Sunday, January 27, 2008

d20 Rethought: Base Bonuses

Late again, guess I've got to keep working on my typing speed. Anyways. . .like Saga Edition's "saves", d20 rethought's four base bonuses (Combat, Will, Fortitude and Reflex) each equal half your character level plus a class bonus that ranges from 0 to +2 (multiclassing means taking the higher class bonus in each case). Each of these bonuses is added to a corresponding defense, which starts at 10. More on the applications of each bonus after the link.

-Your base combat defense uses your Grace score and protects you from attack checks.
-Your base will defense uses your Intellect score and protects you from mental influence and trauma.
-Your base fortitude defense uses your Stamina score and protects you from physical afflictions of all types.
-Your base reflex defense uses your Wits score and protects you from hazards where your only option is to get the hell out of the way.

-Your base reflex bonus also is used for initiative checks, again with Wits.

-Your class combat bonus is added to all Grapple, Guard, Overpower, Trip, and Weapon Group checks.
-Your class will bonus is added to all Presence checks.
-Your class fortitude bonus is added to all Endurance checks.
-Your class reflex bonus is added to all Acrobatics checks.

Neither Brawn nor Spirit are used for any defense- on the other hand, these scores do determine your Wound and Trauma points, respectively. As such, low scores in these areas mean a critical hit is more likely to put you out of the action. I'm deliberately trying to avoid statistics that are easily min-maxed; whatever you put that 8 in, it's going to give you a weakness.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

d20 Rethought: Combat Skills

I should begin by explaining that d20 Rethought basically uses the skills system from the Saga edition of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Your base skill bonus equals half your character level, +5 if you've selected it as one of your "trained" skills. Also, taking a page from the Spycraft rpg, all skills have critical success and error ranges, the exact results of which vary from skill to skill.

Now keeping that in mind: As a part of this overhaul, all combat-related rolls are skill checks. Grapple is a skill, trip is a skill. . .attack checks are made using the appropriate (Weapon Group) skill, meaning that proficiency in a weapon is gained by taking the relevant skill. Hit the link for a full list of combat-related skills and their applications.

-Block (Brawn): A move action lets you use the result of your block check in favor of your Guard defense against a single opponent.
-Parry (Grace): Similar to block, but better when using a weapon to guard against grace-based attack checks (which is the default for this system).
-Disarm (Brawn): Used on grappled opponents to take an item away.
-Pin (Brawn): Used in a grapple to immobilize and/or silence the opponent.
-Seize (Grace): .Used to initiate a grapple.
-Bull Rush (Brawn): As in 3.5.
-Overrun (Brawn): As in 3.5.
-Stagger (Brawn): Standard action. A staggered opponent takes a -4 penalty on combat skill checks and falls prone if they would become staggered again.
-Sweep (Strength): As in 3.5 with trip attempts.
-Throw (Strength): Like above, but used in close quarters (opponent's square) and can move an opponent.
Weapon Group []
-Attack (Grace): This is d20 rethought's attack roll.

And just to fill in a couple gaps, here are a few things feats will let you do:
-Disarm an opponent using your weapon.
-Use brawn instead of grace on attack checks with two-handed weapons and light mass weapons (an inverse Weapon Finesse since the default attack stat is ).
-Make a Stagger check as a move action.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Dark Tide: No Life Kings

I debated how much to reveal here, since No Life Kings are the key part of the overall key themes for this cosmology, and settled on keeping things in-game.
The Nighthunters' records state that there are of four types of undead: Zombies, Revenants (Vrykolakas), Vampire Spawn (Ghul), and True Vampires. The organization has conducted extensive research over the centuries, the better to know the enemy. However, among the most well-versed of scholars there are rumors of one other type of creature- the Upir Likhyi, Incarnations of Hell, Vampire Kings, Lords of Undeath, or as they're most commonly called: No Life Kings. These are the most commonly supported "facts" about these beings:
-They are shapeshifters of the highest order, sometimes said to have a true form that is "the stuff of chaos and nightmares."
-Though sentient they are truly inhuman, possessing none of the residual humanity generally found in revenants and true vampires.
-Likewise, one heavily-investigated text implies that No Life Kings can come from both the living and the undead, so long as they "were a creature of virtuous mind."
-The defining characteristic of No Life Kings is their nature as progenitors- beings to which all other undead may trace their origins.

If No Life Kings exist, then they are extremely few in number. More than any other aspect, the nature of their origin is shrouded in mystery.
Future entries will elaborate on the remaining three types of undead, but before that I'll likely have one other tidbit that delves more into the creation of a No Life King (and by extension, every other type of undead being.)

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vagabond: Corsaphos

An old bit of design here- one of several races I proposed for a community project to develop an original sci-fi setting. Since the agreement at the time was to have limited psionics play a factor, I had them play a large role in this particular race. The original project has long since flopped, but I've held on to my own ideas and have been mulling them over ever since, so I'll probably have more to offer at a later date. For now, "Vagabond" should be a usable working title. Hit the link for the details on this particular race; the system in mind is d20 future.

The corsaphos hail from the moon of a gas giant orbiting towards the outer edge of the system. Their 'religion,' as the other races insist on referring to it, is the art of Coqueri: the disconnection of soul and body. Scientists have found that the higher and lower consciousness of the corsaphos function with an unusual degree of independence, and it is theorized that Coqueri is the brief strengthening of this separation through mental discipline and force of will.

• -2 Strength, +2 Wisdom, -2 Charisma. The corsaphos can be insightful, but are also very distant, rarely appearing to be fully involved in the task at hand.
• Small: As a Small creature, a corsaphos gains a +1 size bonus to Armor Class, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, and a +4 size bonus on Hide checks, but she uses smaller weapons than humans use, and her lifting and carrying limits are three-quarters of those of a Medium character.
• Corsaphos base land speed is 20 feet.
• Naturally Psionic: Corsaphos gain 2 bonus power points at 1st level. This benefit does not grant them the ability to manifest powers unless they gain that ability through another source, such as levels in the Psion advanced class.
• Resistance (Su): Corsaphos can use psionic energy to augment their resistance to various forms of attack. As an immediate action, a corsaphos can spend a power point to gain a +4 racial bonus on the next saving throw they make, as long as it occurs before the beginning of her next action.
• Repletion (Su): A corsaphos can sustain her body without need of food or water. If she spends a power point, a corsaphos does not need to eat or drink for 24 hours.
• Corsaphos gain a +2 bonus on fortitude saves against cold but take a -2 penalty on saves against heat. Their homeworld's temperatures are far below human standards.
• Coqueri (Su): Once per round, a corsaphos may use a move action to complete task that would normally take a standard or full-round action. This action must require minimal physical action and/or focus on the corsaphos’s physical surroundings, at the gm’s discretion. In general, any action dependent upon a character’s physical ability scores cannot be performed, including all forms of attack. Psionic powers are the exception to this rule, and may be used conjunction with coqueri even if they are an attack of some sort or otherwise focus on the character’s surroundings. This ability is usable a number of times per day equal to half the corsaphos' character level, rounding up.

By human standards, the average corsaphos is an accomplished artist and philosopher; however, their society has no such positions, seeing such talents as personal qualities similar to open-mindedness and self-control. Other races can find them disturbingly Machiavellian in their outlook; the concept of the ends justifying the means is accepted in their society as fact. One must simply be able to justify *all* of the ends their means bring about. Other irritating social traits include a virtual inability to focus entirely on the “here and now” or make small talk. That being said, they are respected for their insight and loyalty to friends.

Design Notes: If you play a Corsaphos who is not psionic, all of your racial abilities are still quite usable. Corsaphos telepaths and battle minds aren’t necessarily superior to other races, just different; players must weigh the advantage of their racial abilities against penalties incurred by size and ability scores.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

d20 Rethought: Damage and Health, part 2

Continuing on from the previous post, here's the more "revolutionary" part. In addition to vitality and wounds there is a parallel set of statistics that reflect your ability to handle mental damage/trauma- how easily your character loses their nerve. It's going to take some careful thought, but my hope is to have these stats be just as important as the ones reflecting physical well-being; if I want to do a roleplay system that isn't fundamentally built around physical combat, I'll have to put the same emphasis on other aspects of the system that combat receives. The idea is that every character will have a sort of social "mind games" attack the same way that they have a physical attack. When you face five men, and cut down the first to move at you with a single brutal strike, causing the other four hesitate and draw back- *that* is what I want this system to handle, smoothly and abstractly.

To nail down the basics, just as your Brawn score gives you wound points representing your ability to handle serious physical injury, your Spirit score gives you trauma points representing your ability to handle serious mental damage. And as your class and Endurance scores provide vitality points to negate physical attacks, so does your class and Wits score provide you with the ability to cope with and shrug off things that would leave a weaker-willed man broken and crying.

You also have a mental defense score along with your physical one, which in this system are referred to as your Will Defense (Intellect) and Guard Defense (grace) respectively. It's like a will save with broader applications.

As for the effects of losing your nerve- this means losing all your acuity points, and perhaps becoming shaken. I suspect much of this will still be a function of intimidate and other social skills, but it's still all theoretical. I'd like to hear what thoughts you have with regards to expanded social mechanics- stuff that works within the framework of the d20 system and isn't too complex while still being intuitive and useful.

And no, this isn't the sanity system- losing trauma points isn't normally going to make someone a gibbering maniac. It's just an expansion on mechanics like frightful presence, intimidation, and so on. And it works well within the existing system- a DM can plan to include an in-game scare tactic in the same way he include a pit trap, counting a traumatizing scene as a challenge with a corresponding CR.

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d20 Rethought: Damage and Health, part 1

This section ends up including one of the most radical of the changes, so I'll begin on more familiar ground: In this "d20 Rethought" system, hit points are replaced by what amounts to the Vitality/Wounds variant from d20 Star Wars/Urban Arcana, taken a step further and merging critical rules from 4th edition and Spycraft.

All characters have vitality points (dependent on Stamina) and wound points (dependent on Brawn). The latter represents their ability to withstand physical harm, while the former represents their ability to parry, roll with or otherwise negate an injury that they would normally be unable to avoid. When a character takes damage, they lose that many vitality points; when damage would reduce their vitality points below zero, they lose that many wound points instead. When your wound points go negative you're now helpless (still conscious though), 1/10 chance to stabilize each round, -10 equals death, yadda yadda you know how it goes and I'm not writing a rulebook quite yet. Here's the meat of the matter:

-This isn't going to be a system for high-powered magic; healing won't be a big factor.

-Your starting wound points equal your Brawn Score plus your character level.

-Wound points recover slowly, probably at the same rate as D&D's natural healing.

-Your vitality points come from your class, same as hit points except that you get double the max die result at 1st level and the dice range is d4, d6 or d8.

-Under normal circumstances, you start with full vitality points at the beginning of each encounter.

-Your vitality points are tied to fatigue, in that losing them wears you down (exact mechanics are still a tad uncertain, I'm not sure how similar I want fatigue to be to D&D). You can also spend vitality to invest extra effort in an action, generally through a feat or class ability.

-Certain effects can temporarily decrease (through disease and injury) your maximum vitality score. These are the sort of things that reflect a general weakened state on a character's part.

-Critical Hits: Normally crits follow 4th edition rules; there's no confirmation roll and no multiplying damage, a crit happens as soon as you roll that 20 and the result is that your damage dice are maxed. HOWEVER. d20 Rethought features action points, and without going into much detail here both GMs and players have a supply. Whenever you get that critical and the opponent has vitality points remaining, you can spend an action point to give up the maxed damage and attempt to deal damage straight to their wounds instead. GMs can also do this; so, there's always a chance for that lucky shot to head, but a dramatic limitation is in place that prevents this from happening on a regular basis.

As for the mechanics: you make a confirmation roll to hit and reroll damage. If the confirmation roll succeeds the damage goes straight to wounds (and confirmation rolls can crit as well). But if said roll fails you're dealing that rerolled damage to the target's vitality first, as if the crit never happened; there's a bit of a gamble here.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

d20 Rethought: Ability Scores

This is the first in a series of theoretical alterations that would bring the existing d20 system more in line with my personal tastes. Think of it as "If I was singlehandedly tasked with creating 4th edition's mechanics."

Two extra pieces of background. First, the separation between physical and mental stats is a *tad* blurrier than in normal d20. For example, reflex saves and initiative checks are dependent on a mental stat.
Second, the next part of this series ties tightly into this one; I'll be going into that in the next post.
Without further ado, here are the 6 tweaked stats:

-Physical coordination
-The ability to move
Grace (Dexterity minus most of the "speed aspect")

-Aerobic Exercise
-Ability to withstand physical pain and fatigue
Stamina (Constitution, virtually unmodified)

-Anaerobic Exercise, raw muscle
-Ability to withstand serious physical injury.
Brawn (Strength with a touch of Con and Dex)

-Capabilities in terms of conscious thought
-Self control and discipline
-Ability to learn and reason

-Mental agility and awareness
-How quickly you think and act
-Ability to cope when face with stressful, difficult situations

-Personal motivation and drive
-Ability to withstand and recover from serious mental trauma

More will be forthcoming on the rest of the system (and how these altered stats fit into it) over the course of the next few posts.

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My Philosophy of Game Design

noun, plural -phies.
3. a system of philosophical doctrine
4. the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, esp. with a view to improving or reconstituting them.

This is an outlook that I have held in some form or another since soon after I first began to play 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons back in 2003. Over the years it has transformed from a vague, fleeting idea to an increasingly articulate concept. This will be the first time I have attempted to sit down and express these ideas in a coherent fashion; here goes nothing. (Note: There's no content to be had in this post, just musing. Those of you who are solely after material for your games can skip this section. Philistines.)

My philosophy/theory/goal is based around the relationship between a game's fluff and its crunch. It's a relationship that I first began to consider last year after reading Ralph Koster's A Theory of Fun, which is an excellent book that you should all be sure to check out. In this book, the idea is raised that when human beings play games, they are working within an established system in order to gain an advantage. We become better at games mostly by learning the system and recognizing the patterns at work. The thought processes the lead to us recognizing and exploiting flaws in a computer game's A.I., rather than playing the way the designers intended, are the same thought processes that kept our ancestors from being eaten by tigers. Apply this lesson to roleplaying games and the resulting implication is that “rollplaying”- thinking more in terms of numbers and die rolls than in-game storytelling – is the natural, smart thing to do.

I see a lot of discussion on the rules used for roleplaying games. People talk about the merits of various levels of complexity in rolls, the practicality of large dice pools, detailed rules vs. simplicity. . .what interests me is the idea of effective abstraction. Since it's natural to think about things in statistical terms, the challenge for game designers is to create systems where the user can better make that connection between a game's fluff and its crunch. In other words, it isn't enough for an abstraction to simplify while still providing balanced/enjoyable gameplay (in a statistical die-rolling sense); it also has to directly connect to what's going on in-game.

A good example of what I'm talking about is the vitality/wound point variant for D&D. See, hit points are a terrible abstraction. When you think about someone getting injured and thus dying, do you imagine that after a person rolls with the blows and avoids any sort of debilitating injury for a period of time, but then a serious injury occurs and immediately knocks them unconscious? That only the toughest of individuals would remain conscious at this point, and even then one more injury will instantly kill them? That the only exception is a minuscule (1 hit point's worth) chance that they'll first be injured to the point that any strenuous action will put them in the aforementioned coma of death? This is not something you normally see, either in fiction or real life; in fact, I'm hardly able to describe it in in-game terms. The vitality/wounds variant is much easier to visualize, and thus increases immersion for the player, adding to the game as a whole.

I've yet to come across any discussion of this topic anywhere, online or in print. Now, I know this is already a standing request for all my posts, but I'd like to reiterate it in this case: Can I get some feedback/comments/discussion on these musings? Am I making sense? Does this seem like something that's important to keep in mind?

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My New Year's Resolution...

Is to update this more often. Specifically, to update this blog at least twice every week *and* at least once more every month than I did the previous month. If I'm doing the math right, that works out to a minimum of 170 updates in 2008. And this one doesn't count. This is all in the interest of pushing myself, similar to the original (failed) resolution at the start of this blog- if all I can manage for an update is some brief, poorly thought-out piece of crap, then so be it. I still have to update.

I could say that that means I owe 2 two updates by January 7th, but it'll be better to have the deadline at the end of the week, a.k.a. saturday pacific standard time. So let's see if I can get two posts done in the space of about eighty minutes. Considering all the nearly-finished work I have laying around on my computer, this shouldn't be too hard at all.

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