... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Liber Zero Heroic and Talent Class Reference Sheets (PDF)

It took a while, but I finished two more Liber Zero reference sheet pamphlets. This time, it’s character classes!

The Heroic Class reference sheet covers fighters, your basic combat class. It also includes three variant classes, which are just fighters with an extra non-combat ability: Cavaliers are masters of horse riding, Buccaneers are masters of sailing, and Barbarians are masters of the wilderness. The combat ability for all three variants is the same, so you lose nothing by picking a variant aside from a few bonus XP points. Heroes have a couple changes you won’t see in OD&D: a boost to the number of opponents they can fight when the hit dice are very low (double the usual number) and the option to use twice their Level instead of one of their physical ability scores when attempting heroic feats. Also, the Heroic class does more damage, based on either Strength or Level. In fact, high-level Heroes do more damage than the strongest low-level Heroes.

The Talent Class reference sheet covers a catch-all for non-combat, non-magical classes. The focus is on the one everyone’s familiar with: the Thief, but there are brief descriptions of two variant classes: Miners and Smiths. Unlike variant Heroes, variant Talents do not add abilities to the “main” class, in this case Thieves. Instead, they completely replace Thief abilities with roughly similar mechanics. Also worth noting: in many cases, Talent class abilities work automatically or speed actions up rather than improve a skill rating as they level up.

Since I haven’t completed a reference sheet on resolving combat or “skill checks” yet, there’s a reference that might not make much sense: some abilities are given a “High” chance of success. What this means depends on what kind of dice you roll (it’s a dice neutral system, remember?) Basically, it’s 3+ on 1d6, 6+ on 2d6, or 8+ on 1d20 (or 9+ on 4d6 drop 6s.) At least, if you are rolling target number or above. There will be other options when I get around to working out various possibilities.

If you were to use Delta’s Target 20 system instead, read “High chance” as 1d20+12 and “Low Chance” as 1d20+2.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Fixing Urban Geomorphs

Twice now, I’ve mentioned that I needed to talk about the urban geomorphs.

The Problem:
There doesn’t seem to be much variation between residential blocks. Part of the issue is that I can’t just go wild with every city block: there has to be a sprinkling of crazy stuff amidst a lot of more ordinary stuff. Another part of the issue is that we’re not dealing with just one house per block, but anywhere from 3 to 6 houses. Three houses in one block that are identical to three houses in another block is going to stand out.

Failed Solution:
Every household had some random elements: Person X behaves mysterious, on 5+ on 1d6 it’s because of this, on another 5+/1d6 roll, something related is going on. But that still doesn’t distinguish one reused block from another enough.

The Hidden, Better Solution:
Each of the urban geomorph pamphlets also has a short list of random NPC traits and secrets. I changed these from pamphlet to pamphlet, but the lists were very short, so they didn’t add much variation.

But! Imagine instead that the lists were longer and filled an entire pamphlet… and there’s more than one pamphlet like that. It allows more variety for NPCs in a neighborhood. And some of the plots or secrets I put into the map key would actually work just as well as stand-alone secrets on that list.

Another pamphlet or series of pamphlets could be about events, for example illness or death in a family, theft, intrigue… the sort of thing PCs might get involved in.

What This Means:
Although I still plan on doing some other urban geomorph pamphlets, most of them will probably be craftspeople, shops, inns, and unique locations (cemeteries, abandoned house, pond, fountain, statue.) There probably won’t be any more residential pamphlets, unless I think of a neighborhood intrigue that really, really needs to be written up.

Instead, think back to the conversation Scott Anderson and I had about a potential supplement with unlabeled geomorphs of various sizes. Most of the geomorphs for neighborhoods would be here. There would be large geomorphs usable as player visual aids and smaller labeled geomorphs you cut out and either clip to index cards or tape on a notebook page. Most households will just have a family name and number of family members, but there’s a random chance to add a plot or secret to a family (and in rare cases, two plots or secrets.)

This will add a lot more variety to the geomorphs.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Urban Geomorphs: Common Quarter Block 3 and 4 (PDF)

This Map Monday, I have not one, but two new Last-Minute GM Urban Geomorphs for the Common Quarter: Block 3 and Block 4. Both are still mostly common laborers, although in Block 4, there’s a craftsperson of one kind or another.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the future of the urban geomorphs. Although unique places, merchants, and inns still make a lot of sense, if you are reusing city blocks for the residential areas – the intention of the series – you’ll wind up with a lot of repetitive intrigues going on. Part of this is because we aren’t mixing and matching houses from different blocks.

Now, you could do exactly that: swap the description of a house in one pamphlet with one from another pamphlet. But that leads to some handling problems. But I think I have a solution to make the residential areas work better, one that actually involves something I’m already kind of doing.

More on that in a future post.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Basic Skills for Pseudo-Medieval Adventurers

Justin Stewart writes in Dragons Gonna Drag: Basic stuff all adventurers can do in old-school D&D?, as a preface to a tentative list of general skills:
... the thing about skills in RPGS is, generally no one gets all the skills, and everybody is limited in some area of expertise, because otherwise there'd be no need for the skill system.

This is all well and good, as far as I'm concerned...unless it introduces limitations to the capabilities of characters that seem artificial or overly-constraining, to the point of either damaging verisimilitude, or just making simple actions into complicated ordeals involving too much time and thought.
I figure you have to allow a great deal of latitude on skills. For one, few of us really know with any authority what a person trained for any given medieval job would know. For another, if you are too strict about people without training using a skill, you're kind of setting up a chicken-or-egg situation. If no one can ride a horse without the horsemanship skill, how did the first horseman learn?

There's also the matter of most campaigns being mildly cinematic. Most heroes in fantasy film and literature do a number of things without any hint of being formally trained in that skill. They pick up and use weapons they've never seen before, steal strange mounts like elephants or griffins, steal boats, decipher ancient puzzles, climb walls or mountains, fight octopuses and sharks underwater... the general consensus is that heroes should be able to try most things. Personally, I'd only forbid things that clearly few people are able to do, like magic, alchemy, and starship piloting. Most skills I'd let PCs attempt, but require extra time and a roll to see if things go wrong. (That's basically what yesterday's post was about.)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Speeding Up, Taking Time

So, for a couple reasons, some of which will be made clear at various points of time in the future, I’ve been tackling abilities, training, and situation rolls. Mostly, how to avoid them, as explained in the Ability Checks Are the Devil post, which turned into a series of posts (summary here) ending with:
So what if we stop rolling to see if characters succeed at a task, but instead roll to see if they can complete the task quickly under pressure? And ability scores don’t adjust the chances of completing the task, but adjust the time? Or, in the case of non-time-critical tasks, they limit the quality?
I’ve mentioned in a couple places the idea of rolling a d6 to see if you are able to do something on time. On 5+, you do. On 1-4, the roll = how much extra time you need. You also need to roll if the situation isn’t perfect and something could go wrong, regardless of how skillful you are. Ability scores, training, and backgrounds affect the time or eliminate the need to roll.

Here’s the rough draft of a table I’m working on to get this all unified.

The idea: Tasks that are easy for trained professionals are Difficult for the untrained. Difficult tasks are Unlikely for the untrained. Taking extra time – moving up one or more rows in the Base Time Period columns – can eliminate the need for a roll (move down the same number of rows in the Chance column.) Speeding things up works the opposite.

Ability scores also affect the time needed:
  • Good scores (13-15) shift the time of Difficult tasks down one row
  • Very Good scores (16-17) shift the time of Unlikely tasks down one row
  • Bad scores (6-8) shift the time of Unlikely tasks up one row
  • Very Bad scores (4-5) shift the time of Difficult tasks up one row
  • Extremely Bad and Extremely Good scores (3 and 18) shift the time of any task up or down two rows, although no task becomes impossible unless there are other negative aspects in play, and no task becomes automatic if there are other negative aspects in play.
Characters with a relevant professional background can substitute years of training for an ability score, if desired. Classes can substitute double their Level, if it seems appropriate.
It will need more work, but I wanted to see where this was going before I worked on a certain other project.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

LZ Reference Sheet Cover Style

Incidentally, before I started on the LZ Character Advancement pamphlet, I was already dissatisfied with the cover image I did for the gear pamphlet. It looks very cluttered, like the various props (anvil, hammer, dice, etc.) are there without reason, instead of being poured out of the bag, which is the image I had in mind.

I kind of didn't like the other cover images I did for the LZ pamphlets, either. I liked the basic concept of the piece of paper being broken through. Just didn't like the scenes I'd arranged.

So I did the XP pamphlet cover in a more minimal style, halfway between a normal illustration and an icon or logo. And I redid the other cover images, too.

I think I might stick with this style.

Liber Zero Character Advancement GM Reference Pamphlet (PDF)

Here’s another Liber Zero reference sheet in pamphlet format: the Character Advancement GM Reference Sheet. This contains the full version of the XP modifier table and an XP/Hit Dice progression table. It also has guidelines for awarding experience points, optional XP awards for GMs that want to try something other than “kill monsters and take their stuff”, rules for going past Level 11, starting at a higher level, or switching classes, and general advice for the GM about handling experience. That doesn’t mean players can’t look at the pamphlet. though. In fact, the information is arranged so that the most relevant information for players is the first information you see when you open the pamphlet.

The XP modifier table is for my version of bonuses for high primary abilities. What I did, as you may recall, was “zero it out” and precalculate XP for a unit of treasure to eliminate subtraction and percentages to simplify the process. It’s all addition and multiplication. The version in the character card pamphlet was a “basic” version, which assumes all classes advance at the same rate. This expanded table uses a trick to boost the XP bonus for classes that advance faster:
  1. Find the range for your primary ability score on the table.
  2. Move down four rows if your character is Heroic class (fighter,) or down eight rows if your character is Hybrid class (cleric.)
  3. Write the XP Mod in that row on your character card.
The pamphlets for each class will have custom tables that eliminate the need for Step 2.

The original game, of course, has a unique progression table for each class. Some people dump this approach and make all classes progress at the same rate, but this alters the balance between the classes. Boosting the XP bonus for individual classes is sort of an in-between approach: I can use one progression table, but fighters will progress faster than magic-users, and clerics will progress faster than fighters. It duplicates the effects of the original game without copying the mechanics.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Urban Geomorphs: Stables 2/Common Quarter 2 (PDF)

Map Monday this week is another Last-Minute GM Urban Geomorph. Or rather, not one, but two! Urban Geomorphs: Stables 2, for a larger stable than seen in Stables 1. Room for ten horses! Or giant horned jackals, or some other mount! For this geomorph, there’s only one house. The stablemaster doubles as the farrier. The second is Urban Geomorphs: Common Quarter Block 2. More common laborers for your enjoyment!

I have to fix one or both of the first two urban geomorphs, because I found some errors. I may also post some new thoughts I have about urban geomorphs sometime later this week.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Liber Zero Adventure Gear Card Reference Pamphlet (PDF)

Time for another Liber Zero reference sheet in pamphlet format: Liber Zero Price Lists for Adventure Gear, which I like to refer to as the LZ Adventure Gear Card. Like the LZ Character Card, the pamphlet includes an index card-sized form that you cut out
and fill in, following the simple directions in the pamphlet. But this is a gear card, representing one large sack and its contents. Carrying multiple sacks means having a stack of multiple index cards.

What this means is that players can hand over one or more index cards when they drop sacks to lighten their load and move faster. If they have time or have figured it out in advance, they get to pick which cards to hand over. The GM sets the cards aside and decides whether the sacks stay in that spot or are picked up. Either way, players can find the sacks again later.

If a thief steals gear, the GM can ask the player to shuffle their gear cards and fan them out upside down, then draw cards blindly until the thief gets caught or has had enough. Thief players can use the same procedure to steal from an NPC or another player character. This can also be used for random overloaded sacks breaking.

If a thief is stealing one or more items from a sack, the gear card has numbers from 1 to 6, for six different items. Pick a card at random, then roll a d6 for which item to take from that card.

This all combines with a simple encumbrance system based on sacks. PCs can carry up to 10 sacks worth of gear. So, 10 index cards, less if wearing armor. Each numbered line on the card represents one sixth of a sack’s capacity (one bag, instead of one sack.) As long as a character carries fewer than five sacks worth of gear, movement is unencumbered. Five or more sacks halves move, and 10 sacks halves it again.

In addition to all this, there are two systems for figuring out the cost of items: a simple one on the left inside panel and one based on materials and features of items on the middle and right panels. It’s all very compact.

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Monday, September 2, 2019

August 2019 Blog Maintenance, September Plans

I’m taking a break from Map Monday this week, although I’m creating a few things in the background for next week’s map. Blog maintenance completed in August:
  • Added an urban tag for the new urban geomorphs
  • Added an lzref tag for Liber Zero Reference Sheets
  • Added a Liber Zero page
The tags might help some people out, but really they are for my reference. I’ve had so much trouble tracking down old features I did that I’ve decided to create unique tags for every series of posts I do. The Liber Zero page is still under construction, but basically explains what LZ is about and will collect the links to the reference sheets and eventually the expansion projects. I started up on Liber Zero again not only because of the recent discussion about its status, but also because I’m going to need the reference sheets for the big non-Liber Zero projects like Our Undying Neighbors (which is still behind schedule, just to let you know.)

I completed one pamphlet dungeon and two urban geomorph pamphlets in August. Technically, I said I would do 2 to 3 pamphlet dungeons, but that was before I decided to do the urban geomorphs, which also count as pamphlet maps, so I hit that goal. I also completed the first pamphlet-sized Liber Zero Reference Sheet, which was not originally part of my plans, but… well, see the previous paragraph.

Plans for September:
  • Two Map Monday releases
  • Behind-the-scenes work on a larger dungeon for October
  • A couple more LZ reference sheets (already have one almost finished, so expect that this Thursday)
  • Writing on the big project(s)
Can I make Our Undying Neighbors a Hallowe’en release? I wish I could promise that, but I won’t. I’ll give it a try, though, because a PDF about the undead would certainly fit the season.