Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry- er, Happy Holidays!

The trouble with wanting to post something(s) on Christmas is that it means having to post on Christmas. That plan got thrown off by 5 days spent either at the households of relatives or working 8-hour shifts and then coming home to play host to groups of young cousins. But now, at last, I have access to my computer and the time to use it. . .and I'm leaving to a beach house that probably doesn't have wireless for 4 days in under 24 hours. (sigh)

Anyway, one of goals is done: I've gone over the Portraits section of my image collection, checking for duplicates and renaming all the files whose titles were just strings of numbers. The fully updated and hopefully-more-searchable gallery can still be found here; I'm still working on sprucing up the contents of the other sections.

As for the other project: It's something I swore I'd have done before 2009. With any luck, it'll be done before I have to leave tomorrow morning, to a destination with low odds of having any net connection. We'll see. . .

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Monday, December 22, 2008

We've got Spirits, how about you? (Part 1)

So against my better tastes, I checked out some parts of the Ghost Rider movie. WOW, is it bad. But some of the glimmers of potential helped push forward my own thinking and help me expand on the cosmology I started to outline in my earlier piece on souls. The following is a rewritten version of the start of this scene; it also serves as a demonstrative anecdote for what I've got in mind. . .

(Johnny stops and stares at the man inspecting his bike.)


MEPHISTO: (Without looking up:) Good to see you to, Johnny Boy. Nice bike.

JOHNNY BLAZE: Stay away from me.

MEPHISTO: Oh, I couldn't do that. I'm your greatest fan. Pheonix, Denver, Houston. . .I've been watching over you, all along.

JOHNNY BLAZE: It *was* you- keeping me alive.

MEPHISTO: Oh, no, no- It's all you, Johnny! You've got that fire inside, that special something which keeps you going, always driving you on to the next big thrill. Me, I've just been here to watch it grow. And now I need that fire to make sure a little job of mine gets done right.

JOHNNY BLAZE: Not interested.

MEPHISTO: (Chuckles) You think you have a choice.

JOHNNY BLAZE: I know these games you play- they've got rules. You can't make me do anything, not if I refuse.

MEPHISTO: Ah, yes. That pesky old rule number one: No direct control over those poor souls who catch my eye. (Continuing as he points towards Johnny's chest:) But I don't see any soul there, Johnny. Just a shell; a brain and a body, going through the motions.

JOHNNY BLAZE: You trying to say I'm just a machine?

MEPHISTO: Normally you would be. But I'm a generous kind of guy, even though no one ever shows any gratitude. See, there's something special about that empty space where a soul used to be. It's the perfect place to plant a seed, and watch it grow, until the day it finally bears fruit. And believe me, ten years is nothing when you've been around as along as I have.

JOHNNY BLAZE: Whatever you want done, do it yourself.

(He gets on the bike to leave, but Mephisto closes a hand on his arm.)

MEPHISTO: It's time, Zarathos. Find the one called Blackheart and destroy him for me.

(Johnny reacts to the name as though he's been dunked in ice water. It takes him a second to remember to jerk his arm away.)

JOHNNY BLAZE: What'd you just call me?

MEPHISTO: Part of you recognizes that name, doesn't it? (Continuing as Johnny begins to shudder and gasp- he's having some kind of attack.) A part that's buried deep, and now it's clawing its way out to answer its master's call.

(Johnny tries to say something, but can't get the words out.)

MEPHISTO: I told you, Johnny- you're just a shell. It's the fire inside I want; so now I'm turning that shell inside out.

(Still struggling to breathe, Johnny manages to seize the throttle and send the bike roaring away. Mephisto watches him go with a smile.)

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What is a roleplaying game?

At the start of this year, I made a post wherein I attempted to work out my philosophy of game design. (Philosophy meaning "the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, esp. with a view to improving or reconstituting them") Though it helped to advance my thought process, I can't say I succeeded in reaching a clear thesis at the time. The other day, while explaining roleplaying games to a non-geek, I realized I now had a clearer idea of just what (in my mind) makes something a roleplaying game:

A roleplaying game is a form of group storytelling with rules that dictate the mechanics of player success and failure. These rules enhance the experience in two ways: First, they make the story more compelling by providing concrete gauges of a situation. Second, they provide the player with a series of interesting strategic choices, turning the experience into game.

Read on for a more detailed description of what the different parts of this definition mean, as well as an explanation of how they relate to GNS theory.

"A roleplaying game is a form of group storytelling. . ."
I could get into the use of a GM here, but that's a common aspect, not an essential/defining one. Same reason that I don't mention, say, the use of random chance.

". . .with rules that dictate the mechanics of player success and failure. . ."
I had my doubts about this phrasing- I was imagining the possibility of an existing or future RPG which "killed the sacred cow" of rules dealing with player success. But then I realized that without the possibility of varying degrees of success, you can't have a game- it would just be a roleplaying exercise.

". . .These rules enhance the experience in two ways. . ."
If you want to get technical there certainly other ways that one can use rules to hypothetically improve the player's experience in one way or another. But the following two are the only ones I consider significant and defining.

". . .First, they make the story more compelling by providing concrete gauges of a situation. . ."
For example, your current level of injury. It's not actually necessary for the player to have access to a given gauge- for example, in Unknown Armies the GM keeps track of everyone's hp and just gives players rough descriptions of how their characters feel. The point is that the players know there's a gauge measuring their character's health- that there are procedures in place which will dictate what happens, even if that procedure is sometimes just "it's the GM's call".

I'm actually tempted to split this bit into two subcategories- rules as a source of consistency and rules as a frame of reference to help us understand a situation.

". . .Second, they provide the player with a series of interesting strategic choices, turning the experience into game."
I was going to say that it makes the experience fun. But fun, defined broadly, isn't essential. A roleplaying game doesn't have to involve a "fun time". It's easy to envision a well-done roleplaying game where the player's primary emotions consist of sadness and anger, and the PCs strive to achieve their goal but still ultimately fail. "Fun", in the sense of pleasant sensations, wouldn't seem like it apply to such an experience- but a different sense of the word would still be quite appropriate.

In his book on game design, Raph Koster says that games are fun because we derive satisfaction from learning how to overcome the challenges they present us with. Even faced with inevitable defeat at the hands of endless enemies, we enjoy trying to kill as many as we can. In this sense, a game can be simultaneously fun and depressing- imagine playing a game where the goal is for your character to kick as many defenseless puppies as possible within a set time limit.

How this relates to GNS Theory: As I've said before, I think Jon Edward's concept of creative agendas (as seen in both his old threefold model and his current theories) has merit because it identifies three key ways a roleplaying game can be enjoyable, but that his view of these "agendas" as separate audiences that an rpg designer must choose between borders on a violation of common sense-there is no reason why a player can't enjoy both the strategic and dramatic aspects of a given situation. What he views as different tastes, I view as different aspects of what makes a good roleplaying game. I would say that the view he describes as "Narrativist" focuses on the group storytelling aspect of a roleplaying game; his concept of a "Simulationist" view would focus on the ability of the rules to provide consistent, concrete gauges of a situation; and his conception of a "Gamist" view would focus on the game that the rules create, obviously.

I'm not quite done writing about this manner. The above is a definition of roleplaying games; but it doesn't touch on what I think makes roleplaying games special. That'll be another post. . .

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

d20 Rethought: Hits and the Status Track

In d20 Rethought, hits represent different conditions that have a negative effect on a character's performance. These conditions can be due to poison, fatigue, physical injury, mental trauma or some other cause. There are many different kinds of hits, with different nasty side effects and criteria for removing them; what they have in common is that every single hit a character currently has moves them down a step on the status track.

In and of itself, the status track is an unabashed rip-off of the SWRPG Saga Edition's condition track- an escalating series of penalties. You from being fine to receiving a -1 penalty on all checks, then -2, -3, -5, -10 and finally unconsciousness. Six strikes and you're out.

Hit the jump for an outline of some specific hits and what this means for the system as a whole.

Lethal Hit: You receive a lethal hit each time you lose any amount of wound points. Whenever you take a physically strenuous action, you take damage equal to the number of lethal hits you have. Lethal hits do not go away; instead, they must be treated in order to be downgraded to subdual hits.
Subdual Hits: When you lose wound points due to subdual damage, you receive a subdual hit instead of a lethal one. Subdual hits have no special drawbacks; you can heal one per day with 6 hours of rest and two per day with constant rest. Proper medical attention doubles the payoff.
Shock Hit: Mental equivalent of a lethal hit. (You receive a shock hit each time you lose any amount of trauma points. Whenever you take a mentally strenuous action, you take mental damage equal to the number of shock hits you have. Shock hits do not go away; instead, they must be treated in order to be downgraded to stress hits.)
Stress Hits: Mental equivalent of a subdual hit. (When you lose trauma points due to stress damage, you receive a stress hit instead of a lethal one. Stress hits have no special drawbacks; you can heal one per day with 6 hours of rest and two per day with constant rest. Proper therapy doubles the payoff.)
Stun Hits: Stun hits last until the end of an encounter and have no special drawbacks.

All this has several effects on how d20 Rethought plays. The single most significant aspect is that when a PC is taken down, it will usually be due to having accumulated six hits on the Status Track and fallen unconscious. Dying by running out of wound points becomes a much more unlikely scenario, akin to death by massive damage in 3.X. Players now have a motive to avoid any sort of notable injury or mental trauma, even if they have plenty of wound/trauma points remaining. This system also makes it much more feasible to swap out mental and/or physical damage tracking in favor of damage saves, depending on the focus of the game. Picture it- an investigative horror game, with occasional violent conflicts covered only briefly with the focus instead being on keeping your trauma points high lest you start to crack under the pressure. With one quick variant d20 Rethought can handle this just as well as an action-oriented gunfighting game.

Next time, I'll likely be doing a review of all that's been posted regarding d20 Rethought's combat, and how it compares and contrasts to d20 3.X.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Maelstrom: Preface

Maelstrom is a new setting I'm brainstorming, one that started as a series of suggestions for Mr. Skrittiblak's Elysium Nebula campaign. These suggestions were aimed at giving greater depth and originality to a setting that that on the surface is a space opera starring the cast of D&D. (My impressions is that about half the suggestions were of use to him; the background I had in mind only partly overlapped with the secrets of the background he'd already conceived.) Over the course of our discussions I realized that if you took this fledgling concept and stripped away most of the elements that were being taken from stock science fiction and fantasy, the background meant to justify the presence of those elements could instead lead me to something intriguingly original.

Of course, this also makes the resulting concept really hard to summarize. I have only myself to blame.

The best way I can put it is this: You know how Firefly was the wild west in space? Maelstrom's "____ in space" is the world of the 19th century as depicted in fiction. And not just modern works, but a range of fiction that extends past pulp magazines to include the famous authors of the time, such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne. Picture a vast and diverse realm- you have hard-bitten settlers eking out a living on the frontier, ambitious scientists racing towards new discoveries (that could lead to triumph a la Tesla or tragedy a la Jekyll and Frankenstein), intrepid explorers who venture deep into unknown territory, and strange natives of unknown civilizations whose leaders wield mysterious powers. The "civilized world" has its intellectuals and industry as well as its fair share of armed conflicts and bogeymen in the shadows. Mysterious foreign empires are known through countless legends and a handful of firsthand accounts.

Take that all, and spread it out not between continents but between large numbers of moons surrounding four gas giants which all follow the same orbital path around their star. In this solar system the would-be vacuum of space is instead filled with Aethereal mists and populated by an ecosystem of strange and varied creatures. Space fills the roles of both the open frontier and the high seas, as towering starships sail past herdsmen on crystal-winged mounts.

I don't see Maelstrom as resembling the 19th century in any aesthetic way- the 'space cowboys', for example, wear goggles and breath masks while having no need for wide-brimmed hats. I'm just using the time period as a guideline for creating a believable world of mystery and adventure; a place where society is close enough to our own to be sympathetic and understandable, without having advanced enough for you to know whether the note on the map saying "here there be dragons" is true.

Make sense?

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Elysium Nebula: A brief anecdote.

If he hadn't noticed the cut power lines from the other side of the engine room, Keller would probably have strolled right into the assassin's blade. As is, the human mechanic had stopped in the doorway and thus had an instant for several thoughts to cross his mind as the black-clad figure stepped out from behind the generator and moved to close the distance between them.

The first thought caused feelings of frustration. After the last mysterious sabotage attempt, he'd spent a full day customizing and augmenting the ship's security systems, and assured his crewmates that no one would be able to hack this vessel like they had before. But he hadn't accounted for someone hacking the systems in a more literal fashion.

The second thought was more practical, and led to a surge of fear. Keller was no anthropologist, but his trading days had given him enough experience with elven culture to identify the oncoming figure's robes as the traditional garb of an adept. Which meant this mysterious enemy his group faced was in all likelihood a very dangerous one- and more to the point, so was the individual charging at him now. No one was more dangerous at close range than one of those martial mystics.

The third thought ran through his mind almost casually: Keller wondered if the attacker knew that he wasn't the only one in the have studied the eldritch arts.

As the figure rushed towards him, the human turned and bolted towards the toolkit he'd left open on the shelf yesterday, chanting under his breath. After all the hours spent juggling metal spheres without letting them touch his hands, it took only a moment for him to tap into the waiting current of power and send the arc welder hurtling across the room into his outstretched hand. He spun around and dropped into a crouch as the blade slashed through the air where his neck had been, thumbing the activation on the welder as he brought it down against the floor.

Even with his free arm held over his tightly shut eyes, the light given off by the welder as it scored along the metal floor was enough to blind him for several moments. But as his vision cleared, Keller was treated to the sight of his assailant staggering back and clutching at his face. And that's why you always wear a welding mask, kids. Never one to waste an opportunity, Keller lunged forwards.

The elf sliced the arc welder in half with a one-armed swing of his sword, eyes still closed. There were times when Keller really hated magic.

The tech backpedaled as the assassin stabbed at him, but by going for the welder he'd trapped himself in a dead end. Desperately he began to intone the ritual chants once more, this time focusing on the blade in the attacker's hands- as stupid a gamble as he'd ever had to make. His opponent probably had a lifetime of experience with using and countering tactics like these; an attempt to disarm him with telekenesis was doomed to fail.

Keller inhaled and made a forceful gesture, tugging the blade to the left. The adept reacted by tightening his grip on the sword, maintaining his hold even as Keller dropped the feint and pulled the blade in the opposite direction with all his strength. And because of this the elf was still in full contact with the blade as its tip plunged into the adjacent generator.

The human watched in amazement as his assailant was thrown bodily against the wall, the sword still wedged into the sparking generator. The smell of ozone and burned flesh rose in the air as the elf slumped over. Keller breathed a sigh of relief as he rose. "Well, I guess that tells us a little more about- OH, COME ON." The assassin was staggering to his feet. Keller took the sight in for a moment, then decided to retreat while he had the chance. Let's let the people on the crew with *guns* handle this.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Strange Bedfellows: Red/White, Part 1

Blue: "You know what's wrong with Blue?" says Red to White. "They don't care. All those precious lives you seek to preserve, all those higher ideals you aspire to, blue is completely apathetic towards them."

Black: "You know what's wrong with Black?" says White to Red. "They don't care about how anyone feels, including themselves. Rather than doing what feels best they hurt themselves again and again, leading miserable lives because they think that just a little more power over others is going to make them feel happy. It's insane."

Red and White can both get behind a passionate dedication to a higher cause. They believe in something so strongly that they want to fight for it.

White: "You have gone astray in your fervor; your eagerness makes you impatient. The right way to achieve your ideals is through an ordered society." White rejects the words of its forefathers thusly: "Your faith in organized systems blinds you to how they violate the ideals on which they are founded!"

Red: "You have gone astray by becoming fascinated with the abstract. You want to know the key to being happy? Doing things that are fun, rather than putting it off because you worry that something wouldn't be 'fulfilling' enough." Red rejects the words of its forefathers thusly: "Real pleasure is the kind you earn, by working hard to do what your heart tells you is right. You can't imagine what it's like, because you've never tried it yourself."

Green: "If only you two could see," muses Green. "Your heart's in the right place and you'll fight so hard, but you have so little idea of how to achieve your goal. You fight the symptoms but have no conception of the underlying issues. You want to make the world a better place through destruction, to be a martyr for your cause even though you could do so much more for it if you took the time to ensure your own survival."

(As always, feedback is most definitely welcome.)

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Magic: Strange Bedfellows (Introduction)

Though I stopped playing Magic around the time that Torment came out, I still like to keep an eye on the game. And lately my interest in game design has led me to go back and read through a big chunk of Mark Rosewater's old columns. They're awesome. Also awesome is Ravnica, which I've always intended to take a close look at. But on an oddly discordant note, I find Mark's descriptions of the opposed-color matchups rather lacking. I keep feeling like there connections between the opposed colors that are being neglected, and as a result the pairings lack a coherent, sympathetic view; like trying to blend oil and water. In particular, his description of the Red-White outlook struck me as "these two don't work together, and they're in denial about it."

Now I just want to be ABSOLUTELY clear here. What I'm about to do, I do not do as a critic. This is not my attempt to show how things "should have been done"; that would require an in-depth knowledge of how said things were done, whereas I've actually put off my research into Ravnica so as to not make any deliberate attempts to be different.

So what is this dark deed I intend? I'm going to come up with my own ideas for what the opposed-color guilds in Ravnica should be like from a fluff perspective. Because as a designer I've had some ideas and it sounds like alot of fun.

Here's the creative approach I'll be taking: an examination of each color in the pie in relation to the guild in question, in the form of an ideological debate.
-First, I'll get my basic idea of the pairing via the two colors that are friends of one of the guild's origins. See, what happened there is that the guild's other origin color leaned in and, playing devil's advocate, whispered "You know what's wrong with them?" There are tensions between two allied colors that an enemy can appreciate.
-Second, their two origin colors, and how "purists" belonging to each of those colors think their brethren in the guild have been lead astray.
-Third, the color they're both friends with. I see this as the guild's blind spot, something they've overlooked and not given much thought to when they.

In my mind the advantage of the opposed-color guilds is that they've been more open-minded and thus realized that the world is more complex than most people think. And their weakness is that they've now lost that open-mindedness, that having come up with a more complex ideal they've seized onto it as the "true" right way despite the flaws it still retains.

At this point, my intent is take whatever concept I've arrived at for each pairing and briefly run to through Mark Rosewater's set of color questions so as to better clarify their outlook. There'll also be some musings on the form the in-world guild itself would take (rather than just the views of the color pairing) and the mechanics of the pairing.

Finally, I'll take a close look at what was actually done with that color pairing, comparing and contrasting it to my own. Value judgments will generally be avoided here, since we can assume my own versions will (through some strange coincidence) perfectly match my own personal preferences.

Well, here goes!

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d20 Rethought: Damage Done Different

I've talked alot about taking damage on this blog, but I really ought to also describe mention the differences in d20 Rethought regarding how damage is dealt. There have been some changes made here too, again in the name of streamlining character creation and ensuring that once an aspect of a character is optimized, it *stays* optimized.

-All damage is done through dice. In other words, to calculate damage you might roll 3d6 or 4d6+2d8 but never 3d6+1 or 3d6+5. The potential drawback with this decision is that rolling large handfuls of dice can slow down play, but this change paves the way for several other rules.
-The die caliber used depends on the source of the damage. A character might use a trick that grants him "2d sneak attack damage" or "+3d spell damage"; you inflict extra weapon damage dice on melee attacks equal to your brawn score.
-"Damage Resistance" minimizes the result of a die roll, while "Damage Vulnerability" maximizes it. A feat's tactic might give you Sneak Attack Resistance 2, a werewolf might have Total Silver Vulnerability (all dice are maximized), a red dragon might have a Fire Resistance and Cold Vulnerability of 5 each. . .of course, there are still some creatures that are flat-out immune to a certain type of damage.

And the single most vital alteration, the one that has some very far-reaching repercussions on the strategy of the game:
-The maximum number of damage dice you can inflict is equal to your attack roll minus the opponent's defense (minimum 1). Let's say I'm making an attack that deals 4d8 damage against an opponent with a defense of 15. If I roll a 15 or 16 on the attack check I inflict 1d8 damage; if I roll a 17 I inflict 2d8, if I roll an 18 I inflict 3d8 and if I get a result of 19 or higher I roll all 4d8 dice.

To help make said repercussions a little easier to understand, I'll toss in another big rule about d20 Rethought that I've only mentioned in passing until now:
-You can spend X vitality and X resolve to get a +X action bonus on your next skill check. (Action bonuses are applied after the result cap.) This can be done in or out of combat. It represents a moment of intense focus on your characters part; the sort of thing where afterwards you often slump back, take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from your brow.

Those are the big, obvious changes from a player's perspective. Read on for an exploration of these mechanic's potential and an explanation of how this business with dice ties into the underlying math of the system.

How this helps character optimization:
It lets damage scale smoothly as your character goes up in level and/or becomes more optimized in that area. Think about it- abilities that improve your damage are going to do so in one of two ways, either by granting more damage dice or improving the die caliber. Thanks to the "attack check-defense" limitation, the former improvement is only useful when your character scores a solid hit on the opponent (more on that below). The latter, meanwhile, is a permanent improvement! In this system, tricks can grant anyone sneak attack dice; a backstab-happy character just picks up more of these tricks, in combination with talents that improve the caliber of his sneak attack die to a d6 and then a d8. A straightforward melee fighter, meanwhile, might have tricks that grant him more weapon damage dice and improve his weapon die caliber via a Weapon Focus talent.

How this helps gameplay:
It's the same idea as the chance to augment your critical hits- the player has a choice, to play it safe or gamble by spending a resource for the chance to hit the enemy even harder. For every 1 point of damage prevention (physical and mental) you sacrifice, you'll potentially be inflicting another die of damage- unless you roll so high that you're already using all your damage dice, or you roll so low that you still don't hit at all.

This in turn makes Defense checks (Spending a move action to roll your defense, and using that result if it's higher that the normal "taking 10" score) a hell of a lot more important when fighting powerful opponents- an average of +5 to defense doesn't just mean an additional 25% of the rolls will miss, it means that your opponent will still potentially be rolling 5 less damage dice if they do hit.

I can take the number of damage dice inflicted, add that to their attack check and compare that against the victim's relevant passive skill check for an attack's secondary effects. In other words, whenever you've got a special trick that pins someone to their wall with their clothing or gouges them so painfully they're stunned for a second or just plain knocks them on their ass. . .the better the attack roll, the better it works.

In a similar fashion, when the players are fighting mooks/minions/minor npcs, the victims can simply make damage saves (DC 10+dice inflicted+1/2 largest die size) rather than the players actually having to roll damage.

My prediction/hope- and this is something that will require heavy playtesting for me to gauge whether I've been successful- is that combat will be a tense affair that can potentially be settled in just a few blows, while still being dramatic, fun, and in practice quite survivable by the player character.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

d20 Rethought: Skill Training

Today I'll be explaining how skill proficiencies work in d20 Rethought. I've mentioned before that skills work in a similar fashion to the Saga edition of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game (and thus to 4E as well). However, there's a little more to the story than that.

I've mentioned before that every d20 roll in the game will either be a skill check or an ability check (With one exception, but that's not relevant here). That ties into the first thing you need to know: Every type of skill check in d20 Rethought has a Proficiency Rank of one, two or three. This is roughly the equivalent of the "untrained" and "trained-only" labels in 3.X, with a middle ground:

-Proficiency Rank I applications of a skill are the "normal" skill checks, and can benefit from all relevant bonuses.

-Proficiency Rank II applications of a skill are made as ability checks, meaning they can only benefit from the character's ability score, an expenditure of Action Points (kinda-sorta, that's something else I haven't gotten into) and/or any relevant circumstance bonuses.

-Proficiency Rank III means your character is incapable of making this type of skill check.

Training can reduce a check's effective proficiency rank, making it usable. The d20 Rethought equivalent of becoming "trained" in a skill is handled entirely via three feats:

Basic Training (skillname)
gives me a +2 bonus on all applications of a skill and lets me treat PR II and III checks as being one proficiency rank lower.

Specialized Training (skillname) gives me a +4 bonus on *one* application of a skill and lets me treat it as PR I.

Advanced Training (skillname), which requires one of the above feats (but not both), replaces these benefits with a +4 bonus on *all* application of a skill while letting me treat them all as PR I.

Make sense? I'll try to have an example up soon.

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EN Rethought: Skill List

Here is an alpha list of the d20 Rethought skills for the Elysium Nebula campaign setting. The majority of these skills would be reused in roughly the same fashion for a d20 Rethought writeup of different setting.


-Vehicle Group
--[Ship Crew]




-Weapon Group
--[Long Arms]


-Ley Lines










--[Fringe Humans]



--[Eldritch Devices]
--[Technical Devices]



--[Starship Engineer]
--[Construction Worker]

-Treat Injury

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Monday, June 23, 2008

D&D 3.5: Statistics for Guts from Berserk

An old classic I did a year ago for the /tg/ board on 4chan: A conversion of Guts and his equipment to the D&D rules. (If you don't know who this man is, he's the protagonist of an incredible manga series called Berserk that I highly recommend. Graphic sex and violence are involved, but they have roles in the story rather than being pointless titillation.) These stats are meant to represent him immediately prior to the battle to escape Vritanis. Against a normal D&D party, I'd say his dearth of magic items makes him about CR 17.

Male Human
Alignment Chaotic Good
Fighter 12/Barbarian 7/Frenzied Berzerker 5

Str 24 (+2 prodigy, +1 4th, 8th, 16th, 20th)
Dex 16
Con 18 (+1 12th)
Int 14
Wis 13 (-1 armor)
Cha 12

Hit Points 233, Current 233
AC 23 (10+3 dex+9 armor+1 shield), Touch 13, Flat 20
Init +3
BAB +22/17/12/7, Grap +??
Speed 30 (base 40, load 0/33, medium armor)
Fort +22, Ref +10, Will +9

+34 Melee, Dragonslayer, 3d6+14, 17-20/x2
+30 Melee, Dagger, 1d6+7, 19-20/x2
+30 Melee, Prosthetic Hand, 1d6+7, 20/x2
+26 Ranged, Repeating Crossbow, 1d10, 19-20/x2, 60’ r
+26 Ranged, Darts, 1d4+7, 20/x2, 20’ r
+26 Ranged, Dagger, 1d6+7, 20/x2, 10’ r
+21 Ranged, Arm Cannon, 6d6, 20/x2, 10’r
+25 Ranged Tough, Fire Bombs, 3d6/1d6 splash, 20/x2, 10’ r

+48 hp, AC 21, Will +11
+36 Melee, Dragonslayer, 3d6+17, 17-20/x2

2 lethal damage per round, AC 22, Ref +12
+40/40/35/30/25 Melee, Dragonslayer, 3d6+23, 17-20/x2

Rage and Frenzy:
+48 hp, 2 lethal damage per round, AC 20, Ref +12, Will +11
+42/42/37/32/27 Melee, Dragonslayer, 3d6+26, 17-20/x2

+1 Balance (0+2 synergy-4 acp)
+21 Climb (10+4 prodigy)
+6 Diplomacy (10cc)
+28 Intimidate (27)
+35 Jump (26+4 prodigy+2 synergy-4 acp)
+9 Ride (10-4 acp)
+9 Spot (16cc)
+11 Survival (10)
+13 Swim (10+4 prodigy-8 acp)
+14 Tumble (26cc+2 synergy-4 acp)

-Weapon Focus (Greatsword) (H)
-Power Attack (F1)
-Cleave (F2)
-Destructive Rage (3) (CW)
-Weapon Specialization (F4)
-Intimidating Rage (6) (CW)
-Great Cleave (F6)
-Monkey Grip (9) (CW)
-Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Repeating Crossbow) (F8)
-Endurance (12)
-Diehard (FB 1)
-Iron Will (18)
-Indomitable Soul (21) (PHBII)
-Improved Critical (Greatsword) (F10)
-Greater Weapon Focus (24)
-Epic Weapon Focus (Greatsword) (F12) (ELH)

Human Traits
-Bonus Skill
-Bonus Feat

Barbarian Class Features
-Fast Movement
-Rage 2/day (9 rounds)
-Improved Uncanny Dodge
-Trap Sense +2
-Damage Reduction 1/-

Frenzied Berzerker Class Features (CW)
-Frenzy 3/day (7 rounds)
-Supreme Cleave
-Deathless Frenzy
-Improved Power Attack

Special Qualities:
-Prodigy (Strength): Guts gets +2 to strength and an additional +4 on all strength-based skill and ability checks. (DMG II)
-Sacrifice: Guts has been branded with the symbol of sacrifice. Evil outsiders and undead can sense his presence and general direction as long as they are within five hundred feet. Additionally, whenever an evil outsider or undead comes within a hundred feet of Guts for the first time that day, the brand gives off a sharp pain and bleeds profusely, causing him to lose one hit point for every four hit dice the creature possesses (rounding down).

• The Dragonslayer, Mastercraft Large Greatsword .
•• The Dragonslayer is treated as a Holy Ghost Touch weapon for the purposes of bypassing DR and determining whether an attack hits. This is an extraordinary ability.
•• The Dragonslayer’s size provides a wielder of medium size with a +2 bonus to AC when they fight defensively and cover in the direction of their choice when they take a total defense action.

• Berserker Armor, +1 Mithral Full Plate
•• While wearing the berserker armor, a wielder with the ability to enter a frenzy must make a will save to avoid doing so every round in which they engage in melee combat, even if they take no damage. In addition, they may not enter a rage unless already in a frenzy.
•• While the wielder is in a frenzy, the berserker armor is treated as a +2 Mithral Full Plate of Medium Fortification that cannot be removed by normal means. The wielder themself gains an additional +6 to strength and dexterity as a well as an immunity to fear, stun, nausea and death from massive damage. However, the damage they take every round is lethal instead of nonlethal, and the frenzy does not end normally as long as there are living or animate creatures within the vicinity. At the end of a frenzy, the wielder takes 1 permanent wisdom damage.
•• If the wielder has the deathless frenzy ability and would die at the end of a frenzy due to hit point loss, they instead heal to -9 hp and stabilize while permanently reducing their maximum number of hit points by the same amount.

• Prosthetic Arm
•• When equipped, the prosthetic arm can be used to hold metal items or help wield two-handed weapons. It also functions as a mastercraft gauntlet.
•• Arm Cannon, Exotic Medium Ranged Weapon (10’ range, 3d6 fire and 3d6 bludgeoning damage, 20/x2)
••• The arm cannon is a concealed weapon, requiring a DC 25 Spot or Search check to detect. If an opponent is not aware of the arm cannon, they are treated as flat-footed for the purpose of the wielder’s attack.
••• Reloading the arm cannon requires two full-round actions, each provoking an attack of opportunity
••• While in a grapple, the wielder may make a grapple check to attack with the arm cannon. If the attack hits, it automatically threatens a critical hit.

• Ammunition and Gunpowder for ten shots.

• 10 Fire Bombs, Splash Weapons (10’ range, 3d6 fire damage/1d6 splash, 20/x2)

• Rickert’s Repeating Crossbow
•• This crossbow functions as a mastercraft light repeating crossbow with two exceptions: The range is halved, and the magazines hold ten shots instead of five.

• 60 Bolts

• 5 Mastercraft Darts

• Mastercraft Dagger

• Flint and Steel

• 4 day’s trail rations

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

d20 Rethought: What is Min-Maxing?

I'm not sure whether this will strike people as staggering or just staggeringly obvious, but I'll just come out and say my thoughts on the matter:

Min-maxing is gameplay.

Just as coming up with a character's personality and background is a creative endeavor in the same sense as roleplaying, the act of character optimization is as much a part of "playing" D&D, Shadowrun, etc. as the combat is.

And when I look at the process of min-maxing in 3.X as a type of gameplay, it lets me come to a few conclusions.

-Character optimization needs to be easy. Or rather, foolproof- damn hard to do wrong. A beginning player should ideally be able to create a viable character, one that won't automatically be overshadowed by the creation of an experienced min-maxer so long as said min-maxer isn't deliberately trying to break the system (i.e. exploiting poor wordings and other "bugs" the game designers failed to catch).

-Character optimization needs to be less important. The question the game designer has to face is: How much importance do they want to lend to the act of character optimization? To what degree should character optimization be the key to victory? I would say 3.5 D&D is an example of a game that goes too far- beyond a spellcaster's ability to choose which spells to prepare and come up with creative uses for them, the *only* major key to victory is a characters underlying bonuses paired with sets of maneuvers that were planned out before the game ever began. And one thing that will be necessary to fix that:

-There need to be more significant in-game tactical decisions. It's only natural; for decisions made *prior* to the game to be less important the mechanics will have to make player decisions *during* the game.

Having had a chance to look over 4th Edition, it's interesting to see how it accomplishes these goals (I'll bet they didn't phrase them the same way I did, but it seems like they worked along similar lines). Character optimization is made easy by presenting you with a pair of probably-can't-go-wrong choices (race and class) and then having ensuing choices be based on those two initial ones. (You're a dwarven paladin? Well, here are the racial feats, here are the class feats, here are the paragon paths, and if you want some of what he's having there's a feat chain that will provide it in a way designed to not screw you over optimization-wise.)

Powers, meanwhile, are used to place an emphasis on "in-game" play via abilities whose uses are flavorful, conditional and/or otherwise limited in use- you have to pay attention and plan out when and where you're going to use them. The limited number of powers works from a gameplay perspective. . .it's just that the kind of gameplay it provides doesn't quite jive with me.

We're now dealing with two major subjects here- "in-game" gameplay and character optimization. The next two posts will delve into how these aspects of 3.5 were deconstructed while developing d20 Rethought. It'll take alot of playtesting before I can offer any definitive opinion with regards to the results of my approaches vs. those taken by the 4th Edition design team, but it's interesting to compare and contrast what's been done.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

On GNS Theory

I used to think that I would simply avoid mentioning GNS theory on this blog. The reason being that I have some strong feelings on the matter, which in turn would lead to my thoughts on the topic manifesting as the sort of opinionated flamebait rant that I feel one should avoid on principle. Especially since that's not the point of this blog.

But since it turns out people are actually interested in my thoughts on game design theory, and I do hope to start a discussion on this topic, it's gonna be healthy to get this out of the way now. GNS theory is one of the premiere works of "roleplaying game theory", and the terminology it popularized still sees common use today because it fills an essential niche: It identifies several ways a game can be fun. But that's about the limits of its practicality.

And when the author goes on to argue that "building the system specifically to accord with one of these outlooks is the first priority of RPG design", that's when I start gnawing on the linoleum.
Maybe an analogy will help. What if I told you that all video games were created in accordance with one of three agendas?

-Presentationist games, which focused on providing the player with high-quality graphics and sound.
-Gameplayist games, which focused on providing a player with challenging play experience.
-Storyist games, which focused on providing a compelling narrative.

"I guess that kind of works," you say. "But don't 99% of video games include all 3 of those things?"

Why, yes, Timmy! Nevertheless, these are three separate outlooks, and people who make video games operate based off only these three agendas at a time.

"My name's Justin."

Or at least, that's what they should do. Unfortunately, many designers fail to recognize the inherently separate nature of these approaches, and attempt to cater to two or even all three of them simultaneously!

". . .That's a bad thing?"

Oh, yes. I'm afraid that the potential for crossover between these outlooks is ultimately too small to be justified by the complications that arise from trying to pursue multiple separate agendas at the same time.

"So if I designed an enemy that was highly lethal, both in order to reinforce the fear the player is supposed to feel as a part of the horror story and to provide an interesting "miniboss" opponent to spice up the challenge the game provides. . ."
". . .or designed the graphics of a game to be both visually pleasing and provide a way for players to easily identify necessary information regarding one another at a distance. . ."

". . .or used graphical staging and gameplay elements to reinforce a key plot point in a story. . ."

". . .I'd be shooting myself in the foot?"

Ultimately, yes- the complications introduced by trying to serve separate agendas simultaneously would lead to you creating a weaker game than you could have.

Does it make a little more sense now why I consider this aspect of GNS theory to be wrong regarding what should be a matter of common sense? Enjoyable gameplay, a believable setting, the tools to tell a compelling story. . .these are all concerns an rpg designer must take into account. It can be difficult to overcome complications that arise when you try to have your cake and eat it too; but it's not impossible, and these different elements have just as mouch potential to support one another as they do to stand in each other's way.

I'll use GNS terminology if it proves a practical way to describe a particular motive behind a particular decision. But so help me, if you try and label anything I do as "belonging" to one of those "categories", I will hunt you down.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Warhammer 40,000: Are You My Warboss?

A ork waaagh lands on a desolate necron tombworld, and the soulless automatons quickly arise to eradicate the infestation. Every single one of the boyz is vaporized, and sterilization fields are activated that kill off even the spores. But through mutation and sheer luck, one spore grows so quickly that it escapes the sterilizing fields. A single ork is born.

He acquires a choppa and pistol from the ruins of the orc's encampment, but there aren't any boyz to be found. The ork looks about uncertainly, then smiles and with a tentative "waagh!" runs off in a random direction- the boyz left without him, so he'll just have to track them down.

He wanders the dusty wastes for weeks. Once he sees smoke, but it turns out to be the remnants of some spilt fuel containers. He plays with the fire for a while, but moves on- after all, the real fun will be when he catches up with the boyz.

Then, to his joy, he finds one of the entrances to the tombs. Down in the vaults, he gazes across row after row of inert necron warrior. He runs through the halls for a while, roaring and firing his bolter, trying to liven the place up a little. Eventually he walks over and punches one of the warriors in the shoulder; it simply tips over. The tomb remains inert.

Since he's the biggest, the orc figures it's his job to whip these funny-lookin boyz into shape. He gathers a bunch of them together in a pile, then stacks a few more to form a nearby podium. Standing on it, the ork gives a rousing speech about how this is a sorry lot but he'll get them shipshape soon enough. He tries all sort of things to get a waagh going- insults, violence, praise and flattery. . .He tries hobbling around on folded knees, thinking that if he's smaller someone else might go and do a better job of starting a waaagh.

Eventually he goes up on the surface again. He heads off and after much searching manages to find the camp. Nothing there has changed. He grabs up as much dakka and choppa as he can carry and hauls it with him as he spends several weeks looking until he finds the tomb entrance again. Staggering over to where all his boyz are, he dumps the huge assortment of weaponry down and looks up hopefully. The moment stretches out as he stands there, looking on with a tentative smile. Eventually he starts picking up choice bits of weaponry and offering them to the necron warriors. None show any signs of interest.

He tries fitting in for a little while, by standing in the same posture and not moving. He pretends to leave and then sneaks back and peeks around the corner to see if any of the necrons move.

He wants to fight with somebody, just once. He wants to get shot up, to ride shotgun, hooting and hollering. He wants to meet a weirdboy or a nob or a dok. He wants to chant and pound the ground in unison with a massive crowd, to sail through the stars to a new world, to play catch with another ork using gretchins.

Just once, he wants to hear somebody call him something. Just one time; then he'd have a name.

He wishes he knew why the boyz left him behind.

He knows he'll find them. Some day...

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ask, and I shall provide

New poll up. I've posted all kinds of work on this blog, but these days I'm focusing alot on some of my larger projects, so I thought I'd check to see what sort of things people want to see more of. In other words, this is an excellent time to make your voice heard; feel free to use the comments section for this post to elaborate on what you'd like to see from me.

Sample PCs: Backgrounds, stats, etc.
New Character Creation Options: Feats, classes and so on.
Sample NPCs: Villian, ally or just ways to inject flavor into a game.
Elements for Existing Settings: Organizations, cities, etc.
New Settings: I could offer some new concepts or elaborate further on some previous ones.
Encounters: New monsters with tactics, a detailed scenario, or I could try to offer some unusual encounters that one doesn't normally see in D&D type games.
Adventures: An outline of plot, encounters, and so on.
Campaigns: Either collections of quick ideas or longer, more detailed outlines.
Full-Fledged Games/Systems: At the moment, this would mean work on d20 Rethought and Trigger Discipline.
Fictional Anecdotes: I'm not about to write a novel, but short segments of fiction can be a very effective tool.
Game Design Theory: Ruminations on what makes games fun and how to distill it.

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Battleships Forever: Fleet Construction Rules

For those of you not in the know, Battleships Forever is an excellent freeware space combat game by Sean Chan that features an impressive amount of quality single-player content and even more importantly (at least in the eyes of everyone I know) allows you to make your own ships. Word is that the developer will be including multiplayer functionality in a future revamp of the game; for now people (including my friends and I) are making do by pitting custom, A.I.-controlled fleets against each other. I had figured we would use the rules followed by participants in the various tournaments that had already occurred, but for me the existing rulesets turned out to be a huge disappointment. So here's my attempt. Read on for an explanation of what this ruleset does differently and why I felt it was necessary.

The single-player aspects of Battleships Forever are highly replayable thanks to the wide variety of ships players can use; the different options are well balanced against one another while still offering markedly different tactical approaches. Unfortunately, the existing rulesets throw all that out the window in favor of a much narrower class of designs. My goal with this ruleset has been to instead set the rules up so that the ships we see in single player are all perfectly viable examples of design- not the work of a moron who shot himself in the foot the second he neglected the obligatory deflectors/cheap weapon buy option.

Basically, I want to have ship design be an actual part of the game, and that's very difficult without a balancing ruleset. Since a game is any experience where you have fun by overcoming challenges, there has to be more of a challenge to design than "aegis deflectors and every weapon in the game one every section". Hopefully this ruleset successfully emulates the balance model Sean Chan followed when he made the ships for this game, consciously or unconsciously.

As always, criticisms and suggestions are welcome, though I might also be persuaded to admit a compliment if it was specific enough.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

The Ghost Blades

Boy, here's an old one- over a year old, in fact. Someone on the /tg/ board had been reviewing the preview material for Assassin's Creed (which at the time was just a handful of tantalizing hints and preview media, including a nicely staged CG trailer) and wanted suggestions on anything along the lines of what we'd seen so far that would make for a memorable encounter/campaign/whatever in a roleplaying game. After giving a good read-through I had a list of elements that I found interesting and worth holding onto:

-A cult-like organization whose workings are shrouded in mystery.
-Kills not for money, but in pursuit of zealous religious ideals.
-Uses skills to avoid innocent casualties and collateral damage.
-Intentionally builds fearsome reputation, allowing for the use of intimidation and threats instead of additional killings; primarily accomplishes this through public demonstrations of power.
-Fanatical devotees that seek martyrdom and follow orders with absolute, unquestioning devotion.

Basically, this gave me an idea for an organization that the players could fight off, seek to overthrow or even be a part of: The Ghost Blades, a secretive order of assassins that worships the Silver Flame.This post will describe public knowledge of this organization in areas where it is active; metagame info can wait for another update.

Potential targets of the Ghost Blade's wrath include clerics and prominent worshippers of the Blood of Vol or any other religion that happens to be increasing in popularity, corrupt officials of the Silver Flame, fiendish beings and lycanthropes of all types, government officials who oppose the spread of the Silver Flame's faith, etc. The organization's level of involvement with the church is unknown and the subject of much speculation; most members of the church would likely denounce the organizations activities if not for the fact that doing so would almost surely cause the Ghost Blades to identify them as a "corrupting influence".

The organization is VERY good at sending clear messages to the public at large. Their signature weapon (a dagger made entirely of flametouched iron) is common knowledge, as is the implications of finding one in your household- say, on your pillow when you awake. It is a warning, and if you don't want to be found dead in a week's time with that very dagger lodged between your ribs (so the legends say) then you must "change your ways", as well as placing the blade in a prominent location so that any visitor to your household will notice it.

The daggers of the Ghost Blades bear a unique version of the Everburning Flame enchantment, one that burns bright silver even in magical darkness. It is said that activating or deactivating the enchantment requires a secret code word that only the order's members know; there is no manner of remote activation, if a dagger is alight it means that a member of the order was there in person. If the dagger in your household is alight, then the warning is beyond serious- the ONLY reason you are alive is that if you reverse your ways and take action now it will be beneficial to the cause of the Silver Flame.

And when the warning is ignored, or the dagger hidden or sold or thrown away, or the subject is simply seen as not worth warning. . .the kill will surely be done in a way that strikes fear in the heart of all who bear witness.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

d20 Rethought: Status Report

So, d20 Rethought. I haven't really talked about it on this blog for nearly two full months. A very ambitious project, with the aim of singlehandedly designing a better version of the d20 system. My posts all gave collections of simple rules and changes paired with awkward attempts to convey the larger changes they would bring supposedly bring about. None of these posts involved any real description of how all these concepts fit together in a functional manner. Alot of promises, relatively little to back it up. So. . .in all honesty, how is the project faring?

It's doing well. Very, very well.

When I have problems with this blog, when my updates slow due to my courseload (and now because my job search takes top priority), it isn't that I've stopped working on design to any real degree; it's just that I'm not spending as much time writing my thoughts out for others to see. This is amplified by a few other factors in the case of d20 Rethought; mostly the fact that the system I've been putting together is more than the sum of its parts. I had trouble figuring out how to describe this, until I found out there was a word for it. d20 Rethought relies very heavily on emergent design, the use of small but comprehensive alterations to effect large-scale results within a system. (That reminds me- I really need to write out some of my theories on the use of system dynamics in game design. Another post. . .) To put it another way, I'm not going to get a lot across if I start with a laundry list of mechanics. Better to begin with the grand claim and then explain how it's achieved with the key rules and examples.

Because in case I haven't made it clear, the core workings of d20 Rethought are done. Figured out. I know the core details of the system, including the underlying math going into character balance and scaling over time. I've found ways to greatly simplify mechanics while improving the strategic depth and flexibility of gameplay, greatly decrease the abstraction of combat while retaining ease of play, increase the level realism/grittiness without hampering playability or overdoing the lethality, make mental prowess and physical prowess equally vital to a character (even in a nonmagical setting), and present fantastical physical stunts and magic as balanced options that still work in different ways. I'm working on a series of posts that will explain how; and I promise you, this will be something worth waiting for.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thoughts on Chromatic

Picture may have been selected for the purpose of irony.

What's Chromatic, you ask? Why, it's d20 revision (in the same vein as my own d20 Rethought project) whose creator goes by the name of Consonant Dude. The project is currently on hiatus/in development limbo to give the creator a chance to figure out whether he wants to keep working on it; but even if he decides to toss the whole thing in the dumpster, at least this gives me a chance to compare and contrast the decisions we've made while seeking to improve the same underlying system.

I should probably start by noting how the two of us are, as near as I can figure, coming from very different places. While it'd be an oversimplification to just say that he's "old school" and I'm not, Consonant Dude's work is influenced by experiences with early D&D rulesets he played games with as a kid in the 1970s. Meanwhile, I first started playing D&D when 3.5 was already looming on the horizon. I've never had to compute a T.H.A.C.0 value, and first edition AD&D was already ancient history before I ever set foot (or diapered derriere) on the mortal plane. In other words, I suspect that there are going to be some points where I'm just not going to be able to follow his thinking and explanations all the way. But we'll see. Going from post to post:

The idea of having bonuses be calculated as set progression+ability modifier is interesting, even if in practice it's just replacing a simple act of addition with a chart- I assume the formula will also be provided, to reduce the need for lookups. There are some interesting opportunities for implementation here, allowing for instantly graspable character optimization options that will likely make more sense to a beginner. I find myself wondering if "natural" couldn't be used to pave a middle ground between untrained and familiar, rather than just being one step above the former.

Moving into a more stream of consciousness format:
  • "I want to tie levels directly to how potent a character is." I understand what you're saying about NPC classes, but this strikes me as largely irrelevant- I've yet to see the idea of weaker NPC classes confuse anyone or impede gameplay. On the other hand, this might be overanalyzing but I'm interested in how you define "potency".
  • Monster classes sound like a fine way to implement enemy combat roles, in fact I'd say that as a design element the class fits this niche more comfortably than it does with PC character creation.
  • Competence modifiers sound more like competence levels or ranks to me. Though I suppose you're probably trying to say that your competence modifier depends on your level and your competence "rank" or whatever.
  • Do you intend to have any hard mechanical bonus for a crit? Can skills roll crits in your system?
  • Why do effect rolls have a name? Can something in this system alter effect rolls?
  • APs could be a recharging resource pool used to pay for slots and make it possible to roll a crit.
  • I suggest having high-ranking slots be per-day, mid-rank be per-encounter and low-rank be at will. Alternately, an at-will power could cost more slots.
  • With regards to leveling down: I'm including a mechanic that allows people to "trade out" prior selections as they make new ones, on a 1:1 ratio. When you get a bonus feat, you may get an extra bonus feat by dropping one of your old bonus feats. Naturally, this may invalidate character options if you lose a prerequisite.
On the whole, it seems like Chromatic is shaping up to be a very basic, beginner-level system. What I'd really like to know is how classes will work

Oh, and to give some info on how d20 Rethought compares: Alot of basic priorities are the same, such as simplifying the math of min-maxing. There are some similarities in terms of progressions too; an untrained check uses your level and your ability modifier, with the only other possible mods being circumstance bonuses/penalties and the action bonus.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Morgan (Warning: Not for kiddies)

It's not that this post contains material that isn't work-safe, it's just dealing with more dark/mature concepts than normal. Consider yourself warned and all that jazz. Anyways, the other day someone posted this on the /tg/ forum, along with some sketches:

Okay guys, help me make a character. Rogue/avenging executioner chick that crossdresses as she believes that all the traumatic events that happened to her were due to her being female. Among other things, she was given half a glasgow smile.

I'm having trouble coming up with a name and some general "behavioral" guidelines. I don't want to just be emo all the time, I don't play that archetype as a rule and am just dabbling with this particular character.

In response, I drew on an older villain concept of mine and combined it with this premise to create a concept that could work for a villian or antiheroine, depending on how you implement it. Out of personal preference, I opted to try and create a working psychological profile that stemmed from a background that was believable and traumatic while avoiding the cliche of sexual abuse.

Say she was a normal peasant girl, poor but loving family and all that. This all came to an abrupt end when cultists of Erythnul (or a similar deity CE deity of hate) broke in one night, brutally beating the parents and dragging the screaming, sobbing eight-year old girl into the night.

She was put into a cage, a two-meter cube of rough iron bars against one wall of a room that wasn't much larger. There was a small hole in the wall that ended in a shallow basin, for water and an occasional bit of raw meat or tough, stale bread. The room's only other feature was the door by which the cultists (always male) entered.

It was her only form human interaction, if you can call it that, and it was always the same. The cultists never said a word or opened the cage's door. Instead they howled bloody murder, wailing and screaming as they beat themselves against the bars or tore the skin off their arms as they forced them between the bars, inch by inch, hands grasping for her but never actually touching.

It was a ritual of sorts, one that most victims endure for about a week before retreating so deep into themselves that they never come out. But there are exceptions, and minds of children will bend where a more mature one might break. After a month, they began to open the door on occasion. The first time they did so she took off half the cultist's face before biting into his jugular. It would be the better part of a year before group of adventurers broke into warren and killed the cultists, rescuing what had once been a small child.

The adventurers took her to a holy temple, did what they could to heal her; but while magic could restore a measure of her mental functionality, there was nothing that could be done for her warped psyche. Eventually the girl was reunited with her family: A father that was now too weak to farm and worked charity jobs around the town to help feed the girl's younger sister.

The once-youthful man tried to raise his elder daughter well. He tried to restore some semblance of the bright, cheerful girl that had been taken away that night. And he truly did make progress; after a time the girl began to speak more often than she attacked or gave a terrible howl. After a time she began to ignore her little sister's existence entirely, rather than attacking the girl more and more viciously whenever the father was in a different room. But over the space of seven years, that's as far as the old man could get. That was when his child ran away, at the age of sixteen.

To elaborate on that psych profile: Put yourself in the child's shoes during her time in the cage. You have these people (all male, the start of that association) and whenever one's in the room he's always threatening her in a way that is extremely primal, extremely violent on both a physical and social level. Some part of her made a choice to fight back, rather than retreating past the point of no return; so she imitated the "strong" presence and made herself primal, made herself masculine, made herself violent in every sense of the word. Her perception of the world is based on the idea that everyone's going to have to make that choice just like she did- being weak and innocent means you'll be ground into nothing, being violent and manly is the only way to survive in this world. Her scars and smile are self-inflicted.

In the end, her worldview (from an objective outside analysis) is pretty simple. She believes there are two kinds of people in this world, men and women; and she doesn't equate sex with gender. Rather, her concept of gender and her concept of the choice between aggression and victimhood are one and the same. Of course, she wouldn't (possibly couldn't) really explain this distinction to others; for example, if someone expressed shock upon finding out that she was a "woman", she would take grave offense. In her mind, HE *is* a man. Because being a man means dominance through aggressive violence, not having a penis. That's why he wears men's clothing and talks like a man. When he insults a male pacifist monk by calling him a woman, he's also being completely serious. It's also why he tells people that his name is Morgan. There was a Mary, once, but she's long gone now.

The rest of the character, as mentioned above, is the implementation and will determine whether Morgan is a villain or antihero, CE or CG/N. As a villian, I see him as being constantly angry- agitated and on edge, never fully able to keep his feelings under control. Chewing his lip, speaking harshly to others in terse, blunt statements, cracking his knuckles or carving a line along her arm with a knife. . .the villanous Morgan will often break things as he speaks, whether objects or people. In the end, violence is just the way he interacts with the world. A happy young woman leading an idyllic life offends him on a fundamental level, the same as any overzealous paladin.

A good version of the character would share many of the above traits; after all, that's the definition of an antihero. But this version of Morgan, while retaining the misogyny and other flaws mentioned outside of the previous paragraph, is trying to overcome his violent impulses rather than clinging to them; to make the world a better place rather than simply guarding his own interests. He'll still harass passive women (or men), but he'll do it with the aim of strengthening them through adversity, showing them what he believes to be the true nature of the world.

I believe that's all the important details of the concept. Hope this proves useful!

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trigger Discipline: Alpha Rules

First, just a heads-up: this delay between updates is going to get a little longer before it gets shorter. I've been hunkering down to focus on college work and finals are coming up here. Second, another item from the "I should probably mention this" pile. . .

Trigger Discipline's initial playtest rules are complete. In fact, they've been complete for a few weeks now, I'm about to start updating them to include all the overall elements of the gameplay structure. I've neglected to mention this mostly because I already mentioned this on /tg/ and as as far as I know the extent of people following this game either learned about it through /tg/ or were given the link to this very document and then followed the link to the Chance Deck post at the end. (For you people: The name's an unrelated phrase that wound up being the working name. I'm keeping it because that's the name the existing audience expects, it's memorable and I haven't thought of anything better.)

So yeah. If you were following this game and had no idea these rules were up, sorry- I thought you'd heard.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

An antiviolent game.

This is an expansion on a comment I left on the blog of Eskil Steenberg, a game designer whose outlook has a lot in common with mine. The topic of the discussion was how violence in media is almost always cast as the solution to a problem, whereas in reality it's recognized as a problem in and of itself. He wondered how one might go about designing a game that would convey this concept: I had a few ideas.

It strikes me that the first step in expanding player's awareness would be empathy. Violence in media stops being enjoyable when you start putting yourself in another's shoes and feeling their pain; this is usually done by being more explicit than normal in depicting physical and mental trauma, but games provide an interesting opportunity for a different approach because of how they place us in the roles of other people.

It would be interesting if, as you hit somebody, the game (in the case of a video game) or GM (in the case of a tabletop RPG) rewound time for a few seconds and switched your perspective with that of the person you were about to strike; and then you actually had a choice as the victim, the ability to strike "yourself" (now A.I./GM controlled and still attacking) back or turn the other cheek. Maybe the perspective switches would be permanent and constant; when you would strike someone, you then become that person right before the strike connects. The result is that you are always a victim of the violence you would inflict, and that killing someone means game over.

To give an example of how this concept could be put into practice: You could do a game about some sort of spirit/deity of violence- someone/thing who can possess a person and make them into a mighty warrior who feels no pain, then move onto another person when that one dies; in other words, an entity that can conduct themselves like a video game player in what amounts to a less-than subtle metaphor. Then, after an initial section that would likely have much in common with God of War, you change to the system given above. Reaching the end of the game/achieving the overarching goal from there doesn't have to be a one-life affair (you could still transfer to someone else's body if someone kills "you"), but the more violence that occurs, the more violent the game gets in general (with npcs being more inclined to use it rather than talking with you and so on), hampering your efforts.

Of course, if you did this you'd also likely want to avoid rewarding body-swapping in this manner (i.e. make it a viable solution to a problem). Again, the violence escalation mechanic would help here but some players might miss the point.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Image Collection and FAQ

Last update: 1/22/10

Over the years I've built up a collection of images for use in roleplaying games- character portraits, landscapes, pieces of equipment and so on. The collection now has thousands of images, which can be viewed online and/or downloaded via Picasa (which you can then immediately uninstall with no consequences, I've checked myself).

A quick FAQ...
Q: Why?
A: Two purposes in mind. Originally I was after references- when running a game or presenting someone with a character sheet, a good image is invaluable for bringing the ideas to life. These days, I usually use them for inspiration. And once you're sitting on a big pile of cool images, it'd be damn selfish not to share them.
Q: How long have you been collecting these images?
A: A glance at the file data informs me that I started saving images I liked in late 2004, then actively began to gather them in early 2005.
Q: Do you just spend your life scouring the internet for images, or what?
A: Hey, there are people out there who amass far larger collections, and some of them aren't even porn! But in all seriousness: In this modern day and age, the world is full of extremely talented artists, and these artists have websites. Said websites often contain links to the websites of other artists. Deviantart alone is the source of about 40% of my images; I've often spent an hour or two going through someone's favorites folder and checking out the galleries of any artist whose piece shows promise, saving fifty or so new images in the process.
Q: Do you have a favorite artist?
A: Tons. Wen-M, Gold Seven and Storn Cook are probably my personal favorites- they're constantly producing new artwork and have built up a huge body of work involving all sorts of genres. Their art looks fantastic and shows a lot of intelligence and imagination. And they sometimes draw people with their hair/clothing blowing in the wind, I'm a sucker for that.
Q: What criteria do you use?
A: I try not to overthink my decision-making process. In the end it boils down to a combination of originality and personal aesthetic appeal. On the subject of chainmail bikinis and the like: It's fine by me if the character is sexy, but I'm not interested in art created just to titillate the viewer. On the other hand, I've altered several pictures to be able to include them while keeping the collection worksafe. My standard have risen somewhat since I first started the collection.
Q: Can you help me find an image of _____?
Sure- I won't do an extensive trawl, but I can spend 5-10 minutes using various tricks to hunt down a few images that'll fit a given set of criteria. HOWEVER: Do specify which criteria you "want" and which ones you "need". Spear-wielding female fighter in light armor? I've got 10! She needs blue hair? Hmm.
Q: Do you have a link to the artist who made _____?
A: Some basic detective work using google and the filename will often be the fastest way to find a picture's creator, but I'm certainly willing to help out if that fails. Since I'm downloading these images without asking permission, the least I can do is help make sure credit's given where it's owed.
Q: What about organizing the collection some more? Tags, maybe?
A: I'd like to do more to make it easy for people to track down the kinds of images they need, but singlehandedly reviewing the thousands of images I've already downloaded is too much. The only exception's been to go back and rename all the portraits I'd gotten from /tg/ ("1169313704193.jpg" to "armored warrior woman", for example). However, if you'd be interested in implementing something yourself (even just tagging which genders are present in a character portrait) then I'll be happy to cooperate and could apply the same methods to any further images I add.

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