, or discussing how some games change type, either as play progresses or when using certain subsystems.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Empty Rooms and Improvised Contents

Delta’s D&D Hotspot has a second post about empty rooms, worth reading for commentary about Gary Gygax’s habits when keying dungeons. Basically, he didn’t describe room contents other than monsters and treasure, at least not in the early days.

Although I’ve long been an advocate for treating empty rooms as unoccupied, but not truly empty, I’ve also been an advocate for not cataloging room contents. It seems to me there’s more sense in just improvising room contents based on the type of room (kitchen, torture chamber, storage room) and how thoroughly the PCs search.

Cursory Glance:
“You see a typical kitchen with three prep tables, storage cabinets, and a cauldron, with a smoke flue above the cauldron.”

Basic Search:
“The prep tables have several spoons, knives, ladles, and bowls on them. One cabinet contains spices in bottles, another contains pots and pans.”

Examine Cauldron:
“There’s a gunky brown residue and bits of bone caked on the bottom. The underside is covered with soot.”

Each kind of search takes time and adds wandering monster rolls, of course. The main reason to have rooms not be completely empty is to force players to make decisions. There might be something valuable in those rooms. There might be something that’s at least usable, like spices you could throw in someone’s eyes or wood that can be turned into a club. There might be hidden snakes, rat’s nests, and other petty monsters.

Searching every room is probably a big mistake. But so is never searching a room.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Liber Zero Reaction Rolls Reference Sheet (PDF)

Here’s the first Liber Zero PDF of 2020: the LZ Reaction Rolls reference sheet. It gives a description of how and when to use reaction rolls: encounters, negotiations, haggling, loyalty, morale, and even a short suggestion for the weather. I figured I needed to knuckle under and get this one done next because I’ve been working on the Hybrid/Priest class and realized “it would be nice to refer to the reaction rolls reference when describing the priest’s ability.”

One important feature of this pamphlet is that it’s the first one to go into any detail on the LZ dice neutral approach. There are two dice roll tables in the pamphlet: one for if you want to roll 1 or more d6s for your reaction rolls, the other for rolling d10, d20, and d100. It doesn’t matter what dice you use: the plan for all my LZ-compatible material will be to refer to many tests as “needs Good or better on a reaction roll” or something similar. There’s even a brief mention that you might want to roll monster morale checks using only 1d6 instead of whatever you usually roll because it’s quicker. The benefit of keeping things dice neutral is that it’s easier to be modular. If you know that priests make a reaction roll of Good or better to turn undead, but there’s no mention of which dice to roll or what “Good or better” means, then you can replace my approach to reaction rolls with another that uses the same terminology, but different methods: roll under, dice pool, roshambeau, whatever you desire.

Oh, also: you may notice I'm experimenting with a new, cleaner, cartoon-y style for the cover art on the pamphlet. Let me know what you think.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Regional Hex Template PDF

Did a quick PDF this morning for something requested on a forum: a hex sheet with numbered hexes and an area to record notes on what's in various hexes. This is based on a previous hex sheet I made using mkhexgrid, but I removed the megahex (it wasn't lining up) and added borders and the record area. This is good for a regional map.

Regional Hex Template


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Friday, January 10, 2020

Star Wars from a Non-Fan's Perspective

People are talking about the Star Wars franchise again, for example Delta's D&D Hotspot: The Hobbit Autopsy by Lindsay Ellis. And I thought I'd share my perspective on some of the recent Star Wars material, as well as my feelings on the series as a whole.

Spoilers: I don't really care for the new movies, but I don't really think they're that bad, either. But I think there's a legitimate complaint about the films.

First off, I did not see the last several films or TV shows, but did see Rogue One, and is it called "The Force Awakens"? I'm just going to assume that's the name. Neither left a very strong impression on me, but I didn't hate them, and don't see how one is better than the other. They seemed about the same to me.

I had a roughly similar experience with the prequel films. I did not go to see most of them in the theaters, just Attack of the Clones, because some friends wanted to go see it in the opening week and asked me to come along, and I like my friends. And again, I didn't think it was as bad as advertised, although it's not something I'd pay to see again. Probably.

I have seen some or all of just about every pre-Force Awakens Star Wars film or TV show in some way: A New Hope on laserdisc(!), most of the other films on TV and DVD, some episodes of Clone Wars. And my assessment is the same: A New Hope is the best of the lot, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are lesser quality, and everything else I've seen ties for third, but the quality differences don't seem that big to me. The one exception is the holiday special, which is laughable.

But here's the thing: I found the very first movie to be entertaining enough, but it didn't really excite me. Everything else just seems like more of the same. And that may actually be a valid criticism, which others have come close to saying, but not quite: the problem with "post-Star Wars" Star Wars is that it's constructed by formula, based on what people enjoyed before. Sometimes, the rehash works. Sometimes, it doesn't, but enough of the rest of the movie appeals to the fans, so they give it a pass. And sometimes, the rehash goes horribly wrong and there's not enough appeal in what remains, and the fans trash it. Some of the fans don't know why they don't like the new stuff, or suspect and can't admit it to themselves. Some latch on to the wrong things to criticize, based on their prejudices, and start complaining about the main character being female, or not enough characters being white. But the reprehensible nature of some of these criticisms doesn't erase the fact that there is one legit reason why they don't like the new movies: they are just tired of Star Wars and don't realize it.

It's not just the plot of the latest movies being almost identical to the original. Star Wars started repeating itself very early on. The first movie had the swoopy dogfights in space, vehicles winding in and out of each other's paths in ways that didn't always make sense... but fans seemed to love it, so the next couple films had more swoopy vehicle chases through asteroid fields or forests, and the prequels carried on the tradition with podracing. Yoda went over well, so naturally everything has Yoda in it from that point on. Big weird alien buddy Chewbacca was popular, so they kept bringing him back, but when they tried adding Jar Jar as a Chewbacca-like alien in the prequels, it didn't go over as well.

Sometimes, people love this stuff anyways. I certainly love a lot of stuff that is technically garbage, so I can't fault people for liking stuff I think is just a retread. But maybe the people who don't like the newer stuff should admit that most of it is no worse than what's already been done, and consider that maybe they're just ready to move on to something that's not Star Wars.

The only problem with the new Star Wars is the same problem mass media has had for ages.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Blog Post of Yesteryear: Fantasy Religion?

I've been getting some traffic from an older post on Andy Bartlett's blog Known World, Old World: Fantasy Religion? I think it's just coincidence and people are just going to that post, then clicking blog links in Andy's sidebar. But it's a worthwhile read: How do you keep the excitement of real-world religion, with its schisms, heresies, corrupt priests (or false priests,) and religious conflicts? Andy's partial solution is... well, I'll let you read it on your own.



This is certainly a topic I've talked about before, but may like to return to.