Monday, March 31, 2008

Trigger Discipline Retake: Chance Deck

For every episode except the premiere and the finale, the Director must draw a card from the Chance deck and follow its instructions (or if he's not inclned to print out and cut up d20 Rethought's sheets of cards, just roll on a table to determine the draw). Each card represents either an event occurring in the real world or the results of the Director's steadily decreasing sanity. Hit the link for the current list of

Director Madness:
-Director wants to be deep. All characters must recite a quote from a philosopher.
-Director's having a bad breakup. All friendly npcs of a random gender become unreaonable and uncooperative.
-Director relies too much on bad advice: Characters must roll dignity or randomly pick a new archetype.
-Director backlashes against fans: The character(s) with the highest popularity lose half their plot armor.
-Director's been listening to emo music: All characters must roll dignity or count as having the uncertain archetype for the purpose of this episode.
-Director is fed up with these restrictive "laws of physics": Patently ridiculous descriptions of combat actions give you +1 GAR on the roll this episode. Same goes for npcs.
-Director forgets about pacing: Whenever a character builds GAR charge, they must roll dignity. If they fail, they must spend twice as much time charging, dragging one scene/turn out into two and still only recieving one charge for their trouble.
-Director decides to oblige shippers. Characters must roll dignity, starting with the most popular. First two to fail will be depicted in a compromising situation.
-Director has big dreams. All scenes must be at +1 budget minimum until budget runs out.
-Director can't bother to communicate with animators: No scene can have better animation than normal
-Director has great idea for cool style element: Director comes up with signature move, which players can use once per scene as a skill with max ranks.

Real-World Event:
-Animation is left to the interns; the entire episode has QUALITY animation.
-Random character *or* villain gets a kickass theme song, letting them treat a scene as being 1 budget higher than it actually is once an episode.
-Random character becomes subject of internet meme, fanbase goes up by 2.
-Background artist is sick, all scenes taking place in new locations cost an extra 1 budget.
-Toy merchandising deal. Characters get a free chance to upgrade their mech at a discount, but each episode must contain at least one scene featuring the mechs in action at +1 budget.
-Real-world tragedy makes random plot element potentially offensive, said plot element must be dropped or radically altered.
-Production team has massive party, wastes half the budget for next episode.
-Random producer dies, lose 2 budget.
-Product placement. Characters must roll dignity. Anyone who fails must plug a real-world product at some point during the episode, losing 1 GAR but boosting the budget by 1.
-Director gets therapy. Players can spend 2 budget to keep this card, giving them a one-time "get out of director madness free".
-Studio gets warned for inappropriate content. Players who depict actions or use language (OOC) that strays on the edgier side of PG-13 lose 1 plot armor.

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Elysium Nebula: Class Concepts

The Elysium Nebula is a sci-fantasy setting; spaceships, jump gates, plasma rifles and conflicting interplanetary empires that happen to feature many staple elements of Dungeons and Dragons- elves, magic swords and fireballs- recontextualized to form an oddly coherent whole. And just to set something straight from the start: It's not mine. At all. The creator and I have been communicating online for a couple years now, chatting several times a week. These conversations began a few months after I joined a play-by-post game, run by him, which continues to this day. According to him, the diverse group of characters created for this game have gone on to become his central idea of what Elysium Nebula's player characters should be like.

One of our more recent conversations shifted to the topic of Elysium Nebula's classes and what the best rule system would be for the first published pdf of the setting. Up until now, the game has largely used the base rules for d20 Modern and Future, but in light of the upcoming 4th edition he's considering a large-scale revision. After discussing the topic for a while he asked me what my own approach to the setting's crunch would be. That question sparked this current endeavor of mine: Coming up with character creation options for EN using the d20 Rethought system. It's a chance for me to stress-test the hoped-for adaptability of the system by using a setting I had never before considered during design. Hit the link for the first thing I put together: An outline of the ten base classes the d20 Rethought version of Elysium Nebula would feature. So far I feel that the current base class concept is proving succesful, letting me create classes that have a strong, interesting feel while still allowing for a wide variety of distinct characters (and I mean within the scope of any single class, even before we look beyond the character's statistics).

Adepts are martial and mystic artists, training body and mind through exercise and meditiation. Though most draw on traditions that trace their roots to elven katas developed several millenia ago, in the modern day adepts can be anything from pacifist wilderness-dwelling mystics to cynical chain-smoking blades for hire. Crunch-wise, they're class-feature centric and the most low-key of the four spellcasting base classes, with abilities resembling a cross between a Crusader and a Monk. Outside of EN, an average Adept would fit best into the Wuxia genre of film.

Commanders are charismatic, determined leaders with nerves of steel. They can serve ably as facemen or team leaders, but the common trait they share is the sort of personal magnetism and determination that leaves others in awe- when they're set on a goal, the wise either follow or get out of the way. A balanced class, they have a place in a wide variety of genres, from the mob boss who fights on the front lines of a gang war to a starship captain who faces down overwhelming odds without batting an eye.

Grifters are keen individuals with a knack for picking up new skills. Their backgrounds are as widely varied as their abilities- a Grifter could be a private eye, hedge wizard, explorer, information broker, or all of the above. Class feature-centric, they tend to have a grittier feel to their abilities and thus would fit in best with genres like modern-day drama or noir.

Hotshots are quick-thinking, quick-acting and even-quicker-moving individuals capable of throwing themself into danger at a moment's notice and emerging on the other side with nary a scratch. They make amazing fighter pilots, gunslingers and stunt-prone daredevils of all types- a balanced class whose features emphasize speed and over-the-top action. An average Hotshot fits best into a Hollywood action film.

Operatives are highly trained and disciplined individuals with an unmatched capacity for infiltration, espionage and/or assassination. They can be martial artists whose intensive training has made them a living weapon, secret agents who can manipulate others with ease and doublethink well enough to fool a master telepath, or snipers who never seem to miss a shot. A feat-centric class, they fit best into the action-oriented breed of spy thriller (the type with lots of high-tech gadgets).

Practitioners study and practice the eldritch arts and traditions with a dedication that can border on obsession. The foremost authorities on all things magical, they wield magic with a degree of fine control most spellcasters believe to be impossible. A feat-centric spellcasting class, they can be thought of as the modern/future-day equivalent of the fantasy genre's wizard.

Psychics tend to be amongst the most low-key spellcasters, using their keen minds to harness the power of the ley lines in a far more subtle fashion than most. Some wield this power as openly as any mage, while others go to great lengths to keep their abilities secret and covertly use them to augment their natural skill for manipulating others. Psychics are a balanced class who thematically have a place in the genre of modern paranormal fiction.

Sorcerors may not be able to match the degree of finesse and complexity with which other spellcaster wield magic; but in terms of raw power they are without equal. Hailing from all walks of life, they capitalize on an instinctive knack for spellcasting. As a talent-centric class, a sorceror can cast potent spells from a wide variety of schools. Depending on individual temprament, many would be right at home in the action-oriented fantasy genre.

Techs are experts on all manner of subjects who apply their knowledge in a practical manner. Xenobiology field researchers, starship engineers, demolition experts and hacker prodigies are all viable examples of this balanced class. An average Tech would be right at home in a work of hard science fiction.

Warriors are no strangers to violence, whether they're hardened mercenaries, veteran commandos or just that rare breed of terrifyingly effective thug. Some have a firm grasp of tactics and a surprising capacity for stealth, while others use far more direct methods and are tough enough to handle the nastiest enemies head on. Removed from the Elysium Nebula, the members of this talent-centric class would have a place in many a war movie or more musclebound action film.

As always, feedback is welcome. Next up: How d20 Rethought handles the designer's concept of magic.

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If I had to write a Warhammer 40k novel. . .

Just another random challenge to myself. I like the concept I managed to come up with; hit the jump to see it for yourself.

The first of the main characters we're introduced to is a female acolyte (apprentice inquisitor) who's been dispatched to this city on what is actually meant to be a suicide mission- her master has judged her weak and believes that she will never have what it takes to defeat the enemies of the imperium. She does a little investigation, determines that there really is a chaos cult/whatever, and decides to get some backup; unfortunately, she has no real authority and no money. Instead she sells one of the only pieces of equipment that is hers to sell, and then goes after a certain hired muscle known for being eccentric about the jobs he takes. This guy is main character #2, and sure enough he agrees to the job despite it being a charity case (and an extremely dangerous one at that). Though our initial impressions of him are that he's bitter and cynical, we eventually find that he also considers himself a faithful and loyal servant of the god-emperor who takes grave offense if someone implies otherwise. The man is actually the son of the planetary governor, and would have been a Commissar in the IG if his father hadn't used his influence to remove his son from active service in order to protect him. Needless to say, the man didn't take this well- with his dreams of glorious service denied to him, his best option for avoiding cowardice was taking dangerous jobs in the underhive while his faith stagnated.

The key here is that you've got two people whose faith in the emperor has been challenged, and who could easily lose faith or become skeptics like Ciaphas Cain, but instead choose to still believe in the God-Emperor. Over the course of the story, the female acolyte evolves into a more competent/assertive leader (think Integra Hellsing), and in doing so helps the would-be commissar by providing him with the opportunity to serve the emperor like he always wanted. Put differently, she's growing into a full-fledged inquisitor (at least in spirit) and he becomes the first member of her retinue.

To try another tack: Look at it as a noir story- she's the dame, he's the hardboiled private eye whose cynical analysis of human nature is dead-on, and everyone else is corrupt to one degree or another. He helps her by providing muscle and pessimistic-but-accurate advice, while she overcomes his defenses and fascinates him in a way he can't overcome. It's just that the weak spot in question isn't lust, but something far stronger- his faith and ideals, which have been nothing but a flickering light in the grim darkness for years. Now she fans the flames, and doing so leads to them both rejecting the cynicism that seems inevitable given the tropes of both Warhammer 40k and the Noir genre.

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Yow! Also, content.

Well, damn. Looks like I've got some catching up to do. So here's an extended rumination of mine from a few months back, actually preceding the FF7 game ideas I posted here. . .

There's been a sub-class of the action genre that's been becoming more and more prevalent over the past decade- superpowered combat that focuses on enhancing humanity's existing abilities. You can't fly or shoot laser beams from your eyes, but you do have strength/reflexes/endurance beyond that of a normal human being. Let's start with some examples illustrating what I'm talking about. . .
-Monty Oum's animations:,
-Advent Children and associated cinematics:,
-The Devil May Cry series:,

And there are plenty of other examples that fit the bill to a partial degree and are well worth drawing inspiration from:
-The Matrix Series:
-The Witcher: (Pic Related)

So. How to use this with roleplaying games? Well, we're basically talking action-oriented gameplay involving people whose abilities (regardless of the source) would normally be human except that they're taken beyond human potential. From a crunch perspective, There Is No Spoon ( could work well for a one-shot while a more long-term game could use the Mutants and Masterminds rules either on their own or as a source of powers for otherwise-normal d20 Modern characters.

Of course, what really interests me is the fluff angle- what sort of setting is this, to have these high-powered combatants? Do these people have powers beyond basic strength and durability? Can anyone achieve this level of power? Are the players just special/unique? What are the themes of the setting?

To give examples:
-A character's abilities could come from conscious application of magic, skill with ki, exposure to super-scientific radiation, or the results of genetic experimentation.
-They could have acquired their powers due to their species (vampire, homo superior), through a random accident, as a result of experiments that they were subjected to against their will, or simply by becoming really good at something that anyone in their world can do.
-In the eyes of the world they're in, they could be deviant threats targeted for extermination, sought-after specialists due to their unique abilities, or just like everyone else except that they happen to be really good in a particular area, same as a professional athlete.

It's been interesting to mull over potential campaigns that use this subgenre. I may do a list as a follow-up post sometime soon.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

d20 Rethought: Magic

I know I've been doing alot on d20 Rethought recently, and that this isn't the best thing for alot of you since it's not providing much in the way of immediate content you can use. But this is the last one for a bit, I swear. This is the post I've been wanting to get to, the reason I forged ahead through the business about classes.

The latest 4th Edition reports indicate that the non-spellcasting classes will increasingly resemble spellcasting classes through the use of martial powers. d20 rethough, meanwhile, achieves the same thing by working in the opposite direction. To be brief: d20 Rethought uses skill-based magic, where you must make a check to successfully cast a spell against a difficulty that increases based on the spell's level. I'm dead certain I'm not the first to come up with this idea; but since d20 Rethought's being revised from the ground up I can incorporate this variant much more elegantly. Or to get more concrete: in d20 Rethought Evocation and Necromancy are skills just like Athletics and Bluff. No special rules about having to be a wizard before you can take them (though the normal cross-class hassle might still apply). Of course, doing this while still presenting spellcasters with appropriately complex choices in combat and keeping them balanced- that is where the hard details of the implementation come in. . .

First, let me just refresh your memory about one of the basic elements of d20 Rethought: Vitality and Resolve points. Vitality points are like hit points except you only recieve d4, d6 or d8 per level and they replenish fully between encounters (plus the really critical hits go straight to your wound points, which represent serious physical injury and, potentially, death). Resolve points are exactly the same except that they reflect mental well-being. Advanced martial maneuvers cost vp; and I haven't mentioned this before, but you can invest "extra effort" and spend X vp and X rp (up to a limit of half your level, rounding up) to get a bonus of X on a d20 roll you're about to make (so even muscleheads have a use for their rp in a non-combat situation). And while I'm at it, I'll restate a key point from the last post: abilities granted by Talents represent subconscious learning- passive bonuses that represent natural improvement at a task. Feats, meanwhile, usually represent conscious learning and study.

So: When you want to cast a spell, you first choose the basic effect. (Merrick the Sorceror wants to shoot fire from his hands, that's a level 1 effect.) Then make a check using the appropriate type of magic (In this case, evocation), and make a check. If your check beats the DC to cast a spell at the level of your chosen effect, you can successfully cast the spell. If your check is high to cast the spell at a higher level, you may do so. This means increasing one or more numeric variables (Merrick rolls high enough to cast a level 5 spell, so he increases the damage from 1d6 to 4d6 (+3 levels) and the size of the cone from 5 feet to 10 (+1 level)). A spell's level can range from 1 to 20 and beyond, generally creating an effect equal to a D&D spell of half that level. To succesfully cast a spell, you must also spend the spell's level in resolve points- even a failed casting will cost you a single resolve point.

That resolve point cost is one balancing factor, but there's another, more important one: The DCs to cast spells are really, really high. As in "DC 20 for a level 1 spell and it goes way uphill from there". If you're trained in the skill and have a decent relevant ability score, that's still only enough to cast some basic spells- nothing with the dependability or potency to make it effective in an average combat situation, though your skills would still increase over time to the point that your spellcasting ability would remain a nice bit of help in non-crisis situations. With the aid of Extra Effort and/or an action point you'd still be able to pull off something bigger in a crisis situation.

But if you want to cast some serious spells, you'll have to invest more- namely, a talent chain that improves your skill checks considerably. Like all talent chains, this is just three talents long- hardly all-consuming, but then again you're only improving your ability to cast spells from one of nine or so schools. Now, once you've taken the three talents for that particular school of magic you're set- or are you? See, while your check result is about as optimized as it can be (there's still Skill Focus, but that's about it) by default you can only manage to use the more simplistic effects. (Merrick can shoot searing flame from his hands and push a man through a closed door with raw telekinetic force, but he can't create a wall of fire or sieze his enemy in a glowing, transparent fist.) To gain access to more complex effects (which are usually higher in level) you need the related feat chains. There are several (Two seems like a good figure to start with) three-feat chains for each school of magic, and each feat in a chain grants a set of increasingly high-level effects that can be used with the associated skill.

In this system a specialist caster can take about 5 levels in a class, acquire everything he needs to cast spells in a single discipline, and then start taking levels in, say, Barbarian instead. He'll be a few levels behind a full-fledged barbarian and won't have quite the proficiency of a full-fledged caster in his chosen school of magic- but for that single school he can still cast very well.

Meanwhile, the difference between the wizard and the sorceror is simple: the wizard gets a large amount of feats while the sorceror gets a large amount of talents. So the wizard can quickly learn how to pull of all these impressive tricks that the sorceror wouldn't have the first idea how to pull off- but when it comes to raw power that same wizard is clearly outclassed by the sorceror. Both have their merits and can easily avoid overlap when adventuring together.

So. How does that all sound?

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

d20 Rethought: Class Structure

This post isn’t about, say, the exciting class features to be had if you take levels in the d20 Rethought version of the Barbarian (which is not to say that there won’t be such a post in the future!). No, for this post I’ll be focusing on the nitty-gritty of what a class in d20 Rethought is, starting from a crunch perspective.

Not counting the unique package of bonus skills at first level (I'm still not 100% sure how skill selection's going to work), your choice of class in d20 rethought determines:
-Whether you receive d4, d6 or d8 vitality points at each level.
-Same for resolve points.
-Your class features. Which are what this post is really about.

See, your class features are divided into three separate categories: Talents, Feats, and Unique Class Features. This is the real focus of this post, so have another list explaining how these work:

-Talents: From a crunch perspective, talents come in chains (Quick Study I is the only prerequisite for Quick Study II is the only prerequisite for Quick Study III. . .) and tend to grant passive bonuses. Their general aim is to make your character damn good at something- lying, absorbing physical punishment, swinging a huge sword, etc. The class features that in D&D are possessed by multiple classes and can't be acquired through feats (evasion and uncanny dodge are the common examples) will generally be available as talents.

From a fluff perspective, talents are the natural abilities that we improve through use. If I'm always snarky and keep a constant watch for the chance to deliver a well-placed jibe, my witty banter's going to become top-notch as I become a full-fledged adventurer (okay, there might not be an actual talent for that but you get the idea).

-Feats: Talents tend to be more simple and passive; feats range towards the other end of the spectrum, being complex and active. To clarify, this doesn't mean a single gives you a 3/day ability with a two-paragraph crunch writeup; instead, it means alot more "tactical" feats like the ones introduced in the Complete series of supplements, giving you simple, specialized tricks and the like. (Book of Nine Swords-style tricks and stances are a big part of d20 Rethought combat, as mentioned before, and Feats are how you get them). At the moment, I'm thinking the arrangement will be like this: You get feats both from your class and just for leveling up, but talents (as mentioned before) only come from your class. There will be a feat that gives you any level one ("I") talent and lets you select further talents in that chain as though they were on the list of available class talents.

From a fluff perspective, Feats are separated from talents by being things you learn consciously- the tricks and maneuvers you pick up through education and deliberate practice. They can be taught, whereas talents are the sort of thing an instructor can only help you learn for yourself through personal experience.

-Unique Class Features will hopefully be just that: unique (to that class). Feats give you cool small-scale abilities and talents make you damn good at something, but with class features (which henceforth is the term for everything other than talents and bonus feats) you can go way out there and/or overlap in structure. Letting character pick from a list is fine (as long as they're all unusual), giving them supernatural powers is fine, and so on and so on. The important thing is for unique class features to be defining, distinctive and interesting- they should make you want to take levels in that class. Fluff-wise, there are no special restrictions here; your class features can come from training, inborn talents, or the latent effects of exposure to a radioactive meteorite.

Okay, now let's take a moment to talk about Class Structure. See, there are a total of four ways your class can hand out the goodies. It can either take a balanced approach (This means Level 1 Class Feature, Level 2 choose a Talent, Level 3 choose a Bonus Feat, repeat this structure for rest of class) or favor one of these three types of abilities by granting it every other level while the other two types are onyl received every fourth level. But! See, this actually interesting because of the aforementioned fluff aspects of each type of ability. A talent-centric class (Class Feature, Talent, Feat, Talent, repeat) is going to be the most simplistic option to play since everything's passive. If it's a warrior-type class then this is the sort of combatant who just trusts their instincts and charges in to cut down his enemies until none are left. By contrast, a feat-centric class (Class Feature, Feat, Talent, Feat) acquires a large number of options and and maneuvers that he can bring to bear while playing the game, and thus is naturally going to appeal to the tactically-minded player who likes to have a full arsenal of tricks up his sleeve and come up with complex plans of attack. In-game these are the sorts of characters that have often trained and had advanced levels of instruction. And lastly, the class feature-centric character gives you the chance for a more distinct type of class, one whose unique powers are a major portion of their total ability.

Now, these basic lessons will tie heavily into the ideas I've had for d20 rethought's magic system. Since I'd rather these posts stand better on their own, I'll just say this now: Sorcerors are the classic example of a talent-focused class, while Wizards are the classic example of a feat-focused one.

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It is I, Mario.

Oh dear, what to say. . .there was this discussion in a roleplaying game forum, you see. Someone was wondering about how to do Mario as a serious RPG. Grim and dark Mario, no way that's been done before, right? Well, the discussion had gone on for a while by the time I came across the thread- people had posted links to all the relevant flash animations/comics, and were working off of two basic concepts: Make it all more violent (blood spraying everywhere with each Goomba stomped), and have the game be set in the ruined, abandoned wasteland of a world where Mario failed and all that is bright and cheery has gone.

I had a different idea- in my mind there was an opportunity to do more than just make everything dark/ - , even while retaining the basic plotline of the games. I started to try and describe this concept, but then realized an example would be more effective. So I wrote the dialogue for a few would-be cutscenes instead. It's probably best if I let you form your own conclusions.

Scene 1
B: So it is true. You intend to seek him out.
(Bowser Jr. continues to don pieces of armor for several moments before replying.)
J: You speak as though there can be any other option.
B: Do not do this, my child. You know how many have fallen at his hand-
J: Precisely why I must now meet him on the field of battle. My allows no less.
B: Would that I could hear such proud words in times less cruel! You bring such pride to us all, boy, but think of the cost. Would you deny your art? Truly it is your murals that give our castles their soul-
J: I have painted of grand deeds enough, I think. I do not go alone, father. Wario will stand beside me-
B: He is a human, boy, and a brigand among brigands at that.
J: His selfish nature serves my purposes. I can handle him.
B: Again I beg you. Think of the future of our people-
J: What comes first, father? To rule the Koopas, or to be one worthy of that title? Do you really expect me to believe that your actions in my place would be any different?
B (quietly): I would know that I go to my .
(Bowser Jr. silently meets his father's gaze).
B: Oh, my child. In my desperation I deny the truth even as it lies plain before my face. Forgive my insult; you are no boy, but a man. And you are everything I could ever hope for in a son.
(The two embrace tightly.)
J: And I in a father. Farewell.

Scene 2
(At the front of the hall, the doors slam open. An undead skeleton topples down the steps, splaying out at the bottom to clearly reveal the crushed skull. The massive figure seated at the dining table looks up to the entrance.)
B: So. You've come.
M: You thought your paltry defenses would stop me, monster?
B: Monster? I who have kept my honor, who stood by and watched as those under my charge were slaughtered without mercy?
M: You will pay for abducting the princess. Your reign ends here.
(Bowser sweeps the table aside with one crashing swipe of his arm.)
B: And who are you to challenge my sovereignty, human? What has that princess offered you, an outsider, that you might fall to her will as readily as those servile Toads?
M: What has become of her?
B: My subjects brought word of your deeds to me again and again. My most loyal of subjects, the best of Koopas- crushed. Even as you struck down my child did I stay my hand, for I had given my word that she would come to no harm, and I have kept it.
M: Say what you will, fiend. You have brought this fate upon yourself.
B: Enough! The gods have made me as I am to lead the Koopas to glory, not so that I might simper at the will of some fair-haired maiden. It is you who shall meet your fate this day!

This was written a couple months back; since then, the concept has been gradually developing; even though I've yet to deliberately dedicate any further conscious effort to the task, at this point I've the full outline for a two-"volume" story bouncing around in my head. And to tell the truth I'm not sure what to do with it. I could write it up for the blog, but at this point it's a story that would work much better for a video game than a tabletop one. I could do it as a fanfiction, but that's a whole new online community and I'm a little hesitant to just dive into it.

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